Ohanami: Cherry Blossom Viewing

Recently the family and I took a visit to the University of Washington to view the Japanese cherry-blossoms or sakura (桜).  This is a tradition in Japan called ohanami (お花見) which just literally means “flower viewing”.

We missed last year’s viewing due to bad weather,¹ so were happy to view them this year, especially since Little Guy is now old enough to kind of understand.  At the very least, the kids could get some fresh air.  🙂

Here are some photos of our visit:

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My daughter took a few photos too:

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…and she snuck in a photo of me and her little brother:


Happy Spring, everyone!

P.S. Past ohanami at the UW and in Japan.


A Piece of Japanese-American History

This past month, my wife and kids were in Japan longer than I was. I still had to work and take care of many other things before I left for Japa , but I did have a little free time.

One morning, I was in the International District, and I stopped by a lovely cafe beside the Panama Hotel.  The Panama Hotel sits in the historically “Japanese” part¹ of the International District and includes a little museum of personal items left behind after the internment of Japanese immigrations in World War II.

Of particular interest is this old newspaper:


This is the North American Times, a Japanese-American newspaper. In fact, if you look closely, it is the last issue published:


Besides this was another newspaper in Japanese:


I like the contrast of the 1940’s style and fashion with Japanese script.


And finally there is more serious commentary on politics and such. The main article here is talking about Gandhi, India2 and the British Empire:


Anyhow, just something interesting I wanted to share. The International District in Seattle as a whole isn’t very large, and has some sketchy parts, but underneath there are some pretty interesting layers of history there, too.

¹ The naming of Seattle’s Chinatown or International District is … complicated.  Originally it was one of many Chinatown neighborhoods on the West Coast, but after Chinese immigrants were forced out of the US, other Asian groups took up residence instead and the name changed.  The ID in Seattle can roughly be divided in three areas: the Chinese area from South Jackson Street southward, the Japanese area just north of South Jackson Street, and the Vietnamese area further to the east.  People still argue over the name now due to its overwhelming Chinese roots, but at the same time due to the residence of other Asian groups as well.  You can see maps now in the ID that confirm this:

Personally, as John Q. Whiteguy, I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another and leave that for other people to work out.

2 Interestingly, the name here is written in Chinese characters 印度 (lit. “Indo”) rather than using Katakana. I noticed that it was more common in older Japanese publications to use Chinese characters for country names rather than Katakana script. Still, even now in serious news publications you can still see Chinese characters used (欧 for Europe, 法 for France, 米 for America, etc).

Tulip Festival 2015


It’s April, and once again the family went to see the famous Tulip Festival in the town of Mount Vernon here in Washington State. We love going to one farm called Tulip Town every year. This year we were fortunate to take some good friends with us, and we all had a great time.

The weather was unusual because it was both cloudy and sunny, which made some unusually beautiful photos. Plus, I followed the advice of a good friend who taught me that good photos are taken from angles that are different from the ones we normally see. That’s your photography tip for the day. 😉

You can see the full collection here, but these are my favorite photos:





The pictures this year turned out much better than previous years, I think. I was carrying Little Guy in one arm and trying to take photos with the camera phone so it wasn’t easy, but I’m happy with the result.

Anyhow, enjoy! 🌷

Cherry Blossoms at the University of Washington

As mentioned in my last post, the family and I went to see the cherry-blossoms (桜 sakura) at the University of Washington. The UW has a large courtyard called the “Quad”, which contains many trees donated from Japan almost 100 years ago. The trees are pretty large now, and very popular. Many Japanese people and non-Japanese people in Seattle like to visit the UW for ohanami (お花見) which is the annual viewing of cherry-blossoms.

I graduated from the UW, and enjoyed the Quad ever since I was a student. I still have an old photo of my wife when were still dating near those cherry trees, and another photo years later when she was pregnant with our first child. We have had many pleasant memories at that place.

Last year, Little Guy was too young for ohanami, so this year was his first. We were not 100% sure when the blossoms would appear, so we took a chance and visited last weekend (the 6th of March). The weather was fantastic, but not all the trees had bloomed yet. The view was great though:






Here is a photo of the blossoms, close-up:


Many people were gathered around the trees, taking photos. We also took a few photos, then sat on the lawn for a long time. Little Guy, who is now 17 months old, really enjoyed the warm, soft grass. He crawled around, and even walked a little bit. Here is Little Guy climbing on Daddy:1


and here he is rolling in the grass with his older sister (now 8 years old):


Anyhow, it was a great time. I hope you can see cherry blossoms wherever you live too. 🙂

1 He thinks it is funny to slap Daddy’s tummy. ;p

Celebrating Christmas at Leavenworth



Recently, my family and I did a day-trip (higaeri in Japanese, 日帰り) to the town of Leavenworth to enjoy Christmas. Leavenworth is in Washington state, but it’s on the other side of the Cascade Mountains, so we have to drive 2.5 hours on Highway 2 to get there. We decided to visit late, so all the hotels were full, so instead we decided to day a day-trip only. We had a lot of fun.

