Tagged: Kakamigahara

Kakamigahara Half-Marathon Race Recap

I live in Kakamigahara so this was my local race. The first race I ever did was the Kakamigahara 10K, back in 2011. This year they added a half-marathon to the already popular 10K and 3K.

20130324-203002.jpg

One month earlier I set a 1:30:07 PB on a freezing, snowy day in Inuyama. To beat that, and go sub-30, I prepared an ambitious plan of progressively faster intervals starting at 4:25/km pace and finishing at 4:00/km. The running app on my phone gave me feedback so I knew exactly how I was doing.

This was the first race I’ve ever done that started in the afternoon. In fact, it started at 1:00pm with the sun beating down upon us. Temperatures soared to 19C and the cloud that was forecast never came. The only reprieve was a cool breeze.

I lined up nearish the front, but the start was crowded and slow. I did the first kilometer in 4:58, which already put me 33 seconds off pace. The next 9 kilometers fluctuated between 4:16 and 4:23, giving me a 43:53 first 10K. Not bad, only 20 seconds behind schedule, but I wasn’t comfortable at all. My mouth was dry and I really didn’t feel like I could go much faster. So much for running a negative split!

The first of four water stations wasn’t until about 9km. I took two gulps and poured the rest on my head. I was way behind my teammate Sako-san, who even when taking it slowly after a 6-hour trail race the previous week could easily cruise through a half in under 1:30. At the turn around, I was about two minutes ahead of Nathaniel, and Keith was a few minutes behind him.

The second 10K took me about 46:30. I felt heavy legged, and while the massage insoles I had put in my shoes were doing a remarkable job of preventing my usual ball-of-foot pain, I was getting nasty blisters on my toes. My calves, too were starting to fail me, and I really felt like I was plodding along. I even found myself in a mid-race chat with Tsubouchi-san, who runs in a Pikachu hat. He knew me from YouTube and actually appeared in one of my other race videos.

I wasn’t at all surprised that I had fallen so far behind pace, but I became increasing concerned about how I will fair in next month’s full marathon in Kakegawa. I will need to average 4:59 to go sub-3:30 there, and here I was running 4:45s at the end of a mostly flat half-marathon!

The one big hill in kilometer 20 agonizingly put me over 5:00/km pace, but I had just enough in reserve to run a 4:28 final kilometer. That burst of speed, although not quite the 4-minute kilometer I had planned, was enough to get me in under 1:35:00. I ran 1:34:53 to be exact, my fourth fastest half-marathon time.

Nathaniel and Keith also struggled, but kudos to another teammate, Mariko, for knocking 5 minutes off her 10K PB.

I will be hoping for a cool, cloudy day in Kakegawa next month. I will conjure up a more realistic race plan for that one and share it with you here in advance.

Slow Times in Kakamigahara

April’s Japan Blog Matsuri, hosted by Ken on What Japan Thinks is all about Slow Times in Japan, the opposite to last month’s blog carnival about Fast Times, for which I wrote about some of my off-beat experiences in Japan.

As a self-employed, work-at-home dad living in the countryside, I have a lot of free time. As most of you know, I’m usually glued to my computer screen, but three times a week, my wife heads off to her part-time job, leaving me and Rikuto to fend for ourselves.

We live in Kakamigahara in Gifu prefecture. It’s a city of around 150,000 people, and although it’s only an hour’s drive north of Nagoya, it’s quite different to the mass of buildings that make up Japan’s fourth biggest city. Being on the southern edge of the Kiso Mountains (aka Central Alps), there’s no shortage of hiking trails and parks in which to spend our Slow Times in Japan.

Here’s a collection of photos of us exploring some of the parks in and around the city, with links to each location on Google Maps.

The view from our house

We live at the foot of the Central Alps…View from our house

Sohara Nature Park (Google Map)

This is the closest of the city’s major parks. We usually go here for cherry blossoms and barbecues.

Sohara Natural Park

100 Year Park (Google map)

This one, although only a 10 minute drive away, is actually in Seki city, but I’ve included it since it’s as near as any of the others. It’s absolutely huge by Japan’s “park” standards and will be years before we’ve explored it all.

