Thursday, July 28, 2005

Role Call!

Just a quick check to see who's reading this. Just drop me a line by e-mail to tell me how your summer is going or leave a comment here to let me know you're alive and well.

I have been working on my presentation all day and all I can say is AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It's going well, but this is a long presentation. It's supposed to be 40 minutes, which is really long (for me, anyway), but it still seems to short to include everything I have seen and done this summer. Choosing what goes in and what I have to leave out is tough.

I'll be back this weekend with more!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


That means I was majorly disappointed last night. The typhoon changed course and we hardly had any rain at all! I was looking forward to watching a windy downpour from my back window, but it just rained steadily for an hour or so. The typhoon hit eastern Chiba Prefecture, then turned and went out to sea. What a bummer!

I started working on my presentation today. I have to give a 40 minute presentation (all in Japanese) next a week from tomorrow in Tokyo in front of some people from CLAIR (the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations). I think it will take me all of the next week to get it done and how I want it. I am making an English version and a Japanese version at the same time, so if anyone is interested, I can e-mail you a copy of either when I am done. It will be a power point with pictures and a brief summary of my findings and experience here in Yokosuka.

Lunch time!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Typhoon time!

Typhoon number 7 is headed our way! It might sound strange, but I am kind of excited. It is supposed to hit tonight and it is forecast to come very close to Yokosuka. If I am doing the conversions from the metric system right, we will have nearly 65 mile an hour winds and almost a foot of rain overnight. As long as I get home safely and my tiny apartment holds up, I think I'll be OK. I'll let you know if we have any damage from this storm.

A super brief update (warning - it's actually really long)...

Wow, it has been a whole week since I last posted. That seems like a record for me. I have been really busy, so I should have a lot to write, but I don't have too much time at the computer, so I will try to briefly summarize what has happened in the last seven days.

I was with the Waterworks and Sewerage Bureau last week. I hadn't really thought about how much work goes in to getting 400,000-plus people clean water everyday, not to mention getting rid of all the dirty water we create. Yokosuka's Waterworks have done a lot to prepare for disasters by creating large above and below ground tanks through which everyone's clean water flows that close off automatically in the event of a sudden pressure drop, let's say caused by pipes being broken in an earthquake. These tanks are capable of supplying local residents with up to 3 months of water, assuming everyone uses only what they are rationed. Yokosuka has an advanced computer mapping system that displays the location of 99% (roughly) off all the water and sewerage pipes (big and small) in the city - from the large lines that go under streets, to the small ones that come out of your faucet. I toured some of these facilities, a large dam, and water purification and filtration facilities. I was surprised at the level of security at these facilities - many of them have security cameras and locked gates with a large sign letting all know that 'Terrorist Countermeasures are in effect'. On Friday I visited some sewerage treatments plants. As you can imagine, these are not the most pleasant-smelling places in the world, but I'm glad someone does this job. It certainly needs to be done.

I slept really late on Saturday and spent a large part of the afternoon cleaning my apartment and waiting for Maiko to get here. Now it wasn't her fault she was late - it was the planet's. We had a fairly large earthquake on Saturday afternoon - the largest I have ever had the pleasure to experience. I have been in a few small temblors before here in Japan, and until Saturday, I thought they were kind of fun. This one, however, did make my heart skip a beat or two and paralyzed me for a few seconds. I was talking with Craig, a Brit who used to teach in Isesaki when I lived there, when it happened. He lives in Chiba now, which is on the other side of Tokyo Bay. I think I felt it first, then he did, and it was really weird to be talking to someone fifty miles away experiencing the same thing you are. I had my drapes open to let in some sunlight and I watched an electrical pole sway back and forth while praying it didn't fall over into my apartment. I am the type of person who likes to think he is prepared for these things, but I just sat there dumbfounded while my apartment shook. I have decided to duck into my tiny closet if another one of these things hits us.

We had a mild aftershock not too long after the main quake. I heard a warning announcement being played over loudspeakers and I went out to see if I could understand what they were saying. I decided right away that these sirens and the money Yokosuka spent on installing a state-of-the-art warning system was worth it. There was a warning in English, too, presumably for the large American population here. I was a bit unnerved, but everyone around me was back to normal within two or three minutes of the quake, which was in a sense even more unnerving.

