Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mt. Fuji Trip: Day 2, Summit and Descent

It was about 3:30am when we made it to the summit of Mt. Fuji. We were giddy with discomfort at the icy cold wind. Smarter and richer people than we had slept that evening in the expensive but rustic hotels on the way up the mountain and then begun climbing early to see the sunrise. But we climbed all through the night. I'm a little proud of that, even though now it seems foolish. :)

The view was incredible, absolutely incredible. It was the kind of thing you'd only ever expect to see from a plane, except with no Plexiglas between you and the scenery. Those other mountains seemed so huge from the ground, and yet so small from the top of Mt. Fuji

We took a few photos to prove that we actually did it. :) A lot of people in our class and even the director of the IES program didn't think we would make it, but we did. 

The sunrise was gorgeous, and we were glad we were there to see it.

Unfortunately, we were so cold and miserable that we didn't want to walk around the crater or even stay any longer than we absolutely had to! So we took our pictures, saw the view, and then headed down the mountain as fast as we could! The cold was unbearable. Here is a "giddy with discomfort" picture; we were all actually miserable. 

When we were at the top of the mountain, we rested at a shrine. But it got so cold that we were very uncomfortable. Robert started to fall asleep and we were honestly concerned that he would get frostbite or die if he did. So we had to move out. If it had been a nicer day and I hadn't been so tired, sleepy, and cold, I would have liked to see the crater of Mt. Fuji, but it was really not at the top of my priorities at that time! I'd say, "Maybe next time" but I am NOT climbing Mt. Fuji again, or at least not for 20 years like Tanaka-san. :)

Our climb was extremely quiet, with only the two boys and Tanaka-san and me. But once we reached the summit, we saw at least 100 people or more arriving to see the sunrise. They must have spent the night in the hotels. If you look closely at this picture, you can see them all coming up the mountain. This was taken from the summit. Look how steep it is!!!!!!

This picture is the start of our descent. Maybe the funniest thing about our mountain climb was that, once we reached the summit, we thought the hard part was over. So, so wrong. Descending worked a lot of different muscles, and hurt our knees and feet way more than the climb. It is supposed to take only 5 hours to descend but it took us 7 because we were going so slow. At times it seemed like we were only shuffling or trudging! On any other day in other circumstances, I could have easily strutted down the mountain, but I was weary beyond belief. We saw one or two guys jogging down the mountain and we gaped at them. 

An American took our picture as the sun was coming up, and we all looked HORRIBLE, haha. Whenever we stopped for a break during the descent, we'd take a look at it and crack up. Obviously we hadn't slept for about 24 hours and we looked like death. So funny.

I tried to convince myself that the descent wouldn't take very long, but it NEVER ENDED, haha. Here is a video from 7am taken by Ethan.

One more video from Ethan, full of complaining. :D This was at the 7th station on the way down, and I couldn't believe we hadn't gotten farther than that!!/video/video.php?v=447160442852

And my video, after descending for six hours and STILL NOT DONE! 

A few photos as we descended. Note the steepness, the snow, the red lava rocks, and the cloud level.

My favorite thing about the mountain climb was the stars the night before, but Ethan's favorite thing was the clouds during the descent. They really were beautiful and they swirled so fast! Their shapes were constantly changing and we were so close to them. It was really a neat thing to see.

After seven hours of climbing down, we finally made it to the 5th station. The boys got some snacks, I ate a potato meat thing and slept on the table, and we took the first bus out of there! After that was a blur, but we arrived at the Kawaguchiko station around noon and got some lunch. This picture cracked us up the next day, so funny. We were so weary.

Here was our first ever view of Mt. Fuji, except for being on top of it. Even after climbing, we couldn't see it because of the clouds! But don't worry, the following day we got amazing pictures.

We went to the souvenir shop below that restaurant but just looking at the pictures of Mt. Fuji caused involuntary disgust, hahaha. That feeling went away after a day. :)

Then we had five or so hours to kill in the bus station, so we used the internet and slept. We got picked up at 6pm by Hirose-san, who took us to the ryokan.

