Owen Finishes Basketball Season

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Owen Drives Baseline Against Sons of the Light IS

Owen’s middle school basketball team finished third in the season ending Western Japan Athletic Association (WJAA) tournament last weekend. They lost to Canadian Academy of Kobe in the semi finals and came back to defeat Nagoya IS in the consolation match to finish in third place out of eight teams.

The team finished with 9 wins and 5 losses on the season. They defeated every team in the WJAA at least once. The low shooting percentage in the tournament weekend held them back from reaching the finals. The WJAA is a nice middle school league and the basketball season runs from October to early December. A 14-game season is a good number, although I wish they had more games during the week and less Saturdays. I felt Owen and his teammates Ren and Henri were three of the best basketball players in the league. As they grow and mature in high school, I am expecting to see continued success if they stay together.

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Owen’s trademark running shot

Owen had a very good season and I was proud of him. Left handed people look unconventional in the sport to me. In Japan in middle school basketball, at 5-4, Owen is solidly a position 3. His strength is a running mid-range shot. He is continuing to develop an accurate outside shot and is pretty good taking it inside for layups. He is not quick or fast, but has good defensive instincts that translate into lots of steals and rebounds.

The soccer season begins in January and I am already looking forward to watching him play.

Book Review: Never Enough – Trump

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Trump Tower Manhattan – July 2016

I wanted to learn more about the American president-elect, Donald Trump. Our school library had a copy of Michael D’Antonio’s Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success. The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author did some long interviews with Trump and people close to him before losing access because he interviewed an enemy of Trump. He supplemented the interviews with research and the book is a very good and even-handed biography. The New York Times reviewed the book in September 2015 when it was published. I also recommend listening to the two podcasts the NY Times did with the author on the podcast, The Run Up.

Trump is so different from people I know. He has devoted his life to making money and more importantly, being a celebrity. In this pursuit of, which the book title and Trump calls “success”, he has lied, exaggerated, cheated, insulted, bullied, and hurt thousands of people. I wouldn’t call this success, but I have much different values than Donald Trump.

Trump’s father Fred, was similar to him, getting his big break in real estate by exploiting loop holes in a government housing project, enriching himself to the detriment of American taxpayers and residents of the housing projects. From there, he continued to develop real estate. As a conservationist and lover of wilderness, I have a dislike of “developers” to start with. Fred Trump’s fathering style is also much different than mine. He bullied his son, sent him to a harsh military academy for grades 8-12 but reached his goal of instilling in Donald, an intense greed and ambition. Donald set his sights on building on his father’s developments by purchasing property in Manhattan. His father’s properties were mostly in Brooklyn. Donald is a third generation German immigrant, and Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich Drumpf, was also into real estate, getting his start by running a hotel in Alaska for gold miners in the late 19th century.

Trump has lived an incredibly full life. As you list his accomplishments, I am amazed that one person could do all that he did. From building huge towers in one of the most expensive cities in the world, to owning casinos in Atlantic City, developing golf courses, owning an USFL football team (New Jersey Generals), starring in a highly rated reality television show, owning an airlines, being a motivational speaker and “educator”, three marriages, father to 5 children, to now being president of the United States. Any of these in isolation would be considered a full life. However, all of these endeavors were marked with harming and destroying others, legal battles, bankruptcy, cheating, all because he wanted to “win”.

Despite appearances of fame, fortune and luxury, I think he is a sad figure. I don’t know how he can live with himself knowing the harm he has done to others. His lack of reflection I think is a defense against this. Some may argue that this is the kind of ruthless person we need as president, but I disagree. He is a man with no inner life, he is crass, rude and childish with his insults, I can’t believe that enough people voted for him to win.  I do hope he goes crazy and shakes up our political structure which is needed, I just hoped that it would be a better person doing it. I also fear an over reaction to world events that might harm the country. I keep faith in our democratic institutions

D’antonio’s book does well in explaining such an unusual person and some insight into the way he operates. It will be a fascinating four years of his presidency.

