Thursday, May 29, 2014

Host Nation Conference

Last night was pretty cool!  I took over as the host nation conference coordinator for the hospital recently.  Let me be clear, the real organizer is Yumiko-san, a powerful force of a woman whom I think secretly runs the entire hospital.  She is a lot of fun to work with and I really enjoy working with her.  My role is to do the "American required" stuff, i.e. sign the guest pass request for our Japanese guests and pay for the party/get reimbursed.  A bonus is that I also emcee the event, so I decided to break out my best (aka, not very good) Japanese.  Overall, it was a success although I became nervous so there were one or two silly mispronunciations that I quickly corrected (I think).

It was super warm in the room since the AC is not on in the base buildings.  There were two presentations that went pretty smoothly and then we gave our guests a token gift in appreciation for all they do.  Yokosuka Kosai hospital is our biggest referral center and we also rely heavily on their lab for hundreds more patients.  We are lucky to have such a good relationship with them.  The gift was an embellished paddle with intricate rope work, a Japanese/American flags pin and a nice engraving in both English and Japanese.  The woman at the wood shop scanned the Kanji when I ordered it and said, "This is very…formal."  I asked if it was old-fashioned and she said yes.  But I kept it as is since Yumiko-san had translated and formal was fine in this particular situation.

After the presentations, the food was served.  The menu was heavy hors d'oeuvres and I kept an eye out to see what changes I want to make to the menu in the future.  I plan on ordering an extra quesadilla platter, 1-2 more fruit platters and more shrimp.  As Mom says, you can divide parties into shrimp and no-shrimp parties and I definitely want to be known for shrimp parties!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Takatori-yama Climbing

Looking back, I cannot believe how much we did in a three-day weekend.  It was awesome to explore locally and have such a good time.   On Monday, we drove to Ikego and hiked to Takatori-yama, a rock climbing location we went to last December.  The hike is beautiful.  It starts off through the woods and then up many stone stairs to a small temple.  The temple is serene and beautiful with the tori gate, main building, bell structure and Jinz-o statues.  We pressed on.

Since we are expert hikers, we realized that we had taken a wrong turn when we were walking back down the (little) mountain.  Things look a lot different when trees have leaves on them in May vs bare in Dec!  So, we back-tracked and were also helped out by a Japanese guy singing in the forest.  No, he didn't sing the directions to us (that would have been awesome!), but he cut off his singing when he saw our (ok, ok, fine, SMS') giant pack and asked us if we were going to Takatori-yama and then gave us directions.
Bear right at this sign, not left
 We climbed for a couple of hours.  I am very rusty and the rock is kind of difficult for me.  It's basically tightly pressed sand that starts to disintegrate and embed sharp little sand particles into my out-of-practice, non-calloused hands.  Ouch.  I am not the biggest fan of rock climbing hurting so it was a pretty light, get-back--into-it-slowly type of day for me.
Looking good, SMS!
After climbing, we called our friend Melinda and headed out near Enoshima to get breakfast at bills'.  We had heard a lot about it and so had everyone else.  The wait was two hours and even though it looked delicious, we needed food about 5 minutes ago at that point.  Part of that is my fault since we got 10 minutes lost while driving.  So we went to a little pizza place that was very oishii and all was right with the world again.

That night, we went out to dinner with two really good friends from San Diego.  I'm so happy they're both here!  We went out to a little izakaya by their house and had a great time.  I feel so lucky to have great friends here so quickly.  In San Diego, it took me awhile to get settled in and if it took me too long here, it would be time for us to move again!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

