Monday, March 28, 2011

Getting Close to Normal

So things are really starting to normalize here on Misawa AB.  With nothing too exciting going on I will most likely be returning to my weekly posts, or just whenever something interesting happens.

You may have seen the voluntary departures we have been doing due to the State Department/DoD order for voluntary evacuation.  They authorized dependents to leave Northeast Japan due to the earthquake and tsunami.  It's not really my place to approve or disapprove of the operation, but it's just not that bad here! nevertheless we just finished sending about 1,500 dependents back to the US.  I know for my flight most of the families who left had their spouse deployed, but some people are probably just taking a free flight back to the states.

We're still supporting clean-up efforts all over our region and control of the clean-up operations is actually transitioning from the Red Cross to the base.  I might try to get out there again next week if I can but we're still doing 12 hour shifts.

Most of the facilities on base are back to normal now that they've opened up the toll roads.  The gasoline restrictions have been lifted and we can fuel up as needed, all of the restaurants on base are open, and they have even opened the gym back up!  We still need to conserve resources, electricity especially, but almost everything is back to normal.

I've gotten a lot of questions about the nuclear reactor down in Fukushima.  Misawa is 236 miles north of the reactor and the seasonal winds this time of year blow in a southeasterly direction.  We're being told that we are not in any danger of radiation where we are located.

We are still getting a lot of aftershocks and had two fairly strong ones today.  Sometimes its hard to tell with some of the smaller ones so one of the guys made a homemade seismograph to see if we're having an aftershock.

The pen doesn't really write during an earthquake since it's a shitty government pen, but it will sway back and forth so you can at least be sure that we're having one and you're not going crazy!  We all joke about how we're completely complacent with earthquakes now since we have quakes in the 5's and 6's daily.

It has been snowing a lot recently too.  Here was the road away from my work on my way home the other morning.  Luckily it warms up above freezing most days and the snow doesn't last long.

Other than these few things I have written about things have been pretty boring.  I'm hoping to get back to some sort of normal schedule soon, but as of right now we don't know when that will happen.

I'm just dropping this in so I can claim my blog on (thanks for the heads-up Leighton).
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Oriase Town Pig Farm Clean-up

When I got over to the Red Cross meeting area at the Mokuteki Community Center this morning I asked if they knew where we were going.  I was told that the local community leaders coordinate with the military about locations that need assistance and that we would fin out where we were going our initial brief.  I knew that some of the previous groups had cleaned up the Misawa Fishing Port, and some restaurants in Hachinohe.  When the Captain announced that we would be going to clean up a pig farm my heart sank a little.  I knew it would be muddy, dirty work but I was definitely not expecting a commercial pig farm!

The pig farm we were sent to is right off of Route 338 in Oriase Town, just south of the Misawa Fishing Port.  The pig farm is about 4-500 meters from the actual coast line, and almost the entire thing was destroyed.  The farmer had about 2,000 pigs before the tsunami, and somehow one of his buildings survived along with around 400 pigs.  Every other building was completely ripped off of its foundation and destroyed.  One of them was even moved about 300 meters across a field.  We were told that all the pig carcasses had been removed, but we soon found out that wasn't completely accurate.

As you can see from the above photos, the site was a total mess.  Our job was to separate the debris into piles of wood, metal, and plastic.  The Japanese burn almost everything they cannot recycle but the base had asked them to not burn anything while we were there for health reasons.  The piles of wreckage were a tangled mess of concrete, rebar, wiring, insulation, wood, metal roofing, plastic siding, metal gates, and all sorts of infrastructure required of a commercial pig farm.  The debris was packed down with dirt and pine needles because when the tsunami came through the tree line it swept the forest floor clean and deposited everything on the farm.  The job required a lot of heavy lifting and team work to get everything done.  Luckily someone had gotten two chain saws from the Civil Engineering Squadron and I was able to use one throughout the day to hack some of the building frames down into manageable pieces.

There were no bathrooms at the site so I took a walk out into the trees and snapped this pic.  You can see how the tsunami pushed all the trees over and cleared out most of the normal debris that would be on the ground.

This photo looks over the wreckage at the lone building left standing.  Somehow the water diverted around this building and it was spared.  Hopefully the farmer will be able to rebuild and use those remaining pigs to repopulate his farm.

After about two hours we found our first casualty of the day.  You could tell something was up because the ground felt a little more spongy than it should.  This sow clocked in at about 200 kilos and had to be drug out with ropes.  That picture is below and maybe not for some people.  Luckily it has been very cold so the pigs had not decomposed very much at all.  We ended up finding about a dozen pigs throughout the day including a few piglets.

