This is lavender, kicking you in the face!

Today, I have had two cups of the most delicious white tea, lavender flavored. This is very aggressive lavender. Picture a surprisingly delicate flower grabbing you by the shoulders, giving you a good shake, and shouting, “You will re-LAX!” It makes for quite a delectable, albeit slightly aggressive, cup.

This, btw, is probably the most productive thing I’ve done all day. It was a full-blown pajama day today, under the dubious guise of fending off a non-existent head cold. Hey, I was sneezed on four days ago. It makes total sense!

Yesterday, was much more chock-a-block with activities. I went on a Tokyo venture; specifically, to the Tsukijii Fish Market and Asakusa, an old Edo-type of place. [Frommer’s Fast Fact! Edo was renamed Tokyo by Emperor Meiji in 1868 after moving the capital from Kyoto to Edo/Tokyo.]

This fish market is listed as a “must-see” in the guidebook. Mmmm, I would have to disagree. It was cool and I loved the various ways of transport such as rickshaw carts and standing golf-carts steered with barrel, hatch-like steering wheels. But, it was definitely a very busy market where there was business to be done. And the business was not catering to tourists. I think part of the problem was I didn’t have anyone to wander around with, all slack-jawed and awestruck. This is definitely heightened by the fact that until 3 days ago, I had the best travel buddy ever! Although I like going to places by myself, I also like seeing things with other people, especially when I feel VERY conspicuous.

So, overall, a place to see but not high on my own TTD (Tokyo To Do) list. I would vote for Pike’s Market in Seattle as a place to visit, tourist-style.

The day improved with the Hama Rikyu garden and the Sumida River cruise. The garden is organized around Tokyo’s only tide-fed ponds, complete with sluice gates. The meadows and landscaping are pretty. I can’t wait to go back when all the flowers are in bloom! Another neat thing about the park is that it used to be used by the imperial family in the Edo era for leisure purposes, to include duck hunting. They hunted ducks with nets, after luring them close to duck blinds by dispersing grain. In November 1935, a little grave was built to appease the spirits of all the dead ducks. I thought it was cute, a little “Ooops, sorry about that. No hard feelings?”

The river cruise was great. It was 40 minutes long. We went under 13 bridges, all with a unique design. I looked up a few times to admire the undersides in tribute to one of Jon’s friends who’s a civil engineer and says that’s his favorite part of the bridge. I tend to admire rudimentary aesthetics, but I was trying to think a little differently. I also took a little catnap. The sunlight through the glass roof required it!

Asakusa had a really nice, understated vibe to it, “Yup, historical sight. Check.” Even Nakamise-dori, full of souvenir stands, was actually a lot of fun rather than completely tacky and out of place. The sights to see include the Kaminarimon gate, the Sensoji temple complex (dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy), and the little Chingodo shrine (dedicated to the guardian against fires). The Chingodo shrine had its statue covered in little crocheted red New Year’s hats, which I think is hilarious. I think I will start to dress up my religious statues. Once I get some.

After looking around Senjoji temple, which was entirely destroyed in the WWII bombings with the exception of the Asakusa-jinya shrine near the back of the complex, I walked to the Kappabashi Dori. Here, there are a lot of shops focussing on the needs of professional kitchens- the equipment, furniture, appliances. Best of all, there are little shops focusing on the all-important plastic food. Which is not cheap! It’s handmade to look especially delicious. Many restaurants in Japan have little plastic food display cases on the sidewalks outside their restaurants. I didn’t realize they probably shell out about $1000 (equiv) for a medium sized display case! (Oh, the things that impress me.)

Ok, back to my lazy day, now evening. Tomorrow, I’m going to head to Kamakura to see the big sitting Buddha.

New Toy!

Last night, I went out to dinner with Sue. It was so much fun to get together and dinner was delicious. We went to a Thai place in Yokosuka, which was delicious. Of course, no shrimp since Sue dying at the dinner table is no one’s idea of a good time. But! What was going on during dinner MAY have been even cooler. Sue (so gracious!) shared one of her downloads to her Leopard and iWorks 08! Yay, yay, yay! Right now, I’m playing with some of the programs although the aesthetics of the thing completely won me over from the get go.

