Dawn of a New Year 

The new year dawned with spectacular weather, which some people have taken as an auspicious sign for the year.

We weren't actually up at dawn on New Year's Day, so this photo is from the second. But the weather was gorgeous both days, so we expect New Year's Dawn probably looked a lot like this.
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Sea of Japan Sunset 

The sun setting over the Sea of Japan, as seen from Tsubakiyama, Aomori.

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Crepuscular Rays 

I remember crepuscular rays — light and dark bands radiating from the sun — as a common feature of sunsets in my childhood. Here, they can be seen very frequently, at any time of day.

This photo was taken in Tono, in mid-afternoon.

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October Skies 

It's been a while since we've posted a sunset photo. The sunsets haven't gotten any less incredible.
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Before we moved here, our lives were full of noise. Of course there were always some sounds that stood out from the background noise. A passing train, the morning alarm clock, Aki woofing at the neighbor dogs. But behind it all there was a constant barrage of noise, all blended together into an indistinguishable wall of sound that we learned to ignore.

But here, somehow it's different. Life is full of sounds. This is a city, so there are still the sounds of traffic, but it doesn't drown everything else out. All the sounds are distinct, from the frogs of late spring to the distant pops of summer fireworks, from the honking of swans calling each other in the evening to the electric whine of a departing Yamabiko shinkansen train. Earthquakes, too, create a unique sound.

As I write this, I can hear an emergency vehicle's siren - something we only hear once every few weeks.

Tonight we took a short walk along the river towards the railroad tracks. We could hear the cicadas singing in the trees, whose leaves were rustling in the breeze along the babbling Waga river. The splashing of water over rocks echoed between the rail bridges, and the local train gave a toot on its whistle before rattling across, soon to be followed by the whoooooosh of a bullet train headed the other direction. The wind occasionally brought us sounds of distant traffic, crossing one of the bridges. We could hear the caws of ravens wheeling in the sky, and when they came close we could hear their wings beat the air for lift.

Here is the sunset we listened to tonight.

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Another Sunset 

Why? Because I like sunsets, okay?
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Just Happy 

Sometimes, it's just good to be alive.

Typhoon Number 4 headed out to sea last night, so instead of the heavy rain predicted all day, we got partly cloudy skies, moderate temperatures, and a cool breeze. A major earthquake rattled Niigata, but we didn't feel it here.

We took an evening walk with the dogs to watch the sunset.

Sometimes, it's just good to be alive.
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Swingin' at Cafe Goo-Goo 

Finding Japanese classes in Kitakami is proving to be somewhat challenging. Given that it's not a city drawing huge numbers of gaikokujin, perhaps it's not so surprising. It's problematic, though, because I very much need to be studying formally. So, at least for now, I've decided to take matters into my own hands.

Accompanied by my copy of "Japanese for Busy People," a notebook, and a columned kana practice book, I set out for a study venue. I was a college student in the early '90s. I know how this goes. Studying occurs in coffeehouses, and my destination was clear: Cafe Goo-Goo.

Cafe Goo-Goo is a mod little cafe on the main street that runs by our house, a short ride past the motorcycle shop and the love hotel (it's pink!). At the top of some very clean white stairs, one encounters a door inlaid with blue glass ovals, which opens onto a white room containing a bar and four tables. I was greeted by a cheery Japanese hipster boy (CJHB) and invited to sit wherever I liked. I wanted the chance to streetwatch, so I took a glass-topped table overlooking the street, rather than a 60's soda fountain seat at one of the round tables in the back.

I ordered a choco-banana parfait and an iced coffee from CJHB and settled in to study. Being mostly obscured by large, Pucci-ish, pink-and-orange decals, the window was not so conducive to people watching. Fine -- I was there to study and eat a cute, tasty dessert, which CJHB produced in short order, complete with chocolate wafer cookie and adorable pink and white star candies. The unexpected genmai flakes at the bottom provided a delightful crunch at the end. Ahh -- good parfait, good study session (bonus points for communicating with CJHB about my peanut allergy!), good new place to grab snacks. Really, anyplace that drops "Let's Groove" into its already awesome J-Pop soundtrack is okay by me.

The way home takes me past two bridges over the Waga River, which I previously hadn't crossed. Maybe it was the view of the mountains ahead, maybe just a continued desire to explore, but something inspired me to cross the one nearest our house, Kunenbashi ("nine-year bridge").

