Saturday, October 30, 2004

early hike

Got up really early to see the dawn colours on the mountain this morning.

There was plenty of snow on the top today, but it's melting pretty quick because of the high pressure that's hanging over the north of Japan right now. Beautiful weather this morning, I must say. Here's one from yesterday.

Friday, October 29, 2004

With the mystics on this one.

I've just been reading about the discovery of a new species of human in Indonesia. It's name is Homo Floresiensis, and the scientists who found him/her reckon he/she dates back to as recently as 18,000 years ago. I think it's really interesting that a new species of human has been found, and if you read either of these two articles you'll see that the big idea it's stirring up among cryptozoologists is the question of whether it might still exist in small numbers to this day. I've never shown any interest in either cryptozoology or evolutionary science before, but this is big news. The thought of some other weird little fella existing in the deep sticks of Indonesia is enchanting, and that's precisely why I don't like the idea (a fantasy to many) of pale-faced scientists running through the Indonesian forests with nets and radar equipment trying to catch the damn things. Ask yourself this: has the mystique of Loch Ness not been dramatically nullified by what took place back in the 80s, after a bunch of Americans dragged radar equipment across the whole of the lake and found nothing? Stuff gets ruined when science discovers it - or even looks for it, for that matter. When new scientific discoveries are made that don't have any constructive impact on the prosperity of a society it feels like the world is slowly being disenchanted, knowledge by knowledge. Science is great, don't get me wrong. I mean, I would have been stuck if it weren't for good medical science when I broke my arm earlier this year. But wouldn't it be better if science just let a few things lie? Wouldn't it be great if there were some things in the world that were untouchable; the discovery of which would be limited not just by ethical imperatives, as in the case of human-cloning etc, but by a lust for the unknown to remain unknown. What if, back in the 16th century, world leaders had decided to carve up the world into areas of discovery and areas that were strictly out of bounds? It's an absurd idea, and that's why it didn't happen - but just imagine what it'd be like living in that world today. If colonialism had never happened, what kind of anthropological development would African tribes have made? And here's a thought: what if Japan had remained closed to the world until today? If Perry hadn't prized it open with all those modern tanks and guns? What kind of stuff would the kids all be wearing? We don't know because modernity, the mentor of scientific discovery, has inserted itself into Japan and has standardised everything. What we refer to as culture today would likely be regarded as superficial and meaningless had we not all been brought together by this lust to eliminate the unknown. And the most worrying of thoughts - what would Europe be like with all those bloody Yanks running around the place?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

some Hirosaki shopfronts

I took these shots on the way home from school today. I took a few detours getting here, mind you.

After I'd taken these shots I got back thinking that they were going to be really, really great. But when I looked at them on the large screen they seemed to have lost much of the composure that they seemed to have on the tiny little screen on my digital camera.

The Republican Campaign

Just found this little vid of various Republican politicians doing their business.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

First snow

Back on the mountain the other day and I was joyously surprised to see a healthy scattering of snow on the top. Man it was cold up there. I reckon it'll only be another three or four weeks till I strap my board on my back and hike up for some early (and probably very rough) turns. For proof of the white stuff -

On sunday I went to the kiku matsuri, or chrysanthemum festival in Hirosaki park where you can see manequins of olde worldy Japanese folks covered in flowers. I never did quite understand exactly why they were coverd in flowers, but it was quite a cool way to spend a sunday afternoon. Also, if there's anybody reading this who knows about doing a degree in photography then tell me all about it. I'm stuck for things to do after Japan and I'm spread eagle for suggestions.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Japan, pets.

I knew someone had stolen my glasses back in Niseko. I mean, I don't just get drunk and lose things so easily.

Perhaps you didn't know, but when Japanese people see a cat dreaming on a fence, 54% of them feel envy. And according to a survey I've just found, only 11% think cats are an eyesore. Does that really surprise anyone? It certainly perplexed me.

What really perplexes me is the relationship that Japanese folks have with their pets. There's this guy who lives in our neighbourhood who walks around with these two little kitten-size terriors that he dresses in pink and blue jackets. The guy doesn't exactly look gay, but the dogs he walks around with and the way he treats them certainly convey that image. He looks at passers-by with extreme caution, as if he'd do anything to protect his little babies. I walked past him the other day and he didn't take his eyes off me until I'd disappeared round the corner.

And then the other day on my way to school I came across this woman who was 'managing' her dog while he was trying to have a crap. I know that it's against the law to let your dog excrement the streets in Japan and that owners should carry a pooper-scooper at all times, but this woman actually wiped the dog's arse afterwards. What's that all about? It must be really demeaning for the dog; poor bastard must be made to feel like he can't even wipe his own backside.

And another thing I've noticed is the lack of movement that dogs in Japan are allowed. Most animals I see are cramped up in their cages most of the time. People in Japan don't exactly have large yards in which dogs can roam around, and the Japanese would never put up with stray dogs ducking around on the streets. It's a difficult situation in a country that is lacking in space, but the consequences are real. Being kept in such a restricted environment gets these dogs angry, and it's rare that you'll come across a Japanese breed with a friendly character. I can speak from experience. In Niseko last year I got bitten by a dog after it had seduced me into it's environs with a fake smile and placid aura. The little bastard just snapped and went beserk, and I was left with blood all over my left hand. The dog that bit me was one of these indigenous breeds

This is a picture of Myuu, who is a dog aside from all the rest. This little old fella lives just down the road from me and is as placid as they come.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


This is an interesting article about what I mentioned a week or so ago. Japan's growing lust for militarism.


Just stumbled across this Tohoku delicacy by mistake. Doesn't it sound good!

Monday, October 18, 2004

Weekend Climb and Sakkah

Yes, at the weekend I climbed my local mountain again - the one they call Iwaki. I'm sorry if you find my Iwaki climbing logs tedious, but it's all I ever really get up to. Saying that, I did have a good game of footy on sunday. A local team has decided to take me on - as a bit of a joke I think. They called me Rooney all morning, because they couldn't pronounce my real name properly. By the way, if you don't know who Wayne Rooney is, just run a little search and look for the guy with the big ears - probably wearing a Man Utd. shirt. The highlight for everyone on sunday, except for me, was when after kicking the ball myself, it rebounded off the shins of some other guy and came flying back straight into my vernaculars. I had to sit out for a few minutes, while the rest of the guys winded themselves laughing.

The only thing different about saturday's climb was the temperature. It was much colder than the others that I've done this year. I'd say it was about the same temperature at the peak as it was in the high mountains of the South Alps. But I still wore my shorts, naturally. Below is a little climbing map that I've made, only with the help of this website and with my intuition from having climbed the mountain so many times. If you think the hiking trails that I've dotted out are completely wrong please let me know. I'm just going by the contour of the map itself.

The map is showing north as north, and the purple dot is Ajigasawa ski park. There is a trail starting from the hotel at the ski area, but I'm not sure if it's accessible these days. When I went and inquired about it at the hotel I was told that the path was too dangerous and that all the long grass had obscured it and that it would ultimately lead me to death. Well, not really, but they did seem stern about me not walking along it. You have to remember that this is Japan though, and that people will always warn you to stay at home or to stare at a slot machine in your local pachinko parlour instead of taking on a bit of a challenge. I'd recommend anybody take the challenge, and in fact I'm probably going to do it sometime next spring. Further to the right you see the little blue dot. That's Akakura dake jinja. This is my favourite route to the top of the mountain, and until the construction of the skyline road on the other side it was apparently the most popular. If you read some of the stuff on the Iwaki mountain website that I linked just above, you'll see that this route has a lot of religious significance attached to it. The pink dot on the bottom right of the page is Iwaki Jinja, where most people begin a full ascent of the mountain these days. This route is good on the second half with a nice waterfall and a bit of low rock face that you can clamber on, but the first half lacks good views and can get a bit monotonous after a while. (A bit like this weblog). Over on the left I've put a little yellow dot to mark the spa mini-town of Dake. This is where you should come out if you take the path down from the car park at the top of the skyline road, which is where I've put the green dot. If you ask me, I'd say it's best to keep away from that side of the mountain because it really has been spoilt by the construction of the road. Without that road the peak of Iwaki mountain would be an incredibly beautiful and quiet place. And if you do reach the top via a full hike from the bottom, you'll probably be a bit disappointed by the crowds. Oh well, at least now after all the hiking I've done on that mountain I know the most peaceful routes to take. I'll leave you with a shot taken from Kata no Koya on Kita dake.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Signs and movies

I said I'd give you my thoughts on a few movies that I've watched recently, so here you are. First, I'd like to point your attention to this sign I saw in Kofu over the weekend. The question is, does it qualify as Engrish?

I don't know. Anyway, the first movie I saw was called 'Radio', or at least that was it's Japanese title. This was a dreadful movie and I nearly felt bad for Cuba Gooding Junior, not because he played a mentally challenged outcast, but because he played a mentally challenged outcast badly. The main reason why I disliked this movie is because it was one of those films that portray the mentally disabled as big achievers, which I find a bit irritating and patronising for MD people in the real world. Other examples are, of course, Rain Man; I Am Sam; A Wonderful Mind, and I'm sure if I really thought hard about it I could pick out a few more. The thing I really hate about movies that depict mentally disabled folks as heroes is that they strengthen the idea most people have regarding mental disability as a defect that originates in the individual and they rarely look at the social structuration of disability. These movies start from the premise that with the help of good-hearted members of society, mentally disabled folks can be helped into society, albeit in a cute and Hello Kitty kind of way, but they fail to show how it is exactly our highly rationalised societies that exclude them in the first place. The directors who produce these movies are in it for the buck, and mental disability for them is a good earner.

That's enough of my politics, but that aside, the movie 'Radio' was really crap in many other more artistic capacities. The actual story isn't very interesting; it's based on a true story about a guy who was a loner back in the seventies, but was 'nurtured' by another 'normal' guy and welcomed into an American football team as little more than a funny life-size mascot. In all, it was a story about a community, which by opening up to a retarded guy showed itself as being humane. The acting was poor and I thought many of the scenes seemed unfinished or rushed.

Non-related picture of the South Alps

However, Radio was not the worst film I saw over the weekend. Yes, believe it or not, I managed to watch an even bigger head-banger of a movie the following day. And when I came out of the cinema I actually considered asking the ticket clerk for my money back. This second movie is called Two Brothers, and it is about two baby lions. I really can't tell you any more than that because the story was so difficult to discern. It is full of crap, crap and even more crap. Guy Pierce broke my heart simply by appearing in it. He was always a favourite of mine in Neighbours, mainly because I couldn't distinguish the good acting from the bad back then, but now he's let everything slip. Absolutely everything. Quite honestly, I can't say any more about Two Brothers simply because it was absolutely horrendous. There is nothing descriptive or subtley critical that can be said about it. It is simply utter crap. And what made it worse for me was that when the credits rolled down at the end (a film this crap needs to be watched in full just so you can brag about your endurance and tolerance levels) I found that it was partly produced by a joint British-French production company. I mean, I rarely relate to my own nationiality, but this made me feel ashamed of myself. This is the website if you really want to take a look.

Finally, I watched The Village, or 'za bire-ji' as it was called in Japanese. This, in light of the first two movies that I watched seemed like a thundering work of art, although it was probably just as cheesy as anything else. I won't say anything about the story because I recommend you go and watch it for yourselves. The storyline did seem a bit like last resort patch-work, but overall it had an interesting idea behind it. Regardless of anything else, it made me realise how vulnerable and therefore attractive young blind girls can be. Saucy.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Kofu, Aka-dake and Kita-dake

I've been away for a week, just in case you weren't aware. I went on a short trip to Yamanashi prefecture to climb some of the mountains they've got down there. I've been staying in the city of Kofu. This wasn't the original plan as I'd been gearing up to spend most of my time in the mountain huts of the Southern Alps National Park. However, when I got to Kofu I found that the road into the national park was closed because of the damn typhoon that was on it's way to Japan, and the guy at the information centre was stood there telling me that it wouldn't open until the day before I wanted to return to Aomori. This was after spending about 5 man (250GBP/450USD) on travel expenses, so I was a bit put out to say the least. It turns out, though, that the road was actually re-opened on either the sunday or the monday, and I got to do all the stuff that I wanted to do anyway.

