Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Branden's celebration dinner...

Preparing for Branden's high school entrance exam. That already happened and he got in, but I think for those of you with younger kiddos than Branden, this information could be useful. In Japan kids are only guaranteed an education until the end of middle school. High school is much like university or college in the US, in the fact you must apply and the schools decides if they want to accept you or not. This is an *extremely* stressful time for JHS kids in Japan. I once read one time... on a blog by a foreign mom that she thought Japanese JHS was "soul sucking" You know meaning...sucks the life right out of you. And I would have to say, I agree with that statement 100%. Also know there are private high schools and public high schools. Also in Japan high schools are ranked. There are actual websites for Chiba prefecture at least... that show, this school is the #1 ranked best high school with the smartest kids and test scores. All the way down to the worst high school with the worst test scores in all of Chiba prefecture. I am sure other prefectures have such an online list too. So public school or private school really depends on...is it a good school? Are there goods kids going there or bad kids? Horrible test scores? Best test scores? There are also high schools that steer your kid a certain way. Meaning there is a baking high school in Chiba because my friends daughter went there. The "Professor" for example is going to a science type of high school that will be focusing on science and that is because he wants to be a doctor and most super smart kids... hoping to be doctors in the future who live in Chiba will want or aim for that school. It really just depends on your kid. Your kids test scores. We're lucky in the fact that we live bordering Chiba and Ibaraki. And because Bran has a...what in Japan considers a "special skill" meaning his English is good enough to be in the English program. So he can go to a school....even out of his prefecture. So his choices were between 2 prefectures. And from there... we just researched which high school focusing on English was the best. Nicest teachers. Seems fun. High test scores. Meaning good kids. We don't want Bran in a school of thugs, iykwim. So we found a very nice ranked school. And it met all our requirements. Also another factor is cost. Public high schools are free for the most part and private school costs. And it can be a bargain cheaper private school... all the way to a fancy private school. So cost is also a factor too. And like I said... there are study books for each school. We bought ours.. for the school Bran was aiming for... from Amazon.jp. But they're also at local bookstores too. For example...if your kid is hoping to get into John F Kennedy high school...just for example. There will be an actual JFK high school book with all the entrance exam test questions for the last 5-6 years. That is SUPER helpful because it helped Branden know...and us know...the school seems to always ask math questions like THIS. Or this school seems to always ask English questions like THAT. This helps you prepare! You could see some sort of pattern after a while. And Branden would go through that booklet and test himself and Noboru would mix up year 26 and 27 (Japanese years) and Branden would answer them. And if Branden got 1 wrong Noboru would go through it with Branden. So while I am not an advice giver usually. I would say...buy the study book for whatever school your kid hopes to get into. Also interview...everyone gets an interview. Even with a principal recommendation they still had an interview. The positive is...there are also interview books to buy specially for JHS kids about to take their entrance into high school. This was so helpful. Noboru told Branden...those poor interviewers are probably so sick of the same...robotic answers! Word for word... from these interview books. So he said...study the books be prepared for the question yes *but*...give an original answer! Be an original. Give an answer they haven't heard for that day 9 thousand times already! And I agreed. So Branden went and knew every question...possible question and he knew his own original answer... for every question. Also last year 1 girl from our JHS took the test for Bran's high school and she got in, she will be an 11th grader when Bran starts. Our JHS had her write down all the questions she got during her interview. And they also photo copied her test questions from last year (they did block out her name for her privacy). Our JHS gave a photo copy to Branden since he was trying for the same school except 1 year after. And they did the same for Bran too. They had Bran bring his year 2017 test questions in for the entrance exam, which they photo copied and they had Branden write down his 3 questions that this specific high school asked of him. And then whoever...in the future tries for this high school they will be getting Branden's photo copy of test questions. And interview questions. It's just our JHS tries to help this way, which is so nice. The high school before the entrance exam day...sent us and everyone a letter... it said what to bring. It said...bring a few HB pencils. Same for us in America they won't let us take exams without a #2 pencil because the machines won't read them otherwise. And the note said to bring an eraser and pencil sharpener and a watch. The note also said to bring your own obento/lunch. There would be none offered and the drink machines would be turned off... so to bring your own drink too. I bought the HB pencils from Yacs drugstore. And the rest of the things came form the Daiso. Because Branden uses mechanical pencils... for regular school life. We also dry cleaned his JHS uniform during winter break. And I also bought a lint brush for 100 yen from the Daiso. So he could de-lint the morning of test day.  


