Tuesday, November 22, 2011

snow and sushi

We are loving all of the "firsts" we are having here in Misawa. This week, we experienced our first snow and sushi in Japan. Ah, which one to start with...they were both so much fun!

Now, you know I'm really not the biggest fan of either snow OR sushi. I don't the combination of wet and cold that snow often brings, and I don't like to partake in much of what comes from the sea. So me telling you that I enjoyed both of these must say something about where we are!

The snow was crazy. It wasn't just that we received real snow for the first time since we left Reno several years ago, but it was the fact that it was bright and sunny for most of the day. The snow seemed to come out of nowhere, and then it just kept going. And going. And, wait for it, going. For about 24 hours, it snowed continuously. It was only overcast and cloudy for a small portion of that day. At times, it would snow lightly, with huge, puffy flakes. Then were the times that it felt like it was being dumped all at once. Either way, it was a pretty entertaining day just to watch the weather. Needless to say, my students had a hard time concentrating since we have an excellent view out our window. They had a blast playing in the snow at recess.

Like the snow, the sushi was crazy. We went to Kappa Sushi after hearing about how great it is from a friend as well as a Japanese local.

What we didn't know was that it would be more the experience than the food that made the night so much fun. When you sit down, there are several sites to take in. First, the food comes out on a conveyor belt. There are plates of sushi that are pre-made, and you can take the plate right off the belt if it looks like something you want. Second, there is a touch-screen where you can order something specific to be brought to you. Third, there is a track above the conveyor belt that holds the bullet train. Yes, the bullet train. Any food you order from the touch-screen is brought to you on a little yellow shinkansen that beeps to let you know it's coming. We had an immense amount of fun ordering our dinner!

So to sum it up, we've had snow and we've had sushi, but we've never had it quite like we got to have it here in Misawa.

Friday, November 18, 2011

of noodle museums and new coffee treats

We recently had our first Japanese mall experience. And yes, I do say "experience." Just like most other things here, we are learning as we go, and the mall was no different. We went to the ELM Mall in Goshogawara (try saying that three times fast!). Since we hadn't eaten that day, the first place we wanted to head was toward the food court. We had gotten a recommendation to try out the "noodle museum." Having no clue what this was, we didn't know what to expect. Was this actually a museum about noodles or did we lose something in the translation? When we got there, we understood.

This was not really a museum...it was an exhibition. A noodle exhibition. Basically, you walk in and you're transported to this whole new world, revolving around noodles. It had a bit of a rain forest motif going on, and there were about 20 different noodle restaurants along this dark path with Japanese tiki statues and trees surrounding the whole area. Each restaurant had somewhere around 10 tables in it, and each one had what looks like a vending machine in front.

Well, it doesn't just LOOK like a vending machine. It is one. Basically, you decide what you want to eat and then push the button on the vending machine. You insert your yen and it prints a ticket. You hand the ticket to the person at the counter and they bring it to you when it's done being made.

Well, this is all fine and well, except that it was all in kanji and we had no clue what we were ordering. We decided to take a crack at it, though, and ordered a few things. We ended up with udon noodles (which I love) and a fishy soup (not so much) and some amazing gyozas. Ben ended up going with the noodles and soup while I polished off the gyozas. We had seen several Japanese bakeries throughout the mall, so we weren't too disappointed that we both only had half a meal.

We wandered around the mall, observing the objects and the people (as well as looking for Christmas gifts for friends and family back in the states!) We found some awesome little trinkets, but most of the things we found were really expensive. We figured we were better off going with some of the things we had found in local shops around Misawa instead. Along our walk, though, we found a few familiar sites, including a Baskin Robbins and (drum roll, please) the only Starbucks in Aomori Prefecture!

While we have a few cafes on the base that brew Starbucks coffee, none of them have nearly the selection that a real Starbucks does. While we were unable to find the Starbucks mug with "Japan" on it, we did find some really great Starbucks treats. We decided to try drinks that were not available in the states. I got a dark chocolate java chip frappuccino (which was the best drink I've ever gotten at a Starbucks!) and Ben got a matcha frappuccino.

