2008/11/29

Bluesette

"Poor little, sad little blue Bluesette
Don't you cry, don't you fret,
You can bet one lucky day you'll waken,
and your blues will be foresaken,
Some lucky day lovely love will come your way."

~~~~~

K and I have decided to sail an open 14 foot sailboat across the Pacific Ocean from California to Japan!

Shear madness? Not at all. Why, in 1891, Capt. Bligh of the HMS Bounty, after the famous mutiny, sailed an open boat with 18 of his crew and provisions for only a matter of days, from Tonga to the Dutch East Indies, a distance of 3618 nautical miles (6701 km). While LA to Tokyo is alot farther - 8816 km - there are only two of us (not counting Momo the Wonder Dog).

Besides, our boat will be sitting on a trailer and tucked away on a very large ship for the whole voyage. We'll not have to leave home until it arrives.

When I was a kid in California, my family had a Lido 14 sailboat. Designed and built by W D "Bill" Schock in 1958, ours was #443. My brother taught me how to sail in that boat (he was a good teacher and went on to sail - at different times - from San Diego to Hawaii, around Mexico, and across the Atlantic, in addition to sailing small boats in San Fransisco Bay). Over many years I enjoyed sailing the Lido with family (even our standard Poodle, Peppi! Or perhaps I should say "even with my two sisters" :o), friends, or solo. Usually sailed by two people, a Lido can also carry a guest or two comfortably (or 3 or 4 guests less comfortably), or be sailed single handed. It's a great family boat.

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My brother sailing with friends back in the day.


Every time I see Lake Kitaura (which is often since it is just down the street from the house), I think of how nice it would be to have a sailboat. I've only seen one on the lake a few times, though several decades ago one might see several sails of "hobikisen" net fishing boats. Those days are gone and the few net fishermen left use power boats. The most popular recreational boats on the lake these days - and there aren't very many as the long recession in Japan really took a toll - are bass boats (fishing - yawn).

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Calling to me - Lake Kitaura


A few months ago I decided it was time to do something about all that and I started looking at sailboats. Dinghy sailing is popular on certain lakes and protected ocean waters in Japan and there are clubs that hold regattas for various types - Lasers, Tasers, 470s, Yamaha Sea Hoppers, and so on. After looking into the various types of boats available here, I decided to go with a company and boat I knew, even though that meant bringing it across the ocean. The W.D. Schock company is still the sole source for the Lido 14. It is now run by the founder's son, Tom Schock. Over several emails he helped review the various boats they make today and surprise, surprise, I decided on another Lido 14. Not too big, not too small, fun to sail, but not too tender* i.e. too wet or scary for K or a guest to enjoy themselves.

When they reached Lido #6000 a few years back, they made a number of design improvements based on the experiences of the previous forty odd years. The new boat is still very much a Lido and meets the requirements for racing with that class, but has features to make it more durable, safer, and easier to sail and race. Our boat will be #6329 (a long way from #443). Tom Schock came up with a color I like in a paint scheme that he calls "classic" as it makes the boat look more like the older style Lido. It looks a lot like #443, but is very much "new and improved".

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Here's Lido #6329 in the factory. As you can see, it's BLUE.
( The Moody Minstrel should like that part.)


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After much discussion of possible names - Japanese and otherwise - we decided on "Bluesette" after the jazz tune by the great Toots Thielemans.

Most of the Lido 14 fleets are along the west coast of the USA, from southern California on up to Oregon and Washington, though there is also an active fleet in Ohio.That a new Lido is headed for Japan has caught the attention of the Lido 14 Class Association and I have been interviewed for the next edition of their magazine, "BowWave". I've even been invited to race over there, but I told them they'd have to come here. ;^)

Bluesette will arrive in January. I'll probably have to wait for Spring weather before I can convince K about putting her in the water (the boat, not K), but that will give us time to jump through the bureaucratic hoops of trailer registration and properly equipping ourselves with the needed safety gear, waxing the hull, and so on. Applications for passengers and crew are now being accepted. (No experience necessary. Unquestioning obedience to the skipper mandatory. Pirate talk highly discouraged.)

Hopefully our presence on Lake Kitaura will encourage others to join us and once more make sailboats a familiar sight here - only of the recreational rather than commercial variety. Who knows?, perhaps Lidos will catch on and join the other classes of sailing dinghies popular in Japan, and we'll have someone to race against.

Here's Toots Thielemans and Stevie Wonder performing Bluesette...enjoy.



*tender - the characteristic a sailboat to heel over in the wind, generally scaring the hell out of any guests on board.

2008/11/15

Food for Thought

Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) created its own YouTube page last month. Tip of the hat to Martin for this new video about food security, safety and related issues.

Japan imports 60% of the food calories it consumes. A statistic which does not bode well for the future. MAFF has put a lot of facts into a small package with this video. No matter where you live, I think it is good food for thought.

"Ensuring the Future of Food" Japanese with English subtitles 4 min 20 sec

2008/11/10

Dai Hiroshima Ondo Part II

We had checked in to our ryokan at 2:30, so even after a rest, there was some time for sight seeing.

Lots of pics ahead. Once again, click on them to see a larger image.

