Saturday, 31 March 2012


This is probably usually associated with the large shrines that most tourists see in Japan. But what fascinates me is the many small shrines that appear to be near every home especially in the countryside. The entrance to most shrines is usually associated with one or multiple torii or gates consisting of two upright posts and two horizontal beams frequently painted orange. But there are many much more obscure shrines some with a vase of flowers, a green tea cup and not much else. What is the purpose of these shrines? I suspect that they are a means of offering thanks for everyday blessings and are apparently also used to ask for aid from the spirit world or kami.

Friday, 23 March 2012


Nariaki Tokugawa who designed the Kairukuen plum garden also had Kobuntei built as a place for nobility to live and entertain. It could also be used as a backup dwelling in case there was a problem with the castle. It is a very traditional building, three stories high with stairs that are extremely steep. There is a nearby teahouse and waiting area for the teahouse. The rooms are relatively small tatami floored rooms with beautiful murals on the sliding doors/walls. One rice straw tatami is 175 by 88cm. One room might be as small as six tatami mats. The roofs are made with very thick straw/grass bundles and the exterior walls with a unique brown coloured plaster reinforced with bamboo laths. One room displays a traditional tokonoma wall used to display artwork, scrolls of shodo (Japanese writing) or ikebana (flower arrangements). Another room has a small square pit in the floor that would have contained a charcoal fire to possibly heat a tea pot as well as warm the occupants of the room. One room has a moon window or door offering a view of the outside garden. Views of the garden from different angles can be seen from many areas of the building.
To view photographs please see Picasa at Kobuntei.

Pottery Sensei

January 10, 2012 we went to a windup potluck lunch and party hosted by the pottery teacher of Yayoi's second brother. The Nihonshu or sake available appeared to loosen the sensei's tongue and details of his life were described. The pottery sensei (teacher) asked some questions of Yayoi and then the two compared notes regarding religion when he admitted he had been a Catholic priest at one time. No details were given as to what ended that phase.
Then the presence of an elongated cloth bag in one corner of the very cluttered room elucidated the obvious question. I had been guessing that it was possibly fishing equipment. Sensei asked for the bag to be handed to him and he pulled out a katana or Japanese sword. He explained that the handle was three handwidths long to allow for a better reach when in combat. He said he had martial arts training (aikido) including the use of the katana. Then he admitted he was a certified ninja and was not allowed to use his skills in case of home invasion or other such problem as he was registered with the police. He described various aspects of Ninja skills such as jumping, climbing ropes and that tricks were used to achieve the apparent ease of a Ninja's ability.
Later in the afternoon it was revealed that he has an interest in herbal medicine and healing powers and has apparently healed a member of his pottery class. He was working with one of the student's hands while we watched. We do not know the outcome of this intervention.
Does nobody in this country lead a simple life or do we just meet the unusual people?

Mito Komon

Mito Kōmon is a television series that has just ended after running for about forty years. It involves Tokugawa Mitsukuni a daimyo (lord) of the Mito area who retires and according to the fictionalized accounts wanders the country side with two companions and 2-3 others who show up when required. His purpose is to find and right wrongs he encounters. The script writers wrote one script at the beginning of the series and follow the same script week after week. After interacting with the villains and the wronged a battle between the villains and the threesome occurs during which one of the companions pulls an emblem from his clothing and everyone exclaims and bows as this represents the shogun or supreme government of the country.
It is nice to see the good guys win and we all love our heroes.

Kairukuen Plum Garden

Although some trees in Japan will bloom mid-winter, I feel the blossoming plum trees are a true harbinger of spring. The Japanese are fanatical about sakura or cherry blossoms partially due to their ephemeral nature and have parties beneath the blossoms on tarps or blankets. Yet as we walked through Kairakuen in Mito and as lunch time approached we realized that plum blossoms were also an invitation to party and have family picnics on the dry brown winter grass.
There are many species of plum or "ume" trees in Japan. They present a variety of blossom pastel colours from red to pink to white in single or double flowers. The fragrance is subtle, but incredible.
The park opened in 1842 thanks to the efforts of the ninth daimyo (lord) of Mito area whose name is Nariaki Tokugawa. The park was designed for commoners as well as nobility. It incorporates the plum trees as well as a sugi (cedar, actually cryptomeria family) forest, a well maintained open bamboo forest (unlike some of the tangles seen near our current home) and a number of other flowers.
To see photographs in Picasa use the following link Kairukuen Plum Garden.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Tsukuba here we come

