Archive for the ‘japan’ Tag

Japan Closing Advice

 

 

Wrapped hiking stick from Fuji-san ready for the plane ride home

Wrapped hiking stick from Fuji-san ready for the plane ride home

Random Observation/Comment #103: It’s hard to say goodbye, but I guess I never left – I guess I never have to.  I’ve been reliving the memories for the past 2 ½ months and it’s been the most enjoyable moments in my life.  Every morning in front of my laptop on the LIRR, I am in my writing zone with the classical music playing in the background.  I close my eyes and try to piece together all the memories of my senses and emotions.  I wish it would play like a movie, but there are all of these glitches in the audio, video, touch-io, smell-io, and taste-io departments (I know the technical terms, but this is funnier).  There are scenes where it’s perfect, but I’m lucky if I get most of them with two out of five.  I often remember the moments that I really tried hard to capture, but oddly, this clip from my past does not have associated feelings.  It’s like my memory can’t concentrate on my senses and my emotions at the same time.  For example, I clearly remember the few minutes of the sunrise as I looked over my camera recording, but the moment when the sun looked like a yolk dropping into this liquid sky, the senses are replaced with emotions and thoughts.  It’s weird because I can then repaint the picture based on the way I remember feeling.  It’s no longer the same picture, but it brings the emotions just the same. When I reread these entries in my old age, I hope I still have this valuable skill.  I hope I can still roam the 4th dimension in my dreams – not in hopes to alter anything to cause a rift in the space-time continuum, but to be a spectator of an unforgettable part of my life.

 

 I basically wrote an entry for every day I was in Japan.  What a good idea.  So what have I learned from this social project and what do I suggest for people who want to keep a travel blog? 

  • Write Selectively. Don’t spend as much time as I did/do writing about everyday as if it were the highlight of your entire trip because it will take up all of your time and you will be as addicted as I am.  I kept an excel file with a two-column table indicating the date and activity.  I filled this in everyday before I slept just to summarize the main things that happened.  Each activity box only had bulleted events like “university trip – paragliding” or “capsule hotel” to spark my memory. 
  • Maintain personal style when writing.  When you write the entries, don’t forget to include your reflections of your everyday senses because if you write for yourself, you don’t just want a quick crappy summary that you could find on the places’ website.  Capture the moment in your own way – that’s what makes the writing enjoyable; the rush of memories and corresponding emotions with every sentence keeps me tapping my arm for the vein (maybe I went too far).
  • Carry around a Notepad or type it into your iPhone.  My back pocket always had a pen and notepad ready to write down the next observation.  I had filled 5 little 50 page notebooks before leaving Japan.  If you’re not a writer, have one handy anyway to keep track of expenses, write down important Japanese phrases, and collect numbers from girls you meet at clubs (especially Gai-jin clubs – no problem whatsoever).
  • Take pictures, but don’t forget to look around.  My camera had grown its own hunger to capture everything and anything my eyes saw, but don’t live your life through that small LCD screen.  Sometimes you just have to fight the urge, and keep it safe in your mind.  The pictures are supposed to aid your memories, not replace them.  Don’t forget to bring extra memory cards, battery chargers, and an external storage device to transfer all 20 GB of pictures (maybe that last one is just for me).
  • Find your own writing routine.  My personal routine of writing is during my commute to and from school.  When I was in Japan, I wrote during some of the late nights when I was left alone in my little room without Internet or television.  An active trip will not have this free time to stay at home and write.  Resort to reflecting on these memories when you’re finished with the trip and back to your normal (and hopefully not too boring) routine.
  • Fool around with different writing styles.  I found it boring writing the same way every day as a chore so I approached every blog entry with a different perspective.  There are days where I feel like writing serious reviews and other times where I let myself drift off into a random trail.  You can write stories about yourself in the third person if you’d like, but I think exploring different writing styles will keep the memories interesting.

My next adventure is Europe.  I will be there for at least 4 months studying at Hamburg University starting in March.  The blogging and copious amount of pictures will continue when I’m there.  I’m considering focusing on actually offering factual information about the places I visit, but I think too many other sites do this.  I’d like to find a happy mixture of expressing my experiences, adding my little quirks and side stories, and giving useful advice for travelers.

 

~See Lemons Wait for the Next Adventure

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Making ice cream while hung over

 

 

Noda-san mixing frozen yogurt

Noda-san mixing frozen yogurt

Random Observation/Comment #102: When the “schedule” is set, you’re not allowed to make any impromptu changes.  Even if you drink until 4AM the night before, you still must wake up at 8AM to attend a frozen-yogurt-making activity.  Almost everyone I know would have slept in (which would be convincing enough to follow guilt-free), but every single drunken mess I saw the night before was outside on the benches (almost) ready to start the morning.  That’s dedication. 

 

It was a beautiful morning, but I wasn’t in the beautiful-morning-mood.  I could have used more than 4 hours of sleep, but I didn’t want to offend anyone or show Japanese people how lazy Americans really are.  I guess by waking up on time with a smile, I was poorly representing my background as a 21-year-old New Yorker on vacation.  What I should have done was wake up at 2PM and raided the fridge for Tostitos and salsa while wearing argil business socks and CK boxers (that might just be me at Jake’s house on a Saturday morning).  You could imagine my enthusiasm for making ice cream.  They were lucky that I was conscious, let alone functional and social.

I thought ice-cream-making was for elementary school kids, but apparently graduate students getting their PhDs in artificial intelligence subjects can also have a good time mixing ingredients and tossing around a huge canister.  The process is pretty simple, but the competition between college groups added some motivation.  I wasn’t sure of the exact amounts, but we mixed sugar, sour cream, and egg whites together into a bowl.  Then, we beat it to give the whole thing some body.  You really want a thick, yet fluffy consistency.  After you have this goop, you put it into a metal container inside of a larger plastic canister and fill it with ice and salt. 

Then the fun part: Close the plastic lid and roll it around to rapidly decrease the temperature against the metal.  The rolling action should keep the frozen yogurt at the edges of the container and the ice should freeze it after about 15 minutes of movement.  Different teams tried different methods of rolling the container.  My team basically found a hill and threw it down a couple of times (like 50).  I was doubtful of this success because if you graph the rolling speed against time, you will see some shaking for the climb up the hill, and then an accelerated roll down the hill.  Although the average speed may match that of a conventional method of kicking the thing around, the inconsistency of motion and body heat added during the physically transport of the device was inefficient.  In fact, after 15 minutes of this unnecessary work, the frozen yogurt looked more like frozen pudding – Failure.  Oh well, take two.  … Take three.

Well, we eventually got it.  I also gave up half-way and went to a vending machine to spend 100 yen on real ice cream.  I guess the one I ate wasn’t made with love and teamwork.  I tried some of their frozen yogurt and it tasted pretty good.   I was never a big fan of the sourness that came with frozen yogurt – I always thought frozen yogurt was like rejected ice cream.  The toppings are decent, but I rather have some cookie dough or mint chocolate chip.  If they come out with double chocolate chunk frozen yogurt, I’ll be, as they say, “all up on that shit.”

 

~See Lemons Make Frozen Yogurt

Ikemoto-san rolling the canister full of frozen yogurt

Ikemoto-san rolling the canister full of frozen yogurt

The story of a bottle of jager and rum – it ends with their sacrifice

 

 

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epic bbq. look at all that food 🙂

Random Observation/Comment #101: As the alcohol content in these little Japanese people’s blood stream increases, so does the frequency of slurred Jap-English phrases.  I had no idea what they were saying, but it was fun trying to figure it out.  Even if I did understand, I waited for them to draw a picture or make funny gestures for my own entertainment.  Although this was a little mean, I actually remembered the words they taught me much better when they explained it in different ways.  How could I forget the creativity of their charade clues?  Good times.

 

After the paragliding adventures, we had a few hours to play some soccer and baseball.  These two sports seem to be the staple of Japanese culture.  Not only does everyone want to be a baseball player, but they practice tirelessly enough to succeed.  From our conversations, I couldn’t tell if it was a love for the sport or a motivation to become a superstar and travel overseas to make money as a professional.  I guess I didn’t expect a group of engineering students to make irrational decisions, like dropping all their work to pursue a career that has little chance of success (cough).  I know happiness is important, but I guess it doesn’t buy security (::Shakes fist at Angus::).

I never really played baseball, but I consider myself a well-rounded athletic person.  I think basic hand-eye coordination skills and some motor functions are all you need to play quick pick up games with students that build robots.  It may sound cliché, but I remember the little league kids teasing to come closer whenever I went up to bat.  I felt a surge of confidence when the Japanese people all moved back when they saw I was next.  I wish I could play little league now (Mitch Hedberg reference).

The BBQ feast we had was epic.  We cooked the amount of beef equivalent to a full cow.  The sizzling moo kept me stuffing my face until I truly could not move.  The food coma struck me swiftly and skillfully like a trained ninja.  Fortunately, the promises of sake and soju kept me from pitching a tent and calling it a night.  My eyelids were heavy and my breathing slowed while I struggled to maintain a Japanese conversation.  I knew it was a bad sign when I couldn’t think of anything but jumping cows and fluffy sheep.

The token Irishman (hopefully not as offensive as my “little Chinaman” nickname) did not disappoint the typical stereotypes of alcoholism and drunken rage.  His bottles of jager and rum proved useful for the night to follow.  The Japanese students didn’t really need a drinking game.  Most of them nursed two beers and showed their Asian glow.  By the third, they were laughing for no reason and started bursting out into song.  “Ponyo ponyo ponyo ponyo pon!”  echoed in my ears and haunted all those that tried to escape its addictive tune.  By the four, half of the group huddled in a corner, while the heavier drinkers started our drinking games.  I’ve never been so drunk by 10PM (maybe zombiecon trumps it with 2PM).  My memory of the night is a little patchy, but I distinctly remember wearing pink slippers outside and getting into a fight with a vending machine… He started it.

~See Lemons a Little Tipsy

 

Another beer tower

Another beer tower

Paragliding is aight

 

 

I wish that was me.

I wish that was me.

