徳島 英会話教室 

Life in Japan

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/



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!

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.

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!

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!

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…

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!

2012 End of the School Year Pictures!

Danjiri Festival! Kishiwada, Osaka

It’s been over a year since I last visited Osaka, so it was nice to be back, and nicer having experienced the Danjiri Festival in Kishiwada for the first time!  Danjiri are large wooden carts in the shape of a shrine or temple. The carts are crafted out of wood with elaborate carvings.  The Kishiwada, Osaka Danjiri Festival is a two-day Autumn festival in September.  It is widely considered one of Osaka’s most famous and dangerous festivals.  On the day of the festival, town members pull their danjiri through the streets and around corners at speeds that have caused accidents and fatalities in years past.  Although I anticipated a more dangerous environment, in actuality it didn’t appear to be at all.  I’m sure there have been several advancements to the quality of the danjiris throughout the years, so I couldn’t imagine one tipping over at the pace I witnessed.  Nevertheless, precaution is advised if you plan to attend this festival.  According to local history, about three hundred years ago, Nagayasu Okabe, a feudal lord built Shinto temples to pray for a rich harvest, and he permitted town folks to come into these religious areas of his castle while pulling a danjiri.  To this date, it’s customary for Danjiri festival participants to enter into Shinto temples and pray together at the conclusion of the event.  All in all, it was an exciting and interesting festival to have seen, and definitely made a weekend trip to Osaka all the more memorable!

Note:  Follow this link to all the pictures I took:  Danjiri Festival Album

Unite For Japan

Started by Ken Watanabe, Unite For Japan is an organization helping Japan with earthquake and tsunami relief efforts.  For more information visit http://www.uniteforjapan.org

It’s Spring!

The cherry blossom, or sakura, is Japan’s unofficial national flower.  The cherry blossom season is relatively short and most varieties of cherry trees only blossom for a few weeks at most in the spring.  From late March to early April, cherry blossoms go into full bloom all over Japan!  The flower is a symbol of spring in Japan, and the season marks the beginning of a fresh new fiscal and academic year in Japanese society. Although this year’s cherry blossom viewing celebrations have been subdued across the country with respect to the thousands who have lost their lives and many still suffering – the sight of the flower still brings hope and optimism for better days still to come.  Today, April 11th marks 1 month since the deadly earthquake and tsunami struck off the northern coast of Japan. 


Cherry Blossoms


The Ring of Fire

The Ring of Fire is an area where large numbers of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean.  In a 40,000 km (25,000 mi) horseshoe shape, it is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and/or plate movements.  The Ring of Fire has 452 volcanoes and is home to over 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes.  About 90% of the world’s earthquakes and 80% of the world’s largest earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire.  Ten percent of the world’s active volcanoes are found in Japan, which lies in a zone of extreme crustal instability.  Moreover, Japan dangerously lies at the intersection of four tectonic plates; the North American Plate, the Eurasian Plate, the Pacific Plate, and the Philippine Sea Plate.  These plates all meet on the island of Honshu, the largest of the many islands that comprise the country of Japan.  Thus the reason why the country is extremely vulnerable to earthquakes.  There are approximately 1,500 earthquakes recorded yearly in Japan, and magnitudes of four to six on the Richter scale are not uncommon.  Minor tremors occur almost daily in various parts of the country, causing slight shaking of buildings.  Unfortunately for me, even if I was still living in Seattle, Washington, the situation may not be any safer.  A message of caution to my friends and family living in the Pacific Northwest of the United States who are unaware, the Juan De Fuca subduction zone is the only significant fault line on the Ring of Fire NOT to have experienced a major earthquake in the last 50 years.  Please take precautions as natural disasters as in Japan can occur at a moment’s notice. 

