mm514: Japan – Travelogue 1.2

February 18, 2013

Lynne and Steve’s 30th Anniversary Extravaganza: Our Japan Adventure

Hayama – Yokosuka – Yokohama – Tokyo June 21 – July 1, 2000

Sat. 2000-06-24. Yokosuka.

Saturday dawned misty/rainy again. The books all said 90 and rainy for this time of year, and, though it’s not quite 90 (thank goodness!), it certainly is shaping up rainy, and way too humid for our tastes. And, regrettably, I don’t think we’re destined to reproduce in person that photograph Dan shared with us of Mt. Fuji from his living room window!

To Yokosuka Naval Base! A sprawling facility (much bigger than the base at Everett where we visited Dan two summers ago), with many warships docked, including the gigantic aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk (CV-63). Dan doesn’t know anyone aboard the carrier, so there’s no chance of a tour, but we came to see the McCain, Dan’s ship.

This was not quite like our tour of the Ray, Dan’s last ship. The John S McCain (DDG-56) is in dry-dock; as Dan promised we saw all of his ship! He was kind of embarrassed, since the ship is in a heavy maintenance cycle. There were workmen (Japanese) hanging over the side blasting off the old paint with high pressure water. There were shrouds over the guns. As Dan said, it’s dirty, noisy and smelly – hardly in condition for a tour. But, we were here, so tour we did.

Dan was an engineering officer on the David R Ray (DD-971), and when we toured that ship, we saw everything, top to bottom. Up ladders (er—staircases – that was one of our strongest memories of that earlier tour: the steep ladders that sailors and officers scramble up and down in all weathers and sea-states that we needed to take very, very carefully) and down, and down, and down. From the bridge to auxiliary engines, we saw it.

On the McCain, Dan is CICO (Combat Information Center Officer), so his spaces are above the main deck, and just below the bridge in the CIC. Under way it’s darkened, lit with red and blue lighting, and the glow from the twenty or so workstations Dan works with. Today, there is regular lighting, the consoles are covered to protect from the painting and the dust, as work is being performed here too.

A brief stop at the bridge (always surprising how little equipment there is on the bridge. The main asset here are eyes), and then to the wardroom where we met a couple of Dan’s colleagues, Misty and Amy. Dan’s stateroom in the Ray was appallingly small, with three men expected to share a space (including a triple bunk) barely the size of my cubicle at work. On the McCain, Dan has a comparatively comfortable space, shared with an officer who’s a department head, thus rating more space. There’s even cable TV (funny, because Dan hasn’t a TV at his home).

So, that was our tour. Workmen, extra hoses, shrouds everywhere, because of the heavy pace of maintenance going on even on a Saturday. But, crippled as our view was, still impressive.

Driving around the base, we got a feel for its size. Lots of ships, so lots of ship support, housing, headquarters, etc. Dan drove us to the Navy Exchange, where we bought some supplies like WD-40 for his balky front door lock, and we headed back toward Hayama. The goal was to get to Dan and Laura’s favorite sushi restaurant ahead of the crowd. Carefully maneuvering into an impossibly small parking space we waited in front for the restaurant to open (I still don’t know its name – no English words here, domo arigato!). A woman came outside, and, using sign language, eventually communicated to us that they weren’t going to open until 12:00, rather than the 11:30 opening Dan expected.

So, to kill some time, we drove around a little, and, at my suggestion, instead of going back to that nerve-wracking parking lot (parking handkerchief is more like it), we parked in the rooftop parking area of good old Sotetsu Rosen, and walked uphill about half a mile or so to the restaurant.

At lunchtime they serve a fixed meal, which is much, much less expensive than a la carte at dinner. We walked in, and sat around a counter filled with fresh looking fish and other items behind glass. Two other couples of Japanese came in at about the same time, and others came in later. Maybe nine or ten seats in all. But, modern enough that we weren’t asked to remove our shoes. Maybe you don’t at sushi restaurants. As we were seated unfortunately under a television, we couldn’t tell as we ate whether the natives were looking at it, or at our semi-fumbling attempts (speaking for Lynne and me) at chopstick use. Reminded me why I hated golf, teeing off in front of a gallery of impatient critics. But I digress.

