The Eagle Huntress of the Altai


“So, what do you like to do in your free time?” I ask the young girl as we drink tea in her family’s ger, the round felt tent of the Kazakh nomad in Mongolia’s Altai mountains.
“Well, in winter,” she tells me through an interpreter, “I like to ride my horse into the mountains and hunt wolves with my eagle.” “Oh…right…”

Aigerum Askir is just thirteen years old. She lives with her parents, two sisters and a brother in the district of Altay. The closest real town, Bayan Ulgii, is a five-hour drive away over bone-shaking roads. She is a citizen of Mongolia though she belongs to the Kazakh ethnic minority, numbering about 40,000 people. They are followers of a moderate form of Islam, sheep herders, outstanding horsemen who eke out a living in the Altai, some of the world’s most remote mountains.

Hunting with golden eagles is a tradition stretching back into the distant past of Aigerum’s ancestry. The custom has been handed down from father to son, and now from father to daughter, for hundreds of generations. In the regions of Central Asia, it is only the Kazakhs of Mongolia who have kept the practice alive. Other tribes let the old ways slip away as they were forced, in many places, to settle and adopt new ways of life. But here a solitary rider mounted on a small but sturdy horse, clad in furs, can still be seen riding onto the high ridges, scanning the snow filled valleys below for game, with a full-grown eagle perched on his, or her, arm.

Aigerum has been learning how to handle her eagle, named Karan, since she was eight. Her father and uncle, accomplished hunters themselves, have patiently taught her how to train, care for and hunt as their own father taught them.

The eagles used for hunting are always female as they are larger than the males and more aggressive. Fully grown eagles can be caught in the wild, tempted with food and trapped in nets, though more commonly chicks are taken from nests. This is a dangerous job; would-be hunters must climb the most inaccessible peaks or be lowered down cliff faces to reach the nests, all the while risking attack by the chicks defensive and enraged parents.

Once an eagle is caught, it is made an honored member of the family, given a place to roost inside the ger and fed nearly a kilo of mutton each day. The amount of meat required to feed an adult eagle is a strain on the nomads who mainly survive at a subsistence level; this and the time that must be invested in training make becoming an eagle hunter a weighty commitment and not one taken on lightly, even by an adult man, let alone a teenage girl.

Surprisingly perhaps, training an eagle to hunt only takes about three months. The birds are slowly accustomed to flying to their masters or attacking decoy animals made from fox skins by the reward of fresh meat.

Winter is the time of the hunt. Before first light, Aigerum and her father will be up preparing their horses. After a breakfast of milky tea, bread and dried curds, they will wrap themselves in fur coats, hats and pants and ride into the mountains to greet the sunrise in temperatures of minus 30 degrees Celsius. The eagles are used to hunt marmots, foxes and the bravest will attack wolves. They operate by chasing prey into the open, where it can be shot by their masters, or attacking the animal directly. Wolves are grabbed by the snout and held until the hunters arrive to dispatch the animal.

Once the sole domain of men, eagle hunting has become a sport for women as well. In Mongolia Aigerum knows of about ten other girls who are hunters though there are only two others in the region she lives. Aigerum has competed in eagle hunting festivals, both locally in her area and also in Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaan Baatar. Next year she hopes to compete in a new festival held in Kazakhstan. Hunters are judged on three categories: costume and appearance of the hunters, horses and birds, the bond between the hunter and the eagle demonstrated by how quickly the bird will fly to its master from a distant perch, and hunting ability shown by how well the eagle can catch a decoy fox skin dragged, at speed, behind a galloping horse.