He has his regular Mono eraser, this brand is so popular for kids in Japan. But, I also bought some mini Mono erasers too before his big test. I guess I kept thinking, what if he lost one on test day? Also, our JHS said to not have name stickers on anything during the entrance exam because they (the test guards/officials) could wonder what the sticker says and even if they went to look and it's nothing it could look bad. So our particular JHS urged no name stickers on entrance exam test day. So, I made sure to send Bran with these 3 pencils, I also threw in an extra of Noah's pencils (a Qoo one)...so Bran took 4 HB pencils. 3 Mono erasers. I put pencil caps on the pencils and the pencils were sharpened by our big sharpener at home. But he did take the mini one in case the lead broke. Branden has a GAP watch. Noah has a cool orange watch. And I would have been happy to lend him my Rolex. He's mine son so of course I would lend it to him. But...I figured for the test...it's best to send him with a plain black Daiso cheapie. Therefore nobody has to wonder...if the GAP logo is some sort of hidden math formula or anything... plus it had a beetle design and it could make someone come and look and I didn't want that, so plain was best. Yes he'll probably never use the plain black test watch again... but it suited the day of the test and that's all what matters. 

JHS belts are best to buy at Pasceos. They are usually 980 yen. I bought Branden a new belt from there... every April, start of the new school year. However...his belt looked like it could use a replacing...and given the entrance exam was such a huge day. I went back to Pasceos right after New year's and was shocked to see it... THIS cheap. 980 yen. Yep, a fair cheap price for a school belt. But 499 yen? Holy smokes what a great deal. The belts and the whole store was on a huge New year's sale. And I was happy to score such a fantastic bargain. 

I nice new black belt. And he was ready. 

The day before Bran's exam his teacher gave the kids testing first.... some "good luck on your entrance exams" Kit Kats. I an quite fond of Branden's JHS teacher. I think she is amazing! Best teacher ever ever ever!!! But this...just made Branden so happy and me too. I thought...what a kind gesture. And she did that.. too for the larger group testing later in the week too. She is very thoughtful. Anyways....being American and having only ever gone to school in America, my experiences are American experiences. However having 2 kids in Japan. I can say...I find Japanese yochien very fun for kids and for me too. I enjoyed meeting "mom friends" and I have them as friends even to this day. Best nicest ladies ever. I find Japanese elementary school really nice too. My kids loved Japanese elementary school. Our elementary school in particular is so fun. They cook. They sew. They go on many field trips. They go hunting crawdads/crayfish. They collect pine cones in winter and make Christmas trees out of them and paint and decorate them. They decorate Christmas cake. And do all sorts of fun stuff. In fact Noah is on a class field trip right now as I type this. I found Japanese JHS on the other hand...*extremely* stressful for my son. He studied every second of his life while being in JHS. And that final 9th grade year. He studied more his 9th grade year... then he studied in the 7th and 8th grade combined. And that says a lot... because he studied tons in 7th and 8th grade too. And I hear this high school we picked is FUN. The 12th graders right now...50% of the current 12th graders are...either hafu, total foreigners, returnees (Japanese who lived in an English speaking country longer than 3 years)...Branden is going to enjoy going to this high school because he will be going to a good school with such an open minded diverse bunch of kids. So Branden's high school years are going to be fun. He's so lucky. 

How do you know if you made it? It seems the norm for all the different high schools Bran's classmates applied for...you will find out in 2 days. And how you will know... depends on the school. The "Professor's" school he applied for..he could find out via online. And our school. Bran applied for, they would mail the acceptance letter to our house and they would also mail something to the Junior high school too. However, Branden knew before I did. The high school Bran will be going to...called Bran's JHS and told them...he got in... when Bran was in 2nd period. They called Bran out of class and told him. But they said not to tell anyone. But he was beaming all day. I didn't know until the letter reached my house. And I did make this sign. Yes...meaning... yes you got in! I had it in my car. I was so excited. 

I was trying to read a magazine but I was too excited...so I kept reading the same crazy sentence again and again. Until I just put my magazine away. 

