Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Friendship Page 1 of 3

Hakone Highlights

Before arriving in Japan, Lisa asked if a trip Hakone was worth it and possible. Taking the trip was definitely possible. Katie and I visited Hakone last November for fall foliage. As to if the day long trip was worth it, well, it definitely would be on a clear day because we could have a great view of Mt. Fuji. Viewing the weather forecast, we decided Sunday would be a great day to visit and it would give Dave a chance to join us. (He hasn’t visited Hakone either and it was on his list.) We left the house at 6:45 to begin our trip to Odawara. We arrived at 8:15 and we were first in line at the ticket office when they opened at 8:30.on the train from Zushi to Odawara, I gave Dave a lesson in how to properly open an onigiri.

We hopped on the first train of the day from Odawara to Hakone. This was already our fourth train of the day!

We followed the same counter-clockwise route around the Hakone area Katie and I did a year ago. The second train of the trip around Hakone was the incline railway.

The third section of the trip was the Ropeway. We couldn’t have asked for a better day! The sky was perfectly clear.

As we crested the top, we were able to see Mt. Fuji. The entire car exclaimed with joy!

We stopped for a lengthy break after the first Ropeway ride. We enjoyed views of Mt. Fuji, the sulfur mines, and lunch snacks (fried potatoes and bacon).

We continued along the Ropeway enjoying more beautiful views.

The final leg of the journey was a boat ride across Lake Ashi. It was breathtaking.

After docking in Hakone, we walked over to the Hakone Shrine.

Before boarding the bus back to the train, we stopped for a couple final pictures with Mt. Fuji. We couldn’t get over how clear it was and perfect temperature.

We worked our way back home on the trains. Along the way, we stopped in Ofuna for sushi conveyor dinner. This restaurant had the cute Shinkansen delivery method. We had a couple impressive stacks of plates by the end of dinner!

It was a fantastic day. We were so lucky to have beautiful weather. More importantly, we are so happy to have wonderful friends visiting. We love sharing Japan adventures.

Lisa and Dave

Our friends, Lisa and Dave, arrived late Friday night from Chicago. We decided to start with a low key day to help them walk off their jet lag. We spent Saturday in Kamakura – shopping and visiting the Hachiman-gu Shrine. First things first, we stopped at Barchie’s for lunch.

It was a beautiful afternoon. The weather is finally starting to feel like Autumn. It was a lovely day for a “white wedding.” We saw this wedding party as we walked toward Hachiman-gu Shrine.

I gave Lisa and Dave a quick tutorial on the appropriate way to cleanse before visiting a Shrine or Temple.

Can you spot the Americans?

View from the top of the Shrine.

After visiting the Shrine, I bought a bag of Ginko nuts for us to share. They have a very peculiar taste and texture. They are served warmed and salted. Then the shell of the nuts is cracked. The inside nut is actually chewy. They require a little getting used to, but I think delicious in the end.

We stopped for a few photos at the entrance of the Shrine.

We had fun catching up and sharing one of our favorite places in Japan. The sunny afternoon, walk, and good night sleep was hopefully enough to reset their circadian rhythm. We have big plans for the rest of their visit! Adventures await!

Setsubun 2018

Setsubun is held on February 3rd. Last year, I went with Miki and Dina to a Setsubun festival. This year, Setsubun was on a Saturday. On Saturday mornings, I normally have a session with my English student, Manami. Instead of having our traditional class, I suggested we go to Kamakura and visit the Hachiman-gu Shrine for the Setsubun Festival. (A Julia School field trip).

Setsubun means “change of seasons” and celebrates the upcoming Spring. Beans are thrown as a means of purification.

One of Dave’s coworkers translated the website for me on Friday night. She told me to be inside the perimeter of the ropes near the Shrine required a special ticket. The tickets would be passed out at noon on Saturday. The website recommended arriving early because the line could be very long and the tickets would run out. Manami and I decided to meet in Zushi and take the train together to Kamakura around 10am. We arrived at Hachiman-gu Shrine by 10:15.

Manami asked the official where we needed to wait for a ticket. He directed us to the line. Believe it or not, we were not the first in line!

