Thursday, July 31

Back to T Minus...

Today, I pulled my big green suitcase and my big blue backpack out of the storage cabinets they have been living in for six and a half months. Unzipping them to open them up took me back to January, when I was packing and repacking my suitcase in Kelowna, then repacking a few more time to fit as much as I could before leaving Abbotsford for the airport. The few days between Christmas and leaving for Japan seem as if they were several years ago, not barely several months ago.

If you have read some of my earliest posts from Japan, you probably know that in January and February, I wasn't enjoying my adventures here. I was trying(really hard); and I did have some fun trips and experiences. I was tryig really hard to love it here, but it was difficult, lonely, and frustrating. In all honesty, I just wanted to go home. I considered giving up and going home - but I don't give up, so I didn't. If you had told me in January that I would write the following paragraph before I left, I honestly wouldn't have believed you.

I don't want to leave Japan. Life here still isn't easy, it can be lonely, and it can definitely be frustrating. But I don't want to go. I have managed to build a life. I have things to do, places to go, and people to see. I haven't been to Fukoka or Sapporo; I haven't finished watching Gantz with James; I haven't gotten to hang out with Nobu; I haven't learned to surf; I haven't travelled enough with my coop friends; I haven't had time to really finish my projects at work; I haven't had time to learn enough Japanese; I haven't had time to be the me that I finally found here.

Do I miss Canada? Infinitely. I miss my Dad and my Mom and my brother and my sister - I can't wait to give and get hugs from all of them, and to sit and have a face-to-face conversation, instead of a typed one. I miss my friends in Kelowna - we never have enough time to spend together. I miss my university's been 16 months, and I am incredibly excited to see them again - and all ready for more adventures. I miss my Elk Valley friends, and job, and life. I miss licorice, driving, and being able to read labels and signs. But despite all the things and people I miss in Canada - (Are you ready for this?) - if I could stay longer in Japan, I would. I almost can't believe I am saying that, when I think back to how I felt when I first got here. But I will miss Japan immensely.

Hours, days, and months pass. And suddenly, it's time to leave. I am torn between my excitement to be back home in Canada, and sadness at leaving Japan. It's actually quite a confusing mindset. I sort of feel a little lost. I am leaving my life in Japan, and going back to Canada. But my Kelowna life is now temporary (as I don't live there anymore), and my Vancouver life is non-existent as I traded it for a Sparwoodian one. So I almost feel like once I leave Japan, I will have no where to belong. (Who would have thought I would ever feel like I belong in Japan?!) Come September, I will move back to Vancouver and start into a new life - and I can't wait for that (this year at school will be awesome, I can already tell.) But for two weeks between Japan and Vancouver, I will get some R&R in Kelowna (which will always truly be 'home', but in a different sort of way), and I will be floating; between here and there.

I suppose this post is a little early, as I still have two weeks left. But the days fly by, and soon, I will be getting on a plane bound for Canada. And I'm feeling a little confused about it.

Tuesday, July 29

Tropical Island Paradise (Part II)

I woke up feeling marvellous. While I enjoyed the great outdoors in Miyajima, I have to admit that a real bed beats all. We discovered a marvellous little restaurant that had great meals (& steak) for super reasonable price. We boarded the ferry... it was paradise already. As we moved out of the harbor, I couldn't get over the deep, dark blue of the ocean, and the pale blue shades of the sky. The shades and hues of blue that I could see were infinite and indescribable. Gorgeous.

We arrived on Zanami island, and found our way to renting 50cc mopeds, then took off to explore the island! I cannot do the beauty of the scenery, or the feeling of freedom justice in words, but I'll try to describe it a bit!

The sun was hot - super sweaty hot. We put sunscreen on every couple hours, but it just melted off right away. Even the breeze was warm. The mountain roads wound back and forth, on cliff edges and through trees. From the edges, we could see ocean, sky, and small islands for miles and miles. The blues and greens were unlike anything man-made, and beyond what a photograph can capture. Riding on the little moped, with the hot sun on my skin and the wind in my hair, surrounded by the most incredible beauty, I felt freedom like I've never felt; joy like I would burst; and as content as I could ever imagine feeling.

Alex and I were moving faster, so we eventually split up into two groups. We made our way up the mountain, on the windy roads. The roads were not that steep, but on our little mopeds, all we could do was open 'em wide and...... chug along slowly. But that gave us lots of time to enjoy the scenery. We came around one bend and saw the most beautiful panoramic view - I hit my brakes, and called to Alex to stop for pictures. I decided to turn my bike around, so I leaned over and turned the front wheel, hit the gas and...drove right into the drainage chute beside the road. Alex found it amusing. I thought of my Dad - and realized that I really should listen to him more often. I could just picture him shaking his head at me and laughing and saying, "Stephanie Ellen, you do everything too fast!" Hehe. He's right. But I wasn't hurt and quickly dragged my bike out to take some pictures. I'll stop trying to describe our tropical paradise, and let the pictures speak for themselves...

