Sunday, September 30, 2012

Japanese thrift store shopping...

I was a huge fan of flea markets and antique stores when I lived in the states, and while I haven't really found anything quite like the sprawling, booth-filled treasure troves I could spend hours in, a fellow Marine Corps wife, Rachel, and I headed out in to the town of Iwakuni with vague directions to find two Japanese thrift stores, Recycle Mart and Dragonfly.

Our vague directions were: "It's down the street from Nafco." (Nafco is the Home Depot-like store in Japan.) These were the directions Rachel got from a woman who has lived in Iwakuni for a few years now, and is her go-to person for information. With these directions, we managed to find Nafco, but were at a loss as far as what direction to head to start our search for the thrift stores. About a quarter mile from the Nafco parking lot, we decided to pull in to another store's parking lot so we could call Rachel's contact. Turns out, that was the parking lot for the Recycle Mart.

Can you make out the tiny "Recycle Mart" in English on the sign? Yeah, we didn't at first, either.

This sign was in the parking lot. I am not sure if we aren't supposed to let our cars idle, or if there is no loitering and a language problem. We made sure not to do either one, just in case.
There were a lot of washing machines for sale, but no dryers. I am sure they exist but most Japanese hang their clothes out on their balconies to dry. I know the photo doesn't show it well,but these machines are about half the size of American washers.
There were a number of vinyl record albums for sale, like this KISS record.
Because of the lack of space, combines appliances, like this coffeemaker/toaster oven, are very popular.
Do not be confused by the Janglish label  - these are rubber bands, not gum.
A view down the center aisle of the shop. If I ever need a guitar, I know where to go.
 There were some items for sale that I found interesting:

"Melting" clock.

The power tool aisle - Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor would be thrilled. Ar, ar, ar...

A whole corner of baby stuff.

The only lamp with a shade I have seen off base. This used lamp is about $30.


The furniture corner featured a lot of cabinets and seating. The photos don't show it well, but the cabinets are taller than the average American dresser and the sofas are about 9 inches lower to the ground.

Lots of clothing for sale - if my kids were a little younger, I would have invested in this Lego backpack.
I had to get a shot of these men's shoes.
There were three of these for sale, this one for about $120. One of the brands is "Rodeo Boy" and this is considered an exercise chair. If you look it up on YouTube there are some interesting videos.

I bought a scrapbook album at the Recycle Mart, only it is not the American standard 12 x 12-inch size. It is actually about 11.5 x 13 inches and I hope to be able to find pages for it or create pages so I can put some photos of our Japanese adventures in it. But it was about $6.50, so well worth it it me.

The second thrift store we tried to find was what American call "Dragonfly." We  knew it was in the vicinity of Recycle Mart, but could not find anything that looked like a thrift store. Rachel called her directions contact, who basically told us to look for a big picture of a dragonfly on the sign. Turns out we had driven past it twice. I have no idea if the store is actually called Drangonfly or not, but since the sign didn't have any English on it, the Americans went for the hieroglyphic approach, I guess.

Dragonfly has some similar items as Recycle Mart,but also specialized in more traditional Japanese items, such as dishes and kimonos:

And instead of a lot of washers, they had a lot of refrigerators. These appliances were very skinny and were about 2/3 the size of American fridges. Here is what one looked like on the inside:

The furniture section of this store was larger that Recycle Mart's and featured a number of pieces,including dining room tables a and kitchen cabinets. And, yes, another lamp with lampshade.

 A dish dryer.

 A stylish teapot

 There were a lot of plastic storage drawers for sale, probably because it costs a lot of money to junk large, bulky items.

 I am not sure why there are two naked blond children on the front of this blanket.

 These traditional-looking lamps came with electrical cords for modern convenience.

 If there are any Austin Powers fans out there, you've got it made...

The metal shelf above is the purchase I made at Dragonfly - a gift for Rodney, who is lamenting his lack of closet space.

After we shopped the morning away, we headed to a local sushi restaurant... but that experience is a whole other post!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A quiet week for once...time to follow up

This week should be quieter than most have been thus far in our Japanese adventure, but I better stop with that - I don't want to jinx myself. I am enjoying the calm, to be sure. But here are some follow-ups to recent posts I have made, just for those of you who enjoy following the Guthrie Family Saga:

Home again, home again... well, sort of.

This goes on the premise that home is where ever the Marine Corps sends you. So, home is currently Iwakuni, Japan and the spouse got home Monday evening, after a 24-hour delay, thanks to United Airlines, which couldn't seem to leave the great city of Palm Springs on time. Rodney spent the night in San Francisco, but was in no mood to go sight-seeing, of course. But he made it home safely, and that is what matters. He's settled in, both at home and at work. He finds the way I decorated and organized the house "cozy" and loved the fact that I had his car, Snowflake, registered, washed and ready to go for him when he got back. Snowflake will be featured in a future post, because she deserves her own story. I find her amusing.

