Winter 1996-97

Winter is nearly over and Japan is gearing up for spring. I know this because all of the Japanese breweries have pulled their "winter edition" beers from the store shelves, replacing them with --you guessed it--their "spring editions." Every year it's the same thing. Many of my friends insist that although the art on the cans may change, the beer remains the same. NOT TRUE! While the taste differences are subtle, the beer connoisseur can discriminate. The alcohol content even varies from season to season. In spring, summer and autumn, the seasonal beers have alcohol contents of 5 percent, while in winter, it is at 5.5 percent to 6 percent.

I recently interviewed Borge Ousland, the Norwegian explorer who last month became the first person to cross Antarctica alone and on foot. He was a cool guy. I saw him on CNN International this morning (Feb. 12), and that reminded me to post the story I wrote for the Daily Yomiuri. Here it is.

January 10
Yes, there is skiing in Japan. Not the world's best, but there are places where even the most skilled skiers can have fun. Find out more by following this link to a story I wrote for The Daily Yomiuri.

December 24
Christmas in Japan is surprisingly similar to the Yuletide spirit of the United States. All the big department stores are decorated inside and out with jolly Santas, snowmen and Christmas trees, with festive elevator-versions of tunes like "Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer" being played in an endless cycle.

In Tokyo, the weather is cold, but not the arctic, bitter chill common in places like Ohio. It very rarely snows in this city--or gets below freezing--so the Christmases are not white.

Noriko and I have our tree up, though, and are looking forward to having a nice turkey dinner on Dec. 25. Of course, this being Japan, Christmas is not an official holiday. We have to work. But at least we both have New Year's Day off.

New Year's Day is a huge deal here. It's called "Shogatsu," and is the country's most important national holiday. A time for family reunions and sending New Year's cards (nenga-jo) to friends and work associates. Almost all businesses, restaurants and shops are closed from Jan. 1-3. Even the newspaper companies shut down!

December 10
Yesterday, I attended Walter Mondale's last news conference as U.S. ambassador to Japan. Fritz is heading back to his home state of Minnesota to teach and resume his law practice. The news conference was a luncheon type of deal, and I sat right in front of Mondale. He looked remarkably healthy for someone who turns 69 next month. Read the article I wrote for The Daily Yomiuri.

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