Outside the ger, Aigerum puts on a fox fur coat and climbs into the saddle of her horse. Her father hands her a thick leather glove to protect her from the bird’s razor like talons and coaxes the hooded eagle onto her arm. Using a forked stick to support her arm under the weight of the adult eagle, the young girl turns her horse and races off up the mountainside above her family’s camp. In the valley her father takes a tattered fox skin on a long string and begins to run dragging the decoy behind him. Aigerum removes the hood, needed to keep the eagle calm until it’s ready to fly, from Karan’s head. Karan shrieks a high scream, spreads her wings and launches herself into the wind. Instantly her vision is attracted by the movement of the decoy and she swoops down from the mountain homing in on her prey. The long dead fox has no chance of escape once again as the eagle hits a perfect bulls-eye, latches onto the skin and holds her wings over her prize as if to shield it. Aigerum gallops down to her eagle, leaps from the saddle as the bird proudly cries out, waiting for her reward of shreds of fresh meat. The young lady coos to her eagle and strokes its feathers in praise.

Later, as we drink more tea, Karan watches us from her roost. Aigerum’s father tells me that before the great bird is too old it will be released back into the wild to live in a natural state, flying silently over the peaks and valleys in search of prey of its own. The bird squeals and Aigerum says something; Karan cocks her head as if listening and then remains silent.





Hobbies and Life


 Hobbies and Life
Getting to Know the Violin and Myself
By Rei Mizuki
Welcome to Takarazuka Revue Company!
By Rei Mizuki



Raising a Bilingual Child


My son, Bodhi, is a mixed-race four-year-old child. I’m from New Zealand, my first language is English, and my son’s mum is Japanese. When he first began to speak, I was worried about what language he was going to use; my Japanese is very limited and as I was pretty much the only English speaker he knew, I wondered if he was likely to develop language skills only in Japanese, “Will I be able to communicate with my son?”

Naturally, as he grew up in a Japanese environment and went to a local Japanese nursery school and then kindergarten, Bodhi’s first language became Japanese. He is exposed to Japanese language situations far more than he is to English situations. His Japanese is much better than his English; he can make more complete sentences, use prepositions and particles correctly and use more abstract concepts like “dakara” and “demo” However, he is able to communicate most of what he wants to say to me in English, sometimes in more broken English, but he is still effective.

My lack of Japanese language skills has actually turned out to be an advantage in helping Bodhi to be bilingual. I tried to get my wife to speak English to him at home so that our home environment would also be an English environment. Her English is very good but at the end of a long day at work, when the dinner needs to be prepared, Bodhi given a bath and put to bed, it is just easier for her to slip into her own language of Japanese. If I were more proficient in Japanese, it’s likely I would also use that with him since there is more of a chance, he will understand me. But as I said, my Japanese isn’t very good, so it’s English we use. And as a result, Bodhi has picked up more of this language.

It has been interesting to see how well Bodhi has adapted to growing up exposed to two languages. Very early he seemed to recognize that the way Mummy talks is different from the way Daddy talks. He will say something to his mother in Japanese “Cookie wo kudasai!” and then turn around and say the exact same thing to me in English; “Daddy, cookie please!” Once when I was picking him up from his kindergarten in the summer, one of his little friends was complaining about the heat; “Metcha atsui!”. Bodhi turned to me and said, “He’s too hot!”. He translated his friend’s comment.

Bodhi’s use of language also gave me insights into the way he views the world around him. A year ago, we visited Koya-san in Wakayama and stayed in a small guest house for international travelers. In the evening several foreign tourists sat around in the hostel lounge relaxing and Bodhi, enjoying the attention he was getting, tried to talk to them. However, he spoke to them in Japanese which they couldn’t understand, it seemed he thought I was the only one who spoke English and that everyone else in the world spoke Japanese. In fact, one day when I did speak to one of his teachers in Japanese, he was surprised: “Why did Daddy speak Japanese?”

I have made it a point of never actually “teaching” him any English. I have never made him sit down and recite the alphabet, nor have I ever done something like make him repeat the names of his animal toys in English. I’m sure that if I do this kind of thing he will soon see English as a boring task to be done and resist it. Instead I try to get him to use English as we play and talk.
“Daddy look! Wan-chan!”
“Oh, yes! What’s wan-chan in English?”
“Good boy!”
Later, I might check to see if he’s remembered: “What’s wan-chan in English Bodhi?” But if he doesn’t want to answer or gives me a silly answer instead, I just let it go. This seems to have worked as he has recently become curious about English and will ask me;
“Daddy, how to say __________ in English?”