Random Observation/Comment #99: Who the hell doesn’t want to fly?  I’m a little afraid of heights, but I would still love to be able to make that party entrance.  I mean, it’s not as classy as entering a party in your own mansion with three beautiful ballet dancers around your arms after being released from a private chopper, but I do think mine flaunts a bit less money.  For some reason, I feel like someone judging my powers of flight would think to themselves, “Hey, if I could fly, I would probably do the same.”  On the other hand, the Bruce Wayne entrance would get the response, “What a complete waste of money, you arrogant son of a bitch.  I hate you because I want to be you.”  It makes me wonder why envy works in such interesting ways – maybe it’s just the pure corruption and evil of money.

 

I felt the way a racing dog must feel when anticipating the starting shot to try and catch that rabbit flying around the track.  “Ichi, ni, SAN!” and I ran with all my might off the grass covered ski slope.  The parachute inflated above me creating an ominous shadow below.  I kept my arms raised and jumped with a huge leap of faith that I wouldn’t crash to my doom.  To my surprise, I stayed afloat, but at the price of those straps digging into my biceps and squeezing my groin muscles.  This hurt like hell and made me wonder why it doesn’t bother babies as much when we pick them up by the arm pits.  I figure it’s because of the weight to surface area ratio that determines the pain.  If I were a baby’s size and weight, the two hands would probably feel more like pillows lifting me gently into a parent’s loving-arms.  As an adult being lifted, the force required to lift me upwards is much greater and focused on a smaller point.  It would be the difference between being strangled with a piece of floss or a thick belt (I don’t know why I chose this particular analogy – must be Dexter). 

So this is how it feels to fly – 200 pounds (including equipment) forced directly onto my arms and crotch.  Don’t get me wrong, the view was unforgettable, but so was the pain.  It left unattractive bruises that everyone saw during the onsen.  Side note: bruises have a tendency to go through such a glorious number of mysterious and grim colors.  The early pink turns purple, blue, black, green, and red in a weird chromatography spread.  I felt like I was opening a present every time I lifted my sleeve.  All of the university students thought I was beaten up in the middle of the night or I was lifted by an oversized man with small hands. 

Was it worth it?  Although the three, 30 second sessions of being airborne were short lived, I felt a level of freedom when falling with style.  Students yelled, “Tanoshiiiiiii” or “Enjoyable!!” while they were floating down the side of the mountain.  Paragliding doesn’t have that stomach churning acceleration that you may find in bungee jumping or free falling, but it can be done without someone strapped to your ass.  However, due to the large number of students and only 4 paragliding shoots, we spent a lot of the day just waiting for our turn.  To occupy our time, we took pictures at the bottom and laughed at people flying into bushes and landing on their asses.

The thirty seconds you spend in the air does free your mind.  I wonder if the view and feeling in Heaven is like that – a boost of adrenaline and a view seen by the privileged.  I had truly been stress-free for close to two minutes that day.  In my opinion, it was definitely worth it.

~See Lemons Paraglide

Group photo!

Group photo!

We definitely won the bar crawl

 

 

These guys were awesome.

These guys were awesome.

Random Observation/Comment #94: Are there really losers in a bar crawl?  Properly, are you even likely to finish?  I was having a good time just walking around with inebriated strangers, and picking their brains about traveling and career paths.  Everyone has such an interesting story and outlook on life.  Some of them I pity, while others I envy – this society is made of so much drama and complexity, I’m surprised I don’t have more problems myself.

 

The bar was overflowing with music, laughter, and dirty jokes.  A classic Irish bar in the middle of Osaka? Where did they get all of those white people?  Anyway, the mixed company was a relief from the usual slurs of inaudible Japanese tongue.  This night fit any ordinary bar atmosphere, but I saw someone I didn’t think I would see in my lifetime again.  How could I forget that moustache?

One month earlier… Dotombori was a major tourist attraction because of its large selection of food and slutty girls.  Chris and I lived the life of New York models and walked around the clubs like we owned the place.  We were outside taking a breath of air that didn’t smell like sweat, smoke, alcohol, and foreigners, when we bumped into a drunken German guy.  He wore a white bandana, cheap sunglasses, a black sleeveless shirt, army boots, and camouflage pants.  He stumbled by us and started a casual conversation with Chris because he looked the most like a gai-jin.    These random meetings of “the fellow white people in Japan” club happen often.  In some cases, you pass by discretely with a CIA-type nod, and in others, you actually shake hands and vent quickly about cultural frustrations.  In all situations, you don’t expect to see the other person again, but you’re glad to speak English at a normal pace without hand gestures.  After some introductions and 10 minutes of talking, the German was back on his way to continue his night.

He still wore the same camouflage pants and bandana from the night I remember him.  In fact, it looked as if he was placed into a time machine and warped to the future (my current present) to kill me, save me, or send me an important message.  I was already so drunk that I waited for the moment he would reveal his true agenda.  Unfortunately, there was nothing this exciting to plunge my story ahead, nor am I creative enough to make up something ridiculous, so I’ll just tell it as it was – a story of a bar scavenger hunt.

Very quickly, my Japanese casual drinking graduate group evolved into a group of four white males with Japanese girlfriends.  It was odd seeing the similar trend of Asian fever.  I had joined a winning team of motivated and dedicated drinkers.  The game plan in their minds was to win the bar crawl and get the first prize of an open bar at the end location.  This was very different from my game plan of getting drunk and literally crawling around Osaka.  Their version involved a lot more walking than drinking.  It seemed like we spent 70% of the time on foot from place to place and then a maximum of 10 minutes to get a stamp, buy a beer, and chug.  We rushed and we won, technically.

However, according to the person organizing this whole thing, we didn’t.  Apparently, “we weren’t aggressive enough.”  You can imagine the tension in the air when we waited for an hour for our free drinks to find that we were shafted by some other group that called him every second of the night.  The manager of the end location even signed our ticket saying that we were the first ones there.  This angered the drunken group.  Alfred almost became green and snapped necks.  I’m not sure how to stop a drunk German guy from murdering, but I think it involves a train.

We spent the rest of the night completely pissed off and finishing a complimentary bottle of champagne from the second place prize.  Much of the conversation consisted of anger and frustrations focused on different ways to torture and kill the person organizing the event.  I absorbed every last bit of creativity just in case I ever need to write a story of a psychotic killer or Jack Bauer.  Most of these levels of revenge are removed from comic book villain motives and top selling novels because of its pure cruelty.  I think it’s violent enough to be made into an anime (oh, those crazy Japanese people).  If you don’t believe me, watch Elven Lied or Gantz.

I guess I can’t complain too much because it turned out to be a ridiculously fun night of sharing stories and making new friends.  I talked to a philosophy professor most of the time, and I followed his train of thoughts through the excitement of the night’s events.  Even if he didn’t tell me what he did, I knew he could only be a philosopher by his extreme persistence to read into every action and calculate every perspective.  In almost every scenario he developed for the organizer of the event, he was humble and partially blamed himself.  I could tell that in any other situation, he would have found some zen balance, but this time it was completely the other guy’s fault.

First mistake: He made exceptions to his own rule and didn’t tell us about it until we lost.  Second mistake: He insulted us by saying that we weren’t aggressive enough to inform him of our progress.  Third mistake: He didn’t try to comfort us in any way by offering our money back or treating us to a round of drinks.  Even though he was completely trashed, I would have expected a courtesy of reciprocation and humiliation by any human being at his age.  All he had to say was, “Look, I made a huge mistake for not letting you know about this earlier.  Let me make it up to you by buying you a drink and we’ll enjoy the rest of the night inside.  At least you guys got second place and get a free bottle of champagne.”  Do you see what happened there?  You admitted to a clear mistake, and you tried to make it up to us.  Plus, you reminded us of our reward and did it without offending us.  There are three parts to sorry: 1) I’m sorry. 2) I was wrong. 3) How can I fix it?  ::Shakes head in dismissal:: Common sense.

~See Lemons Win Anyway

"just get the stamp and get out.  Max 5 minutes or I kick your ass."

Brazilians know how to eat

 

 

damn.. look at that pink

damn.. look at that pink

Random Observation/Comment #93: Brazilians know how to eat their beef.  This hypothesis was confirmed when I met a Brazilian family Upstate that buys their own cow from a farm, and owns three freezers to keep her fresh for 6 months of eating.  When the mother said, “I went to a farm to buy the meat in this soup,” I thought her “farm” was a Upstate saying for grocery store.  When I asked how often she went, I realized she must have had 250 pounds of moo left in her freezers.  I opened it pretending to find a drink just to make sure – Impressive.

 

My arm started to look like a proper sacrifice for my stomach pains.  This odd glaze fell over my eyes as I pictured recipes over everyone’s body parts.  People’s names blended into new dishes: Rodrigo soufflé, Mia Tenderloin, Richie Shish kebab.  Even inanimate objects morphed themselves into savory meats.  I imagined swimming in a pool of gravy and mashed potatoes.  I think that would be like quick sand.  The gravy pits would probably explode and form gaps that suck you into its bottomless pit of deliciousness.  What would be the worst thing to happen would be if it was made from that crappy boxed mashed potatoes garbage and gravy without gravy master.  I would probably cry.  Surrounded by a mashed potato lava quick sand pit of doom doesn’t sound very appealing to me unless there are Idaho potatoes and garlic involved.

Needless to say, I had skimped on lunch knowing that dinner would be a feast.  I think I ate an onigiri and drank a 1.5 liter of Aquarius to pass the day. I shopped around the area to ease my appetite.   It’s weird how that type of distraction can keep me full through the day.  I might need to start getting help for shopping.  Shopping alone is the first sign of a problem.  I think I just need someone to pull into the jeans obsession and I’ll be okay.  Two people shopping is not an addiction – that’s a Saturday.

The Brazilian buffet was called “EternA” and it reminded me of the “Master Grill” in Flushing.  There’s a normal buffet of mediocre foods, but the main course of meats come from the guys with the large knives and skewers.  A little salt-shaker-looking contraption has green painted on one side and red painted on another.  Always keep it green.  Keep the meats coming!  Friends with smaller stomachs should sit around me.  The rule is: Continue asking for more even if you’re not going to eat it because either me or Richie will certainly take that off your plate.

