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Home: Gary J. Wolff's Blog

Gary J. Wolff's Blog

Gary J. Wolff's blog is my mini-journal about It...

  •  lets you know whenever any new pages are added to
  •  allows me to periodically share some interesting stuff about Japanese culture  
  •  keeps you up-to-date on any other postings or news regarding



Recent website updates (at bottom of the page)
Feel free to share your comments below.

Sept. 28, 2014 - Japan's Mt. Ontake volcano erupts for 1st time in 7 yrs. - 31 feared dead

Today about 550 police, firefighters, and Self-Defense Force personnel have resumed a rescue operation for climbers trapped on a volcano that erupted yesterday shortly before noon. Mount Ontake, elev. 3067m (10,062 ft), Japan's 14th highest mountain, straddles Nagano and Gifu prefectures in central Japan.

About 230 climbers, many on the peak to view the beautiful fall foliage, & mountain hut workers have made their way down since the eruption. One female hiker has died, 42 others were injured, and some 40 people are still taking shelter in 4 huts. Seven more people are still unconscious and 6 remain buried under as much as 50 cm (~20 in.) of volcanic ash.

Officials at the Japan Meteorological Agency said clouds of debris flowed more than 3 km down the southern slope and warned that large volcanic rocks could fall within 4 km from the craters. Eruptions were continuing as of 5:50 AM on Sunday and entry to the mountain has been restricted.

Interestingly, as one of Japan's 25 highest peaks and its 2nd highest volcano, I had the pleasure of climbing Mt. Ontake-san 13 years ago under calmer conditions.

In Japan, it's not that uncommon for climbers and tourists to be caught up in volcanic incidents. In 1979, 3 people died and 11 suffered injuries in an eruption of Mount Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture, southwestern Japan, which sent huge rocks into the air.

Two tourists died in 1997 after inhaling volcanic gas near the crater of Mount Aso. In that same year, 4 hikers died after breathing in gas on Mount Adatara in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan.

Mt. Ontake eruption
Mt. Ontake eruption - Sept. 27, 2014
(Photo credit: AP)

Video of Mt. Ontake eruption - Sept. 27, 2014
(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

[Sept. 29, 2014 update: BBC is reporting that the bodies of 31 hikers have been found near the top of Japan's Mt. Ontake a day after the massive volcanic eruption. Facing poisonous gases and fearing another eruption, rescue workers were able to transport just 4 of the 31 victims to the foot of the mountain by Sunday night. The 4 were officially pronounced dead when they arrived at the bottom of the mountain. The remaining 27 are all feared to be dead, but officials have not yet formally confirmed the deaths of any of them, and were listed as having heart and lung failure, the customary way for Japanese authorities to describe a body until police doctors can examine it. About 10 of the 31 victims were found lying too close to the spot where smoke was still billowing out of the volcano and could not be rescued.]

Sept. 28, 2014 - Video of my Sept. 3-21, 2014 U.S. vacation

  (If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

0:00 Takeoff from Tokyo Narita Airport
1:15 United Airlines real-time flight tracker map
2:30 Landing at Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport
4:35 Houston downtown skyline, from the U.S. 59 freeway
5:47 Harris County Bayland Park senior education programs
6:41 Mom's Bellaire Garden Club meeting & party, Russ Pitman Park
7:40 Squirrel stealing/eating seeds from Mom's backyard bird feeder
8:49 Takeoff from Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport
10:48 Landing at Denver International Airport
12:21 Reconnecting with Tom for 1st time in 29 yrs. @ Denver airport
12:45 Dillon Dam Brewery, Dillon, Colorado
13:04 Tom & Amy chatting on highway to Steamboat Springs, Colorado
13:29 Mountain stream on Meadow Creek Trail, White River Natl. Forest
14:05 Sunrise over Lake Dillon, Colorado
14:36 Sammy the golden retriever gets belly rub from Tom
15:21 Detailed "how to" explanation of Tom's $5500 Santa Cruz Tallboy mountain bike :-)
17:36 Riding along the Cherry Creek Bike Path, Denver, Colorado
19:40 Washington Park jog & bike road, Denver, Colorado
20:13 Panorama of Smith Lake, Washington Park
20:34 Canada geese, Washington Park
24:18 Flower garden, Washington Park
25:09 Riding Tom's bike around Washington Park
27:09 Panorama of Grasmere Lake, Washington Park
27:40 Landing at Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport (from Denver)
29:42 Waving @ Southwest Airlines baggage handlers from inside plane
30:11 Mom's Bellaire Life seniors club ice cream social
30:32 HUGE mansion @ 4528 Oleander St. in Bellaire, TX. This 14,620 square foot (1358 sq. m.) single family home has 7 bedrooms, 8.5 bathrooms, and is valued @ $3.8 million.
30:43 Panorama inside Buc-ee's, a new chain of roadside stores in Texas
30:57 MANY birds feasting in Mom's backyard bird feeders
32:07 JP & Julia chatting on highway to Windlinger Ranch, Kerrville, Texas
32:44 Friday night party in lakehouse @ the Windlinger Ranch
33:49 Tucker the ranch dog
34:19 Saturday chats in the Windlinger ranch house
35:00 Group hike around the Windlinger Ranch
36:10 JP's amazing Texas BBQ chicken & sausage
37:08 Chowing down on BBQ, potato salad, beans, and pasta salad
37:33 Sun. morning breakfast in the Windlinger ranch house
38:18 Lunch w/ my buddies @ Goode's BBQ on Kirby Dr., Houston, Texas
39:32 Panorama of reflection pool, fountains, lake, and miniature train in Hermann Park, Houston, Texas
40:55 Houston Metro trains @ Hermann Park/Rice University Station
42:55 Landing @ Chicago O'Hare International Airport (check out all the skyscrapers along N. Lakeshore Dr.)
44:18 Landing at Tokyo Narita Airport (check out my plane's shadow on the ground!)

