Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Keeping crafty while the spouse is away...

 So, one of the long-time complaints I have had about the Marine Corps is their poor timing. I am sure in the grand scheme of things, a deployment that leaves on Valentine's Day or comes home the week after Christmas makes sense to someone. Probably someone who either has a very understanding spouse, or used to have a less-than-understanding spouse who now collects child support. Either way, many of us married to people lower on the military food chain have a love-hate relationship with the Marine Corps because of this.

For example, we were in Japan three days when my spouse was assigned to a month-long deployment. After living through deployments that were 11 and 12 months long, a month is nothing. I am fine with the deployment since I work from home and my kids are older. In fact, I am enjoying the space and quiet a queen-sized bed sans snoring husband is affording me. However, the nonsensical part is where he was sent: Twenty-Nine Palms, California. For those of you not familiar with the Southern California landscape, that is about 2.5 hours from my parents' house, where we just flew to Japan from. The first question I have gotten asked by those informed in the States: "Why didn't you guys just stay here?" Um, yeah, well, see, that's not really how the Marine Corps works. That would make way too much sense to those of us down here on the lower end of the food chain, so that would never happen. I have found it causes me a lot less stress if I just roll with the punches the Marine Corps throws. And did I mention that I am getting some great sleep?

The boys headed off to school Monday. For those who like to keep track, Will is in fifth grade, Xan is in first and they both seem to like their teachers. This is a good thing. While there are four first grade teachers at the school here on base, there are only two fifth grade teachers, so there is not a lot of choice. Some of you may be wondering why such a difference in the number of teachers as the grade gets higher. The vast majority of the military is under 25. Younger people tend to have younger children, if any at all. So, there are fewer children older than 10 years old here. Will and Xan will be 14 and 10 respectively when Rodney is eligible to retire. Regardless, the kids are both in school from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The online classes I am teaching for UWF were also supposed to start Monday, but since Tropical Storm/possible Hurricane Issac has reared his ugly head, the start of the semester has been delayed a few days. So I have been working on the lessons for the next few weeks, but don't want to get too far ahead for various reasons. (To my Pensacola friends: Best of luck weathering the storm. What is with these "I" storms, anyway??)

Our main shipment of household goods has not yet arrived, but it should be here any day. No scrap room to play in.

So, with no spouse, no kids, no school, and no scrap room, I am trying to keep busy. This is a new thing for me. For years I have worked full time. Most recently I was working two jobs and finishing my master's degree. If I had spare time I was in my scrap room creating away, so keeping busy was definitely not a problem. Killing time has not been an issue for a very long time. I am out of practice. And I have to work with what is available to me. For example, I do not have a scrap room but I did bring my sewing kit. This is a plastic, handled box I have had since junior high (it is hot pink, purple and teal if you need proof of its age) and it's been touched about twice a year in the past decade. I packed it in my advanced shipment (the 500 pounds of necessities like pots, pans, towels, etc. that we have had since we moved in to our apartment) because it was on a list provided by a fellow Marine Corps wife who has lived overseas before (thanks, Cherie, if you're reading!) ... in case you needed to mend something. I do not mend. I either throw away and get new, or make a pile for six months so my Mom can mend when she visits. Mending isn't really something I am too familiar with. But I packed the sewing kit because it was on the list and I am glad I did. I have not yet mended, but it has actually helped to stem my boredom. But more on this in a moment...

So, to kill time I have been catching up on all the TV shows I have never bothered to watch, but that I have heard were good. Since my Internet service is Japanese and Netflix doesn't work here in Japan (SO not happy about that), the library on base has been fabulous. You can rent current DVDs for 3 weeks for free. I have watched all of the available seasons of The Big C and am now on season 3 of Mad Men. Breaking Bad and Weeds are in the queue. I may even stoop so far as to watch Lost and Sex in the City, depending on how much longer it takes our household goods to arrive.

But I have never been one to simply watch TV or a movie. I must be doing something else, too. Usually I'm doing something crafty or playing a computer game. It drives the spouse nuts. What can I say? I'm a multi-tasker.

So, I have been multitasking like crazy. This is where the sewing kit comes in. I have been creating Japanese coin purses in two styles: a more traditional purse and a macaroon-shaped purse. I have added the links for those of you who would like to try your hand at these. I am not sure how easy the supplies will be to find in the States, but the local craft store here had them. Here are photos of my attempts, some of which have already been mailed as gifts to some family members:

The more traditional coin purses

Bird charm macaroon coin purse

Pink macaroon coin purse

A collection of macaroon coin purses in two different sizes.
I like creating things that are pretty and useful. Coin purses are much more useful in Japan than in the U.S., because coins are used more often. They go up to 500 yen denominations. Americans can barely fathom using dollar coins regularly. They either snub them or hoard them with their jars of pennies. I must admit, I love the ease of a debit card, but not all of the little shops in town take them, so I make it a point to have yen on hand.