After our short two hours was up, Alex and I returned the mopeds, and headed for the beach. We chose a part of the beach that had few people, and wasn't very sandy - instead, it was covered in coral and shell bits! They were all broken and rounded from rolling around in the ocean for so long. We spent the rest of our Zamami time laying in the water, collecting pretty shells, and being washed back and forth with the waves. We had no cares, no problems...just shells, ocean swells, and freedom. I've blogged about some happy places and moments of joy before...but none of them came close to the contentedness I felt on Zamami.

All too soon, we had to head for the ferry - Alex and I made it with only a minute to spare. We met up with Keith and Thomas again, and spent the ferry ride relaxing, napping, and talking on the top deck of the ferry. The ferry ride was much too short, except that we were starving (skipped lunch), and craving steak and ice cream. After a shower and some supper, we explored Kokusaidori a bit more, then headed back to the hostel. We hung out, played some guitar, and had a jolly old time.

Thomas and Keith fell asleep, but Alex and I decided to have an adventure at 1am. We grabbed the guitar, and snuck out of the hostel....sort of quietly, and with some laughter. We spent the next 5 super fun hours hanging out - infinite awesome memories, and a general good time. After a (sort of quiet) sneaking back in, and a few hours of sleep, we were up and to the airport...back to Osaka! But that wasn't the end of the weekend's adventures.

Oh yes - I forgot the ATM saga. I forgot to get money from the ATM before we left Osaka....and I could not find an ATM in Okinawa that would give me money! It was very strange - the Family Mart ATMs wouln't service my card (even though I know I've used my card at Family Mart's before) - and neither would other ATMs! Fortunately for me, Alex had brought extra money, and lent me money for the weekend. Basically, by the end of the weekend, he practically owned me and my empty wallet. Once back in Osaka, I was finally able to find at ATM that worked, and repayed my debt. Extra thanks to Alex....the weekend would have been much less fun if he hadn't rescued me!

Monday, July 28

Summer Vacation (Oita Part I)

I spent this weekend in Oita, Kyushuu; one of Japan's main islands, just south of the main-est island. I was fortunate to be invited by Debbie (canadasue's Aunt) to visit for a weekend. Debbie lives in Oita with her husband, Katsunori, and two kids - Akira and Misa.

Debbie has been in Japan for 22 years. She came as an English teacher, left briefly, came back, and has been living in Oita since. I have (especially after spending the weekend with her & her family) a lot of respect for all of them. In the short seven months that I have spent in Japan, I have faced many difficulties and started (barely) to understand the cultural differences here. When you hear 'cultural differences', you think of religion and food and traditions - but it's not only those things; it's a world of difference. The way of thinking, which pervades every aspect of life, is incredibly different, and often beyond my comprehension. I think that for Debbie and her husband to have built a marriage and raised two children while straddling two countries, cultures, and upbringings says a lot about their personal strength and character. Their children, too, have to contend with two different cultures. Misa, their 18 year old daughter, has been attending highschool in Canada for the past 3 years. Considering the difficulties I've had, at 20 years old, I cannot imagine what it was like for her to suddenly be immersed in a different culture at 15 years old.

Debbie was a pleasure to talk to, and we had some wonderful conversations about life, people, culture, understanding, cooking, baking, experiences.... many things. I enjoyed hearing a bit about what she has experienced, and learned a lot from her perspectives. It was interesting to hear that living in a different culture can still be shocking and difficult - even after 20 years.

. . .

I left work on Thursday and went straight to Kobe Rokko Terminal, to board my ferry. As I had booked the lowest (read: cheapest) fare - to sleep on tatami mats, instead of in a hotel-like room, I full expected to spend the overnight trip sitting in the tatami mat area, amidst people talking and kids crying, trying to get comfortable enough to sleep, but mostly just staring out the window. I was very wrong. The ferry was beautiful!

I shared a room with up to 16 other women (but there were only 7 or so). I had a mat and blanket and pillow to myself - and that was just my sleeping room! The ferry was beautiful with observation desks, a souveneir shop, restaurant, bathrooms, showers, and - an onsen! Actually, it was called a 'Scenic Bathroom'...the onsen window looked out into the ocean. When I got on the ferry, after finding my room (which thrilled me to no end), I was super excited to explore the rest of the ferry. The only downside to it was that there was no one to pull around to explore every nook and cranny. I found myself being super excited, but not having anyone to share it with. (Sidenote: It reminded me that I am single. Being single can be lonely; not just being alone at the time, but knowing that there is no other person, in general. But I only allowed myself to ponder my single-ness and alone-ness for a moment.) I watched the ferry pull away from the dock from the observation deck, perused the ridiculously expensive souveneir shop, and went to check out the bathrooms. As soon as I saw the Scenic Bathroom, I ran right back down a deck to get my shower things, and promptly had a lovely shower, and sat in the onsen looking out the window (into the pitch black, because the sun had set. But it was still wonderful.) :) I ate the supper that I brought (due to canadasue warning me about ferry prices), and walked around the upper deck for quite a while. I did circles around the deck, up the stairs, and down, listened to my music, and watched the clouds and the stars. I almost wished I didn't have a lovely bed to go to, so I could have an excuse to stay outside all night and walk, listen, and watch. It was so relaxing and comforting. But - I didn't want to be too tired to enjoy my time in Oita, so I soon crawled onto my mat and slept. I woke up just before we docked, with enough time to pack up my things and eat my breakfast on the observation dock (beautiful sunny skies, and fresh sea air!). I caught the shuttle bus to Oita station, and found my way to the bus I needed. (Quite proud of myself, for that one. It was a little confusing to find the right bus and where it stopped.) I took the bus to Daigaku Byouin, and called Debbie, who came to pick me up.

