Hiking in Japan: Nokogiriyama

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Whew!

It’s been a long break, and I have a whole list of topics which require attention. So let’s get to it!

Looking for an enjoyable hike outside of Tokyo? You should try Nokogiriyama!

First of all, you get to take a ferry. It’s a bit of a walk from Keikyu-Kurihama or Kurihama station, so I recommend taking the bus from the train station to the ferry dock. The ferry leaves roughly every hour, and costs around 750yen. I’ll explain why later in this post, but I thought the ferry ride was perhaps the best part of the trip. First of all, the seahawks follow the ferry because people throw food to them. They dive in and out between the seagulls, and it is quite a show. Additionally, you can see Mt. Fuji in the distance as you cross the bay (provided it’s a clear day). You can also go around the bay via train from Tokyo.

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Mt. Nokogiriyama is home to the largest stone Buddha statue in Japan, which is why I decided to go. The weather was great, so I made my only mistake of the trip – I walked to the south entrance of the temple from the ferry port. The maps of the area are misleading, and you need to know this. There is no safe path to the mountain trail from the ferry port if you head south. You can take the cable car easily enough from the ferry – there are plenty of signs. Fool that I was, I wanted the “full” experience and decided to walk.

I wound up going through some frightening highway tunnels. These tunnels have no pedestrian space – you have to walk along the shoulder, on a curving road. I was genuinely uncomfortable around several corners, as big trucks would go roaring by and I only had a couple of feet to work with. In between the tunnels, there were some beautiful ocean overlooks and a couple tiny roadside shrines. I would not recommend walking to the back/base of the mountain if you have children, strollers, or anything bulky. Either take the ropeway up, or take the train from Hama-Kanaya (again in the Ferry town/Kanaya) to Hota. It might be a slightly longer walk from Hota, but it will save you some clenched cheeks.

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I Google Translated this sign before entering the tunnel – it tells drivers to look out for cyclists and pedestrians. Once inside, however, there is no space for a pedestrian to feel truly safe.

After the tunnels, I found the road leading up to the path towards the temple. There was no one on the path (probably because they were all on the safe side of the mountain), which made for a pretty hike up to the entrance. At the back entrance, there was a solitary woman working in a garden, who came up to me as I wandered through the gate. I paid my fee (600yen), and got to exploring.

From the “southern” entrance, the first few photo stops include some pretty traditional temple buildings, including a beautiful wooden structure. Then comes the large Daibutsu. It was pretty warm that day, and the Buddha is out in the sun, so I did not linger. I lit my incense, said my prayers, and moved upwards. Of note: if you are looking for traditional Jizu/Buddha figurines, there is a sort of shrine where people stack the little figures by the hundreds. You can buy them at the temple shop nearby (it’s also where you light the incense).

Nokogiriyama is all stairs, so be advised. There are very few inclined spaces – it’s primarily stairs. So if you dislike stairs…well, this is not your day my friend. I realized this around the two-third’s point, as I was passing through the alcoves of preserved Buddhas on the way up to the “Hell view” (Jigoku Nozoki). It was tiring – I like hiking when there is a variety of inclines. I imagine that it would also be a difficult climb if you were in a wheelchair or needed assistance. I passed elderly couples huffing and puffing, and gazelle-like children who were literally jumping up and down the flights of steps up to Jigoku Nozoki.

The overlook is a sheer face down, and this is not a natural occurrence. This mountain was a stone quarry for a time, and so you can see the tidy work of the stonecutters. I liked it, and I asked a stranger to take my picture. This is where being in Japan works to one’s advantage – I left a stranger with my smartphone for quite a while as I walked down one viewing station to the overlook itself, which is a separate point. It’s a beautiful view. You can see all the way down to Hota, across the bay to Kurihama. It had grown hazy in the afternoon, so Mt. Fuji and Tokyo had disappeared, but I could see the Yokohama Bay bridge in the distance.

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Nokogiriyama is a good beginner climb, as it tops out at just under 400m (1200ft). I congratulated myself on climbing all the way up, so I took the fast, efficient, and only mildly unnerving cable car down. It took me about an hour and some change to make it around the mountain to the south entrance, and so by the time I got to the top it occurred to me that I would have saved a great deal of time if I had just been lazy and spent the money on the cable car.

