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October 30, 2006

Minami Alps Day 2: Explosive Diarrhea Mud Slides

Minami Alps Sunset
Sometimes things don't go as planned, and when that happens, we find ourselves eating off the out-house floor.
        - Cameron Family Traditional Wisdom

I awoke feeling energized and refreshed (this may also be due to the fact that the previous days hike was only just over three hours) despite haunting dreams concerning a portion of the trail marked only as "difficult". It wasn't that I was afraid of the difficulty, but more the fact that none of the local maps hanging on the hut wall or at the trail head indicated that such a trail even existed.

I wanted an early start just to be sure I make it to my planned destination and so I bid farewell to the hut before sunrise. The off and on rain seemed to be inching toward "off" and I started off making excellent time, consistently beating the "average" times marked on the map. Then I came to the "difficult" trail. From far away I could see a sign post with a arrow shaped board pointing down the backside of the mountain - the direction I wanted to go. As I got closer however, I realized that the sign was covered up with another board purposefully nailed over top, covering any mention of my desired destination.

There was a slight trail which I followed for about twenty meters before it began to fade. Thirty meters... I think I am still on trail. Forty meters... What trail? Apparently "difficult" on the map does not mean "rugged terrain" or "steep". It means "No trail exists".

I decided to assess the situation.

  • Although I have a general idea of where the trail goes, if I am off in my direction by even a few degrees to the left, I would completely miss the road I am aiming for, and I would end up deep in a valley, possibly hours of course.
  • Even though the massive Kita-dake is looming behind me, the fog prevents me from seeing it, or anything else that would allow me to triangulate my location if I end up lost, and the map is not detailed enough to use smaller, closer features.
  • Turning back is not really an option because this trail is the only connection to the "real" mountains I was hoping to enter.

On the other hand...

  • I have shelter.
  • I have six days (or more) worth of food.
  • So long as I err to my right, I will eventually run into the road.
  • I am uninjured.
  • Given all this, getting "lost" would actually be more of an adventure to savor than something to fear.

The choice was obvious. I decided my best bet was to follow the right-most ridge, keeping (what I believed to be) Maru-yama in sight on my right. I spent about thirty minutes of pretty random wandering, using my digital camera as a "photographic memory" of distinctive trees and rocks every thirty meters or so in case I want to backtrack (I had lost sight of Maruyama after only five minutes). Soon, I ran across a sign with an arrow and the name of my destination. A littler later I came across another sign, and still further ahead... what's this? A red ribbon on the tree, presumably marking the trail!

Before long I am happily following red ribbons until - you guessed it - the ribbons stop. Despite a desire to keep going in the direction the ribbons seemed to have been taking me, I decided to once again hug the ridge to my right.

Once again, I brilliant plan. While I still don't know how I saw it, there was, hanging tattered from a thin branch in the corner of my eye, not a red ribbon, but a weathered, old, thin clear plastic ribbon. Yes, CLEAR plastic to mark the path.

Clear Plastic Trail Marker

This is where my plans for the day fell apart. I had long since become disoriented as to where I was on the mountain and in relation to the road, and my only indication of the "correct" direction was almost impossible to see. I would search for five minutes or more sometimes for the next clear plastic ribbon, turning what should have been a one-and-a-half hour section of trail into four hour ordeal of searching and backtracking.

It was great!

A word of advice to anyone who may happen to find themselves on this trail - There was always a "next" ribbon within ten meters of the last. If you don't see any, you are not on trail. Go back to the last one you did see and look again.

I had set a turn back time of noon - thinking that if I had not hit the road by then, I was probably off course and could still make it back to the previous hut and a stream for water. The slope grew steeper and I found myself sliding down more frequently in the loose mud, raising fears of starting a land-slide (the signs of previous landslides were all around me, and the day before I saw a sign similar to the photo below depicting the various types of landslides in Japan - the vomit-slide, cry-slide, booger-slide, and explosive diarrhea-slide). I realized that I might not be able to make it back up in the five hours before nightfall.

Different Kinds of Landslides in Japan

Luckily, just as I was considering changing the turn-around time to "now", I began to see more trash - beautiful beer cans and plastic grocery bags. Within thirty minutes I was walking up a curvy road, passed several times by empty buses capable of taking people from the train station to the trailhead in under one hour.

Closed Koya (hut)Closed Koya (hut)

By now, my whole schedule was shot. I would never make it to the intended hut by nightfall, so by 3:00 I had arrived at the furthest reachable hut just as the rain started to pick up.

