Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Thursday Afternoon

Things are very busy, but none of it is particularly interesting. Most business is the result of many preperations for the coming months. There's just oddles of stuff to do. I am sure it will all make great posts once I do it. I should also mention that I plan to go to Sapporo for the weekend. Yesterday night was spent writing. I had really wanted to go for a run - and though it had been curely nice during the morning - by the time I got home the sky was an onaimous grey again and cold. Today, though the clouds look threating at times, I think I can still make it out for a run. Day's when I go for a run I barely have the energy to write, and days when I write, I can barely be bothered to blog. Someday's are complete contraditions to what I just stated. Go figure.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Park Golf

I played Park Golf last night in a small tournament with the Yakuba staff (town staff). It was my first game in several years. With a six birdies I think I did pretty well. The results, however, were disappointing; I had the lowest score on my team and we didn't win. In the end, I believe something of the years I played golf did rubbed off. I was on the Board of Education team which consisted off myself, the superintendent, Yuki and Kevin. (Yuki is a bit of a Park Golf shark.) Even for fourth place we received 7000 yen. We are in negotiations on what to do with it. After everyone finished - and it was quite dark - there was yaki niku. The chance to get out was especially nice considering it had been raining for days, and is still raining on into tomorrow. The rain stopped for about six hours last night and was perfectly timed with the event.

I realize some may not be familiar with Park Golf in Alberta. The sport developed as a result of the astronomical green fees in Japan. It works something like a pitch and put course but the swing and equipment are taken from croquet. And there is still something of the Japanese culture on the game that makes it impossible to forget I am in here (not that I would want too). To me, the sport's image is quite "lame", something akin to poor man's golf or a senior's outing. However, I will admit, I had a really good time last night with great people. There is no stigma attached to it what-so-ever here as evidenced by the fact that there were lots of 23 and 24 year old Shikaoi Firefighters out that night. Most people view it as an important piece of an active life. I don't know how popular it is down South, but the large market in Hokkaido has created a wide variety of highly specialized Park Golf equipment including special tees, special clubs, special shoes, etc.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

734 words on Canadian Elections

I decided to comment on what good o' Prime Minster Stephen Harper is up too. Don’t tune out yet! I have resisted the urge to comment about the tiff he is currently in the mist of with the media. Tragically, it’s like watching lovers that need each other quarrel. I don’t care though; I already deal with immature children everyday. (Zing!) I have actually come to agree with him on something. (Shock!) His desire to expand democracy in Canada is laudable for I too wish to see Canada an example of modern democracy in the World. I differ in my approach slightly and the differences are enlightening. I agree with him, but wish to see him take the policy just a tad further. Nothing radical, nothing Earth shattering; just a tiny step further and I will be content.

First, some framework: Prime Minster Stephen Harper is proposing to fix elections on certain dates. I know all the arguments for this position and they are not without merit. Indeed, many provinces in Canada are moving toward this type of system. The basic impetus is to remove the possibility of manipulation by the governing party. I can not identify an instance in recent history where I felt disenfranchised because of such manipulation. However, if the public supports this position I will happily hold my piece. To summarize my position on this proposal: There is often a misconception that a citizen’s duty in a democracy extents only to showing up every four years and pulling the leaver. I believe many others in my community also share this opinion and thus don’t feel like I am going out on a limb by saying so. I take a much more involved approach to democracy. I personally don’t mind having to show up often and vote. I want to participate frequently and meaningfully.

What I do feel disenfranchised about is the so-called "democratic deficit." This is one of the things I feel most ashamed about in Alberta and it seems any talk of reforming Democracy in Canada should also address the need, in a modern democracy, for proportional representation. For example: in the 2006 federal election in Alberta the Conservatives took 28 out of a possible 28 seats. Does that mean that 100% of Albertans support a Conservative mandate? (Maybe in Ralph Klein’s dreams.) In fact, only 64% of the population voted Conservative. 36% of the population did not endorses the Conservative mandate but are left with absolutely no representation. The majority must be respected, but that should never entail disenfranchising voters. A properly formed system would acknowledge the outcome by granting the minority a fair level of representation. Obviously, with what I have outlined above, there is room for improvement.

