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December 27, 2006

I lied (again)

December Hike (Futamatao - Sagamiko)

So I lied (again). We were supposed to leave for the great outdoors today (and it was beautiful day! You could even see Fuji from Tokyo - although I tend to prefer some fog and mist when hiking) Unfortunately there were, yet again, complications and we decided that since we postponed it this long, what's another day? So we will leave for sure tomorrow. I am 99% sure.

Thinking we would be gone, I had nothing planned for today, so it gave me time to play with Google Earth and plot this weeks course. We are headed out to Okutama yet again, but this time we are hiking the southern area. Leaving from Futamatao station, hiking all day up to Gozenyama emergency hut. There should be glorious views of Fuji.

Day two will be a "creativity" day. There are not that many free huts in the southern part of Okutama, so our accommodations for night two are only four or five hours away at the Santo-san emergency hut. This will give us a lot of time to take photos, paint pictures, and dream about nature stuff.

Day three will be a good 9+ hours as we walk down to Sagamiko station on the Chyuo line. Unfortunately there are no onsen or baths in the area (as far as we can tell from the map) so we will have to wait until we get back to Nakano to visit the local sento bath with is only a five minute walk from our apartment - yet we have never been there.

It's all tanoshimi (that giddy feeling you get when anticipating something fun).

The photo above is a 3D close up of the route. The big nipple is Mt. Fuji (which I shall henceforth refer to as "the nipple of Japan"). The image below gives a broader perspective as to where we are hiking in Japan. We live pretty close to the Tokyo dot. It takes about 1.75 hours and 800 yen ($8) to get to thetrail-head by train.

December Hike Overview (Futamatao - Sagamiko)

December 26, 2006

Out of the rain

From L Tower

We were supposed to leave for hiking yesterday, but Tomoe realized she had some business that had to be taken care of before the New Year holiday begins here. Then today we awoke to pouring rain that has lasted all day so we decided to stay in bed. Tomorrow is supposed to be up into the 20s - that's like a spring day! So it looks like we will be leaving in the morning.

We are also planning a hike on Sunday night, New Years Eve. There some acquaintances going to the mountains for a new-year hike, but since it is quite a popular activity for Japanese people as well, the huts will be quite crowded and it doesn't sound like a lot of fun. Instead, we have decided to take an "urban night hike". Leaving at sun-set, hiking around and across Tokyo until sun-rise to see how people (who aren't such home-bodies as we) celebrate new-year's eve.

The camera batteries are charging, but I am thinking I should put some kind of limit on myself. I need a theme, or perhaps a limit of 10 photos for the night - something to help me edit, which I have proven quite bad at. (My flickr page has over 1,000 photos, and I know that if I go back and look at them, there would only be about 50 that I *really* like.)

Anyway, the self-editing begins later. For now, you can see these photos taken from L-Tower in Shinjyuku. And if anyone has any ideas for a theme for New Years eve (or if anyone would like to join the night-hike) let me know.

From L Tower

December 24, 2006

What Gaijin Eat: Home-made Teuchi Udon

Handmade Udon

It's been a while since I last wrote about what Gaijin Eat and I have a large backlog of photos and stories. Just so you know I haven't forgotten about that little blog mini-series, I spent Christmas Eve writing about Tomoe's home-made teuchi udon.

Teuchi means hand-made and I added the "home-made" to the title of this post in order to differentiate between the teuchi udon that can be eaten in udon shops all across Japan or purchased at the supermarket.

There is nothing especially macrobiotic about this, and no story about history or how it helps to make your bowels longer or anything else so fun - but this is the first time Tomoe has attempted to make her own noodles, so that is what makes it special.

Handmade UdonHandmade UdonHandmade Udon

Some other special points to note:

Very local flour: Not just domestic the flour was grown and processed right here in the greater Tokyo area, reducing food millage . It is a variety that grows in milder temperature, not the "domestic" flour from Hokkaido and northern Honshu where a much more "normal" type ofwheat is grown more easily in cold weather.

Wheat bran from the same wheat as the above mentioned flour.

