2008 June 5 Thursday thru June 7 Saturday.

The photo in today's blog, is a close up of a 500 ml bottle of OtokoYama SasaOri All Malt Rice Wine 男山笹おり 特別純米 生酒.

I have written about this before, but I think it deserves another mention, for all of my readers out there, who may not be familiar with this most excellent, cold Japanese Sake.

From the photo, you can see that the rice wine looks like there are clouds floating in it. There are.

These are clouds of LIVING YEAST that are still active, producing alcohol inside the bottle.

No kidding. This rice wine is totally non-pasteurized, meaning that it was never heated up, not even to room temperature, during the entire process of its production.

This rice wine is made during the coldest months of the year, and then bottled in March.

It is keep in a freezer at a temperature of minus 5 degrees Celsius for about two months, before it is shipped out to the wholesalers and retailers in late May of each year, for sale to the general public.

Even after that, it must be kept refrigerated at a very low temperature until it is consumed by the end user.

This Japanese Sake tastes so damn good, it is like the nectar of the gods.

I am not kidding. In fact, on Friday evening at about 19:00,
Charles Hamel, a long time reader of this blog, called me up to tell me how much he was enjoying drinking this cold rice wine, even as we spoke on the telephone.

That's right Charlie, this stuff is ONLY sold in HOKKAIDO.

Welcome to the best island on the planet.

For many reasons, not JUST this ONE.

Also this year I have seen for the first time, big red paper labels with holes punched in them, for hanging around the neck of the 500 ml bottles, specifically

INFORMING everybody that this juice MUST BE KEPT REFRIGERATED! It's true.

I have had two encounters with spoiled SasaOri.

The first one happened at a 7-Eleven store about 8 years ago.

The bottle was inside a cooler display case, but when I reached in and got it out,
I noticed right away that the color was not cloudy clear, but slightly yellow.

Xit!!! I thought to myself.

But, I took a chance and bought it anyway.

Immediately thereafter, I discovered that it was indeed rotten.

I knew for a fact that the raw rice wine had been kept in a warm place for some amount of time.

It was ruined. I vowed to never make that mistake again.

But I forgot about it, UNTIL,.... July 8, 2006.

On that day, I was taking photographs at the Mebae Kindergarten TANABATA FESTIVAL on a beautiful warm evening.

When that gig was finished at about 18:00, I decided to get a bottle of my favorite summertime swill, at a nearby supermarket in Kamui.

Much to my horror, I found no bottles of SasaOri in the chilled sections of the store, but I did find five full cases of it, sitting on the floor of the supermarket, right next to the cheap wine and cheap whisky.

Oh my Gawd! Somebody doesn't know how to care for this product.

This time, I called a clerk and asked him if there were any cold SasaOri bottles in the back room.

He said, "I'll go check."

About 2 minutes later, he came back with a cold 500 ml bottle in his hand.

When he gave it to me, I could see right away that the color was a bit on the yellow side.

This bottle is cold, but it hasn't always been that way.

It was rotten too. I was totally hacked-off, so I asked the clerk to call the store manager.

I did this for ONE reason and ONE reason ONLY.

To prevent the total waste of this most delicious raw pure malt rice wine on the planet.


I hate to see stuff like that. I had a big smile on my face when I informed the store manger that this product was rotten, and would create a bad impression with the customers who bought and drank it.

Naturally, this would create a very bad image for the OtokoYama company.

UNFAIR! The company's products are excellent.

But some of them require special handling.

Seeing this mindless waste, and feeling extremely sad, I sent an email to Mr. Sasaki at the OtokoYama company, who is the Marketing Director and long time personal friend of mine.

As a token of his gratitude, he personally came by my classroom on the
Sunday Morning of July 30, 2006 and delivered a cold four-pack of the delicious brew.

Maybe my whistle-blowing, has something to do with the new RED BOTTLENECK TAGS that drape each and every bottle of SasaOri which are on sale this year.


2008 June 2 Monday thru June 4 Wednesday.

This week on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday is the 護国神社祭 here in Asahikawa.

The GoKokuJinJaSai is held every year at this time, and for the purpose of remembering all of the Japanese soldiers and civilians who have died in times of war.

Every year during this event, there is a rainstorm usually together with thunder and lightning.

This is known as "The Rain of Tears" 涙雨 and is said to represent the tears of sorrow caused by the suffering of war.
The main locations for the festival activities is the GoKoku Shrine itself which is located in 春光 right next door to the JSDF base.

Also, there is a three day carnival in Tokiwa Park that looks something like the photo above/left.

Wednesday morning I had no classes, so I was out driving around enjoying the sunny morning.

I drove past the GoKoku Shrine and all around the perimeter of the JSDF base several times.

