Friday, August 17, 2012

Mt Fuji, Mountain Fuji, or Fuji-san

I dedicate this post and this hike to my dad, who, in 1996, after leading me and a small group of scouts to the summit of Mt Borah (Idaho's highest peak), coined the following maxim:  "Life is uphill; Choose the right peak!"

Some folks in my office organized a trip to hike the formidable Mt Fuji (or as Lexi insists on calling it: "Mountain Fuji") last Saturday.  It was quite the trek and made for a long day.  Our itinerary had us leaving base at 3 am.  There were 16 of us in all; we traveled south from the base in 2 cars and a mini-van.  We parked around 4:20 at the very base of the mountain, then waited 45 for the first shuttle going up to the "5th Station."  This is where we started hiking.  Not sure why it's called the 5th Station, but there's probably a sensible explanation somewhere on the internet.  The 5th station has some restaurants and a few little shops where we got our souvenir hiking sticks (more on these later) and any other last minute items we thought we might need.  We finally started our hike around 6:20.

Here's a view of Fuji-san from the 5th Station:

 As you can see here, the hiking trail begins in the middle of a forest.  It's a very pretty area, but the green gives way to red and black volcanic rock after just a few hours of hiking.  Here's a picture looking down the mountain from about the tree line.

Along the way there were several places where you can rest, buy more water (if you're willing to mortgage your house for it), use the restroom, and buy a stamp for your hiking stick.

Let's talk about these stamps.  Almost every rest stop had a brand, some electric, others heated by flame, that they would burn into your walking stick.  Each stamp cost about 200 yen each.  100 yen coins are about the size of a quarter, so it feels like you're only coughing up 50 cents per stamp.  But, when you do a little math in your head, you realize that 200 yen is actually closer to $3.  But even when you know it's $3 per stamp, it still only two coins, so you keep buying the stamps.  (I've said a couple times since we got here "I know the value of a dollar, but not the value of 78 yen.")  The stick was about $12, and there were about 14-15 stamps, so this turned into about a $50 souvenir by the time I got to the top.  The stamp merchants kept a straight face while we were there, but I'm pretty sure they laughed all the way to the bank after we left.  Looking on the bright side, now I can prove I walked all the way to the top.  No one can claim I was dropped on top by a helicopter.  No holes in that story.  It's air tight.

The hike was a good physical and mental challenge for me.  On the way up, you can't really see the summit, so you never have a really good idea of how far you are from the top.  That's what made it a mental challenge.  I never felt physically overwhelmed, but it was difficult.  Took me and a couple of my co-workers about 5 1/2 hours to get to the summit.  We had beautiful weather on our way up, but after being on top for a couple hours it started raining.  I guess that's Fuji's way of saying we overstayed our welcome.  This pic is of the torii gate at the summit.

We ended up waiting four hours at the top hoping to get a photo op with all of us from the office.  Around 4 pm there were still five of our coworkers who hadn't made it up.  We started thinking if we didn't descend soon, we'd be doing so in the dark.  We hadn't come prepared for night hiking, So down we went in the rain around 4 pm.  A few of us got down in about 2 hours 15 mins and were off the mountain by around 6:15 pm.  As with the way up, others took more time than we did.  The others ended up finishing in the dark, and we were on our way home around 9:15.

We got home, exhausted, around 10:45.  By the time I kicked off my dirty hiking boots, I'd been up for nearly 21 hrs, and I'd been wet for nearly 8 hours.  It was a great day, but it felt great to be home.

Fuji-san's hiking season is limited to the months of July and August.  I guess before and after that you can't hike to the top because of the snow.  So, plan your trip accordingly if you want to hike Mountain Fuji.  Visitors definitely welcome.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cailin's Ages

Since we've been over here, we've felt a lot more desire to blog.  While in Mtn Home, it felt like we were in close enough contact with everyone that blogging about our activities and experiences was redundant.  Now, however, this feels like the most natural way to share the share-worthy experiences.  Here's one involving Cailin that's moderate-to-high on the shareworthometer.

