The Days Dwindle Down

To A Precious Few...*

I've been a busy dog over the holidays. It hasn't all been fun though.

A week ago Saturday I started coughing in the morning and again later in the evening and it got pretty gross since we dogs tend to empty our tummy when we cough hard. I'll spare you the details. Pandabonium and K were worried and Sunday morning when I did it again they took me to see the doctor.

He said it was probably due to the cold air - more to the point, the difference in temperature between my warm doggy house (which has a heated bed and is well insulated) and the morning air outside which can be close to freezing. He recommended that I sleep in the human house. Well, I'm not allowed in the that house usually, but next thing you know, PandaB and K go out and come home with a big cage - bigger than my dog house. They put it in their entry hall, and set it up with heated bed, just like my doggy house and covered the whole cage with a blanket.

So now I have two houses - one outside and one inside. The hall isn't heated so the air gets pretty cold at night, but not nearly as cold as outside. With the heater and blanket I'm pretty cozy. I like sleeping in the big house and get right into bed when I'm let in after dinner time. It's quieter inside. I can hear PandaB and K of course, but I'm not bothered by noisy motorcycles or the barking of other dogs and such. Best of all, I don't cough anymore when I go outside in the morning. I think of it as my Christmas present.

I was to get a bath and trim at the beauty parlor for the New Year, but they were booked. It was sunny today, so K gave me a bath. After she toweled me off and brushed my coat, I lay on a big old blanket in the sun and chewed on a rawhide stick while I got dry.

As you can see, I really get into it. I start by holding the stick between my paws and chewing it until it gets soft and starts to unravel. Eventually I get it soft enough to bite off pieces and eat it. Yum.

Just kidding about the ice and snow in the slide show. It was sunny and about 10˚C (50˚F) today. =p

A Happy, Healthy New Year everyone!

* "and the days dwindle down to a precious few" is from the lyrics of "September Song" (1938) by Kurt Weill, with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson. I thought of it for this post since my old pal in California - Shadow, the black poodle who has been mentioned on this blog regarding his role in a movie, passed away in November. He was over 19 years old! I miss his emails.


A Winter Solstice Dream

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, completed 1791, was commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia as a sign of peace.
(Photo kindly provided by M and J Adventures.)

From the 1974 film "The Odessa File"
(Andrew Lloyd Weber / Tim Rice / German lyrics: André Heller)

Perry Como & The London Boy Singers

Watch me now, here I go, all I need’s a little snow!
Starts me off, sets the theme,
helps me dream my Christmas dream,
Every year I dream it, hoping things will change,
An end to the crying, the shouting, the dying,
And I hope you will dream it too!
It’s Christmas,
We’ve got to remember!

So, light the light, I’m home tonight,
I need you to warm me, to calm me, to love me!
To help me to dream my Christmas dream!

Crazy things, said an’ done,
Every single day but one!
Every night should, I believe,
Be the same as Christmas Eve,
Nights should all be silent,
Days should all slow down,
An end to the hurry, the noise and the worry!
And I hope you believe that too!
It’s Christmas,
Does no one remember?

The whole world needs, a Christmas dream,
We need it to warm us, to calm us, to love us . . .
To help us to dream our Christmas dream!

(Lüge dirigiert die Welt, Ehrlichkeit bringt selten Geld,
Jeder möcht' Sieger sein, wer verliert bleibt ganz allein;
Doch manch Will' ist möglich durch die Fantasie
Du stirbst um zu leben und nimmst um zu geben;)
Einmal im Jahr wird alles wahr
Zu Weihnacht vergiss nicht,
Vergiss es gewiss nicht.

The whole world needs, a Christmas dream,
We need it to warm us, to calm us, to love us . . .
We need it to warm us, to calm us, to love us . . .
We need it to warm us, to calm us, to love us . . .
To help us to dream our Christmas dream!


Pacem in Terrace

Best wishes to all on this Winter Solstice and always from
K, Pandabonium, and Momo


Back On Track

JR Kyushu ran its steam locomotive "Hitoshi-Go" in service for 15 days in November of this year. The engine, Class 8620 No. 58654, was built in 1922 and was in service until 1975. She was preserved at the Hitoyoshi Steam Locomotive Museum.

