Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Cops, Lamborghinis and wisteria tunnels... all in a day's adventure.

So, you would think that getting to see this absolutely gorgeous wisteria tunnel would have been the big story for the day for the seven of us ladies who made a 6-hour round trip to see it... but it really wasn't.

And you might think that seeing a souped up Lamborghini at a rest stop could have been the highlight...

... but, while it was very cool, and we stood with a handful of Japanese men snapping pictures of it, it wasn't.

In fact, the big story of the day was that I was pulled over by the Japanese highway patrol for (allegedly) speeding. In fact, a few pictures even made it on to Facebook from my so-called "fellow military spouse friends":

While the evidence doesn't show it, there were actually two cops in the unmarked car. And note that the Japanese pull you over and park in front of you, not behind you. You can see by my body language that I was a bit stunned. And, as you can see, the road looks a lot like a highway and I had been passed by a truck a few moments before this. Apparently the speed limit drops significantly here. And since we were busy looking for the wisteria tunnel garden's exit, I guess I wasn't paying attention to how fast I was going. So I can neither confirm nor deny that I was speeding. But I can confirm that I had a van full of American women who were snapping pictures with their iPhones. Well, a van full of American women and one Japanese lady, who, as I will explain later, was not going to be helpful in this situation.

So, the two police officers greet me at my window, each with a smile. I give a little wave and say "Konnichiwa!" in my brightest, happiest, "I'm a dumb American and I'm really sorry about whatever I did wrong" voice. They asked me if I spoke Japanese (at least I think that is what they asked, which was later confirmed by the Japanese woman in the car after the incident was over) and I told them I did not. Meanwhile, I am wondering if they are truly going to "detain" me in the back of the police car while they write up my ticket and call PMO (cops on base), how awesome those photos would be for future employers to see on Facebook, how are the rest of the ladies going to get home when I am the only authorized driver on the rented van, and how much is this ticket going to cost me (rumor says between $300 and $400)? Oh, and will I ever be allowed to drive in Japan again and how is that going to affect the adventures I want to have, galavanting around the country? Can I get deported for this? How pissed is the spouse going to be?

Lots of things are racing through my head during this 3-second exchange.

After my cheerful greeting, Cop #1, the spokesman, looks at Cop #2 and then back at me. "Speed is 60..." his accented English trailed off and he looked at Cop #2 for help. "Kee... kel..." he started to say. Cop #2 looked baffled. I decided I'd help them out: "Kilometers?" Cop #1 says, "Hai. (Yes). Go slower." I pull the typical dumb blonde move, one I have pulled in the States and looked at my speedometer, and then for a sign on the road, and then back at my speedometer. Now, you may be thinking that this is an act, to look more stupid and pitiful than I really am. I assure you, this appearance is not intentional. Logically, I know that my speedometer will not tell me how fast I was going five minutes before, especially when I am stopped on the side of the road. But, the blond hair I have just can't seem to be controlled by logic when cops are involved. I spit out one of the few Japanese phrases I have mastered in my time here: "Gomen asi (I am sorry)." And then, because I guess the blonde thinks that it sounds even more sincere to say it again in English to men who don't understand the language that well, I repeat myself, with emphasis: "I am really very sorry." And I was. Yes, I tend to have a lead foot, but I try not to cause an international incident with it.

Cop #1 nods and starts to move away "OK... dozo." Dozo means, go ahead. I was set free! The two officers made their way back to the car, and turned off the cherry light... it dropped in to the roof of the car. And off they went, pausing for a break in traffic. Relieved feminine chatter filled the van, my own chatter included. While I waited my turn to merge in to traffic after them, I spun around to my Japanese friend, Chie, who was seated behind me. Her eyes were huge and she looked at me and quietly said, with awe: "You are lucky." Oh. Really? "You mean they aren't always this friendly?" I asked. "Nooo! No smiling. Very strict. You are lucky," she said.

When I saw Chie a few days later, we talked about the "incident."

"Well, I was going to ask you to translate so I could understand what they were saying to me," I told her.

She looked at me and shook her head, "I was going to tell them I was Chinese."

What?! Oh, thanks! Some help you are!

But, then again, by not being able to speak Japanese, I was probably more trouble for the cops than the speeding ticket paperwork would have been worth. Soooo... I did not waste my foreigner "get out of jail free" card, and was much more cognizant of the speed limit. So, if the officers ever happen to read this... thank you and lesson learned: Pay attention to changes in the speed limit even if the road still looks like a highway and other vehicles pass you. But I am still not sure if the ladies in the van will want me to drive on our little adventures any more. We shall see...

But once the excitement of being pulled over by the Japanese highway patrol was over, we were only about a half an hour away from our final destination: The beautiful wisteria gardens. Here is the info and directions provided by Iwakuni Explorer, which is where I got my information. And then I will let the photos speak for themselves:

Yes, lots of large bees, but they leave you alone.

