Adventure Excursions on Honshu
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Greetings from Japan once again. The weather has started to cool and fall breezes are frequently blowing. The fall in Togane is not quite as crisp as it is in America. Fall here, consists of an abrupt cooling with frequent rain and strong winds. We seldom have nice sunny weather during the season back in Wisconsin. The leaves are just beginning to show signs of color change. Typhoons continue to devastate on other countries in the Far East, but the past month has been relatively tame on Honshu, the main island of Japan.
In this blog update I hope to address a few of my side excursions I've experienced in the past three months. As I stated in my previous blog, I’ve developed more of an inside out approach in adjusting myself to life in Japan. This has been very different from my approach to travel in the past. It isn’t always as thrilling and adventuresome, but it has been more authentic and rewarding for me in a sense. However, I have had a few opportunities to travel outside of Chiba and experience some other areas of Japan. Japan has 15 national holidays and I have a decent amount of vacation on top of that, so I try to maximize much of my free time with some travel.
Mt. Fuji: Toward the end of August I traveled south of Tokyo about 60 miles to Japan’s iconic national identity landmark, Mt. Fuji. I had aspirations of climbing Mt. Fuji two years ago when I traveled to Japan on Semester at Sea, but unfortunately, the recreational climbing season is quite short, so I was unable. Thus it was a priority, and seeing as the climbing season ends on September 1st, I was determined to complete the task so I didn’t have to wait yet another year.
I traveled to Fuji via train and bus with another ALT from Alaska. We left on a Sunday afternoon, after a festival filled weekend underlined by minimal sleep, drinking, and fried food. We weren’t in the best state of minds, or physical condition to pursue a mountain climb, but we figured it would make it more interesting, so we went anyway.
After a train to Tokyo, we took a bus to the base of Mt. Fuji. We had to take a cab to the 5th station of the mountain (where the climb begins) because we opted to start the climb at night in order to reach the summit for the sunrise.
We began the climb shortly before midnight, and made great time for the first half of the climb. Our eyes adjusted, and we opted not to use our headlamps because the moon lit the path sufficiently. After a spell hiking through damp forest the path opened up and we began scrambling up the jagged volcanic rock as we did until we reached the peak.
As we reached the halfway point, the trail became very congested.
We ended up reaching the crater on the summit shortly nice and early before sunrise around 4:30AM. After all, Japan is the land of the rising sun. We sought out a nice perch and bundled up with the minimal layers we had, as it was very, very cold and windy.
Following our first legitimate bathroom break, we opted to begin the decent around 7 AM. By this point the adrenaline of the climb up and the excitement of the activity and scenery at the summit began to dwindle, and exhaustion abruptly set in. We had been awake for nearly 40 full hours, with only a slight cat nap to offer minimal rest. Not to mention that we had climbed about 6,000 feet up a volcano. The climb down was not as nice as the climb up. It consisted of steep switchbacks that had inconsistent amounts of volcanic sand and gravel on top of sheet rock. My friend and I agreed that our best approach in our altered state of minds was just to make it down as quickly as possible. It was dusty, gritty, and grimy, but we jogged the entire way down, reaching the 5th station in about 2 ½ hours.
All in all it was a memorable experience. Our complete lack of preparation and sleep, was an undercurrent throughout, which we were able to depend on for a bit of humorous relief when the going got tough. The climb is highly commercialized so I won’t ever do it again, but I certainly enjoyed the climb up Japan’s tallest mountain.
White Water Rafting and Canyoning in Minakami, Gunma Prefecture:
Our group had an interesting personality, as many of us didn’t know each other, but we mixed well, and everybody enjoyed the experience. We suited up in full body wetsuits with booties and gloves, as the water was still pretty chilly.
The canyoning experience proved to be much more exhilarating. I had never been canyoning before and I didn’t know much about it. It is essentially white water rafting on a narrow shallow river, down waterfalls, without a raft.
In the end, I had some fun, got the blood flowing, and made some good friends along the way. The tour guide we went through had a great community and I hope to go back and stay with the friends I met during the winter in order to ski Japan’s notorious powder.
San San Camping Festival:
Also in September, a good Japanese friend of mine invited me to a camping festival that he organizes every year. I consider this experience to have been an oasis of self expression amidst the tough social constraints of Japanese Society. I won’t dwell on this thought too much, as I will soon write an entire blog update on societal issues in Japan. Instead I will give some details of the festival and maybe briefly introduce how the gathering was inspired as an opportunity to escape from the strict societal pressures in Japan.
The festival took place in a city named Naruto, which is about 15 miles north of Togane. I opted to bike, which was a bear of a task given all of the gear I loaded onto my feeble cruiser style bike. The festival grounds were around 25 acres of forested and cleared land, creating a few nice little divisions of tents and stages. I would say around 400 people attended to enjoy live music, dancing, arts and craft fares, and simply to enjoy the activity and company of the camping experience. I set up the slack-line which proved to be a hit among the young kids. We also played a bit of soccer, badminton, and spun poi during the nights.
One thing I’ve recognized is that the Japanese work very hard. It is uncommon for Japanese Professionals to put in anything less than 60 hour weeks. Due to the fact that they work such long days, they have few opportunities to enjoy free time.
Other than these three experiences, I have kept busy on weekends either hanging out in Togane studying Japanese and kite surfing, or going to Tokyo and exploring the massive city. Taking into account the urban sprawl surrounding the city, Tokyo is considered to be the largest city in the world. I’ve discovered the best way of piecing the city apart is to stay on one line of the intricate metro system.
Next up on the agenda is picking up a second hand motorbike to allow me to explore the Chiba Coast in its entirety, pushing my wetsuit to its limits kite surfing as the water cools, attending a Japanese Baseball Game, J-League Soccer Game, Traditional Sumo Match, and by the time I accomplish all these things, it will probably be about time for me to go back to America for the Holiday Season.
Important Things I've Learned: Sarcasm does not transcend the language barrier.