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Who Would Have Thought Air Could Be Historic?

Posted on December 20, 2016 I Written By

Crash Uncle is father to three amazing kids, a C-130 Navigator in the USAF, and Crash Dad's favorite brother.

In the continuation of my family’s journey in Asia, Crash Aunt and I took the kids to Osaka (which was very cool) and then today to Hiroshima (which was cool for very different reasons).

Whenever we go places I really try and teach my kids about how important the places we visit are in the history of the world, and in this case there are not many places more influential in the history of the world than Hiroshima.

They have a very nice little museum with a lot of good information as well as numerous displays that really drill home the effect that the bomb had on the city.  It was fascinating to see the “shadows” that were created on all different structures as well as some of the before and after pictures and how completely decimated the city was.

Outside of the museum there were a number of little memorials and shrines for various groups of people including the Children’s Peace Memorial that was erected after the death of a young girl named Sadako who died from leukemia but was made famous for her paper crane making and the book that told her story.

As I walked with my family to the northern end of the park we saw a building now known as the A-bomb dome.  This building sits only a few hundred meters from the site where the bomb detonated but somehow lived through the blast and has been preserved as a reminder of the devastation that took place.

Looking above that building and imagining B-29s flying overhead and dropping the bomb that detonated about 600 meters above ground left me speechless.  It was unreal to look into that sky and realize just how historic that air was.

This experience reminded me of my visit to Ft. Sumter in South Carolina and being in awe at the historic air resting above that bay where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.  Who would have thought that air could be so awe inspiring?

While both of these events led to the loss of countless lives and altered the course of history forever, there was something surreal about both of these locations.  There was an incredible feeling of peace in both places.  This has been even more pronounced here in Hiroshima.  Despite the typical congestion and bustle of Japan, this whole city, and in particular the Peace Park by where the bomb was dropped, have a tremendous peace that is unmistakable.  My wife felt it and even some other Japanese people we talked to that were visiting the area said the same thing.

If ever there was a city to have a feeling of hate or anger or frustration this would certainly be it, but the exact opposite has been true.  The city that they said would not have a living thing for 75 years is now flourishing with industry and beautiful trees and happy people.

As we were walking away from the Peace Park we stumbled across a couple of men that were sitting there making paper cranes, and as usually happens with my cute little white kids in Asia, they were immediately drawn in and offered free cranes.  As we talked to them we discovered that they were both survivors of the attack but rather than bitterness or anger they were some of the happiest, kindest, most friendly Japanese people I have met during my time here.  They have lived full lives and have beautiful families that they were happy to show us pictures of.

I don’t know how many of our experiences here that my kids will remember, but I hope that at least some of the thoughts and feelings will stick with them and help them to better understand the world we live in.  And also the reality that we can find peace in some of the most destructive places in history.

Matsumoto Castle Might be the Coolest Thing I Have Seen in Japan…So Far

Posted on February 1, 2016 I Written By

Crash Uncle is father to three amazing kids, a C-130 Navigator in the USAF, and Crash Dad's favorite brother.

My kids really need to work on their fighting stance.

My kids really need to work on their fighting stance.

It is a good thing that Crash Aunt is such a go getter when it comes to getting out and exploring this amazing country that we are living in.  I am pretty content to hang out and explore the local area, and by local area I mean my bed, my couch, and my backyard.  Fortunately, she really loves doing the research and finding cool places for us to explore.  To be totally honest, sometimes these places are not very exciting, and other times they are super cool.

Matsumoto Castle was definitely one of those super cool things.

The water was so incredibly still it was stunning.

The water was so incredibly still it was stunning.

The castle can be found in the city of Matsumoto which is pretty close to Nagano, where the Olympics were held in 1998 and is also on my list of places to visit.  It is a pretty small city with a number of tasty restaurants, and mostly small buildings that we have come to really enjoy as we travel around Japan.  The castle rises up above the rest of the city like the beacon that it was likely supposed to be with five stories for you to explore.

Young ninja in training.

Young ninja in training.

Even in the winter the grounds have a beautiful simplicity that is very much Japanese.  You can tell that they are meticulously maintained and provide a peaceful beauty that I have not really experienced in the states.  As you can see from the pictures, it is surrounded by a large moat that had a couple of swans swimming in it, and worked wonderfully as a reflection pond.

I love cultural locations that give my kid a better experience.

I love cultural locations that give my kid a better experience.

Inside the grounds of the castle our kids got to meet a ninja, a samurai, and a geisha that walk the grounds and keep it entertaining for the kids.  You are not allowed to wear street shoes in the castle so you have to put on slippers before climbing the stairs and exploring.  I was proud of all of my kids for climbing up the really steep stairs all the way to the top.

This is the "warrior passage" that is extra wide for the Samurai coming through in full battle armor.

This is the “warrior passage” that is extra wide for the Samurai coming through in full battle armor.

