Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tokyo for Christmas

Mr. Travel at Tokyo Tower

Well, it's time to come home toady. On one hand I am extremely excited to get back to the comforts of home that I am now beginning to miss, but on the other hand, it is never easy being separated from Nick... once again. At least I know that the time he has left in Japan will go by quickly and then with God's good grace and mercy, he will get stationed somewhere in the States.

There are so many thing we didn't get to do that I would have loved to do, but I feel so blessed to be able to have experienced what we did. I've fallen behind two days on the blog since the last two days were so long that by the time we returned to the hotel I was too exhausted to blog.

It's Wednesday morning in Tokyo, 6:50 am to be precise. It's Tuesday afternoon back home, 2:50 pm MST. We will board our shuttle to the airport at 11 am and it will take us a couple of hours to get to the airport so we'll get there around 2 pm. Our flight leaves at 6:15 pm and we arrive in San Francisco at 10:20 am their time on Wednesday! Our next flight for Denver departs at 3:12 pm and arrives in Denver at 6:38 pm. So weird that we are leaving Tokyo at 6 pm and arriving in Denver at 6 pm the same day. I am quite certain this is going to take a toll on our bodies. I just pray that the weather will cooperate and we don't have any problems with flights and also that we will be able to drive home on Thursday morning.

I'm hoping to be able to work on the blog while we are doing all our waiting around in the airports. I have so much to share yet. I hope you aren't getting tired of this trip, but I guess if you are, it's not like I'm holding you captive and making you read this! LOL! You can stop reading any time!

I still have a video coming too! I'm going to edit it when I get home and will post it then.

Yesterday was Mt. Fuji, so there is a lot to write about for that day. We had a full day of sight seeing which included a trip on the bullet train. That was awesome! And Monday was "downtown" Tokyo and Tokyo Tower with just Mr. Travel and myself, Nick had to work.

But right now, I must start packing up and get ready to "head 'em up, move 'em out." Pray for our travels today! See ya when we get back home!

Sayonara and さよăȘら。
-Kathi the Country Chicken Girl

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tokyo for Christmas: Day Five

Day Five...

December 27, 2009

Ahhh, finally a day for a little rest and relaxation! Just what the doctor ordered for my physical state and mental state! Those of you who know me can attest to the fact that when I get tired I can get a little cranky. Maybe I should say cranky with a capital "C". My kids and Dan the Man would tell you it is more like "CRANKY" in all capital letters! LOL

Anyway, today Nick had a baseball game at 11:00 am so we really couldn't go do anything. To tell you the truth, I didn't really want to do anything! It was Nick's team's last game so I was glad we were here to watch it. They ended up losing, but I didn't care. I've never had the chance to see Nick or Chris play baseball since that is something that they always did in the summer while they were visiting their father.

The weather was perfect for it. It was a little cool, but not freezing and the wind wasn't blowing. The "backdrop" for the baseball field was like none I have ever seen. You could see the mountains, or do they call them "hills," in the background along with a HUGE cargo plane and another plane which looked like a commercial 747 or something. Then in the far distance you could see Mt. Fuji, not very clearly because of the weather, but you definitely could tell it was Mt. Fuji.

I was surprised there weren't any people watching the game. It was just Dan the Man, me, one wife and her two small children. The opposing team, which was a Japanese team, had a couple of kids. I was a little disappointed because I thought that maybe I could strike up a conversation with one of the wives about something that we could do on Monday since Nick has to work and we will be on our own. No such luck.

You can see the mountains in the background.
Mt. Fuji is among them but you can't see it in the picture because
it is snowcapped and doesn't show up in the photo.

See the plane in the distance?

Nick pitching.

Dan the Man and Kathi, two of five fans!

After the game we came back to the hotel for a little TV watching and I did laundry, which was at no charge for guests of the hotel. They have washing machines and dryers on every floor. How nice is that! One thing I always hate about returning home from a vacation is doing all the laundry. This time I can actually do our laundry before we leave and not have so much to do when we get home. Nice! The only thing that this hotel is lacking in my opinion is a cat for each room! LOL, I do miss my cats! Those of you who love cats as much as I do I'm sure can relate. Those of you who don't care for cats must think I'm crazy!

