Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bihoku Hillside Park Illumination: A Shiny Winter Tradition

For the third time since living in Japan, my family visited the Bihoku Hillside Park's winter illumination display. If you are looking for something that people of all ages will enjoy during the holiday season, I highly recommend this. It takes about 2 hours to get there, but most of it is highway driving. It costs roughly 3,500 yen one way for tolls (you'll take the Sanyo to the Chugoku toward Miyoshi). If you get there before the sun sets, there is an amazing playground children of all ages (even adults) will love. You can read more about that in my blog post from a couple of years ago. If you want to spend the day there, I recommend heading out around noon, and either taking food with you or buying it at a rest area along the way. There is one small noodle/curry cafe at the park, but it can get crowded. Let your kids run loose on the huge playground and then stay for an hour or two after dark, enjoying the lights.

The illumination is usually just for the month of December and the first few days of January. Lights at the park turn on at 5:30 p.m. and the park is open until 9 p.m. The night photography opportunities are fun and plentiful. Admission is 410 yen for adults and 80 yen for kids who are elementary school and junior high school aged. Parking is 310 yen per car. Websites with info: and

My son wanted a photo of himself getting "impaled" by the big arrow...

These next three was me having way too much fun swiveling my camera on the tripod during a long exposure...

OK, back to "normal" night photography...

The displays each year are different, so this can be a fun annual family tradition without seeing the same things over and over. Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Tale of 12 Dresses (and 1 amazing friendship) Part 4: The Lighting

This is the final of four blog posts about my adventures with 12 wedding dresses and a group of fabulous friends. Please read the first installments of this story, if you haven't already. This post will make a lot more sense if you do.

Throughout the planning of these events, all of the Awesome Wives have heard some version of the following:

"Don't you feel guilty about destroying those dresses?! They are so beautiful!"

"You're gonna do WHAT to them?! What a waste! You should sell them on eBay... you'd make a ton of money!"

"OMG, that sounds like so much fun! I wish I could do that!"

So here are my personal responses to these statements... meaning I speak for myself, not necessarily sharing the same opinions as my friends. Although, I think they might agree...

"Don't you feel guilty about destroying those dresses?! They are so beautiful!"

No. No, I do not. For a couple of reasons. 1) If we weren't meant to do this, we never would have found twelve $9 wedding dresses. Serendipity stepped in and made it possible for us to have these wonderful memories this fall. And 2) These dresses have seen more use and love than my own wedding dress has. I wore my wedding dress two days, for my wedding and a separate reception later, and now it is in storage in Florida somewhere, probably growing mold (because military storage is not known to be of superior quality and it has been more than 3 years since I have seen my stuff). And before that, it was in a guest room closet, just hanging out. This new dress, I wore it for three actual events. I renewed my wedding vows in it, I danced in it, I laughed in it, and as you will see in a moment, I walked the streets of Hiroshima in it. The 39-year-old me loves this wedding dress as much as the 23-year-old me loved my actual wedding dress. There was no waste, fraud or abuse, I promise you.

"You're gonna do WHAT to them?! What a waste! You should sell them on eBay... you'd make a ton of money!"

Guess what? Life is not all about money. Trust me, I like money. I like to have enough money so that I can afford to go on fun adventures, and I can have a working iPhone and DSLR camera so I can record my adventures to reminisce about later. But these dresses were not about making money. They were about making memories. I wouldn't trade these memories for a few hundred bucks on eBay. And maybe I can still sell my dress. Someone might want a painted up wedding dress. You never know.

"OMG, that sounds like so much fun! I wish I could do that!"

OMG, it WAS a lot of fun. I enjoyed the planning, the fighting and the photos afterward. I love having the memories of KC's face plant (I wish I had a still image but I don't!), Shelagh's trying to stay as clean as possible because she had an event with her kids afterwards,

 and the painted handprints in inappropriate places on our dresses.

And guess what... with a little work and planning, you CAN do this too. Grab some friends and comb thrift stores for a few weeks or months. Hire a photographer to get some great photos (I happen to know one...). I got really lucky in that my friends all had good cameras and I knew how to set them up for the best shots. I've taught my husband and kids photography skills... my 13-year-old took the video, by the way. I had great luck finding dresses, and you might, too. Or, if you're really brave (and maybe practical) use your actual wedding dress. Trust me, I doubt your daughter will want to wear it.

You will have a blast in your dress... and never want the fun to end. Unfortunately, two of us were moving back to the States this month, so we had to have as many activities as possible in a short amount of time. Ashleigh left Japan the first week of December and Carolyn left a week later. I now have two pieces of my heart in Texas and California. This coming year will be a rough one... another 6 of us are scheduled to leave Iwakuni in 2016, going not only all over the States, but maybe all over the world. You never know where the military wind will blow you next.

So, as to not leave this blog post in a bummer of a mood, I leave you with the following images. Each December, the city of Hiroshima (about an hour from Iwakuni) has a huge light display called Dreamination. On Dec. 1 seven of us dressed up in our paint-splattered dresses, took the train to Hiroshima, went to a nice Italian dinner and toured the lights. Yes, we got a lot of funny looks. Yes, we were asked to take pictures with a lot of people. Yes, we are probably up on some random blogs and Facebook pages. Yes, we had fun. Yes, we get enough attention at home, but a little more can't hurt, right? Of course not! Everyone should be a rock star for a day! When locals who spoke English asked us why were dressed up this way, they didn't understand our story when we tried to tell them the truth. It is so far out of the Japanese norm. So, we made up a story that seemed to be better understood: We were a touring rock band called The Angry Brides. Amanda was lead vocalist. Teresa's on drums. I play the cowbell. Unlike the true story, that one got a lot of nods and smiles. Maybe it's time to start a band...

Yes, my hair is dyed this way right now... I call it The Peacock.
Walking the streets of Iwakuni, heading for the train station

Comfortable shoes are a must... long hems cover up footwear anyway!

Starbucks run!
The locals liked us. :)

Much love to my friends who made these memories possible.

A Tale of 12 Dresses (and 1 amazing friendship) Part 3: The Fighting

Please read the first installment of this story, as well as the second, if you haven't already. This post will make a lot more sense if you do.

So, the whole point to acquiring a bunch of wedding dresses was finally happening. It was Trash the Dress Day! The day that worked with everyone's schedules was Sunday, Nov. 22, which happened to be my 39th birthday. We once again took Tsuzu Beach by storm, armed with nearly a dozen cameras, 14 foam water squirters we got on clearance at the exchange, a couple dozen family members (including our children, who were more excited about this than we were, if that's possible), and gallons of water-based paint. 

After some coordinated portraits of the dresses and their wearers prior to the paint war, the battle began... Below is a video of the proceedings, along with a photo montage of photos from several cameras placed at different angles in the hopes to capture all of the action.

Below the video are some of the photos my camera captured. I now know that nothing says "I love you" like shooting paint in your friends' faces.

If the video isn't working properly in your browser, click here to go directly to YouTube.


That would be me
All of us, including Chie, who was a bit late to the party due to parental obligations
Battle attitudes ON!
Some sneak attacks
Inappropriate placement of handprints

My birthday surprise
My birthday retaliation

Some of the cameras used

The Aftermath...

If you didn't watch the video, you of us face-plants, another one needed eye care triage on the beach, Ashleigh wouldn't stop attacking people... it was a good time.

But that wasn't all for these dresses... we had one more adventure in store for them... but that's in Part 4, the final installment (click here).