Monday, November 26, 2012

Military Ball

I've been delaying this post until I could find a video of the ceremony. Dustin had a big role in the ceremony and performed beautifully! Unfortunately, I can't seem to find anything that shows our specific ball.

November 2007

November 2009

The United States Marine Corps Birthday Ball is one of my favorite events of the year. It is a chance to get dressed up, attend a formal dinner, and honor the history of the Marine Corps.. Iwakuni is faced with some unique challenges. There is not a venue on base that is large enough to hold all of us and nothing off base would come close. To remedy this the commands split up and hold separate balls for about a week.

The gymnasium is completely transformed with volunteers working a week before to clean (de-smell-ify!) and prepare the area. It was surprisingly nice! I had my doubts on how they were going to make it not look like a basketball court.

The ceremony always has the same critical elements, but this time there was a small twist. Dustin is the color sergeant for the entire station which meant he was a little nervous before the ceremony. He did phenomenal! There was a unifrom pageant that showed all the Marine Corps uniforms over the years. It was very interesting to see how the military issue clothing changed over the years and through the various excursions.

Following the pageant was the traditional ceremony. This is a formal introduction of the guest speaker, presentation of the colors, and then cake cutting.

The first piece is served to the guest of honor.

Next the oldest marine present gets a piece. He then passes the cake to the youngest marine present to signify the passing of knowledge and tradition. When the youngest marine's birthday is read there is always a collective groan from the crowd.

Lastly is the guest of honor's speech. Over the years we have heard some interesting speeches. I was very excited to meet Richard Engel a few years ago. This year I had been hearing buzz that the speaker was going to be a former WWII kamikaze pilot. He was scheduled to fly home to Hiroshima on August 5th from a training mission in northern Japan. Because of poor weather he was delayed one day - a day that made all the difference. On August 6th, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima instantly killing every member of his family. In broken English he went on to describe how his views of Americans changed because one marine that was stationed here after the war. I have been searching for his speech on video - it was amazing and I was crying pretty hard by the end of it.

After his moving speech we were served dinner. The first course was a mixture of cheeses and fruit with a glaze. Next came a tasty salad followed by either chicken, steak, or pasta. Finally, came dessert - birthday cake! We had already gotten up and started moving around by that point so I missed cake.

After a few hours of dancing we walked home with some friends. It was a great night and my favorite Marine Corps Birthday Ball to date!

November 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

Beauty Pampering

The United States Marine Corps Birthday is coming up and celebrated every year with a formal ceremony and dinner. Over the years we have attended many balls and had good and bad experiences. As our first time to experience this overseas we are going all out. For me this means formal hair, makeup, dress, shoes, and bling. Dustin gets it easy and just has to wear his "blues" uniform.

A few months ago the base put on an event called Semper Style. This gave all the organizations on and off base to show off their wares and services related to a formal event. There were jewelry displays, hair demonstrations, and a fashion show. Also included was a speech on appropriate ball attire. I thought it would be about the degree of formality of attire. Instead it was advising women not to go risque with their attire. Even as adults we need a speech on being classy.

While at the event I picked up a brochure for POLA, a Japanese beauty company. Japanese women are gorgeous. They don't seem to age and have flawless skin. I've read that this is due to their diet (lots of seaweed) and culture (no sun exposure). The women I work with also attribute their flawless skin to a monthly facial appointment at our local POLA. So as a person with not-so fabulous skin I decided I had to give this a try. The package I selected came with a skin consultation, facial, and then makeup application on the day of the ball.

It started with a twenty minute skin consultation. Now this wasn't just some women sitting back looking at my face to determine my skin type. No, no. In Japan we are all about the science. She took a water retention test, measured my oil production after cleaning, and put clay strips around my eyes to track my wrinkle movement. All of my results are sent to their laboratory and then I will receive a detailed analysis of my skin type and a way to monitor my wrinkles. (As if the pictures every year don't already show that!).

After that she took me into a private room where we started with a wonderful foot and leg massage. I'm here for my face, right? Oh, this is included? Nice!

For the next ninety minutes I was completely pampered. First was a full upper body massage. Numerous creams and toners were gently rubbed in my face. During this time I had a steamer a foot above my face to open my pores.

Next she used a machine with a small straw on the end to suck dirt and grime from my pores. After covering my whole face I got another cream gently rubbed in. Next was a small electronic massager on my chin and temple (to stimulate collagen production?).

Finally I got another massage and a gentle moisturizer. They also would put on makeup for you if I was going out and on with my day. I was so relaxed that I barely made it home before I zonked out. I've never received a facial so the next morning I called my beauty-expert, Nana. After recounting my experience she confirmed that nothing she has ever experienced has come close.

Just one more reason I love Japan.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Haru Cooking Class

I was really looking forward to our last day in Kyoto because we had scheduled a cooking class. I found Taro-san's website while looking for interesting things to do during our visit. He had so many recommendations on places to eat and things to do. We signed up for his afternoon cooking class with the Kobe beef.

Taro-san was amazing! He gave detailed instructions on how to prepare each of the vegetables and what the best types of ingredients to use. We met an American couple on their honeymoon and a English woman on holiday. (Val, I tried to remember where you were from but it escaped me! She was fabulous and we spoke of varying pronunciations. Like aluminium.)