100 Year Park

Oasis Park / Aquatoto, Kawashima (Google map)

Aquatoto is a “world fresh water aquarium”, surrounded by a park and the Kiso River.

Oasis Park

Kiso Three River Park (Google map)

This park is really simple. It’s basically a huge field with some playground apparatus. The best thing about it is there aren’t any ponds or streams for Rikuto to fall in, despite the name.

Kiso Three River Park

Hida Kisogawa National Park (Google Map)

We need to explore this one a little more as it’s actual a mountain full of trails and adventurous stuff. When we went, we just used the roller skating track for some pushchair grand prix practice.

Hida Kisogawa National Park

Ogase (Google map)

Ogase is popular in Kakamigahara for it’s big pond and fireworks festival. It’s nice to take a stroll around the pond then play in the park a bit.

Ogase

Kakamigahara Citizen’s Park (Google map)

Kakamigahara City likes to promote itself as a “green” city. Personally, I think the money they spend on parks would be better spent on other things, but our leaders at City Hall have just finished building a second huge park right outside their workplace (see the two parks on the map?).

Citizen's Park

Kakamigahara Natural Heritage Forest (Google map)

I think this one is the most beautiful of the parks I’ve been to so far in this city. So let me wrap this up with three pictures. The first two from the park and the last one from up in the forest.

Kakamigara Natural Heritage Forest 1

Kakamigara Natural Heritage Forest 2

Kakamigara Natural Heritage Forest (mountain)Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for other Slow Times in Japan as people send in their submissions for the April 2009 Japan Blog Matsuri (links at the top).

Kakamigahara Aerospace Museum

Rather than sit in front of the TV all day while keeping an eye on Rikuto, I decided to take him to the Kakamigahara Aerospace museum instead.

Kakamigahara is home to the Gifu Self-Defense Force Air Base and the Kawasaki Aerospace Division, so perhaps to make up for the noise of fighter jets flying overhead, the public are treated to a museum dedicated to flying machines.

The museum was better than I expected. While most of the focus is on Japanese planes, designers from Kakamigahara, and products of Kawasaki, there are also displays about man’s early attempts at flying, rockets, helicopters, more rockets, space stations and Jules Verne stories. Real planes fill the area outside the museum as well as inside the main hall, and you can get on board and sit in the cockpits of some of them, too.

Rikuto enjoyed watching a remote controlled helicopter fly around inside a large plastic dome, the walls of the dome preventing Ricky from touching the whirring propeller blades. He also liked playing with the computers and clicking the mouse buttons, somehow navigating through a database of rocket engines.

Best of all, though, was crawling around among the planes and helicopters in a hall which we pretty much had to ourselves. If you’re in Nagoya or Gifu and have kids with you, I can recommend a couple of hours at the Kakamigahara Aerospace museum.

New Earthquake Emergency Shelters

Earlier this year, Mike McKinlay and I went to to the Gifu Prefecture Regional Disaster Management Center to try out the earthquake simulator. Being the only visitors all day (and introducing ourselves as big-time Canadian bloggers), the staff treated us like royalty! We were given a personal tour of the facility and they even filmed us trembling like little girls on the simulator.

A ground-shaking experience

The Earthquake simulator! The earthquake simulator, which went up to the maximum Shindo 7, was quite an experience. Japan’s Shindo is a measurement of intensity at a given location, whereas the Richter scale used in the West measures magnitude of an earthquake at its epicenter. Mike will be posting the videos on his own blog soon, along with his lame attempts to escape a burning house rocked by an earthquake in a virtual reality game. Update: Here’s Mike’s post.

The 150,000 yen cardboard box

On our tour of the management disaster center, we were shown the latest and greatest in modern emergency shelters – a cardboard box puzzle house called the Octagon.

Although there’s no mention of price on the manufacturer’s website, we were told you can buy this fantastic new solution to short-term housing problems for 150,000 yen. I asked whether the management disaster staff had already bought one for their own families, but they admitted the price was too high and should an earthquake occur they’d come down to the center to borrow one! I told them I quite understood, and that I would be racing here for my own cardboard house so they better be quick!

They then proceeded to talk us through the construction of the Octagon…

Emergency Shelter

STEP 1 – Grab your cardboard box puzzle house

There are two boxes weighing 41 kilograms each. The instructions recommend two people carry each box.

