Archive for the ‘Road Trip’ Category

Fall Photos

October 18, 2009


Leaves in Oirase Gorge

This weekend Julie and I hit the road to catch a glimpse at the fall foliage before the leaves all fell to the ground.  Our trip included stops at Mt. Hakkoda, Oirase Stream/Gorge, and Lake Towada.

We took a ropeway up to the top of Mt. Hakkoda. We missed the peak of the colors by a couple weeks but it was still amazing.

View from the tram.

View from the top of Mt. Hakkoda. In the distance is Mutsu Bay and Aomori City.

Another view from the top, this time facing inland.

After the mountain we took a stroll down to the Oirase Stream/Gorge.

Our last stop was Lake Towada, the deepest lake in Japan.

We also did a fair amount of driving on the trip.  Here’s a video of us careening through a mountain road looking at foliage and listening to Alphawezan.

Click here to see the rest of the photos.


Mountain Road

June 25, 2009


Last week I drove back from a conference in Aomori City with my friend Bryan.  We decided to take what we believed at the time to be a shortcut over a mountain rather than the somewhat congested main highway along the coast.  Neither of us had taken this road before and weren’t quite sure what to expect.

The road turned out to mostly be a narrow, serpentine lane of gravel, dirt, and boulders surrounded by a dense, lush, green forest.  The last time I remember traveling in a car on such a road, I was living in rural Alaska.

Our journey through took a few surreal turns.  As the road narrowed and Bryan’s car jostled through an increasingly steep and side-winding terrain, we remarked that we appeared to be in the movie Jurassic Park.  A few minutes later Bryan’s iPod, on shuffle, played the theme song from the aforementioned film.  Laughter ensued.

When we reached the summit of the mountain road we drove through a cloud and began our descent.  The road widened a bit and eventually we reached pavement again.  Then, out of nowhere, we saw an enormous building.  It’s green, aesthetic metal roof and concrete building blocks were completely out of place.  As we crawled past we noticed other buildings (much smaller), a few pagodas, and shrines and no people.  Clearly we had left Jurassic Park and entered Spirited Away.

Naturally, we hopped out of the car to explore.  Despite all the infrastructure, the place was completely silent.


Out of place



A few minutes after I took that last photo, we saw a single human being walking across the parking lot in the far distance.  We decided to head back to the car and drove away, relieved that we did not find and eat delicious food that turned us into pigs.

So what was it?  An abandoned village?  An ornate but low security prison?  A secret hotel?  Or did the cloud that we drove earlier transport us to a post-apocalyptic future?  We asked a friend who lives in the area about it and he explained that it’s an ascetic religious community.  A while back somebody founded a religion that blended Shinto and Buddhist teachings and set up headquarters along that particular mountain road in Aomori.  The followers live and work in the mountains and they even have a private school on the premises for the kids in the community.

The whole thing makes me wonder what else is lurking in the woods of Aomori.  Julie and I have done our fair share of traveling around the prefecture, but I’m sure there are plenty more roads along the farms and fields worth exploring.

Camping trip to Shimokita

May 4, 2009


We’re back.  Pictures have been uploaded.  Posts have been written.  Enjoy.

Day 1:  Osorezan and Yagen Valley

Day 2:  Wakinosawa, Hotokega-ura, and Oma

More photos on our Flickr page

Shimokita Peninsula Day 1: Osorezan and Yagen Valley

May 4, 2009


Our first stop on Saturday was Osorezan — a beautiful if otherworldly site home to several surrounding mountains, white sand, a clear lake, sulfuric hot springs and vents, a temple, and statues.   In addition to being beautiful, Osorezan is also considered to be a very holy place to the people of Japan.  It’s a place where some believe they can adequately pay respect to their dead loved ones.  Most people we saw were clearly at Osorezan to be tourists and take pictures, but some people were clearly there to mourn.  You may also notice many piles of rocks in the pictures.  These are basically memorials representing children who passed too soon.  These piles were everywhere; a constant reminder of the impermanence of life.


All sorts of interesting colors bubbling around and flowing into the lake.

After Osorezan, we set up camp in the beautiful Yagen Valley.  To get there we had to drive through a serpentine country road up and down a mountain covered in trees.  Since it’s spring, our eyes were treated to stunning green deciduous foliage mixed with evergreens and bare branches from trees that are still without their leaves.  Every once in a while there would be a single plum or cherry tree in full blossom, its fuchsia or pink petals seemingly completely out of place in a sea of green and brown.

Julie enjoying an apple after setting up our new tent.