On March 18, 2012 Akio Okano, Yayoi and I hopped in the mini-mini van and drove to Tsukuba. Firstly an exception, when the speed limit is 50 Okano-san drives 50km/hr unlike my description of people driving 80-90km/hr (someone Okano-san lives with :). Anyway Tsukuba is the science capital of Japan. It was built from scratch to be a science/technology city. It has wide streets, buildings which look as though they could be from any international city and of course a university.
First we went to a large exhibition hall, where Okano-san's art, along with many others was being displayed. Being modest he suggested that his picture be placed in the last position and there it was "In the Sky". It represents what he saw lying down underneath a very large tree located on one edge of the farm feeling the effects of heat stroke. He will be displaying another painting in a large art gallery in Tokyo in the near future.
After this we went to Akio's friend's place nearby. Kenji is another fascinating character. His educational background is Japanese literature. But until he retired he taught horticulture. Recently he obtained a certificate and is teaching English part time. He explained that the furniture in his mansion (condominium) comes from the recycle shop. He refinished the wooden parts himself and had the upholstery done professionally. He has a very nice looking and neat place. Yet he has never been married, something to do with his father being lonely and Kenji essentially filling that gap. Anyway when the suggestion was made by Okano-san that we go out for lunch, Kenji very quickly prepared spaghetti for us and together with a batch of slow cooked ribs from the day before we had a very delicious lunch. Kenji gave us two jars of jam, a jar of orange marmalade he made himself and a jar of strawberry jam students had given him. Okano-san had to leave to clean up his art and we kept talking with Kenji (English is very good) and ended up being late for the concert nearby. The music was quite good and deserved a larger audience.
After the concert Okano-san was back and the four of us were joined by another four and we went to the cafe nearby where we had tea and most of us had zenzai (red beans in a sweet liquid) which is one of my favourite treats.
Akio Okano's singing teacher was one of the people at the cafe. They sing Gregorian Chants in Latin.

Friday, 16 March 2012

People We Meet

I am weeding alone early in the week and a lady comes up to me and offers me a bottle of green tea and goes off to weed her garden patch. Today Friday, March 16 we find out she is our host's sister in law, namely another Okano. She can be seen on the right in the photograph. Later in the afternoon another woman shows up, essentially introduces herself and begins asking me all sorts of questions. My Japanese is not good, but I know she is asking where the boss is (Okano-san) and why he is not working since I was. Then she asks about okusan (my wife) and why she is not working (she had to stay in the house and wait for gas guys to hook up LPG tanks for our kitchen cooking gas burner). Then she asked including some sign language whether the wife was still in bed and thought this was quite hilarious. When I replied to some of her questions with "wakaranai" or I don't understand she again thought this was hilarious and began yelling at the first lady across the field about the hilarious situation she had encountered. I would have trouble answering these questions tactfully in English, never mind Japanese, anyway what business was it of her's where my two bosses were.
Yesterday, after walking the dog, we took the bicycles into town to do a bit of shopping including looking for a small cosmetic style mirror, which we seem to have a lot of trouble finding. Japan is strange that way, some things that are available everywhere in Canada can be hard to find here. Anyway we passed by our usual grocery store, went to the post office to get money out of the ATM machine and then went to a two story shopping mall nearby. Found a few items in the pharmacy here and then decided to go up the long hill (these softies walked their bikes uphill) to a boy's store, a bit like a Canadian tire, but probably more gear for the farming crowd. There are all sorts of fascinating tools and gadgets. We did not buy anything, not even the bicycle I tried to tempt Yayoi with. So off we went again, ah, let's amend that, I immediately noticed that my rear tire was half empty. I tried riding, but I could feel every little bump, so I decided to walk the bike.
We approached a Toyota Corolla shop (in Japan Corolla is a genus of Toyota, not a species) and I suggested to Yayoi we try to get some air in the tire. We looked around outside for compressed air, did not see any and spotted an employee in the back having a break. There was a look of trepidation on his face as we (I) approached, but when Yayoi explained our situation, he sprang into action. He spent quite a bit of time trying to get the valve to function, but realized the valve had exceeded it's life expectancy. Then Yayoi asked about a bicycle repair shop and he spent quite a bit of time in the office looking this up and then brought out a book of maps to show us where there was a bike repair shop. We said thank you very much and continued our walk, with my rear tire now totally flat.
The location appeared to be close to the post office so off we went, but did not see any such shop. Around the corner we met a lady leading her bike and Yayoi asked her, whether she knew about the bike repair shop. Yes, she did and indicated it was next to the grocery store we usually shop at.The situation was explained again at the bike shop, where the mechanic pointed out that the bike needed a new tire(s). Tell me something I don't know as you can see strings and not much rubber. Anyway he suggested charging us about 4000¥ for the tire. I said no way as the bike in the boy's store we had been in earlier was about 9600¥. Essentially we were being charged half the price of a new although probably not a top quality bicycle. Taking off the rear tire on a Japanese bicycle would be twice as much work as an American bike due to the mechanisms such as chain protectors. Anyway Yayoi suggested to the mechanic that we needed to get going, so he helpfully got a new valve, installed this and filled the tire at a much more reasonable cost.
Then we got our groceries and went home uneventfully. Today we find out from my tea lady that her older sister had been observing us in town in almost every store we were in. As I have been telling Yayoi, we will be (in)famous here very soon.
The tea lady and our host have both been apologizing for the chatterbox lady, who didn't really bother me much. Today she showed up again and had to have a few words with me across half the field. She has good lungs.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Creepy Charlie

