Tuesday, January 30, 2007

From the I'm not dead dept.

I had a really interesting day and it's too bad I have no time to share it. There is blue sky here at the moment but it's obliviously snowing in the mountians which can or cannot make it here, depending on the weather. I'm not sure how much snow has fallen because it has stayed to warm the last couple of days and the snow has packed down quite a bit.

Monday, January 29, 2007

From the Snowing Dept.

This is kind of interesting: it's snowing here. Not surprising. Until I checked the weather forecast. It has been lightly snowing all day, probably since early this morning, and only now is everyone realizing how much snow has accumulated. Looking at the forecast, it's the same predicted light snow into Thursday. Thursday! I don't think I will recognize Shikaoi when the snow stops. But of course, there is no guarantee this forecast is even remotely accurate.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Beware of Carrots

I took a layer clear off my finger last night while peeling a carrot. It was superficial but sure hurt. I'm not sure how it happened, but next time I will be using full-body chain mail. I don't care how inconvient people say it will be. In other news, the grade twos were quite charming today when we were studying vehicles. My group of four boys were obsessed with going everywhere in Shikaoi by rocket. "Let's go to 7-11!" "Let's go by Rocket!" Lastly, I have my plate full with a project for the elementary school. That should be finished on Wednesday. I have decided to work on a photo essay too, so if posts are scarce, you know why. It's not because I've lost my hands due to a tragic goldfish training accident; I'm just working.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Normally I seek comfort in tea, but for some reason I woke up this morning craving coffee. There's really no opportunity to drink coffee here other than the sour instant stuff found everywhere. (Yes, its really sour. Blah.) There are a couple of small owner-operated type places in Obihiro keeping the tradition of making fresh coffee alive - the real deep flavored, bitter-type stuff that's made right in front of you. Also, Starbucks is rather consistent globally, and I can imagine one day galatically, in the quality of its coffee. I hesitatingly started drinking Starbucks and still think when I return to Canada I will continue to support small local coffee shops, but for now my need for a decent cup of coffee trumps all. Anyone who's had the oppurnity to go into lots of Starbucks globally has had the eerie experience of noticing that they're all the same internally; bringing a superficial homogeniality to a world that really is quite different where ever you go. Ah, Globalization you can walk right into. Discovering small indie coffee shops is so much better because they still allow whimsy, wit and playfullness to exist. This may be a contentious statement in the high-stakes coffee debates of the world, but this morning the brand I really desire is Tim Hortons. I know you can get it in tins, but I like the way the stores do it. My order is a large double-double. It's probably one of only experiences I consider uniquely Canadian (which is a lot, coming from me, I think). Anyways, I don't want to leave the reader with questions, so I will just note that I'm drinking loose tea as normal.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Wow, I blinked and it was Friday. This week went by very fast. It seems like just the other day I was waking up to another Monday morning.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


This post signals the return to a more normal update routine. I had wanted to do a large photo post but this week is turning out to be too busy.

Upon entering the staff room at Urimaku Junior High School today after fourth period it was hard not to notice the crowd of teachers surrounding the TV. This was very uncharacteristic. As it turns out, one of the student's mother was making an appearance on a Japanese variety show. The family is well known in the area for having nine (9) children. I teach four with the rest going to high school. A couple of years ago before I came, NHK, the national broadcaster, did an hour long documentary on the family. I have never seen the documentary in question, but know the style well. Take a boring, everyday subject and make it serious with the use of a dramatic announcer and foreboding music. Today's variety show is very popular in its lunchtime time-slot. Nothing really happens; famous people stop in, talk to this guy who always wears sunglasses, and everyone tries far too hard to be funny. I'm not really a fan. Today, there were two teams of four stars each. The famous people are a mixture of really famous people and people that use to be famous but now make a living going from variety show to variety show that choke the Japanese TV dial. Anyways, the mother, whom I think should be called a super-mother for rising nine great kids, was a part of a game where the teams guessed how many kids they had. At the end, a picture was shown of the family and I saw my students on national TV. This is the family's second brush with fame, but the kids are very well grounded. I had been teaching her son just moments before the show went live.


It pains me sometimes how beautiful Japan is. I can’t stand the thought that one day this part of my life will be over. To explain this, I want to share a habit I've developed. For me, there is no comparable joy in the world to simply staring out the window watching Japan pass by on a train. Nor is there an experience quite as symbolic in Japan as the Shinkansen; history and modernity combined in a way I have always found attractive.

