Mt. Nokogiri and Nihonji Temple

A few weekends ago we decided to take a little day trip to Chiba to check out Mt. Nokogiri and Nihon-ji Tenbodai Temple grounds. With the Holidays fast approaching and the chaos that comes with them, I’ve been just sitting on the hundreds of pictures we took and writing a sentence or two between trips to the mall, hanging decorations and lines at the post office.

Anyway, our day trip started off with a short walk to Yokosuka-chuo train station to hitch a ride to Kurihama port where we took a 45 minute ride on the Tokyowan Ferry that runs pretty much hourly. Right around ¥2500 got us round trip walk on tickets over to Boso Peninsula, Chiba. Well worth it. It was a overcast and somewhat foggy morning but the views were still pretty and a nice way to spend part of the journey.

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A 15 minute walk got us to the Nokogiriyama rope way. ¥500 gets you a oneway ticket in a little car suspended from a series of cables to the top of the mountain and ¥930 will get you a round trip up and down. Since we planned to not just take in the lookouts at the top of the ropeway of Mt. Nokogiri and head down but, to continue on and hike around the temple grounds, we forked over a whooping ¥1000 for two one way tickets and joined the queue for the suspended journey. It’s the easiest way to get up and I would imagine beautiful in full on fall with the leaves turning or in the throughs of spring when it’s at it’s lushest green. Be warned, they FILL the cable car and you’ll find yourself standing shoulder to shoulder. Still for the low price and the quick trip up you still get a great view and an easy ride.fullsizeoutput_1d5

Once you reach the top you are treated to a beautiful view of Tokyo Bay and the Chiba Valley. You’ll also get your ankles batted at by the resident cat colony that lords over the vending machine area staking claim to the picnic tables whether you like it or not. Take your chances with offering them innocent pet. You have a about a 50/50 chance of being met with purrs or slaps and hissing. So basically they are normal jerk face cats. I pet every last dirty one and had no regrets.fullsizeoutput_1d6fullsizeoutput_1d7fullsizeoutput_1dafullsizeoutput_1d9

But wait, there’s MORE! That’s right, more look out points with amazing sights. If you’re feeling like glute workout and want to get to the true peak, you can climb a flight of stone stairs on the “hike to hell” for  a spectacular view of the bay and valley. If it’s a clear day, you’ll get to see Mt Fuji looming over the bay. On a really clear day you might even catch a glimpse of the Tokyo Skytree. Unfortunately for us, it was a bit hazy the day we visited but, the vistas were not disappointing. It’s here that you’ll get a chance to take in Jigoku Nozoki or “View of Hell” which is probably the most famous view on the Mountain. You can clamor up a steep rock wall to find your self walking down a stone stair case to a small cliff that juts out over the valley. It’s railed off but, if you have issues with heights the rail won’t matter to you. It offers stunning views and pretty sweet photo opportunities especially if you have a willing partner to remain over by the summit of the stairs to get a sweet pic of you out on the cliff. This area of the peak offers a complete 360 degree view. If you’re disappointed with it at this point, just go home, you obviously can don’t get nature and views.

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Heres were you can decided to head back down on the ropeway or wind your way through the grounds of the Nihonji Temple. The ¥600 per person to get in is well worth it. You can easily spend at least a few hours or more exploring the grounds. While it’s an easy hike, it’s still a work out. To see everything, be prepared to walk up and down and up and down several series of cut stone stairs and slopes. Like hundred of stairs. It’s well worth it for all that you get to see.fullsizeoutput_1e0

Since we were at the top thanks to the rope way we worked our way down. The mountain got its unique saw-tooth shape from years of quarrying which begins to show as you enter the trail. It has been a Buddhist site for over 1300 years so it should be no surprise that the first sight you come upon as you start your descent is 30-meter tall Buddhist Hyaku-Shaku Kannon of the Goddess of Mercy. Carved in 1966 into a stone cliff, it is dedicated to those who died in WWII. The Kannon is also worshiped as a protector of transportation due to its protected location surrounded by rocks.fullsizeoutput_1dd