The system we have now is "representation by population": roughly meaning more people=more seats. However, some elements of the system, especially in modern use, are antiquated and tend to skew the will of the voters in various ways (none of it on purpose). To look back, historically, the trek to Ottawa was long and arduous, the local M.P. far removed, and communication sketchy. Gathering an accurate picture of the riding’s opinion was difficult. Voters were sending someone to represent them personally. Of course those conditions no longer even remotely exist today; that is why I talk of modern democracy. Most today look far more closely at the party platform than the candidate. In my view, proportional representation acknowledges the shift and corrects it. There are many variants of proportional representation and from that detailed and vibrant debate is required to find the best and fairest system for Canada. I should acknowledge that I have left other factors - tangential to the discussion - un-touched. Proportional representation offers the clearest way to understand the issue and is the most obvious step toward reforming democracy in Canada. It has grown to be an important issue to me (though relatively ignored by the major parties).

If I have left the reader wondering if this is purely a play for seats you are dead wrong! In fact, if proportional representation had been enacted in the previous election the Conservatives would have actually gained seats in B.C. This is not an issue of black versus white or right versus left - garbage terms anyway in my opinion - the winner under a system of proportional representation is Democracy. Something to think about when Stephen Harper talks about reform.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Happy Birthday Grandma M.

I just wanted to give a shout out to my Grandma McR. in Calgary. I hope some flowers are up. I am looking forward to a big Sunday dinners again when I get back.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Go Oilers! Go!

Much like a convenient source for good peanut butter; somethings you don't miss until they're gone. This will probably be the only hockey post that will ever be put up here. In Calgary, I had never been much of a hockey fan - in so much that I never paid much attention until they were in the playoffs. But I cheered loudly that year. In light of that, I consider it odd that this season I have been craving to watch just one single game on T.V. I was up early this morning to listen to the game live on the net (a great reason not to be a luddite). However, it is most definitely not the same as watching the game; I have yet to ever see Roloson make a save. There are other options if you want to watch overseas. I noticed that a torrent for game 5 went up soon after the game ended. If you think period one was tense; the last minutes of the third must have been heart pounding. I had to get up and walk around after the final minutes ticked away and take some deep breaths. Great game. Congratulations Oilers!

Friday, May 26, 2006

855 words on Ethanol

I am going to try make my point easily and painlessly. In keeping up with news, I learned of the Canadian Government’s visionary plan to promote ethanol. I distain politics, but watching a conservative government talk about biofuels fills me with dread.

I place the blame squarely at the feet of our Federal Environment Minister Rona Ambrose. I love life’s absurdities; did you know she is leading a U.N. panel on lowering Carbon Dioxide emissions. Moving on: My first impressions of her was that she was either trying to sell the Canadian government arms or lobbying for the adoption standards abolishing all standards for nuclear plants. Only after did I read the caption introducing me to our new Environmental Minister did I realize she was organizing our country’s assault to save the environment. At this point, I want an advocate for the environment and David Suzuki is looking pretty good. But this is all really here nor there.

To completely reveal the absurdity of decision to promote ethanol the reader must take for granted the Conservative’s blind faith in free-market theory. Short summary: Small government=good; government intervention=bad; giving money to people=bad (how will they ever learn to be motivated individuals?); true=free market solves every problem. Reality is rarely this simple; oh, but it looks so good in a text book!

Facts one and two in the debate are simple; in takes (a lot of) energy to turn grain into ethanol and then get said ethanol to market; and, the real kicker, if you burn ethanol you are still producing carbon dioxide and nasty pollution (abet not as much).

