Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cabining in Oshima, Day 1

Each spring break, we try to take a little family trip. Last year was Sasebo. This year was cabining. And I say "cabining" because, and I am using third person to place emphasis on this properly, Jessica does not camp. I tried camping in Girls Scouts about three times: 4th grade, 5th grade and 6th grade, and the experiences progressively got worse. These experiences included icy winds whipping THROUGH our cabin all night (to the point where we were so cold, we were a shade of blue and got to sleep in the facility's cafeteria the next night), vomit and menarche. Add to that overflowing porta-potties, having the lyrics of "Pour Some Sugar on Me" written on my arm in Sharpie, and dust so thick you couldn't breathe, and I'd had enough by junior high. I do not camp.

Cabining, however, is something I might be able to appreciate... if I brought a maid along with me. Let me explain.

As a Christmas present, our neighbors took the boys cabining a couple of months ago and they had a great time, The boys were eager to share this experience with us, their parents, and asked if we could go for Spring Break. The spouse, who is from rural Illinois, felt the need to get back to his woodsy roots and was willing to go. That just left me as the party pooper, and, if you haven't learned anything from these posts, it's that I am willing to try nearly anything once. So, I agreed to try cabining. After getting information from the neighbors who put this idea in the boys' heads, I headed over to the ITT (travel) office on base, found in Crossroads Mall. There I told them where I wanted to camp, Katazoe Beach on Oshima Island (about an hour from base), and they used my cell phone to make the reservation. I could have done it myself, of course, but I do not speak Japanese. For a 4-person cabin, it runs about $130 a night. In my opinion, this is cheap, considering that Japanese hotels charge per person, meaning we spend more than $200 a night in most cases. ITT also gave me a map to the campground, and a list of all the amenities the campground had to offer. Our cabin had a kitchen, so we could cook meals there. We also rented a grill for 1,000 yen ($10) for each day. Yeah, that's expensive, but they clean it for you afterwards. Bonus.

So, not having been camping in my adult life, I definitely needed think seriously about what to pack. We brought food for five meals (one meal we were going to eat at Aloha Orange, a Hawaiian restaurant on the island that I recommend - be sure to get the macadamia nut pancakes), items to grill being the top staple. We remembered eggs, cereal and fruit for breakfast, hotdogs, hamburgers, ketchup, mustard and the things needed to make s'mores, but forgot salt and pepper. While sheets and blankets are provided, you need to bring your own bath and kitchen towels, as well as bath soap... we did forget bath soap, but, luckily I had some soap left from a hotel stay a few months back. Mom saves the day! Essentially, by the time we were done packing to be gone for 48 hours, the four of us had filled the back of my large sedan.

So much for packing light. But we were on the road a little after 1 p.m. so we could check in around 3 p.m., the earliest you could check in to your cabin. While the staff does not speak much English, as long as you have your yen in hand, everything else kind of works itself out as you check in. You hand over the yen, they hand over sheets, a cabin door key and a pass that opens the electronic gate to the campground. A gated community, no less! But definitely have a Japanese translator on speed dial... I had to use my "Phone a Japanese Friend" option about an hour in to the cabining experience.

Spring break was an excellent time to go. The weather was cool but not miserable and it is not a popular time for the Japanese to camp, so there were only a few other people there. A Japanese family was truly camping... in a tent and everything. And there ended up being a group of Japanese men cabining on the hill above us. Other than that, we had the place to ourselves.

We got Cabin #5. And this was the view from our back porch:

For thse camping in tents, the building seen in the picture above is the bathrooms, showers and laundry room. Maybe this isn't "real" camping after all. No toilet paper leaves necessary.

This was the front of our cabin.

And the back... the spouse is already dressed in hunting gear, with a cigar, starting the grill. He looks happy, doesn't he?

This was a cabin behind us, which was easer to take a picture of. Ours was on a bit of a cliff, so getting a good shot of the porch was difficult.