Hopefully I didn't scare everyone off with the photo of the poor piggy.  I made the thumbnail smaller so you might not see what it is! At the end of the day I had someone snap a photo of me in my disgustingly dirty pants.  I'm hoping all that dirt comes out because Military Clothing Sales is out of all normal people size uniforms here at Misawa!

We also snapped a group shot before we left for the day.  It snowed on and off throughout the day, but it was really nice right before we left!  You can see in the group that there is both military and civilian helping out with the clean-up.

The family that owned this farm was so grateful for the help.  Since we were able to break everything down for them they can now burn and scrap all the rubble and start getting things cleared out to rebuild.  Even though it was 10 hours of hard muddy work it was totally worth it.  Having to work a 12 hour shift at my unit right after it kind of sucks, but I was off last night and got plenty of sleep.  

I'm not sure if I'll get a chance to get out and volunteer again, but i talked with my boss about tweaking our schedule to give all of the guys who work for me a chance to get out and volunteer.  The base is planning on continuing to support the local community as long as they need assistance and I think it's extremely important to show solidarity with the community and help them in this trying time.  Misawa Air Base is lucky to have excellent relations with the community and host nation, and volunteer efforts such as this will solidify those relations for years to come. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Misawa Red Cross Clean-up

Tomorrow I will be heading out with one of the Red Cross sponsored clean-up crews.  The base is sponsoring 2 trips a day to different areas and I'm not sure where we'll be going but I think most of the trips are heading down to Hachinohe now.  Work has been pretty slow since I came back from Ofunato.  With the search and rescue teams gone we're mainly supporting clean-up crews and the voluntary evacuation from northeast Japan.

Some of you may have seen that the State Department and DOD authorized family members of government employees to leave Japan.  I personally don't think the situation here is that bad, but about 10% of our dependent population on Misawa has volunteered to leave.  I know for my unit it's primarily dependents whose sponsor (the military member) is deployed that are leaving.

The situation on base has been steadily improving and power has been restored to almost all buildings on base.  We are under fairly strict conversation orders though and it's weird to walk around the base and be in buildings with only the bare minimum amount of lights on.  There has been a problem in the evenings with people not conserving at home and we have a contingency plan that will shut off power to buildings as necessary.  Sending some of those dependents home will probably help reduce our power consumption a decent amount!

Tomorrow night I will try to post any pics I take during the clean-up.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Back from Ofunato Pt. 2

I hope everyone reading this is feeling as amazing as I am right now!  Last night after I went to sleep I passed out for 14 hours and woke up today feeling better than I have all week.  Tomorrow I am back to work, but for now I get a chance to write a little bit about what I was doing in Ofunato.

When we were first tasked with taking a 10K AT down to Ofunato I was pretty sure that I was going to get to go since I was one of only a few people licensed to operate the trailer needed to transport it.  TSgt Myers, another 2T1 from my squadron, also had it on his license so we were paired up to transport it down to the USAID base camp at an elementary school in Ofunato.  As usual in Misawa, it had been warm during the day and temps had dropped below freezing at night and it started snowing a little.  We loaded the 10K on the lowboy trailer in the ice and snow and it was a little sketchy!  Below is a pic of our rig the morning before we headed out.  The International tractor we had hooked up is an American tractor, and although it is very nice it is not designed for Japan's tiny roads and sharp turns!

Getting through Misawa city in that tractor was one of the most difficult drives I ever had.  There was so much traffic and people were lined up on the one street trying to get into a gas station that had fuel.  This has become a common sight around Japan.  When a service station gets resupplied people line up and buy fuel until it goes dry.  Most of the gas stations you see are closed up since there isn't any fuel to sell.  Once we got off of the toll road, the Japanese equivalent of an Interstate Highway, and started going through some towns we could see that most grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, and almost everything else was closed.  Below are some pictures TSgt Myers shot out of the window of people lining up to get fuel.  Since it is cans and not cars, I am thinking it was kerosene because that is what most Japanese houses use for heat.

When we were leaving Ofunato their were cars lined up all the way down the road to a fuel station.  From what I've heard some people have been waiting in lines for hours. 

As with any mission, no plan survives first contact and in our case that contact consisted of the Japanese National Police detouring us around a tunnel because of an accident.  The road they detoured us on to was definitely not made for the large tractor trailers we were driving and one of our guys blew out two tires on a curb.