I knew Maiko was on her way, so I spent about 15 mintues trying to call her and make sure she was OK. Apparently, she was at the train station when it hit, which I can imagine was really scary. She did finally get to Yokosuka, but what should have been a 90 minute to 2 hour trip took her 5 hours. Now that might seem like a bit of an inconvenience to some, but I was just relieved that JR (Japan Rails) was doing its job by making sure the tracks and trains were safe.

There wasn't any serious damage here in Yokosuka, but from what I've seen on the news, there was a bit in Tokyo. Thankfully, there were no fatalities and only a few mild injuries. We had a minor quake last night, which was noticeable but not severe. All the same, after being bounced around a bit the day before, it raised my pulse a bit.

Putting our rattled nerves to rest, we went out to Enoshima Island the next day. We had lunch with Maiko's mom and Nishio-san at a nice mom-and-pop sashimi place. Some of it was really good, some of it was OK, and some of it was not exactly great. (Yes, there are some foods I don't care for...) It was a great lunch, which we followed up by a walk on the rocky shore and around the touristy shops on the island. We then went to the Enoshima Aquarium, which was recently renovated and is supposed to be one of the best in Japan. We saw a dolphin show and a bunch of sea creatures that made me feel guilty because I had some of their cousins for lunch. Either way, it was still a good time.

We had Italian for dinner. Sashimi is great, but even if you eat a ton of it and get stuffed, you will be hungry again in a few hours. The same cannot be said of large plates of pasta, meat, and cheese. Italian food here is a little pricey, but every once in a while, you want a meal that will fill you up.

Fast-forward to today. I had to get up really early because we left City Hall at 8:30 to go to a Prefectural Disaster Training School. This is where all of the firefighters, ambulance paramedics, and rescue team workers in Kanagawa (with the exception of Yokohama, which has its own school) train after they are hired. I went with a group of Chinese officials and firefighters who work for the national Chinese fire agency. We got to watch some of the students train and view all of the facilities. It was a good day, but long.

I will try to load some pictures on flickr later this week. I am with the Public Safety Division, so I have to go over what I have done so far and come up with some questions to tie things together. Tomorrow I have been invited to go to dinner with the Public Saftey Division, then on Wednesday I have another event to go to. I was invited by one of the people at the commander's office from the U.S. Naval Base. Originally it was scheduled for tomorrow, but since I had already accepted the dinner invitation I couldn't attend. Their schedule has changed, so I can make it. I am not sure exactly what it is, but judging from the original invitation, it is a conference on the future of China and U.S.- Taiwan relations, right up my alley! Thursday, I have a Chinese lesson, and I think I am going back to Gunma on Friday for the weekend to visit my old homestay family and some of the teachers I used to work with. I didn't see them last time, and as a friend of Bill W. here told me, I will be kicking myself for a long time if I leave Japan without telling them 'thank you'. They put up with me for almost two years, so I owe them at least that.

Hopefully I can find some time here and there to load pictures and maybe say hi to people by e-mail. I will try to post again if I get some major news, but the posts might be sporadic for the next seven or eight days.

Sore de ha...

Monday, July 18, 2005

Black ships, big bangs, and a belly buoy...

What a weekend. The annual Perry ceremony and festival was a blast, literally. I met some of my cohorts from city hall at Kurihama Station at about 11:30 and we took a cab to Perry Park, where the ceremony was to be held. It was a short ceremony, but it was really hot in the reception tent. All I had to do was greet some of the foreign guests, mostly high ranking U.S. Navy officials and their wives, give them a brochure, a hand towel, and an ice pack to keep cool with. It was rough wearing a necktie in the heat, but it was worse in the shade of the reception tent due to the lack of a breeze. Standing in the sun was actually cooler because we were right near the ocean and there was a nice breeze.

