Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bihoku Christmas Light Illumination

After living here for nearly a year and a half, I finally found myself on a Information, Tours and Travel (ITT) tour. ITT is provided by the base so SOFA status personnel (military, Dept. of Defense employees, American contractors, etc.)These are little different hat Cultural Adaptation tours I have been on. These are usually a bit more expensive (but still cheaper than what you could probably do on your own, and you don't have to drive!) and may or may not include an "educational" element. Cultural Adaptation trip are supposed to be educational and are only a few hours long.

For an adult and three children to take the tour bus and enter the park, I paid $62. Very reasonable, in my opinion. While we were told to bring snacks because food was limited, we still managed to eat at one of the small restaurants without waiting very long or having to fight crowds. None of the menus were in English, so be prepared to match kanji symbols on the pictures of the meals to the buttons on the order vending machine when you order.

I had heard rave reviews of the Christmas lights at Bihoku Park, which is about 2.5 hours away from Iwakuni. I thought that the kids would have a great time playing on the huge jungle gym and I could work on honing my night photography skills. Unfortunately, children are not a great accessory when you are trying to perfect the perfect shot, but I still managed to get some good images that show off some of what the park has to offer:

 2014 will be the year of the horse:

Of course, the giant playground was a hit for the kids, and everything is big (and strong) enough for adults to enjoy, too. Everything was wet from an earlier rain, though, so in an effort to not freeze when the sun went down later, I avoided touching anything remotely damp... which left me with very little to touch. But, the kids didn't care and since they were happy and burning off energy, I was happy too. ;)

The boys wanted to show "brotherly love." The Japanese looking on seemed confused and/or displeased by the display. ;)
A bonfire any small child could easily walk in to. Obviously, this would not happen in America, land of the lawsuit.

The theme for the illumination was "Love." There were paper squares you could write on and hang for wishes or whatever. We all wrote one about the people we love.

Finally, 5:30 p.m. came around and the lights blinked on. The boys were patient with me trying to get a shot of them for about five minutes. Then I gave up.

The whales were Will's favorite.

A Carps (Hiroshima's team) baseball tree
A Hawaiian-themed tree
The centerpiece f the park is a giant wire Christmas tree that changes colors. Here are my two favorites, followed by the tree in the daylight.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pounding Rice in Tsuzu... Year 2

It's hard to believe this will be our second Christmas in Japan and that we are almost halfway done with our tour here. But it is interesting now because we are repeating annual activities we enjoy, such as the Tsuzu Culture Day, which we first attended last year. The event happened to fall on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor this year. For the Japanese, because of the time difference, the attack happened Dec. 8, and Dec. 8 is when we headed over to Tsuzu, about a half hour away from base, to enjoy the hospitality of the citizens of the town.

Our neighbor and friend, 6-year-old Jamall, joined us for the day trip, and it was his first time to pound rice, eat the rice cakes we pounded, and make a Japanese new year wreath (details about this tradition can be found in last year's blog post.) Here are the highlights:

We were broken in to groups and assigned a Japanese junior high or high school student. Our group also included a classmate of Will's, Jazzmyne. We headed off to see calligraphy demonstrations first.

They had a tough time finding the proper kanji characters for Xan's name, so one of them looked it up on her phone. They went with the phonetic sounds... I have no idea what the kanji means. "Alexander" could mean "dead tree burning," or "green bird floating," for all I know.

After calligraphy was rice pounding. The boys remembered it from last year and wanted to have another go at it. Hot, steamy rice is hit with large wooden mallets until it gets a gummy texture.

Of course the Japanese men thought it would be fun to have the big blonde chick give it a shot. I didn't hold back, either.

Then they passed the pounded rice through the window to the kitchen area and, after using hand sanitizer, we were shown how to make rice cakes.

And then we ate them!

After we had our fill of rice cakes, popcorn and apple juice, it was time to make the Shimekazari, or Japanese wreaths made from rice straw.

Now we hang these outside our doors to catch any bad luck that might haunt us in the new year. Then, around Jan. 14, we will take it down to the Kintai Bridge and throw it in to a giant bonfire to destroy all the bad luck it captured. We had a pretty good year this year, so it must have worked. ;)