We broke down in front of this house and the people came out to talk to us and thank us for coming.  The man that lived there even helped provide some tools to get the tires off.

That is TSgt Myers in the black cap and SSgt Garcia facing the camera.

We only had one spare for that trailer but our maintainers were able to repair the one tire by replacing the valve stem and setting the bead with some lighter fluid from a Zippo.  

We ended up making it to the USAID base camp with just a few hours of daylight left.  We downloaded our 10K and loaded up the flat bed trailers that had come down with us and sent them back to Misawa with the gear and passengers from the UK search team.  Capt. Fiol, TSgt Myers, A1C Coniglio and I stayed behind to help the USAID teams build there pallets and get home.  The USAID teams consisted of two specialized urban search and rescue, one from Los Angeles and one from Fairfax Virginia.  These were the teams we had supported earlier in the week to come down to Ofunato.

The four military personnel worked with the teams to get their pallets loaded and we worked all night and all the next day except for just a few hours to get some rest.

All of the men and women on the search teams were extremely friendly and professional.  They are the two teams in the US that are employed by USAID, United States Agency for International Development, to deploy to crisis zones and assist with search and rescue after national disasters.  They had just recently helped with the earthquake in both Haiti and New Zealand.  As I mentioned before, their main mission is search and rescue of survivors.  If their are no survivors it is a recovery mission.  With it being a week after the disaster, and with temperatures being as low as the have been this mission had changed to recovery.  The USAID teams will only stay on to assist with recovery if the host nation asks them to, but in this case they were not needed so they were being sent home.

The teams don't just consist of humans either.  Below are some of the search dogs that are trained to sniff out survivors for the humans to retrieve.  Everyone was sleeping in the gym of the school and the dogs slept on the cots with their handlers.  It must have been pretty warm for them because the heat turned off at about 0200 when the generator ran out of fuel (they need to run the generator dry because they can't fly with it if there is fuel in it).  I was unprepared the heater to turn off though and I spent the night freezing my ass off!  We all had a lot of laughs about it the next morning because some of the other guys had so much extra stuff they were sweating.  I was ill equipped because all of my gear is still en route from Texas, and hopefully isn't in one of those sea-lan containers I saw all messed up on the news.

They were some of the most well trained and friendliest dogs I have ever met.   Below are the dogs and their handlers from each team.

This is the virginia team and their dogs.

This is the LA team and their dogs.  I got a chance to hang out with Cadillac, the black lab in this photo. I had a black lab when I was younger and he was an awesome dog, not sure if he was smart enough to save people in a disaster though!

After helping the teams build up their pallets we were invited to take part in their group photos along with some of the local firemen that were there also.  Captain Fiol and I are on the right, and Technical Sergeant Myers and Airman First Class Coniglio are on the left.

This is the VA team.

This is the LA team.

Here is Tom Lions from the State Department talking with the VA team lead Joe Kaleda.  Tom and his team road down to Ofunato with our convoy and their car was right behind our trailer with the 10K on it.  We were a little worried about the height of the load since it was sitting just at 4 meters and the bridges aren't marked well in Japan.  Tom was a good sport about me asking him to catch the forklift if it came off the trailer!

These were all the pick-up trucks we supported the teams with from Misawa.

Here I am moving cargo in the AT.  It's not even work using that thing because it's so much fun to operate!

Some of the dunnage for the pallets was too long so we needed a saw.  The search and rescue guys were more than happy to accommodate.

The USAID team from VA gave the four of us some patches from their uniforms, and the guys from LA gave us some jerry cans of gasoline.  Later that night I felt like I knew what its going to be like when there is no gas in a few decades because I felt like the zombie apocalypse had already come when I was excitedly dumping fuel from a can into my Pajero in the pitch black night!  They gave me 10 gallons which has me sitting just over 3/4 of a tank.  Should last me almost 2 weeks since I will mainly just be driving to and from work!

I was safe the whole time except for the time when TSgt Myers drug the trailer tires through a ditch and almost dumped the whole rig.  We decided we weren't going to take about that though!  Overall it was a great trip.  We worked hard, but I was with a great group and we had a lot of laughs during the whole process.  

Back in 2008 I had gotten my BS in Computer Science and I was interviewing for jobs in the private sector to be a software engineer.  Due to a variety of reasons I decided to re-enlist and stay in the Air Force.  It's times like these that I know I made the right call. 