The ceremony was over by 2:30, at which time, Noro-san and I took a cab with Tepo-san (I believe his first name is Bernice - he is a French official in Brest, one of Yokosuka's sister cities here studying Yokosuka's government) to the reception hall. Noro san and I played the role of MCs - she told the crowd to quite down and listen up (in very polite Japanese, of course) and I read the translation. We introduced the Yokosuka city council chairman, who gave a short toast, which I also read in English. Then we had about an hour to mingle with the Yokosuka and Kanagawa officials, officers in the Japanese and American navies, and representatives from the State Department and Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was a blast. Maiko was the only female there dressed in traditional Japanese clothes (she had a beautiful yukata on), and some of the Japanese officials were flirting with her before I even got down from the podium. I think she was flattered because they thought she was Miss Yokosuka (who was in the parade later in the day). We had some tea and tried to scarf a little food in our faces in between chatting with important people. A commander from the SDF invited me to another fireworks festival in 2 weeks, but I think I have plans. I also talked with the political attache for military affairs from the U.S. Embassy (can't think of his name now), and a few others. I really wish the party would have been longer so I could have met more of these people, but you have to go with the flow on these things, I guess.

After we told everyone to go home (again, very politely...), some of the city staff who didn't want to eat or drink in front of the guests (I guess I shouldn't have either... oops...) gathered around a table to have a few beers and eat leftovers. I was ready to go, so Maiko and I hitched a ride with Mori-san (Int'l Affairs Div) and Tepo-san (French guy) to the station so I could buy a jimbei. Jimbei's are really cool traditional Japanese clothes for men, which I guess you could think of as a cross between a karate uniform and surfer clothes. I thought it would go well with Maiko's yukata, and it was a heck of a lot cooler than wearing a suit.

We missed most of the parade because I was buying the jimbei, changing, and looking for an open coin-locker (didn't find one). It was unfortunate, but I was about ten million times more comfortable in a jimbei and sandals than I was in a suit and leather shoes (and there is not one-one hundred billionth of a microgram of exaggeration there). We walked to the festival area, which was near the beach and where the ceremony earlier that day had been. It was packed! It was much larger than I had expected. I hadn't been to a Japanese festival in 2 years, so it was great to be back. It's fun seeing all the people out there, young and old, some dressed in traditional clothes, some in regular everyday wear. There are food stalls everywhere selling yummy grilled and fried traditional Japanese foods. While Japanese food is, on the whole, very healthy, the stuff they serve at festivals certainly isn't.

There was an hour long fireworks display, which was interrupted several times for a large sightseeing ferry to change locations. Buggers!

We were exhausted by the time we finally got home around 10:30 or so, but we managed to get enough rest to get up at 7:00 to get back on the trains. We met Maiko's mom, her brother Shun, Nishio-san, and another couple that are family friends in Atami, which is about an hour and a half away. We took a ferry to Hatsushima, where we spent the day sitting and eating fresh sashimi. It was so fresh that the squid tentacles still twitched when you touched them with your chopsticks (not an exaggeration) and the spikes on the sea urchin still slowly swayed while they sat on your plate. It was hot, but we were right next to the ocean and Nishio-san brought a snorkel and goggles, so I just went for a short swim any time I got too hot. Being from the midwest, I love being able to see ocean fish. I tried to dive down and catch some blowfish, but I was a bit too slow. Plus, having a slightly puffy belly myself, I can't exactly drop to the bottom like a rock. Maiko and her mom enjoyed teasing me that if anyone fell in that couldn't swim, they could just grab on and use my stomach as a personal flotation device. Funny...

Anyway, it is getting late and I have written way too much, but not enough at the same time. I have posted most of my pictures from the weekend on flickr, and I will post more when Maiko sends me hers. My memory card filled up at Hatsushima so she took most of the pictures there. I burned all my pictures on a CD today, so I am going to cleanse my memory card so I can take plenty more pics this week.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The weekend is almost here...

(I can start putting pictures in posts again! Woo-hoo! Here's electronics wonderland - Akihabara. Thanks for the picture Maiko!)
But no rest for me. It's been a productive week: I got my visa to Taiwan, I moved (which wasn't all that great, but at least I got it done), I went to Tokyo, and I managed to write a brief (20 page) outline of what I have done and seen with regard to emergency management in Yokosuka. It would have been much longer had I included all of the environmental stuff and other things not related to emergency management, but I didn't. I still have to go over it and find out where I need to go ask more questions. Next week, with the waterworks department I will be learning more about emergency preparations here, so I am sure I will have a lot more to add.

