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November 29, 2006

Okutama Hike Invite

Okutama Sunrise

Anyone out there want to go hiking for two days in December (9,10)? If so, let me know! - kevin@kevin@kevincameron.net

  • When: Dec 9,10 (Saturday & Sunday)
  • Where: Okutama (starting from Oume line Hatonosu Station ending at Okutama Station)
  • Cost: 1,900 yen round-trip train fare from Shinjyuku
    780 yen for onsen after the hike.
  • Difficulty Level: Strong beginner (6-9 hours of hiking per day on ocassionally steep trail)
  • Meet: 8:30am Hatonosu Station (oume line)
  • How many people: Six - seven would be a good upper limit (better chance that everyone can stay in the hut), but I will be thrilled to even get one.

There is a beautiful section of trail Tomoe and I hiked down last weekend which I would like to go up this time. We will stay at the beautiful Ippaisui unmanned hut, conveniently located six hours or so from the trail head. This section of the trail does not see as many hikers as trails closer to Okutama station, so I am guessing that there will be space for five or six people. Just in case, I will bring my tent which I can sleep in if there is not enough room (self-sacrifice).

What you should bring (if you don't have something but want to go, let me know. We can surely work something out.):

Water At least one liter bottle for drinking water, but two is better. And you will want some water for cooking your dinner noodles at the hut as well. There is no water source near the hut so we will have to fill up before we get there.

Snacks & Lunch Non-cook lunch is best, since the days are short and we have at least six hours hike. We probably don't want to take time to cook a hot lunch. Bring some onigiri or crackers and peanut butter.

Dinner My stove is only big enough to cook for two, so I guess everyone should bring their own meal. Of course it is always fun to share - so that is apossibility, but count on carrying and cooking your own dinner.

Sleeping bag Obviously you will want a sleeping-bag and pad. The hut is much warmer than the outside, but unless we fire up the stove (who wants to carry the wood?) it is still cold at night. Last weekend I slept with three shirts and a fleece, as well as long underwear and fleece pants. It was perfect. Tomoe, being a little more cold-blooded than I, had to wear her and my rain gear to bed.

Clothes Sorry, the nude hike was in August. This time I recommend clothing. Please bring some layers and a set of warm dry clothes you can change into once we get to the hut in case of rain. I am generally fine with two synthetic light-weight shirts (one long-sleeve) while hiking, and light-weight fleece to wear in the hut. I do, however, bring an extra long-sleeve shirt in case the day is wet. I like to sleep dry if possible. A pair of fleece pants or sweat-pants are good to stay warm at night as well.

Rain Gear 'Nuf said.

For the feet I'm not sure if crampons would be much help even if there is snow in two weeks. There are some pretty steep sections of the trail where I found myself slipping down in the mud, but other than that my low-top boots were fine (feet gota a little wet). If there is snow/ice, and crampons are safer for some sections, maybe we can work out an "I climb first and pass them down to you" deal if you don't have any.

Okutama RocksOkutama Forest
Okutama ForestOkutama RockFuji from Okutama

Hiking in Okutama

Tomoe in OkutamaTomoe HIking in Okutama

We made it back from hike in Okutama alive. The first night was a challenge for Tomoe, who has troubles with cold. Despite being in a hut, out of the wind and waves, she was wearing all of the clothes she brought (4 layers?) as well as her own rain gear and mine. Somehow she still claims to be have been cold. I, on the other hand, was sweating in my "summer" sleeping bag.

Tomoe Hiking in Okutama

It was a great hike, and I am sure we will be back (planning to go back next week). HIghlights included great (free) huts, amazing sunrise views of a snow-capped Mt. Fuji, rain in the morning, and beautiful fall colors (still).

More about that later?

Hikers in OkutamaTomoe Hiking in Okutama

Lucky Me


Nope. No "magic" needed here.


November 22, 2006

Okutama Hike

Okutama Loop.jpg

The last two times I said "last time time this season", but we're baking up a batch of home-made granola again, so I won't say it this time. Friday we will head out to Okutama for a three day / two night hike. The distances are a bit ambitious so that we can stay in unmanned huts at night. It may cause a fight with Tomoe, but the way I figure it, we can fight about not having enough time to take a three hour book-reading-under-a-tree break, or we can fight about how she is freezing cold at night. I would rather it be the former. (Of course, we also have an alternative route that will have us ending near Chichibu instead - a little less convenient, but it would mean a shorter second day).

Tomoe in Yatsugatake

Okutama is quite close to us here in Tokyo, and very inexpensive to get to - which also means it is usually quite crowded. We are hoping that the weather forecast for this weekend (cloudy and rainy), and the in-between-seasons timing (no fall colors, but no beautiful snow) will mean room at the huts. Although not why we chose it, this hike will cover another one of Japan's Hyakumeizan (one hundred famous mountains) - this time it is Kumotoriyama.

