My Church

It is only because my parent took us on trips up to Mammoth, along the California coast, and to places such as Yosemite and Kern County, that I grew up in the outdoors, among majestic evergreens and splashing about in streams and rivers. Southern California used to have a rich watershed that supported steelhead and Grizzlies, but long ago they were dammed off, paved over, and methodically eliminated, or changed to the point where they were unrecognizable from their previous natural state.
The only river near our house in Orange County is the Santa Ana river, which is not really a river at all any more. It’s just a huge concrete drainage conduit that channels runoff, prevents the ground from absorbing water, and efficiently flushes it out into the Pacific Ocean (why are we doing this when we have a limited fresh water supply?). The only fish you’ll find in there are the occasional goldfish or mosquito fish, along with some crayfish that subsist off of the decomposing crud that stinks up the pools. It is amusing to see the occasional kayaker in there when it starts flowing, but not so cool when kids fall in and drown in the straight, powerful current.
Japan is a land of mountains and rivers. Sure, the Japanese still like to dam up their rivers and streams for no good reason (while the general practice in the US has become that of removing dams and restoring watersheds to their former state because society has finally recognized the value of a healthy watershed), but there are so many rivers over here that some of them are yet to be ?modified to increase safety and efficiency? so they are still in pristine shape. To find such rivers, you must venture deep into the country and search out those hidden places that are unknown to or neglected by the average Ichiro.
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Yamabuki suigen was my favorite place in Aso, because it was only 20 minutes away from my house, and no one went there except for me. After a hard day at work, I would often come here and walk through the primeval forest, sneaking up on frogs, toads, salamanders, voles foraging for food, wild songbirds, and even rabbits, deer and foxes. The water was so pure that I drank it without fear of giardia or other microbes. The water bubbled out of so many places in the forest, feeding the snaking river and creating countless islands of lush green in its swirling flow.
The best time to go was just after the sun started to fall from its peak in the sky, because the light would pierce the canopy as golden rays, breaking up the thick shadows. This is surely the religious experience that John Muir loved so much and fought so hard to protect. The forest was mine, because no one else knew about it, and if they did, they seldom, if ever, went there. I actually preferred to be alone here most times, rather than break the connection that I had with the forest.
Obviously, some people did come here on occasion, because I was always picking up trash on my hikes. It felt sacrilegious to let litter sit here, and I could not comprehend how anyone could do this. This is one thing that I hate about Japan. They should really know better than to litter- they have so little land over here that you would think that they would treat the little patches that they have with more respect. It kind of made me want to start my own Monkey Wrench Gang, and to start punishing the bastards who defiled these sacred grounds.
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Ikeyama suigen is the spring that everyone visits in Ubuyama. It is a nice place, but this is the “lite” version of Nature- manicured and commoditized.
If you ever find yourself on the Yamanami Highway, passing through Ichinomiya and Ubuyama, I highly recommend dropping by Yamabuki suigen (spring). The other spring, Ikeyama suigen, is quite popular and famous (people always come with plastic jugs to bring water home with them), but Yamabuki is so much better. Even if you follow the signs to Yamabuki, you still might get lost, but that?s a good thing. It keeps some of the riff-raff out, and it makes for a challenge.
My favorite time to visit the spring is right after a snowstorm. I wish I had pictures to show you but, take my word for it, it is the most beautiful spot that I have found in Northern Aso. It looks too beautiful to be of this world.

