Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Amazing Jogasaki Coast

Bliss!  Photo by SMS
SMS and I decided to go to Jogasaki this weekend. It's a piece of the coastline on the Izu peninsula, the next peninsula over from Miura where Yokosuka is located. SMS has been climbing around here a few times and he's brought back such beautiful photos that I was really hoping to visit at some point. Well, we're acutely aware that our "at some points" are running out so we figured now was the time.

The best travel partner, ever.
We left at 10 since I had to go to work in the morning. I actually went in fairly early but then got stuck due to a mandatory 830 inpatient meeting. Argh!  I was too efficient for my own good. Except I wasn't because the computers were down so I couldn't even do other work while waiting. Instead, I read a little more of The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flannagan which is beautifully written. I don't think I'll be able to finish it in time before the e-library book expires but I think I'll buy a hard copy it's that good. 
We're coming Jogasaki!  Photo by SMS
So, I got home, showered, packed and headed out. We drove through Zushi and stopped at Beach Muffin, a vegan muffin/coffee shop recommended by a friend of ours.  At this point, we just want to go by when it's open since we've been thwarted the past two times we've gone.  Well, this time we almost had it.  The door was open and a tall, thin, white guy was tending to the dried fruit.  Well, he worked there and told us they were running a little behind but they'd be open at 11.  We decided to press on since we thought it might take a little longer than that but someday, we'll be back.  And then probably wonder why we spent so much effort to go to a place that sells teeny-weeny vegan muffins.  One thing that did sound cool is they have a brewpub in the back and were featuring the debut of four microbrews that day but again, Jogasaki beckoned and we continued on our journey.  Our journey consisted of a lot of stop-and-go traffic but we eventually got to our destination.  We stopped for lunch at a specialty restaurant 小田原市役所 水産海浜課 where a lot of Japanese people were going.  There was a huge line/wait for parking and we eventually found a spot in a open air parking garage with no real markings and a one car wide up/down combo ramp.  It wasn't the best design.
The is the trip advisor map, where the restaurant 小田原市役所 水産海浜課 isn't even reviewed.
 But seriously, this is where everyone was going.  
The main draw seemed to be the grill-your-own seafood restaurant but the line looked huge and we were hungry.  We headed to the second floor where we had delicious sashimi rice bowls.  I had one with local fish that included some of the dreaded whiting/shirusu fish, which I gave to SMS and SMS had a poke-style bowl.  Both were delicious and we were very happy.  On the way out, we each had a grilled oyster from a small stand just inside the door.
I feel this picture is useful because several campsites are noted, which are hard to find on the English-speaking internet.

Where we were, the first day
Photo by SMS
First, we went to the Kadowaki Suspension bridge (also called the Hanshiro Otoshi Suspension bridge in the trail photo later in this post).  In the map above, we parked in the Kadowaki Parking Lot, which was Y500/day.  SMS took several photos of the suspension bridge and then we walked approximately 1.5 km to the flower park along the shore trail.  You could also take the forest trail or walk along the road.  The views were incredible and even though this is early in the blog post, I highly recommend hiking the Jogasaki Coast.  It is one of the most beautiful places in Japan.  This section is called the Picnic trail and the trail is manmade from a material similar to the soft surface of newer playgrounds.  There are still several staircases so hiking shoes are recommended although certainly not required as evidenced by some fashionable ladies' footwear choices.

