planning for trips

2017-05-15 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Our department at Hokudai gives us 6 months of sabbatical leave exactly once for each professor's tenure. This is considerably less than many other schools (1 year of leave after 6 years of teaching is common). Noriko's and my leave is summer, fall, and winter of this year.

We've been busy planning and paying for our flights. We prefer flights that let us sit together, without having to sit next to somebody else. Reserving a few months before the flight allows us to select the seats we want, and that determines which flight we take.

One of our destinations is Southampton, UK. I am giving a presentation at
EUROCALL-2017, hosted by the University of Southampton.

"I found a cheap ticket!", I thought. The total cost rose from 100 euro to 346 euro (391 US dollars) after adding various costs that are necessary. Still, not too bad.

playing with my camera

2017-05-12 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Upgrading the focusing screen on my digital single-lens reflex camera breathed new life into it. I am excited to use what is now a much easier tool to toy with.

Heavy rains yesterday washed away the pollen and dust in the atmosphere. (Much of the dust blows in from deserts in China.) This morning, sunlight pierced the crisp cool air, and laterally illuminated moist vegetation. I took pictures on my way to work.

Lensbaby lens emphasizes one part of the image by blurring the rest. See that only the trillium in the center is in focus, although the rest are at roughly the same distance from the camera.

The Lensbaby company is headquartered in Portland, Oregon. Maybe they and Professor Clark are enjoying similar weather today.

See how the tree is in focus while the surface of Ohno Pond is blurred. Just showing you the optical characteristics of the lens. Not that my composition is great.


Reflection on water is clear but the surrounding rocks are blurred.

My photographs of architecture are almost always in postcard-perfect focus. The Lensbaby might arguably draw the audience towards a section of the building, such as my office show here.
The blurred images are wildly distorted.

Distortion can stimulate fleeting interest. Here is a night shot of lightfish swimming from the city lights of Sapporo.

my former students

2017-05-11 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- I visited my former students who are now full professors at Hokkai Gakuen University.

Takafumi Utashiro teaches the teaching of Japanese language. I observed his class today. His students impressed me with their enthusiasm.

HIroya Tanaka has a heavy teaching load in English language. His research in and development of vocabulary acquisition tools is helping my graduate student Ivy Lin.

camera focusing screen

2017-05-08 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Finally, after 3 years of procrastinating (actually 2 years and 11 months but equally embarrassing), I replaced the focusing screen on my camera.

Focusing screens are located beneath the pentaprism on single-lens reflex cameras. This photo shows the camera placed upside down, so that the focusing screen (the rectangular frosted sheet of plastic with etched lines) is viewable on the bottom of the photograph.

Some years ago, shortly after purchasing my camera (a
Pentax K5), I replaced the factory-original focusing screen (pictured below) with a rule-of-thirds grid pattern (pictured above).

My new focusing screen is a
Canon screen (model Ec-B, split-image) that was modified by a company in Taiwan. I wanted split-image focusing because I am used to it, my lenses are manual focus, and my camera's autofocus algorithm is slow in displaying its results.

requires dexterity rather than knowledge of tools. The photo below shows the focusing screen removed from its metal frame.

A close-up photograph of my former focusing screen (a Pentax type ML-60) shows that my new screen is roughly on focus.

A split-image focusing screen has a circular area in the center. The circle is split into 2 halves. When an image is in focus, the image appears perfectly through the circle.

The picture below shows the view through my camera's viewfinder. This photo was taken by another camera looking into the viewfinder. Look at the edge of the white book. The 2 semicircles cut through the letters "M" of "COMIX" and "R" of "HARTA".

When the image is out of focus, the image is broken side by side. See how the edge of the white book is shifted horizontally.

With split-image focusing, the focusing technique consists of (a) finding a line or an edge, such as a person's face against a blue sky, and (b) turning the focusing ring on the lens such that the line in (a) is connected.

In the picture below, I focused on the inside (closer to camera) edge of the button on the 2nd (middle) valve of my trumpet. I used a low F number at a relatively close distance to achieve shallow depth-of-field. I am satisfied that my focusing screen is accurate.

Focusing is much faster and easier than before! With manual focus, split-image focus is my favorite!

flowers at hokkaido jingu

2017-05-05 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- For the first time in at least 10 (maybe 13) years we took a few days off during Japan's Golden Week (a string of holidays interspersed with work days).

