Daily life in Japan

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Video: ups and downs – How I Joined a Japanese Choir

It’s been many months and summer is almost here. Cherry blossoms have bloomed and fallen. During the holidays and into the spring, a few bumps along the way led to headaches and delays. Beneath all that however were the trips, festivals, and most importantly the people there to push you through those times. In Nagasaki, one such group does that through the magic of music.

A special thanks to The Nagasaki Foreign Settlement Glee Club. I love you all and couldn’t have done this without you!

Sorry for the delay. Had to borrow a friend’s computer to do this! Thanks so much Matt!

Music:
Hold Me Down – Foreign Fields
いざ起て戦人よ – Sung by the Nagasaki Foreign Settlement Glee Club
ふるさと – Sung by the Nagasaki Foreign Settlement Glee Club

 

For camera nerds:

Sony a6000

Sony 50mm F1.8 (most used in this video)

Sony 16-50mm F3.5-5.6

Rokinon 12mm F2.0

Premiere Pro CC 2015

Check out my previous episode on traveling to Yakushima and Tanegashima, and taking video of the stars above Japan.

Group of skydivers social skydiving

How to Social Skydive in Japan

So you came to Japan ready to start a new life full of experiences and adventure.

At first, everything is cool, fresh and new. Novel. You’re excited about seeing all the places, and meeting all the people. You’re also excited about tackling this new beast of a language: Japanese.

But after that initial love affair with Japan, the novelty wears off. You start to get comfortable. You stay inside the house more. You’ve been working a lot. You’re tired. Visits to new cool Japanese restaurants become replaced with cheap and easy konbini bentos. Worse than comfortable, you start to stagnate as a human being.

Living in Japan comes with its unique set of challenges.

Those challenges include but are not limited to:

  • Risking embarrassment learning and using the language;
  • Breaking unfamiliar social norms;
  • Being judged as a clumsy, ignorant foreigner no matter how well you speak Japanese, and no matter how well you know the culture;
  • Not knowing how to make friends with Japanese people and expand your social circle in a culture where social groups are so tight-knit;
  • Not knowing how to graduate from just “teaching English to get that visa”, to doing the work you truly want to do;
  • And feeling isolated from society and getting bitter about life in Japan in general.

Not even saying these things are the objective reality of living in Japan. I’m just saying its easy to interpret many of the daily occurences as instances of these challenges happening. Basically, even if it’s all in your head, the struggle is real.

And these struggles mixed with the other normal stresses of life can start to weigh down on you, causing you to want to take it easy. It they can cause you to want to stay inside your comfort zone and NOT spend the effort it takes to build an amazing social circle of friends, and tackle your life aspirations.

“Nah man, It’s cool. I think I’ll stay home tonight and “relax”, rather than going out tonight and spending the effort to make new friends and find new opportunities.”

“I think I’ll take it easy tonight and study Japanese tomorrow. I mean, my Japanese is already OK I guess…”

“I really want to audition for that role in that new Japanese TV show, but I don’t know. My Japanese probably isn’t good enough. I’ll just skip the audition this time and try out next time.

Pack your parachutes, it’s time for Social Skydiving

Social skydiving is the art of challenging yourself by putting yourself in unique social situations that you may not have the chance to encounter on a day-to-day basis, in order to develop more confidence and consequently, improve your overall social life.

Just like feeling the fear of jumping out of a plane can be exciting, scary, and fun, so can placing yourself in novel social scenarios.

This can include talking to strangers in public areas, dancing in public, making absurd requests to strangers, or anything that puts social pressure on you such as singing Happy Birthday to yourself in a crowded restaurant (see video below!).

Social skydiving is also popularly known as rejection therapy and was made well-known by a badass dude called Jia Jiang in his 100 rejection therapy challenges.

I like to distinguish between “rejection therapy” and “social skydiving.” Whereas rejection therapy is for people who have social anxiety and want to use “therapy” to get to “normal”, social skydiving is to go above and beyond what is considered normal. On the level of application they are the same, but they have slightly different end goals.

You can read more into detail about what social skydiving in Japan is, and follow me on my social skydiving journey here.

To social skydive is to challenge yourself to an exciting adventure. Social Skydiving will change your life both in Japan, and anywhere you go.

Why is Japan a great place to social skydive?

Actually, any place is a great place to social skydive. However, there are a few great reasons I can think of for why I love social skydiving in Japan.

  • You can expand your social circle and meet cool new people and open yourself to new opportunities.

Sure, you can always make friends through social circles, your local bars, work connections, and etc.. But when you start challenging yourself with new, crazy social interactions you build more confidence. And that confidence will open up new doors of opportunity to meet people in ways that might surprise you.

Having those opportunities in a place where foreigners are often seen as being different can actually have a very cool effect! You might find yourself on TV, modeling for Abercrombie and Fitch, breakdancing and tricking with the best underground circles in Tokyo.

Who really knows! The possibilities are endless and depend upon who you are and what your interests are.

  • It gives you a fresh way of practicing Japanese.

One of the biggest problems that people have when learning Japanese is that they are to afraid to speak it (me included!). They are embarrassed about how they will be percieved by the Japanese people if they make mistakes.

I invite you to challenge that embarrassment by purposefully placing yourself in an absurd situation like asking the Japanese police to drive their car.

Not only does it help you overcome your fear of speaking Japanese but you are simultaneously practicing Japanese as well. This is exactly what Moses McCormick and Benny the Irish Polygot, two established polygots, talk about in this popular article.

  • It gives you insight into how the Japanese would react in a given situation.

One of the reasons you’re in Japan is to learn about the culture. Doing these wacky challenges in Japan has surprised me so much at the way the Japanese people will react. It’s unexpected, and its really a lot of fun.

It has taught me that my expectations of what will happen do not always match up with the reality of what will happen if I try.

The only thing I ask is that you always put the other person’s feelings first, and never do anything that would cause the other person shame and embarrassment.

Otherwise, please go out and embarrass yourself, as that’s a part of social skydiving. Place yourself in new social situations that may be intense or embarrassing, so that you overcome fear of that embarrassment and as a result live a more free, uninhibited social life!

