Friday, 26 October 2018

Let us dance

It’s a hot summer night in Tokushima City, the home of Awa Odori.  They dance it all year round, but now it’s Obon, the peak of dancing season.  The centre of town is shut to traffic and the streets have been claimed by the people, dancers, musicians and spectators in their thousands from all over the country.  Zomeki rhythm fills the air and the dancing goes on for hours.  It’s getting late, and we all need to sleep, if only to come back and do it all again tomorrow.  But as the night draws to a close, there’s one last spectacle of Awa Odori to catch.  A glorious finale.  An absolutely iconic image of Awa Odori.  The Sou Odori.  The "all dance".

For the past 40 years, at the end of every night’s dancing during Obon, the 16 famous groups of the Awa Odori Shinkou Kyoukai association have gathered en masse at the Minami Uchimachi open air dance stadium for a combined parade.  Musicians enter first, claiming positions in the stands and on the side of the avenue before taking up the rhythm.  Lantern bearers go in too, standing an honour guard half way down.  Once the music starts, the girls take the lead, followed by the boys.  It must be a thousand dancers in all, with a few hundred drummers, flutists and lutists besides.  Just getting them in there in some kind of order is a study in logistics.  But the product...

A sea of half-moon straw hats and fans and lanterns swirling down the avenue.  Music that echoes across the city.  Chanting that lifts you up with its power.  The dancing carries on out the end of the stadium and down the street for as long as the music continues – they don’t call us the dancing fools for nothing!  Spectators climb down from the stands and join in to dance after the teams go by, which is just as it should be.  It’s a wonderful end to the night for dancing fools and watching fools alike.  A celebration of the spirit of Tokushima.  And once you’ve been a part of it, it’s hard to imagine Awa Odori without it.

But this year, there was no Sou Odori.  Or at least, there nearly wasn’t.

2018 has been an exceptional year for Awa Odori.  A season of drama.  It's been hard to understand from a distance, but my group Tensui-ren has been at the heart of it, and I’ve finally got some time to put it down on paper and make some sense of it.

Firstly, the key institutions that have been involved:

徳島市役所 - the Tokushima City Office, the local government body that directly oversees the festival hosted within the city's boundaries.

徳島市阿波おどり実行委員会 - the city office’s Awa Odori Implementation Committee that runs the festival in town every year.

阿波おどり振興協会 – the Awa Odori Shinkou Kyoukai, one of two major associations of top Awa Odori groups.  This is the one that Tensui-ren is in.

徳島県阿波おどり協会 – the Tokushima Prefectural Awa Odori Kyoukai, the other major association of top Awa Odori groups, most notably including the Gojahei team.

徳島新聞 – the Tokushima Shimbun, the local newspaper, still published daily and still the most influential media and news source in the prefecture.

It all started around April.  Awa Odori hit the national headlines when it came to light that the major festival in Tokushima City has been running at a massive financial loss for many years.  Somehow, the largest festival of traditional dance in the country, Tokushima's cultural icon that apparently attracts over a million people to Shikoku every summer, is hundreds of millions of yen in the red.  Ouch.

The initial investigation found that some kind of ticket sales deal with the Tokushima Shimbun newspaper was responsible for causing significant losses.  There were other causes, too, but whatever the Implementation Committee had agreed with the newspaper, they were getting shafted, and this went on for over a decade.  The committee and Tokushima City Office copped criticism for the size and length of this mismanagement.  And the Shimbun was rightly outed for its part and the undue influence it has wielded over the running of this activity.

Tickets are sold for seats at the four major street dance venues.  Aibahama is close to Tokushima Station, next to the famous Shinmachi Bridge.  Shiyakusho Mae is right next to the city office.  Minami Uchimachi is sort of between those two, a long curving stadium on the northern bank of the river by the Ryogoku Bridge.  And Konyamachi is across the river in the heart of Tokushima's night district.  On each of the four nights of Obon, at each venue you can buy tickets for the first 2 hours, or the second 2 hours, and prices vary depending on how good the seats are.  Of course, there are plenty of other places around town where you can see Awa Odori for free, but the top groups generally perform at the booked venues.

