In the summer of 2004, K and I took a trip from Maui down to the "Big Island" of Hawaii to see lava pouring into the ocean. I wrote about the lava in Red Hot Real Estate! last May. The island is nick named "Big Island for a reason. It is larger than all the other islands of Hawaii put together and at 4028 square miles, is about the same size as Fiji's main island of Viti Levu (3972 sq. miles). This post will focus our flight. As they say, "getting there is half the fun".

To get in the mood, you can listen to the theme from the popular detective television series "Hawaii Five-O" which aired from 1968 to 1980. If you are Japanese and unfamiliar with Hawaii Five-O, it is sort of like "Hagure Keiji".

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Use this map for the Hawaii place names I mention.

Slow connection? Try the midi version at the end of the post.

We took a small airline, Pacific Wings. Their ten passenger turo-prop Cessna Caravans offer comfortable seats, big windows, lower altitudes for better views, and convenient scheduling into Hilo. Boarding and deplaning a ten passenger plane is also a whole lot quicker than a 150 passenger jet. No waiting for bags either. When you arrive, the pilot just opens the baggage compartments and hands you your bags. A ticket price almost half that of the majors was just icing on the cake.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
A Pacific Wings Cessna Caravan

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Leather seats, plenty of room, and a great view. The only way to fly.

I've flown my Cessna 172 "Manu-mele" to Hilo many times. If you ever take this trip, I'll have to confess that you are not likely to find such clear weather. The windward coast of the Island of Hawaii is usually cloudy - plenty of rain once watered Hawaii's early sugar plantations there. Hilo gets 128 inches (325 cm) of rainfall per year! The only other time I can remember such a clear day was when I flew my mother down to Hilo to see my youngest daughter compete in a state swim meet. But don't let a little rain stop you.

After leaving Kahului, Maui we climbed out and followed the northeast coast of Maui. This area is very lush with tropical vegetation, much like Taveuni, Fiji. After a few minutes we are over Keanae Peninsula, one of the few truly Hawaiian communities left in the state, where people still fish and farm taro and on Sundays attend the beautiful Congregational Church, which was built from stones and coral in 1860.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Keanae Penninsula

From Maui, we crossed the Alenuihaha Channel, where the water reaches a depth of 6100 feet (1859 meters) and the sea and air on the leeward end can get very rough as the tradewinds get squeezed between the Kohala Mountains of Hawaii and Mt. Haleakala on Maui. A small fishing boat went missing here in 1979 and was found ten years later in the Marshall Islands. A friend of mine had to ditch his single engine plane in this channel in 1996 and spent a scary 25 hours in the water with just a life vest to keep him afloat. Happily he was picked up by a Coast Guard helicopter and suffered only minor injuries from some fish that had nibbled on his feet. But it is not wise to think about such things while crossing it as a passenger.

We passed Waipio Valley near the north end of Hawaii, where two millenia ago the first settlers from the Marquesas Islands started what was to become the Hawaiian culture. The view from Honokaa toward majestic Mauna Kea was breathtaking. Rising to 4200 meters (13796 feet), the summit is home to some 13 observatories. The air was smooth - not unusual for the windward side as the air is flowing over thousands of miles of uninterupted ocean. For the same reason, the air reaching Hawaii is the cleanest in the world.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Hamakua Coast of Hawaii and Mt. Mauna Kea

We then flew over Laupahoehoe, another low point of lava jutting into the sea much like Keanae. It was here, on April 1, 1946 that a tsunami caused by an underwater slide in the Aleutian Islands, swept away a school and teachers' residences killing 20 children and 4 teachers.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Hamakua Coast and Laupahoehoe

Approaching Hilo, we turned inland a bit to line up with Hilo Airport's shorter runway. This took us up the mountain slope over verdent jungle and a remote twin waterfall.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Twin waterfall, somewhere near Hilo

We flew over downtown Hilo to the airport. I tried to get the view forward, but the contrast between the interior and outside was too great. You can see how roomy the cabin of this plane is however. [Is Pacific Wings paying me to advertise? No. I just love airplanes.] The one hour flight had been a memorable one.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Are we there yet?

Speaking of waterfalls, our lodgings were in a bed and breakfast outside of Hilo on the edge of a macadamia nut farm. In the "backyard" was a 120 foot (36 meter) waterfall. The sound helped me to sleep like a log, but kept K awake. Framed by palms, gingers, ferns, and kukui nut trees, it was quite a backdrop for breakfast on the lanai (patio) in the morning.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
The Inn At Kulaniapia Falls

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Kulaniapia Falls

Hawaii Five-O midi

Blog Day?

