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Dan's Adventure in Japan

Party weekend

This weekend was a big party from beginning to end. A lot of fun stuff...

On Friday, I went to Amatsu, a nearby town for their harvest festival. The
centerpiece of the festival is a shrine that is carried through the town by
a group of drunken townspeople. These festivals are a big deal. The town
spent $80,000 to repair and upgrade the shrine since last year's festival.
The shrine is adorned with gold and is quite beautiful.

I was told that when the shrines are traveling down the streets, the
government does not have the power to stop them. This means that if a
criminal is touching the shrine, the police cannot arrest them. They have
to wait until the criminal is away from the shrine. This underscores the
importance of these shrines and their strong meaning to the Japanese people.

Before the shrine went by, my group (people from the lab) and I had beers
and food down on the pier. Since there is no open container law in Japan,
you can drink beer anywhere. Once we finished our meal, we began to make
our way down the street toward the place the shrine would be going. As wen
walked down the street, the group leader, Kokubo-sensei, taught me a lot
about the festivals. He also wanted to assure I had some good photos. He
pushed me into a Japanese home, placed me at their dinner table and took a
picture of me. He did something very similar at a bakery. My pictures of
these events are in my image gallery.

As we went up the street, we ate octopus meat and discussed the different
aspects of the festival. Eventually, the time came for the shrine to pass
by. I was ushered by my group to the edge of the road. Apparently these
shrines can be very dangerous, since the pilots are drunk. Some people have
been killed by toppled shrines in recent years. Thankfully, I got a nice
picture of the shrine as it passed by.

As soon as the shrine passed, Kokubo-sensei began to lead us to the
"drinking place." After a long walk, we arrived. I made a conscious effort
to limit my sake consumption, since I have had bad experiences with it.
This was replaced with whiskey, a much less noxious beverage (to me,
anyway). I took it easy on the liquor and we had a nice time sampling a
wide variety of Japanese foods. The group was surprised by the number of
different foods I was willing to try. Many of the foods (apparently) are
not commonly enjoyed by Westerners. By the end of the night, I was the most
sober person there. We took a cab home and called it a night.

Early Saturday, I went to work for a couple of hours. After that, I went
around town for lunch and shopping. The centerpiece of the day was a
concert by a band called Justin Staff. Most of the people in the band are
from around Kamogawa. The name of the band is derived from the original
composition of the band-exclusively Kameda employees. They play a lot of
English language cover tunes. They are a very good band and I have enjoyed
the times I have been out to see them. I went with Jon Collings and Noriko
(Sea World people) and Jon's mother, Barbara, who was visiting for a few

Sunday afternoon and evening was spent at a barbacue at the Wocher's house.
Japanese food served at such events is quite good. Skewers with chicken on
them are among the most popular, along with skewered octopus. In addition
to these more Japanese style foods, steaks and pork roasts were also
grilled. All of the meat was tender, with the grillmaster showing an
impressive skill. As one would expect at a gathering of this nature, beer
was plentiful. Mr. Wocher has frequently cited his desire to be known as a
good host. Consequently, he always makes sure you have a beer in your hand
and have food on your plate. I ended up eating a lot more food and drinking
more beer than I had planned as a result of this hospitality. As afternoon
turned into evening, the city of Kamogawa set off some fireworks over the
ocean. There was an impressive array of fireworks, but the hazy air over
the ocean kept the display from being spectacular. At the conclusion of the
fireworks, we returned to the Wocher house to drink some wine and watch a
DVD. A fine day that it will take me some time to recover from fully.

Jessica Howell, the daughter of the President and CEO of UI Hospitals,
attended the barbacue. We had a nice chat. It was pleasant to talk to
someone from Iowa, live and in person. I had met her once before.

At the end of the evening, there was a pretty substantial earthquake. It
was the first one I ever felt on the ground floor of a building. Since I
work on the seventh floor of the hospital, most of the quakes I experience
are more noticeable, since the whole building is moving. I can't even
imagine what it is like to experience an earthquake on the 50th story of a
building. It must be incredible...

At each of these events, I took many pictures. The digital camera has
proven to be a good purchase. I have been able to take over 130 pictures in
the last couple of weeks. If you plan on doing any traveling in the future,
you will get good use out of a digital camera. I highly recommend it.

One thing I was hoping to achieve here is now behind me. Mr. Wocher is now
able to edit the kameda.com web site in English. The site had not been
regularly updated for a couple of years. Now that he has the "keys to the
kingdom," he can edit whenever he wants. I also helped him set up a web
site on Tripod, so Mr. Wocher now has a personal web presence. It's a nice
way to use my computer skills and have some fun at the same time. This web
site combines with the wine collection database I crafted a few weeks ago in
my spare time. I may be using some evening hours to craft a startup screen
for the wine database. It's a fun and intellectually engaging way to wind
down my time in Japan.

I have been spending much of my time at work on an informed consent survey
and paper. I created a database to help organize the data and have the
paper ready to go. I have things automated on the data analysis side to
speed the generation of usable data for the paper. Since the data
collection process is slow, working on the database and spreadsheet elements
has helped consume the time in a useful way.

In the next few days, I expect to collect a large number of completed
surveys. With the data, finishing up the paper should be a snap. I am
excited to have the end of this project in sight.

It's good that things are coming together here. I have less than two weeks
left in Japan. I need to wrap things up.