Nick came and picked us up around 5pm and we went bowling. After three games of bowling we ate at some supper at the bowling alley. Nick and Dan the Man both had cheese burgers. I on the other hand who still hasn't had enough Japanese food had some sort of noodle/chicken dish that had a little "heat" to it. It was delicious but I couldn't eat it all so I brought it back to the hotel with us.

The bowling alley was really nice and appeared to be fairly new. The lanes on the other hand sucked. I have never bowled on such a "dry" lane before. Dan the Man went first and preceded to do a face plant right at the fowl line. Oops! "I stuck!" he said. No kidding! He was much more cautious with his 2nd ball. Then it was my turn. I too "stuck" and almost fell, but caught myself at the expense of my ankle. Ouch, darn it! Nick didn't fall but his arm was sore from pitching the baseball game. What a sight we must have been! Oh well, it was fun! I've never not had a good time bowling. If I could choose any job in the world, a professional bowler would have to be one of my top five! No kidding!

I've been thinking of a few observations that I think about when we are out but have been forgetting to write about in the blog so here are some random thoughts...

Remember all the laundry I mentioned drying outside on the balconies? They also "hang" their beds, which I assume to be like futon mattresses, out to dry or just to air them out.

There are no towels of any sort in the public bathroom or hand dryers. I have seen a few women take little towels out of their purses to dry their hands.

We haven't seen any wildlife. I did see one squirrel at one of the shrines. The only birds we have seen are huge black ravens.

We have only seen a handful of dogs, maybe 6, and only 3 cats!

The Japanese are very friendly and extremely polite.

Hardly any of the Japanese wear wedding bands.

Almost every one, the young and old alike, has a cell phone charm on their cell phones. Some of you will know what I mean.

A lot of the signage is done with bright colors and cartoon characters.

Well, Mr. Travel is starting to stir and is getting out of bed (it's Monday morning here). Nick has to work today. I don't know what Mr. Travel has planned for today since I went to bed while he was still researching on the internet. I'd better get off of the computer and take my shower so I am ready to go when he is!

Mr. Travel just informed me that today's adventure will be "downtown" Tokyo! Should be interesting, hope we don't get lost! Wish us luck!!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tokyo for Christmas: Day Four

Day Four...

December 26, 2009

I'm having a hard time trying to figure out what day it is, so I'm now going to post the day on each entry. My computer is still set on Mountain Daylight time so every time I try to post for the day that it really is here in Japan, the computer wants to "hold" it for an additional 16 hours. That probably doesn't make much sense, so never mind!

Last night before bed, Mr. Travel did some research on the internet to plan our day. He stumbled across a "Yokota Travelog" complied by the Officers’ Spouses’ Club. This is what we needed all along! He found a nice day trip in the Chichibu-Tama National Park. Inside the park is Nippara Caverns. To get there we took an hour long train ride (we're becoming experts at this now) and 30 minute bus ride and a 30 minute hike.

Mr. Travel and Kathi

The Train

Inside the train looking out the door.

The bus station

This time, the train wasn't crowded at all, probably since it was a Saturday. I am really beginning to like this whole train thing. It sure is easier than driving. I could get use to it, I think. This time the scenery was different since we were leaving the city. It was more of what we saw yesterday, the forested hills with a river running through the valley/canyon.

"Pop" machine

Little store, I don't think they sold Coke!


Cool sculptor at bus station

Cool sculptor at bus station

Very narrow road!

Garage right on the road!


Here's some literature I found on the cave:

The Nippara Shonyu-Do is about 800m deep, with about 300m open to visitors. It consists of eight caves divided into two sections. The old caves, “Kyu-do,” were used as a training site for “yamabushi” or itinerant Buddhist monks at the Issekizan Shrine Temple for 1,200 years before the cavern was opened to sightseers, Visitors to the Kyu-do first purify themselves with water at the nearby waterfall and then offer coins to the guardian god enshrined in the cave. The new caves, “Shin-do,” were discovered in 1963 and have much finer stalactites and
stalagmites than the “Kyu-Do.” Scientists estimate the caves were formed 5-7 million years ago.

