Thursday, July 28, 2005

Journey's End? Or just a New Beginning?

Sayaka and her little sister Yayoi (left)

Well, I'm getting ready to make the extremely long flight back to the States, so don't mind the delay in posts. I really hate to be leaving Japan, as this is my own graceland, but such is the life of a traveling man. I'll be taking a few weeks off from blogging after my return to Montana, but before I do I'll leave you all with this nice picture of two very special and extremely lovely ladies: Sayaka (right) and her cute younger sister Yayoi (left). I hope you all had as much fun watching my Japan adventure as I had posting pics and sharing it with you! Look for more insightful posts on Japanese culture in the near future and keep an eye out for new exciting things! You'll never know what I'll post next. See you all again very soon.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Return to Blue Lagoon

Return to blue lagoon

Here we find a very spectacular waterfall. The source of the waterfall is the same source of water which supplies Tsuujunkyo bridge. From the bridge it only took fifteen minutes to hike down and around to the basin where the best view of the falls were. The entire walk through the bamboo (often 60 to 70 meters tall) and forestry was intesnse and muggy, but coming out into the opening of mist and cool ionized air really envigorated us! Not only that, we had the most amazing view nature could afford. Yes, I'm talking about my lovely Sayaka!

Sayaka enjoys the cool refreshing mist

Is that a bird, plane, or Superman? I can't tell.

Looking up we could see a suspension bridge high up in the sky overlooking the waterfall. I just had to get up there and take some photos. The bridge was actually quite large. I kept thinking of Indian Jones while we trecked through this jungle terrain, bridges, and so forth. Luckilly we didn't happen to bump into any snakes, but lots of spiders the size of your fist!

Front view of the falls from the suspended bridge off yonder

Tsuujunkyo Bridge

Tsuujunkyo bridge

Tsuujunkyo bridge is the most famous bridge in the Kumamoto region, if not Kyushu all together. This bridge was designed specifically to carry water high accross the deap ravine. In the distance is a waterfall, but the people in the village over the hill had no way to get water accept to climb up the mountain every day, get some water and climb back down. The bridge was developed in the late seventeen hundress and shows the fine craftsmenship of the Japanese. Using a stone bridge to cary water and act as a means of transport? This is engineering ingenuity and pretty darn cool if you ask me!

Sayaka peaks over the ledge

You can see Sayaka peaking over at me as I took this picture. Just to the lower right of her you can see the funel spout with water trickling out of it. Right now there is a plug which is blocking the water, but when you pull that plug out both sides of the bridge spout water. The pressure of the water which shoots out of that hole on the bridge is the equivilant to a fire hose which puts out a fire. Pretty amazing, and I would have liked to see it, but we came in the cool evening of an uncrowded off day; which so happened to be equally as beautiful and relaxing.

Inside the bridge

This is the water transport blocks contructed within the bridge. When they are put in rows the square hole acts as a pipe to transfer the water across. There are four rows of these pipes which span the entire length of the bridge. In case of high pressure incidents, such as heavy rain fall or freezing, which threaten to burst the bridge a gate is stopped at either end and the plugs are removed to drain all the water, which then proceeds to shoot out of the sides of the bridge making a neat spectacle.

Me sitting on the bridge

Here I am sitting in one of the exits of the water pressure release point on Tsuujunkyo bridge. Just next to my feet you can see one of the wood corks which plugs the water release point. Even though the wood plug works, there is still a small amount of water which was trickling out; just enough to get my feet wet.

What Percent Orange Juice do you like to Drink?

What percentage orange juice are you drinking?

One of the questions that always throws a foreigner off (and I mean always) in Japan is when you try and order an orange juice at a restaraunt. Inevitably the sinario goes the exact same way each and every time... first you order. Then the waiter/waitress replies in quick rounded Japanese, almost a little too quite, as they are trying to be polite and wholy insecure with talking to a foreigner. Next comes the blank stares by both parties, and then the re-order. Orange juice! More blank stares, and then the same question. "Yes, I know you ordered that, but what percentage of orange juice would you like to drink?"

Ah! And that's the trick folks... knowing that in Japan, ordering 100% is like ordering a Coke in the American south. I ordered a Coke! Not Pepsi! But in the American south, soda-pop (which easterners just call soda and westerners happen to call pop) all get confused over. Ordering a Coke doesn't necessarily mean Cocacola, it means cola flavored beverage. Who knew? But in Japan when I order a Cola, I always get Coke. Happy day! It's just that darn orange juice you have to be careful about. I just happen to be a 20% to 30% orange juice drinker. I find at that percentage it taste like Sunny Delight, or Tang! Yum.... astronauts around the world will be glad to know Japanese are all about variety, and the stress of having to order a simple drink. At least you think it would be simple... it's not.