As you wind your way around the paths, up and down slopes and stairs you find hundreds of groupings of small stone carved rakan or disciples known as the 1500 arhat. These are mortals who have attained enlightenment, and each has a unique facial expression and demeanor. They are perched along the cliffs in nooks and on ledges of the winding paths of the mountain slope. The 1500 statues vary in size and shape, with many beheaded, the unfortunate result of the anti-Buddhist Haibutsu Kishaku movement that came after the Meiji Restoration. During this time many Buddhist sites were attacked and damaged.fullsizeoutput_1edfullsizeoutput_1e1fullsizeoutput_1f0fullsizeoutput_1eefullsizeoutput_1e7fullsizeoutput_1e8fullsizeoutput_1ecfullsizeoutput_1ebfullsizeoutput_1f1fullsizeoutput_1f3fullsizeoutput_215

The statues here were not spared in the violence, but their bodies remain, some with repaired heads and some without adding to the uniqueness of each though The scars still visible but time and nature softening the edges and coving dome with a down moss bandage. The trails leading to the individual groupings often lead to dead ends so, don’t be surprised when you need to back track to the main trail. Keep an eye out for the “mind your head” signs on the low tunnel like passageways as you go. fullsizeoutput_1f4fullsizeoutput_1f5fullsizeoutput_1f6fullsizeoutput_1f7fullsizeoutput_1fdfullsizeoutput_1fcfullsizeoutput_1fafullsizeoutput_1fbfullsizeoutput_1f8

I was obsessed with the 1500 arhat. We took over hundred pictures of them and could have easily taken a few hundred more.

As you start to approach the bottom of the mountain you come upon the Ishidaibutsu, the largest cliff-carved Buddha in Japan. To say it’s imposing is a bit of an understatement. Carve din 1783, 1000 years after the temple was founded. As the healing Buddha, he holds a container of medicine in his hand and is is said that “if you bathe in the radiance of the emerald contained in it, your illness will be healed”. fullsizeoutput_200fullsizeoutput_201fullsizeoutput_205fullsizeoutput_210fullsizeoutput_207fullsizeoutput_208

To the right of the Ishidaibutsu is a small picnic area that was perfect for a short rest as well a peak at a spectacular view from the tables.fullsizeoutput_209

Once we were done taking in the majesty of the great Ishidaibutsu, we headed down the final section of the trail to the temple its self. The oldest place of worship in the Kanto region, Nihonji Temple is a Soto Buddhist temple built over 1300 years ago in 725 CE. CE as in AD. Wrap your brains around that history folks. The temple was originally a monastery and was home to well-known figures such as Roben, the founder of Todai-ji in Nara and Kukai, the founder of Shingon. Having changed from the Hosso Sect to Tendai and now Soto Zen, the temple has been abandoned and revived multiple times throughout the ages. With the anti-Buddhist movement leading to attacks and damage as well as fires after an earthquake in 1939, the temple has undergone restoration for most of its existence.fullsizeoutput_20a

The walk continues to wind down the rest of the mountain, down stairs, over stone bridges, through the dense wooded forrest, leading you past the back parking lot and depositing you on the opposite side of the mountain you started on.fullsizeoutput_216fullsizeoutput_217

From here you have 3 choices: Hike your ass back up the way you just came, over and around the mountain. At this point I’m willing to bet you’ve had your fill of stairs and slopes. This leaves you with the other 2 options. You can take a 10 minute walk to the left and catch a bus that will take about 15 minutes to hustle you to the ferry. Or you can follow GPS and go right and walk around the base of the mountain back to the ferry. We chose the latter of those last two. BE WARNED! There are several tunnels that do not have operational sidewalks nor were the berms ample. We found ourselves timing our jogs through the tunnels between traffic flows occasionally flattening ourselves, laughing, along the sooty wall as a truck or kei car sped by unaware of our perilous presence. A few of the tunnels had walkways outside along the cliffs to the bay but, most were closed for apparent repairs. We braved on such sidewalk and found it led to a dead end which then forced us to hop in the window/barrier halfway through the tunnel and jog the rest of the way battling traffic anyway. Basically, I’d recommend taking the bus around the mountain or sucking it up and back tracking through the temple grounds back the way you came. Regardless, the 45 minute ferry ride back across the bay was a welcome rest before walking back to the train station then ultimately walking back home. 10 out of 10 would recommend. 10 out of 10 would go back during a different season for a different view of the scenery.fullsizeoutput_20bfullsizeoutput_20c

 

Welcome to the Sailor’s Nightmare

As previously posted, I’m delving into J-Beauty in the hopes that the Japanese facial culture can clear up the perpetual breakouts that have plagued my face since arriving in here Japan. The Sailor graciously agreed to walk the hour and a half to the Japanese drug store and use what Yen he has stashed so I didn’t have to make a special trip to the bank. See, Japan is still a very paper money country. Basically most place don’t take credit let alone credit cards.