The stage: It's dinner-time, and Cassi had just left for an activity at the church.  I was asking the girls what they had done that day.  Alexa was telling me about a new friend (a boy) she had played with, and Cailin was eager to point out that Lexa's friend had a little sister Cailin's age.  Cailin struggled, but kept at it.

So here's Cailin (make sure to pronounce the "r"s like "w"s):

She four like me.  Um.  She two like me. (pause)
I four (holding up one-and-a-half-almost-two, fingers).  Um.  I two (getting two fingers all the way up).  (pause)
Just like her is four.  Um.  Just like her is two.

Here's my take:  It was so funny.  She struggled to assign the right age to her new friend, then herself, then to her new friend again.  She obviously was oblivious to how comical it was, so I had to mask my chuckling to avoid drawing her attention to it.  I went to the kitchen real quick so she wouldn't see me laughing and to find something write it down with.  Little kids are funniest when they don't know their being funny.  And Cailin is sensitive enough that my laughing may have hurt her feelings.

That leads me to point two of my take: This 15-second snippet tells you a lot about Cailin.  Cailin's stubborn and determined.  I wouldn't call her a perfectionist at this point, but she has a healthy desire to do things right.

Take one, point three:   She's observant.  She pays attention to what's happening around her and picks up on even subtle things.  Saying the wrong age of herself and her friend isn't exactly subtle, but I think it shows she was definitely paying attention to what was falling from her lips.  Sometimes I'll try to slip in incorrect or inaccurate details just to see her reaction.  Like saying "I love bananas," when we're eating cooked carrots.  She picks up on it instantly, even if it didn't look like she was paying attention.  Sometimes it's unintentional and she still gets it.  Like the other day I said "time for lunch" when it was time for dinner.  Cailin immediately says "Noooooooo, not luuuuunch!"

So, there's a little more for you to know about this sensitive, stubborn, determined, and observant two year-old.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I made a new friend named Brooke.  She has 2 little girls and is due with her 3rd just after I am.  She's been great to invite me to a couple different swimming pools off base with her.  And best of all, she drives so I don't have to!
Last week we went to Showa Park, which is a huge park that has a big water park inside it.  The normal price to get in the water park is $28(2200 yen), but if you're pregnant it's only $6.50(500 yen).  Ok, that's a pretty good discount.  
We got to ride a shuttle from the park gate to the swimming pool.  Cailin LOVES buses because she doesn't have to sit in her car seat.

We started at the splash pad.  There were about 5 different kiddie pools with slides and everything!  The girls were in heaven.

I got reprimanded for taking these pictures while standing in 2 inches of water, so it deterred me from taking more of the rest of the pools.

We had a blast!  I think we'll need to go a lot more within the next 7 weeks.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lost in Tokyo (but not in Translation)


We ventured out into Tokyo this past weekend.  We thought about taking the train, but the train’s for the unadventurous.  And we are not unadventurous.  We are the opposite of unadventurous, whatever that is.   So, we drove.  We wanted to keep it simple, so we decided we’d drive to see the Tokyo Temple, walk around a little bit, get some food, and come home.  Simple, but not unadventurous.

We had written directions to get to the temple, and we borrowed our neighbors’ GPS that we planned on using to get home.  Also, you should know we had the Japanese GPS that came with our van and a map of the Tokyo metropolitan area.  (That’s called ‘foreshadowing.’  Learned that from my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Klein.)  

So we went.  Left our house about 10:55 Saturday morning.  We took Route 16 south to the Chuo Expressway.  Chuo to the Shuto Expressway.  Pretty easy actually getting to downtown Tokyo.  Once downtown, we missed two of the streets we were supposed to take, so we had to turn around twice to get to the temple.  But other than that it was smooth sailing to get to point B.  (U-turns are prohibited, so in order to actually turn around you’ve got to go to the next street and hope it can lead you back to street you were on.) 

