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.

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.

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.


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".

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.


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.

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.


snowshoeing on campus

2016-12-24 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Sapporo received heavy snowfall. The last winter with 95 centimeters of cumulative snowfall at this time of year was in 1966. This doesn't mean that this is the winter of greatest total snowfall, nor does it mean that we expect similar levels of snow the remainder of this winter. It does mean that there's plenty of snow on the ground.

We went snowshoeing on campus for the 2nd time this winter.

Tree limbs accumulated damp snow that for 2 days fell steadily and softly.

Snow stopped late the previous night. The following morning sky was severe clear.

We waited for daybreak to start snowshoeing, then returned home to get our camera and take pictures.

It's nice to have woody areas a few minutes from our campus housing.

We're glad we don't own a car.

At the tennis courts, we drew pictures in the snow. Here's a half note. We also drew a trumpet (not visible in photo).

Kero's face, with 2 tennis net posts as the pupils of his eyes.

tokugawa museum and gardens

2016-11-27 NAGOYA, JAPAN -- Noriko and I visited the Tokugawa museum and gardens, located northeast of downtown Nagoya city. The museum contains artifacts owned by the Tokugawa daimyo (feudal samurai lord) family who governed the greater Nagoya area from 1603 to 1868.

The museum does not allow photography.

The gardens consist of sloping areas, flat areas, streams, marshes, and ponds. Most areas are heavily planted by trees and shrubs that mimic nature in miniature.

Gently persistent autumn rains soaked the leaves and bark of Japanese maple trees.

In the mist, a wedding was taking place.

JALT conference

2016-11-26 NAGOYA, JAPAN -- Our research-and-education team gave poster presentations at the JALT (Japan association of language teachers) conference in Nagoya city.

The poster area was heavily attended, partly because our poster session took place immediately after the opening keynote presentation.

Naomi Suzaki explained how our students learn pronunciation of English language by singing songs.

Ivy Lin explained how our students learn vocabulary, particularly collocations (multiple words occurring together at high likelihood).


2016-10-10 YOICHI, JAPAN -- We took a day trip to Yoichi, a town about 60 kilometers west of downtown Sapporo.

Tracks up to Otaru are electrified and parallel. Beyond Otaru up to Oshamanbe it's non-electrified and single track. I prefer non-electrified track, actually, because the lack of utility poles offer an unobstructed view.

Most stations are unmanned and trains carry no conductors. You pay the engineer (in the sense of a person who controls the engine) just like riding a bus.

We bought a 1-day all-you-can-ride ticket.

The Nikka whisky distillery is right across Yoichi train station.

We had a warm lunch at the distillery's restaurant.

sapporo autumn

2016-10-07 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Autumn progresses rapidly on Hokkaido island. For my morning run, I prefer to wear short-sleeved shirts and shorts. Soon I need to put on wind-stopping clothing.

Teineyama is a hill on the west side of the city. Most of the city's TV and radio broadcast antennas are located on this hill. Teineyama is the first spot in town to get snow. That might happen in a few days. We had sleet this morning.

Leaves are turning color all over campus. In summer we can't see through the trees outside our apartment window. In winter we can see the agriculture school building.

escher exhibit

2016-09-30 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- We went to an exhibit of works by M. C. Esher and his art teacher who taught at a technical college where Esher was majoring in architectural engineering. Esher's teacher convinced Esher to pursue a career in woodblock art rather than architecture.

Hokudai staff receive discounted admission. Full price is 1300 yen, most visitors pay 1100 yen, we pay 500 yen.


The Sapporo Art Museum is a beautiful building.

We enjoyed a nice lunch buffet afterwards.

clean clean clean

2016-09-24 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON, USA -- Summer is almost over. We clean our bicycles, wash the truck, wipe the mailbox, sweep the driveway. It's a chore that we enjoy and perform well.

Cleaning chains and gears is easy with solvent, lots of rags, and patience. I learned perseverance through trumpet practice.

Wash the truck top to bottom, inside and out, including the underside and engine compartment. I must be getting some dirt off because our mechanics tell us our truck is the cleanest in town!

Wipe the interior for the lady of the house.

Bleached and dried our garbage can. Ours smells clean!

Trim ivy and blackberries from around our Japanese maple tree and hydrangea.

soccer match

2016-09-16 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON, USA -- We went to a soccer (association football) match at Taft High School. We visited the school itself some years ago, and were impressed with the almost extravagant facilities (or so they seemed to us, compared to what we see in most parts of the world), and the logical school hours.

America is big on athletics. Taft HS has a well-equipped field that is designed primarily for American football but accommodates soccer plus track and field.

Our friend's son Gabe is a captain (see his arm band). He scored the first goal of the season! The goal happened so fast that I couldn't photograph it.

Gabe and his team made the
local news.

oops bumped my bumper

2016-09-13 NETARTS, OREGON, USA -- I damaged my truck's rear bumper. I backed up into a basketball goalpost placed in a parking lot. Nobody hurt, no damage to other people's property, no affect on driving our vehicle. Next time I ask the Nissan dealer to service my car, I'll ask them for a cost estimate on bumper repair.


co-motion visit

2016-09-12 EUGENE, OREGON, USA -- We visited Co-Motion, a company that manufactures full-sized tandem bikes that can be disassembled for travel.

Co-Motion is located several kilometers away from Bike Friday.

Co-Motion exudes a high-class top-end image.

Co-Motion's headquarters houses their factory, sales, and showroom. They were preparing for a major bicycle trade show in Las Vegas.

The model I salivate for is the
"Java" tandem with Rohloff internal gears and carbon belt drive. All bikes are built to order, starting with frame material.

bike friday visit

2016-09-12 EUGENE, OREGON, USA -- We visited Bike Friday, a company that manufactures folding bikes.

Bike Friday is located in the west side of Eugene.

Bike Friday's headquarters houses their factory, sales department, and showroom.

Oregon has an impressive array of manufacturers that produce mechanisms requiring precision, for instance bicycles, light aircraft, trumpets, and folding portable tools. I suspect this is due to the large number of craftsmen who work in Oregon.

This jig, nicknamed "Fluffy", stress-tests bicycle frames.

Each bicycle is built to order. Each sack contains parts for each order. Some parts are made in-house, some are delivered from suppliers. Bike Friday keeps a just-in-time inventory. Bicycle assembly commences when each sack is filled.

The model I salivate for is the
"New World Tourist" with Rohloff internal gears and carbon belt drive.