Yesterday was beautiful; sunny, breezy, lovely. After lunch the Sailor asked if I still wanted to walk to the drugstore. I of course answered with an enthusiastic YES! I spent a few minutes slapping some makeup on my face to cover up the reason for the trip, threw on acceptable clothes for walking and my birks and off we went…

As the door to our apartment complex opened with a sucking sound of a vacuum, the hot oven of Japan flamed against us causing both the Sailor and I to groan slightly. My beautiful day was blazing down upon us like the hot breath of hell. We were committed. We soldiered on.

As we approached the gate to leave base the digital welcome board glared at us, “WELCOME ABOARD today’s temperature is 101…

Let me zoom in for you to REALLY appreciate it…

I mean, JUST STOP. Despite this visual evidence of our continued discomfort, we soldiered on. Out the gate we were only 20 minutes into the hour and a half. As we silently trudged down Yokosukakaigan Street we looked at all the tiny Key cars and mini buses compared to the giant SUVs and jacked up 4x4s we had grown accustomed to in Virginia. And we perspired. Rivulets ran down our faces. Just shy of the halfway point on our journey I saw the Sanwa Supermarket that we were about to pass. Hot, sweaty and sensing the Sailor’s shortening patience I suggested that I could check the cosmetic section in there to cut the walk short. With a shrug from him, we turned to cut across the parking lot (note to self, they have free parking if we ever get a car, SCORE!) to enter what would turn out to be the Sailor’s version of a perfect nightmare…

Sunday in a packed grocery store. A grocery store where none of the people speak a language we knew more than “excuse me, hello and thank you”. A grocery store with packed aisles of Japanese food and home goods treasures. If he could have literally turned and ran back home leaving me there he probably would have but, he trudged along behind me. I walked carefully around the hundreds of shoppers with their tiny carts and baskets looking up and down aisles for anything that resembled soaps or cosmetics since I can obviously not read the aisle signage. I came close but, Kyle pointed out that it was a house cleaning products before I had a chance to look closer. Onward we shuffled up and down aisle dodging older Japanese men and mothers carrying their babies in one arm and a basket on the other. Finally, FINALLY I walked down an aisle with an eyelash curler. SCORE. I was in Now let’s talk about how long I stood there staring at bottles, tubs and pumps all colorfully decorated and in Japanese… Sweet baby Jesus help me. If I was by myself it would have been a little anxiety inducing. With the Sailor standing behind me staring at me stare at the bottles… I just wanted to find the shit and run out to spare the Sailor from any further crowd induced torture.

With the help of of the camera feature (barely, it’s sketchy at best) on the google translate app, the screen shots I had taken a few nights back of the products as I had researched them and the brand names on the shelf signs being in Kanji and in the Phoenician alphabet (what we use in the states) I found 3 items from my list.

Hatomugi Skin Conditioner which beauty bloggers rave about being the closest dupe for the more expensive Albion Skin Conditioner and being awesome for acne prone, sensitive or combination skin. Nameraka Sana Isoflavone Facial Milk to use as a light moisturizer and Kumano Deep Cleansing Oil. This wasn’t the cleansing oil I was looking for. I saw the one I wanted (Kose Deep Clean) but grabbed a different one that was next to it not paying attention closely. The oil was the last item and most important one that I wanted and of course it was the one thing that I struggled to find. Sensing the Sailor’s waning patience with our current location and it’s crowded overwhelming situation I made a silly rookie mistake with not making sure that the shelf sign I was reading matched the bottle. UGH. Lastly, I had read over and over that the Japanese cotton squares were far superior to the US cotton rounds for applying toners and cosmetics  as well as being cheaper so, I grabbed a pack of those as well. These aren’t the brand I had hoped for but they were the only ones available in that moment at essentially a grocery store so que sera.

Next trip I’ll do solo and make the entire walk to Matsumoto Kiyoshi. Hopefully there is a day soon where the temp is low enough that I don’t melt and throw in the towel half way there again.

