Monday, July 31, 2006

Koriyama Post Two

I have been enjoying Koriyama for several days now. People have mentioned this summer is cooler than usual; but it is still not as though one needs to take a coat along at night. As a Canadian, I am enjoying the balmy 24C day in, day out, compared to the soul-crushing humidity Honshu can experience in the summer.

I am so completely accepted at the Tsuchiya house that I consider the experience normal and unextraordinary. There are even chores to do. But because things do feel so normal I haven`t really felt the pressing need to take out my camera, thus the lack of pictures in this post. And this house is so busy. They have so many callers everyday it's staggering. Every morning it starts at exactly 8:30 AM, which I guess is the earliest time most delivery companies feel is accecptable. It continues through out the day tapering off around 3 PM. This week the Tsuchiya's have been receiving lots of summer gifts - mostly beer, but there is some variety - I had never even known about this Japanese tradition.

We had wonderful steaks for dinner last cooked tenpanyaki-style. The steaks were courtesy of Ito-san, my former counselor as a Rotary Exchange student in Koriyama. He runs a beef/pork/chicken distribution outfit for restaurants and hotels in the area. So he has the great connections. Tenpanyaki-style is much thinner than a normal Albertan steak, it is also completely and perfectly marbled. It was as soft as tofu and could be easily cut with chopsticks, something that shouldn't be tried on an Albertan steak without a steak knife. He asked a lot of questions about why I came back to Japan and what life is like in Hokkaido. It was great to catch up with him and hear about his successful and expanding business.

Today, shopping and later soba with Okawara-san at his snowboardshop. Tomorrow, I will be spending the day with two of the Tsuchiya's nieces and then probably out for sushi that night. The big thing on my plate comes Thursday with a return to my host rotary club. Something I have really wanted to do. I have to write a short speech in Japanese which is something I am going to set out to do directly.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Quick update!

I apologize that this is only a partial posting. Soon my mom is going to be departing for home and I will be continuing on to Koriyama from Chitose. Today is sort of a travel day for everyone. But first we need to find some breakfast. Please note that if the smaller pictures (in recent posts) are clicked they can be expanded.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Pictures from Yesterday

Stepping out from my hotel first thing yesterday morning I was quick to notice the cloudless sky. What a perfect day to spend outside! Which is exactly what I did; visiting several parks with my mom and Mrs. Suginome. My favorite was Moerenuma Park, designed by the late Nobuchi-san. It was his legacy park and he died before the park was completed. The main attraction of the park is the mesmorizing Sea Fountain, something which writing or pictures fails to get across. But there are many other things to see so we rented bicycles to see the rest of it. I was by myself to climbed the park's large man-made mountain (pictured) making sure to take my camera to the top with me. It was the same hill my dad climbed last year in Sapporo. In the afternoon, we were off to a beautiful, natural, secluded, sandy beach which is always an attraction to someone from the prairies like me. Notice the completely lack of clouds in most off my shots! It's great. How could the forecast have been so wrong?

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Chigirie Surprise

Sorry for the delay in posting. Blogspot has been giving me trouble, especially the imaging section. I must say: The kindness of Mrs. Suginome knows no limits. On Tuesday, she gave my mom the ultimate - and very unique - surprise by planning a meeting between my mom and Hokkaido's resident Chigirie master, Ohaga-sensei [pictured]. (Note: Chigirie is a relatively new art centered around using high quality paper to make images - either realistically or impressionisticly. Scissors are never used; the paper is always torn and layered then to create effects unique to chigirie.) The artist herself was quite a character, finding ways to integrate chigirie into every corner of her house. Chigirie takes such a huge amount of energy and expensive washi paper that it is often impossible to recuperate the full cost of large scale works (often drifting into the tens of thousands of dollars). Ohaga-sensei has a day job as a professor of Shodo, or calligraphy, at a university. Her home is like a museum containing very large and detailed works going back decades that have never been sold but should be in exhibitions. As an art history student myself, seeing her half finished works and bulk washi paper was very interesting. As Ohaga-sensei bubbled away in Japanese - touching on every element of chigirie in one sitting - I think my mom became a bit overwhelmed. Still, it was a very memorable experience and an honor to be invited to her home. Yesterday, after putting in some hard hours of shopping, we were off to the Ishiya Chocolate Factory, which Mrs. Suginome has several degrees of connection to. The factory itself is more like a museum, and the grounds and building are specially built and well kept. The company itself seems - confoundingly - built on the success of only one cookie called "Shiroi Koibito", or white lovers. For lunch yesterday we had curry soup across from Odori Park. Curry soup is a meal which has recently become very popular in Sapporo and Japan. It was very tasty. I introduced my mom to Shabu Shabu yesterday too. Mrs. Suginome graciously invited us to her home for dinner. Today the weather is great. We are going to tour several parks and there is not a cloud in the sky. I couldn't ask for better weather, especially if the slight breeze keeps up. Tonight we are on our own for dinner and we haven't decided what we would like to eat. We eat so much it's hard to think about food. All part of my plan to eat our way through Japan.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Sapporo Update

