Saturday, November 16, 2013

2012 Missed Photos

In preparing the previous Nagano post, I realized we had tons of photos from 2012 that we never got around to posting, mostly due to my procrastination.

So here are some photos from 2012:

 This was a short day trip we took on the ferry from our town of Kurihama to a temple complex in the mountains just across the mouth of the bay from us. It was such a surprising experience as we had no idea what we might find over there, we just took the ferry to see what was there.

 Here are the pictures from our trip to Kyoto over Thanksgiving weekend in 2012. We thought we were being clever to go on an american holiday, but turns out there is a Japanese equivalent that usually runs on the same weekend, so it was crazy, especially with all the beautiful fall colors. However I don't think we enjoyed it as much as we could have for some minor reasons. Next time.


 Rowan and I took a day trip to Hakone to see a sulphur pit. I know sounds like a ball of fun, and it was! We got to check out the sulphurous emanations, and eat black egg shell eggs cooked in the sulphur water, and eat delicious food at the restaurant there. We also took a walk around a part of the lake.


 These are miscellaneous 2012 pictures that didn't really make their own category...


Nagano Trip

Last weekend we took our first road trip in Japan. We've driven to the airport before, but not much further than that. Rowan and I drove to Hakone once, but it was just a day trip.  We decided a while back to take the Veteran's Day 3 day weekend to go to Nagano and see the snow monkeys.  We had heard they were still not getting into the onsens as it was too warm, but we hoped by the time we went things might be getting colder, but no snow of course.  When it snows up in Nagano, it can get pretty dicey, so we weren't sure we wanted to go there during the snow just yet.

So we started off on Saturday morning.  What we had hoped would be a 3.5 to 4 hour road trip turned into quite a bit longer as we encountered awful traffic in Tokyo as we switched from one freeway to another.  Of course, there are very expensive tolls on the freeways (not so free), but we calculated that for the 3 of us it would be less than if we all took the train.  It turned out to cost about $150 in tolls for the round trip, much less than taking the train.

We've been using to book hotels/ryoukans here, and I have to say, I love it.  We found a very reasonably priced ryoukan near the monkey park with Japanese style tatami mats (which we prefer).  Japanese breakfast was also included.  We opted out for the dinner, but kinda wished had gone for it as it was difficult to find restaurants open in the evening.   The park is near Yamanouchi, which is a very small tourist town.  Seems everything shuts down in the evening.  We had to do a konbini (7-11) dinner one night.

On the drive up, we stopped at a cool old castle (Matsumoto).  We got there pretty late due to the Tokyo traffic, so we had to rush though.  We didn't get to the top floor as the lines were so long, but it was pretty cool nonetheless.

We arrived at our ryoukan (Miyama), checked in, and promptly left to try and find a place to eat.  It took us a while to find somewhere with a parking lot, and when we did, it was an old mom and pop place.  The food was ok, but what was awesome was the apple they gave us for dessert.  Humongous, and amazing!  Apparently they grow apples in the region and they are some of the best we've ever tasted.  We bought flat of them before we left to enjoy later.

The next morning I hit the public onsen attached to our ryoukan for a shower and soak.  It was outside and extremely hot!  The hottest onsen I've ever been in, I couldn't get close to the water sources without it starting to scald me.  Needless to say, I stayed as far away as I could.  But it was delicious.

We then headed up to the monkey park, parked outside and proceeded to hike about 20 minutes up to the final waystation.  There we waited as others gathered.  We didn't know exactly what was going on, but eventually figured out that the monkeys all spend the night up higher in the mountains, but come down sometime in the morning to the onsen area where they can get a bite to eat (from the park caretakers) and soak in the onsen if they want to.  It was getting a little chillier, so we were hoping they would.  Eventually we spotted them climbing down the mountain toward the little valley with the river and an onsen that had been built for them.  I assume that there are natural onsens where the snow monkeys typically soak in the winter, but this one was built so there would be easy access to view them.

Unlike any other wild monkey involvement I've had previously, here all the people were permitted to simply walk by, around and through the monkeys with no protection whatsoever.  The rules are strict (no feeding, looking at, talking to, or otherwise harassing the monkeys), and because of that, the monkeys just ignore humans completely.  They ramble around us, through legs, etc... with no indication they care two hoots about us.  It was charming.

They did in fact get in the onsen, as you can see in the pictures above, and there were some fun antics involving the dominant male asserting his dominance by mounting his female frequently (probably just for fun, as Rowan pointed out), harassing other monkeys, and at one point snarling at a young toddler girl who was making a little too much eye contact at his level.  Otherwise, it was just fun to watch them do their thing, mainly looking for food and grooming each other.

