Monday, May 14, 2012


The USO recently hosted an event that would come to MCAS Iwakuni. The USO Handshake Tour brings stars of television shows to bases around the world. On all the bases Dustin has been stationed (including his deployment time) he has never met anyone he was excited to meet. It doesn't happen often. In the six years Dustin has been enlisted he has only seen one USO Handshake Tour and it was UFC fighters.

This time was a different experience. This time cast members from The Big Bang Theory and SouthLAnd were coming. We knew they were scheduled to come visit Iwakuni on Friday. Through my friends in Kure I learned that they would visit the small Army installation the day before and would spend a day sightseeing in Hiroshima. Dustin and I decided we would drive up to Kure (two hours away) and meet them in the more intimate setting. Boy, was that a good idea!

On Thursday afternoon we drove up to Kure and ate dinner in their small restaurant. Kure only had a total of 60 people working on the installation so the crowd would be much smaller.

Eating a quick sandwich while waiting
So then they joined us. Dustin and I sat and watched while they went around signing autographs and taking pictures. It was obvious someone had coached them on how to interact with the Japanese. Johnny Galecki (from The Big Bang Theory) was thrown for a loop with an older Japanese woman stuck out her hand for a handshake instead of the traditional bow greeting. He was half-bow when he stuck his hand out to meet hers so then he wasn't sure if he was to continue bowing or what. It was comical to watch and I wish I had caught it on camera.

Side note: I have wonderful grandparents. Over the years they have instilled excellent values and helped mold me into the person I am today. That being said, my grandmother once returned from visiting family in California with a signed napkin from a celebrity. I remember finding out later the flight attendant had signed the napkin for her. (I don't remember the celebrity, I was probably 7 at the time). It cracks me up every time I think about it. I was so excited and couldn't believe she had met someone I saw on the television! I also have a wonderful grandfather who once said, "If there are no pictures, it didn't happen." It was these two nuggets of wisdom I took with me to Kure that day. So I got signatures and pictures.

Johnny Galecki!
Now because of the smaller venue and fewer people the feel of the event was much more relaxed. We talked versus standing in line for a quick autograph and a hello/goodbye. Johnny Galecki played Leonard on CBS's The Big Bang Theory which is one of Dustin's top 5 favorite shows of all time. (Anything that combines Star Wars, video games, Battlestar Galactica, and science...) He was most excited to meet Johnny Galecki. He is very handsome and quite funny. His Japanese was atrocious, but who were we to judge. He bought Dustin drinks from the bar. That's right. Johnny Galecki bought Dustin a drink. Errr, three by the end of the night.

We quickly met Regina King and got her to sign our Boondocks DVDs. She plays a character on SouthLAnd, but Dustin and I have never seen the show. We know her from Boondocks and her movies (Ray, Jerry Maguire, etc). From my friends that work in Kure she was very high maintenance during her stay. When we met her she was very nice and posed for a picture before we walked away.

Regina King
The younger girls were all crowded around Ben McKenzie. I know him from The O.C. a teen drama that used to air on The CW. We talked to him briefly about their tour of Hiroshima and the Peace Park. He said he had a member of his family here at the time so it touched home. He was very nice and still just as dreamy as I remembered as a teenager.

Ben McKenzie
We kept being asked to stay posed for pictures by the photographer traveling with them. We struck up a conversation and discovered he was a former Marine that had been stationed in Iwakuni many years ago. (By his account, it hasn't changed all that much!) We spent a good time talking with him. If anyone ever needs a good photographer, check out Michael Clifton. Mike, next time we come through Atlanta, dinner is on us!

As the sun went down we found a spot near the bar and began talking with Michael Cudlitz from Band of Brothers. Between tequila shots (him) we talked about the local area, travel, their plans for the weekend, bars, his movies, and different tours he has been on.

We spent the rest of the evening talking with him. As the small crowd went home we decided it was time for us to start the drive back to Iwakuni. It was such a fun night! On Friday the group came to Iwakuni. Rather than an informal meet and greet the base set up lines with each star behind a table. A person would come up, get a signature, say a few things, and then get shuffled off to the next table. I am so glad we drove up to Kure instead. A very fun experience!

Sunday, May 13, 2012


I usually try not to post too much about work because that is not very adventurous. Other than the two trips I got to take to Kure Army base by boat, ("no longer in the budget") my work isn't very exciting. However, recently I got to share an American experience with two of my coworkers.


Yes, the delicious gooey goodness! This week is Teacher Appreciation Week so I set out to find something that we could do for our teachers. I'm not a very crafty person so I went on Pintrest to find something to do on short notice. That is when I found this:

How cute! And relatively easy to complete. So off I went to make s'mores. After gathering all the ingredients I set up shop in our break room to create an assembly line. We live on a small base so I was surprised at the number of teachers we have. Iwakuni must have great student to teacher ratios because I'm pretty sure I've not seen that many children out and about on base.

