Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Exploring Sasebo

Sunday, January 8, 2006

Yesterday, FH and I walked up and down the Arcade, a mile-long open-air market with a roof. There were beauty shops, a slot machine hall, 100 yen stores (dollar stores, basically) and stores with packets of totally unidentifiable stuff. Fancy restaurants, luggage shops and uber-hip salons sat cheek by jowl with incredibly narrow furniture stores, funky noodle houses, incredible pastry shops, and, of course, a Starbucks! (It is so disconcerting to see a McDonald's or KFC menu in Japanese!) Mosasics are laid into the pavement periodically, and the little side streets often hold interesting shops (such as the manicure salon that's been recommended to me called "Beauty and the Beast"!)

There are little food stalls with things like roasted ears of corn, squid-on-a-stick, and fancy and improbably-colored ice cream confections. We bought six local tangerines from a shrivelled old man who squatted behind a sheet of plywood propped on cinderblocks. His wares were displayed on the plywood--some bags of daikon radish, pretty pyramids of tangerines in bowls, little net bags of kumquats, what looked like daikon radish rubbed with some sort of spicy marinade in a bag, and some carrots. I wanted four tangerines, but he said "Six! Six!" and kept bowing and smiling. So, I bought six for 200 yen (about $1.80) and they were soooo sweet and good! He bowed, I bowed, he bowed lower, I bowed again...etc. It was pretty funny...and his sheet of plywood was set into an alcove right beside a fancy chrome and glass department store. I also bought two bowls, so we can have cereal and stuff in the hotel room. A man's rice bowl is supposed to be larger than a woman's, so I bought two striped bowls, each with two plump cranes painted in the center of the bottom--but one is larger and the other smaller. So much for women's lib! But since there is no food delivery here, it's nice to be able to have fruit and cereal and such in the hotel room, rather than eating out every meal. The bowls I bought were loose, but the sets all have three or five bowls, never four...because of the Japanese need for beauty and asymmetry. Four bowls would just not be aesthetically pleasing, I guess! The number four seems to be avoided in most ways possible. FH just told me that the number four is the number of death in the Japanese culture. He says the word for the number four is the same for the word for Death (shi) and is unlucky the way we think of the number 13. Wow!

There was also a doll shop, which made me yearn to spend big bucks on stuff for our nieces. Here in Japan, every little girl has a set of incredibly beautiful, intricate dolls. They're VERY expensive, and for display, not playing with. Each set has a very elaborate prince and princess, in wedding finery, with all sorts of little accessories (miniature furniture, carriages, shoes, musical instruments, bows and arrows, flowers, bowls, etc.--it all made me think of all the little whatnots for the American Girl dolls!) Then there are three ladies-in-waiting, five musicians, three guardsmen and two footmen. The dolls are displayed for weeks leading up to the Girls (or Doll) Festival on March 3 (the third day of the third month), but can't be left up too long, or the little girl might grow up to be an old maid! I lusted after the gorgeous dolls--umm, for the nieces, of course!

We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant, which was really wonderful. The restaurants here all have incredibly realistic rubber or plastic models of the dishes they serve displayed in the front window or the front display case--and the food you order looks JUST like the models (the photo is not the Chinese's the rubber food at a Japanese-Greek place that cracked me up! Click on the photo for a larger version, and check out the raw egg on top of several dishes!) The Chinese place had so many different dishes that they only had a few models--the rest were pictured in the menu beside each listing. We shared some incredible gyoza (dumplings) and each had a different kind of noodles and broth. FH enjoyed his roast pork with a dark, clear broth, and I had Champon, which is a local specialty with a slightly milky, thin broth, cabbage, shrimp, fish cake (much better than the fake crab meat in the US, but a disconcerting hot pink and white instead of red and white), and very tender squid. I loved it! And even though Japan is rather expensive, the whole meal set us back about $20 (no tips are given or expected).

FH is still fighting with the chopsticks, but is getting better. I'm grateful to my Chinese friends with the circus for teaching me to use chopsticks well. However, FH is happier than I am with the method of eating is considered polite to chopstick some into your mouth, then audibly slurp the tail ends up from the bowl! You can use your chopsticks to help stuff in the dangling ends, if you want (I watched a tiny, impeccably dressed old lady do just that!) Though diners are given a damp towel at the beginning of the meal to wipe one's hands, no napkin is provided, which was sort of disasterous for me, especially with the slurping. More than once, I thwacked myself in the nose with a flailing slurped noodle
, and had to wipe away the soup droplets with my wrist! My shirt has a date with some Spray'n'Wash. I think I will start carrying a handkerchief. We haven't tried the hotel restaurant yet, but maybe tomorrow. It's a beautifully presented buffet of organic, vegetarian dishes. I'm thrilled, FH is not particularly excited about it, though.