Sapporo summers are brief. Plums, cherries, magnolias ... all flowers bloom together.




We prayed for peace and health at the Hokkaido Jingu, a Shinto shrine with a checkered past.

The supreme Shinto priest is the emperor. His family crest (a 16-leaf chrysanthemum) adorns the shrine.

I saw for my first time a reproduction of the
Imperial Decree on Education (教育勅語) signed by Emperor Meiji. I have read, heard, and said the decree numerous times.

May 5th is Boys' Day (which is a holiday, unfairly and unlike March 3rd Girls' Day). Carp streamers wish boys well. Chinese mythology says carp, when jumping over waterfalls, transform into dragons. Religion in Japan is a mix of indigenous Shinto, imported Buddhism of various varieties, and some Chinese and Korean mythology and superstition.

otaru ferry terminal

2017-05-04 OTARU, JAPAN -- We walked from Otaru station down the canal to the ferry terminal.

We saw
the ship we traveled on last summer.

Otaru ferry terminal is one of the nicest in the country.

We enjoyed bay views through large windows.

restaurant Seagull serves affordable good food with great views. Alas they are closed between 16:00 and 17:30.

ainu porotokotan

2017-05-03 SHIRAOI, JAPAN -- We visited the Ainu village Porotokotan at the coastal town of Shiraoi.

"Poroto" means "lake, pond", and "kotan" means "village, hamlet". The village is on the east shore of a lake, situated in a marshy area near the coast. It is a beautiful area, which struck my untrained eyes as similar in fauna and flora to the Pacific northwest, where native Americans practiced a similar lifestyle.

Inaw (offering sticks, made by shaving branches) are everywhere, for the gods and goddesses dwell everywhere.

The Ainu (which means "people, human") were hunter-gatherers. They kept a fire burning in their houses to dry the roof and rid the house of insects. As a side benefit, food was preserved by smoking.

The village manufactures, displays, and sells salmon that was prepared using traditional Ainu techniques. Salmon caught in the fall is gutted, salted, dried in the winter air for 2 months, then hung indoors to be cured with smoke.

Ohaw is a clear, salty broth containing as much (or as little) food is available. We were served ohaw with millet rice, shito (starch cakes), pickled roots, and herbal tea. 800 yen.

In one of the larger buildings, people of Ainu heritage performed dances and songs.

The man is wearing a straw ceremonial headdress of an adult male. He holds a reproduced painting of an Ainu adult woman. Note tattoos around her mouth and on the back of her hands and forearm. The Japanese Meiji government prohibited tattoos (and many other practices all over Japan) claiming that traditional body art or hair or clothing would appear primitive, uncivilized, and savage to westerners. Many local people were unconvinced if not downright offended (Isn't it more valuable to appear attractive to your neighbors? How often do you meet westerners anyway?). The government's true motive was in entrenching its authority into the populace by controlling all minutiae of everyday life. I read an account of an Ainu woman who, as a young adult, wanted desperately to be tattooed because she felt she had earned that privilege. The police beat her up.

In 2020 a national museum of Ainu ethnology will open nearby. We should not be misled by government spending. The new museum consists of static displays, not of demonstrations or lectures delivered by people who are breathing and growing the Ainu heritage. The government is compartmentalizing and segregating the Ainu culture, and officially declaring it dead. This is as bad as animalizing the Ainu people, which could be accomplished by creating what is effectively a zoo, where one can view live Ainu in close to their native habitat. Whether one claims that the Ainu no longer exists or that Ainu tradition is carefully preserved, treating culture as a static, unchanging entity relegates it to a fossil, an object of scientific study, but having no rights or privileges.

But the Ainu culture is alive. Discriminated, decimated, debilitated, but alive, and deserving of respect and friendship. The Ainu language and culture can be better appreciated by, for instance, providing Ainu language classes in schools, or by organizing Ainu culture camps where people can stay for a length of time to soak in the material and spiritual culture of the Ainu. Yet even Ainu festivals or rituals are rarely scheduled.

The government cannot revive the Ainu because doing so forces the government to accommodate other minorities, such as the Koreans who were forced to work in Japan. Deep understanding of history damages the government's credibility, for they are the direct descendant of the pre-war establishment. Unlike Germany and Italy, which severed their pre-WW2 political leadership, Japan was allowed to retain Emperor Hirohito. Not executing him for war crimes legitimized his political and military subordinates. "We were following orders. If the emperor is held blameless, then so are we." The Americans made a mistake of acceding to Japan's demands to keep the emperor.

cherry blossoms arrive in sapporo

2017-05-02 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Sakura are here! We walked Oodoori Park in downtown Sapporo to enjoy the cherry blossoms, pansies, tulips, and more flowers.

