Marching Into Spring

March in Japan marks nature awakening. This winter was milder than the last, but spring’s bounty is always welcome. The days start to get longer, the bushes and trees start to blossom and my morning coffee is accompanied by birds chirping and fluttering about.

We kicked off the spring season by viewing plum blossoms at the Hofu Tenmangu Shrine. It is the oldest of three large Tenjin shrines in Japan and is home to the resident god of learning. The plum blossom is the symbol of the god Tenjin and you can normally see upwards of 1,100 plum trees in full bloom from mid-February to mid-March. The trees were a bit shy when we were there, but the sun was shining and the kids had fun feeding the pigeons.

From there, we went to a really cool park in Ube called Tokiwa Koen. Tokiwa Koen was chosen as me of the hundred most famous places to see cherry blossoms in Japan, but we were there for the zoo and amusement park. We started off the visit at the amusement park where the kids (and mom) got to have some fun on the rides. Rudy and I took a stroll through a three-story log labyrinth.

Thomas the Train in Japanese. Yep, we saw a Japanese live action Thomas the Train show on EB’s second birthday. Which, I just have to say was a magical experience.

And if I can just take a little time to reflect on how incredible this past year has been watching EB grow up. Her personality shows more and more every single day. She’s independent, charismatic and a great hugger. She and her brother compliment each other well.

Thank you to everyone who sent gifts and birthday wishes to EB.

We then took a trip down to the Hiroshima Marina Hop where there was a Space Battleship Yamato exhibit, another amusement park, an aquarium and a really cool indoor petting zoo. The Yamato exhibit was interesting. There was a really cool interactive part where you’re sitting on the bridge, Like all cool anime exhibits, it was chock full o cool drawings and models.

The Amusement Park was pretty cool. There was a roller coaster, log ride and Rudy got a shot at running an excavator. From there we walked through a pretty cool aquarium.

Spring also brought us some change at the yochien that Rudy goes to. The class with the oldest kids is called the Hoshi Class. Rudy started out here in the Tulip class which is the class below the Hoshi Class. His last day in the Tulip Class was this March and we celebrated with a day off at the Kintai Bridge.

We went to a really cool Kids Culture Fair at the Simfonium in downtown Iwakuni. It was put on by a children’s museum. There was a magician, arts and crafts and we got to make our own stamps carved out of small slabs of stone.

We went up to Hiroshima to see Kagura in English. Jaguar is essentially kabuki or noh theater with a little more choreography and theatrics that make it more enjoyable for the masses. The version we saw had a screen above the stage giving us an English translation. The story we watched was about a spider demon who poisons a prince and two samurai are summoned to help destroy it. After the show, we were able to get on stage to meet the cast and try on the costumes.

Most recently, we took in our second Hanami at the Kintai Bridge. We basked under the cherry blossom trees, ate great food with friends, drank some sake and went out on the river. It was such a great time.

The next day was Rudy’s Hoshi Class Ceremony. This was the first day of his new school year and the oldest class at the Yochien. After this, he’s off to elementary school.

We capped off the weekend with more cherry blossom viewing on Miyajima. The kids played on the beach for a bit, then we wandered around taking in the sights and of course eating from the street vendors. Good times.

And of course the post wouldn’t be complete without some cute kid pics. Thank you all for following and enjoy!

Following Up February

It’s so hard to tell where the time goes. February flew by in a flash and I feel like March is zooming by, too. Anywho… we’ve been filling our time with local adventures, trips to Hiroshima and stayed in lavish luxury at Japanese hell on earth. Yup, hell on earth. We start our story from the beginning.

We took the kiddos up to the children’s museum in Hiroshima and let em tool around the science and engineering exhibits and play in the super rad labyrinth, too. Then at the beginning of February we went up to Miyajima for the annual oyster fest. Nomnomnomnom! On Valentines Day, Mo n I went out to see the Jabbawockeez perform on base. Big thanks to Scotty and Pierce for wrangling our youngsters for a few hours whilst we took in the show n swigged some Chu-his.

