Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

We celebrated the beginning of 2013 about 13 hours before anyone in the States. There wasn't a ball drop to watch on TV... but one of the Japanese stations had a song and dance show with hosts that counted down. Here are a couple of screen shots of the program:

We ended up celebrating the New Year with our friends, the Hootens, playing games and yelling at the children to calm down and stop bouncing on the furniture. Y'know, regular parents-celebrating-the-new-year stuff. But, when the big moment came, the boys enjoyed sparkling grape juice. Thanks Hootens!

Happy New Year to all! We hope you have a wonderful, happy, prosperous 2013!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas decorations, Japanese-style...

Part 2 of my Hiroshima cultural trip Dec. 13 (Click here for Part 1, the Mazda (automaker) Museum) was a trip to one of the large (by Japanese standards) malls in Hiroshima. The Aeon Mall  is where, if I squinted my eyes a bit and didn't try to decipher any languages I heard around me, I felt like I was back home, Christmas shopping in a Southern California suburb. Those of you in the Orange County, CA, area, or who are familiar with it, the Aeon Mall is larger than the Laguna Hills Mall, but a bit smaller than the Mission Viejo Mall. And Pensacola peeps, it puts that mall to shame.

Note to parent: Dad, I'm sorry, I don't know the significance of the train. You'll just have to come out here and visit to find out for yourself. ;)

The Aeon Mall does boast some very familiar stores... Sports Authority, Toys R Us, the Body Shop. And one of my personal favorites from back home... Golden Spoon Frozen Yogurt!

They even have the same yogurt flavors, including two of my favorites, cake batter and the tart one. But the sizes (and corresponding process, were a bit different. Here's the size display that was at the register:

Here are the mall decorations... again, very similar to America, along with the Christmas carols that were playing throughout the mall and in each store. For a nation that isn't Christian, they sure do love this holiday season. And, please note all of the English signage. This is in the heart of a major city in Japan. English has very much gone global....

English may have gone global, but that doesn't mean there isn't something lost in the translation.

There were posters and displays all over the mall, promoting the "Many Christmas" theme. I have not idea if this is a nod to "The 12 Days of Christmas" with some poor grammar, or if someone in the mall's marketing department confused someone's handwriting. But, regardless, this year, Aeon Mall wishes a Many Christmas to all!

Some interesting items I found at the mall. Well, I, at least found them interesting:

Loved this bench! Multipurpose and in my colors!

This is a men's store called Union Station. I did get Rodney a gift from this store, but it was not one of those man purses. They just didn't have one that wouldn't clash with Marine Corps camo.

So, my friend, Yolanda and I had a deep discussion about what kind of store was called "Starvations." I went with the opposite of Lane Bryant: a store for anorexic and bulimic women (not that these diseases are at all humorous.) Really skinny twig-like Japanese women whose waists are the size of my wrist. I was wrong. It's a children's clothing store, of course! Again, someone in some marketing department somewhere got a few wires crossed with the translation.

Also interesting to note: The Japanese do not send Christmas cards to each other. They send New Years postcards. Generally, these are a picture of your family on the front of a card and then the address of the recipient on the back. And the Japanese post office takes very good care of these cards so they aren't ruined. Envelopes are not necessary. Perhaps the USPS should take a little field trip over to Tokyo to find out how it's done. Here are some of the postcard choices available:

Now for a bit of a change of topic. As always, I am collecting some wonderful Janglish that I've found around Japan in my travels. Here are some of my favorites:

I think they had my 6-year old help them copy write for this label. 

Just add fire?

Um, I don't think my husband would want me to order any more of that, thank you.

And something fun here on base: Two Sergeant Majors live across from each other. Clearly the one on the right was not channeling his inner Clark Griswold this year:

Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Zoom, zoom!

Thursday was yet another cultural trip opportunity for me. I love these! This time we headed to Hiroshima, about an hour and a half from the base, to the Japan headquarters and museum for Mazda, for Part 1 of our day.

The Mazda Museum offers a one-hour guided tour in English every day at 10 a.m. That was the tour we took (big surprise there!). Interesting to note: The American headquarters for Mazda is in Irvine, California, the next suburb over from my home town of Lake Forest. I haven't toured that facility, yet, but after seeing what the Japanese have, I am interested in comparing it to the American headquarters.

