The Beauty of the Tango Peninsula

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Kotohiki Beach, Kyoto Prefecture

Although it is not promoted with international tourists, the Tango Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in Japan. It juts out like a thumb into the Sea of Japan. It is 146 kilometers by car (2-hour drive) from our suburb of Minoh. We spent an idyllic summer day at Kotohiki Beach on Saturday. With some beaches in Japan, especially during the “swim season” it can get crowded, but Kotohiki had relatively little people and lots of golden sand and turquoise water for everyone to enjoy. We rented a tent, brought the cooler, blanket and books and had a delightful afternoon of swimming, playing Uno, snacking and exploring the tidal pools formed on some of the rocky sections of the shore. As you can see by the pictures, it compares favorably to any beach I have been to.

 

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Lots of dramatic views along the highway 178

I love spending the day outdoors. Being close to nature recharges my soul and being able to share the experience with my family is pure bliss for me. It took some nudging to get the kids out of the house in the morning of course, but as usual, once they are there they have a great day.

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Camp Kralovec

We are experiencing a heat wave with temperatures in the 90s daily and humidity over 50%. I love the hot weather and am not really bothered by it. I feel worse in the winter in cold weather. I love summer!

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My Fervour for Cycling

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Terraced rice paddies in Toyono, Osaka 

My favorite aspect of living in Japan is being able to road cycle relatively safely. Because there are a lot of pedestrians and cyclists, they have the right-of-way, which is opposite in my home country of the USA  where cars rule. I think it is part of the reason people are healthier here than in the USA because everyone walks and rides to do their daily errands. I think it was a mistake for American society to make the car “king” and make it almost impossible in many places, to walk or ride to get your daily activities. Things such as zoning laws, lack of bike lanes and sidewalks, low-density housing, etc. have all contributed to this. These topics have been addressed by many before and there is some progress, but America has a long way to go to reach a level citizens being able to move daily for health and reduction of reliance on fossil fuels.

I have a long glorious summer to cycle every day and I absolutely love it. It is pure pleasure to ride up and down the rolling hills in the northern Osaka and Kyoto prefectures just outside of our suburb of Minoh. I feel myself getting stronger.

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View from the Osaka Hokusetsu Cemetery 

Watching the Tour de France also helps get me motivated to get out daily. Using a VPN, we are able to watch the SBS (Special Broadcasting System) coverage. SBS is similar to National Public Radio in the USA except that it is specifically geared to multiculturalism. Their sports programming included the World Cup and Tour de France.

There are risks to cycling and I try to be as safe as possible. I try to obey traffic signals, am cautious around intersections and high-traffic areas. I also go much slower than I possibly could downhill and always wear a helmet. Cycling has prolonged by exercise by giving my knees a break. My knees have a lot of running miles on them as I have been active in distance running since my early teens. I can only now run a couple of times a week and cycling has taken the place of running.

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Sugi (Cryptomeria japonica) trees line many of the roads in northern Osaka Prefecture

I ride a Merida road cycle which was a hand-me-down from a departed faculty member. He left it and it sat unused in the parking lot until I took it into a shop to refurbish it and get it road worthy. It may be time to buy a proper cycle with biking shoes and pedals. I am still resisting wearing Lycra shorts and top and going all in on the gear and equipment, but I see the appeal. I read some articles about the MAMIL (Middle-Aged Man in Lycra).

The other part of cycling I like is the stress relief it gives me. Going for a ride first thing in the morning or after a day at school is such an uplifting mood-boosting activity.  The camaraderie with friends is also  great. Kids are back from running with mom. I’ll blog a bit more about cycling later this summer.

 

Naoshima: The Island of Art

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Ocean and Nadia allowing Naoshima’s charms to work on them – Gotanji Beach

Naoshima is an example of the power of the arts to transform a community. It helped to have an art-loving billionaire invest in the island. His vision is reviving this small island.

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Kusuma’s red pumpkin greets visitors at the port on Naoshima. 

Soichiro Fukutake is the son of the founder of Benesse, a huge publishing and education company headquartered in Okayama, a city 2 and 1/2 hours’ drive from Osaka. His father, Tetsuhiko, used to lead summer camps on a small island (3 miles square) just off the coast of Okayama called Naoshima. Soichiro had fond childhood memories of the island and wanted to help revive the economy. Naoshima is one of the thousands of islands in the Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海) the 400 kilometer part of the Pacific Ocean between the main Japanese islands of Honshu and Shikoku and Kyushu (see map below). It is an important shipping route and more importantly for me, it looks and feels like the Mediterranean. We visited the island of Miyajima, just off the coast from Hiroshima this past Christmas.

