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

 

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.

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.”

Hiking with FuJET

Hiking with FuJET

Japan is a mountain country, and Fukushima in particular is home to many great hiking spots. Join FuJET on our upcoming hiking trips and take advantage of the beautiful mountains all around us!

The Trips:

Mount Bandai

Mount Bandai as seen from Goshikinuma
Mount Bandai as seen from Goshikinuma

Height: 1816m
Date:  Saturday, June 14th, 2014
Start Time: 9am
Ascent: 2 hours
Descent: 1 hour
Description: Mt Bandai is a dormant volcano that last erupted in 1888. Before that eruption, it had a conical shape, which earned it the nickname of Mt Fuji of Fukushima. Due to the eruption, the mountain now has a double peak and many surrounding multi-coloured volcanic lakes (Goshikinuma). Don’t miss out on climbing Fukushima’s most famous mountain!
RSVP: Not required! Just click “going” on the Facebook event page!
Cost: Free! However, please pitch in for gas money if you accept a ride from another climber.
Facebook Event Page

Oze National Park

Climbing on the boardwalk through the marsh plateau in the fog.
Climbing on the boardwalk through the marsh plateau in the fog.

Height: 2356m
Date:  Saturday, June 28th, 2014
Start Time: 7am
Ascent:  3.5-5 hours
Descent:  2.5-3.5 hours
Description: Part of a huge national park deep in the countryside of Minami Aizu, Oze is famous for its beautiful natural scenery and highland marshes. The hike is characterized by steep climbs interspersed with flat marshy plateaus. Be sure to look for Oze’s famous white flower, misobasho (“Japanese skunk cabbage”) which is rare elsewhere in the country, but plentiful in Oze.
RSVP: Not required! Just click “going” on the Facebook event page!
Cost: Free! However, please pitch in for gas money if you accept a ride from another climber.
Facebook Event Page

Mount Fuji

The peak of Mount Fuji, as seen from the 5th station. Only six or eight hours left to the top!
The peak of Mount Fuji, as seen from the 5th station. Only six or eight hours left to the top!

Height: 3776m
Date:  Saturday, July 12th, 2014
Start Time: 7pm
Ascent: 4-8 hours
Descent: 2-4 hours
Description: A world-famous Japanese landmark, Mt Fuji has recently become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Climbs have become more restricted with higher entrance fees in order to reduce the impact of visitors on the mountain, but it is still well worth the climb to be able to cross it off your bucket list. What better way to experience Japan than to watch the sunrise from the peak of Mt Fuji? Remember, you’d be crazy to climb Fuji twice, but you’d be crazy to not climb it at all!
RSVP: Required! Please email FuJET at fujetcouncil@gmail.com as soon as possible to reserve your spot!
Cost: Approximately 13,000yen for transportation and climbing fees.
Facebook Event Page

Gear:

Climbing Fuji with all my gear. Pictured: backpack, gloves, raingear, water bottle, headlamp, and cool poise in the face of almost-certain-death.
Climbing Fuji with all my gear. Pictured: backpack, gloves, rain gear, water bottle, headlamp, and cool poise in the face of almost-certain-death.

You can never be too prepared to climb a mountain! Here is a list of some essential gear:

  1. Hiking boots – You will need a good pair in order to tackle these mountains. Good ankle support and traction for the rocky slopes is necessary.
  2. Warm clothing – While the bottom of the mountain may be shorts-and-Tshirt-weather, the top of the mountain can drop up to twenty degrees. Particularly the peak of Mt Fuji can drop below zero even in July. It is best to dress in layers, and put on more layers as you climb, and take off layers as you descend. IN PREVIOUS YEARS, CLIMBERS ON THE FUJET TRIP CAME DOWN WITH HYPOTHERMIA DUE TO LACK OF WARM CLOTHING AND HAD TO BE HELPED DOWN THE MOUNTAIN BY RESCUE SERVICES! MAKE SURE TO DRESS WARMLY!!
  3. Backpack – Bring a comfortable pack to carry all your gear. Remember Goldilocks, and keep your pack not too big, not too small, but juuuust right.
  4. Gloves – There are certain steep sections of the climb that will require you to use your hands. Bring a good pair of work gloves to help you out. Also, it can get cold on the top of the mountain, so save your fingers from the chill!
  5. Hat – It gets cold on the climb, so bring a hat to protect your head from the weather!
  6. Water bottles – That’s right, multiple water bottles. It is vitally important to keep hydrated on your climb. I find it better to bring multiple smaller PET bottles, and crush the empties to save space in my pack.
  7. Rain gear – The FuJET climbs will go on, rain or shine, so prepare for inclement weather by bringing a rainjacket, rain pants, and a waterproof hat or hood. There’s nothing worse than being caught in a sudden rainstorm and having to climb the rest of the mountain soaking wet, so be prepared! You will need your hands for the climb, so umbrellas are not recommended. Also consider gaiters to protect your pants from the mud.
  8. Sunscreen and Sunglasses – Conversely, if we’re lucky, we will have beautiful sunny weather for all our climbs! Be prepared with sunscreen and sunglasses to protect yourself! Remember that even sunny weather can get cold at the top of the mountain though, so still DRESS WARMLY!
  9. Erika Ehren pictured here ready to take on the world, or just Mount Fuji.
    Erika Ehren pictured here ready to take on the world, or just Mount Fuji.

