Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Beer, chopsticks, and Sanyo advice...


It's not often that my travel-adverse spouse is jealous of my day trip adventures around Japan with the ladies. But yesterday morning, he was, indeed, jealous.

Spouse: "So, I see on the calendar you are going on a chopsticks painting trip."
Me: "Yes! And we are having lunch at a brewery."
Spouse: "A brewery?" (there was unusual, genuine interest in his voice)
Me: "Yes. A brewery."
Spouse: "You are going to a brewery on a Monday?"
Me: (Wondering why the day of the week matters) "Yeeeesssss....?"
Spouse: "Without me?"
Me: (Now understanding the problem) "I'll bring you some beer back."
Spouse: "Sold! OK... you may go."
Me: "Like I needed your permission..."

And so, I went.  And with seven other adventurous ladies.

Our teacher was the lady on the left in the front row.
Photo compliments of my friend, Chie, in the top row, behind the teacher.
The agenda for the day was to paint chopsticks and eat a "Viking," or buffet, lunch at a local micro brewery in Yamaguchi City, about an hour and a half from Iwakuni. You can get details about both of the Ouchi Chopsticks Painting at the Yamaguchi Furusato Denshou Centerand the Yamaguchi Narutaki Kogen Brewery, on the Iwakuni Explorer website. There is definitely enough time in one day to do both... as long as you do not miss your exit off of the expressway too many times.

As the Iwakuni Explorer website will mention on the chopsticks post, but I will also emphasize with great vehemence here: DO NOT MISS THE YAMAGUCHI CITY EXIT. Because if you do, it is another 20 minutes until the next exit to turn around and another 20 minutes back to the interchange). And that is if you have a really nice attendant and someone with you who can speak Japanese to tell them you went the wrong way. If you have both of these things, like we did (Thank you, Chie!), then the attendant will open the gate and allow you to turn around without having to pay the extra tolls. Another item to note: If you do miss the Yamaguchi City exit and go to the next one, and are able to turn around and get back on to the expressway, take the fork that says Kitakyushu, not Hiroshima. At the moment you are reading this, this detail will either make no sense, or it will seem counterintuitive. After all, we just came from Iwakuni, which is in the direction of Hiroshima, and the opposite direction from Kitakyushu and we want to go back the way we came... right? Wrong! Take all logic out of your head and just take the fork to Kitakyushu. You will be glad you did! And a third item to note: This is the second time my group has made this error on separate trips. Both times we were using GPS. The GPS may be flawed, delayed... or it could be user error. But we are reasonably intelligent individuals, so I wanted to put that technical-error possibility out there so you will be extra cautious, even when following your Google Maps. Also, plan on about 5,000 yen in tolls round trip (if you don't miss an exit).

OK, with that said, let's get on to the fun stuff.


Fun stuff, as in painting chopsticks with a lacquer made from a plant that is a cousin to poison ivy. Excellent! Extreme Arts and Crafts! We were warned not to get the lacquer on our skin or clothes. It will burn our skin and permanently stain our clothes. Or vice versa... the details are fuzzy. I just heard "poison" and my mind wandered for a bit.

We selected either a pair of traditional red, or less traditional black, chopsticks. I, being less traditional and a big fan of black, selected black. You paint the lacquer on the end in one coat, then add gold foil diamonds and glitter. And you're finished! Seriously. The whole class took about 15 minutes. A perfect Girl Scout trip... except for the poison lacquer, but the affect of that you could get while camping and actually encountering poison ivy, right? There has got to be a badge for Extreme Arts and Crafts. Here's a way to earn it, ladies!

Don't sneeze on the thin, foil gold pieces, we were told. They will scatter everywhere and be charged by the ounce. Just kidding on the being charged... I think.


Me, after licking the end of my chopstick, lightly spearing a gold fleck with it, and then attempting to place it gently on my other chopstick. Once the gold leafing is stuck in the lacquer, you blow the paper off... but away from the trays of foil and glitter, of course. I am not sure who was the lucky one who got sweeping duty that day.

MaryAnn glittering.

My chopsticks are the ones on the left.
Once our group was done, the next group sat down. And then I was able to get some shots of the teaching process.






