Thursday, September 25, 2014

Out on a School Night

Last night, SMS and I went out on a mid-week field trip.  Even several years after school has wrapped up, I still love the slightly verboten feel of doing something fun on a "school night."  Of course, when we were heading home around 10 and I saw a group of seemingly high school age kids, I was pearl-clutchingly outraged that they were out so late.  Don't they have homework?!  Don't they need to sleep!?!  Of course, they were probably college-aged kids and really, their night was just beginning.  As I get farther away from high school and college, it's borderline shocking to me how young they look.  Did I look that young?!? [Yes, even though I felt oh-so-mature and worldly.]
Flamingos don't care about a little rain!

So, I wanted to go to the Yokohama BayStars game last night.  Rain was set at 75% chance for game time, but that means it's 25% not going to rain, right?  While my grasp of percentages may be irrefutable, rain will have its way and it was raining pretty hard when we arrived.  We didn't have our best rain gear and we didn't want to pay to sit through intermittent sprinkles so we decided to take a rain check (Ha, ha!  I slay myself sometimes!).

The rain did pass over, which we thought it would since the clouds were moving in a Yokosuka to Yokohama direction and things had cleared when we left home.  We walked around Yokohama for a bit before deciding to head to Landmark Tower for dinner.  We had seen a cute yakiniku place over the Winter that I've really wanted to go back to so off we went!

Landmark Tower dominates the skyline of Yokohama.  It's the tallest building and looks vaguely ominous, like a bad-guy Transformer or the building in Ghost Busters.  Please note that architecturally, it looks nothing like the building in Ghost Busters but it feels like something bad is going on.  Someday, I'd like to take the elevator to the top but last night was about the food.  We walked over to the Dockside Garden elevators, which are accessible on level 1F of the main tower.  We took the elevator down to B2F and went to Yakitori Aburi Sumiyaki Odori.
Chicken meatballs!

There are several cute tables with orange stovepipe vents above them but since there were none available, we sat at the counter.  We ordered lotus chips, a delicious lettuce wrap with perfectly seasoned chicken, a grilled rice ball (yakionigiri), grilled chicken strips, grilled eggplant and an order of chicken meatballs (tsukume).  The chicken meatballs were awesome because those were cooked on our own little hibachi grill.  They were delicious and I'm glad we ordered one thing we got to cook ourselves!
Our cute "toppings" plate.  It was cuter before we started decimating it!

The lotus chips were delicious although slightly over salted for SMS' taste.  The grilled chicken strips were something I was initially leery of since the photograph featured a lot of chicken skin on the strips, but it did look pretty delicious so SMS ordered it.  He was right!  The grilled eggplant was sliced length-wise and had a surprise meat patty placed in the middle.  I didn't mind (because it was delicious!) but it would be hard to be vegetarian in Japan.  Several dishes seem to follow the "Use meat as a seasoning" guideline that I've heard in America when people are advocating for reduced meat consumption.  I've seen tofu dishes with ground beef in addition to last night so be careful, all you vegetarians out there!
View from the 'Gicho!

After dinner, we headed towards Sakuragicho which wasn't the most direct route home, but it feels very vibrant and it was something different to see so we took the moving walkways over to the station.  Ok, ok, we took that route because of the moving walkways.  So lazy!  So lazy, in fact, that we decided to fortify ourselves with the driest chocolate cake at a small cafe before heading on the train.  It's all about conserving strength!


Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Dogs Are Barking!

A robot walking down the hall in 3331 Chiyoda Arts because, of course!
I've always thought, "My dogs are barking" to be a really weird expression. I guess it's Southern and it means your feet hurt. Well, my feet are really sore after a day of walking around Tokyo with my Sweetie!
Akihabra Electric Town
We went to Akihabra to see Akihabra Electric Town. The main street was closed to vehicular traffic so we walked down the road and headed to Ueno. 
In 3331 Chiyoda Arts
We had an interim stop though. We went to 3331 Chiyoda Arts, a mixed use building in a former junior high. The building had a few shops, gallery spaces, workshops and a Lomography photo store where SMS dropped off a film roll he shot last week. We paid the entrance fee for the modern artist exhibit. My favorite was the installation with several instruments, a wind chime and two feather dusters connected to a main circuit run by a huge cylinder dictating the action similar to the tune played in an old-fashioned music box. We also hung out in the little park outside which was quite enjoyable since it was a gorgeous day!
My favorite installation, made even better by +SMS
We walked around the park and saw the outside of the Tokyo National Museum and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I want to go back to since there's an upcoming visiting exhibit from the Uffizi Gallery. 
SMS is blending in!
Next, we went back to Akihabra and took the train to Tokyo station. We walked around some more and got photo ideas for SMS before heading to Ramen Alley for dinner. We went to a new place (#3 of the 9 listed). It wasn't bad but we liked the one we went to last time better (Honda). 

