Saturday, December 31, 2011


As our first Christmas in Japan we wanted to experience all the culture had to offer. Unfortunately I got very sick. So our plans fell through and I spent the long weekend sleeping or in a semi-sleeping state. I guess my super immune system wasn't so super with these new Japanese germs.

But the Japanese celebrate Christmas a little differently. Most people are of the Shinto or Buddhist faith so celebrating Christmas has no religious significance here. Instead they celebrate with cake and fried chicken.

Yep, fried chicken. Kentucky Fried Chicken to be more specific. When I asked about where the KFC and Christmas cake tradition started no one had an answer. "It's just what we've always done."

Encouraged by commerce, the secular celebration of Christmas is popular in Japan, though Christmas is not a national holiday. Gifts are sometimes exchanged. Christmas parties are held around Christmas Day; Japanese Christmas cake is often a white sponge cake covered with cream and decorated with strawberries. Christmas lights decorate cities, and Christmas trees adorn living areas and malls. Christmas Eve has become a holiday for couples to spend time together and exchange gifts.
The first recorded Christmas in Japan was a Mass held by Jesuit missionaries in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1552. Some believe that unrecorded celebrations were held before this date, starting in 1549 when Saint Francis Xavier arrived in Japan. Christianity was banned throughout Japan in 1612. However, a small enclave of Kakure Kirishitan ("hidden Christians") continued to practice underground over the next 250 years.
Christianity in Japan along with Christmas reemerged in the Meiji period. Influenced by America, Christmas parties were held and presents were exchanged. The practice slowly spread, but its proximity to the New Year's celebrations makes it a smaller focus of attention. During World War II, all celebrations, especially American, were suppressed. From the 1960s, with an expanding economy, and influenced by American TV, Christmas became popular. (Source).
Our prefecture (state) was the first to celebrate Christmas!

Another interesting note:

In the past, single women over the age of 25 were sometimes referred to in Japan as a "Christmas cake" based on the belief that, like a Christmas cake, they become nearly worthless after December 25.
Yikes! Good thing I found a husband before 25!
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 30, 2011


So you may have noticed that Dustin and I haven't updated our books in a while. It wasn't from laziness. We both set page goals at the beginning of the year. This gives us a number to work towards as we complete books. It also lets us compete to see who is closer to the goal throughout the year.

Unfortunately we stop reading once we meet our goals. But it means we are refreshed and ready to start January 1! The blog doesn't format well, but below are the standings.

Again, I always win.

Summary of Completed Books
Pages Read Books Completed Percentage of Goal
Natalie Dustin Natalie Dustin Natalie  Dustin
2004 3,998
2005 3,611 8 36.1%
2006 12,308 3,332 37 10 123.1% 33.3%
2007 9,488 3,977 27 10 94.9% 39.8%
2008 11,551 4,592 30 9 115.5% 45.9%
2009 21,477 11,098 47 18 143.2% 111.0%
2010 9,701 509 24 1 97.0% 5.1%
2011 10,660 9,120 21 13 106.6% 99.3%

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Boat Ride!

So I may have challenges to overcome at work, but I learned of one perk that makes me happy. We have a remote ATM at a small army base in Kure. Once a month an associate must go up to refill it and balance it. Now I volunteered to take it because of one thing. You have to get there by BOAT!

My first trip out was very exciting. I got on a small navy boat with two sailors and rode out through the Seto Inland Sea. It was freezing cold and my layers were not enough! I stood in the back on the way out enjoying the scenery.

All of a sudden a submarine surfaces almost beside us! I raced to get out my camera, but as only able to catch these last couple of shots. How cool is that!? A sub just whooshes up next to our boat!

The American part of Kure is tiny. It has the world's smallest commissary. There are no barracks or family housing. I'm pretty sure the entire base would fit in a Walmart. And I mean a 90's Walmart. No groceries. On the way back I decided to wrap up in a blanket in the front. I was hoping to get some good pictures.


On the way out we passed the Japanese shipyard. I've never been to Norfolk so I was pretty impressed with the boat display. I've never seen so many battleships. They were stacked together like sardines!

Huge submarines!

1 ship, 2 ship, 3 ship and 4

Big ships, little ships, more more more
The boat ride was very scary. The water had gotten very bad and Iwakuni advised our boat pilot to wait thirty minutes or so to see if conditions would improve. We got the go-ahead after lunch, but we probably should have waited. The waves were so big they came over the boat and we were trying to stay on the crests to avoid falling in between the swells. At one point we lost radio communication with Iwakuni and tried communicating with Morse code. I just hung on to handles inside and tried to stay on my feet. I got soaked! It was soooo cold!

Finally our boat pilot didn't think our boat was going to make it so he called in (with Morse code) a larger boat to pick us up. It met us on the way back, but they decided to just stay with us rather than try to get us off our boat.

