Sunday, July 4, 2010

This summer:9: The Strange Happenings of Week 3

Monday/Tuesday: Lots and lots and lots of flying. Refer to previous post for details.

Wednesday: Charles was sick, and I did not have access back onto the base without him as my escort, so I decided to explore within the base gates on my own. My travels were short-lived due to my jet lag sleepiness, but I did manage to explore the huge Community Center which included the Commissary (grocery store), BX (K-Mart), several gift shops, fast food restaurants, antique stores and my favorite, the 100 yen store. I bought myself some sushi and pink ginger ale for lunch and some fruit, rice, milk and honey for breakfast.
BTW the milk here in Japan is heavenly. I kept looking for the secret ingredient that makes it taste so strangely wonderful, but alas, it was listed as only including milk. It has a sort of creamy nutty flavor, so maybe the cows eat a strict diet of cashews. ha

Thursday: Charles was still a little on edge health-wise so we decided it would be best to stick around Fussa City (just outside the base gates) for the day. Fussa (population 60,000) is an hour train ride from downtown Tokyo, but is still considered part of the city. It comprises mostly of little day-to-day shops, restaurants and apartments. There are random little gardens spattering the city, which I was told have belonged to families for many generations as the city has been built up around them.
Much of the day was spent searching for the allusive temple we saw on the train station map but to no avail. A very nice woman with a name something like Ayuku and her friend Akiku (or something like that) actually gave us a ride to a shrine in the middle of the city, but it was kinda nasty. I did really love walking around the mausoleum-style cemetery there though. Many of the graves had ornate gravestones with tea cup offerings set upon them (one had a beer can. ha) as well as a bowl full of burning or burnt incense.
We also had our first Japanese restaurant experience, which was an experience indeed. I had a super delicious fried fish/veggie/rice/miso soup/weird stuff meal, and Charles had beef stew with mashed potatoes. The beef was actually just beef fat, so needless to say, I made the more appeasing choice. haha It was at the restaurant that I also got my first look at a bidet. haha hilarious. The Japanese love these things. Some are complete with "Powerful Deodorant" buttons, fake flushing sounds (to muffle spraying sound) and temperature controls! I haven't used the spraying features yet, but don't think it won't happen sometime in the next month! The bathroom also had a toilet seat cleaner dispenser, rice paper for oily faces, mouthwash, mini toilet paper packets, and a myriad of other complementaries that I can't recall. Yeah, the bathrooms here are great.
Fussa City showed us our first mega arcade too. Charles and I had an epic photobooth session, and we found out I am a natural at first person shooter arcade games. I then spilled half a Nalgene of water and 3/4 of an ice cream cone on the floor (which I cleaned up with massive wads of toilet paper from the, again spectacular, bathroom), and we decided it was time to move on.
Just when we were about to give up on our search for the temple and our feet were about to give out on us, we spotted some kids venturing out into the Tama River to have some fun. Considering it was about 5 million degrees Celsius, we though, "what the hay?" and decided to join them. How refreshing! The water felt so good on our feet, and the kids were of course adorable. Then they started to jump off a ledge into the water, which looked like way too much fun to pass up. Charles made the decision to jump first considering he had packed extra clothes, and these things always seem to be easier for guys to pull off. But, my adventurous spirit wouldn't let me stand by the wayside, and despite wearing light colored shorts (I just decided to wrap my jacket around my waist for the rest of the day) I took the plunge. This was a good way to end the journey.
From there, Charles and I walked back to the base, grabbed some dinner from the Commissary, watched GI Joe and went to bed exhausted.
I am very glad for the experience that I had that first real day in Japan, but I know that I did not make the most of it. A lot of the time I was wishing that the experiences I was having would be more like my high expectations I had envisioned, and that cheapened the experiences that I did have. I will learn from this in the future.

Friday: The day we braved the train. I think we both built up the complexity of riding the train much more than it was worth. Since most of the train stations are connected to downtown Tokyo, they incorporated both English and Japanese, which was a huge relief. Once we figured out the color system (our map was black and white), it was a big help too.
We took the train to the neighborhood Akihabara aka Electric City. This is the comic book/anime/nerd capital of the world. There are tons of arcades and pachinko palaces, computer stores and maid cafes. Our first stop, though, was a temple just outside of this area of town. Once again, my expectations were challenged when we entered the temple gates. I was hoping for a very serene atmosphere where I could just be still, but I realized this wasn't going to happen when I saw the vending machines, Tom Hank's Big inspired fortune machines and a gift shop. Yes, there were people paying their respects to the statues, but I found all the crap along with it interesting but a big turn off. I guess you get that a lot of places you go though. I mean, most churches I go to have a doughnut and coffee bar, which many people would find disgraceful. To each is own, I guess.
My favorite part of Friday was definitely dinner. We went to a famous "maid cafe" in Akihabara, which is a modern play on the Geisha. Sickly cute girls dressed in maid outfits serve you over-priced, mediocre food while occasionally singing, dancing and having you pay to play games for discounts and prizes. I asked our maid what she recommended and got the dish called "Cheep cheep cheep rice". It included a main dish of seasoned rice with an over-easy omelet that the maid drew a ketchup anime bunny on. Then there was a dollop of potato salad and a couple pieces of iceberg lettuce. haha hilarious and mildly gross, but totally worth the experience.
Charles didn't realize the extent of the "Japan runs mainly on cash" rule and spent most of the dinner running around town looking for an ATM that took Master Card. Meanwhile I had a ball with the maid and watching the creepy dudes that actually believed the maids liked them and didn't just want their money. Unfortunately, they didn't allow photographs (you could buy one for 700 yen), so you will just have to imagine the ridiculousness. :) It was called @home-cafe

Saturday: This was travel day. Since we have 500 million pounds of luggage we had to take the circuitous route to the airport. Instead of being about to pay 1200 yen to ride the train from Fussa City to Haneda Airport in time for our flight, we had to ride a shuttle first to Narita Airport and the Haneda, which took 4 1/2 hours and cost 8000 yen. Then we had to wait in the airport for 4 more hours for our plane. Oh well. I got the chance to eat a bizarre bento box and a sort of Japanese flan. I also got to use a "Japanese style" toilet, which basically means peeing into a hole in the floor while a sensor beside you makes fake flushing noises. (again to muffle the sounds. haha)
The plane ride nearly made me vomit, but we made it to Misawa unscathed. Our rooms don't have internet or air conditioning, but it is alright. Charles says that that is the biggest culture shock he has experienced so far. ;)

Okay, I am off to discover the base's Fourth of July activities. I think I am going to go to the beach tonight for fireworks, so I'm sure there will be pictures and stories to come!

The Internet is too slow here, so you'll have to wait for pictures until next week. Check facebook if you're interested!


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