“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.

It is the source of all true art and science.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Albert Einstein, What I Believe (1930)



Oh boy!  Another trip to Japan to share in the 20th annual Squirtogether- and this time with my good buddy “Dr. Harry” Marinakis.  He was supposed to go with me a couple years ago but some gremlin at work decided he might have fun – and we can’t have that- riiight?  Well- this year- we had fun.  The first indication it was going to be a cool trip was the fact that we had retired West Virginia University Coach Don Nehlin standing a few feet away from us in the security line at Pittsburgh.  No one recognized him but me.  We made eye contact and I gave him a wink and a smile.  He didn’t recognize me- probably because we had never met before.  Reminds me of the time I ran into Al Pacino sitting in first class on my way east from Los Angeles coming home from Japan one time.  He didn’t recognize me either- as I walked past to the skinny seats-  but that’s another story.  He looked very small and angry by the way…

One of the highlights of this year’s trip was the introduction of my new ridiculously low riding  sit on top mystery machine~ the “WIP” (an acronym for Work In Progress because it went through a couple dozen changes during prototyping this summer).  Like everyone else in the world- my Japanese friends weren’t sure what to make of it.  So we just made fun of it as if it were a toy.  To make things more interesting- the water at the event- held at the faithful Nijimasu mystery spot- was hand-bitingly cold.  So only the truly curious were numbfounded.  But- more about that later.




Harry is understatedly an accomplished traveler.  With a career as a jet pilot, steep wall bum (haunting Yosemite for years), caver, diver, mountaineer (with a tragic Denali story), as well as an avid SCA aficionado (uh… long story-http://sca.org/)- Harry has had a lot of epic adventures in his life.  I was hoping this would be one of the sweeter, tamer tales.  But- suffice it to say our spare minutes were filled with him relating stories that were on the cutting edge of believable- like the time he got a medal for saving the Space Shuttle.  He’s a good man to have around.


First we flew to San Francisco by way of  Chicago- passing over the prolific fracking empire of what used to be the Dakotas.  Thousands of these well pads dominated the landscape.  I’m sure they’ll put everything back nice?


Oh look- a green spot- how did that get there? Wow- the drought looks really bad- even from six miles high.



Our ‘tomodachi’ Hiro-san and Sugawara-san would be our caretakers again.



Hiro made space for the good doctor in his spare room with the classic tatami mat floors.


We were lucky to be able to visit our friend Michyo who is Hiro’s neighbor and has a special (secret) coffee shop on the back porch of her house overlooking the dreamy Sagamiko lake. Here I am enjoying a new taste- purple potatoes with apples- cho oishiikatta desu (it was soo delicious!). She also served us pound cake and the piece seemed to be bigger than my head!




And then- Hellooo Tokyo!  We get to go visit Hiro’s new “PaddleQuest” store near the incredible Sky Tree .


We also got to meet my friend Aya-chan Owatsu and her new baby (still hiding)- she is so ready to deliver on Nov. 24th.   Please send her good thoughts!


This shot is from later in the trip- isn’t she beautiful?

Yes- this building has a golden tail.  The Japanese are masters of steel, concrete, and architecture.


In a nearby mall we found candy animals!


“Ame” is the Japanese word for candy- and rain-   hmmm….  The word on the street is that a typhoon sitting off the northwest coast of Japan was dumping massive amounts of rain in the watersheds we would be using.  Everything would be high.

That night we went to the famous Shu organic restaurant near Hiro’s house and dined!  The aesthetics were great and the food quite memorable.  Be jealous!



I’ve had curry with vegetables before- but never like this! The odd shaped one is lotus.




Yeah- it was festive! Outdoor lighting made from bottles…


So- On Thursday we got to work with Hiro and some of his friends unloading a container of kayaks for his business.  Unfortunately it was sealed with a hardened bolt.  It took a tough old friend of Hiro’s- and a lock cutter -and a hammer- to bust in.  Do we look suspicious?  Yesss…..


After that we were rewarded with an awesome Japanese/Chinese/Taiwanese meal that was delightful.


You wish you were here!





OK- so on Friday we traveled to the spot where the competition would be held- Nijimasu.  We stopped at a noodle house for lunch on the way- it featured soba noodles made of buckwheat- one of our favorite foods in Preston County!


Near Nijimasu is a popular tourist attraction- a wasabi farm!  They even have wasabi beer and ice cream.



Wasabi is best grown in gravel stream beds with man-made shade.

That night we stayed at a beautiful campground up in the mountains that I called the “Cold Mountain Camp” because it got down to almost 40F that night.  Still we spent some time sampling warm whiskey drinks with our friends in a kitchen shelter.

party in the kitchen

So Saturday was a day for gathering and trying our hand at Nijimasu. But the  recent heavy rains had flooded the rivers and they were hurrying by like they really had something to do!  This left the pool at the drop spot big and calm and deep- but it changed the dynamics of the drop geometry (read- played hard to get).  It looked barely possible to get deep.  Would it be fun enough for everyone to travel so far to compete?  How would the best zombies do with this new challenge?



WIPness I showed them how to drop the WIP- but I wasn’t the best- several Japanese zombies bested me in my own boat- including the amazing Toru.

There were a lot of experts there- but the drops weren’t coming easy.  There was an eddyline- but not the usual downdraft.  It would take the best zombies to get even 10 second mysteries.  A lot of people tried my new “WIP” design even though the water was sooo cold!  It makes mysteries easy- but even still this place was playing hard to get.

That night we had an odd but fun auction that featured everything from colorful socks to clothing and paddling equipment.  It was very entertaining and the crowd got a lot of good deals.  I went to sleep hearing the laughter of so many friends- one of my best memories of the trip.


