2014/08/11

Kumamon!

Kumamon is Japan's most popular mascot. 

Kumamon represents Kumamoto Prefecture which is located on the island of Kyushu, just across Shimabara Bay from Nagasaki Prefecture.   When the Kyushu Shinkansen was completed a few years ago, Kumamoto Prefecture decided to create a mascot to promote tourism and trade.  Kumamon was born.  Kuma is the Japanese word for "bear", so naturally, Kumamon is a bear.

The character has become very popular throughout Japan.   He has been such a success that he brought in over US$1.25 Billion in just two years! 

Here is a video song about Kumamon with English subtitles.  It was filmed at Kumamoto Castle - one of the three best castles in Japan.   Warning: possible "cute" overdose.   :)

2014/08/09

Hibakusha - Never Forget


A mother and daughter in Nagasaki three days after the bombing, their faces showing injuries from the attack.

Hibakusha means "explosion affected people" and is used to refer to survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Their numbers decline each year and before they are all gone, efforts are being made to record their stories so that future generations will not be without their unique insight.

Nagasaki was A-bombed on August 9, 1945.   The bomb exploded at 11:02 in the morning.    The true number of casualties will probably never be known, but conservatively 75,000 people died by the end of 1945 as a result of the Nagasaki A-bomb.

Here is the story of one of Nagasaki's hibakusha.  One reason that their testimony is so valuable is that there was an official blackout of information about the bombings by the US Government.   Even people who were against the bombings, such as General Douglas MacArthur,  participated in keeping photos, reports, and medical information from being disseminated.   This gave the government time to establish its fictional narrative of why the bombings were "justified" and allow them to continue to develop even more powerful weapons.   This was largely successful and it was not until many decades later that classified photos, reports, and government documents regarding the decision to use these weapons came to light.  By then, most Americans believed the official narrative and accepted it as fact and were not interested in hearing the bitter truth.

So let us listen to the hibakusha and may we never forget what happened nor ever stop working to bring an end to nuclear weapons and to learn to settle our differences without resorting to warfare of any kind.  We can chose peace if we want it.

One long time project seeking an end to nuclear weapons is from the UCLA School of Medicine and is called "Children of the Atomic Bomb". 





2014/07/30

Pacific Health Crisis

As many readers know, I had a nearly fatal health crisis of my own a little over two years ago.  Its cause was the same as that causing the health crisis in America, the Pacific, and every other place in the world where people are imitating the Standard American Diet (or SAD).   It is a food borne pandemic.  Food borne in the sense that it is being caused by what we eat.


In Japan, I spent 18 days in hospital and received excellent care (even the food was good) and thankfully the insurance system here kept my costs low.  But I got similar (bad) advice as I would have gotten in America, and that advice was partly responsible for my own crisis in the first place.  So this problem is not unique to America.

In the United States of America there is a financial and political crisis being brought about by the cost of dealing with the general health crisis.  Amazing as it seems, that is true.  None in politics dare actually face the situation squarely because -as with many other issues over there- powerful monied interests profit from it - from food producers to medical providers to insurance companies.  They in turn finance the legislators who are supposed to write new laws to deal with the issue.  Good luck.

Individually there is a simple solution to most of the problems such as I had.  The solution is to stop eating processed foods, any form of animal based food, along with oils, added salt, and sugars.  Simple.   Not always easy, mind you, but simple.   You don't need to write a congressman or even vote. 

On a national or regional or global level it is more difficult.   But one doctor who I have a lot of respect for is offering his solution.   Rather than provide money (that we don't have) to pay for all the standard medical responses (which only address symptoms) to disease , he proposes to focus on prevention.  What a concept!

Here is Dr. John McDougall, MD with his presentation on solving the health crisis.   If you are not familiar with his work you'll want to listen about what he learned practicing medicine at a sugar plantation on the Big Island of Hawaii.  If you know that background, you can skip to about 15 minutes in when he begins to define our problem and then enumerates his solutions.  Please give him your attention and consider carefully what he says.

We need to tackle this thing.  For our health, for our countries, for our finances, for our children.  This is big.  And WE do have the power!



Doubt it?  By following the recommendations of Dr. McDougall and the other doctors listed in the right hand collumn of this blog, I lost 40 lbs and lowered my blood pressure from over 160/110 to normal and my blood work numbers to optimal.  So have many others.  No meds required!  Just watch what you eat and exercise a bit everyday. 

Be well.  It's up to you.


2014/07/22

Suture Self

An episode of the cartoon series "Rocky and His Friends" is titled You've Got Me In Stitches - or - Suture Self.  The comic Frank and Earnest also used the joke:

Rocky and Bullwinkle and Frank and Earnest may be funny, but for Momo the Wonder Dog stitches are no longer a joking matter.

