Hekinan's "Private" Akashi Park

Today was the last Saturday of Golden Week, which meant a lot of people are wrapping up their vacation and making the return trip home. Monday is still classified as a national holiday to mark Children's Day, but this will not stop many large organizations from resuming normal office hours to recover from a full week of downtime. So with a lot of travel-weary people on the roads and trains, it seemed natural to wake up early and take the family 90 minutes south to the tiny city of Hekinan to enjoy playing around in a "private" amusement park.

The Park Train

明石公園 (Akashi Park) calls itself a "private" amusement park because the only way people learn about it is through word of mouth. It will not be found in any travel magazines, nor are there any advertisements at train stations or other places where people might congregate. The park's website is even comically bereft of information. Reiko learned about the place completely by accident by reading a blog post on page 4 or 5 of a Google search while looking for some activities that the boy might enjoy. The pictures looked nice, the weather forecast seemed almost too good to be true, and we were all up to visit a new place to have a little more fun before the crushing summer humidity blankets the country in an inhospitable sweltering heat for a third of the year. Armed with the boy's stroller, some bottles of water and tea, a handful of onigiri, and our cameras, we hopped from train to train in the morning to get down to Hekinan City with enough time to enjoy the activities before "nap time".

The trip was oddly uneventful in a relaxing sort of way.

Once we got to the park we were struck by the lack of people. Typically there would be thousands of people crammed into an amusement park like Akashi. We saw maybe a few hundred. Lines for the various rides were all under 10 minutes in waiting time, and most were letting people on almost as quickly as they walked up to the gates. This isn't to say the park was empty or that rides were half-full, because they weren't. The park staff were just really efficient at ensuring people didn't wait very long.

The Ferris Wheel

The first trip of the day was on the park's mini steam engine, which followed a loop around the east side of the park. The boy generally enjoys trains, so jumping in line to ride yet another train after 90 minutes of full-sized trains made perfect sense. Afterwards we made our way to the Ferris Wheel, some mini-bumper cars, the carousel, and the pedal-powered monorail. Our favourite ride, though, was the airport tower.

The Airport Tower

For this one we had to wait about 15 minutes as the line was rather long, but it was worth the idle time. After getting strapped into the planes, the boy was more than happy to push the buttons that would raise and lower the faux aircraft via hydraulics.

Between rides we stopped for lunch, had some ice cream, and even changed a diaper. All in all, this was the most enjoyable excursion the family has had this past week and it didn't cost us an arm and a leg. Public transit for Reiko and I came out to about $30. Lunch consisted mostly of food we brought from home plus some onigiri and drinks that came out to $8. The ice cream cones worked out to $6 together. The rides cost a grand total of $12.

An entire day of fun for about $561. And to think that before we learned aboutt his place we had considered going to LegoLand where three people just entering the park would have cost about $100!

Hekinan is not a place that most people would think of when looking for a place to bring a 2 year old child, but Akashi Park is worth the look. When the boy is a couple of years older, we'll likely go back to enjoy some go-carting; the one thing we did not do today.

  1. The total cost was close to 6,000円, which works out to about $56 USD

Back Home

After one of the most productive weeks in recent memory, I've survived yet another flight across the Pacific and returned to the land I've called "home" for more than a decade. All in all, the trip to New Jersey was certainly worth the investment as the sheer number of positive things to come from the plethora of meetings has been nothing short of astounding. Career-wise, so long as the ego remains bottled up, I'm in for some very interesting projects and very demanding roles within the organisation.

I can hardly wait to get started.

One Last Look Back

Historically my trips to the US have been pretty rough, as they involved upset stomachs, catching a flu, buying a burned out motherboard, or — as was the case the last time — an unexpected overnight stay1. This time was completely different, with the only negative thing I can recall being the lack of energy from wait staff at the hotel bar who would often make people wait fifteen minutes for their first drink, then expect a 20% tip at the end. The hotel itself was spacious and comfortable. The atmosphere was relaxed. The air was crisp. Heck, there were even deer in the forests surrounding the place. When I wasn't working, it was incredibly easy to relax.

The lack of a rigid schedule certainly helped with the weeklong series of meetings, presentations, and seminars. I had planned to deliver three presentations, a product demo, a seminar on SQL Server, and maybe participate in a meeting or two. As fate would have it, the entire Monday to Friday stretch turned out to be a single discussion that contained all of the presentations, demos, and seminars in an interactive and interesting way. There was a good amount of team building going on, as well, which will go a long way to building the crucial relationships between teams separated by thousands of kilometres. Wins all around!

Coming home, however, was the icing on the cake. Nozomi was incredibly happy to see me, and the boy — after a few minutes of nervousness — was laughing and bouncing in my arms. Reiko and her parents really went all out to look after both of these small family members while I was away. Hopefully the next trip will be somewhere inside Japan so that we can all go together. It's not often that Reiko can get away from it all, and she deserves a break more than anyone I know. Perhaps a little persuasion can result in the next big corporate get-together taking place somewhere in Kyushu. Nagasaki was lovely the last time and, so long as it's not summertime, both work and pleasure could happen without the uncomfortable humidity that is typical between May and October.

