Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saga Balloon Festival

Today I traveled to Saga, a town between Sasebo and Fukuoka. It is here that the Sagans(maybe?) hold there annual International Balloon Festival & Grand Prix. A term I thought only attached to car races, but alas, today was about a few different things I have yet to encounter in life. A hot air balloon grand prix being one of them.

The festival grounds are so huge that I can't even begin to tell you what the town of Saga actually looks like. For all I know, it's just grass. The walk from the bus parking to the first section of the festival took 20 minutes alone. Naturally, after a three hour bus ride I was in need of a bathroom break. I am convinced the lack of Sugar Free Red Bull in my life helped me even make it three hours. So, this is the one and only time that I will not curse the name of the commissary for not carrying my beloved choice of caffeine. The bladder holding victory was short lived and so, here in lies the first encounter.
The Port-0-Potty.
Now, I am no stranger to the Port-o-Potty. Every year we attend many events, armed with travel toilet paper and handy wipes. But, this was a Japanese Port-o-Potty. The Lord only knew (or the way I see it, the devil only knew-and was laughing)what I was getting myself into and due to the lack of line I didn't really have any time to prepare/console myself. For one brief-very brief- moment I even thought that it might be okay, as there were little ladies hobbling from one port to the next cleaning the potties. While, the idea of port-o-potty cleaning ladies gave me enough strength to open the door it pretty much stopped there. As I opened the door my heart sank to the bottom of the pee covered plastic floor, where of course I also found the "squatty potty". It was in this moment that I discovered that Port-o-Potties are NOT universal. So, there I was with nothing in between me and relief except for a pee covered floor, a hole in the ground...and jeans. All I could do was hold my breath, go for it, and pray my purse didn't fall off the hook.
I went through that alone have you know, so I didn't have anyone to direct my awkward, I just did that but it took me over 5 minutes look, at. I put on a big girl face. . . and didn't drink anything for the rest of the event.

Now, on to the balloons.

I sat around for three hours waiting for the events to begin. Safe to say, I should have brought company on this trip. So, after a few hours of aimlessly wandering around from booth to booth I grabbed a seat on the concrete bleachers and resorted to people watching. People watching in general is quite amusing, but people watching in Japan is delightful. I don't know what anyone is talking about, things are foreign, and the fashion is mind-boggling- in an awesome way. These girls spare no expense to the fact they are walking around in dust and dirt. Needless to say, it makes for great entertainment Imagine, trying to figure out what people are doing as well as make up in my head what they are saying. The latter becoming a bit easier as I pick up more and more words.

Observation one: if I am ever stranded on an island with multiple races, each one holding a pre-packed picnic basket- see ya later, I'm picking the lovely Japanese family. Not only do they come prepared with tiny fruits, but also all kinds of things wrapped in rice, candies, juices and water. I mean, it's munchies city.

Observation two: they totally have these super fun plastic mats they lay out. with super cute kids and tons of toys.

Observation three: black leggings with brown booties are all the rage. Not to mention most wear multiple layers, so chances are I could get a change of clothes out of it.

Observation four: I want a Japanese dog.

Getting to the balloons, the next new encounter. When they finally began to emerge from the ground, they were absolutely enchanting. Plus, the sun was shining bright and there was a heavy haze, which made the balloons look almost angelic. Call me a sucker for old school but my favorites were the rainbow balloons, I just thought they looked so magical set against the bright blue sky. The first round, while beautiful-was short and left me wondering, I came all this way for that?

check out that cheese. . .

But then, over the horizon came the next round.

Then came sunset, another first for me in Japan. Since I have been here I have yet to sit through an entire sunset. Which is sad because it's not everyday you can watch a sunset with lush mountains in the horizon. So I sat around watching the whole thing, by my self, but it's okay because it wasn't an insanely romantic sunset.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

its not even halloween...

Before we moved, we read about how Christmas is pretty tame here and that everyone eats KFC and strawberry shortcake. We also found out from our Japanese friends it's more of a lover's holiday then a family one.