Empire State Building, New York City

New York’s tallest landmark was lit in the colors of the Japanese flag in a show of support for Japan following the deadly March 11th earthquake and tsunami.  The illumination was part of a global lightshow of support and awareness-raising for quake and tsunami relief held at landmarks in the United States, Canada, China, Malaysia, South Korea and New Zealand.  The expression of international support was led by New York City’s Empire State Building, whose upper decks lit up with Japan’s national flag colors at sunset.

April 4, 2011

Earthquake, Tsunami and Radiation Fears in Japan! – (Updated: May 24, 2011 9:14 AM JST)

A short note to my friends and family, Tokushima has not been effected by the earthquake, tsunami, or any radiation and I am fine.  This blog is to provide a somewhat detailed chronological summary to what is occurring in Japan.  As many in the world are now aware of, on the morning of March 11th there was a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake that hit off the eastern coast of Japan.  This is said to have been the largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history.   The result of the earthquake triggered an incredible tsunami up to a record 38 meters high (124 feet) which devastated numerous towns beyond recognition.  In terms of where the earthquake occurred, the Tohoku region was the hardest hit.  Tohoku means northeast in Japanese, and includes Fukushima, Yamagata prefectures and Sendai City, the capital of Miyagi prefecture which was only 130 km (80 miles) east from the epicenter.  Tokyo, 373 km away from the epicenter also felt the lengthy quake and its many aftershocks that still continue.  Life has hardly returned to normal for the over 12 million living in Japan’s capital city as transportation remains inconsistent, and food and water has been limited. 

Moreover, a second and serious nuclear power plant explosion occurred on March 15th at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant operated by a private company, the Tokyo Electric (Daichi) Power Company (TEPCO).  The explosion was followed by reported fires, which created an already apprehensive public to fear the spread of radiation.  The Japanese government has evacuated residents living up to 20 km from the plant and advised residents 30 km away not to go outside, or voluntarily evacuate themselves.  The U.S. Embassy in Japan is advising Americans living within an 80 km radius (50 miles) to evacuate the area and the State Department strongly urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Japan at this time and those in Japan should consider departing.  On April 11th, the Japanese government expanded its current 20-kilometer evacuation zone around the nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture to include several additional highly radioactive hotspots.  On this same date one month after the initial earthquake, the Japanese government’s nuclear safety agency decided to raise the crisis level of the nuclear power plant accident from 5 to 7, the worst on the international scale.  Level 7 has formerly only been applied to the Chernobyl accident in the former Soviet Union in 1986, however, the volume of radiation released from the nuclear plant in Japan is one-tenth that of Chernobyl, according to the agency.  Japan’s chief cabinet secretary added, unlike the Chernobyl disaster, the Fukushima case has caused no direct health problems.  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supported the Japanese government’s analysis by adding, in Chernobyl the reactor exploded while in operation, but in Fukushima the reactors stopped when the earthquake hit and the pressure vessels housing them did not blow up.  On March 18th, one week after the massive quake, the Japanese agency initially declared the Fukushima trouble a level 5 incident, the same as the accident at Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979.  Unfortunately, the situation has worsened, especially for Tohoku residents in Japan.  It is uncertain whether the nuclear plant is under control, if a major nuclear meltdown is eminent, or what the potential repercussions will be for the entire country.  To make matters worse, on March 15th one of the nuclear reactor containers was discovered to have been damaged, indicating that radioactive steam was spreading outside.  The government played down the extent of the initial damage and has been conscious not to over excite the public.  On March 16th, in an attempt to console and encourage the nation, Japan’s emperor gave an extraordinary nationally televised address telling the country to never give up hope and expressed he was deeply concerned and stated the situation is critical.  An inspiring address, however has fueled the public demand for more immediate answers regarding the true state of the situation from its government.  The monitoring of radiation levels in the surrounding cities continue, including in Tokyo where radiation levels have increased; however, not near the level of concern yet, according to the governor of Tokyo.  Despite these attempts to reassure the public, the nation is becoming increasingly worried.  Japan’s science ministry has finally begun publishing radiation levels monitored nationwide on its website, with the information also available in English, Korean and Chinese.  The ministry’s website (link) began showing the data on March 19th, with the prefectural information updated twice a day.  

