Friday, October 19, 2012

Crafting at Fureai Park...

If you've been following this blog, you know I have been taking trips with the Cultural Adaptation Program here on MCAS Iwakuni. It's a great program and really lets you see what is available to do in the area. Today we went to Fureai Park in Yuu, a city about 25km away from base. Fureai Park is a nature center up in the mountains surrounding Iwakuni. The leaves are just starting to turn here and it was a gorgeous day, so the views were incredible. We didn't spend much time outside though... we were inside the craft center, creating pottery and replicas of ancient beads called magatama.

First we worked with clay to make a decorative plate. Japanese pottery first emerged during the Neolithic era, called the Jomon period, between 10,000 and 300 B.C. The type of pottery we replicated is called Wabi Sabi, which means rustic simplicity and peacefulness that comes with age. Faults, such as cracks or chips, are considered special traits of that piece and make it more interesting. It also makes up budding artists feel better when our plates aren't perfect!

So each of us started out with a lump of clay:

Eventually, with a rolling pin stick and two ruler-like sticks, I got it in to the shape of the leaf plate that was one of our options for design. We were told to put our names on the bottom so they could be identified later. I added a few details, but did not realize I had spelled the name of the city wrong until the drive home and I saw Yuu on a road sign.

We then flipped the plate over and decorate the top side. I used a comb-like tool and a heart-shaped petal stamp to create mine with texture and cherry blossoms:

As a group we had to choose a glaze color... most of the group did leaves, so the group chose green (I did not argue...) and they will be fired in "One of the Six Old Kilns" in Japan, remains of old 700- and 800-year-old kilns from the Shigaraki region, where pottery is famous because the clay in the region is great for it.

We took a lunch break where we ate rice and curry, and then sat outside to enjoy the sunshine and views.

After lunch, we moved on to craft #2, magatama beads. We each made one bead as a pendant, out of talc stone. This rock is what talcum powder is made from and is incredibly soft, yet not brittle. The beads are curved shaped, either like a kidney bean, or sharpened at ope end to look like a yin or yang. They were worn by ruling elites during the Neolithic period,m until the 7th century to ward off evil spirits. Once the Japanese adopted the Buddhist religion, these beads were no longer worn.

For the project, we were handed a file and a roughly cut out piece of talc with an outline of the magatama shape.

We then filed for an hour, creating small piles of talk powder, which I scooped up and put in a Ziploc baggie one of the other tourists had. I will use it when I want to de-sticky something when I scrapbook. I currently use baby power, since it is cheap and easy to find, but then my albums smell like a baby;s butt, and that's not always the impression I am going for.

The bottom of the bead starts to take shape:

The final steps were to smooth the bead with graduated degrees of course to fine sandpaper.

Fureai Park also caters to kids... we shared our room with some 4-year-olds and their parents. They made a pottery cup and some stick figures made out of leaves, acorns and sticks they found when walking the nature trail. So, I took a photo of their information because it might be something fun for me to take the kids to. And I thought the fax tittle was funny.

Me wearing my magatama pendant:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

IHBO, Space A and other alphabet soup ingredients...

Life here has been busy for me, I have been in the throes of the college semester, with my students' first major research paper to grade. I am also now the President of a new organization on MCAS Iwakuni, the Iwakuni Home-based Business Organization, or IHBO. It's a group that allows all types of home-based business owners to network and share ideas. Plus, in January we plan to start requesting membership dues, which will go toward advertising and events to promote the members' businesses. One of the ways we are doing that is by launching a Iwakuni Business Directory web site. Ads and events will then promote the directory so that all members can benefit. Putting my marketing, strategic communication and leadership skills to work!

Tenaciously Remembered is also taking off. I have had four orders since the web site launched, and I have also had requests for classes. There is a craft sale on base Nov. 24 that I am planning for, and I am looking in to the possibility of doing a scrapbooking class as soon as Dec. 4. Fortunately, working only part time from home has opened up plenty of scrapbooking time!

We took the boys to the sushi restaurant with the conveyor belt that runs through it. That was an epic fail. They were willing to try anything, which is a great attitude, but, unfortunately, their eyes did not match their palates. I let them pick the things to try. I may not like certain things, but that doesn't mean they won't, is my philosophy. The both liked the fried fish pictured below, but that's about where the liking stopped.