New Friends and Yokosuka Festivals

Beautiful beach near Uragwa
My sad sack bike.  It's a Miyata.  No glory with that name.
I feel like I have moved to Japan recently instead of SMS.  I am getting up insanely early.  Trust me, I wish I wasn't but I'll wake up between 5:15-6:15.  I will sort of know it's too early but then my brain says, "It's light outside!  Wake up!" and then my thoughts are off to the races.  Le sigh.  My life, so hard.
At the half-way point, smiling!
This morning, I was going to get up anyway because I decided to go road biking with a friend I had met at October's Run for the Cure.  [Where, for all my readers that don't know, I was the grand prize winner!]  Never mind that I don't really bike for exercise, I figured that I could hang well enough and fortunately, that proved to be the case.  The route had only a few challenging hills and even those were puny compared to some of the hills around here so I feel like the route was just about my speed (ha, ha, see what I did there?).  We went to Nobi and back for a trip of about 20 miles.  I came home to a message from SMS saying he was out shopping, an empty house and the saddest sight I've seen in a good long while…
Nothing sadder than an "Egg in a Hole" without an Egg :(
SMS came back with eggs and made his breakfast.  Then we picked up around the house until it was time to meet his friends for lunch.  We went to the Kalbi House, where they had really good-value lunch sets.  It was so nice to meet some of SMS' friends from his recent AOB class.  We had a great lunch and walked over to Umikaze Park.  There, the kids had an awesome time on the plastic sled slide-hill and the rock climbing wall.  SMS practiced his "kids setting" on his SLR and he was pretty happy with the results.  We headed over to Homes to scout out ideas for our balcony garden.  After Homes, I was pretty tired but SMS wanted to check out the Yokosuka Blue Street Festival.  We walked to Blue Street and it was a really nice, mellow walk.

 Blue Street was closed and while we had missed most of the performances, we had an early dinner grazing feast at various food stands, also known as food-on-a-stick. We had a chicken stick, pineapple stick, chocolate banana slices stick, cucumber with miso stick and, my favorite, a spiral cut potato stick battered and fried that was the most perfect balance of fresh potato chip and french fry.  I've never seen anything like it and it was so delicious!

Delicious swirl potato on a stick!
We finished up at Cafe Mercado, a pour-over coffee place in More's City.  The caffeine didn't completely help me so I took a quick 10-minute power nap before heading to the commissary.  We didn't have the best plan so our take-home groceries were a pretty random assortment, but it should all come together once we buy our produce out in town.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Grilling, Japanese-style

SMS and I are having a great time on our first real weekend home!  An added bonus is the extra time to relax since it's a holiday weekend.

On Friday night, we went to Yakinikuya Sakai.  It was a coal-grill yakiniku restaurant with great views overlooking the bay.  We had an assorted meat plate, vegetable plate, kimchi and rice.  The sauces were delicious.  We took a chance on the "Yuzu squash soda," which turned out to be a delicious citrus-flavored (yuzu) soda with pulp, not squash.  After dinner, we walked through the nearby Otsu neighborhood as well as the sensory overload of Don Quixote, an insane store with food, household items and lots of cheap plastic crap.
Tobe Station
Saturday was a fun field trip to Yokohama.  First, we got off at my old stop Tobe and walked by my apartment.  It was fun to see my old neighborhood and it was right by Y's shop, a bike shop that can fix Dahon bikes.  My Dahon was in rough shape after a Winter partly spent out on the balcony with the cover blown off.  The chain and gears more closely resemble a big rust bucket plus my derailer fell off. The transaction went pretty smoothly in a three-way Jinglish exchange (SMS, the bike guy and me) and while it's not cheap, it's still half the price of a new bike.  The bike was in pretty dire need of a tune-up before the Winter and with my not-so-benign neglect, it needs professional help.

