Feature Contributors

Column: Halloween Creep

Dear readers,

Have you noticed the Halloween decorations on the lawn of the house on the northeast corner of Broadway and Miller Streets? More and more monsters, skeletons, giant spiders, and creepy things seem to appear daily.

I stopped by recently to thank the owners for putting up their wonderful scary Halloween decorations in mid-September. I knocked on the door, but no one answered. 

Maybe no one was at home. Maybe they thought I was an early trick-or-treater. Dressed in my customary suit and bow tie, they might have thought I was in a Pee-wee Herman costume. 

Since Pee-wee Herman just died recently, they might have thought it too soon. With Halloween still a month and a half away, I have plenty of time to catch them at home to thank them.



The family living at the corner of Miller and Broadway aren’t the only people getting in the Halloween spirit. My niece, Vanessa, has a pumpkin patch at Meltzer Farm. Vanessa told me that people are already picking pumpkins.

Some of you readers probably think September is too early to begin celebrating Halloween. It’s not too early for me. My birthday is on Halloween. As a boy, I always knew that my birthday was fast approaching when the paraffin lips, fangs, moustaches, and harmonicas appeared in the candy case at Kirk’s Five Points. 



The reason that Halloween starts earlier and earlier every year is because of Christmas Creep. I think it is probably already Christmas at Hobby Lobby.

Christmas Creep began years ago. Retailers have always enjoyed financial success at Christmas time, so every year they put Christmas items on the shelf a few days earlier. Over the years those extra Christmas shopping days have turned into months.

Halloween has now been pushed back to September, not by choice, but by necessity. It had to be done to make room on the calendar for Thanksgiving.

As Paul Harvey would say, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

Last week’s road trip to Buc-ee’s generated comments from many of you. I have tabulated the votes. Most of you believe Buc-ee’s has already become a part of Americana. Families on vacation now look for Buc-ee’s billboards just as past generations looked for the “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco” barns or Burma Shave road signs.

Several women including Shelby County Post travel columnist Carol McDaniel wrote to tell me that I failed to mention the clean restrooms.  In fact, the restrooms at Buc-ee’s are far more than clean. The individual stalls have full doors to ensure privacy and are so numerous there isn’t a wait. I guess that’s a good thing since the billboard requests that travelers “hold it” for a hundred miles.

The common complaint about Buc-ee’s is that there are no seats for customers. I guess if a traveler really needs to sit down to enjoy a Buc-ee’s brisket sandwich, they can do it sitting on the Buc-ee’s throne.

Last but not least this week, a special shout out to Coulston first grade teacher Dawn Matheny. My granddaughter Pearl introduced me to Mrs. Matheny on grandparent’s night last week. I learned that she is a long-time reader of my column. Thanks to Mrs. Matheny not only for reading my column but for teaching the next generation to read. I need all the readers I can get. 

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Letters Home: Japanese server robots in restaurants

Recently, when friends from overseas were visiting me here in Japan, we went out to dinner near my home and they were fascinated with the robots that deliver the food to the table.

Honestly, I barely notice them anymore because they have become rather common in many different types of eating establishments around Japan. However, nearly everyone from home who visits here are intrigued and excited about the proliferation of robotic waiters in restaurants which are rapidly becoming standard in Japan.

I think the U.S. has been slower in adopting these robotic servers, but they will eventually spread in the U.S. just as they are currently doing here.

My first experience with “robotic staff” was several years ago at the Pepper Café in Shibuya, in Tokyo. Upon entering the shop, customers place their orders with a humanoid-like robot at a counter, and then, after being seated, a robot delivers the food items to the table. The Pepper Café robots have a humanoid appearance, but glide effortlessly on wheels. They aren’t very interactive apart from the initial ordering. They do have screens that can be interactive with the diners allowing diners to watch a programmed video.



The most common robots in restaurants are boxier in shape, and some have a screen that features a cartoon-like cat face that would be where the head on a human would normally be. The design of these is basically a shelving unit with trays that allow food items to be placed on several different shelves on the robot, and once it stops at the table, the diner just reaches over to take the food items off one of the shelves.



Earlier this year, I read a newspaper article that featured “cooking robots,” which are designed to do perfunctory tasks in the kitchen in order to free up the human staff to attend to the needs of customers more readily by supposedly adding a higher level of customer service. I personally have my doubts.

I suspect the ultimate goal is to get rid of human workers all together in order for robots to do all of the work from greeting, seating, taking orders, cooking, delivery of the food, and clearing the tables.  The company that developed the “cooking robots” program them to follow specific recipes, and the robots are able to change recipes according to individual requests like custom seasoning (less salt or to omit an ingredient that the diner may be allergic to or not want to eat).

I don’t think the cooking robots are standard yet, by any means, but the serving robots certainly are and more and more restaurants are adopting them, even in my small town here in Japan. The COVID-19 pandemic precipitated the push to adopt robots more widely when restaurants were trying to lure customers back into their eating establishments after such a long hiatus due to the restrictions imposed to combat the spread of the Coronavirus.

“Contactless service” became the preferred way of doing all sorts of interactions. 

The 7-11 near my condo instituted a system where the cashier still rings up the items but does not touch the money at all. A machine is used for the payment, as to avoid any direct, hand-to-hand contact with money. While it is partly due to the desire to limit human-to-human contact between the staff and customers, it’s also because there was a huge labor shortage, and once the pandemic started to wane, restaurants needed to be able to serve customers so the robots filled this staffing void quite nicely.



The robots really are fascinating to watch in action, as they speed down the aisles between tables, and if they sense something in their way, they stop immediately. I did notice a near collision when a staff person was rounding a corner and a robot was coming in the opposite direction. The robot realized a person was there before the human staff person reacted to the robot.

When the robot arrives to the table, it will apologize if the food took too long to be delivered, or it will say something like “Thank you for waiting.”

Is it as nice as having an interaction with an actual human? Not really, but it is a novelty and for people who aren’t familiar with having food served by a robot regularly, it can be fun and amusing.

Will robots replace humans completely in restaurants? Eventually, probably, but that is a ways off, I think. These robots still are not able to do the bulk of what human staff do to keep a restaurant going, but bit by bit, I suspect more advanced units will be introduced and much of the work will eventually replace human staff.

Just look at checkouts in places like Walmart today. Getting a live cashier to check out is becoming more and more rare … the same is true in Japan. The trend in Japan, though, is to have the cashiers ring up the purchases and the customer is directed to a machine to pay the bill.

It has always been the custom in Japan that the customer bags the groceries himself/herself.Just lately I have experienced the complete self-checkout system here in Japan. A 100-yen shop near where I live has done away with all cashiers and each customer now rings up the purchase without any cashier present. A staff person stands to the side in case someone needs assistance.

I can’t say I dislike the robot system of serving food, but I can’t say I love it, either. It is what it is, I guess. I like having human interaction with the serving staff. That is the American in me … we like idle chit-chat with strangers anytime and anywhere! 

I am sure Japanese people are quite happy not to have to engage in mindless banter with people. We Americans thrive on “shooting the breeze” with strangers we meet while waiting in a line, or while ordering food at a restaurant.

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Todd Leonard back home and on The Morning Show

Professor Todd Leonard appeared on The Morning Show during his visit to Shelbyville from his longtime home in Japan.



See Todd's latest feature contribution to The Shelby County Post at the link below:





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Column: Is Buc-ee's the New Stuckey's?

Dear readers,

Wow was I ever surprised when I arrived at Giant FM last Tuesday after the three-day Labor Day weekend. Johnny McCrory puts the Shelby County Post’s columnists weekly writing assignments under magnets on the refrigerator in the break room. I removed the envelope from under the “Kris” magnet. 

I was momentarily distracted by a box of donuts someone had brought.  Halfway through my donut, I opened the envelope and read my writing assignment. I was expecting something like “write a column about the autumn events you and Jack Yeend are planning at “The Helbing,” or maybe, “check out the most recent Elvis sighting in Walkerville.”  

Instead, it was a travel assignment. Johnny was sending me to Buc-ee’s.  I wondered if maybe the envelope somehow got under the wrong magnet. After all, Carol McDaniel is the Post’s travel columnist. It occurred to me that maybe Jeff Brown switched Carol’s writing assignment with mine as a prank.

Legitimate assignment, mistake, or prank, it didn’t matter. I wasn’t taking a chance of losing this plum assignment. I left my half-eaten donut behind and quickly headed out the door for Buc-ee’s.

I called my wife Sandy and told her to pack an overnight bag. I left our destination as a surprise. If I told her our road trip was to Buc-ee’s, she might not have gotten in the car. 



Buc-ee’s, for you readers who aren’t tuned into the latest fads, is a gas station. It is a very big gas station. Buc-ee’s is to gas stations what Jungle Jim’s is to the corner grocery. Buc-ee’s is Stuckey’s 2.0 or more accurately Stuckey’s overdosed on steroids. Everything is bigger at Buc-ee’s, even the pecan logs.

Like Stuckey’s, kudzu, and roadside boiled peanuts, Buc-ee’s began in the south. I have talked to people who have visited Buc-ee’s. All came away with a very strong opinion of the experience. They fall into one of two distinct camps.

  1. Buc-ee’s is an oasis for the road weary traveler. A veritable one-stop Shangri-La where every need of the motoring public is met.  The traveler leaves with smile as big as Buc-ee’s, the mischievous beaver mascot’s grin.


  1. Buc-ee’s is a Rebel scam designed to relieve vacationing Yankees of their hard-earned dollars when on their way to real southern tourist destinations like “Rock City” or “Ruby Falls.” Road weary, the northern tourists are hypnotized by the mere size of the place and leave with a trunk full of overpriced souvenirs. If you have ever wondered what Mr. Haney did with the money from selling that worthless farm near Hooterville to Oliver Wendell Douglas, wonder no more. He created Buc-ee’s. 

Soon after crossing the Mason-Dixon line, the first Buc-ee’s billboard came into view, “Only 350 miles to Buc-ee’s, You Can Hold It!” I checked my gas gauge and figured that by coasting the last 100 yards, or so, we could just make it. 

The gas gauge was close to empty when Buc-ee’s came into view. It was even bigger than I had imagined. It looked like at least a million gas pumps and still there was a line. I guess that’s what happens when everyone “holds it” for 350 miles.

Walking into Buc-ee’s, I immediately suffered from sensory overload.  Everything I had read about Buc-ee’s was true. The usual Slim Jim Meat Sticks were available, but so were thousands of others. Buc-ee’s has jerky made from every meat imaginable. I didn’t see it, but someone in line said they even had “Spotted Owl.” 

I wish that I could give you more details from my shopping experience at Buc-ees.  The last thing I remember was snacking on a bag of “Buc-ee’s Beaver Nuggets.” The shock of it all must have caused me to develop some sort of retrograde amnesia. Sandy told me later that I shopped at Buc-ee’s like a drunk Imelda Marcos at the Shoe Carnival. 

I woke up the next morning, like the characters played by Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis in the movie “The Hangover” trying to piece together the night before. I noticed that I was wearing Buc-ee’s pajamas and was sleeping on Buc-ee’s sheets. The mischievous beaver mascot was everywhere I looked. 

