Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mt. Fuji, Accomplished!

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

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

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

Short Work Week

Well, I'm back from vacation and slowly easing my way back into work.  First up, a 1 day workweek!  I'm on call for the next two weeks after some scheduling flipping but we had a nice first weekend back.  On Saturday, we relaxed and unpacked during the day.  In the mid-afternoon, we headed over to Zushi for a party celebrating the end of Joint Commission. It was a really great group of people and there was a raucous game of Words with Friends.  Afterwards, we went to the yakitori place by Horinouchi with two new friends who may be moving close to us!

On Sunday, SMS and I decided we had to get out of the house.  We took a trip out to Kamiooka to the Yuzawaya craft store.  It's in the Fuji store across from Kamiooka station on 3F.  I'm trying to learn how to crochet but I'm stuck on the 4th step (turning the chain into the first row of single crochet stitches if anyone can help!).  So, we went to the craft store so I could buy some thicker yarn to practice with.

In Kamiooka, we also had delicious onigiri from a food court stand.  SMS also bought rice from the food market downstairs.  It's in the bins as brown rice but then they mill the rice for you so it was a big bag of sushi white rice by the end.  It was a fascinating machine.

We went up to Yokohama for Honolulu Coffee company then headed back to Yokosuka.  We went out to Sitar with our upstairs neighbors and really had a good time.

So, in short, somewhat mellow weekend but much needed after all that traveling (and blog post writing!).

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ramona Falls, OR

Ramona Falls, OR
We decided that we wanted to hike in some of the gorgeous areas around Portland while we were there.  Although Multnomah Falls and the Columbia Gorge were strong contenders, we decided to go to Mt Hood Park and hike to Ramona Falls.  It was a 7 mile round-trip hike with only 1000 ft elevation over the first 3.5 miles and we thought we would be ok to handle it.  The pictures of the Falls looked so beautiful that it's where I really wanted to go.

In the spirit of avid hikers, we slept in again although not as late as before.  We stopped at Bowery Bagel for breakfast.  SMS had seen a write-up of the place and the bagels were awesome.  Before heading out, we drove to St. James, a really cute section of NE Portland to explore at Blue Moon Camera, a film camera store that SMS knew about from his Facebook group Film Collective.  The store was pretty cool, although I'm not super interested in the ins and outs of various older film cameras.  But SMS thought it was awesome and I looked at a few other shops while he was looking and we both had a great time.

Then it was off to the East to go hiking.  Except we went West first since I got mixed up at an interchange.  No matter!  We recovered and turned around.  We still did not take the most efficient way there and we were pretty over the car by the time we arrived at the Ranger's Station.  There, we obtained our National Park Pass (free for military!).  SMS made some hilarious deadpan statements about hiking misadventures and by the end, I'm fairly certain the ticket woman thought that if we hiked, our way out would either be by death or LifeFlight. She still gave us our pass and we went to the Zig Zag Inn for lunch.  There I ordered the Sasquatch burger, which was huge- at least 5 inches high.  SMS thought it was funny that I was surprised it was that big given the name but I wasn't expecting two days' worth of meals on my plate.  So, I made a dent in it and that was more than enough.  I hate wasting food but if I had eaten all of it, I probably would have had to be LifeFlight'd out of the restaurant.
Different bridge, later in the trail and clearly not washed out
Can you see me?

We hit the trail at 3:45.  Late for sure, but the sun was up until at least 8 and we felt pretty confident in our abilities.   We hiked in approximately one mile when we came to Sandy River.  The bridge had washed out a week prior so we forded the river.  Well, really, we walked on a log just over the water but we made it!   I had visions of flash flood tsunamis coming down the valley but it didn't happen that day, my friends!  We pressed on and took the left (no horses allowed) branch of the loop.  We walked through beautiful Alpine Meadow-like forests with evergreens and gorgeous mossy ground, which I can never capture on camera well.  There was a stream that hugged the trail and it was so beautiful and serene.  We made it to Ramona Falls which was amazing.  The Falls are quite tall and the rock that it runs over has lots of deep crevices and divisions that really give it a cool, unusual look.  We hung out for a little while and then took the other half of the trail home.  This branch hugged the Spring River and all the felled trees were amazing- it was clear that the waters sometimes rage there.

