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Overwhelmed post-vacation

As I write this, but obviously not as I post this, I am sitting on a 747-400 heading from Paris to Seoul and then on to Nagoya. I’ve had a great vacation in London and Paris with Tomo, and there is so much to cover. I have over 800 pictures to edit that may be of interest. So although I want to post everything immediately, I also don’t want to post a bunch of words with no pictures, pictures with no story. Plus I want real galleries available with bigger, higher resolution pictures, so that will take time too. The blog probably will have a few highlights that support the narrative but I hope to point to galleries elsewhere on the interwebs.

London and Paris have changed a lot since I first traveled there 20 years ago. Of course, many things are still the same. Keep checking back for more details including, Wembley Stadium, Gwyneth Paltrow, helicopters, Ben Sherman, the strength of the dollar, terrific views, internet access, Michael Kors, the mobs at the Louvre, the award to the country of most obnoxious travelers, and many other things.

As a teaser, here is a picture that Tomo took of me inside the Arch de Triomphe as we were ascending from the top. It is a really cool picture.

In the Arch de Triomphe

Dragons 4, Swallows 2

Continuing my cultural experiences, I went to a baseball game this weekend. This is the second baseball game I’ve been to. The first time was in August of 2005, watching the Chiba Lotte Marines play somebody. The stadium was outdoors and really hot and humid. This time I saw the Chunichi Dragons (for Wikipedia, click here), Nagoya’s home team, play the Yakult Swallows (wikipedia here) from Tokyo. They played at the Nagoya Dome. The team names represent their primary sponsors. Chunichi is a local newspaper and Yakult is a drink (a probiotic milk). Indeed, the Dragons look a LOT like the Dodgers. Hey, we could be watching Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (wikipedia here)!

A Japanese baseball game and an American baseball game are similar, but in so many ways they are different. What I found interesting was that all the amplified team interstitial information and cheers were in English. “Road to Victory” and so on. Of course, the game is mostly the same and the rules are too, so it was easy to follow.

As I’ve shown before, the Dragons have a mouse-y dragon mascot.

Go Dragons!

 
The snack bars are a little bit similar,

Snack Time!

And a little different although LA stadiums do have Panda Express.

Different food choices

 
I went to the game with two colleagues and the son of one of my colleagues. We picked 3rd base line tickets, and had a good view of the field.

Looking to the field

 
Nagoya plays in the cleverly named Nagoya Dome, a fact I was quite thankful for while it poured rain outside.

Surveying the dome

 
One difference between the Japan and American viewing experience is the use of group cheers and noise makers. The cheering is very organized at a Japanese baseball game. Here is a picture of a guy who kind of looks like me but apparently has graying hair and less hair than I do. He’s participating in a group cheer with sticks borrowed from his colleague.

Go Dragons!

This isn’t what I see when I look in the mirror. When did my highlights become the base color?

 
Of course, the exploitation of women starts early, and young girls are convinced they want to be cheerleaders.

Go Dragons!

 
In a previous meeting, I had taught my colleague’s son how to place a spoon on his nose, thrilling his parents I’m sure. It is a big part of my family, so I thought I would pass it on. He’s a clever kid, and made do with a wooden spoon.

Making his parents proud

 
The game was actually a pretty exciting contest. The Dragons prevailed, 4-2, and a lot of people stayed around for the post game interview that was broadcast on the big screen. The MVP was interviewed as was the winning pitcher.

Dragons win!

 
Our group was very excited and gave one last cheer before heading home. A fun time for all.

Yippee!

Kabuki

The Kabuki theater - I pretended that I couldn't read the no photography sign.I went to Kabuki theater for the first time in Japan on September 6. This was from the Heisei Nakamura clan, who are apparently very famous. A Japanese colleague at work asked if I wanted to attend – I said, “Sure, why not?” Another Japanese colleague joined us as well. Wikipedia has a very nice description of Kabuki. Another good reference is Kabuki21.

Fortunately, the basic story was explained to me ahead of time because I surely was not going to understand it. All parts, men and women, are played by men. There are many formalities to it, but I was surprised to see lightheartedness as well. At times the performers really played to the audience. I was also surprised by the physicality of some of the performances as well.

The first act was quite long, with the story as complicated as any Shakespeare lover story or tragedy. Basically our story was based on a bunch of guys all digging the same girl. A lot of people get killed, and two (male and female) come back as one to haunt the hero and the heroine. The second act basically is a big fight between the ghost and a ronin who used to be samurai to the hero. The second act reminded me of a fireworks grand finale, with lots of dancing, colors, elaborate staging, etc.

