Halloween

It’s funny to think that one of my most memorable Halloween would come not only in my twenties but also in a country that until this century didn’t even know Halloween existed. I’d begun to see the candy sold in the stores, and then the themed signs and advertisements up, as the conbinis even started to add in a couple of halloween themed songs to their evening mixes (mostly, though, just “This is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas). Truly, it seems that anything that can rack in sales from commercialization can become a global phenomenon.

It started in school. Of course, two American English language teachers can hardly pass off the chance to dress up and amuse their students with a day that mostly revolves around them. All the teachers seemed to be on board with having a big party, and although the board outside our language room was void of any decor I think we managed to introduce Halloween pretty well. For about a week I gave the same presentation, and found out a lot about the holiday myself. Turns out, plenty of cultures have a days similar to the roots of Halloween. Japan has a festival called Obon during the end of the summer that I’ve really been looking forward to ever since my third year in Japan class when we had a unit about Japanese festivals. Sad to find out I’d have to wait a year until we got to that point.

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Somewhat strange to report on something so modern. The presentation wrapped up with how long lines for Haunted Houses can get and the fact that a dozen new scary movies winds up featured across movie theaters. Still got to mention the differences between a hundred years ago and now the evolution between the two, so I don’t feel like it’s a complete waste of educational resources.

At the apartment complex the Thursday night before Halloween we had a bunch of students from a nearby junior high school and even some younger ones come around a go trick-o-treating. With over ten doors to knock on it seemed like quick the hit. I spent over ¥2000 on candy and ran out half way through. I didn’t even have a costume at that point, relying on a pirate skull daizo mask that one of the teachers lent me. I was surprised how much fun I’d had, only realizing just now that it is the first time I’ve actually been the one in charge of passing out the candy… weird. My grandparents have a neighbor who used to take care of me, and every time I trick-o-treated there he’d creep to the door with a god awfully scary mask. I suppose I learned a lot from him, as I crouched next to the peep hole in my door, listening and waiting for students to get close. Once the reached out for the doorbell I’d crack open the door with a “Boo!” All night I was a bit worried I’d wind up toppling one of the kids with my antics, and it’s just my luck that on the very last one another ALT happened to get rammed by the door.

So, two days before Halloween and I was rounding out the night in high spirits, looking forward to the weekend. You see, Fukui City’s international club had this annual gig going where they hosted a Halloween party. The only catch is the party was hosted in a city almost two hours away. Well, I guess that’s not the only catch because in order to get there the IC rented out a train, old style since retired by the main transit, and to make sure the party went as long as possible decorated that train with black lights and sound systems. It’s something I’d been told was one of the best events this side of the New Year, so I’d been wanting to go. However, the tickets initially sold out, a pre-sale that I’d never even been privy to. Luckily one of my friend hit me up right away when the club was selling the remaining tickets, all I had to do was be at the station an hour before take-off.

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After a Friday night out for nomihoudai and some karaoke, Saturday comes and everything is good, except that I’m going to a Halloween party, and I have yet to get a costume. After pedaling slow in the morning I rushed out in the afternoon to trek to the not so near mall in search of black duck tape. Yes, because what other material would you have in mind for a last minute costume. Actually, I must admit, a lot of help came from the Internet (the true killer of creativity). Originally the night before I’d borrowed a cardboard box used for bulk microwavable popcorn and had initially decided to make some sort of mask out of that.

If you look back at my earliest Halloween photos you’d be hard to distinguish year from year. Not because I remained a chubby cheeked adorable kid for five year, but since I remained a chubby cheeked adorable kid in a Batman costume for five years. Honestly, looking back on it I have know clue when or where the Batman obsession came from since even in my pre-teens I was definitely rooting more for the Marvel/X-Men side of things. But in those early years it was only the wealthy, detective solving, crime fighting, bachelor I wanted to emulate. Thus, it seemed a worthy costume to attempt in the course of four hours.

I ended up buying the last roll of black tape they had in stock, and with yellow for accents as well as some fingerless gloves and black trash bags I was on my way to making the best costume yet. It had been a while after all, since I had come up with anything to wear for Halloween. Last year, I hosted a party for fifty in the space of my 300 ft living room and kitchen, so ain’t nobody got time for costumes, and every before that I’d been able to rely on my aribeito at Ragstock to provide me with endless Halloween fun. I knew the toddler sized pumpkin outfit would be a tough one to top, but I think I did it this year.

With four hours before my train left, I thought I’d be able to round out a decent helmet and utility belt. I stuck a plastic bag on my head, whipped open the tape, and scissors already on my hand, pulled up this quick and easy instructable. Perhaps, it’s a little too quick and easy. Of course, at first I felt like a fool, and wishing there was more documentation on the website clearly under stood why there isn’t. I didn’t only look like a fool, I was whole-heartedly foolish for a least an hour into the process. You’re basically just rolling tape around your head, while starting to break into a sweat because hey, it’s duck tape layered plastic you’re strapping to your head and that’s generally not a good way to allow breathability. I ended up using the popcorn box to form the nose and that’s when I felt like I was finally getting somewhere. That’s also when I realized there was no way I’d be able to finish off the costume, run to the station and make the train in time.

Luckily, Mac came to the rescue, offering a ride to the station. I wounded up shaping the eyebrows and attaching the ears to the mask before donning anything black in my closet, shoving all my materials into a shopping bag and rushing out the door. Of course I looked even more ridiculous halfway into the costume buying a ticket and waiting for the train, but thankfully I ran into two other ALTs; one dressed as a pirate and the other wore a hand sewn Popeye outfit brought all the way from South Africa.

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By the time our train arrived in Fukui station my outfit was complete. Needless to say we were gawked at by many people, but once there was a decent crowd of foreigners we were also asked to pose for multiple pictures. I think I was actually surprised by how many Japanese people were also dressed up, and not only those who were going on the Halloween Train. Mostly younger, but all wearing some form of cosuplay and bloodied makeup. It was a lot of lingering around for the next hour after I’d gotten my ticket, but also just a crowd of giddiness as people showed up in more and more ridiculous outfits. I think Ghibli themes win out, but I must’ve seen at least and equal amount of Marios and Luigis.

The train ride was gradually epic. I hopped on with a slight buzz, and once everyone got comfortable in the tight quarters and rolling experience it was really all new and cool. The one thing that I’m always anxious about in these situations, though, is recognizing people, but never remembering their names. We’re all spread across the prefecture so it’s really hard to remember so many names without ever seeing them often. Add to that the amount of first years and veterans mixed together and I’ve gotten used to never assuming anyone, Japanese people included, can 1) teach English and 2) even speak Japanese.

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Hard to describe the atmosphere of the train apart from that as part social club part night club (and I guess, also, at the very front part kid’s venue where all the parents brought their Minions (literally dressed as minions from Despicable Me) to chill and be all cool with their roles as parents in Japan’s society), and I won’t go into much of the feeling apart from decent music, the occasional bumping of the train off the tracks, and  really you sometimes had no clue where you were relative to everyone else.

On the train time didn’t seem to pass quickly or slowly. I hadn’t checked my watch when we got on so at any given time I had known clue to know when we’d arrive or how far we’d come. Eventually the train slowed, and everyone filtered off. We were literally herded off the platform and through the tiny station where a crowd of people had gathered to greet and take pictures of us all. I felt somewhere between a celebrity and saved hostage. Everyone wanted to see us, but I had no clue why. Not of course, til I got outside and saw the filling dance floor.

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It was definitely a new experience to add to the unexpected ones I’ve had in Japan. We basically had a huge party in the station parking lot. Many people cruised across the street to raid the remains of the closing supermarket. I felt I was good for the night, but ran into their backroom to use the toilet. It’s funny, but I could sense a difference in the way people reacted to me. Being Batman kind of gives you this sense of trust or protectiveness, probably along with some sort of invincibility, so it’s pretty good I was staying tame that night. On the whole. I took many a pictures with various people, and even found a tiny Batman (a me of years past?) and accompanying Cat woman. At some point, somehow, I got onto someone’s shoulders, and I’m not quite sure. One of my neighbors went as Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, so I can only assume he was strong enough to hold me. It was during the song Jump (the Kriss Kross one), and I was pumping my hands in the air getting while everyone was getting as high as they could. Pretty sweet moment.