Step 1

STEP 2 – Find a somewhere to put it

You’ll need a 6m x 6m area, preferably flat, before you can build your new “compact house”.

Step 2

STEP 3 – Slot the panels together

For a nation that grew up with origami, putting this thing together is a doddle.

Step 3

STEP 4 – Put the roof on

You don’t need any special tools, just tape the roof on and you’re done. If there are three of you, you’ll have the house finished in about three hours.

Step 4

STEP 5 – Move the house

Now that the house is finished you can move it… quite how I’m not too sure. Like the guys in the instructions it might be best to just leave it where you built it.

Step 5

STEP 6 – Make a floor

If you flatten out the cases that contained the puzzle, you should have enough cardboard to cover the floor. It’s the equivalent of 6.5 tatami mats which is a reasonable size to live in.

Step 6

STEP 7 – Walk around inside

This critical step involves walking around inside the “tent” so you familiarize yourself with the height and don’t bump your head on the cardboard. The lowest part of the ceiling is 1.5m, and the highest is 2.2m, high enough for even Mike to stand up straight in. Apparently, there’s room for a family of five in this cardboard house, which sounds like a very tight squeeze to me.

Step 7

STEP 8 – Waterproof it!

The final step involves covering the house with waterproof sheets. With care, the cardboard tent will last six months, but you’re advised not to use it in heavy rainfall or strong winds (not that you’d have much choice). They do encourage you to cut out some windows, and when you’re finished, you can recycle the whole house!

Step 8

Stop by for a cuppa tea

The emergency cardboard puzzle house is awesome, just like camping in a tent. Mike and I had a cup of tea and wondered how much cheaper an actual tent would be…

Nick in a cardboard tent

Mike in a cardboard tent

Preparing for the big one

If you are worried about the big earthquake which is supposed to be coming sometime in the next 10,000 years, do yourself a favor and buy a cardboard box puzzle house! If you can read Japanese, go to Sago Mokuzai for more information. There’s also a FAQ worth reading. One question asks whether the Octagon comes with a toilet, and while I was hoping for a more creative answer involving constructing a toilet out of leftover cardboard, the answer is an honest, “No, it doesn’t come with a toilet”.

If you fancy riding the Shindo-7 earthquake simulator, find one in your area here (Japanese).

Where I Live, Twenty Years Ago

My little neighborhood here in Japan has pretty much been in existence for twenty years. I came across an old aerial photo of the housing estate on which I live during its construction in 1989.

My part of Kakamigahara City in 1989

You can clearly see the baseball ground there, and there’s a small hospital, too, which still stands today. Beyond that, in Heisei 1, everything had been cleared away to make room for factories and houses. In fact, as you can see from a Google Earth image below of how things look now, large chunks of the mountain were also removed for my wealthy neighbors who bought land at the height of the economic bubble.

My part of Kakamigahara City in approx. 2008

How has your area changed over the last two decades? Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out?

Gifu Kakamigahara Incinerator

A five-minute drive from our house into the mountains and we’re at the Gifu Kakamigahara Incinerator. Yes, if you read Oh My Gomi – Part 2, you’ll realize this was the place I finally disposed of a bug infested, five-year-old bag of rubbish.

Gifu Kakamigahara Incinerator

Living near an enormous, heavy duty incinerator 

The convenience of living so near to a giant incinerator outweighs the fear of toxic clouds or other environmental concerns. Okay, I realize there won’t be a nuclear meltdown, but I can’t imagine many people wanting to live with this “gasifying and direct melting furnace” in their backyard. 

We visit the incinerator regularly, the last time being when my wife cut down all our trees and I had to unload a car full of branches into the furnace. Unfortunately, I completely forgot to take a photo of the forest in my car until after it got turned to smoke.

A map of the incinerator in Gifu Kakamigahara

Instead of that non-existant photo, I’ll show you a map of the incinerator in Kakamigahara, and thanks to the magic of Google Maps, you can look around and get an idea of where I live. Perhaps you’ll see Japan isn’t one huge, dense, urban sprawl after all!

View Larger Map

How to put a Google map in your blog 

If you’d like to put a map on your own site, just go to Google Maps, find the location you want and click “Link to this page”. You’ll be given the code you need to embed the map into your blog.