How to start Social Skydiving today

Start small. Start with something you know you could do, but would make you feel a bit uncomfortable, and work from there. Remember that its impossible to do the impossible. I started by saying “hello ” to one hundred people on the street.

Make it too hard, and you won’t do it.

It’s like lifting weights. You don’t walk into a gym your first day never having worked out, and try to squat 500 lbs right?

Same with social skydiving. Just make it a bit outside your comfort zone.

Set a quota and stick to it. Give yourself a quota like “25 challenges” or “100 challenges.” You could even set a time frame like “30 challenges – one challenge per day for the next month.” I am personally committing to 25 challenges for my current project I’m documenting.

I also did a social skydiving challenge before, in which I first said “hello” to 100 strangers on the street. Then I did a second challenge in which I started conversations with 100 strangers.

At first I was very shy about all of this, but I started small and worked my way up.

No matter how hard it may seem in the beginning, I know you can do it too. No matter what level you are at in terms of social shyness/confidence, you always need to start with a challenge that is appropriate to you.

Document it! Please don’t skip this step because it’s super important to integrating your mental insights with the experience of doing the challenges.

You could write in a journal about it. You could blog about it. You could make videos and upload them to YouTube (heck, I do all three!). You must give yourself some opportunity to reflect on your experiences so that you can later go back and review the progression of your attitude and mindset.

This is not only super motivating, as you can literally see yourself growing into a stronger, more confident person but it also ensures that you learn all the lessons that social skydiving has to teach!

Find friends to social skydive with. This isn’t a requirement. But its amazing the difference you will feel in being motivated to do this if you have a buddy to share experiences with, and hold each other accountable.

When I did my first set of social skydiving challenges, I didn’t have anyone to share it with. I just did the challenges and wrote about them in my journal.

This time, I have friends who are also doing this to go out with and share my experiences with. We can also really push each other to expand our comfort zones – much more than if we were doing this alone.

Try to find someone interested to do this with you! I’m sure you will enjoy social skydiving much much more.

Go out, and sail the social skies!

That’s it for now. I hope you are as excited about going on this adventure as I am.

If you are interested in seeing me do and talk about my social skydiving in Japan project, give my YouTube a check.

For more written articles about social skydiving in Japan check out the official list of challenges in this article.

For articles about Japan life, learning Japanese, and living a fun and inspiring life in Japan, check out http://tonymichaelhead.com.

For social skydiving in Japan updates and other Japan related fun, check out my Twitter: https://twitter.com/tonymichaelhead

If you enjoy the expression of lifestyle through photos, give my Instagram a look: https://www.instagram.com/tonyingunma/

I really want to hear about your stories and experiences with Social Skydiving as well!

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Video: under the stars – Filming the Night Skies of Japan

A trip to the islands of Yakushima and Tanegashima at the beginning of fall provided an opportunity to visit one of the most picturesque landscapes Japan has to offer. My favourite photos however whether back home in Canada or in Japan, are taken simply by pointing my camera up into the night sky.

My longest video thus far with over 1500 km driven for footage around Kyushu and about 2 months to film everything, hope you enjoy!

For camera nerds:

Sony a6000

Sony 50mm F1.8

Sony 16-50mm F3.5-5.6

Rokinon 12mm F2.0 (most used in this video)

Premiere Pro CS6

Check out my previous episode on Nagasaki and my summer adventures.

The city of Ina

Nagano’s hidden gem: The city of Ina

For my first assignment for my new job as a National Relief Teacher  (traveling English substitute teacher) I was sent to the city of Ina in Nagano prefecture.  Ina itself is a small town…don’t know why they call it a city when its more like a village… But contrary to it’s size, it has an amazing amount of nature and scenery.

The beauty of Ina

伊那市

There are many bridges in the town with beautiful rivers flowing underneath.  Wherever you look, you are surrounded by tall mountains and with just a short drive, you can drive up and have an amazing view over the town.

During my stay, I taught at six elementary schools.  Five of the schools were in beautiful areas outside of the main part of town and one was so far up a mountain and isolated that it became my favorite school.

Ina school

Large mountain landscapes, forests as far as the eye can see and flowers and sakura trees surrounding the school.

My favorite school was about a 40min drive from my house and the drive consisted of going through winding roads with both sides covered with rice fields.  The school has less than a 100 students and only one classroom for both 5th and 6th students.  For the 5th grade class there were 11 students and for the 6th grade there were only 6.  It was very enjoyable and it allowed myself to get closer with my students and create more game filled classes making it more fun for everyone.

The school ground is surrounded by cherry trees in the spring, it is literally pink as far as the eye can see.  Unfortunately for me, the cherry blossoms season had just finished and I was not able to see anything more than pictures.

The great monkey Yakuza

monkey gangster2

The school also had a pack of wild monkeys that came down and raided their vegetable patch during the warmer months!  How cool is that?! Like a monkey gang! No…a monkey Yakuza!  I really wanted to see them (my obsession with Japanese maybe out of hand…) But again, unfortunately, because of the season, the monkeys were in hibernation or something and don’t come down from the mountains.  But I was happy just knowing that I went to a monkey yakuza school.

Food

Ina city also has two famous dishes: Roman a form of yakisoba and ….insects!  I had the pleasure to eat both of them.  Click on the links above to be taken to a more in depth review with delicious pictures.

Sooo good! Rivals even Osaka's own!

Sooo good! Rivals even Osaka’s own!

There was also a very delicious Kushikatsu 串カツ restaurant in Ina city called “Shiro Hige” (white beard), which was named after a famous character from the anime “One Piece.”  Shiro Hige served a cheap all you can drink and some of the best deep friend food I have ever had!  You could get a wide variety of different deep fried dishes from almost every meat and vegetable you can think of.  All the dishes were relatively affordable and the portions were not too bad for Japanese standards.  The staff were also really funny and friendly.  But no English menu, so if you have no Japanese speaking or writing abilities it may be a bit hard.

Here is their website: http://shirohige.jp/

Sightseeing

The healing area of Zero Jiba

There isn’t a whole like to see in Ina city.  However, one famous sightseeing sport in Ina has to be Zero Jiba(ゼロ磁場  ぜろじば).   This area is said to have the ability to cure any ailments you may have due it’s “zero” magnetic field.  It was feature on many Japanese TV shows and gets many visitors daily.  Even monks track up the mountain to get water from the springs.  Click the link above to read more about the spot and my misadventure getting lost in the mountains.