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Surprisingly the night ended with everything still in tact. I thought for sure the cape wouldn’t make it on the train ride back, but it actually acted well, being slippery enough that anyone who wanted to squeeze past me had no problem. When we made it back to the station and said our goodbyes many people were headed to the after party at a venue nearby. Looking back it probably was a missed out opportunity to meet new people, but I decided to go back with Mac and some the neighbors, thinking two nights out would be pushing it for Monday morning class.

 

Kyoto

The past week seemed to fly by. I was all aches for Monday and Tuesday still from the mountain trip, but my classes were very subdued. All the students have been studying more and more recently, focused on upcoming tests that Friday, so most other activities and classes were cut short. On Thursday and Friday me and my co-ALT had hardly anything to do except knock out revisions of the tests one by one. Of course it’s still mind numbing work, but in the swing of things it’s manageable and gives some leeway for me to spend time studying Japanese or be preparing for random lesson plans.

Come Friday, though, I was already looking forward to the end of the weekend.

In the beginning of October my school started implementing morning English lessons (improperly called “English Club”). In small groups of four or five I would ask the students, “where do you want to go in Japan?” I got some varying answers, but typically it came down to five places: Okinawa, Hokkaido, Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. These places were actually the most sought after that I would have uncanny moments during the conversation where my responses and their answers became verbatim to discussions I’d had groups before. Later I joked about this fact with one of the English teachers and mentioned that I had only been to Tokyo out of that group. He suggested that we should go to Kyoto sometime, maybe a weekend at the end of the month and I politely agreed.

You see, from what I’ve heard from the JET grapevine, invitations (in the future tense) to do things or see places operate in about the same state as Americans treat meetings among their acquaintances. The “let’s do this again sometime” adage comes to mind. You say it as an obligation, and although you probably wouldn’t mind to do it again, you’re just never actually going to have the time. Thus were my expectations with this. Something along the lines of “Oh, you silly American, you’ve never been to Kyoto. It’s so close and easy to get to, I will make you cultured and take you there myself.”

So come Monday I was a bit surprised when he (sitting in the desk next to mine) asked casually if I was excited for this weekend.

I tilted my head for a moment wondering and asked, “Why? What’s this weekend?”

“Oh?” he said, “We go to Kyoto.”

I flicked up the calendar on my computer to see that it was indeed the end of October and he was indeed being true to his word. Another Japanese cultural myth busted.

“Alright,” I said, trying to act like, of course, I’d known. “I’m excited.”

Yet, as the week went by, I got my salary and had enough to go, the feeling still remained like: are we really doing this?

After all, this is Kyoto we’re talking about, probably the second most well-known city in Japan my foreigner standards, and arguably the city with the longest history. But Sunday morning came and I was ready with a rain jacket and camera packed in my bag.

The English teacher, who I’m used to calling Isopp, is the same age as me a coincidence I’m pretty grateful for because we’ve got a decent amount in common. He’s the one who’s gotten me into League of Legends, and will be the savior in helping me navigate Japanese computer parts when eventually I can afford to build a computer. He picked me up at 10:30, a little later than planned, but we shot off to catch the train at 10:50. (So much for Japanese punctuality.) Apparently there had been some sort of volunteer group the teachers participated in to pick up trash around the local river, so he’d already been up for three hours. (Side note, there are certain things that go on at school that as ALTs we’re never bothered to be told about. I feel like had I known, I probably would’ve gone and enjoyed it. At least I know to ask.)

The round trip the train cost about $60, and again it only shames me to think of all the weekends I wasted in Minnesota, not deciding to cheaply travel elsewhere. Hopefully–at least the way things are going–one thing I’ll learn from living here is how to seize the location or get out and explore the world a little better. I’ve made the argument that American cities are so far apart from each other (L.A., New York, Chicago, D.C.) but that’s also pretty contrary to my socialist beliefs of supporting the local communities in between.

Anyway, the train ride takes a little under two hours on a Thunderbird train so I had plenty of time to think. We both were pretty tired so after a couple of ear popping tunnels we fell into napping.

Off the train, though, was completely awakening. Kyoto’s main station is huge by any standards I’ve meet. Sure, Tokyo Station is vast, but it’s still all underground, so it feels more like a labyrinth. Here, though, seems more like an airport. As we waited on the platform for our train, the departing passengers flew out like a swarm of locust, a mash of people coming and going on the narrow track. It’s always a strange feeling now to be instantly surrounded by so many people.

We stopped for a quick bite at a Lawson’s conbini. I got a nikuman, and a sports drink, although I could’ve eaten more. Had we not only had the day to spend there I probably would’ve forced us to get a proper lunch, but being frugal I was fine to be on our way. The sun was bright with clear skies and I was thankful being that it was a torrent of rain the night before (rain I got stuck in walking to and from the grocery store).

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The first place seemed to come out of nowhere. I still actually don’t know what it’s famous for, but it is a zen temple on the outside of town known as Tenryu-ji, or (based solely on learning certain kanji in my students’ names) I would guess it means heavenly dragon temple.

The temple actually takes up an extreme amount of space. From our entrance we walked along a long pebbled road, passing by various smaller huts and temples. We stopped outside a small Shinto altar and I learned the proper Japanese way to pray for a wish for my ¥5 offering.

We first paid ¥500 to enter a building with the sole purpose of looking at the dragon painted on its ceiling. Now, the dragon is pretty large, as you might see on the website, and it’s even pretty inspiring, but not only as someone who studied Japanese art history, but with the western values of the Sistene chapel I can tell you it wasn’t worth ¥500. Especially because there were no photos allowed. But, no matter because I was soon to find out that basically everyplace worth site-seeing in Kyoto cost ¥500. And as someone who earlier mentioned that I should have no problem supporting local communities (not that they need that much support) I put the cost of the trip behind me and decided to indulge.

Isopp with not Daruma

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The gardens of Tenryu-ji

The temple would actually be a great place to lounge around in the day, and the gardens surrounding it are beautiful, but I think it’s most known for its bamboo forest. Now I thought I had known what a bamboo forest would be like. After all, throughout my life I’d seen my fair share of bamboo fight scenes.

Tenryu-ji's Bamboo garden

There’s something overwhelming about the sheer size that bamboo to get to. I was thinking that a thicket would be all pressed together and smothering, but instead this forest was incredibly tall, easily reaching 15 meters, with each shoot a good stride apart from each other. If I went again I would suggest probably going in the summer when the bamboo is more green, and definitely on a day with less people (if that were ever possible).

Pose at the Bamboo Forest

Short on time I didn’t get to see if there was more to explore, but it didn’t look like it. We cruised back down the hill, I hadn’t realized how high up we were, and found an outlet along a river and popular tradition bridge. Eventually we walked to a different station with smaller old-style trains and got our ticket to head to Kinkaku-jiI, the golden temple.

The Golden Glory that is Kinkaku-ji

The approach to this temple is similar to Tenryu-ji, where it’s a long walkway to get to the actually entrance. After paying another ¥500, we were mashed with a line of people shuffling along the narrow road to the view of this temple. It was particularly cool to see it in real life after briefly studying it in my Japanese art history class. Despite the tranquil facade the pictures often elude to–an insolated beauty in the mountains of Japan–the place is over commercialized, and it’s pretty hard to really enjoy among the mass of people. The fact that it’s actually leafed entirely in gold, though, is pretty stunning in real life as it radiates a special shine in the sunlight. The rest of the park is actually worthwhile, too.
After rushing ahead of the school trip and Scandinavian tour groups, we decided to take a break to get some matcha (again for ¥500). There’s a specific way to drink traditional green tea, which I learned, and it was pretty sweet that our little sugar/salt/anko dessert came with gold leaf on top. The warm matcha was well worth the pause.

Matcha and sugar snack Making an offering Shrine at Kinkaku-ji

By now it was nearing four o’clock, and we still had one more stop out of the many options to go to. Apparently, it’s Isopp’s favorite place to visit in Kyoto, and seems like the general must see place. After flopping around to find the right bus, we finally got on the right one, cramped but seated, and made the forty minute ride across town.

