Friday, July 17, 2009

Better Late Than Never?

I said nearly a year ago, that I would post pictures from the Yakushima trip, and I never seem to have gotten around to it.

Some quick logistics for you. We drove to Nagoya and flew out of their lovely airport. They had bagels and pistachio gelato in one building. Needless to say, it is my new favorite place in Japan. After arriving at Kagoshima airport, we hustled onto a bus and hopped a taxi to the ferry port. The ferry was a 2 hour affair, air-conditioned, fast, and very mellow. Once we landed in Yakushima, we flagged a cab to take us up to the trail head. We witnessed a bit of devastating destruction on the mountain in order to make the trails more accessible, but the deer who hopped in front of our cab didn't seem to mind the construction too much.

We hit the trail around 3pm, which was much later than we originally intended. With our flight, it was impossible to catch the earliest ferry, so we had had to settle on the early afternoon one. The woman who sold us our tickets to access the reserve warned us against starting the trail so late, and asked us where we were planning on sleeping. J confidently told her we'd crash at the second koya up the trail, which was a good 4-5 hour hike away. She balked a bit and said that we had better hurry. This did not bode well.

The hike was beautiful. Crossing over bridges and rivers, huge craggy trees with roots sprawling across rocks and forming steps, and more moss than you could imagine. Meanwhile, I was looking down at my feet trying not to slip and tik-tokking away as I do. J had to remind me to enjoy the scenery every once in a while, so I didn't miss it all in my concentration. Perhaps it's a better idea for me to train mindlessly in crappy deforested areas of the world until I have enough skill to frolic effortlessly in gorgeous locales.

I have no doubt in my mind that if J had been climbing solo, he could have pushed on to the 2nd koya, but we ended up pitching the tent past the 1st koya, near a raised bathroom station with access to water. I was exhausted (I still have nightmares about the old tokoro we followed up for what seemed like an eternity... the false hope of each curve, praying the monotony would end) and we still had a grueling 1.5-2 hours to go to the next koya. Soon, we were drifting off into an ammonia infused sleep, thanks to the toilet chemicals nearby.

The second day was cake compared to the first. We woke up around 5:30, broke camp, and were on the trail within 1/2 an hour. This was the day of stairs. Wooden stairs, tree root stairs, stairs to more stairs. Massive sugi were situated just off the edges of the trail, some had been turned into shrines, others had been surrounded by terraces to protect them from erosion. 1000s of years ago, they were tiny things, now looming over the entire island. There was hugging.

We arrived at the Shintakatsuka koya around 12 in the afternoon and pitched our tent on the boardwalk. A bit of laundry time, and a solar powered risotto later, we got to bed early for a quick start in the morning towards the peak.

Starting around 4am, we headed up the final approach to Miyanouradake. The views were absolutely stunning, but I will let them speak for themselves.

Notable events were J's bush hunt for a water source, the deer who scared the crap out of us, and the worst possible likeness of me yet to be taken atop a mountain. Good times.

aforementioned deer

We had peaked around 10am, and headed down an hour or so later. J soloed up Kuromidake, while I sketched at the trail fork and lazed a bit. I falsely expected to camp in the swamps, but we kept on till reaching Ishitsuka koya (btw, the trail we followed was in pretty rough condition so if you head the same way, kiotsukete!). The rain was coming down a bit, and the koya was empty and a bit umm... rustic, so we actually pitched our tent inside.

This is the bad picture. Notice how genki J is. Then notice that I appear to have died.

Our bus was going to be arriving/leaving Yakisugiland at 10:59am, but according to the maps, we had plenty of time to get there. We left at 5am, figuring we could keep a solid pace and make it with time to spare. Ha ha ha ha! It was harsh with interspersed moments of not sucking too horribly. Then came the leeches. I had read about them, even went so far as to bring salt to deter them. Ironically, they seemed to be drawn to my faux leather boots, more than J's decomposing ancient leather boots. My feet were prepetually covered in them for a good hour. I squealed when I started noticing them making their way into my boots, and had already removed a few from my calves. J had to rip a few off of himself, and stopped a few times to help me bash at my own feet with walking sticks. The salt! IT DOES NOTHING! At least the fear of my toes being bloodless got my ass moving. So, we were looking good, making somewhat decent time. Then the boots started to die. Not my aforementioned bash accumulators, but J's 9 year old boots. The sole began to peel away from one and then the other. After the first hour of the boot, we had run out of duct-tape and were using bandanas and hatchimaki to hold the things together. There was a great deal of cursing, some at inanimate objects, some at blood-sucking parasites, but mostly at the clock. Time was ticking away and the trail just kept extending further than the map let on.