The next part of this adventure is most interesting. We packed up the family and headed to Beppu. There is lots to do in Beppu, but it is most noted for its hot springs and its troops of wild mountain monkeys. The first night we were there, we stayed at a ryokan down by the ocean and explored around downtown. Before calling it a night, we went to the Takegawara Onsen, which was built back in 1879, and I must say aged quite nicely. This Onsen is awesome and tattoo friendly. It’s segregated by sex, so the boy and I went to one bath whilst Mo n EB went to another. The water was incredibly warm and relaxing. Going to an Onsen in Beppu is a social event to a certain extent and while Rudy n I were soaking it was clear the after work crowd was coming in and catching up from the day. It was cool to witness.

The next day was jam-packed with all kinds of fun. The first stop was the Takasakiyama Monkey Park. This place is a sanctuary for over 1,500 wild mountain monkeys consisting of two troops of about 700-800 monkeys each. They come out of the mountains to play, walk amongst the humans and eat.

I’d have to say the most is interesting aspect about the two troops is the fact that last year the monkeys went on strike. Over the last 30 years the staff at the sanctuary were slowly reducing the amount of food they were putting out to the monkeys. This was an attempt to reduce the number of monkeys on the mountain because they were getting into farmers crops. The monkeys unionized and protested the park causing the staff to put up signs saying “currently no monkeys.” Fewer monkeys meant fewer tourists so the park had to start feeding the monkeys again or risk shutting down. Cheeky monkeys.

After playing with the primates, we heading out of the park and across the street to the Umitamago Aquarium to see the dolphin show and get up close and personal with some marine wildlife.

After the aquarium we went up toward the Jigoku or Hells of Beppu. This is where the most active geothermal pools and Onsen are in Beppu and where we were staying at a hotel on a hillside that night. Before checking in, though we headed up to Kifune Castle where a white snake resides and is told to give you happiness if you pray to it. Naturally, we obliged. The views of Beppu from the castle were breathtaking and the castle was pretty cool, too.

As we were leaving the castle, Rudy started chatting up a Japanese couple who were flying a drone to take pics. They were so happy with how cute the kids were they insisted on taking a drone selfie with us.

We headed back to the Hells and started to hit the different “hot spots” around our hotel. This included eating a dinner steamed with geothermal heat. Yummy!

After dinner we headed back to the hotel for a family soak. We seriously had two natural hot tubs in our room. This hotel was the bomb. For hell on earth, it sure was heavenly.

The next morning we had a huuuuuuge breakfast.

After that, we continued our tour of the Hells.

These Jigoku are so awesome and very picturesque. There were bubbling pools of molten clay, gators, geysers, and no shortage of oni.

There was only one way to cap off the weekend. A car ride up to a hidden, mountainside Onsen.

Yep, naked on the side of a mountain. Good thing we had the place to ourselves. And of course we hit the Chicken Shack on the way home.

Switching gears, Rudy had his end of the school session recital. He’s a talented lil bugger.

We took a second trip back to Hirata Farm to pick some strawberries. Just like last year, the kids ate their weight in strawberries and went around feeding the farm animals.

The farm trip was followed by lunch at a winery and fun at the huge park across the street.

That’s February for the most part. Thank you all for following our adventures. Before I do cute pics of the kids, here’s Rudy on the piano:

Alright, here’s some cute pics:

Catching Up From Christmas and Into the New Years

Greetings! I’d like to start off by thanking everyone from back in the states and here in Iwakuni who sent presents for the kiddos. We’re still building legos and railroad tracks, coloring in books and discovering toys we haven’t even got to yet. The kids had a great time and it was fun to watch them enjoy Christmas morning.

So with Mo still working on her second Masters Degree, she had to go back to Auburn for a week starting on New Year’s Day. What a bummer to travel on the holiday. We didn’t do much celebrating anywho. The best part of New Years was Rudy falling asleep in my arms and me passing out at 10 PM. My old ass. Ha! But I did take the kids to Kuga Park for a little distraction.

When Mo came home, Rudy insisted on meeting her at the airport, so we decided to surprise her.

