Saturday, July 28, 2007

Tachikawa Part 2 Out of the creepy looking mist...

Peaceful Green
In Tachikawa was a rather large park, so large that they we had to pay money to get into the bloody place! The park is called Showa Kinen Park- Showa is the era that saw the reign of Emperor Hirohito and Kinen is peace. So the park is a wish for peace- so I think that explains the odd steamy looking place that I captured on film up above. Actually it was a cold mist, and is a great idea on a hot summer's day!
There were actually quite a few photo opportunities around the park, so I had to wade through a few pics, the view of the pond and the green scenery always wins out, not only for my pic, but also Ritsy's...
And what pay-for-use park isn't complete without a very large tree somewhere inside.
All joking aside, the park was a beautiful and very large and was a good place to go to sometimes. It was especially amazing around Cherry Blossom time as the entire place was packed and the sakura were everywhere!
Top Gun
Also near the place that I was living was the U.S. army base, Yokota. We weren't in the path of the sounds of the planes but could often see them running their drills pretty close, and I remember being treated to a fireworks show that year's July 4th. Well once a year they open up their gates and people can come in and enjoy the friendship between America and Japan. This was the year after September 11th and I was pretty surprised that the security on entering was a lot more lax than I expected. Of course I know that I don't really look like a threat, but what if I were an actor that had been Valmorphisized?
I was able to sit in the cockpit of one of their helicopters. Naturally, in my mind I was reliving a Star Wars scene ("don't get all cocky kid").
We had a good time that day, but I remember getting seriously sunburnt and then Ritsy and I had our faces stuck together for some reason.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Another Peace-bringing solution from Todd

Well Steve O said that I get a little political sometimes in the blog, and I had an idea while reading today- so I guess it is political time!

Reading the Vancouver news online today, I noticed a little article (here) where Canadian immigration officials are asking Sikhs named Singh and Kaur to change their names. The reasoning is that it will avoid any confusions as there are too many applicants with the same name.

Predictably, this is causing an outrage. Are they going to ask Chinese named Chang to change their names too? The final answer is completely ignorant, lazy and (okay I'll say it -) stupid! Our names are part of who we are, they are more than just a word that hangs around us, they encompass every second, every year of our lives. To callously say "you must change your name to come into our country" is just the wrong answer to a problem.

This is not to say I don't understand the problem encountered by immigration. There must be an incredible amount of confusion, and as recent statistics suggest, Indians are becoming the #1 immigrant into Canada recently- the problem will only grow bigger.

In such times the best answer is to come up with a timely, inoffensive solution to the problem. To adapt to the system around the issues in a way that is just and fair for all involved. My thoughts are it's time to create a new system- called the Canadian Identification Name [CIN]. The people get to keep their names as their true identity, but they have to take an extra step and in advance fill out registration paperwork with the Canadian embassy or immigration authority to register a special name that will uniquely identify them. Of course, the Canadian government can charge a fee to the applicants to cover the costs of implementing the new system (and probably make a little money) and they will basically have this name added into the Canadian database so that it is a separate word, that they can proudly hold with their new Canadian identity. In police reports their names can turn up like this: Gobhinder Singh (Paul). The government would include a fingerprinting in the application process, so that they can easily be cross referenced to their new CIN should trouble arise. They can also regulate the usage of the names - like a website regulates nickname usage (though I don't think he will pick Paul89 if that moniker is already taken) so there is no repetition.

Thank you very much! Canadian government please remember to send my royalty check for this idea to my address in Japan!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tachikawa pt 1 - The standing river

The view from outside the front door at Leo's palace
Looking back to 2003... the March of that year was the outside of my first journey to live in Japan. At that time I was fresh off a 12 year stint as a cook, ready and eager to take on new challenges and to grow into new experiences. To be honest I thought I may end up cooking again, or worse, washing dishes because my resume didn't stack up very well for diverse jobs. I sucked it up though and searched hard and managed to find 2 part time teaching jobs relatively quickly. It was all I was going to need as the part time hours filled themselves up quite nicely, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Before our departure, one of Ritsy's former colleagues, a doctor now working in the Hino area of Tokyo called and said he could probably help her get a job! Well that settled it, we were bound for the region and we discovered the wonder of Leopalace (the link shows the location we lived at!).Which seemed quite appealing to us because there was no key money, thank you money etc. The monthly rate was quite high, but if we paid the year in advance the amount was deducted to quite a reasonable rate. So we entered into our year of living in a shoebox. The above picture is taken against the far wall of the apartment and you can get a good idea just how spacious it was. The kitchen was off to the right on the way to the exit door, our room was the loft on top of the ladder, next to Ritsy.
This picture is taken from the spot we saw Ritsy standing in the previous picture. You can also get an idea how quickly the place would get messy.

