Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tokyo Disney

At the end of November I had a three day weekend and a few of my friends and I went to Tokyo to Disney Land and Disney Sea. This was the first Disney to be built outside of the United States about 25 years ago. It has been very successful. Japanese people love cute things, love’m. No surprise that Disney land was the epitome of that. I saw men wearing pink leopard print Mickey Mouse ears. My friend Brian took a video of our trip and he often does take video of the little adventures that he has, some of which I am in. To see the one for Disneyland go to
If you would like to see other videos Brian has plenty more of Aizu area happenings. I am pretty sure I appear in only two other videos, Sendai Jazz Fest, and Sukagawa Fire Festival. You can see these videos and more from Brian at

The first day we spent at Disney Land. It was about 5pm when we arrived and were only able to get in because we had bought our tickets a few weeks prior. We had to wade through a throng of Japanese people who were standing waiting to get in for some reason even though they did not have tickets. The park was packed! At one point in the video Brian looks at the line for Space Mountain and says, “No space mountain today.” That turned out to be incorrect. The wait went to down to 1hr and 30 minutes, so we got in line and waited 1hr and 30 minutes to go on Space Mountain, which lasted less than five minutes. There were few choices however, most rides had at least a one hour waiting period.

Day two wasn’t much better, but we went to Disney Sea next to Disney Land so at least the Landscape changed a little. Two of the pictures I have posted were in Disney Sea. They had a large lagoon that was surrounded be a castle on one side and Italian style housing on the other. It was fantastic. There were variously themed areas like Indians Jones Jungle, America Town, Arabian Nights, etc. It was cool. I definitely want to go again and encourage anyone who comes to see me to consider going for a day or two. Accommodations in Tokyo can be surprisingly cheap. I spent two nights in a decent hotel, like a Best Western, and spent less than 80 US, of course I shared a room, but hey, still good.

Day three was nice. We all opted to go back to Disney Sea instead of Disneyland. There was more there that we all wanted to go and check out. I went on Tower of Terror that day, which I think was my favorite ride. At days end we got on our Sakura bus and hit the road, making it back to Aizu around 9pm. Not bad. Good times.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mt. Bandai

About three weeks ago I climbed Mt. Bandai, it is the largest mountain in my region and it stands at about 1800m above sea level. Not too shabby. It was a fun hike up to the top. It took about three hours each way from a starting point near the top. Once getting to the top we were very cold. We only stayed for a few minutes and then went back down the mountain, but not before Brian snapped a few shots. Thanks Brian!

My Town Part II

If you look for my prefecture in the Lonely Planet guide for Japan you will not find much, but you will find a section about ten pages long. Over half of that is devoted to the area that I live in, which is the western 1/3 of the prefecture, Aizu. The Japanese people know where Aizu is. A few months ago I went to Okinawa to visit Elina. While I was there she had an Eikawa (adult language class) She said that I she would like it if I tagged along, but I could stay home if I wanted. Of course I went with her. It was fun! When they asked what part of Japan I was from I told them Fukushima, Aizu. Immediately the middle aged man said, “White Tigers”

I was stunned to hear that he had heard of the White Tigers. This brings me to the point of this blog, Aizu is known as a historical seat of power and the story of the White Tigers is part of that history. I am going to give you the shortest possible version of the story without missing too much. If you want to read a bit longer story on Wikipedia follow this link.

The Boshin War is the equivalent of the Civil War in the United States, except not really. In the mid 1800’s power of Japan was in the hands of a Shogunate. This shogun decided that he was going to take the emperor’s court in Kyoto. About 120,000 men were mobilized in the conflict, of which maybe 4000 died. As the Shogunate’s army advanced to Kyoto they had a few small victories, but they had one major flaw. They fought the war on the terms of old warfare, i.e. samurai style. The emperor’s army had been in contact with the west and had received munitions. The tide quickly turned as the emperor’s army turned and started to march on the shogunate.

