Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 - "Year of the Taiga"

What a year it's been! The 'Year of the Tiger' brought us our little Taiga and probably made this the happiest year of my life. I always knew I wanted to be a father but still never dreamed being one would bring such joy. :) There are more responsibilities and restrictions now that I'm a dad. I have to think of my family first now. I can't just go to the gym anytime I want to. Telling Aki that I have to go to the gym to keep young and healthy for our baby only works so many times, haha. This year my family and I have been able to stay healthy and I've actually gotten in better shape (endurance wise). It is a goal of mine to play basketball and other sports with my son as he's growing up, so I do have to keep it up.

Another highlight of this year was my parents' Golden Anniversary, yes 50 golden years! The surprise party for them in Tahoe couldn't have been any better. My mom & dad really do have a happy marriage. They were good role-models and I learned a lot by just watching them. They hardly ever fought in front of us and their fights never lasted for long. When they did fight, they'd talk about the problem, compromise and solve it together. They share some of the same interests and have some that are different. I think it's important to continue doing things you enjoy. I just remembered something my dad often said, "No matter what, love your mom". I think I get this now. Watching the way Aki takes care of our baby, feeding him, loving him, playing with him, etc. I doubt Taiga can payback all that he's been given and he isn't even a year old yet! :)

As we move into 2011, I wish you all peace, happiness & health. For me, I have one more wish and that is to get more sleep. I'm sure my wife has the same wish too. Akemashite omedetou!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Power Spots

Do power spots really exist? The belief that our earth has areas with elevated levels of energy has been debated for centuries. I'm a pretty skeptical guy but have to admit that after visiting some of these "power spots", I can honestly say that I've felt a little different. It's a hard to explain "good" feeling (a spiritual elevation?). Is it caused because the earth is naturally covered with energy lines? Now I believe so. I don't claim to have gone through any kind of spiritual transformation, just maybe a slight enlightenment of the mind. :)

What is the key to the mystery of these power spots? Why do millions of people flock to them every year? Let me try to answer. The main reason (for me) is the striking aesthetic beauty that can be found at each of these spots. The other reason is that these spots have been visited by millions of people for hundreds of years. These people have continuously charged the sites with energy, with love, with a spirit of peace and a healing power.
A couple of weeks ago, my family and I visited one of Japan's most famous power spots (along with Mt. Fuji), the Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture. I did my best to take in as much of the positive KI energy. It was a beautiful fall day; the sun was shining on the trees and we all felt very calm and relaxed. Ise Shrine is also the most historically significant shrine in Japan. It is the Imperial Household's family shrine dedicated specifically to the emperor. In the past, even the emperor's mother and wife needed his permission to worship there.

The most powerful spot I've visited were the Pyramids. Looking up at this magnificent sight was overwhelming. It really did take my breath away. In conclusion, everyone should go out and experience a power spot. At worst, you'll get to see a beautiful spot. At best, you may awaken your soul or heal your body and mind. On top are pictures of Ise Shrine. The very top picture is Mt. Shasta in Northern California, said to be a "global power center".

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Funny Engrish

You don't have to spend much time here in Japan to find out the pronunciation problem between R/L sounds. The sound in Japanese is right between these two and there is no R/L sound (as we have in English). This can lead to some funny sayings. I'll start off with the classic joke about the Japanese guy who went to see the eye doctor. The doctor told him he had a cataract and he politely told him that he didn't have a Cadillac, he had a Rincoln. My favorite is the one I heard from a fellow English teacher. He was a judge at a jr. high school English speech contest. After the contest ended, the Japanese teacher said in perfect English, "Let's give a big crap to all the contestants." He went on to say, "and a big big crap to all of their teachers". Wait, he didn't stop there. Finally, he said, "Last of all, we should give you a big big big crap for coming here today!" Another one that I'll never forget is the student that wrote: My pen is small. He didn't leave enough space between 'pen' and 'is' so you can get what it looked like. Don't ask me why he wrote this sentence! :)

