Saturday, October 31, 2009

A large pear

Walking into the nearby green grocer this afternoon, I spotted a very large western-style (European/North American) pear. It is grown in Yamagata Prefecture (山形県) and the variety is named Le Francais (ラ フランス). The price was 150 yen. As is the case with many large fruit here, it was individually placed in a protective wrap. I measured it and it was about 9.5 cm tall and 8.5 cm in diameter. I won’t know if it is good or not until we slice into it.

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Today happens to be Dad’s birthday. We had a birthday party last night instead of today. Last night we had beef curry, assorted sushi, salad, and cheesecake. We got Dad a digital audio recorder (so he could record his sermon today), and a small crab robot toy (which didn’t work as well as I saw on the demonstration video at a store).

We didn’t do anything terribly fancy this evening. I put together garlic bread and Elise cut up some vegetables for a salad. I put together some potatoes, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, vege-ham, onions, green onions, eggs, konbu-dashi, salt, sugar, soy sauce, and water for a sort of a bit-like-stew-but-not-really creation. I don’t know what to call it.

Afterwards we had some pumpkin “pie” that Dad brought home. I write “pie” because it was really a kind of a large dinner roll-like bread filled with sweet pumpkin filling and all made to resemble a pumpkin (for Halloween, of course).

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Four-day Trip Up North

From Sunday through Wednesday (Oct. 25-28) we went on a trip that took us north out of Tokyo. We went to Nasu, Ura-bandai, and Aizu-wakamatsu.

It’s late, so I’ll just upload the photos and try to get back to adding some comments in the near future.


We drove away from Tokyo, onto the Tohoku Expressway. The skies were overcast with rains threatening. We weren’t sure where the good fall foliage might be seen. We knew that the trees at the higher elevations had already shed most of their leaves. Looking at the map we saw a toll road (many of the best scenic roads are toll roads, some rather expensive) called the Momiji (maple) Line. We decided to go towards that road.

Around lunch time we reached the town of Kinugawa. We stopped to eat at a small ramen restaurant. The decor was an interesting combination of western and Japanese styles. We sat in an tatami floor-seating area. The ramen was quite good.

We continued driving and onto the Momiji line. Although the weather was unfavorable, the fall colors were decent along this road.

We reached our destination in the Nasu area where we would stay for two days. We discovered that the rooms did not have individual showers. Anyone wanting to shower or bathe would have to go down to the public hot springs bath – not usually a problem for most hotel guests but for a couple members of our party, there was some strong reluctance. We thought there were showers in all the rooms, but that was not the case. Only a few rooms at this facility have individual showers.

After bathing we went down to the buffet dinner where we had plenty to fill ourselves. The food was good, but as is the case with most of Japan, vegetarians don’t always have much, if any, selection other than, say, fruit and dessert.


My trials began in the morning. A massive migraine hit early in the morning and would not leave until Wednesday. The stress of travel within travel, crowds, second-hand cigarette smoke, and the sense of responsibility for keeping the family together and happy took its toll.

Breakfast was also buffet, but I was feeling a little nauseated and could not eat nearly as much as I wanted to. I had quite a bit of tofu with freshly grated ginger.

A major typhoon came through (offshore, but it was a large one) and the winds and rain were heavy all day. We couldn’t do anything outdoors so we found an indoor activity.

We toured an optical illusion museum (トリックあーとぴあ) in three buildings. You can get an idea of what it contained by looking at the photos. This activity took up a good deal of the day.

Between buildings two and three we went a short distance to a teppanyaki railroad-themed restaurant. We ordered yaki-udon and yaki-soba dishes. The ingredients were delivered by a scale model steam locomotive and cars. We cooked the dishes at our table. We didn’t know what to expect coming in, but were pleased with the food.

By evening I had recovered enough to eat my fill at dinner.


The migraine persisted, but I felt well enough to have plenty for breakfast. Then we were off again on the road. The migraine got worse. I took more medications to try to find something that would lessen the pain.

On this day we drove further north to Fukushima City and then took a couple of toll roads to Ura-bandai. The typhoon had passed by, but winds were still quite strong. The skies began to clear and by midday there was a great deal of blue sky with lots of fast moving clouds. The roads we took brought us along areas that would have been great viewing of fall foliage, if we had been there two weeks earlier. Even so, the scenery was good.

We stopped for lunch but I did not feel well enough to eat. That was just as well because that meant I could eat more at dinner when I had mostly recovered.

The hotel at Ura-bandai had individual baths and showers in each room. The building looked to be a more recent construction and seemed to be of higher quality overall. The public bath, once more, was from hot springs.