I think the main things I ate that night was red meat and cherry tomatoes.  I took pictures pointing to the part of the happy cow I was about to devour.  I felt so barbaric, yet the tender cuts relinquished any morsel of guilt.  The meat was already killed, butchered, marinated, grilled, and served on my plate in perfectly pink slices.  Wouldn’t I be offending the sacrifice by not, at least, enjoying this orgasmic taste to its fullest extent?  I think I would have had an erection, but my stomach was too full to maintain the blood flow. 

Before you completely stuff your face and fall into a food comatose state, be sure to stay awake and leave room for the best part: Toasted cinnamon pineapple.  I didn’t even think it was possible to enjoy something so much when I’m on the verge of breaking my belt buckle.  I think it was analogous to seeing baby Jesus with your taste buds.  I can’t explain it any better than that.  I’m not even going to try.  What a good dinner.

~See Lemons Carnivorous

orgasmic

orgasmic

Oh how I’ve missed you, Osaka

 

 

ooo a pretty flower.

ooo a pretty flower.

Random Observation/Comment #91: It had only been 3 weeks of traveling with no idea where to sleep and full-unplanned days, but this was enough time for me to be thankful for a comfortable bed and a reliable place to keep my belongings.  I long for such adventures, but I don’t know if this excitement is what I really I truly want.  Maybe it’s all an excuse to run away from commitments in relationships, careers, lifestyles, and everything that governs my life.  If I throw myself into a hole, will it help me make a ladder?  (That made sense in my head – very gnomic).

 

This would be my last week of a laundry list of luxuries.  Every moment needed to be embraced and enjoyed before returning to a routine lacking cute Japanese girls and a ridiculous number of vending machines.  I knew I would miss a lot of things from Osaka, so I gave myself time to experience all of my favorites one last time.  The names of a few girls popped into my mind, but I was reluctant to pursue.  I felt these sharp stabs of guilt plunged by my own hand.  It is all for the better.

I visited the lab to see some familiarity.  Kadiru had taken my seat, and the name “new Clemens” after I had left.  Everything looked the same.  I don’t know why I expected such a huge transformation; it had only been 3 weeks.  It felt like the beginning of the trip again.  There was lively conversation and I shared a lot of the pictures I had taken from Mt. Fuji.  Friends were not so impressed by the 6,000 pictures I took in 3 weeks, but rather shook their heads with a light dismissal of a recognized addiction.   I was surprised how well they knew me after only two months. 

I guess someone could easily spot the photographer in me (I didn’t actually eat one) if they observed me for one day.  Every meal, situation, event, object, incident, occasion, or occurrence (I know most of those are synonyms) was recorded.  If three camera angles weren’t enough to tell the whole story, my soul stealing notepad would always clear things up.  Clearly, this was an indication of my problem.  It was an itch I couldn’t stop scratching.  Every other thought involved capturing the previous one in order to post it in a blog the next day.  It had taken control of my life.  My world revolved around writing about my world revolving around writing.  The recursion confused me, but yet I kept writing in circles.  Somehow, I had defined my words with the same letters in different orders.

I had lost all hope as I drowned in a sea of literary amusement.  Unfortunately for me, there was no easy cure.  There was no 12-step program where I could succumb to some religious salvation.  I needed to do this by myself and with my own willpower.  I started drinking to keep my mind from focusing on remembering every detail.  The steady buzz throughout the night left me social and consumed in sharing my opinions with other people.  I didn’t have the time to sit at home and write.  There weren’t enough sober hours in the day.

I would like to think I’ve recovered from this, but I often have nightmares where I just can’t stop writing in that notepad.  The camera grows arms and chokes me while blinding me with the flash.  Oh, the humanity… Luckily, my friends, black and tan, are not far away to cure my obsession.  Sure, you may say “it’s not healthy to cure an obsession (in this case, photography) by introducing an addiction (in this case, alcohol) to solve your problems.”  Well to that I say, umm… that’s a good point.

~See Lemons Just Chill

 

damn straight - I'm Brad Pitt.

damn straight - I'm Brad Pitt

JICA… nice

 

 

balcony view

balcony view

Random Observation/Comment #90: I don’t usually act very stressed or concerned about anything, but that’s usually because everything goes according to a set of expected outcomes.  In my mind, there are plans for every little thing that shouldn’t even be relevant.  I’m not a big fan of surprises.  It’s most probably a control issue or a desire for security and stability, but I think everyone has some level of this obsession.  I mention this because booking a full week in Jica was the best decision I could have made to relieve stress.  Homelessness in the middle of a foreign country with little-to-no means of communication seems to put a damper on my sight-seeing enjoyment.  In the back of my mind, I keep worrying about my clothes, laptop, and luggage like a mother worries about her teenage daughter’s love life – I really wanted to put up surveillance cameras and hire undercover investigators (In my experience, most Moms are psychotically protective CIA Moms).

 

The moment I stepped foot into the lobby, I knew I had walked into a five star hotel straight from a brochure.  I saw chuckling groups of diverse ethnic backgrounds in congregations around a reception desk.  The generically cute Japanese girl wearing her well-ironed uniform at the reception desk spoke perfect English while maintaining a flawless smile.  There wasn’t even a pause to swallow excess saliva or any form of lip movements to interrupt her pearly whites.  She did it so well that she could have been a ventriloquist, or a robot (This oddly made me attracted to her).  The entrance was complete with the photoshopped insertion of a businessman reading a newspaper near the futuristically tacky furniture in the lobby.  I couldn’t tell the difference between this view and a poster made by an architect to show their finished product.