Armed with our caffeine, we were ready to do some more exploring. We found a fish market (and a few vegetable and sushi markets) right inside the mall, where the Macy's would have been in an American mall. We found a suspicious looking KFC across from an even more suspicious looking Italian restaurant. And, we found a ton of bakeries with scrumptious goodies calling our names. We ended up getting an amazing cheese and meat stuffed sandwich to compensate for our small lunch, and marveled at how intricate some of the pastries were along the bakery shelves. We knew when we came here to expect the Hello Kitty cuteness that pertains to just about everything in Japanese culture, but it still surprised us that they even add these attributes to their bread.

We are excited that something as mundane as going to the mall could seem so exciting, and we're even more excited about exploring more around the area!

Friday, November 11, 2011

water for sunsets

We finally got a car AND the insurance to drive it, so we have been trying to leave the base every day, if only for a little bit, so we can get to know our way around Misawa. It's been getting dark at 4:30 in the afternoon, so we don't have a lot of daylight once school is over, but we've have fun exploring!

Today, we had three missions. First, find the hundred yen store (which turned out to be awesome!), the McDonald's (which is WAY better than any McDonald's in the states), and the beach.

I was so proud of myself that I successfully navigated us to the store, to the McDonald's, AND to the beach...until we actually got to the beach. After the tsunami, the Japanese began building breaker walls because of the crazy undertows and the damage to the beaches. We could smell the salt air and the fish at the port, but there was no ocean in sight.

We decided to try and drive up the coast to see if we could find beach access. Twenty-eight km later, we still had no luck. We found a few areas that used to be access points, but are now closed to the public. We decided to be intrepid and continue on, and we finally found a wharf. From there, we could see the ocean! My wish to touch the Pacific Ocean from its Asian boundaries will have to wait, but at least I've seen it now!

On the way back to Misawa, we were lucky enough to be able to watch the sun set. We found a few spots that were so breathtaking, we had to pull over and shoot some photos!!

While we didn't get to walk along the beach, our day of exploration ended up being a great time!

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Well, our rush to jump into local culture continued when we got into our first Japanese car accident today. Now, let me preface this by telling you that nobody was hurt and we were not the ones driving.

We were on the way back to school from lunch and got into a bit of a fender bender. This was nothing unique, but what happened afterward was truly Japanese. See, when a driver in Misawa needs to make a phone call, which isn't allowed while driving, they simply and stop the car and make the call. Note, I didn't say they pull over and make the call. They often just stop in the middle of the street. So it's understandable that the lady whose car was hit stayed put in the street for twenty minutes while waiting for the police rather than pulling to the side.

When the police finally came, they directed the involved cars into a nearby parking lot to get them out of the way...and then proceeded to park the police car right in the street. It was at least entertaining watching all the traffic coming from four directions trying to maneuver around it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


So we have realized that while many aspects of life over here are similar to what we were used to in the states, there are differences we never expected.

Take for instance driving. We knew to expect cars to drive on the opposite side of the street, but didn't realize that this would affect us in so many ways. When crossing the street, I never realized how engrained in my mind it was to look to the the left, and then to the right in order to cross. You do that here and you are road kill! Looking right first is the way to ensure safe crossing. Then there are the drive-thru windows. Never did it enter our minds that one would go around a drive-thru clockwise!

When entering a building that has multiple doors, you enter on the left and always walk on the left side of the sidewalk to keep traffic flowing.

Another thing that is different is the signs! The stop signs look like the yield signs you would see back in the states, and then we kept seeing this sign all over the place.

What looks similar to the "illegal immigrant" signs you'd find all over southern California, or maybe a warning that people might be running and to watch out for them, this is simply an exit sign.

We have learned a lot in just a few days on how to live here, and we still have a lot to learn!!