My latest Post.

This view,this beauty
A tear unbidden
Creeps into my eye.

My stay is short
But I shall return to this place
If only my life is long enough.

Such beauty
Gazing upon it
I hope my years are many.

Bokusui Wakayama.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fate? Destiny? Coincidence? You be the judge.

   What is the link between the image on the top-left (the Tonsils) and the image on the bottom-right (CATEYE's INOU)?

   About 40-years.

                                                                                                                                                                      To explain, I shall begin at the end - the present day.

  These two images were taken at a picnic-spot/rest-area along the Kizugawa River cycle-way. It is about an hour from where I live, and I often stop here for a refreshment break before completing my ride. On this particular day, as I was about to consume my last bread-roll, another cyclist arrived, gave me a quizzical look (I often get that. I don't know why) before approaching me asking; "Are you the guy that goes by the name of theoutdoorholic"? After confirming that I was, Philip went on to explain how he heard about me; a friend of his, who has an "Everytrail Page", told him about a guy who goes by the name of  "theoutdoorholic", and has posted a lot of rides in this area. Cool aye! But what makes this encounter even more amazing, is that I wasn't planning on stopping at this spot (I only did as, if I arrived home too early, I may have been given a chore to do - cook dinner or wash-the-dishes). And Philip wasn't planning on cycling this far either - he felt energetic and thought he would add an extra few kilometers to his ride.
Still Confused?
   Are you still with me? Well Philip administers a "Facebook Group" called the "Nara MTB and Road Cycling" Group. A member of this group is a Company Rep' for CATEYE (they manufacture products for bicycles - lights, cycle-computers e.t.c.) and this guy wants to gift me one of their new products on the market - The Inou. This is a combination G.P.S./photo/video device that allows the user to record their trip, as-well-as photo/video images and then uploaded onto your computer.  Whats so amazing about this is that, for the past year-or-so, I have been pondering with the idea of investing in a Hand-Held G.P.S. Device which would make uploading my outings more easier & less time-consuming ( drawing a trip can take a few hours).
Finished Yet?
   Now lets return to the summer of 1973. I was living in Christchurch City and, on this particular day, I was sitting in the clinic of an E.N.T. specialist. The gentleman had just taken a look down my throat and was telling me that my Tonsils needed to be removed a.s.a.p. (My god, I could have told him that, after the suffering I had been-through the previous 12-months) and provided me with three hospitals I could have the operation performed at - Christchurch Public Hospital  (as this was a public hosp' I would have to wait for a few months). St Georges Private Hospital  (as this was a hosp' that specialized in Pediatrics, I may not appreciate sharing my ward with screaming kids). And Calvary Private Hospital. Five days later I was discharged from Calvary Hospital with a clean bill of health, minus my Tonsils but, as a bonus of my stay, I had a 4-year relationship with one of the Nursing Staff. Two years into our relationship we moved to Nelson City where, after Kitrina left me to do her big O.E. to Australia, I lived until 2005. 
   Then, one day in June of 1998, I was sitting in my room at Franklyn Hall ( the halls were used as student residents attached to the Nelson Polytechnic) when two young Japanese girls arrived. They were in the country on a 12-month Students Visa. One of the girls met & married my friend and I married Sueko-san. Then, in early 2005, we arrived in Japan to live where, in my spare time, I hike and mountain-bike around this very-beautiful region. 
   Okay. You've read this story. In your opinion, is it Fate, Destiny , or just a Coincidence? But, ask yourself this question; what would have happened if I went to a different hospital for my operation? Or I went to Australia with Kitrina? Or I returned home so I could cook dinner? A lot of "What if's".

Monday, February 6, 2012

"You don't have to be crazy.......

                                    "You don't have to be crazy to work here,
                                                           But it sure helps".