We waited patiently. Fortunately, the day wasn’t too cold. Every minute that passed the line grew and grew. By noon the line was double sided!!

Shortly before noon, we were given our tickets.

However, we still had an hour before the ceremony started and two hours before they would throw the beans. We took about 45 minutes to warm up in a little waiting area before the events began. We returned to the area and waited patiently and secured our spot.

Soon it was time for the official party to arrive.

The official party continued to grow! The members included business owners, Miss Kamakura, and politicians.

The ceremony included a blessing of the crowd. The wooden boxes hold the packets of beans that will be thrown to the audience.

The official party members then entered the Shrine. That permitted Manami and me to be even closer to the front of the Shrine!! The large guy in the middle is the owner of the famous Kamakura dove/ pigeon cookie. The lady to his left is a famous Tokyo reporter. The ladies in the beautiful Kimonos are Miss Kamakura. We were so close to the front! Perfect for catching lots of lucky beans!

Finally, it was time to toss out the beans! Throwing the beans drives out demons and allows for good fortune to enter. Look at the crowd! Good fortune for everyone!!

Before living in Japan, I could never imagine such an orderly crowd. Another reason why I love Japan. Everyone is polite even when trying to catch good fortune beans! We caught several packets of soybeans. Enough for both of us and plenty to share. Each person must eat the same number of beans that corresponds with their age. Dave and I both enjoyed our respective piles of beans!

Manami also ordered us special sushi rolls to eat called “Ehoumaki.” I brought it home for Dave and I to share. It is important to eat the roll in the direction of the God of Happiness and Wealth. This year, Manami told me we should eat the roll facing south-south east. As I was opening the roll, I noticed the compass on the wrapper. It also pointed to the SSE. I used the compass on my iPhone to ensure we were facing the right direction.

It was such a special day. I enjoyed the opportunity to experience a Japanese custom in conjunction with my English session. As the first Julia School field trip, I think we were very successful!

Piacere Pizza & Wine

Miki and I met for lunch in Yokosuka on Tuesday. She took me to a delicious restaurant off the beaten path and down a back alley. Literally.

Piacere Pizza & Wine offers a delicious lunch set for ¥1,000 ($10.00). The set includes a small salad, your choice of pizza or pasta, dessert, and coffee or tea. The salad and bread were perfect for making a small sandwich!

I selected the wood fired margarita pizza and Miki ordered the spaghetti with vegetables. We shared them both and they were delicious. This might take the number one spot in my list of “favorite pizza in Yokosuka.”

For dessert we enjoyed coffee jello. I wasn’t sure if I would like it at first, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was delicious.

I enjoyed our lunch today. I was appreciative of Miki taking me to a place I haven’t been and one with delicious pizza! I truly appreciate our friendship.

After lunch, I had several errands to do on main base. The first, picking up the Hooptie after an oil change. I’m happy to report she is still doing well and keeping us safely transiting around our local area. I dropped Hooptie off with Dave and was lucky enough to catch him in his office doing what he does best, fixing ships!

The second, was to book two trips for upcoming family and friends we have visiting. As I have said before, Julia Tours are completely customizable and aim to provide a memorable experience. I set up trips to Kyoto and Hiroshima for our upcoming guests. Please let me know soon when and where you would like to go during your visit! I’m ready to plan it for you!!

SRF Holiday Party

Saturday evening the SRF-JRMC holiday party was held at the New Sanno Hotel. The holiday decorations at the New Sanno Hotel are spectacular.

The Christmas Trees and fireplace make the perfect setting for holiday pictures.

The party had everything any good holiday party should have:

Decorations, delicious food, prizes, and dancing. We danced so much, I eventually had to lose my heels! My friend, Saori, sent me this picture – she drew the heart doodle. Dave was singing his own karaoke to “Faithfully” by Journey. It was obviously later in the evening because my shoes are no where in sight. The best part, Dave’s the sober one. (Still no alcohol for military in Japan.) I’m still laughing almost two days later. It was such a fun night.