If other kids would have been walking, I would have kept the sign on the seat as to keep it on the down low...and not show other folks. But as luck would have it...Branden came out about 10 minutes earlier than the rest...he and the professor but the professor goes another route and wasn't near where I was parked and...nobody else was walking at all. So, I placed it in my front window. And he already knew but he smiled. And he said..."I knew since this morning." He also said..."thanks for the sign." : ) Awww. Love you kid! To the moon and back! : ) So proud of you! Phew...now Branden honestly doesn't have anything to do from now until graduation the first week of March. And as soon as he graduates first week of March... he won't have a thing to do again until high school starts in April. So from now...until graduation he is basically free. He has no homework or anything to do. He's just going to school and having fun now. He's free. : ) 

We took Branden out to dinner to celebrate of course! Getting into high school in Japan is such a major big deal! It's huge! So going out to dinner was totally in order! : ) We took Branden out to Caprcciosa for his celebration dinner in Narita City. Great big rice croquette with cheese inside. 

Their pizza is spectacular! Especially drizzled with that amazing chili oil. 

Bran eating some rice croquette. When you find out your child just got into high school in Japan! Needless to say...we had the happiest dinner of our lives! Hahaha. : ) Like all the stress completely gone! All the worry disappeared! Studying your brains out... totally done and over with! Like this huge weight just lifted. 

Spicy garlic tomato pasta. We ordered 2 large sizes of the pasta and we ordered 2 pizzas. We live a happy and good life around here. We enjoy going to restaurants twice a month or on birthdays or on celebration days like...your kid just got accepted to high school. You know...events like that. You know...like most normal people do! : ) A definite reason to celebrate. : ) 

The 2nd pizza they brought out. This one was beautiful and had basil nicely all around this one. Very pretty. 

So how are things right now? The school year for us in Japan is starting to wind down. It ends in March. Umm. Bran is just enjoying some down time..first time in 3 long years. So, I think he's earned it. : ) I think he said that he will start hitting the books in March to prepare for high school though. : )  We will be buying and ordering his high school uniform soon. As for Noah, he has another what...month and a half of being a 5th grader. He's doing so well in school. He plays with friends on his free time or over the weekend. : ) The weather here has been windy and bitterly cold. We did get snow the other day, but it only snowed for about 30 minutes before turning into the coldest chunky rain...followed by just regular rain after that. So we've just been staying home all nice and warm and toasty in the house. Today, Noah is on a class field trip. The bus will drop the kids who live in our housing community off first....and then make 2 extra pit stops along the way, until reaching the school. So if you live at one those places/drop off main spots....then you will be getting dropped off there, otherwise you can just get dropped off at school. Noah will arrive at our housing community at 5pm. And Bran meanwhile gets home at 4pm today and I will swing around and pick him up. I have a delicious hearty pork curry bubbling away on the stove as I type. I am making curry rice and also will make a side of pasta. The kids aren't too crazy about curry rice. But *love* curry spaghetti. Noboru loves curry rice. And so....I just make a huge pot of curry and rice and pasta on the side so whoever wants what...can have either way. Alright so....my treadmill is calling me, so I better end this post here. : ) 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The rest of our Hakone trip. Black eggs and egg custard ice cream and a visit to the museum in Owakudani. A drive near Mt. Fuji to see the Lava and Ice Cave! And a walk through Suicide Forest in Aokigahara...

Okay, so where was I? Regarding our Hakone trip. It was still winter break. And we had just finished our breakfast at the hotel and checked out. And we went up the mountain and went to the "Famous Black Egg Place." We have not been there in....1 year? Two years at the most. However when we went there, it had changed a lot! Totally tons of new changes. All positive and all very nice. There are 2 black egg statues that many folks were standing near and taking pictures with. We did the same. Here's this view with the mountains behind the kids. I like this view a lot. 

Same statue exactly... it is just of the other side of the statue... but says the same exact thing but...it's just a different background view. And there was another black egg statue on the other side of the building too... but folks were standing in line for about 5 minutes to take a pic with that statue. When this statue was the exact same. : )

There is a really nice museum here now. We visited the museum. And it was free for kids this day and like 100 yen for us adults on the day we went... so it was super cheap and all the museum things to look at...where in both Japanese and in English. So super nice! : )

Cool hair boys! And nice steamy hot mountain for sure. 

