I haven't posted to this blog in quite some time. I've still been bicycling and hiking, but I've been doing a lot less kayaking - largely because last year we bought a motor boat and exploring the South River and the Chesapeake Bay in that has stolen a lot of kayaking time.
I've also been blogging at work, which consumes a lot of blogging energy. And then I started posting a little bit on Facebook, more blogging energy sapped. I also got active again in ham radio - specifically to spend less time in front of a computer, which of course took away from blogging time.
However, I'm getting the urge to reactivate this blog, so we'll see. My first post will be a somewhat ham radio centric view of a recent trip to Tokyo - the broader trip details are dribbling out on Carole's Facebook wall.
My company, Gartner, had scheduled an Information Security conference in Tokyo well before the earthquake and tsunami caused all the damage. Our clients still wanted to attend the conference, so once we determined it was safe for our customers, we decided to hold the conference. Since it was scheduled during Carole's spring break, I was able to burn some United mileage and bring her along.
After a 14 hour (actually longer: they changed tires on the plane before we took off, so that added an hour) flight from Washington Dulles to Tokyo Narita, a quick trip through Japanese customs and an hour bus ride, we arrived at our hotel in Shinagawa, thoroughly time zone disoriented. I made contact with a ham radio friend, Leo JJ8KGZ, who had flown down from his home in Hokkaido to spend time with us. Leo had contacted Atsu, JE1TRV, who invited us and several other Japanese hams to his house for a barbecue on Sunday.
We met Leo at the Shinagawa train station and took several trains to reach Leo in Machida, a city about 50km southwest of Tokyo (I think - my sense of geography in Tokyo never stabilized). We got to see many oddly attired young Japanese people (think the Mad Hatter tea party scene in "Alice in Wonderland") and a group of old people taking the train to Machida for an organized hike into the hills before we arrived at Atsu's house. After admiring his "CQ wall" and the antenna farm on top of his house, we headed inside.
Inside (after removing our shoes, a Japanese tradition that I think is great) we of course headed directly to Atsu's shack to admire his K3 and his Begali Stradivarius key. I tuned around a bit on 40 meters, but at 11am local time it was mostly Japanese CW ragchewing with many unfamiliar Morse code symbols being sent back and forth.
After boring Carole to death with radio-speak, we then went to Atsu's tatami room, which is basically the Japanese version of the American living room - minus the Barcalounger and the sofa. However, Atsu's tatami room has an unusual addition: his key "museum."
There are no easy chairs or sofas in tatami rooms because the custom is to sit on the floor. Now, Carole does pilates and all that, and essentially is very experienced with sitting on floors. I'm used to sitting on bicycle and kayak and airplane seats, along with office chairs and sofas - floors, not so much. Luckily, just before I would have been permanently injured, other hams started to show up and we moved outside for a barbecue.
The guests included JA1HMK, JA4AZS, JN1GLB and his wife, JA7QIL, JQ1QHO, JJ1IZW and JQ1BWT. Everyone brought food and we had a feast of barbecued meat, vegetables, small fish and all kinds of other things that I probably don't want to know what they really were. Everyone spoke English infinitely better than I speak Japanese, but I could almost follow some of the conversations between the Japanese hams - some things are universal. Jun-ichi, JQ1BWT, brought his cute-as-a-button daughter Asuka. Carole showed her how to spell out her name in sign language and later took her across the street to a park where Asuka did a great job organizing all the adults in various playground games.
Shin JA1NUT called Atsu and said he was coming, but was driving his son's car with an unfamiliar GPS, and was circling around Machida somewhere. We went out on the street and waved him in. Shin is sort of a beacon on 7.028 Mhz and I had just worked him on 15 CW a few weeks before. He is a pediatrician and his wife is a psychiatrist and we had some very interesting conversations.
After some tasty sweet bean and rice dessert made by Makoto's wife (I think), Leo had to leave to catch a flight back to Hokkaido and Shin drove us back to Shinagawa since that was (sort of) on his way home. His son's hybrid Honda had a back seat about the size of a briefcase, so Carole got to practice an obscure pilates position known as "Prius Pretzel" on the hour long ride back to the hotel.
We had a great time and greatly appreciated the hospitality of Leo, Atsui, Shin and everyone else. I hope they will all get a chance to visit us on the East Coast some day and we can return the favor.
The next day we did the mandatory tourist visits to Asakusa (which hadn't changed at all since I was there about 10 years ago) and Akihabara (which had changed a lot.) I then had two days of work and Carole took a bus and boat tour and did her usual vacation shopping where she doesn't actually buy anything but comes back with many reports of things she could have bought for people back home.
Thursday we got to experience a 6.1 after-shock that hit our hotel at about 10:30 pm. The sliding glass door to the balcony started rattling and the hotel started swaying - we were on the 11th floor and it was very noticeable. California types probably just go about eating their granola and drinking their acai berry juice when that happens, but Carole and I were waiting for sirens to go off and for Lloyd Bridges to run in and say "I picked a bad day to quit smoking" but after a few minutes it calmed down. It took a long time for our jet lagged, earthquake stimulated bodies to fall asleep after that.
Friday we took a train down to Kamakura, about 60 miles south of Tokyo. Often called "Mini-Kyoto" Kamakura is large city with a beach area and forested hills - and scads of temples and shrines. We got off the train at the Kitakamakura (North Kamakura) stations and hiked along a trail that took us past a half dozen temples, including Zeniarai Benzaiten Shrine where Carole washed some money for good luck, and I contemplated a Japanese men's room that consisted of toilets that were essentially embedded in the floor with some very complicated controls in the wall.
From there we walked through bamboo woods and past small waterfalls - and to a great big Buddha statue know as Kotokuin which appears to mean "Great Buddha."
From there we walked to the shore area, but first stopped in a shop where Carole saw a bracelet that she thought Lauren would like but it seemed a bit too expensive, so I convinced her to wait until we wne to the real Kamakura shopping district where she might have more choice and lower prices. Ha - we ended up taking a local train back to that place at the end of the day to buy that same bracelet. Anyway, the beach area was nice but didn't quite live up to its billing as "Tokyo's Miami Beach." It did have a house with an enormous set of ham radio antennas, though.
We walked from there up to Kamakura city central where two streets, Komachi-dori and Wakamiya-oji, are just jammed with shops and Carole had no excuses not to finish off her required shopping for things to bring back to friends. We had a great lunch at Mikado Coffee and I walked to a few more temples (you can't swing a cat in Kamakura without hitting a temple) while Carole did her gift buying. After a quick return train trip get Lauren that overly-expensive bracelet, we bought some famous pigeon cookies and took the train back to Tokyo.
That night we had dinner at a Japanese restaurant (where we avoided two items on the translated menu: "The thing that fried the Chicken's crotch" and "bibibimap sporkditch") and then off to bed. The next morning we hit the local Starbucks and walked around the Shinagawa area, which is not that scenic. Then a bus to the airport, a 12 hour plane ride home, a looong line at customs, and then back home to many days of jet lag daze.
Everyone asks about the danger of being in Tokyo - there was no danger. The disaster is topic one with everyone you speak to over there - it is like the US a few months after the terrorist attacks of 2001. But other than some electricity restrictions, in Tokyo life goes on. Tourism is down 50-80% - each day we were there I had someone come up to be and thank me for coming or to ask me to tell everyone at home that it was OK to come.
We did see lots of people wearing breathing masks and we thought that was due to radiation fears. But our Japanese friends explained it was pollen season (the cherry trees were just past peak) and many people had allergies and wore those masks every year.