Akai san's place

I don't usually do recommendations, but since we are planning a "healing" or "Real Japan" kind of retreat,
I thought I'd introduce my good friend who will be hosting the event in June.

Akai Nobue lives up the Noh River valley in a beautiful, European-styled "pension," or Lodge. Actually,
her place is part restaurant, part meeting place, part concert hall, part beer hall, and yoga/calligraphy studio.

The food is excellent. All natural, mostly macrobiotic. And most importantly, delicious.

The surroundings are beautiful. You can really see the seasons change with regular visits. Look up the valley
and see Hiuchi san and other beautiful mountains. Look the other way to see rice fields with a river running through.

Finally, and the real reason for visiting, is Akai san herself. She, by herself, has been running this establishment for years, while also serving until recently on the City Council of Noh. She is the most positive person I have ever met, mixing stories, advice and anecdotes with great coffee, tea, and usually something tasty from the oven.

Her website is here:


A typical "Weekend Yoga" course starts on a Saturday afternoon, begins with introductions and "ice breaking," then shiatsu massage (lit. "Finger Pressure," like acupuncture with fingers.) Then a walk up to the onsen hot springs a few hundred meters up the valley. After a delicious dinner there may be a concert, debate, or just good, real talk. At night there is a meditation session.

The next day begins early with shouji (cleaning: discipline for the mind) and a morning walk or jog up the river. After breakfast and a short rest, there is morning yoga and massage, followed by cooking (and eating!) of the day's harvest.

When we get together I'd like to add some "Tarot Reading" or "Spirit Readings" just for fun. We really could build the program ourselves and do what WE wanted to do.

Finally, please comment on what you think a FAIR price would be for this experience. (1 night, 2 days, 3 meals, 2 Yoga classes, card readings, cooking class, meditation, onsen, etc....

Thanks for your feedback and let's have a great event!



Steve Wrote a Book!!

Well, it finally happened.

My best friend in high school is a published author. I, alas, am not. Yet. And only if you don't count blog publishing.

Steve Martin was, in short, the funniest guy in high school. It probably helped that that OTHER Steve Martin was at the peak of his Saturday NIght Live appearences at that time, but Steve was funny. Still is.

We were originally introduced by a mutual friend through the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, I had a D&D stage. We ate Doritos and Dr. Pepper and fought with our imaginary characters of Elves and Dwarves. OK, I had a kind of geeky stage. Possibly still in it.

Anyway, little did I know that Steve was honing his fantasy imagination skills as we were playing. Since graduating from Pepperdine in Malibu, he became a minister involved with young people. Apparently, as a counsellor and swim coach, he learned a lot about kids. The jacket of his book, The Brand Medallion says that he and his wife have 3 sons, and are "living the adventure..." I am sure his sons, the oldest which has graduated high school, have taught him a thing or two, too, as does my 2 year old.

Well, aside from the "High school reunion" aspects of this story, there are two more relevant points.

1. The book itself is great! Although Steve says he wrote about Christian themes, never once does he sound "preachy." It is the story of a teenaged adventurer who learns about himself, and the power of words, in a new land that he discovers. This is a book that I wish was translated in Japanese for my students. The issues are self-confidence, self-esteem and self-mastery, with sub themes of honesty, trust and companionship. Geez (hope I can write that, Steve), these are exactly the same things we work on at I CAN, the free school I work at. As important as the themes, though, is that the story is just a good read, exciting at the right times, moving, full of good teenage dialogue, well-described and also fun. Though I started the book because it was my buddy's first book, I finished it because I really wanted to find out what happened to Cael and his crew.

2. The second learning point is how Steve told me he wrote the manuscript. How? With discipline. A schedule that he stuck to without fail. I hope it will be OK with Steve if I quote from his email:

"I began in June, 2004 by reading extensively in that genre, taking notes on various fiction styles, and developing characters. I would say I spent about three months on that part. Then in September I began going to the library a couple of times a week to design a story outline. It was probably a sermon writing hazard, but I wanted to know where the story was going before I jumped in. The original layout was 22 chapters with 10-12 "key idea" bullet points for each.

"The key for my writing was just consistency. Along the way I added a couple of chapters, bringing the final book to 25 chapters. And although I took a couple of weeks off from writing fatigue, I managed to finish the rough draft at the end of June -- a little over a year from when I started."

See what you can do in a year?
Steve did not "manifest" his book, or dream about writing it someday (that's my department). What he did and what makes him successful in this project is that he DID THE WORK.

What a novel idea.


Peter Payne, from San Diego to Japan

There is a company that I have been watching here in Japan since before this blog even started. A guy in Gunma, the neighboring prefecture to Niigata, has set up an import/export business of all things Japanese. And in the last year or so, it looks like he has expanded his business to include wholesaling.

With a quick look at his site at J-List! which includes adult-themed goods or J-Box, which is strictly PG, you can order from America (or anywhere -- this is the internet!) T-shirts and study aids, Pocky and Black Black gum and even bikini model photo books.

This is a business that I would have like to have started myself. Someday, I suppose I might meet Mr. Peter Payne, and compare notes between Seal Beach and San Diego, Niigata and Gumna, our respective Japanese wives, and the like. Kind of interesting, and worth a check if you are interested in some wacky (for lack of a better word) Japanese products.


"Favorite Sakura Festival Food"

The cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Takada, in the southern part of Niigata prefecture, where I live and work. Two years ago my mother and sister came in April, hoping to catch "full bloom" but had to leave a few days before the flowers opened. This year, there was quite a stir caused in Japan because the incredibly mild winter (see Inconvenient Truth) was wreaking havoc on the national cherry blossom bloom predictions.

But this week, as you can see, is beautiful. Rows upon rows of cherry blossom trees that remind me of pink popcorn or cotton candy. At least the cotton candy (candy floss for Brits, 'Tralians and Kiwis) can be had at the food stalls that are just as important (or moreso) than the flowers themselves. The Japanese have a saying, "Hana yori Dango," literally, "Dumplings rather than Flowers," which shows the preference for eating and drinking at the festival. Actually, some think the cherry blossoms are merely an(other) excuse for loosen-the-tie eating and drinking to excess.

When I took the Day Program members of Free School I CAN to the park, we were all having a wonderful time until a well intentioned (?) grandmother came up and started interrogating us as to why we weren't "In School." While I patiently explained that we were members of an alternative school, she literally could not understand what that might be, and walked off muttering something about "compulsory education."

In Japan, compulsory education is mandatory until the age of 15 (vs. 18 in the US, at least in California). However, for those kids who can't or choose not to go to "regular" school, there are few options. Homeschooling is just getting started here. Free schools are seen as playhouses for selfish kids who "can't cope."

Our mission at I CAN is to give kids a safe, fun, friendly environment for kids to learn some of those coping skills. Whether they choose to apply them at school or not is not as important as the fact that they are growing into confident, happy kids, who look forward to getting up in the morning!