Let's Hear It for the Snow Bugs!

It is snowing in Niseko. Just a week ago, the prophetic snow bugs made their appearance.

Got your snow tires on?

Did You See It?

I hope you enjoyed the underwater photograph. These scenes won't be there for our enjoyment forever. The world has already lost 20% of its coral, according to experts, and the next 20% is teetering on the brink.

An underwater landscape such as this--without coral--looks as colorful as the bottom of a scaly, conrete tank. I've seen it's ghostly whiteness with my own eyes.

Coral does more than provide beautiful color and a cozy home for underwater creatures. It is the first line of defense against devastation by wild, out of control, typhoon-generated waves. From an inland hotel window I have seen the leftover waves--the ones that still rage after the typhoon has moved on--crashing against the reef, splashing higher than the tallest buildings on the island.

Without the coral, we might have to go about our daily lives dressed in life jackets and wetsuits, with snorkels pressed between our lips. Yuk.


Hear it for Yourself

One of the side effects of war is a cultural one. In Okinawa, consumed by fire at the end of WWII, people running for their lives very seldom took musical instruments with them. With the exception of sanshin, whose rock-hard wooden shafts were useful tools in climbing through snake-infested, overgrown jungle, the wooden instruments burned.

After the war ended and people resettled themselves, finding food took priority over making music. By the time they had a chance to remember the good old days, the good old boys who made the music had mostly died of old age. With no instruments, no makers of instruments, and no teachers of the songs, traditional music became only a memory.

Think of it like this: if pressed, your average American could probably sing a recognizable rendition of Yankee Doodle. But could he reproduce George Gershwin from memory? That's without a piano, by the way.

That was the problem. They remembered it existed, they remembered they liked it, but the surviving Okinawans couldn't reproduce it.

A few study groups were established to collect what remained and teach it. One such study group scoured the world for information about traditional court music, reputed to be healing to the soul.

For a sample, try this link. I recommend scrolling 'way far down until you get to the sample of uzugaku. Uzugaku is a beautiful result of the long history of exchange between Okinawa and China.



Hokkaido's Snow Bugs

This is not about people who love the snow. It's about harbingers of snow.
Every year around this time, as the days get shorter and the air gets nippy, Hokkaido natives can predict when the first snow will fall to within a week.

Today is Tuesday, and by the time next Tuesday rolls around, snow will fall.

That's the prediction, and it doesn't come from the weather bureau. It comes from snow bugs.

Snow bugs are tiny, white, almost weightless, and easily mistaken for dust motes. Today the snow bugs appeared in Niseko.

Expect snow within the week.


Pictures Worth a Thousand Words

Do you have an image of Japan in mind? A visual capsule summary of what Japan is all about?

There is an annual photo contest in which diplomats stationed in Japan submit pictures that, in their eyes, have a lot to say about life in this country. This year's contest theme was "interaction". To see the winner of the Prince Takamado Prize, try this link:


Prince Takamado was a cousin of the present Japanese emperor. He was a warm hearted, fun loving, and broad minded person who lived to serve and died much too soon. It is a delight to see that he is still bringing people together, encouraging them to look at his country through the lens of the heart.


Some Paths not Taken but that Might be Worth It

This was in Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss:

"When the last tree is cut,

When the last river is emptied,

When the last fish is caught,

Only then will Man realize that he can not eat money."

It was painted on a roadside sign in the country of Bhutan, a country ranking high on the bliss scale. Bhutan? It's the country north of India, near Nepal.

There are some very interesting reasons why Bhutan is high on Mr. Weiner's list of bliss-filled countries. Education is free to every citizen. So is health care. No one smokes. Dastardly crimes like murder almost never happen, and that heavy cloud of fear that lingers over people in more crime ridden countries is absent. And the army, as he puts it, makes booze, not war. They run the beer brewery and the rum distillery. Imagine, they bring in revenue instead of hogging the national budget. Maybe that is why education and health care can be free.

It's an interesting path to think about.

Here's another one, this time from Japan: green as a national policy. This is from a panel discussion among the editors of some of Japan's top newspapers.

"The Japanese economy will not grow unless environmental issues are overcome. Conversely, dealing with the environment can be seen as a business opportunity. "
Naoaki Okabe; Nikkei, Inc.

(read the whole thing at http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/mediatalk.html)

To tell the truth, the NY Times writer Thomas Friedman says essentially the same thing. Is anyone out there listening?


Autumn in the Park


Another Kind of Leaf Blower

It used to be a military base, and now it's one of the world's most beautiful parks, named for Japan's late Showa emperor. Last Saturday, TV news crews were there to film the acres of snow-white cosmos flowers. Of course there are also hillsides covered in traditional shades of pink cosmos, but this year's stars are creamy white.

Riding rented cycles, we passed hordes of happy park goers--the kind of families, couples, elderly strollers, frisbee tossers, dog walkers, bagpipe players...

OK, bagpipe players are not so typical, but there were three of them skirling their hearts out in a gazebo overlooking one of the lakes.

"We can't do this in our apartment," they said.

True enough.

The musician who was the greatest crowd pleaser, though, was a 70-something gentleman meandering among the cosmos, playing old favorites on one of the world's oldest musical instruments--a coin sized green leaf pressed against pursed lips.

He generated at least as many decibels as the bagpipe guys. Maybe more.

True enough. There are some things you just cannot do in your apartment. You need a crisp fall day, flowers and blue sky, lots of space, and a receptive audience.

Hurray for parks!