That’s probably what surprised me most. Kyoto has its own subway system, but nothing near to the extent of Tokyo. Still, the city is spread out, and it can’t take a while to get from one side to the other. We got off the bus and found our way along a famous road full of a majority of shops selling omiyage and souvenirs. Seriously, not a place to spend a quick day. It was super effective in getting me to see what Kyoto has to offer, but I’m already thinking about what do to when I go back.

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A temple in Kyoto

Isopp orders crab

We took a brief pre-dinner stop at a random temple intersection. Once we got up the step and saw all the food stalls there was no stopping the hunger. Especially seeing the crab for (the trendy) ¥500. It’s been a long while since I’ve actually had crab (since a delightful dinner in Port Angeles, WA summer of 2013), and apart from the typical costs I don’t know why I don’t eat it more often. This was a great snack and lead us away from the busy street, almost magically, into 19th century Japan with the streets of Higashiyama.

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With the sun setting and the lanterns turned on, this place really felt like a different world. Around certain parts there weren’t many people, so even though we were getting low on time, I still could enjoy the feeling of being in the heart of Japan.

Of course, then we hit the final stretch up the hill to the famed Kyomisu temple and it’s iconic red pagoda. The streets were packed with stores solely selling omiyage and souvenirs, and people in kimonos, and foreigners afoot. It was bustling for a Sunday past 5 o’clock.

We made it to the temple with half an hour left to peruse what easily could’ve taken half the day. Isopp through some change to the ticket counter and led me up steps and past altars.

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“You can see it?” He asked as he flew strides ahead of me past the aforementioned pagoda.

“Yeah,” I replied snapping a quick and grainy photo.

“Good.”

We made it finally on one of the higher platforms past the main building when Isopp finally slowed down.

“This is my favorite spot. When I come to Kyoto, I always go to here.”

It’s funny, when something is so well known for it’s location and history it’s usually completely overlooked for the littler things it has to offer. I feel like during the day this view of Kyoto would’ve been neutral and mundane, but at night it really justifies the beauty of Japan was like. Among the places and the people I got to see a lot. Plenty of kimonos and old buildings mixed with school uniforms and souvenir shops.The country’s culture has evolved so drastically in the last century, yet it still tries to maintain the values it’s held for the last millennium.

View of Kyoto from Kyomisudera

Peaks

Leaving the Chalet took a lot of effort on my part. But it was already 2 o’clock and we had a decent ridge to scale before we arrived at our destined campsite (or so we hoped). The clouds that were sweeping over us on the way up the mountain were now passed and on the other side, lingering behind. With full water bottles and a bit of respite we were off. Soon I found the fatigue had passed with invigoration.

Mt. Yari and the Chalet

At the top of this ridge line we finally reached one of the higher points on the range, and had a completely 360 degree view. It made the climb significantly more interesting and better. We also were moving more at a level pace, so the lack air seemed to have less an effect. Of course I still had no clue where we were going apart from the direction, and every time Mac pointed toward a crest or curve my eyes got lost among the grey.

The direction we were going
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

By this point we were around 3,200 meters high, about two miles, with around a three hour hike left for the day. I was thankful for not having many switchbacks anymore, and really just a straightforward climb. The top had a lot more snow than what we saw coming up, but on a whole the clouds moved away to allow the sun to shine full on. Mac had been vigilant about putting on sunscreen, but I was a little less worried (but with the dry air and sun combination, I’m feeling a bit of the consequences). It didn’t seem like long before I looked back and the chalet and Mt. Yari resumed being immeasurable points in the distance.

Mt. Yari from a distance

Can you see the chalet? It’s actually a rest point for a lot of climbers and they have a significant amount throughout the range. Of course, they’re pretty expensive, which is why we were heading to a campsite. Typically they charge you to use those (as Mac will say, a ridiculous amount per person!), but since the one we were headed to was closed for the season we’d get off free.

There were still a number of peaks to hit along the way. We headed toward this place called the daikirete, something we spent some time trying to translate. I was convinced it stood for “The Great Cut” for indeed that’s what it was, a severe gash across the mountain line (a huge but brief drop in elevation). As we crawled along the ridge I kept looking for what could be such a place that it would get its own name. In the name the first kanji ‘dai‘ does stand for big, but the ‘kirete‘ is strangely in katakana.

Scaling the first mountain
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

We picked up the pace as we hit the first big peak. Don’t get it wrong, though, we were still moving as infant toddlers learn to walk. I would find myself trying to make it all in one shot, but then forced to pause for fear of my heart working so fast it’d stop. It made for a good excuse to take in the view. Behind us the clouds were looking pretty overwhelming, but we could still see in front of the valley where we’d originally started, and across to our left where the mountains sprawled out for what seemed forever. Mac started pointing them out, and it’s amazing that he’s been to so many. Japan have three peaks in particular known as the “Holy Trinity”: Mt. Fuji, Mt. Haku, and Tateyama. Mac pointed far off to the southeast (our left) where Fuji would be without the clouds, and then to the opposite direction where we could see Haku-san. He gestured behind us and said if we were on a higher point we’d also see Tateyama over the ledge behind us. When I got here and fell into the peril that stopped me from climbing Fuji, I decided I’d climb all three before I left. It was quite inspiring to see them all from one place.IMG_0126

But of course, at that point, all the views are inspiring.

The peak of this mountain was pretty flat, shaped almost like a bowl with the rocks throughout. We stayed up there a moment relishing in the view. It was a bit of an oasis, you’d have to climb up one side to see, and then drop down to the bowl to go up the other and see the other side. I felt like any moment I stopped looking, I’d drop back down into rocks and the view would disappear.

Into the Mist
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

Which, given the amount of fog rolling in wasn’t that far from the truth. As I mentioned before, when we made our ascent the clouds were coming at the mountain–piling up but stifled on the other side. At some point before we came out of the chalet all the clouds decided to head to the other side, but their density was hard to grasp. In a breeze, though, they all drew back like a tide against the mountain. Unraveling across the ridge, the blocked out the ground below and reached higher than the sun.

Wall of Fog

It was so bizarre for a while, to be going along with one side facing a vast amount of mountain range and the other completely blanked out in white. It didn’t last, though, because soon the clouds from the east reeled in towards us. You could barely see it happen until it was upon you. They started out as large clouds in the distance, but then as they got closer dropped low and spread out. So, it wasn’t until the tendrils started curling out along the mountain that you realized what was happening.

Off into the distance
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

Not to mention that off in the distance (where we came from) we could start hearing thunder. There’s nothing like being stuck on a mountain and an impending thunderstorm to get you to move a bit faster. From a stint during his conquest of the Pacific Crest Trail, Mac had become a bit anxious about thunderstorms so I was doing my best not to let my imagination get to me.

The hike seemed never-ending, though, as we kept going toward the campsite. By now we had caught glimpses of the chalet by the site, but each time we reached the top of a peak it seemed farther away. Truly, it was as if the fog had created a mirage, a mythical chalet that we were striving for, but would never reach before the lightning came down and took us away for good. It was actually the curving of the ridge that made everything in front of us seem closer than it appeared. I kept on looking for the Great Rift, but Mac was certain it was ahead of us, so we knew that somehow we’d make it.

Climbing a ladder to the top

Another peak, thunder in the distance
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

This was the last peak of the day, and by now the fog was inevitable. The hike became less of a pleasing feat, and more of a threatening challenge. The thunder didn’t get closer, but would still rumble, and there was no telling if the clouds causing it would roll in our way anytime soon. At this point we were worn out for sure, I’d been hiking off no sleep and by now we reached over ten hours into the endeavor. Drinking water and eating food wasn’t enough to save me now, I desperately wanted to stop and rest.

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Out of the mist, the shape of the elusive fort formed, signalling the end of our trek. Painfully, though, we realized it wasn’t over yet. Frozen to the bone and numb in the head, we still had to set up camp–Mac’s two person tent–and replenish with dinner before we could pass out like lions.

The campsites, flat grounds spaced out by the chalet with stone built walls curving around one side, were not ideal in any way, and we couldn’t figure out where to place the tent. If the ground wasn’t partially covered in snow it was saturated with mud and it seemed we had to chose the lesser of two terrible. Instead we decided to roam around the chalet a little more, looking for maybe a flat spot that would work. I ended up sitting on the scoop of a mini tractor, idle next to a pile of rocks. I put my hand to my chin, and closed my eyes.