Interestingly, the same families have been a part of Kabuki for a very long time. The leader of the group we saw comes from 17 generations of Kabuki actors.

The mountain did not win

On the 28th and 29th, Tomo and I climbed Mount Fuji along with 16 others and 2 guides. Well, we climbed with thousands, probably, but our group was 18. The trip was organized by the Japan headquarters of my company, so it was a nice excursion for disparate organizations to mingle.

The climb was not easy but everyone made it, although not at the same pace. The elevation of Mt. Fuji is 3776 meters, and I thought that was the highest I had ever been (other than an airplane), but then I looked up the l’Auguille du Midi near Mont Blanc and realized I actually had been higher. But I had gotten there by cable car, so that’s hardly fair.

We met near Tokyo Station at 8:00 am and boarded a chartered bus just for our group. We got to the 5th station on the Kawaguchiko side of the mountain about 11:30 pm for a 1:00 pm start. Our plan was to hike up to the 8th station, spend the night, and then summit in the morning.

We arrived at the Gogome rest house (5th station rest house) at around Noon, and planned on eating lunch there before our assault.

We are starting relatively high

The 5th station

It was pretty crowded, and inside we saw some very zombie-esque people absolutely passed out around the restaurant. It had much of a ski lodge feel, with people tired after a long day of skiing. Except it was Noon. We had a very nice bowl of udon, and I bought walking sticks for Tomo and me. I have never really been a walking stick guy, but people had recommended it and also you can get a pine walking stick and have it branded at the various stations along the way.

Figuring out the lunch vending ticket machine,

How does this work?

 

And waiting for the foreigners to figure out the lunch ticket vending machine.

Just put the money in and order!

 

Tomo managed to have an ear of corn as well … getting that last little bit of energy before the climb.

Grilled corn on the cob

 

Our group set out with our guides, one in the front, one in the rear. We could not help but notice the people staggering up the path as we got started. The path was actually a little bit downhill, so we were merrily rolling along. Our start was at 2305 m. And now, our rest was over.

Here’s Tomo looking fresh and excited. We got that hat in Vegas.

Gambarou!

 

The path started heading up, and by up I mean up. Our group was pretty fresh and we were setting a blistering pace. Our group ranged from 13 years old to 50+ years old, so we had a variety of speeds. One would think the 13 year old would be the slowest. However, I mistakened the 13 year old in our group to be a youngish looking college student. Yikes! He was at least a foot taller than I was at 13. He was definitely the rabbit that everyone was chasing. I kept wondering about the tortoise and the hare, but he never tired the entire trip.

You will never feel alone.

About to get mobbed from below

 

We made it to the 6th station pretty easily. After all, it wasn’t that steep, the altitude, while high, wasn’t extremely high, and we were all excited to get going.

The sixth station marker

 

Things got a little tougher between the 6th and 7th station though. Fortunately, the path was one way, so we couldn’t see the people coming off the mountain. Either between the 6th and 7th or 7th and 8th, one of our group started falling back quite a bit. The guides were afraid she was showing the first sign of altitude sickness. She had not been feeling well in the morning, and that was carrying over. Our group slowed a little bit, but the Americans in the group were racing against themselves, so we kept splintering. One guide said he would stay back and make sure she made it up to our resting station.

The president of our Japan subsidiary and her husband. I enjoy this picture – its nice to see executives relaxed.

Our Japan leader and her husband

 

Getting above the clouds, part of our group is to the left.

Early in the day.  Lots of smiles.

 

When we started we had some clouds, but they occasionally broke and you could see to the peak. As we were hiking, we quickly rose above the clouds and were directly in the sun. I was soaking wet, and of course a backpack never helps to reduce the sweating. Pretty soon after leaving the base station, there is no natural protection from the elements. It is just you, the path, and rocks. You can see the various stations rising above you, but they seem almost toy-like in their size and they seem almost like mirages, because they seem to teasingly stay the same distance away no matter how long you’ve been hiking.

There wasn’t a lot of scenery on the climb.

Vegetation at the lower elevations

 

Our group of 11 scrambled up the mountain, arriving at the hut at about 6:00 pm. The sun had set behind the mountain by that time and the air was just starting to get a chill to it. We were introduced to our sleeping quarters. If that’s what you want to call it. We had 2 upper bays and 2 lower bays. One set of bays was designed to sleep 8 up and 8 below, and the other set was designed to sleep 3 up and 3 below. Because we were foreigners, I guess we got a break and it was determined that 7 could use the 8 person bay. Tomo was a bit shocked, and suggested that 8 may be enough for Japanese, but certainly inadequate for the large gaijin who would soon be bedding down together. The staff was hearing none of that theory, so we guessed we needed to find a way to make it work.

