Tuesday, September 09, 2014

To the Top of Japan – Mount Fuji (富士山)

“You’ve been everywhere in Japan,” my former coworker told me, “The only place left for you to go is up!” And up I went – 3,776 meters (12,389 feet) to the summit of Mt. Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan. Together with my adventurous friend, Alex, we climbed Mt. Fuji one weekend in early July. For us, it represented a final challenge before we both finished our teaching contracts and bid farewell to Japan.

Although there is no fee to climb Mt. Fuji, as you begin the ascent there is a tent with volunteers eager to take your ¥1,000 ($10) donation towards conservation. Hoping to garner good karma for the climb, I made the donation. In return I received a Mt. Fuji pin and a small plastic package, which I assumed contained instant ramen noodles since I had heard that was a popular dish to eat on top of the mountain. Yet as I walked away and examined the package, I realized it held a portable toilet! Precisely, the package included a pop-up box, some rocks (imagine kitty litter), a privacy poncho for you to wear as you squat over the box, and of course a garbage bag for you to carry away your waste since there are no trash cans on the mountain. Nevertheless, I did not try out this well-intentioned gift because there are in fact toilets on the mountain which you can pay a mere ¥200 ($2) to use.

After approximately 3 hours of trekking, Alex and I reached our mountain hut way above the clouds. At this point we were three-fourths of the way to the top of Mt. Fuji. Yet it already felt so cold that the hot summer temperatures we left behind at the base seemed like a distant memory. After a hearty dinner of hamburger steak, rice, pasta, salad, and miso soup, we retreated to our beds to sleep like sardines from about 7 PM to midnight. 

Tired, we awoke in the dark, robotically layered on our winter clothes, and adorned our headlamps to begin the most difficult part of our journey to the top of Japan. A full moon rested above the silhouette of Mt. Fuji and a procession of climbers, all wearing headlamps, illuminated the zigzagging path to the summit. Although the majority of the trek was a manageable steepness, some parts required us to climb up uneven rocks using both of our hands. As we neared the top, the path narrowed, and our pace slowed to a halt as we caught up with the crowd of climbers all hoping to watch the sunrise from the summit. With the sun peaking through the clouds, we decided to take a seat just off of the trail, rest, eat breakfast, and enjoy the most magnificent sunrise of our lives – which quickly went from shades of blue to orange and pink and illuminated the mountain range and lakes that surround Mt. Fuji. 

Finally, around 6 AM we made it to the top of Mt. Fuji! With the freezing cold wind and clouds from the higher elevation blocking most of the view, we were actually glad that we had stopped to watch the sunrise just before the summit. Although it is possible to make a one-hour circumvention around the volcanic crater on top of Mt. Fuji, Alex and I decided it was best to complete our goals for the summit as quickly as possible and then descend. First, we promised our friends that we would twerk, a dance popularized by Miley Cyrus, and make a video of it. This meant asking some unsuspecting Japanese people to make a video of us dancing. Needless to say, the young woman who filmed us and her friends were shocked by our moves! Yet we must have inspired them, because right afterwards they made their own twerking video. Secondly, I changed out of my hiking boots and into my Tieks, a pair of flats I won in a contest from the Young Adventuress travel blogger, and Alex took a picture of me. Then back in my warm boots, we headed down the mountain, completing the descent in a quick three hours compared to the eight hours it took us to ascend. 

Mt. Fuji is an iconic symbol of Japan and the source of inspiration for countless works of art. Joining the centuries old tradition of climbing Fuji-San, as it is called in Japanese, was one of the most incredible, breathtaking, inspiring, and memorable experiences of my time in Japan. If you are interested in climbing Mt. Fuji and you will be in Japan in July or August when the mountain is open, here are some helpful links:

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Oh Miyazaki...

The Miyazaki Association of Japan Exchange Teachers (MAJET) held its annual farewell party for departing JETs last Friday. Asked to give a two minute speech on behalf of the second year JETs, here is the poem I wrote and recited. It brought laughter and tears to the audience, and I hope you enjoy reading it too!

Oh Miyazaki…

Two years ago, I arrived, together with people in this room. 
We spent an extra day in Tokyo, because you decided to Typhoon. 

Dressed in our suits, we sure looked swell, 
Never mind our pit stains, ‘cause you are hot as…

“Hello!” little children love to shout, 
When they see us gaijin out and about.

Oh Miyazaki…

We’ve served you as ALTs and CIRs, 
And in our time we’ve become tomodachis over onsens, karaoke, and nights at The Bar. 

Oh Miyazaki…

The land of chicken nanban with its oishii taste, 
And all the rice, karage, and ramen that went to my waist!

Oh Miyazaki…

From the tip of Cape Toi, to the gorge of Takachiho, 

Down your surfable coast and across the plateau of Ebino,

With your sparkling waters and your palm trees galore, 
In our hearts you’ll remain forevermore.

So tonight let’s say “See you again” instead of “goodbye,” 

Now please raise your glass, for one more kampai! 

Friday, June 20, 2014

How To Prove You’re Not a Criminal In Japan

In Other Words, How To Obtain a Police Background Check

Perhaps for your future job, or maybe to finally put an end to those unflattering rumors, you might need a police background check from Japan to clear your name. In my case, I needed a background check from every country I have lived in for over one year within the past five years (i.e. the USA and Japan) in order to apply for a visa for Spain. As an effort to help my fellow foreigners in Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan, here is an outline of the process. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Liebster Award – A Look Back on the Last 2 Years in Japan

A few months ago, one of my good friends, Kayla, who is a fellow English teacher and blogger in Miyazaki, nominated me for the Liebster Award. The origin of the award is unknown, but its name derives from a German word meaning adored, beloved, and preferred. The Liebster Award is like a chain e-mail within the blogging community. You accept it by answering some questions posed by the person who nominated you, and then you send it forward with different questions to other bloggers.
The Liebster Award rules are as follows:
  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog.
  2. Answer the questions given to you by the nominee before you.
  3. Prepare up to 10 questions for your nominees to answer.
  4. Nominate up to 10 of your favorite blogs and notify them of their nomination.
Like me, Kayla is currently preparing to leave Japan after spending two years here. Thus the questions she asked involve looking back on life in Japan. 

    1. What most surprised you when you first arrived in Japan? 

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Flat Stanley & Pen-Pal Projects Foster International Exchange

“International exchange” is a sultry buzzword with a broad meaning. It rings of importance. It happens at the United Nations. Its participants are global leaders. Yet in its most organic form, international exchange simply involves two parties sharing their own culture and learning about the other. At a minimum, it aims for mutual understanding and respect, but its greater goals are peace, good-will, and friendship.
The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, brings thousands of native English speakers into Japan every year in order to improve English education and develop international exchange at the local level. We imported teachers leave our home countries as Average Joes and arrive in Japan as the cultural ambassadors of our motherlands. Like most Japan Exchange Teachers, I found myself in an isolated rural area where evergreen mountains and rice paddies replaced the skyscrapers and parking lots of my former urban life. In such a place, my presence represents the leading opportunity for my coworkers, students, and community to engage with a native English speaker, with an American, with a Texan.