Saturday, February 23, 2013

A week of various cultural events...

This week was full of culture for me, in all sorts of ways. Here's a breakdown:


My friend and fellow Marine Corps wife whose husband is also "vacationing" in Thailand this month, Yolanda, took me to a nearby Japanese Mexican restaurant. And let me tell you, I wasn't expecting much. The American midwest often struggles with authentic Mexican food, so I wasn't holding out much hope for a restaurant in Japan. My single-item test for a Mexican restaurant: If they serve ground beef instead of shredded beef, I won't return.

The restaurant is called Mike's. Shouldn't it be Miguel's? But I guess I won't split hairs... the menu featured shredded beef tacos, burritos, chimichangas... all my Mexi-faves. Mike passed my test. They even had a "Cadillac" margarita. Bonus! And, despite the fact it was only 12:15 p.m., I had one, in honor of National Margarita Day later in the week. After all, it's 5 o'clock somewhere and I wanted to see if Mike was worth his, ahem, salt, when it came to "Cadillacs". I paid  about $12 for it, but, sometimes, like when you're home alone with your two kids for three weeks and there's a reason you don't home school (I love my kids too much to subject them to that), that's money well spent. And let me assure you, this was the best margarita I have had since moving to Japan, hands down. And the food wasn't bad either. I just need to remember to order my food without beans.... I've never been a fan of pinto beans and they were in just about everything. I ordered a taco (which came in acute little stand, but completely crumbled when I took my first bite) and a burrito, both, minus the beans of course, tasted fabulous. Or maybe I have just been away from great Mexican food for too long...

Yolanda ordered their chips and salsa, and both were delicious. They fry their own tortilla chips,which arrived hot, hot, hot and fresh to our table.

The decor was fun and reminded me of Vallartas in Pensacola.

The decor in the women's bathroom.
Unfortunately, Mike's is no Cactus Flower West (our family's favorite restaurant in Pensacola) but it will suffice to answer my cravings for something south of the border.


After sending the kids off to school, I hopped on the train and headed to Hiroshima to meet Naomi, who is my Japanese counterpart: She teaches monthly crafting classes. She invited me to visit her at Craft World, which is on the 9th floor of a department store called Sogo near Peace Park.

This store is owned by the same company that owns Tokai, the local crafting store I frequent in Iwakuni and Yanai, but features different expanded product lines. In the back are small partitioned "classrooms," and that is where I found Naomi and two of her students. She has been teaching for about three years, ever since she vacationed in Japan and learned how to make Hawaiian leis out of ribbon. And beingthe ribbon junkie that I am, I was very interested in seeing how these were created.

 A lot of the easier designs, such as the one on the left above, require hand stitching. Others require crocheting skills, such as the one this student was making. She was making one like the blue and purple one at the very top left in the photo below.

Naomi learned this craft in America, using English measurements. So, to assist her students, who are used to the metric system, she has a sheet of paper that shows measurements in inches.

While Naomi finished up her class, I browsed the store, and was intrigued by some of the crafts that appeared to be popular in Japan. Tiny plastic desserts were displayed in one area, with little containers of pieces you could buy to make them yourself. I would be too afraid that someone would try to eat them if I had them at my house. Although that could be a fun joke to play on the spouse...

Epoxy collage pendants were also popular, as was materials for weaving baskets. I guess I could take them to the beach and actually try underwater basket weaving. ;p

Washi tape lovers, there is a big selection here. I still haven't quite figured it all out yet, but I do love the colors and patterns.

This was hanging in the classroom... see anything wrong with it?

But I am sure I've managed to invert some hiragana or kanji, so I'll call it even.

There were also some items that were familiar, like clear stamps and ink. Stazon is quite popular in Japan, apparently.

After crafting with Naomi, I grabbed a bite to eat at a cafe on the first floor of Sogo before heading home to meet my kids after school. I had a Japanese egg burger.


It was time for another base-sponsored cultural trip, and, fortunately for me, this one was a lot cleaner and warmer than the last one. We were getting ready for the Hina Doll Festival time, hinamatsuri, which is an annual celebration of girls on March 3. Hina dolls are displayed in homes with families with girls in February. This is expressing wishes for the girls' future happiness. The Hina doll display is immediately taken down after the day of celebration because if it is kept up longer, the girl might end up a spinster. Scary that this is still a priority in the 21st century, but I digress...

