Sunday, August 31, 2014

Shiraito Waterfalls

After hiking Fuji, we woke up feeling surprisingly good.  We had a great breakfast at the hotel and headed off to the train station.  Fuji was still not being very cooperative and this is the only picture I was able to get of the mountain.  The rest of the time it was completely hidden in the clouds.

Yep, that's the tip of Mt. Fuji peaking through the clouds.  It showed up for a very brief moment and then disappeared again for the rest of the day.
 We were able to stash our luggage at the tourist information center and then took a bus to the Shiraito Waterfalls.  This turned out to be really pretty.  There were two waterfalls, Shiraito and Otodome. 

Otodome falls

Otodome falls.

It was a shame that we were unable to hike to the bottom of Otodome falls but we at lunch at the very top of the falls which was great.  We had yakisoba for lunch which is a local specialty (pan fried noodles) and finished with some ice cream. 
Jeff at the top of Otodome at lunch.

Japanese like their soft serve ice cream and Jeff and I are not complaining.  The thing they do that is interesting is they put a scoop of corn flakes in the tip of the cone.  It's actually pretty good.  Jeff had chocolate with oreo and chocolate syrup and I had chocolate, walnut and caramel.
The Shirato falls was spectacular.  We were able to walk down to the bottom of the fall.  It was really cool.

The whole right wall was a series of little waterfalls, it was really cool.

Pink flowers blooming down the wall of the path to the falls.

A bee in the flowers.

The river flowing from the falls.


 The water from the falls comes from the snow melt on Fuji.  Its apparently best in late spring when the snow melt is greater. 

We had some good people watching as well.  These guys were my favorite.

Yep, that is an attempt to pose 4 striped sweater wearing poodles in front of the falls for a photo.  Really funny to watch.  We also saw several people with dachshunds trying to take photos but these guys were the best.

We took the bullet train home last night and today I'm just trying to get caught up on laundry and start planning the next adventure.  It was a great trip!

Fuji-san Summit

We woke up early to a drizzly rain yesterday in Fujinomiya.  We ate a quick breakfast of things purchased from the near by conbini (convenience store, they are both prolific and handy in Japan and have more/better/fresher food than in the US) yogurt, pancakes and orange juice, since nothing in Japan seems to open before 9:00 AM which makes an early breakfast tough.  We grabbed our packs and headed off to the train station.  A 20 minute train ride took us to the bus station and a 1.5 hour bus ride got us to the fifth station (the highest reachable by car and the standard starting point) of the Fujinomiya trail up Mt. Fuji.

Here is the trail map with the stations so that you have a better idea what I'm talking about.

Happy hikers before we started on our way up.
You have to pass through the fifth station to get to the trail.  It was a little crazy with people all over the place, but a good warm up for future stations.  The only trees were between the 5th and 6th stations.  The rest of the hike was only small scrubby plants or just rock.  

Scrubby trees in the lava rocks.

It was a short and relatively easy hike to the 6th and 7th stations.  It got steeper, rockier and more difficult after the old 7th station.   The rain was pretty steady up to the old 7th station.  By this point it was getting cooler so we stopped and pulled on some more layers.  Despite wearing rain jackets, we were both soaked.  For me, it was 3 problems.  First, my jacket doesn't fit tight enough at the wrists to create a seal and since i was using hiking poles, the water was dripping down my hands and wrists and pooling in my elbows.  Second, sweat, nuff said.  Third, condensation.  When you have warm bodies in a car and its cold outside the windows fog, right?  The same thing happens when hiking in a rain jacket when its chilly.  The extra layers helped and the gloves I put on kept the water from running down my sleeves which was nice.  

Hikers in the fog just after the 7.5 station

Here is a station from above.  it is not showing all the chaos that is on the other side of the buildings where it is packed with people and smelled of food, cigarettes and diesel.  Jeff was just saying again that he was glad we did not sleep on the mountain.
Up to the 8th station the trail was much narrower and steeper.  Bottle necks became more frequent and we occasionally had to stop and wait for slower people.  We kept a good pace and a steady rhythm when possible.  

At the 9th station the rain finally stopped which was really nice.  I was feeling pretty good but the altitude was starting to get to Jeff a little.  He started getting a bit of a headache and became a little short of breath.  The trail just kept getting steeper.