Finally got back into the hotel room and got the high-speed internet working. Now I feel too tired to post days worth of details. On top of this, blogspot's photo hosting interface seems to be down; so images are handled a bit differently in this post. I have basically included images from two groups. The first group represents the Stony Plain delegation's departure from Shikaoi. I have also included an image from our last dinner at Sakagushi-san's on Sunday (to which the McCann's and Mogami's were also invited). We found the good weather and it's in Sapporo! We saw the Stony Plain delegation off this morning and now my mom and I are on our own. Everything went smoothly. We don't plan to be in our rooms very much over the next couple of days but I will definately be posting about Mrs. Suginome's excellent surprise tomorrow.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Exercise in Speed Posting

This is going to be a bear bones post because we are soon to be out the door to the last of what has been over a week of giant dinners. We are going to visit the Sakaguchi family in Sasagawa. Most of the day was spent packaging between watching rounds of Sumo; it was the final day of the Nagoya Summer Sumo Tournament. I think most everything is under control. I wish I had more time to polish my iPod playlists for the trip but I will be bringing my laptop with me so it can, in honesty, be an ongoing process. I didn't get any runs in this week and I am starting to feel slightly guilty (only slightly); Yesterday I near ate my weight in Yukiniku and Kaitenzushi. I promise I will become like a monk in August and only eat white rice, bark, miso soup, and what not. Tomorrow, everyone is up early for a good-bye breakfast at Chomin Hall; hence the pressing need to get all the packing done today. And a word to those who are thinking about visiting Japan: My mom has received an amazing amount of gifts. Unbelievable.

While everyone in the Stony Plain deligation will be going home on Tuesday, my mom and I will be staying on in Sapporo for a week.

Friday, July 21, 2006


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Things are winding down for the Stony Plain delegation but winding up for me. (I will be heading to Sapporo and then to Honshu after the group has departed.) I pulled in a lot of favors to have my mom invited to eat school lunch on Friday at Shikaoi elementary school with the grade ones. I had really wanted to introduce my mom to where I work and the people I work with. The staff was very interested to meet her too. The whole school was in chaos as we walked the halls. The grade ones were very entertaining but were stuck on the fact that my mom didn't speak Japanese like me. My mom must have become very tired after lunch because on top of dealing with twenty-one grade ones she also played thirty-six holes of park golf on Thursday.

Last night was a banquet at Mogami-san's farm for the delegation. My interpreting skills were put to good use and stretched to the limits. The weather could have been better but the Japanese love a crisis and the men concocted quite a protective structure. Lots of games were on hand for the nearly seventy people that attended. The one which I consider of most cultural note was a Soba-noodle water-fall game (where soba is sent down a channel and everyone must catch the soba they want with chopsticks). Cold Soba is known for it's refreshing properties in hot weather; the meal was slightly less invigorating because of the poor weather but delicious and a good laugh none-the-less.