Today was a special day on the base, and all of the troops were in full battle gear, driving tanks and every other vehicle they own, including small boats and helicopters.

Of course, they were displaying the unit colors and other battle flags as well.
I stopped along the public street just outside of the fence and watched for about 5 minutes.

It was pretty cool.

In fact, on Sunday June 8, the JSDF base in ShunKo will have an OPEN TO THE PUBLIC day between the hours of 09:00 and 15:00.

I already have two events that I will attend on Sunday, but hopefully I will also be able to make it out to the base again before 15:00.

I'd like to take a closer look at those helicopters that fly over my neighborhood several times a day, every single day.

After watching the troops on parade, I drove over to Tokiwa Park to watch the carnies set up their stalls.

They were just getting started when I got there at about 10:40.

The library doesn't open until 11:00, so I had a lot of time to just wander around the park, and observe their work in progress.

Tokiwa Park, by the way, is recognized as one of the 100 most beautiful parks in all of Japan.

There is even a small stone and bronze plaque at the entrance of the park that says so.

It truly is a wonderful park, both during the day and also at night.
From 15:00 until 20:00 I had straight classes at my classroom, but right after that, I took a taxi to Tokiwa Park and wandered around among the huge crowd for about 2 and one half hours, sipping on a big bottle of 男山笹おり, as I always do, and taking many photos.

During my time there this evening, many young people, mostly college students, called out to me and I talked with them for a few minutes each time.

I even ran into a group of four girls who go the the Kosei Nursing School, and they all gave me a big hug.

Confirming once again, that the best things in life are,.........


2008 June 1 Sunday.

It is an overcast and rainy day.

I have been invited to attend a wedding celebration party at the Asahikawa Grand Hotel, starting at 13:00.

The woman getting married is a student at my classroom who came from Mie Prefecture 三重県, and her husband's hometown is Asahikawa.

As such, a lot of people who don't live in Hokkaido came to this wedding celebration party today.

As usual, I was the only non-Japanese person in attendance, and I only knew 2 of the 97 other people who were there also.

The ceremony was gorgeous, the food was great, and there were a wide variety of drinks to be enjoyed.

The whole thing lasted about 2 and one half hours.

According to a card at each place setting, there was a second party scheduled at a different location in the city, to be held from 16:30 until 18:30.

However, in my semi-drunken state, the time registered in my brain as "6:30 pm until 8:30 pm".

This is the time I believed to be true, when I left the Grand Hotel and got into a taxi for the short ride back home at about 15:30.

I was thinking to myself, "I have enough time to change my clothes, have a bite to eat, and then head back into town for the second party.

Well, my belief was wrong.

After sitting around at my home until about 17:30, I looked at the card again to confirm the location of the second party and was shocked to realize that the second party was already half over!!!

Ahgggggg!!! I missed my chance to have some drinks with Taemi, her husband and some of their friends.

What an idiot I was. My name is Norman not Morman, but sometimes I call myself Moron!

Can't turn back the clock.

Just wait for the next opportunity.


2008 May 26 Monday thru May 31 Saturday.

Back to business.

At 13:00 on Monday, the 神楽公民館で英会話を楽しむ会, had two new visitors who came to see our discussion group in action.

The young lady who did not attend last week because of severe Pollen Allergy symptoms, did attend this week, but also with very severe allergic reactions to pollen.

She was wearing a double layered white mask on her face, and was forced to remove it from time to time, in order to expectorate the excess mucus from her nose, and watery eyes.

I know EXACTLY how you feel Mrs. I.

Drink 甜茶 and stop taking that useless poison, commonly known as; Over The Counter pharmaceuticals.

I have been there and tried that, it does not work.

Try a different approach.

A more herbal remedy may be just the ticket you need, to fly into breathable air again.

On Tuesday, I spent about 90 minutes with a group of Freshman Students at Asahikawa University, in the computer lab.

About 25% of them didn't show up today.

The lesson continues without them.

On Wednesday at the Kosei Nursing School, our 90 minute class together was a lot of fun.

The entire time was spent with me and each and every one of the 40 students taking turns, practicing a pre-scripted telephone conversation, using real cell phone display models as props.

A few of the students, who are really interested in speaking English, took the opportunity to ad-lib, and get off script.

GOOD!!! That is exactly what I want to happen during these skits 演習.

An actively participating student group is a teacher's dream come true, in real time.

On Friday at the Dokan Nursing School, I had a 90 minute class with one half of the 2nd year students.

Again, I and each and everyone of the 20 students performed a pre-scripted skit, about buying a fitted hat.

Trying on three different hats until the size was just right.

Some students were able to ad-lib through the script, but some could not memorize their lines at all.

