Thursday, February 24, 2011

Our New Kuruma (Car)

Our "new" 2000 Nissan Liberty van.

As you all know we've been getting around on foot, bicycle, train and base bus since arriving in Japan.  This is how a majority of people here commute so we were within the norm.  We weren't in a hurry to buy a car at first because we were in the lodge and it was easy to get around plus we had to wait until we finished our orientation class and got our drivers licenses (we can't buy a car here unless we both have a U.S. Forces license) before we could seriously start car shopping.  We were loosely looking at cars shortly after we got here, but unfortunately our orientation class was very large (150+ people) so most of the cars at "The Lemon Lot" were being sold quickly.  We were trying to be patient but carrying all those groceries via bicycle or on foot was getting a bit old, plus we had ordered a shiki buton (a cushion to go on top of the futon) that we needed to pick up from the local Homes store.

Justin was very persistent when car shopping.  He was going to the lot many times during the week to test drive cars, or to see if there was anything new on the lot.  One of the major problems we found when car shopping was that almost every car had been smoked in.  Most of the cars on the lot were purchased at Japanese car auctions.  While the Japanese are very health conscious about their weight and exercise, its not uncommon to see them smoking in their cars.  This was something we were very opposed to because smoke is very hard to clean out of cars and the smell is hard to mask.

We also had discussions about what size of car to buy. Should we get a smaller 5 passenger car, or a small van with at least 7 seats for when we have to cart the kids' friends around or if company comes to visit us, etc?  Luckily, Justin ended up finding and test driving the van we ended up buying.  It had very low miles, is a 2000 (new for a used car here), and we have a little more JCI (Japanese compulsory insurance you have to have on your vehicles here) left.  We paid a little more than we had originally planned but most of the used cars we were looking at ranged from $2,000-$3,500 USD.  Not bad.  Like I've mentioned before, even though people drive really "old" used cars here they are taken care my opinion a lot better than back in the U.S.

There's a bit of a process before we could actually get the car keys.  First, when you want to buy a certain vehicle you must go to your local police station.  They have to physically come out to your house and measure the parking make sure the car will fit.  We've heard of people purchasing a car and having to turn around and sell it because it wouldn't fit into their parking space.  We're pretty fortunate where we live because we have 2 parking spaces at our house.  Many times the homes here only have one.  After the measurements were done Justin had a little more running around to do at the licensing office before he met back up with the car dealer.  We were lucky that the dealer was nice enough to deliver the car to our house.

I haven't driven the van yet but will probably try at some point.  The traffic is pretty crazy here, plus the pedestrians have a tendency to step out into the street when you least expect it.  It was wonderful to go to The Commissary last weekend and stock up on some food.  I think we had about 7 bags of groceries!

More Car Trivia:

1) American drivers are easy to spot in Japan because they have a Y on the left of their license plates.
2) American teenagers can take drivers training and get a permit on base.  They have to log 6 hours of practice with a parent even though they cannot drive off base until age 18.
3) The tolls from Yokosuka to Tokyo cost around $70.00.  If you rent a vehicle on base (which many people do) the rental fee includes vouchers you can use on the toll roads.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Keitai Denwa (Cell Phones)

My cell phone and Lucky Charm.

Inside of the phone.

There are 3 major phone companies in Japan that monopolize the cell phone market.  We weren't sure who to go with:  Docomo, Soft Bank or AU.....but ended up choosing AU.  Justin's work cell phone was AU, so that's one of the biggest reasons we chose the plan we did  plus the lady who helped us spoke very good English.  We found the rates to be cheaper than our plan back in the U.S., but are locked into a similar 2 year contract. 

Just like back in the states, there are a number of phones to choose from.  We ended up settling on the "free" Japanese phones even though one of the boys had his hopes of getting an I-Phone.  The one prerequisite I had for my own phone was to get one with a texting keyboard.  Can you believe they are not easy to come by here?  Everyone has flip phones!  I've read a variety of reasons why flip phones are popular such as:  you use one hand when texting which is easier to do on a crowded train or bus, they are compact/sleek looking, they have many emoticons that are popular here when texting, and most of all they have a place on the top of the phone to hang a lucky charm....which is a huge social practice here in Japan.

Its been very interesting having a foreign phone in Japan.  Here are a some differences I've noticed:

1) Every phone in Japan has an email attached to the phone number.
2) The numbers are the same, but we also have Japanese writing on the buttons.   I'm never quite sure what I'm pressing, or supposed to press.  
3) We get email spam or advertisements in Japanese.
4) The cameras on the phones have high mega pixels.
5) It is considered very rude to speak on cell phones on the train.  People put their phones on silent (or manner mode) so that they can still send/receive texts or play games while commuting.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Kimonos Are Not Just For Girls

My obi was lovely. 

