2016/03/04

Winston Tastes Bad

February 21, 2016.    Cyclone Winston was, at Category 5, the worst storm ever South of the Equator since records have been kept with wind gusts as strong as 325km/h and waves up to 12m high.

It started out as a tropical depression to the East of Vanuatu and moved South between those islands and Fiji.   It built to a category 1 storm, but then backed off and meandered Northeast as a tropical storm, passing between Fiji and Tonga.   Somewhere South of Samoa, it revved up to a category 2 and made an abrupt reversal in course heading straight for the Fiji islands.   Building even further it slammed into Taveuni (Fiji's 3rd largest island) as a category 5.  The little town of Vuna, on the Southern tip of Taveuni was devestated.   Out of 160 homes, only 20 were left standing!   Winston ripped along the South shores of Vanua Levu, Fiji's second largest island, while its arms chewed up the main island of Viti Levu, then along the Bligh Water Strait (where that famous sailor and 17 others were chased by Fijian warriors back in 1789).

Path of Winston


After destroying village after village across the entire country, it finally slowed  and turned Southward again, bent Westward around New Caledonia and finally dwindled back down to a tropical depression again off the coast of Queensland, Australia.

Follow this link to see over 100 pictures from around the country showing some of the damage:
https://weather.com/news/news/cyclone-winston-fiji-photos

Tens of thousands of people are homeless.   Many children cannot attend school as their schools are either damaged, destroyed, or being used as shelters.

If you can, please make a donation to the Fiji Red Cross Society.   While help is coming in - a French transport aircraft landed emergency supplies at Matei Airport for the hardest hit areas of Taveuni and Australia has sent its largest ship (the HMAS Canberra) loaded with three helicopters, emergency supplies and over 800 personnel - the Red Cross is local and knows where the greatest needs are.

Taveuni Estates, where we have property, was not spared damage .   The Marina was completely destroyed, the clubhouse severely damaged, crops and other foliage stripped away,  and the water system main tank (one million liters) crushed.   The good news is, there was little damage to the village in which the workers live, Taveuni Dive Resort boats were not in water so are back in action, and the dive resort itself was undamaged.   The water system is presently being repaired and food is being sent to the workers and families in the estates.

Taveuni Estates post Winston



Thanks for any help you may send Fiji.

2016/03/01

Another Year Another Post

The date should read: October 12, 2015 for this post.

Sorry, readers, for being offline for so long.

I started 2016 by going viral - with a nasty flu virus that kept me in bed for the first eight days of the year.   I would say that is a risk of K's job at the Jr. High School, but actually I rarely get the flu and if I do it is held in check by my immune system and I only experience mild symptoms.  Not this time.

Let's see, where was I?   Ah yes, wishing everyone a nice Halloween.      To back up just a tad, on October 12 we had a very rare visit by several hummingbird hawk-moths (Macroglossum stellatarum).   I hadn't seen any in years, but apparently the lavender plants and cosmos flowers that K planted in our yard are attractive to them.   Although they resemble hummingbirds in that they hover and drink the nectar of flowers, they are moths.   There are of course no hummingbirds in Japan or anywhere else outside the Americas.




2015/11/01

Joining The One Percenters!

K has joined an exclusive group of people.   No, she hasn't become a billionaire. Rather, she has excelled at using as little gasoline as possible and emitting very few pollutants with her car.

Of the approximately 32,000 drivers of Honda Vezels in Japan, K is the 76th most efficient driver.  That puts her in the top  0.2 percent!   So, if you happen to be in Japan and see K driving by with her nose in the air, you'll understand why.

That information and more is provided via internet to Vezel owners by Honda. Her average fuel economy this October is 24.6 kilometers per liter.   For you people stuck with the old English measurements, that's about 57.86 miles per gallon.


Way to go, K!



K picking up her Honda Vezel Hybrid last year.


2015/10/30

Have A Happy, Monsterous, Halloween

Halloween isn't celebrated in Japan much.  No children going door to door yelling "Trick or Treat".  Never-the-less, we always put up a bit of decor outside our house, as elementary school students pass by our place every day on the way to and from school.

The grocers and convenience stores some displays for it to help sales, and occasionally one may see some children dressed in costumes while out in public.   K saw some little witches in the local mall yesterday and I saw a princess at the grocery store.  I'm sure the candy manufacturers are doing all they can to push the idea in Japan, but without the English/American cultural background it hasn't found traction here as yet.

Momo-chan is ready for it, just in case she can get some extra doggy treats.

"Vampire Dog" (aka Momo; aka "White Fang") says, "Trick or Treat!"






































Back in 1978, the Japanese singing duo Pink Lady which featured Mitsuyo Nemoto ("Mie"), and Keiko Masuda ("Kei"), made a single that became the number-one hit on the
Oricon charts in Japan for eight weeks selling 1.6 million copies. Not "Halloween" per se, but definitely appropriate music for the occasion.




For a good English translation of the song visit here:
http://www.pinkladyamerica.com/lyrics-monster.html

And chekout PCRM's Halloween Holiday Menu for a lot of healthy, tasty recipes perfect for entertaining, without the scary levels of fat and sugar. "Brain Sandwiches" look appetizing:


http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/recipes/halloween-menu

Wherever you are on October 31st, have a howling good night.

2015/09/12

For Peat's Sake


The Scottish castle looking building of the linked post was one of the places we planned to visit on this trip to Hokkaido.   It is the site of the original Nikka Whisky Distillery, founded in 1934 by Taketsuru Masataka.

