Saturday, March 31, 2007

Creative is the best way to describe it

In this space for a change I thought I would post a neat little music video that is making the rounds on the internet, shaking things up for establishment. I have decided not to embed the link but it is on youtube, so be forewarned if you are the type who is easily distracted as aimlessly wondering youtube has been known to make minutes disappear into hours.

The quirky-uber-low-budge-running-treadmill-dance-routine-music-video has been chronically overlooked, until now that is! Ok Go has turned the music industry on its head by ignoring PR people, agents, talent scouts, lawyers - basically anyone that wears a suit for a billion dollar record company - and giving away their music only to be catapulted into youtube stardom through millions upon millions of views. Good on you Ok Go. And it a catchy song too! I'm still apprehensively holding my breath for this to be revealed as a viral marketing ploy but maybe I shouldn't be so cynical.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Earthqaukes in Japan Part 3

Part 1. Part 2

Architecture verusus Earthquakes.

There is enough I can say about this topic to warrant it's own essay, be that as it may, I will touch on some of the key points here.

It might be alarming to learn that the majority of homes in Japan are only designed to withstand a 7.0 on the Ritcher scale (with apartments and office towers being subject to slightly higher tolerances). This is despite the potential for a much bigger earthquake as we in Japan are waiting for the Big One. It’s important to consider the vast majority of large earthquakes every couple of years are only going to be in the 6.0 to 6.9 range, with thousands of smaller ones every year. A pragmatic analysis concludes all things being equal, there is little benefit of from every structure being able to withstand a 9.0: One, it may never come; two; it would cost a fortune; three, because of several variables, there is no guarantee it could withstand it anyway.

There is one basic element of earthquakes I have not yet discussed, while there are many scientific differences between a 7.0 and a 9.0 earthquake, one is directly applicable to architecture. The movement of the ground is roughly the same for both, however, a 9.0 earthquake can last much longer, with violent shaking occurring on for minutes. This can, in effect, almost liquefy solid ground.

The government has identified certain buildings as vitally important in the event of a large scale earthquake as such police and fire stations are subject to yet more rigorous standards. Also, some public buildings have been designated as emergency shelters after an earthquake, these include schools and public facilities (such as the Chomin Hall where I work). After the big one, it is expected that these buildings will still be standing.

How does this affect the architecture? This is what I am primarily interested in. In designing a structure to withstand an earthquake greater than 7.0 one needs either great strength or flexibility. In most modern examples, many gigantic reinforced concrete pillars are used, and to great visual effect I think. This is still not a perfect solution because the possibility exists during the Big One of the earth opening up and swallowing a structure.

A structure designed to these increased standards are easy to spot because they share a couple of common characteristics. More often then not, visually the buildings look low and strong. One can easily see the pattern of exposed concrete or, if covered, a careful eye can identify the support system. Personally I like unfinished concrete but I can understand how one might find it cold. I think a lot has to do with the amount of natural light in the structure, the partnering materials (such as wood) and in-floor radiant heating (if the feet feel warm the body feels warm). Metaphorically, the buildings look like they are resisting a great force from above, like a giant hand pressing down on it. But unlike the grey sagging facade of a large discount store, here the structure is pressing back—straining—but defiant. Overall, the impression is bold and expressive.

[Image: Above and to the left, one can see a small side entrance to Chomin Hall. Note the large lintel pattern etched in the concrete above the doorway to visually reinforce the strength and weight of the structure bending around the door. Directly below is an image of a reinforced concrete wall in Chomin Hall. Good lighting, so it doesn’t feel like a basement, is used in Chomin Hall. The last image is a wide angle shot of Shikaoi’s fire station. I think with careful study the reader can identify the characteristics I have discussed above. Sorry about the snow.]

