Voyages to Japan
Yesterday, we got to sleep to a comparatively late 7:00, with breakfast starting then and going until checkout at eight. Breakfast was very good, complete with non-rice-based dishes. We then got into the bus and drove to an amusement park.
Under different circumstances, I’m sure I would have loved the amusement park. But I’d been in Disney Land under a week ago, and been on the top of Mount Fuji the day before. Compared to that, the rides just couldn’t compare. I only rode two of them, but they were the fastest and the tallest, so I figure I have my bases decently covered.
It’s not that I didn’t like being scared- it’s that I couldn’t make myself feel properly scared. There were adrenaline rushes, but those were on a purely physical level. When we were going up and up and up, I gave only a passing thought to ‘this means we’re going to need to come down again. I bet that will be faster.’ When I wasn’t going ‘Whee! Flight!’ or ‘Oh God, this is fast’ my mind was still busy trying to process things from yesterday.
Besides which, there were the lines.The fastest ride only took sixty seconds from start to finish. (It was mostly flat, minus one rise and a ninety-degree drop.) The line for that took an hour.
We did try the Haunted House. We went in with a group of seven, but at backed out at the first exit. I would have been fine continuing, but not alone, and everyone else wanted to back out. (I was in the lead, and there was someone clutching my arm and slowly going forward.) After the fact, I realized there might be a reason I wasn’t scared beyond me being a sadistic freak who grows stronger off of other’s fears. The Haunted House was dark, but I could still see. It’s easily possible I could see better than the others could. So when they were screaming ‘there’s something in the bathtub’ I might have been the only one who could seek reassurance in the fact that it was a dismembered corpse. (Dismembered corpses couldn’t leap out and surprise you. Intact ones could.) I was disappointed to leave, and the signs and mocking of other people didn’t help, (both effectively called us cowards) but the fun of a haunted house is being scared in a large group, so when everyone else left I did too.
The group I was with was going to continue and do more rides, but I really didn’t feel like it. There were long waits, after which I needed to lose my vision (most rides required pockets be empty, classes and jewelry be off, and bags be stored in a locker) and give myself a chance for an adrenaline rush. If I’d had a boring month, it would have been great. But I’d had a long, exciting month, and it was almost over.
So, favorite part of Fuji Q Highland? Well, there’s an ice cream place in the Food Stadium... Actually, the Food Stadium by itself is better. The food is overpriced, but there are lots of places to sit, it’s air conditioned, out of the sun, and there’s free water. (Water cooler with cups nearby.) Even so, I thought they would have frowned if I’d tried to sit there and drink their water without ordering anything, so I did end up getting ice cream.
During the bus ride back, I heard people discussing gender roles as societal constructs, so I went in the back to join them. The conversation jumped around a bit, with transition points being random facts people remembered. If I try to trace the flow of the conversation it doesn’t make any sense, but topics covered included gender, religion, (kosher laws and the differences and similarities between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) formation of babies’ heads during pregnancy, altruism (or lack thereof) and prisoner’s dilemma, and teacher letter of recommendations. It was the type of conversation I hadn’t had with people for over a month, and reminds me of some of my favorite aspects of school.
Once the bus ride was over, there was a lot of lingering around saying goodbye and trading contact information. In most cases, the only things that really needed to be written down was the full name. As long as you’d talked with them and remembered things like cities they were from, and roughly what they looked like, you could probably find them again on Facebook. If you didn’t remember that, but found someone else who did, you could find them from there. I’m not saying it’s a good method, but it’s certainly cheaper than letters.
And then... that was it. Some people went together to eat dinner, or go one last time to a certain place. The rest of us went back to our host families alone. One month, some amazing experiences... and then it’s over, and we all go back to our different countries and different schools.
Once I was back in my room, there was a decent part of me that just wanted to collapse on my bed until it was time to leave. But I had under a day left in Tokyo, and I wanted to see the city one more time. So I dragged myself up, and tried to pretend I didn’t remember how hard it was to go up the steep incline on a normal day. I didn’t go anywhere new- it wasn’t exactly the time to explore. Just went to some of my favorite places and wandered around.
I intend to go back. Looking at the stations, and the stores, and the cafes, and the restaurants, I didn’t need to make mental snapshots that would last me for the rest of my life. But, as I tried to commit enough to memory to remember for several years, I needed to wonder how much would change before I walked those streets again. Between me and the city, how different would the next walk I took in Shibuya be?
Later that Same Day
Climbing Mount Fuji was hard and strenuous. Coming down was painful and dirtying. Given the hotel had a traditional Japanese onsen, that was high on the list of priorities for many people. I was a little hesitant, because I’d never done that sort of thing before. But given I’d managed to make it that far without using a Japanese toilet (always opting for the Western-style ones. Because all the toilets in the west have heated seats and options to play music) I figured it was time to try something traditional. And a public bath sounded like far more fun.
An onsen has two different steps to it. The first is the actual getting clean step. Despite being called a public bath, you clean yourself in the shower. The shower had a moveable head, and there was soap and shampoo and conditioner nearby.
There were a lot of different places for showers, and many of them were filled with girls from my course. It was during that time that we all discovered sunburns. Mount Fuji is the kind of place that laughs at people who say ‘I don’t burn.’ I’d put on sunscreen at the beginning of the day, but forgotten afterwards. Fortunately, the only parts that were exposed was part of my neck, my face, and the back of my hands. So there are slight burns there, but not nearly as bad as some of the other girls had. (Only one person had the foresight to have any kind of sunburn soother. She quickly became very popular.)
There were three public baths in the hotel where we stayed. One was just a standard, hot water bath. (I say ‘standard,’ meaning ‘standard for an onsen.’ It was quite hot, and quite pleasant.) Another was the same thing, only partially outside. That was the favorite one of many people, since it was nice scenery, pleasant temperature, and the bath water felt significantly different from the not-water. Besides, there were people talking there, so it was more social. Then there was a ‘massaging bath’ which had jets and bubbles coming out. (Apparently the male side didn’t have the massaging bath. They had the regular one, but I’m not even sure they had the open-air one.) I tried all three, but stayed longest in the open-air bath. (There was also a sauna, but I didn’t try that.)
After relaxing there for a bit, we realized it was probably about dinner time (going roughly off a shared sense of time) so we got out and got dressed. Specifically, most of us got dressed in yukatas. They were provided by the hotel, and, for me at least, was the perfect compromise. I’d brought exactly three days worth of clothes, two of them were dirty, and there was still another day left to go. I didn’t want to change back into dirty clothing, and I didn’t want to change into the clothing for tomorrow. So a yukata it was.
It’s kind of funny, because, with all of the different languages, the greatest miscommunication occurs in two people who speak the same language. Like during dinner, when one girl adjusted how she was sitting, and made a comment about how she wasn’t wearing pants underneath. A girl from England’s head shot up. ‘What?’ It only took a moment for the first girl to understand. ‘I’m wearing underwear underneath.’ I think the English girl was still slightly annoyed at her word choice.
Dinner was good, though I’m kind of tired of traditional Japanese food. They brought out tempura after we’d had time to eat, creating the illusion that it was dessert without being as tasty. But then they brought out fruit after that, so that was wonderful. (There wasn’t anyone sitting on one side of me, but there was a place sat. Someone had already taken the rice, so I took that fruit too.) After, we went to a ‘graduation ceremony.’ It was much shorter than every other graduation ceremony I’d been to. But we each got a certificate, and a booklet with two pictures in it (nice to know all that standing/squatting around in the sun served some purpose) and got to see everyone else in the class do the same.
There were two battles going on today. The first was the battle of me against mountain. The second was a battle of me against me. For a while I was losing both, but in the end I think I managed to win at least one of them.
The day began with a wake-up call from the hotel. The phone woke me up right away, and I wasn't disoriented at all. It had been about four years since I'd slept in a room with that many (5) girls, but between the early wake-up time and the activity planned for the day, the bathroom was remarkably free.
We went downstairs at 4:45, and got into a bus and drove. It was about an hour, and we were told not to fall asleep because of altitude sickness.
Breakfast was had in a nearby restaurant, and lunch was boxed. Breakfast was nigiri, and lunch was nigiri. There were several people, myself included, who would rather not have a breakfast that was made of rice and fish. It wasn't really an option.
After breakfast, we were pointed in the right direction and set off.
Mt. Fuji is made up of a series of checkpoints before the summit. I presume they started at one, but we drove up to five. (We wanted there to be an option to climb to the top, and that was mostly necessary for a day trip. The checkpoints were numbered up to 9, with extra rest stops in 8.
I started off with a group of seven. Immediately, we dropped two people, but made up for the loss by picking up another two. We lost someone else when she went up ahead, and dropped down to three people who were willing to try to push ahead harder. All this before checkpoint six.
Immediately after checkpoint seven, one person became so terrified by the wasps she couldn't go on. She wanted to, but there were so many wasps that buzzed around... eventually I traded the remaining partner for a teacher who was willing to move at my pace. (She traded me for a group willing to surge ahead.)
The scenery was beautiful. If I'd had any energy when I paused to look around, it might have been breathtaking. As I climbed higher, all I could see was the mountain. Nothing of the surrounding lakes or cities- they were all covered by clouds.
There was no point at which I believed I could make the summit. We were told at the beginning of the day that at 12:30 we should turn around, wherever we were. That was theoretically enough time, but didn't leave much space for contigencies. But it gave me a time. I would not turn around until 12:30.
At some point, the sight of a distance sign was enough to make me want to cry. Initally, because it still seemed so far. After a hard stretch, the distance would change from 3.6 kilometers to 3.4. Getting from the beginning to Checkpoint 8 was hard and covered about two kilometers. So when I saw a sign with another two kilometers left to go, ever reaching the summit felt impossible. It was almost worse when the signs stopped phrasing things in kilometers. 600 meters felt tantilizingly close. I walk that distance to the train station each day. I could knit that distance. (Not very quickly, but at the end I'd have a shawl.) I should be able to climb that distance with similar levels of ease, right?
Besides, there was the time concern. Next to the distances, they had expected time periods. Initially, we didn't have enough time before 12:30 to get there. But eventually that changed.
One of the top moments of the day came at 11:00. The time estimate to the summit was 80 minutes. I'd rested at the checkpoint, but kept seeing more signs and benches. And then I turned a corner, and the sign said the time to the summit was 50 minutes. If there was ever a moment at which I thought might be able to do that, that was it.
We were doing the final climb at 12:30. Once at the top, the two teachers scaled down the time estimate and said we could wait until 13:30 to leave. So I had time to look around the top and talk to the other people who had made it. There was a decent group of us, but it was probably undr a quarter of the people in the course.
The top was very tourist trappy. I came all the way to the top of the tallest mountain in Japan, and I could now buy a keychain saying as much for about the price of a bottle of water. A bottle of water (or any other liquid) cost 500 yen.
However unimpressive the top may have been (there were clouds all around so I couldn't even see that far) I was still there. I'd made it to the top of Mt. Fuji. I'd never seriously expected to, but I hadn't let myself give up. I didn't want to have to say 'I almost made it to the top of Mt. Fuji,' or 'do you know what my favorite part of Japan is? There's an ice cream place my the bus drop-off on Mt. Fuji. So delicious.' (There is an icecream place there. I have no idea about quality, having been too busy avoiding having that be my favorite part. I will say ice cream was slightly cheaper than a bottle of water, and one of the flavors was cowberry.) I wanted to be able to say 'I made it to the top of Mt. Fuji.
If you're climbing downhill, a good way to depress yourself is to realize that you need to climb up again later. Mt. Fuji is the first time the reverse was true. The entire time I was fighting with a mountain and my legs were screaming 'why do you hate us?' I just kept focusing on the next step. Making it to the top, and then making it back down, we're things that could be figured out later.