I, Tree Murderer

I really enjoyed majoring in the Environmental Studies program at UCSB, but despite being well educated in environmental issues I find myself not living sustainably or making choices that really make a difference in the right way. It’s just too big of a pain in the ass to do, and there is no benefit from thinking about it. To be ignorant of the extent to which man has and continues to abuse the commons of the world is to be free of a huge dead albatross around one’s neck.
The choices I make are informed, but that doesn’t really make them any better than the ones made by people who don’t take such things into their consideration. Maybe that makes it worse, because I know the implications of my actions and I more often choose convenience or comfort over the right thing to do. But it is damned hard to live a life of environmental morality, and to live this way would be pretty unbalanced. I have never met anyone who hasn?t been part of the problem, just people who try to minimize the impacts of their actions.
Sure, I take the train or skate to work every day, and I refuse plastic bags or disposable chopsticks when ever it’s possible, and I even pick up litter when I go hiking, but does this make a difference in the big picture? I would have to say no, having seen how people over here treat their natural areas as garbage bins/ashtrays. In the end, only I know the size of my ecological footprint.
It’s quite agitating to witness countless people shed and discard the various layers of packaging from their food or drink immediately after leaving the convenience store. I think that the average time that a plastic bag from a 7-11 is actually used before it is discarded would be less than a minute.
In school, I have to use large volumes of paper in order to do my job effectively because there is only one way to effectively manage my students. They need to be given worksheets to do. As long as there are worksheets to keep them busy, the stress level for both teachers and students is kept to a minimum. It comforts them in a way that other teaching materials can and do not. It kind of works the same as switching on the TV as background stimuli. They concentrate on it but lapse into sub-consciousness, or at least that?s what it looks like to me.
But the price for keeping the students busy and contented is quite high. I use at least one sheet of B4 sized paper and sometimes two sheets of A4 per class. I teach 5 regular classes of 40 students per class, 3 elective classes of 20 students per class, as well as a special education class of 6 students. A4 paper(210x297mm) is roughly equivalent to a standard sheet of 8×11 (216x279mm) from the U.S., and B4(250x353mm) is about 1.4 times the size of a sheet of A4 (for more information than you probably ever need to know about the ISO 216 paper size system, check out this site).
This may not sound like a lot of paper but the four minutes of the pounding machine gun “clackclackclackclackclack”, of the paper hitting the print tray terminus upon ejection from the risograph (a copying machine used to print out large quantities), that it takes to spit out 250 copies drives home just how much paper I use. That translates into an inch and a half thick, 5 pound pile of paper per week! I can’t describe the amount of paper that is kept in stock in the copy room, other than to call it a fortified great wall of paper. It is disgusting how much paper we use here, but there is really no other way.
There is no recycling system set up either. It all goes into the burnable garbage bin with everything else. I think that the only way to reduce the consumption of paper on this scale is by:

1. replacing the need for paper with some other substitute (like computers or tablets)
2. changing the way lessons are taught (but this is Japan, the land of social and ideological immobility)
3. hiking up the cost of paper (and this doesn’t necessarily have to be in terms of money)

I have already maximized the utility of worksheets in my classes by cramming as much material possible in every available space, and trying to stretch the material over as much class time as I can without sacrificing the quality of the lessons, so I am doing as much as is reasonably possible as far as I can think of.
I wish that paper was more expensive in order to cut down on waste, but I’m glad that I have enough paper to make as many copies as I need to make my job easier. I’m not going to lose any sleep over this, but it does bother me enough to write about. Let this be a warning to those who major in Environmental Studies. It is depressing when you know about the really ugly problems around us, and wanting to do something about it unless you set realistic goals. Individual choices and actions do have meaning, but most of the time they don?t mean as much as we would like them to.

Howlin’ the Blues

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Every so often, I stumble onto really cool things, places, or experiences when I least expect to. I thought that I’d seen everything of interest around Juso within walking distance, but tonight my wanderings led me to some excellent blues music. Mishark and I were out exploring the neighborhood when we came upon the Howlin’ Bar in Tsukamoto. If Jake and Elwood Blues lived in Osaka, this is where you would find them.
As we approached the entrance, the unmistakable sound of a live show pulled us up the stairs and into the bar. I bought a glass of Yebisu, and sat down to watch the last part of the show. The band was awesome- there were two guys singing/playing the harmonica to a band that was obviously having a good time (as well as the audience). I don’t know how else to describe the show other than to say that these guys rocked!
I talked with one of the guitarists after the show, and he said that the band was just a bunch of guys that got together for a jam session. They played so well together that I had just assumed that they were a band. Apparently, these guys have live shows at Howlin’ about once a month, and it looks like a lot of other bands frequent the bar to put on live shows as well.
In any case, I have a new favorite bar in Yodogawa-ku. Check out the guitarist’s blog (in Japanese) for a schedule of live performances around Kansai. If anyone’s interested, there’s going to be another show on October 29th (Saturday). I’m taking tonight as a message- It’s not like I’m on a mission from God, but I know that it’s time to start going out and exploring new places more frequently.