This might be a bit much to hope for, though.

Either way, now that I'm back in the land of melon bread and adequately-priced food2, I can enjoy downtime with the people and puppies that matter most to me.

  1. This is a horrible, horrible post with poor word choices and repetitive grammar. To make matters worse, the people who did help out never got a single mention….

  2. When did food and drinks get so expensive in the US? $2 for a bottle of soda from a vending machine? That's 8x more than the price of gas in that country!

The Sun Rose Twice Today

Today I made the trek from central Japan to the east coast of the United States. As one would expect when travelling from the far east to the west via the Pacific Ocean, the timezones jumped in such a way that a plane could depart from Tokyo at 5:55pm and land on the other side of the world an hour and a half before it left that very same day. So, in addition to the sunrise I witnessed in Japan, there was this gem taken from 10km above Alaska:

Sunrise Over Alaska

With views like this to witness, the lack of sleep during the flight was almost worth it.

Northern Lights

Of all the things I hope to see when travelling overseas next month, the aurora borealis is at the top of the list. With a flight plan that takes us over Alaska's Barter Island, there's a pretty good chance that solar winds and charged particles may be seen interacting with our planet's magnetosphere.

Northern Lights from a Plane

Humans can create some pretty spectacular sights to behold, but nothing beats what the universe has to offer.

Eight Days

So it is, after much deliberation, discussion, and doubt, that an eight-day business trip to the day job's global headquarters in New Jersey has been booked. This will be the first time I've left Japan since landing here almost 11 years ago, and it'll be yet another trip where I'm on a plane without Reiko1. This trip is something that I've struggled with internally for a couple of reasons, none of which seem to make sense to people when I try to enunciate them. Perhaps this means that the stuff in my head is utter nonsense. Perhaps this means that I'm just a poor communicator. Maybe it's a bit of both. Either way, there's no turning back now. Documents have been submitted. Forms approved. Money spent.

The Flight Plan

By all accounts, this trip is expected to be a really big deal by the participants. For the meetings and discussions I'll be a part of, we have five days to come up with the technical direction and strategy to implement the new business directions and goals while making extensive use of a new set of tools that — ideally — will give the company the flexibility it needs to be more responsive and more aligned with student and customer needs than ever before. Lofty goals for sure. The trick will be to devise a near-flawless execution of all the changes that will be necessary, while being careful to not alienate half the organisation along the way.

While I try to stay away from the whole corporate politics time sink, I can't help but wonder how many people will stand in the way of any decisions made during this week in the US simply because they were not invited to be part of the discussions.

On a more personal note, though, I've had reservations about this trip for a while because it's happening very close to the time when Reiko, the boy, Nozomi, and I are planning on moving into our new home. Construction will be completed while I'm on the other side of the planet or soon after, and this means that a lot of things need to happen between now and the time we're officially cleared to take possession of the house. Reiko has put in an incredible amount of work to ensure everything is being done efficiently and in a timely manner, but the eight days I'm gone will put a stop to a lot of productivity.

There's not much I can do about this, though, aside from ensuring that as many ducks are in a row as possible before and after the trip.

Fortunately, while I'm in the US, Reiko will bring our son and puppy to her parents' house. There she'll have the help she needs to look after everyone, while also being afforded a little bit of time with her parents. The boy will likely be spoiled like he hasn't been in a long time, and that's okay. Hopefully he'll not miss it too much after we return to our home to resume "normal life".

I think I worry too much about unknowns, and maybe not enough about things I consider routine. This trip will ultimately be a good thing for the career, allowing me to learn new skills while also solving very complex problems. I'll get to network with people who could open doors to other possibilities in the future and, even better, it will be easier to learn how some of my colleagues in other parts of the globe went about solving their own unique sets of problems. The more a person learns, the more questions they'll have, and the more answers they'll seek. I strongly feel that life is not worth living if there are no further questions to ask, so this is certainly a positive. I just hope that my family here is able to enjoy their week while I'm overseas, and I hope that I can return safely without any problems.

Alas, the mind is still clouded and foggy. I should stop writing ….

  1. despite all the flying we had done early in our relationship, we've yet to fly on the same plane


Over the last century people have become incredibly mobile, able to go from one side of the planet to another in a matter of hours. With the advent of faster, safer transportation we’re also seeing a lot of people moving from one continent to another. Only centuries ago this would have been a one-way trip with people never again returning to “the Old Country” due to the difficulty and costs involved. Now, though, it’s not uncommon to meet people who move across countries with such regularity that their passports are replaced every two or three years due to a lack of space for new entry permits. This level of freedom is nothing short of amazing.