The quality of accommodation didn't really matter though, it was such a buzz to be living in a new city and culture experiencing new things daily. What an amazing city to live in. Tachikawa I always referred to as the 'inaka' of Tokyo as it was quite outside of the busy area and there was even a few farms in the neighborhood. It was pretty quick, though, to venture into the hubbub of the city - basically any direction you went you could find somewhere to go or something to do.

It was also pretty fun to teach in that first year. Making the mistake of talking too much in the classes or learning to deal with annoying kids- it was all part of the fun. Here a couple of my 10 year-old students made an artistic rendering of my girlfriend Ritsy and I, which they found quite amusing.
Well as the clouds set on our year in Tokyo, I regretted that I didn't experience more and had to go back home. Of course at the same time I was so happy to return home and get on with my life, but I grew more fond of the times in Tokyo and am usually pretty stoked to head back every now and then for a visit.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Concert

On the weekend, my student Josh (shown above) had invited Ritsy and I to take in a small private concert put on featuring two members that live and play music in Vienna and Yuka-chan (his niece?!?!) who lives in Gifu. The seating capacity was rather limited but we were invited as Josh thought it would be good for the baby to listen to some live classical music.
Kouji-san and his wife brought their baby too, but he was a little overwhelmed by the loud noise. He however was very good at brushing his teeth.
The trio had to adapt some of the musical choices to be played by only three people. They played a lot of Strauss and my favorite was a haunting rendition of Schubert's Ave Maria.
The two band members from Vienna brought their son with them, that could speak not only English, German,and Japanese but he will soon be studying Latin ! He was 14 years old and had a great head on his young shoulders! Above is Taro, with my wife.
Afterwards we had a great bbq with fresh fish from nearby Yaizu! Also Kouji's wife made her world famous Thai Curry to which everyone scream- karai! which means hot. Of course we know that she probably only made it half as spicy as it would be back in Thailand!
To end the night we had a cup of beer and listened to the performance again, to which the musicians all took turns grimacing- not sure why- it sounded beautiful!

It was a very special and unique night with great music and an opportunity for meeting some fantastic people! A great way to spend a weekend.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Journey Through Aunt Liz's eyes part 2

Continuing with a look at my Aunt's version of the trip here in April. She has so many great pictures of flowers and gave Ritsy and I some advice about what to do with our garden. However, since I am not a flower expert, I can't really explain the pictures, so I thought I would lead in with one of my favorites.
I liked this picture of my mother and I at Bentenjima, though we are quite small in the picture.
I found this picture amusing, taken inside Aeon's Shitoro mall. They were quite amused by the big box shopping center and all the shops inside. Shitoro is the main place to shop here in Hamamatsu. It is the largest shopping center and offers the ultimate in convenience for shoppers.
In this picture we look like explorers delving into the caves at Ryugashido. This is taken seconds before I dove into the water.
This picture, taken as we walked away from Ryotenji is a perfect exit photo, you can see my mother and I walking away, counterbalanced by Red Maple and richly Green bushes. It is the perfect way to draw to a close my picks of favorite pics from my mom and aunt and the trip in general. One last time thanks to them and to Ritsy for making it such a fun time!

The Internet - lol

This just in, the Internet is down!
The Onion

If you never saw this, it's a classic- The Internet is a bunch of tubes...
The Daily Show

Chris pointed me to a funny website about life in Japan-
An Englishman in Osaka

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Journey Through Aunt Liz's eyes

In selecting the picture highlights from Aunt Liz's pictures I was challenged with an even bigger selection of pictures and there were some great pictures from before they met with me, but as I can't comment on the places, I thought it better to start from when we met up with them. I also wanted to show some new views, so some of the better pictures I may have skipped as they are similar to the ones I have already shown.

