Saturday, December 29, 2012

Akiyoshidai Caves

This weekend we finally got to explore the Akiyoshidai caves in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

My husband took this shot of me and the kids near the main entrance of the main cave, Akiyoshido. Yes, the cave is enormous! Very wide, and about 1 km from start to end. Trails are paved the entire way, most of which have railings to prevent falling into water below. The entire thing is lit, though still quite a bit darker than these photos would suggest. We used no flash or tripods for these photos, but exposures around a second long, mostly stabilizing on the railings. The cave actually gets quite crowded, so we were glad we did okay without the tripod. Here is a photo from the entrance followed by some more of our favorites...
Cave entrance
My husband with the kids
Looking out the cave entrance to exit
The creek that runs through the caves flows out into a beautiful forested area.

A short walk leads to a brick street with shops selling stones and carvings of all kinds...
Several small parking lots lie just past that, charging ¥100-400 per vehicle. (up to about $5) Nearby the area are rocky grasslands that go over the caves. There is also a zoo nearby lions, tigers and other animals. Definitely a place for all to go visit in Japan!

Happy Holidays!

December has been a busy month for us, so I apologize for the lack of blog activity.  When I say busy, it is probably not what most families would envision for this month.  My husband was working out of the country for 3 weeks along with many of my friends' husbands, so it meant a little extra effort with the kids, plus making some extra meals to deliver to families struggling to make it through the month (some with newborn babies).  I also volunteered to make cookies for the school kids to decorate, more for kids in a Japanese orphanage, and more cookies and food for our "Unit's" holiday party.  Besides the holiday party, we also got to participate in a base "Jinglebell jog" and see Santa...
Here are some photos from the Jinglebell jog...
Many Santas, several units and hundreds of dependents head towards the start

Luckily my husband returned before Christmas.  Though with uncertain return dates, no family within thousands of miles, and very little opportunity for communication while he was gone, we had a hard time figuring out holiday plans.  We did try to take some time off and "space-A" somewhere fun, but that didn't work out.  So, we're enjoying some local relaxation.

Of course for Christmas eve I got to make more cookies for Santa.  One of my cousins sent some wonderful sea-life cookie cutters, so here's what we left for Santa...

The next AM our son was thrilled to get his Legos and daughter her first bike they asked for from Santa.

Of course I also had fun putting up Christmas lights on the front and back of our house.  Here is what I did to the kids' fort...
So, though we are far away from family, we have tried to make the most of our holiday season.  For the kids, as long as there's a tree and lights and Santa doesn't forget them, they're pretty happy.  We feel so grateful we are able to provide them that, as we know many families in the world can not.  Every year we also donate to "Toys for Tots" a military program that brings toys to some of these children in need.

We hope you had a wonderful holiday season, and have an excellent New Year!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mikan (Orange) Season

Wherever you live, you have probably seen bags or boxes of little Japanese oranges for sale in your grocery stores.  Here they are called Mikans, or formally Unshu Mikan, but in other places Satsumas, Tangerines or Mandarins.  Cold weather ripens the fruit, so Mikan season starts soon after Halloween.  We have been enjoying eating them for nearly two months now.

There are plenty of places to go pick Mikans straight off the vine.  One area to do this is Oshima Island.  Here are some of the Mikan picking farms we found...

It is so fun getting the fruit fresh and ready to eat.  Something we will surely miss when we leave Japan.  Luckily we should still be able to buy boxes of them in the US (or wherever we might travel).

Friday, December 7, 2012

Earthquake Safe!

Today there was an earthquake of magnitude 7.3 in Northeast Japan.  This post is just to let my viewers know we were not affected in our area.  Our hearts go out to those who were affected!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Marine Corps Birthday Ball

Every November, Marine Corps units around the globe celebrate their history with a formal ball including a nice dinner, a guest speaker, a video message from the commandant, and dancing. This year was the US Marine Corps 237th birthday, which we celebrated last night. Things were a bit different than usual, living in Japan. In addition to limited dress options, seamstresses and hairdressers available, there weren't exactly options for the venue. Instead of renting out a ballroom at a hotel like most USMC balls, here we transformed our whole gym into a ballroom. We thought it came out amazing!

