Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Crazy Tokyo Weekend

Fellow blog readers and friends! As mentioned, we're off to Tokyo for the weekend starting tomorrow morning at 5:00 am. We'll be climbing Mt Fuji, but we have a few other little surprise adventures on the agenda.

If it all works out according to plan, here's a teaser of some of our posts next week:

1) Swanky Tokyo skyscraper bars
2) Rickshaws
3) Nightingale droppings (aka bird poop)
4) Ninjas
5) Altitude sickness and a crying breakdown or two...

Stay tuned!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Japanese Fortune Teller

Horoscopes, tarot cards, voodoo dolls... all over the world through travel, I've found this element of supernatural and clairvoyance. 

I can't say that I really believe in all that kind of thing. But if I'm completely honest, I did visit a fortune teller years ago at the San Diego County Fair of all places who was dead on accurate about some events in my life.    

So, recently when the topic of conversation in one of my English classes turned to mysticism, I was intrigued to learn that fortune telling is quite popular among Okinawans. In fact, there are even several places here catering to English speaking clients.

Our latest video adventure starts with a walking tour of some ancient stone steps near Shuri Castle and ends in a very "unexpected" fortune telling venue.   

Take a look! As always, you can also view the you tube version.

Have you ever visited a fortune teller? Was it worthwhile or waste of money?

Kick things off and leave a comment!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mt Fuji Trek

Hiking Grand Canyon, New Years Day 2007

Next weekend, we are leaving our island oasis and heading to mainland Japan to fulfill a personal dream. Climb the infamous Mt Fuji. 

This will actually be the second time I have attempted it. The first time was a comedy of errors and I sadly never even made it to the mountain! 

In 2005, I came to Japan and planned the trek at the end of my trip. Silly me...I believed that Fuji would be a huge tourist destination and easy to get to like Disneyland or Vegas. 

So, I showed up at the train station in Tokyo and asked for a ticket to Mt Fuji. I discovered that it was not as straightforward as believed and would involve a series of trains and buses. Still I was undeterred. Besides I also had a reservation to spend the night in a very special Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) there. 

I started my odyssey early in the morning and every thing went as normal until I discovered to my horror that I had gotten on the wrong train.  I got off at the next stop, and calmly got on the right course. Except that I DIDN'T again, and found myself zooming about the country on a bullet train for the entire day. Seriously, about 14 hours! I finally found a commuter train that headed to the nearest town to Fuji. This was one of those trains that stop every few minutes and the normal looking people get off, and the green-haired grandmothers get on... 

When I finally got to Fuji, I checked into the special guest house, only it was super creepy because I was ONLY person there. The hallways were all dark and creaky... in fact, the entire village seemed something of a ghost town. It was then that I learned Fuji had just been closed for the season.

This time, we made sure the mountain is, indeed, still open and booked a sure-fire way to the mountain. But we're wondering how to pack efficiently for all seasons (steamy humidity on the way up and snow at the top). 

Even if you haven't climbed Fuji, anybody out there have recommendation about what to pack in terms of clothes, snacks, first-aid, rain gear, extras?

We appreciate your advice. Please leave a comment!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Happy Van and Golden Goddess Updates

So, first off, remember my challenge at the end of my "Month of Living Dangerously" to get in touch with an old boyfriend from like 23 years ago? 

Mr Happy Van wrote me back! Yes, he is alive and well and living in NY with his wife and child. Funny, he mentioned in his email that he had heard about me over the years and actually knew some of the events of my life... anyway, glad I did it and rekindled an old friendship! I'm reminded of how amazing the internet is everyday...

On a different note, earlier this week, I went for the gold facial photo shoot to be the metallic Nefertiti in the upcoming September issues of Okinawa Living and Japan Update. The whole experience was pretty strange.

Do you know the movie Lost in Translation? One of the funniest scenes is when Bill Murray does a commercial for Suntory whisky in Tokyo with an army of Japanese videographers, scene preps, camera,lighting people, and makeup people. They want him to hold the glass a certain way, but the translator can only say with funny English, "Hold the glass with more intensity..."