Sept. 27, 2014 - Pics from my Sept. 3-21 U.S. vacation

To describe my 17 days in America as "magical' would be the understatement of the year. Meeting up with some of my most favorite people for the first time in nearly 3 decades warmed my heart & soul.

Besides hanging out mostly in Houston and joining in on a number of Mom's senior citizen activities, I was able to make a side trip to Colorado's beautiful Rocky Mountains as well as a return trip to the stunning, 263-acre Windlinger Ranch in the Texas hill country, both of whose pics I decided to put in separate photo albums.

I sincerely hope they will allow you a quick glimpse & appreciation for some of the amazing scenery that I was blessed to experience. Video coming shortly! smiley  

Houston's Japanese Garden
Houston's Japanese Garden
(View entire 114-pic album here.)

Colorado's Rocky Mountains
Colorado's Rocky Mountains
(View entire 104-pic album here.)

Windlinger Ranch, Kerrville, Texas
Windlinger Ranch, Kerrville, Texas
(View entire 48-pic album here.)

Sept. 1, 2014 - 7 cool photography tricks with your smartphone

In the latest video by the Cooperative of Photography (COOPH) online magazine, pro photographer Lorenz Holder, famous for his incredible snowboard pics, demonstrates 7 amazing smartphone photography tips that'll help you capture some great shots you probably never thought were possible:

1) Panorama sequence
2) Pano drive-by
3) Zoom lens
4) Macro lens
5) Reflector
6) Tripod & shutter cable
7) Underwater housing

I believe #6, tripod & shutter cable, is my favorite! smiley

(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

Aug. 31, 2014 - New "About Me" page

Cowboy Gary(Urban) Cowboy Gary
My website is about to celebrate its 5th birthday, and for the past couple years or so, I've been toying w/ the idea of adding an "About Me" page to my website, but always kept procrastinating 'cause it seemed so self-serving.

But recently I heard from Kim Komando, America's digital goddess, that having an About Me page is very important to the Big G watchdog of cyberspace in ranking webpages in its search results. Hmm.

Then I got to thinking that this sort of page could possibly answer the same kinds of questions that inevitably first come up in conversations here with students and new how I ended up in Japan, what's my background, interests, hometown, and what's my life in Japan like.

So....believe it or not, I finally got a round tuit (round tuit). smiley

Honestly speaking, it's fairly boring reading, but if you were ever at least a tiny bit curious about these questions I'm sure you've laid awake at night wondering about...ha-ha...then I hope you'll have time to read my very LONG story!

I just hope you don't doze off in the process... smiley


Aug. 27, 2014 - Countries with a Smaller Population than Tokyo

The Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area, with nearly 37 million souls, has more residents than 136 nations of the world - that’s about 70% of the world's countries. The amazing graphic below, compiled by Professor Alasdair Rae of the University of Sheffield, shows the nations (in red) with fewer people than Tokyo. In Prof. Rae's words, “Yes, it’s a bit pointless, but it’s also true...” smiley

Countries with a smaller population than Tokyo
Countries with a smaller population than Tokyo
(Photo credit: Professor Alasdair Rae; larger image here, full-size image here.)

Here are some other interesting facts about Japan & the world's most populous metropolis, which has been my home for the past 23+ years: 
  • Population of Japan: ~127 Million (11th overall)
  • Population of Tokyo: 36,923,000 (#1), 17 milion more than New York City (#13)
  • Tokyo Metro Land Area: 13,500 km² (5,200 mi²), 2nd in size only to the New York Metro Area at 30,671 km² (11,842 mi²)
  • Tokyo is NOT a city: Generally regarded as a city, Tokyo (東京), the capital of Japan, is actually one of the 47 prefectures, the equivalent of a U.S. state. Tokyo includes 23 special wards, 26 cities, 5 towns, and 8 villages, each of which has a local government. Thus, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is headed by a governor, not a mayor. Tokyo also has a string of numerous outlying islands, which extend as far as 1,850 km (1,150 mi) south from central Tokyo, including the beautiful Ogasawara Islands. Nicknamed "The Galapagos of the Orient" (due to their extremely rare flora & fauna), these islands were designated a natural World Heritage Site in 2011 & include Iwo Jima, site of the famous WorldWar II battle.
  • Japan’s Urbanized Population: 91.3%
  • Habitable Land Area: ~30% of total, which means Japan’s entire population is squeezed into an area about 30% the size of the state of California or the nation of Germany
  • Just for Fun - Obesity Rate: 5% (157th overall)
Professor Alasdair Rae, senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield, Sheffield, U.K.
Tokyo: Largest City in the Known Universe
List of metropolitan areas by population

Aug. 21, 2014 - Japan's Self-Defense Forces play war games at the foot of Mt. Fuji, Japan's holiest mountain

On Tues. August 19, 2014, Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers began their annual live-fire training exercises at the Higashi-Fuji training field in Gotemba, near the foot of Mt. Fuji, a World Heritage site and Japan's holiest & most revered mountain.

A total of 2,300 personnel, 80 tanks and armoured vehicles, 20 aircraft, and 600 vehicles participated in the exercises, just 100 km southwest of Tokyo. Fighter jets, attack helicopters and tanks, guided missile systems, and other artillery fired at targets at the base of Mount Fuji, where soldiers demonstrated tactics to fight off foreign invaders.

Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers also practiced paratrooper landing drills, and rappelled down from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. Defense officials said the exercises, which last until Sunday, are aimed at showcasing Japan's ability to repel a hypothetical invasion of far-off Japanese islands.