It is March 15, 2012 and no, I haven't changed my name, I am referring to what in Manitoba is known as Creeping Charlie and creeps around your lawn, being almost impossible to eradicate. "Summer Fallow" in Japan appears to mean a field filled with a green carpet of Creeping Charlie.
This week Yayoi and I were introduced to the Japanese variety of this which can grow up to 20cm tall among the vegetables. The garden/farm had not been weeded in a long time and the green onion and daikon were lost among the creeps. We dug up mounds of the stuff hoping to dry it and eventually burn it. The hakusai or Chinese cabbage is sheathed in plastic which eventually disintegrates and brown leaves surround a compressed cabbage which can then be eaten after removing the outer leaves. Too bad the crop did not do too well, possible frost damage (cold year in Japan) as well as "mushi", that is worms.
The style of farming is quite different than Manitoba involving greenhouse enclosures over rows of vegetable, black plastic mulch to retain heat, moisture and suppress weeds and soil which is quite soft, due in some part to repeated tilling prior to planting. The tools used are also quite unusual, with one of my favourites depicted called a "Kuwa" and used as a hoe and as a spade. It works quite well lifting a large section of weedy soil. The greenhouses in the background use vinyl sheathing which may last 3-4 years, but had to be replaced this last summer due to the typhoons passing through.
Then there is my faithful buddy "Muku". I began walking him this week and now he believes we are best friends. I am not sure whether he is dog or wolf as he never barks, only howls when he sees me, begging for another walk.

Driving in Japan

I have mentioned previously that I believe Japanese drivers are very good drivers. Maybe a problem with this is that they know they are good drivers.
Usually when I see children in the car they are bouncing around the back seat or in one case hanging their head out of the window. Car seats for kids? Adults in the front seat tend to wear seat belts, but reluctantly I suspect just to quiet the audible warnings.
Pedestrians, caution! Drivers do not slow down one iota and after they pass, I usually feel as though I should clean the dust off of my elbow or shoulder that brushed against the car or large truck. You can be walking along a country road with an area on the side spacious enough for a pedestrian and his dog and then the road narrows as a hill encroaches on one side and a barrier appears to prevent vehicles driving down a steep embankment on the other side. So where does that leave me? In Japan you are either on the right road or not, you cannot just turn left or right and find another road/street. So I keep going with my very well behaved dog "Muku". But I have this urge to swear at the big trucks only centimetres away from me. By the way I was quite lost on that walk and of course Muku would rather go anywhere else than home. Japanese streets are designed, sorry there is no design and nothing logical about them, other than the accursed automobile has created a need for a road to every domicile.
Invariably when we have car rides, I watch the speed limit signs which may read 50km/hr and I watch the speedometer which reads all to frequently 80. Police, yes I have seen them once or twice with a stopped car, but I suspect the driver must have done something such as attempt to knock the police car off of the road. Usually there is a "Koban" or small police station next to railway stations as well as other locations. They can be very helpful, providing directions or information.
Then there is the story and abbreviated video on TV a couple of nights ago of a Japanese gynaecologist and his Ferrari with a video camera mounted on his dashboard facing forwards, driving as though playing a video game. He apparently posted this on YouTube. Some of the people who viewed this reported the video to the police and the gynaecologist has been charged.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012