So, my photo shoot was in no way as fancy as all that, but they did spend 15 minutes creasing the towel across me just right and this time they did cover my entire face in gold. At one point, I was horizontal on the massage table and the photographer climbed up, straddled over me, balanced on the table (I could feel the table rocking), and took a bunch of close ups from overhead. 

They said a few things to me in Japanese, which I didn't understand, but in my head, I kept imagining them saying, "Relax with more intensity!"  

We appreciate your input! Be friendly and leave a comment...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Around the Neighborhood

Over the past weekend, we celebrated our One Year Anniversary of living abroad in Okinawa. 

It's been a fast and crazy year with all the big changes in our daily lives-- driving on the left side of the road, learning Japanese, and discovering 100 yen stores, but it's been fun too.

One of the funny things we remember about moving to our apartment last year was that we happened to find ourselves in a peculiar part of town. During the day, it's your average hillside island community with gorgeous vistas of the ocean and cool breezes.  

Imagine our surprise to discover at night, the neon comes out full force! That's right, we found ourselves living smack in the middle of Love Hotel Alley. 

What are love hotels? Fascinating places really as we learned from our investigation. We toured our neighborhood and made this video of our favorites along with some cultural information about them. It should be clarified these are our "favorites" from the outside only. We have yet to pay our hourly charge and actually go inside! 

For a larger screen, check out the youtube version.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bond Girl Opportunity

You know the Bond film, Goldfinger? Remember how the love interest meets her demise by being dipped and drowned in gold? 

Well... I got to experience a little of that myself recently. Not the dipping or the drowning-- but the gold part-- and with a much less dire outcome. 

It all started about a week ago when driving one day, I noticed this sign on the road.

This beauty salon specializes in Gold facials. Yes, you read correctly,  gold facials. Apparently, they are yet another beauty craze in Japan right now. So, always up for new experiences, I went inside and scheduled one. They were also having a promotion of 50% off, and since it's a little bizarre and off the beaten track, how could I refuse?

When I got home, I easily found this video about gold facial frenzy online. It's pretty funny how far women will go for beauty!

Was the gold facial worth its weight in gold?
Overall, I found it to be very relaxing. Ninety minutes of cleaning, steaming, moisturizing, and face, neck, and shoulders massage. Then they pressed 24 karat gold leaf onto my face and left me in that metallic crinkly state for about 15 minutes.  

Though I enjoyed the massage part, I felt when it came to the most important part, they were a bit cheapy cheap with the gold on me. They didn't put nearly as much as the model in the you tube video.  I only had little strips across my forehead and cheeks, but weren't they supposed to be doing something about my crow's feet too? 

For the cost even with the discount, I thought the whole experience was more gimmick than anything else... not surprised really. They usually are.

At the end, they let me wipe all the gold off, which wasn't actually all that easy to do. I kept finding little flakes of gold in my hair, in my clothes, and on my pillow all week. 

They also served me green tea with gold foil floating in it, which I did enjoy drinking quite a bit.

Okay, but here's the funny opportunity part of the whole story. They asked me if I would be their model for an upcoming ad campaign. They invited me to come back again this week and do the whole thing over with a photographer. They will publish the story and pictures in several English publications here including Okinawa Living and Japan Update

So, look for the stories in the September issues. I'll be the one doused in gold!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cave Hunting

Last Sunday, we tore up the Okinawan highways again with a road trip south to visit the Valley of Gangala and Okinawa World Cave site. 

What an amazing place! We're so lucky to experience many different worlds here in Japan-- gorgeous ocean, lush forests, and interesting geologic formations.

We made another video travelogue of our adventure. Enjoy! Warning: this video is for adult eyes only. I can't disclose more than that. Watch and you'll see why...

If this screen is too small, check out the larger youtube version!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Okinawan Baby Shower Lost in Translation

I've taken on a new challenge...I decided to host a baby shower for my Okinawan friend, Kanae. 

Though they don't have baby showers in Japan like we do in the states, she's seen lots of them on TV shows and movies and she's intrigued by the whole idea. In fact, she stressed to me that she wants a really typically "American" one with balloons, streamers, matching everything, and "Baby, Baby, Baby!" all over the place. 