Natural sea salts: Not the refined table-salt people usually think of (which is almost pure sodium chloride and is collected from sweaty gym socks and other work-out clothing). The sea-salts we use do not contain theanti-caking agents to keep the crystals separate, or other additives to keep it a pretty white color. The salt is not iodized (a process by which iodine is added to preventdiseases caused by iodine deficiency ) but we figure we get more than enough iodine from our abundant use of seaweed in daily cooking (seaweed contains a lot of iodine). Of course, I worry that perhaps we have too much seaweed sometimes, which apparently could make my eyeballs stick out!

Handmade Udon

This udon was eaten in Typically Tomoe Miso Soup broth with lots of fresh, organic veggies. The miso used for this soup was also Tomoe's first attempt at making miso at home (which I will write about later - but for now I have to get ready for a three-day hike starting tomorrow!).

Handmade Udon & Miso soup
* * *

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: Imo mochi

Handmade Udon

December 23, 2006

Rare Earth Tones


Another introduction I enjoyed from World Changing is the rare earth tone ring-tones of endangered species from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Of course it would be awesome if there was a way to get people to contemplate why they feel a need to be in constant contact, and instead spent some time contemplating their historical and natural connections with the non-human inhabitants of the world, but who knows... maybe these ring-tones will inspire a few people to leave the phone and other modern man-made distractions at home and spend some time outside noticing all the wonderful distractions that nature provides.

There are a few in there that I would download - if I had a phone. Maybe I will give some to people as christmas gifts instead.


Its the thoughtlessness that discounts


This year's rant against worthless, wasteful, and thoughtless gift giving for the holiday season is brought to you by WorldChanging which linked to Changing the Present, and their cute Hall of Shame - What not to give page where people are invited to send in photos of worthless, wasteful crap that will be on the curbside come January. (Be warned that there are some questions as to the motives of this "Changing the Present" organization.)

The old saying "it's the thought that counts" is meant to make us feel good about giving and receiving "bad" gifts - but what about when it was a bad gift because there was no thought involved? It is a custom in Japan that anyone going on a business trip should bring a gift back to the office. I suppose the theory is that it shows that the traveler was thinking about his/her coworkers. In reality it seems that, more often than not, the "thought" is mostly a stress-filled "I have to find something for the office. One more thing on the to-do list..." This is evident by the big market for "last-minute convenience gifts" available at the train stations just before getting on the bullet train to go back home - and people's willingness to pay outrageous prices for usually no-better than average goods (all be it in a fancier, more wasteful package). Whenever I receive a gift like that, I actually don't feel anything good, just bad that the person wasted their money and did a disservice to the earth and future generations at the same time.

Of course, I am very thankful for the two gifts I received this year (yes, only two) because one was hand-made cookies from mom, and the other was something that Tomoe and I had been considering purchasing for over a year now. This shows that the person who gave the gift actually spent some time thinking about what to give. Similarly, Tomoe met with some clients yesterday and received two gifts. One was a box of gift-wrapped cookies (the same thing everyone else received), and the other was an old, used glass jar destined for the trash. Which one do you think she was excited to tell me about when she got home?

She is always looking for more containers to store miso and jam and other little goodies, but we are reluctant to buy any new ones when at some point we know a used one will become available. The client that knows this, and that thinks about Tomoe before simply throwing his own used jar into the trash, taking the time and effort to keep it on his desk until he sees her next... That is what is meant by "Its the thought that counts". That is what made it a great gift.

December 22, 2006

That Cringing Feeling


Do you know that feeling you get when you have a memory or (non-drug related) flashback that causes you to cringe? You know - a stupid comment at a job interview or a maybe something you wrote on your blog three years ago that no longer reflects your views and you think "How was I so stupid?"

I'm guessing that this a genetically programmed reaction that helps us to avoid repeating stupid mistakes. For example, several years ago I was cruising down a hill on my bike on the side-walk as it was getting dark. I didn't have my light on yet, and I wasn't wearing a helmet. Suddenly, as I passed by a parked van that was sticking out into the sidewalk, I realized that it's hatchback was open - and at eye level. I was going fast enough that had I been about one foot further to left my head would have been completely crushed on impact. I was going too fast to have stopped (since i didn't even notice it until I was right next to it) and fast enough that it would have left my skull a shattered mess.

To this day, as I ride down hills I have flash-backs and shivers in my spine thinking about how close I was to death. It certainly keeps me much more alert.

There are, of course, less critical examples as well - such as thinking about a stupid remark I may have made at a party, or an email I sent without thinking it through. These always cause me to hum a random tune aloud in the hopes that I can drown out the memory and that "cringing" feeling.

Now I have a new cringe moment - every time I look at my camera. A few days ago I dropped the hip-pack I carry my camera in. With my headphones on I can't say I am sure that I heard any sound, but I certainly imagined it. Everything was in slow motion... here was nothing I could do. I picked up the bag to check he camera and was horrified to find that my lens cap was jammed and difficult to remove. The more pressure I applied, the more grinding noises I heard. It was the sound of gritty glass particles being moved against their will.

This is an expensive lens and I am not prepared to buy any new lens - even a cheap one. I have other plans for my slowly shrinking savings. I was about to cry.

Upon close inspection it turned out that the broken glass was from the filter (still about $40!). The actual lens came out unscathed and the camera still works as good as new. But I am broken now. Every time I look at that camera my heart rate shoots through the roof and I begin to sing aloud - trying to drown out the memory of when I was stupid enough to drop it... It really changes the feeling of taking the camera out for a walk.

(And to anyone who lent me an attachable flash recently - don't worry, the flash was safe in a drawer at home!)

Chichibu Temple

December 21, 2006

Christmas Message From Tomoe

Green Guys

Click for a Christmas Greeting from Tomoe

December 19, 2006

Headed in the wrong direction

Heading the wrong way


Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That’s why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today’s rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products.

via World-o-crap via How to save the world.

When the flame dies I guess Tomoe will have no one to blame but herself for cooking so many macrobiotic meals with all that gayonizing soy.

The fact that there are people out there who would even think of writing something like this drivel is even more demoralizing than some of the things I saw at the "EcoPro" eco-products exhibition this weekend where I was giving tours for English speakers.

My favorite was the Sony booth. They had their Walkman on display as an "eco-product" which certainly made me curious. When I asked the rep what the "eco" point was, he shifted uncomfortably as he explained that the headphones reduce ambient sound, allowing people to listen to their MP3s at a lower volume - thus saving a little bit of energy. Unfortunately, all that energy saved by people around the world using Sony headphones was probably canceled out by the wall of fifteen plasma TVs they had playing for the entire eco-exhibition.

It wasn't all that bad. There were some good products as well - but Sony's booth seemed much more popular (almost as popular as the Coca-cola booth that was giving out free bags of plastic "eco" junk).

(Full disclosure: I don't have a Sony Walkman, but I do have an old iPod - purchased used of curse. I have nothing against people enjoying a news pod-cast as they ride their bike to work, but there are enough functioning used ipods and MP3 players out there already that there is really no good reason to buy a new one. And it is certainly not "eco" - at least not as eco as the booth that made sure their spokes-models wore the smallest shorts possible in an effort to reduce material and laundry detergent)

December 14, 2006


Okutama Hike

Tomoe seems to think that readers of this blog are sick of seeing her photo, and has begun objecting every time I point the camera at her. (To tell you the truth - I don't care. Readers of this blog don't pay me, so I will show you whatever photos I dang well please!)

Still, maybe she is right. So this last weekend I made an effprt to take as many photos as possible of a reluctant Ms. "N". I did get some good ones, and I am always happy to take photos of anyone else as well (its just that I have so many more opportunities to take Tomoe's photo).

The interesting thing is that when I started taking more photos of N, Tomoe started posing a lot more than usual - often dominating the scene.

Okutama HikeOkutama HikeOkutama Hike

December 13, 2006

Okutama Re-Hike

Okutama MorningDSC_0269.jpg

For those of you who backed out of the Okutama trip, or had some lame excuse for not signing up in the first place - such as "I live in Austria" :P - you missed a great hike. I mean a really great hike - 8 hours on day one and 11 hours (with only one twenty minute break) on day 2. At one point it was to be an expedition of five (including Tomoe and myself) but by the actual day it was down to Tomoe, me, and "N", who signed up from the Tokyo International Adventure club. I am no where near as good at describing the beauty of the trip as Butiki is with his walks, so I will just let the photos speak for themselves, and relate the more mundane details below.