On each level of the castle they had plenty of signs explaining all of the different memorabilia they had there which was really nice because oftentimes it is only in Japanese.  The kids loved seeing all of the cool guns and swords and a samurai suit.  It was also really interesting to see how the castle had been adapted from the time when bows and arrows were used to the time when guns and rifles were utilized.

I think the samurai would lose against these three little monsters.

I think the samurai would lose against these three little monsters.

It is also crazy when you consider that the vast majority of the structure was made with wood, granted they are massively huge beams and supports, but it is still wood that kept this structure safe for so long.  As I mentioned before, they even let you climb all the way to the top and look out on what the ruler of the castle would have seen.  It was such an amazing experience to learn more about this fascinating culture.

The most amazing thing about this picture is that I am in pants.  Stay tuned for why in the next post.

The most amazing thing about this picture is that I am in pants. Stay tuned for why in the next post.

This is such a unique opportunity that we have to learn about another culture, and I am glad we are taking advantage of it.  At the same time, it makes me wonder what awesome experiences I was missing out on back in the states because I didn’t look hard enough.  I am convinced that there are fascinating things to expose your kids to if you just look hard enough.

Japanese Zoos are Awesome…and There are a Lot of Them

Posted on January 4, 2016 I Written By

Crash Uncle is father to three amazing kids, a C-130 Navigator in the USAF, and Crash Dad's favorite brother.

I love that cheesy grin, and the red panda is cute too.

I love that cheesy grin, and the red panda is cute too.

One of our favorite places to visit no matter where we are in the world are zoos.  Animals are just awesome, and it is a rare opportunity to see them much closer than would normally be possible.  Sometimes you even get to see them do things that you would only ever see them do in a video, like the time CrashDad and I saw a giraffe giving birth at the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, UT.  The last time I checked, that giraffe still lived there which I always find special.

Koalas have always been on of my favorite animals, and they let you get real close at Tama Zoo.

Koalas have always been on of my favorite animals, and they let you get real close at Tama Zoo.

In many ways, Japanese zoos aren’t all that different from zoos in the states as they are mostly just animals in cages with some cooler habitats being built to make things a little more realistic.  There are a few animals that are unique to Japan that added a certain amount of special, but it is some of the other unique opportunities that make their zoos so cool.

In this instance we were visiting the Tama Zoo which is located about an hour or so Southwest of Tokyo.  Considering that most of the greater Tokyo area is essentially solid buildings it is incredible how much space this zoo actually included.  It was also a great workout as the zoo sits in a group of hills forcing you to go up and down as you walk through the zoo.  Those hills did provide for some extra views of the animals though, so it was worth it.

No orangutans to be seen, but the zoo had pictures of them climbing over the people.

No orangutans to be seen, but the zoo had pictures of them climbing over the people.

One of the cool things that they have set up is a cool rope bridge for the orangutans to climb across a portion of the zoo.  You can kind of see it from the pictures, but there are two different areas for the orangutans that are maybe quarter to half a mile apart that are connected by this overhead bridge where they can climb over the guests and make for a pretty cool experience.  Much to the dismay of Crash Aunt (orangutans are one of her favorite animals), none of the orangutans were out the day we were there, but I am sure we will be back more than once before we leave Japan.

The other cool experience that they have at the Tama Zoo is a chance to feed the lions.  This was not an opportunity to offload unruly children in support of the zoo, though we did tell the kids that was the plan, but it was a chance to see these majestic animals up close.

You can see the kids' excitement in their reflections.

You can see the kids’ excitement in their reflections.

The way it works is you get into a bus that has hooks on the outside by the windows where they put little pieces of meat.  You then drive out into the lion enclosure where they have platforms set up for the lions to come and eat the meat off the side of the bus.  As you can see this leads to some pretty up close and personal experiences with the lions.  They are amazingly powerful yet gentle looking creatures when you get close.  I’m not saying I want to snuggle with one in the wild, but it would be a little tempting.

One of the cool things I have noticed about Japanese culture is that they are very big on having experiences for their entertainment, not just mindlessly sitting in a venue.  That is why they have so many of these places too.  There are zoos and parks and playgrounds and shrines and various other amusement areas all over the place.  It would be nearly impossible to visit all of them.  They are also quite reasonably priced as it usually only costs us about $10 for the parents total, and the kids are almost always free.

The older I get, the more interested I am in experiences versus just stuff so I guess it is really no wonder that I would find this so enjoyable.  I really look forward to having even more of these experiences while we are here.

Playing in the Shadow of a Volcano

Posted on November 11, 2015 I Written By

Crash Uncle is father to three amazing kids, a C-130 Navigator in the USAF, and Crash Dad's favorite brother.

It's amazing how cold it can get just a few thousand feet up.

It’s amazing how cold it can get just a few thousand feet up.

