Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year!

New Years Day is the biggest holiday of the year for the Japanese. This year, we had our friends Yumi and her sister, Kazue, come to our home and cook a traditional New Year’s dinner for us a few friends, complete with a lesson on the cultural origins/symbolism behind each dish. What a treat! Thank you Yumi!


Due to the lack of calcium in a typical Japanese diet, it is very common to see elderly Japanese with obvious symptoms of osteoporosis, especially a curved back. In Japan, this is seen as a sign of a well-lived, long life. So, the Japanese eat shrimp, with its curved shape, to symbolize this honored attribute.


Beans are known as the hard- worker’s food! No wonder…the Japanese are the hardest workers I’ve ever seen….and they eat a LOT of beans.

University Sweet Potatoes

Legend has it that a man started selling these cubed, candied sweet potatoes to students outside Tokyo University (a very distinguished university in Japan). Over time, rumor spread that these potatoes helped students pass their grueling exams. As a result, parents started sending these potatoes to their children when they had an upcoming exam and still do so today.

Mochi Soup

I’m not sure what this soup symbolized, but it was delicious! Chicken, vegetables, mochi ball (rice pastry), in a yummy broth.

(You may notice a little American influence in this next picture...what would New Years be without Fritos, Crunch N Munch and Sparkling Cider??? And those symbolize....)

To me, one of the most impressive things about Japan is that entire country's population is able to squeeze themselves into roughly one fourth of the country's land, and leave the rest, well, to nature. And this is done in a country roughly the size of California, but with more than FOUR times the number of people! Their reverence for nature is inspiring. According to Yumi, this love for nature is what inspires their traditional New Year's Day meal. Foods from each part of nature are to be represented on the table: fish and seaweed from the sea, lotus and other root vegetables from the ground, and roasted chestnuts from the forests.

Akimashte Omedeto Gozyimas! Happy New Year!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hina-Matsuri and New Restaurant

Last Saturday, Cindy (who else?) and I made our way to Shunan for a Hina-Matsuri (Girls) Festival. Shunan is SUPPOSED to be about an hour and a half drive from Iwakuni, but we took the lllllooooonnnngggg way and got there in about four. We made it to the festival with just enough time to wolf down some curry and rice and get dressed up in Kimonos. This was a first for me and I soon learned that dressing someone in a Kimono is a certified art form. Supposedly, you have to have a certificate to do it.

And just in case we needed to make a quick exit, there is one hidden behind that curtain.

We decided to end the day with a trip to a Chinese restaurant Cindy has been meaning to try just down the street from her house. With no English menus, we just pointed to what the one other person in the restaurant was eating (fried rice and ramen) and said "we'll have that" (in Japanese of course.) I am SO glad we did, because it was the BEST ramen and fried rice I have EVER had. And I have eaten a LOT of rice and ramen since I have been here.

The husband and wife owners/cooks/servers were adorable and, after attempting to use every bit of Japanese I knew, we were instant friends! However, later I learned that I accidentally mixed up the verb "to come" (Japanese: kiMAS) with the word "yesterday" (Japanese: kiNO) and so when I was trying to tell him "We came/flew here from America in August" I was actually telling him "Yesterday, I flew here in August." Whoops. No wonder he was giving me the "Say WHAT???" look.

We've been back three times now, and every time is like a little reunion. They even took OUR picture.

I can't wait until Matt comes home so I can take him here! He'll love them AND the food. Now if we could only fit under their tables...

Ramen and fried rice: CARBS and SALT Kudasai!

March 11, 2011

Friday afternoon at 2:45 (the time of the earthquake) I was actually in a conference with a student's parent. We talked as if nothing had happened, because for us, nothing really did. I continued to answer emails until about 3:30, made a quick jog to the bank on base, and came back to the school by about 4:00. At about 3:00 I had heard a siren go off, which I later learned was the tsunami warning siren, but I had no idea what it was. So like anyone would, I ignored it. Yes, mom, I know better NOW! The vice principal met me as I walked by the main office. She asked me if I had felt the earthquake and I told her I hadn't, but I thought, How bad could it be if I didn't feel it? Must be one of those small ones. I didn't think much of it and proceeded to my friend Christine's office. We had planned to ride together to Cindy's house and go for a hike in the hills behind her house. All the staff from her building were crammed in the office, glued to the television. I saw that this thing was obviously bigger than I had initially thought, but the news was only showing the fires that had started. From the looks of it, it still didn't look THAT bad to me. A few fires...we can handle that. No talk of a tsunami. I knew everyone would be terribly worried, so I quickly gave my mom, dad and Matt a call to let them know I was safe (but getting a hold of Matt is a whole other story).