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I would like to end on quick note about how ancient Japan dealt with building in a seismically active zone. Studying this topic in depth, I am always surprised that without modern scientific knowledge the Japanese discovered the perfect combination of materials and construction techniques to build effective earthquake-resistant structures and they happen to be the same techniques we use today. For example, Nara’s Horyu Temple is home to the worlds old wooden structure; a thousand year old pagoda. In modern times we have use a brute strength approach toward building earthquake-resistant structures, however, ancient Japanese builders harnessed flexibility. (Modern skyscrapers still employ this method). Wood is a great material to build with in an earthquake prone area because it is strong, light, and flexible. Next is a material not so much they did, but didn’t, use—nails. They were invented, of course, but if used in this manner nails would have made joints far too ridge in the event of an earthquake. A natural, effortless flexibility between post and joint is desired. Design was important too because careful planning could control the total amount of flexibility. Too little flex and the structure was at risk of being torn from its foundation and collapsing in an earthquake, too much flex and the structure was at risk for moving passed its center of gravity and toppling over. (Again, much the same problem is faced in modern skyscraper design but the Japanese did it without the help of computer models.)

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Earthqaukes in Japan Part 2

The first part of this series can be found here.

The Richter scale versus the Shindo scale

It may not be common knowledge in the West but Japan uses an entirely different scale to compliment the Ritcher scale. The Ritcher scale is based on physics and the measurement of momentum, while the Japanese "Shindo" scale is more functional, categorizing an earthquake's effects on a scale of 1-7. The Japanese scale is also useful for discribing seismic effects for any given area as an earthquake's effect lessen as distance from the epicenter increases. The Ritcher scale does not function this way.

Living as I have now for years in Japan, I have have experienced many earthquakes. Each of them is novel to me because I am a country hick, where such events fill my tiny brain with wonder and curiosity. If a small one does hit, I am normally the guy quickly on my feet afterward looking concerned, where as my coworkers just keep their heads down working.

Japan is as seismicly active as a country can be, and as I mentioned in part one, one of the most active areas is eastern Hokkaido. This is because the Pacific plate is pushing into the North American plate (on which Hokkaido sits). Japan unfortunately sits upon four different plates, thus, in someways Japan is lucky if the quake is only 7 on the Ritcher scale as this configuration of plates harbors the potential for much bigger quakes.

There are several different types of quakes. One is a sudden, sharp type movement due to a different type of energy wave propagation through the ground that I have never experienced. Most quakes I have experienced are under 3. They are characterized by a slow crescendo of movement building up and then tapering away. I have always associated them with a sound; like a deep bass tone from a sub-woofer, but the sound of an earthquake has never been recorded to my knowledge. The two biggest I remember just kept building and building and I didn't know at what point I was suppose to get under the kitchen table; after the dishes start rattling or after the windows start to rattling or after the walls start creaking?

When I stop to think about the power involved in earthquakes it's quite startling. That something hundreds of kilometers away could cause my house to move so easily is sobering.

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(Click to enlarge. The image is fine, the thumbnail is just screwed up. Notice how dark Japan is covered. Thanks for the pics Wikipedia!)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Earthqaukes in Japan Part 1

Sorry for not posting yesterday. I was writing other stuff so I think that's a good excuse. No topic jumped out at me to write about - until today - who doesn't like reading about wanton destruction?

So yes, Sunday morning there was quite a big earthquake in Honshu. Far away from Hokkaido but big enough to cause a collective poignant pause nationally here. I didn't see any coverage internationally, execpt on google news, but I have special filters set up to catch Japanese news so that doesn't count. If it didn't effect us here in Hokkaido and didn't make the news internationally, was it worth posting?

Ishikawa prefecture, where the earthquake struck, is located just north of the Kansai region, and constitutes a large peninsula under which the earthquake originated. Yes I love talking about this stuff because comparably Alberta is such a bore when it comes to seismic activity. I learned of the earthquake late. There were constant flashing updates across the top of the TV while I was watching the sumo finals because of the aftershocks. I think the total is up to around 400 aftershocks now, some of them quite significant in the 4-5 region, and experts predict them to continue throughout the week.

Watching a news program at lunch Monday I learned Ishikawa prefecture has always been a hot bed of seismic activity (as is Eastern Hokkaido). In the past 200 years they have had 8 earthquakes from 6.1-6.9. All of them located near land but quite deep. They showed an interesting graphic - which I have attempted to recreate (in two minutes) - that shows the distribution of the earthquakes. The eastside of Japan is technically more active but their are exceptions (due to complex tectonic plate relations under Japan) and Ishikawa prefecture is one of those areas.

