Thursday, January 26, 2006

Yamaga Rickshaw

Just sitting there...

Close up

Closer up

Seat detail...

Yamaga Pictures

A more detailed post is forthcoming, but I wanted to post a couple of pictures from around the area.

A few days ago we went to visit Yamaga, about 60 km north of Kumamoto. We did a bit of sightseeing around the town, which has a small "old" section with traditional wood houses, rikshaws, and an old theater. We took a tour of the theater and also went to a museum that showcases the unique lantern hats that women don during the annual bon festival to celebrate ancestors.

The hats look like ornate, metal lanterns, but are completely made of paper and glue. Women attach them to their heads, flick a switch to turn on the light (in the past, the lights were candles), and then dance around in a huge circle. There were some time elapsed exposures that were quite reminiscent of pictures of pilgrims circling the Kaaba in Mecca.

After wandering around the town a while, we went to an onsen (hot spring) a short distance away. For about 7 bucks, we soaked in a hot, slightly sulfuric spring and just relaxed for an hour. It was the first time I'd been to one since living here, and was a pretty interesting experience. Here's how it went...

1. First, one buys a ticket. There were a few options, and the Y700 one got you an hour in the tub, and some time in the "relaxing" room.
2. You find the right room (i.e., don't wander into the girls side if you're a guy).
3. Put your stuff in an available locker. Take it all off...fold it neatly, and stuff it in. Grab it quickly as it "jack-in-the-boxes" out because it is not designed for big, American clothes. Wad it up and stuff it in because 4 nekkid guys are are waiting for you to get out of the way so they can get to their locker.
4. Avert your eyes because anywhere you look there are other nekkid dudes standing around. Try not to be uncomfortable.
5. Find an open spigot along the wall and give yourself a good washing. Use the little bucket that you pick up on the way in and the available soap and shampoo. Once good and clean, rinse the bucket and the little stool you sat on and find an open spot in the big tub.
6. Put one toe in the water to test how hot it is. Resist the urge to scream, as this will cause your stoic Japanese comrades nearby to snicker at your weak American pain threshold. Take it out and walk around like you forgot something.
7. Casually walk from tub to tub until you find one that is not the temperature of lava from the volcano that is heating the spring. SSSSSlllllllllloooooooowwwwwwwwwllllllllllyyyyyyy lower yourself into the water, again grimly bearing the searing away of the nerve endings in your skin. Express no surprise at the layer of skin that has separated itself and now sits next to you like some homunculus.
8. Eventually, after gettin your Y700 worth of sitting in boiling water, hop out, and rinse yourself off with cool water to reduce your core temperature back to normal.
9. Go to the relaxing room and faint.
It was a pretty good time, and is one of the defining experiences of Japan. In days before indoor plumbing, people would go to public baths. In towns with hot springs, onsens naturally sprung up. It was a big social activity as well. Wikipedia has a pretty good article on onsens HERE.
After the soak, we got some supper...Y1000 for pretty much all we could eat. We had, among other things, tempura, sushi, sashimi, basashi (raw horse), salad and soup. We also got to watch the final match of the January sumo basho up in Tokyo, an upset by Tochiozuma over Asashoryu. Go to for the last days matches.

Lanterns in the theater

Kanji Character

It was a great day, though, with a nice mix of sightseeing and relaxation. I highly recommend it.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Traveling to Kyushu