The 20th Squirtogether competition was Sunday.  Would last year’s champ- the always tough Ken-san win again?  Or would the ‘newcomer’ Yoshikaze Kimura with his super low cut Slip be able to beat this tough guy?


Actually “Kaze” has been squirtboating a long time. Ten years ago Tim Hollar gave him the name “Young Gun” at this same spot. He is a dominant player in the Japanese squirt scene now days.


This year’s trophies were wired up zombies! And also the traditional pass-on men’s and women’s trophies.



The event was well attended even though everyone knew the level wasn’t right. There were plenty of newbies- including some promising women!

We had to change the rules a bit- the clock for mysteries would start around armpit level and there were multipliers for the deeper drops.  It kept the best mysteries scoring the highest and really turned up the pressure to win.  As usual- the ‘gaijin’ guests would set up head to head heats by randomly selecting paddles by twos.



marcy and toru

Marcy and Toru are superstars of the Japanese mystery scene. Everyone has great respect for these guys. They have retired from competition so other people could have a chance to win! Very Japanese…

So- in the end- the women did great!  A few even won the coveted “Most Improved” award- the most most improved was Mumu:


She is very humble- but really got the hang of dropping mysteries because she is an excellent boater. With a smaller boat- she will put the skills together quickly.


The women’s winners. Hitomi Takaku is very good. She won a silver medal at the World Championships in both squirt and freestyle a month ago as well as second place in the Jimicup- North America’s mystery championships. She is also Japan’s national freestyle champion.

So- everyone knew who the top three would be because of the way the competition is set up.  But.. who would win?? It was very very close.  It all came down to one mystery.top3


It would be Ken Imai- again! Pretty soon he will have to retire also! He even beat me in the states- in a boat I loaned him! Mori-san came in third- congratulations!


Kaze has a new pet zombie. He is so gonna kick butt someday. Maybe next year!

The closing ceremony is always kind of bittersweet.  So many special friends and I only get to share a little time with them.  I’m so glad they all came and got to meet Dr. Harry and hear his famous laugh!  I can’t really express the feeling we had- but it was like family- yeah- a big strange family.


So- what better to wash down a bittersweet taste in your mouth but conveyor belt sushi!  Bring it on!!


Kenji-san- on the right here- is a very mysterious guy. He finds a way to show up at the best of times and makes us all feel classy, smart, and sophisticated. How does he do that?


How can you tell which ones have no fish?

So- we head on to the incredible Akabeko mystery spot with a friend from Hokkaido- Haruna-chan.  Sorry boys- she already has a nice boyfriend!


She is an Entomology student and speaks very good English.

The camping was cold again.  I took to sleeping in my wetsuit top and my boat bag.  Next year I might bring my heavy sleeping bag.  Yeah…..


Akabeko filled our Monday.  About 9 zombies showed up to play in the crystalline waters.  The place was higher than I’ve played before and the drop was easy- but tricky to stay down for a long time.  The underwater currents forced you to river right a bit where eddies would stall you out and end the ride early.  After a while I learned how to burrow deep into the base of the river left eddy and get very satisfying rides.  Haruna really picked up her game here and got her head under quite a few times!  Everyone did well- but we were super played out after a few hours in the cool water.


You have to carry down a steep fisherman’s trail to get to the spot. It’s a little tricky- a walking stick helps. Everyone stumbled a bit on the slippery rocks. But- it was worth it!


Iimura-san showed how juicy the spot was. The trance was strong this day. The bubbles were magnificent- in a bubbly kind of way…

Wow- the next thing we know- it’s the long drive home to set up our final packing and touristing day.  I feel sad already.  But tomorrow we would get to meet my friend Soko-chan and her new baby Fumi and get to spend time with Hideo-san- a super nice and funny friend with perfect English.



Is nine too many? No way!

Tokyo is always interesting…..



We toured the Sensoji Temple with Soko and her 9 month old baby Fumi- both were very well behaved.

seaweed cookies

The nori seaweed cookies are great!


Soko is on the right here. Sorry I don’t have a better picture. She is really beautiful!

For only 100 yen we could get a fortune. I had to get two- my first one wasn’t good enough.



What’s a day without a little bomb squad celebration?


They take these celebrations very seriously!

Then we visited the Edo-Tokyo museum.  It was very interesting with dioramas and full sized exhibits.  We could have spent many hours there soaking up all the information but we only had a few.  Historic Tokyo- like most cities- was always battling epidemics and fires.


An old school parade float.


My sumo training is really paying off!


Iimura has a ways to go…


The doctor at play.

Harry gets a going away blessing from a massive turtle.


Then we share a final meal with our friends.  This is a typical great Japanese restaurant- small, packed, loud and delicious!

last dinner

We are saying hello to Hideo-san here. The quiet guy next to Harry is Tetsu-chan- a very stealthy zombie who has already visited West Virginia and played at the Alley.


We’re going to remember this meal the rest of our lives!


The Tokyo Sky Tree is quite the photo opportunity. It’s about 2,000 feet tall.


Everything is in order here. They took care of us promptly and in a flash- we flew into the night for the long journey home.

So- that’s the short version of our trip.  How did it go so fast?  How do you make an unforgettable moment last forever?  How does a week fill a life so well?  How do friends gather to celebrate – friendship?  There is a thread that connects it all.  An abiding love for deep mysteries.

Thanks to all our Japanese hosts for doing such a superb job of taking care of us and making sure we had the best of times.  This trip is a precious nugget of gold in my heart.  Domo arigato gozaimashita!