The larger yet ill equipped army was soon overtaken and a truce was made. However!, a core of shogunate supporters in northern Japan, led by the Aizu clan, continued to resist. The northern alliance had a total of about 50,000 troops. The imperial troops moved north to fight this contingent and, reaching Aizu, forces came to a head at Aizu-Wakamatsu castle (10 minute drive from my house!) After a long battle Aizu finally surrendered on November 6th of 1868. Now, the part that everyone in Japan knows about! In the final days of the battle of Aizu there was a group of young men, around 15 years old, which were fighting for Aizu. They were in the surrounding mountains on a training mission when they saw smoke coming from the Castle of Aizu Wakamatsu. They assumed the castle was taken and all was lost. All the White Tigers committed seppuku (ritual suicide) Unfortunately (fortunately?) one of them survived to tell the tale even after disemboweling himself.
As is turns out, the castle was not on fire, but a nearby storehouse. The suicide was for nothing! How awful! The Japanese do not see it as a negative thing. The suicide, warranted or not, was an honorable act and the White Tiger are held in legend ever since.
Now, you must all be thinking, this is all fine and good, but so what? Well, I bet you have already heard the story of the Boshin War. You have already seen an allusion to the White Tigers as well. If you have seen the 2003 movie The Last Samurai, which is partially based on the Boshin War then you have some idea of what I am talking about and if you saw that movie you will remember that Tom Cruise is taken in by a group of Samurai instead of being killed. And Why? Simply because as they are about to kill him he grabs a flag, the flag of the White Tiger, and begin to twirl it around.
So, this concludes Part II of “My Town” I hope you enjoy, please come back soon

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


This past weekend I went to Okinawa. Although it is part of Japan it is not part of Japan. The flight from Tokyo took two hours and because of the typhoon we had to land twice! Yes, twice! The first time we touched the ground and then took off again because we were rocking too much. It was a little nerve racking. Once there my friend picked me up and we started from Naha back to her place in northern Okinawa a bit more than an hour away. The car broke down and we had to stay near Naha with some friends of hers. The next day we got her car fixed, went to a castle, went to a historic house, and to a haunted hotel. We also went to America Town. The day after that we went to an island, to a school, to the aquarium and had pizza dinner with an excellent view. Then late that same night we went to her adult language class where I got to chat with adult Okinawans in english, pretty much. The next day it was back to Naha where we did some shopping and walking around and then the next day I came home. How is that for a short sweet description?
The trip was really nice. It was nice to see my friend again and it was nice to go to Okinawa. I'll just mention in detail a few things that really stuck out. Okinawans do not look like mainland Japanese. They are taller, thicker, and darker. Probably from the influence of many of the Pacific islanders over a long time. The jungle is noisy. When thousands of bugs and animals are competing for the same small space they tend to make some noise about it. The ocean is beautiful. When I went to the aquarium I saw three whale sharks at one time! Plus a lot of other marine life was observed. Whale sharks and named such because they are big and vegetarian. They are actually sharks, but not the type from our nightmares.
America Town had an uncomfortable feeling to it. Its where all the service men hang out. It used to be part of the base but was given back to the Japanese. Now there is a lot of American businesses and franchises there so many of the service men go there. I did not feel comfortable. There are a lot more foreigners on Okinawa and a lot of them are military. Locals don't exactly like the military being there and I don't blame them. I wouldn't want them in my town either. Another friend of mine had an ecounter with some AirForce men this weekend and it was also not pleasant. In a way it makes me sad. Young men from America, mostly with nothing better to do and not a lot of education, sign up for the military in some capacity then get shipped around the world being stuck in situations they are not accustomed to. It's dangerous, which I guess is the point.
Pods will be posted, so keep checking the pod site.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

This Is Cleaning Time

Everyday around 330pm our school stops classes and everyone, everyone, cleans the school. They students and staff sweep, mop, scrub, wash blackboards, tend the grounds, you name it and it is done. To signify the start of this they play A Whole New World over the PA system. Everyone lines up in the hallway a few things are said and then we meditate. I suppose we are supposed to be thinking of our connection to each other and the school, but I am not sure. After the meditation we break and clean for about 15 minutes. A lot of the students try to avoid working, especially the older ones. The linger in corners or just stand in doorways. I clean maybe every third day. It is a good way to talk to the kids and to show that you are with them. I just don't like the actual cleaning. At the end of the time more music is played, we line up again, there is a status check broadcast over the P.A. and then we meditate again before breaking for after school activities. I had heard about this before I came, but nothing compares to actually seeing it. The schools usually don't even have someone to clean for real, they just do it themselves everyday.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Grocery Store

The grocery stores here are expensive, unless you like to eat strictly noodles, tea, and fish. Then they are not too badly priced. For everything else, meat, dairy, vegatables and fruit, it is a shot in the dark. Somethings will be reasonably priced, others will not. I only pay mild attention to the prices because eating what I want is important to mental and physical well being. At least that is what I tell myself. I've posted another podcast about this. If you go to the link in Land of the Rising Sun, you will find the address. Good luck and happy viewing!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Little Things

