3 Nights in Hamamatsu, Part 1

Once we arrived in Hamamatsu, we got our suitcases, checked into our hotel and wandered the area of the hotel a bit. We were told that karaage (fried chicken), gyoza (Japanese dumplings) and unagi (eel) were specialities of the area so we set out for some gyoza. The front desk suggested we visit a restaurant near the train stop we came into so we headed that way. We learned that larger cities in Japan have a great series of underground passageways to help keep pedestrians safe from crossing busy intersections. In Hamamatsu, this was very useful. In Tokyo, it was still way too easy to get lost underground so we often stayed street level (that is an option still).

Menu picture:


What we got:


After we ate:


It was really yummy! 4 people easily shared that plate of 25 or so gyoza.

Our hotel had a great view of the train station area, too. After I took this picture, I thought about taking one with all the lights in the room off but I really like the way it turned out and kept it as is.


The next morning, we had a visit with the Deputy Mayor of Hamamatsu. It was a good will type meeting and Keith Bearden was very eloquent with his remarks on our behalf. I was reminded at how passionate he is about music education and was proud to be represented by him and his words. There was a nice gift exchange, accompanied by lots of bowing (of course) as well. This was apparently highly appreciated by the City of Hamamatsu as well because our meeting made the paper!

The Deputy Mayor:


Keith Bearden speaking wonderfully on our behalf:


The gift exchange:


With the Deputy Mayor, Mr. Osada:


The newspaper article:


Hamamatsu is known for headquartering several musical instrument companies.  We had a great tour of the Yamaha factory. Unfortunately, they don’t allow any photos inside so I don’t have any to share. It was a great tour, though! The Hamamatsu Musical Instrument Museum is also there. It was so amazing, it will probably get its own post.

Suzuki Motor Co. has their headquarters there and Honda Motor Co. was founded in Hamamatsu. It would have been cool to go see one of those factories (especially since I talked so much about car manufacturers with my student Xavier) but our days were so full, it wouldn’t have been possible to squeeze in another tour somewhere. Maybe next time I’m in Japan without a pre-set schedule, I’ll make a point to go, probably to Honda.

After the City visit, we went to Kaisei Junior High for our first band visit. I’ll write a post on that visit soon. If you’d like to see all the pictures of this day, please view them in my Flickr account:

Hamamatsu, Japan
City of Hamamatsu visit

More adventures, band, band and more bands, to come!

From Tokyo to Hamamatsu, via Dango-zaka, Oshino Hakkai and a view of Mount Fuji

From the Japan Air Self-Defense facilities, we were on the road again, first by motor coach then by Shinkansen or bullet train. Bullet trains have been used in Japan since the 1960s. We are WAY behind on this technology and ability to travel with speed.

We had lunch at Dango-zaka rest area and it was like a Buc-ees! They had food, souvenirs, lovely restrooms and gas. What else can you ask for? The dining there was a food court situation and as I looked through the picture menus (my reading of Japanese is minimal) but I found a picture of  zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles with a chilled broth) that struck a nostalgia nerve and I knew that was going to be my lunch. I was proud of my ability to order in Japanese and it be understood as well. This was only our first full day in Japan and I was very nervous about how rusty my Japanese speaking skills were.

Also, as I was waiting to put in my order, one of the folks on the trip was having communication issues on how to order his meal at the next restaurant over. They apparently order via a touch screen machine off to the side. You know how Americans tend to speak louder when there’s a language barrier? Apparently, it’s not just Americans! I was able to help translate what my fellow traveler was to do for this lovely couple (I can’t remember who it was, though) and they were able to order their meal. Proud moment there – my Japanese wasn’t as extremely rusty as I had thought!!

So, here’s my yummy lunch from the rest stop:


The broth is at the bottom left and you dump as much of the green onions, radish and wasabi into it as you’d like, then dip the noodles in before eat

ing. You dip your tempura in that broth as well. It obviously wasn’t homemade but it was certainly yummy!

Once we were done with eating and shopping (the first of many shopping stops) and taking pictures, we headed back on the bus to head to Oshino Hakkai and have a great view of Mount Fuji. There are 8 ponds there that are all fed from the water than comes off Fuji Yama and that water is COLD! The scenery is absolutely spectacular, even when she (Mount Fuji is thought to be a woman with many moods) isn’t wanting to cooperate and has covered herself over with clouds. Or maybe she was not sure what she was in for wit

h the load of crazy Texas band directors coming her way!


As we approached the area, we spotted a theme park with several large roller coasters. Six Flags over Mount Fuji anyone?


Of course, there was more shopping, lots of food and great scenery. Our hosts, Ken & Yuriko Murakami and Tomomi Kubo were also delightful in taking photos with as many of us! Many went ahead with hand signs of their respective universities but I choose the typical Japanese peace sign. I have too many university hand signs to deal with!




