Wednesday, May 27, 2015

South Korea

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

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

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

More to follow!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Japan Whirlwind- Sasebo, Osaka and Kyoto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 10, 2015


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

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

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

Iris season and ducks in Kenrouken

Kasumi Pond

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

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

Saturday, May 9, 2015

SMS and I headed to the West Coast (Best Coast!) of Japan this past weekend.  I had to travel the next week to a couple of clinics so we decided to build on the trip.  We each had a specific place we wanted to see on the West Coast.  SMS wanted to see the famous Hotaru-Ika (Firefly squid) along the Toyama Bay coast.  I really wanted to see Kanazawa after hearing rave reviews about it several years ago when Brady and Ed visited.  There is also a really good "36 Hours in..." article on Kanazawa so I had a few places in mind.
The extension opened up that's a way to celebrate Pi Day! (
We left Friday afternoon and took the new Shinkansen to Toyama. The new route extended the Nagano Shinkansen beyond Nagano all the way to Kanazawa.  This extension connects Tokyo and Kanazawa directly so it takes only 2.5 hours!  Before, the trip required a transfer at Kyoto or Nagoya and took a little over 5 hours.  Anyway, we were very excited and took the Shin to Toyama, followed by a local JR train to Uozu.  We had eaten on the train so we checked into the hotel, dropped off our bags and decided to walk to the beach.

Interestingly, our hotel seemed to be in the Red Light district of Uozu since there were several clubs with prostitutes milling about outside.  But it's Japan so it felt very safe.  After one of the prostitutes unsuccessfully called after three guys, she called out a very friendly "Kombanwa" to SMS and I.  Not exactly knowing what to do, I decided to be polite and say "Kombanwa!" back.
Screen shot for Firefly Squid, apparently mostly for eating, not seeing!  I ate a marinated one for breakfast and almost threw up.  The two pictures on the bottom (center and right) are the most common (and really only) pics on the web, in both Japanese and English searches. This is a screen shot from a Google search.

Anyway, we walked to the shore and found that there was very little beach.  It was mostly a concrete barrier seawall and nary a firefly squid in sight!  Boo hoo! We walked along but the picture that was so beautiful on the internet never materialized before our eyes.  At the same time, I had low expectations because the picture, while spectacular, was really the only one found in the web searches. I feel that if it was common, there would be a lot more photos since there are so many photographers in Japan that would flock to a place like this.

Submerged sugi roots- part of the museum is under the current sea level!

 The next day, we decided that we would max out our tourist experience in Uozu so we went to the drowned forest museum.  When they built the harbor, they came across the submerged root structure of an ancient 2000 year old Japanese cedar (sugi) forest.  Honestly, it sounds like they made lemons out of lemonade since it would probably be pretty annoying to come across a bunch of roots when trying to dredge a commercial port. So, they made it a tourist attraction!  

At the museum, we saw two short movies which showed off two of the three tourist draws of Toyama Bay.  One is the Drowned Forest, and two is the Spring "mirage" where the interface of different thermal air gradients creates a shoreline mirage.  The movies had beautiful cinematography and highlighted the beauty of the area, which was cool since we were there on a gray, foggy day.  

I look how the squid feels, I think!
SMS, science guy!
After the cedar forest, we travelled to Namerika to the Firefly Squid museum, the third attraction of Toyama Bay.  We left our bags with a tourism board lady at the station (yay!) and walked straight out the railway station about 10 minutes down the road. The museum was pretty cool.  The highlight was the Hotaru Ika show.  We went into a small auditorium where, after a short movie, the lights went out and we shook a net holding very lethargic squid. In response to the stimulation, they glowed!  We saw the luminescent Hotaru Ika!  Hooray!

Sign at the museum.  Don't worry, SMS and I were in no danger of breaking this rule!
By the way, in terms of experiencing the Hotaru Ika as gustatory delicacies, SMS and I were a little more successful.  At the hotel breakfast, there were little plates of the squid marinated in a miso sauce.  I tried one but it was way too early for that type of culinary Fear Factor.  I wanted to spit it out but I persevered.  The thing that got me is the body part has a lot of squishy stuff that, to me, also tasted a bit off.  So between the texture and the taste, I was over it shortly after I began.  At the firefly museum, we had Squid tempura rice bowls for lunch.  I was sort of scarred and only ate the legs so my lunch was on the teeny side.  SMS ate them and thought they were good but after those two meals, we felt we had been adventurous enough!

