Day 6: Tokyo

This was our one day of bad weather.  The day before there was some rain, but the heaviest was while we were on the train.  Not today!  We got soaked but we didn’t let it stop us!

Start and end of the Cruise: Hama Rikyu (right) and Asakusa pier (left), with view of SKYTREE and the Asahi building

 After sleeping in, we headed downstairs for an American breakfast at the New Sanno.  It was delicious.  After we (over-)fortified ourselves, we headed out into the elements (so brave, ha ha).  First, we went to  the Hama Rikyu gardens, an old imperial duck hunting grounds now turned city park.  It’s very beautiful with lakes, gardens and a tea house.  It’s a funny incongruity to see such a beautiful garden flanked by skyscrapers on three sides (the fourth side is the Sumida River).  We were there to catch the Sumida River Boat Cruise.  There were two signs with different times and fortunately I listened to Dad (hi Dad!) and we caught the 10:00 boat up the river towards Asakusa.  The boat first stopped at Hinode Pier, which would be the place to catch it if you didn’t want to pay the garden entrance fee (only Y300, as are many historical tourist destinations in Japan).

Then we went up the river for a 40 minute cruise where we saw 13 architecturally different bridges, the sumo stadium (Ryogoku) and finally, Asakusa pier.  It’s a really nice, mellow way to see Tokyo from a different vantage point.

Sensoji Temple and Pagoda.  Not many pictures were taken today.

Asakusa was where we got soaked.  We walked up the Nakamise and bought some yummy rice cracker streets.  Then we went into the main building of the Sensoji temple, a famous Buddhist temple.  There’s an Old Edo feel to the area and in sunny weather, it’s delightful.  We made a dash for the train station in a (futile) effort to stay dry.  We took the train to Ometasando and ate in the cute, French-themed food court.  Then we walked down Ometasando-dori and admired the modern architecture.  We tried to find a wine bar Mom and I had been to last time but time passes and 6 years later, the wine bar was no more.  We strolled along the main Harajuku street which was interesting but a little sad since Mom was unable to find a Hello Kitty iPhone case for her iPhone 4 (single tear).  We tried hard though!

Seen around Tokyo: Mixed message gnomes (smiley face, wait, what are the gesturing?), dog boutique with gross dog and “cute outfit,” donuts in bags because that’s where they belong and a baseball poster made out of flowers

Then, it was off to the New Sanno to dry off.  That night, we went to Pizzeria Sole y Lune and had some delicious pizza right near the hotel.  Then it was off to bed!

Oyasuminasai!

Sunday Funday!

A little beach visible from the boardwalk across the street from the Yokosuka Art Museum.  The hills with
the trails are in the background, but the beach and rest stop look good too!
Today was a beautiful Spring day!  I did some Spring cleaning and the apartment looks awesome.  After cleaning up, I headed out for a 6 mile roundtrip run to the Yokosuka Art Museum.  I love the run because it’s along the coast, seawall path and a cool dock near the Art Museum itself.  I wanted to run the trails by the art museum but I was out of time since I was meeting up with two friends for Park Golf!  Hooray!  I love Park Golf!

What’s in your garage?  Oh, you know.  Just a shrine.  Kind of hard to get the car
out in the morning.

I went to Park Golf with two friends of mine who are also missing their significant others.  Aaron is marrying my good friend book in May and then they will both be here!  Sagoy!  I cannot wait to see Brooke again.  She’s a good friend of mine from San Diego and I will be so happy to have her out here.  Carl’s wife is deployed and she’ll be out here in July.  I can’t wait to meet her.  She deployed only a few weeks after I got here and the first month I was here, I was busy dealing with housing and getting ready for the boards.

So, the big news in Park Golf is that I got a hole in one!  Course A, hole 3!  This got a lot of cheers from fellow Park Golf enthusiasts!  However, I still did not win in our group.  Whah!  I had a lot of bad holes but it’s sort of ok because it simply means that I will have to play more of my favorite game!

Hole in one! Hole in one!