Aunt Liz has a great love for plants and nature and they show in the pictures. Where my pictures tend to focus on the architecture that I find quite interesting, she is always framing hers with plants of some sort or other. The lead picture is quite indicative of this trait, a sakura and another tree frame the main entrance. I am not sure where this was taken though.
This site came to us while walking to the Nara Hotel, a shop owner feeding a deer. It was our first deer siting of many.
Here the ladies, Ritsy and Cathy, and I are checking out the information of the outlying area framed by a Cherry blossom tree and Kofukuji showing in the background.

Outside the entrance of Todaiji, tree and more cherry blossoms.

My car- we progressed back to Hamamatsu and Liz snapped this picture of the interior of my car. I rather like the picture, you can see the new shopping center, Sun Street in the distance, and of course the unique center console of the Vitz.

Next up some more pics from Hama town from Liz's eyes.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Typhoons, Nuclear Reactors, Drivers Licences, Dainenbutsu, Dinner and Drinks with Some Students!

I wanted to continue reflecting on the visit from my family in April, this time looking at my Aunt's pictures, but there are a few stray topics hanging around that I wanted to address.

Weather and Nuclear power: Last week some nasty weather blew through the region. It actually started on Thursday- before the typhoon hit we had a nasty dumping of rain that seemed to coincide exactly with my class finishing and my entire drive home. The rain was so hard that on the dark road I could barely make anything out. The picture above is a fairly accurate view of what I could see while driving home. Just nasty. The rain seemed to be a little reminder that one of the biggest typhoons in recent memory was paying a visit soon to Japan. Man-yi when it hit Okinawa was a category 4 typhoon and was cutting a direct path through mainland Japan up through Hamamatsu and up to Tokyo. Thankfully by the time it hit here it was category 1 and the winds were a manageable 100 km/hour. Honestly the damage looked minimal in the area- I cleared a few branches that fell off the big tree across the street, but it actually seemed a little anti-climactic.

The next day came news of the big earthquake in Niigata. There were a few concerned e-mails to me as the news characterized it as being central Japan- but it is actually northern central Japan- while I am in Southern Central Japan. The point of interest to me actually is the Nuclear power facility. Japan largely relies on nuclear power- I am sure that you can imagine with such a large population and such small land, the need for efficient cheap power is extreme. Well we aren't too far from a nuclear power plant here in Hamakita- okay it is probably about 40-50kms away, but sometimes that doesn't seem far enough. With the spillage into the sea and the knocking over of the nuclear waste barrels, it seems to me that we haven't heard the last of the damage caused by such a disaster. Well it just strikes a chord with me and I hope that the power plant is better setup to withstand the big earthquake that is overdue to hit here.

Drivers Licence: I went to renew my drivers license on Tuesday with my trusty translator Ritsy (and apparently my wife...). The process includes sitting down for a 2 hour video and lecture. The video is pretty good, at least through the campy acting I can get the point it is trying to make. If I drink with my colleagues they will convince me to drink more than I wanted then I will drive home and fall asleep at the wheel, then hit and inevitably kill a girl riding her bike. I will then be sent to prison and my wife will be forced to work so she will eventually lose the baby that she is carrying due to the extra stress. Okay- all sarcasm aside- I actually like the idea of the video it is presented as a drama which is quite popular in Japan so it will hold people's attention and the message it carries is a good one- don't drink and drive. I hope that it has made some people re-evaluate their habits and saved a life or two! The rest of the session is a throw away- even if I could understand what the man was talking about for the last hour and a half he would have put me to sleep. He was not an interesting public speaker and indeed, looking around I could see some people nodding off. After that was completed, I had my new license- I am now no longer a beginner in Japan (yes, despite my 10 years driving in Canada, I had to start as a beginner).
Dainenbutsu: On Sunday, at the tail end of my class, my students and I went over to the Cultural center in Hamakita and checked out the museum. As we had talked about the Dainenbutsu, they wanted to show it to me as there is a lot of information about the ceremony there. Pictured above are two masks that are used in the ceremony- the characters Hyotoko and Okame. The museum was small but surprisingly nice- I wish a few more foreigners might come out to Hamakita, as there was no English materials made at all! Incidentally about Dainenbutsu, the ceremony was actually last weekend, and that would have meant that the people doing the cermony that night would have had to be out in the typhoon conditions! I hope that they were able to cut the evening short!
Dinner: That night (after my usual Sunday basketball session with Chris and Peter) I met up with the same students again and we went out for a nice night of drinks and food! Kazuo and Atsuko are a couple of real nice people that tried out one of my group lessons and asked me to teach them privately as the class was too hard for them. They both have a great energy and we always have a great chat every class. For dinner we chose a local Izakaya called Iso de Raku that featured some amazing fish dishes.
After some great food, some beer and some laughs, we of course had to have the typical capper- a trip to karaoke!
It was a great night and they were both very generous and very fun to hang out with!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The journey through Cathy's eyes part 2

