Monday, March 17, 2008



A Story Near—But Not Very Close to—Sera Dream Park

My weekend was an adventure, well, in a roundabout sort of way that is. You see, Sayaka and I decided to trek up our local mountain and find the mysterious park which was painstakingly built at the very top.

Like many small Japanese towns, right before the city files for bankruptcy they have an allotted budget means, which is to say, anything they haven’t spent for the year is free money for them to use any-which-way they see fit. Most small Japanese towns opt to build amusement attractions hoping to attract some tourism and spark some life into their gradually dying rural economies. Some go as far as to build entire theme parks –in the hopes of gaining the much needed tourist attention. But more often than not these wayside parks close down after full fledge city government bankruptcy, and with nobody there to run them these parks become abandoned ghost parks. Such is the park on top of our mountain.

A large grassy field, full sized amphitheater, children’s rides, artificial lake for swimming, and other conveniences were installed back when Sera was experiencing its first rise to fame and simultaneously its eventual threat of extinction. Of course this park was too far out of the way, let alone there are no good roads to get there, which causes us to surmise that the money stopped before the concept could be finished. This fact is obvious on the way up the mountain. The two lane road becomes one lane, the retaining wall is only half complete, and the rest of the roads are either partly paved or partly eroded. It’s an adventure to get there, for sure, but the view of the valley is worth the trip.

Luckily Sera wised up and realized people weren’t going to flock from all over Japan just to go up their lonely little mountain and come back down. Japan has enough mountains as it is and whoever thought up the idea in the first place was clearly flexing their muscle in the retard department.

The good news is Sera abandoned this project and moved their remaining money into a major seasonal flower dream park which captures all the main tourism form the highway. This park includes everything from Sera’s famous nashi (Japanese pears) to riding horses and milking cows, to touring the flower garden, trying out the Italian styled gelato ice-cream shops, buying Sera beef at low low prices (steak is nice!), and enjoying the sunshine. This chance to go out from the big city and experience a little bit of the country bumpkin aspect of life makes more money than anything for our little town.

The Japanese really do love their seasonal migration habits as they commute out of the city for a few days each year –especially during the national spring/summer holiday of Golden Week (the first week of May). If you hadn’t guessed the official name of Sera’s own attraction, it is “Sera Dream Park.” It being a seasonal park also helps the town save money since they don’t have to keep it open all year. It also adds just enough economic support to keep itself going, make a little dividend, and give us something to do in the summer.

But this isn’t the park my wife and I were interested in. We wanted to go to the abandoned ghost park on the mountain top. It’s mysteriously intriguing. And so my wife and I set out to find our way to the top.

We first tried a back road which had taken us there before, but neither of us could remember the proper turn off. Luckily we saw one of our Elementary school students playing by the side of the road and her mother close by. We stopped and asked directions, and as it turned out we were about a block away from the official turn. However, if you know anything about Japan, you know how windy and twisted some of their wayward back roads are. We didn’t make it a block before we turned onto the wrong road and drove up a driveway and into some person’s home.

As the road kept narrowing we began to get nervous. Then we stopped next to a barn. I looked out the car window and spied about twelve cats. There were cats littered everywhere, some on bails of hay, some basking in the sun, others dreaming in the shade. Then I turned my head to the other side of the car window to instantly find a young cow poking his oversized head from under a tarp looking right back into my face. He was trying to poke his nose into the car to see what we were all about. Sayaka and I started laughing in surprise at the big drippy cow nose greeting us. “Was there a cow here before?” I asked.

As Sayaka began to back up to go back to the main road or find a wide enough spot to get the car turned around a little old lady in a burgundy jacket came running up to us. What was odd was I instantly recognized her, because she was Utsumi sensei –the head English advisor for Sera town’s Board of Education. Sayaka and I respectfully said hello as we laughed some more. Our laughter was equally defined by our feeling of embarrassment as much as for the sheer unexpected surprise of the coincidence. Utsumi sensei said she had recognized us the instant she heard an English voice counting cats. “That would have been me,” I added with a sheepish grin. In my defense, I was counting out loud because there were just so many damn cats. Anyway, back to the story.

Sayaka and I received directions from Utsumi sensei and headed back up a side road which wound around her property. We slowly climbed the hill up past a lounging basset hound dog and some more cows. Utsumi sensei waved goodbye and wished us good luck as her brown and orange spotted hound jumped up to meet her. Meanwhile, the cows all watched us intently with timid curiosity –such as cows are wont to do. We may not have found the park, but we did find Utsumi sensei’s cow I laughed. Sayaka and I giggled the whole car ride up to the top of the mountain.

Once we arrived at the summit, and after a somewhat drawn out detour, we reflected on our odds. What are the odds, I wondered, that we would get lost in the mountains, accidentally make the wrong turn onto somebody’s personal property, and find that we not only know the woman but that she’s our boss? On top of all this, what are the chances of such good luck? Such is life, I suppose. Life is often full of wonderful random experiences, incidences, and perhaps a few random cows thrown into the equation too.