The cave is a constant 52 degrees, very humid and wet inside. All the signs inside are in Japanese, no English at all. So glad we didn't get lost! Actually there was very little signs in English anywhere that we were today. Good thing Mr. Travel did his research or we would have been lost for sure! Inside the cave there are several steep stairs which are all wet and slippery. Luckily, most of the stairs had hand rails or it would have taken me forever to get down them! My calves are aching tonight! Looks like I've started my New Years resolution of the exercise thing early!

When we got done with the cave we walked back to the bus stop (30 minutes) boarded the bus and rode it back to the train station. We then hopped on the train and made our way back to the train station. By this time we were hungry for lunch/supper so we stopped at a big shopping center and ate in a restaurant there. Once again we looked at the plastic food outside the restaurant and pointed to what we wanted to eat on the menu. I thought I was ordering sweet and sour chicken, but it wasn't. I'm thinking it might have been some sort of fish, but I really have no clue! It was good though! Dan the Man and Nick both had some sort of beef stir-fry.

I'm glad they didn't seat us at one of these tables,
I don't think I could have got back up!

My meal.

Mr. Travel and Nick exhausted and resting on the train

With our bellies full and our legs aching, we headed back to the base. Nick went back home to rest, he's still fighting this cold thing and Dan the Man and I are in our hotel room watching the movie "The Last Samurai" starring Tom Cruise. It is really cool watching it because the scenery looks very much like where we were today! Also some of the Japanese phrases that are said in the movie are becoming familiar phrases to us. During Mr. Travel's internet searches he came across a temple some 2000 years old on top of Mt. Mitake where some of the samurai use to worship. There is also some samurai amour and weapons up there. Too bad we didn't go there today.

21 years old and still can't wear his pants properly!

Okay before I sign off for today I thought I'd share this with you. Let me introduce you to the most sophisticated toilet I have ever encountered! Here's the control panel. I didn't try any of the options because to tell you the truth, this Country Chicken Girl didn't know what they all were. What's the difference between the "spray" and the "bidet"? I can see there is a difference, but since I've never experienced either, I wan't sure I wanted to try it, especially since I was in a public place and had to come out of that bathroom! I didn't want to get my pants or whatever all wet and that's exactly what looked like was going to happen if I tried the "spray" or the "bidet"! LOL And as for the "flushing sound", well that just automatically came on. Guess that was to camouflage any sounds that might squeak out? What was the "stop" for??? Stop what? Once you start you don't want to stop until your business is done. "Powerful deodorizer"? Was that what you used after the "flushing sound"?? LOL!! And "WARM SEAT"? Are you kidding me?? Oh my gosh, who knew these things exsisted? As for "Nozzel Clean"... hmmm, I have no idea. What nozzel? I'd rather encounter one of these contraptions, verses the "squatters." All the other pottys I had to contend with today were the squatting kind. I'm sorry if I have offended anyone with this potty commontary, but I find it noteworthy and maybe this knowledge will come in handy for someone else!

As for tomorrow I think we have baseball and bowling on the agenda. Nick has a baseball game here on the base at 11:00 am and then we might go bowling. I'm wondering what my legs are going to feel like tomorrow! Well, time to hit the hay. See you tomorrow! Oh and a special thank you goes out to Mr. Travel for taking charge of our sight seeing and making sure we don't get lost! I love you! And one more thank you to Nick for being such a trooper even when he doesn't feel well! Love you too!

Tokyo for Christmas: Day Three

Day Three...

Today we took it a little easier. Nick and I were both tired, Nick is getting sick with a cold or something and my legs and ankle are killing me! I can't believe how much my body has aged in the last 5 or so years! What is with that? Could it be that my doctor is right? That I need to exercise on a regular basis? Could I possibly be that out of shape! LOL I think it is time to make a New Years resolution to exercise!