An analysis of ticket sales at each of the four major street venues found that sales in the first half of each evening were generally pretty good and evenly distributed across all four venues.  But in the second half, Minami Uchimachi had 100% sales, and the others were well down.  The reason?  There could be a number of things going on, but the conclusion drawn by the Tokushima City Office was that everyone wants to see the Sou Odori at the end of the night, causing the other venues to suffer.

In the name of trying to balance and improve ticket sales, the Implementation Committee took the decision to cancel Sou Odori.  They did this without first consulting with the Shinkou Kyoukai.  Their proposal was to instead have the famous teams, who are now not tied up with Sou Odori, spread themselves around all of the venues around town to perform finishing parades everywhere on a smaller scale.  Bye-bye iconic decades-old tradition.  Hello unconsulted, half-baked new idea.

Everyone was open to talking about ways to turn the festival around financially, but the primary concern of the dance teams is the performing.  The dancing fools just want to dance, and the likes of Tensui-ren and Ahou-ren in the Shinkou Kyoukai are the most committed dancing fools around.  You can't go telling these guys how to dance or where they’re allowed to dance or that they can't dance at all, especially when you’re dealing with a tradition like the Sou Odori.  Suffice to say that the Shinkou Kyoukai didn't take kindly to this.  Tensui-ren's leader, Yamada-rencho, was in charge of the Shinkou Kyoukai this year and duly led the charge in pushing back against the City Office.

May came around.  Meetings were had.  Media turned up.  Statements were made.  The City Office was determined to implement its new plan.  They knew how to turn it all around, consultation wasn’t required.  The Shinkou Kyoukai took a stand.  The teams refused to participate in this new end-of-program diluted version of Sou Odori.  Let us dance, they said.

Then some time around June came the defections.  As the rain fell hard and caused major flooding in Western Japan, Ebisu-ren was first to leave the Shinkou Kyoukai, followed by Uzuki-ren.  Both well regarded, top quality teams with long histories in the association.  I'm sure many of the average members of both teams were just sick of the politicking and simply wanted to get back to the business of dancing.  Let us dance, they said.  I don't know what the leaders of Ebisu and Uzuki were really thinking, what discussions they had with the City Office, what incentives might have been offered.  The cost of abandoning the Kyoukai was unknown.  But leave they did.  Traditionally strong relationships between Ebisu, Uzuki and the rest of the Kyoukai were strained to say the least, and pressure on the Shinkou Kyoukai mounted.

More meetings and statements.  National media attention.  Yamada-rencho becoming the face of the resistance, going head to head with the City Mayor.  Vested interests in the media played it up, the Tokushima Shimbun already looking bad because of the ticket debacle, and the City Mayor with his background as a TV presenter.  But the remaining members of the Shinkou Kyoukai were steadfast in their protest.  Let us dance, they said.

Then in July, the City Office doubled down.  If the Shinkou Kyoukai wasn't going to get on board with the city's vision, then they also couldn't dance at the other iconic performance of the festival, the stage spectacular Zenyasai.

Zenyasai.  My goodness, I remember when Ellie came to Tokushima to see it, and left with tears in her eyes.  Chiaki was fighting through tears as she spoke at one of these meetings with the City Office, crying on national television, pleading to dance on this hallowed stage that she has graced with Tensui-ren every year since she was a teenager.  I'm a little misty-eyed myself just thinking about it.

It always happens on the 11th of August, the day before Obon starts, thus the name "festival of the night before".  There are three sessions through the day - if you're performing, it's a full day commitment, not to mention all the rehearsals leading up.  The first hour is usually the Prefectural Kyoukai.  The second hour is the Shinkou Kyoukai.  Often there are new collaborations between teams to change things up each year.  The total two hours is a smorgasbord of all the sensations and spectacles that Awa Odori can offer on a stage.  And it ends with dancers from all 32 groups on stage and in the aisles, filling the massive ASTY hall with music and joy.  It's absolutely fantastic and I pinch myself whenever I think of the times I've had the privilege of dancing on that stage.

