I Ran the Tokyo Marathon!

Well actually I walked a bit during the last few miles, so I suppose a more accurate title would be “I Finished the Tokyo Marathon!” but it is my blog so I will name it whatever I want.

One thing that has always helped me adjust to living in a new place is running. Running kind of forces you to get to know your new neighborhood and town and I truly believe that it makes you feel a little more like you belong there. It immediately makes you just a local going out for a morning run.

Last summer, I randomly saw a Facebook post about entering the lottery for the Tokyo Marathon. On a whim, I decided to enter. Now, I did not really expect to actually get into this marathon. It is one of the six world marathon majors (the others being London, Chicago, New York, Boston, and Berlin) and it is extremely popular, and the odds of getting in are quite slim. This year 319,777 people entered the general entry lottery with 26,370 people getting in. So, imagine my surprise when about seven weeks after entering I received this email.

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Oh boy, what have I done?!

I had done a few half marathons but never a full and was not entirely sure where to start. But, after doing a bit of research on the internet I put together my own training plan and got started. I wasn’t starting from nothing since I already had been running about 20-25 miles a week, but I knew doing the longer runs would still be a major adjustment.

Training during the fall and winter was usually pretty nice. Yokosuka has fairly mild winters so I did not have to deal with snow or icy streets. Although, it does get very windy here, so I tried to work my long runs around days that were not forecasted to be super windy. The race was the last weekend of February and the only time my training got somewhat off was during January when we were out of town for a few days. Other than that I stuck to a plan of doing runs during the week of anywhere from 3-7 miles and then longer runs every Sunday morning.

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A couple miles from the Navy base is a great running path right along the water. 
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I was usually rewarded with pretty sunrises for early morning runs. 
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Another one of my favorite spots to run was through a beautiful park with a historic battleship. 
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My favorite run was during a weekend in Kyoto when I ran to the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine at sunrise and got to explore it with very few people around. 

Before I knew it, the week of the race was upon me, whether I was ready or not. Two days before the marathon I went to the expo at the Tokyo Big Sight, which is a massive convention center on the outskirts of the city.

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Kind of looks like a space ship from the outside! My parents joined me since they had flown out to watch the race and do some sightseeing.
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Got my bib, a tracker for my shoes, a security bracelet, and the race t shirt.

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There were lots of interesting vendors at the expo, many with cute and adorable mascots!
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In addition to the race shirt I picked up some other fun running shirts. You never know if you’ll run the Tokyo Marathon again, might as well have fun with it when you can!

I didn’t spend the night before the race in Tokyo since we only live a little over an hour from the start line and the start time wasn’t until 9:00 am. The weather was my ideal weather for a long run (hooray!) with the sky forecasted to be overcast all day and temperatures in the mid 40s with very little wind. I was excited and nervous, and ready to get running!

 

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I had to leave family behind from here and go find my starting area. All the runners were scanned in using a picture they took of you when you picked up your packet, to ensure that the right people were running the race. 

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The starting area wasn’t hard to find at all, but I wasn’t really sure how far back I was or where the actual start line was. I just followed the crowd and eventually crossed over it. 
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All smiles at the start of the race in Shinjuku! 

James and my parents were easy to spot along the route since they had made a very large cute, pink sign with my name on it. They were tracking me and would send me a quick text that would vibrate my smart watch to let me know to look out for them. Very convenient!

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The easy to spot sign my parents made, so cute!

Tokyo is such a fun city, and we visit it very often. Being able to run through the streets was a lot of fun, and for most of the race I really enjoyed taking in the scenery as I ran.

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Colorful buildings in Shibuya. Sorry the picture is a bit blurry, but I was running!
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Skytree!
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Kaminarimon Gate (Thunder Gate) in front of Sensoji Temple in Asakusa! This is one of my favorite spots in Tokyo so I stopped and asked a person standing on the side to take a picture of me. And yes, the person behind me was dressed as a dinosaur wearing a cowboy hat with caution tape wrapped around him. I ran with him for quite a while… so that probably says a lot about my running speed 🙂

One of the things the Tokyo Marathon is known for are the crazy costumes people wear. I do not know how people do this. I just wanted to be as comfortable as possible and some people were wearing really elaborate things. Out on the course I saw people dressed as ninjas, geishas, lots of Disney costumes, quite a few Mt. Fujis, lots and lots of Waldos (Where’s Waldo, these seemed to be a spectator favorite also) and mostly just things that you were not entirely sure what they were supposed to be. For a while I was with a guy wearing a rainbow outfit with some sort of large propellor hat and he was live blogging the whole thing! Some people were even wearing jeans and sandals! But, they all looked like they were having a great time and they always made everyone around them smile, so more power to them.

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I felt pretty good for most of the race and just enjoyed being there. I tried to not pay too much attention to how much I had left and just kept up a steady pace. The race organizers did a nice job of having lots of water stations (Pocari Sweat, a Japanese energy drink, was also readily available) and food stations with bread, tomatoes, and oranges. I made sure to use all of the water stations so I would not get too dehydrated, but I only ate a couple of oranges. James and my parents also were able to see me six times (!) during the race and it was super fun to see them and always gave me a little boost of energy. Well except around mile 21 when I really just wanted to get on the train with them and leave!

