Sunday, August 29, 2004

An Iwakiful Day

I went up Iwaki mountain again yesterday with a couple of buddies. The day started out as blue as you like, and stayed that way for the duration, barring some isolated cloud at the top. This time we took a different route, one that I've not done before. It began, officially, from Akakura shrine. This place.

At least, this is one of the buildings in the area known by that name. I over-exposed most of the shots that I took yesterday, so if these look a bit bright, that's the reason why. I was just fooling around trying to see what it would do to the images.

I'll come right out and say it: yesterdays route was better than the other two that I've done before and I can't believe I've neglected it all this time. It was really scenic, and there were more rocks to clamber about on. It was funny actually, because we'd been hiking for a good length of time, and we just got to this one point and stopped to eat and drink. Looking ahead at the distance left to walk, there was discussion about turning around because we all had the idea that the peak was a fair bit away, and we were pushed for time. We thought that the main peak itself was being obscured by the little peak just in front of us. Anyway, we decided to have a quick look over the little peak, and of course found that the little peak was in fact the main peak anyway. All smiles upon realisation.

Yeah, what a day. It was hard work, but well worth it. I'm looking forward to spending more time up that way throughout the autumn season. This is the peak, seen from around 1,200 metres.

In the evening a load of us met up in nearby Kuroishi for drinks. I didn't want to drink, but someone forced me to. Now, I'll come clean. Lately I've been trying to stop drinking altogether for reasons that are listless. The main one being that I have a tendency to binge drink. I always end up drinking precisely too much. I don't have a problem with not drinking altogether, in fact it really gives me a bit of a kick, it's just that I forget about stopping drinking at a certain point. Well, last night I went out and got really plastered and ended up in some sleazy snack bar in the arse end of Kuroishi, drinking and smoking cigarettes. To top it all off, I went back to Gavin's place and discraced myself on the floor of his living room.

I can be a bit of a wanker like that, and this summer I decided to begin to put an end to the kind of life-style that has really characterised my twenties. In my twenties, I have drunk enough booze, smoked and eaten enough drugs, and gone for as many sleepless nights as your average man would do in his whole lifetime. This is not good karma man. It has to be wound down now. I have to look to the mountains for inspiration.

Friday, August 27, 2004


Here are some photos that I've taken recently, but haven't really had anything to do with the stuff that I've written on this page

This is the view from my back yard.

The bridge in Aomori again.

This is little More, Aki's nephew.

More later, I've got another class again now.

The Heart of Darkness

I don't usually do this, but I've got p*ss all else to write about and nothing else to do in general. So here goes. I recently read the book Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, which is obviously regarded as a bit of a late 19th century classic these days. I really enjoyed reading it because I liked Conrad's imaginative prose, and just some of the rare stuff he comes out with (the endnotes at the back also gave me a good time, what with descriptions of the culinary temptations of Congonese cannibals and all). Just before I read it, though, I watched Apocalypse Now, which is a Coppola movie based on Heart Of Darkness, so I kind of understood the plot and it was interesting to compare the two. I thought Apocalypse Now managed to deal with the madness theme better than the actual book, or at least that is where the emphasis in the film seems to be directed. I also thought that An Outpost of Progress, a short story also written by Joseph Conrad, offers a better description of the superficiality and vulnerability of European civilization and the men who adhere(ed) to it. Yet this is what I expected even more so from Heart of Darkness. I'm not putting the book down in any way; it's probably just because Conrad has such a concentrated and potent style that I was kept from fully appreciating all of the so-called motifs and keys within the narrative. I suppose the reason why it's a classic is because it's honest about the real rationale for the murderous European 'civilizing project' that took place back then, and it's unusually frank about the bullshit premise for so much brutal interference. These days we don't consider it taboo to call American and British forces in Iraq brutal killers, who are working for self-interested governments, although it is undoubtedly controversial. Back in Conrad's day though, it must have been a hair-raising read.

Hmm, probably the same kind of collective reaction you'd get from the Japanese if you went around talking frankly about their civilizing mission in China a few decades ago. These days I think we need a few more fellas like Kurtz (one of the main characters in the story) about the place to put some gritty perspective on what's happening in the world. Somebody interesting who would be frank enough to come clean and admit that governments just go about doing their stuff for themselves. The people I talk to these days about world affairs only have two contradicting arguments. They dice around between trying to justify the murder of innocents (Iraqis, Afghans, Chechnyans) along moral lines (civilization and all that bullshit) and the other source of justification, that is by 'Realist' conservative arguments (governments will always follow the policy of self interest). We need a Kurtz on the scene with the balls to tell everyone the truth. Not a Hitler or anything, but just someone to tell the truth goddamit!!