On Saturday, I drove out to Shibinai to visit with Charles Hamel and family. We took a drive over to the 東川森林公園 and the kids took a ride on the Green Slider.

Also, Charlie made a short video for one of his blog readers who had sent him a small gift in the mail.

Charlie has a new type of video camera called FlipVideo, which is entirely without any moving parts!

No tapes to mess around with at all.

It takes reasonably good movies and is about the size of my hand.

His model can record up to one hour of video, which can then be downloaded to a PC via a USB connection.

Very easy to use. A must have for any serious video blogger.

After we got back from the park, Charlie showed me some of his other websites and how he manages them, plus some of his ANIME drawings that he makes using the pen tool in Adobe Illustrator.

It was a very interesting and educational day for me.

See ya again next week on Sunday at the 志比内小学校運動会!


2008 May 24 Saturday and May 25 Sunday.

I was hoping that Ikuko and I could get get on the road to Otaru by about 13:30 or so, but we were delayed until about 15:45.

It was hot and sunny this afternoon, so I dressed in short pants and a short sleeved shirt for the drive to the coast.

The route I always use when driving to the Sea of Japan from Asahikawa is as follows.

First I get onto Highway 12 at the border between Kamui and Chuwa.

I drive along Route 12 through two long tunnels until I get to the KamiKoTan 神居コタン area.

There, after the end of the second long tunnel, I turn right onto Route 57 heading towards FukaGawa 深川.

At FukaGawa, many people turn off onto Route 223 which leads directly to downtown Rumoi 留萌.

I don't. Instead, I continue on along Route 57 driving through FukaGawa and then on into MoSeUshi 妹背牛.

There, I turn off onto Route 628 which is close to the PePeRu OnSen ペペル温泉.

After driving for about 8 kilometers along Route 628, I turn left onto Route 94 which is also known as the 稲田増毛線.

This Route 94 will take you all the way to Sea of Japan Coastline and Route 231 at a point about 3 kilometers south of Rumoi.

This is by far the most scenic way to drive to the beach from Asahikawa. After taking a rest at the rocky beach at the end of Route 94, we headed south down

Route 231 towards Mashike Town 増毛町.

Right after passing through Mashike Town, there begins a long series of tunnels which last all of the way down the オロロンライン until you get into HamaMasu Town 浜益町.

We stopped along the way in HamaMasu to eat some Sea Urchin Rice Bowl うに丼 and other delicious foods.

Then, we got back on the road for the remaining 90 minutes or so drive to Otaru.

I know exactly how to get to Authent Hotel, because I have been there many times before.

They even have free parking inside one of those Vertical Parking Elevators 立体駐車場, which is located right next door to the main entrance of the hotel.

When we drove up to the entrance of the hotel to unload our bags, the person who came out to greet us, remembered me right away.

He said; "You came here last year too, didn't you?"

I said; "Yes, I did. And the year before that, and the year before that, etc."

It is nice to see a familiar face again, when on the road. We checked in at about 19:30 and then immediately went back outside again, for the short walk to the Canal Plaza Area 運河プラザ and the Otaru Beer Factory in Warehouse Number One.

Before we left Asahikawa today, we already knew that the PALOSIKS would not be performing tonight.

However, we were looking forward to drinking the Helles German Style Beer ヘルス which is only available during the springtime and early summer of each year.

This beer is truly a masterpiece of this brewery, and only costs 1,680 yen per liter.

ONLY???!!! Let's see, that is about 10 times more expensive than gasoline! Yeah, well,..... what the hell. Helles is damn good beer.

Unfortunately for us, we were both still rather full from our late meal in

HamaMasu, and we couldn't drink as much good beer as we usually do.

Did we save any money on the deal?

No, not really. Sea Urchin Rice Bowl costs about 2,600 per serving, making it rather pricey for a single meal.

But who cares anyway. Money is just dirty paper.

After spending about 90 minutes at the Otaru Beer Factory, Ikuko and I walked around a bit along the famous canal area.

There were far less people than we expected, but then again, it was just another

Saturday night in Otaru, with no special consecutive holidays for the Japanese Salary Man.

Even though the air temperature was about 15 degrees C., the air felt colder than that because of the Sea Breeze moisture in the air.

We hurried back to the Authen Hotel so that we could use the Mist Sauna and other fine bathing facilities.

It felt very good to warm up again, and drink some brandy as we watched TV until about 02:00.

On Sunday morning, we woke up at about 7:30 and went up to the 11th floor for a Western Style all you can eat 食べ放題 breakfast.

They also offer a Japanese Style breakfast on the 3rd floor of the hotel, for those customers who prefer it that way.

We always choose the Western Style Breakfast with its scrambled eggs, bacon, crispy rolls, plus plenty of strong coffee and fresh Hokkaido milk.