We headed back to Portland and celebrated with a decadent Seafood Tower at the Woodsman Tavern.  The tower consisted of crab, 18 oysters, smoked mussels and an uni dish.  Apart from the uni dish, the seafood tower was awesome.  I'd always wanted to order one and it seemed like a great time.  Our waiter was very good and we had a really nice time.  To cap it off, we went to Salt & Straw for dessert where I had a split-single scoop of sea salt caramel and almond brittle in a waffle cone.  Delicious!

The next morning, I woke up early for a run along the Willamette River before heading back to shower, change and head to the airport via MDX.  I bought a Bowery Bagel for SMS and we hit the road.  Our short layover was in San Francisco where I went to my favorite airport concession stand, Fraiche.  It's ridiculously overpriced, but I felt very healthy (and maybe slightly obnoxious) by ordering my Greek Yogurt and Green Juice.

On the flight to Tokyo, they were beta-testing having people use their own devices for movies.  This did not work very well since the app was required, which we did not have and there were no plugs to charge the devices.  Since the movies went over WiFi, there was no way our devices would work over the 10+ hour flight.  I wasn't a fan, but no one's asked my opinion yet.  Maybe I'll send in one unsolicited, ha ha.

We made it home after a seemingly interminable train ride.  It was great to be back but I admit, I have a little post-vacation blues after such an amazing trip!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Portland, OR

A few months ago, SMS and I took a quiz on Facebook that was psychic-level accurate in saying that we should live in Portland.  Well, maybe we'll never end up there to live but we both loved the city for our short visit!

Stumptown Coffee and Voodoo
On Monday, we focused on the city itself.  Several of our stops were based off of Laddie's recommendations on her wedding website.  We slept in, which I've found to be the sweet spot for sleeping when coming East from Japan.  5-10 a.m. are the soundest sleeping hours.  This is fine on vacation but a little rough when I'm back for business/interviews.  After getting up, we went to BUNK sandwiches for a late breakfast.  I had an Egg, Bacon and Cheese on a hard roll while SMS had a grilled PB&J.    My sandwich was delicious- kind of heavy but by the time we ate, I was really hungry.  Afterwards, we headed to Stumptown Coffee for some pour-over coffee.  It was a tiny bit too acidic for me but the lighter notes in the coffee were very prominent and sparkly.  (I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.  What does it even mean?!?).  
Petting the wild animals

After coffee, we walked by VooDoo doughnuts although we did not partake after trying them out on Sunday.  They're good, but over-the-top with sugar and since we had just woken up from coma-like sleep, we didn't want a sugar low to send us back!  Actually on this vacation, SMS and I noticed a couple of things seemed really sweet after getting used to food in Japan.  I don't really bake so all of our desserts have mostly been at Japanese restaurants or bakeries where they have a lighter touch with the amount of sugar used.  I think this makes the desserts more delicious since there's other flavors that are highlighted rather than just sugar.
Pioneer Square

Afterwards, we went to take the MDX (train) to Washington Park to see the Rose Garden and Japanese Garden.  The MDX was complimentary on Monday due to the MDX system apologizing to customers for delays the previous weeks.  We were unintended beneficiaries but we gladly accepted the free rides!  We transferred at Pioneer Square where there was a really awesome band providing lunchtime music.  We walked through the Farmer's Market where there were the most beautiful bouquets.  I definitely miss large bouquets of cheap-ish flowers because bouquets are tiny and expensive here.  
Rose Garden and some Randos who wouldn't keep getting out of my pictures...

