Sunday, October 27, 2013

Halloween in Japan...

... didn't really exist until about five years ago, I have been told. But the holiday, as it is celebrated in America, is slowly infiltrating in to the culture here. Check out these photos (that are not mine) from Mister Doughnut and Daiso (Japanese dollar store):

With all of these treats, you would think that Halloween parties and decorations would be prevalent across the country. But no. No one decorates their home. No one dresses up. They certainly would not even think about knocking on all their neighbors doors all night to ask for candy. How rude! And, from what I understand, Japanese men and older boys would not be caught dead in a costume. The impression I get is that it is seen as undignified. Yet, these same men and boys have no problem with jogging in short pink running shorts and carrying murses (what I like to call purses carried by men) that match their outfits. Fascinating.

I learned about Halloween in Japan from talking with a couple of my Japanese friends this weekend, Kumie and Chie. Both of them, and their children, enjoy experiencing the American culture, much like my family is enjoying the experience of learning about the Japanese culture. And they have no idea who buys all the stuff in the Daiso, or why Hello Kitty pumpkin doughnuts are the thing to eat this month. "It's all commercial," Kumie said. Indeed. Marketing ploys expand across the globe, it appears. Kind of like Americans celebrating Cinco de Mayo with Dos Equis, margaritas and chips with salsa at their favorite Mexican joint. It's all in the marketing. Plus, I can always use a good excuse to enjoy a margarita (Side note: Mike's Tex Mex, the Mexican restaurant near base in Iwakuni, did not have any Cinco de Mayo festivities or specials. I was VERY disappointed when I made a point to eat there on May 5.)

My boys with Kumie's daughter Yuu at the base's Halloween Carnival.
My boys with Chie's son, Katsuma
Since Halloween is not a popular event in Japan, Kumie and Chie visit the MCAS Iwakuni each year so their kids can enjoy the phenomenon that is "trick-or-treating." And they are not alone.

Hundreds of Japanese nationals and their children visit our base Oct. 31. So many people come that that paperwork that sponsors (American families) have to turn in to base security for their guests (their Japanese friends) must be submitted at least two weeks in advance. Usually you fill out the paper work as you escort your guests on base, waiting about, mmm, 5 minutes. One of my friends said that at her house, she went through 11 bags of Halloween candy in about an hour and half. And because she lives in a midrise (apartment-type building) without a front porch light to tun off, people kept knocking anyway. That's a lot of people.

I was not here from the "Great Halloween Cultural Exchange" last year, having Space A'ed to the States for a visit. The spouse handled the crowds, the costumes and the trick-or-treating. This year, I'll be at my last fitness boot camp class until 7 p.m., so he may be having to manage Halloween logistics alone once again. And I was not able to sponsor on any of my Japanese friends, which was kind of disappointing, as well. Maybe next year. But for those of you who won't be able to see my kids in person the Halloween, here they are in their costumes:

My sons were inspired by the 1970s with their Halloween costumes this year. Will, my oldest, dreamed up a Disco Ninja... a ninja costume enhanced with a colorful afro, some glitter glue and stylish throwback sunglasses. I think if he could have found a way to incorporate a disco ball in to his outfit, he would have! 

Xan, on the other hand, had a hand-me-down costume of Will's from four yeas ago. Then, Will was really in to Elvis Presley and we had just visited Graceland. He fell in love with the patriotic eagle jumpsuit and had to have a replica made. Of course, his Grandma, my mom, is a talented seamstress, and was able to make a mini jumpsuit. My sister-in-law is an artist, and sketched the eagles on the suit, cape and pants, and then my mom stitched along the lines she drew in coordinating thread colors. I then spent three or four evenings gluing every sequin and jewel on to the costume. It was definitely a labor of love and Xan was very excited that he finally fit in to it. He was even willing to dye his hair when the black Elvis wig was too itchy. My husband added frosting on the cake when he found bright blue sneakers ... for blue suede shoes. You can see more photos of the boys' costumes on my Jessica Guthrie Photography website.

Happy Halloween! I hope you get plenty of your favorite candy this year... I still haven't had a taste of my favorite yet... candy corns!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Sea Bridge (and other fun stuff) on Oshima Island

Our friends Marilyn and Alvin went with us on a day trip to Oshima Island (Actually, there are several Oshima Islands in Japan... this one's official name is Yashiro. Click here for a map to the formation. Take comfortable shoes, you will have to climb some rickety stairs... watch your small children.) ... and showed us how to get to a great sea bridge rock formation. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we had a great time wading and exploring.

Once you find yourself bear the formation, you will encounter a quaint little harbor, with plenty of small fishing boats and local color.

We had a great time on the concrete jetty, checking out the view and the various fish swimming around below us. And, of course, taking plenty of photos of our selves to prove we were there.

A shadow portrait of Marilyn and Alvin... too cute!

