Saturday, March 21, 2009


It is almost time. 6 days from now I will be in the air. VERY exciting. Here’s the plan:

28 March – Travel from Nagoya, Japan to Bangkok, Thailand.
28-31 March – Play tourist in Bangkok for a few days.
31 March – Travel from Bangkok, Thailand to Kathmandu, Nepal.
1 April – Play tourist in Kathmandu
2 April – Fly from Kathmandu to a dirt landing strip in Lukla, Nepal and begin the trek.
3 April – Walk through villages along very old trade routes to Namche Bazaar.
4 April – Play tourist in Namche Bazaar and acclimatize (11,300 feet).
5 April – Walk to village of Thame and experience the life of the Sherpa people.
6 April – Play tourist tin Thame and acclimatize further (12,400 feet).
7 April – Walk to Tengboche, the cultural and religious center of the Khumbu Region. With weather permitting, get views of 8 peaks above 20,000 feet.
8-9 April – Walk to Pheriche, known for its high altitude research center. Acclimatize a full day (13,900 feet).
10 April – Walk to Lobuje (16,200 feet).
11 April – Walk to Gorak Shep (16,900 feet) and summit Kala Pattar (18,300 feet). We should have great views of Everest from here.
12 April – Walk to Everest Base Camp and return to Gorak Shep.
13 April – Walk back to Pheriche.
14 April – Walk back to Namche Bazaar.
15 April – Walk to the Phakding Region.
16 April – Walk back to Lukla.
17 April – Fly from Lukla to Kathmandu.
18 April – SHOWER for at least an hour!
19 April – Fly from Kathmandu home weather permitting.
20 April – Arrive home and start decompressing…

With luck, Alpine Ascents—the guide service based in Seattle—will be hosting a cybercast. Essentially, that just means they will post updates and photos of the trip. The link:

Right now, last year’s posts are still there. You can cheat and check it out if you want, but if you are like me, you will want to be surprised. Keep yourself from looking at it!

If you have a request for a trinket or photo or prayer or something, PLEASE email me: . (Linda still has the only request: A photo of a yeti riding a yak.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Religious Ceremonies Outside of Work

It has been a couple of weeks since my last post. Sorry, kids. Hopefully this will make up for it.

Today, March 15th, I went with four friends to the Honen Matsuri (AKA Tagata Festival; AKA Penis Festival; AKA Fertility Festival.) This could be another check mark in the "Only in Japan" column, but since it has Buddhist ancestry, similar festivals are probably held in other parts of the world.

OK, so the Penis Festival. As you might already know, Shinto shrines serve as houses for divine spirits. The Tagata Shrine in Komaki-shi, a suburb of Nagoya, is estimated to be about 1,500 years old. It is dedicated to the diety (or kami in Japanese) Tamahime-no-mikoto, a princess from umpteen years ago.

Fertility is the main point here, hence the phallic nature of the many offerings. But also think "fertile," as in fertile ground for growing food, etc. Beginning hundreds of years ago, the offerings to the kami were often in the shape of a penis: Take a wooden wang from the shrine, wait for your prayers to come true, and return it with an additional offering to show appreciation. Makes sense, right? But that's not very entertaining.

Obviously, the festival is popular today because, well, there are tallywackers everywhere: Bananas, hot dogs, suckers, carvings, banners. Each looking just like a _____ (pick your own synonym.) There is something a little uncomfortable about kids eating food in the shape of a johnson.

The climatic event of the day is the parade starring a 13 ft long, 620 pound wiener. Each winter someone chops down a Japanese cypress tree and brings it to the shrine for a solemn ritual of purification and dedication. Wearing ritually-pure clothing, the tree is carved into the wooden phallus that will, after the festival and parade, reside in the shrine as the principle object of worship. (That said, it is actually an offering to the kami, so I'm not sure why people worship the ding-dong.)

Because my buddy Greg has a car, we also went a few miles up the road to the vagina shine. (I guess they didn't want the ladies to feel left out.) We showed up at the end of the ceremonies, but it was pretty much the same story. However, nobody had any food shaped like the female reproductive organ. On a funny side note, at the same shrine dedicated to the vagina, there is also a shrine dedicated to whiskey. HMMM! Is this a male-dominated society? I think so.