I'm happy to oblige her, and I think it will be fun, though I have to admit, this is the first one I've ever hosted.  

In addition, to all the other baby shower stuff, Kanae wants games. LOTS of games. But here's the problem... all of her guests are Japanese speaking, and have varying levels of English. That means I need games that are not language related AND are relatively easy to explain and play.

This is where YOU come in, blog readers! 

Have any simple fun baby shower games to recommend for non-English speaking women who don't have a concept of baby shower games?  Isn't there something with a plastic baby frozen in an ice cube? What about toilet paper baby? Is there really such a thing as a blind taste test with baby food? 

Please help!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hamburger Restaurant Review: Part 4

Thank you, Jose from my Japanese class! He found this hamburger restaurant way north in Okinawa while he was riding his motorcycle one day. I'm so glad he did because it was good!!!

So, I have to say that I think this place is my favorite hamburger restaurant now. It might be too early to say-- after all there's a whole island out there to explore for burgers, and they just seem to keep getting better and better. But they were pretty awesome.

Captain Kangaroo Burger is in Nago, so it's a perfect stop before going to the Aquarium, or if you're like us, just for the pure love of sizzling beef.

We ordered 3 burgers in all and devoured them in about 5 minutes. I'm sure our eatfest was the topic of quiet conversation for the Japanese people sitting around us. In no way did we hide our enthusiasm.

Take a look for yourself at two of them.

Mexican burger- this was dreamy! That's sour cream, guacamole, fried onions, and parmesan cheese on top.

Teriyaki burger- look at that cheese!

The fries were great too and they came with this little spice rack with some unique flavors of seasonings.

Completely unexpected, but the green tea powder was wonderful on fries!

Are you convinced yet?

Please, please go eat at this restaurant! Another bonus is the gorgeous secluded beach behind it. Seriously not a sole person on it.

Directions: Drive north on the 58 towards Nago. Drive through Nago and when you see the road split off and go towards the aquarium, make a left at that intersection. It's the 449 and you'll see a big park next to it on the left side. On the 449, go straight about a mile. You'll pass the Flipper restaurant (picture of a dolphin) and then Captain Kangaroos in on the left. 

Let us know what you order there!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Yes, we'll travel to the end of the island for a burger

Today we had one of the best days we've had on Okinawa. It involved everything we love about this place-- the clear sky, brilliant sunshine, food, and nature.

We made this little video travelogue of the day's adventure to share with all of you. Please check it out. We worked really hard on it... and make sure to watch until the end. Hope you enjoy...

If this screen is too small, check out the youtube version!

The restaurant we visited is called Captain Kangaroo, and I highly recommend it.  Check back soon, because we'll post a full review with directions to it. 

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ikebana Massage Class

Don't you love how an experience can evolve and turn into something completely wonderfully different than expected? 

I appreciate how that seems to happen more often as an expat in a foreign country. My theory is that because we're living here as guests, we have less control over external circumstances and we are more likely to go with the flow. Do you agree?

Anyway, today I had just one of those fun day turnarounds. 

For my latest new "challenge", I enrolled in an Ikebana class. Ikebana is Japanese artistic flower arrangement, and ever since planning my wedding flowers a year and a half ago, I've been in love with flowers. I don't know how to express it really-- they just make me happy.

So, I attended the class and it was fun enough. I was surprised to see that another enrollee was a student of mine, Sophista from Thailand. We talked a lot and learned how to make small arrangements using washi paper and practiced our Japanese with two high school girls also taking the class. 

But then, the topic of conversation somehow got around to Thai Massage, and it just so conveniently turned out that Sophista trained at the most famous massage school in Thailand. To make a long story short, the Ikebana studio suddenly turned into a Thai massage salon. Sophista had us sitting on the ground with the buckets of flowers as she kneaded all the knots out of our sore shoulders and backs. Then she gave us a tutorial on all the reflexology points in our feet. We ended up all staying for a long time afterwards talking about this or that and even made a lunch date together for next week.