Japan's military role is now expanding at home and abroad under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which last month approved a reinterpretation of Japan's war-renouncing constitution to allow the military to defend its allies abroad....most notably the United States.

Mt. Fuji is one of Japan's "Three Holy Mountains" (三霊山, Sanreizan), along with Mt. Tate and Mt. Haku. To protect Japan's cultural heritage, Fuji-san has been designated by the government as both a Special Place of Scenic Beauty (特別名勝, tokubetsu meishō) and a Special Historic Site (特別史跡, tokubetsu shiseki), and was added by UNESCO to the World Heritage List as a Cultural Site on June 22, 2013. The summit has been thought of as sacred since ancient times and was forbidden to women until the Meiji Era. smiley

- The Telegraph - view full 17-pic photo gallery here)
- Wikipedia

Japan's GSDF conducts exercises near Mt. Fuji
(Photo credits: Top: Toshifumi Kitamura; Bottom: Shizuo Kambayashi)

(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

Aug. 20, 2014 - Feeling the Wind

Working as a university professor in Japan is definitely not a get rich quick scheme, but the beauty of the job is that you get a 2-month vacation TWICE a year. YAY! Right now I'm in the 3rd week of my summer vacation and loving it!

Not writing any books this time nor climbing any Japanese high peaks like I normally do....just hanging out, tweaking my website a bit, and doing a LOT of cycling up and down the Edogawa riverside on sunny days.

A few years ago while I was out on my mountain bike, I took a breather at the "Kaze o Kanjite" (風を感じて, "Feel the Wind") statue in Junsai-ike Park (じゅんさい池公園) in Matsudo, Chiba (千葉県松戸市). In the pic below, I'm in my usual attire, sporting 4 kg (~9 lbs) wrist weights on each arm.

And for some reason, this month so far I've encountered an above average number of days with fairly strong headwinds. So I'm hearing the naked statue lady's message loud and clear, as I'm definitely "feeling the wind"! smiley

"Kaze o Kanjite" (風を感じて, "Feel the Wind") statue
"Kaze o Kanjite" (風を感じて, "Feel the Wind") statue
Junsai-ike Park (じゅんさい池公園), Matsudo, Chiba (千葉県松戸市)

Aug. 13, 2014 - Optimizing AdSense online course

Habit No. 7 of Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is called "Sharpen the Saw." It means that if we really want to be as effective as possible, we should continuously search out opportunities for self-renewal, self-care, self-respect, and self-improvement in 4 areas of our lives: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.

I haven't always been that great at this sort of stuff, but so far this summer vacation, I'm doing the best I can. Life-long learning! Yee hah!! smiley

Optimizing AdSense online course certificate
Optimizing AdSense online course certificate

Aug. 10, 2014 - Japan gets hammered with torrential rain from Typhoon 11

Right now Typhoon 11 is wreaking havoc on Japan during the beginning of the Obon holidays, the summer's busiest vacation period, disrupting travel plans nationwide. Flooding, landslides, nearly a million people evacuated, and hundreds of flight cancellations are causing many troubles.

And one of the most shocking stats I just learned is that in the past 24 hours (as of 9:05 am Sun. 8/10), the village of Umaji-mura in Kochi Prefecture has received an absolutely shocking 859 mm (~34 inches) of rain. And since Aug. 1st, some parts of Kochi Prefecture have received over 2 meters (~6 ft. 7 in.) of rain. OMG!

Please remember these folks in your prayers.

Typhoon 11 24-hr. rain accumulation
Typhoon 11 Amedas 24-hr. rain accumulation
(Photo credit: NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation))

Typhoon 11 Amedas weather radar
Typhoon 11 Amedas weather radar as of 2 pm, Sat. Aug. 9, 2014
(Photo credit: JMA (Japan Meteorological Agency))

Aug. 6, 2014 -  Brazilian Students Learn English By Talking To Lonely Chicago Seniors

The video below is without question one of the most touching videos I think I've ever seen.

Here are the facts:
- More than a half million young students in Brazil want to practice English
- Seniors in a Chicago retirement community just want someone to talk to
- The idea: bring them together

The CNA English School's Speaking Exchange program connects students and seniors over the Internet, using an exclusive digital tool that uses video chat technology to bring Brazilian students face to face with Americans.

It's a great chance for students to practice English and meet people with lots of stories to tell, as well as an excellent activity for elderly to feel active and make new friendships. It's a true win-win situation for all. BEAUTIFUL!


(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

Aug. 3, 2014 - 30th Ichikawa Fireworks Festival (第30回市川市民納涼花火大会), Sat. Aug. 2, 2014

This video shows the beginning and ending of the 30th Ichikawa Fireworks Festival held on Saturday, August 2nd. A total number of 14,000 fireworks were displayed this year and some of them were special fireworks to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the founding of Ichikawa City, Chiba.

The fireworks display was held from 7:15 to 8:30pm along the Edogawa riverside, a 15-minute walk from Ichikawa Station on the JR Sobu line.

(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

Japanese audiences are always SO polite! I'm always impressed by the cordial applause & appreciation they show @ the end of these shows. smiley

July 29, 2014  - Sad news from Houston

Mom just lost her best friend in the whole world, the loyal one who's been by her side thru thick and thin for at least the past decade. Your prayers for my mom, sister, and the rest of the family will be deeply appreciated. There's now a big, sad hole in their lives. frownie

Chance Wolff
(Jan. 1, 2000 - July 29, 2014)

Some notable quotes from his memorial post @ Facebook:

"You were so loved, Chance, and you sure gave plenty back to us. We will miss you so much."  --Christy--

"Our furbabies leave permanent paw prints on our hearts. My heart is heavy with you."  --Lori--

"Cutie pie of a big black dog. Take care." --Lissa--

"His life started out rough (we got him from a woman who climbed into a yard to free him from the chain he was on that had grown into his neck) but he sure had a wonderful life with your mom! Luckiest dog ever! And I am so grateful for your mom for, among a million things, taking him when I was in such a hard situation. Yay Chance and yay Wolffs! xoxo"  --Sarah--

Chance Wolff Flickr photo album
Chance Wolff Flickr photo album
(click image to view all 26 full-sized pics)

July 26, 2014 - Hundreds of flying silver carp near Illinois' Spoon River

A family went "fishing" down a small drainage ditch sometime during the summer of 2010 near the flooded Spoon River in West Central Illinois, USA. Upon their return home, they counted 70+ 5-10 lb. silver carp that had landed in the boat. Now this is MY kind of need for a rod and reel.  smiley

(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

July 24, 2014 - The cost of a phone call to heaven

A man in Topeka, Kansas, decided to write a book about churches around the world, but thought that the place to start, since he was American, would be the United States. With that in mind, he decided to fly to New York where he goes into the Cathedral of St. John, the Divine. He begins taking photographs, etc., when he suddenly spots a golden telephone on a wall with a sign, which reads "$10,000 a minute."

Intrigued, he seeks out the priest and asks about the phone and sign. The priest advises him that this golden phone is, in fact, a direct line to Heaven and, if he wants to use it, he can talk directly to God. “Thank you very much,” he says and continues on his way.

Continuing through many other states, he finds the same phone, same sign, and gets the same answer, until finally, he arrives in Texas. Upon entering Sanctuario Guadalupe Cathedral in Dallas, lo and behold, he sees the usual golden telephone with a sign. But THIS time, the sign reads “Calls 25 cents.”

By now fascinated, he gets hold of the Bishop and says to him, “Bishop, I have been in cities all across the country, and in each church I found this golden telephone, was told that it was a direct line to Heaven, and that I could talk to God. But in all the other churches across the country, it was $10,000 a minute. Your sign reads 25 cents a call. Why?”

The Bishop smiles benignly at him and says “Oh, my son, that’s very easy to explain. You see, you’re now in Texas and, of course, it’s a local call from here.”

July 21, 2014 - 71-year-old Japanese man scales Mt. Fuji 1,673 times

71-year-old Yoshinobu Jitsukawa (實川欣伸) has climbed Mt. Fuji a record 1,673rd time! WOW! Jitsukawa, a resident of nearby Numazu in Shizuoka Prefecture, made his record climb up Mt. Fuji on July 16. He made his first ascent of Mt. Fuji in the summer of 1985 when he went with his family at the age of 42.

He thought it would be a one-shot deal, satisfying his desire to climb the mountain at least once in his lifetime. But several years later he accompanied a Chinese trainee from his workplace up the mountain, and then got hooked.

Jitsukawa uses his Mt. Fuji climbs as “training” for his much loftier goal of scaling each of the highest peaks on all 7 continents. He's already scaled 6 out of 7, including 5,895-meter Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, which he climbed at age 57.

Having failed at Mt. Everest last spring after his party was forced to call it off due to a massive avalanche, he'll be giving Everest another shot next spring. Go Jitsukawa-san! Awesome. smiley

Source: Asahi Shimbun

Yoshinobu Jitsukawa
71-year-old Yoshinobu Jitsukawa (實川欣伸), center,
celebrates atop Mt. Fuji after his record 1,673rd climb
(Photo credit:

July 14, 2014 - SURF'S UP! LET'S HANG 20! smiley

More than 50 dogs competed Sunday in the 9th annual Petco Surf Dog Competition in Imperial Beach, California.

"About 5,000 people and their dogs attended the competition, which also featured a dog wash, an adoption by the San Diego Humane Society, a giant inflatable slide for kids, and a makeshift dog park. Money generated from each surfer’s registration fee was donated to the humane society." (Source: San Diego Union-Tribune)

Imperial Beach is a suburb of San Diego and is the most southern beach city in Southern California and the West Coast of the United States.

(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

July 12, 2014 - Deadly mudslide in central Japan captured by surveillance camera

A terrifying mudslide, brought on by torrential rains spawned by Super Typhoon Neoguri (named "Typhoon 8 (台風8号)" in Japan) which swallowed houses and killed a 12-year-old boy in the central Japan town of Nagiso in Nagano Prefecture, was caught on video Wed. July 9. SCARY STUFF!!

Nationwide, Typhoon Neoguri killed 7 and injured scores, forced tens of thousands to seek emergency shelter, and was one of the strongest storms to ever strike Japan in July. Fortunately, here in the nation's capital we didn't even have strong winds or rain.

(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

July 10, 2014 - Texas adds 1 million new jobs compared to California's 25,000

"Since December 2007, Texas payrolls have grown by 9.5% and by more than one million jobs through May 2014, while California employment has increased only 0.16% and by fewer than 25,000 jobs over that same period."

Texas vs. California jobs
Growth in jobs in Texas vs. California since Dec. 2007
(Photo credit: AEIdeas)

What's the difference?

