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March 28, 2004

Well, what's new?  Eden and I are going to spend this Golden Week hiking up some mountains in Kyushu, and then at the end of May, Janet, Chris and Katherine (from Queen's) are coming to Japan!  So we'll all meet up in Kyoto for a few days before Chris and Katherine head back up to Tokyo and Janet will come back to Kumamoto with us for a few days.  Then at the beginning of June, we'll be going to Saipan and Tinian to see Jeff and Karla.  Fun, fun.

With the Japanese school year finishing in March, Eden and I had about two weeks without any classes.  As such, we were required to go to the Board of Education every day, unless we wanted to take some of our paid  yearly leave.  So, we decided to hop a plane and head down to Okinawa, the former Ryukyu kingdom, and enjoy the sun.  Unfortunately, the sun only came out for four of the eight days, but it was still nice.

We ended up taking two shore dives in central Okinawa, right beside the U.S. Air force base, and hanging around there for a few days.  The Americans are not well liked in Okinawa as twenty percent of the main island is occupied by the U.S. military.  Being foreign, we were assumed to be American, and the usually Japanese friendliness wasn't extended to us... unless we spoke Japanese.  The area around our dive hotel was surrounded by All-you-can-eat restaurants, due to the American presence, and we agreed with our dive instructor that this region probably has more All-you-can-eat than the remainder of Japan combined.

After that, we took off for the somewhat distant island of Kume-jima for some camping, and rural Okinawa.  The island was lovely, with some excellent beaches, and a seven kilometre, white sand bar just offshore.  Unfortunately, mother nature decided to unleash on us on our first night of camping.  It begun with moderate rain, and then changed to strong winds.  The other foreign couple who decided to camp there with us was gone before we woke up in the morning!  Eden and I stuck around for another two days and even did a little snorkelling... but it was cold.  Not Canada cold, it was still warmer than any lake I've swum in, but it was cold for Japan.  

A few days before we left for Okinawa, I went up to the Toyota headquarters near Nagoya.  Toyota paid for twenty JET participants in western Japan to come up to tour the factory, a Prius test-drive, and have some discussions about Toyota and the environment.  If you haven't heard about the Toyota Prius, well... let me tell you about it.  I was thoroughly impressed with the car.  Toyota was developed a car and a van, with a SUV and three more models coming out in a couple years, which have an internal combustion engine as well as a battery and electric motor.  The onboard computer decides which system to use based on a variety of factors and there is a seamless transition between the two.  For example, the car uses the gasoline engine to accelerate, then switches to the electric motor to maintain the speed.  When you brake, the car's kinetic energy is converted to electric energy and stored in the battery.  Also, at traffic lights the engine will actually turn off to cut down on emissions.  But, when you step on the gas, it is if the car had been running the entire time.  The car is so quiet that you can barely hear it, and it doesn't even have a key!  There is this card thing that you insert, but to start the car you just press a button.  The car gets 35 km/l and the van gets 18 km/l!!  With the van, you can drive for 1000 km's on a single tank of gas.  The price, only about $30,000 Cdn!  This really blew me away, I was expecting the car to cost so much that regular people couldn't afford it, but it was similarly priced with other Toyota models.  Toyota is also guaranteeing the electric system, so if the battery gets wrecked in the first couple years, then they'll replace it, and after 5 years, they will pay 75% of the $4000 cost for a new battery.  The Japanese model also has the added feature that the car can parallel park itself!  Sadly this feature won't ever be available in North America due to the liability.

So, after two days at Toyota, I went to Nagoya and met up with Genji before taking the night bus back to Kumamoto.  It was nice to see him and we had a lot to talk about.  I was really impressed with how well his English has improved since he lived in Canada... but that may be due to the fact that my job is to speak English with Junior High students, and I'm so used to speaking at the absolute lowest of levels.  He told me that his friend, Yu (who lived with the Young's), is getting married this summer and that he will probably ask his girlfriend to marry him sometime this year.  Go Genji.  He's working for his dad now, but doesn't really like it.  It seems like times are a little tougher, and he's trying to save some money up so that he can live and work in a foreign country.