At Present

Despite an initial evacuation of 700 workers from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant where only 50 heroic workers stayed, there are now 180 plant workers at the site working to avert a nuclear catastrophe at the expense of their own health and lives.  On March (more…)

Back in Tokushima!

I’m now back in Tokushima!  To all my students and friends, I can be reached at:


Mt. Bizan View of Tokushima City

Sayonara Pictures!

Korea-Town in Tsuruhashi, Osaka

Recently, I visited Osaka again to check-out its Korea-Town located in Tsuruhashi.  Many of the shops in this area are run by Japanese-Koreans, known as Zainichi, or recent immigrants to Osaka.  Tens of thousands of Koreans were brought to Japan as a form of cheap labor during Japan’s occupation of the peninsular.  While many Koreans are third generation, the term Zainichi means ‘staying in Japan,’ suggesting a status in the country that is far from permanent.  Despite these derogatory Japanese terms creating an uneasy relationship with the state, Tsuruhashi manages to provide a distinct feeling of being in Korea while catering to mostly Japanese customers.  In Tsuruhashi’s Korea-Town, there is a wide range of Korean street food, and one can find every imaginable way for the use of kimchi.  While walking along the main Korea-Town street, I came across Hiro’s Guest House, a recently opened modern youth hostel of sort.  Run by Hiro, an English speaking Japanese-Korean, his Guest House offers an open cafe-kitchen to the public allowing food in from the market with an admission of 350 Yen, which includes self-service to a variety of teas, juices and coffee.  This place is a welcoming international place to rest with internet access and several cheap sleeping options from bunk-bedding with others to futon rooms, I recommend a stay here if you’re ever in Osaka!  

Surfing at Ikumi Beach

Towards the end of Nawang and Rigo’s trip to Japan we took the train down to Ikumi beach in the little town of Toyo.  Ikumi beach is located 2-hours south of Tokushima City near the Tokushima/Kochi prefecture border and is popular for being a world class surfing beach.  Shikoku Island is home to some of Japan’s best surf.  In 1997 Ikumi beach hosted the Tokushima Pro Surfing World Championships.  Our trip to Ikumi was for the sole purpose to take a surf lesson, a first for all of us.  When we arrived on Thursday afternoon, it was raining unfortunately and the surf school instructor said no lessons were being provided, so we had to wait until the next day.  The next morning, we checked-in for a private lesson, including board rentals, and then hit the waves – literally.  Simply making it out into the waters was challenging at Ikumi beach as the waves can be so strong that it can knock you back as you try to make your way out!  In short, surfing was incredibly challenging but worth the trip!…  by the end of the experience, we were all making our way through barrels with ease!  Wink  This being the last blog about Nawang and Rigo’s trip to Japan, let me say thanks again for making the trip, it was definitely great times!!  See ya in Cali someday!!
                                                I think this is me

Rafting Down the Yoshinogawa River!

Continuing on about Nawang and Rigo’s Excellent Adventures in Japan…  another highlight of our action packed 2-weeks together included a rafting trip with the Happy Raft company down the clear waters and challenging rapids of the Yoshinogawa River.  The Yoshinogawa is the second longest river on Shikoku Island, it’s 194 km long and spans across all four prefectures on the Island.  It is regarded as one of the three greatest rivers of Japan along with the Tone and the Chikugo, and is nicknamed Shikoku Saburō (Saburō is a popular name given to third sons in Japan).  After the last night of the Awa Odori Festival, we set off at 11 A.M. Sunday morning to the small town of  Iwahara, Ootoyo-cho located in the middle of Shikoku Island.  Happy Raft has many adventure options including, One-Day rafting, Canyoning and combinations of the two, but due our time constraints we chose the Half-Day Oboke course.  Oboke is the name given to the rafting canyon, which means in short, big danger.  Ironically, Oboke just happens to be the middle name of Bani, an Australian friend of David my co-worker who decided to join us on our journey.  With a video camcorder in-hand, Bani, a.k.a. "Big Danger" documented our experiences, including some of his own dangerous highlights.  Words are hard to epress how much fun rafting was, and although I admit I am not much of an extreme sports person, this was a lot of fun and I definitely plan to take a crack at the One-Day course in the future!  Thanks to Bani, I don’t have to write too much more about the experience, because he made a YouTube video of it!  Just a small disclaimer, when Bani asks me, "Can you tell us about this shirt of yours?" I thought he said, "… about this trip of yours?"…  That wild outback Australian accent will get you every time…  🙂
Note: For more information about Happy Raft, see their website at www.happyraft.com  

