Jun 29, 2008

Twenty kilometers in the rain

Today is a rainy rainy season day. It is not raining hard but it is raining enough to make you wet after a little while. Ian and I met at Sendai Station at 6:30 and walk about 2 kilometers west to the Hirose River, much of which runs more or less through the middle of town. The part we walked on at first forms the western edge of the city. On side of the river is flat and build up, the other side is hills with only a few houses.

The city is off to the left in the first picture. It is really beautiful and today the birds were in full song and fish were jumping.

The second picture is down river and a couple of kilometers to the east, toward the ocean. I was standing on the south side of the river, looking north toward the city proper. Living in one of these condos would be very nice, but I like our place better - it is a little farther from town and shopping is easier. We also have a river but it is not so wide and is not tree-lined.

Jun 28, 2008

A Saturday in the park

I spent this morning correcting exams and to relax a little I decided to walk to Izumi-chuo and stop at Starbucks. I took a long cut and went west for about 2 kilometers so that I could wander around the park before I turned north for coffee.

This first picture is a Shinto shrine. Today they had some sort of a ceremony so there was flute music and drums as I walked by. I stopped here for a while to listen and every once in a while I could see a flash of white as a priest passed the doorway.

The six small pictures are scenes in the park. It is quite big and very pleasant. Last year I used to walk through it when I went for my exercises, but now I usually walk at least 10 kilometers at a time rather than the 5 that was my max last year.

The final small picture shows a bench with a statue of a sax player. It is very popular and many people sit next to it to have their picture taken.

The larger picture at the end shows the shopping area in Izumi-chuo. Starbucks is just to the left of the doorway in the nearest building. It is a little hard to see but the sign on the roof of the left-hand building is for "7 & iHoldings". This used to be "7-11" but some group called iHoldings bought up a bunch of the stock and added their name. This group also seems to own some department stores and other businesses.

Jun 27, 2008

Keitai - Japanese cell phones

Nothing much going on today - I just finished writing a test for my Business English class and have been grading a test I gave to my Science English classes. Since I have not been outdoors, I though that I would show you what a Japanese cell phone (keitai meaning "mobile" or "pocket" in Japanese)looks like, especially the keyboard and its operation. The first picture shows the phone when it is unfolded and ready to use.

The next picture shows a close up of the keyboard. You can see that it is not QWERTY format, rather it is like a calculator. Each key has three functions that can be access with two clicks: the upper left key and a number. This changes from numbers to Japanese to letters.

The numbers are simple, you press a key and you get a number. For example, if you press on the '2' key, you get the number '2' which can be used in telephone numbers, on the calculator function, etc.

The English letters are a bit more complicated. Let's again take the key with a '2' on it. You get into the English letter mode by pressing the top left key and then the '8' key, then first time you press on '2', you get the letter 'a', the next time a 'b' and so on. The complete sequence is "abcABC2". The other keys are similar. So you can see that typing in English is cumbersome and not very much fun.

Japanese, on the other hand, is surprisingly easy. As with letters, each key contains a sequence of kana (meaningless phonetic symbols). For example, key '2' has the symbols for KA KI KU KE KO and key '1' has A I U E O. Again as with letters, these are accessed by sequential multiple presses.

However, the input process is much more efficient in Japanese. The last picture shows the screen when it is in the Japanese input mode. The screen is split into two sections. The top, just under the word "Message" contains what has been written and the current input. In this case the only thing there is the Japanese kana 'a'. The bottom section of the screen is where the magic takes place. In side the white area, those hard to see characters contain all the words beginning with the kana a. The list is dynamic so that the words that you personally use the most frequently are at the beginning of the list. If you input another kana without pressing enter, the list changes to contain only words beginning with that two kana sequence. The words in the list can be brought to the top half by selecting them and pressing enter. Although it is complicated to explain, the process is easy and efficient.

The keitai has taken over Japanese culture and now wherever you go you will find people sending or receiving email through their keitai. I have even seen a young woman with two keitais - talking into one and texting on the other.

Keitais are becoming a problem in school. If you allow the student to use them during class, they can email friends for answers or go on the Internet and look for information. However, most keitai now contain Japanese/English and Japanese/English dictionaries, so it is frequently difficult to ban them. There seems to be no good solution and as they acquire more advanced features, it will become even harder to keep them out of the classroom. I allow them anytime except during a test, when I do not allow dictionaries of any kind.