A Pox Upon My Face

I have always struggled with my skin. For as long as I can remember I was always treating one or another break out. When I was 21 it was at its worst and my dermatologist and I both agreed to give Acutane a try. Yeah, the stuff that if you get knocked up while you’re taking it makes your baby have crazy deformities. It’s no joke. At the time there was no generic either. My initial dosage started at $800 a month and by the end of the 6 months I was up to $1200 a month… and I didn’t have insurance. I paid it. Happily. I was desperate. The battle continued after that but, the Actuane helped tremendously. Oral birth control reined in the few break outs that continued after that. Unfortunately good old breast cancer put the ixnay on that since I’m never again allowed to take any oral medication that contains any kind of hormones. So that battle was lost but, the war continues.

Living in southern Virginia, I had found a cleansing and topical treatment routine that was working… mostly. It was good enough I wasn’t self conscious and I was happy with the results. But, everything effects my skin; mood, water intake, diet, exercise, weather, stress, regional allergies, seasonal allergies, washing with city water vs well water, time of the month, time of the year, Zeus coughs on Mount Olympus and I get a cystic volcano on my cheek…  So when we began our journey first up to Ohio, I knew I’d have a new but, temporary battle. My parents’ well water messes with my skin. It used to be naturally SUPER soft and have a bunch of iron in it. It used to wreck my skin. Since those years of me living there though, they have gotten a water softener so, I held out hope that would help. False. Well, it isn’t as bad as it used to be and we were only there for a week so I had come prepared with various washes, scrubs, creams and lotions to combat the inevitable flux. One week of driving in the RV only stopping to sleep in the RV at rest stops was another one. I was prepared for that too. I mean, I did my best using facial wipes and being the crazy lady doing a full face wash routine in the rest stop bathroom that has a push and hold faucet but, whatever. It’s that or look like Acne Amy by the end of the trip. Our month in Tacoma was the final US travel hurdle. Usually my skin mostly likes the WA weather and my allergies are less exhausting there. It’s just a couple reasons I love the Pacific Northwest. So a couple of tweaks to the usual daily facial routine and I was OK.

Japan, I was clueless on. I had no idea on how my skin would react. I assumed the first couple weeks would be a shit show. Unfortunately a shit show on my face is not easy to hide. Using makeup to camouflage the trouble spots gets tricky when it’s 100 degrees with 90% humidity. AKA it melts right the hell off within minutes of walking out of the air conditioning. Le sigh.

We’ve been in Yokosuka now for over a month and a half. 99% of that time I’ve looked like I have chicken pox, no joke. My face and my neck are ANGRY with this place. I’m assuming it’s a combination of sweating ALL THE TIME, changes from AC to heat to AC, base water, stress (hi, have I mentioned I’m still unemployed? I need a job please) and diet changes. Plus lets face it, I never can seem to drink enough dang water. So, I started researching. Digging into how Japanese women (and men) keep their faces looking porcelain. First I found, they are just graced with beautiful skin genetics. Which I’m jealous of frankly because obviously, I am not that blessed. What else I found is that Japanese women don’t mess around when it comes to taking care of their skin and hair. They follow a double cleansing process that has no less than 6 but up to 12 steps. No joke. And their products are geared towards that. Most beauty blogs and articles state that cleansing your face at the end of the day should take approximately the same amount of time as applying your makeup… Dude. Applying a full face of make up, not even a formal event style, just a, “hey we are going out to dinner for some burgers with friends and I want to look fab,” takes at least 30 minutes. I mean, for me longer because I have all my splotches and spots from breakouts to camouflage. This statement alone has left me reeling. OBVIOUSLY I am failing in the eyes of my Japanese sisters when it comes to the first and most crucial aspect of my night-night face routine. This nightly process lead to a simpler less intense morning process not surprisingly.

So, here is what I have gathered the in Japan is the norm for  facial routines.

Morning

  1. Cream Cleanse
  2. Lotion/Essence
  3. Serum
  4. Moisturizer
  5. Eye Gel
  6. SPF

Night

  1. Oil Cleanse
  2. Foaming Cleanse
  3. Exfoliation
  4. Lotion/Essence
  5. Mask
  6. Serum
  7. Massage
  8. Moisturizer
  9. Eye cream
  10. Spot treatments

Yep. If you’re keeping tally, that 3 types of cleansers a day. My Japanese beauty enthusiasts are not. Messing. Around. I can’t say I am surprised though. I mean, I spent 6 months getting to be a certified Esthetician. I used to give people expensive facials for a living. And really, while the order might be ever so slightly different and the US terms are slightly different, it’s conceptually the same. Basically Japanese women give themselves full facials every night.