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Naoshima’s fishing industry was dying and young people were leaving for economic opportunities on the mainland. Fukutake decided to build several contemporary art and architecture museums on the island and commission works all around the island. The Chichu Art Museum displays 5 original works from Monet’s series “Water Lillies”. When sold at art auctions, they go for $15-20 million dollars each! Publishing and education are big industries in Japan, a society that values education where families pay billions for out-of-school classes in language, mathematics, test preparation, etc.

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Oliver on Gotanji Beach at sunset

There were some powerful pieces in the museums. I best liked the Benesse House Museum with the large art/architecture works. “Spirit of the Sky” was super cool and we spent a lot of time just looking up at the sky. I am ambivalent towards contemporary art. Some of the works inspire me and recharge my soul, but others, like Lee Ufan’s minimalist “Mono-ha” style, which consists of huge canvases with a single stroke of a paintbrush, felt like a practical joke on the patrons, paying 1,060 yen to enter the museum devoted to his work.

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Nadia and Ocean contemplating the changing sky “Spirit of the Sky”

For example, Yayoi Kusuma’s pumpkin at Gotanji Swimming Beach brings hundreds of tourists to photograph. It turned a regular pleasant beach into something special, with just that addition of one, large yellow polka-dotted pumpkin at the end of a pier.

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Root beer! Shioya Diner

In between viewing art, we swam at the beach, ate some good meals and relaxed at our cute/clean/cozy hostel. I especially recommend the Shioya Diner, with its retro American diner decor and delicious cajun chicken dish.

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Oliver at the top of the Benesse House Museum

I managed to go for a hike one morning to a secluded beach near the fishing pier. I saw a trail on Google Maps and thought there might be some birds. I did get some excellent insects photos, but the birds were the same kinds found in suburban neighborhoods. The tourist commission of Naoshima should develop the trail and clean the beach where it ends. It could be another nice activity to do and promote the preservation of forests on the island. We did not get to see some of the abandoned homes that were transformed into art pieces or see many of the large works spread around the island.

Without Benesse, Naoshima would be just another small town of elderly in rural Japan. Instead, international tourists visit the museums and residents are able to make a living catering to them.I find it interesting when megacorporations invest in the small town of their founders like Walmart or Lego. It does have a relaxed rhythm and is a perfect get-away from Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto city. Because Nadia and Ocean love art so much, we’ll probably go back to visit. I highly recommend staying on the island.

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Yayoi Kusuma – “Yellow Pumpkin” 

Family Journal July 8, 2018: Here Comes the Sun

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Owen & Ren at Wartburg College (IA) Basketball Camp

The rains have finally come to an end and there is glorious sunshine and blue skies today. After almost 4 days of continuous rain, the nicer weather has come. Flooding in many parts of Western Japan caused deaths, evacuations and lots of repairs and cleaning. Our neighborhood was spared except for an embankment of a reservoir as you can see in the photo below. City employees quickly laid the tarp to hold the land and prevent more sliding.

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Yesterday I took care of errands, helping friends and us haul more unwanted items up to the Minoh Clean Recycling Center. They were not charging for dumping until yesterday due to the recent earthquake. I was happy to clear out the garage and back garden.

It felt good to get outside on my bicycle. My friend Ilan and I went 36 kilometers along the Yodo River and through Takatski, 10 kilometers west of Minoh where the epicenter of last month’s earthquake took place. We didn’t see any major damage. In the afternoon I made zucchini lasagna which you can see on my YouTube channel.  In the evening, we took Ocean out for ice cream and suica (watermelon). Oliver spent the afternoon with his friend from school and Owen is still in Iowa, so it was quiet in the house.

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We went for sushi on Saturday evening at the Nigiri Chojiro restaurant in our suburb of Minoh. It is really good sushi and nice atmosphere on a rainy evening.

Today is my last day in the office and I am looking forward to getting a much-needed break from school.

Summer Journal July 6, 2018: Heavy Rains Continue

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A tributary of the Katsuoji River is full of stormwater near our home.

The rain continues for the third consecutive day here in our suburb of Minoh. Heavy rains, ranging from 53 centimeters to 25 centimeters are reported throughout western and southern Japan. As of this morning, 8:56 AM, it is still lightly raining. It is so humid and wet everywhere one goes.

We are receiving fewer emergency alerts on our phones. This being Japan, there is a distinctive ring tone for them. Distinctive tunes are used for all sorts of events in Japan, from the arrival of a train to the station to the automatic doors sliding open at the convenience store to inserting your card into an ATM.