So cool to see this!



Black egg seats! These are new too! And super cute! :) The remodeling and updates of this place are so nice. 

People used to walk all the way up high and buy the famous black eggs that were cooked in the earth and hot spring water. However because of the fear a few years back... if the volcano would erupt or not. You can no longer walk up to the top of the mountain where people used to go and buy the eggs. They now have a place to buy the eggs in this area. And that's actually pretty nice. I actually like the ease of buying our eggs here, versus hiking up the mountain like before. : )

This is the best soft serve ice cream!!! Tastes like an egg custard. If you have ever eaten a taiyaki (fishy shaped custard) it tastes *exactly* like that rich heavenly custard.

Branden and Noah and why helloooo there Mt Fuji!!!
Hello Kitty in a black egg outfit! LOL! Behind Hello Kitty is the place to buy the eggs. Very convenient.

We bought a pack. The pack has 5 eggs, we gave 2 to Bran. And it comes with 1 pack of salt. So conserve that salt or bring your own. : ) It's like one small pack of McD's salt or Wendy's salt. Just 1 for the 5 eggs. So just a helpful FYI. : )

Yumm! And what do they taste like? Honestly... they taste just like... regular hard boiled eggs. They have zero weird or unusual flavor. 

Noah sitting on a black egg seat! Hahaha. : )

The famous black egg place is called Owakudani. And again...the name of this egg ice-cream could put off tourists. But it does not taste like eggs or like scrambled eggs or egg yolk. It taste like a rich decadent egg custard but in ice cream form. You will not be disappointed if you try this. We love it! : )

We 4 all enjoyed a rich decadent egg custard flavored ice cream. And we people watched and talked while eating our ice cream.

I snapped this pic while inside the museum. This photo says 1962! Seeing the tour buses and folks sight seeing from way back then. It has changed quite a bit since back then. 

We left the black egg place. And we usually head home! However...back in the end of December Noboru suggested and mentioned...he would really like to go and visit a place that he called the "ice cave." He said...I hope we can take the next day and go and drive up to the ice caves and he said he has always wanted to go and see one of them. There are a couple there. And I said...okay! Because you know...I'm agreeable like that! : ) So that's what we did. Heading directly toward Mt Fuji. Mt. Fuji you are gorgeous!

When we finally got to the city at the base of Mt. Fuji. Considering an hour had elapsed since we left the black egg place and about 3 hours since breakfast... we smartly decided to have lunch. I didn't feel like a burger or a sandwich and I can't eat a large fry. So, I picked an apple pie and a medium fry. I had no drink. I had brought my jasmine tea from the car inside McD's for me. : ) Everyone else got a combo with soda. 

Branden had a Big Mac combo and so did Noboru. As you can tell by this Mario happy meal....Noah had a chicken nuggets happy meal. Everyone was full. It was around noon. And perfect time for lunch. We left MickeyD's around 12;30pm.

Definitely in the city nearest Mt. Fuji. This is right at the base. This city. Where we had lunch.

This bus reads...."Preserve the Nature of Mt. Fuji." I agree, we should! : )

We had arrived at the Fugaku Lava Cave. The caves are all bumpy and textured because of the lava indeed. But Noboru is right calling them...ice caves. Because... there is ice in them. So they say lava cave. Noboru says ice cave. Ehhh....either way is right. : ) There were 2 ice/lava caves. But we went to this one.
Everyone must wear a safety helmet. Yes, Noboru and I did too. : ) 



Going down and it's super cold down there. 

Yes, they're not kidding....please watch your head!

Everything ice! Ahhh how gorgeous! And yes...now you can understand why Noboru in December kept saying..."let's visit the ice caves" : )  He definitely wasn't wrong! : )

Natural Refrigerator. No kidding! Bring a coat and some gloves. : ) What was stored down here? Silk worm eggs and tree seeds.





Hi BrannyMcB! and hi Noah! What a fun, 24 hours it has been! Long scenic drive. Hotel. Onsen soaking. A fabulous dinner and breakfast. Black eggs. A delicious egg-custard ice-cream. And now an ice cave! 