I had read that the Tokyo Marathon has lots and lots of spectators but I wasn’t prepared for just how many there would be! All 26 miles of the course were lined with lots of people cheering the runners on and the atmosphere was really upbeat and exciting. There were quite a few entertainment sections set up, which I didn’t get pictures of unfortunately, with drummers, dancers, and singers. There was even a talent competition going on at one point in the race. If I don’t get in with the lottery again I think I would just go and be a spectator and enjoy the great environment.

A little over halfway my feet began to hurt but I was able to push it out of my mind. However, by about mile 20 they were really hurting and I was starting to slow down quite a bit. Every time I would stop for water or to grab an orange getting back to running became harder and harder. I did walk on and off a bit, but I think I probably walked only about a mile total for the whole race. I am not sure why my feet hurt so much, my legs were feeling tight but basically fine and I think I could have run the whole thing if it hadn’t been for the pain my feet were causing me. Perhaps it was my shoes, since they were also the shoes I had trained in during the fall and winter? Oh well, lesson learned if I ever get the crazy notion to randomly enter a marathon again.

When I had a couple of miles left I was walking (limping) off to the side when a nice lady named Keiko ran by me and asked if I spoke English, and off I went with her to finish the race. She kept me going the last couple of miles, and I hope I helped her keep going as well. I had spent months thinking about this race and during it, especially miles 20-24, it seemed like it would never end, but all of a sudden I was about to cross the finish line!

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About to cross the finish line at Tokyo Station!

The finish area was somewhat confusing and I had a bit of trouble meeting up with James and my parents, especially since all of our phones were at about 10%. It seemed like runners had to walk really far to the family meet up area, and I know we just ran 26.2 miles but walking half a mile after that was just too much. Finally they found me sitting on the stairs in a train station and it was time to go home.

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Yay!
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Hobbling home
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If you have ever been on the trains in Tokyo you know that getting a seat is not always guaranteed. I was sooooo happy to have one this time!

 

Overall running the Tokyo Marathon was so awesome and I really can’t believe my luck at getting in. Am I ready to do another marathon? Maybe not any time soon, but if I happen to have the luck to get in through the lottery again then I would for sure do this race again!

 

Living on an Overseas Military Base

A very small percentage of Americans currently serve in the US military, which means that there is also a very small percentage of Americans who know what it is like to live overseas as an active duty military family. Obviously, everyone has a different experience with living overseas and has a different outlook on it. Maybe this will give you a little bit of insight as to what it is like to have this unique experience.

If you wanted to, you could stay on base for the whole tour

A military base is essentially its own little city and most things that you would find in the US you will also find here.

Schools, a grocery store, shopping stores, a gym (with a 50 meter pool!), a church, a firehouse… we have it all. We even have a skateboard park, movie theaters, multiple restaurants and fast food places, a dog park, athletic fields, a Christmas tree lot, a used car lot… and the list could go on and on. If you didn’t want to, you really wouldn’t ever have to leave (and some people don’t). But as you would imagine in a relatively small place, there is only one of everything and sometimes you aren’t going to be happy with what is available or find what you want. Want to go furniture shopping? Well on base there is just one place to go. Want to see a movie? Better hope it is the one the theater is showing that day. Commissary out of canned pumpkin during the fall? Grab your pitchfork and complain on Facebook with the rest of the villagers (this actually happened last month).

There are also numerous activities to do on base – running races, kids sports teams, cooking classes, woodworking classes… sometimes it begins to feel like you are at the worlds longest summer camp. This base really does do a nice job of trying to make sure people are happy and have things that will remind them of being in the US. The Harlem Globetrotters just came last week and musical artists (mostly American Idol runner ups and 90s pop stars) come around to give free concerts. Even if you did choose to never leave, you would have things to keep you busy.

Having everything so easily available on base is certainly nice in the first few days that you have moved here. However, as you get more comfortable with living in a new country going off base to do errands and do activities on your own seems less and less intimidating. Off base markets have much better meat and produce anyway!

It can be isolating

When we tell people in the US that we live in Japan, this is probably what they imagine…

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Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. A very fun day trip from Yokosuka.. but not what Yokosuka Navy Base looks like!

The reality is that a military base is pretty plain looking and if you did not know where we lived or had never been here, you would really never be able to guess where this is.

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Home sweet home! 

As you can see, it doesn’t look like you are in Japan (I can see Mt Fuji on a clear day by walking down the street though), yet it doesn’t look or feel like you live in the United States either. You very often have the odd sensation of being neither here nor there, not in Japan or in the US. That is why it can be isolating, the feeling that you are just kind of in this other place is strange, and while it is starting to feel like home here, it still doesn’t feel like I entirely belong.

Technology and social media has made it much easier

FaceTime, Facebook, smartphones… these things have made moving halfway around the world so much easier. I talk to family just as much as I did when we lived in the US and sharing pictures and seeing people on FaceTime makes it seem like you are just as close to people as you were when you lived in the same country as them. It really is amazing that I can talk to people instantly who are thousands of miles away from me.

Social media has also made it easier. There are tons of Facebook groups for people here. Everything from pet owners, foodies, officer spouses, to runners. These groups can be really helpful in trying to learn about your new host country and people are (usually) very helpful in sharing knowledge, mistakes, and tips with others who share their same interests. As with all social media, drama does sometimes pop up and people aren’t always there to be helpful, but overall they are great to belong to (just ignore the people looking for Yokosuka Facebook fame).