In continuing with a look at my mom's pictures from the trip out to Japan back in April, I will continue flush in the middle of the trip to Nara. These two frogs, while I am sure they have some sort of religious meaning as they are at Shinyakushiji temple, but I think they are just cute.
Here my mom captures quite nicely the unique apparel the young ladies wore at Kasuga Taisha. I believe the flower is called a Wisteria or something like that...
She rather shiftily captured this picture of Ritsy and I waiting at the shinkansen station. Quite underhanded of her, but I liked the picture anyway...
Jumping ahead to our trip to the caves up north, I thought this picture captured well the enclosed grandiose ambiance of the caves.
And finally I have this picture of the front of the caves being guarded by the dragon.

Unfortunately that was as far along as the pictures from her that I have runs, but I still enjoyed to go back and to revisit the memories of early spring, borrowing her eyes! Oh finally, me and some turtles back in Nara.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The journey through Cathy's eyes - part 1

It's sometimes interesting to go back through someone else's pictures and see the views and vantages that they had taken from the same places you have gone. It's incredibly interesting as in some ways people's personality and interests bleed through into their photos and almost give us a fresh perspective on something we have already been through. I recently started going through my mom's pictures from her April visit and I picked out 10 of my favorite pics that I will post over the next two postings. In the above picture, you can see Risy, My Aunt Liz and I standing on the steps up to Kofukuji.
We saw this shop where they would make mochi right in front of our eyes. They apparently were a little bit famous from Nara and had appeared on a few popular Japanese TV programs. It was quite the show, I am surprised there isn't more businesses that are run like this.
This beautiful picture comes from one of the many gardens we visited in Nara- sorry I have already forgotten the name of it. Here my mother has quite masterfully caught a beautiful blend of green nature contrasted with the wooden railing and the very Japanese looking house.
I had a similar shot to this one, the garden with the Todaiji temple peaking out over the tree tops. This picture is equally as beautiful and visually pleasing.
One of the personality traits that were apparent her pictures was her interest in the beautiful manhole covers- it was tough to pick one that stood out, so I decided not to use one here. Another thing that held Cathy's attention was the Japanese cemeteries so she was quite excited about these graves on the way up to Byakugoji temple. Turned into quite an interesting picture too...
More tomorrow...

Thursday, July 12, 2007


I remember not too long ago laughing at one of my students bemoaning his ill-fated turn when his wife got hooked on Mixi. Japan, like other countries has started getting hooked on the social networking sites recently. I thought it was a silly endeavour- I had tried getting onto My Space before and thought it was nothing more that a glorified meat-market website.

About a month or so ago, a friend of mine sent out an invite to join Facebook- the latest Social Networking craze in the English community. While skeptical, I was in the mood to try out something new so I signed up to give it a whir. My first impression was quite negative however. They immediately ask you to give them your e-mail address and password to send out invites to all the people in your address book. I have seen a number of websites that use this style of proliferating and have pretty much as a rule stayed away from these sites. In this day and age where security concerns and privacy concerns are talked about daily- I can't believe that people will willingly give their password to a website like that, if the website has a malicious owner you could be opening the door to a potential world of trouble. However I had been reading a lot about Facebook in my daily tech news, so I knew they were on the level. I searched out the "skip this step" button and joined up.