At the moment, Canada is awash in grain, it’s in excess, this same condition exists in the States in regards to corn. The price is falling. What to do? Send it to starving people overseas? No! Form a lobby group! Get the government to spend money and create a market for you!

What free-market theory has to say on this is clear: if a market isn’t self-sustaining, it has absolutely no right to exist. Sure my morals get in the way of such a grim axiom, and fortunately, even Conservatives wince and claim reality is more complex. If you really would like more insight into the failure of the free-market to provide - well, anything - I refer the reader to many careful case studies of the affordable housing situation in Vancouver. Very enlightening. After absorbing this fact, one starts noticing the frays in free-market theory when applied to reality. And I always love making this next point: there is barely a major economic sector in Canada that is without large government subsidies. Aerospace, defense, forestry, health care, fisheries, construction, tourism, agriculture. The economy would grind to a halt without federal help. Maybe the real lesson to learn is that giving money to people in the form of popular social programs=bad; giving money instead to industry=good. So long as it is in complete contradiction with what you purport to believe? How do these people’s heads not explode? Got to love it!

To continue: Despite my cynical tone, I really have no problem that this is going on; but can’t we at least be honest about how our economy works? Must I really be forced to praise the free-market or risk being labelled a "communist-liberal"?

Obvious to me is the fact that the sudden turn toward biofuels is a knee-jerk reaction to high energy prices. Hey, it wasn’t my idea to link the entire prosperity of a global economy to fossil fuels; I’m just living with it. So here’s my suggesting; the great insight of this post. (Get out the blinking lights.)

I really have no problem subsidizing a market for biofuels, except when said program is masquerading as environmental policy. Why doesn’t the whole ethanol program get moved to Industry Canada? It’s obviously a policy meant more to alleviate a pressing economic issue (and pass federal funds to business; the only way it would ever be seriously supported) rather than address an environmental problem. Oh, that sounds bad. I mean, it is a pressing environmental issue as well but the stakes in climate change are too high for me to sing praises of a path that lets us continue our gluttonous consumption of something that is strangling us (and our children I should add).

I am told that one must offer reasonable solutions, and not just heckling from overseas, to be taken seriously. In my defense; I thought moving the ethanol program to Industry Canada was a suggestion? Okay, so why not take a tiny portion of the massive economic success Canada is currently experiencing and spend it on research that will actually make the planet a livable place in the future to spend and enjoy all the amazing tax cuts we are receiving now! Two important things to look for in the direction of said research: One, it lowers our dependency on expensive fossil fuels. Two, doesn’t pollute and release massive amounts of CO2. My lungs are in revolt!

How’s that for visionary? I just saved the Federal Environment Minister a lot of time!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Cultural Lesson #522

This is just a short update about what I learned today about Japan. I did something at recess that I had never done in Alberta before. Basically, for the twenty minute playtime everyone in the school went out to pick up large and middle-size rocks off the field to ready it for it's various summer uses (baseball and track-and-field). Perhaps this point deserves further elaboration; in Alberta our fields are often grass. It seems like the most inviting choice. In contrast, Japan keeps fields of shale that in my opinion look rather uninviting to one's knees and elbows. (A boring picture of the field post-pick-up can been seen at the top.)

I didn't have my camera with me because it had been described to me as "fun" by one of the teachers before I realized what was actually going on. Leave it to my students, however, to make any activity fun. I don't know if the students liked it because it was a slightly dirty work or whether it was because they are all still impressed by simple - sometimes amazingly simple - things, but the time passed quickly with lots of laughing.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Kids are all Right - ふあふあドーム

Yesterday I had the opportunity to chaperone the grade six class school trip to Tokachi Ecology Park about forty minutes away from Shikaoi by bus. The whole day, for all grades, was set aside for school trips. For my students this constituted an extremely good way to start the week. Other grades did different activities; some went on field trips, while the younger grades went to the zoo. It was not up to me which class I got to go with; which was fine with me because I was just happy to get a place on the bus. I always enjoy the company of the grade six class for several reasons. One reason being because they are very cool. (Or at the very least, they think they are cool.) I have come to know several of them quite well and treasure my time with them because they are growing up fast and I worry about the kind of world they are entering.