First, Will chose something off the belt that looked like steak. He tried it, hated the taste and the chewiness. Here is his face:

And here is his face when he found out it was marinated horse meat:

I don't have photos, but Xan selected a couple of seaweed-wrapped little bunches of red marble-looking things. It turned out to be very salty salmon roe, which he immediately spit out. A few days later we tried a Japanese barbecue place and went to the Joyfull restaurant, kind of like a Japanese Denny's, for ice cream and fries. This was much more to the boys' liking.

We also tried some Dragon Fruit we found at the commissary.

I know I have seen Dragon Fruit on occasion in American grocery stores, but never ventured to try it. It cost $4, has the consistency of a kiwi... and had no taste. Really, just a tiny hint of sweetness, but, essentially no taste. We gave it an average score of 5 out of 10. It didn't taste good or bad, but $4 is a bit much to spend on nothing, so a 5 is a good, neutral score.

This weekend, I am planning for a trip to the States. I am flying "space available," or, Space A for short, which means I do not have a ticket and am not guaranteed a seat. It's a crap shoot, so wish me luck in getting to the States on Saturday, and returning (which is the harder thing to do, I hear) in a couple of weeks. I will be sure to blog about my trials and tribulations because I am sure I am bound to have some. While I am gone, Rodney will be here in Iwakuni holding down the fort. I have left him with a schedule of events and a very important envelope with checks for bills that need to be paid, field trip information and more. Wish him luck, as well!

Click on an archive link to the right to read more posts...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Meet Snowflake... the GangStar

If you follow this blog, you know that shortly after we arrived in Japan, we went car shopping. Car shopping in Japan for those of us on base is not really like car shopping in the States. Most people here, unless they have an ego problem or really like cars, want something that looks halfway decent and will get them to where they want to go. Medium dents are ignored and scratches are to be expected. A bonus would be if the car ran until it was time to move again with no investment necessary. You certainly don't put spinners on these cars, or get the latest stereo system put in. Again, unless you have an ego problem or those items are what you live and die for. Personally, I would rather buy scrapbook adhesive and go on trips around Japan. Fortunately my husband sort of agrees. He's not a fan of adhesive, but he is a fan of softball, so he understand where I am coming from. He'd rather have a new bat or glove than a hydraulics system for our 1999 station wagon.

The station wagon is the one I drive and she's been named Prestige... for two reasons. 1) Her actual name is a Nissan Pressage Pacifique, close to the "Prestige" she has been dubbed. 2) She is more prestigious than our other car, Snowflake, but doesn't have near the personality. I am posting today about Snowflake, the GangStar car.

Snowflake is the vehicle the spouse drives just to and from work, about a 4-mile, 10-minute drive. That's all she does. She was half the cost of Prestige and is a few years older. And did I mention she is TINY? As in one step up from one of those Smart (Stupid in the States, in my opinion) Cars. Here is a photo of Rodney standing with her. Yes, he is 6-foot, 3-inches tall, but she only comes to his armpit.

The reason I call her the GangStar is because that's what it says on her steering wheel:

And she does have some pretty "pimp" style. For instance, her steering wheel is further decked out... with a polished wood wheel:

And she is demanding. She is a Daihatsu Move, and the word "Move" is all over her, from the front of the car, to the back of the car to the floor mats. Perfect for anyone with road rage who likes to get from point A to point B quickly and efficiently. Wait... maybe I am driving the wrong car.

For her size, Snowflake is pretty roomy, with sliding storage drawers under the front seats. She even comes with cup holders, one on each door (you can see one in the steering wheel photo above). Just be sure not to slam your door shut when you have a cup in it, or you might be wearing your beverage. There is a back seat and a "cargo" area that might fit two Xans, seated carefully side-by-side.

Snowflake is the smallest vehicle in the mid-rise lot... can you find her?

Rodney and I, of course, had to personalize her. Rodney had a white-tail deer window cling (he likes to hunt) installed, and I wanted to represent my alma mater and current employer with a magnet. Actually, each of our cars has a magnet on the butt because there are a lot of similar-looking, white vehicles and it is how the kids know they have the right cars when we pick them up. Oddly, no one else here has a UWF magnet.

