The Park Bench

Fellow trombonist in my high school marching band, Lynn Tivens, whom I've mentioned in some previous posts (his daughter is opera soprano Jessica Tivens), has found himself acting in a soon to be released short film. Lynn, who in real life played in the band "The Gringos" and then made a career of real estate, plays the part of a doctor. Lynn's poodle, Shadow, plays himself. :=p

Looks like it will be an emotionally intense film with a message. Here's a trailer:

The movies is in the final editing stages. For further information and some screen grab pictures, see The Park Bench website.


Oisix - Get Onboard The Organic Express

We read with interest Martin's February 19th post on "Kurashi - News from Japan" about Oisix - an organic food retailer - we checked out their website (here: Oisix), placed an order for one of their sampler boxes, and scheduled the delivery. (Thanks for that post, Martin.) This morning our box of food arrived at our door, right on time, and chilled (what a country!).

A typical sampler box from Oisix

Our sampler shipment included an orange, 2 carrots, komatsuna (mustard spinach), a bunch of naganegi (small Japanese leek), celery, dashi, lotus root, Bunashimeiji mushrooms, six eggs, four serving sized packages of tofu, 500 ml - about half a quart - of milk (K will drink that), and 200 grams - .44 pounds - of pork (which we gave to K's parents). All organic of course, domestically grown, and we're very impressed with the freshness and high quality.

Readers in Japan certainly are aware of the recent scare caused by gyoza (pork filled dumplings) imported from China which were tainted with the toxic pesticide methamidophos that made several people ill in Japan. In the USA recently, a slaughter house which provides meat for federal school lunch programs in 36 states caused a record recall of 143,000 pounds of beef, due to video evidence that it used "downer" cattle, which may be suffering from BSE (certain to be spun as "why worry, be happy"). Such stories, and the contamination of vegetables by animal wastes from factory farms, are all too common today. Combined with the need to cut down on fossil fuel use (shipping, chemical fertilizers, pesticides) due to resource depletion and climate change, as well as the now well documented superior nutrition offered by organic produce, it makes sense to buy locally grown organic foods whenever possible.

In my opinion, cost should not be the number one priority when you are talking about something you are going to eat. In fact, the costs of non-organically grown produce are there, but simply hidden in things like soil depletion, water contamination, CO2 emissions, possible long term medical costs, etc. Some of the items offered by Oisix and other organic foods retailers are, I admit, too much for my budget, but I will certainly buy those that I can afford. Since Japan only produces about 40% of its food, we do buy things imported (mostly grains from the US such as whole oats and wheat, and bananas from the Philippines), but I buy from local sources when possible. Our rice and many veggies come from family owned land. China? Are you kidding? Momo's dog house came from there, but food? No way! (If you're curious, Momo's dinner food comes from Japan and her breakfast from Australia).

Above: Organic food is obviously catching on in the USA, though it has a long way to go.

Looking through the printed brochures that came in the Oisix box is easier for me than trying to find my way around their website, which is in Japanese, but K can do the online ordering for us. Out here in Kashima City, finding organic produce is a hit or miss proposition, unless one is willing to spend nearly an hour traveling by car to get it (See - DokiDoki is Yummy Yummy). Oisix offers a wide variety - they even offer fish, breads, cheeses and ale - and I am very happy to have a reliable source for organic foods delivered right to my door (which is far more efficient than us driving around by car).

By the way, the "Oi" in Oisix is pronounced as it is in the word "oishii" - Japanese for delicious.

If you live in Japan, why not give them a try? And if you live elsewhere in the world, check out what similar services are available in your area. I've read of similar co-ops and retailers in cities in England, Canada, and the USA, so I'm sure there are many, many areas covered. The more we support local and organic farmers, the more their industry will grow and the more available such products will become. Bon Appétit, bonne santé! Healthy eating.


Collecting For The Local Engine

Japan's first fire department was created in 1629, during the Edo period under Tokugawa Iemitsu, to protect Edo Castle and the homes of Daimyo and Samurai. Now days, Japan has modern municipal fire departments with all the latest equipment. Our house is between two stations which are about 6 and 7 kilometers from us. We also have a local volunteer contingent which operates a mini-pumper truck. Out here there is no city water, so cisterns have been placed around the neighborhood. I would guess they hold a few thousand gallons of water each. In the event of a fire, a pumper truck would drop a hose into the nearest cistern and use that water to knock down the flames (you'd be surprised how little water is needed to do that if applied properly).