The trip got off to a bad start when Tomoe and I screwed up the trains and left N waiting in the cold and tiny Hatonosu station for an hour. Instead of starting at 8:30, we didn't get on trail until 9:45. This was a little worrisome for me because never having hiked with N I didn't know how fast or strong she would be. We wanted to get to the Ippaimizu Emergency Shelter (which I have been referring to as Ippaisui in the past and in the map). Our back-up, in case we can't make it, was to be an emergency hut marked on my map at Kawanoriyama - halfway to Ippaimizu. (see GoogleEarth screenshot below)

Okutama Push

N, it turns out, is extremely strong as a hiker, but is a little shorter than Tomoe and a lot shorter than me. Short legs means smaller steps of course, so she falls into the slow but very steady category. When we met she told us she was recovering from a knee injury so, perhaps being overly cautious, when we arrived to where the mid-way hut was supposed to be we decided to leave the heavy stuff from our packs there and spend the rest of the day just hiking in the area around the hut.

We searched for two hours for that hut - me with my pack off trail-running in circles checking every possible fork in the path. No hut. The day before I had called the City-hall tourism office for information about trial conditions and any closings. I asked specifically about that hut, and was reassured that the hut was there and was open. What we didn't know until the next day, after speaking to some local hikers, was that the hut does exist, and is "open", but is in terrible condition, with holes in the roof and walls. It would have been a cold night.

Okutama Up

After our search, we decided we had better get moving toward the next hut as it would be getting darker soon, and was starting to rain/sleet a little. There are a few steep places in-between that are quite slippery with the mud, and there was a thin layer of snow and ice on the ground up there, so I was hoping it wouldn't slow us down too much. By the time we got to the hut it was dark and we almost didn't even see it.


It was -2C when we arrived, and to our disappointment, there was no one else there to have a nice fire all ready. There is a stove in the hut, and the city-hall man told me the hut is stocked with wood, but when we arrived there was no wood. We managed to find threerelatively dry pieces under a beat-up old tin-roof behind the hut, but after taking turns with the tiny hand saw in the hut to cut them into pieces that fit in the stove, I was plenty well warmed up already. It was enough to build a fire and dry some of the wet wood we collected from the forest around the hut, and in the end we had enough to keep the hut warm until after we were sound asleep in our sleeping bags, even enough for me to start a fire in the morning (4 am), making the hut nice and warm for when the women woke up. The next visitor to the hut will also be quite happy to find enough dry wood to get themselves started.


Trying to figure out where to go on day two was a bit more of a problem. It was a choice of two routes that would only include a few hours of trails before we end up walking on a road all the way back to Okutama, or, we could do the "long" route which Tomoe suggested, that would take us down to the Nippara bus stop, and then back up the other side of the valley to Takanosu, and then down again to Okutama station.


Worried about N's knees, we checked with her of course, and she told us "I don't need any breaks, but I wil walk slow". Since we weren't worried about time as much as people's endurance, we decided to take that route. At 11 hours the last part was in the dark, and it took just over two hours longer than expected, but it was a great walk with amazing surroundings (I especially liked the hike up from Nippara) and even my legs were hurting by the end. Feeling bad that my initial invitation said "6-8 hours per day", I apologized to N and asked if she would sign up for it if she had known. "Why not?" came the genuinely surprised reply. Great.


December 12, 2006


December 08, 2006

A Story of Survival and Tragedy

Nagano Day 3

No, this is not about James Kim. It just so happens that at the same time as the Kim story was unfolding, I ran across an article in a newsletter of from the International Adventure Club here in Tokyo. (The IAC is a club for outdoor enthusiasts which I just rejoined after having let my membership lapse for a few years.)

If you are in Japan or read Japan related blogs, you may have heard of the people that died on Mt. Shirouma earlier this year in a snowstorm. From the news reports, the only thing that could be concluded is that they were hiking out there without enough gear to weather a night in the elements. Some of the bodies were found very close to safety, and we are left wondering "how could they have died? Even a little but of preparation should have kept them safe."

