Most municipalities in Japan have distinctive manhole covers, usually featuring characteristics of the area. We live in Minoh and the famous waterfall and maple leaves are portrayed. Often they are also colored and it shows the attention to detail that public spaces receive from city officials. I know several expats that collected photos of the covers from the different towns they visited.
I continue to cycle often in the morning. This is at the top of the suburb of Saito Nishi. A new highway can be seen in the distance just under the cloud-shrouded hills of the Minoh Quasi-National Park.
Yesterday I devoted to Oliver and we had a good time together. We went on a bike ride around Expo Park, did some errands in town and went for a short hike in the hills. With three children, I find myself spending more time with Owen because our interests are similar but I am trying to make time for Oliver and Ocean, too.
Summer is my favorite time of the year. I experienced long, cold winters and cold wet springs and autumns growing up in pre-global warming northern Michigan. The brief respite of the “tropical trumpet” as ecologist Tim Flannery calls it, during July and August was such a respite from the usually inclement weather. It also coincides with school holidays and as a busy educator, I find summer a time to reconnect with myself and my family. As I am writing this on September 1, I am feeling a bit of melancholy and looking back at the peaceful and sweaty days of July and early August. I’ve been so busy with the start of the school year that I did not write much in August, so I am catching up with the end of our summer family activities.
Nadia, Ocean and I attended a big summer music festival called Summer Sonic. The tickets were expensive (14,000 yen – $130 USD) and we were kind of grumbling about being tired and not wanting to go, but what a mistake it would have been to stay home. We all had such a fantastic full day of music, dancing and spending time together! It was well worth the price. It was the first time in years that I’ve attended a summer festival. We went to the first day of the 2-day festival and there were 4 stages with 6-8 bands performing on each one. We walked between venues and the concert times were staggered so we saw an amazing range of music. We caught all or some of the sets of the following major pop music artists:
Walk the Moon, Alessia Cara, J Balvin, Beck, Tom Misch, Rex Orange County, Portugal The Man, St. Vincent and Jess Glynne
It was a super hot, humid glorious summer day so the water stations and air conditioning of the Sonic Stage, inside the Osaka Evassa basketball arena helped us keep cool. There were many highlights.
Beck – I forgot how much I liked him and he was a true entertainer, providing a good 90 minutes of delightful music. It was the best overall performance.
J Balvin is massive on the pop charts for his reggaeton/hip-hop style of music. I had never heard of him, but loved his more traditional Colombian cumbia and salsa-inspired songs.
St. Vincent reminded me of Talking Heads and I loved her visual style and dance grooves in her music.
Lots of energy from Walk the Moon and Portugal the Man. Both groups had huge pop hits, but I felt both really wanted to play arena rock and Metallica-like hard rock respectively instead.
Ocean absolutely loved Alessia Cara, whose target audience I think is teenage girls.
In between shows, we went to the food court/village and had some super greasy but delicious hamburgers. The concert was held in Maishima Sports Park, an artificial island in the port area of Osaka Bay. The professional baseball team Orix Buffaloes have a training grounds there and the professional basketball team Osaka Evassa’s arena is also located there. It was a distinctive place to hold a festival and despite the tens of thousands of people, it didn’t feel crowded at all. Japanese culture keeps things orderly and the need for security and seeing young people fighting, vomiting or causing havoc was not happening, thankfully.
The highlight of the day was bonding with my daughter Ocean, my wife Nadia and our friends! What a great way as a father to spend time with a pre-teen girl! We will definitely go back next year if possible. Having two teenagers in the house keeps us “hip” to pop music and culture and keeps us young!
The Itsukushima shrine on Miyajima Island is one of 18 United Nations Cultural Heritage sites in Japan. The Shinto shrine has an unusual Torii (gate) in the tidal bay that draws hundreds of tourists daily. Besides the gate and temple, the island is dramatically beautiful with sharply rising green hills and rocky outcrops. There are also breathtaking views of the islands of the Seto Inland Sea. After the Atomic Bomb Dome / Peace Park, it is the attraction to see in Hiroshima.
It was a super hot day with temperatures close to 100 F. In my previous visits, we usually hike to the summit of Mount Misen, the highest point on the island, but instead took the cable car up to the top. The views did not disappoint, but we were ready to cool down after walking around at the top station.
We stopped for ice cold Summer I.P.A. on tap at the Miyajima Brewery and they really hit the spot. Before leaving the island, we had to try the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. The four-hour drive back to Osaka went well. We recovered this weekend. It has been nice to have my uncle visit in this last week of summer holidays.
I am not a big drinker but I do love the science behind fermentation and distillation. We visited the Suntory Yamazaki Whisky distillery in Kyoto on Wednesday. I recommend the tasting tour if you enjoy whiskey. Note that in Scotland and Japan, whisky is spelled without an “e” and in Ireland and America, we add the “e”.
Whiskey comes from barley and after fermentation and distillation, it is a clear liquid. The distinctive color of whiskey comes from tannins in the storage barrels. The longer it stays in the barrel, the darker the color. Turning barley, water and yeast into whiskey only take a week, but aging in barrels can take up to 30 years.
The elusive Yamazaki 18 Whisky was not available for sale. It is the crown jewel whiskey in the Suntory range of whiskeys. We hope to find a bottle for my uncle someday.
I particularly liked the whiskey library on the premises. The researchers at the distillery try different methods and blends to come up with better tasting products. They also sample other whiskeys from around the world. Visitors can buy these test whiskeys and they come in really cool bottles.