Jun 26, 2008

Two more Fibs

In class today, the 12th with this group of students, I had plenty of free time during which the students did not need me at all. The reason relates to the difference between ESL (English as a Second Language) and EFL (English as a Foreign Language). ESL is what is taught to immigrants in the US. These students need work on accuracy but fluency can easily be developed outside the classroom. In Japan, however, the students have little chance to use English away from the school, so fluency activities are important. In my conversation classes, the students get about 30 minutes of listening and focus on structures and meaning, and then they get 60 minutes of small group conversations in which they express their own ideas about whatever subject interests the group. This is quite different from other classes in which the students talk about a subject specified by the teacher or the textbook, often in language which is also specified.

Because my students do not need me, other than to wander around occasionally reminding them that they are speaking English, not Japanese, I have nothing to keep my mind occupied. Today while the students were talking I wrote the following fibs.

The first is about the rainy season.

Dark days
Frogs croaking
Moods match the weather
But change comes, nothing's permanent

Thinking about frogs led me to the famous haiku by Basho. Here is one translation of it.

Listen! a frog
Jumping into the stillness
Of an ancient pond
(translated by Dorothy Britton; from Narrow Road to a Far Province)

My fib on the subject:

In the well
Haiku are pithy
Fibs too are terse - truth isn't the words

Jun 24, 2008

A fib to repair a mistake

Very wrong
Rainy season's
Official start point
Isn't set by the Weather Bureau

Apparently the Weather Bureau stopped giving a specific date for the beginning and end of the rainy season a few years ago. They stopped because there are years when it never actually ends - that is, the specific scientific conditions for the end never actually occur. This makes it extremely difficult to say that it begins again the next year, when it is still officially continuing.

Now the newspapers and TV news make the announcement but it is not an official government statement.

Jun 23, 2008

A Testing day

A very quiet day today. I have a test in each of my classes. The picture shows my Science Dept. students working on the text.

I am amazed at how the picture makes the classroom look new and bright. Actually it is old and dirty. The university is Tohoku U. and it was a national university until it was semi-privatized. However, the change did not locate any additional funding for upkeep and maintenance. The paint is peeling, the floor tiles are broken (many from earthquakes), and the toilets stink.

For some reason that I do not understand, the Japanese do not seem to have any appreciation at all for the value of maintenance. Things just go along by themselves until they fall apart and they something new is bought. Nothing is cleaned. Even lawns are not mowed. The parks are essentially unusable because the policy seems to be to mow them two or three times a year - whether they need it or not.

Jun 22, 2008

Let's surfin

Japlish, or Japanese English, is notorious, especially on the directions the come with products made in Japan. Today on Shichigahama I noticed this sign and thought that it was worth sharing. I do not quite understand why a trespasser would want to notify the police, but maybe they want protection from the person who composed the sign.

Surfing is a big pass time here but the waves, even on the best days, are very small. My students think that Let's surfin is proper English. Let's is used in Japanese advertising as a verb and the final g which is often not pronounced is omitted along with the apostrophe which usually indicates the deletion.

The final picture shows one of the hamas, small beaches which lie between high headlands. It was very picturesque. We both enjoyed the walk today, both for the fresh air and for the scenery.

When we got back to my apartment, my wife Masayo made Ian and I pancakes with bacon and coffee. After all the exercise, it tasted wonderful.

A Sunday Stroll by the Sea

Today, Sunday, Ian and I drove east from my apartment. After about 20 minutes we crossed a bridge and were on Shichigahama (apparently an island separated from the mainland by a 100 or so meters of water. We proceeded to a park in the middle of the island and left Ian's car in a public parking lot in the small park. We then crossed to the water on the north side where we found a shrine on a little point. The sign said that it was the Togu Shrine. The picture bellow on the left is the main building. Near the entrance but off to the side was a smaller shrine (second picture). There is almost never anyone at these shrines so it is not possible to ask about them.

Shichigahama means seven beaches and we encounter numerous small bays with even smaller fishing villages. I did not count the villages or the bays so I can not verify the count of seven beaches, but I suspect that it really does not matter. The last three pictures show three of these ports.

Jun 21, 2008

Art Class

Today was my art class at the NHK Bunka Center. My teacher, Wakamatsu-Sensei, to the pictures for me.

The first picture shows the Izumi Chou Station Building. The subway station and a bus depot are in the basement, and the rest of the building has stores, restaurants, offices and schools. When I took the picture, I was standing in front of the Starbucks on the first floor of a department store. The pyramid is the entrance to the underground. It is covered with running water so it gives off a very cool feeling. My classes are on the top floor, the part to the left of the red sign. It is like a penthouse. The rest of the roof contains a parking lot.