When you walk in to the Hiroshima museum, you immediately see four current Mazda models offered in Japan, bright, shiny, lit up and in front of the chrome Mazda logo.

Along one wall were posters expalining different aspects of the Mazda history and branding. The marketer in me was excited about this... I think they havedone a decnt job brandingbecause I easily recognized their logo, blocky Mazda font and catchohrase: "Zoom, zoom!" But, unfortunately, their most memorable American vehicle for me, the Chiclet-shaped Miata was no where to be found.

Mazda and Ford Motors have had a longtime relationship in partnering to produce vehicles. Here is a blast from the past: Anyone remember the Ford Telstar? Yeah, me neither. Probably because I was 7 when this model was produced.

 Having inherited the interest in history from both my parents, especially my father who minored in it in college, I really appreciated this timeline. Although, our tour guide spent about three minutes explaining the entire thing and then rushed off to the next room.

Mazda was founded in 1920 as a cork factory. How a company goes from corks to cars is a story I would like to hear, or read, but since I had to keep up with the group, I do not know how or why that transition took place. The Wikipedia for Mazda wasn't much more helpful.

Somehow Mazda went from corks to machine tools to vehicles, this "three-wheeled truck" being one of the first. Below is a drawing of the Mazda-Go, and below that, a photo of an actual model in the museum.

This is a long-bed version.
After a brief hiatus from making vehicles during World War II, when Mazda switched gears and made machine guns for the war effort, the company turned, once again, to making vehicles... only these had four wheels. The 1960's "coupe" below is designed to seat four. Definitely not four Americans. And we thought Snowflake was tiny!

Of course, like any good auto maker worth its salt, Mazda featured cherry-condition examples of its most popular, or most unusual, vehicles. Here were some of my favorites:

My friend Yolanda models my favorite colored car.

For you engineering gearheads out there, Mazda is apparently known for its rotary engines. They are very proud of these engines and I wish you could tell you more about them, but between my lack of interest in the subject and the hard-to-understand-heavily-accented-English of our tour guide, I have nothing. But I did take photos in case I ever found myself interested later.

Mazda is also very proud of this race car, which is powered by one of the rotary engines. Apparently this race car lost the Le Mans 24-hour Endurance Race 13 times before finally winning in 1991. Practice makes perfect... and allows you to then collect dust in a museum.

On our way to the assembly line (which I did not get to take pictures of, unfortunately) we walked through static displays explaining how the Mazda CX-5 SUV crossover was designed, developed and constructed. These are the colors the CX-5 is available in in Japan.

Each new Mazda model goes through a vigorous design and testing process. During the design process, clay is used to make first a 1/5 scale model of the vehicle, and then a full-sized model of the vehicle, including models of certain sections of the interior. I am not sure if other vehicle manufacturers use this same clay process, but it would be interesting to find out.

And, of course, there are the fun crash tests. This car performed perfectly, crumpling the front end and setting off the airbags... at a speed of about 32 miles per hour. Which, in Japan, is a realistic test. There aren't too many surface streets that get over 50 kph, which equates to about 31 mph.

This model was not in an accident. Mazda was simply showing the chassis of the CX-5 and the five different coats of paint each car gets.

Like I had mentioned, we did get to tour one of the four assembly lines Mazda has on its large Hiroshima campus. We were not allowed to take photos, unfortunately. But if you ever have a chance to see an assembly line like this, do it. The line was amazingly synchronized, with almost 200 "stations" where different parts of the cars are installed. From the observation deck we had access to, we saw everything from carpet and roll bars being put in, to windshields and entire dashboard consoles. Everything moved smoothly, flawlessly, with both humans and robots working in tandem so parts arrived to the stations just in time to be installed in the car as it rolled past on the huge conveyor belt. And the coolest part? Seven different vehicles were being assembled. So you may have Vehicle Model A, then a Vehicle Model C right behind it, followed by two Vehicle Model D's. And, somehow, the robots and humans had everything they needed for each different vehicle as the vehicle rolled past. Very fun to watch. The assembly line we watched churns out about 1,000 cars a day.

Finally, we headed back toward the lobby of the museum, first stopping to see the "future" of Mazda. Below is a hydrogen-powered car, which is the direction Mazda's research and development has gone in. They had several other models that were hydrogen/gasoline hybrids, which is a good thing. For all this excitement about hydrogen-powered cars, there is currently no where you can go to refuel with hydrogen. I think they should come up with a system where you fill your car up with water from your garden hose and then a machine in the car separates the H2 from the O and you chug along on your merry way. But, like I said before, I am no engineer, so this may not be possible.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Let's hammer some rice!

