Sunday, December 26, 2010

An American Christmas in Japan...

Christmas light looking in Miyagase, Candle light service in Yamato and fondue with the Geary’s on Christmas day made for one fabulous Christmas, even if it was a million miles away from America!

This year there might have been a bit of distance between us and our families, but we made the most of technology and skyped our loved ones before, during and after Christmas!

Two nights before Christmas we went to Miyagase to look at Christmas lights with our good friends Sarah and Johnny Geary.

We did have to drive over an hour just to see Christmas lights, but the fact that there were Christmas lights at all in this country was exciting!!!!

Though Christmas isn't a Japanese holiday, you can still find Christmas cheer in small doses throughout Japan. Miyagse however, takes it up a notch, and actually has an entire park full of lights! They even have a Caucasian Santa that the Japanese line up to take their picture with!

Miyagase is famous for the park where they host a light display every year throughout the month of December! It wasn't anything like some of the grand light displays I have seen in America, but they did their best to make the park appear Christmas-y! We felt like we were at home, even if we were surrounded by Japanese people! There were booths all along the sidewalks trimmed with lights, where vendors sold treats and eats to passersby whom had come to enjoy the Christmas lights! Not surprisingly, there would be a booth where turkey legs and hot chocolate were sold and right next to it you would find squid and fish on a stick!!!!

ET and an American flag on top of a food stand, with Celine Dion singing Christmas Carols in the background...the Japanese's way of making it feel "American"! (Yet when I sang out loud to the familiar music, they stared at me like I was a foreigner!?! Who knows why? ;)

Not that they see Christmas as a Christian holiday, it’s more of a romantic holiday to them, but in the mix of all the twinkling lights there shone a Cross!

Apparently, the biggest Christmas tree in the isn't the size of the tree in NYC, but it was big and beautiful to us! (As well as the hundreds of Japanese who were taking their pictures in front of it!)

The tunnel of lights (yes we did have to pay 300 yen to get across, but pay we did)!

Merry Christmas 2010!

The next night, Christmas Eve, we stayed local. For the first time ever, Nick and I had Christmas dinner alone, just the two of us! We went to a little Japanese restaurant near our house in Yamato.

Our Christmas dinner…Japanese noodles and fried chicken! (A weird combo I know, but after ordering Gyoza, edamame, noodles and rice, we decided to try their "Christmas Special" of fried chicken! Haha! Guess that's what they assume us Americans eat on Christmas!)

A little bakery by our house that sold Christmas treats! The line was out the door and the prices were high...but people were willing to take that sacrifice in order to get a bit of holiday cheer!

After dinner, Nick and I met up with some friends to attend a Japanese Christmas candle-light service!

There is a church within walking distance of our house called Yamato Calvary Chapel. We had heard super things about Yamato Calvary and decided to finally give it a try on Christmas Eve. We walked the ten minutes to the Chapel and were greeted at the door by a Japanese man, “Merry Christmas!” The English translations didn’t stop there, we were given a candle to light during the service and a mini radio and headset so we could understand the message via an interpreter. The service was amazing and brought tears to the entire congregation. It was a candle light service that we will never forget!

Nick’s Christmas present….a 47inch LG! It was finally time to upgrade. We were still using Nick’s television from high school!

After church, Nick and I went home to enjoy our new tv and watch a Christmas movie! My very favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life....we watch it every year!

Christmas morning brought sunshine and presents....the 3 of us cozied up in our tatami room and opened gifts from our loved ones!

Beretta says, "Thank-you momma Boren for the present!!!!"

Christmas day, after opening presents and skyping with family, we were once again joined by our good friends the Geary’s. They brought their dog Bailey over and the 6 of us (4 humans and 2 dogs) had our own little Christmas celebration!

Fondue, fondue and more fondue.....DELICIOUS!!!

It wouldn't be Christmas without our pups!

With 3 separate courses of fondue, cocktails and lots of boardgames, we remained “merry and bright” well into the night…no need to feel sorry for us being so far from home, we didn’t sit around feeling blue, but had the “hap-happiest” Christmas we possibly could here in Japan!

We hope you and your family did too! Merry Christmas!

(And a special thank-you to all who sent us Christmas cheer - via package, card or skype ....we felt loved and blessed all the way over here in Japan!!!)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas Yall!

Christmas Eve is here and by the Grace of God, Nick did NOT have to deploy again and we are getting to spend the holiday together!!!

Halfway around the world, we are celebrating Christmas too!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 13, 2010

I got my Christmas present early...

