Devastating

As most of the world knows, Japan was hit with an 8.9M earthquake yesterday afternoon. I was at work, in a meeting, and we all looked at each other wondering if what we each individually thought we were feeling was actually what we were feeling. Nagoya is a long way away from Fukushima, so instead of the sharp thumping kind of motion, we felt like we were on a waterbed. Everything just felt kind of squishy.

I am fine. My apartment is fine. My workplace is fine. Nagoya appears to be fine as well. As a matter of fact, everything here appeared to be business as usual today. It was basically business as usual last night. The only thing I worried about yesterday was any impacts due to a tsunami. My workplace is, well, WATERFRONT, so there was reason to be worried. The warning for my area was for a smaller tsunami and it is situated so far up a protected bay that I felt the danger was low. But what do I know. I left work as soon as the first train was available, and walked from Nagoya Station to home. I wasn’t in the mood for a subway.

Surge moving up the Naka River in Ibaraki / Hitachinaka and Mito

I’m still worried about my friends and former colleagues in Ibaraki-ken. It was hit very hard, and there have been a cluster of smaller earthquakes in Ibaraki. I saw the picture above from AFP / Getty Images, which is a bridge over a river in Hitachinaka. You can see the surge of water flowing upstream.

A wide view of the bridge from Google Maps.

Surge moving up the Naka River in Ibaraki / Hitachinaka and Mito

 

A closer view,

Naka River in Ibaraki / Hitachinaka and Mito

 

And the relationship to downtown Mito.

Naka River in Ibaraki / Hitachinaka and Mito

 

This was particularly close to home for me, because I thought that perhaps I had crossed that bridge before when I lived in Mito. On further review, I probably didn’t go over this bridge often, but it certainly made it hit closer to my past experiences. It was still very close to Mito, and I drove alongside the Naka river every day for miles going to work.

Donate to the American Red CrossAs a by product of this earthquake and tsunami, I’ve gotten a lot of hits to my website through search engines. If you read this, please consider making a contribution a charity that will provide relief to the people so severely impacted by this event. I have provided a link to the American Red Cross. Certainly if another charity is more appropriate, do not hesitate to donate.

A glimpse of Hokkaido

Where does the time go? A couple of weeks ago I went to Hokkaido for the first time. It’s not really accurate to say I visited Hokkaido. I went to ニセコ (Niseko) in Hokkaido to go skiing. To say I had a feeling for Hokkaido would be a bit of an overstatement.

I’ve wanted to get to a snowy place in Japan, and certainly there are closer places than Hokkaido to see snow. However, a few colleagues from Tokyo were going, I was invited, and it seemed like a great opportunity. The only difficulty was that the tour was arranged out of Tokyo so I had to get to and from Tokyo.

At first, I really had no intent to even ski – I was planning on just enjoying the ambiance of a ski area and resort town. However, the more I looked into where we were going, the more I realized that maybe there wasn’t much else to do except for skiing. It had been at least 10 years, maybe closer to 15 years since I last went skiing. I would say the last time I went skiing was when I was living in Europe and had a weekend getaway to Wengen. 15 years is a long time ago.

Our flight was from Tokyo to Sapporo (Chitose) and then we took a bus to ニセコ. Although it was dark once we got properly on the road, it was become increasingly obvious that it was snowing. Hard. Looking out the front of the bus, I was mesmerized by the snowflakes in the lights. I love when it snows, and I don’t often get to see it in Nagoya, and definitely don’t see it much in LA.

The obligatory rest stop / shop.

The obligatory shop

 

And some dangerous icicles waiting to impale someone.

watch for falling objects

 

We checked in to the Hilton Niseko VIllage and picked up our pre-arranged rentals. It was great that we could rent everything, including pants, jacket, goggles, helmet, and gloves. I had my own gloves, actually, but everything else was welcomed. I rented a helmet for the first time. Things have changed a lot since the last time I skied and helmets are a lot more common. All I could think of before skiing was totally tweeking my knees, and the Natasha Richardson accident. I couldn’t do anything to protect my knees, but I figured a helmet was a good idea.

Our first night we just ate in the hotel as we all were keen to eat and be relaxed for a full day of skiing the next day. I really can’t remember what we did the first night, but I know that I visited the onsen. It had a rotenburo as well (outside bath), that was unfortunately covered and only open at one end. There is nothing like sitting in an pool of hot water, surrounded by snow, and watching it snow. I will never tire of that. And although it was cold enough to snow, it wasn’t SO cold. One of the cool things about this ski area is that it is not really at a high elevation. It has a ton of snow, but is maybe at 1000 m. That’s it. So it isn’t like skiing Winter Park at 10,000 feet, freezing and getting winded just picking up your skis.

