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2016-03-11 21.17.15

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Climbing Mt. Fuji solo – from dusk to dawn!

070127_tanuki-fujiOn August 12, 2016 I set off from Tokyo motivated and determined to achieve a very spiritual goal, to climb to the summit of Mt. Fuji, the highest elevated mountain peak in Japan.  Mt. Fuji is a 3,776 meter (12,388 ft) high active volcanic mountain, which last erupted in 1707.  Despite not having erupted in over 3 centuries, scientists and researchers believe it’s due.  In September of 2012, a report was released highlighting that Mt Fuji’s magma chamber pressure had risen to a worrisome 1.6 megapascals, which is estimated to be higher than when it last erupted.  However, those discouraging numbers are neither here nor there to the many that attempt to scale the volcanic mountain yearly during the official climbing season from July to September.  Off season climbing is permissible, however cold weather, snow, high winds, and a lack of mountain station support have often lead to accidents and tragedies.

Due to the number of websites and blogs providing information about climbing Mt. Fuji, I won’t get into the technical details about how to climb it, but rather gloss over my experience a little.  Mt. Fuji is accessible by many forms of transportation, I took a 2-3 hour bus from Tokyo Station to the popular local town of Kawaguchiko.  This small town is popular because of its proximity to Mt. Fuji and for its beautiful view points of the famed Japanese holy mountain.  A view of Mt. Fuji reflecting from Lake Kawaguchiko is a highly sought after picture if you’re lucky enough to capture it with cooperating weather.  On my trip to Kawaguchiko, I arrived with no hiking gear so I rented all my necessary equipment for a set price of 10,200 yen ($100.00 USD) from a local shop near the station.  After which, I took a 1-hour local bus to the Fuji Subaru Line, 5th Station located at an altitude of 2300 meters.  The Fuji Subaru Line, 5th Station in Yamanashi Prefecture is the furthest accessible point up Mt. Fuji by bus or car and is a popular point for sightseeing, souvenir shopping and leisurely viewing of the UNESCO World Heritage site up close.  Moreover, it is home to the starting point for the Yoshida Trail, the most popular base for a climb to the summit.

It is recommended before beginning your ascent up the mountain to take 1-hour to acclimate yourself to the altitude.  I began my hike at approximately 6pm with my goal to reach the summit before sunrise, which was shortly prior to 5am.  As I began my hike, feeling as prepared as possible, I noticed many people from around the world that took a more casual approach to the hike.  A lack of preparation, especially in terms of proper hiking shoes and warm clothes can make the difference between success and failure to put it mildly.  Mt. Fuji should not be underestimated and requires planning and preparation, both mentally and physically.  Do not attempt to do it on a whim!  Most people will list the climb manageable between 6-7 hours, which I think is meant to be encouraging to promote the climb.  However, I think 7-8 hours is a more realistic time frame, which I completed on the latter side of my approximation.  For those feeling unsure of their ability to climb without a safety net, there are several mountain huts available for refuge.  However, do not expect to walk-in and be sold on their minimal accommodations for rest they offer, reservations are more than likely required.  These huts are expensive and personally, I don’t recommend them if you are looking to rest for less than 2-3 hours, I suggest you take breaks outside around the stations and keep going if you’re up for it.

After reaching the original 8th Station Tomoe-Kan mountain hut by midnight, the distance to the summit was listed as being only 376 meters more and is estimated to be only 1-hour further.  However, due to several factors including exhaustion and the increasing difficulty of the climbing terrain, I started to slow down because the goal was to reach the peak by sunrise and regardless of my pace, I was going to be waiting more than an hour or two at the summit.  On this last solo leg up the mountain, I made friends with three guys from the Philippines, Brazil, and Ireland – we bonded in the solidarity of being completely exhausted.  One of the guys was suffering from a very bad case of altitude sicknesses.  Fortunately, the altitude didn’t affect me, probably because I’m of Tibetan blood.  Lhasa, the capital of Tibet lies at almost the same altitude as the summit of Mt. Fuji – a nugget of information I enjoy sharing which defines why Tibet is commonly referred to as the ‘Roof of the World’…  After reaching the summit shortly after 2am Saturday morning, it was only a matter of time before the sunrise.  As the clock ticked slowly in our frigid conditions, all eyes on the summit were locked on the dim horizon.  As seconds became minutes, the glow of the horizon began illuminating ever so slowly.  The anticipation of mother nature waking up has never been so surreal.  All my symptoms of fatigue had been forgotten as the seconds ticked and the sun slowly began to rise.  This grueling climb likening to heavy metal music pounding on my body had turned into a classical orchestra slowly reaching its long anticipated crescendo.  As the horizon slowly lit up and the sun began to rise, I soon witnessed the most pristine sunrise I have ever seen in my entire life.

Dedicated to the memory of my sister Dekyi, 1978-2016


Note: For a link to all my pictures from this trip see my Mt. Fuji 2016 One Drive album

The Tokyo Skytree

When visiting Tokyo, a must visit tourist attraction is the Tokyo Skytree, the largest tower in the world.  At 634 meters (2,080 feet), the Tokyo Tower is absolutely the best place in Tokyo to get a 360 panoramic view of the city.  The tower is the primary television and broadcast site for the Kanto region, however its actual purpose is often overshadowed by simply being an observation tower with an amazing view of the city.  Although advance tickets are available for purchase, I don’t recommend you buy them.  Advance tickets will no doubt guarantee a day and time reserved ticket, however there are no guarantees for clear skies.  It is absolutely necessary to visit on a nice day if you are at all interested in capturing the moment.  Lastly, there is a Fast Skytree Ticket Counter for international visitors for a shorter wait, but be aware it costs slightly more and may be unnecessary if the standard lines are not busy, take a look around and evaluate the value before purchasing.  Don’t forget to bring your passport in order to take advantage of the international perk.

