Greetings from Planet Japan

It’s been well over a month and a half that a blog post has gone out. Apologies to all, seems like we’re on another planet sometimes with all that’s going on and just keeping communication with everyone back home. We’re damn near into October here and we’re creeping up on a year already having lived in Japan. Wow! Anywho, let’s dive right in…

Mo went back to the states for a week to start work on her second Masters. She had the illustrious privilege of matriculating at Auburn University in Alabama. War Eagle! Whilst she was away, I took the kiddos up to Hiroshima to this super cool indoor cardboard playground. Rudy put together a paper T-Rex and they both enjoyed the slides, rides and cardboard maze.

When mommy got back from Alabama, I was off to Tokyo with the Single Marine Program to cover their Tokyo/Mt. Fuji trip. To keep the kiddos busy while I was away, Mo took them to the Pixar Adventure in Hiroshima. I think you can tell by everyone’s expressions there was fun times had by all.

On the drive up to Tokyo, we stopped at various rest stops and in true Japanese fashion, there was no shortage of kitschy statues and gas station food. When we got to Tokyo, we stopped off at a huge mall with this crazy tall Gundam and there was a street fest going on. Then we go to the New Sanno Hotel.

We spent a couple of days in Tokyo before tackling Mt. Fuji. I cruised through a few neighborhoods taking in the sights. I visited the Kappa Dera Temple, dedicated to old Japanese folklore that tells the story of the Kappa which is an aquatic goblin who would grab unsuspecting humans who would walk over bridges and drown them. I found a pretty good description at this website.

After visiting the Kappa Dera, I went to the Snso-ji temple and then had a Melon Fanta at an owl cafe. True Story. Then I was off to the Tokyo Sky Tree to get a birds eye view of the city. Wow! Glad there was some J Pop at the top.

The next day I climbed Fuji. Mo n I climbed it waaaaaay back in 2007 and we started from the bottom, walked through the haunted forest, slept in a hostel at Station 5 and then finished to the top the next day. This time, I started at Station 5 right before the sun made its presence known. I can honestly say, climbing Mt. Fuji is one of my favorite parts of Japan so far. I’d be happy to climb it every year, just for the challenge and the views. And that weird feeling in your chest from the low oxygen.

Anywho, I came back to Iwakuni the next day and stopped at a cool rest stop that had a Ferris wheel and this cool little museum with these samurai floats.

Once we got the fam back together we went up to Miyajima for another crack at the Public Aquarium. We walked through the covered streets, got some oysters and some street beers. The kids as always had a blast.

A couple weeks later, I competed in my first triathlon. I was happy to not come in last and not die. It was a great experience and got me very much wanting to train and compete in a 50k ultra marathon. Luckily there’s a pretty cool one next year I’m going to do. More to come on that one. After the triathlon, we rustled up the fam and played at the Robo Park up in Otake. The kids love it so much. It’s a super rad park.

Wouldn’t you know it, Rudy turned 5 during all this, too! Yep, the kid’s getting older. Pretty soon he’ll be driving and going to the corner store to buy us cigarettes. Ha! Anywho, thank you to everyone who sent gifts and well-wishes. He was super stoked. I decoder the downstairs with origami. He loved it.

Last weekend we had our first Japanese camping experience. We went to Katazoe Beach on the island of Oshima with some folks from the Corps of Engineers. We were able to sign out some cots and a big tent from Outdoor Rec for free. It was a great camping trip. I can’t wait to do it more!

Thanks again to everyone for keeping up with our adventures. We’ve got Granpa Rick and Uncle Rick coming near the end of October. That should be an awesome time! Aight, I’m gonna sit here and watch this typhoon come through and see what happens. In the meantime, here’s some cute pics of the kids:

 

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Mikawa Summer Festival and the Studio Ghibli Exhibit in Hiroshima

Saturday was a pretty awesome time. We went up into the mountains snaking along the Nishiki River up to the Mikawa Mu Valley. We didn’t do the underground kingdom, not yet, nope we were there for the Mikawa Summer Festival. First of all, any time we head west into the mountains, I just lose myself in the tranquil beauty that is Japan. The steep mountain cliffs covered in lush green jungle follow along each side of crystal clear river water as it cuts its way further up into the grand beauty of the Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Alright, there’s your bit of poetic romanticism for the day. At the Mikawa Summer Festival its pretty much a Japanese fish fry. The best part is you catch the fish yourself in a shallow bedrock portion of the river where there are schools of scared shitless Japanese Cherry Salmon, or Amago, hiding under rocks and in holes from screaming kids and excited dads. Think noodling, Japan-style.