Blog Day - Blogging sure is an interesting phenomenon and seems to be bringing people together from around the world - at least those with access to the internet. Something to celebrate to be sure.

I'm supposed to do a write up of five new blogs I find interesting and post it here with links, then notify those bloggers. Reluctantly, I too will list five, but they aren't all new to me. Hopefully some will be new to YOU and you'll pay them a visit.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

A Little East of Reality - a young woman in Canberra who lived in Japan for three years posts this blog. Her thoughts often return to Japan as she writes about her life in Australia's capital.

Babasiga - my favorite Fiji website. The adventures of Wendy, native Australian artist and church organist, and her husband Peceli, native Fijian, Methodist Minister and avid golfer. They live in both countries. Real people with real stories to tell (except the ones that Wendy makes up).

Letters From Exile - a gay cowboy (really) who found refuge (not quite) from the new world order in Costa Rica a few years back, Scott Bidstrup writes piercing political commentary as he shares his experiences living in Central America. A prolific writer, his homepage has many well reasoned and informative articles on several topics.

M and J Adventures - "NZM" is a Fijian born woman who lives with "DEJ" in Dubai, UAE. Great blog by world travelers with a lot of variety from travel to politics, ecology to expat life in Dubai. You see fabulous photos too - the ones she recently posted of Greece will have you buying plane tickets.

THE 1979 - writing from Kuala Lumpur, Low@ describes himself as young Malaysian-Chinese man who likes to exchange post cards and hopefully be "in the postcard" someday. Beyond his travel interests, you'll find him to be a great photographer - especially of people - perhaps because he puts his time where his mouth is where it comes to community service, working to help the handicapped, the ecology, and world peace. I only wish he had time to post more often.

If your blog is listed, please don't feel rejected. I don't even have room for all the blogs I visit on my sidebar links. Happy blogging everyone.

Happy Independence Day

Pacific-Islander has a number of regular readers who live in Malaysia, and it happens that today, August 31st, marks the 49th anniversary of the Federation of Malaya gaining its independence from the United Kingdom.

So, Happy Independence Day to all my friends in Malaysia, or as you say "Happy Merdeka Day"!

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

(Thank you Happysurfer in Kuala Lumpur for the heads up).


Suva International Airport Expansion

Fiji has two international airports, but most flights land at Nadi on the west end of Viti Levu, which can handle wide body aircraft such as the 747. The other is at Nausori, 23 km northeast of the capital city of Suva, but the runway does not accommodate large aircraft so gets limited use for international flights.

That will change soon, as a $40 million project will begin in December to extend the runway an additional 345 meters (1132 feet), which will allow unrestricted use by aircraft such as the 737-800s which Air Pacific presently flies between Hawaii and Nadi. (But still not the "heavy iron" like 747s or MD-11s).

AIRLINERS.NET Photo ID: 1059387
Click for Larger Image

Above: View on final approach to runway 10 at Nausori Airport (Suva International) in an Air Fiji Embraer EMB-120 Brasilia (a twin engine turbo prop). The plane is headed approximately East with the Rewa River on the right.

The newly completed bridge over the Rewa River that you may have read about on Babasiga already makes it easier to get to the airport. By the way, NZM of M and J Adventures tells me that her first ever airplane ride was from this airport - in a DC-3. I would add on her behalf that the DC - 3 does not indicate NZM's age, but rather the slower pace of aviation progress in Fiji.

In addition, a new terminal building will be constructed starting in May of next year. The improvements will make a big difference to Suva bound travelers. This is good news for me too, as Nausori is much closer to Taveuni than is Nadi and will shave an hour off regional trips.


Hanabi Taikai - Fireworks Display

In honor of my granddaughter's birthday, the City of Kashima offered an hour and a half long pyrotechnic display last night! Well, OK, maybe they didn't know about her birthday, but K and I went anyway just as we did last year.

Hanabi taikai is very popular in Japan. Coming from Hawaii where public fireworks displays are few and far between and personal fireworks are illegal except for New Years and the 4th of July, I was amazed to see the huge selection of them for sale here in Japan - in shopping malls, hardware stores, and even convenience stores. Public displays are found all over Japan at any time of year and are far longer and more elaborate than what I was used to in the USA.

