Sunday, March 30, 2008


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I can't complain about the grey dreary weather because for the most part the weather has been day after day of great, warm, glad-to-be-alive spring sunshine.

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The weather has slowed but not stopped the Sakura's march to glory. Tomorrow my part of the trip ends but tonight we feast!

Another Update

Today in Kyoto we saw Ryoan-ji with its famous rock garden and the Daitoku-ji temple complex where we met the national abbot of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism. Mid-day it started to rain and we were forced inside where we walked through the luxurious Nijo Castle before heading out to anicent Pontocho for dinner. Tomorrow is our last day together and we are planning to see Kyoto's twin crown jewels of Kiyomizu-dera and Sanjusangendo before quietly watching the cherry blossoms which thankfully have been in prime form for our entire journey. For our last dinner we will be returning to Gion to Yoshizen for a meal fit for an emperor.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Arrived in Kyoto

We went from this in Osaka:
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To this on the coast in Kushimoto, Wakayama:
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We also Sea kayaked today. Everyone returned dry.
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Lots more to add but we arrived late in Kyoto and we start touring early tomorrow.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Surviving Fugu

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Just like a TV drama, this post is titled "Surviving Fugu", and just like a sitcom writer, I am again under gun to get a post finished before the deadline. As evidenced by this post, I have survived a return visit to the same restaurant Sean and I visited in 2006. Uncle Terry had a hard time with the tofu on offer and an unidentified vegetable I have taken to calling "the space vegetable". By showing interest in fugu, the kind owner actually got one out of a tank and I was able to have the unique experience of petting it. Reality betraying my imagination; I was surprised it didn't puff up. Light on the details, I will skip to the end and reveal that the meal calumniated in an out-of-this-world rice porridge utilizing the broth from our fugu and vegetable nabe (stew). [click the small thumbnails to enlarge]

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Though are hotel is near this point, it is not nearly as busy in front of the hotel. The fugu restaurant, hidden from guide books and tourists, is a couple of blocks forward from this point, down a narrow road, and into an unasuming, kanji-strewn store front.

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I promised my aunt to include some pictures. Here taken from the Osaka Castle grounds. Great weather for a walk with the locals.

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Also at the request of my aunt, a silly picture of me. Here something shiny has caught my attention.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Day Trip

Today we did a day trip to Nara, Japan's ancient capital.

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The Great Buddha, no other description need apply.

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We also visitied Kasuga-ji, a Shinto shrine known for it's lanterns. Nara is, of course, known for its tame dear.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sometimes the best things in life are free

Just to tied everyone over until a full update:

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A picture from the Tuskiji Fish Market. Later I ate some of the best sushi in the world while Uncle Terry watched.

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The above is a picture from Okunoin on Mount Koya. Worth the effort to get out there, espically in the low season, which can best be describle as having a world UNESCO site to ourselves.


We've safely arrived in Osaka from our night on Mount Koya. Getting up early and walking up to Okunoin was quite an experience. I'd like to write about it move fully but time is scarce and we have to get ready for dinner. Tomorrow the really Great Buddha of Nara. Pictures and text to come!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday in Tokyo

Went to a couple of places today. First on the list was Shibuya's Omotesando for some shopping and then on to Harajuku for some of the best people watching in the world. Saw Yayogi's Meiji Shrine and caught Mario and Miki for lunch. Later we walked down the JR line to get back to the hotel. Though inclemental weather was predicted, because we packed rain gear, the weather stayed beautiful. Above a view from Omotesando toward the station. Below, a look back toward Harajuku from a different station. Tomorrow morning - early - Tsukiji Fish Market; and later on to Mount Koya for a night in a buddhist temple (read: no internet.)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Short on Time

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Today, amongst other things, we saw the 800 year old Great Buddha at Kamakura. Very cool. Also notable was the weather, which was great, and seemed to put the normally rushed people of Tokyo in a tranquil state. (Click to enlarge)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Great Travel Begins

The pace of Shikaoi got slower today as I dropped Terry and Judy off at a remote mountain onsen in honour on their 33rd wedding anniversary. I had written previously of the best onsen in the world but forgot to remind them to check out the sunset. I hope they got to see it! While not completely overcast, the peaks of the mountains seemed to have caught the clouds, shoulding their tops from view. But leave it to nature, driving home I noticed a great view of the low sun's golden rays raking the valley floor which I knew would be stunning from the second floor of the hotel located on a mountain ridge. Tomorrow we three head to Tokyo!

