Friday, March 30, 2007


The great search.... Last year my wife bought a Stella, which is produced by Subaru and is considered to be a 'K- class' car or Konpakuto car (yep that's compact car). The advantage of owning a compact class car is that they are better on gas mileage (though my lovely Vitz gives it a run for it's money) and they fall under a lower taxation bracket so they overall are economically sound. You can usually really quickly tell that a car is a k-car by it's yellow licence plates (regular sized engine cars have white licence plates). Well last month my wife pointed out to me that she has never seen another Stella when driving around. Since then the search has been on, every time I see a yellow licence plate, I quickly look at the car maker and almost always it is either the Honda 'H' emblem or the 'D' announcing that it is a Diahatsu (Toyota does not make kompact class cars- The third most popular k-class car is probably Suzuki). I have yet to see another Stella. To me this is great- in a country where there are so many cars and a tendency to place higher value on what is a popular seller rather than being unique, it's great to be driving a unique car! The other thing is that it is actually a pretty good car, our previous car was a Suzuki Wagon R which I thought was just slightly better than a go-kart, but this car has some pep and is very easy to drive.

My wife attended a funeral for one of her co-workers' son today. He was only 20 years old and passed away in a car accident. What movie was that line from - "no father should ever have to bury their son"...? I think it was a Lord of the Rings movie- but it always held to me as a great quote, there would be nothing sadder than burying your own child.

On a lighter but also sad note, this Saturday marks my last class teaching at Arai's NL Farm. It's been a fantastic year and a quarter teaching there and I am really going to miss teaching the children there, but the hour long travel time really wore me out last year, so I have to take my chances finding work closer to home.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Stuff and things

Picture.I always found Monet's pictures interesting and bought a Page-a day calendar this year. I really liked the picture from today, titled Seascape, Night Effect.

Clearance Sale! Last week, the wife and I took some older furniture to a recycle shop- and were quite disappointed that they only offered us 2000 yen for it. Well, we took it anyway, but we are still left with two things that we would like to find a home for. If you live in Japan and you need a tv- we have a (I'm not sure how many inches it is- maybe19-21?) Toshiba Wide bazooka tv- that we will part with cheap! If you are interested let me know and I will see if I can dig up any information. We also have a Thomas hot oil heater that is good for small rooms, but relatively ineffective for big rooms. That can be had for free- again just let me know if you are interested and I can find some more information for you.
Serika, Natsumi, Neo, Ryuya, Mi Chan from ESLC
Happyokai. I have worked at ESLC for one year now! Sometimes it feels like it has been longer, but it's been a good experience for me all the same. Both Chris and Hisano, the owners and my friends at the school, have been great to me there and helped me feel welcome and really have been understanding considering how hectic my schedule has been at times! On Wednesday we had the end of year show held at the local Bunka Center (Cultural Center) and the show went really well! All the students had worked so hard over the last month memorizing their skits and there was some anxiety about my students, but everyone did a fantastic job! After we finished with the show, a small group of us went to Mainichi Bowl to say goodbye to one of the students that is moving to Tokyo. A large part of the group was made up of returnees that had spent time in America or other countries, and their English was fantastic!
Chris particularly was putting up some good scores, seemingly enjoying victimizing the poor children!
The gang had a great time.
I was just trying to creep everyone out...
I still don't know what she was doing...
We capped the day off with pizza and soft drinks (yes- really- only soft drinks). It was a tiring but fun day!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Okuni jinja

One of the more popular local shrines is known as Okuni which is located in Morimachi. The shrine has stood for about 1400 years (I am sure that some renovations have taken place) and is widely regarded as one of the more interesting Enshu region shrines. Pictures posted near the shrine speak of some famous visits including the emperor's son and some famous Japanese celebrities. Many regard the shrine as a good place to go to pray for safe driving and there is even a side road to take your car to have it blessed. After my accident we had decided that we would hedge our bets and go to the shrine to pray for safety on the roads. While neither of us are Buddhist, we both have always agreed it's a good idea to play it safe!

After crossing through the awesome, large torii shown above, to the left on the path is an interesting little brown pond with a red bridge crossing to a small hut.
A bit more of a short walk you will find yourself at the temple itself. In the courtyard there was this lovely looking tree.
And finally we were able to throw our 5 yen into the box and pray for safety on the always scary Japanese roads.

