Sunday, September 4, 2011

A mile in our shoes

Yesterday was such a busy day that I am not sure if I will be able to put it all in one post. It was our first unaccompanied mission off base.... and it was busy.
We don't have a drivers license yet and our bicycles are still in storage for a couple more days so our first adventure was completely on foot. I've tried finding a map so I could outline our path, but our path covers three different areas and the maps are village-specific. Needless to say, we walked a lot.

We really had no plan, just wanted to explore. The Main Gate was manned by the Japanese military police so we had some confusion with trying to get off. After some hand gestures and funny looks we escaped.
Manhole cover painted with Kintai Bridge
We followed the path our tour bus had taken and walked the two miles back to downtown Iwakuni. Once there we explored an outdoor mall and some shops. I haven't quite figured it out, but this area has a strange smell. It's not unpleasant, but not really pleasant either.... maybe it's a food smell or just the smell of the area/industry. I'm still trying to figure it out. Some days you don't smell anything but sea water.

Covered Outdoor Mall

We started getting hungry after our walk so we decided to eat at a bento shop. Bento are the Japanese version of a lunch box. They usually consist of rice, a meat or fish, and pickled vegetables. As our first foray in traditional food went, it was really good.
Bento Boxes

Bento store
The store has a push/automatic door and has no eating space. The cashier didn't speak English so after some pointing we got something that looked interesting. I had no clue if it was chicken/fish/pork/something strange. She kept pointing at my order and asking a question. We didn't understand so she just says "not this time." Our meal cost ¥1030 or about $14.

Center Square of Iwakuni
After lunch outside in the main square we walked to a large electronics store called Yamada. It was huge! The technology here is pretty cool. Because much of it is all Japanese with little in the form of pictures or clipart it became a game to figure out what things were. For example, here is an appliance that we came across that took some time figuring out.

What is it?
Once open, it became clear it is a dishwasher! They are put on the counter and use the water from the faucet to wash dishes. This one was very small compared to American dishwashers and would be traditionally used for a family of four or more. When not in use, it gets taken off the counter and stored.

A dishwasher!
 We decided to hit the streets again and continue walking out of downtown. We stayed on the main road (side note: the Japanese don't label their roads. You just turn at the green building or go 100m and take a right.) and just kept walking.

near Waki station

Agriculture on a slope
 We came across a Harley Davidson dealership. A friend of ours is collecting pins so we were excited to be able to provide a Japanese pin. Unfortunately, no one in the shop spoke English. We gestured to what a pin would be and they repeated the word "pin" back to us many times, but nothing came of it. We thanked them and left. Sorry, Kevin. No pin from Waki, Japan.

Most neighborhoods have community gardens.

Community garden near Waki station
 To be honest this is the only gas stations I have seen like this, but it is still really cool. Instead of pumps, the lines are hanging from the ceiling and are pulled down to the vehicle. The price for gas on base is similar to the states. Off base gasoline is about 3-4 times more.

Gasoline Station
 After walking for so long we decided to take the train back. This was our first time buying a train ticket. That part was easy. We found where we were on the map and where we wanted to go. Then we bought two ¥180 tickets. The schedule said a train was coming every 15 minutes. After waiting for 45 minutes we gave up. We asked some of the Japanese passengers that were waiting, but there was no English speakers. From their agitation, I am guessing this was not a normal occurrence. The help desk was closed which also seemed to be an abnormal thing. So our first attempt to ride the train: fail.

No train...
It was a long walk all the way back to Main Gate. Every part of me hurt and all I wanted was to wash the sticky off and take a shower. It was great to see a different part of town. We found many restaurants to try and met some friendly Japanese. A successful day.

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