Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 - Year in Review

It has been a whirlwind of a year. Sadly, it is our last full year in Japan. As we continue on the never-ending wheel of time (!), we wanted to reflect on some of our favorite adventures of 2013.

Dustin left us to attend training in Okinawa. I suffered in the snow while he had upper 70s every day.

I joined Dustin on a quick adventure in beautiful Okinawa. We explored the amazing Churaumi Aquarium and had the best food in Japan to date.

We attended the Iwakuni Wine Festival again and visitied our favorite okonomiyaki restaurant enough that they know our order. We spent a weekend hiking in the mountains surrounding Hiroshima and stumbled across the beautiful Peace Pagoda and Toshogu Shrine. Towards the end of the month we took the night bus up to Tokyo for the Anime Fair.

Warmer weather brought the beautiful, yet short-lived, cherry blossoms that are associated with a Japanese spring. We also participated in our first half marathon, an event that has changed my lifestyle in so many ways.

We spent another warm weekend in Hiroshima viewing the Confectionary Expo and tasting treats from various regions of Japan. On another weekend we cycled 70km (43 miles) on the famed Shimanami Kaido. Around Memorial Day we left our beloved host country and traveled to China. Our favorite stop on our whirlwind week tour was hiking through the Huangshan Mountains.

We relaxed in June. And by relax I mean the back-breaking work of rice planting. By hand.

My mother flew out for a quick visit. We spent a few days showing our local area before traveling to Tokyo and enjoying gardens, sightseeing, and Disney Sea. We also got to see Square Enix's new headquarters and have a few drinks at Artnia. Lastly, we also found time to finish our SCUBA certification and get a few open water dives under our belts. I can't wait for warmer weather so I can get back into the water!

My miserably hot birthday month did not keep us from exploring. And this time we had a bigger group! My family and grandparents made the journey to visit. We spent time in Iwakuni, Kyoto, and Tokyo. During their visit, Japan experienced the hottest day on record. It was a bit miserable but was so great to see my family and show them some of our favorite experiences in Japan.

After a busy spring and summer we were glad for a slower September. We escaped the heat and had our first Japanese movie theater experience.

I laced up my running shoes and got back on the road once the weather cooled a bit. Definitely glad I did because some friends introduced us to a make-your-own okonomiyaki restaurant in Iwakuni. We eat there more than we should. Like weekly. We also made a quick trip (I know, again!) to Tokyo for the Tokyo Game Show. It was worth every penny to experience a game convention and cosplay expo.

Fall means mikan season in Japan which resulted in high Vitamin C intake going into flu season. After eight years of hair tumbleweeds and please-throw-the-ball-one-more-time!'s our beloved Indiana went to a farm up north. We miss him but are reassured knowing he had a long life filled with lots of love. We capped the month with a delicious feast with friends and military family.

The close of the year has been quiet on the adventuring front. Dustin has worked every weekened since Veteran's Day so I've been making a mad dash to complete some reading for 2013. We did get some time together to celebrate our seventh anniversary.

Ready for 2014! Happy New Year!

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Wool and Copper Anniversary

I really don't understand the traditional anniversary gifts. Why, at seven years, is wool and copper the "traditional" gifts? After seven years your spouse stops cuddling so you need a wool sweater? And that new cookware you received at the wedding needs to be replaced? Hmm, who came up with these rules?

Dustin and I are celebrating seven years of marriage this year. If I don't look at our wedding pictures it doesn't feel as long. When I see how young everyone is in the pictures I feel differently. During the reception guests wrote fun messages on little cards that went into one of three vases. One vase, Marriage Advice, has been a source of funny memories over the years.

For example,
And my absolute favorite:

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Time for a Run

I prefer to run off base near my home. We live on the South side of base less than a quarter mile from the gate. So when the gate is open I will run off base through the narrow streets of Japan. My favorite, and most frequented route, is through the lotus fields surrounding our housing area and onto the seawall. It is a popular route for runners and cyclists and I've mastered the breathy "Konnichiwa!" during my runs.

In the spring, it is a smelly journey until I reach the clear breeze of the ocean. Lotus fields are heavy with manure. In the summer I run through an eight foot lotus jungle. At night it reminds me of corn fields so I run just a bit faster.

I love the silence of the lotus fields and the seawall. Dustin and I have started running without music (so adult of us, I know). I love the quiet of nothing but my breathing and the ocean. And the occasional bird that startles from the lotus always gives me a bit of an adrenaline burst.