And just when I had almost run out of hiking and mountain photos... looks like the reader will have to endure at least one more month when I get back.

note: these photos are not from Okutama, the are from our hike in Japan's Yatsugatake a few weeks ago.

YatsugatakeTomoe in Yatsugatake

Hopefully not so useful Japanese

TomoeCup o tea

I am extremely sleepy after staying up all night to watch Downfall (or "Hitler", as it is known in Japan). Tomoe and I started watching it a few nights ago, but the Japanese subtitles were flashing by a little too fast for me and it seems that I forgot all my high-school German sometime around 1995. The only way I would be able to follow this is to switch to the Japanese dubbed version, which Tomoe did not want to see - so I ended up spending over three hours last night, after she had gone to bed, watching it with my dictionary in one hand and the other hand on the "pause" button. Even the spoken Japanese was a little difficult to follow as they spoke quite fast and I lack the vocabulary that most people get from discussing war strategy and troop movements with Japanese friends and co-workers.

November 21, 2006

This I Believe... for now

DSC_8727 copy.jpg

I have been a big fan of NPR's This I Believe for a few months now, often making note when I heard a particular essay that I felt an urge to comment on, but never following through. A few days ago Diane Rehm and Jay Allison, the host of This I believe, chatted about what it meant and why it was so great and I felt an urge to comment about it again. This time at least I have followed through enough to leave a link. It made me realize, however, that I never mentioned any of the essays I enjoyed because I was reluctant to write about my own beliefs. It reminded me of how stale my posts have become.

My reluctance stems from the difficulty I have "believing" in things absolutely. I prefer instead to "try on" a belief and see how it feels, I realize that somehow I have stopped even writing about the beliefs that I am "trying on" for fear that offering too many changing beliefs will undermine any crumb of credibility I may have. This is the same reason I have not mentioned what my latest incomplete project is. I just don't have stick-with-it-ness. I have yet to stick with any of my "hey this sounds great!" ideas, just like I have yet to stick with most of the beliefs that I have tried on.

Thinking about this though made me wonder if "sticking with it" is a good thing. It actually led me to discover one belief that I do have, and have stuck with.

I believe that we all need beliefs to guide us, but a belief held so dearly that it is unchallengeable and unchangeable is a very dangerous thing. Everyone should question, and be willing to change any one of their beliefs at any time - without remorse or embarrassment - when exposed to new experiences, information, and points of view. Yet, somehow, I still feel embarrassed or reluctant to admit when I abandon some belief I may have tried on and proclaimed loudly.

What if I apply that same belief in the need to be flexible with believing to my tendency to get excited about a certain project only to have it drop from my radar a week, a month, or a year later? Why should I feel bad or guilty or looser-ish when I realize that what I thought would be good is not what I am looking for? Why should anyone keep doing something they no-longer feel passionately about just because they declared their intentions to the world? I guess it would sound something like this:

I believe that we all need goals to guide us, but a goal held so dearly that it is unchangeable can be very dangerous in our life. Everyone should re-evaluate and be willing to change the direction they are headed at any time - without remorse or embarrassment - when exposed to new experiences, interests, information, and points of view. Yet, somehow, I still feel embarrassed or reluctant to admit when I abandon some goal I may have "tried on" and proclaimed loudly.

Obviously our desire to keep up the appearance of a responsible person who knows what they want can be harmful to our really finding what we want. I have been trying on a new "goal" and "purpose" almost monthly for the past three years, over which time I have gradually grown more and more self-conscious and apologetic about it. I have reached a point where I am no longer comfortable admitting that the big dream I tried on last year no longer fits - and that I am far from certain that my current big dream fits any better. I still believe in it, and it feels more "right" than many in the past, yet I continue to hide it from the world because along with this new-found "fit" come endless possibilities I had not considered. While related, they still temp, threatening to once again make me a liar and untrustworthy vagrant with no follow-through trespassing in a responsible society should I disclose them.

I don't remember where I heard it, but there is an Chinese saying - "Be careful of where you walk, or you might end up where you are headed."

Bahhh..... maybe I just have long-term attention deficit disorder.


November 19, 2006

Perfect Weekend


What weekend could be better?

Friday night I had the "soft launch" of my big dream plan (basically this just means I began promoting it to a select group of people I don't know personally). While I didn't expect any real response, mentally it is a big thing. I can feel, at last, that I am moving forward. Despite time spent (I wont lie - It wasn't exactly forty hours per week, and it sure didn't feel like work!) researching, planning, and pitching to possible partners, I still felt like it was not really going anywhere. There is still a lot to do, and I still have the more than occasional doubts, but at least I took a more visible step forward.

