E is for…

Earthquake! Early Monday morning, I felt my first earthquake. I was shaken awake at about three in the morning by it. The weird thing was that I knew immediately what it was, even coming out of a dead sleep. I did not enjoy it. It was a 4.7 with the epicenter north of Tokyo, so it wasn’t too powerful but it will do nicely for checking the experience off of my Japan to-do list, thank you very much. I think that earthquakes are really the bullies of natural disasters, the way they sneak up on you unexpectedly. At least with tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, plague, etc. you can see the enemy and might be warned before it hits.

Engrish! While going through my pictures recently, I found a couple of nice signs that I haven’t posted yet.

Yes, please only use your best handwriting for graffiti.


Independence Day

Yesterday we celebrated Independence Day by visiting one of the unforseen and far-reaching consequences of July 4, 1776: the Denny’s in Hayama. It is a long and winding road from Lexington and Concord to a Grand Slam breakfast in  Japan, but such is the inexorable march of freedom.

Chip, Rob, and Freedom Toast

Egg sandwich, yogurt...and salad.

It was a very nice breakfast, although my egg sandwich had something resembling spaghetti sauce slathered on it. Notice, too, Rob’s side order of bacon: a single slice presented on a lettuce leaf.

The sun was shining, a remarkable achievement during the rainy season and further proof that our Creator has endowed us with an unalieanable right to enjoy the beach on July 4th. Chip and I did just that while Rob and the Navy neighbors took our non-American neighbors on a tour of modern American diplomacy–the Fightin’ Fitz and the carrier GW, which is home for the holiday weekend.

The flight deck festooned for the 4th.

That evening, we cooked out again with the neighbors, and Rob bought fireworks at the convenience store, something that one probably couldn’t do in the states. A complete fireworks set included bottle rockets, sparklers, fountains, and flare-type fireworks. We shot them off on the beach with the neighbors. No one lost any digits, and a good time was had by all.

I love the 4th of July. It’s always been my favorite holiday for many reasons: they read the Declaration of Independence on NPR, we always cook out, fireworks, no school, and it’s the birthday of two of my favorite things: America and my Dad.

So, happy birthday to a real, live nephew of my Uncle Sam! We miss you, Dad. And despite the fun of drinking sake at a cookout, we miss you America, too.

I thought that for the holiday I would celebrate with a round of Engrish, another consequence of America (although perhaps a teeny bit of credit is due the British).

At a food court in Yokosuka...


You're welcome and OK!

Sage advice from the Hakone-Tozan railroad

At a Hayama beach bar.

Miyajima and the Shinkansen

The rest of our trip to western Honshu was much cheerier. Last Sunday we went to the island of Miyajima, just off the coast of Hiroshima, in the Inland Sea. The whole island is sacred. No one is allowed to die or be born there. I think that this kind of restriction could only work in Japan, where mass transportation is so reliable. The ferries to Miyajima and back are frequent, punctual, and comfortable (though perhaps less so if one were in labor or the last throes).

Miyajima is famous for the torii gate of the Itsukushima Shrine, which is set way out in the water. Torii gates are set outside all the Shinto shrines in Japan, and mark the boundary between material and spiritual space. This gate in the sea is considered one of the three most scenic views of Japan, as determined by someone. (It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site, something a preservationist likes to collect.) There’s been a gate like this at Miyajima since the 12th century, but this one dates to 1875. We arrived at high tide, when the gate appears to float. By the way, the people you see in the boat are not picturesque peasants heading out to fish with handmade nets. They are tourists on a boat ride that forces you to wear the rice paddy coolie hat to enhance other tourists’ pictures.

We stuck around long enough to be able to walk out to the gate at low tide. Up close, one can see that the posts of the gate are gigantic tree trunks. I read that they are from camphor trees, which sound terribly exotic.

The shrine itself is also set over the water. The day was beautiful, and the light off of the water reflected on the ceiling of the shrine, making the whole building shimmer.

Miyajima is also famous for its brazenly fearless dear. I was warned by my friend and Japan veteran Anastasia that they can open zipped backpacks and eat the contents. They certainly were merciless in pursuit of Chip’s crackers and juice. Chip didn’t seemed fazed by them at all.

The view from the top of the island can only be reached by an arduous hike or a cable-car ride. Although such conveyance induces white-knuckled terror in me, it beat hiking. The view from the top was astounding, and looked not unlike the Caribbean. At the top, Chip and I ate noodles at the cafe and Rob hiked around.