It was scary! Next time I will wear more layers and take better pictures!

Friday, December 23, 2011


Now that we have a car I have vowed never to cook again. Tonight we went to Shiva, an Indian restaurant that has been recommended to us many times. Maybe some of our family that has been to India can help us with the food names.

The first course was a thin cracker with a kick. We tasted sesame, but weren't sure what all was in it.

The next course was a vegetable soup with cream.

When my meal came I sat there for a while figuring out how I was going to eat all this food! Good thing they have take-out boxes. My course came with nan, the sesame cracker, salad, rice, and mushroom curry.

Dustin's meal was pork curry masala with cheese nan. His was too spicy for me, but he ate it all.

Sorry it is blurry.

The service was great and the owner speaks better English than Japanese. He just came to Japan about six months ago from Germany where he had a restaurant outside the army base. He was very nice and we talked to him for a while about Iwakuni.

Did I mention the food was great? It was great.  :)

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Now that we have a car our exploring radius has gotten much bigger. Tonight we drove out to a ramen restaurant that was recommended by some of Dustin's coworkers. It is called Nagahama. Now I like ramen. I like cheap 22 cent ramen so I was expecting to be blown away by "the real stuff". And I was.

I got a set that included a rice dish. It starts with sticky rice, a layer of dried seaweed, Japanese pickles, bean sprouts, and roe. Yep, fish eggs. I didn't like them so Dustin ate them for me, but the rice, pickle, and sprouts were good.

The ramen was very good. I added ground pepper and fresh garlic. Yummy! Dustin added fresh garlic, red pepper oil, and 'ramen sauce'.

The best part was the gyoza. The man makes it fresh and then fries it super fast (about 3 seconds) in this machine. It sounded like a vacuum.

We got a small surprise when our drink as brought to us. Usually when you sit down you automatically get a hand towel to clean your hands and a small glass of water. This time it was a foggy liquid that tasted like dirty water. At first we weren't sure if this was just a dirty restaurant and their water was bad. I texted a friend and sent this picture. She said it is a tea that comes with noodles and is either a Japanese bean or wheat tea. At least it wasn't dirty dish water, but not my cup of tea.

Definitely pretty tasty for a Tuesday night!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


We have wheels! I know it has been a long while since I have updated. We got caught up in our work routines that we stopped exploring out to new areas. Walking also was becoming a problem. There is only so far that you can walk in a day. So we started looking for a car.

In Japan they have different plates depending on the type of car. The smaller, gas efficient cars get a yellow plate. It means we usually pay a little more for the vehicle, but pay less in yearly taxes and fees.

It also means it only has a three cylinder engine. Which is the size of a go-cart. And makes my little Honda Civic look like a boat.

After weeks of waiting for the right vehicle to match all our requirements we found it!

A 1997 Mitsubishi Panjero Mini! We are officially car owners in Japan!

It is officailly the smallest car I have ever been in. But it holds four and has space in the back. And we paid very little for it. Very little. Which is good because it is very little.

Our first journey out in town was a little scary. I am the only one that can legally drive in Japan so Dustin was the navigator. Note: he is the worst navigator ever!

We took a trip to Nafco (like a Home Depot mixed with Bed, Bath, & Beyond) to get some hardware to hang things in our townhouse. The studs are metal to move with earthquakes which is great for safety, but not great for hanging pictures. Dustin is following the directions from Google maps and takes me on the tiniest back roads to get there. Tiny roads that are two way streets! I will post pictures soon.

Yay for wheels!

Monday, November 28, 2011


I always think of Thanksgiving as a coming together of the Native Americans and Pilgrims to break bread. Alton Brown, anthropological food genius, taught me that they didn't actually eat what we consider "traditional" Thanksgiving fare. In fact, it was more oysters and clams and that roughage known as maize.

I think I'll stick with turkey and stuffing. And cranberry sauce. And green bean casserole. And rolls. With clouds of mashed potatoes. And pumpkin cheesecake. Yes, mustn't forget the pumpkin cheesecake.

In Japan they celebrate a Thanksgiving of sorts that has nothing to do with Pilgrims, Native Americans, or turkeys. This holiday is a "labor thanksgiving" known as kinro kansha. I asked about this holiday to some Japanese locals and they explained that it was a day to give thanks. That's it. No elaborate meal. No must-see football. No tryptophan-induced afternoon naps. Just a day to say thanks.

This year we did Thanksgiving American-style.

Dustin couldn't wait on the cheesecake...

The Alton Brown Roast Turkey
And boy, did eating an American feast taste good. But to observe our host country's holiday, we are still very thankful.

I am thankful for health both for myself and my family. I am thankful for telephones so I can hear your voices from so far away.