The internet has also made the physical separation from my favorite stores much more bearable. Thank goodness for online shopping! Most things get shipped here in as little as ten days. Even though I can’t get Trader Joe’s shipped here (umm they would make a fortune if they shipped non perishable goods), it is still possible to do online Target runs and get Amazon prime items (minus the two day shipping).

There is a language barrier (duh)

When we got orders to Japan one of the first questions everyone would ask was whether or not we knew how to speak Japanese (no). The next thing people would say was “oh well, everyone there speaks English”. I can say for certain this is not true, and really why would it be? Of course there are some people who speak English, but people speak Japanese… because we are in Japan.

So, how do you live with the language barrier? Well for one, I have lessons with an absolutely awesome, amazing teacher who has made me feel way more comfortable with day to day things like running errands and asking for help. I am very, very, very far from fluent but I hope to eventually have a fairly good vocabulary that will allow me to have easy conversations with Japanese speakers.

Technology has also made it significantly easier to live with the language barrier. I seriously do not know how people got around before smartphones. Need to know how to get around on trains? Google Maps can help!

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Google Maps will tell you exactly what train to take and usually the platform to wait at, so much help!

Unfortunately, when it comes to driving, Google Maps is not as helpful…

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Ohhhh thanks Google, I will just stop on the road I am driving on for ten minutes while I figure out which directions this is. 

This is so frustrating because signs actually are usually also in English…

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Come on Google! If all of my settings are set to English surely you can change your directions to English also!

There are also lots of apps you can use to communicate with people. Google Translate is usually fairly dependable (I think). Just type in what you are trying to say and either show your phone to someone or try to say it out loud. Although Google Translate did lead me to accidentally buy my mom kelp tea instead of green tea (sorry mom). They are both green I suppose.

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Cross your fingers and hope the app is working correctly!

There are also apps that you can hover over Japanese writing and it will translate it in real time. These work some of the time, but shouldn’t be relied on for accurate translations…

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This is a bag of green tea (I think). For some reason this app always defaults to saying something is fatty tuna…
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This is a sauce for meat (I think), but apparently it is flavored with chewing gum, eggplant, and fatty tune, yum sounds delicious!
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These are ziplock bags, which I assume can go in the freezer, so it got it mostly right on the top box. However, the bottom box was the exact same thing and I was being told it was a box of small intestines and mushrooms… yikes!
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Oh my, a meal at this restaurant would surely be the climax of any visit to Japan!

So, overall the language barrier is sometimes hard. However, it is not impossible to get around and definitely not overwhelming on a day to day basis. If you have a smartphone and know a few key phrases then getting by is easy (well, easier).

You have great opportunities to see amazing things

It really is pretty awesome to live someplace that people in the US consider a once in a lifetime vacation spot. In the few months that we have lived here we have taken quite a few really fun day trips to close by areas. Here are some of the examples of things you can do near Yokosuka:

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See sake barrels at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo
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Go shopping in Harajuku in Tokyo
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Enjoy the neon lights and an izakaya in Shinjuku in Tokyo
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Check out the beautiful shrines and temples in Kamakura
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Cross Lake Ashi on a pirate boat in Hakone (arrrr)
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Go over the volcanic fumes of Owakudani in a gondola 
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See the Imperial Palace in Tokyo
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Eat delicious food and have fun shopping in Yokohama’s Chinatown
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Explore the island of Enoshima with its various shrines and caves

Hard to believe but all of these things are within two hours of Yokosuka and seeing them is for sure a perk of living here. If you are willing to leave base for a day you can see things that you would never see in the United States.

So, overall living overseas is an amazing experience and I am really happy we made the decision to come here. Does it occasionally have some challenges? Absolutely. Do I get homesick? Of course. But I also love doing something that growing up I never imagined I would be doing.

 

 

 

Searching for Treasures in a Tokyo Flea Market

Something I have been wanting to check out since we moved to Japan are the numerous markets that are put on almost every weekend at various spots around the Tokyo area. However, summer in Japan is unbearably hot and humid, and I decided that spending hours just idly walking around a large outdoor market was best left for cooler weather. Well, all of a sudden it’s October and when I saw an article pop up on my Facebook feed about the best markets to visit over the weekend I decided it was a great time to go check one out.

The market I chose to go visit was the Oedo Antique Market that is held at the Tokyo International Forum once or twice every month. I am almost finished unpacking our house and am starting to decorate, so I was hoping to find something to put in our new place that would add a little local character to our basic, plain home.

The Tokyo International Forum was an easy train ride from Yokosuka, just about an hour, and you can actually see it from the train platform, which makes the likelihood of getting lost less, thank goodness for small mercies. But after exiting the train station another sight caught my eye that made my heart flutter just a bit and my eyes fill with tears… a real American hamburger chain!

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OMG. How did I not know there was a Shake Shack in Japan?! I swear I heard angels singing when I saw this. 

Obviously Japan has so much delicious food. Every street is filled with restaurants selling sushi, tempura, ramen, yakitori, curry, and the list goes on and on. But, a good American hamburger is not something that is easy to come by here, and, honestly, it is one of the foods from the US that I miss a lot (honorable mention also goes out to Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, restaurants with a good Sunday brunch, and basically anything from Trader Joes). Unfortunately, the line for getting a hamburger, and shake I suppose, was pretty long and I decided I would come back one day when there was not a huge market going on. Farewell for now, burgers.