As we were driving to and from Ofunato people were coming out and waving and cheering for us.  The school we were staged at had the kids come in for some sort of graduation at noon yesterday and after the ceremony all the grade-schoolers came out to the window and yelled things like "Thank you", "We love you", and all sorts of stuff about thanking and loving America too!  No one cheers for the guy who writes the algorithm that determines your car insurance rate!  As you drive out the gate at Misawa there is a sign that says "You represent the United States, be a good Ambassador!"  I think these are the situations where we really shine and show everyone what America is all about.

I found an album on Flickr with a lot of pictures of people from around the base helping with clean-up efforts in our communities of Misawa and Hachinohe.  Lots of people have been volunteering with the clean-up and if I get some more time off I plan on doing the same.  My job is considered mission essential right now though so I may not be getting too much time off.  If you want to check out some of the photos the link is here below:

I am not sure what else we will be doing in the days to follow.  I do know we have some French and German teams on the base right now who will be helping with recovery, and we have to support the voluntary evacuation of  dependents from Northeast Japan.  I will do my best to keep anyone interested informed and if you have any specific questions leave them in a comment and I will try to answer if I can.

Thank you to everyone who left kind words of encouragement.  Everyone over here that I have spoken to is just glad to be able to help.  Everyone has a job to do and we're just doing ours!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Back from Ofunato Pt. 1

I just got back from Ofunato at about 2100 tonight.  Our mission down there was not exactly what I expected, but it was still an awesome trip.  Unfortunately the units we went to support mission is primarily search and rescue, and with it being a week after the quake/tsunami it is now more of a recovery mission.  We ended up just helping them pack and palletize their gear and got them back to Misawa to leave.

I have only slept a few hours in the last few days and am most likely off tomorrow.  Right now I am enjoying a few well-deserved beers before racking out for the night!  Being off tomorrow would be great for me to get a chance to do some laundry and get myself rested!  We've been going non-stop since the earthquake happened.

Tomorrow I plan on doing a larger post about what I actually did in Ofunato.  I have a lot of pictures and some great info, but right now I am way too tired to actually compose anything especially articulate!  Make sure to check it out tomorrow!

For anyone who hasn't seen it yet, below is a story for ABC15 in Phoenix that my friend Jenn put together about me.  This blog has blown up since she used some of the photos in the story and linked the blog on the stations website.  I feel a little pressure now that my little blog to stay in touch with family and friends has gotten so much attention, and all the attention is a little embarrassing.  I am definitely no hero!  Tomorrow I will give some great info about some real heros who were down there to help.

ABC15 News Story - text version

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Heading to Ofunato

I have finally gotten onto a convoy heading south to help out!  My base is sending down a 10K all terrain forklift to help out in the town of Ofunato and I am one of only a few people in my unit authorized to drive the trailer that can transport it.  It looks like I will be there for a few days so I may not be able to update since electricity and cell coverage is not so good down there.

I do plan on taking a lot of pictures if I get to see anything, and I will make sure to get them online when I get back.  I am leaving in just a few hours and need to get some sleep right now.  My family shouldn't worry about me too much!  The worst is over and I am not in danger.  Misawa AB is in a great place to be able to help the Japanese and I consider myself lucky to take part in it this operation.

See ya'll in a few days!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Earthquake Update

First, the good news!  Our convoy team we sent south to Ofunato with the search and rescue teams from USAID has returned safely.  We may be sending another team down there this week, and I am not sure if I will be placed on that one either.  I also found out from the guys that when they left the locals came out and waved while they came through town.  Tomorrow  a team of pararescuemen from Kadena are coming in to Misawa to hep with relief efforts.  Unfortunately we're at 100+ hours from the quake and most of the recovery operations are for bodies.

I finally got some more information about how we fared locally last night.  Last night we helped the Civil Engineering Squadron load up a bulldozer on a trailer so that they could take it over to the coast and help clean up the fishing port and the highway.  A few posts ago I posted a picture of the beach from a small park.  That park was off of Route 338 which runs up and down the coast and is about 2 miles from my house.  Apparently everything east of that has been destroyed.  Luckily due to the early warning system and our distance from the epicenter there was enough time to evacuate everyone and Misawa avoided having a single death.  There were some deaths further south in Hachniohe, including one guy who went out to check on his boat before the tsunami fully knowing it was coming!

There are some shortages of certain supplies over here, most importantly gasoline.  Off base and all over Japan people are panicking and buying out stores and causing any shortages there were to be even worse.  Gasoline is being rationed both on and off base, and if you have more than a 1/4 tank you're being turned away from the pumps.  All of the toll roads are closed so it's not like anyone should be going far!