We often run with Zero. She loves it and will often be the deciding factor on whether we run or not after a busy day. Zero is excited and running around like crazy? Okay, let's go. We can't say no those Dobby-esque ears.

Friday, December 13, 2013


Warning: contains a choice word.

Dustin and I bicker all the time. We are both snarky and sarcastic. I have a little mean mixed in for good measure. We rarely fight, and we argue occasionally. Mostly it’s general bickering where one or both of us are giggling the whole time.

I'm sure this makes our friends feel awkward. I feel out of place when they discipline their children. "One!.... Two!..." Is that it? What happens at three? I never get to see the good part.

We were driving home from dinner and had a new person in the car. This didn't stop us from breaking out into a Tice debate. How many corners are really at the intersection commonly called "Four Corners"? Suffice it to say there was lots of raised voices and finger jabbing at the respective corners. When the light turned green we realized we were arguing the same side of the point. Again, a classic Tice debate. Our passenger probably thought we were nuts.

Last night I was in bed watering my flowers and picking weeds in Animal Crossing when Dustin rolls over and says,

If this marriage goes to shit, I can't do any better.

Best compliment I've received all year.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Some friends of ours wanted to expose us to a new restaurant. We've driven past Tonkatsu many times but always had another craving so we never stopped. One Saturday afternoon we decided to try it out. A few of my coworkers really rave about the food at Tonkatsu, "pork fry". Popular with locals? Must be great!

Portion sizes in Japan are perfect. I rarely leave a restaurant with that uncomfortable I'm-so-stuffed-and-I-may-explode feeling. Restaurants have mastered the Goldilocks routine - it's always 'just right'. This restaurant is the exception. The portion sizes were massive!

Dustin ordered curry with a pork cutlet. The picture does not do it justice. There had to be at least 400 grams of rice under the curry sauce. He struggled through it and gave away his cabbage.

My meal came with fresh ground sesame seeds. Really fresh. As in do-it-yourself fresh.

My serving was a bit smaller. Cabbage salad with tasty panko-crusted shrimp and potato croquettes. And a traditional set comes with miso soup and pickled greens. Yes, I know. I ordered seafood at a restaurant that specializes in fried pork. No complaints here, my seafood was delicious.

We can't eat there very often. It was very tasty but it was the meal of the day due to the large portions. So much food! Not many places in Japan understand or allow doggie bags and it is extremely rude not to eat all of the food served. The -itis kicked in after we finished, naptime!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mottimo Pasta

Recently we tried a new Italian restaurant that uses local ingredients in their dishes. I love Italian and can be a little picky when it comes to sauces and pizza. You can't just throw mozzarella and basil together and call it a pizza. It needs a little more love. Mottimo Pasta does a really good job at Italian. I wasn't very hungry but could not stop eating my delicious lunch.

The picture is a bit small but their tag line reads: "Delicious Italian food is offered excluding pasta." I think something happened during translation. They have amazing garlic bread served in colorful steins. They also had a sweet honey bread that was quite tasty. Plus we were with this cutie!

I must rave about my amazing pasta - lotus roots, soft chestnuts, mushrooms, and chunks of pumpkin. Amazing!

I love Japanese food, but, man, they do Italian pretty well!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lotus Roots

We live surrounded by lotus fields. I love how tall and beautiful they get through the summer. In the fall, the roots are harvested and are quite tasty. Iwakuni residents put lotus roots in everything from broth to ice cream.

Such an interesting little tuber.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Mikan Picking

Fall is my favorite season. Beautiful leaves, wonderful weather. Perfect. In Japan fall is the time of mikans. Mikans, similar to tangerines, are a seedless, easy to peel citrus that originated in Japan. In October fruit stands appear everywhere selling these delicious fruits. But why buy a bag when we can pick them fresh from the tree? Yes, let's go mikan picking.

Oshima Island is about forty minutes away and is home to many of our adventures. It is a great place for carpet sledding, SCUBA, beach fun, great hiking, fantastic cycling and now mikan picking.

The grove was nestled on the side of one of the many mountains on the island. It was a perfect day for picking.

We chose the "all you can eat" picking option for one hour. We also bought bags to take the fruits of our labor (too much?) home.

Mikans are so delicious and easy to eat. In the last 24 hours I've eaten ten of them. You can overdose on vitamin C, right? Hmm....

