Japan Summer 2011 – Part 1

There’s so much I can write about my trip to Japan that just attempting to start this post has been too daunting to make its way into my schedule since I left. Now that I’ve been out of the country for a week, though, I realize that putting it off any longer might mean that it gets lost in the shuffle. Can’t let that happen, can I?

Thanks

For the fourth or fifth time now, Elliot has let me stay in his awesome apartment in Shibuya. At this point I’ve actually lived in his apartment for over two months in 2011 alone. Despite doing what I can to be a good guest, I know it’s a bit of an imposition to have someone stay with you for such a long time, so a huge thank you is due to Elliot. I’m incredibly fortunate to have somewhere to stay in Tokyo, but far more fortunate that it’s at the home of a friend whose company I enjoy, even after so many weeks.

Also due a public thank you is my friend Toby, who, amongst many other things, organized some amazing trips that I would have never been able to pull off solo. He’s leaving Japan in the Spring, and I’m a bit sad to know that trips to Japan after he leaves won’t quite be the same.

There are a lot of other people who deserve thanks and made my trip better, but this isn’t an Emmy’s speech, so I’ll keep it to the two who are a consistent bright spot on my trips to Japan.

Camping in Chiba

For years now, Toby has been telling me about a place to camp in Chiba. Every time I come to Japan we agree that we should make a trip there, but I always leave before we’ve actually managed to set it up. Not this time– on week one (of six), we took a look at our calendars and picked a date.

Before I knew it, Toby and I were at Shinagawa station, scouring the food stalls for healthy food, bickering about whether or not I brought enough water. His girlfriend-in-everything-but-title, Satoko, also joined us.

Through the alchemy of Japanese public transportation, and careful planning from Toby and Satoko, we managed to catch our two bus transfers to arrive at the foot of the mountain. Our hike up was beautiful and just rigorous enough to feel productive, without actually leaving us exhausted. Along the way we stopped to take pictures of cartoon-sized mushrooms and the giant spiders that create webs at foreigner-face-level.

I’ve done an uncharacteristically high amount of hiking in Japan, and it’s never been less than stunning. This hike was no exception to the typical scenery of pencil-straight cedar trees stretching to the sky, views of faded blue-green mountains, and meticulously maintained trails. At the top of the mountain we were rewarded with a giant stone face with a passageway blasted through the middle.

Through the passageway and to the right, we arrived at a some-hundred year old temple perched on the cliff. Inside the temple were three older Japanese men, cooking food over a small gas burner. In a display of typical Japanese hospitality, they cooked up some pork for us, and gave us drinks and other snacks. We spoke with them in Japanese (with widely varying degrees of comprehension, me on the lower end of that scale), traded stories, and praised each other’s countries. And then they smelled Toby’s shoes. None of us understand why that happened, but it was a deliberate and fairly lengthy process.

When the men left, we built up a campfire under the small stone overhand adjoining the temple, and prepared a feast. Toby and Satoko, in their first of many displays of over-preparation during my trip, brought pounds of meat, fresh vegetables, tea, and all sorts of other stuff. I brought s’mores, because I’m American, and that’s what we do. A small consolation to the imbalance of contribution was that neither of them had had s’mores before.

After a reasonably good night’s sleep on the hard wooden floors of the temple, doors open to the woods, we woke up and broke camp. Just as we finished, a couple in their seventies comes through. As the man offers us precious beverages (no, I didn’t bring enough water), the woman cuts up an Asian pear for us. We talk about our plans, and they offer to give us a ride to the bus station after we descend. We politely decline, saying that we’ll probably take our time on the descent and don’t want to keep them waiting.

We head off before them, but they quickly catch up and pass us.

“You’re fast!”

“This is slow!” they reply.

We take our time going down, enjoying the scenery at first, and later crossing a poisonous snake and thereafter walking extremely deliberately to avoid any other snakes that might be hiding. When we reach the bottom, the old couple is waiting.

Despite our polite refusal, they have been waiting for half an hour to give us a ride. In fact, since we mentioned that we wanted to go to an onsen (Japanese public bath house), they’ve researched it and are prepared to drive us to the best one in the area. We humbly accept.

Before we have a chance to soak in the dark brown seaweed-infused water of the baths, we receive one last parting blow of Japanese hospitality. The woman rips the trash bag out of my hand, insisting that she’ll sort the recyclables from the trash and take care of it herself.

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To make up for not posting last week, I’m going to post several Japan related posts this week.

Photo was taken on the camping trip. More photos of the trip are at Flickr.

Big thanks to @AhmadFadliKC for showing me around Kuala Lumpur on me way over to Bangkok! Leaving Thailand tomorrow, and then off to Berlin!

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