Pathetic Lawnscaping Project

It seems that talking about lawns, yards, and grass is a popular topic discussed by writers on the blogosphere. Being a self-described writer I figured I should get in on the lawnscaping discussion, or else not be taken seriously.

I grew up in apartments and condominiums so I never had a backyard. Never had a lawn to mow or any of that cool suburban stuff. As a matter of fact, I have never lived in a house in the United States.

My current residence is my first ever house. Of course being a Japanese house it’s a bit different than you typical American domicile. But I finally have a yard. Well, sort of, I have a strip of weed infested dirt that I have no idea what to do with.

yard1.jpg

My majestic yard, envy me.

 

Today I decided to actually get proactive on the whole yard maintenance thing. Mostly because I was embarrassed by the jungle of weeds covering the whole thing. In some places, it was several feet tall and unknown species of mammals lived underneath the lush canopy. I’m pretty sure the neighbors loved it. (I messed up and didn’t think about taking pictures before I murdered the weeds)

So after a bit of weed whacking, dirt scraping, and raking, the dirt strip looks presentable. I need to do some reading and figure out if I can spray some weed killer to get rid of the rest of them. But, my main goal is to make this area a presentable spot to read and relax. I need to do some self-teaching on the whole thing but my goal is to maybe drop some rocks on the ground, put up a nice outdoor table, and two chairs.

Then I can sit, drink tea, and be completely paranoid about poisonous centipedes crawling up my legs.

At the airport.

Went through customs, drank a beer, and scoping out our plane. Narita airport is always a great experience. 

Writing and Chinatown

cat

So after a long burst of non-stop work, I am finally on vacation. Tomorrow Judy and I will go on our first vacation since moving to Japan.  We will be flying to Taiwan, where we will be doing a bunch of exploring, a bunch of drinking, and lots and lots of eating.

Besides being excited about our upcoming trip. I’m feeling good because these last few days I managed to actually sit down and write a lot. I finished and edited a great Pulp Fiction story that I’m really proud of. It has jungles, muskets, powdered wigs, shapeshifters, and sorceresses. I also started the outline for my next story. I’m really aiming for a lot of writing this year.

We also managed to get to our local Chinatown for a few drinks, a bit of the Lunar Festival, and some exploring. Check out that crazy cat building. I don’t want to know what horrors go on inside.

A Weekend of Game: Sekigahara and Lords of Waterdeep

Another fantastic three day weekend is shortly coming to a close. The past three days have been a blast. We continued exploring around our neighborhood, trying new restaurants, and going on our now weekly hikes. You can check out all the great sights from this weekends adventure through Kamakura at Judy’s blog Adventurous Abroad. She takes some really great pictures.alexwaterfall

But my favorite part of the weekend was our newly rekindled gaming. Judy and I used to play a lot of boardgames. We even have a modest little collection. Our friends in Southern California used to get together every weekend, drink beer, and roll dice.
Unfortunately, life got in the way. We moved further and further away. Schedules became harder to manage and work drained our available leisure time. Boardgaming kind of fell to the wayside.
quinnlordsofwaterdeep
Recently I have been getting the itch to game. An itch that just cannot be satisfied by my PS4. So I ordered Sekigahara. I thought it was appropriate thematically due to us living in Japan. Also, our favorite game is Twilight Struggle, made by the same company so I wanted to continue that experience.
Making everything cooler, Judy the genius that she is, pointed out the fact that we can actually ask other humans to play with us. So, we got ourselves invited to our friends, Kelsey and Johns, house for beer and board gaming.

Sekigahara

On Saturday Judy and I battled for Japan in GMT’s two player Sekigahara: The Unification of Japansekigahara2