We showered, took hot baths in the onsen, ate dinner, and then went to bed. The owner made me make dinner and clean up the plates, even though the boys were planning to help me clean up and cook! But there is a rule of only one person in the kitchen at the ryokan, to prevent germs. I made spaghetti and the owner gave us watermelon for dessert. :D He was so nice! He also let me use olive oil and he showed us how the Japanese make spaghetti, with radishes and onions. It was good! I also cooked spaghetti with chopsticks. :) Here's a picture of our ryokan stay. :)

We called Sachi and told her about our crazy day of mountain climbing and descending. Then we went to sweet, sweet sleep. :)

Mt. Fuji Trip: Day 1, the Ascent

Prepare for an epic series of posts, because Robert, Ethan, and I had the adventure of a lifetime this week, starting on Wednesday and ending on Saturday night. Because this post is going to be long, I'm making all or most of the photos small, but just click on them to enlarge. :)

So, immediately after class on Wednesday (about 1pm), we grabbed some lunch and hopped on the trains with all of our luggage. We went from Kaihimmakuhari to Tokyo, then to Shinjuku. I stressed out a lot about making the trains on time! But the boys were very calm. :) Then we took a 2-hour bus from Shinjuku to Fujiyoshida station at the foot of Mt. Fuji. We were supposed to drop off our luggage at the Fujiyoshida station and then Hirose-san, the owner of our ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), would pick them up at 5pm. 

But we arrived at 5:10pm and immediately began arranging our Fuji climbing bag and making/eating sandwiches for dinner. So we missed the luggage pick-up... We freaked out a little bit but Ethan called Hirose-san and he came to pick up our luggage. :D That was the first indication we had that our hotel was actually a legitimate place, because the website was obviously hand-made and possibly a scam (but it turned out to be quite the opposite!) It was a wonderful place to stay for only $20 per night. But more on that later. ;)

After dropping off our luggage, we hopped on a long bus ride up to the Fuji 5th station. We went there because Fuji-san is a mountain that gets steeper as you get to the top. Therefore the bottom of the mountain takes FOREVER to climb because it's like a gradually sloping path instead of a climb. Haha, look how enthusiastic we were! 
We had no idea what we were about to get ourselves into! (Actually, we really didn't; it was so cloudy and foggy that we didn't see Mt. Fuji at ALL, even when we were right in front of it. So we had no idea how tall it was and we didn't see it from afar until the next day!) We were very tired just from the traveling, so not in the best condition to be climbing Mt. Fuji, hahah.

On the bus ride, we met some genki-looking Germans who told us that it's wise to wait an hour at the 5th station to get used to the altitude before climbing. So, that's what we did. We found some funny stuff in the gift shop there.
Then we suited up, used the bathroom, and took some pictures. Look how happy we were at the beginning, hahaha. We were naive. :) But those rainsuits were life-savers; it poured for the first two hours or so. But unlike most of the other climbers, we didn't buy a walking stick or a bottle of oxygen! 

We set off from the 5th station in the rain and pitch-black night. We'd been going for about 2 minutes when Robert realized his headlamp batteries were dying and his light almost didn't work, haha. So he changed them and my light led the way for a bit.

We met an older man named Tanaka-san, who accompanied us for the entire journey of 8 hours! He was such a great guy. He had climbed Mt. Fuji five times, but the last time he did it was 20 years ago. We couldn't believe it! He kept up with us pretty well, but was usually the last one in our group. We waited for him but he kept saying in Japanese, "Going slowly is better, then you won't get a headache" and I agreed, but Robert wouldn't! So he eventually got a headache.

After what felt like FOREVER, we made it to the 6th station. The wind and rain had gotten really strong by then. We kept hiding behind the erosion barriers because then the wind wouldn't blow rain under our rain suits. At one of the lower rest stops, I took off my second layer of pants (jeans) because I was sweating too much. I ended up not ever putting them back on, even though they would have been useful at the freezing top of the mountain!

Another eternity passed before the 7th station. I took this video, which describes the situation pretty well. :)

The most important part of this video is probably when Ethan said in disbelief, "We're only at the 7th station? We haven't come far at all!!" We had probably been at it for two or three hours by then. It was so good that we were climbing at night because we couldn't see how far we still had to go and how far we had come. We only focused on the path right in front of us, which was sometimes rocky, sometimes pebbly, and sometimes actual mountain climbing with chains and ropes. No sheer cliff faces but there were steep, giant lava boulders that we had to climb and you really needed to use the chains. Here is a relatively "easy" portion of the path but it really destroyed my feet: This video was taken on the way down the next day. It was much harder to climb those rocks when everything was wet from the rain!

