Tachi Nomi – The Japanese Standing Bar

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A classic Tachinomi near the Osaka train station

Every year we take the new teachers to a traditional “tachi” – stand “nomi” – drink or in English, Standing Bar. Standing Bars are unsophisticated, cheap places aimed at salarymen on their way home after work. They are usually located near train stations and offer simple cold beer, sake, ume (plum wine)  and the Japanese version of bar food, izakaya, or deep-fried meats and seafood with edamame. 

I took the photo above of a standing bar near Osaka train station. You come in and find a table and in this one, a boss lady takes your order, making you order food with your drinks. As you can see, the decor is spartan, although I saw this retro beer sign that I would have loved to have in university in my apartment or if I had a bar in my home, it would be a great conversational piece.

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Asahi Beer Promotional Poster

As you can see in the photo standing bars have a predominately male clientele, although there were a couple of women and even a mother with her baby in a stroller when we first arrived. I do feel that men here spend too much time at work or socializing with their colleagues after work and not enough time with their families, however, it is nice occasionally to check these places out. They only open from around 5:00 PM and close early in the evening.

 

 

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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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!

Latest Reading: The Big Seven by Jim Harrison

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Harrison hunting in Montana (courtesy of the New York Times)

Jim Harrison is one of my favorite authors, partly because many of his novels are set in my birthplace of the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan. The UP is a sparsely populated area the size of Maryland that forms the southern shore of Lake Superior. It is in my mind, a distinctive place in homogenized suburban America and has a culture of its own. He is from the northern part of lower Michigan and a graduate of Michigan State University. He is most known for the novella that became a movie, Legends of the Fall.

The Big Seven is one of his last books, written in 2015, a year before he died of a heart attack. It is not one of his best, but it was an enjoyable read. He goes back to a recurring character, Detective Sunderson, a retired state policeman and the detective that lives in Marquette, Michigan. It is a crime novel dealing with a violent, poor family living in the western Upper Peninsula. I love his references to life in the UP, like pasties, and his description of the people, places and lifestyle there. You can tell he knows the area. The detective story is a page turner, not for the crimes itself, but for what was going on with Sunderson.

I do have problems with the book. The main character Sunderson is in his late sixties, eats too much and drinks a lot, but is picking up women constantly. I just don’t believe so many beautiful young women are into retired, out-of-shape, alcoholics. He also constantly describes Sunderson’s drinking habits. Some of it felt like filler and a good editor would have helped him.

The title comes from the Seven Deadly Sins. Sunderson is trying to write an essay or novel on his “eighth sin” of violence but is slowed by his drinking and laziness.

Jim Harrison was a literary figure like one of my favorite authors when I was young, Ernest Hemmingway. An adventurer with a zest for the good life whose writing set in places like the American west and northern Michigan. The book made me consider going back to Hemmingway now as a middle-aged man to see how my perceptions of his writing have changed in the last 25 years.

 

Miyajima: UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site

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Nadia on the Shishiwa Overlook

The Itsukushima shrine on Miyajima Island is one of 18 United Nations Cultural Heritage sites in Japan. The Shinto shrine has an unusual Torii (gate) in the tidal bay that draws hundreds of tourists daily. Besides the gate and temple, the island is dramatically beautiful with sharply rising green hills and rocky outcrops. There are also breathtaking views of the islands of the Seto Inland Sea. After the Atomic Bomb Dome / Peace Park, it is the attraction to see in Hiroshima.

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Oliver giving his best “Blue Steel”

It was a super hot day with temperatures close to 100 F. In my previous visits, we usually hike to the summit of Mount Misen, the highest point on the island, but instead took the cable car up to the top. The views did not disappoint, but we were ready to cool down after walking around at the top station.

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Ocean under the Torii as the tide is going out

We stopped for ice cold Summer I.P.A. on tap at the Miyajima Brewery and they really hit the spot. Before leaving the island, we had to try the Hiroshima-style okonomiyakiThe four-hour drive back to Osaka went well. We recovered this weekend. It has been nice to have my uncle visit in this last week of summer holidays.

