A is for Apple - and Aomori Part III

Third and final installment.

Continued from A is for Apple - and Aomori and A is for Apple - and Aomori Part II...

After spending the morning in Oirase Gorge, we went to the lakeside town of Yasumiya and found a nice restaurant that served soba (buckwheat noodles) with wild mountain vegetables.  Oishikatta desu!  (It was delicious.)

We walked along the shore to the statue of  two maidens by Kotaro Takamura.   Then inland to Towada Shrine, built in the 9th century.

I love the dragons which provide the water for the purification fountains of Shinto shrines.

K then bought tickets for a boat that would take us along the south shore of the lake and area where the Tachikawa bomber-trainer we had seen at Misawa Aviation Museum had ditched in 1943.  The tour boat business has been under bankruptcy protection in the aftermath of the Great Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011.  I hope enough people decide to bring them business again.  The area is just as interesting and as beautiful as ever and there is no reason to stay away.

The boat leaves Yasumia and follows the shore around the Nakayama-hanto Penninsula into the deep caldera called Lake Naka-ko (where the airplane ditched), then returns.  The Towada Prince location is on the west shore.

Pandabonium's On Towada album on Photobucket

Towada is one of the clearest lakes in Japan.  Looking down through a few meters of water at the aquatic plants on the bottom I was reminded of Lake Tahoe on the border between California and Nevada.

 photo PND_1362_zps859fe926.jpg


On her fourth and final day at the doggie hotel, Momo the Wonder Dog was apparently enjoying her walk.

A picture like that makes us feel happy that she is OK and more comfortable about being away from her.

After a wonderful "Viking Style" breakfast (as such buffets are called in Japan - as if the Vikings ever had it so good) we went for a walk along the shore then up hill and across the highway to find a bell tower.  The automatic bell instrument was a gift from Germany to the people of Japan as a symbol of friendship.  It took some finding as it set amid a forest.  We checked out of the hotel and  drove around the north side of the lake on our way back to Hachinohe City, a route which takes one to higher elevations and some beautiful overviews of the lake.

Pandabonium's last day towada album on Photobucket

On the way down the mountain, stopping to top off the gas tank, I snapped this pic of a farmer with his diminutive tractor at the gas pump talking on his cell phone.   Old ways and new ways found together in modern day Japan.  Let's hope the former are not lost as we will need them as fossils fuels become more and more expensive, making such things as tractors, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and even cell phones more costly - not to mention the cost of importing food from far away.

Returning the car to Hachinohe City, we bought bento lunches in the train station for the ride home and boarded our bullet train for the 3 hour trip to Tokyo.  While there is some nice scenery in between, the first fifteen minutes of the ride is mostly tunnels, so I just closed the window shade for a while.

Harvested rice paddies.  Somewhere in Iwate Prefecture.

From Tokyo it was an hour and fifteen minute ride on a highway express bus to  Itako City, next to our home town of Kashima City, and then an hour by car to pick up Momo at Lake Hinuma. A long day to be sure.

It was a fast paced trip, but we managed to take in quite a lot.    After a journey, it's always good to come home to familiar things, relax, and think about what one has experienced.   Momo was glad to see us and obviously happy to get home as well.

 photo MomoHome_zps5b77d28c.jpg

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.


My New Green

I found this at a farmers market the last time we took Momo the Wonder Dog to the beach park. (Will post about that later). Then, I found it being carried by a grocery store closer to home.

It's called tah tsai (thank you Martin) or brassica campestris var narinosa. Anyway, what appealed to me was its rich, dark green color and rugose leaves (deeply wrinkled). It just seemed to shout "super nutrition"!

The ones I get are grown across lake Kitaura from us - just 5 kilometers away.  Eating local.

A lot of people add it to a stir fry or put it in soup, but I like it raw in a salad with other nutritious greens like chingensai (a kind of bak choy), beans, and veggies (like paprika and broccoli). Sometimes with plants like this or spinach I lightly "water fry" them.  One of the great things about a plant based diet is that you can mix and match whatever you have.  Nothing complicated about it.

Isn't it gorgeous?

Update: photo of lunch on Monday with tah tsai in the salad:

 Soba (buckwheat noodles), tsuyu and water with negi (leek) for dipping, and a dessert K often makes from sweet potato, apple, and raisins cooked in soy milk. Sorry I didn't display everything better, but I was hungry!

I make my own salad dressing now so I can avoid oil (read empty calories that also have a really bad effect on one's arteries) and sugar and salt which are so often found in commercial dressings. Here's a recipe I got from Dr. Joel Fuhrman of DiseaseProof.com .

