Saturday, September 20, 2008

Extended Hiatus

With just under 900 posts this blog will be going into extended hibernation. After keeping it up to date for three years I need a break from the format. I am still around on Facebook daily if anyone needs to contact me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

First Stony Plain Images

So I returned to Canada with two guests from my old days in Koriyama. Kumama, my host mother, and her niece, Yumiko. I might of missed mentioning that in the swirling business of past months. We will be touring around Alberta this week before they return to Japan and I return to a some what normal life here. It is nice to return home with some Japanese friends to lessen the culture shock.

Monday, September 15, 2008


I have previously scheduled this blog to upload about the time my plane takes off from Tokyo. This will be the last time I am in Japan for a long time.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Last terrestrial post

It might not have been evident from the last couple of posts that I have arrived safely in Koriyama and have been preparing for my departure with Kumama and her niece for Canada. That is the case. I haven't taken many pictures here because life seems so normal, but tomorrow I will try to snap a few. My last meal in Japan was Sukiyaki, a stew of sorts, quite rare in Hokkaido but possessing the deep complex flavor I was seeking. It was a special treat because we sprung for the good Japanese meat which I always find so tender.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Ueno is several things; here I will discuss Ueno Park, where several of Japan's best cultural assets are located, including the national museum. I really think the Tokyo National Museum is a world class museum. Encompassing several buildings, its collection is extensive, with many notable pieces. I especially liked the modern styled and darkly lit Gallery of Horyuji Treasures. I've been to that temple before outside Nara. It's the oldest standing wooden structure in the world. In reality, after visiting, it's not very impressive except for the "No Smoking" signs absolutely everywhere. But the treasure became property of the Royal household decades ago and is now displayed beautiful in its own building. A notable excpetion about that time period (c. 800AD) was that Japan and Buddhism were still very poor at that time, thus that pieces are not very big. But somehow I liked the quality and intimacy of the smaller works over the following period. Just lots and lots to see at this huge museum and in the park on a busy afternoon.

3 pictures that deserve an explanation

So I'm trying something a bit different. Instead of putting up some nice aesthetically pleasing pictures I thought I would post some images that need a bit of explaining to make clear. I regret not having more time to put into the details at this point. One may have heard, Japan is going through a national leadership race at the moment and one of the candidates made a stop at Shibuya's scramble as I was arriving. The picture can't capture the number of people stretching to see and hear the speech. With so many windows there any many good vantage points. It was an odd feeling having so many thousands focus their attention on one point.

Early this morning I made a pilgrimage to Tsukiji Fish Market for some world class sushi, stopping, for a moment, to watch the tuna auction. There are actually two auctions going on at once, and they can be identified as the little heads above the crowds.

Here I was obviously talking about something deep. Feeling poor and drained from travelling across a great swath of Japan. My friend Miki introduced me to the izakaya/yakitori ya san where her parents 40 years had previously gone one dates. For a place to survived in the heart of Shibuya amongst the thousands of constantly changing restaurants and massive construction projects most have taken equal parts luck and determination. The placed was packed with salary men looking for cheap, but excellent, food. The wings were amazing. I don't think I'll ever have bar wings again.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Kumamoto Castle

I passed Mount Fuji on the Shinkansen going north today which means I must be in Tokyo! Not much time to post but here are some pics from Sept 8th and my trip to Kumamoto Castle. Amazing castle, definitely worth a trip, but I didn't enter the main keep because it's a 1960s reconstruction and after seeing the crown jewel of Himeji-jo in that respect, the tourist clogged main keep of Kumamoto didn't offer a big draw.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I'm in Kyoto and have been for two nights now. Please expect a deluge of pictures in the next couple of posts as I can't stand the thought of typing out a long post in an expensive internet cafe using a Japanese keyboard with its infinitesimally small spacebar.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Kamamoto to Kyoto

Soon I'll be off to Kyoto. I'll be covering a huge span of Japan in a short time today by Shinkansen. I'm exicted. But first I have time to visit Kumamoto Castle. I'm not exactly sure of my internet connectivity in Kyoto but I will try to keep my readers updated.