Once you get completely around the jetty, you'll find some seemingly random stairs leading up to the top of a hill. Climb these, and prepare for a lot of shallow steps and rusty handrails. The entire climb only takes about 5 minutes, but do be careful. And the view on the other side is very worth it. We were there mid-afternoon. The view may be even more beautiful in the mid to late morning because of the position of the sun. There is a small beach attached to the sea bridge, and a few locals were snorkeling in the clear water.

It was clear to see who the more adventurous Guthries were on this trip. While Rodney and Xan hung out on the beach in their jeans, Will and I were better prepared in shorts and waded... unfortunately the rocks were tough on the feet, so we didn't go too far from shore.

Will was determined to spear a fish so he could "study" it (he is really in to researching animals that swim right now), but was unsuccessful.

While we were checking out the sea bridge, this local lady kayaked through the "doorway." I am not sure who was more surprised!

Of course, all of this exploring made us hungry, so we were sure to stop off at our favorite Hawaiian cuisine joint, Aloha Orange. I've said this before and I'll say it again: You have to have the macadamia nut pancakes... amazing!

Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us, one of my car's tires had decided to give up the fight... about a mile from Aloha Orange on our way home we got a flat tire.

Leaving the chore of changing to the spare to the two manly men, Marilyn, the boys and I headed down a side road with our cameras in tow to get some shots of the country side. We definitely got the better end of the deal.

While we were taking picture of the boys on the walking bridge, one of the local residents spotted us and, in limited, but effective, English, invited us in to her garden, which features all sorts of plants and trees, including a small grove of mikan (Japanese tangerine) trees.

She was so kind, offering us mikans and to come in to her house for some curry. We had to decline tying to explain to her that we had just had lunch and that our husbands were fixing a flat tire. She asked us to wait a moment and came back with a bag full of drinks and snacks. There is definitely something to be said for Japanese hospitality! Meanwhile, I took a couple of shots of the flowers blooming in her yard.

 Despite the fat tire, it was definitely a fun day.... Rodney didn't even mind the flat tire.... one of the beverages in the bag the kind lady gave to us was a can of Japanese coffee, which he enjoyed immensely.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Salmon roses and carrot hearts: My foray in to Japanese cooking...

I finally had a chance to attend one of the Japanese cooking classes sponsored by the MCAS Iwakuni's Cultural Adaptation office. Our fearless tour guide, Akie, was at the helm again. I've been here for 15 months, but always managed to miss one of these great Japanese cooking opportunities! Friday we headed to a community center near downtown Iwakuni where our cooking instructor, Sachiko Tamura, walked us through the lesson.

The two dishes we made were Fish Broth Soup and a special occasion layered Sushi Cake. With Akie assisting, Sachiko demonstrated each o the steps to make the dishes, all of which she made look incredibly easy. The tilted mirror above the instructor's station made it even easier to see what she was doing. 

I have been in a few different Japanese community rooms, and most of them have rooms like this, with an instructors station, and then a number of students' stations. Our classroom had four student stations, so the 14 of us were divided in to four groups. In our group of three people, I was designated as the "cutting" person. I figured everyone would be safer if I wielded a knife, rather than attempted to cook on the tiny gas stove that was at about my knee-level. Any damage I might inflict would only happen to my own fingers that way.

As the "cutting person," I would be responsible for slicing vegetables, using cookie cutters to make kawaii (cute) flower and heart shapes, and creating a rose out of smoked salmon. The other two members of my group, Carolyn and Jessica, had other responsibilities. If you follow this blog, you may remember Jessica from my hike up Mt. Misen a week ago. Carolyn is a new acquaintance with a great attitude and our team was labeled as "harmonious" by Sachiko (whose name, by the way, means "happy child".) We then, of course, dubbed ourselves Team Harmony.

After Sachiko showed us how to make the very simple fish broth soup, Carolyn, the designated "soup and rice person" for our team, got to work on ours. Sachiko informed us that Japanese tofu must be cut with a knife in the palm of your hand. As "cutting person" for Team Harmony, I designated that task as part of the tasks for the "soup and rice person." Carolyn, the good sport that she is, just laughed and left me to my cookie cutters. She was very adept with the knife, and there was no bloody aftermath.

Carolyn, also responsible for the rice, mixed the vinegar with the rice (which was already cooker for us), and then scooped half of it in to the metal rice mold to make the cake's shape. She then layered marinated vegetables in between the two layers of rice.

Jessica was the "egg person." I think her job may have been the toughest. She had to pour very thin layers of egg sweetened with sugar in to a pan and cook them carefully without burning them. These eggs then got cut up into kinshi tomago... meaning beautifully sliced egg... to be placed as "icing" on the top of the sushi cake.

 My kawaii vegetables and smoked salmon rose:

Team Harmony:

 Our finished sushi cake, complete with vegetables, cooked shrimp, imitation crab and kinshi tomago.

These were the other groups' sushi cakes, with the final one being Sachiko's.

Team Harmony with our instructor:

October is Sachiko's birthday month, so Akie had brought her a gift from the Cultural Adaptation office. Really sweet!

The members of our cooking class with Sachiko!

 And me enjoying the finished products Team Harmony made... so tasty!