Beautiful spring afternoon. Still nippy at 12 degrees Celsius. Stove needed morning and evening.

I prefer cherries that bloom before leaves come out.

Kero adds beauty to the flowers.

Can't get enough of them cherry blossoms! They're viewable only several days a year.

The park is getting ready for a brief summer. Hot weather lasts maybe 4 weeks.

kaeruya coffee

2017-04-29 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- We visited Kaeruya Coffee, an intensely froggified coffee store.

The shop is across the street from the
Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, and close to the Governor's Mansion.

The building is narrow, long, single-story, and decorated with hundreds of frogs.

Edamame is the shop mascot. I believe he is the only live frog in the store. He's been around for years! And grown a bit.

Two sisters own and run the store. One loves brewing coffee and baking pastries. The other loves to paint.

Whenever the Museum of Modern Art changes its exhibit, the painter sister creates frog spoofs of the artwork on display.
P1420930 copy

This creation surpasses the original.

Noriko had cheesecake with a mask. One of the large pieces in the traveling exhibition was a restored oil featuring party masks.
P1420949 copy

Noriko bought a wine glass etched with frogs. See him peeking at you from under the water?

tri horn buffalo at d-bop

2017-04-27 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Today was a full day! Business meeting, keroppi shopping, heavy lunch, visit new restaurant ... and then a rock concert at jazz bar D-Bop.

D-Bop is owned by private detective Cozy Matsuura. Cozy is well-connected in the police world, but I understand he was never a police officer. Cozy plays sax, and opened a jazz bar. "D" is for "detective".

Tri Horn Buffalo show was so crowded that my ticket got squished before I could photograph it.

It was rock played with jazzy instruments. I loved how they interacted with the crowd.

Takahiro Miyazaki, the sax player, autographed his EWI (electronic wind instrument) music textbook for me. I own an
Akai EWI-5000 that I have no idea how to play.

izuru opens restaurant

2017-04-27 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- My former trumpet teacher Izuru Konishi retired from his day job as an insurance salesman. He and his wife bought a restaurant. They had a pre-opening party for close friends a week or so ago. Today was their first day open to the general public.

The "Party House Fiesta" is located smack in downtown Sapporo.

I know where it is now, but the first time I came, I got lost for 40 minutes walking within half a block of the place.

Izuru claims the place seats 100.

Big windows overlooking sakura almost in full bloom.

Trumpet art by local artist
Quzan Kuzuoka. Gold foil on canvas.

Quzan formerly taught fine art in middle school. He now paints art, and creates signs and labels for commercial clients.

We toasted Izuru's success.

keroppi shopping spree

2017-04-27 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Noriko went for a Keroppi shopping spree. Way to go!

What do I have in my bag today?

Sweat pants, 2 tote bags, pouch, tissue paper case ...

I got a tumbler for my fuzzy navels!

fuzzy navel

2017-04-26 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- My favorite cocktail these days is "fuzzy navel", a sweet, tangy drink with low alcohol content. I usually order it at parties.

I learned only recently that the recipe is as simple as a whisky and soda. Peachtree (a peach liqueur) and orange juice. That's it!

Approximately 3 to 4 % alcohol by volume.

manga prize shikishi

2017-04-04 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- The monthly manga magazine "Sunday Super" sent me a shikishi picture board featuring 4 female characters appearing in current stories.

A description of the prize on Sunday Super's website.

Big envelope = big smile!

Displayed it on my bookcase.

chris botti concert

2017-03-17 TACOMA, WASHINGTON, USA -- Noriko and I attended our 3rd concert with Chris Botti and his band.

Wonderful entertainment, as always.

He autographed his CD for me! And shook my hand!
Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 13.01.29


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the chocolate frog

2017-03-08 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON, USA -- After my trumpet lessons with John Bringetto in Seal Rock, we like to drive a bit further south to Waldport, where our friends have their Chocolate Frog candy store.

Noriko and l love the store-owners Ken and Leslie. We visit and buy every chance we get.

They make chocolate frogs! The yellow one is a new flavor -- hot pepper!

