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April 30, 2007

Contrasts

Tokyo by Dad

I leave behind Tokyo for the North Alps again in about five minutes. I don't know how long I will be there this time, so I leave you with two questions that have been occupying my mind recently.

What if Gayliens visited our planet with solutions to all of the worlds real problems?

What insights into life can be found by having a drunk remake your home?

(the photo above is another one of Dad's from his visit a few weeks ago.

North Alps, Japan

April 29, 2007

Thank You Note

Thank You Note

A thank you note I painted today (and yesterday of you include all the failures) for Sakko & Hiroshi who let us stay in their home as we searched for houses to rent in the mountains of Nagano. It was in an area I have visited several times before. The first time i saw it I thought "This is amazing. I want to live here". I visited again as a part of the preparations for my "big dream idea". Knocking on doors and talking to whoever I met on the road. Most of thepeople (except for a grumpy photographer) were incredibly helpful and kind. I grew more in love with the area. This time Tomoe and I were looking at houses a little further north, but we had time at the end of one day so I convinced her to take a trip over a mountain pass "just to see" this area. It wasn't long before we were invited to stay with Sakko and family.

As it turns out, they are living exactly the lifestyle we are looking for. They live on $700 / month (one child), grow their own veggies, Sakko is a macrobiotic cook herself. The only problem (and it is not a big problem for me) is that it is quite a commute over some mountains to my new job in Hakuba.

April 28, 2007

Little House in a Big Mountain

Sakko & Hiroshi

We're back. It looks like I'll have a busy summer in the lakes, rivers, mountains, and forests of Nagano. I go back in two days for some work. I still don't know how regular the work is, or how often I will be able to return to Tokyo. With luck it will not be long before we have a place to live nearby... a place in a big mountain with a little field, and maybe a river too.

We did not find a house. The $50/month traditional Japanese house we had our eye on was rented right before our eyes. When we arrived at the city office to ask for the key to check the house out, we were informed that someone had come only an hour earlier to look at it. We waited, hoping that he would return the key and continue his search elsewhere, but the phone call soon came with the bad news that he would rent the house.

Never-the-less, we found a great area (I had actually gone through there twice - once by accident, and once as a part of my yet-incomplete big dream project). While a bit far from where I will be working, it is ideal in terms of environment and atmosphere. When we asked around about any openings we were told there were none at present, but soon an old traditional Japanese farm house with a straw roof may be opening up.

Pray for us.

Probably the best part about the area is the diversity in residents. There are some old folks who have lived there their entire life, as well as many "new" faces - transplants from the big city, artists, hippies. The photo above is of a great couple that let us stay at their place for the night and see first hand the lifestyle we are aiming for.

April 23, 2007

Back from Chiba by Bike

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I'm back from a more-amazing-than-expected (and more urban than any previous trip) four day trip in Chiba/Miura/Yokohama area. The path was not exactly what we planned, so I post the actual route. This time it is more accurate than any other bike tour route I have posted. I am using this jogging route simulator (all in Japanese) to trace my route on Google Maps, get the total distance, and then I import it into Google Earth. maybe I was just using Google Earth wrong, but this is much more easy than trying to trace the exact path in Google earth, and I never figured out how to get the distance calculations in Google Earth either.

Anyway, here is a Google Earth kmz file for anyone thinking of taking a bike trip in Chiba (round trip from Tokyo). This is a good route, although if I were to do it again (and with more time) I would have changed some things about it.

I want to make a commentary about all the details, but Tomoe and I have to catch a bus to Nagano tomorrow morning where I have a job interview related to outdoor/environmental education, and we will spend the rest of the four days looking at old, traditional Japanese style houses which tend to go for as little as 5,000 yen/month ($50) in the mountains. One house we have our eye on has no indoor toilet (awesome!!!) and will only be an hour or so commute by bike and train over some beautiful mountain roads.

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April 19, 2007

Off Again

Traditional Japanese HomeChiba Plan

Our latest adventure. We don't have much time, but we have people to meet. The trick then becomes fitting the meetings into a bike trip (saving a couple thousand yen worth of train fair, and getting healthy at the same time). After two days in Chiba, we want to get back to the Nihon minka enTraditional Japanese house Park (Photos above), which I visited with my parents, in time to participate in one of their "making stuff out of rice-straw" classes.

And although I don't have time I can't help mentioning this story on NPR today about how China is preparing for the Olympics by fixing up their English translations.

