Sunday, July 31, 2011

Preparing to Climb Mt. Fuji (Fuji-san)

The summit of Mt. Fuji is 12,389 ft. (3,776.24 m).

A few of us will be attempting to climb Mt. Fuji or Fuji-San at the end of August.   We will be joining the ranks of approximately 300,000 people yearly who climb the mountain.  That's a lot of people!  Most people are advised to only climb during the months of July and August when the weather on the mountain is milder than the rest of the year.

In order to sign up for a tour you have to attend a safety briefing on the climb which took all of 45 minutes.  We were given good information and now we have a better idea of what to plan for.  All I know is that we'd better get a good night's sleep before the climb because the tour leaves at 2am.  The ascend starts at station 5 around 5:30am and takes most people 6 hours.  The descend takes (2 1/2-3 hours).  That makes for a long day!

There are both day and overnight trips to Fuji-san.  We are going with a Boy Scout troop so we will be going during the daytime.  I really want to see the path in daylight versus wearing a headlamp during the night especially since the trails are very treacherous and covered with dirt and loose lava stone. It is very common for Japanese to climb in the night so that they arrive to the summit by sunrise.  This is called goreikou or spiritual light

Aside from being in decent physical shape, taking the climb nice and easy, having the proper (no cotton) climbing clothes, gear and 2 liters of water, I learned that it is essential to have extra yen.  This is crucial especially if you want to use the toilet... which costs 200 yen.  You'll also want extra yen if you want to purchase a hiking stick for 1,200 and have it branded at each station ~4,000 (total).  

I'll be blogging the results of the climb next month!  Wish us luck!  Gambatte!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

V is for Victory

Winston Churchill giving the sign.
I've hopped on the bandwagon for giving the V is for victory, or peace sign when having my picture taken.  What started out as being silly has actually become habit forming.  I had a friend back in America ask me what's with the "V" sign from people in Asia.  I wasn't entirely sure so I asked a couple Japanese friends to tell me what they knew about it, or if they did it when taking pictures.

Here's what I learned:

Friend #1:  Well, I don't know the origin..I was taught to do it since I was baby.  High school girls put a lot of effort to look good in photos. They look up a little bit to make eyes look bigger, and put Vs on cheeks to make faces look smaller.  Silly ne!

Friend #2:  I think it has to do with after the war.  Winston Churchill made the V, or victory sign, so everyone started doing it.  It was also popular with Japanese Hippies (I asked.........Japan had hippies?)  Also, in the early 1970's, Junji Inoue, a Japanese TV personality was in a Konica camera commercial doing the peace sign.  Its been very popular in Japan, but I never make the sign in photos. 

Regardless of the origin, I think that its part of the culture here.  You see the sign in many photos taken in Japan, and it other parts of Asia.  I think its both fun and funny.  See, even cartoon characters do it!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Natsuyasumi (Summer Vacation)

Natsuyasumi, or "summer vacation" for Japanese children just started last week.  Japanese summer vacation typically starts around July 20th-September 1st.  Unlike American schools (unless maybe year-round schools), the Japanese students begin their school year in April, and end the following March.  Natsuyasumi is taken after the first trimester, so Japanese students will resume their same grade when they return to school in September.

This is a very busy time for traveling in Japan.  The trains, roadways, malls, amusement parks and almost everything are noticeably more crowded.  We were forewarned about this during our new area orientation so we knew what to expect.  I've also found that many tours, airlines and hotels have also raised their rates from mid-July through August.  This isn't too surprising since this is very typical when traveling most anywhereduring peak season. 

Wearing jinbei.

During natsuyasumi there are many local festivals (Matsuri) to attend.  Here you will find wonderful food, treasures, a cold drink (or two) and entertainment.  Not to mention, you can wear a yukata (summer kimono) or jinbei (consists of a top/short ensemble).  These traditional costumes will give any foreigner the opportunity to immerse themselves into Japan's wonderful customs and festivities.  The biggest summer festival, the Obon Festival (also called Bon Odori), will be held next month in our area.  We will be wearing our traditional Japanese clothes, working a booth, dancing and enjoying yet another Japanese experience.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

De zu ni ra n do (Tokyo Disney)

Last month, the kids and I experienced "The Happiest Place on Earth" at Tokyo Disney.  It was perfect timing since we went on a weekday when the Japanese children were in school.  We only had to wait in line outside of Disney for about 45 minutes.  We've learned to be more patient here.  The Japanese wait patiently in long lines and don't complain.  Such great role models for us foreigners.  

Patiently waiting.

I liked the size of Tokyo Disney.  I had heard from many that it was very small compared to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA.  I thought it was comparable, since they had the rides we wanted to go on such as:  Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Thunder Mountain, It's a Small World, Jungle Cruise, Tom Sawyer's Island, Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain (although it has been since closed since last year).  There was also lots of shopping/gift stores near the entrance, in World Bazaar (like Main Street) and a good variety of food carts and places to eat.  

People of all ages were wearing Disney head wear.  There were the typical mouse ears, but many variations I'd never seen before.  The Japanese love Disney and I could tell they were really into it.  Many childless couples and groups of friends were seen with coordinating mouse ears.  So kawaii-ne (cute)!

Goofy hat.

While there were many similarities, there were also some differences compared to Disneyland back in the states.  Here are just some differences I observed:
  • There wasn't a Matterhorn.
  • There are various popcorn vendors in the park where you can buy interesting flavored popcorn (curry, caramel, soy and butter, honey...) and you can get refills in your reusable bucket for a small fee. 
  • You can take the train from Tokyo directly to Disney.  This was so convenient especially if you don't want to drive your car.
  • People laid out their blankets in the street (not in the way of pedestrians) to eat their lunch or to have a break.  I also think that some people did this later in the evening to see the parade.
  • I did not see any souvenir shop where you could have you name inscribed onto your mouse ears.  
The boys and I.  When we go to Disney Sea, it will be all 5 of us!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ice Cream in Japan

This is the first time since writing the blog that I've gone two weeks between posts.  Sorry, but I've been heading out early almost everyday for a Japanese class, or we've been enjoying the summer.  So, what better topic to talk about than......... ice cream.  You can find it everywhere here which is good for us since we all have a sweet-tooth!!

Ice cream vending machine at train station.
They sell soft serve (or cream), and regular scoop ice cream.  You can get it in a waffle cone, in a cup, and with toppings like back home.  I think the ice cream (like most sweets here) isn't as sweet, but its still a wonderful treat especially in this heat.  I think the younger boys even had ice cream for dinner a couple weeks ago since that's the only thing that sounded appealing! 

For the adventurous eater, there are many unusual flavors to try.  Here are some examples:  Purple Sweet Potato, Green Tea, Black Sesame Seed, Japanese Plum, Melon, Mochi, etc.  I've had the Purple Sweet Potato, which I think is pretty tasty.  Baskin Robbins has flavors with Pop Rocks, and another one called Easter Candy. 

Although we haven't tried any of these more unusual flavors, I see that they are ready available for consumers in Japan.  These would be for the people who try something at least once:

Wasabi Ice Cream
Octopus Ice Cream

  • Japan has the most Baskin-Robbins locations outside the United States.
  • Cornflakes can be added to bottom of a cone to prevent ice cream from leaking.
  • Haagen Dazs was first introduced in Japan in the 1980's.