If you want to know how Kofu locals pronounce the name of their town, say the word 'cough' in an exaggeratedly posh English accent and you should have it. Kofu was roughly somewhere between Hirosaki and Aomori city in terms of size, and it had everything that your average Japanese city always has: red light district; castle and park; department stores; ramen restaurants; a MacDonalds; Key Coffee shops, etc. And since I had a bit of spare time to kill due to the typhoon on saturday I found myself roaming around the place, wasting time reading my book in various coffee shops. I also went to the cinema three times while I was there. Movie reviews are to come. Anyway, on the Sunday I managed to get out to Aka-dake(2899m). This peak is the highest of the Yatsu-ga-Take range on the northern border between Yamanashi and Nagano. It's down in the Lonely Planet hiking guide as an easy climb, but the route I took was not, and it turned out to be the most difficult climb of my life. I took a route from Utsukushi no Mori (forest of beauty) which led me along a very beautiful part of the mountain. It was very atmospheric, and from halfway up the clouds began to clear and I could see the peak and some clear blue sky. This didn't last, of course, and just a few minutes later I was scuffliing up the steep on my hands and knees in the howling wind and rain, trying to keep my feet on the ground, and with a very dizzy head and light belly. When I got to the top things looked more like this. And I'm pulling that face, not because I needed to visit the bathroom, but because it was bloody cold and windy at the top. The descent was long, wet and arduous as well, and I was feeling like I didn't much want to climb Kita-dake the next day. I did though, and I'm a hundred percent glad that I did. Here's a shot of Aka-dake that shows the peak from the rear (Nagano) side, which is supposed to be easier to climb.

So I went to Kita-dake the next day after a bath and a good kip in the same hotel back in Kofu, and I climbed the mountain that I went there for in the first place. Absolutely brilliant, it was. I enjoyed every bit of it. The Minami Alps National Park is one of the most beautiful places I've been to, and from the top of old Kita-dake you can see it all. And more.

Funnily enough I bumped into a group of Austrians on the bus, who were none other than members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra taking a couple of days away from their two week tour in Tokyo. One of the guys actually carried his horn all the way to the top of the mountain! This is the sunset (below) that we watched while he played the horn. It was surreal to say the least.

And over on the other side of the mountain, looking East, there was old Fuji just sat there looking pretty. See what I mean...

It was some of the greatest scenery I've ever seen. And the company that night in the mountain hut was pretty entertaining as well. I thought I was going to have to spend the night sat on the edges of a conversation in German, not knowing what to do with myself, but when I got to the top there was a small group of Nova teachers from Nagoya doing the same thing as me, and we had a few beers and a game of cards and it all turned out rosy. Of course, all the Japanese climbers were in bed at six o'clock. Why they go to bed that early I do not know.

The next morning I got up at 4.30 AM, so to make it to the peak in time for sunrise (above photo). I could only sleep for about three or four hours in the hut because it was uncomfortable and noisy due to strong wind. I was the first to the peak that day, followed closely by Harald the violinist. From the peak we could see Fuji and the other surrounding peaks, but it wasn't as spectacular as the sunset the day before. That wind kept blowing through to the next day, but we couldn't feel it in the valley on the way down. Blue skies for the most during our decent. This is harald, the Austrian violinist who did the descent with me. He was a really cool guy, and he said I could go to Austria some time to do some ski touring with him.

I'm going to cut it short right here, but I'll say that despite the ironic turn out with the weather, I had an amazing time in Yamanashi ken. I did everthing that I wanted to do, and I'm really happy with the photos that I've got (I took a load). Funny though, on the train coming back between Namioka and Hirosaki city I think I took the best shots of the whole trip. Old Iwaki and the Tsugaru sunset take some beating.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Going to war?

