Shuji/Kokuji Carving

I started carving at Shuji class at Kichijoji Temple in Fujiyoshida in 2009. My first piece was entered into the national Kokuji competition at Ueno National Museum last April, which makes me sound much better at carving Kanji than the reality. There were over 2000 pieces on display for about a week at the national museum. Anyway, I like calligraphy (shuji) and enjoyed the carving so much, that I took it up in my spare time here in Salida.

These carvings are made from White Pine, which is a very hard, hard wood. A little softer wood, which is better for carving is Basswood, but I couldn't find any here. The process up to the point of this picture is as follows:

1. Practice and write your chosen Kanji on regular caligraphy paper.
2. Outline the Kanji on tracing paper, taking into account size of wood piece.
3. Glue tracing paper to wood, as in the above photo.
4. Cut straight down into the wood around the entire outline with chizels.
5. Carve from inside to the precut outline, and remove any ridges left in the center.

6. Paint the inside of the carving.

The finished piece. Looks simple, right? This piece took me about 6 hours from start to finish. Let's try something a little more difficult...

This is not even half of the total pages I used to practice these Kanji. "Reiho" means sacred/devine mountain peak. This is probably the most detailed carving I have yet attempted.

Carving details into wood is very satisfying. It feels good to see the characters actually turn out OK. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. However, especially with this hard white pine, many of the thin sections between lines snap out of the wood, so you have to be careful to catch them and glue them back in before they are lost in the sea of off-cuts.

Painting is more difficult than it looks. One must be careful not to splash paint outside the carving (more expert carvers will use good glue that keeps the tracing paper on after carving out the characters so that it acts as masking...the problem is finding a glue that is strong enough to hold the paper on through carving, but light enough to allow you to easily REMOVE the paper at the end).

The finished piece! Hmmm...I might consider entering this one into the National Competition this year again...


Rocky Mountain High

I am back in my hometown of Colorado Springs after living for 6 years in Fujiyoshida Japan. It's been one month, to the day, since I left Japan. I miss my friends and the activity of Fujiyoshida, but I am at Peace here in Colorado, and I am busy reflecting on my experiences, and drawing strength and plans for the future.

Leaving Fujiyoshida after 6 years was not a small task. I became very comfortable in my little apartment in the Kotobuki Danchi. Moving out, literally took me an extra month, just to pack my things, and throw out, or give away or sell the things I didn't need or couldn't keep. It also took extra time to say goodbye to everyone. My biggest going away party, which was a Taiko Concert and Karate exhibition over one hour long, in which I participated in every song and event, and the following dinner party afterwards, brought over 80 of my friends from City Hall, the Board of Education, and the greater Fujiyoshida area. An article about the party was published in the next day's Sannichi Newspaper, a Yamanashi Prefecture Paper, congratulating me for 6 years of work.

Newspaper clipping from Sannichi Shinbun (Newspaper) June 28, 2009

Saying my final goodbyes to my apartment, to everyone at City Hall, and to Mt. Fuji was a tearful event, that I barely made it through. I gave myself good time that morning to feel all my emotions so that afterwards I would be able to do my best to say my goodbyes and leave smoothly.

Saying goodbye to Mt. Fuji was the most difficult. The volcano came to represent my life in Japan. She watched over me every day. From crystal clear mornings, through cloudy afternoons, to snow covered winters. Mt Fuji was there to listen to my happiness, my anger, my sorrow, and my daily struggles and success, always peacefully. As I left the city, she was peeking out from a low layer of clouds; hesitant to say goodbye.

Mt. Fuji from my apt. at Kotobuki Danchi the day of departure August 28th, 2009

Life goes on...that's the problem. It's easy to forget past success and happiness. We must be vigilant to remember who we are.

Colorado is a beautiful place. The air is dry here, and land stretches as far as the eye can see. I am greeted by my family. My mom, step-father, sister in-law, my dad, my step-mother, and my sister and two nephews. I am greeted by old friends from school, former bosses, college professors, and friends of Fujiyoshida. My roots are all around, every day, and as I drive through town I remember dreams of Colorado Springs, which I had while I was in Fujiyoshida. The skies are bright blue, and the mountains are green.

Pikes Peak at sunset. At home in Colorado Springs.

Now is a time of retreat for me; out of the light of public work and the many friendships that had me at many times overextended, but very much helped me to grow. I am in decline, for the purpose of reflection on the last 30 years of my life. This is how I recharge; I am an Introvert. I get my energy from quiet reflection and contemplation. Living in Fujiyoshida had more meaning than just a job; it had as much meaning as I gave to it as part of my life.

The kittens Raja and Simba at Ahbo's house in Salida, CO

America is a very, very young country, but we have great traditions of skepticism for our government, and the ability to make change happen, when the people want it. The problem is, as any American, or person who has ever visited America knows, is that there are many stupid people here...people who are simply running on ego. People who are materialistic, greedy, and just plain uneducated and ignorant. They too have a vote, and a say on how we live, whether they know it or not. There are many problems with America, but here it is in my most simple terms:

Americans don't respect our roots, and what our ancestors escaped from; old oppressive systems that didn't work from them any more. To them, the ability to start fresh and new was "freedom." It was the freedom to combine old methods that did work, with new methods, and to build a better country. Many countries around the world, such as Japan, have great systems that work. Systems that they have built out of many years of history and experience. For example, a good health-care system. Americans need to learn and build on the systems and methods of the rest of the world that do work, and combine it with our sense of innovation and revolution. If we do that, I believe we will create a country that is truly the land of the free.

The view of Mt. Ouray from Salida.


Americans rarely look outside of our own fat culture. We take natural resources for granted. We take our friends and neighbors for granted. We have no idea how rich we are compared to the rest of the world. We are free to educate ourselves and be successful, but many still believe that a good life is their privilege; something that will be given to them without having to work for it.

Give and take, has become take and take.

People grow increasingly more unhealthy, ignorant, and uncapable, then blame it on their government. They should be thrown into correctional facilities until they can grow up. OR at least be denied the right to vote until they can demonstrate a certain amount of common sense.

Will we succeed in failure or success?

The American industrial machine has produced generations of greed, and this is what I see as I come back to my home in America. I see urban sprawl while the inner city crumbles. People are too busy, and are on the brink of forgetting their true nature.

Looking at Wilkerson Pass from South Park during the first snow of the year. September 20th, 2009.

I have not forgotten. I remember the peace that comes from being in the mountains; in nature, and I wish that everyone could know it.


Pics from Europe

Hey all! Here's my pics from Europe. Enjoy! The trip was much too short and busy, but I had a great time. Taiko played 10 concerts in 4 days! I Met a lot of good people in Chamonix, enjoyed a boat tour through the canals of Amsterdam and went to the Van Gogh museum. Geneva is the world's most international city with almost 50% of the population foreigners. I rode a cable car to 3800 meters up Aguille Du Midi, and got a great view of Mont-Blanc, the Alps' highest mountain, which looks over Chamonix, and participated in what is to date, probably the world's highest elevation taiko performance there. I visited Martigny, Switzerland and performed with the group in front of over 500 locals gathered for their Fall festival. I ate French bread, cheese, chocolate, and of course, loved the wine. The wine was so good! Mostly Bordeaux at local prices. For gifts I bought T-shirts, swiss army knives, and ... um Will I go back? Hmm...Sure. Mont-Blanc would be fun to climb, and the skiing in winter, and rock climbing in the summer in Chamonix is some of the best in the world, not to mention mountain biking. The French people I met were all extraordinarily kind, funny, and interesting people. Besides, there is so much more to see and do. After all, it is Europe...

Going through all my photos, these are what I feel were the best and most memorable shots of the trip!

A crisp and cold morning in Amsterdam behind our hotel. My first morning in Europe. Amsterdam is hardly ever clear...we were lucky, it was a beautiful day.

I was very impressed by the bike culture of Amesterdam. Between the road and the sidewalk, there is a another 2 lane road system reserved only for bikes, which runs through the entire city.

The old buildings of Amsterdam all have beams sticking out of their top floors so that residents can pulley furniture into the building. The old staircases were made too narrow and steep to accommodate large furniture. ALL the buildings have these pulley beams. Also, the ground in Amsterdam, and most of the Netherlands is very soft up to 20 meters deep. Buildings lean to and fro, and floors are slanted. Nothing is plum. But I was told that most doors still open and close smoothly.

At lake Leman in Geneva. Unfortunately I were only able to stay for one night, and I didn't get to see much of this very international city that is home to the UN, WTO, and Red Cross. Even though it was shut down for repairs, I also REALLY wanted to go check out the new "Large Hadron Collider", the world's largest proton accelerator that was just built and run successfully for the first time this September in Geneva.

The first of many taiko performances started the day after arrival in Chamonix. Pictured here is our concert in Martigny, Switzerland.

A view from the top of Aguille Du Midi, which includes the great Matterhorn in the distant Swiss Alps.