We took the MDX to Washington Park and walked to the Rose Garden.  It was amazing.  Of course I knew there would be roses there but in person, the number and variety were stunning.  We walked through the general beds, test beds and gold medal winner beds.  We were partial to a few of the purple roses, but I honestly couldn't pick a favorite. Next, we went to the Japanese Garden which may seem silly but we were there and it's a highly regarded garden so we wanted to check it out.  It was very beautiful and we enjoyed walking around, especially in the continuing awesome weather.
Japanese Gardens

We went to the Pearl District after having a late lunch at the Alder Food Truck area between 10th and 11th SW.  I had Ethiopian food, which was awesome since I haven't had any in forever.  SMS had a Greek mezze plate that had several tasty treats.  We went to Powell's Bookstore where I bought a used book (yay) and wrote down several titles that I'm going to try and get from the library.
CW from top L: Food trucks, Powell's Books, Darth Vader on a mechanical unicycle playing
the bagpipes because, of course.

We walked around in the golden hour around the Pearl District.  The architecture is awesome and we walked by Laddie's old workplace.  For dinner, we decided to get cheese, bread and olives from Whole Foods.  It was an awesome day and we both really loved the city.  Next up…Nature Day!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Oregon Coast- Gearhart and Cannon Beach

Ecola State Park
After saying our goodbyes at Laddie's family's house, SMS and I headed off explore the Oregon Coast a little more before heading to Portland.  First, we went to Yankee Trader's, which is a crazy vintage store that, among other things, is stuffed with paper cut-out, 3-D diorama cakes that are totally Steampunk.  It's a really interesting place with many mini-displays with boundaries created by distinct color selections and themes for each mini-area displaying the items for sale (which seem to be everything).  Although I wanted one of the cakes, I don't think it would really look that great out of the store, especially in SMS' eyes.  So, we just looked and poked around for a bit before leaving for Cannon Beach.

We had heard really nice things about Cannon Beach so we wanted to check it out.  Our first stop was for coffee.  We went to Insomnia Coffee, which was really good and very strong.  After checking our email, we headed out to wander the streets.  We went into a yarn shop, where I decided my new hobby is going to be crocheting.  We went to a really neat leather goods store where I almost bought a cross-body purse but decided I didn't need it.  We also bought a bagel and piece of pizza- I know, we have crazy lunches.  After wandering the town, we headed over to Ecola State Park, which was absolutely beautiful.  There was a high lookout point where we could overlook the entire town and coastline of Cannon Beach and it was pretty spectacular, especially since the sun came out during our drive there.
Ecola State Park Lookout

After admiring the view, we wanted to hike to the beach but the nearest seemed to be about 1.5 miles away.  SMS had a feeling that one of the paths might bring us to the beach under the lookout and he was right!  There was a little bit of scrambling and then we were there on the rocky shore.  It was great to experience all of the beautiful types of areas within the park without hanging around for hours.
SMS' Beach

We headed into Portland and had a really fun late afternoon.  On the way, we stopped at Milepost 18, an interesting area with lots of old foresting and train machinery.  We looked around, thought about eating but continued on to Portland.  We checked into our hotel and headed out for a bite to eat before returning the car.  SMS was in the mood for a beer so we went to Bailey's Taproom. Although it seemed to be a beer only place, the woman next to us had awesome looking Mexican food which was "delivered" from the restaurant across the street.  Without another word, SMS stood up and went  to get us something delicious.  We had El Pastor nachos which were totally awesome.  Best Mexican food of the trip!  After dinner, we went to Salt & Straw for dessert where I had the Olive Oil Ice Cream, which I really like although Karen had gotten some earlier in the week and did not.  Finally, we returned the car and took the train back into the city.  It was a great day and we were ready for more Portland exploring the next day!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Gearhart, OR wedding

Gearhart, OR
SMS and I headed to Oregon for the wedding of one of my really good college friends.  She met her husband, a fellow ’02 alum, at the 10th Williams reunion, which I missed due to the USNS Mercy experience.  After a flight delay and extra time at the car rental counters, SMS and I headed out for the Oregon coast shortly after midnight on Friday night/Saturday morning.  We got slightly lost but made it to Gearhart, OR relatively unscathed by 2:15.  We slept in until 10 and then went out to breakfast with our friends who made it in the previous day.  We were sharing the condo with several friends of mine from college. Even though we might seem a little old to maximize the occupency in condos and sleep on pull-out couches, it’s the best way to maximize hanging out time with my friends, whom I see way too infrequently.
Karen 'n' I with Lewis 'n' Clark after Pig 'n' Pancake