The 2009 Awa Odori Festival!

This 2009 Awa Odori was one of the best in my many years in Japan, because my good friend Nawang and his friend Rigo came to Japan to take part in the festival!  During their 2-weeks in Japan I experienced many new things myself, so I plan to write a few blogs detailing some of the many highlights of our time together.  After spending a couple nights in Osaka, Nawang, Rigo and I headed back to Tokushima where I introduced them to the largest 4-night summer dance party in the world, known as the Awa Odori Festival.  As I have in the past, we danced the first night of the festival with the Tokushima International Association (T.I.A.), a fun international dance group.  Unlike many professional groups that practice months prior to the festival, T.I.A. is called a niwaka-ren, meaning a group that just goes out and wings-it.  After a reception party with food and dollar beers, we practiced and took their new, and in my case polished dance skills to the big stage!  The second night of the festival, I arranged tickets to watch the show from the stands to get a different perspective as spectators of the dancing.  The third night of the festival we danced with the Asahi Beer group.  Unlike with T.I.A., where foreigners are given a lot of rope to be funny and are expected to act like “dancing fools” for the amusement of the crowds – Asahi Beer is a proud group, comprised of almost all Japanese members, including the celebrity Asahi campaign model, Koboyashi Yumi.  Being introduced to the group for the first time by my student Toru, the pressure was on all of us to dance to the best of our abilities.  With T.I.A., we wore the traditional “happi” coat and headband, however, with the Asahi Beer group we were required to wear the white shorts, plus the “tabi” socks as well.  In full traditional Awa Odori gear, we danced into the night with as much grace as 3-guys filled with Asahi Beer, wearing tight shorts and uncomfortable rock magnet socks could have mustered…  All kidding aside, a BIG THANK-YOU to Toru, his wife and sister for the wonderful experience!

                        Nawang, Toru, his sister, wife, and Rigo

Elliott Yamin at Osaka Billboard Live!

Recently, I went to Osaka to watch Elliott Yamin perform at Osaka Billboard Live!  Elliott Yamin rose to fame during the 5th season of American Idol in which he placed third in the popular American singing contest.  His self-titled album, released in March 2007, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Independent Albums chart and at No. 3 on the Billboard 200.  The album was certified gold in the United States in October 2007.  Retitled Wait for You, the album was released in Japan in May 2008 and certified gold here in September 2008.  The 5th season was the first that American Idol aired in Japan and was also the first season I ever watched the show… and I have to admit, I became hooked.  Whether because Japanese television is limited in good variety, or because singing is so popular in Japan, I found myself tuning in to popular culture every week rooting for Yamin, clearly the most gifted singer from the 5th season.  After Elliott Yamin’s debut album, he recently released his sophomore album, titled Fight for Love in May 2009.  His single You Say is currently the #1 R&B single in Japan.  After the concert, I had a chance to meet him and wish him luck in the future…  I also invited him to karaoke after the show, but after back-to-back concerts on consecutive nights he kindly declined…  either he was too tired, or didn’t want to go head-to-head with my skeelz…  音楽  I’m thinking the latter as well… 
                 nevermind the red on his head, that was my camera

