Thursday, December 29, 2011

back "home" in Kyoto

We are safe home again.  Our apartment seems spacious.  Kyoto seems small.  Its going to be weird.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tokyo Disney

Tokyo Disney. Day 1 of 2 complete. Tomorrow is Disney Sea, which is sort of like the California adventure version of the park. Today, we rode Star tours (hearing the droids speaking in Japanese was very strange), space mountain, the western train, toured Cinderella's castle, small world, Buzz Lightyear, Snow White, and the kids did tea cups solo. we ate pancakes, pizza, hamburgers, corn soup, popcorn. Thunder Mountain closed while we were in line. We did NOT eat the curry, or other traditional Japanese food out and about. Strange to NOT have burritos near Thunder mountain. Strange food included curry popcorn and "meat pie." Oh we also had ice cream, because 38° wasn't cold enough. And strawberry churros...

Pictures later, when I have a better internet connection.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


We've been in Tokyo for about 3 days now.  It is so big; it is amazing how many people there are.  Trains run high above ground every 5 minutes, 10 cars each, packed with people.  Subways run just as frequently, several stories below ground, just as packed.  We've been mostly exploring in a small areas north and east of Tokyo station (Asakusabashi and Asakusa) and there is so much more of the city to see!

We arrived on the shinkansen (bullet train) on Thursday late and it took us more than one hour to go 3 subway stops from Tokyo Station to our hotel in Asakusabashi.  We are better now that we have the lay of the land figured out. We saw Cirque du Soleil our first day here which was amazing.  Unfortunately, Wendy has been feeling sick so yesterday, Christmas, was subdued.  Santa did find us in Tokyo, much to the kids delight.  They each have new socks and cool ladybug pocket watches.  My host at KIT got them puzzles and crafts too.  We've been eating yummy ramen and sushi (M has been eating her standard yogurt and banana).  Oh, and we have evidence of her eating mochi!

There was a big Christmas light decoration set up down town last night.  Here are some pictures.

The cylinders are candles and the white things fluttered in the wind and made noise.

two major streets lined with white trees met at the main display...

...of multileveled changing colored lights and music...

...the whole display was probably 100 yards long!

Finally, here are the kids doing their best impression of what I looked like when we arrived at Tokyo Station:

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Tree!

We went shopping today at one of the big stores near us (Qanat). Wendy wanted a calendar and we got sucked into the Christmas decorations and ended up with a tree, and each person picked out an ornament! It brightens the mood a bit. We are heading to Tokyo this week. We will be at Tokyo Disney on Christmas day, and Disney Sea (Like Sea world? but Disney? Its supposed to be better than Disney world) the next day. We are also riding the shinkansen (bullet train, しんかんせん) and seeing Cirque du Soleil. Its going to be a big week!
Here are the kids.  The ornaments tower over the tree.  M picked out the pink Christmas tree, N picked out the blue Santa, W picked out the bunny, A picked out the wreath.

We are seeing these "gummy" decorations all over.  M made a wreath...

... and N made good use of candy canes, holly and stars!

We got them Santa hats last week on our quest for Christmas lights and decorations.  We also have seen some good lights; these are near Doshisha University:

and here we are inside the Teramachi arcade (covered shopping district downtown)

also, we got haircuts!

I can't believe we've been here 4 months already.  Sometimes it seems like the time has flown by, and other times (like when the kids are screaming about how they don't want to go to school) it seems to be dragging on.  Next summer will be here before we can believe it, I know.  I am trying to enjoy and savor every moment.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Taiko drumming

i just had my first taiko drumming class this evening. It is so fun! I get to hit a big giant drum with sticks 3/4 inch in diameter as hard as I can and shout "Yop!" and "Ha" and "Yo"! Supposedly we have a performance in the spring!  I am taking my classes at the "taiko center" which is about as far away in Kyoto as you can get from where we live/where I work.  Its a 30-45 minute bus ride, but it is really a lot of fun.  It was me and 8 women, and the teacher is a woman too.  Half of the students are older... its hard to say but late 50s to 60s I think, and only 2 or 3 are younger than me, so its a good mix of ages.  When we're all playing in the tiny practice room it is so loud; you can feel the drums rather than hear them.