Mad Paint Skillz

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I hate using generic MS applications to create or edit images, but sometimes it can’t be helped. Having to rely on MSPaint in order to make diagrams after being exposed to the capabilities of Illustrator is a “Flowers for Algenon” like experience. Then again, I’m not being asked to crank out stylized works of art, though that would be nice.

Big and Hairy

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(A giant spider in Kyokushi, a place in Kumamoto known for smelling like manure all year round.)
For one interested in insects, reptiles, and other disgusting life forms, Japan is a great place to be. You can’t even escape from nature even if go to the center of the city. I thought that centipedes and giant spiders wouldn’t be able to make it outside of the country, but I was wrong.
The only bugs that I truly hate are cockroaches and mosquitoes. When I find a bug in my apartment, I usually try and put it back into the outside world, but cockroaches and mosquitoes face persecution.
Back when I lived in Aso, I had a huge furo (bath) that I never used, because it was too expensive to fill up. One day I saw a huge millipede crawl under a bucket in the tub, but then I forgot about it. The next week, when I was cleaning the tub, I found the body of the millipede under the bucket. I washed it down the drain.
The next month I started to find tiny millipedes crawling around the tub. What started as a few turned into hordes of millipedes all over the bathroom, some making it into the far reaches of my house. I think that I was being punished for letting the mother millipede die for no good reason, other than I didn’t feel like dealing with it. I helped some of the baby millipedes outside, but any that I found in the tub got washed down the drain…
Update:
Kevin’s comment on millipede reproduction led me to this site, where this excerpt was taken from:

Female millipedes make an underground nest into which they lay their eggs The nest is made by excreting soil they have eaten and using their anal folds to shape it as required. Either as a nest for a number of eggs or as a coating for individual eggs i.e. Glomeris balcanica. Female millipedes may lay as many a 2 000 eggs but a few hundred is more likely. There is great variation in the number laid within a species depending on the size and condition of the female. Some species such as Tachypodoiulus niger are iteroparous, i.e. they can lay more than one lot of eggs and may live for more than one year as mature adult. Other species such as Ophyiulus pilosus are semelparous, i.e. they lay one batch of eggs and then die.
Young millipedes hatch inside the nest and remain within it. They then rapidly, usually within 12 hours moult again into their first stadia (= instar). Polydesmus inconstans leaves the nest after this after this but other species remain in the nest for up to the first three stadia i.e. Pachybolus ligulatus. There are other variations on this theme for instance Orthomorpha (=Oxidus) gracilis remains inside the egg during its first stadium and does not hatch until after it has moulted to stadia 2. Stadia one millipedes have 3 pairs of legs on segments 2, 3 and 4 except in some Colobgnath species such as Polyzonium germanicum which has 4 pairs. However they gain legs rapidly with each moult the first young millipedes you see are normally already in possession of quite a few legs.
Temperate species tend to eat about 5X their weight in leaf litter between hatching and reaching maturity. They digest some of the plant material themselves, particularly any proteins and simple sugars. They also digest some of the micro-organisms that inhabit the surfaces of the material, particularly the fungi. Micro-organisms play a crucial role in the digestion of Millipedes by breaking down the cellulose that makes up the plant fibers into more smaller and easily digestible molecules like simple sugars. Many millipedes indulge in coprophagy, i.e. they eat their own faeces. Some species such as Apheloria montana will die if not allowed to feed on their own faeces, quite why is not fully understood.

Perhaps the millipede went down the drain, laid its eggs, and then crawled up to die. Or perhaps the eggs hatched inside her body and ate her feces. Ah, it feels so good to share information with others!

Muerto

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I spotted this tag on the on-ramp in front of the main Juso Post Office. Although the tag is not especially ornate or eye catching, it’s kind of special. Most of the graffiti has no artistic or meaningful relevance.
The great majority of the tags around Osaka that I have seen are just scribbles done (usually done with a paint pens) more for the sake of vandalization than creative self-expression. I have seen some amazing street art around Japan, but it tends to be kind of rare and hard to capture. I seem only to get brief glimpses of such work while riding in a car or train with my camera stowed away.
Yes, “Cruz” and “muertos” are misspelled, but this does nothing to diminish the sentiment carried by the words. I wonder if Cruz hung out with the people who run the Mexican restaurant near my apartment, and if one of the customers put it up in his honor.

