June 4 — Trips from the Road

Despite rainy weather, we decided to make a day trip for abalone. The swell wasn’t the predicted 2 feet that we hoped for, but it wasn’t too bad. The water could best be described as “sharky”, due to a combination of runoff from the cow pastures, tiny bubbles mixed into the dark silty water and the appearance of pockets of blue sky that casted our silhouettes down to the obscured depths. Who says that you have to make better decisions when you get older? Apparently, we didn’t look too appetizing to any sharks that may have seen us. Despite horrible visibility, we got 5 of the little suckers after about 30 minutes in the water.

But enough about that, I decided to break out my D-50 and to take pictures on the ride back home. If you ever get a chance to drive, hike and dive this stretch of coastline a few hours north of San Francisco, take it!

Jurassic Island

On the Garden Island of Kauai, there are many, many chickens. They greeted us at the airport when we set down, begged for food (especially the fried chicken) and crowed early in the morning. You could live off of a diet of chicken and fruit for free in this patch of earth in perpetuity. Chickens are plentiful.

There are also many, many plants. You probably deduced this from “Garden Island”, but really, the plants are many in variety, hues of green, shapes, sizes, etc… If you are a botanist, this is one Hawaiian Island not to be missed. I didn’t take too many plant pictures, as there were an abundance of colorful animals to focus on.

There are an assortment of fish, this one being a blenny hiding in a hole dug out of a tidepool enclosed by sandstone. I wonder how blennies taste–they can’t be as bad as mudskippers, as those are certifiably the worst fish I’ve ever tasted and I’ve eaten a lot of fish, some of it even fermented. That’s right, mudskipper tastes worse than fermented fish. Don’t believe me? Go to Saga prefecture, Japan, and taste for yourself.

Frogs also occur in high concentrations, in certain spots. Did you know that frogs love manicured fields of grass? It’s a fact! Another point of interest: frogs are hard to see when they’re hiding in the grass unless you’re looking for them. Watch where you step, or you may end up inadvertently playing the part of Godzilla to Frog Tokyo.

There are a bunch of lobster hidden among the reef structure. Unfortunately, this one was not big enough to be legally taken.

More pics and vids to come…

All The Little Live Things

Living and traveling around Kyushu, I saw all sorts of strange, beautiful, disgusting, and fascinating creatures. Here are a few that I encountered in my last few weeks around.
A butterfly at Daikanbo. On this day, the clouds were sweeping up and over the caldera toward Kuju.
This spider wove a white zig-zag pattern into its web. I think that some species do this so that birds and other larger creatures don’t run into their webs (supposedly insects are still oblivious to it). Also taken at Daikanbo in Northern Aso.
I have found that bees are easily photographed because they stay put until they’re finished collecting nectar and pollen. This was taken at Higothai Koen in the Hokubu region of Ubuyama.
This phesant’s face reminds me of some early Japanese anime series whose name I cannot remember. I took this picture at the Kumamoto Zoological and Botanical Park in Kumamoto, near Suizenji Park.
Japanese Zoos make me sad. I don’t want to visit them because the animals are often in a pitiful state. If you notice, the polar bear has a GREEN coat. That’s from algae growing in it’s fur. I have also witnessed a fuzzy green crocodile and a green hippopotimus in the Beppu zoo. If you can’t take care of an animal properly, then you should not be allowed to keep them. No exceptions.
Kuniko and I spent an hour playing with this turtle in Suizenji Koen. It would rush over whenever we tossed pebbles in the pond, and it was fun making it swim back and forth and in circles. When we went to see sumo, we spotted another turtle next to the road. I picked it up and shotputted it, and it made a satisfying ker-plunk, disappearing among the water lillies.
This was a toad that Joe found at a small neighborhood matsuri in Kyokushi. He gave it to his kids and they killed it in about 15 minutes. Oh well, I hope they had fun squishing it.