Walter, a sales consultant and avid cyclist, gave us a factory tour and explained bicycle mechanisms to us.

organic blueberries and strawberries

2016-09-02 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON, USA -- Fresh fruit is delicious this year. We enjoyed a big bowl of organic blueberries and strawberries.


lincoln county historical museum

2016-08-25 NEWPORT, OREGON, USA -- Noriko and I visited the Lincoln County Historical Museum in Newport, Oregon. I am embarrassed that this is our first visit. We should have visited years ago!

This year is the 50th anniversary of the sister city relationship between Newport and Mombetsu, Japan. They told me that 30 high school students came to visit early this month. Here is part of an article from the Newport News-Times 2016-08-24 issue.

The museum in housed in a 120-year-old house that was built by a 60-year-old carpenter. The building was originally located a block away.

One room shows how affluent families lived in Lincoln County. Items on display include musical instruments, richly embroidered cloths, a book-reading stand illuminated by candles.

A curious device was used to apply electrical shocks to your brain. After treatment, patients allegedly felt better. I would probably feel nothing at all, because I would become unconscious!

organic farm

2016-08-23 NESKOWIN, OREGON, USA -- Noriko and I visited Corvus Landing Organic Farms in Neskowin, Oregon. "Corvus" means "crow" (the 2 words must be cognates) or "raven" and is the name of a constellation located south of Virgo.

They are located 29 kilometers north of where we live, 5 kilometers off the highway.

The farm sells directly to the public on summer Tuesdays from 10:00 to 16:00. They also sell at a few farmers' markets in the area, such as Neskowin and Gleneden.

Kero met a cheerful young lady who works on the farm.

I was impressed with the irrigation pipework on their gate. Somebody good with tools carved "Corvus Landing". The pipes are topped with pine tree carvings.

Kero inspected the farm. Beyond the hills in the background lies the Pacific Ocean.

The section of the farm they let us walk through was quite small. Noriko and I together might be able to care for it, if we worked full-time.

Rows of veggies.

Green onion, a slender and shorter kind of Japanese

Onions lay half-exposed, ready for harvest. My mom says onions are often pulled out so that the nutrients in the leaves move into the bulbs.

chocolate frog

2016-08-22 WALDPORT, OREGON, USA -- Noriko and I visited the Chocolate Frog store in Waldport, Oregon. The owners might open a new, larger store south of Florence! We are happy for their expansion.

Their store is full of frog-themed items.

Noriko gave the owners frog gifts from Japan.

They make chocolate frogs.

They also make chocolate bars, featuring wrappers designed by local high school students.

Here's the write-up by the teenage artist.

Another work of art.

And her write-up.

We got a refrigerator magnet.

Can you spot it on our freezer door?

whale watching

2016-08-17 DEPOE BAY, OREGON, USA -- We watched whales and tourists watching whales from our table at a Mexican restaurant.

Whale-watching boats carrying tourists depart every 10 to 15 minutes from the world's smallest harbor at Depoe Bay. Depoe Bay is on the Oregon coast, about a 20-minute drive south from where we live.

The dark hump near the center of the picture is the back of a whale. The whale-watching boats claim that the friendly whales approach the boats. Somehow I suspect it's the other way around.

Thar she blows!

The wisp of vapor is viewed more clearly in this video. The dark line crossing the top of the image is a power line hanging outside our restaurant window.

corvallis community band

2016-08-16 CORVALLIS, OREGON, USA -- The Corvallis Community Band plays each Tuesday evening in the summer at Corvallis Central Park, across the street from the main library and close to the downtown campus of Oregon State University.

Corvallis is about 100 kilometers inland from the Oregon coast. Daytime temperatures soar above 35 Celsius (this day it felt like 38). After sundown the temperature quickly drops to 25, and continues to fall until dawn to around 13. The band starts playing at dusk.

The locals bring lawn chairs to enjoy the music.

We snacked at a picnic table, although it was a bit far away from the band.

We listened and watched through the trees.

a whole day of trains

2016-07-16 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Noriko and I spent a whole day on trains near the Sapporo area.

A one-day pass lets us ride all local trains within a designated area. The rail lines and noteworthy stations we traveled through are, in order of time of departure or arrival: (1) Sassho line -- Sapporo 06:39, Ishikari-Tobetsu 07:45, Shin-Totsukawa 09:28, (2) Hakodate line -- Sunagawa 11:44, Iwamizawa 12:52, Oiwake 13:38, (3) Sekisho line -- Oiwake 15:18, Shin-Yubari 15:56, Yubari 16:23, back to Shin-Yubari 17:10, Oiwake 17:54, Minami-Chitose 18:22, and (4) Chitose line -- Minami-Chitose 19:18, Sapporo 19:52.

The photos below show segment (1), the Sassho line between Sapporo and Shin-Totsukawa.

The morning summer sun was blazing at Ishikari-Tobetsu, where they have a beautiful park with a pond full of tadpoles. What a great start of the day!

A single-car diesel-electric waits at Ishikari-Tobetsu track 1. Because many stations on the Sassho line are unmanned, passengers buy tickets from the engineer just like you pay a bus driver.

The Sassho line is single track. At Ishikari-Tsukigata our train waited 22 minutes for 1 of the 7 daily trains coming from the opposite direction.

The station platform is graded at the end. In the old days the slope eased wheeled carts to carry cargo on and off the platform, and these days would seem to assist wheelchairs and strollers. Alas in modern stations overpasses and staircases are prevalent.

Inside the station house, we found furniture of yesteryear, with tatami-clad benches. A kerosene stove heats the waiting room in winter.

The northern segment of the Sassho line will soon be abolished. The impending end means nobody cares about maintaining the facilities.

The Hokkaido Railway Company (nicknamed JR Hokkaido) has steadily shed rail lines since becoming a private company in 1987. JR Hokkaido is a distressing corporation. 2 of their CEOs committed suicide (respectively in 2011 and 2014) due to poor financial performance (the firm has never been profitable), hazardous operational practices (at least 1 train caught fire due to poor maintenance, and at least 1 dropped pieces of equipment while underway), and wanton lack of ethics (1 worker sabotaged the tracks to avoid coming to work, and 1 engineer destroyed a safety system because the warning signals were annoying him). The public was outraged when dangerous workers were allowed to return to duty instead of having their licenses pulled. Customers were doubly stunned when JR Hokkaido management wondered aloud what was the problem with that? 2 CEOs killed themselves in shame.

Some station houses are converted railway freight cars. That by itself is not a bad idea. Add windows and furniture at the maintenance yard, bring the car to the station, take off the wheels and presto! Station house at any remote location. Too bad the station houses are being neglected.

