Northern Japan

It’s been an awesome trip so far. Since I was able to meet with the landlord in Goshogawara on Monday instead of Tuesday, we were able to wrap up the necessities a day earlier than I expected and had an extra day to travel around before we needed to be in Tokyo for our upgrade. We left Goshogawara on Tuesday morning and headed by train to Aomori, one of the most northern cities on Honshu. My guide book doesn’t have much to say about the city, calling it a “nondescript” location, and the city lived up to its reputation. It was a nice town, with restaurants and stores, but there wasn’t anything to set it apart from any other city in Japan.

People in Japan do head up north, but generally it’s a winter vacation destination with fantastic skiing and amazing hot spring baths (Onsen). They had a map in the tourist center showing at least fifty different onsen within a thirty mile radius of Aomori.

The one local delicacy we were able to enjoy was the local apples. Aomori apples are known throughout Japan and the rest of Asia as some of the best apples, and they truly were amazing. The countryside was covered with orchards, and each tree was meticulously maintained and pruned, with the fruit individually protected on the trees with coverings.

After spending the morning in Aomori, we decided to head across the water to Hokkaido via a ferry that travels between the two towns. There were a couple different types of ferries, but since we were paying out of our pockets, we decided to go with the cheapest, no-frills option. The cheapest ferries are used to let people going to Hokkaido bring their cars along with them, and the ticket salesman was a bit surprised when we told him we didn’t have a car. He sold us the tickets anyway for about $13 and a few minutes later we were walking through the belly of a well-worn ferry past people in their cars. We carried our bags up on deck, and relaxed in a small room while the rest of the cars were being loaded onto the boat. When the ship was ready, it backed out of the port and we spent the next four hours on the deck of the ferry leaving the Aomori harbor and heading to Hakodate (pronounced “Hah-ko-dah-tay”.

We arrived in Hakodate and took a taxi into town. Anwar and I both have guidebooks, and by their powers combined, we’ve managed to make out pretty well. They recommended a rather inexpensive hotel in Hakodate called the Hotel Route Inn, which, according to the book, had small rooms but an included onsen. After spending the last few days on our feet, and covered in salt spray from the ocean, a free onsen sounded really good.

We checked into the hotel, dropped our bags off in our room, and headed into town. Hakodate is no Tokyo, and the major means of transportation is an old trolly that runs through the town. The town is famous for Mount Hakodate, jutting and rising high out of the water. It’s a bit of tourist mecca, and when you look at the top of the mountain at night, you can see the flashes from the cameras shining like fireflies. We took the trolley to the base of the mountain and rode a cable car up the side of the mountain to the peak. The view was amazing, and it was one of the few sites that pictures really can’t capture. The area is one of the more populated areas of the northern island, and it was amazing to see the lights of civilization leading away from the shore to the base of the mountains, and then just stop, leaving nothing but the dark mountains beyond.

On the way back to the hotel, we attempted to hunt down some food. As I said, Hakodate is no Tokyo, and English speakers are hard to find. We found a seafood restaurant on the way back, and we were invited by one of the waitresses to come in for a set meal (set-toe). Besides the mountain, Hakodate is also famous for their large crabs, and we were served a small, but tasty meal of crab tempura and conch sashimi. Delicious, but we were still hungry. 7-11 heroically came through, and a few minutes later, we were in our room munching down convenience store sushi and cold soba.

By this time, my back and feet were hurting, and the onsen was calling to me. We grabbed our towels and washcloths and headed up to the 13th floor. We were greeted by a small but very pleasant hot spring bath that soothed all the aches in my body. The hot bath is, without any doubt, a part of Japanese culture that is superior to America. Our fear of public nudity limits us to quick, purely utilitarian showers at the YMCA, and precludes us from taking the time to relax and enjoy becoming clean. I’ll probably expand on this in a future post, but for now, I can’t encourage you enough to enjoy an onsen if you visit Japan. (BTW, my friend Billy says the baths in Korea are great as well.)