Last week it was hot and humid in Japan and Momo was having a tough time staying cool.  She started going on shorter walks and not eating as much.   We thought it was the heat.   Wednesday she stopped eating altogether and  walked slowly.  So slowly that I tried to get her to turn around and go home early on, even thought of carrying her, but she kept on going.   K and I decided to take her to the vet the next morning, but then it turned out the vet was closed.  We should have called him anyway, but we waited another day.  When we took her in first thing Friday a stand-in vet was there.  She took x-rays and did a blood work-up.   Momo's trouble was not the hot weather.

Her blood numbers were all fine except for one - a very high white blood cell count.  She had a bad infection in the uterus which even showed on the x-ray.  She was given a shot of antibiotics, a suppository as well, and sent home.  She responded very quickly to the anitbiotics and was soon wagging her tail and smiling.  But she still would not eat.

Saturday morning her regular vet called and told us to bring her in again.  We had planned to do that anyway, but it was nice that he was so on top of of Momo's health.   She's had the same doctor since 2006, so he knows her well.  He performed an ultrasound while we were there and it showed a lot of inflammation from either infection or perhaps cancer.  He advised removing her uterus. (Interestingly, her doctor had discussed this operation a month ago as her birth control implant had expired and she needed the surgery before getting too old to be able to recover from it.)   He would open her and see what it was then if it was cancer he would stitch her back up and we would have to decided what was best for Momo from there.  If he found it was an infection, he would remove it. 

The Day After Surgery
Fortunately it was the latter.  The operation took an hour and then Momo spent the night at the pet hospital.   She was very groggy when we saw her that evening.  Next day we brought her home.  She was much more responsive.  She had received some nutrition via IV in the hospital and we tried to feed her.  We used a chicken breast doggy treat as she really likes that.    (Unlike humans, dogs are omnivores and have a digestive system evolved to do fine on either plants or animal flesh.)    She ate the treat eagerly.

Yesterday she had another check up and doctor said she didn't need the "cone of silence" as we called it around her neck.  She could return to her usual routine.

Today she is almost back to normal!   She'll have stitches for perhaps several more days, but she's eating well, walking normally, and shows no signs of the infection.   This morning she even went on her usual walk and walked along at sprightly pace.   She's well on the road to a full recovery.



 We'll keep a closer eye on her in the future, to be sure, and not be shy about consulting her doctor if something seems even a little amiss.


  


2014/07/16

Seduction


I was pleasantly surprised to find other folks at my daughter's wedding last month who were turning to a low fat, 100% plant based diet to improve their health just as I have done.  Over breakfast one morning we discussed how some foods seem harder to "give up" than others, and that those foods tend to be the same ones for most of us.   Why is that? 

Most of us can change our eating habits in a few weeks - the time it takes our bodies to recalibrate our tastes.  But getting through those few weeks can be difficult if we do not understand why some foods seem to keep calling to us.  Perhaps if we understood the mechanisms involved we could develop a strategy to counter it and move on to a healthier, happier, lifestyle.

Well, there is help.  Neal Barnard, MD is President of PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) and uses a low fat plant based diet to treat and usually cure patients with type 2 diabetes.  That is his specialty, but the benefits of this way of eating and the number of health problems it can solve are numerous.   He has researched the issue of why some foods are so darned seductive and some of what he has discovered may surprise you.

Here is Dr. Bernard's 40 minute talk on "Breaking The Food Seduction" - Enjoy! Then go out and play. :)




Neal D. Barnard, M.D., is a nutrition researcher, author, and health advocate. As an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine, Dr. Barnard conducts studies on the role of nutrition in diabetes, obesity, and lipid management, among other health issues. His blog is here: Dr. Barnard's Blog.

2014/07/15

Transpacific Then and Now

Regular readers (if there are such) may recall that last year we visited Misawa up in Aomori Prefecture and saw the place where Clyde Pangborn and his partner Herdon took off for Washington State (Sabishiro Beach) in their plane Miss Veedol to become the first to cross the Pacific from Japan to the USA non stop in October of 1931.

The plane flew past Seattle, which was socked in with weather, and landed in Wenatchee, Washington, where the airport now bears the name "Pangborn Memorial".   

Fast forward to 1992 and Pandabonium was working on his instrument flying rating.  The first big glitch came when, after flying all the way from Maui to California, and driving 80 miles (through a lighting storm!) to Ontario airport to take the written test, said test was cancelled due to illness of the guy presenting it!   Subsequently, an instructor came to Hawaii with a simulator to teach me instrument flying.  Then my own airplane had a failure of a crucial instrument and I was unable to finish.

So, my instructor graciously offered to put me up at his house which happened to be near Pangborn Memorial Airport.   I flew to Seattle, took the written test the next day (passed of course!) and then my instructor Paul drove me out to Wenatchee.  There, we flew around in REAL instrument weather conditions (unlike anything I might experience in Hawaii) and scheduled me for a final check ride.