I am really starting to develop an unhealthy attachment to my Mac. Not in the sense of becoming an annoying, proselytizing Mac-type but in the sense that I really like the programs. So much so, I was thinking, “Hmmmm, should I buy an iPhone when I get back to the States so everything can sync up, be beautiful, and keep me organized despite my best efforts to the contrary?” ARGH, I have been totally sucked in! Too bad I hate ATT. Why can’t the States be cool like other countries and make Mac compromise in order to comply with anti-trust/monopoly laws and all that silly stuff that came out of the 1890s Gilded Age, etc. Sheesh, Tammany Hall days are so over, US!

Trip roundup!

New Year’s in Tokyo was awesome! Jon and I went to the Mori Arts Center/Tokyo City View in Roppongi Hills. There was a party hosted by Mild Seven, which means I got to see my first cigarette girls! I almost wished I smoked. (Just.Kidding.). It was a very cool scene, as noted by Jon, “Everyone’s dressed like Ed.” Now don’t get me wrong, we were dressed nicely but Ed-level cool? I did not inherit that style gene.

So, Jon and I rang in the New Year’s overlooking Tokyo with house music in the background (thank you, Captain Funk!). Then we went back to the Grand Hyatt, which was decadent. I love nice hotels! Luxury and I get along quite nicely when we happen to meet!

The next day, we chilled out. Everything was closed on New Year’s. It’s a big family day, which dates back to the tradition from a few generations ago that everyone would advance a year in age on New Year’s. So, it was a big family birthday party every 1 Jan! I think that is so cool, although it would be hard for me to justify my month long fiesta if everyone else had the same special day. (Please note that the month long fiesta is in my head alone. Very few, if any, people go along with my brilliant! idea to celebrate my birthday all April long).

On the 2nd, Jon and I went to Yokosuka to work out and grab dinner with a few friends from the ship. It was awesome, although the group definitely seems like the set-up for an elaborate joke- “ A vegetarian, a shell-fish allergic, a picky eater, a protein loving carnivore, and a starving post-exerciser go out to dinner. No one can read the menu and assorted guidebooks employ phonetic sounds misunderstood by many…”

On the 3rd, Jon and I went to Hakone. We went to the Hakone Open Air Museum, which had the most beautiful scenery and grounds used as the most beautiful showcase for many works of modern sculpture. Then we went to the Mikawaya ryokan for a traditional inn experience, to include dinner and breakfast kaiseki feasts and soaks in the public baths that were VERY hot. It’s a workout to sit in water that hot!

But the highlight was definitely the food! It was so awesome to have a kaiseki feast after reading so much about it. There were definitely some missteps like making the tea myself. Jon kept telling me that I was ruining an elaborate ceremony and maybe I was, but I wanted some tea! And I used the little set they had left in the room anyway. I was so confused! So much so that I used a rice bowl for soy sauce in the morning. Embarrassing! Really, it was. But our kaiseki waitress was so cute and didn’t laugh when she was in the room.

On the 4th, we left the ryokan and went to Tokyo where we went to the National Art Museum, which was great. The second floor had a chronological display of important art genres and craftsmanship eras in Japanese history from the 5th century on. I really like those types of displays. I know it’s not the cool and trendy way to display things in a modern museum curator world, but the linear progression makes it easy to observe trends over time and understand the material in an established framework. While I like to interpret, I also like to get a sense of an overarching organization.

Magic 8 ball, meet iPod

New Year’s fortune time! Since I can’t read the fortune cookies here (they’re in JAPANESE!!!), I will play a game with my iPod on shuffle mode. I didn’t like Round 1 completely, so I gave it another go with Round 2. You can read it straight-through or after round 1, proceed back to the top, flowchart style! The questions are from another globe-trotter’s blog, someone whom I’ve never met. Embarrassing? Slightly. But not as much as some of the songs that come up…read on!
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How does the world see me?
“You’re Crazy” Guns and Roses
– Um, well, at least listening to the lyrics makes this seem slightly better. Kind of?

