We hiked down to bus station to get a bus pass, since we'd be on and off the bus several times in the coming day, not to mention on Sunday when we need to haul our luggage to the bus and train station for our return to Tokyo. There are three Kawaguchiko bus lines (red, green, and blue) that let you hop on and off the bus to visit the many small tourist attractions scattered through the area. The blue route goes much farther afield, and is more expensive, so we opted for the less expensive pass that covers only the red and green lines. There was too much to sea for one day's touring, so we picked a couple sites that we figured would be most interesting, and decided to focus on them. We'll just have to return again some day to see the others, and particularly to see if we can spend some time on one or more of the five lakes.
We took the green bus along Lake Kawaguchiko (the "ko" part means "lake", so the name's a bit redundant). It's a large and lovely lake, nestled among mountains that look like someone took a vat of mashed potatoes and doled out huge lumps in the land surrounding the lake. Covered in green forest, so perhaps the food metaphor is best not overextended. Had we come during the summer, I think we'd have made an effort to find kayak rentals, though they may not exist; we saw no brochures for any water excursions other than an overpriced 20-minute power boat ride around the lake. And most of the boats on the lake seemed to be either powerboats or fishing rowboats.
Since the land around Fuji has periodically been buried under lava flows, there are many caves that developed within the lava. Not so many caves back in Montreal, so we decided to fit in a couple caves that seemed most interesting and logistically feasible. We started with the oddly named "bat cave", as there was no evidence any bats had ever lived there. (On the plus side, the guest shop did have several vintage posters from the 1960s Adam West/Burt Ward TV series.) The managers will provide rubber boots (wellies) if so requested, but we had good hiking boots that were sufficient. And the cave floor is sufficiently rough and wet that I do recommend bringing good boots for both safety and comfort. They do insist you wear a plastic helmet, which is a wise choice; the roof is quite low in places, and despite my best efforts, I occasionally straightened out too fast and tapped my helmet on the ceiling. You get to the cave via a 5-minute walk through a beautiful forest that has developed atop the lava. It was a gloomy day, with dark clouds and rain threatening throughout, but still a beautiful forest. It would have been spectacular in bright sunlight.
Despite the lack of bats, it was lots of fun scrambling through the cave. There are several galleries with enough room to stand, but more areas where you have to bend over or even squat down and crabwalk to get through narrow passages. Not even remotely like real spelunking, which often involves crawling through gaps too narrow to pass with a lungful of air, but close enough for my tastes. I'm not claustrophobic, but suspect I might be with both my belly and my back scraping along stone simultaneously. Very different from the caves we've visited in Australia (much limestone, so a fascinating range of flowstone types) and Hawaii (volcanic, but seemingly with more soluble minerals to produce baby stalactites). Nonetheless, it was still a pleasure to be poking about underground in something that once carried lava hot enough to fry you from a distance.
Our next stop was at Saiko* Iyashi no Sato Nenba, which is a reconstruction of a Japanese village that was wiped out by a landslide in the aftermath of a typhoon in 1966. Now, its mostly a shell of its former self, though the buildings are beautifully restored and some of them are still used by community groups or for meetings. Now, there are stalls selling foods grown or created by locals, and a great many crafts (paintings, paper, silks, mobiles, ceramics). There's some beautiful stuff and some really yummy food. We ate far too many samples of mochi (sweetened glutinous rice with various fillings) and cookies, but also had a nice corn on the cob (for about $3, which is high, but far less outrageous than the corn on Fuji, at twice that price) and a mochi filled with bean paste and a herb whose name we can't recall. We need to remember to use the notebooks we both carry to record such details.
* "Saiko", the region name, is pronounced "psycho", so I amused myself all afternoon about visiting the psycho village and the psycho bat cave. Fatigue has clearly begun to take its toll.