The course was beautiful and the day was great.  Prior to park golf, we went to a delicious yakitori place where we were painfully ordering the yakitori one at a time.  Since I was very hungry post-run, this was slightly sad for my tummy but in the end, I was very happy.

For dinner, I went out to Hamakura with a group that included Sean who is here from Singapore for the week!  It was great to see him and hopefully, I will see him again before he heads back.  Overall, it was a great day with lots of sporty activities and hanging out with friends. 

Visitors!

I feel super lucky because my awesome brother and his equally awesome girlfriend came out to Japan this past week.  It was fairly last-minute (read: only a few weeks of planning) but they had the best itinerary and it was so wonderful to see them.

I met them in Yokohama the night they arrived and drove them back to Muhari-cho.  We hung out for a bit and then everyone turned in for the night.  The next day, I went to work and came home for lunch, thinking they’d still be there since we got in late the night before.  They were gone!  Sagoy!  I was very impressed by their initiative.  They went to Kyoto, Nara and Osaka.  It sounds like a great trip and they went to a few places in Kyoto that are now on my list- the bamboo forest and the 10,000 torii gates.

1. Anime snow-animal in Yoyogi 2. Harajuku 3. View of Mt Fuji from the Shin

They were gone from Wednesday to Saturday and came home Saturday night in the worst snowstorm the Kanto plain has seen in 47 years.  They were super lucky in catching the train all the way home, even though the caveat to their luckiness was the train went about 2 mph from Yokohama to Horinouchi.  They got home at 0230…blech!  The next day, they slept in a bit then we all headed into Tokyo.  We went to Yoyogi Park and Harajuku before heading on the Shinkasen to Nagano to go skiing for two days!!!

We were heading to Nozawa-onsen and getting there was pretty easy.  We took the Shinkansen Asama from Tokyo to Nagano.  Then we took a local JR Iiyama line train for about an hour to TogariNozawaOnsen.  Apparently, there is a Nozawa station that is 4 hours away from the ski resort.  That would be a bad sagoy!  At the train station, the first two groups got cabs while the rest of us suckers were in the cold with no cabs.  We arrived after the Y300 bus, so we were stuck waiting for a cab (~Y3000).  We knew that we were arriving after the last bus, but we didn’t expect so few cabs!  The station attendant helpfully pointed out the cab numbers and I mustered up my best Japanese (terrible) and called them to ask for cabs.  I got the hang of it on the fourth call and two cabs showed up.  Yeah!  Now really, I have no idea if this was coincidence or not but I think my fourth phone call was pretty clear.  The first two were not as I wasn’t very clear which station I was at and the third was to a disconnected number.

We stayed at Petit Hotel Nozawa-onsen Inn and it was perfect!  It was inexpensive, the rooms were warm and they served a delicious breakfast for only Y500.  They also had ski rentals for Y1500.  Awesome!

The rooms were Japanese-style with futons and comforters.  It was decently comfortable although the walls were thin and we were near the sinks and bathrooms.  I learned that people in the onsen had excellent oral hygiene and definitely brushed their teeth for 2+ minutes.

1. Onsen room 2. View from my window 3. Me, happy to be skiing!
Nozawa-onsen ski resort was AWESOME!  The snow was incredible- all-natural, dry powder and just amazing to ski on.  I was a little rusty and only went on a black twice (once by accident…yeep!), but the intermediate slopes were so pleasant apart from moderate iciness on the Skyline run on the second day. The views were pretty spectacular though!
From left CW: 1. I am so happy to be out skiing 2. Japanese ski outfits 3. View 4. Ed and Meg 5. Day’s end

My favorite runs were at the top of the mountain to the left of the topmost quad lift.   The snow was consistently fantastic and there was some off-piste skiing that had great powder and not too many trees.