So by excluding the Shinkou Kyoukai, the City Office had effectively cut Zenyasai in half.  The two defecting teams could still go to Zenyasai, and the Ken Kyoukai was uninvolved in the dispute, but the Shinkou Kyoukai was locked out.  Could you really call this Zenyasai?  Tickets had already gone on sale, so what was the audience going to get now?  They were unmoved by these questions, by Chiaki’s tears, and by all the rest.  Dance our way, or not at all, they said.

Nothing much changed in the lead-up to Obon in mid-August.  Zenyasai proceeded without the likes of Tensui-ren and Ahou-ren for the first time in memory.  Obon kicked off on the 12th.  The morning dance from Tokushima Station across the Shinmachi Bridge happened as usual.  So did the Senbatsu performances at the local music halls in the afternoon.  The town transformed for the street festival in the evening.  Some kind of end-of-program parade was run at each major venue, without any participation from the Shinkou Kyoukai.  The mayor and the City Office claimed it was a success.  And there was no Sou Odori that night, for the first time in 40 years

But the cracks in the City Office’s vision were already starting to appear.  Ticket sales hadn’t improved.  The number of visitors to Tokushima hadn’t gone up.  In fact the opposite was apparent.  At Minami Uchimachi, where the stands would usually be jam-packed, there were so few spectators in the paid seating that it was possible to get a great view just by looking through the stands – no need to pay at all!

And the Shinkou Kyoukai hadn’t given up on their tradition.  There was a quiet negotiation with some of the other local teams for space in the dancing line up at one of the free venues.  On the second night, August 13, at around 10pm as the conclusion of the program drew near, the Shinkou Kyoukai teams, minus Ebisu-ren and Uzuki-ren, gathered at the head of this street.

Word got around.  The punters gathered to see what was going on.  The TV cameras swarmed.  Some City Office officials tried to intervene and stop the dancing, citing the danger of having such a large gathering of dancers and spectators in an open environment.  Yamada-rencho was in the spotlight again, telling the officials that if they wanted to stop the dancing, they’d have to explain it to the gathered crowd.  He walked away.  The team leaders gathered.  The decision was made.  Let us dance, they said.  Or not, it doesn’t matter, we’re going to dance anyway.

That night’s Sou Odori was one for the ages.  They didn’t need Minami Uchimachi.  They just needed the music, the street, and someone to dance for.  The thousand dancers, the hundreds of drummers, and the crowd of Tokushima, all there together with no seating or stadium to keep them apart.  A heaving mass of dancing, playing, hammering, chanting and singing bodies, the dancing fools right there with the watching fools.  An irresistible force reclaiming the streets of Tokushima and the right to keep on dancing, as people in this part of Japan have been doing for over 400 years.  There were no injuries.  No incidents.  Another little miracle of Japanese society.  The mayor was livid, but the feedback from the people on the streets and the dancers was clear – this is what Awa Odori is all about.

It didn’t happen again during Obon.  The Shinkou Kyoukai had made its point.  The last night of the festival, August 15, was affected by heavy rain, but the dancing went on until the last.  The trend of fewer ticket sales continued for the whole four days.  After the festival, the mayor acknowledged that the cancellation of Sou Odori had contributed to mixed messages about whether the Awa Odori festival was going ahead at all, causing a downturn in the number of visitors.  Maybe they shouldn’t have cancelled Sou Odori after all.

Not long after Obon, the Shinkou Kyoukai announced that it would run a special planned Sou Odori and stage performance to raise money for charities assisting victims of the Western Japan Flood.  This happened in September, which was great for me as I was there and could participate.  It was a beautiful day, sold out for the stage, well attended at Aibahama for the parade, successful in its charity goal, and also a successful little reminder to everyone that the dancing will go on.