"Texas — is pro-energy (i.e. fossil fuel energy), it’s a right-to-work state, it has no state income tax, its electricity prices are significantly lower because it doesn’t have a renewable energy mandate, and its regulatory burden on businesses is much lighter. In other words, Texas has created a pro-business and pro-growth environment. Meanwhile, California has created an increasingly anti-business climate with some of the highest state tax and regulatory burdens in the country, which along with sky-high industrial electricity prices (83% higher than in Texas." Source: AEIdeas

Reminds me of a graphic I posted on my Facebook timeline in Feb. of last year:

California regulates -- Texas innovates
California regulates....Texas innovates
(Photo credit:

This was just after "Business Facilities" magazine had yet again named Texas its 2012 State of the Year, for having the most dynamic economy of any state in the nation. "Employers the world over continue to look to Texas as the epicenter of job creation thanks to the conservative fiscal principles of low taxes (including no state income tax), reasonable regulations, fair courts, and promoting a skilled workforce. The study also noted Texas' growing population and strong infrastructure as factors in its success." Source:

July 6, 2014 - Japanese university English speech contest

What the #*%$@? Yet ANOTHER speech contest? smiley This university's ESS (English speaking society) holds 2 contests a year, and the 2nd one held in late June is a recitation contest just for college freshmen, where they recite from memory a famous speech from history, like JFK's inaugural address or Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech. These kids were AMAZING!!

Japanese university English speech contest

Japanese university English speech contest

July 1, 2014 - Mt. Fuji 2014 climbing season opens!

It's official!! Mt. Fuji's main Yoshida Trail is now open. Around 100 Mt. Fuji climbers greeted the 4:30 am sunrise from the summit this morning. Climbing season for the main Yoshida Trail on Japan's highest peak and newest UNESCO World Heritage Site has now officially begun. smiley

Sunrise from Mt. Fuji on July 1, 2014
Photo credit: The Mainichi Newspapers

More details on climbing Mt. Fuji can be found on the most visited page of my entire website:  Climbing Mt. Fuji (富士山) - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


June 26, 2014 -  Climbing Season Sale on my new "Climbing Mt. Fuji" eBook!

The View from the Top of Japan

(Buy for yourself or give as a present to that someone special by clicking on "Give as a gift." Either way, just enter coupon code VQ82V @ checkout to get the discounted price.)

eBooks from Smashwords, the world's largest distributor of indie eBooks, are available in 9 different formats, including the html & pdf formats for reading on your PC or for home printing. Or they can be downloaded to e-reading devices such as the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, and most other e-reading apps.

This eBook will make a GRRRRRREAT travel companion on your mobile device as you make your way up Fuji-san's slopes....besides, it even costs less than a cup of coffee @ Starbucks! smiley  

June 24, 2014 - 10-cm hailstorm strikes western Tokyo

Due to seriously unstable atmospheric conditions today that created 10-kilometer high cumulonimbus clouds, parts of western Tokyo including Mitaka & Chofu were blanketed with accumulations of up to 10 centimeters of hailstones, some up to 3-cm in diameter. Uh, it's LATE JUNE, folks!!

I was totally shocked watching the TV evening news, seeing bulldozers & backhoes having to remove so much hail that it resembled snow drifts in winter. The images truly blew me away. I have 2 words for all of this...GLOBAL WARMING! smiley

News source:

Tokyo hailstorm, June 24, 2014
Tokyo hailstorm, June 24, 2014
(Photo credit: Rocket News 24, Tokyo)

June 19, 2014 - University of Texas @ Austin Commencement fireworks show

By all means, don't you dare miss the amazing fireworks along with the famous "The Eyes of Texas" song at the University of Texas Tower as the UT Class of 2014 celebrates their commencement on Saturday, May 17 in Austin, Texas. WOW! smiley

(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

June 8, 2014 - Texas Longhorns baseball team reaches the College World Series!!

For the first time in 3 years, my alma mater's baseball team has reached the U.S. College World Series! Starting from a field of 64 teams, the Texas Longhorns first won their 1st round regional tournament in Houston on June 2 and then won the 2nd round super regional tournament in Austin on June 7. This year Texas Tech & TCU are also among the best 8 baseball teams in America, so 3 of the 8 teams in the CWS are from the Lone Star State. Yee hah!!  smiley

The Horns have been national baseball champions in 1949, 1950, 1975, 1983, 2002, and 2005. You can view the CWS tournament bracket here by clicking open the little CWS box in the center of the page. The Horns will first square against UC Irvine on June 14. Go Horns!!

2014 Longhorns baseball team
2014 Longhorns baseball team
(Photo credit:

May 31, 2014 - Japanese university ESS (English Speaking Society) speech contest

For the 5th consecutive year, on Sunday, May 18, 2014 I had the pleasure of helping judge a university student English speech contest sponsored by the university's ESS (English Speaking Society). These students were truly amazing, giving up a whole Sunday to give a 7-min. speech which they composed themselves. As one who has taught English in Japan for over 23 years now, it always warms my heart to see such conscientious efforts to learn English!

meiji speech contest
meiji speech contest

May 19, 2014 - Garrett D'Aigle Ukulele Concert in Balboa Park: Part 1

I was SO delighted to see my dear buddy playing his ukulele in the beautiful rose garden in Balboa Park in San Diego, California, as part of the LaVon Wageman Show. I've known Garrett ever since our college days at the University of Texas @ Austin, and that was a very LONG time ago! smiley

Although Garrett took up the ukulele only about a year ago, he has always been an accomplished singer, guitarist, mandolinist, harmonicist, and pianist. In fact, the way we met was he was playing John Lennon's "Imagine" on the piano in the lobby of my campus dormitory one day while I was on my way back to my dorm room.

I've been a BIG fan of his thru the years and have enthusiastically promoted his music every chance I've had in diverse places like Port Aransas, Texas; Glacier National Park, Montana; Nova Scotia, Canada; Phoenix, Arizona; Mazatlan, Mexico; and even Tokyo when he visited me in Year 2000. Here is the flyer for the 2 gigs I booked for him while he was here, one @ Bobby's Bar in Ikebukuro and the other @ The Fiddler in Takadanobaba. 

A big, hearty thanks to LaVon for her great show and the wonderful video below, which even includes numerous beautiful pics of the Balboa Park rose garden embedded in the video. You can view more of the videos from her show here.