After a couple of hours, we headed back and located some food.  There was a sort of road-side store with goods from the area where we bought our apples, persimmons, some local beer (tried that later, very good) and some other food for later.  Then back to the inn where we crashed for the afternoon after soaking in the onsen again.  That evening, we headed back to a restaurant we had thought would be a good candidate, only to find it closed, which was when we decided to eat at 7-11.  Good thing is you can find some pretty good food there, so it was fine.

The next day we checked out and headed back to Tokyo, by way of the Daio Wasabi farm.  We were delighted by this place with its carefully cultivated riverbeds used to grow the wasabi root.  We bought some fresh wasabi in a tube there and tried it out a couple of nights later with some local sushi.  It was amazing!  I've never had fresh wasabi before it turns out.  Hard to describe, but sweeter than you'd think, and with less of the horseradishy harshness most people think of with wasabi.

After that we drove back home in about 4 hours and that was it.  Good fun all around and enjoyable weekend trip.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Adoption - Answer to prayer

Well, we received the answer to our prayers concerning our potential adoption today.

ISSJ stated that after our homestudy, they decided our family did not fit with their policies and we would not proceed any further in the process.

We are, of course, disappointed, as our hopes of having a daughter added to our family have not materialized.  However, we recognize this as an answer to our prayers from the beginning, which was always for God to direct us in this process towards His will for our lives.  We resolved to tell the complete truth during the entire process, not hiding any of our opinions or reasons for adoption that might be unpalatable or politically incorrect.  We have our suspicions as to why we were rejected, though we cannot be certain as the specific reasons are not divulged per their policy, which we knew about from the beginning.  Regardless of ISSJ's reasons, we recognize God holds ultimate sway over the hearts of men, and so we take this as His way of answering our prayers for guidance.

In another way, this opens a new and exciting chapter in our lives, as we see ourselves free to pursue other tasks and directions in the medium to long term, instead of devoting ourselves to raising another child.  We continue to pursue opportunities for the Kingdom and relationships that may lead to additional opportunities.

Recently, we began working with an organization in the US ( that seeks to plant a reformed (PCA) church near the base.  We are helping to organize meetings to see if there is enough interest to do this.

We are also thinking about moving closer to the base to reduce our rent and save more for the future (when our income is likely to decrease significantly).

We continue to reach out to other like-minded ministries and establish relationships in hopes of finding our "place" in the mid to long-term future.

Anyway, that brings us up to date.  The long horribly hot and humid summer looks to finally be finished, and we are looking forward to the cool fall season.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Churui, Hokkaido WWOOF Trip

Ok, so we got back from our trip a few weeks back and I'm finally getting around to a post.  This was our first WWOOF experience (volunteering to work on a farm/business in exchange for food and lodging), and we picked Hokkaido in what we thought was going to be full summer to escape the heat.  However, turns out the first week of July is still quite pleasant overall and it wasn't the hideous heat and humidity that defines summer in our part of Japan.  The switch got flipped the week we got back.

In any case, the weather was very lovely in the little town of Churui, whose main claim to fame is that it is near the site where a Naumann elephant fossil was found, and it is (I think) the childhood home of a famous manga author (Fullmetal Alchemist if anyone is interested).  The climate reminded us a lot of the Willamette Valley, very green.

Hokkaido grows most of the country's fresh produce and there is much more ranching of various kinds.  Its history as part of Japan is actually pretty recent, having been "settled" by the Japanese in the last couple of centuries, displacing the local Ainu people.  So in some ways it has a similar feel to the "West" in the US, certainly feeling younger than the rest of the country.

We arrived on a Friday night and hit the sack upon arriving home.  Mrs. Uragami picked us up at the nearby local airport (Obihiro) and dropped by the local town festival (matsuri) that was in swing, as Mr. Uragami was manning a booth and selling food.  She picked up some leftovers for dinner and we drove to their house, which is a combination house/restaurant/meat shop.  We were told to be downstairs at 8:30am for breakfast.

Breakfasts were pretty western affairs, as I think she figures it's better off for most people.  I would have been happy either way, but we didn't complain.  Often we got to sample some of their meats for breakfast with toast, drinking yoghurt and light veg.  She's been hosting WWOOFers for 10 years, so she's probably had lots of experience with what people prefer.

After this we gathered up the dishes and washed them (along with whatever was left over from last night's restaurant crowd).  Then the day's work really began.