Gifu Going Hi-Tech: Techno Plaza

GifuFor the last few years, I’ve lived in Gifu Prefecture in central Japan. Gifu is mostly made up of the old provinces of Hida and Mino, and has historically been the center of swordmaking. More recently though, with the opening of Chubu International Airport and the completion of the Tokai Loop Expressway, a large number of companies have been establishing themselves in the prefecture.

Gifu governor, Hajime Furuta says:

The Seki Techno Hi-Land, a fusion of cutting-edge IT businesses and beautiful parklands, is home to many such enterprises. So too is the Techno Plaza, which aims to promote the formation of an “intellectual cluster” based on a concept of business development and the creation of new technologies through a union of IT and manufacturing. (Source)

Kakamigahara is one of Gifu’s biggest cities and is making its name in the field of aerospace engineering, particularly due to the presence of Kawasaki Heavy Industries which has a division devoted to aerospace engineering. Kakamigahara also boasts an aerospace museum and the large Gifu Self-Defense Force air base. In addition to this, just down the road from my house is the Techno Plaza, a huge industrial estate that has attracted some hi-tech companies, including contact lens manufacturer, Menicon.

The Techno Plaza’s concept is “Advancement of prefectural industries and creation of new technologies through an integration of IT and manufacturing”. It brings together IT, Virtual Reality (VR), robot and digital media related enterprises for further development as a global hub of manufacturing for the 21st century that can disseminate information worldwide. (Source)

I decided to take the family for a walk around the Techno Plaza to see what all the fuss is about. Knowing full well that nothing would be open on a Sunday evening, I was content just to take a few pictures of the modern buildings that house these companies. I’m curious about the virtual reality and robot research going on, so hopefully I’ll be able to visit the Techno Plaza again sometime and learn more.

Note: The barren land in the first picture below is actually Techno Plaza II, a huge area that will expand on the already established Techno Plaza I in the top-left of the first picture.

Techno Plaza, Kakamigahara, Gifu.

AEON Kakamigahara Shopping Center

Opening week at AEON Jusco

Mami still hasn’t been to the new shopping center that opened recently in Kakamigahara. Saying that, she hasn’t been out much at all since the baby was born. I, on the other hand, get to drive past the AEON shopping mall on my way to and from work everyday, so I had the pleasure of watching them build it over the last year, and now I can pop in to grab a Mega Mac or something for lunch.

Needless to say, it’s huge. There must be over 200 shops, and a bunch of restaurants, along with a ten-screen cinema and parking for 4,000 cars. I was really happy to see a massive Joshin electronics store in there, and shops selling toys and things that I know Rikuto will love.

It’s a welcome addition to Kakamigahara, which until now didn’t offer much in the way of shopping or entertainment.

The above was originally written (but not published) a week ago. Now there’s more to the story…

Last night, I took Mami and Rikuto to the shopping center. It was their first time, and Rikuto’s first time anywhere other than the hospital.

We were a little bit anxious taking such a young baby to such an overwhelming place, and that only grew when we couldn’t fit the pram in the car! Since Riku was already fastened into his baby chair on the back seat, we just decided to go anyway and carry him if we had to.

We were both surprised to find that the babycare facilities at AEON were excellent. We found a little pushchair and wheeled Rikuto over to the elevator. Our first stop was the baby section on the third floor and I swear Riku’s eyes doubled in size when he saw all the toys. We stayed there for a couple of hours and spent half of that in the “baby room”.

The Baby Room is bigger than a typical Japanese apartment with rows of nappy-changing tables, a breastfeeding area, hot water on tap for making powdered milk, toilet facilities and a play area for siblings, scales to measure height and weight (Riku is now at 5kgs), nappy bins, and a vending machine for thirsty parents. Everything is spotlessly clean, too.

We came away with a new dummy for Rikuto – he loves his dummy – and a couple of 1.5 liter bottles of Coca-Cola for mum and dad (which were on sale for just a 150 yen ($1.30) each!). On my way out, I popped into the men’s room and was stunned to see full babycare facilities in there, too!

I have to take my hat off to AEON. They’ve done a superb job and we look forward to many family trips there again.

