March 30, 2008
I've been here in Japan for a week now.
I took the bullet train from Tokyo south and west through Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima to
Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni last Wednesday.
This is where I'll be for the next 2-4 months, teaching for the University of Maryland.
This place has changed a lot since the last time I was here in 1980.
Since then, your tax dollars have rebuilt this remote base to boost the comfort and morale of our men in uniform.
MCAS Iwakuni has become almost a country club with its 18-hole golf course, driving range, PaintBall venue,
carpentry shop, art center, auto hobby shop, skateboard park, indoor and outdoor Olympic sized pools, bars,
restaurants, marina, scuba diving center, gymnasium, fitness center, Salsa/Merengue classes,
casino (Yes, you read that right. They have slot machines here), movie theatre, live theatre, bowling alley,
auto dealership, salon, massage parlors, travel agents, and discount shopping center / outlet mall.
Most of these products and services are free or at least 50% less than they would cost back home.
MCAS Iwakuni panorama, including golf course, movie theatre and skateboard park
The education center where I'll be teaching is as fine as I've seen at some private colleges, with comfortable lecture halls, high-tech multimedia presentation systems, a well-equipped science lab, a well-designed well-stocked library that's open from 9am to 10p every day, comfortable study areas and free high speed internet.
This base also has many similarities to a monastery. Most of the residents here have shaved heads. They're very dedicated folks. They get up before dawn every day. I hear them chanting as they do their morning rituals out on the fields in front of my quarters.
The constant reminder of the military purpose for this location is the roar of air transport over at the 5km long runway. Fortunately, this only goes on for about 12-18 hours a day, and usually not at night.
I've arrived just before the start of the cherry blossom season. Iwakuni is famous for its wooden arched Kintai Bridge and related parks and castle. I walked to the bridge yesterday to see that the blossoms are still mostly closed up into buds. By next weekend, the weather will have warmed up and the cherry blossom festival will begin. Until then, there's a winter chill. The Buddhas at the temples are still wearing their knit caps.
aka The Bullet Train
Buddhas keeping warm
April 7, 2008
I've finished my first full week of teaching geology and math to the Marines here at Iwakuni.
These are introductory classes using texts that I haven't used before.
The material is straightforward, but I spend time preparing for classes and organizing lesson plans.
I have about 20 students per class. Although their math and writing skills are weak,
my students are disciplined and they come to class on time. Uncle Sam pays their tuition if they pass.
So, they have at least one good reason for taking class seriously.
Sakura (cherry blossom) festival, Iwakuni
A week ago, I was thinking that I made a mistake leaving my winter clothes in California. This weekend, spring happened. Cherry blossom season means that everyone turns out to the local parks and gardens for a couple of days of eating, drinking, socializing, dancing and singing. Iwakuni's crowd of 10-20,000 was very sociable. It was a good chance to work on my Japanese.
Iwakuni's arched Kintai Bridge was originally built in the 1600s. The local lord, whose castle is on top of the hill, got tired of seeing his bridges wash away every summer during the monsoon season. So, he hired the same architects who built his impregnable castle to build an equally strong bridge. It survived for ~300 years until a major typhoon hit a few years back. The current bridge was rebuilt in 2004 using the original design. It's an engineering marvel in a gorgeous setting. I'm delighted to be only 20 minutes away by bicycle.
April 14, 2008
With the second week of teaching behind me, I'm starting to get into an easy routine with students and schedules.
I've been invited to remain here in Iwakuni through July to teach astronomy and another math class.
The job is great fun. The people are friendly. This part of Japan is beautiful, as you can see from these photos.
So, I've agreed to stay here until the last week of July.
Springtime weather here is cool and rainy. I spent yesterday at Miyajima Island. It's about 20 minutes away by train or car, plus a 5-minute ferry boat ride. This small, mountainous island is beautiful in summer when it's lush and green, in autumn when the maples turn colors, in winter in the snow, and now in spring with cherry blossoms and waterfalls. Deer are considered holy on Miyajima. They've become tame and mix freely with the tourists.
The famous landmark that everyone comes here to photograph is a huge orange-red torii that appears to float in the sea just offshore from a Shinto shrine. There are only about 10 vehicles on the island to shuttle luggage from the docks to the hotels. So transportation is mostly by foot. There are lovely hiking trails everywhere that weave through gardens and cross over streams by bridge. Tea pavilions seem to appear whenever one gets hungry or thirsty. This island is also famous for its busy shopping district, its oyster bars, and for being the place where Japan invented the wooden rice scoop.
in full bloom
April 21, 2008
Classes are going well. Students show up promptly for class, ask good questions,
take tests and sign up for field trips.
