Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Disney Sea, Take 2

Two years ago we visited Disney Sea on our first Tokyo tour. We decided to treat my mother to the Happiest Place on Earth - Japan-style. Disney Sea is geared towards older ages as the rides have a little more thrill.

We spent the day enjoying the park. On our last visit we decided to skip the closing show and get a few more rides in. This year we opted to wait with the crowds and view the finale performed on the water.

And I am so glad we did because it was awesome!

Animated on falling water...

With a mixture of live action (came through the mirror!)
After enjoying the show we went to a new section of the park still under construction. We will have to visit again in a few months to see Woody and friends!

A long, yet awesome day, filled with great food (curry popcorn anyone?) and fun rides. It was my mother's last day in Japan so the end was a little bittersweet. I am so glad she was able to come out and experience the adventures I write about. I love Japan and have experienced so many new and exciting things in this country. It was great to finally share them with someone we love.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


After many false starts, we finally finished open water certification! We have tried for the last few years to take classes, but Dustin's deployments and training have always made it very difficult. After a few weeks of classroom work and pool dives we completed our first four open water dives in a couple areas south of Iwakuni.

Breathing underwater is one of the most amazing experiences. And this is coming from a self-identified aquaphobic.

I've viewed hundreds of sea-life documentaries, eaten pounds of seafood, visited numerous aquariums, and watched Finding Nemo more times than my fingers and toes, but nothing compares to being in their world with only the sound of my breathing (and occasionally an internal "dun nun" for Steven Spielberg).

We are looking forward to many underwater adventures!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Square Enix / Artnia

On one of our first trips to Tokyo we visited the Square Enix store. We both were children in a candy factory while walking through the memorabilia from two of our favorite game franchises. We had a few hours to waste before our tour so we took my mother to the birthplace of Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts (and the new Tomb Raider which is quite a beautiful adventure).

New Headquarters
The offices have moved to an architectually interesting building in Shinjuku. We walked from the train station and found Artnia - a new store/restaurant/art display of Square Enix greatness.

We introduced my mother to a completely foreign world and spent a good five hours trying all their specialty drinks, watching the evolution of the company and its games, and purchasing a small fortune in new music and clothing.


Blue Materia - a blue sugar cube dropped in straight alcohol

Ahem, I present a blurry Buster Sword.

Red Materia
We also tried a few other drinks, but somehow forgot to take more pictures. The alcohol content was pretty high... that may have had an impact. We enjoyed an olive assortment and then it was time to go. If you are in Shinjuku we highly recommend stopping in this area. The drinks and show were phenomenal! Also, Dustin and I were unable to snag all the custom coasters...

Friday, July 12, 2013

Shinjuku Gyoen

My mother came to visit us recently so we took her to all the tourist spots between our home and Tokyo. most of the areas were repeat visits for us, but one new area was Shinjuku Gyoen.

After days of temples, amusement parks, and multi-floor shopping we retreated into the quiet and beautiful gardens nestled amid the bustle of one of Tokyo's busiest wards. Shinjuku Gyoen is home to some of the oldest trees in Tokyo and has been a point of horticultural significance since being established as an Imperial garden over a hundred years ago.

The garden is a blend of three garden styles. After walking through rows of cherry trees we were in a French Formal garden. Large paved walkways surrounded low bushes with hundreds of roses in this area.

The next area we walked though was an English Landscape style - large grassy areas broken up by small clusters of trees and low shrubs.

Finally, we found ourselves in a traditional Japanese garden. This area looked like many of the other Japanese gardens we have toured - small, gravel paths with low manicured trees dotting rolling grassy hills.

It was a nice break from all the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. I imagine the cherry blossoms in the spring are beautiful. We may have to schedule a return trip just to see them.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Rice Planting

If you follow my Facebook then you know this post is very delayed. We've had a busy couple of months so I am catching up on the adventure documentation.

A few weeks ago we were given the opportunity to partner with a Japanese organization to plant rice in a small village outside Iwakuni. This annual event was designed to foster a relationship between the Japanese locals and the American base.

We traveled to a very small village nestled between two mountains. The village was once a thriving community with lots of children, but has since dwindled to only two students. We set up camp at a former school turned community center.

We each received name tags that were translated so everyone could read them. The base library also donated shirts so we all matched. After a brief opening ceremony and introductions we walked the few blocks from the school to the rice paddies.

Many of the fields had already been planted so we were able to what the finished product would should look like.

Our field before planting.

Each person was given a small section of rice seedlings. We waded out into the mud in a straight line to prepare our planting.

The fields are filled with mud and then flooded to prevent insects from destroying the seedlings. A knotted rope was strung from end to end and we planted three seedlings at each knot. After planting, we would take a step backwards, the line would be moved and we would plant again. After the first couple of moves the novelty wore off. It really is back-breaking work!

Our finished....very wobbly.... field.

After planting we cleaned up and made our way back to the school. Some Japanese volunteers provided homemade curry and pickled vegetables. It was delicious after the hours spent in the sun. Before returning back to base we spent some time in the school walking through the rooms. Most of our group set up a large, rather rambunctious, game of Duck Duck Goose. It is great fun in any language.

The school is actually two buildings although the older building is not open for walkthroughs. The older building is over 110 years old. The newer building was used up through about five years ago until there weren't enough students in the village to keep it open.

After hours in the sun and a good lunch we were ready for a long nap. Whew! I now understand why not eating all of it in a restaurant is considered rude. Rice planting is tough work!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Mt. Fuji from a Plane

I was skimming through our pictures when I came across these shots from a flight we took from Tokyo to Hiroshima.

Check out Mt. Fuji from the air.

We've been to the top of it!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book Review - The Casual Vacancy

I loved Harry Potter. But it's been so long that I can't distinguish the character I had in my head while reading or Daniel Radcliff's version from the movies. Now when I reread the books I see Radcliff in my mind leading the way. So when J.K. Rowling authored an adult novel I was intrigued.

And now I'm glad that I have read it so I will never have to read it again.

I hated it! It took me two and half months to slog through the 500 or so pages. The first ten chapters jump around trying to introduce two town's worth of characters. I had to restrain myself from getting pen and paper out to keep track. Additionally none of the characters really resonated with me. In the rush to identify them all I felt they were half-formed. So-and-so is married to so-and-so but they like or don't like this person or maybe they are related. But how are they related? A ten chapter mess.
Then her usage of similes and metaphors drove me nuts. A good author can describe people and places without resorting to simile after simile. And then her usage of simile just made me shake my head. My head-pixels changed from Minecraft version of characters to big question marks. For example:

"Krystal's slow passage up the school was like the passage of a goat through the body of a boa constrictor, being highly visible and uncomfortable for both parties involved." p. 58

The only positive aspect I glean from this tortuous novel was the vocabulary. Maybe it's just British (you know, that country that pronounces words correctly) English that was new to me. For example:

"Garrulous and engaging in person..." p. 4
"What you call it when a council seat becomes vacant through death. Proper term," he said pedagogically. p35

Unfortunately, I wasn't impressed with this novel. And I so wanted to be impressed. That cozy spot between Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Fast Food Nation will remain vacant. Casually. Like sand on a sunny beach.