We had two wonderful hostesses, Mrs. Shinjyo, and her niece, Mrs. Ikawa, who showed us how the dolls are displayed and answered our questions about the tradition. Mrs. Shinjyo is a tiny, jolly 86-year-old woman who was eager to share these traditions with us.

Since I am not tiny, I was one of the ones asked to help add the appropriate dolls to the top of the display. I added the Empress. There was also an Emperor, ladies in waiting, musicians, warriors, and other servants, as well as food, such as plastic replicas of the ceremonial rice cakes, silk plum blossom and mikan trees, and the Empress' dowry furniture.

Adding the empress (AFN reporter behind me)

Mrs. Shinjyo and our tour guide, Akie, explaining the history behind the Empress doll. Empress brides are required to wear 12 different kimonos... these garments are not light.

Mrs. Shinjyo in front of the entire display.
As you can see, these displays are not cheap. The ones  in this ad are between $500 and $3,300. The maternal grandmother of the newborn baby girl is the one who buys it for the new baby before her first Girls' Day. Because Japanese homes are small, often only the Emperor and Empress are displayed.
An ad showing how the day is celebrated.
After we put up the Hina doll display, it was time to try on kimonos. I chose a brightly-colored one. These all were wedding kimonos, which featured cranes, the Japanese symbol for fidelity and a long, happy marriage. Cranes, I was told, mate for life. There were also floral hairpieces that are worn with the kimono.

Our next lesson was cooking... kind of. We made "push-down" sushi, which Iwakuni is known for. This is a layered dish, and these are the layers:

Number 3 is the first step of "push down." You your a wooden handle to push the rice flat before the next layer. We made a double layer sushi in a wooden box. And then you add the lid and a heavy bucket of water and leave it that way for 20 minutes for the second part of the "push down" part.

You turn the sushi upside down and push it out of the box frame. Add some food adornments to the top and then slice in to portions. I was asked to make a slice.

Add a renkon salad and seaweed broth soup and you have lunch!

After lunch we went back upstairs to practice a tea ceremony. Here is my friend, Pamela, with the tea ceremony area. I was busy learning tea ceremony etiquette and forgot to take pictures. Whoops.

I also made sure to get my photo taken with our hostesses, who were so informative and kind. If nothing else, this photo goes to show what an Amazon I am here in this country.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Apartments for rent and a Japanese scrapbook store...

The kids and I headed to Hiroshima Saturday. I was looking for a birthday gift for a party we were invited to on Sunday, plus I had heard about a small scrapbook store near Hondori Street that I just had to visit. The kids just wanted to get out of the house, not that I blamed them.

While walking around, I found a real estate office that had this sign outside, so I took a photo to study later. I have been wondering how much rent costs in Japan, and this gave me an idea. For your reference, with today's exchange rate, 50,000 yen is roughly $540. These prices are per month. I am not sure what utilities are included, because I cannot read Japanese, of course, but you can tell from the schematics that the apartments are not at all large. Additionally, to keep this in perspective, the average American annual household income is about $50,000, while the Japanese is about $67,000.

About two blocks from the real estate office was DUO, a scrapbook and sewing shop.

The store was basically two rooms, each about the size of a standard American living room. The shelves were tightly packed and it was tough for me to maneuver through the aisles with my backpack on and two boys in tow. But, with permission from the store owner, I took some pictures so that American scrapbookers can appreciate their local scrapbook store (if they still have one... sniff. The recession has not been kind to my hobby.) The photo below shows you the scrapbook store from the front door. That's the entire store, but it has very high shelves throughout. The doorway to the back right goes to a room roughly the same size that has specialty sewing goods.

Some of the supplies will look very familiar to American scrapbookers, many of them you can find at the big box craft stores:

I never leave a scrapbook store without buying something when I am touring a new one. Part of it is that I am always in "need" of something. The other part is that I want to support local scrapbook stores when I can. Here is what I purchased: