I have been in a hiking rut these last few months, mostly sticking to my old familiar climbs close to my apartment in central Sapporo (Maruyama, Moiwa, Asahiyama, Sankakuyama). So I started researching some peaks a little further afield, but still within a few hours biking distance. I came upon Hakken-zan (八剣山) via The Hokkaido Wilds repository (an excellent site with detailed outdoor route logs for much of Hokkaido). I saw the word “beginner” in the description and thought it would be a good hike since I would have to cycle about two hours to get to the trailhead and didn’t want to overdo it.

So around 5:45 AM I departed in my trusty 6 speed, taking the the bike route along the Toyohira River, through Makomonai Park and finally linking up again with the Toyohira after a minor detour. The route begins to climb and wind past strawberry farms until you reach the entrance to the Hakken-zan Tunnel, turning left onto a gravel road that leads to the parking lot at the base of the course.

Trails with mini shrines at the base are a sign of a well traveled route.

There was a log book hut which I signed, knowing the summit of Hakken-zan has caused several deaths in recent years. This so authorities can get a better trace on my body, should I not turn up later. They say that the more dangerous route has since been closed off, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I even prayed (aka, wished really hard), at the mini-shrine at the base, for a safe hike.

The trail then makes a fairly steep and quick climb towards the summit region. Maybe only 35 minutes, child’s play compared to some of the longer hikes I have recently done. As the trees gave way to bare rock, and the sky opened up in all directions I thought that my hike was done. A nice successful hike: quick, painless, with a nice view. Then I noticed the ropes…

This is the first time in quite a while where I actually needed to use the ropes. Things started to get a little white knuckle from here on.

Soon I was making my way up a rocky crag approximately 2 meters wide, with sheer cliffs on either side. My stomach sunk. Luckily I hadn’t eaten my lunch yet. This was beyond “beginner” in my estimation. But, I pressed on, as curiosity got the best of me.

What’s over the rocks? Oh, just certain death.

As I approached the summit I had trouble centering myself to take photos. Was it vertigo? Possibly. I decided to not linger too long at the top, made my way down towards some safer ground, and took my lunch.

A nice quiet lunch was had.

After woofing down some onigiri, I made my way down the last couple sets of ropes, to the treeline, and made the quick return hike to the parking lot. A relatively short hike, with a huge spike of adrenaline at the top. This bookended by the longest bike ride I have yet to take here in Hokkaido. All in all, a great day, and one highly recommended for anyone in the Sapporo area. I do suggest you go when the weather is clear.(summer/late spring) High winds, wet or icy rocks, would make the summit highly dangerous.

Toyohira Rainbow Trout Wonderland

Last weekend we cycled down to the Toyohira River, amongst the urban sprawl, to try and catch some yamame. The few times we bait fished on this stretch last year saw moderate success: a few yamame, some ugui, some sunburn. This time our result was unlike anything I have experienced this close to the city. I landed three decent sized rainbow trout, my wife landed one, and our friend netted five! Completely unexpected. Even stranger, all of our takes came under or around a dreary cement bridge (below). The setting wasn’t idyllic, but the fish were.

Sometimes you would be surprised where the best fishing can be.

Our technique remained the same. We used our Keiryu rigs (3.60 meter, reel-less, fixed line rods), some light line, split shot, and some hardware store (Homac) ikura bait on a hook. Simple, idiot proof fishing. After about an hour of barely a nibble (6:30-7:30), the strikes started to come pretty regularly from that point on. Rainbow trout are know to exist in the Toyohira, but never this far downstream into the city center.

Rainbow trout are thought to be a rarity this far downstream.

We were back home by 10:30 AM, after several hours of quality fishing. Never underestimate your urban surroundings!

Review: A Journal of the Plague Year

A Journal of the Plague YearA Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

History repeats itself, or to put it more starkly, history is always repeating itself. Nothing is new. This book is a great reminder of that. The coronavirus is nothing new. Humanity has faced this before, many many times!

Defoe’s work is a bit of a conundrum. Written in 1722, about 60 years after the last bubonic plague outbreak in London, it has been classified as a work of fiction, but most scholars now consider it non-fiction with some slight fictional flourishes. Most of the descriptions, dates, places, numbers have been confirmed as accurate.