Saturday I checked my schedule and found that despite my feelings of "too much wasted time", I am pretty much on top of things - although one thing that needs catching up is the intensive Japanese language review in preparation for a course I will be taking in January where I will be expected to do much more "real" conversation (about feelings and what-not) than is ever required in an office setting, as well as some senmonnyogo (specialty specific terminology) that I have never really used before in Japanese. I still feel OK though, and have almost finished reviewing some "specialty specific" books in English so I can at least know what I want to say.

Saturday night we took a brake from our Northern Exposure DVDs and splurged on a DVD (Ray) from the video store. This may not seem like much, but in our recently simple life this is big - and much more enjoyable than it used to be when we both worked all day and would rent several DVDs each week just because it was the easiest way to shut our brains off.

Today was a morning run - we have worked out a scheme were we (Tomoe and I) start together and, at certain places, I pick up the pace, breaking into a sprint (or as close to it as I can), and then turning around to meet back up with Tomoe who is running at her own pace. I then run and chat with her for a while until the urge to self-inflict pain strikes me again, and I repeat the procedure. This is the only way we can run together and both benefit (and not fight).

Follow the run with an extraordinarily awesome hour of Yoga, and what more could you want? Oh yeah... an amazing lunch of a variety of uber-healthy vegan/macrobiotic delights (photos and explanation coming soon) followed by an afternoon nap - and back to "work", if you can call it that...

Maybe the reason this weekend felt so good was that it included a bit of nostalgia - we both have work meetings in the morning, making it feel like a "real" weekend - you know the kind we used to have where the only time of the week that really belonged to us and we spent three hours Sunday night talking about how much Monday morning sucks...


November 17, 2006

Minami Alps Day 4 Part 1: Year of the Panda

KaikomagadakeMinami Alps

I awoke in the morning filled with regret. Had I really given into momentary weariness, wussed out, and cut half of my trip out - simply because I didn't want to "go down and back up"? I felt as though I was not even worthy of the piece -of-crap-fallen-apart-after-one-summer-cheap-ass boots I was wearing. How could I make up for this?

Starting just before sunrise, with the hopes to make it to the next clearing to take some photos, it soon became clear what I could do to once again "feel good about myself". Just keep hiking. I had not realized how much elevation gain and loss the ridge between Hoouzan, at 2840m and Kaikomagadake, at 2967m actually had in between the two peaks - it was far from "wussing out". It was also extremely beautiful.

Mt. KaikomagadakeKaikomagadakeKaikomagadake

By noon I had about twenty photos of Kaikomagadake because every time I came to a clearing it looked different, better, beautiful. I had fewer photos of Kita-dake and the area I had come from - not because it was any less spectacular, but rather the sun was hanging low on the horizon to the South, making it difficult to get anything other than silhouettes. Had I followed my original plan the day before, I would have missed this section of the trail.

As I began my decent of Kaikomagadake, I thought the highlights of the day were all behind me. But I was wrong. Somewhere along the way (I remember the exact location but am withholding that information in the name of endangered species preservation) I heard a strange sound - similar to a half-bark-half-howl of a dog, but obviously not a dog.

I slowed so as not to startle whatever it was, and coming into a clearing I saw it. A panda bear - right there in front of me. Granted, it was moving very quickly into the woods, but what else could have been so big, so fluffy , so black and white? It stopped once it had found shelter in the shadows at the edge of the forest. I slowly walked toward it, coming within about fifteen meters, when it made it's escape, clambering down a steep slope into a valley out of my sight.

I spent the rest of the night pondering what this means... either this panda had escaped from a zoo - something I would have surely heard of. The other possibility is that this panda is a relative of the pandas in China, havingbranched off long ago, when what are now Japan and Korea were still connected. Given the steepness of the terrain, it is entirely possible that they have lived for thousands of years without being discovered. Until today.

But what should I do? If I publicize my find I will no-doubt be famous. They may even name this species of panda after me. But to make known their existence would most surely guarantee their extinction as thousands of tourists flock to this remote spot each year, degrading the pandas natural habitat. On the other hand, perhaps this is a great opportunity to study the "Japanese Cameron Panda", providing official and needed protection to their species...

What would you do?

KaikomagadakeMinami Alps


House in TreesWall

November 16, 2006

I want...




November 15, 2006

A New Home?


Against my better judgment, I spent several hours working on the remaining photos from Tomoe and my recent trip to Nagano's Yatsugatake.

Don't worry though, I did spend most of the day doing *real* work... I just think I should have done more of it (as does the client, I am sure).