The Japanese are not particularly pleased with Americans, since Sasebo is a fleet town and that means lots of young drunken sailors. (And on another military base in Japan, a US soldier recently confessed to robbing and beating to death a 52-year-old woman, which has understandably led to some strong anti-American sentiment.) However, when I've nodded and smiled and bowed, and tried my few words of Japanese, they could not be nicer to me! Conrad is very polite with everyone, and they warm up to him quickly and he knows more Japanese phrases than I do. Konichi wa is "good day". Ohayo gozaimasu is "good morning". Domo arrigato is "thank you very much" (sometimes they just say "domo"). Sumi masen is "excuse me" and gomenasai is "so sorry" (I use these two a LOT).

I had hoped to quickly learn some Japanese written symbols, but have since discovered that the Japanese use four different forms of writing--on the same sign sometimes! Romanji is the Roman alphabet we use, and is used for English words and some phonetic spelling of Japanese words. Hiragana are symbols used for Japanese words and ONLY for Japanese words...never foreign words or foreign names. There are five vowel symbols that are coupled with each of ten consonant symbols--and five of those consonants can be changed to a new sound by the addition of two little marks that look like quotation marks. Then you have Katakana, which is set up similarly to Hiragana--but the symbols are different, and they are used only for foreign words and names. Then of course, there are the hundreds and hundreds of Japanese Kanji symbols, each for a different word (they come from the Chinese characters). So one sign could have all four sets of characters! I don't think I'll be reading and writing in Japanese anytime soon!

Today, we walked across the Albuquerque Bridge and through Nimitz Park to the base, and explored. It's a very small base, but pleasant. FH got his haircut (it was past time!) and while I waited, I struck up a conversation with a woman who's been here for over a year. Got some good housing and car info from her, but she's wary of the Japanese and has no desire to live among them. Oh well...I do! She said we could get a car pretty cheaply--for about $1500. It does look as if we will have to get a car, as the public transportation leaves something to be desired. The roads are VERY narrow, and the drivers are kind of crazy, but if I get one of the little boxes on wheels everyone seems to drive, and I can remember to stay on the left side of the road, I should be fine. (Ha...aren't you glad you don't have to share a road with me??) The expensive part will be the inspection fees, the Japanese compulsory insurance, and general insurance. One reason cars are so cheap here is that the Japanese rarely drive cars that are more than 6 years old, because the inspections/insurance/repairs become prohibitively expensive. It even costs a good amount to take off the plates and "junk" the car!

We found the small base library, staffed by a super-friendly Japanese woman, and stocked up on reading material (hurray!) I also bought one of those collapsible frames with wheels, so I can shop and then drag my booty home with me. We tested it today, as we loaded it up with new shoes for me, groceries from the commissary, and our library books before heading home--much more stuff than either of us would've wanted to carry. Tomorrow I can use it to wheel our laundry to the base, which is a good thing! Until we have a car, I figure having the rolling cart will keep me from taking a taxi--we need to save our pennies, and I need the excercise. It's weird...everything in the town is priced in yen, of course, but on the base, we can only use US currency. So we'll both have to carry both kinds of money, which is a little frustrating.

Tomorrow, FH finishes his official check-in, and we'll go to the housing folks to start that process. From what we've been told, we can get on the base housing waiting list (which we will do for "just in case") but then we can go to a special room where every day at noon, new rental listings are posted. We choose three or four listings, and make a phone call--and a real estate agent will show up in about fifteen minutes to drive us to the properties and show us around. I can't WAIT to get a place of our own! The neighborhoods are called chos, and each has a leader, kind of like a block captain, to make sure everyone follows the neighborhood rules. Some chos won't allow Americans to rent a place in them, and others are for Americans only. I am hoping to find a cho that is at least part Japanese, and really hoping for at least a little square of dirt so I can plant something. We'll see! Once we get settled, I want to go on several of the tours that the base offers--they sound like fun, and they go all over Japan.

