The Hotel Sunpearl

Cody and I looked into staying in an apartment here in Tanegashima, but ultimately decided against it. As introverts, we knew our only hope of meeting people and staying out of the hole of solitude was to live in town, near people and shops and food. It’s working pretty well so far.


So we’re living at the Hotel Sunpearl in the town of Minamitane. The hotel is basically full of NASA people right now so we see lots of Americans every day, but it seems to be a pretty happenin’ place for Japanese people too.

nasa stickers

Every night the hotel owner, Midori-san puts out a list with everyone’s names where they order their breakfast and have the option of adding a bento box for lunch the next day. In the morning the boxes are stacked and wrapped and waiting to be taken to work.

tanegashima 20

For breakfast we have two choices: western style or Japanese style. The typical Japanese breakfast looks like this: pickled vegetables, some kind of meat, a piece of fish, miso soup, a packet of nori, rice, an egg (raw if you’re Japanese, boiled if you’re scared or American) and green tea. I’ve had the Japanese breakfast a few times, and it’s fun, but I rarely eat all the pickled vegetables and I feel bad leaving things on my tray, so I usually opt for western. That piece of fish there looks scary, but it was braised in sweet soy sauce and it tasted shockingly good.

japanese style breakfast

The Sunpearl is home to lots of goldfish that I’ve taken an unhealthy interest in (probably because I’m missing Murdock). One has been floating upside-down for a couple of weeks now and has me concerned, but he keeps on kicking. Midori-san made fun of me when I told her I was worried about him and suggested I take him to the hospital. Maybe I will! Harumph.

japanese fish and table

Freshly washed and folded NASA shirts.

nasa laundry at the sunpearl

Midori-san and her mom (Mama-san) have been keeping an eye on me since I’m at the Sunpearl most of the day. One day I was eating a salad for lunch in the dining room and Midori-san said “only salad”? and gave me this rice ball to fill out my meal. The tray on the right is a typical western-style breakfast. That bowl at the top was mushroom chowder, which was kind of an odd thing for breakfast, but man was it good. It seems like Japanese people make chowder whenever they have a bunch of vegetables to use up, and I’m going to follow suit when I get home.

rice ball and western breakfast

Mama-san cooks lunch for the hotel staff sometimes and every now and then I’ll get a knock on my door with a surprise treat from her. One day she even made okonomiyaki and brought it to my room. I was worried I’d have to hide it in the trash (based on my previous experience with okonomiyaki), but it was delicious.

mamasan's okonomiyaki

So this is my home until March. I’m quite taken with it.

  1. I am so glad Midori-san and Mama-san are taking good care of you! Does Cody get to wear NASA shirts?

    Carrie — December 8, 2013
    1. reply
  2. okonomiyaki is IT! there are definitely bad ones out there, but when you have a good one, you're hooked for life, yeah? i'm still trying to figure out how i didn't know about this blog before now... loving all your posts's so fun to see it all unfold :)

    callie — December 9, 2013
    1. reply
  3. Ma, yes Cody wears the NASA shirts and he looks like a dweeb. Callie, I'm plotting a way to bribe mama-san for her okonomiyaki method because it was ridiculously good and life won't be the same.

    courtney — December 9, 2013
    1. reply
cancel reply

Going to Japan


Cody and I have been teased by the prospect of an extended trip to Japan for months and months and months. But our tickets are booked and it’s 99% official (barring month-long government shut down): we’re going to Japan.

I’ve been dreaming about getting out of the states for years, but the farthest I’ve gone is Bermuda – a lovely place, but not so foreign. I’m beside myself with excitement over our impending three-month trip, but I’m also terrified.


Of all the places I could have chosen to go, Japan was towards the bottom of my list. The highly-structured, honor-bound culture is way outside my comfort zone, and even though I call myself a foodie, the prospect of all that raw fish doesn’t really excite me. I’m more of a tartine or moules frites kind of lady. If life made sense, I would be going to France for my first time in a truly foreign country.

But Cody’s work is sending him to Japan for three months to launch a satellite, and I’m not an idiot, so I’m going with him. Honestly, it’s not that I’m not excited about going to Japan, I’m planning on having the time of my life, but I’m also intensely intimidated.


Contributing to my fear is the fact that we aren’t going to be staying in Tokyo or even mainland Japan. We’re staying on the tiniest spit of land in the region – a little island called Tanegashima. It’s going to take us two days to get there, and once we do, we’re going to get to practice our Japanese a lot, because the locals don’t speak English.


That picture above is a rice paddy on Tanegashima. This place is rural – the restaurants aren’t on Yelp, the hotels had to be arranged by a local fixer, and the only attraction is the space center. I think the airport has a McDonalds (correction – Cody just told me it doesn’t!), but the island is largely untouched by western culture, which is going to be so fascinating and so uncomfortable.


The photo above is a panorama of Cody’s hotel room from his last trip – tatami mats and sleeping on the floor.


The beaches look gorgeous, and supposedly Tanegashima is a little bit of a surfing destination.


Cody says the people are friendly and respectful and patient, but I haven’t been studying my Japanese so I’m sure I’ll test them in all areas.


This is a Japanese breakfast. Shriveled fish anyone? I’m sure it tastes better than it looks.


Rain, mist, green.


Some Tanegashima sushi!


Models of rockets launched from the Tanegashima Space Center.


Water and trees on the grounds of a temple in Kagoshima, the nearest big city (you have to cross ocean to get to it). UPDATE: just kidding, that temple is in Narita, but Kagoshima is the nearest city.



Did I warn you that this was going to be a huge photo dump?


That weirdness above is inside a medicine shop. UM. I’ve decided to not get sick while I’m there.





I know there’s a lot more to Japanese cuisine than sushi. I’m really looking forward to broadening my palate and eating some real ramen.


And lastly, the famous Hotel Chapel Christmas. Your one and only destination for all-Christmas, all-the-time, hourly “sleeping” accommodations in Narita. Not kidding.

Pinch me! And then give me some advice. I’m anticipating a mind-blowing trip, and I don’t know how to begin to prepare.

  1. You will probably feel like an alien visitor to another planet, but that's okay! Soak it all in. You will come home richer.

    Carrie — October 4, 2013
    1. reply
  2. That is going to be an adventure! Sounds like learning surfing and Japanese would be some good moves. It'll be fun just to see the scenery though! Looks beautiful. I'm excited for you guys.

    miranda — October 5, 2013
    1. reply
  3. Love the pictures. You'll come home with lots of stories about food no doubt! What a fantastic chance to soak in Japanese culture.

    Lisa — October 8, 2013
    1. reply
cancel reply