Our destination, the Tokachi Ecology Park, sits near the banks of the mighty Tokachi River and is close to the famous Tokachigawa onsen (hot springs). The park itself is only entering it's fourth summer and has collected quiet a reputation. After an easy 3 km hike to a spot over looking the area, we arrived at the park. I considered the day's weather perfect for such activities. It was partly cloudy all day, but at least this kept it from becoming too hot. Just as we were boarding the bus, it started to shower.

I won't bother describing every detail of the park because there was one thing that completely overwhelms my memory and makes for a nice blog entry. Much of everyone's time was spent on one of the most profound pieces of playground equipment I have ever seen - nor imagined. In fact, I am in awe of how the technology and creativity came together in someone's head to make such at thing.

The idea is simple - playful and fun in execution - the Fua Fua Dome. In essence, it's just a huge trampoline; but that description fails to do it justice. Made of a bouncy indestructible material, it's actual workings are hidden from the public, harnessing instead everyone's love of magic, imagination and childhood. The Fua Fua Dome is hard not to enjoy. It's hard not to crack a smile just taking a couple of steps onto the thing. It feels like a trampoline but what really boggles the mind is how such a huge area and steep inclines are kept evenly bouncy. There are endless amounts of games to be invented, but there is simple joy to be found in just jumping up and down, running around, and sliding down the sides. There are not too many ways one could hurt themselves on the Fua Fua Dome, everything is well absorbed and, because of the shape, there is nothing to fall off of. Still, my elbows and knees became pretty scraped up. The Fua Fua Dome has a strong reputation and upon arriving the grade sixes were off like bullets toward the structure as soon as their bags hit the ground. During lunch, we were joined by the grade fours and picnicked with them on the grass. And again after relaxing sunny lunch, students from both classes played on the dome, but because of its sheer size, no one felt crowded. Afterward my students lamented that the time had passed so quickly.

The scene from the highest point on the Fua Fua Dome was impressive; watching my students in something akin to joy, freedom and forgetfulness mixed together. I tried to get a shot from the top, as did the other teachers, but was thwarted by my students' attempts to bounce me to the bottom. A sharp picture in these conditions was impossible. Click the image below for a picture of the Fua Fua dome from the bottom.

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There were other things to do. While there was no shortage of students at the Fua Fua Dome, many students played baseball and others couldn't resist the large wading pools; though the pools post-modern design probably didn't wear off on them. Make no mistake, jumping around for two hours is a lot of work and afterwards, my body and especially my legs, were rebelling.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sakura in Japanese Culture

This year I was fortunate to enjoy my second cherry blossom season in Japan (my first was in Koriyama). Before having the opportunity to live in Japan, I had only a remote understanding of Japan's relationship with Cherry Blossoms. I had learned in school about Sakura; in fact I understood the Japanese went crazy for Sakura once a year. But what I didn't understand was why it was such a big deal; I mean, it's just flowers right?

Sakura have a long history in Japanese culture. The fleeting beauty of the experience also holds deep significance for the Japanese. I only have room to address one example of Sakura's influence in Japanese History. It is also probably the easiest to grasp, best studied, and most interesting example. So many poems have been written about Sakura's meaning and beauty that it has warranted the publication of books on the this single subject. Poetry is probably as good a way as any to understand Sakura.

There is one related vocabulary word that I would like to touch on; Hanami. It roughly translates as "viewing cherry blossoms." This involves picnicking - ideally - under the cheery blossoms. The origins of Hanami also stretch far back in history. In my experience it is a time to share good Yuki niku (barbecue) with friends. Alcohol is most certainly involved. Good Yuki niku eaten outside on a warm night with good friends easily tops, in my mind, eating out in Las Vegas or some such refined dining experience. Japanese can, at times, be wound a little tight, and Hanami offers an excellent and time honored way to relax. Hanami in Tokyo though looks like more work than it's worth but in Shikaoi it is quite a refined and memorable time. (Notice the lit up tree in the background of the image below.)

