September 1, 2014
Morning Osanpo (Walk)

Morning Osanpo

Morning Osanpo

I took the photo above early in the morning when I was taking a walk from our hotel room to the outside onsen. It was probably about 6am and Mariko and the kids were still asleep, and I could have just stayed in bed as well but I really wanted to make the most of our stay so I made the sleepy walk along the path.

Just do it

One of the things I am trying to do is to be more active. By active, I don’t mean exercise, but rather if there is an opportunity to do something, I want to take it rather than just stay in and relax. The problem I’ve had in the past is that it is difficult for me to get started doing an activity. Once I am actively engaged in that activity, however, I almost always have fun and it is worthwhile. But just taking that first step has been a barrier. I’m not talking about a large project or adventure, but more like daily things. For instance, I always remember my brother Kevin would ask me to go golfing, but I would be hesitant to go. I’m not sure why, but I would rather take the “safe” option and stay home. But of course when I went golfing, I had a lot of fun and couldn’t wait to go again. Kevin mentioned something about that… how I should just get off my butt and go. (Not his exact words)

Let’s go

Back to my vacation… I arrived at the outside onsen and joined several other guests to enjoy watching the sunrise over the mountains, which was a pretty dang cool thing to do! But it didn’t stop there… after I returned to the room and changed into my regular clothes (and the family was still sleeping), I decided to go on a short hike. The hotel we stayed at has a few trails of varying lengths that start near the entrance so I took a short one, which led to a small stream and waterfall. I thought I might see a few other guests on the trail, but I ended up not seeing one single hiker. (I found out later that there was a longer, guided hike that left earlier.) The hike itself was good, but it was already starting to get muggy and I was constantly in motion trying to keep the mosquitoes at bay, and spider webs out of my face. However, I am glad I went for the hike. It was a new place that I would probably never go to again, I got some exercise, and I created some lasting memories.

I’m glad that I am making decisions that lean towards taking action rather than ones that follow the “safe route”. We only live once, and thinking of all the possible memories and experiences that we are missing makes me a little sad.

Sunrising

Sun Rising

Pathway

Pathway

Morning Sky

Morning Sky

Forest Stream

Forest Stream

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August 27, 2014
thechapterfourblog:

Holy shit.
If that doesn’t put the finest point on it you’ve ever seen/heard, I don’t know what does.

thechapterfourblog:

Holy shit.

If that doesn’t put the finest point on it you’ve ever seen/heard, I don’t know what does.

(Source: thedragoninmygarage, via wilwheaton)

August 20, 2014
Curry: Good But Disappointing

Katsu Curry

Katsu Curry

in 2011 I visited Osaka and had a super-spicy curry at 上等カレー near Tsukamoto Station. It was soooo hot that I was in a daze. Mariko and the kids said I was crying, but I beg to differ! My eyes were watering, yes, but that is different, isn’t it? Also, I had a sort of hiccup due to the extreme heat and it hurt to breathe too quickly. My facial muscles were slack. Take a look at the photo below and see for yourself.

Super Spicy Curry Face

Super Spicy Curry Face

Regardless of how each of us recall that meal, the memory of it is a great one, and I wanted to experience the same spiciness during this vacation as the one in 2011. So I asked Mariko if we could go to the same curry shop, but she said there was a branch of the same shop near where we would be that day and that we should go there. Sounded good to me! Outside the shop is the ticket vending machine where you choose what you want to order, and put in your money. We noticed that there was no options for spiciness level and that kind of set off some alarms. We ordered the regular curry and saw that there were bottles of chili powder on the tables so you can adjust the level of spiciness yourself. I added a few dashes, and it still wasn’t as hot as it was in 2011. Back then, the cook just asked us how spicy we wanted it, and I told him “very spicy”. But now, the self-serve chili powder just wasn’t cutting it! I added several more dashes of powder, but it wasn’t getting any hotter – I think I maxed out that chili powder’s capabilities. I was pretty disappointed.