There was an earthquake in the early evening today in the ocean east of the gap between Hokaido and Honshu. It was powerful enough to trigger warnings on television of a possible tsunami, which thankfully never materialized.
Then a few minutes after 9pm an earthquake occurred near the border of Chiba prefecture and Ibaraki prefecture which is where we are staying. This was the most powerful earthquake I have experienced yet. I now have a lot of respect for them. I hope I do not have to experience fear.
Yayoi's cell phone began repeating the message that an earthquake was happening. The electronic system controlling the hot water supply set a error message and had to be restarted. Our hosts rushed over from their next door home and asked whether we were okay.
We are, but I was seriously worried that there might be damage to the house while it was occurring.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Three Eleven

During the last couple of weeks we have been seeing more and more scenes of what transpired March 11, 2011 beginning at 1446h as the Jishin or earthquake (magnitude 9) occurred off the coast of Japan in the Pacific Ocean opposite the city of Sendai in Myagi prefecture. Then the shock wave created by the continental plate movement caused a tsunami to strike the Pacific Ocean side of Japan destroying much of the coastline and killing many people. The tsunami overpowered the nuclear reactors in Fukushima prefecture south of Sendai.
The effects of the damage caused by all three disasters are still being dealt with. The loss of life will never be forgotten particularly by those whose family members were lost. More than thirty percent of the Japanese soldiers deployed to look for bodies among the wreckage both on land and offshore had themselves lost family in the tragedy. I cannot comprehend what they must have been feeling as they searched.
Today Yayoi and I got a ride to Fujishiro Eki (train station) and off we went to Yokohama to see Yayoi's two friends and the art being exhibited by one of them at Landmark Plaza in Yokohama. All the art being exhibited was created by Japanese women.
As we exited the station to walk across to the Plaza we were greeted by probably at least twenty groups of people including many school children in uniforms, asking for donations to continue the restoration efforts of the disaster.
The art exhibit was quite impressive, with a wide variety of artistic techniques being employed including the use of actual flower petals to create a wisteria scene. Yayoi's friend's exhibit is displayed in the photograph.
At 1446h there was an announcement in the Plaza asking for a moment of silence in respect of those who were so negatively impacted by the disaster exactly one year ago.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Rain Rain Go Away

Sunny Manitoba this is not. It has been raining for almost 48 hours here and although I was expecting this at some point in Japan, it is still a little much to take. Homes in North America usually have smoke detectors, but our detector (Yayoi's cell phone) went off last night with musical tones interspersed with the feminine voice announcing "jishin desu" translated literally as 'earthquake is' as we experienced at least the second earthquake (probably about a level 3 here) in less than a week. Apparently since the level 9 earthquake that happened a year ago (3.11 - March 11, 2011), Japan will experience a large number of smaller earthquakes for years as the continental plates attempt to stabilize. The anniversary date is tomorrow and television is constantly reminding us and displaying new scenes of what happened then and the cleanup that is still progressing.
The only time rain interfered with us is the day we toured Nagasaki with one of Yayoi's cousins. Since we were transported by car, it was not too much of an inconvenience other that my feet being totally wet thanks to shoes that both developed large cracks in the soles.
So here we are in the family room, with a kotatsu covered "coffee table" with a heater beneath and an electric radiant heater in the corner. The temperature outside may be about 3°C and inside in this small room we have managed to get it up to about 17°C.
We would have liked to have taken the bikes into Edosaki the town nearby, but umbrellas and bikes would be a little cumbersome. So some of the unJapanese staples that we like to have such as bread may have to wait.
Tomorrow we are planning to go to an art exhibit where Yayoi's friend Sumi-chan will be displaying her art.

