Family Journal: October 14, 2017


Rice Fields in Minoh, Japan

I snapped this photograph on my bike ride this afternoon. The rice fields are yellow which means they are ready to harvest. The scarecrows are keeping the crows out of the fields. The government subsidizes rice growers so there are lots of fields scattered throughout our city of Minoh.


Umenahana Restaurant 

Last weekend we went to Umenahana (Plum Blossom Flower) Restaurant. They specialize in tofu and have a very traditional decor as you can see in the hallway above. Inside the rooms are low tables with extra space under the floor. A meal comes in about 10 small courses. A very nice experience, especially for guests. It is located near the Senri Chuo train station.


Ocean’s “The Hope” 

Ocean had a mini art exhibition on Wednesday. The assignment was to create two art pieces and compose a piece of music with Garage Band that matched the mood of the piece. They are learning about how media can be used to persuade people. The work above is called “The Hope” and the piece of music evoked feelings of awe and hope in me. She is so artistic.

Finally, Owen and I went for a long bike ride last weekend and ended up riding along the Senrigawa River which is right next to the Itami International Airport.

Owen and Bill bike ride near Itami Airport










Sports & Health Day


Owen’s team won the ultimate frisbee tournament


Japan has a great idea with making the second Monday in October, the national holiday of Sports & Health (体育の日). The goal of the day is to promote an active and healthy lifestyle. Through physical exercise, not only is physical health promoted but mental health as well. A good physical workout always helps my mood and happiness.

The holiday started in 1964 with the start of the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Schools in Japan honor the day with 運動会 undokai, a gigantic field day. It is like a mini-Olympics with all sorts of athletic events and even a dance competition.


Oliver played Harry Potter in their house skit

It was a perfect day with blue skies and temperatures in the low 80s, unseasonably warm for mid-October. Oliver was all over the event playing Harry Potter in the house dance, running the relay race and being part of the mukade (centipede race). Owen loves ultimate frisbee and his grade 9 team beat the seniors. On the elementary level it is much less competitive and Ocean did all the activities in the pool and on the athletic field.  37351870550_711496cce2_c

Even Nadia got into the act by joining the faculty tug-of-war team that defeated the grade 12 students. I was the master of ceremonies for the elementary field play in the morning, led the parade and judged the MS performances.

More countries should adopt Sports & Health Day as a national holiday. All of us in the age of smartphones and the internet could be active and need encouragement. A big thank you to Steve L. for the photos!


Bonding with Ocean Through Sport


Ocean chases the defender

I am coaching elementary soccer again this year and love working with my daughter Ocean. It is a great way to get to spend time with her and we are making a bond with each other through sports. Yesterday the school teams participated in a futsal (5-a-side soccer) tournament in neighboring Kobe, Japan. The games were moved indoors due to weather but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the day.

Ocean is a pretty good athlete, coordinated with pretty good speed, agility, and strength. She does need to develop “the eye of the tiger” however, and her caring, compassionate personality carries over onto the sports field. Her classmates are similar as they are such a nice, intelligent group of young people, but they do not have a burning passion for a competitive sport. However, they are learning the important things through participating in a team sport. Improving their fundamentals of the game, learning the strategies of the sport, working together and being able to handle winning and losing. These are the important life lessons to experience through team sport and they are all champions in this aspect.


Ocean and her teammates found my camera charging…


Her team won 1 game and lost three, the last in penalty kicks, but for me and Ocean, the goal of the day was to enjoy each other’s company and the camaraderie of her teammates in a competitive activity. Our season continues all this month and then we wait for baseball in the spring.




Visit to Sendai, Japan

A memorial to the height of the tsunami at the Sendai airport

I spent two days in Sendai, the largest city in the northern part of Honshu, the main island of Japan. I was attending a school meeting so really didn’t get a chance to explore much of the city. The region is known as Tohoku and is famous for the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. As you can see in the photo above, the city airport, located near the coast, had a 3-meter wall of water sweep through it. The central part of the city is much further inland and at a higher elevation, so people were safe there and the tsunami only reached about 5 kilometers inland from the airport.