In the bathroom was my new Buc-ee’s electric toothbrush along with Buc-ee’s towels, deodorant, and aftershave. I have Buc-ee’s socks, underwear and a coffee mug. I could go on, but you get the picture. 

So, is Buc-ee’s just a fad, or will the Buc-ee’s Beaver become a part of Americana like Mickey Mouse? You be the judge. I’m just praying that this Buc-ee’s tattoo is temporary.

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Column: TV karaoke

Dear readers,

I heard from many of you after last week’s column about the Shelby County Cancer Association being voted No. 1 Non-Profit Agency. It is sad that cancer has touched so many families in our community, but it is wonderful that we have such a great local non-profit agency to help those in need.

Donna Harrell, Executive Director of the agency, reminded me that there is no “I” in “Team.” The Shelby County Cancer Association was voted No. 1 because of the hard work of all employees and volunteers.  Barbara Craig manages the store and Lucinda Franklin oversees marketing and fundraising. Speaking of fundraising, the Cancer Bash is coming up Sept. 30.



My mention of Donna’s sister, Mary Lou Ryhal, being a dancer on the Mitch Miller TV show, “Sing Along With Mitch,” brought back fond memories for several readers. I guess the Meltzers weren’t the only family tuning in to watch the bouncing ball.

Take a look at the photo with today’s column. It is Mary Lou Ryhal and the writing says, “Thank You and Best Regards.”

One old-timer told me that her love of karaoke began as a child singing along with Mitch. I’m not sure it is really karaoke when singing with a professional singer. I always think of karaoke as people singing when only the music and words are electronically provided. However, singing along with Mitch as the words scroll on the TV screen does seem like a precursor to karaoke. 

I will ask Shelby County Post foreign correspondent Professor Todd Jay Leonard to dig a little deeper into this karaoke question. While Todd is now a distinguished professor in Japan, he was once a newspaper boy in Shelbyville just like me. 

I read somewhere that karaoke is not only popular in Japan but is a Japanese invention. Maybe karaoke was invented by a foreign exchange student from Japan who honed his English skills in America by singing along with Mitch. Professor Leonard, the bouncing ball is in your court.

Changing the subject. A reader called me last week to see if anyone had taken me up on my offer to officiate a wedding for free so long as the bride and groom agreed to hold the ceremony at “The Helbing.”

The answer is no, and the offer is still good. A couple just needs to provide a valid marriage license and I will provide the ceremony at The Helbing. Maybe I can get the “Martha Stewart of Shelbyville,” Susie Veerkamp, to make some cupcakes. 

I thought maybe the caller was asking because they were planning a wedding. No such luck. The caller was just wondering if anyone had taken me up on the offer yet. 

I’ll admit promoting The Helbing as a destination has proven more difficult than I predicted. I’ll have to ask Johnny McCrory if he would consider sweetening the deal by throwing in a live radio broadcast of the wedding and a bottle of champagne.

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Letters Home: Japanese politics

Politics in Japan, just like in the United States currently, can be a tricky subject to discuss with people one does not know well, but it is a topic that often comes up in conversations because people are interested in how governments and elections function. On visits home, I am often asked about Japanese politics and the election cycles in Japan. 

In short, the Japanese political system follows the tradition of a dominant-party parliamentary constitutional monarchy, similar to the system in Great Britain. While the Emperor is the head of state, the Prime Minister is the head of government and his/her affiliated party is the “ruling party.”  The head of government also is in charge of the cabinet which basically runs the government as the executive branch.

The legislative branch in Japan is called the National Diet and this body of legislators is made up of the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors. The members of each house then make up standing committees in each body that does the bulk of the governmental duties and work.  Since both houses consist of elected members by the people, they represent the citizens in their daily legislative activities. 

The lower house, or House of Representatives, is the most powerful of the two houses because it can force the resignation of a Prime Minister and it controls the government’s budget, it can make treaties with other countries, and it chooses the Prime Minister. The function of the upper house, or House of Councilors, is largely to approve bills and legislation sent to them by the lower house. So, the upper house does not make bills or legislation and if they vote down legislation, it can still be passed by overriding the legislation by the lower house.

The judicial branch of government has, at the top, the Supreme Court and its power is to oversee the lower courts.  The 1947 Constitution, which was enacted during the Occupation of Japan by the United States, replaced the previous Meiji Constitution, which afforded Japan the ability to have a Constitutional Monarchy coupled with a system of civil law that is based on democratic principles.



In the post-World War II era, by far, the major political party in power has been the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).  While Japan enjoys a multi-party system of politics, the LDP has dominated power during much of the period after World War II, until in 1993, when the conservative LDP lost its Diet majority and power. This was largely due to a faction of LDP members defecting to start a new party leaving the LDP without a majority. 

The Japan New Party was an eight-party coalition, but was short lived and could only maintain power for around a year.  This was a huge deal because the LDP had held on to control for some 40 years up to then. The slightly center-left party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), played an important role as the “opposition party” from 1996, and gained power through a coalition from 2009 through 2012. Other than these two brief periods, the LDP has maintained a very strong hold on Japanese politics.

As a child of the 60s and 70s in the U.S., we were taught to fear communism and communists, so when I moved to Japan and met “out and proud” communists, it was a bit of a culture-shock at first because I had been conditioned to fear and despise communists due to the Cold War and anti-communist sentiment in the Unites States. The Japanese Communist Party has a platform that emphasizes the establishment of a democratic society based on scientific socialism and pacificism. Unlike other communist systems in the world, it does not advocate violent revolutions to achieve its political goals. While it recognizes the Emperor as the Head of State and his constitutional position, they are very much against any change in policies that would allow the Imperial family to become involved in politics. The JCP is ardently anti-militaristic and would like to dissolve completely Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. So, with that said, it isn’t keen about the United States having such a strong military presence in Japan with the bases.

The campaign cycle in Japan is much shorter and much less costly than that of the United States. There are very strict rules in Japan regarding campaigning and advertising by candidates. Candidates are only allowed a campaign vehicle and a small number of posters and campaign materials that they are allowed to distribute.

One feature that surprises people from other countries is how noisy the campaign cycle is. The custom and trend is for candidates to be driven around their constituencies with a loud bull horn where they repeat their names over and over, pleading for anyone listening to vote for them. One custom I found strange when I lived in Aomori in northern Japan was how the candidate usually rode around in a mini-van with a gaggle of beautiful women all dressed alike who waved incessantly at passersby on the streets from the windows of the van. I guess the idea was that people would be impressed with an old man who was surrounded by such young and beautiful women?  I found it creepy, to be honest.

Just a couple of weeks before an election, signboards are put up in strategic places (often near train stations) where the candidate can post one of his/her campaign posters. They are always the same size and generally contain the same information, usually highlighting their main policy issues briefly. Since advertising by candidates is so tightly controlled by strict governmental rules, it does keep the playing field fairer and more level because while running for office in Japan can be an expensive undertaking, it never is anywhere near the amount of money spent on local or national elections in the United States.

Granted, during the roughly 12 days candidates are allowed to campaign, the noise pollution is deafening, especially when two vans happen upon the same street at the same time.  The competing candidates turn up the volume, so to speak, to drown out his/her opponent.

Due to the strict rules, there is not a lot of radio or television appearances and definitely no attack ads being played every few minutes like in the US. In fact, I’m not aware of any “negative campaigning” by candidates other than a soundbite of how they would try to do better on certain issues than their opponent. Mudslinging would be considered uncouth and unseemly, I think, so candidates focus more on their attributes and how they will try to accomplish the issues they find important rather than trying to tear down their opponent with dirty tricks.

That, however, is not to say that dirty tricks don’t happen in Japan, because they definitely do. Politics are politics and dirty underhanded politics seem to be a global, universal fact, sadly.

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Column: In memory of Zane Meltzer

Dear readers,

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of our son Zane’s death.

He died from cancer at age 16. Like his older brother Trent, he was always a good sport and a joy to be around. A day seldom passes when he is not in my thoughts. A week seldom passes when he is not in my dreams. However, I don’t dwell in the past. As American poet Langston Hughes famously said, “Life is for the living.”

I thought of Zane this week when I saw where the Cancer Association of Shelby County was voted No. 1 Non-Profit Agency. The organization was also voted favorite Flea Market/Thrift Store. We are very fortunate to have services provided for cancer patients by the Cancer Association of Shelby County. The Executive Director of the Agency is Donna Harrell. 

I stopped by to congratulate Donna on the double win. Although I have always thought of their store located on the Public Square as a “Boutique” instead of a “Flea Market/Thrift Store,” the store has been remodeled and has a selection of not only clothes, but also small appliances and collectables.

If you have any gently used items to donate, you can conveniently drop them off at the back door on Jackson Street.



As I was visiting with Donna Harrell in her office, my mind wandered back in time. I’ve known her as long as I can remember. She is an older sister of my childhood friend Greg Ryhal. Our backyards were adjacent.  I’ve always claimed that her brother, Gary, was the smartest kid in the neighborhood. Her late brother, Jim, wrote a book, “Where the Water is Cold.” I got an autographed copy several years ago when he had a book signing here at “Three Sisters.” 

Her older sister, Mary Lou Ryhal, was a dancer on the Mitch Miller TV show, “Sing Along With Mitch.” The show was on from 1961 to 1964.  The words to songs appeared on the TV screen with a little ball bouncing along the words to help those with bad timing. The Meltzer family, having no musical talent whatsoever, just kept count of how many of the dance numbers featured Mary Lou.

After a successful career in banking, Donna has now been with the Cancer Association for over 30 years. The Cancer Association of Shelby County has been providing services to our community’s cancer patients since 1959.

There is an old saying, “Charity begins at home.” A reader recently complained about the grifters at Walmart. In this modern world of emails and robocalls we are endlessly bombarded with pleas to give to fake charities.

We are lucky to have a number of honest charities here in Shelby County helping our citizens. Congratulations to Donna and everyone at the Cancer Association of Shelby County for being voted the No. 1 Non-Profit.

 See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Column: Safety first, school's in session

Dear readers,

Take a close look at today’s school safety photo. Some of those in the photo should look familiar. (Hint there is more than one local lawyer in the photo.)

Several readers commented on last week’s column featuring my fatherly advice to my son, Trent, when he was starting sixth grade. 

A few of my favorites:

Kris, Ward Cleaver you are not. I can’t imagine Ward Cleaver ever making either Wally or the Beaver pose for such a photo. It is wonderful that Trent grew up to be the judge of Shelby Circuit Court. I doubt that you dressing him up like a nerd for a photo for your cheesy column had anything to do with his success. After re-running the photo 30 years later, I’m guessing that you might want to avoid appearing in Circuit Court.

Dear “Leave it to Beaver” fan,

Unfortunately for my kids, “Leave it to Beaver” wasn’t on TV during their childhood. Al Bundy was the reigning TV dad in those days, so the bar was set low. Joking aside, looking back at that photo 30 years later did make me appreciate what a good sport Trent was as a kid.



Dear Kris,

I knew Trent when we were both students at Shelbyville Middle School.  I don’t know if dressing him up as a lawyer at that age had anything to do with his career choice. I can tell you for sure not to feel bad about refusing to buy him Air Jordan basketball shoes. I played basketball with Trent back in the day and believe me he wasn’t headed for the NBA. 