The fishing village was still a bit closed (the season hadn’t officially kicked off), but there were several pleasant tourist shops selling fish and pickled vegetables, not to mention stuffed oranges as mascots. I wandered around the largest shop for awhile, waiting for the return ferry.

I took the ferry back, and again I thought it was a true highlight of the trip. It’s forty-five minutes of comfortable travel. I like water traveling, so I loved the pleasant rocking as we crossed the bay. There are fishing boats, large tankers. I even saw a submarine!  And I found I enjoyed the trip as much as the climb because it was something both exciting and calming. Unlike traveling by train, the ferry doesn’t stop and the whole of the trip is out of my control. All I need to do is sit/stand and enjoy being on a tiny bit of the ocean. I opted to sit in the cooled inner cabin and write in my journal on the trip back, having acted like a child watching the hawks on the journey to the mountain.

If you are are in need of an easy escape, Nokogiriyama is a great option. Want to know more? Here are some separate pages of information! Final information – take the bus from the port to the train station.  Go, and enjoy!

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You can see the Hamakanaya port below you from the peak.

A Weekend of Cultural Woofs

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Sakura season is coming to an end – by the time this goes to print I think all but the sturdiest cherry blossoms will have been stripped by the powerful winds that have been blowing through Yokohama/Tokyo the past few days. I have a sort of philosophy about Sakura and why it’s so popular here in Japan, but I will save that for another post.

Taking advantage of the beautiful weather, I took a weekend to enjoy some cultural events in the Tokyo area.

First, I headed to Naka-Meguro after getting a Facebook suggested post. It said, “Go to the Danish Royal Embassy and see the floral arrangements!” So off I went. I’ve never been around Naka-Meguro that much. It reminded me of Chicago’s North side a little bit, full of boutiques and a multinational collection of restaurants. Just outside the Embassy a giant tree was losing its leaves, so I got the strangest conflict of impressions, as the street, temperature, and scents made me think of autumn, even though spring was all around

The cost of the Danish exhibit “YELL” is 500 yen. And let me say, it’s worth it if you have the time to spare (it runs till April 27).

On the eternal debate between flowers and chocolate, I fall firmly in the flowers camp. There’s more variety with flowers, better smells, and as neither chocolate nor flowers last forever I’d prefer to have the colors and variety. Looking at master arrangements can be just as thought-provoking as more traditional artwork, and Mr. Bergmann’s arrangements evoke a range of emotions, from austere wheat spheres to loud and brash collections of stems and blooms. I was impressed with the sheer variety of plants on display.

I also enjoyed the temporary structure of the gallery – pine and canvas that suggested camping and emphasized the fleeting nature of the installments. I love it when space and purpose meet. I bet I’m not alone in this thought…

There are other pieces as well, as there appears to be an upcoming celebration of Danish-Japanese relations in May (I would link to the websites, but they are all coming up as “suspicious” by my virus software. I don’t want to post bad links). When I get more information, I will try to post it here.

After the Danish exhibit, I headed further into Tokyo to attend the second of my cultural events – the 10th annual Tokyo Wan-Wan Festival in Yoyogi Park! What’s a Wan-Wan?

Why this is!

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It’s the Japanese interpretation of a dog’s bark. I think it’s fun to compare how something as “universal” as a dog’s bark gets translated across the globe. I believe I read somewhere that dogs bark in different languages (*Google search* yep, here is an example). And the Japanese take almost too good care of their dogs. Clothes, strollers, custom grooming – these are the fanciest of dogs.

I miss my own dogs. It’s one of the hardest things about living abroad; leaving all my animals behind. So this was my opportunity to shamelessly pet some fluffy doges, doggos, and puppers. The festival was far larger than I anticipated, with rows of dog-related stalls selling custom treats, leashes, and clothing. There was a space for showing off the well-groomed dogs, a space for demonstrating tricks, and at least two or three other spaces the purposes of which I did not figure out.