Qoo tastes like Sunny Delight!

Of course there is the occasional apologetic look after ordering an orange juice, to which the waiter/waitress will reply, "Sorry, but is it okay if we only have a 100% orange juice?" That one used to throw me off too, because normally when I order orange juice I'm in the mood for 100% real freshly squeezed or otherwise orange juice! If I wanted watered down, third of the percentage, you think I'd be more specific? But the Japanese have this convenience thing down pat. Not everybody happens to like 100% and not everybody wants pulp. Some people are just more thirsty than they are juicy... and this makes buying juice fun. Prepare to keep on your toes when ordering food in Japan.

Another great moment is when you order fast food and they ask you after you have ordered, "Is this what you want?" No matter how many times you say yes, they will politely wait for confirmation. This one tricked me lots when I first came to Japan. The ackward moment in which I order, wait, have them ask me if this is what I really want right after I tell them my order, and then contemplate changing my order just to throw them off. Not that anybody ever does that... purposely changing an order after the polite double check. But it is this over politeness that first threw me off. In America they would as soon as spit in your food and then give it to you late before politely ensuring you have what you want. But that's the cultural difference for you. If you ask me, I prefer the Japanese way.

Oh, and by the way, if the food ever is late, or you are missing something, they give you the entire order at half cost or free... depending on the mood of the manager. I never get that in America. The best I ever recieved for my complaints State side when they forgot my french fries and half my order was a stern look and an attitude like, "What? You want us to actually work for a living? Get out of my restraunt." That's America for you. Always say what you think before you actually think of what you should say. Again, I think I prefer the Japanese way. Manners, politeness, and the artform of respect always win out in my book.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Tree Climbing

Big Tree

How would you like to be the one to climb this gargantuan leafy timber? The tree reminded me of the one from "Totoro" and I had to get a picture of it. The lovely lady sitting under the tree is my one and only love, Sayaka.

This tree is in the park in front of the castle and is probably 800 years old. I was told most of the trees were planted before the castle was even built, so you're looking at anywhere from 600 to 800 years ago. Don't mind his age though, this tree still gives much needed shade on a blistering summer day. Even though Sayaka and I were roasting alive as it was 98 degrees and about 98% humidity that day, we stopped to refresh ourselves under the cool shade of big tree.

Sayaka playing with the tree.

Sayaka loves roots. For some reason she thinks they are more beautiful than the rest of a tree. Me, I think they look creepy, but we still had fun playing with them. Next to the castle moat some of the land had slid into the water, probably due to torential rain downfall. This landslide left many of the roots exposed to one of the neighboring trees, in which Sayaka just had to stop and play. Me too! We had great fun, even though it was sweltering hot.

tree light

Lucky for me, right before I passed out from heat stroke, we managed to stumble upon a drinking fountain at the other end of the park. I took a big drink and the water was too warm, so I turned it up so the water shot straight up about 20 feet! A lot of pressure there. I got the thing turned back down in time just to have Sayaka laugh at my wet pants. It you notice, I splashed them good. That's what I'm here for, entertainment folks! I hope you're all enjoying my blog.

Goober takes drink

As we left the park I had the distinct feeling that we were being followed. I turned around quickly and caught two suspicious looking shadows lurking behind our steps. Sure enough, we were having so much fun they decided to tag along to see what we'd do next!

The Shadow people!

(Special note: These pictures were taken in July of 2005, not 1999. My digital camera has a bad habbit of reseting the date everytime I take the memory card out)

Castle Town

Out side the walls

Did I mention that Kumamoto city is a castle town? I believe I did in a past post, but now you get to see it for yourself! Kumamoto castle is one of the most impressive castles ever designed. In fact, there was no possible way to breach it without the aid of canon fire.

side view

The beautiful rock walls were all hand placed, and curve out for defensive purposes. The main purpose is nobody can scale them. Also latters become difficult to use since the curve extends the length needed by three times. If you can't get right up next to the wall you're always in view, which means the bolders, arrows, bullets, and stuff being lobbed down at invading forces was unavoidable. If you ask me, it's a smat design.

How do I get in?

Japanese people even say the beauty and design of Kumamoto castle strikes them with a sense of awe. I met a business man from Tokyo who said that visiting Kumamoto castle made his heart race and give him a feeling of pride. This is the remaining mark of a once great civilization and there is still a sense of honor and nationalism which springs up when visiting such places. I assume it would be the same for Americans visiting the U.S. Capital, Washington Monument, and other key land marks which define our history and who we are. However, back in Montana there is sadly a lack of dissapointing. Although we have cows, lots of them, no castles.