After Mo got home, she was due for a rest so while EB was at school, I took Rudy up into the hills for some hiking. We were looking for wild animals, but didn’t come across any. No biggie, we had a mini picnic n glanced over Iwakuni from a birds eye view and watched the ships in the Seto Inland Sea.

Mo took the kids to our neighborhood Tondo Matsuri. Held on the lunar new year, the Tondo Matsuri is centered around a huge bonfire where everyone offers up their good luck charms, New Years decorations and any other offerings to be burned in the ceremonial fire. This is a symbolic “Out with the old, and in with the new.”

Anywho… this is a short post but as always thank you for following our adventures here in Japan. And here’s some cute pics of the kids:

It’s Already Been A Year… Time Flies!

So, it’s official. As of December 13th, we’ve been here a full year. Crazy how time just flies by the way it does. A lot has to do with all the fun and exciting things we’ve been up to since we touched down in Iwakuni. Of course, this time last year we were still living in the on-base temporary living facility (military hotel) and had a paper Christmas tree taped to a wall. This year, we were able to get our hands on a real tree and everyone pulled together to get her all decorated up nicely.

 

Something else cool is Rudy’s yochien had a Christmas concert at the airport in town. If you haven’t checked out some of the videos that Mo posted to her Facebook, you should go and check them out. Here’s some shots of Rudy and his class during the concert. What a cute group of kids.

 

Of course, I missed it, I was up at Go! Go! Field motivating my fellow marketers to run in a 4-hour endurance race. Team Marketing! Ganbarimasho!

 

Just like last year, we made our way up to Hiroshima for their Winter Illuminations. Last year we went after Christmas, this year we were able to get up there in time to celebrate the holiday season a bit. Everyone had a pretty awesome time. But we may have kept this kids out a bit late.

 

The Japanese really know how to light shit up when it comes to Christmas. This past weekend, we crammed the kids in the Mukade Maru and headed up to the annual Flower and Light Pageant illuminations at the Hiroshima City Botanical Gardens. We got there early so we could play in the park with the kids and have some food before they hit the switches on the park.

 

They also had this killer greenhouse with venus flytraps, exotic flowers and a prehistoric tree.

 

The park was something else after the sun went down and the lights came on. Rudy was so cute, too. He was walking up to all the Japanese kids and asking them if they’d play tag with him (in Japanese, of course). He was easy to spot with his light-up shoes.

 

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year. Here’s to four more years! Thank you again to everyone who follows our adventures and thank you to all the family and friends we chat with back home. I’m glad we can all stay connected. And now, some cute pics of the kids:

 

Our First Friendsgiving in Japan, Robot Park and Meatfest Redux

Konnichiwa and gobble-gobble from the land of the rising sun. We had some friends over for Thanksgiving this year. Our gathering was a multi pronged attack on food, fun and a birthday celebration. I’ll describe the food and birthday stuff to you because for some reason we had a room full of smart devices and the only thing anyone thought would be a good idea to document was the Malort shots. I’ll have another!

We had a delish pumpkin dip dish from Scottie and Pierce. The best way to describe it would be if Jesus were a pumpkin, he would turn water into this dip and the world would be never wanting. Stanley brought a magnum of sake that came highly recommended from Sus, who brought gifts for the kiddos and a sweet desert cake. Ron and his son Micah showed up with shredded carrots with balsamic vinegar and almonds and a rather scrumptious corn dish (and spinach dip). It was also Micah’s 5th birthday, so there was a cake and merriment and the old standard, Happy Birthday.

Mo was in full food service mode, baking a ham basted in a spicy cuban mustard, carrots, smashed potatoes, crescent rolls, homemade cranberry sauce, finger foods and probably a bevy of other things I’m forgetting. My contribution was getting warm bodies in the room and picking up the turkey from Club Iwakuni. Japan is not known for their large ovens, so Club Iwakuni on base has turkeys to order. Sweet, right? The bird tasted good. All the food was amazing, and the company was great. Thank you everyone for a memorable Thanks/Friendsgiving.