The curry itself was pretty tasty, but I was hoping to have the same experience as before! So, for the next time, I asked Mariko to do a little research so we can visit a curry shop with super spicy curry, just like the one in 2011. In fact, we might try the Tsukamoto shop again, but I don’t know if they will just have the self-serve chili powder which would be disappointing.

Curry Shop near Tsukamoto Station

Curry Shop near Tsukamoto Station

Just for reference, if you are familiar with Coco Ichiban Curry, where they have a spiciness level 1-10, I normally will order the level 10. I’d say the curry in 2011 was probably a 15+.

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August 19, 2014

ikemenparadisethings:

Dakishimetai Movie

August 19, 2014

wo is I, ai is LOVE, ni is YOU. Wo ai ni. = I love you. 

(Source: zooxzoo)

August 19, 2014
Being a Tourist

I wanted to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine this trip because it looks so cool and is one of the top tourist destinations that I haven’t been to. In the past I wasn’t so interested in seeing the touristy stuff, and since I was always with a local (Mariko), I enjoyed going to places that a native Japanese person enjoys. But lately I see a lot of photos from friends who visit the touristy places and I start to think… “Shootz, I haven’t even been there even though I have visited Japan so many times!” And I kind of have a new outlook on life… where I want to experience all sorts of things and not really care about stuff that doesn’t matter. For instance, looking like a tourist used to bother me a little, but now I don’t care about it. Anyways, the feeling of being a tourist might last only a short while, but the memories of visiting an amazing place will last a lifetime! And you know what? I am a tourist after all! Why try to pretend that I’m not?

Also, as I try to look for positivity in all things, I realize that being a tourist can actually be fun and that you can have some interesting interactions with the locals, who are almost always friendly and generous with their time.

So this trip when Mariko asked me what I wanted to do and see, I included Fushimi Inari Shrine and Himeji Castle on the list. I also mixed in some local stuff, like seeing a baseball game, and it turned out to be a great mix of activities, with items being removed from the bucket list, and precious memories created!

Hot Day at Himeji Castle

Hot Day at Himeji Castle

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August 17, 2014
Submarine Sandwich Realizaton

Eating my Sub at HNL

Eating my Sub at HNL

“Food always tastes better when somebody else makes it.” That’s what my Mom said to me when we were talking about her submarine sandwiches, which I always request she make for me when we visit. I kind of agree with her, especially because when I try to make the exact same submarine sandwiches, they always taste differently (and not as good) as hers. Every time I have the subs she makes I ask her the same question… “What kind of Italian dressing do you use?” because I’ve always thought that the dressing is the key to getting the same taste. But now I am thinking maybe it’s just because “Food always tastes better when somebody else makes it.”

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August 15, 2014
Vacation Eats

Enjoying Ramen at Kamukura

Enjoying Ramen at Kamukura

Food is good! And the food in Japan and Hawaii is hard to beat. One of the things I look forward to most when traveling are the vacation eats: meals at the local restaurants and sampling the regional cuisine. This past trip to Japan, I ate almost everything that was on my list:

  • Sushi
  • Okonomiyaki
  • Takoyaki
  • MOS Burger
  • Yakitori
  • Izakaya goodies
  • Ramen
  • Curry
  • Kushiyaki

The only reason I didn’t gain 10 lbs is that in Japan you tend to walk quite a bit to get around and I’m also glad that I got to run, swim, and surf to keep my metabolism up.

Besides the yummy food, we had a lot to drink, not only beer, but lots of iced coffee and canned coffee (I have to keep my caffeine addiction in check). I loved it all! Of course, the above list was just the Japan leg of the trip. In Hawaii we continued our constant feasting with:

  • More sushi
  • Poké
  • Korean BBQ
  • Plate lunch
  • Fresh tropical fruits
  • Smoothies
  • Himalayan/Nepalese

To finish off the vacation, we had dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Torrance! It was really cool to have my parents and my brothers together at one time, something that doesn’t happen very often since we live so far apart.