After the second day of skiing, we headed back home.  We stopped in Tokyo station and went to ramen alley.  Meg picked out the restaurant and it was delicious!  It’s called Tokyo Edoama and specializes in miso broth ramen.  I ordered the #1 Tokyo special and it was tasty.  Meg got a crazy-spicy soup.  Her spice tolerance impressed Ed and I.  I would definitely recommend the restaurant although I think I will try another one next time I go just to make the rounds.
Ed takes several pictures at a time.  I did not know that.  Let me caption them (L-R): 1. Yay, I love ramen! (cute) 2. Time to Eat 3. Are you still taking pictures? 4. Wait, seriously? 5. No more pictures! For real!
The next day, I had clinic, boo.  Ed and Meg went into Tokyo and we met up in Yokohama for dinner. We wanted to go to the sushi-go-round in World Porters but it was closed.  We headed back to Yokohama station and we went to the same izakaya I went to the weekend to the Thrash Zone.  It was still delicious and we had great yakitori in addition to a few other small dishes.  Ed and Meg really liked it.
From top CW: Izakaya, Ed and Meg, Panorama of Yokohama from vantage point I think SMS would like!

Then, whah!  Our fun visit was over.  They had a last half-day in Tokyo while I went back to work.  I had the best day yet in Yokosuka, professionally-speaking.  I did a left parotidectomy that went really well without any post-opertive facial nerve paresis.  It was a GREAT day and one that makes me really happy that I’m a surgeon.  So that partially healed my sads caused by Ed and Meg leaving.

Next visitors: Mom and Dad in April!  Leave is approved and I cannot wait to travel around with them!!!

Catch-up!

So, SMS left on Tuesday, 21 January.  We were both sad but at this point, we only have 0.3 decimal years to be apart so hopefully it’ll fly by.  It won’t, but at least I can attempt to be cheerful!

Before he left, we played Park Golf.  We were driving around to go to the park when what did I see??!?!?!  Old people playing Park Golf!  I thought it was only open in the Summer but apparently, there’s a Winter League.  So, SMS and I paid our Y500 game fee and Y100 rental fee and headed out to the course.  It was so much fun and we were so bad.  So bad that a Japanese woman laughed at our score, “Yonju-yon!??!  HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”  She then walked over to her friends to tell them and they too thought it was so funny.  Trash-talked by old people, the shame!

We took the Base Shuttle to Narita which was fast and free.  Both good things.  We said our good-byes (for now!) and I took the Shuttle back to base.  Now, the apartment is cooler and SMS-free.  Oh well.  May will be here soon.

Not too much has gone on the last week and a half.  I’ve worked, worked out, studied and been on call.  I’ve also been making some nice progress in my Japanese classes so that’s a plus.

I also got some great news in that Ed and Meg are coming!  Hooray!  It sounds like they’ll be fairly independent and tour around on their own for the first half.  Then, we’re going to hang out Sunday and then ski Monday-Tuesday.  I can’t wait to go on our overnight ski trip.  We’re going to Nazawa Onsen. There is a great resort and a town full of free hotsprings.  Awesome!

Long Weekend- Monday

Monday was awesome!  It was a sight-seeing packed day, which is how I like it!  It was also my awesome parents’ 35th wedding anniversary.  Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad!

We woke up at the New Sanno and had room service.  We ordered the “Traditional Japanese Breakfast.”  For $14, we got fish, soba, miso, pickles, fruit and green tea.  It’s tasty and a fun thing to order while in Tokyo.

CW from left: Memorial, Sweet Bread Shop, Nakamise

After breakfast, we got ready for the day and headed to Asakusa.  It was pretty crowded!  We made our way up Nakamise, the main shopping street.  It is lined with vendor shops and carts selling many different forms of rice treats, souvenirs and clothing.  It is also the main approach to Sensoji shrine.  We walked around for a bit and SMS took some pictures.  I went to a cool little shop making “Japanese sweet bread.”  It was a delicious, light roll with granulated sugar on top. Yum!  The store owner was very nice, directing traffic in his restaurant and outside in line while waiting for bread.

Left: You can’t take me anywhere Right: The daijoubu (sumo ring)

Then, SMS and I walked down the Sumida Riverfront down to Ryogoku, the sumo stadium.  We got there a little on the early side.  It was noon so the tournament had been going on for a few hours but the big guys (ha, ha) didn’t really start until 2:45.  We watched until 5.  It’s pretty engaging.  We rented a radio between 4-5 and that helped us understand some of the finer points.  It cost Y100 and a Y2000 deposit, which was easy to get back upon radio turn-in.

