Feature Contributors Archives for 2023-07

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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