We had to leave the chopsticks there... because it take three weeks for the lacquer to dry and cure. Wow! They will be mailed to us and we will see them in about a month. The papers stabbed by the chopsticks have our names on them so that when they are shipped to us, we know whose is whose. After all, we won't have seen them for a month and will probably forget what ours looked like. Just FYI, this project cost 860 yen (about $8) and to ship all of the chopsticks to Chie cost 1,000 yen.

By now, after getting lost and potentially poisoned and all, we were hungry... so after about a 15 minute drive, we headed to the brewery. Our GPS led us to this:


And, yes, it was the brewery.


They specialize in four different beers. But more on that in a moment...



Lunch was 1500 to 2000 yen, depending on what you ordered. Each lunch set, either a pasta or meat/fish dish, came with the buffet, and it was all delicious. Except for the coffee Jello... stay away from the brown Jello. Ugh.

Salmon
Seafood spaghetti
The pilsner
The dessert I am ordering for my meal next time. :)
The brewery also has a small cottage that can be reserved for special events, such as weddings. It was very cute.



If you walk down past and to the right of the cottage, there is a grassy walkway and stairs leading down to a road. Right above and to the right of this road is a waterfall. Very picturesque, although this shot doesn't do it justice.


Once we checked out the waterfall, it was time to head home... and on the way we found a stretch Prius. Thinking like a true American, with our stretch Hummers and stretch limos, I found this to be hilarious! Who would stretch a Prius?! The Japanese, of course! But, then, Chie had to give me a dose of reality - this Prius is actually a funeral car, like a Hearse in the States. Whoops. Well, the dumb American learned something today.

Yes, that is my elbow. Of course I wasn't driving and photographing. I would never do that.



As for the beers, I bought my husband a sampler of all four and, since I don't like beer and do not drink it, here are his unscripted reactions for your consideration:

The Weizen: "It was good. Very good."
The Stout: "I did not like the stout at all. I liked the initial taste, but it had just a horrible after taste to me."
The Pilsner: "It was good." (Me: "Why was it good?" Spouse: *exasperated sigh* "I don't remember, Jessica." i.e.: "I'm done answering all your stupid questions." Until...)
The Pale Ale: "It was phenomenal. Smooth, taste, great finish, no nuttiness or grittiness. Just a clean, really good tasting beer." I'd say this one was his favorite.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Living in Iwakuni and need a craft store? Here ya go...

When you move to MCAS Iwakuni, the nearest Michaels or JoAnn's stores are half a world away. Or in China. Either way, it's not easy to get to one when your child needs a costume for the play she forgot to tell you she was in, or when you need to make the perfect Christmas wreath for your midrise door to get you in the holiday spirit.

While Michaels, JoAnn's, your local scrapbook store or your favorite art supply store may be out of reach, there are still plenty of alternatives in Iwakuni and Hiroshima for you to check out.

Helpful hint: Click on any photo to make it as large as your screen will allow for better reading/viewing.

Iwakuni

Tokai, The Craft Heart

The Japanese craft store I had had my eye the moment I traveled off base when we arrived in July 2012, and swung a left on Route 188, was Tokai, which seems to translate to "Craft Heart." I was in search of scrapbooking supplies... or something hands-on to do while I waited for my household goods (and crafting gear!) to arrive. Plus, I wasn't sure how readily available scrapbooking supplies (as I know them from the States) were. The answer: not very.


There were not a lot of papercrafting supplies.... about half an aisle's worth. This store was devoted mainly to sewing and stitching, but there were still plenty of great ideas to be had. For starters, there was a small collage section with stamps,  bits of paper, stickers and some 3D embellishments. 

The collage section.
These canvas boxes could be fun to decorate.
Crafting purses, both from paper and fabric, appeared to be a  popular craft for the Japanese.
Something familiar!
Sew your own Kimono 
This fabric in the middle reminded me of the movie Tropic Thunder. I had to snap a picture.
A decent selection of fabrics. I know where I'll be taking my quilt-making mother when she comes to visit.

I thought these were interesting - they are tiny coin purses, about 1 1/2 inches wide, that attach to your cell phone. The Japanese currency has a lot of coins, such as the 500 yen and 100 yen coins, so these zippered coin purses come in handy. I also thought they would be cute dangling from mini albums and the like. So, I bought a book and some supplies to make them. I am new sewing by hand, something I do not usually have the patience for.

Cutesy felt projects are also popular - there was an entire aisle of the store devoted to this type of craft, which are usually hung on backpacks and cell phones.