First we made kombu dashi (a seaweed-based soup stock) that is used in almost everything. We tasted three different types of miso used in cooking.

Red miso - very salty

First we made kinpira, stir fried root vegetables. We used burdock root, carrots, and sesame seeds. First we had to prepare the burdock root by scoring it and shredding it. Then a quick soak before hitting the oil.

Dustin scoring the burdock root
Shredding it before soaking

We made miso soup and had an interesting mountain potato. The potato was quite...hmm, slimy? It was good but it just had a very viscous juice that gave it an interesting texture. Very good, just different.

Next in class we made dashimaki tamago, or a Japanese omelet. We have eaten these many times in Japan (in fact, I had some for dinner tonight!). They use an interesting pan to layer the eggs over and over to create a small brick of omelet. No cheese or vegetables here. Just the dashi soup stock and eggs. You don't want to cook it too long to burn off the dashi.

Using saibashi or cooking chopsticks
The other three participants made tsukune, a ground chicken patty. Dustin and I splurged and bought the Kobe beef meal. Kobe beef is not exported outside of Japan so those places in the US that claim to be serving Kobe beef are not quite accurate. It might be similar or come from similar genes, but is not certified as Kobe beef for that year. While in Japan we decided we must try Kobe beef once. Taro-san showed us the certificate and entered our certificate number online to show us the family tree of where our little steak originated. A little salt and pepper was all it took. It is quite fatty.

Officially from one of about 3000 cows this year!
Our full meal!
If you are thinking of traveling to Kyoto I highly recommend this cooking class. Taro-san opened his home to us and showed us how to cook wonderful food. It was my favorite part of our Kyoto trip and made the top five for experiences in Japan. Such great food from a great teacher!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Kyoto Miscellany

Some of our sights were quick pictures before we moved on to see more of the city. Here are some of our smaller discoveries.

Original Kabuki Theater in Gion

Their version of egg salad - just a little bit raw!

A BLT - with cucumber

Lanterns outside a tea house in Gion

Full kimono
Lounging around reading at the International Manga Museum

Sunday, November 4, 2012


After visiting the monkey park I saw something on the map that read "Bamboo Street." Curious we walked that direction and found a long pathway surrounded by bamboo. It was fall when we visited so the colors weren't as vibrant as some of the pictures I have seen online. It was still a beautiful sight.

Along the way back to the train station we came across this terrifying ninja!

The crowds parted for him to come through. He was that intense. :)
As we waited for our train to take us back to the city I found a teeny tiny dot on the map that said "foot bath". After a little confusion as to where it was we found this great natural hot spring to wash our feet. It was just a small shack between train tracks off the main area.

Rinse first!

Free towel

Obligatory Foot Picture
The water was wonderful! It was a nice respite after climbing Iwatayama mountain and walking all day. After drying off our footsies we bought Mitarashi dango. These are small balls of mochi dipped in a sweet soy sauce glaze and sprinkled with peanuts. Mochi is made by pounding rice to make a gluten-like paste. The mochi is then shaped into balls and boiled. The soy sauce glaze was very sweet and reminded me of a less-viscous honey. It was delicious!

I loved them so much that I found a recipe online that even I can follow. (I haven't grilled them yet. I like the boiled taste.) The whole day was very relaxed and a nice change from hundreds of temples and shrines.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Arashiyama Monkey Park

Today I sat down to write some posts about the upcoming Marine Corps Ball and my preparations when I realized I had never finished showing all our adventures in Kyoto. After all the temples and shrines we opted to fill a day with something else. So we took a train to the west side of the city to visit the Arashiyama area. This area is very touristy with lots of expensive restaurants and high-end boutiques. Nearby is Iwatayama, a mountain worth climbing because it is covered in monkeys!

At the base of the mountain we bought tickets and started to climb. Along the way we kept seeing signs that were quite comical.

It started to rain on us so we paused under a large tree. All of a sudden the tree started shaking!

The trees were filled with Japanese macaques! They were cooing and squabbling at each other as the rain started. When we reached the top of the mountain we came to a feeding area. According to our brochure there are over 130 macaques living in the area. They are all given names and are observed by students and researchers. I bought apples (listed as their favorite treat) and fed them in the feeding area.

While visiting the park we saw deer and this crafty scavenger!

The view from the feeding area was spectacular. All of Kyoto in one place.

It was neat to be so close to the monkeys without fences. They just walked around around while we ooh'd and ahh'd!

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Silver Pavilion

Another temple we visited was The Silver Pavilion. Really it should be called the Not So Silver Pavilion. The owner ran out of money before it could be completed. Now it a pretty building surrounded by Buddhist gardens.

Walkway to the Temple

Not-so Silver Pavilion

Honor to Mt Fuji

Perfectly raked area!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Golden Pavilion

One of the most famous temples in Japan is Kinkaku or "The Golden Pavilion". Located in eastern Kyoto the temple is covered in gold foil on lacquer. The area was packed with people and we had to wait in a queue before we could enter the park. The light was perfect when we finally made it into the viewing area.

According to our English brochure, the area is said to "represent the Pure Land of Buddha in this world." A beautiful sight!