The fish attracts a crowd.
After we dropped off the bike, we walked over to Minato-Mirai.  We went to the sushi go-round and had a really cool experience.  They were showing off a huge tuna they had bought.  There was a huge crowd of kids who were daring each other to touch the fish, poke the eyeball, etc.  We sat down to eat and thought the show was over but then they brought it inside.  They started carving it and everyone was cheering and watching.   It was definitely a performance.
A huge fish and a captivated audience
After they carved one section, the entire restaurant played "Janken (Rock, Paper, Scissors)."  One of the main chefs yelled out, " Saisho wa guy, jankenpon!"  Along with several other people, I won!  I got a free piece of fresh tuna sushi.  I split it with SMS, who was an almost-winner in another round of Janken but there was a play-off since too many people won initially and he didn't win the second round.
To the left, fresh sushi we couldn't pass up.  To the right, my winnings!
After sushi, we headed over to Cosmo World.  We went on the huge Ferris wheel and enjoyed the slow skyline tour of Yokohama.  Then, we headed to the Yokohama Art Museum to see the penultimate day of the "Fascinating Japanese Woodcut Prints" exhibit.  It spanned the late Edo period to present day.  My favorite artists were KOBAYASHI Kiyochika and HASHIGUCHI Goyo.  The prints were beautiful and it was fun to see an exhibit that paralleled the Mitubishi Ichigokan Museum exhibit we saw over the Winter.  Both focused on the wood prints with a sub-focus of the reciprocal inspiration between European and Japanese artists.
Yokohama, about 2/3 up on the Ferris wheel
We spent quite a bit of time in the museum.  We walked to Yokohama train station and picked up a Crepese salad to bring to a friend's barbecue.  She lives in the Japanese side of Ikego and it was a really nice dinner with the most amazing burgers.  We had a great time and a perfect way to end the day.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Park Golf Sunday

Who loves park golf?  GODZILLA LOVES PARK GOLF!!!

On Sunday, SMS and I had a great time in Kurihama with several friends.  On the agenda was lunch, park golf, the Godzilla slide and a walk through the Kurihama flower garden.  By the end of the day, we added a bowl of ramen to the itinerary.  It was an awesome day.

We met at Keikyu Kurihama and went to the basement supermarket to buy bentos and drinks.  Then we walked over to the park.  The poppies were out and some of the carp flags were still out from early May so everything was really beautiful and scenic.

While we have grand ambitions to have a themed golf game, we all wore normal clothes for this game. Actually, there was an unintended theme that two of the women got to take part in.  The theme was "Frumpy Japanese Grandma slip-on shoes for those who wore forbidden sandals."  Yes, for future reference, no sandals allowed.  The starter was a stickler for the rules.  Somehow, my almost-sandals made the cut but I could feel the judge-y stare!  
Paparazzi shot of SMS teeing off
 The game was a lot of fun.  We couldn't all go together so we had teams of three and we switched it up after the front 9.  I love Park Golf.  I want to be like Dick "The Destroyer" Bayer and open my own course in the United States.  I've talked about it before on the blog but picture a par-3 course played with one club that is a hybrid of a croquet mallet and field hockey stick.

After Park Golf, we headed up the hill to see our friend, GODZILLA!  We were so afraid of him, we decided to slide down his tail and then pose for pictures.  I'm not sure how we lived to see another day, but I lived to tell the tale.
I know I don't look very scared but it's a bravery facade!
After walking past Godzilla, we went down the roller slide.  Well, first, we bought little plastic sheets sort of shaped like a bucket in order to make the slide experience the best it could be.  It was so much fun and we went down several times.  Unfortunately, some of the pictures made it look like we were obsessed with grabbing our crotches so maybe I will work on making a more genteel slide sled shape.
SMS makes it look easy AND refined!  Plus, bonus Japanese child photo bomb.
After sledding, we walked down the hill to the flower garden.  It was SO pretty!  The poppies were out and it was so gorgeous and mellow.  Very idyllic.
Beautiful poppies
Artsy filter on a carp flag photo
At that point, we said good-bye to Brooke and Aaron who live in Kurihama.  The remaining four were about to part ways when we decided to grab some ramen.  After a brief detour, we went to the ramen shop that Aaron proclaimed "the best."  It was pretty delicious!  It was a very rich broth and I got the special ramen that came with two thick slices of pork belly.  There was also a mountain of bonito flakes that was a little too much, but I would go back again.  I would have to be hungry, but not too hungry because I think if I ate the whole bowl, I would have regrets.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hiroshima and Osaka Day Trip

SMS and I headed out on Saturday morning to Hiroshima.  We took the bus to the Peace Park, which was pretty easy and cheaper than a cab.  I like re-visiting places because I learn better ways to do things.  After wandering the park, we decided to get some lunch before the museum.  We walked to the covered shopping area that's very close to Peace Park.  I wanted to go to the okonomiyaki place that I had been to before.  We found it and it was just as good as ever.  We sat at the bar so we ate our okonomiyaki right off the grill.