Armed with this new knowledge I took a little walk over the the Exchange to check out the little beauty section to see what I could find that would be a US equivalent to the descriptions in all the articles on Japanese facial routines. I still have a few products that fit the bill in certain steps like a foam cleanser and a cream cleanser, exfoliation etc. I was basically looking for an oil cleanser, a lotion, a light day moisturizer (I have a neutrogena one that is almost empty) and a pimple patch spot treatment. And I found… not much. Whomp whomp. They had one oil cleanser and it was mostly coconut oil which I already know makes me break out BAD, like possible allergy type rash and pimples. There were no real products that fit the description of the Japanese lotions. Even the traditional US toners were limited. I already have Clinique Lotion 3 which is a clarifying toner. I like it. It works. It’s expensive. I planned to continue to use it after cleansing but, before the lotion. I also hoped to find a nice Japanese alternative since I hadn’t found a decent dupe in the US for it. No pimple patch covers (they sounded so promising in the articles and blogs!) They had my usual Neutrogena day moisturizer but, meh, since they didn’t have the other items I just was over it.

Back home I started an intense search on must try products. I read blogs, reviews and articles. What I found is the beauty of this J-beauty (yeah, that’s what fancy beauty bloggers and writers call it) process is that while there are a lot of products obviously, the process, the ritual itself, was what seemed to be important rather than the fanciest most expensive products. OK, I can really get behind this. I found amazing reviews for products like SK-II Essence and Albion Skin Conditioner Essential but, I certainly don’t have over $100 for one product. So I narrowed my search down to just drugstore products. Thankfully I found that Japan has a plethora of these that are highly rated and most had received coveted Cosme awards which is similar to the Allure and Elle beauty awards that we see on products in the US. I also found that Japan, as a whole, takes regulation of ingredients in their products and claims made on what a product does very seriously. So if a product claims to lighten age spots, you can rest assured that it has really truly proven to do just that. It’s that exact reason why you don’t see a ton of creams and lotions claiming to reverse aging like you do in the states… because they just don’t have products that they feel REALLY actually “reverse” aging.

After several hours of of going down the rabbit hole of J-Beauty blogs, reviews, announcements, reddit boards and lists, I had over 2 pages worth of possible products to try. My lists were nice and organized by type and I had even snapped screen shots of what the packaging looked like since I obviously can’t read Japanese and was concerned the Japanese drugstore might only have kanji signage. I even looked up the best drug stores for beauty products. Basically I am all set to adventure out into town for a little shopping trip. The drug store, Matsumoto Kiyoshi, that I want to try and hit up is about an hour and a half walk which sounds far, but really isn’t.  The Sailor has agreed to walk with me so stay tuned for that adventure!

 

Kamakura Field Trip

During our first full week in Japan, the Sailor and I were required to attend area training. Basically, the first 2 days were basics on the base and the amenities here. The 3rd day was history and culture of Japan. Day 4 was field trip day. This was a day where our we got to take buses around Yokosuka to get to one of the 3 train stations within walking distance. Upon our arrival at the train station, we had to then buy a ticket, get on the correct train and get off at the correct station for our final destination. All this was done under the watchful eyes of 4 or 5 guides that joined us from class. They’d give us a quick walk to possible lunch spots then turn us loose for a couple hours to wander. After lunch we had the choice to join for a guided tour of a shrine. Once those tours were over, we were cut loose to find our own way back to the base. No worries though, we all had little cards that said, “I’m lost! Please help me find my way back to Naval Base Yokosuka. Thank you,” in Japanese. Kyle assured me that the trains were easy to navigate from what he remembered when he was in Japan back in the early 2000’s.

So on that third day, we diligently boarded 3 busses and headed out to Blue street in Yokosuka with a quick “tour” of the area directly around the base ending at the Yokosuka train station. Kyle opted to get us refillable transportation cards. We plan to use the trains as often as possible to go out and about and the transportation cards are universal for almost any form of getting around Japan; trains, buses, even some taxis.

Riding the train in the midmorning on a Wednesday was easy. No real crowds, plenty of seats and it was quiet. We were going to Kamakura which is only about a 20 minute train ride from Yokosuka. I read my book mostly when there wasn’t anything interesting to see.

