Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blast from the Past: Waving from such great heights aka Conquering Mt. Fuji

I was told by the ever-so-awesome Shar ( that today is Mt. Fuji Day. The 2-2-3 of the date sounds similar to saying Fuji-san 富士山, or Mt. Fuji. So to honor this day I decided to make my lazy self actually write up my experience on climbing it. It only took me 7 months after the fact, but better late than never yes?

The climbing season for Mt. Fuji is between July and September. I went with Okayama and Hiroshima AJET to do a night hike in order to see the sunrise at the summit. Well, that was the plan for most of us anyway. We left Okayama station around 10 AM and arrived at the Kawaguchiko 5th station around 8-8:30 PM. Mt. Fuji has 8 stations (plus the 8.5) where climbers can stop and the 5th station is where all the tour buses stop and pretty much where everyone starts. My group took the Yoshida-guchi Route to the summit and back.

Ohh so innocent. Little did we know the pain that awaited us...

Mt. Fuji is no joke. Prior to the trip, I heard horror stories from previous climbers: from the agony of the climb to how they couldn't finish due to oxygen deprivation, etc. Japanese people I told would do a double take then proceed to give me that look you would probably get when they know you're going to your doom. Despite the warnings though I was stoked! Not many people can say 'I climbed Mt. Fuji', right? It was only when I was on the bus and we saw Fuji looming over us that I wondered what the hell I got myself into....

Yet somehow, I survived. By the 7th station the path gets pretty steep. Around 8 and 8.5 station I remember having to use my hands to navigate and climb up. But it was worth it.

With my group's pace our hike to the summit took about 8 hours.

Sadly I wasn't able to be at the actual summit on sunrise; my group was still at 8.5 which is the last station before the summit. My group figured this was good enough. We ended up going to the summit after (since we were already up there), and there was quite a long line. After we had enough omiyage shopping and looking around the crater, we headed back down which was probably the most brutal, painful thing I've ever done. No one says anything about the way *down*! The path is so steep you practically running down the whole time and it puts so much pressure on your knees and feet! I was practically in tears near the end. I was so shocked that the descent was more difficult than the climb!

Everything turned out fine because we rewarded ourselves with lunch and bath at Fujiyama onsen. Utter. Bliss. We were a bit late leaving Mt. Fuji so we didn't have a lot of time to spend in the onsen, but it was enough.

For anyone who plans on taking the challenge that is Mt. Fuji. Here's the gear and other things I brought with me:


Top: Heat-tech, Under-Armor, a hoodie, winter jacket, rain jacket
Bottom: leggings, thermal leggings (long johns), wind breaker pants, snowboard pants
Feet: hiking socks and shoes
Etc.: Gloves, kairo (heat packs, both to put on clothes and the ones you just hold), headlight (a MUST if doing the night hike)

first aid kit
snacks: I brought onigiri and a whole bunch of energy bars. Other people in my group brought nuts and dried fruit and we pretty much shared. Don't forget water!!
toilet paper
trash bags: for your own and for your clothes after the hike
waterproof cover for your bag

Just make sure to layer for this hike. Mt. Fuji is 3775 meters high and even though I hiked in July there was still snow covering the lip of the crater. Don't bring/eat a full meal once you're up there since you don't want to be too full while hiking up. The bathrooms throughout the hike are what you would expect in a public area so bring some tissues/toilet paper if you can. Try and avoid the bathroom at the summit though, that was just...ugh.  I also brought an oxygen can, but in the end I didn't use it since the elevation didn't really affect me, but it did affect some of the other JETs so bringing one is up to the climber.

Mt. Fuji was definitely worth the challenge! Even afterwards where I nearly cried every time I saw a flight of stairs! If you have the chance (and the guts) then you should go for it!

Happy 富士山の日!

The walking stick I purchased at the 5th station. You can brand the stick at each station as you ascend. I didn't get all of them sadly, but I got the one that counts!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Let it snow! Sapporo Yuki Matsuri

I wasn't able to go the Snow Festival in Sapporo last year so I made sure to put it in my travel itinerary for the year! Now that I've decided to not recontract, the need to see as much of Japan (I still intend to try and travel to all 4 main islands!) is even stronger! Anyway, the さっぽろ雪祭り (Sapporo Snow Festival) is one of the biggest, if not THE, winter event of the year. The festival showcases hundreds of snow and ice sculptures including ones from abroad and a play site area for me the little ones. The festival itself wasn't as crowded as I thought it would be (and there's *always* crowds in Japan for events).

2 fellow Okayama JETs and I left from Kansai International on Friday and arrived in Sapporo. Last month I went to Nagano and I think that helped prepare me for the cold, but it still amazed me to see all. that. snow!!

The Californian in me thinks this is so awesome!

Day 1 was spent in the Susukino site which had the ice sculptures. Now everything (the Odori, Susukino, and Tsudomu) is held outside so we were taking quick pictures then rushing into the closest conbini to defrost our hands (seems like Sapporo loves Lawsons). 

Frozen seafood. Oh Japan.

The sculptures are lit up at night as well so we headed towards Odori which is the main site for the snow sculptures. I wasn't really prepared for the size of some of the sculptures even though I've seen previous year's.

The details in these sculptures is just mind-blowing

On Day 2 we took a brief break from the festival to see the Ishiya Chocolate Factory, which is famous for the White Lover's Chocolate omiyage 白い恋人. For a second I thought I stepped into Narnia, or the It's a Small World ride. I didn't expect the amusement park-like design for a chocolate factory. I'm sure it would be even nicer in the spring/summer because the place had a rose garden. Afterwards we took the subway to the Tsudomu site, and went back to Odori at night to finish where we left off.

Hong Kong's sculpture. Won the international competition.

Now, snow sculptures are all well and good, but I think a hidden gem of Hokkaido, is the food. Dairy products, flavored caramel (butter, salt, matcha anyone?), miso ramen, and the ultimate Ghengis Khan? *DROOL* Japan really makes me wish humans were born with 2 stomachs.

Akarenga ramen @ Akarenga, Ramen Yokocho: Butter, corn, and chashu. Oh yeaaa.

Genghis Khan @ Sapporo Beer Garden: lamb yakinu. The grill is a bit-domed shape like a hat/helmet.

I don't take Japan's weather well: my California sensibilities detest the cold, but Hokkaido and the Snow Festival is worth going to and I more or less returned with good health (layers and layers, heat tech, カイロ, and snow/waterproof shoes shall save your life). My only regret is not having more time to explore more of Hokkaido (Hakodate~~) and not having another stomach soup curry, another famous Sapporo dish. More pics of the sculptures (and food) can be found on my Flickr

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