So the notion of reinstating Sou Odori in 2019 is on the table.  Some parties continue to insist that Yamada-rencho and the Shinkou Kyoukai should be punished for taking their stand and pushing ahead with Sou Odori without permission from the city.  I heard something about it becoming apparent that the number of visitors to Tokushima has been vastly inflated over many years, probably to attract more advertising dollars.  The truth of this will have to come out if they're going to sort out the festival's financial issues.

And in the meantime, Ebisu-ren and Uzuki-ren are out on their own.  They have continued to dance at the Awa Odori Kaikan every few weeks, but that is likely to come to an end if they are not members of a major association.  Opportunities for their members to join Shinkou Kyoukai tours to interesting places like Taiwan and Paris have been withdrawn.  And it’s a little bit weird for families like mine – I’m in Tensui-ren, Masumi is in Uzuki-ren, and I have always been friendly with a number of people in her team, but are we now supposed to jump ship or stop associating with each other?!  I have fond memories of Tensui and Uzuki coming together to dance at our wedding.  Surely we’ll all take a deep breath and move on.

It remains to be seen how all of this will pan out, but in the relative calm of the off-season, hopefully level heads will come together to rebuild a vision for the future of Awa Odori.  Whatever they come up with, after this season's drama, they must surely realise that the money and the tourists and the influence are secondary.

Let us dance.  You've got to start with that.  Especially in the land where they sing of dancing fools and watching fools, they're fools just the same, so you might as well dance!  Let us dance and the rest will take care of itself.

Monday, 20 August 2018


Today I feel it’s time to take a deep breath.

Like that moment before you step out onto stage.  Or feel the current on your paddle before a big rapid.  Or gather yourself before you go into that job interview.  Or commit yourself to that special someone.


I’m reflective - it’s a day full of memories for us.

I’m preparing myself for changefor dealing with doubt and stepping into the unknown.

But most of all, I’m full of hope – hoping our future is bright, seeking the joy in life, believing that things will work out for the best, and trusting that love will see us through the things I can’t foresee.

Which is how I remember this day ten years ago, the day we were married.

Our wedding ceremony was 9 years ago this month, and that was a wonderful day.  But it was 10 years ago today that we got married, lodging the documents at the local town office in the morning and then kissing each other goodbye as I got on the plane in the evening.

I know I’ve written about this many times in the past, forgive me for dwelling on it again...  But I guess 10 years is a milestone.  It’s always an emotional day.  And it’s a bit more emotional for us now, as we prepare to move back to Japan and live apart for the next little while.

We’ve toyed with the idea of moving back to Tokushima a few times over the years.  Probably ever since I left Japan in 2006, I’ve wondered if I can ever get back there for more than a month at a time, pick up some work, maybe hit the river again, maybe get back into dancing with Tensui-ren.

Now that our kids are school-aged, we want them to experience Tokushima and get a solid grounding in their Japanese heritage while they are young.  But it’s always been a challenge, financially and practically, to really create an opportunity to make the move.  It’s only recently in the face of some family health issues that our priorities have lined up and this idea has crystallised.

We’re committed.  We’ve bought the tickets.  Exchanged the dollars for yen.  Talked to the schools.  Lined up a few apartments to look at.  Told family and friends.  Said a number of farewells.  Budgeted for a few tough months.  We’re doing it.  In September we’ll be there.  It’s getting real and scary and exciting and all that.


So Masumi and the kids are moving back.  It could be for months, or a year, or longer, we don’t know.  I’m joining them for the first month, then I’ll return to Australia to get back to work, and we’ll see how it goes from there.

It’ll be difficult being apart for long periods at a time, but we can see each other every day thanks to the wonders of modern technology.  Having been here on the Gold Coast for nearly 5 years now, so close to my family, I know that you can’t put a price on time with your loved ones.  We’re making the same investment in our family in Japan, while we still can.  And also working to make the most of the time for the kids and Masumi’s career and all that.  We’ll make it work. 

I’ve already got a plan for when I want to visit over the next 2 years, right up to the northern summer of 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games.  Nowhere near Shikoku, but if it’s anything like Sydney back at the turn of the millennium, or the Gold Coast earlier this year, the whole country will be abuzz, and it’ll be a great time for the kids to soak up a bit of inspiration.