When I got to Debbie's, she had to finish packing up her baking, so I relaxed on the couch and read cookbooks. I think I've mentioned it before, but I love to cook and bake (I can't wait to have my own kitchen again!!)....and Debbie has shelves and shelves of cookbooks. It was marvellous.

I read several of them straight through, and found myself wishing for some ingredients and a fully-equipped kitchen. I went with Debbie and Misa to drop off her baking at JAGG house - a beautiful handmade good store. The shop was full of furniture and goods - country style. I wish I had taken a picture! All things handmade, and some not - artwork, furniture, decorations, kitchen things.... it was marvellous to explore! It was sort of like an indoor farmer's market store.

After JAGG house, we stopped at Starbucks, and then had some lunch at home. We had leftover curry (delicious) - I love curry. After lunch, Debbie and Misa and I visited Oita Art Museum.

As Art Museums do, it had all of confusing, strange, mesmerizing, and beautiful art. There were two parts - the regular display, as well as a special European display. I took one picture, but got dame'd and asked not to take anymore. There were a few particularly beautiful pieces, especially in the European display. There was one of a shepherd and his sheep, with moonlight coming over a hill in the distance - it looked so real; as though there was actually a light situated behind the picture, casting a dim glow over the sheep. There was also one of a woman in a gorgeous dress - I wish we still wore dresses like that! We also noticed that in most of the pictures, everyone looked quite unhappy - we determined it must be because of the corsets, which probably didn't let them breathe.

While I have travelled quite a bit in Japan, and been on several 'vacations', this was truly a vacation weekend. I spent quite a bit of time on Friday sitting on the couch reading cookbooks, napping, and chatting. Surprisingly, I wasn't bored at all! It was just lovely to relax. Besides the relaxation, it was nice to be in a house again - with family pictures, knick knacks, arguing siblings, and people milling about. It was wonderful to be around family again - even if it wasn't mine.

Debbie, Misa, Akira and I had dinner at Joyful, with their friend Teddy-O (I'm sure that's NOT how you spell her name, but that's how it sounded to me. :) ). We had a delicious dinner with a drink bar - and I drank a lot of tea. I love tea. The restaurant (Joyfull) was sort of a Denny's-style (except Japanese). I was impressed at how Debbie and her kids converse in both English and Japanese (I suppose I shouldn't be surprised; they grew up in Japan and she's lived there 20 years), but they spoke in Japanese and English, often switching several times in a conversation.

They also have a dog, named Ginny. A huge dog; who isn't very friendly to strangers. Debbie was very careful to make sure Ginny didn't get too close to me, and if she growled, she was put outside. But by the end of the weekend, Ginny was lying near my feet without so much as a glare, and I would like to think we were sort of friends. Or at least indifferent acquaintences.

Friday was exactly how a true summer vacation should be - a few activities in air conditioned buildings, good food, relaxing on a couch, some reading, napping, music, and conversation. It reminded me of the good ol' days - summer vacation. Before jobs and summer responsibilities.

Tropical Paradise (Okinawa Part I)

I love planes. You could put me on a plane and just fly me in a circle and I would be thrilled. But - put a tropical island on the other end of that flight...and you get my weekend vacation.

I slept in - it was marvellous. I rarely sleep in, really. Then I met Keith and Alex at Osaka Station for some ice cream, before heading to Kansai Airport. We got some more icecream (mmm Black Sesame), met up with Thomas, and boarded the plane... Keith, Alex and I were in one row, and Thomas was a bit further up in the plane. The 2 hour flight passed one point, the left window was completely dark, and the right window seemed perfectly light. I turned my head left-and-right-and-left-and-right until my neck started to hurt. Thomas captured a beautiful picture of the approaching night...

Then there the spoon episode. Alex decided to see if flicking me with a spoon would hurt. It did. A lot. Imprint-of-a-spoon-on-my-arm-a-lot. This was followed by me trying to flick him back and inflict an equal amount of pain, and him flicking himself with the same intent. Needless to say, this entertained us for a portion of the flight. But I did have an imprint of a spoon on my arm.

We arrived in Naha, Okinawa at around 9pm. The bus we thought we were going to take didn't exist, so we took a taxi. Keith had made reservations at the City Front Harumi Hostel, so we checked in and found our rooms. Ojisan (as we came to call him; meaning Grandpa or a respectful title for an older man) was very friendly and helpful in getting us settled and oriented in Naha.