Award winning photo of the Hitoyoshi-go from Ken's Daily Photo Blog

In 1987 she was given a new boiler and drive wheels and returned to service until 2005, when it was discovered that there was a crack in the underframe. This crack was not fixable, but rather than retire the engine for good, a new underframe was built and more complete restoration performed. On the 25th of April 2009, after restoration, she was returned to service between Kumamoto and Hitoyoshi, Kyushu. The scenic route takes the train through an old brick tunnel and across a steel bridge that dates to the Meiji era.

Likewise, it seems Pacific-Islander has sat on a siding for a while. I've been undergoing a bit of restoration work myself which started with diet changes, exercise, and then some trips to the hospital for an ultrasound exam, endoscopy (yuck), and some meds. I'm now back on track and building up steam, so I hope to get Pacific-Islander rolling along again.

All aboard!


New Wheels

K and I have a pair of matching six speed bicycles. I bought mine first in 2005 and some months later, got a second one so we could take rides together. They worked well until February 2007, when the spokes started breaking. As the problem progressed, I was able to move some spokes around and use a spoke wrench to "tune" the wheels and keep them straight with fewer and fewer spokes. Finally, too many were gone and I had to put the bikes in storage. I have new stainless spokes to install now, but that will take some time, which I haven't had in abundance since we took up sailing. I will get those bikes back in order, since we have a pair of them and its fun to ride together.

Meanwhile, in January of 2008, I bought a Yamaha hybrid-electric bicycle which has been a good work horse for carrying loads of groceries, garden supplies, etc. from town some 12 km away. It became my main means of transportation, which is not what I intended. I do have one problem with it , which is that although one has to peddle - it isn't an all electric bike - it doesn't make me work hard enough. As a result I have gotten further out of shape since owning it. (I can't blame the bike for that entirely, but it certainly played a part). Since starting a new diet/exercise program I have lost about 5 lbs. As my main means of transport is the bicycle, a new bike is also in order. One which will give me more exercise and hopefully address some of the shortcomings of the six speed.

All along I have been looking for an ideal bike. The six speed has good points for my use - fenders to keep me clean and dry, rack for carrying items, and seat and handlebars that offer a comfortable heads up posture - .ie. a good city bike.

The drawbacks, aside from lousy spokes, are that it is heavy - about 35 lbs - and has a narrow gear range that limit speed and hill climbing ability. Not surprising in a city bike, which normally would be used for short commutes and errands. I do ride in the city, but I also ride ten to twelve kilometers to and from the city and sometimes up some fairly steep hills.

I didn't need a road bike either. I wanted a combination of the two. Fenders, rack, and comfortable posture, but lightweight and with a wide gear range. No one seemed to offer such a machine - until recently.

My new wheels are built by Raleigh (founded 1885 in Nottingham, England). This model, the Club Sport, is only offered in Japan. Nowadays, Raleigh bikes are no longer made in the UK - mine was built in Taiwan - but they are a very good quality machine with Brooks saddle (established 1866 and still made in England) Shimano gears, Shimano Altus shifter, Shimano brakes, Sugino aluminum crank, and Araya aluminum rims. The wheels are quick release type, which is handy if I need to repair a flat or want to put the bike in the back of the Honda Insight.

It features a nostalgic look that I like a lot, down to the old style pin striping and logos on the frame. It has my required fenders, kick stand, small front rack and a very comfortable handlebars with a posture that is in between the low drag head down road bike and the upright city bike.

As for the gears - it has 21 speeds with a much broader range than the old bike. The shifters are on the handlebars and very easy to use with clearly marked position indicators.

The weight is not as light as I would like in my dreams, but I'm sure a much lighter bike would cost a whole lot more money. Still, it is 5 lbs lighter than the old one.

I've added a Cateye speedometer, Cateye (ultra bright) tail light, and a headlight. I may add a small handlebar bag for such things as my camera if I can find one that both looks good and is affordable. For carrying items, the small rack on the front works OK, but most things will go in a backpack. [For major loads, I will still use the Yamaha which has a big rear rack, panniers, and front basket.]

