Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Most Lovable Quirks in Japan

Wowza! Been a long time! It's been quite a year for us. Clearly, I've been a little busy and distracted. We: (a) had a two-month stint back in Minnesota with family, (b) got pregnant, (c) had said child; our second!, (d) went to Guam, and (e) weathered (counting on fingers...) five deployments! Do I get a medal for all this? Oh yeah, life just happens, and then you buy yourself chocolate.  

Another thing has happened in our lives, but it feels more like a pending circumstance. We got orders!  

We've been stationed out here in Yokosuka, Japan for three. consecutive. tours. That equals almost six years and an eternity of staying in the same place, in Navy terms. Japan has become our normal, and to be honest, going back to the States is kind of nerve-wracking. There's going to be a lot of people there. And rude drivers. And subpar public transportation. And too many choices when I'm buying peanut butter.  



Are you allowed to have culture shock in the mother land? Yes? Please? It'll only take me about six months to adjust, I swear. That's a long time? Really?

Well, crap.  

As soon as you hit the ground in Japan, you find things to appreciate. Facebook is riddled with lists of how Japan does it best. Oh the vending machines on every corner! With hot beverages! The trains that come every ten minutes! Convenient stores that actually sell good food. And the cutest old people you ever did see. But, in honor of our trans-Pacific PCS* from the Land of the Rising Sun, I'd like to share some of the lesser known things I've come to appreciate in Japan. Consider this a list of quirks I know and love.

(1) It's acceptable (and even encouraged) to get a short sized coffee

Did you even know that was a size?? We in America are coffee gluttons, and while I'm not saying that's a bad thing (trust me, I will be the last to say that's a bad thing), sometimes you just need something quaint. Size short is a wee 8 fluid ounces, and I see people walking around carrying those tiny cups all the time. I appreciate that. Yeah, nihonjin, get that tiny cup of joe and be satisfied.  

(2) It's also acceptable to run in public

We're all rushing somewhere. And in Japan it's no different. It is heart-breaking to just miss the train, and though people are discouraged for safety reasons, people do make a break for it. Unashamedly. They run when they're running late. In their suits and heels, with their briefcases in tow. They run for the train, across the street, into their office buildings. I think in the States we're a little too proud to admit that we're late to everyone around us. But in Japan, no one cares and we all run when we're running behind.

(3) People carry their big kids!

Baby carriers are useful until about age 4. I've seen countless mothers (yes, you know, those sweet, small-framed young women) carrying their big kids. I'm a firm believer that each mother should do whatever makes her life easier and blesses her children. But I so admire the draw to carry your kid for so long.  

(4) In Japan, fashion is (mostly) comfortable

Ok - I will admit. Stilettos are everywhere. I still don't get how women navigate trains, city streets and restaurants in massive heels.


Japanese street fashion also has an element of embracing comfort. The other day I saw a hoodie dress. A. Hoodie. Dress! Excuse me, ma'am, are you donning a cousin of the snuggie in public and rocking it? There's also sweater tights (so warm!), flowy boho skirts, fuzzy shorts, and flannels. And conveniently, they're what's in.

(5) Any machine that accepts money will take multiple bills at a time. Seriously.

This is just pure convenience. When you submit bills into a cash machine, you can basically throw all you have in there and not worry about organizing floppy bills.  

I realized how great this was about a year after moving to Yokosuka. I was back visiting family in Madison. I boarded a bus and shoved my two dollars into the fare box. The thing freaked out and rejected my bills. Then I got a fun little lecture from the bus driver about separating my bills and how the machine can't handle how I did it. It was then I missed filling my PASMO the most. Sigh.  

(6) Top notch gardens

Japanese people can garden. And they garden like it's no one's business. Zoos are spectacular. City parks are so beautiful. Heck, walk your kid to school and it's bliss. Public gardens of any kind are well kept, and it truly adds life to a place.

(7) You can embarrass yourself comfortably

It's common in Japan for something embarrassing or striking to happen in public, and for it to go completely unacknowledged. Have an awkward moment and you'll never have to worry about leering stares or judgment. People just casually act like nothing happened. It's as if we all have poker faces on.

My family once experienced this when we were at our local Starbucks off base. It was crowded, as it usually is, and we were sitting on stools in the kids' section surrounded by people. Apparently, my husband let his guard down, because he went right ahead, lifted a cheek, and passed gas.


Welcome to my life.

It was so utterly obvious what had just happened, but we got a reaction from no one. Not a single person flinched while we gracefully represented American presence in Yokosuka.