The guys shared a room, and I (being a female and all) was in a different room. My room was shared with an older lady and a younger Down's Syndrome lady. They were very friendly and I had a short conversation with them before meeting the guys to go find some dinner. This proved more difficult than we thought, as most places were closed. But we wandered the busy highway a bit and found a family-style restaurant for some good eats. By that time, it was late, and we hit the bunkbeds for some sleep.

The next morning, I woke up feeling wonderful. I did enjoy my night at Miyajima, but I have to admit that sleeping in a real bed does top the great outdoors. The older lady in my room gave me some pretty little flowers, which I promptly put in my hair - they made me feel very tropical. We picked up some breakfast at the convenience store, and waited for our bus. A taxi driver offered to drive us up to our destination, for 1000Yen each. The bus was going to be about 900Yen each, so we took him up on his offer. And I'm so glad we did...

He was hilarious. He talked (loudly and animatedly) in broken English, for the majority of the ride. He told us about his family, and his 104 year old Mother and 108 year old Father (apparently the oldest couple in Japan), his large family, and his capabilities. He informed us that he had 8 licenses (later it was 9), and could build houses, drive cranes, scuba drive, drive motorbikes.... an all-around handy guy to know. When we asked him questions, he often paused and then went off on a tangent about something completely unrelated. My questions, he just ignored (I think he just didn't hear me...). We spent most of the trip giggling and keeping him talking - to our great amusement. When we disembarked the taxi, I asked him for a picture - he was definitely a character to remember!

When we got to our destination (a bit early), we explored a bit. We saw a sign for a steakhouse, and went 'a wandering to see if we could find it (which we couldn't).

Our destination? Snorkelling! We dressed in wetsuits and flippers and snorkelling gear, and crammed into a mini-minivan (not a Canadian sized mini-van), for a hot drive to the beach. When I say hot, I do not mean warm. I mean hot, hot, HOT! Sweat-dripping-down-your-face hot. We got stuck in traffic for a bit, and I had a short nap - that was all I could do; I couldn't move, and I was much too hot. But we finally arrived! It was a fun adventure, following our guide around the reef and the cave. We were even given some fish food and got to feed them!

After our snorkelling adventure, we decided that it was essential to find the steakhouse. It turned out to be a Movie House Steakhouse! The exterior and interior were decorated with movie posters of all genres. It was great fun to wander and look at the posters, and the steak was delicious!

In finding the steak house, we had found a small resort area, and explored it after lunch. Feeling extra tropical, I added to my hair bouquet some larger (okay, huge) flowers that I had found.

We wandered up the highway, trying to find a nice beach. We didn't find a beach, but we did find ice cream!

It was hot (did I mention that?), so we finally went back to the sort-of beach near the steakhouse. We tiptoed our way our towards the water, through the warm puddles, sharp shells, and broken coral. Getting to the water was difficult enough. Swimming in it proved even harder.

The water wasn't very shallow, but it was filled with all kinds of sea anemones and cucumbers and other mysterious sea creatures. We tiptoed and floated our way to slightly deeper water, and decided (for safety reasons) not to try and go further. I laid out like a starfish and floated...the blue sky and the clouds, the warm salty was definitely a tropical paradise. Until I tried to stop floating, and stepped on a sea anemone. Ouch. But my foot didn't go numb and my head didn't explode, so I figured I would survive. After quite a while, we realized that the tide was coming in...right towards our shoes. So we started heading back - Thomas got back first, and discovered that Keith's hiking boots were floating, and my sandal had lost it's hubby. That made for an interesting trip back to the sand - tip toeing and jumping up when I stepped on sharp points. But we made it. I ventured to a beach house and purchased a new set of flipflops, and we headed for the bus top. A taxi stopped again and offered us the same deal. Unfortunately, this driver was not near as entertaining as the last one, and we mostly kept the conversation to ourselves.

After a cool shower to rid ourselves of the sweat, sand, and salt of the day, hung out for a few minutes in the hostel's common room. Alex played the guitar a bit (as he did anytime we were around the common room), and we enjoyed the AC for a bit. I borrowed a needle from Ojisan to remove the leftover sea anemone from my still-painful foot. The piece left in me was actually quite large and painful to get out, and brought a lot of blood with it! Ojisan's wife (Obasan) gave me a bit of cleaner and a bandaid to fix it up, and we took off for another evening of Kokusaidori - Naha's international street.

We explored the shops, had some Okinawan-style Udon, and found a guitar shop (which entertained Alex for quite a while). Alex and I shared some dragonfruit and passionfruit - neither of which I had ever eaten (yummy!). There may have been some ice cream in there too...hehe.