The Part 2 video of Garrett's ukulele concert can be viewed here.
(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

0:00 "Here Comes the Sun," The Beatles
2:02 "Wonderful World," Sam Cooke
3:45 "My Girl," The Temptations
6:08 "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head," B.J. Thomas

May 10, 2014 - Maria Lourdes & band, live @ Ihawan Philippine nightclub, Tokyo, Japan

Jazz vocalist Maria Lourdes performed tonight @ Ihawan Kabukicho with the Kose Kikuchi jazz quartet, along with guest singer Carru Torreña, who performed 2 songs beginning @ the 10:46 mark.

Maria began singing when she was just 5 years old, and won a television singing contest in her native Philippines at age 8.

She's still passionate about singing and runs Maria's English and Singing (MES) School in Hamamatsu, Japan where she serves as a voice coach and cram school teacher.

Thank you, Maria, Kose, & Carru!!

More info:

(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

May 5, 2014 - Dreams of Space Travel 「夢の宇宙」

Commercial space tourism envisioned by billionaire Sir Richard Branson (リチャード・ブランソン卿) is coming ever closer to reality as his spaceflight company Virgin Galactic (ヴァージン・ギャラクティック社) finalizes the testing of its suborbital space plane SpaceShipTwo, making it possible that its first commercial flight may occur as early as sometime later this year.

A ride on SpaceShipTwo will cost $250,000 (2500万円), and 18 of the 650 passengers who have already paid for their tickets are Japanese, including 68-year-old Kozo Hiramatsu (平松庚三), a Tokyo management consultant who signed up 10 years ago.

Sir Richard Branson, an amateur adventurer who is world-famous for his publicity stunts, has been interested in space since at least the Apollo era, and is expected to be aboard the maiden flight along with some members of his family.

SpaceShipTwo will carry 6 passengers at a time and launch from underneath its carrier aircraft called WhiteKnightTwo, separating and rocketing to more than 60 miles (100 kilometers) in altitude where passengers will experience 3.5 times the speed of sound, a few minutes of out-of-seat zero gravity, and be able to view Earth from the blackness of space.

For the return trip, the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo is designed so that it can move its rudders back to a configuration that allows for gliding, allowing it to land back on Earth on a normal runway.

Launches and landings will occur at SpacePort America in Upham, New Mexico, a taxpayer-funded $225 million facility offered to Virgin Galactic in December 2005. Spaceport America, the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport, is located on 18,000 acres adjacent to the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range.


(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

April 27, 2014 - 10 things Japan gets awesomely right

As a follow-up to their recent article on the 10 things they thought Japan gets terribly wrong, RocketNews24 has gathered the opinions of mostly foreigners on the top 10 things they truly love about living in Japan.

"Although Japan is not without its faults, it is nevertheless an incredibly efficient and easy-to-live-in country, and we’ve discovered that there are numerous things that the Japanese get not just right, but awesomely right."

Here are the top 10 things they love about Japan:

 1. Vending machines
 2. Food
 3. Removing your shoes when going indoors
 4. Taxis
 5. Convenience stores
 6. Recycling and waste management
 7. Punctuality
 8. Customer service
 9. Toilets
10. Drinking pretty much anywhere

Read the full article here:

Japanese food
Food, one of the top 10 things Japanese get awesomely right
(Photo credit: Motuviget)

April 21, 2014 - 15-year-old Minami Katsu (勝みなみ) becomes youngest winner on Japan's women's LPGA tour

Minami Katsu (勝みなみ), a 15-year-old Japanese high schooler, has become the youngest winner in the history of the Japan LPGA tour by shooting a 4-under 68 on Sunday to win the Vantelin Ladies Open at the Kumamoto Airport Country Club.

Minami, an amateur, finished the tourney at 11-under 205, one stroke ahead of South Korean Lee Bo-mee, and just this month became a first-year student at Kagoshima High School on Japan's southern main island of Kyushu.

Source: Associated Press

Minami Katsu
15-year-old Minami Katsu (勝みなみ), youngest ever winner
in the history of the Japan LPGA tour
(Photo credits: (L) - LPGA of Japan; (R) -

April 14, 2014 - 1993 Xmas tape of Tokyo

In Dec. 1993 I bought a used Sony Handycam, my first ever movie camera, and commenced to have a LOT of fun filming scenes from my everyday life in Tokyo, including inside my Japanese apt., the neighborhood shopping street, and even in my construction co. office. I subsequently then made a tape & sent it to family & friends in the states as a Xmas present. Recently I tried digitizing the 2-decade-old VCR tape and have regrettably failed miserably (WAY too blurry), but maybe you can still get a feel for those magic days in Tokyo.  smiley

A couple of interesting observations are the McDonald's breakfast sets as cheap as ¥379 (~$3.45 at the time) and the train/subway staff still collecting tickets prior to the advent of IC card/ticket gate machines. But by far the most exciting part of this 2-hr. video is the 30-min. segment @ the famous Pub Elvis karaoke bar in Takadanobaba. And by all means, don't miss the amazing Aki/Tamura-san show that starts @ the 1:34:06 mark. smiley

(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

     0:00 Window shopping in Shibuya
     2:33 Gotenyama Park House Mansion, Apt. 204
   17:25 Gotenyama Garden & Waterfalls
   20:32 Kita Shinagawa Shopping Street
   45:50 Morning commute to the office
   48:07 Breakfast @ McDonald's
   48:25 Very CROWDED Shinagawa Station & riding on the Yamanote Line (OMG!)
   54:20 JR Shimbashi Station & riding on the Ginza subway line
   56:06 Toranomon Station & Nishimatsu Construction
   58:56 JR Shinjuku Station east exit & Higashi-Shinjuku shopping street
1:05:46 The FAMOUS Pub Elvis karaoke bar in Takadanobaba
1:42:22 Aaron Narakiyo, Elvis Impersonator
1:44:28 Gary's English class for Tokyo Metropolitan Government 23-ward employees

April 10, 2014 - "Sakurafubuki" (桜吹雪, cherry blossom blizzard)

The cherry blossoms normally peak in Tokyo around the beginning of April, when both the school year and business year begin in Japan, and so are symbolic of a fresh start. And from the time the blossoms first open until they start falling off the tree, they rarely last for more than 2 weeks, representing the fragility and shortness of life. Now you see them, now you don't.