Although I have not found reliable historical records on the Sassho line, it seems that even during the best of times the northern segment of the Sassho line was never used to haul coal or fish (both major exports of Hokkaido island until the 1950s) or carry passengers (the line runs through forests and farmland). I read that a local politician campaigned to have the rail line built, perhaps to appease his voters.

Shin-Totsukawa is the end of the line. The Sassho line used to extend further north from here to Ishikari-Numata, but that segment was decommissioned in 1972. Shin-Totsukawa has no rail or bus connection. Apart from several houses, nothing is near the station. Nobody depends on or supports the rail line.

A group of kindergarten kids and their teachers welcomed us with drums and dancing. The northernmost section of the Sassho line has exactly 1 train per day. The railcar we rode was the first and last to arrive, and the first and last to depart. After arriving at 09:28, it reverses direction and leaves the station at 09:40, and has the distinction of being the earliest last train in the entire nation.

We took a taxi to Sunagawa station. We could have easily walked the 8 km distance but we needed to catch a train. Before the train we enjoyed brunch at one of the many confectionary shops in Sunagawa.

Our former graduate student was stationed at an elementary school in Sunagawa. She told us about the apple pies and tanuki (badger-dog) cakes.

We spent some money on delicious cakes.

Kerochan and Noriko were quite happy with cakes and free coffee (rare in Japan).

yosakoi soran matsuri

2016-06-12 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- The Yosakoi Soran Matsuri takes place every June. Young adults, including many of our students, perform choreographed dances in groups averaging 100 people each.

Modernized Japanese attire is the norm. Hairstyle for women is often a pineapple bun. Maybe it is easier to dance.

Grandstands line the streets. Some are free, others not. Friends and families of each team walk with their dancers across town.

The weather was clear, and to use aviation terms, ceiling unlimited, winds 090 at 20 gusting to 50 (blowing from the east at 10 to 25 meters per second). We were almost swept off our feet. Yet the dancers were steaming with sweat.

This year 280 teams participated, some coming from far away. Each team performs numerous times at 20 venues downtown.


2016-06-02 AMANOHASHIDATE, JAPAN -- Noriko and I visited Amanohasidate located on the Sea of Japan side of Kyoto.

Amanohashidate means "ladder to heaven". In local mythology, the heavenly gods climbed up and down to create the islands of Japan. But one day the ladder toppled. They must have had an earthquake!

Amanohashidate is a spit about 4 km long. It is a pine-covered sandbar that traverses a bay. Medieval paintings show that the spit did not stretch across to the other side. An extending ladder?

We crossed the spit twice. It's a pleasant, flat, shady walk.

We took the boat once. See its white wake alongside the spit.

From the hilltop we saw the numerous bays and peninsulas that characterize the complex coastline.

One of the bays yonder is Maizuru, home port of one of the fleets of the Japanese navy.

We gave offerings at Nariaiji, a buddhist temple known for a benevolent holy statue who fed its wooden leg to a starving priest. The priest wasn't supposed to eat flesh or wood. But all was forgiven.

Most worshippers crave a look of the dragon carved by Hidari Jingoro, a sculptor from the Edo period, about 300 years ago.

But we came for the eggplant charm, with a screw-off cap that reveals a golden frog within. Naturally we purchased a pair.

The stairs deterred most tourists.

The climb was steep, but worth the view!

Poor Noriko! The sole of her shoe came off without warning! We taped the shoe back together.

Noriko quickly got a new pair of hiking shoes.


2016-05-30 TAKENO, JAPAN -- Noriko and I stayed at Takeno, a seaside town on the Sea of Japan near the Kyoto-Hyogo prefectural border.

The geography is complex. The shoreline is heavily serrated, with numerous inlets and promontories.

This naturally protected bay is a popular snorkeling and scuba diving spot.

This sandy beach is a summer destination for people living in downtown Kyoto.

Parts of the coastline geography are similar to Oregon.

We soaked in the hot springs and enjoyed a traditional Japanese dinner.

ferry from tomakomai to nagoya

2016-05-27 NAGOYA, JAPAN -- Noriko and I took a 40-hour ferry trip from Tomakomai (east of Sapporo) to Nagoya.

Ishikari was launched in 2011. She has won the ferry of the year award each year since. The Tohoku tsunami occurred during her maiden voyage. The Ishikari weighs slightly less than 16,000 gross tons, is just under 200 meters long, and is 27 meters wide.

Cabins come in 12 different types. We stayed in a room with a window, sofa, 2 beds, restroom and full bath. The room has a refrigerator and hot water maker. The TV shows the view from the bridge.

The ship's course hugs the eastern coastline of Honshu island. WIMAX (wireless internet) and cellphone coverage is fairly consistent, at least on the shore side of the ship.

The ship sails early evening and arrives on the 2nd morning. We enjoyed sunset dinners.

Weather was perfect. The ship travels at 26.5 knots (40 kilometers per hour ). On a calm day, that is the speed of the wind blowing across the deck.

I blew my trumpet behind the funnel looking over the stern.

sapporo summer

2016-05-22 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Summer! No need to heat the rooms before getting out of bed or stepping out of the shower! As I write this at 07:20 local time (3.5 hours after civilian sunrise) the windows are open to a nice easterly breeze.

View from our west window towards the ski jump on Okura hill.

Almost all snow disappeared from the top of Teineyama while we were in Tokyo last week.


2016-05-22 (UPDATED FROM 2016-05-18) TOKYO, JAPAN -- Bright blue skies and warm almost hot arid winds greet the throngs at Tokyo Big Sight for the annual EDIX trade show. I assume EDIX stands for "education using information technology exposition". I attend and give talks each year.

The Tokyo Big Sight building is oddly shaped and not easy to navigate. The conference halls are underground. The aboveground superstructure accommodates meeting rooms.

View of Tokyo bay from the top floor. Tokyo Big Sight is built on reclaimed land. In Japan the standard construction technique is to keep dumping dirt into the water until an island is formed. They have been doing this in Tokyo since the early 17th century. In the Netherlands they build dikes and pump the water out. Either way the ground is soft, moist, and often encroached by the sea.

I enjoy interacting with the audience. I gave 2 talks per day for 3 days. My audience size ranged from 5 to 40. Day 1 is energetic but not productive (because everybody's attention is scattered). Day 2 is the best (because everybody understands this year's trends and interests). Day 3 starts good (because serious people attend) but ends bad (because people start to leave).

Yamaha demonstrated an electronic band practice kit. Really quiet!

And Yamaha displayed a trumpet! If I asked they might have let me play it in the soundproof booth they were demonstrating.

Sometimes booths are so packed that posters and demos are hard to see. Chieru staff dress in bright orange so at least finding them is easy.

