2007/06/29

Dinner and a Concert

Saturday night there was a concert by the Kashima Philharmonic Orchestra, which I performed with in 2005, and which my fellow expat friends the Moody Minstrel and Charles play in. I will write a post devoted to the concert soon.

As the concert would begin at 6 pm and so dinner quite late, we decided to go out for lunch at 'Oli'oli - our nearby Hawaiian restaurant. This time we arrived during regular hours, and they were doing a pretty good business. We didn't have trouble getting a table however, as some of the customers were dining on the lanai (patio).

At home, we eat mostly vegetarian foods and an occasional fish. So, when we eat out, K sometimes orders a meat dish and I'll have some seafood.

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K getting ready to try "loco moco" - rice, ground beef patty, and sunny-side-up egg, with tomato sauce. (The tomato sauce substituted for the gravy found in the traditional recipe.)


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In one room (above) there is a SUMO SIZE Aloha shirt on the wall. Also note the map of Oahu and the Christian Larsen art poster. With the warm weather and slack key guitar music playing in the background, I felt like we were in Hawaii.

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I had shrimp scampi on rice with a salad, which was nicely presented and very good.


Later that night, after the concert, I had a disturbing run-in with a man who wanted to punish me for not eating at his restaurant which is located right across the street from the concert hall. K had parked the car in that lot and upon our return, the trouble started.

It was the chickens' "Angel of Death", the Joseph Mengele of avian death camps, yes, none other than SS-Hauptsturmführer Schanders, who grabbed me by the ears and tried to put my head in a vat of boiling oil and turn me into a bucket of extra-crispy! I punched him in his um, biscuits. His smile froze, he looked sort of cross eyed, and his grip loosened so I could break free just as K snapped this picture.

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Close call.


If you think that was exciting, wait until you read about the concert.

2007/06/28

Twiggy

We get lots of spider webs around the house this time of year. We usually let them be, unless they are in the way, as they are mostly occupied by harmless spider species that keep other insect populations in check. Besides, if you set out to kill spiders, the ones you miss may be ones you really don't want, and because you've killed off their competition, they will have even more to eat and there will be more of them. Best not to mess with nature's balance when you don't have to. (Of course, if any come in the house, they are fair game.)

The other morning I walked out the front door to see a twig caught in a web that stretched between our porch roof support post and a nearby bush.
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Coming back into the house a few minutes later, I noticed the twig had moved. It wasn't a twig at all, but a spider.

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"Twiggy", the spider.

This is first time I've seen this kind of spider. Clever adaptation, don't you think?

We did remove the web, but let Twiggy go to find somewhere else to call home.

2007/06/25

Hunters of the Lost Tomb

After reading about Kashima's ancient burial mounds in the Moody Minstrel's blog post Mounds of Mystery, I was interested in taking a look for myself. Burial mounds, or Kofun as they are called in Japanese, were built in the hundreds between the early 3rd century to the early 7th, so that time is often referred to as the "Kofun Period".

Moody's post had given a few clues as to its where abouts - a picture of the intersection along a main road, and the fact that it was somewhere along Moody's route to work. I don't know what his route is exactly, but the possibilities are limited (unless he likes taking meandering hillside roads with lots of S turns to wring out his BLUE Rav 4 (and any Moodiness) going to and from work. We had one false start two weeks ago based on a guess and a wrong turn, which took us past the grave of Tsukahara Bokuden (a famous swordsman who lived from 1490 to 1571). A direct inquiry to Moody went unanswered, so I assumed he was either too busy (most likely) or perhaps wished the "mounds of mystery" to remain just that. Some further research by K found the site on a website map and we went to have a look.

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A large new sign at the site describes the mounds and has this relief map of them. The main mound is about 75 meters (246 feet) long and 7.5 meters high. There are three mounds at this site (two small round ones are near the head of the large one), but the entire neighborhood is apparently dotted with many more which are not marked. We drove around and saw a few "possibles".

This one is called Meotozuka Kofun - husband and wife burial mound - and dates to the early 6th century CE. The leader of a local clan and his wife are interred there.

Kofun come in many shapes but most are "keyhole" shapes like this one. Of course, there weren't any keyholes in Japan at that time, that is simply modern label for them and why they took that shape is not known. Some had motes around them. Inside the round end of many mounds is a stone burial chamber. The more elaborate ones even have plastered walls with paintings on them and star charts on the ceiling. They also contain sacred items, such as iron swords and clay figures. I don't know if this one has been opened.

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Here's K at the large end of the Kofun.


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This shows one of the smaller, circular mounds in the background. Their function here is not known.