Here’s a video of a friend we met at the campground:

Shortly after taking this video we took a nap, went to an old school outdoor onsen, ate dinner, and went to bed early.  By then my cold and fever was at its worst.  After a mildly rough night we decided to check out all the things on our list anyway and just drive back to Noheji instead of camp in the evening.  It turned out to be a good decision.

Shimokita Peninsula Day 2: Wakinosawa, Hotokega-ura, and Oma

May 4, 2009


On day 2 we set out at the crack of dawn (5:00 AM) to look for the world’s Northern-most monkeys.  These are of course the near legendary snow monkeys of Japan.  The ones in this region don’t take baths in hot springs though.  Those are found exclusively in Nagano Prefecture which is Southwest of Aomori.

We first went to a park named Wakinosawa where we disappointingly saw monkeys living in captivity.

Not so wild.

We left the park and drove to Hotokega-ura (a coastline along Shimokita’s Northern tip).  Along the way we found monkeys in a much more natural setting. We had heard about a shortage of food for the monkeys in the mountains so we were happy to see a couple who seemed to be doing alright for themselves.

Eventually we reached Hotokega-ura and it was awesome.  Since the coastline gets battered so heavily in winter, the cliffs and surrounding rock structures have eroded into some very interesting shapes.

Last, but certainly not least, we went to the town of Oma.  Oma is the Northern tip of the main island of Honshu.  Aside from being able to see the Northern island of Hokkaido on a sunny day, Oma is also home to some of the best tuna in the world.  As you can imagine, it’s also expensive.  We’ve been told that landing a single tuna in Oma and selling it will get you enough money to make a down payment on a house.  For lunch we decided to try a sample and see what all the fuss was about.

Julie pointing to our location on a map of Japan in Oma.



Even with such an action packed day, we were able to make it back to Noheji in the afternoon on account of our early start.  I’m feeling better.  The fever is gone but the cold is far from over.  Thankfully we have three more days off before we have to go back to work again.  By then I should be fully recovered.

Miyazaki and Aomori

December 5, 2008


In case you don’t know, Hayao Miyazaki‘s films basically represent the gold standard of Japanese animation.  His gorgeous, whimsical movies are famous the world over for rich characters, beautiful animation, and engaging storylines.  They are imaginative films suitable for people of all ages and cultures.  Miyazaki frequently dwells on themes involving the nature of good and evil, man’s relationship with the environment, childhood, and pacifism.

I enjoyed watching his movies in the States.  The settings he created on film were so imaginative and new to me it felt like another world unto itself.  However, now that I live in Japan, there are elements of his movies that seem strangely familiar.  There have been times in the past few months, walking in the woods, riding a bicycle past a meadow with chirping cicadas, hiking mountains, when I felt I was actually in one of Miyazaki’s movies.  Until recently I thought I was just enchanted by Japan’s natural beauty and constructing a connection when there was none.  However, it turns out I may be on to something.


Matsushima Bay

November 25, 2008


On Sunday we took a road trip with two friends to Matsushima Bay where we discovered hundreds of islands covered in trees, all the oysters one could ever ask for, a mesmerizing after-dark reflective pool, and shrimp-puff craving sea gulls.

But first we had to get there.  To get from Towada City, Aomori to Matsushima, Miyagi (two prefectures away from us but still in the Tohoku region) by car took about 4 hours of driving on toll roads.  Our total for a one-way trip on the toll road came to about $63, which we obviously split four ways.  Had we taken the shinkansen (bullet train), it would have cost us about $100 per person.

Matsushima Bay is one of only three official national scenic wonders in Japan.  We wanted to get a good look of the hundreds of islands that encircle the bay so we took a boat ride at around the same time the sun was setting.



These behaviorally conditioned sea gulls wanted snacks.  On every trip you can buy shrimp puffs to fling at the birds as they try to catch them in their beaks flying off the boat’s stern.

Here is our friend Bryan feeding sea gulls:

The shallow, cold water is an ideal location for oysters to live, die, and be eaten by tourists.

After our boat ride we were surprised to discover that something major was happening at a temple in the center of town.  Lights had been set up along a particularly scenic path through the woods.  It was breathtaking.  Then, at the end of the path, you encounter what appears to be a bottomless pit with trees growing inside.  You think the laws of gravity have been suspended but then you realize that it’s actually the most reflective pool of water you’ve ever seen.  The pictures don’t do it justice.  We really wish we had a tripod.  One of the trees was very vertical and had shed all its leaves.  Its bare branches, when reflected in the pool, looked like the tree’s roots extending deep into a hole with all the soil removed.  Definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

Like I said, next time we'll bring a tripod.

