Monday, July 27, 2009

Life's a beach

WTF spent an impromptu day at Chojagasaki beach in Hayama this weekend. We had wanted to swing our clubs at the little driving range on base but it was closed thanks to the wind-which if you ask me is the perfect weather to practice golf in, have you ever watched The British Open-so we walked back home, doused the Kawaii Girls in sunscreen, packed them into the car, destination unknown. I asked WTF Husband to put a little dot of sunscreen on my back to cover a spot I just had removed, not wanting it to darken and he did just that plus some, so now I have a grapefruit size circle on my back that's an entirely different color than the rest of me, thanks Husband for that.

We've seen the beaches of Zushi, Kamakura and Enoshima and wanted to see a different part of the peninsula, so we took a shortcut through Shonan Village and came out in Hayama. After some hysterical moments trying to the turn around and back the car out of a narrow street, which by all accounts should have been a one-way street but was in fact a two lane road, we ended up at Chojagasaki.

Let me take this moment to comment on WTF Husband. He's a passenger in Japan, after years of being the driver. I do all the driving now, in large part because he's always gone and I'm more familiar with the area. While I am mostly comfortable with driving here, I still have pause every now and then on where to make u-turns, so I asked him were a good spot to turn around was but he had nothing to offer except pointing fingers at every driveway and street we passed. So I turned on my blinker-proud that it was actually the blinker and not the wind shield wiper by accident-and waited to cross the yellow solid line into a gas station. He starts in on me that you are not to cross the yellow line...hello, it is was the only way into the gas station but I was going to wait out the oncoming traffic and do it anyways, then he says with a deadpan serious tone, "There's the police don't do it." Now I'm flustered, concerned I'll be arrested and put in jail for 23 days before anyone can help me, so I move along when he says coolly, "Hey, why aren't you turning, the car is letting you through?" Hmm, smart ass, let me think about this. So in my haste and frustration I turn left onto a street that turns out to be more like a hairpin than a 90 degree turn and find myself stuck sideways, trying to back out into the road, surrounded by 5 or 6 scooters that came out of no where. In a sign of how bad it was, the normally very polite and courteous Japanese drivers started honking at me. I guess they didn't notice the shoshinsha symbol plastered on the front and back of my car. That little leaf magnet on the car gives me special license to make boneheaded mistakes and other assorted traffic faux pas'. Really, other drivers are just supposed to give me a wide berth and treat me with special care as a beginner driver in Japan. Same thing. Oh and there wasn't even a police officer, again, thanks Husband.

It was a beautiful gaijin moment. I may have even made one man jump off of his scooter to avoid hitting the car because he didn't show signs of stopping as I was working the 15 point turn to get us out of there. Did he really think I could get myself out of that jam in a couple of seconds? He didn't let go of the scooter though, so maybe we was trying to push it up the hill we were on, but what's the point of a motorized scooter if you have to push it, but I digress. The skirmish wasn't for nothing because I stumbled on
The Museum of Modern Art, Hayama rather accidentally thanks to my side street detour.

So back to the beach, if it had been a perfectly clear day, Fuji-san would have been visible on the horizon. WTF will just have to go back to check that out some other day.
Photo courtesy of Shonan Boy's Adventure

We weren't really sure where to park in the lot because several sections were roped off and had signs in different colors. We chose one place that we later moved from because it looked like reserved parking and no one else was parking there. I'm not sure how that is managed since you pay the parking fee at an automated machine when you leave and there are no attendants.

Beach side, we frolicked amongst the other beach goers, splashed in the water and the
Kawaii Girls buried each other in the sand. Everyone had inner tubes and little rafts that they floated on out in the water. The lifeguards paddled by on big boards and out in the distance, people swam to a large rock and by all accounts, just sat there taking in the scenery.

Kawaii Girl #2 insisted on being buried with food and if you ask me.

When it was time to leave, Kawaii Girl #1 stripped naked, I guess she was done with having sand in her lady parts. At that, Kawaii #2 started to do the same, never one to miss out on the chance to take her clothes off. There just weren't enough towels to cover our embarrassment, or our free-birding girls, but the beach goers seemed to have found it cute, given their watching eyes and smiling faces and a mother and child came up to us at that moment to show us a crab they caught in a bucket. Back at the car, I noticed several other children in the buff so perhaps beach nudity isn't a taboo around here.