3D printing has been the rage the past few years. Of course I need one to build my own cute pink octopuses (or octopoda if you like).

snow and sakura

2016-05-03 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Crazy weather in Sapporo! One day warm enough to run in a T-shirt and short pants. Sakura (cherry blossoms) bloomed. Next day snow, sleet, rain, plus intense winds that blew sakura petals off the branches.

We took our first day off in a month. Walked through sakura in downtown Sapporo.

Late-blooming sakura trees were the smart ones! Today 24 degrees C. Tomorrow sleet is forecast.

Blown-off petals fall through the sky like snow.

We enjoyed an art exhibit of Yokoyama Taikan.

rotary club of lincoln city

2016-03-23 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON, USA -- Lori Arce-Torres, our friend and insurance agent, invited us to a Rotary Club meeting at the Salishan Lodge in Lincoln City, Oregon. The Rotary Foundation sponsored me 30 years ago (1986-1987) to travel from Tokyo to California to study at Stanford University.

I was granted an opportunity to thank Rotarians (as Rotary club members are known) for their generous support.

David Gomberg (
representative in the Oregon state house, and owner of the Gomberg Kite company) gave a talk about the 5-week short session of the state legislature that meets in even-numbered years.

back online

2016-03-03 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON, USA -- We are back online! This past fall and winter were seasons of illness and injury for me. Nothing serious, thank you, everything is being taken care of. I'll skip the details because who wants to hear of ailments? I do apologize for not updating my website for so long. I was out of commission until the medical team found out I was treating myself incorrectly. Next time I'll consult experts even if I suspect seasonal allergies!

We returned to Oregon a few days ago. Noriko got us a free upgrade to roomier seats on the 9-hour flight from Tokyo to Portland. Delta airlines calls the spacier seats "economy comfort", implying that regular seats are "economy discomfort". A truthful assessment in my opinion. Delta reportedly profited 6 billion dollars last year, mostly from falling jet fuel prices. Crude oil is down to $35 a barrel today, from over $140 in 2008 and $100 in 2014. No news from Delta about fuel surcharges. By contrast, ANA (All Nippon Air) has reduced their fuel surcharges over a period of some time, and will abolish them altogether starting next month. Delta is not my favorite airline.

A picture I should have uploaded to my blog 3 months ago: On 2015-11-23, while woozy from illness and exhaustion, I gave my first public musical performance in my life at the House of Jazz in Sapporo, Japan. Noriko is upset that they made me play when I should have stayed in bed. No preparation of any kind. I chose my song only 2 days before the event. First time playing with a live band (piano, bass, drums). No rehearsal except a 10-minute "hello, nice to meet you folks" just before. Conditions were so bad that I could not begin to become embarrassed or worried. I played "Bye bye blackbird". John Bringetto gently advised me not to "get ahead of the chord changes". I didn't know what they are (still don't), and could not hear them (still can't). I will do the world a favor by NOT putting a recording of my performance here.


salmon roe (ikura)

2015-10-08 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Salmon roe (ikura) is a delicacy in Japan. USA fishermen treat it as bait. What a waste!

Our recipe is: (a) loosen and rinse the salmon roe in water, (b) dry in a colander for several hours, (c) pour a mixture of 5 parts sake, 4 parts mirin, and 1 part soba sauce, (d) soak overnight, (e) sprinkle over rice or crackers or tofu and enjoy!

From left to right: slightly dried salmon roe, mirin, soba sauce, and sake. The roe absorbs water while being loosened and rinsed. In my recipe, the roe is dried so that it later absorbs more sauce. We prefer less soy sauce to bring out the flavor of the roe.

Add enough sauce to completely cover the roe. A generous amount works better than too less.

Store in a refrigerator overnight.

The roe absorbs the sauce, and becomes plump and large. Notice that after soaking the sauce barely covers the roe.

The all-time standard is rice bowl (don), where the roe is sprinkled over a bowl of white rice. We are waiting for this year's new crop of rice. We ordered ours today. Should arrive soon!

In the meanwhile, we went for the grown-up
izakaya (pub or bar) flavor. This is ikura on daikon-oroshi (grated daikon radish).

Baguette and cheese make a great bed, too.

Cold tofu and ikura make a fancy appetizer.

beachtown coffee

2015-09-25 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON, USA -- Beachtown Coffee, our favorite coffee shop in town, is being evicted at no fault of theirs. The owner of the property wants all tenants to leave. I wrote a letter to the owner urging them to reconsider.

My letter of support (PDF file).


lincoln city 50th anniversary parade

2015-09-19 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON, USA -- Our city celebrated with a parade its 50th anniversary of becoming a municipality.

The parade started at the Cultural Center (formerly the DeLake School), where we go twice a week for yoga lessons.

Our friend's dog participated in the parade.

Most American events begin with the playing of the national anthem. A local trumpet player belted out a solo. In the background the Oregon National Guard stands in formation. They lead the parade.

Second in parade is the flag, carried by a team of kids.

Next, the fire department. This is ladder 57.

Local groups, businesses, and organizations joined the parade.

The News Guard is the city's local paper. Many American towns have their own local daily. Some universities do too.

The candy shop's car was decked out with candy wrappers. Check out the hub caps!

The local beer brewery brought their beer truck. Notice the faucets on the side.

The Taft High School team is the Tigers.

The trumpet player drove his Corvette while playing.

Last in the parade, the garbage truck, clean as a whistle!

The parade ended at the Community Center and Kirtsis Park, a block from our house.

We waited in line and had a hot dog!

toasty, dry, and musical

2015-09-01 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON, USA -- The Willamette valley can get warm (summer daytime highs of 36 degrees Celsius are common) but the Pacific northwest coast is pleasantly cool.

We bought firewood for our wood stove. Our truck bed lacks a fence so we bought a half load for $40.

Most of the wood in this batch is birch. We stacked the wood outside our front door in a covered breezeway.

The wood stove keeps the house toasty and dry. The stove is effective all year long.

Oregon had a good blueberry harvest this year. Ice cream is obligatory when we're so close to Tillamook, a region famous for dairy products. We bought our firewood there too. Most people would not drive that far to buy firewood. We know a beekeeper who runs a small mill there.

Noriko likes fresh home-made potato chips. Heat canola oil to 180 degrees Celsius. Slice potatoes with a mandoline over the oil. Fry one layer of chips at a time (the slices stick).

The trick is letting the chips cool and dry after frying them. Don't eat them hot -- they're still mushy! Wicking away oil using coffee filter paper is best, kitchen paper towels are acceptable. We never use salt.