What struck me most about The Journal of the Plague Year, is how it almost completely mirrored my own state of mind during the first couple months of this current pandemic (until I instituted a news blackout). Just like the narrator, I too constantly was checking infection/death figures. I complained about the inconsistencies of statistics. I ruminated on every medical theory. I worried about every cough I heard echo from a neighboring apartment, just as Defoe’s characters react with suspicion to anyone walking with a limp or wearing a hat (to hide possible signs of infection).

Defoe’s pandemic shares all the same social characteristics as the current situation, but without the overwhelming amplification of social media and 24 hour news networks. The book can be a bit of a slog as whole sections track the death counts throughout London’s neighborhoods, over and over again. Just like our own mind cycles through the same stats and repeats the same scenarios incessantly, Defoe’s narrator repeats himself constantly. It’s important to remember that this is meant to be a diary. Other than the narrator, there aren’t many other characters of substance. Nothing other than the plague happens. There is no B story. No love interests. Just death, fear and survival.

I began reading this book just as I was incorporating a news blackout. This book kind of reconnected me to the idea that “the News”, in its modern inception, serves no purpose other than reconfirming/instigating our own beliefs. The world still happens without “the News”. People still talk to you about current events. You can see things on the street. Look with your own eyes. Important facts tend to trickle through, no matter how hard you try to firewall yourself. You won’t be completely out of the loop unless to spend your quarantine in a remote ashram in the mountains of northern India.

Don’t rely on the media to form opinions for you, or to solidify the ones you already have. The citizens of Defoe’s world didn’t have daily access to written/visual reports about “the News”, and they still panicked!

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A Miniature Library Inside My Library

My COVID-19 quarantine is now being rudely interrupted by a return to work next week. No idea how long that will last, what the infection rates are, or what the forecast is. I haven’t read or seen “the News” in about three weeks, and it has transformed my life!

With all that cleared out mind space, I have been putting to good use my miniature modeling skills. Mainly, I have been focused on Rolife’s “Sam’s Study”. This kit tested my patience like none other. I had to cut, fold, and glue over a hundred mini books, I nearly lost my mind installing the battery powered LED chandelier, and I cursed the heavens as I used tweezers to attach each painting to the cluttered walls. The detail was overwhelming. And now, after two months straining my eyes, “Sam’s Study” sits snugly between my tomes, like it was meant to be there all along.

A perfect book nook, thanks to some factory in mainland China
A closer look reveals a lot of detail
The wiring for the lighting was not easy

What have you been up to during this “situation”? Back away from the TV. The reality is that all news is fake news… doesn’t matter what “show” you watch.

COVID-19 and the Image of “Safe” Japan

For as long as I have lived here, Japan has always evoked this image as a “safe” country. “Safe” in the immediate physical harm sense, I could go on ad nauseam about the “unsafe” nature of the overall business/workplace culture to the human psyche. But in terms of my physical safety, I probably haven’t lived in a more benign environment. Guns aren’t a problem, so no mass shootings. Physical assault is relatively rare. People generally keep to themselves and don’t act out their aggression on the general population. That isn’t to say there isn’t the occasional flare up of violence. Domestic abuse is a under-reported problem that is given short shrift by the authorities. But out on the street, I have always felt pretty much untouchable. Anytime of the day, any location.

Asahiyama Park 5:45 AM – I’d be hesitant going any later.

Petty crime too isn’t really a thing. I have always seen men walking around, in shopping malls, and on crowded subway trains with long wallets nearly falling out of their back pockets. They would be easy marks in most any other nation on Earth. But here it is generally a non-issue.

All this perceived safety filters down from the adult world, to how children are parented, and how those young people perceive and interact within this country. Spend anytime here and you will see 1st grade elementary school age children just loose on the streets. Not a parent in sight. They get on the subway, unattended, commuting to private school. They gang up with their friends in the park – not a parent in sight. That’s generally amazing, but unfortunately old habits are hard to break, and the COVID-19 situation has really come to loggerheads with this perceived “safeness” of the streets of Japan.

Despite being on psuedo-lockdown for a couple months, the attitude of the general population remains entrenched in this “Japan safe” ethos. For the past two months I have limited my interaction with society to a couple of walks with my dog, around a three block radius. I pass small community parks often packed with kids, even more than usual, as they seem to be surrogates for the closed public schools. Even worse, since most business, aside from those in the public sector and some retail shops/restaurants, have not actually closed, some duel working families see nothing wrong with allowing elementary age children to run free during the daytime. Scarier still, parents who are working from home are still sending the kids out on the town so that they can “focus on their work”. I have ready multiple interviews with parents who make this exact argument.