At first, we were tasked with yard work, weeding, and generally tidying up the outside of the place.  I manned the gas powered weed whacker, while Kerri and Rowan helped with weeding and window washing.  It took me a couple of days to clear all of the property, plus another plot of land (the old house).  We would work til just before lunch, when usually we would break for something simple.

Sometimes we got a rest in the afternoon before working in the meat shop, depending on what tasks were available.  We did a lot of washing of bloody, greasy buckets and machinery, but also laid out strips of pork jerky on drying racks, extruded and twisted strings of sausages, and cut pig stomachs into bite-sized chunks (which we then ate with lunch, yum!).  There wasn't always a ton of work to do and we were usually done well before dinner.

We were asked to cook 3 dinner meals for them, as they like to try different foods.  We tried to come up with some stuff they may not have had before, so we decided on stroganoff, filipino adobo and rooshti.  We needed a grater for the rooshti, so we ordered one from hoping it would arrive before the last meal (it didn't, we ended up just making potato, onion and carrot hash).  All of the meals were hit, especially the adobo, which I must say was the best I've ever made.

The meals they made for us were excellent, from tempura, sushi, genghis khan (meat cooked on a shield), and some simpler, but very satisfying, fare.  In between all of this of course, they occasionally had restaurant customers, which we did not wait on, nor cook for, but we did wash up the dishes.  It was fun to use the kitchen facilities.

Rowan helped out where he could, but often he just played outside in the massive growth of some strange plant that we were told got pickled in the spring for food.  The Uragami's son also works with them, and his wife would often come over with their two sons, Sosuke and Kesuke.  Sosuke was probably around 4 or 5 and pretty  much thought Rowan was awesome.  Rowan wasn't so sure, but he's always happy to run around with someone.  When we left, Sosuke was inconsolable about the loss his new best friend and cried for quite some time.  This was actually the day before we left, but he couldn't bear the thought.  Rowan was a little nonplussed by the whole experience.

All in all, it was a great experience and I look forward to trying more WWOOF places closer to home (when it gets cooler).  I was looking for something that would allow us to see a different side of Japan and spend more time with people in their homes, and also give Rowan an opportunity to experience different kinds of work that he would otherwise never be exposed to.  8 days was a bit long though, I think we would cut it down to 5 max, and usually just a long weekend.

Oh, almost forgot about the onsen that was a 5 minute walk from their house.  A real onsen has natural mineral-laden spring water that is super hot.  This place was much cheaper than they usually are in our area (only about $5 a person) and we were over there 3 times.  The genders are separated, which is good as you're going to be naked.  The deal is you first have to scrub yourself raw (and everyone's looking to see how clean the gaijin will get), then you can soak in extremely hot or extremely cold pools of water for as long as you can take it.  The fact that genders are separated also means that Kerri has to go it alone, which has always been a bit nerve-wracking.  But circumstances dictated that she overcome that issue and she ended up having a good time as she was bombarded with questions by curious locals.  Perhaps not as relaxing as it could have been, she nonetheless enjoyed herself.

Well, we don't have any further trips on the calendar, but if we have any thing fun to post, we will.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Adoption in Japan - Final Post

So you may notice all the previous posts about the adoption process are gone now.  Yesterday I went for a personal interview and was asked to sign an updated agreement form which included an agreement to not disclose the process, prices or required documents in public.  I told them that I had been doing just that for some time now and if they would like me to remove those posts, to which they responded "Yes please."

So in good faith I have done that.  Sorry to those coming here looking for details, but I cannot give them anymore.  We will still provide general updates as to our progress, without revealing any details.

As to that, things are still progressing and we hope to be on the waiting list soon.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sapporo Trip

Wow, it has been a really long time.  Sorry everyone!

We just got back last week from a long planned trip to Sapporo and the Snow Festival they hold there every year.  A friend at work had started planning it almost a year ago as it's so popular that all the hotels sell out far in advance.  We left on Thursday evening, the flight is only 1 1/2 hours, and with a little adventure found our hotel and got settled for the evening.

The next day we went to the nearby fishmarket and wandered the stalls, tasting all the samples.  Another friend bought a fresh sea-urchin which was cut open in front of us and the eggs extracted (uni) for all of us to taste.  Now, I've had uni several times before, and only 1 time (Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo) did I have *good* uni.  This stuff was fantastic!  Even Kerri liked it.  Sapporo is famous for fresh uni, salmon roe (ikura) and crab (kani).  There were several restaurants in the fish market for ikura/uni donburi (rice bowls).  I had recently had breakfast, so didn't partake, but I vowed to make it back before we left (successfully!) and try one.

