October 18, 2016

Florida Fandango I

In 2006, two great things happened to me. One was the birth of my first child. Second was a motorcycle trip I took with some of my best friends in the world from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, next to the Arctic Ocean. We called it the Alaskan Odyssey. What follows is the sequel when we traveled on another motorcycle trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Key West and back in early August 2016.
This trip was ten years in the making and almost didn’t happen. Due to my sudden India work assignment, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go on this tour. By some magic our schedules aligned, and I found myself flying to Ottawa from Japan, sleeping about five hours at home, then boarding the first flight at dawn to Ft. Lauderdale. I arrived at the airport with blurry eyes, sleep deprivation, a newfound appreciation for Japanese thoroughness (budget airlines--arggh!), and profound excitement about the prospect of meeting my travel mates, Billy X and Mike Penilski. But I had a few hours to kill before they would pick me up during which I met several other cocktail enthusiasts at the airport’s “Lime-A-Rita” bar who quickly became "furendz forevah" through the alchemy of time and liquor. I forgot to write down names, but the blurry chats and political rants are etched into my memory forever.

I also observed The Coolest Wife In The World (besides mine, that is). This Grace Kelly-esque blond woman sauntered over to the bar from the baggage carousel with two elegant-looking aluminum thermoses in hand. I overheard her asking for Moscow Mules to be poured into the canisters. It seems she and her husband had been stuck on the tarmac for a few hours as their jet had no embarkation gate. Then they finally got off the plane and had been waiting for 30 minutes for the baggage to come out. So what better time than to get a few roadies to enjoy with her husband while they were waiting for their bags. Now that is The Coolest Wife In The World.

My road trip amigos eventually arrived and I bid a tearful farewell to Rita. In high spirits, literally, I boarded Bill’s trusty van, which he had driven all the way from Colorado. We checked into our cheapo motel, dropped our gear, and headed out for grub. It was that simple. Ten years has passed yet we all slipped back into old habits as if it had only been a few months. I’ve learned that such seamless transitions are the telltale sign of lifelong friends. We frolicked in the dark and deserted Ft. Lauderdale beachfront like the middle-aged Spring Breakers we so desperately wanted to be.

Next day: motorcycles. Big-ass Harleys, mine a 1000cc pig with major love handles, Mike’s a humongous 1300cc beast that packs a bigger engine than my latest car. Departure! Yeah, it was sunny and very hot--it’s southern Florida in August. Yeah, the Miami Beach area was prosperous and beautiful. Yeah yeah yeah yeah. We made a beeline for Florida City and the Overseas Highway, US1 to Key West. Leaving the Everglades and purring across the bridge spanning the various bays to Key Largo signaled our journey had begun. 
Funny thing is the Overseas Highway is only about 113 miles (182 km) long. Before seeing it with my own eyes, my impression was of many long bridges atop wide expanses of aqua ocean. Reality was a nice two-lane highway, sun-baked asphalt, and us puttering along at a gentlemanly 55 m.p.h., small towns and businesses on linked islands, and a good old American good time. And yes we camped. More to come.

October 1, 2016

Rising Family® relocates

Rising Family® relocates operations to Gurgaon, India

GURGAON, India (Sept. 30, 2016)—The Rising Family® has relocated to Gurgaon, India, to seek new sources of creativity and innovations in family development. The Family’s CEO, Chris X, held an impromptu press conference to provide background information about the surprise and sudden relocation to one of India’s fastest-growing cities. Gurgaon is located 32 kms (20 miles) southwest of New Delhi.

“It was time a change, simple as that,” said the usually loquacious, silver-maned devil. 
I so love this ad for hot noodles. Encapsulates how I feel these days
The move was effective late August but due to the moving logistics, hyper-fast vacations, expected settling-in-pains, and a three-week stay at a local hotel before taking possession of their apartment, regular communications with stakeholders proved difficult. 
Three dudes on one bike. Love it!