We took the train to Tokyo SkyTree.  First, we ate at Rokurinsha, an incredibly popular tsukemen, or dipping ramen, restaurant.  The line was quite short and we had delicious ramen.  I even used the bib although I initially refused.  Then it was off to the SkyTree.

From Left: SMS, View from 350 m, artsy SkyTree renditions

It’s Y3000 to get to the top and I think it was totally worth it.  It was nighttime by the time we got up there and to see the entire metropolis from the high, 360 views was completely amazing.  On the main observation deck at 350m, there’s even a double-layered glass floor.  Sagoy!  We had our picture taken there and even though it was totally cheesy, I bought it!

We headed back to Horinouchi around 9.  The train was packed.  We got seats for about half the journey but it was impressive how crowded it was on a Monday night.

Long Weekend- Sunday

So, Sunday got off to a slllloooowww start.  The morning was a bit of a wash but I started to get ready for our dinner date in Tokyo and off we went.  We checked into the New Sanno (yay!) and headed to the Fuji Corporate building in Tokyo Midtown.  SMS had found out there was an exhibit on the first floor.  I thought we were going to see a Mt. Fuji exhibit and I was very confused as we approached the building.  Instead, it was a Fuji camera exhibition and a small photography retrospective of Wynn Bullock’s work.  He enjoyed manipulating light and had some beautiful landscapes.  The camera timeline was pretty amazing- they have a very thorough collection.  I liked seeing the old camera obscura and some of the first pinhole cameras.  After the very earliest cameras, it gets very Fuji-dominated as you can imagine in the Fujifilm museum!  The museum was free.  It was small but well-done and I would recommend a stop for the film buff tourist.

After the exhibit, we walked around Ropponggi Hills for a bit.  We had a warm drink at a coffee shop since it was so cold.  While it is cold, the wind is what really makes things miserable.   Then we went to dinner.  SMS had set it up and I was excited to go out and enjoy more upscale sushi than our normal Y100 sushi joints (which are good, but still there is a difference!).

We went to Seizan sushi.  It was really beautiful.  The restaurant had a long sushi counter and semi-separated dining area.  Sets were only able to be ordered in the dining area so that’s where we went.  We ordered the Y6000 set and had multiple delicious courses.  We started out with two small appetizers.  Sashimi came next and that was delicious.  We both thought the salmon was the best.  Then we had half of a fried fish with “french fries” of little minnow-like fish.  We ate that without too much hesitation but then our second course of “appetizers” came out.  Hmmmmm…what do you think this might be…

Source
*Sigh* I was fairly certain nothing good could come from eating this but then again, I didn’t know what it was and we were on our dining adventure.  That was one of the things we enjoyed about the set course- we would get things we otherwise would never think to order.  So, we both ate it and it was alright.  There was a small part that sort of looked like a clam, so I thought it was some variation on a shellfish.
Well, introducing shirako.  I’m sorry, you need a translation?  Well, it’s a winter-only delicacy from a male cod.  Specifically it’s the milt, which is otherwise known as the sperm sacs.  I’m very happy I didn’t know this in the restaurant!  I had a feeling it might be an organ meat, but this wouldn’t have crossed my mind!  Anyway, I don’t think I’ll have it again but it wasn’t terrible, just kind of meh combined with “I think I’m eating something I may not want to know where it came from.”
But sometimes food adventures are good so I’m glad we were up for the challenge.  Our last course was very identifiable sushi, which was awesome.  Dessert was a small scoop of green apple ice cream with match tea on the side.  Yum!  It was a great dinner out and so nice to be treated to a Japanese itinerary created by SMS.  It’s like he lives here!
On Monday, we had an awesome Tokyo day but I’ll leave that for another blog entry, which I should get to in roughly a week!  It’s ok though because my life is very boring right now- time to study for boards!

Long Weekend- Saturday!