For more information in English:  http://lang.tokyo-skytree.jp/en/


The Butchart Gardens – Victoria Island, B.C. Canada

The beauty of visiting Seattle for domestic or international travelers is its close proximity to another foreign country, Canada.  Getting up to see our friendly maple syrup loving neighbors up north can easily be assessable by car, bus, or a speed-ferry – as I like to affectionately describe it.  Clipper Vacations offer a number of sightseeing tour options to Victoria, B.C., Canada, including overnight and day-trip accommodations by ferry, which moves as fast and can be as choppy as a speed boat be aware.  My parents and I took the day-trip from Seattle to Victoria in the summer of 2016.  The 3-hour boat ride departs Seattle early in the morning and leaves Victoria in the late evening.  Included in their 200 USD day-trip option to Victoria, B.C. is a visit to The Butchart Gardens, one of Victoria’s most popular attractions. The Butchart Gardens were founded in 1904 when 55 acres of abandoned lime quarry was transformed into a stunning sunken garden with seasonal floral displays, all done in the Victorian tradition. This convenient Butchart Gardens tour picks you up upon arrival at the Victoria Clipper terminal and you are shown the city highlights on your way to The Butchart Gardens.  The tour provides a couple hours to independently explore the Gardens, followed by a ride back to Victoria’s Inner Harbour allowing ample time to explore the many beautiful inner harbour sights.

For more information: Victoria Day Trip With The Butchart Gardens

Note: For a link to all my pictures from this trip see my Victoria Island, B.C. Canada 2016 One Drive album

Seattle Bon Odori Festival 2016

Seattle is home to 7th largest Japanese-American community in the United States with over 30,000 residents.  Japanese immigration into the Seattle community dates back to the mid-1880s and to this day their presence is woven into the fabric of pacific north-western culture.  Every year, the Japanese-American community in Seattle celebrate Bon Odori, a traditional summer festival in which the Japanese honor their ancestors who have passed on, remember and appreciate all they have done, and celebrate their ongoing presence in the lives they enjoy today.  Also known as Obon, the festival is an official Seafair event held at the Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple.  The festival is highlighted by traditional music and street dancing in a giant oval.  Many festival attendees can be seen dressed in Japanese kimonos, yukatas, or happi coats.  The event also features Japanese food booths and refreshments, taiko and martial arts performances, craft exhibits and demonstrations.  The festival is usually held over two days and evenings in mid-July, and is a great opportunity for people from all walks of life to share in the traditions and culture of Japanese-Americans living in Seattle.

For more information visit: Seattle Buddhist Temple website

Halloween! ~ A rapidly growing holiday in Japan!

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Mt. Ranier National Park ~ a “sister-mountain” of Japan’s Mt. Fuji!

Mt. Ranier National Park is an icon of Washington state’s landscape and a symbol of beauty accentuating the backdrop of Seattle’s skyline.  Ascending to 14,410 feet above sea level, it was established on March 2, 1899 as the fifth national park in the United States.  Mt. Ranier is an active volcano and is the most glaciated peak in the United States, spawning six major rivers.  With over 25 glaciers, the mountain is often shrouded in clouds that dump enormous amounts of rain and snow on the peak every year, which often makes it difficult to get that perfect picture when visiting.  Despite those odds, I was able to get a few nice shots as I spent one night camping in the park with friends!

Incidentally, Mt. Ranier has a sister-mountain relationship with Mt. Fuji, the most famous mountain in all of Japan.  More than a hundred years ago, many Japanese immigrated to Seattle, Washington.  It is written when they saw Mt. Rainier for the first time, they were amazed by the mountain’s shape and sacredness, which looked very similar to their beloved Mt. Fuji.  Therefore, they nicknamed Mt. Rainier “Tacoma-Fuji” for a long time with a feeling of nostalgia and respect.

In 1935, a National Park friendship started between the two countries, and on April 30, 1936 a sister-mountain relationship became official.  To commemorate the occasion they exchanged rocks from each other’s mountains.  The rock from Mt. Fuji has been displayed at the entrance of the Headquarters of Mt. Rainier National Park.  It was presented in a wood box made from the “sakura” or cherry tree, which is the unofficial Japanese national flower.  Likewise, the rock from Mt. Rainier is displayed at Mt. Fuji’s visitor center in Yamanashi, Japan.

For more information about visiting Mt. Ranier: https://visitrainier.com/

Note: For a link to all my pictures from Mt. Ranier National Park see my Mt. Ranier One Drive Album

Seattle Sounders F.C. – Major League Soccer at CenturyLink Field!

Recently I returned to Japan off a fun-filled vacation back to my hometown in Seattle, Washington!  Although there were many moments to share, I’ll start by highlighting a trip I made to watch the Seattle Sounders play.  The Seattle Sounders FC is Seattle’s local professional soccer team that competes in Major League Soccer (MLS).  The team was established on November 13, 2007, as an MLS expansion team making it the 15th team in the league.  Sounders FC home matches are played at CenturyLink Field, also home to the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle’s National Football League (NFL) team.  CenturyLink Field is widely recognized as one of the loudest stadiums in the world.  On September 15, 2003 during a Seattle Seahawks game against the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle fans broke the Guinness World Record for loudest crowd roar at an outdoor stadium with 136.6 decibels.  In addition, on August 25, 2013, the Sounders broke a new home field attendance record when 67,385 fans turned out to watch them play Pacific Northwest rival, the Portland Timbers.  In what feels like another lifetime ago, I once was involved in public relations for this stadium’s grand opening and I remember assisting in media tours in different stages of its completion.  More over, as a new Seahawks season ticket holder and attendee at the stadium’s inaugural opening in 2002, I have literally seen CenturyLink Field grow up from its concrete roots to the stadium it has become today.  From mild intrigue it garnered at its birth, through insufferable losing seasons it endured, to home of Superbowl Champions, and ultimately to one of the most respected home field advantageous in all sports!  I think it’s safe to say my concrete baby boys all growns up.. Here’s to you CenturyLink Field from someone who always believed in you!