Mountain Outhouse

This time, however, the hut was locked up tight. Not wanting to cook and eat in my little tent, I decided to set up temporary camp under the only roof available - the outhouse. I quickly grew accustomed to the odor (which was actually caused by foul-smelling air freshener), and spread out on the spacious floor to wait for the rain to stop as I ate my noodles cooked in water collected from the nasty roof, strained through a nasty bandanna which someone had long ago fastened to the end of the gutter.

The rain stopped and the fog thinned out just enough to see the glow of the sun disappear behind the mountains. I set up my tent alone in the camp. So far I have seen no humans but for the bus drivers who passed me on the road.

The forecast called for clear skies for the next few days.

Life was good.

Minami Alps Sunset
* * *

As I mentioned, I didn't make it as far as I had originally planned. The actual day two hike went like this:


October 29, 2006

Minami Alps Day 1: Close Encounters


As I stopped my hand instinctively reached for the whistle hanging at my chest, but I hesitated.

Just 20 meters up the trail, over a small hill, the screams continued and my mind raced to connect their chilling echo to something, anything, I have heard in the past - some clue or point of reference to orient my panic.

Nothing. These screams were like nothing I had ever heard before. Without help from my memory, my mind turned to imagining what it could be...

VERY angry monkeys? VERY angry wild boars? VERY angry monkeys fighting VERY angry wild boars? Or, perhaps, a monkey or boar being eaten by a VERY hungry bear.

Just two hours into my hike it was too early to turn back. I had no choice but to pass by, hoping that the beasts were too engrosed in whatever evil ritual they were performing to notice me.

I almost blew the whistle - which I keep around my chest for when I am walking through bear country - but curiosity got the better of me. I had to see what it was.

I approached the top of the hill quietly, waiting until the very last moment to blow - ever so slightly - on the whistle, giving the beasts enough time to flee, but not so much that I might not catch a fleeting glimpse at them.

As soon as I blew the whistle the screeching stopped. I waited three seconds, took a breath and, armed only with a fist sized rock and my fourth-grade old little-league pitching skills (although I played right field), I cautiously charged over the hill.

It was like a scene from Planet of the Apes (the remake). You know, the scene where hundreds of apes are all running and leaping into battle... except this time there were only little monkeys (though probably big enough to tear my arm off) and there were only about ten of them - all running (well, more like walking actually) into the forest. One passed within ten meters of me without so much as a glance.

I stood there clutching the rock and wishing I had not packed my camera away (for fear that they might steal it).

Soon, the monkeys were gone and I continued on my way, climbing the foggy autumn forest to my first camp at the Hokora unmanned hut.


Before the monkey incident I was regretting my decision to start from Minami-Alps City. The reason I started here was because it was the best place I could find where a camp site was accessible by foot from the bus from Shinjyuku before dark. Of course, this camp is on a small mountain that is not really connected with the larger mountains I aimed to spend most of my time in. The plan called for me to climb up the first day, camp, then climb back down to a road and climb up again into the "real" mountains. (I could have paid more money to take a bus directly to the enterence tp the "big" mountains.)

The first hour and a half I was walking in ugly forest filled with plastic bags, beer cans, and cut and abandoned tree limbs. even the beautiful fog was not thick enough to hide human impact.


After a while however, the garbage dissapeared and the forest grew more dense and "natural" looking. At one point, I came across frogs as big as my foot lounging on the trail. As I approached, they would scramble to get out of my way - often opting to launch themselves over the cliff (only about five meters) on the outside edge of the trail. Unlike cats, these frogs almost always seemed to land on their backs.


While the map indicated that the hike would take five hours, I arrived at the hut in just over two, encountering two wild-boars along the way (it was reassuring to know that even if I get lost I would not go hungry). The map also indicated a water source, which had a sign saying "drinkable", yet was nothing more than a mountain stream coming from the same forest filled with angry (peeing) monkeys and boars. I boiled my water.


The hut was almost brand new and a welcome treat as the fog grew heavier and turned to rain just as I arrived. At least my tent would stay dry one more night.

I couldn't have planned a better first day.

* * *

I deviated slightly from the original plan by getting off one stop earlier and saving 200 yen. This is the route I took for Day 1.


October 23, 2006

To the Mountains


Wooo Hooo!

Tomorrow I leave for the moutains. It is raining nicely now. I can only hope to have such luck tomorrow. Wouldn't it suck if the weather was cliche-clear blue skys?

This time I am bringing a camera that works... hope I will get some decent photos.

See you in a week.

What Gaijin Eat: Nameko Soba

Nameko Soba

Today's lunch was a traditional Kevin-Tomoe household meal. When I asked Tomoe, the cook, for a comment, she said, "It was just awesome.I loved it."


