Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Horse and His Boy in Manila

Morning view from our hotel apartment

We just got back from our Thanksgiving holiday in Manila.  My dad and his wife (Mayen) were in a production of C.S. Lewis' "The Horse and His Boy" and had mentioned casually to us that it would be fun if we could just pop over to catch a show.  We had recently had to reschedule our vacation plans due to interference from work, and had not yet decided exactly on what to do.  At first we laughed at the idea since we had just visited last year, almost to the day, and it seemed ridiculous to go back so soon.  But then as we got to thinking about it, the Philippines is not that far away (4 -5 hours), the tickets aren't that expensive, and my son had never seen his grandfather in a live production.  So after thinking about it, we decided it would be worth it after all.

Meralco Theater!

We stayed at a hotel near my dad's apartment in Makati because their place was going to be full up.  We were worried we would only be able to find expensive places to stay in that area, but were glad to find a place called Salcedo Suites that was quite reasonable, and it was a 5 minute walk from dad's building.  It was small but serviceable, and other than the rather pathetic air conditioner (it worked, but barely), we had no complaints.

Poster for the show

We flew in on Saturday from Haneda, got ourselves by taxi to the hotel, ate dinner and went to bed.  Dad had 2 shows on Saturday so we didn't expect to see them til late the next morning.  We went over to their place later in the morning on Sunday and had breakfast together.  Towards lunch we hitched a ride with them to the Meralco Theater, which is where I have all sorts of memories of previous shows my dad has been in over the years.  We got dropped off at Robinson's Galleria mall, where I used to hang out as a teenager, to wander around, kill time, and eat lunch prior to the final show which was a matinee.

The stage before the start of the show

The show itself was very fun.  We were concerned most of all with how they would do the horses and the riding scenes, which are so integral to the story.  Impressively, the horses were the part most everyone was pleased with.  They used a two part horse that was controlled independently by two different people, each with a harness to hold the horse part on their shoulders and with their heads poking up through the body.  The parts could separate or come together as needed, which was important for how they did the riding.  When a rider was absent, the two parts simply stood close to each other and synchronized their "hoofs" to simulate a horse.  When a rider was needed, a 3rd person (all in black) would come on stage and stand in between the horses while the rider would "mount" the third person's shoulders.  Then all 3 parts of the horse would move together.  As with all aspects of theater, there is a level of suspension of disbelief that is required to make it all work, but this worked great for me, and after a while I was able to believe that the 4 person machine in front of me was really one horse and its rider.  The effect was best when the horses were galloping directly towards the audience in combination with lighting effects to give the illusion of forward movement.  You couldn't see the third person of the horse, nor could you see the other 2 heads of people poking up, all you saw were the horses' heads and the rider moving like they were galloping.  It was quite striking.  Overall we were very pleased with the show.

Fans in the dressing room
Afterwards we got to go backstage and see their dressing rooms.  Then the cast came on stage for some final pictures, and the puppets were brought forward so pictures could be taken as well.  We helped dad and Mayen move out of their rooms as Mayen apparently has a tendency to really "move in" during a production ;-), and took a taxi home.

Dad and Mayen in full regalia
Most of the rest of the time there we just ate and hung out with dad and Mayen, eating great food (many new reviews are up on my other blog) and having good conversation.  Rowan and I also got to go to a spa (aka Korean version of an onsen) with my dad and his good friend Jaime for more great conversation.

Cast photo

 On our final day there my dad drove us out to Faith Academy, the school where he and I both went.  We visited there last year just for a tour of the facility as we were considering maybe sending Rowan there.  At the time we ended up deciding to go with homeschooling through high school, but since then we have been reconsidering things and this time we wanted Rowan to actually shadow someone through some classes and tour a dormitory.  He had never actually been in a real classroom and had no idea what it was like, so we are hoping the experience has helped to educate him a bit.  Also, checking the dorms out allowed us to see what that situation is like, as I have some probably skewed feelings on the subject and needed to be corrected by reality.  Faith Academy is a truly lovely school, much more so than I recall.  A little perspective in life really changes how you look at things.  Also being able to talk with several people on staff there in administration and at the dorms, we got a very strong sense of everyone's competence and care for the kids.  Best of all they really understand homeschoolers as so many missionaries start homeschooling and end up sending their kids to Faith for middle or high school.  We are now thinking the best option for Rowan might be to send him to Faith for highschool (or possibly starting at 8th grade) staying at the dorms.  We were not feeling positive about the dorm option before, but now that our fears are allayed, it really seems like the best approach.  It may take some convincing to get him there, but we are hopeful.