Monday, July 17, 2006


At the end of this post I have something amazing to talk about, but first there are many things to cover; too many. To get everyone up to speed: My mom is visiting me as part of a delegation from Stony Plain. As of now, she is on an overnight to Asahikawa trip with the group. As a result, I have sparetime to restock the fridge, clean house, maybe rest, and do a full update. I cannot possibly cover everything that has passed in detail - nor has anyone been clamoring for it - but I do have images.

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Above is an image of Shikaoi High School's principal, a position of extreme respect, dressed in a baseball uniform for the High School Festival opening ceremonies. The image was taken after he bounded onto the stage, wearing a mask, pretending to be a famous Hokkaido baseball player (whose name escapes me), shouting greetings. The ceremony is used to introduce each home room - six classes, two of each grade.

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Later in the ceremonies, the Stony Plain delegation was asked on stage and officially welcomed. I include the above image because of its cultural significance: everyone is wearing slippers. (I hope the picture shows it.)

The school gymnasium was the location of many activities over the weekend festival. I include an image of the darkened gym because the place was absolutely sweltering while we were there. It has since cooled substantially in Shikaoi - not quite to snow - but has started to drizzle. The High school was also decorated to the nth degree but in bumping into so many people I knew, I neglected to get any pictures of some of the amazing work.

A parade was held through Shikaoi and at two designated points students held a homeroom demonstration inspired from their chosen theme. (Pirates, the Dutch, Yosokoi, etc.) It was an excellent way to contrast high school in in Canada and Japan. On Sunday evening, during the closing event, a winning homeroom - guaranteed to be a departing grade twelve class - was awarded a school spirit prize. Also note each classes' float, also conforming to each home room's chosen theme.

The delegation also participated in a traditional Japanese Tea ceremony (run by a high school club). I had forgotten how serene and beautiful the ritual is; the tea is still gross though.

Saturday night, between days spent at the high school festival, was something I have been waiting for all summer: The Usui's famous yakiniku party (BBQ). Rarely can I remember - or even imagine - Japanese food this good. Nor I can imagine so much food in one place. Perhaps it was that it was the beautiful evening spent outside, or being surrounded by close friends, but I will always treasure the Usui's yakiniku parties. My mom and I owe them a big thank you.

Monday was a national holiday in Japan. Japanese often celebrate holidays by spending it with family or shopping. I did both (but for the record didn't buy anything). The evening was set aside for the Shikaoi summer festival. The weather could of been better but everyone from Stony Plain was glad it wasn't the stifling, humid, hot weather from last week. The culmination of the even was almost an hour of fireworks. Conveniently located next to the river by my house, we walked to the site of the festival. The top image of a tree is the "Summer Tree"; taken from somewhere and "planted" on the cement. The lower image is my lame attempt to capture some of the most wonderful, splendid, amazing, fireworks I have ever seen. (I think the picture looks like either an old-fashion bi-plane just expoded or a TIE-fighter. Look for it and you'll see it). I think the Stony Plain delegation will be talking about the fireworks for a long time. (In addition - in an interesting cultural aside that is neither humorous nor earth-shattering - throughout the day, on the hour, the site had been setting off loud, high, fireworks meant to alerted the town, at all times, that the main fireworks were still on. This continued up to half-an-hour before the event. The signal fireworks served the duel purpose to constantly check to cloud cover and ceiling in the rain before the event.)

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Sunday, July 16, 2006


Yesterday the delegation visited the second day of the high school festival. I knew many many people at the High School; it seemed like most of Shikaoi turned out. Every where I turned there would be new people to introduce my Mom to. The "Aka-chan Corner/Baby Room" was the most mystifying thing the delegation saw and even with my Japanese to investigate its purpose I am still at a loss to explain it. I will stop my description of it here to recreate my befuddlement for the readers. Other's in the delegation were at first leary of traveling with the student delegation, but I think everyone was very happy to see the school festival. There was also time to run into Obihiro yesterday and do some shopping. (We needed a more comfortable pillow for my Mom.) And then we had a large dinner at Tori-sei. Today, more shopping in Obihiro with Donna (of the Stony Plain delegation). The big buzz around town today is the fireworks tonite. However, the weather is also turning to rain quickly and everything is in flux by the minute. Sorry about the lack of picture, I have not had the opportunity to process some of the my shots.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Has this ever happened to you?