More felt projects


Name of the store: Tokai, The Craft Heart
Location: Iwakuni: Go out the MCAS Iwakuni main gate and turn left at 4 corners on to Route 188. Tokai will be about 2 km down the road on the left.
Size of the store: Small/Medium/Large
Overall Tenacious Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Special notes: This location does not carry any paint. There is also an annual 5% discount card you can purchase for 500 yen. To get the coupons from the store, you must use a Japanese address. There is another location in Yanai, in the Mr. Max shopping center. It carries most of the same items as the Iwakuni location, but does have a limited supply of Delta cream coat acrylic paints, and a gift store with seasonal items.


Daiso (100 yen store)



While most Iwakuni inhabitants hear about Daisos, or 100 yen stores, before they step foot in Japan, they may not realize how many craft supplies are available. Unfortunately, products at different locations vary, so you may or may bot be able to find everything you are looking for. But you can get stationary items, rubber bands, paperclips, magnets, markers of all kinds, molding clay, glue guns and glue sticks, adhesives of various kinds, small wooden blocks, stickers, colored paper, envelopes, small, flat canvases... seriously, there are a lot of craft supplies at the Daiso, ranging from 100 to 300 yen, plus tax.

Name of the store: Daiso
Location: Iwakuni: 1) Cazl/Fresta Mall on Route 2; 2) 6th floor of the Fuji Grand department store in downtown Iwakuni 3) Go out the MCAS Iwakuni main gate and turn left at 4 corners on to Route 188. There will be a pink Daiso on the left about 4 km down. 200 meters from that Daiso, but on the left, will be a shopping center with a Daiso on the 2nd floor. It is in the same parking lot as Jan Jakas restaurant. There are other locations in Iwakuni, but these are the easiest to find from base.
Size of the store: Varies upon location, but usually medium.
Overall Tenacious Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Special notes: Not all locations offer sturdy shopping bags. You may want to bring your own recycle bag. The Daiso featured in the photo above is actually on Hondori Street in Hiroshima.


Hiroshima

My friend, MaryAnn, and I spent our day today traveling to Hiroshima by train and scouting out these places for this blog post. I would like to thank her for sending me the map pins that she dropped along the way today because I have a pinning deficiency. Thank you, MaryAnn, for your help and your company. Also, please keep in mind that merchandise shown in these photos may change with the seasons.

We took the train from the Iwakuni Station to the Hiroshima Station. It cost 1,540 yen for a round trip ticket. We then spent 160 yen each way on the trolley (trolley 2 or 6, found outside the south entrance of the Hiroshima Station, will get you where you need to go) to go to the Hondori shopping area, and back to the station.

You will ride the trolley from the station to stop M7, Hatchobori.

The first four stores listed below are within a square city block of each other. The fifth is near the Hiroshima Station.

Tokyu Hands

This 7-floor department store features craft, DIY or art supplies on three of its seven floors. Here is what you can find here. I personally purchased an easel for 4,200 yen, and three foam cushions for 2,400 yen.



This store does tend to get a bit warm and humid in the summer, just FYI. We started at the top and worked our way down. There are four other floors that you will not see, but this is a craft post, so I'm keeping it to crafting supplies. The photos below are divided by floor and only represent a small sampling of what the store has to offer.

A description of each floor. A knowledge of Japanese would be helpful.

Pens
Washi tape
Shadow boxes and frames
Paper in many sizes, including poster sized, and in many colors
Various types of paint, art pencils, markers (including Copic), pastels, brushes
Canvas
Stickers and paper embellishment packs
Tags
Licensed stationery and gifts

Fabric gift bags, wrapping paper, paper ribbon
Glow sticks galore
Artificial flowers, wedding and anniversary DIY stuff, MaryAnn's head... ;)

Photo booth masks

Wall stickers
Rustic decor
Standing mirrors and rustic containers

Adhesives, adhesives, and more adhesives. Some had English, some did not.
DIY nuclear survival kit... in a fashionable pink. Actually, I have no idea what this is, other than an Emergency Partner. Nothing but that was in English. Below is the information, including the price, which is about $4,500.
Clearly they do not want Americans to know about this Emergency Partner, since it was all in Japanese. But, you can get accompanying food and other supplies to go with it (see below).

I realize the Emergency Partner is not craft related. But it is weird. So, I wanted to add it. Just for weirdness' sake.