Dad, Mayen and director Jaime

After that we headed back into Manila, and got the pleasure of enduring the horrible traffic that it is famous for.  It took us about 2 1/2 hours to get back home, most of it sweating in a car whose air con could barely keep up with the situation...ah the memories!   At least there was an air con at all!  When *I* was a kid...let me tell you!

Front end of Bree

We had a great time and got back to Japan on Thursday in time for lunch at Haneda.  The only unfortunate thing during the last 2 or 3 days in the Philippines was that I got a cold :-(.  May not seem like much, but I hardly ever get sick and this was a doozy.  As I type on Saturday morning I'm still sneezing and sniffling.  It's been forever since this happened, but on the flight back, despite taking "dry up" pills, the decent was intensely painful on my ears.  All the tubes were blocked up so there was no way for the pressure to equalize and I was genuinely concerned about my eardrums perforating.  After looking it up on the Internet I found that sure enough, flying with a cold is the main cause of perforated ear drums.  Thank goodness that didn't happen, but the pain sure made me worry!
On Friday, the day after we returned, we had an appointment to go visit another high school option for Rowan, the Horizon International School in Yokohama.  This would be a stretch for us, both in terms of distance to commute and cost, but it was an outlier, so we felt we had to look into it.  It's a nice, small school with k-12 and great programs.  But after our visit all 3 of us were unanimous in concluding it wouldn't work for us.  I don't want to go into details, but suffice it to say, it's off the list.  So now we are left with 1) continuing homeschooling through high school, 2)  pay for some classes on base, but homeschool the rest, 3) full online high school, 4) Faith Academy and the dorm, or 5) move to the Philippines and go to Faith Academy.  We will make our decision by the end of the year, but at the moment we are leaning most towards #4.  The main issue is that we feel Rowan really needs outside influence now.  He wants to stay homeschooling, but only because he perceives it as the least amount of effort for him.  He does not yet realize that the workload will increase regardless of the option, and that if we have to force him to do it, it's going to overload our homelife with stress.  If he was a willing and eager student, that would be a different situation.  Given his resistance to exerting himself in any way, we feel it would be best to send him out into a situation in which he would be accountable to others.  And maybe they will have greater success than we have had in motivating him to do well.  There are no perfect solutions, and we continue to pray about the best option.

Big scary Aslan for the chase scene
So there it is, our vacation and school decisions.  Now we have what remains of this 3 day weekend, and Kerri woke up this morning with what appears to be the stomach flu or food poisoning from dinner last night (I stayed issues here).  She sits miserable upon the couch behind me, periodically trekking to the bathroom to perform one or the other of the horrible things that such a condition requires.  She is very sad, but I don't know what to do for her at the moment as nothing seems to stay down.  Hopefully we can get at least one day of rest before real life starts up again on Monday.

The view from behind Faith Academy

Monday, November 2, 2015

Volunteering in Joso

This last weekend we had the opportunity to go up to Joso (about 2 1/2 hours trip from Yokosuka north) with members from our church to help clean the exterior of a house that had been hit by the terrible floods earlier this year.  The area we were in wasn't completely destroyed, but the houses had water up to 3 meters deep flooding the entire area.  Needless to say, the interiors of most of these houses are a total mess and need a ton of work.  Driving around the area, everything looks pretty cleaned up on the outside, and the only thing you notice is the line of dirt that stops about the same spot up all the walls.  But if you look inside you see the devastation.

The house we were working on consisted of 2 apartments on the ground floor and one on top.  Our job was to take the screen doors off (new Japanese word!  amido = screen door) scrape what dirt we could off before getting it wet, then do our best with water and towels to clean the rest of the dirt off.  By then the power washer was working (someone had to stretch several extension cables so far off we couldn't see where they went) and we went to town on the exterior walls/windows/doors.  After this it was the interior of the doors/windows.  At first I was worried about getting water inside, but then I realized it was so bad they would have to tear everything out anyway.  That power washer was a blast, I think I want one someday.  Then it was wiping down the windows until they gleamed.  Lastly we had to get the dirt and mud out of the concrete area surrounding the house, which was a real pain (actually the pair of Japanese ladies with us worked mostly on that part, there wasn't much room to maneuver).  Then it was a final sanitize spray with a hand-pumped pressurized bottle and we were done a bit earlier than the 4pm time we had been told originally.