This is obviously my shameless attempt to lure readers with pictures of dogs. Here you go:

 

After this, I went to Shibuya to meet up with some coworkers. I took a final photo of another, more famous dog, and went out for a night of carousing. Nomihodai (all you can drink), combini beers, and some mucking about in the famous crowded crossing of Shibuya square. I met some of my former students, and was luckily not so drunk as to agree to go clubbing with them. I also met an “avant-garde” jazz musician who was photographing his cover art along one of the avenues.

All in all, this was a fine day.  Sometimes I fear that I get so caught up in the day-to-day of working in Japan that I forget that I’m actually living in Japan. When I was in China, there were not many means of getting out of my city, but everything was so utterly different that my daily life did not have a recognizable routine. Here it’s different. I have co-workers, a full day of classes, and a pattern that repeats itself. My company enjoys and promotes this sort of unchanging repetition I believe, and that’s alright. Nevertheless, it’s important to take the opportunity to go out into the world, especially when the world offers such wonderful sights.

Finding a Gym

Last semester, I had to walk three miles every day to and from school. I tried joining a 24-hour gym near my train station, but they wouldn’t accept me because I was not fluent in Japanese (yes, fluent, according to my friend’s boyfriend’s translation, who added it was code for “you aren’t Japanese.” Ouch). I did a little bit of yoga, but ultimately I considered the walk to be my “exercise.”  While my weight and body shape did not change that much, I inevitably toned up. Excellent default improvement!

My new company-assigned apartment is significantly closer to work, so I want to go back to working out at an actual gym. They are everywhere in Japan. There are 24 hour fitness rooms, large traditional gyms (like Golds), a growing collection of Crossfit specific gyms, massive community centers that have traditional Japanese sport rooms (martial arts, archery, etc.), all sorts of boxing and martial arts schools, and everything in between. Somehow I’m in a neighborhood with no neighborhood gym, save for a Curves the size of a broom closet. I’m not allowed to use the gym at my campus, so I had to expand my search.

After searches for “Gym,” “Sports Center,” “Fitness Complex,” and such, I found four good candidates for my new gym. I avoided gyms that were focused on Crossfit or offered any sort of “complementary” metabolism programs, since the advertised programs jumped in price once the complementary periods ended, and my Japanese is too weak to negotiate that kind of language.  I really wanted a pool, and my maximum budget was 10,000 yen/month (roughly $100/month).  From the map search, I started researching websites.

Research was difficult, as not every site had a good English translation. And comparing price points and distances, not to mention thinking ahead of my possible commute to and from work, I got frustrated. In the back of my mind, I remembered that the glorious spa and onsen complex in Tsunashima, Prime Fitness & Spa, has a gym. It was over my maximum budget, but only by about 2,000 yen a month, and I would get unlimited access to the beautiful on-site onset.  I tried to convince myself that I would happily go out of my way to access a gym I recognized, and that the onsen would be enough of a draw.

Then I cleared my head, and remembered what I learned from watching a lot of “House Hunters: International” back home. Going over budget is not a good option. While I enjoy onsens, I’m not a worshipper. And there was no way I was going to commute out of my way several days a week.  The price might guilt me into action, but I like having money to spend on other things (like my toaster oven, and the bread to put into the toaster oven).

The solution was to go and do some on-site visits – again, much like “House Hunters: International.” I do enjoy binge watching that show back in the States.

Gym 1: Jexer Fitness: Just under budget, had a pool, off a train line – I found this one by myself, after a bit of a walk. The place was friendly, very crowded, and just under by budget. I got a tour, and it was packed with people. I think this is because I visited on the weekend. Even so, I got a positive vibe from this gym. The women who worked the front desk were quite friendly, and were very patient with my lack of language skills.

Gym 2: Konami Sports Complex: Over budget, pool, six stories of options, closer to home – I took a friend who spoke Japanese with me to the Konami sports complex. This place had everything I wanted, but it was cold and lacked personality. That might sound like a strange thing to say about a gym, but nothing about this place made me want to go. And the price was almost comical – unlimited access cost about 15,000 yen/month. The cheapest monthly option allowed access to the gym four times a month. Yes – 8,000 yen/month to visit the gym four times a month.  So I said no to Konami.