The receptionist’s welcome was warm and chewy.  I felt important, but it didn’t seem like a forceful act.  She made casual conversation through her genuine interest while finishing all the paperwork and keeping eye contact – it was a textbook execution.  Her form amazed me and I wished I could have tipped her for the excellent service.  This is the Japanese mentality that I respect most – a pride in their job and overall helpfulness.  I remember much earlier in the trip, I was trying to make a phone call with a calling card to the Erics.  I couldn’t figure out what the telephone error was, so I walked into a hotel and asked the reception desk for assistance.  The guy literally abandoned his station, walked me to the nearest phone, and dialed the number for me – waiting until I was satisfied with the answer.  I’m not sure if this treatment was for foreigners, but I’ve only had these positive experiences with talking to employees of any company.  Everyone is just so accommodating.  I feel like someone could definitely take advantage of this kindness.

The hotel interior design was so simple and shiny.  My single room was huge compared to any place in Manhattan and I was only paying $35 a day for a full week stay.  I had my own twin size bed, large desk, drawers, in-room internet access, and bathroom.  This was my bachelor pad.  The balcony overlooked a lake and the TV provided me with unlimited crazy Japanese game shows.  Unfortunately, Jica is a little secluded from the rest of the city life, but there are frequent buses that stop at major stations and locations for the doctors and international students that mainly live there.  Before you leave, free breakfast with all the cherry tomatoes you can eat is also provided.  I love you, cherry tomatoes.

As with all of my stays, I wandered around the building like it was a museum.  The floor plans mapped in my mind so I could find my way around in case of emergencies.   Besides having really spacious rooms, this international housing area had three pool tables, a volleyball/basketball court, two tennis courts, a piano, karaoke rooms, and two ping pong tables.  There were designated times for all events, like a ping pong day and hour.  Every hallway was decorated with some type of artifact from around the world like it was all for historical display.

One very important thing about the stay is its midnight curfew, which I broke almost every night.  They expect you to return every night so you have to notify the front desk when you plan to sleep somewhere else.  I’m not going to lie – it felt really good telling someone where I was as if they actually cared.  It gave me a taste of home that had been missing in my past 3 months living independently.  I think the staff actually sleeps in their offices because I walked in at 3AM and someone was there to greet me with my room key.  This place made me feel safe.  I was very impressed.  I wouldn’t mind living here as a rental for a year.

~See Lemons Really Lucky

 

beautiful hallway on the main floor

beautiful hallway on the main floor

The day of The Climb

that's the best picture I could get in a dark movie theater

that's the best picture I could get in a movie theater

Random Observation/Comment #85: The movie theater in Shinjuku is gi-normous and literally has a stage with curtains.  It had fancy, soft, red seats made for a Broadway show.  I probably just picked a nice theater in the area, but I was still very impressed.

 

After checking out of the hotel, I slowly walked around Shinjuku to prepare myself for the long day ahead.  I had 4 hours to kill before leaving at the station so I decided to indulge in a theatrical experience for the first time in Japan.  I was reluctant to go to the movies because of the outrageous prices.  Who pays 2000 yen for a movie?  What a rip-off!  The student price is 1500 yen, which is a little more reasonable. After all my reasoning and weighing, I figured that spending $15 for two hours was a pretty economically sound decision.  I could have been window shopping and accidentally bought something $150 in those two hours, so I’m pretty glad this forced me to stay away from temptations.  Luckily for me and my wallet, Japanese clothes do not fit my style (or my size).  There’s way too much excessive junk and extreme scenester status.

I was forced to watch The Mummy 3, kicking and screaming.  My nails latched onto the carpet and my hands grabbed anything to keep me from that room.  The Japanese crew was surprisingly strong for their size.  They threw me into the theater and locked the doors with a thunderous thud.  My neck twisted, and my body flailed as I rolled closer to the screen.  As I slowly lifted my body in a pathetic pushup, I heard the opening scenes of Paramount pictures.  Sigh.  This is going to suck.  Why did this have to be the only movie playing in the theater? 

I love previews.  It’s the only time I get to be a critic for a movie and share my thoughts with the whole row in front of me and random strangers beside me.  I become so judgmental when I’m in the zone.

My eyes were glued to the screen.  The contrast between the Japanese and English methods of portraying a movie was fascinating.  The Japanese didn’t use any of the old fashion techniques to make the movie interesting, which to me, made all of the previews completely bizarre.  We don’t normally notice it because it’s so overdone, but the deep voice narrator and the carefully chosen cut scenes along with the action music is essential to the preview, and thus, an increase of the probability I will remember the movie.   Leaving out the prequels and sequels they’re trying to pull off these days, the previews need to contrast the corresponding movie.  In addition, the movie that this preview is playing for should also correctly target the audience.  For example, if I’m about to watch Rambo, I don’t want to see “Music & Lyrics” as a preview. 