I've only had the Raleigh for a week now, but so far I'm very happy with it.

Be safe out there. Happy bicycling.


Catch of the Day

Spectacular photos from National Geographic -Sperm Whales Feeding On Giant Squid

Five adults and one calf feeding on giant squid photographed by Tony Wu. He said, "It seemed as if the adult whales were trying to teach the baby to dive and also to eat squid."

Female sperm whale munches on 9 meter (30 foot) giant squid while calf swims close at her side.

The pictures were taken off of Japan's Bonin Islands - known here as the Ogasawara Group - which lie about 1000 km south of Tokyo.

Full article and more pics here: National Geographic


These Are The Times That Dry Men's Soles

Where were we last? Ah, yes. I was dissing the meteorologists at the Japan Meteorological Agency.

In the morning, the weather presenters on tee-vee were still predicting thundershowers, but looking out our window we saw a gray sky over a still lake. Ha! I knew it.

A dozen or more people were standing off shore casting fishing lines. Net fishermen were checking their nets. The air was still.

We met up in the dining room for breakfast - a buffet of Japanese and western style foods - and discussed our plans for the day. As the wind wasn't blowing and the hour still early, we walked along the shore for a bit.

After walking off breakfast, we checked out of the inn and headed for the harbor. As we set up the boat, the wind started to increase a tiny bit, but only to about 4 mph. We'd had a good breeze the day before, so this was OK . The main thing was, it wasn't raining. I assured Martin that it would not rain as he had no dry pants to change into now and needed to keep them that way for his long trip home in the afternoon. As we shoved off I felt something. Was that a raindrop? Nah! It wasn't going to rain.

We enjoyed the relatively placid water and leisurely pace. Still, there was enough wind to keep us moving along. It gave Martin a chance to see what it's like in calmer wind and take in more of the scenery.

There were fish jumping out of the water here and there. Suddenly, a small one of about 15 cm/6 inches in length, popped out of the water, flew right past Martin and landed inside the centerboard well! We could peer down and see it wiggling around, but had no way to reach it. By the time we docked it had escaped out the bottom. Wow. First fish caught aboard Bluesette! Congratulations, Martin. Sorry it got away.

After a time, Martin asked to have a go at the tiller. He had been in boats before, but not a sailing dinghy. We changed places and he took over helming while I handled the port jib sheet and main.

It's always tricky at first, learning to handle the tiller. Martin was surprised at how responsive the boat is and also how much one has to work at it. The wind came up a bit and we tried tacking a few times.

It was new experience to me in Bluesette to be handling the jib and not the tiller. Martin noticed the look on my face as I reoriented myself to the new position in the boat. It did seem strange.

Then, when coming about, Martin changed sides too quickly and we rolled precipitously. I popped the mainsheet from its cleat and things steadied down. My bad for not doing a better job at briefing the crew. We changed places again.

K pointed out some very dark clouds to the East and shortly we heard a rumble of thunder. And then - the rain began. As we had agreed ahead of time, we immediately headed for the harbor, which was downwind from our position. The cloud followed us, however, and soon was emptying its moisture on Bluesette. So much for staying dry. The weather bureau's revenge was at hand.

(do click on these two to see the rain on the water and the boat and us) ...
Martin did his best to shrug it off (like a true Viking)

K didn't look at all amused - was it something I said? Perhaps it was raining lemon juice?

Ah, well. Showers and dry clothes would fix this. (except for Martin, who now had nothing dry to change into). What to do... I recalled seeing a new laundromat that we passed on the route that leads home and which wasn't too far out of way. So we went there and in a matter of minutes Martin had dry pants. Never a dull moment when you sail on Bluesette!

Time for lunch...