Next stop was the "wind cave", a lava tube that occasionally has significant air movement that the signage claimed was driven by differences in relative humidity between the inside and outside of the cave—before electric lighting was installed, the wind was strong enough to blow out the candles that were often used for illumination. I've studied boundary layer climatology, so I understand how environmental gradients can move air, but I don't have any clear idea of how that humidity difference would generate significant wind. Maybe on really dry days outdoors? I suspect it's really the temperature difference that drives the wind, as it's very cold (near 0°C) inside the cave. Cold enough that even now, in September, there were significant deposits of ice that formed in the previous winter still present in one of the lava chambers. It's cold enough most of the year that local peoples used the cave to store silkworm larvae to delay their development (to allow silk production during a longer period of the year) and to warehouse seeds against future need. It's a much smaller cave than the bat cave, and requires much less stooping to get through narrower passages, but it's also much deeper in the Earth—maybe 30 feet below ground at the start, and a bit deeper in other areas.
By now, 10+ days of walking and touring had tired us out pretty thoroughly, so rather than trying to squeeze in another tourist site, we gave up for the day. Instead, we got off the bus at the Ogino supermarket, foreign marketplaces being a tourist experience in their own right. It's about a 10-minute walk from the hostel, so very convenient. I needed to stock up on snacks (chocolate, of course; my first potato chips in Japan*, because why not?; cookies because we found chocolate chip cookies good enough that even Shoshanna ate a batch**) and we also wanted to explore the possibilities for tomorrow's breakfast***. We settled on two packages of gyoza (Japanese dumplings), with no idea what the contain (because there was no English on the package) and a similarly mysterious okonomi. Tomorrow, we'll nuke them in the microwave, and anything we don't eat, we'll bring onto the train for road food. The hostel apparently sets the coffee machine in the commmon room on a timer so that it brews up a fresh pot every morning at 7, so we'll be well caffeinated. Wish we'd noticed this earlier.
* Unremarkable, but satisfied a craving for crunchy potato.
** Shoshanna maintains a wary distance from snacks.
** We belatedly got a clue and remembered that Japanese supermarkets sell a wide variety of ready-to-eat foods.
Back to the hostel for a nap and shower, then off to the local tempura restaurant for a feast. They had a wide selection of ingredients, including a few unusual ones, and also provided sashimi (raw fish), but the real attraction was the tempura. We each ordered a dozen or so servings, mostly vegetables (squash, green pepper, eggplant, onion, boiled egg!, cherry tomato!, mushrooms, and shrimp for Shoshanna). In addition to the usual sweetish dipping sauce, they had a lovely sesame paste/mustard sauce combination and a sweet but moderately hot chili sauce that went very well with the food. Shoshanna also tried their lemon salt, but reported there was too much salt and not enough lemon.
Home and preliminary packing, since tomorrow we head to Tokyo in mid-afternoon, where we'll spend two nights and our last full day in Japan. Where the heck did all the time go?
Earlier this afternoon I did something I rarely do: Post a comment on a youtube video. I'm a veteran of USENET flame wars, so not much phased by the knuckle-dragger insults a thoughtful comment often draws there. But BITD, my newsgroup comments were also likely to yield worthwhile replies. Youtube, not so much.
But comment I did. And then did something I do even more rarely: Shared the video on Facebook. And now I want to share it with you as well. Starting with my FB introduction:
I've read a lot of excellent essays about art — literature, film, theater, even music. I've read a lot more that was crap, of course (or at any rate, started a lot more that was crap, before giving up in disgust). The point being that I know what well-crafted criticism is. And this video essay on how JK Rowling's characters — especially Hermione — changed from book to film is one of the best pieces of criticism I've ever seen. Well worth watching.
And the comment I left on youtube:
Thank you for a tremendously well-observed and thought-provoking close-reading. The Devil's Snare episode was one of my favorite parts of _Philosopher's Stone_ from the first time I read it. And when the movie came out, I leaned forward in my seat and literally waited with bated breath for URupert Grint to say "Are you a witch or what?" And left the movie muttering something about "best line of dialog in the entire book, and _they left it out?!_"
But I entirely failed to see it as part of _any_ larger pattern, let alone the sevaral you bring out. Good criticism is rare. In producing a piece of excellent criticism that's also entertaining and perfectly true, you've hit the trifecta. Great work. Thank you.