2009 Tomida Kindergarten Graduation

Last Saturday morning was the graduation ceremony at Tomida Kindergarten and it marked my third year of teaching at the school.  As I’ve written before, teaching English at the kindergarten is a very rewarding feeling knowing I’m probably their first English teacher and what they carry onto elementary school is from our lessons together.  Tomida Kindergarten is a unique private school which incorporates regular English classes for its students, an important skill necessary earlier than ever before.  Recently in Japan, the government has finally taken measures in order to adopt English language education more formally at the elementary school level.  Beginning officially in April of 2011 and in Tokushima City this year, English will be officially recognized as a subject for 5th and 6th grade students, requiring schools to administer 35 periods a year.  Previously, English was often incorporated into Integrated Studies periods as a component of “International Understanding,” but this relaxed education policy will soon change.  The focus of the new English curriculum guidelines will focus on speaking and listening only, in order to ease the burden on junior high school teachers who previously had to teach all four components of the foreign language from a beginning foundation.

Kyoto University Bound!

Recently I received news that Hiroaki, my student attending Bunri High School in Tokushima passed Kyoto University’s entrance examination!  Kyoto University is the second oldest university in Japan and is ranked among the top 25 universities in the world and is considered the Yale of Japan, it follows only Tokyo University as the most prestigious university in the country.  Tokyo and Kyoto University were once imperial universities, which trained Japan’s leaders before the war.  The competition to enter the top public universities in Japan is cut-throat, tests results mean everything.  Students applying to national public universities take two entrance examinations, first a nationally administered standardized achievement test and then an examination administered by the university that the student hopes to enter – not easy.  Some national public schools have so many applicants that they use the first test as a screening device for qualification to take their own admissions test.  Such intense competition means that many bright students fail for admission to the college of their choice.  An unsuccessful student can either accept admission elsewhere, forego a college education, or wait until the following spring to take the test again. A large number of students choose the last option. These students are called ronin, meaning a masterless samurai – then spend an entire year, and sometimes longer, cramming for another shot at their dream university.  A painstaking, life holding decision in which every day is in preparation for another chance to start their lives.
                             me & Hiroaki

2009 Tokyo Oshogatsu (video)

In Japan the most important and elaborate holiday is Oshogatsu – the celebration of the New Year!  During Oshogatsu, making a new year’s visit to a shrine or temple in order to pray for a prosperous new year is Japanese tradition.  Typically, most Japanese will pay their respects on any day from January 1 – 3, which are usually holidays in Japan.  In the past, I’ve visited Oasahiko-jinja (shrine) and Yakuou-ji (temple), Tokushima’s most popular shrine and temple for celebrating Oshogatsu.  However, there is no comparison to visiting the massively popular Meiji-jingu (shrine) in Harajuku and Senso-ji (temple) in Asakusa during Tokyo’s Oshogatsu!  As you can imagine the lines were extremely long at both historic places and it took forever to get to through…  but worth the wait!  Check out my Tokyo Oshogatsu video below and my picutres in my Tokyo album

Meiji-jingu (shrine) is located in Harajuku, Tokyo.  It is the Shinto shrine dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken.  After the Emperor Meiji died in 1912 and Empress Shōken in 1914, the Japanese people wished to pay their respects to the two influential Japanese figures.  Thus, Meiji-jingu (shrine) was constructed and their souls enshrined on November 1, 1920.  Over 3-million people a year visit the shrine during the 3-day holiday from January 1 – 3!

Asakusa is a district in Taito, Tokyo, most famous for the Senso-ji (temple), a Buddhist temple dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kannon – it is Tokyo’s oldest temple, and one of its most significant.  The outer of the two entrance gates is the Kaminarimon ("Thunder Gate"), this Buddhist structure features a massive paper lantern dramatically painted in vivid red-and-black tones to suggest thunderclouds and lightning.  Beyond the Kaminarimon is Nakamise-dori with its numerous shops.  There are various opinions about the origin of the name of Asakusa.  Many believe it originates from the Tibetan word "Arsha-kusha" (meaning the place for a saint). 