Said the Family’s juvenile members, Lady E. and sibling, ‘M.X.’: “Hey, we’re still totally lost with the local language, but hip to the scene. Everyone is extraordinarily nice to us. Ain’t digging the spicy food yet, though.” Both girls are getting used to their new school and surroundings with only a few tears (at first) and with growing confidence and verve. 
Thums up, indeed.

Naomi X, Chief Operating Officer of the Rising Family, said the new city offered new challenges in terms of logistics and finding Japanese rice. “We’ll get over the rice thing in time,” she said, commenting on the food situation. “But we’ll never stop commenting on how the cute the cows on the road are, or the wild dogs and monkeys that patrol the city with impunity. Awesome!”
Gurgaon: India's fastest-growing city, slowest moving mega-traffic. Photo courtesy of Team-Bhp.com
About the Rising Family
The Rising Family® is a Canada-Japan joint venture established in Hiroshima, Japan, in 2007. With the addition of newly-created subsidiary M.X. in 2010, the company moved operations to Yokohama in 2011. Rising Family® is a service provider of sorts with core operations currently located in our apartment. Now with four members, sleep deprivation may prevent quick email turnaround but any private correspondence is always welcome. You know where we are. Email remains unchanged.


July 31, 2016

Traditional summer fun

Here are a few scenes of traditional summer fun. In plain words that means these time-honored Japanese cultural activities have become July rituals for the Rising Family™. And they are fun for all of us. 
(Ed. note: there’s a little something just for me at the end, a time capsule of sorts…)
At Marina’s kindergarden, every year they hold the summer festival for the kids and parents amid the sweltering July humidity. The students put on a cute show of quasi-Obon dancing on a stage pulsing with the bom-bom taiko drums; these toddlers to six-year-olds gamely try to contort their bodies properly to the traditional summer songs. Mostly it’s for parents like me to capture it on video for the ages. They also hoist the omikoshi (portable Shinto shrine) going around the school joyously squeaking “washoi”—which nobody really knows what it means, but it’s a good thing!

Next was the neighborhood Obon summer festival, always a huge hit with our kids and the neighborhood. The community association astutely plans it before the actual Obon holidays in mid-August because so many people from Tokyo and Yokohama are from other parts of Japan, and will probably go home at that time. So it’s well attended in July, and I think a charming public event for people of all ages.

Elena was quite excited. All the students at her school make the lantern shades for the lights that criss-cross the festival grounds, which is held at the biggest local public park. She proudly showed us hers. Also, she is old enough to want hang with her friends. Here she is with her best friend, H.F.
Here is our mini Annie Oakley, M., knocking down two of three dixie cups thanks to her sharpshooting skills.
Full moon…
…and dancing groups of older folks who really know how to do the Obon dances properly.
Finally, this is just for me. The 2016 Blue Jays are in first place for the first time since April. 
Of course I am pulling for them. I have no idea how the season will turn out, but yeah I am hoping they will go to the fall classic. It’s a joy to watch and follow the team, even from half the world away. 
So I am just posting this to show a righteous belief that..they…can..go...all…the..way
Go Jays!

July 19, 2016

Rising Family hungry for Golden Week fun

East eats West
The wacky Golden Week golly-gee goodness train just kept a’ rolling. We visited one of our favorite parks in the Yokosuka area, Kurihama Flower Park, which features a terrific view of Tokyo Bay. I’ve noted the park before in this blog but what made it different this time was that when we arrived at the play area the Godzilla slide looked more menacing...
Perhaps it was jonesing for a hamburger? “Where’s the beef?” indeed. So our usual walking/tag/hide-and-seek/Tarzan rope drills were augmented by some eye-catching frivolity due to the huge inflatable burger.

