2007/03/29

Dog Performs Heimlich Maneuver

by Momo the Wonder Dog

Last Friday, 2-year-old golden retriever named Toby of Calvert, Maryland, saved his human, Debbie Parkhurst, by performing a canine style Heimlich maneuver.

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Debbie was eating an apple and started to choke on a piece of it. She tried pounding her own chest to get it dislodged, but without success. She says Toby jumped up, put his front paws on her shoulders and pushed her to the ground. He then jumped up and down on her chest and stomach with his front paws until the piece of apple came out and Debbie could breathe again. He then licked her face which Debbie says kept her from passing out.

Debbie is recuperating and is still a little sore and hoarse. She has paw shaped bruises on her chest, but is happy to be alive - thanks to Toby.

An animal saving a human is not such an unusual event, but I thought this one was unique. Way to go Toby!

2007/03/27

Have Bullets, Will Travel

The new "Series N700" bullet trains are now in production in Toyokawa, Aichi Prefecture. They will enter service on the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Line in July. Using a pre-production trainset, JR Central has been trying out the new N700 since 2005. I first reported about these in July of 2005 when they were first unveiled. I find it exciting that they are finally going into service.

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23 of the trains are scheduled for production in fiscal 2007, increasing to 54 in fiscal 2009. How fast are they? Shinkansen trains are already fast and these are only a little more so on the slower runs. Reaching 270 kph, which thanks to tilting in turns can be maintained even on curves, they will shave 5 minutes off the Tokaido section between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka. West of Shin-Osaka they open up and reach top speeds of 300 kph (186 mph) as they head for Hakata in Fukuoka Prefecture on the island of Kyushu. The fastest Shinkansen trains have been running at up to 300 kph since 1997, so speed is not the story with the new train.

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Inside a 700 Series - click to enlarge.

The new N700 features aerodynamics which make it even quieter for the passengers and the surroundings (and help to hold it to the track at high speeds). They claim it will offer "an even more comfortable interior space". K and I have taken various Shikansen trains over the years and they all offer amazingly smooth, quiet rides, so it's hard to imagine an improvement. The seating is 5 across with aircraft style reclining seats but with lots of leg room. (Seat pitch is 41 inches compared to most US airlines at 32 inches). Green cars, an upgrade, have 4 across seating and business class style seats. The new seats will be wider.


I took this picture of the current 700 Series which K and I took from Nagoya to Tokyo in 2004.


Tray tables will be larger to accomodate computers, outlets for mobile devices will be provided for all green car seats and all window seats in regular cars. High speed internet will be provided as well. All seats will be non-smoking.

Speed and comfort aren't the only games in town on a resource scarce planet. These trains will use 20 percent less power than the present 700 series trains - an amazing leap in efficiency, and that is the really big news.

We're planning a trip to Hiroshima for later in the year and with the N700s entering service this summer, I'm hoping we'll get lucky and be able to check it out first hand.

Take an early morning ride in the cab of an "old" Series 500 train (manufactured 1996-1998) as it accelerates to 300 kph going from Hakata then comes to a stop at Kokura. Not terribly exciting, perhaps, but then it isn't supposed to be, is it? This video has English subtitles - sort of.

2007/03/26

Hokule'a Voyage Update

Polynesian Voyaging Society canoes Hokule'a and Alingano Maisu reached Satawal last weekend and ceremonies were held to gift the Alingano Maisu voyaging canoe to master navigator Mau Piailug, a native of that island. While there, fifteen people, ten from Micronesia and five Hawaiians were initiated into Satawal's society of open ocean navigators and given the title, "Pwo".

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This picture, by Star-Bulletin reporter Gary Kubota, who is traveling with Hokule'a, shows Mau performing the Pwo initiation rites for Hokule'a captain Nainoa Thompson.


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Frank Kawe (right) and Sesario Sewralur (left) perform a Maori Haka at the Pwo ceremony celebration. Photographer Na'alehu Anthony.

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They then sailed to Woleai Atoll where they spent the day before sailing on to Ulithi. They want to make as much contact as possible with the people of Micronesia for cultural exchange, but also need to head for Japan before the typhoon season for the area starts. Winds have been favorable with the canoes making 10 knots at times.