Ahem, anyway. After I resigned myself to the fact that I did not need a hamburger I walked around the market to see what goods were being offered. One of the most common items I saw was pottery, specifically small plates and bowls (my kryptonite).

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Must have self control… Do not need more bowls!
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Oh so tempting… I mean I need plates to eat, right? RIGHT?

As much as I love pottery and all things dining related. I passed on these. My kitchen is pretty small and I need to downsize my current collection of small bowls and plates before I add to it. But just like the hamburgers, I will be back to buy some pretty little plates to serve sushi on!

Another very popular item being sold were kimonos and the fabric sash (obi) that is tied around it. Stalls had piles and piles of them and people were just going through them looking for one that caught their eye.

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Various obi sashes and other miscellaneous pieces of fabric. Be prepared to dig!
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There were some expensive kimono, but many were under $10. A great bargain!

Something I was looking for was a picture to hang up, and I was hopeful that there would be some cheap(ish) pieces of artwork for sale.

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This poster caught my eye. However, it was about $160, which is more than I cared to spend on a movie poster… especially a movie that I don’t really like (too long, too racist…). 
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This stall has some gorgeous prints, some of which had dates from the early 1800s on them. However, they were also a wee bit more than I wanted to spend. Bummer.
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Besides prints, many of the shops had lots of vintage postcards and other little trinkets with images on them. 

So I kind of struck out with finding a cool print. However, there is another place I plan to go check out maybe later this week to see if they have anything. I did enjoy the people watching here, and there were lots of very interesting finds.

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This jacket looks very warm, and elaborate! I am not sure PETA would approve of the goods being sold at this booth though. 
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There was lots of fabric at this market, so beautiful!
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Need a tea kettle? I know where you can find an old one 🙂

Even though the market didn’t have exactly what I had been imagining for our house, I didn’t leave totally empty handed. I spotted a basket of fabric pieces on my second walk around that all had the same color pattern.

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My big purchase for the day!

The fabric reminded me of an idea I had seen here, on Pinterest, and I think it will look pretty cool on one of our many blank walls (townhouse problems…). Who knows, it may end up being a #pinterestfail, but I’ll give it a try!

One thing I was disappointed with about the flea market was the lack of food vendors. I assumed there would be people selling food as well, since street food is so popular here, but the Shake Shack was the only option around! Boo. While browsing I saw a sign pointing to Tokyo Station (not the same train station I had gone through to get there) and remembered a long ago thing I read about an underground ramen street there. This sounded intriguing enough to check out so off I went. I got pretty lost trying to find it, but once there it lived up to it’s name. There was a whole underground network of ramen shops.

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Yay for ramen, and signs in English!
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My chosen ramen shop, mostly because the line wasn’t crazy long. 
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Success! Nom nom nom.

All in all, not such a bad outing. I will for sure check out some of the other markets around town, and definitely go back and eat at Shake Shack!

Time to Get Cooking

Our furniture finally got delivered (yay!) last week and the first room I began to unpack was the kitchen. James and I had “remodeled” our kitchen cabinets a couple months ago, meaning we covered them in contact paper, and once I put a few things on the counter and got things set up it went from looking like this:

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Do these cupboards look familiar? It’s because you have probably seen them in every hospital or school you have ever been in… 

To this:

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What a difference contact paper and a rug makes!
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Reunited and it feels so good…

Not only was it nice to be with my beloved kitchen goods again, it was nice to not have to rely on eating out or grabbing food at the base food court for all of my meals. After living out of a suitcase all summer I was really looking forward to being able to cook! I made a few simple meals the first few days (paninis, scrambled eggs) but when I saw that Sunday night we were in for some bad weather, I decided that was a good opportunity to stay in and try some Japanese cooking.

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Umm, this was not part of the deal…

There is a Commissary on base where you can get American dry goods and pantry staples, but it is not the best for meat or produce. Fortunately, there are lots of markets in town, many of them within walking distance of the base gate. I saw a recipe in my Facebook feed for shrimp fried rice, so I decided that would be the meal I would try to make. Now I just needed to go find the needed ingredients at the market.

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The market I went to happens to be next to my favorite sushi-go-round, so I stopped in to have a little snack. 

The grocery stores I have seen here (so far) are very well organized and products are displayed beautifully. You know how you walk into Whole Foods and the produce is usually very appealing looking? Well Japan is like that but even more so. Produce also tends to be very expensive.

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Want a gift wrapped cantaloupe for $38? 
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How about some grapes for $10?
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Or apples for $3 each? I hope I don’t develop scurvy while I live here…

This market also has lots of prepared food, which is nice because take-out isn’t very common from restaurants here.

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Multiple types of fried chicken with samples? Yes please!
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Nom nom nom

As you would imagine for a port city in Japan, there is obviously a big fish counter. I needed shrimp but there were so many to choose from!

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Which one to choose? I was feeling lazy so opted for deveined shrimp ready to cook. 

I did have trouble finding some of the ingredients, but lucky for me I had Google translate on my phone and everyone that works there is super friendly, so I was able to find what I wanted.

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How do you find things you need when they are written in another language? Google it and try to match up the characters. When all else fails just say “sumimasen (excuse me)” and show a store worker what you are looking for on your phone. 

Finally I had gathered all the things I needed and I checked out.

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Time for dinner!

The recipe I followed went together very quickly and my meal was ready within about 20 minutes. It made enough for leftovers and would have been even better next to some sort of grilled meat.