I like Japanese castles better than European ones; mainly because the architecture strikes me as more beautiful, artistic, and inovative. However, castles in general are just plain cool.

If you want in you'll have to get past these guys.

These fellows stood outside and threatened to stab me numerous times if I didn't pay the entrance fee. Currently the main section of the castle is being rebuilt. As the castle is considered a national treasure and museam, a small entrance fee is require, just like Suizenji park. These fees are put to good use, and the main part of the castle burnt down in the latter part of the seventeenth century. It is being remade and construction will finalize in 2007! Until then enjoy the pics of the main watch tower, it is beautiful don't you think?

Ah! I finally get to see the castle. It's big.

After climbing to the top of the castle and looking out over the city, Sayaka and I came back down and decided to tour the grounds. But before we left we had to walk through the pak outside the castle walls. Turing around we waved goodbye to the castle.

Good bye castle! See you next time.

(Special note: These pictures were taken in July of 2005, not 1999. My digital camera has a bad habbit of reseting the date everytime I take the memory card out)

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Social Gatherings, residual Korean anti-sentiment, and Korean Popularity

Food food and more food

Here is one of three large platters brought out after the Shinto ceremony was over. At the house dancing and praying commenced and then we were allowed to eat. Basically you had your pick of anything sea-food-ish. I still don't know whathalf of what I ate was, and whenever I asked Sayaka what this thing was I was chewing on she wisely replied, "Meat." That's the best way to answer a land locked meat lover... If I knew I was eating fish testicles and sea urchin stomach pouches I probably would have spit it up. I liked the crabs little claw poked out of the deep fried batter looking like the little guys desperately wear trying to get out of the biscuit. I laughed out loud and everybody looked at me funny. I wish I could have gotten a photo of everyone for you, but I was being hogged as the focuse of discussion and everybody wanted a little bit of my time. I tried to sneak my camera to Sayaka at one point but it ended up getting lost under the table somewhere.

From above

One of the more shocking moments of the evening was listening to some of the Anti-Korean sentiment that still exists among some of the more traditional thinking Japanese people. For the most part, they were all cordial and polite about the issue, but a couple of the older generation (as Sayaka's dad is one of the youngest in the family of 9 siblings) were still heated on he subject.

On my being there one of the middle ages aunts stated, "We are all brothers and sisters on this planet which we call home." She was sincere and wise with her words, to which one of the men stated, "Except for Korean and Chinese." There were some nods of agreement and some sighs of shock. Leave it to the stupidity of men to keep silly personal grudges against political misdeads of their own nation. Anyway, that same guy turned to me right after and told me, "But you're okay. You're American, you are my brother."

To me this was extremely hypocritical. Why am I to be excluded from your prejudice, I thought? Perhaps it was because my country beat the hell out of yours and won the War? But that wouldn't be fair either, because China was our Ally too.
However, the modern political climate with China and the rest of the world, especially Japan, is a tricky one. China as of late has been trying to tell Japanese what to do, and how to live. As the Chinese government wants Japan to be obediant to their new economic dominance, luckily, Koizumi is stubborn and strong minded to not listen to Chinese politicians try to dictate how he should run Japan. This tension has been making Japan and China stand nose to nose on certain sensative key economic and political issues.

Bae Yong-jun

However, by watching Japanese television you woudn't be able to tell that there was any anamosity towards Korean people, as there has been a huge Korean drama boom. Over half the shows on Japanese television which aired this year were Korean drama's, and of the other half that aired several of them were Japanese/Korean high-breed dramas consisting of actors from both sides. The tension which still exists in Japan makes sure that the tension in the dramas are felt as well, but the Korean dramas do extremely well.
Among the biggest figures in television today is Bae Yong-jun, who has about 100 times the popularity as Tom Cruise in all of the Asian countries. That's over 3/4 the worlds population folks! Not only do more people like him than any other actor who ever lived, he does a slew of television ads for various companies, including Japanese ones. He's the new male face in Japan, and he's not even Japanese.

The talented and lovely Jeon Ji-hyun

There of course are many other Korean stars who are gaining in mass appeal and popularity daily. Of the most globaly recognize stars is the adorable Jeon Ji-hyun from the hit film "My Sassy Girl." Of course this movies is the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time, dwarfing "Titanic," and a bad comparison at that. Part of the charm of Korean television and film is that the women are represented as free, independant, and powerful... but what's more they are put on the same level of equality as the men. These is no having to prove themselves, no serving damn tea, and no taking abuse, and so they represent the ideal woman, one who is strong willed and beautiful. Whereas Korean women actresses have this kind of appeal, the males are marketed as kind, loving, and willing to take the abuse of cute spit fires like Jeon Ji-hyun, who any guy would be so lucky to recieve abuse from. Currently Jeon Ji-hyun is enjoying the Korean drama boom as well, and is marketing cellular technology like crazy in China. She is the poster girl plastered on every major cell phone ad across the largest country on the planet.