Since I didn't use the E-mail option I found the best way to find contacts is to look for them in your friend's contact lists or run a search (you can search by regional network, your high school, or job place) for people you haven't heard from in a long time.

The interface for Facebook is impressive, as they opened up their interface to 3rd party modules, you can easily customize your Facebook space to have all the options that you think that can be fun. You can share video files, or pinpoint on a map places you have been, or you can just join in on a Facebook-wide Food Fight. The user base is also impressive and seemingly growing at an alarming rate (it seems like everyone else is a new user as well).

One function I thought was quite nice is it is very easy to share your personal pictures with your friends only. I had tried to share some pictures with Flickr previously, but people only seemed to use it to look at my pictures, so whenever I put new pics up they couldn't remember their log-in info. Flickr has smartly added a 3rd party app to Facebook you can share those pictures in the social site as well.

Well after an initial love affair with the site, I have at times found my interest waning, but I guess this is why people have been calling it "crackbook" (named wittily by combining the name of a highly addictive drug and the name of the site), is that the 3rd party add-ons provide a lot of fun ways to interact with other people, so I am almost daily getting e-mail reminders that I have something to look at.

My constant wariness of time wasters and trying to get myself on the path to productivity has met another foe. Curse you Facebook!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Babies and insects

A leftover Sakura picture that has nothing to do with today's post!
Middle of July already! It's crazy that now in about 4 months I will be a dad- it doesn't get driven home any clearer than that! We are currently investigating where to have the baby. You used to be able to deliver in woman's clinics or hospitals, but the law changed fairly recently so that you can't have the baby in a clinic anymore. But this is where I get confused, apparently there is a type of clinic known as a "midwife's clinic" there you can, in fact deliver. I don't get what the difference is between a mid-wife and a clinic doctor, but apparently the mid-wife is more qualified in case of emergency? Well, I am not sure of the reasoning behind it, but the bonus is that the clinics are typically cheaper than the hospitals- so Ritsy went today to meet with the Mid-wife clinic to see if she is able to deliver the baby there. If not we will probably have to choose the local University hospital- Idai, as it is the most reasonable priced.
There is actually a closer hospital that they are just completing the building on. It's probably within a kilometer from my house, but the hospital is slated to open in November- since we are expecting in November there has been concern about the state of preparedness the hospital will be in by that time.

I picked up the baby bed from my student Koji yesterday, it's so nice to have people offering stuff like that- every little bit counts!
I got an e-mail from one of my previous students yesterday, his wife just had a baby and he sent me the picture! Congrats Harry!
This insect freaked me out when it flew into my car last week. I have no idea what it is ( long horned beetle?) but it was quite big and had no business being in my car! I don't really like Beetles very much (though I do like The Beatles), they are quite popular with the kids in Japan, but they remind me of cockroaches with long horns or antlers...

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Bentenjima hanabi

Yesterday, my wife and I had been invited by one of my coworkers out to Bentenjima to
watch the fireworks they display out there. My coworker, his name is Warwick, here he is with the children of one of my students, has a place with a great view there.
That's right - I said the children of one of my students. Warwick's wife and my student's wife happen to be sisters so they are brothers-in-law. So here is Warwick, Shun (my student) and I enjoying some wine.
Well Warwick and I seem to have a fair bit in common. We are foreigners, we are both hansom, we both work for the same company, we know Shun, he is building a house right now ( I built a house), and he just had a baby(Ritsy is due in November)-okay well his wife just had the baby. His baby is very new and is so tiny- very cute though...
Warwick's pad was pretty nice, they have a great view of the water and the bridge in Bentenjima (you can find an old picture of the water gate at Benten in this old post). Unfortunately some greedy jerks built some condos across the way that partly blocked the view(you can see the building in the picture below)- doesn't matter it was a fantastic venue! This was also the last chance to see the fireworks at his place as he will be moving into his new home in about 3 months time.
Great to enjoy the fireworks and a beer a chuckle or two all at the same time. Everyone was so nice, and my wife enjoyed talking to Warwick's wife as their situations are very similar ( I guess that means having to put up with stinky gaijin?). Unfortunately Shun couldn't keep up with us and we found him passed out in the upstairs room.
All in all, the night was a great success and very fun for both of us, I hope to do something similar again in the future!