Well, the other day we picked up a shortcake brochure at 7-11 and this week, the Cornell donned his Santa suite. Which is looking very worn in, by the way. There is a booth set up inside, which we can only assume that's where you pre-order your bucket-o-KFC!

Monday, October 26, 2009

mikan blast

I went to an orange orchard (not quite sure it's called an orchard) today with my friend and her hilarious kids for a class field trip. We had an awesome time picking a bag full of ready to eat, ripe off the vine oranges and had a picnic among the orange trees. It was fun to be around a lot of people and go do something so totally Japanese. The oranges here actually look and taste just like a tangerine, but hey, I don't judge. Loved it!

hey, mr. caterpillar.

my TOMs and I conquering Japan one orchard at a time.

This bag was actually more heavy then you might think. Add in two little kiddo's, a stroller, a foreign language, and a picnic . . .I don't know how these mom's do it! Kudos's!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Yosakoi (2)

As previously mentioned there was a festival this weekend! We had a great time, it was our ACR of 2009. For those of you who just said, "wha?!", ACR - known by the rest of the world as ACL, or Austin City Limits Music Festival, has become a tradition we share with our friends. We all pack up for the weekend and head to Austin for three days of rock n' roll, or as we like to also say, "the rock n' roll theme park". This year, for obvious reasons, we did not get to attend this awesome event and even though the void can never be filled, we helped it out a little bit this weekend. Except maybe not since this was a dance festival-not rock n' roll, but they did have a Japanese trio sing during the break at one point.

On to more interesting things. The colors were vivid, the food was awesome looking but kind of odd tasting, there were sweets everywhere, and the dancing; well, the dancing was some of the coolest stuff we have ever seen. Every group started out calm with flowing karate moves of some kind but then, all of a sudden, the music would switch up and boom! you were in a video game or something! The dancing got all intense and there were guys running around with flags and the MC was screaming on the mic. Every group had an MC that pretty much rapped to the music adding quite an exciting element to the performance.

So, it's obvious - we really enjoyed this festival. It was like our own little Sasebo ACR (said like a pirate by the way), sorry if it still doesn't make sense, it's definitely an inside joke thing.
See for yourself:

Yes, a chocolate dipped, sprinkle bannana was consumed, but no, we did not buy one of those awesome masks. Kinda sad about it too.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Yosakoi 2009 (1)

This weekend was the Yosakoi Festival in Sasebo. Dance groups from prefectures all over Japan come to comepete and perform.

What's more amazing? We totally figured how to put video on this thing, finally! So that's exciting.

Here is a taste of the weekend, but there will be more to come!

current happenings

this post is dedicated to erica nanno...

this is totally a Tifa pose...

cats, cats are everywhere. and the city's ballet fountain!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

lycee moment

The moment I(jewell) have been waiting for. Ever since my trip to Hong Kong and southern China, I have been storing the taste and memory of the Lycee in a special place in the most cherished part of my brain. The part that remembers things no matter how long ago they happened. Things like the first time I rode the Peter Pan ride at Disney World.

I can't explain my obsession with this fruit. All I can tell you is that it's the perfect amount of sweet with the perfect texture. It also comes with a bit of work, you have to peel each piece, so it makes it even more worth it when you savor the greatness.

At dinner the other night, they had a bowl of prepped-to-peel lycee's, and I ate about 15, and it was as magical as I remember. Of course the outer skin, the pretty part had been removed leaving this rough dark wrinkly and unrecognizable exterior-but I don't judge. It makes all of those times I consumed fake substitutes in the form of sorbet and martini's really worth it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

korean bbq extraveganza

It's been awhile since we have really done anything. This may seem weird, since living in Japan itself could be considered doing something, but what we mean by that is, we haven't been very adventurous lately.

