Archive for August, 2011

Sunrise on Mt. Fuji

There’s a saying in Japan that goes like this: A wise man climbs Mt. Fuji once, a fool climbs Mt. Fuji twice.

So far I am a wise (wo)man!

After work on Friday, August 19 I hopped on my bike and rode over to the train station to meet with the other 20 people climbing Mt. Fuji that night. I brought my various pieces of gear with me: A complete snow suit, a sweater, hiking boots, a head lamp, 2 litres of water, a rain jacket, my DSLR camera, hat, gloves, and a ton of trail mix. After meeting all of my lovely hiking companions, we got in the cars and started driving to Yamanashi Prefecture, the home of Japan’s tallest mountain.

The car ride was unenventful until we finally made it to the mountain. Imagine this: A dark, drizzly night, wet pavement, and winding roads going up a mountain. Finally we made it to our starting point, the 5th Station. There are nine total stations, and then the summit.


This picture was taken the next day.

At the 5th Station most of us bought souvenir wooden walking sticks. The walking sticks not only help you up the mountain, but you are also able to get stamps burned into them at each station! I like the idea a lot and got a walking stick for about 1300 yen ($13). The 5th Station stamp looked like this:


Our plan was to start that night around 11:30 and climb until the sunrise at 5:00 am. At first the hike was not bad, mainly a lot of gravel, big steps, and some trees on the side. We reached the 6th station in a short amount of time.  Unfortunately, the 6th Station was quite small and was not giving out stamps. Then we started to ascend to the 7th Station. The climb got steeper, and the steps seemed endless. My new friend Laura and I named ourselves “Team Slow” and made the trip up with plenty of stops to rest and drink water. Remember, we were thousands of meters above sea level and the air was a lot thinner than we were used to! Thankfully, we did not feel the effects of altitude sickness at the early stages of climbing, or we would have had to go back down.

At the 7th station I got my next stamp:


So at this point the climb had mostly been peaches and cream, and I thought the rest of the way would be quite similar, just lots of gravel and steps. But I was wrong, so so so wrong. After the 7th Station the path was full of large rocks, going straight up into the sky. I can’t really describe what is was like to look up the mountain and watch the head lamps of other climbers navigating among the rocks for what seemed like miles and miles. We had to use our hands, walking sticks, chain ropes, and poles to drag ourselves up the rest of the way to the 8th Station. The worst part was when we saw a station in the distance, worked really hard to get to it, and then realized that it was just a bathroom stop with a lot of lights. We took a lot of breaks, sipping our water, eating fruit, nuts, and M&Ms,  and huddled in our jackets for warmth. It was also raining, so the rocks were slippery, the sky was dark (though we did get a glance of the moon and some stars toward the top), and the wind picked up very strongly. There were a couple times when I would look up the trail of rocks and hours of climbing and thought about just staying put until the morning. My motivating factor was the promise of the beauty of the sunrise on top of Mt. Fuji, and also the fact that going down the rocks would be just as awful as going up them.

So I kept moving, holding onto Laura’s hand so we could pull each other up the rocks, all the while giving and receiving courage from other climbers. We heard things like “Ganbarou!” “Fight!” and of course we said “Sumimasen!” because we had a tendency to hold up the other climbers…

Then a miracle happened. We made it to the 8th Station at about sunrise. The view was not much to look at really, but for a couple of weary climbers the lightening of the sky meant that the climb was almost over. The goal was within reach. And, we stayed up all night to climb this *&%^%* mountain!


I think this is one of the better sunrise photos I got from the 8th Station.




My hiking partner Laura. What a work out!

At this point we could have continued to the summit, another 2 or so hours of hiking, but the air was getting to me and I didn’t feel like going up any further. Also, the people at the 8th station were not doling out the stamps! I was not happy. I waited for a while to get my stamp, but the wind was very cold and strong, and I was eager to get back down the mountain so I could sleep.

Ok, so I climb a mountain, got to 3100 meters, the hard part is over right? No! Because what must go up, must come down.

The side of the mountain kind of looked like this:


See all of those little red rocks? The path way down the mountain zig-zagged, back and forth, back and forth, all on those little red rocks. The way was a bit treacherous, because losing your footing was easy. I fell about 4 times, and scraped up my leg a little, but I didn’t feel bad, because everybody else around me was falling down as well. The way down seemed to last forever, but there were stops to rest and use the restroom thankfully. I snoozed a bit here and there, and rested as much as I needed. I soon learned that if I wasn’t walking or sitting, my legs would shake with the effort to stand up. I definitely was feeling the wear and tear of the mountain. After about 3 or so hours of hiking downhill, I made it back to the 5th station to meet the rest of the group.


Some very tired but happy hikers! Unfortunately not everyone was there for this picture.

So even after everything I went through, I might have to become a fool and climb it a second time! My goal is to make it to the top, take some beautiful pictures, and get every. single. stamp. Fight!