You can see the walls and ceiling created from the lava and all the ice. I'm glad Noboru suggested us visiting there... because it was educational. It was fun and interesting.
Coincidentally. Noboru's "ice cave" that he wanted us to visit. Just happened to be located in Aokigahara also known as the "Suicide Forest" @_@  See this super "mini" white van? Well you could tell that it has been parked here for a long while. And after we got back to our town...Noboru checked online and according to online this van has been left here and has been sitting here... for at LEAST the past year. @_@ And so it's obvious whoever left the car here... went into suicide forest to commit suicide. Super sad. : (  Also the license plate says...OSAKA. : (  Very sad. Truly.


Poor van that will most likely sit here for eternity now. : ( And poor person who owned this van.  Noboru asked me...if we'd like to walk through Suicide Forest. Why? Because well it's pretty well known. In America there was even a movie about this Suicide Forest last year. So a lot of westerners worldwide and Japanese do come to the suicide forest to be "looky lous"...to be nosy and look around. And yes...on the day we went.... there were quite a bunch of folks walking down the trails of the Suicide Forest. I was hesitant because of the kids. But the kids...being boys were eager to have a look. And Noboru was too. So, I said...okay we can go and have a look. But let's stay together and stay on the trail. 

This is such a sad sign! It says. And remember I am not a professional translator but it says basically this. "Your life is given from your parents. Think about your parents, siblings and children. Consult someone/talk with someone. Don't think about this by yourself." This is basically here for the people about to commit suicide. : ( Truly heartbreaking.


We found these pills on the ground of suicide forest and Noboru using his cell... prescription checked/med checked what these were... and turns out... these particular pills are given to people with psychological problems. @_@ Again wow very sad...to see these pills here. 
Walking with the fam-bam. 

You can see other folks in here. This was a man, wife and 2 kids in front of us and the dad had a conbini bag of drinks for his family to drink while they took an exciting walk. We could hear that family in front of us. They were asking the kids..."do you see anything" The kids were excited and saying ..."not yet" ...Granted I don't think they truly *wanted* to see something gruesome... just a fun day for that family. And honestly most normal folks who were obviously... not suicidal like that family and our family...were just having a walk around. And there were other folks in here too. 3 uni aged nerdy guys. One older lady and her husband and she had a cat on a leash and the cat was laying over her shoulders...again I am kidding you not. There were a whole bunch of nosy folks. Just looking around sight seeing. I think it's the same as in America when youth go to the cemetery at night...for the excitement and thrill. But again hoping not to run into any ghosts. Does that make sense? Also...side note. Folks say in here...your cell will not work and your compass won't work in here. I'm here to tell you... that's complete crap! And completely not true. Our cell phones worked just fine in here. And Noboru even checked after wards online...that a man who goes here all the time said... as long as you hold your compass above your waist it will 100% work. So...yes those things will work. 

See the lava trail. You do have to watch where you walk. Definitely watch your step. You can easily trip since it is not even ground. 

Yes there were bunches of people. And it was a Saturday. Less scary on a weekend, which was nice. 

Snake shaped tree roots.
Noboru found a spade.

And a cooking pot. Off the trail. 

He pointed at the pot with his foot. I was like...ahhhh don't touch anything...it could have some bad mojo on it or something! Hahaha. But seriously...better to be safe than sorry. : )
It is extremely dense. But honestly I saw the family in front of us go off trail for about 10 minutes and they came back to the trail just fine. And Noboru and the kids went off trail about 500 feet away and they came back just fine too. I'm a chicken and I stayed on the trail the entire time. : )

There are many caves. Many cracks and crevices for people to go and die in. If they wanted to. But please don't! 