Tomorrow I will type out how they measure earthquakes in Japan and how it affects architecture.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Where did Saturday Go?

Wow. Yesterday went by very fast with various errands and chores. My day ended up being very different that how I planned. Interesting days like that. Went for a run like I normally do on weekends at the Sport Center and met some of my students and weakly tried to play soccer with them after. So that was longer than expected. Also, in the morning I got invited out to dinner later that night with Hosono-Sensei (principal of the High School and all around good guy). That was a very pleasant surprise (and great yaki-niku).

Today was a lot slower. March is so sunny in Tokachi but today was weird weather. It looked rainy, like we were living on the ocean; this was accompanied by a very damp fog. It was odd because if one actually popped their head outside they would have discovered how amazingly warm and humid it was. No doubt a layer of warm air was trapped by cold air above. Everything that was wet - which included everything because it's Spring and the snow is melting - was eerily steaming. I thought it was quite moody and would have loved to have gone for a walk but by the time I got my stuff together the magic had slipped away to just overcast skies.

Also went for about a 1 hour 30 min run today (I reckon). I feel great but I worry about the narrow bends in the track. But the alternative of running on very hard pavement this summer is also concerning. What to do? sigh...

Oh and while shopping today I found great 100% whole wheat bread. It makes me happy because it's so rare here. I have been to that bakery many times before and have never thought to check that side of the shelf. Are you sitting down? I bought two loaves of six slices each for 300 Yen. Yikes! You can buy 20 or 30 slices of whole wheat at Safeway for around 99 cents. haha. I haven't tried it yet so I should reserve judgement.

In response to some comments:A Sobetsukai is a work dinner. It takes place only over this time period where the school year is over and many people are switching schools. It shouldn't be confused with saying-goodbye-to-the-old-year work parties or saying-hello-to-the-new-year work parties or the Obon festival work parties in August or the general welcoming and goodbye parties held throughout the year for staff or dinners after mini-volley ball or dinners after softball, etc. Looking at all the opportunities for work parties it's safe to assume that I'm pretty much busy most of the time with one dinner or another. It represents an interesting reflection on Japanese culture how much work obligations push into your own personal life. I think the frequent parties act to congeal team spirit and also act as a group relief valve or sorts. It's much harder to yell at someone in anger when you spend so much time outside work and have done rousing karaoke duets of The Rolling Stone's "Can't Get No Satisfaction" with them.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Gong Show

I really need to stop sitting in the office and reading runners' internet forums. It's disturbing (especially the injury pages). I feel really good today, no muscle pain whatsoever, but my knees have been feeling creaky lately. Maybe the weather is changing? No pain in the joins however, which is good news; if there was, I would stop running immediately, maybe for months. I think the creaky knees are more from badminton, where you need to change direction quickly, and with my tall frame it puts a lot of stress on my joints. Still something to keep a close eye on I guess. I think taking two days off in a row was a great idea, I probably haven't done that since the end of February. My body is definitely thanking me and I feel like it is building lots of new muscle. Back to the sports center tomorrow and this time for an easy run for sure.

I went to Kamihoronai's graduation ceremony this morning. That was a bit of a gong show I wasn't expecting. Last years was very civil but as soon as one of the two girls graduating started crying it wasn't long until all the other girls and parents were crying. After everyone was settled down again a favorite teacher that was leaving made a very moving speech about his recent illiness, that got everyone crying including some of the teachers. All in all, I feel very emotionally drained considering I sat stoically through all this.

Today is Friday!

I have a Sobetsukai tonight. It's kind of work related. I have many this time of year but this is one I'm looking forward to with teachers and PTA. Should be a gong show. I haven't missed too many badminton nights on Friday so I don't feel guilty.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Lots to report about the graduation ceremony I just came back from in response to some comments. (I have just enough time to blog before lunch.) A lot less crying this year than last. I was fearing the worst since the whole thing is set up as sort of a "pressure-cooker" scenario but in hindsight I knew my grade sixes were made of sterner stuff. You look at them as a group and know - just know - that everything is going to be alright. I don't know why I worried so much. One student did nearly faint near the beginning, just to stress my point about the "pressure-cooker scenario". He was alright after a bit but they wouldn't let him on the stage. They all had a bit of a "deer-in-the-headlights" look; having one-size too big junior high school uniform hanging off their frames, instead of filling them, probably didn't help. They all deserve a special dinner tonight in my book.