Farming or Hobbies

Our host Akio Okano is quite the character. He is the youngest of his siblings and as happens often enough, he (early sixties) and not one of the older brothers has inherited the family estate. The house the deceased parents had up to two years ago is the one we are living in. He is always busy, getting up early in the morning and weekdays after his wife leaves for work prior to 8am he is off and running in his miniature pickup truck.
He grows rice and we presume that at some point he will have to start planting seeds to produce the seedlings that are transplanted into flooded fields. He grows vegetables and we believe the ones he supplies us with come from his vegetable plots primarily. When asked he has suggested that we may be able to help with weeding when it dries up a bit. He used to have chickens, but the coops are empty presently. There is a large greenhouse frame on the premises which looks as though it has been unused for years. Usually a greenhouse is used to start rice seedlings or can be used to grow vegetables or fruit. But it appears that his primary farming enterprise is raising young pigs to a certain stage and then returning them to the owners or for final sale. Currently the pigs are gradually being shipped away. Again when asked he may allow me to help cleaning you know what out of the abandoned pens. As long as I don't mind, as he holds his nose. The pigs are kept in enclosures with a metal roof, otherwise exposed to whatever mother nature can deliver, unlike the pigs in North American factories.
But currently all these enterprises appear to take up very little of his time. His wife leaves for work prior to 8am and returns about 9pm five days a week. And when she is gone he disappears as well. So what does he do? Supposedly he is the house husband. He sings Latin church music in a choir. And currently he is busy getting his art ready for an art exhibition happening next week. We have not seen any of his art yet, but we are hoping he will have time to take us next week. When Yayoi mentioned that she writes tanka (Japanese poetry), he says he would like to do that as well.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Home on the Range

Friends in Winnipeg arranged for us to stay in an unused traditional Japanese house originally used by the parents of Akio Okano who with his wife Shigeko have graciously welcomed us onto their homestead. We believe Okano-san worked up quite a sweat getting this place ready for us and then was convinced we would not accept the place. When Japanese people refer to a place such as this, they say "inaka", meaning home, out in the country and probably rustic. Considering the ancient buildings one sees here, rustic is probably true, but isolated it is not. There are neighbours all around us, many a mere stone's throw away. True grocery shopping is a chore which by "jitensha" or bicycle (no horses yet) requires an hour or two. The bicycles have seen better days. Maintenance of anything in Japan is minimal at best, but that requires a blog in itself. Restaurants and other entertainment will be rare, but here we hope to take it easy for a while. We do have a TV with a few channels and the iPad is still quite busy.
More commonly homes are situated near noisy train tracks, but instead we are under the flight path for jets landing at Narita International Airport. But transportation for us is quite difficult. When we arrived Shigeko picked us up at the nearest train station, which is 40 minutes away by car one way. There are a few buses per day, about 20-30 minutes walk from here and people easily get lost in the maze of streets around here. Forget navigation after dark.
This area is a raised elongated area with many tall bamboo (more than 10 meters) and many rice fields at lower levels. The homes tend to be concentrated on higher ground. Apparently this was the coastline of the Pacific Ocean in the Jomon Era, about 3000 or more years ago. We are located in Ibaraki-ken (prefecture) which is not that far from Tokyo. We are located near rivers that empty into nearby Kasumi-gaura (lake) which was a brackish water lake and has been converted to a freshwater lake by means of freshwater rivers being used to flush out the salt and structures such as dikes built by engineers all around the lake.
The rustic building photographed is very interesting in it's construction. It is typical Japanese post and beam, with posts indented on the outside edges to allow thin bamboo laths to rest. Then vertical bamboo laths are lashed to these and some sort of primitive plaster (clay is my guess) with twine embedded has been applied to this. An old wooden spinning wheel can be seen inside.
The photo of the complete front of a house is the one we are staying in, while the other home belongs to our hosts.
The dog is a typical neglected Shiba-ken cross breed, which so many homes around here have chained up in the yard, why I do not know.
The other picture is the metal sheathed machine shed also used to park two mini-trucks used by the Okano's daily.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Japanese Bath