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This is looking at the burial portion, or head, from the top-middle section. At this point there was often an altar on large mounds. Sometimes this section contains a second tomb chamber as well.


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In addition to the nice new signage, the city has built a grass parking area with high tech toilets. They are the latest in composting toilet technology made by a Japanese firm called Bio-lux. They use a matrix of saw dust and completely break down waste and turn it into compost. They aren't cheap, but require very little maintenance and are very friendly to the environment.


Forgive me if I go on a bit about the toilets here. I know it's a somewhat taboo or uncomfortable subject (for some reason the British seem to find the very mention of "the loo" hilarious), but in a world with 6.5 billion people and counting, sewage is a serious health and environmental problem, and conventional treatment systems use up drinking water, deprive the land of nutrients, and often pollute rivers.

These new composting toilets use no water, don't pollute, are quite sanitary and don't have a bad odor. Bio-lux has received awards for their design from forestry to tourist groups and a Medal of Appreciation from the Philippines Minister of Environment. Composting toilets are going to be a factor in reducing water waste and pollution in the world. At a 2003 meeting in Kyoto, scientists from around the world told the United Nations to re-think their plan of hooking up 1 billion people to sewer systems by 2015 and use composting toilets instead, citing the reasons given above.

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"Honey bucket" wagon.

Ironically, in Japan, "night soil" used to be collected and used as compost, with the collection company paying for it! It was valuable for its nutrients. In fact tenants and landlords sometimes got into arguments over who owned it. This is one reason why 200 years ago Edo (old Tokyo) was one of the cleanest cities in the world. The practice continued in many places until the late 1950's. I remember my uncle, who was a colonel in the USAF, telling me that they had to use a "honey bucket" when he was stationed in Japan with his family in the 50's. It was put out by the street for collection each morning. Of course, that practice was not without health risks, and these days such compost would not be used on food crops.

Anyway, I was impressed with Kashima City's vision in choosing this modern system for the new park. Perhaps being across the street from a large public water treatment plant had something to do with the choice.

Back to the Kofun. One of the things often found in Kofun burial chambers are clay figures called a "haniwa" ("clay cylinder"). Originally that is all they were, a cylinder of clay. They evolved into figures of people and horses.

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A haniwa from an northern Ibaraki kofun. Ibaraki Prefectural History Museum, Mito City.


Haniwa were placed at the entrance to the tomb, facing outward, and often they were placed outside as well on top of the mound and around its base. In the Japanese Journal of History, it says "After Emperor Suinin (the eleventh emperor of Japan) witnessed the horrible sight of the Emperor's entourage being buried alive in the areas around the Emperor's tomb, he had this practice stopped and had clay images of people and horses instead lined up in the tomb, and this became the beginning of the practice of using clay figures, or "haniwa". More modern interpretations say they may have been used simply to shore up the earth works, or to indicate the importance of the person interred there and indicate a succession of power to the new ruler.

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Ring-pomelled long sword with a pair of dragons from Funazuka Kofun, Ibaraki. Ibaraki Prefectural History Museum, Mito City. Swords then were made of iron, so rusted away.


As with other ancient cultures, it is the contents of these tombs which have been most valuable in allowing us to know what was going in Japan over 1500 years ago. The technology of the time, religion, government, scientific knowledge, and so on are all revealed by the artifacts so preserved.

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Pandabonium wondering if you plant an almond tree on top of a Kofun, would it turn from a Mounds into an Almond Joy? After all, Peter Paul Almond Joy has almonds, Mounds don't.