For more information about events at CenturyLink Field: http://www.centurylinkfield.com/

Note: For a link to all my pictures from Century Link Field see my Seattle Sounders One Drive album

Thailand Winter 2014 – Bangkok and Pattaya!

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Note: For a link to all my pictures from Thailand see my Thailand Winter 2014 OneDrive album

Laos Winter 2014 – Vientiane and Vang Vieng!

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Note: For a link to all my pictures from Laos see my Laos Winter 2014 OneDrive album

Vietnam Winter 2014 – Hanoi and Ha Long Bay!

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Note: For a link to all my pictures from Vietnam see my Vietnam Winter 2014 OneDrive album


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

Pictures of me being Santa Clause for kindergarten students! Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy upcoming New Year to my friends, family, and students!

Hawaii Summer 2014 – Tenpa and Marianne’s Wedding!

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Note: For a link to all my pictures from Hawaii see my Hawaii Summer 2014 OneDrive album

2014 Awa Odori “Dance” Festival – Tokushima, Japan!

The Awa O’dori “Dance” Festival is held annually August 12-15 as part of the O’bon festival in Tokushima Prefecture on the island of Shikoku, Japan – a place where I have called home for over 10-years.  Awa O’dori is the largest dance festival in Japan, attracting over 1.3 million tourists every year.  Groups of choreographed dancers and musicians known as rens dance through the streets, typically accompanied by the shamisen lute, taiko drums, shinobue flute and the kane bell.  Performers wear traditional o’bon dance costumes, and chant and sing as they parade through the streets.  Awa is the old feudal administration name for Tokushima prefecture, and o’dori means dance.  Check out two of the groups I dance with annually!  For more information check out Awa Dance Festival at Wikipedia.

“Challenge English Class” Summer Carnival!

  Summer Carnival Album:


Tokushima Indigo Socks – Shikoku Island League Baseball

Tokushima Indigo SocksThis past weekend I finally decided to take myself out to the ballpark to see Tokushima’s very own independent baseball team, the Indigo Socks take the field versus their island rivals to the north, the Kagawa Olive Guyners.  The Tokushima Indigo Socks were established in 2005 along with three other teams, all representing prefectures located on Shikoku Island.  The 4-team league once established as the Shikoku Island League was changed in 2007 to the Shikoku Island League Plus to accommodate teams from outside the island and a vision to expand, however, it appears little expansion momentum has been made to date.  The Independent Baseball League of Japan or IBLJ, Inc. operates the league through its headquarters in Takamatsu.  The league was founded by commentator and former professional baseball player Hiromichi Ishige, who initially held all the rights to the teams, leadership, and players, but in 2006 established separate corporations for each of the teams.  Although I’m uncertain of the exact vision of the league as it moves forward, I can only assume it is positioning itself for inclusion in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, which currently does not have a team represented from Shikoku Island.  As for the quality of the product on the field, it met my expectations as far as the fundamentals of baseball are concerned and exceeded my expectations as I was witness to a rare long ball by a member of the Olive Guyners.  Despite visible public relations and marketing efforts across the prefecture, the stadium was nearly empty as it appears a loyal fan base has yet to be established.  Although Tokushima won dramatically 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th, and moved within half a game of first place in the league, there were only a small number of fans attending to bare witness.  As for my final take, whether you are a fan of baseball or not, take it from me, attending any sporting event with great seats makes the experience much more enjoyable and can bring the beauty of any game to life.  And, if you’re interested in watching the Tokushima Indigo Socks, trust me when I say the beauty will be in 3-D, because the best seats in the house will surely be open..  Go show ’em some love if you’re in town!

For more information in Japanese 日本 visit the league’s official website: http://www.iblj.co.jp/

Tokushima Golden Week Anime Festival – Machi Asobi

This Golden Week holiday in Tokushima welcomed the return of the Machi Asobi Anime Festival and thousand of animation fanatics from all over Japan.  Although this event is now in its 4th year in Tokushima and is considered the biggest anime, gaming and manga event in all of Japan – I was previously unaware of it and this year was my first time strolling through the festivities. The word “Machi” translates as street, town or city while “Asobi” means amusement, playing or game – a fitting name for the event as the fun and excitement lines the outdoor venues along the Tokushima City river boardwalk and streets.  Since the first event in 2009, Japan’s anime industry leaders, including: directors, voice actors, producers, artists, and singers have been gathering annually in Tokushima to feature their latest productions.  Although I have never been overly interested in Japanese animation, I do respect the enormous popularity it has within the Japanese culture and wanted to highlight this fun local event!

For more information in Japanese 日本 visit the event’s official website: http://www.machiasobi.com/


Men Oh Ramen ~ from Tokushima to California!