This next picture shows me working on my picture. Actually I started it during the last class and finished it today. It is mostly pen and ink done with a very fine felt-tipped pen. After I was finished I added a little pencil to gray down some of the pure white areas.

The final picture shows my drawing. It is an outdoor Noh Stage, which is why the back wall contains a picture of a pine tree.

Jun 20, 2008

A fib for the rainy season

The rainy season
Hearts are as heavy as the fog

Jun 19, 2008

Fibbing at the Sendai Book Club

Last Monday night at the Sendai Book Club, we talked about the book Holes by Louis Sachar. At the end of the evening we got into a discussion about the difference between fate and luck - one of the discussion points in the Reader's Section at the back of the book. During the discussion I brought up the Buddhist term karma. Yesterday, while walking home from school, I wrote this fib explaining my position on these three terms.

Each differ
Fate is unchanging
But karma can alter your luck

Jun 18, 2008

Mister Donut in Japan

This is another picture I took yesterday but the program would not let me upload it. Kita Sendai Station, where I meet Ian, is across the road on the left and the subway entrance is on the left behind me. After our walks, we stop at Mister Donut for coffee and a donut. They have a morning special - a refillable cup of coffee and a donut is 300 yen, including tax. This is a very good deal. Starbucks coffee is more expensive, although the nearest one is at least three subway stops away. Local coffee shops are usually around 450 yen for a small cup.

I do not know what has happened in the rest of the world, but Mister Donut in Japan now sells Chinese food. They serve a cheap lunch made up of Chinese noodles and dumplins in three or four varieties. I have not tried them but they probably are okay for a cheap meal.

Jun 17, 2008

A testy fib

Absorbing new fact
To forget after the exam.

Yaotome Station and a walk in the park

Today Ian and I took our regular Tuesday training walk through the park. I take the 6:10 a.m. subway to meet him. These pictures show the station.

The first picture shows the platform at Yaotome (8 virgins) subway station, the nearest to my house, looking more or less south from the north end. Since it is so early, there are very few people. My home is off to the left, across a river and about a 15 minute walk.

The next is from the south end of the station looking south toward Sendai, about 20 minutes away. Actually there is quite a bit of green until the line goes underground.

This next picture is looking north and shows the train arriving from Izumi-Chuo, the last stop on the line. Off on the right side you can see the top of a dome. It is the stadium where Vegalta, our pro soccer team plays, and the stadium where I watched the rugby game yesterday.

This obviously is a picture of the new (relatively) slim, trim me. I am standing in front of one of the little ponds in the flat area of the park. Behind me is a fairly high hill. The 3 km path that we walk circles around from the right, up the hill, and back around on the left. We are doing two laps plus walking to Kita Sendai and back.

This is one of the pieces of sculpture that are scattered around the flat area. It's a chicken by a famous sculptor, but I can not remember his name.

Jun 16, 2008

Kukai Exhibit

Yesterday after our walk, Ian and I visit the Aztec Museum and saw an exhibit about Kukai, the Buddhist monk who established the Shinran (See comments below: this is a typo - it should read Shingon) sect in Japan and is credited with with the first pilgrimage around Shikoku. Kukai, who received the Buddhist name Kobo Daishi, after his death walked around Shikoku and supposedly set up a large number of temples. Most of the 88 temples of the Henro pilgrimage claim to have been started by Kobo Daishi.

The exhibit yesterday was not what we expected. We had been led to believe that it would be mostly historical items and photos of the 88 temples. What we found was quite different but also interesting. The exhibit was set up in three parts. There at least three priests and two nuns from Koyasan, the mountain where the main Shinran temple was established by Kukai.

Part one had a scroll showing a picture of the enshrined Buddha or bosatsu (the stage before Buddhahood) for each temple. Below each scroll was a donation box. The idea was that you could symbolically walk around the 88 temples and, while not accruing as much credit as we will get for actually visiting each temple, you could get some of the credit. Ian and I walked around and looked at each scroll. I was surprised because they seemed to be computer graphics that had been enlarged so that they were a bit fuzzy. Also the colors were PC printer colors rather than actual paints or professional prints.

Part two had a photo taken at each temple. Some were of the buildings or grounds, but some were of people or statues. The photos were excellent and I really enjoyed them.

Part three had a very small collection of brass ritual goods (bowls, plates and things) and a container of sand which the sign said was a mixture of sand from the place where Buddha was born, where he was enlightened, and where he died. There was also a place where one of the nuns was giving a speech that did not sound very interesting from what we could here.

When we finish and started toward the exit, one on the priest came running over to us and handed each of us a certificate. It stated that we had completed the symbolic 88 temple pilgrimage and that we claim all of the benefits that walking in Kobo Daishi's footsteps offered.
The picture shows my certificate.

