Monday, February 29, 2016

Nicoli Kitchen: Where toddlers are welcome

Nicoli Kitchen is a downtown Iwakuni restaurant I recently visited that is incredibly kid-friendly... a great place for moms with babies and toddlers to get together for lunch. They show Tom & Jerry cartoons and have a play area with toys. And the food is delicious, albeit oddly colored... here is my four-cheese pizza.

Yes, that's a blue crust. At first I was told that it might be squid ink that's causing the blue color. Then I found out that it actually is what translates into "bamboo charcoal." Oh, good, even better. But if you're not adventurous, that's OK, it did not taste like anything but cheese pizza. It came with honey to drizzle over the top. I never would have thought that that combo would be a good one, but let me assure you: it is!

My friend KC tried the black curry... and it gave her a lovely Wicked Witch/zombie- tooth look, but she said it tasted quite good.

I got the lunch set that included the salad bar and dessert, for about $15. The salad bar also has all-you-can-drink juices and teas.

The menu is posted outside the restaurant, including the lunch menu and sets. Most of it is subtitled in English, and the staff speaks some English.

The restaurant is not huge, but has both table and chair seating, as well as traditional Japanese seating with cushions. If you have a large party, I would call ahead. Click here for the map. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The 2016 Town Hall Meeting gossip I have gathered...