And then… Malort. The product of a gypsy curse. A taste so jarring to the tastebuds you’d think there was chemical warfare going off in your mouth. A drink so ridiculously putrid it gives bad taste a bad taste in its mouth. We all drank an entire bottle. Thank you to Mo’s brother for smuggling it into the country. We won’t talk about how it got here… wink.

The next day Rudy and EB were off from school, so we ventured up to Otake and hung out at the Robot Park (as Rudy likes to call it). EB was a bit sleepy but by the time we go there she woke up and the kiddos spent three hours running around and burning off steam. I’d like to take a moment to let my friends and family back home in Chicago and Upstate New York to know that its sunny and usually 60 here during the daytime. Sending warm thoughts your way. Kissy face emoji.

Yesterday we had went to the Shuto Meat Fair. All joking aside about the weather. It will eventually get down near freezing here, so we’re doing as much as we can to enjoy the great weather whilst it sticks around. There was a redonkulous amount of food vendors at the meat fair. We had some pork and chicken on a stick, yummy soba, some rice cake that tasted like it was wrapped in some kind of meat or something (best description ever), and fried chicken that a drunk vendor tried to pass off as fried carp. There was some live J Pop and a half cow on a spit. They also had a market there and were selling $20 steaks. I’m telling you, there’s some seriously tasty beef here in Japan. Some of the best I’ve ever tasted. I gotta find a place somewhere that cuts a 16 oz. ribeye, though.

Well, we hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving, or however you celebrated. I’m thankful to have the friends and family that I do have both here and back home. Thank you again to everyone keeping up with our Journey. December 13 will be a year for us living here in Japan. Time flies. では、またね.

October – Matsuri, Miyajima, Family, Fun

October came and went and before we knew it, we were smack dab in the middle of November planning for a Thanksgiving party with new friends. Let’s back it up a bit to the beginning of October for Rudy’s Sports Day celebration at his yochien. Sports Day is something of a big deal with the schools around here. Each class participates in a myriad of sporting events, marching and group activities. I ran the crab relay with Rudy and his class also did the parachute display (you know, the one where the kids flap the parachute up and down… kawaii).

The air base observes fire safety week every year. At the end of the year, the fire house on base has an open house. We decided to come by and give it a look. The kids got to dress up, Rudy got to shoot the fire hose, sit in the tacti-cool fire vehicles and rode a four-wheeler with one of the chiefs. Good times.

Something else our air station has that is pretty cool is Information Tours & Travel. The staff is predominantly Japanese and they take folks around different places in Japan to experience the culture. We went on their apple picking and steam locomotive trip near Tsuwano (my favorite mountain town so far). Everyone had a blast and Rudy ate his weight in apples. And naturally, the Rudy boy and EB had a great time riding along on a real steam locomotive. Bonus fun was some of the folks on the trip with us were people from Mo’s work and Rudy’s school. Good times.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, Mo’s cousin Markie came down to visit. I’m glad we got to hang out with him. He’s a pretty cool dude.

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I’d have to say hands down the coolest thing we did last month was the Otomouma Matsuri (horse festival) in Kikuma on the island of Shikoku. That was a mouthful… We did this festival as a part of a tour group. The cool thing is it was only us and another couple. It’s nice to have that intimate setting for something so cool. Once a year in the fall horses run up the slope at the Kamo Shrine by young boys. Before the horse races, each temple in the town goes around to the residents and businesses to ask for donations to contribute to the temple and the festival. The whole family got to participate. It was awesome to dress up and walk around with the rest of the men, women and children from the temple.

It was the next day that had the horses and the clash of the titan god boxes. But, before that, we got to eat diner in a fancy seaside restaurant and enjoy the three different onsen in our hotel room. We were spoiled this weekend.

There is another part of the festival which includes carrying omikoshi god boxes in a face-off against other rival temples. Each box is carried by men from their corresponding temples. I was able to actually participate. These boxes are not light by any stretch of the imagination. All things considered, the men I was carrying this thing with had been drinking for three days straight, so I had nothing to complain about.