Early yesterday I took the ferry over to the volcanic island of Sakurajima and from there rented a bike to tour a national park formed after an eruption nearly 100 years ago. Beautiful unbelievable alien scenery. Not too much time today to describe my journey in detail but please enjoy the pictures!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Kagoshima is Cooler Than Me

With it being so hot this far south, iced coffee is something that takes the edge off the heat. Iced coffee in a can is controversial with drinkers but with so many coffee shops in Kagoshima, such sacrifices need not be made. I think I've found the top coffee shop in Kagoshima, whose location is as difficult to describe as its ambiance. Down a street onto a narrower street, finding the store's 5m wide facade took luck. Carefully cut stone frames etched glass. The inside is not what I'd call inviting - cozy, atmospheric, moody maybe - but not welcoming. Inside reminded me immediately of a Victorian science lab as envisioned by an Japanese anime director. Fine carvings; dark woods; smokey; glassware placed on every ledge. Jazz playing so softly it lets the tinkling of glass hang over it. The lighting set so low most of it comes from the sun streaming through the front. Inside everyone but me is wearing glasses. Nobody seems to talk unnecessarily. The three servers are wearing short white coats and black bow ties. They use very formal Japanese spoken quietly. I watched one of them hand sort a bowl of coffee beans and then sell it for 30 dollars. Mass produced ice cubes are shunned in favored of hand cut pieces from blocks of ice. Sure the iced coffee took 10 minutes to come and cost nearly 7 dollars but I have to admit I was impressed: it kept the strong deep flavor coffee needs without excessive sourness or bitterness. Taking a picture would cause such a commotion as to shatter the tranquility of the interior.

Friday, September 05, 2008

News From Kagoshima

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I'm behind in posting the number of pictures I'd wanted for Kagoshima but I hope to make for this deficit by writing about this fine city. Arriving yesterday, the train tracks followed the bay as we headed toward the station, offering a great view of Kagoshima's famous active volcano, Sakurajima, all the way to the staion. [Pictured above] Everyone I've talked to loves their volcano and some of the stories they share are amazing. An orange haze over the night sky. Waking up to ash on the ground in the morning ever-so-often. They say it anchors their view. Grounding it. I've only been lucky enough to see contant steam rising from the cone, comfirming that it is, indeed, a completely 100% active volcano. History - as everywhere in Japan really - plays a strong roll here. They are crazy about the Meiji Restoration here, lending Kagoshima its own archtiectural style; a sort of cross between bad dated French Rococco made in the 80s and Japanese. Being this far south, Kagoshima was an early center for astronomy in Japan. Astrology symbols have been cleverly worked into everything, from place names to business cards. This morning I walked up Shiroyama, both for the view of the city below and volcano across the bay but also because the area, now a park, was where some of the earliest astronomy observatories were built in Japan. I also found an onsen at the top of the mountain that overlooked the city and volcano. It was a bit pricy (but very luxerious inside) and gave me a great view of the volcano - relaxing too - all to myself, without the crowds of noisy tourists. Well worth every yen. The water was natually a product of the valcano across the bay and is known for the high amount of naturally occuring ions in the water. The thing to eat in Kagoshima is a type of pork, called black pork or kuro buta, so that is pretty much what I eat everyday. Pork on rice. Fried pork. Pork Soup. It's all very good especially considering I don't mind spending the energy seeking out where the locals eat. The local alcohol is Shocho, a type of potato spirit. Kagashima was located far from historical Kyoto and Edo and thus was considered a poot back water. The scarce rice that was grown was sent to Edo, leaving the population the lowly potato. I personally find the stuff a bit dangerous as it goes down so smoothly one doesn't really know how much they've consumed. Still, I will have to get over my fear and try some. But where!?!?! This city has more tiny bars than I could of ever imagine! I had read about it beforehand but wow! And I say this with full wieght of my knowledge of Japanese cities and bars. There are thousands of bars, each maybe sitting 8 or 12, some are duds, others are uber-cool. But how can one ever find the one they want? It's nearly impossible. Whole windowless warehouse size buildings filled with new bars to discover. I'll try to get a picture to illustrate my point. Tomorrow I'm off to Sakurajimi itself to hopefully walk on the lava fields. New land right below one's feet.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Two things I learned about Miyazaki

Yes yes; now I'm In Kagoshima, but this is about Miyazaki; The weather yesterday evening was wonderful. A balmy 27C with a slight breeze. I tried to find a patio to sit on but patio-culture seems non-existant here in Kyushu. I guess for most of the year an air-conditioned escape is preferable to the humidity. But the Miyazaki beef was excellent! Interestingly, my food costs have been less then expected. Everyone I've asked has told me that cheap food is tastes best. Miyazaki feels like a mix of Sapporo and Singapore: It's very green, though not quite up to Singapore's exulted status, but feels like a smaller city, so one doesn't feel so lost. Some how Miyazaki is knowable. Kagoshima on the other hand puts many a Tokyo neighborhood to shame in the coolness of its bars and restaurants.