    Headlamp – Particularly for Mt. Fuji, we will be climbing throughout the night, and you will need your hands free, so a headlamp is necessary. Last year during the Mt. Oze climb it was also getting dark by the end, so it would be helpful to bring in case of delay on the descent.

  10. Towel – Wipe that sweat off and keep your neck dry with a towel.
  11. Food – These climbs will be long and will take all day or all night. Supplies are limited on the mountain, so bring your own lunch and snacks to keep you going.
  12. Garbage bags – Don’t leave your trash on the mountain! Bring it down with you! Garbage bags can also double for a seat if you don’t want to get your butt dirty sitting in the mud.
  13. Wet Wipes and Tissues – Incredibly useful throughout the climb, as there usually won’t be running water to wash your hands.
  14. Extra Socks – Keep your feet warm and dry with an extra pair of socks.
  15. Coins – On Mt. Fuji, the washrooms cost a few hundred yen to use. Don’t be caught in the lurch! Make sure to bring enough change!
  16. Climbing Oze 003Hiking poles (optional) – Particularly for Mt. Fuji, it can be a great help to bring along some hiking poles. You can also buy a wooden pole at the 5th station to get commemorative stamps at each of the stations for that unique souvenir.
  17. Oxygen Canister (optional) – Altitude sickness can be a problem for some climbers, particularly those with low blood pressure. Small canisters of oxygen can be bought at the 5th station to combat this, but the only reliable way to fight altitude sickness is to take frequent breaks to adjust to the altitude, and to climb down if symptoms persist.
  18. A Change of Clothes – Bring a change of clothes for the onsen after the hike! No one wants to change back into their sweating hiking clothes after visiting an onsen!
  19. Camera – Make sure to capture your experience for all time! Pics or it didn’t happen!

 Further Reading: 

Hiking in Fukushima
Lessons from Bandai-さん, FuJET Climbs Bandai
Oze Park: FuJET Visit to the Middle of Nowhere
Fuji From the Bottom
FuJET Mt. Fuji Climbing Trip 2012
Necessary Equipment for Mt. Fuji Climbing Infographic
Climbing Mount Fuji on Japan Guide

 

Art and Tradition: FuJETs Practicing Japanese Culture — Kyudo

Art and Tradition: FuJETs Practicing Japanese Culture — Kyudo
kyudo_headerThis is the first in a series of articles exploring Fukushima JETs who practice traditional Japanese arts as a hobby.

Kyudo – The Art of Japanese Archery

Kyudo is one of the many Japanese martial arts. It can be deceptively similar to Western archery, but kyudo has its own unique rules and traditions that make it seem closer to tea ceremony than to archery. The footwork, the way the bow is held, and even the way the archer approaches the firing line is predetermined. It is more important to have this process done correctly than it is to hit the target accurately!

“There are particular ways to enter and exit the shooting hall,” says Tiffany Kwok, a second-year ALT in Tanagura. “The shooting sequence also depends on the occasion: exam, competition, ceremonial demonstration, etc.”

These traditions are not continued simply for tradition’s sake. The Japanese longbow, unlike a Western bow, is held not in the middle of the bow, but about two-thirds down. If held incorrectly, the archer can injure themselves, as third-year Aizuwakamatsu ALT Russell Aquino explains.

3rd year Aizuwakamatsu ALT Russell Aquino
3rd year Aizuwakamatsu ALT Russell Aquino

“Many things can go wrong when you shoot. I’ve had – and still occasionally get – a fair number of cuts and bruises on my inner arm to prove that.”

But practicing kyudo is a great way to learn more about Japanese culture. Tiffany explained that many of the terms used in kyudo have their roots in Japanese Buddhism. And as kyudo was originally a martial art practiced by the samurai, its tradition is steeped in the Japanese way of thinking.

“When you practice kyudo, I would say that it’s impossible not to get a sense of the spirit that led to its development as an art,” Russell says. Of course, even as a traditional art, it is practiced by modern Japanese.

Tiffany Kwok, 2nd year ALT
2nd Year Tanagura ALT, Tiffany Kwok

Tiffany says, “I’ve also heard A LOT of oyaji gags during practice – that’s probably just at my dojo, but it counts as Japanese culture, right?”

If you’re interested in starting kyudo, dojos are often looking for new members. Ask your coworkers where the local dojos are. They will often hold workshops for beginners. Also, many junior high and senior high schools have kyudo clubs which practice after school. Ask the teacher in charge if it’s alright for you to drop in! Russell has this advice for kyudo beginners,

“Be prepared to commit time to it. It takes a while to get even the basics of it, but once you do, there are few things as satisfying as hearing the twang of your bow and the sound of your arrow hitting the target.”

Special thanks to Tiffany Kwok and Russell Aquino for their interviews.