I've got a class now.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Fancy New Purchases

Some totally radical, awsome, random stuff that I just bought::

Yes, a new rucksack. I really need one for all the backcountry exploration I'm planning on. And of course, if I'm going backcountry I might just need a sleeping bag, for the lack of hotels.

I bought them both at Montbell in Hirosaki after the fantastic day's hike we had on sunday. I'll need all this stuff if I'm going to do Kitadake in the autumn, so it's no waste of money or anything. Also, I'm thinking of getting a tent and a stove before then too, so I can be totally self-reliant in the woods.

Man this office is boring.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Weekend Climb

I still have my legs this monday morning, despite having cycled about twenty five miles on Saturday and despite climbing Mt. Hakkouda on Sunday. Ah, but it was a good weekend in all. The weather was great the whole time and I've managed to furnish my skin with nice bronzy tan (apart from the ridiculous white patches where I've been wearing clothes). I got on my bike at about 11 or 12 in the morning on Saturday and decided to head out for the mountain. I wasn't interested in a full loop ride around Iwaki this weekend, but rather a venture into some of the mysterious side roads that lead off the main apple road right at the bottom. Among the numerous discoveries that I made, I came across a motorcross park for dirt bikes, a new onsen just down the road from Ajigasawa ski resort, and my favourite discovery of all - a crumbling old disused snack bar about half a mile up a broken little road between the ski resort and the onsen. If you don't believe me here's proof:

It felt really eiry walking inside the place, and when I went back with Aki later that night in her car she got really freaked out just shining her headlights at the building. For me, it was a symbol of Japan. Sometimes I see things around the place that have a stark history in their appearance, a history of money in the 80s that disappeared in the 90s. This was a symbol of that history. Looking at the building, you would have thought it was just some love hotel, with private rooms etc. But there were signs all over it written in katakana saying 'snack'. Even an idiot could work it out: this place was more than just a snack bar with hostess girls. What more could a wealthy Japanese businessman in the 1980's want than a glitzy mountain retreat where he be disloyal to his wife, set away from any disturbances, overlooking the city lights.

On Sunday I met up with Aki, Marc, Marc's girlfriend and Monte (Yeah, sorry about that Mr. Goto). We went up to Sukayu onsen and began the climb up to the Hakkouda sanmyaku. It was a good climb all in all, and we managed to get three peaks under our belts in just one day. O dake is the highest, but my favourite peak is this one, Takada dake, seen from O dake:

And towards the bottom, as well as the snake that I saw in the grass along the side of the path, I turned around to find this wierd looking Japanese gorilla messing about in the trees.

Friday, August 20, 2004


I'm sat here at 4.30AM writing this entry for one reason only, and that's because there is a raging typhoon passing by just outside my apartment right now.

This is the first time I've seen the projection go up the Sea of Japan. Usually these things go up the Pacific coast and wreak havoc up that side. This time it seems to be heading straight over us. It's been going for some time now, and was much more powerful as it passed Kyuushuu and South Korea, killing six people through landslides and high winds. I can also hear emergency sirens across Hirosaki right now, on their way to typhoon related damage no doubt.
Anyway, in the time it has taken me to finish this blog the winds have died down a bit so I'm off back to bed.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

A distant view of the world

At long last, I've found a website that offers satellite images of the earth. Well, it's actually a website I've had stashed deep in my favourites folder for a long time, and after a good sort through yesterday evening I stumbled across it once again.

The area covered in this photograph is South East England if that wasn't already apparent, and the dot towards the top is the city of Lincoln in the East Midlands, where I was born and raised. The other glowy area further south is London, of course. And south of that you can see water, then it's France and Holland and all that other stuff. This one further below is the Tsugaru peninsula of Aomori prefecture. That's where I live now.

In this photograph, Hirosaki city is the cluster of light in the bottom rectangle of the image, and just next to it is Iwaki mountain. Aomori city itself can be seen as another cluster of light inside the oval shape on the image, and just above that, poking down from the top is the axe shaped peninsula of Shimokita. Look at how flat that part of Europe is compared to Aomori prefecture. The scale differs of course, but even still, North West Europe looks as flat as a pancake!!