Attack Of The Venemous Caterpillars

Merin was holding the ladder for me, when she brushed up against these caterpillars and noticed that the little bastards had envenomated her.
So I did what any responsible older brother would do. I cut off the three leaves that held 50 of the evil creatures, put them on top of a pile of kerosene-soaked paper towels, and we sent them back to the sulphorous pits from whence they came. It was a Viking style pyre, honoring these worthy adversaries as they burned.
(taken with Merin’s A1304AT).
I remember watching a program on the Discovery Channel about these critters, and the effects of their toxins on humans. The lady on the program who got stung went into anaphylactic shock, and her pulmonary system shut down causing her to go into cardiac arrest. Merin just got a nasty rash with a burning sensation, probably because she took Benadryl right after getting stung (Thanks Mika!).
Was it wrong to kill these caterpillars? I don’t think so because my neighbor regularly brushes up against those leaves when she tends her garden, and there are plenty more of them in the upper canopy that are doing quite fine. I think she’ll be happy that they’re gone. Was it really necessary to burn them? Yes, yes it was. They inflicted a burning sensation, so it was only fair for them to feel the burn for themselves.

Baka Hebi

Last night I ate dinner at the Takahashi’s, enjoying a huge “hamburg” and introducing them to the liquid red pleasure that is Shiracha. Their daughter and one of my sannensei students, Fumi, is going to Thailand for two weeks this summer and so I thought I’d help to prepare her for the spicy foods that she will encounter.
During dinner, we got around to talking about snakes. I was puzzled when they told me that snakes stink- I had never encountered a snake that I thought was stinky. We debated this point for a while, but I was unconvinced. Then, they told me about a really stupid snake that had eaten a frog and got stuck and died. I was wondering why they thought that the snake was so stupid, when they offered to show it to me. We went out in back of their house to a small road next to a wall of stone, and smelled it before we spotted it with the flashlights. It looked like someone had used a lot of muscle to shove the two and a half foot long snake into a tiny hole. The snake was hanging out of one of the cracks, its neck wrinkled from trying to escape from jammed a hole that was way too small for it to enter. I was intrigued by the stupidity of the snake. I think that it must have been fleeing from something and tried to find a hiding space in a hurry, and in its haste it jammed its head in to the fissure nice and tight. Indeed, a baka hebi.
I was planning on taking pictures in the morning light, but the snake is gone and only a residue of the stink remains. I should have known better. Not much goes to waste out here, and the snake was conveniently hanging there, just inviting some wild animal to pick up some take out.


I recieved this story written by one of my Daiichi High School ichinensei (as an assignment of the VHS program in Kumamoto), and it reminded me of the cat that Justin and Merin rescued. The only differences are that the fictional kitten was rescued from the top of a sky scraper during the day. Justin jumped into a storm gutter and caught the kitten just as it lost its grip and was about to be swept away to be drowned. Anyhow, have a look:
Last night, thunder was sounding. Many people were frightened. At a skyscraper of top, a kitten was mewing. But someone didn?t learn.
Next day, one person helped a kitten and he raised it and it was his great pet.

Oh, and for those of you who don’t know, this is an example of the English abilities of a decent 1st year student in one of the better high schools in Kumamoto. I’m quite proud of the abilities of these students, actually.

My Favorite Places To View Hotaru

One of my favorite ways to spend a spring or summer night in Japan is to go out and watch the hotaru (fireflies) flicker on and off in unison. The Hotaru Festival in Kyokushi (North of Ozu in Kumamoto-ken) is worth checking out, and easy to get to. During this celebration, beef ranchers like the Otsuka family sell exceptionally delicious beef which is best enjoyed with a glass of beer and a bunch of friends.
This isn’t a hotaru, it’s a picture of a tiny bee that I took at Yamabuki suigen (Yamabuki spring). In daylight, the fireflies look like regular elongated black beetles, somewhat reminiscent of a cockroach. I took the next picture in the dark of a firefly in my hand from Kyokushi last year:
Such a sad picture… The bioluminescence and frequency of their flashing varies among species. The fireflies in Kyokushi blink slower and with a yellowish light, while the yamahotaru blink slightly faster in a bluish-white. I wonder if the color differences have to do with the membrane of the photophores (assuming this is what the light producing cells on fireflies are called) or due to slight chemical differences in combination with the luciferin and luciferase…
Anyhow, if you are in Aso-gun near Ubuyama-mura during mid to late June you can still catch the yamahotaru (mountain fireflies), well after the other species have mated and died. One great spot is south of Namino village, in a place called Shiramizu Taki (white water waterfall- pictured below). The waterfall itself is worth a visit during the day time, but it is truly magnificent at night illuminated by the stars and the fireflies. The lighting has a soft, magical quality because of the diffusing effect of the spray generated by the falling water. Apparently, the light on my cellphone is irresistable to yamahotaru, as one followed it back into my pocket. I watched in amusement as it blinked out a pickup line to my unreceptive D251.
Yamahotaru are more reliable to see than the other species, I have found, because they come out in rain or good weather, and wind tends not to be a factor as they tend to live in protected areas among the trees or cliffs.
My other favorite places to see them are in Ubuyama-mura in Hokubu. I was able to see hotaru at Yamabuki suigen, but had to turn back because it was pitch-black, raining hard, and I only had my keitai (with a low battery) to serve as a flashlight. Instead, I went to Ikeyama suigen which is more popular and easier to access. The hotaru were out in abundance in the mist and drizzle, lighting up the cedars with their halogen-white glow.