Leavenworth is a small town of 2,000 people, but the city center has been built to resemble a town in the Free State of Bavaria in Germany. For Japanese readers, it is called バイエルン州 (baierun shū). It’s also called Freistaat Bayern in modern German.

Anyhow, we left around noon time. The drive through the mountains was very beautiful, and my daughter took some photos from the car:




We drove for about 2.5 hours, and arrived at Leavenworth around 3pm. Since it was winter and we were behind the mountains, it was already growing dark!


Somehow this reminded me of Transylvania from the novel Dracula. Thankfully, Halloween has already passed. 😉

Anyhow, Leavenworth was extremely crowded:


The lines for food were very long. You had to stand in a long line for both restaurants and food-stalls. We decided to get some Bratwurst with sauerkraut,1 fried-onions and German mustard (not that mild, American crap). It was delicious. We also bought some Christmas items for home. My daughter really wanted a nutcracker, so we found a store that sold many nutcrackers. Some nutcrackers costed hundreds of dollars and some were much cheaper. We bought her a cheaper model, but she was happy. 🙂

Leavenworth in December is famous for its Christmas lights, and it was worth the visit. At 5pm, they turn on the lights. Here’s the same street at night time:



Das ist nicht eine brezel!


Overall, the food in Leavenworth wasn’t very good. We had some pretzels and pastries which were OK, and we also had some coffee and hot chocolate. The hot-chocolate was sickly-sweet (like most American food) and the coffee was too bitter. Frustrated, I put the coffee and hot-chocolate together and it tasted much better.

We did buy some imported food from Germany though. This is German “curry sauce”:

German curry sauces

You can put it in any meat or other dishes. It’s really delicious! I’ve been using daily. 🙂

We also bought some German chocolates, but they had cinnamon in them, and my wife does not like cinnamon, so I had to eat myself. 😉

Anyhow, around 6:30pm we decided to go home. Once we left Leavenworth, the road was very dark.2 I have never driven on a mountain road at night, and to be honest, it was a bit scary. Some of the turns were a little sharp, and the signs were sometimes hard to see, but we made it safely. Next time, I might try to stay overnight, or leave before sunset.

Despite the food, we enjoyed Leavenworth quite a bit. It was a lovely Christmas festival and fun for the whole family. Little Guy is an outgoing baby, so he loves crowds. He was happy to see people and their pets. Princess, my daughter, was happy to get a nutcracker and a Russian ornament for our tree. My wife and I had a lot of fun too. We will probably come again sometime next year, maybe during Spring.

Danke Schön, Leavenworth!

P.S. When I was in high-school, I studied German language for a couple years, but I was terrible at it. It wasn’t very interesting, and eventually I quit and switched to Chinese instead. Having visited Luxembourg, I wish I had studied more German, but at the same time, I am glad I learned Chinese. 🙂 Interesting fact: Luxembourg is a very small country. You can drive across it in about an hour. However, the western-half is mostly French (French names, French spoken, etc), while the eastern-half is German. So much culture for such a small country.

1 My wife asked me what sauerkraut. I told her it was like Korean Kimchi, but not spicy. 😉

2 They had lights near the small towns along Highway 2: Skykomish, Baring, Gold Bar, etc, but between towns, it was really dark. The very top of the mountain road was snowing a little bit too, but the snow didn’t stick, so we were OK.

Pumpkin Patch 2014

Hi Everyone,

Halloween is fast approaching, so my family and I went to a pumpkin patch recently. The purpose, of course, is to buy pumpkins!


We went to the same farm as last year: Bob’s Corn. We like this pumpkin because it is close to Seattle, doesn’t charge for entrance, and isn’t too big or too small. They have a great corn maze for children:

Corn Maze at Bob's Corn

Cornstalks are actually very tall, if you’ve never seen them. Here’s a photo of me next to corn:


Last year, my wife was pregnant with our son, and was very tired. This year, I was carrying the baby. ;p He’s much bigger now, so my arms got very tired. Also, this year, autumn has been unusually warm and sunny so we got pretty tired and hot, and the baby was getting cranky, so we had to stop and take a break.

Also, this year, to save money, we brought our own food (we had to bring food for the baby anyway) but we did buy some delicious apple cider, kettle corn and corn of course. The corn was delicious and very cheap (13 corn for $6), so we gave some to friends and neighbors too. Kettle corn is very addicting. Once you start eating, you can’t stop. I think I ate one-third of the bag the next day. 😉

Anyhow, it’s fun to go to a farm like this because you can pick your own pumpkins out. This is a photo from last-year of the pumpkin field:


My daughter, “Princess”, loves to pick out pumpkins. We picked out several pumpkins and put them in the wheelbarrow where Little Guy was sitting:


Little Guy really liked the pumpkins. He takes one small pumpking and stacks it on another. My daughter bought several small pumpkins and made a “pumpkin family” (daddy, mommy, older sister and younger brother 😉 ), so she is taking care of them now.