Of course there are the little things that you find about a new country that seem… so odd at times! Once you start to integrate you start to forget that those things are strange. In light of that, before I forget, I am going to point out some of the little things that are different.
1. Most faucets shut off by pushing the handle up and turn on by pushing it down. Makes sense right, but its opposite of the U.S. so my pants often get wet.
2. Doors lock when you turn the key away from the locking mechanism, contrary to what we do in the west. I often walk into doors because I think the lock is open. (Kristin, you would laugh at me all the time here!)
3. At gas stations you don’t get out of your car. Full service! You just tell them the grade you want and how much and they go to work. They also wipe down your car and give you a rag to wipe your dash with. Plus, gas is… well, its not cheap or expensive. It just is.
4. Garbage is separated into about six different categories. It’s really annoying. Bottles go in one box, but their caps and wrappers go in another… and you have to wash them out before you throw them away. Cans go in a separate box, paper must be stacked and tied with ribbon. Food wastes go in one box. And there are a couple others that I haven’t really figured out yet. Plus, they require you to put your name and address on all the bags and bring them to a neighborhood site. If they are not satisfied with the way your sorted it, they bring it back to you! They also only collect on certain days, so Monday is burnables, Tuesday is bottles (but not caps!) Thursday is paper etc.
5. While people sometimes will not look you in the eyes when they speak to you they will certainly have no problem looking over you shoulder to see what you are writing or reading, which is happening to me as I write this. At the Onsen (bathhouse) they will also not have problem staring at your privates.
6. Squat toilets are annoying, yes, they are, I don’t care what anyone says. Don’t give me that “culturally insensitive” line. I don’t care, squat toilets are bad.
7. Rules, there are a lot of them I don’t understand and never will. Enough said.
8. Ovens don’t really exist, think toaster oven without a temperature gage.
9. Gear seems more important than training. Going out for baseball? Don’t train, just buy all the equipment so you look like you know what you are doing.
10. Some doorways and ceilings are very low, watch your head! Even I, at 6 feet, hit my head sometimes.
11. The western toilets here are awesome, they have heated seats, butt misters, and bade’s all in one.
12. Cigarettes are cheap, about the equivalent of 3 bucks a pack and, because of the Japanese’s love of the vending machine, you can buy them almost anywhere. I even have a cigarette machine in my school! Ok, that last one was a lie, but it almost seems like there should be one there too.
13. Shoes, shoes, shoes. I have to buy about six new pairs of shoes because of the places that I can and cannot wear them. At school, I have one pair for outside, one pair for inside, and one pair for the gymnasium. At home, one pair for outside, one pair for inside. At the local gym, one pair for outside, one pair for inside. Cleats, hiking boots, snowboarding boots! Oh my! The shoes are piling up. Make sure when you take them off to trade for another pair that you face them towards the door, away from the door is rude.

When we experience other cultures we first see the things that are not like our own. They stick out. They are dwelled on because they are different and need to be minded in order for us to “fit in” or be polite. This also leads us to think about being different from the culture we are in, most of the time. One needs to remember that people are not all that different.
I was watching a choral practice today when it occurred to me that these kids are just like kids in the States. Their parents want them to succeed. They want to do well in school. They want to be cool. They want to sleep all the time. They like sports, girls/boys, hanging out, eating junk food. It made me feel really good to have that moment again where the people around me started to feel like my people. I was part of a community that knew me and loved me.
This past weekend I had a home-stay in which I spent a few days with a local family while going to language classes during the day. My family consisted of two grandparents (70,67) and two grandchildren Kaigo and Emi. Kaigo was 12, just visiting. Emi was 11, she has autism. I loved her the most, she would sit by me and say what English she knew… again and again. I wanted to hug her all the time, she was very sweet.
As I spent my nights with them I came to know them as a family and some of there other relatives came by too to say hello and just spend time with loved ones. The weekend went really well and I will be visiting them often. It was really nice to get Japanese grandparents who will make cookies for me, have breakfast with me, or give me vegetables from their garden. Really, it will feel good to have grandparents who are looking out for my well being in that grandparents sort of way.
All these experienced combined, the meeting of the kids, getting a host family of sorts, starting to forget the odd cultural things, they all make me feel more at home. I feel like I have taken a big step in adjusting. I am making this my home, sort of.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Where In the World Is Kevin? My Town Part I