   Some years ago, when I was Nurse-Aiding in a Psychiatric Hospital, someone pinned this (interesting) proverb onto the noticeboard in one of the wards (needless-to-say it drew a few comments as to it's appropriateness but, most saw the joke behind it). The same could be said for the idiots amongst us, like yours truly, who spend a cool  winters Sunday out busting-their-guts mountain-biking (if this is a symptom of insanity, I am guilty as charged). Today, Sunday 5th February 2012, I left home at 8:30am and, 7.5-hours + 88km later, I arrived back  buzzing (check 4-b) (at 80km I felt I could do another 20km but, bad-light, cooling temperature, a worrying wife, and a can-of-beer calling to be opened, made me think otherwise). So, I have decided to let you, my fellow "outdoorholics", decide whether I am crazy or just .......... (?). This is my story.
Today's ride (view the route here) was very-undulating (to say the least), consisting of five uphill climbs and descents through a mixture of scenery - isolated villages, farmland, narrow lanes, shrines & temples (a Barcock outing wouldn't be complete without a shrine or temple included). After a 30km ride, I (finally) arrive at my destination where I say goodbye to civilization and hello to serenity/beauty. 
About a kilometer up the road I came-across my first photo-opportunity - a small shrine tucked-amongst the trees. These small, out-of-the-way complexes, have an appeal to me. They are so peaceful (do you experience the same feeling?).
Then, just-around the corner from the shrine, I happened-across a small Jizo nestled amongst the bank on the side of the lane. These come in many shapes-and-sizes and never fail to attract my attention.
Torii, entrance to Okumiya-jinja Shrine.
In the photo on the right, I am about to commence on the second-half of my second hill-climb (can you follow that?). Over the next 1.2km I shall climb 142m and, I may add, it was gut-busting stuff (I shall let you into a little secret here, I had to walk some of the way), but worth it. The lane is part of what is known as the "Tokai Nature Walk".
Okumiya-jinja Shrine.
  The 142m climb was worth the effort as I was greeted by a quaint wee shrine atop Iwama-yama (Mt Iwama 380m) which offered views over to Biwako (Lake Biwa) and Ritto & Kusatsu Cities.
Okumiya-jinja Shrine was the perfect location to stop for my first break. As my cycle-computer was telling me I had cycled 37km at this point, I was aware I was about half-way through my trip.
  After lunch, consisting of an egg sandwich, banana, snickers-bar and hot tea, it was time for my first down-hill segment (albeit short) before my next ascent.
Hirade Village.
  Hirade Village, during rice-growing season, is a delight to experience. In the photo you can see an arrow pointing to my next plateau. It may not look steep from this angle but, the last 150m requires some effort.
   After another descent, and another (long) hill-climb, I reached a junction (Location.) and, although I knew where one lane went to, I was curious to see where the other went to. The village of Ikenoo sits in a valley surrounded by mountains and consists of many old traditional Japanese houses.
Ikenoo Village.
I love this type of cycling environment and, one day, when I get around to it, I hope to tour keeping to villages like this. But, in saying that, I can't imagine myself travelling a great distance as I would spend most of my time sightseeing. Ikenoo village (unfortunately) is so isolated, there is only the one road in & out. So, time for my 5th and last hill-climb.
The next section was a 258m descent over a 4km distance, with sweeping bends. Ideal terrain to let-loose and go-for-it. At one point I managed to read 55kmph on my cycle-computer. It was at this point I needed to remind myself of my age  (a young 58) and slow-down. I was glad I did as, at that point, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted another photo-opportunity. On a hot, fine, sunny day, I would have stripped and taken a rinse in this pool. 
and the end of another great outing.
   Uji. One of my favorite places in Japan. God-knows how many times I have been here. I still enjoy returning (check-out my "Everytrail Guide"). Behind me, where I am having my bite-to-eat, is the "Tale-of-Genji" bridge. I always make for this spot for my breaks (I think the people who operate the shop, opposite where I am sitting, have come to recognize me). After a cuppa', some bread-rolls and a banana, I move on for the final segment - home (25km away). I've had a great day and, if you want to experience this area, when you are visiting Japan, I would be more-than-honored to show it to you.
   Okay, you have read my story. Do you think I am crazy?