Temples & Shrines all over Japan are often guarded by Shishi - lionlike protectors that are said to have magical powers to ward off evil. They guard in pairs; one female, one male; one open-mouthed, one closed; one symbolizing the beginning of time, the other the end. We also found them all over Okinawa - and they are a popular tourist souvenir. Every souvenir shop has them in all kinds of colors and styles, some funny, some scary. My favorite shop was filled with these - in every shape, size, and color - but they were handmade. (The other shops were mass manufactured.) The man who made them was selling them, and was midway through painting one when we were there. I bought two gorgeous statues - quite large, actually - for only $40! I was thrilled (still am) with my purchase... a reasonable price, authentically culturally Japanese, and not made in China!

When the street and shops started to close down, we visited a Canadian-run place for some snacks and a drink. We also tried Okinawa's snake wine.

It tasted surprisingly good, but it was still a little strange to drink... after some laughs and relaxation, we headed back to the hostel for the night.

More Pictures...
A Friend's Flckr Pictures...

Part Two coming soon...

Tuesday, July 22

Fuji Adventures (Part II - The Definitely UNplanned Part)

Eric and Robert were still up the mountain, probably on their way down. We were all ready to head back to Kawaguchiko Station and home - hot, exhausted, but feeling rather proud of ourselves.

"Still at the top. Haven't seen Robert." - text message from Eric.

Uh-oh. Eric and Robert were not together. Eric was at the top, okay. Robert was not. That's okay, we'll just wait....

We couldn't get ahold of Robert. At 1pm, we still hadn't gotten in touch with him - Rumiko and I spoke to the local police, and gave them his description and explained the situation. We were worried, but not too worried - we just figured he was on his way down slowly.

At 3pm, it was time for our bus to leave, but we weren't going to leave Robert and Eric up the mountain by themselves. So most of the students left, but Rumiko, Qijin, Alex, and me stayed. We were able to get in touch with Eric again, and asked him to come down the mountain - hopefully meeting up with Robert on the way. When Eric showed up at 6pm, without Robert, we realized we needed to do something. Robert was not on his way down, he doesn't have tons of outdoor experience soon, and it would be getting dark soon. The police station was closed; no one answered the phone, either.

I am (by nature) a worrier. I was quite proud of myself throughout the day for keeping my worrying to a minimum. Worrying doesn't help, and the chances that something was seriously wrong were small. But by now, we were all a little worried -and rightfully so. We decided that before we did anything drastic, we should call Jenny (our coop coordinator) in Canada, and let her know what was going on, and get her opinion on what to do. I was nominated to call (how did that happen?!). I'll be honest - I was getting really worried about Robert; add to that calling Jenny at 2am to tell her that we lost someone on Mount stomach was doing sommersaults, and I was worrying, nervous, and a little scared.

It was 2am on Saturday morning in Canada - I left a voicemail message on Jenny's blackberry and Yuko's (other coordinator) cellphone. Then we got Jenny's home number and I called it - she answered the phone. Her first question was, "Are you alright??" - I assured her I was, but that we had a small problem. She suggested that we make sure he hadn't left the mountain and was back in his dorm, and that I call Takemori-San to see what he would suggest (as he would be more aware of who might be able to help find him). While Alex tried to get ahold of someone at the dorm, I called Takemori-San. He was also concerned, and said he would make some phone calls to see what he could do. He called me back soon after and said that the local police would be looking for Robert.

Two hikers walked by(who looked like they spoke English), coming down from the mountain, so I asked if they had seen Robert. To my surprise - and great relief - they said they might have. I yelled for Alex, and he and Qijin got directions to where they may have seen him, and took off back up the mountain. 3 people to worry about. It was getting dark, and shortly after Alex and Qijin left, it started raining. We got a phone call from Alex saying that they wouldn't let them go further up the mountain without flashlights and raingear. It was about 7:30pm, dark, and raining. But we needed to find Robert, and soon. Rumiko and Eric took flashlights and jackets, and went to meet Alex and Qijin. I stayed at the bottom, 3 cellphones in hand, hoping and praying that everyone would make it back.

I was standing under a small shelter, in the dark and pouring rain. To be honest, I was pretty worried and scared - 5 of my friends were up the mountain, it was dark and pouring rain, there was nothing I could do but wait, and I felt somewhat in charge and responsible for the situation.

Just as Alex and Qijin were getting their stuff from Rumi and Eric, they got a call that someone had found Robert. Alex and Qijin headed up the mountain (again) to meet Robert and his rescuer partway up. 'Breathing a sigh of relief' would be an understatement; but I was still a little nervous, hoping that everyone would make it back safely. Finally, Rumi & Eric emerged from the darkness, and started to figure out how we could get home (definitely missed our bus). At about 9pm, Alex, Qijin, and Robert also emerged from the darkness.

I haven't been so excited to see three people in a long time. Robert was okay - wet, sunburnt, hungry, and tired - but okay. We were all relieved and happy to climb on the last bus back to Kawaguchiko Station. Unfortunately, the night wasn't over yet - but most of the stress was. We realized that we couldn't get home that night - the trains would stop running when we were halfway there. So instead, we spent the night at an inn near the station.

