Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pardon the interruption...

Mom would like our daily mileage documented. Because I am mean and we are walking quite a bit with little sneaky hikes here and there.
Day 1 (Met at Yokosuka): 1/2 mile
Day 2 (Hakone): 3 miles
Day 3 (Tokyo): 5 miles...easily
Day 4 (Nikko): 3 miles, with lots of steps and hills!
Day 5 (Kyoto): 4 miles

But please!  Our days are ending with wine.  How hard a life can this be?

More description, fewer tangents!

Nikko is awesome! Although kind of a pain to get to, I had read so much about it and I really wanted to go. It was a rainy, misty day but all the mausoleums and shrines were beautiful and mystical. It seemed like a shogun might pop out from behind the trees because, as everyone knows, mist is totally associated with time travel and a quick flash to the 13th century? Totally plausible!

Mom and I took the Shinkasen from Shin-Yokohama to Utsunomiya with a transfer at Tokyo station. While the 1 minute miracle didn’t happen with the Shinkasen, we only had to wait ~10 minutes, which considering the trains ran fairly infrequently still makes me think the Mom’s lucky streak is alive. Once we got to Utsunomiya, we switched to the Nikko line for the 43 minute train ride out to Nikko. Once there, we started walking towards the sites, which turned out to be 180° in the wrong direction. I should have known since that always happens to me when I first look at a map. But we figured it out after a few minutes. We went to the bus stop to get a ride to the sights since we realized we really had no clue how to find the place. The bus came within 1 minute. And it’s great that we took the bus because to walk to the famous temples, which are really all on one big complex, would have taken about half an hour, mostly uphill. How unpleasant! I mean, I like walking but all it would have been was walking along roads, slightly confused where to go. There was plenty of walking at the sight itself.

My favorite temple was the Tosho-gu, with all its intricately decorated gates. I also like the Yasha-mon (She-demon gate) at Taiyu-in. The statues were quite manly, to the point where I’m not quite sure how they are female gods but whatever. Maybe I’m missing the point. The three buddhas in the Rinno-ji were also really cool. They were huge! It was the closest I’ve gotten to Buddha statues so I got to see all the surrounding accoutrements like the egret lamps, Buddhist prayer banners made of chain-linked gold, and lots of lanterns. It was beautiful!

After a lot of touristing, Mom and I headed back to the train station. We bought bento boxes for the Shinkasen home, which was key since I was starving! We drank some wine when we got home and then called it a night.

Next stop: Kyoto!

Tokyo Tourists!

On Sunday, Mom and I had a crazy packed Tokyo day. First, we went to Asakusa, which was packed! The day was gorgeous and people were everywhere. We went to a Fodor’s recommended tempura place, which was not that good. The tempura was super-heavy, rather than the way I prefer which is light and delicate to the point where I can fool myself that it might actually be a healthy dish. Not that I need to think food is healthy to enjoy it, I just don’t like heavy fried foods and it is amazing how tasty and light really good tempura can be.

We took a Sumida boat tour from Asakusa to Hinode pier, which was the reverse direction from the other times I’ve taken it. Then we went to the Imperial Palace, which was huge and really seemed like an urban oasis. We could only see the outer gardens and remnants of the old castle wall, although the moat surrounding it was intact! There were a ton of joggers and cyclists exercising around the perimeter of the palace to the point that there were traffic cops directing pedestrians and cyclists at the stoplights. Bikers are so empowered here and I’m not quite sure why. I’m all for sharing the road among cars and bikes, but I am not a fan of sidewalk sharing especially when cyclists go full-speed in all sorts of crowds. But maybe I am crabby since I was almost hit this morning and it would have definitely smarted at the rate she was going. [tangent ending…now]

As Mom and I were approaching the main gate of the Imperial Palace grounds, a group of 5 Japanese university students ran up to us, asked if we spoke English, and then offered to give us a tour so they could practice their English. Although Mom and I had a initial suspicious moment of hesitation, we decided to go for it and it was great. The students were so nice and so funny. At one point, Mom was explaining that she didn’t like sushi that “jiggled.” They thought that word was so funny, mostly because when they looked it up in the electronic translator a lot of “other meanings” popped up, probably along the lines of “milkshakes bringing boys to the yard” type of jiggle.

We also learned what “Sagoy!” meant. It’s a slang word, mostly used by young people, with a lot of different meanings. In our case, it meant “Amazing!” When we were in Hakone, “Sagoy!” was said a LOT by a group of 5 young Japanese women when we were in the cable car and the sulfur spring valley came into view, which was over a hillcrest with a dramatic drop-away.

After the Imperial Palace, we went to Harajuku where there were more cute outfits than goth, which was a first for me. We saw the dancers and walked around for a second in Yoyogi Park. We walked up Takashimita-dori, then crossed over to Omote-sando dori. We went to the Oriental Bazarr, Bitsy’s, and the Omotesando station food court. Then we headed home and ate some udon noodles.


The last few days have been awesome! My Mom arrived intact and international-incident free. Not that she seems particularly prone to such things. In fact her luck has been pretty amazing in one respect. She has this unbelievable streak going right now involving all buses and trains that we are trying to catch. Every single time, we just make the train or it comes within 1 minute. It’s great! Way better than the terrible streak I was on with the foursome’s visit where we would miss a train or bus by a minute or less. Every.Single.Time. Not that it was the worst thing in the world, but it did get a little old.

*SNOOZE* OMG, when is she going to stop talking about trains and buses?! Now, friend! Never fear!

So after meeting up at the Yokosuka train station on Friday, Mom and I headed up to Yokohama for a lovely sushi go-round experience. It was great, although more for me than her. I had a serious sushi craving after 5 days on the ship. She had already been to a sushi go-round earlier that day and even though she wanted sushi for dinner as well, the lunchtime one was a little more to her taste (one word: shrimp. Ok, five more: without attached heads and tails).

