Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category


January 1, 2010


On our third day we traveled an hour by train to a town located in the foothills of some mountains Southeast of Nagano City.  From there we took a 15 minute car ride up a mountain and walked one a half kilometers through a forest (and up the mountain a little further) before finally reaching a hot spring full of snow monkeys.  Pictures and videos below.

This one had a toy it was protecting.

Galloping on three paws to keep it safe from a thief.

I watched him roll the ball in fresh snow to make it bigger.

At first I thought he was doing some sort of balancing trick but after a few moments it became apparent that he was marking his toy.

"My precious."


More photos and videos here.


Winter Trip to Nagano, pt. 1

January 1, 2010


For the second year in a row Julie and I decided to spend our winter vacation exploring Japan outside the confines of Aomori Prefecture.  This year we decided to head to Nagano to see a friend, enjoy an onsen or two, and hang out with some monkeys.

We traveled by shinkansen (bullet train).

This looked like an interesting restaurant.

Guess the meat. Tuna? Beef? Horse? No. No. No. Minke whale? Yep. I guess it was inevitable that we'd eventually get around to eating whale in Japan. The worst part was that it was absolutely delicious (which made us feel even more guilty).

We stayed at ryokan (old style Japanese inn) in Nagano City. It totally reminded us of the inn in Spirited Away with its maze of stairs. If you haven't had the pleasure of watching that wonderful movie, I'll describe it another way: It was sort of like the world's most elaborate treehouse except, you know, built inside a box on the ground instead of a tree.

Relaxing at the ryokan.

On the third day it began to snow.

If you enjoyed any or all of the pictures above, please click here to see the rest of our non-monkey related Nagano photos.

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.

Summer Break, Britni’s visit: Kyoto

September 13, 2009

It took 7 hours to travel from Noheji to Kyoto by train.  Our $3 coffee (!) and novels made the time fly by quickly.  We left early enough to leave time to start exploring Kyoto on the day we arrived.

On the train

Kyoto City

Our first day, we managed to see Toji Temple, featuring the tallest pagoda in Japan, and the Fushimi Inari Shrine, featuring all of the bright orange Shinto gates framing a path through the mountainside.  We also managed to eat some yummy sushi and then bus to our hostel.


Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine

The next day, we rented bikes from the hostel; only $1 for the whole day!  We were delayed by a punctured tire, but still managed to visit Ryoanji (rock garden), Kinkakuji (aka the Golden Pavillion), Kyoto Imperial Palace, Kyoto National Museum, and the Kiyomizu (pure water) temple.  Whew!  This was my favorite day of the whole trip, because of the bikes.  It was sooo hot, so the breeze felt really nice and we were making really good time (better than the busses we passed).



Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto National Museum

Kiyomisu "Pure Water" Temple

View from Kiyomisu

On our third and last day in Kyoto, we went to Arashiyama to visit a famous bridge and a monkey park.  So cute!

Togetsukyo Bridge

We took a train to Tokyo that afternoon.

Summer Break, Britni’s visit: Tokyo

September 13, 2009


After arriving at Tokyo Station, we were able to navigate to our hostel train stop just fine, but we wandered for a good hour longer than we needed to before finally arriving at the actual hostel.  We actually walked right by it once, failing to notice the tiny sign in the window across the street from where we were walking.  After our third round of asking for directions, we found it!

Keeping with the trend, we decided to explore the area without a map or destination in mind.  We ended up stumbing upon not only a vending machine with HUGE cans of soda, but also a very polite waiter of a fancy bistro who gave us directions to a cheap yet delicious sushi place.  We found our way back with minimal confusion.

The next 5 days went like this: Disney Sea, shopping Harajuku and Shibuya, Ueno Park and Zoo, baseball at Tokyo Dome, and saying farewell at Tokyo Station.

Disney train

Disney Sea

Disney Sea

Disney Sea

red panda, Ueno Zoo



Ueno Park Fountain

Tokyo Dome

Hanshin Tigers vs. Yomiuri Giants

Tiger fans cheered their team to victory!

Thunder Dolphin, roller coaster near Tokyo Dome.

We did this at night! The view from the top was beautiful and the ride was crazy!

Thanks for visiting, Britni! :o)


August 3, 2009


Last week Julie found an awesome “recycle shop” in a nearby town.  The two of us returned a few days later and explored the vast labyrinth of antiques, forgotten toys, obsolete technology, lacquer bowls and plates, and cheap furniture and appliances.  It was an awesome find.

Afterwards we ate dinner at one of our favorite ramen restaurants.  It’s located pretty much right in the middle of nowhere in an inconspicuous building.  Inside, however, is some of the best ramen we’ve ever had — made from handmade noodles that are probably shipped from Sapporo.

Spicy miso broth.

Wedding in Alaska

July 18, 2009


Last Wednesday Julie and I took an overnight bus to Tokyo, hopped on an airplane bound for Vancouver, B.C., spent twenty four hours at the airport waiting for our next flight, flew to Anchorage, Alaska for a wedding, flew back to Vancouver, met up with Julie’s parents, sister, brother-in-law and nephews at the airport in Vancouver, flew back to Tokyo, took a bullet train to Aomori, and then a local train back to Noheji.

It was wonderful.  In Alaska we were able to spend some quality time with longtime friends we haven’t seen in at least a few years, including the bride and groom (Kenzi and Curtis, respectively).  Friday night, after the rehearsal, we went to the home of Kenzi’s parents for some whole roasted pig, salmon, halibut, barbecue chicken, salad, rice pilaf, and lively conversation.  They live on a mountain in Chugiak with a gorgeous view of Cook Inlet.  We managed to get a good picture of it as the sun began going down at 11:30 at night.