I rearranged the music room a bit. My iPad-mini keeps track of pitch, amplitude, and time. I love my Carol Brass horn, heavy as it is. Buying 3 horns in the 1st year or trumpet practice was excessive, yet necessary for our migratory lifestyle.

Before lessons I warmup at a beachside state park across the highway from the community where my teacher John Bringetto lives. Passersby pay no attention to my playing. Thank heavens!

John directs and plays in the Lincoln Pops Big Band. They gave an entertaining performance at the Lincoln City Cultural Center. John is standing in the rear, playing a flugelhorn for Chuck Mangione's "Children of Sanchez". Most people in the audience danced. Sorry Noriko! Maybe I'll learn how to dance after I learn to play trumpet. John says it will take 2 more years for me to play the notes I need. Can you imagine an artist spending 3 years preparing paint? That's what it feels like to practice trumpet!

energizing on the oregon coast

2015-08-08 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON, USA -- We finished this semester as much as we could and flew over to our home in Oregon. We will conduct research, improve our teaching skills, strengthen our bodies, and learn to play trumpet.


yambara dam construction site

2015-08-02 YAMBARA DAM, JAPAN -- With Noriko's parents we visited the Yambara dam construction site near Naganohara town in Gumma, Japan. We drove down to the area that will eventually be covered with water.


The soon-to-be-submerged railway tracks are surprisingly left behind. Usually the metal is recovered for scrap.


Equally shocking were the sagging powerlines supplying electrical power to the train motors. Of course these are dead wires (that is, there is no electricity running through them). The sheer wastefulness of the construction project scared me.


birthday trip and presents

2015-06-22 OTARU AND SAPPORO, JAPAN -- For my birthday this year (which is also the 1st anniversary of my trumpet playing) we took a weekend trip to Otaru, a seaside city less than an hour west by train. We visited their aquarium and relaxed at a hotel with a 24-hour private furo-style bath. On our way back I got a birthday present!

Otaru aquarium (a private institution) is located on the seaside with outdoor seawater pools for seals, sea lions, walruses, dolphins, and penguins. Indoor fish tanks hold local fish as well as species from various parts of the world. Near the aquarium (shown on the upper right corner of the picture) is the Hiyoriyama lighthouse, the oldest and still operational lighthouse on Hokkaido island.

The aquarium animals appear content. Ill or handicapped individuals are kept in separate pools so that they need not compete for food. Blindness is common with age, we learned.

hotel is a short steep climb (16 percent gradient) from the aquarium. It is located 70 meters above sea level, which is the same as our house in Oregon, except we are several blocks away, and the slope is gentler.

We had our own private furo-style bath. Because the water was somewhat lukewarm, we could bathe for as long as we wished.

At 19:18 Japan time, we viewed a sunset from the cliff above the sea. I practiced trumpet. My trumpet teacher
John Bringetto told me to practice every day. This was my first time practicing outdoors.

The following afternoon we returned to Sapporo, where at the
Yamaha music center my new instrument was waiting. I tested it in a soundproof room at the store. Noriko and Maki (the salesperson, who is also a French horn player) said that my current instrument sounds brighter while my new instrument sounds deeper. Hmm ... I couldn't hear the difference from behind the bell. The 2 horns certainly blow different. The new horn needs more air. The old horn is noticeably heavier. This suggests my new horn is made of thinner material that may dent easily.

My expensive new toy is a
YTR-8310Z model designed by Yamaha in collaboration with Bobby Shew, the jazz trumpet player. Notice the difference from a regular 8310Z? Mine has 3 rings. A regular 8310Z has U-shaped saddles on the leadpipe and 1st valve slide. For that minor change I paid merely $30 extra and patiently waited 4 months.

My new Yamaha case (pictured on the left) looks classy, feels solid, and I'm glad to have it. It's probably made for people who drive, and carry multiple bags. It stores 2 trumpets top side up, but nothing else -- no music, no cleaning supplies, no audio recorder. My old case (pictured on the right) stores 1 trumpet laid flat on its side (which I don't like) but has room and pockets to carry a fair amount of gear. Plus it has straps for carrying on my back. I suspect that I'll use my old case to carry my horn, and use my new case to store my horns at home. We don't own a car in Japan.

sakura cherry embankment walk

2015-04-26 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Spring arrived in Sapporo early this year but still a month or two behind Portland and Tokyo. We took a 12-kilometer walk along the Shinkawa river embankment. We left home at 07:00 to view the cherry trees illuminated by the morning sun from aside. Near the river we found a park bench (rare in Japan) where we took a sip of water.


tesol toronto

2015-03-26 TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA -- Noriko and I gave a poster presentation at TESOL-2015, a conference for teachers of English language. The timing and location of the conference gave me the perfect opportunity to visit the city where I spent my early childhood.

Between the Union Station (equivalent of Hauptbahnhof) and the CN tower lies the Metro Toronto Convention Center, with a sculpture of woodpeckers.

A black snowman greets visitors.

We knew we arrived at the correct venue when we saw a frog blessing the building.

Registration was fast and painless. Other conferences should take note!

The conference was well attended.

I enjoy poster presentations because I get to interact with my audience more than a lecture session. The questions and comments that people give me are often valuable.

I prefer printing my posters the old-fashioned way, because (1) I can mix and match the sheets based on the people I see at the conference site before I give my presentation, (2) I can add or correct sheets of paper without having to re-print a large expensive poster, and (3) I am never sure that the poster panel will have the dimensions promised by the conference organizers.

Noriko always cheers me on. I owe my success to her.

Lots of people stopped by. Thanks for coming, folks!

my primary school

2015-03-25 TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA -- Noriko and I visited my primary school in Toronto, Ontario, Canada for the first time since my family moved away in summer of 1970. A vice principal (they have more than one now) generously gave us a tour of the school, which has grown considerably during the past 44 years.

There were probably 250 pupils back in 1970. Today they have 240 teachers! This number excludes kindergarten, now a separate school, although located on the same grounds. The 1400 pupils (plus 650 kindergarten kids) take turns having recess and lunch because the schoolyard is over-crowded. We never had to play in the front lawn. In fact it was forbidden because it faces the street. Now a fence keeps children inside.

Thorncliffe Park is an area surrounded by a ring road lined with densely-populated high-rise apartment buildings. Mine was across the street from the school front door, where I am standing. Because the school is located in the center circular area, and because that area has no place to grow (it is hemmed in by apartments) the school has become crowded over the years.

I recognized my 3rd grade classroom, and with horror, the room they kept me for pronunciation practice. ESL (English as a second language) was an emerging concept at that time. I spoke English well enough to function in class. Somebody decided that Alice (who was born in Canada, and was wearing braces) and I spoke "funny" and required pronunciation training. So we got detention! That windowless gloomy storage room is now a brightly-lit photocopier room.