In the afternoon, while we were finishing up still, a huge crew of Japanese workmen arrived and we were told to get out of their way as they started into ripping up the interior floor of the house.  We think they were a Japanese reconstruction company or something.  When we were done we went next door to where our "leaders" had been doing something else and it turns out they were doing something similar, rebuilding the flooring in a house where the family has basically been living up in the 2nd floor since the flood about a month ago.  It's hard work and we realized we'd been given a fairly easy job by comparison, but it would have been much more difficult for them to give us instructions for such work.

It was a great experience and we were glad to be able to help out at least a little bit.  I can't imagine how awful it must be to have your home destroyed so unexpectedly.

Afterwards, on the way back to the church where we had started from in the morning, we were driven to the true devastation.  This was the area where the river broke its bounds and swept everything in a raging torrent.  It was surreal, with vast swaths of sandy soil and the occasional house or car poking up from the ground.  Rowan said it looked post-apocalyptic.  I tried to get some interesting pictures of it, but of course this represents people's lives completely leveled and cannot do it justice.  They were still putting electrical poles back into place very nearby.  There is quite a long way to go before things are back to normal up there.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Bahrain Business Trip

So I got to go Bahrain for work for 3 weeks!  Yay!  I do miss the Middle East sometimes, especially the food.  If you follow my food blog, you'll see there was plenty of that to go around.  But over here, I figured I'd post some "other stuff" pictures.

This was an odd one.  On the way to and from work, there was this bombed out looking building that someone had stenciled some "art" on.  This strange looking person being strangled by a balloon caught my eye for some reason.  Around the corner was a stencil that said "No Public Displays of Affection" or something to that effect.  I wasn't sure if that was for real or ironic.

I thought this was a very "typical" picture of something you'd probably only see in the Middle East.  Here is a dirt pile in the middle of a dirt lot, covered by a Persian rug.  I think that's all that can be said about that.

The rest of these photos were from a tour I took of the Great Mosque in Juffair.  I was able to witness Muslim ritual prayer from up on the balcony, and afterwards I got a one-on-one sit down discussion with a tour guide.  Apparently I was the only tourist for his group, which was nice as we were able to have some back and forth a bit concerning the Muslim understanding of God/Allah.  Specifically, I was trying to understand what the Muslim understanding of grace is, as this is one of Allah's attributes.  The closest I could come was that grace was when something good happens to us.  I tried to explain that grace actually implies undeserved good, and mercy further implies that punishment is deserved, but we ended up going around in circles.  Maybe it was the language barrier, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Mt Fuji Caves

Yesterday was Labor Day Monday, which I have off from work.  We didn't want to waste it, but neither did we want to do a big trip since Kerri and Rowan just recently returned from the US.  So we decided to get out of town and check something out that we've been meaning to forever:  Ice Caves!

Along the northern slope of Mt. Fuji there are several lava formed caves that have very cool interiors.  They have been used for centuries to freeze ice and were one of the only sources of ice during the summer months for the very rich.  It's still pretty muggy and hot here, so going in the summer is the best time to appreciate the extremely cool temperatures.

It's about a 2 hour drive from Yokosuka, and the toll road takes you right by Fuji Q Highlands, the amusement park that we visited last year.  As tempting as it was, we didn't stop there this time.  We arrived at the first cave (the one called "ice cave") just after 4 or 5 busloads of kids on a school trip was disgorged.  So we bought our tickets at the machine and went to stand in line behind hundreds of blue tracksuit clad teenagers.  It was slow going, but still fun.  The temperature drops almost immediately as you descend the staircase, and the roof constantly drips little droplets of water on your head and clothing.  We were given helmets at the entrance, but you didn't really need them.  Deep inside at the bottom of the stairs were several piles of ice just hanging out.  Then we trekked back up the way we came and headed to the next cave.