Rudy and I were able to grab three fish. Honestly, I could’ve done it all day. It was a lot of fun. After we caught the fish, festival workers skewered them for us, covered them in salt and we grilled them near the riverside.

Afterward we found ourselves a quiet spot on the opposite side of all the fun and tasted the fruits of our labor. This is how it really went down: Rudy wanted to give the fish back to their mommies in the river (something I tell him we have to do every time we catch crabs in the river), Mo and I had a couple of bites and EB devoured most of all three fish. The kid is a bottomless pit. You gotta eat to grow, right? Right. Rudy explored the river, we finished our fish and headed out to the Chicken Shack for some actual food and a couple of beers.

It was the kids first time and as always, they find ways to enjoy themselves wherever we go. I really enjoy the food at the Chicken Shack. And the beers are pretty tall and cold. There are still the Tanabata decorations up, so the place is still quite flash.

Afterward we got the kiddos home and in bed. Another great Saturday in the books and our eyes focused sharply on the horizon ready for what Sunday had to bear.

Sunday, we hopped the JR north to Hiroshima to see the Studio Ghibli exhibit at the Hiroshima Prefecture Art Museum. We’ve run into a few Ghibli icons on our travels so far, most notably when we ran into Our Neighbor Totoro and the Cat Bus on our first beach trip. Totoro is awesome, Rudy really loves Ponyo and EB loves anything she can hug. Kawaii!

Anywho, we weren’t supposed to snap any pics in the exhibit minus at the cat bus, but Mo managed some guerrilla photography whilst we were in there. Don’t tell anyone… It was really cool to walk through the creative world of Studio Ghibli. I still have a bunch of their movies to watch. I’m something of a virgin in that respect. I found this pretty cool site that showcases the mastery of Ghibli.

Alright, great weekend. We had a lot of fun, wowed and wore out the kiddos and added a few more interesting memories to our family story. Thank you all again for following. Here’s a couple of cute pics of the kids and a neat kids bathroom we saw at a mall in Hiroshima.

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Rolling up July

It’s hard to think that it is already July, but this year has been flying by for sure. There’s still plenty more of summer weather to be had. It’s great that we live where we do and have this near endless summer laid out before us. We still have so many different fireworks festivals and beaches in August, camping in September and who knows what past that.

Anywho, we jam packed quite a bit into July, so lets go back and see what the Pylinski fam did for the month. It all started back on the Fourth of July… Mo n I had the day off, but since we’re in Japan, the kids still had school, so we decided to make a day of it. We started off at the Yu Cafe where we had coffee n french toast. Later, we headed out to Sanzoku, aka the Chicken Shack for food n fun. The place was decked out for Tanabata, which is a festival celebrating the Star Crossed Lovers. Here’s a great link that explains Tanabata in detail. Anywho, we had the Sanzoku Yaki (teriyaki chicken on a stick), the Sanzoku Musibi (a giant rice ball wrapped in seaweed and filled with salmon and pickled plum) and a couple of beers. It’s such a cool place to check out.

Once we were done with our food, we decided to trek up into the mountains behind the restaurant for a bit and see where the trail led us. We happened upon a shrine and a couple of waterfalls. Pretty peaceful.

Not more than a few days later, there was heavy rain and flooding caused by Typhoon Prapiroon. Hiroshima, Okayama and outlying parts of Iwakuni were hit the hardest, but we came out unscathed. After the rain passed, we hopped on the cargo bike a took a ride down to the Kintai Bridge to see what came of the flooding. The waters were high, but it seemed the damage was minimal. The streets were flooded in some parts, and there were carp swimming along the streets. Crazy. We got twice the amount of rain in a few days that normally falls in the entire month of July. Talk about a send off for the rainy season.

Interestingly enough, with all the rain and everything, the city of Iwakuni held a track meet up at the newly opened Atago Sports Complex and yours truly competed in the 1500m race. I managed a 5:09 mile and came in second place in the 30-up age group. Not bad considering I thought the meet would be canceled due to all of the rain. Nope. Either way, I’m training for a Triathlon in September. We shall see…

With the subsiding of the rainy season comes the heat and humidity. I’m really enjoying this heat. It feels like summer here and the great weather is pretty predictable. Great thing is, if you’re in the shade you actually get a break from the heat. Anywho, Rudy’s new yochien had a Tanabata dance recital in the afternoon. We all got decked out in our summer wear and partook. Rudy was a little put off by the heat, but I can understand. Mo n EB looked great in their summer kimonos. Also, I just want to note that Rudy’s wish that he wrote on his Tanabata decoration is: “I Want To Be Black Panther.” Love it!