I really debated sharing this particular picture with you. And there is one below that I am sharing too. That again...I wondered...should I share it with you guys or not. I have decided to share it. And please do me a favor. Look at the picture...enjoy the picture... but please don't steal my picture. Because it's mine. And it's my story to share. Not anyone else's. The entire time we were in Suicide Forest. We didn't feel anything weird. Not anything scary. We didn't feel anything heavy or evil or anything. We were just a happy family there... spending a nosy hour there. And then back in the car. When I got home and checked thoroughly of all the pics the next day. I honestly swear to G*d...you guys I was shocked... by how many spirits or beings....orbs.. were captured in my pictures and photographs in Suicide Forest. See here. That brilliant blue on the left of Noah. It looks like a little bright glowing blue Tinkerbell orb. At the time I snapped this picture there was nothing we could see with our naked eyes. But on about 15 of my photos. And I snapped about 120 at Suicide Forest but about 15 of those had these brilliant glowing bright blue...beings...spirits...Tinkerbell flying things. And they were actually caught zipping around my family... in particular they were flying around my kids. Granted our family is very happy...we talk and laugh a lot. We were probably the chattiest family in the entire place. I think these spirits were definitely attracted to us...our family. This pic of Noah you see here. I took consecutive shots of Noah here and I think I snapped about 6 shots of him and I can see this brilliant glowing blue fairy (they have wings or something) glowing orbs zipping around Noah. On the left of him..on the right of him. One even got very close to Noah's face...trying to check Noah out...this orb... granted we could not see it when we were there... it was only noticeable after we got home and I checked the pictures. And I have another set of pics that another brilliant glowing blue orb or spirit was bouncing around Branden and Noah. So yes these glowing bright brilliant blue orbs were seen zipping around my kids and our family.  Was it...1 spirit in particular that attached to us that hour we were there? Or were there a few different ones attracted to our family? I am not sure. I have no answers. But...I did blow this picture up on my computer. And Noboru has looked at it. And Noboru says...whatever it is...is NOT evil. He said...it looked nice. And he did say flat out..."that's a spirit alright." A bright blue orb caught zipping around our family. This picture is actually amazing and so clear. 

See here it was zipping around still. The next shot is of it zipping near the top of Noah's head. 

The man off the trail with his bag of drinks for his family.

Bran going a little off trail looking inside a cave. Burning lava created all these caves. Same for the ice lava cave we went into earlier.

Curious Bran!

Noboru just getting back from his exploring! My 3 guys were having a blast in here. Me...I kept saying..."please be careful" and "don't get lost." : )




Curious kids!

Noboru checking his cell phone reception and compass/GPS on his phone. He said...whoever said we don't get reception in here is full of crap! @_@ Hahaha. I did not check. But...Noboru tested it and they both worked just fine. It has been Noboru verified. LOL. : )


What was in here nailed to a tree stump? We didn't check!

When I blew this picture up to full size there is a blue see through-ish yet glowing...orb...thing, this one was bigger in size then the one near Noah earlier... but it's there towards the bottom of this pic but you can't see it at this size. Again something was just crazy attracted to our family in there. And no..we didn't bring anything home with us. Haha. : )

We were starting to head back... out of suicide forest by now. 

I snapped a few pics on the way out just showing...how thick and dense the place looked. However...when I went home to look at my final pic...I saw a bright blue orb again in my final pic from suicide forest. I would like to think the spirit walked us out. See in the pic? I would like to think the orb/spirit walked us out and said..."Good luck and good-bye...nice family!" But yeah...I had zero idea the entire time we were there... that there was any bright blue *anything* following us the entire time. Not until we were home. And after the fact. Anyways.....
We got back to our town around 11:30pm! We left Suicide Forest around 4pm. And we started driving. Around 6pm. We stopped for dinner. At what else...Italian obviously. : ) We went to Jolly Pasta in Sagamihara. Their jalapeno pizza is divine. It's so flavorful and good. They have a drink bar... so endless drinks if you'd like. Coffee, teas sodas. Juices. Nice drink bar. Nice restaurant.

Their pasta here is so divine. The spicy garlic cheese pasta. Major yum! We all went to the restroom at Jolly Pasta and then we drove for hours and then we stopped at 7-11 I picked a hot coffee. The kids each picked a mugicha and a snack for the very long car ride we had still. And like I said, we arrived at home around 11:30pm. The kids usually will shower. But they were so dog tired that they brushed their teeth and went straight to sleep. I put my hair into a messy top knot. Jumped in the shower, washed my face (makeup off) and washed and soaped and scrubbed my body. I dried off. Put my sleep shirt on and went to sleep. Noboru jumped in the shower but I must have zonked because... I don't even remember hearing him get out of the shower. We were all just *that* tired. It was a fun 32 hours. A full 31-32 hours. Longer than 24 hours actually...closer to 32 hours but ykwim. : ) I am so glad we kicked off a whole near year.....with a fun family get away. We kicked off 2017 with a happy family trip. Some much needed rest and relaxation. And we were glad to be back home. : ) So anyway...that was our Hakone trip. The long and short of it. : )