Oliver: Coming Into His Own

 

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Ollie was voted MVP of the tourney on Sunday

 

Oliver is really coming into his own as he approaches his 12th birthday. He is shown above playing for his club soccer team, the International Soccer School of Senri (ISSS). He has been going pretty faithfully all winter and now with spring, he is starting to go to games. I think a big reason he is committed to the team is the camaraderie of his friends on the team. He is like his grandfather, Popa, and loves to socialize with his buddies.

 

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Oliver & Mom at the Grade 5 dance

 

Oliver is shown above with his mother feeling grumpy. He was so excited for the dance, that when we arrived 5 minutes late, he was quite upset. I guess he has been living in Japan so long when being exactly on time is so important. He has some good dance moves. We are looking forward to his birthday this weekend!

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Quirky Japan: Ice Cream & Rikshaws

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A friend bought me an ice cream treat on Monday, called a “Jumbo – Party, Party!” The ice cream sandwich had the cone surrounding vanilla ice cream with hard chocolate in the middle. It conveniently breaks into perfect sections along the ridges, so easy to share with friends. Aptly named, “party, party”! It tasted like the bottom of an ice cream cone but with the perfect amount of ice cream inside. Food choices are always surprising in Japan.

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I ride my bicycle a lot here and often see the sign in the photo above. There are many overpasses in Osaka and according to the sign, pedestrians, bikes and “rickshaws” are not allowed to use them. I have never seen a rickshaw in Japan except in the rare tourist zone. I wonder why they ban them specifically if people haven’t used them in Japan for decades. Always something interesting here.

 

Yoga, Tokyo

 

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Kwanzan Cherry Tree Blossoms in Kinuta Park 

 

I was in Tokyo for two days of meetings last week and stayed in the neighborhood of Yoga. It is a residential area in the most populous of Tokyo’s 23 wards, Setagaya. There are almost 900,000 people in this southwest section of Tokyo. The hotel was close to the train station. I didn’t really have a lot of time to explore the area, but I did go for a night walk and morning run to nearby Kinuta Park. It used to be a golf course and then landfill, but today it is a beautiful park. I enjoy exploring urban parks. The area between the station and the park has a relaxed feel, despite so many people and the big Tomei Expressway (main highway between Tokyo and Nagoya) running by it. The narrow streets are designed more for pedestrians than cars with plenty of trees and benches to promote meeting people and resting. However, the sound of the highway was ever present.

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Old guy baseball league in Kinuta Park – Tokyo

Everytime I go to Tokyo I see something new. It is the largest city in the world so it makes sense. I go back next month for more meetings.

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Commercial district around Yoga Station – Tokyo

 

Weekly Journal: Spring is Here!

Water trick on Ocean

(video above – Nadia shows Ocean a magic trick)

Between the cherry blossoms and the sun finally coming out, I am feeling rejuvenated after a long (relatively) winter and spring is here! I enjoyed the week and tried to go outside as much as possible. It was rainy and grey until mid-week, but nice and sunny later.

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Nadia and I enjoy a lunch under the cherry blossoms. 

Last night the admissions director and I attended a meishi (business card) exchange sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce of Japan. The Consul General, Allen Greenberg gave a nice welcome speech, emphasizing the strong economy in Japan. The Osaka office issued more business & investor visas for American companies than every US embassy in the world except Tokyo and Hamburg. This is being reflected in our school’s enrollment, which keeps us quite busy. The event was held in the beautiful restaurant Soshuen Garden Place in Kobe. We had first-class treatment in an elegant setting. The neighborhood was the richest I’ve seen in Kansai.

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Spring sushi

On Wednesday I took Ocean and Oliver to our local sushi restaurant. I tried the late winter / early spring seasonal sushi. I tried shira-uo (white or ice fish). They are similar to the smelt of my youth in the Great Lakes region of Michigan. However, they are eaten whole, without cutting off the heads and cleaning the internal organs.

