October 31, 2007

Spawning Salmon Back in Byrne Creek

Spawning salmon have returned to Burnaby's Byrne Creek with streamkeepers spotting both chum and coho in the last week.

I did a spawner patrol today and came across five live chum salmon and two dead ones, which I processed for length, sex and spawning status. Please note that it is illegal to disturb spawning salmon, and that streamkeepers undergo training for monitoring techniques and report their findings to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

If you come across spawning salmon, feel free to observe them from a distance, but do not disturb them, or their carcasses after they die. Streamkeepers check carcasses for size, sex and spawning success, and return them to the creek because the bodies provide essential nutrients to the ecosystem.

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Chum salmon spawner in Byrne Creek.

Posted by Paul at 07:19 PM

October 24, 2007

Aomori Pets

It was great to hang out with the pets at Yumi's home. Mukkun the dog, who is pushing 15 years, revived remarkably and was raring to go for walks, while Cat C -- yes, the other two are called A and B -- was a cuddly furball.

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Posted by Paul at 08:35 PM

October 23, 2007

Aomori Autumn Colours

The mountains near Yumi's hometown in the Japan's northern Aomori Prefecture are gorgeous in the autumn. Most of these shots come from the famous Oirase area.

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Yumi's mom taking photo of Yumi and her dad.

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Posted by Paul at 08:16 PM

October 18, 2007

Nagasaki Sara Udon and Champon

After the morning spent retracing the horrors of atomic weapons, we headed back to the Dejima area, and had lunch by the waterfront at Dejima Wharf. Two of Nagasaki's famous dishes are Nagasaki Sara Udon, or crisp noodles covered with a seafood and vegetable sauce, and Nagasaki champon, a succulent noodle soup.

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Nagasaki Sara Udon

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Yumi tackling a bowl of champon.

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Throughout our stay in Nagasaki we saw many of these impressive raptors soaring overhead.

Posted by Paul at 08:24 PM

Nagasaki Nuclear Bomb Memorial

Our first morning in Nagasaki we headed out to pay our respects at the atomic bomb memorial and peace park. With the sun shining brightly on the beautiful harbor city surrounded by mountains, it was hard to believe that 60 years ago much of it had been instantly rendered a radioactive wasteland with tens of thousands of dead and dying.

The peace museum was powerfully moving, with haunting images and artifacts. It also does not overlook Japan's imperial expansion and aggression.

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Preserved ruins of the Urakami Cathedral. The cathedral, then the largest in East Asia, stood near the epicenter of the blast. It is ironic that Nagasaki was likely the most "Western" city in Japan at the time, and had the highest proportion of Christians in Japan.

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I had never quite understood the symbolism of the Nagasaki peace monument until I read the plaque with the following words:

Words of the Sculptor

After experiencing that nightmarish war,
that blood-curdling carnage,
that unendurable horor,
Who could walk away without praying for peace?
This statue was created as a signpost in the
cause of global harmony.
Standing ten meters tall,
it conveys the profundity of knowledge and
the beauty of health and virility.
The right hand points to the atomic bomb,
the left hand points to peace,
and the face prays deeply for the victims of war.
Transcending the barriers of race
and evoking the qualities of both Buddha and God,
it is a symbol of the greatest determination
ever known in the history of Nagasaki
and of the highest hope of all mankind.

Seibo Kitamura
Spring 1955

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Nyokodo. It's tiny, yet so moving...

From the plaque:

Nyokodo (As Thyself Hermitage) is the sickroom and study used by Dr. Takashi Nagai, honorary citizen of Nagasaki City. Born in Shimane Prefecture, Dr. Nagai graduated from Nagasaki Medical College and majored in radiology. He was exposed to excessive doses of radiation while treating large numbers of tuberculosis patients with poor equipment. As a result he developed chronic myeloid leukemia and was given three years to live. Two months later he was injured in the atomic bombing and lost his wife, but he continued his selfless efforts for the rescue of the atomic bomb victims, finally falling bedridden. However, spurred on by his sense of scientific mission and also his Catholic faith, Dr. Nagai wrote more than ten books from his sickbed here. He named the building after the Christian maxim "Love others as you love thyself" and live here with his two children, appealing to the world about the foolishness of war and the importance of peace until his death on May 1, 1951 at the age of 43. Nyokodo continues to this day to serve as a symbol of Dr. Nagai's spirit of peace and brotherly love.

Posted by Paul at 07:41 PM

October 17, 2007

Kurashiki Charms With Canals, Crafts

We left Himeji around noon and took a side trip to Kurashiki on our way to Nagasaki. Kurashiki has preserved an area of town with charming canals, old warehouses, and lots of arts and crafts.

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The curry shop where we had lunch.

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Posted by Paul at 11:15 PM

Himeji Castle

OK, here we go with about a dozen views of Himeji Castle.

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Posted by Paul at 10:47 PM

137 Views of Himeji Castle?!

Yes, I took 137 pictures of Himeji Castle, and I'm having a tough time winnowing them down to, say, a dozen to post here. If we'd had more time, the shutter would likely have dropped a few more hundred times....

The castle is one of few in Japan to survive in original condition following the destruction at the end of the shogunate in the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century, and the bombings of WWII. While there are quite a few reconstructed castles around Japan, none compare to the sheer immensity and beauty of Himeji.

When I first experienced the castle 22 years ago, I was packing a Nikon F2 and Fujichrome slide film, so as I recall, I limited myself to a 36-exposure roll or two. This time I was packing several SD cards the size of the first joint of my thumb (but much thinner) in the 1 - 4 GB range that could hold anywhere from several hundred to over a thousand shots each at the highest 8MP setting on my Canon S5 IS digital camera....

That said, I think I'll return to editing photos later, and will leave this here as a teaser :-). G'night...

Posted by Paul at 08:27 PM

Himeji Hotel Breakfast Hard to Beat

Yumi did an excellent job of booking hotels in Japan on the Web, and one prize for its amazing breakfast buffet was in Himeji. The Hyogo Floral Inn Himeji was a nondescript business hotel, but for 10,000 yen (about C$83) who cares, particularly since the all-you-can eat breakfast included in the price was eye-opening in its variety.

Think Japanese breakfast: broiled salmon, pearl-like rice, salty miso soup, crisp nori (seaweed), assorted pickled vegetables, fruit...

Think Western breakfast: crunchy bacon, juicy sausages, scrambled eggs, assorted calorific pastries...

It had it all. Needless to say, I doubled up on Japanese and Western, with a few extra portions of the delectable miso soup to wash it all down. Groan...

Posted by Paul at 06:41 PM

October 16, 2007

Meeting Old Friend in Kobe

Our first stop on our way down to Nagasaki was at Shin-Kobe where we were to meet an old friend for dinner and drinks.

I'd met Michael in Tokyo 22 years ago, and over the years we'd witnessed each others' marriages to our wonderful Japanese wives, we'd established a business together, and had been staunch hiking partners exploring many trails in Japan. Michael and his wife Tomoko moved to the US a year before Yumi and I moved to Canada in 1999, and we'd only seen each other once in North America some seven years ago.

Fortuitously, Michael happened to be doing some consulting in the Kobe area, and when we discovered we'd be in Japan at the same time, we had to meet.

We had such a great time chewing the fat, drinking beer and eating scrumptious izakaya tidbits, that I plumb forgot to take a picture of our reunion :-(.

Oh, well, it was a wonderful few hours before he had to head back to his apartment, and Yumi and I jumped on a bullet train to get to our hotel in Himeji.

Posted by Paul at 07:56 PM

Bullet Train Trip Begins

After seeing a client for lunch in Tokyo on Tuesday, Yumi and I headed off on our travels. With Japan Rail Passes in hand, Yumi organized a series of bullet train tickets that would take us all they way to Nagasaki on the southern island of Kyushu with stops at Kobe and Himeji on the way down, Fukuoka and Hiroshima on the way back north to Tokyo, then all the way to Aomori at the northern tip of the main island of Honshu and back to Tokyo. The JR agent at Kanda Station in Tokyo where we made our seat reservations was amazed at all the stops we were making. The JR Pass is a great deal -- we likely did over 200,000 yen worth of traveling each on passes that cost less than a quarter of that amount.

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The shinkansen bullet trains are magnificent beasts that run like clockwork.

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Cleaners line up to ensure the bullet train is spick and span before passengers board.

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Posted by Paul at 07:42 PM

October 15, 2007

Tokyo Morning, Kichijoji Ramble, Akihabara Changes

We were up by 6:00 on Monday morning, and decided to head out to our old stomping grounds in the Kichijoji area in western Tokyo. We planned to walk around Inokashira Park on the south side of Kichijoji station until the stores opened at 10:00.

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Walking on side streets on the way to Ochanomizu station we got a glimpse of the Nikolai Cathedral among office towers.

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A holdout householder -- the land must be worth millions...

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A Chuo Line train pulls into Ochanomizu station.

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Inokashira Park with shrine, aeration fountain.

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A detail of the shrine.

The small park surrounded by the urban jungle had an amazing variety of wildlife.

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Yumi with binoculars in hand, pointing out another species of duck.

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After a couple of hours in the park, we headed back into the shopping arcades and streets of funky Kichijoji.

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The main shopping arcade.

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A shop selling traditional crackers.

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A kimono store selling the real stuff, not tourist junk.

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Personalizing cell phones is a big business.

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Blowfish swim in a restaurant's aquarium.

As lunch approached I began thinking more about food, so I headed over to the Seiyu department store, knowing the basement food floor featured an amazing variety of prepared items.

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A lineup of packaged meals.

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A mouth-watering variety of onigiri rice balls.

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More great stuff! I love Japanese supermarkets!

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This display of tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlets) reminded me of a tonkatsu restaurant nearby, so I headed out to find Yumi.

Yumi was shopping at Yuzawaya, a huge crafts store at the east end of the station, and I was to meet her there at 11:30. When I arrived, I found a large Halloween display -- I don't recall the event being such a big deal in Japan five or more years ago! Japanese retailers are experts at appropriating any sort of holiday from any culture to flog more goods :-).

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Hmmm. This costume looks like it's more suited to, ahem, tricks rather than treats!

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We were momentarily distracted by this sushi mountain plastic display...

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But ended up at our favourite tonkatsu place in the LonLon mall. Yum!

In the evening we walked over to Akihabara, Tokyo's electronics wonderland. When we arrived, I was completely disoriented -- the area has undergone huge development, and it took me 15 minutes of wandering around to gain my bearings. I was seeking a new memory card for my digital camera and the prices in the major stores were out of sight. I knew I could do better if I could find some of the teeny shops I'd frequented years ago. I finally tracked a few down, and sure enough, the prices were less than half of the major electronics retailers.

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A manga character billboard.

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Yumi checking out canned noodles -- a recent phenomenon that we'd heard about but not experienced first hand.

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We ended the long day back on the Kanda shopping street, where we closed out the evening with beer and munchies at an izakaya pub.

Posted by Paul at 07:23 PM

October 14, 2007

Arriving in Tokyo

The flight from Vancouver to Tokyo was uneventful, but the descent into Narita brought a smile to my face as I listened to the middle-aged tourist couple behind me excitedly point things out in the landscape: "Look honey, they've got Toshiba in Japan, too!" Ah, yeah :-).

Yumi met me at Narita Airport on Sunday afternoon -- she'd left for Japan a week early to spend more time with her parents.

I felt the change in the air and humidity the moment I stepped off the plane, even though the temperature was around 20C. My nose crinkled up, my pores opened up, and sweat began to trickle down the small of my back.

I was second in the "gaijin" (foreigner) line in immigration and sailed through. In typical Japanese efficiency, from the time I passed through immigration and picked up my bags, it took us only minutes to set up my Japan Rail Pass, get reserved seats on the Narita Express to Tokyo Station, and run for the train. Whew! Love that clockwork train system.

As we traveled in to the city, night fell early, and it was pitch black by around 5:00 p.m. As the mixed farms and towns of Chiba gradually filled in with the tens of kilometers of unbroken urban concrete jungle of the greater Tokyo metropolitan area, I was overwhelmed with a sense of time passed. I lived in Tokyo for 14 years in the '80s and '90s, but this trip I felt more like a tourist and a stranger than I ever had in previous visits back after moving to Canada. A four-year gap can do that to you...

From Tokyo Station we took the Chuo Line to Ochanomizu Station, and walked the five minutes to Hamilton Inn Ochanomizu, a basic yet comfortable business hotel where we've stayed several times.

I grabbed a quick shower and then we headed out to get something to eat and drink. We walked over to the Kanda shopping arcade, and I marveled at the familiarity, and the changes, in the area near where I worked for several years back in the late 90s. We ended up at a Watami chain izakaya, or pub, near Kanda Station, and I reveled in the familiar menu items and excellent Japanese beer.

The strangeness fell away and I felt great to be back in Tokyo!

Posted by Paul at 07:13 PM

October 13, 2007

Off to Japan

I'm off to Japan today, and am not bothering to take a notebook computer with me, so this blog will be in hibernation for a couple of weeks. When I get back I'll start filling it in with photos and commentary starting from the beginning of the trip.

It's been nearly four years since Yumi and I were last in Japan. Since we moved to Canada some eight years ago, we've returned to visit family, friends and clients every one to two years; however, a series of events including my two-year MA in Professional Communication program at Royal Roads University conspired to make for a long gap.

I'm really looking forward to the trip. In addition to visiting Yumi's folks in Aomori Prefecture, we've got meetings set up with several clients in Tokyo (these short meetings and lunches are important in maintaining contacts and keeping the work flowing), and lunches and dinners scheduled with several friends.

We're also taking a week to ourselves to take a swing down all the way to Nagasaki on the island of Kyushu with several stops at key tourist points along the way. Neither of us has visited Kyushu and we're looking forward to it.

I'll start posting entries and plenty of photos starting around Oct. 29. See you later!

Posted by Paul at 10:57 AM

October 11, 2007

Toxic Substance Kills Fish in Southeast Burnaby

A Byrne Creek Streamkeeper reported a toxic spill in John Mathews Creek in southeast Burnaby this morning. City staff and streamkeepers found dead fish in the creek, and also in Byrne Creek downstream of where John Mathews Creek joins it. The creek was still running a florescent yellow colour well into the late afternoon when streamkeeper Joan Carne took the following photos.

I find it unfathomable that after years of public education efforts, people still don't know, or more likely just don't care, that all street and parking lot drains connect directly to local creeks.

We will all be eating and drinking this stuff some day, for we are at the top of the food chain. It may be highly diluted by the time it enters our bodies, but eventually it will affect us, and our children...

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Posted by Paul at 11:00 PM

October 10, 2007

Autumn Colours Paint Byrne Creek

Red, yellow, gold, and brown leaves are painting Byrne Creek with an enchanting mosaic of colours. I love this time of year when the air takes on an edge and the hazy days of summer are replaced with an invigorating clarity.

I also love this time of year because the leaves that colour the creek foreshadow the return of the salmon. Any day now, likely within the next week, coho and chum salmon will start swimming up Byrne Creek to spawn and die, after traveling thousands of kilometers in the Pacific Ocean. As a streamkeeper, monitoring the return of these magnificent fish is a peak experience that I look forward to every autumn.

The relaxed creekside rambles of spring and summer take on urgency and excitement as we stalk the mottled purple and green chum, and the silvery scarlet coho, making note of redds (nests of eggs), and measuring and assessing fish after they die.

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Descending the stairs into the ravine.

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Posted by Paul at 04:33 PM

Burnaby Builds Ugly Drain on Southpoint

The other day I was driving down Southridge Dr. in Burnaby and saw some heavy equipment in action near the bottom end of Taylor Park on Southpoint Dr. Today I walked past the area to see what had been going on and was disappointed to find a huge, ugly asphalt catchment and storm drain. I wish the city could start getting a bit more creative with its planning. This area is right next to a city park and would be the perfect place to put a beautiful rain garden to soak up rainfall. I hope it's not left as is, and some more thought goes into the area's potential for improved stormwater management. It's ironic that the city put in this barren monstrosity just as it is soliciting community input into an Integrated Stormwater Management Plan for the Byrne Creek watershed.

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Looking downhill toward Southridge Dr.

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Looking up Southpoint with Taylor Park to the right.

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Looking down Southpoint from the present dead end where the street was blocked.

Now, imagine this area as a beautiful wetland or rain garden, with lots of opportunity for rain coming down Southpoint to soak into the ground. It could be gorgeous. C'mon Burnaby!

Posted by Paul at 03:45 PM

October 08, 2007

Chilly Snake Seeks Autmn Sun

This poor garter snake was trying to catch a few rays, huddled up on a heat-attracting black garbage bag near Byrne Creek in southeast Burnaby. Streamkeepers stash invasive plant species in the heavy garbage bags and leave them out in the sun to cook. We often find these harmless snakes seeking their warmth.

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Posted by Paul at 04:51 PM