Marina now on two wheels
Walking upright and learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels are typical rights of passage for children. In a flashy display of her improving balance and eye-hand coordination, Marina joined the ranks of kids who can ride bikes without training wheels.
Somehow, as with many things in parenting, the bicycle operation regimen felt easier the second time around. I gave Marina a few balance clinics several months ago; she was a gamer then, eager to catch up with other kids and impress her older sis. I laid off on the pressure and got busy so we had a bit of a hiatus. Next thing I know, Marina is zooming around the neighborhood A-OK sans training wheels. Big Sis Elena claims it’s all due to her instructing on technique, but methinks this really is a case of quick learning by peer osmosis. I certainly had very little to do with this new milestone in M’s life. Regardless, she is regularly zipping around the block on her refurbished pink lady bicycle, and we couldn’t be prouder as she takes another step forward. Congratulations Marina!

Two-wheeled rebel
Never to be outdone by her younger, therefore (in her view) always-less-capable sibling, Elena got intrigued by these new skateboards that have appeared on our neighborhood streets.
Similarly, Lady E.’s balance and reaction time have advanced such that she is riding a “wave board” thanks to her friends in the neighborhood who taught her. It’s “street surfing” with the “wave board.” They call it the “bu-ray-bohdo.” It rides on two wheels, each on a pivot so that the board can turn freely. The gyrating force from her legs propels her forward. It’s daunting, and makes me feel old. So good for her—the young generation rises! All hail the latest two-wheeled rebel.

Lady E’s sports day
You can’t help but love Sports Day at schools in Japan. I’ve written about it before so I need not regale you with the details. Suffice it to say that once again Lady E. was a total team player and, as a veteran of these public spectacles, very definitely contributed to the show. Relay runs, dancing, and putting up with the heat and parents pestering her for photos…
She did us proud.

Kamping near Kid’s World @ Mt. Fuji

Recently the Rising Family took off for a camping weekend getaway at the Kodomo no Kuni (Children’s World) amusement area. It’s near the base of Mt. Fuji and is a great way to get outdoors and camp without too much strain. We bookended the weekend with a day visit to the Fuji Safari Park, which was excellent.

The drive through the enclosed safari was very well done – nice balance between access to the animals but keeping their habitat intact. Especially memorable was that the giraffes were not shy: one nibbled on our car roof’s radio antenna while its partner refused to get out of the way. Long-necked tag-team! There was one instance of animal passion, "nature gone wild", which made me crack up...

More outdoors around Canada Day
Jeez, as I write these descriptions I see we are actually quite busy on the weekends in summertime. To wit: on the Canada Day weekend, with a good weather forecast, we were off on another camping foray. This one was to Mother Bokujo Farm in Chiba-ken, across Tokyo Bay. The plan was to spend the day wandering around the farm (petting animals, playing games, watching the sheep-sheering show by a Kiwi sheepherder, which was primo family bonding time) then camping at the adjacent "auto camp", which was cheap, low-frills, lots of space. We did all that.
Next morning, I unfurled the family kite and sent it aloft. Elena and Marina both took a turn. When I was back in charge, the kite decided it had endured enough altitude abuse: the line snapped. Our kite wafted into the azure skies in a bold bid for freedom. It was actually a pretty poignant moment and we all laughed.
Freedom, my friends, is a powerful draw even for inanimate objects.

June 30, 2016

Snippets and snapshots

Here are a few accounts of some of our milestones over the last couple of months. Sometimes the picture speaks for itself. But I will add a few words anyway for posterity.

Disneyland (late April)
Marina’s birthday; wet weather didn’t dampen spirits. Branding run amok yet it WORKS!
We had a terrific time.

Little Sumos (May)
There is nothing cuter than seeing kindergarten kidz square off in a school-wide sumo tournament.
To (translation is mine) “promote children’s healthy body and to give an opportunity to learn and feel the Japanese mind and culture.”

Golden Week: the annual holidays. We opted for a staycation to avoid the inevitable crowds: home chores, flea markets, shorts trips (Jogashima), and visiting local fishin’ holes. It was just plain good.
2nd game of the year!

