Letters from Japan, 2008-2009

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.

The Shinkansen
aka The Bullet Train

Buddhas keeping warm

Iwakuni's landmark
Kintai Bridge

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.

Iwakuni Castle

Kintai Bridge

Kintai Gardens

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.

Shopping on
Miyajima Island

MCAS Iwakuni
in full bloom

Tame deer
on Miyajima

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.

Beach combing

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.

Shinkansen platform

Lunch at the station

The new boat
On my return to Iwakuni, I met up with a Marine pilot who transfers out soon who needs to dispose of a 21' yacht. After a 3-hour test drive through the islands offshore, we settled on $800 (this is not a typo) so the boat is now mine. It sleeps two, has a galley, a head, spare sales and a trailer. A previous owner sailed it to Hawaii and back, so I know it's a sturdy little boat. I plan to use it to explore the Inland Sea on weekends. If anyone would like to come for a sail, just let me know. I'll be here through July and United is offering some very low airfares right now.

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.

JMSDF Rescue Aircraft

An admiring fan

Kids and guns

GEOL 110 field trip

Daisy's new home
This week was our geology field trip to the Kintai Bridge area. The class assignment is to unscramble the igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks that are faulted and folded all through these hills. It's a good challenge for students -- as well as for me, since I took only one geology class in college. When I'm not in class, I'm at the marina getting the boat ready for summer. I have a two week break coming up at the end of May, and hope to spend one of those weeks exploring the Inland Sea.

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.

Building One

My quarters

Science lab

Sunset at the marina
Although Friendship Day is over, the Blue Impulse continues to practice their maneuvers overhead every sunny day. It feels like Fleet Week all the time around here. One gets used to the sound of aircraft. I've learned to distinguish an F18 from a T4 by the sound of the engines. Some Friday evenings, I join the pilots for a beer and a game of darts at the officers club. They're good blokes.

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:
  • When the tide comes in, this part of the Inland Sea has about a 1.5 knot current north towards Hiroshima. When the tide goes out, the current reverses to the south. These currents are imperceptible because the whole sea moves, but they can make getting it hard to get home before sunset sometimes.
  • In the evening, there's a haze that makes all the islands look the same. I bought a waterproof, handheld GPS at the BX for $90 that solves the problem. It's perfect for finding one's way home when everything turns shades of gray.

Fair breezes

On deck

Boys' Day decorations

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. Using turnitin.com. 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.

Downtown Iwakuni


Atta Jima

Shipping lanes

Here's a photo of downtown Iwakuni. Compared to Tokyo, Iwakuni is a backward, country town. But it's a charming place with a convenient train station, lots of nice restaurants, friendly people and a relaxed feel.

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.

Fresh eel

Miyajima's galley

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 southern Japan.

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.

Lake Kawaguchi

2300 meters

3000 meters

3700 meters

3776 meters

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.

Dan & Daisy

Hull cleaning

My beach

Daisy at sunset
Dan flew back to Melbourne on Monday to start his spring semester. Meanwhile, I'm wrapping up the summer term for the U of Maryland here in Iwakuni. Final exams in astronomy and algebra are next week. Then I'll have three weeks off. I'll spend two of those three weeks in Michigan. I look forward to seeing some of y'all there.

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:

  • August 4 ... Hiroshima, Taipei, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Grand Rapids
  • August 5-16 -- Michigan
  • August 17-18 -- Connecticut
  • August 19-22 -- San Francisco
  • August 23 -- San Francisco, Taipei, Hiroshima
  • August 25 -- Start a new teaching term
While I'm in the US, I've dry docked Daisy as a typhoon precaution. Japan is known for powerful storms in late summer. Harbor Operations advised me to move Daisy away from the piers while I'm gone. The photo shows my crew, who also built Daisy's trailer. Daisy is in good hands. Monday through Friday, these same gentlemen build carts for hauling ordinance.

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.

Dry dock

Iris gardens

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

Taipei 101

ROC guard

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.

Amish produce

Barn silo

The Fairmans

Water skiing
It was a peaceful week in the woods. I wish you all a similar vacation from airports and technology from time to time. I'm on the road again, though. Next stop Providence, RI.

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.

Sasha & Anna Lucas

Marin County, California


Daisy -- scraped & painted
On my way back to Japan, I saw a little more of Taiwan. It's a lively, colorful place, with great food and friendly people. I think I'll try to spend some time getting to know this country.

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.

