Tuesday, July 17, 2007

An Aomorian Safari in Shimokita

My Father Atop His Safari-Vehicle
(This is my dream pickup truck . . . I hope I can afford it someday)

My father comes to our house about once month in order to lead an evening worship service in our home for local Christians (and anyone else who wants to come). He can only make it for the evening because he preaches at Ajigasawa Church in the morning, and usually he needs to take off around lunch time the next day while I'm away at work. This past Monday was a holiday, though, so he stuck around and we took of on a safari adventure of Deepest Shimokita. Unfortunately I didn't take as many photos as I might have, so the humble slide show presented below is about all I have to show for it. We did see a few monkeys running down the road, but by the time I got my cell phone set to record video they had already disappeared into the bush. I'll remember that, next time the board of education sends me out with a BB gun on monkey patrol.

A Visit from the Relatives

Shimokita is not always considered a viable holiday destination, so we felt very privileged to receive a visit from Yuko's grandparents, aunt and uncle, and cousin. Although it started raining the day they got off the ferry in Oma and didn't stop until they got back on two days later, we dined magnificently with them every evening.

They spent their second night at the Hiba House where they met our friends the Muraguchis, and Mr. Nioka (the sushi chef) played the shamisen for them.

On Friday we boarded the ferry for Hakodate with them and spent Saturday in the old wharf district.

Then it was back on the ferry . . .

. . . where Grace promptly fell asleep . . .

. . . until we woke her up . . .

. . . in order to take her to the Muraguchis for her joint birthday party with Mr. Nioka (the shamisen playing sushi chef, who was also born on 12 July).

Friday, July 13, 2007

RooTube is Back

Grace is turning one year old and she must face the ancient Japanese birthday trial of shouldering the issho-mochi--2.3kg of pounded rice cakes . . .

RooTube Episode 10.1: Let the Milk Do the Walking

2 min 10 sec

Will Grace complete her training in time? Watch future episodes of RooTube to find out . . . .

RooTube is a subsidiary of Keitai Cinema
and produced by Gaijin for Life

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Grace!

Grace, On Her Birthday Morning
(Standby for the RooTube update on what is required of one-year-olds in Japan)

Today is perhaps a good time to reaffirm the traditional Christian blessing for newborns:

May the Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit bless you my child, for time and eternity, and may this blessing remain with you forever.

See my post "God's Gift of the Power and Authority to Bless" for the picture of the first time we blessed Grace with this blessing.

The Snazzy New Ferry for Aomori-Hakodate

The Hakodate ferry terminal is getting a face lift, disproving, I hope, my former theory that Aomori-Hakodate ferry travel was doomed to grow old and die.

The Aomori-Hakodate route is also getting a snazzy new catamaran named Natchan Rera. "Natchan" is short for Natsumi, which is the name of the seven-year-old girl who designed the pictures painted on the side (see the above poster). "Rera" is Ainu for "wind." You can read all about the new ferry here on the website of Incat, the company that manufactured the Natchan Rera. Unfortunately, we will never see this ferry docked at the desolate Oma ferry terminal ten minutes' drive from our house. A pity, that, since it's twice as fast as a normal ferry.

According to the president of Incat, "The Ship will turn heads in Japan and revolutionize sea transport between the islands of Hokkaido and Honshu. The ship will also turn heads around the world, its entry into service will be widely reported and closely watched by European operators." I guess that means I should invest in a pair of binoculars so that I can watch it whizz by Shimokita during its maiden voyage scheduled for 1 September.

According to the Incat website the Natchan Rera is the first of their giant 112 metre catamarans and is designed to carry up to 1,500 passengers, but Higashi Nihon Ferry has opted for a deluxe interior design that only accommodates half that number.

The thing is HUGE compared to the dinky little Vayu that runs between Oma and Hakodate. I'm hoping that Higashi Nihon Ferry orders a mini-size catamaran to replace Vayu, but that is probably wishful thinking. (If they do get one maybe I can win the picture design contest and have it named Lukey Iomante or something ("Lukey" is long for "Luke," and "iomante" is the Ainu name for the Ainu bear festival).