I never said the descent was worse than the ascent. Other people I was with did. It was a different route, and there were a lot of loose pebbles that liked to both trip people and get in their shoes. (Free souvenirs from Mt. Fuji.) Plus, we'd been walking less than half an hour when it started to rain.
Chris Christophersen thinks the sea is an old devil with numerous tricks, fog being one of them. Mt. Fuji is another old devil, with tricks of his own. Fog is still one of them. Given we were following a zig-zagging trail that sometimes split off, not being able to see much in front of us was an issue. I think we were all glad when the fog cleared up.
I went down the mountain with three other people. Like last time, the group began big, but soon separated into smaller groups. The most alarming thing was how quickly we split up. We knew there were groups in front and behind us, but didn't see them until we were all back on the bus.
On the way up, there was never a question of amusing ourselves. Most of my mental energy went towards convincing myself to keep moving or listening to my body. (Yes, I know it doesn't want to continue. But am I hungry, thirsty, hurt, or oxygen-deprived? No? Then on we go.) The way down was far less strenuous. Once the rain cleared up, the only problem was falling, and it would have taken a lot more than silence and concentration to not slip. (Everyone slipped at least once. One person slipped once, another twice, and the third three times. I lost count of myself.) So we played a game.
Since we were in Japan, and we were all studying Japanese, the game was Japanese as well. One player said a word, and the next needed to use the last syllable as the first syllable of a new word. We also shared definitions. If a player used a word ending in 'n,' they lost. We were playing really informally, so we'd help each other think of words, avoid words that ended in hard syllables (it's easy to make a verb end in 'ru,'but not many words start that way, there are a limited number of words beginning with 'i' given over half the adjectives end in that syllable, etc...) Besides using vocabulary in a way I don't normally, it was a nice introduction to new words. I learned the combined word for math and science (you'd think that would be the sort of thing I should have learned earlier) and was the only person who knew the word for hippo.
I'm not sure if I would describe the day as a whole as fun, but it was definitely a worthwhile experience. Even if it was cold after the rain and I needed to wear a ridiculous hat with a British flag and a pom-pom...
I'm not sure if I've ever been so dependent on a computer before.
Without it, I can still read, still knit, still talk to people, and still write long-hand. But my computer was my one way of keeping in touch with people who weren't in Japan. It was what I used to look things up and explore. It was both how I planned and how I remembered.
I was good. I upgraded the operating system when I got it, but that was all. I never tried to install a different linux distribution or change the BIOS. I behaved, and left the computer alone. And the thanks it gave me was an error message this morning.
This is the first time in years I've been somewhere without easy access to another computer. The last time that happened I think I only had the laptop for thirty minutes at a time because my I was sharing it with both my siblings. So, when something goes wrong, it's that much harder to fix.
Once I did get access to another computer, I realized that there really wasn't any fixing to be done. The error message I was getting was complaining it couldn't boot from a network connection. A network connection is the last thing it tries. By the time it got there, it had already given up on the hard drive.
Still, if it had to choose a time to break, it chose a decent day. I wasn't planning on using it that much over the next few days. I don't appreciate not having the option, but there's very little I need to do that still requires a computer.
It has given me appreciation for other things, though. My phone developed problems three days after being in Japan. Today, I found they were all gone, and it was in great condition after I charged it. There's free wireless in the lobby that it can connect to, and it has other applications on it that can allow it to function as a decent make-shift computer.
I also have justification for carrying around a paper notebook now. Notebooks don't spontaneously combust, and it would take at least a week of solid writing to fill every page I have left. I don't like writing things I know I'm only going to need to retype later, (mainly because I hate retyping it later) but there are a lot more options in a blank sheet of paper then there are in a flashing text box.
I'd never been so dependent ona computer. But now that my computer is effectively a decorative brick (one of the hollow ones that decorates play sets) I'm disscovering that that I don't need to be.