Sunday, September 10, 2006

Hiroshima and the Inland Sea

For our last week in Japan, we took the bullet train west and explored Hiroshima and the Inland Sea (between Honshu and Shikoku).

We visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Peace Park. The central message of the memorial was not to point the finger and blame those responsible for such horrible atrocities, but to look forward and warn the future generations so that they do not make the same mistakes.

The A-bomb dome was one of the only buildings left standing near the hypocenter of atomic bomb.

Hiroshima has a lot to offer besides a solemn past. One of the highlights was eating okonomiyaki, a fried cabbage and egg pancake, that tastes best while watching a Hiroshima Carp baseball game.

After a day in Hiroshima, we headed back east to Okayama-ken and took a ferry to Shiraishi Island in the middle of the inland sea. We spent four relaxing days hiking, swimming, reading, and eating on this peaceful little island. We stayed in Okayama International Villa which is like a high-end hostel for couples and young families. It was exactly the pace of life we were looking for after working in and traveling around Japan.

Shiraishi Island has great hiking trails with broad views of the inland sea. Doug enjoyed climbing on all the big boulders.

It was very hot on the island and hiking under the mid-day sun is not recommended. We had to take it very slow.

Japanese Alps Onsen

Before our JSPS final ceremonies and Tokyo, we head northwest to the Japanese alps for a quick dip in a Japanese Onsen (natural sulfur bath and spa). The food was great and the mountains (which were not very tall or 'alps-like') were very scenic. We have videos of both the men's bath and the high-tech toilet.

The outdoor bath was by the side of a mountain stream. The hot sulfur water takes a while to get used to, but it does make the skin feel very soft. Lovely.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


This was our first extended weekend in Tokyo. Though it was exceptionally hot, we were able to enjoy many different events.

First was the Youssou N'Dour concert. Who would have thought that we would finally get to see him in Tokyo.

We also got to a Japanese baseball game. Though baseball is the same in Japan, the fans are not. Fans from both teams were at the dome and did choreographed cheers for the whole time.

Doug thought it was very amusing to see sushi venders rather than the hotdog stands at US baseball games.

We planned on spending an afternoon in the Imperial Palace grounds but had to cut our time short due to the fact that were running late to our brunch. We plan to return to actually see the palace

Tokyo has many great museums. We decided to go to ____ Museum since we were told it had many hands on exhibits. Any architect would have loved the museum for its many beutiful models of the Edo period.

Lastly we enjoyed having tea at the Park Hyatt Hotel. The view was superb, though it was too cloudy to see Mt. Fuji. You can also see the Hotel by watching the movie Lost in Translation. I do think Morri tower in Tokyo does rival the Hotel. Especially with their bullet speed elevators.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Research in Tsukuba

This summer isn't actually all about traveling. We each got a fellowship to study with a professor/researcher of our choice in Japan. Doug is working on musical analysis with machine learning at the National institute of Advance Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) through the National Science Foundation. Megan is studying Epidemiology at the University of Tsukuba through the National Institute of Health.

Megan's office is at the University of Tsukuba's Medical school where she works under Dr. Wagatsuma, MD, PhD, MPH, one of two female professors at the Univerity. They are working on analyzing all of Zimbabwe's Schistosomiasis data from the 1996-2002. It has been tougher than expected, mainly due to thousands of missing data entries.

Doug advisor is Masataka Goto, a world expert in Music Information Retrieval. Doug is also working with Elias Pampalk, another world expert, who is a post-doc working with Masataka for the year. (See Elias' Blog about Tsukuba.) Both have filled Doug's head with great ideas throughout the summer.

The lab has been a very inspiring place due to the fact that Masataka has had many students working at AIST during their summer semester. In the photo, we have Masataka-sensei and his hachi merry students: Katsu, Elias, Tommi, Hiro, Masataka, Doug, Nishio, Ohishi, and Ito.

One project that other members of our group work on involves a dancing robot.


Mount Koya (Koyasan) is the center of Shingon Buddhism. There are over one hundred temples in the small town a few hours south of Kyoto. It was much cooler on top of the wooded mountain than it was in the urban jungles of Kyoto and Osaka.

We spent two nights at a temple. We woke up early to participate in the morning prayers and were able to eat a lot of great vegetarian cuisine.

The old cedar trees were enormous. Doug became one with nature.


