Joining The One Percenters!

K has joined an exclusive group of people.   No, she hasn't become a billionaire. Rather, she has excelled at using as little gasoline as possible and emitting very few pollutants with her car.

Of the approximately 32,000 drivers of Honda Vezels in Japan, K is the 76th most efficient driver.  That puts her in the top  0.2 percent!   So, if you happen to be in Japan and see K driving by with her nose in the air, you'll understand why.

That information and more is provided via internet to Vezel owners by Honda. Her average fuel economy this October is 24.6 kilometers per liter.   For you people stuck with the old English measurements, that's about 57.86 miles per gallon.

Way to go, K!

K picking up her Honda Vezel Hybrid last year.


Have A Happy, Monsterous, Halloween

Halloween isn't celebrated in Japan much.  No children going door to door yelling "Trick or Treat".  Never-the-less, we always put up a bit of decor outside our house, as elementary school students pass by our place every day on the way to and from school.

The grocers and convenience stores some displays for it to help sales, and occasionally one may see some children dressed in costumes while out in public.   K saw some little witches in the local mall yesterday and I saw a princess at the grocery store.  I'm sure the candy manufacturers are doing all they can to push the idea in Japan, but without the English/American cultural background it hasn't found traction here as yet.

Momo-chan is ready for it, just in case she can get some extra doggy treats.

"Vampire Dog" (aka Momo; aka "White Fang") says, "Trick or Treat!"

Back in 1978, the Japanese singing duo Pink Lady which featured Mitsuyo Nemoto ("Mie"), and Keiko Masuda ("Kei"), made a single that became the number-one hit on the
Oricon charts in Japan for eight weeks selling 1.6 million copies. Not "Halloween" per se, but definitely appropriate music for the occasion.

For a good English translation of the song visit here:

And chekout PCRM's Halloween Holiday Menu for a lot of healthy, tasty recipes perfect for entertaining, without the scary levels of fat and sugar. "Brain Sandwiches" look appetizing:


Wherever you are on October 31st, have a howling good night.


For Peat's Sake

The Scottish castle looking building of the linked post was one of the places we planned to visit on this trip to Hokkaido.   It is the site of the original Nikka Whisky Distillery, founded in 1934 by Taketsuru Masataka.

Masataka was born to a family which had distilled sake since 1733, but in 1918 he went to Scotland  to study chemistry at the University of Glasgow.  He also worked in a number of whisky distilleries while there and in 1920 married Jessie Roberta "Rita" Cowan of Middlecroft, Kirkintilloch.

Rita and Masataka in 1920
Returning to Japan with his bride, he helped establish a whisky distillery for a company which would later become Suntory.     He started Nikka in 1934 and sold its first whisky in 1940.   The reason for choosing Yoichi, Hokkaido as the site for his distillery was that he thought that the location most resembled Scotland in its climate.  The fact that Hokkaido has plenty of peat - burned to dry the barley and thus add flavor to Scottish whiskies - may have played a role in that decision as well.  Oh, for peat's sake, why would a person want to live in a climate like that of Scotland?   Give me the tropics any day.

K with the barrel head sign inside the entrance.
Whisky is not of particular interest to either of us, but I decided to take K up there because she had enjoyed watching an NHK Asadora (morning drama) called "Massan" which was based on the lives of Masataka and Rita.  Because of the drama, the distillery has become a popular destination for Japanese tourists.  Tour buses roll in and out all day long.  Visitors can stroll around the original distillery buildings on a self-guided tour (with signs in Japanese and English) or take a guided tour at specified times during the day.   Admission is free.

The original buildings make for an interesting tour, while on the adjacent land, Asahi runs the modern distillery.

Still life?  Ahem.   From these stills, the whisky was decanted into large vats in the next room, and ultimately, into oak barrels for aging.  A large screen at the entrance to this room plays a video showing how these stills were operated.

Inside one of many warehouses, there is a display of aging barrels along with audio-video and step by step  displays showing how barrels are made and what the pieces look like at each step.

After visiting an aging room, K seems hardly to have aged at all. ;)

Named for Rita, this was the management office in the center of the plant.

The Taketsuru home.   Originally built in 1935, it was rebuilt by Yoichi town after WWII.  Short commute, eh?