Orange Cashew Dressing

1 orange, peeled and seeded
2 tablespoons (30 ml) raw cashews
(I soak them for a few hours to make them easier to blend)
1 tablespoon (30 ml) of Dr. Fuhrman's Blood Orange Vinegar
(I use balsamic vinegar here)
1 carrot, grated
orange juice (optional)
lemon juice (optional)

Just blend the ingredients in a high powered blender until smooth and creamy. Add some orange or lemon juice to thin dressing, if necessary.   The cashews give it a creamy taste and the vegetable fat in them helps your body get more of the nutrients from your salad.


I definitely want to try growing tah tsai next year.


Buy Not, Want Not

Buy Nothing Day Japan was observed on November 29th.   It was the 14th annual observation with meditating "Zenta Claus" figures and elves in front of Hankyu Department Store in Tokyo and other locations around Japan.

Zenta Claus does not buy gifts or carry around a bulky bag; doesn't judge people being naughty or nice; doesn't require people to believe in anything.  Just meditates and advises you to think for yourself rather than be a consumerist "sheep".  Think about where things you might buy are from (sweatshop? ecological disaster area?), and where they will go once you or the person you give it to tires of it.

Buy Nothing Day is observed in some way or other (by some people) in over sixty countries around the world.


A Brown Dog Vanishes

A drama has played itself out in our neighborhood over the last several weeks, after the appearance of a brown dog.

'Brown Dog', as we came to call her, appeared out of nowhere.  Most probably abandoned by her owner in our neighborhood.  She was larger than Momo, but not real big. A sort of medium sized dog.  Didn't fit the description of popular breeds.  "Just" a mutt.

For us, she entered out lives by wandering into our yard and approaching Momo.  Being much larger, she intimidated Momo who would yap and cry on her approach until we came outside to see what was the matter.  Upon seeing us, Momo would get courage and start barking in earnest as we chased "Brown Dog" away.

Even with our front accordion gate closed, Brown Dog would enter the yard through the one weak link in our perimeter - the west side of the property which is protected only by a camellia hedge.  So for many  a night I would have to get up and chase the intruder away. Finally, I bought some animal netting, stakes, and lock ties and sealed off the hedge with it - or so I thought.

For several days Brown Dog would find weaknesses in our defenses and I would have to go out - often at night - and reinforce the places she had found to slip through.

We felt sorry for Brown Dog.  She was not mean.  She would supplicate herself before Momo.  We were sure she was just looking for a place to sleep and a supply of food and water.   One night, when Momo was brought into the house to sleep in her cage because of cold/wet  weather, Brown Dog slept in Momo's house.  And on that and another occasion, she stole one of Momo's toys.  How sad.

It was not unlike the situation that brought Momo to us.  An apparently abandoned dog seeking food and shelter, Momo had found us, and we welcomed her - grudgingly  at first - into our fold.  We saved her, and in a major way, she saved us.  Now we cannot imagine life without her.

Brown Dog was a nuisance, but we empathized with her situation.  We wished that someone would step up and adopt her, as we had Momo.   We discussed taking her in ourselves, but we really couldn't handle a second dog, and to attempt it would have been unfair to her and especially to Momo.

The other option was to catch her and turn her over to the authorities.   In Japan, this is usually a death sentence, as such animals are only given a three day reprieve.  There are some "no-kill" shelters around the country run by NPOs, but mostly, a stray that is captured is put down within three days.  We could not be a party to that either.

The other day a cage appeared a street away.  It was from the "authorities".  On the cage was a sign which read (to the effect) "if you catch a stray animal and put it in this cage, the authorities will deal with it".   I told K that I would not be the one to sentence Brown Dog to death.  K was in total agreement.  One does what one can.  On the one hand we needed to protect Momo.  On the other we did not want to harm the poor abandoned dog which was, after all, only trying to survive after being abandoned by a thoughtless human being.  (Do we do much for homeless humans?  Why not?).

Last night, on their afternoon walk, K returned to say that the cage was gone.  It could only mean one thing.  Someone had put Brown Dog into the cage and she had been taken to "death row".

Today, for the first time in some weeks, there was no sign of Brown Dog.  No slipping through our hedge or nets.  No coming in the open front gate.  No shadowing Momo and I on our morning walk.   Brown Dog was gone.

We are saddened by this course of events.  Yes, I no longer have to wake at three in the morning to chase a dog out of our yard.  I no longer spend hours - sometimes in the rain - tying animal netting to a hedge.  But the certain death of that dog is not a fair trade in any sense of the word.  Nor does it bring me any ease of mind.

