Thursday, January 31, 2013

Agena Castle re-do

Over the long MLK weekend, the weather was beautiful but I wasn't feeling good.  So we decided to do a little exploring close to home.  I've seen some construction happening at Agena Central Park and I wanted to see if there's been any improvements since our last visit.

Although Owen is big enough to tackle the stairs mostly on his own, Isaac needed a lot of help.  Definitely glad Chris was able to come with us.

Trail head on the left side of the field

Isaac navigating the stairs

Amazing to think those stones have been there since the 14th century!

Looking over McT from the top of the castle

Field near the top


After the castle ruins we continued our tour around the rest of the park.

Bull ring (see it in action here)
Stairs to the back side of the park

Broken clock, working sundial

Looking back at the castle

The Tengan River
One big change from last time: no more playground.  I wonder if something new will be built in its place.

Cherry blossoms

Statue of Buddha

I hope the construction continues.  This park makes a nice afternoon trip and I'd love to see improvements to make it even better.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How time flies!

Nago, 2013
(Isaac 19 months, Owen almost 3.5 years)

The last time I posed with my guys at a cherry blossom festival, we looked like this:

DC, 2011
(27 weeks with Isaac, Owen 17 months)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Nago cherry blossoms

We went with the MCCS tour to Nago's cherry blossom festival yesterday.  The blossoms were only at 10%, making the trip a little disappointing.  Hopefully in a couple weeks the sakura will be in full bloom and maybe the park won't be so crowded then.

Little differences: Manhole covers

Japan's manhole covers are a special treat.  Instead of being strictly utilitarian, manhole covers in Japan celebrate local color.  The Nago cover below has ocean waves to highlight their fishing port.  And Uruma City is known for bullfighting (which sounds awful at first.  But in Okinawa the bulls just push each other around like sumo wrestlers, no blood or death involved like cockfights or Spanish bullfighting).

Nago manhole

Uruma City's
Although I haven't seen a full color manhole in Okinawa yet,  this article has bright covers from around Japan.

UPDATE:  I've now seen the top manhole cover in different areas around Okinawa, so it must be a generic one that's not specifically for Nago.  But I did come across this one at a park in Okinawa City:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Our tatami room

My favorite room in our house is the tatami room.  Tatami are traditional Japanese mats made out of straw and placed on the floor like carpeting.  Although our tatami are faded and well-worn, the room often smells like sweet and clean like grass.

Looking into the tatami room from the living room
(the genkan is the door on the right)

Our tatami room has a low table with an area below the floor called a horigotatsu (掘り炬燵).  The space underneath the table is a comfortable place for our legs and has a built in heater.  In the winter, a futon blanket can be placed between the top of the table and the frame.  We don't have central heating (or basically any type of insulating on the house) so we have to use individual heaters.  Makes more sense than trying to heat or cool all three floors like our townhouse in Virginia but can also be a pain to turn on space heaters throughout the house.  Although it doesn't get cold enough in Okinawa, in mainland Japan the table and blanket is a cozy gathering place for the family.

Edit:  Here's a great article about using the kotatsu and winter weather by You, Me, and a Tanuki.

Below table heater

Our kotatsu table is removable (the top and frame are stored in the space below, with extra tatami mats to place over the opening in the floor).  Although we haven't had any friends or family come visit yet, switching the tatami room from a formal dining room to a guest room would be very convenient.

Another nice feature of using tatami, the mats are completely removable.  Not too long ago, a potty training toddler had an accident in the tatami room.  Even after thoroughly drying and cleaning the mats, a faint smell lingered.  So I pulled up the mat and put it out in the sun for the afternoon.  No more pee-pee smell.

Back and front of tatami
Speaking of cleaning, tatami do require some special maintenance   First, make sure you frequently check under any objects for mold.  Here is one example of mold growing under a futon mattress.  When we first moved in, I used the tatami room to store all of our boxes and packing paper.  A few months later I had a nasty surprise waiting for me underneath all those boxes - the dreaded kabi (mildew).  I also take the extra mats out of the closet and make sure they're aired out from time to time.

Tatami cleaner
To clean the mats, I first vaccuum making sure to follow the direction of the straw.  Next I break out the Swiffer and put a special cleaning pad on it.  I found ours at Makeman but I'm sure other stores like Aeon have them too.  So far, I've been able to get up every mess the boys have put down with just a little scrubbing and sunlight (but we're careful not to allow red wine or other stain-makers into the room).

The mats are spendy to replace (I think around $150 to $200 per basic mat (our room has 4 regular sized mats and 4 customs mats, so you do the math)), but I try not to freak out too much about the tatami.  Much like carpeting, the mats need to be replaced from time to time. (And so do the shoji screens, another part of our washitsu, which I'll cover in a future post.)

The tatami room is a special treat while living in Japan.  I know not every family is lucky enough to enjoy such a traditional space and love using ours as much as possible.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


We didn't do anything special today for New Years Day (正月 - Shogatsu).  While traditional ways to celebrate are watching the first sunrise, pounding mochi, or visiting a shrine, we just stayed home and rested.

Earlier in December I went to Aeon looking for yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit).  I wanted to have a yuzuyu (a bath with yuzu floating in the water) on the solstice but I didn't find any.  At least I was able to find adorable stickers and tape for nengajo (New Year's postcard) and a few other things.

Otoshidama-bukuro (お年玉袋) - envelopes for giving money to children

Nengajo stickers

Stickers and tape
2013 is the year of the snake according to the Chinese calendar, so I got a little snake figurine:

And of course it wouldn't be New Year's without some champagne.  I found this adorable bottle made by Suntory

So pretty!

Hope 2013 is a good one!