One more funny story to wrap up the weekend. Before Dina moved, she gave me a gift certificate for the New Sanno Hotel. The gift certificate had been given to her by visiting friends. She and the kids left Japan before Brent returned from deployment and was never able to use the gift certificate. Knowing we had plenty of opportunities to use the gift certificate, she gave it to me. I put it in a safe place and was thrilled when I remembered to bring it with us this weekend. I gave it to Dave to use towards the room when he checked us into the hotel. I was surprised when I met Dave in the lobby and learned the front desk said it couldn’t be used towards the room. Hmmm. Where can I use it? In the shops. Oh, ok. Saturday afternoon, I went to the small Navy Exchange and attempted to buy Dina a cute purse with the certificate. “Sorry, ma’am, you can not use this certificate here.” Try the downstairs gift shop. I go downstairs and was going to buy Dina a beautiful silk Obi she could use as a table runner. When I presented the gift certificate, I was again greeted with, “sorry ma’am, you can not use this certificate here.” Hmmm. I returned to the front desk and asked them where I could use the gift certificate. They said at the restaurants or bar. Considering we were having dinner at the party later, I was left with only one option. The bar! Kanpie! A couple cocktails, a bottle of wine for me and O’douls for Dave and eventually we spent the gift certificate!

Cheers, to you Dina! I wish you were still here to not only share a drink in person, but to also experience the “sorry, ma’am” with me at each location! You would have been laughing hysterically!

Because Japan

Some days I have experiences or see something that really me me think, I love living in Japan. For example, I went to visit Miki at her house for lunch. She made us lunch (spaghetti bolognese – oishi desu) and we enjoyed a wonderful conversation. She even had answers to my questions from last week. Her hospitality made me feel truly “at home” even though I’m miles away.

Once I was home, I walked down to the post office to check our mail. As I walked down the hill, I passed a construction crew repairing a fire hydrant. Their work equipment was blocking the sidewalk. To make their work less of an inconvenience and safer, they put up cones establishing a temporary walkway in the road. Seriously. I took this picture after I walked past them.

When I see this display of courtesy, I’m struck by the kindness and consideration the Japanese show to others. It all goes back to the “wa” – the good of group is more important than what is good for the individual. The politeness demonstrated at with the construction is normal. Each time I see this type of courtesy I think, because Japan! And that’s why I love living here. Kindness is an international language!

Home Again

Dave and I returned home Sunday 9/24 after a fabulous two week vacation visiting with family and friends. We spent time in Indiana with his family and enjoyed the opportunity to relax and catch up. Jakob, Carmen, and the three grandboys drove up to Indiana and surprised Dave. 

Plus, there was a fabulous surprise party hosted by Bob and Tish to celebrate Dave’s promotion. Family and friends came from various parts of Indiana, Georgia, Colorado, and Florida to see us. It truly was a special week. My only regret was not snapping more pictures of everyone. I suppose I was too busy chatting! 

The second week we spent in Virginia Beach enjoying time with our friends. Dave and I made a point to see sunrise each day on the boardwalk. 

We enjoyed as much beach time as possible. 

Our friends, Jennifer, Danny, Campbell, and Chase came up for the weekend to visit. They joined us for morning jogs, beach time, and numerous laughs. 

Many of the laughs might have been because of Danny. 

Jennifer, Campbell and Chase were sports with the moisture masks. More explanation on that soon! 

We celebrated Jeff’s birthday.  

We celebrated Big Jeff’s retirement. 

It was a wonderful week in Virginia Beach. Mark, Roxanne, Sue and Jeff were amazing hosts and made coming back to the ‘hood feel like home. 

And I can’t forget to add a picture of Little Melissa aka Springer aka Small Fry. She’s always popping in with a smile and a story or five. 

Thank you family. Thank you friends. You made our trip special and full of so many memories. We miss you all so much already. 

Brent’s Ramen

Brent has been staying with us off and on over the past couple weeks. Tomorrow he will finally be reunited with Dina and the kids in sunny Southern California. Tonight, Dave and I took Brent for his final dinner in Japan. Fittingly, he choose his favorite ramen joint. 

Dave and I have passed it many times and tonight we had the chance to sample it ourselves. It was delicious! 

