Oliver Begins Soccer Season


Oliver Soccer

Nadia and I watched Oliver’s first game of the middle school season. He is such a character with his big smile and red cheeks! He is so funny to watch. As you can see he enjoys the sport and we are happy that he is making friends, exercising and experiencing winning and losing in pressure situations.

They played a small school, the Sons of the Light International School. The format of the day was futsal or 5-on-5 soccer with small goals and a smaller field. The idea is to get players to help with skills.

I will be posting more updates this season.

My Beautiful Ocean


Winner Again in the Bookmark Contest

Ocean won the bookmark contest again this year. She designed a Minecraft-themed book mark. The annual competition is sponsored by our library and Ocean won the prize for grade 4.


Ocean has a natural inclination for design and color and is a promising young artist. She loves making things with her hands. We nickname her little miss busybody and when she puts her mind to something, she just powers on until it is finished, whether making a basket out of paper, mosaic of glass tiles, a DIY folder organizer, etc. She just loves working with her hands.

Above is her flower arrangement from a recent ikebana workshop. Ikebana is a traditional Japanese art of flower arranging, dating back to 600 AD. One of the school parents is an ikebana master and led about 40 students and parents in a beginning session.



Book Review: Falling Leaves – The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter


falling leaves book cover
courtesy of Amazon.com


(contains spoiler alerts)

I am reading a lot about China lately, in preparation for my trip to Beijing in March. Adeline Yen Mah’s memoir tells the story of her growing up in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Her mother died in giving birth to her, the fifth child. Adeline’s father remarried to a stereotypical wicked, petty and domineering stepmother. Her stepmother had two more children that were favored. Adeline was neglected and barely tolerated, spending years in a Catholic boarding school, before being sent to England. She made a successful life for herself and finished medical school there and eventually having a successful practice in California. The stories of the relationships with her four siblings, parents, aunts, nephews, etc. over the years was engrossing. Now that I have reached an age that I can look back on the choices I have made, I see consequences of choices. The members of her family are very cruel and cold-hearted to each other often. She suffered a lot of abuse and you can see the effects on her as she goes through her life. Having a safe and happy start in life is so important for children.

The setting of the book is pre-World War II in China. The slow takeover of the country by the communists was devastating for millions of people. Many escaped to Hong Kong, like her family, but other stayed, thinking that things would be OK. How wrong they were! The book ends in the 1990s, so it is truly an epic tale of a family. Adeline overcame a lot in her life. Besides a tough childhood, she went experienced racism, sexism and a tough divorce. Through it all, she remained dignified and true to herself. I also was touched by her relationship with her aunt and the strong nostalgia of childhood. I get that feeling when I return my home village of Caspian, Michigan. She felt the same in the streets of Shanghai. A childhood that seems so far away from where I am today. Mine was so much happier than hers of course, but she had good moments too.

If you want to get a better sense of China and a good family generational story, I highly recommend this book.

Pounding Mochi


Yesterday we made mochi, a traditional Japanese New Year’s rice cake. Nadia and I love the dessert of a strawberry wrapped in sweet bean paste and mochi. It was interesting to see the entire process of rice to the finished cake.

The Latter Day Saints congregation of Toyonaka annually holds a mochi-making day and since we have friends in the church, we went along. Making mochi as a family is a traditional activity at New Years and it is consumed in great quantities in Japan. I guess an equivalent in the west would be the Christmas fruitcake. Different types of mochi desserts are also featured during sakura (cherry blossom) season and Children’s Day (May 5) and Girl’s Day (March 3).

As with most things in Japan, the process is labor-intensive! A short-grained, sweet and sticky rice variety soaked overnight. It is then steamed and pounded with large wooden mallets (kine) in a huge mortar (usu). As you can see in the video above, it is a two-person operation, with one person wetting and shaping the mochi between strikes of the mallet. Timing is key here! There were no accidents, although I learned that you need to hit the roll of mochi and not the mortar as splinters from the wooden mallet may get into the finished mochi. If you don’t want the exercise and risk of a smashed finger, there is a modern appliance to do the same, and it produces a more homogenous smooth mochi. I prefer the old-fashioned method!


