Cycling with Oliver

43701009240_53c36dcb7f_c
Attempting a selfie as we ride through Japan countryside

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!

44792751914_d1952c7916_c

Halloween 2018

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.

31947217368_84bbe64702_b
Oliver was a big hit in the neighborhood

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.

31766354268_6ddd1a83c7_c
Elina, Ocean, Alona and Mako pose as a smack of jellyfish (the technical term for a group of jellyfish)

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.

45588310952_f2048d3260_c
Ocean is trying to get out of our front gate

We finished the night with a dinner party at a friend’s house. The weather was perfect and it was a delightful evening.

Autumn Cycling with Owen

 

43514738000_290704a132_c
Harvesting Rice

Sunday afternoon Owen and I went for a bike ride up in the forested hills north of our suburb of Minoh. I just love cycling and going with my son combined with the scenery, it made for such a pleasurable afternoon. Many of the farmers we passed were harvesting rice, one of the many signs of autumn. Most of the rice fields near us our small and farmers use a harvester that looks like a riding lawnmower. You can smell the rice grains as you are riding by the fields.

 

31456098078_0e4af3a18b_c
Owen rides through the sugi forest

We drove 30 minutes up to the village of Ooiwa and parked at a temple parking lot. We rode 10 kilometers north and turned around. There was a good mix of forests, fields, deep valleys and rolling hills. I want to ride all the way to Kameoka, a city just outside of Kyoto, which is about 40 kilometers away.

31456098658_78a3e1c966_c
Ripe persimmons (kaki) 

 

Sports Day is a National Holiday in Japan

(Oliver runs a leg in the relay race at our school.)

I love sports and being active so thoroughly enjoy the unique Japanese national holiday, Sports Day (undoo kai – field day). The government started field day in 1966 being inspired by hosting the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. They wanted to promote an active lifestyle and chose mid-October when the weather is mostly sunny and cool. It is traditional on this day for schools to host relay races, tug-of-war, and other sports. Students and parents eagerly await the day and it is the biggest crowd of parents we get at any school event, except for perhaps the International Fair.

45150735862_09c978caa1_c
Oliver uses his mass to excel in the tug-of-war

The Japanese students take this very seriously and have extensive practices for the day. Our school does a range of events including ultimate frisbee, dodgeball and even a dance performance. The different grade levels for teams and winning the overall competition is big deal.

43387023080_fdf12310be_c
Owen’s team came second in ultimate frisbee! (Owen is with his friend Josh)

The elementary school students also participate but in non-competitive games. Ocean liked the swimming portion of the day but was not so excited about the field events.

45150731582_cd1f36a775_z

It was an absolutely gorgeous day with bright blue sunny skies, although it got a little hot in the afternoon. It was our last Sports Day in Japan and I tried to get the most of the day.

45150741612_ebe79f7b41_c
Sunset over Minoh – view from the top of Oasis parking garage

 

Hiking with Ocean

Ocean and I had a delightful afternoon hike around the Minogawa Reservoir yesterday. With the boys out of the house with friends and Nadia still not feeling well, it gave me the perfect conditions for an afternoon with my daughter.

44433317694_efdf1b3e32_z
Ocean is not happy about hiking with Dad, but the sandwich was good! 

I had to drag her out, but by the end of the walk, I think she was enjoying it. The hike took about 90 minutes and it was not too strenuous. The weather in October in Osaka is ideal for being outside. It is so nice to have such a large wilderness area on our doorstep. Walking and talking while being surrounded by tall trees and lovely ferns is so very peaceful and recharges my batteries and clears my mind.

30216552277_df73993f77_c
A nice trail goes around the Minogawa Reservoir

I now know where to consistently find Japanese macaques in the park. Once again, they were near the reservoir.

 

Azuba & Roppongi: Upscale Tokyo

31221200658_891a1e2797_z
Grand Hyatt Tokyo 

Every time I visit Tokyo I see something new. Of course, it is the largest metropolitan area in the world so it would make sense that there is a lot to explore. The Japan Council of International Schools meets in different schools every year in Tokyo and it gives me a chance to see different areas.

This week I spent the night in one of the richest and most exclusive residential and shopping districts in the city, Azuba and Roppongi. I was really curious to see the area because the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) is always holding events there. There are many embassies and foreign residences in these suburbs. I arrived late on Monday evening after taking the shinkansen after school. It was an absolutely perfect night for a walk, with a fresh early autumn air and a clear night.

31221206528_7380fdd0aa_c
Japanese Garden juxtaposed with the Roppongi Hills Shopping Complex

I was staying in a small business hotel in Azabu and walked over to the Grand Hyatt Tokyo Roppongi Hills. There are hundreds of designer boutiques, high-end shopping stores, restaurants, etc. The mall is beautifully designed with gardens, nice views to the city, etc.

31221205038_3568efd359_z
Asahi TV studios are also in the complex

I have been to Tokyo many times and the city still fascinates me. I didn’t have a lot of time to see the area because of work, but I did get to feel the swanky luxury of one of the most exclusive areas in the city.

Farewell to Summer (Part I) – Summer Sonic 2018!

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.

43486072805_74f8e95462_c

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
Keeping Cool

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.

 

 

43676917584_4a43f394ae_z2
Ocean and her BFF, Alona enjoy Alessia Cara

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.

43486074455_8b8cb90ca1_z
In the civilized section of the stadium! 

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!