It was extra trouble and stress, because we wouldn't be at work on Monday morning. But we all got in touch with our supervisors to let them know, and I decided that I was going to enjoy the night in the Inn. Might as well, there's nothing else we can do! Japanese hotels & inns have a sort of Yukatta - pajamas, if you will. I convinced Rumi to wear them too, and we ventured to the 7-11 in them. :)

Again - note how funny I look in a Japanese getup

We also met a random friend named Dustin. He was wandering around the train station, looking a little lost, while we were trying to figure out if we could get home. He kept getting closer, so finally I said, "Hi! You look lost!" Turns out he was, and he was happy to meet some English speaking people.

He was also stuck there for the night (planning to climb Fuji with friends, but missed his bus up to the mountain) - so I invited him to tag along with us. He got a room, the three guys got a tatami mat room, and Rumi and I got a room. We went to the 7-11 for some food (nothing else was open), and had a mini celebration party before we finally went to bed (at 1am).

(Random friend Dustin on the left...)

At 5am, bright and early, I woke up and jumped out of bed and - couldn't move. My legs were in so much pain. Scratch that. All of me was in so much pain. The dreaded after-hiking pain. I shuffled my way to the bathroom, fell into the shower, and attempted to wash the dirt, sunscreen, and pain away. The first two went. The latter didn't. We caught the first train at 5:20am, and split up part way. Alex and Robert went North; Rumiko and I and Eric headed south. After a convoluted combination of trains and Shinkansen, I got home at noon. Takemori-San (kindly) told me I could wait until the afternoon to come into work, so I had some lunch and then went into work.

And that is the end of the Fuji saga. A great hike, beautiful sunrise, long desert, volcano full of stress, late nights, fun Inn, much pain, $450 extra, and a half a day at work later...we survived, and we're all safe - which is what counts. But - it was quite the adventure!

Fuji Adventures (Part I - The Planned Part)

Mount Fuji is the highest point in Japan. (Incidentally, I have also been to the lowest 'mountain' in Japan - Tempozan. It's a grand total of 4 meters high, and considered Japan's lowest mountain.) Mount Fuji is a dormant volcano - it last erupted in November 1707. It's 3776 m (12388.45 feet) above sea level. There are many climbs you can do, the longest taking over 20 hours. We decided to do a shorter one (limited time, large group with various fitness levels) - and took a bus to the 5th Station. But I'm getting ahead of myself... let's start from the beginning...

I jumped on the bus at Namba, and dozed until Rumiko got on in Kyoto. We had a lovely trip, with intermittant sleeping and ice cream at 2am. Doesn't get much better than that! We met up with Matt at Shinjuku, when we finally arrived in Tokyo. Getting off the bus I was almost chilly, but it soon warmed up to that nice Japan summer... sticky and sweaty and hot hot hot! The three of us explored Shinjuku and Shibuya. Rumi and I were on a mission - we wanted to bring a cake up Mount Fuji. It was Alex's birthday the week before, and we decided to have a surprise-on-top-of-Mt-Fuji-party for him. We found a nice caramel cake that wouldn't squish too easily in my backpack.

We headed back to Shinjuku for 3pm to meet the rest of the coop students, and caught our bus to Kawaguchiko Station. Even the bus ride up was fun....a little napping, and a little snacking, and some giggles. Alex had brought a big bag of banana chips, nuts, and dried plums. (I've learned that you can always count on Alex to have some kind of awesome food, or find some. I think like hanging around with this guy!) I haven't seen banana chips since I got here, so I was pretty psyched to try some (so was Rumiko) ...."Banana Chips?!?"

At Kawaguchiko Station, we had some lunch (Horse meat, anyone? Actually tasted pretty good!) and caught another bus up to Kawaguchiko 5th Station at 2305 meters. We started climbing by 9:30pm...

The first part of the climb was great - we split up into two groups, one a bit faster, and headed up the mountain. Since it was evening, the hot sun was gone, and we were moving pretty quickly. We stopped to chat and snack and have a break. Partway up, somewhere after the 6th station, we caught upto the people. It was a little crowded, but not too bad - we moved our way through and still kept up a good pace. But after one of the many 7th stations, the people multiplied. By this time, we had split up a bit further; Alex and Keith and I were ahead of our original group of 7 or so. Alex booted it on ahead from there, and Keith and I hiked together for a bit. We took four steps or so, then waited, stuck in the crowd, for a few minutes. 4 more steps. Wait. 5 steps! Wait. 4 steps..... we were able to go around the crowds a bit, and get ahead, but it was still slow going. Alex got bored and waited for us, then the three of us kept moving. Slowly. Keith got lost in the crowd somewhere, and Alex and I finally decided we had had enough. It was after 3:30am, and we wanted to make it to the top for the sunrise. So, we got serious. We dodged and weaved and pushed and shoved (only a little) and fought our way up and around the masses. And we made it!

We got to the top just after 4am, stopped at the bathroom then booked it for a peak on the mountain, to watch the sunrise. Just as it started, a body fell on us from behind, and Keith rolled beside us to watch, too. There are no words to describe how incredible it was to watch the sunrise, so I'll just let it speak for itself.