Dried Shitake Mushrooms. Dried mushrooms are a traditional base for soups in Japan. Tomoe decided to add it it today's soup because it is said to be good at helping the body dissolve, or "melt", fats from meats. (Tomoe attended a friends wedding yesterday where the main dish was steak. At the same time, I as eating pork ramen with my sister who was visiting - her one food request of the trip.)

Since neither Tomoe or I eat meat, she thought that the shitake might, at the least, do a little good in getting rid of the heavy, sickly feeling we both had lat night. Even if it doesn't, it still tastes great.

Macrobiotically speaking, shitake are apparently very "yin". If one desires a "yang" substitute, try dried daikon (big white Japanese radish). But keep in mind, as shitake are dried, the "yinness" is said to be minimized as the "yin" water is replaced by the "yangness" of the sun.

Regardless of "yin-yang", there are apparently studies (which I am too lazy to look up) that say that dried shitake is good because vitamin D increases when the mushrooms are exposed to sunlight. This helps to fix calcium to the bones. Macrobiotics also claims that it helps to relieve headaches and muscle-aches.

Nameko mushrooms (fresh). These add a wonderful sticky texture to the soup. When I asked Tomoe about these, she said that the ones she used have long stems and are grown on logs, more like "natural" nameko. "Normal" nameko, found in most supermarkets, are grown on wood pulp and packaged without stems.

One reason for the difference in types of nameko is related to packaging and shipping. The head-only mushrooms can be easily put in a bag and sold as-is, while the long stem form must be plucked and marketed as a a bunch with the stems intact (and connected to each other). This takes a little more workwhich means it is less efficient, and therefore BAD BAD BAD! Right?

Konbu seaweed from Hokkaido. Nothing special to tell you about this except that it is very "yang" (and ding-dang tasty).

Komatsuna (organic). This is a green leafy thing. I love it because it is cheap and ding-dang TASTY!

Soba. Of course the main ingredient was soba noodles. The soba we used for this was fresh, not the dried kind (of which we eat our fair share). The main difference is that when cooking, the fresh ones become gooey and the broth thickens. Its dang good.Surprisingly , the price is pretty much the same as dried noodles (when purchased at the coop we use) but they are not always available, so today was a bit of a treat.

Abura Age. Thinly sliced, fried tofu.

Nama Shoyu ("raw" soy sauce). The difference between nama shoyu and regular shoyu, is that nama (which means "raw"), has not been heated (or had alcohol added) to kill the natural yeasts found in it. While nama shoyu is much more flavorful, it also has a shorter shelf life (depending on where you store it). Of course, the flavor of any soy sauce changes within a year, and this one only costs twice as much - $10 vs $4 for a year supply.

Onion. Adding onions to soba broth is abnormal in Japan, but Tomoe cooked the onions well before adding them, bringing out the sweetness in order to round out the saltyflavor of the soba noodles without using sugar or sweet sake, as is often used.

Nameko Soba

October 22, 2006


Nagano Fields

If you only listen to one short radio program on the web this year, listen to this.

A re-broadcast of Ray Manzarek on 'Light My Fire', where the organist of The Doors tells a great story about how the classic "Light My Fire" was written. He tells the story while sitting in sitting at a piano.


I Mean it.

Listen to it.

I have listened to it three times already tonight.

Nagano Fields

October 21, 2006

Hiking the Minami Alps*

Phil & EmMinami Alps hike

*the photo above is actually from this summer in the North Cascades.

Tomoe will be gone to Austria for a week-long business trip, leaving me a week vacation. Its strange how even though I don't have a regular job, I see Tomoe going away as a "vacation"...

I will be taking this opportunity to catch a (last this year?) multi-day hike. I spent all day pouring over maps and bus routes trying to figure out what will be the most productive hike in terms of time spent on-trail relative to cost of transportation.

A meeting with a client on Oct. 30 means I have to be back by Oct. 29, and Tomoe leaves Oct 23, so I have a seven day window. I have been wanting to hike Kamikochi, but after a few phone calls, I find that my desired entry point for is closed due to a landslide or some other damage. The other possible routes would take an entire day just to get to the trail-head (unless I am willing to pay even more money for a taxi).

Looking to get the most on-trail-time for the lowest price, I turned my attention to the Southern Alps in Yamanashi and found what I think will be a kick-arse route. Six days of hiking (four completely in the mountains) and five nights sleeping beneath the stars, rain, or snow. I will cover four of the "Hyakumeizan" (One-hundred famous mountains), including Kita-dake - the second highest mountain in Japan (after Fuji) - and the trip ends with an onsen and a beer. It doesn't get any better than that.