With Martin's interest in food issues - like food security (Japan only grows 40% of it's own caloric intake), food safety and sustainability - we had been wanting to take him to a farm association run market and restaurant we discovered about four years ago called JA Ibaraki Pocket Farm Doki Doki Restaurant. K set the Insight's navi computer for "shortest route" to get to the restaurant. We were soon driving down very narrow, winding roads through farms. At one point a delivery truck pulled out ahead of us, but thankfully he was heading the same direction. Maybe we'll stick to the main road next time.

They feature locally grown produce and meats both in the market and the restaurant. The latter is an all you can eat affair. The building has a high open beamed dining room set in a forest with large picture windows to bring the outside in.

I took this picture on a previous visit to Doki Doki.

The food is displayed on a large wooden, two tiered table. Often, the dishes are labeled with a small sign with a picture of the farmer who provided the ingredients and a blurb from the chef who prepared it. The food is all very fresh as the amount of each dish put out is relatively small, so replaced often with a fresh batch or a different dish altogether. There are no chemical additives in the foods. The selection is amazing. You can read Martin's impressions here: Five Stars For The JA Ibaraki Pocket Farm Doki Doki Restaurant.

After lunch and a visit to the market there, it was time to move on. We were heading in the general direction of the bus terminal, but there was another stop we wished to make along the way.

Both Martin and I have some background in Buddhism, albeit different sects. There is a temple in rural part of Hokota City which is little known outside the area, but of some historical significance, so that was our next stop.

Muryouju-ji (ji means temple) is on a hill overlooking a valley of rice fields. The gate is a the top of a long flight of steps (pant pant wheeze).

Muryouju-ji was founded in 806 and later renovated by the monk, Shinran Shonin, who lived there for three years starting in 1221. Shinran was the founder of the Jodo Shinshu (true pure land) sect of Buddhism - presently the largest sect in Japan. (It is known in the USA as Hongwanji and Buddhist Church of America). The worship hall was replaced in the early 1600s with the building one sees today.

The bell tower was built around 725 and is rung 108 times on New Years eve. K gave it a go.

On a previous visit, the temple hall itself was closed. It underwent a complete renovation starting in 2000, which took four years. This day, we were lucky and the hall was open and we went inside. A woman joined us - possibly the minister's wife - and lit a candle for us so that we could offer incense. She also told some things about the temple and its unusually elaborate decor and some of the history of the sect.

Altar with a statue of Amida Buddha. The carved panels above - some brightly painted and others gold plated - were made by the same artist who made the carvings for the famous Toshogu Shrine in Nikko in 1617.

A protective dragon greets one at the entrance.

Recent renovations included a new thatched roof.

The tall tree is a ginko, which may have been planted by Shinran Shonin himself as it is over 700 years old. To the right is a stone "Domae" - treasure house.

Then it was time to repel the Viking invader take Martin to the bus terminal for his long journey home - happily, attired in dry clothing. We'll do it again. Next time, just for kicks, in sunny weather!


Viking Invades Hinuma

At the beginning of October, our friend Martin became our first guest aboard Bluesette. Martin is from Sweden and has lived in Japan for a long time. We met through blogging a few years back when my only blog was Pacific Islander. Martin writes Kurashi - News from Japan which is all about being GREEN and covers the issues of sustainability, food safety, ecology and energy as they affect life in Japan. He is the author of a new book (in Japanese) which is a guide to consumers on which foods are safest and what additives various Japanese companies may add to their food products. Japanese readers can check out the book here: Food Safety Ranking in Japan 2009

It's a two hour trip from Martin's home by train and bus. We picked him up at the bus terminal in Itako City and drove up the eastern shore of Lake Kitaura and on to Hinuma. The weather was going to be wet, but we were determined to go no matter what. Thinking the weather would likely be better in the afternoon, and not wanting to have to break for lunch later, we stopped at Mama's Kitchen.


K & Pandabonium - are we really gonna do this in the rain?

Martin is ready. Bluesette is ready.

We could barely make out the north shore 1 mile away - definitely IFR weather. The Hakutas obliged by launching Bluesette for us anyway, then retreated to the club house. Not sure what they thought of us at that point. Perhaps "baka" - crazy.

