He was a bold man that first ate an Oyster!–> Kashima Oyster Festival!!

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OYSHI OYSHI! Meaning delicious in Japan also explains how amazing the Oyster festival is! How often are you able to buy a huge bag of oysters, some rice triangles, hot dogs, and corn on the cob to grill for yourself for less than 20 bucks? The oysters themselves would be almost $40 in the U.S. Out here in Japan they are collected by the bucket load so no need to worry.

At the Kashima harbor park we bought our oysters, some beer, and the other foods mentioned above and we had ourselves a delightful afternoon cooking oysters on the grill, listening while they sizzle and when they finally pop they are ready to be pried open and eaten. I was wearing protective gloves because the coals become very hot and oyster shells are no joke in the heat. We munched for a good two hours on oysters, corn, and rice triangles. The Japanese were loving it! The oyster festival lasts the entire month of November in Sasebo and we had been so busy we barely made it the last weekend they were holding it. Lucky us! If I’m in town next year I’ll be back and that’s a fact.

So Good!

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Nagasaki Peace Park [“The real and lasting victories are those of peace and not of war– Ralph Waldo Emerson”]

Labor Day weekend was fast approaching and I decided that it was time for some traveling and some exploring! I had been hearing about the Nagasaki Peace Park since I’ve arrived and since I have my car [2000 Toyota Vitz] it was prime time to check it out.

The drive over was very nice. It is always much slower progress here in Japan because the speed limit is always so slow but it was a very enjoyable day and Kip more Up all Night was playing on repeat so it made the trip even funner.

Here’s a little bit about the Nagasaki Peace Park:

The Atomic Bomb was dropped on August 9th 1945 at around 11am.

[Approximately 40 percent of Nagasaki was destroyed. Luckily for many civilians living in Nagasaki, though this atomic bomb was considered much stronger than the one exploded over Hiroshima, the terrain of Nagasaki prevented the bomb from doing as much damage. Yet the decimation was still great. With a population of 270,000, approximately 70,000 people died by the end of the year.

“I saw the atom bomb. I was four then. I remember the cicadas chirping. The atom bomb was the last thing that happened in the war and no more bad things have happened since then, but I don’t have my Mummy any more. So even if it isn’t bad any more, I’m not happy.”

— Kayano Nagai, survivor

There were many facts that I learned at the Atomic Bomb museum and at the Peace Park. When I first walked in I saw paper cranes lining the walls and found out that there were 1,000 paper cranes strung together leading down to the museum start. After walking inside I saw the screens that show pictures of all of the identified people involved in the bombing and was told that it takes 2.5 hours to rifle through all of the pictures and names. I also saw the glass towers that have sheets with all of the names of the people. It was a very somber museum and a quiet atmosphere. There was much time for thinking and reflection. I saw pictures of the devastation and items that were involved. Atomic bombs cause great destruction.

Paper Cranes Outside

Looping all the way down to the museum entrance

The names of all of the victims are stacked inside here

Afterwards we walked over to the Peace Park to see all of the different countries whom have come together to make statues symbolizing peace. The most well-known statue is of the blue man who is holding his arms in a peaceful manner. As we were walking up the steps to the park you could see bullet holes from bomber planes during World War II. That definitely brought everything full circle for me.

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Ekumae Lantern Festival, Japan

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It was Friday morning and time for my driver’s test in Japan (driving on the other side of the road for me is a very bad idea!) when another officer asked me if I wanted to go to Ekumae that evening to a Lantern Festival. I had nothing else going on so of course I said yet. I finished my drivers test (which I passed!) when shopping for a few items then headed back to get ready to go. I brought a back pack of snacks along for the ride and we were headed to the train station in the early afternoon to catch the train to Ekumae. J has more cultural experiences then me, so I decided to let him buy the train tickets and a good thing that was.

As you can see everything is in Japanese and you need to pick which town you are going to from the list. It is very confusing sometimes.

He bought us our tickets and for an hour and a half we steamed along the Japanese countryside past rice paddy fields, thatched-roof houses, and gorgeous mountains. It was a very relaxing ride and one I enjoyed thoroughly. J had bought 6 different pastries at the train station which we each tried pieces of. I can’t get enough of the pastries here. Since Japanese houses don’t have ovens, they buy all of their breads and pastries from the market and they truly have some of the best pastries I have every eaten.

Our train was small and only had 3 cars, there weren’t many people on board and we were 24 stops away. We worried a little bit how we would find the festival once we got to the town but as we slid into the station, there was no more worrying necessary. We could see the HUGE lantern tower from the train windows and knew exactly which direction to go when we debarked.

As we were walking off, we passed a group of school boys who said hi to us in English then they told me how hott I was. I just laughed and waved. O school boys. As we mosey’d up the street we immediately saw little stands selling different things. I bought a tea pot with two cups and I tried Takoyaki for the first time! Takoyaki is little dough balls made with octopus in the center and Japanese mayonnaise  on top.

Takoyaki– (very heavy in the stomach.)

I also tried octopus on a stick. It was very tough and chewy but pretty good.

We indulged in everything that caught our fancy this night. Candied grapes, snow cones, sashimi, all of it. We continued the short trek to the town and did some more searching around, then people started lining the streets just in time for the parade. Two small children saw J and me and ran away from us pointing and shouting. I guess they had never seen white Americans before. I smiled, and finally felt what it was like to be a complete foreigner in a different land. It didn’t bother me much.

A few short minutes later the parade began. It reminded me of the small town parades from back home but the best part was they would march down the street pushing a small stage with music and a guy talking in a microphone. At the end of the street they would wheel the stage around and head back changing the music and the guy in the microphone. They did this about four times until the parade came to an end. I loved it.

Parade Dancers

After the parade ended we climbed the hill to the Buda Temple and then walked over and up farther to the lantern festival pyramid. It was the biggest lantern pyramid I have ever seen!

GINORMOUS!

The festivities carried on into the night and I watched some karaoke, which led into a traditional Japanese dance off. It was awesome. Some of the dancers were really great the traditional dances were mesmerizing. After the dance competition it had grown very dark outside and a fire works display was about to happen. There were only a few more trains scheduled to pass through and J and I didn’t have anywhere to stay so we decided to skip that part of the show because by this times 1,000 of people had arrived at the town for the lanterns and fire works. We ran to the train station and were there just in time because I train was stopping. We jumped on and headed home. I fell asleep almost immediately I was so exhausted.

It was a great night! I made a new friend, I saw the tallest lantern pyramid in Japan, I watched a traditional Japanese dance competition, and I tried 4 new foods I have never had. Amazing!

P.S. I would just like to point out that societies are not very different. Girls on one side, boys on the other, as always. haha.

The Goto Islands- A chain of five islands in the East China Sea

So what do you do on your first weekend once you’ve arrived in a completely foreign country to live? Explore of course. At least that’s what I decided. It was a “Go Big or Go Home” Situation and I didn’t want to disappoint.

On Saturday morning I woke up and just decided to randomly catch a Ferry to the Goto islands. What are the Goto Islands you ask? The Goto Islands are made up of 140 islands but there are five main ones: Fukue-jima, Hisaka-jima, Naru-shima, Wakamatsu-jima and Nakadori-jima. The interesting historical tidbit about the Goto Islands is back in time when Japanese people were embracing a Christian lifestyle it was illegal to be Catholic and the Goto islands was the last stronghold for Catholic people before it became legalized in the 19th century. There are many beautiful catholic churches throughout the islands and that is something I would like to do next time I come back.


The Ferry Ride Over: I arrived at the Ferry station around noon because I didn’t know exactly where I was going and how I was going to get there. No one could understand what I was trying to do so it took me almost 20 minutes to buy a ticket because I didn’t know how to ask for the main area of the Goto Islands. Thankfully a woman was helping me and she called her English teacher for me to translate what I was doing and where I was trying to go. I just love the culture here!

Shortly after I had got my ticket we began boarding so I guess I got there at a good time because I didn’t miss the ferry. When we boarded there were just 4 open nicely carpeted areas with blankets and pillows in stacks. Everyone took off their shoes, neatly placing them in lines in the pathway and then they grabbed blankets and snuggled in for a nap on the carpeted area. A group of older men were eating lunch while relaxing and I was just looking around in astonishment. In America you could never go to sleep with your purse lying around because someone would surely steal it. But not here. People were just setting laptops on the ground and falling asleep.

I just went along with them. I grabbed a blanket and laid down falling asleep shortly afterward. The Goto islands are small and quaint and I would love to go back. I will have to actually take my car next time so I can travel through the islands. Once the Ferry arrived we debarked and I started just walking around and exploring. There were some little shops open and at one of them they were selling ice cream and candy!

 

Arriving at the Islands.

It was sooo sooo hot out that it was insufferable. The humidity and heat here really is hard to bear after being in such milder climates all my life. Even 114 degree heat in the Middle East wasn’t as bad as this was. I found a small temple and walked up to it and then I just walked around the neighborhoods to observe. There weren’t a lot of people out an about in the heat so I stopped at a shop to buy some noodle salad and a few pieces of sushi. I ate out on the back porch of the shop and then headed back towards the Ferry station because I wanted to make sure I caught the last one back. Along the way I was walking by the water and realized how clear it was. I could see Sea Urchins down there laying on the bottom of the floor. They say there are white beaches here and at the ferry station is a picture of the beaches. I just didn’t have good transportation to get to them yet but I’m going to go back.

