Monday, August 24, 2009

Fujikyu Highland Park

Fujikyu Highland park is one of the most intense roller coaster parks in the world. With Mt. Fuji in the background a stroll around the park is nicely backdropped, but we did more than stroll. Unfortunately we went on a saturday, lines were very long. We payed about 4,500 yen to enter with an open pass. We could ride anything all day, but the lines were such that we thought we could do 3 coasters at most. Our first target was Fujiyama, which was the tallest coaster in the world when it opened in 1996. It is also really fast, reaching speeds of 130kmh. To say it simply, it was really fun and very intense.
After that coaster we knew we had time for only one more, so we grabbed some lunch and stood in line for Eejanaika. This coaster has the Guinness World Record for the most number of inversions. It is what is called a 4th dimension coaster, meaning the seat is capable of 360 degree turning. Before getting on you must empty your pockets and take off your shoes. You are then strapped into a chair with legs dangling and drawn up the first embankment lying on your back. From there you are tossed and turned over the 14 inversions in a matter of about 2 minutes. It was really really intense and I have to say that i did not enjoy it as much because it was so intense. Fujiyama was good, but Eejanaika was just crazy. One other interesting note, I had my heart monitor watch with me and tested myself at different points along the rides. A normal resting rate for me is 65 beats per minute, 85 is a normal standing rate. I tested myself on both rides and results were close to the same. While in line my rate was 110, which is about the rate your heart would be at if you are taking a brisk walk. Once strapped in I was at 120, which is close to the same. On the ascent, right before the first drops it went to 140 which is the pace of a slow run. After the initial drops it went to 160 which is a normal jogging pace for a male of my age. Interesting to see how my body reacted.


Mount Fuji is the largest mountain at Japan and the peak is 3,776 meters above sea level (12,388ft). Most people start from the 5th station which is at roughly the 2300 meter mark. Richard and I thought that climbing it from the 5th was kind of cheating since that brings you to about the half way point without you hiking, you ride a bus there. So we hiked from the bottom, the absolute bottom. We started from our hotel in Fujiyoshida, Riben minshuku. As we left at 530am the inn keeper told us to "gambatte!" (fight for it!) We took about 20 minutes on foot to get to Sengen Jinja (shrine) and started the trail from there. This is only one of four trails from the bottom to the top, but the most popular, which was hard to believe since we saw not a soul (except for a mountain goat) along the trail.

The altitude at Sengen Jinja is about 800 meters above sea level.
Denver, Colorado, is roughly 1 mile high, 1 mile is about 1,600 meters so the 5th station starts at about 1 1/2 miles high and the top of fuji is over 2 1/2 miles high, much much higher than Denver. If you have ever watched a football game played at Mile High stadium you will have seen the players sucking oxygen on the sidelines. As you go higher the air gets very thin.

The hike was difficult and to get to the 5th station took us about 5 hours. We saw no one on the trail from Sengen Jinja to the 5th station. What a shame! No one taking the traditional route, no one interested in climbing the whole mountian, perhaps on the other three trails fromt the bottom there were other people, but I doubt it since we were on the "popular" one.

We took a break at the 5th station, observed the circus of buses, tourists, ponies, and women in high heels with strollers, bought a hiking stick and quickly moved on. From the 5th on the trail was pretty packed with people. We were never far from anyone and a few times held up by people ahead of us. By the 7th station fatigue started to set in and by the 8th we were both plodding our way onward at turtle pace taking frequent but empty breaths. Along the way, at most stations, we took 5 minutes to have our hiking stick branded and perhaps to sit for a minute.

By the 8th station many of the people had stopped climbing. They were bedding down for the night, waiting to reach the peak an sunrise and/or recovering from the change in altitude. It was also at this point that we started to lose the finer points of speech as our minds became fuzzy from the oxygen deprivation. Luckily, neither of us suffered more than mental slowness. Some people get terribly sick. More than a few times I saw people sucking on cans of oxygen, trying to keep their bodies from rebelling.