And by far one of the most stunning aspects of their demise, is the remarkable way the cherry blossoms fall off the tree and get blown around in the breeze, resembling a snowstorm. So it is no big surprise that the Japanese refer to this phenomenon as "sakurafubuki" (桜吹雪, cherry blossom blizzard).

In the past few days, I was able to catch 2 cherry blossom blizzards on film, one just outside my apartment and another on the university campus where I teach. Enjoy!

"Sakurafubuki" (桜吹雪, cherry blossom blizzard)
(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

April 8, 2014 - Billy Bob's Texas' 33-year anniversary

The following was last week's 1-minute radio broadcast entitled This Week in Texas History, produced by the Save Texas History program of the Texas General Land Office:




When I first heard this story on-air a few days ago, it practically brought tears to my eyes, 'cause I had the pleasure of working in Ft. Worth at the time. Billy Bob's Texas was in fact a favorite happy hour watering hole for my fellow City of Ft. Worth transportation department coworkers. smiley

And in Dec. 2005, while I was briefly back in Ft. Worth as part of a Xmas holiday road trip to visit all of my former Texas abodes, I took the opportunity to swing by Billy Bob's to reminisce and to have my pic made (below) for my 2006 New Year's postcard, referred to in Japanese as a nengajo (年賀状).

Ft. Worth in the early 80s was quite an exciting place to be as it underwent a magical renaissance, including a massive redevelopment of the downtown area. There was a popular bumper sticker at the time that read "Foat Wuth, ah luv yew!" (Ft. Worth, I love you!). That message still touches my heart, 'cause yes, Ft. Worth, I still do!! smiley

Billy Bob's Texas
My 2006 New Year's Japanese postcard (nengajo, 年賀状)
Billy Bob's Texas, the world's largest honky tonk

April 7, 2014 - The stunning Moon/Jupiter April 6 sky show

Last night around 9:30 pm, I caught an amazing sight in the sky. The 6-day-old moon & Jupiter, the brightest and second-brightest objects in the April 2014 evening sky, were VERY close together. Wow.

moon & jupiter matchup

Interesting Jupiter facts:
- The largest planet in our solar system
- The 5th planet from the sun
- Located more than 5 times the Earth’s distance from the sun (483,800,000 miles (778,500,000 km))
- Rotates once around its axis in less than 10 hours
- Radius of 43,441 miles (69,911 km), about 11 times that of the Earth

April 5, 2014 -  Disney's World of English videos

Back in the mid-90s, I had the opportunity for 3 years to sing and dance in children's English education stage shows by Disney's World of English. These shows, conducted in public halls throughout Japan, were a true joy. The beauty of this part-time weekend job is that it didn't interfere with my day jobs, and allowed me to see 44 of Japan's 47 prefectures. Without question, it was one of my most glorious experiences in Japan. The job also entailed telephone English speaking and singing lessons one evening a week for young Japanese children, requiring us to learn over 60 Disney songs.

Below are videos of 3 of the shows I had the pleasure of "performing" in. smiley My pics are here: Disney Kids
World Family's Family College Show, Hamamatsu, Japan, July 19, 1997:
I believe a couple of my favorite parts are starting from the 18:20 & 25:05 min. marks.

(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

World Family's Family College Show, Gifu, Japan, June 30, 1996
I believe one of my favorite parts is starting from the 19:45 min. mark.

(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

World Family's Puppet Show, Yamagata, Japan, Sept. 16, 1995
I believe a couple of my favorite parts are starting from the 9:35 & 19:40 min. marks.

(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

April 2, 2014 - Brown-eared bulbul (hiyodori, ヒヨドリ) feasts on the fresh cherry blossoms today just outside my apartment veranda

The cheery, cherry blossoms are now in their glorious full bloom in Japan's capital.

brown-eared bulbul
Brown-eared bulbul

April 1, 2014 - Old VCR tapes of Japanese TV acting gigs get digitized... sort of (not all of the decade-old videos converted that well)

[Note: This is NOT an April Fool's joke!] smiley
New Zealand ambassador & other diplomats at an Asian summit lose their cool after falling under the spell of evil space ninjas

Nimpu video screenshot
Nimpu Sentai Harikenja, Channel 10, Sun. Mar. 24, 2002, 7:30 am
(Click image above to view video on my Acting and Modeling in Tokyo page)

Miscellaneous Japanese TV acting gigs

(If player above is not visible, you can view video @ YouTube here.)

0:00 Art Nature TV commercial (Don't blink at the very end of this commercial or you'll miss the handsome figure skating judge on the far left!) smiley
0:27 "Brides from Abroad," Sunday Big Special, TV Tokyo, Jan. 13, 2002, 7:00 pm
1:16 Hollywood Documentary, BS-i, Dec. 2, 2001, 9:00 pm
1:50 Sma Station-2, Shingo's Hato Bus Tour w/ Gaijin, Feb. 22, 2003, 11:30 pm

More funny acting/modeling pics & videos can be found on this page: Acting and Modeling in Tokyo

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Sep 30, 2014

Climbing Mt. Fuji - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The most frequently asked questions about climbing Mt. Fuji, Japan's highest mountain and the most visited mountain in the world, along with climber stories.