I would like to thank the person who put the earthquake (jishin is the word for earthquake in Japanese) ringtone on YouTube. It is one of the most memorable because like a Pavlovian response, I associate it with the room I am in shaking because of tremors. There is also a good explanation on how the earthquake warning system works. The epicenter of the earthquake of June 18 was only 10 kilometers away, so we received the warning while under the table. I will never forget that sound.

Oliver and I checked out one warning received that a rice irrigation reservoir embankment a couple blocks from our house “may be broken”. You can see the embankment to the far left in the photo below. It is at the top of a hill. Below the hill are rice paddies and further down are homes. It didn’t break and so really not much to see. They probably evacuated the residents of houses directly beneath it to evacuate.

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Matsuzaki Pond embankment and rice paddies

Despite being stuck indoors most of the day, I managed to have some fun. The IB scores were released so I spent part of the day analyzing our results. Oliver and I went to the school library to borrow some books. We visited the doctor for Nadia and I completed the evening going to a local izakaya (informal pub) to watch Uruguay and France World Cup game. It was a mostly boring game with few scoring chances. It will be an all-European semifinal as both Latin American teams lost last night.

 

Family Journal: July 6, 2018 “Rain”

I am trying to get Oliver to cycle more with me. We managed to get a rides completed on July 3 and 4. We did one of my morning routine routes on the cycle path around Exhibition Park 16.0 kilometers in 55 minutes. The next day we followed the Senri River to the Itami Airport and came back through Ibaraki for another loop of 16.3 kilometers and it took us 1 hour and 4 minutes. I had to encourage Oliver to finish the ride by making a quick stop at McDonald’s.

As I am writing this on the morning of July 6, 2018, it has been raining steadily since the night of July 4. All day yesterday and last night, a steady rain, sometimes harder than others has continued. It looks to go all day again today into this evening without stopping. We are being bombarded by heavy rain and “ground-loosening” alerts from the city and some areas of Minoh in the steep slopes of the Minoh National Park and directly below it are being evacuated as a safety precaution. This is shortly after our 7 magnitude earthquake on June 18.

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Screenshot of an alert listing the neighborhoods and blocks to be evacuated

Our neighborhood of Onohara-nishi is far enough away from the mountains and rivers not have to worry about flooding or landslides. Hopefully, I can get out a bit today and take some photos of the water accumulation. Over 150,000 people in Kyoto (143,000) and Osaka (9,700) prefectures were evacuated. Up to 35 centimeters of rain is forecasted for the region.

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Kamo River in Kyoto (photo courtesy of KYODO)

Summer Journal: July 1, 2018

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Owen and Mom walking the main street of Minoh

I am going to try to write more and make more video and audio recordings this summer.

The school year finished with our last day of classes on Friday. A group of teachers celebrated by heading down to the Temma section of downtown Osaka. The Temma (or Temna) district is located just east of Umeda in the center of Osaka. The two landmarks are Ogimachi Park and the JR Temma station. Near the station is a warren of narrow streets, packed with restaurants and bars. It is a really cool area to head down for an evening of laughs with friends. Enjoying conversation and jokes with friends is one of the best things one can do for your health. The Beer Belly serves our local Minoh craft beer on tap. We also went to an izakaya, an informal Japanese-style pub for grilled meats on a stick. A great time was had by all!

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Minoh Recycling Center

Saturday was spent on errands and catching up with things around the house. My friend Art and I took a load of unwanted stuff to the Minoh Recycling Center. They are not charging for the dumping of anything until July 8 due to the recent earthquake. They wouldn’t take our old television however, and I needed to pay 3,400 yen for the local electronics store to recycle it for me. It was good to clean out the garage and I hope to make another trip on Tuesday to help a friend and get rid of some more of our clutter.

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Near the town of Izuhara in the municipality of Ibaraki

I am also closing the school year and doing some final hirings among other assorted tasks. Sunday morning I went for a 19.2 kilometer bike ride up into the Minoh National Park. It was a beautiful morning, but I learned I need to bring more water with me. Japanese summers are known for their humidity and I went through the 800 ml bottle quite quickly. I intend on biking a lot this summer, so need to take out the Camelback water bladders.

Sunday was spent getting Owen ready for his trip to USA. He is spending two weeks in Iowa with a classmate and attending a basketball camp at Wartburg College. We packed his bags and saw him off this morning to the airport.

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Go France! Go Argentina! 

We are loving the World Cup 2018 in the Kralovec household and the betting pool is on! A fantastic game between France and Argentina. The games come on at 11:00 PM now, so it is a commitment and a nap for me to make it! Owen, Oliver and his friend Evan enjoyed watching the BBC coverage of the game.

A quote from last week. Ocean said to me as I was heading out the door to work, “Are you going to do some exciting director things, or will it be the boring stuff like meetings and typing.”