This friendly and fun image of people having relationships in which both parties treat each other equally is something rarely seen in Japanese television -believe it or not. At least this has been my observation, and it's not always the case. There are some really decent Japanese dramas, on ocassion. Recently I watched an excellent drama called "Engine" staring Kimura Takuya (from SMAP) and Koyuki, best known for her role in the blockbuster film "The Last Samurai" alongside co-star Tom Cruise. Another favorite Japaese actress of mine, Matsushita Yuki, also co-stars in "Engine." Both Matsushita and Takuya show that they have hard core acting chops in this enticing drama about an ex-formula 1 racecar hero Jirou (Takuya) who loses his racing job after a horrible wreck, and becomes a washed up nobody. Getting work as a bus driver at an orphanage he manages to befriend troubled children and his own depressed and angry self manages to lighten up and from new bonds. When the orphanage faces financial hardships and the threat of closure, Jirou starts racing again in hopes to save the orphanage and the people he has come to love. Only three episodes of this show have any real racecar racing, and the main focuss is on the children and Jirou's relationship with them. The cast of kids was amazing, and they bring so much heart to this wondeful drama. I really like the imaginative side to Japanese dramas, even though they can be more traditional at times when it comes to hot topic gender issues & equality, shows like "Engine" show that there is something other than "Sex and the City" or "CSI" to look forward to.

Whereas Japanese dramas often play on the social stereotypes which people adhere to, such as business stress, love triangles, men cheating on girls, girls finding a sweet prince in the end, the unrealistic nature of the dramas don't do it for the average viewer. All the bored house wives don't like condesending dramas, and since Japan still has a more traditional familial system residing in many households today, the bored house wife makes up the majority of the television viewers. Between condesending Japanese dramas which view women as domestic care-takers (house maids) or sex objects, or on the ohter hand Korean television whichs depicts women as being a free spirited, strong willed, independant woman, which do you think the majority of female viewers in Japan will pick? Japanese girls look up to this new female image sponsored by Korean dramas, and aparently so do the television networks who wish to cash in on the success of Korean stardom.


Yet these Korean actoresses and actors are idols at best, because none of them even come close to the most amazing and fanatic obsession sense Elvis. This is the hit television drama called "Changumu" based off the real life story of the woman of the same name. She was a Korean nurse who became a legend in the field of medicine, but she had an uphill battle to face the entire way. Talk about strong women characters, Changumu takes the cake every time. She genuinely cares for her patients, constantly wants to better herself, and ontop of all of that there is the highest dramatic tension I have ever seen in a TV series. And as I'm an avid "E.R." fan, that's saying a lot! Top that off with gorgeous cast members with actual tallent, and you can say goodbye "Friends" there is a new hit show in town. The popularity of "Changumu" is so hot in Japan right now that it has spawned a spin-off show, but not the kind you would expect. The spin off show is much like the suplimental features on a DVD. You have your standard behind the scenes, makings of, interviews with cast and crew, and something I thought was interesting -a cooking portion which shows you how to create the same classic recepies as the meals seen in the show itself. Now if that isn't obsession for you, I don't know what is.

Shinto vs. Buddhist Japanese

Sayaka and her mom outside the Shinto shrine.

So what exactly is the difference between a Buddhist Temple and a Shinto Shrine? Well, the Shinto shrines all have electricity and modern conveniences of renovation, whereas the Buddhist temples stay plain without the desire of any conveniences. I guess that's the primary distinquishing factor, because for a foreigner they look very similar. Buddhist temples also happen to be lived in by the Monks, and are elaborate and layered with intricate design and craftsmanship, whereas Shinto tend to be a more standard style.

A drum hanging from the ceiling?

I neglected to ask the significance of this, but I thought it was cool. Everytime I passed under it I wanted to go Donky-Konga on it and just start thumping away to my jungle beat rhythem, however considering we were at a formal event to honor Sayaka's father's grandfather who died in World Ward II, I thought against it.

Sayaka's father Kazutaka happens to come from a Shinto background, whereas her mother is Buddhist. Buddhist households often have a little alter in whith the photo and belongings of a deceased loved one set upon it. Just think of it as a little closet or cubby where you keep the ashes of your deceased loved one. On specific days important to the loved one they will open the cubby and light insense and pray to their ancestors. Shinto households have another feature which includes a small shrine or alter which hangs just above a doorway. To me it looks like a shelf with little figurines and objects placed on it. You clap at this and say your prayers. The strict followers clap at this wooden alter whenever they enter or exit a room with one of these no matter where they are at. However, I'm no expert on either religion, so I can only tell you what I know from experience.