Leaving the parking lot and getting ready to pay I noted that the machine only took coins or ¥1000 bills, neither of which I had. Oh great! Stuck cars and beach nudity weren't going to be our only fun for the day. Now we were going to have to sleep in the parking lot. I was glad that we still had some Pringles, despite the can being full of sand from being used as a digging instrument and a half sipped on Capri Sun.

We re-parked the car and I sent WTF
Husband, who has zero foreign language ability apart from "cervaza por favor," on a mission armed with an English to Japanese language booklet, the ¥5000 bill and hopes he'd come back with change. I tried to take pictures but cars were in the way. Somehow he managed with showing the parking ticket, the money and holding up five fingers. The Japanese man, who turned out to be a local photographer, handed him change and said in English "same money" noting that it was an exact exchange.

I would have been happy to have been short changed in the deal, a help-the-poor-gaijin fee, I just wanted out of the parking lot and there was no other way without paying the machine.
It all makes for a great story however, so if you ask me, WTF's day was a great one-if you ask WTF Husband, well you might get another answer but remember he's just the passenger now and I'm the one writing the blog.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Oishii pizza (that's delicious for you gaijins)

The Japanese have a thing for pizza. The pizza I've encountered here is either very thin crusted and extremely light on sauce or totally peculiar with popular toppings like mayonnaise, eggs and corn. Those are actually kind of good...but eel, dried fish flakes, kimchi, cod roe and scallop balls aren't my cup of green tea. I won't say that they're an abomination to pizza lovers everywhere, the Japanese just have a very unique taste profile. To each their own.

No mention of Japanese pizza would be near as entertaining without mentioning squid ink pizza though. Yes, that dark substance that is secreted out of cephalopods, like a stink bug I imagine.

Secreted, a world I like to think about while eating. Tasty. Squid ink replaces the tomato sauce in an oh-so-yummy, stain-your-mouth-black, tastes-earthy-like-wet-leaves kind of way. Those poor shrimp look like they're dying in black tar. You find squid ink used often here for sauces and pastas.

When the base WTF lives on opens it gates a few times a year to the local nationals, the first place they bee-line it to are our two pizzerias-Sbarro's and Anthony's. These aren't exactly the finest representation of American style pizza but when you've been eating squid ink and scallop balls (do scallops even have balls?) and thinking it tastes good, the doughy, greasy, gooey, cheesiness of a good 'ole slice of American pizza is probably like the search for a glass of water amidst the dry, sandy emptiness of the Sahara. Anything will taste exquisite.

These ladies were sporting pizza box carriers, because cheap grease is best when served from a stylish print.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ikea, say no more

Armed with an iced chai tea latte and my own personal navigator-who as you later will learn is actually no help in reading signs because she's chatting more than paying attention to the road...of course I'm a model citizen, well, a temporary, long-term visitor in this country, and I would never engage in reckless road behaviors that would steal my attention. So with yen on the ready for the tolls, WTF headed northward, maybe eastward-I actually have no idea what direction we were headed, to Ikea in Kohuku, about 40 minutes from the base.

I've waited all my life to go to this Swedish retail giant. I giggle every time I think that I had to come to Japan to shop Swedish. The parking lot was the most ridiculously large structure I've ever seen-I was suddenly very thankful it was a weekday and not a weekend, my claustrophobia could only handle so much and it would have severely hampered my shopping high if the lot were full.

After cruising the second floor first, we stopped in the cafeteria for some totally delish food. Smoked salmon, Swedish meatballs, potatoes and ligonberries, crusty french bread and creamed spinach soup and even though we didn't imbibe, a very inviting wine bar.

And since I've never been to an Ikea before, I cannot say for certainty that this is another stroke of Japanese brilliance, but how clever to have a rolling cart as you make your way through the cafeteria. I didn't notice this until I had already paid, instead I struggled pushing
Kawaii Girl #2 in the stroller and balancing our trays in my hands and on the stroller hood. I was lucky to have made it to the table. There would have been tears if my ligonberries had ended on the floor.

With a full tummy and a shopping buzz, we loaded up the car with our finds and headed for home. Feeling pretty good that I had completed a u-turn, which is most tricky in Japan, we were so proud of ourselves for making it there, making it out and heading in the right direction. Wouldn't you know we spoke too soon.