The history of bullet trains in Japan spans back to the 1960s which means by now the technology has blended seamlessly into society. While some of the novelty has worn off, the convenience and efficiency has not. The cost per ticket is quite high, but not when you factor in the time spent getting to airports hours away from city centers where Shinkansen punctually glide to a stop every couple of minutes. Add to this the fact you aren’t treated like prisoners when boarding; gone is the need to show up two hours early. Five minute—no, three minutes—is more than enough. Ample leg room; a smooth, quiet ride; and a view of Japan that is breathtaking makes the Shinkansen a travel destination in-and-of itself.

The technical specs are astonishing. Think about this: Throughout 2005 on the Tokaido line all Shinkansen were only late an average of an astounding 12 seconds. The top speed reached on commercial lines is 300 km/h (reached south of Tokyo) though a more normal cruising speed is a—still respectable—260 km/h. The Shinkansen are no longer the fastest trains in the world, with trains in France and China just slightly edging out the Shinkansen in top speed. However, the finite limit has not been reached yet, with these same commercial Shinkansen in private experimental tests reaching speeds of 443 km/h. But enough dazzling the reader with numbers.

A basic element of the Shinkansen design is that the track is elevated throughout most of the country. Functionally, this means there are no controlled crossings. As you can imagine, a vehicle collision with a Shinkansen at 300 km/h would mean the end of the program. Also, because so much of where the Shinkansen goes is through densely populated areas, the speed, danger and, most importantly, noise, is raised far above people’s heads. Elevated tracks cutting swaths through town and country alike may seem like a urban design guru’s nightmare, but when living here the kind of visual clutter than comes with high population density becomes an oddly normal and comforting backdrop to daily life. Of course to me, the value I draw from the elevated tracks is the view; fit for an king.

I’m old enough now to respect that not everyone’s going to appreciate the joy I get from cruising across Japan staring out a window. Maybe some will take solace in the train’s smooth and quiet ride. I believe the view from a Shinkansen has no equal. Some of it is due to my love of architecture; observing the sprawling urban design that textbooks can never seem to anticipate. I also appreciate that some of the views can never be captured—a city confidently crawling its way up the side of a mountain; endless apartment buildings as far as the eye can see lit in the low golden angle of the setting sun—blink… and the views are gone. Try all you want, search forever, the scenes can’t be duplicated. It shares this same fleeting quality with live music; when even the record can’t capture how you remember it or why you thought it was great. I guess somehow I’m deeply content with the transient nature of the experience.

So much of what happens in Japan is intangible, but I want to try make the reader understand. One of the greatest experiences I have had yet in Japan is seeing Mount Fuji from the Shinkansen. Again drawing on the theme of old and new, it continues to blend those two disparate elements. I remember waiting for what seemed to be the longest tunnel ever to finish while listening to The Hives’ “Hate to Say I Told You So.” Suddenly, the train bursts into the morning sunlight again, and though I have never laid eyes on Fuji-san before, I knew immediately I was looking at the legendry Mount Fuji. It was a poignant moment; me wrapped in a technological bubble, viewing something scared.

I have this ideal image of the Shinkansen seen from a distance, raised above a perfectly green carpet, moving effortlessly at a great speed. All I can compare it to is like a white dragon flying across emerald green fields; and so gracefully as to be nearly unbearable. The idea of me inside the belly of this beast has always enamored me. I hope others heed my advice and skip Tokyo Disney to by tickets for the Shinkansen.

I have uploaded some images of my experience, some of which have been here posted previously, but these can be opened to a larger size if clicked.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Daitukoji is the head temple complex of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism located in Northern Kyoto. It’s the school of Buddhism that believes—pow!—one day, in one instant, you can just suddenly attain enlightenment. I say “complex” because Daitokuji is really a series of temples. In order to set up my experience, and small brush with fame, I wanted to address the type of day it was. It’s important to realize that Daitokuji is still a working temple. The area has seen nearly 500 years of continuous use. In a neighborhood of temples separated by high walls and narrow streets, life moves on like it always has. Monks’ small cars sit by gates and locals cross the complex carrying groceries; all this is done like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Dense bamboo groves section off areas. White walls with carefully tiled roofs line the streets. Large ancient trees tower over every structure.

Between traveling during the New Years period and Daitokuji being a working temple complex—other than the locals—My brother and I pretty much had the whole complex to ourselves that day. Add to this lonely setting the fact it was raining and everything was seen in the dramatic light of grey skies. The rain dampened the sound of our foot steps and blocked out the noise of modern society. Exploring in freedom, not tied to any one destination but just aimlessly wondering, we passed many temples, some with gates open but restricted access. My brother and I were enjoying just peaking past the entrance gates at the beautiful Japanese gardens that lay beyond. I remember clearly that even in the ominous light of a rainy day the gardens looked so colourful; saturated with greens and the deep colours of fine stone and aged wood. A damp earthy smell filling our nostrils. Fresh air that extended into one’s soul. And such perfect architecture!