The mountain itself is full of very unique sites like a monkey sanctuary, “scabies rock,”  an always-wet cherry tree (now destroyed but still advertised), and phantom tengu. You can read about it all yourself.

Back in Hiroshima on Monday, we had some time before our train left so we went to Hiroshima Castle. As you can imagine, it is a reconstruction, built in 1958. At Hiroshima Castle I fulfilled a lifelong dream of becoming a samurai. It was surprisingly easy.

Goodbye, darling. Mama has to go and fight for family honor

Ah, the shinkansen. It was so lovely. So smooth, so fast, so quiet, so clean. Chip slept, Rob and I had cocktails, and the sun set over Japan outside our window. Six hundred miles and three-and-a-half hours later, we were home.

The ride is that smooth.

Weekend in Tokyo

The Japanese hang carp windsocks for the boys in their family on Boy's--I mean Children's--Day on May 5.

It’s “Golden Week” in Japan, a string of  public holidays from April 29-May 5 that include the Pearl-Harbor-bombing-era Emperor’s birthday and Children’s Day, known until recently (and probably still mostly practiced) as Boy’s Day. Our bucolic little beach town is suddenly packed so on Saturday we woke up and decided to go to Tokyo, which is supposed to be empty this time of year. On a whim, we called the New Sanno Hotel, the Navy’s hotel in downtown  Tokyo, and they had one room available: the Japanese suite! So much for sleeping in a bed. At least we could still get room service, with all the American favorites like pizza with half pepperoni and half ham.

One room of the Japanese suite. At bedtime, they came and rolled out the futons for us to sleep on.

I’ve read other people describe Tokyo as like another planet. Driving in, that seemed to be the case. The elevated, stacked expressways wove through lots of tall and imaginatively-designed buildings. It made me realize again just how conservative American architecture, especially in a place like D.C., can be. Why can’t we just have more fun with buildings? Anyway, it looked kind of  like the Jetsons, minus the flying cars. Once on the ground, though, I thought Tokyo was more on the human scale. The weather was perfect, Golden indeed, and wandered around the Imperial Palace gardens:

On the subway.

Hello, we're here to see the Emperor please.

Azaleas galore. Take that Charleston.

And then we went to Ginza, the nice shopping district. I couldn’t afford anything, but I made a new friend.

The perfect man--silent but helpful.

Sunday morning, Chip and Rob walked around Roppongi, near our hotel. Roppongi is known for its neon and nightlife (if you want to marry an American sailor, go hang out there), but Rob found some other kinds of signs:

Meanwhile, I was back at the New Sanno, enjoying two cups of coffee, uninterrupted, and watching the Kentucky Derby on AFN. Bliss.

Sunday we wandered around Ueno Park, and went to the Tokyo National Museum. Ueno Park was beautiful and very festive. You could buy anything from octopus balls (fried dough balls with bits of octopus in them) to taxidermied sea turtles at the food stalls and flea market.

Sea Turtle

A wonderful weekend. I even drove home from Tokyo, something I never ever thought I’d do.

And now, the cutest picture of Chip from the weekend:

Little boy in the big city.

In southern Japan, it’s the Nekkid

I’ve really enjoyed seeing the way that the Japanese use English for their car model names: the Prairie, the Joy, the Comfort, the Move, the March. “Would you like a ride in my Prairie? Don’t mind the meadowlarks in the back seat.” Today, though, I saw what is bound to be the penultimate vehicular moniker: the Daihatsu Naked (click to see).

The Naked. A green one passed me as I was turning right and I almost swerved my car into oncoming traffic. (How did I know it was green? It had no clothes on.) Surely there is someone in Japan–probably someone at the Daihatsu corporation–who speaks enough English to know all the subtle nuances of the word “naked.” And if they do, what would possess them to still call their car the Naked?

Japan: you can’t drive in flip-flops, but you can drive Naked.


Anyone been to Itary?

I’m sure that I’ll have many more examples of this sort of thing to come.

Two bits of exciting news:

1. Rob’s home! He survived his first “underway” in four years. As always, he came back skinnier although he maintains that he actually ate more than peanut butter crackers this time. It sounds like they did exciting stuff like shoot things and execute high-speed manuevers. They even got their picture taken, click here to see. Stirring, isn’t it?

2. Chip has reached one of the milestones of American infanthood: eating Cheerios. As usual, he does it more cutely than one could have ever imagined:

General Mills, wouldn't this be great on the front of your box?