 K inside the Nikka Whisky museum, which is filled with personal and distillery artifacts.  There is also a bar in there where you can purchase whisky samples.

Some of the photographs and other memorabilia on display.

The Taketsurus.

At end of the self-tour, K went into the sampling room and had free samples of whisky and the apple wine which they started producing while waiting for the first single malt whisky to age.

Pandabonium at the monument to Masataka Taketsuru

In July of 2015, Nikka Whisky won several awards at the International Spirits Challenge in London, including Distiller of the Year and the Best International Blend Trophy along with six gold  medals for individual products.

Rita passed away in January of 1961 at age 64.  Masataka passed in 1989.

We had lunch at the distillery restaurant which was quite good.   Our timing was just right as some tour groups were arriving just as we were leaving.   We then visited the gift shop before heading to the train station to go to our next stop - Otaru City.

The distillery as seen from the Yoichi train station.

JR Yoichi parking lot.
Sittin' at Yoichi Station, got a ticket for my destination....

All aboard!
つづく (to be continued)


North To Beat The Heat

In July of this year, 24,567 people were taken to hospital by ambulance due to complications from the heat.  39 of those people were dead on arrival.   Fortunately, Pandabonium had planned an escape up north to Hokkaido, where temperatures were ten or so degrees Fahrenheit lower,  for the last week in July.

K drove us to Narita in her Honda Vezel (sold as HR-V in the USA).   This was the first time she had it on the Expressway and she was a little nervous as her previous car, the Honda Insight, was a little skitterish at those speeds.  To our relief, the Vezel behaved well - rock solid in fact - thought the fuel efficiency dropped from her usual 52 mpg to around 30 mpg at around 65 mph.  Oh well, it was only a 40 minute drive.  We left the car with a car park company which gave us a ride to the airport just a few minutes away.

Must be fun to work on the ramp in the blazing sun.

The cabin crew finally boarded and we were soon to follow.  Note that the pilot has put up a shade in the cockpit windows.

We took an inexpensive ride in a crowded Airbus A320 (with apologies to my youngest daughter, who works for Boeing).   It was a quick trip, just 1.5 hours to New Chitose Airport in Sapporo, from where we boarded a JR train to the JR Sapporo station.

Why didn't we take the Shinkansen?,  you may ask.   Well, I for one would have loved to, however, at this time the Seikan Zuidou - the tunnel which connects Honshu and Hokkaido - is not wired with the high voltage necessary for a Shinkansen line.   So far, people have taken an overnight sleeper train from Tokyo to Hokkaido.   That train will soon be removed from service when the higher voltage wiring is installed in the tunnel. 
he sleeper trains are also being eliminated because ridership is off something like 80% of what it was in the 1980s.  

So sometime in the next year, you will only be able to reach Hokkaido by rail on a Shinkansen train.   Many people will be sad to see the romantic "Blue Sleeper" trains (the Cassiopea and the Hokutosei) go.  But it takes 16 hours from Tokyo to Sapporo and for us, 16 hours is time we don't have to spare on a short vacation - nostalgia or no. 

We stayed at a hotel Hotel Monterey Sapporo, which is just a five minute walk from the JR train station.

Our fourth floor room had a view of sorts of the Sapporo TV Tower.

In the morning we caught a highway express bus (at the train station) for Yoichi City - about an hour and twenty minutes with some scenic shoreline for the last 20 minutes or so of the ride.

Within minutes of getting off the bus, we were standing in front of what looked for anything like the entrance to a Scottish castle.  What is this thing doing in Hokkaido of all places?

つづく (to be continued)


Organic Farm In Hawaii

Dr. Grace Chen, MD is an emergency physician in Hawaii.   She has a blog,  graceinhawaii.com, and is also on Facebook.   

This month she posted a short video on YouTube showing an organic farm on the North shore of Oahu, Waihuena Farm, which is a community supported farm providing organically grown veggies to its patrons. 

2 minutes 37 seconds

Nice veggies! And I would sure like to taste that "cranberry hibiscus" leaf.   Thanks Dr. Chen. 

Do visit her blog post as it has more information about organic farming.

Waihuena Farm's website is here: http://waihuenafarm.com/farm/



We hear a lot about China's military these days, but perhaps that is mostly US spin.   For Japan, they dominate the international news as well, but in fact, by far the most approaches to Japanese airspace are done not by China, but by Russia. 