Perhaps the world's first taiko performance under Mont-Blanc.

However, I posted these to give you only a small taste. Take a look at the rest of my best pictures from Europe here, at my online photo album. Then click "Slideshow" in the upper right corner to get the full effect. (once the slideshow is running, it also helps to press "info on" in the top center).

If that wasn't enough, I've also created a photo album with my best shots from 2008 here.


I Love This Summer.

Here's the schedule of my big events:

June 17-July 2 Jackson Hole, WY (Jackson Fire Festival)
July 24 Kinabalu Malaysia racers come to visit
July 25 61st Annual Fuji Mountain Race (I'm not running, Mike is, I coordinate all the foreigners coming to run).
July 26th, Shiseisai (Fujiyoshida City's Summer Festival)
July 31-August 5, Colorado Springs
August 21-24, Faust's Wedding, Minneapolis, ever flew overseas for the weekend? This will be my shortest visit yet to the states.
August 26-27, Yoshida's Fire Festival
September 17-22, San Diego, Gale's wedding
October 8-15, Chamonix France, Sister City 30th Anniversary.

My to do list for Wyoming looked something like this:

-Clean Laundry
-Water Plants
-Finish Reiho Fuji

God, what else have I done this year? How about the UTY show in February? I still need to do a write-up about that. Oh yeah, I went to Seattle in March. Hunter came to visit at the end of March. My mom came to visit for the first time in April. I went to two weddings in April. I have no idea if May even happened.

It's not that bad; I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. And, I do find time to go to the gym, watch movies, read, and play video games. But please try and schedule things with me at least 2 weeks in advance. Thank you. Later.

Last Year...?

Right, when I first came to Fujiyoshida, I figured that I would be here for two years. That turned into 3, then 4 and 5. I am now, at the end of July finishing my 5th year, and I signed on for another, what I suppose is to be my 6th and final year here. What a journey. Fujiyoshida will always be a second home to me.

However, I've been very bad, despite the warnings of family and friends, that I should be writing more of my experiences and daily insights down. Well, I do write a lot down, but much of it is personal and makes sense only to me anyway, so it doesn't appear on this blog. But every day I have numerous little realizations, events, happenings, insights, etc that I believe would be valuable to remember someday, so I am trying to get into the habit of blogging.

Whatever, I just want to talk about myself. That's all this blog really is. Don't be fooled.


Here's a couple profound thoughts from today:

1. American and Japanese work ethics are completely different. Americans ideal going home at the end of the day and forgetting all about work. Same with weekends. Personal life and work life are best separate. For the Japanese work life and personal life are often blended, which is why many spend so much time at work during overtime hours, even if they are not getting paid extra for it. Work is a huge social mechanism in Japan. I am an American. I have to escape. I have to get the hell out of the office, the city, wherever, and escape at least a little every day. If not I get grumpy, and people who would otherwise be friends become jail keepers. On the other hand, I am Japanese. I like the fact that co-workers are not robots, but friends who I can trust. This is the group mentality of Japan. For more on this, see my alter-ego's blog here:

2. City workers fit the mold of city workers. They value long term contracts over money, they value tradition over the new. They value family and inter-dependence over independence. They are the glue that holds the city together; the people who come up with fun events for city kids; who create communication networks that mobilize when there is an earthquake or other natural disaster. They move and grow only as fast as the city itself. By the way, Fujiyoshida has not grown in population for about 80years; it's been the same, about 54,000. There is not much room to grow here if they wanted to, we are bounded by Mt. Fuji, mountains, lakes, and other natural barriers. To what type of job/role do you mold yourself? Do you fit that mold? The police are naturally people who like to police people. Business people like money, and artists do not. Teachers like kids, are often like kids, and often need to grow up themselves.

Come on? Don't I have more profound thoughts than that? Or anything? Not really. I spent the day driving around to local businesses thanking them for their donations for the Jackson Fire Festival. Most of the business managers who we really wanted to talk to were out and we ended up talking to secretaries instead. I have another post about the Jackson Fire Festival coming soon hopefully.

Mt. Fuji climbing season is in full stride, but it is still the rainy season.

I'll end it there for the day.


My Poor Malnourished Neglected Blog

I will do better blog, I promise.

'Just give me one more day; give me another night.
I need a second chance; this time I'll get it right.'
--"Krafty" by New Order

Kyoto Fall 2007

Shojiko Fall 2007

Winter Fireworks over Kawaguchiko

I-5 in Seattle From Colombia Tower

Spring Fuji


Race for the White House

For a while I have been thinking that I would post translations of my monthly article "Fresh Air" that appears in Fujiyoshida's monthly magazine "Koho" on my blog, but out of 18 total articles, this one, my 19th, will be the first. I hope to continue every month. The audience of the Koho and "Fresh Air" are the citizens of Fujiyoshida City. Here is Fresh Air for the February Koho (translated from Japanese).