After this, we hopped a bus and went to the Sapporo Brewery.  There were several restaurants there that served the "genghis khan" yakiniku (cook your own meat and veggies) style of mutton.  It was good, but rather plain in my opinion.  Still, they thoughtfully gave us plastic bags to stuff our clothing into so it wouldn't reek of meat.  Then we went to the next door museum, which I found rather uninteresting.  We did have some Sapporo beer at lunch, and as with most Japanese macro beers, I was unimpressed.  It's ok for a lager, but I just don't particularly like lagers (no flavor!).

Next we hopped another bus and rode quite a ways out to an airport where huge snow slides had been set up.  The wind really picked up here, reminding us of Hoth or the planet on Alien.  Snow blowing sideways, you could barely see the looming convention center where we retreated after a few of us braved the looong line for the slide.  Here we recouped and then made our way back to the hotel for a rest.

Finally, we left Rowan at the hotel with some instant ramen (he was happy about this as he has decided he hates snow) and went to a crab specialty restaurant and had all you can eat crab (3 varieties) for 90 minutes. had never done anything like that before (first all you can eat in Japan actually) especially crab!  It was actually not a terrible price, about $50 a person.  I'm told this would easily be over $100 back in the Tokyo/Yokohama area, and the crab wouldn't be as good.  We bravely tackled two platters of crab and couldn't quite finish it all between the six adults present.  Walking back to the hotel, we lingered along several blocked off streets that had some beautiful and impressive ice sculptures.

Back at the hotel Kerri and I braved the public bath downstairs (naked time! but separated by gender).  It was Kerri's first time to do the public bath thing (ofuro) while Rowan and I had tried one nearby where we live at least once before.  Rowan wasn't having any of it this time, so I went alone.  I was trying to hang out until my friend showed up, but the water was so hot I couldn't stand it.  Kerri said her experience was quite busy, with many many people having bath time.  Mine wasn't too bad, and that was the end of day 1.

On Saturday, after sleeping in, we headed down to the main show, the Snow Festival.  There is a section of several blocks in the middle of town where the huge snow sculptures are set up.  Unfortunately, the snow was coming down something fierce, and after a while we all decided we had had enough for the moment.  We then headed for Ramen Alley and a specific ramen shop featured in an Anthony Bourdaine segment that one of our party was keen on trying.  The Hokkaido Butter Miso ramen is quite famous, so we all had to try some.  Yummmmm....

We retreated to the hotel for a much needed rest, intending to head back to the Snow Festival after dark.  Luckily the snow had cleared and it was an excellent viewing time with the lights in full effect.  It was incredibly crowded, and we felt like a pack of penguins all shoved up against each other.  But still, it was fun, and the sculptures were incredible.  We were on the lookout for a smaller set of sculptures from contributing countries around the world, as we had heard that Portland (Sapporo's sister city) had sent a team over to make one.  Unfortunately, it was quite sad, some kind of bigfoot, beaver, duck thing that was not cool at all.  Oh well.

Then it was time for what Kerri and I had been waiting eagerly for.  We had dropped Rowan off at the hotel earlier and then we all headed for Beer Inn Mugishutei.  Years ago, we had heard of this association between Rogue Brewery in Newport and some guy in Sapporo.  Having hunted down his pub, we were super excited to see (and try!) so much good beer.  I particularly liked the double Dead Guy 30th Anniversary special in honor their relationship with Phred Kaufman (the guy himself).  And then, who should show up, but Phred!  So we got to meet him too, which was cool.  He runs a beer distribution business and distributes from Rogue as well as other international breweries all over Japan. Kerri has already made her birthday present request known!

That pretty much wraps it up.  The next day we took the train back to the airport (New Chitose) and flew back to Haneda (Tokyo).  Took the train to the base, did some grocery shopping, and drove home.  All in all, a very enjoyable trip.  We are very grateful to our friends for all the planning, translating and guiding they did to enable all of us to have a good time.

In other news, some of you may know that we have been looking into the possibility of adopting here in Japan.  We have contacted the ISSJ (International Social Service Japan) and made our application.  On Monday, we'll be heading into Tokyo to do the first face-to-face interview.  We know another couple that is adopting through them, and they have good things to say.  We'll keep you posted as things develop on that front.

That's about it.   Winter is wrapping up, and we are hoping spring is around the corner.  Looking forward to all the local festivals and travels we'll be doing this year.  We love it here and hope some of you can come to visit us and experience Japan for yourselves.