2008-2009 New Year’s Eve in Tokyo! (video)

Recently, I returned to Tokushima from a 2-night trip to Tokyo in order to ring in the new year in style!  This trip included several events, including a visit to Tokyo’s most famous shrine and temple!  As for Meiji-jingu and Senso-ji in Asakusa, I’ll save that experience for a separate blog and focus on New Year’s Eve for now.  New Year’s was great!  Although counting down to the new year in Japan is not common, there are no shortages of countdown events in a city with over 12 million people, including nearly 400,000 foreigners.  During the day I strolled around Shibuya – known as one of the fashion centers of Japan, particularly for young people, and as a major nightlife area.  Shibuya is often considered the Times Square of Japan and is famous for its hectic intersection crossing.  In the evening I went to an early show at Tokyo Billboard Live, a classy concert hall located in Tokyo Midtown to see Arrested Development.  I like the genre, but not a super big fan of Arrested Development – really just wanted to check out Tokyo Billboard Live regardless of who was performing…  as for the concert, it was great!..  Arrested Development can still rock and every seat in the house was good!..  Afterwards, it was back to Shibuya to count it down at Vuenos Tokyo and onto Rappongi for after-hours!..  Good times!..  Check out all my pics in my Tokyo picture album and also my New Year’s video below!  Happy New Year to all my friends and family back home! 

Nima & Elizabeth in Kobe!

Recently I met my father’s friend Nima and his wife Elizabeth in Kobe.  This is the second time I’ve spent time with them in Japan, as 3 years ago they visited Tokushima.  Like before, Nima and Elizabeth are traveling throughout Asia with over 20 students from the University of Puget Sound in Washington state.  Elizabeth is a teacher at the university and both are lucky chaperones on this exciting international journey.  Having already been to Mongolia and China, I caught up with them on their leg through Japan.  With some time away from their students, I met them in Kobe for some sightseeing!  Kobe is a sister city to my hometown Seattle!  Founded in 1957, the Seattle-Kobe relationship was the first such partnership for both cities. The exchanges between the two cities are many and varied, ranging from cultural and educational to business and governmental.  While in Kobe, Nima, Elizabeth and I visited Kobe’s chinatown, also known as Nankinmachi. From Nankinmachi we walked to Harbor Land/Meriken Park, a popular seaside entertainment zone.  There, we made a trip to the top of the Kobe Port Tower and toured the Kobe Maritime Museum/Kawasaki Good Times World.  After a short swing through Kobe’s Old Foreign Settlement, we were pretty much exhausted.  I wish Nima and Elizabeth all the best as they continue their travels, and hope to see you guys next June! 

Note:  More pictures in my Kobe album

In Kobe Chinatown

Rangzen Tibetan Restaurant in Kyoto

Recently I made a trip to Rangzen in Kyoto City, the only Tibetan restaurant in all of Japan!  The name of the restaurant, Rangzen means freedom in Tibetan.  There are several ways to reach the Rangzen Tibetan Restaurant in Kawaramachi Marutamachi, Kyoto.  Buses from Kyoto Station to Kawaramachi Marutamachi take 20-minutes, however, I took the subway.  From Kyoto Station by subway take the Karasuma Line and transfer at Karasuma Oike; from there take the Tozai Line to Kyoto Shiaksho-mae (meaning near City Hall).  Once exiting the subway, take a stroll along the Kamogawa River until you reach Kawaramachi – at this point you’ll be very close to it!  As for the restaurant itself, the ambiance was very nice with several Tibetan decorations on the walls, a souvenir stand, and light Tibetan music playing in the background.  This small and quaint restaurant is run by Mrs. Morita Fujiko, also referred to as Tenzin her Tibetan name.  A strong supporter of Tibetan causes, Morita san also runs TIBET AID, Japan – a Non-Government Organization (N.G.O.) managed by the Tibetan Snowlion Friendship Society.  It was established in Kyoto in September 1987 for the purpose of providing educational opportunities for Tibetan refugee children and youths living in India, and to promote Tibetan culture in Japan.  A link to her N.G.O. can be found at the Rangzen restaurant website below.  As for the food at Rangzen it was good in my opinion, but no comparison to home cooking.  In all fairness to Rangzen my high taste expectations could never have been met – even if Morita san was the Dalai Lama’s personal cook.  🙂  Nevertheless, it was a great experience overall and I highly encourage anyone reading this blog to have a bite to eat at the Rangzen Tibetan Restaurant next time you’re in Kyoto!  Check out my Kyoto picture album for a complete look at the dishes I ordered!
Note Link to the Rangzen Tibetan Restaurant in Kyoto!  http://www.eonet.ne.jp/~rangzen/


