Southern Discomfort

Well folks…today was a sad day indeed.  After a wonderful New Year’s celebration last night and a great dinner with my family and friends this evening, my 2011 bubble was quickly burst when my Southern upbringing reared it’s country head.  Yep, y’all heard me right.  My evening was shattered by an “accent malfunction”.  Allow me to explain…

My wife, kids, and I went to our friend’s house this evening to enjoy some Yakiniku (a Japanese style cookout where you grill your meat and veggies on a small electric grill placed in the middle of the dinner table).  After dinner, we decided to play a few games; couple versus couple.  First we played Catchphrase, which went pretty well.  My wife and I won one game and our friends, Rebekah and Kevin, won the other.  After Catchphrase, we decided to try our hands at Pictionary.

I will be the first to admit that my drawing skills are less than desirable.  My rabbits look deranged and the cows that I draw normally turn out looking like obese mountain lions, but for some reason, my wife is very skilled at deciphering my scribbles.  We did very well the first game and ended up winning.  I must admit that the hamster that I drew on a tight rope was very abstract and thoughtful.  After our win, I suggested that we switch from couples to Man versus Woman.  The ladies obliged and we began a literal battle of the sexes.

At first, Kevin and I were handily dispatching our lovely female foes; quickly guessing what the other was drawing. Eventually though, we began to falter.  The ladies had a pretty astounding run in the end and were able to tie the game.  With one move left for the win, it was my turn to draw.  Flexing my skilled fingers, I sharpened my stub of a pencil and selected my card from the box.  My daughter flipped the hourglass timer and I began to draw.

After a few moments, Kevin had guessed that I was drawing Gel; the kind that you put in your hair when styling it for a night on the town or the form in which toothpaste comes inside of the tube.  Unfortunately, my dear wife had glimpsed the card as I passed it to her and she wore a look of both confusion and amusement on her face as I “high fived” my partner and congratulated him on a job well done.  Rising from her chair, she dug the card from the discarded pile and showed it to Kevin’s wife, who then joined my wife in a bout of hearty laughter.

“What the heck is so funny?” I asked.  “Do you guys enjoy losing?”

“Think again there Redneck,” they said as they showed me the card.

The card said Jail, not Gel.  Crestfallen, I hung my head in shame.  How could I have made such an error.  I cursed my Southern upbringing and my country accent as my wife and her friend celebrated their glorious victory.  There are many times that I relish my Southern roots, but tonight they betrayed me.  Damn my sweet sweet Georgia drawl!


Thousands of Japanese people couldn’t be wrong…or noisy???

The public transportation system in Tokyo, Japan is the largest rail system in the world!!!  Trust me, I checked Wikipedia.  It is also a place where noise, laughter, conversation, and sound wander off to die.  I am amazed that, while packed with thousands of citizens, the subway cars in Tokyo are as quiet as a graveyard.  If you are looking for an out of the way place to write a book, I’ve found it.  Trust me, no one will fool with you here.  As you squeeze into these tubular transports, elbow your way into a coveted seating position, or become relegated to stand; you will not hear a peep.  No one will ask you about the next stop or what you are reading or where you are going.  They will just be…quiet.  The silence that settles into the Tokyo subway car is deafening.  The marching rhythm of clackaty-clack-railroad-track is the only sounds that will fill your ears, provided you haven’t donned an i-pod or any other such musical doodad.  I find that it is a testament to the strong silent citizens of this wondrous land.  Their calm determination to occupy a small space and demand isolation, much like that of their tiny island homeland, is commendable.  All heads are bowed into books, eyes down, headphones on, ear buds inserted; everyone is in their own private coach car.  It is amazing.  The subway car churns up mile after mile in peaceful noiselessness, occasionally the silence is broken by a digital voice announcing the next stop.  Some of the braver citizens, liberal in their wayward glances, peer up from their books to watch the passengers escape the cars along with the processed air.  Swoosh…the doors shut, the air locks engage, and back to the silent grind of the subway.  Amazing!  You should visit.  Ride the subway, just don’t get chatty.

Yokosuka ramblings Traveling Japan

Boredom finally overtook me today and I decided to get up and go on an adventure.  Well, what I really mean is that I went for a walk about town.  I have had a lot of work to do lately and have found little time to depart the ship.  Today, I tossed caution to the wind, donned my backpack, my sunglasses, forgot my sunscreen (sorry Shelley…I know…I’m feeble minded), and got to walkin’.  First I stopped by the Starbucks on base and fueled my engines.  While there, my shirt did its best drying off trick as I read my book and drank my iced coffee, boy was it hot outside!  That was my first bit of caffeine in about two months, and to my surprise, I didn’t even get a nervous twitch.  I finished up my coffee and headed out the back gate.

Upon exiting the gate, I hung a left and ambled down towards a local park that is nestled along the front of a small levee.  The sidewalk leading to the park made for a great trek.  For about 6 blocks, there lies an intricately designed “river” that flows down the sidewalk.  It comes up through fountains, around statues, collects in pools (where crows bathe…an interesting sight), and meanders all the way down to the park.  I passed small children waddling through the shallow “sidewalk river” as well as parents cooling off their aching feet in the flowing water.  How I wished that I could shed my shoes and jump into one of the larger “estuaries” that dotted the sidewalk leading to my destination.  Alas, I am not familiar with the local courtesies and I kind of stick out here, so I was afraid that I would be in for some sort of social faux pas.  I forewent my urge to wade through the man-made river and walked on.  I finally arrived at the park and was greeted by an ancient Japanese battle ship, the Mikasa, that was launched from Britain in 1900.  It had masts that were rigged for sail, so that marks it as kinda old.  It was pretty amazing.  The ship had huge dual batteries on the fo’c’sle and multiple batteries running along both the port and starboard sides of the hull.  I was duly impressed.  That ship comes from a day when Sailors were worth their salt and held a firm grasp on nautical traditions and know-how.  I snapped a couple of pictures of the mighty vessel with my sony mylo and shoved off to continue my exploration of Yokosuka.

