Family Journal: September 16, 2017


Ocean and Oliver take advantage of free cotton candy! 

We are having a relaxing long weekend at home. Typhoon number 18 (Japan naming system) or typhoon Liam (see below). Autumn in Japan is typhoon season and like Florida and the southeast US, we do get some wild weather during this time. Fortunately, Osaka is in central Japan and usually by the time they get here, the winds are strong but not destructive. We have called off school at least once a year for typhoons due to high winds. They usually come up through the tropics to the north east.



It lightly rained all day so most of my day was driving around Ocean and Nadia as they shopped for items for her upcoming birthday party. Ocean’s favorite store is Daiso, the famous 100-yen shops of Japan. 40% of their products are cheaply made in China, although I think the quality of the products is a bit higher than the dollar stores in the USA. We went to dinner at Tomato & Onion, a family-style restaurant similar to Denny’s or Perkins. The kids love the do-it-yourself cotton candy machine.


Nadia and Ocean at Daiso 


Japan has all sorts of distinctive products that can only be found here. One I discovered this summer are the Gatsby “deodorant body papers”.  They are made by the Mandom Corporation and Gatsby is their line of men’s hair and skin products. The summer and early autumn in Japan is very hot and humid and I sweat profusely here, more so than any place I’ve ever been. The Gatsby wipes are perfect to cool down and wipe away the sweat.


They have different scents, I tried “citrus ice” and the photo above is “ice fruity”. They have another type of wipes for the head and face. I am not sure about the health of wiping chemicals on your skin, but when I am biking or walking to a meeting and sweating profusely, they sure work and cool me down so I am almost presentable.

We’ll see what typhoon #18 brings us on Sunday and Monday…It is not expected to be as harsh as Irma.




Day at the Beach


We had such a relaxing and delightful day at the beach yesterday. Temperatures continue to be in the 80s in Osaka. 白浜 Shirahama (White Sand) Beach is south of the airport near the tip of the Kii peninsula. It is nice to get away from the city for the day. We also made a stop at Costco on the way home, so a double bonus for Nadia.


Sunday Morning Cycle


Not exactly Team US Postal Service

Despite living in a metropolitan area of close to 20 million people, my suburb of Osaka is minutes away from the Minoh National Park and the opportunity to get in the countryside is close at hand. I went on a 50-kilometer ride through the forests, farms and rice paddies with friends Sunday morning. We did the Tamno loop and in the mornings, the roads are popular with cyclists, although not crowded. There are some tough climbs, but once you get over the first major ridge up from the city, the rest of the day is fine.

I am enjoying cycling more and more. It is a great alternative to running as it is easier on the knees, but I still get to move through nature. It is a great way to spend a couple of hours. You can see a bit of the ride in the video below. We crossed the border between the Osaka and Kyoto prefectures several times. My next ride will be all the way to Kameoka, a city on the outskirts of Kyoto.

I would like to thank Steve for organizing the ride and for my friends for waiting for me to catch up!



Camping on the Kanzaki River

Oliver jump

Last weekend we got away from the city and work and headed up to the Kanzaki River in the mountains of Shiga Prefecture for some “shower climbing”. Shower climbing is what the Japanese call canyoning or river hiking. The Kanzaki River starts in the mountains between Lake Biwa and Nagoya Bay. We set up camp on a quiet part of the river and spent two days relaxing and enjoy nature.

August weather in Japan is oppressively hot and humid, so it was such a relief to swim in the cool, clear waters of the river. The water was not as high as in previous times we’ve gone up there, but we enjoyed it just the same. The kids are so much more confident in the water now than they were two years ago. Our two hikes consisted of scrambling over rocks and stopping at water holes to jump from the cliffs and swim. As you can see below, I am not quite as brave as the boys regarding jumping heights.

bill jumping into water

I really enjoyed the camping. Nadia had an air mattress for us in the tent and it was a perfect sleeping temperature. We ate well, with Naoki on the super deluxe Coleman camping stove! Between the views of the white rocks, green trees and blue skies and the refreshing water, it really recharged my spirit. It also reminded me of the importance of wilderness and I plan to take the family out more often this year.


Ollie, Ocean and Sam hop between rocks

It was also nice to pleasant to connect with friends sitting around the campfire.


Home & Family


My family and I have enjoyed a week in my hometown of Caspian, Michigan and getting back in touch with family, friends and my roots in my beloved Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I wish my mom and dad were alive to see their grandchildren and us. Jimmer, Andy and I took a photo in the doorway of our house, the first time all three of us have been together in a long time.

This is the first time we’ve been back in over 5 years and the visit reminded me how beautiful, quiet and remote the region is. For those non-Michiganders reading this post, the state is divided into two peninsulas, with most of almost 10 million people located in the southern, mitten-shaped peninsula. The northern or Upper Peninsula is the size of the states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire combined. The population of the entire peninsula is 303,181. That is a lot of land for few people, which, after living in Osaka, Japan, is a welcome change.