Some pictures:

Ah. The fascinating things Japan chooses to commemorate. Sure it's not the foot print of the Buddha or where Napoleon once tied his shoelace. But this giant log noting this national park's lookout point had Terry mesmerized and Judy amazed. Actually, an interesting fact; I took Aunt Judy to a beautiful look out point over Tokachi and she took pictures of a concrete fence. Go figure! I'm greatful my guests are so easy to please.

For those worried Uncle Terry may be starving; I offer photographic proof to the contrary. Here he is in esatacy over Yakiniku (Japanese BBQ).

Okay, now it's my turn to embarrass myself. I don't remember exactly why I was laughing so hard but if the character below was taking your picture (the bar owner Masta) you too would have trouble keeping a straight face.

Here we are just about to leave my house today. It's hard to imagine but we three are all talking at once trying to remember if we forgot anything slash turned off all the lights. What great guests!!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Finally some more pictures

I think we are all enjoying the lackadaisical - in the good sense - pace of Shikaoi before heading south. Sadly, I still have a couple of things to do at work on my last day before leaving for spring vaction (I got most of the major paperwork out of the way last week). Good pictures have so far been plentiful, which is excellent because we haven't even begun to sratch the surface of opportunities; meaning most of these pictures were taken in Shikaoi.

I just had to include this picture. We ran into a group of my students at the Trim Center as I was giving Terry and Judy a tour of the town's facilities (which are pretty amazing in their own right). Yukitaka, a charming first grader, is having a rather one-sided conversation with Uncle Terry. He is the sort of kid that is very reliable, a rare quality for a 6 year old, and he feel compelled to question or comment alsbolutely everything. Which sounds annoying until you realize young children have a way of cutting ot the core of a sitution that is very insightful. To the right of Aunt judy I draw the reader's attention to the girl with the box on her head. I love it! I'm sure to my Aunt and Uncle it's a cacophony, but myself being familiar with my students' individual characters, I know Ai-chan in shy and thus must turn herself into a robot to deal with the strong curiosity that draws her to the new foreigners that overrides her shyness.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Photo Proof

For those that have been waiting here is photographic proof that Uncle Terry and Aunt Judy have made it safely to Hokkaido. Here we are on a sunny Sunday in about the only place there is still snow; Odori Park where the Snow Festival was held in February. What's left to melt behind Terry and Judy is the remnants of massive snow sculptures and beyond that Sapporo TV Tower. Now we three are cozy in my house in Shikaoi and absorbing the quiet country side before heading to the center of the universe, also known as Shibuya. I have also attached a picture of their arrival at Shintoku Station.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Quiet Monday

After meeting my Uncle and Aunt in Sapporo I have left to come back to Shikaoi for work while they spend another day in Sapporo. I will be picking them up later today at the local train station. This day seems to be creeping by while I patiently wait to introduce them to Shikaoi. I think I peaked a bit early getting the stuff for work out of the way early. There is not much snow left in Tokachi and today seems to be another beautiful spring day. I have checked all the weather reports down south and it will be good travelling weather (around 10-15C during the day) if the rain stays away. I have also been keeping a close eye on the all important cherry blossom estimates and we have planned this trip perfectly to see them in the anicent capitial; if anything, we are a bit early, catching them before they are at their maximum. But I can't control the seasons and this is the best we could do.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

They`ve Arrived!!!!

Im just typing this on the awkward hotel keyboard but wanted to quickly say Terry and Judy have safely arrived in Sapporo.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Meeting In Sapporo

This is about the last thing I do before I go to Sapporo and meet my Uncle Terry and Aunt Judy at the airport. Not the nicest weather in Hokkaido but I won't complain about a cleansing spring rain when it could be snow. Went for a run today on the threadmill and got to watch all of this happening out the window. I made sure it was an uber good effort as running will go on the back burner as I travel around Japan. I feel kind of sad about stopping at this point because for the moment I'm injury-free, a somewhat rather rare occurance for long distance runner types, and I want to take full advantage of the situation. My next blog will contain details about how the meeting went!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Holding History

It's a surreal experience holding these NOS vacuum tubes in my hand that arrived last week. I decided I should stock up for when my headphone amp eventually runs through its initial pair that came with the unit. New Old Stock vacuum tubes are an interesting corner of the consumer universe. "Old Stock" because they were manufactured decades ago when arguably the technology and production technique was at its peak. And "New" because they've never been used. That's right; those six tubes are brand new. The WE408A were manufactured through the late 1940s into the early 1950s by General Electric in America for a huge Bell Labs AT & T order. By most standards, even considering their NOS status, the WE408A is not in short supply. Other examples are sought like an audiophile holy grail for their combination of sonic qualities and rarity in retired military depots and anicent science labs around world. This is a lot of excitement for something that is going to burn out like a light bulb in a couple of years. Not mine however; the especially rugged design of the WE408As - initially for underwater telephony applications - means my supply of six tubes should last a decade or more. It must be quite a story how these tubes ended up with a supplier in Saitama prefecture. And I can't stress enough; like natural diamonds or a beautiful voice, once the supply of these tubes is gone, their gone forever.