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Itadakimasu
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Now the meal is complete!

If you are curious about the recipe I used, I based it on this recipe from Just One CookbookI added a few other things that I like, and a bit more seasoning as I went, but it was tasty and I suggest checking out this food blogger if you enjoy Asian cooking.

Moving a Dog to Japan

James and I were back on the East Coast during the past month while he went to a school for his upcoming job. While there we were visiting some friends when someone asked us whether it was very difficult for us to move. We thought about it and realized that no, it actually was not too hard. The military provides you with a checklist of things to do and they move all your stuff. So as long as you are on top of things then you are fine. Getting a pet to Japan though… that was quite the obstacle.

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Awww, I would do anything for our little dog to be with us!

Pets, especially small dog breeds, are extremely popular in Japan. In fact, there are actually more registered family pets (dogs and cats) than children under the age of 16 in this country (a shrinking Japanese population is very interesting to read about, but that is a topic for another time). So, the difficulty in bringing a dog to this country is not due to a general dislike for small, cute wiener dogs. Rather, it is due to preventing rabies. Japan, has been rabies free since 1957 largely due to compulsory vaccination of family pets as well as elimination of stray dogs. There is a multi step process that must be followed exactly or else you risk a 180 day quarantine upon trying to enter the country.

We had to prepare for our trip starting last winter while we were still living in Newport. Our dog, Lily, loved living in Newport. She liked that we were home so much, I was working from home, and she loved sitting in front of the fireplace when it was cold out and soaking up the warmth. She also had a nice backyard with lots of little places to stick her nose into and lots of good smells.

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Monitoring the neighborhood in Newport. Little old ladies and children are (in Lily’s opinion) the most suspect people.
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Lily was also a member of the anti-seagull enforcement team and enjoyed walking on the beach Saturday mornings doing her job.

The first step to get her ready to move was to get an international microchip put in. Dogs in the US usually have a nine digit chip, but to enter Japan you need a fifteen digit chip. After getting the microchip we had to get a series of two rabies shots, thirty days apart. After the second shot dogs have to get a blood sample that is sent to a lab that then reports the results to the Japanese government. All of this must be done at least 180 days before attempting to bring the pet in, so we had to get this all done by the end of February.

Once you have the results of the blood test you must contact the Japanese quarantine service for import permission. This must be done at least 40 days prior to entering the country. I went back and forth with them a few times sending all of our paperwork and ensuring that we had, so far, done things correctly. We were just about ready to go!

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Traveling makes Lily a little anxious. She just sat in her dog carrier for about three days as we packed up in Newport, nervous she would be left behind. And yes, she is obsessed with blankets and gets upset when she doesn’t have one. Good thing we don’t spoil her too much…

While we were in Japan during June and July Lily stayed with both sets of her grandparents (our parents). At the end of August I stopped in California to pick her up and take her to our new house! The final thing you have to do before you travel is to get a health certificate. This must be done within ten days of travel. If you are a civilian you must also get the health certificate endorsed by the USDA, but since we are military we were allowed to skip this step and just use a military veterinarian to get the final health exam. We were ready to go!

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My second time in one summer flying to Japan with too much stuff!

Although Lily has criss crossed the US numerous times on airplanes, she had always been able to travel in the cabin with us. This would be her first time traveling as checked baggage, and her first time on an eleven hour flight. We were all a little nervous about the upcoming trip.

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Lily thought if she just didn’t look directly at her carrier then it would just disappear.

Time to say goodbye!

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Ahh my heart is breaking!
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Get on the plane, Lily. NO, not without you!

I swear I heard a dog barking right before takeoff (might have been my imagination), but upon landing Lily was still alive, albeit pretty mad and doing her angry barks. Dogs must still pass through customs after landing and there was a quarantine office at Narita Airport that gave her an exam. This took about half an hour to do, and even though there was a minor mistake on her health exam, she passed and we were allowed to leave the airport! Hooray!

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Checking out the sunrise over Tokyo Bay. We both had jet lag the first few days so we had some early morning walks!

Lily is still getting used to her new home and isn’t too crazy about our house right now. We just got out furniture delivered so everything is all over the place, and our backyard is kind of small and doesn’t have many interesting smells for her. But she will adjust and be fine soon. We still have to get final confirmation from the Yokosuka base veterinarian that we have completed all of the requirements, but once we have that we will be allowed to leave the base and go for walks out in town. Just like us, Lily is eager to explore her new hometown more and experience Japan!

Slurp All the Ramen!

I had a friend growing up whose grandmother would make ramen for us whenever we went over to her house, which, during the summer, was almost everyday. This was, of course, just your average ramen that you can buy for ten cents in US supermarkets. However, I still loved it. The noodles, the salty broth, the MSG.. it was all so delicious and I have fond memories of her grandmother serving us ramen which we happily slurped down on her back deck before hopping back in the pool for an afternoon of swimming.

My love for ramen did not fade as I grew up but it was never really a staple of my diet, not even in college. I enjoy cooking and I always considered ramen to be a quickly made food that you could not have much variety with. However, my views of it began to change as our move to Japan got closer. First, when we lived in Newport, Rhode Island, there was a small ramen shop called Boru. I actually tried it when we went up to Newport to go house hunting and I was blown away! There was egg in the ramen, and bamboo shoots, and big slices of pork! I was intrigued by this ramen but also suspicious because the people who ran the place looked very hipster and I was not sure whether these ingredients were things found in actual Japanese ramen.