Gong it to me baby!

Below is a front shot of the inside of the temple. I asked if it was okay to take a photo, as most religions have certain rules about photographing the holy items, most often it's taboo to do so and you're not allowed to, but the priest/holy man said it was okay. However, I was not allowed to walk up onto the first step, as only those who practice Shinto, and mainly the holy men, are allowed to walk on the highest rung. For some reason I thought of Jim Karey in "Ace Ventura II: When Nature Calls" Shakaka! For a brief moment I contimplated hopping up on the step when no one was looking and doing myself a little jig... Shakaka! But at risk of starting a religious war, I decided I better just settle for the pictures. But darn it if it doesn't make me itch! Why must we create stupid rules like this in the name of man made relgion? Anyway, no religious wars here, Buddhism and Shinto are entirely peaceful towards each other and always have been, and always will be.


Guess What?

Sayaka and her parents

What do these pictures all have in common other than their location? They are the most requested images I get from family and friends. What do Japanese Buddhist shrines look like, are gas pumps in Japan the same as the U.S.? And finaly, when do we get to see what Sayaka's family looks like? Now everyone can see!

A Shrine

A Gas pump

Another topic of interest is the food, but I have covered that in past posts, and also the food of foreign cultures is just something you have to experience.

Chester the Cat and Max the Dragon's first Fireworks Festival

Chester’s Grand Adventure
The Fireworks Festival and the Mystery of the Three Moons

By Tristan Vick

In the not so distant future, in a realm of imagination and fun, a new history awakens. One hot day in Japan Chester, the household pet cat of the Ishihara family, ventures under the porch to find cool shade. While under the house Chester spots a mouse and takes chase. Accidentally bumping the wall, Chester crashes into a pile of rocks which slide away. Three objects fall out of a hidden place to the ground and the dust settles revealing three ancient Japanese scrolls. Upon inspecting the scrolls Chester incidentally breaks their seals and initializes all of their latent power to which a mystical portal to an alternate universe opens. Upon seeing a vast grassy field on the other side of the portal window, a mouse dashes past Chester in a desperate escape attempt. Chester follows after and accidentally steps through the portal and finds that he can speak and think like a human. In this universe ancient times collide with modern and animals walk and talk alongside with human beings. With this newfound discovery Chester ventures further into this alternate world which although familiar to him (and us), is entirely foreign and new. Before Chester realizes that he has lost track of time he returns too late to the portal which vanishes before his eyes, leaving Chester trapped in this alternate reality, away from home.

Chester Bing Toodle Fien Feline, whom folks just called Chester for short, was a shark Cat. However, Chester didn't know this; he had never met a shark before. Rather Chester was a black Cat with a white five pronged star symbol upon his head. His little paws were white too, and the very tip of his tail and ears had white tuffs of fur as well.

One lazy afternoon a dreary Chester awoke from a good nap on the top platform of the farm windmill. As he sluggishly arose Chester made a circle and with a big yawn stretched out as far as he could. With a short step Chester looked over the ledge of his platform at the ground below him. He sat down and licked his paw and then hopped down to the ground. Shadows of purple tints whisked across rolling hillsides of green grass with ripples which looked like ocean waves. Chester light footedly walked to the tip of the alien looking hill where he came nose to nose with a pink dragon with large yellow spots! The dragon was just a little bigger than Chester, and he had two small purple wings which could barely lift his chubby little bottom off of the ground, and when he did become airborn he could only sustain himself for a few seconds before dropping back down only to always land on his little pink bottom. This playful little dragon’s name was Max. In the distance white fluffy clouds looking like sheep floated dreamily in the light blue sky.

The dragon burped a small orange flame almost singing Chester’s wisker hairs as he sat and watched the little pink oddity for a moment or two, then with disinterest Chester continued on his way. After a few steps Chester stopped and sat down to lick his paws again, however this was just a rouse. Not far off behind him slunk the little pink dragon, trying to act unsuspicious. But Chester knew he was being followed.

Pretty soon Chester became annoyed and twirled around confronting Max.
"Are you going to follow me the whole day again?" Chester angrily growled at Max, who often followed in Chester's stead.

The silly dragon simply cocked his head and took two playful steps towards Chester. "Well, if you're coming along again today there’ll be no trying to tackle my shadow. The last time you looked utterly ridiculous. Well, we'd better hurry to town,” Chester motioned as he pranced in an antsy fashion towards the dragon and back again. “The rocket takes off in ten minutes."