There were also some great temples in the city, one which was so secluded when I entered all I could hear was a few birds chirping and my own footsteps echoing in the surrounding forest.  So relaxing.

On the way to one of my schools I also saw a strange looking temple which appeared to be in the yard of someones house.  Upon further inspection I found out that the owner of the residence made the temple and the outer walls which had glass with wooden carvings in-cased in them!  It was probably one of the most impressive things I have ever seen in Japan that wassn’t listed in any tour book or asking for $4 entrance fees.  I also tried to go and talk with the man for an interview but no one was home.  Yet the gate to the entrance of the house was still open and people were allowed to walk in and enter the temple and look around.

Although Ina is beautiful it is also fairly close to other areas of Nagano.  Therefore, I ended up spending my first couple weekends going to Matsumoto prefecture and going to see Matsumoto castle,  Kamikochi and Zenkouji temple.

Final Thoughts

Over all in just 4 weekends I saw a lot of Nagano and made a lot of friends through my job and visiting the local bars and sightseeing areas.  In such a short time I was able to see a lot, not to mention some rare opportunities that I’m very lucky and grateful for.  I don’t get why, but I seem to just be on the Japanese gods good side and feel blessed in this country.  I hope you all can have such great experiences too.  Please leave a comment below and tell me some of your great adventures!

Photo of Akabane district from outside Hibiya Park.

Sept P2: Breaking Routine

Routine or something like it.

Structures are everywhere. They make up most of our lives and inform us of how things work, even if we don’t immediately recognize their influence. It’s a part of our hidden reality. Those background mechanisms that help grind our lives onward toward oblivion. And Oh! how comforting they can be. Routine, for example, is an integral part of the structure that makes life bearable. It’s comforting, and familiar, and we often hate to have our little routines thrown off, and I would be a big fat liar liar pants on fire to say that I don’t enjoy my own little routines even if I make it a habit of regularly breaking them.

And so, to move on, my life in Japan has finally settled into a sort of rhythm. Monday to Friday I wake up early and am at school by 8 am. I’ll either stay there or else will take a taxi to another school where I will spend my day. I split my time between 6 schools in this way, and teach English to somewhere in the upper reaches of four or five

Garlic Rice, Salt and Pepper Fried Veggies, and Chicken for dinner.

Garlic Rice, Salt and Pepper Fried Veggies, and Chicken for dinner.

hundred students. Needless to say that despite the hundreds of self-introductions I’ve heard over the last month, or probably because of the hundreds, I hardly remember any of my students’ names except for those few that really stick out to me. After work I head back home where I either plan my dinner and sit around reading, writing, or watching Netflix while waiting for a more appropriate dinner time to come round when I’ll set about cooking, or else I go out shopping for groceries or to wander the are looking for something neat and interesting to do.

Often I’ll spend time with other ALTs and we’ll go out for dinner and drinks, drinks, or drinks and karaoke. That’s basically how I spend my days now, and this lifestyle is not unpleasant. There’s danger in routine, though: routine invites a person to become complacent about their life and surroundings. They become relaxed, and casual, and rather than keeping their eyes open and paying attention to what’s happening in their life they’ll plow through a day forgetting that living means something more than routinely surviving. That’s boring.

ROUTINE IS BORING!!!

At Tokyo Game Show. I was excited.

At Tokyo Game Show. I was excited.

Last weekend was a long weekend for Japan, a rare holiday that comes around once every few years called Silver Week. I don’t know what the holiday is for or why it happens, but it gave us all the opportunity to break from the day to day. One ALT I know went back home to England to visit; another went travelling around Gunma prefecture; I decided to go to Tokyo. Up until now I have only every been to Tokyo twice. The first time was to pass through on my way to Narita airport where I would be flying out the next day for Canada. The second time was when I returned to Japan and spent my first few days back in orientation at a hotel in Shinjuku. This time around I wanted to visit Tokyo. Life

The clock tower at Tokyo U. Was very cool to check out.

The clock tower at Tokyo U. Was very cool to check out.

in the country is very relaxing and rather carefree, but anybody coming from the city would probably begin to miss the excitement a city holds like I was–moving from big to small breaks and vice versa suspends the equilibrium a person found in their life, and allows them to suspend reality for a second: high energy becomes low, fast becomes slow, and responsibility seems to drop to the side for a bit.

Routine, as I said, is good, but for myself I’ve made it a routine to shake my life up a bit and travel works to do that. What people don’t realize though is that travel hardly changes routine–instead it

Went drinking under the train tracks in Akabane.

Went drinking under the train tracks in Akabane.

removes a person entirely from routine. Their day to day gets left behind, put on hold, and for a few days or weeks and they can enjoy something entirely different. When they return home they simply pick up right where they left off. Individual situations don’t change when someone travels, the person changes (and even then only sometimes). My trip to Tokyo allowed me to do just that. I removed myself from my situation. I cleaned my house and left behind any other responsibilities I might have forgotten about in favour of exploration, and it was worth it. It was a needed reprieve. I’ve been in Japan for almost two months, and, me being me, I’ve already started to become bored with routine. My advise to anybody who’s reading this is to try and do the same: shake up your life, do something different; explore the world around you a little bit more. There’s value in that.

P.S. I hope you like what I’m writing. If you do please share this page, and if you’d like to comment feel free. I always enjoy hearing from people. Cheers!

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Video: summer lights – The Highlights of Summer in Japan

Summer is over and school is starting again. Here are a few of the highlights experienced during the last 2 months.

This video definitely took a bit longer to make than I hoped. School starting up and just generally being busy has made it especially difficult to find time to simply sit down and edit. Hopefully it’s entertaining and stay tuned for the next episode which I assure you will be filled with a few surprises 😉

For camera nerds:

Sony a6000

Sony 50mm F1.8

Sony 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 (most used in this video)

Rokinon 12mm F2.0

Premiere Pro CS6

Check out my previous episode on Omura and first moving in.

OKI COver

Escape to the Oki Islands

If you ask the average Japanese person a question about the Oki Islands, they might say, “Where?” However, the Oki Islands of Shimane Prefecture have plenty more to offer to anyone who seeks them.