I'm (David) down in Kumamoto on the southern island of Kyushu right now for our annual command post exercise with the Japanese.  It's been in the planning process for about a year now, and it's nice to finally be in the execution phase.  We get started with it in earnest in the next week or so, but in the meantime, everyone is involved in wrapping things up. 
We set up a small medical clinic, and we've got some folks out of New Orleans helping us man it.  It's a pretty diverse group of docs, nurses, a physician assistant and a few medics.  So far, there hasn't been a lot of work for them.  The weather is cold and wet, though, and there have been a few folks showing up with the standard upper respiratory colds and sniffles.  We have a small holding area, and if necessary can take people to the local hospitals with whom we've already coordinated to take our patients.
I'll be working at the CPX part of the exercise, which should be interesting. It's my first time to participate in one of these...some general info on the exercise can be found here
Haven't gotten outside of the gate yet, but will be having supper with some of our Japanese counterparts during the week ahead.  We had a medical social last night which was a great time.  I did finally had a chance to try karashi renkon, or hot mustard stuffed lotus root.  Very strange but delicious.  Also had a bit of basashi or raw horse meat, which is very good, once you get past the idea that you're eating a horse.  And it's raw.
We had a bit of beer, wine and shoju, but kept it in moderation.  After the official part of the evening was concluded, I stuck around with my specific counterparts and chatted.  As with other experiences I've had with beer and language ability, my Japanese improved steadily. 
Flying down here we flew right over Mt. Fuji and I was able to get some good pictures of it.  I'll try to post them while I'm here.  The weather got wetter and cloudier as we went south, and since arrival here in Kyushu, it's been around 40 degrees (F) and rainy.  Fortunately, I am used to the cold, as our house is pretty chilly when we turn off the heat at night.  In our entryway about a week ago (which you must walk by on the way to the shower room) it was 41 degrees.  At least it's not rainy inside the house.  We keep doors closed to rooms we're not using and only heat the areas we occupy. 
I'll be here for about 2 weeks, then head up to the north of the country to Morioka.  It was tough to pack for the trip as it will be a whole lot colder up there than it is down here. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Am @ our local curry place getting takeout. We have established ourselves as regulars, and last night ran into one of the waitresses @ another little place around the corner. She recognized us and introduced herself, which we thought was really nice. It's one thing to be recognized as regulars, but now I feel like we're moving into the realm of "locals." (Previous composed on phone)

We discovered a new restaurant last night, right next to the Italian place. It's sort of a surfer bar, very small, with a laid back vibe. It had a good selection of food, including Jamaican jerked chicken. Strange to find that on the menu, frankly. But, it was pretty good. The prices were quite reasonable, and we ate our fill for about $60. That's darn good for Japan...At a few of the places we know well, we only get one entree, as the portions are big enough for both of us. Plus, it keeps costs down. It's just a really expensive country.
I'm (David) getting ready to head out for our annual Yama Sakura exercise, and will be gone for about a month or so...That seems like a long time until you compare it with what we used to have to endure (3 months). Both of us will be pretty busy, though, so the time will fly by. Melody has to do some traveling as well, and will be back in the States for the first time in almost 2 years. So if you see someone driving a rental car and the wipers go on when she makes a turn, that's probably her. She'll be in Colorado for a conference, and then will be heading to Texas for a few days with her folks. They're excited to see her, as one might imagine. We'll make the trek back once again in April to see people in earnest. It will be a bold venture, hitting CA, TX, AL, NC and VA, and maybe, if we have the time, FL. We have a lot of family and friends between the two of us...and thusly, a lot of ground we're going to try to cover.

Let me throw in a few pictures, since it's long overdue that I do so...

From the November trip to the Fuji area...
This was taken from the was a hip shot of sorts, and turned out pretty well, I thought. Conveys a sense of movement, like that guy's going somewhere and nobody's going to stop him. I was pleased with the results...

Fuji from the bus window...absolutely majestic. If you look along the right side of the mountain, just before the sky, you can see the trail leading up to the top, zigzagging along. Friends who have climbed it (we'll make the trip next summer) say that it's like climbing up an ashtray.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Red Bike

This red bike just really stood out one evening down by the beach. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 08, 2006


In the course of the past few weeks, I've taken a few pictures with the phone that I believe (hope) are blog-worthy...Behold:

The Daihatsu "NAKED" Possibly the strangest name for a car that I've ever heard.

For those of you concerned about your weight, but who still love the taste of beer:

**"Nama" = Draft

The ultimate in convenience food...A French Fry Vending Machine. I LOVE this country!!

Put your money in the slot, make your selection, and for 120 seconds of patience, you're rewarded with some slightly soggy but definitely french fry-y french fries.

And the finished product wasn't bad at all...

We saw this little statue and it reminded us of our friend Colin back in VA. Not that he's short and made of ceramic, but he's a crusty sailor man who is often seen walking around with a mug (and we mean that with great respect and admiration).

Friday, January 06, 2006

A Visit to the Emperor, 2 Jan 06

On the 2nd of January, I met my friends Toshi and Aki-san in Tokyo to go to the annual address by Emperor Akihito. He only has two public appearances every year, once on his birthday in December, and again a few weeks later just after the new year begins.

