Friday, April 17, 2015

Hong Kong

Our massive holiday has started!  I almost don't even want to mention work but after two late nights, everything was in order and I was ready to leave. SMS and I had bought tickets for an amazingly priced flight that left Haneda at 1:45 a.m. Hmmm, maybe there was a reason for the price!  We took Cathay Pacific and tried to rest for most of the flight. The seats were really packed in tightly- I think it would be very uncomfortable as a larger or taller person!

We landed in Hong Kong around 5:30 and got to the hotel around 7:00. I wanted to start the vacation in high style so I booked a room at the Mandarin Oriental (using United points!). It is amazing!!  Part of the reason I wanted a nice hotel was I figured our chances were higher of getting an early check-in.   Well, we were told that our room was empty but not ready and could we wait or come back at 9?  This was awesome news and they were actually apologetic about it, which seems insane since we were the ones asking for the big favor. They even offered to comp our breakfast!  The buffet was awesome and featured an omelet bar, pastry table, dim sum, fresh fruit, cheese, hot dishes, salad, fish and charcuterie. It was a lavish, delicious spread. I enjoyed fresh watermelon juice, coffee, dim sum, fruit and a pastry. Yum!

We decided to head out with full bellies and our bags checked, so we were heavy and light at the same time!  We took the Star Ferry over to Kowloon. It's amazing how busy the harbor is!  We walked around the Kowloon waterfront and saw the Clock Tower, Path of Stars and the beautiful Hong Kong island skyline. After our walk, we took the ferry back across, this time on the upper deck. We didn't realize there were two boarding areas, one for upper ($2.50 HK) and one for lower ($2 HK). We thought you just went up and down on the ship itself. Wrong!  

Then we checked into our room and it was beautiful. We had a city/harbor view room on the 7th floor and it was fantastic. Awesome bed, dual head shower, robes, nespresso machine, huge towels and just overall, totally fantastic. I could get used to the high-rolling, luxury hotel life!  We took a short nap and then headed out to see more of Hong Kong. 

Ever since Toronto, SMS has been on the lookout for Lanzhou beef noodle soup.  We went to a great place near our hotel in Montreal and since then, we've looked in Yokohama Chinatown (no luck) and went to a little stand in the Yokohama Cup Noodle museum where they feature several world noodle soups in the little 5th floor food court. Well, we found a restaurant in North Point on the Internet and took the MRT over. Thank goodness for smartphones!  I had saved the page and by asking two separate shopkeepers, we found the place. Both guys gestured the way to us since we were in Chinese neighborhood (rather than the more English-speaking downtown). But showing the kanji worked easily even though the first guy we asked had a slight difference of opinion with the guy next to him about how to go, which made sense b/c from that particular point, it was a right, left and left down the stairs into a pedestrian alley. The third part was hard to convey so that's when the second guy helped. We had to ask, but both guys were really nice and we ended up at the Beef Noodle restaurant!!!  There were several awesome looking restaurants on the street but this one had a pretty big line. "Mr. SMS" put his name on the list and we were seated in about 15 minutes. The soup was awesome. I got the mutton flat noodle and SMS got the beef ramen noodle. In the end, he decided he preferred the slightly lighter broth of the Montreal shop and the guy who pulls the noodles to-order but that our lunch was pretty delicious. 

Then, we took the MRT back to Central and walked the HK side of the island. We went to Mid-levels, took the "world's largest outdoor escalator" up to Hollywood Rd, walked through SoHo, and saw the ManMo temple. Then we walked to the Lower Terminus for the Peak Tran and went up to Victoria Peak. The city view was awesome and we were there on such a beautiful day. We hung out for a bit before heading back to the hotel. On our walk, SMS noted that, 
"You can have public garbage cans or public bathrooms but you can't have both."  The garbage cans are here and the bathrooms in Japan.

SMS took some great Blue Hour photos and then we watched half of the 8 o'clock light show. It was a little underwhelming so we left because we were hungry!  We walked back to SoHo and ate at the Blue Butcher. The food was delicious and the interior was industrial chic. It was very cool. Finally, we walked through Lan Kwai Fung before getting back to the hotel and going to bed. I was exhausted!