Our goal today was to reach Mount Fuji and do some hiking. The weather dawned a bit hazy, but with bright blue skies—enough so that the summit of Fuji was clearly visible, which is not something to be taken for granted as it's more often concealed by clouds than not. So we carpe'd the diem and rushed to catch the first bus, a little before 10. In theory, you can climb Fuji—if you're young and still have young legs, or old and have spent your life climbing mountains. But in practice, it's nearly 3800 m tall (more than 12 000 feet), and though it starts out as a gentle slope, it rapidly steepens. One map we saw of the trails to the summit zigzagged like the trace from a seismograph. Such switchbacks would be only slightly less painful than the parallel route that climbs straight for the top. Sane folks do the climb in 2 days, with a stopover just below the summit on the first day, rising the next day to catch the sunrise, then descending. I think I'd opt for 3 days.
All of which is to say that we had no plans to summit. Instead, we took a tourist bus to the highest point reachable by road, which is the 5th station. There are 10 stations in total, at roughly equal spacing, so we were at about 5400 feet above sea level. From the 5th station, you can hike for hours at roughly the same elevation, parallel to the contours, or hook up with one of the summit trails. (By September, the summit trails are closed because the weather is too unpredictable and it's routinely too dangerous to use them.) We opted for the Ochuro trail, which runs west for about 2 km, followed by a pause to rest and then a short sashay along the Yoshida trail to the summit, just to say we'd done it.
The tourist centre is huge and sprawling, and designed to separate tourists efficiently from their cash. For example, there's a stand where a young woman was boiling sweet corn—at about $6 for a small cob. And we bought a couple steamed pork buns for about $4 each, roughly twice what I'd expect to pay in any non-tourist town. Even though it was mid-week during the off season, the place was swarming with people. There must have been 30 tour buses parked in the lot nearest to the visitor centre, and more farther downslope, not to mention the city buses that arrive every hour or so. I can't imagine what the place is like during the summer high season. Oddly enough, not a lot of people were on the trails; we only met a couple dozen hikers once we were out of sight of the visitor centre.
The weather was still excellent by the time we'd hit the bathroom and gotten ready to start our walk, with beautiful blue skies, cool but not cold air, and little breeze. Clear views of the peak throughout, which was a special blessing. As noted earlier, the peak is concealed by cloud more often than not.
The Ochuro trail is a lovely hike, starting out in woods filled with Japanese larch, fir, some species of paper birch, alder, willow, and lots of low greenery, including barberry with pretty orange-red berries, moss, and lichens. The trail is paved with crushed lava, with occasional chunks up to baseball size but mostly smaller than a pea or bean, and with flat paving stones (about 12 by 8 inches) running down the centre. I suspect these are present to help keep you on the trial if you're unlucky and a fog or heavy rain descends. Easy walking for the most part, with the lava pebbles relaxing on the feet after much time spent walking on pavement—a bit like walking in sand.
You soon leave the woods and begin catching glimpses of the long, sweeping slopes leading to the summit. (There's a clear demarcation between the forested slope, which extends a bit past our present elevation, and the scree slope above it.) It's awe-inspiring to realize that you're still about 1800 vertical metres (more than a mile) below the summit, and that all of the surrounding mountain ranges, which are impressive enough when seen from ground level, are at or below your height.
But what's really impressive is the scree slope that rises above the trail once you reach and pass the tree line. If you know what to look for, you can see landslide tracks everywhere—and they run the length of the slope in places. We saw slides that had buried the trail (leaving only a few paving stones projecting under a metre or more of scree) or swept away a 10-m-wide (about 30 feet) swath of forest as far as the eye could see. The biggest looked (judged using the distance to the summit as a crude yardstick) to be about half a kilometre wide, and stretched from just below the summit down a couple kilometres (measured along the slope) and well past where we were standing.
At this time of year, hiking on Fuji at our elevation isn't an extreme sport, or they'd close the trails; I suspect most landslides occur in winter, during heavy rains, or during earthquakes. Nonetheless, the folks who manage the site have installed landslide diversion structures—basically, oblong steel-reinforced bunkers that rise 3 metres (10 feet) or more above the surrounding slopes. They're mostly there to protect patches of regenerating forest, since the odds are slim of reaching one of the widely separated shelters if a landscape happens without warning.