It must’ve been about fifteen minutes (maybe more) before I realized I dozed off. I looked over to see Mac seated cross legged next to me, looking equally defeated. Sensing my presence he looked up and said, “I guess we should just go back to that first place.”

We chose the mud, making a futile attempt with prairie grass to make some sort of mat for the footprint. It’s funny, now we were coming to a close (I wanted nothing more than to get into my sleeping bag and warm up), but the fog was rolling away, or at least lower, so the setting sun became visible. We debated not using the rain-fly, Mac firmly suggesting against it. I made the other case, and with the thunder in the back of his mind he acquiesced with the promise that if it wasn’t raining by night we’d pull it off to see the stars. To be true, my concern was less about thunder and more about heat, but I agreed because the stars were one of the main reasons to spend the night.

By now it was rounding 5:30 at night, and the sun quickly sank below the top line of the fog. I’d chomped down a seasoned chicken breast shrink wrapped from the conbini while Mac ‘marked our territory.’ When he got back we flicked on our headlamps, cranked the tunes, and cracked open the beers we brought. It was a good way to fall asleep and–with literally every piece of clothing on or in my sleeping bag–I was starting to warm up. I had a couple bruises on my collar bones from the pack, but otherwise I didn’t seem to ache either. I forget how soundly I fell asleep, but after finishing the pumpkin flavored beer it doesn’t really matter.

I woke up once to the sound of my name. It came out in a cough and I rolled over to find Mac on his stomach, with his head sticking out the entrance of the rain-fly, muttering incomprehensible words. Looking back it was a hilarious scene, as he could’ve easily been mistaken as a drunk person. Instead, I heard him hacking, and the words “so sick” come out. Of course I was baffled and had no real action but to watch. “Are you OK?” I asked, to the reply of “Yeah, just sick. Just need to throw up.”

I heard it, the loudest of the hacking, the final satisfaction that vomit brings about, and instantly myself felt sick. Could it be the conbini food? Was I going to meet the same fate off my herbed chicken? At this point I really had to take a leak, too, despite my mind trying to will my bladder into submission. I did not want to get out of the warmth of my sleeping bag. Eventually the spewing became too much for me, though, and I rushed to slip on my shoes and shiver into the night.

This was perhaps the best decision I made in the last 24 hours.

The fog was still there, as expected, but it had settled back, maybe 50 meters, to the edge of our cliff. The white clouds still reached up like columns, but this time It wasn’t impending fog saturating our path, but a gate to guard the night. There was a benign form to them and they didn’t reach as high. Instead the sapphire clearness of the sky took over the ceiling. The moon like the crescent of a thumbnail shot light all over the campsite, illuminating the sky so it shone azure in some places. I’m sure if I dared to look longer I would’ve seen a multitude of stars, but there were still enough to make me gape up for a while. It was brilliant, surreal, perfect.

Alas, the chill was superior and I hustled to make my way back into the sleeping bag. I checked on Tyler who also took a moment to get outside, but came back to his bag with an OK and a theory about dehydration. This whole trip he’d been making sure that I was drinking plenty of water but I didn’t take him serious until now.

my sleepingbag
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

I’d estimate that passage happened around 9 or 11, and later into the night I started to lose sleep. I had a problem where eventually the arm of the side I was laying on would fall asleep, so I’d have to transition to the other. I made it to a point early in the morning when it was still dark out, but I knew the sun would be coming up soon. I was tempted to go out, and I probably could’ve convinced Mac to join me, I bet he was sleeping as well as me, but my comfortable complacency won over.

In the end we still woke up within half an hour of sunrise. Our tent was caked with ice from our condensation. I pulled out a pint of orange juice and my final onigiri for breakfast as well as chomping down a power bar. I made sure to put on all my clothes (including jacket) before leaving the warmth of the sleeping bag, and then it didn’t take long to pack up the rest (since I was already wearing most of my luggage) and exit the tent.

Packing up the tent

Campsite's morning view
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

I was baffled to find the landscape that morning. The wall of fog disappeared to reveal the barren mountainside clear to Mt. Haku. At first I had mistaken the lower clouds for a lake in the distance and it all seemed majestic. I did a bit of exploring and found the sun bright in the side on the other part of our cliff. It took me a bit, but after doing some math in my head I recognized the flat topped silhouette in the greatest distance as Mt. Fuji.

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I found it baffling. Such a change in the landscape from the previous day and night in just a couple of hours. What before seemed wild turned to tranquility. It was supreme and isolating. I had no way of knowing if we weren’t the only ones in the world at that moment. The only form of wildlife we’d seen was the rare raichou (known in Japan as the Thunderbird and in the US as the Snow Chicken…), and even that seemed like it should’ve perished overnight.

Morning on the mountaintop
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

But of course, now we ran into the obvious problem of how we would get down. Originally we thought about making a longer more difficult trek across the spine above, making it to a lift and then taking the commercialized way down. With Mac’s health and my lack of gloves in the mix, we decided to make a quicker time and head back to the main trail, somehow. We really were in new ground, though, because it was a path that Mac hadn’t been on and that we would later find out, had been detoured due to a few rock-slides.

What goes up... A slippery slope a sheer drop

On the snowy path

looking back at whence we came
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

It really was a winding path, and we actually descended alongside the mountain, only to be diverted back up another ridge. We spent a lot of this time in the shade and it was all filled with tentative steps. The narrow trail, the ice under snow, and frost on the rocks made everything unreliable. By the time we got down the peak we started on but back to the spine of another ridge we already gassed a lot of our energy.

The sun at least came onto our side, and we stripped off the jackets (of course, Mac was still in shorts all this time.)

Mac on a cliff

On the cliffside
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

From this point it was a long and dismal way down as the rock turned back into forest switchbacks. It was a swash of snow and mud and leaves and rocks at a sever downhill. Even when the mountainside became less steep, my knees found it unbearable. They started trembling and I started taking breaks. It’s funny as the way up we went at a similar pace, only stopping for different reasons. The way was absurd and Mac even commented that he’d never go this way again.

A tangled way down

I can’t not describe how relieved I was to get to the bottom. Even just the rounding out toward the base when the ground finally flattened out. I just about jogged the remainder so I could stop killing my legs. We came out at exactly the same spot we’d eaten lunch the day before. It was oddly content to complete the circle like that. Yesterday we had gone the completely opposite way, so it was a testament to how much effort we actually gave.

That was until Mac reminded me we still had three hours to get to the beginning.

Mac having lunch
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

The trek down certainly seemed easier than yesterday, and I tried to lead us at a good pace. It still took a while and we didn’t have the added incentive of getting to the top of a mountain. Alas, the valley was just as beautiful, and we were chipper with the idea of onsen and rest.

The valley overall

On the ground

The last stretch

We made it back to the car completely satiated. I downed the remnants of my food and chugged some water while massaging the aches from the backpack straps. We took a trip to the nearby onsen, brushed our teeth, and cleaned off the grime. I actually didn’t feel too dirty, and I think it was just too cold and dry climbing to really work up a sweat. It was only my second time in an onsen, and I’d forgotten how incredibly hot they were. We got a great view of the mountain as we dipped in to our shoulders. With a four hour car ride ahead of us we didn’t linger too long. This time, though, the ride was even better, as I could really take in the mountains and surroundings of the prefecture. We made it back Sunday night by sunset. A weekend completely fulfilled, and even with the aches I’d have for the next couple of days, the suntan and scrapes, it was all well worth it.

Hike

This past weekend started on a whim. I got back from school early Friday evening and went for a quick run wearing shorts and a tank top. The day was quite warm, but I knew it would be one of the last that I’d get to enjoy. When I got back and started cooking dinner there was discussion over LINE messages over who would be around and what to do this weekend.

I had asked around on Thursday to see if anyone wanted to climb Mt. Hino, the highest point in the nearby area, and enjoy what was supposed to be perfect weather for the weekend. I got some pretty weak responses, so now on Friday I was committed to finding something else to do. That’s when one of my neighbors sent out an invitation to climb an even higher mountain on Saturday, with the caption “This could be where you’re sleeping tomorrow night.”