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Weekend of Eating

This weekend featured a lot group eating events.  There were no eating contests (as far as I knew) but I had a really great time at several different venues with several of our Yokosuka friends.

On Friday, we went to World Wine Bar for a Pascual Toso wine dinner.  The wine bar is one our group likes a lot up in the Motomachi District of Yokohama.  They have a great menu of food and wine and the atmosphere is really pleasant.  An added bonus is that one of the women who works there speaks excellent English and she is usually there.

We had 3 courses: an empanada-style tart cut into triangles, a corn/sausage/beef stew that was heavy on the vegetables and employed the concept of "meat as a seasoning" perfectly and a steak.  It was delicious and the wines paired really well. The group went in on a case and a half of the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva and half a case of the Malbec.  Ordering wine is awesome because the price includes delivery through the Black Cat system.  This means we didn't have to carry the wine and we could pick the exact date we wanted for delivery.  Oh Japan, I will miss you and your efficiency!

On Saturday, I went for a 5 mile run in the morning to get a long run in and take advantage of the break in the weather.  It has been so rainy lately!  Afterwards, SMS and I did a little YouTube camera review watching before heading up to Yokohama for a field trip.  First, we went to the Ramen Museum for lunch.  We tried a new vendor and got a salt broth and soy sauce broth ramen.  SMS was really happy to try a new place and it was pretty good.  My favorite is still the heart-stopping heart attack in a bowl Tonkatsu ramen, which is made with fatty-fat pork broth.  Yum!

After lunch, we headed to Kamiooka to go shopping at Yodobashi camera.  We bought the Fuji XQ2 since my old point-and-shoot was on its last legs.  It's an awesome camera with some great in-camera software so I'm really happy.  What's even cooler is that SMS was able to negotiate a price match with's price so we saved about 15%.  Yeah!  After our shopping excursion, we headed home and relaxed.  We had tuna cakes for dinner, which was a light, cheap choice after an afternoon of ramen and shopping!

On Sunday, we met up with friends at the SPASSO Oyster Market and had baskets of delicious seafood, grilled on our table mini-grills.  Oysters sometimes pop with vigor when being grilled which slightly freaked out a few of our friends.  It was definitely an experience.  I'm not sure if everyone will be heading back anytime soon but it was fun to do something so seasonal.  The oyster markets are usually open from Jan-Apr although it looks like SPASSO will be open until May.  I imagine this is due to the fairly chilly Spring we had, but really, I have no idea.

Afterwards, we headed up the hill behind the Yokosuka Art Museum to an awesome roller slide.  We used our plastic slide seats to sit and then launch ourselves down the really long slide.  It takes about 20-30 seconds to get to the bottom and it is so fun!  There are two turns and in between, a person picks up a lot of speed!

Getting ready for sliding adventures!
We all parted ways and then met up a few hours later in Kawasaki for a SoCal Mexican food fiesta!  Cactus Burrito is a delicious restaurant where Adam had made reservations, which is definitely necessary since the restaurant is so small.  Most of us ordered the SoCal burritos, which is carne asada and fries.  So good!  Mark and I had been once before although we've tried a few other times and we always seem to catch the rotating day off.  Sagoy, so sad in the past but so happy on Sunday!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Birthday weekend!

Another year, another birthday!  Someday I'll realize my dream of taking my birthday off and having a day of idle luxury but this year, I had a wonderful evening after a day of PALS (a class that is not wonderful although I am appreciative that I now have my certification and it was free).