The meals we have while traveling are a great opportunity to not only try different flavors or revisit signature regional flavors, but also to make great memories around these special meals. Vacation Eats are a great opportunity to add a lot of color to the vacation (and also life in general). Food is good!

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August 13, 2014
Summer Fireworks

Summer Fireworks at the Park

Summer Fireworks at the Park

We had a lot of fun one evening when we visited Koa’s classmate’s family for dinner and summer fireworks. After we ate the delicious food, we all went to the nearby park with our bag of sparklers and other small fireworks and then spent the next hour or so setting them off and having a good time. It was really cool and a very “Japanesey” summer activity. I loved it! It’s just one of the many things I love about summer in Japan and why it’s my favorite time of year to visit. I hadn’t spent a summer in Japan since I lived there in the 1990′s and I miss it so much… I love summer!

Summer Fireworks at the Park

Summer Fireworks at the Park

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August 12, 2014
I Just Wanna Hug You (2014)

I Just Wanna Hug You

I Just Wanna Hug You

Another tear-jerker of a movie crossed my path – and of course I enjoyed it immensely. Thanks to Hawaiian Airlines’ fantastic international service to KIX there were several movies to choose from, one of which was “I Just Wanna Hug You” (抱きしめたい ―真実の物語―) starring Kitagawa Keiko (北川 景子) as Tsukasa and  Nishikido Ryo (錦戸亮) as Masami. It’s based on the tragic true story about a young woman who is involved in a car accident which leaves her partially paralyzed and brain-damaged. At the beginning of the movie we learn that Tsukasa has already died (her son and husband are talking in front of her memorial altar), and with that eventuality revealed, the story immediately shifts to focus on her and Masami’s relationship that begins several years earlier before they are married. It’s kind of predictable, but charming and enjoyable nonetheless, with many funny scenes and of course some romantic ones as well.

Kitagawa Keiko’s acting really stands out in this difficult role, depicting someone recovering from brain damage in a realistic but not over-the-top way. I was really rooting for her because of her positive and energetic attitude even in the face of these challenges. But holy cow, there is one scene where Tsukasa’s mom shows Masami a video of when Tsukasa was going through rehab. That was really powerful and tough to watch and I am getting sad just thinking about it now! However, it really was superb acting on Kitagawa’s part. I’ve become a huge fan of hers!

Kitagawa Keiko in Dakishimetai: Shinjitsu no Monogatari

Kitagawa Keiko in Dakishimetai: Shinjitsu no Monogatari

Nishikido Ryo also does a fine job as Masami, the man who falls in love with Tsukasa at first sight and pursues her 100%. His is a more straightforward role, but still something that many of us can relate to easily. In fact, I think I had the same head-over-heels kind of feeling towards Mariko as Masami had for Tsukasa! Maybe that is one reason I really liked “I Just Wanna Hug You”.

What made the movie even more moving to me was that I hadn’t seen my family in over a month and was getting closer to them every second (at Mach 8.1 according to the in-flight map!). As I alluded to in a previous blog post, I have become more emotional the more years I put on. Sometimes to the point where I read something vaguely sad in the news and then I feel a wave of emotion coming on. It’s really weird, for me at least. I’m a quiet person and was never really openly emotional or passionate growing up, so wow this is all kind of new, and not at all unpleasant, really. It’s like life is really happening and stories are being written, good and bad. Just as in this movie, life is unpredictable but I think we make choices or shape our thoughts which can turn situations, even unpleasant ones, into those worth appreciating. Even though Tsukasa is dealt a pretty terrible hand in life, she works hard to better her situation and her life was dramatically improving. It was so sad that she passed away, especially due to the rare condition (which was totally unrelated to her disabilities).

I try to learn something from things I observe or in this case, a movie I watched, in order to better my life and those around me. From “I Just Wanna Hug You”, Tsukasa’s positive determination and Masami’s straighforward devotion show me truly admirable qualities and maybe something that all of us can strive for.