Dustin is thankful that his family hasn't disowned him after a long hiatus of communication. And for pumpkin cheesecake. Mustn't forget the pumpkin cheesecake.

Love you all!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Disney Sea

So if Disneyland isn't enough there is another park geared to older ages. DisneySea has more thrill rides and tons of shopping.

When we first entered the gate we were treated to a brass band playing Christmas songs and Disney themes. I love a strong brass section so I was in tears by the end of their performance.

After we stowed our backpacks in a locker we walked into the first area of the park.... and saw a huge volcano! Disney never disappoints and is pretty good about getting everything down to the last detail. Are we having an earthquake? Nope, the volcano is just rumbling.

Miss Cape Cod? There was a whole section devoted to Cape Cod and had themed stores and restaurants.

Indiana Jones! This ride was different than the one in California. It was based off the most recent movie and was pretty good. We bought the picture that was taken at the end and I am working on loading it onto the blog for all to see.

Abu came out to take pictures while we were walking through Agrabah. He got down on a knee and kissed my hand before posing for a picture with us. The picture wasn't very good, but we snapped this one of him playing with another person.

Another cool thing about Disney Sea is.. well, the sea! Instead of parades throughout the park they do shows on the water. There was lots of shooting water, pyrotechnics, and fireworks. They move so quickly through the water that we thought for sure they would bump each other!

The best part of the show were the kites that were pulled behind jetskis. They whipped back and forth through the sky.

I have never ridden the famous Tower of Terror ride. I'm not a fan of straight drops, but agreed to ride with Dustin. The storyline was lost on us because all the rooms leading up the ride are all in Japanese and there was no translation. The ride was fun though!

We had a great time and were in the park until it closed. We took pictures while we were in every line as our theme for the day. There were so many people in the park! Definitely worth the trip!

We miss you!

Tokyo Disneyland

Yay for Disney!! We love theme parks and especially love Disney parks. They just seem to get it right and every detail is perfect. And I feel like they are cleaner. Anyway, it was a very gross day which probably kept the crowds away. When I say rain, I don't mean a light drizzle. Hard, cold rain with a nasty wind. We still had a GREAT time!

Cinderella's Castle

A Swiss Family Christmas tree

Raincoats over the costumes!

Lunch through a door handle
 Our biggest surprise was when we ventured over to a familiar ride and found that they had converted it for Christmas! Now we have been to Disney at Christmas time before and other than some decoration changes nothing really is different. The WHOLE RIDE had changed!

Pumpkin tree
The storyline was different, the rooms had been completely changed. Instead of the Haunted Mansion we were treated to a Nightmare Before Christmas tale! It was awesome!!

I've always loved teacups and this time was no exception! This was later in the evening. We ran around in the last 45 minutes and rode many of the rides with no wait. It was still raining and had gotten very cold so many people had left.

Figaro on teacups
Come visit us so we have an excuse to go again!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tokyo Museum of Sciences

In the Ueno area of Tokyo you will find museums, art galleries, and the zoo. A stop we had to make was to the Museum of Sciences. Similar to the Natural History museum in D.C., this museum boasts displays of local animals and plant life. It also had sections on technology.

Outside is a HUGE train engine. Fred, this is for you. We spent a good 15 minutes walking around this thing in all it's glory.

Once inside we walked though many exhibits including animals, insects, plants, rice varieties, and evolution of Japanese people. Here are some interesting pictures with a 100 yen piece to show scale. A 100 yen piece is about the same size as a nickel.

Val, we do have beetles. Lots of them...

Dustin's favorite floor had all the dinosaurs on it.

We spent the whole day wandering through this building. There were so many things to see and interactive displays! All the plaques were in Japanese, but each area had a computer display that would translate.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Daiichi in Ryogoku

We stayed in a miltary hotel for the first part of our vacation because it is just much cheaper ($39 a night!). Unfortunately they were all booked for the holiday weekend. A woman I work with really helped us out and booked a hotel with a great view near Tokyo Disney. We were able to take a shuttle bus to Disney (for free) and had complimentary buffet breakfast.

This is our first time staying in a Japanese hotel! We weren't sure what to expect...

Small door!
Inside it was pretty standard. We did have reservations for a bed instead of a futon though.

One cool feature was this small box by the door. As soon as you enter the room you insert your key paper and it turns on the lights and air. The room was comfortable without the key, but with it we could make it cooler or warmer. If you remove the key all the lights and air kick off in ten seconds. It was a pretty nifty device and I'm sure saves lots of energy.

The best part of the room was the view. These pictures are really bad.

Tokyo Tower
Our reservations also included a breakfast buffet. The Japanese breakfast is a wee bit strange.... there were lots of soups and fresh mackeral sitting out. We opted for a more traditional breakfacst and had scrambled eggs and toast. The food looks the same, but the taste is just a little bit different. Not bad... just different.