Restaurant Review Grade: 🙂 🙂 🙂


Rangzen - only Tibetan Restaurant in Japan
Rangzen - only Tibetan Restaurant in Japan   

Fisherman’s Club Annual BBQ

Last Sunday, I was invited for the third time to the Ito Fisherman’s Club of Tokushima City’s annual summer barbecue.  Although I’ve never been fishing, Mrs. Akane sensei of the kindergarten I work at has been inviting me to the barbecue for fun since I’ve started teaching at her school.  At this year’s barbecue, I won the top BINGO prize, a brand new Dyna Balance Rinkai Special 1-530 Shimano fishing rod, sticker priced at over 500 bucks!  Now I have no idea what I just wrote, nor do I know the first thing about fishing, but being the first to scream “BINGO!” after they finished hyping up the grand prize sure fealt good!!  Check out the picture of me, my new Dyna Balance Rinkai Special 1-530 Shimano fishing rod with members of the Ito Fisherman’s Club below!!

My new fishing pole and the Fisherman's Club
Fisherman Club BBQ

Night & Day 7th Anniversary Event (video)

Last Saturday night I was invited by my student Toru and his wife Yoko to attend Night & Day (N&D) Bar’s 7th Anivesary Bar Opening Event in Tokushima City.  N&D is a live music event bar where musicans and singers perform weekly.  On the night of the anniversary event, Toru played the guitar while his friend sang a Japanese Enka song.  Enka is a genre of Japanese music similar to American country or folk music.  Also performing was Toru’s wife Yoko, who sang two English songs, including Fly me to the Moon.  Followed by my house rocking performance of Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton on the Anpanman guitar!  Check us out on the video!

 Night & Day 7th Anniversary Event

Golden Week

Another Golden Week has come and gone, which means it’s officially back to work for me tomorrow…  As I’ve written before, Golden Week is a string of Japanese national holidays from April 29 to May 6, in which many in Japan enjoy several consecutive days off from work.  This Golden Week I decided to get away from it all by going to Ikumi beach in the little town of Toyo for a little rest and relaxation under the sun.  Ikumi beach is located 2-hours south of Tokushima City near the Tokushima/Kochi prefecture border and is popular for being a surfing beach.  Tokushima is home to seven public kaisuiyokujou (swimming beaches or seaside resorts), and several surfing beaches.  Shikoku Island is home to some of Japan’s best surf, the beaches face right into seasonal oncoming typhoons, have warm water, are not too crowded; and have a huge variety of reef, beach and river mouth breaks for surfing enthusiasts.  In 1997 Ikumi beach hosted the Tokushima Pro Surfing World Championships – won by 8 time world champion, Kelly Slater.  Although I don’t surf, I prefer surfing beaches to take in the sun, because there’s nothing more relaxing then having a cooler full of beer, a beach lounge chair, and a front row seat to some great surfing theater for entertainment…  the next best thing to being courtside… 

Ikumi Beach (Tokushima/Kochi border)

Lob in Japan!

