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.

Yokosuka Weekend

SMS and I had a pretty mellow weekend.  Since last weekend was busy and we have lots of plans for next weekend, a quiet weekend at home was great.

Interior of Snug Stay Door.  Very comfortable!
Hawaiian Magazines and the bar.

On Friday, we went to Snug Stay Door, a restaurant fairly close to our house.  It is a really cute place decked out in lots of Hawaiian kitsch.  It’s a really comfortable environment, more coffee-shop than restaurant, but the food is incredible.  SMS had been once before and raved about the food.  I ordered the avocado cheeseburger.  Despite being on the diet menu, it was absolutely delicious.  Ok, just kidding about the diet menu, but it is true that it was delectable!  The toppings included mayonnaise, lettuce (oh thank goodness!), tomato, cheese, perfectly ripe avocado.  The bun was perfectly toasted and the burger was great.  On the side, there were perfect little potato wedges.  It was awesome!

SMS had the poke loco moco.  It was a rice bowl with tuna sashimi, a soft-boiled egg and seaweed sprinkles.  It was also tasty.  We split a Hilo Hawaii ice cream that had a little freezer burn and was just ok (but come on, it was still ice cream!).  Overall, the meal was amazing and we will definitely be back!

Wide-angle view of Kannonzaki Beach with the Rest House in the background (right)

Lighthouse and Rest House more visible.  If we were driving, we would have made a right
at the light by the rest house and then parked in the lot on the left.

Concrete Swimming Island.  No diving!  The water is only waist-deep.

 On Saturday, we had a mellow morning and an almost-as-mellow afternoon.  We biked down towards Kannonzaki Park.  We walked around the little pier, the beach and back up into the forest for a bit, aka until the uphill started and laziness kicked in!  I figured out that the Kannonzaki Rest House was where we should have made the right and parked when we went to the giant slide.  I took a picture for reference.

It’s hydrangea season!

After that, we headed out to Ikego because SMS had his first family photo shoot.  I wasn’t there but the photos look amazing and SMS was really happy with how it went!  Sagoy!  While SMS was busy, I hung out at Melinda’s house with Amanda and Melinda. It was a lot of fun to hang out with friends with Orange is the New Black on in the background.  SMS came over and we stayed for dinner, including a delicious berry pie, before heading home.

On Sunday, I cleaned around the house, studied Japanese, cooked up a storm and went into the hospital a few times.  Yes that’s right, a call day that I actually had to work!  SMS and I also went grocery shopping and went to Pepper Lunch for…lunch.  It’s like bibimbap except that the order comes out on a hot, flat, cast-iron plate with raw meat and rice that quickly cooks.  It’s delicious!

Hakone: Owakudani and Venetian Glass Museum

Framing flowers…brilliant!

After our wonderful breakfast, it was time to check-o out-o.  No, the “o’s” are not meant to be annoyingly cutesy.  Japanese has a lot of foreign words that they Nihongo-ize the pronunciation.  This can sometimes be a dangerous thing since it occasionally makes me feel like I know more Japanese than I do.  For example, picture me swimming.  Then the conversation uses actual Japanese words.  Help! Help!  I’m drowning!

Such an amazing place!  Hakone Venetian Glass Museum

We drove to the Hakone Venetian Glass Museum.  I was a woman obsessed.  The grounds were so beautiful.  I couldn’t get over it.  I took a lot of pictures that didn’t do it justice and just marveled at how gorgeous it was.  We also toured through the museum, which wasn’t bad but it wasn’t the highlight for me.  It is pretty amazing, though, how these super delicate glass pieces have last a few centuries and transport from Europe to Japan.

After tearing myself away from the museum, we were off to find Owakudani (大涌谷 lit. “Great Boiling Valley), a volcanic fissure with sulfur vents and hot springs where they boil hard-boiled eggs with amazing powers of adding longevity to a person’s life (statement not FDA approved).  SMS had seen the building from our ryokan and thought it looked really cool.  Since this was his first time to Hakone, he got to pick the itinerary.  Not that I minded, I just didn’t have super-strong feelings about what to do.

If I were 10, I’d make a fart joke.  Oh well, I’m older.  Sulfur springs, PEE YEW, HAHAHA!!!

