Tuesday, the first Tues of the month, non burnable rubbish day. A stockpile to take down stairs. Since non burnables shifted to 1st & 3rd Tuesdays only, it can be hard to keep track. Curry rice for breakfast & several half written blog entries to either finish or trash.
The weekend just passed was like no other weekend I have had in Japan.
Bryn, a US friend of Lily whom I had met several times previously, the Yamashitas from Niigata, the Fukases from Nagano and Gina and her family from eastern Tokyo, and us to her place for the weekend. She lives on the Yokota airbase, one of about 50 wholly US, military installations in Japan. The issue of US bases in Japan is complex, and although there is vocal opposition to the bases in Okinawa, you don't hear it much in Tokyo. Although the original purpose was to keep Japanese militarism and threats of communism in check, the role of the US has evolved in being a counter balance to the heavily militarised Chinese as well as a presence to deter North Korean aggression.
The base is the main US air base in Asia and is huge. Totally self contained it has its own school, hospital, supermarket, department store, banks, PO, American style restaurants, you name it, it's there. Furthermore, everyone speaks English and I can really understand why some military personnel never go off base.
It was so not Japan! We needed to present out passports and foreign registration and be issued with an on base day pass. The registration office had a long list of foreign nationals who are not permitted on the base. It was no surprise to see Somalia, Afghanistan, &Cuba on the list, but the rationale for excluding nationals of key allies such as Singapore, Taiwan and France puzzled me.
Bryn was a total trooper, despite everyone arriving at different times, and us arriving significantly later than I had calculated (and thoroughly drenched from thunderstorm that didn't appear in the weather forecast), she checked everyone in, ferried people here and there, dealt with bureaucratic dramas about parking, organised for people to be in places where they could be occupied while waiting for us stragglers to arrive and all the while remained totally unflustered and in remarkably good humour. I would have been tearing my hair out.
Hiro and I went straight back to Bryn's place to change into dry clothes before going on an expedition to the all American supermarket.... The supermarket goods are flown in directly to the base from the US, not unlike the Berlin blockade really. The goods are tax exempt and meat and dairy in particular were astonishingly cheap - ricotta was about 1/5 of the price that you can get it in international supermarkets here (it's not stocked in ordinary supermarkets).
Bryn, who epitomises what remains Dad's most vivid memory of being in America - warmth and hospitality- had made extraordinary preparations: a canopy, jumping castle and monster size grill - perfectly suited to the monster size pork ribs! The Japanese men excelled themselves cooking, and with vegies straight from Heather and Ken's vegie patch in Nagano, drinks from the local bottlo, and the superb company, how could have been anything but a good night! Being able to just chill with such good company is a real treat.
Bryn's place is big enough to feed and sleep everyone. No need to watch for the last train, think about two hour time limited restaurants, worry about the weather, deciding on a central meeting point convenient for all, thinking about somewhere that is child friendly, anxiety about disturbing neighbours. Going to the park or a restaurant, isn't the same as being able to have people over.
We went out for brunch on base the next morning. The volume and variety of food was staggering. Roast pork, roast beef, roast turkey, roast duck, anything that usually goes with a roast - potoatoes, gravy, vegies, even rice, salads, antipasto, pasta, fruit, cereals, toast, omelettes, bacon, sausages, ham, eggs, wedges, pancakes, pastries, cakes, icecream and and and and.... I really hope they have a good system for the left overs!
One of the most striking aspects of the base is how incredibly racially mixed it is. It wouldn't matter what race or mix of races you were there, no-one would look twice. As Bryn said, people in the military go all over the world so it's quite natural that spouses come from various places. It's actually not very often I get to meet the husband of friends married to Japanese men. And it was ironic that it was Bryn who was able to bring people together. Something about Japanese culture makes it normal for partners to have his and her friends, much like his and her toothbrushes. Quite different from western countries. It's even rarer for Hiro. Hiro has met Masahiko several times and is always impressed by how sweet and involved he is with the boys, and he made the same remark about Ken. It's quite different from his experience of growing up in Japan, and very good for him to see.
It was a terrific weekend. Thanks so much Bryn & Ethan (and all). Hope to see you all again before long. :)