But I will get to that when it comes. I finish work for the day in an hour, but I have work to do tomorrow. The (Commodore) Perry Festival is on Saturday, and I have to work the reception desk at one festival, then head over to the formal reception and translate the welcoming remarks and a toast given by the chair of the Yokosuka City Council. Like I said earlier, this isn't live interpretation - it is me reading a pre-translated script of what the Chairman will say. There will be representatives there from the U.S. Embassy, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Yokosuka city government, the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces, and the U.S. Navy. I guess I am not too nervous about speaking in front of 200 important people, since I will only have to be up there for a few minutes and I just have to read what is in front of me. I am also really looking forward to having some free food and mingling with the elites. Hopefully I can get some good pics...

After the reception, there will be a parade and a fireworks show. I know I have already mentioned this, but I am pretty excited. The fireworks will be over by 8:30 P.M., which is good because I need to get home and get some sleep. Maiko is coming down tonight, and we have to be at the train station by 8:00 A.M. the next morning to go to the beach with her family. I hear we get to cut up and eat some live squid, so guess who's gonna pig out again!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

School stuff...

Well, I hate to say it, but I am having second thoughts about one of my summer 'classes'. Originally, I signed up for six credit hours this summer: three for my internship and three for a research paper I was going to write about the research I'm doing here. Well, I'm sure I can still get three credits for the internship simply by cutting and pasting and rewording stuff I've written on my blog, but writing a 20 or 30 page research paper is looking more and more unfeasible. I am at city hall 40 hours a week, I try to get out and enjoy my weekends, and I still have preparations for Taiwan. I don't really know where I would get the time to read books and articles for my paper. I would really hate to stress out over this paper, when I don't really need it now, and it would be easy to write a paper on Japanese emergency management during my last semester at SMSU (which will be Missouri State by then).

Enough of my whining for now... I will have to wait until I communicate with my professors before I make any decisions on this now (Dr. Ellison and Dr. Kernen - if you read this, let me know what you think...)

On to other stuff: I moved into a teeney-tiny little hole of an apartment yesterday. I am only there for about six weeks, so I think I can manage, but it is like a shoe-box after my five week stay in a furnished two bedroom flat. We moved all my stuff in the morning. Ms. Togiya from the front office in Society Hall was impressed with the job I did cleaning the place (see! I can clean if I have to!). Takahashi-san and another guy interning at city hall (a Japanese guy that works in the office at a local high school) helped me move, but since I was all packed, we finished getting everything in my new place before noon. I then had to go to Yokohama to start the Taiwan visa process. I was starving by the time I got there, but I couldn't decide what to eat. I sent Maiko (who is a great food consultant) a text message and she told me that Japanese people often eat soba (buckwheat noodles) when they move. Luckily, there was a soba place near the station, so I stopped in for a Ten-Zaru set (several pieces of tempura and a plate of cold soba). Needless to say, I ate my fill and was very satisfied.

I finished at the Taiwanese office (it's not an independent country, so it doesn't have embassies or consulates here) by 2:15 or so and stopped by Starbucks. While sipping on my mocha frappuchino, I decided it would be a waste of a beautifully cool summer day to just go home and unpack. So I went to Tokyo and met up with Maiko. We did some shopping in Akihabara, the electronics Mecha of the universe. I wasn't planning on going to Tokyo, so I didn't bring a ton of money, which is probably a good thing because I probably would have spent too much. Seriously, I could spend days and millions of dollars there... If only I had them..

We ate at Nishio-san again. This is Maiko's favorite restaraunt and, since Nishio-san is a friend of the family, he hooks us up with his recommendations at a discounted price. If you ever make it out to Shinjuku, let me know and I will get you directions, because this place is the bomb! Everything is fresh and exceptionally good. Try the grilled mackerel! Even if you don't like mackerel, you will like this. Trust me. If Maiko ever e-mails me the pictures we took there the first time I went (when I first got here we ate there with her mom and brother) I will be sure to post them on flicker. If I get out there again, maybe I can draw up a map and take some more pictures of the place and the food.