Chick flicks and Masculine Action movies should be an obvious split.  The phenomenon is when this split is not taken into account because of a language barrier.  The Japanese previews were for TV soap operas and prime time series with that TV commercial flair to it.  It reminded me of a preview to an episode of “Friends” or “Seinfeld.”  There was upbeat music and very comical lines that stood out in the fade.  It completely caught me off guard and actually made me put my hands up in confusion.  I wanted to just say “what the hell is going on in Japan?”  I would think that people would also understand what I’m talking about with the obvious back-and-forth switch between preview types, but no one gave a surprised reaction.

When I scanned the theater again, I understood the reason.  Everyone around me was either 65 or 21 years old.  There was no intermediate age range and it left me puzzled for quite some time.  I get the dating scene, but why old people?  Were they really that bored? Or perhaps they wanted to learn some English?  It was so odd that I started to count.  I wrote it in my notebook – 12 couples, 16 old people, 6 singles, 3 pairs of girls, and 1 family.  I’ve never been so observant at an American movie theater, but this seems like a very odd distribution for a action movie.  It crossed my mind that some of them could be homeless and just spending 2 hours sleeping in a nicely air-conditioned theater, but most of them seemed to be intently reading the translations.   The only thing that fit was the practice of the language or a way to waste time.  Whatever the reason, it confused me.

Well, the movie was exactly what I expected given the high bar set by Mummy 1 and 2.  I guess it was entertaining to see people get eaten by beetles.  I admired the extremely intricate CG with all the fighting sequences, but this is the case with all movies these days.  All in all, it wasn’t painful to sit through, but I wouldn’t go watch it again.

After the movie, I walked around town for two hours waiting for the bus.  I purposefully had a late lunch to ensure that I wouldn’t be starving by 7PM.  Guess what? I was starving by 7PM.  I think my body just likes digesting food in relation to the time because I always get hungry during the allotted time slots in the day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It almost doesn’t matter what I ingest during the intermediary hours because I’ll always be able to eat during the designated times.  I must be very faithful to my schedule.

I bought the tickets at the station a day in advance, but I think it would be fine to buy them 4 hours ahead of time and then walk around the area for shopping.  The bus station is across the street from Yodobashi Umeda.  It’s easier to just ask someone for directions to the bus for Mt Fuji when you get there.

The bus ride starting at 5PM passed a lot of beautiful scenery along the way.  The setting sun gave the clouds a mysterious glow that made my eyes glaze.  Despite my picture taking efforts, I only got indistinguishable blurs.  Sometimes you just have to give up with the camera and just keep it in your memory.  This is something I will not be able to share because I am not (yet) telepathic with my words.

Along with the bus came a majority of Japanese tourists and a few English speaking college students.  The English was music to my ears.  All of the sounds were filtered and I overheard all of the conversations that I would normally probably ignore.  After months of struggling with deciphering Japanese, it was a rewarding experience to fully understand conversations.  We naturally made conversation, and eventually became hiking buddies.

~See Lemons Start the Climb

 

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Climbing mates 🙂

Mt. Fuji – you leave me confused

 

What a beautiful sight

What a beautiful sight

Random Observation/Comment #84: Don’t wear shorts when you’re climbing any mountain.  It’s freakin’, ridiculously cold up there at night.  The guide books do not lie, and you are not superman.

 

I’ll keep the first entry of Mt. Fuji as a general overview of my impressions of the climb, an insight on what to expect, and a few suggestions for future climbers from my personal experience.  I’ll use the subsequent entries to go into the little details that I fondly enjoy expressing.  I’ll skimp a little on the historical facts that you’d probably find on Wikipedia or travelwiki page.

I did not follow a tour guide, nor did I start the travel with the friend.  All I knew before the trip was a very general idea of what I wanted to do and the location of the bus stop that would take me to the fifth station.  I followed a route suggested by Yuka to start from the 5th station at 7PM and climb to the peak to see the sunrise at 4AM, and then climb back down for breakfast at 9AM.  I had been walking 10 miles every weekend and working out for the two months in Japan, so I thought that I could do the whole thing in one 12-hour stretch.  Now that I think back, I see that I was a dumbass.  It’s completely doable, but you’ll be complaining about the cold temperature, windiness, difficulty breathing, hunger, and exhaustion after about 30 minutes (two hours max).

For those that do not want to do the full 12-hour stretch, there are cabins at all of the stations that provide lodging along the mountain.  You can climb the first 5 hours to station 8.5 and then sleep until 2:30AM and climb the rest.  I warn you that the top of the mountain is ridiculously cold and you will probably not last longer than 30 minutes waiting.  It might seem okay while you’re going up, but remember there’s nowhere to climb at the top and there’s no side of the mountain to block the wind.  Not to mention that the cabins at the top don’t open until 4AM, so if you get there early, you won’t see anything in the dark and you won’t feel anything from the cold.

For those that don’t want to walk in the freezing night, there is a nice afternoon walk to the top to see the sunset.  You should be back down the mountain by 11PM and ready for a good night’s rest.

For those hardcore walkers, you could do a full day hike from the base of the mountain with bears and other wildlife craziness.  I thought about it, and chose to play it safe (let’s not become another freak accident bear mauling statistic).  It would be a bit of a buzz kill if I died from this hike.  If you’re crazy enough, you’ll bring a bow and arrow to protect yourself.  Who knows?  Maybe you’ll rub honey all over your naked body and aggravate bears with distasteful “your mom” jokes.  Well, whatever floats your boat.