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Sep 30, 2014

Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山), Japan's 14th Highest Mountain

Pics, maps, and trail description of my Aug. 2001 climb of Mt. Ontake-san (elev. 3067m), Japan's 14th highest mountain.

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Sep 29, 2014

Gary J. Wolff's Blog

Gary J. Wolff's blog keeps you up-to-date with my everyday life in Japan, as well as recent additions/changes to the website.

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Sep 25, 2014

Mt. Fuji Mountain Huts (富士山の山小屋)

Listing of Mt. Fuji mountain huts for the main Yoshida trail, along with website addresses, phone numbers, elevations, and sleeping capacities.

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Sep 25, 2014

Can we leave our backpack in the mountain hut when we go up to the Mt. Fuji summit?

Hi Gary. Can we leave our backpacks in the mountain hut when we go up to the summit? Of course we will collect it on the way down.

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Sep 24, 2014

Which peaks in Nagano area would be suitable for a novice?

Hi Gary, Very interesting articles. I hope you can offer me some advice which peaks would be suitable for a novice. I will be staying in Nagano 8th-13th

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Sep 24, 2014

Climbing Mt. Kita-dake in early November

We are interested in climbing Kita-dake or possibly doing traverse of the Southern Alps starting Nov. 2 or 3. Will there be transportation available to

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Sep 24, 2014

Mt. Notori-dake (農鳥岳) and the Shiranesanzan (白根三山)

Pics, maps, and trail description of my Aug. 2011 climb of Mt. Notori-dake and the Shiranesanzan in the Southern Japan Alps.

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Sep 24, 2014

Mt. Ai-no-dake (間ノ岳) and Mt. Shiomi-dake (塩見岳), Japan's 4th & 16th Highest Mountains

Pics, maps, and trail description of my Sept. 1996 climb of Mt. Ai-no-dake (3189m) and Mt. Shiomi-dake, 3047m, Japan's 4th & 16th highest mountains.

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Sep 24, 2014

Mt. Kita-dake (北岳), elev. 3193m, Japan's 2nd Highest Mountain

Pics, maps, and trail description of my Oct. 1993 hike to the top of the easily accessible Mt. Kita-dake, elev. 3193m, Japan's 2nd highest mountain.

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Sep 24, 2014

Mt. Senjo-ga-take (仙丈ヶ岳) and Mt. Kai-koma-ga-dake (甲斐駒ヶ岳), Japan's 18th & 24th highest peaks

Pics, maps, and trail description of my Aug. 1997 climb of Mt. Senjo-ga-take and Mt. Kai-koma-ga-dake in the Southern Japan Alps.

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Sep 23, 2014

"Climbing Mt. Fuji" book

Climbing Mt. Fuji details info on climbing trails, transport access, fun facts & recent news stories, and select Q&A from the author's website.

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Sep 15, 2014

Are sleeping bags necessary in the mountain huts on route to Mt. Oku-hotaka-dake?

Gary, Thank you for answering my earlier question regarding route selection. Departing in early October, my wife and I have decided to hike from Kamikochi

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Sep 14, 2014

Is it OK to climb Mt. Fuji on October 25?

I'll be in Tokyo the week of Oct. 20. I'm wondering if I can plan to climb Mount Fuji on Sat. Oct. 25? It's out of season, but not winter. Your thoughts

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Sep 12, 2014

Up and down Mt. Fuji in a day and nearly getting lost...

Thank you for an excellent resource about climbing Mt Fuji. Didn't have the time to go through all the details before I did the climb but on hindsight

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Sep 01, 2014

Gary J. Wolff (in Tokyo, Japan)

Longtime Tokyo resident Gary Joe Wolff shares his uniquely American perspective of Japan's fascinating culture, including regular photographic updates.

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Aug 31, 2014

"The View from the Top of Japan" book

The View from the Top of Japan book details Gary’s 2-decade-long journey to the summits of the 25 highest mountains in Japan, including pics and maps.

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Aug 30, 2014

Is bus from Meakan Onsen to Akan Kohan still running?

Hi Gary, Saw your site. Any idea if bus from Akan Kohan and Meakan Onsen still runs? Planning hike from Lake Akan and take bus back from the Meakan Onsen.

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Aug 30, 2014

Site Map for

The site map listing of links to the main pages at

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Aug 30, 2014

About Me (How I ended up in Japan...)

How I ended up in Japan and a short discussion of my background, interests, hometown, and life in Japan. I hope you’ll have time to read my story!

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Aug 29, 2014

"I want to climb Fuji in winter" by Chris White

Mountain climber extraordinaire Chris White shares some very wise advice and identifies the risks & hazards of attempting to climb Fuji in winter.

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Aug 28, 2014

Can I get driving directions from Central Tokyo to the Yoshida Trail 5th Station?

We will be staying at the New Sanno Hotel and driving to the 5th station to get on the Yoshida trail. Any help is appreciated! Thank you!

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Aug 27, 2014

Strongest Ever Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, News updates for March 26-April 1, 2011

March 26-April 1, 2011 news updates for the strongest ever Japan earthquake and tsunami on Mar. 11, 2011, including maps, photos, and videos.

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Aug 27, 2014

Strongest Ever Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, News updates for March 12-18, 2011

March 12-18, 2011 news updates for the strongest ever Japan earthquake and tsunami on Mar. 11, 2011, including maps, photos, and videos.

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Aug 27, 2014

Mt. Jonen-dake (常念岳) Hiking Schedule & Elevation Profile

A record of my Aug. 22, 2010 Mt. Jonen-dake (常念岳) hiking schedule & elevation profile, including the percent grade of the various trail sections.

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