The Sun Sets on Kakamigahara

I’m not much of a photographer, but Mike convinced me to get a new camera after writing about his Nikon Coolpix S200. I’ve been looking a lot at stock photos recently, and thought it would be great to submit my own photos for sale on the web, but I’m going to have to put in a lot of practice to get to that level.

Here’s a photo I took of a typical Kakamigahara sunset:

Kakamigahara sunset

Here’s what $1 will buy you from a stock photos site. This is the Red Rock Canyon in Nevada:

Nevada sunset

The professional photo may look better, but I’d rather in live in Kakamigahara than live in a desert! 🙂

Cherry Blossoms

A close-up of some cherry blossoms.With Japan’s hanami season underway, Mami and I thought we would take a stroll down the river to see what this year’s “cherry blossom viewing” season had to offer. While we were walking under the sakura, I told Mami a story I had heard from one of my students a couple of weeks ago.

Apparently, K-chan was walking her dog in Gifu park when she saw a large group of youngsters having a picnic, drinking beer, and singing under the cherry blossom trees. Although this is typical behaviour during hanami season, these guys were far too early, and there wasn’t one cherry blossom in sight.

However, they weren’t as dumb as you might think. They had brought along bunches of fake cherry blossoms to hang over their heads, and in doing so they avoided the crowds that fill the park in peak season, and still had a great time!

Now the flowers are in full bloom, we opted to avoid the crowded parks and walk down the quiet river bank. A pleasant afternoon, and since I’ve done nothing but stare at the computer screen during my week off, it was a good chance to get outside and give my aching eyeballs a rest!

My home in the countryside

My first five years in Japan were spent living in downtown Nagoya, among the skyscrapers, train stations and other concrete structures. Most parks were simply gravel areas for kids to run around on. Now, nearly ten years after coming to Japan, I’m living in what the Japanese would call ‘the countryside’. So I thought I’d post a few pictures from around my neighborhood. Bear in mind that by ‘countryside’, I mean ten minutes drive from Kakamigahara city center! Still, it’s a world apart from Nagoya.

Our street

This is our street.

Our area

A view of our neighborhood.

Our area

And in the other direction. Mountains all around!

Local temple

The local temple, and an area for the old folks to play boules or petanque!

Shrine gate

A short walk to our local shrine.

Shrine

And, erm, this is it! Not exactly Kyoto, but rather quaint!

Our neighborhood

Rice fields.

Our neighborhood

Sohara park on the edge of Gifu Country Club.

Our neighborhood

And looking the other way.

Out with Mami

A rare shot of Mami! Wow, you don’t see too many of these on this blog!

Us

So maybe this is a side of Japan you don’t see very often on the net. It’s where I live, and I love it!

Aeon Jusco in Kakamigahara, Gifu!

I’m really excited about the new shopping center they’re building on the other side of town. One thing I love about Japan is the convenience of everything, and when it comes to shopping, you can’t beat a shopping center. In all honesty, there’s nothing particularly different between modern shopping malls in Japan and the ones back home, but that won’t stop me welcoming the new Aeon Jusco into my little Japanese world!

So without further ado, I present Kakamigahara’s new shopping center!

Aeon Jusco Kakamigahara

Diamond City Kirio in Ichinomiya CityYeah, okay, so it’s not finished yet, but when it’s done (late summer), it should look something like Ichinomiya City’s Diamond City Kirio, only 50% bigger! According to a Japanese blog which I can’t seem to find again, the land is 1.5 times larger than that of Diamond City, and I’ve heard various stories from students and gas station attendants which vary between “It’ll be the biggest Jusco in the city”, “It’ll be the biggest shopping center in the prefecture”, and “It’ll be the second biggest shopping center in Japan!”

It’s funny actually; I work within ten minutes drive of two of the biggest shopping centers in the area – Colorful Town and Diamond City, yet I rarely visit either of them. Why? Because although they are near, you spend 20 minutes finding a parking space, walking from your car to the elevator and eventually arriving on the shop floor.

Fortunately, this new shopping center is actually on my way to work. See that road in the picture at the top? I drive on that road everyday. So although I might find shopping far more convenient, the endless traffic jams could make my daily commute a nightmare! Yikes!