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Doaa and Nadia

We finished the week off with a culture and cooking event at school. Our friends Doaa, from Saudi Arabia and Marwa from Egypt, cooked some of their favorite recipes and talked about life in the Middle East. I discovered the delightful rose water and learned about the logistics behind visiting Mecca. It is nice to hear from open-minded, kind-hearted Muslims, which differs from the stereotypes in the American news. Friday also involved going to Kwansei Gakuin University for a board meeting. I ride my bicycle for the 19 kilometer trip (38 round trip) and this time of year it is absolutely refreshing. It is almost as fast by bicycle as by car because of the numerous traffic lights on the main road, 171.

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Saturday morning walk in our neighborhood

Family Journal: Single Dad – April 8, 2017

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Ocean distributing food to homeless men in Osaka

Last night Ocean and I went to our monthly “night patrol” with the Sannoh Children’s Center. Groups from the center go around the neighborhood where it is located, one of the poorest areas of Osaka. We encountered 10 homeless men and Ocean along with the others, not only brought food, but a human connection. It must be tough to have hundreds of people pass them by and not recognize them as normal people. I thought of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs and glad we were able to get to the middle of the pyramid. The man pictured above waved to us as we passed by him later in the evening on our way back to the home.

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Typical building in the warrens of Dobutsuenmae

I am a single dad this weekend as Nadia is attending a professional development conference in Kobe. It was so good to spend the entire day with the kids yesterday and so much easier as the kids are growing up and pretty much self sufficient. Ocean obsessed with her loose tooth the entire day and it finally came out last night. She asked for 1000 Yen from the tooth fairy. She is such a positive, caring, calm and smart little girl!

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Oliver at his soccer club 

Oliver came with us on a bike ride to the Senri Hanky Hotel which he didn’t like. He is such a character! He makes me laugh out loud as often as he drives me crazy. We are encouraging him to be more active as he has a tendency to play video games and pokemon. He regularly attends the soccer club practices at the school. He plays mostly for the opportunity to hang out with his friends rather than his passion for the game, but I am happy he is up and moving twice a week. I am proud of the progress he is making in becoming a mature young man, although he is still a boy.

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Owen’s volleyball season started yesterday. He hasn’t gone out before, but this year he wanted to try it. He is the star of the “B” team and is enjoying the sport. His team lost 2 of 3 games to Nagoya and beat Canadian Academy in their six games. The highlight was a kick save that went over the net for the winning point in a game versus CA. It was an instinctive play, but it looked like he planned it.

It is another grey day, unfortunately because it is cherry blossom week and with blue skies and sunny weather, they are much more beautiful Let’s hope for some sun this week.

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Being silly on the train

Book Review – The New Tsar: The Rise & Reign of Vladimir Putin

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Russia has always fascinated me in their role as the arch villain in world politics. From my dad’s stories of his concern of the Red Army invading West Germany when he was stationed in Stuttgart in the US army in 1954 to Mr. Carli, my middle school history teacher outlining the Soviets plan to go through Afghanistan to get a warm weather port and take over the world, to me learning of the US victory over the USSR in the 1976 winter Olympic’s hockey finals as I was greeted by my host family in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, for a basketball tourney, my first time leaving the USA. The Olympics were always a battle between the democratic and free west and the oppressive, communist east. The better system determined by who won more medals. They have always been rivals of the West.

Russia should be in the European Union as it is a similar to many EU countries. It is a majority Christian country with a culture that is more western than say Middle East or Asian. However, it has always been an enemy, never a friend.

I finished New York Times former Moscow bureau chief Steven Lee Myer’s book, “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin” over the break. The book was enlightening, not only for going through how Putin became president and now the defacto Tsar of Russia, but for explaining the many events Russia was involved in from their perspective. I had forgotten many incidents like the terrorist attacks by Chechen rebels in the theatre and school, the poisoning of the dissident in London with radioactive polonium, the trial of Pussy Riot, the scene of the oil oligarch Khodorkovsky behind bars in court, the Sochi winter olympics, etc. Lots of crazy, spy novel stuff.

