Suit Up for the 2015 Snowboarding and Skiing Season

Suit Up for the 2015 Snowboarding and Skiing Season
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Sunny day of snowboarding

Winter is upon us! Although the snow may be a little late this year, that doesn’t mean the ski slopes aren’t already ready and waiting for you. I started my snowboarding last weekend at Grandeco, how about you?

Considering how warm it had been last week, the snow was actually in great condition for snowboarding. A couple of the lifts had been shut down due to patches of dirt and rocks, but the rest of the slopes were good to go. It wasn’t too crowded, and it was so nice and sunny I had to put on sunscreen. The snow did become icy as the sun set, so get out on the slopes early in the day!

For those of you who have your gear and are ready to go, check out our list of ski slopes around Fukushima!

If you are in need of gear, or are keen on upgrading what you have, try checking out Hard Off. This chain of stores sells a variety of secondhand items, including boards, bindings, boots, gloves, snow jacket, snow pants, goggles, etc. Although some of their items can get a bit expensive, they are often in good condition and/or brand name products.  Hard Off has locations in Iwaki, Fukushima City, Koriyama and Aizuwakamatsu.

If you prefer your gear shiny and new, Xebio Sports is another great location to fulfill your snowboarding and skiing needs. Don’t forget to ask your fellow JETs around you, they may know of some good shops selling gear. You can also try posting in our snowboarding and ski Facebook group, I know some people who have accumulated gear from their predecessors and friends.

Good luck on your search! If you have never done snowboarding or skiing before, this is a great time to start! There are lots of beginner-friendly slopes and even more friendly JETs willing to help get you on your feet. Not a fan of winter? Overcome that feeling by grabbing winter by its shoulders, throw it beneath your feet and ride it down the mountain (meaning snowboarding and skiing, of course. Or sledding. Or snowshoeing. Or simply walking down snowy mountains if that’s your thing).

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Conditions of Grandeco Ski Slopes on December 12, 2015

 

The Battle of Kawanakajima in Yonezawa City– or How I Spent my GW

The Battle of Kawanakajima in Yonezawa City– or How I Spent my GW
The battle of Kawanakajima, Shingen on the left and Kenshin on the right. Woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige.
The battle of Kawanakajima, Shingen on the left and Kenshin on the right. Woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige.

Japan is a country rich with a storied history. One of the most famous periods of Japanese history is the Sengoku period (戦国時代) or the Warring States Period. The Sengoku Period lasted from 1467 until 1603, when Japan’s political powers were unified under the Tokugawa Shogunate.

This is a period of Japan’s history that paints romantic pictures of noble samurai lords, fighting under the code of bushido, trying to unify and bring about a better Japan. The demon king Oda Nobunaga, the one-eyed dragon Date Masamune, god of war Uesugi Kenshin… this era has only been further romanticised thanks to the wildly popular game and anime series ‘Sengoku Basara’. Looking beyond the lore and the colourful modern adaptations, the Sengoku period produced one of the most famous rivalries in Japanese history—that of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin.

Takeda Shingen hailed from the Kai province (modern day Yamanashi prefecture) and called ‘The Tiger of Kai’ due to his military prowess. Shingen’s demon-faced and furred helmet is an enduring piece of Sengoku imagery. Uesugi Kenshin came from the Echigo province (modern day Niigata prefecture) and was as famous for his administrative skills as he was for his honour and military expertise.

Shingen and Kenshin’s most famous battle was the Battle of Kawanakajima, fought along the Kawanakijima plains, located in what is now Nagano prefecture. However, the battle of Kawanakajima is actually five different battles fought in 1553, 1555, 1557, 1561 and 1564. The most famous of the battles (which is often used as the climax for many Japanese samurai films and games) was fought in September 1961. It is this battle that is reenacted every spring in Yonezawa City in Yamagata prefecture as part of their Uesugi Kenshin Festival. It was this reenactment that I was lucky enough to participate in.

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Let the 2015 Hiking Season Commence~!

Let the 2015 Hiking Season Commence~!

Spring is in the air! And despite Japan’s claims of it’s four unique seasons… we all know thtat spring lasts all of a month before the bugs and the humidity and the heat of summer is upon us. Let’s make the most of this while we can and get our hiking on! How? With these awesome FuJET events! Everyone is free to join us for the Oze National Park and Mt. Bandai hikes. Mt. Fuji will require reservation (details on Fuji to follow soon!).

Mt. Bandai Hike- Saturday June 13bandai

Facebook Event

We’ll take the Happodai Trail (八方台) to the mountain’s peak and get a great view of the recently planted rice fields all over the Aizu valley. We’ll leave early in the morning and for more information, check out the event page or send an email to fujetcouncil@gmail.com! We’ll end the day with a nice onsen at Aizuwakamatsu Station’s Fuji no Yu! (Their sauce katsu is amazing)

Oze National Park Hike- Saturday June 27oze

Facebook Event

Japan’s 29th National Park, Oze, spreads across four different prefecture– Fukushima, Tochigi, Gunma, and Niigata. The Oze hike is a bit more difficult than Bandai but arguable more rewarding, in the middle of pristine Japanese nature. If you have any questions, please again– ask them and we’ll do our best to answer them ASAP! Just drop us a message at our Facebook page or send an email to fujetcouncil@gmail.com.

Stonewall Japan by Cat Dinh

Stonewall Japan by Cat Dinh
Aizu Fruitcakes protecting Tsuruga Castle!
Aizu Fruitcakes protecting Tsuruga Castle!