I will try to get pictures or a video.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mt. Hiei

Last weekend, Wendy and the kids spent the night at a temple near Yase as part of the Alexander retreat.  I went out on Saturday and saw where things were, but had to head in to downtown that evening since my lab was having a special annual dinner for all current and previous group members.  We ate at ifuji (いふじ) which was a really good traditional Japanese restaurant.  I don't know what the food is called, but there was a big pot of boiling water that you cooked meat and vegetables in.

The next morning, I went back up to the end of the railway to the temple (I can't read the Kanji and don't know what it is called).
If you take the Eizan line to the end (to Yase), here you are!

The kids and I decided to take the train up to the top of Mt. Hiei.  The first train is a Funicular train, with two cars that go past each other.  

I keep telling the kids that they need to smile for the pictures since they might end up on the blog.  So far, we've not been super successful at this.  But, if you look at the right half of the first picture and the left half of the second....

Hmm.  Maybe I can 'shop it...
PERFECT!  I'ts just they way it looked.  (Maybe I should consider a career in graphic arts?  Please contact me...)

Then, we took a cable car from half-way up to the very top!  
Kyoto from the top of Mt. Hiei!

It was an amazing sight, and N, M and I walked a long way to a big famous temple complex called Enryakuji.  

There is also a pretty garden museum at the top of the mountain where we ate lunch.  It wasn't quite the right season for the museum, and it was cold up there, but we walked through quickly.  The kids did their famous "bridge on a bridge" pose.

Stay tuned for more adventures!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kyoto marathon!

I just found out 2 days ago that I made the lottery for the Kyoto marathon to be held on March 11th!  So, I'll be training for that as well.  Wish me luck.
The 20 mile mark (about) is right by our apartment!

fushimi inari

We went to Fushimi Inari a few weeks ago and I'm just now getting a chance to put up photos.  It is a shrine that has thousands and thousands or vermillion tori lining the paths.  There is a loop that is (we think) about 5 km long; we walked to the beginning of the loop and up and around a little ways.  It is just amazing.  There are sections where the tori are only inches apart, and other sections where they are more widely spaced.  You are walking through a forest, and yet, enclosed within these gates.
here we are towards the beginning

W and her parents went right; the kids and I went left

The kiddos enclosed in a tunnel of tori; we counted; there are at least 4-500 in this short 200 m section

We hiked up to a small lake and a little further on were some small shrines.

the fox is a messenger god; there were many foxes here, some with messages in their mouths, and others with no message

Its places like this that make me wish that 
a)  I wasn't totally illiterate
b) I knew something about Shinto

But it was really beautiful!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

school play

About 2 weeks ago, both kids were involved in the school-wide theater extravaganza.  It was all morning on a weekday; each grade did songs, skits, or both.  The 3rd graders did a recorder recital, while the 5th and 6th graders did complex multi-media plays.

M's first grade class did a series of songs that was about a trip to the zoo.  Here is the intro song:

N's 4th grade class did a long complicated skit about epic battles.  When we asked him what it was about, he said he didn't know.  Here is the sword fight scene:

The skit ended with a nice song (camera ran out of batteries, but you get the idea):

We really have no idea what was going on, but it was a lot of fun!

One thing we noticed is how much time was spent at school learning parts, and how seriously everyone was.  Part of every day for the last few weeks has been learning the songs and practicing on stage.  The kids all did a great job.  I honestly think that you would have a hard time finding such well-behaved kids (and well-organized and well-disciplined) in the US.  Its just a different ethic here.  Everyone took it very seriously.  And looking at M's class songs, where everyone was doing the motions in unison, it was really well done.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Toy store in Japan

Natty found these gems at Izumia (sing it:  I-Zu-me-yaaaa!!!)

First up:  creepy Japanese solar-powered bobbleheads:

And next two talking hamsters channeling the "talking Carl" internet meme:

That's all for today!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Osaka Marathon Race report (long)

My first International Marathon

Capsule report. I ended up typing a LOT for this race report!  So, here is the short version.  I had extremely low expectations for this race going in. The best part about having such low expectations is that you are bound to meet them, which I did.  I ran a race in Japan, I ran most of the way, and while the 2nd half was slower than the first by 14 minutes, and I ran a personal worst time, I had a lot of fun doing it.  Finished in 4:24:41, finished just before it started to rain, and my nagging foot injury literally disappeared.  I had a lot of fun, and recommend it to anyone who happens to be in southern Japan next year.  For those of you who want to spend as long reading my blog as I spent running the marathon, keep reading!

Training.  My training for this race started in July with several runs in New Mexico.  The early training culminated with a solo 18 miler; 3 laps around lake Merced.  The theme for my training this cycle was the solo run, actually, as I was travelling in the US for the first 3 weeks, and then we moved to Japan in August.  Without my regular team, I found the long runs to be extremely difficult.  The weather in Kyoto did not help.  It was 90° and 90% humidity for the first few weeks.  I eventually settled into a routine, doing long runs by time instead of distance (1.5, 2, 2.5, and 3 hour runs in September, peaking at 20 miles).  My October training wend downhill, though.  I am not really sure why.  Some of it was due to touring and festivals in Kyoto, and some of it was due to weather (the hottest day of each week was my long run day).  I only did one almost 17 miler in mid October but was just dying, and while I intended 20, I had a totally awful day, and really lost confidence.  Then, the following weekend, during a 10 miler, I started really noticing my right foot, and it got a LOT worse during the last 2 weeks of my taper.  I was convinced it was plantar fasciitis, and was icing, stayed off it as much as I could, and generally felt miserable about it.  On Monday of race week, I was planning to pull out of the race.  I didn’t want to do irreparable damage to my foot.  But, based on the advice of several people I know and trust (even though its impossible to do long distance diagnosis), I decided to start the race, run at least 13-15 miles or so, and evaluate continuously, being ready to drop out at any point.  With that in mind, we headed down to Osaka (ice bottle in tow) on the train on Friday, October 28th.

Expo.  Based on the extremely limited information I had going in to the expo, I was under the impression that it was going to be “ride the subway in, get number, leave.”  Boy was I wrong.  We arrived in Osaka later than planned so I didn’t get there on Friday evening.  Saturday we spent some time exploring Osaka castle (walkable from our hotel, and the marathon start) and some other sights.  Finally in mid-afternoon, the kids went with W to the Osaka aquarium and I headed one more subway stop further away to the marathon expo and finish area.  When we got to the aquarium stop, I thought to myself “there sure are a lot of people on this train…” It was basically full.  And they all got off at the last stop and more than 50-75% of them walked to the expo with me.  It was a MADHOUSE.  But, in apparently typical Japanese fashion, it went amazingly smoothly.  Everyone lined up in a line, and everyone was calm and orderly.  It was relatively quiet, no shoving or pushing.  I mean, its not like US expos are knife fights, but it just felt… calmer somehow.  After about 15 minutes in line, I entered the expo proper.  This was where being obviously a foreigner helped me out a lot.  People came running up to me to take my paperwork, guide me through the (well-labeled in English) signs to get number, shirt, drop bag, and then get sent into the fun part.  I spent probably 30 minutes wandering around looking at the gear for sale, but as I really couldn’t read anything, I didn’t know what a lot of it was.  Wind jacket or rain jacket?  Japanese running gear and shoes are MUCH more colorful than in the US.  I will have to re-outfit myself before I return.  Eventually I got tired of the expo, but had to follow a strict linear path to get out the other end, going through an entire 2nd expo room, as well as a third “Osaka Food expo” room.  Counting on having hungry runners there I guess.  I decided to pass on unfamiliar Japanese food the night before race day. 
            My race number was C81211.  The number doesn’t mean much, but the C put me in the “C” start corral, WAY up front!  There were about 15 corrals, apparently each with 2000 runners, so I was going to have a good start.  When I registered, I listed my expected finish time.  I don’t remember what I wrote, but probably around 4:00.  I felt like I was way too far forward, but I doubted there was anything I could do about it.  We ended up eating Tako-Yaki (octopus balls) and Okinomiyaki (Kansai pizza/savory pancake) for dinner.  Not your traditional pre-race pasta, but yummy.

people heading in to the expo

the line (it moved fast)

looking back in after I got my stuff

I hope I see this tomorrow!