View from our hotel window
After a nice hike, we drove to our hotel in Atagawa.  The area was pretty fully booked for Saturday night but I managed to book a room at the Atagawa Onsen Hotel Ohruri through Agoda.com.  The room rate was $125 for the night and even though the voucher said dinner and breakfast were included, I thought the website said breakfast only.  Based on our rate, I didn't see how dinner was included.  Well, it was!  Agoda actually called when we are on the hotel's front steps about to check in saying the hotel had contacted them and wondered about our check-in time since we were in danger of missing dinner!  I was fairly shocked to hear from Agoda since I (unfairly) thought it was a sketchy middleman even though my bookings in the past have always worked out.  Well, chalk one up to unexpectedly good customer service!
Photo by SMS
SMS and I went up to our hotel, changed into our yukatas and hopi coats and went to dinner, which was buffet-style.  We had sashimi, dumplings, tempura fish, salad and miso soup. There was also free sake/beer/wine.  We had our beers, which were dispensed by a machine that initially tips the glass on the side and then sets it upright to finish filling the beer with the perfect amount of foam.  Japanese beers are served with a pretty full head of foam, in contrast to a lot of American bars.  SMS and I were somewhat overly impressed by that machine as evidenced by one of the waiters thinking our amazement was kind of funny.

After dinner, we went to the onsen which was quite nice after a week of workouts and a day of sitting in the car and hiking.  There was a large indoor onsen and a smaller outside onsen, which provided a nice contrast between the hot water and cool night air.  Afterwards, we met back up in our room, which was a huge tatami room suite with a bedroom, sitting area with table, small sitting area/enclosed balcony, a toilet room and a shower room.  It's the largest hotel room I've had in Japan, apart from a suite in the New Sanno.  We were very impressed with the cleanliness and the amazing value.

The next day, SMS and I headed back to the Jogasaki Coast for our real outdoor adventure day after our hotel buffet breakfast, which was pretty good.  This time, we drove to the Southern end of the trail and parked in the parking lot in the Yawatano Fishing Port for Y1000/day.  We hiked to the area SMS and Isaac rock climbed during their prior visit.  We rapelled down into the large cove with multiple walls and routes.
Rapelling in and part of the climbing area (hint: not the water)
The area was pretty difficult route-wise and SMS did the large majority of the climbing.  I've lost a lot of finger strength and skill.  While it's expected after not climbing for almost a year, it's still frustrating to my competitive nature.  But any grumpiness at not excelling at something I don't practice (ha, ha, so ridiculous, right?) was instantly evaporated by looking around and seeing what a gorgeous place we were in.  I feel very lucky to share the benefits of SMS' awesome hobby since we've been to some beautiful places in pursuit of fun climbs.  This one may be my favorite, although as soon as I say that, I think of our awesome California road trip that included rock climbing in Tuolumne Meadows and South Lake Tahoe.
Views from our hike.
After a few hours of climbing and lying on hot rocks, we climbed out of the cove and began our hike along the Jogasaki Nature Study Trail.  The signage is very good along the trail, both for directions and mile markers as well as bilingual (J/E) scientific informational signs.  We learned that the coastline was formed by the Mt Omuro eruption 4000 years ago and the subsequent lava flow into the sea.  The cooling lava formed crusts that cracked and shaped by the still-flowing lava and the forces of the sea.  The hike is 6 km from the trailhead in Yawatano and the Renchakuji Temple.  We went out and back and had the most amazing time.  The coastline is so gorgeous with incredible rock formations, lush vegetation and incredible coastline with volcanic rock and gorgeous blue water with amazing visibility.  I will let the pictures do the talking!
L: Cherry blossoms at the temple R: Sunset
More hiking pictures and the selfie stick!
Photo by SMS

After the hike, we went home and stopped at the Izu Kogen brewery.  The food was delicious, especially after a long day of hiking.  The ride home was traffic-free (hooray!).  We were tired by the time we got home but so happy after an awesome weekend!
Photo by SMS


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Happy Pi Day!

3/14/15, 9:26:53 
So, yes, in the words of my XO, we were "one of those people."  Yesterday was Pi Day so SMS and I decided to have a party.  I actually think large group events are the way to go because we usually get a great turnout, even though there are always a few people missing due to other fun events.  (This time, for example, one couple was in Yokohama getting ready for the Sunday marathon and two friends were catching a midnight flight to Thailand.)