Until next year, Mt. Fuji.

Thanks for reading! Leave some feedback, would you climb Mt. Fuji?


Sorry for the late post. This one is way overdue!

So about two weeks ago all of the new ALTs in Gunma Prefecture converged on the Kencho Building for two days to learn all they could about what it was to be an Assistant Language Teacher.

Day One, we heard presentations about our contract, insurance, and other important things. But most interestingly, we were vistited by Gunma-chan, the mascot of Gunma!


Gunma-chan is a pony by the way. He was so cute! Lol.

Then day two we heard some more presentations, like what working in a Junior High School will be like, communicating with our Japanese Teacher of English, and we even practiced games that we can play with the kids! Then we split up into groups to practice Japanese. I went to the Intermediate group and we learned about different strategies to study. Then the whole room played rock, paper, scissors (janken) until I was the supreme ultimate winner! I got a huge manga called “Nana” that probably some of you have heard of, read, or even seen the movie of. I can’t wait to read it! Good Japanese practice.

Then we had culture workshops. I chose to go to Koto, Karate, and Shodo. This was probably the best part of the orientation!

Koto was so amazing. The front part of the room filled up with koto players and they played 3 songs for us. So beautiful!


Then, the players taught us how to play a simple song, and the ALTs put on a concert!


I played in the concert. It was fun, and I wouldn’t mind trying it again.

Next, I went to the karate section. Let me tell you, the karate sensei was amazing.


Then, I went to Shodo, which is calligraphy. I got to draw my name in katakana with a brush and ink. Fun!

Finally, the orientation had to end. But I met lots of great people, went to karaoke, and learned a lot about teaching and living in Japan. A good two days!

Next: Sunrise on Mt. Fuji

Thanks for reading!

August: The Month of Matsuri!

Happy Obon everyone!

The months of July, August, and September are big months for festivals, I’ve noticed. It seems like every weekend there’s a festival to go to. I’ve been rained out of two festivals so far, but I got some good pictures from the Yagibushi festival in Kiryu, Gunma last weekend.

The festival started off hot and humid. The streets of Kiryu were lined with food stalls. Popular items were fried chicken, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, shaved ice, chocolate covered bananas, among others. I tried yakimanjuu, the specialty of gunma. It was kind of like chewy bread on a stick… that’s the only way I can describe it. Every big intersection had a lantern lit platform where people could stand and sing, while on the ground dancers performed in front.





As it got darker, there were more people gearing up for the dancing portion of the festival.

I ate one of these:


It was filled with meat and very hot (temperature-wise). Also greasy.

All of the lanterns lit up at night. It was very pretty.


Then the singing and dancing started! I don’t think you can imagine what it was like from just a description I could give you, but luckily I have a video!


As you can see, it was very crowded! But fun. And yes, my fellow foreigners and I jumped in and danced too.

That’s one of many festivals in the area. I’m sure I’ll go to some more in September as well, especially the Maebashi Matsuri.

Coming soon: Gunma Orientation.

Thanks for reading!

New Travel Blog

Welcome to my new travel blog!

I arrived in Japan on July 24th, 2011.

Here’s a picture of the view from my hotel room during Tokyo Orientation:

It was cloudy that day, but sometimes you could see Mt. Fuji from the hotel room!

After 3 nights and 2.5 days in the hotel, learning amazing stuffs about being an ALT and living in Japan, we were bussed off again, this time to the capital city of our new prefecture, Maebashi, Gunma!

In Maebashi we met our new supervisor at our contracting organization (i.e. the BOSS). Luckily, my boss is super cool and nice, and speaks English! Then we had to say goodbye to all our new friends as they were swept away to their new homes all over Gunma. My home just happens to be in the capital city, Maebashi, so no more traveling for me.

That same day, I signed up for my Alien Registration Card, got a bank account, and met my predecessor. She was very nice and accommodating the first week I was there when we shared the apartment.

Time just sort of flew by for a while, as I was meeting new people, exploring Maebashi, eating Japanese food, and getting new things for the apartment.

Just last week I had my first day of work, after I was formally introduced to my schools. I have three schools: One junior high and two elementary schools. My base school is the junior high. It’s only a 15 minute bike ride from my house, depending on traffic.

Right now, school isn’t in session for kids at my junior high, but that doesn’t mean that the school is deserted! Every day kids come to school to practice soccer, band, soft tennis, basketball, and volleyball. It also doesn’t hurt that school is right by the city pool, so when practice is over the kids can cool off.

This time of year the weather is very hot with a lot of humidity… hey that sounds like Illinois! It’s pretty much the same. I’ve even heard that Gunma might by the hottest prefecture in the country.

For now, I’m off to ride my bike all over Maebashi. I’ll write more later about my adventures using the train, going to a summer festival, and anything else that happened over the weekend. Please leave me some feedback!