One other things I have made that has been useful is a solution for this:

While the frosted safety-glass window in the bathroom door is ugly and institutional, I was willing to live with it as it was. That was, until Rodney got up for work for the first time at 5:45 a.m., shut the door to the bathroom and turned the light on. Whoa! It was bright and woke me out of a sound sleep. Apparently I cussed and screamed at him, but I really can't remember anything but a very bright light and waking up with a pillow over my head.

So, my kind and thoughtful husband came home from work that day and created a solution:

As appreciative as I am for his effort, Drumstick blue and nutrition charts don't really go with my home decor plans. So, I took myself off to my favorite daiso to see what I could find. I found three things that would solve my problem: two short tension rods and a remnant of dark blue fabric. With the help of my trusty sewing kit, I had a much more aesthetically pleasing solution... just as the first season of Mad Men came to a close.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Let's talk toilets...

So I have been in Japan for nearly a month now (yes, time flies when you are having fun!) and I have encountered about 10 different types of toilets. Seriously. And about three dozen different types of faucets that always seem to turn on and off a different way than I expect. But the faucets are different topic for a different post. I want to talk about toilets. Because there is plenty to talk about when it comes to the Japanese versions. And there are several versions.

First, there is the fairly familiar.This is the toilet in the boys' bathroom. Although it has an odd pipe running from the tank to the bowl, looking a little E.T.-esque, this is a commode I can identify and have the confidence in using.

There is something a little different about this bathroom set-up however, but a change that I can embrace: The toilet paper holder. No more do I have to mess with that stupid spring-filled spinning contraption that only people with above-average hand-eye coordination skills can change without a fumble. Now there is this:

Simply take the empty cardboard and pull it up and out of the holder. Take the new roll and push it up through the holder - the arms bend up and then immediately fall in place to hold the new roll. As you can see, there is even an instructional picture on the inside of the metal flap to explain this three-second process.

Ta-da! Even Xan can change the roll now...no more empty-roll excuses from anyone in the family! And, of course, just to stir the pot on this decades-old argument, the toilet paper always comes from over the top to hang down. Just for the record, I do not know what the metal flap is for. It lays over the top of the toilet paper roll, but I find it annoying because the toilet paper tears right at its edge and then is hard to grab the next time you need some. The flap in my bathroom stays up.

The next toilet is one that is located in the base library. A very familiar style, yet with another feature I could embrace: to flush you step on the button on the floor. No touching nasty handles or doing the limited-space-in-the-stall roundhouse kick to the back of the toilet to flush.

The more traditional toilet in Japan is the one below, where women with really good knees and an excellent sense of balance manage not to soil their shoes. This one is at the Iwakuni bus station. Fortunately, at most locations such as these, there is at least one "handicapped" toilet stall. In this stall is one of the more familiar "western" style toilets that, if there is a line outside of its stall, is full of elderly Japanese women and Americans.

Novelty is one thing, but complete confusion is yet another, in my opinion. For example, this was in the women's bathroom at the Hiroshima train station, sitting in the middle of the bathroom, without a door, across from the sinks:

But nothing was more fascinating or confusing than the family/handicapped bathroom at Nafco, the Japanese version of Home Depot or Lowes.

Now, mind you, this is just ONE CORNER of the bathroom. There is a lot of writing everywhere and I have no idea what it says. I can tell you that those big red symbols on the wall are not warnings of immanent danger because I did, in fact, use the toilet pictured here and nothing painful happened. But, boy, was there a lot to keep an individual entertained! Unfortunately, I had both of my nervous sons with me (this was only the second time we had been out in town and they had no interest in playing, "Hmm... what does this do?" with me. They have too much of their father in them. ;p ) so I did not have the chance to push buttons. However, the next time I visit that place, I am going to lock myself in and figure it all out. Video on that to be posted later...

Anyway, here is the control panel for the toilet. It appears to be very similar to the one this guy with the fabulous accent took an amusing 81-second video of in 2008: Computer Operated Toilet

While the computerized toilet is an intriguing novelty I would like to spend more time experimenting with, the rest of the bathroom befuddled me further:

This fixture pictured above was in the corner to the left of the toilet (of you are looking at said toilet). I initially thought it was a sink. But, the bowl is funnel-shaped and what's with the shower head? It's about 3 feet off the ground, so too short to be a shower. Besides, there was already a more traditional sink in the adjacent corner:

By the way, that handle beneath the box where the soap is housed does not turn the faucet on. It plugs the sink. The faucet is a no-hands-needed sensor faucet. This American was perplexed by that for about 5 seconds.
However, in the fourth and final corner, right by the door was this:

A place to hang your baby! Perfect! I have seen these in America but those come with less-than convenient belts, buckles and five-point harnesses that are hard to figure out when you have the baby, diaper bag, and purse, and REALLY have to pee. I like the drop-your-baby-in-to-hang version here. Hands-free and convenient!