At the 8th station, feeling pretty good that we had made it.

The calm before the storm

 

Because the hut serves many people, we were asked to eat right away. I was pretty hungry, and knew that salted sawdust probably would have tasted good. Instead, we had mystery meat curry. Don’t touch that stuff! I was so hungry, I had no problem eating the curry. Most everyone else did too. A round of beer was bought for everyone, although I worried some about beer at altitude. Still, I wasn’t going to continue until 4:30 am, so what the heck?

He’s going to regret this meal later.

I'm not sure it is a good idea to eat this

 

Everyone got the same meal.

That's salmon and rice for breakfast in the wrapped bento

 

The sun sets quickly on the mountain, and early.

An early sunset at the 8th station.

 

While we were eating, the remainder of our group arrived. We finished their meal together and then, because of lack of anything else to do, we went to bed. I’m not sure what time it was when we first laid down, maybe 8:00 pm. I was tired, but sleeping at 8:00 pm is not natural for me. I tossed and turned as best I could. I couldn’t really turn and there definitely was no tossing, since I was surrounded by colleagues I had never met before. I tried to sleep on my side as well, because I didn’t want some position-induced snoring to keep everyone awake. Sleeping on my side didn’t really work well though because the “mattress” was so hard that I started developing bruises on the pressure spots. I tried sleeping on my back, but I had no place to put my arms. I was able to sleep in bits though.

About midnight I woke up and thought, “I don’t feel so hot.” About the same time, Tomo woke up and said, “Drink.” Followed by, “I have a headache,” which quickly became, “Can I have an aspirin.” Uh oh. After looking at him scrunch up his face, we decided to get out of bed and get some fresh air. My stomach was dancing and I was not feeling well. I went outside to use the bathroom and was comforted by the cool, fresh air outside the building (not the bathroom). I went back in the hut and Tomo said, “I think I’m going to be sick” and headed out the door. He made it to the bathroom and indeed, he was sick. He came back, not looking any better. I walked to my bag and got the oxygen canister a colleague had given me. Tomo breathed in a little of that air, hoping it would make him feel better. It didn’t and he was sick again.

By this time, it was pretty clear that Tomo had altitude sickness, and there wasn’t going to be anything we could do to make him better other than descend. We sat outside for a while, trying to get some fresh air. Many people start late at night and do the hike in one day – hoping to arrive at the top of the mountain before sunrise so they can catch the sunrise at the very top. We watched the zombies go by – looking down the mountain revealed a steady stream of headlamped people slowly making their way. It was bumper to bumper on the climb and the view really was strange.

As we were sitting there, three Asian Americans walked by, two looking pretty healthy and one literally staggering. The guy in the UCLA sweatshirt said, “Come on, let’s keep going.” I asked the staggering girl if she had a headache and felt nauseous. She did. I told her friends they needed to be careful. We gave her a huff of oxygen and I think they rested a bit.

We both felt refreshed enough to try to go back to sleep. We crawled back into our sleeping warren and somehow we both dozed off until the staff woke us up at 4:00 am. Thankfully and somewhat mysteriously, both Tomo and I felt good enough that we thought we could continue. I felt fine but still worried about Tomo, but he was convinced he was good enough to continue. The hut had prepared a salmon and rice bento box for us as breakfast the night before. After nearly losing my curry dinner at midnight, salmon and rice just didn’t appeal to me. Somehow I managed to eat most of it. The crowd had thinned out a little bit, because we were leaving too late to see the sunrise from the summit. That was a disappointment to some in our group, but for me just succeeding to reach the top was going to be enough.

As we were waiting to leave, we saw two foreigners that we all remarked about later. One was a man with his small dog. Why was a dog on the hike with him? How do dogs do at 11,000 feet after hours of hiking? I don’t think they have the physiology for that. Maybe they do. We saw another bearded white man in a pair of shorts and a tank top making his way. At this time, I had on a t-shirt, a turtleneck, my fleece jacket, gloves, and a stocking cap. What was this guy thinking? One of my fellow hikers later suggested that he was perhaps a philosophy teacher at a third rate Japanese university. Not trying to knock philosophy professors here – maybe he was a math or English teacher.

Getting ready to head out in the morning. We were generally well equipped.

Our crew getting ready

 

Our group stayed together for about two switchbacks and then of course, split up. The walk was very narrow and we had to scramble over more rocks than I was expecting. It was difficult to go at your own pace, unless your pace was painstakingly slow. However, I didn’t really mind the pace as it allowed me to catch my breath. I tried to pace Tomo up the mountain, so we’d walk a bit and then have a breather at a switchback. We’d pretty regularly pass folks only to be passed by them the next time we took a break.