 Down the road a short ways was the Wind Cave.  There wasn't any wind to speak of, but I guess they needed a different name.  There's a short walk in the woods from the parking lot and then another ticket machine and more helmets if you want them.  The immediate change in temperature here was even more noticeable.  It was an easier cave to navigate with a gentle slope most of the way.  There was also some ice here, and a section with what appeared to be silk worm storage.  We theorized this was how they kept the silkworms from becoming moths during the warmer months.  Unfortunately there were no ice columns, which this cave is famous for during colder months.

On our way to the Wind Cave we noticed a sign for a "Bat Cave" so we had to check that out.  It turns out there are bats, but not as many as there once were, and the section where they live is not available.  The walk to the cave was our favorite part as this is actually part of the Aokigahara Forest (aka Suicide Forest due to the number of suicides that occur here every year).  What is so neat about this forest is that it has grown on top of a huge lava flow, so the ground is all broken up and nigh impassable due to the lava formations.  It's very unique and quite beautiful.  The "Bat Cave" itself was one of our favorites.  There are some slightly harder passages where the ceiling is so low you have to get on your hands and knees.  We elected to bypass that section and send Rowan on ahead.  We met him on the other side.

Back at the parking lot is a little museum of sorts with random posters of bats and Batman movies because...why not?

It was a perfect day trip and we had a great time!  Check my food review blog for a review of the restaurant we ate at (Moose Hills Burger).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

f3@r t3h b3@rd

This some news adapted from an email I sent to a friend:

Kerri and Rowan are getting back tonight from being gone for over a month in the US. They were going anyway to visit family and it turned out her dad was sick in the hospital so they went straight to Kentucky just in time to talk to him one last time before he went under. He lasted a week and a half more and died. Of course, it's sad and an emotional journey, but there were many things that made it better than it might have been. First it was good that they were able to see and talk to him lucidly one last time. Then she was able to be there with her sister to help wrap everything up legally and financially in Kentucky and then they all came back to Oregon together, so she didn't feel like she was skipping out on family responsibilities once again because of living overseas. And of course best of all is the knowledge that because of her dad's faith in Christ we will be certain to see him again some day and look forward to the time we will all be perfectly healthy and glorified in our new bodies!

Meanwhile I spent the last extremely long month mostly alone. It's always fun for the first two weeks before it starts going stale. I was able to churn through a bunch of games that have been piling up, and I made a huge dent in the number of local restaurants for my review blog ( I also caught up on several podcasts where I went back and started at the very beginning and listened to all of them up to now (The Reformed Pubcast and These Go to Eleven). I've also been concentrating hard on growing my beard, at least 10 minutes every day. I started back in February and I think I'm about to the length where I'm ready to give it a little trim to not look quite so crazy. The picture above is actually from a month ago so it's probably a bit longer now, but not much. I did finally start trimming the 'stache...putting moustache wax in every day was more of a pain than it was worth. Part of my motivation in growing it has been to not have to do extra stuff in the morning!

Otherwise I was able to volunteer to setup/teardown at church on Sundays since that requires getting up early and staying late, which given how far away I live means getting up at 5am and getting home around 2 or 3pm. The fam would not be happy with that Sunday schedule.

Oh! I also found an excellent shisha smoking spot finally. A new arabic(ish) food restaurant opened up a stone's throw away and they do shisha outside on the balcony, and they guys know what they are doing. They even let me buy my own bowl and kaloud lotus which they keep on site for me. I think I'll be over there about once a week.

The summer is almost over, and we've had deliciously cool weather the last couple of days as the remains of a typhoon passed over. I was able to sleep without the a/c for the first time in a really long time. I love fall here, so looking forward to it getting cooler yet.

Rowan starts up his 8th grade homeschool year when he gets back, so that'll keep us all busy I'm sure. I'm going to be more involved now as Kerri wants me to handle the higher level math, science and religion stuff now. Should be an interesting dress-rehearsal for high school.

Well, I think that brings things up to date! Going to head to the airport in a little while to do a restaurant review.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Izu Trip

Hello hello!  It was 4th of July weekend here and I got Friday off, so we decided we should go somewhere new to us, but close by.  We thought Izu peninsula (neighbor to our own Miura peninsula) sounded like fun so we used to find a place called "Hotel Winery Hills" that was a decent price for 3 people overnight.  They also had a tatami room in addition to the two single beds, which made me happy as I prefer futon on tatami now.