Reading this first-hand account (the story begins on page 7 of the pdf) by an IAC member who was trapped in a hut atop Mt. Shirouma during the storm, and actually helped to warm one of the survivors of this tragedy with body heat, as well as watch others die, I am left with a little more perspective into the incident. With the Kim ordeal there seems to be a lot of pointless judgements from people in warm safe cubicles, based on hind-sight, so I don't want to say anything about what the people did wrong or right, but I think anyone that reads this article will find it fascinating, and will be able to come to their own conclusions (or follow the author's) regarding their own outdoor dos and don'ts.

I highly recommend it - perhaps more highly than anything else I have ever linked to on this blog.

Saturday morning was snowing and windy. We decided we would start out along the ridge towards Yari where I have climbed before and if conditions deteriorated we would return. We'd just hoisted our packs and were heading out when one of the staff came in and said the snow would freeze later and we had some severe rock sections to climb which would be icy. He said directly if we went we would die.


After about an hour of feet warming we made the 10 minute climb to the summit - it was bleak up there. I had fleece gloves under Gore-Tex and my fingers froze in that short 10 minutes. Not nice weather.

Then the author tried to go to a nearby hut with a pay-hone...

- but when I got to the ridge which I needed to walk along for 20 mins - I couldn't even stand. I was doubled over holding onto the largest rock I could find and then as I was retreating a big gust lifted me off my feet and shortened my descent.

Later that day...

Around 5.30, already dark, the leader of a group of 6 from Kyushu who had come up from Toyama struggled in and said his 6 members were close but in a very distressed state. He then went out ALONE to try and rescue them.

The hut staff formed a search party and headed out. They returned with one woman - Nomura-san. I took her to the drying room and got her clothes off and put her in my space blanket. She has nearly hypothermic but not too bad. Next Yamaguchi-san was brought in and she was not in a good state at all. I managed to get her overclothes off but she was flailing about screaming "itai, itai, itai" ("it hurts") referring to her thighs. I was desperately trying to get her wet trousers off. She was rolling round the ground though and it was rather like a wrestling match.

her [Nomura-san] temperature began to fall so I took my shirt off and lay for two hours pressing a minute 67 year old's body to my near-naked one! She really is tiny and I had my huge leg over her but when I suggested I remove it she asked me to please keep it on her.

The really hard to believe part....

None of the hut staff seemed to know what to do with Yamaguchi-san so one of our group took over and got her clothes off and into the space blanket. She was not doing well and it really looked as though she was not going to make it. We asked another woman to get into the space blanket with her and slowly she warmed up.

The account goes on to describe how two members of the party died in the hut, and how they made their escape the next day down the snowfield where there had already been two avalanches earlier that weekend.

After reading this report, rather than wondering why the hikers weren't prepared with emergency shelter (it appears that even if they had had a tent they would have died - the real problem was pushing on when they should have called it a day), I am left wondering how and why the people in the hut were not prepared to handle emergency situations such as this. Why didn't they know what to do? And WHY was there a need to warm someones body with the author's own "near-naked" body? I passed by that area two weeks before the incident and was amazed that there was a pay-phone and post-office at 3,000 meters. They have beer and souvenirs to sell the hikers, as well as fuel to cook extremely expensive meals - all encouraging people to come to the mountains unprepared. How could they not have enough fuel and water to heat a tub to warm the hypothermic climbers? What kind of a chutohanpa (Japanese for "half-ass") mountain hut is that?

Of course, I was not there, and when I visit again next year (or perhaps this winter) I will be sure to check out how equipped is "reasonably" equipped for the hut.

The blue line in the google earth screenshot above is from one of my earlier hikes there, but it shows the general area where the people where hiking. The incidents described in the account took place in the top right hand corner, where the blue line turns south. The snowfield she describes is just to the left of that. The direction the hikers from Kyushyu came from would be along the ridge from the bottom of the photo. The winds were coming from the right hand side. You can imagine how exposed anyone would have been on that almost 3,000 meter ridge. The photo below is Tomoe standing where a week later there would be the snow storm described in the account.