A good starting point for a walk through the Hiroshima Peace Park is the A-bomb Dome. We walked up to the "main drag" of Hiroshima, and caught a steet car down to the A-bomb Dome. Built in 1915, the building was designed by Jan Letzel, a Czech architect who lived in Japan for ten years and designed many residences and public buildings. Originally it served as the Prefecture Industrial Promotion Hall. With it's European design, brick and reinforced concrete construction and copper dome, it stood out in contrast to Hiroshima's predominantly wooden buildings.
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The target point for the atomic bombing was an intersection on the neighboring bridge - 100 meters to the northwest. It detonated about 160 meters to the southeast, at an altitude of about 580 meters.

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The hypocenter was where this hospital stands today. A plaque marks the spot and carries a US Army photograph taken from there.
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The A-bomb Dome's distance of 160 meters from the hypocenter scarcely mattered as the fireball of the 15 kiloton blast was about 1.25 kilometers in diameter with a temperature of 3,900 degrees Celsius (7,000 degrees Fahrenheit) and winds of 1005 km/h (624 mph). What survived of the building did so because the blast came from above rather than from the side. Everyone inside was killed instantly of course.

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It was not until 1966 that it was decided to save the A-bomb Dome as a reminder to the world of what atomic weapons do. (Keep in mind that the weapons now installed on US missiles have a blast equivalent to 475 kilotons and rely on fusion reactions which happen at temperatures as hot as the interior of the sun - 100,000,000° Celsius - and would instantly destroy anything within about 7 km of the hypocenter.) Each one of the 24 missiles on an Ohio Class SSBN submarine can carry as many as 12 such warheads, though they usually "only" have six and are limited to 8 under current treaties. (As if that is reassuring.) The USA has 14 such submarines.

The A-bomb Dome has been reinforced here and there with steel, to keep it from posing a danger to visitors, but it does not detract from the effect of seeing the remains and getting the message.
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A window frames a shattered concrete pillar held up by its steel reinforcing bar as if suspended in time and space, and the spiral steel stairs in the center of the building.

I'll have more to say about the atomic bombing of Japan in part IV. The museum would wait for another day as we wanted to spend more time there than our first day would allow. For now, I just want to take you, through pictures, along with us on the walk we took around the dome and through the Peace Park.

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The bombardier's aiming point - the intersection of two bridges - is visible in the left of this picture.


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The Children's Peace Monument is dedicated to the memory of the children who died as a result of the bombing, and is based on the story of Sadako Sasaki, a girl who died in 1955 of leukemia due to her exposure to the radiation from the bomb when she was just 2 1/2 years old. She folded 1000 origami cranes in the belief that it would save her. A bell is inside the monument and has a clapper in the shape of a paper crane. Nearby are several booths full of cranes, sent by school children throughout Japan and the world. They reminded me of the flower lei stands at Hawaii's airports. The juxtaposition of the love and joy that Hawaiian leis represent and the melancholy tragedy of these long "leis" of cranes brings tears to my eyes.

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A closeup of some paper cranes.

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In the foreground is the Peace Flame which has been burning since 1964. It will remain lit until all nuclear weapons are eliminated. The arch behind it is the Cenotaph and beyond it, one of the buildings that house the Peace Memorial Museum.

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The Cenotaph, Peace Flame, and A-bomb Dome. The Cenotaph, built in 1952, holds the names of all those killed by the bomb. The monument is done in a Shinto style and the arch represents a shelter over the souls of the dead. The death toll is still rising as victims continue to die due to the long term effects of the bombing even to this day.

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This is the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound. It contains the ashes of about 70,000 unidentified victims.

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Japan occupied Korea for some 35 years and brought many of then to Japan as cheap labor. At the time of the bombing there were at least 45,000 Koreans working in Hiroshima, 20,000 of whom were killed. Ironically, perhaps, the current Japanese Prime Minister Aso's family ran coal mines during the war which used Korean labor and had such wretched living conditions that record numbers of them attempted escape. The Japanese government was reluctant about a monument to the Korean victims of Hiroshima and initially placed it on the other side of the river, but it was finally moved into the park proper in 1999.

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Donated by the Greek Embassy, the Peace Bell - officially, “the Bell of Earnest Desire” - has a map of the world without national boundaries cast on its surface and the Greek words of Socrates, "γνῶθι σεαυτόν" or "know thyself". The dedication plaque reads, "We dedicate this bell, as a symbol of Hiroshima Aspiration: Let all nuclear arms and wars be gone, and the nations live in true peace! May it ring to all corners of the earth to meet the ear of every man, for in it throb and palpitate the hearts of its peace-loving donors. So may you, too, friends, step forward, and toll this bell for peace!"

K and I rang it together in earnest. Did you hear it?

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A lotus blossom beside the Peace Bell. One of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism, the roots of a lotus are in the mud, the stem grows up through the water, and the heavily scented flower lies pristinely above, basking in the sunlight. This pattern of growth signifies the progress of the soul from the primeval mud of materialism, through the waters of experience, and into the bright sunshine of enlightenment. (Well, we hope, anyway.)

