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Lafcadio Hearn’s Translated Japanese Ghost stories

Lafcadio Hearn’s Translated Japanese Ghost stories

I love a good classical ghost story. Some of my favorites are English ghost stories from the 1800 and 1900’s. But a good ghost story is not limited to just old British tales. Ghost stories are a phenomenon across all cultures and eras. Some cultures even had elaborate systems for telling ghost stories.

Lafcadio Hearn (aka Yakumo Koizumi) was born of Irish parents and had a difficult upbringing by most standards. He became a writer and journalist, but was captivated by Japanese culture that he experienced at the World Exposition in New Orleans. Shortly after, he traveled to Japan in 1890 at the age of 40. He soon made Japan his home, married, raised a family, and found continued success as a writer.

One of his favorite subjects was Japanese ghost stories. Japanese ghost stories are interesting because they are heavily influenced by Buddhist thought, and often carry a hint of moral elements. He collected and translated several works on the subject. Kwaidan is probably his most famous collection of ghost stories – stories which were even turned into a movie.

It turns out there are at least 3 different Lafcadio Haern museums/homes in Japan. Hopefully I’ll see them someday, but until then I’ll be happy just reading the stories.

Ghibli movie locations in real life

Ghibli movie locations in real life

It turns out that many Ghibli movies were inspired by real life locations and buildings. Here’s a good list of those spots:

Ghibli theme locations (and how to get tickets).

This biggest issue with the Ghibli theme locations is the need for advanced purchase tickets. No tickets are for sale onsite and tickets often sell out months in advance.

  • Ghibli Park outside Nagoya. Advanced tickets are required and purchasable on their website.
  • Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. Advanced tickets are required and they often sell out MONTHS in advance.

My Neighbor Totoro

  • Satsuki and Mei’s house from Totoro – A nearly perfect re-creation of the house from the Totoro movie. I wrote about this amazing house here.
  • Ghibli Park – location of Satsuki and Mei’s house along with a forest and other movie inspired attractions.
  • Totoro Forest -In Sayama, Saitama Prefecture is Totoro Forest. It also holds Kurosuke’s House which is Japanese traditional house which was built over 100 years ago. You can see a big Totoro sitting in the house and walk the grounds. (more here)

Princess Mononoke

  • Yakushima – registered as natural world heritage site. You can go there by plane or ferry.
  • Shirakami-sanchi – world heritage site and it is mainly filled with greenery such as Japanese beech. There are some famous lakes called twelve lakes which means you can see twelve lakes at once from the upper side of the mountain.

Spirited Away

Whispers of the Heart

  • Seiseki Sakuragaoka – Seiseki-Sakuragaoka suburb is conveniently located just outside of Tokyo. The highlight of the town is the staircase to the top of the hill where you can enjoy a typically Japanese nostalgic night view.


  • Tomonoura (Hiroshima) – This beautiful cityview of Tomonoura in Hiroshima is another spot not to be missed. Ponyo’s house is believed to be inspired by Naramura Museum.

Secret World of Arriety

  • Seibien (Aomori) garden – Seibien is a western style house with Japanese garden in Aomori featured in ‘Arrietty’.  Its garden is counted as one the three greatest gardens of Meiji-era and is an attractive sightseeing spot.  

From Up on Poppy Hill

The city of Yokohama is depicted in ‘From Up on Poppy Hill’

  • Yokohama
    • Minatonomieru oka koen (Kanagawa) – Harbor View Park
    • Negishi natsukashi koen – (The Old House of Yagishita Family) reminds of Coquelicot Manor, a boarding house overlooking the port in the film.
    • Yamate seiyo-kan (Kanagawa) – There are 7 western style houses collectively called Yamate Seiyoukan in the area where you can read different edition of Weekly Quartier Latin, the newspaper featured in the film, at each house

Only Yesterday

  • Saffron fields of Takase District – Taeko travels on her own from Tokyo to Yamagata in this animated film. There are many sufflower fields in Takase District like the one depicted in ‘Only Yesterday’. Maybe you can even try out a Yamagata farm stay like she did.


