Friendship Day

Every May, the air station in Iwakuni opens its gates to over 250,000 (!!!) Japanese locals for Friendship Day.  This event is part air show, part cultural experience and definitely something to experience!  We spent the day touring static displays, watching air demonstrations, and of course checking out the F-35.  It was so fun to see how excited people were to eat cheeseburgers, drink bud light, and watch jets fly - proving this novelty is not limited to Americans ;)
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Friendship Day Iwakuni
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VMFA 121 Green Knights F-35
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Sakura Season

105 years ago, Japan gave the United States two cherry blossom trees as a symbol of friendship.  They were planted at the Tidal Basin and began a wonderful tradition between the two countries.  We have been lucky enough to see the cherry blossoms in DC many times, and now to see the original sakura trees begin to blossom in Japan!
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Yamaguchi Flower Land

What better place to spend a gorgeous sunny afternoon (especially after a week straight of rain!) than a park full of flowers?  Yamaguchi Flower Land - you are the Maymont Park of Japan and totally have my heart.  I am already picturing many spring picnics here, especially next year with the baby!
yamaguchi flowerland
yamaguchi flower land
iwakuni flowerland
spring in iwakuni japan
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flowers in iwakuni
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How to buy a car in Iwakuni (and what not to do!)

We bought our first car here in Iwakuni the first week we arrived.  I left the car lot and told Rob "that was the easiest car buying process EVER!"  Unfortunately, I think I jinxed myself because things got comically difficult from that point on.
Buying a car in Iwakuni Japan
There are several ways to buy cars in Japan.  You can buy them new from a car dealer (not very common) or used from lots out in town, from a person who buys cars from auctions all around Japan, or directly from other Americans on base via Facebook pages like Iwakuni Classifieds.  Cars in Japan are commonly much older than we are used to in America...and also much cheaper.  We walked right off base and bought our car from a lot (Kaz) where most of the employees spoke at least some English.  At Kaz, they will start the JCI (required Japanese insurance) fresh when you purchase and it is good for two years.  When you buy through a private sale, you have to be sure to check how much longer is left on the JCI and factor that into the price.

After we had an idea of what type of car we were looking for, we just walked around a few lots until we saw something we liked.  It was very low pressure - the man simply asked if we wanted to keys to look inside and the price was listed right on the windshield.  No sweet talking or making deals.  We decided we liked it and he drew up the papers for us to take to PMO (military police) on base.  We headed to PMO (to confirm that we are allowed to have a vehicle, have our drivers license, etc) and they began the process on the car getting inspected, new JCI, new license places, etc.  This process took about five days.

Once they called and said the car was ready, we were able to go pick it up.  Unfortunately, this is where all of the mistakes started happening for us.  When you pay for the car, you pay American cash.  They called on a Friday afternoon and Rob was at work.  By the time he got home and we walked to bank, they were closed until Monday.  We used the ATM but the daily limit is $600 each.  We figured we would just wait until Saturday morning and get out another $600 each and combined with what we had at home, we would be fine.  Unfortunately, when we walked back to the bank the next morning, our daily limit was not reset at midnight and instead is just a 24 hour period.  We called the bank and unfortunately, there was nothing they could do.

LESSON #1: Get out the money ASAP when you find the car you are going to buy

We ended up piecing together the money and headed to Kaz to get the car.  We paid, were given the title, registration, and JCI and off we went in our new car.  Super simple!  When we got to the base, we had to get a temporary pass until PMO opened again on Monday.  Unfortunately, when we tried to do this, they told us we needed our secondary insurance on top of the JCI to get on base.  We planned to get it that morning but both locations are closed on Saturdays and Sundays.  Because this is required on base, they would not let us bring the car on base.  Not only that, but they wouldn't let us leave it in the parking lot and told us we had to "find somewhere out in town legal to park it".  (We had just arrived to Japan a few days prior!)  I had to run back to Kaz and beg them to let me leave the car until Monday when I could get the secondary insurance.  I will always be grateful to their kindness in my moment of panic that day!

LESSON #2:  Get the secondary insurance ASAP after you go to PMO the first time!  Who cares if it expires a few days earlier.

On Monday morning, Rob went to work and I walked to the insurance place to get the secondary insurance and finally pick up our car.  Naively, I was so excited to finally get the car and end this crazy process.  When I got there, they asked if my husband was there or if I had a power of attorney and I said no and they kindly told me that without him or a POA, I cannot do anything - even get the insurance in my name.  (Japanese customer service is SO NICE, it's hard to even get frustrated!) Of course I rang Rob's phone a billion times but when he is at work, he usually does not have access to his phone.  Fail!

LESSON #3:  Get a Power of Attorney ASAP when you arrive on base!