SMS made a delicious dinner of chicken soft tacos (California is getting closer) and an assortment of Japanese mini-cakes.  I opened my presents and cards from my well-wishers (ha ha, but in seriousness, thanks Mom & Dad, Rip & Linda and Marty!).  SMS bought me The Smitten Kitchen cookbook and a pair of hiking boots, which he had given to me prior to our Jogasaki trip.  I also had fresh flowers greeting me when I got home.  Overall, it was a great day and even though I'm starting to get to the point where I don't exactly want to disclose my age, I'm still very happy and appreciative of what has gotten to me to this point in my life.
From L to R: Yokohama Outfield Section, Swallows fans, beautiful tulips outside the stadium
On Saturday, SMS was awesome and came with me to a Yokohama Baystars game.  He was fighting a mean cold but he still came out to hang with his birthday girl wife!  I thought we were going to luck out and get outfield seats in the Yokohama section but alas, we were in the Yakult Swallows section. So, loyal fans that we are, we immediately switched our allegiance and cheered for the Swallows.  It was a lot of fun and after the home runs, there was an umbrella dance that our seat mate lent me his little umbrella so I could participate.  I had a great time but it was a little cold so after the release of the Baystar balloons during the 7th inning stretch, we took off.  I'm pretty determined to make it to one more game and get Yokohama tickets so I can use my noisemaker bats but we'll see.

Afterwards, we walked down the canal by Hinedocho and admired the cherry blossoms.  I've been calling the end of Sakura season for a few days now but I'm glad I was surprised by a final gorgeous display.
From L to R: The main shrine, interesting lawn ornament, self-appointed traffic director who shadowed
the real traffic control men- they were not as interesting to photograph!

Sunday was the day that SMS was determined to rally for because it was the Kawasaki Fertility festival, aka the Penis Festival.  This blog has a pretty comprehensive post about the festival, including its "demonic" origins.  We had a great time.  It was crazy crowded and at one point, we tapped out so we could seek shelter from the rain but since our timing coincided with the heaviest rain of the day, it was perfect.
The three floats
After lunch, we walked outside right as the parade was about to pass us by- awesome timing!  There were three mikoshi floats.  My favorite was the giant pink phallus which was carried by middle-aged cross-dressed men.  They didn't look very ladylike but they did look like they were having a lot of fun.  We went to the temple grounds and bought penis lollipops and chu-hi (they go together like PB&J) and looked at all the food stands.  We headed back to the main Keikyu Kanazawa station and had a few beers at T.T. brewery.   They have excellent microbrews and cool spider charts to plot out the beers' characteristics.  I highly recommend if you're in the area!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sakura Season

My walk to work on Tuesday!
I was really excited for this year's Sakura season.  This is my third Spring in Japan but I feel that prior to this year, I never really experienced the beauty of Sakura Spring.  In 2008, the ship had sea trials so we were out to sea during the peak.  That year seemed to have a very short season since the wind and rain took the flowers off in a hurry according to people who were on shore.  Last year, I was in Chicago nervously preparing for my oral boards so this year was going to be the year!  
SMS and I made the most of it and saw beautiful Sakura in several different places.  On Tuesday this week, we travelled up to Yokohama and the Seiken-en Garden.  We went after work and drove, which is much easier than the 2 trains and bus we would have needed for the public transportation route.  There was a large parking lot with plenty of parking and we were there for a beautiful sunset.  The garden hosted evening illuminations of several period buildings that had been collected for the garden by its wealthy founder/benefactor Sankei Hara.  The buildings are mainly from Kamakura and Kyoto.  SMS set up a photo project that had him as artistic director and me running around as lighting assistant.  My job was to flash several trees and the Yokobuean building in order to provide the proper lighting.  The flashing, to clarify for one of my Facebook friends, was of the camera flash variety, not trench-coat!  It was a lot of fun and SMS took a beautiful picture.   
The Three Storied Pagoda through the trees

Some say low-fi iPhone photo, I say Pointillism!
On Wednesday, we went up the street to Hashirimizu Park, which has beautiful sakura trees and is conveniently local.  While I saw a lot of fun Tokyo pictures with the sakura and hanami parties (picnics), it was nice to go to a place that was less crowded and still totally gorgeous!
Close-up at Work
This week, I got to enjoy the sakura all around base.  The trees on base are also amazing and it's so cool to work in such pretty location.  I ate outside twice this week and it was really a treat.
Close-up from my Tuesday walk to work!
Finally, even though I thought the Sakura season was at an end, SMS and I walked along the canal in Hinodecho, Yokohama on Saturday.  There was a Sakura festival going on with lots of street vendors lining both sides of the canal under the trees.  My favorite viewing sites were on the bridges where some of the tree boughs gently curved towards the water.

