Friday, September 27, 2013

The Final Approach

I love to read. Every Friday afternoon right about the time the munchies hit I would receive a digital copy of the Iwakuni Approach. Perfect. Afternoon snack and a few minutes to read on the past and upcoming events of my community.

Today was the final issue of a newspaper with a sixty year history.

I get it. People are moving to digital means of absorbing their information. I am part of that change since I, as previously mentioned, read my copy digitally every Friday. So I'm okay with news outlets utilizing digital means to communicate their stories.

But to stop the publication altogether?! What am I going to do every Friday afternoon at 1430?

Enjoy the last edition of the Iwakuni Approach with pictures of my community's history.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Movie Theater

Natalie has asked me on many occasions to write a post for the blog over the last two years and while we have had many extraordinary adventures I have always found one excuse or another to avoid the task.  This time I have no excuses and genuine desire to write about the topic.

Natalie and I are, in a sense, movie theater snobs.  Since coming to Japan we have only attended the movie theater on base a handful of times. Three times to be exact.  While the theater on base is not the worst movie theater that Natalie and I have been to, it does not rate anywhere near the top of our list of favorite theaters either.  My main complaint is that the “perfect seats” which are about three-quarters of the way to the rear of the theater and centered, are non-existent due to poor layout.  Where our perfect seats would normally be there is the theater entrance and even the balcony (which would normally hold the secondary “best seat” area) is blocked by projection equipment.  This forces us to pick seats that are too close and cause you have to look up at the screen or sit on a side row where you are not able to look directly at the film.  So, all in all we only go to the base theater for titles that we do not wish to wait to see until they come out on Blu-ray.  Now that I have complained about my local movie theater, let me tell you why Japanese movie theaters are amazing.

Natalie and I went up Hiroshima about a month ago to experience a Japanese theater.  We decided to see Star Trek Into Darkness, which was a great movie if you have yet to see it.  We got to the theater about two hours early, because we were going to take care of some shopping before the film started and because we were unsure how quickly the film would sell out of tickets.  This is when we found our first pleasant surprise.  Japanese movie theaters use an assigned seat system.  In the United States if I wanted to ensure that I got the perfect seats, it involved a process of going to the theater hours in advance and standing in line so I could be the first one into the theater to snag our seats.  With assigned seats Japanese theaters remove this time consuming nightmare.  Now the process of getting the ideal seat goes more like this:  Step one – Show up early and buy tickets.  Step two – Leave and enjoy your afternoon (shopping, dining, etc.). Step three – Return and enjoy your movie in your perfect seats.  I loved it! 

This is not the only difference in how the Japanese do movie going.  The concession stand still has many of the crowd favorites like popcorn, soda, and hot dogs, but no candy.  If you are like me and your movie view fix is sour patch kids, you are going to have to smuggle them in.

No jumbo boxes, although a really big soda
 The theater itself had about 150 seats (including 10 luxury seats that come with side tables and more space) at a steep incline. The head of the person in front of me did not even come up to my knees. (No need to worry about people with large hats blocking your viewing.)  I am sure Natalie has mentioned the oddity before but the Japanese handle temperature differently than Americans.  While walking the streets of Japan in the summer you can find people in long sleeves and pants where as I will be standing there with sweat pouring down my face in shorts and tee-shirt.  The movie theater did not prove to be much different.  It was just shy of being cool; I was constantly just on the verge of being uncomfortable.  But if you did somehow find yourself becoming cold, do not worry, the movie theater also provides blankets. 

Now the Japanese movie goers may supply the most noticeable difference between the American and Japanese movie going experience.  They are silent.  They do not laugh. They do not cheer.  In Star Trek Into Darkness there is a scene where the Enterprise dramatically rises out of the clouds.  In the US there would have been some collective audible exclamation at this happening.  Not so in Japan, here they seem almost stoic, but this is not because they are not enjoying the film, quite the opposite in fact.  Plus Japanese society in general is much more polite than that of the United States; the Japanese do not wish to disturb their fellow movie goers.  Also in the states as soon as the credits begin to roll people start getting up and leaving the theater (often leaving all of their trash behind) unless they suspect an extra clip at the end or would like to know the name of actor or actress.  The Japanese audience is quite different.  They sat in their seats watched the credits, only when the theater lights came on did they stand collect their trash and belongings and leave.

Lastly, upon exiting the theater you are treated to a small gift shop.  Let’s say that you just saw Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film and you loved it, on your way out you can pick up the movie poster, key chains, or stationary showing your favorite character or moment from the film.

Even accounting for the slightly uncomfortable temperature of the theater, this is easily in our top five movie going experiences.

Oh, one last thing. Ticket prices were roughly 18 dollars a person… still worth it.

Friday, September 20, 2013


I apologize for the delay in writing about this amazing restaurant. Yakiniku, "grilled meat", is very popular in Japan, although it originated in Korea. Similar to a fondue restaurant without the broth, each table has a grill and you cook your own meat and vegetables.

And it is delicious. This time Dustin and I ordered beef strips and basil chicken. So tasty. My favorite treat are sweet potatoes with a little butter.

We roasted our garlic bulbs until they were soft. Peppers, leeks, mushrooms, cabbage, and onion rounded out our vegetables. We also shared a wasabi-ranch salad (not pictured, sorry, I was hungry). I love the small portions and different options provided by yakiniku restaurants. Most will do an all-you-can eat (and sometimes drink) for a set price. We find that a few dishes are enough for a weeknight meal. A very delicious weeknight meal.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

MegaWeb History Garage

While my family was visiting us we spent an evening walking around Pallette Town in Tokyo. Inside this shopping and restaurant area is a fun car museum.

