Saturday, February 27, 2010

Yuzawaya Tales

A party of ten set out for Yuzawaya's flagship craft store in Kamata. We went by train but I felt like I was traveling in a pea-green boat with a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker. All of us are Navy spouses but our affiliations are marvelously heterogenous - line and medical, officer and enlisted - and our hobbies run the gamut from fine arts (painting) to scrapbooking. My hobbies, as you know, change hourly.

No one came home empty-handed. We found craft supplies arrayed in eight different buildings spread over four city blocks just outside the train station (this assumes one leaves the station by the South Exit which, of course, I did not but several very nice Japanese ladies kindly pointed me in the right direction).

One thing I did not find is wooden balls so I won't be doubling my kimekomi collection anytime soon. I also did not find any Totoro fabric for Diane and Kathleen Jr so, shucky darn, it seems I will have to drag Margaret up to Tokyo for a thorough exploration of Textile Town before she packs her bags for Florida.

My consolation purchases included Anpanman fabric (for kitchen window toppers, snicker) and blue yarn (my sister has commissioned a scarf and I am on track to get it whipped up by the time she celebrates her sixtieth birthday in 2015).

The hat and gloves shown here were created by zany Betty of the (depending on the week) pink, green, or yellow hair who first endeared herself to me by passing along knitting tips and recently cemented our relationship by sharing her well-thumbed copy of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. When I wasn't laughing out loud at the book's take on Armageddon, I was wondering why one of the Peck kids or Casey or Pete failed to pass this book along to me about 15 years ago. I can't imagine they haven't read it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Not All Fairs Have Roller Coasters, More's the Pity

The Seventh Fleet pre-deployment fair was this afternoon. I haven't had so much fun working a room since College Night at the high school last fall.

Come to think of it, they were remarkably similar events: an auditorium lined with a dozen or so tables stacked with enough flyers and pamphlets to decimate a rain forest, two or three people desperate for any form of human interaction sitting behind each table, and three or four "customers" wandering around the open space in the center of the room.

Forty faces lit up in unison when I entered that room. I am not exaggerating. Were I slightly less mature, in fact, I might have been tempted to scoot back out the door and repeat my entrance just to savor that little frisson of pleasure those welcoming smiles evoked. Well, okay, I was tempted but I flicked that little cartoon devil off my left shoulder and set out around the perimeter.

He hasn't left yet and already I'm counting the days until the next deployment so I can make another circuit of that room. But next time I'm going to comb my hair first and try to make it all the way to the exit without volunteering for half the worthwhile organizations in Japan.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Birdwoman of Hachimangu

Apparently I am not the most eccentric woman in Japan. My children will be so relieved . . . and surprised.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Momotaro, the Peach Boy

The Japanese and American Wives (JAW) group formed in 1960. Yes, math wizards, JAW is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

The Japanese ladies were responsible for planning the first at-large event of the year. They asked themselves, "How can we appropriately commemorate this milestone?" The ones who honed their English language skills watching old Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movies piped up, "Let's put on a show!"

They decided to dramatize one of the most famous Japanese folktales, Momotaro (Peach Boy). While the cast donned their costumes, the audience was taught two songs, including one with lots of arm and leg movements that seemed to be about trying on pants made out of tiger fur.

Here's the story in a peach pit:

Once upon a time there was a married couple, an old woodcutter (my quilting teacher) and his wife. They did not have any children. They felt very sad about this.

The woodcutter went into the forest to cut wood. The wife went down to the stream to wash their laundry. She saw peaches floating down the stream and grabbed a juicy one.

A giant peach (roughly the same size as the one Roald Dahl would describe to English-speaking audiences several centuries later, ahem) came into view.

(The "ninja" stagehands earned a lot of laughs.)

The wife pulled the giant peach from the stream and took it back to their cottage.

When the woodcutter and his wife cut open the giant peach, they found an baby boy inside.

They named the baby Momotaro because he came to them in a peach.

When Momotaro grew up, a crow told him that ogres were holding a princess captive.