Monday, August 16, 2004


Inspired by Hugh and Shelby's attempt at Fuji san, I've actually been thinking about having a go at a 'bigger' mountain myself recently. I'm not sure if I want to try Mt. Fuji though. In fact, I actually wrote out my nenkyuu this afternoon for the second weekend of October, which comes with a national holiday stuck to it by way of the Monday. I hope this won't be too late though, because there's usually been a snowfall along the Japan Alps by the middle of October, and that's where I'm thinking of heading. Kitadake is the peak I've been looking at. It's the second highest peak in Japan, and they say the views of Mt. Fuji from it's peak are some of the best. It's a good 500m lower in altitude than Fuji, so I shouldn't have to worry too much about getting sick or tired. There's a hut just half an hour short of the peak itself at about 3000m and most people spend the night there in order to get up early the next morning for rising sun views. I'm still not sure what the best means of transport would be. I'm thinking of driving, but I know the roads will be so costly that it might even be just as cheap to catch a train. Anybody know anything about getting to Nagano-ken, or more specifically Kofu city in Yamanashi-ken from Aomori-ken? Your name doesn't have to be Ken to answer that question by the way.

Also, I found out today that I got a pay rise as from the beginning of my new contract, which kind of made me feel a bit chirpier this morning. The three days of holiday that Kocho sensei gave me were another little boost as well. I have to use them this week though, so it looks like tomorrow's the last day of the week for me.

If you ever wondered why they decided to call this ken the blue forest...

Look at the shade of colour on Mt. Iwaki in this picture. It looks pretty bluey to me.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

What A Scorcher!!

Yep, today was a good day, and it was a hot one too. Not hot - humid - hot, but nice and hot. I was out in it all day today as I decided to take a bikeride around Iwaki Mountain. While it might sound like I actually pussied out of climbing the old girl this weekend, I actually found today's bikeride more of a physical exertion anyway. I took the apple road from around Iwaki village and continued in the same direction past the ski jo and down the long windy hill. Through a couple of villages and then back up another windy hill, and another windy hill, then into Dake, the small village famed for it's onsens and corn-on-the-cob, and back into the Saki. The last couple of miles were a proper killer as well because I forked out for a thousand yen's worth of corn-on-the-cob and had to carry the lot back in my ruck-sack. Altogether I'd say the journey was between twenty to thirty miles. It took me six hours, which ain't too bad by my reckoning.

This picture gives you a little squint at the Hakkoda mountain range, where folks round here, particularly foreign folks, like to muck about in the winter time. Whereas you could imagine, topographically, that Iwaki mountain is the left breast of Aomori prefecture, the Hakkoda range is more the geographical backbone of the place. It gets a lot of snow in January and February. As for this next shot below.... well, legend has it that one night all of the local hoo haa's from this small hamlet got together and after drinking litre upon litre of sake one of them said "ere, wouldn't it be funny if we all painted out roofs blue", so they all went out pissed up, and they all painted their roofs blue. Apparently, the following morning, just after the village wake-up call had sounded, you could hear a chorus of startled voices exclaiming things like "F**k me!", "What the f**k happened here then?", and "What drunken bas*ard did this?".

I think it looks really nice though, with it giving that uniform effect that you find in those Spanish villages where all the walls are white. Quite literally, all of the roofs in this particular farming hamlet were blue, and so too were the roofs of houses in surrounding hamlets.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Tachinebuta and Barbequeue

These two little monkeys are called Nagisa (the girl) and Moreh (the boy). They are both members of Akiko's niece and nephew crew. Aki has actually got three nephews and two nieces altogether, and I met them all last night at her parents' house. There we had a barbequeue, and I struggled with my Japanese while Aki's mum struggled with her English. In fact it went really well, right up until Aki's Eldest brother got too drunk and tipped the garden swing over. Man, that guy got really drunk. He was saying to me "Maybe, Aki not pretty, but, personality good deshou?", in response to which I explained that his sister had actually matured into a very attractive girl, and that it was natural that he didn't find her attractive because he was her brother.

Anyway, I left at around 9.45pm, just as I was getting tired. Her mum only lasted until about 9.15pm and then had to go to bed because she had been drinking too quickly.

I also have pictures from the Sunday night festival that we went to in Goshogawara. This was the tachinebuta, or, standing nebuta. All of the floats were big, most of them were tall, and there were some that just got ridiculous. The atmosphere at the Goshogawara nebuta was very different from the others. There was a sense of latent anarchy in the air, like somebody could just start something silly at any given moment. Nobody did though, and the night finished off very impressively.