I am concerned with the declining economy and population of the Upper Peninsula, especially the six western counties. The “boom time” for the region was from 1870 to 1920 when iron ore and copper mining were at its peak. It has been a slow decline since then. The 2010 census population of 82,668 is almost 50% less than the peak of 153,674 in 1920 of the six western counties. Overall, the UP has gone from 332,556 in 1920 to an estimated 303,181 in 2016, a 9% decrease. Only the city of Marquette has seen significant increases and has a population of over 20,000 people today. You can really see and feel it in many of the smaller towns, with main streets mostly shuttered buildings or vacant lots and abandoned houses dotting neighborhoods. With not much economic opportunities, young people move to more populated areas of Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Detroit, etc. and do not come back. The death rate is also higher than the birth rate, with many retirees coming back due to the outdoor beauty, scenic outdoors and low cost of living, but not young families coming in. I see a continued slow, steady decline in the short and long term future. A few small towns will be fine. Marquette, Sault Ste. Marie and Houghton will thrive due to universities and hospitals being located in them. Menominee will also be OK due to its proximity to Green Bay, Wisconsin and the Fox River Valley.

However, I am still optimistic about the Upper Peninsula. Because there are so many forests, lakes and snow to support outdoor activities, tourism will grow. I also think that technology will keep getting better and allow people to be more flexible in where they live. Although there are places with more dramatic wilderness areas in the American west, the outdoors of UP is just as refreshing to the soul for me and I guess many others. I am concerned about the role of climate change. What will the great lakes and the many smaller lakes and rivers become with increased temperatures?

I am glad to have been born and raised in a place so distant from major metropolitan areas. Thinking back to the pre-internet and pre-cable television area, it was even more distant culturally, from the rest of the USA. Hopefully, I will always maintain a connection to the Upper Peninsula.






Porcupine State Park

My brother Jim and I and our children with the Lake of the Clouds in the background.

The Porcupine State Park, with 93 square miles of protected forests, small mountains and a big piece of Lake Superior lake shore is one of the nicest places in the Upper Peninsula (UP). We spent the afternoon and early evening exploring the park and had a delightful day. It was a bit sad to drive through Ontonagon, White Pine, Bruce Crossing and other small towns to see how the area is economically depressed and depopulating. With so much scenic beauty, I am surprised that there are not enough ways to make a living in this part of the UP. However, for those people who do get up there, they have the place to themselves and after living in Japan and spending summers on the east coast of the USA, it is nice to have so much quiet and room to breathe.

Ocean does her best Matthew Stafford impression.

After a few bouts of rainstorms on the drive up near Lake Gogebic, the skies cleared as we parked the car just inside the park border for an afternoon swim. The water was clear and relatively warm and the long beach almost empty. We tossed around the football and buried Owen in the sand. It was so nice even Nadia got in. She only does the turquoise, sandy bottom warm water if it is not a pool, so it must have been good conditions.

Hike to Lake of the Clouds

We followed that with a hike down to the Lake of the Clouds. The mosquitoes were formidable, but it was a pleasing walk down to the lake through some old growth forests. The porcupine mountain state park protects a pretty large forest of old growth trees, especially the hemlock-maple type forest. Absolutely beautiful! I think on our next visit we’ll spend the night and maybe do a Porcupine / Apostle Islands / Duluth – Lake Superior Super Tour!

We finished the day by hitting the buffet at the Lac Vieux Desert Casino on the Ojibwa Indian reservation just north of Watersmeet.


Visit to Marquette, Michigan

We drove 90 minutes up to one of my favorite places on the planet, Marquette, Michigan. We wanted to see Lake Superior and to also talk to the admissions office of Northern Michigan University to check out in-state versus out-of-state status of our family. With Owen starting high school next year, we are already looking at universities and with the world to choose from, we need to consider the possibilities starting now.


I love Marquette because of its progressive culture and intellectual might of a university, while still being in the rural Upper Peninsula. Lake Superior, the pine forests and fresh air are absolutely refreshing to one’s spirit and it is a very peaceful lifestyle. The one drawback is the cold weather, but with lots of snow due to western winds coming off Lake Superior, it is ideal for cross-country skiing. I find the people of Marquette not as friendly as other towns of the UP, it might be because it is the unofficial capital of the UP, although it only has around 20,000 inhabitants.


The gale force winds created huge waves on Lake Superior which made swimming a lot more exciting. The water was warmer than the air. The video on the top of this post shows the Kralovecs swimming and the lifeguards in blankets. We hiked to the top of Sugarloaf to take in the views. Stunning! We also toured Northern Michigan University, including running in the Superior (Yooper) Dome, the largest wooden structure in the world. All in all another fun day in the UP!

Boys sprinting at Superior Dome