Saturday, June 20, 2015

Last week

My last full work week in Japan was pretty busy with a lot of social events and farewell moments.  At work, the corpsmen and I went out to lunch on Thursday where they gave me a sayonara kokeshi doll signed by multiple people in DSS.  Jenn also gave me a paddle that is pretty awesome.  Now my memento plaques from Yokosuka include a paddle and a "skateboard," my cut-out of the USS Kitty Hawk from my time there.

On Thursday, I went to a yakitori restaurant with Adam, Jen and Amanda.  While I was waiting for them, I got my one and only chu-hi stand chu-hi during this tour.  I picked the ume flavor and it was delicious!  We were near Shiori since we wanted to go to Radianza, an awesome Italian place we had been in the past but unfortunately, all of the tables were full.  The yakitori was a nice back-up and we stayed with mainly vegetarian choices since we were out with Adam and Jen.

Friday was a wine night!  I met up with Brooke and Melinda at the World Wine Bar where they had gotten talked into a deal and purchased three bottles.  We only made it through one there but we met up with the rest of the group at Charcoal Grill Green.  Alaina and Stephanie actually came to WWB minutes before we left.  Emily and Stacie were at CGG and we had the most delicious dinner.  We all shared grilled Caesar salad and had our own entrees.  I had the lamb which was phenomenal although the bite of wasabi coleslaw that accompanied the pork belly was amazing.  I must figure out how to  recreate!  Afterwards, Brooke, Melinda and I made a slightly unnecessary trip back to WWB but it was really fun to hang out with them.   It was an excellent last night out!


Then, it was time to go.  It was a crazy morning since I was still wrapping things up at work and mailing my commemorative paddle since it didn’t fit into any bags.  And, oh yeah, I met up with Melinda and Emily to grab a coffee and do some quick knife shopping.  I took the 1230 bus from PSD and Lasonya, her husband, Kazu-san and his son were all there to wave me off.  It was really sweet and so nice to have a send-off!

Narita ended up being a slightly crazy experience.  I was on a United flight, which is great since I'm a Gold Premier member after all of my flying last year.  I hung out in the lounge, used the WiFi and chilled out before the flight.  Unfortunately, there were two United flights going to SFO only 20 minutes apart.  I thought I was on the 5:10 flight since my ticket said that boarding was at 1655 and departure was at 1710.  I didn't actually look at the flight number though and, for reasons I still don't understand based on what was on my ticket time-wise, I was actually on the 1650 plane which was being held for me as I ran from one side of Narita South terminal to the other.  Literally.  The flights were boarding on the exact opposite ends.  I remember thinking "What idiot would mess up their flight?" and I even looked at the list of names one woman was carrying around to snicker at the fools.  (I wasn't on that list!).  Unfortunately, someone other than me got the last laugh.  I got to board my flight out of breath and sweaty.  Fortunately, people were still moving around so it wasn't like everyone was sitting and staring, stone-faced.  But it wasn't the ideal end although it was dramatic!  

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Winding down in Japan...

My last 10 days in Japan felt like a blur of work, friends and food.  All the apartment stuff was over although there was still a lot to do for checking out.  When checking out, a person gets a 2 page hospital check-out sheet and a one page base check out sheet.  It feels like a demented scavenger hunt.  It’s not exactly a waste of time but it definitely feels like bad timing since things are already stressful and the check-out process adds what feels like hundreds of “to-do’s” to an already very long list.  In short, call the “whambulance.”

There were a lot of highlights though.  On Tuesday the 11th, I went out with a few of the MLC’s from the case referral office and had a wonderful izakaya dinner with Kazu-san, Yumiko-san, Muchiko-san and Lasonya.  We had such a fun time and the food was excellent- lots of delicious fried chicken! 

Friday was pretty mellow with a low-key dinner at Hotaru on my own.  So, so delicious.