Tomoe Atop Northern Alps

December 06, 2006

Okutama Chain Gang

Okutama SunriseOkutama Trail

A development company in China demolished large sections of the Great Wall along with three ancient villages that were under government protection in order to build a highway. It sounds shocking at first, but when I think about it I wonder if I am any different. Next weekend I will be volunteering to help demolish some forest in the Okutama area, working on trails for Tokyo water workers.

Okutama is the main source of water for most of Tokyo, and Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Water Works has a volunteer program to take care of the forest. While it sounds like fun just to put on a pair of workman's tabi (the shoes with the big toe separate from the rest) and shimmy up the tree to cut some limbs, or spend a day building a trail, they are also supposed to have some "learning sessions", so maybe I will learn a thing or two about the forest as well.

Of course the next day will just be a "for fun" hike.
And of course, this post was just an excuse to get some of my Okutama hiking photos out of the queue.

The photos above are just random shots of Okutama forests. The photo below is a shot of what the Japanese Deer do to the trees. There were many signs warning us to make a lot of noise and wear bright colors so that we wont get shot by the hunters employed to get rid of those tree chewing deer. The photo on the very bottom is me contemplating my own decision to partake in destruction of the trees for the sake of Tokyo's water and my own fun. (Of course, it's not like they are red-woods or anything even remotely close to the "natural" state, so I don't really feel bad.)

Nihon Shika Chews Contemplating

Minami Alps Day 5: The End

South Alps TrailSouth Alps Trail

Despite a restless night filled with those "half-dreams" that can invade the mind when one is only half-asleep, I awoke rather refreshed and ready to get out into the nippy air. The half-dreams were related to the snow-fall earlier in the evening, and the sign on the door to thedilapidated old hut saying "closed due to danger of avalanche - no camping or overnighting", but there was only an ever so slight covering of snow on the ground when I awoke.

My original plan called for me to camp the last night in the town and catch an early morning bus back home to Tokyo, the point of which was to allow myself ample time to enjoy a hot-spring onsen bath without rushing for a bus. Being ahead of schedule however, I realized that I could even take a leisurely stroll into town, take a bath, enjoy a beer, and still have plenty of time to catch a bus.

For the first time it took me longer than the times indicated on my trail map as I stopped every hundred meters or so to take more photos and play with the camera in ways that I am usually too much in a hurry for. It took me so much longer that I practically had to put my camera away and run the last hour in order to make it to the onsen by dark. It did not help that once I arrived in the town that neighbors the bus stop and then asked directions to Nagasaka, the gas-station attendant pointed to another small "mountain" that I had not noticed on the map, saying "just go over that".

It was getting dark as I decided into a small valley between hills separating the two cities. In the cities there were big roads with noisy cars flying by. Here was beautiful, green, the only sound from birds in the rice fields, and a small river that ran through them. Ahead of me I could barely make out a crusty old sign with the name of the onsen. It pointed down a dirt path surrounded by trees, and I swore to myself, thinking that the onsen had surely gone out of business long ago. Still, I had come this far, so I might as well head down the path. About two hundred meters in, I came across an old farmer packing up the gear from his field, getting ready to head home who told me "They might still be in business... but the owners are pretty old, so no telling for sure."

I continued on to an old, traditional Japanese farm building even more run-down than the sign that had been at the road four-hundred meters back. A hunched andhobbling figure in the yard confirmed the farmers assessment of the owner's age. After shouting three times that I would like to use the bath, then waiting for him to turn up his hearing aid and shouting once more, he told me sure, but I have to wait twenty minutes for it to warm up. No problem - so long as they have a cold bottle of beer for me...

And they did. And it was great. And the building was amazing and beautiful, and the old couple running it were fascinating. While I was sitting there having my beer they brought in the herbs and mushrooms they had collected during the day, and set out to preparing them to be dried, and proceeded to tell me the story of how they had moved from Tokyo many years ago to take over this inn, the history of which is unknown, as they have never been able to track records older than one-hundred years. After my bath, the owner showed me his wooden butterfly collection, explaining that after having visited an inn where the inn-keeper carved small wooden birds, he decided to begin carving thebutterflies for which the valley is famous. "It was really tough.", he said, "young ladies used to come in here and each one of them would want acustom made butterfly. I spent all my free time making them, but they became really popular and many newspapers wrote about it."