When we reached the point where the trail began to descend towards the road, well below the visitor centre, we paused to consume our last pork bun and some trail mix and cookies before heading back. The disadvantage of an out-and-back hike is that you see fewer things than you'd see in a loop; the compensating benefit is that you get to see the same things from both sides, and spot things you'd missed. Both have their merits; I don't regret not doing a loop.
Back at the visitor centre, we stopped for a light lunch, keeping a cautious eye on the weather. Mountain weather is (in)famously changeable, and you need to keep your wits about you. We shared a bowl of roasted pork and cabbage on rice, with a small bowl of miso soup as clouds began to roll in. Pleasantly recharging. We still had an hour and a half before it was time for the bus we wanted to catch, and the clouds weren't looking too menacing, so this time we headed east along the Yoshida trail—only to find that after a couple hundred metres, the part of the trail that ascended towards the summit had been closed for the rest of the year. We debated for a moment about whether to go anyway, but when we spotted another hiker descending the trail, we figured it was worth the small risk. We'd continued to keep an eye on the weather, but as the dark clouds were showing no signs of raining yet, and the forecast had been for no rain, we agreed to walk only until we saw signs of rain—at which point we'd get the hell out of there asap. (There were many large erosion gullies running downslope, and the trail itself showed clear signs of scouring by running water. This wasn't a problem in the areas of packed lava gravel, but some of the steep parts of the trail were rock-covered, and would have been impassable because they'd be too slippery to be safe with water running downhill across the stone.)
We topped out at a landslide diversion structure that was also a shelter; the downhill side was a tunnel with open arches looking downslope, where you could hide to wait out rain or a landslide with some hope of returning home to tell about it.
The weather continued to hold, but we needed to return to catch our bus, so we made our way back. A pleasant, though sleepy, bus ride back to town. We'd been walking for about 4 hours in total, but the air was thin enough at more than a mile above sea level that we both felt a bit breathless during the hike. Reluctantly, we were forced to admit that we were not even close to being in good enough shape to summit, at least not without considerable long-term training. We both exercise as often as we can (usually several days each week), and it's served us well during our hikes, but clearly not enough intensity for such an expedition.
Back to the hostel for a shower*, then off to dinner at a local izakaya called "High Spirits", run by a Japanese chef who had studied in the U.S. and who therefore had excellent English. Like many of the places we'd eaten, a tiny place: three tables with room for 12 people, and a bar that runs alongside the kitchen. Itseated 6, including us. The chef was all alone in the kitchen, and he raced back and forth between his various preparations (frypans, refrigerator, spice racks, bowls of prepared stuff, a dozen or so bottles of various alcohols, etc.) like a martial artist practicing kata. Fun to watch someone really good at their work performing.
* The bathrooms in Japan tend towards the small side. The hostel bathroom was about the size of an airplane bathroom, but with a tub and shower added. The tub is wide enough that my shoulders only touch the wall or the shower curtain (not both) simultaneously, but there's only about 2 inches between my head and the ceiling. I've also noticed that my legs are too long for me to fit in standard bus seats; as a result, I have to sit sideways, with my legs sticking into the aisle. I'm not particularly huge (just 6 feet), so really bug guys beware! Japan is not built for people like us. On the other hand, the Shinkansen trains have ample legroom and headroom; I spotted one Westerner who must have been 7 feet tall who fit comfortably.
The chef did have someone helping out with the dishwashing and food delivery, but the guy was a trainee on his second day, and not yet up to speed. We had "Cajun" pork ribs, which were delicious and tender enough that I could pull them from the bone with chopsticks, but not very spicy, and a side of cold sautéed eggplant, also delicious and nicely al dente. Shoshanna had five pieces of sashimi that she loved, along with real wasabi that packed serious heat (not the diluted stuff we get in the west). We liked it all so much that we ordered an additional main course: lettuce leaves that we used like taco shells, stuffed with savoury roasted ground beef with a delicious oil/spice sauce mixture. Messy to eat, but amazingly good. The evening's alcohol was potato shochu (like sake, but made from potatoes), which was interesting but not nearly as good as sake, and Kirin beer.