It came by helicopter and was wrapped up all nice in a green flight suit...that's right, Nicholas Holman is back home for the Holidays!!!
This girl couldn't be happier!

It was unknown if he would actually make it back in time for Christmas or not...but he is here!

(My heart goes out to all the military families who aren't together this holiday season. You are in my prayers.)

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Go Big, or Go Home!!!

Just days after Nick returned from deployment and I returned from the States, one of our very good friends came to Japan to visit us. Kenneth Pope, one of Nick’s fraternity brothers, flew all the way out here to stay with us for a little over a week…officially becoming our very FIRST GUEST!!!!

In true Pope fashion, we didn’t waste a single minute…we checked off one thing after another on his “must see” list! Tokyo, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima, and all the small stops along the way…including the wonderful city of Yamato where we currently live!

First night...opening up a bottle of Sake we had been saving for that very occasion!

WARNING: This blog is so full of photos, it might blow your mind…don’t bother to view the entire thing unless you truly want an overload of pictures from about 15 places in Japan…when I said our friend Pope is a tourist, I wasn’t kidding, he takes being a sightseer to a whole new level….his quote for the trip was that he would, “sleep when he got back on the plane to go home!” So sleep we didn’t, and tour Japan we did!

Taking the Shinkansen (Bullet train) to Osaka...
and so the journey began...
The infamous tour guidebook! So helpful! I highly recommend to anyone who's looking for a good Japanese travel book!
A little fish pic before consuming fish for lunch....mmmm tasty!

We found a yummy sushi place right by our hotel in Osaka
Hot tea, udon, tempura, rice and miso! Perfect lunch!

Next on the agenda was the Floating Garden Observatory....
The observatory is at the top of the Umeda Sky Building.

It is the seventh-tallest building in Osaka, and one of the city's most recognizable landmarks.

Going up, up, up!
With two 40-story towers that connect at the top, the wide atrium-like space in the center makes for a great place to view the city!

Many Japanese people (and tourists as well) like to leave their mark at the top...One can do so by purchasing one of these lockets and having it engraved with his or her initials and the date!

The Japanese loved Pope...being tall and blonde, it was hard for him to blend in! (Not that he wanted to!)

Yes, even in Japan they celebrate Christmas! Though some signs boast of a, "Heartful Christmas"....????....not exactly correct, but a nice try!

After the Observatory, we took a train to the other side of Osaka to see the Osaka Castle!

The travel books boast about the beauty of the Osaka Castle during Cherry Blossom season, however we were completely in awe of it surrounded by the gorgeous autumn leaves!

The Castle has a moat on either side…making it that much more alluring!

Surrounded by a high stonewall to ward off the enemy, the Castle appears to be 5 stories from the outside, but is actually 8 stories inside.

From atop the Castle...looking out over the city!
Yes, this might be illegal....but then again, my husband made me do it, so I am not to blame!

We didn't plan it, but by being at the Castle at dusk, we actually got some really great photos!
That night, we took the recommendation of one of my students and went to a part of downtown Osaka called Doutonbori Street!
We didn’t know what to expect, but upon arriving were surprised to see a very long and very crowded street much like Bourbon Street in New Orleans! (Hmmmm…I am beginning to wonder if the name is similar on purpose???)
The statue next to the boys, is that of a “raccoon dog.” They are seen everywhere in Japan, mainly outside of restaurants and bars. These statues, called “tanuki” are part of Japanese folklore…they represent mischievousness and fun, like the animal they are sculpted after! (Hence why one would be outside of a bar!)

This street went on forever…cars weren’t allowed to drive up and down it, but instead there were people and vendors galore! Restaurants, bars, food stands, Pachinko Parlors, and stores with everything from A to Z lined either side of Doutonbori.

We wanted to introduce our friend to one of our favorite Asian meals, “Korean BBQ!” But, like I said, Doutonbori Street had it all, so we had plenty of places to choose from!

Korean BBQ, or gogi gui, is the Korean method of grilling meat. Beef, pork, chicken, etc. are prepared on gas or charcoal grills that are built into the center of the table. Therefore, you get to cook your own meat to the temperature that you like it! It is super delicious…that is, if you like meat!

The next day, we left Osaka and traveled over to the city of Nara.

This little dude was seen everywhere...the people loved him...and so it appears did my husband and our guest!

Nara is known for the hundreds of deer that roam free all around the city, however those tame animals were not what held our attention…it was the enormous Buddha and the delicious food that put this city on our “must come back” list.

The Kofukuji Temple and 5-story Pagoda....