Electricity is also an issue.  Most of the base is still without power, including my shop.  Off base they're having scheduled blackouts to conserve energy.  I know many people have been asking about the nuclear plant and from what we are being told we're safe up here.  The plant is about 200 miles south of here and the seasonal winds would take any radiation out to sea and not towards us.  If all else fails I can bust out my chem gear and gas mask!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sendai Earthquake

On the afternoon of 9 March I felt my first earthquake.  I had never been through an earthquake so I didn't really know what was going on at first.  I was sitting on my couch eating some lunch before I went into work and suddenly everything started shaking and the house started swaying.  The initial feeling I had was something akin to sea sickness.  My equilibrium was off and I felt dizzy.  I had just read an article about record numbers of people in their 20's having strokes and I thought to myself, "Either this is an earthquake or I'm having a damn stroke!"  Almost immediately after the shaking stopped I heard the local giant voice system start making announcements in Japanese and I was able to get online to see we had just had a strong 7.2 magnitude earthquake off of the coast of Sendai.  A 7.2 magnitude quake is strong, but I had no idea that two days later I would experience the fifth largest quake in recorded history.

We had a number of aftershocks after the quake on the ninth, but nothing very strong or long.  We were currently having an exercise on base where we were simulating deployment operations.  Moving passengers and cargo around as if we were going to war.  Who knew that we would immediately transition to a similar real world mission.  I was running the vehicle operations control center on the night shift (we were split into 12 hour shifts) and was home sleeping on the 11th.  At approximately 1400 local, all hell broke loose.

I was laying in my bed when I first felt the quake.  I thought it was just another aftershock, but it just kept building, and building.  After about two minutes of shaking the power cut out, and the quake continued on for another 2 minutes.  It was pretty damn intense and just seemed to go on forever.  I'm no expert on quakes but after the 7.2 a few days earlier I knew that this one had to be big.  Once the quake stopped I got out of my bed to assess any damages, and of course post on facebook!  Luckily I had my phone to record this little aftershock right afterwards.  It doesn't do the main quake justice but its all I have!

The giant voice announcement system in Japan is very highly developed and is tested everyday at 0600, 1200, 1800, and 2000.  They play this little jingle over it each time so that they know its working.  All of the warnings are in Japanese though.  I was recording one of the messages when they dropped a few words in English.

Shortly after the tsunami warning my cell phone went dead.  With no power, no phone, and the giant voice squawking about tsunamis I figured the best thing for me to do was head to base because I knew no matter what happened they would be doing a recall to check on everyone.  Dirty and unshaven I threw my uniform on and headed to my unit.  When I got there I finally got some info about how bad things were.  They were evacuating near the coast due to the tsunami, we had no power on base, and we were trying to get accountability of all of our people.  We still had no information about how bad things were in the local area though.

Within a few hours we had some generators set up at my unit to provide some basic light and set up a heater so we could heat a few rooms.  Since there was no power or heat anywhere most of the guys brought their wives and kids into work and we set up the break room for them.  Almost immediately after the quake the base starting making arrangements to get functional again.  All of the units in the Mission Support Group starting using their skills to support the base.  Civil Engineering was checking for damage and started working on the water, electricity and heat.  Security Forces secured the base and buildings where alarms had failed.  Force Support and Services got the chow hall serving MRE's immediately and hot food within 12 hours of the quake.  My unit, the LRS, started prepping for the immediate humanitarian support response that was coming in from around the world.  There was so much going on in that first 24 hours after the quake it was a a blur.  It was really great to see all the units on the base do their job and start getting things functional again.

We had the break room set up for families and I found out quickly that everyone I work with has daughters.

SSgt Shipley was alternating between feeding and holding his 1 month old daughter and directing ops.  He was the dayshift lead and I was the nightshift lead, but since we were all basically there the whole time there was a lot of overlap.  He definitely was taking phone calls while feeding little Eva!

My shop really supported all of the families well.  Every spouse whose husband was deployed was contacted and many of them came to the unit to eat, sleep, be warm, and be around friends.  People pooled together food from their houses and everyone made sure everyone else was taken care of.  Many of the military members were working around the clock and just catching some sleep when we could, and when we were "off" we would pull double duty entertaining kids!

Within 24 hours of the quake my squadron in-processed 100's of people including two 80 person search and rescue teams from the States (with 12 dogs), one 60 person search and rescue team from the UK, 60 TDY Civil Engineers to assist with re-establishing utilities, and about 250,000 pounds of cargo.  Our high school on base had a few sports teams near coming back from Yakota during the quake (they were riding the train near Tokyo) and about 80 students had to be flown back in on C-130s.  We supported those passengers and were able to reconnect them with their families which was pretty emotional for most of the parents!