There was plenty to be had at the dinner buffet. This particular hotel is known for its buffets and for good reason. The selection was great and it featured a number of local specialty dishes.


By morning I had nearly recovered. After buffet breakfast we went a short distance to one of the famous scenic areas: Goshiki-numa (五色沼), a number of ponds and small lakes along a 2-mile path. Each of the ponds features unique colors due to chemicals that were emitted during the volcanic eruption that formed the area. We walked about two-thirds of the way on the path and then retraced our steps back. The path was very crowded with many, many tourists.

Shelley discovered she didn’t have her wristwatch. She looked in her luggage but did not find it. We drove back to the hotel and the staff had found the watch, plus Amy’s shirt, and a 50-yen coin in the room.

After that we stopped at a small restaurant called Monterey where we had soup, sandwich, bread, hamburger steak (more like a high-quality western meatloaf than what I normally expect to see as hamburger steak), and lots of dessert.

Following lunch we drove down to Aizu-wakamatsu where we went to the city’s castle site and toured the castle grounds and the main keep.

The rental car had to be returned by 8 p.m. so our return trip was a race against the clock. We stopped briefly at a service area (kind of like a rest stop but with restaurants, snack shops, gift shops, food stands, dozens of vending machines, and lots of cars and people) to pick up a few things to eat and then raced on. We reached home about 7:40 p.m. unloaded and Dad drove to return the car with 20 5 minutes to spare.

It turned out that one small bag was left in the car. It was retrieved the following day.

And that concludes a recap of our trip within a trip.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sermon: Creator and Sustainer

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

This sermon was given at the Yotsuya Seventh-day Adventist Church in Tokyo, Japan. My dad spoke the Japanese translation. The scripture passages are found in Genesis 1:1-13; John 1:1-5 and John 1:9-13; and 1 John 1:5.

The sermon is about how the God of the Bible is different from deities of other religions in that the God of the Bible came to the world to be an intimate part of it as he sought to create and give life to a family based upon love. When the original plan went awry, God did not give up but launched a new plan to restore creation to its original purpose.


Our destination for the day was Shinjuku. We arrived at Isetan (department store) early enough to experience the store opening. It is something to be experienced at least once. All high-end department stores have a tradition and custom where at the opening, the employees open the doors and greet the customers as they enter.

We spent several hours in the store. I wandered about the men’s building (they have a smaller, separate building just for men’s goods) for a while, but didn’t see anything that 1) I could afford, 2) willing to spend money on, 3) was even remotely close to my tastes in style. The womenfolk wandered about the other areas. I went to the main building and looked at some of the kitchen goods and Christmas decorations (yes, it’s already beginning to look a lot like Christmas in parts of the stores). After we got back together we rode the elevator up to the rooftop and perused the garden there. We went down one floor and browsed the restaurant selection and chose to have lunch at a tempura restaurant. The ladies had a vegetable tempura set (2,100 yen + tax) and I had a tempura and sashimi set (2,800 + tax). Total lunch bill was close to 10,000 yen – by far the most expensive single meal so far. It was pretty good tempura.

From there we made our way towards the Tokyo Metropolitan government building. The building has two observatories around the 45th floor, free of charge. On the way I stopped at an electronics store (Bic Camera) to purchase a new digital audio recorder to replace the 10+ years old one that I’ve been using. I got a new Sony 3 mic model that records directly to MP3 as well as uncompressed linear PCM audio. I suspect the audio quality will be better than what I’ve been getting with my old unit.

From there we tried to find our way from the East side of Shinjuku station to the West side. I looked at the maps and couldn’t figure out how to do it. We went down below street level and wandered the maze of corridors (lined with shops, of course) and eventually came up on the other side of the street from where we started. We decided to just follow the surface streets and after many minutes finally ended up at the Metro building. We rode the elevator up and spent a little time looking out over the Tokyo cityscape.

It was then a search for Krispy Kreme in Shinjuku – the location of the first Krispy Kreme in Japan. We walked back to the station, then south until we saw the familiar sign. We purchased a dozen assorted donuts.

Then we crossed over the rail tracks to Tokyu Hands and spent another hour or so there before heading back to the station for our return home.

Photos are views from the observatory and a frame showing Krispy Kreme.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Internment of Mom’s Remains

We went to the Tokorozawa Seichi Rei-en for the noukotsu-shiki (service to inter remains). It was about a half-hour drive out from Tokyo.

We sang hymns, there were prayers, the pastor spoke a few words, and then the urn was placed into the tomb. This tomb is owned by the Amanuma Seventh-day Adventist Church and church members can purchase a space within. Mom’s urn was placed between her father and mother’s.