I made Shepherd's Pies for entrees, a delicious vegetarian version with mushroom ragout and a Cottage Pie.  I started with the BBC's recipes and then adapted them slightly.  Both were really delicious and it was nice to have a hearty main meal to balance all the delicious sweet pies that were brought- chocolate pie, chocolate banana pudding pie, apple pie and black-bottomed oatmeal pie.  The last one was mine and although sounded promising, I made too many switches with the sweeteners including using an unknown syrup that looked promising when I looked at it in AVE, the Japanese supermarket, but did not translate well.  The pie crust with the chocolate bottom was awesome though and I will definitely use the concept in future desserts!
From Funnyjunk.
 It was a really fun party with a great group of people.  There was more mingling than last time, but I guess that's what happens when you don't bring out the Cards Against Humanity.  Everyone sort of stays in their seats during games.
The selfie stick made an appearance!
 SMS has wanted to set off our remaining fireworks for awhile so several of us walked down to the pier.  SMS asked the fishermen if they minded, which was a good diplomatic call on his part.  The fireworks went off (yay!) and then we walked back.  A few of us stopped in Don Quixote's to buy some more chu-his since I didn't do a great job of stocking up on drinks before the party.  When people first showed up, I just put out what we had which made it look like a pre-moving party when people come over to drink up whatever's open.  No one really complained though!
SMS set off the two fireworks remaining from our 4th of July party!  It was awesome!
 So, it was a great day.  The rest of my day was pretty mellow.  SMS taught an awesome flash class in Tokyo and got some really good feedback.  I'm so happy he had another great photography-related project turn out so well!
Another picture of the group- iPhones at night with florescent lighting.  Not the best but
 good enough for memory's sake!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up

Another thing SMS is good at!
This past week was a little busier with after-work events than usual.  On Tuesday, SMS and I went to the Spouse Association's Cooking Club where we were taught how to make crepes.  One of the doctors at the hospital has a professional crepe set-up.  It looks like a DJ's double mixers but instead of turntables, he has crepieres!  He was a missionary in France for two years and learned a lot about French culture including, lucky for us, crepe-making!  It was a small group and excellent company.  We had great food and conversation and SMS enjoyed ourselves a lot!
SMS, all tricked out with his gear!
On Wednesday, SMS and I hung out at home and took several pictures for SMS' newest lighting project.  It's projector lighting with a projector image incorporated into a portrait photo with very technical lighting.  It was so much fun to see SMS' thought process in action and I was glad to help.  I took most of the pictures but under SMS' tutelage and direction.  It felt a lot like being a junior resident operating with a staff surgeon!  I hope the film pictures I took worked out focus-wise.  I'm fairly sure they did but we'll see after they're developed!

Can you see me?  I'm outside looking in!


Thursday was the host nation conference hosted by the JSDF hospital.  It was a three-part event.  First, we toured their hyperbaric chambers and saturation diving submarine rescue modules and simulators.  It was an impressive facility.  The human physiology behind it is absolutely amazing.  To get people to withstand 600m depths, it takes 72 hours to increase the pressure and 3 weeks to allow for ascension!  That is a long time to remain in those small capsules!
Part of our group around the hyperbaric saturation chamber.

After the tour, we heard two excellent lectures followed by a small reception.  The food was delicious and we were treated to small samples of three excellent sakes, including one that the Emperor drinks for his health!

Last night, I went to my favorite Yokohama wine bar in Motomachi.  World Wine Bar is on the main shopping street and a really fun place to go.  At this point, my friends and I have been there enough (with each other and with other groups) that the English speaking waitress Shinozaki-san
recognizes us and remembers are preferences (full-bodied reds in case anyone was wondering!).  We hung out for awhile and then left to grab some food in Yokohama station before heading home.  Although I missed SMS with two nights in a row of activities, I was glad to hang out with my friends for some ladies' time.  I have met such wonderful people here but I don't see my friends enough due to all of our crazy travel schedules in addition to call and duty obligations.  For example, one of the women I hung out with last night is leaving today for Thailand.  It's so fun to be friends with so many dynamic, adventurous people but the downside is not seeing them enough!