On Saturday, I had a pretty full day that started with a few hours of work, Body Pump and then heading out to Yokohama.  I went shopping in Yokohama since I had our apartment deposit money that I preferred to spend rather than lose money converting it back into dollars.  When I got there, it was 98 yen for each dollar and now it is 125 yen for each dollar.  So rather than lose 20% of the value, I bought a few things I had my eye on like a new wallet and birkenstocks.  I also went to Flying Tiger in Yokohama where I bought a replacement tacky jewelry holder for the one I received from Mom a few Christmas’ ago that had chipped due to an ill-advised fall from the dresser to the floor.  So, yes, money well-spent!  I did check the prices to make sure that it was a deal and I wasn't buying something that was way higher-priced in Japan vs the US.  I also wandered over to the Red Brick warehouse area which was great because the weather was gorgeous.  I bought a wallet at sot and walked towards the water where there were a lot of cos-play/Steampunk teenagers out in their finest attire.  Oh, and four Disney Princesses.

After shopping, I headed back to Yokosuka to see Pitch Perfect 2 with Adam, Jen and Amanda.  It was awesome because we went out for dinner afterwards at Giovanna's followed by an hour of kareoke.  It was the perfect way to end a night after seeing a movie about acapella!

Sunday started with the huge highlight of selling our car!!!  The buyer came out of nowhere and was trying to buy in a hurry since she was deploying on Tuesday.  I was more than happy to help and they said yes to the car!  I was going to do the LTO run but they ended up taking the car themselves on Monday so I knocked the appropriate amount off the price.  SMS and I were just super happy to sell it and we made a slight amount off of it!

But, back to Sunday!  I went to Kamakura for some more shopping.  On the way, I walked through Verney Park where there was a fun local festival and I bought some delicious fried treats.  In Kamakura, I had tea at the Farm to You restaurant where I hung out in the beautiful outdoor patio garden area. Then I made my way over to Zushi for another farewell BBQ (but not for me).   It was a lot of fun and I went out to Matchpoint afterwards with Stephanie and Alaina where there was more delicious food to be had.  It was an awesome weekend and then it was time to start my last work week in Japan.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Tokyo Weekend!

This past weekend was a Tokyo bonanza!  SMS and I spent a lot of time, walked a lot of miles and have a continued appreciation for our awesome neighboring city.

Friday started off locally with a delicious BBQ dinner at our friends' house.  We had amazing burgers with a huge spread of fixings.  We were a little late since I got off work and then prepped a few salads.  I made an avocado cucumber salad, a Caprese salad and a olive oil pan-cooked potato/garlic/ginan (gingko nut) salad on partially wilted rocket greens.  They were all pretty awesome and overall, we had a fantastic dinner.  The company was also great and it was so much fun to hang out with such good friends.
Yemenote Line, for real!
Our awesome team!  This is as close as we got to being on the Yamanote train all day!
 The next day was an epic Tokyo adventure.  SMS and I got to Horinouchi Station at 0600.  We were on our way to Tokyo to participate in the 2015 Yamathon!  It's an event where teams circle Tokyo by following the Yamanote line, checking into all 29 stations by taking team photos in front of each one. A team can go clockwise or counter-clockwise and it is an amazing way to see the city.  We went clockwise and joined up with another team of friends so in total, there were 8 of us circling the city.  
The Stowaways!
We ended up being inadvertent stowaways on the overnight train from Southern Japan as it made its way through Yokohama station.  Hyperdia told us to get on but no one else seemed to although we found out later that two acquaintances of ours did the same thing.  Since we didn't have beds on the sleeper train, we were stowaways!
Scenes from Tokyo- the bottom right is from a long 1.5m tunnel we walked through near Shinjuku.  We felt like
the Ninja Turtles!
More cool things in Tokyo
 The weather was absolutely perfect and there were several things throughout Tokyo that caught my eye.  It was a pretty cool day and definitely a little tiring by the end.  We had several stops throughout the day including City Bakery in Shinagawa and a lunchtime stop at a combini for an on-the-fly picnic.  We also came across several serendipitous finds- the Shinjuku Godzilla and the Owl Cafe!
Running away from the Shinjuku Godzilla.  No one else seems concerned.
Cool things in Tokyo: gnome with a tall hat, a smile-y restaurant, pretty flowers and the Owl Cafe!
On Sunday, we headed over to our friend's house in Zushi for a delicious brunch.  There were several delicious baked goods, an egg dish and awesome sweet & savory crepes made by our friend Adam.  It was another great group of people and I'm so happy we're getting so much friend time in before we go.
TY Harbor.  Not the best night shots but an absolutely fantastic place!
After a few hours, we headed up to Tokyo where we met up with some friends for Jenn's birthday dinner.  It was at TY Harbor Brewery Restaurant and it was delicious!  It was very English friendly and the food and drinks were so good.  The venue was gorgeous.  All the windows were open and it was so spacious and airy, perfect for the clear, warm evening.  We had a great time and were pretty stuffed by the end.  I highly recommend the restaurant if you're ever in Shinagawa on a beautiful evening.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