A while ago Bodhi and I visited New Zealand for a three-week vacation. Due to her work Bodhi’s mum couldn’t join us so he was surrounded by only English the whole time. Once again, like at Koya-san, Bodhi didn’t realize that other people spoke English and couldn’t speak Japanese. For the first three or four days he kept trying to speak to my family, none of whom could understand a word of Japanese, in his first language of Japanese. After a few days of getting only replies of; “What?” or “Mmmmm.” he seemed to click onto the fact that no one understood him and that he needed to use English.

After that his English improved rapidly. Even in three weeks he was using new and more complex vocabulary and fuller sentences: “Lovely day, isn’t it?” or “Pretty hot today, isn’t it?” and “Don’t forget that Daddy!” During the time in New Zealand Bodhi’s fluency also improved, his English rhythm and intonation became more expressive and natural as he mimicked the people around him. He did still use Japanese mixed in with his English, he would use the particles “wa” and “ni” and didn’t pick up the English word “because” and still used “dakara” or demo “sa”. And at times he was still confused about who spoke English and who didn’t; in a shop I asked the assistant a question and when we left the store Bodhi asked me; “Daddy, why that lady speaking English?”

Japanese parents have asked me about my son’s bilingualism and how they can replicate it with their own children. Unfortunately, I feel it needs to be a natural process. If a native Japanese speaking parent tries to speak English to their child the effect seems to be limited, it’s just not natural and the child senses this. Of course, this doesn’t mean Japanese parents can’t teach their children English, it just needs to be done as part of play and without expectations of accuracy.

So, my fears of three years ago were never realized. Bodhi is comfortable in both languages; in fact when we returned from our vacation in New Zealand, he seemed a little nervous that he would have to speak Japanese again. In the future I expect him to continue to improve in both English and Japanese though I do wonder if, when he becomes a teenager and seeks his own identity, he will want to speak one language rather than the other. I guess that might depend on where we are living at the time.






Mongolia’s Naadam, a Horses’ Biggest Day!


The biggest day on the Mongolian calendar is the midsummer festival of Naadam! Well, it’s actually the biggest three days on the calendar as the festival is usually held over a long weekend, and in fact most Mongolian’s take a long break over the summer anyway, some up to three months if they can!

Naadam has been held since the time of the great Mongolian emperor Chinggis Khan and his ceremonial banner of nine white yak tails is still flown at the festival today in his honor. Naadam consists of the ‘Three Manly Sports’ of horse racing, wrestling and archery. In the past these sports were, as the name suggests, only practiced by men, though these days women competitors have been admitted to horse racing and archery, while wrestling still remains the sole domain of men.

In the festival’s beginnings the three sports were part of the training to prepare men for war as the Great Khans expanded their empire with the help of the sword to stretch from the Pacific Ocean to Europe. These days Mongolians have put away their swords, but the festival is still seen as a great occasion and serious pride is at stake for those taking part. Wrestling champions often go on to fame and wealth as sumo wrestlers in Japan and being the owner of a winning Naadam horse brings enormous respect and honor to a nomadic family.

Naadam festivals are held across Mongolia at varying dates throughout the summer with the largest being staged in the National Stadium in the capital city of Ulaan Baatar. This version of the festivities is filled with color and ceremony, crammed with tourists and tickets sell out for high prices months in advance. Recently many locals consider the Ulaan Baatar Naadam to be commercialized and touristy and recommend visitors attend a local Naadam at a village far out on the steppe where the real spirit of Naadam can still be found.

And so, I found myself in the village of Altay in Mongolia’s far west, about as far from Ulaan Baatar as you can get in Mongolia, in the heart of the Altai Mountains.
“So, where is the Naadam?” I asked my guide.
“It’s over there.” And she pointed to a single mud brick hut on a hillside in the middle of a vast sweeping valley. There wasn’t a single person there, it seemed we were the first to arrive.
“So, what time does it start?”
“At ten o’clock.” She told me. I looked at my watch, it was already ten-thirty. “Ten o’clock ‘Mongolian time’”, she added, guessing what I was thinking, “so when the people get here it will start.” And not long after people began to arrive, in jeeps, on motorbikes or on horses.