Brian and Karen were vocal supporters of breakfast at Pig ‘N’ Pancake, a restaurant in the nearby town of Seaside.  It is a diner-type restaurant that has an awesome gift shop attached to both the waiting area and one side of the restaurant.  Now, one person’s “awesome” might be another person’s “tacky” but we were all pretty happy with our breakfast spot selection.  I had the clam and eggs, which consisted of two fried razor clams with 2 eggs any style.  I was slightly taken aback since I thought clam and eggs (clam ‘n’ eggs?) would be mixed together kind of like a clam marinara sauce but nope, I was wrong.  The clams were on the side and seemed to be two large clam fillets.  It was pretty good even though I thought it would be different.  SMS had Pigs in a Blanket made with pecan pancakes and those were pretty phenomenal.  

After breakfast, we walked down to the beach and took pictures at the Lewis ‘n’ Clark statue, which marks the end of the Oregon trail.  I didn’t realize how long their journey took, 1804-1806.  At some point I’m sure I knew since I remember reading a book about it when I was a kid but I had forgotten.  

Then, we headed back to Gearhart where we went to the beach again.  Brian and I went into the water, which was kind of dirty.  I told Karen before she went in that it was full of seagull feathers, which the rest of the group made fun of me.  For some reason, they thought it was ridiculous way to explain why I thought the water was dirty.  I say that one, seagull feathers are dirty and two, maybe I was thinking in a synecdoche-type of way.  No one appreciates me, boo hoo!  I went for a three mile run before heading inside to say hi to Gisele, shower and get ready for the wedding.  
After the wedding

The wedding was held on the lawn of a family friend’s home that overlooked the coast and ocean.  I haven’t mentioned it until this point but it was absolutely the most gorgeous day, weather-wise.  Laddie looked amazing and beautiful and both the bride and groom had so much love for each other.  After the ceremony, we paraded down the street behind the bagpiper to the reception-site which was in a barn.  I have always wanted to go to a wedding in a barn since I’ve seen so many beautiful ones in Martha Stewart and Style Me Pretty.  This one definitely could have been in either- it was so beautiful and well-done.  We had a great dinner at a fun table, we danced and I caught up with some other friends whom I hadn’t seen in years apart from random Facebook updates.  It was a great night and finished off with a bonfire.  SMS and I walked home alongside the dunes and met up with everyone back at the condo.  We really had the best time.
The barn the next day, still standing

The next morning, we slept in, packed up and left.  We headed over to Laddie’s family’s house where we talked to Laddie for awhile and scored some VooDoo Donuts, even thoguh we had missed the brunch.  It ended at 10, we had thought 11...oops.  We all said our good-byes since SMS and I were staying on the Coast for the day while everyone else was heading back.  It’s always bittersweet saying goodbye to my friends and I sort of hate it but I’m so happy I had that time with them.  We missed Hillary and Marissa who couldn’t make it but someday soon, we’ll all get together again.  Even if soon is a year from now, which is sort of what we’ve been averaging.

Friday, August 15, 2014

August 2014 U.S. Trip- New Orleans and San Diego

Gliderport during interview lunch break.  Oh San Diego, how I miss you!

So, I was keeping the US trip on the down-low because I didn't want the wrong people at work to find out and threaten its cancellation.  See, there was a huge inspection scheduled for the later half of the vacation I had planned, although my dates were picked before the inspection dates were announced.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always matter so I was trying to be circumspect in the fact that I was missing it.  

The first half of the trip was for fellowship interviews.  SMS and I travelled from Narita to New Orleans, a very common itinerary (ha, ha).  We arrived mid-evening on Tuesday.  I thought were going to meet up with Chris, my former residency running mate.  He and I were emailing each other and had decided to meet Tuesday night the 12th for dinner.  Unfortunately, I had an email when I arrived in which Chris had figured out that I was in New Orleans for Tuesday, August 12 while he was talking about Tuesday, September 12th. Whah.  Oh well, he and I will see each other at the ENT meeting in Orlando later in September.  