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


If you've been a reader of the last three years of my life then you know I am not a huge fan of organized sports. I played soccer until middle school and had a massive crush on Chipper Jones from the Atlanta Braves. That's about the extent of my sports-love. I enjoy attending live games, but watching sports on television just ain't my thing.

But given the opportunity to play. I'm in. Or in this case, Dustin got the chance. A coworker of his has a group that meets every so often in Hiroshima to play futsal.

Futsal is a variation of soccer that originated in Brazil almost a century ago. It is played on a small indoor field with no paint lines or walls. The small space means playes must be more creative. Japan loves their baseball, but futsal spectators are growing.

The video is a bit long and I've given up trying to find exciting moments to display. No photo this time. Just Google futsal. Neat stuffs.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Take a Nap

After living in Japan for over two years, (the countdown has begun... only ten months left!) I have come across many interesting and different things. In the last two years I have grown accustomed to the new experiences. Going back to 'normal' sounds so... boring.

In the first few months of living in Japan I saw many people sleeping in odd places. And not just on a long train ride, but in restaurants, at bus stops, and at their desks. But the more I think about it, I see that Americans don't sleep enough. Maybe someone can explain why the American culture generally equates sleeping during the daytime with laziness.

I discussed this with a Japanese co-worker who laid out the "typical" Japanese person's day. She wakes up very early to get ready for work. She rides her bike from her apartment to the train station. It is about 3 kilometers (1.8 miles). She then takes the train 26 minutes to the stop nearest our work. She often dozes on the train, but says she sets a vibrating alarm on her phone just in case. After exiting the train station in Iwakuni she rides another bike (kept overnight in the bicycle parking) the 6 kilometers to base. We work together. She orders a bento box from a delivery service that is allowed on base. She eats at her desk in about fifteen minutes. For the rest of her lunch hour she sleeps. We work the afternoon together and then she does her entire route in reverse. Some days she goes out to a restaurant near our office and sleeps in the restaurant. If she drives to work she will sleep in her car.

To an American, I feel like she sleeps a lot. And this is coming from someone who has established their adult bedtime to be 8:30pm. During our discussion I brought up reasons why an American would sleep in their car.

- We are sick.
- We are too drunk to drive and will sleep it off until morning.
- We are homeless.
- It is actually a dead body.

Then we discussed reasons an American might sleep in a restaurant.


I had nothing. We don't sleep in restaurants because people would think you're strange, possibly homeless, maybe drunk, and you run the risk of being kicked out of the establishment.

So this gets back to why sleeping in public has such a negative inkling.

Once while on a long road trip I started getting sleepy. I'm usually the driver for our long trips because I'm a bit of a control freak. After a bit I decided to pull off, sleep for a few hours, and then we would continue our journey when I was rested. Better to rest than to drive tired, right? Not twenty minutes into my nap, did a police officer pull up with full lights and tell me it was forbidden to sleep in my car.

In Japan I have gotten used to seeing people asleep in public. I don't worry anymore if they are ill or in need of assistance. They are just catching a few winks to make the afternoon more enjoyable.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Kashinoki Bakery

Recently some friends introduced us to a wonderful bakery in Iwakuni. Dustin and I have driven past this building many times, but no obvious English signs or window cling photographs we were unable to tell ifit was food or something else. Food, it is. And even better - a fantastic sweets bakery!

We entered and looked around at the different options. They sell packaged cookies and cakes with local ingredients and flavors. Within a few seconds the shopkeeper produced a tray of cool wheat (barley?) tea and a piece of creme cake. Yum!

One of our friends got a green tea flavored-cream layer cake with fresh fruit on top.

Dustin got a tasty sweet pancake with custard and fresh guava.

I couldn't resist the chocolate selection! My teddy was delicious! I love how chocolate sweets in Japan aren't overbearingly (pun!) sweet. It was just right...

Saturday, October 12, 2013


There are many things I will miss about living in Japan. One thing near the top of the list is okonomiyaki. It has become one of my favorite meals and makes an appearance about once a week. Some friends recently showed us Tokugawa, a restaurant where you make your own okonomiyaki. I like restaurants where I have to make my food. It's just fun. We frequented many fondue restaurants when we lived in North Carolina. So a place where I can make delicious okonomiyaki was a definite win.

Dustin ordered a full size okonomiyaki with mushrooms and cheese. I opted for a half size and unfortunately, mine did not come with those tasty mushrooms.

First we applied a liberal amount of lard to grease the way.