Time to get back to organizing my research.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

A brief update...

Well, it's been a slow day at the desk. I have managed to get quite a bit of my research organized. I am out of the office for the next two days, so hopefully I can finish most of my organization on Friday.

I am going to the Taiwanese Cultural and Economic Office in Yokohama tomorrow to start the visa application process, but apparently I have to come back the next day to actually get my visa. I am also moving tomorrow morning, so I will be wiped out tomorrow night. The annual Perry and the Black Ships festival is this weekend, and I have to work at the reception desk and MC for a small gathering (only about 200 people). I will be with Noro-san, a lady in the International Affairs Division with a great sense of humor on stage leading a toast. Again, it is weird to be asked to do this because I don't drink, but I don't think anyone will complain when I insist on having tea since I am (sort of) a city employee and it is in the middle of the afternoon. There will be representatives from the city and the U.S. Navy, which is why they want a native Japanese and native English speaker on stage. I love their idea of translation here: they write out and translate what we are to say beforehand so all I have to do is read a short script. Brilliant!

There will be a fireworks show at night, then I have to wake up really early to go to the beach with Maiko and her family. Monday is Sea Day, a national holiday here, so I don't have to come into work. It will be a busy 3 day weekend, but it should be fun.

It's almost 5:00, so it's almost time to go. It's nice and cool outside today compared to yesterday, so I am looking forward to a nice, long walk home. I will have to grab a bite to eat at the convenience store, so watch out Onigiriman! I had some really good cheap sushi for lunch today. It's hard to believe how expensive the crappy sushi back in Missouri was. I had some great nigiri sushi made while I wait for like $8, which would have cost 3 or 4 times as much in the midwest. It was great, but I guess it wasn't enough, because I am starving!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Back to the desk...

This week I am with the International Relations Division, which means I get to sit at a desk all week. That might sound boring, but it's a welcome break from running around and touring facilities. I have had some great experiences so far, but I need some time to organize my research and reflect on what I've seen and learned so far.

It's also not so bad because there are a few days this week when I will be gone from the office. I am moving out of Society Hall on Wednesday. I really hate to leave, because I have 2 bedrooms and a washer and dryer, but I'm not too upset, because I'm sure the new place will be comfortable enough for the next 6 or 7 weeks. It has AC and a TV, so I'm happy.

Maiko came down this weekend, but we didn't do much. It was nice to take it easy for once. We did a little shopping, went out for dinner once, and cooked the rest of our meals, so I didn't blow too much money this weekend. Well, I guess I did buy a DVD player... I know, I know, I am only going to be here for another 2 months (less than that, actually), but it was only $50, and I can probably sell it when I leave. If I watch more than 5 or 6 DVDs on it before I leave, I will wind up saving money over seeing things in the theater (it's like $15 to $20 to see a flick here!). The only problem is without a Japanese ID, I have to have someone come with me to the rental store to rent one and convince them to let me use their account.

I am glad the hurricane wasn't too bad in Florida. My mom is still down there working for FEMA, helping people get their lives straightened out from last year's batch of high wind and rain. There are still people living in government shelters from Hurricane Ivan, which hit almost the same area less than a year ago. Keep dry and safe Mom!

And we have terrorist attacks going on in London. I don't get to watch the news in English here, but the Japanese news is really good about telling you what's going on, writing the important points on the screen, using visual aids, and using subtitles (no dubbing!) when interviewing foreigners. I went in the U.S. Naval Base the day before the attacks and when we passed the next morning, it looked like they had beefed up security.

While Japan may not be Al Qaeda's number one target (though it is certainly on the list somewhere), Japan is still probably vulnerable to terrorist attacks a la Aum Shinrikyo. For those that don't remeber, Aum released sarin gas in the Tokyo subways in 1995, killing several and hospitalizing thousands. Cults are on the rise here, and they are currenlty a bigger threat than Islamic extremists.

Regardless, I read in the news today that the Tokyo subway system has beefed up security, but I don't know how they could ever make the world's busiest network of underground trains 100% secure.