More soon (gotta tell you about bathing here!), but probably not for at least a few days. I've attached a new photo--this one of Sasebo Harbor. Again, not a fantastic photo, but you can see the water and the mountains and a couple of ships.


Anonymous said...

I am movinh to sasebo japan with my husband who is in the navy in may 2007 is there any info you can give me to prepare me for what i am about to live for 3 years my email is i will apreciate any information you can give me

Carolie said...

Anonymous, I have tried to e-mail you twice, but am not sure you are receiving my e-mails. Please feel free to contact me at carolie (at) wordmagix (dot) com.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

My husband is due to report to Sasebo in April 2007. We are having a hard time deciding on base housing or a Cho. Can you offer any advice. We have a 3 yr old little girl and basically want to live where we feel she will be most at ease. We found out that there is a 2 month waiting list for base housing so we may not have a choice. Do you have any pictures of the japanese houses you could send? My email is or

Ashley Rockenhaus

Anonymous said...

I am a sailor stationed in Sasebo. I have been here for two and a half years. This article disturbs me. Somethings you should understand before you start making such blanket comments. There are well over ten thousand US soldiers, sailors, marines,contractors, and airmen stationed in Japan. The isolated event you brought up happened hundreds of miles away from Sasebo, on the other side of the country, about the distance one would travel from Louisiana to California. So yes, much less than the US, one ten thousandth of the personel over here are involved in heinous crimes. Furthermore, approximately forty percent of the sailors stationed in Japan had, and have, no desire to be here, they were simply told to get on a plane and go, with no leave to see their friends and family first. In addition, the average stateside ship is deployed approximately six out of every twelve to eighteen months. In Japan, noting that most of the sailors do not want to be here in the first place, the average ship is deployed over three hundred days a year, over 10 months every 12 months. To sum things up, a crime rate of one ten thousandth for a group of personel forced to come here without seeing their family, that is pretty outstanding!

Carolie said...

SailorSara, thank you for stopping by my blog. I'm glad you visited...and I hope we manage to meet.

I'm sorry you read something condemning into my journal entry, which was just that...a journal entry, made three days after I arrived in Japan, that mentions one far-away crime and Japanese resentment. The whole entry was a positive one, with just one sentence about that crime (which was in newspapers worldwide, so it isn't as if I am telling a secret).

I can't figure out what you mean by a "blanket statement". Are there lots of young, drunk Sailors in town when the ships are in? Yes. There's no questioning that.

You are exactly right, that the one event I brought up happened hundreds of miles away from Sasebo. Except for one of our CFAS security folks stabbing his Japanese girlfriend a couple of months ago, a purse snatching and several DUIs, we haven't had much crime at all here. (I'm not being sarcastic...that's a low crime rate for such a large group!)

My only comment was that the Japanese have some resentment of our presence here, and part of that resentment is because of events that happen hundreds of miles away. Is that fair? NO! But it's the truth, unfortunately, not just a blanket statement. We have periodic protests because of that, and it's a shame.

I completely agree that 99% of the Sailors here in Sasebo are NOT criminals, and it's a shame we are all judged by the actions of a very few.

My comment about the Japanese resenting the American presence was a very small part of my article, and it is also something we are told very specifically about in AOB/ICR class, unfortunately. So I was ready for a lot of resentment in the community, based on what I'd been told by the base command. I was thrilled to find no resentment at all.

I had no idea that 40% of the Sailors are sent here with no leave at all, and no choice in the matter! That's terrible, and cruel!

Please e-mail me at carolie(at)wordmagix(dot)com. I'd love to discuss this further with you. I want my journal to be a positive thing, expressing my enjoyment of my time here in Sasebo, and how much I like the people here, Japanese and American. The last thing I want to do is to be seen to tear down the people I support.

Carolie said...

SailorSara, I have another question...please help me! I know the Essex is out more than any other ship stationed in Sasebo...and according to the Admiral, they were out for less than 200 days last year (although that is NOT as easy as it sounds, as they come in and go out and come in and go out, and that's HARD on the Sailors and on families!) I know they set a record for being out 10 months a couple of years ago, but last year and this year, have they really been out over 300 days? I'm asking because that information would be good to know the next time the Admiral visits, or at the next Town Hall meeting!

Dr. DJ kaRma said...

Most Japanese like the American presence.