On the other hand, there was really no choice. These photos were waiting to be processed, as are photos from this weekend when a friend visiting from Malaysia and I went for a luxury bike tour of the Chichibu area of Saitama. And a week from Thursday Tomoe and I will be off hiking again for four days, undoubtedly accumulating more photos that have to be processed. I have come to realize that the hiking itself is not taking so much time away from work - its the time processing the photos I took on those hikes that will really drive me into homelessness. Oh well, maybe I can live in this emergency shelter atop the mountain...


Tokyo Reunion

MSLTS Reunion Shinjyuku

My camera was broken for the Northwest Coast Sustainability Freak Alumni Reunion this summer, but it was working for the Tokyo edition. Pictured is Siti, visiting Japan from Malaysia for a sustainable lumber conference, and Tomomi, a native to Japan who is working on a sustainable community near Kyoto.

MSLTS Reunion Shinjyuku

November 14, 2006

What Gaijin Eat: Kinpira Makizushi

Kinpira SushiRenkon Sushi

Its been a while since I last gave readers a peak into the diet of the average gainjin in Japan, but today I am taking a break from my busy schedule to catch up with some past meals. A few weeks ago, on two separate occasions, we had some home-rolled vegan sushi that keeps your bowels "firm but flexible". Only slightly different, they are presented here together.

Kinpira Sushi #1

Kinpira is a style of Japanese cooking that could be described as "stir-fry of stick-shaped veggies". A search for "Gobo Kinpira" on google yields many results, but none that I have read tell the interesting background, its Viagra-like properties, or speak of the special place kinpira holds in the hearts of macrobiotic practitioners.


Most know kinpira as a delicious mix of sauted gobo, carrots, and red peppers. To macrobiotics, however, it is a fundamental well-balanced dish that can be kept in the refrigerator to be eaten every day, when in season, to "clean your blood" and keep you strong. Gobo, the main ingredient, is considered very "yang", and is said to be great for helping men build stamina. In fact, the name comes from a popular tale told in a traditional form of Edo-period theater called Jyoururi which tells of a hero named Kinpira, son of famous sumo wrestler, Kintaro. The story relates Kinpira's adventures, fighting evil with the help of his incredible strength and stamina.

Tomoe's kinpira, being closer to the macrobiotic style, does not use red-pepper - a "yin" member of the egg-plant family that originates in warmer climates and is said to have an overall cooling effect on the body. Instead, it is comprised of the following:

gobo (burdock) is high in fiber so we have really clean bowels in our house. It's "yang" power is said to make the body firm, and make men more manly.

Wikipedia has this to say:

In the second half of the 20th century, burdock achieved international recognition for its culinary use due to the increasing popularity of the macrobiotic diet [...] The root contains a fair amount of gobo dietary fiber (GDF, 6g per 100g), calcium, potassium, amino acids, and is also low calorie.

The root is very crisp and has a sweet, mild, and pungent flavor with a little muddy harshness that can be reduced by soaking julienne/shredded roots in water for five to ten minutes.

I highlighted that last sentence because Tomoe disagrees with the "soak-it" method that has become standard in modern Japanese cooking. Instead, she chooses to reduce the bitterness by cooking it longer, preserving the flavor and nutrients that would be lost through soaking.

renkon (lotus root) (photo) has a long history of medicinal and religious uses. Macrobiotics likes this root because it is shaped similar to string of sausage links - representing both expanding (the meaty part of the sausage) and contracting (the twists between sausages) traits (in macrobiotics "yin" is expansion, and "yang" is contraction). This is supposed to help body cells be "flexible" as well as "firm".

Perhaps the most interesting trait of renkon is its ability to help tighten loose bowels - a result of eating too much ice-cream in the summer - making them bowels "firm but flexible". Another traditional medicinal use is as a throat medicine. In fact, there are still renkon candies available in Japan.

A great trait of renkon is that, depending on the way it is cut or cooked, it can take on many different textures - sometimes sticky and gooey, sometimes creamy like mashed potatoes, and sometimes chewy.

Carrots are carrots, but don't forget the stems and leaves which are even better than the root (orange part) at promoting blood-cell growth. (In Japan the stems are often fried as tempura)

Ginger pickled in umeboshi juice. While pickled ginger is often eaten with sushi, the ginger played an even more important role this time because the rice was "plain" rice instead of the vinegar rice normally used for sushi. The ginger added some vinegary-ness to it.

All the veggies are cut into stick shapes of various sizes. According to macrobiotics, thinner sticks are "yanger" and good for "yin" people who tend to be anemic. "Yang" people (perhaps suffering from allergies or ulcers) are better off eating thicker "yin" veggie sticks.

Soy Sauce is used to add flavor to the saute. Tomoe used some of her home-made soy-sauce, which will be the subject of a future "What Gaijing Eat".