We waited for the rest of the group to catch up. The top of the mountain was freezing cold, and everyone was pretty exhausted.

Rumi and I quickly organized the impromptu birthday party for Alex, everyone had a bite of cake, and we decided to go down. Everyone was there except 3 students; one was waiting for us partway down, and the other two had been left together, moving at a slower pace.

You know those movies where people are walking through the desert, without food, water, or hope. Their limbs are limp, their feet drag...their faces are dirty and their eyes are glazed over.

That was us. The 'trail' (if you can call it that) down has no vegetation, no shade, no grass, no life. It is endless switchbacks of red dirt and rock, in 40 degree heat. I felt like the living dead, and probably looked it, judging by how some of the other people looked. We were tired, hot, hungry, and the switchbacks just kept on coming....

We finally made it down around 10am, and gained a bit more energy - having completed the climb, and conquered Mount Fuji. It had been about 7 hours up, and 4 hours down. We had met up with the one coop student on the way down, and were just waiting for the other two to make it down. We tried calling them, but cell service was pretty we sat in some shade (still ridiculously hot, though), rested our legs, and waited. Little did we know, our day was just beginning...

More Pictures...

Friday, July 18

Quick Update...

I'm sorry for taking so long to put up an update... I've had a little bit of a stressful week. :)

I climbed Mount Fuji last was a great trip, with a beautiful sunrise, but an adventure at the end. One of the coop students got lost on the mountain, and finding him included calling Canada, my supervisor, the police, and climbing partway back up the mountain. We ended up missing our rides home, and stayed the night at an Inn. Everything wokred out alright, though...we found him and he wasn't hurt. I did get to work on Monday, albeit a little bit late.

Today I am flying down to Okinawa for the weekend. It should be an awesome weekend!

When I get back, I will post the Mt. Fuji story with some pictures, and some new Okinawa stories and pictures!

Friday, July 11

To Do List

Here today, gone tomorrow!

Time is flying by - and there's still lots to do! I definitely had some lull time in March and April, but things have picked up (to say the least).

Here's what I'm up to...

July 11-13: Tokyo; Climbing Mt. Fuji
July 18-21: Okinawa
July 25-27: Oita (hopefully...still working out the details!)
August 1-3: Izu Peninsula
August 7th: Final Presentation (in Japanese...ahh!) at work, & Jo-Anna comes!
August 8th: Last day of work
August 8-10: Mt. Fuji (again) with Jo-Anna, and Tokyo Sightseeing
August 11-15: Kansai sightseeing & adventures with Jo-Anna
August 16th: Flying home to Kelowna!

This leaves me approximately.... no empty weekends, a lot to do, and not much time until I go home! However - there's lots of time for adventures between now and then...

Monday, July 7

Bravery & Cheese

On Friday, I was on my way home when I spotted a tall, Caucasian, super curly red-headed kid. He asked someone a question in super broken Japanese, and hopped on my train just as the doors closed. He was standing right beside me, so as a part of my resolution to be more outgoing, I smiled and said, "English?!" He looked really flustered, and said..."yeah..." We talked for a few minutes. Every time I looked at him or smiled at him, he answered, but got really flustered. I think he just got out of highschool, because he said that he had just finished a Socials exam before he came to Japan. He told me that he had just come to Japan to 'check it out'. I asked if he was alone, and he said he was. In all honesty, I was a little shocked! I said, "You just came to Japan - by yourself - to check it out?!?!" He said, "Uh...yeah." Me: "Wow! That's insane. I don't think I could be that brave!"

Oh, the irony? I realized, just after I said that, that I came to Japan - by myself - to live here. By myself. But I was still so shocked that he would do that - and my initial reaction was shock at his bravery.

On a cheesier note...(hehe)

My boss invited me to join him for dinner this evening; he was meeting an old friend at the company and the friend's assistant. We met them in a beautiful little area around Osaka Station that I had never seen! The wall in the courtyard was stone and flowing water. The walk and patio was all cobblestone - it seemed like it should be out of old Europe, or something.

We had a lovely dinner of cheese fondue, salad, and a few other things. I had a glass of wine, and dessert was some delicious yoghurt with fruit cubes on top. I practiced my Japanese a bit, but still spent quite a bit of dinner just listening to them.

It was a nice evening, and delicious!

On another note...I am currently obsessed with raisins. They're soo yummy!

Saturday, July 5

My Canada Day 2008

I've realized how proud I am to be Canadian; to be from this country that I have never appreciated like I should. This Canada Day, I was fortunate to be able to celebrate with many people who appreciate Canada, and some of the people that make our country so awesome.

I was invited to a Canada Day dinner, put on by the Kansai Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Takemori-San and I were invited as guests of Peter MacArthur, Senior Trade Commissioner to Japan. I assumed that the invitation was a standard, "So-and-so invites you to such-and-such...", so I was a bit surprised (but delighted) when Mr. MacArthur not only met us at the door, but spent the majority of his evening engaging us in conversation, inviting us to enjoy the delicious meal, and introducting us to various people.