South Korea

SMS and I went to South Korea over an extended Memorial Day weekend.  It's a quick, two-hour plane ride and something that we had wanted to do for awhile.  Well, May was perfect both weather-wise and in the fact that our time over here is rapidly winding down.  We even have tickets for our departure!

We left around lunchtime on Friday.  We arrived at Gimpo Airport, which is much closer to the city.  It's the smaller airport that pretty much handles the regional direct flights from Japan and China.  The train system was fairly intuitive and so cheap!  The ride cost approximately $2 and we took it to the stop near our Airbnb rental.  After a slight misstep with the directions, we found our hanok.  We had booked a room in a traditional style Korean home with an amazing proprietor, Lee.  He was there when we arrived and throughout our visit, he was so nice and had great suggestions.  Even the ones we initially didn't want to do (like go to the temple at night after a long day of sightseeing) were completely spot-on and worth doing.  The temples were beautiful as there were a lot of hanging lanterns with prayer inscriptions due to the Monday holiday of Buddha's birthday.

Our hanok was in Insa-dong, which was a perfect central location for walking and taking short subway rides to nearby neighborhoods.  Over the weekend, we wandered in Insa-dong, Bukchon, Cheonggyecheon stream, Changdeokgung Palace, Namsan Park, Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Gyeongbokgung, Itaewon, Gangnum, Noryangin fish market, Hangang Riverfront.  In addition, we took a day tour of the JSA and DMZ.  It was a packed weekend and the city was amazing.

More to follow!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Japan Whirlwind- Sasebo, Osaka and Kyoto

The last half of the week was on my own in Sasebo. I got pretty slammed with patients but overall, I had a good clinic experience. It's really nice to be efficient and just get things done sometimes. My favorite patient was a guy who broke his nose one week ago and it was really crooked. I didn't have the exact meds I wanted nor my usual tools, but I was able to numb him up and reduce the fracture. It was awesome!!!  He will now have a non-jacked up nose (excuse the medical jargon) thanks to this one intervention.  Well, at least until his next nasal trauma!

After a full morning including the nasal reduction, I headed to Sasebo station, destination Osaka! I wanted to check Osaka out since I had only been twice for brief visits. Once with my mom at the castle during Sakura and once with SMS when we had to pick up his tripod from lost & found and we hit up the Umeda Skytree building. 

My capsule!  Well, until I came back later that night and found a Japanese woman in it.
She had mistaken the numbering system but no big deal, I just took the top bunk.

I love Osaka!  It was such a vibrant city!  I stayed in a capsule hotel, which was pretty awesome.  I had wanted to do that for awhile so it was cool to actually do!  It wasn't as claustrophobic as described- I've had less room on  a ship!  I think there may be smaller capsules at different hotels but I was really happy with this place.  It was really clean and the bed was pretty comfortable.  Like a lot of lower cost Japanese hotels, the bathrooms were shared.  I don't mind because there are plenty of facilities and very clean.  Also, it helps that the toilets and sinks/vanities are separated so someone isn't hogging the mirror in a bathroom stall.