We spent half an hour walking through the older cars and reading interesting facts about them.

And a museum is not complete without a DeLorean DMC-12!

Definitely a pretty nifty place to spend a little bit of time. My favorite part was a large movie screen that showed old car commercials. Many were sexist or racist - but reflected attitudes of the time. Some were just plain silly.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


It is time to try a new restaurant. We’ve gotten stuck in the same loop of dinner options. Want curry? CoCo’s. Want ramen? Nakahama. Yakiniku? Gyu-kaku. (What?! I haven’t written about Gyu-kaku! I shall remedy this shortly.) The point being that we haven’t tried any new restaurants in the area in a while.

So tonight we will try MosBurger. It is a chain restaurant that we’ve seen many places during our travels around the country. We have a branch in Iwakuni (coincidentally right across the street from a McDonalds) that we have driven past dozens of times. Time to try it.

One surprising thing was MosBurger has a drive-thru! Not something that we see very often. We didn’t use it. Dustin would kill me if I spilled the MosBurger special sauce in his new car. So inside we went.

I ordered a MosBurger with cheese and onion rings. Dustin ordered the same and an additional teriyaki burger. My burger came with a tomato slice, chili mixture, and spicy mayonnaise. Dustin’s teriyaki burger had some good flavor and is something he “would get again”. That’s high praise from the guy.

The food was pretty good. Not amazing like much of the food I have experienced, but pretty tasty for quick fast food.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Dustin and I have just passed the two year mark on our Japan adventure. We are at a turning point in deciding where our next adventure will take place. When discussing it with friends I heard a funny comment,

Japan sounds like utopia. Stay there!

I realized that I may have inadvertently focused this blog on all the fabulous aspects of military life in Japan. I should clarify. I have not discovered a utopian society where I think everyone should live. I often write about our amazing adventures, but I find I have been misrepresenting my host country. Sorry, Japan. You are not perfect.

Japan is generally safer, more polite, and cleaner than most areas in the U.S. The culture fits perfectly with two self-proclaimed geeky introverts. But there are some people that believe that living in Japan is all mikan, Pokemon, and stellar technology.

Racism is a strong disease in Japanese culture. There are no equal opportunity laws that ensure each individual is employed or served regardless of their race. There are beaches, restaurants, stores, and spas that will refuse entry to foreigners. Unfortunately this is based entirely on appearance. A person who has chosen this country as their home and speaks fluent Japanese may still be denied entrance. Generally this is not the case, but it does exist.

English-ese, that strange mixture of English and Japanese, often can produce some surprising or offending comments. We have found many times that the meaning is there, but the American focus of making everything politically correct has skewed our perception of it. For example, a local radio station plays “Old Black People Music” i.e. R&B.

Many Japanese, men and women alike, spend enormous amounts of money and time on perfecting their physical appearance. The topic of one’s physical appearance is not taboo in Japan. While most of the comments are good natured, “Your hair is like golden straw!” some of it can be hurtful. Women that are big and tall may be asked to model for pictures and hear things like, "You the biggest person I've ever seen! Godzilla!"

I have written about alcohol use in Japan. It’s a large part of society from business culture to family celebrations. Unlike in the U.S. there are no public intoxication laws in Japan. Seeing very drunk people, usually men, is a regular occurrence. Most of the time they are “fun drunk” - singing songs in the train station. Sometimes it is closer to peeing on themselves and stumbling down the sidewalk. The trains do not run all night so often the first train of the morning is the “walk of shame” back home.

Another aspect I have not glossed over in previous posts is the general acceptance of public bodily functions. As an American this startles and disgusts me, but upon research have found that it is not so uncommon. I have seen many men pee on buildings, in alleys, and (once!) in the middle of the sidewalk. A coworker described a man vomiting into his laptop bag on the train and the people sitting on both sides of him didn’t move or even acknowledge. I should mention that train seats put you very close to either neighbor.

To conclude, I love living in Japan. Warts, toots, and all. We have been blessed with the opportunity to experience a different way of life. I try to describe to my readers the experience of living in Japan but find that comparing Japan-life to U.S.-life is difficult. As the cliché goes, apples to oranges and all that. I find it hard to verbalize my Japanese experience into the American mind-frame. As a whole, this country is amazing and different and exciting. It may not be utopia, but it is my home and I am happy to experience it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Life of an Adventurer

Labor Day weekend has just passed with less than stellar adventures. We're tired. A typhoon hitting on Saturday and nothing but rain for the rest of the weekend means a Marvel movie marathon and binge Animal Crossing. I must say it was a restful weekend. I feel refreshed!

This morning I received news that my great-aunt is in poor health. The standard reaction is sadness and grief when one hears a love one is nearing the end of life. The family member that told me didn't seem to understand my lack of these standard issue emotions. Why should I feel sad?

My great-aunt is one of the bravest women I have ever known. Fearless. A life lived with many more adventures than which I have words to write. Years spent touring the world and experiencing amazing food, culture, and people. "Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives." - A. Sachs.

As a child I never realized how much I absorbed from the adults around me. Probably unbeknown to her, I learned two major life lessons from my great-aunt. 1. There is always time for adventure. Something I have incorporated into my daily life and 2.Don't hold grudges. Life is too short.

You will be missed, my fearless Aunt Joan.