SMS and I enjoyed the holiday weekend, which was also the last weekend that SMS was in Japan, at least for now.  We didn’t dwell too much on the sads but instead had a really fun weekend.

On Saturday, we headed up to Yokohama and went to the CUPNOODLES museum.  It was way better than I expected, mostly because I had really, really low expectations going into it.  But it was really pretty awesome.  Yes!  Seriously!  I went from “meh” to “awesome!”

The building is another modern masterpiece- lots of white, high ceilings, spare lines.  The floor is a blond wood and there’s a huge staircase just to the left of the entrance.  We bought our tickets (Y500) and also received passes for the MYCUPNOODLES factory.  These passes had the time that we could enter the customize-your-own-CUPNOODLE wonderland, but we actually paid upstairs at the Cup vending machines (Y300 each).  We also borrowed audioguides, which were free but required a few thousand yen for a deposit, which we got back without any difficulty.

We had half an hour before we got to make our CUPNOODLE, so we saw the exhibits on the second floor.  We saw the instant noodle history cube, which starts with one original instant ramen on the left, then goes around the room with a timeline as the products explode both in number and type.  But don’t worry, they’re always instant noodles.

We also saw the Momofuku Ando story and work shed.  He was 48 when he invented CUPNOODLE after multiple failed business endeavors and two years in jail on tax evasion charges.  It was really a fascinating story and it’s been woven into a narrative that pretty heavy-handedly gives its themes to the visitor.  The themes, or six key ideas aren’t bad though: discover something completely new; find hints in all sorts of places; nurturing an idea; look at things from every angle; don’t just go with the status quo; and never give up.

So with that inspiration, off we went to the MYCUPNOODLES experience!  We stood in line, bought our Styrofoam cup and were frantically waved over to two free seats at the drawing/coloring tables.  We drew our masterpieces and then got in line for the ramen buffet.  We were given menus to choose which seasoning (original, curry, fish and something else) and which topping we wanted (four from a selection of about 12).  We cranked the machine to suspend the noodles in the cup, a worker placed our four toppings inside and then we watched our CUPNOODLES process with a lid and shrinkwrap.  We then went to the “pillow station” where we put our soup in a plastic bag and pumped it up into the most ridiculous pillow necklace, which we wore for the rest of the night because even though it was ridiculous, it was cool because it was OUR CUPNOODLES!!!

Then, we went to Landmark Tower to the World Beer Museum, which is a restaurant with tables and 5 bars.  The bars are country-themed: Germany, USA, Belgium, Czech and England.  We were supposed to meet up with Jen, her husband and a few others from Ikego but somehow, we didn’t see each other when they came in.  SMS, Aaron and I were waiting at the bar for 30 minutes and somehow we missed a group of 6 white people. Also, four of them are over 6 feet tall.  How we missed each other still confuses me.  But, we eventually sat near them and split a bunch of food and drank a lot of beer.  It was a nice restaurant although SMS and I saw a small, cute grill restaurant that we really want to go to next time.

Week Recap

SMS and I had a really nice week. On Tuesday, we headed out to Zushi to get ramen at the best smelling ramen shop ever.  Oh, I’m sorry, best smelling any other night of the week since it was CLOSED on Tuesday.   Whah whah.  We spent a few minutes wandering through Zushi, which had all of a sudden seemed to turn into a culinary ghost town.   Would we ever eat, our poor stomachs cried.  Non-melodramatic answer: yes.  We went into another ramen shop near the JR station and ordered two karai miso ramens and an order of gyoza.  It was an acceptable substitute and I was happy that I had rallied to go out since when I first got home, I was feeling le pooped.
On Thursday, we had our last Japanese lesson together for the month.  SMS had gone bouldering and hiked from Takitori-yama to Oppama, which impressed Mayumi-san and I quite a bit.  My Japanese is slowly improving and I’m pretty happy.  I’m going to keep studying while my oral board prep gathers steam.  At least that’s the plan for now.
Friday, we had a pretty early dinner and then went to American Hustle.  It was pretty good.  I found it a little hard to follow here and there, but would catch up quickly.   The acting was excellent and it was definitely different to see a fat Christian Bale.  I am really not a big Bradley Cooper fan but his character was so weird and borderline psycho that I begrudgingly admit that he has good acting chops.  Amy Adams is always a fave of mine and Jennifer Lawrence did a wonderful job with her unhinged character.  