Following up on my most recent blog about the Tokushima Ramen Exhibition that took place at the Hana Haru Festival, I want to briefly take the time to now expand on the popularity of ramen in Japan, and share with you my local favorite shop, which I only recently discovered has made its way to the United States.  For many Americans like myself, ramen noodles are commonly known to be associated with the stigma of being a cheap instant meal due to the generational popularity of Top Ramen.  In 1970, the Nissin Food Products Co. in Japan established Nissin Foods (USA) in Gardena, California and Top Ramen was born in all its glorious flavors: beef, chicken, pork, and shrimp.  Unfortunately for the true ramen connoisseurs in the United States who are well aware of the difference between instant and gourmet ramen, finding a good ramen shop was once impossible.  Fortunately for those ramen lovers today, there is a recent growing trend of ramen shops popping up all over mostly urban cities in the United States, such as New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle to name a few.  For more information on popular U.S. ramen shops, click on the link I’ve added onto each of the cities to see local rankings.  As far as Tokushima ramen is concerned, one of my favorite local shops is Men Oh Ramen (translation – Noodle Kings), which to my surprise can be found in California.  Although I’m far from a expert on Ramen, and confess I enjoy Men Oh Ramen most for its ordering conveniences and proximity to where I live, allow me to share a little of what I do know about these popular Japanese noodles.  There are many types of ramen soup one can choose from, including the following:  Shio (salt) – which has a clear, almost transparent chicken broth.  Tonkotsu (pork bone) – which usually has a white or sometimes brown, thick broth made from crushed pork bones that have been boiled for hours.  Shoyu (soy sauce) – made by adding a soy-based sauce to a stock usually made from chicken and various vegetables – with popular seasonings being black pepper or chile oil.  And, Miso – which has a broth that combines chicken stock with a fermented soybean paste.  Men Oh Tokushima Ramen prides itself on creating a unique Tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen, with its pork coming from local Tokushima pig farmers.  Ramen noodles come in various lengths and widths, and include four basic ingredients: wheat flour, salt, and most importantly water.  The type of water used to make these noodles often times can be the distinguishing factor in quality.  With now an understanding of these basic types of ramen, I trust you will be well equipped to explore the many available toppings and sides on your own; as you slurp your own way to finding the TOP ramen shop wherever you may live in the world!  いただきます! 🙂

For more information on Men Oh Ramen in the United States visit their website: http://www.menohusa.com


Hana Haru Festa – a Tokushima Spring Festival!

The Hana Haru Festa is an annual spring festival hosted by the city of Tokushima.  The 3-day mid-April festival is highlighted by local Awa Odori dance groups performing the traditional summer festival dance throughout each day of the event.  In addition to the Awa Odori dance performances, local hip hop dance groups battle it out in a Pocari Sweat sponsored ‘Fresh Dance Contest,’ featuring dancers of all size groups and ages.  As in all Japanese festivals, there are of course an abundance of traditional festival food stands readily available, but the Hana Haru Festival is unique in terms of its Ramen Exhibition, which showcases the best of the best local Tokushima ramen.  The festival also offers an arts and crafts exhibit of local Tokushima made products and on the last day special guest performances from nationally known singing artists culminate the weekend.  A good experience worth checking out if in Tokushima in the spring!

J-League Soccer – Tokushima Vortis in-action!

The Tokushima Vortis is the local Japanese professional soccer team representing the prefecture of Tokushima, Japan.  The team is owned by the Otsuka Pharmaceutical company and primarily sponsored by Ostuka’s popular sports drink brand, Pocari Sweat.  The team name Vortis is comprised from the Italian word, ‘vortices,’ which means ‘whirlpools’ – a symbol of tourist attraction visible in the Naruto Straits within the prefecture.  Although the history of the team can be dated back to 1955 as the Ostuka Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. Soccer Club, it wasn’t until 2005 Tokushima Vortis was officially adopted as its team name entering into its first year in Japan’s second-tier professional league (J-2).  The Japanese professional soccer league, known as the J-League is comprised of two divisions, J-1 and J-2, with 18 and 22 teams included respectively.  Each year in the league, the top three teams in J-2 replace the 3 worst teams in J-1 as a promotion for a successful season, a crowning achievement Tokushima Vortis celebrated for the first time last year in 2013.  However, this promotion to the big boys’ league has come with big boy lumps as Tokushima finds itself without a win and in last place in J-1 League standings to date.  Today I went to see last place Tokushima Vortis in action vs. 4th place Kawasaki Frontale, a team based south of Tokyo in Kanagawa prefecture.  With over 8000 people in attendance, Tokushima Vortis was dominated 4-0.  Despite the loss and the winless season to date, Tokushima supporters showed a lot of pride and dedication by cheering until the very end.  A look around the stadium, I couldn’t see even one person making a break to beat the traffic, all of whom stayed until the customary team visit to acknowledge the fan support.  The final cheers seemed rather supportive and encouraging for players having to dreadfully confront their fans after a butt-kicking loss, except for one bit of raw emotion I witnessed as an angry kid, screamed “booooooooo!” with thumbs down!  Despite this 0-6 start, the J-League season has just started and will last well into December, so only time will tell if Tokushima Vortis belongs with the big boys..

Note: Coincidently, the Seattle Sounders who play in Major League Soccer sport similar colors to Tokushima Vortis.

Seattle Seahawks, Super Bowl XLVIII Champions!

Super Bowl XLVIII (48) was the American football championship game between the American Football Conference (AFC) champion Denver Broncos and National Football Conference (NFC) champion Seattle Seahawks to decide the National Football League (NFL) champion for the 2013 season. On February 2nd, 2014, Seattle defeated Denver 43–8, the third largest point differential (35) in Super Bowl history! This is the first ever Super Bowl championship for the Seattle Seahawks and the first championship for the city in 35 years, the last being an NBA championship by its Seattle SuperSonics in the 1978-79 season.  As a long time 12th Man member and season ticket holder for the Seahawk’s new stadium inauguration season in 2002, this victory was one for the ages for Seahawks fans all around the world and for the city of Seattle!

For the first time since Super Bowl XLIV (2010), and just the second time in twenty seasons, the number one seeds from each conference met in the league championship.  The game featured the league’s top offense (Denver) against the top defense (Seattle), the first time this has occurred since Super Bowl XXXVII (2003).  The game began with Seattle’s defense scoring two points on a safety, the quickest score in Super Bowl history. Five-time NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) Peyton Manning of the Broncos threw two interceptions in the first half, the second returned by Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith for a 69-yard touchdown. The Broncos trailed 22–0 at halftime and 36–0 towards the end of the third quarter. Seattle did not allow a score until the final play that quarter, and they held Denver to almost 30 points below their scoring average.  The final margin of victory was the largest since Super Bowl XXVII (1993), which was also 35 points.  Smith, who also recovered a fumble and made nine tackles, was named Super Bowl MVP.