Something I was surprised to find was that the Cherry trees in Shikaoi are generally smaller than ones found in Honshu (from what I remember). Even today, Cherry trees are still very popular to plant, but in Koriyama there were gigantic majestic 300 year old specimens. (This is easily explained by the fact that Hokkaido was only settled 100 years ago.) Sakura trees in Japan are inevitably some of the most pampered trees anywhere on the planet; they are pruned and trained and watched very carefully. There are many types of species, creating different shapes and colours of flowers. The most popular creates blossoms that are just barely pink and normally bloom before the leaves are out. Trying to describe Sakura on a blog is ultimately limiting. I have described the results before as looking as if the tree was illuminated from the inside; as if it was glowing from within or radiating light itself.

The relationship between Japan and Sakura commented on by academic sources referred to above call Sakura an "enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life." Which, in one sense I agree with, and in another sense don't understand. Seeing trees burst in to flower, and knowing that it is only going to last - at most - a week, does spark a certain reflection about nature and life within one. It makes you focus on the naturalness of all change that sometimes we, as humans, don't want to acknowledge. And without getting too existential; it does make you reflect on one's own mortality and the transitory nature of life.

I think I did a good job taking photos that represent Shikaoi's Sakura, or at least I am satisfied with the results. What the images can't express is the inevitable amazement one has on seeing these trees in person. Or, for that matter, seeing paths and roads and hills densely planted with them as far as the eye can see. Getting to walk and drive among the Sakura as part of a normal day is exciting and memorably. Driving out to my schools and passing many Sakura this week, it is somehow comforting that a species of tree that seems to have evolved such a useless adaptation somehow survived for our enjoyment.

I cannot remember before living in Shikaoi having ever enjoyed Spring this much.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006


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Having nothing to write about I will relate what just happened to me:
I offered to go across the street to 7-11 because I wanted some cold Oolong-cha. It got up to 27C today and was very hot and the other's (in the office) wanted something called Coolish, it came in two flavors. I collect the money for five mango and one coffee. Coolish is some type of ice cream/milk shake drink that I really can't fathom and thus don't drink. I just thought it odd that normally the Japanese eat so amazingly healthy but today everyone (but me) wanted the sugary drink. I actually ended up getting water.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Cool Water

Wow. Sorry about that last post. I just kind of bumbled along. I was torn; I felt guilty for not posting but was so tired. The Blog-o-sphere seems to be more about quantity over quality so I hit the "post" button. In hindsight I got a ton done yesterday so at least that felt good, it is just that I was unnaturally tired after. At seven o'clock I was like, "Must.. keep... eyes... open..." I was beaten up at school pretty bad today. I was on the wrong side of a grade two wielding a pineapple. Actually, it was just one lucky shot that happen to land right on that bone that sticks out of your ankle. Ouch. It wasn't intentional. Living here, Zen kind of rubs off on you and I didn't get angry or react. I did react, I said ouch, and told him to be careful. Getting mad at a seven year old would not had made me feel any better. This week I am also battling a sore knee from who knows when. Am I falling apart? Sometimes I wonder. I have a slight headache now and am drinking some bottled water. You don't look as trendy drinking Volvic natural mineral water as you do in downtown Calgary but I thought it might be refreshing.

In other dangerous news; I noticed a group of grade sixes yesterday on their way home from school playing a game. It was one where they tried to hit small rocks with a scrap piece of wood (with dangerous looking edges) they had found in some garbage heap somewhere. Tons of fun, I'm sure, but someone was going to lose an eye. So I yelled over, "What the frig at you doing?!!!" Two girls (who are enamored with the gaijin) suddenly turn and take off across the road. Great. Now I am causing more trouble just being there. Their suppose to want to visit a foreign country, not risk life and limb. I had stopped one of my grade threes from running across the road the day before with a sharp "Stop! I'll come over okay?" There wasn't a car in sight but the grade sixes should know better. I would have died if they had gotten hurt.