After checking in, I walked around downtown Osaka.  The hotel was next to the Amerika area, which was very young and has an interesting view of what American fashion/culture is.  Mainly, a lot of hip-hop and "urbanwear" with a healthy dose of cowboy boots (not to be worn at the same time).
Oh little guy, you were almost worth waiting for!  
I spent a lot of time in the area between Shinsaibashi and Namba stations.  Shinsaibashi has a lot of high-end shops and is near another covered shopping street.  The area also leads to Dotonburi, where there a ton of restaurants and shops.  Here, plastic display food is taken to another level since it is enlarged and suspended in the air on the storefront sign.  At night, the area is well-lit and has a frenetic energy.  Unfortunately, that energy did not translate to the okonomiyaki restaurant I ended up choosing since it took forever to get my food.  I was so hungry and there was so much waiting!  It was delicious though.  I had tried going to the okonomiyaki restaurant listed in "36 Hours in..." but the line was huge and consisted only of fellow tourists so I decided to pass.

Well, after a belly full of okonomiyaki, I decided to go to the spa!  Spa World was a few subway stops away.  There are two full-floor, multi-spa areas, one with an "Asian" theme and the other, "European."  The floors are single-sex and switch every month.  This month, women had access to the European floor.  It was pretty awesome.  There were many (9,11?) spas, most as big as small swimming pools.  There's a lot of walking around naked since being naked is what one does at an onsen and because there were so many spas to choose from, there was a lot of tub-hopping.  As wild and crazy as this potentially could be, it is very staid and everyone just wants to relax.  Spas included a Trevi Fountain, outdoor "Spanish" waterfall, an Italian Blue Grotto, a Finnish sauna and a few other very hot water pools. I think my favorite was the salt sauna, where I sat in a sauna with a big pile of salt in the middle which is rubbed on the body (for circulation?).  The weird thing was an older woman who was sitting on the floor playing in the salt as a child would in the sand.  Or make that the snow since she also seemed to be making salt angels on the floor.  Maybe she was overheated.

After the spa, I went back to the hotel and slept.  The next morning, I woke up early to take the local JR train to Kyoto to buy SMS some of his favorite dried fruit at Nigishi market.  It took a little while and I hopped on the 10 o'clock Shin right on time in order to be back in the Yoko-Yoko area by noon when I was set to take over call.  The call weekend was quiet (yay!) and the next week, I was back to work.  Until the next vacation... [Although in fairness to me, the past week actually was a work trip and I saw >45 patients.  I just managed to squeeze in a  lot of side trips!]

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Nagoya

I arranged my schedule so that I cranked through the consults in 1.5 days. It's good training for civilian practice!  After the morning, I headed up to Nagoya to meet up with SMS. He had left the day prior to go check out Bunny Island. He has sent me some truly scary pictures (this is tongue-in-cheek. The rabbits are very cute but I'm a big chicken when it comes to lots of animals). He spent the night at the Bunny Hotel and then headed up to Nagoya.

On Monday night, I went out to Yuzu, my favorite restaurant in Iwakuni. Since I was by myself, I got the miso eggplant and the salt-crusted grilled fish. Yum!  Other than my Yuzu visit, my Iwakuni trip was pretty uneventful. 

Can't stop, won't stop!  51st floor bound!
I headed up to Nagoya late Tuesday morning and got there too late to go to the Miso Factory.  We met up at our little hotel near the station and headed out to check out the town. First, we headed over to the station to check out the view from the Cafe de Ciel on the 52nd floor. It had a great view of the building SMS wanted to photograph, which was the main reason we were in Nagoya. It was pretty foggy though, so we headed over to the Nagoya branch of the Boston Museum of Fine Art. It was closed though. It was the first day of transitioning between special exhibits so we were out of luck. Boo!  Well, SMS was kind of ok with it but I was le sad for about 5 seconds before switching gears and thinking about dinner!