The rest of the weekend was fun too. On Friday night, the wardroom/spouses' club had a joint fundraiser rug auction. I was overdressed but didn't care :) while SMS acted as the official photographer. I think that was his plan so we didn't buy a rug since we try to make it a rule to discuss potential purchase items when they're more than $250. And these rugs were a lot more than $250!

Saturday was a mellow brunch day at our friend's house in Ikego. Adam made stellar creeps, channeling his previous professional crepe maker's skills. 

It was a great weekend and SMS and I had so much fun. We also have lots of potential trips planned so this blog should stay interesting for awhile!

Friday, September 19, 2014

What I've been reading...

Compared to my pleasure reading amount over the past few years, I have been binge reading lately and loving it.  Of course, if my Dad reads this post, he'll say, "But where are the classics?!?!?"  Right here, Dad, right here.  Well, maybe not but I've enjoyed (mostly) all of them and here's my little synopsis.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn: Ok, let's get this one out of the way first.  I read this book based on the Powell's Bookstore list of 25 Books to Read Before You Die and based on this one, I'm going to say nope, nope, nope.  The book is set in the present, but mainly focuses on the Binewski family carnival in the form of flashback.  The story is told by Oly, one of the daughters.   She is the most ordinary of the five children and she is a albino hunch-backed dwarf.  Her parents, you see, conceived all of their children with the purposeful intent of creating little freaks, which mainly meant that the Mom took lots and lots of drugs.  The story has several strands but unifies around the main story of Oly's relationship with her brother Arty, a megalomaniacal, narcissistic boy with flippers for arms and legs.  He is truly one of the most loathsome characters I've ever read in fiction and was just a huge "ick" factor through the whole book.  It kept getting worse too…he's truly a character to revile.  I didn't like this book but it was like a train wreck I couldn't look away from so I finished it.  Also, the part of the story set in the present…meh.  It,too, was purposefully weird, but it wasn't too hard to see intention of drawing parallels between Mary Lick and Arty but it still didn't make me care about either of those two characters.
Recommendation: Be careful of Powell Bookstore recommendations.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: This young adult book about two kids who don't fit in at school in his/her own special way find each other and fall in love.  The book is fine and a sweet testament to the validity of first loves and high school loves, which may be trivialized as we reach our "wiser" adulthoods.  The most standout portion of the book to me was where she cuts off contact to Park for a certain period of time and reminded me of the main character in Americannah not writing to her love after an incident America.  In both cases, I wanted to tell the characters, "No, it's ok!  Don't wall yourself off!"  But it's a book and books do what's been foretold.
Recommendation: Good, but it's definitely a Young Adults book which I didn't realize when I read it.

The Circle by Dave Eggers: An insecure woman goes to work for a Facebook/Google megalith company and manages to find insane success within her workplace but only at the expense of everything's that's real- family, friends, privacy.  The book is a dystopian novel focusing on the incredible, insidious pervasiveness of social media in our lives.  The worst part of it is that we willingly acquiesce to our loss of privacy and real connections, except for some true stand-up individuals.  Who die.  This book kept me off Facebook for a few days but then like a little addicted lemming, I'm using it again but conscientiously!
Recommendation: It's not anything you couldn't read in editorial form in a newspaper nostalgically bemoaning the way it was.

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman:  This book was good but the TV show is so great that it was hard to compare.  I thought her discussion of the current imprisonment statistics and minimum sentencing requirements was interesting but I would get more out of it in a more academic book rather than a memoir trying to add gravitas and relevance.
Recommendation: Watch the series!

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami: I loved this book.  I loved what he said about exercise, running, habits and life.  The organization is the beautiful series of narratives that are like an interlocking chain, lazily progressing to the narrative finish line, which is the writer's run in the NYC marathon and his final recollections after that race.
Recommendation: High

Wildwood by Colin Merlot: Written by the lead singer of The Decembrists, this book focuses on Prue, a young girl who lives in St John's, Portland and must venture into the fantastical Wildwood to save her brother, who's been carried off by the crows at the behest of the Dowager Countess.  This book is a pleasant read but not enough that I feel the need to read the sequel.
Recommendation: Sure, why not?

