Monday, September 24, 2012

Climbing Mount Fuji

August 1st, 2012.   Five o’clock on a Wednesday morning.  We had only been back in Japan for one day and were about to leave for a month long Japanese immersion school. 

I decide to check my email one last time before leaving.  Waiting in my inbox was an invitation from our host family to climb Mount Fuji that coming weekend.

With twenty minutes before we had to leave, I frantically tore apart my carefully packed suitcase.  I hauled out my larger suitcase and repacked-this time including hiking gear for Mount Fuji.

We ran through the already warm morning to the train station, just barely making it in time.  (This seems to be a recurring theme…)

On Friday, August 3rd, at 11 o’clock pm, we piled into our host father’s van and left for Mount Fuji.  Driving through the night, we reached the parking lot at the foot of Mount Fuji at 5 am.  The five of us-our host parents and brother, Karl, and myself-caught a taxi from the parking lot to station five.

Station five is halfway up the 3776 meter mountain.  Almost everyone who hikes Fuji starts from here.  The morning was cool.  Halfway up the mountain, we were already above the cloud line.  The sun and moon shared the early morning sky above Fuji.

We began our ascent.   

Transporting goods to the top of the mountain.

The climb was nothing short of difficult.  We reached the summit at 1 pm-after seven hours of climbing. 

Just reached the summit.
The summit of Mount Fuji holds many surprises.  Including vending machines, souvenir shops, shrines, and restaurants.  Probably the most expensive cup ramen and bottles of soft drinks anywhere in Japan can be found here. 

500 Yen for a bottled drink!  (That's about $6.50 USD. Yikes.)

We paid the small price to have our special hiking sticks stamped at the shrine-proof that we had made it. 

A panoramic view of the crater. Way cool!

After only a brief rest, we began our long descent.  Descending was exponentially more difficult than ascending.  In a word-it was awful. 


Thankfully, the weather was fine.  We did at least have that going for us. 

The first hour was fine.  Wide switch backs.  A relief after the sharp grade of the climb.  The relief, however, did not last. 

A view of the trail to the top.

Ascent on the left, descent on the right.
Mount Fuji is a volcano and the highest peak in Japan.  The tree line ends about halfway up the mountain, other vegetation about two-thirds up the mountain.  The trails are nothing but sharp, craggy, volcanic rock. 

Being on the top of a mountain also guarantees that there will be wind.  The wind pulls up and swirls about the dust kicked up from the hundreds of hikers on the trail.  Wearing a mask is mandatory. 

After about an hour of descending, the switch backs suddenly stop…and the straightaway starts.  At some points, the cone of Mount Fuji is a forty-five angle.  It was rough going.  Fortunately, there were metal rods pounded deep into the loose gravel, a rope looped along to create something to hold.  The rough pumice stone gravel was so loose, that with every step I took, I lost sight of my shoes. 

I had hundreds of rocks in my shoes.  Hundreds.  Every so often, we had to stop and empty them. 

Finally, after what seemed like eternity, we reached station five.  It was about 7 o’clock pm.  Exhausted and absolutely filthy, we bee-lined for the nearest onsen.  After soaking and scrubbing the layers upon layers of dirt of our weary bodies, we had dinner and then drove back to Aichi. 

We reached home at 2:30 am on Sunday. 

We are glad we hiked the mountain, but know truly understand and take to heart the Japanese saying:

You are wise to climb Mount Fuji once…a fool to climb it twice.
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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy

I’ve always been one to keep busy…in many cases I have kept myself too busy.  I seem to always find myself teetering on the edge of keeping a reasonable schedule.  Life is all about balance, right?

After our trip home this summer, we cut things pretty close when we scheduled only one day between returning to Japan and leaving for our month of Japanese studies in Aichi Ken.  If I hadn’t had that one day, the transition would have been impossible. 

To keep ourselves busy during the Japanese summer vacation (夏休み-natsuyasumi),  we purposefully signed up for four solid weeks of classes at Yamasa-the same place at which we studied Japanese for two weeks last summer. 

Though this time, instead of staying in the provided school housing, we signed up for a home stay.  It was really Japanese all the time.  We loved it!

Our days were packed with meeting new people from all over the world, studying, exploring new places, and eating good food. 

Our first big weekend trip would be one of the toughest things I have ever accomplished:

Climbing Mount Fuji.  

More to come…

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The North

The majesty.  The beauty.  The power.  There are many reasons Lake Superior draws so many people to her shores.  My mother always told me the primary reasons she chose to attend UMD was because it was next to the Lake. 

The Lake: The greatest of the five greats.  From the chilling depths to the fierce shape, this lake can evoke the deepest sense of awe. 

Despite my love for travel and exploration, I can feel the lake calling me back.  We talk about moving to anywhere in the world…but I don’t think I can stay away from the lake for too long.

During our trip home this summer, we spent a day driving up the North Shore during our trip home.  It really doesn’t get better than spending time in your favorite places with your favorite people. 

Split Rock Lighthouse
Gooseberry Falls

We stopped at our favorite State Parks.  Toured a historical lighthouse.  Took a (very) cool dip.  Basked in the glory of the Lake. 

And ended the day together at another delightful restaurant unique to Duluth: The Burrito Union.  

MONSTROUS Chocolate Cake! (It took six of us to eat this!)

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Wedding

Always schedule enough time between connecting flights.  Always.  Particularly when transferring from international to domestic.  When flying home this summer, Karl and I experienced a small nightmare at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. 

Our international flight landed late, we had to get through customs, check bags again, get to the opposite end of the airport, and go through security again.  In one hour.  We did not make it. 

But!  We did make the flight.  Only because our flight had been delayed.  What amazing luck. 

This stressful first hour back in the U.S. was made up for many times over during our trip.  We were home for the wedding of one of my brothers.  We were thrilled about the wedding, and especially thrilled because we would  see my older sister for the first time since she had moved to New Zealand more than four years ago. 

This family reunion was more than just a reunion though.  In fact it was the first time all of us (me and my eight siblings)  would be together for the first time…because my youngest brother was born about eight months after my older sister moved to New Zealand. 

This was a BIG deal. 

First picture of us all together.
The wedding was one of the most beautiful ceremonies I have ever witnessed.  It was worth every ounce of effort we put into getting there.  And more. 

Our whole trip home was wonderful.  More to come…
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Thursday, September 13, 2012

It Goes Well

It was not by pure choice that we decided to get married on the third of July.  Though thankfully, it has turned out to be a great day to have an anniversary.  Sandwiched in between Karl and America’s birthdays, we are always guaranteed a spectacular string of celebrations to kick-off July.

Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to experience the full glory of our three celebration days in a row quite yet.  The beginning of July falls during the first term of school.   And though the American Embassy in Japan get to observe Independence Day as a holiday, we don’t.

This summer we went home at the end of July for a wedding.  Because of this we took a rain check on our actual anniversary and celebrated it a few weeks later at our favorite restaurant: Va Bene.

Cheese and Honey Platter
Roasted Red Pepper Spread
Potato Leek Soup
Italian Sausage Soup
Salad Nicoise
Beef Tenderloin with Blue Cheese Vinaigrette
Chocolate Cake
Vanilla Gelato
Va Bene is one of the best restaurants at which I have ever eaten.  In fact, about three years ago, while planning our wedding, I asked on a whim if they would cater.  They did.  Ours was the first big wedding  they had ever catered.  It was fabulous. 

And so, if at all possible, we eat there to celebrate our anniversary.  Va Bene will always hold a special place in our hearts-and taste buds!

If you ever visit Duluth, Minnesota, I highly recommend you stop in at Va Bene!
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