Stonewall Japan, formerly Stonewall AJET, is a special interest group for JETs who identify as LGBTQ, as well as their allies. Stonewall AJET grew to be a support network and safe zone not only for JETs, but also for other foreigners living in Japan as well as Japanese LGBTQ, hence the change to Stonewall Japan.

Fukushima is a part of Block 1, the largest out of all the other blocks in Japan, which includes all the prefectures in Tohoku, as well as Hokkaido. Although talk about LGBTQs might seem hush-hush in Tohoku, there does exist queer-owned bars, although it does take some searching to and initiative to find them! Luckily, some of us are on it, and have added a few places to the Stonewall Wiki, for anyone interested. Also, every year, we try to hold an annual event to bring Block 1 members together. Last year, we had an enkai, and a ski and snowboard weekend in Bandai-machi, where we played games, watched movies, and slid the slopes!

だれを好きになるのかな? I wonder who we will love?
だれを好きになるのかな?
I wonder who we will love?

Stonewall Japan likes to share positive LGBTQ stories, so I’d like to share a couple local stories from Aizu-Wakamatsu, a city known for its stubbornness and tradition, with you. Depending on what publication your junior high nurse’s office subscribes to, you might find a poster that explains to kids that having feelings for a person of the same gender, both, or neither at all, which is perfectly normal. I’ve been told this poster exists in some junior highs here. Also, at my high school, one student, who is biologically female, but identifies as male, is allowed to wear a boy’s uniform, as well as joining the boy’s soccer team. This student is going through his own individual counseling, but the space that the school allows him to express himself is truly impressive!

Of course, not all stories are positive, so if you are looking for help in ways to handle LGBTQ discriminating situations, or a safe zone to cope with something that’s been done or said, check out the website at http://stonewall.ajet.net/ for resources, or get yourself onto our mailing list! We also have a Facebook group specifically for Tohoku and Hokkaido members for more area-focused activities and support. It is a secret closed group to protect members’ privacy, so please email Cat, the Block 1 leader for Tohoku (stonewallblock1@gmail.com), with your email address to receive an invite!

Art and Tradition: JETs Practicing Japanese Culture — Judo

Art and Tradition: JETs Practicing Japanese Culture — Judo

Judo is a sport that is recognized worldwide as quintessentially Japanese. It has been an Olympic sport starting with the Tokyo 1965 games, and is practiced in many countries all over the world. It is also commonly taught in schools in Japan as an extracurricular sport. So it’s no surprise that some local Fukushima JETs have taken up the practice.

Jesse Anderson, a second-year JET in Shirakawa City, has been practicing judo for almost two years. “I enjoy any exercise that helps me gain a skill, so things like martial arts are perfect, and I also was looking to make some new Japanese friends,” he explains.

David in his judo gi.
David in his judo gi.

Similarly, David Tacoronte in Minamisoma City started practicing judo soon after he arrived two years ago when invited to join by other JETs in the area. “I thought it’d be cool to get into a traditional sport, and also get fit.”

While at first judo may seem to be two wrestlers randomly grappling with each other, in fact there are many techniques, both physical and mental, that judoka use to throw their opponents. “I enjoy the technical side of it a lot,” says Jesse. “Now I notice the tiny things like foot positioning, proper rotations, etc.”

“It’s almost like a physical chess match,” explains David. “When I’m in a match, I always have to think about my body and foot position, my opponents’ body and position, what moves are possible and how can I bait and defend at the same time, etc. I really enjoy that aspect and how it makes me think. For me, the most difficult thing is getting your opponent into the right position to execute a possible move.”

David's judo dojo in Minamisoma City.
David’s judo dojo in Minamisoma City.

Of course, judo is a still a physical sport that takes a lot of time and effort to practice. “The endurance needed sometimes is pretty nuts,” says David. Unfortunately, as with any martial art, injuries can be quite common too, particularly with grappling and throwing aspects of judo. “I’ve dislocated both shoulders so you have to be ready for that possibility also,” jokes Jesse.

The time commitment required is also pretty heavy, as without frequent practice it is difficult to improve. Jesse explains, “Everyone who does judo around me is either in a judo club at school (training minimum five times a week) or has done so already and has been doing judo for twenty plus years, so coming in and learning from scratch twice a week can be a bit rough. Getting floored by a fifteen year old boy and a woman half my size were both big eye openers,” he jokes. That’s not to say that it can’t be done, but it can be disheartening if you can’t commit enough time to training. Similarly, David says, “Not only do you have to commit yourself to a judo throw within a match if you want to successfully execute it, the amount of time you need to commit to actually become good at the sport is pretty demanding.”

A Shoumen which  tells where the front of the dojo is. It is also a small Shinto shrine that contains some artifacts of worship. Usually comes from, or is blessed at, a shrine.
A shoumen which tells where the front of the dojo is. It is also a small Shinto shrine that contains some artifacts of worship. Usually comes from, or is blessed at, a shrine.

That being said, judo can be a truly rewarding practice to take up. David says, “I’ve seen many of my students go above and beyond what they thought they could do to try and become better than they once were. It’s very inspiring for me and makes me proud of them.”

Judo has also benefited Jesse in other ways. “If I had to sum it up, it would be learning how to be strict and lenient at the same time. Obviously in a straightforward sense that can mean physically, but also in an everyday sense, judo helped me learn how to deal with problems in a more efficient and stress-free way.”

Jesse had this advice to give JETs who are interested in taking up judo: “Just jump in! Don’t worry if your Japanese isn’t that great or you aren’t the most athletic person. You’ll make great friends and get fit while having some fun along the way. It’s a humbling and rewarding experience.”