Next we started pork to ensure it got enough cook time. Normally we tend to eat Hiroshima-style which takes all the ingredients and layers them on top of each other with a thin crepe. We had instructions (in Japanese) on how to create Hiroshima-style, but it seems a bit difficult. So everyone in our group mixed all the ingredients and made it in that style.

After a bit we carefully flipped our okonomiyaki.

Finally we added the final ingredients: melted cheese for some, bonito (dried fish pieces), green onion, red okonomiyaki sauce, hot pepper flakes, and garlic. Yum!

Dustin liked this because he could control more spice and flavor of the final product. I think we may need to have this again for dinner after writing about all the deliciousness....

Friday, October 11, 2013

Tokyo Game Show

The first weekend Dustin and I were in Iwakuni we heard about the Tokyo Game Show, a huge exhibit for video games and new platforms. We were excited, but after all the traveling we weren't really up for a big trip to Tokyo. So we skipped the first year. The second year was coiming up and after researching information found that the public days coincided for a triathlon in which I was training to compete. So we skipped the second year. As we enter our final year in Japan we have started making a list of the adventures that have been pushed off for one reason or another that we must experience before leaving this amazing country.

Finally we make it to the Tokyo Game Show. We recently had an airport open in Iwakuni. It shares use with the US flightline on base. We priced out some options to find the cheapest way to get back and forth from Tokyo in a day. There was some talk of using the Night Bus again, but ultimately I wanted a shower so flying up and back in one day became the best option.

We met some friends at the airport and began our journey to Tokyo. The normal train schedule from the airport to the event venue had been altered to accomodate the increase in traffic. So while deciphering the signs we were attacked! Out of the tall grass popped a wild nerd! An Batman-ified American appears out of nowhere,


Why yes, good sir, are we that obvious? I look around at our party. A Batman hoodie complete with ears, Doctor Who and the Daleks, Final Fantasy heroes, and the Triforce. Yes, we are that obvious.

After an hour of train hops we made it to the massive, albeit quickly moving, line.

Ta-da! Squee! We are finally here!

We entered in showroom 1 of 9. Well, technically of 12, but the last three showrooms were dedicated to cosplayers. My main focus was finding Square Enix. I have written many times about their amazing universes and had heard some rumors that there was going to be cinematics and possibly game play for Kingdom Hearts 3. Look up.... oh! There!

On one side of their HUGE display area they had some cosplay from A Realm Reborn.

On another side was a huge screen showing trailers for all of Square Enix's upcoming titles. It was on a forty minute loop (lots of new games!) that we stood among the sweaty mass to see. I was bummed about the Kingdom Hearts 3 trailer as it was one I had already seen online. They did spend ample time on the upcoming Final Fantasy XV. I was blown away by the new content and am quite excited about the open battle style. And it looks positively gorgeous.

Further around the Square Enix area we found an option to play demo versions of some of the titles. The lines to play were over ninety minutes. An hour and a half wait to play five minutes of game play.

We spent some time at the XBOX area, but none of my pictures came out very well. too much lime green everywhere. Each of the larger booths had a similar set up. Displaying new games in one spot, a demo experience, and then a stage where artists, creators, contributors, voice actors, etc would talk about their projects.

After a couple of hours in this area we decided to move along. We still had huge event areas we hadn't even been to yet. While walking between venues we found these ladies who agreed for a photo.

The next exhibit hall had a huge area for Sony products. Many people were lined up to play titles on the new PlayStation 4. There were so many sweaty people!

Seeing the new virtual reality (?) was scary and awesome at the same time. Some titles would be fun, but I need the separation on some of my scary titles.

We were quite hungry after an early flight and all our excited jumping up and down. So we slowly made our way through the crowd to the food areas. Curry, noodles, panko-fried things on sticks, and Domino's pizza were available. Ee edged into some available floor space and feasted.

The food area was next door to the merchandise areas. Dustin and I spent half an hour waiting through the Square Enix merchandise line. It was a little disappointing as much of their stock we have seen/purchased on our visits to Artnia.

On our way out we ran into Master Chief. Poor guy was just trying to go up the escalator but people kept asking him to pose. Hope he wasn't heading to the bathroom...

We made our way out of the exhibit area tired, sweaty, and with enough free loot to keep us entertained for a few weeks. It was an hour back to the airport and then a quick flight home. Definitely goes in the record book for one of the best days I have spent in Japan!