That Sunday, we packed up the Mukade Maru and headed out to Suo Oshima island where we spent the day at the beach at the Katazoegahama Seaside Park. Talk about a sunny and beautiful day. The beach was pretty nice, the weather was perfect and the water was so refreshing. Mo got this really awesome sun shelter from Subaru and we set up shop n hit the surf the entire day. Suo Oshima is a pretty rad island and we haven’t even scratched the surface of exploring that place yet.

When we’re not out tooling around the inland sea, we have a nice little oasis right around the corner from the house where the Nishiki River splits into the Imazu and Monzen Rivers. There’s a weir there that pools the water and provides a sweet little hang out for when there’s just enough time to get away from the house and cool off when the weather is crazy hot. Rudy loves it. He takes his green bug net and a bucket and catches fish. He’s a quick lil bugger, too. He can snatch up a crab or tadpole with his bare hands. I’m impressed. It’s a pretty popular hangout for the locals, too.

We did manage to get some front row seats to a fireworks display down at the harbor, too. Mo braved the heat of the day, hauled down to pick a spot at 3 pm on her bike just so we’d have a great spot when the show started. Something you couldn’t do anywhere in the states. You leave a blanket out to save a spot so you can come back four hours later n that thing would be gone. Anywho, the display was pretty awesome. I’m told the Kintai Fireworks display in August is a lot bigger. Not sure if it compares to the Fourth of July or New Years neighborhood fireworks shows back in Chicago, though… I mean, Beirut.

This past Friday, Rudy had the day off from school, so we went up to Otake to check out the newly-built playground at Harumirinkai Park. Even though it was pushing 100 degrees and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, we climbed all over the place, slid down all the slides and asked the giant robot if it would be cool if we played inside of him. Having a four-year-old keeps me young at heart (even if he drives me crazy on the regular). We finished off the day with ice cream at the near by YouMe Town and headed back to Iwakuni so mommy could drop off the van to get the A/C fixed. Just in time for the rest of the summer.

Last night, we went to a street festival in downtown Iwakuni. It was at this covered walking street called the Yellow Brick Road. There was food, beer, sake and live music. We stopped off in a restaurant where I tried the draft beer and sausage fare. It wasn’t too bad. I love it here in Japan, but they’ve got a lot to learn about how to make good sausages. It was still pretty tasty and the fest was a lot of fun. The fire department was there and they let us crawl in their fire truck n try on their helmets. We ran into some people from work and taste tested some local sake.

So this was pretty much our month. I’m sure I’m missing something, but we’re still going strong and exploring as much as we can. We still have to start getting our plans together for visiting China, Korea, the Philippines, Australia and anywhere else we want to see in the Pacific. That’s when the real fun starts. Alright, here’s some pics of the kiddos. arigatou gozaimasu!

Low Key Weekend

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EB woke up in an industrious mood. It’s always nice when the kiddos are in good spirits, especially when there is rain on the horizon.

We braved the downpour on Saturday and grabbed the train headed for Hiroshima to check out the Alpark Mall. It’s actually about halfway between Miyajima and Hiroshima. We’re not big mall people, but Alpark has a plethora of food options and an indoor play area that the wee ones can run around in.

Before hitting the mall, though, we stopped in for some shabu shabu. This place was pretty good. Meat in a boiling pot and all you can drink beerskis. On top of that there was an all you can eat ice cream bar, too. EB was digging it.

After we had food, we walked through a handful of stores and eventually found ourselves in the indoor kids park. We did one before up in Hiroshima when we first got here and were blown away by how cool it was, but this one was bigger. There were jungle gyms, ball pits, a movie screen, inflatable slides… too much to list. Needless to say, the kids had fun and Mo-san and I were happy to give them something to do besides drive us crazy. The boy was definitely enjoying himself because it was hard to pin him down for any photos.

I will say EB had a blast this time around and she’s definitely getting more mobile.

And here’s some hilarity for you guys:

After all the play, we had some more food, rode back to Iwakuni and put the kids down to bed. Success!