The fireworks for Kashima City's annual display are set off near the south end of Lake Kitaura and the area is packed with spectators. Special buses shuttle people from the train station to the designated viewing area. As much as I like fireworks, I'm not at all fond of crowds, and so as dusk came, K packed up our picnic dinner of corn on the cob, baked pumpkin (both fresh from the garden of K's parents), omlette, and inarizushi (sushi rice wrapped in boiled tofu). We loaded the bikes and road down to the lake.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The lake is surrounded by a levy with a sealed road on top. We went to an area that projects out into the lake a bit, which gave us a nice unobstructed view over the water toward the show. We sat on the grass slope of the levy by the edge of the road and enjoyed our picnic as darkness closed in around us.

The lake was calm and sky only partly cloudy. There were fewer observers this year, but some families came down and parked along the levy to watch as we did. Overhead, as the stars appeared, a constant stream of airliners lined up as they followed, one after another, on approach Tokyo International Airport at Narita. Occasionally, a fish would splash the water's surface, and the call of a coot or other waterfowl would be heard. A multitude of insects buzzed and chirped in the grass and bushes. The air was almost still and a perfect 24 C (75 F).

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Oops! I attempted to capture our picnic and fireworks, but you can barely make out a red explosion and K's blouse. My bike's reflectors are sure pretty, aren't they? (Humbling lesson in basic night photography.)

The fireworks started at 7:30. I had brought the digital camera, K's small 35mm, and a tripod. I was doubtful about getting any good pictures with the digital, especially as I was not using the tripod with it, but it surprised me. They aren't perfect, but still pretty. For a nice website with great photos and information about "Hanabi" click here. It will be a while before I see how K's camera did - presumably better. We were about 3 miles or 4.7 km from the fireworks, so the sound did not reach us for 14 seconds. I also brought binoculars, which we used from time to time both for watching the show and sometimes spotting the dark silhouette of birds on the lake.

The display had a great deal of variety to it. In addition to the different sizes and colors, there were some that lingered in the air and continued to burn as they fell and others burned with an intensity that made them look metallic. Shapes varied too, with flying saucers, split spheres of two colors, smiley faces, and Saturn-like spheres with rings. Hanabi Taikai aficionados are sticklers for proper names of each type, but for me it is more like looking for familiar shapes in clouds and I call 'em as I see 'em. Here are a few examples with my names for them.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Candied Apple

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Golf Ball on a Tee

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Red Sunset

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Ice Cream Cone with Sprinkles

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Moon Rise

The display ended a little after 9:00 and we turned on our lights and headed home. A young teenage boy, who had a fishing pole with him, rode along with us for a while, as his bike had no light. He asked if we had ridden our bikes down to see the fireworks and seemed surprised to see adults on bicycles, or maybe it was the "gaijin" (me) that was odd to him.

Sorry for the fuzzy pics. If the ones in K's camera are better, I'll post them later.

Happy Birthday Bailey Kaiolohia!


Tiny Island - Big History

Peceli, of the blog Babasiga, recently travelled to the historic island of Bau (pronounced mba u) in Fiji for a Methodist Conference (Peceli is a minister).

This tiny island off the east coast of Viti Levu, near the capital of Suva, has an important place in Fiji's history and present culture. For starters, the oldest church in Fiji is located there. It was also home to many of the great chiefs of Fiji. You must have permission to visit Bau, either from someone living on the island or the Ministry of Fijian Affairs. Read all about it at Babasiga. Just scroll down their main page to the post titled: "Bau Island, pivotal role in Fiji's history".

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Bau Island - click for a larger image.

I took the above photo of Bau in 2000, during a flight from Taveuni to Nausori Airport, which serves Suva. The church really stands out. Tiny island, big history.


Robin's Big Cathouse In Singapore

Momo the Wonder Dog here. We just discovered that our friend Robin (who shares his home with a bunch of my K-9 cousins) has been running a BIG CATHOUSE IN SINGAPORE and needs some help. I guess he can't handle all 150 of the, erm, "pussycats" by himself. (Maybe that's why he's so tired all of the time).

This is NOT Robin's cathouse.

Well, Pandabonium says I should clarify this. You see, Robin and some friends created a tempory shelter for cats - the four legged kind - and they need some help. To learn all about how and why he got into this mess the shelter came into being, you can read all about it (with revealing photos!) at his blog: Robin's Empire: Cats for U?