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Sunrise in Vegas – Trump Hotel – August 2016

Thanksgiving 2016: Food, Friends, USJ

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Oliver is pictured at USJ with one of the many mascots.

I had a delightful Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends. For the first time in many years, we didn’t have school as our fall break coincided with Thanksgiving. We have 6 luxurious days off, including the Wednesday before and the Monday after. Just what the doctor ordered after a busy fall trimester. Wednesday November 23 is Labor Thanksgiving Day here in Japan and a national holiday. It was established after World War II as a day to commemorate human rights and honor rights of workers. It also dates back 2,500 – 1,500 years ago in Japan to the various harvest festivals under different emperors. A mental note to have the kids make drawings next year to give as gifts to the local koban (police box) as is the tradition here. We celebrated the day with a big thanksgiving dinner with friends (photo below).

dinner with friends

It is “peak” autumn foliage color right now in Osaka. My bike ride up to Katsuoji temple in the Minoh Hills National Park was stunning. Although it is cold in the mornings, it quickly warms up to make it comfortable biking weather.

bike ride to Katsuoji

On thanksgiving day itself, which is not a holiday in Japan, we organized winter clothes and closets and did some long overdue projects around the house. With both Nadia and I working and the kids being quite active after school, we needed a day or two concentrating on the house. I hope to finish today (Saturday) with putting up the Christmas stuff and continuing improving our home.

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The ubiquitous “selfie” at USJ

Because this is not a holiday here, we took the kids to Universal Studios Japan (USJ), which is one of the four Universal Studios (Orlando, Los Angeles, Singapore, Osaka) theme parks.  During holidays, the park is absolutely swamped with people causing long waiting times for rides, but during the off season and during the week, it is reasonably crowded. I think our longest wait time was an hour and most attractions were 15-30 minutes. Seeing the popularity of the Osaka USJ, which averages 8 million visitors per year, the owners, NBC Universal, are opening parks in Beijing (2019), Seoul (2020) and Moscow (2022). The Japanese especially love cartoon characters, Harry Potter and other universal movies, and so even with other parks opening in east Asia, I think USJ will be fine.

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As you might know from previous blog posts, amusement parks are not my “cup of tea” and I loathe the crowds, consumerism and artificiality of it all. However, riding roller coasters is one of the things kids need to experience so I am glad I went yesterday. I loved watching their reactions to the rides and spending the day with them. It was a good way to spend “Black Friday” and we saw other Osaka International School families taking advantage of our school holidays being different than the local schools. It was a full day as we finished off our USJ experience with a decadent meal at the Hard Rock Cafe. We are planning a trip to Tokyo Disney before we leave Japan to round out our amusement park experiences.

Reflecting upon Thanksgiving, I have so many blessings. Healthy children, a beautiful wife I enjoy being with, even after almost 20 years together, an interesting career that allows me to follow my passion of teaching and travel, what more could a guy ask for. I am truly grateful for all of it!

Oliver & Ocean Perform with Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra & Yamamoto Noh

Oliver and Ocean performed again with the Yamamoto Noh theatre troupe in the beautiful NHK (Nippon Hohsoh Kyokai) Hall in downtown Osaka. NHK, the biggest television company in Japan, Hall is home to the Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra and theme of the concert was “East Meets West”. The idea was for the noh play to be backed by a full symphony orchestra. It was combining major art forms from the 1300s (noh – Japan) with the 1700/1800s (classical music – Europe). The mix was absorbing: the sparse sounds of the drums and flute of noh with the sumptuous full orchestra. The play is about conservation of the rivers and bay of Osaka, was backed by pieces dealing with water, culminating in Strauss’s Blue Danube.