The next morning, we walked around the local fish market, saw some of the biggest crabs I’ve ever seen, still alive and moving their half-meter bodies around their tanks. Some of the vendors had little grills with crab legs toasting on them. For breakfast, I enjoyed a “Hakodate donbori”. Donbori is simply rice with different kinds of sushi on top. A Hakodate donbori had local crab leg meat (about five inches long), ikura (salmon roe), and uni (sea urchin) on top of rice and seaweed. Delicious!

After that, we hopped on a train and we’re currently heading south towards Nikko, with a quick stop off at Matsushima and Sendai. We need to check into our hotel tomorrow evening, but we have just enough time to enjoy these few sites.

The Smoking Car

So, this train isn’t the idyllic means of transportation I was envisioning. Somehow, I must have missed the phrase “smoking car” on my ticket, and the Japanese don’t go half-way with their smoking.

In addition, I have a suspicion that their air condition is broken or non-existant, which is highly unusual. You can be riding a packed Tokyo subway in 90 degree weather and feel pretty comfortable with the air conditioner blowing on you. But I can’t feel any draft, and the humidity is making my skin pretty disgusting.

I don’t know if it’s really cloudy, or if there is a new moon out tonight, but it’s really dark outside the train windows. It’s about 3am and I see occasional lights on the horizon, and of course, the bright lights from each of the train stations we pass through, but other than that, it’s all darkness. If the humidity is any indication, though, I think it’s really cloudy out. But, yeah… it’s dark.

Anwar has the top bunk in the sleeping car, thank God. I had the ticket for the top bunk, but it would have been an original mix of comedy and tragedy if I tried to get up there. My claustrophobia would have kicked it, and bad things would have happened. As it is, I’m on the bottom bunk, and I actually got about 5 hours of sleep on the train, in addition to the 5 or 6 hours I got on the plane. I should be pretty rested when we finally do arrive in Hirosaki around 9am.

The only food we had since getting off the plane was a decent salmon and cream cheese bagel at the train station. Starting to get a little hungry again, and I know I won’t be getting any food for at least six more hours.

No place to plug in the laptop, and still no wireless connection, so I’m stucking playing with the DS. I’m kicking myself for not picking up Zelda before I left.

Back in Japan and Heading North

We’ve arrived in Tokyo with no problems. Anwar was scheduled to fly in two and half hours before me, but his flight was delayed, so he was only an hour before. We got our big bags shipped to our respective hotels and I got my cell phone so everything seemed to be going smoothly.

We almost has a major disaster. When we came through customs, we flashed our brand new CAC cards which identifies us as being “military” folks, and falling under the SOFA rules. So, when we got to the train station at Narita, we went to get our train passes and the woman took our passports to verify that we were “tourists”. Well, I didn’t know, but people who are in the country under SOFA are not considered tourists, so we weren’t eligible for the train passes.

Anwar and I groaned to each other, but the woman, with even being asked, said “I’ll validate your tickets this time, but technically, I’m not supposed to.” Disaster averted because of one extremely cool person.

We took a subway over to Ueno, and now we’re getting ready to take an overnight train to Hirosaki. I don’t have any internet connectivity yet as I’m writing this post/email, so I don’t know if the Ghents have written back to me. I might try giving them a call tonight, or tomorrow morning when we arrive in Hirosaki. Once we arrive, it’s a quick train hop to Goshogawara.

Real quick comment on movies on the plane:

Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull –> Disappointing.
Prince Caspian –> Also disappointing, but I can’t put my finger on why.
The Baker –> Only saw the first half, but it seemed interesting. I like black comedies, though.

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Why We’re Expatriating

Paul asked why I was looking for a job in Japan. I think a response is worth a separate post.

My job has taken me to Japan quite a few times (I think my passport has 14 Japan entry stamps in it). Prior to taking this job five years ago, I had rarely left Pennsylvania, and had only once left the United States when we had driven through Canada when I was a kid (I slept the whole way).

My travel to Japan, and other parts of the world, has left with a real exposure to the huge differences in culture between the United States, Australia, England, and Japan. Since then, I wanted to make sure that my kids have an awareness of the different cultures around the world.

When Sarah and I made the decision to homeschool the kids, we both agreed that we wanted to make the most of the kids’ time at home with the family. Not being tethered to a school means that the family can travel with me, and we can move to different locations around the world and have hands-on exposure to the world around us.