But back to the gooey delicious treats. When I was explaining what my plan was for the schools a coworker didn't understand what I was saying.

S'mores. What?
S'mores. What? Once we got the ingredients mapped out we discovered she had never enjoyed the deliciousness of a s'more!

Well, I just had to change that.

Kumi-san at lunch

First time eating a s'more!
I had to ghetto-fashion a s'more from the microwave and after a couple of quick nukes we got the desired result. I apologized for not being able to add that smokey campfire taste, but at least this would give her an idea of an American tradition. She ate half of it, but said it was too sweet. After eating the desserts in Japan, I would agree that it is very sweet. (This coming from the country that uses sweet bean and sweet potatoes as desserts.)

Later on that afternoon I discovered another associate who had never had a s'more. She is from Peru so maybe s'mores didn't make it there yet. Well, I had to change that too.

Jessica about to take the first bite
How fun to exchange food recipes and traditions!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Blue Impulse

Japan has something similar to our Blue Angels. they are called Blue Impulse and were the headliner of Friendship Day's airshow. This was a big day for them as their jets were destroyed in the earthquake/tsunami last year. There were many tears during their performance.

I caught the pilots walking to the meet and greet area.

For my first airshow I was impressed!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Friendship Day, part 2

The day would not have been completed with an air show! I have never been to an air show and have never lived on an air station so I am fascinated by the airplanes. I also recently read Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken which has left me wanting to see planes up close. The static displays around the flightline had very long lines to get inside. I guess I'm not the only one interested in the airplanes.

Then there were the skydivers.

Trick planes.

And my favorite, the Herrier demonstration. Unfortunately, Dustin and I were over by the food so my video didn't come out too well. It can hover, strafe, and then turn its engines for flight. The Herrier is some amazing technology!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Friendship Day

Every year MCAS Iwakuni opens its gates to host Friendship Day. This day celebrates the relationship between the United States and our host country. Tons of food, games, and an awesome air show fill the day.

I've been hearing mixed reviews over the last few weeks as to what to expect. "There are so many people" was the most popular response. And yes, there were tons of people. The day did not disappoint!


All the buses....
There were so many people! The base opened all the gates to allow pedestrians onto the station. The traffic out in town was horrible. Two lane roads were blocked off so full lanes could be used as parking. People were lined up waiting to come on base on Friday night - sleeping in their cars. One thing I though was really interesting was how people would park on the side of the river where we live. The roads in Japan are tiny - what should be a two lane road is barely big enough for one. Visitors would drive down the road and park. This made me curious as to how one gets out. You would have to wait until the eight cars in front of you left. Might be a pain if someone decides to stay a few hours longer than you.

Many people took buses from all over the area. They traveled from most train stations to be brought on base. Another way to come on was by bicycle to the Iwakuni station and then walk to base. (That's a 2.5 mile walk!)


Something something on a stick
There were rows and rows of food vendors along the flightline. Many Japanese vendors come on base and sell favorites like yakitori (chicken on a stick), yakisoba, squid, and octopus. The base supplies the American food which is the highlight for many. Pizza is the biggest seller. We watched people video taping themselves eating pizza. This made me feel better about constantly taking pictures of Japanese food we try here! Another big hit were hamburgers and cheeseburgers. The lines for the American food were at least 100 people long all day.

Coconut and pineapple

Strawberry and mango smoothies
I've still been recovering from tossing all my cookies so I played it safe with fruity items. All the vendors would accept yen and dollar. The smoothies was the best deal. They had 100 yen = $1.00. Friday's yen rate was 79 to the dollar so we got smoothies on the cheap!

Fun and Games:

Part of the flightline was designated for the children's area. While I was standing beside it texting Dustin I was ninja-photo attacked! I was looking down at my phone when two girls came up behind me standing just a foot behind me. They held up peace signs and then a person in front of me took the picture! It was a sneak attack! Later while walking around with Dustin (he had to work the event) we were asked to take pictures with random people. A coworker of mine said the Japanese would like Dustin because he was in uniform and me because I have blue eyes and light hair. It was an interesting experience!

Titanic Slide - poor taste?
Car Show:

Another section of the flightline had a car show. It was a traditional car show with suped-up trick cars, older cars, fancy cars (the new Porsche, a Lamborghini, etc) and a Model T. What we found the most interesting was the section of trucks. A Chevrolet Avalanche and GMC Sierra. Not all blinged out - just on display because they are huge compared to Japanese vehicles.


There were stages set up at different areas of the event. All over were sounds of music coupled with booms from the jets overhead. My favorite was the traveling USMC band. They just walked all around the flightline playing music and starting up dance sessions.

What a fun day!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Golden Week

I love living in Japan. Every day we learn something new or try something different. I've posted a few times about holidays, but usually the traditions aren't too different from what we celebrate in the United States. The customs and food might be different, but the timing is always the same. Well, here's a new one. Golden Week.

