Awaji Island

ocean in pine trees

I wanted to get out of town for the day so we rented a car and headed to Awaji Island. It is the largest island in the “inland sea”, the water between the main islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu and it is a short cut between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. Awaji forms the east side of Osaka Bay and it was only about a 2-hour drive to Keino Matsubara (black pine) beach, our first destination.

Beach season does not begin in Japan until June, so there were very few people. The water was nice and the kids enjoyed skipping rocks and catching moon jellyfish. The beach gets its name from the huge stand of black pine trees which house a camping area. The pines are beautiful and always remind me of the white pine stands next to Lake Superior in my home state of Michigan.


200 yen a bag for the famous Awaji onions


We bought several bags of onions on a roadside stop. Awaji is known for its onions and there were numerous farms, interspersed with forested hills. Bicycle companies promote it as an ideal150-kilometerr circumnavigation ride, which I would like to do someday. The Naruto whirlpools were a disappointment, reeking of “tourist trap”, but there were nice views


Onaruto Bridge over Naruto Strait


The Naruto whirlpools were a disappointment, reeking of “tourist trap”, but there were nice views of the bridge and the strait. The sea level differences between the Pacific and Seto inland sea cause strong currents under the bridge. At certain times whirlpools form, but when we visited in the late afternoon, there were just lots of currents, but no whirlpools.

It is a perfect weekend get-away and I found the day relaxing. Owen stayed home because he is battling a bad cold. He also was tired from a volleyball tourney which I will blog about later this week.


Oliver’s PYP Exhibition

oliver, senna, sun ho speech

The culmination of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IB PYP) is the grade 5 exhibition. It is a good “rite of passage” for elementary students as they complete elementary school and move into middle school. The exhibition is a deep-dive into a topic. This year’s central idea is migration is caused by push and pull factors. Oliver researched African immigrants trying to get into Libya. He focused on dictators and bad government as “push factors”.


Congratulations to Oliver for finishing up grade 5 and becoming a middle schooler.

My Day in the Heart of Tokyo

View to Tokyo Station from Sapia Tower


Last Monday I hosted a meeting of the Japan Council of International Schools. The officers and committee chairs needed a place to meet so I offered Kwansei Gakuin University’s Tokyo office as a venue. I forgot how centrally located the office is, just steps away from the doors of Japan Railway’s Tokyo station. It is on the 10th floor of the Sapia Tower and is probably one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world. Our view looked over the station and the area around it.


A part of my quirky Japan series, I had to purchase a Japanese “egg McMuffin” or at least the convenience store version of it. The egg and sausage are wrapped in a layer of rice and seaweed. So Japanese! It gave me the energy to prepare the office for the meetings.

The Nozomi (hope) shinkansen to Tokyo


After the meetings, I wanted to get some exercise before heading back to Osaka on the shinkansen, or bullet train. Amazing that I can travel to and from Tokyo for the day with a comfortable commute of a little over 2 hours each way. By car, the trip would take 5-6 hours. Anyway, just blocks away from the station is the Emperor’s palace. It is a massive green space in the heart of Tokyo. I combined a loop around the palace with a side run around Hibiya Park to have a 10km run. It was cool and cloudy, perfect running conditions. The endless green lawns, manicured trees and ponds and just space is so rare in Japanese cities.


On my way out of the building and a final check to make sure the meeting room was clean, I thought about how far I have come since my childhood. Spending the day in a high rise in the largest city in the world is so different from growing up in the village of Caspian, Michigan, my hometown. Over 25 years working abroad has given me an appreciation for large cities, but, both the village and metropolis are special to me.

Swans in a pool near the center of Tokyo


Golden Week

race - owen, dad, spencer

We have a 5-day weekend due to Japan national holidays. They string together the anniversary of the constitution, nature day and children’s day and name it “golden week”. Our family is not going anywhere for the holiday, but relaxing at home and spending time together. I am finishing a couple of papers as it is exam week at Lehigh University where I am working towards my doctorate degree.

Yesterday we played a stirring game of baseball and even Nadia joined us. After the game, we challenged each other to sprints. Both Nadia and I are sore today, we need to get to the track more to work out.

After finishing a big paper this morning and “invigilating” IB exams, I went for a 20-kilometer bike ride up to Katsuo-ji, a temple in the Minoh national forest. The Japanese call this season “new-green” which gets its name from the spring growth of trees. The new leaves are a brighter green and combined with the blue skies and cool breezes, it is the absolutely perfect weather!


View to the city from the hills of Minoh national forest

I love riding my bicycle in Japan. Although it is always a risk, drivers here are very safety conscious and respectful to pedestrians and bicyclists, so it is much easier to get out and go! Almost all school children and many adults ride bikes daily to work or shopping and running errands that cars are used to watching out for them.


The “new green” season in May 

It is so nice to have time to reconnect with my children and wife! I am loving this break and feeling recharged for the “stretch run” of school.




Owen Excels at World Scholar’s Cup


Owen won several medals and team trophies at last weekend’s World Scholar’s Cup. He had his highest score in the debate. Fortunately, he was with two experienced teammates and his team of three won the junior division.


The World Scholar’s Cup is fantastic for young people as it puts academic achievement on the same level as sports. The founders of WSC find interesting topics for the kids to learn more about. They are also “hip” and between the music and schtick (stuffed alpacas, jokes) kids are super engaged in the challenge rounds which are like knowledge bowls. There is also an essay contest. My favorite is the debate competition. The resolutions for the senior category this year were “Japan should land a manned mission on Mars” and “it should be legal to bring back people from the dead”. These kinds of questions force students to form logical and evidence-based arguments and develop their public speaking and presentation skills. These types of skills are really needed here in Asia especially. Owen will not be going to the Global Round in Hanoi this year, although he qualified, but depending on his work ethic, we hope to send him to next year’s round. You can watch his debate on YouTube. He is so far ahead of me if I compare him to my grade 8 self…




Beautiful Ocean


We took this selfie after baseball practice today. I am coaching elementary baseball and Ocean is the only girl on the team. She doesn’t have a great passion for the sport, but she wants to support me so she comes out for the team. She was disappointed that her ground-rule double was not a home run. Ocean is athletic and is just as good as many of the boys!


She went strawberry picking with her friends last weekend. I love the photo of her. I can’t write enough how lovely and kind she is! Some of her best friends are pictured below


The azaleias are in full bloom in our garden. Beauty is all around this spring.



Oliver: Coming Into His Own


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.


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!