We started our Christmas morning with bacon and eggs which I fixed in our hotel room. I love this hotel room. It makes such a difference to have a kitchen. After breakfast we made our plans for the day. Nick and I would have been content with sitting around here, but not Dan the Man, now known as Mr. Travel Agent. He has spent a lot of time on the internet reading, researching, plotting and planning our time. Mr. Travel thought it would be nice to get out of the city and see some rural parts of the country so he convinced Nick to take us for a drive.

Dan the Man usually sits in the back seat when ever we go anywhere, but since he has turned into Mr. Travel, he got assigned shotgun. I learned that it wasn't near as scary in the back seat! Mr. Travel learned it was terrifying to sit in the front! After a few wrong turns, we finally were leaving the confines of the city and were venturing down a road that wasn't so congested. We could actually see hills and actual houses versus skyscrapers and apartment buildings. Oh this was nice!

Mr. Travel was taking us to a "vacation spot" or "resort" kind of place called "Seoto-no-Yu" at Akigawa Valley. It was a place that had hiking trails and hot springs. Soon the landscape turned to heavily forested hills that reminded me of being in Colorado, like on the way to Estes Park. Only instead of just pine trees, there were cedar, fir, deciduous trees, ferns, palms, citrus trees, bamboo lots of other things that I don't know what are. Remember I grew up in western Nebraska where we had elm and cottonwood trees and that was about it! Oh, and lilacs! These hillsides must be breath taking in the fall when all the leaves are changing color. There still were a lot of people, narrow roads and buildings. When we got to the springs, there were some building and signs, but absolutely nothing written in English. So we had no idea what the buildings were, which ones we should go into and which one's we shouldn't! It was obviously the off-season and not too many people were even there.

There seemed to be several "cabins" that perhaps you could rent and stay in. There was also a building that we went into, but there didn't seem to be anyone at the "information desk". We guessed that this place contained baths for the hot springs. Across the way from that building was another that housed a gift shop that had several different things in it from food, flowers, hand crafted item to trinkets. Looked like all the stuff offered were from the locals. There were little signs of the producers or craftsmen next to each item.

There was a footbath outside of these buildings with warm water, from the springs, and little benches you could sit on. Nick wanted to stick his feet in, but we didn't know if we were allowed to, so we didn't. We found a trail to hike which led us down to a river. There appeared to be more cabins down there, but they looked like they were only occupied in the summer time. It really smelled good there, typical forest smell, can't ever get enough of that smell.

After exploring we decided to go back to the base and take naps. After napping it was time for dinner so Nick took us to a Japanese place that kind of reminded me of a cafe. They had menus for English speaking people. I had pork curry and Mr. Travel had some chicken dish he can't remember what it was, but it had seaweed on it and we've decided we really don't care for it, the seaweed that is. So, Mr. Travel wasn't too impressed with his dinner. The whole seaweed thing reminds us of our chicken feed since we add kelp to it! LOL! I'm not sure what Nick had. Nick and Mr. Travel are pretty good with the chop stick thing, but I can't seem to figure it out.

Defiantly not our traditional Christmas dinner. Most certainly not our typical Christmas day. Actually it was so out of the ordinary, it didn't even feel like Christmas. If I had my choice as to spending Christmas in Japan, or spending it in Nebraska with my family, Nebraska would win hands down! I am thankful we did get to spend Christmas with Nick though and definitely don't have any regrets!

After dinner it was back to the base and back to our hotel room. Mr. Travel got on the internet to do some more sightseeing research and I watched (was resting my eyes, okay, I slept though most) of the movie "Bride Wars."

Vegetables growing along the side of the road

More vegetables along side the road

Dan the Man thinks we need one of these little cars to go to town in.

Chris, we found this car for you. They must have had this shipped from the states.

Front gate into some one's house.

This is beginning to become a welcoming sight after a long day
of sight seeing in a very foreign land!