Jun 15, 2008

Father's Day

Today I met Ian at Sendai Station at 6:30 a.m. We took a train to the Minami (South) Sendai Station and then walked along the south bank of the river that we walked along last week. We were out for three hours and walked 15 km.

When we got back near Minami Sendai, we went to the Aztec Museum to see an exhibit about Kukai, the Buddhist monk who is credited with beginning the 88 temple pilgrimage. I will have more about that tomorrow when I am a bit less tired. We got back to Izumi Chuo around noon and met Keith for lunch in a cheap Italian restaurant.

After eating and drinking a little wine, we met Tony and his wife Michi and went to the soccer stadium where we saw a rugby match between the Japanese national team and the Samoan team. Japan won. I think the score was 35 to 12. The picture shows the Samoans doing the hakka, the war dance that they do before games to energize themselves and to scare the opponents. It obviously did not help them today.

Jun 14, 2008


A little over an hour ago we had a strong earthquake. We had no damage - some pictures tilted and a file drawer opened. However, not far from here, both north and south, there was some damage, two people killed and 20-30 people injured. One of the people who was killed ran out of their house during the quake and was hit by a truck. The other was killed when something collapsed. The other most obvious problems so far are landslides in the mountains that have blocked rivers. It is still too early to really know what happened but it is not exceptionally bad, especially compared to the recent quake in China. I'm sure that there will be more reports as time passes

The quake was M7.0 and was 10 km deep. On the Japanese scale of 0 to 7, which is based on how people feel the quake and the damage that was done, we had a 5-. The worst hit areas were 6+. (See below for what this means.) I like this scale because it tells you what happened. The radio and TV broadcast the number for each city and town so you know what your friends and relatives experienced.

JMA seismic intensity scale uses two descriptions of each level, one having to do with the damage and the other having to do with people's reactions. At level's 5 through 7 the add a plus or minus sign to give a better indication. The official English version of the scale is as follows:

Scale 0 -
--No feeling. Shocks too weak to be felt by humans, registered only by seismographs.
--Not felt unless shaking is felt by the body, even when a hanging object is seen to be slightly swinging or some rattling is heard.

Scale 1 -
--Slight. Extremely weak shocks felt only by persons at rest or by those who are very sensitive to earthquakes.
--Shaking is slightly felt when a person is quiet, but the duration is not long. The shaking is not frequently felt when a person is standing.

Scale 2 -
--Weak. Shocks felt by most persons, slight shaking of doors and Japanese sliding doors (shoji).
--Hanging objects are seen to move, and slight shaking is felt even when a person is standing, but it is generally not felt when a person is moving. Occasionally a person can be awakened.

Scale 3 -
--Rather strong. Slight shaking of houses and buildings, rattling of doors and Japanese sliding doors (shoji). The water surface of a vessel can be seen to ripple.
--Felt to be slightly surprising, and sleeping persons wake up, but they do not run outside or feel afraid. Many people outside feel it, but some pedestrians may not.

Scale 4 -
--Strong. Strong shaking of houses and buildings, overturning of unstable objects, and spilling of liquids out of vessel. Felt by walking people outdoors, and many people inside rush outdoors. Considerable swinging of hanging objects such as light bulbs.
--Sleeping people jump out of bed, and feel afraid. Electric poles and trees are seen to shake. Some roofing tiles of general houses may slip out of place, but serious damage does not occur yet. Slight dizziness is felt.

Scale 5 -
--Very strong. Cracks in the walls, overturning of gravestones, stone lanterns etc., damage to chimneys and stone fences.
--It is considerably difficult to remain standing. In houses, slight damage is generally sustained. A soft ground can split or break. Unstable furniture falls over.

Scale 6 -
--Disastrous. Collapse of less than 30% of all houses, landslide, and fissures in the ground. Most people cannot stand.
--It is difficult to walk, and one has to crawl to move.

Scale 7 -
--Very disastrous. Collapse of more than 30% of all houses, intense landslide, large fissures in the ground, and faults.
--It is difficult to walk, and one has to crawl to move.

Jun 13, 2008

Friday the 13

After walking 20 km yesterday, this morning I walked to the doctor's and back - about 12 km. On the way I have to pass through Izumi Chuo, an area that contains the last station on the subway line and a shopping area. It also has the only Starbucks in this part of town. Between my home and Izumi Chuo there is a pedestrian walk that is about 1 km long and is called Suisen-dori, or Daffodil Road in English. This photo shows part of it.