Sunday was even more low-key. Rudy helped me put down some weed barrier under our pavers in the yard. He was Mr. Environmental making sure no wildlife was affected by our construction efforts. Gotta hand it to him, he’s a well-rounded kid.

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After that, we went on base and watched The Incredibles 2, came home, grilled some ribs and called it a weekend. Like I said, low key.

Monday was Rudy’s first day at the Kawashimo Yochien. Yochien is Japanese kindergarten. He was very excited and did pretty good on his first day. Can’t believe how fast these two are growing.

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Aight, here’s a cute shot of EB waking up. She’s usually two-fisted on the pacifiers. Kawaii!

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Thanks for following! More adventures coming!

 

It Started With The Police and It Ended With Totoro

So, the weekend started off a little soggy, but we managed. We were waiting on a package from Poppy who sent some Garretts through the mail, so it was time well spent. Thanks fer the popcorn, Poppy!

After that, we made our way to the Iwakuni Driving School where the local police were putting on a display for the community. There were Police Power Rangers, White Snake Super Heroes, and a motorcycle demonstration that Rudy was totally enthralled with.

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Af the end of the fest, police officers were throwing mochi out into the crowd from a flatbed truck.

The fun didn’t end there. The kids’ daycare, Funky Mo Mo gave us some information on a puppet show going on at Chou Kominkan Community Center. When in Rome… So we saddled up the cargo bike and headed from the Police fest where we made our way to the show. It was pretty cool. There were these two older Japanese ladies who were the puppeteers. They did some songs before the show and then put on two separate stories; all in Japanese of course.

Here’s my best interpretation of them both:

The first story was about four birds who meet. Then, they run into a greedy wolf in the woods who tricks them into thinking he’s friendly. After the wolf befriends the birds, he eats them. Then he comes upon a cart full of cabbage that a woman leaves unattended. The wolf eats the cabbage and passes out on the cart because he’s super full. The woman comes upon her empty cart and notices the wolf passed out, so she ties him down to the cart. She then hits him in the stomach and the cabbages all come flying out one by one. She does the same thing again and the birds all come out one by one. The birds then learn a lesson not to trust anyone… or something like that.

The second story had this keeping up with the Joneses kind of feel to it. Although I’m sure I’m waaaaay off on this one. This one was harder to follow and the only thing I got out of it was there were these two older couples who lived in the mountains. One couple was happy and the other was pretty grumpy. The husband from the happy couple went into the nearest town and an into these Buddha dolls. He had these sun hats, but he only had enough for all but one. The Buddha doll he didn’t have a hat for, he took home. The cranky neighbor saw this and wanted a Buddha doll of his own. That’s pretty much all I could gather out of it, there was some changing of the seasons and some comedy that I couldn’t quite grasp because of the language barrier, but it was fun nonetheless.

UPDATE: *HERE’S A LINK TO AN ENGLISH VIDEO VERSION OF THE PUPPET SHOW, courtesy of a co-worker* And from Mo-san, here’s a link to what the statues are called: Ojizo-sama. And so yeah, I was waaaaaay off. 

All things considered, the two ladies that put the show on were top notch and the kids in the room (and even the adults) got a kick out of it. Alright, that was Saturday.

Sunday, we hit the road. We headed south to the Hikari Flea Market n found some cool stuff for the kids and some family. The drive down was something incredible. Lotsa ships on the inland sea and windy roads. There’s something captivating about the inland sea. Maybe it’s the mountains hanging in the haze on the horizon from far away islands, or the gentle waft of sea mist in the air. But either way, this is a killer place to live and these views are all the more reason to enjoy it to the fullest. We kept winding down the road and the Mukade Maru held up just fine and the kids enjoyed the scenery as much as we did.

Then we headed to Nijigahama Beach and had burgers and spent the rest of the day in the sand and surf. The burger joint we ate at is called Kuti’s and was pretty good. The food was fantastic and they had these Hawaiian beers that were pretty tasty, too.

Once we got to the beach we were splitting our time between soaking up the rays, checking out tidal pools around the rocks, picking up shells, waving at paragliders, digging holes to put Rudy in, and jumping in the super awesome surf. Some direct quotes from Rudy:

“I love this world!” and “This is the most perfect spot.”

The kid loves the beach, no doubt about that. What’s not to love?

