We are only 4 days away from Thanksgiving Day (depending on whose time zone you use) and I just realized that we have been living in one place (Ashiya, Japan) for almost three months! We have seen and learned so much here that it is difficult to put it into a blog entry short enough to hold anyone’s interest long enough to finish it.
One of my primary goals in living here was to try to learn the Japanese language, which has proved to be a daunting task. It is almost impossible to live here and function without knowing at least the basic words and phrases as most do not speak much English at all. Compounding the difficulty is the written language, which consists of three different alphabets of letters and symbols which, to the untrained eye, mean nothing. Most of the packaging in stores is written in Japanese and Carol and I have no idea what the contents could be! Sometimes we just guess and that gets very interesting at the dinner table!!
We have been making progress on the spoken language. It is different than western languages as the literal translations, because of the culture here, are VERY different. For instance, when you meet someone and they introduce themselves to you, a common response from you would be “Yoroshiku Onegai Shimas” which is a SORT of “nice to meet you”. However, if you were to look up the real meaning, what you have just said is “I beg you for your kindness”!! To simply translate the words “nice to meet you” into Japanese would get you a quizzical look and a polite smile and they would have no idea what you meant!
In October, we traveled to Beijing to meet our Visa requirements to leave Japan temporarily after 90 days. We found China interesting, visiting the various temples, shrines and of course, the Silk Market along with the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. Upon returning to Japan, we caught a train to Hiroshima to meet up with my Sister Carla, her husband Lloyd and my two nephews, Alex and Nick, who live in Hawaii. They have a band (Manoa DNA) based in Hawaii and are extremely popular here in Japan. They travel here once per month to play and I am amazed at how popular Hawaiian music and hula are here. Check them out on their website www.manoadna.com . Alex wrote an original song (Voices Sweet)about tracing their ancestry to Hiroshima and finally meeting them. The song had many in the crowd close to tears.
Hiroshima itself is a must see in Japan. You might be surprised when visiting the Peace Memorial Museum, near where the A Bomb was detonated in World War II. They are very candid with the historical facts, who was to blame and so on. The big theme there is to work to end the proliferation of the weapons. It was a moving experience to have visited there.
One of the most fun places we visited while in Hiroshima was the island of Miyajima. It is one of the many islands in Inland Sea and reminds me a lot of visiting small island towns in the US. The first thing that startled me was the population of small deer. They are not in the woods, but actually hanging around town amongst the people. In Miyajima, they are kind of like dogs. The wander about town, looking to snag something out of your pocket and do not mind being petted.
We took a tram up to the top of the mountain where these monkeys with BRIGHT RED skin are scurrying about. They are nowhere near as domesticated as deer and really hate it when you stare at them.
WHAT THE HECK IS OKONOMIYAKI??
One of the many people we met here were the owners of a small restaurant in Ashiya that serves Okonomiyaki.
Okonomiyaki is a popular griddle fried food that consists of batter, egg and cabbage. Selected toppings and ingredients are added which can vary greatly (anything from meat and seafood to wasabi and cheese). Okonomiyaki is sometimes translated into English as “As-you-like-it Pancake”. However, this may be misleading. Though it does consist of batter cooked on a griddle, okonomiyaki has nothing of the sweetness of fluffiness of pancakes, not to mention that it is usually filled with octopus, shrimp, pork, yam or kimchi. At the table, there is a hot griddle in the middle where the food continues to cook and keeps it warm. You kind of just take your chop sticks and grab some for your plate. It really is a lot of fun
What also makes this restaurant fun is that aside from the food being great, the owners are so much fun. Everyone who visits us here is treated to dinner at their restaurant.
THE MAGNIFICENT SHINKANSEN
Traffic in Japan is much as you would think. It is an Island not much bigger than the state of California and has a population of 127,000,000 people. Please note also that a good chunk of the country is mountains and people do not live there, the concentrations being around the cities. Travel by car is expensive with tolls and congested. Japan has created an infrastructure of trains to ease the problem. The local trains go just about everywhere, are VERY safe and incredibly clean. It is not uncommon to see 8 yr old children riding the train by themselves or with friends.
For longer distances, people use the Shinkansen (Bullet Train).
There are hundreds of these sleek, speedy trains about Japan and are used by people traveling hundreds of miles instead of using aircraft. The inside is like a business class airline seat, whisper quiet and the train travels at nearly 200 mph! You can make reservations if you like or simply show up to buy a ticket at the train station, hop aboard and go! Even more impressive, the Shinkansen has an on-time record of being within 6 SECONDS of the scheduled arrival time in over 10,000 trips. The pricing is not cheap and in many instances is equivalent to airfare, but with none of the hassle of security lines and getting to and from the gate.
For our real local travel to stores and such, we purchased 2 bicycles. For these, Carol and I went the cheap route purchasing single speed bikes referred to here as “Mama Chaddies”. I have been afraid to ask what it means, but I suspect it is refers to the fact that mothers are commonly seen riding these around town with a couple of kids in tow and groceries hanging off the sides. I would hesitate to call these bikes macho by ANY stretch of the word, but I am only here for six months and can take the hit.
As I mentioned before, we have had a few visitors from the US. It seems like (and is) a long trip but the intrigue of Japan seems to lure people here and I don’t blame them! In October we had Carol’s brother Tom and our friend Holly come to visit. Neither had been to Japan before and we had a busy couple of weeks visiting various towns with temples, shrines and restaurants. Carol and I just love the food here. Holly was a sport and tried just about everything. Tom, I believe, may not ever acquire a taste for Japanese food and would end up very skinny if he lived here. We had lots of fun but I wished the weather had been better for the time they were here.
Just last week we had our friends from Seattle, Don and Sharry come to stay with us. They are seasoned cruisers and recently took their boat, Starr, from Seattle to Honolulu. They are planning to visit here next year and absolutely loved the country of Japan. They adapted very well to the culture and have long been Japanese food lovers. It was great to see them.
A few weeks ago we were invited to visit Nagoya by two people we met here in Ashiya who were interested in our boats and our trip. We hopped on to the Shinkansen and were greeted by our host, Nori and his father. They own two Grand Banks trawlers and had just come from Seattle where they met with Nordhavn representatives. I think some day they may buy one. In any case, they were very gracious hosts, inviting us to their home for lunch and dinner, introducing us to their families and giving us a tour of their businesses and their town. They have shown interest in cruising their boats with us in the springtime as we have nterest in visiting South Korea, where they are citizens.
Lastly, and most important, the marina staff and the boat owners here have made us feel so at home. If there is anything we need for the boats, the management is quick to act and very accommodating. We have also met quite a few of the boat owners and they have graciously invited us to barbeques and yacht club events. Much of this was at the boating seasons end so we hope to reciprocate in the springtime.
Oh, one more thing: The Japanese children are about the cutest you have ever seen. This is just one of the photos we have taken.
Happy Thanksgiving to all from Japan!!
Steven and Carol