Well, it's time for me to sign off. Hope you are enjoying this adventure. If you are reading this, please let me know by leaving a comment. You don't have to "sign-in" to leave a comment. Just click where it says "comment" at the end of each post. Type your comment in the box and include your name within your comment. Click the down arrow and choose "Anonymous" and click on the "post comment" box! Thanks and I hope each and everyone of you had a special Christmas!

PS someone from home please drop us a note about the weather back there!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Greetings

Domino and I would like like to wish you a very
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tokyo for Christmas: Day Two

Day Two of our Christmas in Tokyo was crammed with sightseeing, train rides and what seemed like endless walking. We left the base at 7:30 am and walked down to the train station which is about a 15 minute walk. Once we got to the train station we had to figure out where to buy our tickets and which tickets to buy. Once again, luckily we had Nick to lead the way. It's amazing what all he has picked up here in his 18 months or so, meaning being able to communicate with the Japanese. With our tickets in hand, backpacks on back, cameras, video cameras, hand sanitizer, kleenex, gum and a few yen (Japan currency) we were jumping on the train.

Nick & Danny in front of a train map at the second train station.

We wanted to get an early start because we had a 2.5 hour train ride ahead of us. Too bad we didn't think about the fact that everyone else would be getting on the train to go to work. It was unbelievably crowed. Standing room only and shoulder-to-shoulder. Most of the commuters were sleeping either sitting or standing!

Dan the Man had diligently studied the train map and charts the night before so he was pretty familiar with what route we needed to take and where we needed to get off (on paper that is.) When we actually got to the different train stations, it was a little more complicated than it looked on paper, especially when the massive crowds of people who actually knew where they were headed were pushing you along. Dan the Man felt like he was in a massive herd of cattle! LOL!

I was impressed at the way everyone was dressed. Almost all the men were in suits and the women were wearing dresses, pantyhose or stockings and high heels. The children were all dressed in school uniforms. The ages varied, with the men ranging from their 20's to their 70's. The women appeared to be in their 20's to 50's and the children were of all ages. It also seemed like there were more men than women. I wondered what all they did, what jobs did they have, did they enjoy this commute everyday, how long did it take them, especially the kids, how long did they have to ride that train for every day? What a completely different lifestyle from ours.

The whole 2.5 hours we were on the train we didn't leave the city. I couldn't wrap my head around the number of apartment buildings and how many people must have lived in them! I think that I saw more apartment buildings on that train ride than I have in my whole entire life. No joking! Crazy... It appears that most Japanese hang their laundry out to dry rather than drying it in a dryer. Seemed like every other apartment balcony was covered with laundry drying and the balconies are tiny. Not many people have yards and if they do, they are tiny!! And I mean TINY. I did see a few, not many though, gardens growing with lettuce, onions and other cold weather crops. It must not get below freezing here, at least not yet, maybe later in the winter it does. Makes me appreciate my space back home so much more! My house is enormous compared to most of the homes I saw today.

Billboards at the train station.

We also saw more bicycles in one day than I bet there are in the whole state of Nebraska! We could see several bicycle garages from the train that must have housed hundreds of bicycles. If Americans had to walk and ride bicycles as much as the Japanese do, we would be so much more healthier. Those who do ride their bikes to work, must still have to walk a long way because they park their bikes in those garages. We really do take our cars for granted.

Our train ride ended in Kamakura. After that long ride it was time to use the bathroom. There was a long line and by the time it was my turn I was doing the potty dance. Finally an open door so I eagerly go in, actually at a trot, not wanting someone to cut in line. I get to the stall and shut the door behind me and wouldn't you know it, it was one of those toilets in the floor! I don't know how else to explain it, except that it was an elongated hole, but a porcelain bowl thing recessed into the floor. What in the world?? I couldn't come back out and try for a regular toilet or else I'd have to get back in line again and besides, that would make me look stupid! So I figured it had to be just like squatting out in the corn field, right? So I did my best and that is exactly what I did. Not sure if that was the proper way to use that toilet, but hey, it worked for me! And while we are on the subject, toilets over here have two flush options, a low volume flush and a high volume flush. Who knew? Why don't they do that in the states? Probably saves a lot of water. Dan the Man had to lift the toilet tank cover off at the hotel to see how it works. He was pretty impressed saying that it was a pretty sophisticated operation in there!