Once we got orders for Japan I started watching every YouTube video I could find on Japanese culture and cuisine so I would have an idea of what to expect. As you can imagine there were tons of videos on ramen, a staple of the Japanese culinary scene. I was so excited to try real Japanese ramen in a real ramen shop that it was the first meal we ate when we got here. That first bowl was everything I imagined it would be… a big bowl of delicious salty broth with thick, chewy noodles and a large slice of roasted pork on top. It was just what I needed after a long international flight.

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Delicious ramen in Yokosuka.

Now that we have been here a few weeks, we have had a chance to try quite a few restaurants and lots of different types of food. But we have specifically sought out some of the better ramen around and it is becoming one of our favorite things to eat here. So, when we found out there was a ramen museum close by we made haste to go check it out!

The Shinyokohama Ramen Museum actually calls itself more of a theme park than a museum, and I can see why as there weren’t any large displays going over the long history of ramen in Japan. Instead, the inside was decorated to look like 1950s Tokyo and filled with famous ramen shops from all over Japan.

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The inside of the ramen museum, so cute!
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They even built little alleyways to mimic Tokyo streets.

Each ramen shop had a traditional vending machine out in front where you ordered your ramen from. Once inside and seated, you gave your ticket to the cook and they prepared your ramen for you. The really great thing about this place is that they had smaller sample sizes so you could try more than one type of ramen while there.

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Each restaurant had a vending machine out in front to place your order.
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The machines had little keys next to them for people who speak English.
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Enjoying my first bowl, this was a sample size!
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A pork based ramen with thinner noodles.
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A seafood based ramen with thicker noodles and extra spice added!

We both agreed that the Ramen Museum had the best ramen we had enjoyed up to that point in Japan. However, we knew that there must be better places out there that were not in a theme park. So after hearing about a Michelin rated ramen shop in Tokyo, we decided it was worth making the trip to go check it out.

Tokyo actually has more Michelin rated restaurants than anywhere in the world, well over 200 of them. Most are very expensive fine dining establishments. There are a few, however, that the average person can actually afford to eat at. Tsuta is a nine seat restaurant down a sleepy alley in Tokyo and has the distinction of being the first ramen shop in the world to get a Michelin star, and for under ten dollars you can eat there.

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The outside of Tsuta, a sign out front gives directions on how to eat there.

Since James had the 4th of July off, we decided to spend the day in Tokyo and eat here for lunch. While we were on the train we researched the restaurant more and read many articles written by people who had gotten there first thing in the morning to get a ticket in order to come back later in the day… we were a little bummed since we had not even boarded the train until 8:00. Would we even be able to eat once we got there?

Well, we decided that the worst that could happen was we would not get a ticket and then we would just find another delicious spot to eat. Tokyo obviously has no shortage of delicious dining establishments. We spent a few hours at Tsukiji Fish Market before heading over to Tsuta about 11:45. Oddly, there was no one out in front so we knocked on the door and went in. Once inside we were politely informed that the line was around the corner… bummer.

We walked to the back of the line and asked the couple in front of us about getting a ticket. They said that they had also just showed up without a ticket from the morning and were hopeful of getting inside. About 15 minutes later someone from the restaurant came by and upon seeing that we were ticketless told us to wait, so we did.

After about an hour we were ushered inside, ordered our ramen from the vending machine, and waited for our meal.

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Finally inside!

We got different types of ramen so we could compare the two different flavors. James got a salt based broth with white truffle oil and I got the soy sauce based broth with black truffle oil. A few minutes later, our ramen was delivered to us, it looked so good!

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Shio soba ramen with wonton.
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Shoyu soba ramen with a soft boiled egg.

The ramen really was so delicious. The broth of each type was full of flavor which the noodles absorbed wonderfully. The best part may have been the pork, which had clearly been slow roasted with delicious seasoning and was so tender you could simply pull it apart with your chop stick. The restaurant was incredibly quiet, but I think it was just everyone enjoying their long awaited for bowl of delicious ramen. Oishii!

After eating each bowl to the last drop we both agreed it was the best ramen we had ever had. I was happy and content after such a delicious meal, and just like I used to do when I was little, I got up and went off to enjoy the rest of my summer afternoon.

Touring the Local Area

Even though we have been in Japan for almost two weeks, we actually haven’t seen too much outside of the base. We have been pretty busy getting ourselves set up with a house, car, new phones, and all the other things that go along with a big move. However, we have gone out into town on a few occasions to check things out and try out the many great restaurants (more on food in another post!). Yokosuka is a Navy town, the United States has a large base here and so does Japan.

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You can see both the Japanese (left side) and American (right side) naval bases in this picture. Interestingly, neither of them are actually called bases. It is the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force and United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka, respectively.
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Yikes!

Yokosuka is a city of about 400,000 and a little over an hour away (by train) from Tokyo. Like I said, we really haven’t explored it too much yet except for the area right around the base, but we will in the next few weeks.

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The main street right outside of the base. Yes, that is a replica of the Statue of Liberty you see in the background. It sits atop a Japanese love hotel, the Hotel Goddess. Love hotels are hotels that you pay by the hour for or that cater to couples looking for something, ahem… different.