Deliciousness in action!
I was also very excited to see that the okomiyaki place was next to Okonomimura, okonomiyaki-town! I don't think it's part of the official "town" since it's not in the building but it is right next to it.  I was so happy that I had inadvertently found Okonomimura since I read about it when I was here with Mom and Dad but didn't realize that I was already there!

Then, we walked back to the Peace Park and walked through the museum.  After the museum, we headed to the train station to catch the Shinkansen to Osaka.

Osaka was an unplanned stop but I'm so glad we went.  The skyline is super-cool and it's a neat mix of futuristic buildings with gardens built in wherever they can fit.  There were ground-level gardens, 7th floor promenades that reminded us of the High Line in New York and the highest garden at 40 stories in the Sky Building.

The Umeda Sky Building was awesome.  We went up to the Floating Garden on the 39th and 40th floor.  We were outside and it was such a beautiful afternoon with incredible views.  The anti-jumper protection is actually set away from the circular deck so you can look out across the horizon without having glass or wires directly in your way.  I even saw the building with a highway overpass through it so I thought that was super cool!

We also came across a Japanese Oktoberfest with the coolest Japanese yodeler.  She's amazing.  Apparently, she's been on Japanese TV and commercials too- a national treasure!

After that fun, we hopped on the train and headed home.  We got back around 10 and we're definitely ok with not traveling for a little while!  Time to make our apartment feel like home!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Hakata and Iwakuni

Our restaurant in RAMEN STADIUM!
 On Tuesday, we headed out from Sasebo to Iwakuni after a slightly shortened morning clinic.  On the way, we stopped in Hakata so that we could go to RAMEN STADIUM!!!  We wanted to something fun to break up the trip and since it was around lunch time, we decided to try Hakata-style ramen.  SMS's favorite LA ramen shop is called Hakata Ramen Shinsengumi and he was really into the idea of trying real Hakata ramen.  There are 8 shops with three of them featuring Hakata-style.  We went to the most delicious-looking one.  It was pretty tasty.  I was a fan of the burnt crushed garlic oil- it sounds like a bad idea but it was so good!  The noodles were very thin, which isn't my preference but really, it was all very oishii.  We got to Iwakuni that evening and I dispensed some sleep study kits.  We had a light dinner and turned in.
Hakata ramen- yum! (Photo by SMS)

The next morning, SMS, the corpsman and I headed to Iwakuni castle and bridge.  The bridge is amazing with its five wooden arches.  The castle is a reconstruction finished in 1962 and is actually a little forward of the original foundation in order to capitalize on the amazing views.  So, not the most old-timey but the view from the top floor is pretty amazing.

Our asa-gohan of Iwakuni sushi- meh.
Cute painted rock dolls- an Iwakuni souvenir!
After a fun morning, I saw an afternoon clinic.  SMS and I went to Shabu Shabu for dinner and it was delicious.  There were some crazy kids there- the craziest acting I've seen in a restaurant here in Japan.  The meal was great, although I found it hard to eat all of the beef tongue.  It was thinly sliced and very anatomically correct.  Since I don't like naming the muscles as I eat them, I stopped after a few slices.
Yuzu with miso eggplant and whole fish!
Thursday was another busy day in clinic but we had an awesome meal at a cute restaurant named Yuzu.  We had the lightest assorted tempura, great sashimi and a fried whole fish.  My absolute favorite was an incredible miso eggplant dish.  I saw a stack of eggplant and asked the cook (in Nihongo!) how he prepared it.  He asked if miso was ok and we said yes.  I'm so glad we did.  The eggplant was carved from the skin like a grapefruit and then roasted.  It was topped with an amazing savory miso sauce.  I was so happy that we went off the (English) menu.  It was the most amazing meal I've had in awhile and the serendipitous find made it even better!