After living in Osaka, Sendai, despite being a city of a million people, felt small. It had a nice vibe to it with a compact downtown. We went to dinner at a trendy restaurant in the city center. The hotel was connected to a golf club (Joytel Hotel) and right next to it was this massive statue of a Buddhist goddess. It was the biggest statue I have ever seen, dwarfing the Cristo statues in Bolivia that are similar to the more famous Jesus statue in Rio de janeiro. It depicts the Buddhist goddess Guanyin, who is known for her compassion and mercy. When it was completed in 1991, it was the largest statue in the world, but today it ranks #6.


Guanyin dwarfs our 12-floor hotel 


There is a small international school near the hotel and it had some nice forested hills surrounding it. The hiking and beaches must be really nice, so for an outdoors person, it would be a nice place to live.

I watched videos of the tsunami here in Sendai and in Tohoku and am still awed by the power of the earth. What a tragedy and incredible natural phenomenon. My heart goes out to the people who died or lost loved ones.

There is a lot to see in Japan so I am not sure if I will ever be back here, but it is a very pleasant place.

Ocean Turns 10 Years Old

Last week Ocean we celebrated Ocean’s tenth birthday. She invited some of her friends to a sleepover. The girls slept in a tent in our tatami room, watched movies, played hide and seek in the house, did their nails, etc. All had a lot of fun, even Oliver, who joined in most of the activities.

She is such a sweetheart and it was special to see her so happy. My wife Nadia did a really nice job in making the event special for her daughter. Thank you!

I can’t believe ten years have passed since her birth. Happy birthday, Ocean, we love you!

Rails to Trails in Japan? The old Fukuchiyama line hike


Owen & Oliver with Mukogawa in the background


The “rails-to-trails” movement in the USA has seen thousands of miles of former railroad tracks become trails for hikers and bikers. Here in Japan, however, railways are still being used, especially for human transport, so it is rare to come upon hiking trails that were once a railway.

Yesterday we hiked the abandoned JR (Japan Railways) Fukuchiyama line, which is now a public walking path and this is unusual for Japan. The line used to connect the Osaka suburb of Takarazuka, a bedroom community for Osaka and Kobe, to Sanda, a city 25 kilometers to the north of Kobe and 35 kilometers north of Osaka.

The trail follows the Muko River through an impressive gorge created by the river. The water was pretty clean, with areas of rapids and idyllic swimming holes. We didn’t get a chance to stop because of our afternoon arrival, but it sure looked inviting.

 The great novelty of the hike are the six tunnels, some of which are so long that you need to bring a flashlight due to the utter darkness. The kids loved it! The trail also has some interesting relics from the railway, like rusty signs, little side tunnels etc. The trail in total is between 5-7 kilometers and takes roughly an 1 and 1/2 hours straight through. It is perfect for younger children and with the river and some side trails, it would be a nice full day with a picnic lunch on the rocks near the river.

You can access the trail by either getting off the functioning JR Namaze station or JR Takedao station and from our suburb of Minoh, it takes about 50 minutes by public transport and costs about 450 yen.

Family Journal: Arrival of Fall in Japan

Red Spider Lilies Protect the Rice Paddy Field

Despite temperatures being in the mid-80s F during the day, the calendar and other signs say autumn has arrived. Above are red spider lilies which bloom in September after heavy rains, often brought by typhoon systems. We had some heavy rain last weekend and on my bike ride Saturday, they were out everywhere. The bulbs are very poisonous and farmers plant them to keep pests away from their crops. In Japan, they are called 彼岸花 Higan bana, and are a common funeral flower and symbolize the afterlife.

One of the nicest things about Japan is their celebration and detailing of the seasons.  Not only fall, winter, spring and summer, but they further delineate the seasons by natural phenomena such as flowers, colors of leaves and arrival of certain types of fish to the market. September means Samna or Mackerel Pike or Pacific Saury are served often in restaurants and can be found in grocery stores. The name in Japanese refers to their appearance of like a knife. I think I will try to prepare it home.


Delicious Samna sushi!

I am loving my “new” road cycle. I inherited a bike from a departing teacher and took it to the local bike shop to put on new tires and tighten the brakes, gears, etc. The road cycle allows me to go much faster and get a better workout. The nearby Minoh forest national park is perfect for riding. Owen was riding the bike yesterday and loved it, so we may have to get into more road cycling.


Near the Minoh Waterfall

I am a single dad this weekend because Nadia is at a PYP workshop in Hong Kong this weekend. It is much easier than before because the kids are growing up and are much more independent. We had a blast playing with the frisbee yesterday and going to the local sushi restaurant with two other families.