Saturday, October 31, 2009

Let it Rain

Right before Matt and I purchased our Jet-Skis, we decided to take a drive to the east side of the island to check out the beaches there and see if we could find any boat ramps we would be able to use. We live on the west side of Okinawa, which is the East China Sea side. The east side of the island is the Pacific Ocean side. Just a fun fact:) We ended up crossing a bridge to another island and saw some amazing things there. Unfortunately, there was a slight tropical storm going on at the time, so our pictures aren't the best, but it was an incredible experience driving through the island and we will be back in better weather with our camera soon!

On the way out, we stopped at a restaurant/gift shop that was on the narrow strip of land that connected Okinawa to this other little island that we were headed to. We were basically out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the winds were incredible!




A large map of Okinawa on a wall at the restaurant/gift shop we stopped at - click on the photo to open it up and get a bigger image to see where we were exactly:
Outside the restaurant (it was right on the water)


Check out this little video clip of how windy it was out there:
video

Some steak flavored chips that Matt got at the restaurant/gift shop

On the little island - it has river-like canals that run through it, and we want to Jet-Ski through here once we get our licenses:)

I felt like we were driving through Jurassic Park
On a skinny road right along the ocean


A cool tunnel


A cool house we saw on the cliff-side

I hope to get to show you some photos of this island when it's dry outside! Wish us luck getting Jet-Ski licenses!



Thanks for following & for all of your comments and questions:)

-C

Japanese Thrift Shops = Awesome!

Don't judge me, but one of my most favorite things to do here in Okinawa is seek out new places to shop. Maybe I just need a job, but I loved shopping in Chicago, I loved it in California, and now, I LOVE it in Japan! Or maybe it's more window shopping that I enjoy - I like to look, but don't always buy! My new favorite place to visit and browse: the Japanese Thrift Shop. So, here's the scene: It's 9:00 on a week night. Matt and I are bored, don't want to go home, and just start driving the island. We venture down a road we've never been down, and we spot a huge, lit up, white building with words and Kanji symbols all over it and no windows. The only thing we can read on the exterior is "Buy Sell Anything", and the parking lot is jam-packed (on a week night at 9 pm?!?). We just had to see what was inside, and like most things we've explored so far, I'm glad we did!



We found the mother of all Thrift Shops (compared to US thrift shops, that is). This store was HUGE, and it had so many different departments and items that it's almost hard for me to describe. It was such an experience - you just had to be there to see all of the neat things that were packed into this one shop. Not only was the variety great, but the items for sale were things that you would really want to buy for the most part. While you may find an item or two that you would want when venturing into an American thrift shop, I could have probably walked out of this store with a whole car full of items! Home goods, sporting goods, music equipment, clothing, shoes, accessories, video games, books, toys...the list goes on and on! The crazy thing was how many old and unique things they had for sale - video game consoles that came out when we were kids, toys that were collectibles back in the US - still in packaging!










I wonder what he's saying?!?



After looking through the clothing racks for all of 5 minutes, I immediately found 4 cute dresses I wanted. They were each 300 yen (about $3)! You can't beat that! Matt found a brand new life vest for himself to use on our Jet-Skis for about $40 - it was one of those really nice foam and neoprene ones that zips up. While Matt was totally into the aisles and aisles of old video games and electronics, I was more interested in all the cool and cheap finds in the clothes and accessories area. It very much reminded me of one of my favorite clothing thrift shops back in CA - Buffalo Exchange! Needless to say, I was back two days later selling them a few of my old shirts after cleaning out my closet:)






The Japanese LOVE shirts with a bunch of writing on them, and I can't tell you how many of them make absolutely no sense at all!


They have a section of clothes that are from Forever 21:)






And now...