Dan the Man, our trusty self appointed travel guide had scoped all the travel guides and had some destinations in mind for us to visit. Once again, looked easy on paper, but actually navigating the streets was a different story. We got lost a couple of times and changed our plans a few times since we couldn't find what we were looking for.

We began our journey through a tiny crowded street which had shops on both sides. It was cool and full of interesting things. I wish I had one of those little voice recorders to record my thoughts on this trip. It sure would make it easier to remember my thoughts and impressions that I get along the way. We saw an ambulance that was called a "Doctor Car." We thought that was a little funny! Another observation about the vehicles on the street was that they were extremely small. Dan the Man keeps saying we need to get one of those toy cars for running to town in. The concrete trucks are even small. Danny thought that they would only hold 3 yards of concrete while a regular concrete truck in the states holds 7 yards. There are NO semi-trucks or trailers.

Concrete Truck

Restaurants have plastic replicas of the dishes that they serve in display cases outside the restaurant along with how much they cost. I read somewhere that if they prices weren't listed, chances were that the only people who could afford to eat there wouldn't be concerned with the prices. That wasn't us, we looked for prices!

Here are some other interesting things we saw along this little shopping district.

We then found our way to several shrines and temples. We decided that once you have seen one shire or temple, you have pretty much seen them all. Not very many had any signage in English, so we really didn't know what we were looking at. I thought what it would be like for a Japanese to come to my home and follow the sights of the Oregon Trail and not be able to read any of the English signs to know what they were looking at. I'm sure they would get pretty bored with it after a while. Also being a Christian amongst all the Buddhist worship and idols actually made us a little uncomfortable. Dan the Man made the observation that the Japanese culture/religion is just steeped in idolatry. I did love the look of the temples and idols and also the fact that many of these items were hundreds of years old. The gardens around the temples must be spectacular in the spring, summer and fall months!

We ate lunch at this little hole in the wall cafe. Literally it was about 8 feet across and 14 feet deep. They only had enough chairs for about 20 people at the most and that would be with elbows touching. There was one table and two counters against both sides of the cafe. The seats were close together and no taller than an kindergarten's chair! They had about 5 items on their menu. Nick got some curry pork dish he liked and Dan the Man and I got some chicken thing with soup. Neither one of us liked the soup, too much seaweed for us!

We timed our train ride perfect and didn't have to content with the work crowd returning home after work so praise God we all got seats on the train. Nick and I caught cat naps on the train while Dan the Man stayed awake so we wouldn't miss our stop. We finally made it back to the base around 6:30. We were so tired we grabbed dinner at the Burger King drive-thru on base.

I must say that after a full day of being out of our comfort zone, Mr. Dan the Man made quite an impression on me! He was fantastic at reading the maps and making plans as to what we were going to do. I guess he was so terrified at the thought of us not knowing what we were doing and the possibility of us getting lost that he thought he'd better take the bull by the horns and lead the way! I figured we wore him out and he had had all the sight seeing he needed, but that was not the case. He was the one who was rearing to go again today while Nick and I were dragging our feet.

Nick is coming down with a cold or something and really wasn't feeling up to par today so we took it easy and moved our sight seeing to a more rural part of the country. I'll post more later. I also have video of the vacation which I will post when I get home and can edit it. On Tuesday we have scheduled a tour to Mt. Fuji!!

I can't believe today is Christmas. It doesn't feel at all like Christmas here. We are going to go out to dinner tonight, but all the places here on the base are closed so we'll probably have to eat Japanese food. I think I'll go online and read the true Christmas story from the bible to celebrate the birth of my savior. I hope that you and yours are having a wonderful time celebrating the birth of Christ and spending precious time with your family.

Merry Christmas!!