This might make me sound like a total idiot, but I never realized how much of Japan was mountainous. About 70% of the land is mountainous terrain, and much of it is so rugged that it is not suitable for agriculture or dwellings. The base itself is very rocky and rugged too, with lots of tunnels and caves everywhere. In fact, during World War II, over 250 caves and 20 extensive tunnel networks were built in the immediate area to protect the Imperial Japanese Navy from bombings. You can still see a lot of these around the base today.

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There are numerous tunnels around the US Navy base in Yokosuka.

Besides just being very busy, we also were prohibited from leaving the base area until we had completed a required introductory course on living here. The five day long course went over numerous things such as base procedures (don’t do anything dumb), emergency procedures (don’t panic), getting around using public transportation (don’t get lost), proper manners (don’t be rude), driving (don’t get in an accident), and repeatedly reinforced that if you mess up terribly you will go to a Japanese prison and have to eat fermented fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next 20 years. Seriously, we watched a video on it and it was kind of terrifying.

Despite learning about all the ways we could end up in a Japanese prison, we got brave and decided to start venturing out and learning about the area. We started by going to a beautiful neighboring city (about a 20 minute train ride away) called Kamakura.

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Up on a hill overlooking the rooftops of Kamakura.

Kamakura is a city known for having a lot of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, and is a popular spot for tourists to visit. When we visited there were a lot of people who came in their yukatas (summer kimonos) and were walking around enjoying the sites.

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After enjoying a tasty lunch we visited Kamakura’s most important shrine, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. This shrine was founded in 1063 and has a commanding view of the city below.

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The steps leading up to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.
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Up close view of the gorgeous architecture.
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Torii gates marked the entrance to a smaller shrine within the same complex.

After walking around this shrine for a while we decided to go check out another one of Kamakura’s famous sites, the Great Buddha.

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The Great Buddha is 43.8 feet tall and weighs 93 tonnes! It is made of bronze and dates to 1252.

We took a little break here and enjoyed some green tea soft serve ice cream while sitting in the shade of the Buddha, pretty cool! The temperature was in the mid 80s and the humidity was 94% this day, so that was actually my third ice cream cone… don’t judge.

After seeing the Great Buddha we stopped at a Buddhist temple called Hasedera. This time of year it is famous for it’s large hydrangea garden. No one is totally sure when the temple was first established, some say in the 8th century, but there are official records of it dating back to the 12th century.

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The temple was quite large, this is just one of the beautiful buildings.
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The whole hillside was covered in hydrangeas.
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Pretty!

Now that we have had our first glimpse of Japan we are eager to get out and start exploring more! What a beautiful country!

 

Finding a House

As I was writing this post over the weekend the terrible accident aboard the USS Fitzgerald happened in which seven sailors lost their lives. Although I am very new to the Yokosuka community I can say with certainty that this is a tight knit place and the loss has been felt by everyone here. Please keep them, and their loved ones, in  your thoughts. 

Have you ever heard that everything in Japan is smaller? Cars, streets, houses… well that rumor is true. This was first made very obvious to me our first night in Japan when we got to our hotel. We had been awake for so long by the time we landed in Yokota, and then we had to take a two hour bus ride to Yokosuka. I was so tired and spent the whole bus ride dreaming of walking into our hotel room and laying down on a big fluffy hotel bed and falling fast asleep. Well, we finally walked into our hotel room only to discover that it was probably the smallest room we had ever seen at a hotel and the big fluffy bed was actually a small double sized bed with so little space around it that you had to walk sideways. There was absolutely no room for our ten suitcases and us.

I fully realize that this is a first world problem (poor me, my hotel room is too small), but when you have so much stuff with you it felt like a big problem at the time. Numerous scenarios flashed through my brain of us spending weeks in this tiny room while we waited for housing, madly trying to search for things we needed in our suitcases while we watched the one English channel available on the television and tried to figure out how to use the toilet. However, a shower and a bowl (okay, two) of ramen later and I had somewhat regained my sense of adventure and composure, somewhat.

Fortunately, the next day we were able to check into the Navy Lodge on the base which had a much larger room for us and our stuff, and I knew how to work the toilet, another bonus! If you are PCSing to Yokosuka and the Navy Lodge website says that they are sold out (which it did repeatedly for us), do your best to call them or just show up when you get here to see if they have last minute availability. The hotel caters to people PCSing with larger rooms, closets, and kitchenettes… it is really nice those first few crazy days. Another great thing about the Navy Lodge is that it is located right next to the housing office, so convenient.

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Our home for our first week in Japan.

When you get stationed in Yokosuka you do not get to choose whether you live on or off base. If there is room for you on base then you have to take it. It was actually kind of nice not having to think too much about housing ahead of our move. That is usually one of the things that stresses me out the most before we PCS. Finding a new house every one to three years, and one that you will be happy in, is kind of daunting. However, I had loved each of our previous homes and was nervous that I wouldn’t love our home in Japan as much since I had less control in choosing it.

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Our little treehouse in Virginia Beach, Virginia
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Our lovely brick townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia
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Our cozy cottage in Newport, Rhode Island

We checked into housing on our second full day in Japan first thing in the morning. After filling out a few forms, we were given a list of houses on the main base, Yokosuka, and a housing base about 20 minutes away, Ikego. If you are moving here you probably read (like I did) that there is a third housing base near Yokohama. Just FYI that this is no longer an option for DOD families, all of the housing is now in Yokosuka or Ikego. Because we have a dog, there were only three places total that we could have lived. So we at least knew that we would be on base, and not off. Now it was just a matter of choosing which one to live in, we were given one day to decide.