Dear classmate of Trent’s,

Thanks for setting the record straight. I have withheld your name just in case you ever have to appear in Circuit Court.

On a completely different subject, a loyal reader had some interesting thoughts about Animal Crackers this week.

Dear Kris,

Several years ago, Nabisco, maker of Barnum’s Animal Crackers, let the animals out of their cages. As a supporter of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) I thought it was the right thing to do. I just don’t know why it took a letter writing campaign by PETA members to get the animals freed. 

I have now decided to become a vegetarian. It hasn’t been easy giving up eating meat, but I do think it was the right decision for me. Anyway, you are probably wondering what this has to do with Barnum’s Animal Crackers. 

I was wondering if you would ask your readers to join me in writing letters to Nabisco. Join me in asking Nabisco if instead of just “Animal Crackers,” they could also make “Vegetable Crackers” for us vegetarians. Maybe the Vegetable Crackers could be shaped like little carrots, cabbages, and broccoli crowns. They wouldn’t just be popular with vegetarians, but it might help moms to get their kids to eat their vegetables.

Dear New Vegetarian,

I like the way you think. But if we are going to start a letter writing campaign to Nabisco, let’s see if we can get them to use your idea on Oreos. I think most kids like them better than Animal Crackers.

If Nabisco could make Oreos shaped like meats, vegetables, and fruits then it would be so simple to get kids to eat a balanced meal.

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Letters Home: Nature in Japan

Japan is a nature lover’s paradise. Whether people want to explore some of Japan’s primeval forests, climb its many active or dormant volcanoes, or hike the rugged but scenic mountains or coastlines, Japan offers a variety of natural sights and activities for the more active or adventurous visitors.

From north to south, east to west, the entire country has many natural wonders that would satisfy the most thrill-seeking person who likes to get up close to and experience nature at its finest, or the visitor who likes a leisurely stroll in nature that is relaxing, calm, and peaceful.

Japan’s natural beauty and adventure can accommodate every taste and desire. Since Japan enjoys four distinct seasons, each season offers different activities related to nature that tourists can enjoy throughout the year. 

In the spring, when nature begins to reawaken from its long winter’s sleep, a popular and enjoyable activity is to do cherry blossom viewing. This occurs anywhere and everywhere around the country as cherry trees can be found in nearly all historical places, as well as in parks and around temples and shrines (main photo: A canopy of cherry blossoms in full bloom during the spring in Fukuoka, Japan). Japanese people have turned blossom viewing into a veritable national pastime during the spring season and many opportunities to view the glorious blossoms can be found in all parts of the country. 

Some of you may remember me referring to Japan’s cherry blossom season as being a “national treasure.”



The summer season offers visitors many chances to hike and explore its naturally-rugged terrain including mountains, volcanoes, and its rocky coastlines. Also, summer welcomes a plethora of traditional festivals that feature floats, seasonal foods, and a local favorite, fireworks.  Summertime is reserved for hiking in the many national parks, relaxing on the beach and swimming in the ocean, and enjoying numerous floral displays in communities across Japan.

The autumn season signals the popular activity of momiji-gari or “hunting red leaves.” Japan’s indigenous trees love to show off as they turn into bright colors in preparation for the coming winter months.

The Japanese maple, with its crimson-colored leaves, and the gingko tree that turns a vibrant shade of yellow, are a nature lover’s dream as they travel through the scenic areas enjoying this bright display of nature at her finest. I prefer train travel during this season so I can enjoy the multi-colored scenery as the train whisks me from place to place. The mountains look marbled as the autumn leaves turn colors and finally fall to the ground, leaving the mountains bare in preparation for the snow that will soon arrive.


A winter scene at the very picturesque Ginzan Hot Spring town in Yamagata, Prefecture.


The winter season, especially in the northern prefectures, welcomes heavy snowfall that allows people who love to ski, snowboard, and go sledding to frolic in Japan’s winter wonderland. With a variety of snow festivals being done throughout the coldest winter months, visitors can enjoy the snow, cold, and ice to their heart’s content.

Of course, there is nothing more refreshing after spending a day in the cold and snow than to enjoy one of Japan’s glorious onsens or hot springs to warm the physical body back up, and to reenergize the mind and soul, while relishing the warmth and natural medicinal attributes of the natural springs that are located all over Japan.

Japan is well-known for a number of “natural wonders” like the imposing and most famous Mount Fuji. Also, the Tottori Sand Dunes on Honshu Island is a natural wonder worth exploring if you find yourself in the area where they are located, along with the Takachiho Gorge located in Kyushu’s Miyazaki Prefecture. The best time to hike this area is in the autumn in order to enjoy the orange, red, and yellow leaves that canvas the entire area.

Oita Prefecture is home to Beppu Onsen which is a group of eight distinct hot springs, each with its own unique character.


The author (front) and his friends enjoying a hot sand bath at the historic Takegawara Hot Spring in Oita Prefecture in Japan


A fun and unusual activity is to visit the Takegawara indoor sand bath where you change into a cotton robe and have steaming hot sand shoveled onto your body up to your neck. It is a soothing and relaxing experience that allows your body to sweat out toxins … then it is refreshing to shower afterward to wash off all the sand, and then soak in the hot spring.

Traditionally, Japanese people have had a very close and endearing relationship with nature, believing that nature should be appreciated unconditionally, hence why nature is rooted in Shintoism espousing the belief that all of nature has spirits, with pine trees holding an especially sacred position within the Shinto religion. Many festivals and celebrations in Japan are based upon nature or the four seasons.

Since nearly four-fifths of Japan is covered with mountainous terrain, it is no wonder that mountains are revered and regarded highly by Japanese people.

The Japanese Alps make up the largest mountain range in Japan, running down the center of Honshu Island. The highest mountain in Japan is Mount Fuji, which is 12,388 feet. I made it up halfway on Fuji back in the late 70s, but I was able to climb Mount Iwaki in Aomori to its highest point, which is 5,331 feet. While not a huge feat for an experienced mountain climber, no doubt, it was a harrowing and arduous experience for me, nonetheless. It was enough to satisfy any urge I had to climb any more mountains.

Before traveling to Japan, it is best to decide which season you are most interested in experiencing, then plan your itinerary accordingly.

If you are a snow bunny, then Hokkaido or Tohoku would be your preferred destination, ideally in January or February. 

If cherry blossom viewing is more your cup of tea, then planning a trip in late March for the southern prefectures, or April for Honshu Island is best.

If you enjoy hiking and climbing, I recommend coming in the autumn when the heat of the summer has dissipated and the leaves are turning their vibrant shades of red and orange.

The summer months in Japan, while dreadfully hot, offer visitors a chance to see the rich greenness of Japan and to enjoy summer festivals and fireworks.

Like I mentioned before, Japan has something for everyone!

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Column: Back to school advice

Dear readers,

When I was a child, my grandfather, Brady Meltzer, told me that it seemed to him like time was passing by faster and faster the older he got. This came to mind last week when my grandchildren were preparing to head back to school. I decided that I should give them some grandfatherly back-to-school advice and take a photo for posterity.

I didn’t tell my grandchildren about how I didn’t have to go back to school until after Labor Day. I didn’t want to unnecessarily add to their back-to-school angst.

They listened somewhat attentively to the advice I passed down from my grandfather. I then told them it was time for our annual, somewhat corny, posed back-to-school picture for this week’s column. 

My request for them to get into their costumes and pose for a Norman Rockwellesque photo was not met with much enthusiasm. In unison, all three asked that age-old children’s question, “Do we have to?”   

The oldest, June, will be starting sixth grade at Shelbyville Middle School this year.  Almost 30 years ago, her father, my son, Trent, was starting sixth grade. It seems like just yesterday that I was giving him fatherly advice. I decided to just reminisce and use a photo of Trent when he was headed into the sixth grade.



Mr. Peabody have your boy, Sherman, fire up the Wayback machine. Join me now as I pass out back-to-school advice to my son, Trent, as he begins middle school. Listen in.

Trent: Dad, since I’m starting middle school, I was thinking maybe it’s time for me to get contacts. I also need new clothes. Could you buy me Michael Jordan tennis shoes this year?

Kris:  Well, I could waste my hard-earned money on contacts and new mod clothes. Instead, I’ve taken all the extra money I saved for your college education and invested it in Beanie Babies. I can just fix your glasses with some tape. Besides, you are much more likely to grow up to be a lawyer than a pro basketball player. I think I have some used wingtips that will fit you. The shoes will go with your dress pants. A solid color shirt with a button-down collar and bow tie will complete the ensemble.

Trent:  Don’t you think the other boys will think I look stupid when I arrive for my first day of middle school dressed like I a lawyer?

Kris:  Probably so. But believe me, you won’t look any more stupid than the boys arriving at middle school wearing Air Jordans and basketball jerseys pretending they are ready to play in the NBA.

Epilogue: The photo of sixth grader Trent Meltzer was taken in front of the bookshelf of law books located just outside of Shelby Circuit Court, where he now presides as Judge Trent Meltzer. Just a coincidence, or foreshadowing?

I asked Trent what he thought about that photo. He said, “Just think where I would be if you had bought me those Air Jordans and taken the photo in front of Market Square Arena.”

As Paul Harvey says, “Now you know the rest of the story.” 

Oh, I almost forgot. The back-to-school advice from my grandfather, Brady, I passed on to my granddaughters was, “Leave your chewing tobacco and slingshot at home.”

As good of advice today as it was in the last century. 

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Column: Grifters outside of Walmart?

Dear readers,

This week a loyal reader reaches out to Team Schwinn for help. Enjoy!

Dear Team Schwinn,

No offense Kris, but I doubt that you can answer my question without help from your entire team. 

I haven’t been so annoyed since the Confederacy had their bicycle cavalry peddling around Shelbyville flying the “Stars and Bars.” I was so proud of Team Schwinn the day you and the Schwinn militia chased Johnny Reb out of town. 

My current problem won’t be as easy to solve. You see, I have lost my joy of shopping at Walmart. I have grown tired of the grifters always lying in wait for me to leave the store. 

I’m not talking about local Girl Scouts selling their cookies or the Salvation Army ringing their bell at Christmas. Just like Spider-Man, my Spidey sense tells me that many of those people lurking around the Walmart exit for donations are not legitimate charities. 

In the spirit of full transparency, my Spidey sense has been known to be very wrong at times. Take for example my first husband, I was very, very wrong about that one. 

So, could Team Schwinn please do some investigating? It would be a great service to the community. No one likes to be the stooge bamboozled by grifters. On the other hand, if they are all legitimate charities, I’ll permanently retire my Spidey sense and drop a coin in their cup.


Suspicious and Unhappy Walmart Shopper



Dear Walmart Shopper,

Since old Sam is no longer riding around in his Ford F-150 pickup truck checking on his Walmart stores, we shoppers do need to be a bit more vigilant. Walmart isn’t the same without old Sam around. Wal-Mart has lost its hyphen and “Discount City” sign. Both changes were major disappointments to me. Not to mention that a Subway sandwich shop has replaced the Wal-Mart snack bar. 

Sometimes I find myself wandering around inside the local Rural King reminiscing about when that building was our first Wal-Mart. The Martha Stewart of Shelbyville, Susie Veerkamp, once joined me for lunch at the Wal-Mart snack bar.