Speaking of field trips, I've been exploring the local geology. This weekend saw the start of some beautiful weather, so I went to the beach. MCAS Iwakuni is on an island formed by a river delta, so the beach isn't far away. The body of water that we face is called the Seto Inland Sea. It's a sheltered waterway bordered by the main island of Japan (Honshu), and two large islands (Shikoku and Kyushu).
Most of the Seto Inland Sea is a national park. There are about 3000 islands. Only a few are populated. The water is deep, clean, clear and full of wildlife. There are oysters everywhere and locals eat them right off the rocks at low tide. I've heard the scuba diving is good. I'm looking forward to summer and beach weather. Now, I just need to find someone with a boat.
Evening on the Seto
April 28, 2008
This weekend, I took a quick trip to Tokyo for a meeting with other University of Maryland instructors.
Because U of Md runs classes at bases all over Japan, the instructors rarely meet each other.
It was nice to compare notes and experiences with other teachers, and also to get the latest
information on what the U of Md is planning next.
The trip to Tokyo and back was via shinkansen (bullet train). Compared to 25 years ago, there are about 2000% more shinkansen now, and they're faster, cleaner, cheaper and more convenient than ever before. From here to Tokyo is a 4.5 hour trip by train, which beats the heck out of taking a plane. The service, legroom and food on the trains are great, too.
May 5, 2008
The past week was Japan's Golden Week, which is a bit like our Memorial Day and 4th of July rolled into one.
There were fireworks by the river Friday night, a parade, a festival and a flea market.
Timed with this holiday, the Japanese and American militaries join forces to put on an annual air show called Friendship Day. Although MCAS Iwakuni normally has tight security -- to the point that they sometimes don't let me on base until I show them every piece of identification I've got including my library card -- there were about 50,000 folks here today, picnicking, partying and taking lots of photos. Everyone enjoyed ear-splitting low-flying aerial acrobatics while eating sushi and pizza.
May 13, 2008
Between teaching classes and working on the boat, I haven't been off-base lately.
So I have no exotic photos of Japan to post this week.
However, if you'd like to see more of what MCAS Iwakuni looks like,
here are the places where I live and work. You can see that your tax dollars are being well spent.
I do my best to encourage my students to finish college and then find employment in the civilian world.
An interesting incident occurred in class on Monday. About 15 minutes into the start of my lecture, two students arrived late. Then, a couple other students left class and returned with sodas from a nearby vending machine. In the back of the room, a quiet conversation began. There were low-level disturbances in several parts of the classroom. Then, a senior chief in the second row raised his hand and asked if I would mind leaving the classroom for a moment so that he could have a word with the class. I stepped outside. The senior chief closed the door. When I returned two minutes later, the classroom had a completely different feel. Everyone's eyes were riveted on the blackboard and on my presentation. Good questions were asked. At break, four students came up to me separately and apologized for causing disturbances. I look forward to another day of teaching tomorrow.
May 19, 2008
|My first teaching term is almost over. Warm winds are blowing from the south. The boat, now officially registered as Daisy, is seaworthy. Conditions are perfect for afternoons on the water. I've learned two things about sailing in this area:
Evening on the Seto-Nai-Kai
|Recently, Japan celebrated Boy's Day. It's a big deal. All young males are treated like kings for a week. The evening shot shows Boy's Day decorations at a nearby outdoor restaurant.
May 27, 2008
Friday was the end of my first teaching term. I'm now grading exams and papers.
While grading my students' geology term papers, I made a disappointing discovery.
I found that half the students "wrote" their papers by copying verbatim
more than 35% of their text directly from websites.
This is a matter that I'll be bringing up with the university's deans.
By next week, I'll let you know the outcome of this.
Meanwhile, summer is here. The weather is getting warm and humid. I took some colleagues out for an afternoon's sail this weekend. Now that Daisy is clean and shipshape, I expect I'll have company regularly ... at least until the rainy season begins ... which will be followed by the typhoon season.
My neighbor on the pier, Miyajima-san, has become my sailing mentor. When he retired from the Japanese Navy eighteen years ago, he moved into the 35' yacht next to mine. He's an avid fisherman and has sailed these waters his whole life. He's my source for charts, tide info and local lore. He also brews his own shyouchu, which he insists that everyone drink with him. He doesn't speak English so I'm learning lots of Japanese from him, although I'm slightly concerned that I'm learning to talk Japanese like a sailor.