Speaking of the Commonwealth Games, did you see me on TV?

What a great experience.  10 hours of rehearsals per week for two months leading up to the April opening.  A little part of me wonders if there’ll be some Awa Odori at Tokyo 2020, and maybe they’d like to have some internationals in the mix… if it’s anything like the time I had with the Opening Ceremony team here on the Gold Coast, it’ll be totally worth it.

We’re off to Japan next week, but before we go, we’ll get to tick another little box on our Awa Odori goal list here in Australia.  The local Japanese community association that I’ve been a part of this year is having a special launch event at Parliament House in Brisbane this week.  Masumi and I will dance briefly, to our usual amazing live accompaniment of Don Kon Ten Shan.  It must surely be the first time Awa Odori has ever been performed to a large audience of MPs in a house of government in this country.  I hope when I get back to start something regular for locals to get involved in.  I know I keep saying that… one little achievement at a time!

In the meantime, we’ve just missed another Obon festival in Tokushima.  The last time I danced at Obon was in 2015, I think… it really has been a long time!  Apparently season 2018 has been one of drama in Awa Odori circles in Tokushima.  It was revealed that the festival has been financially mismanaged for many years and run at a significant loss, despite being the largest event in Tokushima every year.  As part of trying to change things up and improve ticket sales at all the big venues, a long-standing dancing tradition “sou-odori” was cancelled, but with little notice or consultation.  Prominent groups pulled out of another major performance in protest, and then ran an ad hoc “sou-odori” without permission at another location anyway.  Oh the controversy!  I can’t wait to get back there and hear all about it and hopefully get my jiggy on.

But for now, tonight, some quiet time.  A few deep breaths.  The calm before the storm.

It’s been an incredible 10 years.  This time 10 years ago, on the plane all alone, I had no idea where we’d end up.  With the love and help of family and friends, we’ve made it this far – if you’ve read this far, you’re probably one of those, so thank you.  I don’t know about the next 10 years, I don’t even know about the next 10 months, but these days I am more accepting of that.  With hope, a little bit of a plan, a fair bit of can-do attitude, and each other, I know we’ll be right.

Breathing in,


Saturday, 23 December 2017

With boots on

So I'm on a plane to Australia's capital of country music, Tamworth.  For work, not guitars, I'm afraid.  Cracking view of Sydney Harbour as we take off.  I remember Tamworth for many summer days spent with cousins, riding around the property on a tiny motorbike that felt pretty big at the time, playing backyard cricket with a taped up tennis ball, getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time. Some of Mum's relatives are still around town these days.  It's always nice to go back.

Masumi and the kids are in Tokushima.  Work is why I'm not there with them, and I miss them, though I have to admit I don't miss the bitter Shikoku winter.  Separated by 60 degrees of latitude, 40 degrees of temperature, and 9 hours of flying time, we're spending Christmas and the New Year apart for the first time since we got married.  Which is... over 9 years now!  How time and the world march on.  It hasn't been 9 years since I last blogged, but it feels like that long.  I know I shouldn't leave it to Christmas to make the effort, but sure enough, it's that time of year again already.  And I digress.

There's a 70th birthday in Tokushima, which is young by the standards of Masumi's grandmothers - yes both, both still with us - and not as auspicious as 77, but still cause for celebration.  And although the school year has wound up in Australia, our two eldest children are off to school in Japan, soaking up the language and culture and all that right up to Christmas.  All three kids are happy and healthy and loving it as far as I can tell over Skype.  When she's not thinking about the cold, I'm pretty sure Masumi's enjoying the catching up and the food, too.

Although I miss them all terribly, to be honest, I've been so busy travelling for work and playing the drums that, even if they were here in Oz, I probably wouldn't have seen much of my family these past few weeks anyway.  A slightly nostalgic day trip to Rockhampton, where we lived for a few years when I was very young.  Couple of trips to Sydney and Canberra, always good for building relationships in a business where relationships are sometimes an afterthought.  Taiko gigs in Brisbane and Byron.  Sunday drinks with old mates from school.  And we're gearing up for performances at the Woodford Folk Festival just after Christmas, so lots of rehearsals with the drum team right through this month.  I've never been to Woodford, but I've heard lots about it.  I'm taking gum boots and expecting to come back a changed man!