This is how clear the water is!

After waiting for the Ferry teller to open the window back up, I tried to buy a ticket back to Sasebo. It didn’t go well. Unfortunately  I read the schedule wrong (I guess you can say that since I’m pretty sure I still can’t properly read the schedule even now) so I ended up renting a tiny room for $30 for the night. It had one tiny bed with an uncomfortable rice pillow, one small desk, and a shower and toilet, separated of course.  One thing I have definitely learned is that the Japanese culture is not worried about the comforts of the world. Their couches are itches and their beds are stiff. They are also very tiny and may not have the same problems Americans do. haha. I had quite a restless night but I was up early and I walked back to the Ferry station to catch a carless Ferry (A ferry that only transports people) back home.

When I was walking back to the base from the station I also walked by a pet shop and just had to stop in to see all of the animals. They had all kinds of different birds. I loved it!

[OBON] Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.-George Eliot

Obon. What is Obon? Obon is a Japanese holiday in which they celebrate the spirits of the ancestors whom have died. They believe that during this week of festivities their ancestors come back to celebrate their lives with the living family members and they remember and rejoice for the dead. In doing so they carry flowers and set them on piles, light incense with a Buddhist monk, throw fire crackers, wheel floats around with pictures of their ancestors on them, and make lighted lanterns to set in the water. I arrived in Japan on a Sunday and Obon was being held that very next Wednesday. Since I didn’t get my uniforms till Wednesday afternoon it made it very hard to meet people since I couldn’t even be seen at my job. All of the girls I was sharing a room with were gone at schools and I was spending the past few days alone. This left plenty of time for me to explore Sasebo and find out what Obon was all about.

On Wednesday I was still recovering from the jet lag but I set out on foot leaving the naval base behind me as I joined the crowds celebrating Obon. I didn’t know exactly where they were headed  but all of the Japanese people marched to a baseball field where they brought straw mats wrapped with flowers and floats with pictures of their deceased loved ones. As I was walking down the street I turned a corner and almost screamed because people were throwing firecrackers around a float and it scared the crap out of me! I decided to follow them because they seemed to be the life of the party. I think they became suspicious because they kept looking back at me, but I didn’t mind. I just smiled and nodded.

Then we got to the baseball field and there was already a large pile of flowers and straw mats with floats in the middle. It was a somber atmosphere and once you placed your flowers onto the pile you walked over to the monks and burned some incense and prayed. As I found out, it is very somber during the day, and as the night and celebrations press on, the drunk people start livening up the night singing and dancing. A guy from my ship showed me a video from last year of a Japanese guy who was really drunk, standing on tons of floats and lighting firecrackers off. I missed all that. After I left the baseball field I went and found a small diner that was making rice and noodles and had some dinner then walked back to the barge.

Preparing a mini Pire for the dead.

Watching floats walk towards the event on the streets while they throw firecrackers on the ground.

On Friday some of the girls from my ship were having a little get together to say goodbye to another girl who was heading back to America. They invited me along. It was awesome! We went to this place that the American’s call the Beer Garden and its on the top of this building that has a supermarket beneath it. I tried to take a taxi there but it failed miserably. The taxi driver dropped me off and I started walking and I called one of the girls for help and in the end I walked all the way back to where I got picked up in the first place. It was the most pitiful taxi ride I’ve ever had and it cost me 500 Yen.

Once I finally got there, I found out that you pay one fee and its all you can eat and drink. The food was okay but as far as the drinking goes I had my first experience with Chuhi’s [chew-high’s]. Chuhi’s are these flavored drinks made of Sochu which is a lil like sake but not quite, a dab of flavored fruit syrup, and some seltzer water served with a lime. I started drinking my first one (a peach flavored one) and was like, O come on this is so not even alcoholic at all. I mean not even a small hint. Then I had a second one (a lime flavored one) and when I finished that and went to stand up I realized that things were starting to swim around in front of me. I couldn’t believe it. I quit drinking them right then because I was walking back to the base and I didn’t want to get lost so I had no form of communication. They are so delicious!

The beer garden closed at 9 unfortunately but that didn’t stop these crazy americans, so about 15 of us walked down the street to the next bar which was called the Westerner and it was a sight to behold. All of these older Japanese women dress up like Westerner’s and they serve beer out of boot glasses. I had heard of it and seen pictures of it from other people who have been to Sasebo but there’s nothing like living it. We karoke’d and one of the guys in our group even sang a Japanese song. it was pretty outrageous.

Japanese salt shaker.

On Sunday I decided to go to the Goto Islands, but you’ll have to wait for the next post for that!