Once all the required gear was brought in to the cabin, the males in the family scattered, leaving the housework to the lone female in the family. I supposed I could have gotten dirty with the boys or smoked a cigar with the spouse, but I was more of the mind to sit quietly, read and enjoy the view. Plus, there were perishable foods that needed to be put in to the (tiny) refrigerator, and iced tea to be made... I was thirsty. The beds needed to be made and storage was scarce, so I had to find a place for stuff to go so I wouldn't trip on it everywhere I moved. This where the maid would have come in handy.

Here is the one-room living area:

The kitchen:

The boys loved the bunk beds... they each have their own window!

Another plus to cabining: There is air conditioning and heating, with a remote control thermostat attached to the wall. There is another console on the wall near the front door. My neighbor who took my kids camping had explained that I needed to go to the console near the door to turn on the hot water for showers and cooking. I pressed every button that I could find on the console on the wall by the front door... no hot water. Rodney confirmed that my button pushing wasn't producing the required results. All of the buttons were in Japanese and the instruction booklet that comes with the cabin is... all in Japanese.

Hmmm... time to phone a friend. A Japanese-speaking friend. I texted a photo of the console to my friend Chie, along with a brief explanation of my predicament. It was a terrible quality photo and she called, asking if there was anyone there she could talk to about my predicament since she couldn't read the buttons on the photo. I told her I would call her back and made the 1-minute drive to the campground office. When I got in to the office, I called her back and handed the phone over to the guy at the front desk. His face was priceless. He looked at my phone, looked at me and squinted in disbelief. I said, "Please," and put the phone to my own ear in an attempt to show him how to use my iPhone. Sometimes sign language goes a long way. I handed the phone to him again. He took it delicately in his hand (I think he might have thought I had American cooties or something) and then said mushi-mushi, or whatever it is that means "hello, begin speaking" in Japanese. Chie explained my lack of hot water and Japanese reading and writing ability in a matter of moments, and I soon had the campsite guy following me to my cabin to show me how to turn the hot water on. Turns out, there is a whole other, third console in plain sight that I completely missed. He showed me how to turn on the hot water and then waited to make sure that I did, indeed, get hot water. I thanked him profusely, and then he headed back outside... and around the corner of the cabin to where my husband to grilling to ask him in limited English if everything was OK. Why he didn't ask me, I have no idea... maybe the (mostly untrue) rumors about dumb blondes has reached the island. Just because I couldn't find the third console in plain sight, geez. But I would not quibble... I now had hot water for a shower. Yet another benefit of cabining.

So here is how the afternoon went after we acquired hot water: Rodney was manly with the grill, the boys got dirty and found random "treasures" and I learned how to use the Japanese hot plate.

While I made all the beds, the guys were playing catch outside. While I put away the groceries, Rodney was "manning" the grill while the boys searched for just the right sticks for roasting marshmallows. While I made iced tea and cut produce for the burgers, the boys played tag outside and Rodney lit a cigar while stoking the grill. I didn't really get in my reading time like I had hoped. Again, a maid would have been nice.

We did go for a stroll down to the beach, but the sun was going down and it was quite chilly. We still had plenty of fun looking at weird plants and poking things washed up on the beach with a stick.

The spouse grilled hamburgers for dinner, followed by s'mores, which I had not made or eaten since Girls Scouts... they are actually quite tasty when you haven't set your marshmallow on fire. Not that Xan would know...

 I got a birds-eye view of dinner from the top of the bunk beds (with their own windows!)

While the boys were excited about the sleeping arrangements, Rodney and I were less so. Basically, the beds were tatami mats with thin futon mattresses. Thirty-something Americans aren't designed for these. Especially the spouse, who somehow convinced me it was better to sleep together on a narrow space with two futon mattresses stacked beneath us. Sleep was.... difficult. Let's just say that if we cabin again, we will be bringing air mattresses and sleep separately.

Day 2 is when the real adventure began...

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