For example: a theme park dedicated to China's ethnic minorities had been called "Racist Park." The effort extends to English translations of restaurant menus, and dishes such as carp.

Other examples:

A restroom that says "ladies" in Chinese, but "gentlemen" in English translation.
Hospital for anus and intestinal disease = Hospital for proctology
Restaurant menus selling fresh succulent juicy crap = "carp" or "crab"

They are attempting to make voluntary standards for translation. Maybe Japan should try this...

Traditional Japanese Home

April 17, 2007

From a train window

Ramen ShopItoigawa

Itoigawa, Nigata prefecture

April 15, 2007

Out of order

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Everything is out of order. I don't know where I am going or what is going on. Tuesday I will either be on my way to Chiba or off to Nagano. By bike? By bus? How do I fit in all the people I have to meet? Potential jobs, business opportunities, possible dream homes, too much to do and nothing that can just be nailed down right now into a tidy schedule.

What a great life I have!

In keeping with the theme of "out-of-order", here are some photos from way back in February.

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View From Dad's Camera

Ueno Cherry BlossomsTokyo

Last post was one of Dad's photos. Today I went through a bunch more of the photos he took. It was really interesting to see what other people see as interesting. There are photos I would never have taken because I would have judged it as a bad angle, or because there is a tree in the way. Yet, taken with his camera they turned out nice - because he didn't let "perfection" get in the way of capturing the moment. Maybe there is something to learn there...f

Anyway, a brief rundown of their trip as seen through the lens of my dad's Lumix camera.

Morning in our apartmentOur LifeP1040884_1.jpg

Living in our tiny apartment was not easy. Not only was it cramped with no privacy other than an impromptu curtain we hung near the bathroom door so people didn't have to dress and undress in the tiny unit-bath, but it was also poop-ridden and full of feathers and birds that like to pick skin.

Every morning they awoke to birds crawling all over them. if anything caused "culture shock", this was it.

Inokashira ParkInokashira Park HanamiP1050031_1.jpg

The first week was dominated by cherry blossoms. How lucky I was that they hit the blossom season dead on. Without the blossoms I would have had no idea where to take them to kill the time.

We started with Ueno park, which disappointed me in terms of blossoms. Although they have many trees, it seemed like less because they were all along a cold paved walkway. There was no place to just sit and enjoy them. Iinokashira park, on the other hand, was beautiful. A much more "natural" setting, with grass and trees and a pond to sit around. We hopped to treat them to the experience ofHanami , but neither of my parents really drink that much, and sitting on the ground is not so comfortable for them, so we got some snacks from Sun Road and Lon Lon, and found a place where they could sit somewhat elevated from the ground, but still enjoy the feeling ofHanami. This was one of my favorite days.

Inokashira Park Boats

They returned to Iinokashira park the next day by bike - the infamous bike trip that left mom in a wheel-chair for the rest of the trip.

River Walk
Hamura Water & Flower Festival

The next day was spent in the hospital - not many photos from there. But the day after we headed out to Hamura, on the oume line near Okutama. The blossoms where a bit fresher there, and being a Sunday, there were many festivals. Every shrine in the area seemed to be hosting one. The biggest was down by the river where a group of young men carry their float through the cold river. Each year its like a contest to see how long they can stay in the river so it got a bit boring to watch, but over all it was a great day as well. There was also a tulip farm.

Hamura Water & flower festivalHamura Water & Flower Festival

The rest of the trip was spent in the city. Shibuya, Shinjyuku, Ginza... the usual. We had dinner at the macrobiotic restaurant where Tomoe has been working part-time, and later had lunch with Tomoe's parents - the most official thing we have done so far for our non-existent wedding.

P1050104_1.jpgP1050224_1.jpgP1050193_1.jpgP1050131_1.jpgUeno Park

April 13, 2007

Back to Normal

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Well, they're gone. I have my life back - much more time to sit around at home and do nothing. I also have a million photos to sort through, both mine and my dad's.

Here is a photo dad took of me pushing mom's wheel chair through Shinjyuku.

As of yesterday, she was doing fine without the chair and said that her leg actually felt better than before the little bike accident.

If you ever find yourself in need of a wheel chair rental in Tokyo, please check out this company. I really liked them. We ordered it one day and it was delivered around 9 am the next day allowing us to keep our scheduled plan to go to a festival on the outskirts of Tokyo.

