Thursday, July 24, 2008


Well tomorrow is the big day. We are leaving Japan after living here for two years. The way I reckon it Logan has spent half of his life here. We have had an amazing time and have met a lot of wonderful people who we will miss terribly. But we are also excited to be heading home. It has been a long two years and we have people we love a lot and miss terribly that we will be seeing in a day. It is hard to sum up all the feelings that we have, but the biggest one is excitement. We are going to be back on American soil by this time tomorrow (well, about an hour ago according to our tickets.) So pray for our safety and speed as we head back home. And as we begin the process of once again packing up our belongings and building a new home in a new place. We will take it all one step at a time and just be excited to head back to アメリカ. See you soon.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Catching Up

The past few months have been busy and slow all at the same time. Amazing as it is to think that our time here is drawing to a close. We are having to face the reality that we have to squeeze in all the things that we desire to accomplish in our time here into the next few weeks. We spent the majority of our weekends this past month or so scratching things off the list one at a time. We have been all over the Kansai region in search of excitement and adventure.

Probably the most exciting thing we have been to see during this time was the baseball game we went to at the end of April. Baseball is huge here and there is no other team that rivals the fan base of the Hanshin Tigers. That being said, there would be no other team for us. We would head off and see the Tigers play. Lucky for us the Tigers are considered a local team and we live a mere two hours by train from their home field. I tried to by some tickets for a day game on the twenty-ninth but the game was sold out by the time I tried to buy tickets, three weeks before the game. I settled for three tickets to the night game on the next day. Tiger’s games are almost always capacity crowds, in fact Tiger’s fans sometimes out number the opposing teams fans when the Tigers are the visiting team. We are talking about true fanatics.

We ventured down to Osaka to begin the trip to Koshien Stadium but not before we stopped off at the Hanshin Department Store. The Tigers are owned by the Hanshin Department store and this was the best place to find the proper attire to wear to the game. Logan and I each got a t-shirt and a hat to wear. We also bought some clap-bats to bang together while we cheered for the home team.

Next it was off to the stadium for a chance to watch the spectacle that is Japanese Baseball. I have been to a few West Michigan Whitecaps games in the past and going to a game with my Dad is usually one of the highlights of the summer for me. This game, while it fit the mental schema of a baseball game, was far different from what I am used to. I usually sit in the bleachers eating three dollar hotdogs and drinking five dollar beers chatting with family and friends while keeping half and eye of the game. There was too much going on at a Hanshin Tigers game to sit back and relax.

Our seats were along the third base line and near the field. They were not as prime as I had hoped them to be. A large pole blocked our view of the batter almost completely. It was not as bad as we feared because we still had a view of the action. We may not have been able to see what was happening on the infield, but we could see the fan section just fine. And maybe, just maybe, that is what we were there to see. Baseball is Baseball, but true Hanshin fans are fanatics.

We were able to see the die-hard fans in the seats behind the outfield. They would wave their giant flags in the air chanting and singing the Tiger’s fight song. We could also hear the pep band playing the music to accompany the singing. We reveled in the excitement and energy of the crowd. We tried to sing along with the song, trying to pick up the few words that we could. We would bang our clap sticks together in unison with the rest of the crowd. We were disappointed when the opposing team hit a home run. I must admit it was nice seeing one, but that is neither here nor there.
We had a great time at the game. I think that the most disappointing yet exciting part of the evening occurred when the unexpected happened. It was just before the seventh inning stretch began and the people began to pull out balloons. They proceeded to blow them full of air. Then just before the first pitch of the inning everyone simultaneously released the massive balloons. The meter long slender balloons rose into the air like confetti in reverse. Multi-colored balloons waved and danced on the currents as the air escaped from their untied ends until they deflated fully and came on their quick descent back to earth. Since we forgot to buy balloons at the Tiger's store, it was something we were not prepared for. And a splendid surprise it was.

We left after the eighth inning to try and beat the escaping crowd. We were sad to leave before we knew if our team was winning or not. That is the danger of leaving early from a game that was too close to call. But we also had to keep in mind the two-hour train ride back to our own time and the hour was getting late. I did check the Internet the next day to find that our team had beaten the Swallows six to five with a winning run in the last inning. Go Tigers!!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Night Blossoms Like Fire

BOOM-Boom-knock. Broke the silence of our home. Was it the sound of the taiko procession making its way through the streets again? Boom-boom-knock, the sound came again. No, not taiko, someone was at the door.

It was Mark with an invitation to head back to the mountain. Our neighbors Justin and Mayumi were gathering a group to head to a park near the mountain. This park is ringed with cherry trees and spot lights to illuminate them in the darkness. That plan was to go hang out in the park drinking sake and enjoying some night blossoms.