Without even clicking on the link I replied back with agreement, and we were quickly making plans. I went to his place to pick up a hiking backpack and figure out what other things I would need. From America I didn’t really pack with great backpacking trips in mind. But I ended up pretty set with the various running clothes I’d brought for winter.

We decided to leave at midnight. Yes, midnight, another thing I didn’t consider before I gave my response. The mountain was, of course, no where near us and required a four hour drive to get to the start of the multiple hour hike. I think my neighbor was a little skeptical of my ability at first. After all, he is a pretty well known and experienced outdoorsman and I…well, I come from a land where the best hiking trails wind up in Canada. I guess I too was skeptical of how much I could handle, being it’d been a while since I’d done any camping and not a while since I started running, but as I mentioned I was committed to doing something great this weekend, and I couldn’t imagine something better coming along.

On the road, leaving finally at 1 o’clock in the morning, I managed to stay awake and keep the conversation while Mac downed energy drinks and avoided speeding tickets. Given some more time I probably would’ve passed out–as the drive passed my seat slowly reclined lower and lower–but as we rolled into the parking grounds at 5 o’clock I perked up significantly. On the way we stopped by a conbini to stock up on the next five meals and snacks for the weekend, and before we set out I chomped down a plate of fish, rice and some pickled vegetables. It also took time to pack everything up in the car, as it was barely over 40 degrees out. I had long underwear, under shorts, under track pants, with a shirt and a pullover and my winter jacket.

Start of the hike
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

The first thing I noticed stepping into the chilled night were the stars. It’s something I’ve been disappointed about looking at the stars around my apartment–mainly the fact that there are none. Here, where the nearest conbini was a good half hour away, the stars speckled the clear night sky. After reading A Brief History of Time, it was really great to imagine the science Stephen Hawking tries to explain and the practicalities of it through our own understanding. I would’ve been fine just setting up camp in the parking lot for a while and looking at the stars, but with dawn soon upon us and the frigid atmosphere already seeping through my skin we set off.

Sun coming over the ridge

It didn’t take too long into the trek for the sun to crest the mountain ridge with an amber glow, and I could finally appreciate the forest that surrounded us. Out to our left the mountains rose above a river with trees curried in colors of autumn. Everywhere around my home has stayed the same tone of green; it was like skipping ahead in time. Soon it was warm enough to take off my jacket and hat (while at the same time, Mac set out that morning in shorts).

Autumn colors in the morning
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

The first hour of the hike was pretty mundane, while we followed a gravel road cut into the mountainside. It made for a good warm up, as I would find out that Japan trailblazing has some unique features American trails don’t always follow. We made a quick stop for second breakfast, and chugged the water in our bottles to refill at a spring before crossing a small dam and hitting the actual start of the hike.

On the trail in the shadow

This is where things turn difficult. It was actually as if the whole day’s hike followed an exponential formula in terms of difficulty over time. At first the hike was a mixture of muddy, leaf and rock ridden trail that didn’t really go in any particular direction. We actually passed a guy who had started out the day at the same time as us, so it seemed like we were making good time. I had my Bluetooth speaker playing in the background (a playlist of various best-of albums rushed together the hours before we left) and it helped keep a rhythm. After about three hours, though, the mud and leaves waned and the rocks increased. It was like the person who crafted the trail used a blunted machete to clear the path and was followed by a truck with the most rigid ottoman sized boulders they could find. Really it was a wonder that we didn’t fall while going up. At this point I did notice that I felt like I was losing more energy than I was spending, the realization that we were gaining altitude. After scrambling over some rock slides and river veins, we reached the base of our first ascent, and I very slightly demanded that we take lunch.

photos via halfwayanywhere.com
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

The whole time I hadn’t looked at my watch (on my phone). I wasn’t exactly hungry, but I figured I should stay on top of eating to avoid any gnawing pain that could crop up. I could’ve guessed that it was rounding noon, Mac took a shot at 11:30. I’m not sure if we were glad or disheartened when I checked and saw it was still 10:30. We had been hiking for a long while, but then again, we still had a long way to go, we hadn’t even started the ascent.

That’s what came next. Packing away the onigiri wrappers, the cheese and meat sticks, the bottled water, we moved across the river to the edge of a peak and began the trek up short and steep switchbacks. Looking back I think this was actually my least favorite part. We finally came out of the shade of the trees and were on the side drenched in sun. I’d stripped down to shorts and a shirt, but still felt overheated. It really was a scramble with the occasional safety rope tied to a tree as well as parts that were swept away by dirt and rock slides.

View from the trail

2440 meters high, the first peak
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

Once we made it to the top of the first peak I definitely questioned what it was all for. The mountain we were on was a bit shorter shooting up in the center of the valley. The view was grand, seeing the colors of the basin, but the surrounding ridges seemed to curve up around us. It didn’t hold as much umph as I was expecting, but it allowed me to see we still had a far way to go. It was kind of just an appetizer.

The real start

We got back on the main trail, pushing even further up. Our conversation had long since mellowed out to the occasional statements, and I noticed that I’d stopped singing along to the music playing. When I tried I was out of breath, and it was the first time during the hike that we started taking regular stops. The effect was gradual, but the lack of oxygen had finally reached us. I took the approach to go in bursts along the grassy trail, tackling the height and recuperating while Mac went steadily one foot in front of the other. Even along this lower ridge we were still higher than the peak we’d came from, all the while being able to see across to the place we wanted to get to.

The way up

peak reference

It was grueling.

Once we reached the final stage, a switch from grassy terrain to rocks and pebbles, I felt doomed. I ignored the ache in my legs and focused solely on how much energy I could be exerting. Never has my heart beat so fast while my body has moved so slow.

The precarious stairway

Top of the stairway

End of the dirt and start of the rocks
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

This by far the most thrilling portion we’d hit for the day. It seemed that any time the rocks could shift below my feet and I’d be rolling to pain. Also, the lack of oxygen played with my mind a bit, keeping it focused on one thing, letting my body go forward on its own accord. We got back onto, somewhat solid ground, and then started hitting the snow. With 500 meters to go the chalet we were trying to reach seemed so close, but yet it hadn’t grown in my perspective. We took a brief stop for lunch, downing a sandwich, more jerky, some chocolate, and lots of water.

I had to start changing my layers, switching out my jacket a couple of times, as we moved into the mountain’s shadow. I really wish I’d had gloves as my fingers were the coldest part on my body. Gripping rocks and lifting myself along ledges sucked any heat out of them.

All this time climbing up this mountain, clouds had started to move along the other side of the ridge. For a while they just lingered there, but now they were starting to move over the top and come onto our side. They weren’t the heaviest looking, but definitely a darker shade of gray–an ominous motivation to move a bit faster. They started to block out the sun and really helped to cool things down. I was convinced that any moment we would be rained on.

So far to go

 

Almost to the top
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

Within 100 meters to the top we still probably took fifteen minutes to get there. The path we were on had dissolved into short switchbacks and rocks with painted circles on them, directing us where to go. It seemed like any path was a good path as long as we went up. The chalet had finally disappeared, covered now by the rounding of the hill we were about to summit. The full ache of my body was coming to now. My bruised collarbone, the soreness of my lower back, the burning in my calves, the sleep deprivation and the occasional twitch where the scar from my foot hadn’t fully healed all surmounted to my sensory overload. I was just about done when we finally made it.

Standing by Mt Yari

I had made it, and actually staggered out a laugh with the joy. Not because we had made it to the top, or at the beautiful view, but because we were next to the chalet I knew we would enter to rest and warm up in. I needed it bad, and if it hadn’t been for Mac I probably would’ve stayed there for a while. Or at least passed out on the counter. Alas, we couldn’t stay there forever, and with my fingers hardly warm, water-bottles refilled, track pants back on, and much prodding from Mac, we got back out to finish the day.