So, after pondering the hang-your-baby-up contraption, I pondered the second sink. Could it be in lieu of a changing table? No wipes necessary, just spray the kid down? This would be most useful for those projectile vomiter toddlers, too. Much easier than trying to force their pukey heads under the facet in the bathroom sink without drowning them. But, this is just my American assumption. I am open to other suggestions or facts...

Aug. 24: Fellow Marine Corps wife Megan in Pensacola, who was also recently stationed in Iwakuni, said that her friend sent her this photo to help  - directions!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Eating our way to, through and from Hiroshima...

It wasn't really the plan to eat and drink our way to, through and from this historic city in Japan, but that is what ended up happening, Of course, there was plenty of things to SEE as well, and I tried to capture a lot of the things I found interesting. The interesting happened the moment I shut my car door. We had just parked in a seven-story parking structure nestled between a block of department stores, paying 100 yen an hour so we had a ride from the Iwakuni train station to base. When my car door shut, there was no echo. No loud engine noises. No honking. No loud stereo with bass and speakers that cost more than the car itself. It was eerily quiet, but there were plenty of cars around. I looked up and the ceiling of each level of the structure had acoustic foam sprayed on it... the eerie silence was explained.

Please note that all of the cars are backed in to spaces. This is how people park in Japan. I have brushed up on my reverse skills. Fortunately my car is equipped with "sonar" that beeps at me. Sensors are located on all four corners of the car and I am alerted on my dashboard when I the computer deems me too close to other things. Even a sprig of weeds growing from a crack behind my car. No joke.
Eating commenced just moments after we parked. The train and bus station is less than 5 minutes from the parking structure and on the corner of the train station is a doughnut store. I walked past it, as doughnuts are a breakfast fare, in my opinion, but the men in the group had other ideas. My spouse, Rodney, and fellow Marine Ray, took an immediate detour in to the doughnut store, aptly named Mister Donut. The only other woman in the group, Yolanda, and I continued our focused mission: To purchase train tickets to Hiroshima.

Ray with his dozen doughnuts. He did share. That's Yolanda laughing and the Mister Donut is in the background. We are in the middle of the train station lobby.
The doughnut I tried looked like a frozen baby's teething toy and tasted like cinnamon and sugar.
While there are automatic ticket dispensing machines available for fast train ticket purchases, Yolanda said using the window with an actual person helping you is easier for those of us not fluent in Japanese. I followed her advice. After all, she and he husband, Josh, were the seasoned Japan travelers, I am a mere novice. The round-trip ticket cost for adults was about 1,500 yen, Will was half price and Xan was free. So, the entire train cost for my family of four was about $47.25. The train ride is about 45-50 minutes, one-way.

Two of our tickets. Since Xan was free, he had to follow closely behind is brother in the turn style so they could go through the gate at the same time. 

We took the 3:11 p.m. train, and walked over to Track 6 to meet it.
To meet the train, we had to go up stairs and across a covered foot bridge to the right track. All along the footbridge were colorful advertising posters.

Our group walking to Track 6.

One of the advertising posters. It still is a pleasant surprise to see how much of the writing is in English.

A view of the racks from the footbridge. The high-rises are apartment buildings.

One of the trains arrives on Track 7.

Yolanda, with the help of her son, Eli, demonstrates where to wait  in line for the train. Americans would be surprised by the lack of barricades, fences and barriers. There are a lot of sheer drops that individuals are responsible for keeping themselves from falling off of. 

I meant to get a picture of the open-air area where we wait for the train., It wasn't until I got home that I realized I got a woman picking her nose. Added bonus for you.

Japanese graffiti! This was carved in to my window (there are not assigned seats, you just rush to find the best seat possible once you are on the train or bus). I have no idea what it says, so if you can read it and it is an expletive, don't show it to your kids.
The inside of the train car.
Below are a few pictures of the view out my window. Most of these were taken near Otake.

This is a cemetery, with obelisk-shaped shrines for the ashes of the deceased. This is the fist wall-like one I have seen. Most of them are in small, flat lots.
After about 45 minutes of jerky, swaying train ride, we arrived at the Hiroshima Port, where all of the public transportation in Hiroshima begins and ends. Trains, bullet trains, buses, taxis... they are all here at this hub. To get to where we were going, Peace Park,we needed to take a bus. But first we had to get outside the train station and to the bus stop.
My kids, walking around in awe, with Josh herding them along. 

These goldfish were hanging all along the station. These are for the annual goldfish festival.

Greeting us as we exited the station.