Our pumper truck

Once a year, the volunteers come around to each home and collect a donation to support our local contingent, the "station" (a single space garage) and the engine. It's fun to see them riding the truck around the neighborhood, lights flashing, knowing that they aren't on the way to a fire. The engine is small (we've got narrow roads after all) but it is located less than half a kilometer from the house. Of course, being a volunteer unit, it can take time for them to respond, but I'm glad that they are there just the same to try to help save lives and property until the big stuff arrives from town.

They also drive around the neighborhood from time to time ringing the bell to remind people to be careful and hand out pamphlets and stickers on fire safety in the home.


Two of our local volunteer firefighters

A couple of things have struck me as odd. The fire cisterns throughout Japan are marked with a circular red sign with white lettering which says in Japanese AND English "Fire Cistern". If you look at the large version of the picture above you can see that the caps say "Volunteer Firefighter" in English. How the use of English for these purposes came about I do not know. I speculate it was instituted after WWII during the American occupation, which is when the municipal fire department model was adopted.

Anyway, thanks volunteers. You can always count on our support.


Mao Asada Takes Flight On Ice

21st century ice skating plus 19th century Chopin's "Fantasie Impromptu" equals a winner. Japan's Mao Asada took the Gold in the Four Continents ice skating championships held in Goyang, South Korea on Saturday. Her flawless and seemingly effortless triple axel and triple loop were absolutely breathtaking. Enjoy.

In addition to this achievement, making her the 2008 Four Continents Champion, she is the 2007 World silver medalist and the 2007 & 2008 Japanese national champion. 17 year old Asada is currently ranked first in the world in ladies singles. Her slender form and grace belie the tremendous power behind her performance. She makes it all seem so easy, and never lets up to the very last. No rest for the talented though - next month she will compete in the International Skating Union (ISU) World Figure Skating Championship in Sweden.


"We Men In Garbahj..."

The title is from a 1970's commercial in which the ever wacky Jonathan Winters played a "garbahj" collector.

Down in Suva, the capital of Fiji, they could use his help. Too bad he is no longer with us. From the Japan Times (of all places) -

Tired of relying on government and local authorities to respond to the growing litter problem in Suva, a concerned resident has launched "Green Steps", a NGO that aims to clean up the city.

Alex Austin has been working closely with the Suva City Council to help clear the litter problem in Suva.

Everyday members of the Green Steps cleanup crew patrol the foreshore and beaches between the Vatuwaqa River and the Suva Wharf picking up rubbish.

This is the first of three phases of the clean up program, codenamed COFFEE: Cleaning of Fiji For Everyone's Enjoyment.

The second phase involves the installation of new rubbish bins in and around Suva.

"We hope to install over 100 rubbish bins in Suva over the next 24 months," says Austin.

The third phase is the education on the use of the new rubbish bins, he says.
Suva Waterfront

The programme is sponsored by Quest, ANZ, McDonalds, Gibson Freight, MH Homemaker, DHL, Williams and Gosling, Cost U Less and Pure Fiji.

"These businesses are concerned about the environment and willing to help me do something about it", says Austin.

By the way, our kayaking fiend, err, FRIEND, from Kuching, Malaysia, FH2O is presently in Suva on business. He's having a tough time of it, as Air Pacific lost his luggage! Good luck, Unker.


"This Is Kashima Police"

Until recently, our experience with the Kashima Keisatsu (police) has been limited to our local officer stopping by the house to update his record of who lives here (we have an officer assigned to our neighborhood), and from passing the keisatsusho (police station) in town on the way to the grocery store. K has also done some interpreting work at the jail there for a defense attorney representing an English speaking person who was being held for trial.

Kashima Police Station (picture from their website)

Bicycle theft in Japan is rampant (occurring at rates not unlike many college campuses in the US), so bicycles must be registered with the prefecture as a theft prevention measure and this is handled by the police who keep a database. Bohan toroku (theft prevention registration) is good for six years and the store where you buy the bicycle will fill out the form for you, collect the fee of ¥500, and hand you an ID tag for the bike.