So, this is the challenge. Reported numbers of the disease are down here in Sapporo, but schools are gearing up to restart, and the disease certainly hasn’t been eradicated. Come a few months (or sooner) they might have to close schools down again. Again those students will just roam about, in groups, in parks, doing zero social distancing. The disease will fester but never really go away.

Is Japan safe? Not anymore folks. Get used to it… it could help save lives now and down the road.

Back to BASIC With a Little RISC

Getting back to fundamentals here in my micro-man cave. With the nation outside my window completely incapable of handling this pandemic, I’ve taken refuge in rediscovering the early days of personal home computing. Specifically the BBC Micro, and other similar boards from the early to mid eighties. This was slightly before my entry into personal computers, as I came into it during the 286/386 CPU era. So it’s back to my Raspberry Pi to transport me back to a simpler time.

I had experimented with RISC OS on the Raspberry Pi in the past but always quickly abandoned it because of its quirky 3 button mouse interface and lack of WiFi integration (WiFi is kinda essential to running a multi-Raspberry Pi setup in a 2LDK Japanese apartment). For those not familiar, RISC OS  was the operating system developed by Acorn for their Archimedes line of computers which ran on an early ARM (Advanced RISC Machine) processor. The same processor design that would eventually run the smartphone or tablet you are reading this on. RISC OS gives us a glimpse of where desktop computing, and their operating systems, could have gone, had the ARM chip set gained more traction 30 years ago.

So, I decided to give RISC OS Pi another chance on one of my original Raspberry Pi 1 Model Bs. The RISC OS 5 Raspberry Pi distribution hasn’t changed a bit since I last installed it. It still has no WiFi capabilities, but I decided to turn my other Raspberry Pi 4 (next to it) into a WiFi to Ethernet bridge, effectively sharing the Pi 4s WiFi via the ethernet cable over to old Pi running RISC OS. I relied on guide at PiMyLifeUp to help turn my Pi 4 into a bridged router.  Pretty cool stuff!

Bridged WiFi to ethernet running RISC OS using a discarded composite SONY WEGA monitor!

Now I got RISC OS running, with internet connectivity. Oh the joys of undiscovered early 90s computing! Not quite sure what do do with it, I guess just learn about RISC OS. It is still being actively developed for believe it or not!

Of course, one of the main benefits of RISC OS, hearkening back to it BBC Micro relationship, is the integration of the BBC BASIC programming language into the operating system. Right from the RISC OS terminal I can enter BASIC and start programming away. Remember this gem: 10 PRINT “DMH is awesome!”… 20 GOTO 10… Great stuff!

Of course this BASIC rabbit hole led me to another iteration of RISC OS called RISC OS Pico. Essentially, this turns your Raspberry Pi into an early BBC Micro, booting right into BASIC, no graphical interface, that’s it! Now I can get right to the heart of the matter, strip away all the bullshit, and relearn BASIC just like I had a 1982 BBC Micro plopt on my genkan from a magical retro computing Santa.

Happy computing everyone!



Book Nooks

A nice little project came my way via the interwebs, Pinterest actually, one of the few social networks I sometimes dive into. It’s called a book nook, and it involves crafting a bookend or book spacer into a scene. They are often themed based on the books surrounding it. (i.e. Daigon Alley from Harry Potter or a Narnia wardrobe) One of the most famous book nooks comes out of Japan, Monde’s Tokyo Alleyway. Achieving that level of detail might prove too time consuming for this corona-hermit, but I decided to give it a whirl using some remaindered Nanoblocks, an old headphone box, and some bright zentangle artwork.

First, for my book spacer. I found that my Sony wireless headphone box was sturdy enough. So step one complete!

Since I put my box in my “Japan” section of my bookshelf I decided to cover it with a hanafuda inspired zentangle piece which took way too long for my liking.

Then I made a Nanoblock sakura viewing scene in the interior. I cut out some aurora pictures from an old calendar to use as the backdrop, then did my best with some leftover Nanoblocks to make my scene.

All in all, I reckon it came out pretty well. A nice project for these self-isolating times. Here’s a video:

News Blackout!