There's been lots of taiko, but not a lot of dancing.  I hope 2018 will change that.  In fact I'm sure it will.  I can't say too much, but if you're watching the ceremonies for the Commonwealth Games in April, look out for my shiny head somewhere in the crowd of volunteer performers.  We haven't given up on Awa Odori on the Gold Coast, by the way, though we're not getting any younger.  We just need somewhere decent to practice and get people together on a regular basis.  There's a couple of things in the works that may help on that front this year, too.

What else is there to say?  2017 has been another year filled with the joy and angst of raising our three darling children, the frustrations of commuting up and down the M1, catch-ups with old friends, and occasional wonderings about whether we'll ever move back to Japan.  It was punctuated in June by a couple of fascinating work trips to Christmas Island and Norfolk Island.  My job has taken me to corners of this beautiful country that I never imagined I could possibly visit.  Still so much to see, but I'm very grateful, for this and all the little blessings of my life.


And I think that says it all for me at the moment.  Masumi and I have our kids, family close by, good friends, a roof over our heads, food on the table, and each other.   We'll be reunited soon enough.  Plenty to be grateful for this Christmas.  And now that I own a pair of gum boots, I reckon I'm ready for whatever 2018 throws at us.  See you there.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014


At this time last year, we sent out our Christmas wishes from Cairns – the tropical town we called home for about 7 years, where all 3 of our beautiful kids were born, and where we built our first house.

12 months later, we’re writing from our new home, the Gold Coast – the city where I grew up, where my side of the family still lives, and where we are nearly finished building our second house.

2014 has been a huge year. I look back on it in wonder at how our lives have changed. Having taken a bit of a leap of faith in leaving Cairns, I’m grateful that everything seems to be working out.

We’ve been on the Gold Coast for 8 months now, staying with my parents while we’ve waited for the build. We’ve squeezed 4 adults and 3 munchkins into a house that had never previously supported more than 4 people at a time, but we’re all still talking to each other. I can’t thank my Mum and Dad enough for their hospitality. And we think it’s great that the grandkids have had such good quality time with their grandparents. After all, family is one of the big reasons we moved down here.

Our new house is at Coomera. If you’ve ever been to the Gold Coast, you would know where Dreamworld and Movie World are located. It’s not far from there. I reckon we’ll be moved in by the end of January.

It’s a little bigger than our previous digs in Cairns. And we love visitors. So if you’re coming to the Gold Coast, or if you just need our new contact details, let us know.

A very merry Christmas, love and all the best for 2015 to you and yours, from all of us!









Saturday, 20 September 2014

Wet Wet Wet

I finished my last post, more than 10 months ago now, saying something speculative about it raining and pouring.  The downpour kicked off with the birth of our little boy, who hasn't stopped growing since he had his first feed.  But he was just the herald of a wet season.  It seems like it hasn't stopped raining since!

Ren was born in September.  I got a sniff of a new job in October.  Applied for it in November, won it in December, started it in Cairns in January.  Sold our Cairns house in February, promptly bought a block of land on the Gold Coast, put the wife and kids on a plane to Japan, and moved myself and our stuff to the Coast in March.

Got used to the new work environment through April.  Started negotiating with a builder.  Took a couple of weeks off in Japan myself over Easter and Golden Week, then we all came back together to move in with Mum and Dad in May.

Found child care for the kids.  Signed a contract on the house build in June.  Masumi went back to TAFE and construction started at the block in July.  Three trips to Canberra for work during August.  Now here we are in September - Spring is springing fantastically, Mum and Dad have just headed off for a long holiday in Mother Blighty, we've got the house to ourselves, and our not-so-little boy is crawling as he approaches his first birthday.  All of our kids are doing well.  It's a beautiful sort of mayhem for our family.