Nippon no Burger Takumi Avocado Wasabi

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The Takumi Avocado Burger belongs to the Takumi genus in the Mos Burger Kingdom. Its contents, shown on this page as a diagram, consist of a Takumi bun, avocado slices, Takumi special sauce, a Takumi hamburger patty, Takumi avocado sauce, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and a side of wasabi.
Unlike the meatloaf-like consistency of a real Mos Burger, the Takumi patties taste like a real beef patty from back home. The ingredients are fresh and result in a delicious burger, but at 880 yen the Avocado Takumi is overpriced and small by American standards. Despite the steep price and relatively small size, I’m glad that I ordered the Takumi.
It’s the little touches that make it worth ordering the Nippon no Burger Takumi Avocado Wasabi at least once. It comes with a card, signed by the cook who made it, and the name of the farmer who’s produce is used in the production of this burger, along with an explanation about the ingredients and the process of making a Takumi (not pictured).
With all of the reverence of serious religious ritual, the attendant sets up the customer for a special dining experience that is most unusual in a fast food restaurant. Mos Burger silverware exclusive to the Takumi are laid out, next to the burger, atop an indigo paper napkin that feels as if it were made of velvet instead of paper. A small cup holds a portion of freshly grated wasabi, giving the burger an earthier, more lively taste. It almost feels like sacrilege to actually eat the Takumi burger, but that makes it even more delicious.
So, will I order this burger again? No, even taking into consideration the wonderful experience of eating a Takumi it’s just too expensive, and I can make a better burger myself. What will the ingredients be when I finally get around to barbecuing again?

100 percent beef patty (optionally mixed with chorizo)
cheese, preferably cheddar or jack (not fake Japanese cheese)
bacon
avocado (optional)
lettuce (optional)
grilled onions
tomato (optional)
grilled pineapple slice (optional)
teriyaki and hot sauce or mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard
egg (optional)

My burger will be served on a paper towel or plate, and will kick some major Takumi ass! The wasabi was interesting, but unnecessary. What the takumi needed was some teriyaki sauce instead. The Japanese can improve on many things- cars, electronics, toilets with special functions- but the burger will always be something that Americans do best…

Fine Beaches

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Like a pair of Shisars to Okinawa, the guardian of Shirahama, Engetsu welcomes you upon arrival to the pristine beaches and bids farewell after a weekend of sand and surf. The snorkeling around this area is pretty good- better than Sumoto, but not quite as good as the Oita coastline in Kamae-machi.
If you ever are in Oita, I highly recommend visiting Kamae (here’s a link to info Southern Oita). Not only are there some pretty cool cultural heritage sites, but the snorkeling and diving in front of the Marine Culture Center are awesome. They keep pens of yellowtails here (there is a successful aquaculture operation right out front), and you can swim among the escapees. I just wish I had brought a spear along, because they were schooling all around me.
The best thing about the Marine Culture Center is that you can swim with ocean Sunfish in their 100 M. salt water swimming pool during the spring. I didn’t get to do this, but it sounds really cool. I don’t remember the prices (and didn’t pay because I went with my elementary school as a counselor on a school trip), but lodging is cheap. Also, you won’t find any foreigners around here, as word hasn’t gotten around yet (hopefully it stays that way).
Up here in Kansai, we don’t have the luxury of being close to such wonderful beaches as Yonozu (in Oita), Ashikita and Amakusa (in Kumamoto), or the great spots along the Miyazaki and Kagoshima coast. There is Suma beach, but the water is the color of Oolong tea, and no one goes in it. The only reason people go to the local beach is to nampa.
As I said earlier, Shirahama is a nice beach, but it doesn’t compare to the natural beaches of Kyushu. The sand is imported from Australia, so although nicely groomed, it isn’t really natural, and it gets crowded at times. I like having a beach all to myself, but if you like nampa, this is the place.
Ironically, no one will go in the water before Umi no hi (Sea Day), so even if it is crowded, if you choose to go into the water you will have the ocean all to yourself. Why will no one go in the water before July 20th? I don’t think even they know the reason themselves, but I am satisfied to know that, even if the sand is taken, the Sea is mine and mine alone before this day!