I climbed Mt. Fuji in mid-August, where it was normal to have sudden urges to strip and wish for someone to throw cold Gatorade on your hot, sweaty body.  It was only a 10 minute walk to the train station and my entire chest was already drenched.  I couldn’t imagine wearing anything but shorts and bring a few layers of shirts to fight some of the winds up the mountain.  Boy, did I grossly underestimate the weather.  I was on the verge of frostbite on my calves, toes, and fingers.  It was almost as bad as that time I went skiing double blacks without gloves on (yeah… ouch).  This leads me to my first tip…

Tip #1: Dress appropriately.  You must have a windbreaker and long pants.  It’s a good idea to dress as if you’re going skiing.  I would even suggest the goggles and face mask because the wind blows up sand and gravel that gets in your teeth and eyes.  It’s definitely not a pleasant feeling to have that gritty chew.  Wear a lot of layers because it will start off in the fifth station with a gentle and relaxing breeze.  This will quickly advance to an unforgiving wrath.  It’s better to put on the layers while you’re still warm, instead of waiting until you’re shivering.  Don’t forget the gloves because there will be times where you have to support yourself climbing over large rocks.  I bought two pairs for 100 yen and they worked out really well.  The flashlight is also essential because it will be pitch black along the paths.  I would recommend one of the head lamps because it’s much more convenient, less tiring for your arms, and generally one less thing to worry about.  Bring comfortable shoes with traction that you don’t mind getting dirty.  If it rains, you’re basically going to be trekking all the way up in mud.  Which brings me to my next tip…

Tip #2: Pray it doesn’t rain.  Check the forecast and plan well.  I’ve never actually climbed in the rain, but I could imagine partly Hell with a chance of Damnation.  I think if it rains, it would just freeze on your face along with the sand/pebbles pelting all of your exposed flesh.  I would suggest an umbrella, but I think you would fly away like Mary Poppins.

Tip #3: Bring food and a lot of water.  You may not feel thirsty, but it’s probably a good idea to stop every 15 minutes to catch your breath and replenish some fluids.  I brought two 2L bottles of water and I finished it when I got to the top.  The cups of noodles are double the price from what you buy at the convenience stores, but it’s better to spend $2 than to be starving and cold.  Be aware that the beverages and food gets increasingly more expensive as you go up the stations.  If you bring bananas, make sure the water doesn’t squash them.  They will probably be frozen and gross when you get to the top, but you’ll really want to eat them anyway.

Tip #4: Don’t travel alone.  I was lucky enough to meet three very fun people on the bus ride up.  Not only were these people great for random conversation, but they were also really warm when we huddled together like a flock (?) of penguins to keep warm.  I could imagine a faster walk up the mountain, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much without good company.

Tip #5: Plan accordingly – this is at least a two day event.  Let’s say you do the actual climb Monday night to Tuesday morning.  You will need a well-rested, alcohol-free night on Sunday and a two hour nap for Monday afternoon.  Take a 5PM bus up to the fifth station by 7PM.  Get up to the 8th station by 2AM and then slowly make your way up to the peak by 4AM sunrise.  See the sunrise and rejuvenate yourself by 5:30AM and start climbing down to get back to the 5th station by around 10AM.  After the exhausting 13-hour climb up and down, you will be completely gone Tuesday and probably messed up in sleeping pattern for Wednesday.

Tip #6: Buy a stick at the 5th station.  It’s a bit of an annoying souvenir to bring home, but it’s definitely great to have when climbing.  You don’t need the Japanese flag and you’ll probably want to take off that silly bell because it gets annoying after 10 minutes.  The stick itself is about 1000 yen ($10), but there are these 200 yen ($2) stamps that every station sears onto the stick.  It becomes quite an expensive souvenir – I should know because I tried to get every stamp at every station and spent close to $50.  If I were to do it again, I would only get 3-5 of the normal stamps along the way and then get the main one at the top of the mountain saying that you’ve completed the climb.

I think the idea of climbing a mountain is scary, and generally brings to mind images of athletic guys and gals wearing under-armor and really cool sun glasses scaling a large boulder on the side of a dessert.  Although this is an accurate representation of some hardcore climbers, climbing Mt. Fuji is a different monster.  It’s not as extreme as hiking in a huge snow storm through patches of ice and gravel that do not show a definitive end.  Instead, you will see a lot of other tourists climbing beside you.  In a large group, you may even have to queue behind the slowest climbers to reach the top.  Try to beat the rush hour traffic climbing up, but don’t get there so early that you freeze to death waiting.

Climbing Mt. Fuji should be approached with the mindset of conquering any obstacle.  You’ll start off ecstatic and energized for the walk ahead of you, but this feeling will soon be replaced by exhaustion.  You will need to exert some effort to be successful, but your reward will be a once in a lifetime beautiful sunrise.  It’s a surprisingly tough hike, but you should be fine if you don’t take it as a competition.  Take your time with a steady pace and you’ll make it there with time to spare.

~See Lemons Climb Fuji-san

Above the clouds

Above the clouds