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt: If I haven't put myself in permanent timeout with my book club because of recommending Geek Love, I'm going to recommend this book.  The book is told through June Elbus, a 14 year old girl who is grappling with the recent death of her beloved uncle from AIDS in the late 1980s, when fear and misunderstanding about the disease was still rampant.  While there are other books who have dealt with teen's grief better (that was the biggest strength of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt), I was most captivated by the relationship between June and her older sister.  They had once been the best of friends but through misunderstandings, jealousy and the insecurities of being a teenager, they drifted apart into a dysfunctional dynamic that they seem powerless to stop, despite both of the wishing it were different.  Brunt does an excellent job of tapping into the complexities of being a young adult and while I identified with June in my own recollections of high school, her sister Greta was also a sympathetic character.  It's one of those relationships where I wished everyone could just get together, have a sit-down and get it all out.  But life doesn't work that way and relationships have to evolve and progress in fits and starts.
Recommendation: High, but it's not the most intellectual book in the world

Whew and that's it!  So, as you can see, I haven't been overwhelmed by my recent reads but I also have to stop getting young adult recommendations from blogs!  Blog rec lists tend to focus on lighter reads, especially in the Summer when people are looking for beach reads.  Maybe I should listen to Dad and read! all! the! classics!

[BTW, I will definitely write a separate entry for Americanah by Chimamanda Nogozi Adichie.  That book was incredible!!!  I also enjoyed the non-fiction Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.]

Monday, September 15, 2014

Yokohama and Kayaking Tokyo Bay

This weekend was characterized by not traveling!  Hooray!  I am a little tired of being jet lagged and it was great to hang out locally. On Saturday, SMS and I went up to Yokohama with a large group of friends to go to the International Breakfast Festival.  What an awesome idea for a festival, right?  Well, unfortunately, a lot of other people thought so too because the lines were crazy!  Not only were the lines for the food trucks long, but the line for the tickets to trade in for the food was also insane.  Since some of the food trucks were already selling out of the best looking options, we decided to go elsewhere.
Yokohama, Cosmo World
We walked by the Yokohama Convention Center.  Something was going on and there were a few great outfits/costumes but I only took mental snapshots.  We decided to go to World Porters for breakfast. Initially, I thought Hawaiian Town would be a good choice but one of the cafes was closed so we headed to a pancake and waffle shop, which was perfect.  Lots of seating and our food didn't take too long to arrive.

After brunch, we walked through the Red Brick Warehouse.  Then we went to Yodobashi Camera for SMS before heading home.  That night, we decided to see Lucy, which was entertaining.  I love how inexpensive the movies are here- $2/each for an almost brand new movie!  I should clarify and say that the movies are cheap on base, since out in town they are expensive and confusing since you pick your seat and there's tiered pricing even though the movie theaters are small and there really isn't that big a difference in locations.
Ricotta pancakes, yum!
Sunday, I made ricotta pancakes based on bills recipe.  They were great.  I like them a lot better than the Farmhouse Cafe recipe since it results in a fluffier pancake.  I highly recommend!  Then, we went kayaking to Monkey Island and back.  We had fun and I'm glad we did it although I don't think I'll become a professional paddle sportsperson.  I get sort of bored after about 45 minutes, which is tough since I can't exactly get up and leave.  *Splash*

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Whirlwind US Tour!

Radio silence on the blog!  Hey, hey, I'm back from a whirlwind tour of the US where I crammed so much into 5 days, it sort of boggles my mind.  The main purpose for the trip was two more fellowship interviews: one on Friday, 9/5 and the other on Monday, 9/8.  Also, sorry, bad blogger.  I really didn't take any pictures so if too much text is too boring to get through, I completely understand.
Oh, Japan and your Starbucks specialty drinks.  Yes, American readers, this is a
banana pudding cake frappucchino.  It just makes delicious sense.
I left on Thursday afternoon from Japan and flew into Pittsburgh, connecting through Dulles.  I arrived in Dulles 15 minutes before I left Japan!  Then I made my connection to Pitt where I was picked up at the airport by Karen, one of my college friends.  Yes!  I got to see a friend on this trip!  It was awesome to see her and we both thought it was great that we've seen each other more in the last three weeks than in the last 12 years since we saw each other at the wedding too.