Ignoring the rain, we had a blast. The wind picked up a bit and we got sup some speed. Rather than trying to have 3 people change sides with each tack, Martin and K sat on either side of the boat manning the jib and trusting me to keep them from taking a swim.

Agent 99 -"we're soaked to the skin" Agent 86 - "and loving it!"

The mainsail acted as a great catchment system, intercepting the rain and sending it down and into the cockpit below. This insured that the crew got a double dose of rain and also kept them busy bailing.


None of us had prepared ourselves well for the rain. I left my rain gear at home by mistake, K didn't have any, and Martin brought a temporary rain suit, but only wore the pants. I guess we were just determined face the elements and beat them. Lucky for us it was fairly warm with water and air temps around 21C/70F.

After tucking in Bluesette under her cover for the night, it was nice to enjoy a hot shower at the club and get into some dry clothes.

Then it was time to head for Ikoinomura Hinuma - a prefecture run resort just half a kilometer from the harbor. K and I had had lunch there before, but had never stayed overnight.

Ikoi no mura Hinuma - " village of rest at Hinuma"

Our accommodations were spacious Japanese style rooms with tatami mat floors and lake views.

After settling in and having a bit of rest it was time for dinner. Two meals a day are included in the room charge and dinner is ordered ahead of time so it is ready when you arrive in the dinning room. In addition to the set meal, I had ordered a plate of fried freshly caught "haze" (Japanese Goby fish). While we did enjoy them, it was a bit much food as the set meal itself was quite a feast.

A couple of hours later, it was time for the onsen - hotspring baths - to relax the muscles and warm one's body for a sound sleep. The baths at Ikoi no mura Hinuma (separate for men and women) have big windows overlooking the lake. After our long, active day, it felt great.

While one is out for dinner, the maids move the furniture in the room and set out futons.

K is wearing the yukata which Japanese inns (ryokan) provide guests. They are worn everywhere in the resort [men are additionally provided a sort of jacket that goes over it (haori)]. The yukata is also for sleeping.

An occluded front had formed over the area. That's when a cold front and warm front collide and duke it out as to which will win. It can be very hard to predict the weather with any certainty when this occurs until something breaks. I bet on the warm front winning and bringing improved conditions with it.

The weather bureau, however, was forecasting more rain and even thundershowers for the next day. Ha! What do they know?

つづく (to be continued)

Until next, sweet sailing!


Panda Poop Earns An "Ig Nobel" Prize

From CNET News:
"A team at the Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Sagamihara won the [Ig Nobel] biology prize for "demonstrating that kitchen refuse can be reduced more than 90 percent in mass by using bacteria extracted from the feces of giant pandas."


A Japanese and two Chinese researchers who developed a method to cut kitchen waste by using bacteria from giant panda poop were awarded the 2009 Ig Nobel Prize for Biology in Boston on Thursday.

The award, a parody of the Nobel Prize, is handed out each October by the Improbable Research organization at Harvard University for "research that makes people laugh, and then think."

Fumiaki Taguchi, pictured, is a professor emeritus at Kitasato University's graduate school of medical sciences in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture. He shared the prize with Song Guofu and Zhang Guanglei of China. (IHT/Asahi: October 3,2009)

Note:This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in an effort to advance understanding of issues of environmental and humanitarian significance. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml . If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


Pandas Don't Hibernate

So what's up with the lack of posts here?

K and I have been doing a lot of sailing this summer, that's what, and blogging about it on Sweet-Bluesette. This weekend, rain or no (hey if we were afraid of getting wet, we wouldn't go sailing at all), we're staying at a resort up at the lake with a friend from Saitama Prefecture and sailing for two days. I promise a post here about that as well as on Sweet-Bluesette.

On August 26th we visited DisneySea, which is a one of a kind park next to Tokyo Disneyland. It is themed on ports of the world and designed to appeal to an older age group. It sure appeals to us. I'll post about that SOON.

On September 13th we went to an airshow at Hyakuri Air Base and watched the JASDF aerobatic team "Blue Impulse" perform again. I'll post briefly on that as well.

In other news....