Sorry about that. Sometimes I feel like a nut, sometimes I don't. Anyway, we found the "lost" tomb and satisfied our curiosity, learning a bit more about history in the process. Next time we head over to Itako City, we'll have to check out their complex of Kofun.

~~~

Last Saturday was busy with a return to Hawaiian restaurant 'Oli'oli for lunch, and a concert by the Kashima Philharmonic Orchestra. There's an event in Suva, Fiji too, so I have plenty to post this week.

2007/06/22

Look! Up In The Sky!

"Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound."

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George Reeves will always be "the real" Superman to me. Here's one of the web sites dedicated to him: George Reeves

"Look! Up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Superman! Yes, it's Superman - strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way."

I remember well that introduction to the 1950's television series "Superman". In those days all home televisions were black and white, but it may surprise you to learn that the series was filmed in color. So, if you somehow see an episode today, it hasn't been "colorized", that's the original.

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The opening scene of the TV series - the 48 star flag was waving in the background of course.



Click to listen to the exciting introduction.


What has Superman to do with Pacific Islander? Funny you should ask. Superman is one comic book Superhero character that won't go away and continues to pop up in different forms and mediums. You can learn all about that from Swinebread of Atomic Romance (a great blog dedicated to superheros and comic books). As recently as last year, another Superman movie was produced - "Superman Returns". Haven't seen it yet. We'll have to rent it when it becomes available on DVD in Japan.

And that's where the connection lies, for last year Kellogg's, which sponsored the original television series I watched as a kid, promoted the new Superman movie on it's "Genmai Flakes" cereal boxes here in Japan. (Genmai is short-grain brown rice.)

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I will admit that Lois Lane didn't look quite that good in the 1950's, but this Superman looks kind of "wimpy" to me.


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On the back of the box they showed cool "Superman Returns" stuff you could win in a drawing.

No, I didn't enter the drawing.


Trivia: Jack Larson, who played cub reporter Jimmy Olsen in the TV series, portrayed Bo the bar tender in "Superman Returns". No, George Reeves did NOT live in my neighborhood. He lived 8 miles away (as Superman flies) and I never saw him in person.

2007/06/19

Schoolmates Carry Fiji Flag

Frentina Antrea and Krishlyn Chetty, both in Form Six at Saint Joseph's secondary School in Suva arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand on the 18th. They are representing the youth of Fiji at the Asia Pacific World Heritage Youth Forum. (For American readers, Form Six is equivalent to 11th grade in the US).

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Frentina Antrea and Krishlyn Chetty (Fiji Times photo)

The forum is sponsored by the United Nations Education scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to engage youth around the Asia/Pacific region to learn about world heritage, as well as cultural and environmental sustainability issues.

Thirty students from the region are attending the meetings. For the rest of the week the students will visit and study heritage sites throughout Te Waipounamu. They will stay on ancestral marae where they will be hosted by local Ngai Tahu tribal descendents and guided by indigenous conservation experts from the Conservation Department.

UNESCO has asked the students to use these experiences as the basis for a short documentary film that will be presented to delegates of the World Heritage Committee on the opening day.

Before leaving for New Zealand, Ms Antrea said, "We are both looking forward to this trip and we can not wait to share the culture and heritage of Fiji with other participants."

Their presentation will feature some of Fiji's landmarks and natural heritage, including Yadua Taba, the home of the crested iguana, the Sigatoka sand dunes and the Bouma waterfalls, on Taveuni.

"It is a chance for us to learn about the cultural and natural heritage of the region, and hopefully to be inspired concerning preservation of these aspects and to grow and become future leaders of our country," she said.

Congratulations girls.

Trivia - in early May Ms Antrea won the 10th Fiji Games Open Chess Championships in her category, and was awarded her third gold medal.

2007/06/16

Live At Makawao Union

Naoto Kono and George Kahumoku, Jr. performing at Makawao Union Church, Maui, Hawaii - May 18, 2007


Here are two long awaited samples of the music from the May concert performed by Naoto Kono (zither) and George Kahumoku, Jr. (slack key guitar). If you missed that post, see "Music Makes Magic Happen" (May 20) for more about the artists, their instruments and the concert.

It was difficult to chose which pieces to share with you as there was quite a variety of styles and mix of the instruments. All fifteen were wonderful, but I chose two which I think allow you to hear each instrument as well as how they sound together.

(Note: All rights reserved by the artists. This music is protected by applicable copyright laws.)

Please listen to these through the best speakers you can. Enjoy.

The first tune is an original composition by Naoto Kono which features both artists together. It's called "Tahitian Blue" - click to play, 4 minutes.

Tahitian Blue


The other tune is "Queen's Prayer" being played solo by George Kahumoku, Jr. His guitar is tuned lower than usual for a slack key guitar and he is able to get some really nice full sounds from that.

This piece was written on March 22, 1895 by Queen Liliuokalani while she was being held prisoner by the businessmen who overthrew her monarchy with the help of US Marines. George's instrumental version is unusual as it uses the range of the guitar to set the tone of the situation that the Queen was in, and her depth of feeling when she wrote it. Also about 4 minutes.

Queen's Prayer


