Sunday, September 26, 2010

Play Ball!

A couple of weeks ago I finally had the chance to catch a Japanese baseball game. The 'home' team was the Saitama Seibu Lions, from the prefecture next door. They played the Osaka Orix Buffaloes, which was the team we ended up rooting for. Entering the stadium, we got to choose which teams 'section' to sit in. I picked the Buffaloes because there were more open seats, so we could sit closer to the field. The Lions took an early lead, and so the American love of the underdog came out and we ended up cheering pretty hard for the boys from Osaka.

They must have heard us, because despite some horrible baseball on their part in the early part of the game, they came back and ended up winning 8 to 4. I really enjoyed my first trip to a baseball game in Japan. The smaller field made for a much more intimate game. The fans were so much quieter and nicer than at the last American game I saw. Though there were 'cheap seat' cheering sections for each team, each with their own band ready to strike up the team fight song!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


A few weeks ago we did a poetry lesson for the third year junior high school students. The idea was to come up with a nice short English language poem. The only direction was to start with one word, then two words, three, four and finally one last word to summarize. The two classes were both right before lunch, so I had a lot of fun just brainstorming up mostly food related example poems. Later on when I went through the student's efforts I saw some excellent work, and I decided they deserved a blog post.   

My Poems

So high
Hiking, climbing, resting
I’m on the top

Smells good
Round, greasy, cheesy
I want it now

Hiroshima? Osaka?
I cook it
Lots of sauce now

From America
Beef, Bacon, Cheese
Let’s grill it outside

Pounded rice
It’s so chewy
Goes well with ice-cream

So happy
I can eat
Oh no, its seafood

Students Poems

What’s this?
Sad, busy, tired
Take me far away

Moon Crying
Umbrella, raincoat, boots
But, I don’t use

Very Cute
White, round, good
Eating it makes smile

Mother say
Study Study Study
I don’t like studying

Very cold
Lake river sea
The water is smiling

Many colors
Green, yellow, red
It changes by a season

Sky light
Big, shining quietly
It is very big face

Todays feelings
Snow, cloudy, rainy?
How is the weather?

Sunny, rainy, cloudy
Blue sky
The sky is smiling
So beautiful

Very big
Blue, wide, beautiful
I want to swim
To far-off!

So delicious
Chocorates, cookies cakes
I like ice creams

Very fun
Friends, teachers, basketball
It is happy time

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


In the middle of Nagano Prefecture, near Matsumoto and its famous castle, there exists a dream come true for wasabi lovers. The Daio Wasabi Farm is set in a broad valley among the high Japanese Alps, and is the perfect combination of scenery and flavor. To get there, you rent a bike at Hotaka station, and ride a couple of kilometers through rice paddies and corn fields.

We started our visit at the restaurant, with a very wasabi lunch. My meal consisted of wasabi juice and a wasabi croquette, and both were excellent. The green monstrosity you see above was a wasabi beer ordered by Ryan. While this may not catch on for St. Patrick's Day back Stateside, it was actually far more delicious than you might expect. The wasabi flavor was very subtle, but was certainly present. The beer was in fact just a bit spicy, and went down perfectly with a side of wasabi peas.

The farm itself is quite a sight to see. Wasabi must be grown in a rocky stream bed of fresh, flowing water. The plants are also temperature sensitive, hence the black shade coverings.

We got to dip our feet in the water, and I took the opportunity to get a shot under the canopy. The water was chill, and very refreshing. However, I can't imagine what will grow downstream of anywhere my feet have been.

Once you are done exploring the paths among and above the spicy little roots, well there is only one thing left to do...

... and that is to have some Wasabi ice cream!

This was actually my second trip to the farm, but I had just as much fun as the first time. It really is a little seen gem of Japan, though I can understand why. Nagano Prefecture is a bit off the Tokyo to Kyoto to maybe Nara or Hiroshima tourist path. Getting to the farm from anywhere that isn't Matsumoto or Nagano City will take a few hours, and would anybody on a ten day trip really want to devote a whole day to wasabi? That said, for anybody who has the time or is in the area, it's a uniquely Japanese experience that doesn't involve a shrine, temple, or skyscraper.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Located in Tochigi Prefecture north west of Tokyo, Nikko has been a worthwhile destination for centuries. The primary draw for the past couple of hundred years is Tosho-gu, the shrine that is the final resting place for Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Tosho-gu was built by Ieyasu's son Hidetada, and enlarged by his grandson Iemitsu. They needed a grand and glorious gesture to show the power and wealth of the still new Tokugawa Shogunate. Japan had just come out of a long period of civil war and disunity, and the Tokugawa made every effort to forestall any slide back into chaos. That their own heads would have been first on the chopping block in that event was certainly an added motivation.

The various shrine complexes are set a short ways up from the town itself, and an easy walk from the train station. Nikko is a very popular day trip from Tokyo, and it is easy to see why. It provides a remarkable contrast to Ieyasu's old capital, with the tall forests and ornate shrine buildings a far cry from the busy streets around Shinjuku.

Nikko is rather unique in Japan, far more gaudy and ornate than is usually the case in Japanese religious buildings. In that way it shares a certain aesthetic similarity with some of the traditional buildings I saw in China, bright and colorful as opposed to the more standard unpainted wood.

Indeed, Nikko can be overwhelming to the senses, especially when you factor in heat, crowds and a surfeit of steps. (I was at Nikko three days after Fuji, and had mostly recovered, but the steps triggered a measure of Post Traumatic Mountain Stress Syndrome in my calves.)

I have been to Nikko before, by myself over five years ago. That trip was during a very chilly mountain March, so I was quite glad to return with friends. Though the occasional drizzle merely made the late August heat even wetter and stickier and made the dirty snow piles of March an attractive alternative. 

After an extra fee and a hike up more stairs into the woods you come to the burial place of the man who unified Japan. It does seem ironic that once you get past the Rococo meets East Asia styling of the shrine buildings, Tokugawa's mausoleum is an understated bronze cylinder that still holds whatever remains of his ashes, these hundreds of years later.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Driving to Nikko

Nikko is one of the premier tourist destinations in Japan. It is an area of immense natural beauty and historical importance that has the good fortune to also be quite close to Tokyo. Nikko sits in the mountains to the north of Gunma, about two hours drive from my house. My old friend Zach and his girlfriend Miku came up to Gunma from Osaka during summer break, meeting up with me and our mutual friend Ryan. We planned a drive to Nikko, as Miku had never been!

While enroute we came across an old Imperial getaway that is now a museum. Originally built for the local lord, the small palace was obtained by the Imperial Family during the Meiji Restoration in the late 1800s, and was expanded and made more luxurious, as befits an Emperor.

Now of course, it is a museum that gives a look into the very private lives of the Japanese Imperial Family. There are displays on the history of the building, old Japanese building techniques, and of course rooms that show how the Imperial Family lived, from the shower room to the audience room to the billiards room.

This was a very nice surprise, everyone but Miku had been here before, some multiple times. It was just far enough away from the central tourist sites of Nikko that you wouldn't know about it without prior planning or a car. Just one of those happy accidents that happens when you are traveling.