What more could I highlight about this historic victory for the city of Seattle, A LOT, but with this Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory being the most-watched U.S. television event of all time, averaging a whopping 111.5 million viewers, I’m sure most everyone already knows we won.. So I guess there’s only two more things left to do, KEEP REPEATING IT and say it in other languages! haha!  Super Bowl Photos > # SB48 Seattle Victory Parade Photos > #Celebrate48


For more information in Japanese 日本 visit: www.nfljapan.com

Seahawks Ticket

Seattle Seahawks Season Ticket Holder (2002), 12th Man Member since the stadium’s inauguration!

Winter Holiday Seattle 2013

This winter holiday I had a chance to spend Christmas with my family and ring in the New Year with old friends!

Note: A link to all my Seattle, Washington – December 2013 pictures: http://sdrv.ms/19GAfNz

Nawang & Chime’s Wedding Weekend – Portland, Oregon 2013

A modern Tibetan wedding.  Pictures speak a thousand words!

Note: A link to all my Portland, Oregon – December 2013 pictures: http://sdrv.ms/1duwGJ7

Christmas Party 2013! #seattleenglish

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A journey up Mt. Rokko and to Arima Onsen – Kobe, Japan

This past summer my mom visited me in Japan and our schedule was action packed to say the least.  Although we had a great time travelling around western Japan, there is one particular experience I wanted to highlight, which was our journey up Mt. Rokko and to Arima Onsen in Kobe.  Although I have been to Kobe several times, this trip out of the city is something I have never ventured to do and was excited to try with my mom.  Mt. Rokko (931 meters or 3054 feet) is the highest peak in the Mt. Rokko mountain range and provides a scenic green backdrop to the city of Kobe.  At its peak, a beautiful panoramic view of the city of Kobe can be captured from its observatory deck.  In addition to its observatory, various small tourist attractions can be found on Mt. Rokko, including: a botanical garden, a music box museum, a pasture with flowers and sheep, Japan’s first golf course and the Rokko Garden Terrace, a complex of a few restaurants and shops.  On the opposite side of the mountain accessible by ropeway lies Arima Onsen, a famous hot spring town with a history of over one thousand years.  Arima Onsen is considered one of Japan’s oldest hot spring resorts and is a fixture among the top in onsen rankings.  The town has two types of hot spring waters which spring up at various sources around the town: the Kinsen (“gold water”) is colored brown with iron deposits and is said to be good for skin ailments and muscle pain, while the clear Ginsen (“silver water”) contains radium and carbonate and is said to cure various muscle and joint ailments.  My mom and I chose to visit Taiko no Yu, the only onsen in town that offers both experiences.  Be aware travelling up Mt. Rokko and to Arima Onsen is no short of a journey and will require you to board or be boarded by nearly every form of transportation from Sannomiya Station in order to get there, including: trains, a cable car, busses, a ropeway; and even possibly yourself if I happen to get tired and require a piggy back ride.. 🙂 This experience is a must do if travelling to Kobe, Japan!

For information on onsens near Seattle see Seattle Met article: Hidden Hot Springs Near Seattle

My Mom in Japan 2013

Pictures Speak a Thousand Words!

Note: A link to all my My Mom in Japan 2013 pictures: http://sdrv.ms/136SeH3


My 2013 Summer Cooking Lessons – “Mexican Food!”

“Yosakoi Festival” Kochi, Japan 2013

Recently, I went to Kochi City to see the Yosakoi Festival for the second time.  Not too far from Tokushima, Kochi prefecture is home to another dance festival called the Yosakoi Festival.  Unlike the Awa Odori Festival in Tokushima, Yosakoi has a relatively short history dating back to 1954.  During the 1954 recession in Japan, the festival was proposed and promoted mainly on the initiative of the local Chamber of Commerce as a means of dispelling the gloom and encouraging the local people.  Every year for four days from August 9-12, the Yosakoi Festival dancers swarm the city of Kochi.  In the local dialect “Yosakoi!” means “Come on over tonight!”  Each of the participating groups orchestrates their own dance performance at various places in the city’s downtown commercial districts. The festival currently features roughly 15,000 dancers in about 130 groups.

Dance groups must follow two basic rules that state the participating teams must use the Yosakoi Naruko Odori Uta, or the dancing song, which is based on “Yosakoi Bushi,” the traditional local folk tunes and that all the dancers must  perform while holding clappers, which makes a sound similar to a castanet.  Teams are free to wear whatever costumes they like and any style of dancing is allowed.  In recent years, young people have begun incorporating other musical genres into their performances, including rock, hip-hop, samba, and reggae.  This was a fun festival to watch and it was clear that all the dance groups had worked hard on their performances – however, when the Awa Odori dance festival is in your backyard, it’s hard to appreciate the differences.  The Awa Odori dance festival dates back over 500 years, where as the Yosakoi recently celebrated its 59th anniversary only.  Also, there are many opportunities for spectators to try the basic movements of the Awa Odori dance with various dance groups.  However, with no traditional dance style, Yosakoi is purely a spectator festival it appeared.  Despite having to be compared to one of the largest dance festivals in all of Japan 3-hours away in Tokushima, the Yosakoi is definitely worth checking out!  But bring some earplugs if you want to catch the action up close, because each group is led by an massive van that blasts music at a deafening volume!

2013 “Challenge English Class” Summer Carnival!