This guy seemed to know Jamie, who was sat on the corner with the rest of us. He seemed to come up and say something like "Hey Jamie, my name is Tom" and then he walked off. Jamie strongly claimed never to have met the guy before in his life though.

This is photo of my favourite float. 'The Guy with the Hammer' float. This was a really tall one as well.

And that's about all there is to tell about the weekend. I'm pretty tired today, so I'm going into the tatami room for a quick kip. See you.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Weekend Stuff

Well, this weekend I went to three different festival events, the first of which I've already shown photos of below. I don't have much to say about any of them, apart from the rowdy affair last night in Goshogawara. That was a surprise. Japanese people at their rowdiest. I have a lot of stuff to show on this webpage, but I left my camera with Aki so I can't upload anything just yet. Saturday night was alright. Went to Aomori city for the Nebuta fireworks finale. It turned out to be a bit of a lame show from where we were standing, but I did get this shot from it all.

The most interesting thing to photograph that night, I think, was the bridge we were standing under. I really like the design of Aomori Harbour Bridge (Is it a harbour?) and at night it gets all lit up and fancy-looking, like this:

I have messed around with this shot though, so it's not all that dramatic.

Anyway, I'm going to try my hardest to get out of this office around lunchtime today. It's my first day back, and what a surprise, there's nothing here for me to do.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Nebuta Week.

This last week, apart from being a week of utter boredom at work, has seen the annual summer festivals of Aomori prefecture. The Nebuta festival in Aomori city, which a load of us went to last night, and the Hirosaki Neputa festival, which I actually participated in this year, are the two biggest. But there are loads more parades that take off during the week in most cities and big towns throughout the prefecture. This is a shot that I took of one of the floats on the streets of Aomori last night.

The floats are made by strapping thin craft paper round wires and then painting them, or something like that. There are some really cool designs and some remarkable artwork as well, which you'd pretty much expect since the folks who make these things have being doing it year after year for the whole of their lives. Behind these floats at the Aomori city parade, there is usually a crowd of dancers jumping up and down, singing 'ra-se ra-se ra-se ra..', and then behind them, a float with drums on the top with people giving them a thrashing.

In this shot the drum itself is behind the people. It's the huge cylindrical thing. The drums are actually the most impressive thing about the festival, some of them with skins up to four metres wide. And of course the flute players, who play that same mezmorising tune over and over again. Anyway, here's a pic from the Hirosaki festival, which is spelt slightly differently: 'Neputa'.

Because the streets of Hirosaki are a little bit narrower, the floats are a bit smaller than the ones in Aomori city, but I personally prefer the Hirosaki parade because it seems to be more of an intimate experience. Aomori city streets are sometimes a smidgen too wide, and the parade can tend to seem sparse and disorganised. Also, the drums at Hirosaki are bigger and beefier.

Apart from the festivals going on in the background all week, most of my time has been spent sat in a dull and sweaty seminar room doing a job that really didn't interest me. I was asked to present a couple of refresher courses to some local professional teachers. I know, I can't understand why they got people without the qualifications to come in and teach to people who do have the qualifications, but that's exactly how it turned out to be. The high school English education of Aomori prefecture must have no collective self-respect, as it quite openly sent a batch of English teachers, most of whom had very weak skills in the subject to be taught teaching skills by a batch of foreigners with less teaching experience than most of them and with no qualifications. I kept thinking "I am not a qualified teacher, so why am I lecturing to you about the reading skills you should be encouraging your students to adopt". The other ALT did have more experience than me, but as for myself, I usually stand in front of a blackboard and correct grammar mistakes with the help of my very competent teachers. The whole two weeks (only the latter of which I attended) should have been used to try to improve the teachers' competence in spoken English. This was evidently much needed by about 80 percent of those who came along.

Before I finish, how about my missus in her summer kimono?