Race day.  I slept well the 2 nights before hand so I wasn’t worried at all about whether I slept the night before.  I ended up sleeping pretty well.  I had an alarm set for 6am, but got up at 2:30, 3:30, 4:30 and then 5:30.  I knew there was no point so I got up then.  I had laid out all my gear the night before.  I got dressed and ready and was out the door by about 6:15.  Weather forecast rain, so I had my raincoat and hat, and a complete change of clothes for the finish.  I only forgot my GPS, which I went back for after 10 minutes walking away (SORRY W!).  A lot of people were walking to the start, so I was able to follow the crowd.  I walked from the hotel (Osaka Castle hotel) all the way clockwise around the Osaka castle to drop my bag and then get to the start.  Nice 2.5 km warmup.  I kept the hat but left the jacket.  It wasn’t raining and I hoped for the best.  I had a little food, so I just sat calmly on the street for about an hour.  I did a lot of mental imagery for my foot at this point, willing it not to hurt.  W had convinced me that it was a physical manifestation of an emotional/intellectual struggle.  I’ve read and heard enough about these things from other people, and now have begun to experience enough of it, that I decided that I should accept it as true, and see how it went.  So, I sat sort of meditating on my foot for 30 minutes.  At some point there was an official opening to the race, and everyone stood and moved forward a bit.  Some music played, the wheelchair racers were off, and then WE were off!

this is what the start looked like at 745 am

This is more like 815

845, looking forward

845 looking backward!

845 looking WAY backward, continuous people for 1/4-1/2 mile!


            I had a great start position; I was only 2 minutes back from the gun.  And, it looked like I was in a reasonable place, based on who I was passing/who was passing me.  The crowds were thick, but since everyone was really moving at the same pace, I didn’t get tripped up at all.  That was great.  I very carefully pulled back, trying to keep my pace at 9:30/mile for the first 10.  It was hard to run that slow with the adrenaline of race day and the fact that everyone else was going sub 9 minute miles, but I knew I had to rein in the pace.  One thing that I was worried about was doing math on the course (I knew it would be marked in km, whatever those are) so I really needed my watch to stay on pace.  I planned on meeting my family on the course at about the 11 k mark (Starbucks near the hotel) and then I would have 3+ more hours alone.  First few miles were fine.  I really wasn’t tired physically or mentally, and the most amazing part was that my foot really didn’t hurt AT ALL.  I have to say, I know it because of the mental stuff I worked on with my family.  I came through 10k still feeling fine, but hot, so I had taken off the rain hat.  I was sweatier than I am used to (I am still not used to the humidity here!) so I was glad to hand off my hat to my family.  I stood there for a bit and chatted, took a photo of them, and then kept going.
THANK YOU FAMILY for being there for me!!!!!

            There was water and electrolyte every 5k or so, and I was carrying my 750 mL bottle and 5-6 Gus.  I brought my own food because I just wasn’t sure what they were going to have.  I have found some Japanese brand energy gels, but I wanted something familiar for the race.  I also brought salt tabs.  I had a gu every 45 minutes or so for the first 2 hours, and then took 2 more more quickly, and then forgot to eat at the end of the race.  I didn’t want to eat.  I think I would have done better if I had taken in more calories.  Need to work on that.  The electrolyte drink on the course “Amino-Value” was pretty good.  I think it has protein in it.  No idea.
            I should point out that there were a LOT of people in costumes for the race, including Doraemon, a few men wearing tutu’s with swan heads 2 feet over their own heads, power rangers, and all sorts of other stuff.  And sushi head man.  (I ended up chatting briefly with sushi head man; he is a master sushi chef, so at least that one makes some sense). 