Tokushima Swimming Beaches

This Golden Week holiday, I took a drive around to some of the many beautiful swimming beaches in Tokushima!  Here are six of the many popular swimming beaches within the prefecture – each photo I took is captioned by the name of the beach I visited.

Mt. Bizan Camera Effects Photography

Mt. Bizan is a centrally located mountain in Tokushima City and is a symbol of Tokushima Prefecture.  Its name is formed from the Japanese kanji character for eyebrow 眉山, and it is said to have been given this name because the mountain looks like an eyebrow from all points of views.  In 2007, Mt. Bizan became nationally known through a movie entitled Bizan, based on a book by Sada Masashi shot in Tokushima.  Mt. Bizan stands 280 meters tall (919 feet) and provides a scenic view of Tokushima City from its observatory deck, and I chose it as my landscape for recent photos I took highlighting the 12 different effects on my Samsung Galaxy Note 2.  Each photo is captioned by the effect I applied, enjoy the slideshow!

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Tokushima LED Art Festival 2013

First held in 2010, the annual Tokushima LET Art Festival is once again illuminating the nights of Tokushima City.  From April 20th to the 29th, this 10 night event starts at sunset and runs until 10pm.  With over 30 groups of participating artists, the LED art is spread across various locations across the heart of the city, including lining the Shinmachi River Boardwalk and across Tokushima Central Park.  Tokushima has a unique appreciation for Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs); the world’s largest supplier of LEDs, the Nichia Corporation is headquartered in the prefecture and is one of the festival’s primary sponsors.  With over 6000 employees and multiple subsidiaries worldwide, Nichia is a multi-billion dollar company primarily due to its investments in LED technology.  At this year’s event, I took several pictures, while attempting to play with various effects on my Samsung Galaxy Note 2, more on camera effects to follow..  Check out my pictures below!

Tokushima Central Park in the Spring!

Located just minutes from where I live is the Tokushima Central Park.  Designed by Seiroku Honda and Takanori Hongo, the park was opened in 1906 and is widely recognized as Japan’s second ever western-style park.  The true beauty of the park comes to life in the spring as the cherry blossoms bloom and the residence of Tokushima come out to celebrate the flower referred to as sakura by the Japanese.  Although I’ve been to Tokushima Central Park many times for the occasional morning jog and written about the yearly Cherry Blossom picnic hanami parties, I can’t recall ever taking the time to appreciate the full beauty of the park – something I recently tried to do and wanted to share through these pictures I took this season.  Enjoy!

Hanshin Tigers Koshien Stadium

For as long as I have lived in Japan, I have always wanted to attend a Japanese baseball game, but the lack of conveniences for foreigners wishing to purchase tickets can be discouraging.  In Japan, online ticket sales are handled exclusively through resellers, who either mail them to you, or have you pick them up at convenience stores.  It all seems convenient enough, if only the process of purchasing tickets online could be navigated in English.  Nonetheless, I’ve been in Japan for a long time, so I decided to test my abilities.. which I did by simply asking a Japanese friend for help – in English..  Long over due, I set off to see the greatest storied Japanese baseball rivalry, the Hanshin Tigers of Osaka vs the Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo.  This rivalry has been often compared to Major League Baseball’s rivalry between the Boston Redsox and the New York Yankees, respectively.  Both teams are two of the oldest teams in Japanese baseball history, with the Hanshin Tigers history dating back to 1935.  Much like that of the Boston Redsox, the Hanshin Tigers have had their fair share of “Hanshin Hard-Luck,” a nick-name bestowed upon them after their one and only 1985 Japan Series Championship.

Much like that of the once Boston Redsox’s ‘Curse of the Bambino,’ a similar curse is believed to lurk over the Tigers.  According to The Curse of the Colonel, after their 1985 win, fans celebrated by having people who looked like Tigers players jump into the Dotonbori Canal. According to legend, because none of the fans resembled first baseman Randy Bass, fans grabbed a life-sized statue of Kentucky Fried Chicken Colonel Sanders and threw it into the river (like Bass, the Colonel had a beard and was not Japanese). After many years without another championship, the Tigers were said to be doomed never to win again until the Colonel was rescued from the river.  In 2003, when the Tigers returned to the Japan Series after 18 years, many KFC outlets in Kobe and Osaka moved their Colonel Sanders statues inside until the series was over to protect them from Tigers fans.  Unfortunately, the curse lives on as the Tigers lost the series in 2003.  The search for the Hanshin Tigers second elusive championship and all the Colonel’s missing limbs from his 1985 drowning continue to this day.

The Hanshin Tigers play in Koshien Stadium, the oldest ballpark in Japan; built-in 1924, the stadium was once visited by American baseball legend Babe Ruth on a tour of Major League stars in 1934. There is a monument commemorating this visit at the front gates of the park.  In closing, I’ll add that being in Koshien Stadium feels like little advancements have been made to modernize the stadium.  Like in many parts of Japan, there are certain shops and streets in towns across the country where it feels like time has just stopped, and I can honestly say this about Koshien Stadium.  From the food vendors to the old corridors surrounding the stadium, it feels old school in every way to say the least, but I’m sure many would say – that’s the beauty of it.  By the way, I actually didn’t get to see the game, because the damn game was rained out!  To be continued maybe…

Barack Obama Re-Elected President of the United States!