The next day, we headed out to Hakone. The Open Air museum was awesome. That place is just so neat! All those works of art, out in the elements. While the interaction between art and nature interests me with the idea of borrowed scenery (shakkei), I am fascinated by the idea exposing expensive pieces of art to corrosive and erosive elements. I mean, I guess it’s been done for ages with fountain statues and the like, but there’s something about that much metal exposed to mountain weather that seems different.

After the Open Air Museum, we went on the mountain cable car where we learned a new Japanese word, “SAGOY!!” We hiked around on top (Owaku-dani station) and I bought eggs hardboiled in the sulfur springs, which turns the shell black. No real difference on the inside although they were a little over-hard-boiled. But now I’m going to live 7 years longer. Oh yeah baby.

We reboarded the cable car and went to the last stop, Togendai. There we took a sightseeing boat ride on Lake Ashi (Ashi-no-ko). The ship was modeled on a 17th century pirate ship. More importantly, Mom and I each had a chu-hi. Delicious. Welcome to Japan! The classy side of it, I mean.

 [“Oh, ho, ho ho” you belly-laugh. “When is she going to let us in on the joke about classiness and chu-his?” Well, chu-his are a mix of shochu (sweet potato alcohol) and a mixer, usually citrus although I really like oolong (tea)-his. And chu-his, at least among my friends, are rarely associated with classiness. More like, “Whoa! Those totally snuck up on me!”]

After our Hakone adventures, we went out for Indian food that was tasty, but nothing spectacular. If we have time, I really want to bring her to Nirvana in Yokosuka. That place is AMAZING!!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Kitty Hawk to Hello Kitty!

I'm back after a 5 day "Sea Trials" cruise, which did not affect the medical department all that much except that we lived at work. Oh YEAH! Waiting for the next meal, working out, seeing sick call, realizing I haven't seen sunlight in three days...all in day's work. Except what I was NOT expecting was 2 inpatients, a MEDEVAC, and an urgent hospital consultation the day we pulled in. For 5 days, it was completely unexpected to have that much work. And they were all my patients- black cloud, black cloud!

When we arrived in Yokosuka on Friday, who was on her way to see me? Mumsie! And not only that, but she's super cool. Was she in my apartment, moping around and napping until I got back? No! As if! She was touring Kita-Kamakura where there are a lot of neat Shinto shrines. I've never actually been in that part of Kamakura, so now I have new TTDs, courtesy of my Mom!

Yesterday, we went to Hakone. I've written about it before, but new things I got to do included taking a boat ride in a pirate ship knock-off across a humungous volcanic crater lake and a short hike at the top of the sulfurous fields where I bought eggs cooked in the local water. It was a black hard-boiled egg. That's all. But now I'll live an extra 7 years- yay!

Today, Mom and I had a whirlwind Tokyo day. We went to Asakusa, the Sumida River cruise from Asakusa to Hanode, the Imperial Palace, Harajuku and Omotesando. All very cool and very satisfying to see so much in one day. At the imperial palace, we had a tour by members of the "English Speakers Club," consisting of students from several local universities. It was AWESOME! They were so funny and Mom and I learned what "Sagoy" meant (amazing...no, I mean, that's the definition. amazing).

What was also neat about the Imperial Palace is that security involves lots of people counting with clickers. People sit at various places looking all the world like a loiterer but as you walk by, "*Click*."

Tomorrow, Mom and I are heading to Nikko. UNESCO World Heritage Sites- 3 of them! Then we're doing a whirlwind tour of Southern Japan, which will be new for both of us and totally cool. Kowabunga!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

These are a few of my favorite things!

Have you ever owned something that is super meaningless, objectively speaking, but you find so awesome that it brings insta-happiness and cheer? I have that feeling now! About my coffee cup. Yes, ridiculous I know but ~1 week after I bought my Yokohama Starbucks tumbler (get it, b/c I live in Yokohama?), a new one came out! And it's pretty and blue and has the Red Brick Warehouses on it, among other sites. I love my coffee breaks and sipping my coffee throughout my clinic morning.

So, I'm back at work on a duty weekend. I had to stay on the ship Friday since I was also the departmental duty officer, but the last two days I've been able to come and go since I'm "just" the on-call provider. I'm busy stocking up and organizing stuff as the Kitty Hawk is set to sail fairly soon. It's nice to make the ship a little more comfortable- and healthier, in the sense of bringing on whole grain snack bars, cereal, etc.

So, the rest of the trip with Laddie, Karen, Brady and Ed was pretty awesome. They had a great time in Kyoto and Nara. Brady and Ed even made it to Osaka and Kanazawa. Laddie and Karen came back Friday and we went to California Wine Bar, which is a very cool place in Motomachi. We drank a lot of different wines from Napa. It was pretty awesome, although Laddie observed that while stumbling out of, say, Irish pubs is ok, something seems slightly-less-than-classy about stumbling from a wine bar.

The next day, we headed out to Tokyo, where we stayed in a really nice hotel in Asakasa, near Roppongi. This was after Karen and I went to Kamakura for shopping and Laddie went to Asakusa for the same. Brady and Ed met up with us and we all went out to Shibuya and Roppongi. Shibuya is definitely the Tokyo I imagined in terms of lights, noise, and number of people. It was awesome!

The next day, everyone left after a slight debacle with the Narita Express, since the original train was cancelled due to winds. It seems like everyone made it home, although I was told the airport wasn't all smoothness either.

It was such an awesome time to have everyone here. I can't wait for more visitors. Like my Mom! In less than a week!