By the way, HAPPY PI DAY!  3.1415, time to party.  We're having several people over tonight so today's plans involve setting up, going for a run and relaxing until this evening.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Tokyo Wanderings- Omotesando and Nakameguro

It was windy, cold and a Saturday, which sometimes means I just want to relax and unwind from the week.  But SMS and I both got up early and we decided to make the most of the day and head into Tokyo!  I wanted to stop by a cute gallery I had read about on another blog and look for a few places I read on a list of Tokyo recs but other than that, plans were pretty loose.

We headed out after lunch and took the train to Omotesando.  We went out exit A2 and followed the little map on Galerie Doux Dimanche's webpage.  We took a detour into Flying Tiger, Copenhagen.  It's a store that my Mom showed me in Denmark (go figure).  It's a mix of dollar store, inexpensive Target for home goods and IKEA-like accessories.  In short, it's awesome.  There were many things I wanted but did not pass the "Will it be cool or clutter in a month?" test.  I did, however, buy a nose pencil sharpener for my colleague and I.  You stick the pencil up the nose, ha ha ha ha.  I also bought several ear paper clips for my future fellowship colleagues.  I am very excited!

L to R: 1. Gallerie (Sorry SMS!); 2. Coffee break; 3. Cool vertical mosaic mural
After the shopping trip in a very crowded store, we continued on to the Galerie.  It was a little smaller and cutesy than I thought but there were some decorations and items that I liked.  The best part was SMS' reaction to the gallery/store when he asked, "Wait, is this the gallery we took the train for?  I thought we were going to a museum."   I realize this does not sound funny, but the look on his face combined with the understanding of the sudden collision of expectations and reality was pretty awesome.  It was like when we went to the Fuji museum and I thought it was the Mt Fuji museum.  Again, I realize this doesn't translate very well typing it out onto the blog but it's funny when one of us plans the adventure and the one going along finds the destination unexpected in some way.
SO!  MUCH!  FUN!!!

So, yes, we were done with the Galerie fairly quickly.  We were walking back towards the station to wander through the neighborhood and towards Nakameguro when we came along something awesome!  It was the Walking Bicycle Club!!!  It's a storefront for a bicycle made only in Japan that's pedaled through a stepping motion.  These bikes are so cool and I really want one.  They are really expensive though, especially for a novelty form of transportation but it is really, really awesome.  SMS and I both got to ride one down the street and back and it was so cool.  The salesmen were really nice and I felt badly that they weren't going to get a sale out of us but the test-drive was awesome.  Maybe not quite to level of SMS test-driving a Tesla but still, a lot of fun.

With our hearts racing from the coolness of WBC, we decided to keep our heart rates elevated and  stopped for a quick Kona coffee break at our favorite coffeeshop, Honolulu Coffee Co.  We had looked for another shop I had read about, but the webpage was a few years old and it looked like the other coffee shop wasn't there.  So, we went to HCC and ordered our favorite French Press coffee.  We first went to a Honolulu Coffee Co in Waikiki and since then, have been to the one in World Porters, Yokohama several times.  We didn't realize there would be one in Omotesando but it was a welcome surprise!