It was quite a serene setting nestled in between some rolling hills and a nice quiet walk to a nearly empty temple. I could see why it is popular and enjoyed by many, and I will definitely go by again sometime!

Monday, March 19, 2007

That's Japan! (Issue 3)

Folks, it's time once again to revisit the whacky, astonishing, beautiful and sometimes not so beautiful world of Japan. In this weeks installment- we will talk about the convenience of bank machines, Policemen in a box, traditional festivals for every city, do it yourself restaurants and we'll introduce one of the most famous Japanese-style hamburger fast food joints. It's a big issue, so let's get started!

1. The ATM

Got big plans for the weekend? Your friends call you up late at night on a Friday to go out to the nightclub? Taking your family on an exciting trip to Ise jingu? You'd better plan ahead! The ATM's run at only set times most bank's ATM's closing at 7 pm or earlier (not to mention the banks themselves close at 3pm!) and don't open at all on Sundays. The times seem to be getting better lately, you can hit the ATM at the local 7-11 and pay an additional fee of 150 to 300 yen, but you just learn to bank during normal hours. Sheesh, it's not like they have to pay the machines overtime for working late or anything. Guess sometimes we take the 24 hour convenience for granted in Canada... Oh, and of note, if you are visiting here from another country, come prepared as Japanese ATM's aren't on the Plus system so you can't use your Debit or Visa card at a machine.
2. Koban

There are big police stations here, but a good idea to spread the police force out amongst the communities to improve accessibility is the koban, or police boxes spread out everywhere. The boxes can be simply a small room or like a mini-office if they are covering a larger area. Sometimes you will find the koban empty if they are out patrolling, but you know eventually they will turn up! I think this is a fantastic idea, and immerses specific police officers in a community so may make the police seem more a part of your neighborhood.


In Japan virtually every city, actually every ward has their own matsuri or festival. I have never figured out when the local Shinpara matsuri is, but throughout summer, almost ever week a different community is having a small celebration. Usually they set up little food kiosks called yomise and will cart around large beautiful floats called yatai (or dashi or mikoshi - my main source my wife wasn't sure what I was talking about) as pictured above. In Hamamatsu, the main matsuri is held in late April/early May and is predominantly a kite festival, where people congregate at Nakatajima Dunes and competitively fly their large kites. I have yet to see it though!
4. D-I-Y restaurants

One of the bigger chuckles I got out of the movie Lost in Translation was when the two main characters go to a shabu shabu restaurant and are handed a big plate of raw meat to cook for themselves. I think this is one big thing that people won't get back home- some of the most popular restaurants involve cooking the food yourself. It's actually quite fun, but most of us have the idea that we go to a restaurant to be served food- but if we go to a Yakiniku, okonomiyaki or shabu shabu restaurant, you better be ready to cook the food yourself. The hot freshly cooked food is just delicious and it come highly recommended!

5. Featured- Japan's answer to McDonald's Mos burger

Of course in Japan, you can very easily go to Mc Donald's or in the bigger cities, Wendy's but the biggest burger shop in Japan is MOS burger.The initials of MOS burger represent Mountain, Ocean and Sun- I guess it gives the place an earthly feel. The MOS burgers are actually quite delicious and kick McD's butt,but as a gaijin the big complaint about the place is that the burgers are actually quite small and the price is higher than other places! Anyway, if you have a hankering for a delicious teriyaki burger, or their main item, the MOS burger which is coated in onions (which means of course that I can't eat it- since I hate onions) give it a whir!

Wacky? Unbelievable? Exhilarating? That's Japan!

Friday, March 16, 2007

The fine art of shopping

An early test picture taken at NL Farm in Arai
Still catching up with myself!

Last week after my picture taking adventure on Sunday (a week and a half ago now) Ritsy and I went to the local Electronics shop- Yamada. Let me backtrack a bit for a moment. About 2 or so years ago, I had finally managed to remove myself from the world of using consumer debt and did not ever want to go back to relying on it. Consumer debt is a neat little trap that a lot of us fall into when we are young and become to depend and rely on from the time, when college aged, that we are able to get our first Visa card. When I finally paid off my Visa card- Ritsy and I decided to save in advance of making big purchases instead of buying first and paying off later. Every month the two of us set aside 10,000 yen (roughly $100 CAD) each towards the big purchase fund, and have already been able to make some upgrades around the house. Last week we had enough for the Dyson Vacuum cleaner that we wanted- roughly 80,000 yen. To make a long story short, we only ended up spending about 45,000 on the vacuum thanks to a sale and our point card (which was worth 150% of the points we had).