The hustle and bustle to the left as we exited the station and walked about 50 yards to the bus stop.
Lots of English slogans.

The bus schedule. Fortunately, Yolanda told me to just look for the icon of the domed building and that is where we wanted to go.
Xan and Rodney on the bus. We had about 8 stops before we got to our stop at Peace Park.
I am sure it was by design, but as we got off of the bus and to a dozen steps in to Peace Park, one of the first things you come upon is this rock and tree, partially obscuring the view of the A-Bomb Dome. This park has been created as a memorial to the victims of the American A-bomb that was dropped there, as they were the first victims of a nuclear attack. The park promotes world peace and urges countries to end the manufacturing and use of nuclear weapons. The information provided is very factual, and does an excellent job of not placing blame. As Yolanda explained, there is more of a sense of "What can we learn from this and how can we prevent it from happening again?"

As you walk to the left of the rock, this is the first clear view of the A-Bomb Dome. The building as been left as it stood in the aftermath of the bombing.

Moving clockwise around the dome, if the first photo was at 1 o'clock, the second photo was at 3 o-clock, and this on is at 6 o'clock.
Taken from across the river.
Artists often come to sketch or paint the dome.
A large placard stands in front of the A-Bomb Dome. Here are each of the four sections, with the English translations:

Photo 1
Caption 1
Photo 2
Caption 2
Photo 3
Caption 3
Photo 4
Caption 4
We moved on across the bridge, where the A-Bomb Museum is. Although we did not have time to go to the museum, I am looking forward to going and learning more.

The museum is the long building in the distance. The Peace Flame can be seen in the center of the platform. The arch-shaped Cenotaph between the two carries the names of each of those who died in the blast.

Will and Xan (with Emma dashing behind) under the Children's  Peace Memorial. This is dedicated to all of the children who died in the blast and features a Japanese girl with her arms outstretched, with a paper crane above here. This is representative of the true story of a young girl who died of radiation from the bomb. She believed that if she folded 1,000 paper cranes she would get well. Those cases behind the memorial are full of paper cranes.

A peace sign made from paper cranes.
The memorials were very well done and there were many tourists out, despite the heat and humidity., As a matter of fact, Yolanda took a Spaniard couple's photo as we crossed back over the bridge to where the dome was located. Across the street and adjacent to the Peace Park is Hondori Street, where we spent the remainder of the evening. This is a busy outdoor mall, with just about any kind of store you can imagine, including ones you might recognize.

In case you forget where you are, this arched sign appears at every crossroad.

Entering the covered portion of the street. I would say it is about half a mile long. Perfect to rainy days!

Would any shopping center be complete without a daiso?

Electronics store, sort of like Radio Shack.
Arcades are HUGE, both in size and in popularity.

Here are a couple of places you might recognize:

This is where we ate dinner, Andersen's. It is a buffet-style place, but you pay for each item you get. They have different styles of food you can choose from, and then they cook it fresh and bring it to your table.

The numbers for my meal, Xan's meal and Will's meal.

The salad portions of my meal. I got a potato salad and a cucumber salad, with bread of course! Instead of silverware and a napkin, you get chopsticks and a textured wet wipe.

Ray's steak and potatoes from the Steak and Grill section.

My children are not very adventuresome when it comes to food. Will got onion rings and  fries from the Sandwich and Salad section.
Xan got cheese pizza from the Pizza and Pasta section.
This is my seafood dish from the Chinese section. Oddly, there wasn't a Japanese section.
This small Coke cost $4.25. Xan was appalled that there were no refills.
One of the features that night was this balloon artist in the "Where's Waldo" shirt and balloon top hat. He was very talented and each kid got a balloon figure for free!

Eli got a popular Japanese cartoon character, Anpanman.
Will got Yoshi from Mario Cart
Xan asked for and got a sword.

Emma got a bunny.
While the restaurant portion of the shop was on the second floor, the first floor had all kinds of delicious things to see and buy. And some fun things to amaze the kids.

Legos are very popular in Japan and there were Lego figurines in the lobby at Andersen's. 

The desserts were too beautiful to eat. This cake was about 8 inches in diameter and  cost  almost $52.
My mother will now be able to visit me in Japan: There are Starbucks in Hiroshima. We stopped at this one and everyone got something, The kids got hot cocoa, Rodney got a house blend ice coffee and I got the biggest black iced tea they made. With Sweet 'N Low, of course!

Will with his "short" sized cocoa.
We walked around Hondori Street for awhile longer, but then everyone wanted dessert. So dessert we got, from a cute corner sweet shop, and these eclairs were delicious! I got the one with berries.

After dessert, everyone was full and tired, so we headed back to the bus stop to take the bus to the train station, and then boarded the train bound for Iwakuni. We made it back to the garage about 5 hours after we left. We paid 500 yen to unpark our car.