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.  

Photoshoot

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.

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.

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!]

Kanazawa

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.

Hotaru Ika and Kanazawa

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 3.14.15…now that’s a way to celebrate Pi Day! (Japainrailpass.com)

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.