Fresh for the day.

watch for falling objects

 

The resort we were staying at was a ski-in resort. We walked out the ski valet area and hopped on a gondola. That’s the way to do it. My colleagues seemed like they were much better skiers and one had been at the resort for a few days and was telemarking. Yikes. I was glad to send them on their own way and decided to ski on my own. Admittedly, I was pretty nervous on my first run. Would I remember how to ski? The answer is … mostly. On the first run I had one of those falls where my skis ended uphill from me, one attached and one detached, and I kept sliding. Oops. I made it up to my ejected ski and spent the next 20 minutes trying to re-engage the binding. That’s so frustrating, and I probably ended up 20 feet down the hill by the time I got the ski on. It turns out I was on an intermediate run anyway. Oh cool.

The view from the top of the gondola.

Before the snow got heavy

 

And a picture after my first fall. Notice the snow on my goggles.

After the first fall

 

I have a tendency to do the same run multiple times – the first time I’m rather timid because I don’t know the run, the proper way, what is over the next ridge, etc. On subsequent runs I can ski a little more confidently, and that confidence translates to more aggressive skiing. I had plenty of tumbles, and I did tweek both my knees and I really hit my head. I was glad I had my helmet on.

Coincidently, the whole crew met up at lunch, and so we decided to ski together in the afternoon. It turns out that most of the rest of the crew was better than me, but not all, and not significantly better. In the afternoon though it was snowing really hard, my knee was hurting, and I could feel myself making mistakes and I figured the opportunity for further injury was increasing, so I forfeited my last run and called it a day (and headed straight for the onsen).

I didn’t know The Village People had a restaurant in Niseko.

Go West!

 

A picture towards the end of the day. The snow was heavy at that time.

At the end of the day

 

We were able to find the village and enjoyed a little nightlife. We went to a great seafood restaurant run by an Australian bloke and ended up at a bar / hostel / ryokan called the Half Note which appeared to have been taken over by gaijin. The proprietor and his wife and two others performed jazz standards while guests watched, played pool, or just hung out (check out the website). Eventually our team left, went back to the hotel, and closed down the karaoke room. Then I went to onsen again. Hey, I was treating my knee.

I think I was pretty tired.

Enjoying a nice meal

 

Dinner pictures of oysters, crab, sashimi. Yum.

Oysters

 

Crab

 

Sashimi

 

Enjoying the local pub.

The Half Note

 

The Half Note

 

Unfortunately, I had to leave the next morning due to flight constraints, while 3/5 of the crew remained and skied another day. I couldn’t have skied very well anyway, as my knee was very tender. I bought the requisite omiyage at the airport (a ton!) and headed home.

Tomo met me at Haneda, we checked out the new International terminal, and then I headed back to Nagoya.

A great weekend – full of fun from start to finish. Do I know Hokkaido? Not really. Maybe I’ll make it back sometime to see more than a single ski area. But what I saw was beautiful and I have great memories of my weekend there.

The view at breakfast

Pretty in the snow

OK, I had a pretty negative article about the hate bus. But this is a beautiful day here in Nagoya. It just keeps snowing, and snowing, and snowing as I exactly said below. This is really only the third day that I’ve seen snow in Nagoya. The first was around Christmas 2008 and it was really just flurries. The next was New Year’s Eve in 2009. Off and on snow had been predicted, then retracted, then posted again. Well, we’ve had mostly ON and it is really, really nice. I don’t need to drive anywhere, I don’t need to take the train. I have no idea if the roads are bad or if the train schedules are messed up. I do know that I went for a walk and had a blast. The snow makes things so peaceful.

I wanted to make sure I got out before it turned to rain, or stopped. But it is continuing.

Street scenes.

2011 snow in Nagoya

 

2011 snow in Nagoya

 

2011 snow in Nagoya

 

I love my furry winter coat. No, that is not real fur. It is another UNIQLO purchase.

2011 snow in Nagoya

 

She’s got to be really cold.

2011 snow in Nagoya

 

The shrine across the street from my apartment.

2011 snow in Nagoya

 

2011 snow in Nagoya

 

2011 snow in Nagoya

 

2011 snow in Nagoya

 

And some local greenery (in black and white).

2011 snow in Nagoya

 

Staying toasty

I’ve maybe been complaining about how cold it is. Maybe that’s only on Facebook or Twitter, but it’s cold for Nagoya. There’s no central heating in my apartment although I do have radiated heat through the floors in part of my house. Not all rooms, so I have cold areas and warm areas. I like the heated floors, but because they are heated by hot water, my gas bill gets pretty high in the winter.

One way to combat the cold temperature though is to wear warmer clothes. So I’m sitting here in wool socks, a wool sweater, and thick “house pants,” plus a HEATTECH (link in English or Japanese) turtleneck from ユニクロ (UNIQLO). Yes, here I am talking about underwear again.