Restored outer wall of the Kanazawa castle
Then, it was off to Kanazawa.  We checked in and walked to the castle grounds.  It was a beautiful night and the outer walls that remain are quite pretty.  After sunset, we went to a restaurant in a pretty cool area.  The food was good but it wasn't my favorite restaurant in Japan.  Oh well, win some, lose some.  Also, it definitely wasn't as bad as my restaurant choice in Nagano.  

Neighborhood temple near the castle grounds
We went to bed for our exciting next day plans- the NINJA temple and the Kenkuen garden.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Little Catch-Up

Whoa, blogging our recent trip was intense!  I'm so happy I kept up with posts because I totally would have forgotten things since we did so much.  As you can tell from the length of the posts, I don't think I forgot too much.  When I got back, I did some quick editing (but sorry for remaining typos) and added pictures.  Then it was off to work on Friday, May 1 where no one was expecting me back.  It's ok though, I got to do a fair amount of admin work and get well-situated for the next work week.

The weekend was great because Mark's cousin came to visit!  There was a flight mix-up on Saturday but they eventually met up and saw a little bit of Tokyo.  They were hampered by Michael's eleventy-billion pound spear-fishing gear but they were determined!
Kamakura temples and Wisteria
On Sunday afternoon, we went to Kamakura and it was absolutely wonderful.   The weather was incredible and we had the best time.  We had spent the morning working out and then having an awesome lunch at Snug Stay Door.  Kamakura was crowded- so crowded that they were doing major crowd control on the Enoden line between the main Kamakura line and the more distant stations like Hase (Big Buddha) and Enoshima.  We decided to walk with hundreds of our new friends to Hase and I'm so glad we did.  We walked along the 311 and it was so cool!  So many coffee shops, cafes, boutiques and cool architecture.  I remember I had seen it from a bus window once and I'm glad I got to see it up close and at a slower pace.  The bus on Sunday would have been even slower since traffic was at a complete standstill.
Farm to You.  I love it!  So much that I took a disgustingly ridiculous arty sunglasses picture.  And yet, I include it...

I finally ate a shrimp cracker but the wind broke it while my picture was being taken.  Sads!
On our way to Hase, we stopped at the new Farm to You cafe with a huge outdoor garden and seating area.  It was amazing!  It was so cute and so idyllic.  We all had a coffee and relaxed in the gorgeous setting.  I could have sat there all day!  But, sightseeing awaited so we walked over to Hasedera, with its big Buddha that had been rescued from the sea about 17 years after it had been tossed in near Osaka.  We saw the beautiful view from the top, the collection of Jizu statues, the cave shrine and the beautiful gardens.  We saw it all pretty quickly because we wanted to make sure we got to the "Big Buddha."  We took the required pictures and admired the massive, serene Buddha statue before heading back home for dinner.  We went to Hamakura where we had awesome sushi.

On Monday, I went to work and the guys went to Kyoto.  No fair!  They had a great time and a really ambitious itinerary.  It was fun to live vicariously through them while I was getting slammed with consults thanks to an increase in consults from the Fleet.  It's nice to be busy but I wish it was a little slower since I'd like to read more for fellowship!

Socially,  I went out Monday for Amanda's birthday dinner.  Tuesday was an awesome book club with a delicious taco bar (Cinco de Mayo, so wild and crazy!).  Wednesday, I went up to Yokohama to meet up with Michael and SMS for dinner at Charcoal Green Grill after they spent the afternoon cheering on the Yokohama Baystars in the outfield stands (crazy fandom reigns there!).

Today (Friday), I have a half clinic day and a housing appointment to set up our final move-out!  Then it's off to Western Japan where we will (hopefully) see luminescent squid and Kanazawa as a  short trip before my TDY starts next week in Iwakuni and Sasebo.