June 2, 2008
Grades have been submitted. The issue of the term papers plagiarized from the internet has been addressed.
Now I can enjoy some time off. The sailing has been great.
There are many interesting islands to explore in the Inland Sea.
I'm starting to know my way around the maze of nearby islands without having to consult nautical charts all the time.
Being at the marina almost every day, I've had a chance to get to know my neighbor Miyajima-san a little more. He's lived on his yacht for 18 years. Although he retired from the Japanese Navy as a captain, he still consults with the Japanese Dept of Defense. Four days a week, he bicycles to his office to spend a few hours explaining how things should be done in the harbor.
I've also learned that he's rather self-sufficient. He grows his own vegetables in small garden plots that he maintains around the base. He has hooks, lines and traps in the water all the time. Dinner aboard Miyajima's yacht is leisurely. The meal starts with a few cups of hot, home-made shyouchu with fresh local oysters. (The Inland Sea is famous for oyster farming.) When it's time for dinner, he pulls up a line or a trap and sees what's on the menu. Last night, we had steamed octopus, aji -- both as sushi and as a soup -- and grilled eel. Really quite delicious. The food is fresh, obviously. Miyajima's galley has every imaginable spice and he uses them all. He makes regular use of the saunas, showers and laundromat over the at the Marine barracks. He sculpts and does oil painting. His only expenses are the $20 monthly mooring/utility fees, plus art supplies. He's found a rather nice way to live and is quite pleased about it.
There are many ways to live well without having much impact on our planet. He seems to have found one of them. May we all do as well in finding the perfect spot for ourselves.
Daisy at anchor
July 16, 2008
You haven't heard from me for six weeks because (1) I've been busy with work and (2) June is the rainy season
here so there wasn't much to report except that few places get rained on with the intensity and duration of
Two weeks ago, Dan arrived in Japan for his winter break from the University of Melbourne. We met up in Tokyo and climbed Mt. Fuji. It was a great trip. Attached are photos. In case you have an urge to climb Mt. Fuji, here's how we did it:
The easiest and most common ascent of Fuji is from the northeast (Tokyo) side of the mountain. From Iwakuni, I took a bullet train to meet Dan at a station in the hills west of Tokyo. From there we took a final train to Lake Kawaguchi, which is the largest of five scenic lakes at the base of the mountain. Kawaguchi is beautiful, quaint and friendly. Here's where you'll find restaurants, hotels, hostels, transportation, climbing info and equipment.
On the morning of July 4th, we took a bus to the trailhead at 2300m. A gorgeous day, at the end of a month of rain. It felt good to be in the sunshine again. Volcanoes are steep. Fuji is no exception, and it gets steeper the higher you go. With typical Japanese hospitality, there are family-owned huts, tea rooms and first aid stations every few hundred meters all the way up the mountain. Here's where you catch your breath, get your hiking pole stamped, have a cool (or hot) drink, and exchange stories with other hikers -- 1/3 of whom aren't Japanese. Dan and I paid for a night's lodging at a hut at 3400m and then climbed to the summit without day packs to see the sunset. In the evening, back at our hut, we had a hot meal, enjoyed a spectacular thunderstorm below us and then got a good night's sleep.
We were awakened at 3:30am on July 5th by a parade of about 1000 flashlight-carrying climbers whose goal was to be on the summit at dawn. Being on the top of Fuji for sunrise is an important tradition. Everyone in Japan seems to make this pilgrimage at least once. Dan and I were content to eat our breakfast and watch sunrise from our front porch, rather than join the throng on a steep, dark trail. We were on the summit at a leisurely 6:00am. Being on the summit twice in 12 hours was pretty fine.
After a climb to the weather station at 3776 meters and a tour of Fuji's snow-filled crater, we descended via the south side of the mountain. At a backpacker's parking lot, Dan struck up a conversation with some climbers who gave us a ride to the nearest train station. From there, we returned to Iwakuni for more adventures which I'll tell you about next week.
July 25, 2008
After Dan and I climbed Mount Fuji, he came back to Iwakuni with me for a brief visit.
We did some island hopping. Most of the 3000 islands in the Seto-Nai-Kai are inhabited by only
birds and butterflies. At new and full moon, the tides are more than two meters.
Dan and I took the opportunity to careen Daisy and clean her hull.
As you can see from these photos, Japan's Inland Sea is a sailor's paradise.
We sailed home into one of the most beautiful sunsets ... ever!