Momotaro stuck a sword in his belt, tied a band around his head, and set off for Devil's Island. Along the way, Momotaro met up with a dog (loyalty), a monkey (cleverness), and a pheasant (courage--pheasants kill snakes). They all joined his entourage.

They rowed a boat across the water to get to Devil's Island. A small cardboard cutout of a boat went across the stage a few seconds after this live version (left), letting the audience know that the rescue party had to travel quite a distance to reach the island.

When Momotaro and his friends reached Devil's Island, the ogres were drinking sake and singing the tiger pants song. Momotaro used his sword to dispose of the ogres. This was nicely choreographed and the ogres had lots of padding to cushion their falls.

Momotaro won the heart and hand of the princess and, of course, they lived happily ever after.

After several curtain calls, the cast posed for photographs with their American guests. There was a little tiger sticker on my name badge, so I had my picture taken with the other American tigers.

The blonde lady in the front row is Meagan, one of my knitting teachers.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

We Awl Had a Ball at Ikebana

Once a year the Ikebana crowd tackles a traditional Japanese craft. Two years ago it was indigo dyeing. I still get compliments whenever I wear my tie-dyed scarf (although, come to think of it, the complimenters might simply be less impressed with my creativity than happy not to have to look at my crepey neck).

Thursday, after the Shrine Maiden dance, we stretched fabric over sawdust-coated balls, dabbed glue into crevices, and jammed the edges of the fabric into those grooves with an awl. We finished our kimekomi "goten mari" ("ball of the palace") by gluing gold thread over the seams. Ta-da!

Using the awl was my favorite part, although squirting the glue into the little aluminum sushi dish was a close second. As luck would have it, I actually have an awl in my utensil drawer. It's surely an antique since Mike's dad was the original owner (he probably used it for punching holes in saddle cinches and other cowboy chores). At any rate, that awl has been causing quite a ruckus for the past 18 hours, rattling around in that drawer and hollering, "Hey! Let me out! I want to jab some fabric into cracks!"

This is a tempting proposition. I like my Ikebana kimekomi but I think I would be even happier if I could cover balls with fabric I chose myself. Perhaps I should pick up some balls and glue and cord when I lead the Oakleaf Explorers to Yuzawaya, the flagship craft store in Kamata, next week.

I am hoping this picture will steer me to the right sort of glue.

There's no such thing as too many decorative balls, right? They'd look nice on, say, a Christmas tree, or displayed in a bowl, or maybe you have an even better idea you can send my way. One thing I know for certain is that your chances of getting a kimekomi for Christmas are a heck of a lot better than your chances for finding a pair of hand-knit socks when you rip off the gift wrap come December but that's a story for another day.

Fumie (pictured here holding my finished ball) got the plum assignment of helping the four ladies at my table make kimekomi. I wheedled her e-mail address in case I need help when I try this craft at home but now I'm thinking I ought to just stock up on lots of supplies and ask her to teach a kimekomi class at my house for my less mobile friends. Not a Kimekomi Party per se, of course, since I've sworn off theme parties.

Here is a peek at my sandwich bento lunch. I ate the whole thing, even the one in the middle featuring chopped vegetables and smoked salmon swimming in mayonnaise. The dessert was a cream-filled cake in the shape of a fish. I was not the only person at my table who played with my food.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Dance of the Hachimangu Shrine Maiden

Big fluffy snowflakes were falling when the alarm went off yesterday morning. It was our first, and probably last, snowfall of the year. Not a single flake remained on the ground when Reiko and I caught the 8:37 train for Kamakura.

Hachimangu Shrine, our destination, was dusted with snow when we arrived. We had twenty minutes to kill before the Shrine Maiden was scheduled to appear so I wrapped my frozen fingers around a piping hot can of vending machine coffee and feasted my eyes on an early flowering plum tree. Spring is coming. Hurry up, please.

As 9:30 approached, we scampered up about 3,000 steps, filed our shoes on shelves in the foyer of the main building, and tiptoed across an icy marble floor to a space with chairs and space heaters (for purposes of this blog, the word "room" will only be used when referring to a space boasting four walls).