The meal was wonderful. They kept delivering sushi, placed on a large leaf which served as our individual serving platters, and miso soup, and a concoction of egg with Japanese characters marked on it, and a custardy fish soup, served in a demitasse with a tiny spoon, which tasted wonderful. It was delicious, cost about ¥1300 each I’m remembering, and was memorable. I hope we do it again before we leave.

Saturday afternoon we had planned to visit Kamakura, known for shrines and a spectacular Buddha. But, we had wakened early, and had clambered around the McCain, and had walked back and forth from the supermarket to the restaurant. So we “vegged out,” instead.

This might be a good opportunity to expound on Dan’s bathrooms. We’d been led to expect some interesting bathroom experiences in Japan, and so far, we haven’t been disappointed. At a Denny’s Restaurant (see below), while I found a urinal to be everything I needed in toilet accommodations at the time, Lynne needed to deal with squatting over a toilet. Go figure.

But I digress. Dan’s main bathroom, on the lowest level (meaning a careful two-story trek down from the bedroom) is equipped with a standard toilet, a sink with a heated mirror (to dissipate steam), and a walk-in shower/bathtub compartment that seems larger by itself than our lower level bathroom at home. Dan keeps raving about the bathtub; it seems deep, and optionally can be filled to precise temperature and depth from a control in the kitchen! The shower is excellent, with plenty of water pressure.

But it’s the little half bath upstairs that is a marvel. A small toilet in a tiny space, when one sits down on it the exhaust fan turns on. And, it incorporates an electronically controlled bidet. I don’t think Lynne has tried it, but I’m here to tell you that what Dan describes as the “butt-washer” is an unexpected, unusual, but not unpleasant experience. And, most unique of all to my observation: the wash basin is incorporated into the toilet fixture. When one flushes, water starts running to refill the cistern, as in all toilets. But here, it runs out a faucet that permits one to wash one’s hands, before draining into the cistern. Compact, water-saving, too, too clever.

Well, it wasn’t a page, after all. I hope my fans aren’t too disappointed. Back to Saturday:

Saturday evening, we drove back to the base, where Dan rented his first DVD movie for our later entertainment. His dazzling new computer includes a DVD drive (and a CD-RW — am I envious), and he hoped that the DVD player would provide some visual entertainment in lieu of the television he doesn’t have. Then, parking close to the entrance of the base, we walked for the first time into downtown Yokosuka, with two destinations in mind.

It was about 18:00, and the streets and stores were still crowded. Once again, the English language non-sequiturs abounded. We walked through several blocks made up of individual buildings, but grouped under an awning and labeled Avenue 480, as if it is a form of outdoor mall. Three or four blocks down the street was a stationery store Dan recommended to us. Lynne, who had been advised by a coworker to be alert to stationery purchase opportunities, was entranced by the various items, on three floors, such as charming note paper and matching envelopes, and origami greeting cards, many three-dimensional. Among her inexpensive purchases, she bought a small, beautifully detailed mobile on a stand, for her desk at work.

Another block down was Dan’s favorite tempura restaurant. No English, but pictures. The food was, again, delicious (Dan has good taste, that’s for sure), and, once again, we somehow avoided arrest by the unseen, but certainly present, chopsticks police.

Then, home, to watch our rented movie, “Mumford.” Watching a movie on a 17-inch computer monitor turned out to be surprisingly doable, and the movie itself was delightful. Thence to another early bedtime.

MORE TO COME

So, feeling a bit rusty after more than a four-year hiatus, and reflecting a totally internal need to get some content back into the ether, I’m repurposing a couple of personal travel journals. Because both are lengthy, in excess of 30 pages (Word document pages, that is), I plan to slice them up into more digestible form. I will try to resist the urge for much after-the-fact content or style edits, especially content. This is Yr (justifiably) humble svt, circa 2000, and the travelogue documents an amazing (for us) adventure, and where my head was at nearly 13 years ago. Your comments are always welcome.

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mm513: Japan – Travelogue 1.1

February 16, 2013

So, feeling a bit rusty after more than a four-year hiatus, and reflecting a totally internal need to get some content back into the ether, I’m repurposing a couple of personal travel journals. Because both are lengthy, in excess of 30 pages (Word document pages, that is), I plan to slice them up into more digestible form. I will try to resist the urge for much after-the-fact content or style edits, especially content. This is Yr (justifiably) humble svt, circa 2000, and the following documents an amazing (for us) adventure, and where my head was at nearly 13 years ago. Your comments are always welcome.

Lynne and Steve’s 30th Anniversary Extravaganza: Our Japan Adventure

Hayama – Yokosuka – Yokohama – Tokyo June 21 – July 1, 2000

Our story so far:
As our son Dan, a lieutenant in the US Navy, is presently stationed at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan,
we decided that we had a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit a country that we’d always been curious about, but had never dreamed would be able to visit. So, after a successful bid on Priceline.com (sponsorship opportunity!) saved us $500 per ticket over the lowest quoted rate for the dates we needed, we read a little, packed a little more, and set off on our journey.

Weds. 2000-06-21 – Thurs. 2000-06-22. In transit.

Out of the house at 6:00, flew first to Houston (Priceline’s caveat: must accept connecting flights to get the good price). Made easily what I thought might be a tough, less than an hour, connection. Never had flown a 777 before; it’s large, four pilots and 15 cabin attendants large. Even in economy, we were reasonably comfortable, except that it was a very long flight – Houston to Narita took almost 14 hours flight time! It. Was. A. Very. Long. Flight. Got to Narita, Tokyo’s international airport Thursday afternoon local time. Dan was waiting for us right after we breezed through customs – what a site for sore eyes, indeed!

Took the bus to Terminal 1, where we hooked up with the base bus. That trip took a little over 1-1/2 hours, which was good considering it was rush hour.

Drove to Dan’s place in Hayama, about 10 km from the base. Tiny, fender-scraping parking space, right on a busy two lane highway. Shoes off in entryway, Japan style. Three stories, two rooms per. Entry level: spare bedroom (catchall storage) and big bathroom (including washer-dryer). Main level (up steep, small-treaded staircase): living-dining-computer room, a decent sized kitchen, and a half bath. Top level (more of those tricky stairs): large bedroom, with Dan’s bed and a small nightstand and chair, and a very spacious, walk-in closet. Very new (I could write a page about the bathrooms, and perhaps sometime I will).

Thursday night, which to our Chicago bio-clocks was still the middle of the night Thursday morning, did little but visit, eat some tortellini from the freezer. To bed early (which we discover Dan does every night, since his alarm goes off at 4:50). That sort of set the pattern: to sleep early (especially for SN), awake early (Poor Richard would be so proud). Did we mention THE SKYLIGHT IN THE BEDROOM??? No daylight savings – sun’s up at 4-something this time of year!

Fri. 2000-06-23. Hayama.

Friday a.m. was rainy. We had breakfast together at 5:15am, and Dan left for his 20-minute drive for work at 5:40. We were on our own, and Dan promised to get home early in the afternoon. We napped a lot, trying to adjust to the time difference: 14 hours.

We took a short walk up and down the busy street in front of Dan’s duplex, and, at Dan’s suggestion walked down a narrow alley (however, all the streets are impossibly narrow, so this was a street!). Although the Naval Base is located in Yokosuka (pronounced Yo-kooz-ka), Dan actually lives across the Miura peninsula in the beach resort town of Hayama. So, we walked down this twisty narrow street, past immaculately gardened expensive-looking homes, to a beach.

Sloppiest thing we’ve seen in Japan, by far. Small rowboats and surf gliders scattered around, and workers busy putting up (or rebuilding) what we guessed were concession stands. The rain of early morning was mostly gone, but the sand was wet, so we didn’t linger.

Dan finally got home that afternoon, apologizing unnecessarily for stranding us all day (we napped, and read, and napped, still catching up). We took a walk together, to get a feel for his neighborhood.