Cat shoe! - Gesundheit!
(Pandabonium is allergic to cats)

They do not want money, just supplies. You know - booze, condoms, perfume food, shampoo, toys, etc.

At first I thought it made so sense for me to post this, because I'm a long way from Singapore, but I've got friends there, so who knows. And besides, someone might be reading this who is a pilot for FedEx with a lost consignment of cat food to get rid of, or a captain of a Japanese fishing boat tired of dodging Russian bullets or trying hide a tuna catch from the Australians. You never know, right?

If you like cats (personally, I can chase 'em or leave 'em) or just want to do something nice for the residents of Robin's BIG CATHOUSE IN SINGAPORE check it out. Anything you can do will be greatly appreciated. You can email Robin at chantwl@gmail.com and tell him Momo said "Woof!"


Purple Hearts and Deep Confusion

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
The Purple Heart was established by General George Washington at Newburgh, New York, on 7 August 1782, during the Revolutionary War. The medal is awarded in the name of the President to those who are wounded or killed in military service to the United States. (Click on the medal above to see the detailed regulation).

"Deep Confusion" is the name of the most recent blog that I have added to my links list. It is written by Swim, as she calls herself, a woman who lives in San Antonio, Texas, whose husband is in the military and has been deployed in Germany, for the second time, doing CCAT (critical care air transport) out of Iraq.

She has recently flown there to join him and her most recent post is about visiting the Intensive Care Unit at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where most coalition service men and women seriously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are first sent. While there she saw two Purple Heart ceremonies and talked with some of the injured.

This is an under-reported aspect of the conflicts in the Middle East. Swim's post is moving to read, and may make you proud, sad, angry or all three, but I think we owe it to the tens of thousands of wounded vets coming out of these wars to learn about what is happening to them and do what we can to see that the government gives them the care they need and certainly have earned.

Meanwhile, at a press conferance a few days ago, President Bush lashed out at critics who called the invasion of Iraq a total fiasco, saying, “If we continue to make progress at the rate we are going, we will have a moderate fiasco on our hands.”

Tell that to the kids in the ICU.


Many Happy Returns

The green tree frog - Amagaeru - is very common in Japan. Last night, this one climbed up the inside of our sun shade outside the sliding screen door. It was a good spot for it to catch insects that landed on the screen. In Hawaii and Fiji, the common house gecko uses the same strategy.

Somehow, the frog looks more cute than a gecko to me.

The generic word for frog in Japanese is kaeru. Kaeru also means "to return", so small frog shaped charms are a common item for travelers to carry with them in hopes for a safe return.

Our amagaeru friend is welcome to return to our kitchen window to eat insects anytime.

The Plot Thickens - Graphically

A tip of the hat to NZM over at M and J Adventures in Dubai, UAE for a link to this website where you can run an applet program that displays your website as a graph. It is beautiful to watch as the program builds the picture. There is also a page where other people share their results, some of which are very cool.

Here's Pacific Islander as a graph:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The colors of the dots correspond to aspects of the blog as follows:

blue: for links (the A tag)
red: for tables (TABLE, TR and TD tags)
green: for the DIV tag
violet: for images (the IMG tag)
yellow: for forms (FORM, INPUT, TEXTAREA, SELECT and OPTION tags)
orange: for linebreaks and blockquotes (BR, P, and BLOCKQUOTE tags)
black: the HTML tag, the root node
gray: all other tags

Now I'll go do it again and see how adding this post has changed the graph.


Chill Already

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

With all the scary stuff in the news of late, and some people over reacting, I want to offer some advice to any readers I may have. I know that most of you who comment on this blog don't need to hear this, so I'm just putting it out there as food for thought for someone who may.

For you people who still watch a lot of TV (or TV "news" anyway), here is some "sage" advice from your "old" pal Pandabonium (who doesn't watch TV at all):

Turn off the TV (News at least), and have a wonderful, relaxing weekend, because all the hype is nothing but that. Scaring people is a very old tool of politicians and of the corporate media (Hurst newspapers of a century ago come to mind). There is power and money to be had in promoting fear. "False flag" terror (where a government commits or causes a terror act and blames it on someone else) is not new. It dates back at least to Rome in 70 B.C. when Marcus Licinius Crassus manipulated people's fear of the rebels led by Sparticus to get Romans to surrender their republic to the rule of Emperors. The same scheme has worked in variations many times since and is in play big time today.

As President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt said, "we have nothing to fear but fear itself." And as Pandabonium says, "If you don't study history, the world is a mystery."

So please turn off the damned TV (or at least the so-called "news") and with it the constant barrage of hate speech and fear mongering, and go about enjoying your life and doing the things that are truly important to you. Try it for one weekend, for me, OK?

If you are interested in what is behind the events in the world, as am I, that's fine, but you won't learn it from CNN, FOX, MSNBC, ad nauseum.

Over half a century ago, a great American journalist, H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), observed, "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and thus clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

Don't buy into the fear. Instead, go and have yourself a great weekend in what ever way suits you. There, I've said it umpteen different ways. Now go have some fun.

*Cartoons are "Calvin and Hobbes" by Bill Watterson, my favorite comic strip characters. My other favorites are Gary Larsen's "Far Side" cartoons, and of course Charles Shultz's "Peanuts".


Obon Furusato (festival) 2006

For those not familiar, here is quick explanation of Obon by my dear friend, Reverend Daien Soga, minister of the Kahului Maui Hongwanji (Buddhist temple):

"The Urabanna (Sanskrit Ullambana) sutra tells a story involving Mogallana, one of the most trusted disciples of the Shakyamuni Buddha, the enlightened form of Siddhartha Gautama, whom Buddhists believe lived more than 2,000 years ago and founded the religion."

"Mogallana, who had super-human powers, had a vision of his deceased mother suffering in the fiery realm of hungry ghosts, paying the price for her selfishness."

"Troubled by this, Mogallana asked the Shakyamuni Buddha for help and advice and was told to perform a charitable act in memory of his mother. He offered food to Buddhist disciples and when he checked on this mother again, she had 'disappeared' from the realm."

Other references say Mogallana danced for joy, which became the bon odori or "bon dance".

"O-bon traditions traveled to Hawaii with the Japanese immigrants and was embedded in the Hongwanji tradition in Japan at the time."

"There is a non-Buddhist, folk-celebration aspect to bon dances as well. The tradition, which originated in China, views bon season as a time to party with the spirits. The gates to heaven are opened with the paths to hometowns lit by lanterns, and a festive party is held – which includes lots of dancing. After the three days are up, the spirits are ushered home and the gates to heaven close."

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Sunday, K and I went to the local temple to clean the graves of her father's parents and an uncle and make offerings for Obon. We rode our bikes down as last year I walked and K drove her car and we found the distance way to short to justify a car and the load of water and other things enough to make walking a bit of a chore. So we reached a balance with the bikes. The Shingon temple bulletin board was decorated with posters for Obon and Osegaki (Osegaki being an offering of food with which I was not familiar Pure Land temples, such as the Hongwanji which I belong, do not perform it). The priest was on the steps of the temple cleaning the altar incense burner in preparation for a service.

Tuesday, the weather turned a bit wet due to an approaching typhoon. In the afternoon it rained off and on and I was worried that the night's dance would be cancelled. Late in the afternoon we heard some fireworks go off at the park, just a mile and a half from here - a sign that things were going ahead as scheduled. K was pessimistic and not eager to go, but in late afternoon the rain stopped. I told her about the time on Maui when my family and I danced at Makawao Hongwanji (on the slopes of Mt. Haleakala) and it rained. Some of us went on dancing in the rain, but eventually we just moved the whole dance into the social hall and danced indoors. What's a little rain? So, K and I went together by car instead of by bicycle as we did last year when the weather was good. It was humid all evening, even foggy, but it didn't rain. The turn out was lower compared to last year, but there were still lots of people, and we had a good time after all.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The dance was held in Hamanasu park which I have written of before. This photo shows the view of the park, and coast, from the park's observation tower. The small clearing in the lower center of the picture is where the dance was held. The trees block some of the view and make it look smaller than it is. Actually, there is a baseball diamond in the clearing.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