Seeing teahouses and delicate bamboo gates, stone paths and gracefully curved roofs, everything was designed to trigger feelings harmony and peace in the viewer. Of course the monks would claim these sights were simply existing—nothing more—and certainly nothing to be celebrated or fussed over. In our modern age we have created a habit of always being plug into things such as iPod’s, laying out a soundtrack to our lives, or viewing life through the lens of a digital camera. But between the rainy skies and ancient architecture, to bring that personal technology here seems irreverent.

After a time exploring in the rain I just had to get inside somewhere and warm up. I followed the signs to Daisenin ; a safe bet because I knew the kanji “dai” meant big. Daisenin is one of the most celebrated gardens in Japan, loving laid out in 1509 by unknown monks (in association with Kyoto’s other famous Zen garden at Ryoan-ji). Ducking under several sturdy gates meant to frame views of the gardens, following the path of square cut stones that have known centuries of visitors, and past neatly trimmed trees representing life size examples of bonsai, we came to the entrance and the ubiquitous step up. It was quickly evident from rows of empty shoe shelves that the throngs of summer visitors were absent and we would have the temple practically to ourselves.

It turned out to be an ideal choice because the ordered Zen garden, which surrounded the temple on four sides, could be viewed from under a roof that overhung the veranda. Textbooks note how the rocks and fauna of the garden mimic a real landscape, and the whole garden is a metaphor for a human’s passage through life. But on that day in December, these things were far from my mind. The subtly of the garden is nearly lost of visitors coming in from the 21st century with its rock music and airplanes and food processors. I have always enjoyed Japanese gardens for their ability to be highly planned but look incredibility natural. It’s a trick of design that doesn’t seem entirely rational or studyable.

After viewing the garden and warming up slightly we were ready to leave. As we started for our shoes we noticed, sitting at a table, an old monk. He had definitely not been there when we entered. I had a simple but nagging question about the rock garden and was happy to have found the perfect person to ask. I guess it’s a sign my Japanese is slightly good because it triggered a whole conversation. I was nervous speaking to a superior with my pitiful Japanese; okay for the classroom but not good enough for someone who has dedicated their life to attaining enlightenment. It turned out to be alright because he knew some English—well, at least he could sing in English.

A couple of things struck me about his character I would like to share. In contrast to the stereotypical image we carry of monks—old, quiet, brow furled in deep thought, exuding wisdom—this monk was particularly happy. I cannot remember anyone so confident in the spirit of good. His joy at living was contagious and the gracefulness he exuded hit me like cold water. I was so happy to have met a real monk and working hard to show respect, I don’t remember much of the conversation. My brother, unaware of my struggle, was at leisure to look around.

After politely excusing ourselves for taking up so much of his time, touching on where we were from and why we had ended up there, to whether the design of the rock garden is changed periodically [no, it’s been like that for centuries but is raked everyday], we returned to the exit and our shoes; my spirits high after our chance meeting. It was only then that my brother brought up the question of who we had just met? I assumed it was just a monk from the temple but he had observantly picked up other clues; why was his image on postcards? Why was his picture on the cover of books at the table? Why was he signing said books? I had completely failed to pick these points but had wondered myself at his resemblance to the robes and hands detailed in a huge poster behind him about the temple’s Zen garden.

From these clues I later pieced together that we had met not just any monk but none other than the head of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism! Like meeting the pope at the Vatican. Even today I often turn over the experience in my mind; What brought him there that day when there were so few tourists to meet? It seems like the inexplicable workings of fate. Spooky, spine-tingling fate. It was the sort of experience to be treasured because of it’s rarity and difficulty to duplicate. It’s an experience that can’t be planned or summoned, it can’t be captured for upload to youtube.com, it has to be found accidentally, stumbled upon in loose wonderings, it shares many characteristics with the magic of live music, or Zen Buddhism for that matter, and I'm very grateful for it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Friday Post

It's Friday today; that's something to be happy about. I'm planning to badminton tonight and making it a priority to go for two long runs each day. It has been sunny all day with no wind but just as I am planning to go outside and watch my kids skate it has started to get overcast and windy. Other than that, another fine day to be alive. I'll finish the next installment from the trip tomorrow (hopefully).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

いちげんさん おことわり

This is the first in what I hope will be series of several long-form posts about my recent trip to Honshu. This post has taken a while to congeal and revolves around an exceptional meal I had in Kyoto. The experience’s simpleness and exclusivity (it was far off the tourist track) serves as an example of the living history they have in Japan until this day.