Frog poop! Puffed wheat, I think, covered in colored candy.

Frog poop goes great with ice cream sundaes!

The Chocolate Frog supports local talent by selling artifacts made by local artists. We installed a cute faceplate for our light switch in our family room.

zach moves to oregon

2017-03-06 DAMASCUS, OREGON, USA -- We visited our friend Zach at his lovely new home located southeast of downtown Portland, Oregon.

When the skies are clear, Mt Hood looms in the east. What a gorgeous view that must be!

Noriko selected mice-themed sake cups. Zach keeps rats as pets.

Friends! Last time we met face-to-face was 10 (gasp!) years ago in Sapporo. Electronic correspondence is nice, but can never beat a hug.


2017-02-24 RYOGOKU, JAPAN -- We took a long walk in the Ryogoku district.

We were drawn irresistibly to
a store claiming to be toadally frogified.

Alas they did not live up to their hype. More baseball paraphernalia than frog-themed items.

But we did have a nice old-fashioned lunch.

We made an unexpected, informative, and somber encounter with the past at the
Kanto earthquake memorial museum. The earthquake itself killed a few thousand. Citizens remained calm because they were used to earthquakes, and quickly decided that the worst was over. In the Ryogoku area, about 50,000 people evacuated their homes that were damaged by the earthquake, and assembled at an army storage depot near the Sumida river. The houses caught fire, causing a firestorm that consumed all oxygen from near the surface of the ground. Evacuees suffocated if they were lucky. The river was covered with scorched bodies of victims who had dived into the water to escape the heat. A similar disaster occurred at the end of World War II, when USA fire-bombed Tokyo.

Ryogoku is home to the national sumo arena. A replica of the sumo ring is at the Ryogoku train station.

The train station has a wonderful exhibit of historical photographs. Unfortunately we are not allowed to take pictures.

At the end of the hallway is a staircase leading to a train platform reserved for use by the imperial family. On this day, the staircase displayed
hina dolls for girl's day.

kamogawa seaworld

2017-02-21 KAMOGAWA, JAPAN -- We visited Kamogawa Seaworld, a private aquarium on the Boso peninsula in Chiba prefecture.

Kamogawa Seaworld is located right on the beach. The show pools give the visual illusion that they are connected with the Pacific Ocean behind.

They have extensive water processing facilities. The absence of rust is an impressive feat of design, fabrication, and maintenance.

The star attraction is the orca show.

The trainers love their partners, who are unable to survive in the wild for various reasons.

If you're splashed by jumping orcas, then warm up and dry yourselves indoors while enjoying views of jellyfish.

Most jellyfish of this species has 4 U-shaped gonads in their bells, but some have 3 and some have 5.

There is an indoor tropical reef and beach. Sea turtles are bred here.

The plastic walls are over 20 centimeters thick, but visually appear as thin as a house window, because optical distortion is minimal even at an oblique angle.

You can eat orca-shaped rice with curry sauce at the restaurant, while viewing sea-life through windows.

We stayed for 2 days and 1 night. I went for a morning run along the beach.

Penguins, dolphins, sea lions, seals, water insects ... so much to see, we definitely would love to visit again.

in remebrance of mutsuko masaki

2017-02-20 TOKYO, JAPAN -- We learned this morning that our friend and colleague Dr Mutsuko Masaki (眞崎睦子・まさきむつこ) passed away this past weekend due to a sudden illness at home.

Mutsuko earned her PhD in language and culture studies at Osaka University. She joined Hokudai as an associate professor in 2006, 3 years after I was hired.

We did not work on research projects together -- her interests focused on immigration while mine are in online learning systems and teacher training -- but she, Noriko and I chatted from time to time on topics ranging from pleasant culinary tips (Mutsuko was a serious cook) to exasperating concerns such as a senior professor telling junior colleagues they were unfit for academic duty because they were physically unattractive.

Mutsuko took a stand against coercion. If I understand correctly her interests stemmed from the history of immigrants from Japan to north and south America after the Meiji restoration. Low-class samurai and farmers who lost their jobs were urged to relocate abroad without receiving what nowadays is called full disclosure. Mutsuko gave me a copy of her book about the information the immigrants did receive (ISBN-13: 978-4872591767).