Located only a two hour ferry ride from Matsue and Sakaiminato, Oki’s four inhabited and 180 uninhabited islands are like no other place on earth. In fact, they are so geologically unique that they became a UNESCO supported Geopark in 2013. These islands are filled with a rugged natural beauty, created after years of volcanic activity, erosion and weathering. The four large islands are Dogo, Nishinoshima, Nakanoshima and Chiburijima.

Like the Greek-Irish travel writer Lafcadio Hearn, who explored Japan in the early twentieth century, my husband, Jesse and I were determined to go to Oki, despite threats of an imminent typhoon. The ferry left the harbour at Shichirui Port under cloudless blue skies. The Oki Kisen ferry was an experience. One staff member looked at our tickets and motioned us to the right. What we saw shocked us. There were no seats; only large, carpeted sections. Already, many people were sprawled out in every available space. In true Japanese fashion, we slipped off our shoes and sat on the floor. The air inside the air-conditioned cabin smelled of coffee, cola, peanuts and beer. Some passengers were already asleep, their heads resting on pillows that looked like brown bricks. Children were squealing, shouting, laughing, playing card games and colouring. The older folk chatted, read, slept or drank beers.  Soon, the floor began to rumble. The boat gently rocked to and fro as it cut through the ocean. I fell asleep, propped up against my backpack. Everyone else soon settled down for a nap and the noise faded.

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We disembarked at Hishiura Port, Nakanoshima (Ama Town) and headed to Oki Gyu Ten, one of the few places that serves Oki beef on these islands. Oki cattle are raised on the islands and feed on its lush, green vegetation. Oki beef is some of the best gourmet beef I have ever eaten. It’s tender, fresh and delicious. In fact, most of this premium beef is auctioned off in Tokyo markets and Oki calves are often sent to Kobe, where they eventually become the famous Kobe beef.

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After lunch, we rented bikes to explore the island. First, we cycled to Rainbow Beach, which is very close to Hishiura Port.  Then we climbed further inland to find Oki Shrine, which was built to honour Emperor Gotoba. This nobleman was one of many who were exiled to the Oki Islands during the Middle Ages. The streets were virtually empty. In the heat of the early afternoon, cicadas trilled unseen from trees and shrubs that sprouted from the nearby hillsides. A trio of junior high school boys passed us. “Konnichiwa,” they said. “Konnichiwa,” we replied, wiping the sweat from our brows. As we pedalled faster, the wind whipped up. We coasted up and down, past the deep blue sea, vibrant green fields, and white and brown houses. Oki Shrine was deserted. A bunch of hydrangeas greeted us, their purple heads drowsing in the heat.

We headed back to the port and climbed aboard the Amanbow underwater viewing boat. Our guide, Honda san, spoke mainly in Japanese. However, he included some English words to check that we understood what he was saying. Fishermen in nearby boats waved at us. One man was fishing off a rock in the middle of the sea. We approached three solitary rocks called Saburo-Iwa, or The Three Brothers. They looked naturally picturesque, perfectly arranged from the tallest to the smallest.

Amanbow underwater viewing boat

Later on, we descended the stairs into the bottom of the boat. Here we peeked through square windows cut on the boat’s sides. Schools of tiny fish swam past us. Tiny bubbles trailed across the windows. A single branch of seaweed glided away in slow motion. We pressed our noses against the glass of this giant aquarium. Rays of sunlight streamed through the murky depths, flashing on silver-skinned fish. Then, something amazing happened. The crew begin to drop round pellets of fish food into the water. A host of fish suddenly appeared: huge silvery ones, rainbow coloured fish, even striped fish. They darted to and fro, swooped above and below, their mouths open to catch any stray food.

Candle Rock Kuniga Coastline

After a couple of hours, we left Nakanoshima for Nishinoshima. Nishinoshima is the most popular of the Oki Islands. Its mountainous landscape is dotted with hundreds of Oki cattle and horses. As the afternoon waned, we headed to the Kuniga Lookout. Here, we saw the beautiful Kannon Iwa or Candle Rock gilded by faint yellow light. The dying sun slowly dropped directly above the rock so that it resembled a golden flame atop a candle.

fresh seafood

After sunset, we arrived at the retro-feel, family-run hotel Kuniga-so for dinner. The table was laden with everything imaginable: fresh seafood including huge Iwagaki oysters, white squid, and scallops, pickled abalone, fresh sashimi, hot fish stew, soba salad and sizzling Oki beef slices.

horses at Matengai Cliff

The next morning, we headed to Matengai Cliff. The car climbed and climbed further into the hills. Suddenly, we turned the corner. There were three strawberry blond horses nibbling grass on the hill. Simultaneously, they looked up and stared at us. The smell of horse dung hovered in the air. When they realised that we were harmless, they continued to nibble the shorn grass. Green mountains and blue sea spread behind them, creating a breath-taking, picture-perfect postcard moment.  The wind picked up, rocking our parked car gently to and fro.

On the top of Matengai Cliff, the wind was so strong that we forget the searing summer heat. Some cows stared at us, but we were armed with bamboo walking sticks to defend ourselves if they got angry. The coastline here was too beautiful; large pieces of green headland jutting out into the calm blue sea. I wished I had brought a book. It was the perfect place to read all day. Further afield, cattle and horses grazed calmly. It was so surreal that it looked like a painting.

Tsutenkyo Arch Kuniga coastline

Then, we drove back to the Kuniga Lookout.  Here, the strangely formed rocks or Tenjyo-kai (Heavenly Area) looked different under the late morning sun. The coastline here, also one of the top 100 walking tracks in Japan, is perfect for gentle strolls and dipping your toes into the ocean. One of the highlights of this coastal walk is Tsutenkyo Arch. The wind and waves have stripped the rocks into a dramatic, multi-coloured arch through which the ocean flows.

Yurahime Shrine

On the way back to Urago, we passed Yurahime Shrine, which honours Yurahime no mikoto, the goddess of fishing and maritime safety. Every autumn and winter, thousands of squid (ika) flood the inlet in front of the shrine. According to local legend, when the goddess was returning to Oki by boat, some squid in the area nibbled her fingers. She was quite offended so every year, several squid come back to the same spot to apologise for their terrible behaviour to the goddess. The squid story made us hungry, so we headed to a small but busy restaurant in Urago. At Asuka restaurant, Jesse ordered a steaming bowl of ika don and I downed a plate of delicious ika curry.