On Friday, SMS headed out to Miyajima while I finished off the last of the 45 consults.  I went to Sako's for lunch.  It is a small restaurant owned by a husband-wife duo.  The wife has been the OIC's secretary for 30 years so basically, she runs the clinic!  I had an egg BLT (EBLT) and it was delicious. Missie gave me a ride back to the clinic, which was great b/c otherwise I would have been run-walking which may not have felt great after an EBLT.

SMS and I had been invited out to dinner but plans fell through since the entire clinic was going to Sasebo the next day for a Fun Day!  So, we went back to Sako's where I had my second BLT (this time with avocado) of the day.  We watched sumo and the two BLTs seemed apropos.  We were invited to Missie's evening English class as guests.  We were a little hesitant but we went and had the best time!  Everyone was so nice and tried so hard.  They also helped us with our Japanese, which was very kind and helpful.  We were so happy that we went and it was such a cool experience.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

SMS arrives, then leaves again…to Tonchinkan Yakitori!

SMS came in on Saturday!  Hooray!  I met him at Narita airport and we were so happy to be together again!  His flight wasn't too bad and we headed back to our apartment.  In the apartment was a sort-of-surprise: I had set up half of the second bedroom as his office with his desk and a new package that recently arrived.  It was his new iMac computer with all the specs he wanted.  I kept it in the box because it's his computer and I thought it would be fun to unwrap.  Apple really does a nice job with its packaging.  I always feel very futuristic when I open a new Apple device!
SMS' Plane
Oh!  I also had a welcome bag for SMS!  Inside, there was a shu creme puff, a French cream puff dessert that the Japanese make really well.  Underneath the pastry was…a new iPhone!  Wooooo!  (I feel like Oprah on one of the "My Favorite Things" episodes!  Look under the pastry box, IT'S A NEW IPHONE!!!!  WOOOOOO!!!!)  I really wanted SMS to have his smart phone right away so he felt at home and connected.  He had also asked that I got it and fortunately, I was able to make it happen despite a pretty busy week at work.

Why was it so busy at work?  The next week, I was scheduled to be TDY.  I know, crazy!  SMS arrives and off we go to travel Japan!  I had told SMS about it and offered to schedule the trip the week before he came, but we decided to go when he arrived so we could tour Japan on the cheap.  My Shinkansen tickets and hotel are funded so we only had to pay for SMS' tickets.  The trade-off is that I had to work for 4.5 days, but we still had a great time.

We left Sunday and headed to Sasebo.  My prior trip, I went to Iwakuni first so I had no idea how long the journey was to Sasebo.  9 long hours- yuck!  We made it through relatively unscathed and checked into the Gateway Inn, which, if you're ever going to Sasebo, I recommend over the Navy Lodge.  The Gateway Inn has larger rooms with a suite set-up and I much preferred it when I stayed in both places my last visit.

I saw 1.5 days of clinic on Monday and Tuesday morning before heading to Iwakuni where I saw 2.5 days of clinic since they had scheduled 46 patients.  46 consults in 3 months…ridiculous!  Of course, I'm happy to help out but that was an impressive level.

Tonchinkan Entrance
On Monday night, we went out with the audiologist and a nurse practitioner to Tonchinkan, which is an amazing yakitori place.  Oh my gosh, it is so good.  It's better than the more famous restaurant SMS and I went to in Tokyo mid-town.  If I lived in Sasebo, I would go at least once a week and probably more!

Yakitori refers to grilled meats and, to a lesser extent, veggies.  It's on small skewers and the meat quality and accompanying marinades and sauces are what determine the taste.  I think Tonchinkan has it completely right with the marinades because, seriously, I can't stop talking about how good it is!  We ordered tofu with the most amazing siracha/honshu/miso? sauce, grilled pork, chicken meatball (SMS' favorite), kobucha (squash), bacon-wrapped asparagus, bacon-wrapped cheese, steak and onion.  While I've been told there's other good restaurants in Sasebo, this is my go-to spot.  I did go to Ra-Ra-Ramen last time, which was delicious but since we were only staying one night, I'll have to save it for another time.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Last Weekend!

