Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Adventures back in Seattle!

Yes it's true, the Alex and Heidi have both returned to the Seattle area.

Heidi is back at work, but in a slightly different role - more managerial and hopefully slightly less traveling.  Although we are excited to be heading to Atlanta for a few days for a conference. Maybe we'll swing by and take a peek at the CDC.

Alex has started a new position as an outpatient based pediatrician at Pacific Medical Centers (PacMed) at their Canyon Park, Bothell clinic.  He's also already written an article about surviving seasonal allergies in Seattle and appeared on Q13 FOX for a quick TV spot!

We are also excited to be able to welcome Emma to our live and to show her all the wonders of the world!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hakone Half-Day

Our one-year anniversary happened to fall on a Sunday...we were scheduled to take a tour through the Base - peach-picking and wine-tasting. While we both were hankering after sweet, seasonal Japanese peaches - the base tours involve 3-6 hours of sitting on a bus (each direction)...and only about 2-3 hours of "tour". We decided to buy peaches at the grocery store, and go on an adventure. Hakone is well known for its hot springs, lake, and eggs hard-boiled in volcanic steam vents.

The excellent Japanese train system takes you most of the way there...an old-style track train (charming, but roasting) takes you up past the small towns on the mountain.  

Instead of taking the track train up the mountain, we decided to hike up the hill, past the mausoleum, small restaurants, and traditional Japanese homes. The mausoleum was beautiful - showcasing trees, hills, and mountains.

We reached the top of the town, where most folks transfer from the track train to a gondola. We paused at the mid-way point -

 - then hopped on the gondola:

The gondola travels over the "explosion crater" - it was created by a large-scale explosion about 3,000 years ago. The crater still discharges hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide, leading to unstable geology. TO prevent landslide disasters, the government does corrosion control work, lining the mountain-side with stones, boring, and anchoring work.

At the top, the thing to do is eat eggs that have been hard-boiled in the steam vents...the sulfur turn the shells black. 

We weren't the only ones eating hard-boiled eggs...they're supposed to add seven years to your life.

There's a small temple at the top, too -

 The trail to the Mt. Owakudani was closed...we were tempted to hike back to the bottom of the gondola - but it was starting to get late in the day.

So we hiked another time around the steam vents - 

Us - Mt. Fuji is (we think) in the background -

Up toward the mountain -

The eggs show up in the parking lot too - with some Japanese flair - 

We couldn't see the entire area in a half-day - it takes at least one full day to do the loop up the mountain by train, down by gondola, and across the lake by boat. But we saw part of it - and plan to go back. 

Enoshima Island

Another day trip - this time to Enoshima island. Enoshima is a small island of the coast of southern Kanagawa. Kanagawa itself is littered with shrines and temples and statues - the remains of Shogun-era Japan. There's a great interactive map here: http://www.kanagawa-kankou.or.jp/index-e.html 

We took the train down south - then walked across the bridge to get to the island. Since we got a late start - it was lunch before we got to the island. The specialty of the area is called "shirasu" - or very small raw fish. "Shirasu-don" is fish over rice; we opted to have it over pizza. Rather bland, but worth a try. 

We also saw fish being grilled over coals...tempting, but we were already full... 

We crossed the bridge over to the island - it was still cold this early in the year, so the walk felt good.

Walking up through the town, we passed shops and temples - the red torii gate always signifies the entrance to a temple. The gate makes the place where you pause, reflect, and focus on the spiritual, not the worldly.  

People will also stop and write prayers, wishes, etc. in the spaces around the temples.

The view from the top of the hill was lovely - a little hazy, but you could see back across the bridge over to the mainland. 

At the top, there was a garden dotted with benches and pagodas - and a sky tower (in the background).

The view from here was splendid as well -

However - the highlight of the top was undoubtedly the "Lon Cafe" - better called "the amazing french toast place" More dessert than breakfast - we split the "Fig and Caramel Cream Cheese" selection.

Which was so good it deserves a close-up:

We took the long way down - to the beach, and then through the caves - fascinating, but the low-light made for bad photos. The tsunami warnings were well-visible, though.

On the way back to town, there was a love-bell - NOT quiet when rung - and a bridge, where lovers hang a "love-lock" to commemorate their amour. We have our own love-lock hung on our chicken coop in Seattle - so skipped putting one here:)  - but it was fun to see all the same.