From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:

The canoes Hokule'a and Alingano Maisu left Satawal yesterday (Wednesday) on a voyage of protocol and medical assistance.

The crews are to meet and deliver gifts to the chiefs of Woleai Atoll and Yap island.

Some of the crew members are expected to meet with members of the Hawaii-based Aloha Medical Mission on Ulithi and Yap.

Hokule'a crew member Max Yaramawai, an official with the nonprofit Oceania Community Health and born on Ulithi, is helping to build a medical clinic on the island.


Previous Pacific Islander posts about this voyage:

2/20/2007 Hokule'a Reaches Majuro

1/21/2007 Hokule'a To Visit Japan

2007/03/22

Wild In The Streets

March 9th was a day for the people of Kashima City to go wild in the streets. It was organized chaos - the annual Saito Sai (festival) of Kashima Jingu.

We arrived midway through the celebrations as the participants, who parade from the shrine through the streets of Kashima and back, prepared for the return trip. The day was cloudy with even a little light rain now and then, but it didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits. The brightly clothed celebrants were assembled a few blocks from the shrine and warmed up with some singing and dancing to an old fisherman's folk song, "Soranbushi".

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Click to hear the song "Soranbushi".

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Saito Sai dates back over 1200 years to the Nara Period (710 to 794) when soldiers called sakimori would be sent off on duty in Kyushu in southern Japan. Before leaving, they would gather at Kashima Jingu to offer prayers for victory in battle and a safe journey and people would parade through the streets to see them off.

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The festival is also to offer prayers for a successful growing season for the five key grain crops of wheat, rice, beans, awa millet, and kibi millet. The participants wear five different colored tasuki (long strips of cloth which tie back the flowing sleeves of their kimono) which represent each crop. In recent years, the costumes have come to include plush toys and wild hair styles and colors.

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Near the front of the procession, a man in battle armor blows a shell trumpet.


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A boy dressed in armor leads the way representing a taisotoku (governor-general).


The rest of participants are organized into groups of ten or more each, carrying long oak poles and accompanied by a drummer, around whom they dance in a circle as they sing "saito bayashi" and touch their poles together. A man wearing a helmet and carrying a chochin - paper lantern - leads them through the streets. He is followed by a person with that group's banner atop an oak pole. He stops and swings the banner in a circle first one direction and then another, which clears the area for the dancers.

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The symbols on the top of the banner are made of sheet metal. Best not to get in the way when this is being swung. (We saw a man get hit in the shin with one).


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The children's groups are near the front.

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Each group has a color coded bandana.


The drummers lead their group along to the next spot where they'll form a circle again and dance. The drum sticks are in the shape of a phallus to represent fertility.

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Some costumes featured traditional Japanese symbols and masks, but Disney characters are also popular, and I even spotted this pair of Pink Panthers.

This group crossed their poles to make a platform for the drummer to stand upon.

The festival finishes with everyone gathered in front of the Honden - main hall - of the shrine, singing Saito bayashi (festival songs).


2007/03/20

Sharing the Noise

We may be seeing and hearing more military aircraft in the coming months. As I have previously mentioned, our house is about 25km (15.5 mi) from Hyakuri Airbase, home to 2 squadrons of JASDF fighters, as well as a reconnaissance/electronic warfare squadron, trainers attached to each and rescue helicopters. We went by there once to check it out. Pretty Spartan really. Middle of nowhere with just the 8,858 ft runway, a few hangars and the usual ancillary buildings.

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Portion of Tactical Pilot Chart TPC G-11C

To our east, 40 km (25 mi) offshore, there are two areas of "Restricted Airspace"; one extending from the surface to 35,000 ft, the other to 80,000 ft, where the JASDF practice. Presumably, they drill on the detection and engagement of intruders. RF-4E and F-4EJ Phantom IIs are their recon and electronic warfare platforms, Kawasaki T-4 trainers are, I would guess, training newer pilots or acting as the intruders, and the defense fighter is the Mitsubishi built F-15J and F-15DJ(a 2 seat variant). We don't see the RF-4s so often, which is OK, as those old engine designs are very loud at any throttle setting.