My bowl of ramen had extra noodles and seaweed paper. So, good. 

Saying “je matane” to Brent tomorrow will bittersweet. We will miss having our friend nearby and simultaneously, very happy he will be reunited with his family. Safe travels, Brent, see you soon! 

Mt. Fuji – Take 2

Ironically enough, Dave and I climbed Mt. Fuji the exact same weekend last summer. I was a little hesitant to climb again after our experience climbing down in the torrential rainstorm. As Sonia and I discussed expectations, I said I wanted amazing weather at the summit. I wanted pictures of being above the clouds with blue skies and a Torii gate. Realistically, I wanted it to not rain as much as it did last year. 

We took the MWR tour and left Yokosuka at 2:00 am Saturday morning. We made a brief stop in route for provisions and arrived at the 5th station of Mt. Fuji a little before 5:00 am. I decided to carry the same hiking stick from last year and fill it with stamps. This was Sonia’s first climb so she purchased a new stick to have stamped along the route. Here is the location of the 5th station. It is the furthest accessible point by vehicle. 

Of course, one of the best parts of the hike is seeing an amazing sunrise. 

From 5th station we begin our hike to the 6th station. This part of the hike is repeated when we come down the mountain. We took a quick picture at the 6th station before going up! If you look closely at the picture, you can see the results of the high winds. Most of the way up the mountain today, we were challenged with very strong and gusting winds. 

The hike from the 6th station to the 7th station consists of wide igneous rock covered trails with a lot of switchbacks. In my opinion, it is the most boring part of the hike. 

It was a lot of this! 

And fortunately, this! 

The 7th station is fun because here you can receive the first stamp on your hiking stick. Also, the terrain of the trail changes dramatically. There are a lot more large igneous rocks. I remembered how challenging they were last time to climb over because their texture is so rough. Today, they were exceptionally difficult because of the strong winds. At times I felt like a human sail and decided to keep my head down and hold onto the rocks with both hands! Sonia was smart and brought sunglasses to keep not only the sun out of her eyes but also dust. She was a great help to me by yelling “put your head down” when she felt a strong gust. We were covered in dust by the time we came down the mountain. 

The other important thing to note is how beautiful the skies were during this portion of our hike. It truly set the stage that I just might have my amazing views. 

From the 7th station we continued on to the 8th station. 

At 3100m, the views were still spectacular. 

We reached the 8th station just before 8:00am. Time wise, the 8th station is approximately halfway up the mountain. We had about three hours of hiking remaining before reaching the summit. We enjoyed my new favorite find at Family Mart. Cheeseburgers! 

As we were finishing up our mid morning snack, the clouds were building and rain started. Quickly we gathered our gear and started hiking again. The rain didn’t last too long! Whew! The next stop was the 8.5th station (that’s what the sign calls it!) or the original 8th station. It takes an average of 80 minutes to go from the 8th station to the 8.5th station.  The elevation change is a little over 300m. Along the way, we noticed new trail maintenance and a sign. It was fun to see “new things” on this journey! 

Through this portion of the journey, we kept good tabs on our pace and level of exertion. Knowing we had about three hours of hiking to reach the summit, we remain cautious and steady. None the less, our hearts were pounding pretty hard at times! As we passed the 3240m – 3400m elevation, we stopped for a few fun photos. 

I was able to get a good picture with a Torii above the clouds. I took time to embrace the wabi-sabi. It’s may not be at the summit but, it’s a great picture! Beauty in the imperfections. As a result, I have a cute Torii picture on Mt. Fuji. 

As we arrived to the 8.5th station, the clouds started to roll in, again. 

That’s a patch of snow! 

From the 8.5th station to the summit is about 90 minutes. The elevation change is a little over 300m. It was during this stretch last year when the wheels started to fall off because of the weather and our inexperience with climbing Mt. Fuji. This year, I at least knew that the 600m sign meant we still had 25 minutes of strenuous climbing! 

As we arrived at the 9th station, we were greeted by another Torii. Perfect opportunity to catch our breath and take a few photos. 