With that said the two friends galloped across the field toward the launch pad. The launch site overlooked the beach, and when they came to the white sand and the crystal clear blue and turquoise ocean waves Max got excited and splashed around in the water. Chester turned and gave Max a stern look, for they were extremely pressed for time and didn't have the luxury of play. Max got the hint and reluctantly trotted up behind Chester who was not waiting another minute.

A bright red rocket ship stood upright upon the launch pad. Steam gushed out from underneath the ship and all kinds of neat mechanical noises could be heard as the ship prepared for take off. It looked real sporty too, and Max stopped to gaze up at the magnificent piece of technology as Chester continued on ahead.

Having boarder the spaceship, Chester and Max found their seats and looked out one of the round portal windows towards the farm and grassy knolls. With a rumble of the turbine engines the rocket engines ignited and the entire platform began to shake. After a few seconds the ship shifted and lifted off the platform and shot into the sky. From the ground only a streamer of white smoke along a blue skyline faded into the distance. Max the dragon and Chester Bing Toodle Fien Feline where once again headed to one of Earth’s three moons. Whereas we typically see only one big round moon, there are two more cloaked moons, hidden by ancient spells written on mystical scrolls which protect the people and animals living there. Even our big moon has a special spell cast on it which makes it look dead to anyone who comes into contact with it. Basically the three moons exist in a separate dimension, which the ancient scrolls allow for a gateway to the mystical three moons. Today they were going to speak to the wise old turtle Harold Hard Back.

Harold was an ancient snapping turtle of enormous size, and knew many things. Chester had a problem and needed to ask Harold's advice. Max didn't know much of anything, he was still too young, but he liked the excitement of the journey. Chester had a crush on a girl cat named Phoenix Hearted Persephone. She was an elegant white cat with a pink nose and grey paws which looked like adorable booties. Chester was infatuated with Persephone, as she liked to be called, and needed advice on how to ask her out, if not win her love. Soon the annual fireworks festival back on planet Opak would begin and Chester desired more than anything to win the affections of Persephone and take her to the fireworks spectacular spectacular! The only problem was that the always cool acting Chester was all too shy, and his little dragon friend (the one with his face pressed so hard up against the glass window that his nose looked like a pancake) was just a little too dumb to give any helpful advice on girls. For that matter, Chester didn’t even think Max knew what a girl was. Harold the wise old turtle was said to have all the answers. It was also said that he was extremely cranky. Chester just assumed this was because of his age, after all he was 300 years old! Yet Harold did know a thing or two about girls and so Chester ventured to the first hidden moon.

The moon Chester and Max wear headed to was known as Ai. Ai was the smallest of the three moons and the ancient scrolls defined its meaning as Love. The other two moons were known as Kichi, which means Luck in Japanese language, and Kibo, which means to Wish. This is why Ai was such an interesting place as it was fashioned to look like ancient Japan, yet containing all the modern conveniences. Many architects and environmentalists knew that the appealing aesthetics of Japanese artitecture, not to mention the landscaping of Japan and beautiful Japanese gardens, blended well with nature and its surrounding environments. Many of the original founders of Ai were Japanese people, and so the influence of its culture remains today on the small moon. The second moon called Kichi, also the middle moon and second largest, was a big metropolitan city. Parts of Kichi looked like a futuristic yet retro New York City of the 1940s while other parts looked like present day Tokyo. Those who lived on the moon of Kichi called both parts Uniopollis. Even though Kichi which had big cities of steal and concrete and bosted the largest populace, it wasn’t all city. Kichi had beautiful countryside as well, and supplied much of the agriculture for the three moons. The third moon, which we see in our sky, is actually three times bigger than we see it. With the ancient scrolls cloaking it in a shrowd of lifeless dirt, this is only an illusion, and all three moons allow for those living on them to have a peaceful and well protected life. In actuality the third moon known as Kibo has a small ocean and two large islands. No large city exists on Kibo, and unlike the many small towns on Ai, Kibo has no focused populace. Kibo has many small unchained fishing villages as it is a relaxing ocean town where everyone is friendly and relaxed. The residents of Kibo all enjoy the delicious fish which swim in the sea, and Kibo has the most familial communities. With beach huts running along various points of ocean front property, Kibo has the best fishing industry around. Many of the natives still live simple, and even though they have electricity, many people choose to turn off the lights and just enjoy the evening stars. These are the three hidden moons protected by the ancient magical scrolls.