Here’s my incomplete list of pros and cons for moving to Japan:

Pros:

  • I did received a promotion to a senior staff position at Lockheed Martin. This usually requires a lot more experience than I have, and I’m excited to be “ahead” in my career.
  • My company significantly reimburses us for different costs, which will allow us to save more money.
  • Japan is a major country that is little known to the rest of the world. There is a lot of potential for outreach to a normally inaccessible culture.
  • Despite the fact that over 128 million people speak Japanese, it’s one of the more little known languages amongst non-Japanese. One reason is that Japanese is a hard language to learn, but when my children learn the language, they’ll find that their skills as native English speakers with an understanding of Japanese will be potentially very beneficial to their careers.

Cons:

  • Being away from my family is going to be hard. Despite Vonage, email, webcams, and other technologies, we won’t be able to just hang out like we do now. Plane tickets to Japan are not cheap either, but hopefully, our families will be able to come visit and have an experience they wouldn’t have otherwise
  • While the weather is just as cold as it is in SE Pennsylvania, they get a lot of snow. They average 35 feet per year. That’s a lot.
  • It’s not Tokyo. In Tokyo, you can eat at a different restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for a lifetime and never hit the same place twice. The area is pretty rural and poor, so we’ll be traveling by car and when we go out to dinner, we’ll probably hit the same few places.

I’m sure there are more, and I might edit this post in the future to add other reasons. But that should be start.

The Family is Moving to Japan

It’s been a while since I’ve written. Ron Paul mania has died down, we’re members of a new church where there’s a little more peace and quiet, and my month long trip to Australia happened to be to one of the more boring parts of the world.

For the last year or so, I’ve been browsing the Lockheed Martin job boards to see if there were any cool overseas positions. A couple months ago, I saw a position for a systems administrator in a small, remote village in Northern Japan called Shariki (even the Wikipedia page is extremely sparse). I applied for the position, and was rejected for the position, since knowledge of the program was required. I was disappointed, but life goes on.

A couple months ago, I got a email out of the blue asking me if I was interested in interviewing for an overseas position in Japan. The person who sent the email had a subject line that had the name of the program I had interviewed for earlier. I called the guy back and we chatted for a while. A few minutes into the conversation, I realized that I wasn’t interviewing for a systems administrator position, but for an Information Systems Security Officer (ISSO) position at the same site in Shariki. The interview went well, and a week later, I was told they were putting together an offer for me.

After talking to Sarah and my family, we decided to accept the offer.

The position will be for at least one year, but probably more like 2-3 years in Shariki. We’ll probably be living in a larger town further south called Goshogawara. I haven’t been up to the area, but I’m planning on heading up there next month after an upgrade in Tokyo next month.

The next few months are going to be pretty hectic, but I plan on doing a better job of keeping up with blog during the overseas travel. The Aomori area of Japan has some of the more remote and pristine areas of the country, and we’re really looking forward to some rural living over there.

Jeering Jesus on the Cross

“Having appeared on numerous conservative radio shows to promote other projects unrelated to foreign policy, I have had to tread lightly and watch my words, lest the subject of our current foreign adventure might arise. I quickly learned U.S. policy in Iraq is for most conservatives literally beyond discussion. It is not that these people will not debate the war; they literally cannot. Even questioning American actions abroad while our troops are in the field strikes them as a form not so much of treason as of blasphemy. It’s as if our troops were several hundred thousand Christs, and to criticize their mission amounted to jeering at Jesus on the cross.” – John Zmirak

(HT to Lew Rockwell)

I Pay for This?

Because it’s the only thing in the bathroom, and I’m a captive audience, I started flipping through the March 2008 issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine. I flipped 8 pages before I found any content. So, for giggles, a started counting the advertisements.

Of the 236 pages that make up the issue, 112 pages are full page advertisements. Of the 124 pages of actual content, 14 of those pages have half page ads on them. That leaves 110 pages of unadulterated content.

Starting on page 115, there are 44 consecutive pages of beautiful content and photography, but it really does seem like a needle in a haystack.