This post is full of information I got second-hand... sometimes third-hand... sometimes just as photographic evidence found on the Iwakuni Classifieds and Information Facebook Page. I, myself, did not attend either of the MCAS Iwakuni town hall meetings this year because I had a stamp-making class I went to and a photography class I was teaching at each of the respective times on Feb. 11. I have priorities and since the spouse is retiring this summer, my priorities have shifted from life in Iwakuni to carving my kanji-fied name into a stone. Do I think that Col. Boucher, the CO of the base, should have consulted my schedule before planning the meetings? Absolutely. But this is an imperfect world we're living in. I forgive him, and you should, too.
Fortunately, I have friends. And some of these friends attended one or both of the town hall meetings. I wasn't going to write a blog about this year's meeting like I did last year and the year before, but after being stopped a handful of times by people asking if I would be blogging, I realized there was a demand for a meeting recap as only this blog can provide. So, here is my valiant effort based on information I did not collect myself. I want to thank the lovely April for taking and sending me her very thorough notes. Without her, this blog post would not have been possible.
TOWN HALL MEETING NOTES (in no particular order):
There will be a 25% increase in population on base this year. The first Navy squadron is arriving this fall. In total, there will be two more Navy squadrons and one more Marine by January 2017. Rumors have it that no, many of the entities on base are not prepared for the influx and probably won't be until the following year, if ever. Reason #254 I am glad I am leaving this summer.
The road between current commissary and Crossroads is scheduled to close in mid-2016. The new commissary, post office, and movie theater are scheduled to open in mid-2016. This is, of course, late. In the 2014 town hall meeting, the commissary was scheduled to be open in the Spring of 2015... so it looks like the base construction is about 15 months behind schedule. Well, done, everyone. Well done.
The Monzen gate is getting bigger. Construction is scheduled to start in March. The infamous pirate playground will close and the parking lot for the nearby midrise will close. Supposedly they are working on a solution for parking for that building's residents, but a lack of real estate in that area is probably making this a challenge. There is already a parking shortage over there. So, if you are moving to Iwakuni this summer, you may not want to choose to live in a midrise (also known as tower... think apartment building) on the Monzen side of base (over the bridge) until 2018.
The sea wall, between newly renovated section and the gym, will close March 2016 for one year. It is rumored that a running path circumventing this problem area is being discussed. It will probably be completed in April 2017.
The new post office is scheduled to open in May 2016 (about a year late) with 240 parcel lockers. The mailboxes have windows so you can see if you have mail without opening the box. Yay for lazy people! Combination locks will replace keys, so no more worries about forgetting your keys. Now you get to forget your combo. Your current box number will stay the same. 
The new Kintai Inn expansion will serve as TLF overflow. It opens in May, just in time for peak PCS season. This seems to be too perfect. I'd keep an eye on this.
New Sakura Theater, ahem, command assembly hall, is scheduled to open in July. The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and the Red Cross will move to Sakura, along with Marine Corps Family Team Building. There are 1000+ seats in the new theater. And a huge tapestry made in Kyoto. 
Good news: the new commissary is opening this summer! Worst case scenario is August, but they are hoping for a 4th of July grand opening. Bad news: We won't get more items on the shelves until population grows. And no word on cottage cheese shortage prevention.
The new Town Center is slated to open in August. It will house the new TLF, auto service center, coffee shop, dry cleaner, engraving/plaque shop, Japanese gift ship, optical, sporting goods, barber (increase to 10 seats), and beauty shop. It will be located in the middle of the row home (three-story homes) neighborhoods. 
School officials will get the keys to the new schools this summer. The high school will transfer over winter break 2016-2017. The other schools (a junior high and two elementary schools) will transfer the start of the 2017-2018 school year. Last I heard, uniforms were being considered for the schools. They are trying to start off the new school year with six more teachers. But, it's kind of like the commissary: we don't rate new items/teachers until the population can support it. But we saw what happened when we wait too long to hire teachers... this year, there weren't enough teachers to start the school year. Instead, permanent subs (many who do not have teaching degrees or certificates) were having to fill in for weeks, even months, at time. Because of problems and bureaucracy regarding background checks and paperwork, it took new teachers and new substitute teachers up to four months to get cleared for work... AFTER they were originally hired. Teachers from the closing Atsugi Navy base may be transferred to Iwakuni after the Atsugi residents move to Iwakuni (Gee, that makes a lot of sense... which means it probably won't happen). Military spouses who are certified teachers should apply to be a substitute and/or teacher now because local hires will get preference in hiring when positions open. (While it sounds like they are doing milspouses a favor,  they are actually saving themselves a lot of money... "local hire" milspouses are cheaper to hire. They don't rate the monthly living expenses and semi-annual trips home like teachers hired directly from the States.)
Ironworks Gym parking has improved. There are 47 new spaces. And they are all still full weekday evenings.
Clinic modifications will begin in April. Completion is expected in September. This will increase exam rooms to add providers. There will be 49 new PCP and support staff to arrive by the end of 2016 to include family doctors, a pediatrician and an internist. The new clinic is scheduled to be delivered in Sept. 2017. 
Dental will add nine new providers / support staff. Twenty-four new personnel are also scheduled to arrive in Sept. 2017. 
The Iwakuni Kintai-kyo Airport will add a flight to Tokyo daily (so now 5 flights) and a daily flight to Okinawa, which starts March 27th.
The amount of family housing continues to increase. A total of 222 new homes are scheduled to be completed this year. Eight 3-bedroom row homes, 44 3-bedroom duplexes and 38 4-bedroom duplexes are scheduled to be delivered in May. In July, another 36 3-bedroom row homes and 96 3-bedroom duplexes are scheduled to be delivered. 
One of the complaints with the row homes is that there is a lack of storage. Housing is looking into the possibility of modifying the homes to add more storage once the Japanese row home warranties expire in three years or so.
The renovations of towers 655 and 589 are scheduled to be completed this month. 589 will feature an indoor playground in its community room.
May 5th will be Friendship Day once again. This is the 40th year for the event. There was an estimated 175,000 attendees last year, on a rainy day. There will possibly be 300,000 this year. The Blue Impulse (think Blue Angels) precision flight team is expected to perform again this year.
From the Question and Answer portion of the Town Hall meeting:
Hoverboards are not allowed on the streets. A base-wide email was sent out the beginning of February with new security rules. 
Construction on the new CDC will start after the current Sakura Theater is torn down. There is extra capacity in the current CDC in terms of room, but there are not enough teachers. They are currently adding a new temporary building, and more importantly, working on increasing the pay structure to attract teachers. This was an issue brought up last year, too... glad they are finally working on it now that it's an even bigger problem.
People complained about kids riding bikes and skateboards in the middle of the road, and darting out into streets without looking for cars. Apparently, these people were told that there is a parenting issue on base: people aren't parenting (surprise!). Teach your kids how to properly stay safe and maybe even monitor them to see if they follow through. 
From Facebook:
People wanted more high chairs at the Crossroads Food Court. There are now more high chairs at Crossroads Food Court. People wanted trash cans for dog poop along the seawall. There are now trashcans for dog poop (and other things, I assume) along the seawall.
So, I hope this is helpful for those of you, like me, who weren't able to attend the town hall meetings. And, just to make it clear: I am leaving Iwakuni this summer, so there will not be any more Town Hall reports on this blog. No, I do not know who might take over blogging about Iwakuni. Maybe you should give it a shot. :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Kanji Stamp Making