Soon enough the cherry red Rocket landed with little to no problem on the space shuttle runway on the moon of Ai. Ai had a thin atmosphere which allowed for air so it was safe to walk around just like on any other livable class 7 planet. Upon getting off the rocket Chester and his pink and yellow spotted friend sauntered up to the train station and charted a train into the mountains. Harold was a Buddhist turtle and lived high in the mountain region of Ai. After waiting for twenty minutes a great old steam engine came to a halt and Chester and Max the dragon boarded the wonderful old locomotive. Chester was even amazed, and thought that this train almost seemed magical. With the loud whistle of the train tooting steam filled the platform area then with a lurching jolt and a hiss Chester the cat and Max the dragon headed along the train tracks to find Harold the turtle.

Monday, July 11, 2005


You ask me, what is Unazukiya? Well, this is what happens when three fourths of your population consists of elderly people over 65 years old. Unazukiya is the newest booming industry in Japan. New, may not accurately pair with the application of the word, which means to "nod." How can nodding be the newest job trend in Japan? Because of the old! And lots of it.

For a country with a rapidly aging process two strange industry booms have occurred. The first being funeral homes. When there are more funeral homes than banks, you know you're country is in trouble. Especially when the marriage rate is nil to none, and only 1.2 children per household are being born a year. "Danger Will Robinson!"

The other industry boom, the Unazukiya, or Nodding job consists of nice young people willing to sit and listen to old people jibber on endlessly about their past. Now, I have had two Grandpas who loved to tell stories, so I know when I say this can be a lucrative business for the lonely and desperate old folks with families too busy to give them the time of day. All old people love to talk to someone, and apparently here in Japan they are offering $50 dollars an hour to any young soul who can sit down with them and stay awake throughout their life's histories. Exploitive? Maybe, but with so many economic hardships the youth of the future face here in Japan; they should be taking every available opportunity to find new outlets and stability. This type of innovative thinking not only supplies the young generation with a much needed job opportunity, but it also serves the elderly in feeling comforted as they continue to go gray in this aging nation.

Stinko-matic gets Scrub Down

Watermelon munchies

Marmph-umph-glumph...yum yum...slurp.

After his much needed bath and shampoo, "S" ate one of the towels we used to dry him with. Well, he ate half of the towel. We didn't know he was so starved, however, Hiromi (Sayaka's aunt) came out to see the new shiny and softer "S", not to mention a much better smelling dog. Also she brought him his favorite treat -suika (sue-ie-ka) or in English -Watermelon! I didn't know my pal "S" and I loved the same types of foods! It goes to show that you really do learn something new everyday.

More please

That was delicious, may I beg for more?

"S" snarfed down a quarter of a watermelon in about ten seconds and wanted seconds. He sat patiently and politely waiting for any scraps which Hiromi might share.

Yeah that's what I want!

What a good day this was thought "S". I should come over to the Miyamoto household more often.

After teasing "S" a little bit and making him sit and do his tricks, Hiromi finaly shared her last portion of watermelon with stinko-mut. "S" was so happy to smell better and now he had fresh watermelon breath too!

Escape Artist "S"

I hope I don't get caught

Somebody came two blocks from his house to visit us today. Is he an escape artist, or does "S" have friends on the inside? As it turns out he has both! In a shy look "S" peeked into the kitchen window looking for some friends to play with. At first I thought he was on the run, as just a few days prior he broke out and dashed down the street from his house to the Miyamoto family's. Reminds me of a certain "Wonder Dog" I once knew.

However, today was different. "S" didn't escape, he had an accompliss. Sayaka's aunt had let him out freely, and he roamed for two blocks coming here to see his walky-budies. Sayaka and I were so happy, but what was that smell?

Let me in!

Sayaka opens the sliding kitchen window to say hellow to stinko. "S" of course tried to get inside and see everyone, but we wouldn't let him. His stench was horrible. It was the strong scent of "S" number 5.

More more more love please!

Of course I had to say hi to my stinky pal "S" too. He was so happy to see his number one walking buddy that he couldn't control himself.

Happy Dog!

This is one happy dog. Happy but awefuly smelly. There was only one thing to do!... give "S" a bath.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Wet-Land Agriculture and country scenery

Wet-land rice agriculture

As I road out towards the country I started seeing the little rice stalks pop up. When these things polinate I about die of the worst hay-feaver imagineable. They're about the only thing on the planet that I'm allergic too. Anyway, as you can see, Japanese rice patty wet-land farming looks entirely different from the dry irrigation farming of the American mid-west wheat fields back in Montana.
Granted the golden wheat fields of Montana are equally beatiful, especially after a light smackling of snow when you get the most amazing gold and blue/purple tints on white combinations. Here in Japan, everything remains wet green and alive the full year round.

My bike and the size of a country road.