Sophia University

Mikka's neighborhood

Asakusa crowds

Mikka at Asakusa
Though it's November, I still spend my weekends sailing on the Inland Sea. I taught a physics class last term that included a chapter about fluid dynamics. Daisy provided the perfect laboratory to learn how a sail creates a low pressure that can pull a sailboat into the wind. The University of Maryland has allowed me to create some of my own classes, including one titled The Sociology of Astrology, which turns out to be rather popular.

Waiting for the subway

Maid costumes

Physics lab

Cormorants at dusk
I've started taking formal Japanese reading, writing and grammar classes. Although I've enjoyed learning colorful language -- as well as where the best beaches are -- from my neighbor at the marina, it's time for me to learn how to speak Japanese properly.

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

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:

  • Have an eye examination to verify that I'm not color blind.
  • Go to Nagasaki for a written exam (in English) on Japanese navigation laws. In preparing for this test, I learned that Japanese fishing boats always have right-of-way over sailboats. I visited Nagasaki's Peace Park, which is smaller than that of Hiroshima, but just as moving.
  • Submit Daisy to a thorough inspection. Daisy passed except for one detail: Her emergency signal flares were made in the US. The inspector explained that a Japanese rescue boat might not understand what I was trying to communicate if I used an American flare. So, I bought some Japanese flares.
  • Take a one-day course on operating a power boat. In taking this course, I learned the proper etiquette and procedure for checking engine oil. It's a lot like learning Tea Ceremony. One must hold the dipstick at a specified angle in order to view the high/low marks ... and to pass the test.
  • Take a 25-minute driving test in a power boat. This was mainly a test of my Japanese, since my examiner didn't speak English.
I'm now the only American at MCAS Iwakuni licensed to operate a vessel in Japanese waters. One wonders what should be done about the Marines and sailors who are sailing large ships in and out of the harbor without Japanese skippers licenses. (grin)

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

November sailing

Daisy on shore


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.

Here's a bird's eye view of Hiroshima Castle. Iwakuni, where I've been living, is just 45 minutes by train from here. I had to go to the Regional Bureau of Land and Water here as the final step for getting my Japanese boating license. Hiroshima is a busy friendly place. I hope to spend more time there when I return to Japan in May. I thought I'd seen every form of social establishment until Mikka took me to a cat cafe. Yes, as the name implies, you sip tea and coffee while petting playful, purring cats. 32 cats in all. All different breeds.
Last weekend, Mikka and I went to the Tokyo fish market. There are more types of fish there than at most municipal aquariums. The sushi is The Best.
On the way home from Tokyo, I stopped at Japan's ancient capital by the sea. This bronze Buddha was originally housed inside a temple, which was swept away by a tsunami in the 1400s. Subsequent earthquakes have destroyed the foundation and the surrounding buildings. But the Buddha has survived as the most famous landmark of this town. The Japanese maples manage to hold onto their brilliant foliage for weeks. This photo is from a park in Tokyo in December.
Sunday is a popular day to get married at Kamakura. There were a dozen dazed couples strolling the temple grounds in outfits like this. You've seen photos of Iwakuni's ancient bridge in all seasons. Here it is waiting for the first snowfall.

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.

Change of Command: When one colonel leaves and another replaces him, there's a big ceremony with flags, marching bands, salutes and speeches out on the airfield. Very impressive. Here is the one building left standing after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima 64 years ago next week. Peace Park is a moving and somber monument, and a must-see if you're ever in this part of Japan.

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.

While the rest of Japan was having rain, Iwakuni was lucky last Wednesday to have good viewing conditions for the eclipse. We had a respectable 80% coverage of the sun here. About 300 people gathered to see this indirect view of the eclipse through a 4" reflecting telescope. Japan's inland sea is called Seto-Nai-Kai. I've spent most of every weekend exploring these islands. This is the most beautiful body of water I've ever sailed.
I bought a guitar for my birthday and get lots of time to practice while I'm out on Daisy.

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 accustomed to docking Daisy next to fire boats, minesweepers and sea planes, and to sailing on a part of Japan's Inland Sea where yachts are rare. San Francisco's South Beach Yacht Club is quite a contrast.

Although my trip to San Francisco was mostly business, I managed to spend some quality time on the Bay with good friends.

Here is the little lake near Big Rapids that we all know so well. The younger generation is shown here doing a couple of their favorite activities on a warm, sunny, August afternoon.

My niece, Julia, is getting set to jump over the wake.