We first headed to the grocery store to stock up on snack foods and alcohol. Then it was off to the park. But we did not make it there in a timely fashion. We walked through the streets and near the shrine next to Logan's school we could see, and hear, that there was something happening.

We walked through the still night air. Our peaceful evening stroll was interrupted by the BOOM-BOOM of a giant taiko drum. We could hear it in the distance and as we grew nearer we could see the crowd of people gathered to practice for the matsuri that would be happening in a few weeks time. Most of the people were dressed in their regular clothes; it was a bit weird for me to see students out of their uniforms. There were a group of men all dressed in traditional firefighting clothes, including antique helmets, and special chest plates. It was really cool to see the old way of dressing. But it raised the question of why dress like old time firefighters?

We found our answer soon enough. There were handmade pillars of gathered rice stalks and other dried plant material that towered into the air. They stood twenty feet tall at least. As we grew nearer we could see the torch reach up into the air and ignite the top of one of the half dozen or so sheaves. To the soundtrack of the booming drum the first of them began to burn. The heat radiated and the fire illuminated the dark night. If the booming of the drum was not enough, buried in stalk were firecrackers. As the pillar burned the firecrackers popped and burst punctuating the drum beats.

We stood and watched the fire and marveled in the opportunity to see such marvels. We went over and watched people drumming on the drum, others were watching the fire. We stood witness to the spectacle for a time, but then it was time to mosey along.

We continued up to the park at the bottom of the mountain where Justin and Mayumi were already waiting for us. We all sat down on a ledge at the back of the park and watched the flowers and listened to music that burst forth from the "dollar store" speakers hooked up to Mayumi's ipod. We had not sat for longer than ten minutes when the lights very unceremoniously shut off.

We sat in the dark and talked the late evening away. It was nice and peaceful to visit and commune with our friends and neighbors.
It was fun but bittersweet at the same time. A few more months and most of us will be leaving this place and going different ways. It is amazing to think that we have been here for almost two years now. Even more amazing is the fact that we will soon have to leave and return to start a new life in a new place. We are nervous and excited that another chapter to our adventure filled life will begin when we relocate to Colorado after we get back. We are nervous about what the future holds, but are confident that what ever is in front of us will be an exciting adventure.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Happy Children's Day

We wanted to wish everyone out there a happy Children's Day.  Today is known here as Kodomo no Hi or 子どもの日.  We had a great day of spoiling Logan.  We took him to Saty and bought a Tomica Car, and then over to the mall where we got an Anpanman CD.  After dinner it was time to eat our cake.

 Last year we had a cake that looked like one of the fish flags that flies outside our window.  This year we bought a cake that was shaped like the helmet of a samurai warrior.  We have had a great day as your day is just beginning, so Happy Children's Day.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Picnic in the Clouds

Hachiman Yama is a magical place. All of the fun and exciting things center on the shrine that sits at the base of the mountain. The area is an old fashioned and quaint area that has a classic look to them. The canal that travels around the mountain from Lake Biwa comes near the shrine. The canal is one of the most picturesque areas in town. In fact it is one of the most authentically historical looking in Japan. Film companies will use this area when filming samurai dramas to achieve the appropriate look and feel. We even managed to recognize our own Hachiman Canal one time as we were watching a movie we rented from Tsutaya. We have also made sure to take a photo of the canal from the same bridge for each season.

We knew that the spring photo would have to be one taken during the height of cherry blossom season. Logan also had a real strong desire to ride the cable car to the top of the mountain. We decided that we would have a nice Sunday afternoon picnic at the top of the mountain. We walked from our home to the mountain stopping at the grocery store to pick up some food to eat.

We bought our tickets and hopped on the cable car ready to ride the ropeway to the top of the mountain. The ride to the top takes about five minutes or so and affords a fine view of the whole city. We looked out on the city as we gently swayed in the soft breeze and rode to the top of the mountain. We could hear the sounds of the city, which in today's case happened to be the sound of giant taiko drums beating all around the city.

Once at the top of the mountain we wandered to the backside of the mountain. The area at the back of the mountain is the viewing area. It is a wide swath of ground that looks out over the majestic Lake Biwa. On a clear day it is almost possible to see all the way to Kyoto, but this day the weather was hazy and we had trouble seeing the other side of the narrow lake.

We found a nice spot in the warm sun and laid out our tarp to eat our picnic. We were not the only group who had the same idea. There were about four other groups of picnickers scattered around the observation area. The weather was perfect for enjoying an outdoor lunch. A cool breeze blew through the air but the sun was out and it's rays on our skin kept our skin warm. We ate our lunch there at the top of the mountain. We had stopped to purchase various sandwiches, doughnut holes, drinks and even a slice of tuna, sweet corn and mayo pizza; yum yum.