Rodney does manage to fit inside Snowflake. But the seat is so far back that the person behind him does not get any legroom whatsoever. I find it especially comical when he drives Snowflake in uniform.

And he said... "So, you're not going to blog about this, are you?" Uh, yeah, of course I am. Snowflake is a GangStar and craves attention. And his reaction:

So hopefully Snowflake the GangStar, in all her pimpishness, will continue to run for the three years we are here with minimal investment from us. She's peppy, corners well and is easy to park. You just have to be careful when its windy. No kidding. She is very light and and is hard to control during gusty winds. If there is ever a typhoon here, Snowflake is the one we'll find blown away and somehow on the roof of the nearest building. But, until then, she'll have a cushy life escorting Rodney to work each day. She's not quite the BMW he had before, but, then again, she's running better and doesn't have nearly as many things broken and falling off. Good trade, in my opinion.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Taking the public transportation to Miyajima...

The MCAS Iwakuni Cultural Adaptation Program hosted another educational trip and I, of course, took advantage of the guided tour, led by Cultural Adaptation Specialist for the base, . This time we went to Miyajima, an island famously known for the Shinto Itsukushima Shrine. It is a vacation and educational destination for the Japanese, so it is very touristy (i.e English) friendly town. The educational part of the cultural tour was to teach us how to use the public transportation system to get to the town. We hopped a bud from outside the base to the train station. Took a train to the ferry and then took a ferry to the island. I now have confidence in my ability to hope from vehicle to train to boat with little trouble... I just need to make sure I don't fall asleep or get too deep in to a conversation and miss my bus or train stop!

A sign as you approach the ferry stations. There are two, competing companies that ferry people over to the island. They are the same price, with similar boats, so we simply chose the ferry that we could get on soonest.

As I mentioned, this is a huge tourist destination, so the ferry boat was filled with Japanese students on field trips, all matching in their uniforms. This group of boys pictured below was especially friendly, allowing our group to have the rail and then bantering back and forth with us about taking their pictures.

A look back to the mainland

 A ferry boat like ours

The day was a little hazy, but I am sure you can make out the bright red gate to the shrine in the distance

Miyajima is known for a few things: Its cuisine featuring eel and oysters, tasty filled sponge cakes in the shape of maple leaves, called momiji, and the overly-friendly deer that run wild on the island. we encountered the deer right away, which scavenge for anything edible, including maps, paper money and blister packs from medicine (I swear - I saw them eat or attempt to eat all of those!)

The deer warning sign displayed near the ferry station. I told Akie that my husband would love to have his bow and arrows here to hunt. "Oh,no! Not here!" she said. OK, I'll make sure he leaves them at home, I told her. :)

As you can see, the deer are about the size of a German Shepherd. Not much venison on that scrawny body.

There were some ladies to welcome tourists to the island. They were dressed in kimonos fashioned in a style that was popular prior to the existing style of kimono, Akie said.

A huge map of all the things to see and do on Miyajima. I saw about a tenth of the island. The brown roads to the left of the red gate is where the main village and ferry stations are.

To get to the shrine, you must walk through the shops and restaurants the village has to offer (as a marketer, I totally appreciate this... and there was no price gouging at the closest stores. Each store had the same price for the same item, such as a decorative rice paddle, which was 400 yen.)

The village is about five blocks of shops and food, with an occasional point of interest mixed in.

It was time for my mid-morning snack, as it was for many in the group (there were only 9 of us, so we stayed in a group for most of the trip, which was fun), so Akie recommended we try the fish-on-a -tick, called negititen. There are a lot of different flavor options and I opted for the cheese and bacon fish-on-a-stick. How could something with bacon wrapped around it be wrong? And it wasn't - it was delicious! Flakey white fish with melted white cheese, wrapped in a couple slices of bacon and fried. Heaven on a stick!

Me with my negititen in front of the booth I got it from.

One of the "occasional points of interest" I spoke of earlier: The is the world's largest rice paddle carved from a single piece of wood.