Totoro’s Satsuki and Mei House is real

Totoro’s Satsuki and Mei House is real

Did you know you can visit Mei’s house from Totoro in real life?

A painstakingly realistic re-creation of Mei’s house was created in what is now Ghibli Park outside of Nagoya in Aichi Commemorative Park. In the park, you can visit Satsuki and Mei’s house in the park.

The house has been recreated in extraordinary detail. You sign up for a time slot and they give you a tour. That, however, is where similarities to other tours end. Unlike normal recreated gems like this, the tour allows you to open drawers, Mei’s backpacks, look in books and really explore the space. They have a strict no photography policy – which I think is great as it probably makes you really enjoy the space more instead of focusing on the perfect Instagram shot.


Switzerland’s Lauterbrunnen Valley and J.R.R Tolkien

Switzerland’s Lauterbrunnen Valley and J.R.R Tolkien

It turns out, many of the locations in Tolkien’s epics were inspired by real landscapes. No, they were not New Zealand – but Switzerland. When J.R.R Tolkien was 19 years old, he took a multi-week trek through the Bernese Alps in 1911. The trek with his family/friends was lead by his quirky aunt whom some researchers believe was at least partly the model for Gandalf. We know this because Tolkien said so in a letter he wrote his son in 1967:

The Hobbit’s journey from Rivendell to the other side of the Misty Mountains, including the glissade down the slithering stones into the pine woods, is based on my adventures in 1911. [The] wanderings mainly on foot in a party of 12 are not now clear in sequence. We went on foot, carrying great packs, practically all the way from Interlaken, mainly by mountain paths, to Lauterbrunnen and so to Murren and eventually to the head of the Lauterbrunnenthal in a wilderness of moraines.

J.R.R Tolkien 1967

Most of the rest of Tolkien’s major landmarks are there too. Tolkien’s Celebdil mountain (also called Silvertine (Silberzinne)) is a mountain in the Misty Mountain range. Along with Caradhras and Fanuidhol, it is one of the three mountains towering over the mines of Moria. The real life model for the Celebdil is the Silberhorn, the Jungfrau’s neighboring peak. Tolkien calls this white pyramid “the Silvertine of my dreams”. The mountain has old silver mine tunnels and mine shafts you can still tour today.

Read more about the amazing adventure that set the stage for Tolkien’s world on the links below.


Opposite of ultralight camping

Opposite of ultralight camping

While through hikers focus on saving every possible ounce of weight – utilizing the lightest possible tents and equipment – there are other ends of the spectrum that are also covered by large, well-insulated tents.

Enter RBM Outdoors Cuboid 4.40 tents. These 104 sq foot large, insulated, and heated tents come with everything – even specially designed safe stoves. It features removable walls that separates the two rooms. One of the walls can be opened up into a roof in front of the tent with mosquito nets. This area could be used as a dining room or a terrace. They are really versatile all-season tents that protect from hot summer sun and from severe winter cold. In winter they recorded a comfortable temperature of 85°+ F inside the tent while -22° F outside.

Or, if you prefer, try a portable sauna! The SweatTent is a collapsible, wood-fired sauna that sets up in just three minutes.

Japanese business culture: the window tribe

Japanese business culture: the window tribe

Japanese companies are barred both by societal and legal constraints that make it very difficult to fire employees.  Historically, that led to the phenomenon of the madogiwazoku – literally, the tribe that sits by the windows.  Employees whose services were no longer needed, but that the company could not or did not want to fire, would be given a pleasant spot by the window to while away working hours by reading the newspaper.  However, as the Japanese economy has had to deal with years upon years of recession, and the increasingly stiff winds of global competition, many Japanese companies are finding themselves with more redundant staff than could fit at the window seats.