Well into my third year living in Japan, it’s hard to characterize how I now view the culture. I’m not jaded or bored, but it takes something very special to get me excited. I’m happy with this approach to travel because its offered a world of rare experiences. On the recent trip south, my younger brother excitedly dragged me into a 7-11 outlet near our hotel and then proceeded to not buy anything. I grimaced in disbelief. He simply wanted to see what was different. Somewhere along the way I’ve lost touch with some of the foreignness that surrounds me.

It’s universally known that Kyoto is steeped in history. I have always admired the Japanese ability to freezing an art at its apex of beauty and skill and continue it indefinitely in that state. Probably not as widely known is that Japan shares much in common with Italy in regards how food is celebrated in society.

Gion is an old historic district in Kyoto, remarkably well persevered, established when the imperial palace moved to Kyoto from Nara in 794. With a growing population due to the arrive of the court, there was a strong need for an entertainment district. Gion became the de facto center of the Geisha tradition. Just as surprising to this Canadian is that fact that the present look of Gion dates back some 400 years. In modern times Gion has been labeled high-end, naturally some more so than others, but tradition has a price.

Before the trip I had made inquires with friends about where the best washoku was to be found. I had it in my mind that I wanted to eat a very traditional meal in Kyoto. Finding a more accurate translation for “wa” is nearly impossible, it’s a word mixing elements of tradition, nature, humility, peacefulness, roughness and balance. “Wa” represents the spirit or power found in all Japanese arts. “Shoku” just means meal. So I will suggest “washoku” directly means “traditional meal”. But what does washoku consist of? Well, for starters it is extremely healthy; often focuses on balance and nature and is nearly as old as Japan itself. Washoku is all the things we can’t find at Japanese restaurants in Canada. The anchor of Japanese cuisine is quality ingredients; sharing with Italians the notion that if good ingredients are used, the resulting food can’t help but be delicious. Some adults in Japan strictly adhere to the old-style diet, something which I could never live on. But on the other hand, I do enjoy the substance and quality washoku offers.

There is a long established system of introduction in Gion restaurants that is a great barrier for both foreigners and Japanese alike. Any new patrons must be introduced by a previous customer. The system is called Ichigensan Okotowari and I had no assumptions or hopes that this would be the type of place I would be dining at. Between the labyrinthine streets of Gion and the introduction system, foreigners are rarely seen at these types of restaurants. Therefore, I think it was a great surprise to the chef that I wanted to eat traditional Kyoto cuisine. I must stop here and thank Mrs. Nakai for helping guide my brother and I through one of the most memorable meals of our lives.

Perhaps the reader up to this point has been imagining a type of palace staffed by Giesha, bowing as they brought course after course. Nothing could be further than the reality. And it’s this fact—that reality is actually so much cooler than I could have imagined—that made it such an exciting experience for me. The shop was small, hidden somewhere in the back streets of Gion. Signage is at a bare minimum on these streets. To find it again I would need a GPS reading. Tradition dictates that it only serve 8 people a night at it’s long wooden counter. This is possible because there is only one person working, the master. Supposedly he’s quite famous, with cooking books and such, but thankfully no line of salad dressings or reality TV appearances. I can completely attest to his skill, however, which will become evident. To me, he seemed like the type of guy I could go for a beer with.

In an interesting twist to the service industry, because of the chef’s high stature, we had to humbly present ourselves. This is in contrast to the normal restaurant environment where we are all accustom to having the staff at our beckon call. As a result, I felt guilty for leaving dirty dishes.

Washoku—and particularly at this restaurant—engorging yourself on food is not an option. The food is sparse and focused but I didn’t leave hungry; I left very content, in fact. As it has been explained to me, Kyoto cuisine touches on several key things: simpleness, balance, etc. But it also reaches out to all five of the human senses, and here, I would argue, the chef was a master. Everything was subtly laid out to surround the diner.

One could hear the tinkering and chopping of the chef behind the counter. The clinking of dishes and glasses that accompany a friendly meal. Something could be heard bubbling in the distance. The sense of smell was also playfully employed by the chef. Citrus and earthy smells; everything inviting, and fresh, and ingeniously executed. The chef was conscious how each bite of food should feel in the mouth. The texture of the tableware itself was also cleverly addressed with spoons wrapped in string or bowls left unfinished. And it was a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach: Every dish or bowl beautifully hand crafted. I really believe the fine tableware was the canvas he worked on. And then once the food was arranged on it—wow—it simply looked too good to eat. Again, just poignant, startlingly simple arrangements. There’s really not much one can say about the taste without experiencing it for themselves. I will point out, however, how well balanced the flavors were; never too strong, perfectly controlled, presenting a depth of flavor, and always thoughtful. Mind-bogglingly good.