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Miyajima Brewery 

Japanese Whisky

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Nadia & Jack sample some of Suntory’s best whiskeys

I am not a big drinker but I do love the science behind fermentation and distillation. We visited the Suntory Yamazaki Whisky distillery in Kyoto on Wednesday. I recommend the tasting tour if you enjoy whiskey. Note that in Scotland and Japan, whisky is spelled without an “e” and in Ireland and America, we add the “e”.

Whiskey comes from barley and after fermentation and distillation, it is a clear liquid. The distinctive color of whiskey comes from tannins in the storage barrels. The longer it stays in the barrel, the darker the color. Turning barley, water and yeast into whiskey only take a week, but aging in barrels can take up to 30 years.

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whiskey library

The elusive Yamazaki 18 Whisky was not available for sale. It is the crown jewel whiskey in the Suntory range of whiskeys. We hope to find a bottle for my uncle someday.

I particularly liked the whiskey library on the premises. The researchers at the distillery try different methods and blends to come up with better tasting products. They also sample other whiskeys from around the world. Visitors can buy these test whiskeys and they come in really cool bottles.

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Babe Ruth visited the brewery in 1931

After lunch in a restaurant near the distillery, we went to a sake museum in Kyoto. After navigating the narrow streets of the city, we eventually arrived at the museum. Sake takes more processing than beer and wine and there were informative displays going through each step. The highlight was a sign that commemorated Babe Ruth’s visit to the brewery.

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Visit to Hiroshima

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Jack & I with the kids in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome

Hiroshima is one of my favorite cities in Japan. It is the perfect size for a city, about 1 million people. Osaka, the city I live in, is a bit too big, but our suburb of Minoh is really nice. Hiroshima also is beautiful, surrounded by mountains and it has wider streets than most Japanese cities. This is my fourth visit to the city, twice for school business and twice with my family. Because of the history here, the beauty and the proximity to Osaka, it is an easy place to take guests and give them a taste of a different part of Japan. My uncle is visiting this week, our last of summer holidays, so we took drove the 4 hours from Osaka to Hiroshima this morning.

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Flowers to mark the anniversary August 6, 1945 

71 years ago Monday, US forces dropped “Little Boy” above what is now the Peace Memorial Park. Going through the museum is always emotional for me. Reading the stories and seeing the photos of the children killed by the blast is tough, especially as a father. Not only the 140,000 people dead is a tragedy, but the families of the 140,000 that survived. As I’ve written in the past, every world leader should come and visit the memorial. Hopefully, it will make them consider more the human toll behind ordering bombings. Today is the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, a city I hope to visit before leaving Japan and one that does not get recognized enough for what it suffered.

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It was so pleasant in the late afternoon sitting along the Motoyasu River that we spent several hours, just watching the river under the trees. That is one good thing to come from the nuclear bomb, a beautiful green park in the center of the city. Our relaxation came to an abrupt end when an unnamed member of our family (perhaps my spouse) dropped my iPhone 8+ into the river. Oliver climbed down the embankment and retrieved it in about a foot of water. We learned that the iPhone 8 is water resistant and when dropped in water for under 30 minutes and less than 1 meter, it should be OK, which so far, my phone has been fine.

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We are staying in an Air BnB apartment near the park. Nadia and I went for a drink at a local sports bar and watched the extra innings of the first place Hiroshima Carp against the Chunichi Dragons. The patrons were totally into the game and it was fun to watch the outcome of a replay challenge of a close play at first base.

 

Bike Ride to Minogawa Reservoir

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Minogawa Reservoir

I am absolutely loving cycling through the Minoh Quasi National Park this summer. This morning I completed a 30 kilometer (18 mile) loop through Minoh and Ikeda. The highlight was the beauty of the Minogawa (Minoh River) reservoir. Using Strava, a cycling and running tracking app, you can see exactly how far you rode, your speed and the elevation profile. It feels like the Tour de France. I wish they had this when I was younger!

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It was very hot and humid today with temperatures in the high 90s. On the way back down the mountain, I got some gorgeous views of Ikeda and the Shin Inagawa Bridge.

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View of Ikeda City and the Inagawa River

Cycling is so enjoyable and refreshing for me. I wish I could go every day!