Scallop Harvest on Saroma Lake

This Tuesday morning I went out again with the Sumiyoshi family on their boat into Lake Saroma to haul up the nets of one year old scallops, and dump them in crates for their eventual transfer to the Sea of Okhotsk where they will grow to maturity.  Once again, my favorite part of the whole venture is the boat ride out to the nets.  All of the boats from Toppushi Port slowly maneuver out to a demarcation, where they wait for the signal from the fishing cooperative to go.  Then they all throttle up their engines and race to find their buoy.  Here’s a video of our second foray into the lake, taken at around 4:30 AM.



Last week I installed a spray toilet seat in my bathroom (13,000 yen, Amazon).  I bought it without knowing for sure if it would be installable, figuring I could return it if it wasn’t.  So, last Monday night, after searching for hours for the water shutoff valve for my house (under the sink, behind the wall, inside the sink cabinet, down in the crawlspace) and finally finding it in plain sight next to the boiler, I installed the new toilet seat.  It was easier than I thought it was going to be, maybe because I actually read the manual, which was surprisingly clear.

After the install and a few tests, proud of my accomplishment, I snapped a few photos of the seat and sent one off to my father and stepmother, who have never been to Japan and have no concept of the “washlet” spray toilet that Japan is so famous for.

My father responded:

I’ve never seen such a thing.  Who knew?

The next day I sent another photo of the button panel on the side of the toilet seat, to which my stepmom replied:

I want to know what all the buttons on that toilet lid could possibly be for!!!!!!!

So, I thought I’d have a little fun, and quickly sent off this reply:

Here’s what the buttons do, from left to right.

• shuts the toilet so when you flush, water overflows everywhere.
• summons a ghost butt to mirror your own butt (superstitious thing)
• calls the maid
• shakes the toilet left and right violently
• the rest of the smaller ones each order a different type of rice ball snack. Flavors include kelp, fermented soybeans, fish flakes and cod roe.

Of course, that couldn’t be more of a big, fat, fib.  I assume all of those reading this frequently rinse their tushes with a Japanese style spray toilet several times a day, but for those who haven’t had the pleasure of electronically douching their derriere, here is what the buttons actually do:

• stop button.  Very important.
• sprays warm water on your tush.
• bidet
• gyrates the spray nozzle from front to back
Little buttons: left to right, from top row
• first two: adjust the power of the tush spray
• adjusts water temperature
• cleans the nozzle
• different energy saving modes
• first two on bottom: move nozzle position from front to back
• seat temperature
• air freshener


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Rock Climbing in Abashiri

Last week, on culture day, Tim invited me along rock climbing with him. He is a fairly hardcore rock climber, but needed someone along to belay him, plus I am great company. We went to a rock climbing site near Cape Notoro in Abashiri, about an hour from Saroma. After scrambling down to the beach, we scoped out the climbing routes. Tim was not impressed, and even I could tell that many of the anchors were not trustworthy.

Tim decided instead to freeclimb a large outcropping in the ocean, removing his shoes beforehand. I opted to stay on the shore and observe. Nonetheless, I was very impressed by his agility and confidence in hauling himself up, several times, to the top of this massive rock. Below is a panorama and a video of Tim’s little adventure. After this, we did a bit of climbing, and I had a go, which was humbling to say the least. The consolation prize was an untouched and totally inaccessible shoreline full of beach glass. I took home a large pocketful.

There is something off about the way the panorama is embedded – the controls are screwy. Try viewing it larger at this link.


Saroma Presentation

While back in Palmer in January, I gave a community presentation about Saroma to a group at the Presbyterian Church in Palmer.  Not everyone was able to come, and several people have asked me if they could see the slides of the presentation.  While they do not include my witty and profound commentary, they are available below.  The photo links to an html presentation.