From the parking lot there were lanterns (chochin) strung along the path through the trees to light the way. Two mini-fire trucks were parked in the middle of the wooded area over the stream with a contingent of volunteer fire fighters as insurance for the fireworks display to come.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The center tower for the dance - the Yagura - was trimmed in lanterns and had a raised platform around it for the lead dancers and drummers. This would allow the other dancers in wider circles around the yagura to see them and follow their steps and hand movements.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The schedule had been upset a bit by the rains, but after some entertainment in the form of an an "Enka" singer (Japanese folk singer) and taiko drumming club, the dance got under way.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Fans like the one K is holding in the picture were provided to the participants. Unlike Hawaii, where due to the diversity of the Japanese community, there are many different dances, here we just repeated three. One was a traditional dance of Kashima. Another was "Tanko Bushi" - the coal miner's song - which almost everyone who goes to Bon Odori knows. The last, which we danced the most often last night, was a new Kashima City dance, created last year for the celebration of the tenth anniversary of Kashima town and Ohno village merging to become "Kashima City".

To hear some Bon Dance music, click below. This is not the specific music we danced to Tuesday night, but is fairly representative of the genre. The song is "Dai Hiroshima Ondo", one of my favorites I used to dance to in Hawaii. Also, Rev. Soga is originally from Hiroshima, so this is for you Soga Sensei. You'll just have to imagine the beat being kept by big booming taiko drums.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Where's Pandabonium? Click the picture for an englargement that points to me.

So we danced away for well over an hour as others watched, ate, or sipped (ha!) beer. During a break in the dancing, people came around with cold canned ocha (green tea) to refresh the dancers. One of the nice things about these Bon Dances vs the ones in the US is the use of live singers rather than recorded voices. One of them, who was also dancing, was actually a man, dressed as a woman. This is old stuff in Japanese entertainment, but still surprised me when it dawned on me that (as Crocodile Dundee might say) "that sheila's a guy".

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Pandabonium dancing. This is my 1989 Hongwanji Hawaii Centennial Happi Coat. My daughters were in the state Hongwanji choir that year, so it is special to me.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Foggy fireworks.

When the dance was over, there were fireworks and a drawing for prizes. We left as the fireworks began. Due to the fog, they took on a strange, ghostly air. The noise was loud as ever, but the light subdued.

A funny coincidence happened just before this dance. A week ago I found an old high school friend through the internet. My fellow trombone playing buddy, Mark, lives near the coast of California between LA and San Francisco. In the course of our emails I mentioned Obon and he informed me that he goes to a dance near him every year to watch the dancers in their beautiful kimonos, enjoy the food, and the bonsai trees that the local temple puts on display. They had just been to one last week. There are temples up and down the West Coast from Vancouver to San Diego, so perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised.

So, if you get the chance where ever you are, take in a bon dance, and don't be afraid to join in the fun, even if you have two left feet like me.


Bicycling - The Bee's Knees

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
In Germany, Opel started building bicycles in 1886.

I make no secret of my disdain for the automobile. Oh, it has its place, but in a much smaller role than it has now in my view and perhaps not even as personally owned transportation, but as another form of public transport or shared in a cooperative arrangement. I can think of no other mode of transporation that has resulted in more negative impacts on society and the planet - injury, death, consumption of precious resources, pollution, disfunctional cities, urban sprawl, and even war. I admit that in earlier years I too was seduced by the "freedom" promised by that machine. It was/is a part of growing up in the USA.

It was a false promise from the beginning that was carefully crafted by the auto manufacturers and the oil companies who, after WWII, bought up the local rail and bus systems and destroyed them, forcing people into their cars. They then lobbied the government under the fiction of the cold war to build an interstate highway system with taxpayer dollars. There are even interstate highways in Hawaii which of course connect to no other state! Can you belive it? All so that they could sell cars (and trucks) and gasoline. If you live near a US city, look at an ad for any car and compare what you see to your commute. Time for a reality check. Yet, people remain mesmorized.

In "Motor Mania" (Disney 1950) Goofy played the mild mannered Mr. Walker who turned into the evil Mr. Wheeler when he got into his car.

The average American works 1 1/2 days of each week just to own a car. If you factor in the number of hours the average person has to work in order to pay for a car (purchase payments or lost interest, depreciation, insurance, maintenance, taxes, etc., and the time spent at stop signs, lights, traffic congestion, waiting for maintenance and repairs, and so on, the average speed of car travel in the US works out to around 5 mph. Really. Do you drive to work, or work to drive? Yet, we have built our lives (and a lot of infrastructure) around this form of transportation and changing the situation will be a difficult, but necessary task. (Peak oil production, global warming).