Here the rain and fog thinned a little.  You can see how steep the trail is.
After the 9.5 station the fog cleared a little and we got occasional glimpses up the trail at the line of neon, waterproof people up ahead.

If you look really close you can see the zig zag of people on the trail up to the top.

We were pretty happy to get to the top.  At that point Jeff was really feeling the altitude.  A rest and some food helped restore him.  

Here are our top of Fuji pictures.

Happy Jeff at the summit.

Me at the summit

And some crater pics.

Snow at the bottom of the crater

Yep, it's huge!

There is a trail that goes all the way around the crater.  With Jeff feeling the altitude and me starting to feel it and the lack of visibility, we decided to skip it.  We walked a little of it to get to the highest peak and called it good and the found some ramen.  

Above the clouds.

If you look closely above the clouds there is a dark thing.  That is actually a peninsula out in to the ocean.

Yep, there was a ramen shop at the top of Fuji with bowls of hot noodles.  It was delicious!

Yum, noodles!

By the time we were done with noodles Jeff was feeling a little better and I was feeling quite a bit worse.  Time to go down.

As we hiked back down we re entered the clouds and the heavy fog.  There was almost a wall of it. 

This was really cool to watch, the fog was flowing down the slope in the distance.

The fog below us.

Near station 7 everyone coming up the trail below us simultaneously stopped and grabbed their cameras.  We turned and looked and the clouds parted and we had a good view up Fuji. 

Looking up the slope to the top of Fuji.  The buildings are the stations.

It was quickly swallowed by fog again and by the end of the hike the fog was so dense it would drip off my hat and visibility was reduced to just a few feet.  

We had a miserable wait in the wet for the bus but had a nice nap on the way back down.  Neither of us felt all that great so we had a simple dinner.  We woke up this morning feeling great with no ill effects of our high altitude adventures the day before.

You can see from the pictures that the trail is roped off in places and has painted arrows in others it would be very hard to get lost.  The trail had a huge amount of trafic, probable about 1,000 people a day on the Fujinomiya trail alone, yet there was no trash on the mountain and there were no trash cans.  You had to carry out all your trash.  In the US there would be a litter problem.  People also paid the 200 yen (roughly $2) to use the camp bathrooms to keep the mountain clean.  People were always polite and patient when the trail was crowded and you had to wait.  There are some nice things about hiking in Japan.

Yes, the weather was less than ideal, but we had the right clothing for it so no big deal.  Yes, it was stupidly steep and loose but we had gaitors to keep rocks out of our shoes and the hiking poles were a huge help.  I did have two little falls but neither were bad and I think neither would have happened if It wasn't for the altitude sickness.  The altitude sickness sucked but not much we could have done to avoid it with our limited time budget and living close to sea level.  I was concerned about it before the hike and got the closest/highest hotel I could which was unfortunately, only about 500 ft above sea level.  

Favorite people watching moments:
- the guy at station 9 alternately taking hits from a cigarette and a can of oxygen
- diversity in ages.  From little kids around 5 to people well in to their 80's
- hiking fashion.  Jeans and cotton flannel to full on plastic pants and jackets
- hiking abilities.  We saw full on mountain goats running down the trail to people weezingly taking 3 steps, stopping mid narrow trail, sitting taking a hit of oxygen before slowly starting all over again
- the chaos and spectacle of the stations, unfortunately they were so chaotic i don't have a good picture of it
- the endless konichi wa from other hikers

It was wet, steep and altitude sickness was not awesome but Jeff and I feel that the challenges were worth the experience, it was a great adventure, and something we will enjoy telling stories about for years!

Happy hiker.

Happy hiker.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What the Fuji?

Jeff and I are going to hike Mt. Fuji tomorrow.  I thought I'd take today to give a little bit about the logistics of the process out of the way today since I think it is rather interesting.

First of all, Mt, Fuji is a big dormant volcano (last erupted in 1708) and it is a of a symbol of Japan.  It tops out at 12,388 ft.  I'm currently living at essentially sea level so I'm sure I'll notice the altitude and lack of oxygen.  There are 4 trails that lead to the top and a fifth trail that goes around the rim of the caldera.  Approximately 311,00 people climbed Mt. Fuji in 2013 so we will not be alone.  There is an official climbing season from July 1st to September 14th (but many of the bus services stop running September 1st.).  Fuji is usually covered with snow in the time periods outside of hiking season and can be very dangerous if you do not have some mountaineering experience.  Jeff and I are hiking the Fujinomiya trail.  It is one of the steeper trails but shorter and geographically the most convenient from the direction we are traveling.