NHK Hall is stunningly beautiful. It is located on the third floor and the escalators taking patrons to the entrance goes through this fantastic foyer with high glass ceilings and luxurious bannisters. I was surprised at the almost capacity crowd of 1,400 people for a Monday night. In the video above, Oliver’s speaking part comes at the 4:45 mark.

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The crowd was loving the children’s role in the play. With the seriousness of the noh players and the sophistication of the orchestra, the kids made it accessible for everyone. I loved the director of the orchestra putting on one of the children’s hats for the grand finale piece and asking the audience to participate. It was a really nice for the kids to be on stage with both professional noh actors and the Kansai philharmonic. It is an experience they will never forget.

A huge thank you to all the parents who helped in getting the kids ready. Also to the Yamamoto troupe and the Kansai philharmonic.

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Yamamoto is working to make noh more accessible to a modern audience. After the performance I spoke with Petko Slavov, a Bulgarian PhD in ancient Japanese theatre, and his company, Okina makes digital content, like apps and games that teach ancient Japanese culture. They also help Yamamoto make school visits and noh workshops. We hope to have them come visit in the spring.

The Grittier Side of Osaka

A street side bar in Nishinari-ku, Osaka
A street side bar in Nishinari-ku, Osaka

Last night my daughter Ocean and I went on yomawari (night walk) in the Kamagasaki neighborhood of the Osaka ward of Nishinari-ku. Our school cooperates with the Sanno Children’s Center in their monthly walks to help the homeless of the city. The area is poorest in Osaka with 1/3 of the residents on welfare and a population of aging day laborers that live on the edge of subsistence, often finding themselves without shelter. Ocean is a very empathetic little girl and for her “genius hour” in school, is forming a club to help homeless. I wanted to encourage this so I supported her in going with the older students of the school. IB world schools put an emphasis on community service and the high school students for years have been helping out at the center. The center is also supports poor families by providing a place of refuge, entertainment and inspiration for children.

A homeless man on a street arcade in Nishinari-ku.
A homeless man on a street arcade in Nishinari-ku.

It is about a 45 minute train ride from our neighborhood to Kamagasaki and the differences can be seen immediately. Japan is unlike other countries in that wealth is not displayed as much. I think the culture of respect for others and the collective over the individual does this. Our neighborhood of Onohara-nishi is one of the nicest I’ve seen in Japan, but it is not like Los Angeles’s Bel Air or Detroit’s Bloomfield Hills. The buildings are grungier and the area is filled with cheap karaoke bars, coin operated laundries, etc. It is much neater than poor neighborhoods in other countries that to the local culture of tidiness and organization.

We met and helped around 6 homeless men. They cover themselves with a cardboard box (photo above) and sleep under the roof of the shopping arcades that are common in Kamagasaki. The kids delivered food, blankets and toiletries and the men were quite appreciative. The center is hosting community party today and the men were given a ticket for them to come and get a good meal.

At the children's center getting ready to go out.
At the children’s center getting ready to go out.

We cannot make next month’s night patrol (December 24) but hope to get back in January. It was an unusually warm November evening last night, but when it is cold, it must be tough to be on the streets.

I am also making a point to capture the small moments in my blog. Ocean the other morning woke up and told me about a dream she had. She said I led the family on a hike to a “poison place” in the desert. I jumped into a waterfall and at the end of the hike, there were buckets filled with poison. Oliver tipped one over and she said I jumped between her and the poison to save her. However, a bird picked up a bucket and dropped the poison on us and we all died. This comes from my insistence that the kids go on hikes and experience wilderness and my wife Nadia, a city girl, always thinks I am taking it to the extreme. It is my goal to instill in the kids a love of the outdoors. A funny dream.

Ocean & Oliver on NHK World

 

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The Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) the largest media company in Japan recently featured a story on Oliver and Ocean and their friends performing in the Noh theatre performance last week. NHK has an English language channel for the international market called NHK World. On their nightly news program, Newsroom Tokyo, they broadcast the story of OIS students learning Noh theatre. Ocean’s interview starts at around the 5:30 mark of the 6:00 minute video. Above is the screen grab, and below is the entire video on YouTube.