This a little post about where exactly I am. If you would like to know where in Japan then look at the black and white map. I have outlined my prefecture, put an X where I am in that prefecture, and circled Tokyo to give you some idea of how far I am in relation to it. I am about four hours from Tokyo by bus. So not too far.
If you look at the seven colored map you will see my prefecture divided up into areas. I am in Aizuwakamatsu area. If you go to the three colored map you will see my prefecture, Fukushima, divided into three pieces. I am in Aizu, the western most chunk of the three. Just left of the lake you can make out the city Aisu-Wakamatsu. I am just a little south-west of that in a town called Aizu-Hongo. Good luck finding that on any map! If you want to go a little furthur and see what my apartment looks like then follow this link and have a look inside.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

My Two Mothers

I usually only post things on here about my travels, other cultures, and new things I experience professionally. Mostly, I don't get too personal. However, this time I will allow a view into my heart. On August 11th my grandmother died. We did not have what I would call a typical grandmother/grandson relationship. I lived, along with my brother and mother, with my grandparents until I was 14. I again lived with them the past 18 months or so. In my heart she was the closest thing to a mother besides my own. I wrote part of a eulogy to be read at her prayer service and I am told that my brother read it. I would like to share it here with you now.

I went out with some friends the other night and as our night drew to a close I had a feeling that I should call home, something wasn’t right. Something was moving me to call immediately, it was very odd. I have never felt that way before. I tried time and again to dial the right numbers to make the connection, but it didn’t work. I was worried about my family and so distraught and frustrated sleep did not come easy. The next morning I finally found the right combination of numbers and contacted my mother. In our discussion she told me the time of day that grandma slipped away and I realized that it was the very time that I had that urgent feeling the night before. Even in death, grandma was with me.

I spent so much of my life with grandma that she became a permanent fixture in my life. I don’t remember ever not being in her care. In my childhood she cared for me just as a mother would. She scolded me at times, and held me when I was sick or hurt. She made cookies and made sure we got to tucked in (when mom wasn’t there). She was always there after school when Shane and I got home, ready for our whirlwind of activity. She was always willing to put together a puzzle or play a game with me. In my teenage years we moved out of grandma and grandpa’s house and it seemed as though I wouldn’t see them as much, but that was not so. As I grew into adulthood she was still there, a fixture at Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter. Her party mix was the best. (sorry mom, its true!) She was always the most chipper, always interested in what you were doing, always listening with the utmost sincerity. Of course she could be quite funny too, always smiling, always with good cheer. I remember when grandpa broke his hip and for a time I spent my days at their house with grandma, reading, playing games, or taking Ms. Rosemary for a drive! Ha! What fun! Eventually we lived together again when I came back to Sturgeon Bay and it felt good in my heart to be with my grandparents again although grandma was not the same.
As grandma grew older she started to decline. She would not remember things and sometimes could not keep up with conversation, but she kept trying. She had pain in her knees and was often dizzy, but she was still amazingly upbeat. I would sometimes get frustrated with her. Sometimes I didn’t always want to talk to her or I was irritated that she kept asking me the same questions all the time. I know that we all felt this way at some point. (Would you like some carrots Mary?) In the last years of her life I started to replace the person that she was with the little things that took away from her. The every day interaction started to make me forget, like we all do, what is truly in front of us. Even though I loved her greatly I started to forget the woman that she was as days of dementia and dizziness clouded her mind as well as mine.
Now that cloud has lifted. I can once again remember the woman that she was. Cleansed of earthly impediments, my image of her has become again what she truly was. The time has come for all of us to forget the small things that made each day difficult. We can let go of those things that have been cluttering our minds. We can laugh heartily about the frustrating times, we can smile about the good times, and we can hold each other as she did for me when I was hurting. We can finally let it melt away remembering only the good things, letting only our love for her to remain. Each one of us can remember oma, grandma, mom, Rosemary as the loving person she was. Each one of us can take somber comfort in each other and mourn her death, but not for her sake. It is for ours. While we are without her, she is with God. She now walks beside him, jubilant I’m sure, asking him with the utmost sincerity how his day is going, if he is doing well, or if he would like some carrots.