We parked near Gora station and took the Hakone Tazon Cable Car up to the Ropeway station at Sounzan.  We bought round-trip tickets for the entire ropeway and headed off.

Excuse me Sir, where are the chickens?

At Owakudani, we hiked about 1 km to the site where the eggs are boiled.   SMS spotted the mini-ropeway used to shuttle the eggs back and forth from the site to the main building at the ropeway terminal.  I was hoping to see the wild chickens of the sulfur vents but they apparently do not exist.  Or do they?

After looking at the springs and smelling the fresh sulfur-tinged air, we walked back to the main building and had ramen for lunch.  It was tasty although not in the top three I’ve ever had.  Then we went back on the ropeway and took it to Togendai on the shores of Lake Ashi.  We saw the tourist line cruises ships that look like pirate ships but we headed back via the ropeway since we had our car.

This is the first time I took a car to Hakone and although it was great for getting to the ryokan (iPhone map app, not so much), I prefer using public transportation in the area.  I’ve done a day trip several times in the past and part of the fun is the different modes of transport- train, bus, cable car, rope way and pirate ship!  Also, the traffic was really heavy along the shore from Zushi to Enoshima.  Since the focus of this trip was an out-of-the-way ryokan, the car was perfect but for most trips, I’d recommend the Hakone Freepass, which really pays for itself.

We drove back to Yokosuka, which was much smoother since we didn’t have anywhere to be.  When we arrived, we decided that although we had had a wonderful anniversary weekend already, we would go out to a fancy dinner to top it all off.  I was in the mood for a French restaurant and our research turned up Hananoya, an amazing French Restaurant.  We didn’t take any pictures of the food because sometimes it’s just not the time or place, but we had the most awesome dinner.  It was essentially a private chef experience since no one else was there.  We both ordered the course set and it was phenomenal.


It started with a vegetable tartine which seemed to be a Japanese-French fusion since the veggies were mushrooms, carrots and baby corn.  It was held together with a gelatin-like binder and wrapped in a border of cabbage leaves.  It sat on a spread of flavored mayonnaise (I love Japan).  Next was a delicious radish soup which had a French onion taste to it.  It was very smooth and rich.  I’m not sure if it was daikon or not but if so, I need to figure out the recipe since I’m currently at a loss as to what to do with daikon.

 Our main course was the red snapper, which came with the best calamari I think I’ve had in my life.  The dish was so good.  SMS and I usually get something different to try more things but last night, we both wanted the snapper and it was the perfect choice.  Finally, there was a trio of small desserts
that were awesome.  My favorite was the thickened crepe base with one strawberry and soybean ice cream.
 At the end, we complimented the chef and said we’d be back, both in Japanese.  That was pretty awesome b/c the look on the waiter’s face was pretty priceless.  His look was basically, “Where the **$&%* did that come from?” because when we were ordering, we really bumbled through with our
Japanese b/c he was sort of mumbling Japanese and English so we had no idea how to respond.  So when we sounded good at the end, he was very surprised.

Giant Slides and Japanese Grills!

This weekend was filled with local mini-adventures, really good food and fun times with friends.  The weekend started a little early since SMS and I went out to lunch on Friday.  We went out to the 16 and I decided I wanted to try the famous Katsu place.  I had heard about it when I was on the Kitty Hawk but I had never been able to find it.  This always annoyed me since I knew it was on the base side of the street between the two gates and there aren’t that many buildings located there.  Anyway, it’s a very small storefront with a wooden sign over the door and if it’s open, you’ll see a three-paneled green door hanging and a small spider plant out front.  Well, Friday we were in luck!

It was worth the wait, although katsu isn’t going to become a frequent eats!

When we sat down, we waited.  And waited some more.  Finally, we put our order in once he asked.  I had heard that the shop moves at the chef’s pace and it’s all true.  When we initially sat down, we thought we’d split a plate but by the time the food was ready about 50 minutes later, we were so hungry and each wolfed down our own separate place.  SMS and I both had the tonkatsu (breaded and fried pork cutlet) and it was delicious!