During her tenure at Hokudai, Mutsuko's angst widened to encompass present-day coercion resulting in binge drinking at college parties. Her work was often misinterpreted as a crusade against alcohol abuse. Mutsuko told me on several occasions that the central issue to her was being forced into acting unwillingly. Press-ganging into drinking is an example of present-day intimidation, she explained. She taught classes on this topic, and wrote a book (ISBN-13: 978-4891152840).

Mutsuko and our last professional connection was in hiring teaching assistants (TAs) for the 2017 academic year. We created an austere web page for potential applicants. The English Online class is hiring 15 TAs starting 2017-04-04.

Our last personal connection was several weeks ago when we passed each other by near Oodoori park in downtown Sapporo. She smilingly declared that she approved of us holding hands in public. (Holding hands in Japan is not as rare as it was 30 years ago, but among our generation perhaps it still is.) Mutsuko had a sweet habit of pointing out positive aspects in people.

My obituary omits Mutsuko's picture because she preferred that her photograph not be taken. A screenshot of Mutsuko's self-introduction on the
Hokudai grad school web site is attached below in remembrance.



2017-02-19 FUJISAWA, JAPAN -- We visited Noriko's parents in Fujisawa city.

We scrapped our plans to walk Enoshima due to unexpectedly cold winds. The weather forecast has been consistently unreliable the last several days!

Surfers waiting to ride the big waves, just like the Hokusai woodblock prints.

We prayed for our parents' health at a seaside Shinto shrine.

We chatted over sashimi.

Night waves and Mt Fuji.

Pizza and paella at the Red Lobster restaurant.

Cushy ride on the Odakyu Romance express.

odawara castle

2017-02-17 ODAWARA, JAPAN -- We visited Odawara castle.

Forts and castles have been built and rebuilt here since the 15th century. The current castle grounds are much smaller than its peak at the end of the 16th century. The tenshukaku (
天守閣, originally spelled 殿守閣, the castle keep) is about the same age as me, and renovated last year.

The view from the top is magnificent. Except it started to rain!

We waited out the rain in the history museums. This is a sword hilt.

Some types of cherry trees blossom early.

Plum trees (both white and red) bloom before cherries.

Odawara has a seaport, and is famous for kamaboko. We found our favorite kind!

We rode the Odayku Romance express home. Ours was one of the oldest train sets in service, dating back to my middle school days. The old trains offer the best views, because like the upper deck of a Boeing 747 aircraft, the trains have a bulge where the engineer sits (in the old sense of "engine operator"). The newer models are single-story, and you view out through the windshield from behind the engineer.

musashino historical museum

2017-02-12 MUSASHINO, JAPAN -- We visited the Musashino Historical Museum, located northwest of Musashi-Sakae station in Musashino City, Tokyo.

This small museum takes a serious, critical view of historical events, and explains their exhibits without dumbing down the content, or neutralizing viewpoints. I found their approach refreshing.

The museum has 3 rooms: their permanent exhibit (shown below), a temporary exhibit, and a hall for lectures and demonstrations.

I learned that the villagers were transplanted here shortly after 1657 when a fire destroyed Edo (now Tokyo). The samurai families who lost their homes in the fire were ordered to relocate to what was then the outskirts of town, in order to decrease the density of population and buildings in downtown Edo. The farmers living in the outskirts of Edo were in turn pushed out to undeveloped woodlands, which became Musashino City about 300 years later.

The temporary exhibit featured household utensils spanning 100 years. Noriko and I felt our age when we recognized most of the artifacts labeled "historic".

our 1st daughter

2017-02-15 FUCHU, JAPAN -- We visited Hiroko, our 1st daughter. Hiroko is an assistant professor at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Japan's top language school.

Her office room number is my birthday.

From her office window, a wonderful view (through bird-proof netting) of Mt Fuji.

Unlike me, Hiroko doesn't hoard belongings. Her office is sparse and uncluttered.

TUFS architecture is classy.

We had a quiet French lunch behind the
birthplace of Kondo Isamu, a samurai at the end of the Edo period.

disorganizing my office

2017-02-12 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- I tidied up my office. Although to you, the pictures below probably appear as if I disorganized my office.

Cleaning is crying. I threw away a hand-held massager that my mom gave me a year after I went to the United States. That was 30 years ago! A battery leak corroded the terminals beyond repair. I kept the massager (which worked great for aching eyes) for sentimental reasons. Until today. Sob ...

Move everything out into the hallway. Most of it made its way back, because I couldn't bring myself to throw it out.