Once the shopping was done and pictures were taken, we were back on the road again to Mishima Station, where we’d take our first Shinkansen ride (bullet train)  to Hamamatsu. These bullet trains are SO fast! I got a video of one passing as we waited for ours. There is a chunk of it that is in slo-motion (I love the features of my iPhone!!) but understand that the train passed by in about 10 seconds. Crazy fast!! Often times, people commute via Shinkansen and on the way home, they need to eat dinner. So, you get a bento box and a beer and have a party on the train! Cliff and I had our own little bento box party. Here’s my bento box, complete with the actual wasabi root that you have to grind yourself. SO much more tasty!





So that was our full first day in Japan. Next part of our journey are the several days we spent in Hamamatsu.

If you’d like to see all the pictures of this day, please view them in my Flickr account:

More adventures, food and shopping (always shopping) to come!

Japan 2018 – Tokyo, part 1

2 years ago, a bunch of my friends went to Japan and posted a ton of pictures on Facebook. I found out who organized the trip (Thank you, Keith Bearden) and decided right then and there that I was going on this trip the next time it was offered. And I did! The next few blog posts will be about various parts of our trip to Japan.

We begin with our trip from Austin>Dallas>Tokyo.

Cliff (my friend and Japan travel buddy) and I took the Megabus from Austin to Dallas. Turned out that Yvonne, who was my trip roommate had also taken the same bus so it was a little bit of a party on the Megabus. Once we got to Dallas, Cliff & I Ubered to our Airbnb, which was a lovely guest suite inside this gorgeous home owned by Nazare & Eric in Flower Mound. If you need to stay somewhere in the DFW area, I highly recommend looking into her Airbnb. She uses the money she makes from her rental to support a family in a 3rd world country overseas that one of her children worked with. They are beautiful people and I hope to spend more time with them in the future!

The next morning, we Ubered to the airport and I left my phone in the Uber. Thank goodness we had several hours before we boarded our flight, hadn’t gone through security yet AND Cliff had called the Uber because we were able to get the phone back without any issues and get our trip actually started. Once through security, we met up with 46 of who would become our closest friends at the gate.

We finally boarded our flight, which was about 13 hours long and began our journey to the Orient. 13 hours is a long flight and although we had all the luxuries offered by coach on JAL, I was tired of being on an airplane!



Cliff and I were certainly happy to be off the airplane as we loaded our suitcases into the truck at Narita airport. By the way, THAT’S the way to travel with 48 people – have a truck move all the suitcases from hotel to hotel! And this was a cool truck, too. The door opened on the side, much like a transformer. Actually, quite a few things in Japan opened and shut like a transformer.



From there, we bussed to our hotel, the New Otani Inn, had dinner at the Yebisu Bar nearby, where you can get amazing Yebisu beer that you can’t get in the US anymore, and my cousin Shigemasa joined us after work. I didn’t get a picture of us, though. I was too tired yet excited and forgot.

The next morning, we checked out of our hotel, loaded up the motor coach with slippers and a gift and headed to the Japan Air Self-Defense Base. All the “military” forces in Japan are called “Self-Defense” because after WWII, Japan signed an agreement to not have their own military anymore. They are allowed to defend themselves, however, which is how the various Self-Defense forces came to be. We got a tour of their band facilities and they played a wonderful concert for us!

For pictures from this portion of the trip, please see my Flickr albums:
Japan Air Self-Defense Force Band

Stay tuned for the next portion of our adventure!

Spring BREAK!!

Yes, “break” is the operative word in that phrase and very much needed. It’s been a very productive (and because of it) busy year so far. I can’t believe I’m just over a month away from being done with my first year of Graduate School!! But this post isn’t about grad school, only what I’m going to do on my BREAK. Most is relaxing and fun, some is work/school related.

  • Saturday – clean the apartment and pack for a week in Austin.
  • Sunday – *Spring Forward with the time* Pack up the car and head to Austin!! (I might leave on Saturday if I can get it all done early enough). Crawfish time at Sam’s Boat (let me know if you’d like to join us).
  • Monday – Do a little clean up at my parent’s house and do a little research on permits for our builders. No, they haven’t started yet. 😦
  • Tuesday – Go chill out and rest with Cathy T at an undisclosed location. Hopefully, the sun will be out and I can do a little basking in it.
  • Wednesday – Trish’s birthday. Not sure what’s on the docket for that day so I’m leaving it all opened up for family.
  • Thursday – If something happens to our plans on Tuesday, we’ll go today. If not, I need to spend a little time at the UT library for my Research Techniques class. They have at least one thing I need that only exists in about 9 libraries around the world. In the evening, I’ll be getting together with “the girls”. It’s gotta happen! 😀
  • Friday – I can’t remember what I’m thinking about for Friday. Maybe nothing at all yet.
  • Saturday – St. Patrick’s day will be spent at the same bat time at the same bat place. If you know what I’m talking about (or call/text me or Cathy T, we’ll tell you) and want to join us, COME ON!! Be ready to start early, though. 🙂
  • Sunday – pack it all up and head back to Huntsville. Wow, that went by fast and furious but it was a really great week! (yes, that’s what I’m predicting I’ll say.)
  • Yes, it looks like a full week but for the most part, all this stuff only occupies a few hours of each day so don’t think my dance card is all full without you. There are SO many people I want to see and visit with that have a less flexible schedule due to work or kids. Please call me and tell me when you’re free and I’ll make sure we can visit during that time, even on days that seem like Tuesday or Wednesday.