Just as I settled into a chair and started massaging my numb tootsies a young man in the loveliest shade of pale blue floor-length culottes beckoned us into another SPACE (open to the elements)where we knelt on tatami mats and awaited the Shrine Maiden's arrival.

Kneeling in Japan entails resting your fanny on your heels, a position I'm able to sustain for almost seven seconds before screaming in agony. Shifting my weight to my left hip exposed my right ankle, but only momentarily because a Japanese lady about ten years my senior sprang forward and swaddled my foot in her cashmere scarf. She then proceeded to remove her down jacket which she laid over my leg while assuring me she was plenty warm in her thin sweater.

I would have argued the point, really, had the Shrine Maiden not chosen that exact moment to make her entrance. Imagine if you can a female Catholic priest in a bright orange cassock topped by a pure white, heavily starched linen chasuble. She wore her hair in a ponytail that hung nearly to her waist, with all but the last couple of inches concealed within a white tube that looked a lot like a paper towel roll with just one sheet left on the roll. In one outstretched hand she held a leafy branch from which a golden ornament bobbed. She turned this way, she turned that way, she knelt, she stood, and then she left the SPACE. We bowed a couple of times, clapped twice, then bowed again.

A trio of young men in those aforementioned pale blue culottes handed each of us a shallow cup of sake as we left the SPACE. We downed the sake (some of us more desperately than others), stacked our cups, and received a little package containing a commemorative sake cup.

The promise of that commemorative sake cup is what motivated me to show up an hour early for the monthly Ikebana program. Next year I intend to borrow a page from Denise's book and glue foot warmers to the soles of my feet before I leave the house.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Kanazawa-Hakkei: A Loaf of Bread, A Jug of Wine

Aoki is the bakery I pop into just about every week when I pass through Kanazawa-Hakkei after shooting the breeze with Dr. T for two hours. The sign for Cafe Aoki on the second floor has intrigued me for months so Mike and I decided to have lunch there when we were heading up to Yokohama to stock up on wine the other day.

There were two doors at the top of the stairs. The door on the right led into the cafe and the door straight ahead opened into a -- here's that charmed existence again -- wine shop.

After a very nice and surprisingly inexpensive lunch, we ambled into the wine shop and tried about half the free samples on offer before selecting six bottles and stumbling downstairs to the bakery. "You sure were smart to bring the Harris Teeter wine bag." "I know." "You should start carrying it whenever you visit Dr. T so you can bring wine and bread home." "Feel free to call me Omar Khayyam."

This turtle is as big as my fist and tastes more like a cookie than bread.

I call these rolls "raisin butts." I've bought at least 15 raisin butts since I first spotted them three weeks ago but I only kept three for myself.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Anpanman Saves the Day, Again

Weekends are hard for many families of Individual Augmentees (IAs), three-day weekends are even harder, and holidays can be hardest of all. When a holiday like Valentine's Day falls smack dab in the middle of a three-day weekend, you have a recipe for major depression.

Fortunately, we are blessed to know families like the Brenyos and Smiths and Fosters who cheerfully put their plans on the back burner on very short notice to help lift the spirits of a young IA family Sunday afternoon. The kids raced around in masks, decorated fans, and helped Robin's son Bryan frost cherry shortbread cookies.

The Not a Valentine's Party was so much fun, I'm thinking we need to schedule a Not a Lent Party sometime soon.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love from Japan on Valentine's Day

The USS Blue Ridge returned to Yokosuka on Lincoln's Birthday. This made the Ancient Mariner very happy as he was anxious to beat Youngest Son to the President's Party leftovers.

"Mmmmm," he swooned (fortunately with his mouth closed), "have you tasted these beans?"

"Just a spoonful," she replied, "but that was enough to send me back to the Commissary for the ingredients to whip up a second batch. And, um, I invited the first four families I saw to join us for dinner on Sunday. I know it is Valentine's Day but I am just calling it Sunday Dinner since I've sworn off theme parties."

"Mmmmm," he swooned again. "Are you going to make another one of these cherry trifles?"