We didn't know much else about the place, other than it was located pretty centrally in Izu so we could drive around the peninsula and get back to it easily.  We discovered that the "Winery Hills" part is due to it's being co-located (nearby) to an actual winery!  There was a free bus and tour, so Kerri and I checked it out.  The winery itself is lovely, though it was dark and rainy, so I had to take some slightly doctored pictures to make it look pretty:

We did some tasting and found a couple that we think we liked and took home some bottles.

Earlier, we started out from Yokosuka and took the coast road all the way down, avoiding the toll roads, so we could take in the view.  We weren't expecting Izu to look much different from our area, but we had the extra fun of an incredible downpour most of the way.  "So bad it makes everyone slow down" kind of rain.  Then we found our directions taking us up what looked like a major road (the 80) but turned out to be a little used pass over the mountains in the middle of the peninsula.  This road narrowed down frequently to one lane, and was very twisty and turny.  Combined with the rain, it made for some harrowing experiences.  As we lost cell phone signal, we began to wonder what would happen if we got stuck up in the mountains with no way to get help!  But we made it fine.

Izu is super green right now, and very mountainous. It frequently reminded us of driving roads in Oregon near the coast and the coast mountain range.  But if we opened the windows the relative humidity and temperature felt very different (much higher and warmer).  Our first destination was an old gold mine in Toi.  It was kind of cool, but only Rowan and I could do it as Kerri's ankle was sprained the other day during roller derby.  We had the place to ourselves and hardly saw anyone else.  It was mostly just an old tunnel with little animatronic scenes of people working in the mines.  There were some small English signs to explain things which was nice.  Then there was a museum where you could touch gold and look at dioramas.  Rowan was pleased to pick up some gold flake for his mineral collection (gold has been difficult to come by for some reason) at a reasonable price.  

After this we headed over to our hotel.  I was a bit disappointed by the hotel, mainly by the horrible stale smoke smells in the room and hallway.  It was then I realized I never had the option to specify a non-smoking room, probably because there were none.  Oddly, I was the one having the hardest time with it, Kerri and Rowan didn't seem to mind too much.  There was an onsen there (or just an ofuro, not sure if they have volcanically heated water there) and we availed ourselves of the facilities.  Unfortunately, the swimming pool doesn't open until August, so that was another expectation not met.  Though there was a main restaurant, it was buffet style only and way too expensive, so we ate at the smaller restaurant next to the onsen which had decent enough food at much better prices.

The hotel is also attached to several large sports facilities.  There were immaculately kept grass fields, including a baseball diamond and a soccer field.  Strange, but interesting.

The next day we headed south to the town of Shimoda, one of the first ports opened officially after Commodore Perry first made it clear that Japan would be opening ports whether they wanted to or not.  There is a famous Black Ship festival here every year, but we've never been.  We then travelled back up the eastern coast all the way to where the toll road begins and drove the rest of the way back via toll roads for speed.  All in all a fun short weekend trip.  It's nice to have seen a new area not far past Hakone that we can easily get to, and there were so many things we saw from the car that we'd like to go back and check out some time.

Kerri and Rowan head back to the US for a month in a couple of weeks (I keep telling Kerri she needs to stay home and heal or she'll be in trouble for her trip), so I'll be getting to try out all sorts of local restaurants I wouldn't normally have the chance to check out, so if you're interested in those adventures, stay tuned to my food blog:  JC Food Reviews.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Yokosuka Matsuri

Our local town matsuri (festival) was this past weekend.  See some pictures here:

Monday, May 4, 2015

Some news

Hey there...there's nothing earth shattering going on, but we have had a bit of a change in our lives recently.  Over at one of our other blogs I have a post up explaining that we have stopped trying to start a new church in Yokosuka.  We found a great church (Grace Harbor Church) up in Tokyo that is surprisingly not too difficult to get to, so we will be attending up there.

Related to that, we finally got an electronic toll card (ETC) for our car (30% discount on weekends).  JapanETC Card is a service started recently by someone who used to work on base, and it's the easiest way to get one of these cards.  It used to be almost impossible, but now it's very easy.  I highly recommend them!  And oh wow, it's soooo nice to have ETC.  Aside from the quick entrance/exit from toll booths (20 kph) there are the additional benefits of 1) don't have to have change, 2) no receipts floating around, 3) Kerri can knit in the car again because she doesn't have to manage all that stuff!