Japan: Minami AlpsMinami Alps

Above: The southern alps in relation to Japan: (The days of the hike alternate between red and yellow)

Day 1

Above: Day 1. Arrive 10:15 at Aoyagi bus stop (2,300 yen) and walk 1.5 hours to the trail head, followed by 3 hours trail hiking to Hokora campsite. I would like to hike longer, but 5:00 sunsets means the next campsite is too far away.

Day 2

Above: Day 2. While I start the day on a trail, I eventually run into a road, then back on a trail, ending up just past the 2584m ****. - maybe 10 hours in total.

Day 3

Above: Day 3. Over the 2840m Hououzan (one of the Hyakumeizan), down into a valley, and half way up Kitadake (another Hyakumeizan), where I camp after a good 9 hour hike.

Day 4

Above: Day 4 takes me over two more Hyakumeizan, both over 3000m - Kitadake (3193m) and Ainodake (3189m).

Day 5

Above: Day 5. Ten hours of hiking with Senjyogatake (3,033m) as the main attraction.

Day 6

Above: Day 6. What a treat that on the last day I get to summit one last hyakumeizan, Kaikomagatake (2967m), before heading down to Nagasaka station for a hot-spring bath before catching a bus home.

Navigation 101

October 19, 2006

What Gaigin Eat: Peel Good Rice Porridge Pancake

Peel Good Rice Porridge Pancake

This dish was named by my sister this morning (visiting from Korea) as she experienced a traditional Tomoe-Kevin household breakfast. The distinctive ingredients of "Peel Good Rice Porridge Pancake" are:

kuromai (black rice): (low-chem). Kuromai is an "ancient" rice grown throughout Asia. It is referred to as "ancient", because it was grown in Japan in ancient times, then cultivation stopped and was forgotten until seeds were re-discovered while excavating an ancient ruin.

Since then it has been used both as a staple at festivals, and for medicinal purposes. The "festiveness" probably comes from the beautiful deep-purple coloring it gives white rice when cooked together. The medicinal uses are related to the same coloring agent - anthocyanin (Polyphenol) - which prevents hardening of arteries and slows aging.

Macrobiotics considers it to be a "detoxing" agent. Some people apparently have a very strong physical reaction to it - presenting typical exaggerated detox symptoms such as headache, body ache, tiredness, dizziness, and dry, itchy, pimply skin.

Genmai (brown rice): organic/no-chem of course.

Kaki (persimmon) peels: While I usually eat my Kaki as an apple - skins and all (non-pesticide, of course). Japanese people usually cut the peels away and just throw them away! (I know... I can hardly believe it either!)

While Tomoe is Japanese enough not to eat the peels with her kaki, she at least uses the peels in other dishes. In this case, they were blended and mashed together with the rice and other ingredients to add a wonderful fruitiness to the pancakes.

Raisin: Raisins where added to the mash as a natural yeast, to promote fermentation in the pancake dough. She let it set two days, but this time it only resulted in a few bubbles - it didn't work as well as it apparently does in campagne, a country bread from France which I am told uses raisin yeast.


kome ame (brown rice syrup) & Goma paste (sesame paste): Kome ame is a sweet syrup that takes longer to digest than corn syrup and other sweeteners, providing a longer lasting energy source. (we are planning to make some granola with this for our next hiking trip). According to macrobiotics, this is good as well because it prevents quick rises in blood sugar, thus reducing the bodily stress caused by quick increase in insulin production. It also is said to help "mental health" - preventing insomnia, depression, and psychological disorders sometimes attributed to sugar.

Also, with regards to macrobiotics, I am told, this pancake is good because it is better to eat whole grains instead of regular flour - which gets sticky in your stomach. Rice, with 35% protein, is the highest protein content for a grain, has the perfect combination of protein and carbohydrates to provide energy for our bodies utilize the proteins. (In more northern latitudes, with climates better for wheat production, people had to eat more meat to provide the protein lacking in flour)

* * *

What else do gaijin eat?

What Gaijin Eat: First Harvest Sweet Potato Pie
What Gaijin Eat: Grain is Good
What Gaijin Eat: Kuroirigenmaiko Coffee

October 16, 2006

What Gaijin Eat: Kuroirigenmaiko Coffee


The health benefits of brown rice (genmai) are widely touted today, but a common "ancient wisdom", employed by Chinese warriors to amplify the power of the rice, was to slow roast the rice, let it steep and drink its power as a tea.

Tomoe's interest was less about gaining strength to conquer nations, and more about finding a non-caffeine, healthy, locally grown substitute for coffee. A little research into traditional and macrobiotic cooking methods pointed her to the "power of roasting." It was also common wisdom that slowly roasting umeboshi (pickled plums) over low heat, until it becomes a charcoal, is a perfect medicine for food poisoning.