We had a mellow evening where we ate big salads and studied.  Then it was off to bed and apart from the standard waking up at 3 a.m. (hello my other good friend, Mr. Jet Lag!), I felt pretty good.  I had my interview and really liked the place.  That was a pleasant surprise since I wasn't feeling good about the interview before arriving since the welcome emails kept stressing how many candidates were being interviewed.  Sniff, sniff, why don't they know that they should only want me?!?!?!?  (This is totally a joke!).

Friday night was a little more lively.  I went for a run then we headed out to Redfin Blues for dinner.  It was a beautiful night and we sat along the river.  The restaurant is more about its location than its food, but we still had a  nice dinner.  Then we headed to Salud in Karen's neighborhood, followed by a nightcap at a nearby bar.

The next morning, I woke up late after waking up in the middle of the night again.  Karen and I went to Cafe Mona for breakfast/brunch where I had a pierogi crepe.  It was so tasty!  A little on the heavy side but I was so hungry after waiting for breakfast and walking up the hill to the restaurant that I was totally fine with it, as evidenced by the fact I left nothing behind!

After brunch, I killed time (and my wallet, ha ha) shopping while Karen was the picture of max efficiency and studied more.  Then we headed out to the airport.  I offered to take the bus but Karen was awesomely kind and drove me.   I was off to DC for a stopover to see my parents and Brady before heading to Minnesota.  My plane was delayed and the metro was super slow since it was only running on one track.  I wish I had known before I got on the train because by the time I was ready to get off and just pay for a taxi, I was in between stations which is a very tenuous exit location.  So, I arrived about 2 hours later than I wanted which I was a little sad about since I had less than a day to spend with my family.  But the second I walked into Mom and Dad's apartment, sadness be gone!  We had such a nice time hanging out and catching up in person.
Total paparazzi picture of Brady trying to sort out the driveway/car situation
back in her Boston apartment.  She is blue, ba-da-dee-ba-da-bah.

After cocktail hour, we headed out to Gironmo, an Italian place in Old Town Alexandria.  We shared delicious calamari and Mom, Brady and I all had lobster risotto.  So delicious.  Then we walked to the metro and headed back.  Brady and I stayed at a nearby hotel and talked quite awhile before heading to bed.  I woke up around 4 (boo!) and finished The Circle by Dave Eggers.  I also went to the Java Shack, a coffee shack/high school haunt.  The tables looked a little worse for wear but nothing had really changed.

I went back to bed for a couple of hours and then headed out to brunch at The Rhodeside Cafe.  We hung out for a bit and headed to the airport.  I stopped by Pentagon City and bought a pair of flip-flops which were the best purchase of the trip!

I got to Minneapolis on the later side and checked into the hotel.  I crashed and then woke up to my alarm clock.  I set three alarms because I was worried I would oversleep since I wasn't running on too much sleep.  I had my interview, which went really well and then I went to the airport.  I got a mani/pedi, which resulted in cutting it really close with my flight (priorities).

On the trip back, I got to hang out in two USOs (Denver and LAX).  Yay, my favorite travel lounges!  I even took a shower in LAX.  Then it was time for my flight back home.

On the way back, I was upgraded to Economy Plus.  It was perfect and I am hooked.  I did have one weird experience.  I went to the bathroom at one point and when I came back, something very familiar was around the neck of my next-door neighbor.  It was my neck pillow.  Unfortunately, I never learned "Excuse me, Sir, I believe you stole my neck pillow" in my Japanese class.  I managed to get it back at the end of the flight when I pointed out the difference between "airplane pillow" and my (amazing) "neck pillow" that was not his!  I think he was pretty embarrassed but really sir, we were only in Economy Plus- no way would a pillow that awesome be complimentary!
I'm back!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Labor Day Weekend


Labor Day weekend was a lot of fun. SMS and I went to two places that I've wanted to check out- Monkey Island and Enoshima. I was on call but apart from a busy Friday night/Saturday morning, things were quiet and we made the most of it!

Monkey Island is about 1/2 mile off the coast in Yokosuka, within Tokyo Bay.  We met up with friends and took the ferry out (Y1300/person). We hiked around the island. "Hike" might be slightly strong since the island is small and most of the trails are wooden decks. But it was nice to explore and we were ready for lunch by the time we got back to the small, but crowded, beach area. SMS and I bought food there- I had curry bread and shave ice. Lunch of champions!  SMS had the curry and rice, which was pretty standard brown curry. Our friends bought their food and an impressive beach picnic set-up, complete with a tent.  Next time, we'll bring our picnic game, complete with camping chairs!