The only thing I did today

The only thing worth mentioning today: I headed off early to the Miyazaki Prefectural Museum of Art. Again, my early riser status paying off; given me practially the whole musuem to myself. I say "practically" because - given the Japanese preference for over-staffing - the musuem was well staffed for me. At least considering everywhere I went I was watched carefully for a possible question. The Fine Arts museum is placed in the Culture park along with the history musuem, concert hall, prefectural libray and municipal temple. The park itself was mosly pavement which seemed a bit un-inviting, let alone un inhabitable, in the Miyazaki heat. The Fine Arts museum is made of white marble with stark modern lines. Some of the stones were very big. The museum had some big name pieces I wanted to see; Picasso, Miro, some minor works of Van Gogh. The pieces were brought to Japan in the mid-80s when Japan had a bubble economy and lots of cash to spread around the world. As things cooled off, big works made their way to museums. The museum had more surrealist works than I normally like. I'm just never impressed by that style. One interesting piece seen below was puzzling; a wall of glow-in-the-dark material - posted for your enjoyment:

Tomorrow on to Kagoshima!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Is Anyone Following This?

I have this reoccurring thought while I'm in here; I can't believe I'm in Kyushu and not Hokkaido. This picture is the best I could - to date - to capture that idea. The lantern, I'm still in Japan; The palms, I'm definately not in Hokkaido anymore.

I always considered Hokkaido a kind of the backwater of Japan, but now traveling in some of the more remote regions of Miyazaki-ken, I'm surprised how forgotten some parts seem, such as in the local train system, seemingly lost in the 1950s.

In the morning I hit Obi Castle. For once my early-raiser persona paid off; giving me free rein of the whole castle. I only consider this a minor castle after seeing the crown jewel of Japan: Himeji Castle.

In the afternoon I went to the famous Nichinan Coast and saw the temple on Aoshima. It's a small island first established as scared in the 9th centery AD. Amazingly dense brush mixed with the ocean breeze and rare geological forms to banish the humid heat of the day.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Miyazaki Day 1

Not too much to report except that I've made it to Miyazaki-ken in southern Japan. It's much less humid that I assumed it was going to be due to a slight constant breeze off the ocean. The locals still claim it's because it's fall, but I assure my Canadian readers all one will need here is shorts and a t-shirt.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

One last Yakiniku and Sunset

My last meal in Shikaoi was understated by some standards but I wouldn't want it any other way. In many ways it captured the essence of Japan for me. I headed out to the Mogami's farm after a busy day of last minute packing, cleaning, and good-byes to pounce on some barbecued beef, pork, oysters, salmon, lake fish and veggies. It has been unusually cold and rainy - fall-like in every respect - for the last couple of days but today we were blessed with a warm summer evening. Mrs. Mogami kept apologizing it was just us huddled around a grill but it was nice to give them my full attention while slowing down a bit after a whirlwind month.

I should probably update readers about me upcoming travel plans. It is true that my three years in Shikaoi wind down tomorrow at 9:30AM as I make my way to Sapporo and from there, on Monday, to Miyazaki-ken. If you have a map handy; look at toward the south of the southern island of Kyushu.

Friday, August 29, 2008

I said I promised some pictures

I promised some images and found myself with some time today so I'm squeezing an incredibly busy week into a short post with a couple of pictures.

There were a lot more people at my English teacher party and there were a couple of good shots but none of them made them back to me in time for this post. Last sunday we had a party at the farm of one of the teachers and though it felt like fall (much like a Canadian summer) I think everyone had a good time.

This is our host's father manning a a very rare in Japan pizza oven. We also had roasted sweet corn and bread from the oven. Simply amazing!

And what's a party without fireworks?!?!

The next night I had the formal town's good-bye banquet. I couldn't really take any pictures during the cermony because I was integrally included in the program. Here I am afterward with some of the teachers I worked closely with.