They are also environmentally conscious, requesting that customers use only the minimum of tape on the box to send it back.

April 09, 2007

New Perspectives

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It has been an eventful week. Although my parents have been to Tokyo three times before, they are lucky enough to be seeing lots of new things... like the inside of Keio hospital. And even the things that they saw before are being seen from a whole new perspective - Tokyo is apparently a different wold from a wheel-chair.

On the bike trip I mentioned last time, mom tried to catch her balance at one point and aggravated a previous injury in her leg. The next day she could barely walk ten meters so we took her to the hospital (knowing the doctor would just say "stay off of it" Tomoe and I voted for trying accupuncture). The doctor told us nothing we didn't know, but she did got some good drugs, which we are all enjoying, and we are now renting a wheel-chair so she doesn't have to spend the rest of her trip sitting in my room in the 2,000 yen comfy office chair I bought a few days ago.

She is doing much better today. In fact, we went to Okutama where we did a bit of hiking. - for real. The photos below are from nearby Hatonosu station.

The photo above was taken at the Hamura Flower and Water festival. It was great. Not only is the city full of blossoms, but tulips and festivals as well. I have more photos, but am a bit too tired to do anything with them now.

P1030452_1.jpgHatonosu

April 06, 2007

Mom and Dad in Tokyo

Mom & Dad

Mom and dad made it to Tokyo and have been blessed with lots of blossoms remaining on the trees and relatively beautiful weather. It's a bit cold, but mostly clear skies yesterday and today (so far).

The biggest challenge has been for them to live in our tiny apartment with us - and the birds who don't have a cage. We have no beds, no comfortable chairs. I ran out to the used-junk shop last night and bought a nice, cushy, reclining office chair last night for 2,000 yen to reduce my stress of seeing them sitting on the straight back kitchen chairs all night after a long day of walking through the city and parks.

They will get a chance to compare our spartan lifestyle to the most modern of the modern lifestyles next week though because our application was accepted to stay a night in Panasonic's concept home - complete with all the newest high-tech, so-called "eco" products, such as the enormous theater-screen-size TV seen at the bottom of this page.

I think we'll rent some Japanese movies with great scenery shots to watch that night. If anyone knows any good ones with English subtitles on the DVD, let me know. For now I am anxious to show them "Cha No Aji" (The Taste of Tea). Tomoe has her mind set on "Memoirs of a Geisha", but I think it would be such a waste to show them a crap Hollywood film when there are so many good Japanese movies to choose from here.

To give ourselves a break, Tomoe and I sent them out on a bike ride from Nakanosakaue to Iinogashira park today with a map of Tokyo and a compass. I have a few hours left before they call me to come lead them home. Then later tonight it is off to eat at Gaya, the Macrobiotic restaurant (Happy Cow review)where Tomoe has been working part-time and learning from the head chef told her that based on her skills and knowledge as a "beginner", she could reach his level in about a year.

Cha No Aji From the IMDB:

A truly beautiful film full of wonderful imagery and comic moments that made the almost 2 and a half hours fly past. It really needs to be seen in a cinema where you can totally integrate yourself in the atmosphere and you feel like a fly on the wall, watching the family and their situations without interrupting their flow. Visually nature plays a huge role, not just the human side of it (which is simple and uncomplicated) but the countryside, the river, the wind, the cherry blossoms, the rain etc etc. It really is beautifully filmed and the characters are all very touching, very funny and very normal really (except perhaps the psychedelic singing uncle),in their own quirky little ways. There isn't a real story line, we just follow the family over a seemingly short period of time. Some moments in the film may seem relevant and some may not, but they all do seem to fit in somewhere along the way and they are all such a pleasure to watch. I came out of the cinema feeling as though my karma was on a high and I still do.

Dad

April 03, 2007

Diversification

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I don't spend all my time in the mountains.

View from Nakano Sakaue

April 02, 2007

To and From

Sakura

Been too busy trying... err... thinking about trying to get a job lately to complete any of the half-written posts from the past few days. And, seeing as how my parents will arrive tomorrow and be here for over a week, I don't have any confidence in myself that I will get anything written then either. Lucky for you, I still have a back-log of photos...

The photo above is from the train window as we zoomed passed the cherry blossoms on our way home from Nagano. The photo below is from my bike as Shin-chan and I struggled through high winds, rain and snow along the Japan Sea coast on my way to Nagano.

Tripod
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