August 2, 2008
This was the final week of my second term here in Iwakuni. Three weeks ago,
half my students were deployed to Australia, so I've had to assign many Incomplete grades this term.
The work will be made up when the students return from desert warfare training.
On Monday, I return to the states for three weeks. If anyone would like to know where I'll be, here's my itinerary:
Also attached is a photo of a typical summer's afternoon out on the Inland Sea, plus a shot of a garden not far from here. I look forward to catching up with many of you while I'm home. It'll be good to be back in the states for a few weeks, but I won't mind returning to this beautiful place. See you soon.
Summer on the Seto-Nai-Kai
August 9, 2008
It took 39 hours to get from Iwakuni to Big Rapids.
It's remarkable that one can fly between these two corners of the Earth so quickly and easily.
It's a small world after all.
En route, I enjoyed an unexpected tour of Taipei. For some strange reason, international travelers who change planes in Taipei end up with very long layovers. Mine was 11 hours. I suspect this is a scheme organized by the Taiwanese tourist bureau to show off their capital city. On disembarking from my China Air flight, I couldn't miss the eye-catching kiosk in the transit lounge offering free tours of Taipei. "Completely free?" I wondered. Well, it turned out not to cost any money. 18 of us spent the afternoon seeing government-selected sites in an air conditioned bus with a witty, English-speaking guide. We visited a temple in the old city, the world's tallest building, the Chiang Kai-Shek museum, and a memorial to the Taiwan's fallen soldiers. There was a good dose of pro-ROC propaganda in our guide's presentation, but it was all good fun and educational. So, if you find yourself in the Taipei airport with several free hours, be sure to take the city tour.
For the next week, I'm here in Michigan, reading, relaxing, sailing (of course) and preparing lessons for my next term. It's good to be home ... at least for a little while.
Summer at Clear Lake
Republic of China
August 18, 2008
No photos of Asia this week because I was in Michigan visiting family and checking in on the cottage by the lake.
Rural Michigan is about as different from Japan as can be. Yet, Big Rapids and Iwakuni have a few things in common: Traditions and lifestyles haven't changed in decades. There's plenty of natural beauty. The boating is good. People are wonderful.
September 1, 2008
I've seen some beautiful sites in the past two weeks.
My first stop after Michigan was Connecticut where I met the newest member of my family. Sasha Lucas was born in February. His mother, Anna, is my niece.
I spent a few days in San Francisco taking care of business and catching up with close friends. This photo was taken on a hike in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, on a typical sunny California afternoon.
I've been back in Iwakuni for a week now. The new term started Monday. I'm teaching college algebra and physics. When I'm not teaching, I've been prepping Daisy for the fall sailing season. Her hull has been scraped, sanded, powerwashed and painted. She's ready for the water now.
If you have any thoughts about visiting Japan this year, October is said to be the best month to visit. That's when the Japanese maples change to their fall colors. I've been told that the islands will be breathtaking. I can offer a place to stay if you're in this part of Japan. And a sailboat ride, too, of course.
Oh ... one more thing that I enjoy about being back in Japan. There are NO political commercials on any of the TV stations -- not even the American ones. Enjoy your Labor Day weekend, everyone.
November 2, 2008
The last news I sent was late August. I stopped writing because I became quite absorbed in life here.
Here are a few words and photographs to bring you up to date.
Mikka arrived in Tokyo in September, for a one-year exchange program at Sophia University. She lives in a homestay on the waterfront. I took the Shin to visit her a couple of weeks ago. She showed me around. Tokyo makes Manhattan -- where Mikka lived last year -- seem like a small town that hasn't kept up with the times. The Tokyo metro is faster and more efficient than it was last March. There are entire neighborhoods of highrise networked video arcades. The latest fashion trend for young women is to dress as maids. Meanwhile, the sushi at the Tokyo fish market is as wonderful as always, and the great shrine at Asakusa is as busy as ever granting people's wishes.
I'm told that autumn will come to southern Japan soon. My next email may include some photos of Japanese maples in their fall colors.
November 29, 2008
Autumn finally came to southern Japan. Ten days ago, the warm, moist trade winds from Okinawa were replaced by cold, dry breezes from Siberia. Overnight, we went from Indian summer to a brilliant autumn. Enjoy these colorful photos, realizing that these snapshots hardly capture the true colors. The trees are as brilliant as roses. These photos come from parks within a short bike ride from home.
The photo of me in a tux is from the annual Marine Ball, which this year celebrates the 233rd birthday
of the Marine Corps. It was impressive to see 1800 Marines in full dress uniform dining,
dancing and drinking (of course!) in a gymnasium decked with swords, flags and camouflage.