And yes, this little shack below is the entrance to the gardens, where you pay 1,000 yen ($10) to enjoy this beautiful place. We happened to get there on a partly cloudy/partly sunny day, and leave just as storm clouds were rolling in. This park is blooming around the last week of April and first two weeks of May, but keep in mind that the first week in May is Golden Week and many Japanese have the week off and travel with their families... tourist attractions like this get very crowded.

And, I took portraits of the ladies, and asked them to snap mine, as well. I needed a new headshot for my modeling career, LOL. Or maybe for my mug shot the next time I get pulled over.

And no, I did not bring a fan with me to blow my hair back. It just happened to gust as the picture was taken... bringing those storm clouds with it. And yes, I wore the purple top intentionally... a good photographer always plans ahead. ;)

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

If this is Friendship Day "Light"...

... I'm not sure I could handle Friendship Day "Heavy". Friendship Day is an annual tradition for MCAS Iwakuni, which opens its gates to the public for six hours on one day, usually May 5, which is a Japanese National Holiday, Children's Day. Most Japanese are off of school and work... and tens of thousands of them (I heard the base was planning for 70,000-130,000 people, but have not heard how many actually came) walked through the base's gates yesterday. The event was very much like the air shows in the States, but, with a "lighter" side.

The "lighter" side is what made this Friendship Day different from previous years: There wasn't an air show. I am assuming that this was to save money on jet fuel, tires for landing gear, oxygen for the pilots... I have no idea. Regardless, there were static displays, stage shows, lots of food, lots of lines and lots of photo ops. And plenty of positive PR for the base. But, since there was not an air show, the draw wasn't as enticing for many Japanese, so a "lighter" crowd was expected... if you believe the rumors, there has been a recent Friendship Day with 200,000 people attending.

I didn't head out in to the fray until around noon. At this point, this was what I knew of Friendship Day, based off the view from my building:

For those of you not familiar with air stations or airports, those tour buses are not usually out there with airplanes. Visitors could only get on base on foot, on bicycle or by tour bus. Tour buses were lined up starting at 7 a.m. Gates to the flight line did not open until 10 a.m. Hoping to avoid the crush of people who had been waiting over three hours, we held off going to the festivities until close to noon. In anticipation of the base closing down most of its roads for the event, school was cancelled, shopping was very limited and some Marines had the day off. Mine did not.

Here is what the kids, my neighbor, Donna, and I saw as we walked past the base's front gate and along the main road toward Crossroads, the main shopping district on base, and where the gates to the flight line were located:

They had even pulled the historic Zero out of the hangar for people to check out:

We had heard that the line to get in to Crossroads Food Court was ridiculously long, with dozens of Japanese people who wanted to taste some American fast food, so, of course, like any good gawkers, we had to check it out.

That was the line for the "in" door. I snuck in to get some pictures on the inside. It was really quite sedate compared to what I was expecting. They had a number of people monitoring the doors... probably to make sure that the food court stayed within fire code. Oh, and the drink machines were shut down... no free refills. That is only a perk I have found at Costco and Joyfull restaurants off base here in Japan.

After checking out the crowd at Crossroads, we headed off to the flight line:

...where they were serving Miller Light for $2 (I seriously hope this isn't the Japanese peoples' first impression of American beer)...

and camouflage stuff that would make any duck hunter happy, happy, happy.

And tasty treats the kids just had to try, although I think they wanted them more for the cups (which, somehow, reminded me of Vegas.)

And then it was time to brave the crowds...

But these were friendly crowds... plenty of friendship to go around:

And nothing says friendship like $15 pizzas... the tent below was sold out by noon...

 ... and I knew why. It seemed like every Japanese family left with a pizza or two... kind of like what I observe at Costco each time I go. This guy below is Exhibit A.

There were lots of other things for sale, as well.

And there were lines... lines for food:

and lines for the porta-potties:

Lots of pizza boxes in the trash:

And various other treats, like the Japanese plane that famously can land in water:

The Japanese man who likes to wear the American flag as a cape while he listens to live bands...

... and chat with small children.

 This is what a Guns n Roses cover band looks like in Japan:

And here is what they sound like.

More of a Metallica fan? There was a cover band for them, too.

And, especially for my Pensacola peeps, we may have the Blue Angels, but Japan has the Blue Impulse... JASDF is Japan Air Self Defense Force - the Japanese military. And, sadly, no air show meant I did not get to see them perform, so I cannot compare their show to the Blue Angels'. But the Impulse do not fly over my backyard every Tuesday morning, that's for sure.

And, apparently photographers are measured by the size of their camera lenses. I would lose in that pissing contest, I assure you. I am not sure why you need that lens to photograph a huge plane you are standing next to, but I bet he could see Russia from his house with that thing.

I wanted to borrow this guy's step stool, but figured I'd take a picture of him taking a picture instead...

It's a photographer thing.

And, last but not least, Japanese festival favorites... meat on a stick and foot-long French fries. Yum!

And organizers... more porta-potties wouldn't be a bad idea. I am not sure how many people peed their pants waiting for 45 minutes in a bathroom line.... especially if Friendship Day ever gets "heavy" again. I felt sorry for potty-training 2-year-olds and their mothers.