South Alps Gravestone

What he didn't tell me about, and I didn't find out about until I took Tomoe there the next weekend to see this awesome inn in such a beautiful setting, was that he had also been integral in preserving this setting from toxic dumping decades ago that, at one point, had killed all the fish. He filed a law-suit against the dumpers, as well as the government for allowing the dumping, and spent many years and yen in court fighting to keep the area clean. And this was before "sustainability" and "environmentalism" was hip.

Perhaps the reason I hadn't heard these stories the first time was that he was too humble to tell them himself. When I went there with Tomoe the next week, there was a sign on the front door alerting visitors that someone had died. The widow, who remembered me from the week before, let us in to take a bath anyway, and told us his story as we rested from our hike in Yatsugatake that weekend.

And thus ends my hike in the Southern Alps of Japan for this year.

If anyone is interested, you can see all the photos of Japan's Southern Alps here, and earlier posts linked to below (the earlier posts - before I ran out of writing steam - are much more interesting):

The Plan (with map)
Minami Alps Day 1: Close Encounters
Minami Alps Day 2: Explosive Diarrhea Mud Slides
Minami Alps Day 3: Use me! Abuse me!
Minami Alps Day 4 Part 1: Year of the Panda
Minami Alps Day 4 Part 2: WFR
Minami Alps Day 5: The End


December 05, 2006

Minami Alps Day 4 Part 2: WFR

Southern Alps TrailSouthern Alps

This summer I got my certification as a Wilderness First Responder. This is a step up from "First Aid", in that with this certification I am trained to do such things as reducing dislocated joints, administering certain medicines, and "clearing a spine" (If you fall on your head in the city, the medics will put the neck brace on and take you to the hospital where they use fancy machines to determine if it is safe for you to get up and walk. In the wilderness setting, however, this is not always possible, so first responders are trained to administer a set of tests that will determine if it is safe for you to get up and walk out.) I am even trained to deliver a baby at 10,000 feet.

The course was great. Not only was it fascinating and empowering - a great boost to confidence while hiking - but it was also a ton of fun with manyscenarios played out with lots of fake blood, vomit, and protruding bones. Now, whenever I hike, I find myself thinking "What would I do if Tomoe fell off that cliff?" and running through various scenarios in my mind. And, although I don't want her to fall off the cliff. I even find myself hoping that we will come across someone with a (non-life threatening) injury so I can practice what I learned. Today, on day four of my hike in Japan's Southern Alps, I thought I finally had my chance... (or so I thought).

Somewhere near the base of Kaikomagadake, having passed only one person all day, I came across an abandoned back-pack laying on the trail. A few meters away was a half-full water bottle. There was no sign of any people and, being on a ridge, both sides of the trail were very steep slopes. I first looked over the edge to see if someone might have fallen. There was no one as far as I could see, but a few meters down the slope ended in a cliff, out of my line of sight.

I called out "Hello? Anyone there? Can anyone hear me? Are you OK?"... no answer. No one to rescue.

It appeared that all I could do was to make note of the color and make of the bag to later report its location to the police in casesomeone had been reported missing. While not as satisfying as saving someones life, at least it might be a little helpful. At least it was a little exciting and mysterious.

Until, that is, an hour later when I arrived at the summit to find a middle-age man sitting on a rock with no back-pack. I asked if it was his I had passed, and headmitted to leaving it down there where it waited for him to reach the peak.

And that is the anti-climactic end to my story of day 4.

Minami AlpsAtop KaikomagadakeAtop Kaikomagadake

From here I just admired the view from the top, and made my way down a most beautiful portion of trail to the place where I saw the "panda bear", and an abandoned old emergency hut where I pitched my tent and enjoyed a bowl of hot noodles. That night, as I lay in bed, I heard my first snow-flakes of the season gently landing on my tent.

Unmanned HutSouther Alps Hut

Something I should also mention....