We were supposed to go to Fukuoka City today, a one hour train ride north of the city, but we opted to wait, because after all of the research we decided we want to stay overnight. So, we spent another day relaxing in Sasebo City. We spent the day catching up on our beloved shows like Dexter and The Amazing Race. For dinner we met up with Ayumi, one of Brandon's managers for Korean BBQ.

So, Korean BBQ, let us tell you that it is amazing. It takes the meat factory to a new level. In the Willett family we call the Brazilian BBQ (or churrascaria) the meat factory, because honestly, they walk around with sticks of meat in crazy uniforms like robots giving you everything you need, in the meat sense that is.. Well, at the Korean meat factory you pay about 3,200Y ($35) a person for unlimited meats, veggies, rice, fruit, dessert and booze. Yes, you read right-booze. Well, one of those meats happens to be tongue, we had our first tongue - and it was good. Very chewy, but very good. Not going lie though, the fact that you cook it yourself made it a bit easier, because Jewell the one that's always scared was able to scorch hers as to make it more acceptable. But, after clearing three plates of raw meat (don't worry mom, we had three bowls of veggies!) and cleaning out the restaurants gin bottle, we left with happy hearts and pleased stomachs...once again.

three cuts of beef, chicken, and a nicely presented plate of tongue!

Ayumi cookin' up some deliciousness!

In Japan they have coffee jelly everywhere, like it's going out of style, even Starbucks has a version. So, we took this oppertunity to try it! It wasn't too bad, but it came with a cute little creamer so that made it seem better. Personaly, I have never been a jello fan, but that's what it was. So chances are slim either of us will ever have it again, but we get what the big deal is. . .if you like jello.

It's funny how the United States is considered a melting pot and you can find pretty much any food you could ever want. However, why is it that it took us moving to Japan to really venture out and see what the world has to offer? Well, as culturally diverse as we may have thought we were, we were missing out on some really great things!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

current happenings

We cut into the melon that Reggie and Manami got us. Surprise! On the inside looks like, tastes likes, and has the texture of a honeydew melon. Sneaky melon, making us think you were a cantaloupe!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

apartment sneak peak

This is our home, thus far. We hope you enjoy laughing at these pictures. However it's not funny, it's our home.

Our living room, dining room, closet, computer room, vanity, art & craft's table, yep-it's all here.

The post-graduation kitchen of a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, he can almost hear the horrid screams of current students as the chef's threaten them with this if they don't turn out the perfect hand-whipped Bearnaise.
hehe, it's a little funny.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

our minds are back in texas

There are 2 kinds of helicopter rides. There is the one where you are soaring high above the islands of Hawaii, looking down on flowing lava and waterfalls and unremarkable green mountains and trees. Then, there is the other one, the not so fun one. It's usually bright orange, and holds up traffic on a 6 lane highway. Well, my(jewell's mom) had to take a ride in one of those and we are stuck here in Japan while she and my grandma are stuck in a hospital.

I'll spare you the injury details, but it was a car accident and they are both on the mend now thanks to fast medical help and said helicopter ride. But, these are two women who don't like to sit around for awhile. My mom is a runner and my grandma well, she loves to do. She would rather be up helping people. So, recovery will be hard not only because of the rehabilitation's, but due mostly to the fact they can't be themselves to the fullest.

We just keep sending our love, because unfortunately thats all we can do, along with flowers and care packages of course. Which, mom if you are reading this-yes, one is on the way! Brandon and I just want to thank everyone who has helped our family, as well as those who have sent their love and continue to check up on us and mom and nana!

mom and nana are catholic, so this picture is for them.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

current happenings

Building our own army to protect us from the typhoon.

crazy winds after crazy foods

Yowza! We are about to experience our first typhoon. Well, actually we are experiencing our first typhoon. As luck might have it, all we will get is the wind end of things and the rain will hit mostly northeast Japan. From the looks of it so far, we aren't getting off too easy. All of the sports equiptment at the track has been removed, the picnic tables have been tied to trees, and for once you don't have to worry about random people walking into you. . .because there is no one really outside. Good thing we got to go out last night.