Driving was very exciting for me.  We’re driving on the “other side of the road” over here, so part of the reason we decided to not be unadventurous is because I wanted to try my hand at driving in the big city.  The driving went well, except for a minor hiccup when the traffic light turned yellow and, being a bit overly cautious, I stopped instead of motoring on thru.  I stopped before getting to the intersection, but we ended up right on top of the crosswalk.  I started praying that no one would need to cross.  At first the coast was clear, but after about 30 seconds an elderly Edokko (Tokyoan) came strolling up.  I mouthed the word sumimasen (excuse me), but all I got back was the stink eye.  A very intimidating stink eye. (And in case you’re wondering, the stink eye don’t need translation.  Message received.)  As he was passing in front of our car, very visibly annoyed, he exaggeratedly leaned over to get our license plate number.  He kind of made a motion like he was going to write down the number, but then must have realized that we could probably see that he had nothing to write on or with, and went disgruntledly on his way.  I was glad to have him gone.

We eventually made it to the temple.  We parked and walked around the temple for a bit.  

The temple takes up about a 3rd of the city block where it sits and shares the block with an LDS church and the parking lot for both.  Across the street from the temple is a beautiful park area.  The girls were more impressed with the park.  The park had ducks, and fish, and turtles.  

Oh, and bridges.  Apparently there was a library somewhere back on the other side of the park (a “famous” library, is what Sachi told us), but who needs books when you’ve got turtles and bridges.

After the park, we went searching for some food.  We resisted the urge to take the first restaurant we came to: Salsa Mexican Kitchen (true story).  We kept going down the street, but found ourselves intimidated by the kanji on all the shops.  We found one that had some tasty looking pictures, so I went in and asked the server if he had an eigo (English) menu.  I got the “hold on” finger (again, no translation needed), and instead of coming back with an English menu, he sent back a server who spoke pretty good English.  Even better. 

We learned that we had actually chosen a Korean restaurant. We selected a plate with “much vegetables and pork,' and a plate with spicy pork and kim chi. The food was brought out in scorching hot stone bowls (called dolsot) that we learned actually cook the food while it’s on your table.  It was great cuz our food was warm or hot the whole meal.  It was really good.

After lunch, we went back to our van and started for home.  We fired up our English GPS with high hopes that we’d be guided easily home.  We were skeptical of the English GPS from the get-go when it pointed to the opposite direction that we had come from.  Cassi even voiced the nutso idea that we should just retrace the path we had come.  I should have listened to her, but I thought the GPS had our back.  So, we went with the GPS, went a few miles, and then lost confidence in the GPS.  I turned around on a narrow street that turned out to be one-way street.  We almost got to the intersection, but then a taxi turned and started coming toward us.  He wouldn’t budge, just kept wagging his index finger until I got the message that I was going the wrong way (finger wag, got it).  So we had to back up until we could back into an alley way.  We went back to the GPS.  This time, we selected “home” hoping that would take us to our neighbors’ “home”, and we liked our chances of getting to our home from there. 

So, even though it felt like the GPS was taking us the wrong way, we kept at it.  I, like Kip, love technology, so I trusted technology to get us home.  But, when we found ourselves overlooking the majestic Tokyo Bay, we started to wonder if our neighbors’ “home” was a boathouse in the Pacific.  So we pulled the plug on English GPS. 

I had a hair-brained idea.  I plugged in our Japanese GPS (JGPS). There was an icon with a house on it, so I figured there was a chance that the owners who installed the Japanese GPS might have resided near Yokota Air Base.  We couldn’t understand the vocal commands the JGPS was spitting out, but the on-screen arrows were easy to follow.  We started going back toward where we had come from, so we gained confidence.  We got back to downtown, but then the JGPS took us past a turn off for the Chuo Expressway.  Remember, I love technology, so I wasn’t going to give up on JGPS just yet.  It was, after all, taking us away from the Pacific, so it was doing something right.  But as we got farther down the road, I started getting uneasy.  We were in kind of a traffic jam, so I had time to consult the map (remember the map we brought??).  And wouldn’t Rand and McNally be proud that it was the map that helped us get back on track.  The map disclosed that JGPS was taking us more south than we wanted to go.  The map also disclosed how to get back to Chuo Expressway.  So we turned around again, trusting the map and it turned out to be the right choice.  Within about twenty minutes we found the Chuo, which very predictably took us to Route 16, which brought us home.  And we were ready to be home.