I finally took my kids on a Cultural Adaptation tour. While I have felt badly about leaving them out of my fun, most of the tours are on Fridays while they are at school. I see my solo excursions as a chance to pioneer these adventures for my family, and then decide on which ones are best to take them as a family at a later date. We went on a youth cultural tour Sunday, which was 500 yen per person, to the town of Tsuzu, which is about a half-hour from the base, but only because traffic is slow. We never left the greater Iwakuni area on the bus as we visited Tsuzu's community center.

At this 2nd annual event, the Tsuzu mayor and community welcomed about 70 adults and children stationed on MCAS Iwakuni and shared their New Year cultural events with us.

The mayor of Tsuzu is on the right and the interpreter for the day, Mike, is on the left. There was a joke about Mike liking the microphone, so that may have been where he got his American nickname. The Mayor's last name is the same word that means "minor" in Japanese, so he said he hoped that helped us remember his name. It has so far, Mayor Minor, thank you.
A dozen or so Japanese middle school students from the Tsuzu school were there, and each family was paired up with one. Our student was 13-year-old Nozomi, a very soft-spoken girl whose English was limited.

My boys with Nozomi in the 40-degree weather. I have lectured my children twice about wearing heavy jackets. I think they finally understand why.
But despite the fact that we didn't communicate through language well, we still managed to do a decent job of creating the traditional Japanese new year wreath, called a shimekazari. You hang this on your door or the front of your car to welcome the new year and keep out the "bad" of the past.

They gave about 10 awards for the most attractive shimekazari. Ours did not win. It was pretty ugly. The rings should be completely round.

This region of Japan also has some traditional activities, mostly centered around the rice harvest. In the Japanese culture, there is a "god of everything," Mike said with a smile. There is a god of the rice fields, which, once the harvest is in, the people thank the god and invite him to "go back to the mountain." The rope drum below is raised and lowered by 8 people at a time and a chant of thanks and goodbye is sung while the stone is lifted and dropped on to the mat. The Americans were slightly confused by this at first because the purpose of the exercise was not immediately explained. Several, including my children, thought it was a tug-of-war competition and were dismayed to find older Japanese on the opposite side of the stone. "That kid's like 17!" Will remarked, outraged. I had to explain that this was a collective, cooperative effort, not a competitive one. Once the "team" mindset was instilled, the drum rhythm got a lot better.

Next up was pounding rice in to submission. The American men in the group were invited by the Japanese men in the group to pound the rice first. After the 10-minute testosterone show I'm sure you can imagine, the kids had a chance. Here is Will's turn at hammering rice:

This rice pounding with heavy wooden mallets is also ceremonial, and a chant goes along with it to. In this process, the rice has been mixed with steamy water and turns in to a play-doh-like mush. This mush is then made in to tasty rice cakes. We tried three in all: One with a sweet soy sauce, another with peanut oil that reminded the kids and I of Honey Nut Cheerios, and a third that had sweet bean paste in the center. While I thought all of them were palatable, the soy one was my least favorite (I am not a fan of soy sauce to begin with) and my most favorite was the sweet bean one (I usually dislike beans, but have come to enjoy this sweet bean.)

One of our hosts making the Honey Nut Cheerios rice cakes

Enjoying the Honey Nut Cheerio rice cakes with Nozomi and the kids

Xan gave up on the chopsticks.

Will tried his hands at rolling rice cakes

One of our hosts preparing the soy sauce rice cakes.
Nozomi was one of for students who played a sort of Japanese harp. It was very pretty and we were able to listen to the concert while our hosts shared American favorites with us: popcorn and cotton candy.

The students also shared some of the history of their city. Tzusu has about 6,000 people and is known for the Tzusu river and what is considered one of the most beautiful wells in Japan. It also has a rich samurai history. The students gave the presentation in Japanese, which was translated by Mike.

Now that we are back home, I have hung my (ugly) shimekazari by the door of my apartment, hoping that the design and construction aren't representative of the kind of year I am going to have in 2013. The kids seemed to have learned a lot and especially enjoyed the food (of course!). I enjoyed learning how to make the shimekazari, but want another crack at it. Maybe next year...