Christine and I eventually wound up heading over to Cindy's house and hanging out almost as if nothing had happened. It wasn't until later the next day that I realized just how bad things were. We don't get any TV reception at our house (Japanese or American) so I feel totally cut off from the world. That's one thing I have learned from being over here, I shouldn't take for granted the availability of information (in your language) at home. Usually I like the media silence, but in times like this, it is crippling when you don't have it! I was relying on hear-say and snip-its from my family and friends. I researched a few things on the Internet to get a better picture of what was really going on. The pictures of the sweeping tsunami took my breath away. I couldn't believe I had been so naive to think it wasn't as bad as it was. I felt and still feel a lot of guilt about that. I called Tomoko, my good friend and neighbor, who had told me she had family around Tokyo and Sendai. Her family had all been located and were safe, but she still hadn't heard from a few of her friends who lived in Sendai (the hardest hit region). She broke down in tears when she told me she couldn't contact them by email or phone.

Today, as the students came back to school, we had a little pow-wow about what happened. There are few things that are sweeter than six and seven year olds coming to terms with a disaster like this.

From the mouth of babes...

"Maybe we could help them!"

"I am so so sad about this Mrs. Wilson (starting to cry). The people in Hawaii died and I was born in Hawaii. I don't want them to die!" (Don't worry, I reassured her.)

"I saw all the moms and dads with their children. They were trying to save them."

"I saw on the news that a mom was holding hands with her child and her child got swallowed up by the waves." (This one made ME cry.)

"I don't have much dollars, but I have a LOT of pennies. I could give them those."

"I'm going to sell some food and give them the money!"

Today, Tomoko emailed me at work and let me know she has now located all of her friends. Many of them are without food, water and electricity, and there is no way for anyone to get supplies to them. The Japanese don't have stocked pantries like us Americans. They expect to be able to go to the store every few days, so a disaster like this poses a real hunger threat. The roads are blocked to private vehicles so people can't provide supplies themselves. We are looking for ways to get around this. Until then, to use Tomoko's sweetly profound words, at least "we can report courage to them."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chinese Lantern Festival in Nagasaki

Cindy suggested we all go on this trip to Nagasaki for the Chinese Lantern Festival (thanks Event Planner Cindy!) and when Matt realized he would probably be back in the states for this event, Cindy and I decided to make a girls weekend out of it! We had a BLAST. For starters, a HUGE snowstorm dumped on Iwakuni practically as soon as we boarded the bus (later we found out that the base had so much snow it had to shut down- unheard of, I guess). I love how the Japanese use umbrellas when it snows!

Our hotel room was adorable. I seriously felt like Snow White in the seven dwarfs' house (Britt- remember that version with the little wood beds... and the carrots and bread??? Please say you do!) We had so much fun examining the oh so small treasures of our room, I realized about fifteen minutes later that I had left all my bags, including my purse, in the hall with the keys in the door. Ooopss!

Aren't peep holes supposed to be EYE level?

I'm really not sure.

Germaphobes : Beware.

Cindy and Joe taking pictures of the lanterns...

Cindy and Joe posing for a picture in front of the lanterns, while crossing guard in blue nicely tries to get them out of the way...

Cindy and Joe cracking a joke while the crossing guard is like...SERIOUSLY...GET OUT OF THE ROAD!

Man, I'd do anything for some Log Kit right about now. Mmmm...LOG. KIT. Japanese marketing at its finest.

Okay, this picture may be my favorite. We joked all morning about how it would be impossible to lose each other in the crowds, being that all of us were a good 6 inches to a foot taller than everyone else....oh, and BLONDE. This proved completely true when I stopped for more sesame balls (more info to come), and Cindy and Christine went on without me into the sea of people. After walking for a few minutes to catch up to them, scanning the crowds, our eyes finally met across a sea of people and they had to snap a picture. We were more than 50 yards apart, separated by hundreds of people, yet we could pick each other out as if we were the only three people in the place. PERFECT.

Joe had this thing about needing to get into any long line. His reasoning was that if there was a line, it had to be good. Turns out, he had a point, because one of those lines led us to...SESAME BALLS! I lost count of how many these things I devoured throughout the day, but I'm pretty sure it was in the neighborhood of ten.

And some more food.

Breakfast: Sushi-rice ball, roll, cabbage salad, corn flakes, mini hots dogs with ketchup and mayonnaise.

THE NEXT DAY: Seeing the other side of town- the wharf.

The Japanese LOVE their oysters.

A little European influence.

Joe was determined to eat blowfish, being that it is one of Nagasaki's specialties. What's the draw? Blowfish is fatally poisonous if not prepared properly, so you know...why not? It was a no-go for Joe: they didn't serve it for lunch and we were leaving that afternoon. Me? I don't like seafood when it's GOOD for me, so why would I even bother?

A cute little cafe we stumbled upon for some dessert.

Quotes not to forget:

"Is this going to be an indoor festival?"

"Hey Tessa, want to buy a few dried mangoes for 1000 yen?" Tessa: "Hie."

"Where's Joe?"

"That Cindy, she's a doer."


"Mardi Gras! Mardi Gras!"

"I believe in you, Joe. But, I also believe in six year olds. So..."

"Red Coat. Black Coat. Grey Coat."