We went out with our new friends that own the Ron's Burger Shop, you know the place with the line and the 2.7kg Burger. Which, we found out no Japanese person has actually ever eaten alone. Only a crazy American can put away food like that and live to tell about it.

Koichi and Mia, oh, and their awesomely energetic 2 year old son took us to a few places that we didn't even know existed and even if we did, probably wouldn't have gone into. There are some businesses here that don't take in Americans. Not in a bad segregation kind of way, but because they can not speak any English and are the one's big enough to say, "We don't have time for this."

First-you must know that we hopped into their futuristic van (they have 5 kids by the way) in which the little dude didn't get into a car seat. There wasn't even a car seat in the van. . .in fact, he stood up running around with his cute sumo-style ponytail while dad was driving. That was crazy and probably the biggest bit of culture shock we have experienced simultaneously .

We first walked into the restaurant where you sit along a bar in front of flat top stations, just like Benihana-except not like Benihana because it's not a chain restaurant and it's in Japan and the sweet lady who has been working there for 40 years (she told us) welcomed us with a big smile, and spoke in Japanese. Koichi got us started on a Okonomiyaki. Which in the end looks like an omelet. However, here is how is happened.

First, she cut up cabbage, pork, octopus!, green onions, fish cake, and what looked like some form of flour but had a texture similar to potato. You know, something to bind it all together. Next, we watched the ingredients sizzle and brown on each side. If you know Brandon, it should be no surprise that immediately these ingredients were making his mouth water. The next thing she did, was the thing we hoped dearly for from the moment we saw a bucket of eggs on the counter. We smiled big as she cracked one open on the flat top, yes! She took the now omelet looking piece of food and covered the egg. As the egg cooked underneath the patty of for mentioned ingredients, the ends began to brown and all the smells started to converge. She flipped it over revealing a perfectly fried, flattened egg, covered it with teriaki sauce and fish flakes, and viola! Now, just for a moment I would like to say that our old room mate had a container of these fish flakes and from time to time I would open it and sniff, and contemplate WHY?! she would ever want to use them to garnish. We are beginning to figure out why, I suppose. They added an obvious fish flavor yes, but also a bit of crunch and eventually blended in to where we didn't even really notice with all the other flavors going on. Service topped the cake. She handed us a mouth sized spatula contraption and told us with a look in her eyes to be careful. This was the part where we got to eat. Brandon sliced up the okonomiyaki dish with his spatula and and we dug in. I was so nervous, between having never had octopus in any form besides fried, which yes, we did explain to them, and knowing I was eating the fish flakes that always grossed me out. Brandon took to it like a champ though. He is so brave when it comes to food, but even more he is afraid to let a host down. I'm sure I had fear written all over my face, but I did it! Brandon had to tell me to hurry up because Koichi & Mia were almost done, but I did it and the thing that kept me going was the mass amount of cabbage and the fried egg, I love cabbage.

After we finished the okonomiyaki, we moved to another part of Sake Town. Sake Town is what the locals call the area of town with streets full of Japanese Bars, restaurants and street vendors. Entering through a door standing a mere 4 feet tall to make the occasional oompaloompa comfortable we made our last stop for the night. Here we ate what I can only compare to "tapas". I spare you the name because I don't know the proper spelling, but it sounds like "eats-a-ki-ya", which we have had before thanks to Reggie and Manami. We started with a trio of Tofu, Seaweed, & Swordfish Jerky? maybe? ha!. Moved on to a great salad, then chicken wings, and finally the main course which had been brewing during all previous courses. This was a pot of broth with cabbage, green onions, red bell peppers, peanuts, tofu, and a some form of fat from a cow. You can get all kinds of set ups, with flavors like Miso and Curry, and they don't all come with tofu and fat. That is just what happens when Brandon tells someone to order us their favorite thing.

Hope you enjoyed yet another food adventure, it was an evening even Mr. Anthony Bourdain would be proud of! Going to huddle in a corner now to protect myself from these beastly winds!