Excited that we were walking out with some money in our hands, I mentioned to Ritsy that I wanted a new digital camera and wanted to take a look. Again making a long story short I ended up buying a new camera as well. Many of my students had recommended Cannon for quality, but I didn't choose their top of the line models- the Powershot, I went for a compact version of their Ixy camera- named the L4 here in Japan (IXUS i7 zoom in Canada). It is compact, has a good Megapixel rate, has many picture modes, and can film some good quality video shots- so I think the camera will prove to be a good pickup.

Naturally in the end, I will personally refund the money into the big purchase fund for our next target, a washer/drier, should be able to get it about this time next year maybe....

Monday, March 12, 2007

Manyo no Mori and Fudouji

The world famous Manyo no mori
Last Sunday- I had also explored (in addition to exploring the Magnolias and Miyakoda park) a nearby park named Manyo no Mori, which was pretty small but pleasant.

Underneath Manyo no Mori was more interesting to me, as there was a small temple named Fudouji that I thought was kind of interesting.I meant to blog about this earlier, but only had the chance to read the name of the temple for me tonight! Here is the layout;

A map at the bottom of the stairs
The gate(or torii) at the bottom was not your traditional wooden gate , but a metallic and rounder looking one. It looks almost like it could be the entrance for some fast food restaurant.
Torii on the stairs
Greeting visitors as they reach the top of the stairs is a long pole with writing on it, my best guess is that it is some sort of scripture, I really just thought it looked cool.
First view of the temple at the top of the steps
Hanging in the rafters of the temple itself is this weathered painting that took me a few minutes to figure out what it is meant to be. Either way it looks like it has a history and even it's condition simply tells me a story.
A serene looking picture has been around for a few years
Separate from the main temple was a smaller mini alter or shrine that has a bunch of little torii leading up to it.
Many torii leading you into the divine land
And there was another separate spot for praying this one has a tengu mask hanging above it.

Put your five yen in the box and pray as tengu looks down on you
I have driven past the area where this park and temple are at least 2-3 times a week and had never bothered to check it out. I was happy to finally go and find another little unknown treasure in my town!
The End

Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Stawamus Chief

In Squamish- a town which lies at the halfway point between driving from Vancouver to Whistler is a very popular hiking area known affectionately as 'The Chief'. There are three target peaks that you can hike to which entail hiking up long trails that go straight uphill. Finally having to climb around rock usually needing to hold onto chains that have been nailed into the rock. It is quite popular and a fun 1.5- 3 hour hike(depending on which peak you choose). The view from the top is just amazing.

Naturally at the top you need to take a rest. I can't believe I did the hike with those skate shoes on!

You can see Ritsy standing here at the top next to a Rock Cairn. I could never figure out why people make those things....
The hike is long and at times tiring, but in the end when you see a viewpoint as beautiful as this of Howe Sound, you remember why you did it in the first place!


Apparently there has been an e-mail circulating and some media buzz generating about former U.S. Vice Presidents apparent hypocrisy in energy consumption. In regards to the circulated e-mail- having had a computer for well over 10 years, I have inherited a fair amount of skepticism about anything an e-mail says. If I believed everything I have read over the years I could have saved a little girls life by simply passing an e-mail on to 10 people, helped the Nigerian government legally filter money into Canada and Bill Gates, in celebration of the recent merger with AOL (which any idiot could have found out never happened), will give me $24 for every time I forward his E-mail. Not to mention there is also information that the U.S. government purposely attacked themselves in the 911 attacks- and the third building was collapsed because of an insurance policy. Those were some of my favorite e-mails over the years.
Now, media companies are more exposed to legal attacks if they spread mis-information, so I do put more weight on things that appear on TV ( I don't know about North American tv- but the wife had heard something over here).
The truth is that I don't really care if he is a hypocrite. I think that a lot of people end up appearing to be one at one time or another- the truth is that the changes he is asking of us aren't easy to undertake. What he is doing is spreading awareness to people who probably haven't thought too much about the situation which, in my books, is commendable.
This website analyses the e-mail that is circulating and offers an un-biased assessment. Turns out he is a bit of an energy consumer- but he is offsetting his energy usage...
It is an interesting solution actually. People are really set and riveted into their daily routines and it is tough to break some of them, or people don't want to sacrifice comfort of life to improve their potential length of life. I am interested in this problem, but I am definitely guilty of over consuming at times. So spending money on the right industries or physically doing something yourself creates a good balancing point, and is a good start. I think the problem right now too, though, is that these carbon offsetting companies need to be closely monitored to ensure that they are delivering what they promise. The sad truth is that for every good cause and good idea there are bad people trying to capitalize on these situation.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Miyakoda Park