Soon the empty hillside was bustling with people, young and old. I watched as women hugged and men shook hands, exchanged snuff bottles or cigarettes. Many of those attending the festival were obviously related or old friends, and they may not have seen each other for months as nomadic camps could be several days journey apart. The Naadam was much more than a sporting event, it was a time for the people of the steppe to reunite with each other, share news about who had passed away and who had had a baby since the last time they’d met. It was also a time for gossip and flirting, nearby a group of teenage boys giggled and cast shy glances at a group of equally giggly but less shy teenage girls. In the few years these awkward moments could result in a wedding.

Wrestling matches were soon underway. Mongolian warriors in great leather boots with upturned toes but otherwise skimpily dressed in tiny blue or red outfits tussled in battles to throw each other to the ground. The winner of each bout raised his arms as an eagle’s wings and flew over the man he’d defeated in triumph.

But the main event of the day was the horse racing, and everyone kept an eye on the horizon, watching for the cloud of dust that would mark the approach of the horses. The start of the race was an incredible twenty kilometers away with most Naadam races ranging from fifteen to thirty kilometers, and the horses are ridden without saddles. Even more incredible are the jockeys; only children are used from ages six to thirteen years old!
“This,” as I was later told, “is not only because they are smaller and weigh less so the horses can run faster, but also because children have less fear than adults so they’ll try and go faster.”

Suddenly a shout went up and people began to run down the hillside towards the finish line. The horses were coming! As the crowd pushed forward officials shouted at people to stand back and keep out of the way of the thundering but exhausted animals.

Soon the tiny figures in the distance grew and became clearer. Next to me a man shouted and threw his arm around the shoulders of another, his friend’s horse was in the lead on the home stretch to the finish.

As the sleek black horse crossed the line the spectators rushed to the sweat soaked steed; to touch the winning horse is considered good luck and as the boy jockey slid from the horses’ back it was slapped by dozens of hands. The horse was led around and around in circles to help it calm down after galloping for half an hour and was then scraped with a type of wooden spatula to remove the sweat preventing it from cooling too quickly and catching a cold.

I watched as other riders crossed the line. As each horse finished its race, a father or older brother would come forward and taking the reins from the jockey, lead the horse away to cool down and rest. The young boys who had just galloped across the steppe were exhausted; they virtually fell from their horses, and some were so tired and in such pain from the rigors of the ride they could barely stand up. And yet they were ignored by their parents; none of the fathers hugged their sons or gave them a high five, no one said anything like ‘well done’, ‘good race’ or ‘you did your best’; the boys were left to stagger away to find a water bottle. It seems that Naadam is a day only for the horses to shine and be stars!







Reflection on Two and Half Years in Fukushima



Almost two and half years have passed since I started working in Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture. I will be transferred to a hospital in the Kanto Area soon. I, myself, requested to work in Koriyama as well as my transfer as a medical office member. My two and a half years in Fukushima have been very fulfilling with many precious experiences.


First, I was surprised to find all the people, not only nurses and medical clerks but also patients’ families and people in the city, were gentle and kind. When I was working in the center of Tokyo, people sometimes spoke to me using severe language though this might be hard to avoid in the medical practice. However, it has hardly ever happened in this hospital. I never expected to make very close relationships in my time there; therefore, my Fukushima life has been very comfortable.


Next, I was surprised that Koriyama is very rich in food. In spite of it being an inland area, I could enjoy fresh seafood as well as fruits such as peaches and grapes. Meat including Fukushima beef and Egoma pork and vegetables including asparagus and snow peas were also delicious. Above all, the rice and water were wonderful; therefore, there were many kinds of excellent sake. Its local dishes have unique and fancy tastes: ika-ninjin (slices of surume. dried squid, and carrot boiled and seasoned with soy sauce, sake and sweet sake), kozuyu (a soup of dried scallops, various vegetables and tofu seasoned with soy sauce and sake), Kitakata ramen (Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a soup made from pork bone and dried fish flavored with soy sauce in Kitakata City, Fukushima Prefecture).