I’ve attempted this many times before. But in the days leading up to the pandemic I re-triggered my news addiction, which in recent weeks sped wildly out of control. Every twenty minutes I was checking infection counts, deaths rates, and the paralyzed response of the Japanese government. As it stands now, here in Sapporo, it’s business as usual, and I am set to return to work on April 16th. It’s out of my hands. So in order to maintain serenity I’ve instituted a news blackout. I won’t be completely in the dark. My wife will relay important information as needed. But from this morning on, I am going to be working on a variety of projects here in my apartment without the distraction, frustration, and panic of the relentless news onslaught.


Control, When All Else Fails

Well, as I sit here, I fear the worst. Japan has done next to nothing to address the Corona situation. Here in Sapporo they closed schools for about 2 weeks at the start of March… and that’s about it. Almost a laughable (little) amount of testing has occurred, just check the stats. The government, both national and prefectural, seems to be incapable of of enacting anything other than strong verbal encouragements to “go out less on the weekends”. Aside from a handful of multinational tech companies, almost all jobs lack remote working capabilities. Schools are in the same retrograde conundrum. Having spied on the operation of Japanese junior high schools for a decade, trust me, they aren’t even capable of emailing assignments. Check out a Japanese public school’s website, it’s like jumping in a time machine to 1997.

Cases are spiking, despite the paltry amount of testing. My own company  reported that an ALT in another area south of Hokkaido caught it. They then sent out an email telling us to basically shelter in place. But I also know that for the last week my company has been rushing to change international and domestic flights of new branch workers, trying to get them to their job postings before travel bans/quarantines went into place on March 28th. The mixed messaging is absurd. Just this past week my company was asking people if they wanted to substitute at schools(i.e. fly to other locations around Japan) in the next couple of weeks. Fuck that. Of course they still plan on opening schools in about 2 weeks. People need to get a clue.

So what can I control? Not the policies of the nation. Not the utter disregard and flippant attitude of the general public of the world health crisis. I can control just my immediate environment, the present. Presently I am alive. Presently I am listening to The Practical Stoic Podcast. I watched a random film from The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time 2012. Funny how I chose The Seventh Seal, a Bergman film centered around the Black Death (plague).

And of course there is my other projects, including this intense “Happy Camper” model from Robotime/Rolife. This paper/cardboard model kit was extremely laborious, frustrating, and time consuming. It took well over a month maybe longer. But it really brings my micro-man cave together.

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Introverts Unite!

Well, it descends. All around. Nowhere to hide. No country to escape to. I’ve never liked crowds, which has always made Japan a tough sell for me. Now is the time to cuddle up with a few good books, build a model, make some artwork, study for a Linux exam that may or may not be canceled anyway. That was basically the plan all along, sans coronavirus. Here’s a rundown of what’s been going on in my neck of the woods – Sapporo, Japan, in a 2LDK, divorced from the world.

My spring break got started a little early, schools (and my work) has been suspended from February 28th until my next school year contract begins in mid-April. We’ll see how that all pans out.

Just before I was given early release from that prison-hell, I was doing a lot of zentangle.

I think they really tie the bookshelf together. I started many of these in the final weeks of the school year and have been touching them up recently.

Then I’ll switch to some good old fashioned adult coloring book action. I can zone out for hours with my Star Trek: The Next Generation pals.

When I want to get serious, I train for my Linux Professional Institute Level 2 (202) certification at the end of the month. Procmail filters, iptables, reverse proxy servers, secure socket layers, all that jazz. That’s assuming that the test center stays open through the rapidly deteriorating world situation…ho-hum.

Then comes my Nanoblock obsession. Or knock-off Chinese Nanoblock obsession. This pirate ship was a real chore.

That of course led to a complete micro-man cave redesign, now featuring a mini-mahjong table!

But all this is mere child’s play compared to my latest obsession: Robotime/Rolife’s miniature house model kits. I received these two kits, the Happy Camper and Sam’s Study, last Christmas.

It’s been slow going on these particular projects. I started the Happy Camper thinking it might take a few weeks, but I am quickly realizing this might be a year long affair. The level of detail is a bit overwhelming, but awesome. See! Not everything coming out of China is a nightmare.

This is after multiple weekends of work, and I only managed to make a few pieces of furniture. It’s a grind, but well worth it.

Other than these projects, I got my standard backlog of reading going on. Just finished Bukowski’s Ham on Rye, and am finishing up Harari’s latest book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Lot’s more to get to in the coming weeks. Hoping to finish up listening to Finnegans Wake on Waywords and Meansigns, which has been daunting. It’s okay, I got the time. We all have the time…