 Have you ever spontaneously bonded with a group of "strangers"? Share your story here!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Who Knew? Your Next Beauty Treatment is Right Inside Your BBQ Grill

When I was in graduate school, I had a good friend, Yumie from Japan. She was from Tokyo and like many women around the world, obsessed with beauty treatments. AND I do mean obsessed-- any new product out on the market, Yumie had the inside scoop. All the makeup saleswomen knew her by name, she always got freebies for just stopping in, and no lie, I once saw her plunk down $1100 dollars for makeup from Lancome. 

I remember one time she told me about Charcoal Soap. She said that it had been a Japanese tradition for hundreds of years, and swore that it was excellent for one's skin and complexion. I love how different countries and cultures have their own beauty remedies... so interesting (even though I've come to realize the beauty industry is a huge racket everywhere in the world) 

I thought that was about the strangest thing ever, but low and behold, today when I was browsing around again in a 100 yen store (my new obsession), I found Charcoal Soap.

So how was it?

Positives- the scent is surprisingly fresh and sort of herbal and my skin did feel clean and smooth afterwards
Negatives- the gray residue if not washed off completely, stains your towels and clothes 
Last positive- at 100 yen, it's a steal

What beauty treatments have you encountered around the world?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Watermelon Days

Remember how when you were a kid, watermelon flavored bubble gum and candy was the most awesome flavor ever? 

My class of Japanese kids reminded me of that last week... given a bag of Jolly Ranchers, they fought over the few coveted watermelon flavored lollipops!

Recently, I have also had a taste for watermelon, so we stopped at a roadside fruit market and bought one over the weekend.

I love watermelon plain and simple on its own, but feeling a bit creative, I experimented with a few more... ahem... adult adaptations.

First up, Watermelon and Feta Salad 

Next, Watermelon Mojito Sorbet  
Puree 3 cups of watermelon in a blender and mix with a simple syrup (1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup lemon juice). Put in a freezer safe bowl and chill, stirring vigorously every hour or so until it becomes smooth. Drizzle rum on top before eating. Perfect for a hot afternoon!

What's your favorite summer time fruit? How do you like to eat it?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

100 Yen Store Raid

We've been in Japan for nearly a year, and it seems I've only recently discovered the wonders of the 100 Yen Stores here. Basically, these are like dollar stores in the states, but the selection of things you can buy seems-- do I dare-- sort of amazing 

What do you need? Cucumber Seeds? Iron-spiked ball hand massagers? Fireworks? Chopsticks? Beta fish?  You can find it all here.

These stores also sell the most wonderful variety of snacks. At first, I'd thought the snacks would be on par with Liz Lemon's Sabor de Soledad chips and possibly give me a false positive pregnancy test result (Fan of 30 Rock?). But to be honest, they're really tasty. My husband agrees and he's the picky one.

So, today for my new experience, I decided to let myself go a little crazy in the 100 yen store and buy whatever I fancied for 1000 yen, or about $10. 

This is what I walked out with:     

Asparagus Flavored cookies- no lie, my husband gobbled these down in seconds. Sounds like the strangest thing ever, but they're addicting!

Goya flavored Cheetos. Goya is an extremely bitter Okinawan vegetable which looks sort of like a prickly zucchini. True to their origin, these are bitter, but salty and go great with beer.

Remember the pancake flavored crackers I fell in love with a week ago? This time I tried the other variety-- American apple pie flavor. I don't know how they do it-- they honestly taste like little apple pies. It's probably some cancer causing flavor they created in a lab in China somewhere.

A pair of driving gloves because when in Rome, do as the Romans do. If you don't know what I'm talking about, refer back to this post about sun aversion hysteria in Japan.

In addition, I bought 6 porcelain Asian style soup spoons. I'm planning to make something special to eat and use them. No, it's not soup... however, check back in a few day to find out.

Last, but definitely not least, my new favorite technological invention-- these little dispensers to drizzle peanut butter and chocolate on your bread. 

They also sell dispensers with ketchup and mustard, butter and jam, and butter and pancake syrup. Okay, I know I get a thrill out of small things, but are these amazing or what? There's no need for a knife, no worry about getting peanut butter in your jelly jar, no quandary about remembering which goes on first...  and how come I never thought of PB & chocolate?