Cave of the Kamoshika

Yuko was the first to notice that whenever it rains, this little fellow always takes a break in this spot. . .

. . . under a concrete ledge designed to keep . . .

. . . this hill by the side of the road from sliding into the traffic on wet days such as this. The creature in question is a nihon kamoshika known to the English speaking world as the "Japanese Serow." This isn't the first time for me to mention them on this blog (I mentioned them here in January, 2005), but it's the first time this year.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Social Grace

Grace is becoming very sociable. Generally she prefers other toddlers to adults, young people to old people, and women to men, but given enough time she will develop interest in just about anybody--as demonstrated in the photo above. It took her nearly a year to become friendly with Grandpa Elliot, but a few strategic peace offerings along the way such as the little wooden desk and chair set and the squeaky red ball helped to grease the social wheels.

At the beginning of this lesson Grace had no idea how this toy worked. At the end of the lesson she did. But she still prefers to just dismantle the plastic tower as fast as she can.

The Muraguchis' hobbies are almost as diverse as their friends. One regular visitor to the House of Hiba has been into Japanese-style hula dancing for about four years now, so when she made her way over from Hokkaido the other week it was hula dancing time for everyone.

We discovered that Grace really likes dressing-up, listening to music and dancing around. (Since this photo was taken, the Muraguchis' youngest daughter sewed a pink floral patterned hula dress for Grace, so more on that in a future post).

Beauty and the Beast

Reading Recipes with Kanako, the Muraguchis' Youngest Daughter
(Grace was very fond of her, but she left last week for a one-year working holiday in New Zealand)

Grace Wasn't too Sure about Her New Haircut
(It makes her look like Martin Luther or a 16th century Jesuit . . . or possibly the little girl in Grave of the Fireflies, but that's too sad to contemplate)

Dinner with Mr. Nioka
Grace always likes to scrutinize our guests very closely from across the table--but nothing gets her attention like a camera . . .

The "Beast" (from the "Beauty and the Beast" photo above) Teases Grace by Offering Her Raw Whale Meat which He Knows Her Parents Won't Allow Her to Eat
. . . with the possible exception of raw whale.

Still Being an Only Child at this Early Date, I'm Afraid that Grace Needs a Little More Training and Instruction in the Social Graces of Playing with Other Kids

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Celebrating Two Years of Marriage

The two years have gone by so fast. We often talk about how our wedding and honeymoons (we went on two, for good measure) seem like they were just the other day. On the other hand, our single lives (thankfully) seem like dim memories in the remote past. I often hear people talk about how they want to do this or that before they "get married and settle down." I did a lot of things and went to a lot of places before getting married at twenty-eight but, in retrospect, all that those experiences really amount to is a lot of interesting anecdotes that people may or may not believe. In many ways life didn't really begin until I got married, and it would have been nice if Yuko and I had been mature enough to fall in love with and marry each other the first time we met, back when we were teenagers at Word of Life Bible Institute. People like to say nowadays that one shouldn't be in too much of a hurry to grow up. That might be sound advice for a twelve year-old, but . . . certainly not for college students.

We Celebrated by Consuming (over Four Courses) All Manner of Beasts of the Field and Birds of the Air, and Many Plants and Minerals Besides

Of course, a Little Someone Came with Us . . .

. . . and Seemed to Enjoy Herself Thoroughly
(I didn't actually let her eat my dessert because sugar is bad for everyone except mommy and daddy; Grace was mostly fed brown rice and wild duck)

Pomodoro: Probably Our Favourite Restaurant in Shimokita

It's a French Restaurant Up on a Hill Overlooking Ominato Harbour and Mutsu Bay

Grace Goes Walking

Taking a Walk on the Street Outside Our House
(Seen on the Left)

Actually, Grace has been walking for about a month now, but I think this is the first time I've gotten around to mentioning it. This outdoor auto-mobility demonstrated by Grace in the photo above encouraged us to take a day trip down the Sai coast a couple of Saturdays ago.