The dinner itself (and dessert, for that matter!) was delicious. Amazing food, both in taste and presentation. There was a wide variety of salads - pasta salads, lettuce salads, fruit salads, seafood salads. Infinite meat and seafood dishes - prawns, roast beef, chicken. Potatoes, roasted vegetables, buns, bread. Dessert was pies and cheesecake and fruit salad and miniature fruity brownies. There was red wine, white wine, and the most delicious Ice Wine. I'm not sure I've had Ice Wine before - or if I have, it wasn't that great because I don't remember! But this Ice Wine was wonderful.

The evening began with introductory comments by the MC's; Carlos Ramirez (Kansai Governor Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan) and Yumiko Nagoshi (Assistant Manager, International Division, Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry). Remarks followed by Mr. Joseph Caron (Canadian Ambassador to Japan), Mr. Ryuichiro Yamazaki (Ambassador, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Osaka Office), and Mr. Iwao Takai (President, The Canada Japan Society of the Kansai) - followed by a toast by Ms. Patricia Bader-Johnston (President of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan). The majority of the speeches were made in both Japanese and English (with the speakers translating themselves), but Mr. Takai began his speech with Canada Day congratulations in French! His few words in French elicted smiles and laughs from everyone, and I was impressed both by his small bit of French, and my ability to understand it! (I studied French for 6 years, but haven't used it for 3!)

Myself, Mr. MacArthur, & Takemori-San

I hadn't realized that Canadians were so active in Japan or specifically in the Kansai region! I learned that there are just over 2000 Canadians living in the Kansai region - I never would have guessed that there were so many. There is much business and interaction between the Kansai region and Canada, and there are great relationship and plans in place to build on it. (I also learned that unfortunately, due to fuel costs, Air Canada will be cancelling it's Vancouver-Osaka route.)

Near the end of the evening, there were several draw prizes up to be won. To my surprise, as I was being introduced to Ambassador Caron, my name was called! I won some 100% Organic Maple Syrup. Let me tell you - I will never buy any other form of syrup again. I was planning on giving it to Takemori-San, as he had mentioned earlier how happy his wife would be if he won some - but he won some as well! After the majority of the prizes, there was one left - a BBQ set; complete with a BBQ, gas, lawn chairs, torches, cup coolers, a big blue and white cooler, and some other things. I said to Takemori-San, "Wouldn't it be cool if you won it?" And he just laughed. Guess what. Yep, he won it. The look on his face was priceless.

I was fortunate enough to meet many important and influential people that evening - all of whom were very kind, friendly, and interesting! Aside from Mr. MacArthur, to whom I was privileged to spend a large part of the evening talking to, I also met (among others): Ambassador Caron, Ms. Bader-Johnston, and Mr. Allan Edwards (Consul and Senior Trade Commissioner). Mr. Edwards was a delight to talk to - he was very animated and excited; extremely charismatic! He was from Cranbrook (I worked near Cranbrook last year) and has visited Kelowna; so we found a few points in common. I found myself wishing I had gotten more time to speak with him - I'm sure he has many interesting stories and would be an infinite source of knowledge of many things. He did poke fun at the Kelowna Rockets, but as I left, he called it a tie between the Kooteney Ice and the Rockets. Ambassador Caron was friendly as well, and interested in the coop program and strengthening ties between Canada and Kansai businesses, such as Osaka Gas. He was a pleasure to talk to, although I missed a bit of the conversation in picking up my Maple Syrup prize!

Myself, Takemori-San, and Ambassador Caron

Ms. Bader-Johnston was also wonderful to talk to - we discussed school, Engineering, and the coop program. Her niece is in Chemical Engineering and just started working; between these topics and Japan, we had a lovely conversation. She was quick to tell me that if I ever needed a place to stay in Tokyo, I should let her know! I would have loved to have a chance to speak with her more, as well, and I hope to meet her again one day! Amidst playing host, Mr. MacArthur was also very interesting to talk to, and a big supporter of the coop program. It was neat to hear his perspective and to find him so supportive of the program; I also learned that they are very interested in expanding and increasing the program and it's scope - which I think is great! He also won a prize - the grand price: an iPod Touch! However, he was deep in conversation when they called his name, and it took a few moments of several people yelling his name across the room to get him to claim his prize. He told me afterwards that he thought he had won some CDs, before realizing what it was! He was a wonderful host, and I was glad to meet him, as well as appreciative of the introductions and conversation.

Myself, Mr. Edwards, & Takemori-San

The night was a lot of fun, and it was encouraging to see the connections between Kansai and Japan, and become more aware of how important they are to each other, and how many people are supporting and building on that! It was a pleasure to meet so many people; both Canadians and Japanese. It also encouraged me to find out more about Canada and the role we play in world economics, and the role other countries play in our economy! They say that the more you learn, the less you know - - I can't agree more!

Canada Day 2008 was a success - and a great memory. :)