Home to bed to prepare for another day of hiking tomorrow.
A pair of fine memorials remind us what a unique presence we lost with the passing of Harry Dean Stanton. Drew Fortune rounds up a baker’s dozen of friends, collaborators, and fellow barflies to share memories of a flinty buddha who wouldn’t hesitate to cut you down to size even as he remained your boon […]
The post The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of September 22 appeared first on Parallax View.
Wonder Woman (2017) is, if you’ll pardon such an obvious comment, a wonder of a superhero movie, a film that doesn’t transcend the genre but most certainly sets a high bar, especially next to the ponderous, humorless films of the new big screen universe of interconnected DC Comics heroes. Warner Home Entertainment Gal Gadot debuted as […]
I dropped it into the bath, and it bobbed up immediately, spreading a thin layer of pink oil dots across the surface of the water.
It was a hot day. I'm not sure what I was really thinking, making a bath like that, but I'd been hurting so badly - just an all-over pain that didn't seem to have any source. I wasn't particularly stressed and holding myself tight, I hadn't moved any boxes or done any major unpacking, I hadn't slept funny. I'd been sleeping enough, in fact.
I just ... hurt. All over. I walked slowly and marveled at just how uniformly my whole body felt soaked in pain. No twinges. No creaks. Just a sort of frostbitten inability to move easily through the world.
It was 90 degrees today and sickly humid, and I nearly gave myself a headache hanging out downstairs in this new place, trying to hear my TV over the rattle and roar of a window air conditioning unit way past its prime, but I needed to eat dinner. I needed to watch the first episode of the new season of The Good Place. I needed to not be thinking too much. I needed to hydrate.
So, the bath. It was a decent bath, all told. I felt heavy as I got up out of the water after soaking for a good half hour or so, the weightlessness of the water swirling off my skin in pepto pink, my skin softened and scented like a screeching Strawberry Shortcake doll. I don't know that I feel any better physically, but it did feel good to move through my evening, step by step. Ice cubes into a tall plastic tumbler. Cold water out of the fridge. The paper sack from Lush, still emitting bright puffs of citrus and that strawberry and also that generic Lush scent that is just all the scents together, having a swordfight in rainbow color. Trudging up the steps slowly, no twinges, no creaks, just pain.
The new abode is slow to come together. Work has been busy, and I get home and there's just no time to eat dinner and decompress before it's really time to get to bed again. The important things are set up: my linen closet, my bed, my television, my computer. I have a dual monitor setup now, for the computer desk. That's a trigger it took me about six years to pull. So ridiculous. And my PC is so slow now that it seems almost wasted, but it is pretty nice to have a game up on one screen and be able to chat or answer an email in the other. I am so used to a multi display at work that it feels like obvious luxury at home.
I want to start writing regularly again, even if it's quotidian crap. I fell down a rabbithole yesterday, reading through some old stuff I wrote about the trip I took to Scotland in 2005, and it was so enjoyable to take that trip back, even with all the crap that was behind the scenes (and unwritten). Even when my heart breaks and I am feeling my worst, I still manage to experience life and participate as sincerely as I can. I honestly think people don't get that about me very well. How could I possibly be feeling in need of support and friendship when I'm nursing a hangover and crushing two dudes in a Halo match in a small flat in Aberdeen, right?
The new apartment is good, though. Very good. It's old, and it could certainly use some updating, but it's got charm, and it's got loads of quiet, and I am on my own. I control the horizontal and the vertical. I am settling in slow, sinkful by sinkful of dishes, half a box here, an extension cord run along the wall there. It is such a slow pace that I may see the New Year before it's truly settled in, but campus recruiting is happening now at work, and so the job comes first. All else is camping out until I can get to Home Depot and replace the crappy venetian blinds the last tenant broke. There is no yelling, no door slamming, no moldy dishes and passive-aggressive appliance use. I brew coffee on the weekends, sleep like the almost dead who also sometimes needs to rise and pee at 3AM, and the whole place smells clean and homey.
My sleep app tells me my sleep quality percentage is much higher now than it was a mere two months ago. Maybe it's the relative lack of stress that is causing all this pain?