Tell me that this headline doesn’t sound like fun.  I know my kids were super excited to be around a volcano.

In all reality it seems like every mountain in the Pacific region is a volcano, or at least used to be, so we are almost always in the shadow of one volcano or another.  In this case though it was a very well known volcano known as Mt. Fuji.  At 12,388 feet it is the tallest mountain in Japan.  While it has not erupted since 1707, it is still an active volcano which many experts say is due for an eruption.

Being the daring adventurers that we are we decided to take a chance and go for a visit.

On our way to the mountain we stopped and visited a pretty awesome waterfall that is fed by the waters flowing off of Mt. Fuji.  It only required a short little hike for our family, and was stunningly beautiful.  Shiraito Falls has been a natural monument since 1936 and is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.  It is just amazing to me how many natural wonders there are in this country.

The falls included about ten or so smaller waterfalls like the ones behind the family.

The falls included about ten or so smaller waterfalls like the ones behind the family.

After stopping at the waterfall we headed up the mountain to the fifth station on Mt. Fuji.  I guess I should explain what that means.  Mt. Fuji is divided into ten different stations starting at the base of the mountain and ending at the top.  These stations provide a number of different services like toilets, food, and even sleeping facilities for those wanting to take a more leisurely pace up the mountain.  You can drive all the way up to the fifth station (about 7500 feet) to start your hike, which is what most people do.  Unfortunately, climbing season is over so our journey to the summit will wait until next year, but it was still a great adventure.

I wasn’t so sure how great of a trip it would be as we reached the base as the sky was completely filled with clouds.  As we drove the approximately 22km up the mountain (yes you read that right 22km) we actually drove through two different cloud layers which was quite the experience for the wife and kids who had never done that before.  It is something we do all the time in the plane, but it generally happens pretty fast, so driving it was quite cool.

The view from above is almost always better than the view from below.

The view from above is almost always better than the view from below.

As we neared the fifth station I was afraid that we would be right in the middle of the cloud layer, but as luck would have it the whole thing opened up above us and Mt. Fuji stuck out in all of its glory.  We pulled into parking and got our first up close look at this amazing volcano.  On a clear day we can see Mt. Fuji from our house, but you really have to get up close to understand its majesty.  Equally stunning was the view out across the valley.

As I mentioned, we drove through two different cloud layers as we drove up, so there was very little to see in the valley, but that is what was so amazing about it.  The clouds themselves were simply beautiful.  After a few minutes I realized they I could see mountains peaking out above the clouds across the valley as well.  Those peaks were all above 10,000 feet and could not be held down by even the thickest of clouds.

There is something powerful about the shadow of a mountain.

There is something powerful about the shadow of a mountain.

There are a number of little shops at the fifth station which are very similar to what we have seen pretty much everywhere we go here.  Behind these shops is the Komitake Shrine which is a beautiful little structure and the site of the Kaizansai festival that is held yearly to celebrate the opening of the Mt. Fuji climbing season.

As we were standing on a platform near the shrine and looking out over the cloud deck I realized that we were literally standing in the shadow of the volcano and it was amazing.  I don’t think the picture here really does it justice, but it was incredible.  We have all stood in the shadow of a mountain before but I have never seen the shadow so distinctly as it laid itself out over the clouds.

Fuji SunsetI am super excited to climb to the summit next year, and this visit only made me more excited.  I really hope that my kids will be able to join me at some point as well.

Starting School in Another Country

Posted on September 2, 2015 I Written By

Crash Uncle is father to three amazing kids, a C-130 Navigator in the USAF, and Crash Dad's favorite brother.

These are the weeks that everyone posts their pictures of their kids starting school, and all the moms either talk about how they held back their tears, or had a party to celebrate, or both.  As excited as I am for my kids to get back to school, because I know how much they enjoy it, I’ve just never gotten super into it.

However, this year is a little different than in the past because we are now living in a different country.  As I mentioned in my last post my kids were dealing with a fair amount of stress because of the move, but just as I predicted, going back to school has already had a very good impact.

She makes the weirdest smiles when we have her pose.

She makes the weirdest smiles when we have her pose.

Crash Niece #1 is attending the school on base, which means for all intents and purposes it is just an American school.  There are some differences, but for the most part it is the same.  The big new thing for her is that she has a male teacher for the first time and I think it was a little intimidating at first.  Fortunately, he seems to be a great teacher that has already set her at ease by telling jokes and referring to himself as the “bald fat man.”  I look forward to watching her really grow as he has said he likes to push his kids, and that is exactly what I want.

I am generally anti-uniform, but man he is a cute little guy.

I am generally anti-uniform, but man he is a cute little guy.