On Monday, we took our friend's advice and went to Bill's near Enoshima. It is an awesome brunch place with crazy lines on the weekend. The tip we received was to go on an American holiday. It worked!  There was no wait!

I got awesome corn fritters with avocado salsa. It's not what I'd usually order since I'm an Eggs Benedict or Ricotta Pancakes type, but it sounded good and was delicious!  SMS got a dish that was basically Eggs Benedict without an English muffin- poached eggs, gravlax, greens. It was also tasty. We were very happy we went. 

Since we were so close, we decided to check out Enoshima. We walked along the Main Street with its shops and restaurants. We walked up the stairs to the temple complex that contains 3 temples within it. It started to rain heavily so we skipped the caves but it would be worth it to go back. We were also given an umbrella by a Japanese man, which was very kind of him. We had left ours in the car. Always thinking!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mt. Fuji, Accomplished!



The final torii gate, steps from the top
If you're stationed in Japan, many conversations at some point will bring up Mt. Fuji.  "So, have you climbed Mt. Fuji?""Are you going to climb Mt. Fuji?"  It's symbolic of Japan and only 2ish hours away from Yokosuka.  SMS has already been up it twice this Summer but I hadn't been and I really wanted to go.  As I told people, "I don't want to come back to Japan a third time!"  Although I like my job and enjoy Japan, there are some challenges here and besides, I like to move to new places!

I was starting to get worried that I wouldn't make it though, schedule-wise.  But I called in a favor (like, my 500th one.  I'm way behind on the favors owed column of my life spreadsheet) and SMS and I were signed up to lead a MWR day trip to Mt. Fuji.
 
I'm so glad you're heeeeeerrrreeeeeee!
We woke up at 12:45 a.m. (ooof!) and headed over to Outdoor Rec.  I borrowed a pair of hiking boots and gaiters.  We hopped on the bus and picked up our group.  They were 16 deep sea divers from a visiting ship and they were pretty hilarious.  SMS and I mostly kept to ourselves but some of their conversations were pretty funny to overhear.  We stopped at a rest stop on the way.  There was a huge banner sign of an older woman wearing a lemon hat on her head.  For some reason (sleep deprivation?), I thought this sign was hilarious!  So, it's photo-documented. 
Different trail conditions
We arrived to the Fuji Subaru 5th Station around 4:45.  SMS, Jeff and I were the three guides and went to a back room to hang out for a bit before starting off.  A worker walked in and gave us breakfast sushi, which was really nice.  He said his name was Yasushi, which he found hilarious when I repeated it.  I strongly suspect that his name was not Yasushi.  But the sushi was good and it was nice to get an unexpected treat.  
Crater panorama
SMS and I headed out around 5:30 and got to the top by 10:20.  It was drizzly and slightly cold so I didn't feel the need to hang out at the various stations.  The trail conditions were sort of in thirds.  The first third was packed dirt and occasional broken pavement, the second was lava rock that had some easy scrambles and third was gravelly switchbacks to the top.  
SMS and I had several clothes talks on the way up.  He thinks that Americans can be very
judge-y about outdoor clothing and proper apparel.  In contrast, it is perfectly acceptable
in Japan to wear a one-piece bright yellow rain suit emblazoned with "Yellow Corn."
There was the trade-off that we had to wait up top until 1:00 because the other group had some slow hikers and slow movers when it came to re-starting the trail.  SMS and I wished that our group was the only one because those guys were up and out by 12.  SMS said they were the most organized, cohesive group by far that he's seen on his trips.  
The trail wasn't too crowded but there were a few large groups of older Japanese
hiking the trail.  I can only hope I'll be that active!
The 8th Station, seen from the descent trail
After 1, we headed down and met up with Josh.  We went ahead and once Josh and the group were off the mountain, our group headed back to Yokosuka.  SMS promised the bus that we were going to stop at the world's best rest stop but unfortunately, the driver had other plans.  We stopped at a pretty good rest stop but apparently, not the world's greatest.  It did have McDonald's though so the divers were happy.  SMS promised to take me to the world's best rest stop another time.  Sounds romantic!
The hillside was beautiful with blue-tinted rock and vibrant green plants

We got back around 7:30 and I think I was asleep within the hour.  It was a long day and totally worth it.  I don't have to do the hike again, but it was challenging and enjoyable.  I recommend it!
Yay!