Some of the best fun to be had in Japan is opening one's door to delivery people in Japan. My Mom joined into the game with an incredible and rare occurrence yesterday. Seeing the face of, say, a Japanese Jehovah Witnesses (whom almost every Saturday) come around and find a foreigner can be a priceless event. But add to this such a rare and illogical occurrence - probably having only occurred a couple of times in the history of the world - makes it definitely worth a post. Last month my caring family sent a package of peanut butter and what not. It was taking forever to get here. I was hoping it would get here before my Mom or else it would seem like a waste having sent it by sea when she could have carried it. I had been out at the office during the afternoon and she had been home resting and preparing. She claims to have seen the little post office van - and I do mean little - and knew that my package was arriving. The mindblowing thing is how rare it must be that the same person that sent a package also receive it. My Mom tried to explain the importance of the package - that she was the person that sent it - to the delivery man, but by all accounts it was lost on him. I think she did a great job in her solo encounter with Japanese culture.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Welcome Party

The welcome party for the Stony Plain delegation's arrival went very smoothly. Something funny did happen toward the end of the evening as the representative for the Town of Stony Plain, Paul McCann, official presitation of a book (about Canada) went horribly awry and I was called into action. It started when the official cameraman began to have trouble with his flash. It just so happened that only moments before others had noticed me taking pictures with my big camera without a flash. All of a sudden I heard my name being called and I grab my camera to get the shot. The resulting picture is below.

Arrived (more to follow)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Ah Weather in Shikaoi

I was lamenting yesterday - and resisting to expose - Shikaoi's porr weather forecast. However, upon getting up this morning, it was easy to spot that the forecast had been 100% wrong; it was a complete turn around from the previous day's forecast. Rain all today and through the weekend had been predicted. Waking up I instancely saw bright sun streaming into my house. How can weather forecasting be so wrong in this part of the world? Outside it is now 34C which means it's also 34C inside my house. (I can get a good cross breeze through my house though.) This is actually the first time it has been this hot this year. I have a fan beside me as I type but all I can feel is blowing hot air. Oh, and the delegation has still not arrived yet. Still waiting. Within a couple of hours I expect.

Today's Theme: Eating (Odd!?!?)

Seeing as my Mom will soon be landing in Chitose (and I have nothing else on my mind at the moment) I decided I should reflect on the upcoming visit. I guess the topic that would jump into most people's mind is to talk about change. But I am resistive to change by nature and I would propose most others are too. An inordinate amount of preparation has been done for the visit. My house has never looked so clean (and I normally keep it rather clean by habit). However - and I will confess this - I have been so busy just trying to keep up with my commitments that I haven't been able to raise my head above the taste at hand and look ahead to what on Earth I should do in the spare time allotted with host families. This could either be a brilliant move on my part or something that was woefully over-looked. I have come to one conclusion; to continue the timeless tradition carried on through many parts of the World and eat. We will eat our way through Japan.

The official delegation will also be busy. Myself being at the very bottom wrung have only gleaned the foggiest idea of what's going on. (I have actually gathered a lot of information second hand.) The delegation schedule looks good. I think the group will be touring under a heavy dose of Japanese culture; something I have grown to love but which can have a stunning/stupefying-effect when compressed into a short time period. I am sure awkward moments will abound; (a word to the wise) I have found the best remedy to deal with this type of situation is to do something completely unexpected (like conjure a cute puppy out of thin air or do three-dimensional math equations in five dimensions while juggling fire).

And because things will be so busy in Shikaoi and because I have to share my time with others while in Shikaoi my mother and I will be spending time in Sapporo for a couple of days until she returns. When I'm in Shikaoi there are too many things pulling me in many directions. This is not conducive to the most quality of visits. Sapporo is great in the summer and I am desperately looking forward to week away from Shikaoi with family. Returning to the issue of eating: I appreciate that Japanese food in Japan is several times better than anything can be found in Alberta and I respect that everyone is here for only a short time - I love Japanese food and I would want to cram as much down my gullet as I could - however, my Mom might have to put up with some foreign food while in Sapporo. There are times when I am really drawn to other tastes besides Japanese food. Eating Japanese food, and the health benefits it provides, is one of my most serious concern about returning to Canada. But sometimes I want to taste tomatoes and basil and smoky BBQ sauce!