The Big Pumpkin

In the spirit of Culture Day (文化の日, Bunka no Hi), a Japanese national holiday held annually on November 3rd celebrated for the purpose of promoting culture, the arts, and academic endeavour; the kindergarten I teach at put on an English play entitled “The Big Pumpkin.”  The Big Pumpkin is our Halloween version of the “The Giant Turnip” or “The Enormous Turnip,” a children’s fairy tale of Russian or Slavic origin.  The story was first published in 1863 in the collection Russian Folk Tales, edited and published by Aleksandr Afanas’ev.  It is a progressive story, in which a grandfather plants a turnip, which grows so large that he cannot pull it up himself.  He then asks the grandmother for help, and they together still cannot pull it up.  Successively more people are recruited to help, until they finally pull the turnip, or in our adaptation the pumpkin up from under the ground.  Sit back, relax, and press play to watch our off-Broadway, I guess way off-Broadway and way-overseas showing of The Big Turnip, with a special appearance by U.S. President Barack Obama!  Please don’t mind the early heckling by the younger 4-year old students, we were able to quiet them down eventually!.. haha!

Cosmopolitan Hotel ~ Las Vegas!

What Happens In Vegas… Stays In Vegas…

Ichiro traded to the Yankees!

Long before my trip home, I bought 4 tickets online to the Mariners vs. the Yankees for July 24th.. never would I have imagined, the day before this game Ichiro Suzuki would be traded to the New York Yankees!  It’s one thing to trade the face of your team for nearly a decade, but it’s another to do it while the team you are trading him to is the visiting team for 3-days in town.  Unlike anything I have seen in sports, Ichiro was in the Yankee lineup vs. the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on the same day the trade was announced!  Talk about not wasting any time!  Lucky for me and my friends, our tickets had a lot more extra significance as we saw Ichiro as a Yankee, the day after he was traded..  I have to assume the timing of this trade was orchestrated by the Mariners to give Ichiro a hometown send off, but it all seemed odd to me…  As for Ichiro’s future, let me venture to guess…  Ichiro at the point of this trade is 38 years old needing slightly over 400 more hits to reach 3000 for his Major League career.  As for Ichiro’s career hits, including those he earned in Japan, he is far beyond 3000 hits already.  But unfortunately his professional hits from Japan have little significance for sports writers in the United States that vote in players into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  If they did, Ichiro would be chasing Pete Rose for the most career hits of all time, and not just 3000 hits to put it in perspective.  If Ichiro reaches 3000 hits for his career, he will have also surpassed Pete Rose (4256 career hits) by 22 hits, giving him the unofficial title as Hits King..  which by all accounts is still amazing!  For those of you unaware, 3000 hits is a major milestone in Major League Baseball, with only 28 players in the history of the sport having reached this standard of batting excellence.  Of these 28 players, only 3 have not made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame (R. Palmeiro, P. Rose, and C. Biggio ~ D. Jeter – active).  I’m assuming Ichiro is well aware of this, and will stretch his career in order to achieve his 3000th hit.  I think Ichiro will need to have 2 more great seasons to reach 3000 hits, but most likely it will take him 3 more seasons to achieve the milestone.  Moreover, I doubt the Yankees will re-sign Ichiro after his contract expires after this season, therefore he will be a free agent looking for a 2-year deal, at which point I hope the Mariners will pick him up at the age of 41 for his 3rd and final year in Major League Baseball for this incredible milestone!  Wishful thinking, but the most fitting ending for someone who in all likelihood will be enshrined in Cooperstown as a Seattle Mariner, with or without achieving this final career milestone!

Note: A link to all my pictures at the game Ichiro Traded 2012 Album

Seattle ~ Tokushima Sister School Establishment!

In 2012, I established Tokushima’s first ever kindergarten sister school with the city of Seattle, whereby 5-6 year old students are engaged in a friendship program focused on developing an early cultural understanding between children from Japan and the United States.


Note: A link to my Sister School Establishment Album

The Space Needle, 50th Anniversary

This trip home, I made two visits up the Space Needle, once with my niece and again with Teruki, my colleague and guest from Japan.  In addition, this year my trip coincided with the ‘Bite of Seattle’ food festival and the 50th anniversary of the Space Needle.  The Bite of Seattle is a fun three-day festival in July, where Seattle’s most popular restaurants offer a variety of their best dishes all in one place!  The festival is located at the Seattle Center, located on the grounds directly beneath the Space Needle.  The festival includes a number of events: including celebrity chef cooking demonstrations, several concerts, a beer garden, and a wine tasting to name a few.  All in all, it was a lot of fun!

“The Space Needle is a tower in Seattle, Washington and a major landmark of the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and a symbol of Seattle.  Located at the Seattle Center, it was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, during which time nearly 20,000 people a day used the elevators, with over 2.3 million visitors in all for the World Fair.  The Space Needle is 605 feet (184 m) high at its highest point and 138 feet (42 m) wide at its widest point and weighs 9,550 tons. When it was completed it was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River.  It is built to withstand winds of up to 200 miles per hour (89 m/s) and earthquakes of up to 9.1 magnitude,which would protect the structure against an earthquake as powerful as the 1700 Cascadia earthquake. The tower also has 25 lightning rods on its roof to prevent lightning damage.

The Space Needle features an observation deck at 520 feet (160 m), and a gift shop with the rotating SkyCity restaurant at 500 feet (150 m).  From the top of the Needle, one can see not only the Downtown Seattle skyline, but also the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Elliott Bay and surrounding islands. Photographs of the Seattle skyline often show the Space Needle in a prominent position, even appearing to tower above the rest of the city’s skyscrapers, as well as Mount Rainier in the background. This occurs because the tower, which is equivalent in height to a 60-story building, stands more than a kilometer northwest of most downtown skyscrapers.

Visitors can reach the top of the Space Needle via elevators that travel at 10 miles per hour (4.5 m/s). The trip takes 41 seconds, and some tourists wait in hour-long lines in order to ascend to the top of the tower. On windy days, the elevators are slowed down to a speed of 5 miles per hour (2.2 m/s). The Space Needle was designated a historic landmark on April 19, 1999, by the City’s Landmarks Preservation Board.” (Wikipedia)

Summer Vacation Seattle 2012

Pictures Speak a Thousand Words!