I'm sure there are plenty of people taking this festival very seriously, but, for the most part, it seemed the crowd of 10,000 - 15,000 was just having fun. The weather was perfect, we were hugely entertained and there were great people to hang out with. So, next time you're in Japan on March 15th, make sure to go to the Fertility Festival in Komaki!


I tried to keep it PG-13. Enjoy the photos!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Religious Ceremonies at Work

This past week we—work teammates—celebrated completion of a large, laborious and stressful contract with our Japanese customers. One special and relatively rare event we attended was very interesting, so I thought it might be fun to share it with you. I’ll start with some background.

In a previous post, I explained a little about the Japanese-born theology of Shintoism. The Shinto religion is a polytheistic, naturalistic and animistic belief system with deep Buddhism and some Confucianism roots. If I understand it correctly, the belief system revolves around living in harmony with nature and community by showing respect to kami, a word they translate as “god.” (That said, kami does not translate as “God” like in “The Holy Trinity” or a pagan “god” as in “Apollo, god of Light.” Personally, I think “spirit” is a much more viable translation.) Anyway, everything has ancient kami; cherry blossoms, Mt. Fuji or a house all have kami…or spirit. The goal is to live in harmony with it, though there is no eternal punishment or paradise should you succeed or fail. Got it? Yeah, me either.

Back to the exciting work week…

On Tuesday, 24 February we were invited to a ceremony intended to bless and purify the hardware we were about to sell to the Japanese government. Great time and effort was exerted to set up the event and no detail was left unattended on the altar or around the tent.

Before the ceremony began, we were all asked to go outside of the tent. Dressed in suits and ties, we waited in the cold and rain for each of the 60 men (yes, all men) to walk through the doorway to the tent and ritually purify themselves by washing their hands in water poured on them by another person. Many of the men bowed at the alter. I found out later they were bowing to the kami.

The ceremony itself was also fascinating, and I think it tells much about the Japanese culture. With the exception of the MC speaking a few calm, soothing words now and then, the only other noise for an hour were the priests reading or singing or chanting or clapping or dragging their feet around in the weirdest-looking shoes you can imagine. Each person in the tent knew when to stand or sit, when to bow or look forward, when to clap and when to not move a muscle for minutes at a time. The audience was synced, almost militarily, which gave it a cold, heartless feeling. We were somber and subdued…and “I” was curious and wanted to ask questions and take pictures and crack pointless, completely forgettable one-liner jokes. (Imagine that!)

Our team even got to get involved in the ceremony. Luckily representatives of other groups went first and we were able to pick up the routine:

1. Manager waits for signal
2. Manager stands
3. Subordinates stand
4. Manager bows to priest
5. Manager takes bough
6. Manager bows to altar
7. Manager places bough on altar
8. Manager bows to altar
9. Subordinates bow to altar simultaneously
10. Manager claps
11. Subordinates clap simultaneously
12. Manager claps again
13. Subordinates clap simultaneously again
14. Manager bows to altar
15. Subordinates bow to altar simultaneously

I think we just bowed once too many times, but you get the picture!

So, our product is now blessed both by US and Japanese worker bee blood, sweat and tears as well as two Shinto priests. No doubt our systems will work flawlessly.


Sorry for the lack of photos. For reasons you can guess if you consider my job, most of the photos don’t need to be available for all to see.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Live-Fire Training Weekend – UPDATE

I forgot to add a cool experience from last weekend. We are all familiar with the many wild animals in the States: A few bear and cat species, numerous canine species and quite a few ungulate species like Whitetail Deer, Roosevelt Elk and Mountain Goats. We more or less expect them when hiking or driving through less-inhabited areas.

Obviously, there are many different animals that live on the Japanese Archipelago. I have been lucky enough to spot a number of them here, which is evidently rare. (My suspicion is that it is only “rare” because people “rarely” get out of the city.) Anyway, I have seen some Japanese Sika Deer, Japanese Macaques (aka Japanese Snow Monkeys) and entirely too many of their massive, unusual-sounding ravens.