~~~~~


We walked back to Sera Bekkan and got ready for dinner. It was a bit later than anticipated and we had no reservation, so elected to take a taxi. The driver was very nice and tried to time the traffic lights for us, but when he failed, took a back street and knocked a bit off the fare by restarting the meter!

The restaurant was one I had found on the internet - Kanawa oyster boat on the river just downstream from the Peace Park, famous for fresh seafood and traditional Japanese cuisine.
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Should we go there again I will be sure to make a reservation as we had a bit of a wait. The food and service was memorable. I don't do raw oysters - ever - so we had some fried, along with flounder, rice, miso soup, assorted other goodies, and a half bottle of Remy Pannier Muscadet Sevre et Maine (a not too expensive white wine that is perfect with seafood).
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The Kanawa Website is HERE - two thumbs up from P and K


The staff of Kanawa, dressed in kimono, escorts their guests to the street and offers their thanks. Perhaps it is to be sure that any who have been drinking don't trip on the "gang plank" leading to shore, but it was a nice ending for a long day in any case. We walked "home" along Heiwa Odori (Peace Avenue), a divided boulevard lined with trees on each side. At the time it was constructed, Japan was still struggling to rebuild and many locals thought it was an extravagance. Now the wisdom of having trees and meandering pedestrian paths beneath them seems obvious.

Our futons awaited and we fell fast asleep. The following day we would be off to Miyajima... Next post.

つづく - to be continued here: Dai Hiroshima Ondo Part III

2008/11/06

Dai Hiroshima Ondo

We have wanted to visit Hiroshima for some time and we finally had the chance in August 2008.  Years before we had visited the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor and the Punch Bowl [National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific] so this trip would symbolize completing a set of "bookends" for us - the beginning and ending actions of the war between our countries.