On Maui, my 6 year old granddaughter Bailey is kickin' goals in soccer games. Six of them in the last two games! At this rate, the Kashima Antlers will want to sign her up. (Her dad played soccer for Hawaii Pacific University - you don't suppose she has a coaching advantage, do you?).

Bailey on the right in the yellow jersey.

And on the mainland US my second daughter, Laura, graduated (again) this summer, this time with a master's degree in computer engineering and an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis. Woo hoo. All that while working full time for an aerospace company.


Zoom Zoom Zoom

Forget the Mazda ads. I mean ZOOOOM!

As I mentioned back in July when I saw "an unusual formation" of JASDF aircraft fly over, there is an air show happening next Sunday, the 13th of September at Hyakuri Airbase not very far from us.

By the way, the following day, I saw another unusual formation and it circled the area twice. It was, as I suspected connected to the airshow, but it was not a rehearsal. Rather, it was a photo op flight, with the Kawasaki trainer being used as the camera plane.

In the poster below, you can see Kashima Football Stadium (soccer for Americans) in the lower left, Kashima Jingu Shrine (the green area under the 2nd airplane, an RF-4EJ Phantom) and somewhere off the nose of the closest plane (a Mitsubishi F-15J) "Ye Old Academy" where the Moody Minstrel teaches.

Flying starts at 0900 and ends at 1430, with the last hour being the Blue Impulse performance.

Schedule of flying, directions to the base, etc. can be found here:

Go sailing on Saturday or to the airshow on Sunday? (K needs a day of rest on the weekend). Tough choice! But the airshow is only once a year, so Bluesette will have to wait.


Holy Chiropteran Batman!

I am constantly amazed at the new flora and fauna of this rural part of Kashima City. Recently I heard an insect I had not heard before. It sounded as if someone were hiding in the bush with a bicycle bell - "lriinggg...lrriingggg...". It turns out to be a "suzumushi" or "bell cricket", which is a tiny insect not 2 cm long. It has been long admired in Japan for its beautiful sound and is even featured in the world's first novel - The Tale of Genji, written in the early 11th century.

Click above to hear the song of the suzumushi.

Today, K arrived home and excitedly asked me to come see what she had just found. A bat! K grew up around here and had not seen one in this area before. I double checked to make sure it wasn't April 1st, then went with her to the garage where, trough the open window, we watched this bat sleeping on our wall.

Cute, yeah?

I don't know what kind it is. It is quite small at only about 6 cm in length (less than 2 1/2 inches). Perhaps it eats flying insects. I think it is too big to be one that eats nectar. Anyway, it's welcome to "hang out" here. Bats have an important place in the ecosystem. Fruit bats (which are usually quite large like the ones we've seen in Fiji and in Japan are only found in the far southern islands of Okinawa Prefecture) spread seeds. Insect eating bats control the population of plant eating insects, and nectar eaters are valuable for their pollination function. All of them help to preserve forests.

Since I moved here (almost five years ago) we've seen an increase in wildlife - birds, snakes, frogs, insects, and now bats! Very encouraging. I hope the area doesn't get overbuilt and enough wild patches remain to be a home for these creatures.


Batten The Hatches!

UPDATE: Krovanh veered to the east and passed us off shore, so all we got were some 20 mph winds and moderate amounts of rain.

Good thing we have a tight waterproof cover on Bluesette and that she and the sendai she sits on are tied down to eye bolts in the ground. Krovanh is coming.

TS Krovanh's position as of 10:00 AM Japan time today (Monday). Image from Japan Meteorological Agency

Korvanh is a Tropical Storm heading right for us. Already Tokyo International Airport at Narita (just 20 miles from us) is reporting winds of 50 kph with peak gusts of 70 kph (30 mph and 44 mph respectively). The center will pass over us around 21:00 tonight.

The good news is, the storm is not intensifying to Typhoon levels. However, it was a storm of similar intensity that wrecked an iron ore freighter right off Kashima Port in 2006 with loss of ten lives, grounded another ship, sank a 98 ton fishing vessel to our north with loss of all 16 hands, and capsized a pleasure fishing boat near Tokyo. So this is nothing to trifle with.