Nothing too extraordinary to report. I have been very happy recently with how my running has been progressing. I can't wait for Spring, then I can really start putting on the miles. Beforehand, I had set aside yesterday for what is typically classified as an easy run day (slow pace, only around an hour), but that changed once I was on the road. It was my first time outside this year, I will continue to run inside until all the snow is gone but I found the sun too tempting yesterday to pass up. Between it being a bit cold when I started out late in the morning and having the next two days off because I am busy, I decided to run hard and do hill training. There is a great hill near my house with a constant incline up of about 4%-6% for about 1km, so I ran up and down it for over an hour. I decided I am pretty good at hills. At the end of my run I was very tired and was sore for the rest of the day but today I feel great and my body has not rebelled. Running so hard as to have surprised even myself I treated myself to some potato chips while I watched sumo in the afternoon. I also saw the Usui's yesterday and made pasta for dinner.

Later this morning I am going to my grade six graduation which I think is going to be an emotional affair for the kids like it was last year.

Monday, March 19, 2007

What a day like this:

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I woke up to a very nice day today. Very very clear sies. Of course, the weather forecast had been for clouds but it was wrong again. I remember last March was like this too, just very sunny everyday. We made up for it with a rainy summer. Got to school today and had my whole schedule turned around without anyone telling me. Instead we ended up playing Canadain-style dogdeball in the gym, much to the students' delight. My three and fourth periods were cancelled for a small grade six grad, which was very upbeat in contrast to most grade six grads I go to. The principal said it was on purpose. There is still another event on Friday when they will receive their certificates. I can only assume it will be a more somber occaion. The whole day was giving over to the grads, which I guess is in order when you only have two girls graduating in a school of 14.

Does anyone know what a Tokyo Banana is? I also received one from a teacher that recently went to Tokyo. My thoughts: It tasted like a banana-flavored sponge but there is pudding in the middle (much to my surprised). I had never had them before but have seen ads and stalls for them on the metro in Tokyo.

Also, I got a big bonus today. I have been thinking all week how strange it is I don't have any classes tomorrow and it will mean a whole day in the office. I just chopped it up to being graduation season. But I was just reminded it's actually a holiday. I was planning to show up at the office tomorrow as usual. Needless to say, because I forgot it was a holiday, I have nothing planned.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Saturday's DJ Pics

DJing is such a great hobby. Some will be interested to know that about haft the tracks I played were Canadian Hip-hop. (Some of the world's best hip hop is coming out of Canada at the moment.) And three mush-ups: Jay-Z/Beatles aka DJ Danger Mouse's Grey Album; a Fregie/Cake's "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" mush-up; and a Jackson 5's "Because of You" remix. Great beats. I started the whole set with The Hives' world-eating "Hate To Say I Told You So." Here are the pics (click to enlarge):

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Taken before the event started. To the left you can see one of the co-promoters Matsui.

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Here is the other co-promoter and all around great guy Shinichi behind the decks.

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Me cuing up another dancefloor destroying track. I don't get to play loud music nearly often enough in Japan.

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Bret's got moves I can't even imagine.

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Good atmosphere.

Pic of the Night:

Gwendolyn acting... well... goofy. And yes, that garment can be bought in Japan!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

On my Radar:

Just sitting here in the afternoon sun, listening to my new acquisitions, and I thought I would share some of my upcoming schedule with my readers.

Tonight: Surprise! I am Djing at a small bar here in town. Lots of people coming out to see the festivities and if the predicted number comes - even half the predicted number - the place will be packed. Pics to follow.

Next Month: I am going to Hong Kong to meet my parents for 4 nights and 5 days. I should note that I have paid for the tickets.

May's Golden Week: A happy return to Koriyama. I have been away for far too long.