Things I Learned in Japan Today:
1. Most stores play American songs - this thrift shop likes to play all of Pink's songs on repeat.
2. The Japanese cashiers handle your credit card like it is a stick of gold, and they always take it from you and hand it back to you with both hands.
3. They do not keep pennies on the island. When buying something (where they take American dollars) the amount is always rounded off to the nearest nickel. For instance, if you owe $10.74 and you give the cashier $10.75, you will not get your penny back! And, if your change is supposed to be $1.54 (for example) the cashier will give you $1.55 back as change - you will have made an extra penny! After a lot of confusion, we still don't know the reason for this, all we've been told is that, "they don't keep pennies on the island". Hmmmm?!? How do the cashiers keep their drawers balanced?? I think this just may be the strangest thing I've learned in Japan so far!

'Till next time...
-C

The First Cut is the Deepest

One thing I've been both excited and anxious about since arriving on the island is getting a haircut. This may seem like a very simple thing to many of you reading this blog, but it is, in fact, a very nerve-racking task. How do I find a good salon? How will I let the stylist know what I want? What if I end up looking like this girl?!?



I ended up doing some research online about salons that other Americans have tried and ended up deciding on one that got great reviews - Earth Salon. Located only about 10 minutes from our house, the salon looked clean, modern, feminine- and took appointments. When I returned for my cut the following week, I was given a price list by the very friendly receptionist. This is not unusual. 99.9% of the people you meet here in Okinawa are the most upbeat and happy people you've ever met. From what I gathered, a women's cut was 3900 yen, and if I wanted a more senior stylist, it would be either 600 or 1100 yen extra. I asked for the highest stylist (1100 yen extra), because I wasn't taking any chances with my hair. After they informed me that there were no "top senior stylists" (I'm making these titles up, of course!) available, I agreed to let the "middle senior stylist" (600 yen extra) do the cut. I only had to wait a few minutes before a male stylist came and greeted me. He took me over to a cute little locker area right off the reception to lock my purse up - I got to bring the key with me to his station. I'm not sure why or how, but even with the obvious language barrier, I immediately felt at ease with this stylist. Maybe it was his high fashion clothing, maybe it was his seniority at the salon, or maybe it was because I brought in a picture of Jennifer Aniston and a small paragraph of instructions translated into Japanese using Babelfish... Either way, I could tell I was in for a great experience.

Exterior:



Decor, decor, decor! Let me tell you about the decor! I loved it! Not only was it sleak and contemporary, which is what I like in any salon, but it was also G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S (I've got that Fergy song in my head right now!). I'm sure guys get their hair done at Earth Salon all the time, but it definately had a girly ambiance to it - beaded dividers, giant rose wallcoverings, chandeliers...all done very tastefully. After being told that it would cost me 500 yen extra to get my hair washed (huh?!?), I decided to go for it so that I could experience everything the salon had to offer me, and I was throroughly glad that I did! First stop: choose your own aromatherapy shampoo scent. I sniffed my way through about 30 different scents before selecting "raspberry peach" for myself. Second stop: reclining wash station. I got to put my feet up, lay back and relax while my stylist washed my hair with my selected shampoo. They pull out all the stops as well - the scent was a treat, but I also got one of those silk sleep masks over my eyes, and my stylist spent about 15 minutes massaging my scalp. Third stop: neck massage. After my hair was up in the towel and I was sitting upright once again, I was all ready to return to my stylists chair when I was pleasantly suprised with a neck massage. My advice to anyone getting a haircut at Earth Salon - pay the extra 500 yen for a wash - it's well worth it!


Reception Desk:


Styling Stations:
Color Stations:

Kid's Room:

VIP Room- Don't ask me who this is for exactly...

All in all, my first Japanese haircut was not only a success, but also a great experience. My stylist did exactly what I wanted. He even took his time blow drying and styling my hair with a flat iron. The whole experience took about an hour and a half, and ended up costing me 5000 yen (about $50). Unlike Matt, who gets his haircut every week, I only get mine cut once every few months, so I thought the price was fair considering how much they do and how great the service was. I will definately be back!