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Kaiten Lukey

I've become a bit of a kaiten sushi fiend of late. That's the sushi that goes round and round on a conveyor-belt that you can pick off and choose as you like, and costs quite a bit less than that which you'll find at other, classier sushi shops. (I've always been one for the underdogs.) You tend to deceive yourself a bit when eating sushi though, like when you tell a joke at the end of a really shitty lesson and get the laughs that you need to walk out on a good note, but in the back of your mind you know you just did a poor job. After my usual sixteen or seventeen plates of sushi I will personally compliment myself on what a healthy, low-fat choice I made coming to a sushi shop, but somewhere in the back of my mind I know that I just ate way, way too much of the damn stuff, and in response to this I often console myself by resolving to climb a mountain the following day. It's all cats and dogs. Always chasing each other, never catching up. Here's a picture of the sort of dreamy culinary environment that I'm talking about. Of course, most of my kaiten sushi munching is done in Hirosaki, however this was taken in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

In case you're interested, and even if you're not, the Chinese character you can see in the window is the kanji for cherry blossom. Or at least I think that's what I've been told it is; I'm no expert. Yeah, so there I was in Shinjuku at around three o'clock in the morning looking for some nice photos to take and I saw this. Luckily the girl inside didn't notice me because I already felt culturally back-to-front just standing there alone, in my shorts and neatly ironed T-shirt, taking pictures through a restaurant window of people eating their sushi. I really should have been in bed, but that's a whole other story. Well anyway, while I was out stalking the streets of Shinjuku I came across many other restaurant-related photographical corkers, such as this

Regardless of all the places that looked like they would probably serve very delicious food, I went on and spent most of the night at Kentucky Fried Chicken where I was joined by many other people who also should have been in bed. They were all just sat around looking like they needed to pass some time, like me. It was almost as if it was THE cool place to be; probably the only place to be at such a stupid hour.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Back in Tsugaru

Well, it looks like I can automatically upload the photos again. Don't know if it's something to do with my location, but that's the only setting that has been changed. Oh yeah baby, I'm back in the seat of Japanese civilisation again, the one that folks round here call Tsugaru. Went out last night to this Italian restaurant and briefly met some of the new JETs. I was too tired to do much talking and there wasn't enough room at the communal table so Aki and I set at the table next to them and kept to ourselves most the time. They all seem nice enough though. There are no obvious hardcore skiers among them, but with time they might bend.

Anyway, here's a shot that I took when I was on a bike ride with R kid in the frills of old Berkhamsted:

Wooooo, scary woods. Or at least that's what it's supposed to look like. Anyway, when I got back to Tokyo it took nearly two hours for me to get to my hotel, an adventure that would have dragged on even longer if it wasn't for me luckily bumping into a girl who spoke fluent English and who seemed determined to get me to my destination. She found the place and I got there and crashed immediately. The next day I got up, washed and went out into the little market under the railway at Ueno. Has it occurred to anyone else that most of the good places in Tokyo are underneath railway lines? They are, you should take note next time you're in town. Aki told me the name of the market last night, but I can't remember for the life of me what she said. (Did you know Aki spent two years at college in Tokyo? I often forget; she's such a bumpkin, you'd never have thought it.) Here is a photo from that little market though:

There's a big difference between a tramp and your everday homeless person. The person in this shot was a tramp; you could see by the glint in his eyes that he was a seasoned man of the streets, with very little scope for resocialisation. He had the heavily frayed cuffs and the nascent dreadlocks that all given tramps wear. In fact, if you think about it, tramps don't beg all so much as the homeless. Rather, they look for food in refuse tanks and in the loading bays of supermarkets at night and when they find something they stick it into their inside coat pocket for later. You could never offer food to a homeless peron, not in my hometown at least. They all just want booze, or money for booze. Homeless people, they are just disorganised folk without homes to live in. They were never meant for the streets and only through pure sociological misfortune do they wind up without a roof over their heads. Often they are unable to think of the consequences of what they're doing sticking needles into their own arms, and staying at home drinking extra strength lager. But tramphood is a pathology. Tramps are there because that is what they were born to do. You can see in the convicted eyes of a tramp a sense of purpose and being, without dislocation or lack. They don't need charity, they just need us to accept them as who they are. Whereas for the homeless, they need a bit of encouragement. I care about the plight of both, but I'd never overlook this distinction. I know this is all very non-politically correct and all that jazz, but it's the truth. The next time you see a man wearing a huge great overcoat on a hot summer's day, walking along a street with plastic bags spouting from his pockets and with an ecstatic and dirty grin across his cheeks, hair stuck to his temples and a greasy hat on his head, just ask him whether or not he's 'homeless' and see what he has to say.

Well, tomorrow is the first day of the summer teachers seminar for me. Hugh and Steve both did it last week and they said last night that it was a boring, sweaty, miserable experience, and they were the ones presenting the damn thing! I'm a presenter as well so I'm not looking forward to my week of boredom, sweat and misery. Till the next time.