Round 2: “Bye Bye” Jo Dee Messina
– Well, I am off to exciting West Coast adventures!

Will I have a happy life?
“For You” Bruce Springsteen
-Hmmm, this may end poorly.

Round 2: “Out Ta Get Me” Guns N Roses
– This category may need to be striked

What do my friends think of me?

“Me and Mr. Jones” Amy Winehouse

– Hey, I’m downright old lady in my partying ways by this point!

Round 2: “Almost Home” Mary Chapin Carpenter
– Cute

How can I make myself happy?

“Sexy Back” Justin Timberlake
-Well! I would tell my parents to shut their eyes except that if you actually listen to the lyrics of this song, they make no sense.

Round 2: “Brilliant Disguise” Bruce Springsteen
– Yes, more Bruce! I agree!

What should I do with my life?

“Escape” Enrique Iglesias
-Argh, this only came up to show the guilty pleasures I have on my Ipod. Why can’t this list be super cool like the majority of my library, I swear!

Round 2: “ I Hope” Dixie Chicks
– Hope! Yes, indeed!

Will I ever have children?

Bobby James N*E*R*D
– I guess that’s a yes. But considering “Young and passed out” is part of the chorus, I better read some parenting books before I endeavor on this one!

Round 2: “ Give a Little Bit” Supertramp
– Magic 8ball says, “Highly Likely”

What is some good advice for me?

“Dance of the Snowflakes” Tchaikovsky
– I am going to take this one to be a reminder to stay current with other interests during the insane next few years of residency.

Round 2: “Bubble Pop Electric “ Gwen Stefani
– Akihabra, electric town!

How will I be remembered?
“Today” Joshua Radin
– Well, this is a nice one.

Round 2: “Carolina on my Mind” James Taylor

What’s my current theme song?
“When You Were Sweet Sixteen” Perry Cuomo
– A song I have because of my grandparents. It expresses a truly lovely sentiment.

Round 2: “Ring the Alarm” Beyonce
– Fiesty!

What do others think my current theme song is?

“Boys Don’t Cry” The Cure
– I have limited, but verifiable, evidence to the contrary

Round 2: “Time to Move On” Tom Petty
– I have definitely made this a theme song at both college and med school graduations. I am leaving Japan soon and my adventures in primary care shipboard medicine…

What shall they play at my funeral?

“ Suspicious Minds” Elvis Presley
– I did sing this one night at a bar in San Diego with Christy and Liz. Please note, that Liz and Christy were NOT joining in the fun. Which may have been better in terms of looking awesome since the song has limited words so there is a lot of repetition. Add to that some Sangria to produce amazing mind melt and you MAY only remember the chorus and a bit of lyrics. I still had a beer bought for me though!

Round 2: “Amy’s Song” Joshua Radin
– I listened to this song for the first time in its entirety. Theme? Ambivalence. The love/hate type, not the completely incorrect connotation of wishy-washiness that’s made it into modern lexicon (Whew, snob alert! Over here!)

Where should I look for inspiration next?
“ Anything Goes” Guns N’ Roses
– Axl Rose, get out of my head!

Round 2: “Caring is Creepy” The Shins
– “This band will change your life” Blaugh! Did anyone hate Garden State as much as I did? Although the Shins are better than that movie, by far.


A note on tenses!

Ok, a nerdy note is needed. In writing about my travels, I find it hard to juggle a unified tense to unite the travels of my past, the continued existence of the sites I’ve seen, and the future of the posting date since I usually have to wait for an internet connection or slight time lapse for editing. Not that you would be able to tell that I do any editing at all. But just so you know, I do feel guilty about the dizzying whirlabout of verbage my writing produces.

Monks, not everyone loves ’em!

Oh, Shinkasen! How I love your comfy, plush, wide seats and your smoke-free cars. All is forgiven from the last trip if not forgotten. Maybe I will forget in the spirit of the New Year, which apparently is quite the rage. Let go of the grudge and ring some temple bells, 108 times in all!

So, Kyoto was awesome. Jon and I spent 2.5 days/2 nights there. Our first day, after the less than ideal Shinkasen experience, we went to the Golden Pavilion (as mentioned in the post below). It is beautiful and even better than the temple- or at least equal to- in beauty is the lake that the temple is on.