When we arrived in Kamakura our leads walked us to Komachi Dori, a street filled with with small shops selling everything; clothes, chopsticks, coin purses and candies. There were little walk up food vendors selling street food that you could sit on a bench and eat as well as small sit down restaurants. Kyle and I decided to venture on our own to figure out what to eat. We walked the length of the street and back… twice and couldn’t figure out what we wanted to try. I finally pulled the trigger and suggested we just get steamed buns. Kyle shrugged. He struggles with weird foods so he wasn’t making the choice. So, I bravely approached the young man at the walk up counter and asked if he spoke any English. He smiled and said very little. I asked “What meat is in this?” as I pointed to the bun. With his relief clear that he understood me, he said, “Pork!” So I ordered 2 and Kyle forked over the Yen. We sat quietly on little stools next o the counter to try out what hopefully was actually Pork buns. Kyle called them mystery rolls. They were warm, chewy and delicious. Mystery or not, I enjoyed mine and I didn’t die (assuming there wasn’t any squid or shrimp mixed in) so win win.

 

We spent a a bit more wandering up and down Komachi Dori. I got brave and stopped in a little cafe called Hachi to get a vanilla latte and a “Cheese in the Baum” pastry that turned out to be a light cheese cake pastry with a thick cake like crust. Was not disappointed. I even was able to pick out the right amount of Yen to pay myself. GO ME! By this time is was about time to meet back up with our group to go on the guided tour so, we headed back.

We had a large group, 100 people give or take. Not everyone opted for the tour. We were broken up into 4 groups with each group getting a local volunteer guide to walk us to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is Kamakura’s most important shrine. It’s reached by a long wide walkway on Dankazura Street lined with hundreds of lanterns (electric) and cherry trees from the waterfront down the center of the main street. The walk begins with a red tori (gate) flanked by 2 guardian shishi (lion dogs).

This is not the actual entrance to the shrine but rather the beginning of the approach. At the end of the walk, you approach a main intersection for the heart of the city as well as the San no torii that is the third torii and main entrance to the shrine. It is at this torii that you are expected to stop briefly and bow to show respect and acknowledge you are entering a scared place.

Upon entering you will see an arched stone bridge, called Taikobashi. This literally means “Drum Bridge” and spans a channel that connects two ponds. The main shrine  can be seen straight ahead on the hillside.

Before you reach the main shrine structure you first see Maiden Hall. This is the location of ceremonies and commemorative dances in April as well as various musicians during the summer festivals. I could go into detail about how the ceremonies and dance in April are commemorating the mistress of an important warrior and her being forced to preform for the warriors brother who happened to be the first Shogun of Kamakura… I think I was the only one really intrigued by this part of the tour but, if you’re intrigued google Dancing Maiden Shizuka and read all about the Lower Worship Hall known as Maiden Hall and how it came to be.

Just beyond the Maiden Hall perched up on the hillside is the main hall of the shrine, Hongu.

Before climbing the stairs to ender the Main Hall you first approach the Chozuya. The red structure is where worshippers wash their hands and rinse their mouths to purify themselves before approaching the main shrine.  The basin is carved out of a huge rock from the Bizen region of western Japan and was presented by the wife of Tokugawa Hidetada, the 2nd Tokugawa shogun, in the 17th century, after she saw a dream telling her to do so. It is one of the few officially designated cultural treasures that the public are allowed to touch.

There is a specific order and way of performing this cleansing ritual. First you pick up a ladle with your right hand and scoop water to pour over your left hand washing it. Then transfer the ladle l to the clean hand and do the same for your right. Transfer the ladle back to your right hand and scoop water with it and pour it into your left hand making sure to leave most of the water int he ladle. Take a mouth full of water from your left hand and swish it around. Cover your mouth with your left hand and spit the water our beside the basin (not into it!). Finally tip the ladle forward and let the water wash down one the handle and your hand to cleanse it finally retiring it to the basin where it was resting.

When you approach the deity in the main hall you should gently toss your monetary offering gently into the front trough (if you have one).  Bow twice respectfully then clap your hands at chest level. At this time you can pray or silently show your respect. When finished with your hands still at chest level, bow once more.  We didn’t take pictures at this main hall other than from the outside.