Vladimir Putin got to the top by being loyal to the government and good at his job.  Most people in Russian politics and intelligence were incompetent or corrupt. Of course, being in the right place at the right time also played a huge role and his rise to power is an unbelievable story. He was from a lower middle class family in St. Petersburg. His father was injured in the siege of Leningrad in World War II and his family was traumatized by the “Great Patriotic War”.  He joined the KGB because of a propaganda spy film and rose through the ranks because he was competent although never one of the top spies. With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989, he was promoted to government positions in Moscow. Boris Yeltsin appreciated his work in calming protests and dealing with tricky political situations during his presidency and he eventually was promoted to prime minister, sealing the leadership of Russia for a long time.

Being in power for so long in a country where the majority of people don’t find an authoritarian government as a bad thing, he changed Russia from a chaotic, fledgling democracy to a super corrupt, oppressive oligarchy. I am amazed at what he can get away with, from shutting down opposition newspapers and television stations to taking over businesses, he runs Russia with an iron fist. I liked him going after the oligarchs who enriched themselves with the privatization deals of the 1990s. I saw several similar oligarchs during my 6 years in Belgrade. These are people because of their ties to the socialist government received large businesses almost for nothing when they were privatized. Having so much wealth controlled by so few people is always bad for a society. However, Putin just exchanged oligarchs, having his friends take the place of the former owners. Putin himself does not go for luxury, only having a nice house near Sochi, but he loves running the country. He could never get away with what he does in the west and I see why Bush, Obama, Merkel and others, didn’t get along with him. The Chavez administration in oil-rich Venezuela also acted in a similar way to the Putin regime.

My criticism of the book is that it is about 200 pages too long (the book is 485 pages). Myers goes into great detail about the business deals and political maneuvering that gets monotonous after awhile, especially with the long Russian names. He has an in depth knowledge of Russia.

Russia has a long way to go before it can have stronger ties to Europe and North America. They have a highly undereducated and oppressed population that has a long history of basically being serfs. They are disappointing to me as being the largest Slavic nation, they have not been a leader for uniting Slavic peoples and promoting a higher standard of living and happiness for Eastern Europe. What the Russians did to my ancestors in Poland and in other eastern European and central Asia was horrible.

The book gave me insight into Russia and it makes follow news events in Russia closer. Here is a podcast with the author from 2015. If you want to have a solid understanding of Russia and Putin, I recommend the book.

 

Snow monkeys!

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On our way back home to Osaka yesterday we stopped at the famous Jigokudani onsen (hot springs) to see the “snow monkeys” (Japanese Macaque). I have seen the photos in National Geographic and so it was exhilarating to see it for myself. We had to walk about 3 kilometers to get to the springs, along a trail through a narrow ravine in the foothills outside the small town of Yamanouchi in the Nagano prefecture. They are set up for tourists and I was thinking tourist trap, but the monkeys are so darn cute and with the snow coming down, it really was worth the visit.

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The walk was quite nice through the tall Sugi (Japanese Sugi Pine) trees. The brown trunks and green needles stood out in against a backdrop of white snow. There was not too many people at the baths to ruin the experience. There were several geothermal hot springs spewing out into the river that made the rocky ravine. You could smell sulfur in some areas. The monkeys were not bothered by the crowd and went about their daily lives. There were probably 50-100 monkeys in the area.

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The Japanese Macaque is the northernmost primate in the world and endemic to Japan. It was so strange to see monkeys in snow. They have a tough go in the winter, and the locals feed them, similar to deer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A few were swimming in the warm pools but most were climbing the cliffs and foraging for food under the snow. There is a small hotel near the springs and they were on the roof and climbing on the air conditioners.

In the summer they disperse in the local forests, but in the winter they congregate near the springs. It was definitely worth the visit. Thanks to Amy for organizing the trip!