Since our initial dinner plans fell through, SMS took a short nap while I went to the mall to buy a slightly more polished Oxford shirt and shoes than the ones I had brought.  I got a great pair of heels from Ann Taylor for $30.  Yay!  I felt much more confident about my interview suit with the new additions so that was a plus!

I went back to the room and woke SMS up- it was time for PoBoys!  We took the streetcar down St Charles St, then walked to Magazine St for PoBoys from Mahoneys.  I had the grilled shrimp, fried green tomatoes and remoulade while SMS had the fried jumbo shrimp.  Both were delicious and we checked off the box for SMS to have a PoBoy in New Orleans.  We took the bus back and walked down Bourbon St, where we both felt old and anti-throw up street smell.  

The next day, I had my interview which went well.  We toured several hospital facilities which was both cool and slightly regrettable by the end due to the new shoe situation.  But at least I looked good!  I am only slightly kidding.  SMS went to the WWII museum and the Art Museum before taking a cab up to Baton Rouge to meet me at the airport.  We kept our stay in New Orleans brief in order to maximize our San Diego time.  We arrived late Wednesday night and stayed at SMS’s parents’ house.  It was great to see Linda and Rip.  The next day we slept in, went for a run, swam in the pool, hung out with Stacy and had an amazing grilled halibut dinner.  It was a perfect San Diego day.  I also stopped by Balboa for a bit and spoke with some of my former staff.  Everyone was doing well and it was great to catch up.

The next day, I had my interview while SMS caught up with a friend for lunch.  We met up after the interview and the four of us went to Banker’s Hill for dinner.  It was so awesome!  We shared the deviled eggs.  I had the apricot/marinated cherry bruschetta and grilled peach, ricotta and greens salad.  It was delicious.  I love that restaurant and was so happy to have such a nice San Diego interlude. 

After dinner, we said our goodbyes at the airport as we were off to the second half of our vacation now that we the interviews were over.  Oregon bound!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

SMS Birthday Weekend- Hashirimizu Beach BBQ

Grilling it up, after our yakisoba tutorial

On Saturday, SMS had his birthday party.  SMS can be very nostalgic at times, mostly relating to all things San Diego.  One of the things he really likes is having a Summer-specific birthday party, aka involving the beach or the pool.  A week prior, we had gone to Hashirimizu beach after deciding to walk there from our apartment.  This was somewhat ill-advised since it made us very late to another BBQ.   While we were at the beach, we saw several beach huts including one that had a poster advertising their beachside BBQ specials.  It caught SMS’ eye and he decided that it’s what he wanted to do for his birthday party.  

Yuko-san made reservations for us and we headed over for our 12 o’clock reservations.  The sky was very overcast but the rain mostly held off.  There was a brief period of rain later in the afternoon but even that was ok since the grills were underneath a metal awning.  We showed up and the owners seemed relieved/excited we were there.  They escorted us to the table next to our grill and lit the coals.  There was a grill and a pan to put over the charcoal.  Our food came out in two massive containers and included prawns, scallops in the shell, snails, beef, pork, cabbage, noodles, corn, squash, onions and  peppers.  We were also given two sauces- one for the noodles and one for the beef.  We weren’t really sure what to do with the food.  I know, I know, grill it!  But in what order and was there a way to do it?  We had no idea.  So, we decided to start after unsuccessfully asking the grill guy for help.  We had just started with the cabbage, noodle and pork when one of the nearby partygoers came over and asked, “Excuse me, do you know how to cook yakisoba?” We answered, “No” and he quickly came to our aid!  In case you would like to recreate the method at home, start with oil, pork and cabbage.  Next, mix in some sauce as it cooks and use the double spatula method to cut up the meat into teeny pieces.  Then, add the noodles and grill it up.  It was fairly well-done by the time we ate it and totally delicious.  We were very grateful! 