Afterwards, we went to our hotel to check in. It was a very nice hotel. Not in a luxurious sense, but in the sense that it is a perfectly acceptable, generic Western style hotel with a large bed, nice view, high pressured shower. It was awesome. We went to a restaurant about 7 doors down. There were a couple pictures outside and we were feeling rather sparky and adventurous. We ordered some fish, chicken yakatori and yakiudon. My favorite is when I tried to put the burden of ordering on our waitress by asking in my very best Lonely Planet Nijongo what she would recommend. She looked confused and gestured to the menu she had just brought out, handwritten in sharpie marker, “All this recommend.” All this, however, was all this in Hiragana. Currently, I can read 10 out of the 63 syllables that exist, so we were a little out of luck. But after randomly saying some Japanese food words I knew, it worked out really well. Jon and I celebrated our successes with several Kirins. Then we went to FamilyMart where I bought Hagen-Daz. If they have Bitter Caramel in the States, I highly recommend it!

The next day, we had our hotel breakfast followed by Starbucks coffee (2 blocks down!). Although Mr. Donut was right next-door, Jon has something against little fried ball of dough despite the fact that he love a lot of other types of carbs. Then we went to Ryōan-ji (竜安寺), a Zen temple most famous for its 15th century, 15 stone Zen rock garden. The style is “dry landscaping,” and meant to condense the idea and forces of nature into one small, contained space to meditate upon. It’s interesting to me to think how people carefully plan out abstractions for the perfect (in their minds) representation of a concept. They work so hard, only to leave a lot to chance and the individual viewer’s interpretation. I wonder if the artist considered it an abstraction, which would be interesting since Europe was still centuries from abstraction as an artistic movement, or if the artist considered it a distillation, a paring down of an enormous entity to its most pure, essential elements?

Besides the stones, there were four islands of moss that 13/15 stones were contained in. Moss has a huge importance in gardens, helpfully demonstrated at our third stop, the Ginkakuji (銀閣寺, the Silver Pavilion), in a display of 3 groupings of moss. Each group had multiple species, categorized as “Inhabitor moss”, “moss the interrupter” or “V.I.P Moss (like very important persons.”

The Ginkakuji was beautiful as well. It was built in the style of the Golden Pavillion, although it is only two stories. It, too, sits on a beautiful lake with carefully selected and placed stones. Right next to the pavilion are two large sand sculptures, one of Mt Fuji and the other representing waves, which is enhanced by the full moon’s light. The grounds are much more incorporated into the hills, which abut the lake. At the Golden Pavillion, the “scenic mountains” were important as captured landscape, but the grounds itself were not as hilly.

We did stop at one temple prior to the Ginkakuji, but we were confused b/c there seemed to be a lot of preparations for the New Year’s. Even weirder (as bad as this sounds), there were no signs in English. And for a temple mentioned in Frommer’s, that’s just bizarre. We finally figured out we were at the Shimogamo temple. It is an important one for Japanese tourists based off the fact that it earns a little pictograph in the Kyoto tourist bus map, but there were no foreign tourists in sight. Oh, and the reason we were there? Because someone *cough, me, cough* misread Shimogamo for Sanjusangen-do, our intended target.

Finally, we went to the Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), a huge temple complex overlooking the city. It was slightly confusing getting there. The bus stop was about 0.5 km downhill from the entrance, which was reached via several side streets. Although the map indicated that a walk would be necessary, I was confused when we passed a very tall pagoda about a block and a half in. I thought that it was the Kiyomizu, but I wondered where all the tourists were. But we kept walking, stopped in a few shops, then wandered around the temple, which was really neat. We saw the main temple hall, the side temple to the God of Love and Matchmaking with the two romance stones, and the waterfall of pure water that your can have a little sip of, while avoiding the other poles of people bringing back the water they reached out for. It was kind of like avoiding someone taking a shot during a pool game.

For dinner, we walked around Gion, which I’m glad we got to see, but it seemed touristy and pricy. In the attempts to get a cheaper dinner, we went downstairs near a bar advertising a menu with lots under 1000 Yen. Jon decided to go into another restaurant and that’s where we met Hiroshi.

