A mountain somewhere… near Tokyo

Someone told me that there was a prediction for snow in Tokyo this weekend, with the bleakness knob getting turned up to 11 today.  To try and delude myself from the fact that I’m sitting in my poorly insulated apartment on a wintery night, I decided to reminisce about the summer that was.  The summer that was much warmer.

One of the adventures last summer was climbing Mt Takao, not too far out of Tokyo.  It’s very picturesque, with ancient cedar forests and temples, shrines and statues dotted throughout.  You can do it in just a few hours if you’re fit, and despite that, it should give your calves a fairly decent workout on the steep ascent.

The fellow below is cooking dango, coated in a soy syrup and made from rice pounded into a rubbery consistency (similar to mochi).  Mochi is often eaten at New Year’s and is slightly infamous for being the cause of a few choking fatalities each year.  So, it’s a pretty extreme snack, is what I’m saying.

I don’t know exactly what the masks below are, but I would guess they are oni, demons in Japanese folklore.  There’s a saying in Japanese, “Oni with an iron club”, which means you are invincible, powerful or the like. So, rather than being evil, it means you are kind of a bad ass.

A kind lady at work called me this one day to encourage me as I was struggling through a conversation.  I didn’t know the expression and so could only surmise that she was calling me a devil.  Unaware of the heinous act I had apparently committed, I was left more confused than normal (and that’s saying a lot).

Shrines on mountains don’t clean themselves:

After all this, it turns out that looking at photos of warm locations doesn’t actually make you warmer, just as I feared.  The light at the end of the tunnel, though, is some time back in Australia for Christmas – from 0 degrees to 30 overnight.

That technology allows us to do this is brilliant.  It will be great to be home, and I’m looking forward to melting as I step foot off the plane.

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Warming the cockles of your esophagus

It’s getting cold here in Tokyo. It’s nothing you could call Arctic, but it’s almost cold enough to be uncomfortable without a scarf and gloves.  Hey, but it’s only December – there’s still chilly February to look forward to!

One of my favourite things about winter in Japan are warm drinks in vending machines. The contents of vending machines seems to change on a seasonal basis, and come mid-autumn, the red rows for “hot drinks” begin to appear:

The friend of every overworked salary man, cans of coffee, are served piping hot next to hot chocolate, milk tea, lemon tea and green tea:

Even better than the questionable coffee, usually served with a liberal dose of sugar,  is a heated steel canister to keep your hands warm on the walk into work.  Buy one for each hand and you can save money on gloves, you cheapskate you.

Slowly dying by the foot of Fuji 2 – The Refreezening

Last year, I ran in the Lake Kawaguchi half marathon and lived to tell the tale.  I’m not such a fan of running – after all, the further you run, the further you have to run back home.  It just seems like an inefficient way to displace yourself.

In spite of my running aversion, however, the view at Lake Kawaguchi is absolutely spectacular: Mt Fuji, glistening in the late autumn sun, seemingly wall-to-wall across the horizon.  The unforgettable view from last year:

Kawaguchiko marathon

So, this year, I happily accept my co-workers’ offer to tag along.  I bring my bulky SLR camera this time, instead of using my dinky camera phone, and try to work out a way I can comfortably run with it.  Maybe I’m not such a great runner, but I think of the marathon as the price of admission to getting some great photos.

Then I arrive.  The weather looks like this:

It is bleak.  It is cold.  There is no Mount Fuji.

I am forlorn.

However!  As it turned out, fate had shone happily and mercilessly upon me.  Several days earlier, I had smacked my knee into a door frame nice and hard, making running out of the question.  Since I had already paid for accommodation, there was nothing for it but to freeze on the footpath, watching on while everyone else ran.  Of course, I acquitted myself by being official event photographer.

Full points to this guy for running in 4 degrees in a dress. Judging by the reception he received, he was the belle of the ball:

There was a complete set of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers running the full 44 km in costume too.  Actually, this may not have been so bad – they looked considerably warmer and perkier than less be-spandexed competitors.

This year, as the race callers liked to keep reminding us, there were 14 000 competitors doing full marathons (44 km), a-bit-over-half marathons (27 km) and fun runs (10 km).

This guy ran the entire course in a bus driver’s uniform, complete with arm band.

Maybe it was just poor timing on my part, but this fellow’s expression isn’t really reflecting the amount of levity one would expect an arrow attached to one’s head to bring.  Maybe he’s ruing his poor aerodynamic choices.

The race course was one lap of the lake for half-marathon runners, and two laps for full marathon runners.  The next picture is of the point where the courses diverge.  More than a few full marathon runners, perhaps realising they’d bitten off a little more than they could chew, attempted to enter the final straight after only one lap, only to be told by officials that they had to keep going for another 17 km lap of the lake.

I tried to capture their tears on film, but failed.

I was impressed at the first person I saw running the marathon dresses as Santa, replete with sack.  After the fifth, my respect began to waver.

So, maybe the weather was a write-off, but for a few brief moments at dawn, a truly inspiring view:

With the marathon finished, it was time to panic about my impending Japanese exam the next weekend.

That would be this weekend.

So if you’ll excuse me, I must go and do some futile study, interspersed with fitful bursts of hyperventilation.