May'ish: Hokkaido travel with my good friend James, and my new friend Stef. I think it's just the excuse I need to travel to all the places I have been wanting to go but have never gone even though I live in Hokkaido.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I came to Blair's Blog on a Friday and all I got was this cool picture

Sugary Food

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Yes. I was dead right about the sugary food part. My grade sixes spent the better part of an afternoon making all manner of sweet foods, of which I was invited to try. Doughnuts, pancakes, ice cream sundays, etc. Sprinkles on everything. I can't believe how much food growing kids can pack away. I pity the parents these kids go home to because they will have to deal with super-hyper kids. Even I feel light headed. In the end, I forgot to take too many pictures. They are graduating soon and I had a lot of students I wanted to talk to. Here is an image of the aftermath. I think it was of the doughnut station.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

News From Yesterday

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I wanted to post this yesterday but never got around to it. It seems I have been invited to a party. When I came back to the office after class on my desk I found a handmade invation from my grade sixes. I am not quite sure what to expect but I was told I don't need to bring anything. I'm glad I had a good sleep last night. Loud games and sugary drinks sure to follow. I will report back.

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Coming into work this Morning

The Board of education office is on the left-wing of Chomin Hall.

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Special Note: Blogger's photo system is buggy today. Blogspot has been running so smoothly the last couple of months something was bound to happen.

Two Funny things about today

It's kind of late so pardon the brevity.

1) So I was driving back from the sports center after my run and on the radio came a cover of Ozzy Osborn's "Crazy Train." What surprised me was the singer's ability to turn the song into a catchy big-band version of the original. I was stunned - stunned - after the song was finished to learn that my radio was tuned to the local corporate-commercial J-pop channel and not the off-beat national public broadcaster like I had assumed.

2) Pushing the admittedly headline grabbing story of a Hiroshima construction worker arrested in possession of 4000 pairs of women's socks and underwear off the front page today was extensive coverage of the Japanese Meteorological Agency's erroneous cherry blossom forecast. Because of a miscalculation in December temperature data, cherry blossoms had been mistakenly forecast anywhere from 3 to 8 days too early in many parts of Japan. It was the lead story. Heard on the national 7 o'clock news: "We now go live to the front of a store where a man is sweeping for comment."

Monday, March 12, 2007

New Badminton Racket

I have been adopted by two kindly badminton coaches and they were both stunned - stunned - to learn a couple of weeks ago that I only had one racket. To them, this was an untenable situation and they pleaded with me to buy another. I normally only catch about half of what they say because they aren't trained elementary school teachers - but former Japanese Self-Force members - and they have never slowed down enough for me to clearly hear what they are saying. In any case, I took their advice and bought a new racket a couple of weeks ago and have been waiting to post about it; I wanted to see if it would work out.

For those readers that are badminton aficionados - after much internet investigation - the racket I bought was a Yonex Nanospeed 8000. I got a great deal, saving around $60 by buying it here instead of Canada. The thing that always cracks me about my new racket is how much technology is crammed into the thing, especially, blatantly, nano-technology. The racket is carbon but by the addition of nano-particles in-between particles the frame has been strengthened though weighting less. The strings are also nano coated. Nano-tech allows designers to pick and choose what characteristics they want the string to have. With the Nanogy 95 string, it's thinner, giving the better rebound characteristics normally associated with thinner string, but it's just as durable as thicker string. Also, the exact texture of the string is finely honed to grab the birdie, much to my liking, but the reviews are right to note that net play is nearly futile with this string.

The racket has not dramatically improved my game. Because it's one of the higher-tier rackets, it's tuned for maximum control and power when contact is made in the sweet spot; contact made outside the sweetspot can be very unforgiving. This racket will force me to use good technique thereby creating good habits. I have never thought of my smashes as particularly powerful but lately when I cleanly hit a shuttle with this racket I have been very happy with the results; laying the bird inches from the side lines.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Where is my Sun on Sunday?