   Footnote; My apologies to anyone who may be offended at the use of some words used in this blog.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


   In all of my posts to date (all 14 of them) I have mentioned many customs celebrated in Japan - "Hatsumode", "Shogatsu", "Omisoka","Shichi-Go-San". All, in their own way, unique to Japan and the Japanese people (my opinion). I personally couldn't say which one I enjoy celebrating the most. It's the opportunity to take part in a custom, that is part of a countries culture, that gives me the most pleasure (I will add a footnote at the end of this post, that will explain where I am coming from, with regards to the above comment).
   "Setsubun" I look forward to celebrating because it intrigues me immensely. Celebrated yearly, on February 3rd (the day before the beginning of Spring in Japan), the term literally means "seasonal division" and is celebrated to welcome in Spring according to the "Lunar New Year" (it was previously thought of as a sort of New Years Eve) and, to do that, an incredible ritual has been developed as part of this festival (I will leave the attached links to provide you with all the finer details of Setsubun).
   This post will concentrate on "Mamemaki" (Bean-Throwing Ceremony) and "Makizushi" (Rolled Sushi) and how it is celebrated in the "Barcock" house.
   There are five main ingredients required for this custom, two of them being "Yours Truly" and my "Dearly Beloved".

Makizushi - rolled Sushi.
Fortune Beans - soya beans.

   The custom begins with "Mamemaki" (the throwing of the soya-beans), which first appeared in the "Muromachi Period"  and, if there is no "Toshiotoko" (a male who was born on the corresponding animal year on the Chinese Zodiac) in the house, then it falls on the male head of the family, in this case, Me.
"Bean Throwing".
   We now proceed to the door, in this case the door leading to the balcony, and throw the beans while reciting the words "Oni wa Soto! Fuki wa uchi!" ("Demons out! Luck in!") then slamming the door behind me in case any demon follows me inside. At this point I may suggest to you, if you live any higher than the 2nd-floor of an apartment building, to opt for the alternative (beans thrown from the 30th-floor can cause some serious injuries to the poor blighter on the ground), and that is to don an "Oni" Mask and allow the beans to be thrown at the wearer.

    Following the bean-throwing ceremony we then proceed to eat uncut Makizushi or "Echo-Maki" ( "Lucky Direction Roll") in silence while facing the yearly lucky compass direction. This is determined by the Zodiac symbol of that year, in this case, the Dragon, and the lucky direction this year is; West-Northwest.
Setting for East-Southeast.
   Being a person of (many) obsessions I want to be as precise as I can, and, having the compass set facing the right direction is important to the custom (I won't get into the debate as to the accuracy of the compass).

  Two down, and one to go. Phase-3, eating the Makizushi in silence. In some households "Shogazake", or Ginger Sake, is  customarily consumed as part of the ritual (much the same as "Egg-Nog" is common during the Christmas celebration) but, in our case, we didn't have any (I thought of everything else, I wonder why I forgot the alcohol?). 
   The 3rd February is a double celebration for us. It is also "Okaasan's (Mother) birthday. So I would like to dedicate this post to her and wish her "Otanjoubi Omedetou".

   Footnote;  At the beginning of this post I touched on the respect and appreciation I hold for a countries (and individuals) culture and the joy I experience when I take part in a custom or celebration. I want to explain where this feeling originates from.
   Back when I was in my early-20's I met a Maori girl and we had a 4-year relationship. During those four years I had the opportunity to experience many aspects of the Maori culture firsthand. I was honoured  to have met and associated with Wiata's (her Maori name) Whanau. Before meeting Wiata I had never had any association with Maori and, out of ignorance, I referred to them as "Hori's" (a derogatory term). At the end of the relationship, I came-away with a very different perspective of the Maori and what it is like to be part of a culture. I have an envy of people who have a culture that they can be identified by. As a non-Maori "Aotearoan" I feel I have little to be proud of as far as my identity is concerned. Here in Japan, when participating in a custom, it gets nothing less of 100% of my respect and attention.