The park was as we had left it a year ago. Nothing seemed to have changed, and everything remained withered, dull, and unkempt. The grass was dry and yellowish-brown and the air was a bit chillier due to the elevation. Suddenly we found that the clouds had cast a shadowy gray tone over everything. With the moody overcast everything became still, and seemed to lessen the droll mood we were previously in. As our adventurous spirits waned, our destination lackluster and anti-climactic, our excursion which included getting a bit lost had suddenly wound down to an end. Our jaunt completed we reached the realization that there was nothing more to do. We decided not to linger any longer than we had to. .

Once we got back down the mountain we passed Utsumi sensei’s family who all waved at us. We wound down the car windows and shouted a few grateful ‘thank yous’ as we drove by. The spring breeze wafting through the car carrying the light scent of the pine trees reminded me of back home.

The sun came back out and as the valley lit up with color and life again we journeyed homeward.

I guess if you’re one who tries to find the moral in a story then the moral of this story is: When in doubt about your directional senses, and your journey is off the navi charts, stop and ask a cow for directions. With any luck he’ll set you moo-ving in the right direction. Get it? Moo-ving? Haha! Okay, sometimes I crack myself up. It’s an inherited trait I got from my Father, the master of all bad puns. So you’ll have to pardon me for the lame joke, I just couldn’t resist –it’s in my DNA. Yet I think you’ll agree that as far as morals are concerned it’s certainly as good as one could hope for. When you’ve lost your way, stop and ask a cow for directions. It worked for us!

By Tristan Vick


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tommy Lee Jones is an Alien: Part 1

In Japan Tommy Lee Jones is a spokes person for BOSS Coffee by Suntory. The commercials (or CM as they are called in Japan) are all related to Japanese culture. What's really great is that the point of view of the commentary is from an "outsiders" perspective. All the cultural things which intrigue outsiders about Japan, from Karaoke to Onsen to hostess bars and Japanese tanning salons, are included.

What's really great is that Tommy Lee Jones is doing these very traditional Japanese odd jobs... that as an outside observer like myself who is caught up in the Japan experience, I can't help but chuckle at these extremely well written commercials. And the fact that it's Tommy Lee Jones is so classic!

I hope you enjoy!

Tommy Lee Jones is an Alien: Part 2

Some more of Tommy Lee Jones as a coffee drinking Alien. These Japanese television commercials are great! Also, whoever did the English subtitles and translation on these did an excellent job! Now if only Suntory would release a DVD collection, or eles HD digital downloads so I could make my own DVD with these, then I'd be elated.

Enjoy the continuation of BOSS Coffee CM starring Tommy Lee Jones!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

My Birthday Present from My Wife

My wife was gracious and let me pick it out myself. She wouldn't let me get a PS3 because, technically, that would make me lazy and fat. But the bike was okay because it gives me a nice strenuous work-out!

It has a lifetime warranty on everything but the tires. It's a 32 speed, and the light is an LED with probing settings. The suspension is smooth, and the tires are off-road/on-road hybrids for city biking as well as off road trecking. Very fun!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Mugen 無限

The Mugen 無限 Fit is my new 'affordable' dream car. Sure, I'd love a Ferrari, Aston Martin, or a slew of muscle cars --who wouldn't? But let's not kid ourselves, not everybody is a millionaire, and the last time I checked being a school teacher doesn't pay by the millions. Although it should --cuz I have the power to mess up your kids and turn them into retards. One Million Dollars OR ELSE! Bwah-Hahaha! Heh... *heh-Hem. I kid...I kid!

Anyhoozit... HONDA's little tuner company called Mugen 無限 has created a nicely tooled body kit for the spiffed up turbo charged 1.5 lt V-tec engine giving it 150 hp and 136 lb.-ft torque. It also includes a slew of other enhancement goodies giving the car racing brakes, coilover suspension, chrome dual exhaust, larger air intakes, electronic tire gauges, leather interior with racing trim, a variety of alloy wheel selections (17 in.), etc. I really love the new detailing and what's more is this is a fun affordable car --and ever since I bought my Fit (used) I've been nothing but impressed and inspired with the design, handling, and overall make-up of this vehicle. I drive a red Fit with Sports trim, and they sell for approx. $17,000 new.

I got so excited by seeing the Mugen 無限 Fit that I ran down to my local Honda dealer and got pamphlets on the Mugen 無限 Fit RS Aero. I'm lucky, because none of the online press releases or auto shows have been listing a price for this edition of the Fit, but low and behold I can order one today if I wanted: for a very economic 250,000 万円(¥), i.e. approx. $22,000 (American). That's not bad package deal for a fully loaded Mugen 無限 Fit. If I ever decide to live in Japan permanently, this is the car for me.

It's so neat! And yellow! Plus the car goes fast, and gets great gas mileage which is practical, wouldn't you agree? Also it'd be practical for getting kids to school on time, getting to work early, or else racing the bullet train. I bet if I had one of these I could get down to visit Sayaka's family before that darn speedy train! Hey, a guy can dream can't he? We like our toys.