Ron Paul DVDs

For those of you out there who like camping in front of the television, the Ron Paul DVD Project have put together some videos to watch on your DVD player at home. You can download them via the bittorrent links using azureus, or any other bittorrent client.

If you only get one, I’d recommend The Ron Paul Revolution project. It’s a well-produced video about 45 minutes long that goes over Dr. Paul’s various policies.

These two DVDs (DVD 1, DVD 2) are compilations of various speeches, interviews and debates that Dr. Paul has done over the last few months. The DVD is easily traversable, and you can pick and choose what you want to watch.

Finally, one DVD was produced specifically to answer questions for Christian voters regarding values, taken from a speech in Iowa and from a pastor’s conference. This DVD is designed to answer a lot of the specific questions for Christian voters, including his position on abortion and foreign policy (including Israel).

If you’re unable to burn any of the moves above, but still want to watch them, shoot me an email, and I will burn a copy for you and send it via the mail.

Ron Paul Tea Party 2007

Following the success of the last fund raising day, where we raised $4.2 million for the Ron Paul campaign in a single day, we’re looking to try to double that number on the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

Check out this video put together by a supporter… the campaign had nothing to do with the last contribution surge, and has nothing to do with this one. It’s the people coming together to support our candidate.

Supporting the Troops by Supporting Who the Troops Support

When one enlists in the military, one signs certain rights away. You essentially sign yourself up for indentured service to the country for a period of time, and during that time, certain constitutional rights no longer apply to you. These rules are listed in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

One of those rights you voluntarily give up is the right to free speech. Article 88 of the UCMJ states the following:

“Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”

The reason why I point this out is because recently, we’ve see many neo-con pundits pointing out that the Generals in the army are testifying to Congress about the situation in Iraq, and making positive statements about President Bush’s policies. But military officers are required to support the policies of their civilian leaders, and take very severe legal risks if they do speak out against the policies of Congress or the President.

This is the same reason why polls of American soldiers in Iraq are next to meaningless. Of course soldiers are going to say they support the mission to any media person who asks. That’s their job to do so. It’s like asking a football player whether they think they’re going to win on Sunday. Who is going to say no?

However, there is one place that we can find out what the members of the military really think about policy, and that’s by looking to see which candidates to whom they’re sending their campaign contributions. And Congressman Paul is winning that contest.

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Money for Nothing

For all you folks who say that Ron Paul has no chance of winning the Republican nomination, I’d like to see you put your money where your mouth is. Right now, Sportsbook.com has Ron Paul’s odds of winning the Republican nomination at 4-1. That means if you bet $100, you’ll win $25 when Ron Paul doesn’t win the nomination, like so many of you are absolutely sure won’t happen.

Tell you what. I’ll even take anyone up on the bet, at 4-1 odds. I’ll put up $25 to anyone who wants to put up $100. Just post in the comments, and we’ll work out the details.

How to Win Over the Pro-War Republicans

I posted the following over on the Daily Paul.

There is a common misconception amongst the people whom I talk to about Ron Paul that he’s some sort of a pacifist, and against all forms of foreign war. This misconception was reinforced and repeated by Bill O’Reilly a few months ago when Dr. Paul was on his show.

WIth the limited television budget, I would love to see the following in the hardcore “red states”. I would love to see Dr. Paul say something like the following.

“On September 11, 2001, America was attacked by a group of Islamic militants in a plan masterminded by Osama bi Laden. On [fill in the date], I voted to authorize President George W. Bush to deploy our military into Afghanistan to overthrow the corrupt government which was protecting these criminals, and to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. Since that time, our government has been distracted from this quest for justice by a war in Iraq, a country that has never attacked the United States and joined us as an enemy of Islamic jihadists.

The war in Iraq is draining our resources, and distracting us from our original mission of finding Osama bin Laden and destroying the Al Qaeda terrorist organization.

As president, I will refocus our military on the original mission, and go after the global criminal terror networks, and not allow our military to be used for to serve the interests of the oil companies and the military industrial complex.”

I think this would really ring a bell with the red state republicans and make them think twice about the other republican candidates who somehow equate the war in Iraq with the “War on Terror” and also remind people that Ron Paul isn’t a pacifist, but simply promotes the proper use of the military.

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