The Lucky Island– Leavers Questionnaire

Hey there all your groovy akabekos and akabekettes!

The Lucky Island crew want to hear the thoughts of our brethren who are departing the Fukushima this summer to start their next adventure.

So, if you are leaving Fukushima this summer and have a few minutes, please fill out this questionnaire and share with us your thoughts, experiences, and memories of your time here in Fuku. We’d can’t wait to hear them!

[form form-13]

Art and Tradition: JETs Practicing Japanese Culture — Tea Ceremony

Art and Tradition: JETs Practicing Japanese Culture — Tea Ceremony

Sado: The Japanese Way of Tea

This is the second in a series of articles exploring Fukushima JETs who practice traditional Japanese arts as a hobby.

Felicity performing sumi demae, the laying out of the charcoal for the fire that heats the hot water. There is also a type of incense placed inside.
Felicity performing sumi demae, the laying out of the charcoal for the fire that heats the hot water. There is also a type of incense placed inside.

Tea ceremony is one of those unique traditions that is iconic of Japanese culture. To master tea ceremony, you must also learn several other disciplines, including how to wear a kimono, ikebana flower arranging, and much more! Like the belt system of martial arts, there are different levels of tea ceremony mastery, and it can take years and years of study and practice in between taking each certification. Also like martial arts, there are many different schools, and practices can vary hugely between them. All in all, this makes tea ceremony one of the most difficult of the traditional Japanese arts to master.

Third-year Aizu Misato JET Judy Pan began studying tea ceremony two years ago. She had this to say about what made her get started doing tea ceremony: “The first bowl of macha I had in Hongo. My tea teachers run the local Japanese tea sweet shop in town. I wandered into their shop on a sunny afternoon and had my first bowl of macha that I actually liked. They were really nice and patiently answered all the questions I had about tea. When I asked about where I could learn tea ceremony, they offered to teach me and I have been learning ever since.”

Although seemingly complicated, there are in fact rules for each stage of the tea ceremony. Felicity Kerkham, a second-year JET in Iwaki, has been studying tea ceremony for over a year. “I love the discipline, following strict steps in order to perform it beautifully!”

For both Felicity and Judy, tea ceremony can be very relaxing. Judy says, “I enjoy the atmosphere of tea ceremony. It is very calming and empties my mind of idle thoughts.” Felicity enjoys learning about wabi and sabi – the appreciation of beauty in simple things and quiet. “Experiencing this is extremely calming.”

278
Judy performing tea ceremony at a festival in Hongo, Aizu Misato. Hongo in particular is famous for pottery and tea.

In addition to Japanese ways of thinking like wabi and sabi, tea ceremony can also teach about Japanese hospitality for the guest, or omotenashi. “For example in summer, we use green leaves to cover our water pitcher and pour water in a way to mimic the sound of water trickling from a stream. The point is we are trying to cool the guest down with those gestures, even though they are about to drink a hot bowl of tea,” Judy says.

Of course practicing tea ceremony is not without its difficulties. For Felicity, the most difficult part is sitting in seiza, the traditional Japanese way of sitting while kneeling. Many Japanese learn to sit this way from childhood, as it takes practice to not have your feet fall asleep or in fact hurt yourself. “If you haven’t done this a lot since you were young, it’s going to be hard!” Judy agrees, “Holding the proper posture for while making the tea can be pretty difficult at times too; sitting in seiza for a long time is strenuous.”

Judy says the most difficult part for her is the Japanese vocabulary. “Remembering the names of the items/tools we use while making the tea, as well as the names of the flowers as they change with the season.” Even for native speakers, this specialized vocabulary can be difficult to remember!

242
A sweet shaped like a flower with anko red bean paste inside. They are traditionally served during tea ceremony, with the shape and design of the sweet varying between season.

While practicing tea ceremony can be difficult at times, it can be very rewarding as well! “I love the tea and sweets and the lovely ladies I do it with!” says Felicity. She has this advice to share to JETs who are interested in getting started: “Ask around! Some high schools have tea ceremony clubs where you can learn the basics. Some cities and towns have tea shops that sell the tea and equipment so they would know about classes and upcoming events where you can try it. For me it was a case of a distant connection (another ALT friend was invited by an office worker at her school whose older sister does it!) so just talking to people might mean ‘oh yeah my sister’s husband’s cousin does it,’ which could get you an in.”

Similarly, Judy had this to say, “Ask your schools if they know anybody who does tea ceremony in the area, chances are they will be able to recommend someone to you. You can then ask the teachers to give you some trial lessons just try out how tea ceremony is done before you decide to commit to it. If you are interested in learning, it may be good to start with a friend because the learning becomes more interactive and engaging when there are two of you. There are also lessons just on the proper way to drink tea; and you may be able to see how tea is prepared during those lessons as well.”

Douzo goyukkuri meshiagatte kudasai! Please take your time and enjoy your tea!

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