My theory was that a charcoaled plum would taste so bad that it would cause one to vomit and expel the offending food from their system. According to macrobiotics, however, it seems that "roasting" things, such as the plum or brown rice, makes a "yin" body happy by bringing out the "yang" in the rice and "cleaning the blood". This is said to be good for young or pregnant women who "have cold feet and fingers" - apparently a trend caused by excessive sugar consumption in recent centuries as Japanese people become more affluent and can afford sugar, which was once a rare delicacy.

At any rate, kuroirigenmaiko was much more common in days of old. To see what it might have been like, Tomoe roasted her first batch of rice. Alas, while this was made with high-quality, locally grown, no-chemical genmai, her heat was too high, and the resulting coffee tasted (to me) like ash-water. Although there were some good roasty, nutty flavors, the "burned" flavor was overwhelming this time. Perhaps the trick, as some have suggested, is to mix the rich genmai tea with green tea. Or, the way we have been using the leftovers is as an ingredient to add roasty fullness to various other dishes.


Grain is Good

Tomoe and Her Grains

I have been spending a lot of time lately learning to photograph my dinners, lunches, and breakfasts. Its always fun to have a theme, it gives me a point of reference to see if I am improving in my photography, and its been incredibly interesting working with Tomoe to research more about what we are eating.

We just received a delivery yesterday with just over $100 worth of various grains, seeds, cereals, and other assorted goodies such as mochi powders and a type of dried weed that Japanese samurai soldiers used to soak in miso and wear as a belt on their long journies - providing them with a convenient, light-weight, great tasting seasoning for soup they would then cook in their helmets.

I spent way too long photographing them, and even longer researching the cultural uses and agricultural significance of the various grains in Japan. We still have some more research to do, but can't wait to share part II of What Gaijin Eat.


October 15, 2006

Nothing to Worry About

North Cascades
"Aren't you worried that someone will slip off the cliff?"

"Do you want to slip off the cliff?"


"Then why would I be worried?"

This is an exchange that took place between an instructor and a student who doubted that instructor's risk-assessment of a particularly dangerous looking skree field on a mountain in Washington.

October 13, 2006

Leaving Yen Town

Griko & AgehaYen Town

It is taking me a while, but I am coming to grips with the fact that, as a result of my little self-improvement adventure this summer, my income has fallen below my outgo. In reality there is no reason to "worry" since I had actually made plans long ago thinking it would have happened sooner, and yet the money kepi roll... er, trickling in.

Now I am planning further "self improvement" this winter which will only exacerbate the situation. And yet, I am feeling pretty "OK" with my new life as a bum.

I anticipated anxiety - tossing and turning at night wondering "how will I afford to retire?", but thoughts of money only tickle my panic button ever so slightly - just enough to cause me to think twice about having that second beer. I feel no anxiety about buying the things I need, but this may be because realizing that everything I don't buy means I can be a bum that much longer. It really helps me to realize what I *really* need. Not much. And now that I am thinking in terms of "buying this equals giving up X days of my life", instead of thinking in terms of money that just shows up in my bank account each month, my values have become much clearer.

Actually, the biggest thing that I have been struggling with is just being comfortable with using the free time I have from not working to do all the things on my To-Do list that I never had time for. Things such as dedicating three-plus hours each day to my physical well-being - running, workout, yoga, etc. Things such as dedicating three-plus hours each day to (re)learn Japanese. Things like finally finishing that speed reading book that is four years overdue from the library (my reading speed has tippled in the past week). Things such as watching those "Learning Photoshop" DVDs I have had sitting on my desk for the past year.

For some reason I still have (although it is shrinking) this nagging feeling that I should be "working like a responsible adult". Now, if I was spending all my time surfing the blogosphere I would completely understand this feeling, but the things I am spending my time on are mostly from the "not urgent but important" quadrant of my priority matrix. In fact, I am extremely proud at my ability to stay off-line - I don't even feel a need to read email on a daily basis anymore. Its liberating to say the least.

I have turned down some jobs that would give me that warm and fuzzy "see, I am not a bum" affirmation, and yet I constantly think "Next week I better start looking for some paying work". But I find myself tempted now to make my bum-dom last longer. Not because I could not squeeze in time for work - especially work I would enjoy - but rather because I want to teach myself how to be comfortable without an income. I want to learn how to stop worrying about what TVhas taught me to worry about. I want to become comfortable in the knowledge that I will *never* starve. But mostly, I want to enjoy my life while I am still thirty-one (thirty-two?).


I must confess though, that it is not all hard work with the study and working out. Some of the "workouts" are hiking and biking in the mountains, and some of the "study" is watching Japanese dramas and movies, such as one of my all-time favorite movies, Swallowtail Butterfly. I saw it many years ago and somehow forgot that they hardly speak and Japanese in it, so it was not much for help to study, but its one of those movies that just gets better every time you watch it.

