Small Moments

I am trying to capture those small moments in my life that may seem insignificant, but as I get older and my world gets smaller, they become more important. By smaller, I mean family and friends become more important than accomplishments or the outside world.

Last week was Nadia’s birthday. We celebrated with cake and kid champagne. The kids made really nice cards and we started a tradition of making a big sign. Happy birthday baby – I love you!

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As you can see, I am definitely pushing the boundaries with my cultural comfort. This was the first time I wore a mask. I always thought when I saw Asians wearing a mask I thought that it was because they didn’t want to catch a cold, but actually it is reverse. You wear a mask when you are sick and the mask prevents others from catching your cold or flu. I have a cold/mild flu today and didn’t want to spread my illness. My glasses kept fogging up and Tomomi helped me get it situated so it didn’t happen.

 

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Last Saturday morning I had to take Owen to the train station to go to his soccer game. He had to be at the station before 7:00 AM and it is one of the ways I can show my love for him is making sure he gets up, has his bags packed and see him off on the train with his teammates. I really enjoy the morning times when it is just him and me! He is growing up and becoming a young man and I am so proud of him. More on his soccer season in later posts. He is shown crossing the street on the way to the Kita Senri station as the sun was coming up.

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The “hair fairy” has struck!

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Family Journal: Cold Snap Hits Japan

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A cold snap has struck the islands of Japan this weekend. It was -2C in Osaka yesterday for most of the day with a cold wind making it feel even colder. One feels the cold here even more because Japanese homes are not insulated and there most do not have central heating. One needs to heat room by room. We also have the extra special touch of no hot water this morning when I desperately need a bath to warm my core.

Ocean is shown above on our bike ride to Daiso last night. She is such a trooper! It turned out to be a really nice ride with her with the almost full moon and Orion in its full constellation glory. Ocean is doing an astronomy unit at school and it has sparked her fascination for space and the night sky.

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I was a single dad this weekend. Mom had a girls’ weekend in Korea. We had a nice time together and I was proud of my cooking. I am becoming better in kitchen this year due to necessity with Nadia working and limited domestic help. It is nice to have her back! Below is Ocean pushing her bike up the hill in Kita Senri park. brrrrr…. Many parts of Japan were hit with heavy snow, it seems like everywhere except Osaka. Both north and south of Osaka saw significant snowfall.

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First Snowfall in Osaka

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Osaka’s climate is similar to Atlanta USA so it rarely snows here. Earlier this week, we awoke to a thin covering of snow! By noon it was melted and gone but the morning was fun for the kids and for me. Above is a tsubaki flower, known as the “rose of winter” which is an apt name. They are a common garden hedge in Osaka.

It was strange to see our street (below) with snow cover. I love snow and if it is going to be cold, one might as well have snow. The word for snow is Japanese is yuuki. This is the third occasion in my time here that it has snowed and I am hoping for more.

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The cold weather finally arrived last week after a pretty warm December and early January. As I write this, it is -1C in our suburb of Minoo. It will stay around the zero mark all day today. The cold weather will stay until Wednesday when it will go back up to a high of 12 C (54F).  Nadia is pictured on the way to school on Tuesday morning during the snow.

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The Japanese Tea Ceremony

Maki sensei

I had the privilege of participating in our school’s tea ceremony class this week. In the video above, Maki sensei explains how to mix the matcha or powdered green tea. The ritual is very Zen, being brought to Japan 1,300 years ago from China. Each movement must be performed just so and is kind of a form of meditation. The idea of slowing down the mind and focusing on a mundane activity, lifting it to an act of beauty and calmness. I see it as a way of slowing down one’s life so it can seem longer.

The students were very patient and kind with my bumbling of folding of the napkin. Our school has a traditional tatami (tightly bound straw mats) room and it is used for such occasions. The first day Maki sensei wore a kimono, which is such a beautiful formal dress for women. We didn’t get to even see the tea on the first class, which is very Zen. On the second day we finally got to drink some warm tea.

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 Matcha tea is bitter and so it is always accompanied with a sweet. The rubbery but pleasant mochi wrapped around a sweet bean paste center, made a nice combination with the tea.

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I have a long way to go before I master the movements of the tea ceremony. Maki sensei studied for 10 years to become a sensei (teacher). We are fortunate to have her on campus. She teaches a tea ceremony class for SIS seniors and runs an after school club for high school students which is open to students from both schools. I would like to organize a workshop for OIS high school students with her sometime this spring.

A huge thank you to Maki sensei and the SIS seniors for allowing me to share the experience! I feel a bit closer to understanding this complex and different culture, al

 

 

 

 

 

A Splendid Start to 2016

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We started the year in perfect fashion with a New Year’s Day bike ride through Tokyo. I highly recommend the Tokyo Miracle Cycling Tour  and I would like to thank Soshi, our guide for giving my family a deeper understanding of Tokyo and a memorable event. The city was almost deserted early in the morning and it felt like we were in a post apocalypse Tokyo. We rode through the skyscrapers of Ginza, the wide open gardens of the imperial palace, the shoppers in the electronics district and much more.

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I noticed these roped tires in front of the sumo wrestling Kasugano training stable in the neighborhood of Ryogoku. They fill them with sand and pull them on the street in front of the building for strength training. We also visited the sumo stadium. I hope to go see the sumo when they come to Osaka in March. Below Soshi gave our group instruction on how to pray at a Buddhist temple.