Oops, I seem to be drifting down memory lane. Let’s get back on task. As to your grifter question, it isn’t an easy question to answer.  Unfortunately, a great number of charities are grifters in disguise. I did call a special meeting of Team Schwinn and can preliminary report as follows:

Once again John Gray nailed it in his book “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.” We started by conducting an unscientific poll. 

Most men shoppers haven’t even noticed the people at the exit requesting charitable donations. This is because most men don’t go into the actual Walmart to shop. Men just pick up their food staples of Mountain Dew, Funyuns, and Beef Jerky Sticks at the Walmart gas station when they are buying their weekly supply of chewing tobacco.

On the other hand, the vast majority of women agree with you. Most women shoppers not only dislike having to exit past the grifters but will sometimes exit through the garden shop just to avoid them. One woman told me that her trick to avoid the grifters is pretending to talk on her cell phone while quickly walking past them. 

While I can’t assemble the Schwinn Militia and run the grifters off the Walmart lot, maybe this column will alert Walmart management to the problem. Never underestimate the power of the press. During the great pandemic Walmart made their aisles “one way.” Readers hated it. I wrote a column and the next week the aisles were back to running in both directions.

In the meantime, you might try pretending to talk on your cell phone or exit through the garden shop. Then again, you could take a page out of the men’s playbook and just shop at the Walmart gas station. I don’t know if you can find all food staples for your family there, but Funyuns might count as a vegetables.

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Letters Home: Traditional and popular music in Japan

Like any advanced culture, Japan has a history of music that ranges from ancient to modern times.

Traditional Japanese music incorporates a hauntingly unique variety of sounds and tones that often serve to imitate the rhythms found in nature that form the basis of life. This is achieved by using a combination of stringed, wind, and percussion instruments. The concepts of water and wind are often replicated in traditional Japanese music using these sounds from nature as models.

The “gagaku” tradition of court music is perhaps the oldest type of musical genre from Japan which was first introduced to the archipelago in the early years of the 10th century from mainland China. The theatrical traditions of kabuki and noh include, along with dancing and singing, these unique sounds that make up the bulk of Japanese traditional music.

In order to achieve the quintessential tones and rhythms of Japanese traditional music, Japanese traditional instruments are utilized, like the shamisen (a three-stringed guitar-like instrument that has a long, thin neck). Originally coming from China, a version of the shamisen called the sanshin was used in Okinawa before spreading to the mainland of Japan.  Perhaps the most famous or well-known style of shamisen can still be found in Aomori Prefecture called Tsugaru Shamisen. 

A bamboo flute with five holes, called a shakuhachi, is used in traditional music and is the main instrument in ceremonial rites that pertain to the emperor and it is used in religious ceremonies. Originally used by monks of the Fuke sect of Buddhism as a tool for meditation, it gradually became more prevalent for imperial court-related ceremonies and rites.

The taiko drum, while strictly speaking is not a classical instrument, is often played in traditional music and it is also a favorite instrument used in traditional festivals, which are most often performed in groups or ensembles of drummers.  Used during summer festivals and other seasonal events throughout the year, as well as in certain religious ceremonies at temples and shrines, the taiko drum has a simple yet powerful sound, adding much rhythmic texture to the music as opposed to harmonic texture.

The koto might well be regarded as the national instrument of Japan due to its unique sound and popularity at being played for special events. Often referred to as a Japanese harp, the traditional koto instrument has a long, wooden main body with 13 strings and is played by using the thumb, index, and middle fingers of the right hand. The fingers are covered with small pics called tsume. Typically, the instrument is played while sitting on the floor on one’s knees (seiza-style). 



Traditionally, apprentice geishas were required to become proficient at playing most of the traditional instruments before they could become a full-fledged geisha.

Geisha have been terribly misunderstood outside of Japan and often likened to high-priced prostitutes. Geishas are highly regarded professional entertainers who apprentice for many years before earning the title of geisha. They are meticulously trained in the classical arts of Japan which requires them to learn to become proficient at playing nearly all of the traditional instruments, learn traditional dances and singing, and to be able to conduct themselves with grace and the utmost femininity.

Geishas are responsible, I think, in being the purveyors of traditional culture, ensuring that the fine arts are continued on and not lost to history. Both mysterious and mythical, they provide an important cultural contribution to Japan through their lifelong dedication to the arts and music.

Of course, today, geishas are fewer than in the past, but in cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and even Fukuoka there are areas where geisha can be found. It is reported that there are roughly only 1,000 working geishas in Japan today, compared to 80,000 across Japan in their heyday.

Today, Japan enjoys a wide variety of musical genres such as J-Pop, J-hip hop, Japanese reggae and jazz, as well as Japanoise (popular in the 70s and 80s), and in recent years Japanese anime and game music in addition to the traditional music outlined above.

Japan has a rich tradition of adopting musical genres from other cultures then adapting and changing them to make them uniquely Japanese.


Photo: The author posing with a cardboard cutout of the main star, Yon-sama, of the hit Korean series "Winter Sonata" when visiitng Korea.


An imported musical movement that has taken Japan by storm is K-Pop. Japanese of all ages quickly have adapted to and accepted K-Pop music due to the wildly popular Korean groups that sing and dance to catchy tunes. In recent years, there has been a K-Pop boom all over Japan with dance schools popping up everywhere to satisfy people’s interest and desire to mimic the Korean boy and girl groups.

Just as in other countries around the world, BTS has become hugely popular raking in billions of yen in sales. This has extended even further to include a Korean cultural wave that includes fashion, cosmetics, hairstyles, and culinary dishes.

However, the precursor group to the BTS phenomenon could very easily be regarded as the Japanese group of SMAP (main photo).  This boy group played a huge role in bringing the concept of “pop idol groups” to the forefront all over Asia for decades before the Korean groups began to become popular. 

Because Japan is a such a huge consumer market for music, it is no wonder that Korea began to export its idols to Japan. Before the music idols arrived in Japan, Korean TV dramas made a huge impression upon Japanese audiences. 

A wildly popular Korean TV drama called “Winter Sonata” took Japan by storm back in the early 2000s and still to this day, Korean TV dramas have a huge following in Japan. This particular drama led the way for Korean pop stars to enter the Japanese market and there is no sign that either will be leaving anytime soon. People love both K-Pop and Korean TV dramas with Japanese fans clamoring to visit the locations portrayed in the dramas, and attending K-Pop concerts in Japan and in Korea.

J-Pop girl groups have always tried to portray an image of being youthful, even immature, to appeal largely to nerdy men in their fan base called “otaku,” whereas K-Pop girl groups definitely present themselves more maturely and sexily.  

The naïve image that J-Pop girl groups try to foster is still happening today because appearing “cute” (kawaii) rather than sexy is something that Japanese people admire and prefer. However, Japanese audiences are very happy to accept the sexy and sultry images of Korean girl groups, too.

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Column: Bike ride to the Cedar Ford Covered Bridge

Dear readers,

Before getting started on this week’s column, I have one item omitted from last week’s road trip to Minnesota. It is the photo of me standing in front of Bob Dylan’s house in Duluth. 

Now, let’s open the mail.  

Dear Kris,

Have you checked on “The Helbing” lately? I noticed several large construction machines parked next to it. Is it being moved? If it is already gone when you check, maybe Jack Yeend can help you find it.  You know, he is a retired Indiana State Police Detective.

Your readers might find it a bit farfetched that a local treasure like “The Helbing” could one day be taken away from us. It wouldn’t be the first time. I’ve seen it happen during my lifetime.

Just like you, I was once a boy riding my Schwinn around Shelbyville. Well, not exactly just like you. I was a lot better at hitting a baseball if I remember correctly.

Anyway, in those days, my friends and I enjoyed riding our bikes out old Rushville Road. Near the intersection of German Church Road was a covered bridge spanning the Little Blue River. It was called the “Cedar Ford” covered bridge. We would park our bikes and play on the bridge.

If any of your readers have fond memories of the Cedar Ford bridge, they can still visit the bridge. It now spans Beanblossom Creek in Washington Township in Monroe County. My friends and I still enjoy riding our bikes out to visit the old bridge. We all traded our Schwinns in for Harleys a long time ago.

If you and Yeend decide to visit the bridge, I advise taking his new Corvette instead of your tandem. Even with both of you peddling, it’s a bit too far for old-timers to ride a bicycle.

Please withhold my name, as I am not seeking any publicity. Besides, the only place I would want my friends to see my name in print is Easyriders Magazine.



Dear former Schwinn rider,

Thanks for the information. Jack and I will definitely keep an eye on The Helbing. I think all the construction equipment is for remodeling the old Coca-Cola bottling plant into apartments.

I’m guessing that several readers are already planning their trip to Monroe County to see if their initials carved into old bridge survived the move. 

My column about cub scouts jogged the memory of several readers.

Jeff Gibson also has fond memories of his scouting years. His den mother was Danni Bea Lummis. Unlike me, Jeff stayed in long enough to earn a few merit badges. I don’t know if he earned a badge for photography, but if you enjoy great photos of wildlife, check out his Facebook page. Jeff and Kurt Lockridge both regularly post beautiful wildlife photos.

Former cub scout Rick Gray won the Pinewood Derby in Fairland the same year that I placed third in Shelbyville. I wonder if Rick still has his car. I have mine. We could have a race on a neutral track, maybe in Boggstown. Then again, we probably shouldn’t put a lot of stress on such old cars. It should just be an exhibition not a competition. 

It wasn’t just the boys who had fond memories of cub scouts. Brenda Willey, Stephanie Banawitz Rick and Carmella Valasteck Hammond all had mothers who were den mothers when their brothers were in scouts.

Last but not least, a shout out to Pete McCorkle. Pete entered his 1966 Chevy Fleetside pickup truck in the recent car show at Kennedy Park.  The judges must have seen some water spots during their inspection. Pete didn’t win a trophy, but he won a bucket filled with wash and wax products. 

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Column: Highlights from the Columbia and Snake River cruise

Travelers with Shelby Senior Services just returned from a week-long cruise on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Oregon and Washington. It is the same route that the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled to explore some of the territory purchased through the Louisiana Purchase.

While they used log canoes hewn out by the local native tribes, we boarded a paddlewheel boat in Portland, Oregon, to travel to the east end of the Snake River and the airport at Lewiston, Idaho.     

As you may remember from geography class at school, the Louisiana Purchase was land purchased from the French in 1803 for three cents an acre. What a bargain!

It encompassed over 828,000 square miles of land that essentially doubled the land mass of the United States. This enabled the beginning of the western expansion of our country. Lewis and Clark were tasked with finding a way to travel to the Pacific Ocean through this territory.

Our first port was Astoria, Oregon. Who knew it would be one of the highlights of the trip. Astoria is a town built on the side of steep hills. An excursion to Astoria column memorializes “the cradle for America’s claim to the Pacific Coast.” It consists of a 125-foot column with spiral carvings depicting the historical events from 1792 to the 1880s.

The 600-foot hill features breathtaking views from the top of Coxcomb Hill on which it sits, and puts the Lewis and Clark expedition in perspective. The winding Columbia River below is visible for miles. 