The best pic I could get of me with my Japanese freshly cut hair:

-C

New Toys: Happy Halloween to us!

I have a ton of other things I want to share with everyone, but I just needed to put them all on hold to tell you about our new toys and how we spent our Halloween this year. By now, some of you have already heard that we bought a Mitsubishi Pajero as well as two Jet-Skis this past week! We've never owned a truck, nor any type of watercraft, so you can imagine how excited we are. All have been previously owned, but the Pajero, as well as both Jet-Skis, were extremely well taken care of and reasonably priced. We ended up getting the truck, both Jet-Skis, a double trailer, ball hitch, and other water accessories all for $11,400.00. Matt really likes the Pajero, because it's a "guy's truck", and he's been driving it to work every day since we got it. He even got a heavy-duty storage container for the back and filled it with "guy things" like rope and flashlights. I think the Altezza (our other car) is now my car:)






As far as our Jet-Skis go, we are keeping them at the local marina (called Kadena Marina) that is on the Air Force Base Kadena about 15 minutes away from where we live, because we live in a Tower and don't have a driveway or parking spot large enough to keep them in. We had to give them "names" when we filled out our paperwork at the marina, so we called the Kawasaki "His" and the Yamaha "Hers"... cute. Despite the names, we share them both. The marina only charges us $30 a month to keep them there and free access to their boat ramp as well.





The only problem right now is that we don't have Jet-Ski licenses. They apparently run about $600 each, but the real problem is that the only English-speaking classes run twice a year, and the next class isn't until March 2010! Come on! So, Matt and I are currently on the hunt for someone, anyone, who can get us some sooner. In the meantime, everyone, including the man who sold us the Jet-Skis, has been telling us that the Japanese Coast Guard is very easy to avoid and no one has ever been stopped that didn't have a license. After hearing this, and wanting badly to take our new toys out on the water, we planned to do so in a low-key area.

Matt learning how to hitch the trailer to the truck


Today was Halloween, and instead of taking our kids Trick-or-Treating (umm...we have no kids) we decided to take out our new Jet-Skis out to an island off of Okinawa that is much more secluded to try them out! The double trailer is wider than our truck, so Matt was a little nervous driving out there, being that he's never towed anything before. The drive from Kadena Marina to this remote island's marina was about 45 minutes. However, he did really great, and we had no problems getting there or getting in the water. We had a blast! The water was warm, turquoise and crystal clear! We rode all around remote little islands and explored the area, switching Jet-Skis a couple times. We even found an empty little beach on one island, beached our Jet-Skis right on the sand, and got out and swam for awhile! I wish we had some photos of what we saw, however, we don't have our waterproof camera case yet (it's in the mail!), but I'm sure we'll be back out there again soon once we get it.

Matt and I ended up riding for almost 2 hours before coming back to the ramp, and the only damper to the day was that we ended up getting stopped by the Japanese Coast Guard. No, not out on the water on a boat, but on shore in an unmarked van! That's right, the Coast Guard just drove right up to us and gave us a ticket! Grrrrr!!! Just our luck right?!?

The Japanese Coast Guard taking a picture of Matt's ID


We were sooo mad, but then again, we were breaking the rules and taking a chance. We have to go down to their office tomorrow with our Jet-Ski papers and we will find out how much the fine is. Hopefully, they will go easy on first time offenders, and will be able to help us get a boating license ASAP!

We are now back home, eating Chili, handing out candy to Trick-or-Treators, and about to catch up on some Season 6 of Entourage... Happy Halloween everyone!

-C

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Puppies and Kittens and Translations, Oh My!