We've been ramping up our planning for Rowan's 8th grade year.  As we get ready for high school we are kind of thinking of this as the "dry run" before the real thing.  Things are getting exciting!  Kerri and Rowan will be back in the US for a month or so from July to August.  I plan on using that time to review lots of interesting places for my new food review blog.

Kerri continues to be heavily involved with roller derby.  A while back she was invited to help with a commercial for a local soft drink.  That was quite the story, so you can ask her about it it some time.  She hasn't broken any bones yet, though on Saturday at the "Running with the bulls" event on base, she scraped up her fingers.  That's what comes of skating around on streets whacking runners with foam swords!

Work remains fairly constant, no rumors of mass lay offs or anything at the moment, which is always nice.  If things remain stable, we're planning to remain here through Rowan's high school, which would put his graduating around 2020 (just in time for the Olympics!).  By then we will hopefully know where we are going next in Japan.  It's hard to imagine, but we will have been living here almost 9 years if that comes to pass.

Other than Kerri's trip to the US, we don't have any big travel plans coming up.  We are going to try and go "camping" (i.e. staying in a cabin with onsens near by) at the end of May, but that's about it.  My vacation situation at work is such that I have to use all of it each year or lose it, so I have to build up my balance again each year.

And that's about all that's going on with us!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

JC's Food Reviews

I've started a new food blog for anyone interested.  It's over here:  JC's Food Reviews

It's just a fun little project representing my own opinions of the many restaurants in my area.  As many of you know, for me, it's all about the food, so hopefully I'll do better at posting over there.

I'm not abandoning this blog, it'll still be mainly for any family news or travels.

Speaking of which...there isn't too much news to tell.  Kerri and Rowan will be heading back the US for a month from mid July to mid August.  Meanwhile life continues pretty normally for us.  We're still doing a bible study on Sundays that we hope will turn into a church.  Kerri and Rowan are kind of in between on homeschool, and Kerri and I have been in discussions about Rowan's 8th grade year coming up as we look ahead to highschool.

My job is going well and I'm enjoying a season of relative busy-ness.  I'm also working on an ESL certification to get ready for the future.  We were calculating that if we get to stay in Yokosuka through Rowan's senior year, that places our eventual departure somewhere in the 2020 timeframe, which is a nice round number.  A lot depends on what happens when the contract I'm working on changes hands at the end of the year, but if we can stay here to give Rowan stability through high school we will try for it.

Otherwise, life is pretty mundane...oh, and we live in freaking Japan!  Sometimes you have to remind yourself how awesome life actually is.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hiroshima Trip

This year is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the end of the war in Japan.  Since we hadn't been to either location yet, we figured it would be a good time to do so.

Hiroshima is 9-10 hours (estimated by Google) away from us by car, and after looking into the other options, we decided it was the cheapest option for us due to the great car rental options available to us on base.  For about $60 a day, we get a car and free toll tickets.  We estimate it saved us about $400 for this trip, and avoided wear and tear on our car.  But I hate driving long I wasn't sure how it would go.  Luckily we happened on the idea of listening to audio books and sermons to make the time go by faster.  We had recently started listening to C. S. Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet" as a family, so we decided to see how much of the space trilogy we could polish off on the trip.  We ended up getting through to the end of Perelandra, and got caught up on Rick Booye's sermons from Trail Christian Fellowship.

Our first stop were some friends that we had never met.  There's a blog I've been following since before we arrived in Japan called "Life in the land of Wa" and we had just begun emailing each other a month or so before our trip when we found out that they live near Hiroshima and we'd be passing right by.  They offered for us to spend the night with them and we gladly accepted.  So we got to meet their family and spend time in their lovely home.  It's so wonderful to be able to just sit and talk with people in similar circumstances and with similar beliefs.  We talked all evening and most of the next morning before bidding them farewell.  They also introduced us to a new fabulous ramen restaurant for dinner.   I had heard of Ippudo as it is also international, but hadn't ever tried it before.  I must say it was excellent (especially the spicy ramen).

The next morning we drove the relatively short distance to the famous island of Miyajima.  They are famous for their beautiful shrine and oysters.  In fact, the annual oyster festival (kaki matsuri) was in full swing that day!  When we got to the town across from Miyajima, we drove all over the place looking for a parking spot.  Finally, past all the official parking spaces, there was a lady directing traffic and she took pity on us and gave us her spot.  The lines at the matsuri were insane!  We waited in some of the shorter ones to get a bite to eat, then walked through town (snacking along the way) to see the famous tori gate.  Unfortunately the tide was out, but it was still pretty.