Just so you don’t forget your visit, each person is given a balsa wood airplane to assemble and fly down the hill. It was an unforgettable and fun experience.  

The second most memorable highlight was the excursion to Mount St. Helens.  According to the brochure, “Early in the morning on Sunday, May 18, 1980, volcanologist David Johnston took measurements of Mount St. Helens from a nearby observation post. There were no red flags to predict the catastrophe about to happen.”

He only had enough time to warn those below. Johnston perished in that eruption.

A magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck one mile under the mountain. The ensuing volcanic eruption took out the summit and the side bulge. The debris traveled down 600 feet to the Toutle River bed, and the debris filled up the basin to the size of one million swimming pools.

While it has been many years since the eruption, vegetation has been slow to grow back. Ash covered the land for miles around, and the clouds of ash encircled the globe. The devastation and loss of life were epic. Scientists still keep a close eye on the mountain.   

Last but not least, the Sacajawea State Park and Interpretive Center at Richland, Washington, was a pleasant surprise. The story of this Shoshone woman is extremely inspiring.

At age 12 she was captured by a Hidatsa raiding party, then later she was sold to a French fur trader, and she became one of his several wives. Her husband, Toussanit Charbonneau, was hired as interpreter for the expedition and she accompanied them. She was the interpreter for communication with many native tribes along the way, she helped find passages through the most difficult terrain, and she even gave birth during the expedition. Jean Baptist, her son, was born February 11, 1805.

The park is at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers. It is a beautiful setting and caters to all ages with interactive displays and an educational video.  

I have only touched on my favorite highlights, but there were many more experiences offered on this cruise.

I urge you to join us on one of our trips in 2024.  Brochures are available after August 10 in the front office at Shelby Senior Services.

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Column: Bob Dylan's house

Dear Readers,

You are probably already wondering what today’s photo of the late Mayrene Griffey slapping me has to do with Bob Dylan’s House.  Believe it or not, it is a natural segue in today’s column.

The photo of Shelbyville’s favorite Avon Lady slapping me was a reenactment from an incident that occurred about thirty years ago. 

Sandy was cleaning out the bathroom closet. She found a little glass bottle shaped like an old automobile. I instantly recognized it as a bottle of Avon aftershave. My mother bought it for me when I was in high school from our Avon Lady, Mayrene Griffey.

I was overjoyed to discover there was still some left in the bottle.  Not just because of a sentimental longing or wistful affection for my youth, but because everything really was better in those days.

Coca Cola was made with real sugar. Kool-Aid was sweetened with cyclamates. Laundry detergent got clothes whiter with phosphates and young men were made irresistible with powerful after shave lotions such as Brut, Jade East, and Hai Karate. The most powerful aftershave couldn’t be purchased in a store. It was only sold by licensed distributors known as Avon Ladies. It was called “Wild Country.” 

I remember the day I got that little car filled with aftershave. I had to promise both my mom and Mrs. Griffey that I would use it responsibly and only as it was intended. There had been rumors of teenagers using it to spike the punch bowl at parties.



Twenty years later, when I splashed the Wild Country on my face it didn’t feel like I had remembered. The burning tingling sensation that I expected just wasn’t there. Something was wrong. Could it have gone bad? I told my wife I was going to give Mrs. Griffey a call to see if I was due a refund.   

My wife tried to talk me out of it. She said that Mrs. Griffey wouldn’t want me stopping by her house to complain about a bottle of aftershave purchased 20 years ago. I knew differently. Avon like Tupperware had a lifetime warranty and more importantly there was a special bond between the Avon customer and the Avon Lady. 

A few days later, I was standing in Mrs. Griffey’s living room explaining my problem. She said that she had never heard of Wild Country losing its mojo. She took the little glass car from me and poured a few drops in the palm of her hand. 

“Lean over here a little closer, maybe you just didn’t apply it properly,” she said. 

With one swift motion she transferred it to my cheek. She was right. After all these years, Wild Country still packs a punch. The stinging sensation was exactly as I remembered it.

On our recent trip to Minnesota, on our way to visit Bob Dylan’s house in Duluth, we toured an old lighthouse on Lake Superior. The lighthouse hadn’t been in use for over 50 years. Several artifacts that had been left behind by the last lighthouse keeper and his family were on display. One of the items was a little glass bottle that looked like an old-fashioned telephone.

The tour guide showing us the artifacts explained that the little bottle still had some of the ancient liquid in it. She took off the cap and offered up a smell from the past. Most declined the offer, but I took a sniff.

I instantly said, “Wild Country.” 

Our tour guide looked surprised. She said that it was in fact Wild Country aftershave, but I was the first person to have identified it as such. For me, it instantly brought back fond memories of my favorite Avon Lady.

Yada, Yada, Yada, we did find Bob Dylan’s birthplace and I took a photo of me standing in front of the house in Duluth. If you really want to see that photo, send me a message on Facebook.

Bonus Travel Tip: If you dine in Minnesota and their famous Minnesota wild rice is on the menu, get the potatoes instead. I’m not sure why in this day and age of truth in advertising it can even be called “wild rice.” It is an aquatic grass unrelated to rice of any kind. 

As Paul Harvey always said, “Now you know the rest of the story.” 

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Letters Home: Japanese food and cuisine

Japanese food and cuisine are made up of not only the traditional foods that are well-known all over the world, but also regional delicacies that have developed over the centuries throughout the Japanese archipelago.

One aspect of Japanese cuisine that sets it apart from other countries with rich culinary heritages is how Japanese dishes take advantage of seasonal ingredients to add extra flavors, colors, and textures to dishes.

Two staples in most regularly-scheduled meals in Japan is that the menu is often based upon white rice and miso soup.  Other side dishes are added to these to make what is popularly referred to as washoku — traditional Japanese cuisine.

Part of the reason why Japanese food has become world renowned is because its dishes are nearly always presented with a refined sense of elegance, that involves a meticulous preparation style that has been passed down and honed over the past several thousand years.  Food critics have described Japanese food as being “pure” and “delicate.” 

Some typical foods that are eaten regularly all over Japan are rice and miso soup which are served at every meal. In addition, Japan is well-known for its exquisite noodles, like ramen, soba, somen, and udon.

Vegetables are nearly always served in some form at most meals in Japan, with the daikon radish being the most common, along with sea vegetables like nori (seaweed). As mentioned earlier, many dishes depend upon the ingredients which change during each season. Potatoes, onions, carrots, green peppers, and salad-making vegetables are always available no matter the time of the year and these are used abundantly in many Japanese dishes. 



Soy products are used extensively in Japanese cuisine, as well. Tofu is quite popular, along with miso, and edamame.  These are often served in conjunction with some sort of fish or seafood, with salmon and mackerel being quite common.

Many Japanese people drink green tea at some point in the day, or after meals, and for something sweet, it is common to be served a fruit like a tangerine, mikan orange, melon, persimmon, or a bunch of Fuji grapes.

When it comes to specific dishes, Japan is known for its delicious tempura, which is either deep-fried vegetables, shellfish, fish or chicken in a batter mixture. Teppanyaki is more of a cooking style, than a specific dish, but it involves grilling meat with vegetables on a large, flat grill. Other foods cooked similarly are yakisoba, okonomiyaki, and monjayaki. Also, tonkatsu or breaded pork is a favorite among both Japanese and visitors to Japan. Yakiniku is grilled meat over an actual fire on a grill and this is also referred to as Korean Barbecue.

Takowasa is a dish that many restaurants will serve as an appetizer and it is composed of octopus seasoned with wasabi. Sushi and sashimi are known the world over and are what initially put Japanese cuisine on the world map.  Popular around the world, sushi and sashimi are quintessentially representative of Japanese cuisine. Sadly, most foreigners refer to all raw fish as “sushi” which does not do it justice.

Onigiri, flavored rice balls, are eaten by most everyone at any time of the day when they want a “pick me up” snack that is delicious and these are easily found in nearly every convenience store in Japan. Natto, while loved by Japanese people, is a food item that most foreigners don’t like, due to its pungent odor and unusual texture. Oden and nabe are two dishes that are hearty and warm, often eaten during the colder months in Japan.



While I love most Japanese food, I am not a fish or seafood eater (I know, I live in Japan and I don’t eat any seafood or fish … what a waste, right?). Thankfully, Japanese food covers a wide variety of suitable things that I can and do eat here. Often times, though, Japanese food is prepared using some sort of fish stock or flakes which precludes me from eating it.

Many restaurants will adjust their menu by substituting a fish dish for a non-fish dish or tweak their preparation technique for me leaving out the fish, which I greatly appreciate. 

I honestly wish I loved to eat fish and seafood because it would make my life in Japan so much easier. I suppose growing up in Indiana and never being exposed to quality fresh fish, I just never developed a taste for it, and in contrast, developed quite an aversion to eating anything that hints of fish.  I am not alone … my mother wasn’t fond of fish or seafood, either, so it was not something I ever had growing up. Interestingly, my brother and my dad were OK with some types of fish and seafood, but not all.

If I were allergic to seafood, then I would have a ready-made excuse as to why I can’t eat it. Because I don’t like the taste, many well-meaning people will assure me that whatever it is I am about to be served has no fishy taste and I won’t be able to detect any fish-taste. Nope. I am in my 60s and trust me, I have tried every type of fish and seafood imaginable and there is not one that I even remotely like, so I politely decline and thank them for their concern, but reassure them that I have plenty of food I do and can eat with no problem. It’s not like I’m starving, after all, because I would not be regarded as being thin by any stretch of the definition. Hefty is being kind, even, but in reality, I’m fat. 

Body size and image are very subjective, I guess. While I often feel quite overweight in Japan, when I return to the U.S., I almost feel svelte when I am out and amongst my countrymen. I blend into the crowds and no one seems to pay me any mind at all regarding my body size when in America.

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Column: Road trip to the Twin Cities

Dear readers,

With another successful Indiana Derby Week in the history books, I decided it was time for a road trip. Shelbyville’s “Derby Festival” isn’t quite as big as the “Bears of Blue River Festival” was in its heyday, but it’s getting bigger and better every year.

The inaugural “Derby Parade” seemed to be enjoyed by those sitting outside of Capone’s last Friday. The parade began at “The Helbing” and traveled south on Harrison Street, turning west on Washington Street and ending at Miller Street. Some have questioned whether myself and Jack Yeend riding my Schwinn tandem really constituted a parade. 

I’ll admit it wasn’t much of a parade, but at least it was a start. I’m sure we will have more units in the parade next year. One bonus to there being so few people along the parade route is that Jack didn’t toss that much candy. We still have half of the bag of mints left over for next year’s parade. 

Now let’s get on with the road trip. 



Sandy and I decided to visit Minnesota. It is a state we have never visited. I knew all about Minneapolis from watching the Mary Tyler Moore TV show. Minneapolis is known as a big city with a small-town feel. Just like Mary, we expected to meet many interesting people and be involved in varied activities. 

Our first stop was a park in downtown St. Paul. Cartoonist Charles Schulz was born in Minneapolis but grew up in St. Paul. The park features sculptures of some of the characters from his “Peanuts” cartoon strip.