Also, to continue a topic from yesterday's post about the long Winters here. Unbelievably; my schedule all the way to August is quickly getting filled. Things slowed down so much I thought the pace would continue forever. The Sakura appeared here and then I turned around and my week is full.

Walking to Work

I use to think Fall was my favorite season. But this Spring in Shikaoi has really impressed me. (Perhaps it's because the winter seemed so long.) The weather, for the most part, has been really good. Not too hot and not too cold. Things are slowly starting to get green and it has been fun to watch the changes. Lately there has always been a refreshing breeze instead of the absolute gale that we had for most of the winter. It has caused me to walk to work as much as possible even though I am just under ten minutes away. During the heat of the summer I am sure the sidewalks will seem inhabitable and stifling.

The Sakura are finally appearing here too, a couple of days later Obihiro. Expect some Sakura images up pretty soon. I am thrilled but when I pointed them out to my students they seem less than interested. I don't know why. I doubt my elementary school students are jaded (yet) and I know they will be celebrating under the trees with their parents this week... As will I.

I am still writing in writing mode so I apologize for the sparseness of this update.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

I did lots of writing this weekend hence the lack of updates. So I offer the pictures below: Me trying to spell the word "commodify" then just giving up and using the word "thing."

Friday, May 12, 2006


I just thought I would put down my thoughts because I was especially struck today by the foreingness of my surroundings. To begin, it was beautiful today. "The Perfect Spring Day," if I had to name it. That little bit of rain the day before - a down pour really by Albertan standards - did much to green things up. The fields around Shikaoi are either patches of rich black soil or perfect carpets of emerald green. Somethings seem silly to try to capture with a camera. Getting out of my car at Kamihoronai Sho Gakko it hit me how unnaturally silent it was. In reality, of course, Nature despises a vacuum, and the area around the school was filled with sounds; it was just the total lack of any traffic noise that brought them to my attention. So what if we don't have the metropolitan ballet; I am very lucky to live in an area where when I shut off my car I silence the only engine for kilometers. So what could I hear as I walked unhurriedly toward the entrance of the school? Birds singing, for one, tinged with joy. A gentle and refreshing breeze that seemed to be put there just for me. And if you were really lucky you could hear - carried on that breeze - the laughter of my students inside the school doing whatever carefree students ought to be doing. And all was right in the World. And maybe, I think I heard - being the perfect spring day - I think I could even hear the green grass growing.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Final Thoughts on Koriyama

My final thoughts on this trip are perhaps the most important. Anyone who lives overseas, learning the native langauge, oblviously has a very different experience than many whose trips are short. This fact was brought sharply into focus on this trip for me. Again and again while living overseas my understanding of the Japanese culture continues to increase. So much of Japanese cultural is not written down and cannot be found in textbooks. It is learned through long years of cultivating important relationships and building trust. (For example, Okiwara-san's sushi lesson was precious. I was surprised it took me living in Japan now for just under two years to learn something that every Japanese consider's common knowledge.)

I think it is a very powerful experience, and overwhelming, to return to somewhere and feel so at home instantly after years away. Some changes were drastic but many relationships hadn't changed at all. Honestly, I felt returning was very emotionally draining for reasons I haven't completely understood myself yet - in a good way, I should add. I find myself already exicited about the possibly of returning. Thanks to everyone in Koriyama that made me feel so welcomed and especially the Tsuchiya family for their kind hospitally; the care and feeding of what really is just a big kid.