At the 7th station, about 3 hours from the top, the wind picked up and it started to rain. We had both brought rain gear, but still felt the biting cold and by the 8th station I could no longer feel my fingers. The rain continued up until we reached the top after 11 hours of climbing with minimal breaks. Once at the top we went searching for our final stamp, only to be told the person had closed down 30 minutes before. Being cold, tired, and dejected we snapped a few pictures, got another coffee to warm our hands, and started our descent.
Almost immediatly Richard came alive again and the next 3 hours descending in darkness went fairly quickly. We reached the 5th station at around 9 and took a bus back to Fujiyoshida. We had briefly talked about descending the whole mountain too, but decided not to since at that point it would be a drop in the bucket as we estimated it would only take about 2 1/2 hours more and after 16 hours we didnt care.

When returned back to Fujiyoshida, stopped at a sushi place for a drink and some sushi, then returned to our room at the minshuku where we promptly fell asleep. I was so tired I didnt fully undress and woke in the middle of the night to finish the job. The next morning after we got up, the minshuku owner asked us how the climb went. When we told him what we had done he said, "yuusho!" (champions!) All in all it was an excellent time and an experience that will not be soon forgotten.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Indecent Proposal

While in Stanley I proposed to Aya. We had already been talking about getting married, we have a date and location set, have sent out invitations etc. but I had still not proposed, getting married was something we had just agreed upon. So 4 months ago I bought her ring and ever since have been trying to wait for a good moment to come along for me to propose, some nice location or specific event or something. I didn’t know, I just thought inspiration would hit me and I would think, ok, perfect timing, let’s do it Kevin, but that didn’t happen. It finally occurred to me that I had to make it happen and so determined that I would do it in Hong Kong come hell or highwater. I knew that we would be near the sea, which would be nice, so I waited until we were alone, which we were in Stanley.
After having lunch along the board walk I said, let’s take a walk by the seawall. So we did as I thought about how to start. Of course I had an idea of what I wanted to say, but I did not know how to begin. First things first I distracted her by pointing out a junk (ship) in the harbor and saying she should take a picture of it. Meanwhile I slipped the box out of my pocket and put the ring on my pinky finger so that I would have it ready. I then hid the ring as best as I could and tried to begin. But the words just didn’t come out and so Aya said, lets go. I told her I wanted to stay a bit longer and sat on a ledge by the sea wall. I thought perhaps if I just start it will come out alright. So as she turned to walk away I started to get on my knees and said, “Aya I…” and then the ring slipped out of my hand. I watched it make a few weak bounces on the boards of the board walk, praying that it would not fall into the space between the slats and trying my best to put my body into motion, but by the time I made any kind of move to recover the ring it had quietly slipped into the space between the boards. I was shocked to say the least. Aya, who had watched the ring fall between the crack, wasn’t so concerned, so I said, “the ring, the ring fell between the cracks! (frantically pointing)” and she said, “oh well, its ok” and I said, “no, no, not this ring (pointing to the ring on my finger) THE ring, the wedding ring!” At which point she came around to what was happening and we both fell to our knees peeking between the cracks searching for the ring. Luckily it had landed on a flat piece of concrete about 2ft below the surface of the board walk. As some relief crept in that we knew where the ring was we began to talk about how to get it out and how much of an idiot I was. Luckily, just as I was starting out towards the commercial area to find something a security guard was walking by and I flagged her down. I told her that we had lost a ring, she came to take a look, confirmed that I had in fact dropped the ring, and then said she was going for help. About 5 minutes later she returned with two other security guards and a number of thin long tools. The first she tried was a long wire with a hook on the end, which worked and she gave me back the ring which I heartily thanked her for. Meanwhile Aya and the other two security people were taking lots of pictures. Thanks for the memories.

