日本、三年 (Japan, Three years)
Sunday, October 13
Living in Japan I’ve started a new hobby, hiking. Over the years here I’ve acquired some gear, learned a lot about the backwoods, and made summit well over 20 times. My first mountain was Mt. Takao in western Tokyo. I climbed it with my girls from training, including Elisha. Elisha and I went on to climb many, many times together. Her boyfriend, and later husband, Yoshi, was our companion and together the three of us stood atop Japan many times. Since I conquered the first peak with Elisha, it felt right to finish the last one with her too.
BEEP BEEP BEEP. BEEP BEEP BEEP. BEEP BEEP BEEP.
4 AM. Alarm clock’s were invented for this time of day.
I rolled out of bed and stepped out onto my balcony. It was cold and I shivered.
“寒い (cold),” I whispered to myself.
Back inside I threw on some clothes and left with a heavy pack on my back. I shuffled down the street to the 7/11. I grabbed a basket and shopped for breakfast. Calories. Carbohydrates. Caffeine.
“Chemicals! Chemicals! I need chemicals!” I chanted.
With a plastic bag full of the aforementioned goodies I caught the first train north to Omiya (大宮). I hopped in the car with Yoshi and Elisha. We hit the road as the sun broke the horizon.
The early morning turned into mid morning. We stopped once more at a convenience store to pick up the day’s lunch. As I waited for my friends to finish shopping I picked up a dirty magazine off the rack. I laughed out loud at the absurd drawings. Elisha came up beside me.
“It’s strange,” she said, “these magazines are either full of pubescent girls or graying housewives. There’s no in-between.”
I scanned the selection in front of me. She was right.
“To each, their own,” I said.
Finally we pulled into the parking lot at the trail head. We opened the doors and a rush of cold air came in. It was seven degrees, 13 C (20 F) degrees colder than back in Tokyo. I hadn’t dressed for the weather. With no other option I suited up and strapped my pack on tight. We started down the path.
My heart began to pump warm blood and I soon forgot about the temperature.
Today’s mountain was Mt. Shirane (白根山) in Gunma prefecture (群馬県). Shirane is a series of volcanic mountains great for hiking in the warmer months and skiing in the winter. “Five colored lake” is a popular attraction. The lake has five unique colors to be enjoyed.
We started up the mountain and the air got thiner. I quickly remembered the temperature. The wind grew stronger and soon my exposed hands were numb. The sparse vegetation on the mountain top was covered in ice. It was actually below freezing. We pressed on and cleared a peak with a tremendous wind howling. Shortly after we made it to the top. 2,578 (8,500 ft) meters. Unfortunately it was much too cold and crowded at the top to stop for lunch so we started down.
An hour down from the peak and the weather turned beautiful. An autumn sky stood over us and brisk air filled our lungs. We found a mountain hut to rest in and eat lunch. Our bodies devoured the hot ramen from my stove top. After a few cookies for dessert we hit the trail again.
We cleared the five colored lake, I only saw three colors, and kept on. Nearly six hours after since our ascent we arrived back at the car. Yoshi drove us down the busy mountain and to a hot spring (温泉) to warm our cold bones. We soaked in the mineral filled water and followed it with a delicious dinner of beef, cabbage and beer. We had to contend with traffic on the drive back but I finally got back to the station. I had left town on the first train and was arriving back on the second to last train. It had been a full day. And a great way to finish my Japanese hiking career.
As I look west for a new home I do consider what outdoor opportunities will be in the area. I’ve found hiking to be an excellent hobby. It’s cheap, actually free, it’s healthy and it’s challenging. I wasn’t a hiker when I came here, (I’m from Nebraska, remember?) but I certainly consider myself to be one as I leave.
On to the next mountain.
Tuesday, October 15
A seasonal typhoon slammed into Japan on Tuesday. Actually it had been downgraded from a typhoon to a tropical storm. But it still brought hours of heavy rain with it. The rivers swelled and the streets were washed clean. And with great luck the terrible storm passed just when I left for work. That’s a great start to the week!
Living in a country with four distinct seasons I have really come to be aware of and appreciate nature. The ferociousness of a typhoon should of course be respected, but it can also be enjoyed.
Saturday, October 19
I attended a birthday party back in Tokyo after work on Saturday. I was invited by the birthday girl, whom I had briefly met three months prior at Tiffany’s birthday party. My accompanying friend bailed at the last-minute, leaving me two options: go stag or cancel. If you know me you know what I chose. Stag.
Undeterred I showed up and did my best to mingle with total strangers. It was a tad unnerving at first, but I soon found my groove. I knew no one when I arrived. There was no reason to depart like that. Luckily the majority of the patrons were English speakers so conversation was manageable. I moved around the party introducing myself to as many people as possible. Before long I had a collection of business cards and a host of names. It was a good test run for the mingling to come when I move back home.
While I’ve never been a shy one, I have learned some amazing social graces from the Japanese. A suave individual should be able to guess the temperature of a conversation by looking in. After joining the conversation, that person should know within 10 seconds where they actually stand. Thank you Japan, I have nearly mastered this skill.
Sunday, October 20
I finally made a trip out to Tokyo Sky Tree. This massive tower was completed last year. It’s the tallest tower, and the second tallest manmade structure in the entire world. Mitsuki and I had reserved tickets to visit during the evening. Unfortunately the weather was a little rainy which limited our view. Still it was an impressive building. Very tall and very modern.
I sometimes wonder if I can downgrade after living in a city as wonderful as Tokyo. How often can you simply gaze at the horizon and seen a truly imposing building standing well above skyscrapers. This is a heck of a town.
I think it’s safe to say that I’m now out of cultural bits to talk about. I’ve been here long enough now, three years, that nothing is really surprising anymore. I have adjusted so much to the culture that it’s nothing at all. It’s home. Perhaps that, in and of itself, is noteworthy. I’ve assimilated. This is home.
Obviously this isn’t home. I can’t speak the language. And more importantly, I don’t look remotely Japanese. However, I pay taxes, I use public transit, I follow the culture to a “T.” I’m a long-term resident. There isn’t anything uniquely “Japanese” that makes me do a double take anymore.
My double takes only occur when I’m with a fresh foreigner and they point out something unusual. Other things that catch my attention are general big-city quirks. For example; “That cross dresser is gorgeous. Wait, is that crossdresser? I… think that’s a man. Whatever they’re good looking with or without that adam’s apple.”
You know, typical big city stuff. “Does that drunk business man really need to throw up in the center of the stairs? Couldn’t he step to the side and empty his stomach?” But these sort of things happen in all metros. But the Japanese stuff? Yeah, that’s normal.
And so as I close the chapter on my third year in Japan, I can safely say I know this culture in and out. Assimilation: COMPLETE.
Well team, that’s going to do it for me. Another chapter finished. Another year completed. I’ve got 17 entries under my belt for this year. 95 in total. A lot has changed since last October. But a lot more is going to change very soon. I will finish up my Japanese life soon and repatriate home. I’ll go back to America, the land of opportunities. Thank you all for supporting me through another year. Your kind words and visits from around the world inspired to keep writing. Thank you so much.
On a final note, I want to ask all my readers to make a comment below. Just say hello if you can. I can see which countries my visitors come from, but I don’t know the individuals! As of today, my blog has 19,157 hits from 66 countries. So please say hello!
That’s all. I’ll write back once more before I fly home. See ya then!