Making the Sushi

Makizushi PartyMakizushi

Once the masculinity inducing kinpira is ready, the real fun begins... rolling the sushi. Sushi rolling parties, such as the one you see above with Tomoe and the birds, are not uncommon in Japan, especially when trying to entertain a group of children with a relatively simple meal.

Instead of sushi-rice, ours contained a gen-mai cooked with akaendo red peas, which are often used in Japanese sweets.

The final ingredient is shiso leaves. This herb, from the mint family, adds a nice refreshing touch to the sushi.

Kinpira Sushi #2

Veggie Sushi
Another variation of this sushi is shown in the photo above. This time it included two more unique ingredients:

Aburaage: Ours is made from domestic soy-beans and natural sea-water nigari - instead of the chemically refined magnesium usually used today to cut corners along with silicone-oil which is used in mass-production to eliminate the bubbles in the tofu. Reducing bubbles the "traditional" way requires slow-cooking and more attention.

Okahijiki with ume-boshi vinegar - an anti-bacterial juice sometimes used to clean kitchens. Okahijiki gets it's name from the fact that it looks like seaweed (hijiki), but grows on land (oka). Originating on sandy, saline beaches, it is now cultivated in Japan, but some species have become invasive in other parts of the world including, according to Wikipedia, the wild west.

Tumbleweed has naturalized to the point where it is regarded by many American people as native, changing the North American Great Plains plant community forever. It is controlled with mass applications of herbicides. Amusingly, tumbleweed is such a common symbol in Westerns, where it is used to indicate an abandoned area, that it is generally associated with the American Old West, and western films, despite its Ukrainian origin.
* * *

About "What Gaijin Eat"
Other things Gaijin Eat:
What Gaijin Eat: First Harvest Sweet Potato Pie
What Gaijin Eat: Grain is Good
What Gaijin Eat: Kuroirigenmaiko Coffee
What Gaijin Eat: Nameko Soba
What Gaijin Eat: Imomochi Gnocchi

Veggie Sushi

November 11, 2006

Epic Dreams

Where no Tomoe has Gone Before

One of the reasons I have been hiking so much lately that Tomoe is suddenly "into" it as well - and that she is currently self-employed as well. While I was truely feeling tremendous anxiety about "playing too much" last weekend when we went to the Yatsugatake, I also realize that a situation in which both of us have relativly free schedules does not come along all that often. I would be a fool to not take advantage of it. I can work next week/month/year. (We're planning a four-day hike to Okutama or Tanzawa next week as well.)

Today I showed Tomoe the PCT through hike videos I linked to yesterday (incidently, I posted the wrong link yesterday. It is corrected). She has been dreaming and talking about doing an "epic" hike around or across Japan some day and I wanted to fuel those dreams in her.

It was also meant as a reality check for her as to what an "epic hike" would require physically and mentally. When we hike she is much more... relaxed about pace vs. available daylight than I am. This alone is not a problem, but it becomes one when I plan the day's course. I plan a short course to take into account her speed, but when she sees it she proclaims it boring - lacking challenge. If I plan a longer day, she later complains that we are too rushed to make it to camp by night.

I am gald that even after watching the hardships those guys on the PCT went through, she is even more psyched to hike across or around Japan some day.

Not that it will happen soon, mind you, as my big dream idea is going well and about to break forth into the next level (at which time I will share it with those readers who don't already know about it). While it includes what could be considered a summer of "play" for me next year, it also means that I will be busy all summer with real obligations - and no free time to make Tomoe's epic dream hike.

Tomoe in YatsugatakeTomoe in Yatsugatake

How Much Does a Ticket Cost?

Devon Kicks AssAlex

A great set of videos following a pair of through-hikers on the PCT via Two Heel Drive

It makes me wonder how much a plane ticket to California costs...

While these photos are re-runs, I was reminded of this summer when I spent some time on the PCT and elsewhere in Northern Washington. (not sure if all or any of these were actually taken while on the trail - but they were close!)

In the Great Wide OpenHiking the LineAlex & Devon

November 10, 2006

Well I Feel Like an Old Hobo...


I have been resiting the urdge to buy new music lately, saving my money by listening to all the old CDs that have had little play time, but I just may have to get the Be Good Tanyas new CD (NPR review). This is one of my favorite groups in the "Why don't more people know about them?!?!?!" category. In addition to a great cover of Prince's When Doves Cry founding member Jolie Holland (who also has amazing solo albums - you can hear one of her albums in its entirety at her web-site) joins them on their new album.

(wikipedia entry for be good tanyas)


Minami Alps Day 3: Use me! Abuse me!

Minami AlpsSunrise in Minami AlpsMinami Alps

Inspired by a comment from Joe in cubicle-land, I present Day 3 of my recent hike in the Southern Alps of Japan.