It was getting close to 4pm, so we decided to head to our "hotel" 88 House.  It was in the middle of a ravine about 10 minutes drive from Hiroshima.  Typical with Japan, we took a sharp hairpin turn off of the main road and found ourselves next to a little river and several rice fields.  The house itself used to be a bonsai shop, and though built in the old style, it must have been either renovated recently as it didn't look or feel like it was old.  The proprietor was very nice and when we asked about a local onsen/sentou (public bath house) he gave us directions to one nearby.  So we promptly drove over there and used the facilities.  Then we drove back and stopped at a local store that sold mostly varieties of nikuman (siopao/meat buns) with local types of meat.  Then we passed out at our hotel at about 8pm.  The futons were very comfy and the place heated up nicely for the night.  Our one complaint about the place was the lack of a full washlet.  The shared bathroom was very clean, but I'm sorry, this is Japan and there is no excuse for not have a real washlet.

The next morning we slept in, ate hand made local rice onigiri with miso soup for breakfast, and made it into Hiroshima proper by 10am or so when most stuff started opening.  We went straight for the Peace Museum.  It was of course very sobering, and a different kind of weird to be able to touch so many things that were there at the explosion.  I am glad we watched the documentary "White Light, Black Rain" prior though.  It was in some ways more personal as it focused on the experiences of several individuals who survived but were still affected by it.  That documentary was in my opinion more disturbing than the Peace Museum, but like I said, there is a different sort of reality to be experienced by physical contact with objects that were there.

After that it was lunch time, so we made our way down to the famous "Okonomiyaki Village" (Okonomimura) where floor upon floor of little okonomiyaki stalls greeted us.  We walked every floor and chose the one with the cute older lady who seemed the least annoying.  What a strange feeling to be "solicited" so insistently for something in Japan!  We chose kaki (oyster), hotate (scallop), and cheese/mochi types and watched them carefully prepared in front of us.  This was our first time eating Hiroshima style okonomiyaki, and we all loved it!  Personally, I'd prefer this style any day over Osaka style.  The main difference is that Osaka style (which is what we have mostly over in our area) is just mixed up ingredients and then fried like a pancaked until done.  Hiroshima style is layered carefully one at a time.  I hope we can find some Hiroshima style places near us at home.

After lunch we walked over to the actual Hypocenter directly below where the bomb detonated (a tiny back road area with no one around) and the Peace Dome.  The Dome was sadly being surveyed so it had scaffolding all around it, but the area by the rivers was lovely.  Then we walked up to the castle, which was very lovely and the grounds were quite peaceful.  We didn't go inside (we've done that many times by now), and it started to rain, so we walked almost all the way back to where we had parked.  Near by was a Shisha cafe called Kugrass so we stopped in there.  Previous shisha experiences in Yokosuka had put me off shisha in Japan, but I had never tried shisha prepared by a Japanese person before (in Yokosuka it's done by middle eastern folks, and you'd think they'd know what they were doing, but you'd be wrong).  It was a quiet, cute little cafe, well ventilated so even Rowan didn't have an issue with smokiness (he's quite sensitive).  The shisha was amazing, some of the best I've ever had. Perfectly smooth, cool draw, smokeless coals, and it never got nasty towards the end as it sometimes does.  The masala chai tea was excellent too.  I really hope they get more business.

We had decided we wanted to eat dinner at an excellent indian place we had heard of (Roopali) but it was a bit early for dinner so we decided to drive down to Iwakuni and the marine base there to fill up our fuel tank with cheap, subsidized american cheater gas.  We arrived as it was getting dark so had to ask for directions around the base, and we didn't get to see much of it in the misty rain that was falling.  Mission successful, we headed back to Roopali.  In Yokosuka there are tons of Indian restaurants nearby, but none of them approach great, let alone excellent. The curries are uncomplicated, the naan is sweet, and bread selection is...well...only naan. So we are always looking for "real" indian food wherever we go. The best we've had so far was a total accidental find near Yokota Air Base, but that's quite far and we hardly ever get up there.  We were hesitant to spend one of our food time slots while visiting Hiroshima on another probably bad Indian place, but this hugely popular spot looked worth it. We were very glad we risked it. First, there's more than one kind of bread on the menu! They had naan and roti, and lo and behold, the naan wasn't sweet! And the roti was big, thick and brown. Oh so delicious. Also, they let me order a *salty* lassi, even though it wasn't on the menu! Oh heaven! The curries were popping with flavor (not just spiciness though they did that well too). The boneless tikka chicken we ordered was also amazing. Of course we ate way too much, but it was so much fun. Highly recommended if you need a real indian food fix. It is a little expensive compared to other Indian places in Japan, but worth it.  After that we headed home for our last night at 88 house.