Several types of deep sea fish were served along side exotic Japanese vegetables in several courses. Quality too is key, with even normal vegetables looking so well cared for its possible the farmers stayed up nights in conversation with the vegetables to coax them out of the ground. Everything, of course, used in season and cooked to perfection.

To experience Japanese cuisine like this, in a small shop, run by a nice man behind the counter, was beyond my imagination. More magical than a movie. In Japan, tradition is still very much alive, in contradiction to how we often view history as static. I think this is a very important fact about Japanese culture.

Lastly, I would also like to extend my thanks to my Grandma M. for helping to subsidize this culinary adventure. The cost of the meal was marginal considering the quality of the ingredents and the skill of the chef balanced between the small size of the whole operation.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Digital Rights Management in Canada

As reported widely across the Net recently, the government is planning to bring Canadian copyright laws into the 21st century by striking down fair use requirements. This transforms Canada from being a nation who has consistently dragged its collective feet on the issue into a state of being one of the world‘s strongest protectors of digital rights. For what follows, lets take it as fact I don’t condone illegal music downloads. This is an honest position because I value the sound quality CDs provide. There are several innovative and intelligent approaches of updating copyright laws one could take. Looking at the country it is easy to recognize that technology has changed how the citizenry uses the very culture surrounding us.

The Conservative government has taken the exact opposite approach, and if they’re feeling particularly honest, they would admit it’s a play right from big media conglomerates. The planned laws are simply draconian. The proposed changes are unnecessarily broad and choke creativity in ways that are an affront to common sense. Nor does the policy represent the views of a majority of Canadians or musicians. It’s frustrating to be dictated the terms of innovation by governments and media companies instead of by what seems to come naturally from technology. Pile onto this questions of free speech and we have a big ol’ mess.

Fair use is an important factor in all this. In any rational universe, fair use means that if you legally purchase a CD (or DVD) one can do pretty much do whatever they want with it (short of putting it up on the web for redistribution or making and selling illegal copies of course). It is fair to assume the consumer has well grounded expectations for the freedom to play that media on any chosen device. The governments seeks to stop this practice. Ripping CDs for personal use is banned. Backing up one’s own CDs, say maybe to take to Japan, will be outlawed. Did the government feel a strong need to make every citizen a criminal? Maybe the very fact it touches every citizen negatively should suggest a serious reevaluation of their approach is needed? Furthermore, this type of legislation attempts to steer technological innovation and tinker with the free market by limiting access to products that have useful legal daily applications (like backing up hard drives).

I think it’s common sense, but the government is suggesting: If you by Brand A rice you, by law, have to use Brand A rice cooker. Cooking rice on the stove will no longer be an option for the consumer. A creative person could find an unlimited number of absurd enjoyable analogies from daily life if they were so inclined.

Why are other firms and numerous people able to harness technology creativity for profit? This could be a music company’s biggest opportunity ever, but they are squandering it by suing music fans. Upon hearing so many small Canadian bands ecstatic with free internet distribution of their albums globally, it occurred to me the situation is thus: The big five music companies have simply been unable to tap into the movement. They want to crush the industry because they are not the ones making the profit; in fact a large community of local artists are making the profit. With a torrent’s ability to distribute a studio-quality lap-top made album, big companies aren’t even in the picture. And only smaller groups are nimble enough to find secondary forms of revenue. I would warn against investing in media companies with their bloated legal departments. A recent incident in London shows the absurd lengths that media companies are now willing to go; trotting out some 30 dead musicians to sign a petition against illegal downloading. Who do they think they’re fooling? John Lennon steps to the mic: “Yes. It was my solemn dying wish for Sony Music to forever own, protect and solely profit from my music.”

This seems to follow a similar trend in software. The Apple brand may have a slogan of “Switch,” but with the release of the iPhone cement themselves into a locked system; stopping the use of third party apps and the ability to switch carriers. This simply translates as less completion in the free market and gradually worse innovation and products. This follows black predictions about Microsoft’s new Vista OS, which some executives are stating “could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history.” (<— real executive quote!) Besides the fact that the Vista OS is designed to be paranoid in regard to hacker attacks, boarding on schizophrenic, thus making the OS unstable to the point of barely being functional, the limits placed on the user are unimaginable and burdensome. This is all at the behest of media companies trying to protect their property. Which is fine by me, but I would like to point out it has had an unintended negative effect on the direction of technology; far from being more innovative, technology is being purposely crippled. Linux in all this is growing like a wild fire. They have a completely open market, but in a twist of 100 years of mainstream economics, don’t work off the principles of competition, but cooperation.

