In a famous movie that starred Dustin Hoffman, a character approaches him and says "I have just one word I want to say to you.  Plastics".   Do you remember that line?

It was in the 1968 classic "The Graduate".    

Well, that's not my advice to K, but some 'ump-ditty-ump' decades after getting her associate degree, she has - with just two years of late night studying, weekend lectures, exams, and numerous online classes (all the while working, mind you) - attained her liberal arts bachelor's degree from the University.    She is a new graduate.

It was a challenge that she gave to herself.  To prove that she could do it.   As Tim Allen's character, Jason Nesmith, said in the movie Galaxy Quest (1999), "Never give up, never surrender!".   She may kill me for posting this, but I am in total awe of her for this achievement.

Here is "the graduate" right after her graduation ceremony which was held in NHK Hall (Home to Japan National Radio and the NHK Orchestra) last week.   

My "one word" of advice for K?    It isn't "plastics".  It is "Education".     You are awe inspiring, K!


Breathe Deep!

PM2.5 levels around the world

PM2.5 refers to fine particles (2.5 microns in size or less) that are released into the atmosphere when carbons are burned, such as farm waste, transportation fuels, or fossil fuels for electric generation.   For reference, a human hair is about 50 to 70 microns in diameter.      PM2.5 is of particular (no pun intended) concern, as pollution of this size can get deep into one's lungs unless one wears an appropriate respirator (N95 or N99 mask) when exerting oneself when a lot of the pollution is present.

Japan on its own does not produce enough of these particles to often pose a serious health risk, but our neighbor, China, relies on burning coal for some 70% of its electricity.  As a result, their air is often unsafe to breathe.  Greenpeace studied the matter and estimates that an astonishing 257,000 deaths per year in China are due to pollution from coal burning power plants!   

This problem now affects South Korea and Japan because the prevailing winds bring this dirty air from China to our shores.   Depending on the weather, the air in Japan can become unsafe due to Chinese pollution requiring people to wear masks outdoors or school children to remain indoors, as happened recently in Niigata Prefecture.   

I have added a widget to the right column of this blog which gives the air quality for Kashima City.   It comes from an interesting website which tracks air quality around the world: Air Pollution: Real-time Air Quality Index

Here's a guide to the meaning of the widget's colors:

good 0-50 = Good
Air pollution poses little or no risk
good 51-100 = Moderate
Air quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people. Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.
unhealth for sensitive subgroups 101-150 = Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups
Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. For example, people with lung disease are at greater risk from exposure to ozone, while people with either lung disease or heart disease are at greater risk from exposure to particle pollution. Active children and adults, and people with lung disease, such as asthma, should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors. The general public is not likely to be affected when the AQI is in this range.
unhealthy 151-200 = Unhealthy
Everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects. Active children and adults, older adults, and people with lung disease, such as asthma, should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors. Everyone else, especially children, should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.
very unhealthy 201-300 = Very Unhealthy
Health alert: everyone may experience more serious health effects. Active children and adults, older adults, and people with heart or lung disease, such as asthma, should avoid all outdoor exertion. Everyone else, especially children, should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.

This takes me back to my teen years in the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles in the 1960s.   The chemical pollution from automobiles was so bad that the air was unsafe and could make one's throat and lungs ache with a burning sensation.  At times the air had a brownish tinge that limited visibility to under five miles.   I vividly remember taking a trip to Washington State with my parents in my father's small airplane.  When we returned a few days later, we could see the smog as a brown bubble in the valley and when we descended into it, it smelled with an odor like chlorine, as when you walk into the building housing an indoor swimming pool!   Yuck.

The Chinese government is trying to grapple with this issue, but a solution is a long way off.  Until then, we will monitor our air quality and take steps on those days when we get this unwelcome "gift" from our big neighbor to the west.


Live This Year To The Fullest


Akemashite omedetōgozaimasu!

Pandabonium & K
and Momo too.


A is for Apple - and Aomori Part III

Third and final installment.

Continued from A is for Apple - and Aomori and A is for Apple - and Aomori Part II...

After spending the morning in Oirase Gorge, we went to the lakeside town of Yasumiya and found a nice restaurant that served soba (buckwheat noodles) with wild mountain vegetables.  Oishikatta desu!  (It was delicious.)

We walked along the shore to the statue of  two maidens by Kotaro Takamura.   Then inland to Towada Shrine, built in the 9th century.

I love the dragons which provide the water for the purification fountains of Shinto shrines.

K then bought tickets for a boat that would take us along the south shore of the lake and area where the Tachikawa bomber-trainer we had seen at Misawa Aviation Museum had ditched in 1943.  The tour boat business has been under bankruptcy protection in the aftermath of the Great Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011.  I hope enough people decide to bring them business again.  The area is just as interesting and as beautiful as ever and there is no reason to stay away.

The boat leaves Yasumia and follows the shore around the Nakayama-hanto Penninsula into the deep caldera called Lake Naka-ko (where the airplane ditched), then returns.  The Towada Prince location is on the west shore.

Pandabonium's On Towada album on Photobucket

Towada is one of the clearest lakes in Japan.  Looking down through a few meters of water at the aquatic plants on the bottom I was reminded of Lake Tahoe on the border between California and Nevada.

 photo PND_1362_zps859fe926.jpg


On her fourth and final day at the doggie hotel, Momo the Wonder Dog was apparently enjoying her walk.

A picture like that makes us feel happy that she is OK and more comfortable about being away from her.

After a wonderful "Viking Style" breakfast (as such buffets are called in Japan - as if the Vikings ever had it so good) we went for a walk along the shore then up hill and across the highway to find a bell tower.  The automatic bell instrument was a gift from Germany to the people of Japan as a symbol of friendship.  It took some finding as it set amid a forest.  We checked out of the hotel and  drove around the north side of the lake on our way back to Hachinohe City, a route which takes one to higher elevations and some beautiful overviews of the lake.

Pandabonium's last day towada album on Photobucket

On the way down the mountain, stopping to top off the gas tank, I snapped this pic of a farmer with his diminutive tractor at the gas pump talking on his cell phone.   Old ways and new ways found together in modern day Japan.  Let's hope the former are not lost as we will need them as fossils fuels become more and more expensive, making such things as tractors, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and even cell phones more costly - not to mention the cost of importing food from far away.

Returning the car to Hachinohe City, we bought bento lunches in the train station for the ride home and boarded our bullet train for the 3 hour trip to Tokyo.  While there is some nice scenery in between, the first fifteen minutes of the ride is mostly tunnels, so I just closed the window shade for a while.

Harvested rice paddies.  Somewhere in Iwate Prefecture.

From Tokyo it was an hour and fifteen minute ride on a highway express bus to  Itako City, next to our home town of Kashima City, and then an hour by car to pick up Momo at Lake Hinuma. A long day to be sure.

It was a fast paced trip, but we managed to take in quite a lot.    After a journey, it's always good to come home to familiar things, relax, and think about what one has experienced.   Momo was glad to see us and obviously happy to get home as well.

 photo MomoHome_zps5b77d28c.jpg

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.


My New Green

I found this at a farmers market the last time we took Momo the Wonder Dog to the beach park. (Will post about that later). Then, I found it being carried by a grocery store closer to home.

It's called tah tsai (thank you Martin) or brassica campestris var narinosa. Anyway, what appealed to me was its rich, dark green color and rugose leaves (deeply wrinkled). It just seemed to shout "super nutrition"!

The ones I get are grown across lake Kitaura from us - just 5 kilometers away.  Eating local.

A lot of people add it to a stir fry or put it in soup, but I like it raw in a salad with other nutritious greens like chingensai (a kind of bak choy), beans, and veggies (like paprika and broccoli). Sometimes with plants like this or spinach I lightly "water fry" them.  One of the great things about a plant based diet is that you can mix and match whatever you have.  Nothing complicated about it.

Isn't it gorgeous?

Update: photo of lunch on Monday with tah tsai in the salad:

 Soba (buckwheat noodles), tsuyu and water with negi (leek) for dipping, and a dessert K often makes from sweet potato, apple, and raisins cooked in soy milk. Sorry I didn't display everything better, but I was hungry!

I make my own salad dressing now so I can avoid oil (read empty calories that also have a really bad effect on one's arteries) and sugar and salt which are so often found in commercial dressings. Here's a recipe I got from Dr. Joel Fuhrman of DiseaseProof.com .

Orange Cashew Dressing

1 orange, peeled and seeded
2 tablespoons (30 ml) raw cashews
(I soak them for a few hours to make them easier to blend)
1 tablespoon (30 ml) of Dr. Fuhrman's Blood Orange Vinegar
(I use balsamic vinegar here)
1 carrot, grated
orange juice (optional)
lemon juice (optional)

Just blend the ingredients in a high powered blender until smooth and creamy. Add some orange or lemon juice to thin dressing, if necessary.   The cashews give it a creamy taste and the vegetable fat in them helps your body get more of the nutrients from your salad.


I definitely want to try growing tah tsai next year.


Buy Not, Want Not

Buy Nothing Day Japan was observed on November 29th.   It was the 14th annual observation with meditating "Zenta Claus" figures and elves in front of Hankyu Department Store in Tokyo and other locations around Japan.

Zenta Claus does not buy gifts or carry around a bulky bag; doesn't judge people being naughty or nice; doesn't require people to believe in anything.  Just meditates and advises you to think for yourself rather than be a consumerist "sheep".  Think about where things you might buy are from (sweatshop? ecological disaster area?), and where they will go once you or the person you give it to tires of it.

Buy Nothing Day is observed in some way or other (by some people) in over sixty countries around the world.