I'll be sure to let you know when a full CD of this concert is available. There is also discussion of a Japan tour by the two and another concert at the church on Maui. Stay "tuned".

2007/06/14

Otterly Wonderful

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Reuters photo

A baby sea otter being carried by its mother at Sunshine International Aquarium in Tokyo. The baby was born on June 2, 2007, to mother Meel and father Roochi, and is the first Russian sea otter to be bred in captivity in Japan.

There are only three kinds of sea otters - Russian, North Pacific, and Californian - which are found along the coasts of the North Pacific from Japan to Baja California. They are endangered and some populations, such as in the Aleutian Islands, which hosts both Russian and North Pacific sea otters, have declined 95% in the last thirty years, falling from over 100,000 to only about 6,000 animals in those waters. The California sea otters are also in trouble with only about 3,000 animals left.

Interestingly, they are the only species other than primates known to use tools. They use rocks to pry abalone and urchins off the sea bed and also as a hammer to crack them open when they feed.

"Sea otters are what scientists refer to as "keystone species," a term that refers to their functional role within their ecosystem. The feeding habits of the sea otter have a top-down effect on the marine ecosystem, meaning that their actions affect organisms lower in the food chain. Sea otters are also indicators of the health of that ecosystem. The sea otter derives much of its nutritional needs from shellfish which, unfortunately, put the otter at odds with the commercial shellfish industry. However sea otters play an important role in maintaining the health of the kelp ecosystem. By limiting the numbers of shellfish that feed on kelp, the sea otter promotes the development of kelp forests which are larger, more productive, and more diverse biologically and structurally. Kelp beds, in turn, provide habitat for fish and other invertebrate species." -Defenders of Wildlife

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AP photo

So, I think we otter be very happy about this birth!
Besides, they're so cute, yeah?

2007/06/12

Princess Brides and Shrieking Eels!

Well, OK, so we didn't see any princesses, but we did see two brides, and while the eels weren't the giant shrieking variety of storybook/movie fame, the town we were in does offer smaller, tasty ones called "unagi", grilled over a charcoal fire and often served on rice. Unagi is actually a popular dish in many areas, but this place serves locally raised ones that are especially good, though I hear wild ones taste the best.

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Unagi - grilled shrieking eels. When served on skewers without rice, it is called kabayaki.

Having been somewhat disappointed on our attempt to view the iris blossoms last month (see "あやめまつり - Ayamematsuri") we headed back to Itako City where we had found lotus and irises in bloom, but had only been able to spend about an hour.

This time, we were not disappointed. Far more of the flowers were blooming. Itako City is a wonderful place to visit any time of year. Famous for its canals, irises, grilled eels, and boat brides (Hanayome fune), the city itself is part of the Suigo-Tsukuba Quasi-National park. Every weekend during Ayamematsuri (Iris Festival) they do their best to recreate an atmosphere of Edo period Japan or at least a nostalgic taste of it, and show off their one million iris plants of some 500 varieties.

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A couple in period costumes wandered through the gardens.

After finding a suitable, i.e. free, place to park, we walked over one of the many bridges crossing the Maekawa - the main canal which has been preserved and along the banks of which the town's gardens are planted. Local lore speaks of 12 bridges (Kato-shu Junibashi), but somehow it seems like there are more. There were far more flowers in bloom than before and the place was full of tourists - many of whom had come out from Tokyo on bus tours such as those offered by Hato. [By the way, if you ever visit Tokyo, K and I can recommend Hato tours. They have excellent English language tours of Tokyo and vicinity. And if you're touring this area, K is a licensed guide and interpreter.]

To give you an idea of Itako's popularity, when we went there in 2005, our visit was followed a few days later by the Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. See my post: The Princess and the Pee.

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In my last post about Itako, I have a picture (which I got from a travel website) of a bride on a boat - "Hanayome Fune". Would you believe we saw the very same bride? True. As we walked through the iris gardens, we saw that a bride and her parents were waiting to begin a procession across the garden to a waiting boat.

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Twice a bride in Itako? Hmmm.

We made our way to one of the bridges under which the bride boat would glide. The procession through the garden is slow, with the father leading the way, the bride following a few meters behind him, and the mother blocking any escape in trail.

After I had taken many pics and even a video clip, we learned that the bride was a model and the whole thing a performance put on for the tourists. (Actually, I think K suspected such all along). As they can't be sure of weddings every weekend, the city - supported by the tour companies - puts on a show for visitors. So that is why the bride pictured above looks exactly like the bride in the travel website picture. (For a minute there I thought she might be a black widow, going through one husband after another!) Though there was not a real wedding going on, I thought it was great to see.

Luckily for us, there was a real wedding that day and about twenty minutes later, the real bride began her journey. The tour groups went off to lunch as it was approaching noon, which thinned out the crowd by about 2/3 and made getting a good location on the bridge easier.

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The real bride walking through the iris to her boat.
(Sorry, but I can't help thinking of Tiny Tim singing "Tiptoe Through the Tulips".) During this time, the groom is waiting at the place where the wedding will take place.

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The rest of the family rides in a second boat.

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This girl was much more animated than the "model" - smiling and waving as people applauded when she passed.

A group of her friends, dressed in kimono, were on the bridge with us and called to her. She looked up and smiled and waved. Naturally, I missed that shot. In the bow are gifts for the groom - rice, sake, etc. More pictures in the slide show and link at the end of this post.

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The building in the background is a restaurant. We've eaten there and enjoyed both the food and the view. Nice souvenir shop too.

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What a coincidence - all these ladies dressed alike.

After that, as the gardens were not so crowded, so we strolled around enjoying the irises and lotus blossoms. While taking some pictures of flowers I came upon a gathering of women in yukata (a summer cotton dress) with straw hats. Something was up. Soon, they dispersed throughout the garden in preparation for a Ayamedori - Iris dance. The "official" song of Itako played and the women began to dance along the paths.

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Ready to dance.

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The dance used movements like those seen at a Buddhist Bon Odori (a celebration dance)


It was almost 1 o'clock as we walked back across the Maekawa river and sought out the soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurant that the Moody Minstrel wrote about last year. We had enjoyed a lunch there after reading Moody's post (thanks MM). The owner is an elderly man who was a student pilot flying float planes on nearby Lake Kasumigaura when WWII ended, and has much to tell about the history of Itako City. They also have an interesting collection of dolls, model canal boats, planes, and photos. (Read more about it in Moody's blog post: A Lunchtime View of a Dying Art) The soba there is hand made of course, and quite good. That's right, we didn't have shrieking eels that day. We ate cold soba with tempura instead. Yum.



Trivia: Itako City has free local bus service.

2007/06/10

Hokule'a Completes Voyage!

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Voyaging canoe Hokule'a and accompanying sailboat Kama Hele have arrived in Yokohama, completing a five month, 8,000 mile voyage that took them from Hawaii to the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau, before turning northward to Okinawa and other ports in Japan - all places they had never been before. Crews were changed over the course of the journey, giving some 260 different people the chance to sail the vessels involved. Several times that number assisted on land.

Yokohama's Hokule'a Website (in English and Japanese) is here: Yokohama Seaside Festival

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At the invitation of master navigator Nainoa Thompson, a hula halau (hula performing school), Pukalani Hula Hale, from the island of Maui will perform in Yokohama for a Hawaiian cultural program. In addition there will be lectures by crewmembers, canoe tours, school visits, and workshops. (Three hula halau also performed during the welcome ceremony, as did official greeters from the Port of Yokohama.)

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Hokule'a and Kama Hele at the dock in Yokohama

Holkule'a will be departing Yokohama for Honolulu on June 21st, but this time she won't rely on her sails. Instead she will be riding on the deck of the ship Settsu, an NYK (Nippon Yusen Kaisha) container ship which sails between the two ports. (Sailing back to Hawaii would not be impossible, but as it would be against the prevailing winds it would take a very long time.) NYK generously offered the transportation in order to make the entire voyage possible. They also provided on board pilots to help the Hokule'a navigate some of Japan's strong currents and heavily trafficked waters. NYK has their own cool website all about the voyage in English and Japanese here: NYK and Hokule'a.

Hokulea had two Japanese crew members: Araki Takuji, 4 time Japan National Champion of lifesaving in the surf-skiing category, and founder of the Japan Canoe Club; and Uchino Kinako, a professional photographer who has studied at the University of Hawaii and is known for her underwater pictures of marine life.

The voyage has been a tremendous success on many levels. Nainoa Thompson said the Japan experience has suggested to him that Hokule'a would continue to sail and visit new places in order to build bridges and spread the values the canoe symbolizes - "caring for and protecting the environment, perpetuating culture and traditions, caring for children, honoring elders and encouraging pride and strength in ancestry, healing what has been torn apart, and promoting world peace."

Please read more here:







Aloha Hokule'a

2007/06/08

Aftermath

Cyclone Gonu turned away from Oman near the city of Muscat and headed toward Iran, then dissipated over the Gulf of Oman. The death toll so far stands at 28. Roads, pipelines, and buildings have been washed away or flooded. It will probably be some time before a full damage assessment can be done. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes.

Oil and gas shipments were disrupted to some extent, but again the full impact of that is not yet known. Judging from the pictures, I suspect things were damaged far more than has so far been reported. The new Liquid Natural Gas plant that Japan gets 5% of its LNG from will be out of order for at least some weeks. In any case, the storm has certainly further eroded the slim margin of spare capacity in the industry just as hurricane season is about to begin in the US.

Here are some photos. Thanks to the The Oil Drum and the blogger Sleepless in Muscat:

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Uh, I guess I'll have a McSubmarine sandwich.


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Thanks to Martin and NZM who posted other links for information and photos in their comments on the previous post. Check 'em out.