Earth Lights

Of course this level of mobility is not available to everyone, but the privileged few. Most people in the world never leave their home countries. Some never leave their home villages. Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a great deal about the migrations that I’ve made in my life. First from Hamilton to Vancouver, a 4,900km flight across Canada, then from Vancouver to Nagoya Japan, a 7,850km flight across an ocean. In both cases I was never in danger of anything more than experiencing a little discomfort while waiting to use an airplane bathroom. There was no risk of scurvy. No risk of a rogue snake bite leaving a limb with gangrene. There was also minimal risk that the vessel I was on would succumb to the forces of nature. All of these things were possible, but none were very probable.

Our ancestors would have laughed at how easy we have it today.

Lunch in Kobe

Just how hungry can a couple get when they travel 200km by train and walk a solid 5km in search of a red tower? Pretty hungry, it would seem. We polished off two large plates of spaghetti in no time flat and then went out in search of the next tourist spot. The restaurant's name was Cafe ココノハ1

 located on the first floor of Mozaik, a bayside food mall near Kobe Tower.

Soboro Chicken Pasta in Miso Sauce

The cafe restaurant is targeting women with their design aethstitic, and it is certainly successful. The place was packed the whole time we were there, with never more than a single table open for guests. Tables were tastefully designed with a bright, four-part menu waiting to be read sitting dead centre. Less than a minute passed before we had our complimentary drinks, and the food was ready within five minutes of order. Not bad for a crowded restaurant on the last day of a long weekend at a popular tourist attraction.

Pumpkin Creme Pasta

The bill for these two dishes came out to under 2,500円 and both Reiko and I both agree that the price was fair.

Kobe Port

神戸港1 is a popular destination for people in search of wonderful foods, a fun ferry ride, or the Anpanman Museum. In addition to all this, people can also come this way to enjoy the Kobe Tower. Reiko and I were able to enjoy this today with one long view.

Kobe Port (Panorama)

One of the most interesting things we noticed with regards to Kobe Port is the lack of sea smell. Many cities that have an ocean-front component also have a great deal of seagulls and green water to deal with. Not Kobe, though. This place was by far the cleanest seaside I've ever visited … and I used to live in Vancouver!

If you do get a chance to visit this wonderful city, do stop by the port and enjoy a nice stroll along the paths. You might even get to see a pirate ship.

Too Much, Evernote

What can a company with an ambitious goal do to keep itself relevant in the eyes of the people who use it? Evernote is one of those applications that many of us look at with a blank stare when we first hear about it, as it's purpose is too simple to believe at a glance. Evernote is a central repository for the notes we want to keep. These notes don't need to be text-based, either, as PDFs, images, audio files, and other types of data can be uploaded to the service to be indexed and synchronised across several devices. It's an incredibly useful service, and I've made heavy use of it for two years. That said, it may be time to move on to something else. Something that is less intrusive. Something that has a bit more focus.

I've been building an Evernote replacement in my spare time and, after an incredible number of hours, I've come to the conclusion that a service that is completely self-hosted would create the same sort of support problems I had with Noteworthy. The software works well enough1 on my servers, but that doesn't help anyone else when their servers are throwing errors and exceptions. What's the solution, though?

Why Not App.Net

With the experience I've been gaining with the App.Net API, I've started looking at how difficult it would be to make a note synchronization tool that uses this open and semi-free platform. The tools would not be nearly as advanced as what we see with the Evernote clients right away, but the basics would certainly be there at the start. Text and image documents would sync to the service and would use a person's file storage. There would even be an easy way to publish to 10Centuries sites2. A proof of concept could be up and running by November.

But would people use it instead of Evernote?

This is something I'll need to invest some time in researching. It would be interesting, though.

En Route to Kobe

Reiko and I have decided to throw caution to the wind and embark to Kobe on a spur of the moment road trip. Almost a year and a half has passed since we last travelled together, and this little jaunt is certainly overdue. Kobe is one of the more famous places in Japan, but neither of us have spent any real amount of time in the city. Today we'll fix this.

As one would expect on a hastily-planned trip, we don't really have a lot of items on the itinerary. The train will pull in to 新神戸駅1 at 9:58, and we'll then proceed to the port where a lot of the more popular attractions can be found. There is a café that specializes in foam art I'd like to see, and both Reiko and I are looking forward to some Kobe-style Okonomiyaki. After having some lunch we'll make our way north to a section of town famous for its western-style buildings. I plan on taking a lot of pictures.

Home Alone

Unfortunately one very important member of the family couldn't come with us. Nozomi is at home for the day2, and will miss the sights, sounds, and smells of this new city. We'd love to bring her, but she just doesn't like being in unfamiar places. The last time she was brought on a train she almost lost her mind. It didn't help that this was just a few weeks after the massive earthquake that destroyed her confidence in the stability of the ground, but the fact of the matter is she's just a bad traveller and would be better at home.

Hopefully I can make this up to her later today after Reiko and I get home.