In any case, we can all hope nothing ever heats up over such things.    Japan has an excellent self defense force to help deter aggression by its neighbors.  Here they are in action.  Note that the international language of aviation is English as spoken by the pilot in his radio communications in this video.

By the way, although the aircraft featured looks like a General Dynamics F-16 "Fighting Falcon", it is actually the larger Mitsubish F-2A "Viper-Zero" built in the 1990s - 60% by Mitsubishi and 40% by Lockheed Martin.


Empress Has Myocardial Ischemia

Empress Michiko has myocardial ischemia, an ailment in which blood has trouble reaching the heart due to a blockage in the coronary arteries, the Imperial Household Agency said Sunday night.

Read the entire article on JapanToday http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/empress-has-myocardial-ischemia-scan-shows

Empress Michiko is 80 years old.  I am sure she will receive the best care that modern medicine has to offer, but shockingly, the drugs and possible invasive operations may not offer anything more than slightly extending her life.   This condition has been shown to be preventable and treatable with diet.

Heart attack is the number one killer, the cause of 50% of all deaths each year.   And it need not be.   As a quick aside, back in the 1970s, Dr. Michael Gregor's grandmother was sent home to die by heart specialists.   Instead she enrolled at a Pritikin Center and learned a new way of eating.  She arrived in wheel chair and walked out on her own two feet - and went on to live healthfully for another 30 years!   In fact, that is what prompted the then young Michael Gregor to become an MD (he now runs Nutritionfacts.org).

Here is Dr. Hans Diehl, founder of CHIP (Coronary Health Improvement Project) telling us what we each need to do to protect ourselves from the number one killer (and many others).   If only Empress Michiko would somehow get the same message.

Dr Hans Diehl: Diet in Regression of Heart Disease  

(about 57 munutes)

Empress Michiko eat well, be well.


Shelter From The Storm

While we have a more substantial garage than the average Japanese household, it being a fully enclosed one car type, it isn't exactly spacious.  With three bicycles and a car in there, along with various stored items, we were pretty much at the limit, so adding a recumbent trike was not going to work.   I needed another shelter for the trike.

Bicycle shelters are not uncommon here, but they usually are erected over bare ground or gravel which results in humidity problems (read "rust").    So I went about building something with a raised floor.

A year or so ago I had replaced Momo's large bench with a smaller one which is easier for her, as an older dog, to jump onto.  The old bench was set aside and was no longer in use.   I unbolted the legs of the old one which left me with two 90 cm square platforms with rails on the bottom.

I purchased a suitably sized shelter kit made of aluminum tubing and vinyl covering.  Well, I should say that most were too small, being designed for one bike and some were too large.   I went with "too large", but it worked out fine.  I bought three sheets of 90 x 180 cm plywood (painted on one side, as suggested by K) and cut them into pieces with a circular saw to make a floor for my "trike garage".  The floor with base is heavy enough to prevent even high winds from moving it.

I screwed a center strip of plywood to hold the two platforms together, then added two larger pieces to form the front and back of the floor.   Then, I attached the base of the aluminum tube frame of the shelter to the edge of the floor using some electrical conduit straps.  I drilled countersunk holes for the flooring screws so that the floor is flat with no screw heads sticking up.

K and I carried that into position and added the rest of the frame and the cover, which is held down by elastic cord through gromets in the cover and wrapped around the frame.   The garage measures about 160 cm wide by 220 cm long.   There is a zippered roll-up door at one end and the opening roughly matches the car garage awning width so opens right onto the concrete pad in front of the car garage.

The interior is about 170 cm high along the centerline.

I cut some left over ply to fit into the back of the garage as a shelf, coating the bare wood portion with urethane varnish along with some strips to reinforce it in the center and at the side edges.

I found some plastic ramps at the home center which make it easy to roll  a bike or the trike into and out of the garage.    Now I have a shelter which holds my Raleigh and my trike.   The bottom of the floor is about 11 cm above the ground.   My bike and trike are high and dry in any weather.

Air pump and windscreen fairing (rolled up) on the shelf in the background.  Gekko FX 26 parked inside.  Ramp along the front base for easy entry and exit.  The flag pole has a connection just below the flag for easy shortening.