After lunch in a restaurant near the distillery, we went to a sake museum in Kyoto. After navigating the narrow streets of the city, we eventually arrived at the museum. Sake takes more processing than beer and wine and there were informative displays going through each step. The highlight was a sign that commemorated Babe Ruth’s visit to the brewery.
Hiroshima is one of my favorite cities in Japan. It is the perfect size for a city, about 1 million people. Osaka, the city I live in, is a bit too big, but our suburb of Minoh is really nice. Hiroshima also is beautiful, surrounded by mountains and it has wider streets than most Japanese cities. This is my fourth visit to the city, twice for school business and twice with my family. Because of the history here, the beauty and the proximity to Osaka, it is an easy place to take guests and give them a taste of a different part of Japan. My uncle is visiting this week, our last of summer holidays, so we took drove the 4 hours from Osaka to Hiroshima this morning.
71 years ago Monday, US forces dropped “Little Boy” above what is now the Peace Memorial Park. Going through the museum is always emotional for me. Reading the stories and seeing the photos of the children killed by the blast is tough, especially as a father. Not only the 140,000 people dead is a tragedy, but the families of the 140,000 that survived. As I’ve written in the past, every world leader should come and visit the memorial. Hopefully, it will make them consider more the human toll behind ordering bombings. Today is the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, a city I hope to visit before leaving Japan and one that does not get recognized enough for what it suffered.
It was so pleasant in the late afternoon sitting along the Motoyasu River that we spent several hours, just watching the river under the trees. That is one good thing to come from the nuclear bomb, a beautiful green park in the center of the city. Our relaxation came to an abrupt end when an unnamed member of our family (perhaps my spouse) dropped my iPhone 8+ into the river. Oliver climbed down the embankment and retrieved it in about a foot of water. We learned that the iPhone 8 is water resistant and when dropped in water for under 30 minutes and less than 1 meter, it should be OK, which so far, my phone has been fine.
We are staying in an Air BnB apartment near the park. Nadia and I went for a drink at a local sports bar and watched the extra innings of the first place Hiroshima Carp against the Chunichi Dragons. The patrons were totally into the game and it was fun to watch the outcome of a replay challenge of a close play at first base.
With a typhoon coming later this weekend, we took advantage of the final day of sunshine and headed north to Kotohiki Beach on the Tango Peninsula. Spending a day outdoors at the beach is so much better than staying at home in these days of ubiquitous personal digital devices. It was so nice to have the family playing together and the kids enjoying nature. The water was a perfect temperature and 5+ hours at the beach goes by quickly.
The Sea of Japan is an interesting body of water. Like the Mediterranean, it is mostly enclosed by Japan, the Korean peninsula and Russia with narrow straits on the north and south. The Tango Peninsula makes a good place to keep an eye on (radar) North Korea and the Japan Self-Defense force and US military have a “sub-base” there. The dishes are located on the top of a mountain near the tip of the peninsula. We saw some US soldiers swimming at the beach the last time we went.
Like the Persian/Arabian Gulf, there is a naming dispute. The Japanese call is the Sea of Japan and that is the most accepted name. However, the Koreans call it the East Sea. Biologically, the Sea of Japan has a higher oxygen content that the Pacific Ocean and fisheries are a major piece of the economy.
As you can see by the sign below not everyone approves of the military bases on the peninsula. We saw this sign near the exit of the expressway as we were driving to the beach.
We ignored the geopolitics of the region and had another fantastic day. The coast is so beautiful and the small towns on the peninsula are quaint and laid-back. It is one of Nadia’s favorite places in Japan.
Climate change has been on my mind this summer here in Japan. Japan is known for hot, humid summers but this year, the government declared a national emergency because of extended temperatures in Tokyo over 40C (104F). 65 people have died, over half being elderly. Typhoon Jongdari or in the Japanese numbering system, 2018-#12 is predicted to pass directly into Osaka this Sunday evening (see map below) ending the heat wave.
Weather and climate are complex systems and causes of heat waves are from a variety of factors. However, the frequency, duration and higher temperatures that the earth is experiencing are definitely caused in a large part by climate change. The Economist’s excellent science podcast, Babbage has a short piece with a climate scientist that explains the role climate change is having on world heat waves.
My family did what a lot of people are doing in Japan this summer – head to the beach! That is a nice thing about living on an island, the ocean is never far away. However, yesterday, we visited Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. It is located in the adjacent prefecture of Shiga. We drove 1 hour and 30 minutes to arrive on Omi-Maiko beach, the most scenic public beach on the lake. Lake Biwa is huge, although not as big as the Great Lakes of my home in Michigan. It has 146 miles (235 km) of shoreline, with a maximum width of 14 miles (23 km) and maximum length of 40 miles (64 km). It is an ancient lake, scientists estimating 4 million years old. It gets its name from the shape, which resembles a biwa, a traditional Japanese instrument. I think it looks like a loon.
We had a delightful, refreshing day at Omi-Maiko beach. Large black pine trees (Pinus thunbergii) provide shade over the beach consisting of a pebble/sand mix. We found a quiet spot on the long beach. We spent the day snorkeling for “treasure” and found a pair of swim goggles, a fake gold watch among mostly glass, plastic and old fishing lures. We had a home run competition, using rocks and a plastic bat. This time we packed tables and chairs which was much more comfortable than our last visit to the beach.
It was our first time swimming in the lake. We did several snow-hiking and ski trips in the Hira Mountains that overlook Omi-Maiko beach last winter, so it was nice to see them in the summer. An interesting observation about Japanese culture. They do not value waterfront the same as Americans and so the lake is not surrounded by private property, which is nice for a change. We will be heading back to the Kotohiki beach today for one more day of water before the typhoon arrives this weekend.