After eating our lunch we walked back around the crest of the mountain and up to the temple at the top. The temple is a beautiful temple that sits at the very zenith of the mountain. We did not go in and look at all the statuary and regalia. Instead we played our favorite mountain top game of “hey can we see our house from here?” Well I am happy to report that with the help of the 12x zoom lens on our camera we did manage to see our apartment from the top of the mountain. To be honest we had to wait until we got the photos loaded up on the computer at home to see, but we very obviously have a picture of our home taken from the top of the mountain. We talked about all the things we have seen and things that we would see. We listened to the drums beat in the distance and wondered what the pounding was for.

Strange noises are a part of our lives here as I have mentioned before. This time it was the loud beat of the taiko drums that had us wondering what was happening in our little town. Little did we know that we would be finding out later in the evening...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sakura Madness - はなみ (hanami)

We were invited to ride in a small boat that was much like a wooden canoe. There was a community group that was offering rides and Logan was thrilled to take a ride. He was bouncing up and down and almost jumped into the shallow river before we had our turn to ride. When the boat did dock it was our turn to climb down to the landing platform. We climbed down the three steps so we would be level with the boat. We climbed aboard and moved to the far forward of the boat. Logan and Jenny were handed a canoe paddle as about two more families climbed aboard. Men wearing hip waders walked next to the boat to guide it up and down the knee-deep stream. Logan had a fantastic time paddling his oar in the water. He felt like such a big boy to be able to make the boat go. We rowed in the boat between two bridges, turned around in our seats and rowed back to the landing dock. It does not seem like much, but it really was a lot of fun.

After the boat ride we resumed our walk down the sakura-lined lane. It was not long before we received another invitation. This time it was less of an invite and more of a command. There was a middle-aged woman who was urging us rather forcefully to enter an old school that was being used as an art gallery. She stood there on the sidewalk and moved us rather gracefully to the entrance gate, showed us a photo of the painting she created, and told us to go look at the real thing. We did just that. It was nice to go in and see all the art. We saw paintings, sculptures, quilts, and lots of other types of art. I think that the most interesting was being able to see the very old, if not antique, school building. The halls with their wooden floors creaked as we trod quietly on them. Windows that looked out onto the barren playground and were flanked by blossoming cherry trees. We were surprised to be here, but it was a pleasant opportunity to see something that we did not expect.

We walked throughout the city looking at all there was to see. We saw more flowers and people than we ever thought we would see in the course of one day. But still it was nice as the walk brought into neighborhoods we had not yet visited. We walked along a small stream that ran parallel to the Kiyamachi-dori Street. We then had to walk back to our starting point to find our way to the next location for awesome cherry sights. This time instead of retracing our steps along the stream we moved about two blocks east and walked along the Kano-gawa River. There is a walkway that is at river level and this day it was filled with people and some booths selling various goods. These were not the usual fare. This day there were new things including a Middle Eastern food booth selling kebabs and other Middle Eastern fare. The nice thing was that the whole thing was being run by and eco-friendly company and not only were there trash receptacles everywhere but they also were recycling much of the garbage. That is an amazing feat because most of the time when we have trash to pitch in the dust bin there is not one around to use.

We walked along the bank of the river and admired the city that stood around us as we walked to the Gion district. We were looking for another little river only in a different area of town. The Gion area is the entertainment district. And by entertainment I mean the old-fashioned entertainment of Geisha and small drinking bars not movies and Broadway Musicals. We decided that this would be a great place to see the blossoms and who knows what else. So we headed off to find the little stream that feeds into the Kamo-gawa.

We found it with little problem. It was not hard to see the large group of people congregating in the area. It was difficult to make our way into the space because it was so full of people. We wandered along the river looking at all the pale pink blossoms and the colorful people. We even saw a couple of ladies who were dressed up to look like geisha. It is very rare to see an actual geisha; they are usually hidden away for very high paying clients. As a result most of the time when you see a geisha on the streets they are just a regular person who has paid money to be made up to look like one. We also saw what I thought was a really cool sight. We saw a man, a chef I think, standing on some very high stilt like geta sandals. There he was standing down an alleyway about two feet in the air on his single riser sandals. I had just enough time to zoom in with my camera and snap a few pictures.

We wandered around the Gion area for a while. We took time to appreciate the small shrines tucked away and almost hidden from view. We saw ancient looking houses and modern ones too. We wandered throughout this area trying to take it all in without getting to lost in the process. We eventually made our return to the place where we started and we decided to head off for some dinner.