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August 11, 2014
Running on Vacation

I recently returned from a vacation to Japan and Hawaii to visit family. I almost didn’t bring my running shoes, but at the last minute decided to throw them in the suitcase (along with socks, shorts, and a shirt). I didn’t know if I would have a chance to do any running on vacation but I really wanted to try, plus my running gear is so light and takes up hardly any space, so I didn’t have much of an excuse not to bring it. Honestly, my primary motivation for bringing my gear was that I thought it would be cool to add some new data to my Runkeeper and Strava profile (gotta expand my running outside of Texas!), but it turned out to be so much more rewarding than just recording the data!

Osaka Castle Manhole Cover

Osaka Castle Manhole Cover

When I arrived in Japan, I suffered from a bit of jet lag and woke up at about 4:30am – an hour earlier than usual. The sun rises pretty early in Japan as compared to Texas so I was able to get out the door and start running around 5am, but I usually decided to wait until around 6 to hit the streets. I didn’t do any research as to what route I would take on that first day but I just wandered around the neighborhood and let the route decide itself. Surprisingly, I saw a few runners out there on the city streets with me! I noticed however that my neon green tank top was really different from the more conservative running t-shirts that everyone else was wearing. I was a little embarrassed, but whatever – I was on vacation! :) I ended up running over 3 miles that day, and when I returned home everyone was still sleeping so I could enjoy a nice long shower and then relax on the balcony.

Yodogawa River

Yodogawa River

I told Mariko about where I ran, and she suggested I run along the Yodogawa River and that I should be able to make it to the sea if I kept running that way. So for my next outing I traveled along the river and had a nice 2-mile run along the water. The path is popular with other runners, walkers, bicyclists, and people walking their dogs so it was always interesting looking at others (and their dogs). A lot of elderly people walk on that route too and they are usually very friendly offering a “Ohayogozaimasu” (good morning) as I pass by. This route would be my regular morning run while in Japan, and I eventually extended it to an 8.7 mile run to the sea! Actually, it didn’t really look like the sea because it is very industrialized, but still, I went just about as far as I could.

I modified my route a little bit to bypass one large intersection where I got delayed by a passing train that first day, and this alternate route was so cool because I got to see a sports field where people were playing gate ball, got to run through a tiny tunnel, ran on top of a wall right next to trees filled with cicadas (I had to cover my ears it was so loud!), and saw a bunch of cool scooters and motorbikes. That’s one fun thing about running – it’s easy to explore new places and see new things.

Every time I returned home from my morning run I felt so good and energized and ready for the day’s activities which included a lot of sightseeing and plenty of good food. The morning exercise really kept me going!

The next leg of our trip was in Hawaii where we stayed with my brother on the island of Oahu. His house is on the side of a steep hill which made the morning run very interesting. I actually only ran twice, but the first run was so memorable and one of the highlights of my trip. The first day in Hawaii, we went to the farmers market at Kapiolani Community College and picked up some fruit and had lunch. I saw a bunch of runners and my cousin Taylor said that many people run around Diamond Head and that it was probably the most popular run on the island. Well, that piqued my interest! So right then I decided I wanted to do that run, but I didn’t know if I needed to drive and park somewhere near the beginning of the run.

Diamond Head Crater Sign

Diamond Head Crater Sign

A couple of days later, though, I woke up before everyone else and went for a run down the hill and headed towards Diamond Head. Before long, I was at the community college we visited before, so I decided to try to run around Diamond Head. I stopped a few times to check Google maps to make sure I was going the right way but eventually I found myself running along with several others going east on Diamond Head road and completing the loop around the crater, then I headed back towards the house. I was on cloud nine! When I reached the steep hill I had to walk up it, but was still in a really happy state and that set the mood for the rest of the day, if not the rest of the trip!

If you like to exercise and like to travel, I highly recommend taking along some gear on your next vacation. Running gear is usually pretty light so it’s easy to pack, and running in a new environment is super fun and interesting. You’ll also have plenty of energy because the newness of the environment is so invigorating!