Sometimes Matt and I just drive around to see what we find. This was one of those times. Who can resist a store with gigantic puppies and kittens on the exterior??! Just as anyone could have guessed, it was a Japanese pet store - a two-story pet store with puppies on the first floor and kittens on the second. Although the pets were expensive (most were upward of $800), you could tell they went to great lengths to keep the animals healthy. Some of the puppies were in cages behind glass along the wall like we're used to seeing in America, while others were in open pens on the floor. Beside getting to hold one of the most adorable puppies I've ever seen, the most fun was seeing all of the signs that the Japanese had translated into English, or should I say, tried to translate into English? Either way, I think it's nice of the Japanese people to even put the effort into translating for us Americans. I wish I could say more about our little visit to the pet store, but I think the pictures will tell a better story...


Ahhhhhhh!! His eyes are looking two different directions!


Cute puppy. Odd translation.




LOVE him:)




Me holding the most adorable puppy in the world. He was such a cuddler!


This is Muffin. She's my favorite.


Huh?!?

Kittens playing

This cat had flat ears

Matt and I could not stop laughing about this translation:

If you are having trouble reading the sign above, let me relay what it says exactly:

"It is a cat that ended the vaccine twice. The frequency of vaccine is different depending on the cat. The shaking is a loved cat. Please take care about the skirt of the strap and the dress. Occasionally, a wonderful cat punch might be drawn out. Please note it. Please multiply the voice by the staff when you want to hold the cat."

And this is what we think this sign is trying to tell us:

(Something about cats on medicine...we're not sure) "...Please be careful about skirts and straps on clothing. Sometimes, a cat might try to catch it with his paw. Please let the staff know if you want to hold a cat."

Who doesn't love fun translations like that? We were literally laughing the whole way home:)

-C





Teppanyaki Time

One of our favorite restaurants of all time is a Japanese Teppanyaki Steak House in Las Vegas that Matt and I heard about on the Discovery Channel. We drove out there for Valentine's Day weekend this year and ended up falling in love with the Teppanyaki style of Japanese cooking. The chef basically puts on a show for you, doing tricks with the food while you sit around your own individual grill (we had a group of 8 of us around our grill). It was quite the experience, and the whole meal in Las Vegas took a good 3-4 hours!

This past weekend, Matt and I decided to try one of the authentic Japanese Teppanyaki Steak Houses around here to compare, and we ended up at one of the most popular ones on the island called Four Seasons Teppanyaki. The atmosphere was fun and everyone got their own individual grill and chef per table, so Matt and I had ours all to ourselves. It felt like our own private show! Just like the restaurant in Las Vegas, it was a little pricey, but we got a few different courses and everything was prepared perfectly and was amazingly fresh. We had a salad course, which was the Japanese style salad that has more shredded cabbage in it than actual leafy lettuce. We also tried some soup of the day - Pumpkin. We didn't know what to expect with the pumpkin soup, but it turned out to be delicious - not too pumpkin-y at all! We also got fried potatoes, vegetables, pasta and rice along with our main courses: steak, shrimp and lobster. The steak was incredibly lean and tender, but it did have a slightly different taste to it than what we are used to in America. It was great, but just different. Of course, the service and presentation were both amazing, which is something I'm starting to love about Japan. So, how did it compare to our steak house in Las Vegas? The food was just as fresh, it was a little cheaper, and we didn't have to spend 3-4 hours on dinner. I liked that we got our own grill and chef, but we didn't get as much of a "show" put on for us - but that's Vegas for you!
Japanese salad

Pumpkin Soup




And now...

Things I learned in Japan Today:
1. Don't expect the waiter/waitress to ask for your drink order.
2. The wet napkins they give you before dinner are called Oshibori, and they are used to clean hands only.
3. You usually will not get free drink refills at a restaurant in Japan - this is mostly an American custom.
4. While we are used to only going up to the front of the restaurant to pay at cheaper places like Denny's, paying up at the front (rather than having your waiter/waitress ring you up) is customary in all types of restaurants in Japan.
5. Unlike in the US, it is completely normal for the waiter/waitress to bring out every one's entree's at different times - sometimes even 10-15 minutes difference. I don't think they have the custom of waiting for everyone to get their food before you begin eating - we're still not used to this!

Thanks for following!
-C