When we last left of, I was happily settling down to sleep in my tent after having eaten dinner in an outhouse.

The biggest problem I had on the trip was that with the 5pm sunset, I was left with the choice of either running my headlamp batteries down as I read for six hours until the time my body is accustomed to sleeping, or I can lay quietly for a few hours in an attempt to fall asleep by seven or eight. To make matters worse, the short days also mean short hikes (if I want to get into camp with a few hours of daylight left) which means that I am not completely exhausted, and sleep does not come easy.

This night I think I fell asleep by eight and, as with every night, I awoke feeling fully refreshed by 1 am, at which point I clicked on my headlamp and read for an hour or two before drifting back to sleep. Tonight, however, was special in that my reading was interrupted by the deer and wildlife surrounding me. There were deer (or Kamoshika, a type of Japanese mountain goat called "Japanese Serow", as one is prone to literally run into in Japan's mountains) calls from the right and left, sometimes getting closer, sometimes moving away - not as close as when a deer was attempting to lick the sweat off of Tomoe's arm through the tent in Yatsugatake last month, but nice too hear none the less.

The amount of wildlife seen over the entire Minami-Alps trip actually amazed me - both that I saw and heard so much (considering that there was *none* in last week's trip to Yatsugatake), and also that I saw many more none-human animals than the human kind.

Day 1:
People: 0
Monkeys: Around 10
Inoshishi (wild boar): 1
Huge foot-sized frogs: many
Birds: Many

Day 2:
People: 0
Mice: 1 (tumbling down the steep hill in front of me trying desperately to get away)
Deer: 6 or 7
Birds: many

Day 3:
People: 2 (a younger couple)
Inoshishi (wild boar): 2
Japanese Mountain Goat: 2 (one surprised me by appearing five feet to my right)
Deer: 3
Birds: many

Day 4:
People: 2
Panda bear: 1 (I could have sworn it was! maybe I will get into this later...)
Birds: many

Day 5:
People: 1 (until I got down into the town where there were a lot)
Birds: many


Anyway, I managed to not be ravaged by the wild animals that were surrounding my tent, and I awoke in time to see Kita-dake in the sunrise. Unfortunately, I forgot to take off the crappy smugged up filter on my lens, so my photos are extraordinarily blurry.

This day would be a turning point. I was already behind schedule, and the days were short. In planning my trip I knew it was somewhat ambitious, though do-able, but today, as 3 o'clock drew near, and I looked across a deep valley at Kita-dake, the valley that I had just hiked up and out of the day before, I had a decision to make. Do I hike down to camp in the valley as night falls, only to hike back up again the next morning, still behind schedule, unable to complete the original plan anyway (I would miss Ainodake) or, do I stay up on the ridge (which has proved to have a great deal of vertical gain/loss itself), arriving at camp with a few hours of daylight left to relax and set up camp?

(here you see my actual route - although I had planned to descend into the valley at the left)

Minami Alps Day 3

On the one hand, one of the draws of hiking for me is that I can experience the physical exhaustion my body craves. Its the same craving that causes me to drop to the floor and crank out fifty push ups after an hour or so in front of the computer. Its as if my body is pleading "Use me! Exhaust me!" At the same time, the high achieved from walking ten or twelve hours in a day is something that can not be found in an hour-long morning jog. There is just something about walking all day - and knowing that the only thing I have to concentrate on is walking more, and the knowledge that often there is no choice but to walk more.

On the other hand, hiking is not always about the glorious pain. I also enjoy taking time on trail to shoot photos, examine trees, watch birds... The most difficult part about hiking is finding the balance.

This time I decided to lean more toward the "easy" hike, following the ridge to the Hayakawaone hut. I would save Kita-dake, Ai-no-dake, and Senjyo-dake for some other time - perhaps when Tomoe can join me. Still, I did manage to cover Houzan, one of the one-hundred famous mountains of Japan, and tomorrow I would get to 2967 meters at Kaicoma-ga-dake.

What's more, the hut I stopped at was "closed", yet unlocked, with a couple cases of beer left chilling in the cold mountain air. I left 400 yen for a beer, and enjoyed a leisurely dinner as the sun set.

Hiking in Japan AlpsMinami AlpsMinami Alps

November 09, 2006

Nobunkyo Library

Just when I thought I had run out of things to do instead of work...

Today Tomoe and I took a ride to Kichijyoji where Nobunkyo, a Japanese publisher of books related to agriculture and traditional Japanese culture, has a library. I have seen some of their books in book stores, or occasionally on the book shelf on some organic farms or cafes I have visited.