"Tun Tavern" was built over the entrance of our gym just for the ball
Tables and screens set up inside the gym for the ceremony
VIP room with appetizers. First ball we've had that!
3D Marine Corps symbol as a disco ball on our dance floor
Us taking a break after some dancing
We each got our own sake bottle to bring home

Us after a long night

First night in ages with childcare, beautiful decor, great speaker, delicious food, wonderful friends and dancing made a great night to remember.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Halloween in Japan isn't nearly what it is in the US, though it is recognized. Many stores sell a few decorations and some small costume items like hats, masks and capes. Children do not trick-or-treat in Japan, so there are not many costumes. However, on a US base, the Halloween traditions continue...
Our kids in our home-made costumes and wagon boat
Many Japanese families that befriend Americans get the privilege of an invite to trick-or-treat. We invited one of our son's old classmates from Yochien. He had never trick-or-treated before, so was very excited about the opportunity. Apparently many other people had the same idea, and we had a 45 minute wait at the gate to get permission for them to enter. (For anyone bringing guests next year I recommend meeting them at the gate by 3:30 PM). For us this meant slightly delayed dinner and trick-or-treating, plus less lighting for trick-or-treat photos. Here is our Japanese friend joining in...
Our son "scuba-diving"
The kids all had a great time trick-or-treating, though didn't come back with too much candy. There were so many kids out, many houses ran out of candy before we got to them. We were one of them. We were told to buy 10 bags. We bought 13 bags of our favorites (incase there were leftovers;), though it was gone in a little over an hour! Apparently we needed closer to 20 bags.

After trick-or-treating we all had fun entertaining families with our boat and costumes in our front yard. Many Japanese kids walked over to get a picture with our kids and the "boat" and some actually got in it. My husband and I both came out for a bit as a giant squid. Here he is. Notice everyone ran away but our son when he stepped out.

Finally, here's a clearer photo of all our family costumes at the beach to properly fit the theme. It's me as the squid this time. My husband wouldn't let me make him another costume. That's okay because it saved me hours of work, and he took the photo.

So, yes, Halloween can still be fun in Japan. We hope you all had fun too.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Weekday Photo Fun...

Last Friday our school had an inservice day, so our son got to stay home. I jumped at the opportunity to take both kids to the Kintai Bridge early in the morning before the crowd (which would surely be heavier on the weekends.) We completely lucked out and got almost the entire bridge to ourselves and some fun photos...

And I'll confess before you wonder, yes, our daughter is wearing a Chinese dress. She has a Japanese Kimono, which we have photographed her in before, but she wanted to wear this pink dress this time. Nobody complained, but Japanese women kept stopping saying "Kawaii, kawaii!" (cute) the entire AM. Our son is in Japanese "Jinbei," 2 piece Kimono for young boys.

Here's the kids with Iwakuni Castle in the background...

And down to play by the river after crossing the bridge...

The kids cooperated so well I let them pick out something from the food tents by the bridge. Our son picked a teriyaki squid (which he ate entirely at his own will) and our daughter picked teriyaki marumochi (pounded rice balls).







Fun day for the kids and mommy. A little brighter sun than I'd like for photos, but hopefully still enjoyable to see. Perhaps we'll try again sometime.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Now Everybody has Surfed!

This last weekend we couldn't resist heading over to the West coast again for some waves.  What were predicted to be decent size turned out to be quite small, though perfect for our little ones.  Our son got in a few short rides, then our daughter begged for a turn.  Daddy decided he'd ride with her on the paddleboard...

She decided one wave was enough.  
Our son had a blast building forts on the beach...
 Here's another beach we just stopped by to check out the waves...
 And on to our favorite beach from our first beach trip in Japan.  We didn't even bring down our wetsuits because the waves were pretty small to surf, but we did have fun taking turns with our stand-up paddleboard, and the kids had fun exploring the tidepools...

And up the stairs back to the parking lot...

Beautiful weather for a fun family weekend in Japan!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Three Falls

Since we moved here we kept hearing about 3 falls and 7 falls.  Three falls is a set of smaller waterfalls only about 45 minutes away, while 7 falls has larger falls, but is a couple hours away.  We finally got to 3 falls, in two separate trips.  First my husband took our son one day while I stayed with our daughter at naptime.  Then I got to take our daughter with some of my wonderful, adventurous friends while our son was at Kindergarten.  Here's some photos from both our trips...
One of the upper falls, taken by my husband
Our son "fishing"
The beautiful forest along the trail
And my trip with friends...
Thanks to my wonderful friend Sarah for setting up her camera on a timer for this one 

My friends in front of the largest waterfall
Crossing the stream to find a nice picnic area
All of us taken with my self-timer
And another thank you to my friend Sarah for catching my daughter and I during our lunch
One of the falls on our return
Our daughter running along the path back to the car

A beautiful day with wonderful friends.  I am so thankful to have them here with me in Japan.