Unfortunately, I know very little about what animals to be watchful for in the wilderness areas here. But the flip side of that is I am unexpectedly excited when I see something new. Take in point this weekend’s surprise: The Japanese Serow. There is a photo below, but here is my poor attempt at humorous poetry in the form haiku (how appropriate!) to describe the…thing.

A bit like a deer
But not exactly a goat
Smells like vinegar?

OK...that was bad, and yet I still posted it!

Before I go, be aware that in my next post I am going to try to give you a feel for a Shinto ceremony of which we were privleged to participate.

Sika Deer

Japanese Macaque (aka Japanese Snow Monkey)

Japanese Serow

Monday, February 23, 2009

Live-Fire Training Weekend

Most of you know that my cardiovascular training hasn't been going well because of my right knee. I haven't ran for two or three weeks now, so I've been sticking to walking around the city. BORING! Anyway, I figured a change of pace was needed this past weekend, so I decided to take a training trip to the Chuo (Central) Japanese Alps.

I packed about 50lbs of gear and food into my pack and left for Nagano Prefecture in central Japan on Saturday morning by train. After a 3.5 hours on the train and 3 hour mistake due to me being an idiot when switching trains, I arrived in Komagane and I started walking west. (Pull up Google Earth: 35 deg, 43 min, 44 sec North Latitude; 137 deg, 56 min, 01 sec East Longitude.) Most people take the 45 minute bus ride uphill, but that wouldn't exactly be "training." So, I hoofed it.

After about 3 hours of walking, I found a flat spot (it happened to be a frozen pool of water on the side of a waterfall), setup my tent and prepared to freeze by butt off while attempting to sleep. Luckily I was super tired and it wasn't too cold, about 15 degrees F. My gear kept me nice and toasty, relatively speaking. (Note: You can always use your pack as a tertiary layer of insulation...just slide it over the foot of your sleeping bag. It's also a good way to keep things from freezing. Frozen contact solution isn't helpful.)

The only photo I took was of me eating, so here it is. I was SO hungry that I didn't wait for the food to cool tongue has not yet forgiven me and still refuses to taste properly.

Freeze-dried Reginelle all'Arrabbiata...mmmm

On Sunday morning I ate, packed up my things, and continued uphill for another 3 hours to the Komagatake Ropeway at Shirabidaira Station. (Yes, I will quiz you on those names later.) Total elevation gain was about 3,200 feet. I was more than happy to pay $25 for the "Chuo Alps Komagatake Ropeway" ride for the next 3,000 feet.

After the gondola ride, I talked to someone about the snow forecast and 60mph winds, put on my crampons, pulled out the ice axe, got a swig of water and started uphill again. This photo was taken about 15 minutes after leaving the station and just before the real work began. You REALLY do have to love this because I'm sure it looks painfully un-fun for most of you!

Cold + Wind + Snow + 50 deg Slope + 50 lb Pack = "Training"

About two-thirds of the way up, I needed a break and pulled out the camera. What fortunate timing! Nothing like a goosh of snow down your shirt:

The rest of the day was a great time and a fantastic learning experience: Lots of ice, TONS of wind, dangerous snow conditions and great views. I stopped about 10 steps short of my goal, Mt. Komagatake's summit, because it wasn't safe to continue without ropes and at least one teammate. Close enough, though, right?

Here are a few more photos and another video. Hopefully they give you a sense for what it is like just under 10,000 feet in Japan's winter months!

Mt. Hoken (9,616 feet)

Mt. Komagatake Summit (9,698 feet) SO CLOSE!

Komagane, Nagano, Japan (Yes, that is a town down there and a it was a VERY long walk!)

A 270 degree View (I waited for the calmest winds I could.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Trip: Thailand

As you may or may not know, my trip dates are all but set in stone. I will fly from Nagoya, Japan to Bangkok, Thailand on Saturday, 28 March and then to Kathmandu, Nepal on Tuesday, 31 March. So, what to do for a few days alone in Thailand besides be aware for “girls” with adams apples?