I went back to work way later than I meant to so I ended up staying late to make up the work.  I would have stayed later but then the network went down completely.  Well, I guess that was that.  I texted SMS to tell him I was on my way.  He was out at the yakitori place near our local train station and he asked me to join him.  When I went in, I saw that he had made friends with four Japanese construction workers who were very into arm-wrestling.  They were really nice and we had fun talking to them and a really nice lady next to our group.  SMS and I really intrigued them because I don’t think many white people go in there.  Although everyone was super-nice, it’s definitely a Nihongo-only place so you need at least survival Japanese+ to navigate.  Sometimes it’s funny to me when I’m in a place near Yokosuka and people are surprised to see an American.  My life is so base-focused that I think, “Well, there’s sort of a base nearby” but really, the base isn’t all that big relative to the overall population density so sometimes, we’re a novelty even if the base “Little America” atmosphere feels so close.

Zushi Beach

On Saturday, we met up with a bunch of friends in Ikego (Japanese side) for brunch, BBQ and beach.  We had delicious crepes (savory and sweet), yummy turkey burgers and condensed milk-filled strawberries.  Yum!  After lots of food, we got in our bathing suits (great timing!) and headed to the beach.  The water was so warm!  It was several degrees warmer already than San Diego at the height of Summer.  I am definitely ok with that!

The Start!

Today, we hung out in the morning and cleaned up the apartment.  We aim for cleaning it every week and, apart from travel, we’ve been pretty consistent.  This afternoon, we went out to Kannonzaki Park with Rose and her two kids and played on the various playgrounds sprinkled through the park.  The highlight was the huge roller slide where we really gained some speed. We used our new favorite Japanese purchase, the plastic slide sheets to help us go faster.  After sliding, we went to Rose’s where we had delicious carnitas for dinner.  Yum, yum, yum!

Kannonzaki Park.  We parked at the parking on the bottom left, I would recommend
the Yokosuka Art Museum, center and slightly right.

Oh yeah!  We almost had a near disaster at Kannonzaki.  We parked in the lot and came back around 6:15 and the gates were closed and a note in Japanese on the windshield.  OH NO!  Fortunately, one of the gates was unlocked so we opened it and shut it behind us but we were nervous.  Note for next time- the parking lots close at 5!  Also, we went all the way around the point to where the rest station with the Italian restaurant was but it would be much, much closer to park at the Yokosuka Art museum.  The walk was lovely but the distance added up by the end of the day.  It’s a huge park!

So, that was the weekend!  Not too much out-of-the-ordinary is planned for this week at work.  Paperwork, clinic, OR and a host nation emergency medicine conference on Friday.  Should be fun!

Host Nation Conference

Last night was pretty cool!  I took over as the host nation conference coordinator for the hospital recently.  Let me be clear, the real organizer is Yumiko-san, a powerful force of a woman whom I think secretly runs the entire hospital.  She is a lot of fun to work with and I really enjoy working with her.  My role is to do the “American required” stuff, i.e. sign the guest pass request for our Japanese guests and pay for the party/get reimbursed.  A bonus is that I also emcee the event, so I decided to break out my best (aka, not very good) Japanese.  Overall, it was a success although I became nervous so there were one or two silly mispronunciations that I quickly corrected (I think).

It was super warm in the room since the AC is not on in the base buildings.  There were two presentations that went pretty smoothly and then we gave our guests a token gift in appreciation for all they do.  Yokosuka Kosai hospital is our biggest referral center and we also rely heavily on their lab for hundreds more patients.  We are lucky to have such a good relationship with them.  The gift was an embellished paddle with intricate rope work, a Japanese/American flags pin and a nice engraving in both English and Japanese.  The woman at the wood shop scanned the Kanji when I ordered it and said, “This is very…formal.”  I asked if it was old-fashioned and she said yes.  But I kept it as is since Yumiko-san had translated and formal was fine in this particular situation.

After the presentations, the food was served.  The menu was heavy hors d’oeuvres and I kept an eye out to see what changes I want to make to the menu in the future.  I plan on ordering an extra quesadilla platter, 1-2 more fruit platters and more shrimp.  As Mom says, you can divide parties into shrimp and no-shrimp parties and I definitely want to be known for shrimp parties!