I am catching up on blogging this weekend and will try to post some recent events in the life of our family. It was with a bit of sadness that we attended our last elementary dance last month. Our daughter Ocean is the last of our children to finish elementary school and both Nadia and I can’t believe that we are through this phase in our lives. The grade 4/5 parent-student dance is a much anticipated event for our children. Ocean and her friends were so excited to dress up and attend the event.
School dances are a foreign concept in Japan. It is not in the culture for schools to hold dances like in international and American schools. Some of the local families are still getting used to the concept. You can really see the maturity differences between boys and girls at this event. The girls are much more poised and social, while the boys do not have a clue.
We made the best of it and Nadia and I danced, although I was the only dad to get out onto the floor. Ocean had so much fun dancing with her friends. They are such a friendly group of girls. It is that time of year and we are looking forward to all of the end-of-year school events.
Yesterday our family visited the Maishima Incineration Plant located near the port of Osaka. Japan is the world leader in burning garbage to produce electricity. Land is precious in this crowded island nation, and landfills are not a good option.
The plant deals with garbage in three ways. Most waste is burned at extremely hot temperatures. The heat is converted to electricity through steam and turbines. Most of the electricity goes to power the plant itself, but the excess electricity is sold back to the municipal electrical grid. The leftover ash is used in land reclamation projects or converted to bricks to pave roads and sidewalks. Japan and in many other countries in Asia, artificial islands are quite common near the coasts of cities. In fact, the main international airport, Kansai International Airport (KIX) is an artificial island.
Large items, such as furniture, bicycles, etc. goes through a different process. The recyclable metals, iron and aluminum are converted to pellets and sent to recycling plants. The leftovers are either crushed into small blocks or burned. The 15 cm – 40 cm blocks are used with ash in land reclamation projects.
Incineration plants started in the 1990s and were found to emit toxins into the environment. Today, much of the plants are devoted to cleaning by-products before they are released.
Incineration plants are common in Japan. The Maishima plant is one of six in the Osaka metropolitan area. It handles around 900 tonnes of waste per day. The guide estimated that Osaka disposes approximately 36,000 tonnes per day. With a growing world population living at a higher standard of living than ever before, protecting the planet is an increased concern of mine. I am worried about climate change and the quality of life on earth being lessened by our wasteful lifestyles. I agree it is good to burn garbage instead of just burying it, but it would be better to reduce the amount of waste generated in our lives.
On a small level, I have been tracking the waste generation of our family. We recycle glass, metal and paper through the excellent Minoh city recycling program. I’ve started to compost our vegetable matter at school. This has reduced our waste significantly. However, a big problem is packaging. The amount of plastic used to protect, transport and display products is crazy. As a consumer, it is impossible to escape!
What make the Maishima unique is the architecture of the plant. City officials commissions the Austrian/New Zealand artist and architect, Friednesreich Hundertwasser to improve the facade of the plant. Hundertwasser was a fascinating artist and a man ahead of his time. His mother was Jewish and father German, and he escaped death by hidingbill his maternal origins. He became quite a famous architect and applied artist after World War II. Hundertwasser detested straight lines and the grey monotony of city buildings. He was also one of the first architects to incorporate nature in his buildings and believed that planting trees in cities, helped well-being. We visited his famous apartment block in Vienna years ago. Hundertwasser was married to a Japanese women in the 1960s which may be the connection to Japan.
Compared to most of the boring, industrial design of buildings in Japan, I am happy that they invested in making it beautiful. It was uplifting to walk around the roof top garden and it has become of tourist destination and raised awareness of sustainability. Hundertwasser thought the project brought “technology, ecology and art in harmony” and I have to agree!
Ocean’s grade 5 class performed in a concert on Friday as part of the Osaka International School music program. I put together this video and included a couple of visual art pieces of Ocean also. She really excels in both the performing and visual arts. It was a bit sad that this is the last year of elementary for her and for us as a family as our children grow. Next year we will have two middle schoolers and one high school and none in the elementary for the first time since 2005. A long time…
One of the nice aspects of working at a school that your children attend is the opportunity to see them occasionally throughout the day. I caught Owen on video this week, hurrying to make it to homeroom on time in the morning. He is in full growth mode and struggles with his sleep patterns, staying up late and fighting to get out of bed in the mornings.
I’ve been trying to get out into nature every Sunday to recharge my batteries. Two weekends ago, I rode with Oliver on a loop outside of the town of Kameoka in the Kyoto prefecture. We drove 30 minutes to the town of Toyono and did a 25-kilometer loop along forested rolling hills and rice paddies. An absolutely heavenly afternoon for me, and despite his complaints through much of the ride, in the end, Oliver enjoyed it too!
There are so many great cycling routes in Japan. Drivers are very safe and much of the countryside is depopulating rapidly which makes for really good cycling. I love riding and hope to do as much as I can over the next 8 months I am here.
Oliver and I found a really nice spot for lunch. In between rice fields, a small shinto shrine was nestled between hills. The large sugi trees which are a characteristic of any temple or shrine provided shade and a quiet place to eat and talk.
There were some decent slopes and Oliver complained going up them, but towards the end of the loop back to our car, we had a very long descent through the forest that he loved. We saw many downed trees from the recent typhoon that came through here last month. Oliver doesn’t like cycling too much, but he was nice to humor me and come along.
A perfect afternoon that I wish could have lasted forever!
Halloween is widely celebrated in Japan. One sees all sorts of Halloween-related products for sale and people dress up. The modern customs of trick-or-treating and costumes are one of the gifts America has given to the world. Everyone enjoys dressing up, focusing on being scared and walking around collecting candy.
Our neighborhood, Onohara, annually organizes a Halloween festival. There are booths run by high school students at the school and families volunteer to open their homes to trick-or-treating, which is not regularly practiced here. Japanese culture is super organized and so families had to sign up their children in August. Participants are given tickets and a map to where the homes are located. It costs money to join and the neighborhood association gives candy to the homes. We supplemented our candy supply with American candy from Costco. We decorated the steps and entryway to our house and played Halloween-themed music. Many of the neighborhood children did not know trick-or-treating etiquette and had limited English so we did our best to explain to them how it works. The international school students, especially the elementary students loved seeing “Ms. Nadia” passing out candy. So many of the children were very cute and it was pleasurable to see their excitement.
Oliver dressed up as a dinosaur. We bought a blow-up costume that was hilarious and a hit with everyone. We didn’t manage to save any of the photos, however, due to storage issues on our phones. I hope to get one.
Ocean and three of her friends used umbrellas, lights and colored streamers to dress as jellyfish, which is very appropriate for seafood-loving Japan. They were massively popular with other trick-or-treaters and posed for many photos.
We finished the night with a dinner party at a friend’s house. The weather was perfect and it was a delightful evening.