Of course, not everything was wonderful. Four and half years had already passed after the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred when I transferred to Koriyama City. However, the city still bore the scars of the earthquake. The radiation level in the city where I lived was below the standard level; nevertheless, the surface of the ground in the park nearby was decontaminated. Moreover, the environmental radiation measured levels are reported on TV or the radio every day.


However, 7 years after the earthquake, I got the impression that bad rumors and excessive fear caused much more damage rather than any possible harmful side effects of radiation in and around Koriyama City. Subsidies were provided to the inhabitants near the nuclear power plants, but the whole of Koriyama City was outside of these areas. I felt very sorry to see people suffer from this damage without even getting some kind of subsidy.


When I watched the recovery process from the disaster, I think that the excessive support for the disaster area could be a sort of “curse”. As supporters say even more, “They need support for the immense damage caused by the accident at the nuclear power plant”, Fukushima Prefecture continues to be labeled as a “disaster area”. Many people try hard to continuously measure the level of radiation from farm products even from the areas which don’t need decontamination so that they can dispel false rumors. It is this labeling that damages those people with harmful rumors. Of course, I understand the necessity of continuing support; however, I also think it is important for supporters to try not to obstruct people who are working hard to rebuild their lives. I hope that they can proudly announce someday, “Fukushima has almost finished our reconstruction now”.


I heartily enjoyed myself in Fukushima Prefecture. People around me were very nice and helped me a lot. I cannot thank them enough. I will soon go back to the Kanto Area, but I would like to visit Fukushima again to return their favors.







17 Years and Counting
By Rick A. Nelson
Time for Change
By Rick A. Nelson
Raising a Bilingual Child
By Ian D. Robinson
My Learning Experience in Australia
By Yukiko Hayashi
Studying English in Oxford
By Takamasa Hiraki
 Culture and Custom
Marriage Across Cultures
By Ian D. Robinson
The Giant Leap from Friendly to Friend
By Ian D. Robinson
Junishi: The Twelve Animal Signs of
the Oriental Zodiac
By Katsumi Hiraki
Shichi-fukujin: The Seven Lucky Deities
By Katsumi Hiraki
Maneki-neko: Beckoning Cats
By Katsumi Hiraki
 Hobbies and Life
Getting to Know the Violin and Myself
By Rei Mizuki
Welcome to Takarazuka Revue Company!
By Rei Mizuki
Business Episodes in Singapore
By Michael H.
The Chinese Business Episode about a Banquet or Dinner
By Michael H.
 Food and Drink
By Takamasa Hiraki
By Katsumi Hiraki
 Trips and Sightseeing
Into the Taiga, a Journey in Siberia’s Heart
By Ian D. Robinson
Across Mongolia Alone by Horse
By Ian D. Robinson
Mongolia’s Naadam, a Horses’ Biggest Day!
By Ian D. Robinson
The Eagle Huntress of the Altai
By Ian D. Robinson
Koya-san: Temples in the Clouds
By Ian D. Robinson
Mt. Daisen: Climbing with the Gods
By Ian D. Robinson
Memories of a Trip to Sado Island
By Takamasa Hiraki
The Excursion to Yamagata
By Takamasa Hiraki
Our Taiwan Travel Memory
By Michael H.
Welcome to Singapore
By Shirley Goh
Renovation of Historic Building in Tainan
By Emily W.
The Travel in Penang, Malaysia
By Xiao Wang
 Medical Issues
Swedish Medical Practices
By Takamasa Hiraki
Public Health Issues in Laos and Thailand
By Takamasa Hiraki
Reflection on Two and Half Years in Fukushiam
by Takamasa Hiraki