HEATTECH Turtleneck by UNIQLO

 

UNIQLO, as I have posted before is about the only place that I can find clothes that come close to fitting. I’m preparing to go to Hokkaido in a couple of weeks, so I figured I needed long underwear. Everyone swears by HEATTECH so I also bought some long underwear there. And now, I can’t stop wearing it or buying it. Do people in the States often wear longjohns to work? Do you have to reach a certain age to do so?

HEATTECH Tights by UNIQLO

 

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I am not alone in my love of leggings in Japan. Nor does it seem to be an age thing. Many of my younger colleague’s tights poke their way out from under their pants when they sit with their legs crossed. And we know from past posts that leggings under pants are fashionable. So on these colder days, I shamelessly wear my long underwear to work, smugly knowing that I am staying warm.

I do keep it a little old school on the tights, going for the waffle material as opposed to the silky material they offer as well. I almost went with camouflage as well, but I don’t have anything camouflage, so why get the tights? I can’t emphasize enough that, although they pants and sleeves are a little short, the HEATTECH is really nice to have and makes the chilly Nagoya mornings and nights a little toastier.

And for my Midwestern friends and readers, the weather here is nothing compared to your winters. I know it. But I’m a Californian now.

Future Vision

Rumor has it that as you get older, it gets harder for you to read smaller (or regular print), especially in low light. It’s called presbyopia.

Mayoclinic.com states:

Presbyopia — the gradual loss of your eyes’ ability to focus actively on nearby objects — is a not-so-subtle reminder that you’ve reached middle age. A natural, often annoying part of aging, presbyopia usually becomes noticeable in your early to mid-40s and continues to worsen until around age 60.

You may become aware of presbyopia when you start holding books and newspapers at arm’s length to be able to read them. If you’re nearsighted, you might temporarily manage presbyopia by reading without your glasses.

Unfortunately, I can attest first hand that the rumor is true and annoying. Over the past few years, my ability to read small print in low light has deteriorated greatly. So for all my colleagues I used to tease on business trips when they held their menus far away, or brought the menu closer to a light, enjoy your Schadenfreude. It totally sucks.

One form of a Japanese vision test eye chart

 

My eyes are messed up anyway, farsighted with astigmatism. As I’ve gotten older, my farsightedness has actually improved, while my near vision for reading has gone south. So really, the solution should be bifocals or progressive lenses. Sigh. I can still read fairly well without reading glasses though – or at least I can read English. I’m completely blind reading tiny Japanese text with furigana. It is impossible, so I have a pair of reading glasses (and not the pharmacy reading glasses – no sir – my farsightedness and astigmatism precludes that) that I use when I am reading Japanese or small English text.

When I was back in the States in November, I had a pair of lenses replaced because they had become too scratched somehow, and I was tired of seeing starbursts at nighttime through my frames. As a vain guy, I have three pairs of glasses so it wasn’t a major impact, but these frames I wore probably 90% of the time. OK, 99% of the time. I went to the doctor and had them arranged to be express shipped to my brother’s place in Boston since I was not going to be back in LA.

My everyday glasses

 

Fortunately, the glasses arrived in Boston while I was still there, I popped them on, and they felt really, really good. Ahhhhhh. Then I pulled out my iPhone to read something, and I couldn’t make out a thing. Everything was completely blurry.

Simulated reading results with new lenses

 

The previous year, my Doctor and I had reached a bit of a compromise. We thought that I could go with my 2008 prescription that overcorrects my farsightedness, and helps my reading ability as well. It isn’t really enough for reading, but it is adequate. I didn’t want to transition to bifocals yet because that is admitting that erectile dysfunction is just around the corner. Actually, I didn’t want to make a change just prior to moving to Japan. In 2010, I got another eye check and of course things had changed. So I had a new prescription and again my Doctor and I agreed to stick with the old prescription but to perhaps update my reading glasses.

When I went to get the new lenses, the optician pulled the 2010 prescription to make the lenses, resulting in beautiful distance vision but horrible reading. Of course, I found that out in Boston. I also had gotten rid of all my old prescriptions in Japan because they were “out of date.” Luckily, my optician agreed to send me the new old prescription and now I am in the process of getting new lenses in Japan.

Of course, in Japan, the lenses are much more expensive. Nothing like paying for lenses twice in a 3 month period. And I was greeted with a matrix of options … how much thinner, what kind of coats, and how much edge distortion are you willing to accept? I kind of shot for the middle – I hope the lines will be straight enough. We’ll see in one week how well the new lenses work.

I had Tomo with me to help with the transaction, and even with him present it was hard to communicate the various things I needed / wanted. However, I’m pretty confident we got the right lenses on order in terms of correction. I’m just worried about the extra stuff like the coating, the index of refraction, and the distortion. Oh well. Time will tell.