Mimiura Campsite

As the day lengthened, the heat climbed to an unbearable 35 degrees Celsius. We headed to the nearest beaches, Sotohama and Mimiura. Both were completely different. Sotohama was easy to find. It had a lovely sandy beach and a clear, wide bay perfect for swimming and snorkelling. On the other hand, Mimiura was a bit trickier to discover. Armed with our basic tourist map, we drove down a non-descript road off the main street and went further inland through a dense pine forest. Soon, the ocean peeked through the top of the trees and we came upon a hidden cove. Although the narrow beach was strewn with large pebbles and stones, the water was calm and aquamarine. Some kayaks lay on the shore and a few tents were perched along the beach.

As we surveyed the scene, a man ran up to us. “Hey!” He faced Jesse. “Handsome face!” he said. “You go swimming?” We shook our heads. “Chotto nihongo…jikan,” I said, pointing to my wrist. Not enough time. “Ah.” He pointed to his chest. “Eigo…sukoshi,” pinching his thumb and forefinger together. “Where from?” Karibukai,” we replied. He roared and shook Jesse’s hands vigorously. We wished we could stay but quickly hopped back into the car to catch the ferry back to the mainland.
For more information:

Nishinoshima Tourism Association

Ama Town Tourism Association

Photos: © Jesse Ramnanansingh

This post originally appeared in the author’s blog, Hot Foot Trini.

 

Destination fuji

In Search of Goraiko: Destination Fuji (How To Climb Mt. Fuji)

The  beauty of the Japanese language, in my opinion, rests in the existence of a myriad of words used to describe very specific feelings that are often thought to be difficult to put into words. Let me elaborate. The Japanese word “goraiko” (ご来光) can be defined as the sunrise from Mt. Fuji, and sometimes as the overwhelming feeling you get when witnessing said sunrise. This feeling is often thought to be a sacred experience, as the sun is considered to be godly or god-like.

Of course this word does not exist in the English language, but I was still determined to experience its meaning. After all, how can we truly understand a feeling unless we have previously experienced it ourselves? And with that, I made the (crazy) decision to hike to the peak of Mount Fuji, a World Heritage Site and Japan’s highest mountain. At night. Oh my!

What will follow are general Fuji hiking tips mixed in with an account of my own personal experience.

No this isn't Shinjuku station- even the summit of Fuji is super crowded during the hiking season.

No this isn’t Shinjuku station- even the summit of Fuji is super crowded during the hiking season.

Preparation and the Great Fuji Myth

As far as mountain climbing is concerned, Fuji is by no means a difficult climb. Or so they say. Fuji is often advertised as being a mountain that anyone, regardless of level or age, can climb. This should really be taken with a grain of salt. After all, how easy could climbing 3,776 meters for 5-10+ hours be? Realistically, hiking Fuji should not be underestimated and you MUST prepare adequately. Only you can know your own limits, but if you have difficulties climbing up a flight of stairs (as I sometimes do) then you will obviously have difficulties climbing Fuji.

These hikers were well prepared, and they made it to the top!

These hikers were well prepared, and they made it to the top!

Fuji has an official hiking season, early July to early-mid September. This is when most people will climb the mountain, and this is also when I decided to climb. Outside of peak season, climbing Fuji is much, much more challenging, and only experienced hikers are advised to climb. Though it is considerably less congested, temperatures dip well below zero, and the rest huts along the trails are not open for business so you must be bring everything you need.

What you should absolutely have:

  1. HIKING BOOTS. Confession: I climbed Fuji wearing the wrong footwear. I was told that you can rent hiking boots at station 5 of the Fujinomiya trail, however I did not have time to rent any as the rental place closes at 3p.m. Be wary of this! Going up Fuji I was relatively fine with my definitely-not-made-for-hiking sneakers, but on the way down… absolute hell! So please, please, please make sure you bring adequate footwear!
  1. Water! And food! And yen! Yes, you can purchase things to eat or drink along the trail, but the general formula on Fuji is “as altitude increases, prices also increase”. You must keep hydrated as you climb, so it’s good to have plenty of water- as much as you are willing to carry but not less than 1-2L. As far as food goes, the usual hiking foods will do: trail mixes, protein bars, replacement meals, and the like. As for the money, you will need between 200-300 yen each time you use the bathrooms at the rest huts, so plan accordingly.
  2. Layers of warm clothing. It gets very, very cold! Even if at the bottom you are dying from hyperthermia, realize that you may be dying of hypothermia by the time you go up. So bring extra layers, scarves, gloves, hats, blankets, a heated kotatsu table (just kidding on this last one… maybe), etc.
  3. Flashlight, preferably a “head light”. I did not have a head light, but most people did. This will allow you to see while you climb in the dark with both hands free. Very convenient.
Remeber to bring a buddy! Or two!

Remeber to bring a buddy! Or two!

5. At least one buddy! So, you could theoretically climb alone. During hiking season the mountain is literally packed with people so you will technically never ever be alone, but it’s always nice to have someone with you who can help you if anything were to happen. Also my hiking buddies really helped keep me motivated. I am convinced that if I did not have someone with me I would not have gotten to the peak.

  1. Probably something else, but I forget.

Fujinomiya Trail-blazin’

There are four trails you can take to reach the peak. Varying in difficulty and location, each trail offers a slightly different experience. As I live in Shizuoka prefecture, I hiked on a trail starting from there (one trail begins in Yamanashi prefecture)- the Fujinomiya trail. This is a good choice for the less experienced hikers because it has plenty of rest stations along the way. The trail begins at Station 5, 2,400m along the mountain. The peak is Station 10, but this is a bit misleading because there are more than just stations 6, 7, 8, and 9 along the way. There also exists “Old Station 7”, and Station 9.5.

Hiking along the Fujinomiya trail alongside the clouds.

Hiking the Fujinomiya trail alongside the clouds.