The weekend was pretty mellow.  I recovered from traveling, cleaned up the house and made one field trip up to Yokohama.  My friend Adam organized a huge birthday adventure starting with "Oktoberfest" in Yokohama followed by the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo.  I was on call so I met up with everyone in Yokohama to be social.  I loved the Oktoberfest and look forward to the next one.  The German band leading a bunch of (mostly) Japanese was pretty awesome.  Next time, I'll try not to be on call so I can kampai!

I parted ways with the Tokyo-bound crew (too far away from base when on-call) and walked from Red Brick Warehouse to Yokohama Station.  The walk was nice and there were several nice shops along the way.  Humpty Dumpty was like Anthropologie but with a much more unfortunate name.  I also had my first choco cro and as you can imagine from the name, it was delicious.  A chocolate croissant sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.  Amazing!

I went shopping in Sogo, located within Yokohama station. They have a LOFT on the 7th floor which is filled with awesome stuff.  It's like Target on steroids- none of its needed until I see and have to have it!   

Then I went home and for the rest of the weekend, just hung out and cleaned the apartment to get ready for SMS' arrival.  Sagoy!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Day 8: Sayonara, *sniff!*

Whah!  The vacation was awesome but too short.  I love hanging out with Mom and Dad but now it was time for them to go to DC.  I was very sad to see them go!

They took the Airport Limousine bus to Narita.  Their JR passes had expired and the bus is super convenient since it was waiting outside the hotel and took them straight to the airport.  There were no train transfers to navigate with luggage during Tokyo rush hour.  That is a huge plus!  We had bought the tickets at the New Sanno front desk and I highly recommend that method of travel.  It's also more reliable than the train since bad weather seems to greatly impact the schedule.  Even high winds cause delays.

They took the 0730 bus which was the perfect time for them based on their flights.  We said our good-byes.  While it was sad, it was such an amazing vacation that I carried over that residual happiness. My vacation was complete.

Then I headed into work for the afternoon.  Next exciting event on the horizon?  SMS' triumphant return to Japan!!!!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Day 7: Kamakura and Tokyo

The good weather was back!  Not to be too boring in talking about the weather but it is so much nicer to be a tourist on a sunny day!  This was our last full day (v. sad) and we took a day trip to Kamakura.  We were supposed to go the day prior but I thought Kamakura would be way more attractive on a nicer day.
After sleeping in, we headed off to Kamakura via Subway and JR.  We arrived at the main station and walked up my favorite pedestrian shopping street, Komachi-dori.  We had a delicious croquette and soft ice cream on our walk.  Rose joined us for an hour as we looked around the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine.  Then we walked down Wakamiya-oji, the main thoroughfare.  It is pretty but especially gorgeous during the Sakura (cherry blossoms).  I felt that many places show off the sakura in their tourist pictures, which after awhile feels like a taunt, "Too bad you weren't here last month.  It was really beautiful!"

Then it was time for lunch.  We finally went to a sushi-go-round, which was high on Mom's to-do list.  We tried searching for the one she had been to last time but were unsuccessful.  We went to one on Komachi-dori and it was tasty.  It also had cooked shrimp sushi, which Mom really likes so it all worked out.
Two wise men: One reached Enlightenment, one has a Japan Rail Pass
Then we took the Enoshima Electric Railway to see the Kamakura Daibutsu.  It seems like an almost mandatory stop when touring Kamakura.  We were all a little wiped from a long but fun week of travel so we skipped the Hasedera, which is definitely worth seeing but sometimes, enough is enough.  We headed back to Tokyo to prepare for Robot Restaurant!
Words fail.
We went to the 8:20 show and it blew my expectations out of the water.  It was totally kitschy, ridiculous and AWESOME!  Afterwards, we stopped in the Shinjuku Station mall for some food and then headed over to the Mado Lounge for drinks.  This was the one disappointment of the trip because it closed at 10:30 and we got there at 10:50.  Big boo!  I was sad, but I had never expected a bar to be closed that early.  It usually isn't but Golden Week hours had kicked in.  Bad sagoy:(

Anyway, we recovered nicely and went to a wine bar near the hotel.  Hooray for resiliency!  Then it was off to bed.