On a completely unrelated note, I have been reading manga recently in order to study Japanese. After hearing some Americans who have lived here for 20 years speak Japanese, I have realized living here alone will not gurantee fluency in Japanese. I have been reading 'Da-rin wa Gaikokujin' (my darling is a foreigner), written by a woman married to a multi-lingual American. I was intrigued by Tony (the American) after seeing him on Japanese TV. He speaks 5 or 6 languages (at least). I can't attest to his ability in any of his other second languages, but his Japanese is excellent. The first two books were pretty funny, but the third reads like a textbook on differences in English and Japanese. I think it should be required reading for advanced students of Japanese and beginning Japanese students of English.

I have also begun going over a study guide for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (level 2 - the second hardest). It's amazing (and frustrating) how many grammar patterns are in there that I don't know. The vocabulary isn't too hard, but some of these patterns I don't think I have ever heard anyone use in conversation. Maybe I just chose not to hear...

Not much else to report now. I will try to get back to posting later this week...

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The VIP Life (Part II)

Before I talk about today, let me just answer Ross's question. Those cards are prayers for healthy, happy babies. I believe they are left there by pregnant mothers. I think that's what you're asking about...

Anyway, today was another day of touring stuff. It was my third time on the base today. This morning, I met with Roger Hoot, the regional emergency manager for the U.S. Navy in Japan. He was kind enough to take an hour out of his busy day to meet with me and talk one on one about what his office does and answer some of my questions. I still have more, so I will probably be e-mailing him soon. Apparently, the office of emergency manager is new for overseas navy bases. The Navy has always been good at handling emergencies on ships (born out of necessity), but apparently hasn't put much thought into emergency management in overseas facilities until relatively recently. This is not to say that the Navy hasn't always had emergency management capabilities on these bases. There have always been security, fire, and medical services, but there has been some lack of coordination between them and overall planning.

We talked a little about U.S.-Japan cooperation, but I still have many more questions about this subject, which I will surely put into my final report on Japanese emergency management in Yokosuka.

We finished our meeting by 10 this morning because Mr. Hoot had a meeting with represenatatives of the Kanagawa prefectural government. He had invited me to attend, but the prefectural representatives preferred I not be there. Apparently, since they weren't sure whether or not some 'secret' information was going to come up, they didn't want a 'kankei nai hito' (person with no business being there) there. Mr. Hoot told me they were going to be working on streamlining a few communication protocols, so I doubt any 'top secret' stuff came up. I think this is just a typical characteristic of doing business Japanese style. You follow the book, the plan, the schedule and you don't change the plan. Proceedure is extremely important here; flexibility is not. (Uh-oh... I smell a theme brewing to put into my paper...)

When we finished, we went to Taco Bell. It was an early lunch and I pigged out (again). We were back at City Hall before just before the lunch break, so I went to the International Affairs Association to check my e-mail. We went back to the base this afternoon, where I met Captain Gregory J. Cornish, the Commander of Fleet Activities here in Yokosuka. He was a really nice guy and we talked for about 15 minutes. He was interested in my background, so I got to talk a lot about myself (something I've always had a knack for ; )

After this, I met Mr. Hidemi Nagao, a Civil and Media Liasion Officer in the Public Affairs Office for the U.S. Naval Forces, Japan. He gave a power point presentation on the U.S. Navy in Japan, which was written in English, though he spoke in Japanese. That was a great way to study because I could understand almost all of his words, but the ones that I didn't (like 'mine countermeasures ships') were written in English on the screen. The presentation was very detailed and I had few questions, but it was a good experience. We talked a little in English afterwards (he's worked for the U.S. Navy for 20 years, so he is completely fluent) and he gave me contact information for a friend of his in Taiwan, who used to teach International Relations in a Japanese university, but is now retired. It's really amazing how my interpersonal network is growing here...

Anyway, I have written two long posts and it's after 5:00. I need to get home because they are forcasting lots of rain in the next couple of hours. I am going to change into shorts and tennis shoes (I've been in a suit all day) and try to walk home before it starts pouring. I really need some exercise after all this Chinese and Taco Bell...