Here I am with some people that mean a lot to me: my badminton club. I have a lot of kind words to say about them. Last night too they surprised me again by making elaborate plans to take me out. I was impressed that they would even organize such a night because they are all so busy with their own lives. Needless to say we all drank way too much and it was fun to talk about badminton in minute detail for hours.

All the photos in this post as less than steller so here is one artsy shot for the road.

Monday is done, Friday is almost done.

Okay, so I will admit this blog has been pushed back to back burner - way to the back burner - as I get ready to leave. But I promise more updates with pictures in the future; once I get down south. Things have been amazingly busy here as I move my life back to Canada and I ask for the reader's patience and understanding. I have offically finished my last day of work. In the last two weeks I have said good-bye to hundreds of kids, in addition to all the cards and heart-felt messages I've received, my students have left me one more gift I am sure to take with me to Kyushu: A cold! No doubt a result of the hundreds of hugs and handshakes I've received. Hopefully the abundant heat and mangos or Miyazaki-ken will banish it!

Monday is done, Friday is almost done.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

3 Days of Fun

Last night my DJ gig went very well. It was much smaller than in the past but I have no pretensions about my DJ status in the world and would rather play my private good-bye party to 40 greatful friends than hoards of nameless fans. Saturday night deserves a much longer update at some point in the future. Today - soon - I'm our the door to the English teacher good-bye party and then tomorrow night I have the big town good-bye party. I'm just going to keep my head down and a smile on my face and enjoy my last couple of days in Shikaoi.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

800th Post

This is the 800th post on The Perfect Architecture company and it's kind of a pathetic post because it just filler so readers know I haven't completely forgotten about it. Things are moving very rapidly toward the close of my time in Shikaoi before I am off for short tour of Japan. I have so many things in the air it's amazing. I have so many small things to do and everything has to be done perfectly in order for it to come off smoothly it's amazing. I am starting to see some of my students for the last time as I rotate through my schools this week and next and that is a weird feeling. I have thought a lot about the best way to do it by nothing comes to mind. Nothing can really expresss what sunshine they brought to my job daily, nor can any situation capture the finality of our meeting. And the absolute finality of it is the really pressing issue. What to do about it? What impressing to leave? Can I even control that aspect? I like to think my students will remember our classroom times more but one can't take that for granted. A last piece of good news has finaly come my way - it was about time some luck broke my way - I have been comfirmed to play one last DJ set this Saturday at the Pure Malt Clubhouse. I plan to blow the roof off the joint with some great friggn tunes.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bon Odori Time!

One last festival was on my calander this month. Yesterday was Shikaoi's Bon Odori. A summer festival where people return to their hometown to honour their ancestors. The cumulation of the festical is a large dance in the center of town. My office had put a group togather but I choose to mingle in the crowd instead and visit. It was great see so many people who I don't get to see nearly often enough but with the topic of my imminent departure coming up so often it was not the happiest of occasions. The music is kind of this slow 2-1-2 with lyrics about farm life and such, with maybe a couple of songs about how hard fishing is. I couldn't catch many of the words because they used very old polite Japanese but I liked the music enough to think my ear has finally grown accustom to the wierd tones and harmonies they use in traditional Japanese compositions.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Attack of the Moth

About the only thing worth reporting above and beyond how busy I am in Shikaoi, is that the number of moths has increased exponentially the last couple of days. The reasons for the increase are not well understood but it is kind of creepy. No pictures either; those buggers are hard to capture. In continuance of porting my online self to facebook I have put up some more pictures there. This blog has not been abandoned, I just don't feel I have the time to blog in depth here.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Elbow deep in details

So many little things to do before I leave, none of it particluarly fun. I spent a good portion of the morning trying to figure out what I need to change my work visa to a travel visa for the couple of days at the end of my stay before I go home. It should go rather smoothly as the restrications are not nearly as comprehensive as getting the work visa in the first place. I'm planning two trips at the same time (and this I kind of like because I love details). One for me of southren Japan. I really wanted to see the South after living in the North for so long. Still the most southern I've been is Wakayama-ken. I would feel incomplete if I didn't see it before leaving. Secondly, my parents and I are working on a plan to have my old host-family the Tsuchiya's from Koriyama travel home with me and stay with us for a couple of days. It will be an honour.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Eating Like a Champ

Finally I am writing this under clear skies today. For the last week it has been humid and overcast leading to a weird set of conditions where it was super foggy every morning (a point I will return to in a moment) and we saw the temperature hold steady day and night at 20C. It's so humid. One always feel sticky. Even whist sitting in the office without any movement one sweats. I don't want to complain too much because things could be worst. I could be in Tokyo. Where not only would I have to put up higher temperature and higher humidity. I would be forced to look at people in suits while doing so.