After about a half-hour meandering through the village with my fish-on-a-stick (garbage cans were not available, probably because of the scavenger deer. However, one of the shopkeepers saw my plight and offered to throw my stick away for me as I walked by. Akie said that that is unusual for them to do that) we finally made it to the walking entrance to the shrine. In previous centuries, pilgrims to the shrine had to go through the gate in the water. Fortunately, I did not have to get in one of the narrow, long canoes. The walking gate is guarded by Ah and Un... two lion-ish creatures that symbolize a good partnership, Akie said. I asked her if one was male and one was female, and she said she did not know.



As you walk through the gate guarded by Ah and Un, there is a great vantage point in which to see the water gate to the shrine. During low tied, you can walk out to the shrine, where people often push coins in to the cracks of the wood and make wishes. Unfortunately, low tide was going to be around dinner time and we had to be back to base by 4 p.m. But it is definitely something I want to do!

The steps down to the bay are just to the left of the lantern-looking structure.

The shrine is built on the bay, on wooden pillars, and appears to be in the shape of an exaggerated 'W.' It cost 300 yen to  enter. Once you pay, you then walk over to a basin of water fed by the bay to wash your sins away. The shrine is to be kept very pure. In fact, pregnant women close to their due date and terminally ill patients are removed from the island so the shrine will not be tainted.

The entrance to the shrine

The basin fed by the bay. You use the cup in the stick to get the water, and then wash your hands, left hand first, over the bamboo grate.

A series of rooms inside the shrine.

A Japanese couple was getting married while we were touring the shrine, We were not allowed to take photos of the religious personnel (who we did not see anyway) but no one said anything about a wedding party. So, since I am not sure I will ever see a Shinto shrine wedding ceremony, I figured I'd better get a photo of the traditional clothing while I could.

Another view of part of the shrine. The entrance is to the left.

The gate, as seen from the shrine's stage area.

While you are at  the shrine, you can purchase good luck charms and have your fortune told. I paid 500 yen for this little sachet, which is supposed to give me general good fortune for a year. 

I also paid 100 yen to get my fortune. This wasn't like tarot cards or palm reading. No people were involved at all. There were tall, hexagon-shaped boxes with sticks inside. Each stick had a number on it. You shook up the box and it had a slit in the top, big enough for just one stick to slide out. Mine had the number 3. You then open the drawer with that number on it and take out the printed fortune. Of course, it was in Japanese, which a sign warned you of, but we had Akie, so she translated for us.

Shaking the box

Akie translating my fortune.

What the slip of paper looked like.

Apparently, I have middle-of-the-road luck for the year. Nothing great, nothing terrible. Either that, or the great balances with the terrible. I don't know, but time will tell. Among other things, I am to find a good doctor if I become ill (this could be harder that one would think since I am stuck with the corpsmen on base) so I can survive, now is not the time to build a house or start a business, and now is a good time to meet a good husband. I will have to let Rodney know.

Traditionally, once you have read your fortune, you tie it to a tree near the shrine. Instead, there are bars within the shrine to tie it to. So I tied. 

I am not sure what this building is, but it was just outside the shrine and near the restaurant where we ate lunch. I liked the way it looked,

After we toured the shrine, is was time for lunch. The majority of the group wanted noodles or udon, so we went to a tasty noodle shop. One of the ladies decided to get dessert instead, and got a Japanese shaved-ice blue raspberry snowcone with condensed milk drizzled on top. She offered me to try a bite and it was very sweet, very rich. I don't know how she was able to eat the whole thing!

My beef udon... tasty!

The Japanese snowcone

After lunch, we had to rush to our appointment to make momiji, maple-leaf-shaped the sponge cake Miyajima is famous for. While the commercially-made cakes are made with machines click here for my video of the machine they had on display) we did it by hand with gas burners. The cakes are filled with various tasty goodness, from sweet beans (I did not think I would like these, but they were amazing!), chocolate, custard, etc. We filled ours with sweet beans and chocolate.

The sign welcoming our group. You'll have to take my word on that like I took Akie's :)

The humorous and good-spirited gentleman who walked us through the momiji-making process. He also ensure we did not burn the place down. 

My baking area

Once the cakes were cooked, they had a machine that wrapped and sealed them in plastic.

Me with two of the four cakes I made.

Our tour group in the bakery.

After we made cakes, it was time to take the three modes of public transportation back to base. I had a lot of fun in Miyajima and can't wait to take my family next time!