The final stretch to the summit remained. The clouds were thick. 

Off we went. One boulder scramble, stair step at a time! 

Until finally…. we made it!! Check us out! 

At the summit, we stopped for lunch. It was just before 11:00am. About 6 hours of hiking with necessary breaks. Not too shabby! Actually, 6 hours is the average. Lunch was a delicious warm bowl of ramen! By the time we reached the summit the only spot left on my hiking stick was for my second summit stamp! 

We ate, had our hiking sticks and temple books stamped, and used the restroom. By the time we were heading down the mountain it was noon and it was beginning to rain. Oh, no. I honestly didn’t know if I had the strength to endure the descent in the rain again this year. Fortunately, I didn’t have to find out. The rain stopped pretty soon after we left the summit. 

The descent without rain was so much easier. We each slipped a couple times on the loose igneous rock. But, we were ok. We were dry and warm. 

Somewhere along the descent, the clouds were beneath us and above us. 

We could stand on the ledge and I could get my cool cloud picture. 

I experienced wabi-sabi yet again. The summit isn’t the only place magical pictures can be captured. 

The remainder of the hike had a few sprinkles and maybe a slip or two. Without all the rain, coming off the mountain was a breeze. We were back at the 5th station by 3:00pm. 

We had two hours before the buses left to clean up, eat, and shop. Which we did. I enjoyed Mt. Fuji Melon Bread and a Mt. Fuji Craft beer. Delicious reward for a great hike. 

After our hike today, I’ve decided I love Mt. Fuji even more. She has a way of showing you your strengths and weaknesses when you make the climb. Mt. Fuji doesn’t give you what you want, but gives you what you need. Sonia needed to check Mt. Fuji off her Japan bucket list. She was ready for the challenges climbing Mt. Fuji would give her and she came out victorious. 

Today, I needed perspective and a dose of wabi-sabi. Finding beauty in the imperfection. Honestly, I don’t feel like I have any unfinished business with Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji is a good sensei (teacher). I came and I climbed – twice. For that I am wiser, not a fool! 

Big Sur

Monday was my last full day of my American Adventure. It ended on a high note with more views of the Pacific Ocean as we drove along the coast to Big Sur. 

We stopped frequently because we didn’t have too many miles between where we were staying on the north end of Big Sur and where the landslide was blocking the road. Each stop gave us more beautiful views. 

We were fortunate to have a bright sunny morning for our journey. 

The breeze was strong as well. Providing the perfect opportunity for one last “flock of seagulls” hair picture. Check out Roxanne. No wind can mess up her perfect style! 

As we continued south, we came to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. We stopped to walk around and took a quick walk through a few Big Trees. They weren’t quite as large at the trees in Redwood but, magnificent in their own way. 

One trail that led to the beach was one of the few trails open. It seemed like a sign. Beach friends find a trail to the beach! Off we went. 

We took a little time to play on the beach! 

As the clouds rolled in again and the breeze picked up, we retreated from the beach. We made it safely to the van, stopped for lunch, and began our trip back to the airb&b. 

We were glad to have enjoyed the beautiful sunset the night before because our last night was full of clouds. 

The clouds didn’t dampen our spirits or our time together. We finished the evening with a salmon dinner, wine, and dominoes (chicken feet – our new favorite). The time I was able to spend with my friends and family over the past three weeks was just what I needed. Dave and I are enjoying our time living in Japan with the daily adventures. Living so far away from our loved ones is perhaps the most difficult part. Thank you for taking the time to let me savor my time while I was with everyone and also for giving me time to share the experience with you. I’m so appreciative of everyone who worked their summer schedules to make this vacation possible. Thank you and I love you! 

One last closing thought. July 31st marks our one year anniversary in Japan. I have enjoyed “wabisabisole” as a means to share my experiences. While I can’t say I fit in like a local, I can definitely say I’ve developed a new sense of confidence, adventure, and independence as a result of living abroad for the past year. I appreciate all your love and support throughout our Japan Journey. I look forward to sharing even more stories with you over the next couple years. Simultaneously, if you are thinking about coming to visit, now might be a good time to start planning your own adventures! 

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