Raining Saturday and Sunday, the last of the rain cleared overnight, letting us wake up this morning to blue skies. By the end of the week we should be in the 30s again. I have mixed feelings about this; after so much wetness a spike in the temperature might make the humidity worse, but at the same time I am happy to see the sun again.

Last week I ran four mornings and each of them in the fog. Really dense fog. It was quite magical and refreshing as long as one was safe. I don't normally see much traffic on the country roads I run on, especially last week since most farming work seemed to be on pause for the weather. The dampness left my feet - which under the best running circumstances should be kept dry (hence the fancy shoes and socks) - looking a bit tired. But no one ever died from blisters. Furthermore, on the long end of an hour, other body parts are hurting much more than toes. Being not so hot for summer I did a super-human effort on Sunday - 18km. I don't know the exact time but I remember being very happy with the pace. I know for sure it was 18km because I ran out to a distance sign way in the friggn middle of nowhere saying Shikaoi was 9km away and then back again. It rained twice during that period. It wasn't too bad because all my gear is super-quick drying, super-breathable, but I've never really liked running in the rain, as refreshing as it feels, because of the whole wet foot issue again. The house was so hot I decided to take a swim in the evening again. That was 50min in the pool.

It is my working philosophy that the only way to really safely achieve this level of fitness is to eat - a lot. That's a good thing because I love food. I'm not dieting as such but to not starve myself I follow how much I eat pretty closely. I know that for someone my size, even just sitting in the office digesting and then in front of the TV drooling I can burn anywhere from 2000-2500kcal. A long run is easily over a 1000kcal and then swimming too is probably just under 1000kcal.

As a treat for lunch, and as a result of being super tired, I broke down broke down and went to 7-11, which actually has pretty good ready made food, but, as I have mentioned before, they are all super high calorie. There is a rumor they use butter fried rice for their rice balls, which would make sense because I really don't know how else one could pack 200kcals in a rice ball that small. Booya! So that was 750 calories right there. For dinner I made myself some pork curry, in which I doubled down on the pork content with both chunks of pork and lean ground pork plus carrots, onions, and for me, though not traditional, broccoli (the stems are great in curry). I had a huge portion and I can imagine that was around another 750 calories or so. Something sugary for breakfast and I hope I had enough to eat yesterday.

Another twist to such overcast and humid weather last week was that I did no laundry. Things were looking a bit bare for work this morning. On Monday I had put in a load of towels and quickly came to the conclusion the effort was futile. Nothing was going to dry inside my house or out. Happy to see the sun this morning, I was up early for a walk along the river (no run as I thought my legs deserved a break) and put in a load of laundry before I left and did another when I got back before I ate breakfast and before I left for work. I plan to throw in the towels again that have been sitting there week damp in their little drying room as they would probably pass for a science experiment at this point. Even now its so hot. Why is it so hot here? I think I we've moved to the surfact of the sun. I think my body is melting. I can barely think

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

An Average Summer Night

I'm getting a bit nostalgic about Japan and hauled my camera around with me for a change last Saturday. I got some good pictures and put them up on facebook. This should probably serve as a hint that I'm slowly porting my digial-self to facebook so that is where you'll find me in the future. It wasn't a hard choice since everyone's there. If someone is having trouble seeing the images please contact me below or through email.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

S and L July 19th Wedding

I can't speak too much about the wedding because things are moving so fast in Shikaoi I risk missing something here. Needless to say, it was a great wedding, the bride was beautiful and I was happy for the chance to visit with so many friends and family. Most of my whole week in Canada is a blur. I vaguely remember a couple of hamburgers, potato chips and nice summer evenings. I had so much going on I forgot to carefully record my time in Canada with photos. Thus, there are few pictures of me from the week. It never really crossed anyone's mind to take out the camera. The Birdsell's are very happy to now have five in the family.

My Mom and I before the wedding in front of the house. Man we clean up nicely.

A short composite shot of Sean and I with the the ring bearer Colton and flower girl Aliya.

The parents of the bride and groom.

Sean and Laura's first dance.