August 6th marked the anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city, of course, and August is also the time of Obon for Buddhists, when those who have passed before us are celebrated with music, dance, flowers, incense, and prayers.  As a lot of people in Japan have time off for Obon and many millions travel to their home town to visit family, choking highways, airports and railway stations.  Happily, this year we had time near the latter part of the month, after the Obon rush, so decided to go.

Our vacation took us on a four day and three night adventure to Hiroshima City and nearby Miyajima - the island famous around the world for the "floating" torii (gate) of Itsukushima Shrine.


The title of these posts, "Dai Hiroshima Ondo", is the title of a favorite bon dance of mine, the lyrics of which say "come to Hiroshima and dance", describe the Inland Sea as calm in the morning, with bountiful seafood, and so on. After that it says "seeds from the ashes grew", became green, and Hiroshima became the symbol of peace.





Getting there is half the fun....

Well, maybe not quite, but it can be fun.  In planning this trip we had to decide on whether to fly or take the Shinkansen train. Hiroshima is over 700 km (435 miles) as the crow flies from where we live.  An airliner is obviously a lot faster than a train, however there are other considerations.  For example, there are bullet trains leaving Tokyo station every several minutes, while there are far fewer flights.  One also needs to get to the airport with enough extra time to go through the security rigmarole and check in and boarding procedures, not mention waiting for baggage at the destination.  Another factor is the location of airports.  The airport we would use is Haneda, near Tokyo, so from this end there is not much difference in terms of the express bus time, but Hiroshima airport is 45 minutes out of town whereas the train station is right in the heart of the city.

Add it all up and it turns out that the Nozomi Super Express Shinkansen is almost as fast "door to door" as flying, and without the security hassles, schedule restrictions, cramped seating, and possible turbulence.   K booked us reserved seats on the train.


K demonstrates the legroom on the Nozomi 700 Shinkansen (if you are with a group, you can turn one set of seats around for club seating).


On the day, we got to Tokyo station with time to spare, so K switched our reservation to an earlier train.  A little too early perhaps, as we had to hustle to catch it.  The Nozomi Shinkansen consists of 16 cars and is about 1/4 of a mile long.  To walk from one end to another takes about 5 minutes.  If you are catching a train along the Shinkansen route, you'd better be waiting in the right spot, as the train will only be in the station for 2 minutes. In our case, we had to walk from the rear of the train to car number four and we made the train with at least a minute to spare.

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An aside: for the foreign tourist, I highly recommend getting a Japan Rail Pass. You have to buy it before you arrive.  Your travel agent will give a receipt which you exchange for the pass after you arrive in Japan.  Good for one or two weeks, the pass is good on regular Shinkansen (not the Nozomi higher speed ones) as well as all JR trains and many subway lines. The JR companies operate all the Shinkansen lines and about 70% of all trains in Japan. You can't go wrong.  With a pass, you won't have a reserved seat (you can reserve a seat for an extra fee), but you can get on or off at any station and unless you are traveling at a peak time, you probably won't need a reservation anyway.  So, let's say you are staying in Kyoto.  You can get on a bullet train for Himeji, see the famous castle there, then get on another train to Hiroshima, take in the Peace Park, have dinner, and get back to Kyoto the same evening.

Pulling out of Tokyo Station, the bullet train is limited to 100 kph until well outside of Tokyo (for noise abatement), then picks up speed and along some stretches reaches 270 kph.  With only 8 stops, the Super Express makes Hiroshima in just over 4 hours.  Once again, clouds kept Mt. Fuji hidden from our view, but other interesting sights revealed themselves.  Glimpses of the ocean, rivers, valleys of tea and rice and farm houses, castles, cities, school children on bicycles - flashing by as if you are watching a fast paced slide show.  Capturing them at 270 kph isn't always easy and I often ended up with a picture of a bridge girder or the beginning of a tunnel.

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Tea and rice.