We walked for a while before we found a place to eat. Once long ago we had seen a restaurant that looked like it would be a great place to eat. We decided to hunt it down. We wandered the city streets and eventually found it. We ordered dinner and ate our food when it came. We also happened to run into some of the other people who live in our area. They were getting ready for a big party later in the evening.

After dinner we headed back to the little river where we had taken the boat ride earlier in the afternoon. We did stop at a cake shop for a desert and a coffee first. Last year a confectionery had temporarily shut down due to using day old ingredients in its pastries. It was a giant scandal and we thought it would be fun to eat at one of the recently reopened shops. After our after dinner treat we walked though the now darkened streets viewing the now illuminated trees. While we were doing some night viewing we ran into our neighbor Justin. He was also on his way to the big party and we walked with him as he found his way there.

We had seen many flowers and fascinating sights for one day and the next would be more of the same. The cherry blossoms season is short and sweet. We have to see them while they bloom and before they fall. Last chance.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sakura Madness - さくら (sakura)

Like soft pink snowflakes the petals float through the air. Lifted by the wind and pushed along wherever the breeze wills. Up and down, around and around the cherry blossoms float. To me this is the essence of the cherry blossom. They bloom in the spring and for a few weeks they are everywhere. Eventually the breeze grabs the petals, pulling them from the flower. They float on the currents of air in unpredictable directions. I love to watch the petals float like a will-o-the-wisp around me. It is magical to be in the center of a pink petal vortex.

We sat and ate our lunch under the cherry trees in the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park one sunny Saturday afternoon. We planned on eating lunch in the park during hanami for about a year. Last year we went to view the cherry trees in the Maru Yama Park, which happens to be one of the most famous in the city. Seeing families and groups of people camped out for an entire weekend of picnicking fun was great, but it made us wonder if we would have trouble finding a spot to eat our lunch this year.

We stopped for lunch in a fancy new convenience store in Kyoto Station that we noticed for the first time. It was one of those double take moments where you have to look twice and wonder what else you do not pay attention to in life. Where there once was a wall, now there was a shiny new strip of stores including an upscale conbini. Jenny and I each bought a bento containing rice, a slice of broiled fish, pickled cucumber, and some other salads. Logan had a sandwich and some other various goodies. And there we sat under the tree with cherry blossoms falling all around us as we ate our lunch and drank from a big bottle of sake. Well Logan did not imbibe in the sake, but Jenny and I both took advantage of the opportunity to sip some rice wine while viewing the flowers. We ate lunch with surrounded by several other families who must have all been thinking the same thing we were.

We ate, laughed and had fun. After lunch it was time to go play in the playground. Logan was very excited to go and play in the sandbox. This was one of the first nice weekends after a cold wet winter. Logan and Jenny headed up to the play area while I cleaned up after our lunch. I joined them after a few minutes and found Logan happily digging away in the sand. After his time excavating in the sandbox he headed over to the swings to try his luck. He only had to wait a few minutes before one of the four swings became available for his use. He swung back and forth for quite some time. He did not ask to be pushed higher, but he did start to move his legs in the classic pumping action. He even managed to do it all by himself for a time.

After playing on the playground for a time we decided to stroll around the grounds of the park for a while. This was our opportunity to see all the different flowering trees in the park. Many of the trees were cherry trees that blossomed in varying shades of pink. There were others too. I am no flowering tree expert, but there were lots of beautiful trees that were covered in beautiful flowers. And we saw them all. We had a great time wandering through the park and admiring the flowers. Even occasionally giving them a sniff to see how they smell, for the record cherry blossoms do not have much of an odor. There was a small grove of non-cherry trees that did have a great perfume like smell. The odor grabbed us by the nose and pulled us in and we wandered through with our noses high in the air. It was really a lot of fun to spend time in the park and the best part was that it was not very crowded. We were able to cross another item off of our list of things to do: eat a picnic lunch while sitting under a flowering cherry tree.

Our day did not end at this point. Oh no, our day of cheery cherry madness continued on. We hopped on the subway and traveled to a different part of the city to see more of the quintessential Japanese flowering tree. The day would not be complete until we had used every waking minute searching out the best places to see the best trees. This time we were bound for an area we had visited once before. We had walked the street as we were looking for ramen on our ramen meguri. That day we happened upon the street quite by accident. This time we were planning on seeing the street lined with flowering trees. The walk was very pleasant, but crowded. There were people and trees throughout the area. We were walking near a small stream that wound it's way throughout the area. Much like on the Path of Philosophy we walked near the water as often as we could. We wandered and talked, strolled and laughed. It was fun to walk and admire all of the scenery around us. It was as we were admiring a particularly beautiful tree that the invitation came.