    I really want this Break to be kind of epic. But not with activities so much – more time with friends. Lord knows, I can’t afford a whole bunch of activities and I have NO desire to spend a whole lot of time in the SXSW scene. I guess it’s because I’m not sure when I’ll be back in Austin and I want to make the most of every moment I can with all my friends. The next time may not be until late June or even July!

    Love you, mean it!

    Christmas 2011

    For the last 15 years (at least – I think it’s more like 17 or 18 years now), instead of exchanging gifts, we’ve enjoyed a family brunch at a nice hotel or restaurant. Most of those years, we’ve gone to the Four Seasons in Austin. They have a wonderful brunch for Christmas morning and they treat us so well, we go annually without question now.

    Round 1, I’m obviously not a food stylist.

    Round 2 was sushi and I ate it before I realized I hadn’t photographed it. They had several rolls that were doused in some spicy sauce they could/should have left on the side. It burned our mouths!

    Round 3 was from the carving station. OMG, this was SO delicious but I was getting full and needed to save room for dessert that I only ate half of this lamb. The mashed potatoes were PERFECTLY smooth and buttery!! The halibut was good but not quite the flavor I was hoping for, especially paired with the lamb and mashed potatoes.

    Round 4 – DESSERTS! Have I mentioned that stressed spelled backwards is desserts? This is why:

    There was plenty more to choose from in all categories as well. I just couldn’t fit it all on the plates or in my stomach! I keep saying that I need to take photos of the entire buffet but that just seems too odd. I think I get enough strange looks taking pictures of my plates of food. Maybe next year – we already have our reservation!

    We weren’t in Trio this year since we made our reservations too late but we were able to get a table by the window and this was our view. Nice and peaceful!

    While we were there, there was some excitement on Lake Austin (I just can’t call it whatever else they’ve named it now) – a party boat caught on fire and its 3 propane tanks exploded. It was all over the news for at least 2 days after so it was HUGE news in Austin. The explosion was so big, it popped open those doors in the last pictures at least 3 inches. After brunch, we walked around outside a bit and the boat was still on fire and adrift:

    We were glad to hear that no one was hurt. Property loss sucks (see “The Fire” post) but I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to loose a loved one. I still have no idea how that boat fire got started. I’m sure if they’ve figured it out, it was listed as “old news” so they either didn’t report it or reported it is as an after thought and no one caught it on the news.

    The Four Seasons always does such a beautiful job of decorating, too. They always have gingerbread houses and this year, the theme was Texas History or Significant Buildings in Texas or something like that.

    Some of the buildings are for sale. Who would have thought I could buy the Capitol Building for less than I bought my house for?

    It’s a little blurry but I love how ornate they make their lobby:

    Love my parents!

    Merry Christmas from the Benfords!!

    Our walk

    I try to take Clipford on a walk 6 of the 7 days a week. There is a nice neighborhood next to my complex that’s safe and quiet (from cars zipping through) to walk through. We go pretty early so we get to see the neighborhood just starting to wake up, actually.

    This morning, the weather was beautiful. We went a little later and normally, it would have already been sweltering when we stepped out the front door but because of Tropical Storm Lee hitting land in Louisiana yesterday, it really cooled things off and we were able to go after the sun had started to come up. The wind sounded so beautiful as it buzzed through the tops of the trees and because it’s Labor Day, there were few people out. It was just Clipford, me and the elements of nature.

    When we walk earlier, there are lots of dogs that like to bark as we walk by their homes so I think that probably scares away a lot of the squirrels and birds that live in the trees from coming down to play. The first few weeks we lived here, we’d always see birds and squirrels playing in the yards and streets as we walked by. Not lately…until now. I guess lately, we’ve been walking much earlier so even they’re still asleep. Today, the dogs weren’t out but the other animals were. It was so much fun to be surrounded at one point by dozens of little birds hopping through the pines and squirrels collecting for winter to come.

    The only thing that made this beautiful morning at all sad was the smell of smoke in the air, reminding me of the devastation others through Texas are experiencing.