In a sure sign from the Gods I should stay indoors and cosy today , I opened the curtians early this morning to find that it had snowed overnight. It now being March in Shikaoi, that stuff is heeeeaaaavvvyyy. I don't mind the overcast day because overall it has been an exceptionally sunny spring, and I expect it to continue come Monday. After taking these pictures I had to run out to Sasagawa later, but other than that I have stayed warm indoors reading and writing. The dishes are done and the house is clean but I am not expecting anyone. I hope for an easy Sunday because I have a long run planned this afternon, however, the white slush will eventually have to be removed, even though leaving it on the driveway through sheary laziness would have the same effect (being spring). It was easy to keep the house toasty (with minimal use of my heater) because it's really very warm outside.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Friday Again

A nice sunny Friday is all that it takes to put me in a good mood. Everything for the week is done - behind me - and I can update guilt free. This is made especially easy because everyone appears to be out of the on business. It's nice to catch this quiet moment because looking back on this week, I did a ton of stuff for work. The only thing that could possibly overcome this week is looking forward to next week. But this slows down after Wednesday as the school year winds down.

My good mood was quite infectious to the people around me and I found myself smiling a lot. In the morning I had a senior citizens English class. I love a small change in my schedule like this and I applied a lot from what I learned doing it last year. I was most surprised at the great reception of my last game. The game involved spelling Japanese words in romaji. 70 year olds were on their feet, pointing, scrambling to find the pieces for the word. It worked far better than I expected and we ended up playing it longer than schedule. I will certianly make a note of it for future classes.

In the afternoon I had an open class at school that went as well as can be expected. The teacher always plans too much and then goes through the material very slow, thus we didn't get to finish today's lesson plan. No one seemed to mind however, least of all the grade 3s and 4s, who were in very high spirits. Tonite: A salad, yaki-tofu, and sweet potatoes for dinner and then badminton. I get to play singles tonite, correction - I get to lose at badminton tonite. Haha! Hope everyone has a good weekend!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A little bit of a rest

I have some rice cooking now for dinner and seeing as there are no dishes to do I thought I would update my blog (even though the blogging community at large these days seems to have lost interest in updating their's). My excuse for not update is; for me, the end of March signals the end of the school year and brings many open classes that require more preparation. This means more running around for me than usual. Things will drop to less-than-busy-than-usual next week when school is out for spring vaction and I'm trapped in the office.

I was set to update about something else but I feel like ranting about not being able to go for a run today. It's all self imposed I assure you. I'm fighting a pain in my hamstring and while I am fairly confident it's nothing, it still requires rest. I find the situation maddening; I just want to run, or scream if I can't. The only thing that settles me down is reading the internet running forums where people discuss their injuries from "running through the pain." Real nightmarish, life changing stuff all because they didn't rest when their bodies told them. Taking solace in other's pain probably isn't what the Buddha would do but it keeps me sane. I find it interesting that my problem is not finding the motovation to go running but the motovation to stay home when that's the smart thing to do. Hopefully if I rest from any hard running and stick with just badminton I will be ready for a long run Sunday after a light run Saturday.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Passport Finished

Being the bucket of fun I am, a normal Saturday morning includes cleaning, but not last weekend, because I switched it up and went ice skating instead. Obihiro was running an international free-skate event for foreigners living in Japan. You can be proud that the Canadians in attendance represented Canada well. But it should be noted the majority of people were from countries where winter is mythical occurrence that happens during Christmas specials on TV. I haven't been on skates since high school but it felt really good to zip around the rink. I did feel a bit unstable throughout the morning however. I was very happy to find a pair of sharp ice hockey skates that fit.

I also added the below glam shot of my new passport (which includes my long-term stay work visa and multiple re-entry permit). After being shuffled between Canada and Japan, two trips to Sapporo and various fees, I am ready to declare it one of the most expensive passports ever issued. It's done now and I'm good for five years.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Pictures from Churui Yesterday

These are some pictures from Churui Elementary School about 1 and 3/4 hours south-east of Shikaoi. Great drive back on the back roads. Curvy and hilly and very picturesque through a birch tree forest in winter. No traffic either and no rush to get home. Roll down the windows because of the spring weather and just cruise. How would you like a school where if you turn 100 degrees from the school entrance you can see a ski hill within walking distance?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Sapporo and Churui

So many blogs haven't been updated recently; including mine. Anyways, I will try to get some pictures up as soon as possible.