My Thoughts on the US Presidential Elections

I wanted to put down for posterity, my experience of the elections this year. I was totally caught by surprise by Donald Trump’s win. All of the “experts” were giving him such a small chance to win that I thought it was a sure thing for Hillary Clinton.

We follow politics very closely in the Kralovec house due to my wife’s interest in US politics. She loves the primaries, the debates, the SNL parodies, the punditry, etc. Her favorite channel is CNN. Because of this, the kids and I knew of all the events of the long campaign in good detail. We also experienced the campaign for ourselves. Nadia, Oliver and Ocean participated in a rally for Bernie Sanders in the main city of Guam, Hagatna, while we there for spring break in March. We also soaked up the atmosphere of the democratic national convention in Philadelphia this past summer. We stayed in the same hotel at the democratic delegates from Connecticut and Georgia and walked around downtown.

My preferred candidate was Bernie Sanders. I liked that he was focused on the expense of higher education (the only candidate talking about education), universal health care and income inequality. He also voted against going to war in Iraq. Finally, he was the only non-millionaire in the race. Hillary Clinton has used her political connections to earn $23 million dollars last year. Sander’s wife filed their taxes for $200,000 in income. Hillary Clinton has lost touch with the daily lives of most Americans.

Every election is about demographics in my opinion. Trump won because rural, white, generally blue collar people could identify with him. The split between the entertainment centers of Hollywood and New York, the multinational corporations and business world of Wall Street and Delaware and the university educated with rural and middle class America has grown. White, non-college educated saw Clinton as part of that world, not part of their world. I want to talk about my personal demographic. I am from what the media calls the “rust belt”. My parents were democrats. They both believed in unions, being educators, and living in a state where the auto industry had powerful unions. You do not hear much about unions these days and the wages and benefits of most American workers has declined since my parents’ time. You need to have two people working to have a decent life, whereas before, only one person needed to work. I grew up in rural Upper Michigan so I totally understand the lifestyle and view of Trump supporters. I am far removed from that today, with advanced degrees and living an expatriate cosmopolitan lifestyle. I am not rich however, being a teacher, so still have a foot on both sides.  University of Wisconsin professor Kathy Cramer describes this divide brilliantly in this Washington Post interview.

I lodged a protest vote in Michigan for Bernie Sanders. I did so because I couldn’t get myself to vote for Clinton. I do feel that president Obama did a lot of good things, but not strongly enough. I feel Washington DC has lost touch with the middle class and both the republicans and democrats are too much influenced by special interest groups, lobbyists backed by rich interests, rich people, etc. Besides, I thought, according to everything I read, Trump could never win. In retrospect, I don’t think my one vote mattered anyway and even with Bernie Sanders, it would have been close. My Bernie Sanders t-shirt did and still does, generates lots of positive reactions in people. The structure of the electoral college favors rural voters and it takes an inspirational candidate from the democrats to overcome this. Clinton will win the popular vote but lose resoundingly in the electoral college. Is that right? It sounded to me that the Democratic National Committee rigged the system so Clinton would be the candidate. Bernie came from nowhere and just didn’t have enough time to overcome Clinton in the primaries. Would Bernie Sanders have been that candidate? In any case, I agree with Dan Carlin and believe that the dominance of the two main parties and the way they choose candidates needs to be changed! I want more of a choice and I want better candidates!

It is fascinating that the US elected such a crass, uncultured, shady businessman like Trump to run the country when we have so many hardworking, brilliant, caring people. I kind of hope through his craziness Trump blows up both parties and we have some other voices and interests being able to lead our government. It will be an interesting 4 years, although early signs indicate that he is appointing Republican dinosaurs and others like Newt Gingrich and his boys Giuliani and Christie. Not promising for progressives like myself.