Crash Nephew, on the other hand, is now attending a Japanese pre-school with mostly Japanese kids.  His teacher does speak English, but at our request she will not be using it often with him.  This is one of those rare opportunities to really immerse him in a different culture and allow him to grow in ways that you simply could not do in America.  To be honest I was more nervous than him the first couple of days because he has a tendency to just get super shy when he is in a new situation that he is uncertain about (I wonder where he gets that from?).

Fortunately, he is braver than his Dad and already seems to be comfortable in his new environment.  When Crash Aunt went to pick him up after the first day he said, “Mom, they all speak Spanish (not sure why he gets the two confused.  Maybe too much Diego?), but don’t worry Mom, I speak it too.”  Just to be clear he does not speak Japanese, but I was so proud of him for not being afraid and realizing that he can still be one of them.  It will be so fun to watch him actually learn Japanese this year.

No matter how old a kid is, or where they go to school, it is such an amazing time of their life.  As I think back on my school years elementary school was where I had the most fun, and where I really feel like I became the person that I am today.  I didn’t necessarily learn the most or anything like that, but I had some incredibly influential teachers that changed me forever.

Crash Dad and I shared one of those teachers by the name of Mrs. Woodson for fifth grade at Ellis Elementary in Arlington, Texas.  I recently came across her again on Facebook and was touched to see how many of her students were quick to credit her with many of the successes in their lives.  I know she is in my top five most influential teachers in my life and I am forever indebted to her for that.

So as we send our kids back to school this week and celebrate the freedom it affords us as parents, don’t forget the teachers whose work is just beginning this year and remember to give them the support they need and deserve.  You never know when your kid may have the teacher that will alter their life forever.

Observing How Kids Cope with Stress

Posted on August 23, 2015 I Written By

Crash Uncle is father to three amazing kids, a C-130 Navigator in the USAF, and Crash Dad's favorite brother.

Life is full of all kinds of stress, both good and bad, and each of us handles it differently.  I would say that how I deal with stress has also changed over time depending on my situation as well as just who I have become as a person.  Ten years ago when I was living in California and owned a motorcycle, I often relieved stress by taking a ride down to the Pacific Coast Highway and pulling over somewhere that I could just sit on the beach and listen to the waves crash in front of me.  Since I’ve had kids I generally have to keep it closer to home so I spend some time reading or writing about airplanes to help unwind.

But I don’t think it is quite that simple for kids.

My kids have been under a fair amount of stress for the last couple of months due to a move overseas for my job.  We packed up all of our stuff back in June and the family took off while I finished up some work and joined them in the beginning of July.  After spending almost two months with family and friends we arrived in Japan about a week and a half ago and, as one would expect, it has been a bit of a culture shock for all of us.  What has been interesting to me is how my kids have dealt with it all.

When they first left home they missed their friends a little, and me up until I joined them, but they were spending so much time with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents that I guess that kind of compensated for the friends they had left behind.  They also stayed super busy with zoos, splash pads, aquariums, pools, hikes, and various other distractions while we were living out of suitcases at no less than five different houses and a handful of hotel rooms.  I really was quite impressed with how well they were holding up all the way to the end.

You could tell that once we got to our last stop in Washington they were starting to get a little anxious; not to mention just being done with going so many different places and not having much of their own stuff.  This became evident first in Crash Niece #1 who started to become quite sad at night around bedtime.  This was not your typical, “I don’t want to go to bed!” sadness, but rather a need to be held and even a few tears.  When I asked her what was wrong all she would say is that she missed our two dogs that we had found new homes for before leaving Arkansas.  A few days later Crash Nephew started to say the same thing when he would just randomly get sad.

As sweet as that was it was a little shocking to me because the two older kids hadn’t show any real great sadness when we had found the dogs new homes.  However, as this new scary adventure became imminent, that was the part of their old home that they latched onto.  Not their friends they had left behind, or our house or trampoline, and not even the family members that we likely won’t see much during our time in Japan.  Instead it was a couple of dogs that they had played with a fair amount, but by no means were they attached at the hip.  If anything, I would say the youngest, who is only two, was the most attached to the dogs and played with them the most of the kids, but she wasn’t the one missing them.

I don’t know that I had any profound epiphany because of this experience, but it just wasn’t something I had every really thought about until now.  We moved a lot when I was a kid, six different houses by the time I was 12, but I don’t really remember being stressed about it, or even how I really felt about it at all.  As an adult I have moved even more than that, and my job pretty much guarantees I will move some more.  It will be really interesting to see how my kids adjust and cope with all of these changes in their lives, as well as what Crash Aunt and I can do to help make it easier for them.

We just moved into our new house over the weekend so all of us are pretty excited to have our own beds and toys and such back.  I’m sure that will help all of us as we adjust to our new life in Japan.  It will likely also help as the kids get back into school in the next couple of weeks.  As much as Crash Niece #1 loves school maybe that will be her new security blanket during these first few months.  Who knows?  All I really know is that my kids never cease to surprise me in ways that I never would have even considered.