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Bridge at Hamanako Lake in Shizuoka Prefecture

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Fields near Nagoya

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The roofs of the Nishi Honganji (Buddhist temple, just right of center) built in 1591, amid the modern skyline of Kyoto.

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The 57-meter tall, five-story pagoda of Kyoto's Toji temple. Rebuilt in 1643, this pagoda is also the tallest of all wooden towers in Japan.

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Rail yard full of various models of Shinkansen trains. Drag race? Gentlemen, start your engines!

Most stops are just 2 minutes.  At Osaka it's a bit longer as there is a crew change.  Osaka is where JR Central meets JR West, which are separate subsidiaries of Japan Railways.  You stay on the same train, just see a different color of uniforms on the people operating the train and serving the passengers.



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For lunch on the train, obento with a bottle of cool oolong,  barley, or green tea is always good. A woman with a cart will come by from time to time offering such items. There are also vending machines in designated cars.

Upon arriving in Hiroshima, we bought 2 day "Miyajima Free Passes" for ¥2000 which gave us unlimited use of the street cars, ferry to Miyajima Island, and the ropeways of that island's Mt. Misen.  As the ropeway alone is ¥1800 yen, if you plan on visiting Mt. Misen (recommended), the pass almost pays for itself on that alone.

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Hiroshima with its street cars and buses.  Street cars were crucial to the rescue efforts in the city after the atomic bombing.  The street cars of the day were made of wood, so most were burned to char by the bomb, along with the passengers in them, but three functional cars survived.  Tracks were cleared and the 3 cars were running within days of the bombing.   I found that as we vacationed and had fun in Hiroshima, even while doing the most simple things like riding on public transport, the thought of what it was like on August 6, 1945 was always present in my mind.

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Some of the street cars are brand new and rather than one small car, consist of five segments hooked together with articulated connections.  Called "the Green Mover", they feature wheelchair access as well.  Miss the street car?  No worries - another will be along in seven minutes.

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On one trip, an empty 12 passenger high school van pulled up alongside of us at a stop, then atempted a right turn in front of the streetcar.  Unfortunately for the van driver, we were already moving and the van and front of the streetcar met.    No injuries, thankfully, and only minor damage to the vehicles, but it caused several minutes delay and undoubtedly the driver of the streetcar was not happy to have his new machine bruised and have to file a report.

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A few blocks on foot from our street car stop and we arrived at our accommodations - the ryokan Sera Bekkan.  If you visit Japan, I hope you will plan to spend at least one night in a ryokan, which are the traditional Japanese guest houses.  They do cost more than a hotel, but give a lot more service and usually include one or more meals.  They often have a large bath to relax in at the end of the day.  For some excellent choices throughout Japan, in a range of prices, visit this website (in English): Japan Guest Houses

We have stayed in a ryokan in a rural area, which was very old and traditional and basically like a large house.  Being in the city, the Sera Bekkan is more of a ryokan-hotel, with hotel lobby, elevator and a so on, but with Japanese style rooms.  It is not a new building, but they have maintained it well and we had new tatami flooring in our room, which opened onto a terrace with a lovely garden.  Ryokan offer a relaxed atmosphere and guests may walk around the premises in the provided yukata (cotton robe) and slippers.  In the day, the room features a table with zabuton to sit on and also a narrow outer anteroom, separated with shoji, by the window with western style chairs and a small table.  While you are out dinning, the maid will move the table and zabuton out of the way and make up your futons for sleep.

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Sera Bekkan is located just a few blocks from the Peace Park and there are lots of restaurants and shops in the area.  The ryokan offers meal plans with breakfast served in a dining room downstairs and dinners served in the room.  As I had planned our dinners ahead of time we chose a breakfast only plan with Japanese style food [western breakfast (yawn) is also available].  We enjoyed the fact that the meals got more elaborate each day.  The food was excellent.  The staff are wonderful and really make one feel welcomed and at home.  Needless to say we really enjoyed our stay.

After we got settled and rested a for bit, we headed for the Peace Park ... next post.

つづく (to be continued) here: Dai Hiroshima Ondo Part II