The hike up on all 4 trails in divided in to 9 stations.  Each station has shops where water and snacks can be purchased, camp composting toilets and the upper stations have huts.  Most people start hiking at the 5th station as this is the highest buses can go for all 4 routes.  For the route we are taking, the road is closed to cars and we have to take the bus.  The huts are small rooms where people squash together at night like sardines in a can and pretend to sleep, and at least stay warm.  Why would you do this, you ask?  Well, most people either hike all night or hike up to the 8th station, sleep in a hut until 4:00 AM and then hike to the top to see the sun rise from the top of Mt. Fuji.  This is "the thing" to do. 

Jeff and I have opted not to do this. We are hiking up and down in a day.  We don't have the gear in Japan to do an overnight trip, waiting for the dawn can be extremely cold (well below freezing) and unless you have clear skies you really can't see much anyway (our forecast is rain so our sunrise would probably be nothing but clouds and we freezing miserableness, and if you know me, you know I'm not a fan of cold and wet.) 

The thing that makes this a smudge challenging is that all of the buses are set up for these crazy sunrise people so that means Jeff and I need to keep a brisk pace in order to catch the last bus back down after the hike.  I don't see this as a problem, but it's something we need to keep in mind.

In talking with people and reading about hiking Fuji, it seems like there are 2 common mistakes.  People forget how much colder it is at the top (hypothermia is amazingly common for people who decide to hike the whole thing in shorts and a t-shirt and then want to watch the sunrise).  Jeff and I have plenty of water proof, wind proof warm when wet stuff for the cooler temperatures and somewhat less than ideal weather forecast.  The second common mistake is people don't take it seriously since so many people hike it, they assume it is easy.  Jeff and I are assuming it will be difficult and hope to be pleasantly surprised if it's not as bad as we thought.  In the mornings we've been hiking laps up and down the 10 flights of stairs in our apartment to get ready for the hike (just in case our neighbors didn't think we were strange enough - hahaha).

Well, wish us good weather (it will make the hike more pleasant for us and the pictures better for you).  I'll post in a couple days.  :-)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cycling Shimanami Kaido

We found a treasure in our back yard yesterday.  I was looking for fun places to ride bikes and there is a series of islands connected by bridges, that starts about an hour away from us by car, that has separate bike lanes across the bridges.  It sounded pretty cool and it was a bonus that you can get there without using the toll roads.

We drove down yesterday morning and took a short ferry to the first island (maybe 5 minutes on the ferry and it only cost a dollar each).  You can get a free English map specifically for cycling in this area.  The main bike route is 75km (46.6 miles) each way and is marked on the roads, all turns are marked and there is a mileage marker every kilometer.  There are several alternative routes and the end of the marked bike route also has lots of good additional cycling.  It would be easy to spend a week riding all over the area if someone wanted to make a bike tour out of it.  It was a road biker's paradise!  Ever couple of kilometers there was a rest area specifically for cyclists with clean free bathrooms, bike pumps and places to refill your water bottle.  There were also vending machines that had cold beverages if you wanted something besides water.  Many of the restaurants and cafe's along the way catered to cyclists and had bike racks and pumps.  There were areas that had a little bit of car traffic but the speed limit was slow, 30 MPH in most places and cars are extremely polite to cyclists.  Oh yeah, did I mention it was beautiful? 

This is where Jeff and I stopped for lunch.

Jeff on the bike only path after crossing the bridge behind him.

Pretty bridge.

Proof I was there.  Nice that there happens to be a cycling team with my name, isn't is?

Another bridge.

We stopped a couple miles from the end of our ride to enjoy the clouds, the light and watch the herons fish.
Got this guy in mid flight.