I keep the Raleigh bike along side the Gekko trike.  This gives us a bit more room in the car garage.  When we're not home, it's easy to link the bike and trike together with a security cable and lock.   Of course, most of the time, the door is zipped shut.  The project took about a day to complete. 


Spin Fast

Relax. Spin Fast. Ride Trikes.   That's the advice from America's largest (and best IMO) retailer of recumbent tricycles, Utah Trikes.  

In July I took delivery of my new wheels - a recumbent tricycle.   Built by German company  HP Velotechnik, it's a foldable model called a "Gekko FX 26".   26 is for the large wheel in the back.

I will still retain my Raleigh, Yamaha electric PAS, and Brompton folding bikes, each of which has a special purpose for me.  The Gekko is a blast to ride though and will be mostly "just for fun".

I ordered it with mud fenders (it rains a lot here), two rear view mirrors, and an aluminum rack.   I have since equipped it with a flag for added visability, bright dual tail lights and a bright headlight (though I don't plan to ride it at night), an air horn, and a cycling computer.   I also purchsed a windscreen, separately, which I will add in the winter to keep cold air and rain off of me.

Along with the 26 inch rear wheel, 3 gears up front and 8 in back mean I can take hills as well as cruise at whatever speed my legs will deliver.

The light weight aluminum frame keeps the Gekko FX 26 well under 40 lbs.

The recumbent riding posture improves power to the pedals and puts an end to saddle pain, back aches, and sore wrists that one may get on a "diamond frame" bike.


K takes the Gekko for a spin.  Judging by the smile on her face, I may have to get her one too!  Since they fold, we could fit two of them in her car.
While I do see upright trikes here on occasion, there aren't many recumbent trikes in Japan as yet. I expect that to change.  There is already a bike shop headquartered in Kyoto which specializes in recumbent bikes and trikes, and which has several other locations between there and Tokyo.  Also, one trike manufacturer from the USA has set up shop in Japan.

As for Momo the Wonder Dog, she's not interested in cars, bikes, trikes, or sailboats.  She'd rather just watch us while she lays in the shade of the pomegranate tree or on her front porch deck. 

Momo in her summer cut.  Almost time for a trim.


Panda Bears' Picnic

The first Sunday in May we decided to take Momo to one of her favorite parks - Suigo Prefectural Forest Park - for a picnic.  It's on the other side of Lake Kitaura from home and is just a 20 minute ride by car.

The park has nice foot paths through lots of trees and around and over a small lake.  There is also a large grass area for picnics, play, and even outdoor concerts.

They used to allow fishing in the lake, but no more. After we had walked around a while and crossed the suspension bridge we found out why:

"This sign warns of the presence of "Mamushi" - a poisonous pit viper common to Japan, Korea, and China.  Two to three thousand people a year get bit by these things in Japan and about ten people die from it.    Yipes! I'm glad that Pandabonium and K kept me on the path." - Momo the Wonder Dog

"We found a nice spot for our picnic out on the grass under the shade of a young tree.   Pandabonium and K brought things to eat of course.  I had my water dish and bottle.  K shared some of her boiled chestnuts with me!  Yum." -Momo

Bananas, a bag of chestnuts, spiced kabocha, and apples.
"A family nearby had brought the kids' bikes.  I heard them say they thought I was "kawaii" (cute).  I wondered if they had any treats to share." -Momo 
"As always, it was great fun to picnic.   By the time we were done, I was a little tired and happy to go home for a nap."  - Momo
If you go down in the woods today you're sure of a big surprise
If you go down in the woods today you'd better go in disguise
For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain
Because today's the day the Panda Bears have their picnic

Every Panda Bear who's been good is sure of a treat today
There's lots of marvellous things to eat and wonderful games to play
Beneath the trees where nobody sees they'll hide and seek as long as they please
That's the way the Panda Bears have their picnic

Picnic time for Panda Bears
The little Panda Bears are having a lovely time today
Watch them, catch them unawares and see them picnic on their holiday
See them gaily gad about
They love to play and shout
They never have any cares
At six o'clock their Mummies and Daddies will take them home to bed
'Cause they're tired little Panda Bears

If you go down in the woods today you better not go alone
It's lovely down in the woods today but safer to stay at home
For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain
Because today's the day the Panda Bears have their picnic