I was never angry with Brown Dog.  Anymore than I was angry at the sweet weed-covered puppy that appeared on our step in 2005 - Momo.   I am angry at the person who irresponsibly  let her into this world with no support.  Who abandoned her to die, or for others to take care of, or to execute.

Momo as she chose us in 2005

Humans pretend to care about animals - cats, dogs, horses, other pets; cute seal pups, polar bears, pandas, tigers, rhinos, and other cute or exotic species.   At the same time, in the USA alone, some 157 million "live stock" are slaughtered for food each year.  Something like 9 billion chickens, 260 million turkeys, 27 million ducks, and 6 million rabbits are likewise dispatched.  How different are these sentient beings from Brown Dog, or Momo?    Not very, I'd say.

So tonight I am thinking, once again, about Brown Dog.  An animal I have shouted at,  tossed sticks at to shoo away, and built fences against.  And I am sad.  I am thinking that there must be a better way.  Why can't humans be more responsible?  How is it that we claim the right to dominate the planet and all the creatures on it, yet don't show the least level of competence to properly, ethically, manage that which we claim as ours?  Especially when one realizes that a totally plant based diet is more healthy and there is no reason what so ever for the slaughter?

Ironically, eating animals leads to the most common causes of death among humans.  Nature is exacting its revenge with bacterial diseases, cancers, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.

I am still puzzled by why it must be so.  Can't we learn?  Why cannot humans exercise reason and figure it all out?

The answer is with each of us.  And if Brown Dog's life and death helps to enlighten us, then we owe her a debt of gratitude.  Thank you Brown Dog.  And thank you Momo! 

May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety.
All living beings, whether weak or strong,
in high or middle, or low realms of existence,
small or great, visible or invisible, near or far,
born or to be born.
May all beings be happy.

-A Buddhist Metta



A is for Apple - and Aomori - Part II

This day Momo looked better, but still a bit tense as she was walked around the grounds of her doggy hotel.

From Sabishiro Beach we could see a Grumman E2C Hawkeye (airborne radar) practicing touch and goes out of Misawa Air Base.

Leaving Misawa where we had visited the aviation museum, we headed west toward the mountains and Lake Towada.   The weather was perfect and the pastoral landscapes lovely.

Pandabonium's up the hill album on Photobucket

Lake Towada is at the high point of the area's mountains which is 400 meters (1800 feet) above sea level.  Oirase stream empties the lake and as we entered Oirase Gorge the sky all but disappeared in the forest canopy.    The gorge is studded with waterfalls and a footpath runs some 14 km along the main stream.    We spent time walking and driving to see some of the falls and photograph them.  There was so much to see that we decided to skip canoeing or kayaking on the lake  in the morning and come back to hike along the stream instead. 

Here are some pictures of Oirase Gorge from both days.

Pandabonium's Oirsase Gorge album on Photobucket

It is popular tourist destination - especially in fall when the leaves are turning colors.  We saw groups of school children, Japanese tourists, some Chinese tourists, and a few young American families I assumed were from Misawa Air Base (not a bad place to be stationed, eh?).

K assured me this was the best way to get rid of the hiccups.

We had seen many signs in the gorge cautioning "Watch for Falling Trees".  When we at last returned to the car, I noticed the huge tree right behind where K had parked.  Oh, my.

Don't look now...

While at Lake Towada, we stayed at Towada Prince Hotel which fronts the lake.  The breakfast buffet was expansive and excellent.  K had called ahead to alert them to my plant based eating habits for dinner.  Although they weren't terribly creative, they did try to please, and served up some yummy mountain veggies, some of which I'd never tried before.

The Prince at Lake Towada

The room was nice and was even equipped with a "teru teru bōzu" (shine shine monk) - a simple doll that resembles a ghost.   A tradition started by farmers in the Edo Era, teru refers to sunshine and bōzu to a Buddhist monk.  The head of the doll is smooth, resembling the shaved head of a monk.  If you hang it in your window it will prevent or stop rainy weather. ;)     Children hang them to wish for good weather when a school excursion is coming up.  Good item to have on vacation.

K with teru teru bōzu

Meanwhile, back at the doggie hotel at Lake Hinuma, Momo was finally looking happy on her third day. 

Last installment coming up: Lake Towada.

つづく (to be continued) HERE


Mikan, Mikan, Mikan

Last year we had very few mikan fruit on our tree - perhaps a total of fifty.   This year is a very different story.

Here's K with her third basketful so far this month.   With approximately 160 mikans, it weighed in at 16 kg (35 lbs).   We've been eating them and giving them away (by the bag full) to folks around the neighborhood as fast as we can.  She took a basketful to work with her at the Jr. High School on Friday, and there were only about 5 left by the end of the day.

