Thursday, May 23, 2013

In need of an adventure...

When I was in high school I applied and was accepted to the Stern School of Business at NYU. I was so excited to be leaving Chattanooga and attending one of the best business schools in the country. The school sent me the name and e-mail of a freshmen volunteer who would be my "sponsor". She was my source for all those little questions one has when moving across the country at a pivotal emotional growth point. We only wrote back and forth a small amount of times (because even though I worked full time, I was money poor for NYU), but I remember being disappointed in some of her responses. Many of my questions were about the city. Her response, "When you live in a city, you never really get to see much of it."

Now take that mentality and apply it to a whole country.

After almost two years of living in Japan we have become very comfortable. We eat at our favorite restaurants and shop at our favorite stores. All of which I have already blogged about. The novelty of the 7-11 convenience stores has worn off. Now it's the source of dinner on a rainy Tuesday night. Our weekly ramen restaurant recognizes us and knows our order. We have developed a routine. However, one of the bad things about a routine is they are hard to break.

One has to have money to see Japan. And quite a bit of money as Tokyo was named the most expensive city in the world. We work to make money. But we don't get to travel on a whim when we're working. It's the ultimate Catch-22.

One huge benefit of living overseas is the ability to travel Space Available on military flights. Daily I see flights to Hawaii, Korea, Singapore, the Philippines, etc. While these flights solve one problem (they're free!), the scheduling becomes the other problem. Oh, the woes of a military wife.

I feel there is much of Japan and the surrounding Pacific theater that we are missing... and we're running out of time. To that point, we are taking a week off for a little adventuring. No updates until we return.

See you in June!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fresh Coffee

Sometime in the last five years I have become addicted to coffee. As a kid I remember thinking coffee smelled and tasted horrible. Who could like this stuff?! Yuck! Amazing how our tastes change over the years.

It's not the caffeine pick-me-up that brought me to the daily java. I genuinely like the taste of coffee. I blame the introduction of Peet's Coffee and Tea to making me a coffee snob. Unfortunately, I can't find Peet's in Japan and it would break all sorts of laws to mail it here.

The good thing is the Japanese are big coffee drinkers. And they like their coffee super strong. So living in Japan isn't difficult for a coffee snob. Especially when I found this:

On a co-worker's awesome Kobe mug

A pop-up coffee filter with grounds - just add hot water. Forget that nasty instant coffee! Now I can have fresh coffee without having to suffer through the bulk cheap stuff made in the office. Ohhh, and it's so good!

Monday, May 20, 2013

You're doing it wrong...

Disclaimer. I'm angry. So this post is doomed.

This post is for military families that currently live in Japan....or those that are coming to Japan...actually all families...Forget that. Grr, I'm angry.

No matter how you enjoy Japan there are hundreds of Americans living around you who will declare that you're doing it wrong. They will voice their opinion on how you choose to adventure. Now I personally do not understand how people can live here for three years and never leave the base. But I don't harass them for it!

Things said to me since living in Japan:
  • You go off base too much.
  • You go off base too little.
  • Shop out in town more.
  • Shop out in town less.
  • Live off base for a better experience.
  • Live on base for convenience.
  • Take the train.
  • Don't take the train.
We will enjoy Japan however we feel most comfortable. If you have a recommendation on the logistics of our journeys then please share, but opinions on our adventuring decisions are unwelcome.

Take note.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Maple City

I completely forgot about Maple City! My iPhone is running out of space so I uploaded all my pictures and found these from a little bit ago. So here we go - Italian in Japan.

Maple City is advertised on base as a "date night" restaurant. It's nestled in a very small building which creates a pretty cozy dining room. I've been hearing great reviews on the food and no one is ever disappointed. I've also heard that it can be very difficult to get a table without a reservation. We happened to be out that direction one evening and decided to pop in and see if there was any availability.

We were lucky! Although, very under dressed for such a classy place. Unfortunately we forgot the camera and had to use the iPhone. Sorry in advance.

In Japan, most menus will include a "set menu". These options are intended to create an entire meal combination and are often cheaper than ordering individually. Unlike most restaurants in the US, your entree does not automatically come with soup, salad, bread, and drink. Hence, the set.

First up was an appetizer of raw fish. I'm usually not a fan of straight raw fish, but this was quite tasty. Dijon mustard and tomato were excellent complements.