And here are the family and friends who came together at the cottage this year. These folks are, of course, the primary reason I fly from Japan to Michigan for my vacation. A wonderful time was had by all!

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.

I'm teaching a geology class this semester. Last weekend was our first field trip. We went to Japan's largest limestone cavern. Here are my students, some of whom had never been in a cave before. I'm in the middle in the back row, with the plaid shirt. Dan is seated in front, wearing a grey sweater. Iwakuni is a very sociable place, especially if you play a guitar. Dan has made lots of friends.
The mountains above Iwakuni are full of waterfalls. Dan and I took a hike through a canyon carved by a roaring creek. Here's Dan pointing out some interesting metamorphic rocks, sculpted by the stream. Here's our group -- mostly math students -- after a day on the Inland Sea.
There were several nice swimming holes along our hike to the waterfalls. This past Saturday, we had particularly good winds -- that warranted a Small Craft Warning. You can tell by the way Daisy is heeling that we're making pretty good time.

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).

The chart at the left shows my route. I didn't really have a plan, but decided to just follow the best winds. I left Iwakuni mid-afternoon last Wednesday. With steady breezes from the southeast, I pointed east. The Seto-Nai-Kai has about 3000 islands. It was easy to find a cozy anchorage on an uninhabited islands just at sunset (marked as #1 on the map). Well away from the sky glare of Iwakuni and Hiroshima, I enjoyed an excellent display of the Orionids meteor shower that night. Even more sparkling were the millions of luminescent plankton in the water. I brought up a bucket full of these floating "stars" just to see them up close.

Sea birds woke me at dawn the next morning. By now, the winds were freshening from the northeast. I pulled up anchor and ate breakfast as I ran south past the Seto-Nai-Kai National Park. I did some fast sailing through the dozens of tiny islands that are too small to show up on the chart.

In the open waters south of Kurahashi Island, the swells were more than a meter and the northeasterly winds doubled in strength. Daisy and I decided that staying near shore would be a good idea! So we tacked north and sailed within the sheltered waters of the countless islands that dot this coast. I saw several protected anchorages like the one to the left. Someday, I hope to return to some of these spots for sushi and oysters. But on this day, my destination was the Ondo Passage that leads back into Kure Bay.

Kure Bay was easy sailing. With flat water and a warm, southerly breeze, Daisy glided north wing on wing as I ate a leisurely lunch, read a book and played guitar. The warm breezes carried me all the way to Hiroshima Bay. From here, I looked southwest and saw islands forever. As it was getting to be late afternoon, I had to think about where to spend the night. The obvious choice was the holy island of Miyajima. I rounded the channel marker.jpg at the north end of Miyajima. That evening, I tied up to a dock within sight of the famous floating torii of Miyajima. (marked #2 on the map)

Friday morning, I was in no hurry to go home to Iwakuni. After breakfast at Miyajima, I climbed to the top of Mount Misen to scout out my route home.

If you book your flight now, you could be here for Japan's brilliant fall foliage that runs for most of November. My next teaching term, which starts tomorrow, only requires me to be in class 15 hours a week so I'll have plenty of time to take you sailing.

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.

November 10, 2009 was the 234th birthday of the Marine Corps.
This is a BIG deal on Japan's largest US Marine base.
It's a 3-day celebration where everyone dresses up in
their finest. Here are some of my math and astronomy students.
The westerly winds are great this time of year -- stronger and steadier
than the mild southerly breezes of summer. Last weekend, I took an
overnight sail about 20km north from Iwakuni to Miyajima Island.
I've been here a few times and have found a convenient place
where I can dock for free and spend the night on Daisy.
Here's the famous Shinto torii gate that's the central attraction of
Miyajima, and one of the most photographed places in all of Japan.
The deer on this island are protected and are as tame as dogs or cats.
Okonomiyaki is an egg, noodle and seafood specialty of this area.
The smells were wonderful while anticipating a delicious dinner.
Japanese maples are as red as roses.
The roof is of a massive Buddhist temple.
Last weekend was an annual Buddhist festival at which all the prayers
inscribed on wooden tablets are burned and sent up to the gods as smoke.
There was much chanting, singing, dancing and beating of drums.
When all the wooden prayer tablets have been reduced to hot coals,
the priests make a great show of trampling them with bare feet.
I have one more month of teaching here before I head back to California
for Christmas and then on to Latin America in 2010. Happy Thanksgiving!
Click here to return to the world map table of contents.