I found a parking spot on the street but was having some difficulty figuring out how to pay to park. Old fashioned parking meters were much more user friendly. Putting a coin in the slot and turning the knob took only two steps. As I studied the computer screen on the parking kiosk, I experienced Minneapolis’ famous “small-town feel.” A woman, who was in the process of pulling out of a nearby parking space, got out of her car and assisted me with the five-step process of paying to park.

As the woman drove away, Sandy and I immediately got to experience Minneapolis’ “big city” vibe. We heard a loud commotion coming from the park. As we got closer, it was obvious that it was some sort of mayhem. We stayed across the street at a safe distance. 

Minneapolis, being ground zero for the defund the police movement, doesn’t have many police officers. As the fight continued, we noticed a man with a badge, wearing what appeared to be a law enforcement uniform, standing near us talking on a walkie talkie. When he finished talking on his walkie talkie, he said, “I’m trying to not get involved.”

A weather-beaten old man with a gruff voice could be heard shouting some unintelligible instructions to the combatants. I’m guessing that he was an undercover social worker reminding the participants of the Marquess of Queensberry Rules. The bareknuckle fisticuffs ended without a victory dance or celebration of any type whatsoever. I guess it was a draw.

The statues of the Peanuts gang were all recognizable. I didn’t recognize the statue of a man nearby. The plaque identified him as the writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was born in St. Paul.

My favorite sculpture in Minneapolis was a giant spoon with a cherry.  Unlike some sculptures, I could tell right away what it was supposed to be. 

There is much more to see in the twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis than I have included in this column. I intentionally left out our tour of the statehouse in St. Paul and many other interesting tourist attractions including the Mall of America.

Giant FM’s feature contributor covering the travel beat is Carol McDaniel and I thought that I should leave her something to write about in case she decides to visit the twin cities.

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Column: Scout's Honor

Dear readers,

During the Kennedy administration I was in uniform. I was a cub scout.  Some of the happiest memories of my youth are from those few months.  Mrs. Skogland was my den mother.

I have vivid memories. In my mind’s eye, I can clearly see myself all dressed up in my finest cub scout couture. I am sitting on the piano bench next to Mrs. Skogland. She removes a paper music roll from a long rectangular box and carefully installs it in the player piano. Mrs. Skogland begins to peddle. The paper music roll, with its thousands of little holes, starts turning and the piano comes to life.

“Yes! We Have No Bananas” remains one of my favorite songs to this day. In fact, just writing about it has jarred it loose from one of my memory pegs. I can hear Mrs. Skogland’s player piano playing the tune as clearly as when I was sitting next to her on the piano bench. No doubt an ear worm that will remain with me for at least a week.

As the paper roll turned and the mechanism of spools, gears, pullies, and cogs made the piano play, all seemed right with the world. I only held the cub scout rank equivalent to buck private, but I couldn’t have been happier. I didn’t bother with earning badges or for that matter ever reading the cub scout handbook. Looking back, I think I missed the very essence of being a scout. I just joined for the uniform. 

Cub scouts all wore their uniforms to school on days when meetings were held. I liked those blue cub scout uniforms complete with yellow neckerchief scarf and little metal woggle holding it in place. I remember going to Breedlove’s Men’s Store on E. Washington Street to buy my uniform. My woggle sported a relief sculpture of an animal. 

On special occasions our den would join the other dens at the Knights of Columbus for a cub scout pack meeting. The Pinewood Derby was such an occasion. I thought of it as the cub scout version of the Indy 500.



Weeks before the derby, each cub scout was issued a block of wood, four nails, and four wheels. I spent hours whittling, sanding, and painting to turn my block of wood into a race car. It ended up being the crowning achievement of my career in the cub scouts. I still have my pinewood derby car and the trophy I was presented for my third-place finish.

Enough reminiscing, let’s return to the present. I telephoned my former den mother and we talked for the first time in 60 years. We had a lot of catching up to do. 

I learned that her name is Ruth. She and her husband, Toby, are now living in Seattle and still have that player piano. They are the parents of Marc, Ian, Neil, Loren, and Keith. 

Ruth is originally from Toronto. She and Toby relocated to Shelbyville due to Toby’s job at General Electric. She has many fond memories from Shelbyville and her association with the scouts. In addition to being my den mother, she spent several summers supervising the family camp at Ransburg Boy Scout Camp.

I thanked Mrs. Skogland for being my den mother. She was always much nicer to me than I deserved. I never read my cub scout handbook and only looked at the cartoons in “Boys’ Life” magazine. Thanks to Mrs. Skogland, I still learned valuable life lessons from my scouting experience. Leading by example, she taught me to be kind and help others.

After we ended our phone call, I wondered if Mrs. Skogland introduced me to the player piano 60 years ago to prepare me for a future where machines take over the world. Was she preparing me for this dystopian world of mechanization where the cyborg cashier at Kroger keeps telling me to “place your groceries in the bagging area?” 

Maybe, but most likely, she played “Yes! We Have No Bananas” for me because she discovered it was one way to get me to sit still until my mom came to pick me up.

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Letters Home: Tanabata - the Star Festival and the Nebuta and Neputa Festivals

Every year, on July 7, Japan commemorates the Star Festival or “Tanabata” which celebrates the yearly meeting of two celestial lovers.

The festival has its origins in a 2000-year-old Chinese legend that features the meeting of two stars that are normally separated by the Milky Way, but are afforded an opportunity to meet once a year on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month — July 7.

Tanabata represents the romantic story of the two stars — Orihime, the beautiful and gifted princess of the sky king, represented by the Weaver Star (Vega); and Hikoboshi, the cow herder prince, better known as the Cowherd Star (Altair) — who are permitted to meet once a year if the skies are clear on this special day. 

While the Tanabata Festival is celebrated all over Japan, to some degree, probably the most famous celebration in Japan takes place in Sendai, in northern Japan. The Sendai Festival in Miyagi Prefecture is a traditional event that has been commemorated for hundreds of years but is celebrated from August 6-8 instead of July 7.

The reason for this is that the Sendai celebration uses an old Chinese calendar which celebrated the festival a month later, and this tradition followed the custom of the old original festival, even though at some point the modern calendar became the norm, pushing it to July 7 for most of Japan.

The Sendai Tanabata Festival began during the Edo Period (1603-1868) and was popularized by the powerful samurai warlord, Lord Date Masamune when he wrote eight poems commemorating the Tanabata Festival. Large bamboo poles are decorated to celebrate the male and female stars. Many elementary schools celebrate this holiday by preparing an oversized sprig of bamboo to bring into the classroom, and then allowing the children to write their wishes on colored papers to tie onto its branches to decorate it (main photo).



Traditionally, wishes were embedded into seven specific types of decorations.

On colored paper cards, wishes for academic success and the hope to improve one’s calligraphy skills are infused into the “tanzaku” ornaments.

Little paper kimonos, called “kamigoromo” wish for healing and better sewing skills.

Small origami paper cranes, called “orizuru,” are made to wish for family safety and longevity.

Little paper purses are fashioned to symbolize prosperity in business and these are called “kinchaku.”

To wish for bountiful harvests and catches in fishing, little paper fishnets are made called “toami.”

“Kuzukago,” or tiny paper trashcans, are folded to represent cleanliness and frugality.

And finally, “fukinagashi” are miniscule paper windsocks that symbolize weaving and yarn, in order to wish for expert skills in weaving cloth.

Similar to Christmas decorations in the United States for Christmas trees, where families put all sorts of meaningful ornaments and decorations on their trees, I honestly don’t think there are any hard or fast rules concerning what types of decorations can be made and included on the bamboo tree limbs during Tanabata. 

During all the years I have been in Japan, I have seen some very creative and interesting renditions of the traditional decorations made by school kids to decorate their Tanabata displays. The most common, by far, are the “tanzaku” papers where people write their wishes and hang them on the bamboo branches in hopes that their wishes will be realized and come true. As examples of typical wishes, normally students wish for academic success, while parents wish for the good health of their children.

Tanabata is a typical festival in that because it occurs in the summer, it comes with delicious street-food stalls that people enjoy sampling. These foods are not only eaten at festivals, but year-round throughout all of Japan, but especially during the summer festival events. 

Takoyaki is made of fried dough balls that have a bit of octopus inside. A favorite street stall food, these are a popular treat for families all over Japan. There are chain restaurants that specialize in takoyaki because it is so popular.

Yakisoba is a dish consisting of cooked noodles and cabbage with pork, and is often prepared on a large, flat grill. It is a favorite dish prepared when camping, too. It is flavored with mayonnaise and a soy-based sauce.

Okonomiyaki is a thick pancake-like dish that has a variety of ingredients cooked inside it and then covered in sauce. Yakitori is grilled chicken on a skewer dipped in sauces, often served with onions between the chicken pieces, like a shish kebob. Yakitori shops are plentiful all over Japan and are a favorite of not only Japanese people, but also of visitors from overseas.

Processions are a large part of most summer festivals in Japan, and Tanabata is no different. People gather, wearing their summer cotton yukatas and join in planned festivities like dancing and chanting. Often fireworks are set off at night and attendees enjoy perusing the street stalls and the fun atmosphere of the festivals.

I lived in Aomori Prefecture for 20 years and it hosts one of the largest and most famous summer festivals in Japan, called Nebuta.  It is held every year from August 2-7 and features huge painted floats that are lit up from the inside. They are enormous in size and made out of painted washi paper that is stretched over a wire frame. Some of the more elaborate ones take a year to construct and paint. 



The floats can be nine meters wide, seven meters deep, and five meters high, which take up the entire street width as they are pushed by teams of revelers; they are accompanied by troupes of taiko drummers and traditional flutists. The floats represent human figures depicting historical characters, warlords, and even kabuki characters (photo).

The first time I attended the Nebuta Festival, I had just arrived in Japan in 1989 on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. All of us new teachers were feted to this wonderous experience of dance, music, foods, and floats while jumping around on one foot chanting Rasera-Rasera. Needless to say, it was unlike anything I had ever experienced in Indiana and I found it all to be quite enjoyable and fascinating.



Since I lived there for 20 years, I had many opportunities to attend this festival along with a similar festival in Hirosaki called Neputa. The Hirosaki festival features large, meticulously painted fan-shaped floats (photo) that depict scenes and images of warriors, as well, but it is a more subdued festival and the floats aren’t as menacing looking. 

I was told by the locals in Hirosaki that the festival’s origin is related to “nemuri nagashi” which is a traditional event to expel the pesky and persistent sleep demon that afflicts people during harvest time to make them sleepy and less productive. This festival is an attempt to cast that sleep demon away so the people can get on with the task of bringing in the rice and apple harvests.

Whatever the reason for the festival originally, today it continues to be an incredible sight to behold and quite grand and exciting to experience. Both the Nebuta and Neputa Festivals in Aomori Prefecture are must do activities if you find yourself in the area in early August.

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Column: A Film Noir Moment

Dear readers,

Suddenly, the door of my office flew open. A man stumbled inside. He was carrying something heavy. It was wrapped in newspaper and tied with twine. He collapsed as the package landed on my desk with a thud.

I opened the blade of my pocketknife and began cutting through the twine and newspaper. I desperately wanted to see what was in the package. 

Movie fans already know what was in the package. It was the Maltese Falcon. I had been enjoying a Walter Mitty daydream. I had been on the Wine Walk downtown and stopped in an open house at “The Lofts.”

