Sunday, July 15, 2007

Earthquake #4...

We just wanted to let everyone know that we are fine. We felt the earthquake but it wasn't bad at all down here. It made the house move and everything in the house rocked a bit but we're fine.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Tanabata Party

On July 7th, we participated in a Tanabata festival party at Noriko and Daiichio's house. This was the main reason we left on Thursday from Kentucky to be home on Saturday the 7th. This was also one of the main reason that Ashley was making my yukata. Here is the fruits of her labor! It turned out really good and I was very proud to wear it.

So what is Tanabata? Tanabata (七夕 tanabata), meaning "Seven Evenings" is a Japanese star festival, derived from Obon traditions and the Chinese star festival, Qi Xi. The festival is usually held on July 7, and celebrates the meeting of Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair). The Milky Way, a river made from stars that crosses the sky, separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year.

Story Behind Tanabata
Orihime (織姫 Weaving Princess) the daughter of the Tenkou (天工 Sky King, or the universe itself) wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the River of Heaven (天の川 Amanogawa). Her father loved the cloth that she wove and so she worked very hard every day to weave it. However, she was sad that because of her hard work she could never meet and fall in love with anyone. Concerned about his daughter, Tenkou arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (彦星 Cow Herder Star) sometimes called Kengyuu (牽牛 Chinese name of Hikoboshi) who lived and worked on the other side of the Amanogawa. When the two met, they fell instantly in love with each other and were shortly married. However, once married, Orihime no longer would weave cloth for Tenkou and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to stray all over Heaven. In anger, Tenkou separated the two lovers across the Amanogawa River and forbade them to meet. Orihime became despondent at the loss of her husband and asked her father to let them meet again. Tenkou was moved by his daughter’s tears and allowed the two to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month if Orihime worked hard and finished her weaving. The first time they tried to meet, however, they found that they could not cross the river because there was no bridge. Orihime cried so much that a flock of magpies (鵲, カササギ Kasasagi) came and promised to make a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river. If it rains, the magpies cannot come and the two lovers must wait till next year.

In present-day Japan, people generally celebrate this day by writing wishes, sometimes in the form of poetry, on tanzaku (短冊 tanzaku), small pieces of paper, and hanging them on bamboo, sometimes with other decorations. The bamboo and decorations are often set afloat on a river or burned after the festival, around midnight or on the next day. Well, we didn't set our bamboo on fire or put it on a river, but we did all write wishes on tanzaku and tied it to the bamboo.

There is also a traditional Tanabata song that we sang at the beginning of the night to get the festivities started:

   Sasa no ha sara-sara     (笹の葉 さらさら)
Nokiba ni yureru (軒端にゆれる  )
Ohoshi-sama kira-kira (お星様 キラキラ)
Kin Gin sunago (金銀砂ご    )

Finally, since one of the traditions for the Tanabata festival as well as all of the summer festival is where a yukata, here is a picture of everyone at the Tanabata party wearing a yukata. Several of them were hand made in yukata class by the ladies with Noriko. The yukatas that the guys are wearing in the back row were all made by their our wives!

4-wheelers in Japan

Well, we told several of you about the new trend of 4-wheeler "gangs" that we have been seeing in Nagoya. First you have to understand that Japanese people ride lots of bikes, motorcycles (from Harleys to sport bikes to dirt bikes), and scooters on the road. Well, bikes on the sidewalk and small roads, motorcycles as normal, scooters ... anywhere, and dirt bikes on the road like a motorcycle. They ride them everywhere and think they own the road as well, you really have to be careful because they weave in and out of traffic very much UNLIKE the States. I think it is probably because people in the States would open their doors or try and hit them ... well the other thing is there really isn't road rage in Japan. I find this kind of interesting seeing as how every foreigner I have talked to thinks Japanese are not good drivers. Now I have ridden with several Japanese friends who are good drivers, it just seems like everyone else around you are bad drivers. It is definitely defensive driving ALL the time. Sure there are bad drivers in the States, but it is really different in Japan.

OK, back to the subject. So there are groups of young Japanese guys that ride around late at night in their biker "gangs" that consist of a couple scooters and usually a full size "loud" motorcycle. They don't cause any problems, just noise pollution.

Well, Ashley and I have started seeing people driving 4-wheelers around Nagoya. Now any vehicle that is on the road has to have a license (yep, even the dirt bikes have them) and you have to have a license to drive it (well, your supposed to). So it isn't like some redneck Japanese guy from the country side is riding around on his 4-wheeler, these are licensed 4-wheelers people are using for transportation. I thought I had seen a lot in Kentucky! One day when we were in downtown Nagoya, a group of six 4-wheelers just road through the streets just cruising and following traffic. Unfortunately we didn't get a picture of them, but we did get a picture of this solo driver on a fairly large road!

Notice his head, yep, no helmet ... now that's smart!

Our Home Trip

Ashley and I were able to go home for our home trip in June and July. Ashley went back on June 9th and I followed on June 22nd. We returned together on July 5.

Ashley got to spend a lot of time with her family before I came and then we got to spend time with our friends and my family. We really enjoyed our time back home in the States. We also enjoyed eating American food ... well if you call Mexican American! We had some steaks, BBQ, tacos, and fresh vegetables! It was wonderful.

One of the things we did with my parents was go to Kentucky Railway Museum in New Haven, Kentucky. We didn't have time to take the scenic train ride this time, but we were able to go through the museum which showed a little bit of the history of the the railroad in Kentucky. We also toured the Model Train Center where there were several model train tracks set up. Dad and his dad had lots of model trains (and dad still has them) so he really enjoyed seeing them set up. One day he will get some of them setup again at their house.

The next day we went to the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum with Mom & Dad. It was their first time, but Ashley and I have been before. We got tickets from our friend Matt who I went to school with. Before the regular factory tour we got a private tour with Matt of their mini bat line and operation. Last year, he basically brought all the mini bat production down from New York and now the Louisville Slugger Factory in Louisville can boast that ALL wooden Louisville Slugger bats are made in Louisville ONLY. After the tour, we went to the Old Spaghetti Factory and met David and Amy for dinner. I hadn't been there since college, I think ... either way I couldn't really remember the last time.

After dinner we went to a Louisville Bats game with Mom, Dad, David and Amy. We went to a Bats game the 1st week with Kendall ... an afternoon game at noon and it was smokin' hot! We (all the Gagel's) went to a night game and had seats in the 3rd base side upper deck. It was in the shade and the view was great. Tuesday nights is some baseball bingo promotion night and we enjoyed playing that during the game although we didn't win anything!

The Bats however did win 1-0 with a 1-run HR in the bottom of the 8th! It was a really good game!

Everyone was asking us if the last 5 months are going to be really hard as we anticipate coming home again. I can say that after 1 week I don't think it is going to be too bad. We have several festivals lined up that we plan on going to on the weekends, a 5-day trip to Hokkaido and we still have some other site seeing to do in Japan. We are gonna take these last 5 months and make the most out of them!