Drift Ice on the Okhotsk

Every winter, freshwater from the Amur River in the Russian Far East flows into the Sea of Okhotsk and freezes.  The Sea of Okhotsk is a cold ocean year round, cut off from the Sea of Japan and the Pacific by Sakhalin, Hokkaido, the Kurils, and Kamchatka.  There is not a great deal of inflow or outflow of currents.  As such, the freshwater from the Amur river holds greater sway over the composition of the Sea of Okhotsk than most rivers do over their eventual oceans.  I’m no scientist, but as I understand it, the less dense fresh water from the Amur tends to stay on or near the surface of the Okhotsk, lowering the salinity of the water and hence raising its freezing point (saltwater has a lower freezing point than freshwater.)  This water conglomerates into large pieces of ice, which ride the winds of the Okhotsk like icebergs, a fluid mass of ice that is often pushed south into the coast of Hokkaido.  It is here that you can hop on an icebreaking tour boat, or simply walk to the beach to see an expanse of ice extending toward the horizon.  This is at 44 degrees latitude, the same as the Oregon coast or Mediterranean coast of France.  Hard to imagine, but have a look.

This January 30th photo of Yoshie and I links to a smugmug gallery.

The video below was the first time I’ve ever tried riding a piece of drift ice.  It was dizzying but exhilarating. Go to YouTube to watch in HD.

Sidenote: This is my 100th post!  It only took me four years.


Deck: The Sequel

One of the nice things about the Saroma AET house was the deck that Hiram built about 10 years ago.  Unfortunately, all of the decking wood except the posts were untreated wood, and over 10 winters of snowfall, giant plowed snowmounds, and their successive melting, the deck became pretty well rotted to bits.  Intending to complete its replacement last summer, I tore the whole thing out. When I realized that most of the wood, while perhaps salvageable for other purposes, wasn’t nice enough to reuse in parts of the deck, I sort of put the project on hold.  My budget estimates put the cost of lumber alone anywhere from 25,000 to 80,000 yen, depending on how much of the deck was to be treated wood, and how large I was going to rebuild it.

A winter passed with no deck, and the old boards continued to take up space in my shed.  Well, after returning to Saroma from a much needed traipse through Alaska, I finally put my nose to it.  I bought lumber from three different sources (very limited supplies) and hauled it all in my Nissan March.  I decided to rebuild the deck more or less as Hiram had originally built it – 6’x6′ square, with a simple 2’x8″ base of treated stringers, and 2’x6″ untreated decking boards, with a fair reconstruction of the situationally functional but probably not to code staircase.  The fact that none of the stringers or decking boards had to be cut made this deck size seem even nicer.

So, over a week, working for a few hours each day I managed to stain all of the wood and assemble the whole thing, including the staircase, without much more than an iPhone level, a tape measure, and a drill.  Ok, so I did borrow a circular saw from a neighbor.  My point is that any professional carpenter would strongly disapprove of my methods.  Anyway, building the deck itself was a good learning and social experience.  One afternoon so many people stopped by to say hi and see what I was doing, that I hardly made any progress.

The old deck before I tore it out last July:

The old deck

And the new improved deck I finished up last weekend.  Photo links to a larger gallery of deck glamour shots.


A Fun Photo Pun Poem



It’s like moosic


to my ears


I lake it a lot


because the views are spoketacular



27 Days Back in the States

Even though this blog is mostly for my family and friends back in the states, I feel the need to write a small post about the series of trips I took to visit all of you just last month.

First, thank you so much to everyone who I saw, who picked me up at whichever airport, or bought me a beer, breakfast, lunch, dinner, helped tow my car, let me marry you, took me to the airport, or just made the time.

Home for almost a month, rather than stew in month of inactivity and again develop the wanderlust that drives me abroad, I applied that energy, with the help of Katya from Vladivostok, to America.  We had a good time.

No more words are necessary.



“Foresight is 20/20” by Michael Beeson

My friend Mike Beeson made a video for an online contest, and came in as a runner-up, winning a $2,500 prize.  Check out the press release here at the iRise video contest or watch the video below.