When I bought the Yamaha hybrid-electric bike, however, I used the internet and got it from a shop in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture, so it was registered in there and came with a Hyogo ID tag. The Kashima police do occasionally stop bicyclists and run a check on the ownership - I've seen them doing that with a check point set up near Kashima Jingu shrine. I wanted to make sure my Hyogo registration would not be a problem if this happened to me (a gaijin riding a fancy bike kind of stands out), so I went down to the main police station in town to inquire.

No one was waiting in line when I walked in the door and I was directed to the third floor. There was no counter up there and I could not read the signs, but as I stood in hallway trying to decide what to do (door number 1? door number 2? or door number 3?), two women came out of an office and asked what I needed. I handed them the ID tag and my ryoshusho (receipt) and asked about getting an Ibaraki bohan toroku. After briefly discussing the matter between themselves, they said it would not be necessary and simply made a copy of the receipt and tag. Well, that was easy. I put the ID tag on the bike and was on my way. Just in case, I kept another copy of my receipt in my wallet. That was in mid-January.

Last Saturday I received a letter in the mail from the Kashima Police, which began "Hello, this is Kashima Police Station".

It turns out they had made a mistake and I really did need an Ibaraki tag after all. But the letter surprised me. Why? Because they had taken the time to find someone to write the note in English, telling me quite specifically what I needed to do, where I needed to go (a local hardware store that sells bikes) and how much it would cost. They even included a copy of the receipt card to be sure I knew what it looked like as I needed to bring it with me. I'm impressed.

In case you were wondering about the bird on the police station sign and envelope,ひばりくん(Hibarikun) here is a Skylark and mascot of the Ibaraki Police. What a country.


The Day The Music Died

February 3, 1959

Buddy Holly
(Charles Hardin Holley September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959)

The Big Bopper
(Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr. October 24, 1930 – February 3, 1959)

Richie Valens
(Ricardo Steven Valenzuela, May 13, 1941 – February 3, 1959)

Don McLean - American Pie


Oh, Forever Blowing Bubbles...

Many thanks to Frogma for this.

Dolphins and some whales can blow bubble rings. Here's a video clip of some dolphins blowing and playing with bubble rings for the shear fun of it. What a joy to watch. They have amazing control of them.

Who would want to harm such beautiful creatures? I am reminded of a part of the Jodo Shinshu "Golden Chain of Love" that reads, "I will try to be kind and gentle to every living thing and protect all who are weaker than myself." Namuamidabutsu.


Up, Up, and Away

UPDATE: Even before I posted this, Michio Kanda failed to make three of his scheduled satellite telephone calls and is missing south of the Aleutian Islands. (I don't know why they waited six hours to report him missing. When I was flying in Hawaii, if I had missed a single radio call a search would have been launched in 20 minutes.) US Coast Guard planes are now searching for him. While he is equipped with a survival suit, in those waters it would only offer limited protection. His last known position was 435 miles south of Adak, Alaska, which is in the west end of the Aleutian chain.

Before dawn on Thursday morning, Michio Kanda, a 58 year old official of the town of Kawajima, Saitama Prefecture, gently lifted off in his hot air balloon "Starlight", in hopes of becoming the first Japanese person to cross the Pacific Ocean by that means. Mr. Kanda failed in a similar attempt in 2004 due to a faulty burner and was rescued by the Japan Coast Guard. He did, however, successfully cross the Himalayas by hot air balloon in the year 2000. He also holds the 50-hour, 38-minute world record for the longest flight in a hot-air balloon.

If all goes well this time, he will touch down somewhere in the mid-west coast of the USA (let's just say that hot air balloon navigation is less than precise) on Saturday evening local time.

His balloon is the largest hot air balloon in the world with a diameter of 45 meters and a height of 50 meters.

He said of this attempt, "I'll try hard as this is the culmination of my hot-air balloon adventures."

I was in high school when this song came out. "The Fifth Dimension" won 4 Grammy Awards for it. Jimmy Webb wrote the song. (He also wrote "MacArthur Park"). Dig that crazy shower curtain dress.

May the winds be with you, Kanda-san.