I was wearing my dad's hiking boots and they were too big, so every step gave me pain and blisters. I wonder if we have a picture of the super-steep parts, where it really was like rock climbing.  Then again, because we did it at night and the rain/wind were making us hurry, we didn't have too many photo ops at night. Here are some of them: Ethan eating a sandwich at the 8th station, which took FOREVER to get to. 3,100 meters high (the whole mountain is 3,776 meters). The thing about the 8th station was that there were like FIVE 7th and 8th stations! Every time we thought we were getting to the 8th station, it was another 7th station! And every time we thought we had finally made it to the 9th station, it was actually 8.5th station or another fake 8th station. Again, probably a good thing that it was night time and we were oblivious. 

My rain pants developed a huge hole, probably from the sharp lava rocks we had to climb. I felt bad because I borrowed them from my host family, but it was funny to see such a big hole in my pants. Fortunately, rain pants are not very expensive.

It was so interesting to witness my morale changing as I climbed the mountain. Up until the 7th station, I was thinking, "I am so glad I'm doing this. What an amazing experience! Definitely not the hardest thing I've ever done. I'm not sure if I'd do it again but maybe if one of my friends came back to Japan with me someday, I'd go with them up the mountain." What I loved the most was the view. I have an obsession for being on really tall/high-up places, and this was the king of them all. The stars were breath-taking. I kept pestering the others to take more breaks so we could stare at the stars. We looked at them even for a few seconds and saw meteors (shooting stars) that would knock your socks off. If I was feeling tired, I just looked up at the stars and got filled with a sense of awe that I rarely experience. I became instantly happy, and instantly grateful to be climbing that crazy mountain. The view of the towns below was also incredible. We could see a few of the famous Fuji Five Lakes judging by the outline of lights along them. 

After the 8th station at around midnight, I was thinking, "Almost there! This is a lot harder now that I'm sleepy... I don't think I'd do this again." And honestly, a few hours later (NOT "almost there") before we even made it to the 9th station, I wanted to quit! It was 2 or 3am, the path was brutally steep, the wind was very cold, and the sky was starting to get a little bit lighter. I suggested half-heartedly to my friends that we stop before the 9th station and watch the sunrise from there. I think one of them agreed with me but it was probably Tanaka-san and Ethan, the ever-genki, who wanted to keep going. 

At that point things started to get rough for me. I was so tired/sleepy that sometimes I would start falling backwards, which in the strong wind was easy to do, and it was a very steep drop off the side of the mountain. So I would catch myself or stumble backwards and get that rush of adrenaline as a warning not to do it again. But then ten or so minutes later, I'd catch myself falling backwards again. I tried to lean forward more often so that I wouldn't fall in a dangerous way, but I kept thinking, "Wow, this is actually a dangerous situation." Can you see by these rocky pictures how steep it was?

We took a number of 5-minutes breaks and maybe one or two 10 or 20 minute breaks. As we got higher in altitude, though, the longer breaks we took, the colder we became. We had to keep moving even though our legs hurt so bad. Robert was not a happy camper in the cold, because neither he nor Ethan was dressed for the weather. I gave Robert my sweater so he wouldn't die. 

Ethan was mysteriously genki the whole time except for the descent. :D 

The final trip, from the 9th station (which turned out to just be a little shack compared to the others) to the summit's 10th station was the hardest part of the whole climb. It seemed to go on forever, and the path was the steepest of all.

Well, I think that's it for the ascent blog post. Next will be the summit and descent. My legs hurt just writing this post, haha.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Odds and ends of Japanese life

Today I'm staying home due to sickness. I've been sick for about a week but it's just been a cold. I assumed if I sleep for an extra five-ish hours, maybe I'd get better in time to climb Mt. Fuji tomorrow. I think I do feel better. :) The only bad thing is now I have a LOT of homework to be doing. I'll get on that right after this blog post!

I found this great link from our tour guide at the Edo Museum. It's his personal website, with all the information he told us at the museum and probably more! He was such a great guy. He even has a picture of our group. :)

Tonight I'm having dinner with Alex Kilkka!! So excited about that. He's staying in a capsule hotel, so I'm sure I'll try to get a picture and maybe even crawl inside it. Then we're having dinner with my host family, yay!

Yesterday after class, my friends and I made some plans for our Mt. Fuji trip and Sachi backed out. :/ So now it's just Robert, Ethan, and me, but it'll still be great. I bought some protein drinks and bars, some ingredients for sandwiches, and a few other things I need. I've been packing my bags: the one for the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and the mountain backpack for the climb that my host family is lending me. They also gave me a rain coat and rain pants! So happy. :D The weather, especially wind and rain, is always ridiculous on Mt. Fuji.