Next was a small serving of "frito of kiss" as the English menu said. Not quite sure... but panko shrimp with balsamic vinegar was quite delicious. On the other side of the plate was a small serving of beef and asparagus with a red wine mustard sauce.

Dustin got pasta with spinach and raw salmon. It was fantastic!

I got a tasty garlic carbonara. It had those fantastic garlic chips that I love! I'm going to have to figure out how to make them. They are so good!

Not a complete set without dessert! I got the "cake of caramel and cacao." It had a strange gelatin texture, but all in all was pretty tasty. The glaze on top had espresso which was a major mistake on a weeknight, but totally worth it.

Dustin got "soft cheesecake that put source good flavor". Hehehe, whatever that means. It came with a small serving of chocolate ice cream.

Quite tasty for a last minute dinner out. I'm very surprised we were able to walk in without a reservation. We ended the meal with two cappuccinos. Again, big mistake on a weeknight! Highly recommend this for an adult date night. We really enjoyed it and had to be rolled out. Yummy!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Adult Capri Sun

Japan's culture is soaked in alcohol. It is the cornerstone of Japan's business and the foundation of many traditions. While grabbing a quick dinner at the 7-11 we saw these wine pouches. Japan allows public drinking. Passengers in cars can have open bottles as long as the driver isn't drinking. Weird, huh?

Because disposal is so difficult?
Adult Capri Sun? Genius.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Asian Poker Face

Recently my office mate and musical DJ has been on vacation. His absence makes the office a much quieter place. Often too quiet. Hear-the-tummy-grumble-of-someone-five-desks-over quiet. When it reaches the point that I can hear a coworker breathing, I plug my phone into my speakers and listen to NPR.

When I run out of "new" news stories I do random searches and will generate a themed playlist. (Really, go get this app. It is fantastic.) Recently, while searching "Asia", I listened to a great brief on the Asian Poker Face.

I was laughing (okay, quietly chuckling) because this is something that has bothered me for a long time. Not just when out exploring the country, but in my work environment. Side note: I work in an office of predominately Japanese people, many that have never traveled to the US.

I smile a lot. I'm from the South. We smile at everyone. We smile at the dog. We smile at the mailbox. I was raised to smile. There are many years of culture instilled in me telling me to smile. Because if I don't I am being rude and unfriendly. In Japan, you do not smile.

I highly recommend you follow the link to listen (or read the transcript) of the Asian Poker Face. I can attest that every word is accurate.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Shimanami Kaido

The Shimanami Kaido, translated as Shimanami "sea road", is a beautiful connection between two of the four main islands of Japan.

Fifteen years or so ago a cycling path was added along the route and has become a very popular destination. The recommended route is about 70km (43 miles).

Star is Iwakuni / Cycling route in red
The base provides transportation a few times a year so Dustin and I jumped on the opportunity to explore a new area of Japan. The route goes up through the mountains of some of the islands and along the coast for others. Along the way, we crossed six beautiful bridges. The entire journey displays some of Japan's most breathtaking views. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate.

Boy, was it foggy! Many times we could only see a few hundred feet. Forget breathtaking views, just stay on the road.

Safety wasn't a concern for the most part. The path is built specifically for cyclists (although small cc scooters and walkers can use it).

Amazingly, with all that moisture there was very little rain. We had a few sprinkles coming off one bridge, otherwise we stayed dry the entire day.

Sometimes we were in small fishing villages.

Here we stopped when we passed interesting things.

Like an old club where everyone takes their pants off?

Or a giant dinosaur
Other times we were climbing the mountains in the middle of the island. I am sure at many of the designated view points we would have seen all the islands sprinkled around.

We never worried about getting lost. "Follow the blue line" were the only instructions we needed. Although the countdown helped when we started getting saddle-sore.

To make the jump from the last island to Shikoku, we had to take a ferry.

On the other side we rode through town until we reached the designated meeting spot. We stashed our bikes, changed clothes, and walked around the city for a bit.

A very expensive trailer!
Onomichi-shi reminded us of Chattanooga: on the water, lots of small shops and boutiques, permanent art displays, and tasty food.