I don’t expect anyone to go out and do anything. I just thought I would share.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sunday Dinner

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

The upside of making a large dinner for one is that there is always leftovers. Such is the case when I made myself pesto pasta last night with the pesto and pasta I had bought in Sapporo. It was very good if I do say so myself. And it will be even better the second day! I was surprised by the number of pots and dishes I used to make a simple pasta. But I guess if I am the only one cleaning up the point is moot. A quiet Monday here in the office so enjoy the picture.

Value for Yen, Music, and other issues.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

I’m just doing some Sunday writing now and I wanted to share my thoughts on something that made me very happy when I got home last week from my Honshu travels. It surprised me because it had not been missed at all while I was away. It never crossed my mind what was missing. That something would be my hi-fi music system. Sean and I had been decked out with every conceivable electronic gadget (except GPS) while we crisscrossed Japan, this included a sizable roll out of digital audio players.

Upon the first quiet moment to myself at home I brought out the Bob Dylan disk I picked up in Sapporo. I realized just how much happiness this hobby brings me. In my opinion the hobby of hi-fi is mostly passive, either listening to music or gathering up every scrap of information to be able to search out the products of best valve. Hi-fi gear is not an uphill battle, as is often assumed (though the law is diminishing returns is a painful fact). Technology is constantly raising the bar for what one’s dollar can buy and hi-fi gear is generally so well build that second or third hand gear is normally indistinguishable sonically from brand new.

Listening to Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft through my headphone set-up did not invite the singer into my living room; it was more like he was playing in my head! A private concert of sorts. I am rewarded by learning through experience my headphone’s own signature. What jumped out at my after wondering through the electronic stores of Japan is that my phones present an enormous amount of detail; voices and instruments are locked in a definite space and harmonies are natural. Lastly, the sound is very smooth and quick which leads to – very importantly to me – a very musical presentation.

This leads to my warning: Never get involved in high-end audio! It’s an addiction! An appetite that can never be satisfied! A scratch that can never be reached! One’s ears start to hear the smallest of defects and the mind wonders wildly about the endless sonic possibilities. However, for the moment at least, I am content. And thoroughly satisfied with every penny spent inviting Bob Dylan, Radiohead or The Avalanches into my head.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Earthquake Update!

In an extremely anti-climatic update - wait for it - about the recent massive 8.3 earthquake that hit north-east of me at 1:24 PM this afternoon... a siesmic event that by all standards should have been easily felt... but was somehow completely missed by me. I am 99% sure that at the time I was driving to the sports center for a run. Sorry. Absolutely no cool/heroic/survivalist stories to pass on. Oh! Maybe this - the road was more bumpy than normal... that's something... but that could have been the icy road conditions too.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

To my new new readers

I'm thrilled to have so many Australian readers lately but please show yourself! The suspense is killing me. My connection to Australia is about nil so it has all become a riddle to me. I'm sure the answer will be completely underwhelming (my guess is just a changed blog search algorithm somewhere) but the curiosity is more than I can take!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Weather and NHK News

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

As most places on earth are approach 100% accuracy 48 hours out, Shikaoi continues with notoriously inaccurate forecast, an above average example of which I have been presented with today. It has been overcast and snowing lightly since I got up this morning but all yesterday and today the forecast has stated a clear and sunny day. I have included a screen grab from yahoo weather to illustrate my point. Remember that it's snowing at this exact moment! Love it. How's anyone ever support to plan a picnic?

Also in the news today is that the government will pass a law making payment mandatory of the fees to the national TV broadcaster NHK (like Canada's CBC). This is a fun topic for foreigners to discuss, not so much because it's insightful of Japanese culture, but because of the pure absurdity of the issue. The monthly fee has been for decades mandatory, but in since the 90s there has been a steady increase in the number of people who refuse to pay - as in about everyone... One element that is especially unsetting to foreigners it that you are made to pay even if you never watch NHK. Somehow this strikes my Japanese coworkers as logical. To continue, part of the problem lies in the archaic way NKH collects fees. They still send people out door-to-door like they're selling vacuums. It's old school, but they're not doing it to be cool, especially in an age where one can pay bills on the Net. Due to this structure it was revealed in several cases - one of which is very famous with which I am best familiar: It was a case of fraud where someone went around for eleven (11) years and collected over five (5) million dollars in fees from unsuspecting, but honest, people. That was his job. $5, $10 at a time. Year after Year. Door-to-door. Defrauding people. There was a big show and security was tightened but the damage was done. Also in the nineties, continuing really, there are been many high profile cases of either waste at the network or down right theft by the producers, directors, and management. All of this passed with basically no punishment of anyone. If this was a private company it would already be in a hole in the ground under dirt. The population, quite rightly in my opinion, has refused to pay for a service they don't watch nor pay fees only to have their money squandered. Perhaps within the government the issue has been coming to this point for many years. In an odd move, however, they made the announcement from Indonesia, leading some on the Net to suspect they wanted to make Indonesians paid for the service.