As I was waiting for Tomoe to get ready for a walk this afternoon, I snapped a few shots of the monitor and played with them in PS because I am in love with the camera work. I mean - if I saw these scenes on the street I surely take the shot, so why can't I get it from my computer monitor? (copyright issues aside)


October 12, 2006

Furstore keemi?

End of the Day

Ostamba jit crog. Wa go ji randon prat flee - float wat net fratba hongtyu neep! Zee roan fron, net net jyo what nat no not knor. Saa... jyep mai och Tomoe ska nyet nev med mig. I bet jyu tenk ya kaking andra gensprak. Ne. Not so.

Maiya, its sow spate and wata seeha wanna sechs minus won till sov. Complexity. Bah!

October 11, 2006

What Gaijin Eat: First Harvest Sweet Potato Pie



Satsuma-imo - sweet potatoes. Harvested from our local coop's first organic crop of the year. Fall is the natural season and, according to macrobiotic theory, the ideal time for human consumption as well. After months of eating summer "yin" vegetables, such as tomato, eggplant, green pepper, and okra, all high in potassium, our bodies are said to crave the more "yang" sweet potato, high innatrium . It's higher concentrations of Na are believed to help us handle the transition between summer heat and the cooler fall climate.

Otebo - Domestic, traceable white peas from the Tohoku region. Literally translated, the name means "spared hands", so named because unlike other beans, Otebo do not require the construction of a labor intensive lattice for the bean to grow on.

While this particular bean was first cultivated in Hokkaido during the Meji period, they belong the to Ingen-mame family, named for the monk, Ingen, who is said to have first introduced it from China circa 1654.

Natsu-mikan marmalade, making use of what most people would have simply thrown away - leftover peels of organic, chemical-free Japanese "summer oranges"; bruised and "matured" apples; and sugar candies (to make use of an overly-sweet sugary gift that would have otherwise gone uneaten).

Salt. 1% of the total weight of vegetables. Recommended by macrobiotic theory because the body's natural salinity level is .9% - which makes sense if studies that show that ancient sea-water - where life began - was 1% salinity, are accurate. Basically, macrobiotics is about keeping the balance, and as we all know, with a .9% bodily salinity level, osmosis makes drinking today's sea water (which averages 3.5% salinity) an unbalanced, to say the least, prospect.

Raisons (organic) - to sweeten the pie. In actuality, freshly harvested sweet potatoes are not that sweet. While the harvest period of sweet potatoes is from late August to December, the actual sweetness does not come out until the potatoes have been aged for a few months, allowing the carbohydrates to begin their conversion to glucose.

Crust - made from whole-wheat flour, sesame oil, salt, and water.

Despite the fine taste, the whole wheat flour was, according to Tomoe, a mistake - causing too much trouble with its lack of stretchability. Next time, she says, she will use all purpose flour with wheat-bran.


Without any data to back me up, I would venture that the single most often asked question of foreigners in Japan (gaijin), is "What do you eat?". Likewise, when I am back home in the US, one of the most asked questions regarding my lifestyle in Japan is "Do you eat a lot of sushi?"

Seeing as that eating may (in terms of health and survival) be the single most important activity that we, as animals on earth, engage in, and given that the old saying "You are what you eat" is literally (if notfiguratively ) true, it is only natural that food and eating habits occupies such an important position in daily conversation. Or maybe its just that, aside from pooping and peeing, eating is one of the only humanendevors that we can be sure we have in common with anyone we meet - and talking about poop tends not to create such a great first impression.

* * *
With Tomoe spending a lot more time lately following her own interests (instead of just those of her employers) I am finding myself increasingly pushed out of the kitchen. One of the reasons Tomoe chose to make a lifestyle shift was that she wanted more time to follow her long-time interest in the relation between food, health, well-being, and environment.

Despite my own loss of "creative" time in the kitchen, I can't really complain. For one thing, I can get great meals even when my time is occupied by other projects - a situation that, in the past, would have lead to a simple hummus-like concoction or a re-heated bowl of sustainability soup. What's more, with more time to explore her main interest, macrobiotic cooking, the variety of dishes she makes is increasing, and I am eating even healthier than ever before.

My own understanding of macrobiotics has left me impressed at the amazing variety and flavors that can be found with locally-grown, mostly seasonal, and animal friendly foods (we use no milk, no meat, no cheese or eggs - no senselessly treating of other living, feeling creatures as simple commodities). At the same time, I have to admit, I am underwhelmed at the lack of scientific rigor and almost religious ease withwhich proponents of macrobiotics tend to accept un-tested hypothesis as truth.