The attractive couple in the photo are Colonel O'Halloran and his wife.
They've become good friends and invited me to their home for Thanksgiving.
There are only three weeks left in what has been my best term yet. I have an enthusiastic class of statistics students who are initiating lots of interesting and controversial surveys of the soldiers and civilians here at Iwakuni. At the end of this term, I'm going to take a break from teaching. I'll be in Sri Lanka for Christmas with my brother, his family and my son Dan. In January, I'm scheduled to attend a conference at a hotel in Mumbai. However, in light of recent events, the conference may be rescheduled.
Best wishes to all at the start of the Holiday Season.
December 7, 2008
Two weeks ago, I sailed with gentle, warm breezes, taking photos of fall colors.
Now, cold Siberian winds have ended the sailing season. Today, with snowflakes swirling,
my Marines and I dry-docked Daisy. She'll spend the next five months parked next to a minesweeper
until I return from southern Asia.
Last week, I added Japanese skipper's license to my resume. In a curious twist of bureaucracy, my international skipper's license -- which was issued in the US -- is invalid in Iwakuni because there are no international waters within the Inland Sea. This required me to do the following:
The Thanksgiving photo to the right shows some of the fine, fun folks I've been working with these past 8-9 months.
Nagasaki Peace Park
December 24, 2008
Monday I graded exams, posted final grades and packed up my apartment. Tuesday, I left Japan.
I'm now in Singapore en route to Sri Lanka and India for 2009.
If all goes as planned, I'll be with my son, my brother and his family tonight, which is Christmas eve.
But first, some photos and remarks.
While in Tokyo, I was impressed once again by the Tokyo subway. Fast, convenient, inexpensive, easy to navigate and understand ... and incredibly clean and free of graffiti. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Namaste!
May 25, 2009
I've landed in Tokyo. After a couple of days at the office, I headed out in search of something I haven't seen
for a while: Summer! -- When deciduous trees turn dark green, wildflowers bloom, rivers are full,
and people engage in outdoor sports. It was a refreshing change of scenery.
Even palm trees and beaches can get old after a while. These photos were taken in Nagatoro,
in Saitama prefecture, about 90 minutes northwest of Tokyo by train.
Incidentally, Mikka lives in Saitama this semester. She and I had a nice dinner together,
and got caught up on each other's news. It's good to be near family again.
Today, I'm on the bullet train to Iwakuni for my next teaching assignment. I wish you all a bright and sunny summer wherever you are
July 25, 2009
I've been so busy enjoying Japan this summer that I haven't had time to send any photos to you.
Now, with the term over, exams graded and two days left before I fly back to San Francisco,
here are a few sample snapshots.
Miyajima is an island shrine about a 2 hour sail north of Iwakuni. It's a delightfully picturesque spot. I found a nice anchorage near the big torii gate and spent a magical night on the water there.
I'll be in San Francisco from July 28th to August 3rd. If you'd like to see my photos and hear stories about India, I'll be doing a one-hour slide show on July 30th at 7pm in the Mill Valley Library. Dan and I fly to Michigan on August 4th. The family will all be gathering at our cottage for two weeks. I'll be back in San Francisco again on the 20the of August. The next day I fly back to Japan to start the fall term at Iwakuni.
I hope to see some of you on my visit to the states. Remember, autumn is a wonderful time to visit Japan. The fall colors are brilliant in late October. Come see me and I'll take you sailing.
August 22, 2009
Here are photos from my brief trip to back to the states.
I'm now back in Iwakuni to teach math, geology and software to US Marines this term. If you're considering some overseas travel this fall, October and November are very colorful over here. I have Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays free and I'd be delighted to be your tour guide for this part of Japan. Come visit!
September 20, 2009
September in southern Japan is beautiful. The hot, muggy weather of August has given way to the warm,
breezy days of September -- perfect for sailing and hiking.
Dan has been visiting Iwakuni for the past three weeks.
Here are some recent photos to tell about our travels and adventures.
October 25, 2009
Last Monday I finished grading term papers and final exams from the four classes I taught during the Fall 1 term.
With a week of no classes and nothing but clear, warm weather on the horizon, Daisy and I took off for
a three day adventure on the Seto-Nai-Kai (Inland Sea).
November 20, 2009
Although I'm sure many of you are already seeing snow back home,
summer has just ended here and fall colors are beginning to show.
The crisp clear air makes for great sailing. Here are some photos from last weekend.