Heron looking for dinner.
Jeff and I rode about 50 miles.  We only made it slightly more than half way and then turned around.  Plenty of time to explore the rest of the trail in the upcoming months.  It was a fantastic day and we had a wonderful time.  Jeff said that this was one of his favorite places he's ever ridden a road bike.  We will definitely take people here if the come out to visit and and Jeff mentioned taking some of the other expats from work since they have bikes.  It was lovely.  Expect to see/hear more about this area again in the future.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Travel within Japan

One of the things I'm finding most surprising about living in Japan is how crazy expensive it is to travel within the country.  Jeff and I are looking at taking another trip and are trying to figure out how much it's going to cost.  We have several options but here is just a little bit of the craziness that is part of trip planning when living here.  Everyone is aware that gas costs more in pretty much every other country than the US (yet people complain about the cost of gas all the time - it's no surprise why we don't drive more efficient cars like most other countries?).  To take this trip it would be about $90 in gas in the US and $140 here.  No big deal, right?

The thing that keeps blowing me away is the road tolls here in Japan.  If we decide to drive, the tolls would be $276 just to be able to use the road.  Let me say that one more time.  We are planning a trip that is about 445 miles each way so lets call it 900 miles round trip, it's $276 in tolls to make that trip.  That's roughly the equivalent of Boise to Portland and back.  In less than 2 minutes I found plane tickets from Boise to Portland, round trip for $325.  All we want to do is drive!  When we took our little road trip a week and a half ago, we probably paid almost $100 in tolls.  It's totally crazy.

As you can imagine, the cost to take a train is more than that of the tolls so it's actually quite expensive to move around within the country.  If you are planning on visiting Japan, you can get a rail pass that is good for a week or two, depending on the length of your stay that can significantly reduce the cost to travel around.  These are only issued outside of Japan so you need to get it before you come here.  Hint hint to anyone who is thinking about visiting.

Anyhow, for people wanting to visit Japan, meal costs are not much higher than the US.  Fish, beer and liquor are fairly inexpensive.  Beef is expensive.  Restaurants don't seem to have as high of a markup as they do in the US.  And most importantly, soft ice cream cones are cheap :-)

I figure I need to have some pictures in this blog so here are some pictures of the road that Jeff and I have been running in the morning.

This is just a cute house with some rice fields in front of it and a really pretty garden up close to the house.  This is fairly common.  Some houses also have small vegetable gardens with squash and tomatoes and veggies growing.

This little road reminds me a bit of the Greenbelt back home. It has the river on one side and the houses, apartments, businesses and such on the other.  The biggest difference is that cars actually use this road too.  Not much traffic and the cars don't go to fast.

Here is the other direction.  This starts about 2 block behind our apartment, but isn't this pretty until we get about a half mile out.  If you look really close there is a large red sigh on the right side of the picture.  This is our "home improvement" type store.  It is more like a target than a home depot but it does have some tools and lumber.  It's very convenient.
I've heard a few comments from people that "everything in Japan is so pretty".  I don't want to give false presentation of a country so that when people come here they are surprised that not everything is beautiful.  At the same time, why take pictures of the run down looking apartments that are on my running route and the place where they take all the bottles that were put out for recycle and squish them in to giant cubes?  Yes, I see these things daily and they are not very pretty, but I'd rather focus on the pretty things and the positive things.  I try to frame my pictures for the most attractive angles, not the most representative.  The pictures above are the prettier parts of my run.  Along this little river I enjoy seeing the heron in the water fishing and that is the part of my run I look forward to and the part I want to share. Japan is a very beautiful country but it is not beautiful everywhere.  For the ugly pictures, you need to find a different blog :-)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bike Ride

Jeff had last week off of work for Obon and on the Saturday night, we had one more day off and were trying to decide what to do.  I checked the weather on my phone and it was about 50% chance of rain.  I looked at Google Maps and thought, we aren't that far from the coast.  There was a small island that was accessible by bridge on the coast.  It was about 18 miles each way.  Jeff just finished putting the road bikes together so it seemed like a good plan. 

We got up on Sunday and road our bikes through Saijo and started up the hill.  It was fairly steep and had a tunnel at the top.  The tunnel spooked me a bit so we walked the bikes through the tunnel.  From there it was down the hill, along the coast to the little island.  The island itself was pretty steep.  We road all the way around it before crossing back over.  Here are some pics.