Edo-Tokyo Museum and Asakusa

My original plan was to go to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, Asakusa, and then Nihonbashi. The last location didn’t happen today. We were tired and it was getting dark by the time we left Asakusa.

We spent quite a few hours at the museum. The museum covers the history of Japan from the beginning of the Edo period to the Tokyo Olympics – a span of about three to four centuries. The models of the estates and town sections are very impressive. Many of the exhibits have English explanations.

We had lunch at the Western (Italian-ish) restaurant attached to the museum. Then we went back to look at, and purchase, souvenirs.

We took the subway to Asakusa where we went through Kaminari-mon (Thunder Gate) to Nakamise-dori. This is a street lined with small shops that leads from the gate to a temple complex at its terminal. The shops themselves sell mostly gimmicky, flashy souvenir items that cater to foreign stereotypes of Japan. It was very crowded and many languages could be heard spoken – Japanese, English (both American-English and English-English), Chinese, Korean, etc.

We took the subway from Asakusa, transferred at Akasaka-Mitsuke, and returned to our home station of Ogikubo. Night had fallen by the time we came out of the subway.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Jar of Pasta Sauce

On the return from our outing yesterday, I stopped to pick up items for supper. Because I was rather tired and still feeling the effects of jetlag, I looked to see what I could find for a pre-made, jar of pasta sauce. I did find some, but they were something like 300 yen for a jar about half the size of, say, a Ragu or Prego.

It was back to my original plan: putting together a marinara sauce mostly from scratch. I looked for cans of crushed tomatoes – no luck. There were cans of whole, peeled tomatoes and diced tomatoes. Just no crushed tomatoes. There were pouches of lightly seasoned tomato sauce. The photo on the package pictured a fairly lumpy kind of sauce, so I decided to take a chance with them. I picked up three of them at 158 yen each. (I ended up using two of them – still rather expensive compared to canned ones in the States.)

I wanted some fresh basil leaves, but was unable to locate any at the grocery I happened to be in, and being so tired I did not want to go to another one.

The sauce turned out just fine with the substitutions. The tomato sauce pouches contained tomatoes that were close enough to crushed tomatoes.

Temples and Shrines

We went to Kamakura and visited a number of temples and shrines. Our first stop was Engaku-ji temple. Our second stop was Kencho-ji. We had lunch at a nearby udon and soba restaurant. From there we headed towards Tsuru-ga-oka Hachiman-gu. In between there and the train station we walked down a busy street filled with little shops. We stopped at a number of them to look around and shop for some souvenirs. Our final stop was the Great Buddha at Hase.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Autumn images

I’m not the only one who thinks this October has had an unusual number of sunny and dry days. Here are a few images from around the area today. The morning was cold at 28F. By afternoon it got into the mid-40’s but there was still frost on the ground in areas of shade.

(I’m trying a different photo feature of Windows Live Writer – a direct album link to Windows Live Photo Gallery.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mornings are getting cold

We’ve had quite a few dry and clear days (and nights) this autumn. That means it can get quite chilly at night and in the mornings. We may be dipping into freezing temps this week.

I took the opportunity of dry roads to go bicycling for a little bit. I went out and back for just over an hour and a total of 17 miles. The scenery in this area is always great, and fall is no exception. The day started out very foggy, and it was lifting while I was out. The lower angle of the sun this time of year combined with the lifting mist, clouds, clear waters, blue sky, and the snow-capped mountains made it very enjoyable to view.

In just a few days we will be flying to Japan for a couple of weeks. There is much to be done in the next few days.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sermon: 1 John 5:13-21

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

Today’s sermon concludes the survey of the First Epistle of John. I discussed the final verses of the letter, 1 John 5:13-21, in which John repeatedly states what Christians “know” and things of which we are certain. The message I found in these final verses was about the importance of Christian community and fellowship where we look out for, encourage, and pray for one another. In this way, even when Christians stumble from time to time, they are able to get back up and resume their walk with Christ.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Sermon: 1 John 5:4b-13

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

This past Sabbath’s sermon explored the passage 1 John 5:4-13, where John brings together the motifs of faith, truth, and life under the umbrella of the testimony (or witness) of the water, blood, and Spirit. The concept I came away with in this passage is how Jesus’ Spirit-led life and ministry testified to the true character of God. It is only through this correct understanding and experience of the true character of God that a person can come to trust (believe, or have faith in) him, and thereby conquer the false concepts and ideas that the world (including religions, even Christian ones) puts out to “save” a person and ensure some kind of “eternal life.” John’s message in his epistle is that genuine Christians can have full assurance of eternal life (vs. all others who, because they are not sure, strive in various ways to hopefully attain it in the end) because they have come to fully trust God because they know the true character of God.