Early in the morning on our climb.

Still a long way to go, but we are high

 

And still a long road ahead of us.

Happy at the summit

 

Looking back on the single file climbing the mountain as we approached the peak.

The procession

 

Looking forward you could see the long line ahead, and just how far the summit was.

Just how far to go?

 

As we were climbing there was absolute carnage everywhere, and I actually was worried about some of the people. They seemed absolutely lost. One guy had a completely ashen face and the first time I saw him he was leaning against the wall, having dry heaves. That is always reassuring to witness. Later I saw him staggering along. Another time I saw that he had stopped, sat down, and was shaking uncontrollably. It wasn’t that cold, so I think it was fatigue, shock, altitude sickness, or a combination of all of them. The last time I saw him he was trying to negotiate a step and his leg was shaking quite severely. I hope a guide saw him and helped him. I saw many others passed out along the side of the walk, no doubt trying to get that last bit of energy to make it to the top.

Each hut served as a goal.

The 8.5th station

 

As we were continuing our trek the peak the sun began to rise. We stopped as a group, did three “banzai!” and raised our hands in the air, and continued our climb.

The sun rising over Japan

 

At this point, it was clear that Tomo and I would make it to the top, it was just a question of when. I was a bit ahead of Tomo and unfortunately had the oxygen with me. He wasn’t very happy when he reached me as I was waiting for him just below the summit. He finished off the oxygen and we reached the summit.

Almost to the stop. Just 400 meters, or 30 minutes without stopping.

Almost there

 

Since I was ahead I had a few pictures snapped of me.

Made it!

 

We are just a few steps away from the summit. Tomo still has the oxygen in hand.

Happy at the summit

 

I wish I had taken more pictures at the summit. Sometimes it is hard to remember to be a photographer when you are participating in the adventure. The summit though was a little shocking to us with food stands and a guy hawking drinks in English and Japanese. I did take advantage of one of the shops and had some of the best miso soup I’ve probably ever had!

Here we are truly at the summit. Look how high we are.

Happy at the summit

 

We walked over to the crater, looked at the big hole, and took a group picture. When I get the picture, I’ll add it to the blog.

Mt. Fuji is a big volcano after all.

 

One thing that was interesting, that I also forgot to photograph, was that prices correlated to altitude. The higher you were, the more expensive it was. It makes sense of course, but there were some precious Snickers bars found near the summit.

The descent should have been uneventful, but it is so steep and dusty that all hikers are presented with a new challenge. We were after the initial rush from the top, so it wasn’t quite so bad. However, the trail is so steep and the lava is so fine that dust is quickly kicked up. We were covered, and our noses were caked with black dust. Yeah. Many people fell as well. Once again, we managed our own pace. It was hard and frustrating, but we made it down after about four hours.

Those that did make it to the summit for sunrise can be seen traversing down the mountain as the rest of us aimed for the top. The people on the other path are going down.

One way up, one way down

 

The climb down the mountain was very steep.

This gives an idea of the steep grade

 

After the climb, we went to an onsen, cleaned up, and enjoyed a relaxing meal.

Clean and relaxing at an onsen

 

We were thrilled that our entire group made it safely to the summit and back. The team, although spread across the mountain, did help each other out. It was a great experience for Tomo and I to do together, and we will always have that shared experience. Tomo declared that he was a city boy, but was quite proud of the accomplishment.

Would I do it again? Ask me a week ago and I would have said, “No way!” But now, well, time heals all wounds.

The end of the war

As stated before, I was coming home from the Nagoya Castle Festival and stumbled across the Gokoku Temple with a bunch of laterns burning. I had read something previously about a temple that commemorates the end of the war and lights 4800 lanterns in honor of the war dead of Aichi. I was a little bit concerned about taking pictures, but then I noticed so many others taking pictures that I decided it was OK. This, of course, was on August 16.

Gokokuji lanterns - Nagoya

Gokokuji lanterns - Nagoya

Gokokuji lanterns - Nagoya

Gokokuji lanterns - Nagoya

Gokokuji lanterns - Nagoya

Gokokuji lanterns - Nagoya

 

As for the Nagoya Castle Matsuri, here’s a bunch of random pictures.

Nagoya Castle Matsuri

Nagoya Castle Matsuri

Nagoya Castle Matsuri

Nagoya Castle Matsuri

Nagoya Castle Matsuri

Nagoya Castle Matsuri

Nagoya Castle Matsuri