Arriving in Kyoto after our train ride from Mt. Fuji we found ourselves in a sauna. Kyoto is surrounded by mountains and the heat from the ocean gets trapped in the town. Luckily after visiting the beautiful sites when quickly forgot how much we were sweating.

Our favorite spot in Kyoto was Ryoan-ji Temple. A pan of Ryoan-ji

We arrived early in the morning before the crowds arrived to sit in front of the zen garden, consisting of 15 rocks of various sizes stating in a seas of raked white gravel.

Glenn, Sandy, and Megan spent a long time sitting between the rock garden and the adjacent moss garden.

Afterward, we walked around the lake where we found a small tea house that served us a vegetarian snack overlooking a secluded Japanese garden.

The lily pad lake in Ryoan-ji was perfect. There was even a small island in the middle that you could get to by a small bridge. Unfortunately they did not allow us to take the boat out.

In every temple you will find the water spouts that are used for tea ceremonies or for washing your hands before entering a sacred area.

Before my parents left for Japan, Sarah told them to keep an eye out for the rainbells that hang down from the gutters. We took many pictures of these and hope to add them to our Ithaca cottage.

Another favorite spot was Fushimi Inari in the southeastern side of Kyoto. We took a long hike at dusk through hundreds of red torii up and down the mountain. The mountain was very spooky with the cicadas screeching all around us.

Mount Fuji

Luckily we started our Mt. Fuji ascent in the sunshine at the usual 5th station. The first day we did about 4 hours of hiking on the Kawagushi-ko track, finally stopping at the "not real" 8th station mountain hut. Deciding that we would prefer to hike during the day rather than at night we hunkered down to sleep along side hundreds of other climbers.

Unfortunately when we woke up for the 4:45 am sunrise the rain clouds had covered our view. With mom feeling a little sick, we left her at the "real" 8th station, and summited the mountain in fierce

Our hike back down was more of a fun slide down the volcanic ash. We choose the ash covered trail, Subashiri track, which allowed us to return to the bottom of the mountain without destroying our knees.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Fuji Five Lakes

We travel to Fuji go-ko (five lakes) with Megan's officemates for a long "Marine Day" weekend. (We are not really sure what Marine day is suppose to celebrate and neither is Wikipedia.) We stayed the first night overlooking Lake Yamanaka. We had great views of Mount Fuji at dusk and daybreak when the clouds subsided.

Our first view of Fuji-san came after sundown. As it got darker, we could see a little stream of light from the thousands of hiker heading up the north face of the mountain in order to catch the sun raise. We had a better view just before dawn.

Fuji-san is about 3700 meters tall. What makes it so powerful is that it is a high peak among foothills. The perfect volcano shape is actually a result of three separate volcanoes.

We hiked the first half of the of the volcano from the Sengen Shrine to the fifth station. The Sengen Shrine was the traditional starting place for the ascent up Fuji-san. The first half of the hike was in beautiful woodlands and through many sacred places. It was also virtually devoid of people which is strange since the top half of the hike is one of the most popular hikes in the world.

It was nice having a 3-day weekend, but traveling during Japanese holidays is not so enjoyable. The lesson that we learned is to take the train if possible. We got stuck in a four hour traffic jam on the way home.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Sumo in Nagoya

This past weekend we headed to Nagoya to see a Sumo tournament. We traveled on Japan's fastest train, a Nozomi Shinkansen, and made the trip from Tokyo in about 90 minutes. On Saturday, we head North to Inuyama and visited the oldest castle in Japan. While it was pretty modest compared with castles in Britain or Europe, the commanding view and the river access must have made it a mighty fortress.

Megan sits and looks out of a fourth floor window of Inuyama Castle.

Doug poses on the roof of the castle.

We headed to Inuyama to see cormorant fishing. The fishermen light a fire that hangs over the side of their boat. The fish are then attracted to the flame and the ten trained cormorants catch the fish. The fisherman control the birds using leashes that prevents them from swallowing the fish. The bird is plucked from the river and the fish is removed from the bird's mouth.

The fisherman and his team of cormorants are looking for some not-so-tasty river fish.

The main event in Nagoya was the annual Sumo tournament (Honbasho). There are six such tournaments nationwide throughout the year. We went on the opening day. Early in the afternoon, we were able to sit in the front row and watch the wrestlers up close and personal. We didn't have anyone with us to explain what exactly was going on, but the rules seemed kind of simple. If you fell down or touch the ground outside of the ring, you lost. It would have been nice to have some explanation of all the ceremonial happenings, but I guess that is why we have wikipedia. To this end, I am afraid that our descriptions below might not be all that accurate.

Here are a couple of pictures and videos from our experience.

The sum wrestlers are introduced before the fighting begins.

The sumo wrestlers are called to the ring by some aspiring
male vocalists

As the day moved on, there were more and more 'pre-fight hype' for lack of a better expression. The most common movement was the leg lift.

The sumo wrestlers prepare for the "go" command from the referee. When the command is issued, they explode at one another. This sometimes resembles a slapping fight, but usually involves a hold or a push until one gets pushed out of ring or turned onto the ground.

There is nothing quite like two giants sumo wrestlers falling off the stage.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Nikko National Park

On our second full weekend in Japan, we head to Nikko where there are a number of temples that some say rival those found in Kyoto. We spent Saturday in the world heritage village where there are five magnificent sites, including the ornate Toshu-gu shrine and the Rinnoji Temple. Megan's favorite part was seeing the original "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" monkeys.

Washing hands before entering Tosho Gu temple.

Reading about all the World Heritage Sites in front of the Five Story Pagoda.

We travel north to Yumoto Onsen ( onsen means `hot-spring') and got our first Japanese bathing experience. The sulfur baths were extremely refreshing, especially after a day of hiking.

We arrive in Yumoto Onsen about an hour later than expected due to a mix-up in the bus schedule. When we showed up the temple where we had made reservations, the attendant at the door pretty much told us to leave. So we did. Luckily the town is a ski resort town so their were plenty of other places to stay.
Unluckily, there were not places to eat since all of the inns had already served their guests dinner. Instead, our healthy dinner was put together at the one and only convenient store minutes before it closed.

We spent Sunday hiking in the Nikko national park. Our goal was to climb Nikko-Shirane-san , the highest peak in the park, but the looming clouds made us adjust our plans. We did climb about 1000 meters of elevation and saw a beautiful high altitude lake.

Looking down at Goshiki Numa after a long slog up the mountain.

We were caught in a refreshing rain storm while descending. The tropical vegetation and deep muddy ruts made going down much harder than going up.

Living in Tsukuba

On the top floor of Ninomiya House, our apartment building for foreign researchers, there is a beautiful tea room. We got the chance to participate in the ceremony. It was very hard to sit like the Japanese do for more than 30 seconds.

Here our teachers show us how it is done.

Megan enjoys here matcha. I don't know if we felt the wa (harmony), the kei (respect), the sei (purity), or the jaku (tranquility), but the tea was good to the last drop.

Megan got a chance to `shake' her own cup tea.

This is from the hike up Mount Tsukuba (a.k.a., Tsukuba-san). We went with two other students, Juliana and Elias, living in Ninomiya House. Juliana is JSPS summer fellow from UC Santa Cruz and is studying Earthquakes in Japan (very important work). Elias is a post-doc from Vienna who is working with Doug and Doug's advisor, Dr. Goto, on music analysis and computer audition.

Tsukuba-san is a holy mountain in the Shinto and Buddhist religions. The forest is very old and full of big and beautiful trees.

The t-shirts in this country are great. This is a passionate boy looking out from the top of Mt. Tsukuba.

Tsukuba Apartment

Here are some photos of our apartment in Tsukuba which is located about an hour North of Tokyo. You can also check out a
video tour
of our apartment as well.

A simple shot of our simple apartment. Megan loves the rice paper walls.

Meg meditating in our small, but perfect, sunroom overlooking Tsukuba.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hayama Homestay

During our homestay in Hayama, Megan stayed with the Sunahara family while Doug and our friend Maseo stayed with Chimomo-san right up the hill.

Megan in her kimono overlooking the summer palace in Hayama. The kimono was a generous birthday gift from Chimomo-san.

Maseo trying tuna eye in a Tsukiji Fish Market district of Tokyo. Notice the slime coming off the eyeball.

The fish is so fresh in Tsukiji that the fish still seem to be alive.

Kimura-san, the emperor's potter, outside his studio in the hills over Hayama.

Doug pretends to be a master potter, but fails miserably.

Chimomo, a chef of much regional fame, treats Doug and Maseo from within her modest kitchen.

The happy Sunahara family outside their home.

Hikari reading in her Hayama home.