Rodney, who has been very anti-Japanese-pet, has warmed up to Molly. After all, how can you resist that face of hers? Here's a shot of the spouse and Molly getting better acquainted:

And speaking of Molly...

Molly has been in the family for a little over a week now and we love her more each day. She's settled in, as well, and is more curious and calm that she has been. She still isn't sure she wants to leave her cage, but with watermelon as a bribe, she's stopped trying to hide as much. We take her out to enjoy her watermelon before the kids go to bed so they can see this nocturnal marsupial.

The "bonding" between us and Molly will take several more weeks, so, hopefully, she will grow to love us as much as we love her.

Skype rocks...

Seriously, if you have a computer and haven;' installed Skype on it, you are SO missing out. Even if your relatives live nearby, this is a great way to "see" them when you don't have time to get together. My mom (who lives in California) is visiting my mother-in-law (who lives in Illinois) this week (Side note: I know this is unusual and we are very lucky they get along. In fact, the kids can't understand why everybody's grandmas don't get along so well. Frankly, neither do I, but that's more philosophy and psychology than I care to delve in to at this point.) Below is a photo of the kids talking to "the Grandmas" the other day on Skype. The Grandmas had called to say hi - and to have me help them get the DVD player started. Nothing like Skype to give technical instruction to a couple of Grandmas half a world away! And it was hilarious hearing the kids say, "Grandma! Both of you!" when they tried to get their attention during the conversation.

The gi arrived!

While Xan has had his gi (the white karate uniform seen below) for a month now, the sensei had run out of gis in Will's size and they needed to be ordered. They finally came in so, Will is now just as official as Xan in karate class - and I think they look adorable. But I am sure that is not the adjective they want to hear - especially when performing martial arts.

14 pounds lighter...

According to the scale this morning, I have lost about 14 pounds since changing my lifestyle just over 3 weeks ago. This has meant following the South Beach Diet and working out three times a week with the help of a trainer, It has not been overly fun, but it hasn't been nearly as bad as I had expected it to be. And if I keep losing weight like this, then I will definitely be motivated to continue, although the whole The Big C motivation wouldn't be terrible (the main character is a teacher who pays one of her obese students $100 for every pound she loses). I'd be $1,400 richer right now! But I did treat myself to some new sneakers and sport bras. LOL... I am sure the weight loss will slow down to the usual 1-2 pounds a week soon, but as long as I keep losing I'm OK. And, of course, thank you to all of you who have been so supportive!

Home again, home again... well, sort of.

This is not a typo. I know I already used this subhead, but it is, in fact somewhat true, yet again. I plan to fly back to the states at the end of October - as cheaply as possible. This means flying Space A - or space available. Think of it like flying standby, but you may not be on a passenger plane. You could be flying in the jump seat of a C-130 next to a humvee. Or, the flights going where you want to go may be full, so you have to wait until the next flight, which could be hours, days or even weeks later. It a crap-shoot, but, if the Space A crap shoot works out in my favor, it will cost me $29.10 to fly to Seattle from Iwakuni. And here is the official stamp that gets me on the Space A list:

And don't worry: I'll be sure to post about my Space A flight adventure!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Glass Village

On base, there is a program called "Cultural Adaptation." As you may have read earlier, I took a Survival Japanese class, led by a Japanese national named Akie. Akie is also responsible for planning and guiding tours to local destinations for the Americans stationed at Iwakuni about twice a month. The first tour I have gotten to go on was on Friday, when about 25 of us went to The Glass Village in Hiroshima. Being me and not wanting to miss a thing, I took a seat right in the front of the bus, next to the window so I could see Japan as the bus lumbered through it. For those of you who are familiar with my life back in 2008, I planned hosted a scrapbooking bus tour, and had I remembered, the first two rows of seating are especially useful to a tour guide. They can organize their roster, handouts, etc. Having me in the front seat was not going to be especially helpful. I did not realize this until Akie put her bags on the seat next to me - "Is it OK if I sit here?" she asked. Oh, yes, in fact I will move, I told her, and started to get up. She said that was not necessary, that I should stay, and I am glad I did. I got to know Akie and more about the American/Japanese dynamic as seen through her eyes.

Akie laughing with us while she explains the tour
While she did her job, making announcements and checking on the passengers, she had to be seated for the half hour we were on the expressway, so we were able to chat. It was interesting listening to her, what her job entails and some of the challenges she faces, such as playing the middle-woman between the expectations of Americans and what the Japanese hosts at different sight-seeing locations or willing and able to do. I did have a tour recommendation for her: I have talked to a few other military wives stationed here and the one thing they would like to see is the inside of every-day Japanese homes, sort of like a home or garden tour. They have had these in several cities I have lived in: a handful of families open their well-decorated homes on a Saturday for people to walk through, have refreshments, etc. I told Akie that, if it wasn't considered impolite in Japan and there were some people willing to allow a bunch of Americans to trample through their homes, I think it would be a popular tour. She thought it was a good idea, since she remembered that when she visited the U.S. several years back, she had wondered about people's homes, as well. So, I will let you know if this home tour becomes a reality. Now, back to the Glass Village...