There are another three baskets worth still on the tree! 

Mikan are seedless and easy to peel.  The smaller ones are the sweetest.  Lots of fiber, vitamins A and C too.  They make a great snack on their own and I like to blend them in a fruit smoothy with berries, spinach, a little grated ginger and some soy milk.

When we're done with the harvest, we'll leave some on the tree to share with the birds.

*trivia: mikan, formally called unshu mikan in Japan, is often sold as satsuma in the USA. This is because during the Meiji period, the fruit was sent to the US from Satsuma Province which is now the western part of Kagoshima Prefecture on the island of Kyushu. As a result of the fruit coming to America and being cultivated, there are now towns in Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and Florida named Satsuma.


Haiyan's Wake

In the wake of one of the largest typhoons in history - A Category V with winds of 200 mph - the central section of the Philippines lies in ruins.

As of this writing there are 3,637 people dead, according to the official count. The number of injured stands at 12,487, with 1,179 missing. A staggering 3,000,000 people have been displaced with only 400,000 finding shelter in evacuation centers.

Please visit the linked page at Weather Underground, read the article and and look over the before and after photos taken around Leyte. Then visit the International Committee of the Red Cross website and make a donation.

Thank you!


A is for Apple - and Aomori

Toward the end of September we took a trip up to Aomori (pronounced ah-oh-mo-ri) Prefecture at the northern end of the island of Honshu which is famous for its apples - among other things.   As we didn't have time to dilly-dally, we went by Series E5 train "Hayate" service.

Did you know that unlike diesel trains, the end cars on the Shinkansen lines have no motors?  Instead, they are distributed by 3s or 4s in the other cars of the train.  This distributed layout greatly improves traction, and so, acceleration, and efficiency compared to the old way of having locomotives drag the entire train from the front.  The E5 can accelerate from zero to 300 km/h in two minutes.
The afternoon before we left, we took Momo the Wonder Dog up to her doggy hotel at Lake Hinuma. It is run by a veterinarian and is a place she has stayed before  - when we went to Matsushima in 2011. A new service offered by them is posting a photo of your pet each day, so that you can see how they are doing via computer or cellular phone.

Here she is on her walk that evening:

She doesn't look very happy.  Still checking  things out and remembering being here before perhaps.  Or maybe she was just PO'd at being left behind.
As with our trip to Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, two years ago, a part of our purpose for choosing this destination was to spend our vacation money in the Tohoku region to do our bit to help their post-earthquake/tsunami economy. There were some things things up there of course that we had wanted to see for a few years, and which have become even more interesting to us in the last two years. One was the Misawa Aviation & Science Museum, another was Lake Towada. Each of these attractions turned out to be much more interesting than we had ever anticipated.

First stop for us was Hachinohe City, Aomori-ken, where we stayed in a new business hotel just a couple of blocks from the train station.  Hachinohe port is known as the squid fishing capital of Japan.  The port was hit hard by the tsunami, as was one of the local rail lines.

Captain to First Mate: "That's not what I meant when I ordered "hard to starboard"!
The hotel was great.  Most floors are designated "non smoking", fully equipped room, and a surprisingly good complimentary breakfast buffet.

Afterward I asked one of the staff "I am puzzled.  At breakfast I kept hearing a voice say, "You look very nice today, sir." To which he replied, "Oh, that's just the breakfast.  It's complementary, you know."   (Sorry about that.  Blame it on the UFO.)

UFO over Hachinohe Station as seen from our hotel.
After check out, we walked the few blocks to the car rental agency to pick up a Honda Fit.  When planning this trip I had initially thought of taking local trains  and highway buses, but after looking at the sparse timetables and costs, we opted for a car.

First stop, the Misawa Aviation & Science Museum, just outside Misawa Air Base, which is used jointly by the USAF and JASDF.    The museum opened  in 2003 and has an interesting collection of aircraft on display as well as a dizzying number of hands on scientific exhibits and simulators.  We focused on the aircraft, though K spent some time flying a hot air balloon over the area (in a simulator).

Several aircraft are on display outside the museum, some of which you can enter.
Pandabonium's Outdoor displays album on Photobucket
As one might expect the museum is popular with schools. We waited at the entrance as a "herd" of school children went in ahead of us. The museum knows how to handle large groups so that they get educated without disrupting the enjoyment of adult visitors.