Yokohama Quest

Well, hello!  Won’t you join me for a cup of the BEST COFFEE IN THE WORLD!  Although Buddy the Elf in the eponymous Elf thought he had found the world’s best coffee, SMS and I are #1 fans of the Kona coffee from The Honolulu Coffee company.  We had some on our honeymoon (twice!) and SMS was determined to find a store here in Japan.  This quest led us to a beautiful, but coffee-free, beach in Zushi and on Sunday, to World Porters in Yokohama where we found it!  Hooray!  
The French Press were individual sized instead of for two, so we each got our own and had the most delicious cup!  The mall was super-crowded, especially in the food court.  We preceded the coffee with Bibimbap for lunch, which was delicious.  I love the food court at World Porter’s- the bibimbap place is awesome.  There is also a delicious bakery adjacent to the food court and my favorite sushi go-round on the other side from the bakery.

 After lunch, we walked around the mall and SMS got an awesome man bag.  They’re pretty de rigueur around here in addition to being really practical.  His looks awesome.  It’s very difficult to find one that a. does not look like a lady bag and b. does not look like a fanny pack casually draped over the shoulder.  BUT, he found one and it is awesome!

 Then, we made our way over to Osanbashi International Passenger Terminal for some photos.  The structure itself is amazing.  From far away, it looks like a grassy roof on top of a large building, but it is actually a really neat, geometric wooden deck with inset grassy areas that one can’t even walk on.  The deck is fair game and really quite astonishingly intricate and beautiful. There are some great views of the structure itself, the Yokohama skyline and a nearby bridge.

 SMS and I set up in a spot to get a really nice picture of the skyline.  The picture above is a little early compared to the gorgeous lightening SMS waited for but I just thought I’d show my little iPhone shot just to set the scene. It was fun to go out with SMS but taking pictures made us hungry so we walked over to Chinatown.

We walked through the streets and snacked our way through.  We had several steamed buns and one set of delicious dumplings.  It was really beautiful at night.  After awhile, we started to get cold so we quickly walked through Motomachi, jumped on the train and headed home.  Awesome day!

Thrash Zone!

Last night, we went out with Doug, Rose and Aaron for a night out in Yokohama.  Our destination?  THRASH ZONE, a place with “Extreme Beer Only” and heavy metal on the sound system, although at a very low volume.

We arrived at Yokohama and after a few false starts, found ourselves walking towards the Thrash Zone.  We arrived and it was pretty empty.  Some-one (Doug) was all set to start drinking but the rest of us begged off and we decided to leave and get some dinner first.  We didn’t buy Doug’s argument that the French Fries would suffice.

We walked past a small noodle shop where Doug and Rose had been before, but it was a little too crowded.  SMS led us to a cool izakaya that he had seen.  We were loitering around the entrance while we were trying to peer inside to see if it would work when all of a sudden, the door flung open and this young waiter said, “Come in!”

Yokohama Merchant Shop…thanks to SMS for figuring out the Kanji!

It was awesome!  We were able to go upstairs to the “sitting section” and we ordered lots of yakatori.  SMS ordered his signature ginnan (gingko nut), which wasn’t even on the menu but everyone loved them.  We even ordered a second round!  Aaron tried to order two beers but instead, a full round came out so we all took one.  When in an izakaya…

After a delicious meal of yakitori, tofu and edamame, we went back to the Thrash Zone.  Never fear, we still had the French Fries and they were delicious.  The one bartender/brewer/owner did double-duty filling beers and making fries one batch at a time.

Rose, SMS and I weren’t too into the hoppy beers, so we stuck with the Nagahama and two of the stouts.  We had a really nice time hanging out at the bar.  We headed out after a couple of hours since Rose and Doug had to get back to the sitter.  We could have stayed longer, but we were all pretty tapped out (I am so funny!).