His and her kimono.

The Meaning of Kimono in Japanese:  
kiru - to wear + mono - thing

tomesode:  kimono with a pattern on the bottom half worn by married women
furisode:  kimono with long, flowing sleeves worn by an unmarried woman

obi:  the belt that holds the kimono in place

To set the record straight, we never knew until last weekend that the kimono is worn by both genders.  We just always assumed that a kimono was worn only by females. We felt very naive, but that's why we're learn and experience Japanese customs.  Kimonos can still be worn as a daily attire, but are usually just worn for special occasions such as: tea ceremony, weddings, New Years, and other formal festivities throughout the year.  Sumo wrestlers are also often seen wearing the kimono in public.

This past weekend we participated in a local Japanese cultural event.  Along with mochi pounding (a rice cake paste), games, food, tea ceremony, and art was the opportunity to dress up in a kimono.  There were many families (including young children) dressing up.  Our younger kids didn't want to dress up, so it was just us adults and it was an experience. 

We were taken back into a dressing area with very tiny, elderly, Japanese women helping us dress.  There were beautiful patterns of kimono and obi to choose from.  I found that the female kimono is usually very vibrant in color, while the male kimono is not.  Its actually quite monotone...typically in shades of black, or dark colors. 

My kimono was nice and comfortable UNTIL the obi was put on.  It felt like I was putting on a corset.....very tight.  I envisioned the little Japanese lady hanging onto the end of the obi since she just kept tugging on it to get it just right.  It probably didn't help that we'd just eaten.  When we were finished being dressed, the his/her kimonos looked great.  To complete the look were wore Japanese sandals with socks.  We didn't wear traditional tabi socks, but got our own socks to work just fine.  Walking around in the kimono is truly a wonderful feeling.  Your posture feels straighter, and to wear such an elegant piece of fabric was truly a unique experience.  Not to mention, I'm pretty sure I lost a couple inches off my ribcage by the time I took it off. 

I would love to purchase a kimono before we leave Japan.  They can be quite costly ranging in the thousands of dollars.  There are used kimono shops and flea markets that offer a less expensive way to purchase such a lovely piece of Japanese tradition. 
Japanese sandals.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Trash Talk

Our assigned garbage drop-off site.
Japan has an  intensive garbage and recycling system.  This is really no joke.  After signing our lease we were given a booklet about garbage and recycling in the city.  Luckily, its in English, but it was overwhelming to us newcomers.  We have trash/recycling 5x a week.  About a block from our house is a wire cage with green netting.  This is our designated garbage drop-off site between the hours of 0600-0800.  Until recently, we thought those cages were for animals!

Here's an example of what our weekly trash collection looks like:

Monday/Thursdays- Burnable (food scraps, small paper, foil-lined snack bags, paper towel rolls, etc).  These items must be in a transparent bag or white bag.
Tuesdays- PET Bottles, metal food cans (anything with a PET and recycling symbol around it...usually seen on plastic bottles from the vending machine). These items must be rinsed out and put into a transparent bag.
Wednesdays- Plastics (plastic film off food, plastic food containers, plastic shopping bags, styrofoam packaging, etc).  These items must be rinsed thoroughly, and put into a transparent bag.
Fridays- 1st & 3rd is Non-burnable (plastic straws, plastic toys, aluminum foil, etc).  Must be in a transparent bag.
Sundays- 2nd & 4th is Group Collection (toilet paper rolls, paper milk cartons rinsed, aired out, flattened, and tied with string, cardboard cut up into nice stacks and tied together with string, old clothing).

Sounds easy?  Its getting better now that were are finishing up with week two of this routine.  I do take a daily trek down to the garbage area to make sure our bags were taken.  The trash collectors will reject garbage if its not done correctly.  You get a nice yellow (and I've also seen blue) sticker on you bag explaining in Japanese  what you did wrong.  We had an incident last week with an older neighbor who ended up complaining to the owner of our house about how we left "incorrect" garbage at the collection site.  It wasn't ours, but our realtor had to come over and make some phone calls explaining that it wasn't us.  It was a bit tense because of the language barrier, and because we are so new to the neighborhood.  I did ask my Japanese language sensei some phrases I could say in the future in case this ever happens again.