Sushi-head man

Sushi-head man later

            Not a lot to say about the race. I saw the 4:00 pace group in the first few miles and I just started saying “let them go, let them go.”  I had no business running with them! I really enjoyed the taiko drums along the course at several locations; a lot better than bad college rock bands.  There was incredible crowd support; there wasn’t a place where there weren’t crowds.  The race never really thinned out at all.  I consciously slowed down from miles 10-20 to try to save some shred of dignity for the last 10k.  My mile splits in here are all about 10:30 or so, though I took one or two walk breaks (and also lost GPS reception a few times while running along train overpasses) so I am not that sure.  The official course splits (every 5k) show me continually slowing down from the start to the end, but not by as much as I had feared.  I was really looking forward to 32 km mark; I was able to do enough math in my head to know that the traditional division of the marathon into thirds (10 m, 10 m, 10 k) would be 16 k, 16 k, 10 k, so when I got to 20 (still with absolutely no foot pain, mind you) I know that I would finish the race.  I began to run-walk here.  Mostly run.  I had initially intended to run a mile, walk a minute from the beginning, and maybe I should have, but I only walked once or twice on the course before 20 (not counting maybe 2 or 3 water/electrolyte stops that I walked through, again, the humidity!).
taiko drummers on the course

My view for 4 hours.  

            The last 10 k of a marathon is always tough, and I struggled here.  The 4:30 pace team came through and passed me when I was walking right around mile 20, and I decided to just hang with them.  At about mile 22 there was a slight uphill and I was feeling good.  I thought “I can just run the whole last 5k without stopping, and Erin (a running partner from SoCal) will be so proud of me!”  Needless to say, that lasted a little while before I dropped back to walking again.  The 4:30 pacers were well ahead of pace, so when they passed me with 2 or 3k to go, I wasn’t that worried.  I did run the last 2k without stopping, and I was passing people left and right at the end.  I slowed, but I slowed less than the average person. 
            I came through the last turn, saw the finish ahead, and kept plugging away passing people.  The timing company kept track of pace at each 5k split (cool!) and while I was 5658 at 5k, I rose up to the 83-8400s for the middle part of the race.  But at 40 k I was 8194 and at the finish, I was 7997.  Top quarter of all registered runners (have no idea how many finished).  Came through the finish chute at about 4:26 by the gun (and I knew my chip time was about 2 minutes faster) so I was happy with that.  I didn’t stop my GPS for a while, so I don’t have a good finish time except my chip time which I will assume is correct at 4:24:41.
Done.  I am tired.

Post race.  Not a lot to say here.  I was totally spent.  I got water and sports drink, turned in my chip and got my medal.  I’m sad that the medal is in English; I was hoping for Japanese.  I staggered around and got my drop bag and then collapsed in a heap for 20-30 minutes. I ate 4-500 calories. My legs were just totally done.  After a while, since everyone else was just wrapping up in the finishers towel and changing, I did the same, and took the long circuitous route up 2 escalators, through some random room, and then down another escalator to begin the long (1 mile?) walk to the train with 15,000 of my closest friends.  Japanese crowd management appears to consist of long orderly lines, no (pushing or shoving), and megaphones.  I walked steps where I could, I felt a lot better with food in me and my legs appreciated the stretching out.  I got home, showered, and that was the end of marathon day.
The escalator ride post-race

The sea of umbrellas headed for the train

Wrap-up.  First international marathon.  An amazing cultural experience.  I mean, in many ways it was just like every other marathon I’ve done, but in others, it was just… different.  People shouting “Gambare” at you instead of cheering.  Not understanding what people say to me, the subtle things.  But the race was incredibly well organized, efficient, and a lot of fun.  I’d do it again if I didn't  have to travel 5000 miles. This was also my first “big” marathon, and a lot of the issues I had with the race were issues of crowd control, but really, I’m not sure you could do it better, just different.  Maybe it's the Japanese way, but everyone filing around in long lines to get out of the expo or out of the finish area seemed non-obvious to me.  I wandered around for 10-15 minutes at the expo trying to leave, and at the race finish, I would have preferred to just walk away.  But, in a race of that size, maybe it was better to send everyone the same way.