At this time I would also like to roll out for my readers my Summer schedule. Of course there is the touring around Shikaoi and a trip to Sapporo. I will also be returning to Koriyama for a week. I will again be staying with the Tsuchiya's, who were so kind to me last May during Golden Week. They will be nursing a sad Blair, missing his Mom, back to uber-genki-ness. Also scheduled is a trip to Tokyo to spend money - you know - to help the economy and all. Tokyo is the one place you could save a lot of money if you don't eat.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Downhill to Thursday

Sorry for the lack of posting yesterday. On top of my abnormal uber-cleaning routine of the past month to get ready for my Mom's visit (the Japanese normally do this every Spring but I needed a bit more motivation) I am also very busy at work. Returning to the office today I found another fax to deal with. As they say: No rest for the weary. It will all get done but it cuts into time that would otherwise be spent posting. My Mom should be leaving the airport in a matter of hours. Maybe she will check my blog before she leaves? The transit for the group (from Stony Plain) is quite long. Note the timing of this post. The group does not arrive in Shikaoi until Thursday night my time. Yikes. That's brutal.

Below are pictures from Monday. Ack! Sorry for the delay. They are taken from a "Te Matsuri" during recess at Shikaoi Sho Gakko. It translate as a "hand festival". The older students have done a great job creating fun games for everyone to play all week. Balancing, ring toss, bean counting and drawing, among other things. I tried my hand at a couple of events. Actually, I am the current record holder for the event illustrated directly below; the dama holding event. I was able to hold an amazing eight grams of beads in my right hand. My students are at a slight disadvantage being younger than thirteen but the grade sixes decided to let the record stand. I nearly bowed over with surprise and laugher when I heard my name announced for it over the school's intercom.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Day that Was

Saturday, for the most part, was very busy; I can't remember one still moment until just before bed. My morning was filled with cleaning, yard work, and shopping; a rather uninteresting coupling void of photogenic moments. Two long distance phone calls Saturday morning was a surprise; I think people are starting to figure out that it's the only time that I am consistently home. It also turned out to be a beautiful day and I was lucky to have an excuse to spend it all outside. There was a small BBQ in honor of those that are returning home for local foreign English teachers at Tokachi Ecology Park. As a testament to the power of the internet to connect we were treated to fresh real all-beef mail-order hamburgers and hot dogs, also present the fresh buns needed to complete the sandwich. Everything was just like you could buy at Safeway. I think I am starting to lose it here when such simple things impress me so much. I haven't had a hamburger since last year and I committed a very sinful gluttous act by eating three. I think the real high moment of the afternoon - which also happened to be miraculous in my opinion - was the appearance of real Bull's Eye BBQ sauce someone brought back from Canada. We went through two bottles of the stuff; but you must understand one can't even find the taste of real smoky tangy BBC sauce here. It was a great afternoon with everyone huddling in the shade the only tree near the BBQ sharing information and blowing off some steam.

My evening was filled with the First Annual Rock Jam held outdoors. Lights, sound, a stage, fireworks had all been set-up on the lawn of the Country Papa restaurant. Outdoor folk music festivals are a soft spot for me and I was quick to settle down on the ground to listen to the music - which I won't even attempt to describe (except to say that it's as if only a small cross section of 60s Rock n' Roll made it over here, for example; instrumental surfer rock). Local events like the Rock Jam in Shikaoi are always a lot of fun because there are always a lot of people I know. Lots of kids too, of course, to play with; many had come with their parents to see the fireworks. We decided to stop in on our way home at Nizen, a small local pub (I really wanted some of his garlic fried onigiri), which was packed - predictably - with people Kevin and I knew from Shikaoi. Lots of nice shoes too at the Rock Jam but am I not at liberty to reveal who's.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Update: Something to Look At.