So I had the ring back in my hand and said to Aya, “Despite that I am and idiot…” which was the perfect start that I had been looking for. As we discussed the whole incident we both agreed that it was very much us, a perfect fit, and really the only way to go about it. Oh, and she said yes.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nebuta Matsuri

Nebuta Mastsuri, in Aomori ken, is consider one of the three big festivals in the Tohoku region of Japan. When I first came to Japan I noticed in one of the English textbooks that the festival was mentioned and there was a picture of one of the floats. Since then I have wanted to go and got my chance last week. The drive was murder, 12 hours on a bus there and 8 hours back, with 5 hours in between to be at the festival. Despite that, I really enjoyed what I saw. The floats lived up to my expectations.
Nebuta refers to the stomping of the ground that dancers around the float do, but the orgins of the word mean root (ne) and to cover (buta) which refer to the loss of a warrior and the burial of his followers in old Japan. Usually the top of the float is a scene depicting a warrior and made of all paper, lit from the inside. They used to be smaller, built with a frame of bamboo, and lit with a candle from the inside, but now they have changed considerably. Floats are much larger, built with wire, and lit inside by light bulbs powered by a portable generator.
We, luckily, got a spot near the harbor and so were able to enjoy the procession of floats along the water front and the fireworks as well. One thing that really impressed me was that, despite that the waterfront was packed with people rows deep, everyone remained seated despite that most people had an obscured view that could be remedied if they stood. The only time people got up was to take a quick look or snapshot of a passing float and then to sit down again. If everyone had stood at the same time, the affect would be ruined and everyone would be back to square one. In America, everyone would stand, but in Japan, things are different.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hong Kong

Hong Kong was a beautiful place full of history and clashing of cultures that often make a place a breeding ground for my most desired combination of things. We only had 2 days in the city which is a shame and I hope to some day return, maybe even to live there except for one thing which really put me off. The heat! Japan is hot, but Hong Kong was hotter. Each day we took refugee in some air conditioned building about every 2 hours just to cool down and not exhaust ourselves. I can’t imagine living there for an entire summer, but the rest of the year must be superb.
On the first of our two days we went to Macau. Macau was “discovered” by the Portuguese in the 16th century and remained under Portuguese administration until 1999! One of the first and last colonies in China it is steeped with historical buildings and contains not a World Heritage building but an area! Clearly there was too much for just one specific point and numerous monuments, temples, and other places were incorporated. We saw the ruins of the cathedral of St. Paul, A-ma temple, and the fortress. Unfortunately, we were so exhausted by the heat, the walking, and the travel of the previous day that we decided to wrap it up early and head back to Hong Kong. The remainder of that day we spent finding a sweet shop for Aya and then a bar with good beer for us boys. We bounced to a few good places, one of which was Ned Kelly’s. I had remembered reading about it before coming. It wasn’t such a bad place, Filled, but not full of people on this Saturday evening with a live band and some decent beers available. It was a nice way to wile away the final hours of our day.

The next day we were up and about early enough to catch a bus to Stanley. Stanley is not far from the city. We took a bus for maybe 45 minutes through winding streets leading up steep hills with suicide drops on one side and sheer cliffs on the other, all the while the double decker bus swinging wildly around the curving road. When we arrived in Stanley we were greeted by a massive tourist market. All of the shops had something to offer, but I would say only a few were unique. Most had the same array of scarves, paintings, ornaments, and other junk that you could find in most major markets. Only a few had other wares, but overall I liked the market. After browsing for a bit we had lunch by the boardwalk and then took a walk by the sea wall. I proposed to Aya by this sea wall, but I will save that for a different thread. Safe to say she said yes.

After Stanley we returned to the city proper and went to some of the other touristy markets, the jade market, shoe street, the lady’s market, etc. Which were all fun and good. We did find some neat stuff and I was pretty happy to be roaming around these markets. One thing I especially enjoyed was a fruit, meat, and vegetable market street just a few blocks from the main action. Nothing too unusual, but a lot of fruits and veggies that I could not identify. Really makes you think about how restricted our diets are no matter how hard we try to expand them. Our second day ended with the purchase of some jade and a Tsing-Tao for me to wash down the heat of the day. Overall good trip.