My awesome Japanese friend, Chie, set a group of us up with the opportunity to make our own kanji stamps. You may have seen these on works of art and the like... little squares with ancient kanji characters in them. Well, I can now say I have my own stamp that I created to stamp on my next work of art.

You don't have to travel far to enjoy doing this. It's at the Kikkawa Historical Museum in the Kintai Bridge area. If you know where the large iris flower field blooms in the summer, and you happen to be standing there, then you're probably just a few yards away from the museum. The entrance looks like this:

And here's a map:

And a web site (Use Google Chrome to translate it):

Plan on the class taking about 2 hours. It costs 2,000 yen (About $16) per person. We had 8 people in our group and were done in an hour and 40 minutes, including the time it took the sensei to fix all of our attempted carvings. This is intricate work with a chisel and it is a small classroom, so young children should be left at home. I probably should have been left at home, too, because I don't think I'll be able to make stamps for a living. My effort did not result in a masterpiece. But, with the sensei's help, mine turned out pretty good. It is as close to Guthrie as phonetically possible in kanji, and it stands for "elegance." I'm not sure that's exactly what comes to mind when people think of our family, but OK, I'll go with it. Other friends' kanji stood for "brilliant silk" "gentle music" and "purple," for example.

This is the Guthrie stamp... you read it from right to left. 
This is what "gentle music" looks like. 

You can use regular ink to stamp the images, but the sensei used traditional ink, which is almost like a paste. To properly use the stamp, you must press down hard and wiggle the stamp around gently to get all of the edges.
The stamp in its little cover. The "G" is where I place the thumb of my right hand when stamping so that the stamp is right-side up. 

While you can call and make a reservation for a group class at any time, there will be a drop-in open event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 28 through May 10 (Golden Week time). The sensei did recommend that Americans call to reserve their stamp so that the proper kanji for their names could be researched. but this step is not necessary. However, if you do call ahead with your name, don't be a rude no-show. Even if you can't make it, be sure to go and pay for your stamp, or send someone else to pick it up for you. Have fun!

Parco della Pace: Pizza, sausage and tiled sinks

You may remember my friend Cortney from the dress painting thing... she's the Problem Solver. She's got a spouse named Ted. And Ted likes to try new restaurants. He's the New Restaurant Finder. And he recently found a new restaurant on TripAdvisor. Well, it was new to us, but not new in general. If you like pizza, french fries, chicken wings, sausage and wine, this is your place.

Parco della Pace, which translates to Peace Park in Italian, is, in fact, near Peace Park in Hiroshima. Plan on it taking about an hour to an hour and half to drive there from Iwakuni, depending on traffic. Parking is about 400 yen an hour in the parking structure behind the restaurant. We went on a Saturday evening, and called ahead to make reservations, it was recommend that when you call ahead for reservations, you have someone who speaks Japanese do it for you. Luckily, most of us have access to a Japanese friend or ITT on base. Here is the business card and English menu (yes, there is an English menu! And the staff did speak fairly good English once we were there):

You can see we brought our children. Which was fine. It was fun for the whole family, but it is a small restaurant... we took up about a third of it, so keep that in mind if you're thinking of taking a large group there.

But it is totally worth going. The food was delicious. So was the wine.

The pizza is baked in this stone kiln from Naples...

And I loved that the oven tile matched the tile in the bathroom sink.

The kids were just thrilled to get Coke and ginger ale in bottles. Ah, cheap thrills.

So, the consensus in our group was that Parco della Pace deserved its Tripadvisor 5-star rating. I invite you to check the place out... just make reservations in Japanese first.