The oidashibeya is in a sense madogiwazoku on steroids.  Employees are typically placed in a room, often windowless, where they have nothing to do.  In many cases their business cards are taken away, and they are forced to do menial, mind-numbing tasks, or given nothing to do at all. Being excluded from the mainstream is particularly painful for those who have dedicated themselves to the company for many years, especially in the context of Japanese culture where murahachibu (ostracism from the group) is a traditional and strong form of punishment.

The idea of the oidashibeya is that stripped of their status, ties with colleagues, and interesting work, the employees who are placed there will eventually quit out of shame and sheer boredom. 


Hiking boots are out

Hiking boots are out

I ran across this interesting article on The about what footwear people wore while hiking the 2190 mile Appalachian trail. Taking many weeks to complete, the trail is a grueling test of equipment. Most trail hikers ended up wearing out 4-5 sets of shoes – matching the recommendation to retire shoes after 500 miles of hiking.

The most interesting point to me was that hiking boots were not high on the list of footwear hikers have been wearing. While still recommended for snowy sections, the vast majority of the hikers used trail runners. When I started hiking decades ago, I actually preferred hiking easier trails in more rugged tennis shoes too. I somewhat feel vindicated. 🙂 The data they collected for the last 2 years shows boots were only worn by around 10% of hikers. There was also the trend that people that started with hiking boots were more likely to end up switching to trail runners during their journey.

Shoe satisfaction showed 91 percent of respondents who began their hike in trail runners said they were happy with their choice. On the other hand, only 64 percent of hikers starting in hiking boots were satisfied.

For all shoe types, fit was one of the most important factors in switching footwear; which just reinforces the age-old wisdom to get plenty of long miles in your boots/shoes before major trips to make sure they don’t have any hot spots, issues with swelling feet, or other similar problems. I personally find the adage of ‘breaking in’ boots/shoes to be complete bunk. In my experience, if the shoes don’t fit and aren’t comfortable right off, they never become so later.

You can read the rest of the excellent article since it also has recommendations and breakdown of hiking shoes, socks, and other equipment they most used. The summary was this:

  1. The trend of most hikers wearing trail runners over heavier, sturdier boots continued this year; the numbers were about the same as last year with a slight (3%) dip in popularity for trail runners.
  2. While boots may still be preferable during the snowy sections, we recommend that hikers planning thrus or long sections consider lightweight, more flexible shoes for the majority of their hikes.
  3. In general, thru-hikers should plan to go through four to five pairs of trail runners or two to three pairs of boots.
  4. Altra remains the top brand for trail runners, and the most popular model was the Lone Peak.
  5. Topo Athletic made the list for the first time, ranking in the top 4 brands and boasting the third most popular model overall with the Ultraventure.
  6. Darn Tough, Injinji, and Smartwool socks were all well-represented on the AT, but Darn Tough was by far the most popular with 75 percent of respondents using them.
  7. Injinji is the leader in sock liners, used by almost a third of respondents.
Finding fun in Portland

Finding fun in Portland

Here’s some great links to find interesting and fun things in Portland.

Portland Theater – Despite the name, this is probably the best list of all upcoming theater shows, music concerts, and other events coming to Portland.

Secret Portland – This site has a bunch of sister sites for other major cities that covers unusual and interesting local events, shows, and artistic events.

blindfold duck catching

blindfold duck catching

Catching a duck is a very entertaining folk game in the festive life of Hanoi people. If you go to festivals in Hanoi in the days after the Lunar New Year, you will probably have the opportunity to participate in this game.

Reminds me of our local county fair chicken drop contest.



Do you have lots of Thanksgiving leftovers? The Mad Mex in Pennsylvania is at it again with a Thanksgiving favorite: The Gobblerito. I made my own version last year with my Thanksgiving leftovers, and it was great. It looks like they have tweaked it a little by making them square and flat.

It seems like they’re still made of turkey, corn, black beans, stuffing, and the wrapped in a burrito and smothered with gravy with a dollop of cranberry. I can confirm they are Mmmm delicious!