It’s really nice to take kids to farms like this. It helps them learn how food is grown (and makes them appreciate things more), it’s good excercise and fresh air too. Little Guy gets a bit dirty, but it’s good for kids to get a little dirty sometimes too.1 🙂

1 I read an article on the BBC recently that said that many childhood allergies are caused by kids not getting enough exposure to germs, so their immune-system panics. Kids don’t get out as much as earlier generations, so this is probably making their health weaker. So, we let our kids play and explore more now.

Looking Back at the 1999 Seattle Protest of the WTO

In the past weeks, I’ve been closely watching the situation in Ferguson, Missouri and now in Hong Kong on Twitter and the news. Coincidentally, I found some old photos I took from the 1999 WTO protest here in Seattle, and wanted to share them for comparison. It’s interesting how some things have changed (communication, technology) and how some things remain the same (protests and efforts to contain them).

I was in my college years then, and was an idealistic, politically-active young man. Years have passed, and Buddhism, parenting and my experiences in Hanoi, Vietnam1 have tempered this over time, but it’s interesting to look back and remember my life 15 years ago. At the time, I was living not far from the local university, and when the protests started, I decided to take the bus downtown and see for myself. I only had a cheap, portable camera, so these photos are low-quality, but since no one had camera-phones back then, I hope they prove useful for history.

I grew up in the Seattle area, but I was surprised when I arrived downtown; it looked so different. All the major downtown streets were shutdown, and you saw lots of protestors like this:

WTO protest sign

Also, the police had come out in force to block access to the meeting:

WTO police line 3

By the time I arrived, the violence had already ended. However, things were very tense. At one point, I was with a crowd at 5th avenue, between Pike and Union and I remember we were standing face to face with the police here:

Sitting at the police line

We sat down (I took this photo while sitting), starting humming some song (I forget what), and trying to convince the police to join us. They were unfazed, and eventually I left and started looking around elsewhere.

Eventually I ran into these guys, the Anarchists:

Anarchists at WTO protest

The one woman on the left spotted me, so I didn’t stay long.2 But they were getting ready to do more protests. You can see their handiwork here:

WTO Anarchist vandalism

Again, I wandered around for a while. I think this is Pine Avenue facing south, again blocked by the police:

Police Line

Midday, there was a large parade that went through and I remember seeing many, many different political groups marching together: trade unions, environmentalists, feminists, socialists, etc. I even saw a parade girls who were protesting topless and wearing body-paint. This wasn’t nearly as exciting as you might think. 😛

By afternoon, things started to die down for a while. There was a lot of heckling of the police, who didn’t push people out of downtown until evening,3 but neither side really moved. You could hear Bob Marley music playing at one street corner, Anarchists wandering around, curious people like myself, and some very strange “fringe people” in general. One strange guy kept making crow-cawing noises at the police. I couldn’t figure out why he was doing that, and I didn’t like his vibe. Anyhow, after hours of this, people were getting tired or bored. Somehow I managed to miss the violence both in the morning and evening, so I have no interesting pictures.

However, I hope that readers will find comparisons between now and then interesting. You can see the rest of the album here.

So, was it worth it?

For me, it was my first and only experience with a mass-protest like that. I was definitely opposed to the WTO, and free trade, and I still am because I feel it’s hurting smaller businesses and small farmers. The NY Times has a good, balanced article from 2013 on the subject. Lenin’s work Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism was written 98 years ago, but still remains eerily true of the world economy now:

As long as capitalism remains what it is, surplus capital will be utilised not for the purpose of raising the standard of living of the masses in a given country, for this would mean a decline in profits for the capitalists, but for the purpose of increasing profits by exporting capital abroad to the backward countries. In these backward countries profits are usually high, for capital is scarce, the price of land is relatively low, wages are low, raw materials are cheap. The export of capital is made possible by a number of backward countries having already been drawn into world capitalist intercourse; main railways have either been or are being built in those countries, elementary conditions for industrial development have been created, etc.

On the other hand, I also feel that change is inevitable, and sometimes change is pretty painful. For example, when the automobile was invented, the horse and carriage industry probably suffered greatly. However, the concentration of power and risk of exploitation is definitely a cause for concern 15 years ago, and it still is today, and will probably remain that way 200, 500 or 1,000 years from now when we are all dead and are bones are dust.

Thus, it is an ever-present struggle: to assert the needs of the people and restore balance where needed. The key is to remember why we do it. If we do it out of rage or anger, we pay the price in the long-run. If we do it for the betterment of younger-generations and the community, then people will be benefit.

At least, that’s my opinion. Opinions are like noses: everyone has one. 🙂

1 I am often reminded of a quote from the TV Show, Babylon 5, where the character G’kar warns his people not to overthrow a dictator and setup another one. I am unable to find the quote though, alas.

2 I’ve never been a confrontational person. Some might say I am a bit of a coward. 🙂

3 I had left by this time. Walking around downtown all day made me tired and hungry, and I think my wife was getting worried about me. No great revolutionary, am I.