Learning these characteristic has been quite an experience, and I'll truly miss this place when it's finally time to hop on a plane with a one-way ticket. It's been good, Japan. I shall miss your wonderful quirks.  

*PCS: Permanent Change of Station; basically, we're moving.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Another (sort of) Beginning

It's official.

We're moving!


Usually moving in the military means a PCS - Permanent Change of Station. You organize all your things. Sell your car. Wait patiently for your command to organize your travel arrangements. Make cookies for the guys packing up your house. Then you uproot and end up wherever your orders tell you to go.

For us, this is a tiny move. We are relocating just about a mile to the north, from our off-base Japanese vertical trailer to a sweet little 2 bedroom tower apartment on base. We made this decision since being extended an extra 18 months in Japan. By then, we figure our family will grow and this house will no longer suit us. I have to admit, I'm pretty pumped to have an American washing machine (with hot water! Rejoice!) and full-sized oven. We definitely survive and do well in our current house. But certain things will get significantly easier.

About three weeks ago, I started the moving process. I went to the housing brief. Set up our termination with our current house. Chose an apartment on base. Made appointments for appliance pick up. And bill pay. And a new parking certificate. And holy cow, I never knew how much could go into it all. I paused briefly enough for it to set in.

We're moving.

It's almost harder that we're not moving across the ocean. Logistically, this is pretty simple. But we are remaining in Japan but not in our sweet house. This is the home we began our marriage in. This is the kitchen I learned to cook in, despite the lack of oven and multiple near nervous breakdowns. I've spent hours studying Japanese in this house. And have endured several deployments here. I've walked miles around this neighborhood, discovering its nooks and crannies. I feel like a local in this town. This is the house I labored in! And where we've been raising our first kid. So much has been done within these walls. I complain about this house a lot (ah, the stairs, the washer, the tiny kitchen!), but I admit it's grown on me. I can sprint up and down those stairs without a thought and I feel like I have a relationship with the washer. Spend that much time trying to figure out various functions in Japanese and you'll know what I mean. All in all, it will be strange to move on.

Transitions often make me feel that nervous/excited feeling, and this time is no different. But I'm eager to discover a different sort of life here, and see what it has in store for us.

We'll post photos of our apartment as we make it our own! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Old Hickory

I'm not much of a history buff, but my husband sure is. His AOL Instant Messenger (gosh, remember AIM?!) screen name when we were in middle school was histryfreak40. No joke. I remind him of this often.

But I really can't make too much fun of him, because I actually quite enjoy his nerdiness. I love the way he tells me about different parts of history like it's a great big epic story. I often ask him to tell me about various wars, leaders, and happenstances. It's so interesting the way he portrays it, like a fun story with different plots unfolding.

But recently I became the history nerd in our house when I read H.W. Brand's biography of Andrew Jackson. I picked it up because he's somewhere in our family line and I knew very little about him, besides being a - excuse me - hardass and earning a spot on the twenty dollar bill. Reading the initial description of his demeanor reminded me a lot of my dad, and I thought that was so intriguing until I also read that Jackson had no biological children. Alas, we are related only legally, but not by blood (he and his wife Rachel adopted one of her brother's twin boys since times in America were not yet lush enough to support having multiple children at once).

Though we don't actually share blood, I still found that the Kern side - my father's family - did inherit some of his traits. We too are hardasses, and are wonderfully rough around the edges. I'd like to share some tidbits that are by no means exhaustive. There are plenty more intriguing things about the life of Andrew Jackson. These are just things that stood out to me, things I enjoyed.

I guess you'll have the read the book yourself. Wah wah. ;)

He was a lover of duels, even after they became taboo. For the first part of the book, I was convinced I would only read about duel after duel as he encountered endless quarrels and didn't seem to know how else to handle them. In one, he fatally wounded his opponent, Charles Dickinson, after being shot in the chest himself, only an inch from his heart. Instead of getting checked out, he mounted his horse and rode back to the local tavern. This made me think of my gram, who - when she was 88 years old, mind you - fell on ice going into her favorite restaurant. She insisted everyone eat before taking her to the hospital. After dinner, they went to the emergency room and discovered her broken femur. Dinner waits for no one in the Kern house, and apparently neither does the chance to have a few.

Contrary to that rough side of him, it was really touching to read about his relationship with his wife, Rachel Donelson. Initially, Andrew didn't want the US presidency, but wanted to retire after his victories as a general. But he was loved - and elected - and felt it was no longer his choice but his duty. Unfortunately, his (somewhat forced) campaign and the prospect of life in the white house took its toll on his sweet, quaint wife, and she died of a heart attack just before he was inaugurated. Washington had to wait while he watched his wife pass away and bury her. It crushed him. "A friend recalled that he held her so tightly after death that the body had to be pried from his arms to prepare it for burial. Another remembered that he looked 'twenty years older in a night.'" (Brands 405)

Just sweet. And heartbreaking.

He was president in an age before high security and had many enemies. In 1835, he was target to an assassination attempt; the outcome many would count as miraculous. The gunman, Richard Lawrence, stepped out of the crowd and approached Jackson on the steps of the capital. From less than 10 feet, Lawrence pulled the trigger, but his pistol misfired. He took out a second pistol and must have terrible luck, because that one misfired too. Once Jackson realized what was happening, he charged Lawrence with his cane (he was an old timer by the time he was president). Lawrence was apprehended but deemed insane and was never tried. The weapons were tested afterwards and both fired perfectly. Many concluded that God protects democrats. ;)

Anyway, there's much more to the story, and if you're looking for a good historical read, I would recommend this one!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

This Kid is My Kid, That Kid is Your Kid ...

Guh. See? Moments like this. Too wonderful to interfere.
I'm not a neurotic mom, in and of myself. But I am totally a neurotic mom socially. Now that my kid is wonderfully squirrelly, ever-exploring (and climbing or gumming), and close to 18 pounds, I feel as if he's - and I mean this in the best sense - a bit of a handful. You have to be focused when you're with him. You gotta hold on! 

For a while, I would be nervous whenever someone was holding him. Not for his sake - oh no, he's a tough guy - but for theirs! Thought after thought would be rattling through my mind. Do their arms hurt? Is he tiring them out? Is now the appropriate time to get them off the hook? Am I taking advantage of them by letting them continue to hold him??  

It's funny that I state this as past tense. Because it is in fact NOT past tense. My mind still runs wild like a crazy person whenever he's being entertained by someone else. 

But now I also have a sense of how loved he is. And it's just so wonderful. Not only is my kid stinking cute and so utterly handsome and friendly, but people do actually just love to know him. There are people who have known him as long as I have, who've been there through the pregnancy and the early stages of mom'ness. 

I had a (much needed, soooo refreshing) ladies' night last week, and my girl friends were telling me how much they look forward to spending time with him. They. Just. Love. My kid. And the funny thing is, I never really realized that. I always imagined people were doing me favors. Giving me a hand here and there with the care of my child. 

So now I'm torn, and my inner struggle is even worse. I laugh at myself a lot on the inside too. Trust me. Now, I wonder if people's arms are sore or if they're tired. But I also wonder if I'm just a crazy and they are actually really enjoying Steven. So now I can't figure out whether I should take him back and free them up - or if that would mean to deprive them of the joy he's bringing them - or if I should let them be and allow them to play and have fun - or if that means I'm being neglectful (which I doubt) or taking advantage of someone while they're struggling to keep my kid from jumping out of their arms or sweetly biting them in the shoulder or experimenting with his voice in church or ...

See how nuts I've become? I really have little discernment in this arena. I really don't understand well how people view other peoples children. I'm sure it depends on various factors, but in general, I have no idea what's appropriate.

So I guess I turn to you, blogosphere. How do you like to interact with other people infants? Do you view it as lending a helping hand, and - honestly - do you look forward to the time your contribution is fulfilled? Or do you have to resist the temptation to kidnap the child and love them forever? Does it depend on how well you know the kid? How social they are? If they're family?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Beat the Heat.

I've become a bit of a blog reading fiend. Since discovering the Bloglovin app, I've been unstoppable! I can read posts from my iPod whenever I have a free moment. It's too easy!

If I had to choose just one to read, I think it would be A Beautiful Mess. It's right up my alley and has a lot to offer. I love that they're not too focused. They do DIY, recipes, fashion, beauty, everything in the lifestyle bracket. They recently did an updo tutorial that I love! It's getting hot here in Japan, and I'm in need of some good ideas to get my thick hair off my neck and my face. My hair is just getting to my shoulders, so it's not always long enough for anything and everything. Between a 9-month-old and this heat that's about to get hotter, I appreciate anything fast, easy, and sturdy that I can do with my hair. 

Here's my take on their tucked braid updo (forgive the photos; this is me, by myself in a tiny Japanese bathroom, this is the best I got). I've done this one about three times since reading this post. It's hit or miss, sometimes I don't get it quite right. But I'd still say this updo is pretty easy. 

Standard poof


Friday, June 13, 2014

The Next Step

We have news! Nothing monumental, just an update. It's actually old news - our families have known for about a month that ...

We're staying in Japan! It's a long story, but in January Curt will transfer to Seventh Fleet Staff. This will be his third (count 'em, THREE) command out of Yokosuka and will make for five and a half years of forward deployed sea duty.

Phew. That's a lot.

When you're in the Navy, you dream of orders time. You get anxious to see your (or your husband's) slate - a list of the jobs available. You then talk, you discuss, you weigh pros and cons, and you let yourself dream a little. Then you submit preferences and wait about a month to hear where you'll be going! Of course, things are subject to change until you board the plane to said place, but it's some definition.

Every Navy spouse dreams of it being that simple. You hear other wives talking about the craziness of getting orders, of being told you have to be somewhere in a month's time, of being sent somewhere completely random, or being strung along for a month or longer, not knowing where on earth you'll be sent or when.

And you think to yourself, Pfft, that'll never happen to us! 

Never, ever think that. Because then it will. Heh heh.

Neither time we've been awaiting orders has there been much simplicity. The first time we were expecting orders, we wanted to stay in Yokosuka, were told we couldn't stay with the same command, prepared our hearts on going somewhere else, and then ended up getting orders to stay in Yokosuka with a different command. I cried. Yes, I cried even though we got the thing we initially wanted. Because I was trying to prepare myself for what I thought was coming. When something else entirely came, I wasn't ready for it. 

We initially didn't want to stay out here for a third tour, but Big Navy asked us to think again. Ha. Instead of saying no a second time, we made our concerns known. One of those concerns was being far from family for longer. We currently live 8000 miles from our families and have for over two-and-a-half years. Tacking on another year is strenuous. So we bargained for OHARP (Officer Home Area Recruiting Program). Basically, the Navy will give us short-term, two month orders to Minnesota so we can spend some time with our families before we spend another year out here. Good consolation. 

The other concern was moving on base. We love love love our house. We hate it for kids. I spend my days running up and down stairs with an infant. If we were to stay in this house, it would not only be challenging to nurture a growing toddler, but it would inhibit any family growth. It would be unnecessarily challenging and potentially unsafe to have two kids in this kind of a house. So as soon as we have official orders, we'll make a move on base into a two bedroom apartment with no stairs and an American style washing machine. Very important with cloth diapering. 

We're happy with that decision, but I find myself already mourning moving out of our house! I can't have my cake and eat it too, and it's definitely more important to focus on the quality of (and my ability to maintain sanity during!) our daily life more than our enjoyment of our neighborhood, our patio and BBQs, and quick access to central Yokosuka. Our neighborhood is so so so great. We live close to base, but in Japan! I walk out my door and have the choice of endless coffee shops, two malls, and some great parks. It has character. It's idyllic. 

I was appreciating our neighborhood the other day, and decided to walk around and take some photos. Here are some of the quirks of our neighborhood, the tidbits that make up the  wonderful whole. Do keep in mind that I had an infant strapped to me while taking these photos, so they aren't amazing or anything.

Our bikes! Parked in our cute little patio.

USFJ = "United States Forces Japan"
This sign is to keep sailors in line. Yes, that's the kind of neighborhood we live in. ;)

Garbage goes here. Everyday, eight am!

Dobuita Street, the center hub of our neighborhood.

Neighborhood shrine.

Local kimono shop or something? I actually have no idea, but have appreciated these photos for the last two-and-a-half years. Hilarious!

Our chūhai stand of choice.
The owner is a chūhai guru but constantly shushes you to keep you from talking loudly (i.e., American) and disturbing the neighbors.

Mural of the bay.

For some silly reason, we pronounce this sign crazily every time we pass it, which is often.
We're not quite sure how the weird sizing of the letters is best pronounced, and our speculation gets quite obnoxious.

Our local train station! And the reason Japan is so clean, right there in the middle and other acts just like it.

Sign denoting the neighborhood. Honch!

Nothing like a turtle carrying a Guinness. Good stuff.


One of our favorite bars, New Texas.

Our favorite coffee shop, Musetto!
Gets better every time.

One of many Irish pubs in town. Weird.

Beautiful Catholic Church near base.
And the source of screaming, climbing, jumping, playing children as you enter Womble Gate.

Our flower shop of choice.

Our produce shop of choice. Yes!

I didn't say our neighborhood was classy ...

Karaoke ... mascot?

Every single time I walk by this machine, I wonder, oh I wonder, what the heck Bikkle is.
Sounds gross, but I'm going to have to try it.

And finally, our sweet little home! I call it Green Tea Cake, since the top floor looks like frosting. It will certainly be sad to move out of this place; it's been good to us for three years!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Watch Out, World!

Let's face it. Japan is quirky. Trust me, after a few years living close to Tokyo, I can vouch that it is indeed the street fashion capital of the world. 

I don't actually know if it's called that. But it should be.

I declare!  

Nowhere else will you find cosplay so adamantly and consistently expressed (every Sunday in Harajuku, baby!). Nowhere else will you so often see patterns that shouldn't be seen together working perfectly (though sometimes imperfectly) on a single person. Nowhere else will you likely be the ONLY woman in your train car not wearing false eyelashes. Over are the days of sweat pants outside the house. Oh college, how I miss thee! 

There have been many facets of Japanese fashion that we've embraced. There are some that we've embraced that we really shouldn't have. And there are some that we never embraced to begin with. Although, I may enjoy dying my hair a lovely shade of lavender in my 80's. Who knows? 

Through the different phases of The-Gaynors-Take-Japan, there are a few things that have impacted us, styles we've adopted for the long run. Some are just plain practical. Some will end up, well, just being quirky. This post may be fun. But it may also be a warning to those of you who have to live with us in the future. Alas, here are the tidbits that have stuck, the quirks of Japanese fashion that we've made our own.

1. Sweater tights

These take the number one spot for a reason. After all, we need a reason to continue wearing skirts and dresses in the dead of winter, and sweater tights really stand up to the challenge. Even in Minnesota. YES, even in Minnesota! After a blizzard end to a road trip, I got to test a pair of Japanese sweater tights on my driveway with snow past my knees carrying a suitcase over my head. They check out! My legs weren't phased. And I was impressed.

2. Tights with shorts

Weird, I know! But there's so much creativity to be had here! Colors and patterns and textures, oh my! You can play around with funky or pretty tights while still enjoying the comfort that pants give you. I love my skirts as much as any lady. But most days, I want to sit on the floor or put my legs up with ease. Don't knock it til you try it. Disclaimer: skill necessary. The shorts gotta be right. And the tights gotta be right. 

3. Sun parasols

Oh my gosh, so practical! This is a recent addition to our stock, but it is so stinkin' handy to just run out the door on a sunny day and throw open your parasol without worrying about sunscreen. This is especially handy with an infant. On short errands, I don't have to worry about his sweet little bald head becoming a tomato. And when we're out for longer, the parasol is an added protection that works well in addition to sunscreen.

Also, good for protecting yourself against seahawks when you want to eat food outside.

4. Jeggings

You love them or you hate them. Either way, there's no arguing that they're comfortable.

5. Rompers

These are coming out in the States, too.  But Japan did it first and I love them! No explanation necessary. I'm currently looking for a great drapey romper that's breastfeeding friendly. My quest continues.

6. Engrish shirts

The hilarity never stops. Engrish is the Japanese take on English phrases. My favorite so far? "Become foolish laughing even with it is very painful like the monkey." So wonderful. Just. So. Wonderful. Bonus points if you can find a shirt devoted to your hometown. We've seen many Minnesota shirts floating around on people and I scored this one myself: "Minneapolis! A industrial city. Minneapolis is a city teeming with life." And in the process of writing this post, I found there's an entire website dedicated to Engrish merchandise. Fantastic!

7. Chunky boots 

These go particularly well with the shorts and tights idea, and are durable in rainy or cold weather. Love it! I have to admit, I have two pairs of boots I wear like this and one of them is pink. 

8. Riding bikes in dresses

Gotta get places. And gotta look cute. So you just make it work. I will, though, not wear heels on a bike. I am not that coordinated nor do I trust myself ever to be.

9. Funky pants for guys

My husband currently owns maroon cords, reversible rainbow plaid and gray shorts, and jeans with striped brown pockets that are situated on side of his bottom. It looks as if the pockets are straight up going to fall off of his rear end. But he wears them well. Day after day of denim just gets to be so boring. 

And I'm afraid ...

10. Throwing up the PEACE in photos. 

Don't worry, I only mean this when you want to be light and fun. In a world of countless selfies, I don't think a kawaii peace photo is all that bad. 

Just be thankful we've rejected rosy cheeks, fake iris contacts, and platform shoes. Things could be much, much worse, but we'll leave those things to the professionals.