This is not SMS
SMS, Suikawari champion!
We also cooked up the beef, shrimp and veggies.  We all ate a lot and had a great time hanging out.  A little later, the partygoers next to us set up a plastic bag-wrapped watermelon in sand and, one at a time, the kids were blindfolded, given a wooden samurai sword, spun and directed towards the watermelon.  It turns out that it was a Japanese Summer game called suikawari.  People shouted directions and clapped to guide them and at a certain moment, said, “Hit it!” (or something equivalent, in Japanese, n’est pas).  The kid would take a big whack with the sword and at least the first few kids viciously thwacked the sand, missing the watermelon.  The adults came over to us and asked if any of us wanted to try and the birthday boy decided to go for it.  There is video evidence to show that he is very good at suikawari.  He hit it!  Sagoy desu ne!  It was very cool and fun to be part of a traditional Japanese Summer beach party game.
SMS' new yukata- ikemen desu!  Mine definitely looked better the night before!

Soon after, we all dispersed to get ready for that evening’s Yukata cruise, sponsored by the MSCs from the hospital in honor of the medical service corp’s 67th birthday.  We went up to Yokohama and met up with a great group of people, all of us in Yukatas.  There was a near miss with three of our friends just making it but make it they did!  We had a yummy dinner of sashimi, tempura, edamame and other snacks.  The sake and beer were flowing which led to excellent karaoke.  The cruise was a little shorter than the organizers had thought but we were kind of stuck unless we wanted to pay more so the party moved onto another bar.  SMS and I joined for a bit and talked to some nice people, most of whom I really hadn’t known before.  We left around 11:30 in order to catch the train and make it home in time to not completely destroy our Sunday.   Our Sunday was a little more low-key.  We cleaned, hung out at a friend’s house in Uraga and packed for our upcoming US trip.  It was really an amazing birthday weekend and I’m so happy it was a success! 
The iPhone camera has limits!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Summer Festivals

This has been the week of Summer festivals.  This is fitting since it led up to SMS' birthday, the best day of all!  (Ha, ha, this is a lie.  It is the co-best day of all because my birthday should be included.  This is a biased opinion, I know.  It's ok if you think your birthday is the most important day!  Birthdays are the best!).
Lucky sushi.  The picture of us eating it is too rude for the internet.
Tuesday night, we watched a pretty funny cultural commentary video.  Part of it included eating a huge lucky sushi roll on an auspicious day facing an auspicious direction, which is labelled in kanji on the front of the package.  As luck would have it, the very next day (8/6) was a lucky day and SMS bought us lucky sushi to eat!  These sushi, btw, are bought at the local combine, or convenience store.  In this case, 7-11.  One is supposed to eat the sushi in one bite and I think I technically succeeded but it is pretty impossible.
Example of one of the big lanterns and a geisha dancing
On Thursday, we went with two friends to the Kamakura lantern festival.  The Bonbori Matsuri is a festival at the Tsurugaoka shrine where many Bonbori paper lanterns are displayed along the main street leading up to the shrine and on the shrine grounds itself.  The shrine grounds lanterns were the most impressive, with very beautiful artwork in multiple styles- Western Impressionist copies, Japanese wood print-style, anime, etc.  We passed a food stand that smelled of delicious fried meat.  We were starving so we ate. After we were a little less starved, we paused and thought of what we just ate.  Um, the results are not good.  Oh, well.  I'm fairly certain no permanent damage was done.
CW from top left: Lovely ladies in yukata, SMS and I at the festival, me, yagura stage
On Friday, SMS had been invited to the SRF Bon Odori Festival.  It was pretty cool.  There were food stands, games for the kids and in the center of the square, a yagura stage where people were dancing (the actual bon odori).  It's pretty cool to see the Japanese equivalent of a line dance, except it's actually a dance in a circle (so, um, not a line dance at all).  People circle up and with coordinated hand/arm movements, move clockwise, counter-clockwise and in towards the central yagura.  People are also dancing on the yagura itself.
Yukata photo shoot in our apartment tatami room
SMS and I had better luck with food here.  We had Japanese noodles, tofu with lots of toppings, grilled squid and shave ice.  The coolest part for me was the Yukata party beforehand.  Mark's friend Misai-san has a collection of yukatas and she enjoys dressing up other women in them, Japanese and American.  There was a yukata dressing party that lasted for about an hour.  The folds and arrangements that are necessary for transforming what could essentially be a shapeless bathrobe into a beautiful yukata was pretty cool.  The obi tying is also intricate, like origami with a beautiful long sash.  Unfortunately, SMS wasn't allowed in so he went to the festival by himself for a bit where he ran into some other friends.