There are two series in particular which I had considered buying, but thought better of it considering my budget and the fact that I have enough trouble sticking to any particular book in English, let alone a whole series in Japanese.

This time however, since it is free, I brought a couple home. If you are learning Japanese, I highly recommend the Tsukutte Asobou series of children's picture books telling the stories of popular foods in relation to Japanese culture and history.

Today I borrowed Natto no Ehon and Soba no Ehon. I have only just returned from the library an hour ago, but I am already practically a professor of Nattology. I can't wait to get to the books about tofu, mochi, and miso.

Another great series - Showa no Kurashi is a photographic documentary of lifeduring the Showa period. The series is broken down into Farm Villiage Life, Fishing Villiage Life, City Life, Children, etc.

And finally, Nihon no Shoku Seikatsu (Japanese culinary lifestyle). This series has one book for each prefecture, taking a very detailed look at traditional foods from different regions in the prefecture, how it was prepared, and why. This is actually why I went there - as part of my big dream project I have to do a little research of traditional foods from the Chichibu area of Saitama.

With so many great books in that library to read, I wont have time for work until at least 2009.


More of the same

Climber Tomoe

For lack anything more interesting to post, and with my apologies for posting too much about "hiking" lately...

Please enjoy these photos from our recent trip to the Yatsugatake.

Perhaps someday I will find the time to finish my Minami Alps hike commentary - I sure have enough photos to share...

Tomoe in YatsugatakeTomoe in Yatsugatake

November 07, 2006

Winter is Here

FrostMorning in Yatsugatake

It looks like we snuck that last hike in the Yatsugatake in just in time. According to NHK news, it has been snowing like crazy in Nagano today - coincidentally, today is the official first day of winter. While I am anxious to do some cross-country skiing (I wonder if it can compare to the X-country skiing we did in Norway last year) I was not anxious to have a major snow storm while we were at 9,000 feet.

That's not to say that the mild chill we did have, causing my water bottles to freeze over night and some beautiful frost on the alpine plants, was not welcome.

Morning in Yatsugatake



This is from last weeks hike in the Minami Alps. A rather impressive mountain, I thought, both to look at (above), and to stand atop and look off of (below).

Atop Kaikomagadake


Fuji in SunriseYatsu Gatake Overlooking Fuji

It was a great trip to the Yatsugatake. We went over Akadake this time, and the other side was wonderful. Highlights of the trip include Honzawa Onsen, which is a crappy place to stay, but we took advantage of the unguarded open air hot-spring bath and almost freezing to sneak in a private bath (in daylight, people are lined up waiting to get in to this very tiny bath) under the (almost) full moon. It kept us warm until morning.

Day two was great. We covered some new terrain, some snow, and a slow-paced hike to the next hut which was already closed for the season, allowing us to camp for free.

Day three was great as well, getting up at 4 am and hiking to the top of a nearby peak to watch the sunrise. After that it was all downhill - six hours or so to Kobuchizawa station.

"Great" turned into "not so great", however, as we arrived at my favorite onsen later that evening to find that the owner had died a few days earlier (86 years old). The onsen was closed of course, but the widow let us in for a bath anyway because we were regulars. She told us some more stories about his life and how he saved the nearby river from illegal waste dumping. As we left she gave us some flowers from the funeral, and we headed into town for dinner at a nice little izakaya.

The widow has decided to go out of business for now, but told us we can come back and use the bath when we are in the area. Its sad for her to be alone in the house they moved to 35 years ago when they followed their dreams to quit the salary-man life in Tokyo, and sad for the world as that really was a truly unique bath/inn with so much to offer to visitors - courtesy of the interesting couple that ran it.

Yeah!!! It rose again!

As you can see, we started at Umijiri station (5 hours and over 3,000 yen from Tokyo) and ended at Nagasaka (3 hours and 2,500 yen). In between was Honzawa Onsen (4-5 hours from the station) and Kiretto Hut (6 hours from Honzawa)


November 02, 2006

The Stress of Play

Traditional Japan House

It looks like I will be gone away again for a few days. Tomoe just found that she has no commitments until Tuesday, and I don't have to be anywhere in particular until Monday (I knew I should never have agreed to start that new project!)

We will either take a three day two night trip to Tanzawa, or back to the Yatsugatake, where we were a few weeks ago (but failed to summit Akadake for lack of time). Tanazawa would be about $50 cheaper and much less hassle to get to, but this may be the last time for Tomoe to do some 2000+ mountains before the snow comes. Oh the choices we face! So much stress!

For real though, it is stress. I have been playing so much that I feel like I have been neglecting the big dream project - of course, playing is a part of that project - it must be done. Next week will be a big test as I have a "test" client willing to give some feedback in return for my services. Hopefully it will go better than with my previous test client - though that was not "bad"... I hope. Before that happens though, I have to take yet another trip to Nagasaka next week to help an elderly couple to fix up their once stylin' traditional country/hot-spring inn.