The VIP life (Part I)

Since I've been here, I have gotten the red carpet treatment the whole way. Aside from taking tours of what seems to be all the facilities in the city and getting to meet top local government officials, I have also been taken out for welcome parties or other free dinners at least four times in the month I've been here, and that's not counting the occaisional free lunch, free afternoon coffee, or ice cream cone.

Last night, however, was an extremely interesting experience. I went to a dinner (enkai = Japanese drinking party) with some people from the Environmental Department. This was a party that they had already planned out, but they invited me as a 'special guest' (using the English term). We went to a Chinese restaraunt where we were served tons of food. Since I don't drink alcohol (a borderline faux pas), I was told to pig out. They brought way more food than the 10 people there could eat, so they also made me take a bunch home.

I know. So far, nothing special, right? Well, I guess that's because I haven't mentioned the 'companions' they hired. Three girls (young women, actually, in their 20s or early 30s) came in toward the beginning of the party. These girls act as 'hostesses' for the party, pouring drinks, lighting cigarettes, filling plates, and going around the room, sitting down and chatting (and flirting) with the guests. I am really not sure how I feel about this custom. I have never seen anything like this in the U.S. and I doubt that companies like this would meet with much favorable press. Personally it was interesting to observe, but I really felt strange talking to a girl hired to flirt with me.

Anyway, it was interesting watching the party break down into different groups. Two older guys talked seriously with one of the young guys, no doubt assessing his future ambitions and capabilities while giving him career advice. A couple of the middle ranking guys (early 30s to mid 40s) imbibed heavily and spent most of the time loudly flirting with the ladies, and one older guy turned bright red and talked with the only female who was actually there as a guest (a woman who I think is retired and interning or working in the department as a volunteer). I was kind of in the middle. I was a 'special guest', but not a regular part of the group, so I spent most of the time eating and talking to whoever didn't seem to be too busy.

I ate way too much and decided to walk (slowly) home. It took about 50 minutes, but I really needed to walk off the heavy dinner. The temparature was great, but even when it's 75 outside, if the humidity is 100%, you get sweaty walking for that long. I guess it's Chinese for dinner again tonight...

Monday, July 04, 2005

I'm back...

So I finally got some time to post pics from the weekend on flickr. I think I got some decent pics. It was a great weekend. We slept in and made it to Kamakura by 1:00 or so. Kamakura is only 15 minutes away by train, so if the weather is nice and I have the time, I might go back. Kamakura is nice, but it isn't nearly as amazing as Kyoto was. Then again, I went to Kyoto when I was 17 and it was my first time out of the country, so maybe I was just easily amazed...

We couldn't have asked for better weather. It was cool and overcast. Maiko was even cold enough to put on a long sleeve shirt. It started raining at one point, so I gave in and bought an umbrella. After shelling out $5 for a tiny little crappy umbrella, it stopped raining.

We had lunch at a noodle shop. It was a little pricey because this is a tourist town, but it was really good. After lunch we went to see the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) of Kamakura. I have seen the great Buddha at Todaiji temple in Nara, so I wasn't too impressed. I hate to sound cynical about places of worship, but the temple grounds at Kamakura were small and very touristy (gift shop 30 feet from the Great Buddha). The lesson here - if you are going to see a big statue of Buddha in Japan, go to Nara.

But at least I can say 'been there, done that'. We stopped at a dessert place on the main road so I could have a crepe. This was the first time I have ever had crepes. I think it's pretty amusing that I've had so many foreign foods in Japan that I have never had the chance to eat in the U.S. It was tasty (but again, kinda pricey). We then went to Hasedera, which was fantastic. Kamakura is full of famous temples and shrines, most of which we didn't see, but I still feel confident in saying that Hasedera is a must see. This is apparently the best time of year to go, because the Ajisai (Hydrangea) were in bloom. There is a steep hill that is almost completely covered in these flowers that you can climb (on the stairs) and enjoy the blooming flowers and the view of the faraway mountains and beach. The temple grounds are also very beautiful, complete with little Buddha statues everywhere. This temple is dedicated to Kannon the patron 'saint' (bodhisattva) of children. People can purchase little statues, candles, or prayer blocks that are dedicated to their children or other family members. Some of these prayers go out to children who died young and some are dedicated for safe delivery of a child-to-be.