By the time we hit the edge of Yakisugiland, we were at a jog. Please take a moment to develop a mental picture, if you will. Two foreigners, drenched in sweat, most likely stinky after 4 days in the mountains sans bath, panic stricken, slightly bloodied legs, giant hiking bags on, one with boots tied together like an exploding scarecrow, and the other looking like she was going to start bawling any second. With the lighter of the two packs, and intact boots, I was to run ahead and try to find the way to the bus. Yakisugiland is a family nature park, so lovers are strolling around, grannies are on tours wandering aimlessly and enjoying the trees. We are tearing through this mother like death is chasing us. I run past a bridge-full of obachans, sumimasening my way across, and see their faces recognize my distress and return to calm a mere instant before J hits the bridge and sends them into another panic. The tour guide blew his whistle and moved everyone to the side of the bridge. That man is a star. I accost a young couple and beg if they know where the exit is, up the LONG staircase to the right, or down the straight path to the left. They point to the right, I thank them and then curse in Japanese, amusing them greatly. By the time I climb my 4th flight of stairs at a run, J has caught up and overtakes me. He screams through the treeline, "I see the bus, keep going! I don't think the driver will wait for you, hurry!"

In the end, the driver took pity as he saw me emerge from the forest over the last stair. We sat on the bus, J pulling a fat leech off his leg who had stowed away under his sock, me melting into the chair and waiting for my heart to settle back into my chest.

It was a good day. Then we saw monkeys!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Setting some goals for my last year in Japan. My imminent return to the outside world is a scary and exciting event on the horizon, and I am trying to prepare myself for a cushy landing.

In the next year, I need to do/will do the following:

  • re-take the GRE (hoping to raise my score a bit... damned computer test)
  • hunt down one of my favorite professors who retired, thus solving my looming 2nd letter of recommendation question
  • pass 2-kyuu in December, because I am about 99.9% sure that the July test was hopeless
  • fill out all my apps by May
  • make sure I have really narrowed my schools down to 2, and am not just dreaming
  • figure out how and where J and I will move all of our past 5/6 years of stuff/lives
  • discreetly freak out about leaving Japan
  • stockpile enough cash to float us through our first year of school/apt without a job just in case the economy is still in the crapper
  • get my yoga into gear prior to India
  • etc etc
  • sort out the selling of and getting rid of all my accumulated toys/junk
After writing it down, it doesn't look so bad. Some of the points are long-term goals, and need not be rushed, but I have a lot of studying ahead of me.

I also want to be sure to keep up with the Matsumoto Ukiyo-e Museum's 3-month shows. We went back in March and although the architecture is a bit trippy, the museum is a gem. Hoping to head back in September after the current show swaps over. I am not the biggest fan of courtesan/"fancy" lady prints, well... at least not a show of only them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

2 weeks

That's it. Wait, I am being melodramatic and confusing. Not leaving Japan yet, just two more weeks until I am out of here for a little while. Don't get me wrong. I love Japan and am still in shock that this July 31st will begin my 5th year here. It's just that I haven't stepped foot off of the islands since going to Thailand nearly 1 and 1/2 years ago. J and I have traveled all over since then, but not out of the country.

On the 24th, I will be utilizing the 18kippu and heading on the local trains to Osaka. I might get there early and hang out in the city for a while before heading to the airport, or I might just use my time to read a book in airport lounge instead. Hmm... the airport doesn't have falafel. It might have to be a bit of both.

There is a lot on the plate in these next two weeks, but I think that it will make me appreciate my downtime in Myanmar all the more. Visas are taken care of, passport has been renewed, and tickets are good to go. Packing is like second nature at this point, and I am staying with my friend Kara, who although more athletically built and taller than I, can still lend me a shirt or pair of trousers if it comes down to it. The benefits of visiting a friend instead of just going solo in a new country are many. They know the secret places that usually take months to find on your own, or with great strokes of luck (I'm looking at you fruit guy). They have all the necessities on stand-by (ie. toothpaste, shampoo, etc), in case you forget anything. They scout for vegetarian hot spots in and around town (thank you so much for that!!), and can help streamline the trip with suggestions and advice. I do love adventuring on my own, or with a partner in crime who is as clueless as I, but it's nice to have a bit of a pampering on occasion.

This coming weekend, though, J and I are tackling another 3 Hyakumeizan. We have an eikaiwa party for the hospital folks on Friday night, then an EARLY morning on Saturday, and all of a 3-day weekend to wander around taking pictures and making like Tik-Tok.

I have been graciously given this nickname due to my two speeds when climbing: "leeches are on me" - speed, and tik-tok - speed. In my defense, at least I have a steady pace. I keep moving... usually. After the first few climbs, I've discovered that J can be kept amused by the camera while I catch my breath. Plus, he can look at the pictures months later and proudly comment on how they are "HIS" photos. Ha ha! Actually, the only way I can tell who took 1/2 the photos is if one of us is in them.

Hopefully, after a few mountains under my belt, and a week and 1/2 of yoga time at school (no classes means I can snag the key to the old dance room again!), I will be ready for a bit of trekking in Myanmar, if the rain isn't too intense. I'll bring my hiking boots, but the good ol' Toyama boots might be more appropriate this time of year.

More after Myokosan!