I'll finish with one of the funniest English mistakes I've ever heard. Former Japanese Prime Minister Mori was not good at speaking English. In fact, he was so bad that upon meeting former President Bill Clinton, he mistakenly said "Who are you?" (instead of 'How are you'). Clinton, with his sharp wit, answered "I'm Hillary's husband". Mori, who was still clueless, smiled and said, "Me too". :)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

My friends

We all need friends. I'm lucky to be blessed with many. Here in Japan I've made some good friends. Most of them have been other "gaijin" (foreigners). The problem is, foreigners usually end up leaving Japan at some point. Of course, I have Japanese friends too. But getting to the really close friendship level is sometimes tough with the language/cultural barriers. I've also noticed that the older I get, the more reserved I have become. I remember when I first came here, I was much more outgoing. I'd go up and talk to people without hesitation. Is it because I have too many friends now? I don't think you can ever have too many friends. The reason, I think, is because as I get older, I also become more careful/guarded. Is this a good thing? Hmmm...

I've spent 15 of the last 20 years outside of California. It's a long time. But my friends in CA are my life-long friends and they are the ones who will always remain the dearest to me. They are the ones who have supported me, put up with my selfish moods, forgiven me for my childish acts and accepted me for doing what I want to do. These are the friends I grew up with and went to college with. To me, that bond, that connection you make when you are younger can be so strong that 20 years can pass and you can reconnect and pick it right back up again. As we all have our own families and responsibilities now, it's difficult to make the time to get together and stay in touch. So it was very special when I got to meet many of my old friends while I was back in CA over the summer. I didn't get to see all of you and believe me I want to! For those of you I did get to meet, thank YOU so much for taking the time and making me and my family feel so special. Here are some of the pics. from our vacation.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Golden Anniversary

In 1960, 3 very good things happened. The Beatles were born. JFK was elected President. And my parents got married on this very day 50 years ago!
As a child, I always felt my parents had a happy and good marriage; I still do. They hardly fight which I think is healthier than never fighting at all. :) They're both basically easy-going and my mom never stays mad for long. I'm still trying to learn how to do this, haha.

So far I've been to two Golden Anniversary parties. The first was my grandpa & grandma's. My parents and aunts & uncles gave them a nice party and invited many relatives and friends. I hoped my brothers and I could do something like that for our parents. We invited a few relatives, including my dad's sister from Arizona. We also invited a few of our parents closest friends; friends that they've had since they were in high school. And we managed to keep this all a secret from them and pull off a "Surprise" 50-year anniversary party! Most of that thanks goes to Kevin/Cheryl for making all the arrangements. The party took place a couple of weeks ago. This is because we could only be in CA until mid-August.
The party was held in Lake Tahoe , one of my favorite nature spots.

Aki and I only have 44 more years to go until we hit our Golden Anniversary! I'll only be 88 years old, LOL! That birthday will be extra special since 88 is a very lucky number here in Japan. So Taiga, when you're old enough to read this, please don't forget about us. :)

Thursday, July 22, 2010


July 7 is "Tanabata" festival in Japan. In English, it is also known as the "Star" festival; it originated more than 2000 years ago from an old Chinese legend in which two lovers were separated on the opposite sides of the Milky Way by their king. They were only allowed to meet once a year on the 7th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar. They can't see each other if the day is rainy, so people pray for good weather and also make wishes for themselves. They write their wishes on strips of paper and hang them on bamboo branches.

Many cities display long colorful streamers on the streets. The two biggest "Tanabata" festivals in Japan are held in Hiratsuka (just 20 minutes from Odawara) and Sendai (up in Tohoku). These festivals attract millions of visitors each year. Here are a few pics. from both festivals.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

World Cup Soccer

It's June 29th. Japan has made it to the 2nd round knockout stage for the first time ever on foreign soil. Kickoff is just 90 minutes away (Japan time @ 11pm). I've got my Japan jersey on and will be cheering for the "Samurai Blue". I predict them to win Paraguay 2-1 and then get whipped by Spain in the quarterfinals. My other (not so bold) prediction is that Brazil will win in the finals over Argentina. Anyway, why am I writing about the World Cup?! Most Americans couldn't care less about soccer and after team USA was booted by Ghana, those few who were tuning in have probably lost their interest. The fact that I'm living in Japan and Japan is still playing (well at least one more game) has kept me interested. However, I would still at least be reading about the games and watching them when I could.