"Race for the White House"

2008 should be an important year for America and the world. Since 1952, there hasn't been a presidential election without an incumbent president or vice president runing. Both the democrats and republicans must elect candidates for the presidency within their party, which hasn't happened in 56 years, and Americans are more and more concerned with their political party's method of choosing candidates.

Average Americans like myself want to have a say in who their political party choses to be candidate for the president, but chosing the candidate is the role of the National Convention. This is the first time I had to research on how political parties chose their candidate:

The Republican (GOP) National Convention will take place in Minneapolis, MN on September 1-4th. The Democratic National Convention is to be held in Denver, CO on August 25th-28th, but only delegates are allowed to attend the conventions, so how in the world can my voice have an impact in my party's national convention?

Depending on the state and political party to which one is registered, there are two methods of voting for nominees for one's party's presidential candidate; the caucus and the primary election. The caucus starts at the county level where in order to chose delegates, one actually shows up to an appointed meeting place, consults with other party members, and votes for their delegate of choice. On the other hand, a primary election takes place at the state level, but instead of voting for delegates, one votes directly for a party presidential candidate, and based on votes, delegates are alloted to nominees. The level of democracy of the caucus and primary are heavily debated. Because many have work and school, for example, many voters are unable to attend a party's caucus, so arguments for primary elections focus on its ability to inculde a wide spread portion of the population; basically anyone able to send in a ballot; including the elderly and disabled. However, unlike a caucus, primary elections are criticized for having too little value for the community because one need not really think and discuss the issues or candidates in depth; one can vote in a primary without much effort to connect to one's community. Currently, methods of electing delegates differ between state and political party. Some states and parties chose to allocate delegates based on 100% of either caucus or primary results, and some decide based on a combination of both. My current voter registration location and party uses only the caucus, so in order to have a say in which candidate my party elects, I would have to actually travel back to America and participate in person in the caucus (absentee caucus is only available for military personell overseas). Really making democracy work is not an easy task.

Though both parties' national conventions will be held in August and September, we will probably be aware of the two most likely presidencial candidates by May 2008; foregoing an upset. Finally, on November 4th 2008, America will elect a new president.


"O Pa Pi" is going to make it.

For over 6 months, the Japanese Owarai (comic) scene, mainly variety TV shows, have been overflowing with the antics of Kojima Yoshio, a Waseda graduate and former elementary school teacher. Kojima's act up to this point has been to wear bikini swim trunks and dance while improving lyrics based on his current environment. This guy is funny, because he makes a complete idiot of himself. The question up until today has been, how long will he last? Making it in the Owarai scene is a tall task, and many have failed.

New entries are put to the test. One prank show designed to test the dedication of several comics employed hot Japanese models, one for each of the comics being tested, and told them to "pick up" the comic. Kojima was one. The show followed in secret from the first supposedly accidental meeting, through flirting by short messages and phone calls, to an actual date where the girl invites the comic to her house, under presumed sexual circumstances. On the way to her home, she leads Kojima to fall into a prepared trap door in front her building, thus exposing the trick. The staff runs out and gets their laughs at his expense. Not only was the date a sham, but all of his flirting and messages were read by the staff. He is utterly humiliated. The world of Owarai is not for the weak hearted.

One month later, Kojima is still around. This time he is performing for kids on a stage in his hometown. Again a trapdoor has been prepared on the stage. Kojima falls in the middle of his performance and the audience and staff (including me, watching TV) have a great laugh at his expense. As if wearing bikini trunks and acting like a fool wasn't enough humiliation. It isn't.

Kojima's hometown performance, with trapdoor.

Yet Kojima is still around, amazingly, and still laughing and having fun on TV. His act will eventually wear thin, but he has proved himself to the community (for now). He is currently doing variety TV shows with famous/established comics including one of the most famous, Sanma Akashiya, host of over 9 successful variety shows. The two have become friends, and Kojima's popularity is increasing.
Sanma Akashiya

By Spring 2008, the Japanese comic community will fit Kojima into a new roll with new acts as his bikini trunks and dance fade out. Kojima caught the attention of the community, attracted them to him, and proved his value. This one is going to go far, and I presume we will see him on TV for many years to come. I look forward to his new acts.