Luckily I have numerous friends in Japan that have spent time in Bangkok. In fact, one is headed there in the next few weeks. I’ll certainly be hitting them up soon. Until then, I’ve started with Al Gore’s trusty Internet.

One of the sites I like to use for playing tourist is the World Heritage site. (LINK) Thailand has five sites on the list:

The historic Town of Sukhothai is named after an early kingdom in north-central Thailand around the old (appx 1238 – 1438). Historic remains include monuments and architecture that is considered the beginning of “Thai” architecture as we know it today. Unfortunately, it’s pretty far from Bangkok.

Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries sit around the Myanmar border in western Thailand. While it might be cool to visit, I’m going to skip on this trip for safety and time reasons; although, it would be fun to take some wildlife photos of tigers and elephants.

The Ban Chiang Archaeological Site is in central Thailand and is a hotbed for archaeologists studying early, Southeast Asian civilizations and cultures. It’s not quite my thing, but I wish I had time to check it out. Maybe next time I’ll go dig up a 4,000 year old rice farming tool.

Dong Phayayen–Khao Yai Forest Complex. It’s likely a rain forest full of the Ebola-SARS-Bird Flu virus. Kidding...sorta. I can spell "malaria," and that's about as close to it as I wish to get.

Perhaps the closest, most interesting and, so far, most suggested site to check out is the Historic City of Ayutthaya. No need to write about it: HERE for the video. (Sorry for removing the video. I was too lazy to figure out how to set the video so it wouldn't start automatically. HTML isn't my bag. Please click on the link if you want to view it.)

Ayutthaya will probably be a full day trip, so that will leave time the other days to visit museums, shrines, etc. in Bangkok. AND, I’m especially looking forward to the food!

More to come...Later!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Trip Prep Update

Trip Update
A number of you have asked for a trip preparation and training update, so I’ll try to oblige. My application, background information and payment was sent to Alpine Ascents International, the guide service based in Seattle a few weeks ago. I’m working with a travel agent here in Japan to book my tickets from Nagoya to Kathmandu and hope to have that process finalized this week. Once that’s shored up, I will book my hotel in Bangkok. (Thank you Lockheed Martin for the 1,000,000+ Hilton Honors points!) Finding the “must see sites” and “must do things” are next on the list. Communication and safety are also priorities. Luckily for me, I have plenty of resources for personal safety and there are some great applications and podcasts on iTunes that are helping teach the basics of Thai and Nepalese languages.

Cardiovascular training is not going well, but there is visual evidence of a muscular group between my chest and belly button! A few of weeks ago I stepped in a hole while train running and tweaked my knee. I figured it would was minor and would be easy to tough it out. Unfortunately, that didn’t work. So I’m taking some time off from running. We’ll see if I can get back up to 30 miles a week quickly. Good news is the extra hour per day gives me more time to stretch, focus on core exercises, eat healthier, walk the city’s streets and practice the oh-so-difficult Up Dog - Down Dog transition.

The Japanese seem to treat birthdays with more relevance than we do in the U.S…at least where adults are concerned. That makes dining out a lot of fun sometimes. (I'm getting good at "Happy Birsday.") Anyway, I was invited to a birthday dinner on Sunday night. The camaraderie was great, the food was good, the atmosphere was interesting and the staff’s celebratory song and dance was, well, much more thorough than some goofy chant at Chile’s. The entire kitchen and service was singing, dancing, chanting, running up and down stairs, shaking tambourines, etc. This went on for about 7 or 8 minutes and included a serious, somber monologue telling everyone to enjoy their their special day and have a healthy year. I filmed about 3 minutes of the madness until my hand got tired of holding the camera and the pictures started shaking. Unfortunately the file is too large to share so a photo of my fellow, aerospace expatriates and associated friends and significant others will have to do. CHEERS!

PS Don’t worry, people! I was not one of the 7 adventurers in Japan sent to the hospital today after eating blowfish testicles prepared by an “unauthorized” chef. Hey, if you ask me, those that go around eating the testicles of a poisonous fish are just askin’ for trouble!

PPS If you have any questions or suggestions or just want to BS, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email: