Friday, June 26, 2015

Back in the USA!

After a long flight in which my greatest accomplishment was watching the entire Season 1 of HBO's "Silicon Valley," I arrived at the John Wayne/Orange County Airport for a fun Father's Day weekend in Newport Beach.  SMS picked me up and we headed to the beach house.  It was a family celebration!  We stayed with Rip and Linda and Stacy and Micheal were in town with Michael's son and their new dog.  Marty was in town as well and we had great family dinners, time on the beach and general relaxation.  It was absolutely wonderful.  The weather was perfect and I didn't really want to leave!
SMS, buried in the Santa Barbara sand
But, come Monday, leave we did.  SMS planned a great road trip for our travel up to Silicon Valley. First, we stopped in Santa Barbara.  We went on epic walks, tasted wine, ate at The Lark and went shopping.  We also had a Mexican food feast at La Super-Rica taqueria, the restaurant made famous by Julia Child's recommendation.  The great weather continued and we had an awesome time in Santa Barbara.  The beautiful, balmy sunny weather is a big change from Japan's rainy season!

After Santa Barbara, we stopped in Pismo Beach for some awesome Mexican food at Papi's Grill.  Whoa, it was amazing!  I was a little less crazy in the amount of cheesy goodness order and instead, went crazy by ordering a horchata milkshake.  It was divine.  It kind of ruined my next few horchatas at different meals because the creaminess was understandably less in the more healthy, non-milkshakes.
Justin Winery tasting room
After lunch, we drove to Paso Robles wine country.  We stopped at Justin winery and Daou winery.  I liked the Justin wines a little bit better and the setting was quite nice among the vineyards, right next to the original cabernet sauvignon grapes.  But the location couldn't compare to Daou, which was at the top of a hill with a gorgeous panorama view.  The greens of the vineyards, golden grass of the hills and undulating landscape was spectacular.

At Daou, we split a huge beet salad and cheese plate.  I wrote to a friend and described our mild culture shock upon returning to the US.  One of the things I mentioned was "rapidly fading dismay at portion sizes."  But seriously, servings are huge here!
Taken with an iPhone6, ha ha
After a night in Paso Robles, we headed off to Mountain View.  Our apartment and the location is perfect.  SMS did an amazing job with all the planning the last month or so- he found both the apartment and planned our trip.  It was a really great experience and a nice transition home.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Last week

My last full work week in Japan was pretty busy with a lot of social events and farewell moments.  At work, the corpsmen and I went out to lunch on Thursday where they gave me a sayonara kokeshi doll signed by multiple people in DSS.  Jenn also gave me a paddle that is pretty awesome.  Now my memento plaques from Yokosuka include a paddle and a "skateboard," my cut-out of the USS Kitty Hawk from my time there.
The awesome sushi-go-round underneath Yokosuka station
On Thursday, I went to a yakitori restaurant with Adam, Jen and Amanda.  While I was waiting for them, I got my one and only chu-hi stand chu-hi during this tour.  I picked the ume flavor and it was delicious!  We were near Shiori since we wanted to go to Radianza, an awesome Italian place we had been in the past but unfortunately, all of the tables were full.  The yakitori was a nice back-up and we stayed with mainly vegetarian choices since we were out with Adam and Jen.

Friday was a wine night!  I met up with Brooke and Melinda at the World Wine Bar where they had gotten talked into a deal and purchased three bottles.  We only made it through one there but we met up with the rest of the group at Charcoal Grill Green.  Alaina and Stephanie actually came to WWB minutes before we left.  Emily and Stacie were at CGG and we had the most delicious dinner.  We all shared grilled Caesar salad and had our own entrees.  I had the lamb which was phenomenal although the bite of wasabi coleslaw that accompanied the pork belly was amazing.  I must figure out how to  recreate!  Afterwards, Brooke, Melinda and I made a slightly unnecessary trip back to WWB but it was really fun to hang out with them.   It was an excellent last night out!

Then, it was time to go.  It was a crazy morning since I was still wrapping things up at work and mailing my commemorative paddle since it didn’t fit into any bags.  And, oh yeah, I met up with Melinda and Emily to grab a coffee and do some quick knife shopping.  I took the 1230 bus from PSD and Lasonya, her husband, Kazu-san and his son were all there to wave me off.  It was really sweet and so nice to have a send-off!
A slighty saner moment, enjoying Cremia ice cream
Narita ended up being a slightly crazy experience.  I was on a United flight, which is great since I'm a Gold Premier member after all of my flying last year.  I hung out in the lounge, used the WiFi and chilled out before the flight.  Unfortunately, there were two United flights going to SFO only 20 minutes apart.  I thought I was on the 5:10 flight since my ticket said that boarding was at 1655 and departure was at 1710.  I didn't actually look at the flight number though and, for reasons I still don't understand based on what was on my ticket time-wise, I was actually on the 1650 plane which was being held for me as I ran from one side of Narita South terminal to the other.  Literally.  The flights were boarding on the exact opposite ends.  I remember thinking "What idiot would mess up their flight?" and I even looked at the list of names one woman was carrying around to snicker at the fools.  (I wasn't on that list!).  Unfortunately, someone other than me got the last laugh.  I got to board my flight out of breath and sweaty.  Fortunately, people were still moving around so it wasn't like everyone was sitting and staring, stone-faced.  But it wasn't the ideal end although it was dramatic!  