One of the options was on the other base, Ikego, and since we knew we did not want to live 20 minutes away, we eliminated that right away. Our other two options were on the Yokosuka base – one apartment and one townhouse. We were pretty sure we wanted the townhouse since that would be easier for us taking our dog out and to have a bit more space, but we walked over and looked at the apartment anyway. We ultimately went with…

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Our new townhouse in Yokosuka, Japan!

So, there is really no getting around it… the military housing in Yokosuka is… kind of ugly on the outside. All of the townhouses look exactly the same and the apartment buildings all match them in style and color. They feel very Cold War Era. And considering how much it rains here and how humid it is, the grass looks surprisingly sad.

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Our new neighborhood.

However, many people find ways to dress their space up and make it their own. You are allowed to put potted plants out and anything else that will personalize your space more. We took this place without seeing the inside so I was not sure what to expect, but the next day we got to go in and I was pleasantly surprised.

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I can work with this kitchen, small but functional! Very light and airy!
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Nothing but potential here, I see a new grill and outdoor patio set in our future!
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Ooo a laundry room! I’ll take it!
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Never thought I would move to Japan and have a walk in closet! Excellent!
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Living and dining room, nice space to hang out in!
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HUGE second bedroom for all of our (hopefully) guests who come to see us!

Since our furniture is not arriving from the US for quite a while the Navy gave us some loaner furniture to use in the meantime. I cannot wait to start decorating this place and putting my own touch on it. My concerns about liking my new house in Japan before we moved here were unfounded, I am already in love!

The Big Move

A lot of our friends and family were very curious about the details of how exactly we were going to be moving to Japan. It is, after all, pretty far away from Rhode Island. We also could not find too much information ourselves about the experience online, except for a few other blog posts. So hopefully, if you are military PCSing to Japan you will find this helpful as well!

Our move from Newport, Rhode Island to Yokosuka, Japan (pronounced you-koo-ska) took about a week and a half and involved a couple of pit stops along the way. We started off by driving from Newport down to Washington, DC (thanks goes out to our awesome friends Paul and Tessa for their hospitality!) where we caught a flight to San Diego. We got to spend about a week in San Diego and had a chance to visit with a lot of our family, so nice to see everyone. All of the military flights going to Japan and Korea leave out of Seattle, so that was our third and final stop in the US.

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Gorgeous weather for our long layover!

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We just had one day to spend in the city, but we loved going to Pike’s Place Market and Bainbridge Island.

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So much delicious seafood. We went back later in the afternoon and this stand let me try some things for free!
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Not such a bad way to spend a long layover!

The military flights work a little differently than your regular commercial flight. To start with you do not get a seat assignment until you check in for the flight. Although the flight was not scheduled to leave until 8:50 am, check in was from 2:50 to 5:50 am. We read that it was a good idea to get there earlier in order to get a better seat assignment. People actually start lining up the night before and just sleep in the terminal. We aren’t that dedicated though, so we got there at 2:15 and waited in line.

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The line in front of the ticket counter at 2:15 am, these are the hard core people who lined up the afternoon or night before.
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But wait, there’s more…
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The line actually stretched all the way down the international terminal. There were probably about 200 people in front of us. At least no other airlines operate on this crazy schedule so we had the place to ourselves.

Although there were a lot of people in front of us, one of the reasons the line was so incredibly long was because everyone was traveling with a lot of crap stuff, including us.

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OMG too much… The airline weighed all of our luggage and our checked bags came to 194 pounds and carry ons came to 72 pounds.

It took us close to two and a half hours to get through the check in line, and in retrospect I do not think it was worth it to get there so early. Even with all those people in front of us we were still seated in row 17 (of 40) right next to each other. Quite a few other people showed up around the time we were checking in and they did not have to wait in a super long line, and they got a couple more hours sleep than us… but oh well. After finally checking in we went through security and headed over to the Centurion Lounge to spend a couple hours before our flight took off.

The DOD charters flights using a company called Atlas Air. So if you ever see one of their planes at an airport you can probably guess they have a plane full of military people being moved someplace far away. They also claim that their flight experience is similar to a business class one on other airlines.. not so sure about that, but okay, whatever.

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Our plane to Japan.

We boarded the plane but then sat on the tarmac for about half an hour. They announced that we were overweight (ouch!) and that everyone needed to de-board while they got rid of some fuel… I’m no expert but getting rid of fuel before flying halfway around the world did not seem like the best idea. Fortunately, the people operating our aircraft know more than I do about these things and we got back on the plane a couple of hours later and took off.

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Finally taking off, so sleepy!
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Bye USA!

The flight to Yokota, Japan (the US Air Force base nearest to Yokosuka) was about ten hours. Besides being long, it was fine and uneventful. As usual, sleeping was not easy and we both spent most of the flight reading, listening to podcasts, or playing games on our phones.

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Breakfast… we didn’t eat the dinner offered.
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Our first glimpse of Japan, so pretty!

After we landed everyone going to the Japan bases got off the plane while those going on to Korea stayed on (they were allowed to get off a little later to stretch their legs). We got to watch a fun video to introduce us to living in Japan. It included helpful advice like not trying to enter the country with porn or drugs, probably a good idea for any country! After the video we got our passports stamped and orders checked and boarded a bus for Yokosuka. At this point we had been awake for well over 24 hours, but we finally made it!