Quirky Japan: Parking & Taxis

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Japan is the approximately the same size as California, but with three times as many people. Space is an issue in cities of Japan. In my neighborhood of Onoharanishi, which is one of the more expensive suburbs in Osaka where people have more space than the average Japanese dweller, space is still at a premium. This family solved the “we have two cars but only one parking spot” problem. Rotary parking systems are common in cities, especially the big parking garages downtown. They are so much more efficient use of space. I wanted to wait at this house until the owner wanted to drive the silver car to find out how it works. I think you would have to take out the bottom car and then lower the silver car.

Taxis here have automatic doors as you can see in this video. This is a good idea because it prevents people from having to open the door when carrying lots of bags or children. It also prevents damage to the door if clients slam the doors too hard. I also noticed it is only the left side door that opens automatically, which in Japan where people drive on the left side of the road, it is a safety measure. People cannot open the door into the street and must exit the taxi curbside.

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Happy Health and Sports Day!

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One of my favorite holidays in Japan is the national “health and sports” day. It commemorates the opening day of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics . Two years later is was made a national holiday and is celebrated on the second Monday in October. The purpose of the day is to promote an active, healthy lifestyle. What a great idea! Every country should have a day like this. Most businesses are closed and the weather in mid-October is usually really nice which is conducive to doing something active outdoors.

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Schools in Japan hold a sort of sports carnival on this day or a weekend close to it. As you can see in the photos in this post, Ocean and Oliver enjoyed our school’s sports day. They played water polo in the morning and field / athletic events in the afternoon. Owen participated in the middle school events, including winning the obstacle course. The day was marked by dance performances, picnics and music.

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Owen rounds third in a recent baseball game

Thanks to Steve Lewis for the photos of my children being active!

An interesting side note, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were held in October to avoid the rainy season and humid summers that are typical of the islands of Japan. The 2020 Olympics do not do this, starting July 24 and running until August 9.

 

Owen stars in Sabers win

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Owen with some of his teammates

The Senri & Osaka International School’s middle school baseball team defeated Sons of Light IS 3-0 yesterday afternoon in their second game of the day. Earlier they defeated Kansai University International Academy 14-4. They are now 3-0 this season and on top of the Western Japan Athletic Association. Euan L. went the distance, pitching a shutout and Owen had a clutch 2-RBI double in the fourth to break open the pitcher’s duel. Owen played first base in the second game, and pitched for 3 innings in the first game.

The Sons of Light threatened to score twice in the game. In the fifth inning, the first two batters got on base, but then Euan struck out the next two batters and a groundout ended the inning. In the last inning, a runner was put out at third after a perfect throw by right fielder Rintaro.

 

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After a game there are distinctive Japanese practices of showing respect towards others. The video shows the final out and the post-game team bows towards the opponents, coaches and umpires. It is a nice tradition and manner of ending games, reinforcing sportsmanship. American sports should integrate something similar.

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Owen on third base

Quirky Japan: Eating Daggertooth Pike Conger

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Japan has a “foodie” culture and presentation and delicate tastes are very important at restaurants. They also eat everything that comes from the sea including the summertime Kansai (name for the western region of Japan where we live in Osaka) dish, hamo. It is in the foreground in the photo above and served with beefsteak leaf, wasabi paste and either a spicy red sauce or mustard. It was delicious but when I looked up the English name for hamo, I found it was dagger-tooth pike conger (Muraenesox cinereus) a type of eel. It lives on the sandy bottoms of oceans up to 100 meters deep.

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Hamo is best in the summer and I love the seasonality of seafood. Fish are best to eat at certain times of the year and each season brings with it new fish and other creatures to try. I am trying to learn all of the different seasonal fish and also learning how to prepare them. I never grew up eating much seafood, but really like it and I know that it is very healthy for me. One of the starters was the summer noodle, somen, which is in the foreground in the photo below. It is served cold. I had these dishes at Fujiya a restaurant close to the kitaguchi-nishinomiya station.

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People like to socialize and drink over meals in Japan. Restaurants rather than bars and dance clubs are less popular than restaurants. Meals last a long time and are many courses. It must be the Japanese metabolism that keeps people thin here because when they go out, they eat a lot. Below was my kanji lesson for the night. The top part is the kanji for white and the bottom has a portion for bird and go forward, which signifies “white hawk” and it is a type of sake. I would like to learn more about how sake is made and the different types of sake.

