I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


First of all, hisashiburi (long time no see)! The last month has been a bit crazy with orienting myself. Not to being in Japan, because I've been living here for two months already, but to working––daily! The college life is a spoiled one, at least as far as being able to choose your own hours, stay up late with little consequences because your first class isn't until 2pm, and whatnot. Plus back in college my job was to read, which is a luxury I am realizing the lay doesn't have. Who knew?! My weekends haven't been helping out as far as that goes either because I've been keep quite distracted with traveling before school officially starts tomorrow.

This is the entire group at the bottom after getting our asses kicked. Most of us bought special Fuji-edition hiking sticks that "mountain rangers" would burn a notch into at each station on the way up (mountain rangers were really just Japanese guys who lived on the mountain at each of the stations and spent their nights drinking and sitting by fires).

The behemoth of my traveling experiences came Saturday night when we climbed Mt. Fuji. Eight friends and I took an enduring train out Saturday morning and arrived at the base of Fuji around 6pm that evening. The night hike is a popular route, where travelers take off around 9pm and hike straight through until sunrise so that they arrive at the top (hopefully) just around the time that the god-like lightbulb from the east breaks the waves of the Pacific. This view from Fuji is pivotal to phrases like "Land of the Rising Sun" and the ancient belief of many Japanese people that the sun is a paternal diety who rises first for the Japanese (the easternmost of the East) every morning.

This is a tangible approximation of hell. The flashes are flashlights and headlamps of hikers at a bottleneck up the road to Fuji's peak. It seems just wrong to feel so claustrophobic and flourescent over 10,000 feet above the industrial world, but I guess there is no longer an escape. But maybe that's just me. My bane is a waterfall advertised by Nike. But Fuji is probably one of the most accessible (for better or worse) active (?) volcanos in world.

These are the few indominable human beings left in the world who could tackle the insurmountable peak of Fuji-san.

And we made it...at least, five of us made it. The other four stayed up around the 8th station about two hours from the top. The entire hike lasted about 7 hours up, and some parts were grueling. From the 8th station on up was by far the most challenging physical experience I've faced in some time. We had to literally climb up in some places over sliding rocks. The temperature was somewhere around 20-25 degrees F, and we could barely see through the thick clouds on our eye-level.

This photo gives a fraction of the cloud/mist effect and how pervasive it was at the top of Fuji.

This view made the sleepless hike and near-hypothermia seem justified.

The hike down was about three times quicker and three times more fun as well. Becuase the descending route is all ground up rock, ash, and soil, we literally skied downhill to the bottom. It was so much easier on the knees because each step/slide was cushioned by the soft ground. After watching the sunrise between 4:30-6:00, we slalomed back to catch the 8:30 bus and were back on the trains in no time for a sleepy ride back to Kusatsu.

According to my friend Tim Fuji looks barren like Mars during the day. It's a good thing we hiked at night!

The Japanese say that a wise man climbs Fuji once, but only a fools will climb Fuji twice. Maybe so, but if I ever decide to be a fool (what, me?) here's what I would do differently:

-Definately invest in a better waterproof jacket. At the top I felt like a drowned sewer rat and was not drying off in a hurry. I was very envious of the Gore-Tex crowds.
-Leave earlier, maybe around 4 or 5pm. The first part of the hike is the prettiest because you are still surrounded by trees and forest. By the time it becomes dark you will hit the ugly parts, the grueling parts, but you won't be able to see or care. Also, if you can arrive at the top and camp out (bunks are also available for the night at stations along the way) you can have a chance to rest and maybe even sleep before the sunrise. But if you do this dress warmly because the top it windy always and icy most of the year.
-Buy omiyage (souveniers)! We were in such a rush to catch the bus back down in the morning that I completely forgot!
-Take more water (that's Katie's advice)! As you get higher up water gets increasingly expensive, so stock up in town.
-Don't bring anything unnecessary because it will get wet from the clouds condensation. I didn't make this mistake, but some people ended up with soggy journals, etc. A good idea is to encase your pack with a plastic garbage bag because everything exposed is subject to the heavy humidity.

Until we descended back down into the clouds, the view from above was breathtaking!

So that was Fuji although now that it's over the whole thing seems like a fun nightmare. In the moment it is easy to feel dissociated due to fatigue, then air, and blissful sights. If anyone else has been or has fun hiking stories to share please add them to the comments because I would love to hear about them!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

From the Sketchpad

Before departing for my three months abroad in England my dearest mother gave me a pocket-sized Molleskine travel journal. I used it to take many notes, write stories, and document my trips with as much skew and bias as possible. Two years and two Molleskines later I have much to share about the last few months, especially in picture form.