During the hiking season, rest stations are equipped with rest huts where you can sleep if you choose to, but that will cost about 6,000 yen depending on the season, and you do need reservations. Fortunately, you do not need to sleep at the huts if you choose not to, and there is some floor room and benches outside of the huts where you can still pull out your blanket and rest for a bit. These rest stations also sell food, drinks, souvenir brand markings for your walking sticks, and bathroom access. It is advisable to rest anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour at any of these stations in order to adjust to the altitude and avoid altitude sickness. My group rested at station 5 for over an hour before beginning, and we spent about 20-30 min at each subsequent station after wards, with intermittent mini-rests throughout, as necessary.

Be prepared for breathtaking views!

Be prepared for breathtaking views!

My experience on the Fujinomiya trail going up was this: during the first 20 minutes I started out waaay too fast, and decided “wow, this is so hard, I can’t do it!”. Definitely you want to keep a very slow and steady pace when you go up… going too fast can really deplete you of oxygen, especially at these altitudes! Personal rule: I don’t always go slow, but when I do, it’s when I hike Mt. Fuji.

Please go at your own pace, drink lots of water, and when you feel like you want to give up (you may feel this a lot), please remember that something special is waiting for you at the top.

Nirvana!

Right before the sun rise...

Right before the sun rise…

...And there it is!

…And there it is!

There is a point on the Fuji hike where you will know that all of the difficulty was worth it- reaching the peak.

Watching the sun rise from the highest point in Japan is absolutely a moment you will remember and cherish for your entire life. No exaggeration. If there is a reason Japan is known as the land of the rising sun, this is it. I won’t describe this moment too much, but I will invite you to try and experience this for yourself at least once in your life.

Post-sunrise, the top of Fuji has much to offer. You can mail a postcard letting your loved ones know you are alive at the peak’s post office, visit a temple where you can purchase charms, walk around and enjoy the scenery, take a peek at Fuji’s very own crater (did you forget that this thing you were climbing was a volcano?), take a nap at the summit, or eat cup ramen at the tenth station.

It does get a bit congested, but I would recommend really soaking up the peak and looking at the volcanic landscape, the rocks, the tori gates, the views…

The Mount Fuji Descent: Descending the 9 Inner Circles of Hell

Beautiful yet deadly- the Mt. Fuji descent.

Beautiful yet deadly- the Mt. Fuji descent.

“That which goes up must also come back down.” – A Wise Man (also, a panicked realization of many people at the peak of a mountain)

Once you’ve reached peak, the only way down is… The way you came up from. Yes, you will have to face the tortuous trail once more! If you are on the Fujinomiya trail, you use the same path to go both up and down, so it can become quite congested during hiking season. You should factor this in with the estimated time it will take you to go back down.

For whatever reason, Fuji guide books say you can descend Fuji in as few as 2 hours. I think this may only be true if you literally jump off the top and fall to the bottom, because I found the Fuji descent to be much, much more difficult than the ascent (although it definitely does take less time). Remember that you probably have not slept in hours, and have just climbed up a mountain, so do not think you have to descend quickly. Take your time and be safe!

Climbing down gravely terrain means you should expect to fall on your bum at least once (or in my case, closer to one thousand times), so make sure you maintain a good pace as to not tumble down the wrong way and get seriously injured.

Yes, some people can run down Fuji and be done in just a few hours, but my guess is that they hail from Krypton and are thus super humans. If this sounds like you, then no need to worry too much about the descent.

Other than that, stay alert! And expect to hear many ohayo’s and konnichiwa’s from friendly hikers that pass you on your way up.

PFSD- Post Fuji Stress Disorder

It's been real, Fuji...

It’s been real, Fuji…

After Fuji you will be beat- in pain, exhausted, starving, and personally, I never wanted to even look at a mountain ever again… so, I fell into the deepest sleep of my life.

It was amazing.

And after that, you can do what I did and reflect back on what was accomplished- I just hiked to the top of Japan’s highest mountain! Check THAT off the bucket list!

“一度も登らない馬鹿、2度登る馬鹿” – “
You are a fool if you never climb it (Mt. Fuji), you are twice the fool if you climb it more than once”.

Seaside Style Imaihama Beach

Seaside Style at Imaihama Beach

(Imaihama Beach, Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka Prefecture)

It’s summertime in Shizuoka, and if you’re anywhere inside the prefecture that can only mean one thing: time to go to Izu. The Izu peninsula is located within Shizuoka prefecture, towards the east where it separates itself from the mainland of Japan as it dips into the Pacific Ocean. As you can imagine, Izu is littered with gorgeous beaches, but it is also home to many natural reserves, ecological parks, and to more onsen (hot springs) than you may think are necessary. It’s an obvious choice for a vacation spot.

Izu, a Peninsula Paradise

Imaihama Beach, located on the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka prefecture.

Imaihama Beach, located on the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka prefecture.

When I first moved to the Shizuoka I knew I pretty much had to visit Izu, but this isn’t exactly as easy as it sounds. How do you know what beach to visit when almost the entire location is a coastline? Well, to be honest the answer is that you don’t really know… Or rather, there isn’t one correct answer. With so many choices, the decision is up to you. You can visit a recommended or popular beach or you can be spontaneous and choose a more secluded one at random to explore (recommended, but risky).

My decision on where to go was made in the name of fashion, to attend a beachside t-shirt fair at Imaihama beach, in the lower portion of Izu- but more on that later!

Atami, a Literal Hot Spot

Scenic views abound on the southbound trains from Atami.

Scenic views abound on the southbound trains from Atami.

The easiest way for most people to get to Izu, regardless of provenance or desired destination within Izu, is by taking the Shinkansen bullet train. At a maximum operating speed of 320 km/h, this train is not joking around: it will get to where it needs to get… and it will do so quickly. There is a Shinkansen station at Atami, an onsen resort city located on the northern portion of Izu. This is likely where you want your Shinkansen to end up as it is located near the beginning of Izu, and from there you can take local trains further south along the peninsula.

Hot, hot Atsuo. Get 'im while he's atsui!

Hot, hot Atsuo. Get ‘im while he’s atsui!

Atami itself is a worthwhile vacation spot, by the way. For one, the city mascot is an older, balding man with fairy wings and a wand named Atsuo, which is strikingly similar to “atsui”, the Japanese word for hot. He can be found on anything from pastries to socks. Clearly this must be a sign of a good city, right?