But I should elaborate.

First - the new job.  I'm still with the same department.  With the change of federal government last year, we got a new name, but it's the same business.  My old position was a pseudo IT and project management role supporting biosecurity operations in far northern Australia.  Now I've jumped into corporate IT, providing IT support and services to all of our staff and programs in the Brisbane area.  It's been a good shift - I'm learning new things, working across a broader cross-section of the department's business, and getting opportunities to do interesting work.  The only killer is the commute to Brisbane, but once we have our own house, the commute will be shorter and I hope to work from home more regularly.  See how we go.

Of course, it's also been good to move closer to my family.  After 5 years in Japan and 7 years in Cairns, I was looking for an opportunity to be closer to my parents, closer to my brother, too, and it makes a lot of sense for us to move before the kids start school.  Really looking forward to the Commonwealth Games here in 2018.  Japan was great, so was Cairns, and I miss them both, but it really feels like the right time to be on the Gold Coast.

Second - selling the house in Cairns.  We tiled the patio, did a couple of touch ups and spoke to a local real estate agent in November, just in case we had to move quickly.  When the confirmation of the new job in Brisbane finally came through in January, we pulled the trigger and put the house on the market.  We got lucky with our timing.  A shortage of houses on the market in that part of town, in our price range, led to a quick sale.  Within 3 days of placing ads on the web, we had a signed contract.  The agent hadn't even put a sign up on the street!

Third - moving house.  Masumi and the kids went to Japan - we missed each other, but this proved to be a great idea.  I didn't have to pack everything on my own.  A few work mates came over for a packing party, that part was sensational.  Problems only started when I was ready to go, I'd locked things in with the backloading company and taken leave on the day the contracting removalist was due to turn up... and they were a no show.  Dramas ensued.  In short, the backloading company shafted me and I had to get another reputable local removalist in at the last minute.  It worked out in the end.  Just.  I reckon everyone who has ever had to deal with removalists has at least one bad story to tell.  Now I do, too, but at least I'm wiser for it.  Next time, if I ever have to have a next time, I'll be dealing directly with whoever is handling my stuff.

Fourth - the new house.  As soon as I knew we were moving to South East Queensland, I jumped on a plane and went house-hunting.  Coomera, the suburb around Dreamworld, used to be the boonies, nothing but forested hills and rural properties.  Now it's the Gold Coast's next booming centre of development, with houses everywhere, a train station, all the schools and shops you could ever need, and a major shopping centre and Commonwealth Games infrastructure about to start construction.  I originally intended to just buy an existing house, but the few I looked at were nothing special and the other inspections I'd lined up just fell through.  The only thing that jumped out at me was a good block of land, in a nice pocket of a new development in Coomera, near a good school.  I was introduced to a builder who seemed to have the goods.  It was hard to believe that I was going to build another house, only two years after building our first, but it just seemed like it was meant to be.

The only problem, of course, was that we would need somewhere else to stay until it was built.  Mum and Dad came to the party.  It's a tight squeeze, four adults and three kids in a three-bedroom house, but now that the house is going up and we can see steady progress, there's a light at the end of the tunnel.  And in many ways, for all the minor hassles of living under one roof, it's been great to see my parents and our kids enjoying so much time together.

Now that we're settled into life on the Gold Coast, I'm catching up with old acquaintances from school and uni.  I'm getting back into taiko drumming.  I joined the local team Kizuna and got on stage for the first time just last Sunday.  Some of the people I've met through the drumming scene have also been keen to learn Awa Odori dancing, so we've started a small group that meets regularly to practice.  Maybe by this time next year we'll be ready to perform.

And maybe I'll pick up my act and get more blog posts in by that time, too?  That all depends on whether it stops raining or not. :)

Until then,


Thursday, 31 October 2013


Our first two pregnancies were smooth sailing.  Number three was not.

Constant bleeding in the first half of the journey.  Regular hospital visits.  Categorised as "high risk".  Cancelled travel plans.  Gestational diabetes in the third trimester.  Further "high risk" sort of treatment, leading to an early induction of labour.  And a new sort of experience in the birthing suite, in terms of how it all went down.  Not least because we didn't know whether we were having a boy or a girl.