We bought bus tickets to get to the mountain and I guess we'll find a local bus to the 5th station once we get there. Because Mt. Fuji is a very gradually-sloping mountain that only becomes steep near the very top, it would probably be like walking on a flat hill if we were to start at the legitimate bottom. By the time we'd get to the top, we'd run out of water! We'll be climbing through the night so we can see the sunrise at the top, at about 4am. It's going to be COLD COLD COLD at the top and HOTTER THAN HADES at the bottom, or so I hear. Rainy and dusty and overall a very difficult trip. But I look forward to saying that I have climbed the highest mountain in Japan. :D That will be July 7-8th. Then we'll relax at the ryokan!

We decided that the day after we climb Mt. Fuji, July 9th, we'll all go to Fuji-Q Highlands, the rollercoaster park at the base of Mt. Fuji. :D I'm so excited! In Japan rollercoasters are known as "jet coasters." Fuji-Q Highlands has one of the world's tallest/fastest rollercoasters, Fujiyama. :D At the convenience store by our school, we can get day-passes for 3700yen, or about 38-39 dollars.

Speaking of numbers that are lower than I expected, I'm losing a lot of weight here. It's not because of the small portions, because I often eat until I am very full. But Japanese food has very few calories; sometimes entire meals have only 300 or 400 calories! I also drink water instead of soda or juicy drinks, and I'm walking 80+ minutes every day as part of my commute. Then I climb the 9 flights of stairs at my apartment so I won't get humiliated on Mt. Fuji. :) So it's easy to lose weight. I'll try to gain it back when I return to the US! Last semester I was 117 and now I'm 111.

I had a pretty funny/embarrassing language error the other day. I wanted to say to Namiko-san, "If you see a bathroom, please tell me/say so." But what I said was the literal version of that, "お手洗いを見たら、いってください。” But I forgot that いってください can either mean "please go" or "please say". So she thought I said, "If you see a bathroom, please go!" We laughed about that. The proper thing to say is, "If you see a bathroom, please teach me (where it is)".

I sent this email to my friends today, but it is actually really relevant to the blog! So here, learn some about Japanese pop culture, especially the parts that have been influenced by black American culture.

We had a lecture yesterday about pop culture in Japan and one of the topics was Japanese rap. Most Japanese rap isn't based off of class struggle or racial discrimination, and Japanese don't really relate to the ghetto origins of American rap, but they rap about generational and political struggles in Japan. There are plenty of social problems here but they don't get as much attention as the "kooky" image of Japan that the Western media loves to promote.

Japanese rappers get a sense of toughness and credibility from the rap culture created in America. One interesting thing is that Japanese rappers have to add artificial stress to their words to make them sound more like English; otherwise the language would flow too smoothly to be rapped.

Curious to see what you think of the two most distinct types of Japanese rap: party rap (fun lyrics about everyday life, meant for playing at a party; mostly female audience) and underground rap (darker, often political, and goes against traditional Japanese societal norms; mostly male audience).

Zeebra, "911" (they call the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks "nine one one" in Japan)

Foxxi Misq, "Luxury Ride" (note the huge cars... I see them everywhere here, which doesn't make any sense in a city as packed as Tokyo)

Also interesting to note about that party rap video is that it features Zeebra, the same underground artist as in the previous video.

This isn't rap but it might be the most interesting video from the lecture: Jero, a 3/4 black American, 1/4 Japanese singer who modernized the Japanese traditional enka music style and has had great success in Japan:

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Party Day!

Today my host family had a great party. :D It wasn't for Independence Day; it was just the most convenient day, haha. At 12:50 I walked to the station to pick up Ethan, the sole friend of mine who wasn't ill or homesick or working or another-excuse! It was a really fun party with a bunch of Tomoaki's work friends and their families. :)

We ate okonomiyaki and really yummy tako-yaki (octopus dough balls).

These friends read my blog. :D


 Ethan's first umeboshi. SOUR!

Making takoyaki


 The baby fell asleep in the middle of the room even though it was so loud, haha. Midway through the party, I got a major headache that didn't go away with three Ibuprofen, so I took a short nap. I didn't feel better right away, but towards the end of the party the headache went away. :) 
 People drank a whole recycling-bin-full of beer and sake, haha.

The kids were a lot of fun. :) It was nice to see Takumi having a lot of fun. I haven't gotten to play with many little girls yet so playing with a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old was neat. Their dad frequently has to come home on the last train of the night (midnight-ish) because his job is so hard. :( They all had to leave at around 9:30pm because of work the next day. Still, a party from 1:30-9:30 was a long time! It was really fun!