Yet, despite any doubts I have about the reason behind the beneficial effects of eating what Tomoe cooks, there is no doubt that it tastes great, its healthy, and its about as environmentally friendly as we can get. I honestly feel that I am in the best physical and mental health of my life, and I think a lot of it has to do with the food.

* * *

In the past I have made posts documenting what an average grocery run looks like for myself. I don't know if anyone else was interested, but these are some of my favorite posts to look back on - to see how my own consumption and eating habits have changed in the past few years. I never did, however, document a typical meal.

So, for my own future enjoyment, and to provide an answer to the age-old question: "What do gaijin eat?", I now present a brief look into one gaijin's daily eating habits.

What's more, I hope that taking the photos and writing about it will connect me a bit more to what I eat again - now that I am no longer spending time in the kitchen. Hopefully by documenting it I will learn a little more about what Tomoe has in mind when she treats me to such fabulous dishes. In addition, I have found that photographing the food somewhat makes up for my loss in kitchen-creativity while cooking.


October 06, 2006

Do do do do

Snow in July

I was really freaked out a few days ago. It was October 1, Tomoe and my birthday. As we were preparing for our special birthday dinner of homemade pizza and a bottle of wine that she had received from a client in Austria (was great, but nothing we would have voluntarily spent our own money on), I decided to tune into some of my favorite radio programs on the web, to catch up on any interesting programs I missed while I was away.

In a flash of inspiration, I decided to check The Infinite Mind archives first, browsing for anything interesting... What show do you think is the first one I noticed? *** shudder ***

It was a program about coincidence, and RIGHT IN THE SUMMARY, it says:

We've all experienced it - a friend calls just as we are thinking of him, or a romantic partner has the same birthday we do.

Do do do do do do do do.

As always it was an interesting program, and their probability scientist completely shattered any idea that Tomoe and I were obviously meant for each other, pointing out that the odds of finding someone with the same birthday are actually very good.

Should I rethink my decision to marry her?

Of course they point out how human survival is dependent on how our brain is designed to find causal structures in the world and manipulate it for our own advantage, so it is only natural that we would notice *anything* that *seems* to be related.

Another coinkidink, however, is that while I was home I purchased the complete DVD set of the most awesomest TV series EVER - Northern Exposure. The writers of the series (and hence Chris, the cerebral morning DJ) are fans of Carl Jung. THE DAY BEFORE I listened to this program about coincidence I did some Wikipedia-ing to learn more about Jung.

Wouldn't you know it - as someone who spent a great deal of time studying studying coincidence and synchronicity (a synchronistic event is a meaningful coincidence - as opposed to just a coincidence), he was mentioned often in the radio program as well...


TomoeGrizly Kevin

October 05, 2006


Into the Wild

I can't concentrate on anything anymore. I just want to get back out there... walking. There is something great about moving toward a goal while engaging every one of your senses - your body as well as your mind. Twelve hours on trail, 10,000 feet of vertical gain/loss. Eat, sleep, and do it again the next day.

These photos are from the Pasayten Wilderness in the Northern Cascade range in Washington.

Pasayten Wilderness

October 04, 2006

Alex & Devon

I sooo want to relate some of the increadible experience I had this summer on an OutwardBound course for outdoor educator wannabes. I really struggled with the decision to go in the first place - it was a lot of money, especially if you include the gear I had to buy and the airplane ticket. Although in the end I would do it again in a second. In fact, I am considering a (cheaper and shorter) course here in Japan for the winter season as well). It was completely worth it.

Alas, writing about the experience will take me some time, and that is time that I had aloted to work on the Big Dream and study Japanese today.

So until I find the time to collect my thoughts (hopefully I don't forget those thoughts), I will leave you with some more photos from the trip.

These photos were taken with Tomoe's old Cannon point and shoot film camera that tended to focus on the background all the time instead of the people in the foreground I was trying to take a photo of. I know nothing about film, so I just bought a variety of the cheapest film of various ISO that I could find in a Seattle drug-store the day before I left for the wilderness. I have been spending a lot of time these past few days scanning them (with MANY big thanks to Gen for lending me his film scanner). I had no idea it tool so long to scan the photos in. I figure it would be a twenty minute job! On top of that, I had no idea that touching up scanned images took so much work. I am probably using the scanner wrong or something, but mine all turn out dusty and full of grain and strange lines, etc...

Alex at Devil's Pass

October 02, 2006

Atop Mountains

Setting Up Camp

The photos above and below are from Washington.

Above: We arrived to our camp near the foot of Silver Leap mountain in the Pasayten Wilderness just as the sun was setting.