My doctor decided that I can stop taking one of my high blood pressure pills because I am getting so healthy from losing all the weight and additionally now getting in shape by walking.

I have mentioned the rich guy that lives near us. He tore down his old house and built a new one about 100 meters away. Then he build a condo on the site where his old home was. That was all done last year. More recently he had a crew of 6 to 8 men and two or three large powered construction vehicles a day for almost a month working to build a reinforced concrete wall around the new house. Then they build a reinforced concrete building, I guess you could call it a shed. It is going to be used to house all of this powered farming equipment. I think that he is still growing rice on his land that is a couple of kilometers on the other side of our building. This week he has two power shovels changing the dirt in the land between the house and the road. You can see the house on the left side of the picture. The shed is in front of it and the new dirt is in front of that. You can just see part of the condo on the right. The shrine that I posted about yesterday is on the far right side of the condo.

Jun 12, 2008

Last night I went to a soccer game at Sendai Stadium which is less than a kilometer away from my apartment. I used to get a season ticket and go to every game with my friend Keith, but we gave them up. Our schedules changed so we could not get to many of the games and they were too expensive for a retiree like me. Now we go when we can. They won the game by the way 2-0.

Below is a picture of a very small Shinto shrine that is less than 500 meters from my apartment. The god is the god of the local river and they hold a festival for it during the summer. At the festival, there is a platform built out over the river. The people walk out on the platform and drop a flower (if I remember correctly - I have not been for a couple of years as my friends seem to have parties the same night) as a gift, or I guess I should say bribe for the god. I have no idea what the god's name is, or even if it has a name.

If I am around, I usually go to the festival. There is music and dancing, plus there is a number of booths that sell food, beer and Japanese sake. Most of the people are dressed in yukata, a kind of summer kimono. The atmosphere is more like a carnival that some religious activity.

Jun 10, 2008

Regular Tuesday Walk

Ian and did our usual 13 km walk in Shinrin Park today. The photo shows Kitasendai Station where we met at 6:30 a.m.

I have posted this picture before but today I had a camera with a telephoto lens so you can actually see the Kannon-shaped tower.

As I was crossing the river that flows by my apartment building, I heard engine noise from above me and, looking up, saw this powered parachute. It quickly turned and went down the river, past my place, and out of sight.

Just a few hundred meters from my building there is a space where local people can rent farm land from one of the rich locals. He charges almost nothing and helps out with the individual plots. Another thing he does is to let the local grade school use (rent?) some of the land for the students to find out about farming. This is the first grade planting something. Each student gets their own individual plant. I think that they come over about once a week and water and weed. Anything else that needs to be done is taken care of by the local.

Jun 9, 2008

A fib about yesterday

Humans, too
Have shells around them
But they can not keep love away

Jun 8, 2008

Walk on the beach and along Natori River

Today Ian and I took the train to the Sendai Airport and then walked over to the ocean. The waves were up and it reminded my of Cape Cod - wide sandy beach with good waves and then inland a forest of scrub pine. There were people fishing with lines going out at least 50 meters. We did not see any evidence that the fish were biting but people seemed to be enjoying sitting there.

After we had walked about 5 km we came to the Natori River. After the river breaks through the row of dunes behind the beach, there is a large bay-like area. The above picture was taken from where we took a 10 minute rest and ate and drank a little. We crossed a bridge that is off to the right of this picture and then crossed another bridge that took us to the north shore of Natori River. There was a paved bicycling path that we walked on all the way to a subway station, where we caught a train back to Sendai Station, eating there and separating.

As we walked along the north shore of Natori River we came to an area where they were clamming both by boat and on foot in the shallows. These are pictures of some of the clammers.

Jun 6, 2008

Last night after class, I met three of my friends and we stopped at a bar near the campus. We stayed for a couple of hours and caught up on what we have been doing and all the gossip about those who were not there. Afterwards I walked home through some of the heaviest rain that we have had this year.

Jun 5, 2008

Statue on the hill

Heritage -
On a distant hill
Kannon Bosatsu protects all

I took the picture standing on a balcony at Miyagi Gakuin University after finishing a class. Kannon is the white blob on the left side of the gray rectangular building on the hill (about one third of the way in from the left edge.

Jun 3, 2008

Another rainy day

This picture shows the river, Nanakita River, that is beside my condo (which is off to the left). I took this on my way back from a 10 km hike with Ian.

According to the weatherman, the rainy season will officially start in another week or so, but until then we can expect a lot of rain.

However, they do predict that the weekend will be sunny and warm. Ian and I decided to take the train to the Sendai Airport and then walk home along the beach - about 20 to 25 km.