It was an AWESOME trip. My cousin and his cute family have lived in Iwakuni for the past three years, and I had been promising to visit ever since. As a "Done with Chemo Celebration!" I decided I just had to get over there before Simon moved back to the States. I made it with only four days to spare.
Between the craziness of Simon and Daisy packing up, checking out, and trying to tie up loose ends, we were able to do and see and eat so many amazing things!
We spent the time visiting some of their favorite places. Our first stop was the Kintai Castle in Iwakuni. Inside there was a little museum filled with samurai swords, and the lookout at the top of the castle overlooked Iwakuni. My favorite part was that we were free to open the windows as we pleased. I couldn't help but think there was no way a museum in the US would offer such freedom.
We went and had ramen, and I have to say, it's better than any of the sodium-packed meals we have over here! So delightful. And then I toured the base, and Simon showed me that he basically doesn't work as he sits in the flight tower all day. We went to the radar room, where it was dark, and looked like radar screens that you see in the movies, and that was pretty neat.
The next day, we did a little bit of trespassing when they had "closed" signs posted. Into a small grove of bamboo they had gated off, and then again at the Three Falls hike. Three Falls was gorgeous!
Another favorite restaurant was the Chicken Shack. It was just what we're taught as little kids equates to Japanese dining. There were small pads on the floor, and we had to take our shoes off. We ate skewered chickens that were roasted to perfection and rice. And it was seriously delicious. The atmosphere was really fun too, with the fish kites and decorations. We had ice cream for dessert, provided by one of the many, amazing vending machines that can be found all over.
First, I have to give credit to Simon, who navigated all over the place without the use of a working phone (and GPS). Japan charges to use the highway, so in order to avoid the tolls, we took a lot of back roads through the mountains. I don't have to tell you that if it were me, I would have been utterly lost. And probably have ended up in Okinawa without even trying. Even when he thought for a second that we were lost, we actually weren't. And he got us to exactly where we needed to be.
Which was, the first of the onsens. At a resort in the mountains. Everyone, if I haven't told you yet, I will tell you now: I have found my ultimate happy place.
We spent the a lot of time in the area that reminded me of a hotel pool, but was tiled and divided into different sections which provided different types of jets. There was the private bath area, the ones that targeted your back, helped tone, the too narrow areas that hit your legs. There was a steaming hot pool and a more tepid one. There was a kid area. And then outside, there were two giant--GIANT--tree trunks, hollowed out and turned into little hot tubs. (Consequently, where Charley jumped onto Parker and tried to drown him a few times.)
But none of that was my favorite part.
My favorite part was when I walked into the other area of the bathhouse and sat outside all by my lonesome in a pool of hot water, surrounded by rocks and trees and the open sky. And oh, right, naked. We went at the perfect time, as the resort wasn't very busy and by the time Daisy had gone in and out and I went in, I was all by myself. I could have stayed there forever.
I was nervous, of course, and a little self-conscious. But it didn't take me long to shed my pious American modesty and enjoy a little freedom! Really, it was the most peaceful, content, luxurious, and pleasurable experience. After soaking for as long as I thought Simon and Daisy would want to wait for me, I got out and there were showers outside. How do you make one thing a million times better? Add a shower outside.
On the way back, we stopped and ate at a Japanese truck stop. Which was pretty neat. You ordered and paid for your food at a machine, not unlike a lottery ticket machine, and then the order comes up and the poor employees have to try and catch your attention because you have no idea what you've ordered or what they are shouting from the counter.
We spent the next day at a touristy island called Miyajima. We arrived by ferry. Known for its pesky deer, and the cool overlook that takes two verticle rides up in a gondola, it was really pretty. We found some souvenirs and enjoyed some steamed buns.
We spent the next two days shopping at thrift stores around the area, packing and cleaning the apartment for a move into temporary housing, and seeing what there was to see in town. The most hilarious thing was the types of clothing sold to Japanese children with English words printed on them, that make absolutely no sense.
Simon certainly has the infamous Hatton blood running through his veins. He is a wheeler and dealer just like the lot of them and would absolutely make my grandmother proud. We went into one thrift store that was packed full like a hoarder's storage unit, and somehow walked out with a carload of treasures for just a couple hundred bucks. We walked in and spent a couple of hours just putting things we wanted into a pile (yes, I participated!) and then at the end, Simon made an offer for the lot of it. It was fun to watch Simon as he tried to talk the guy down in price and was pretty successful.
My mom will be ashamed, but I couldn't pass these babies up as souvenirs for the FTC!
Good eye?! I sure think so.
We had Japanese Indian food at Ganesh. And let me tell you, I have never had better or more interesting naan. So creamy and smooth, and topped with some sort of sauce the likes of which I have never tasted. I don't know how I'm going to satisfy my craving for it now that I'm back in the States. The samosas were different and the curry slightly different too. And the way they served things. I thought it was so interesting how two different cultures can influence another one and what they offer at their restaurant. It also makes me realize that the only way I'm going to have authentic Indian food is to actually go to India.
But we really haven't even gotten to the best part of the culinary adventures. One night we went to Janjaka, a Korean barbeque, that was to die for good.
Seriously. I've got to figure out a way to get this here. There's a Korean BBQ in Salt Lake City that just does not measure up. And the waitress came and cooked everything for us in a very awkward way. In Japan, they let you take care of it all yourself.
I went bowling with Charley. She nearly beat me. And kept getting bored in the middle of the game. But then I'd make her finish, and she would want to start another one. Silly, girl.
We did a trip to a sushi restaurant, where all the plates were something akin to $1 a plate, and they came to us on conveyor belts. We went to another restaurant called Shabu Shabu, and it was similar to the barbeque, and just as delicious. But one of the weird delights (except to Daisy) was discovering that there is a Japanese curry that is spicy and cheesy and wonderful. It comes out looking a little like baby poop, but holy goodness, it's fantastic.
The dollar store in Japan was pretty amazing. And there are some really cool Japanese candies, that I can totally get on board with. Namely the chocolate filled marshmallows.
Simon and I went to another onsen the night before I left. We got little 30-min massages which was just the thing before a long flight home. It was busier, and I found that I did not care at all. But I did spend most my time outside, in a pool alone. I was surprised how little the Japanese women cared about me. They didn't look my way at all. Simon made some friends, which was funny, and I walked out with him surrounded by a bunch of college-aged kids that eagerly waited to hear me respond to Simon's, "How was it?"
On my final day, Simon and I went to Hiroshima and went through the museum and walked around the Peace Park. It was blustery and cold, which matched the somber mood. There were a lot of things that I didn't know about the bomb being dropped in Hiroshima. Like the fact that we had POWs here, or that the city center was filled with young, middle school-aged children who were doing building demo labor and things.
I'm a million times indebted to Simon and Daisy for opening their home, especially during such a hectic time, and really making sure I had such a cool experience. I hadn't had an opportunity to spend much time with him since moving to Utah, and seeing the type of husband and father he is, was really cool. He and Daisy have two really cool kids, and it was fun to spend time with all of them. It was definitely a great way to celebrate the end of chemo, the beginning of my 30th year!
I never thought I wanted to go to Japan, but I'm so glad I did. Everything feels so clean (seriously, you should have seen the public bathrooms--though, I did avoid any type of squatting ones) and safe. Everyone was super happy to help and try and understand and overall, it could not have been a better trip!