Rest at the top
photos via halfwayanywhere.com

 

Silver

It’s been a plain while since I’ve last had a vacation. You might consider my initial landing here a brief vacation, but if my posts say anything, being in a hotel Tokyo wasn’t really being in Tokyo, and it wasn’t all together enjoyable. I think the most recent case for me having a vacation would be the first time I went to New York a month for school nearly two years ago. Then I was in a new place, old enough to drink, a credit card limit that was way to high for what I deserved, with work that consisted of touring museums and visiting studios. Yes, it was a required daily itinerary, but it was full of things I wanted to do anyway. But I think that is still the biggest cause of it not being a vacation. It was an extended stay (a New York winter) with some freedom, though, still with financial and time restrictions. A summer before that I went to Thailand for a week with the best person in the world, and I think that was probably the last thing I would actually consider a vacation. I took time off of my summer research (an oblivious foreshadowing of designing a virtual Japanese language classroom and games) hopped on a plane and traveled around Bangkok and one of the Kohs. Sure, I’ve done road trips and gone camping since then, but I think there’s a sense of luxury the idea of a vacation has to meet and an island beach bungalow in the Pacific only barely meets those standards.

Anyway, now I had a treat. A rare aligning of three Japanese holidays that gave me three extra workdays free. In the spring there’s a whole week Japanese people refer to as Golden Week, so this occurance (the next of which happens in sixteen years) is aptly dubbed Silver Week. A couple weeks ago, Carmelo, my friendly neighborhood rascal, informed me that he was taking this time to go to Tokyo to attend a three day rave concert, Ultra Japan. The few who know my true interests are aware that, deep deep down maybe even under all the Led Zeppelin, I live for the trance and raucous beat of step and electronic music. It’s been like that ever since I was a child and that genre was barely discernible from Rob Zombie. I remember listening to early Basement Jaxx tracks and having that be my hardcore. When I discovered that noise like Sleigh Bells actually existed I understood there was an actual purpose in life. The end of my college senior year could be practically mapped out by Rusko. At the top of this discovery–as it was for most people–reigned Skrillex, a musician, DJ, performer, and seemingly great guy from California. It’s been a while for me since Skrillex was what I preferred to listen to, and I’d given up on seeing him in concert years ago. But recently he partnered with probably the greatest DJ/producer since early 2000s Daft Punk, Diplo, and came out with an album which I think you’ve heard of, and it’s quite literally (due to the broken hard drive) one of the only things I have left to listen to. Basically, he’s made some of my favorite music (yes, you can call that music) and was headlining the concert on Sunday night, and now I could finally see him, and there was no reason for me not to, because hey, I’m not getting any younger.

Wow, that’s a lot to add to an already long post, but good to know my devotion is strong.

Anyway, with Carmelo’s plane ticket booked and tickets sold out weeks before, it seemed I’d missed my chance. And good thing, too, since even a one day pass was quite expensive. The next day as I mulled over what I would actually do for Silver Week–go nowhere and buy a couch instead–Carmelo sent me a message saying that they’d have a final run of tickets that night at 10 o’clock. It seemed, as they say, too good to be true. I didn’t even have to make a decision. I was given a chance to go and I took it.

Surprisingly, a couple of people who lived around us also got tickets and in the end there were four of us going. Carmelo was taking a plane, and another guy was going by bus, so in the end we got there by planes, trains, and automobiles (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

The unfortunate thing in getting there separately, though, was having no direct overlap where we could all meet up. Carmelo spent the first day with his girlfriend, and after lack of planning on our part, our other friend made his own itinerary for the weekend. And if you recall, I decided to ‘wing it’.

I woke up on Saturday before six o’clock, and after stuffing my backpack half full of t-shirts, a rain jacket, and the other half with my camera, Dune, and food for the day I was out the door by seven. I don’t think I asked anyone for a ride, but since everyone was already on their own trips I don’t think it would’ve done me any good, so I was on my own to walk to the train station. My neighbor and former college classmate, who’d also be going to Tokyo, told me the night before to take the train to a regional town where I could then be resigned to the shinkansen. It was at first something I wanted to avoid, but with a couple cuts to my materialistic budget, I think the convenience and experience is worth it.

After all, I got on the first train at 8:00, and after switching, arrived at Tokyo some fifty pages into Dune, not sleep deprived, and around 11:00 making less than half the time of a bus ride at less than double the price. I didn’t know quite what to do first, and if you’ve never been dropped off at Tokyo station let me tell you it’s a trip. It felt like the part in a Hollywood sci-fi where the crew of a space ship has to evacuate before something self-destructs, so everyone is running all over the place and the fluorescent lights and signs are all in some alien language. Eventually, I decided to go to the place I knew would require the shortest amount of time: Harajuku.

If you were a teenager in the 2000s you almost certainly remember when Gwen Stefani hit her prime and went crazy about Bananas. Well, a lot of her influence during that time also came from Japan and specifically the unique trends from Harajuku’s Takeshita street. It is a pretty sweet spot especially if you’re a young Japanese girl ready to spend a lot of money, but seeing as I’m hardly any of the above, I knew it wouldn’t take long for me to pass through. I really just had almost a wistful longing to go there as it’s a decent vibe of Tokyo on a whole.

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It’s hard to believe that across from the street, literally on the other side of the train tracks, the city shops evaporate into almost two hundred acres of forest that make up the Meiji shrine, a park and temple dedicated to their emperor of their restorative period. It’s sort of like being in New York City, and then happening upon Central Park, but only if the entirety of Central Park was like a huge memorial to George Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy, and Reagan complete with cherry blossoms and air force ones. It’s a neat break while you’re staying in the city.

After that I cruised over to, well, the outskirts of Tokyo, over a half hour train ride, to go to the acclaimed Tokyo Game Show. This was one of many annual events that were being held over the weekend, and supposedly an event that should wow and please.

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I’d hate to say it was an overall flop, but it at least lacked a form of bravado. I think I was still on the thrill of the E3 announcements, and expected some more previews to come out of Japan. Alas, it was mainly promotion of smaller games and studios, plenty of mobile trials, and hardly anything blockbuster. Especially as a foreigner I hardly knew many of the Japanese based brands, and had little money to spend on the elitist gear they were shipping out. I guess it was fun to see Star Wars Battlefront being played, and I tested out the newest revamp of one of my favorite series, Need for Speed, but otherwise the next best thing was Final Fantasy Online, and with so many previews already of games that are supposed to coming out next year (FF15, KH3, Fallout, Mirror’s Edge, Uncharted) I was hoping for a bit more.

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Getting there, walking around, having lunch, and winning a free shirt still took up the afternoon, and by the time I reached the station I realized that I was actually in a pretty fantastic place. The whole convention center is beyond the normal sightseeing trip in Tokyo, so in order to entice people to stay in the city they’ve ingeniously placed a whole outdoor outlet mall right outside the station. As the nights have been getting darker and darker around six o’clock when I get home from school, I’ve been wanting to find a store where I could get some bright clothes to run around in. I hit the Nike store first, and since I was there decided to rummage around the Gap, Vans, Bathing Apes, Northface, et cetera. In the end I did only buy one flourescent yellow singlet and matching shirt, but I also recognized that no matter where I am, shopping is such a soothing hobby for me.

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I wound up drifting around Tokyo for the remainder of the night, heading around Akihabara, Shibuya, and finally landing in Shinjuku. Both places I’d hoped to stay fell through and I resigned to put down the extra cash to stay at a capsule hotel. Like the shinkansen, though, I felt the money was worth the experience. I ended up wandering over a mile through the city going to three different hotels before I found one with an open bed, deviously placed on the road in between Kabukicho and Nichome. It cost ¥3,200 which for a night in one of the world most expensive cities isn’t the worst deal. Once I made it past the cross dresser in the stairway I found the corridor for my capsule and was glad to note everything was clean and quiet. They even had razors and pre-pasted toothbrushes in the washroom. I plugged in my phone flitting at 1% battery, and read a bit of Dune (a seemingly cliched but so far terrific sci-fi epic), finally feeling content. I was more than enervated by the day that I felt alone and wasted. I knew I was exaggerating these feelings in my mind, but I really felt like I just wanted to call it a holiday and go home the next day–like that spaceship that I was on in Tokyo station really did explode, and my escape pod could only contain one person and now I was drifting seeing the wonders of the universe without really being able to interact with it. I made more of a plan as I laid to sleep, knowing exactly where I’d start my day, and deciding to tackle it with a much more positive attitude.