For rock hounds.

For people who like to make metal bugs.

For people who like to make their own thermometers (in Celcius)
Washi paper

Beading

Ceramics

Molding clay

Leather works

Styrofoam shapes

Raw wood materials

Letters... both roman and hiragana/katakana

Raw wood shapes
Name of the store: Tokyu Hands
Location: Hiroshima, trolley stop M7
Pin: 16-28, Hatchobori
Naka-Ku, Hiroshima, Hiroshima
Japan 730-0013
Size of the store: Small/Medium/Large
Overall Tenacious Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Special notes: Tokyu Hands does not have any American-style scrapbooking supplies, although there are a lot of papers, pens, stickers, Washi tape and journaling items. You can pay for items on each individual floor.


Craft World

As we exited Tokyu Hands and took a right on the sidewalk, we walked down about a block t the SOGO Department store. To reach the department store, you will need to take the stairs or elevator to the underground mall and watch for the signs that lead you to the SOGO department store, where Craft World is located (along with a small pet store and an exhibit area). The store will be toward the right once you are underground. When you see the photo below, you are in the correct place:


Go up the escalator on the left and turn left to get to the elevators. Craft World is located on the ninth floor. Once you reach the ninth floor, head to the back, left corner. You will probably see the pet store first. Craft World is to the left of the pet store. You may have to wind your way through exhibitors if there is an exhibition going on... or you could encounter empty floor space on your way to Craft World.


The front of Craft World
Fabric
Beading
Ribbon (much more expensive than in the States... sometimes as much as 3 to 5 times as much)

Specialty fabrics
Embroidery floss
Delta acrylic paint 
Felt sheets
Jewelry making
Tiny, fake non-edible desserts
DIY fabric bags
Name of the store: Craft World
Location: Hiroshima, trolley stop M8
Pin: 6, Motomachi
Naka-Ku, Hiroshima, Hiroshima
Japan 730-0011
Size of the store: Small/Medium/Large
Overall Tenacious Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Special notes: Craft World is a sister store of Tokai, so the annual savings card also works here. Also, my friend Naomi, who is Japanese but speaks wonderful English, teaches a ribbon lei (as in pretend flower necklace) class here once a month. A option for those of you who can get away during the week and want to take a class.


3 Coins

We exited the SOGO department store and headed to Hondori Street. While 3 Coins is not exclusively a craft store, it does have a number of crafting items that change with the season. Everything in the store costs 300 yen plus tax, and it is located three doors down from McDonalds.



I love this store! and not just because it's my favorite shade of green. I can never walk out of here without finding something I can't live without. I got some frames, a bag with alpacas on it (don't ask), a wooden "G," and some chalkboards... so fun!

The aforementioned wooden letters, about 3 to 4 inches high.
Washi products, stickers, etc.
Frames and stationery products
Canvas and burlap items
Buttons
Felt mobile kits and gummy window clings
Name of the store: 3 Coins
Location: Hiroshima, Hondori Street
Pin: 6-5, Hondori
Naka-Ku, Hiroshima, Hiroshima
Japan 730-0035
Size of the store: Small/Medium/Large
Overall Tenacious Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Special notes: The store is two stories, so be sure to take the stairs up. The crafting items are limited and are VERY seasonal, so if you like something, buy it then. It may not be there when you return.


DUO

I have visited DUO a few times before, but it had obviously been awhile. The store used to be on the first floor and be twice as large as it is now... and now it is *tiny.* And I mean tiny. BUT it is the only place I have found near Iwakuni to sell American-style scrapbooking supplies. As you exit 3 Coins, take a left, walking away from McDonald's (Walk away! Walk away! McNuggets go straight to your thighs!). When you see the Regal Shoes store, turn right down the next road/alley on your right.


Walk a couple of short blocks past the guitar and shoe stores and you will see this on the left:


Take the narrow, steep stairs carefully. Inside you will find a very cheerful elderly Japanese lady and the following:

Inks of all kids... this is where I purchased a brown StazOn permanent ink pad, but it did not look like the one I had previously bought in the States.