We hopped a ferry back to Honshu and met up with Granpa Rick and Uncle Rick.

With the Ricks here, we traveled out to the Sea of Japan for camping and hiking. We started off at the Motonosumi Inari Shrine and then made our way to the campground near Nagato on Omi Island facing the sea. We stayed in some pretty cool cabins that were on stilts. There was some cool hiking there, too.

We went over by the city of Mine to check out some caves, but we met with an unfortunate turn of events involving birds, a ditch and mis-timed foot placement. So, we headed back to the house (by way of the chicken shack) and took up shop to have fun with the family locally.

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We went to the Kintai Castle and headed to Miyajima to show off the floating torii gate and the natural beauty of the island.

Cool thing was, EB had her Sports Day so Granpa got to witness something really kawaii.

Wish we could’ve had the Ricks here for a little longer, but they had to get back to Chicago. Thanks, guys for the visit. Being true to not staying still too long, I went of a field trip with Rudy and his school to the Tokuyama Zoo. We saw lotsa interesting wild creatures, to include the capybara, the Japanese Black Bear and the sun bear. Rudy had a blast as always. It was good to see him playing around with his friends.

After we got back from the zoo we had some time to kill, so Rudy and I went to the local cat cafe for some feline fun.

Miyajima seems to be our go-to when we don’t have anything solid planned. it’s a quick enough get away and there’s always something fun to do. We ended up going there for a fire walking ritual. Yep, fire walking monks. It was pretty cool and there was a line damn near a mile long to go over the coals. I think next year I’m definitely game.

Since the weather is still nice n sunny here (sorry all you cats starting to get snow), we took a trip to Yamaguchi Flower Land. This place is pretty cool and next to nothing to get in to. They had a huge ferris wheel for flowers, lots of different varieties of flowers and a really cool playground with the prototypical Japanese roller slide that you just can’t get away with back in the states.

Yesterday we went back to Miyajima to see the changing leaves. Japanese Maples are a pretty tree and their leaves are radiant this time of year. We might’ve got to the island a week too late, but the place was pretty nonetheless. Like I said, it’s such a beautiful and quick little getaway. Can’t wait to show it off to more family when they start to trickle in.

Today, Rudy’s school had an art festival. Since the end of last month, his school has been asking for empty milk containers, paper towel rolls and stuff like that to make crafts. They used this stuff to convert an entire classroom into a really sweet art gallery. I was blown away. Outside of Sports Day, this is one of the coolest things I’ve seen at Rudy’s school.

Aight, so that’s pretty much everything to date. We’ve got Thanksgiving coming up and then Christmas, prolly like five or six more trips to Miyajima (ha!), the holiday lights in Hiroshima and who knows what else. I know next year we’re going to start venturing off into other parts of Asia. Watch out world! Here’s some pics of the kddos. Thanks again for reading our adventures!

Greetings from Planet Japan

It’s been well over a month and a half that a blog post has gone out. Apologies to all, seems like we’re on another planet sometimes with all that’s going on and just keeping communication with everyone back home. We’re damn near into October here and we’re creeping up on a year already having lived in Japan. Wow! Anywho, let’s dive right in…

Mo went back to the states for a week to start work on her second Masters. She had the illustrious privilege of matriculating at Auburn University in Alabama. War Eagle! Whilst she was away, I took the kiddos up to Hiroshima to this super cool indoor cardboard playground. Rudy put together a paper T-Rex and they both enjoyed the slides, rides and cardboard maze.

When mommy got back from Alabama, I was off to Tokyo with the Single Marine Program to cover their Tokyo/Mt. Fuji trip. To keep the kiddos busy while I was away, Mo took them to the Pixar Adventure in Hiroshima. I think you can tell by everyone’s expressions there was fun times had by all.

On the drive up to Tokyo, we stopped at various rest stops and in true Japanese fashion, there was no shortage of kitschy statues and gas station food. When we got to Tokyo, we stopped off at a huge mall with this crazy tall Gundam and there was a street fest going on. Then we go to the New Sanno Hotel.