I could get used to this lifestyle. The question is... can I get payed?

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The photos are from the Nagasaka area, nearby the inn I am going to help get into shape. I think that to avoid the $50 bus fare, I will try to bike there in a day - it will be my furthest single day ride yet.

Country Living in Japan

Trails in Japan

Mountain Climbing Path

I notice that Tom, from the wonderful Two-Heel Drive has introduced my site to hikers around the world, so I thought it might be nice to share what I find interesting about trails in Japan.

First off, one must understand that hiking is big business here, with 10 million people "partaking in hiking" last year - this is more than golf (9.7 mil); Ski and Snowboard (7.6 mil); and, suprisingly, baseball (6 mil). Sadly, however, the number of visitors to Tokyo Disneyland last year blows these away with 25 million. What's more, with the majority of hikers being well-monied retirees, often trails (many originally created long ago by monks who wanted to meditate closer to the mountain gods) are wide, well cared for, and equiped with aids to allow access to as many people as possible.

Minami Alps TrailAlps Path

For one thing, the fully-equipped luxury huts every few hours mean that one can enter the mountains for extended trips with just day-packs, leaving the tent and food at home. Although this may also encourage people to enter unprepared, as was seen when several hikers died in a snow storm in October on Shirouma, (just two weeks after Tomoe and I had climbed it). Were it not for such huts, many people would not be able to.

Minami AlpsPackless

The thing that amazes me most, however, is that the difficult areas of the trail - areas that I would not have climbed alone this week - are made accessible by the addition of permanantly fixed ropes, chains, and even ladders.

Note the chains in these two photos below, taking the hiker up almost completely verticle trails.

Trail in Japan AlpsChain in Alps

Where a chain or rope hand-rail is still too difficult, ladders are often provided.

Ladder in Alps

And where one ladder is not enough...

Ladders in Alps

November 01, 2006

What Gaijin Eat: Imo Mochi (Sticky Potato Gnocchi)

Imo Mochi

Half the joy of cooking (or just eating, in my case) is derived from experiencing what results when things go as unplanned.

Tonight's dinner started with Tomoe's attempt to make a vegan mayonnaise substitute. Not that we really need one, since neither of us has eaten, let alone craved, mayo for as long as I can remember. This was just a "curiosity" thing - a new adventure.

At any rate, she was trying to mush the potatoes into a creamy paste to be added to plum vinegar, ume-boshi (pickled dried-plum), sesame-paste, and a pinch of salt & peppa. But, when mashing the potatoes, she noticed that it was sticky and gooey like Mochi (perhaps because, in order to keep as much nutrients as possible, she steamed the taters instead of boiling them as is usually done).

Actually, imo mochi is a popular dish in the Japan's colder Northern island, Hokkaido, where rice (the usual base for mochi) was not really cultivated on a large scale until recent times. They would eat it grilled with butter or soy sauce. Apparently, anything "potato" is popular in Hokkaido, much like Sweden - where I learned the true joy of a potatoetarian diet.

Of course, man does not live on potato mochi alone, so Tomoe sautayed it with an assortment of "six baby leaf salad" from our local coops "farmers market surprise box". That is, from the assortment of veggies we receive each week based on what the local farmers have in excess.

This time, the six leaves included:

Kyo Mizuna (the kyo is for Kyoto, as this leaf was often eaten in the Kansai area)
Red Oak (a type of lettuce with a red stem)
Romain Lettuce
Tatsai (a Chinese leafy thing)

While I honestly can't say that I tasted a huge difference between these leaves and most other green leafy things, they earn points for being even more "vegan", or "animal friendly" than other leafs. That is, these veggies are grown at Wagoen, a local farm that uses leftover veggie scraps and cuttings as fertilizer instead of enslaved-cow manure. The scraps are gathered from the field, cutting, and refrigeration areas. The scraps are ground, separated into pulp, which is fermented over two weeks, and juice which is taken to a methane fermentation plant where it is made into a liquid fertilizer.

Macrobiotically speaking, potatoes are very "yin", but because they were steamed and sautayed, some "yangness" seems to have been extracted. Likewise, a fresh leafy salad would usually be too "yin" to eat with potatoes, which is why Tomoe sauteyed them as well (together with lots of sesame and garlic)

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About "What Gaijin Eat"
Other things Gaijin Eat:
What Gaijin Eat: First Harvest Sweet Potato Pie
What Gaijin Eat: Grain is Good
What Gaijin Eat: Kuroirigenmaiko Coffee
What Gaijin Eat: Nameko Soba

Imo Mochi
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