Again, another long over due update to MY LIFE AND TIMES…  As I always do when someone comes to Japan to visit me, I like to write a special thank-you blog to them… and this one goes out to my good friend Lob from Portland, Oregon who came to Japan for 3-weeks in December through the New Year to visit!..  In that time in December, Lob arrived during Bon-enkai season, a Japanese tradition in which co-workers, friends, and various associations celebrate the end of the year by having a party.  Lucky for Lob, he was able to experience this tradition first-hand by attending a few of my class Bon-enkais..  Although his visit was months ago, the memory of his trip lives strong through conversations with my students who from time to time ask, how’s Lob doing…  Lob and I spent several days in Tokushima and Osaka, while also visiting Kobe and Kyoto!  Going out in Kobe and ringing in the New Year in Osaka was by far the highlight!  The low-light was Lob’s vegetarian diet he started 2-months before coming to Japan, in Japanese they have have a word for that, “mendokusai” – look it up!…  Thanks Lob for making the trip!   

Dontonbori Bridge Osaka with Lob                                                                                                  

                    Dontonbori Bridge in Osaka

Tokushima Awa Odori Festival 2007 (video)

As I’ve written about numerous times in the past, from August 12-15 each year, Tokushima prefecture hosts the largest dance festival in Japan called the Awa Odori Festival.  If you were ever planning on visiting Tokushima, there is absolutely no better time to visit then during these 4-days in the summer!  As I do every year, I participated in the festival by dancing with a niwaka-ren (meaning a group that doesn’t practice and just goes out and wings-it after a few Asahi beers).  This year I danced with the Tokushima International Association (T.I.A.) group with some friends and students!  Check out the video!

NoteAwa Odori Album – pictures from 2003 – 2010

Yosakoi Festival in Kochi (video)

On August 11th, I took a 3-hour train ride to Kochi City to check-out the Yosakoi Festival.  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 54th 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 odd massive van that blast music at a deafening volume!

Note: Check out the video from my trip!

2007 FIBA Asia Championships in Tokushima

From July 28 to August 5, I volunteered at the 2007 FIBA Asia Championships held in my backyard of Tokushima City.  This past week has been a very fun experience for me, I met many great people living in Tokushima volunteering who could speak English and I was able to catch some of the action courtside!  According to my volunteer I.D. pass, I was an interpreter, but with so many more fluent Japanese interpreters, my minimal skills were rarely called upon.  I was the only foreigner in the interpreter group, so everyone cut me a lot of slack to just enjoy myself.  I spent most of the time talking with other volunteers at the help desk and courtside checking credentials.  There were a total of 16 countries in the tournament, including China, Jordan, Iran, the Philippines, Lebanon, Kuwait, the U.A.E., Quatar, India, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Korea, Hong Kong, Syria, Taiwan, and Japan.  With China being the host country of next year’s Olympics, they had an automatic bid into the Summer Games, so they sent their “B” Team to the tournament who had no chance.  With only one Olympic birth available, the competition was heated despite not many people attending the games.  One of the games that I was able to watch while not volunteering was Japan v.s. Korea, which Japan lost 93-83.  Not surprisingly, basketball takes a very back seat to baseball in Japan, and despite Yuta Tabuse recently becoming the first Japanese to play in an NBA game, the momentary feat has not been enough to win-over Japanese sports fans.  Nevertheless, I thought the Japanese team played with a lot of heart and it was disappointing to see them lose.  Interestingly, the Japanese team features one recently naturalized citizen, J.R. Henderson – who played for U.C.L.A.’s 1995 N.C.A.A. National Championship Team and was drafted 27th by the Vancouver Grizzlies in the 2nd Round of the 1998 NBA Draft.  J.R. Henderson now goes by the name of  “Sakuragi J.R.” and is playing professional basketball in Japan.  I got a picture with him, check that out below!  In the end, Iran beat Lebanon 74-69 to secure their first birth to the Olympics in the sport of basketball.  The third place team was Korea and Japan finished 8th overall.

Check out all my pictures below!