"Yes, but just because it's so easy and tastes so good and NOT because cherries are red which just happens to be a color associated with Valentine's Day. Why don't you post some of your Ice Festival pictures while I slave away in the kitchen?"

Mayberry, Japan

Have you missed me? That lovely photograph of plum blossoms Lee Love posted for us distracted me for a few days. The plum blossom tour bus was already fully subscribed when Sherri arrived at the tour office Friday afternoon so we are now working on Plan B. There's always a Plan B.

The Lunch Bunch went to Kamakura Wednesday for shopping and curry. We stopped by Reiko M's shop and were squinting at the display of bags and book covers in the window when Reiko appeared with key in hand. "Have you seen my new gallery?" she asked as she unlocked a door just to the left of her shop and ushered us into a narrow room lined with shelves. We admired the Hina Matsuri dolls on display, including ones Reiko's mother made for her, while she told us her plan to trot out her teacup collection next.

"Hmm," thought I. "Maybe I should open my own gallery when I return to the States. But do I have enough stuff to display?"

This was reason enough to pop into the Fujiya store before heading back to Yokosuka. I stocked up on Peko-chan stationery and treats packaged in Valentine's and Hina Matsuri themes while glancing longingly at the items in the glass case reserved for customers who possess a mysterious Point Card.

As I was handing over my yen, Robin chirped in her fluent Japanese, "Point-o card-o?" The cashier handed me my very own card after stamping the first eight squares. Does life get any better than this?

It does. When we got back to the base, Robin treated me to her amazing Barney Fife impersonation. This is when she convinced Gomer (that would be me) to follow a very dangerous driver. We tracked him to a handicapped spot right in front of the hospital and watched his either rather chubby or very pregnant wife stagger into the lobby. Barney wanted to follow them into the hospital to verify the pregnancy but Gomer was in a hurry to get home to work on his Peko-chan display.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Apparently He Takes After His Mother

The script arrived and the parts were doled out after school yesterday. "Oh, you got a speaking part? Wow! Which one?"

He grinned sheepishly. "Um, I'm playing 'the coolest guy in the school'. Hey! Are you laughing, Mom?" "Of course not," she prevaricated, "I'm just sort of surprised you weren't cast as the computer nerd."

"Wait until you read the script. All I have to do is pretend I'm James."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Life is a (George Washington) Bowl of Cherries

Life is good. The temperature rose perceptibly late this morning (sorry, Kate), the sour cream and 2% milk shortage appears to be over, and seven different kinds of beans are begging to be marinated. The angel food cake for the trifle is ready to be cubed and I calculate I'll have plenty of spare time to whip up some cookies and fudge for the Oakleaf bake sale.

Old and new friends are a blessing. Jane and I showed Judy the sherd/shard beach in Hayama and Judy told us about some interesting classes at a nearby Japanese community center. Reiko wants to ferret out wild camellias in Kamakura, Dr. T says his wife recommends I invest in Seki knives, the USS Blue Ridge carrying my personal Mr. Coffee ought to be back in Yokosuka in just a few days, Robin is going to Lunch Bunch with me tomorrow so I know it will be a perfect day, Hisayo is going to take me to Swany's fabric store and I'm going to return the favor by taking her to the waffle restaurant, Sue and I have tickets for a cherry blossom and winery tour, Sherri wants to go on a plum blossom and sake tour, Jen O has set a date to hit the pottery shops in Mashiko, the little boy who introduced Anpanman to me is moving back to Japan this summer, and my cup just keeps running over.

I want to wallow in these happy feelings. That's why I'm not in any rush to open Matt's report card.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lincoln's Four-Score Olive and Seven Bean Salad

Reiko and I were cooling our heels in the base pass office this afternoon, wondering how it could possibly take someone more than 72 hours to substitute one teacher's name (Kathryn) for another's (Margaret), when I started giggling. This had been happening off and on all day, thanks to the first comment Diane left on yesterday's post, the one where she suggested adding four-score olives to a tossed salad.