These are all of the racks of 12x12 cardstock and paper... but appreciate them. They are the only ones I have found for miles.
More Delta paint
FIMO clay 
Sewing supplies
Large felt sheets
Paper and wood items to pain/decoupage
Decorative brads
Punches
Punches and stamps
Name of the store: DUO
Location: Hiroshima, Hondori Street
Pin: 7-21, Fukuromachi
Naka-Ku, Hiroshima, Hiroshima
Japan 730-0036
Size of the store: Small/Medium/Large
Overall Tenacious Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Special notes: Yes, this store is tiny and has a terrible selection to compared to what we are used to. But, we are in Japan and this is where we can get authentic scrapbooking supplies. Be happy and be glad the prices are fairly comparable to the ones in the States.


Maki

MaryAnn and I grabbed the trolley and headed back to Hiroshima Station. After getting lost one and needing help from the station's information desk twice, as well as a trio of taxi drivers, we finally found this elusive 4-story crafting and fabric store, and it is 5 minute walk from Hiroshima Station... if you know where to walk. We know where to walk now, so I'll tell you so you can avoid an 800 yen cab fare.

Hereis the easiest way to describe this, with photos... when you exit the south exit of the Hiroshima Station (this is the one you usually exit out of to catch the trolleys to the Atomic Bomb Dome) and walk around the front of the Station to the right, toward Gaia:


Follow that yellow strip on the ground around the corner. Do not cross the street and go to Gaia. When you reach this weird intersection below, cross the first narrow street and then turn right after the concrete support holding up the bridge above you. Do not cross the second street to go to the shop with the blue awning. That's where we got in to trouble.


When you turn right like you are supposed to, you will find this underground walkway. Forget everything your mother said about dark tunnels and walk through it, directly to the other side.


On the other side, you will find this:


Walk along the road, between the two beige buildings. You will see the sign below on the left (this photo was taken from the opposite side of the store from where you will be approaching. That is because that location is where our taxi driver dropped us after we gave up trying to find the damn place on our own. But, we would soon discover it was worth the trouble and cab fare).


First Floor: Fabric

There were a quite a few traditional Japanese prints, which are hard to find.
It was nice to see something other than "cute" prints: Many of these featured warriors and dragons


We headed to the top of the store, the fourth floor, and worked our way down. This store also has an elevator, which is nice for those who can't manage stairs... or don't want to after walking around Hiroshima all day.

Fourth floor

Beading/jewelry
Floral
Wreaths and garland
Ribbon
Holiday ribbon
Mini pinecones
Walls and walls of trim
Flat cotton rope/giant shoelaces(?)
Foam shapes (a lot more not pictured)
Plastic babies
Jingle bells
Feathers
Ruffle and zippers
Ribbon and lace ruffle
Lace
Macaroon coin purses :)
Third Floor
Buttons
Various mobile kits
DIY hats
Knitting/crochet
More mobiles
Specialty paper
Japanese embellishments (about $6 for one fan)
Mini swords. Perfect for poking an eye out.
Washi paper
Doll clothes patterns...?
Second Floor
Specialty fabrics: sequins, tulles, furs, etc.

Leatherworks of all kinds

Purse making supplies
Belt-making supplies
Raw leather

Name of the store: Maki
Location: Hiroshima, Hondori Street
Pin: 16, Kamiosugacho
Higashi-Ku, Hiroshima, Hiroshima
Japan 732-0056
Size of the store: Small/Medium/Large
Overall Tenacious Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Special notes: Maki misses half a star because there are no papercrafting supplies at all. But other than that, MaryAnn and I agreed this was the best store of the day as far as variety and selection. You must pay for your items on each floor before progressing to the next floor. The staff was very friendly and a number of them spoke limited English.

I hope you find this post helpful. I am sure there are other arts and craft stores around, but these are the ones I know of. Also, I discourage you from contacting me about the availability of certain items... I really wasn't paying attention to anything but the stuff I liked in any great detail. I just tried to snap some photos to give readers an overall idea of what each shop offered. I highly recommend you take a trip to see all of these places so you can make your own notes about the stuff you're interested in.

Just to help you plan, MaryAnn and I left Iwakuni at 9:05 a.m. and (despite getting lost trying to find Maki for about 45 minutes, stopping for an hour to eat lunch, and hitting up Starbucks twice, because that's what you do when you're arriving in and leaving Hiroshima by train), we made it back to base by 6:10 p.m. We did this on a Wednesday and visited the stores between 10:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. I did not pay attention to the individual stores' hours, or check to see if they took debit/credit card. I recommend having plenty of yen with you. Happy shopping!