I have taken the time this morning to review yesterday's post and add text. Even the small amount of text I offer will make the images seem much less absurd. Sorry for the delay. The first image (above) is of the corner of Urimaku Elementery School as I arrived Friday morning.

Here are a group of grade one's that offered me a couple of tomatoes during lunch time that they had grown for a science experiment.

But I actually ate lunch with the grade twos that day.

We had summer vegtable curry rice for lunch. Above is a before and after composite image.

The above image was taken by a grade two of "Whitey", the class bear puppet. His attendence to lunch is unknown to me. The last image below is just a small image of Japan through my eyes.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Who Thinks This is Funny?

I was sent an e-copy of a book by some local Tokachi English teachers. It is interesting for several reasons: It was written in 1879 and it deals with learning Yokohama-dialect Japanese (the area just south of Tokyo) . I am not sure who will find this funny. From my perspective as an advanced student of Japanese I laugh in wonder at how he came up with some of his translations and the constructions there of. There too far off to be of any help. Readers with little knowledge of the Japanese luggage may find little of interest, but I could be wrong. I would like to strongly caution against using the link as any sort of guide to learning Japanese; an infinite number of monkeys writing a Japanese textbook will probably get you closer to conversational Japanese. I took some pictures today and I will try to get them up later.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Baseball in Japan

Now that Shikaoi Elementary School's short baseball season is over I thought I would share my experiences playing baseball in Japan. Japan's dedication to baseball is well known in the West. It was a proud moment this year when Japan stood supreme at the World Baseball Classic. My season was only two games which makes it possible to write a full account of each game. I had no idea how many games our season involved and I only had an inkling - abet a scary one - of what the Japanese thought of baseball, when I jumped at the opportunity to play with my peers on Shikaoi Sho Gakko's baseball team. We call it "Yakyuu", which translates as baseball, but what is in reality for us what we call softball. In any case, I was surprised after playing Kevin and Shikaoi Junior High School (not to make it sound like he was leading them) to learn that that had been our last game of the season. I'm glad I remembered my camera which I had forgotten the first game. I think the last picture turned out well.

I can't give a complete comparison between baseball in Japan and baseball in Canada because in my youth I had little interest in baseball. This has continued into the present. Some sports are better to play then to watch, like soccer: I much rather play soccer then watch two teams battle to a scoreless tie. Sports like curling are enriched though the television medium. Baseball, on the other hand, is neither attractive to watch nor play to me; the difference here being that I was playing with friends. A full study of baseball's history in Japan makes clear there is a deep connection between the game of baseball and Japan's inner psyche (to which I am clueless).

On a scale of seriousness - one being not very serious and ten being near professional - the division we were in contained a range of teams. I would peg Shikaoi Sho Gakko a one; we were only in it to have a few laughs. The first team we played was Tsumei, a smaller community northwest of Shikaoi proper. These guys were killers, real robots. I think they even held practices. This is the game I refer to below and blame on the fog. The only reason I will mention the score now is because it really was quite humorous. We lost 19-2. Ouch. Now in hindsight I just blame the lose on bad luck, of which there was lots to go around. But if you don't take it too seriously no one gets hurt.

Shikaoi Junior High School was much more relaxed about such things and thus the second game was much closer. Still it was a lose. My whole methodology while playing baseball was two fold; not to make any big mistakes to lose the game and, secondly, not injure myself, which I am more than capable of doing even though it's only a community sport. I actually pitched for the first inning of the second game (there were only three innings and Kevin was pitching for the Junior High School) and did quite well. Letting in only four runs before mercifully pitching enough fly balls to end the inning. The local diamond where we played was nicely equipped. Playing under the bright lights made it feel like the big leagues. There were also four umpires, one at each base, of which I was able to raise the eyebrows of each individually with a mix of my foreign strangeness and completely beginner status. I also owe a big thanks to the first and third base coaches, without which I would never had made it around the bases to make my first run ever.