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The favored runway at Hyakuri under usual wind conditions is 03 (ie on a heading of 30 degrees), and the jets returning from the practice area fly over us at about 1000 feet on an extended base leg for landing, the low altitude keeps them well under the commercial traffic going into Tokyo International at Narita. The fighters pass over us heading northwest, then hang a right somewhere over Lake Kasumigaura and line up with the runway.

Far, and I mean far (about 1000 miles), to the southwest, in Okinawa Prefecture, the US base at Kadena has been a local bone of contention for decades. Japan regained "independence" in 1951, yet the US has never ended its military presence. When Prime Minister Abe's grandfather on his mother's side, Nobusuke Kishi, Japan's PM from 1957-1960, made a deal with the US for the US-Japanese Security Treaty in 1960, there were riots in the streets of Tokyo. Kishi, by the way, worked with General Tojo in Manchuria where he also ran the illegal drug trade, during WWII was Tojo's Minister of Munitions and Industry, and after the war was held as a Class A war Criminal (he even signed the order to attack the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor). He escaped prosecution and was released in 1948 thanks to the cold war.

Okinawa has felt the brunt of that security treaty, partly due to its strategic position with respect to Korea, China, and Taiwan, but mostly the fact that at the time it was STILL being governed by the US. Ironic as well because the Ryukyu Islands, of which Okinawa is but one, used to be an independent monarchy, the Ryukyu Kingdom, which had its own culture and language until Japan took it by force in 1869 (an act in which President Grant played a pivotal role) and called it Okinawa Prefecture. After World War II it was governed by the US until handed it back to Japan in 1972.

Many of the people there (including the governor) are fed up with the high crime rate, safety issues, and aircraft noise that the base has brought (along with the 13 other US military installations on the little island, which is only 2/3 the size of Maui), and that tension recently played a major part in the negotiated "realignment" of the US military in Japan. In an effort to ease the noise impact on Okinawans of US-Japanese fighter drills, there has been an agreement reached to distribute the drills to six bases spread out over the length of Japan. Sort of a "share the noise" plan. This move is about taking some pressure off the USA in Okinawa so that the US can continue to project its power in this region with as little local resistance as possible until Japan can be re-militarized itself - a project near and dear to PM Abe's heart, but not so popular with the citizenry.

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Some of the drills will now take off from - (insert diminished 7th chord here, as Moody Minstrel would say) Hyakuri Air Base. I have no idea how often this will happen. US planes will not be based there, but will fly in from Okinawa whenever they run the drills (US fuel guzzling tax dollars at work). I will also be interested to see if they utilize any of the new F-22 Raptor fighters recently based at Kadena.

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F-22 Raptors

Though we are under the flight path (very close anyway) of returning planes, they are usually throttled back and not making a huge amount of racket. They come by anywhere from a few to several days a week, and the number of aircraft and number of sorties varies as well. I'm not anticipating a big change, but if they pick up the frequency of flights a lot it could become annoying. We'll see.

Of course, if they just want to put on an air show and do aerobatics over the house, I'd be all for that.

Trivia - The Marine Corps base on Okinawa is named for General Smedley D Butler, who (more irony) was an isolationist at the time of his death in 1940.

2007/03/18

Terrorism Comes To Breakfast

"War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and losses in lives."
- Smedley D. Butler
Major General, USMC, Retired
(1881-1940)



It may seem odd that two people living in (semi)rural Japan would eat oatmeal for breakfast five or six days a week, but we do. Then again, there is much that may be considered odd about us. We buy 9 pound boxes of oats through Costco. On weekends we take more time and make French toast (K's recipe uses grated carrots) or pancakes. Almost always breakfast includes sliced bananas. (I am sure you are fascinated to read about our eating habits, but bear with me).

Our bananas come from the Philippines bearing various brand labels - Chiquita, Sumitomo, etc. When we buy a new bunch, I peel off the little brand stickers and put it on my shirt pocket while we're still in the store, which embarrasses K to no end, but gets the desired laugh or smile. Unless you grow your own food and buy only from people you know (which I truly hope to do some day), it is almost impossible to buy food without doing business with trans-national corporations these days. If you want bananas in Kashima, there is no other way to get them. Sometimes, the activities of these companies can be rather unpleasant. Should a consumer have to monitor the actions of each of the millions of people involved in virtually every economic aspect of his/her life? If you live in North America, try buying any bag of groceries that does not have something in it touched in some way by Cargill. Most folks have never heard of Cargill, but it is one of the largest privately held corporations in the world (assets over $213 Billion) and has its corporate fingers into every level of food production from soy beans in Brazil, to beef in Alberta, and GMO grains in between. My point is, in our modern global economy, things are connected in an almost infinite variety of ways.

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General Butler with Sergeant Major Jiggs, the USMC's first official mascot, in the 1920's

Smedley D. Butler, as any US Marine will tell you, was twice the recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. During his career, which he began at age 16 with a commission as a Second Lieutenant, he led men into battle in Cuba, the Philippines, Peking, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, and Haiti. During WWI he took charge of Camp Pontenezen in France, seeing to the care of 75,000 troops (16,000 of whom had flu when he arrived). His performance earned him even more decorations from the Army, Navy and French government, as well as the love of the men under his charge. Later, in an incident little known by most people today, Butler thwarted an plotted coup d'tat of the Franklin Roosevelt government by big business interests.

He always regretted having taken men into battle for the benefit of bankers and corporations: "I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested."

After his retirement, Butler wrote, "There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights." That was over 70 years ago. It seems we humans learn nothing from our own history and allow the same patterns to be played out over and over again. And thus we come to the terrorist who comes to my breakfast table. One of those "American fruit companies" was United Fruit, now known as Chiquita Brands.

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"Chiquita" - cute advertising gimmick or early genetics experiment gone very wrong?

Close on the heels of Bush's "good will" tour of South and Central America to reassure them that the US feels compassion for them and tell them all about the wonderful lives they will enjoy thanks to US investments and "free" markets (what has been going on for the last 125 years? one wonders), Colombians are demanding extradition of Chiquita Brands executives. Not for things the company did 100 years ago, but things they have been doing quite recently.

The chief federal prosecutor's office said on Friday it would ask the US Justice Department for information on Chiquita's role in smuggling 3,000 assault rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition to far-right paramilitaries in the region where the company got its bananas.

Chiquita settled a US Justice Department probe by agreeing to pay a $25 million fine and acknowledging that its wholly owned subsidiary Banadex paid $1.7 million to far-right paramilitaries labeled terrorists by the United States. Chiquita also admitted funding Colombia's two main leftist rebel groups, but the US complaint offered no information about how much it paid them.



No need to leave home to find "terrorists", they're in my oatmeal. The Chiquita Banana lady has been shown to be a real bitch. Now, please don't tell me anything bad about the Quaker man with the friendly smile on the cereal box. I'm sure there is plenty as he is owned by PepsiCo. But, please, not while I'm eating breakfast.

Moon Hop's rendition of the Chiquita Banana song - enjoy.



Trivia: Ironically, relative to this post, Smedley Butler was from a Quaker family.

Pépé le Moko

by Momo the Wonder Dog

Long before I wandered into Pandabonium and K's lives, there was a dog named Peppi. Peppi was a black standard poodle who took care of Pandabonium's family for many years. The stories about him, some of which Pandabonium has shared with me, would fill an entire blog. While PB is recuperating from a cold, I thought I'd sneak in and post a picture or two of Peppi.

Standard poodles are a clever breed and I guess Peppi demonstrated this trait with many behaviors that made him seem almost human to, well, his humans. Like many dogs he enjoyed swimming in the pool and the ocean (poodles have webbed feet, like other retrievers). Not me - the ocean scares me. PB tells me Peppi would cheat when racing laps in the pool - he'd start off fair (on your mark, get set, go!) but if he got to the other side first he would put his paws up on the coping and declare himself the winner, whereas if he came in second, he would merely touch the side and turn around to make it a two lap race. He loved chasing seagulls on the beach, riding in the truck, sailing in a small boat, hiking, even riding in an airplane. He liked walking around on the roof of the house, which was always a shock for any door to door salesmen who dared to approach.

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Above: Intrepid heroes, Peppi (left) and Pandabonium in front of their secret "den" in the Santa Monica Mountains of California.

It was an era of television heroes: Zorro, Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Sgt Preston of the Yukon and his dog King, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, the Lone Ranger (who lived just a few blocks from Peppi) and Tonto, Sky King and many others. They were real people, real dogs, often displaying courage in their off-camera lives, playing idealized heroes that a dog and his boy could look up to.

Do kids have such today? or are all the heroes now purposefully flawed in some way (both on and off screen) to make them more "believable", the ideals "easier" to attain or even derided as not worthy of effort? Or is my master just becoming a grouchy ol' bear, who is full o' beans?

Anyway, Peppi was a loyal servant, but jealous of anything or anyone who competed with him for attention. One day, a book that PB's father had left on the table next to his armchair disappeared. Then his mother's book. PB's thick music practice book "Arban's Method for the Trombone" likewise went missing. They were found some time later - in pieces - buried in various parts of the garden in the back yard. PB's brother dubbed it the Pépé le Moko "Underground Library".

Some people think poodles are wimps. Peppi was anything but. He even bit a few people (he thought it was really necessary) and was a tough dog in general. He survived a leap from the pickup truck cab at 30 mph (he'd seen a squirrel he wanted to chase) and was once hit by a truck. He lost a tooth playing tug of war on a rope.

His large size often drew attention as when PB and his brother went sailing with him in their 14 foot Lido sailboat in Santa Barbara Harbor. As the small boat glided past a beautiful 40 foot wooden sloop named "Rejoice", they noticed on her mahogany deck a miniature poodle. For a moment the crews of the two sailboats stared at each other - and the big dog in the little boat, the little dog on the big boat - and then everyone burst out laughing. The Rejoice's skipper called over, "trade you dogs". The response from the Lido was "trade you boats"!

Some time after PB went off to college, Peppi's job was done and he was called back to Sirius - our celestial canine home.

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So, you see, following such a legacy, I have a lot to live up to in my job here. I'm honored to be called "the Wonder Dog" by Pandabonium and K. One thing you can count on. No matter what, we dogs will always do our best for our humans and never waiver. It isn't heroic. It's just our job. It's what we do.

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Title trivia: PB's family sometimes called Peppi, "Pépé le Moko", which was the title of a 1937 French movie directed by Julien Duvivier. The title character was a Parisian gangster hiding out in Algier's Casbah. The film was remade by Hollywood as "Algiers" staring Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr. Also, the Looney Tunes amorous skunk character Pepe le Pew was based on Boyer's le Moko.

2007/03/17

Darby O'Gill and the Little People

And A Happy St. Patrick's Day to ya as well!

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But go find yer own Guinness!

Title Trivia: You've not forgotten Walt's wonderful movie about leprechauns and banshees have ye? More than a wee bit o' magical shenanigans!

2007/03/16

Cafe Au Go Go*

When you think of street food vendors in Japan, what do you picture? Food stalls lining the streets around a shrine during a festival? Push carts offering traditional snacks like ramen or takoyaki to people on their way home in the evening? Certainly such examples are abundant. But this industry, like any other in Japan, has kept up with the times and there are some new twists in which Western visitors may find interesting.

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Onomiyaki vendor at Kashima Jingu during a festival

The vendors I am referring to no longer work from a human powered push cart, but a micro-van, and offer things like crepes, melon flavored bread, agepan, and espresso.

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Here's K ordering a café mocha outside the big electronics store called "K's" (sorry, I can't get you a discount - it isn't her store). The vendor - a franchise called "Motoya Espresso Express" sets up next to the main entrance.

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On board his tiny van is an espresso machine with which he will make you a fresh cafe latte, espresso, cappuccino, or other coffee delight. K's café mocha was ¥260, or $2.22 US. He uses quality coffee and does a great job preparing it. I also like the latin jazz he has playing softly over a couple of marine speakers.

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A few blocks away, in the parking lot of a home improvement store, you might find this PINK van selling "agepan".  
It too is a franchise business - "Kyushoku-toban rokugosha". Agepan is deep fried bread which is rolled in the flavoring of your choice - sugar, kinako (soy bean powder), cocoa, cinnamon, or cafe latte. In cramped quarters the woman operating this van makes the agepan fresh to order. Price: ¥100 (about 85 cents US). 

Of course it has occurred to me that these two businesses might do better if they parked closer to one another. On the other hand, if people were presented with too many items of food, perhaps they'd just leave for a restaurant. A single small item is an easy impulse sale - especially when it tastes so good. Whatever the reason, it's probably a good thing for my waistline that they aren't side by side.


*Title Trivia: The title seemed to fit the espresso van business. "Cafe Au Go Go" was actually a nightclub in Greenwich Village, New York, where many famous blues, folk, rock, and jazz musicians performed. Comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested there in 1964 for using "obscene" language in his act. One of Pandabonium's first jazz albums was "Getz au Go Go".

2007/03/12

Home Grown Ume

One more ume picture.... These blossoms are on one of four ume trees in our yard. Two of trees have white flowers, one has double layered pink, and the other is a "weeping" tree with pink blossoms.

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2007/03/10

Early Bloomers

This was my third year in a row to view ume blossoms (Japanese plum/apricot blossoms) at Kairakuen park in Mito City. I'll try not to repeat too much information from my 2005 and 2006 posts on the topic, "Ume Festival: When is an Apricot a Plum?" and "Umematsuri - Plum Festival". You can refer to those posts for more information and pictures if you like, but some information bears repeating for the benefit of new readers.

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The Umematsuri or Plum Festival takes place in Mito City's Kairakuen Park overlooking Lake Senba. Three thousand trees of 100 varieties cover the hill where the park is situated and fill the air with their mild, sweet scent. The walking paths meander through the trees and along stands of Japanese ceders or sugi - cue Moody Minstrel's sneeze - and bamboo. The rust colored pollen of sugi trees triggers allergy attacks for many people in Japan.

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We parked across from the south entrance to the park. A fairly new pedestrian bridge complete with glass elevators for those who need them spans the highway and railway tracks (left) to the park.

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We observed certain "traditions" we have established when visiting there, such as eating a picnic bento (japanese boxed lunch) on the grass, and taking my picture with the young women dressed in kimono - Ume Taishi (Plum Ambassadors). I stifled my urge to do a W.C. Fields impression - "Ah, yes my little ume blossoms. Charmed, I'm sure. Doubly charmed." - so didn't embarrass K, or scare them away.

The weather was beautiful with a sunny blue sky scattered with cumulus clouds and a temperature that was cool, but not too cold. A warm winter this year meant that the trees bloomed about two weeks earlier than usual, but there were still plenty of blossoms for us to enjoy.

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The park was developed by the 9th Lord of Mito, Tokugawa Nariaki, in the early 19th Century and is considered to be one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. His magnificent villa, Kobuntei, built in 1841, is there and one can walk through it for only 190 Yen. We didn't do so this trip as we hope to do so a little later in the month. The villa was a place for the lord's visitors to relax, make music, write poety, and party. The park was first of its kind in Japan to be open to the general public.

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Walking along the paths surrounded by fragrant blossoming trees, one is seemingly transported to another time. We have four ume trees in our yard and their scent is wonderful.

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Some trees reach skyward while others "weep" like willows.

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The variety of trees is amazing with white, red and pink blossoms.

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Blossoms may have single, double, or multiple layers of petals.

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There are some booths in park which sell ume products and other items. Packages of natto are shown hanging above (see Uh oh, Natto! and Natto Breath). Ibaraki Prefecture and Mito City in particular are known for excellent natto. Oddly enough, in spite of my earlier complaints about natto, I have recently started developing a taste for the healthful stuff.

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You can also buy Ume Bonsai trees. No doubt the blossoms fall off right after you get them home.

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Ah, now here's a lovely flower I'd like to take home.


click on "view all images" to see slide show in a much larger format



This Koto and Shakuhachi music from CD "En Affinity" available at Koto Music