The school building added wings and floors. The new library does not seem more spacious. The colors are vibrant though.

What have they done to the schoolyard?! It's a quarter of the size it used to be, and completely paved save for a patch of turf at the edge (note the green belt in the photo in front of the apartment buildings in the background). In 1970, each winter the yard was hosed over and allowed to freeze for ice skating. Today kids are bused over to a 365-day indoor skating rink.

Mr Scott was our principal. He knew every pupil by name, and their parents' as well.I was ignorant until today that he was the founding principal of my school. Nor did I know that the school and I are the same age.

the night train "cassiopeia"

2015-01-21 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- A raging snowstorm repeatedly canceled our flights. We wasted 2 days at the airport waiting for flights that kept getting delayed and delayed until they finally told us to go home. We needed to travel so we took a night train from Sapporo to Tokyo.

JR (the Japan Railways group of companies, formerly state-owned Japan National Railways) sells tickets in an inconvenient manner that encourages unethical behavior. Tickets are often hard to get ahead of time but easily obtained immediately before departure. This is because people buy tickets to resell them at a hefty profit. When no buyers are found, the tickets are sold back to JR for a refund. We bought ours at the airport after they canceled our flights for the 2nd time.

The Cassiopeia is a sleeper car that runs between Ueno (serving the Tokyo area) and Sapporo central station. It was named because the W-shaped constellation points to Polaris (the symbol of Hokkaido) and reminds passengers of the double nature of some aspects of the train (double-deck, double rooms).

Our room sleeps 2 in an L-shaped configuration. The chair backs slide down to form a bed. The room has a private sink and toilet. We got a single-story room (that is, not double-decked) with a higher ceiling.

The Cassiopeia departs Sapporo shortly before sunset.

The Seikan tunnel connects the islands of Hokkaido and Honshu. The tunnel is 53.85 km long, and takes about half an hour to cross. The trip feels longer because there are several other tunnels on either end of it.

A lounge car offers views and refreshments.

We dined in splendor in the privacy of our cabin. Before leaving Sapporo, we stocked up on goodies at the department store next to the station.

edmedia conference

2014-06-27 TAMPERE, FINLAND -- My friend and partner Akio Ohnishi and I presented our paper at the EdMedia conference in Tampere, Finland.

We flew in to Helsinki, and then took an IC (intercity) train from Helsinki to Tampere.


Our car was double-decker brand-new model with a ravintola (restaurant) on the lower deck and passenger seats on the upper deck.


The restaurant on the lower deck has a dish washer (wow), and seating areas separated to accommodate multiple groups.


The mezzanine has its own vending corner. This area is above a dolly. On the opposite end of the car, the same area has doors that open onto the station platform.


Passenger seating on the upper deck is arranged in a 2+1 configuration, with some double seats permanently facing each other.


The single seats face the window. I’m sure Japanese would call these bocchi-seki. The locals use them to get work done. Lots of table space and elbow room.


There is a conference room at the end of the car. They say you can give presentations here. Great idea!


IC trains cover the 187 km in 120 minutes. Pendolino trains (designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro) take only 90 minutes but their cars are older.


You can reserve and choose seats online. The earlier you pay, the less you pay.


Unlike German trains which require hardcopies of tickets, Finland’s VR national train system allows you to show your electronic tickets on your laptop or mobile device.


WiFi is free, albeit slightly slow. Akio tracked our train’s progress over a beer.


Tampere is perhaps best known for the Muumilaakso (Moomin Museum). This is an art museum for serious adults. Children should probably visit Muumimaailma (Moomin World theme park) in Naantali, Finland, about 3 hours away.


There are 3 spots where you can take pictures. I was ecstatic with meeting Muumimamman (Moomin Mama). The white sticker between my eyes is the entry ticket to the museum.


The conference was held at the University of Tampere. We prefer poster sessions because they allow more interaction with our audience. I used to think lectures were more prestigious. Only if it’s a keynote! Innovative stuff shows up in posters.


Akio and I set up our poster way ahead of time.


Akio showed a looped video of our online learning experiences. We also used the campus WiFi to demonstrate Glexa using our computer servers at Hokudai. We gave out handouts. They were all gone in 2 hours!


Our next-door neighbor was a MS student who analyzed communications among health care professionals at a emergency care facility in northern Finland. I enjoyed learning about applications I didn’t know about.


Our paper was among the 12 selected from about 400 papers to receive an outstanding paper award. Thank you, our students and colleagues!




2014-06-08 MIKKABI, JAPAN -- Noriko and I attended a research planning meeting near the town of Mikkabi situated on the northwest shore of Hamanako (Lake Hamana) in west Shizuoka.

Mikkabi is famous for oranges.

Single-car trains pass over tiny tunnels connecting orange groves on either side of the track.

Trains run roughly every half hour.

I was struck by the density of tiny shrines honoring deities. Some are simple and exposed.

Some are shielded by the trees they seem to honor.

Some are housed in tiny decorated buildings.

One had a decorative bridge made for it. This is the Inohanako Jinja, a tiny but ancient shrine already in existence when it appeared on imperial court records dated 742.

Inohanako Jinja sits on a rock shaped like the snout of a wild boar (i-no-hana) at the mouth of Inohanako (lake of the snout of the wild boar), a bay with a tight opening connecting to the rest of Hamanako.

chasing trains on the esashi line

2014-05-08 ESASHI, JAPAN -- Noriko and I chased a train on the Esashi line (brief info in English).

The line was never truly busy. In recent years, it carried an average of 41 passengers per day. The line will transport its final passenger on 2014-05-12. For the last several months, they doubled the number of cars (from 1 to 2) to accommodate train buffs coming from all over the country to bid the line farewell. The extra car gives everybody a window seat.

Instead of riding the Esashi line, we drove along it, chasing 1 of the 6 trains per day from Kikonai to Esashi. The train beat us to the finish, partly because we spent some time at a tiny station in the hills.

The 2-car train doesn’t quite fit in the short, skinny platform.

She’ll be comin’ round the mountain when she comes.

This underpowered diesel-electric is a favorite among non-electrified rural track all across the country.

Miyakoshi station. Keeps the snow and chill out.

Noriko surveys the tiny, clean platform. Apart from the height from the tracks, the smallness of the platform would fool you that this was a street car stop.

The fare table (not so expensive) and the train schedule (6 coming and 6 going per day).