I almost never make this kind of meal for myself at home, even though I could do so very easily.

I prefer brown rice 玄米 and natto 納豆, with various seasonings like kimchi, or hot mustard and soy sauce. But this morning is different.

A once or twice in a year, experience.

As such, I really shoveled it down.

Tasted sooooooooo good.

Just like my typical childhood breakfast in Spokane Washington.

Anyway, today it is raining in Otaru, and other locations in Hokkaido, as well.

So, instead of driving back to Asahikawa, along the same route on which we came, we decided to first visit Wing Bay Otaru and take a look around.

We haven't been inside this shopping complex for about 10 years, and many things have changed.

One of the differences that I really liked, is the fact that, they have a stage on the first floor, for musical artists to perform upon.

Our timing was just right and we caught the performance of two guys on amplified acoustic guitars, with excellent vocals.

Asahikawa should have more of this type of stuff, in the AEON Shopping Mall.

After looking around there for about 90 minutes, we were back on the road, Route 5 heading towards Sapporo, where we got onto Route 12 for the remaining trip back to Asahikawa.

Distance wise, this route is shorter than taking the coast highway, but there are so many stop lights and traffic jams along the way, that it usually takes more time to arrive at our final destination.

However, Ikuko's younger sister was recently transferred from Tokyo to Sapporo for her job, so we decided to drop in at her office and say hello.

She had to work today until about 19:00, so we were only able to talk to her for a few minutes.

Finally, Ikuko and I arrived back home at about 19:30 and immediately stretched out with a beer or two, to unwind.

Driving through the big city, really makes me tired.

That's why I always take JR if my only destination on a trip, is going to Sapporo.


2008 May 19 Monday thru May 23 Friday.

The cutting edge of the evening chill, has mellowed out.

It is getting warmer, day by day, but typhoon number 4, was raising hell as it pounded southern Japan and then moved farther out into the Pacific Ocean as it came up north towards Hokkaido latitudes.

It was very windy on Tuesday and Wednesday especially.

On Monday at the 神楽公民館英会話を楽しむ会, one of our regular members couldn't come this week because she was down with POLLEN ALLERGY 花粉症.

I know exactly what that feels like.

I missed a gig just a few weeks ago, at the DoKan Nursing school, for the very same reason.

On Tuesday, I was at Asahikawa University between the hours of 10:20 and 12:10 in a Computer Learning Lab on the 4th floor, of the main building.

About half way through that class, the wind outside of the windows became so loud, that myself and 3 other students, parted the heavy drapes hung over the windows, to look outside and see how strong the wind really was.

It was whipping around the inner courtyard of the campus, like the TASMANIAN DEVIL of Warner Brothers Movies アニメ.

Strong, Loud and Scary.

Fortunately, unlike southern Honshu, the KamiKawa Basin got very little rain, by comparison.

Thursday was a regular kind of teaching day, with LOVE all around.

Friday morning at the Dokan Nursing School was more fun than usual, because I used my Morning Call gag on the 2nd year students, two times during that class.

The gag goes like this; Every time I start a class at this school, I look at the student list, call out to each and every student by name, greet them and ask them a simple question.

The IDEA here, is to stimulate some kind of casual conversation.

This works well with motivated students.

Non-motivated students, can't even understand what I am saying, unless the student sitting next to them interprets my remarks into Japanese for them.

If one or more of the students is absent when I get to their name on the class list, I ask the attending students if anybody knows the absentee student's mobile phone number.

Every time I ask, at least one student will say that they know the phone number.

At that point, I ask them to call the absentee student on their mobile phone, and then give the phone to me while it is still ringing.

When the absentee student answers their phone, I say; "Hello! This is Norman at the Dokan Nursing School.

We have an English class together today, do you think you can make it to the classroom, before the lesson ends at 10:30? etc., etc.

Of course by now, everyone in the classroom is rolling with laughter and the student on the other end of the phone, is in a state of disbelief.

Most likely, no other teacher anywhere ever, has pulled this gag on them before.

If the student I am calling doesn't answer the phone, I leave a message on their answering service.

Either way, this is a fun and easy way, to get everyone in the class buzzing with laughter and light conversation.

It works every time.

After that class was finished at 10:30, I took a taxi back to my place to eat brunch, and do various things before the next class at my classroom began, at 15:00.

When all classes for Friday were finished at 20:00, Ikuko and I went for a 60 minute walk along the cycling roads of the Biei and Chubetsu Rivers, as we often do.

We talked about, what to do, during the weekend, because Ikuko has both

Sunday and Monday off, from her part time job at HOMAC.

We decided to go to Otaru and spend one night at the Authent Hotel.

A place where we have stayed many times before.