Inside is where the aircraft I was most interested in seeing are on display. First of all is a replica of the airplane called "Miss Veedol" which was flown by Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon Jr. in 1931 on the first ever non-stop trans-Pacific flight between Japan and the USA (East Wenatchee Washington as it happened, since their intended destination, Seattle, was socked in). Wenatchee and Misawa are sister cities nowadays. I did some instrument flight training in Wenatchee back in the early 1990s, flying out of Pangborn Memorial Airport.

If aviation history is of interest to you, do watch the following video which will give you an appreciation for the aviators and their achievement.

The airplane on display in Misawa is a replica since the original Miss Veedol, a Bellanca J-300,  was sold after the historic flight and later lost by the new owners in the sea during a flight from Italy. Another replica exists. It was built a few years ago by the Experimental Aircraft Association in East Wenatchee and is named "Spirit of Wenatchee". In 2011, after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, it was brought to Misawa by ship and flown before cheering crowds to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the 1931 flight. The Spirit of Wenachee gave the spirits of the people of Misawa a much needed lift. 

The exhibit of the local Miss Veedol is beautifully done with the surroundings looking like a hangar. Behind the aircraft are drums to represent the amount of fuel that was being carried at takeoff (915 gallons).  They barely made it.

Another aircraft I was keen to see was a replica of the Kokenki long distance research aircraft built by Tokyo Empire University Aviation Laboratory in 1938.  Flying a triangular course (which passed just to the south of Kashima City) the Kokenki set a new world's record for long distance flight of 11,651.011 km.  When they landed there was still 500 liters of fuel left which meant that they possibly could have continued another 1,200 km.   

It was powered by a modified BMW design engine - a V12 of 715 hp built by Kawasaki.  The metal fuselage and wings were made with flush rivets to reduce drag, and the whole aircraft was highly polished.  The replica is impressive, the original must have been a beautiful sight in flight.

Two other replicas that interest me are  Sanji Narahara's "No. 2" plane, which on May 5, 1911 became the first Japanese made plane to fly in Japan.  Narahara was Japan's first civilian pilot and built his own aircraft.  And there is a replica of Einosuke Shirato's "Asahi Go" from 1915.  As Japan's second civilian pilot, Shirato trained other pilots and made many demonstration flights around Japan.

Those four planes have been of interest for a while and I would have gone to see just them.  But in the last couple of years an interesting find happened when during a survey of Lake Towada in Aomori-ken, they came across a World War II training aircraft resting on the bottom at a depth of 327 meters (over 1000 feet).   The Tachikawa Ki-54 was used for advanced training of air crews.  It could carry two pilots and 6 passengers (students).  No records exist of the flight which ended in the lake, but through interviews with people who lived in the area at the time, the story emerged.     In 1943, the twin engined  plane had been on a flight from neighboring Akita prefecture to Hachinohe with two pilots and two passengers on board.  A mechanical problem forced them down and the pilot ditched the plane in the lake.  Sadly, only one person got out and was rescued by local fishermen.    Last year the aircraft was brought to the surface and has undergone some reconstruction work at the museum.  The remains of the the other three aviators were found in the plane.

Tachikawa Ki-54

Also, a movie was released in 2011 about Isoroku Yamamoto and a Mitsubishi Zero replica was constructed for the movie.  It is presently at the museum as well.

So, for an extra ¥100 one can now also see the beautiful Zero and the lost Ki-54.

I bought this movie with English subtitles (Amazon UK carries it as "The Admiral") and I  think it is pretty good.  It honors the man for his continued efforts to stave off war and when he could not do that, to bring it to as swift an end as possible.
The Ki-54 is eerie to look at.  Much of the damage one sees was done in bringing it to the surface.  The condition is remarkably good considering where it was for nearly 70 years.

The painted numbers and emblems are still clear.  The symbol on the tail is the group that it belonged to.  Made up of Chinese characters for the number 8 (八) arranged in a triangular fashion, so one can see three eights - it stands for Group "38".  

Pandabonium's Tachikawa Ki-54 album on Photobucket

We left the museum, stopping to admire the Herdon and Pangborn monument at the entrance, and headed for Sabishiro Beach, where Miss Veedol began her historic trans Pacific flight.    [In fact, Miss Veedol had started in New York and would circumnavigate the earth, but that race and the reward was already lost to Wiley Post, so the Pacific flight would give them a new record and a $25,000 reward from Japan.]

Sabishiro Beach

Sabishiro Beach Post Office - we stopped to ask if they had any stamps commemorating Miss Veedol, but they did not and suggested with check with the main Misawa PO.  They were very friendly.
We found a nice soba restaurant and enjoyed a very good lunch before heading inland and following the river toward our next adventure...

つづく (to be continued) HERE