Nikko Post

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Just thought I would add this image from Nikkou. I quite like it; it's quite archiectural. It's raining now here in Shikaoi. I have forgotten how much it can rain here when it rains. It is really coming down. One more final post about my Koriyama trip tomorrow.

Monday, May 08, 2006


This post covers my trip South from Koriyama to Nikko, an ancient shrine complex. (Really spelt Nikkou, meaning sunlight.) Kumama, Shigetaro (her oldest son) and myself started off (somewhat) early to arrive in Nikkou before lunch. The day was extremely beautiful as the image above will a test to. Not too cool and not too warm; the normally lush green mountains were just starting to burst into leaf. This meant that as we drove to Nikko we encountered nearly every possible shade of green. While I was slightly late to see the full glory of Sakura (cherry blossoms) in Koriyama, every other possible flowering tree was in full bloom, as were some late mountain Sakura as well. I timed my trip perfectly.

Some history: Nikko is the burial place of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) who in 1600 at the Battle of Sekigahara unified Japan under the Emperor and established the Tokugawa shogunate who ruled Japan (through the Emperor) until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. It's a complicated bit of history. His son and grandson are also buried at the site. A person with so much power being buried there caused basically a little economy of its own to grow based on associated shines and whatnot. Most of the shines and temples are jewels in their own right if not significantly older that what you would see in Kansai.

The setting is really amazing. Tucked away on the side of a mountain, all set under massive (really massive) cedar trees makes for a stunning impact on the visitor. It was actually my second time visiting the site (the first time being six years ago), though it was Kumama and Shigetaro's first: Making me realize how much Japanese culture I have been exposed too. Being Golden Week there were lots of tourists from Tokyo. I have become accustom to Japanese crowds and really only worry about them if I am carrying large luggage. It was refreshing to try to imagine what the site was like decades ago when the only inhabitants of the forest were the caretaker monks of the shrines and temples.

There is a huge array of temples to choose at the site but I wanted to focus on two smaller artifacts seen at Nikko that will entertain the visitor. The first is the very famous carving three monkeys. We know it as "See no Evil. Hear no Evil. Say no Evil," here it translates as: "Mizaru. Kikazara. Iwazaru." The sculpture itself is quite small and high up, set among a whole wall of carvings. I don't know if this is the first instance of the subject in Japan or why it's famous, but everyone was taking pictures of it. Another smaller, but perhaps more famous sculpture is the "Nemuri Neko" or Sleeping Cat. About life-size and placed above a door in an amazingly ornate gate; it's well placed to maximize a bottleneck hundreds of years later as crowds try to take a picture of it and enter the gate at the same time.

Lastly the grave of Tokugawa himself. Despite having to stand in a long line the environment and wait is wholly relaxing (as compared to, say, waiting in traffic); there's lots to look at and absorb. After having wound your way further up the mountain you can shuffle past the grave in relative peace. So after braving the crowds and the gift stalls and the parking lot you can stand, and see, and hear, and touch, and experience something that is wholly Japanese much as it would have been hundreds of years ago. Great place; I would highly recommend it.


Sunday, May 07, 2006


This is the post people - I guess I can say 'around the world' - have been waiting for. Four days and three nights is all it took to feel at home. This post will cover a rough chronology of my visit to Koriyama.

Arriving Wednesday was a thrill. I felt shaky not knowing what to expect. Being Golden Week in Japan(something I will need to address elsewhere), Chitose Airport was a zoo (picture topped). It was the typical Japanese cacophony of "Irrashaimasen!" everywhere to get to my plane from the train. I don't mind though because I love - or at the very least, grown to love - Japanese culture; crowds being one aspect. I made it through and everything went well meeting Yukipapa and Kumama at the Fukushima airport.