To the left of this hall is the Treasure Hall. For 2 Yen each you can walk though the hall to view various priceless sacred treasures, portable shrines and military equipment. Even the walk into the hall is beautiful; intricate carvings and lacquered designs.

Once out of the Treasure hall of the Main Hall, to the left is the Maruyama Inari Shrine. This shrine is dedicated to the god of business prosperity.

After our visit to the Maruyama Inari Shrine, we wandered a bit along the path which led us to this little bridge over one of the 2 ponds. This little guy didn’t seem to be afraid of us. Then some kids came along and as usual kids ruin everything. (JK don’t lose you’re minds, I like some kids)

On our walk we came to a gold and black lacquered structure. Shirahata Jinja is the guardian shrine of the Genji clan. Apparently, shrines by this name can be found all over Japan.

This one took me a little searching to figure out it’s significance. Apparently this spot was well known for its weeping willow trees. An old poem tells of the young leaves of the willow, which used to announce the coming of spring.

There are two ponds on the property. In the Genji Pond the lotus flowers are white, in honor of the Genji. The lotus in the Heike Pond on the left are red, the color of the Heike-the Taira clan. The Genji Pond has three islands which represent prosperity, while the Heike Pond has four islands, which represent death and destruction. At the time I didn’t know any of this at the time. I had to do a little digging into the significance. All I knew at the time was that they were beautiful full of large koi and carp that for 200 yen you could get a little bag of pellets to feed them. Apparently the turtles that share the pond with the fish know this as well and came right up to the rock shore happily to smile and pose for photos. And if you actually buy the pellets, the pigeons will also have no problem approaching you when they spot that little white bag… or landing on your shoulder…. or head… all at once.

After a day of walking in the heat and drizzle we found our way back to the train station, caught the correct train back AND got off at the correct station. We were even smart enough to get back to the base from the station.

 

Special thanks to Kyle for being the official photographer. I didn’t have any pockets to keep my phone handy walking around in the rain. Besides, we all know he’s the professional cellphone photographer.

 

Tipsy on a Tuesday Afternoon

When the Sailor sent me an email from Puerto Rico where he was for over 2 months for relief work after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria saying, “WE GOT ORDERS TO JAPAN,” I was ecstatic. WE were ecstatic. What an adventure! A tropical island, completely different culture with a long complex and interesting history and we would be right on Tokyo Bay. We both immediately talked about climbing Mount Fuji, seeing the historic cities with their shrines and temples and listing all the surround countries that suddenly became long weekend trips. We were like little kids talking about summer camp. But no one really warns you about the process of moving over seas and what it entails so let me enlighten you. IT FUCKING SUCKS!

It sucks if you don’t have a perfect health history (check) and if you have pets that you can’t (or in my case re-home – check) and I can not even imagine it with children. It gets infinitely more frustrating and draining with each seemingly mundane aspect of your life. You think you have an idea of packers coming into your house and wrapping up all your stuff and taking it away… for 2+ months and living out of duffle bags. Eating on paper plates and plastic flatware with dollar store pots and pans in an empty house. Going to work and coming home to an air mattress and 2 lawn chairs. Then it happens and you realize, “Ummmm, this feels shitty,” because suddenly your home is empty and doesn’t really feel like home.

You think you understand that you’ll have so many days to relax, travel and visit your family and friends before boarding a very long flight but, suddenly 30 days of leave to do all that blows by and your standing at an airport waving goodbye. Funny, though no one ever really talks about flights getting delayed or canceled and having t frantically call your ride back at 3am to come lug you, your 4 giant duffle bags and 2 yowling scared shitless cats BACK to your family’s house again. Yeah, that happens. More frequently than I was aware. Then 24 hours later you do the same choked tearful goodbyes to the same family.

Then suddenly you’re watching a stranger wheel your two pets away to be loaded into the belly of a plane where they will be for the next 12+ hours and you cry some more because, they don’t friggen know. You know they don’t know and there isn’t anyway to tell an animal, “It’s fine. You’ll be fine. It will be over in no time.” You can barely explain that to a small child. You just see their sad little furry faces wide-eyed from the back of their cage looking at you like, “So this is how it ends” and your heart breaks because you haven’t slept in almost 36 hours because your original flight yesterday was delayed for 24 hours and you’re stressed and nervous. And the little girl whose dog is riding on the same cart with your cats is crying saying, “It’s ok boy. You’ll be OK. I love you. I’ll be waiting for you Japan.” And it’s just too much so, you cry too. Yeah, that was me.