Wherever you are in the world, what do you like to buy at your local five and dime?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Japanese Arcade Games

Japanese kids love arcade and video games and they have a huge variety to choose here from when looking for diversion. We recently spotted an unusual one...

You know those games with the metal grabber hands in the large glass tank? In the states, the big hand usually grabs from a pile of colorful and fluffy stuffed animals to the child's delight.

But here, we found one that grabs nothing other than-- Ritz Crackers!

Don't get me wrong, I love ritz crackers too... but it's a strange prize, right?

To answer your question about new challenges-- Yes, we tried to win the ritz crackers, but No, we were not successful.

I could just go buy some today at the commissary if I want them so badly, but that seems like a cop out now. I must win them by expertly moving the metal forklift hand!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Independence Day!

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

We started off with a sunset bbq at a friend's house in Chatan near the Seawall. Gorgeous view of the ocean from the patio. I'd never get tired of that!

Later, we climbed on the roof and watched fireworks.

Then we went to a World Jazz concert at Cotonoha Art Gallery. Remember the interview I did with the owner for my weekly post at Okinawahai? He was nice to put us on the special guest list. 

So glad we went. This was the first time I've ever heard Steel drum and Saxophone live in a concert before. 

For your enjoyment, a little taste of the music... definitely a fan of the saxophone!

How'd you spend your holiday?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Japanese Movie Night

Holy Smokes! I just found this fine example of Japanese cinema that I have to share with the world. I'm strangely intrigued and yet repelled at the same time.

I can't even describe it-- you'll have to see for yourself.

What's your take? Anybody want come over for a movie night?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Good Morning, Vietnam!

We booked plane tickets to visit Vietnam and Cambodia this September! 

Now we need your help... do you have recommendations about places to stay, things to do, or restaurants to eat at?

We opted to forego the organized tour, so we're planning the itinerary on our own. We appreciate any advice!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How to Change your Life in 30 Days

Yesterday wrapped up my first "Month of Living Dangerously" and what a month it was!

Admittedly, my actions over the past few weeks cannot be considered to be potentially harmful by any stretch. However, many of them were intimidating, challenging, or offbeat. More importantly, they were all completely NEW for me. 

In fact, that was exactly the goal-- to get out of my comfort zone, accomplish things I had been putting off, take chances at times, and liberate myself from a self-limiting perception about being an expat living in a foreign country. 

So, wherever you are, if you ever feel stuck in a rut or confined by your situation, why not give this experiment a try? 

Challenge yourself to do a completely NEW thing every day for an entire month. You won't regret the unique perspective you gain about your life, the control over the choices you make, and the enthusiasm you feel every single day. You'll be amazed to find yourself in the most interesting and magical situations too.

So, final thoughts and updates on the last month:

1. I'm happy to report that a little effort goes a long way with others and I made some new friends through Challenge 19 and Challenge 14 . Even some of you! No rekindling of friendship with "Happy Van" yet, but maybe he's busy on tour?

2. I'm no longer intimidated to do anything on my own in Okinawa. I feel comfortable walking into any situation by myself whether it is an Oxygen pod or Balloon store. 

3. In Challenge 23 I learned the secret to losing 5 pounds in 45 minutes.  

4. I reaffirmed my commitment to learning Japanese from Challenge 18 and recognized how lovely and patient Okinawans are with annoying customers.

5. In Challenge 10, I learned the power of speaking up. Our neighbor is no longer abusing the guest parking spot! If something is bugging you, don't hesitate to confront it. (It helps to be polite too.)

6. Finally, I learned (especially for intimidating situations) how to focus my attention on my actions rather than an outcome I can't control.  Simply fulfilling something that you weren't sure you could is a tremendous boost to self-esteem and energy.

***On a final note, I plan to make these new challenges a permanent aspect of my lifestyle (although perhaps not every day). The last month was so much fun, and there's still so much to experience out there-- more strange Japanese food and beauty treatments, Maid Cafes, and best of all, travel! 

So, please continue tuning in a few times a week. The adventures will continue!


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