The battle of Sekigahara fought in 1600 unified Japan under the Tokugawa family bringing peace and prosperity for over two hundred years. In the game, each player takes a side in the 7-week battle, one representing Ishida Mitsunari and the other Tokugawa Ieyasu.
The game is fantastic. Nail-bitingly tense, and beyond exciting. It uses blocks for units that hide your strength from your opponent creating a fantastic fog-of-war effect. Units attack using loyalty cards, a mechanic used to simulate warfare based on ever-shifting alliances. You can have situations where a small but loyal army smashes a larger force due to shifting loyalties and betrayal.
sekigaharagame gameboard
The mechanics lead to a tension-filled game where you constantly have to adjust and overcome in order to succeed.
We played two games and had a blast going 1 – 1 for wins. Judy won the first game, smashing me in Kyoto in an epic battle. The second game I got lucky, winning by capturing Tokugawa alone when she unwisely separated him from a siege.
Sekigahara Game Pic 1
Overall great game, and a fantastic return to gaming for us.
lordsofwaterdeepcover
Sunday we did our first board game night, with John and Kelsey. Judy and I both had a blast and we both look forward to doing it again.
For the game of choice, we decided on bringing Lords of Waterdeep. LoW is actually the first Eurostyle game we ever played. It’s a great introduction to worker placement games and more complex Eurogames in general. It super easy to teach and super easy to play. Most of all it has a great theme and really high-quality art and design. I am also partial to the Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms theme.
So the four of us spent the night as shadowy masked manipulators pulling the strings in the shadows of The City of Splendors. We sent wizards, warriors, clerics, and rogues on dangerous missions. Judy embraced her role as a fantasy slum lord, the Donald Trump of fantasy real estate, by developing many buildings throughout the city.
lordsofwaterdeep
The game was a blast and we ended up playing twice back to back. The first game was a tie between me and Judy(I’m sure there is a tiebreaker mechanic) and the second went to John.
Lords of Waterdeep is a great introductory game. It was a blast to play again after so many years. It’s really simple that you can drink a few beers playing it yet has enough depth of choice and action to keep you occupied the whole time.
Another great weekend spent exploring a fantastic country with my amazing wife and great friends. Life is wonderful.

Happy Year of the Rooster!

smokingcock2016 was a great year for me and my small family. After some initial setbacks, we all made it to Japan where we spent the whole year exploring and adventuring. We experienced everything from Cherry Blossom, Apples in Nagano, and even knocked out the huge accomplishment of climbing Mt. Fuji. Living in Japan has been a fantastic experience for us and we look forward to another year of excitement and new experiences.

AlexFujiQuinn.jpgTonight we will be going out on the town, eating dinner, grabbing some drinks, and hopefully end up at a nearby shrine for the midnight ceremonies. Earlier today we went on a quick hike by our house and were gifted by the nature gods with a fantastic view of Mt. Fuji. If you look really close at the picture of me holding Quinn you can see him in the background. I will take the view as a sign of prosperity for the new year.

I look forward to all the new challenges and new adventures next year. I look forward to sharing them with my beautiful wife and with my great friends.

I hope all of you have a great new year filled with adventure and happiness.

Toky to San Diego and back again.

jal

I’m sitting here listening do Dark Folk music, sipping black coffee, and enjoying a crisp cool afternoon in Yokosuka. The jet lag from my trip to California seems to have resolved itself.

Last week I took one of my necessary work trips to San Diego. I always luck out and get to fly on JAL, hands down my favorite airline with great attentive service. I always find traveling exciting. I love airports. Love the fact that I can walk around Tokyo Narita and listen to people speaking dozens of different languages. I like to wonder where everybody is going. Is the guy with the briefcase coming home to his family or is he going to hit the local bar and spend the night drinking by himself. Airports have so many possibilities.

I also enjoy the flight itself. 11 hours of relaxing and reading. I managed to finish 3 novels between napping on my flights. I don’t often have 11 hours of uninterrupted reading time anymore.

Between work responsibilities, I got to visit old haunts in San Diego, catch up with my brothers, and have dinner with my mother.  I really tried to eat all the food that is hard or lackluster in Japan. Mexican food, Pizza, and of course In-N-Out. Going to California without eating at In-N-Out at least once is a capital offense.

innout1

 On my way back home I looked out the window and marveled at how massive the Pacific Ocean truly is and how far we travel. Tokyo to San Diego is about 5,557m(8,979km) and takes 11 hours on a plane. This year I crossed the Pacific 5 times covering 27,785m(44,895km). For perspective, the circumference of the Earth at the Equator is 24,901m. This year I flew enough miles to circle the Earth and some. I’m not even a frequent traveler. A lot of people fly almost weekly for work and pleasure.