I went to see what Miyakoda park is all about, having never really gone by there before.

It is actually a fair bit bigger than I had thought it was and has a nice pond in the middle with a dam on the other side of the bridge pictured above, in the next picture you can see a turtle resting at the bottom of the dam.
There was also a pack of wild cats roaming around the park. They had no fear at all for the people around, the wife says it is because people feed the cats... make sense.

A final impression as I walked back to my car- always the most high tech solutions here in Japan...

All kidding aside, I am sure stringing the railing up to the top of the embankment has to be a temporary fix... doesn't it????
Okay, how often do you see this, a urinal that is open to public viewing...

Despite my jokes I thought the park is actually quite nice- and I could see how it could be a destination for lots of families (with a very large playground) and young couples for a romantic stroll. I will definitely return!

Bumpy Roads

I am happy that I managed to write over 40 entries in my first two months of blogging, but recently my frequency of contribution has slackened. I think the difference maker is my free time- my schedule was quite busy in February and time to think about topics, etc was a little less. I actually did think of some topics (while driving usually) but they got lost on along the way.

A few mini-topics today

1. Magnolias

I had mentioned these in one of my first posts and it just takes a beautiful day like yesterday for them to amaze me again. The actual blossoming time is pretty brief, but the street (Mokuren dori) just looked amazing as all the trees lining the streets were in full ripe bloom. The blossoms each look so fresh and ripe and fluffy like a full and juicey snowflake on a fresh powder day in the mountains. It was quite nice! I also found some later in the day when driving around the Miyakoda techno area...

A couple of interesting comments inside the blog iteslf and to my e-mail recently. I never shared this information(and sorry I haven't investigated yet) but apparently there is a science to picking your tofu. My old student Yuki that is now living in Switzerland is an expert in these types of matters- she knows about food chemistry! She actually used to work on a tofu project for a food company! Well she says "I strongly recommend you to buy the ones that coagulated by only magnesium chloride.塩化マグネシウムYou can taste the sweetness of soya beans.tofus that are coagulated by calcium sulfate goes sour when it's heated." -- I wanted to share that, it sounds interesting and I look forward to having a taste test one day soon!
I also had a comment from my Second Cousin? Don Godin. Well, I don't think I have ever met Don before- maybe when I went back to Ontario 10 years ago to visit?- but I think I haven't. Well I am so happy to meet a member of my extended family and never thought I could do so by simply starting a blog!
Oh and a good comment from my sister relating to the Lillooet posts I did a little ways back. Her husband, Sean is quite the juggler and I was talking about his latest feat- she updates "Sean can now juggle Mac, 23 bananas AND the dog!! Pretty good considering the dog's not too happy about it. " -- I guess she does have the same sense of humour as I do after all!
I know everyone can see most of these comments themselves- but my theory is that most people rarely look back at posts they have already seen...

3. On a Sad Note...

This weekend at the end of my Sunday class I heard some sad news. One of the former members of that class had stopped attending a year ago and I heard she was quite ill. Well it seems that last month she succumbed to (I think it was lung) cancer and passed away. She was such a very sweet and happy woman everytime I saw her. She treated our whole class one day and played the shamisen and sang old geisha folk songs (sorry I forget the name of the type of music) for us. Her voice was amazing and the song was beautiful and, to me, more importantly she was so happy to share the song with us! Thanks Kyoko!