Also…Friday was SMS' birthday!  Subarashi, desu ne!?!?  The celebration is spanning today and yesterday but we did celebrate his birthday on the actual day, which is always important.  When we got home, we had a mini-cake with candles and birthday present time.  SMS opened cards from me and his family and opened up his presents which included socks (I am so awesome!) and a new camera lens (which was really the awesome present).  SMS was really happy with his birthday and today, we're having a slightly larger party on the beach with a BBQ picnic.  I'm pretty excited and we're celebrating with a few local friends, although several happen to be out-of-town this weekend.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Hayama Weekend

This weekend was an awesome, mellow beach weekend.  I found my new favorite town- Hayama!  SMS and I headed over on Friday for my long-anticipated haircut appointment.  I got an awesome cut by Jennifer.  I'm really happy with the lightness and I do not mourn the loss of "triangle-head," the unfortunate side effect of thick hair in a layer-less bob.

SMS came because he wanted to talk to a local hair and make-up artist.  While the haircut may have longer than any of his have been by at least a factor of 10, we all got along well and decided to cement our newfound friendship with dinner at The Gazebo, a local fish and chips place.  I know, I know.  Fish and chips in Japan?  I promise, I'm not the type of Irish-American tourist that goes looking for the Irish pub in any and every city I visit.  The Gazebo wasn't a pub and the fish and chips were awesome.  I got the three piece "Special" fish and chips which were made with local mahi magi.  It was so delicious.  I ate two pieces and split the third b/t Jennifer and SMS so we could all try.  The fries were pretty good but what sealed the deal was that there was malt vinegar on the table.  Yum, yum, yum. 

Jennifer got the fish taco, which was awesome-looking.  It was a little too small to share plus whoever heard of asking a pregnant woman to share her food anyways?  So, maybe another time because it looked awesome although I did not have ordering envy since I was happy with my choice.  SMS got a green curry that he enjoyed.  I had a small bite and wasn't overwhelmed but maybe next time I'll just have to eat more of his food.

Plus, cuteness quotient alert!  There was a small bird nest in the corner and little baby birds were hanging out as the adult swooped in and out to feed them.  So cute with their little necks stretching in and out.  The picture is terrible but it helps with the mental memory jog.

Saturday was a mellow day.  I started reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  I'm about half-way through and really enjoying it.  I abandoned Summerlands by Michael Chabon because it just felt too much like the author thought that anyone with two braincells could come up with an engaging, Harry Potter-like fantasy book and well…apparently, he can't.  I love some of his other work but Summerlands didn't cut it.  Plus, I only have Americanah for 10 days so I have to get cracking!   

I also made a delicious banana bread, which SMS and I feasted on.  We cleaned up a bit around the house and then walked down the boardwalk to a little beach a little over 1.5 miles from our apartment.  The walk was ridiculous, but we wanted to get out of the house.  Biking would have been better but I left my bike at work so walking was it.  After the beach, we cleaned up and headed to Friendship Day on base to watch the fireworks.  The 16 and base were mob scenes but we eventually got to Gazebo #10 and had a great time hanging out with friends and watching the fireworks.  I finally saw a Hello Kitty Firework!  Sagoy!

Sunday was our Hayama field trip.  It was awesome!  We took the train to Shin-Zushi and then took the #12 bus into Hiyama.  The bus was packed but since the beach was 2 miles from the train station, we were happy to be on it.  We passed a small vintage bike shop and leather-working boutique that had absolutely gorgeous wallets, business card holds and handbags.  We both really wanted to get something but didn't really need anything so we kept going.  We passed the Gazebo, which has a Sunday brunch that we will definitely go to sometime soon.  Our late-morning snack was provided by the small bagel shop.  The bagels were great- definitely boiled then baked.  

L: C.C. Baxter: gorgeous leather goods; Top R: Gazebo; Bottom R: Bageru!