OK, so you people still attached to your cars will brush this off. Please don't leave your comments whining about "but I love my car" or "it's so practical". We'll see what you think when gasoline costs double or triple what it does now or is rationed or unavailable altogether at times. No, you won't be driving an electric or hydrogen powered car either, but that's a whole different post. Enough ranting about the damned cars, Pandabonium, this is supposed to be about bicycles.

The bicycle was my first love (transportation wise) and I have returned to it in the last few years. I had an electric one on Maui which helped me up the steep hills and would cruise along at about 15 mph with little help from me when I got tired. Bicycles are one of the greatest technological inventions in history - transportation or otherwise - and the most energy efficient way to make any land trip. It is no coincidence that the men who invented the first fully functional, controllable aircraft were bicycle shop owners. You know who they were, Wright? They possessed the required knowledge of lightweight structure and energy efficient design along with practical mechanical engineering and manufacturing skills. The bicycle is the bee's knees of transportation and in a sense aircraft evolved from them. It may surprise you to learn that a new Boeing airliner with a 75% passenger load is more fuel efficient per passenger mile than a car with four people in it. Have you driven a Boeing lately?

Bikes were popular in Japan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and after WWII. In the 1960's cars became more widely available and salaries high enough to afford them. But bikes have made a comeback in the last fifteen years or so due in part to the economic recession.

Bicycling as a part of commuting is popular in many countries. In England one sees a lot of them on the street. In Denmark some 8% of commuters use bikes in whole or in combination with rail, and cars are banned from downtown areas. In Japan, it is estimated that there are over 3 million bicycles parked at train stations every day as part of a bicycle/train commute. In this neighborhood I see lots of teens going to school by bicycle as well as older folks using them to get around to their farming patches. I'm talking about people in their seventies. I see lots of those folks on the road into town as well, some 12 km away.

So what's with "the Bee's Knees"? Well, aside from it being an early 20th century phrase meaning "the best", one of the things that has bugged (tee hee) me since I arrived in Japan is seeing that the vast majority of people on bicycles around here have their seats improperly adjusted. Mostly, I see seats that are adjusted far too low. This results in additional effort being needed to ride and also contributes to knee injuries over time (not much time for those out of shape).

Most bikes sold in Japan are smaller to begin with, with 26 inch frames being the norm rather than than the 27 inch that fit most people (Japanese people are taller on average than they used to be, but the bikes haven't changed). I was riding 27 inch bikes in Jr. High. In my case, when I bought a bike here I had to buy a longer seat post to get the right height.

So, how do you know your bicycle seat is adjusted properly? Here are some simple tips. If I save just one person from injuring their knees I'll be very happy.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

K on her niece's 3 speed before K got her own bike last year.

Let's start with the tilt of the seat. It should be very slightly upward a the front. Too much and you'll have pressure points (ahem). Tilted too far far forward it will cause you to slide forward as you ride and put excessive pressure on your arms, hands and knees.

To adjust the height, get on the bike and hold yourself up with one hand on a wall or have someone stradle the front wheel and hold you steady. Then put your heels on the pedals and pedal backwards. If your hips rock from side to side then your seat is too high. With your heels on the pedals your legs should be fully extended in the down position. After that adjustment, with the balls of your feet on the pedals (as you would normally ride) you should have a slight bend at the knee at the bottom of the cycle. If you have pain in the front of your knees after riding, your seat is probably too low. If you have pain in the back of the knees, it is probably too high.

Your handle bars should be adjusted to be at the same height as the seat. If you experience pain - back, shoulder, or arm, then you may need to readjust the handle bars.

Another thing I've noticed in Japan is that baskets are typically provided on the front wheel or handle bars of the bike. If you don't use it for much that is OK, but if you carry a load of books or groceries (as I sometimes do), it can be trouble. A front basket will cause the front wheel to want to turn making the bike unstable, and can even cause it to fall over at a stop, or send you head over applecart if you use the front brake too suddenly.

I added a steel strap from the hardware store and moved my rack to the back wheel and bolted a light weight plastic basket (from a stationery store) onto it. It is much more stable and will not tip over even if I park the bike. I have put a small cooler of food and 5-liter water bottle in the basket, and carried a backpack of groceries, and had no trouble at all. When I first got the bike I tried that with the rack on the front and it was nearly disastrous.

Our matching 6-speed bikes - not fancy, but they do the job.