Gankake-iwa, roughly translated "Prayer-post Rock"
(the idea is that people use padlocks to hang written prayers on a chain-link cage set up between the two rocky outcrops)
These twin "peaks" are also known as meoto-gake which roughly means "Married Couple Cliff."
(I use this photo as my desktop wallpaper on my laptop now)

Gankake-iwa is about half-an-hour's drive from where we live. It is across the street from a campsite called Kevin House complete with rental cabins, bbq pits and a little park. The rocky beach is great for having impromptu campfires and bannock roasts.

Grace Didn't Seem to Enjoy Her First Time at the "Beach"
(To be fair, I should point out that this water is freezing cold, and I would never dream of sticking my own toes ino it)

Hotokegaura (i.e. "Buddha Rock Cove", as seen from the road) about another half-hour's drive down the coast from gankake-iwa. This was one of the filming locations for Operation Bearwatch: The Movie.

Yuko and Grace at Hotokegarura
This is My New Wallpaper for My Cell Phone's (a.k.a. Mobileman II's) Display Panel

Grace Trying Out the Boardwalk at Hotokegaura

Nuidoishiyama (another filming location for Operation Bearwatch) as Seen from the Intersection at Fuku-ura
(Note the old-school grandma walking to her garden with a watering can tied to her belt and a Japanese hoe slung over her shoulder)

The Sai Coast
(On a clear day you can see both Hokkaido and the Tsugaru Peninsual, and all the ferry boats sailing between Hakodate and Aomori glimmering in the sparkling water)

Fisherman Washing Their Nets at Sunset
(using a fire hose)

Fashion Model for a Day

I Use this Photo as One of My kubuntu Desktop Images

Yuko is an avid reader of newspapers. She reads them from cover to cover. Knowing this, our local distributor gives Yuko leftover copies of the local Tonippo's evening edition even though we only subscribe to the nationally syndicated Asahi (the paper, not the beer). For about half a year now this special bonus has included Tonippo's monthly lifestyle magazine TOO Life. A regular feature in this magazine is a section called "Shining Room" (to translate it roughly). It's a "before and after" series sponsored by a hair salon in Aomori City. It encourages ordinary women readers who wear boring clothes and have unexciting hairstyles to apply. If selected, they get a free makeover. A photographer is on hand to record the transformation, and the resulting images are published together with a short bio of the "model" and the hairstylist's reflections on the experience. To make a long story short, Yuko emailed an application together with a couple of attached photos to prove how plain and simple her style is . . . and got accepted. If you can read Japanese or would just like to look at the pictures, click here for a peek at the August edition.

The Setting Chosen for Yuko's Transformation was the Hakkoda-maru, an old Aomori-Hokkaido renrakusen (railroad ferry)-turned-museum. If you look very closely, you can see Yuko and the photographer's crew on the compass platform above the bridge.

The Pampered Model

The hairstylist said that before her makeover Yuko had an "NHK style" about her. Clearly this was less than ideal. However, while Yuko's little foray into the modelling world was a fun day for the whole family, I think we will all be happy when she finally evolves back into an NHK lady. After all, we are at heart a plain and simple family.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Return to Lake Towada

The Towada Fleet
During an early morning guided walking tour my father asked the guide how all these big cruise boats were brought to this small mountain lake. Obviously there are no lakeside shipyards. She had no idea.

Although my parents' thirtieth wedding anniversary was a couple of years ago, Yuko and I were pretty busy getting married ourselves and didn't really do much in the way of celebrating it. So this year we took them on an overnight trip to Lake Towada. Technically my parents' anniversary is 27 December, but we found that late May was altogether a more pleasant and convenient time to do something about it.

Grace in the Foothills of the Hakkoda Mountains Enjoying the Squeaky Red Ball Grandpa Elliot Bought for Her

The Hakkoda Gondola Station Viewed from the Road through a Powerful Camera Lens
(The Hakkoda Snow Monsters are Seen Here in the "Naked Green" Phase of Their Annual Cycle)

Some Pretty Waterfall in the Oirasse Gorge

Some Other Pretty Waterfall in the Oirasse Gorge

The Oirasse Gorge is One of Those Places that Makes Me Glad I Live in Aomori