I made my way back towards the Naval base and ended up on Blue Street.  It is aptly named for the bits of blue stones that dot the street, embedded in the asphalt.  I walked up past Blue St. to an area that seemed to be geared towards younger Sailors.  I don’t recall the name of the street, but it was lined wall to wall with bars and shops full of nautical baubles of all sorts.  I stopped into some of the shops and found some really exciting trinkets.  I phoned my wife, gave her my best sales pitch, and she declined.  Thank God for her, or I would be broke.  Either way, I did enjoy digging through the treasures that are fit for a fine Sailor, such as meself….arrrghhh.

The Dragon Bar mural

As the sun began to steal away every inkling of energy in my body, I made my way back towards Mikasa park.  I wanted to get one last look at the proud old battleship.  I passed a really cool mural on the wall of the Dragon Bar, took a picture, and continued on my bee line towards the old warship.  On the way, I called my wife again to chat and she warned me that I probably ought to get out of the sun for a bit and find some shade.  The lovely woman is forever looking out for me.  I am currently on some mighty strong meds that prohibit extended exposure to the ol’ sun, so inside I did go.  I ducked into a small cafe, named Pot Luck.

Once inside, I was greeted, in English, by a middle-aged Japanese man.  He seemed to be tending the restaurant and quickly ushered me to a booth that was nestled against a decorative bay window.  He plopped a menu in front of me and off he went.  I perused the menu for a few minutes and settled on a “Coke with Ice Cream.”  I called the waiter over and placed my order.  He ensured me that this was a very wise choice and off he went to concoct this delicious treat.  When he returned, he placed the Coke-float down on the table, and looked at me expectantly.  I nodded my thanks and looked back down at my drink.  He remained, fixed in front of my booth.  After an awkward moment of silence, I shot him an inquisitive glance.  He nodded and directed me to take a sip.  I did and it was exquisite.  The soft serve ice cream was mixed just right with the Coca Cola and ice cubes.  It tasted like my childhood.  To be on a continent well on the other side of the earth, far from the place that I grew up, I sure did feel at home.  I just wish that my beautiful wife and our kids could have been there to share the moment, and the Coke float.

After I had cooled down and finished my drink, I bid farewell to the gentleman that had served up my order and headed back out to the Mikasa.  I tell you, there is no place like Mikasa park for anyone interested in Naval history to visit.  The Mikasa is the last remaining pre-dreadnought battleship in the world.  It is surely a sight to see.  If you are interested, you can jump into a history lesson on the Mikasa here.

Well, I am going to relax for a little while, after this long day of explorin’.  Take it easy folks.

Nogaku…subtitles would have been nice.

So, today my wife, our two and a quarter kids, and I spent the afternoon watching a traditional Japanese musical theater performance called Nogaku.  My daughter has been taking Japanese language classes during the summer break and her teacher tossed some free “concert” tickets our way and invited us on an enlightening journey through four hours of theatrical performance conducted in a language that none of us understand.  The Japanese teacher pitched the event as a “concert”.  Looking back, I believe that there must have been some confusion on his end as to what a concert actually is.  All in all, we had a good time and were privy to some cultural learnin’.

Nogaku is a traditional performing art that developed in Japan over 700 years ago.  It is really two types of performances melded into one.  It combines the arts of Noh and Kyogen.  Noh is a sort of musical drama that reenacts events in history and Japanese folklore.  It consists of characters (or actors) wearing colorful clothing and, often times, a mask.  The type of mask that is worn normally depicts a different type of character.  Our masked character today was a “spider monster” from what I could tell.  He wore a large red mask with intricate detail and long, black, bushy hair.  He seemed to be fighting with this old guy who, from my wife and my perspective, seemed to be bedridden.  In the end, the old man triumphed over the “spider monster” through  some tricky swordplay and with the help of three younger gentlemen.  The “spider monster” was pretty bad-A.  He shot spools of “webbing” from his hands onto the other actors and occasionally into the audience.  It was actually very cool how the web seemed to come from nowhere.  I watched his hands the entire time and I couldn’t figure out how he came up with all that webbing.  Full disclosure; our seats were WAY up in the “cheap seats” section, so I could have easily been bamboozled by this magical arachnid.  In the end, I’m glad that the old man won because I really don’t like spiders.

I mentioned that this was a musical sort of performance.  That is true, but I must take a few moments to describe the “music” that accompanied the play.  In each act, there sat four men (all sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce), each with a different instrument.  Three of the men played different types of drums and one of them played a flute.  The cool part was the grunting that each man did along with the playing of their instrument.  It seemed like the grunts accented the ups and downs of the performance.  When I say grunting, read Jackie Chan type of “hoooowwwhhhaaa” kung fu type grunting.  It was pretty gnarly.  Very Japanese.  Very authentic.

At the end of the day, even though we didn’t understand a word of this ancient art, we did manage to have a good time.  One of the best things about living in the land of the rising sun is the opportunity to experience another culture that is so much older than ours.  Speaking of our culture, on our walk back to our car from the theater, we stopped at Lucky’s diner.  It is an “American” hamburger joint.  My son and I ordered a cheese burger and my wife and daughter got teriyaki burgers…SAYONARA!