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Aging Japan

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This is a common sight in morning parks throughout Japan. Groups of senior citizens perform synchronized stretching exercises. I photographed them yesterday morning during my bike ride in Senri Chuo central park. 1/3 of Japan is age 60+ and 1/4 is 65+ and this reflects a trend in people living longer and young people having less children. If it continues, in 40 years, 2060, 40% of Japan will be over 60 and the population will drop from 128 million in 2010 down to 87 million. A professor at Tohuko University continued the calculations, stating in the year 3776, Japan will be down to 1 remaining child.

In some ways this is good for Japan in that Tokyo, Osaka and other cities are overcrowded. One needs to be selective when going for holidays or excursions during breaks. Traffic and crowds are something always to be aware of. In many ways it is bad however, to have a dearth of young people, especially regarding taxes and pensions. It will force Japan to consider immigration to get more working age people here.

The exercise group is an example of the healthy living here in Japan and why people live long, productive lives. Older people eat a lot of fish and vegetables, don’t eat big portions and do a lot of walking and biking. That compares to the sedentary lifestyles and highly processed unhealthy diets of many Western cultures.

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Taking my mind off Japan’s demographics, we are in the middle of sakura (cherry blossom) season and it is really stunning! There are lots of cherry trees in the city and as you can see, they are shining in color. The culture appreciates this explosion of life and the ephemeral nature of the bloom. Hanami (viewing parties and picnics) are common at this time of year.

Geocaching on the Yodo River

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Sunday afternoon we took the kids down to the Yodo River, one of the big rivers running through Osaka into the bay. There are over 300 geocaches along the shores of the river and people come from all over to see how many they can get in a day. We did a loop around both banks of the river and got a bunch, but not close to 300. The sun was out and despite the cold winds, it was quite pleasant to be outside. The Japanese love baseball and play all year round as you can see by the photo above. I also like to see the large number of bikes at the park. That is one of the reasons the Japanese are so healthy is that they get a lot of exercise, which is a suggestion for Americans to improve their health.

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As I have previously written, geocaching is a great excuse to get outdoors, spend time together as a family and explore new areas. The river banks are for public use in Japan and one finds sports fields, golf courses, bike paths, fishing spots, etc. We are passing over the Nagara bridge, just outside the central business district (photo above)

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Above are the old locks that carried boats between the Okawa and Yodo rivers. Because of dams and levees to prevent flooding, the two rivers had a large difference in elevation. They are no longer used and city officials have turned them into a sort of outdoor museum.

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A highlight for me was crossing this train bridge. The tracks are under construction so no trains are crossing, but Oliver was really frightened to cross, thinking a train would come. There is space on the side and it is safe, so it was a managed risk situation. We made it across with no problems.

Thanks to Josep for driving and Pico and Bernie for helping us find so many geocaches!

 

 

Viewing the White Egret

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On the way home from Tottori we stopped at the famous Himeji Castle in the Hyogo prefecture. It is an UNESCO world heritage site and the finest example of the classic Japanese feudal period architecture. We arrived too late in the day to enter, but we did admire it from the substantial grounds surrounding it. It is called the “white heron” or “white egret” because with the roof gables give it the appearance of the white bird taking off in flight.

Castles are always funny to me in that people don’t realize all the awful things that took place on the site. They are usually the sites of great battles where men died and if the raid successful, the women and children enslaved. Because it happened so long ago however, people look at them for the architecture and history, but not the tragic human story. Himeji is no exception to this rule and since it was originally built in the 1300s, probably many people died fighting for control of the castle and the town. It is built on a hill and dominates the city.

It is remarkable that it is still standing. During World War II, a bomb landed on the roof but failed to detonate, meanwhile the entire city was destroyed by the allies. It survived the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995, while once again, many buildings in the city were destroyed. Earlier, it was almost demolished and developed by the locals, but the expense of tearing it down, prevented various parties throughout history from doing so.

I am glad that it remained standing and perhaps if we are in the area, we will return to go inside. We found several geocaches around the castle and despite the rainy night, it was a good time. I want to thank the Tsubaki and Marce families for coming with us!

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