I removed posters I had outside on my hallway wall. The map of Indonesia was a gift from my former roommate. I saved that map, but tearfully discarded the others.

Hard for you to believe, but this is better than before.

playing scales

2017-02-11 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Trumpet players are expected to play over a 2.5-octave range. After 33 months of training, I am beginning to approach the upper and lower edges of that expected range.

My trumpet, like over 90% others, is a transposing instrument. For my Bb trumpet, music is written 1 whole step above, such that a concert Bb is written as C. What I call a C major scale is a concert Bb major scale. Conversely, a concert C major scale is a D major scale on my trumpet.

Shown below are a spectrogram and an audio recording of a 2-octave C major scale (concert Bb major), starting at my C4 and ending in C6, that I observed during this morning's practice. I could have started half an octave below, like I often do. This is not my best playing, merely better than average.

I want to solve 3 problems. (1) I want to stabilize my pitch. My unstable pitch is clearly visible as fluctuation in the higher harmonics, that is, the wiggly lines in the upper rows. (2) I want to transition cleanly. As my pitch ascends, some notes jump up or down. I want to stop that. (3) I want to play softer. I can play a bit soft in my comfortable range, which is the left half of the chart. As I ascend in pitch (that is, moving towards the right of the chart) I need to increase airflow, hence increasing the sound amplitude (see the red color in the lines towards the right). I want to learn to play softer, which means I am playing more efficiently.


My tiny success is that I am becoming able to play this range at all. I am happy that my chops (a collective term referring to lips, cheeks, teeth, and tongue) recover much faster than a year ago.

repair power supply

2017-02-10 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Our family has bought oh almost 100 Apple Macintosh computers over the years. Maybe over 100. I am disappointed that my 3-year-old laptop (a 15-inch MacBookPro) came with a power supply that is poorly designed compared to its predecessors. The cable broke several weeks ago. The same afternoon I bought a new one at the local Yodobashi camera store. Today I finally got around to repairing the broken unit.

Took a while to crack the case open.

The cable broke at the base of the strain-relief collar.

Ready to tin the cables on the power supply side.

Tinned, soldered, and heat-shrunk (is that a word?). I mean "heat-shrink tubing shrunk and applied".

I gave up re-using the original strain-relief collar. The repaired unit is for office use only. Works fine as long as I don't yank the cable.

ivy and the two book trio

2017-02-05 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Our grad student Ivy is a musician trained in jazz piano and guitar performance. Tonight she sang with the Two Book Trio at the jazz bar Jericho in downtown Sapporo.

Jericho is a tiny place.

John Long, who taught Ivy music at high school in the UK, visited from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Sohei Kawai on drums, Yosuke Homma on bass.

Tomoaki Motoyama (far left) on piano. Tomoaki played Jericho's mini-upright piano with his back to the audience.

John played sax, and gave me several music tips.

snowshoe on campus

2017-02-05 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- We snowshoed for probably the last time this winter.

We can walk right straight out our front door on to the snow-covered campus grounds.

The ag school lawn.

We always draw Kero on the tennis courts.

Spiral square.

Hard to tell, but that's a pair of beamed eighth notes (1/8 + 1/8).

Finger-drawn portrait.

otaru snow light path

2017-02-04 OTARU, JAPAN -- Partly because our trumpet lesson was canceled, we spent our evening at Otaru, where they are having the Snow Light Path event.

Otaru used to be the primary city on Hokkaido island. The Bank of Japan (Japan's equivalent of the Federal Reserve Bank) and many private banks had their offices here. The city had a good seaport that ferried in manufactured goods and shipped out raw materials such as coal and fish. Canals linked the port to the warehouses. It is along those canals that the Snow Light Path takes place.

Candles (not LED lanterns) are lit at 17:00.

Weather was mild for this time of year. We dressed ultra-warm for safety's sake.

Many snow lanterns look like flower pots. Volunteers make them by filling buckets with snow.

No bucket? Stack snowballs!

As night drapes over the bay, the hills disappear from view.

Some lanterns are made of ice, or hollowed out banks of snow.

The Snow Light Path extends to the historic financial district of downtown Otaru.

We visited the Bank of Japan building, now a museum.

The Bank of Japan has a monopoly in issuing bank notes. Here, we experienced lifting the equivalent of 100 million yen (roughly 100 million dollars). This is child's play for Noriko. We carry this amount of paper for our classes all the time!

With so many international tourists, and biligual store staff, you couldn't tell which country you were in.