June 21, 2016

Looking Yokohama, but feeling Okinawa

Once upon a time, October 2003 to be specific, my then-girlfriend Naomi and I took a trip to Okinawa. We rented a 150cc scooter in Naha and drove around the entire island. Around the mid-point in our travels, near Uruma city, we left the main island of Okinawa and drove across the Mid-Sea Road which connects to a series of small isles called Henza and Miyagi. The highway is surrounded on both sides by pristine turquoise water and offers captivating views—like a travel commercial. Once you reach these small islands, there are glass-bottom boat rides, snorkeling and diving available, but we just wanted to go to the end of the road to see what was there. I recall that upon arrival, with only open fields and narrow dirt roads, there was nary a soul to be seen, clear blue skies, and just silence. The local crops were rows and rows of tall sugarcane. Dismounting the scooter and strolling around was a memorable experience for me; I still strongly feel to this day the whole ambience was one of utter tranquility and peace. I do want to go back there someday to see if that atmosphere remains.
So, this brings me to my own little version of that serenity near our home in middle of the uber-urban metropolis that is Yokohama. When spring comes I tend to begin jogging again to burn off some of winter’s excess that perpetually remains around my waist. When we moved to our current residence, I came across a stretch of bumpy macadam road devoid of buildings, abutted by fields tilled by weekend hobby farmers, and lined with green shrubbery. I immediately christened it the Okinawa Road because I felt some of that tranquility I so vividly remember from the Okinawa episode I recounted above.
These days finding a moment of calm is an achievement for most people, myself included. Whenever I pass through the Okinawa Road, day or night, most times I have the space to myself and can get some relief from the constant deluge of big city life—the crowds, the concrete, the incessant din. In the peak of summer, heat keeps people indoors, and it’s though the humidity dampens the noise such that the only sound except the quiet hush of cars on the roads far away is the cicadas chirping. Nothing but good comes from a peaceful trot along the road at night with only the verdant hedges, the stars and the city’s glow reflecting on the clouds above keeping you company.
Sometimes I take one of the Rising Daughters with me on a short spin on our 50cc scooter around the neighborhood. They like the speed and motion that is different from a car. Invariably we also go up and down the Okinawa Road. They usually request it; I assume the affection I hold for this innocuous stretch of road is contagious.
Maybe it’s due to being a green oasis at the top of a hill in the middle of the city, maybe it’s the comparative silence, but in the end it’s 500 meters and just a few minutes of respite from urban life. That’s why I adore the Okinawa Road. 

May 31, 2016


On day #4, I wanted to visit Cape Muroto with Dad before our flight back to the urban jungle. Muroto is an austere windswept point on the southeast tip of Shikoku that I have visited during various motorcycle trips in the past. 

I thought it appropriate that we go because it is a) visually stimulating, and the sea air is invigorating and b) there is a giant white statue of Kukai staring out to sea.

Huge Kobo Daishi statue at Cape Muroto
He sports a stoic expression—sheer white contrasted against the green backdrop of the mountainside. But it’s almost 100kms from Tokushima so we needed to rent a car to do it. I was so disheartened that we didn’t have the time to walk the trail along the coastline all the way there—NOT.
The journey to Cape Muroto struck the right note as a way to cap our temple trek—plus we could ride, not walk. Sold!
Back in Yokohama...
The Rising Granddaughters’ last visit to Canada to see Grampa was in the summer of 2014. We can usually only go during the summer holidays. This time he decided to come visit us, woo-hoo. Once back in Yokohama he spent most of the time with Naomi and the girls because the rugrats were off school for the spring holidays. While I was nursing my sore feet at the office, Grampa had some fun times with the family and did a cherry blossom outing to Yokohama’s Sankeien Garden.

Some photos as a marker of the visit follow.

Spelunking at a local park

Ferris wheel view of Yokohama harbor
Sipping suds & trash talk with J.K. at Yebisu Beer Station (love that name!) to cap a wonderful stay.

Thanks for visiting, Dad!