Sunday, April 1, 2012

Trip to Kamiyama, Tokushima, Shikoku, Japan: Part 1: Yamani House

Last week I got the unique chance to take a trip to rural Japan with the Microsoft Agriculture Club. Kamiyama in Tokushima Prefecture is a small agricultural town that is attracting IT companies, artists, and environmentalists who want to enjoy the natural beauty and high quality of life as well as extremely high speed internet connections that let them stay connected and work remotely.

Kamiyama reminds me of my own hometown of Fairfield, Iowa which has an aging and shrinking, agriculture-based population, but a growing community of entrepreneurs, students, and people interested in sustainable living.

One Microsoft’s IT partners in Japan, Dunksoft, setup a satellite office for their workers in an old Japanese house on a hillside known as the Yamani House.


We slept on Tatami mats and bathed at the Kamiyama Onsen down the road.


The Microsoft Japan Agriculture Club in the Yamani House with our awesome hosts.


If you want to stay here too, you can rent the Yamani House for just 18,00 Yen per week (Per person). They would love to have you.

See more pictures of this great house.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Karuizawa, Nagano, Japan and Tombo no Yu Onsen

I took my first trip outside of Tokyo since moving to Japan. Karuizawa is a resort town about a 90 minutes from Tokyo, with skiing in the winter and is a place to escape the Tokyo heat in summer.

I stayed at the Tokyo Prince Karuizawa, which they call the flagship of the Prince hotel family. It large and nice resort with its own Ski lift, golf course, hot springs, and outlet mall. And they rent bikes. As a team building exercise, my colleagues and I road tandems to lunch, but we got lost.

The outlet mall is the nicest one I've ever seen, with Japanese and internal brands and some cool shops like Tommorowland, Beams, Ships, and Margaret Howell. The building below is a food court.
From Karuizawa Station you can take a free bus to the Tombo nu Yu area. There is a small shopping area with very nice cafes and outside, riverside seating.

I recommend Maruyama Coffee, which has good coffee and a relaxing seating area witch couches, which can be hard to find in Japan.
A short walk along the river will take you to Hoshinoya Onsen. Its a very nice modern structure with
an outside bath in the woods.

They also have a hotel that looks amazing (and expensive). This picture from really captures how nice the area is.

There are many other attractions in the area that I didn't get a chance to see and I will come back again.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Like Jiji, like Mago: Admiring my father in law’s drawing style.

My wife’s father is always doodling on scraps of paper.WP_000092
Check out the great expressions on the cats in the top right corner.
I told him I liked his drawing and he brought out a book he has had for almost 50 years.
It is like a dictionary with lots of drawings. It was one of his son’s preschool text books from the 1960’s.
It had over a hundred pages densely drawn with these cool line drawings.

My daughter overheard me complimenting him and wanted to show me that she can draw too.

I think she takes after him!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Climbing Mt. Fuji with Sunrise Tours: What you need to know

Climbing Mt Fuji has always sounded intimidating to me--physically, logistically, and economically. I read stories of water, noodles, and toilets costing upwards of $10 per bottle, cup, and leak. With rumors of mysterious “huts” that wouldn’t ruthlessly  wouldn’t let you in without paying astronomical feels no matter how cold, hungry, or weak you were.

You can only climb Fuji in July and August, and since I was going to Japan in August this year, this was my chance. I booked a 2 day tour with Sunrise Tours, which I thought was a good way to go. They pickup you up in Tokyo and drop you off the next day. They make it is easy as possible, but you don’t know what to expect until you get there.

If you read all of the fine print on the Sunrise Web site it will tell you most of what you need to know, and I’ve added my commentary to help my fellow climbers fill in the gaps.


Day 1: Tokyo - Mt.Fuji
7:10 a.m. Leave Keio Plaza Hotel. Shinjuku

You meet in the lobby of the Keio plaza hotel in Shinjuku and then you walk a few minutes to a parking lot where the buses are waiting. The Keio plaza hotel is pretty nice so it’s a good choice to stay there the night before since you have to meet at 7:00 am. The Keio plaza has Konbini (convenience store) in the basement so you can stock up on snacks and water. At the lobby you will meet your English speaking tour guide (who is Japanese) and about 20 other foreigners. When you get to the bus parking lot there will be about another 50-70 Japanese their waiting for the bus too. This is because you are part of a bigger Japanese tour and you all get on the bus and climb together.

They make all of the foreigners sit at the back of the bus, which some of the people did not like, but they do it to keep us all together so the tour guide can translate the announcements.

They don’t mention this on the itinerary but on the way to Mt Fuji they stop off at a rest stop where you can grab some more food and drinks before you get to the mountain.

11:30 a.m.
Arrive at Mt.Fuji Kawaguchiko 5th station.
Lunch on your own and prepare to climb.

You drive halfway up the mountain and they drop you off at this base, which looks kind of like a small ski resort. There are about 100 buses and it is totally packed with people. They said there are two kinds of people there, those with smiles on there faces who are about to go up. And those with frowns who just got down.

Momo July 2010 371In one of the lodges the tour group has reserved a floor with tatami mats where you can change into your gear, eat, and leave your luggage. You have about 30 extra minutes to walk around and they have cafeterias where you can buy lunch. The prices are not that exorbitant here, but this is where where the pee pee tax begins, you have to pay 100 yen to use the restroom.

1:00 p.m.
Depart 5th Station and ascend route.

Now it’s time to start hiking (in the rain). It starts out pretty gradually

Momo July 2010 381

After about 30 minutes the path get’s narrower and steeper.

Momo July 2010 389 At some points you have walk single file up the rocks.

Momo July 2010 392 I really liked the look of the colorful, coordinated rain gear that most people were wearing. For the first leg of the trip everything was pretty easy (because we were going pretty slow) and everyone was having a good time.

5:00 p.m.
Arrive at Toyokan lodge at 8th station. 
Short stay at Toyokan Hut (Dinner and rest until 11:00 p.m.)

Momo July 2010 396

To be continued…

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Oslo, Norway, 2010 City Bike Tour

Oslo is a lot like Seattle, they have lots of green, water, and coffee shops—but its a lot more expensive, the weather seemed better, and they eat open face sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The Flytoget train from the airport to downtown the fastest airport train in the world, with a top speed of 130 mph. Even though it is super fast as modern it still has nice nordic touches like wooden seats.
I was here on business so I grabbed lunch at the Microsoft Oslo cafeteria. This Microsoft cafeteria was unlike any I have ever seen and I had an excellent fish soup.   120














Just Kidding. That is not the Microsoft cafeteria. That is the lovely Lofoten Fiskerestaurant in the Aker Brygge complex on waterfront.

This is the Microsoft Oslo cafeteria, where I had my first of many open face sandwiches. First, you pinch slice a loaf and the cracker of your choice. Then you head to the cold case and pick a dish of salmon, crab, shrimp, eggs, cheese, pickled herring, and about a dozen other things I could not recognize.

133126 132134
And voila, a Norwegian sandwich! Osloites are are very into pastes to put on their sandwiches. the cafeteria had baskets of funky Norwegian condiments like cod roe past, herring paste, bacon paste, and pates.

After business was done it was time to the streets. Oslo has a bike sharing system so you can check out a bike and ride it all around the city.

145 143 154 153242 229 219 203   155182 185 150 254 257
The last night I stayed at the Airport Comfort Hotel RunWay. You wouldn’t expect much from a Comfort Hotel at the airport, but this really nice. Very new and modern and the hottest sauna ever.