Tuesday, August 30, 2011

To the Top of Torigata

On Sunday night I went to sleep at approximately 10:30PM and then struggled to fall asleep. It might have been due to the chocolate ice cream I consumed earlier in the evening. My ensuing problem of not falling asleep troubled me more and more as the minutes passed. How would I ever wake up at 2:30AM and make it out of the house for the sunrise? Moreover, how would I drive 300km through a twisting variety of roads and forgotten locations on such little sleep? The answer is called an alarm clock.

After stepping out into the crisp morning air and looking at the sky to ascertain the weather, it was hard to see any stars. This meant it could be a waste of time to drive all the way for the sunrise. But I checked the weather one more time and it said it would be entirely sunny all day. I walked about for a few moments weighing my options. Sunrise or bed? Sunrise or bed? There is still an element of risk that the sunrise might not be as spectacular as you envision. All the great photographs of bleeding sun scapes and burning clouds defile our desires and make us disappointed with the final emergence of the sun. Oh quit over analyzing the day and just go! An hour or two lost to the road pales in comparison to the suggested outcome of a beautiful sunrise.

I wasn’t only going to see the sunrise though. It just so happened to be along the way of my other destinations and fit in quite well with the schedule. My real objective was to make it to Nametoko Valley in order to slide down a waterfall which could be called a waterslide. It’s an 80 meter wall of rock that water slides down as opposed to falling over a ledge to the bottom. Waterslide can easily be a misnomer because when I hear the word I instantly think of a half tube of fiber glass with water gushing down it or a slide in someone’s back yard with a water hose attached. This waterfall was the whole reason for the trip in the first place.

Gathering up my camera gear, change of clothes, and an apple, I hit the road shortly before 3AM with slightly foggy eyes and a mind full of wonderful hopes for the day. I mentioned that I ate ice cream several hours previous to this point but I didn’t tell you that was about all I ate. So come 3:30AM that apple was rather tasty on the way over to the sunrise spot. The roads at this early in the morning are pleasant to drive on. Then again they aren’t very busy in the day time either with it being the countryside. Monica had taken me to this spot a month previous or so. The only problem is that it was dark and I didn’t know the area very well. Despite my best efforts to prepare myself with detailed map knowledge (and remember it) a few wrong turns were made. I thought I was so lucky because I saw a sign with the name of the location I was trying to get to. The only problem is that I didn’t pay careful enough attention to any other part of the sign. I vaguely remember saying it had something to do with mining and I figured it was just along the way to the top. The first time I went with Monica we had gone by some mining outfit and figured, “Hey this must be right! I’m doing great.” I turned my car onto the narrow road which the sign indicated and started climbing up to the top.

It’s very strange how things can feel so familiar even though you never have actually been to the spot you are at. I kept reminding myself I had been here before. It felt so familiar with the tiny houses along the narrow road, rows of densely packed cedar trees, and a road with enough turns to make a spring jealous. Even though I had left about 3AM it was getting around the time I should be stationed for the sunrise. Things seemed to be going great and my wrong turn earlier onto a different road that shouldn’t have taken me where I wanted did not reverberate in my mind. Suddenly I came upon a mining area with an assortment of shadowy buildings and the road came to an abrupt halt at a large rail road crossing like gate. “What!? This can’t be right. There was a gate last time but it wasn’t closed,” I said out loud to the dark morning air as I stepped out of the car. I got out to do a little investigation and walked a bit around trying to see where I was. Some darkly lit roads, sheds, and some random cars were scattered about. It all seemed somewhat right. Perhaps my mind was playing tricks and I just needed to open the gate or something. But surely if I was going to a park area on the mountain top it wouldn’t be closed off. Right? I mean, RIGHT?

My stress began to grow as I was now confronted with a closed gate, blocking my path to the sunrise spot, and I had come a pretty long way up the mountain wasting precious time. I decided to investigate the gate house and see if there was someway to raise the gate. On the side of the building I found an electrical box that said 手開ける and 自動開く(Manual and Automatic Operation) with a dial you could turn to the appropriate setting. There was also a button to activate the gate. I looked at the controls for a moment wondering the consequences of pressing the button. Would it actually open the gate or would an alarm go off because I hadn’t properly used the controls, alerting nearby people of my presence. That didn’t seem so terrible as I could play off any wrong doing by being confused, lost and a foreigner. Maybe people just had to open the gate this early in the morning to get through on certain days. But the more I stood there in the blinding headlights of my Honda Fit the crazier of an idea it seemed. So I went ahead and switched it to manual mode and pressed the button upon which a loud wailing alarm wen… Well that’s the story you wish I had to tell isn’t it? I got you, didn’t I? Sadly for you I just had to scurry back down the mountain and retrace my route in time to find the real way.

As I was barreling back down the mountain road and onto a main route I barely spotted a sign out of the corner of my eye. I slammed to stop in the middle of the road and backed up. What do you know? It was for 鳥形山公園 (Torigata Mountain Park) whereas the previous sign had said 鳥形鉱山業 (Torigata Mining Industry). I thought the first sign I saw that morning was a bit strange that it didn’t say park on it. Now I learned my lesson. Trust my Japanese reading instincts. Well I take that back because I did that and failed. So after seeing this sign I peel onto the road and jam up the mountain once again. I then realized I had found the route I intended to drive down from the top after the sunrise. I eventually got up higher on the mountain and came to some familiar locations. The mining area I thought I remembered was much different. There was no gate blocking the road and many less buildings. So much for my pristine memory. We can all be fooled by our memories. Scary isn’t it? I blazed through the remaining sections of road and came to the Torigata park at last just as the sky was starting to gain some color. I setup my gear and began to shoot the sunrise. With a bit of cloud cover in the distance and in the lower valleys, the color was wonderful.


Any lack of sleep or tiredness was beyond being discussed. The sunrise filled me with new inspiration for the day. I was going to need it as that waterfall was a good 100 kilometers away and I had only 2 ½ hours of sleep at max. It was only 5:50AM and the rest of the day lie in wait.


( Click here to view the rest http://www.flickriver/photos/buenokid )

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Saturday was great fun. The lovely Natsumi came down to Kochi to hang out for the day. We only live about 1 hour and 30 minutes from each other so it would have been a shame to never meet. She will move to Tokyo soon and time was running out. Luckily she had time and things worked out. Excellent.

Tsunami Mama

I wasn't feeling the most trigger happy with my camera so didn't shoot much all day. I mostly wanted to take some pictures at Katsurahama. Natsumi and I managed to eat some delicious fish, see the little old Kochi castle, chow on some cheese cake, ride the trolley, hit the famous Katsuramaha beach, and then hauled ourselves to a waterfall. It rained on the way there but the skies opened long enough for us to walk 400 meters to the fall. It was great with the recent rain. i didn't carry my camera because of the rain and water. Another day but you have already seen this fall before. Natsumi suddenly was startled and I turned back to see her pointing out a snake along the path. I walked right over the little guy. Glad I didn't step on him and get a painful bite. At least it wasn't venomous. We even managed to finish up the evening with BLT sandwiches and two kinds of locally made ice cream, gelato salt and brown sugar ice cream, back at my house. Twas a wonderful day and I love the deep sleep because of it.

It was a bit of a somber day at Katsurahama as a kid fell into the water and drowned shortly before we got there. They never found the body and there is no way he could have survived the waves.


Looking west toward the other end of Kochi. You can't see but it keeps going south.


The salt spray suspended in the heat of the afternoon.


The shrine where the previous two pictures were taken from. You can see a firefighter posted looking for the boy on the rock below the shrine.


There is a giant statue of Kochi's most famous figure Sakamoto Ryoma but I didn't take a picture. I wonder why...

Tomorrow is going to be interesting. 2:30am departure from the house for sunrise at Torigata and then onward to waterfalls! That's if I wake up...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Soaked Up

It was rather rainy today. I like the rain sometimes, if it doesn't complicate my life. Even though it makes the temperature a bit cooler the humidity is still high. By the time I walk anywhere outside I'm working up a nice sweat as usual. I didn't grab my umbrella when I walked home for lunch thinking I made a wise decision based on cloud formation. A few minutes on my way home the rain starts to drizzle and is eventually raining pretty heavily. I didn't bother to try to save myself and got soaking wet. I just changed all the clothes after lunch and was fine. It was kind of a long afternoon and I was uncomfortable at my desk. So freeing to get home and relax.

As I didn't have much else to do other than sit on the computer. I thought I would take a stab at making pretzels. I had been thinking about it for a while and seemed like it would be a very delicious endeavor regardless of the end result. Cooked dough in an oven no matter how bland or.... I was going to say overcooked but I take that back. I DON'T like overcooked bread. From raw soupy dough to cooked perfection is all right.

Without too many mundane details just take a look at my picture and wish you were eating these. Not bad for the first time.

First Batch of Pretzels Ever

Quick simple dough, short boil, bake in the oven, let cool. Tasty pretzels in a land that pretzels don't show up in. I feel satisfied. So what is next? Cheesecake?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

To The Nakatsu!

It seems the most candid discussion I have with the English teacher at school involve subjects such as food, cats, and sleeping. I learned that it's quite expensive to keep so many cats. I also learned that it's normal to visit the animal hospital once a week and spend 300 dollars. You must really love those animals to fork over that dough every month. I don't see a smile though. She grimaces just mentioning the cost. Perhaps in over her head and can't off load the cats now. She is in a trap!

The weather forecast cooperated for once and it was nice in the afternoon. I trudge home through the thick air and ate my leftover chicken curry in the air conditioned living room. Somehow I didn't fall asleep and managed to get out into the wide and wonderful surroundings of my existence.

Monica had suggested I visit Nakatsu Valley about 30km from my house or so. It is a quaint valley with some nice boulders and a lively stream. There are also a number of statues along the path up the valley. I didn't take much care to look out for them. Statues hardly interest me. I loved this jolly guy with the fish though.

Jolly Fish Man

I enjoy the tendrils and vines of various plants that grow off the rock. This one was especially nice because of it's suspension.

Nature's Thread

The path up the valley goes back and forth a few times over the stream and along the sides. Not a very strenuous or the most interesting walk but peaceful and relaxing.

Nakatsu Valley

This is looking back down some of the path. I love places like this despite the human influence. But I also like going to a waterfall where there is no concrete path or stairs.

Nakatsu Valley Path 2

Just zig zagging up the valley.


Nearing the falls. The roar in this part begins to deafen the ears.


Rewarded greatly.


As I was turning to leave I felt something grabbing my leg... Some spirit none too happy for me to have traversed into the tranquil roar of its fall? But realized it was my water bottle falling out of my bag. It then fell to the canyon floor below and vanished. As Bear Grylls says water bottles are always useful and you can find them wherever you go. I just hope someone is in peril and can find good use for it...

Am I doing this right? Yeah totally.

Am I Doing This Right?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cooking Class

The English club at a local middle school holds a cooking class during the summer break and because I went last year it was logical to expect I would go this year too. It's nice to break up the days being stuck in the office and doing something different. That doesn't mean it's all the better though. I think the cooking class, even though its run by the English club/teacher, is just an excuse to make food during the break when there isn't anything better to do. Well that's fine but we aren't really teaching or learning to make things. We just kind of make the food and people eat it.

The Japanese made somen (simple cold noodle dish) and the ALTs made meat loaf, rice crispy treats, and brownies. I enjoyed all of these quite a bit. Still, it was a bit boring to be there. The best part was just being with other Americans for part of the day. Being able to converse freely in person with someone from back home is always nice no matter how you look at it.

The English teacher at the middle school brought her two sons along. The youngest was quite the little ham. When I was mashing my meat loaf together and forming it into the loaf shape, he chimed in and said, "That looks like a brain! Are you going to cook a brain?" Not to let a good opportunity go to waste I responded, "Lets bake your brain! Muahaha!" He ran away terrified by my devilish words. He asked if I was a devil to which I replied no and stuck out my hand to shake his and say we were friends. As soon as I grabbed his hand and began to shake it, I then yelled, "I'm going to cook your brain now!" He threw himself into a ridiculous fit of scared merriment that made my insides glow with vibrant sunshine and happiness. Probably one of the best parts of the day.

Japanese girls can be unmercifully shy. How is this behavior so predominant? NO IDEA.

Monday, August 22, 2011


The weekend? What weekend? I hardly remember anything that happened.

Saturday I recall talking to Nate and not much else.

Sunday I met up with some folks and went for a swim at the legendary Niko Waterhole. I'm always cursed to swim on cloudy or rainy days there. Sometime the weather will cooperate with me. I've had the pleasure of jumping off the 30 foot tall waterfall 4 times now. Not that I'm so cool or anything to that extent, it's just that every time I get up there it makes me feel crazy. The satisfaction after the fact is even better. As I drop 30 feet through the air toward the water. My mind lets go and isn't sure what is happening. Impacting the water and sliding into a dark abyss of bubbles around my head is reassuring as I know I'm back down to earth so to speak.

After some talk of Japanese and cookies and who knows what, the friends and I trekked to the local ramen joint which serves up delicious and simple noodle bowls. Always good no matter how many times I eat it.

The best part was probably when we were leaving. I look over at the car next to me and I see something riding shotgun with the lady in the passenger seat. I glance back into my car then look back one more time. No it wasn't really anything. I look at my steering wheel and think that I surely saw something. I look one more time and much to my surprise a giant rooster is riding up front in the car. Now I know people keep pets of all kinds but this is a first to see a rooster riding up front in a car. I turn to my friend's car and smile. I tell them to put down their window and look over at the car next to me. They bust out in harmonious laughter at the sight of a chicken hanging out in a car. I never looked over to see the reaction of the people with the chicken being laughed at. It wasn't so much they were the center of the laughter but the sheer fact of it being a rooster. I wasn't aware chickens made any sort of good pet. Maybe this rooster had some great genetics for reproduction. I will forever wonder in my imagination of such things.

School is still very quiet. I often wonder what the other teachers think of me while I sit there minding my business day in and day out. I like it when hardly any of them are around in the afternoon. It's so peaceful and relaxing in a way. It just so happened that my arch nemesis and I were left alone in the afternoon. Realizing I wasn't coming in tomorrow because of another event and the end of the day was approaching I had to break the icy atmosphere to tell her. Now I could have just left and not told anyone but if I didn't show up tomorrow they might wonder and it would be extremely irresponsible and un-Japanese like to not indicate my whereabouts to some extent. As a side cultural note it's very common for Japanese people to say where or what they will be doing if they leave the room. Just a common courtesy thing I suppose or something to do with the communist ideology permeating the countryside through the sirens and announcements over the loud speakers. Anyway... before I could explain where I was going tomorrow I thought my nemesis was getting ready to leave so I sheepishly asked if she was leaving soon. She informed me that she would be around still and that it was okay if I was still there.

I've had a long standing cold war with this teacher ever since last November and the fateful cultural festival at school. It's been awkward to say the least. But in that single moment of asking a simple question it seems the Berlin Wall has come down between us in some form. We went back to the old times of talking about English and Japanese. I think she was probably happy and so was I. I wonder if she has been waiting this whole time for me to talk to her again or likewise. Perhaps from now on we will have some sort of friendship again. I guess I should have tried to talk to her again sooner.

However you have no idea how prepared I was to win this cold war if it meant leaving without ever speaking again. You know I would do it...

Friday, August 19, 2011

First Week Back Finished Like A True Pro

My right arm is feeling strained from sitting at the computer too much. This can't be helped.

It's not like I am wasting my time at the computer. I'm using it as a valuable study tool. Today was highly productive and I started looking at grammar for the N2 Japanese proficiency exam. A book that I was thinking of buying was located somewhere on the internet and I can know begin preparations instead of wait. I remember reading some of this book when I was doing by first teaching observation. I found it so hard to understand most of the example vocabulary. As continued study has shown, my comprehension continues to improve on all levels. (speaking maybe...) I'm feeling kind of excited about the prospect of taking the proficiency exam. That drives me to keep studying and learning new things.

This morning I told the baseball team members that tomorrow I was going to die. They probably don't have any framework that can contain me. That's good. They don't need to figure it out or want to anyway so we will have an eternal relationship of misunderstanding and confusion. Great.

It's been about 5 years now since I first walked into the Japanese classroom. Formal classroom instruction is only about 3 1/2 years though. It's time to push onward and get my Japanese up to a high level.

Time for the weekend. I want to find a river but dad told me I shouldn't go alone. I will take his advice as I can imagine slipping on a algae covered rock and breaking my neck wouldn't be fun.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lonely Monkey Traps

Unfortunately the monkey still has not been caught. I think they need to relocate the trap and trying something else. I wouldn't be fooled walking into that rusty old contraption. You always see in movies how animals are so clever not to get caught in traps. Do they really think like that in the real world? Obviously some don't as they will succumb to such devices. Are others smarter than the traps? I don't think they will ever catch that monkey. If they do I'm afraid to even go near a monkey in a small cage. Poop being flung in the face does not sound appealing.

Last night I made brownies and bagels. The brownies were tasty as usual. I've worked out a pretty solid recipe for those. The bagels on the other hand need some perfecting. I want a thick solid inside with a crispy outside. What I got last night was something like that except in the morning the outside was soft and kind of soggy. What is the secret to a delicious bagel? I guess I will have to push deeper to solve the mystery. I'm slowly discovering the secrets of my oven. I was a bit troubled when I made pizza for the first time and it didn't cook anywhere close to what I wanted. On the other hand, the oven is really nice once you figure out the proper baking temperatures and times.

I finally destroyed the impending doom of flashcards piling up against my back. All 1,740 of them finished. Only took me about 4 days and some mental lock down but I did it. I think I should get a book to help study grammar for the N2 Japanese proficiency exam as well as some vocabulary. Kanji wise I think I could probably pass fine in that aspect. Really feels great to have some learning gains that you can clearly see.

With money finally sent back home I can begin looking at a new camera lens. 10-22mm wide angle? Yes please.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Study Attack Go!

As I sat browsing through the depths of the internet today. I checked out the sample test to be certified to teach Japanese as a foreign language. Compared to when I checked that in college I could notice a big difference in my comprehension of the reading portion. Still I need to really brush up on grammar usage and such. I even want to get back at writing kanji again. I've had this burst of desire before and then I let it go. I'll just try to reasonably approach writing kanji at a steady pace. I figure if someday I want to teach some legitimate Japanese I better make my studies count. I have all the time and I'm in the best country to make that happen. So here is to expanding my foundation of Japanese in not only reading but in written forms as well!

In other interesting news... the town office is out to capture a pesky monkey terrorizing the parking lot. That might be too strong of word but he was crawling on cars today from what I could see. They now have a big metal trap sitting in a garden out behind my house with some vegetables and fruit inside. The big problem is that the monkey can probably just reach through the cage and grab the goods. I can't wait to wake up and see a monkey caught. I would even be tempted to let it go just so I could see it get caught again. I'll get a picture of the trap tomorrow perhaps if it isn't too late.

10+ experience points to me for eating a whole box of cookies tonight.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lets Write

Been just over a year since I arrived in Japan. Blogging on a consistent basis requires supreme dedication which I may or may not have. I would like to start writing things again just for the sake of history. I may want to look back many years from now and reflect on the happenings in my life. Might be good to have a virtual imprint in some form other than pictures.

Here is to my best intentions for this upcoming year.

Lets see what trouble I can get into in Japan round 2.