Last year when the NHK guy came to my door I put him in such a state of shock he kindly gave me the little NHK sticker to put above my door that means I paid. I am a good Japanese. I will no longer be harassed by NHK and I can watch documentaries on Tofu in peace.


Only a beautiful whif of snow last nite. Just enough to cover everything in a sheet of virgin white snow. It also happen to cover up the mirror finish on road I noted early. The snow did nothing to help the slipperly roads except to hide it's deadly surface. It also made walking from my car door to work an excellent ballance test. Which I passed! While carring my laptop. It sounds from the Net that Alberta is having all sorts of weather fun.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Passport Fun

Two Things have made me tired. This morning (no classes) I spent time in the office trying to sort out how to renew my passport. I also need help from Japanese Immigration because of the work visa. What a mess. Any order I decide to do it makes extra problems somewhere else. The whole thing feels like a riddle. Also started grade two kanji and the text is much harder for me. More reading. More mind-bending vocabulary. I can't help but wonder how they expect kids to do this thing. I feel exhausted at the moment. I plan a long run after work today. And don't worry about that razor sharp jagged ice on the road mentioned in an earlier post. By now it has been polished to a mirror finish by car tires and warmer weather.

Monday, January 08, 2007


You know what's weird? Going over the stats, recently I have noticed that there has been a large influx of Australians to the site. This is strange because I don't know any Australians! And I would like to know some so please drop me a line in the comments. They're spread out over the land too, I don't get it. I must have been re-ranked higher in some Australian blog search engine. Also, there is one persistent reader from Wein, Austria. Welcome! And lastly, there are my always persistent readers from Malaysia, which has inspired me to learn a lot more about that country. Sadly, it's not really a place for Canadians; far too hot and humid, I would melt.

Back To Work

I just came back from the first town staff meeting of the new year. Some of town staff still look haggard from the storm over the weekend. The slush on the roads has now frozen; the jagged upward stabbing shards of ice would be beautiful if not razor sharp. All the cars in Shikaoi sound like they are driving on broken glass. In an effort to introduce some much needed humor into Shikaoi today, I wanted to point readers in the direction of some very funny reviews for milk on Amazon.com. It's bizarre reading and I suggest digging a bit to find the best ones. Ah, internet hi-jinx at its very best.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Big Post

Lots of interesting things to reveal this update; though notably not connected with my recent holiday south. I will work backwards from now until yesterday, stating; I’m fine now. I’m typing to you from a warm house. Cozily sipping tea while I sit. As I noted yesterday about my car trip back from the train station it had been snowing lightly. Sometime while I was sleeping peacefully things turned nasty here - across much of Japan actually. A storm hit and the wind picked up enough by 6 AM to wake me up. Also the noise of snow removal was loud but comforting. 32 cm of the wettest snow imaginable over night! The temperature was a bearable +2 but it turned that 30 cm of snow into 15. It was hard to concretely say if the roads were “snowed over” or “under water”.

Going to bed early the night before, I hoped to be up early to tackle my many neglected chores. Waking up early I noticed the power had been out during the night. It was still very early but while lying in bed the power went out again. No problem though, it returned just as quickly a second time. However, not soon after that it went out a third time. I looked pensively at my alarm clock waiting for it to blink back on again but I had a strong feeling it was not going to come back on again anytime soon. I was right. Eight hours later power was restored to the town of Shikaoi. My day marked by both complete boredom and getting nothing accomplished. Oh, lets not forget how cold my day was. The only thing warm about it was clearing my driveway of the slush. Most of Shikaoi will continue to clean up tomorrow. It was fun watching all the different types of snow come down. Early on it had been sort of an deadly snow going horizontally with the wind. The rainy periods were distressing and the ice pellets note-worthy. Slushy snow and big fluffy type snow were also noted in my yard. I normally enjoy non-fiction but with an open day before me with no high-speed internet, no computer, no TV, and no tunes I turned to a Grisham novel Sean left that I new offered the best chance at holding my attention for several long hours. I was right, and so wearing all the clothes I owned under several blankets I peacefully sat and read after making tea on the stove. I was a bit distressed because this can be a dangerous situation in Canada and I didn't really understand what was going on.