Getting our Shrine books unique to watch!

Nara Park, a 1,300-acre area, is where most of the temples are located. Over 1,300 tame deer, called “Shika,” wander the park. These deer are deemed “messengers of the Gods.”

Todai-ji Temple is a World Heritage Site…and a site to see it is! This wooden structure was built to enshrine Buddha, but unfortunately was destroyed by fire twice! Thus, the present structure is only two-thirds of the original size. However, it is still the largest wooden building in the world!!!

Todai-ji Temple or what tourists call, Great Buddha Hall, is where Buddha Vairocana is the worlds largest bronze image of the buddha. The casting of the vast statue of Buddha dates back to 752. Fires and earthquakes dislodged the head several times, but the current head is still as old as 1692!

The opening of this column is supposedly the same size as Buddha's nostril. If you are able to crawl through it, you are guaranteed entrance to Nirvana! (Obviously, we could only peep our heads in….it seems only the small children are getting Nirvana, because they are the only ones who could squeeze through the tiny hole!)

This creepy statue sits outside the building that holds Buddha. Visitors with ailments are to rub the body part of the statue corresponding with the part of their body that needs fixing....hmmm?

After all that walking around, we were starving...but there was an hour wait at the restaurant we really wanted to eat at. So, we waited at a CUTE CUTE coffee and pastry shop! I was in love with this place! (And the cappuccino was pretty good too!) KAWAII!

The food was worth the wait at the dinner spot we had chosen…

The dish this restaurant was famous for is called, Kamameshi. Kamameshi means "kettle rice" and is a traditional Japanese rice dish cooked in an iron pot. By cooking it in an iron pot, the rice gets slightly burned at the bottom which adds a desirable flavor to the rice. The burnt rice is called "okoge." It is SOOOO YUMMY! We had never heard of such a dish before, but apparently it is popular in that part of Japan!

Later that night, after we got back to Osaka from Nara, we went back to Doutonbori Street! Our friend Pope had yet to experience the Japanese favorite pastime of Karaoke! We figured Doutonbori was bound to have a great place!

The next day I had to head back home, but the boys continued touring...

Hiroshima was next on the agenda. Nick and I have already been there, but Pope had the Peace Memorial Museum on his list…so onward they went!

Nick and Kenneth also went to Miyajima Island to see the famous floating Torri Gate!

On their way back home, the boys stopped by the Himeji Castle. (which I have NOT seen!) It is the largest and most visited castle in Japan…however, most of it was under reconstruction when they got there, so they didn’t get pictures of all it’s glory! (That being said, we will be returning!)

Nasty construction.... :(

That night, the men returned and we went out for Sake at one of my favorite bars near our house! Kampai!!!

The next day Nick had to work, and so I took Pope to see Buddha and the Bamboo Forest!
The Buddha in Hase...

Hase-dera Temple....
Hokokuji Temple...otherwise known as the Bamboo Forest
And of course...a picture with a Rickshaw (again...we were tampering with the law here, but it was all for the sake of a good picture!)
That night we met up to eat at none other than Hard Rock Cafe! After a week of Sushi, even Kenneth was craving a burger and fries!

The following day, Nick and I switched places…I worked and he was Kenneth’s tour guide. They did a bunch of site-seeing in Tokyo...

Ueno Park

Tokyo Tower
Top of Tokyo Tower!
Overlooking Tokyo
Pope currently lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil! Ironic that we found this clock in Shibuya!
On Pope's last night we went out to eat in Shibuya....a nice meal of RAW sashimi!
Just before saying Sayonara to Kenneth, we all took a train to Yokohama for one last tourist stop!
We went to the top of the Landmark Tower and viewed the city from the Sky Garden!

For his very last meal....we picked a spot in the Landmark Tower....sometimes taking a gamble works! This yummy place had a unique concoction that you make yourself to put on your meal! You grind your very own bowl of sesame seeds and then add your desired amount of hot thick liquid to it, (it's inside that tan and green pot with the lid covering it) to make a paste, which you pour over your meat and rice!

We had a great time with our friend when he was here! (Though we were exhausted from all the traveling!) Beautiful weather made for great touring! It was the perfect time of year to have a visitor…there were GORGEOUS Fall leaves galore, in rich shades of yellow, orange and red! The sun was shining, yet there was a delightful chill in the air that made walking around manageable (kept the sweat at bay)! We had many coffees to keep our energy going and lots of Sake at night, celebrating the true Japanese way!

Thanks Pope for coming out to our part of the World, and letting us show you around our new home!