As luck would have it, the FAA check ride pilot (I am not making this up) came down with appendicitis(!) and so once again I was denied my instrument rating, in spite of flying to California to take the test, paying an instructor to fly to Hawaii, and flying to Seattle and going to Wenatchee!  Ouch.

So imagine the irony when the younger of my two daughters who moved to Seattle last year decided to get married in Washington State.  And beyond that, she and her now husband chose a resort in the mountains outside of Leavenworth, Washington to be the site of their wedding.

My flight from Japan - the first in nearly ten years- was on a Boeing 787.  My daughter is an engineer for Boeing.   The wedding was in a town - Leavenworth - which I passed when my instructor drove me to Wenatchee in 1992.   And Wenatchee is the nearest airport for Leavenworth, which Pangborn and Herdon flew over in the final hour of their flight from Japan!   Coincidences?   Maybe.

In any case, I had the most amazing week in a very long while.

For the first time in nearly a decade, I had boarded a plane that took me outside of Japan. What you may ask could pry this old transplanted opihi (Hawaiian limpet) off his Japanese rock?

Hawaiian opihi, looking like a miniature Mt. Fuji,  clinging to a rock.
The trigger as I said was the wedding of my second daughter and the chance to see her, meet her groom and his extended family, and see my own extended family - most especially my two precious granddaughters.

The trip began ominously. I was given the wrong gate number at Narita. Bad weather slowed the traffic and my flight information got buried behind the many delayed flights, such that (even though I asked for help and verification) my only warning of a problem came with a final boarding announcement to a gate two football fields away from where I had been directed - cue Pink Floyd's "On the Run".

I just made it to the gate by the 6 pm deadline. The door was closed after me, I settled into my seat, and waited. Twenty minutes later one of the guys up in the pointy end of the plane came over the PA to let us know that due to a THUNDER STORM sitting right on top of Narita Airport, our clearance was delayed. Perhaps we could get under way in ten minutes or so. Uh huh. Similar announcements followed every so often as outside lightning flashed, thunder rumbled and rivers of water cascaded over the aircraft; and inside, cabin attendants smiled, poured orange juice, apple juice, and passed out rice crackers. A few passengers got edgy wanting to know why we couldn't just take off.  I was thinking, "trust me, you are really a whole lot better off right here on the ground than flying through this storm.  You REALLY don't want to be up there."

At 8 pm we pushed back from the gate and got in line behind many other delayed flights. After 45 minutes of taxiing in cue we took to the air. It was 8:45 PM. Poor cabin crew. How do they do it? I lost track of time, but something like eight hours thirty minutes later, we landed at Seattle-Tacoma. The flight was smooth. The aircraft experience itself was awesome, for I was aboard one of ANA's new Boeing 787 Dreamliner (many parts of which were made in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries).

Ain't she purdy?
Spacious cabin with ceilings lighted to match the time of day; extra large windows made possible by composite fuselage construction with touch control electronic shades; and a cabin altitude of about 5,000 feet instead of the usual 8,000 feet with more filtered air circulation. You get much more oxygen and cleaner air which means you feel less fatigued upon arrival.  All the while, she burns 20% less fuel than other aircraft of her size.

Yes, the plane has had its teething problems, but the final product is outstanding and ANA's low density seating arrangement offers plenty of shoulder and leg room even in economy class.  (Also, the washlet toilet feature in the lav is not lost on those of us living in Japan who have become spoiled by such things.)

The unexpectedly long trip meant that I made it to my hotel with just enough time to get ready for a gathering at my daughter's house.  The yard is backed by a woodland and a curious deer came into the yard, soon escorted back to the woods by my daughter's dog Hoku.


Hoku (Hawaiian for star), was actually in the wedding and stayed in one of the resort's pet friendly cabins!

Two days later I rode with my other daughter, son-in-law and my two granddaughters through snow topped Stevens Pass along the Skykomish, Tye, and Wenatchee Rivers to the town of Leavenworth and up the valley along Icicle Creek to Sleeping Lady Resort where the wedding was to be held.  

The Sleeping Lady rests on the mountain ridge facing the sky.

An organic garden provides food for the resort's restaurant along with selected locally sourced food.  I wanted to roll up my sleeves and plant something.
The wedding and reception took place out of doors, overlooking Icicle Creek.
I went for an early hike the following morning and found two osprey soaring around their eyrie in the canyon.  A little shopping in town with my granddaughters and it was back to Seattle to pack for the return trip.

In a bid to save the town, Leavenworth reinvented itself as a Bavarian style village in the 1960s.  Apparently successful, it is now a major "TT" - (tourist trap) with wall to wall shops, restaurants, beer garten, outdoor band stand, nutcracker museum, and plenty of parking for America's oversized motor vehicles.  ;)
It took a lot to pry me off my Japanese rock, but I was richly rewarded with the family reunion, wedding, meeting new friends and family not to mention the natural beauty of Washington State.

By the way, for a host of reasons, in spite of all the training and passing the written exam,  I never get my instrument flying rating!