I was launching into a rather pedantic explication of "score" when Reiko -- no doubt recalling my 45-minute synopsis of Guns, Germs, and Steel just last Friday -- cut right to the chase. "Isn't a score twenty years? Like in 'four score and seven years'?" "Exactly! Or maybe like in 'four score and seven bean salad.' Or how about 'four-score olive and seven bean salad'?"

Voila! West meets East and explosive synergy results! The package already enroute to Norfolk has been hastily re-imagined as a prize rather than a surprise. It's a Japanese cookbook published by our mutual friend/photographer extraordinaire Kim Jordan.

Erin and Geraldine will both be rewarded for providing presidential trivia questions, although I'm a bit tempted to deduct cookies from Erin for sending me cherry trifle recipes peppered with heinous adjectives like sugar-free and low-fat.

As for Reiko, she's going to be my Ikebana guest next week. We're going to make kimekomi balls at Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura. It looks like quilting minus the threading a needle part. Christmas ornaments, perhaps?

Okay, I'm off to track down seven different kinds of beans.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

This is Absolutely, Positively the Last Theme Party I'm Throwing This Year!

Way back in September I promised the Seventh Fleet Officer Spouse Association (C7FOSA) they could meet at my house in February. They said I could pick the theme. Eek! I have no idea why military wives are so fond of theme parties and, frankly, I feel uncomfortable about expending more time and energy entertaining my fellow spouses than I put into celebrating family milestones.

The party is this Friday, the 12th. They were expecting a Valentine's theme but I'm forcing them to celebrate American Presidents instead because (a) February 12 is Abraham Lincoln's birthday, (b) history tickles me, (c) the big box of patriotic party supplies fell on my head when I was digging in the cupboard for the Valentine's stuff, and (d) I am desperate to unload the 20+ presidential bookmarks I intended to send to grandnieces and -nephews for Christmas until I realized that I don't want to be remembered as the "Aunt Who Gives Boring Educational Gifts."

So. I have four days to throw this party together, dear friends and family, and could use a little help. My guests are expecting to lunch on Herbert Hoover's 'A Chicken in Every Pot' Pie -- a rare stroke of genius on my part since it means I can utilize my trusty pot pie recipe AND eliminates the cherry pie expectation (which is a good thing because I still haven't mastered the subterfuge of shifting a frozen pie from its aluminum plate to one that screams 'homemade').

They are also expecting a Martha Washington Cherry Trifle -- what in the world was I thinking? -- so if anyone (that means you, Erin) can direct me to a trifle recipe that uses cherries or cherry pie filling or any sort of red fruit that might pass for cherries, I would be deeper in your debt that I am already.

I also need a presidential sort of name for a salad (either tossed or fruit, your choice) but try to avoid Carter and Reagan if you can because I'm using them for snacks (peanuts and jelly beans, of course).

Also, presidential trivia questions would be greatly appreciated. I promise to make it worth your while. All the outstanding prizes for previous contests are now sitting in the trunk of my car, the crucial first step toward the post office, just to prove my utter seriousness.

As for my quilt square, since someone was polite enough to inquire about it, the kits I bought at the Tokyo Dome last month all sport Japanese themes (there's that pesky word again) and require me to master teeny-tiny handstitching to applique little fabric pictures.
Hisayo insisted I start with the Setsubun square since it's a February holiday. I will be amazed if I finish it by next February but stranger things have happened.

Finally, thanks to Betty, I now own everything I need to knit my first pair of socks. The needles are as thin as spaghetti and pointed on both ends. We can use them to skewer shishkebobs if this sock thing doesn't pan out. As for the yarn, I could have walked two blocks down Blue Street and bought six pairs of socks for the price of that skein so be sure to feign appropriate gratitude if you unwrap a pair of somethings that vaguely resemble socks come December.

At least it won't be a presidential bookmark.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Socks and a Sensei: Hmmm

All the Japanese women I know make a similar sound when pondering. Usually it's the equivalent of 'hmmm' but seems to mean 'uh-oh' when directed at me. It's a remarkably prolonged sound, slowly rising in pitch. If you want to try this at home, close your mouth, hum through your nose for a few seconds, and then end with a question mark. Better yet, give a listen to the thermometer rising on the Dudek's JDRF fundraising page.