Hiroshi is the 70 year old something owner of Mayate grill. He has two points of pride: 1. He serves the best steaks in Japan (better than Kobe) and this seems to have a large part to do with 2. he’s been in the restaurant business for 44 years.
He charcoal cooks everything and claims to be the only restaurant in Kyoto that cooks this way. I asked why charcoal and he said that he loved charcoal and before the war, everything was cooked with charcoal. When I asked what there was during the war, he said there was no charcoal, there was really no anything. He said he tried to forget everything between 1941-1943, that things were “terrible.”

His “American” was very good, and he really seemed to enjoy practicing it. He learned from an American soldier who lived next to him after the War. He thought it was so interesting that “One day enemy, next day Friend.”
He was really interesting when he was talking about modern (post- WWII) Japan. He recommended studying modern Japanese history, how it went from a country devastated by war to include 2 atomic bombs, to a prosperous country emulated by its neighbors in just 26 years.

His take on modern Japan, good and bad, was similarly succinct. He had strong feelings about the economic disparity between the North and South in terms of wealth distribution and power. Kyoto itself is one of the most prosperous cities in the South, mainly from the tourism. In an abrupt statement, Hiroshi said, “Kyoto is a big city, gets lots of money. But who makes the money. Shrines. Temples! They do not pay taxes. F****ing monks! I hate the monks.” Jon and I didn’t know quite what to say, but Hiroshi seemed pretty happy that he was doing the talking, while we silently ate the best steaks in Japan.

Finally, on the 31st, Jon and I woke up, ate breakfast, went to Starbucks and went to the Sanjusangen temple, with the 1001 bodihsatvas carved out of cypress wood and covered in gold leaf. Jon remembered that we had seen the statues before at a photography exhibit at the Hirshorn by Surigito Hiroki. I read up on the inspiration and the photographer said the monks charged a lot of money for the pictures because they would rather have tourists come to them. In addition, the photograph was taken early in the morning when the eastern dawn rays cast a beautiful luminance onto the statues. The article had some interesting views on the nature of monks and the business of religion, which had been mentioned earlier the night before by Hiroshi.

Now, tonight, we are going to Tokyo and staying at a ridiculously nice hotel. Yay! We are also going to go to a party at the Mori Arts Center on top of Tokyo City View. I think it should be pretty awesome. Definitely an experience that can only be had in Tokyo.

Bullet train…cough, cough!

J is here! Christmas was awesome with lots of cool, albeit grown-up (no toys!), gifts. Then it was back to work for three days, which we managed rather well although it would have been nice if the leave schedule wasn’t so rigid. J slept in two of the three days. Then he came to Yokosuka, where we’d work out, eat lunch, do some work and leave for Yokohama.

We had a delicious meal in Motomachi the night before we left for Kyoto, where I am currently sitting in the Rhino hotel waiting to leave for a delightful day of temple gawking. Yesterday, we saw the Golden Pavillion (Kinkajugi). It was gorgeous! It is a three level shrine with each floor styled differently. The first floor is palace style. The top two are covered in thick gold leaf. The 2nd floor is samurai style and the 3rd is Zen temple style.

The restaurant last night was delicious. We had sashimi, yakatori (chicken on a stick), and yaki udon, a dish of thick white wheat noodles that are so good. It was cooked with a delicious sauce with lots of yummy grease (really!). It went perfectly with beer.

Ok, more later since we’re leaving for breakfast now. Keep your fingers crossed. There were eggs in the picture so hopefully, J’s day can get off to a good start!

[PS: The title? Here’s a few tips if you come to Japan. 1. Buy a Railpass. Seriously. Just do it if you are going to take a trip anywhere outside of your immediate area. 2. When taking the Bullet train on a holiday weekend, buy your tickets for a reserved seat. Because otherwise, you MAY end up STANDING in the smoking car ruing the fact that, you have actually paid a pretty penny for the privilege. J and I headed straight for the ticket counter when we got off and we now have lovely non-smoking reserved seats.]