Overall, it was a wonderful start to Spring and I'm so glad I got to appreciate the Sakura in so many different settings!

Along the Hinodecho canal

Monday, March 30, 2015

Local Weekend

This weekend started on Thursday, which feels like a very college thing to say!  We went out to dinner with our friend Melinda to a Neapolitan pizza place in Yokosuka called Piacere.  SMS and I had been there before and were impressed although our favorite pizza place is still the one in Zushi.  SMS and I split a sausage pizza and completely oishii (tasty) pasta carbonara. I don't eat a lot of pasta dishes anymore but this was absolutely incredible.  Also, the dinner set menu is Y1500 between 1700-1900 which is a pretty awesome deal.  We watched the open kitchen and caught up with our friend before parting ways.  SMS and I went over to a roller derby team member's house where people were busy with improv games and drinking up the rest of her liquor collection, which made for some eclectic drinks.  The improv games were a lot of fun and SMS and I did a pretty good one together where we made fun of one of the best player/coach on the team since she's pretty intense and has a few imitable mannerisms (mostly being really tough and scary!).

On Friday, SMS and I went to Hotaru for a welcome back party for one of our friends who was an embedded alternate to deploy but ended up not being picked up.  The food was delicious and at some point, I'd like to go back with SMS and eat off the a la carte menu.  The group was smaller this time and it was nice to hang out with our friends here but whom we don't see enough since people frequently have travel plans.  This weekend, for example, several friends went down to Kyoto for the sakura (cherry blossoms).
Walking in Yokosuka
Saturday was a mellow day and SMS and I lazed around in the morning before deciding to go out for lunch and bouldering at a local climbing gym.  We went to a Chinese place with delicious mabo tofu, although neither of us got it this time.  I got a similar tofu dish but it also contained seafood such as shrimp and calamari in addition to tofu and pork.  SMS got a ramen and ginger pork & rice dish.  Both were good and maybe a little heavy before climbing but we persevered through any food coma temptation and bouldered for a few hours at Zig-Zag.

Afterwards, we walked to the Yokosuka Central Park to see some cherry blossoms.  There, we ran into a friend of mine from the Kitty Hawk and he walked with us for a bit.  We saw his amazing customized home and then he walked a bit into town with us, showing some of his favorite shops and highlights.  We saw a antique shop, croquette shop that one FujiTV announcer said was the best in Japan and a delicious looking soba shop.  We also saw a building that was more than 100 years old that was very beautiful.  It now houses a store that sells all accessories for participating in a Mikoshi parade.  We will have to go back and check it out!

On Sunday, I went for a run and wandered through the cherry blossoms of Hashirimizu.  They were gorgeous and the noontime sun made the trees look spectacular.  I finished my run and SMS and I headed out to have a little picnic.  Well, unfortunately, the clouds rolled in with rain so it was still pretty but not picnic-able weather.  We went to Kamakura for dinner that night and had great sushi, a oden-like soup with a fish head, tofu with tripe (mistake and not really eaten) and calamari.

View from the cove.  SMS got a much better picture based on locals' advice!
Monday was a full day of clinic followed by a trip to Hiyama for dinner.  SMS and I hung out on the terrace near Restaurant Don and SMS made friends with the local photographers.  They told him they were there for a photo around 7 p.m. with long exposure times that would make the little cove look spectacular.  They were right!  SMS took a wonderful photo then it was off to The Gazebo for fish and chips.  The Gazebo is absolutely delicious and has wonderful fish and chips.  The "standard" fish is a white, flounder-like fish while the "special" varies on what they've bought.  We've had mahimahi and salmon in the past.  On Monday, they only had their standard and it was delicious.  We also had fried gobo/burdock root.  It was a lot of fun to go out for a photo shoot and an "out-of-town" dinner on a work night.

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  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!