American World 

Tired of the izakaya scene in Kitakami? Maybe it's time to come to American World! Its combination of shopping, restaurants, and amusements seems to be very attractive to young people in Kitakami. I can't say it's all that American — the bookstore has hardly any books in English — but it does offer fast-food burgers, Baskin Robbins ice cream, and a Ferris wheel (invented by an American engineer in 1893).

(It's also home to the only hobby shop in Kitakami, but alas, they have no trains.)
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Sunset Rice 

The last golden rays of the sun, heralding the coming of nightfall, light the last golden ears of rice, heralding the coming of autumn.
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Dressing for Winter 

I'm in the market for a winter coat. I didn't bring the one I used in Washington because a) it was a mid-calf length wool coat, which would have been too heavy and bulky to pack or ship; and b) it was from about forty pounds ago. So now I'm faced with the short versus long coat conundrum. Long would definitely keep more of me warm during the cold, cold Tohoku winter, but short has significant advantages for the bike traveler.

There is an art to dressing for bike travel. We only have to ride short distances, so it's not worth wearing casual clothes for the trip, then changing into our suits at work. It's suits all the way. So his cuffs don't get caught in the chain, Matthew tucks his pant legs into his socks. I don't wear socks that permit tuckage, so I fold and roll my cuffs up, 1980s pegged acid-wash jeans style. Unfortunately, most of my suits have wide legs, so the tight cuffing makes them balloon out, resulting in a girl on a mountain bike in three-inch heels and MC Hammer pants. Practical, yes. Likely to make People's Best Dressed issue, no.

Which brings us to coats. If you're wearing a long coat, you must carefully gather as much of the back part as you can and stuff it between your butt and the seat, lest it get caught in the tire and either send you flying or get destroyed. It's preferable to do this before you start riding somewhere so that your coattail-stuffing doesn't cause a near collision with a woman carrying a twelve-pack of toilet paper. (Hey, I said we were learning things the hard way.) A short coat, of course, requires none of this folderol and is thus more convenient and practical. You just have to not mind having cold legs. And wind rushing under your coat, making the rest of you cold too.

Decisions, decisions.
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Demon Moths of Kitakami 

Some of the successful spiders here — outdoor ones, that is — have grown quite large. And the largest ones are the ones that have built webs on street lights, which attract bugs by the swarm.

Last week, while walking the dogs at night, we saw something quite large hanging from a web on a streetlight. It looked for all the world like a moth, but it was way too big to be one. Even if there was a moth that big, there's no way a spider's web would trap it. It had to be a bit of insulation or something.

A few nights later, it was gone. But something was fluttering in the light. We could see it easily from 100 yards away. Was it a bat? A small bird? No, the movement wasn't right. It was very fluttery and quick. As we got closer, we could see its wings going very, very fast. It was moving too much to tell for sure, but it really seemed like a moth the size of a baseball.

Later, we discovered one that had landed, so we could get a good look and photos.

Here's another look, along with Stefanie's hand to give a sense of the scale.

I hope these things never start eating my suits!

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The Joy of Convenience 

Like in America, the end of the month means bill-paying time. So today, I took the bills and some cash over to the convenience store, grabbed a snack, and paid for it and the bills at the same time. That's right. We pay our bills at the convenience store, which is very common in Japan. For many things, you can pay electronically through your bank, postal account, or credit card. Paying at the conbini is more fun, though.

Also, by allowing me to pay my bills and buy a tasty J-treat at the same time, the convenience store provides me with much better customer service than our bank in America. Ahem. I don't usually go around giving unsolicited advice, but I will say this to anyone thinking about expatriating: before you go, investigate how your bank and/or host country handles transactions where the account holder lives abroad, but all accounts involved are in the U.S. We didn't so much, and we've had to learn things the hard way. Nothing to be worried about, just some frustrations. To learn things is why we did this though, ne? And I've learned to love the convenience store.
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Innovative Use of Color 

Memo to Sunduell (Sundwell) Apartments: just because you have the paint doesn't mean you have to use it.
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The other day, we were at the station to see off some visitors. We decided to spring for the "platform pass" that would let us onto the shinkansen platform, so we could see them all the way to the train.

After their train left, we stayed on the platform a while to take some photos and enjoy the passing trains. Trains that aren't stopping don't even slow down, so this one may have been going as fast as 275 kph (171 mph).

(For anyone keeping score, this is the E3 Komachi end of an E3/E2 coupled set, heading north. E3 Komachi 6-car trains and E2 Hayate 10-car trains often run coupled together from Tokyo to Morioka, where they split; then Komachi runs west to Akita while Hayate continues north to Hachinohe.)
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The Bunny Moon 

Autumn is in full swing here in Kitakami. Windy days, turning leaves, and frigid nights are now routine. For now, we're using our normal covers and sleeping in long underwear, but it won't be long until we have to add the heavier cover futon and switch out the fan for the portable heaters (yikes!). Thankfully, we had a cold and clear evening for otsukimi.

Traditionally celebrated by Japanese communities, otsukimi is the viewing of the first full moon in autumn. Instead of a man, Japanese see a rabbit pounding mochi (a smooth paste made of glutinous rice) in the patterns on the surface of the moon. People mark otsukimi by putting out treats made of mochi or rice flour, like dango, or autumn fruits and vegetables. I'm not aware that there was a sanctioned event in Kitakami, but we made a little celebration of it here at home by eating some usagi manjuu (bunny cakes filled with anko (adzuki bean paste)) and tsuki mochi (mochi filled with anko and made yellow, like the moon).

I only realized after purchase that I bought the bad-luck four pack of treats. Four is an inauspicious number in Japan; it's like thirteen to superstitious Americans. Oh, well. They tasted good.

Confidential to Dunky Chuck: Happy Birthday!
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After many months, it was brought to our attention that our blog looked like crap on Internet Explorer. I think it's fixed now.

In general, we want and expect things to look right on every browser — so if you see something that looks wrong, please tell us!
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Kitakami Swans 

Kitakami is at least a little famous for its swans. This is actually a recent development, or so we're told. I guess swans migrate through here, and about five or six years ago, a couple of swans somehow got broken wings. Since they could not fly, their whole family (six swans) decided to make their home here year round.

You can see the broken wing on the one in front.
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