After our coffee break, we walked past the Prada building to see if it caught SMS' photographer eye.  He thought it was cool but we pressed on as we headed towards Nakameguro.  We stopped in several stores which were a funny mix of Eastern European antiques and prints combined with modern Japanese artists' work, mainly in jewelry and print-making.  We hit shopping gold near Daikanyama station.  First, we into WakuWaku where I wasthisclose to buying a solar-powered Queen Elizabeth II royal wave doll (I decided I would think it was crap in a month...I know, what was I thinking?!?!).  SMS bought us a cool owl doormat for our future California abode.
CW from top left: 1. Street Art (do you see SMS' head in the mirror man's head; 2. Pop Culture/Musician Kokeshi
Dolls with a strange assortment of "honored" artists; 3. Cool Blackboard Mural; 4. Nakameguro Canal

A few storefronts down was a leather goods store featuring a Japanese brand Sot.  I've been wanting a versatile black leather bag for awhile and I found it there!  It's a gorgeous bag with butter soft leather, perfectly sized.  It met all my specs for what I wanted in a new bag (I've been thinking about it for a bit), so SMS bought it for me.  Yay!!!  It was wrapped up when we left the store but I've been walking around with it in the apartment looking like a crazy person.  I'm so happy with my purchase!

We walked to the Nakameguro canal and it's pretty crazy how there's a gorgeous, peaceful canal only one street over from a busy, crowded, brightly lit with many signs Tokyo street.  We wandered into Cow Books.  I looked at a San Francisco walking tours book while SMS peaked through a few photography books.  We decided it was time for dinner and went to a restaurant off the canal.
L: SMS R: Me at N_1221
The restaurant door labelled itself as vegetable teppanyaki.  It's name was N_1221 and while it wasn't strictly vegetarian, the menu mainly focused on seasonal grilled vegetables.  There was an English daily specials menu, which was just a copy of their Japanese menu with handwritten English translations.  The regular menu was also translated so it was really nice and very easy to order food.   Everything was well-prepared and delicious.  We had lotus root slices, a tapas platter of the daily recommended veggies, bitter greens, Welsh onion and a grilled mackerel.  It was a lot of plates to order but the veggie dishes had 4-5 slices per order so while it wasn't outrageous, we were a little surprised.  Given the portion sizes, SMS and I felt that it was on the pricey side. Reading online, though, it states that there's an emphasis on organic vegetables so I'm sure that adds to the price.

Anyway, the service was excellent and everyone was really nice.  SMS used his excellent Japanese and overall, it was a wonderful experience.  We headed to the train and headed back to Horinouchi.  It was a wonderful day meandering through Tokyo with SMS!
However, I will leave you with Sad Thoughts, Tokyo-style

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Winter Cherry Blossoms (Kawazu Sakura) in Miurakaigan

My husband is awesome!  I was at work finishing up my notes when I got a text from him asking where I was.  I said, "My office. Where are you?"  His response was a picture of beautiful Winter Cherry (Kawazu Sakura) Blossoms.  I decided to join him so I left work around 4:30 and headed out to the Miurakaigan Station.

The cherry blossoms are beautiful and ephemeral so I was glad I got out and saw the trees at their peak.  I'm really looking forward to the Spring when we have plans to see cherry blossoms all over the local area for the larger Sakura event.

Outside the station.  Picture taken by a nice middle-aged man after the old man
SMS initially asked was completely flummoxed by the iPhone.

Walking down the road.  The station is behind us as we walk to Komatsu-ga-ike Pond

Staircase leading down towards the park and pond

So pretty!  Komatsu-ga-ike Pond


This bridge is accessible from the main walking road and provides an awesome vantage point for the passing
Keikyu trains

What a great evening!  Thanks SMS!



Sunday, March 1, 2015

Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Yaen-Koen!


After we saw that about ten of our friends had recently seen snow monkeys, SMS and I decided we wanted to see them too!   We took a day trip out to Nagano, which is slightly crazy given the travel time but it's what we had and we made the most of it!

We left a little before 8.  We decided to take the trains because we weren't sure what the road conditions would be.  Plus, it was nice to break up the travel into segments.  We also got to walk around a little on the train so overall, it was very convenient.  A little pricy, but convenient.  

