Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Few Differences

Obviously, living in another culture is bound to have its differences.  We were warned of some things before we left the states, but sometimes you just need to experience things on your own.  There are 3 notable differences that I want to highlight in this blog entry and here they are:

Japanese squat toilet
Western toilet w/bidet & seat warmer

Japanese shower

Shower in Navy Lodge

How to use the shower

Japanese soaking tub
1)Toilets & Showers- After getting off the airplane in Tokyo, I decided to use the toilet.  What is typically a no-brainer in the U.S., just became quite complicated in Japan.  The western toilet had numerous buttons and pictures on how to use it (such as the bidet) in Japanese writing. I felt as though I was doing musical buttons in order to find the correct one that flushed the dang thing.  While the toilet at the airport was fancy, we still had difficulties flushing the one at The Navy Lodge.  It was able to flush two ways.  I also realized after we were here for over a week, that many of the toilet seats are heated.  What a luxury on a cold day!  While one can get spoiled with western style toilets, we also had the chance to use/see the squat toilets out in town.  This can be tricky, but its pretty self explanatory.  There are even grab bars to hold on to.  Out in town people from businesses will hand out tissues with advertisements on them.  Its best to be prepared!

The shower in the Navy Lodge was also hard to figure out at first.  While it is a western style shower with a curtain, the knobs to start it were not.  There were 2 knobs, and 1 happened to be in Japanese. One knob was for temperature, the other was to turn on the shower.  I'm still grateful for the picture on the knob that simulates a shower.  At least I know if I turn the knob to that picture, the shower will turn on.  The house we will be moving into will have a Japanese shower.  Its actually its own room...and kind of looks like a locker room shower.  The purpose of the shower is to clean off with soap then use the tub for soaking. 

2) Cash Society -This has probably been the most difficult for us to get used to: Japan is a cash society.  You will find few places off-base that take credit cards.  We are elated when we find businesses that do....such as department stores, and an occasional restaurant.  The reality we've found is that we have to keep some yen with us at all times.  We opened another bank account on base the first week we were here.  Now we are able to get yen out of an ATM machine.  Bank cards issued outside of Japan cannot be used in Japanese ATM machines.

3) The Opposite Side of The Road- The Japanese drive on the opposite side of the road.  This is odd to see if you haven't been in a country that does this.  So far it hasn't been that bad.  We've been practicing riding our bikes around the base.  I think this is prepping us for driving in Japan.  At the end of next week Justin and I will be taking our driving test (and a written test too).  Let's hope we both pass.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Japanese Christmas Trivia and then some

Getting ready for Santa!
This note says it all!

One of the Japanese ornaments I bought.  I just love them!

The Colonel is popular in Japan.
The line for KFC in the mall on Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning
First of all, the Japanese do celebrate Christmas.  They usually go out to eat on Christmas (KFC is a popular choice), exchange gifts and young children believe in Santa.  Christmas decorations are easy to find, but tend to be very expensive.......especially the lights.  You can find rolls of Christmas wrapping paper but they are very small compared to what we're used to in the U.S.  Japanese focus on presentation when giving gifts.  Also, there was a lot of commotion at the mall on Christmas Eve.  People making their last minute purchases, just like back at home.

Santa found us here in Yokosuka because when we woke up on Christmas morning, we all had something in our stockings.  He must know that we like Japanese treats because we got plenty of them to nibble on.  The kids picked out some small gifts to open on Christmas and used their Christmas money to purchase other items the day after Christmas. We did Christmas differently this year because of the move, but everyone seemed to survive.  If we did hear any complaining then we just had to remind them that they all recently got new bikes.

I made Swedish pancakes (a tradition we've done back at home for years) and bacon Christmas morning.  It was tricky using the kitchenette stove-top, but I managed.  After breakfast we relaxed most of the day, talked to family on Skype, then got ready for dinner.  We had reservations on base at The Officers Club.  The dinner was held in the nicely decorated dining room and was buffet style. We especially liked the sushi, garlic mashed potatoes and the red and green chocolate fountains.  There was even a magician for entertainment.  He showed the kids some magic tricks that they want to duplicate at home.  After dinner we went bowling and to a movie (the new Narnia 3).  The base offers free bowling and movies on Christmas.  It was a nice holiday despite being away from family and half way around the world.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Our First Week

Traditional Japanese restaurant.
New Japanese Bikes

Blue Street in Yokosuka

There's a lot to do when PCSing, so our first week in Japan was pretty busy.   Justin went to work each day, and the boys and I took care of other business.  Here is a breakdown of our week (sorry its so long):

Day 1- Very jet lagged.  All of us were awake around 3:00am.  Justin got picked up by his sponsor on his first day of work.  The boys and I roamed around base on foot.  Justin opened us a new bank account on base where you can get yen (Navy Federal does not exchange U.S. dollars for yen).  Two of the boys re pinned their ATM cards.  Justin was assigned our FPO box.  Found a Starbucks on base but they DO NOT accept credit cards....only cash.  Made an appointment with guidance counselor at Kinnick High School for 12/17.  Ate dinner at Chili's since its right next to The Navy Lodge.