Most of these issues were things that we could have prevented if we weren't jet-lagged/thinking clearly/weren't preoccupied with a million other things.  But at the end of the day, we are the proud owners of Fanta, a sweet orange Cube and all is well.  Now if I can just stay on the left side of the road ;)

First week living in Iwakuni

We survived our first week living in Iwakuni, Japan!  It was a jam packed week but I am all about getting stuff done to feel settled ASAP and I think we made pretty good progress!
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Like any good Iwakuni residents, our first adventure was to the Kintai bridge and Iwakuni castle.  These are landmarks in Iwakuni and total necessities!  Jet lag had us up early the first few morning here so our friends were nice enough to take us out to explore.  I cannot wait to go back when the cherry blossoms bloom in a few weeks.  We also adventured to a McDonald's out in town and tried the infamous Shaka Shaka chicken (worth it!)
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On Monday, we attended the mandatory Welcome Aboard brief.  This was mostly helpful but also VERY long (7:30am - 4pm)!  After the welcome aboard brief, we headed downstairs for the SOFA drivers class and test to get our drivers licenses in Japan.  I was SO NERVOUS for this!  Anyone who has driven with me knows I am not a very good driver in America...let alone trying to drive on the left side of the road with all of the signs in Japanese!  Luckily, after a two hour class, we took the test (they made Rob and I have different forms of the test!) and we both passed!  Woo!
SOFA Driving Test in Iwakuni Japan
With drivers licenses in hand, we headed out the next day and bought our first car here in Japan!  Proud owners of a bright orange Cube we named Fanta! haha  Everyone here buys old, cheap cars and there are used car lots everywhere.  It was literally the easiest car buying process ever - the only hard part was waiting 3-5 days for the inspection and paperwork to be finished. UPDATE: more on this here!  Not quite as easy as I originally thought ;)
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driving in iwakuni japan
Our express shipment was delivered and it was great to see the first half of our stuff.  Now just patiently waiting another few weeks for the rest of our stuff!  We also took the bus tour on Wednesday which took us around base and off base to downtown Iwakuni.  They showed us some favorite local spots and gave us lessons on how to use the bus and train systems here.  It was super helpful!
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I have been feeling more confident with my shopping off base!  I have gone with friends to Fresta (a grocery store), Uniqlo (a clothing store), a local coffee shop/bookstore, and Daiso (100 yen store, like a dollar store).  I also got lunch with my friend Margaret and her kids at Rai Rai Tei Ramen out in town.  We finished off the week with our first mongolian night and our first Friday (St. Patricks Day!) at the officers club on base.
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It took almost the whole week but the jetlag subsided and we are sleeping through the night like normal people.  I guess that means this is officially our home now!

Patriot Express Flight + Layover in Seattle

We made it! We are officially in Iwakuni, Japan!

We left South Carolina on Monday and spent 2-3ish nights in Seattle.  We chose to break up the long flights and explore Seattle a bit which was awesome.  Especially since we had a chaotic, extra long flight to Seattle (rerouted then ran out of gas; had to divert and land in Salt Lake City before finally making it to Seattle past midnight).  We did a food tour of Pike Place Market with Savor Seattle, explored downtown, and finished some last minute shopping to use up any giftcards.  The weather was much colder (and wetter!) than we were used to but it was still fun.

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On Wednesday night/Thursday morning, we had to be at the airport by 1:50am.  We arrived at 1:15am and there were already 200 people in line in front of us!  It was insane!  After a minor incident of passing out in the airport line (eek! preggo problems!), we made it through and were able to hide out in the Centurion lounge until our flight took off at 7:50am.
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I'm not sure if it was because our flight to Seattle was so rough or if I had just overhyped it in my head, but the flight from Seattle to Japan was not too bad at all!  We settled in, ate breakfast on the plane, and then went to sleep.  Noise canceling headphones, a good neck pillow, and an eye mask work wonders!  We woke up in time to eat dinner and only had about two hours left before we landed in Yokota AFB (Tokyo).  When we got to Yokota, the entire plane had to deboard and we had roughly a two hour layover.  Unfortunately, there is no wifi in the "terminal" so calling/texting home was not an option!  I used this time to brush my teeth and hair, wash my face, and put a little makeup on.  After the layover, everyone heading to Iwakuni or Okinawa got back on the plane in their original seats and we were off again.  The quick final flight to Iwakuni was a little over an hour.
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After 25+ hours of travel, we finally landed at the airport right on base in Iwakuni.  Home sweet home!  There were over 25+ people from Rob's squadron, wives, and kids (most of whom we have never met!) at the airport to welcome us to Iwakuni, which was SO nice!
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We were given the keys to our new home right at the airport and moved straight in. Usually people go to temporary lodging (hotel) but because our house was ready, we were able to go straight in. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to have a sweet sponsor who stocked our house with food, toilet paper, sheets, towels, etc.  Unfortunately, this meant no wifi or cell service until we set all that up the next morning. As jetlag would have it, we walked to the food court to grab dinner and crashed pretty quickly after we got home.

The next morning, our friends took us to get cell phones and our internet service set up.  We were also able to go to the commissary and do a big grocery run.  That night, we had dinner at their house with a few other couples and their kids.  Everyone here has been SO kind and helpful which has made this transition so much easier!

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