Shaping the mochi into rolls, ready to be used for assembling the final cake


Since it has a bland taste, anything can be added to mochi, either sweet (chocolate, bean paste, fruit) or savory (shrimp). The Japanese have been making mochi for over 2,000 years! For a long time it was a holy food and reserved only for nobility, but over time, it became a common food.


modern mochi appliance


It is quite healthy food, being basically water and rice and is free of gluten and cholesterol. It does pack some calories, however, as a typical serving is the same as a bowl of rice. Samurai used to take it on expeditions because it was easy to carry and prepare and was packed with calories. It is something like an ancient Clif Bar or energy bar that modern hikers carry on the trail.


wrapping strawberries


Thanks to the Toyonaka group for allowing us to share this cultural experience!

Visit to Miyajima


Cousins at the Top of Mount Misen

It was a more uplifting day on the beautiful island of Miya, just off the Hiroshima coast. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the over 900-year old Shinto shrine with the famous torii in the tidal bay. My favorite part of the day was the hike to the observation point on top of the 1,725-foot Mount Misen with my sons and nephew. We a lot of laughs on the trail. At the top, the boys were sitting together and so I snapped the really nice photo above. It is such a privilege to see them grow up and this teenage phase is just as fun as all the rest. I love the adventurous male spirit in them!


The views of the Seto Inland Sea and the small islands bordering the coast are spectacular. The inland sea is a section of the Pacific Ocean that is sheltered between the islands of Honshu and Shikoku, two of the four major Japanese islands.



Oliver and Marita sampling the famous oysters from Miyajima


Nadia, Marita and Ocean spent the afternoon walking around the village and checking out the various shrines and temples. I sampled a Miyajima Maple Leaf Ale from the Miyajima Brewing Company. We had a delicous dinner to finish the day. We sampled the seafood from the region.


Only in Japan – a dog with a hat and glasses! 




In front of the Atomic Dome – Hiroshima Peace Park

This is my second visit to the Atomic Bomb Peace Park in Hiroshima. On August 6, 1945 8:15 AM, the first atomic bomb used in war was detonated pretty much directly above us. The area is now a memorial park dedicated the idea of peace and never using nuclear weapons. With the leaders of North Korea and the USA going back and forth today, threatening using their nuclear weapons, it felt appropriate to have us remember the tragic destruction of the city so many years ago.

I was thinking of the words of Pope John Paul II when he visited in Hiroshima in 1981. As a father and educator, I am surrounded by young people all the time. The words of the Pope ring true still today and are needed even more so…

To young people everywhere, I say: let us together create a new future of fraternity and solidarity; let us reach out towards our brothers and sisters in need, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, free the downtrodden, bring justice where injustice reigns and peace where only weapons speak. Your young hearts have an extraordinary capacity for goodness and love; put them at the service of your fellow human beings.

I would like to think that after so many wars and violence that have taken place on earth, that we would have learned to get along by now. I was moved today reading the inscriptions of the children’s memorial. The innocent are the ones that suffer most in war and there are no reasons to go to war.


Hiroshima Peace Watch

The 122 days marks the nuclear test by North Korea on September 22, 2017. They had a sign announcing the test.



We finished the day by visiting the Ho No Yu Onsen. After an hour in the sauna, various hot baths, etc. the winter winds feel like a refreshing spring breeze! It is so nice the communal feel of public bathing and relaxing. Only in Japan!


Family Journal: January 2, 2018


Drinking for my health!

It was a mellow day at home with the family. The highlight was a walk around the neighborhood with my sister-in-law, Alejandra and a visit to our local Shinto shrine. On the days after the New Year, the Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines are full of people paying respect to their ancestors and praying for a good 2018.

The Kasuga Shrine in our neighborhood had serve-yourself amazake drink station. Amazake is a fermented rice drink that is sweeter than sake and has less alcohol. The fermentation process gives it lots of nutrients. It is traditionally served at shrines and is regarded as a winter drink in Japan.


Marita poses on the old road to Kyoto


I forget how nice and peaceful it is to live in our neighborhood of Onohara-nishi. Seeing it through the eyes of a visitor helps me see the landscape with fresh eyes. There are plenty of farmers’ fields mixed with parks and traditional Japanese homes. It was a beautiful winter walk this afternoon.

I did some school work in the morning and went for a bike ride around Expo Park. Nadia made a delicious dinner of salmon. The kids played at the park for most of the afternoon.


Ocean with her friend Lily at Matsuide Park