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With days like today, it's impossible to deny that spring has a strangle hold on Japan. Not that all snow is gone yet, as the first image attests.

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Probing the Mysteries of Japan

This small christmas tree showed up unexplained at my school on Friday. Your thoughts?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Not enough time to post

This week there are a lot of things in the air that all have to be completed in a very exact order to get done. Two special classes, end of school year commitments and finalizing the trip. Please excuse the the lack of updates while I keep my life on track so nothing gets dropped.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Visiting the Friendly Japanese Doctor

I fell flat on my back with a cold Thursday. I didn't even make it through the day without seeing the doctor. The sure sign I was really sick is that I skipped badminton. I'm not quite back at 100% today but am definately on the road to recovery. No one likes going to the doctor, but I can pick up on the positive and entertaining bits to make it bearable. It's all western medicine so everything is roughly recognizable but at the same time it's covered in a coating of Japanese culture that makes a trip to the doctors like a trip to Mars; the strict order of the paperwork and the shear amount of it, the slippers, the tea, the strange Japanese thermometers and robot nurses. How one takes the medicine can also vary from Canada which is why I specify pill form. And then there's the odd pieces of advice he drops in like, don't take a bath or shower today, eat miso, how many blankets are you using? I was not in much different condition than most of my students this week. I faced sick teachers on Wednesday and going to a different school today, 6 of 16 kids were out with a cold in addition to the whole grade one class having a case of the sniffles and being less than happy campers. I included a picture of a board that helps the school track the path of influenza within the student body. Daily the kids fill-in how they are feeling. If a certain percent of kids is absent, the whole school would be closed to slow the spread of influenza. I have also included a pic of my sick mug that will count as my weekly friday self-portrait.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Four Times

Better late than never. I can barely keep up with the constant stream of festivals in Japan. That not a compliant mind you; it adds a colourful backdrop to daily life and is certainly representative of a rich cultural heritage. Hinamatsuri, roughly translated as Doll Festival, falls every year on March 3rd. I've seen it quite a few times over the years. The large display of dolls represent the royal count, culiminating with the Emperor and Empress on top. The traditions of Hinamatsuri are rooted in families celebrating their daughters. Wikiepdia has a dry explanation but when questioning my grade ones about the meaning of Hinamatsuri, they only repeated the warning of their teachers reminding me we are not suppose to touch the display.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Skipping Posts

Updating on Monday is part of my normal routine but it completely skipped my mind yesterday. I apologize as I was engrossed in researching details for an upcoming trip. I guess this is as good as time as any to reveal my travels plans for March. My Uncle Terry and Aunt Judy will be joining me for a trip that will bring us to Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto with stops in Wakayama-ken. Needless to say I'm very exicted to be meeting family, getting a shipment of Canadian peanut butter and seeing more of Japan. We'll start in Hokkaido by coming to Shikaoi, hoping to ease into the densely populated urban settings most Japanese call home and getting in touch with Japan's majestic nature. Then were off to Tokyo; highlights which include Harajuku on Sunday to people watch and an early morning trip to the renown Tsukiji fish market. Osaka is the preemine shopping and dinning city in Japan but from here we will also be making a day trip to Nara to see the Great Buddha at Todaiji. The sight alone nearly turning me into a Buddhist two years ago. We're eating fugu in Osaka so if we make it to Kyoto I really want to see the National Museum and Nijo Castle which I missed last time and make sure we don't miss Kiyomizudera or Sanjusangendo. In Wakayama-ken we'll stay for one night in an old temple on the famous Mount Koya and also visit the southern most tip of Honshu in Kushimoto which is home to some of the most beautiful coast line in Japan. Kushimoto is scarcely covered in english guide books but many Japanese speak highly of it. Were planning to make the best of the coast lines by booking sea kayaks. For our last meal together in Kyoto we'll be returning to Yoshizen for a memorable meal in Gion. Lots and lots of stuff in between these highlights; for one, I'm reviving my goal of eating my way through Japan. If everything is timed perfectly and the weather gods cooperate, we'll be able to witness the cherry blossoms in ancient Kyoto. My aunt and uncle get here on the 15th, we leave for the south on the 21st, and I return home on April 1st.