When we last left off, I had spotted a panda bear on a steep slope in Yamanashi. Before we go any further, I have to admit how bad I feel that some people seem to have taken me seriously. Although I did entertain the thought that it might have been a panda, based on the flash of fluffy black and white as it ran away, I am pretty certain it was not. What I wrote in the last post was just my twisted humor. That being said, I have no idea what it could have been for real, as I know of no other black and white animals in Japan that are that large (and fluffy).

Race to the Summit

Race to the Summit

In anticipation of the Kanagawa marathon that is coming up in February, I decided to see how far I could run in five hours. I have never run a marathon before, and my semi-daily runs usually only last an hour or so. After about 2 hours, I was feeling good, but was sooooooo bored - even with an ipod full of NPR. I later discovered that I will be out of town during the marathon anyway, so I guess there is no reason to prepare... Until now.

The other day I came across an article about the Trans-Japan Alpine Race. Contestants race 420km across Japan from the Japan Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way they find themselves crossing the North, Central, and Southern alps, home to Japan's highest peaks - several over 3,000 meters. The most interesting thing about the race however, is that it must be completed in 8 days.

The organizers of this bi-annual event admit to worrying that there may be no finishers, though this has not yet been a problem. The winner of the last race finished in 6 days, 2 hours (Just for some perspective, hiking seven hours per day would take 26 days to complete.) Of this years six participants, several dropped out without completing it, but the only female racer came in second with a time of 7 days, 10 hours.

Hmmm. I look forward to training this weekend.

December 04, 2006

What is Death?


There's a little pet shop near the Nakano library that specializes in lizardish creatures. Tomoe and I often stop by to visit "Ben", as we have named the big turtle in the photo. He is the "pet shop's pet", wandering around the shop eating from customers' hands (from a pile of fresh veggies provided by the owner). Today was the first time we saw him(her?) pee. Wow. It lasted several minutes, and just kept coming. This photo is in the early stages, but we figure he must have had at least two liters stored in his bladder, and it spread out much further than my 17mm lens could cover.

I have been reading one of the best books I have come across in a long time - Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival, by Bernd Heinrich. It is a collection of amazing esseys and stories of how a variety of animals survive the Vermont winters. Some hibernate, some actually freeze their body - like cryogenics - waiting for warmer weather to thaw out and resume life. He writes about turtles, not the same species as in the photo, but still, long living creatures that spend most of their life... well, dead.

Turtles, both painted and snapping, often get run over by cars on the country road where I live as they travel to and from their nest sites. One warm June day I stopped to pick up one that I thought was a dead, washtub-sized roadkill snapping turtle, perhaps one I'd metearlier in happier circumstances, I was left to ponder what life and death might be to a turtle. A dozen or so ping-pong ball sized round eggs were strewn all around this smashed turtle. As I touched its tail, the animalretracted its legs. Thinking the badly smashed turtle might still be alive, although I knew it could never recover, I wanted to put it out of its misery quickly. I maneuvered my pickup truck to run it over squarely. Another car came by just then and the driver, quite understandably, stared at me angrily. But the good and difficult deed was was soon done nevertheless, and I dropped the turtle off with my ravens after off its head (since the body still twitched). Top my great surprise, the birds had still not fed from it by the next days. As I pulled once again on the tail of the long-since-headless turtle, her legs contracted into the shattered remains of shell, as they must have if the ravens had pecked it.

What is death to a turtle? What is being alive? For six months it stays under ice water, berried in mud, where breathing, movement, and presumably almost all heart activity stops. In spring it comes up, warms up, takes a few breaths, and resumes life where it had left off. It has done so for perhaps 200 million years or so that its kind has prospered with little change.[...] maybe yhey survived that fateful global winter after the asteroid struck earth much like they now routinely survive a northern winter, by simplicity. They reduce their energy expenditure to extend their oxygen and energy reserves.

I wonder what the large bladder size of the turtle has to do with this...


And then there was this guy pictured below too... Suppon is the ancient Japanese viagra. There are specialized restraunts selling stew of suppon, as well as bottles of suppon essence to *ehem* bring one back from the dead.


December 02, 2006



This photo above is one of my favorite photos from last weekend.

The photos below are not exactly favorites, but mom might like to see them, so...

Yo yo yo!

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