Backstory: Mukashi-mukashi in America, we went to dinner with our friend Yoshino. A minor difference of opinion arose, which caused her and Matthew to debate in Japanese and resulted in this classic phrase: "It is not daijoubu." Translation: "It is not okay."

Well, having done it twice now, I can state with relative authority that riding your sketchy bike across Kunenbashi is not daijoubu. I'm sure the attached side path is completely secure and no one's ever accidentally plummeted from it to a watery demise, but the combination of moderate wind, rushing water below (visible through the not-quite seam between the path and the bridge frame), hollow-sounding clank-clanky metal, and my fear of heights made me glad to be back in rush hour traffic on the other side. Until I remembered that I'd have to cross it again in order to go home. Damn you, Kunenbashi!

My ride took me down to a beautiful, serene park alongside the Waga River. I heard the five o'clock music for the first time since I arrived, passed some older gentlemen practicing chipping at the golf course, and met an Iwate dog (like an Akita dog, but smaller). The day was cool, windy, and overcast, but the lack of sunshine was easily overlooked by the sheer pleasure of being alive and out in the mountains -- in Japan! Woo-hoo, I live in Japan!

Being a New Mexican, I love mountains of all kinds. I admit a special fondness, though, for Japanese mountains. They frequently erupt with clouds of steam from geothermal activity. They're also big enough that their tops mingle with clouds on a regular basis. I'm not sure which is going on in this photo, but I'm inclined to think it's a combination of both. Whatever -- it's cool.

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A Day in the Life 

8:00 am -- Wake up to sounds of small city life, including clanking and machinery from nearby cement plant.
8:30 am -- Breakfast. Sometimes we have toast, eggs, or cereal (Japanese cornflakes + Iwate milk = awesome). Other days, we eat rice topped with umeboshi (pickled plums that look like brains), seaweed, or natto (fermented soybeans that have the texture and viscosity of warm Rice Krispie treat matter).

Okay, sometimes Matthew has natto. I fear the natto.

We also use mornings to catch up on American news and our respective newsgroups and food boards, since much of what happens happens while we're merrily snoozing away.

11:30 am -- Put futons away (only sometimes, I confess), iron, go to dry cleaner, decide whether we'll have lunch together. Matthew suits up for work and cycles off, messenger bag slung over his shoulder. He's adorable. :) I do laundry in the Jetsons washing machine, or clean up the teeny-tiny kitchen, or deal with paperwork.

Somewhere around 1:00 pm -- Lunch! I bike over to Matthew's school, and we seek out a mealing venue. There's a good, cheap takoyaki (grilled octopus balls, by which I mean balls of octopus meat) joint near his school that serves lunch specials of takoyaki (obviously) or tasty, tasty yakisoba (grilled noodles), onigiri (seaweed-wrapped rice balls stuffed with something like spiced roe, salmon, or brains), and a dessert (most recently, melon custard -- mmm). The people running the place are very friendly and chatty.

2:00 pm -- Deetsing around on some combination of errands, exploration, grocery shopping, and the inevitable WTF? moment. Here's today's:

I finally acquired an apron today. It makes me look a bit like a miniskirt-wearing short-order cook.

Sometimes, my travels take me to the "WellYu" building, home of the Kitakami International Assembly Hall and a tiny, excellent art museum. KIAH is where Matthew first learned about The Moustache's reputation from a fellow Amerika-jin, an exchange student from Florida whose father had seen them around.

Somewhere around 5:00 pm -- return home and unpack goods. Feel relieved to have blood flow restored to hands if I overestimated how much I could reasonably carry on my sketchy bike, as I did today. Study Japanese, or surf the net, or catch up on email, or go for a bike ride.

7:00 pm-ish on days when it's not raining -- watch sunset.


8:30 pm -- make dinner. I've been cooking a fair amount of Japanese food, including fish, and had quite a bit of success. Fish is tricky, but for some reason, seems very easy to do here. On Tuesday, I made salt-broiled whole aji (horse mackerel), including gutting and de-gilling. There's no stopping me now...

9:30 pm -- Cocktail time! Matthew gets home from work around 9:10 most nights, changes, and makes drinks while I finish dinner. We eat and speak some Japanese before doing our last internet stuff and going to bed.

11:00 pm -- get out futons, go to bed. Listen to frogs communing along the Waga River.

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