Below: Brian, the instructor, looks out over the Pasayten Wilderness from the top of Desolation Peak - made famous by Jack Kerouac who spent 63 days at the top during the summer of 1956 as a fire lookout. The lookout building is a 14' x 14' one-room building surrounded by windows built in 1933. When we were there Ranger Marie was on lookout. She had been up there alone for several months each year for the past seven (or was it more?) years. The view from her toilet (an outhouse with no walls) resembles what Brian is looking at in this photo, but I think the best part about living up there would be when a lightning storm comes.

Maybe someday I will get around to making a more detailed write-up of the entire course. Or, maybe I will spend the time that doing a detailed writeup would take to do more hiking with Tomoe instead.

The photo at the end of the post is from two weekends ago near the top of Shirouma Mountain in Hakuba. I was using a ten-year-old disposable camera that Tomoe found in her desk drawer. All the photos are... well, they have "character".

My own camera is back from the Nikon service cernter, however, just like new. If only it wasn't so dang heavy I wouldn't be so tempted to leave it home this weekend when Tomoe and I will go for another hike to points yet undecided.

Brian at top of Desolation Peak
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In other "news"...

In the seven years I have lived in Tokyo, I have learned some valuable computer languages, as well as "konsarutanto-go" (the language of meaningless catchphrases that consultants use to satisfy their clients' need to satisfy their boss, justifying their budget). I have, however, lapsed on my Nihon-go (Japanese) studies.

While I Was once fluent (and literate) enough to attend university classes (with a slight difficulty, mind you), I have since simply stopped seriously studying. Aside from business related Japanese documents, Japanese manuals for cameras and other high-tech gizmagetry, translation work, and the occasional Japanese newspaper (very occasional), I seem to have lost interest.

Partly this is because I have grown much more mellow in my response to people who (attempt to) speak English to me at first meeting. While, as I student many years ago, I saw this as an insult - assuming that they were assuming that I was a dumb foreigner who couldn't speak Japanese - I now assume that they are simply taking the relatively rare opportunity to use the English training they probably paid good money for. I now often find myself spending my time struggling through an English conversation without letting on that I speak Japanese.

Partly it is because Tomoe has been working at a much more "American" company than I, where they use English in the office and, with her English being better than my Japanese, I see no need to use Japanese at home - after all, the goal is to communicate with her - not to learn Japanese. (My politicallyincorrect fantasy is that the entire world could understand English and thus understand my humor as a native Enlglish speaker does).

A few months ago I started looking into Japanese schools with the hopes to "catch back up". Seeing the costs, I suggested that Tomoe and I start speaking Japanese at least sometimes (when I first met her we spoke 50/50 if not more Japanese). Somehow, however, the idea of speaking in Japanese with her has become extremely iya (uncomfortable). Maybe because the majority of our relationship has developed while communicating in English, and partly because we both find the Japanese language less... free and personal.

For example, something I *thought I noticed* about the last company I had been working for, but was not sure until Tomoe came to work there too and confirmed my impression, was that the Japanese language really got in the way of the free exchange of ideas. Now, I'm sure this is not true as a generalization about *all* Japanese companies and organizations, and I was unsure about my own assessment in this case because I seemed to be the only one having a problem. But when Tomoe joined the company after having spent so much time in an American/English speaking office, she confirmed that having to use polite language (as when speaking Japanese to non-buddies) really undermines the "free" mood in the office. It's the difference between saying "Excuse my intrusion Mr. Cameron, however I believe I may have a humble idea - it is really nothing more than a thought however." instead of just "Hey! Kevin! I got a great idea! Lets try..."

I hated it, and I was relieved that she hated it too.

Its funny how, even though we felt for years that we were married, the actual act of signing our names to a piece of paper suddenly creates pressure to learn Japanese again - this time "for real". Of course, my work and current dream-project also require it, but having finally tied the knot brings home the idea that I may actually be here for a while, so dedicating a year or so to down and dirty study might be a *very* worth while investment of time ...and money.

But then again... all the Japanese I have learned until now has been through self-study. I used to spend hours studying kanji for fun. My roommates would ask me to come to a party but I would decline because I was studying vocab. Could I not pick up where I left off and re-learn Japanese on my own without spending thousands of dollars to a second-rate Japanese school? This is nothing against Japanese schools here, but I have only ever found one three-credit Japanese class, for one semester at University of Michigan (Prof. Johnson's Japanese Linguistics class), to be what I would consider "first rate" - i.e., I learned more by attending class than I lost to spending my time in class as opposed to self-study.

So, time to stop blogging, stop scanning negatives from my trip to Washington, stop watching Northern Exposure with Tomoe, and time to break out the old tattered dictionaries again...

Tomoe Atop Northern Alps
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