During all of these operations we remained without power.  At times the dependents were a bother, but for a lot of guys it was good to have their families nearby and know they were safe.  We even had a lot of people bring their dogs in with them!

All we have for power right now is a floodlight set with a generator running an extension cord inside the building.  I am actually running my laptop off of that right now to write this post!  3G phone service came back up yesterday so I am able to get some internet on my phone.
If I look tired in the photo it's because I am.  

Today we sent a convoy of 22 vehicles including 7 fully loaded tractor trailers and 4 buses down into the hardest hit zone.  They're delivering people and cargo and coming back up to do the same thing again.  I may get to go on the next one, but they may just have me stay here to coordinate efforts from a desk.  Pretty lame if you ask me, because I would rather be in the shit!

We're very busy over here, and will be for weeks to come.  The word is that we will support Operation Tomodochi (Japanese for friends) until we're no longer needed.  It feels great to be able to contribute to the relief efforts and not just have to watch the carnage on TV.  I have only been here a few weeks but I have been extremely impressed with the Japanese people and the country.  There are huge parts of the nation that have been utterly devastated and they really need our help right now.  If you can afford to give, I would personally appreciate it.  I know the Red Cross is already here offering assistance, as well as a number of other NGO's.

Even though we were spared most of the worst here in Misawa this is a national tragedy.  The highways have been shut down to only accept mission essential traffic so basic shipments are not getting through.  We're rationing fuel on base and off base.  You can see from the picture of a local convenience store below just how much food is available out there.

Sorry if this post is full of typos and grammar errors but I did it fast because I wanted to get some info out there.  I will continue to try to post when I can.  I will be working a LOT in the upcoming weeks, but I don't think I could spend my time doing something more fulfilling!  

EDIT:  Check out this site to see just how many quakes we've been having - it's crazy:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Snowboarding at Appi Kogen

I didn't have to work this weekend so I was able to get out and do something!  Since everyone I work with is married with kids, or works for me, there aren't really a lot of people to do things with me.  So I decided to go solo and jump on a base sponsored trip to Appi Kogen.  Appi is probably the most well known, and largest, ski resort near Misawa.   It has a couple dozen trails, huge hotels, onsens, and almost anything else you could want.  I'm actually getting pretty good at snowboarding for this only being my second time.  Definitely going to buy my own gear this spring/summer!

The tall building on the left is one of the hotels, and the building on the right is where the cafeteria and shopping is.

The main method of getting up the mountain is riding an 8 person gondola up to the top.  It was nice since they are totally enclosed and it was practically white out conditions at the top of the mountain.

This snowman was probably 15 feet tall!

The classic myspace shot of me riding the gondola.  I rode up a few times solo when it wasn't busy, but also got to ride up with some locals and even met some other American snowboarders.  They were hopping the fence to come down the area under the gondola.  Way to represent guys!

Heading to the top.

Not me in this picture.  I should have asked someone to snap a photo of me, but I didn't want to bother anyone.  Asking someone to take a photo is one of the Japanese phrases I have learned though!

This is the cafeteria.  It has about 5-6 different places to eat and has everything from burgers and pizza to ramen and curry.

I opted for spicy hamburger curry with some fried cheesy potato things.  This lunch was almost 1900 yen which is almost $24.  The drink alone was 380 yen, or about $5!  

For the bus ride home I grabbed some chips to snack on.  Even eating familiar things like chips in foreign countries can be an adventure because they have odd flavors like ketchup, seaweed, and squid.  I have no idea what flavor these were, but they were pretty good!

The ubiquitous can of coffee.  There are vending machines all over the place that spit out hot cans of coffee.  This is the first one I have had since I've been here because I have seriously cut down on my caffeine and alcohol intake.  Since I have been in Japan (4 weeks on Monday) I have completely quit using caffeine supplements (no more Air Power!), haven't had a single energy drink, and have only had 6 beers.  I won't even mention my Texas numbers for comparison, but just know this is a massive improvement!

I'm going to be pretty busy with work this next week and will be working all next weekend.  I will try to post something interesting though, since my goal is to try to make one post a week.  I'm glad people are actually reading and enjoying this blog and I am averaging about 50 unique viewers per posting which is more than I had expected to get.  Feel free to leave comments at the bottom of my posts too.  I have it set so that it should not require a google account.  Give me some feedback!