We took the Keikyu line to Yokohama, the JR Tokaido line to Tokyo station and the Asama Shinkansen to Nagano station.  In Nagano, we stopped at Tully's for a coffee before catching the express train on the Nagano Electric Line, otherwise known as the "Snow Monkey Express!" in both Japanese and English announcements.

We arrived at Yudanaka Station and decided to walk to the Snow Monkeys (must be capitalized).  The bus was coming in 25 minutes and the sign said it was a 25 minute walk so we decided to see the town and get some exercise.  It was also a beautiful day and we had been sitting for the last four or so hours so it was a pretty easy decision.  

Heiwa Kannon- the green tones are from the bronze and not weird glare.
 A little ways into the walk, we came upon an old Japanese lady sitting by the bus stop.  This may be a little known fact but old Japanese ladies are SMS' weakness.  She said we should climb the stairs next to her to the Heiwa Kannon Buddha temple.  We said we were off to see snow monkeys, but then we decided this was a little bit of serendipity and why not check out a new temple?  We went up the stairs and saw the 25m bronze statue of the goddess of happiness.  We decided to check out the interior of the temple.
Making my way up to 33!
For 200 yen, we were allowed into the temple and given the most awesome tour by an older Japanese gentleman.  He showed us the main alter and the original statue that the 25m statue is based on.  After we lit some incense, we went to the back of the main room and down a hallway that led to the interior of the 25m statue base.   In the base are 33 Kannon statues based on 33 sacred temples in Kyoto and Nara.  Each one has a small bell in front of it that can be rung.  If all bells are struck, it is believed that a person will attain true happiness.   Sign us up!  We ran all 33 bells, which took a little while since you can't just run along them like you're running your hand along a picket fence.  You have to strike the bell, bow, pause, then move on.  
Ringing the final bell outside for world peace!
Although we weren't too pressed for time, we did want to get to the Monkey Park with some extra time for photos and looking at the monkeys so we kept walking.  It turns out that by following the iPhone Maps app (when will I learn!?!?!?!), we took the supply road which had a steap uphill.  We were curious as to why no one was on that road but at the actual park, there were tons of people.  Well,  there's another (flat) trail that most people take to access the park.
Where are all the other people?
The way we entered, there was a parking lot and a 10 minute walk to the ticket shack.  There was a snow monkey at the guard shack (and a human too) but other than that, there were no monkeys until we walked in, went up the stairs, crossed a bridge and then finally, showed our passes at the ticket window/gift shop area.  There are a lot of monkeys around, but the coolest are the monkeys clustered around an onsen where most of the classic photos are taken.  It is totally awesome!  I was prepared for it to be cheesy, touristy and not my thing and while it is a little touristy and cheesy, it's so cool!  There are baby monkeys on adult backs, which is funny when they're brought into the onsen involuntarily.  There are actually lots of baby monkeys and they are very cute.



There was one funny/feeling bad moment when I saw a little Japanese toddler with his family enthusiastically waving and smiling at a little baby monkey.  The kid was so happy and probably thought it was a stuffed animal come to life.  Well, the baby monkey took it poorly and aggressively jumped at the kid, swiping at him.  The kid immediately started crying and his Dad picked him up to rescue him.  The juxtaposition of the monkey and kid was pretty funny even though I did feel badly for the kid since he was so scared.
Foot onsens are delightful!
After about an hour and many pictures later, we headed out along the path that everyone else (smartly) takes.  We went back to the train station by bus and met an interesting French photographer who had incredible photos and loves volcanos.  When we got to the station, we had 25 minutes before the train so we hung out in the free foot onsen outside.  Awesome!  Then it was a long trip back with a dinner at a Nagano izakaya.  The less said about that dinner, the better.  It was a rare strike-out.  The food looked so good but ended up being things like chitterlings stew and dried squid jerky.  Boo hoo!
Meal Fail.  I now have the sads :o/

We got home around 2300.  It was a super long day but totally worth it.

***All photos in this post from SMS except for the last three, which should be fairly obvious given the quality!***