Spiral building, shrouded in fog
Nagoya has a LOT of regional specialties and food aficionados. I decided I wanted to try hitsumaboshi, rice with small pieces of eel.  Basically, it's a variation on serving unagi.  The recommended place was Horaiken. The surrounding area of Sakae was very cool to walk through and we entered the Matsuzakaya department store and headed to 10F. Long(ish) story short, we were in the central building and not south. It took us a bit to figure it out and make our way to the right place. Well, strictly speaking, SMS figured it out while I was having a quiet meltdown trying out to figure out "Why was the jnternet betraying me with bad directions when I was so hungry?!?!"  So clearly, even more so than usual, it was good SMS was around! 
Awesome water clock in the subway station!
The eel was pretty awesome and we split a large bowl and ate a quarter at a time as directed by the eating instruction on a helpful, multilingual placard.  Then, we headed back to the main station area and scouted out SMS' photo location. It was still raining so we went back to the hotel and I fell asleep. SMS actually headed out about 2 hours later and took his photos so that was pretty awesome for him. 
Spiral building in the distance on terrible quality iPhone nocturnal panorama
The next day, I went up to Yokosuka to see a complicated post-op patient (all was well!) and then took a flight down to Fukuoka so I could get to Sasebo before my clinic on Thursday. SMS stayed longer in Nagoya and went to the Miso Factory and the MagLev museum. He said both were really cool and recommends them!


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Kanazawa

Outer gate of Ninja-dera.  No pictures allowed inside!
I was so excited to be in Kanazawa! So excited, I talked SMS into going to the Ninja Temple when it opened at 9!  Ok, ok, the real name is Myoryuji or Ninja-dera.  We showed up and a woman ran inside to take our "reservation" by intercom. They are very strict about having reservations even though ours ended up being for the first tour at 0945, 45 minutes after we showed up. It was a little strange but word to the wise, if you're traveling during a busy season, have your hotel info desk make a reservation for you. This was suggested on the Internet but I didn't listen!  Also, I don't think they speak a lot of English but there's a translation of the 9 questions they ask you so just keep track of the question number when the person pauses for your answer. Fortunately, SMS' Japanese is extremely jozu but I could follow along even though I was a little lost after the first question ("What is your name?").

Leading up to the main entrance
The temple was really cool. We were given an English pamphlet about the temple and an English binder with a tour outline, including the discussed highlights. We sat with a large group and listened to a long pre-recorded intro before splitting up in several smaller groups for the tour. We started on stop 7 in the binder but covered everything in the approximately 30 minute tour. We saw the "hidden" multi-level structure with 7 floors when it only appears to be 3 from the outside. There were also concealed escape tunnels under floorboards, the seppuku room that could only be opened from the outside (once you're in, you're in until death), the trick door leading to a hidden passage or the normal stairs, the hidden worship room for the leader, the bodyguard room and the drop pits that invaders could fall into. It was super cool to see how creative (and paranoid) the designer was.  A fortress-temple that is awesome to see!


Kenrouken: The size attributes garden- spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water cources, and magnificent view

Iris season and ducks in Kenrouken


Kasumi Pond



After the temple, we walked to the Kenrokuen garden. It's a gorgeous, strolling-style garden that's a huge tourist attraction, of which there were plenty! We saw incredibly old trees with support poles and two beautiful lakes. We also fed koi fish!  That was almost scary because they get into a feeding frenzy and almost hurl themselves onto the shore to get food.

Ah, stop, you're fish!  Stay in the water!!!
After the garden, it was time to hop on the Shinkansen and head to Iwakuni where I had a busy day and a half of clinic ahead of me.