Hasedera has a treasure room where you can look at various historical and religious artifacts. I wish I could have posted pictures of this room and of the main temple hall, but photography is forbidden in these places. There is also a cave full of prayer candles. It seemed like every time we thought we had seen everything, something new appeared before our eyes.

We were beat after walking around all day, but we decided to go out for dinner anyway. We ate at a yakiniku (Korean BBQ) restaraunt. You order various plates, including raw meat and vegetables and grill them yourself at the table. It's expensive, but worth every penny in my opinion. I ate way too much and had a bit of a grumbling in my stomach on Monday, but it was worth it. YUM!

Anyway, I am with the Military Base (Countermeasures) Division. So far I have just sat down with some officials and gotten an explanation of what they do. I am going to tour some parks and other facilities that were former military bases returned to the city at various points since WWII. Tomorrow, I have an easy day of sitting around and going through my materials and organizing my research. Last week, one day was only enough to go through about 10% of what I had received up to that point. Ugh...

Thursday I am going to the American Naval Base again. They set up a meeting for me with the American emergency manager here, then I am going to tour the commander's office in the afternoon. On Friday I get to go to an SDF (Japanese military) base and take a tour. Hopefully I can get some pictures, but since these are military facilities, my guess is I won't have too many I can publish.

Wow... I didn't think I was going to write so much. Check out the new pics!

Sorry to disappoint...

Well, I had a GREAT weekend, but I am not going to tell you about it now. Why, you ask? Because I just got a package from my brother in the U.S. with new Family Guy episodes! Sweet! Friggin sweet!

I promise I will post about the trip to Kamakura and our wonderful dinner of Yakiniku later, but for now, I am going to use my time wisely and watch American cartoons. I have tons of pictures of Kamakura, so I will post those when I get a chance. My guess is I can get a few in tomorrow during my lunch break and the rest by the weekend.

I might get to meet the commander of the U.S. base here in Yokosuka this week, but it completely depends on his schedule. If I do, you can be sure there will be pictures coming!


Saturday, July 02, 2005

The weekend is here again...

The weekend is here, and since I'm staying in Yokosuka this weekend, I can actually get some sleep (since I have AC in my apartment). I slept until 10:30 this morning. It was glorious!

I went shopping with the Korean intern next door. It's strange shopping with him because when we are talking to a store clerk, they assume he is Japanese (or at least speaks better Japanese than me), so they start talking to him. He has only studied Japanese for 2 years, but he does have a very large vocabulary for only have studied for that short period of time. He still has some problems with listening and making sentences (yeah, like I don't), so I did most of the talking, but sometimes the clerks would answer my questions to him. Weird...

Anyway, I finally got back to Don Quixote (the mini-Japanese Wal-Mart). If you spend over 10,000 yen (about $100), they deliver your stuff to you free of charge. This is a big bonus if you don't have a car and don't feel like lugging two cases of canned coffee and other junk on the train. Since we didn't have any raw food, they were able to ship all but a few things we wanted to take with us.

We went to eat tempura afterwards, which was really good for a chain restaraunt. Five hundred yen gets you a bowl of miso soup and a big bowl of rice with tempura shrimp, squid, eggplant, and fish (one piece each). It's not a huge meal, but it's filling. Who needs to eat so much when it's hot and muggy, anyway.

I'm at the Internet cafe again. I guess it's not so bad to pay $4 to sit in the AC for an hour and check my e-mail and drink free melon soda (they have other soft drinks, too). Maiko should be here in an hour and a half or so (YEA!!!) and we're going to Kamakura tomorrow. I've never been there, but it should be really cool. Kamakura is the local version of Kyoto - full of old temples and shrines. It was the capital of Japan from 1185 to 1333 during the aptly named Kamakura Period. There is a large bronze buddha statue that has been there since the 13th century. It sits outside because a tsunami washed away the building that housed it in the 15th century and they left it 'as is'. I will definitely take pictures.

That's all for now. I think I'm just going to surf the net for a while and maybe take a walk around the station area until Maiko gets here. See ya!