Saturday, May 17, 2008

Kamiubestu Tulip Adventure

Remember my very first friend in Japan, Aki? Aki told me about Kamiubestu, a tuplip farm an hour and a half from Nishiokoppe. Not knowing exactly what to expect, we hopped in the car on Saturday to check it out. Look who we ran into there.... hi Aki!
Not knowing what to expect is kind of the theme of our time in Japan. We were surpirsed to see so many people, huge tour busses, even a helicopter tour of the tulip fields. What a strange place to come closest to feeling the "crush" of humanity so synonymous with Japan. Nova, feeling the crush of tulips. I have great memories of my mom taking me to the Skagit Valley for tulip viewing when I was a kid in Seattle. It was flashback city, watching wander the rows and rows of color. Great view of the valley from the windmill.
Where tulips bloom today, Japanese soldiers used to work at a farm camp on this very site. A couple re-enactors try their hand at fire-starting the old fashioned way with a wooden dowel and a piece of string outside the Kamiubetsu town museum.
This museum was designed by famous architect, Watanabe Toyokaz. It was a surreal sight as backdrop to the tuplip fields.
Ainu ice skates maybe? Brrrr! On our way back home we stopped to get gas. Despite the word "diesel" on our gas tank the service attendant pumped our car full of "ni ju litters" gasoline. Luckily our car decided to stop working right in front of the Monbestu airport. And that is how we ended up at the ANA service counter.
Emi, spoke excellent English and helped us phone the superintendant of school's wife, Kamaya-san for a ride. Emi is SO getting a thank you card!

Killing time at the Monbestsu airport looks a lot like killing time at the Juneau airport.
We think customer service in Japan might be the best in the world. The service station manager from Kamiubetsu drove the 1/2 hour to Monbetsu and waited with us until the tow guy came then waited until our car was repaired. Luckily our car was ready within a few hours and we made it home safe and sound.
Lots of JapAffirmations today!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tanjoubi Omedeto Nova!

A day of flowers, showers, sugar and fun for Nova's 6th birthday; her first of two in Japan. This year Nova's birthday fell on Mother's Day. I can't think of a better way to celebrate being her mom than with birthday love.Nova spent the morning hanging out with her future husband Ryuya. Watch that arm there, buddy.

Birthday Cupcake Challenge: For some reason I've always been intimidated by making cupcakes from scratch. When relayed this to Shawn's grandma Rosie over the phone she said, "Well honey, it's just like making a cake." I didn't have the heart to tell her, I don't exactly whip up cakes from scratch either. But thanks to this awesome food blog,, I managed to make some pretty darn good cupcakes. See how pretty? Eat your heart out Cupcake Royale.

We took a break from easy bake and went for a walk up these steps to the shrine behind our house. A beautiful trail system winds around up there along the side of the ski hill. Little Buddha statues line the trail in stations of the cross like order. When we discovered this trail a week arriving in Nishiokoppe it was swarming with dragonflies. We've called it The Buddha-fly Trail ever since. Nova has a special relationship with the Buddhas. She's formed her own tradition of reverence and bows to each as we pass, saying respectfully, "Konnichiwa Buddha". Here she is communing with one along the way. They are in varying states of natural erosion. Some are completely covered in ivy. Some have broken in half.
Each one depicts a different pose. I'd love to know more about the significance of each figure sometime. We've never seen anyone else on this trail. Everyone I've asked has said they've never been back there. Our own magical Buddha-fly sanctuary. We were caught in a rain shower half way through. Everything smelled lovely and green.

My happy mother's day bouquet.These little trillium flowers were everywhere. They always remind me of hiking in Oregon.After our hike it was time to get ready for Nova's party. Nova invited our neighborhood friends the Taniguchi and Otosaka kids. It was a sugar induced frenzy of cake eating, dancing, movie watching (with the Japanese dubbing turned on), and fireworks. I saw Yugi bashfully stick popcorn he had dropped on the carpet into his pocket. I had just assured him Bunta would eat it up later so not to worry. I was impressed with how polite (and tidy) all these kids are. They were a lot of fun.
We were all missing our usual crew of Juneau friends and family this year. But Nova had a great birthday here in Nishiokoppe with her new friends and we're looking forward to one more before we head home.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Cherry Blossom Viewing

Cherry blossoms are blooming early in Hokkaido. Usui-san took us to his favorite cherry blossom viewing spot on Nishiokoppe grazing land.
A few solitary trees jutting out of the rolling hills made for a lovely first viewing experience.
WikkiAnswers told me this about the significance of cherry blossoms in Japan....
For the Japanese, the beautiful period of its flowering and then the all too soon fading and subsequent scattering of petals on the wind, symbolizes life itself -
but not life in some abstract and distant sense. The fragility of the cherry blossom is the fragility of human existence; its brief period of life, like our own; its implacable movement toward death. If it has five petals, it means luck, because five petals (much like a four leaf clover) is very rare.Thank you Usui-san. We had a great time!