Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Let loose in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi, Japan

The past three days have gone by in a blur for us - we've had orientation, a short tour of the local town, and Japanese driver's ed... I am sure there is a back up of processing in my brain right now, I am dreaming of bus schedules and sharks. I am not really sure what all of that means, but I'll just assume it's my brain processing Yen conversions to dollars and Japanese No Parking signs. Here is a brief outline of what I've encountered in the past 72 hours:

MCAS Iwakuni Orientation:

We got some history of the base: Before World War II, it was a Japanese military training base for Zero fighter planes. Once World War II was over, and America was declared the winner, Americans have occupied the base, which is now about six square miles. There is quite a symbiosis between the Americans and Japanese here. There are currently about 7,000 Marines and their families stationed here and about 6,000 contractors who work on base each day, most of them Japanese nationals. This base will be doubling in population in the coming years, as smaller bases around the Pacific close or relocate. We've been told we will see huge growth. If the construction going on all around the base is any indication, what we were told in orientation can be considered true information. Good news for us is that we may get to enjoy a bigger and better theater, school, and commissary while we are stationed here. Maybe we will be able to find Rodney's Activia yogurt then, because it is not available here now.

One of the comments highlighted during orientation: No one is stalking you. Oh, really? I didn't even consider stalking to be on my "Top 100 List of Things to Stress Out About When I Move to Japan," but now that this has been brought up, maybe I should add it. It turns out that a lot of people, such as myself, have never lived in a VERY small town. Remember: This is a town with a population of 7,000. We've been told by several people that it is "Mayberry." I have provided a link for those of you, like me, who are old enough to understand the meaning of this reference - small town - but were too young to really understand where Mayberry was. Basically, everyone knows everything about everyone. There are only three places to shop in  four square acres, so you will see everyone three or four times a day. Rodney is somewhat familiar with this, being from a small township outside the small city of Pittsfield, Illinois, population 5,000. I have come to understand this concept due to my familiarity with him and his family. I can see where someone not familiar with this concept might feel like their boss or coworker or teacher may be stalking them in the dairy aisle, at the cleaners and at the school supply boutique. But they aren't, so I've been told. But, then the over-thinker in me gets busy. Perhaps this is actually prime stalker territory. People have already been told they are not being stalked, so it seems like the perfect environment for stalking. Hmm... perhaps I can finally get a stalker. I never had one. Or perhaps I should hone my own stalking skills. Yes.. his is definitely something to consider for future blog fodder.... but moving on!

Fun Fact: The legal drinking age here is 20, which is the age Japanese are considered adults.

Good News: I explained my dismay with the map situation (see previous blog post) to the Sgt. Major of the base during orientation (much to Rodney's dismay - but the guy asked if we had any questions or suggestions!!) and he supposedly put it on his to-do list. I will keep you posted to see if the map and bus stops get updated sometime in the next three years.

Japanese Driver's Ed:

The signs I needed to know. They probably look pretty familiar, for the most part.

Senior stickers
OK, Grandma, forgive me, but here is something I think America should consider adopting. These two stickers above must be displayed on the cars driven by people 70 years or older. The teardrop one is being phased out to replace the flower-shaped one. This way you can give them the space they need to drive slowly and use the wrong pedal. A tulip-shaped sticker is also available for new drivers and must be displayed if you have been driving less than a year. The instructor, seen above, explained that it is not uncommon to see both the "senior" sticker and the "new driver" sticker on the same car. Yikes!!

For those keeping score, Rodney and I both got 98 percents on our written exams and are proud, card-carrying drivers in Japan as of 2:30 Japan time today. There is no driving test... Buhahahahaha!

Touring Iwakuni:

After the morning orientation, the afternoon was spent on a tour bus, learning how to use the bus and trains system in town. We were also given 45 minutes of free time to "shop." For me it was more "gawk," but apparently the locals are used to Mondays - the day when the base lets all of the new-to-the-area, crazy, jet-lagged Americans out to infiltrate the stores. Here is our tour guide explaining the train map to us:

The machines below is where you insert your money for tickets. Fortunately, there is also a window with a sort-of-English-speaker at work. 

During our shopping time, we visited a few stores - 45 minutes is not nearly as long as necessary to truly explore what goods are offered. I visited a women's clothing shop (I think maybe the hats and purses were my size, the rest, not so much) and a teen clothing store (you must be VERY skinny to wear these things. Xan will have a great time shopping here!) Note below the amount of English in these stores:

But my favorite was the grocery store. Check out how the items are familiar, but not quite the same:

Produce section

$6.37 for half a cantaloupe.

Egg cartons are clear.


Butter. And a boom box. These boom boxes were all over the store, playing something in Japanese. I can only assume they were marketing messages, but you know what happens when you assume...

Open air cabobs. Did not walk in to the danger zone with these...

Japanese Lunchables?

And for my fellow scrapbookers: a photo printing kiosk!
We are planning to go car shopping later this week, which should definitely be an adventure worthy of blog fodder... stay tuned!


Pamela Hatt said...

Love reading your blogs Jess! Keep 'em coming! So interesting. Also just so you know - when I read them I hear your voice talking. LOL!!!

Jenn Christman said...

I LOVE THE IDEA OF THE STICKERS! That would be perfect for Cali drivers!! If we had those maybe I wouldn't start yelling at the drivers out there if I knew they were new or over 70. I'm just saying.

I am totally with Pamela, love your blogging! I enjoy reading it whether it's something crafty, provoking thoughts or just life. And I can totally hear your voice too when I read it. Love ya

Jessica Guthrie said...

Thanks you guys... although I'm not sure it is healthy to have my voice in your heads! ;)