For you old-old-timers, The Lofts are offices located above the former location of Bob Ewing’s Store for Men. For you old-timers that would be above the former location of Wetnight’s Shelbyville Paint and Wallpaper. For those of you living in the present, it is across Harrison St. from Rupert’s Arcade. 

The offices have that distinctive atmosphere of a film noir detective’s office. Famous fictional detectives Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe would feel right at home with their name hand lettered on the frosted glass in the door. Looking at the name on the glass, I realized that I was in the office of Arthur Thurston, a real-life FBI agent and former Superintendent of the Indiana State Police.



Among Shelbyville’s old-timers, Art Thurston is widely admired. Art was a member of the “Greatest Generation.”  During WWII, J. Edgar Hoover sent Thurston to London. Thus began Thurston’s journey into the James Bond world of British intelligence, double agents, and espionage. After the war, Thurston served as part of General MacArthur’s extended staff working to reform and modernize the Japanese police force.

It's been a long time since Art Thurston and those of his generation were using these second-floor offices. Local contractor Mark Polston, along with his father, Philip, and son, Justin, now once again have those offices available for rent.

According to Mark, the offices had been used for storage and he found many artifacts when getting them ready for a new generation of businesses. He has several items on display. One I found interesting was a placard from Hart Schaffner & Marx suits that had been in Bob Ewing’s Store for Men. 

It read, “How to tell when you’ve ‘arrived.’ When you have more buttons on your phone than on your jacket.”

Mark is offering the offices to rent for those who need a traditional full-time office or on an office sharing basis. He said the mission for “The Lofts” is “to help small businesses with affordable and professional office space.”

Local businesses Jessica Kelsay Accounting and Krystle Hiott Photography have already moved in and have their names on the frosted glass. 

Even if you have no need for office space, you should stop by and look around. Take a minute to visit Thurston’s office and maybe you too can enjoy a Walter Mitty moment. 

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Column: Got Milk

Dear readers,

To quote Roseanne Roseannadanna, “it’s always something.”  This week it’s milk.

For those of you who aren’t well versed in 1970s pop culture, Roseanne Roseannadanna was a character played by the late, great Gilda Radner on the TV show Saturday Night Live. A time in history when the show was actually funny.

My problem with milk started this week when I had a meeting at the State Office Building in downtown Indianapolis. I always arrive early to find a parking space. I then make my way to the cafeteria in the basement of the building for breakfast. In past years, the cafeteria always featured a giant pot of oatmeal and a giant pot of cream of wheat simmering on the stove. I noticed that cream of wheat was no longer offered, but the oatmeal was just as I remembered. 



I stirred the oatmeal and ladled up a large portion in a bowl. After topping it off with a few raisins, I looked around for the milk. The last time I ate in the cafeteria there was a nice selection of half pints of milk. All the favorites were available, including whole, two percent, one percent, skim, chocolate, and low-fat chocolate. I didn’t see any milk at all.

Thinking that the milk must have been moved to a new location, I asked one of the cafeteria workers. Nope, the milk wasn’t moved to a new location. Milk just isn’t offered as a beverage choice any longer.

I was shocked. Indiana is the heartland of America. Not only do Hoosier children all sport milk mustaches, so does the winner of the Indy 500. 

Milk was the beverage of choice by iconic Hoosier actor James Dean. Dean even drank milk when playing Jim Stark in the movie “Rebel Without a Cause.” Of course, as a rebel, he didn’t pour it in a glass, but drank the milk directly from the bottle.

I couldn’t believe among all the soft drink selections, there was no room to also offer milk for sale. Besides, I really believed all the dairy advertisements from the past, “Milk, it does a body good!” or “it builds strong bodies twelve ways.” 

Real and TV moms always said, “finish your milk.”

Wait a minute, my wife Sandy says, “it builds strong bodies twelve ways,” is from a Wonder Bread commercial. Ok, so maybe I’m wrong about that example, but Jimmie Dean drank milk. Milk should be available in the government cafeteria. 

The cafeteria is also frequented by statehouse employees who have convenient access by way of a tunnel. I don’t know who made the decision to stop serving milk but I’m certain they didn’t get approval from our State Senator Jean Leising.

In 2012, when Senator Leising found out that our schools no longer were teaching cursive writing, she famously said, “I still have a pad of yellow Sticky Notes, and if I write out something neatly in cursive, I expect an intern at the Senate to be able to read it.” 

I’m guessing that Senator Leising also expects Senate interns to have milk as a choice when eating in the cafeteria. A carton of milk with their meal would be good for the health of the intern and promote Indiana’s dairy farmers.

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.


Letters Home: Popular sports in Japan

A reader of this column asked if sports are popular in Japan.  The answer is YES! 

Japan is a very sports-friendly country that has developed culturally over the millennia and into modern times, including its traditional sports and more modern Western-imported sports. 

Sumo can be regarded as Japan’s national sport, but baseball would come in at a close second due to its wide popularity in terms of spectators and television ratings. Not only does Japan boast many professional baseball teams, but also high school baseball tournaments are closely followed every year with people tuning in to watch them on TV and even attending as spectators to cheer on their favorite teams.

What makes Sumo so unique and special in Japan is that it is not only considered to be a traditional sport, but can also be categorized as a quasi-religious practice due to its elaborate and sacred rituals that are directly connected to Shinto beliefs and practices. In fact, during ancient times, it was believed that sumo matches were largely religious in nature divinely performed for the benefit of kami — Shinto gods. 

Certain matches were even considered to foretell the future with regards to agricultural harvests and fishing catches for the community.

Every year, my prefecture — Fukuoka — hosts a grand sumo tournament called a “basho.” Ever since I moved to Fukuoka in 2010, I make it a point to attend at least one day a year which is always in November. 

I absolutely love attending and cheering on my favorite wrestlers. It is such an exciting experience as fans get very animated and vocal in the cheering on of their favorite rikishi (sumo wrestler). Of course, hometown favorites receive the most cheers.

While each match lasts only a matter of seconds, it is so engaging and exciting as the two wrestlers battle each other to win. There are very strict rules concerning how the wrestlers can battle their opponents. For example, it is strictly prohibited for wrestlers to pull hair, poke eyes, hit with a closed fist (open hand slaps are OK), or to kick the other wrestler in the stomach or chest. The ultimate goal is to push the other wrestler out of the sacred ring or cause him to touch any part of his body to the ground other than the soles of his feet.



One common technique is for a wrestler to try to grab his opponent’s “mawashi,” which is the thick, elaborately-tied loincloth that they wear during a match. It is a huge advantage for a wrestler if he can grab and hold onto the other wrestler’s mawashi.

There are no weight divisions in sumo, so wrestlers try to get as chubby as they can. This is not to say they aren’t strong and solid under the blubber. Sumo wrestlers train constantly and have great strength in their toned muscles underneath all that flab. However, bigger isn’t always better … good balance is crucial during a match so wrestlers must learn how to carry their weight to use it to their advantage.  Some smaller, more toned and muscular wrestlers have been very successful in sumo.

Japan is also world-renowned for its martial arts, with the most familiar ones for the majority of people around the world being judo and karate. Other martial arts’ traditions in Japan are Aikido (which literally is translated as “the way to harmony with ki”).

Kendo is quite popular in Japanese high schools and universities as club activities. This sport uses a bamboo sword as well as thick, protective clothing (like armor) to soften the blow of the opponent’s sword during a match. Kendo means “the way of the sword.” 

Another traditional martial art in Japan is Jujutsu which means “soft skills” and its primary purpose is for self-defense without the use of weapons.

Judo is now an Olympic sport because it is so widespread around the world. Judo is translated as “the way of softness or gentleness” and is a type of competitive wrestling where the players’ jackets play an important role in the matches. 

Karate is made up of a series of linear punching and kicking from stationary standing positions for self-defense. The word itself means “empty hand.” It is also an unarmed martial art that uses kicking, striking, and defensive blocking with one’s arms and legs. A Karate match begins and ends with the players exhibiting courtesy and respect to one another, emphasizing the act of moving forward, never backward, which is symbolic of the players pushing themselves to be better skilled in the martial art.

Kyudo is the martial art of archery and it means “the way of the bow.” It is a highly-skilled sport that demonstrates sophisticated, elegant, and elaborate shooting techniques. 

Aikido, meaning “the way of harmonizing energy” is another traditional self-defense system that resembles vaguely Judo and jujitsu in its throwing techniques, with the intention of turning the opponent’s strength and momentum back against him/herself. It also focuses on positive mental development, in addition to thwarting physical attacks.



As mentioned earlier, Japanese baseball is hugely popular and even though it was imported to Japan, it has become its own tour de force.

Probably the most powerful Japanese team over the decades would have to be the Yomiuri Giants, which would be on par with the New York Yankees in the USA — the Giants being the Yankees of Japan, in other words.

MLB is known as NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) in Japan, but more commonly called Puro Yakyu (Professional Baseball) by most people. There are only 12 teams in Japan compared to 30 MLB teams in the US. Japan divides its leagues into two — the Pacific league and Central League --   each with six teams. 

For decades, U.S. players who couldn’t make it in MLB would go to Japan to play professional baseball, but today, many top Japanese players have gone to MLB teams. 

Again, because I live in Fukuoka, I have the privilege of attending professional baseball games easily because our hometown team — the Softbank Hawks — consistently plays well, winning national championships.

Baseball games here are fun and exciting to attend and are wildly popular. Japanese people are loyal fans to their favorite teams, not too much unlike Americans who follow baseball regularly.

In addition to baseball, Japan has a very active and robust soccer league, as well as great interest in other Western sports like rugby, basketball, volleyball, golf, tennis, table tennis, and figure skating. Japanese athletes regularly perform well at world competitions and at the Olympics in a variety of sports that are revered around the world.

If you get to visit Japan, be sure to plan your trip around attending a sumo tournament or a professional baseball game. You won’t regret it!

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Column: Happy Father's Day

Dear readers,

Today is Father’s Day. If you forgot, hurry up and make a quick trip to the store.

My advice is to just stick with the traditional Father’s Day gift of aftershave lotion or pipe tobacco. He is your dad, so he knows you well.  He will be surprised that you even remembered, so the gift itself isn’t all that important.

Take some time today to remember all those moments in your life when dad was there for you. I have wonderful memories of growing up in the 1960s. Dad was always there to smooth out the rough spots in a kid’s life. He had the ability to solve both small and big problems with ease. 

A bad report card or being rescued by the fire department after falling into a giant coffee cup on a billboard resulted in the same even-handed treatment by dad.

It seemed like every father-son talk began the same way. Mom would say, “Your father is waiting in the den, and he would like a word with you.” 

I can almost smell the smoke from dad’s pipe, just thinking about those talks. Dad, always wearing his favorite cardigan sweater, had the ability to straighten out any problem. Dad’s little talk never took more than two or three minutes, always ending right before the music started and the credits began rolling.



Wait a minute. Come to think of it, I never fell into a giant coffee cup, and we didn’t even have a den in our house. It was TV dad, Ward Cleaver, played by Hugh Beaumont, who solved all of Beaver’s kid problems with that talk in the den, not mine. 