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August 10, 2014
Nice Model – Fuchiko

Towel Fuchiko

フチ子 (Fuchiko)

My mother-in-law bought me a bunch of these small “Fuchiko” toys, which are meant to adorn the rims of glasses. They are so much fun to take photos of! During our vacation we took a lot of photos of them and enjoyed the silliness of posing them on sodas, beer, dinner plates, inside sushi, on fingertips, etc.

You can find Fuchiko for sale in the little toy vending machines, but the special “Towel Fuchiko” are found in gift shops and come with a little plastic cup. These are about 500 yen, but the regular ones from the vending machine are 200 each. But, you don’t know which one you will get! Luckily I didn’t get any duplicates. The one above is my favorite, but I like them all.

There’s also a variation called “Fuchio” which is Fuchiko wearing a scary mask. They are pretty funny as well. If you have a chance, pick a Fuchiko up and use as a fun photo subject!

Fuchiko Loves Ikura

Fuchiko Loves Ikura

Ice Coffee Fuchiko

Ice Coffee Fuchiko

Fuchiko Island Style

Fuchiko Island Style

Sushi Fuchikos

Sushi Fuchikos

Soccer Fuchiko

Soccer Fuchiko

Bento Fuchiko

Bento Fuchiko

Makapu'u Fuchiko

Makapu’u Fuchiko

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August 10, 2014
Mosquito Bite Relief

We have a new (to us) way of dealing with itchy mosquito bites: the hot spoon! And it works great for instant mosquito bite relief! Basically, you heat up a spoon and then press that hot spoon on the bite for a minute or so. That usually kills the itchiness for the entire day for me. The next day, the itchiness might return, in which case I just reapply the hot spoon. The itchiness hasn’t returned to me after that.

In one article I read, they recommend putting the spoon under a hot faucet to heat it up. But I just put the spoon over a hot stove for a few seconds, then letting it cool a bit so that it is still hot, but not (too) painful.

Before using the hot spoon technique for mosquito bite relief, I’ve tried the scotch tape method, meat tenderizer method (old school!), and also applying an anti-itch liquid called “muhi”, but I’ve found the spoon method to be the best! Give it a try next time and let me know how it works for you!

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July 17, 2014
Runner’s High?

The phenomenon of a “Runner’s High” is well-known and something that I’ve wondered about for a long time. In fact, every time I go running I think about it, usually around the 30-minute mark when I start struggling a bit. I’m not sure, but I am pretty certain I haven’t ever experienced a runner’s high. There have been times when I have been running and my legs have a lot of energy and the running becomes almost effortless. This fits some descriptions of a runner’s high, but it’s not really the euphoria I expect. It seemed like that was more from just the muscles getting used to the strain.

Maybe I am being silly but I keep expecting for my mind to suddenly become clear, be filled with energy and a feeling of well-being, and everything will be right in the world. But so far that hasn’t happened. At any rate, I’ll continue to look forward to that elusive “Runner’s High”, even though it might never come.

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July 8, 2014
Build: Heavyset

While running the other day, I was thinking about how relaxed my pace was and that I’m actually a pretty slow runner. My pace is just under 11-minutes per mile (for a five-miler). I’d like to blame my body type, if I may, which can be described as short and stocky. As I was thinking this, the phrase “heavyset” entered my mind. Apparently some connection in my brain was made to a 40-year old memory! When I was a kid, we used to play a boardgame called “Manhunt” which was really cool because it had a pseudo computer, codes to figure out, and a detective handbook. Each player had to figure out who the criminal was, and one of the descriptions of the possible suspects was “Heavyset”.

Manhunt Boardgame

Manhunt Boardgame

Thinking back to that time, I wonder how our family came about getting that particular boardgame. Did my parents just see it at the Toys R Us and decide it looked fun? Was it a birthday wish by one of my brothers?

Later in that morning’s run I continued thinking about body type and a book I am reading, “Unbroken” which is the story of Louis Zamperini (we share the same hometown, Torrance and high school!). In it, the author describes Zamperini’s track career, his body type and the way he ran – smooth. He was also super-fast, and many thought he would break the 4-minute-mile barrier. That’s kind of the opposite of how I run! :)

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