2017-02-05 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Cold days call for warm food. "Rustig" (Dutch) or "hygge" (Danish).

Waffles are quick and easy. Our $40 waffle maker bakes 2 at a time.

Half a ladle of batter makes roundish waffles. More batter makes squares.

Chocolate sauce.

Cheese and blueberry jam.

Ice cream with toppings.

last lesson with izuru konishi

2017-01-28 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Noriko and I did not realize that today's trumpet lesson with Izuru Konishi would be our last. Several weeks ago we agreed to soon terminate lessons partly because Izuru is switching jobs at this time, and because Noriko and I are taking sabbatical leave starting this summer.

We had planned 2 more lessons on 2017-02-04 and 2017-02-11. We learned the evening before our next lesson that the streets would be closed for snow removal. So we canceled both lessons for what was supposed to be our last month. Hence, we discovered after the fact that today's lesson was our last. I took 65 lessons from him, 2 or 3 Saturdays a month, for 60 to 90 minutes each.

Izuru is retiring from his insurance company (his day job to support his family) to become an owner of a popular gig hall and restaurant, the
Party House Fiesta. I was there once to attend a piano teacher's birthday. Customers rent the entire hall, receive food and drink (it was buffet style when I was there; perhaps they might be served at the table if they pay extra), and party any which way they like. Most groups seem to perform music. They have a baby grand piano (I saw it) and probably a drum kit (unsure).

Noriko came every week. I am indebted to her for my entire music adventure. She made me take my very first music lesson. Izuru showed me which end of the trumpet I blow into.

Izuru and I would sit side by side, me on his left. I was never happy with my playing. In the photo below, placed between Sirokuro Puppy and Kero is my audio recorder. I recorded all our lessons, and saved Izuru's demonstrations as separate audio files so that I could play them while practicing by myself. The textbooks he uses ("
Learn to play trumpet and cornet" ISBN-13 978-0739014684 and ISBN-13 978-0739030332) do not come with audio recordings. I wish they did because I am unable to read music -- that is, even though I might play the pitch of each note, I might not understand the rhythm unless I knew the song already, or the etude is so simple that the timing and phrasing are transparent.

sun piazza aquarium

2017-01-27 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Noriko discovered that there is an aquarium in Sapporo city, that we need not travel to say Otaru or Muroran to visit an aquarium.

Shin-sapporo station is just 1 stop away from Sapporo central. Noriko got us discount tickets at a store that sells them individually. Background: The train company sells 11 rides for the price of 10. Some stores sell them at prices between discount and full prices.

The privately-owned
Sun Piazza aquarium caters to local school children. Their building is small (no orca or dolphin shows here) but they do have a nice collection.

Sorry that I cannot show you photos of the inside.

akio ohnishi awarded prize for entrepreneurship

2017-01-24 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Our friend and collaborator Akio Ohnishi (founder and CEO of VERSION2, Inc) received the Northern Entrepreneur Prize for 2016 from the Sapporo Chamber of Commerce in recognition of his outstanding achievement in starting and growing a software service company in Sapporo. Congratulations!

Scene from the award ceremony. Photo by the Sapporo Chamber of Commerce.

Excerpt of a brochure by the Sapporo Chamber of Commerce explaining why Akio Ohnishi deserves the award.

Clipping of news article that appeared in the Hokkaido Shimbun.

food ideas

2017-01-15 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- We've been searching for food ideas by dining at restaurants we usually don't go to because we can cook their food at home. But professional cooks do use more ingredients and present their dishes with flair. Much to learn, much to eat ...

A kushikatsu (deep-fried on-a-stick) restaurant gave me ideas that I must test and taste.

At a restaurant for okonomiyaki (pancakes made at your table with veggies, meat, fish, and eggs), we decided that mine is better!

nobuyasu is hired

2017-01-13 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Our co-teacher Nobuyasu Obata accepted a job as a law professor. Congratulations!

We met when Nobuyasu was a grad student in the school of law. He was studying to become an academic in law, not a lawyer in legal practice. He was our TA while he was a grad student, and has been our co-teacher since he earned his PhD and was hired by Hokudai as a researcher in law. Just last night he received and accepted an offer to be a law professor at a private legal college. He came to my office to deliver the fantastic news. Way to go!
GK5B9351 copy


2017-01-12 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Many years ago I won a prize from the Snapple soft drink company. The reverse side (the inside side) of a bottle cap told me to mail it to the company to claim a keychain. It was my trusty keychain for many years until the carabiner and cloth strap disintegrated.