No one warns you that as soon as you get here, all you’re going to do is run all over the damn base; apply for housing, immediately choose from a list of houses sight unseen or immediately know you want to live off base, then you’re on your own, 72 hours to report your pets entry onto base because they are under temporary quarantine, schedule a quarantine appointment to have the 12 hour quarantine lifted, get a Japanese phone, get a mail box, go to a week long area briefing, make an appointment to have your household goods delivered, make an appointment for a pre-move in inspection of your new home… It’s constant. It’s unrelenting. And you walk everywhere because you don’t have a car and it’s hotter than than Hades and more humid than his balls. Even if you did have a car, you couldn’t drive it because they drive on the left side of the road here (or if your egocentric, the “wrong side”) and all the traffic signs are in Japanese.

So you get your house. For us, since it was our first time in Japan and our first time living abroad, we chose base housing. Well, Kyle chose our house. Without me. I was salty for about 30 seconds. Then I didn’t give a shit because I just didn’t want to have to live in the Navy Lodge (aka Hotel on base) for months. When he went to the housing office early one morning to see what he had to do to request housing, they directed him to a house brief. After they told him he had to choose base housing or off base housing. Off base housing had another briefing. If he chose base housing then they had a list of base homes available right now for him to choose from. If he didn’t choose right then, the next guy from the briefing in rank got a choice and when he brought me back with him the list would be shorter. The next guy in line that the Sailor just happened to out rank smiled. He knew what he was choosing if the Sailor passed to come ask me. So he chose and a high-rise called Satsuki Heights became our new home for 3 years. Sight. Un. Seen.

Then you have a choice, pay to continue to stay in the hotel until your household goods are delivered, pay to rent furniture and shit to live in your new place until your stuff is delivered or move into an empty home and rough it on the floor until your shit arrives. One guess what we chose.

So you’ve made it this far. All your appointments are made, and you’ve begun attending the week long area briefing classes that basically spends the first 3 days telling you about the base, and reminding you that you’re living on a military installation so, ya know, don’t do stupid shit like talk about ships and what they are doing  and when. Oh and don’t get in fights at the bars or drive at all if you’ve had even one drink because the Japanese blood alcohol limit is .03% which is the rough equivalent of smelling a decent beer. During this time, they give you a sweet photocopy booklet to study for a written driving exam. Yes. It’s a booklet with all the new laws of how to drive on the left side of the road and what all the traffic signs mean. The translation is a little sketchy so the descriptions are… well, I was really glad for the pictures that accompanied the descriptions. On your final day of briefing you take the written exam if you want to get your SOFA license. BTW, SOFA is just a fancy acronym for status of forces agreement. Basically it’s just a host country (in our case Japan) agreeing that us foreigner living here for military purposes can get a quick license if we already have a US license, pass a set of simple tests proving we can handle the subtle differences (among maaaaany other things). There are 50 questions on the written and you need an 80% to pass. Here at Yokosuka they gave an incentive to really study. If you got 100% you get first choice of schedule availability for the driving exam. The Sailor assured me that he’d get a 100%. Needless to say, I was one of 6 that got 100% and he didn’t. HA! I haven’t taken the driving exam yet. I’m sure that will be complete fuckery. I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you’ve made it thus far without losing your shit, bravo. Sadly, thats about to change. Because now comes the delivery of your household goods. The Japanese movers are polite, nice, patient and effective as fuck. No matter how awesome they are thought, they can’t fix what the US packers and movers drop kicked across the country and on to a container ship. Some of your shit will get broken. If you’re lucky it will be a cheap clothes drying rack or small bowl that had seen better days anyway. If you’re unlucky your grandfather clock will be jacked up bad enough you don’t know how to fix it and the corner of your flat screen 3D TV will be broken off among other things. Yeah, it will make you mad. You will silently rage and if you’re like me you’ll shut down and take a nap on the couch surrounded by chaos. Then when the movers are done and you look around at all your stuff and wonder how in the hell you fit this much crap into a one bedroom apartment back home, you’ll crack open a delicious Coca Cola, chug a few swallows then tip in a shot or two of Sailor Jerry straight into the can and sit down to spew your woes of the last several weeks out online.

And that’s how I ended up tipsy on a Tuesday afternoon.