Atami is well known for its onsen. Even if you are only stopping by for a short time in between trains as I was, you can enjoy a free dip in an ashiyu, which is a sort of mini-onsen for your fee. One is right outside the station! Also outside the station is a lively marketplace where you can purchase omiyage, or souvenirs. Popular Shizuoka prefecture omiyage include green tea, wasabi, shirasu (dried baby anchovy) amongst other things.

View from a local Izu train heading from Atami towards Shimoda.

Yaaas, view!

 

As Atami was not my final destination on this particular trip to Izu, I still needed to get further south by using a local train, which ran along the east coast of Izu from Atami all the way down to Izukyu Shimoda at the very bottom of the peninsula. If you run along the full course this trip can take close to two hours, but believe it or not, this is actually a good thing. The views from the train are breathtakingly beautiful. As you ride along a mountain’s edge, you can enjoy seeing the vast ocean, colorful towns, gorgeous green forests, and golden beaches. Geeking out is inevitable.

 

Imaihama, a Hidden Jewel

View from the Chitoseya guest house. As close to the ocean as you can get without needed a boat!

View from Chitoseya guest house. As close to the ocean as you can get without a boat!

It took about an hour and a half or so to reach my destination, Imaihama-Kaigan station. As I got off the train I was greeted by green mountains and salty sea air- at long last! My travel companion and I had a reservation at Chitoseya, a small guest house right on the beach and less than a 5 minute walk from the station. After being warmly welcomed by one of the owners and served a refreshing fruit juice, we were lead up to an adorable Japanese-style room, complete with tatami mat flooring,  shoji paper screen windows, and a futon closet where our bedding was located. The view from the room was not too shabby either!

 

Two D.O.C. specialties: heaven sent curry rice and the king of all jerk chicken. I still dream about these dishes sometimes...

Two D.O.C. specialties: heaven sent curry rice and the king of all jerk chicken.

Across from the guest house was a small restaurant called D.O.C. (Down on the Cave), which specialized in jerk chicken and curry rice and carried local Izu beer. The many kitschy-cool Americana posters and knick knacks that adorned the restaurant walls created a relaxed vibe that might even have been slightly nostalgic to the American within me. The food itself was shockingly good, and I’ll admit I had the jerk chicken not once, but twice before leaving Imaihama…

 

View of Imaihama Beach

View of Imaihama Beach and corresponding beach bums.

Imaihama beach itself is an incredibly small yet lively beach. On both sides of the beach you can see sprawling green mountains, and on the beach itself there is a rocky area where people can go search for shells or small aquatic creatures. One thing I did not realize about Japanese beaches is that you can actually have anything from ramen to yakitori while on the beach itself, so of course we proceeded to engorge ourselves on deliciously fattening and sodium-filled foods. And beer. All without any regrets.

ANAGURA, a Chill Cave with Chill Vibes

Stariway leading up to the unassuming BAR ANAGURA, featuring stray kitten-san.

Stariway leading up to the unassuming BAR ANAGURA, featuring stray kitten-san.

The small, seaside town of Imaihama closes down rather early, which can be a bummer if you’ve traveled from far away. However, I had come to visit BAR ANAGURA, which actually opens up around the time the whole town closes down. The unassuming bar can be reached after climbing up a shadowy flight of stairs and entering a cave- that’s right, the whole bar is inside a cave! The venue is cool, edgy, and quite literally very “hole in the wall”. I’d even go so far as to call it “grungy” if it weren’t for the whirlwind of bebop jazz that bounced off the walls. Ambiance game strong, ANAGURA.

During the month of August BAR ANAGURA hosted AT THE TAVES IN, a t-shirt fair featuring 13 designs from 13 individuals in various industries, from film to fashion. Japanese designers, actors, models, and artists developed t-shirt designs exclusive to this event. The t-shirts were exhibited in the back of the bar, and hung from clotheslines to clearly feature each design. I was very happy to be able to visit Izu while the event was ongoing, as it was a main motivator for choosing Imaihama. My personal favorite design was the “IZUFORNIA” print tee, which I found to be a hilarious play on words (this may only have been because I’m a dork now living in Shizuoka, though…).

Tees just waiting to be purchased. "Pick me! Pick me!", you can hear each design exclaim.

Tees just waiting to be purchased. “Pick me! Pick me!”, you can hear each design exclaim.

Though I may have come for the t-shirts, I stayed for the food (surprise!). ANAGURA’s menu is so varied and rich that you just have to try more than one thing, as we certainly did not hesitate to do. From the infamous jerk chicken and curry sausage to a perfectly seasoned and cooked sazae or “turban shell” (a sort of sea snail), I could not stop eating. The drink menu was far longer, however, and it featured such beverages as grapefruit beer, oolong sochu, a couple of ANAGURA original mixtures, and much, much more.

Closing thoughts…

Ah, the sea...

Ah, the sea…

After a long night of t-shirt buying, eating, and drinking, we spent the next day exploring the small seaside town, and then lazily lounging on the beach until it was time to head back to the other side of Shizuoka.

All in all, visiting Izu is what you make of it. You can visit anything from a Teddy Bear Museum in Ito, to a geological park in Shimoda, or just lounge around and have a low-key beach day while eating all your worries away. Whatever you may choose, I recommend visiting this beautiful beachy peninsula at least once during your stay in Japan. And better yet- if you choose to visit Imaihama beach don’t forget to get your fill of jerk chicken!

Happy exploring! Mata ne (see you later)!

Daniel Bamford in Gunma Life In Japan

Life in Japan: Daniel Bamford in Gunma

Imagine losing half of your year’s JET salary. Would you quit? Would it make you ask “why did I even come to Japan?”…

There is a famous TV program here in Japan called youは何しに日本へ that poses the question all nationals ask of foreigners: why did you come to Japan? I couldn’t tell you how many times I have been asked that question. It would be at least 200 by now but each time I have been unable to give a clear, succinct and honest answer.

Why did I come to Japan? Yoku wakanai~ I don’t really know.

Maybe it was that my family hosted some Japanese students. Maybe that I had watched Dragon Ball and Pokemon before school gave me inspiration. Unlikely. I had no real interest in Japanese things at that time. I liked football, metal music and Grand Theft Auto. Japan didn’t register on my radar.