I had ample opportunity to reflect on this sound today during my first quilting lesson.

Yes, that's right: quilting lesson. Hisayo (center) spotted my fabric stash during that Mardi Gras party last week and offered to be my sensei (teacher). As I was wiggling like a rainbow trout trying to spit out a hook, Hiroko (left) jumped in with an offer to drive me to Hisayo's house in Uraga. Hiroko lives in Tokyo, meaning her offer was the equivalent of a Detroit resident offering to toodle over to Jackson just to give my sister a lift to Albion.

How could I say no? Being invited to visit a Japanese home is a rare honor. I just had no idea we were going to be sewing for five hours, or that Hisayo was going to make us a four-course lunch, or that Hiroko was bringing a special cake, or that they were going to be making that sound every time they checked my "work".

Meanwhile, the Knitwits have decided we will all start knitting socks next week. Socks? I'm just three feet into my second scarf here, ladies! Betty volunteered to escort me to the yarn shop to make sure I get the proper equipment. I couldn't help but notice that no one else was deemed stupid enough to require supervision. I think they might be comparing notes with Hisayo.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Oni wa Soto! Fuku wa Uchi!

If I'd been born in Japan rather than the United States, I'd be celebrating my brother's birthday by pelting him with beans. This is a tradition I fully intend to pass along to his children and grandchildren the next time I'm in Michigan.

Setsubun will be celebrated throughout Japan today. The customs surrounding this day date as early as the Ming Dynasty in China and, in Japanese form, began to take shape during the Muromachi Era (1392-1573) when customs like the tea ceremony and other genteel arts and practices often associated with Japan developed.

Setsubun is celebrated in many ways, but the most common custom is the traditional Mame Maki, the scattering/throwing of beans (mame) to chase away the evil oni (ogres/evil spirits). Sometimes the Toshi Otoko (which literally means "year man" but refers either to the "man of the house" or to men who born in the animal sign of the coming year -- tiger for 2010) will throw mame inside the house or at someone dressed as an oni and repeat the saying "Oni wa Soto! Fuku wa Uchi!" which means "Get out Ogre! Come in Happiness!"

After the ritual throwing of the beans, family members may pick up the number of beans corresponding to their age. Eating these beans promises good fortune in the coming year.

Unfortunately, it seems I ought to have sprung for the jumbo bag of beans.

Other celebrations of Setsubun involve eating Nori Maki, a special sushi roll. Particularly in Western Japan, many may face a "lucky direction" and try to eat the entire sushi roll without saying a word. Those who are able to accomplish this feat (the roll is about 20 cm long) are promised luck with their business, longevity, and freedom from illness.

In some places, the Nori Maki is made with a stuffing of seven colors which represent the Seven Gods of Happiness.

Tonight, many Japanese will decorate a holy tree in front of their houses with a head of a sardine, a clove of garlic, or an onion to keep the oni away for the coming year.

I think I'd better go get some more beans.

*Much of this entry was derived from an article written by Steve Renshaw and Saori Ihara, "Setsubun in Japan; A Lunar "New Years' Eve" (sic)
February, 2000 (Revised January 2010)

Gadzooks! I Guess We Really ARE Related

Happy birthday to my brother Jerry, one of the six greatest men I know even if he only reads my blog when he's standing behind a church lectern. Maybe someone can pass this along to him. You might not want to share it with his boss.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The USS George Washington: A Grating Deja Vu

The Japanese and American Wives toured the USS George Washington today.

This might be the first time I've set foot on the USS George Washington since the infamous Family Day Cruise of June 12, 1999, Matt's seventh birthday which he really, really, really wanted to celebrate at a Chucky Cheese joint like a 'real' kid but the Family Day Cruise wasn't optional for the Senior Medical Officer. (You would be amazed at the number of parents, grandparents, and cousins who trip over cables and otherwise maim themselves during these 'quality of life' events.)