Gym 3: Renaissance Lite: Under budget, old, has pool, ten minute walk to major train station – this was my last visit, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Removed from the train station, sort of tucked next to a school, this gym was old but immediately welcoming. Not as new as Tipness, not as big as Konami, Renaissance Lite gym had a pool, a training room (fitness center), an aerobics studio, and a rooftop driving range. What’s more, it had an included onsen in the locker room. Best of all, the price was only 6,500 yen/month.

Gym 4: Tipness – Modern, new classes and facility, recently renovated after the earthquake: I did not visit Tipness after I decided that I liked Renaissance. The website did not have an English option, and the price points were all over the place.

Hooray! I have a gym! It would not have been so painless if I did not have someone to help me. I’m glad that I did the research and the leg work. And in a fine twist, I’m now walking about 3 miles a day to and from the gym (which I do just about every day, as I want to save on my transportation budget).

I anticipate joyfully dumping EFL stresses in my gym’s pool/ cardio courses…

 

 

 

 

…And into the Incinerator

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I got a letter from Japan Post, after failing to get that package.

I felt convinced it was going to tell me that I needed to go to Kawasaki to get this mysterious package. After asking and acting like a hopeless dope, I finally confirmed that the package was not my government ID card (my MyCard), which would have also required a signature. Turns out I got that weeks ago and filed it away so quickly I didn’t even realize I had gotten it.

Here is the essence of the letter:

“Someone is sending you bacon. You can’t import bacon into Japan. Do you want to return the bacon, or incinerate it?”

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…….

…….

…….

Yes, my father had sent me pre-cooked, microwaveable bacon. Japan found out, and Japan sent me all the friendly documents about what is ok and not ok to send to Japan. Shouldn’t they have sent this to my family? Also the meat wasn’t raw, or alive. It’s like sending someone jerky – I wonder if it’s illegal to import jerky into Japan…The brochure doesn’t say. It’s full of friendly looking officers and lists of “cloven hoofed” animals that can’t enter Japan, not to mention fish. Also “foul broods” of honeybees.

But here was the kicker – it was up to me to decide what to do with this illegal bacon.

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I do like bacon a lot. I’m not a bacon fanatic, though I do know a few. I felt a certain…internet pressure not to harm the bacon in any way (unless it was to eat it – that’s ok). However, as some of my friends here pointed out, if I sent it back my family would probably have to pay the cost of return.

The choice weighed heavy on me. It looks so final, doesn’t it? Return it, or INCINERATE IT. I pictured this gentle, unassuming package of pre-cooked bacon being thrown into an Orwellian furnace, wondering what it had done to deserve such treatment.

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I bet you can, you little snitch.

(I keep saying “pre-cooked” because it’s important that you understand that my family does not send me raw meat. I’m not a huge fan of  pre-cooked bacon myself, but in terms of practicality it’s one of the few bacon products that doesn’t require refrigeration, aside from bacon jerky and bacon bits, one of which I do like.)

I gave myself two whole days to decide what to do with the bacon. I asked co-workers their opinions, which varied once they stopped laughing at me. I considered what else was in the package that I would eventually get after I told them what to do with the meat.

Then, with heavy finality, I sent the bacon to the fires. What would you have done? Launch a daring raid on the Kawasaki Customs building in an effort to rescue the bacon? How many lives would you be willing to risk? HOW MANY – for BACON?!

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Nikko: Uphill Preface

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This photo is from my second day in Nikko, when it was still light. I’m uploading from my first night as opposed to my first day, because this story overshadowed my afternoon. And because it was so dark, I have no photos to accompany it, save for this one I took later in my journey.

2km according to Airbnb. 3k according to the message I received from my host and a second Google map search.

What my host failed to mention in any of our correspondence is that however many kilometers it is from the Tobu Nikko train station to his rental, 95% of the journey was uphill. Nikko is a mountain town, but I passed my afternoon on a relatively gentle slope, and the town itself seemed more in the basin than on the inclines.

Not so my accommodation, I realized. I passed the rental one of my fellow teachers recommended (sold out), and kept climbing. I passed the rental that I had cancelled (too many negative reviews), and kept climbing. I ran out of sidewalk, and light. I passed inn after inn, pausing for a moment at each opportunity to stand in a light source and check my photo map. And I kept climbing. I had not stretched or prepped in any way for such exercise. My legs eventually stopped feeling the good kind of tired. I could feel it in my quads – 2 miles uphill was a lot to ask after a day of hiking. They are going to hurt tomorrow.