The fact that I can leave Tokyo on a sunny afternoon and find myself eating a fresh burrito in San Diego in less than 12 hours is amazing. In the 19th century the fastest sailing ships, the China Opium Clippers would race across the Pacific attaining world records of 33 days from Hong Kong to San Francisco. In 1521 it took Magellan about 99 days to travel from the straights to the Philippines.

chinaclipper In future centuries we might be able to travel instantaneously across the planet using wormhole technology like the Farcasters in Hyperion or Nigels tunneling wormholes in Hamiltons Commonwealth. Or our energy grids and ability to depend on fossil fuels might collapse forcing us back into a new age of sail. A new age of wind power on Oceans with new unpredictable currents and weather fueled by climate change.

All in all, I’m glad to be back home. I’m ready to celebrate Christmas and New Years with my wife. I have plenty of story ideas to write down and lots of blog posts planned for the years end.

🙂

 

A long holiday week.

Our first Thanksgiving in Japan turned out well. My co-worker’s wife hosted a large Thanksgiving dinner for all our junior sailors and my wife and I helped out as best as we could. We ate a bunch of turkey, pie, and drank a lot of beer. All had a great time.

xmastree

The highlight of the day was the snow. It snowed in Yokosuka. Growing up in Southern California this was my first Thanksgiving snow. It was quite excitingsnowyokosuka for me. It also reminded me that I need to do some shopping for thermals and thicker socks.

The rest of the holiday weekend was spent relaxing around the house. It was cold outside and I needed to catch up with sleep and Netflix. I’m pretty sure one of the nights I fell asleep around 7pm.

There isn’t a lot to share in the writing department. I’m waiting on one submission and started a new piece. Time is limited this week and will be through the next due to having to take a quick work trip to San Diego. I’m excited about going home for a bit but the timing is inconvenient. Of course, my favorite thing about flying across the Pacific is having 11 solid hours of uninterrupted reading.

 

Japan, I dig you.

HighballsJapan.jpg

The last few days have been rather busy. Several months ago my wife put out an invitation to all of our friends to be a host if they wanted to check out Japan. Her old high school friend decided to take her up on it and flew out here with her long time friend for some fun and adventure in the far East.

I was long overdue for some vacation time so I took two weeks off from work. A win-win situation. The first week is fully devoted to being a host and tour guide and next week will be my mini stay-cation dedicated to reading and writing.

Our guests have been great. We spent the last few days exploring Kamakura, drinking in the Honch, and hitting all the local Japanese malls. Tonight they decided to take it easy and recharge for our upcoming adventures in Tokyo and Yokohama. While they relaxed downstairs watching bad horror movies on Netflix, I retired to my office with some Whiskey Highballs and caught up on blogs and short stories.

Of course by 9pm I ran out of Highballs but still had plenty of posts to read. I decided to take a quick trip to the local neighborhood convenience store, Lawsons, for an alcohol supply refresher.

Here I am, two tall cans of booze buzzed, standing in line holding more booze. I started to feel self-conscious. I’m being the stereotypical drunken foreigner. It’s freeking Thursday! Making matters worse behind me in line are two 40 something Japanese, man and woman, dressed in crisp business attire.

I quickly paid for my illicit booze and decided to indulge my smoking vice outside the store. All I could think about was how they must be judging me. Wobbly drunk American degenerate. My built in puritan sensibilities kicked into high gear.

After several minutes they walked out of the store and came up to the smoking area. Both of them proceeded to light cigarettes and crack open freshly bought cans of Whiskey Highballs. We nodded good evening to each other and I smiled to myself re-affirmed in my ever increasing love for Japan.

Unfortunately coming home, my good mood was somewhat dampened by reading that the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan over Murakami. Downright nonsense. Murakami is hands down one of the most fantastic writers I have ever read. Dylan is an overrated mumble-mouthed hippie burnout that I never found inspiring or interesting. Japan, you got robbed and my belief that awards are mostly nonsense got another solid affirmation.

Kanpai!!

Climbing Mt. Fuji

fujilake

A picture of Fuji I took last winter. There isn’t any snow during climbing season.

Last weekend, after a bit over half a year of living in Japan, the wife and I accomplished one of our long term goals, climbing Mt. Fuji. It was a unique once in a lifetime experience that left me with mixed feelings. Climbing Mt. Fuji managed to be a rewarding challenge and a bit of a letdown at the same time.

Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776.24 m (12,389 ft). It’s an active volcano that last erupted in the 18th century. It’s a free-standing mountain, not part of any range. Considered a holy place it has been the destination of pilgrimages for hundreds of years.

Our trip started at 2pm on Saturday when we met up with our tour group, TokyoSnowClub, in Tokyo. Judy and I got there a bit early so we wandered around and decided to eat a disappointingly greasy burger at Tokyo Hooters. When the rest of the group arrived we hopped on the tour bus for the 3-hour drive to the base of Mt. Fuji.

fujiramen

Ramen at 5th station

The 5th station Yoshida Trail camp where we hung out for several hours to acclimate is basically a tourist trap. It’s several alpine resort type buildings filled with overpriced gift shops and mediocre restaurants. We bought ourselves a climbing stick, changed into warmer clothes, ate some ramen, and did a quick bit of yoga.

Around 7pm with the sun set and the rain at a constant drizzle, we began our long ascent. We climbed in a single line of what seemed like hundreds. Looking up or down the mountain all one could see in the dark was a zig-zagging line of headlamps. We climbed for hours and the rain and cold worsened the higher we got. Every two hours or so we took quick 1o minute breaks at one of the many way stations on the trail.

fujifog

Before we started hiking. The miserable weather just started.

It quickly became obvious that while we prepared ourselves physically we did not prepare ourselves materially. The clothing we brought was woefully inadequate for the downpour and the freezing cold. Two-thirds of the way up both of us were completely soaked, out of spare clothes, and showing early signs of hypothermia. Every break we took was excruciatingly cold.

Making matters worse was the fact that something I ate earlier did not sit well and that unpleasant indigestion mixed with a dash of altitude sickness led to numerous bathroom visits at every way station. Growing up at sea level I do not do well with quick ascents so by the last leg of the climb I was having a nice case of nausea, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, and an overall case of misery.

Our climb to the summit took about 8 hours. 8 miserable hours of constant freezing rain, altitude sickness, nausea, headaches, soaked clothes, and chills. A constant march over steep switchbacks and sharp volcanic rocks. After 8 horrible hours, we reached the top. The highest point in Japan.

Waiting for the sunrise on top of Mt. Fuji was not a fun experience. By the time we reached the top we were soaked and out of spare clothes. Our jackets were under-matched for the 32f degrees. We huddled together shivering and sharing our last hand warmer. When the sun finally started to rise we silently cheered, enjoyed the view, and quickly began the long descent.

AlexFuji

Above the clouds.

Seeing the sunrise from on top of Mt. Fuji was a beautiful experience. I will always remember and be thankful for the opportunity to see a sunrise from the top of “The Land of the Rising Sun.” I’m glad I got to share the experience with my wife. She kicked my ass in motivation and kept me going the whole time.

Fujisun

The first of the rising sun.

Our climb was a challenge, we underestimated the weather, the altitude, and the quality of our gear. While the climb itself was technically easy the rain and cold really sapped our strength. By the time we reached the top we were soaked, frozen, and tired from being up for 24 hours.

The disappointing aspect of Mt. Fuji is its popularity. Fuji is one giant volcanic tourist trap. My favorite aspect of hiking is the quite nature. I love long trails through empty canyons where the only sounds heard are your breath and wildlife. Mt. Fuji is not a spiritual experience in nature. It’s an overly commercialized amusement park. The climb is less of a hike and more of a long line at Disneyland with the peak being the destination. Every hour or so there are little way stations selling 7 dollar Top Ramen and 5 dollar water bottles. You are constantly at arm’s length with hundreds of other climbers who are talking, smoking, taking pictures, and eating. I have to admit that I was a bit let down. In my mind, Fuji was a serene holy mountain filled with monks and ancient temples. The reality was a bit jarring. It was a long trail filled with loud tourists.

fujicurry

Some post climb curry. Overpriced and underwhelming but it looked cool and we were starving.

All in all the experience was well worth the effort and sore muscles. We will always have some great memories from our climb. The sunrise was beautiful and being above the clouds was an ethereal experience. Both of us agreed that given the chance we would do it again. Now we have to make our way to Peru for Machu Picchu and Tanzania for Kilimanjaro.

mt-fuji-art