The locks and lovers fit into an old legend about a dragon who marauded the coast - then fell in love with a beautiful maiden. It's worth looking up the legend - and the dragon is outstanding!


All in all - a marvelous day!

Monday, July 29, 2013

How Atsugi Came to Be

What's a US Naval Base doing in Japan, you might ask?  
Why is this naval base in the middle of Japan?   

Well, here's a little bit about where I work and about the Base:

NAF Atsugi is considered a "Joint Base" with 51% of the base considered to be run and operational by the
Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF), while the minority of the base, 49%, is considered to be for the US Navy. The base was originally built by the Japanese Imperial Navy in 1938 and was named the Emperor Hirohito's Naval Air Base.

The US's presence on main land Japan began soon after August 15, 1945, when Japan announced its unconditional surrender. Fifteen days later, General Douglas MacArthur landed with 8,000 troops at Atsugi to accept the formal surrender of Japan and assume the duties as military Governor of Japan.

File:MacArthur arrives at Atsugi;ac01732.jpg

Since March 2013, Heidi and I have been living in Yamato, Japan and I've been working at
US Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi.  I work at the "Branch Health Clinic" here on base. Our main command/"boss" that the health clinic resides under is Yokosuka Hospital, in Yokosuka, Japan.  Yes, there is water there and Yokosuka is where the USS George Washington Carrier is stationed for most of the year.

We are living in the heart of the Kanto Plain on the main island of Japan: Honshu. Our "state" or Prefecture is  Kanagawa, but we live on the boarder with Tokyo Prefecture.

We were very fortunate to find a
lovely home to rent and enjoy our year in Japan!


While the base is named "Atsugi" it's really located in the the city of Ayase and boarders the city of Yamato.  When the base was first created by the Japanese, Atsugi was the closest "big town" nearby the air strip and so the name stuck.

While this is a Navy Base,  there's no large body of water nearby - hence no ships.  Instead the Naval Air Facility is home to the several squadrons of jet planes and helicopters that serve on the USS George Washington Aircraft Carrier and to a larger extent the Carrier Air Wing FIVE. 

We even have a haunted tree here on base! (more about that on a future post.)  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tokyo Outing - Ueno Park and Cherry Blossoms

We went into Tokyo for the day, right at the peak of Cherry blossom season. Our bad - we decided to go to Ueno Park...known for its fabulous displays of cherry blossoms. The fabulous crowds are not mentioned as frequently...but think Disneyland on a holiday weekend.   Still, it was amazing to see the crowds...though we were so claustrophobic we didn't take photos of the crowds...and the cherry trees were stunning!
 A walk up crowded market streets with fruits, veggies, and Japanese rice snacks. 

Crossing busy streets! 

Temples in the Ueno area - 

 The lake in Ueno park, and pink blossoms

Takoyaki (octopus balls), fried potatoes, fish-on-a-stick, fried calamari - all sorts of picnic and fair-food.  

Torii gates at the entrance to one of the temples - 

The skytrain over the zoo! 

The way home - cherry trees lit up at night in Roppongi

Meals Out and About

Japanese BBQ - similar to Korean BBQ. Lots of options for meat and veggies. 

Sushi Go-Round - we have these in the US, but in Japan, it's a guess at what you order..

We thought this would be Tonkatsu - fried pork - served with miso soup, rice, and cabbage salad. Instead, fried oysters - yum!

A thousand and one variations of rice...this was rice with a creamy sauce, calamari and veggies, served bubbling in an iron skillet over fire. 

 Chef-cut sushi from a place near the bae - love the variety!
Black Sesame Latte - seasonal special at a small coffeeshop in Yokohama...Heidi will grab coffee here on her way to the airport.

Ok, so this isn't a meal out...but so much great fish!

Remember that we didn't manage to try horse-meat sushi in Matsumoto? We tried it in Tokyo. 

Fresh-toasted rice cake in Kanagawa

The Japanese have an obsession with French and fusion-french pastry. This is from Vie de la France - Alex's favorite. Heidi prefers "Bun-Bun", so we trade off.... 

This one turned out to be pork! 

Yakitori adventures with Mike from work and his Japanese mother. Heart, liver, kidneys...it was a good education in organ meat. Some were great - but Heidi had a tough time with the cartilage. The cabbage with spicy miso dip, asparagus wrapped in bacon, veggies, soup, chicken were all great too.