The wedding was perfect.  I’ve been friends with Curtis for the past sixteen years and am so happy he’s found the love of his life.  His wife, Kenzi, is a wonderful person.  I hope our next visit will come sooner rather than later.

Seeing Julie’s family was also very refreshing.  We had a great time catching up and were amazed by how much our nephews have grown in the past year.

Now we’re back to work, staying plenty busy until the students go on summer vacation.

Anyway, here are some photos:

On the trip, Julie began a new hobby — taking pictures of me sleeping with my mouth open.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

The view overlooking Cook Inlet that we alluded to earlier during the rehearsal dinner.

Looking up at another photographer before the ceremony.


Dad's dance.



Dudes of Valdez

After the reception we stayed at a hotel in Anchorage and ordered this pizza at midnight. It was one of the best decisions we made that weekend.

Anchorage airport.

'Merica Sized chips.

Playing with the nephews in Vancouver.

Our nephew Levi playing with a ball we bought for him and his brother. It changes color if you toss it.

Angela (Julie's sister) and Jack

Back in Tokyo

Pikachu Express

As always, more pictures here.

Catching Our Breath

July 7, 2009


Sports Festival

Last Friday my high school held their annual sports festival.  I think we’ve mentioned attending other school sports festivals in the past (Julie’s junior high and elementary schools, mostly) and this one was very similar.  The student body was divided into four teams — purple, red, green, and yellow.  Each grade has four homerooms so each team was comprised of three homerooms, or about 110 students.

To make sure everyone participates, group competitions and feats of strength are held.  We of course had a tug-o-war but there was also a timed battle to see how many rubber balls a team could throw into a wooden basket on the top of a tall pole.  And, in my favorite event of the afternoon, four students from each team lifted up a fifth teammate off the ground.  The teammate they carried wore a cap and charged at the opposing team who were doing the same thing.  When the two groups met in the middle of the field, the two students supported in the air tried to take off each others’ hats.  The game was repeated several times so that many people could participate.

Individual competitions were also repeated several times.  Although a single 100 m dash produced a single winner, the race was repeated as many as 10 times so that a total of forty students could participate and help their team accumulate points.

There is nothing like this in America.  The complete absence of individual accolades, teams of 100 plus, the formal and traditional greetings, march, and flag presentation before and after the festival — it would never work at a high school in the United States.  There are simply too many cultural differences.

Something else happened that struck me as being different.  During a student’s second and third year of high school, he or she may choose to enter the sports homeroom class.  In order to join you must play sports year round and, consequently, our best athletes belong to these two classes.  The third year student (seniors) sports class was on one of the teams, making them heavy favorites.  Yet they were narrowly beaten at the end by another team, the one featuring the sports team of the second year students (juniors).

In America, the land of the underdog, this would have been cause for celebration, and to be fair, there were a lot of students and teachers celebrating the surprising result.  But to me it felt a little sad and I sensed that in some of the people with me at the time, too.  The sports team was supposed to win.  It’s what they’re known for and they couldn’t quite pull off the victory.  I was reminded of all the episodes of Iron Chef (Japan) that I’ve seen over the years.  Eventually you reach a point with the Japanese version of Iron Chef when you stop cheering for the challengers.  You want the Iron Chef to win because it’s right.  Winning a cooking battle is part of their essence and when they are upset by a challenger, their excellence is called into question.  You want the Iron Chef to win because that’s what they’re supposed to do.  I felt the same way about the team with the senior sports class.


June 29, 2009


Julie likes surprises.  This year for our anniversary I decided to surprise her with a trip to Hakodate, a city located on the Northern island of Hokkaido.

Believe it or not, there is a train you can catch in Noheji that will take you to Hakodate.  How is this possible?  The Seikan Tunnel that links Honshu and Hokkaido underneath the Tsugaru Strait.  At 53.85 km, it’s the longest undersea tunnel in the world.

We arrived at the station at around 8:00 on Friday night, ate some tempura for a late dinner, and then went back to our guesthouse.  Here’s the view from our room:

We spent most of Saturday walking around the city.

Russian Orthodox Church. One of several old churches (including Roman Catholic and Episcopalian) in the same area. These vestiges of Western culture and architecture stem from the Kanagawa Treaty which opened up Hakodate to trade with the U.S. in 1854.

Eastern harbor

For lunch we decided to find some fresh sushi down by the harbor. It was probably the best we’ve had since our trip to Otaru (also in Hokkaido).

From left to right: squid, king salmon, and scallops. The squid sushi was easily the best we've ever had.

View from the Goryokaku Tower overlooking the star-shaped Goryokaku Fort.

Goryokaku Fort/Park. In spring this place is bursting with cherry blossoms.

Squid boats on the Western shore. The lanterns are used at night to lure squid closer to the surface. The owner of the guesthouse said we'd find many cats in this section of the city and we did. In fact, we probably found more cats than people in the neighborhood.

Raise the squid lantern.

In the evening we feasted on a Hokkaido specialty: soup curry.

Hakodate is famous for having one of the best night views in Japan. The owner of the guesthouse was nice enough to drive us up with mountain to see it. He also took this picture.

All in all, a lovely anniversary weekend.

Trivia Weekend

June 25, 2009


Last weekend we ventured South to the Oirase Gorge to participate in the annual Aomori trivia contest.  Fun was had before, during, and after the actual contest.  Here are some pictures of us exploring famous Lake Towada before the competition on Saturday afternoon.

Swan and pink dinosaur paddle boats.

Our friends opted for the swan boat.

Oh, and our team tied for third.