My personal navigator and I were gabbing away-okay, maybe I encourage our talking as well-and we were a bit too slow to react to the fork in the road and headed off to the right instead of left. In our defense, the text we were looking for was very little and sort of hidden on the sign. Okay, no problem, we had enough yen for more tolls, another 400 for this turn around.

Wanting to be sure of how to correct ourselves, I grabbed my little blue card from my wallet, that says in Japanese, "I'm lost, please help me find my way to Yokosuka." I was so excited to use it. For reasons that cannot be explained, I love figuring my way through this country, making missteps and still accomplishing what I set out to do. Living in a foreign country is, for a lack of a more articulate word, very cool, and whenever the day comes that it is time for us to leave, I will be very sad to say goodbye to this adventure.

Since we were on a time constraint to pick up the other
Kawaii Girl, I wanted to be sure we expedited the exchange with the toll booth worker. So between my limited Japanese and the little blue card, he showed me where to circle around and what turns to take.

He spoke with a bit of English and lots of hand gestures and when he was done, he looked through the window to my friend and laughed, a fairly hearty chuckle. You see, my better shopping half is Japanese, her mother from Tokyo, and looks as if she should know what she's doing in these parts, though she speaks less Japanese than I do, which isn't saying much. He said, "Oh, well, you understand don't you?" and then gave us a confused look for why I was struggling with Japanese and he was struggling with English. I couldn't stop laughing, she gave her very best
Doumo Arigatoo, we paid our toll and got back on the road.

Geesh, you'd think having a Japanese friend would be useful. We laughed the entire way home and are already plotting our next Ikea trip. Our philosophy is to experience Japan one shopping trip at a time, plus we're Ikea Family now and we need to use our card.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

The Cherry Blossoms have left the building

Back in April the Kawaii Girls and I headed out on a train to a cherry blossom festival on the grounds of Shomyoji Temple, near Kanazawa Bunko station . I couldn't decide on which photos to post, I literally took hundreds, so I will let the photos do most of the talking and leave my words to a minimum.

These are two things that WTF Husband laughs at...that I suffer from a disease that renders me useless in making simple decisions, such as taking hours to choose photos for a blog that someone spends a quick minute on before moving onto the next, and that I would actually let something do the talking for me.

Well you see WTF Husband I don't always have to talk (or type). I can let things stand on their own. I don't feel a need to narrate everything to within an inch of its life. I mean, really, why would you think I needed to talk, just to hear myself? I am perfectly capable of letting the beauty of the photos shine without setting them up with a backstory or a funny anecdote. See, I can do it. Just you wait. Really. I can do it.

*If you're reading this post via email subscription, click here to see the full post with photos.

Ajiga-ike, or the "Pond of Letter A" and the Main Hall of the temple.

Kawaii Girl #1 pounding mochi and then sampling it. That was some sticky rice, it was stuck to us for hours.

Hanami party, remember this post?

These sweet kids walked all over the festival grounds. Aren't they so...well, kawaii? On more than one occasion we popped for a ¥50 cone of popcorn. A sakura cookie, that's a real cherry blossom inside, given to us by the sweet lady that showed us around the grounds.

On our walk back down to the train station I noticed people kept stopping at this house and looking up at it, like Brangelina were on their way down. Seems very non-descript to me but I thought maybe this is were Shiego Tokuda lived. He is famous unlike anyone in the states.

Alright WTF Husband, maybe I can't help myself...but that's half of my charm!

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Subcribe to WTF

A quick bit of blog housekeeping.

You can now subscribe and receive WTF posts
via email. All new articles will be delivered to your inbox without any effort on your part, so you can spend more time on Facebook trying to figure out which Grease character you are or what color your aura is.

Just head on over to the right hand sidebar, scroll down and enter your email address.

And I promise there are many new posts just waiting to be finished and delivered straight to you, once I figure out if I'm Sandy, Frenchy or Rizzo.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


With a little dutch courage down my throat I found myself contemplating unleashing my inner tone def self...and with a whole lotta dutch courage, I found myself deep in the waters of bad, really bad, singing. Karaoke is such a quintessential Japanese experience I couldn't concern myself with the bleeding ears of my fellow karaoke singers.