At the end of the line, Esashi station, with a warm stove even in May (the Sea of Japan coast is chilly) and a special desk for farewell souvenirs. They were selling out fast.

The Esashi station master signals the engineer to depart.

cherry blossoms

2014-05-08 TOKYO AND SAPPORO, JAPAN -- My departed friend calls to me ... I hear his voice all the time. The other night he appeared in a dream and he talked to me while I cried.

Bruce, here are flowers for you. I saw them near Noriko’s sister’s place in Tokyo, and on Hokudai campus.


depoe bay

2014-01-02 DEPOE BAY, OREGON -- Noriko and I enjoyed an afternoon in Depoe Bay, a tiny town 20 minutes south of where we live.

The Oregon coast is rugged. Cliffs are common. Our city has sandy beaches, but for the most part, the coastline is rocky forest.

Depoe Bay has what they call a Sea Wall, where US highway 101 runs along the coast.

Tiny shops line the highway.

Decorating gardens with windmills is popular on our windy coast.

We bought a flying disc for our ultimate team Paddy.

Depoe Bay claims to have the world’s smallest navigable harbor. The boathouse on the back left is for the Coast Guard. The boat on the front left takes tourists to watch whales.

We watched from the Sea Wall.

Gulls are easy to spot.

The whales were far away. The dark shape on the left is a whale splashing water. The object on the right is a boat for tourists.

happy new year

2014-01-01 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON -- Noriko and I had toshikoshi-soba on New Year’s eve, and mochi and otoso on New Year’s day.

Soba cooking on an American kitchen stovetop (I call them ranges but most people call them stovetops).

The weather has been nice. We saw a gorgeous sunset from our dining room.

year-end vacation

2013-12-29 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON -- Noriko and I are relaxing at the end of the year.

The weather has been good during our stay. We’re lucky -- it snowed 20 cm a few weeks ago.

Coffee and internet at Beachtown Coffee.

I got a new, fast laptop. I like my previous MacOS 10.6.8 much better than the new MacOS 10.9.1.

christmas market

2013-12-17 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Noriko and I went to the Munich Christmas Market being held on Oodoori Park in downtown Sapporo.

The TV Tower (which used to broadcast TV signals, and still a sightseeing platform) marks the east end of Oodoori Park. They should build a skating rink here.

The Munich Christmas Market is held each winter, from the end of November till Christmas Eve.

We talked to the same shopkeeper we did last year.

We went to a restaurant to warm ourselves inside and out.

The restaurant is on the 10th floor, and faces the Sapporo City Hall building. Oodori park is between the two.

We didn’t expect to glimpse the Clock Tower. Professor WIlliam S. Clark built it originally as a military drill hall for students at Sapporo Agricultural College (the predecessor of Hokudai).

Snow cranes fly above a lake-like illumination.

The Munich Christmas Market grounds below, with the white Tannenbaum in the center.

Christmas lights blur.


2013-11-26 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- For our anniversary, we rode the Hokutosei sleeper car from Ueno to Sapporo.

The Hokutosei sleeper car emblem at the end of cars.

Ueno station became spacious after its recent modernization.

Everything in Ueno is about panda bears.

Sleeper cars depart from track 13.

When the Shinkansen reaches Hokkaido island in 2016, sleeper cars are expected to cease service.

The train departs Ueno at 19:03 and arrives at Sapporo at 11:15 the following day.

Our cabin is on car 9. The train has 11 cars.

The aisle runs along the left side of the train as seen from Ueno towards Sapporo.

The cabin is meant for 1 person, but the sofa bed expands to accommodate 2.

The train sports an art deco design.

The shower claims a 10-minute limit, but in fact runs forever, as long as you wait for the water to heat.

The sink and toilet fold into the shower room wall, like a murphy bed.

Sirokuro and Kero found a cozy nook to spend the trip.

Dining cars, once found on all express trains, now exists only on sleepers.

We bought bento boxes at Ueno.

Our cabin came with white wine, whisky, mineral water, and tea.

We celebrated 22 years of being together.

Coffee and tea are served in the morning.

Daybreak on Hokkaido island.

The previous night had been stormy. Birds didn’t seem to care.

no phone, no television

2013-05-13 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- 3 years ago, we stopped having a phone at home. The only phone we have is at the office. Noriko has a cellphone for talking with her family, but I don’t.

We’ve never had a television. I might watch television when staying at a hotel, for instance. The commercials are all new to me. I’m glad I don’t have to watch them every day.

I’ve been renting DVDs from GEO and Tsutaya. I pay for each rental. Their monthly plans don’t work for me. GEO costs less, and they seem to have a better selection of DVD titles, but their rental period is shorter (10 days including shipping time both directions). Tsutaya costs more but their rental period is longer (30 days), and they have a better web site.

I also watch anime online. Niconico shows for free the latest episodes of my favorite programs such as ハヤテのごとく Hayate the combat butler and 進撃の巨人 Attack on titans.

glexa in the papers

2013-04-21 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- This is old news that I realized I hadn’t publicized.

Glexa and VERSION2 (the software company that develops Glexa) appeared in the Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper on 2013-01-01 and 2013-01-20. In the article are pictures of Akio Ohnishi (founder and CEO of VERSION2, shown pointing at the computer screen), a screenshot of our courseware (thanks, iBioSeminars!), and a photo of yours truly taken by his mother at Lake Kawaguchi.


new year's cookies

2013-01-01 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON -- Happy New Year everybody!

As a New Year’s treat, I wanted to make airplane-shaped cookies but (probably because I used the wrong kind of dough) they turned out looking like potatoes! Better luck next time!

resting, raining, restauranting

2012-12-13 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON -- Our classes had a full day for an early Christmas party. Noriko and I left Sapporo for a business trip followed with vacation. It rains a lot on the Pacific Northwest, especially along the coast. We’ve been spending most of our time indoors. When we do venture outside, we try restaurants and cafes that we’ve never been to before. Here are a few meals we’ve cooked for ourselves and eaten out.

We made a standing rib roast (in the oven, left) with baked potatoes (wrapped in aluminum foil, right).

The rib bones allow the roast to stand by itself without a rack. We use a rack anyway to catch the juices. One rib per person if this is your main course.

Noriko likes medium (the outer side), while I enjoy medium rare (the core of the roast).

The McGrath’s Fish House in Salem, Oregon is a family favorite. Seafood is expensive in America.

We don’t remember the last time we had lobster. We had a plate of 2 tiny lobsters that came from Maine. Maine is on the Atlantic coast. On the Pacific coast, we get crab. The left plate contains pan-fried Pacific oysters. Deep-fried cooking is a hundred times better in Japan or Belgium than it is in America.