How did I get interested in the World Cup? I was living in Niigata pref. in 2002 and Niigata was chosen as one of Japan's host cities. I was able to experience real WC excitement as fans from all over the world gathered in what is usually quite an ordinary (if not boring) city. There were huge parties going on, fans dancing and drinking in the streets. It was all good vibes from soccer fans celebrating. I'm hopeful that I can someday watch a WC game live, preferably with the US or Japan teams playing.

Many of my friends here in Japan ask me about the popularity of soccer in America. I answer that's it probably around #10 in terms of people attending a game or watching it on TV. But in terms of people playing it, many are surprised to learn that it is the most popular sport for both boys and girls. I played it for a couple of years in elementary school. In fact, our neighborhood (Morada) gang had a decent team with almost all of us going on to play in high school too. As a freshman, I played (American) football. When I decided to make the switch over to soccer (both sports are played during the fall) my sophomore (2nd) year, one friend (JB) teased me for not playing the "man's" sport. This is precisely the reason that most boys when they become teenagers switch from soccer to another sport (or at least it was back then).

I do have a couple of complaints about soccer. The first and biggest is that the players should cut out the theatrics. How many times a game do you see a guy go down and stay down and roll around on the pitch and scream and cry like a baby?! That is the most disturbing thing for me to watch. Play the game! Quit acting and Quit crying!!! OK, enough on that rant. My other complaint is not so big. But how can a sport that is played for 90 minutes (sometimes 2 full hours) end with the score 0-0?! Is that exciting? Can that be considered a show of athleticism on both sides? I find it hard to answer yes to either question.

I'll end with my soccer predictions. The next world cup in Brazil will see Japan making it to the 2nd round again but that's it. However, team USA will make it to the semi-finals. And in my lifetime, I'll bet that team USA will win the WC for the first time (maybe 20 years later). I kind of like how the USA is now the underdog when it comes to soccer. It really can't be said about too many sports the USA participates in. That is one of the beauties of soccer, how a country with only a few million people or a very poor country can play and often outplay the larger and richer countries. So let me say, "Go Ghana!"

Monday, May 31, 2010

May 5th

May 5th is a very important date for me. On this, the Hojo Matsuri (festival) is held in Odawara. This year I carried the big mikoshi (portable shrine) into the sea. It doesn't look so big nor heavy but it weighed a couple of tons and felt like even more! My parents were here visiting during this time, so they got to see the festival. It was so fun to show them one of my favorite parts of Japanese culture, the matsuris. What made it even more special was that it was Taiga's first matsuri (初節句 Hatsuzekku) and his first Children's Day (formerly called Boy's Day). I love how the whole community comes together and helps out. Some carry the mikoshi, others direct traffic, while others are back at the make-shift base camp preparing curry, onigiri, yakisoba and keeping the beer on ice. And this all couldn't be done without the generous donations from the local businesses and townspeople. Every one chips in and this matsuri tradition that started about 500 years ago in Odawara lives on.

But the main reason May 5th holds such importance to me is that it's the day I met Aki. It was during Golden Week in 2001 while I was hanging out with my buddy Ari (from NY). She was with her friend Hitomi and our paths crossed and I've never looked back. On a side note, when we met way back then, Aki's English was at the beginner level. In fact, my Japanese was even better than her English! I know that's hard to believe now and my Japanese hasn't really improved (maybe this was because I was too busy teaching her English, haha JK). She's far from being a true bilingual but can communicate fairly fluently and naturally in English. This shows that with a lot of hard work (as she did), you can also improve your English to a high level. Keep studying hard and keep having fun!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pavement performs in Japan

Earlier this month, I got to see my childhood friends (from Morada) perform in Tokyo. What made it even more special was to hang out with them before, watch them from backstage and then chat with them a bit after their show finished. Thanks Scott and Steve! I got the same royal treatment the last time they were here back in '99, right before they split up. They were good then, but Pavement's reunion tour was awesome. I have to admit, I don't really know their music and mainly know them because these guys were my best buds back in grade school through junior high. We branched out in high school but would still always stop and chat when we ran into each other.