The weather was cold and wet, but it was an exciting prospect to get to see a real live Emperor. Neither Toshi nor Aki had seen him before, so it was just as cool for them as it was for me. Unfortunately, Melody had to work, so she wasn't able to join us. But, I'll take her down next year, now that I know how it works.

We linked up at the Tokyo station, a hugely busy place, and started the short 20 minute walk over to the Emporer's palace area. As we got closer, security tightened. There were several folks handing out small Japan national flags to wave (which I unfortunately lost...another reason to go back next year), and a police woman on a horse.

Finally, we got close to the palace, and began the walk up to the viewing area.

"Move along folks! Nothing to see here!!" Posted by Picasa
The palace viewing area was huge. We got there a little bit early for the 3: 20 address, so we stood around under our umbrellas and tried to stay dry while jockying for a spot where we could actually see the Emperor. The crowd grew steadily, and it seemed like all of the tall people with golf umbrellas chose to stand in front of us. Of course.

The palace and reviewing area where we waited for the Emperor in the rain. Posted by Picasa
Finally, the big moment happened...the Emperor walked into the reviewing area with his family. As if recognizing the importance of the man, even the rain stopped. Emperors are some pretty powerful folks...

The crowd went wild, and waved their flags with gusto.

Wave those flags Posted by Picasa

Emperor Akihito spoke for about 4-5 minutes, giving his New Year's greetings and well-wishes to the people. While he spoke, I was struck by the polite reverence that the crowd gave him. In the US of A, there would probably be protesters of every ilk pitching their was a nice change.


"And so I say to you all, Akemashita omedeto gozaimasu" Posted by Picasa
Once the Emperor finished his remarks, the imperial family stayed for a few more minutes and waved at the crowd. Finally, they left, and the crowd began to disperse. It was quiet, orderly, well-behaved, and again, an interesting contrast.

"OK, folks...that's it...go home!"

"But don't forget your souvenirs!"

Me and Toshi at the moat Posted by Picasa
After we got out of the expansive palace grounds, we wandered over to Ginza for supper, stopping frequently to take pictures. Supper was at the Ginza Lion, an old beer hall that has been around for over 100 years. After the war, it was a popular watering hole for the US troops stationed around Tokyo. It still serves good, reasonably priced food and, of course, beer. And, for 3 of us to eat, it was only a little over $100. Not bad for what was probably the most expensive area in the most expensive city in the world.

Cool looking building in daytime... Posted by Picasa

Cool looking building at night... Posted by Picasa

Alleyway near the Tokyo Station Posted by Picasa

Well, that was cool!

The previous post was sent via email...theoretically, I can post photos that I take around here with my camera phone straight to the blog, or use email to keep it updated without even coming to the "blog-in" page to post. How convenient is that!?!

Test Email Blog

Does this work?

David Fugazzotto
Check out our blog, Sand and Tsunamis...

Sunset on "Our" Beach

Sunset in December on Shichirigahama Beach, though I guess that's sort of redundant, since hama means beach.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New Home for Sand and Tsunamis

Sand and Tsunamis is moving...

After a year with Bootsn'All, and a good one at that, I think we're going to migrate over here to Blogspot. Bootsn'All is still a great travel site, and we frequent it often, but the blog part of it is pretty limiting. It's a fairly fixed format, and doesn't allow the kind of creativity that we'd like to interject to keep it fresh. This site will allow us more flexibility in content, to post some of our favorite links, and may even allow us to do some commerce if we ever decide to offer photos for sale. Not sure how that would work just yet, but we'll figure it out.

Also, in the technical realm, I started using the (free) Firefox browser, and for some reason, the Movable Type buttons that show up on Internet Explorer don't all show up when using Firefox...minor detail, yes, but sort of an annoying one. Blogger is apparently set up to be optimized with Firefox. So, bottom line, we're going to give it a whirl.

We'll keep the Bootsn'All site open, of course, and may update it from time to time still to keep it from getting kicked off their server, but I'll post the link to this new site at the top of the page. Please keep in mind that if you'd like to surf back over there to see history, you're of course welcome and encouraged to do so!

So, then...Go up to your menu and bookmark this site!