Tag: japan

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 Busy Week.

fall-yokokama

These last few days have been quite consuming. Work is busy, the holidays are rapidly approaching, and of course it was Election Day. I had zero time or energy to focus on reading or writing. Following national politics can be exhausting.

To recover from the long week we spent most of our weekend celebrating Veterans Day and exploring local bars and restaurants. Fall has exploded around us so yesterday we walked around Yokohama enjoying the cool air and beautiful November colors.

This week I plan on sitting down and starting my next short story.

 

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

 

A week of Typhoons, Fun Runs, and finally Fuji.

This week started off exciting. A Typhoon was scheduled to make landfall on Monday. Everyone panicked, trains stopped running, work was canceled, and I brought all my outdoor stuff inside. I was excited. My first typhoon in Japan.

160822124025-japan-mindulle-typhoon-monday-exlarge-169

Honestly I didn’t even know what a typhoon was so I had to look it up on Wikipedia. It’s a synonym for Hurricane.  Hurricane is a Caribbean name for a cyclone while typhoon is the North Eastern Pacific name.

So I battened down the hatches and prepared for our first typhoon. Best of all it coincided with my wives birthday so getting to stay home from work was a good bonus. We eagerly waited for the storm. Anxious that it would blow away our windows or knock out power.

Finally around 3 pm the storm, called Mindulle, made landfall in the Tokyo area. A little bit of rain, a little bit of wind, and done. We were fortunate to have it downgrade and be nowhere as bad as the meteorologists predicted.

Massive storms are terrifying and destructive, I am glad we didn’t experience anything like past Hurricanes. Yet, a part of me was disappointed. I wanted wind, water, lightning, and thunder. Something to spark the imagination. Instead we got a bit of a drizzle.

Fun Run

The next day the weather went back to normal, exceptionally hot and humid. We celebrated our end of week with a night time Fun 5k run. Glow sticks, weird stuff, people with wigs, and that color powder that burns my face when it mixes with sweat. The wife and I had a great time. I always forget how much I enjoy running. Starting next week I’m going to dig up my GPS tracker and start running again.

But the highlight of the week is tomorrow. We will be climbing Mt. Fuji. We packed our daypacks, prepped the camelbacks, and readied the chafe cream. Fuji will be climbed!