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Winding down in Japan...

My last 10 days in Japan felt like a blur of work, friends and food.  All the apartment stuff was over although there was still a lot to do for checking out.  When checking out, a person gets a 2 page hospital check-out sheet and a one page base check out sheet.  It feels like a demented scavenger hunt.  It’s not exactly a waste of time but it definitely feels like bad timing since things are already stressful and the check-out process adds what feels like hundreds of “to-do’s” to an already very long list.  In short, call the “whambulance.”
Flowers from my MLC colleagues- it made my day!
There were a lot of highlights though.  On Tuesday the 11th, I went out with a few of the MLC’s from the case referral office and had a wonderful izakaya dinner with Kazu-san, Yumiko-san, Muchiko-san and Lasonya.  We had such a fun time and the food was excellent- lots of delicious fried chicken! 
Hotaru Cheese Tofu

Friday was pretty mellow with a low-key dinner at Hotaru on my own.  I ordered the cheese tofu, which is soft tofu, gorgonzola cheese, cream combined with figs and honey on top.  It is amazing. So, so delicious.  The portion size was generous for one person but since that was my dinner and I'm not a quitter, I got it done.

On Saturday, I had a pretty full day that started with a few hours of work, Body Pump and then heading out to Yokohama.  I went shopping in Yokohama since I had our apartment deposit money that I preferred to spend rather than lose money converting it back into dollars.  When I got there, it was 98 yen for each dollar and now it is 125 yen for each dollar.  So rather than lose 20% of the value, I bought a few things I had my eye on like a new wallet and birkenstocks.  I also went to Flying Tiger in Yokohama where I bought a replacement tacky jewelry holder for the one I received from Mom a few Christmas’ ago that had chipped due to an ill-advised fall from the dresser to the floor.  So, yes, money well-spent!  I did check the prices to make sure that it was a deal and I wasn't buying something that was way higher-priced in Japan vs the US.  

I also wandered over to the Red Brick warehouse area which was great because the weather was gorgeous.  I bought a wallet at sot and walked towards the water where there were a lot of cos-play/Steampunk teenagers out in their finest attire.  Oh, and four Disney Princesses.

The princesses from afar.  I'm sure Elsa was the favorite
After shopping, I headed back to Yokosuka to see Pitch Perfect 2 with Adam, Jen and Amanda.  It was awesome because we went out for dinner afterwards at Giovanna's followed by an hour of karaoke.  It was the perfect way to end a night after seeing a movie about acapella!
Good-bye Mr. Pinks!
Sunday started with the huge highlight of selling our car!!!  The buyer came out of nowhere and was trying to buy in a hurry since she was deploying on Tuesday.  I was more than happy to help and they said yes to the car!  I was going to do the LTO run but they ended up taking the car themselves on Monday so I knocked the appropriate amount off the price.  SMS and I were just super happy to sell it and we made a slight amount off of it!
The olive tree in the outdoor garden at Farm to You, my favorite Kamakura restaurant
But, back to Sunday!  I went to Kamakura for some more shopping.  On the way, I walked through Verney Park where there was a fun local festival and I bought some delicious fried treats.  In Kamakura, I had tea at the Farm to You restaurant where I hung out in the beautiful outdoor patio garden area. Then I made my way over to Zushi for another farewell BBQ (but not for me).   It was a lot of fun and I went out to Matchpoint afterwards with Stephanie and Alaina where there was more delicious food to be had.  It was an awesome weekend and then it was time to start my last work week in Japan.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Early June in Japan

Steak Restaurant Soma
June was a shortened work month, but I was on call a lot in a (very small) attempt of softening the blow of having the call pool get cut by 1/3.  SMS and I still got to do a lot around Yokosuka.  We went to Restaurant Soma, which was recommended by one of my Japanese colleagues.  It's an incredible steakhouse.  It features different regions on a nightly basis and although we really wanted to try Hayama beef, we ended up going on a Kobe night.  No matter, it was delicious!  We ordered one fillet and one tenderloin with an accompanying set, which included a small appetizer, salad, rice, miso soup and sorbet dessert.  It was all terrific but the steak was absolutely incredible.  The tenderloin was very tender and the fillet was completely butter-like and melt in your mouth.  I highly recommend the place and SMS and I were very glad we went.
My awesome necklace!
That weekend, SMS headed down to Osaka for a 2 day, 1 night trip to see his business school friend Yusuke.  He had a great time and went to a delicious yakitori restaurant.  He also brought back the most beautiful necklace for me, which had been given to him by Yusuke's Mom.  She has been making these necklaces for years.  They are incredibly intricate and beautiful.  I felt very lucky!