I remember now. My dad’s advice to me when Ward Cleaver was dispensing advice to the Beaver was, “Don’t sit so close to the TV.”

Real dads didn’t have a chance in the 1960s. Ward Cleaver was perfect, and he wasn’t alone.

On “The Donna Reed Show,” Jeff had no problem too difficult for Dr. Stone (Carl Betz) to solve when he arrived home. 

Laura Petrie would sometimes get flustered by little Richie’s shenanigans.

When Rob (Dick Van Dyke) came home, after tripping over the ottoman, he would always find a bit of humor in the situation. 

Several of the TV dads in the 1960s didn’t even need a mom to help them with their children. 

“The Rifleman,” Lucas McCain (Chuck Conners), not only had all the answers for Mark, but in an emergency, he could shoot the guns out of the hands of several bad guys at the same time.

Steve Douglas (Fred MacMurray) on “My Three Sons” didn’t need a mom around the house to raise Mike, Rob, and Chip. Although, Uncle Charlie, with his hair in greasy bangs and wearing an apron, was somewhat of a mother substitute for the boys. 

Similarly, Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) was raising Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe out on the Ponderosa without any help from mom. He did have Hop Sing to boil the dirt out of their clothes.

Real dads like mine had a tough go of it in the 1960s competing with all those perfect TV dads.  Lucky for the real dads it got easier when Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) became the most watched dad on TV in the 1970s.

By the time I became a dad, the bar had been lowered even further with TV dads Al Bundy and Homer Simpson. Even I looked good compared to those guys. 

On a personal note, I hope I get a bottle of aftershave lotion this year. The last few years my son, Trent, has given me pipe tobacco. I realize it is the thought that counts, but I’ve never smoked a pipe.

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Column: Future Shock

Dear readers,

Just like Billy Pilgrim, I’ve come unstuck in time. It happened last Saturday. The moment I opened the door at the local Knights of Columbus I noticed something in the air. 


I hadn’t smelled that sweet intoxicating scent in years. I instantly knew I was in the right place. It was my 50th high school reunion.  

I was transported back to 1973 as I caught a whiff of Hai Karate mixed with notes of Jade East. I think Brad Fix or Dennis Hirschauer were wearing the Hai Karate and Danny Greene had probably splashed on the Jade East.



Next, I smelled a fragrance with a top note of Hyacinth and base notes of Musk and Vanilla. It had to be Charlie.

“Charlie” perfume was introduced by Revlon in 1973. I still remember model Shelley Hack from the TV commercial. It was a fragrance advertised to empower women. 

I’m guessing it empowered women to repel the effect that Hai Karate had on them. I wasn’t sure who was wearing the Charlie. I think it might have been Linda Cordrey or Denise Hardin.

I then saw Melanie Gahimer and was jolted back to when we first met in 1964 at Morrison Park. I lived on Shelby St. in those days and Melanie lived on S. West St. I also spotted Karen Johnson who lived on 2nd St. 

I made it back to 1961 and saw several kids from St. Joe grade school including Kevin Zerr, Sue Thornburg, Patty Higdon, Terrie Weintraut, Tony Wilson, Robert Burns, and Steve Marcopulos. 

I felt like a character in that elegiac Twilight Zone episode “Kick the Can.” It seemed a little weird being young again, but it was nice seeing all my old friends.

When we were in high school, “Future Shock,” a novel by American futurist Alvin Toffler was a best seller. A popular assignment for students was to write what life would be like in the year 2000. Almost all the students in my class, including myself, predicted a future with robot maids and flying cars just like on the Jetsons Saturday morning cartoon. 

I predicted we would all be vacationing on the moon.

The turn of the century happened 23 years ago. My house and all the others on W. Mechanic St. still look about the same as they did 50 years ago. In fact, most of the houses on Mechanic St. don’t look much different than they did 100 years ago. 

During my high school years, 24 Americans visited the moon and 12 of them went for a walk. Everyone tuned in to watch Neil Armstrong take his “one giant leap for mankind.” 

Eugene Cernan was the last person to walk on the moon in 1972 and his name only appears in trivia games. It looks like it might be awhile before I vacation on the moon. 

I was suddenly jolted back to the present when I noticed a display with the photographs of the 71 deceased members of our class. Bill Towne was among them. Bill was in the same Cub Scout den as me in grade school. Our Den Mother was Mrs. Skogland. My fondest memories from Cub Scouts are being at her house and her playing music for us on a player piano. 

Her son, Mark Skogland, was also in our Cub Scout den and he was at the reunion. Mark said that not only is my Den Mother still alive, but she still has the player piano. He gave me her phone number. I think I’ll give her a call. 

I remember Sandy Talbert, a member of our class now deceased once said, “it’s all about the people.” 

I think she was right.

Note: A special thanks to those members of my class who took the time to plan the reunion: Sue Thornburg Berauer, Paula Phillips Chappelow, Denise Hardin Coffey, Dave Fagel, Brad Fix, Danny Greene, Linda Cordrey Hampton, Teresa Sprong Heffner, Dennis Hirschauer, Kathy Baughman Huffman, Karen Johnson Jackson, Elaine Mellis, Melanie Gahimer Meloche, Patty Higdon Schonfeld, Jane Neeb Shelton, Carol Wiley Showers, Mary Dile VanSickle, Debbie Hasecuster Westerman, Terrie Weintraut Young, and Kevin Zerr.

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Letters Home: Traditional Japanese Culture

Harmony, order, and self-development are three main pillars of traditional Japanese culture.  These three important values underscore Japanese traditional culture by offering a glimpse into societal norms, basic attitudes toward “self,” and social interactions with others. These have their roots in Japanese philosophical traditions that can be found in both Shinto and Buddhist religious traditions and customs, as well as in Confucian ideals.

When considering “harmony,” it is a well-known cultural character trait of Japanese that thinking of others is paramount to keeping “order” in everyday interactions, and in promoting one’s own “self-development” by learning how to work within a group context, respecting one’s superiors and elders, and in being aware of one’s own role in society. These concepts are ancient in origin and are actively taught to Japanese students from childhood, both formally and culturally.

Some obvious and important Japanese cultural traditions that are practiced by Japanese people on a daily basis include customs that reinforce the three pillars of Japanese culture. The custom of bowing 45 degrees to show respect to elders and teachers is a trait that is learned by Japanese children from early childhood, or removing one’s outside shoes before entering into someone’s home or personal space. The act of not shaking hands or hugging when meeting friends or family members is representative of traditional Japanese culture.

Well before the worldwide pandemic caused so much tragedy, and people around the world began to wear face masks to protect themselves and others from the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus, Japanese people already had this custom of wearing face masks to protect others when they came down with the flu or a cold.

Personal hygiene is an important and necessary aspect of Japanese culture. Changing out of regular house slippers into special toilet slippers before entering the toilet is an entrenched custom in Japan, as is bathing in the evening instead of the morning to make sure one is clean before lying down in the futon to sleep at night. Having the toilet area separate from the bathing area is another aspect of hygiene that Japanese people observe.

Mixing the two things is considered to be unhygienic and normally avoided, except when the only option (due to space) is a unit bath where the toilet, face and hands washing sink, and bath tub are all in the same area.



Many religious-related customs and traditions make up a large part of traditional Japanese culture.  Most festivals and holiday celebrations are based on either Shinto or Buddhist traditions and customs. Most Japanese consider themselves to be both Shintoists and Buddhists, allowing both religions to coexist side by side, allowing Japanese people to glide easily from one religious tradition to the other without any spiritual or religious conflict. For example, the values of “purity” and “cleanliness” are found in Shinto traditions and the concepts of “perfectionism” and “minimalism” can be found in Buddhism. 

Confucianism has also influenced Japan greatly as an important aspect of Japanese traditional culture. Especially in the area of the traditional family unit, Confucian attitudes and customs have made a huge impact upon Japan. The idea of respecting one’s elders and teachers and living together following a strict moral code are Confucian in origin. Confucianism notably has no deity that is worshiped but is followed, instead, by a strict code of personal and moral conduct. 

As a religion (if it can even be categorized as a religion) Confucianism wasn’t originally formed or established as such to compete with other existing religions but it was developed more as a system or moral code to compliment religious practices and societal attitudes. Hence, there is no large church or group of priests that oversee it in the same way other world religions are institutionalized and practiced.

Five Confucian values that form the foundation for Confucian philosophy are humaneness, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and fidelity. As is apparent, these are all very human-centered virtues that promote a peaceful existence. Ancestral worship, reverence to one’s ancestors, is a hallmark of Confucianism, which mirrors Buddhism closely in this aspect.

Modesty and humility are two important characteristics of Japanese people and they play an important role in daily interactions with others to maintain order and harmony in society. Bowing lower shows one’s respect to the other person (i.e. “I am not above you and I respect you.”).  The longer and lower the bow, the higher level of respect the bowing person is demonstrating to the other person.

I remember when I was an exchange student in Tokyo back in 1979, my host family had invited a Buddhist priest to the house to pray for the souls of the family’s dead ancestors. When he arrived, my homestay mother’s bow was so deep that it almost seemed physically or humanly impossible to achieve. I tried to mimic her bow, but only was able to partially do what she did.

I spent much time that summer observing what she did because she was a stickler for proper protocol, regarding customs and traditions, so this gave me an opportunity to learn much from her good example. My observations paid off later when I came back to Japan to live long term. It was much easier to adjust to the culture having had that valuable experience as a 17-year-old. 

Because Japan was traditionally an agriculturally-based society, and due to the widespread influence of the Shinto religion, it is no wonder that an important part of traditional Japanese culture is centered around Shinto festivals (matsuri) that celebrate the planting and harvesting of the rice crops each year. These festivals are celebrated all over Japan and often represent nicely the local cultural traditions of the area or community. (See festival photo below)


Photo above: Hakozaki Gu Tamaseseri Festival for the New Year. Men in fundoshi loin cloths battle each other while ice cold water is thrown on them to wrangle a wooden ball to get it deposited into an opening of the door of a shrine. The two sides represent the mountain god and the ocean god. 

Main photo: Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival Float (Shinto Festival)


Proper etiquette plays an important role in traditional Japanese culture. Outsiders visiting Japan on holiday are sometimes left scratching their heads trying to decipher the finer nuances and subtleties of Japanese culture. The Japanese refer to it as “reading the air” (kuuki o yomu) (“reading the room,” in English) meaning that in high-context countries where communication can be quite vague or indirect, like in Japan, much of the communication is achieved through inference, surmising the situation, and then reacting accordingly.

People who grow up in the culture intuitively know how to react or behave when confronted with certain situations … for those who are new to the culture, they have to learn through trial and error. In the worst case, a mistake can cause a businessperson to lose out on a business deal or friendship due to the cultural miscommunication, but normally, for newcomers, Japanese people can be quite forgiving when such things happen. But after being here for a long period of time, one is expected to know how to behave and react in a culturally appropriate manner and cultural faux pas are less likely to be overlooked.

Todd Jay Leonard was born and raised in Shelbyville, but has called Japan home for over 34 years. He is currently a full-professor at the University of Teacher Education Fukuoka in Kyushu where he lives, writes, and teaches. He is the author of 26 books and can be reached at toddjayleonard@yahoo.com

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