Sean, with the help of the gods, made it out of Japan before all this hit, including various train and airport delays across the country. I am still asking myself why I didn’t just stay in Sapporo the extra night but it was fun digging out the candles and wondering how I would use my gas stove to make pasta in the dark. I have attached above a picture from Chitose airport directly before we hugged and he departed leaving me to a cold house and no lights. By now I have received word that Sean is safely home and is hopefully sharing everything about our trip with those in Alberta.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Home and Homeward Bound

I am sitting typing to you from my quiet Shikaoi home again while it warms up. I want it to warm up fast. I'm trying to will it to warm up. Sean is flying home and by my calulations is somewhere over the pacific. I'm a bit tired but have a couple of days before I have to go back to work.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Last Day

Blogger is acting unpredictably across their network so I hope everyone is getting this.

We still have one more morning to spend in Sapporo. The weather is partly cloudy and looks as if it could snow or become sunny at any given moment. I'm out of money and clean clothes so it's definitely time for me to return to Shikaoi and all the things I've neglected. Hopefully I will also have a chance to have Starbucks one more time before I take the train back. I also wanted to add that the Sapporo TV Tower pictures were taken the day before yesterday (Thursday) and not yesterday. Yesterday, Sean and I feasted on Genjis-kan barbecued lamb and were then introduced to an awesome hole-in-the-wall cocktail bar by Mr. Suginome. The yaki mochi, sort of a grilled rice, was esspeically good. Mochi is mashed rice and is normally eaten over the New Year's holiday. However, some how Sean missed that experience but we were able play catch up at Yamagoya.

Sapporo TV Tower

One of the best views of Odori park lit up for winter is seen from the Sapporo TV Tower which sits at one end. Sean, me and Mrs. Suginome took the 500 Yen ride to the top. The picture hardly does it justice.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Blogspot is acting very slow this morning so bare with me.

Yesterday included a special train ride to Sapporo from Shikaoi on the Ski Express Train. I didn't know what to expect as it was a special booking made with my blessing by our travel agent. I don't have any problem with the normal express trains used on that route. They have always been quiet, roomy, fast and efficient. But the Ski Express, meant to whisk skiers home to Sapporo from the interior mountain hills in uber-comfort and style was a fun experience. The train sat higher, had a window ceiling and displays showing the view from the front of the moving train. This was not as interesting because my travel agent had also taken care to reserve us seats at the very front of the train which included a view out of the huge windshield of the train. Lots of room for skis and bags too. Very fun!

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

For dinner in Sapporo we were treated, with our friends the Suginome's, to the famous Ebiten in Susukino. Home to the universally acclaimed handmade tempura (not the frying part though). All of our spread was delicious, mind-boggling delicious - even the rice - but "ebi" means "shrimp" which means shrimp tempura is their specialty, all of it always cooked to prefection. I will find it hard to return to Canada and eat just normal shrimp; amazing texture and taste. I have a theory that Albertans that don't like seafood should have started in Japan first (but this has never been a problem in my family). I noted, to great laughter, that they must have fed the shrimp butter to make them taste so good. It was pleasant to leave the restaurant perfectly content, knowing one couldn't possibly desire anymore food; expect that we immediately entered the dessert shop next door.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Morning here in Shikaoi now. We went to Tori-sei last night and received quite a spread. Later today we are taking the train to Sapporo for two more days. Hopefully the weather will stay sunny. This morning, after packing, I will take sean on a driving tour around Shikaoi to all my school's. It will stand in stark contrast to all the dense population centers we visited in the sount.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Years Pictures

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

The updates have been scarce lately because some stuff came up - good stuff. On Monday, instead of a quiet day, we had a jam packed day with a surprise lunch invite that turned into an afternoon. The Mogami's are a very nice family in Shikaoi by Sasagawa which are very involved in the Stony Plain/Shikaoi exchange program. The highlight of the afternoon was a game of Karuta, a traditional Japanese game involving listening to a poem and carefully and quickly finding the matching tile. It was Sean and I versus two of the Mogami's grandchildren, both in grade two. I was in distress at first because the style of kanji on the tiles was very old and I could barely read it. But it soon became clear that they had trouble reading the characters too. Sean was pretty much total dead weight on our team. The game was intense and despite not being as uneven as I expected, I still lost to two grandchildren. From there a feast at the Usui's New Years day and a trip to an onsen yesterday with the Sakaguchi family which we all came away from relaxed and rested.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Years!

I nearly let today slip by without wishing everyone a Happy New Years. It seems neglectful of me because I have been told "Happy New Years" and "Ometeto Gozaimasu" all day. Talked to my parents in the morning by phone and from there have been eating myself into a coma.