Capsule Hotel

BBQ

The past week I started to put up my school bulletin board, but once I glued the final touches of my name in cut out fluorescent orange bubble letters I realized since I didn’t have access to a printer or any art supplies my job was put on hold there. Instead I focused on the beef of this month’s work: the jikoshoukai, my self introduction. Being that it’s what I’ll be doing for each class the first time I visit, and there are three years, and eight classes per year, I’ll be presenting my self introduction roughly 24 times. Except, due to sports day festival and silver week, there are only 14 days of class this month. In which case I’ll be performing my self introduction at least two times a day, each taking up roughly half an hour, meaning I’ll be spending at least half a day introducing myself, and the other half answering questions like: how tall are you? What do you want to do in Japan? and of course, do you have a girlfriend?

So even though I got the layout of my presentation completed, I was still lacking in which photos to add and and even what software I would use. I was determined to finish it up over the weekend, but after waking up to a temperate and sunny Saturday morning I decided it could wait just a bit. Instead, I cleaned thoroughly for the first time, moving plenty of things around, sweeping the floors and organizing my closet. Really, it wasn’t much of a challenge since the only furniture I do have is a fold out futon mattress that goes into my closet. Still, it was nice to put things away and imagine what I’ll be doing come next paycheck. I keep going between a desk, chair, and monitor, or a couch; really, the conflict is do I create a space for myself to work and play, or a space for others to relax and socialize. For now, I’m leaning toward the latter, but also my lack of internet might be skewing what I’ll really want to have time for after a ten hour work day.

Anyway once the place was clean, I pulled out my iPad where I’d downloaded those Japanese textbooks, and spent some time studying and waiting for one of my neighbors to wake up. We had planned to drive to a nearby town where the local board of education and international club were hosting a yakitori at a local park. It’s weird to think that this was the last weekend I’d be having as part of summer vacation (especially since I’d been working most of the day for the past two weeks), but I really wanted to enjoy it.

We got to the park a little after the barb-b-que had started, but were welcomed by the people there. It was cool to see some of the ALTs we knew but also get introduced to a plenty of Japanese folk. A couple spoke very fluent English and started to pass raw cuts of meat our way.

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They had what seemed like an unlimited supply and the most ultimate of awesome secret sauces produced from a local restaurant. I gorged myself, with the thin strips of beef, chicken, and pork taking almost no time to cook (it gives me wonder to how I was vegetarian for five years). On top of that we also had a couple of bowls of yakisoba, some sort of slow roasted pound-cake, and a prawn and rice dish served by this awesome guy who owned his own miso shop and spoke English perfectly from living in Toronto for three years. Before we left with promises of future events we said we’d be visiting his shop and I really hope that I can soon because he seemed like a sweet person to get to know and enjoy the area better.

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That night after much internal debate, I decided to join a party of ALTs in the area for karaoke. Initially I was on the fence because of last week’s hangover and an overall lack of sleep that I’d be getting this week. I knew I needed to get into a better sleep schedule in order to feel good for school, but I figured I should take the opportunities that are given to get out and not be stuck in the shell that is my apartment. In the end I had a good time, but we stayed out way past midnight. My Sunday started early with the hope of carpooling to Costco some 2 hours away. Alas, no one else woke up early enough to make the drive before I met my adviser at 2:00 to get his old college washing machine. Kind of bummed, but hey, I saved what was probably a lot of money, and I finally have a washing machine… well, I do have the washing machine, but I still have to figure out how to hook it up to the spigot without having water spray everywhere else. All in good time. First, I’ve gotta set my sights towards the first day of school.

Recuperate

This weekend was absolutely indescribable. So much money spent, so many freshman mistakes. I can only be glad the ceremony and party was on Friday so I had both Saturday and Sunday to recover. First, the ceremony had all the pomp and circumstance that I went out and finally bought my first pair of dress shoes since the winter formal of my sophomore year in high school. Another couple of expenses for cool biz apparel and factoring the party for the night and I’d already broken in an eighth of my paycheck. Needless to say we’ll gloss over the night I don’t remember (apart from the two Japanese women who gratefully drove me home from a piece of torn off paper Emer had given me with her address on it).

The next morning was fantastically (and deservedly) cruel.

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It took us all a little while to get moving, the picture was taken at 1:00, but for me it was especially tough. We had an exquisite breakfast made by Emer and Ashleigh which I got to participate in towards the end. In the late afternoon we finally accomplished our goal of leaving the apartment and starting the day. We went to a bunch of stores to deplete our paycheck even more, but I was a little more stingy (with the aid of a kei car full of people and luggage). We went out to dinner after the errands and I finally felt lively, I was disappointed that I was finally coming to. As Atmosphere raps, “mad that I gave half the day to last night.”

Sunday I did little to nothing, except for visiting the dollar store and finally buying some essentials for the house (all but a refrigerator) and finally placed the order of my Amazon wishlist consisting mostly of American amenities and above all a nice pair of headphones. I don’t know if I mentioned that I left mine at home (like, didn’t even bring them to the airport), but it’s really had a subtle impact on my overall emotional state to the point that every time I get in a car with radio I can feel myself becoming more calm. It’s kind of like peanut butter, too. Magically, in this backwards land that has yet to discover peanut butter, Emer was able to find the smallest of jars at God knows what supermarket and shared more than a spoonful with me. You really don’t know what types of things you miss until you realize they’ve been missing from your life, and apparently peanut butter holds a huge place in my diet.

One thing I don’t miss about my Midwest of America is the overall lack of bugs. I didn’t ever think I’d say this, and actually it’s not true, but really the mosquito isn’t so bad compared to the excess of spiders, dragonflies, cockroaches, and various other creeps. For instance, this gal who just decided to post up outside my doorstep.

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What a ridiculous past week it’s been. I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s just say it started out great. I came back to camp all riled up and ready to go. We had half days at school on Thursday and Friday and our supervisor took Coral and me to Nitori (which is basically Japanese for Ikea), and I loaded up on a lot of things for my apartment. In the end I budgeted ¥40,000 and spent ¥39,200 which worked out perfect. Although, that night I started going through everything I had and organizing it all, and sadly once I got it all into place I really was sort of back to square one with an empty apartment. Basically everything I’d gotten just when into a closet of some sort. I still don’t have a refrigerator, couch, any sort of table or chair to sit and work at. In fact, the only necessity I purchased (which did end up making up half the budget) was a bed and sheets. But even then, I only got a futon that goes on the floor and can fold up and get placed in my closet. (It’s a surprisingly comfortable bed for it’s design, but that’s beside the point). I’m definitely getting cabin fever over the lack of anything to do in my apartment, and if it weren’t for the view I think I would really consider trying to move.

IMG_2074But as far as views go, this one’s hard to beat. The sun sets pretty quickly, but if you watch it just right the amount of colors in the sky are spectacular. So I’m happy with or without the amenities. Like all things that are slowly applying to my life: once I get paid, I’ll be much better off. Especially after this weekend.

Throughout this week I’d been talking with another ALT named Carmelo about going to a beach in Kanazawa for the weekend. Carmelo is on his second year and it seems is always in the know about the best places to be. Such it seems was this weekend. Him, another new ALT, and I left a little past noon on Saturday for the three hour drive to the northern beach in the Ishikawa prefecture. Along the way we swapped cars and met a Japanese friend of Carmelo’s who’d drive the two hours from Fukui city.

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I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but as soon as we arrived at the beach I new it was going to be a whole different experience. The view from where we parked the car was pretty awesome, but from the moment I stepped out I was blasted with the bass of house and dance music. It was so strange to have this scene and the middle of the day cut by what you’d typically hear in a club in Roppongi, but hey, it was already three o’clock. The place was a bit peculiar, but would only increase in population and fanfare as the night set in. For a while we avoided the dance floor, instead setting our things down, making a toast, and heading toward the beach.