The Land of The Rising Sun

Yes, I have made it. Yes, I (they) eat raw fish! I have a car, which is pictured. It is a Suzuki Wagon and as you can see it is not very big. The steering wheel is on the right and you drive on the left, just like in England, Australia (?), and … Jamaica? It has been surprisingly easy to learn how to do the old switcha-roo. I wanted to show pictures of my apartment and the area where I live too, but I decided to put them on a pod cast so that you all can watch a video of it! Most of the stuff is mine, but some things my predecessor left and so I am going to use a little bit of his videos too.

This is the address; I’m pretty sure that if you put this in your header you can go directly to the site. I will test it, but let me know if you can watch it. Right now I only have a video of a Koi pond near me, but I will soon be adding others. Each time I add a video I will post here that I am adding a video and will try to remember to post the link again with it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Odds And Ends

I'm so tired!


Hilarious! and suprising something I would recomend. If you are going to Turkey for a while, go to MiniaTurk and check it out. We saw places and thought, darn, I wish we would have known about that so we could have seen it for real. Oh, if you don't know MiniaTurk is a little amusement park that is filled with miniatures of very important building and other monuments of Turkey. I would estimate that there are 75 different buildings and things. Cool.

What Is This?

Often while traveling I run into dishes that I have no idea what contain. I thought this picture was amusing because not even Dave, who had lived in Turkey for a year, knew what this dish was.


The Tigris


The walls of Diyarbakir are black. Made of basalt? They are very old and quite well preserved and are second only to the Great Wall of China. Oh, you great wall. The Ulu mosque had some very interesting architecture. The most interesting place for me was the church of the Virgin Mary, still in use, which houses the bones of the apostle Thomas. Yeah! His bones, creepy, but cool.


For two days we stayed in Dyarbakir, the unofficial Kurdish capital. It was quite nice. The first day we headed out the Mardin. We heard that there was a monastary out in the desert next to this town and the grapevine was correct. It was a beautiful place. Deyr'ul Zafaran Monastery is a Syriac monastery 9 kilometers to the east of Mardin, built in the 9th century. At present, it is a visit place and a shelter for pilgriming Syriacs. Also of great note is the stone city built on the hill. Amazing. It was also really hot there and as you can see by one of the photos I was not entirely happy to be having my picture taken at that moment.


Somewhere on the journey Dave and I stopped in a little town called Beitlas. It was really uncomfortable. Immediatly after getting off the bus we had all eyes on us. Not that that is unusual, but in this case it was. One after another people were approaching us or yelling stuff at us. Not bad stuff, but it was just a little too much, like no one had come to this town in quite some time which was probably true. It was then that we also noticed that there were no women on the street... at all. None. Wierd. Where am I? Let's go.

Van Castle

Van, No, It's Not Like The One You Owned In High School

Van, man is this place far out there, literally and figuratively. Far to the East, in Van I would estimate that we were within two hundred miles of Iran and Iraq. Yikes! It is also one of the more violent areas of the country due to the ongoing struggle between the Kurdish PPK and the Turkish government. As we approached Van we were stopped twice at check points and we lots of armored vechiles and soldiers in pillboxes waiting to shoot. That aside, Van is a beautiful city and we found the inhabitants to be very nice... and a little interesting. The people of Van love their white cats with two different colored eyes. Yes, that's right, I was a little stumped by this one too. I never even saw one of these cats, but I am assured they do exist. The main attraction for us in Van was of Van castle.

Over roughly the past 2500 years Van castle has stood as a fortress on the hill. Now unoccupied and largely unattended it is really a sight to see. The pictures do not do it justice. In the middle of a fairly flat plain a mass of rock juts up into the sky with almost sheer cliffs. Atop this is Van Castle. Once you get to the top you can easily imagine why this spot was chosen for defense.

Also pictured is what looks like an island. It looks like and island because it is, but don't get too excited yet, that is not the coolest part. On the island is a monastary, I believe it is still functioning. There was a nice story about the monastary and young love. The daughter of a priest on the island fell in love with a boy from the mainland. The father, of course, disapproved of their courting. To circumvent this the young girl would wait until nightfall and then light a lamp so that her lover could come to the island and visit her. Her father, being no dummy, caught on to this and one night he waited until the lamp had been lit for short time and then he blew it out! Oh the horror! The young lover lost his course midway to the island and drowned! End of story. Lesson to be learned? I think so. If your swimming in to an island in the middle of the night, bring a life-ring. Or wear some water wings or something like that.