After our lox and cream cheese bagel with delicious coffee, we went to the beach.  It was a gorgeous day and the coolest beach- nice sand, clean water and a shrine on the left side of the beach.  The view was great- we could see a torii gate in the water, Mt. Fuji shrouded in clouds in the distance and the beautiful shrine.  We walked around the grounds before heading back to the beach and settling down.  We went into the water, which was a great temperature but SMS had the unfortunate experience of encountering a small jellyfish.  Boo!  I think the jellyfish get bad in August and they are on their way.

CW from top left: Hayama Beach; the shrine; small torii gate (squint!) on the jetty and the left side of Fuji; bridge to the shrine

After swimming, we headed up to the beach shacks for lunch.  We found one with a translated menu and the woman taking orders spoke really good English.  We spoke a little Japanese back, which she complimented us on but let's be real, her English is what made the experience go so smoothly.
Panorama of the Beach Shack
I ordered chicken pho (so beachy!) and SMS had the ginger pork plate.  We were seated at a nice table and the whole atmosphere was so relaxing and pleasant, I could have stayed there all day!  We did stay there for a while but then decided to head out.  We stopped at Sweet Tooth, a cute little bakery, for dessert and then hopped on the bus back.  We went out to Sitar for dinner, which was super tasty and they had other customers tonight.  Yay!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Yokosuka: Then & Now

While I would expect that both a place and I would change over 6 years, I was just thinking how much richer my experience in Yokosuka feels this time around.  In 2007, I was here for one year and it was so much fun.  I made my little corner of Yokohama my own and had a lot of visitors over that year.  But I was also gone more than I was here- underway 7 months, shore for 5 months.  I saw a lot of Japan and I thought I was done.

Well, Summer 2013 arrived and so did I.  As I close in on one year here, there are so many things I like about being here that I didn't even know existed last time.  South of base did not exist in my world and now I live here, an easy 2 mile bike commute to base (no hills!).  There's the seawall to run on, nearby restaurants and the cool town of Kurihama.  

I've also got to appreciate the seasonality of Japan.  For sure, the most obvious is the weather but there are smaller things like the fruits and vegetables in the store, festival schedule and traditional attire.  I'm so excited for persimmon and fig season coming up this Fall.  They are so delicious!

What's also very different is the use of smartphones.  In 2007, I had a flip phone with very laborious "texting" capabilities.  Now, I have my iPhone5 and while I sometimes go into fits of wanting to be "unplugged," the iPhone has made so many things easier which enriches the experience.  While I like challenge in travel, if there's too much struggle, it's hard to break past wrestling with the logistics and seeing the places I've actually made an effort to get to.

CW from top left: Hyperdia (although I use the free website), imiwa?, Naritra, Facebook, Google
Translate, Google search, AccuWeather (debatable), Google Maps

So, in 2014 spirit, here's a list of websites and apps I frequently use in my local travels.
Hyperdia: A super-accurate website with train times and fares.  Every once in a while, the directions within Tokyo aren't the most direct but it's usually pretty spot-on.

Imiwa?: An awesome electronic dictionary that consistently delivers the most accurate word I'm looking for.  The context sentences are really helpful for knowing the word's nuanced meaning.

NariTra: A good voice-to-voice, English-to-Japanese-to-English app.  The voice recognition isn't perfect, especially since I tend to use it in situations where I'm feeling stressed so probably not speaking very clearly anyway!

Google Maps: An old stand-by.  A unique-to-Japan (vs the US) tip- use Google search to obtain the Kanji for the place you're going, especially if it's a smaller place or tucked away.  When we went to Hakone, this trick is what got us to our ryokan after getting fairly lost.

Facebook:  I definitely have a love-hate relationship with this one.  I think the company has shady privacy policies, but since some of my friends communicate only through the messenger, especially to groups, I feel a little stuck.  Plus, there are good local pages like "Let's Explore Japan" for Yokosuka and "Outside the Gate" up in Misawa.

Weather: Kanto plain weather seems difficult to predict.  AccuWeather seems to be more accurate than the phone app, but that's not really saying much especially in the Summer.  Winter is a little better for accuracy.

Google: The best search engine.  Google translate is a great way to translate websites and online menus as long as they're not embedded photos, which is common.