The streets are photogenically hilly, but impossibly narrow, and most in his area don’t have sidewalks, just a painted line along one side separating the road from a two-foot wide walk/bikeway. There’s no parking permitted on the streets, but there are always double-parkers. Which need to be maneuvered around, which means a driver crosses over one’s lane (if indeed there’s a lane actually marked), or waits until opposing traffic clears to do so (if you can see it). Many curves have mirrors perched strategically, to help that evaluation. And this is not mentioning the motorbikes and motorcycles, weaving their way around traffic. Put this all together with the right hand drive, drive on the left character of Japan’s cars and roads, and I’m very happy to be a passenger and a (very careful) pedestrian here, thank you very much.

Thankfully, many of the cars are tiny. Dan, who has an ’87 Toyota Mark II (in the US it was a Camry, and indeed it looks very similar to the Camry Brian and Pam drove until about two years ago), is envious of those micro vehicles (“look how easy they’d be to park!”). One of my favorite activities this trip has been to read the names of Japanese cars we pass by. I should have written them down. The Japanese car manufacturers, and indeed, Japanese marketers of all kinds of products, love English words. Even if they’re not certain of their meaning, English words are emblazoned on their cars, their soft drinks, their posters. I don’t think they really care whether the words make sense in English; there’s apparently a cachet to use them.

Now, it’s probably the time to say something about the street in front of Dan’s house. It’s National Route 134, according to the signage readable by us. And, as mentioned above, it also has a name, which I still don’t remember, beginning with “S”. Most of all, though, is that it’s busy. Motor bikes, motorcycles, cars, vans, small trucks, buses, LARGE TRUCKS; all zooming by (all in defiance of a posted 40-kph speed limit – sounds like at least twice 24 miles per hour to these ears).

This goes on all day, and all the noisy night, and all this audio stimulation is less than 12 feet from his windows. Now, when I was growing up, I used to love to stay overnight at my Grandma Daisy’s house. Her guest bedroom looked out on busy Ridge Avenue in Evanston, cars and buses swooshing by all night long. That was exciting to a young boy, and in an odd way, restful. National Route 134 is another species of nighttime comfort altogether. If 45 seconds goes by without something zooming by, we start twitching. It took some getting used to.

And, virtually everywhere we’ve been so far, especially Dan’s neighborhood, is hilly (I had remarked in the morning, as we wound our way down to the beach, how much the area reminded me of California, with houses perched on hillsides, and with a low, semi-tropical appearance). So, we walked down, we walked around, we walked up, for a mile or more, with our eventual target the Sotetsu Rosen, a supermarket.

Looked like our neighborhood Jewel. Except of course for the produce (4 apples, ¥1600 — that’s nearly $4.00 an apple, folks!), and many other items which seemed extraordinarily expensive. And all the packaged goods, some with English (Cream Cheese Cake snacks), most without. One could write a book, I guess. We picked up some snacks (ask Lynne about Pokey’s), giving me a chance to maneuver Japanese money for about the first time. So far, so good. Then we walked back, enjoying the pretty, if compact, gardens in front of many of the homes. Lynne tried to get some photographs of some of them. Hydrangeas seem to be in bloom right now, and look lovely.

The “go home from work” tune on the public address system in the neighborhood (culturally different enough for you?) suggested that it indeed was time for dinner, and time (hurrah!), for our first Japanese meal. Dan took us to a place he likes (on his route to work) that serves soba noodles and ramen noodles. It’s a diner-like place, very clean.

Dan was disconcerted because the displays on the wall over the counter with the dishes illustrated (ideal for pointing, a must with our limited language resources) was gone! He attempted to order soba noodles, we got ramen. No problem, it was delicious. A deep bowl, served with chopsticks. Lots of goodies besides the noodles: vegetables, meat, seaweed, pickled radish, etc. Everything delicious. Then you drink the broth to complete the meal. Excellent. And, no embarrassing moves with the chopsticks. Back home to a quiet evening of conversation and reading, and early bedtime (Dan, a hard work week; we, still sorting out what time it was).

MORE TO COME