We hadn’t visited our local Nelscott Cafe until now, partly because they’re at the opposite end of town, and partly because it’s hard to park. The interior is bright and cheery that reminds me of a storybook titled “The old black witch” I read as a child (ISBN-13 978-1930900622, still in print). First rays of sunshine in several days!

All hamburgers are $5 on Fridays!

Munchen kerstmarkt

2012-11-29 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- The cities of Sapporo and Munich (Munchen) are celebrating their 40th anniversary of sisterhood during their German Christmas Market. We ran into our students, took pictures, and enjoyed sausage and hot chocolate.

new mailbox

2012-09-28 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON -- In America, most houses have mailboxes on the curb (that is, along the street). There are strict rules regarding where you can put your mailbox, how large it should be, and what you can write on it. For instance, you must have your house number on it. You may have your name on it, but that is not required; in fact it is not recommended. You may put no advertisements on it.

Our old mailbox was too small and the rain kept getting in.

We ripped the old mailbox off, and painted the post.

We bought a new mailbox and a set of metal house number stickers. The house number must face the direction the mail delivery person comes from. Our mail delivery person drives from the west, so the house number is put on the west side of the mailbox.

The red flag on the side tells the mail delivery person that I have outgoing mail for her -- that is, I want to send a letter. The mail delivery person opens my mailbox door, picks up my outgoing mail, and brings it back to the post office.

Our new mailbox is bigger and keeps the weather out. It comes with a lock to keep our mail safe.

The old mailbox went to the dump.

rv (camping car) show

2012-09-14 PORTLAND, OREGON -- We went to an RV (recreational vehicle = camping car) show at the Portland Expo Center. Along the edge of the expo grounds, they have several torii gates chronicling the internment of Japanese-Americans along the west coast during World War II. Indoors the expo hall, lots of camping trailers and motorhomes are on display. Some are vintage models for rent. Some new ones are huge, with double slide-outs, and look like houses inside. Some are richly appointed yet compact.

conference and dinner

2012-09-11 PORTLAND, OREGON -- 11 years ago Noriko and I were stranded first in Copenhagen and then in Amsterdam because America closed its borders due to terrorist attacks. Today was a pleasant day. First our colleagues and I gave a poster presentation at a speech science conference in Portland, Oregon. Afterwards we had dinner 2 blocks away at the South Park restaurant.


2012-09-02 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON -- A local casino run by local Native Americans hosted a fireworks display over the Labor Day weekend. We watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean and enjoyed the show.

fixing the house

2012-08-20 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON -- Time to fix the house! It rains less in the summer on the Oregon coast. Here I am trying to match the front door trim with what Brandon Hertz, our contractor, did for our windows. My workmanship is not even half as good as his. Noriko pretends not to notice.

summer party

2012-07-20 SAPPORO, HOKKAIDO -- Every summer they have a neighborhood party at a pocket park across the street from where we live. There’s a stage where pre-screened serious amateurs entertain the throngs. By midnight, everything is dismantled, and the party plaza becomes a kids park next morning.

shiretoko peninsula

We traveled in the Shiretoko peninsula area for the first time. Sirokuro was thrilled with a gorgeous view of Mt Rausu reflected upon one of the five tiny lakes north of Utoro. We also watched Venus traverse the sun.

cooking class

We went to an Italian cooking class at La Veneziana restaurant in Sapporo. Denis Schiavo is the chef and owner of the restaurant. He has taught for 6 years, and currently teaches at a trade school (専門学校) in Sapporo. Unlike some cooking classes where students touch the food and share responsibilities, Denis’ class at his restaurant is a demonstration with running commentary.

He made (a) gnocchi al pomodoro e basilico, and (b) saltimbocca alla romana. Gnocchi (pronounced like “nyokki”) are flavored mash potato rolls quickly boiled in ultra-salty water. They cook fast -- pull them out of the water 15 seconds after they start floating. Saltimbocca is literally translated as “jump into the mouth” and means “you can’t have just one”. Saltimbocca is a thin slice of pork with sage and fresh ham on top, pan fried in olive oil (best if infused with sage), butter, and white wine.

Sirokuro stayed behind the kitchen counter to observe and record everything. It was a wonderful way to spend lunchtime of a beautiful May weekend. After class, we went grocery shopping at Hatakeyama’s and walked down the Lilac Fair at Oodoori Park.

cherries in bloom

When I left Sapporo at the end of April to visit my family, all the trees were bare. When I returned 10 days later, the foliage had exploded into fresh green. The cherry blossoms are particularly endearing.

boys basketball

Last week, we went to Taft High School to see a basketball game between 2 teams of 7th-grader boys. One team is coached by Brandon, who fixes people’s houses during the week, and teaches life skills and sports to kids on weekends. We went to cheer Brandon as much as his team.

lunch with friends

Noriko and I visited our former Dutch language teacher at her home in Ghent, Belgium (Gent, Belgie). Evelien, Cleo (who had turned 2 the day before), Annuska, Paloma and us enjoyed an afternoon together. We are so fortunate to have friends that welcome and care for us. We’re hoping that they’ll come see us in Japan and/or America.

greetings from europe

Noriko and I arrived in Antwerp, Belgium today, following a fun-filled week of visiting museums and historical sites in London. The weather in Europe is terribly cold. They're talking about a 200-kilometer skating race in Holland that takes place over frozen canals and rivers. It's called the "Elfstedentocht" (the eleven city race) because the course runs through 11 cities. If they decide to hold the race, then you might see it on the TV news. The race rarely happens because it hardly ever gets cold enough for the entire route to freeze. Last time was in 1997, when the son of a colleague of mine here at the University of Antwerp did the race.

happy new year

I hope you all entered 2012 in high spirits. I had a wonderful New Year’s. I visited my mom at Lake Yamanaka on the northern slopes of Mount Fuji. We walked around the lake (13.5 km) on New Year’s day, and saw the First Sunrise. It was a crisp, calm, chilly morning.

american wagyu

Many Americans enjoy sushi. Kurobuta pork is becoming popular too. The ad below is for Kobe-style beef. (View the original ad.)

fantastic weather

After several months of rotten health, I’m coming back to running. My favorite running paths include:

(a) The campus circuit. Once around the campus = 6 km.
(b) Oodoori Park. The park is short but pretty and lots of restrooms! Including the run from campus to the park = 6 km.
(c) Sasson Expressway. From campus, run along the Shinkawa River to the expressway and back. Including the campus circuit = 11 km.

I really want to run the banks of the Toyohira River but from where I live the path to the river is boring and rather dangerous because of vehicle traffic.