    Austin Comic-Con 2010

    Brad & I went to Austin Comic-Con this weekend and we had so much fun! We didn’t quite know what to expect but once we got there, “settled in” and the convention figured out, we had a lot of fun.

    There were a few talks we wanted to sit in on so we started with Billy Dee “Lando Calrissian” Williams. We got there about 1/2 way through so we had to sit in the back and it was hard to hear such a soft spoken man though a poorly set up sound system. I was sad that we didn’t get to laugh when others did because we just couldn’t hear about every other word that was said. Except that someone asked him about some show he had a guest spot in once and he couldn’t remember that he had done that show at all. How can you not remember a job?

    Walter Koenig From there, we walked across the room to listen to Walter Koenig speak about his time as Pavel Chekov on the original Star Trek. He was very interesting to hear speak. For being in his mid-70s, he sure did have his wits about him and knew how to convey his worldly knowledge to his audience. Other than Star Trek and Babylon 5, he has also written a graphic novel and done charity work in Burma.

    Yes, I typed “walked across the room”. I think this convention was supposed to have their talks housed in 2 large meeting rooms though the convention center but the Texas Art Educator’s Association convention was also being held at the Austin Convention Center and it seems someone got their wires crossed so there were no rooms for Comic-Con to use. They took the back room of the convention floor, partitioned off two opposite corners as meeting rooms and had their talks there. I should have taken a picture or something since it was such a ridicoulous set-up. I guess when you’re in a pinch, you do whatever you can to make things work.

    Yup, the line started here. The line behind me.
    After the Walter Koenig talk, we got in line to hear from the cast of the TV show Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. I never watched the show but Brad is a fan and watched the entire series so I figured why not. As the line slowly moved to the seating area, I started thinking that if we both sat through the Buffy talk, neither of us would have a good seat for the Adam West & Burt Ward (Batman & Robin) talk so I decided to see about getting in line for that instead. Low and behold, I was FIRST IN LINE!!! I got to hold the sign and everything. 😀 Turned out that a few others had had the same idea and had “started” a line at the end of the Buffy line but when they understood that I asked the girls with the “Line Starts Here” signs about the line and got said sign, they were cool about getting in line behind me. AND they were understanding about Brad joining me when he got done with the Buffy talk – mostly because some of them were in the same situation as well.

    So we were front row, center on the Adam West & Burt Ward talk. It was the best talk of the day! Adam West is kooky and funny and I think Burt Ward still thinks he’s Robin. Yes, Adam West did a bit of the Batoosie for us and talked about his role as himself on Family Guy. Turns out that there’s going to be a new reality show about Burt Ward and his Gentle Giants dog fostering coming out soon. He talked a little about that, too. It was great to listen to them tell all the old stories about times on the set. They told their stories so well, I felt nostalgic and I wasn’t there to experience it originally. That’s a good story teller!

    After the talks we made our way around the vendors area and most of the vendors there were selling toys – both collectible and not. There were lots of people in costume and lots of others taking pictures with people in costume. I just didn’t see how taking a picture with a complete stranger in a costume is something worth keeping. Maybe if someone had on a really cool costume to take a picture of them in it but I don’t know that I’d feel the need to be in that picture, too. You know?

    We got around the vendor area to where the various stars were and found that NO ONE was talking to Adam West or Burt Ward so we decided to stop and chat. We ended up talking to Burt Ward for over 20 minutes about his dog rescue. Brad wants a Kangal someday and since Burt Ward rescues giant breed dogs, we figured he’d be the one to give us a little info. We got A LOT of info! They also sell dog food and I think I’m going to switch old Clipford over to it. It seems a lot healthier than what I’m getting for him already and it might just be cheaper (even after shipping) than buying the food from Bark & Purr. A little more research is needed at this point. Oh, I invited Adam West to dinner the next time he’s in town. Let’s see if he takes me up on the offer. I doubt it, seeing as I didn’t actually give him any contact information…but wouldn’t that be cool if I had and he called us up? He’s just kooky enough to not put it past him.
    See, he WAS there! :) Adam West's doodles
    The Batmobile The Bat Phone
    Cathy & Erin Gray

    So everyone else we ended up talking to were:

  • Walter Koenig
  • Lindsay Wagner
  • Erin Gray (I even got my picture taken with her for the low price of $10 to her charity)
  • Ernie Hudson (well, I just shook his hand as he was talking to another fan for a long time as we did with some stars)
  • Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca)
  • Larry Thomas (The Soup Nazi)
  • Ashley Williams (The Human Centipede)
  • I’ll post some pics once I get them onto Flickr. I thought I’d done that on Sunday but I think I shut iPhoto down too early and they didn’t all get uploaded. I’ve gotta close with saying that if you get a chance to check out a Comic-Con, don’t think it’s just for geeks. Just the opportunity to hear about the lives of these folks and see how personable they are. You might just be pleasantly surprised.