Japanese You 

On my way back to the office last week, I had an unusual cabbie. For one thing, he was chatty, unlike the other Japanese cabbies I've encountered. For another, he looked very much like one of my bosses back in Washington, if my boss had been Japanese rather than of Mediterranean descent. It was the second time he'd been my driver, and both times I noticed the resemblance immediately.

Occasionally, we come across Japanese versions of familiar faces from back home. What's interesting about these occurrences is that they cover a wide variety of Western features. My boss looks nothing like an old client, American Idol-era Clay Aiken, or Steven Spielberg, yet we've seen Japanese versions of each of them. And, as a general rule, Japanese features are pretty homogeneous, so it's not like we're keying off of similarities in hair or eye color. It would be easy to say it's a trick of the mind, that it comes from needing some connection to home, but the first J-Clay sighting occurred while we still lived in America. The likenesses must come from somewhere more fundamental than that.

Anthropologists and ethnologists probably have researched this phenomenon and come to some conclusions about why we see the familiar in the apparently unrelated. For us, the non-scientists, it's just a part of the ongoing adventure — who are we going to see next?
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In Japan, the sakura are not just spectacular to look at — they also herald the coming spring. While the cherry blossoms distract everyone, the rest of the plant kingdom quietly push out their buds and flowers.

These photos are from the end of April.

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Sea of Japan Sunset 

The sun setting over the Sea of Japan, as seen from Tsubakiyama, Aomori.

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Turtle Tree 

A kame no ki (turtle tree) flowering in early May.

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Crepuscular Rays 

I remember crepuscular rays — light and dark bands radiating from the sun — as a common feature of sunsets in my childhood. Here, they can be seen very frequently, at any time of day.

This photo was taken in Tono, in mid-afternoon.

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The Crackersmith At Work 

At a famous senbei (cracker/cookie) shop in Esashi, crackers are made by hand — one at a time. You need a reservation a week in advance to buy the popular varieties from this shop.

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Grinding Ink 

A poet grinds ink in preparation for writing his verse at Gokusui no En.

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Gokusui no En 

Last weekend, we attended Gokusui no En at Motsuji, a temple in Hiraizumi. Gokusui no En is a festival reenacting a popular entertainment among nobles during the Heian Period. To begin the event, a Buddhist priest places a theme on a small raft that then floats down a stream, followed by cups of sake.

Each member of a group of poets seated along the stream composes a short poem about the prescribed theme.

We've read that the poets who fail to complete their verses before the sake cup reaches them must drink, but it seemed like all of them ended up drinking sake at some point.

related link
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Hachimantai is a mountain and national park that straddles the border between Iwate and Akita. It's also the scene of the "Aspite Line", a very scenic drive that crosses the mountain near its summit. Even in May, there was plenty of snow near the top.

On the Iwate side, there are alleged to be some spectacular views. All we saw was fog, though.

And here's the view when we finally got our oscillation overthruster working.

(Photos by Robert Davis. Hi, Dad!)

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God of the Sea 

This carved figure of the God of the Sea is perched in the rafters of a small pavilion over a picnic table at the Goishi Coast. I'm not sure I could eat my lunch with him lookin' at me.

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