After all those miles we were ready for a long bus ride home. Sleep!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Stupid Questions

Over the last two years I have gotten many e-mails and questions about life in Japan. It's only natural to be curious, and often I don't fully explain everything about our adventures. Also, I'm guilty of assuming everyone knows what I know. But sometimes people will ask the dumbest questions. I've compiled a list of some of the more recent ones that were still in my Comments log.

From Skype: Oh, I'm sorry, did I wake you?
Yes. If I didn't answer the first time, take a hint. Use the computer to find out what time it is in Japan. Or easier yet, I have it on the right side of my blog. Always ticking.

Are the Japanese really that short?

On average, most Japanese are a couple inches shorter than Americans; however, like Americans, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Do restaurants serve just sushi? That's all they eat there, right?

No. Only sushi restaurants serve just sushi. And from my experience, many Japanese eat a wide variety of foods. Sushi being what might make up just one meal a week. 

Does everyone live in houses with paper doors?
No. If the houses have paper doors it is for decoration only. They will also have a glass door behind. Heating/cooling is very expensive in Japan.

Does everyone drive like they do in 'Tokyo Drift'?

Do they eat fish everyday? You must miss hamburgers and fried food.
There is still plenty of friend foods in Japan. Many places sell hamburgers (and they are almost always fresher meats). No, they do not eat fish everyday; however, it is staple in most foods. I've written about dashi and that is made from fish pieces. so I suppose, yes, they do eat fish a lot more than average Americans.

Do you have bamboo floors?
No. We have carpet.

Are the woman that submissive there? They're like slaves, right?
What? No. No more than American women are slaves.

I was wondering about the Japanese sanitation system. I don't want no fountain in my toilet. Their sanitation system is set up for toilet paper, right?
Yes, we have toilet paper. I've written about the style of toilets, but I never thought it would be misinterpreted to that degree.

Do you have Japanese people come up to you for a autograph?
No. We're not the first Westerners they've seen. Sometimes people will ask for pictures because of my hair and eye color. Dustin has been asked to pose in his military uniform, but that was a special event where the Japanese community was invited on base.

Are there Walmarts in Japan?
No, but there are many shopping areas that are similar in the "one-stop-shop" setup. 

Have you eaten dog yet?
No. Japanese don't eat dog. They love their dogs.

Why do the Japanese drive on the wrong side of the street?
Why is that the wrong side?

Do you use chopsticks every time you eat?
It really depends on what type of food we are eating. Soups and curry are served with spoons. Salads are often served with forks. We use chopsticks for everything else. At home we use our silverware.

Do they use dollars there?
No. Japan has their own currency. We use yen.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Kit Kat

I love chocolate. I don't discriminate when it comes to tasty chocolate. Nom nom.

In Japan, we have come across some interesting treats, but none so varied as Kit Kats. A coworker brought in a box of plain flavors which started a conversation on all the wacky flavors offered here. It sparked my curiosity to find out more about these strange flavors. In our time in Japan we have come across dark chocolate, wasabi, and sweet bean flavors.  I know now these are barely the surface when it comes to these flavored snacks.

During my search I stumbled on this blog. Thanks, Google. She has documented tons of varied Kit Kat flavors.

I now have a new "ultimate goal in life". Try ALL the Kit Kats.

Friday, May 10, 2013

I pay for adventure.

I'm weird when it comes to money. Like really weird. I will spend weeks planning out the financial details of our vacations. Every vacation comes with its own budget on an Excel spreadsheet. Really. (Is this any surprise though? I work in DoD Budgeting and love it.) But back to my vacay. And being weird.

I will spend hours finding the best price out there. Hours. Over many weeks. I read reviews on airlines and hotels. I check online sites (all of them) every day and sometimes multiple times in a day just to see what rates they have going on. I'm quite obsessive when it comes to getting the best deal.

So after all this time finding the best deal for vacation, it is quite weird that I have no problem handing over $15 for an umbrella'd drink by the pool. Or $100 to ride a crazy carnival contraption that looks very much like a death trap. And I will gladly cough up museum entry fees and tips for good street performers.

I pay for adventure.

When I look back at the thousands of pictures from our vacations and experiences I don't feel bad that I'm sitting on a six year old couch scuffed with rawhide from one of Zero's bones. I don't regret driving an older car and using a paper map. I'm happy to hold down my kitchen mixer arm because the latch broke. I'm not sorry that I have mixed glasses, a few chipped plates, and unmatched Tupperware. Really.