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I think there’s a joke that could be made about how an African-American, Russian-American, and Mexican-American all go to a Japan beach, but I’ll just skip over it for PC sake. Because the Ocean, man, the ocean. It’s been a couple of summers since I’d been in one, but that was nothing like this. The water was perfect, fairly clear, and a pleasant temperature. The waves were just large enough to lap over you, but not strong enough to knock you over. We all split up and started to talk to whoever we could (read: women). It’s funny how easy it is to approach strangers here, I mean, I still think there may be the idea of “stranger danger” that we use in America, but for me it’s like obviously I’m a foreigner, so obviously I must be a n00b and probably non-threatening.

Apart from a beer in the car (because yeah, that’s legal here), and a couple of swigs before our toast, for the rest of the night I don’t think I had any alcohol, which considering how giddy I was is pretty surprising. Once we left the ocean, plenty of people had gathered back at the stage, and they were rounding off sets of using the foam machine. At first the four of us mostly stood back and watched, but eventually (maybe once we saw how everyone else did it) we joined in the fray. One of us even got up on stage (though, he was quickly brought off). So I guess, drenched in foam, pumping my first in the air, and bouncing up in a down, in the center of a crowd singing BigBang’s “Wow, fantastic baby,” I should’ve expected something wrong to happen.

And it was then, while my feet were sloshing in the foam soaked sand, sinking even further with every up and down, that I felt the simple slide across the bottom of my foot of something that shouldn’t have been. Through the adrenaline it took me another jump before I decided to reach down and feel the arch of my left for assurance. When I brought my hand back my fingers were splashed with blood barely visible in the laser and torch lights. It’s sad how sober I can become in situations like that. Not even panicked or frustrated, just efficient. Knowing that I was standing in a vat of sand and soap and sweat, with god knows whatever sort of rust and diseased covered sharp object sliced through my foot, I snaked my way through the crowd, already beginning the limp, to head to the restroom.

Once I was there (literally a shack with a tiny flap over the open doorway with the kanji for man on it) it’s amusing how quickly things went into action. Outside I passed a couple of girls waiting for the women’s stalls to be open, but once they saw me limp they rushed into the men’s toilet with me. Both clad in bikinis, one held my shoulders while the other grabbed my foot and brought it up to the sink to begin flapping it with water. It seems, or at least in my mind, that this was also the time all the men decided to take a leak because I swear at least eight more guys entered the room in the next five seconds. Some stared, some went about their business, but eventually I had to escape (even though the one was still splashing water on my still bleeding foot) and I hobbled outside to a barstool.

I got some weird looks. People asking me “daijyobu?‘ and a lot of whispering. I defiantly smiled back wearing nothing but short plaid swim trunks, while cursing my bad luck. I think at that point I knew I’d need stitches, but I didn’t really have a choice in the matter of getting them since none of us would’ve know where the nearby emergency room was (let alone, I don’t even know what type of operating hours emergency rooms might have out here). Instead I eventually waddled back to the ocean, a plenty distance away, thinking that salt water was probably the best option I had in making sure my new wound wouldn’t get infected.

The water was still impressively warm, and I waded in to my waist and stayed there for a while. Even in the darkness, with hardly any stars, I could hear people out there, see some silhouettes on the beach, and the occasional flash of fireworks. It was truly an OK situation for me, and even with the cost, I’m glad I broke away from the flash of the foam party to experience it. By this point it wasn’t even midnight, and I still had a long night ahead of me. I hobbled back to the main part of the beach and fell into one of the hammocks that were placed up by the stage. At least I wasn’t the first who’d be passing out.

I woke up over two hours later, and went to check and see if the car was still there. From the hammock I’d tried to keep an eye out for the guys I was with, but eventually I dozed up. Luckily I caught them as they were on their way back from the car to do one final sweep for me. We got in an cruised the ride back, stopping once at a Seven-Eleven and momentarily conversing with the odd crowd that frequents a conbini at three in the morning.

When we got back to the apartment complex, I knew (from the oozing redness around the crusted blood) that I’d have to go into the hospital. But at that point I told them to get some sleep and Carmelo offered to take me to get my foot checked whenever I woke up. It was five in the morning, and all I could do when I stumbled up the stairs and into the apartment was stick my foot into yet another sink and try to wash all the rest of the crud off. I stuck a sock on it so it wouldn’t bleed all over my new sheets, and went to sleep for as long as I could.

I woke up five hours later, and thankfully Carmelo had just woken up as well. We drove to the hospital and I hopped in while he parked. Now, I think my three years of Japanese classes will get me through most day to day situations I’ll encounter here, but visiting a hospital was definitely not something I’d studied for. Luckily my ailment was external and so all I had to do when I approached the receptionist was point to the bottom of my foot. She got me situated and after enough repeated successfully determined that I’d probably cut it on a can, I’d washed it several times, and had no allergies to any medicine. When we got to that last point it really hit me how screwed I was for not knowing how to communicate. Like, luckily I’ve been healthy enough not to have any lasting concerns, but if I did how the hell would I know how and when to tell them.

Inside the (for lack of a better word, or maybe it’s the right word anyway) operating room, I met the doctor. There were at least five nurses all dressed in scrubs, and my doctor is sitting at a desk wearing a moss colored t-shirt tucked into blue jeans. I mean, I know it was Sunday, but still it took me off guard. They quickly laid me down on my stomach and the doctor said the word “painkiller” in English. Thank god the cut was on my foot, because I looked back enough to see him pull out a needle and then didn’t look again. The painkiller was the worst part, though, as he had to poke me several times around the cut. “Painkiller is the worst part,” he said, again in English. I got a couple more “daijyobu”s from the nurses before they went to work. It was actually quite an easy process, and despite the anxiety, didn’t hurt at all. On the way to the hospital actually I kept thinking I would vomit from the pain, but once my foot went numb I felt normal again.

In the end I got “seven stitches” again in English, “it’s a lot, no?” The hardest part was probably what came after. I got handed a couple of sheets and figured out that they wanted me to come back in the morning to get it changed again. I also had to pay in full since my health insurance hasn’t kicked in yet. It’s shit like this that we need Obamacare for. After paying for the apartment, amenities, food, I had to give in all the cash I had left on me. In US dollars it only equated to about $200, but that was the money that was supposed to last me through the next two weeks. After I paid they directed me to the pharmacy to pick up medication. That has got to be the most confusing conversation I’ve ever had in Japanese. The pharmacist just wouldn’t slow down using his Japanese and if I didn’t know the words “hitotsu” and “hirugohan, bangohan, asagohan” (otherwise no Japnese language) I probably could’ve just packed up and hoped they didn’t have to amputate after an infection. But hey, I was fixed up, the painkillers were still working (and when they stopped, I would know), and I had gotten over the first real life crisis of my time in Japan. All that, and I’d only been here two weeks to the day.

Respite

I forgot to mention in the last post what a pretty wonderful weekend it was. Seems like a lot of the JETs in Fukui are pretty close and the people living around me are all close enough to visit with. Strange enough one of the first things we did was drive Saturday over an hour away to Ono where there was a pretty sweet swimming hole. It took us a while to rally together and in all our sweat make our way, but once we were in the car with the windows down it made for a good drive.

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010Despite the unruly heat and humidity the water was still an absurd amount of cold. I think in the pool it just sits in the shade and without a current or sun gets all the heat out of it. Still made for a good dip once you got over that fact that you’d lose your testicles, and it definitely kept me cool for the rest of the day. It was mostly just the best to relax with everyone and really get to know these people for the first time. I even got to chat with some Japanese people. I think I’ll quickly overload my social media with completely random people. For example, I met a guy from Osaka who speaks pretty good English and you know if I ever want to go to Osaka, even if  I don’t speak to him until then, he’ll be the first I look for in finding a place to stay.

17On Sunday the group in my apartment complex went and ran errands at the local mall. Even though I churned over not having a reason to shop for anything because I didn’t actually know what I’d need in my place, it was still fun to tag along and see everyone get excited about the new ordinary stuff like dish soap and lotion that they would have.

That night we went out to dinner and had ramen at a local restaurant franchise. It was pretty delicious and super affordable. As we walked in the place was packed and we actually made our orders from the waiting room. I was the most fluent out of our group, and tried to do my best to order for us all. One of the girls needs a gluten-free diet so that was the most challenging thing to get across, but in the end it worked out. I think if I could I would eat out every day and try something new, but with the amount of fried and buttered food I think my diet would suffer more than my wallet.