I went up to English club again tonight. It was just a small gathering with four of us in all, but largely interesting and thought-provoking as we looked through an article written by George Monbiot for the Guardian on Iran's nuclear aspirations. Take a look, it's interesting. Anyway, the topic of discussion for most of the evening hovered around American politics/the UN Security Council's future/Japan going to war. I was surprised to find that two out of three of the Japanese folks present tonight genuinely felt that Japan was edging towards an all-out war with another nation. Of course, when I casually asked the question "Who against?" they were less eager in response. I can understand, however, the feelings of most Japanese citizens when they look at how their politics has been developing recently. Japanese politicians seem increasingly interested in militarization as opposed to the Japanese tradition of non-direct involvement. The Japan Times regularly runs op-ed columns written by right-wingers who would like to see Japan take a more hands-on approach in world affairs. I was told tonight that in a poll taken by NHK, Japan's equivalent of the BBC, 50% of the population said they would like to see Japan get a permanent seat on the Security Council, compared with just 30% ten years ago. Apparently, being a part of the Security Council has always been thought of as involving too many undesirable risks and responsibilities, and it's hard to see how the living standards of ordinary Japanese citizens would get any better as a result. Wouldn't it just be better for the Japanese to trade like maniacs rather than fight like maniacs? Anyhow, opinions are changing, and Japan's reputation for being a benign nation, too busy enjoying it's own wealth to get involved in disputes between nations over on the other side of the world is beginning to look questionable.

What the folks tonight were really concerned with, I think, was the fear of japan being exposed to, and becoming the target of terrorist attacks as a result from closer military cooperation with the US. That and the whole North Korean threat. That's understandable, especially when you see the news of all these kidnappings and bomb attacks in cities across the world, and speeches made by unreasonable North Korean military officials about scorching the place. Half of this country just wants a quiet life, and who can argue with that? The other half - who knows how far the aspirations go? Japan now seems to have ideological decisions to make. To get involved, or not to get involved. This is the question.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Knitting, autumn climbing.

No prizes for guessing where this photograph was taken. On Sunday I went back up mount Iwaki again with Brian and Niel, two local private English teachers. It was the same as any other weekend: more space; more quiet; more solitude; less hassle than hanging around in the city, etc. The one remarkable thing, though, was how much the colours of the leaves had changed. I expected to see true autumn colours, as the last time I'd been up there, which was a couple of weeks ago, they'd just started turning. I went up yesterday, of course, and pretty much all of the leaves above the treeline had fallen off, ready for the winter already. This is what it looked like at around 1000m.

Anything above 1200m had just about fallen to the ground.

Also, on saturday I continued with my knitting project at Autumn and Jacob's place in Aomori city. I'm undertaking a red scarf. And it's not looking too bad even if I do say so myself.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Friday and still nothing going on

I'm really bored today. I've been sat around all week waiting for yesterday's school trip, which was cancelled due to the heavy rain; and then today's classes, which in turn have been cancelled due to some other wet and miserable reason. I've managed to get a good bit of language study time in, though, and last night I myself started to notice a bit of an improvement in my speaking ability (at Japanese club, that is). It's funny, you know, the Japanese language. I was out on Wednesday night with the gang from the English conversation club, and one of the elders was saying how she noticed a qualitative change in herself when she used English as to when she spoke in Japanese. She asked me if I had the reverse experience when speaking Japanese, and I didn't really know what to say. I suppose, thinking about it, I become a bit more of a creep when I speak Japanese, or at least I do when I'm in the office. I don't know what it is about the office, because it's a place that's full of folks I really don't have much time for, bar some good individuals of course, but even still I end up brown-nosing Japanese rather than actually speaking it, or communicating it. I suppose it's because I have some deep-seated desire to be accepted, and find that through being submissive at least I'm not getting in anybody's way. I literally feel like the office creep sometimes, repeating hai, hai, hai, hai, hai... all the time, as if that was all I knew how to say. Saying that, I'm not submissive at all at Japanese club, so I suppose it all comes down to who you're talking to and what it is you're talking about.