I think it was for my 10th birthday that my dad drove me and a few of my friends, including Scott & Steve to a Golden State Warriors game (no Sac Kings back then). I remember those guys talking in the van about what they'd call their rock band if they had one. I can clearly remember them saying names like "Concrete" for hard rock and I'm pretty sure they even mentioned the name "Pavement" that night too. Of course, this could just be wishful thinking on my part. :)

Suddenly all these old memories start popping up in my head. One has to do with Scott's dad. He along with Mr. Platt coached our local soccer team for several years. On top of that thankless job, he drove us to a skateboard park an hour away on several occasions. I took for granted that type of generous giving of one's time back then. "So Mr. Kannberg, thank you very much for driving us little rascals around"! BTW, I think I was the only rascal, LOL!

I also remember one time in jr. high when Mrs. Malkmus drove us to Tower Records. One of them bought a Beatles album and I bought "The Sugar Hill Gang". That was right about the time when our musical tastes started to diverge. It's also interesting how upon entering high school, music often pulls you to "belong" to a certain clique.

I can still remember playing one on one with Steve at his house and slam-dunking at my house with Scott (got pics. to prove it too, oh yeah, we were jumping off something, hehe). During those days, I was taller than both of them. Now Scott is near 6 foot and Steve's around 6 foot 2. Me? ummm...5' 8".

Anyway, I've got countless memories of childhood youth spent with those guys. It's funny how when you know a guy when you're 10, you already know their character. They may become famous and change a bit but they're still the same good ol guys that you knew when you were 10. :)

ps After the comment left by "anonymous", I searched for some "old school" pics. and found some gems. Can you find Scott and Steve?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A father's (random) thoughts

Today our son is 6 weeks old. Sometimes I want him to stay this way forever, small & cute. I want to hold him in my arms always. OTOH, I think about when he grows up and what he will be like and what he will do. Will he love sports? Will he love reading? Will he want to do ballet? I remember back in college when a girl I was dating asked me, "What if your son wants to do ballet?" I remember immediately answering, "no way"! I've changed. If my son wants to do ballet, fine. (But Taiga, when you're old enough to read this, I hope you'll pick another activity, like basketball, haha). But to be honest, my wife and I just want to raise a boy with a big heart and a little bit smart would be nice too. :) OK, I admit I am "oyabaka" which literally translates to "fool parent". Hopefully I'm not a fool but I guess I am a "doting daddy".
I remember another question that my good friend David once asked me about 20 years ago: "Would you rather have your son get an athletic scholarship or an academic scholarship"? I remember answering, "athletic scholarship for sure". At that time, I think I was thinking more of my own pride. Not that I wouldn't love for him to get one, but an academic scholarship would be my answer today. Actually, I would be happy with any kind of scholarship! I say this realizing that I'll be in my 60's when he gets to be that age, LOL! For some reason I just had a flashback to when I was a kid, maybe 8 or 9 years old. I remember asking my dad, "What if I got a football scholarship to Stanford"? (we must have been watching a Stanford game on TV) His answer was, "I'll buy you a Porsche" (my dream car). I remember thinking to myself that I might actually be playing football at Stanford and driving a Porsche. Well, nothing wrong with letting your kid dream! :)

Here's a list of things I have learned so far:1) How many diapers a baby can go through in one day
2) How much milk a baby can drink in one day
3) How much milk a mother can make in one day (and how big her milk tanks can get) hehe
4) How loud (and funny) a baby's fart can be
5) How good it feels when my baby falls asleep on top of me

Here's something I still wonder about:
What's he thinking about when he spends all that time staring up at the ceiling?

Here a couple of pictures from our visit to the shrine to celebrate "omiyamairi". This is similar to a Christian Baptism. It takes place one month (or thereabouts) after the baby's birth. The purpose is to pray for the baby's health. BTW, I promise this Blog won't turn into a "My Baby Blog" but then again, I am "oyabaka", haha!