That night, at my request, we had Chinese food. The above picture of the Tsuchiya clan was taken by Yukipapa. It may seem strange that I would have to return to Koriyama to eat good Chinese food, but I did; much to the chagrin of the owner of the restaurant (another Rotarian). The Tsuchiya's were surprised to learn we don't eat much Chinese food in Shikaoi. I mean, we have the basics; gyoza, ramen, shrimp-something-or-other. And in Obihiro there are Chinese restaurants, it just seems I never make it to them. Why have Chinese food at all in Japan? Because it's good. Better than home in my humble opinion. My Mom will be happy to hear there were lots of vegetables served. The shark fin soup was excellent and the fried rice was unbelievably good.

On a whim it was decided that the next day we should go to Nikkou; an area South of Fukushima known for it's shrines and long history. I will cover that trip in detail in the next post. Nikkou is home to the tomb of Tokugawa (Ieyasu) whom ruthlessly unified Japan under the Emperor during the 17th century. He tomb North of Edo (Tokyo) spawned numerous temples.

My second full day in Koriyama was filled with shopping and meeting old friends. The shopping part is because there aren't many stores in Tokachi worth visiting. I will also admit to stopping at a Starbucks near Koriyama Station. The coffee was excellent but I felt guilty because I never drank the stuff while I lived in Calgary. It is very hard to find a good cup of coffee in Japan but Starbucks - on an international level - is amazingly consistent. Coffee is not something I drink everyday but it was a great treat.

Shikaoi-cho soba-men is excellent. But for six years I have been craving Okawara-san's soba. He is a kid trapped in a - now grandfather's - body. He is also a snowboard shop owner (pictured above) trapped in a soba restaurant's owners body. It was great to see his snowboard shop again, touch base with him and his brother, and, of course, eat some of his excellent soba until I about burst. (pictured right) I was happy to learn that he has recently open a soba-ya (soba store) near Koriyama-eki (Koriyama station). I also met one of my old host families the Tanaba's but was unable to meet their son Ken-kun, who I was hoping to meet again. I am sure he is amazing at English by now.

My last day before I departed in the evening included a little bit more shopping and coffee, but truly focused on spending time with the Okoshi's; the absolute nicest couple in the world. Mr. Okoshi speaks no English. And I don't expect him too. I freely take it upon myself to learn Japanese so I can communicate and learn from people like the Okoshi's. I had a really good time showing them my pictures from Shikaoi and introducing them to my life and Shikaoi. It is times like these that I am happy to be living in Japan again because I don't feel so far from them.

The trip home was actually pretty low key; I had a lot to think about and not many travelers choose to return home on the Saturday (instead preferring Sunday). My schedule was very tight, returning home Saturday, and could have ended badly. However, all whet smoothly and I was able to get home at 11:00 PM tired but content. The image below is of Tsuchiya's garden path; something I remember very well.

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Note: I apologize. I had wanted to leave something to read on the blog while I was away in Koriyama but the link was broken. I fixed the link to the peak oil article below.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


Okay. I am home. Sorry about the lack of updates; it was not for a lack of internet access but a lack of time. I promise to make it up with a flood of updates this week about my trip. Many things have changed in Koriyama but in many ways it was like stepping back in time. I even got to stay in my old room! Stay tuned.

I have also been out of complete contact with the news. Is the Battle of Alberta on? Can someone let me know about the hockey playoffs?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Koriyama departure

Sorry for the sketchy updating the past couple of days. I have had a lot on my plate before my trip to Honshu, the main island of Japan. Nothing significant, just lots of details: packing, gifts, etc. Most people are sticking around Shikaoi; baseball seems to be a large part of many people's plans. Others, my students, vote for sleep.

Edit: I forgot to mention that today is the start of Japan's Golden Week.

This will be my second trip to Honshu after my trip to Tokyo in January. It is always kind of weird when I travel down South because many national trends just don't reach us in Shikaoi. Also, there's nothing older than about 100 years here in Hokkaido; so that's another difference as well. As I mentioned before I will try to update with a picture when I get to Fukushima-ken. My train leaves for the airport at 12:06 and I will get to Fukushima around 5:00 PM my time. I am execptionally excited.