Karaoke is arguably the most popular social activity in this country. Salarymen visit after work to loosen their ties and drown away their stresses in free flowing biiru and J-Pop. Taken so seriously by some, professional karaoke coaches are employed to help transform the talentless to that of the best of an average American Idol contestant...wait, aren't they all average?

My girlfriends and I visited a karaoke box カラオケボックス, el Notes down on Blue Street. We had our own private room, kitted out with karaoke paraphernalia-microphones, tv video machines and tambourines no less. For ¥2800, the room was ours for an hour and a half and included all-you-can-drink top shelf liquor, though I found the gin and tonic to be more like tonic and tonic. The biiru was surely tasty though and I knocked back my fair share.

Before the singing even started, we were treated to a prelude of what was to come later in the evening??? I don't really know what the heck it was, it was a laughable mixture of the hilarious and the disturbing. That was one drunk panda!

I've got video of my singing prowess, and it is truly spectacular, but now that the alcohol is no longer diluting my blood stream and unless it's 5 o'clock as you read this, it shouldn't be running through yours either, so there is no reason to subject you to the deafening notes that came from my voice. Pictures will have to suffice. I will say that my favorite song to sing was Baby Got Back by Sir Mix Alot and the best showcase of my talent was Friends in Low Places by Garth Brooks. And for all my Memphis gals, I closed the night with In the Ghetto by none other than Elvis himself.

Singing it however was a little like guessaoke. I thought I knew the words by heart until it was time to sing it and the words escaped me despite them being on the screen. And there was a little shareaoke, where I tag teamed my way through a song and wandered around the room with the microphone like Wayne Newton and even a song or two of sweariaoke, were some of the lyrics got turned around and we cussed just for the hell of it.

It was a ridiculously fun evening, so much so that I am now a card carrying member of el Notes! To Daisuke Inoue, the man who invented karaoke, thank you for being as tone def and musically inept as me and giving the world over such a good time.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Zen of Costco

I walked into Costco and bought a piano.

Okay, I didn't buy the piano but I thought about it. You know you would have too. It's Costco people.

I've been in this country for 3 months now and my pants were on fire to check out the big box store, so on a whim I printed off directions, strapped Kawaii Girl #2 into the backseat and chose the hardest possible route to get there. For reasons that defy common sense, I opted to suffer my way through the narrow and trafficy streets of Yokohama, on a 45 minute drive vs. a 20 minute, quick and straight shot on the toll roads.

I did it for the adventure. An adventure is what I got.

This is the farthest I have driven from the base and before I even started the car, I read and memorized how to get there, complete with drawings of landmarks. I knew to be on the lookout for a Colonel Sanders, of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, tucked on the side of a building where I was to make my first turn. Kawaii Girl #2 started in on me and after a brief discussion of her losing her after-nap graham crackers dipped in Nutella, I never heard a peep from her again. With that squared away, I started to panic a little...crap, the directions said to turn in 9 kilometers, what was that conversion again?? My palms started to sweat and my eyes started to go cross as I kept glancing from the road to the directions to the rearview mirrors and back to the directions. Ahh, is that chicken I smell? I made my first turn.

The rest of the drive was more relaxed until the directions didn't quite mesh with the actual street I was on. I kept driving deeper and deeper into an industrial area and my language reflected that of a stereotypical American truck driver. Why didn't I take that toll road? After a quick sumimasen (excuse me) I somehow figured out how to ask where Costco was and when the truck driver pointed across the street to the large and familiar looking warehouse, I laughed out loud, a mixture of relief and glee. I bowed and made my way up to the rooftop parking. I may be in Japan, but for this moment, I was home.

Some things that made this Costco unique:

On the way from the parking lot to the store, the downward sloped people mover that magnetically locked the cart in place so it wouldn't roll away. Kawaii Girl #2 began to hold on for dear life when she saw me take my hands off the cart to take the picture. Really, the cart didn't budge a bit. Very cool!

Local fare

Butter in a tube and grated cool! Forget Buddha, Gouda is my inner peace.

And the reason you go to Costco:

The gadgets...and the muffins...heaven!

I went for chicken breasts and left with enough bread and croissants to overflow my freezer but just enough to satisfy me until my next trip out here. So I didn't walk away with the piano, it was tempting, but equally challenging, I am now faced with where to put the 10-pack of paper towels.