Looking up at the bridge.  I think I've mentioned it before but I really like bridges.
Even smaller island off of the island that we went to with several other islands behind it.
More cool islands.
The bridge.
Proof I was there...  and sweaty.
Jeff sporting his new High Cascades 100 Jersey.  Isn't he cute?
I'm actually pretty happy with how the photos turned out.  I have a water proof case on my phone so I just took it and left the camera at home since we were concerned about rain. 

After our island loop we found ice cream.  Jeff said that a bike ride with ice cream feels like vacation, and it did.  The Japanese really like their soft ice cream cones and I'm not complaining.  :-)

It was then back up the hill, I walked the tunnel again (I made it about 200 meter then said, nope!) and then back down to home.  We even managed to get home before the rain.  We spend the rest of our Sunday eating chips and salsa (thank you Japanese Costco!!!) and watching a movie (yay for netflix!!!).  It was a good way to end the weekend.

I've spent the last couple days trying fighting with my mail box (it's electronic and wouldn't give me my package), the reimbursement documentation for the hotels and transportation (it decided to eat about 3 hours of work even though I saved it, stupid web site) and trying to figure out how to hike Mt. Fuji.  Yep, I'd rather be on a bike going up hill - lol!  Stay tuned for more adventures.  I'm still trying to figure out what we are doing this upcoming weekend but I'm thinking it involves more bikes and bridges...

Sunday, August 17, 2014


As mentioned earlier, our apartment and furniture has been provided by my husbands company.  If you are curious about Japanese apartments, here's what a western style one looks like (no tatami flooring) which means we have a western style bed and not a futon, a western height table with chairs and a sofa.

You can see that this is a fairly normal looking setup with some sort of pergo or manufactured wood flooring.  The whole wall to the left in the picture is sliding glass doors and windows that open out on to a tiny balcony that goes along 2 walls of the apartment.  The view is of the grocery store parking lot that is next door.  Not too scenic but very convenient.  We are on the second floor.

Kitchen is tiny.

This is what passes for an oven in Japan.  They use it primarily to bake fish.  I also have a toaster oven which I successfully managed to bake chocolate chip cookies and they turned out pretty good.  I'm fairly proud of myself for that one.  Not only was I able to find and identify all the ingredients, but I was able to make them in the tiny little toaster oven.  I miss my kitchen, appliances and nice kitchen gadgets.

This little drawer is supposed to be the dish washer.  It sort of washes dishes, but you can only put 4 small plate and glasses in there at a time.

Jeff and I bought the bread rack between the fridge and the cabinet that has the appliances on it.  This freed up some more work space and has worked out really well.

Looking back the other way.

This is the big bedroom. This is a double bed and we have about 9 inches on either side of the bed for tiny night stands.  Any more than that and we can't open the closets.  I do have to say that all the doors are really pretty heavy wood doors for both the rooms and the closets.

This is our guest room/den.  When we have people visit  we will need to move the desk out so that there is room for a double mattress. Future guests, I hope you are ok with a double blowup mattress, that about all we have room for.

The bathroom/shower room is pretty interesting.  The whole room is the shower.  There is a drain in the floor.  The main control to turn on the hot water is on a control panel by the kitchen.  This controller can also be used to fill up the bathtub.  You can set the water level and temperature.  There is also a lid to the bath tub to keep the water from cooling down.  Normally a Japanese person would shower and then soak in the tub once they were clean.  No soap or bubbles are added to the water and since the washed first, the whole family would use the same bath water before draining the tub.  The other thing that is interesting is the shower room has a drier.  Once everyone is done showering you put the drier on so that the room dries out.  It is so humid here that if you didn't, it would never dry and get moldy.  The added bonus is that it also dries your towels and any laundry that didn't dry out side.

This is my least favorite part of the apartment.  The washer/drier that does both poorly.  It washes a little better than it dries but not much.  This silly contraption can hold about 1/3 the amount of stuff as the washer I had in Boise.  The drier function goes up to 5 hours and even that is not enough to dry a small load of towels (2 bath towels, 2 hand towels, 2 kitchen towels and 2 wash cloths).  That is why the room drier is awesome.  I have a clothes line on the balcony that I use when it is not raining but it is still very humid here so it takes a long time for things to dry.  It's been an interesting learning process.
Well, there is the basics of my Japanese apartment!