Why Did I Go To Japan

I wanted to be a pro soccer player, so I went to England for a year. When that didn’t work out, I started studying Law which was so boring that I found my solace in combat sports. When I watched old tapes of Sakuraba knocking the snot out of the Gracies (whom I despised) I had found a new hero.

My new hero was Japanese. And he was a pro wrestler.

Intrigued by Sakuraba, I watched some old NJPW (and Kingdom/UWF) featuring him. It was glorious. It had the drama and intensity of a big football match, and the exotic flare of a Van Damme film. I was hooked. My dream was to become the next gaijin star of puroresu but a horror injury left me unable to walk for a year – ending that dream. I turned to business. Making money was something that I could do from my computer chair. I scraped my way through the Law degree, then got myself back to Australia to focus on business.

I had a great time in my first year of entrepreneurship, but after a year, things got strange. I found myself having no motivation. Something wasn’t right. I still had an itch to scratch.

I needed to take on something totally new. Something totally foreign that would challenge me every single day.

The incredible timing of my mood to the JET Programme Application process was like a divine message.

Getting Onto The JET Programme

My application must have seemed bizarre to the people tasked with reading it. An Aussie bloke with a law degree but no interest in Japanese things (aside from random connections like Sakuraba) wants to stop making lots of money so he can come to Japan and teach english to little kids, something in which he hasn’t got even the slightest experience.

Luckily, I had years of experience selling project ideas to clients, so a few negotiation magic tricks may have hit the mark. I was granted an interview. And it was an amazing experience unlike any prior interview.

I am very lucky to boast a 100% conversion rate of interviews (5) to resulting appointments. I have confidence that given the chance, I can convince someone of anything that I truly believe myself. And I truly believed that I would have a wonderful time in Japan and mould myself into a valuable resource.

(If you want advice on how to nail interviews, hit me up on Facebook and I’ll do my best to help)

My interviewers were extremely friendly. We were joking about football, pro wrestling and Australian culture within minutes and the tone stayed jovial until it came to the Japanese language section, which I failed spectacularly. I was not well prepared for their questions actually, but I spoke clearly and with integrity about my motivations and interests in Japan. I spoke about my personal qualities and how I believed they would be beneficial to the Programme. I demonstrated before their very eyes that I was confident in my strengths, aware of my weaknesses, and could fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants like the best of them.

With hindsight, I think those are the most important base traits for incoming ALTs. Confidence will help you win the students to your character. Honest self-assessment will propel the necessary self-development that one must undergo here. Ability to improvise will save you countless times in the unique role of ALT in Japanese schools (and life).

Confidence, self-awareness, flexibility: vital core requirements for a JET.

My interview went for almost an hour, but must have done the trick. I got onto the JET programme, and found my way to Gunma.

The New Challenges In Japan

From the very first day, I felt the thrill of daily challenges. First day challenges in Tokyo: buy lunch outside the comfy “JET bubble” hotel (success); get a Japanese girl’s Facebook (failure); find my way out of Kabukicho without getting offered a job as a gay host (failure).

Everything was new. And not just new, different to a degree sufficient that my brain was going into joyful overdrive taking it all in and sorting it out. I was serenaded by background babble oversaturated in open vowels.

Akagi Lake in Autumn

Akagi Lake: one of the beautiful landmarks of Gunma

Out in the countryside it was equally staggering. I grew up in cities all my life, then I was cycling past rice fields and pig farms. I found my first supervisor to be not only a great advisor, but a father-like figure prepared to accept my wilder sides with an amused grin and a helpful hand pushing me in the right direction.

Work was fun. From birth I loved being the centre of attention and every day I could play the professional clown to adoring cheers and requests for my autograph. I met some great friends too. All the orientation warnings about “stage 2” faded into myth.

About now dear reader, you must be expecting the “Stage 2 – things went bad” story to begin. In part, you’re right.

(Abridged. Full story here: My Japan Odyssey: Wrestling, JET Programme & Losing Stuff by Daniel Bamford)

Realisation of Purpose

I crashed my dream car in icy weather. Replacement car broke down. Insurance companies found loopholes to screw me. My wallet was stolen. Cancel cards and bank books. Etc. Handle a million pain-in-the-ass things. In Japanese; a language I didn’t even know a year earlier in August 2013. What a wonderful year, 2014. About 1,500,000JPY vanished in return for stress and anguish.

I lost almost half a year’s salary. Gone.

But still, I had amazing fun. I traveled and I ate great food. I made close friends and I hustled hard. It seemed that many JETs had given up in the face of nothing much, so I looked with a bizarre pride at the glorious beating I had taken at the hands of lady luck, yet still I stood there smiling. No Stage 2 for me baby.

It was exactly this extreme challenge that I had wanted. This was my reason for coming to Japan.

As an Australian I’m proud to say that I have hardened up. I have gained improved focus. I have seen the value in being loyal, responsible, capable, resilient and positive. I’ve learned to avoid excuses and to embrace self-responsibility.

Now, From Days of Brighter Weather, Clearer Skies

2015 for me has been wonderful. Truly wonderful. I travel when I can, still paying off the horrors of 2014. I took out my last business cash and borrowed from my family to get another roadster that I can drive to wonderful places like Kamakura, Nikko and Tokyo.

Daniel Bamford Nikko

At Nikko 2015, one of my favourite trips in Japan

At the time of writing, it’s farewell time for me at many schools because my assignments are changing. I get the pleasure of hearing how students don’t want me to leave, and that teachers are genuinely worried about if my replacement is going to be up to the task (he certainly is and more, but it’s nice to know you are valued).

I look forward to more new challenges in Japan, knowing that I am slowly becoming the man I aim to be. I am grateful to Japan and its people, my friends and my colleagues, for helping provide the platform and support for my growth.

Thank you.

To those who are at the beginning of their JET journey, I wish you good luck. But I also perhaps wish you some bad luck, too. I wish you could gain the same benefits from misfortune and difficulties that I have. I hope you will be proud, strong and positive.


The full version of this post appeared on Daniel Bamford’s personal website:
My Japan Odyssey: Wrestling, JET Programme & Losing Stuff