In the darkness, I could still see the occasional silhouettes of the tall trees around me. It made for a moody walk, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the poisonous spiders, leeches, and other dangerous things that I had recently read live in Japan. I tried not to get too close to the trees and bushes, while also not wandering into the road. And then there was the rain, which I had not minded until I was going solidly uphill in the dark with my poncho draped over my bags to keep them dry. By the by – my poncho is my hero, but also the dumbest inanimate thing. It kept sliding to one side, or getting caught under the front wheel without actually draping over the bag itself. Ugh.

Anger kept me going after the halfway point. I was pissed off that there had been no mention of climbing a mountain in the description of the property, nor in the reviews. A pleasant place, the reviews had said. Beautiful location, the reviews had said. I drafted my own Airbnb review, scathing and full of really beautiful but negative vocabulary. I started wishing horrible things upon the owner for his omissions. Eventually, I lost the anger, and I could feel real fatigue eating at my edges. The closer I got to where I thought I was going, the more I felt like I was going to turn into a blubbering mess from sheer exhaustion. Why had I been so stupid as to hike all day and then go to my lodgings? Why had I not planned better for this?

I passed the house altogether at first because the rain hid the faint Christmas lights. I mistook my rental house for another. Luckily, the second house had a loud, sturdy akita who let me know that I was mistaken. As I tried to leave the stairs, an old man came out to the balcony and asked me something in Japanese – my Japanese is still so weak that I mostly guessed at what he could be asking. I must have cut a pretty pathetic figure – my rain poncho was ineffectively tied around my bags, I was wet, my legs were a little trembly, and I spoke atrocious Japanese.

“Pension?” he asks.
“Airbnb,” I reply, but I recognize the word. For some reason it’s on almost all the hotels I’ve seen thus far. They really like using French here apparently. He disappears and his wife (I assume) comes out. She looks at my phone, and the pair start arguing about the address. In desperation, I turn on my phone’s cellular service. I will pay the (probable) $20 in extra fees for one minute of functioning google translate and a working map.

“Is that address near here?” I put into the phone.
“Ok,” the woman says after reading the translation, and takes off walking in the rain. She is still in her house slippers, and the old man follows. I try to stop them, but I don’t have the words, and when I show the man my google translate for “You don’t have to walk with me, sir. Just point.” He nods and keeps walking.

So there we are, one wet, confused American in a red knit hat, and an old Japanese couple dressed like my great uncle Tom and aunt Dorothy (bless them), each under an umbrella. They get me to the gate of my rental around the block, and I bow as low as I possibly can. I can’t tell, but I bet they were relieved I knew the place. We all reached near epic levels of confusion.

They’re going to be even more confused tomorrow when there’s a bouquet of flowers waiting for them. I passed a florist earlier today, and I’ve been wanting to get flowers for someone lately.

Soaking in the tub, drinking very hot ginger tea, I can feel all my swear words dissipate. I was about ready to quit the whole trip, suck up the financial loss and pay to stay at one of the faux “Euro-style” inns I passed somewhere on the unending incline. The sort that charges hundreds of dollars a night. And I know I’ll be peeved in the morning, as there are no combini around here, and I don’t have wifi so I can’t just go online and do some research. But right now, in my comfortable and warming up rental, I’m simply happy to not be climbing anymore. Tomorrow, I know I’ll get a taxi up here, and walking downhill is going to be so much easier.

Good thing too, as I’m planning to hike up the neighboring mountain…

MVPs of the day:

My red knit hat: I bought it 50% off at a 300 yen shop this morning because it was unexpectedly nippy. It kept my head nice and warm, and though I was only dry because of the umbrella, the hat made me feel quite comfortable.
My flashlight: An LED light from my True Dungeon volunteering, this little guy was a light for me when all other lights went out (yeah, it’s my Elendril light)
My legs. God bless my legs, and forgive me for not stretching them. May they not tense up too much overnight. They did such a good job getting 3k up an unplanned mountain.