There are many similarities between a bath in the home, a public bath or an authentic geothermally heated hot spring. Just as in the home a public bath can be reasonably private. The bathrooms in most Japanese homes are quite expensive rooms with a shower/faucet, an extra deep tub and a floor area outside the tub with a drain of some sort. North Americans should always explain that their bathrooms do not have a floor drain or be prepared for a puddle on the floor. The water in the tub is circulated and temperature controlled as is the water coming from the shower or faucet.
In the home, the shoes of course are left at the entrance to the house. At a public bath, the shoes are left outside of the bath area. They may be placed in a keyed locker or simply left on the floor. The key for the shoe locker may be exchanged for a key to a larger locker near the shower area where your clothing are stored. In a more rural setting or in a hot spring resort there may be large wicker baskets provided to place your clothing and drying towel.
A large towel for drying oneself afterwards as well as a small elongated towel are either provided, rented or brought from home. Similarly body soap, shampoo and conditioner are frequently supplied, but in cheaper public baths you may be expected to provide these yourself.
After your clothing have been removed you enter the shower area with the small towel. Here you can use the faucet to fill a basin and pour this water on yourself or in some cases such as in the home a dipper can be used to take water from the bath itself. Alternatively the hand held shower head can be used to clean yourself as you sit on a small stool.
It is also possible that extras such as toothbrushes, hairbrushes and razors may be provided or you can bring these yourself.
And as expected the more you pay, the more you get. You can pay as little as 360¥ or about $4.80 Cdn. at current exchange rates or about 1000¥ in a hotel situation. You might also be willing to be hundreds of dollars for a hot spring resort where everything is provided including a Japanese style room, a dinner banquet as well as a breakfast banquet, sometimes even served in your room. Breakfast may be a Viking or buffet.
Once clean the small towel can be placed on one's head as you enter the bath area. Just remember the bath water is clean water. Normally there is a large common bath in which one sits and there may be a similar bath outdoors which can be used even in the winter. There may be a hot tub or Jacuzzi style tub. Some bath houses such as at a sports club may have a variety of tubs, hot water, water from Israel's dead sea or other mineral water, carbonated water and possibly even cold water. I have also encountered a bath which in one corner had electrified water, which was quite shocking. Public baths may also have wet and/or dry saunas. Feel free to try them all. I have and remember, I don't read the labels very well.
When you are finished bathing, you should probably rinse off the bath water and then use the small towel (hopefully you rinsed the soap out) to sponge off excess water from your body. Then go back to the locker/ changing area and finish drying yourself and put on clean clothes or in the case of a hot spring resort a casual kimono or yukata.
So why have a hot bath. Luxury, true, but traditionally it is an essential step to warming up prior to going to sleep in a cold wintry room. At one time a bath was built on top of an outdoor fire pit which would heat up water in a circular deep metal tub. The metal itself was in direct contact with flames, so you stepped in onto a circular floating wooden floor.
Years ago on my first trip to Japan one of the first Japanese words that was thrown at me, by Yayoi's family was the question whether I wanted to have an "ohuro" or bath.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Awa odori Dance Festival

Every city and/or prefecture has something they are very proud of.
Not everyone in Japan may be familiar with the city and prefecture of Tokushima on Shikoku, but when Awa-odori is mentioned then they know. The dance festival takes place from August 12-15 each year. The dancers usually a group of women dressed in kimonos and wearing uniquely folded hats dance an intricate series of steps that must be quite fatiguing as the dance seems to go on endlessly.
We have not experienced this, but saw videos of last years event, including our friend's daughter Momoko dancing. While we were in Tokushima we witnessed the introduction of a mascot for the festival.

Some of us never grow up

The photos demonstrate that the title is intended only for me.
A young woman who home-stayed in Winnipeg many years ago got married about 14 years ago and came to Canada again with her baby daughter Momoko (peach-girl), husband, sister and father. The daughter is now 12 years old and we were warmly welcomed into their Tokushima home.
But I digress. Her father is a free spirit who is a retired engineering professor and truly retired unlike most Japanese professionals. He hops in his van and ferries himself to Hokkaido and drives around this island sleeping wherever, bathing in public baths and operating a video camera through his windshield and using it and two SLR cameras to photograph the beauty of this island.
As one of the photographs demonstrates he does not care about wearing a "housecoat" in public and we were told that he was the only person who ever showed up at the local Harley Davidson shop wearing the housecoat to buy a bike. In fact he owns two, one with a sidecar.
We went to see the bikes at his home. But of course his daughter persuades him to take me for a ride in his sidecar on a cold winter day. So away we went to have a cup of coffee at the HD shop and shoot the breeze with the owner. Of course two ladies followed us in the car.

Masked Bandits

Normally walking into a bank with a mask on might trigger panic, but in Japan it barely warrants a second glance. They are becoming more evident in Canada, but Japanese people have been using disposable masks for many years. Originally I thought they were being worn to protect those around them, but it appears the reasons are usually not altruistic.
Yayoi and I have not listened to "big sister's" advice to wear them and in Osaka we visited the aquarium on a busy Sunday when many kids were there with their parents. On the bus ride to Osaka I felt a little funny and sure enough in Takamatsu I was quite sick for a few days and Yayoi for one day.