I'm glad I have memories of exciting adventures and thrilling escapes. The rest is just.... stuff.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I am horrible with emotional things. Like really bad. Like try-to-avoid-it-which-makes-me-a-horrible-friend bad. It's not that I don't feel crappy about the situation; I just don't know how to show it. I'm sure there is some medical diagnosis out there that would explain why I am so bad with emotions.

Recently I had a friend go through something unspeakable. I won't tell the story, it's not mine to tell. A few of us got together and I realized how undeveloped I am emotionally.

I have another friend who genuinely is a kind soul. She sees meaning in everything, believes in angels and miracles, and shows her emotions properly on her face. She cries with you when you need it and gives you words to express the pain you're feeling. She makes you believe everything is part of God's plan and is beautiful.

I bring wine and tell inappropriate stories.

I am glad that I have people in my life who are adult enough to handle these situations. Surely there is a book or class or seminar where I can learn to be Melanie from Gone with the Wind.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


No adventures this week. It is Golden Week in Japan which means traveling is a nightmare.

Instead we are conducting spring cleaning in uchi wa Tice. Trust me, it needs it.

I'm trying to get into cleaning/scrubbing/trashing/destroying/goodwill-ing state of mind. It is not working....
Dust If You Must
by Rose Milligan
Dust if you must, but wouldn't it be better,
to paint a picture or write a letter,
bake a cake or plant a seed,
ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there's not much time,
with rivers to swim and mountains to climb,
music to hear and books to read,
friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world's out there
With the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair,
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain.
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
old age will come and it's not kind.
And when you go - and go you must -
You, yourself, will make more dust!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Confectionary Competition

I love how art can be created with food. It fascinates me to see how artists create textures...not to mention how they counter balance the weight of all that sugar.

Check out those feathers!

Can't see, but the detail on the scales was impressive.
Release the kraken!

From above
After the large show pieces we viewed tables filled with hundred of individual fondant creations. These were being judged as well.

A little shaky, but shows the main display of Miyajima's Itsukushima Shrine.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hiroshima Confectionary Expo

Every four years Japan holds a Confectionary Exposition to display the talents and creativity of sweet makers from around Japan. It's the Olympics of edible art. We were quite lucky that the event was being held in Hiroshima and at a time that fell within our tour here.

Who am I kidding? I would have traveled anywhere to attend the event. I love sweets. And anyone who watches competition events on the Food Network would appreciate the fantastic art displayed.

We picked a beautiful day and traveled to Hiroshima. First thing on the list was lunch. We grabbed two sandwiches and were surprised to find they were filled with mashed potatoes! Panko-crusted mashed potato patties, cabbage, lettuce, a bit of onion, and wasabi mayonnaise. Quite delicious!

The event is huge and is broken into multiple themed areas. Instead of baking in the sun, huge buildings were erected that provided a guided tour of all the treats. First up was viewing items from all over Japan.  

Hokkaido - out of food
Holiday Themed
A little about the Confectionary Expo:
In 1911, the inaugural expo was held under the title of the 1st Imperial Confectionary and Candy Fair. This year marks the first time the expo has been held in Hiroshima since the festival’s fourth installment (then known as the National Confectionary and Candy Fair), which was held in 1921.
At the event, visitors can feast their eyes on the beautiful confectionary artworks of well-known sweets makers. In addition, select confectionaries from all over Japan will be put on display at exhibitions as well as sold at various places within the venue. Outstanding works and products are given recognition in the form of awards such as the Honorary President Award and the Prime Minister Award (specially indicated on the packaging). Source.
Gum is a sweet! Bottom right has 'Lightening' gum. In case you ever wanted to know what lightening tastes like. It's quite a shock.

Hiroshima Sweets Ladies & Mascots
Each region of Japan uses different ingredients to make sweets. Common themes were red beans, nuts, and sweet potatoes. Chocolate wasn't a big feature - which disappointed me a bit, although doesn't surprise me.

After looking at tasty treats from all over the country, we wanted to eat something sweet. There were no free samples unfortunately. We smelled waffles and followed our noses to a crepe stand. Yummy!