We left shortly after our walk in the woods and arrived home by 11:30 PM.  It was a wonderful trip.

Please click here if you would like to see all 185 photos we took in Matsushima.

Japan Update

July 16, 2008

Julie and I are leaving Wisconsin this morning.  We’ll be arriving in Oregon in a few days to take care of last minute preparations for Japan.  The blog entries will probably be pretty sporadic for the next month or so but once we secure an internet connection in Noheji, we’ll keep it updated regularly.

Also, there have been some changes to our placements.

It turns out that I will be at Noheji High School.  I’ll travel to Hiranai and Rokkasho a few times a month.

Julie will be teaching at several junior highs and elementary schools in the area, including many in Noheji.

For any family or friends reading this that we had the pleasure of visiting this trip, thank you for inviting us into your homes.  We luv ya.

Time for waffles!

Back in da U.P, eh?

July 13, 2008

Whew, what a day.

My parents took Julie and me on a road trip through my dad’s old stomping grounds in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Along the way we stopped at the Swedish Pantry, a fantastic restaurant in the town of Escanaba.  As you might except, they serve many of the traditional Scandinavian dishes of the region including Swedish pancakes, meatballs, and potato sausage.



But I’ve written enough about food here lately.  We also met up with two of my dad’s best friends.  One of the friends recently finished building a log cabin from scratch.  It’s amazing.

From there we paid a visit to my dad’s childhood home in Rapid River.  Memories from past summer vacations came flooding back.  Catching fireflies, throwing the football with my brother over the roof of the house, afternoon runs to the park, desserts at Dairy Flo, visiting in the living room, drinking Minute Maid fruit punch while watching Thundercats and cheering during the summer Olympics, among others.

Next we went to Big Spring, a natural spring located in a state park east of Rapid River.  Wow.  Definitely one of the most amazing natural spectacles I have ever seen and I grew up here.  I’ll try my best to describe it.

Basically rain and snowmelt from higher elevations seep into the earth and flow downward towards the area.  Cracks in the dolomite bedrock allow the water to escape back to the surface at a rate of 10,000 gallons per minute.  The water is so clear that you can see through straight to the bottom (about 45 feet).  A raft with a pulley system takes you across the surface and allows you to peer down at the turquoise, translucent water and the vents and lake trout that lay underneath.

Those logs are completely submerged.

Those logs are completely submerged.

Then we drove back and celebrated my dad’s birthday.

More Culinary Traditions

July 10, 2008

Eat me.

Last night Julie and I ate pasties, a traditional dish in the Northeast Wisconsin/Upper Michigan area. The version seen above is basically ground meat, potato, and rutabaga baked in a pocket of crust. It’s a dense meal. In fact all the pasty needs is a light salad to make it complete. In this part of the country the pasty is traditionally eaten with ketchup or gravy.

The pasty has an interesting history. It apparently originated in Cornwall and spread to various places around the world. Eventually Cornish miners found their way to NE Wisconsin/Upper Michigan and brought the meat pie recipe with them. Finnish miners apparently followed after them, became enamored with the pasty, and adopted it as their own.

Anyway, it’s good.

Julie went with the gravy...

But wait, there’s more! Julie and I spent the day in Door County, Wisconsin, which is basically the thumb of the state’s proverbial hand. After a day of shoppin’, walkin’, and mini-golfin’, we participated in another culinary tradition of the area: the fish boil. The proper Door County fish boil involves boiling small red potatoes in water and salt for a few minutes before adding onions of similar size. Then comes the fish. In this case we were treated to whitefish caught fresh in Lake Michigan only hours earlier.

After the fish cooks for about 8 minutes or so, the chef dumps a coffee can of kerosene onto the fire (it’s cooked outside) that creates an enormous ball of heat. A rapid boil ensues and excess nasties roll out the top of the pot, onto the ground, and therefore out of our food.



As I watched this process I couldn’t help but worry about the flavor. It seemed as though we were headed for a bland dinner. I was wrong! The flavor was perfect. The dish somehow retained all of the good aspects of a fishy flavor while remaining moist and delicious. Awesome stuff. For dessert, homemade cherry pie made from Door County’s famous cherries.

We concluded the day by driving from Ephraim back to Sturgeon Bay. The sun was low on the horizon, giving a golden touch to the green, yellow, blue, and red hues of the Door County landscape. As we drove through the fields of corn and the barns of hay and dairy cows, I couldn’t help but think of something Edward Abbey once wrote:

“This is the most beautiful place on earth. There are many such places.”