Some history:
The National Holiday Laws, promulgated in July 1948, declared nine official holidays. Since many were concentrated in a week spanning the end of April to early May, many leisure-based industries experienced spikes in their revenues. The film industry was no exception. In 1951, the film Jiyo Gakko recorded higher ticket sales during this holiday-filled week than any other time in the year. This prompted the managing director to dub the week "Golden Week" based on the Japanese radio lingo “golden time,” which denotes the period with the highest listener ratings. Source.
So it breaks down like this:

April 29: Showa Day - the birthday of former Showa Emperor and used as a day of reflection. There are many parades and festivals on this day. In Iwakuni there was huge parade at the Kintai Bridge.

May 3: Constitution Day - the post-war constitution (approved by the United States at the time) was put into place in 1947. On this day there were huge fireworks all over the city. Zero was scared by the booms.

May 4: Greenery Day - dedicated the nature and the environment.

May 5: Children's Day - also called Boys Day. Families pray for their sons and hang carp streamers and display samurai dolls.

Many people will take the days in between off and make a whole week and take vacation. Government buildings and banks are all closed during Golden Week. Interesting how a whole country operates when everyone takes vacation at the same time!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dinner, Day 3

For our last dinner at the pension we were treated to Italian cuisine. Based on our phenomenal (and long!) meal the day before we were ready for the many courses to come. Here we go!

For the first course we had scallops and mussels with a light cucumber and tomato salsa. The white sauce around it was creamy with a little bit of dill. I've never liked scallops and have stayed away from anything in a shell, but I tried both. They were tasty!

Next came a generous serving of pasta with a fresh cream sauce. There was parsley and chunks of smoked ham throughout. This was my favorite part of the meal.

Unfortunately we both dug right into the next course without taking a picture. We had small pieces of crunchy sea bass on a bed of vegetables. We didn't realize we hadn't gotten a picture until the plate was being whisked (empty) away!

Course 4 was a tasty salad with sesame dressing. This time we had slices of radish. He brought back the waffle-cut cucumber for me after I made a comment the night before.

After the salad came pork tenderloin with a sweet brown gravy. The sweet onion made a repeat performance with a crisp asparagus (cut that day!). He also made a flat sheet of crispy potatoes. Dustin was impressed with these. We tried to explain they were similar to what we call hash browns, but gave up when the translation failed. I was so full from all the other plates (I mean, seriously, this is a lot of food!) that I gave my meat to Dustin and just finished the vegetables. I had to save room for...

DESSERT! So to start in the bottom corner we have raspberry sorbet. This is Dustin's go-to sweet treat at home so he was super excited to see it here. Next to that is a small slice of white cheesecake. Again to the right is an almond cake with fresh strawberry and kiwi. In the glass was tasty panna cotta with raspberry syrup. He also spun some sugar for me so I could experience the cotton candy/ campfire marshmallow again.

What a phenomenal meal! We were so full we didn't move for a full hour afterwards!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mt Aso, Day 3

On our last day in Minami Aso we wanted to explore the mountains surrounding the caldera. We had spent so much time in the middle on the volcanoes that we hadn't seen the area from the other side of the valley. Our host recommended we start at a tourist center about twenty minutes away. He drove us there and helped us rent electric bicycles.

The man working at the tourist center thought it was very funny that we hiked up Mt. Aso by accident. He couldn't stop laughing. He was very nice and gave us recommendations on routes to travel that wouldn't be too steep. He let us rent the bicycles for free. Our host explained all the picture-taking for my blog. He hopes you will all come visit him in Minami Aso. He will have bicycles ready for all.

Back up into the clouds
We rode out and started climbing the mountains. Even with the help of the electric bicycles it was still a tough ride! Very steep!

Along the way we passed some falls that were worth stopping. If only to stretch our legs for a little bit.

We reached the top and were able to see the volcanic rock formations. I wish it had been a bit clearer, but then it would have been uncomfortably hot.

Dustin's battery died and these bicycles are heavy so we decided to head down the mountain and get some lunch. The local area is known for their buckwheat soba noodles. So we decided to try our hand at making the famed noodles.

The building was circular and had windows all along the outside. In the center was the prep area that we worked in.

"Add water here!"

Kneed the dough

Must not have been doing it right...
Roll it out to make a perfect square

Don't want to lose a finger

Our noodles weren't very even - some were fat and some were slivers. They tasted good for our first time making soba!

Zachary, remember your marble soda we had during our visit to California? They actually do have it in Japan! It was quite tasty again!

Next we set out on a long walk back towards the pension. Along the way we wanted to see the Big Cherry Blossom Tree. In the spring, it is a sight to see (as the pictures around the pension will show). During our visit the cherry blossoms had already departed, but it was still worth walking to see the 400 year old tree.

What a day! It was beautiful once the clouds cleared out.

Back at the pension our host asked us to put a pin in the map where we were from. He had many pins from Europe and the United States.

I would just like to point out that we were the second pin to be put in for Chattanooga, Tennessee!

How many more can we add to the map? :)