Nature Is Disgusting

Let’s face it, nature is a dirty place, dirtier than places like the middle-class suburbs, but mostly cleaner than third world countries, slums, and shanty towns where the population’s excrement co-mingles with their drinking water. Ah, the suburbanites have the luxury of crying about how tragic it is that their kids won’t get to experience the outdoors, and make a contribution by joining the Sierra Club and making once-a-year donations to Greenpeace.
Get most of these people out into nature and enjoy the irony as it unfolds. They want the mountain lions, coyotes, and other wild animals out of their neighborhood at any cost after someone or someone’s pet gets attacked, yet teach their kids the importance of biodiversity and of the humane treatment of cute and furry animals. They pay more for organically labeled food, and yet soak those irksome weeds with Round-Up, having no understanding of the consequences of toxic runoff that seeps into the water. They go outside and cover themselves in deet to keep away the insects (Nature bad!), bust out the bug spray when the ants come and raid the picnic, and plug in the bug zapper whose kill ratio is 5 mosquitoes to 95 of possibly beneficial insects. They make a huge fuss if there isn’t a nearby flushing bathroom stocked with toilet paper, running water, and soap. Watch the honors students cry when you tell them that they have to go into the forest behind a tree, dig a hole with a branch and wipe with broad evergreen leaves (make sure to avoid plants with clusters of 3 leaves)! Now what do you think of composting on a personal level, kids? You know what the difference between a jungle and a rainforest is? Being there yourself burning the leaches off of your friend’s private areas versus watching Steve Irwin getting attacked by wild animals on TV.
We like to pick and choose our nature, wanting to interact with the clean and cute stuff, while avoiding the stinky, disease ridden, ugly stuff. A butterfly is good, a bunch of mealworm-like caterpillars collectively excreting white threads out of its butt is bad.
Most of us like nature, but only at a distance.
We like our houses sterile, devoid of nature except for a few groomed plants and pets that we keep unnaturally clean. When nature comes creeping in, we swat it with a rolled up newspaper, suck it up, sweep it out, douse it with chemicals, make adjustments to the places from which we think it came more inaccessable, and wipe it down with bleach afterwards just to make sure that all traces are removed. Don’t say that you wish that people were close to nature unless you fully understand what this means, and are willing to put up and move out to Walden pond. Chances are that you can’t hack it, unless it’s on the Discovery Channel.
Nature is disgusting. Sure there are beautiful things in nature, but to say that all things natural are beautiful is a dirty, rotten lie that is easily exposed. Have you ever watched a hippopotamus give birth on the National Geographic Channel, or scattering shit with its tail to spread its scent around? Have you watched a seagull eating an umbilical cord that was still attached to a newborn elephant seal crying out for its mother? Have you seen chimpanzees cannibalizing bastard infant chimpanzees to get rid of offspring that they know was fathered by another group of chimpanzees. Has a three inch long millipede with the girth the size of a roll of pennies ever died in your bathtub, hiding an egg cluster somewhere in the vicinity? Did the eggs start to a year ago, letting loose a few dozen mini-millipedes in your bathroom? Did they start to appear again a year later, even after you disinfected the whole bathroom several times since with cleaning agents and bleach? After the tree huggers get a little too close to the poison oak, they start to think more practically.
If you feel strongly about living in “true” harmony with nature, then you might as well back up your words through action. Don’t throw away the moldy bread, let it grow and flourish, and to spread its spores among the other foods. Don’t sweep out the dust or vacuum, as you will be upsetting the fragile habitat of the dustmite! Don’t clean your toilet because the shit-spatters and pubic hair are a micro-ecosystem for coliform bacteria- a garden rich in microorganisms from your intestinal tract. Sure, if you do this then you might have the balance with nature that you wanted, but at what cost? You will be known as the smelly dirty hippie who never cleans his or her toilet.