Anywho… Sunday was an awesome day. The sun was perfect, the kids were having a blast and we couldn’t ask for a better place to be spending this time together. We’re lucky and grateful to have this opportunity to enjoy the culture and this foreign land.

Speaking of foreign, on the way home we spotted some Studio Ghibli stuff and decided to drop in for a photo op:

Rudy looooooves Totoro. And to be honest, I can’t say that I don’t. I wouldn’t know Totoro if it wasn’t for Mo, so thank you babe… We’re all better people because of it.

Alright, folks. It’s time for bed. Thank you again for following our adventures and keep watching for more, we’re only getting started.

Headwaters Festival 2018

So, here’s a quick video glimpse into what the Headwaters Festival looks like. There’s a bit of the interpretive dance section that I shortened and I didn’t have any video footage of the dragon going around and biting the kids, but this for the most part is the gist of it. If you want to read more about it, you can do that on my last post. Anywho… sorry for the amateur hour editing/production. My computer isn’t really running as optimal as it used to. Enjoy.

Sunday Morning Going Up… Into the Mountains

So, we went to Yoshika this weekend. What’s Yoshika you might ask? Well, it’s a quaint little town in the mountains out near Tsuwano where we watched Yabusame earlier this year. It’s just over the border from the Yamaguchi Prefecture in Shimane. We packed up the fam and hopped in the turbo charged Mukade Maru and headed for the mountains.

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photo cred all iwami

Yoshika has 600 year old rice fields terraced throughout the valley that the village is nestled in. We didn’t visit much of the valley because we were there to see the Headwaters Festival. More on that in a bit. First, the drive out.

Our newly purchased bitchin van handles pretty damn good on the mountain roads and has plenty of room for our two crumb crushers and gear. Not that we were carrying a lot of stuff, but it’s nice to know we can haul the tribe and all our accompaniment when needed. The drive up into the mountains was super cool. The trees are lush and green and the river was rife with fishermen. You could see an angler every thirty or so feet casting his rod and hoping for a fresh catch for dinner. The sun was shining and it seemed the perfect day to get outdoors.

We went by this really windy section right before we dropped into Yoshika. It was a single track road that twisted through pines and Japanese cedars. There were a few breaks in the green tunnel to give you a wide view of the valley below. The more we explore the country, the more we fall in love with it. Japan has so much hidden beauty, it is an honor and a pleasure to have the opportunity to explore and share with the family.

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Once we got to Yoshika, we fell right into the Headwaters Festival. There isn’t much in English that describes this Shinto ritual and we were surprised to see we were the only westerners there to observe (or at least that we could see). So, I’ll do my best to describe to you what we saw and what it means. There were a handful of performances before the actual ritual.

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That’s a cloud rainbow, BTW. Not sure how, but it is.

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There was a troupe of Japanese Taiko drummers playing in these really cool looking dragon masks. It was intense and you could tell they were playing to the crowd. We were set up under a tent with benches and there was food, slushies, and beerskis aplenty.

Then we saw a couple of dance squads perform with these huge waving flags in the background. There was a photographer who was either drunk or had a spirit alive in him. He dropped his gear and got right up and started dancing with the performers. He was having a blast. Anywho, I couldn’t tell specifically what the dancing and drumming were for, but the festival itself is a Shinto ritual that prays for rain when there is drought.

There is a giant dragon made from rice stalks that the ritual performers snake around the gathering crowd.

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They go by and pretend to bite the people because apparently it is a wish for good health to be bitten by a dragon. EB and Rudy were both bitten. Good health for the youngsters, yay! Once the dragon is paraded around, it is plunged into a pool that is the source of the Takatsu River and thus brings rains for a healthy harvest.

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That is the best I can do to interpret without actually understanding the ritual to its fullest. If there is more that I am missing, please feel free to comment and add to the experience.

On the way home we stopped at the Bandit Fort (or sanzoku) which is on the border of the Shimane and Yamaguchi prefectures. It’s a pretty awesome restaurant with tons of delicious food. We had the teriyaki chicken on a bamboo stick as well as some pot stickers, udon, steak, and a rice ball that had ume and fish in it (wrapped in seaweed). Yummy!

And it had a hot spring on site that we were able to soak our feet in.

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Once we got our bellies full, we headed out and back to Iwakuni. Not a bad way to spend a Father’s Day. Hanging out in the mountains with the fam, eating chicken on a stick, and soaking our feet in a natural hot spring. Good times.

As always, thank you to everyone who is sharing in our adventures.

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And scene…