I hope that this helps someone get more enjoyment out their bike. K and I have matching bikes and enjoy riding them together on short trips. We took them to the Bon dance last year (a mile or two from the house) and saved a lot of hassle with traffic and parking. We also took them down to the lake to watch a fireworks and were able to cruise around and find the best spot while people tried to jocky their cars into available spaces. I use mine every day for errands or just an enjoyable ride through the fields or along the lake shore.

I know I don't need to sell my friend Lrong Lim on the idea, he often commutes on his bike. And for a fun website on all kinds of bicycles and biking visit VELORUTION - a website in the UK. And be sure to take a look at the "Japanese Bicycle History Research Club" (In English).

Whether you just get out for fun or use it for daily commuting, give bicycling a try. You'll see and hear things you miss when you travel by car and get some great no-impact exercise. But make sure your bike is adjusted properly for your body and of course, be safe out there and watch out for "Mr. Wheeler".


You Only Live Twice?

Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” - Mark Twain

A Japanese health insurance company reported that in a recent three year period, nine of its customers were hospitalized in the USA and Canada with strokes or other brain conditions. The doctors in these cases told the families and local insurance people that the patients were brain dead.

Three of the families refused to allow the cessation of treatment and chartered aircraft to return the patients to Japan. Those three patients received treatment in Japan and subsequently recovered! Their insurance paid for the transportation costs. The other six patients did not have coverage for transportation and reportedly died overseas.

This odd story brings up some important issues. When you travel, be aware that different countries have different standards with regard to pronouncing someone "brain dead" and ending treatment. If you travel or move to another country, make sure you have health insurance that covers you while overseas and that it includes medical transportation costs home if necessary. This can be critical if you are going to a country where medical is not up to the standards of your home country. There are excellent affordable international heath insurance coverages availalbe depending of course on your country of residence and where you visit. Also, make sure your family knows your wishes for situations such as this and write them down in a living will.

"I've called in a specialist for a second opinion - an accountant."


Growing On The August Moon

August is a special month to me. Beside the fine weather, it is the month of my mother's birth as well as that of my granddaughter.

It is also a great time to enjoy looking up. Viewing the evening sky when I was growing up, we would look for "the man in the moon". Moon viewing, "tsukimi" in Japan, has been popular in Japan for centuries, and the royal palaces which K and I visited in Kyoto as well as Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture (subjects of future posts) all had moon viewing platforms or rooms for holding parties or writing poetry inspired by the moon.

Many of Japan's tales in folklore are adaptations of older Chinese stories and beliefs. The viewing of the moon and various celebrations of it arrived in Japan and were practiced by the aristocracy over one thousand years ago during the Heian period.

About four hundred years ago, at the beginning of the Edo period, Samurai would offer rice cakes to the moon on August 15 (mid September of the new style calendar) of the year that a child reached the age of 16. A hole would be made in the rice cake, through which the child would view the moon. As with many Samuri traditions, in was copied by the rest of society and became popular.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

In Japan, children look for the Rabbit in moon, which is supposed to be up there pounding rice cakes. There is also a legend that a giant katsura tree grows up there. The months of the year here are simply referred to by numbers one to twelve, but there are names for the months from the lunar calendar which was used before the new style calendar was adopted in 1873. Sometimes these older names are used in speeches or letters to convey a feeling of the season.

August is called "hazuki" which means "leaves". One interpretation is that it refers to the leaves turning and falling. But it seems a bit early in the year for that. When we were up in the Japanese Alps, the leaves only started to turn in the begining of September, and later than that at lower altitudes. So I prefer the other meaning which is that hazuki refers to the leaves of the giant katsura tree on the moon which is viewed at this time.

Today is rainy as off shore the typhoon 'Maria' is blowing past us paralleling the coast of Honshu as moves northeast, but the preceeding days have offered beautiful skies and the moonrise pictured above.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
When taking this picture, I couldn't help but think of my friend FH2O - that kayaking architect in Sarawak, who usually has his head in the clouds when he's not on the water.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
I don't know if it was the long rainy season, or the hot weather after, but it looks like there will be plenty of rice this year for the rabbit on the moon to pound into cakes.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Beneath the sun and moon, a neighbor's tigerlilly is determined not to have its beauty go unoticed.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
In one last display before the typhoon comes, nature paints a breathtaking scene across the canvas of the sky.

Clouds come from time to time -
and bring to men a chance to rest
from looking at the moon.

-Basho (1644-94)