It took about an hour and a half to get to The Glass Village from base. Akie described it as a sort of an amusement park, but without rides. I would have to say that is accurate. There are three museums, a "castle," a souvenir shops, glass-working classes and a restaurant. I half-expected the village to be all in glass, like an ice castle, or something, but the Japanese are much more realistic than that. This village was actually created by a famous glass bead manufacturing company. Because it was the middle of the day on a week day, we just about had the whole place to ourselves - no waiting in line or people getting in the middle of our pictures! And the weather cooled off considerably here this week - it was a lovely, sunny 72 degrees, although still a bit too humid for my taste.

While I am not sure what is on the second floor of  the Venetian House, but the bottom floor is souvenir shops. 

This was the"castle." Inside it has a mirror maze,glass artwork and a room that is completely tilted to one side.  It makes you dizzy despite the fact you know it is tilted when you go in.

The English greeting from the president of the company that owns the Glass Village

Me in front of the restaurant we ate at, with the Venetian House behind me. 
Once we arrived, we headed to one of the classrooms, to make muddlers, which Akie described as spoons. However, when we got there, the muddlers turned out to be more like stirrers, but I just chalked up the miscommunication to language barrier. While some of the tourists were disappointed, I still think they were fun to make. Basically, we were given two glass tubes to put the beads of our choice in. We then used Bunsen burner-type devices to melt the ends to seal them shut. To cool off the glass, the melted end was stuck in a cup of ash.

This was what was at my seat when I arrived at the class: Beads in a bowl, the Bunsen-burner, an ice tray with beads divided out by color and shape, a cup of ashes and my box with two glass tubes that would soon be muddlers. 
One of the Glass Village employees demonstrates the proper glass melting procedure.
Here I am concentrating very hard on"muddling" without burning myself. This photo and the next were taken by a photographer for the base's entertainment magazine. She was kind enough to email them to me.

My muddlers cooling off after the tips were sealed.
A close up of the bead colors and patterns I chose. These should come as no surprise. :) 
After we made our muddlers, which took about 45 minutes, we headed to lunch at the restaurant in the village. As you may have read in a previous post, I am in the process of losing weight, so I am being very careful about what I eat... 98 percent of the time. This is an example of that 2 percent of the time I let myself off of the hook so I can enjoy the Japanese culture. I am on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure these next few years, and while I am dedicated to a healthier lifestyle, I figured one "bad" meal in two weeks isn't so bad, especially when it is part of the Japanese experience (By the way, I have lost 7 pounds in the first two weeks of my diet and exercise program - thank you to everyone for being so supportive!). Here is a photo of our lunch, which was waiting for us promptly at noon. Lunch and muddler-making was really quite affordable: 1,280 yen, or about $17.

Those bright yellow things are similar to dill pickles and taste good with rice.

After lunch, we had free time until 2:30 p.m., when the bus left to go back to base. I did some shopping - there is not much in the way of glass items suitable as souvenirs for 6- and 10-year-old boys, but I did the best I could: I got them little glass dinosaurs, which they thought were cool and now reside in my china cabinet:

The boys with their glass dinosaurs.
It was also interesting to note that, while American dishes usually come in sets of four, Japanese dishes come in sets of five, since four is a number associated with "death" in Japan.

For my crafty friends who love beading, you would have loved this building - it was wall-to-wall beads for sale:

I am not much of a shopper (retail therapy isn't really my thing), so the next thing to do was tour the grounds a visit the bead and glass museums. The museums had an entry fee of 1,000 yen, which I gladly paid. But I was the only one on the tour to check out the museums. But because most of the signs were exclusively in Japanese, the village manager allowed Akie to go with me for free to translate - it was win-win! I got a translator and she got to see everything for free! Plus, it was just a lot of fun to share our combined knowledge when it came to looking at the displays. Some of them are here:

Beaded bull from Cameroon

Beaded ceremonial costume from Africa

Moccasins and pillows from America

A replica of a famous beaded head dress found in an ancient grave in Japan

A glass vase created by an American artist.

This bowl was the size of a toilet and created by American Dale Chihuly. It was my favorite item in the museums - I would have loved to take it home. On his web site, Chihuly calls these macchia.

The back of the glass bowl.

A Japanese vase

Another Japanese vase

A beaded globe.
There were a number of interesting things to see around the Glass Village grounds:

The Flower Clock of Glass

The painted glass hall inside the castle

The mosaic in the center of the "Fairytale Garden"

A closeup of the 24-hour zodiac clock on the Venetian House. I think it is half-past Aries. Just kidding.

The Glass Globe, which needed some Windex. It was a bit dirty. I think it's funny how all of the globes I've seen in Japan have Asia facing the front. It never occurred to me how globes in America always have North and South America facing forward until the globes I kept seeing here looked subtly different to me.
The Glass Village trip was fun and interesting - I was home by 4 p.m., and ready to be off the bus. Now I'm off to enjoy my muddlers!