Himeji-Jou (1/6/2006)

Himeji Castle is one of Japan's best known. I thought it looked pretty menacing to ward off approaching armies. If that was the designer's intention, it worked...no army ever beseiged Himeji-Jou.

Banba-cho no ki (6/16/2006)

This is a lone, leafless tree I saw hanging on the border between a bamboo forest and rice field. Being the middle of June the sparseness of this tree with charcoal bark struck me, as it stood in a limbo with teaming greenery on either side. I thought it should have more life.

Ayutthaya, Thailand (12/29/2005)

Here is a window into the future provided by the lessons of past monachs. We are not invincible.

Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken (6/17/2006)

This is the night sky from atop a playground near our home in Kusatsu. At night the stars draw our maps.

Today's Magnetic Poem

This collection has been sitting on my freezer door for about two months, and I just wanted to jot it down and share before I knock it off going after some iced peanut butter M&Ms (YUMMY!). If you want to curse someone's name while your consulting a dictionary, my Mom's name is Patti (she bought me the SAT Magnetic Poetry Edition).

Repose from your mellifluous platitude,
I caterwaul ride the fusillade kisser,
showering pariah vicissitudes on your banal moan,
cunning veil do fluff weak usurping perfumes.
Recall the zip of my enormous paragon––
let's expunge miscreants put in herculean opinion!
Alleviate yourself and ask obdurate questions,
understand why love is a secreting hunger:
not what it is like.

This is a little bugger I created of a species called the 'Miaracians'

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Two long days in Tokyo!

Hisashiburi (Long time no see!) Sorry for allowing my exciting updates to reach a stalemate. Things were really crazy since I arrived in Tokyo a little over a week ago. I was a bit under the weather after running around one of the world's largest cities from 6am-7 or 10pm back-to-back days. This of course required skipping almost every preparatory meeting that JET mandated, but I managed to get by without it. The one meeting I attended they gave everyone books on the following topics: US economics, US history, US geography, and US politics. It's hilarious that they expect us to teach our students all of the things we never learned ourselves––isn't that a kicker?!
So instead of being bored with guidelines and expectation I ran a full marathon each day exploring with Katie, who came to visit on a few days holiday. Here's a rundown of our travels. For those following on a map we stayed in the $400/night Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjiku courtesy of the JET Program.

Imagine reading this without the English!

Tsukiji Fish Market
This is one of the largest fish markets in the world. I've included a link to the official site for anyone who wants more technical info. It was so much fun to wander around and see Tuna bigger than me being severed with hacksaws!! We had to wake up at 5am in order to get there in time for the good show––the gutting, the cleaning, and the eating! One fishmonger was so friendly and gave us an entire bag of sweet shrimp (amai ebi) FOR FREE! It was a dream come true! After going to a nearby grocery and purchasing some rice, wasabi, and shouyu (soy sauce), I was having the best raw breakfast of my life!!! I recommend it but watch out for flying fish and guys driving mean carts in a hurry to pick up fresh orders.

Harajuku - Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art
Ukiyo-e are the woodblock prints famous between the early-18th and mid-19th centuries. Katsushika Hokusai is one of the most renowned artists during this period. I have also added a link to this museum's webpage that can better describe and display the exhibit Katie and I visited as we were not allowed to take photographs. One thing I found interesting is how surreal and impressionistic many of the carvings are, and how this movement toward subjectivity commenced earlier in Japanese art than in the West. Also interesting to learn was that often paper used to package contrabands traded between Europe and Japan before the Meiji period (beginning in the late 1860s when the Emperor opened upon Japan to foreigners permanently) had ukiyo-e prints on them, and that these were prized by many western impressionist-oriented progressionists. Very interesting to see how these influences interplayed even when the gates were apparently "closed".

We visited the Imperial Palace as well. It was a nice respite in the city-core from all of the buildings and traffic. Very serene, very cleansing. I respect this attempt by the Japanese to balance metropolitanism with respect to nature and gardens. When my feet were tiring of the pavement I found a small forest to rest from mess.
The last mentionable sight we slammed into our days was a private dinner at the Ninja Akasaka. It was a somewhat goofy but entertaining restaurant full of magic tricks performed by real ninjas (WINK-WINK) and five or six courses (I lost count with all of the ninjas running around). It was a little expensive but a fun date. The food was light and very traditional, including sushi and nabe (a kind of curry soup with spinach). There was one part I'm still not sure about––an eggplant "shooter" in some kind of red sauce that was actually served in a shot glass. It felt a bit strange going down though, I thought it might be octopus or something less digestible. But we survived so it's safe.

Well, enough, but I will soon post details on school life and why it's keeping me too busy to write more.