Day 2- Invited by our sponsor's wife to go into the town of Yokosuka.  She drove us to a store similar to a Walmart (clothes on one level/market on another level) where she was getting her hair done.  The boys and I looked around the store, then went across the street to Homes (similar to Home Depot).  There were tons of things there, but I was most interested in looking for a futon bed.  I learned that a futon in Japan is like a filled comforter cover.  I had to ask a friend who lived here years ago what we call a futon in the states is called in Japan (Shikibuton).  After going out in town, we went to lunch, registered kids at the Elementary School, and Middle School, then went back to our sponsor's house on base.  They have 2 Middle School aged children so the younger boys hung out with them for the afternoon.  After work we went to dinner with our sponsors to a Ramen restaurant just outside of the main gate of the base.  The food was delicious.  After dinner we went to what is known as Blue Street (has pieces of blue embedded in the road).  There are tons of shops and a lot of action.  We had a great day, but were beat.

Day 3- Jet lag is getting better, we are sleeping in until 4-5am.  Our sponsors picked us up because we had a morning appointment at the Middle School.  The process of getting the schedule took awhile, but my son is all ready for school on 1/3.  He was assigned a buddy who gave him a tour, will take him to all his classes the first week of school and sit with him during lunch.   Went to a great little non-profit store on base that has furniture, clothes, etc from Japan, Thailand and other places in Asia.  I can definitely see myself patronizing this place.  Had dinner out again. 

Day 4- Did laundry.  Ate lunch at CPO Club.  Had an appointment with the High School in the afternoon.  We got my High Schooler's schedule and he got to go on a tour with a Senior.  Signed up with the library.  Looked at the gym.  Very nice, with pool on 2nd floor.  Met Justin at The NEX after work so that he can look for shoes.  Loving that we can use the NEX and Commissary.  Ate Italian food for dinner.

Day 5- Went into town on this beautiful sunny day.  Decided to take train to Yokohama.  We didn't have any directions, but wanted to find the Pokemon place.  We made it to Yokohama even though we got off at the wrong stop on the way there.  In Yokohama we ate at a traditional style Japanese restaurant .  We ate in a tatami room, had to take off our shoes, and ate at low tables with pillows as seats.  We had the largest plate of noodles I've ever seen.  After lunch we walked around some more, but never found the Pokemon place.  On the way home we took the wrong train.  We had to ask someone for help so we were able to get back on the right train.   

Day 6-  Tired from yesterday.  We had breakfast out, then went to look for bikes at The NEX.  They were having a sale so we bought 2.  They are Japanese bikes and have baskets for carrying groceries, etc.  The younger boys are really enjoying riding around today.   We did some more shopping in the afternoon, then ate in. 

Day 7- We attempted to get our base ID's today, but were missing some documents from home.  Luckily, I added a few friends onto our Safe Deposit Box before we left.  The documents should be mailed out tomorrow.  It was frustrating, but we can still get on/off base and use other services with our passports and orders. We filled out paperwork so that I can have Power of Attorney while we're here.  This will be useful if  I need to get business taken care of during the work day.   Bought a small conifer tree about a foot tall.  It was the last one at The Autoport (a NEX mini-mart) on base.  I decorated it with 5 Japanese ornaments.  This will be our Christmas tree this year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


We made it out of Kitsap County in the nick of time.  Our airporter had to take a different route because of all of the flooding, but we still got to Seatac 2+ hours before our flight was scheduled to leave.  Once at the airport, the check-in process was slow, but going through security was quick.  My oldest son and husband went through the body scan, while the rest of us went through the regular metal detector.  On our way to the terminal, we saw an older gentleman fall backwards down a few steps on the escalator.  He ended up trying to walk back up the escalator.  It looked so strange because he wasn't progressing up the stairs.  Almost like he was walking in slow motion.  You had to be there, but it was quite the sight.

Anyway, the flight to Tokyo/Narita was about 10 hours long.  The boys sat directly in the row behind us.  They were occupied by the movies, eating, or resting.  Overall, out first flight overseas was uneventful.  Customs and Immigration went quickly.  We were told that Immigration in Japan does a temperature reading, a fingerprint scan, and an eye scan.  We didn't have any of those done.  We had our sponsor waiting for us when we exited Customs.  He rented a mini-van which barely fit our luggage.  The average mini-vans in Japan are considerably smaller than the ones back in the states.  The drive to Yokosuka took over an hour.  There are a lot of tolls booths and it was during rush hour traffic.  Once in Yokosuka, we got settled in The Navy Lodge in an adjoining suite (kids in one room, adults in the other).  We had a welcome package from the Lodge, and another large laundry basket filled with goodies, laundry soap, bandaids, etc assembled by the Spouses Club on base.  Justin had to report to work the following morning so the kids and I planned to acquaint ourselves with the base.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Movers Have Arrived

The movers have arrived!  They were originally scheduled to pack/move us for four days, but were finished in three.  The focus of day one was to pack up all items going to Japan.  Deciding what we were taking to Japan, and what we were leaving behind in storage was challenging.  Justin came up with a tagging system (blue painters tape) to help us determine the things we should bring with us.  Once we tagged everything, we tried to put it into one central location (the living room).  While it didn't look like we had a lot going with us, it did take the movers a full day to get everything packed and loaded in the truck.   

On days two and three, the movers just packed up the remainder of our house going into NTS (non-temporary storage).  They were finished yesterday around 5:00pm.  Its bittersweet standing in an empty house.  So many memories we've had in this place, its hard to not feel a bit sentimental about leaving it.  I hope the renters we get in here will take care of it for us.........we'll see.  The rental agency we're using listed our house online last night.  It would be nice to get renters this month.  Sayonara for now.