After so many washings the strap shrunk and the Snapple logo faded. Worse, the strap came apart. Need to fix it before I lose my keys!

I bought a new carabiner and fabricated a new strap from a piece of leather strap I bought at a crafts store. 30 centimeters for a bit over 300 yen!

I sewed through the stitch holes that came with the leather strap. I still managed to break a needle.

I am rather embarrassed that this simple sewing task took me more than half an hour. All my friends fabricate fancy stuff, but this is my limit! *sigh*

manga postcards

2017-01-09 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- A pleasant surprise was waiting for us when we returned to Sapporo after visiting our family in Tokyo and Kanagawa.

The Shonen Sunday manga magazine sent me 2 new year's postcards with manga art. The 1st is
"指定暴力少女しおみちゃん" (Shiomi, the organized crime girl) by Kazuro Inouye, my favorite manga artist.

The 2nd is
"Ryoko" by Kaito Mitsuhashi. This series began a few months ago. I am already taken by the artwork. Ryoko is the main character (pictured below) who hunts gigantic vegetables that have become sentient animals through botched genetic engineering. Ryoko's storyline is similar to "eat or be eaten" motif that is becoming popular, for instance by Ryoko Kui's "ダンジョン飯" (Delicious in dungeon).

Each month I send Shonen Sunday postcards hoping that I would win a prize. I did win several months ago. In December I sent 4 postcards and won 2 prizes. Thanks Shonen Sunday!

maid cafe

2017-01-04 TOKYO, JAPAN -- Our friends Mari and Steve took us to a maid cafe in Akihabara. This was our first time at a maid cafe.

Heart of Hearts maid cafe is decorated in a middle school theme. They use school furniture for tables.

The friendly and cheerful girls drew a picture of Kerochan using chocolate syrup.


A bit pricey (expect to pay 1500 hearts (1 heart = 1 yen) an hour), but all in all quite wholesome (not erotic or risqué at all), totally non-smoking, and safe for kids of all ages and genders. Seekers of
moe would enjoy it most. That would be me!

I would certainly encourage my women students to work at a maid cafe, assuming they want to. It would teach us something about customer service. In this day and age, most store people behave as vending machines. Maids at maid cafes are extroverted, energetic, charming, attentive, and take pride in making you happy. Thanks and congratulations to the hard-working young women.

automated dolls

2017-01-02 TOKYO, JAPAN -- The Yume Karakuri Ichiza (Fantasy Automated Troupe) performed at the Edo Tokyo Museum. We were mesmerized by the intricate and creative gizmos.

Automated dolls were popular attractions starting from the late Edo period. Crowds would pay to see the spring-driven robots.

The Edo Tokyo Museum recreates a period theater.

This doll brings cups of tea to you, and after you finish your drink, it takes empty cups back.

This doll nocks 4 arrows in succession, and shoots at 2 targets. It often hits them.

This doll writes 4 kanji and 2 pictures on a piece of paper placed in the frame. He is programmed using replaceable sets of 3 rotating wooden disks that control the hand movement in 3 dimensions.

The mechanical parts of automated dolls were made mostly of wood. Compared to metal gears, wooden gears tend to be bulky and imprecise. Springs were made of whale baleen. Whale baleen is now impossible to obtain, and the lack of material hinders the restoration of antique dolls. Modern automated dolls use brass springs. The non-mechanical parts -- faces, hands, hair, clothes, cabinets -- were made similarly to non-robotic dolls, just like hina dolls made today.

koto (a 13-string instrument) player that troupe leader Susumu Higashino has been building for several years. Her dress has been removed to reveal her mechanism.

Example of original baleen spring. Decay is evident.

The troupe leader Susumi Higashino was trained as a wood carver, and begun collecting antiques when he was a young man. He then spent decades discovering, restoring, and reconstructing automated dolls.

Some time ago, Susumi Higashino suffered an illness causing him to lose control of his right hand. He used his left hand to autograph his DVD for me.

The jacket from the DVD.

happy new year

2017-01-01 TOKYO, JAPAN -- Happy New Year everybody! May you all live long and prosper!

Daybreak at Mount Fuji.



Deserted streets of downtown Tokyo.

Manga and anime store at Nakano station, Tokyo.