But I guess it's all relative, and now, with our newest addition to the family safely in the world, it all seems well and truly in the past.  For all our worries - and who doesn't worry about all the things that could go wrong along the way? - it turned out that my wife is a champion, the staff of Cairns Base Hospital are excellent, and our son is a survivor.

And of course, it turned out that we had a boy.

We've named him Ren.  A solid Japanese boy's name, but easy enough for Australians to pronounce.  Like his older siblings, a short name, represented by a single calligraphic character.  There's a little nod to our Awa Odori dancing history - our dance groups back in Tokushima are called Tensui-REN and Uzuki-REN.  But the actual meaning of the character we've chosen is "lotus", as in the flower.  It also has connections to a major set of Buddhist teachings about the path to enlightenment called the Lotus Sutra.  I certainly feel a little closer to understanding the meaning of the universe after all this.

In the moment that he forced his way into the world and cried with his first breath, I felt great joy and relief and renewed faith in the meaning of our shared existence.  Ren didn't give up on his chance at life.  We didn't give up on him.  Now we are five, not such a little family any more, and God and Google as my witness, I will never give up on any of my family, ever.  Thank you, Ren, for this and everything to come.

Five weeks later, we're all doing great.  Ren is already graduating into big nappies, putting on the pounds just like his older brother and sister did.  Ryo and Aya seem to be pretty accepting of the new presence.  We couldn't have gotten through this first month without the wonderful help we've had from both grandmothers.  We're on our own now, it's going to be a little mayhem (for the next 20 years?!?!?), but we're hitting a good rhythm and it should be all good from here.

I'm back at work, of course, and there have been some interesting opportunities coming up recently.  Will have to wait for the new year to see how it all really pans out, but you know what they say about it raining and pouring...

Until the next update, love,


Tuesday, 30 July 2013


Hidemi, sweetheart… why?? :(

I guess I’ll never have an answer to that.

And really, I don’t want an answer. There’s no answer that would change the fact of it being sad and wrong. You’re gone. I would rather just have you back.

All I have left are some of my most beautiful memories of Iya and Japan, wrapped around images of a lovely girl who laughed in my English classroom. Who hid from me in the gym. Who skied down snowy slopes beside me. Who shared meals with me, even shared the same birthday with me. Whose brother and sister were also my students and whose injured father I visited in hospital to chat with in broken English. A lovely girl who I watched dancing an ancient rain dance on a mountain top one Shikoku summer’s day. A lovely girl who cared to remember me.

When I caught up with you and your mother and brother in Kochi last year, eight years since I’d last seen you in the valley, I met a young woman who was fulfilling all the promise I’d seen in little Hidemi. Hard working. Devoted to family. Genuine. Beautiful in every way.

Almost a year to the day since then, I hear the news (via Facebook, how else?) that you’ve died. That you took your own life. And by the time I know about it, your ashes are already at rest. Shock, denial and anger all came and went pretty quickly. Now there is just helplessness, regret, grief.

Listen to me, writing as if I was an important part of your life. Your family and friends in Japan, dozens of people I’m sure, have more cause for grief than I. But there’s something about you, Hidemi, something about the cherished memories you are a part of, maybe the meaningless fact of our shared birthday, the relationship of teacher and student, the time I spent with your family in Iya… I don’t know. Whatever it is, Hidemi, I care about you and I was expecting to see you live and learn and love and grow old, as all people should.

So here I am, writing to you as if your eternal self might notice, sharing my grief with the world, doing what I can for now by laying a digital monument to your beautiful soul.

Google, if you or your algorithms are reading, please take my inadequate words and commit them to your ageless record of the passing world. Maybe this will help to increase awareness of the sad tally of youth suicide in Japan (and everywhere). Maybe Hidemi’s story will save someone else’s life. I live in hope.

Hidemi, sweetheart… this one’s for you.


It’s early
But rest well now
We’ll meet again