Temple in Tokyo

We also rode around the Imperial Palace and Hibiya Park, the largest green space in the city. The police were preparing for the palace open day on January 2, one of only two days the palace is open to the public. The emperor and his wife spoke to 44,000 visitors. The grounds serve as the perfect exercise area. I am not a big fan of monarchs, sacred or otherwise, but it is good that the area is not developed with skyscrapers and roads.

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We are pictured at the imperial palace grounds.

Hibiya Park took a special significance as it was featured in my Visualizing Japan course. A thorough breakdown of the 1906 riots that were centered in the park was the second module. I was happy to inadvertently break the rules of the park and play football on the grass. They were off limits to people, but the signs were in Japanese and so we did not know it. A guard respectfully asked us to leave, but not until it was almost dark. I was happy to score one for the common person and use the park as my right as a taxpayer in Japan. I was in solidarity with the citizens during the riots who were protesting unfair train prices and police corruption among other things.

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Hibiya Park has probably changed a lot since the riots around the turn of last century.

Our last day in Tokyo was spent shopping in Ginza. January 2 is like “black Friday” in the USA with all the stores offering discounts. We got some good bargains on clothes at the Gap for the kids. We also ate extremely well during the trip and I recommend the Zest Catina (Mexican restaurant) and the Cafe Fredy for their french toast. I will be returning to Tokyo in April for meetings and hope to see a bit more of the biggest city in the world.

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Nippon Bashi (Japan Bridge) underneath the famous Kirin. All roads in Japan are measured by their distance from this bridge in the heart of Tokyo.

New Year’s Eve in Tokyo

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Striking modern architecture is one of the pleasures of visiting Tokyo. The gold building in the middle is the Asahi beer company headquarters. Reflecting light, it looks like a mug of beer with a foamy head. To the right of it is the Asahi flame and to the immediate left in the background is the Tokyo Sky Tower. The building to the far left is the Sumida Concert Hall.

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Family pictured on a bridge over the Sumida river with the Tokyo Sky Tree in the background

To start the day, Nadia and Ocean took a rickshaw to some of the tourist sites near the Sumida river. We walked to the Tokyo Sky Tree, the tallest tower in the world to get some perspective on the city. The Sky Tree is a 634 meter high communications tower and tourist attraction. It is worth going up to the top to see the sprawling megapolis. Despite the crowds, it was only about an hour’s wait to get to the 350 m viewing area. There are also plenty of shops, restaurants and attractions in the lower floors.

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There is not a lot of drunkenness and fireworks in Japan on New Year’s Eve. The thing to do is spend time quietly with family and visit several of the thousands of temples and shrines to reflect/pray for blessings in the upcoming year. We saw lines of people all over and the temples have different themes, like mercy, love, money, etc.

I took the boys after midnight across the street to the Higashi Hongon temple. We watched and listened to worshippers strike the gong 108 times, representing the 108 vices of humans in the Buddhist religion. They had a fire going along with sake and snacks. The gong is on the top floor of one of the temple building and they had a live stream showing everyone taking their turn.

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Oliver at the Higashi Hongon-Ji

It certainly was a different way to spend New Year’s Eve, and at my age, excessive drinking is not really the way I want to spend the evening. Ocean had a headache so we had a low key celebration in the apartment with glow sticks and party hats. It is good to mark these events with children. New Year’s celebrations may be my favorite holiday as it is a chance to reflect on the year that passed and look forward to what is coming in the future. I can’t believe it is 2016. As a teenager growing up in the 1980s, I never imagined what it would be like in this century. I am happy and appreciative to be here and able to celebrate!

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Crowds line up to say their prayers on New Years Eve. The photo above is the Senso temple, the oldest and most important Buddhist temple in Japan. We touched the bell for good luck.

Happy New Year everyone!

The Largest City in the World: Tokyo

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We are spending a few days in Tokyo and are excited to experience the largest metropolitan area in the world. 2015 estimates put the total number of people at 38 million. Let me repeat, 38 million people! That is the entire population of Serbia six times over! They are spread out over a large area, but still has a population density twice that of Bangladesh at 2,642 people / square kilometer.

Our apartment is in Nishi (west) Asakusa which is on the northeastern fringe of city center. We arrived last night and took a 13-minute train ride to the famous Ginza area of Tokyo. I read a lot about Ginza in my Visualizing Japan course from Harvard X. It first developed during the Meiji restoration and was a symbol of cosmopolitanism that the government wanted to promote after centuries of isolation. The Shiseido company used Ginza as a central part of its successful marketing campaign in the interwar period. It was not popular with foreigners, as they wanted to see the more “authentic” Japan and the older neighborhoods. Most of the European architecture buildings were destroyed in World War II, but the famous Wako department store building survived. I am reading a lot about World War II lately and can’t imagine that the building was once the American GI RX. It has come a long way since then. The Wako building can be seen in the lead photo on the left.

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The Chanel store in Ginza.

Ginza reminds me of Manhattan with its glitzy window displays and lights. The architecture in Japan is more cutting edge than New York in my opinion and it is a delight for those interested in building design. It is also similar to the Shinsaibashi area on the Midosuji road in downtown Osaka. After a year and half in country, the train lines were not as daunting as before and with my Tokyo train app and our ICOCA cards that work around the country, it was quite easy to get around.

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Louis Vitton window display – Ginza

We found an excellent Mexican restaurant underneath a raised freeway. The Zest Cantina was located with several other restaurants in an underground tunnel of sorts. The homemade guava lemonade and guacamole were absolutely delicious! I recommend the hamburgers as well.

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A typical Kralovec family photo – the boys wrestling and the girls posing!