The next morning we started the long trip back home, which took about 10 hours.  We did stop several times for breaks and lunch along the way.  But we made it back in time to turn our car rental in and avoid a another day's charges.  It was nice to have the next day off of work too, and we used the time to clean around the house and do some grocery shopping.

Overall, for our first really long road trip in Japan, it went very well.  I still don't like driving much, but it really helps to have something to listen to (i.e. audio books/sermons) to make the time go by.

Roller Derby in Yokota!

Last weekend we spent the night at Yokota Airbase because Kerri had a roller derby game there.  This was my (Jesse's) first time to watch an actual game, and it was a lot of fun!  The Yokosuka team won due to overwhelming numbers, skill and solidity, at least, that's why my limited perspective told me.  I'm still pretty new to the sport.  We'll get some pictures up soon.

We decided to stay Saturday night at the base because it's so cheap ($60 a night) and their base store has different (cheaper) stuff than our base's store.  So we were able to get some clothes for our upcoming trip to the Philippines (last two weeks of November).

And of course, there was the food.  Not on base, yuck!  We had heard of a nice Japanese Sakery that brews some beer too, so Kerri and I set off to find it in the rain after the game, leaving Rowan at the hotel happy with Chili's mac'n'cheese and a portable gaming system.  After about 45 minutes of walking we found the place, but it was almost 9pm and they were closing up.  It looks lovely though and we'd like to try to get there some other time (

So we decided to find the first thing we could and eat there.  As we approached the nearest restaurant we saw in front of us a small sign advertising curry.  Now Japanese curry is not like Indian or Thai curry, and while we like it now and then (and used to make it at home at least once a week), we weren't looking for that tonight.  As we got closer, we saw an Indian flag and two guys working behind bar seating in what was likely a repurposed ramen shop.  We went in and were amazed to see, in addition to the usual naan bread, chapati on the menu!  Our hopes were rising.  We had yet to have truly good Indian food in Japan.  Most Indian food is toned way down in terms of complexity of flavor to accommodate the Japanese palate.  Makes good business sense, but the food suffers.  They also rarely have more than naan for bread, and it is slightly sweet, to the point where I refuse to order it anymore.  We asked if we could order chapati and they said yes, and proceeded to make it from scratch in front of us!  We also tried a roasted chicken that was a nepalese specialty, samosas, and a couple of curries.  As each dish arrived we were blown away by the strong and complex flavors.  It was truly the best Indian we've had in Japan.  It's a tiny place with hardly any room to work, but those guys churned out amazing food.  (

Now, finding one "best in Japan so far" restaurant would have been enough to make this weekend a huge success, but two?  Are you crazy?  On the way home that night (another 45 minute walk), we passed by a Thai restaurant just outside the main base gate.  It had a colorful tuk-tuk in front and was brightly decorated.  We decided to give it a try the next day.  As with Indian food in Japan, so with Thai.  While there are some decent Thai places in Yokosuka, none of them are what we would consider excellent Thai, again with the toning down and simplifying of flavors.  So we didn't get our hopes up, but hey, you never know.  The next day before we left for home, we had lunch there, and again...blown away.  The best Thai we've had in Japan so far.  All the sweet/sour/spicy flavors were represented.  You could even order a plate of lettuce and herbs to eat your food with.   Rowan wanted roasted chicken that they were cooking on a barbeque in front.  It was deliciously marinated.  We got some fermented sausage fried rice, red curry, and ground chicken with Japanese pumpkin (kabocha).  Nothing was one-note flavor, every bite was a surprise.  We wished we could have tried everything on the menu, but sadly, we got full, and we don't get out there very often.  (