I parked my bike and snapped a quick shot of it along the country road to show you exactly how narrow the roads get. Last year a school bus driver from KGU tried to take a short cut down one of these things and he flipped the bus (same size as an American yellow school bus) upside down into the wet rice fields. Luckily there were only scraped knees and bruised bodies, but still scary to think about. If my bike is barily the width of one of these roads, I wonder how wide the driver thought his bus was?

Nice scenery

I just enjoyed this landscape of Japan. Rice fields, beautiful sky, mountains in the background, an electrical tower of some kind.

Evening layers of Japan

Here is a wider shot. Notice the mountain range and the clouds. I like how everything blends together in the humid air, as the clouds seem to be carrying on the same patterning of the mountains, and the shades of color fade from the greens to the blues and into the whites of the sky. The pink tint of the beginning of sunset was just the frosting on the cake for this image.

This layered effect is something tradition Japanese art captures well. Next time you see Chinese or Japanese post card at your nearest Halmark store, make sure to note the many layers which depict the misty elements of such humid countries. Personally I thought this shot was too gorgeous to pass up, and looks so much more beautiful in person!

Give Me Beer!

Beer from a vending machine!

(Price: large pint: $14. Tall can $3. Short can: $1.50)

Okay, so you didn't believe me when I said earlier that beer can poor forth from the street?! It can, and here's my proof! Beer vending machines, for those weary folk on a hot humid summer day in Japan, the Japanese are lucky enough not only to have cigarette vending machines still, but have liquor venders too. These products don't have safe-guards to ensure that only adults buy the liquor and cigarettes, which shocked me at fist. What's to stop a teenager from curiousity and expirementation? Oh, moral standards and responsible moral obligation? Oh who would have thought that? From the American standpoint I originally thought how foolish, then I came to know the strict Japanese high moral values weren't just a lofty concept, they were ingrained. The main difference is that they respect each other enough not to abuse the system, others, or themselves. The close knit society depends upon cooperation and harmonious teamsmanship -meaning if one cog gets out of joint the entire society would come to a standstill. It's just nice to see that somebody on this planet still has values and respect for other's property.

And cocktail drinks! Plus more beer!

If you're a chick and dislike the taste of a cold beer, then how about a refreshing cocktail drink? Also on the street corners are a variety of girly drinks, which I happen to prefer actually. The beer and cigarette machines automatically close down at 9 pm and 11 pm respectably. I guess this is to ensure people stop drinking after hours and don't come back from the bars only to get a little more drunk and rampage (besides there's always the 24 hour Seven Eleven to satisfy your 24 hour addictions). A good safegaurd against alchoholics, but why the cigarettes I wonder? One addiction goes hand in hand with the other I suppose.

An business man patiently waited for me to take pictures of the machines as he stood in line to get a cold one. I thought it was quite funny, at least from his perspective, after all I only stopped to get a photo. I'm sure he was baffled when I road off without a beer.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Cow Piss Water?

Drink WHAT?!

Here's a pic of the infamous "cow piss" drink available only in Japan! Its true name is Calpis Water, but in Japanese pronounciation it sounds like cow-piss wata. As I stated earlier, it is hard to supress the giggles everytime you hear it called this. Don't let the name of the drink fool you though, it taste quite delicious.

(Notice the catchy red circle on the bottle which reads: pure & refresh. That's the crazy Japanese for you! I can't tell if the "cow piss" is pure and will refresh my thirst, or if they initially meant fresh but got confused because the Japanese ad makers weren't fluent in English, or if its just more crazy Engrish made to sell because Engrish sounds kool and looks neat plastered on EVERYTHING! As an English speaking person I'm so confused right now.)

My prize!

One of the things the local convenience stores do to compete is to give toys with the products, sort of like a McDonald's happy meal toy, but you get one with each purchase. Seven Eleven is the most competative, as the 9th Pokemon motion picture is comming out, Seven Eleven got the sponsorship promotions running full steam.

With my "cow piss" I got this strange new Pokemon bottle cap toy. It's a toy figurine which attaches to a stand which can sit on top of your bottled drink. Other than playing with it, or just watching it sit on your drink, I don't know much of what else it's good for. But who can pass up free toys?! Not I, that's for sure.

Last year with the summer olympics Coca-Cola Co. Had these wonderful variety of metal pins. I have several of them attached to my back-pack and various bags. Every now and then there is something really unique and interesting given away, and the gimmicks are meant to make you buy the product at Seven Eleven or Lawson say versus the nearest vending machine. Also, drinks in convenient stores run an average of 5 to 10 yen less, making it worth your trip, considering you can find any variety of store within walking distance to your home. From where I am at there are two Seven Eleven's a block either way and one Lawson.