I was so wrapped up in memories of Matt's seventh birthday this morning, and trying to recall what happened to the Furby Mike's cousin Dick gave him to ease his pain, that I completely forgot how much I absolutely hate having to walk on metal grating suspended a couple of hundred of feet in the air over water that looks like it belongs in the Arctic Ocean. Which is worse, do you think? Sharks or Rottweilers?

At least I wore flat shoes, unlike this fashionable Japanese lady.

Inside the ship, we clambered up and down stairs that seem more like ladders, and not just because they're so steep. The steps are so narrow I had to choose between balancing on my toes and turning my feet sideways. I opted for the latter which I believe ballerinas call first position. I don't think anyone mistook me for Dame Margot Fonteyn though. The steps seem to accommodate tiny Japanese feet perfectly. This strikes me as odd.

Our tour guide was Sally's husband, the ship's Public Affairs Officer (PAO), a helicopter pilot who actually majored in English at the U.S. Naval Academy. It is refreshing to meet a PAO who can speak and write in complete sentences. (I used the word 'refreshing' rather than 'rare' or 'completely unprecedented in the annals of military hiring practices' because I am feeling generous tonight.)

He encouraged questions. The one thing he would not tell us is how long it takes for the ship to come to a complete halt. That is 'classified' information. Some of us wondered how the Navy has managed to keep this a secret. Does the ship never come to a complete halt when practicing maneuvers with foreign navies? Do they have to take the ship out to the middle of the ocean in the middle of the night to practice stopping? Even then, how can they be sure satellites don't film them practicing? If they don't practice, how do they know the ship will really come to a complete halt when the crunch is on?

The Japanese ladies understand English ten times better than I'll ever understand Japanese, but I don't think more than one or two of them understood more than four or five sentences in the 90-minute discourse. They were a heck of a lot more animated and interested when we went to Chili's for lunch after the tour. When the waitress placed six helpings of molten chocolate cake on the table at the end of the meal (to be shared between about 40 women), several ladies whipped out pencils and notepads and asked me how to spell 'molten'. I was happy to oblige and I also enjoyed teaching them how to use their spoons to engage in little sword fights.

"Oh, look! Most of the hot fudge ended up in my spoon. I win!"

Monday, February 1, 2010

Machida Shrine Sale: The Rewards of Sucking It Up

Truth be told, I didn't much feel like going to Machida this morning to explore the shrine sale and five-story 100 Yen store. Three Explorers cancelled out of the trip Sunday evening and spending the day with a recent acquaintance and two complete strangers was not appealing. With the Ancient Mariner packing his gear for a 12-day "quality of life" deployment and the temperature dropping by the minute, I was tempted to crawl back under that warm comforter, wallow in self-pity, and savor another chapter or two of Guns, Germs, and Steel.

But, promises being promises, I sucked it up and marched out the door at the ungodly-to-me hour of 7:20 am.

So. The two complete strangers turned out to be a married couple who arrived in Japan a few days ahead of us this past July, shortly after he completed nurse practitioner training. Six days from now he will be enroute to Afghanistan as an Individual Augmentee. His wife and youngest son will remain in Japan, awaiting his return a half year from now.

His mission this week is to connect his wife with people who will support her and distract her during his absence. She'd like to spend some time exploring since, with three small boys underfoot, she didn't have many opportunities to do that the last time they were stationed here. He pulled me aside to confide that she's not comfortable with computers. "I am deafer than a rock," I whispered (I think) back, "and avoid the phone like the plague but I'm willing to make an exception in her case."

They met when he was a 21-year old sailor stationed in San Diego and she was a 16-year old student at a boarding school in Tijuana. They started dating when she turned 18. During his entire Navy career, they have only spent three months apart. Until next week, that is.

As if spending the day with such a remarkable couple was not reward enough for dragging myself out of bed this morning, the shrine sale blessed me with a bobble-head Kimono Peko-chan and two old Fujiya lunch boxes. The five-story 100 Yen store did not disappoint either.

Somewhere around here there's a moral to this story, but I'm going to crawl under that comforter now and wallow for a while.


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