Note: A link to all my photos: Seattle 2012

One-night Layover in Taiwan!

On most of my trips back to the United States, I usually have a layover, which is not always a bad thing if planned well.  For this trip, I stopped in Taiwan for what would have been an 8-hour layover, which I had changed to a one-night stay for an opportunity to do some sightseeing!  In 2008, I had this same layover and made use of the 8-hours by making a short trip into the city.  However, this time around with one night and two days to see Taiwan, I was able to accomplish a lot more.  After arriving in Taiwan in the late afternoon on a Thursday, I quickly took a bus to Taipei City, and checked into the Pacific Business Hotel located in the commercial district.  First on my agenda was to visit the Shilin Night Market, the biggest of Taiwan’s several and very popular tourist hot spots.  These markets get under way around dusk, with vendors offering everything from accessories and clothing to snacks and carnival games.  Taking a stroll around these night markets provide a great chance to sample and ‘smell’ several different types of local Taiwanese food, including the infamous ‘Stinky Tofu’.  After spending some time at the Shihlin Night Market, I decided to look for some local English-speaking compatriots, which I found at the British owned Brass Monkey restaurant and bar.  Met some cool people there, including a Taiwanese-Australian guy named Andy who was kind enough to show me the ropes around his city..  The next day, I made a visit to the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, which I thought was the National Palace Museum until just now (whoops)…  Nevertheless, it was a still a nice experience…  Sun Yat-sen was a Chinese revolutionary and first president and founding father of the Republic of China (“Nationalist China”).  As the foremost pioneer of Republic of China, Sun is referred to as the “Father of the Nation” in the Republic of China (ROC), the “forerunner of democratic revolution” in the People’s Republic of China, and affectionately as “The Big Sunshine” among his homies and inner circle – just kidding on that last one..  At the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, there is a changing of the guard ceremony in his honor every hour, which I took some cool pics of..  This trip to Taiwan was great and I’m definitely motivated to go back again!  Shout out to my new friend Andy for helping me squeeze out every ounce of fun in my short visit, thanks bro!

Note: A link to my Taiwan 2012 album

Seattle Mariners in Japan

My hometown team, the Seattle Mariners are in Japan to play two exhibition games vs two professional Japanese baseball teams and open the 2012 Major League Baseball season vs the Oakland Athletics.  The Mariners and A’s will play two regular-season games in the Tokyo Dome on Wednesday and Thursday, and Seattle’s three Japanese players — Ichiro, infielder Munenori Kawasaki and pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma — figure to be the main attractions.  This is the first time Ichiro Suzuki has played with the Seattle Mariners in Japan, and although off the field the welcome home was as expected; on the field – his fellow countrymen have been less than hospitable.  The Seattle Mariners lost both exhibition games to Japan’s two most popular professional teams, the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants.  Although most baseball fans understand the minimal signficance of an exhibition game, these games welcoming Ichiro back to Japan were played with the fanfare of a World Series matchup, which I’m sure stung the Mariners having lost.  The Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants are two of Japan’s oldest professional baseball teams, both maintain a rivalry that is often compared to the Boston Redsox and the New York Yankees.  The Hanshin Tigers represent Japan’s second largest city of Osaka, and the Yomiuri Giants play for the masses in Tokyo.  Similar to the Redsox, Yankee rivalry both teams compete in the same division which provides several opportunities to see the two most popular Japanese teams play regularly.  Despite the Mariners’ two exhibition losses, Ichiro came out swinging against the A’s in the MLB season opener going 4 for 5 in the team’s 4-1 win!  In closing, a small note to my friends and family reading this blog, I’ll be in Seattle from July 20th to the 29th!  I’ve also purchased 4 field level tickets to the Mariners vs the Yankees on July 24th!  I’m sure I’ll be taking a lot of pictures and writing a blog about that experience in the near future, so check back for that!

2012 End of the School Year Pictures!

Tibetan New Year

Today is the Tibetan New Year, also known as Losar by Tibetans around the world!  The Tibetan New Year is not always the same date each year as on the western calendar, because the Tibetan calendar is made up of twelve lunar months and Losar begins on the first day of the first lunar month.  Traditionally, the Tibetan New Year is celebrated for 15 days with the first three days being the most important; however, most families today will take one day to observe the holiday.  Having grown up in the United States, I can’t speak personally for all the many rituals that take place over the 2-week holiday, but I do have fond memories of my mother preparing for each upcoming new year by making traditional Tibetan New Year food and drinks.  A weekend evening party of Tibetan families in our community were also a fun festive time to celebrate Tibetan culture and reunite with friends and family.  Unfortunately for those Tibetans living in Tibet today, there is little cause for celebration as the Chinese government has once again increased security in the region leading up today’s holiday and next months commemoration of Tibetan Uprising Day.  This increased security includes restricting international media, a tactic often used by Beijing when swift punishments behind closed doors is the preferred measure of action over due-process.  The effort to bring attention to the lack of human rights in China have taken to desperate measures this past year for Tibetans.  There have been over 20 Tibetans, many buddhist monks who have resorted to self-immolation in Tibet, in other words burning themselves to death in protest of Beijing’s restrictions on Tibetan culture and religious practice.  In my opinion, these sacrifices in this most horrific manner are both acts of heroism and desperation.  Heroism in terms of dieing for what one believes in and desperation, because the screams of injustice have fallen on deaf ears as world leaders continue to bow to the power of a growing China by allowing these civil rights abuses to continue without international scrutiny.  Today plans to be a somber beginning to the Tibetan New Year for Tibetans around the world, as the head of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Lobsang Sangay, called on Tibetans not to celebrate the new year, but instead to “pay tribute to and pray for those brave men and women who sacrificed their lives for the just cause of Tibet.”