My beautiful anniversary flowers
When we were initially planning our move, SMS and I had talked about him going back early to get some much needed San Diego time.  Instead, we decided to do it after our anniversary.  Yes!  It's been two years!  Time flies except maybe for some cold/windy/gale-like days in Yokosuka.  Those always seem a little long!  SMS and I were so happy to be together and I felt very luck with some beautiful flowers brought to me during my work day!

Fried Shrimp salad (foreground) and Kimchi pancake (Background)
That night, we wanted to go to Hananoya, a fancy French restaurant in Yokosuka owned by a chef who used to work at Daniel, a chi chi restaurant in Manhattan.  However, Monday is not the day to pursue fine dining since Hananoya was closed as were two other French restaurants in Yokosuka.  We ended up at a nice izakaya Bonzai, which was pretty delicious and a nice way to celebrate our anniversary out.

The next night was SMS' last night in Japan.  We went to a BBQ party in Hayama and saw the most beautiful sunset we'd seen in Japan.  Not only are the colors gorgeous, but Mt. Fuji is in the background.  It's on our favorite beach Morito with the temple off to the left with a torii gate in the ocean (not visible above).

The next day, SMS was off to San Diego and although I was sad to see him go, it was a pretty daunting list of "To-do's" that lay ahead of me for the next 10 days!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Tokyo Weekend!

This past weekend was a Tokyo bonanza!  SMS and I spent a lot of time, walked a lot of miles and have a continued appreciation for our awesome neighboring city.

Friday started off locally with a delicious BBQ dinner at our friends' house.  We had amazing burgers with a huge spread of fixings.  We were a little late since I got off work and then prepped a few salads.  I made an avocado cucumber salad, a Caprese salad and a olive oil pan-cooked potato/garlic/ginan (gingko nut) salad on partially wilted rocket greens.  They were all pretty awesome and overall, we had a fantastic dinner.  The company was also great and it was so much fun to hang out with such good friends.
Yemenote Line, for real!
Our awesome team!  This is as close as we got to being on the Yamanote train all day!
 The next day was an epic Tokyo adventure.  SMS and I got to Horinouchi Station at 0600.  We were on our way to Tokyo to participate in the 2015 Yamathon!  It's an event where teams circle Tokyo by following the Yamanote line, checking into all 29 stations by taking team photos in front of each one. A team can go clockwise or counter-clockwise and it is an amazing way to see the city.  We went clockwise and joined up with another team of friends so in total, there were 8 of us circling the city.  
The Stowaways!
We ended up being inadvertent stowaways on the overnight train from Southern Japan as it made its way through Yokohama station.  Hyperdia told us to get on but no one else seemed to although we found out later that two acquaintances of ours did the same thing.  Since we didn't have beds on the sleeper train, we were stowaways!
Scenes from Tokyo- the bottom right is from a long 1.5m tunnel we walked through near Shinjuku.  We felt like
the Ninja Turtles!
More cool things in Tokyo
 The weather was absolutely perfect and there were several things throughout Tokyo that caught my eye.  It was a pretty cool day and definitely a little tiring by the end.  We had several stops throughout the day including City Bakery in Shinagawa and a lunchtime stop at a combini for an on-the-fly picnic.  We also came across several serendipitous finds- the Shinjuku Godzilla and the Owl Cafe!
Running away from the Shinjuku Godzilla.  No one else seems concerned.
Cool things in Tokyo: gnome with a tall hat, a smile-y restaurant, pretty flowers and the Owl Cafe!
On Sunday, we headed over to our friend's house in Zushi for a delicious brunch.  There were several delicious baked goods, an egg dish and awesome sweet & savory crepes made by our friend Adam.  It was another great group of people and I'm so happy we're getting so much friend time in before we go.
TY Harbor.  Not the best night shots but an absolutely fantastic place!
After a few hours, we headed up to Tokyo where we met up with some friends for Jenn's birthday dinner.  It was at TY Harbor Brewery Restaurant and it was delicious!  It was very English friendly and the food and drinks were so good.  The venue was gorgeous.  All the windows were open and it was so spacious and airy, perfect for the clear, warm evening.  We had a great time and were pretty stuffed by the end.  I highly recommend the restaurant if you're ever in Shinagawa on a beautiful evening.