Masataka was born to a family which had distilled sake since 1733, but in 1918 he went to Scotland  to study chemistry at the University of Glasgow.  He also worked in a number of whisky distilleries while there and in 1920 married Jessie Roberta "Rita" Cowan of Middlecroft, Kirkintilloch.

Rita and Masataka in 1920
Returning to Japan with his bride, he helped establish a whisky distillery for a company which would later become Suntory.     He started Nikka in 1934 and sold its first whisky in 1940.   The reason for choosing Yoichi, Hokkaido as the site for his distillery was that he thought that the location most resembled Scotland in its climate.  The fact that Hokkaido has plenty of peat - burned to dry the barley and thus add flavor to Scottish whiskies - may have played a role in that decision as well.  Oh, for peat's sake, why would a person want to live in a climate like that of Scotland?   Give me the tropics any day.


K with the barrel head sign inside the entrance.
Whisky is not of particular interest to either of us, but I decided to take K up there because she had enjoyed watching an NHK Asadora (morning drama) called "Massan" which was based on the lives of Masataka and Rita.  Because of the drama, the distillery has become a popular destination for Japanese tourists.  Tour buses roll in and out all day long.  Visitors can stroll around the original distillery buildings on a self-guided tour (with signs in Japanese and English) or take a guided tour at specified times during the day.   Admission is free.

The original buildings make for an interesting tour, while on the adjacent land, Asahi runs the modern distillery.

Still life?  Ahem.   From these stills, the whisky was decanted into large vats in the next room, and ultimately, into oak barrels for aging.  A large screen at the entrance to this room plays a video showing how these stills were operated.

Inside one of many warehouses, there is a display of aging barrels along with audio-video and step by step  displays showing how barrels are made and what the pieces look like at each step.

After visiting an aging room, K seems hardly to have aged at all. ;)

Named for Rita, this was the management office in the center of the plant.


The Taketsuru home.   Originally built in 1935, it was rebuilt by Yoichi town after WWII.  Short commute, eh?


 K inside the Nikka Whisky museum, which is filled with personal and distillery artifacts.  There is also a bar in there where you can purchase whisky samples.

Some of the photographs and other memorabilia on display.

The Taketsurus.



At end of the self-tour, K went into the sampling room and had free samples of whisky and the apple wine which they started producing while waiting for the first single malt whisky to age.

Pandabonium at the monument to Masataka Taketsuru

In July of 2015, Nikka Whisky won several awards at the International Spirits Challenge in London, including Distiller of the Year and the Best International Blend Trophy along with six gold  medals for individual products.

Rita passed away in January of 1961 at age 64.  Masataka passed in 1989.

We had lunch at the distillery restaurant which was quite good.   Our timing was just right as some tour groups were arriving just as we were leaving.   We then visited the gift shop before heading to the train station to go to our next stop - Otaru City.

The distillery as seen from the Yoichi train station.

JR Yoichi parking lot.
Sittin' at Yoichi Station, got a ticket for my destination....

All aboard!
つづく (to be continued)

2015/09/04

North To Beat The Heat

In July of this year, 24,567 people were taken to hospital by ambulance due to complications from the heat.  39 of those people were dead on arrival.   Fortunately, Pandabonium had planned an escape up north to Hokkaido, where temperatures were ten or so degrees Fahrenheit lower,  for the last week in July.

K drove us to Narita in her Honda Vezel (sold as HR-V in the USA).   This was the first time she had it on the Expressway and she was a little nervous as her previous car, the Honda Insight, was a little skitterish at those speeds.  To our relief, the Vezel behaved well - rock solid in fact - thought the fuel efficiency dropped from her usual 52 mpg to around 30 mpg at around 65 mph.  Oh well, it was only a 40 minute drive.  We left the car with a car park company which gave us a ride to the airport just a few minutes away.

Must be fun to work on the ramp in the blazing sun.

The cabin crew finally boarded and we were soon to follow.  Note that the pilot has put up a shade in the cockpit windows.


We took an inexpensive ride in a crowded Airbus A320 (with apologies to my youngest daughter, who works for Boeing).   It was a quick trip, just 1.5 hours to New Chitose Airport in Sapporo, from where we boarded a JR train to the JR Sapporo station.

Why didn't we take the Shinkansen?,  you may ask.   Well, I for one would have loved to, however, at this time the Seikan Zuidou - the tunnel which connects Honshu and Hokkaido - is not wired with the high voltage necessary for a Shinkansen line.   So far, people have taken an overnight sleeper train from Tokyo to Hokkaido.   That train will soon be removed from service when the higher voltage wiring is installed in the tunnel. 
he sleeper trains are also being eliminated because ridership is off something like 80% of what it was in the 1980s.  


So sometime in the next year, you will only be able to reach Hokkaido by rail on a Shinkansen train.   Many people will be sad to see the romantic "Blue Sleeper" trains (the Cassiopea and the Hokutosei) go.  But it takes 16 hours from Tokyo to Sapporo and for us, 16 hours is time we don't have to spare on a short vacation - nostalgia or no. 

We stayed at a hotel Hotel Monterey Sapporo, which is just a five minute walk from the JR train station.

























Our fourth floor room had a view of sorts of the Sapporo TV Tower.


In the morning we caught a highway express bus (at the train station) for Yoichi City - about an hour and twenty minutes with some scenic shoreline for the last 20 minutes or so of the ride.


Within minutes of getting off the bus, we were standing in front of what looked for anything like the entrance to a Scottish castle.  What is this thing doing in Hokkaido of all places?

つづく (to be continued)