Such is snow

It’s snowing tonight in Tokyo; the first time I’ve seen snow here in two years. Snow falls are not common in Tokyo, so any time it happens must be savoured.

Snow in Tokyo 2010

I’m in my apartment at the moment, Ugg boots and hot carpet on (obviously, not in the same manner), watching the flurries fall outside my window. The train line outside my house seems to have stopped running too. Snow has a curious muffling, deadening effect on the world, but the lack of traffic and noise make it surreal, like I could be cooped up in a solitary cabin somewhere in the mountains rather than in a jungle of apartment buildings with tens of thousands of others.

Illuminated by the streetlights,  the snowflakes make flickering shadows on my window as they add to the blanket down below; it’s a supremely tranquil feeling.

Snow in Tokyo 2010

The snow isn’t silent, either – it makes plopping, lapping noises as it alights on to my window sill, then a dull whump as a flurry breaks off and heads earthwards.

Snow in Tokyo 2010

As exotic as living in a foreign country may seem, you can still find yourself in a routine sometimes, just like back at home. I know a rare evening of snow in Tokyo makes me remember to appreciate those unique experiences.

This morning, I draw back to curtains, ready to savour a pristine white blanket of snow:

DSC07768

Sigh.

Oh well, if I can only have an hour of snow, that one would have ranked up there.

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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.

Whereupon my childhood fantasy gland explodes

I don’t like to drop The Science on you too much, but scientifically speaking, the only way this could possibly be cooler is if this was wailing a power chord on a Stratocaster on top of a windswept cliff in a circa 1987 music video:

Gundam

That’s right: Japan has finally built a giant robot.  This is the long-awaited 1:1 scale model of one of the robots from the extremely popular Gundam cartoon series. How big is it? Plenty big enough to crush me and the other 400 puny humans taking photos on this particular afternoon:

Gundam observes puny humans

As you’ll see, it’s not quite open yet.  The structure has been complete for about a week or so, but won’t be fully open until next month.  Actually, it gives me an excellent excuse to go back for a second look because each night it will light up, move, spew smoke and kill everyone in a one kilometer radius (probably).

Gundam

The attention to detail is incredible – check out the decals on the arms and legs.

Gundam

Gundam

Honestly?  If civilisation has to end, I think I’ve made my choice about how that should happen.

Gundam

You can find some shots of the Gundam all lit up during a test run too, which I’m deeply enviously about since I’ll have to wait until I go back again next month – me and half of Tokyo, most likely.

If you happen to be in Tokyo and want to see Gundam, go to Daiba Station on the Yurikamome line then walk to nearby Shiokaze Park. When your gob has been smacked, you’ll know you’re there.

Drinking under the light of the silvery bloom

Well, just when I thought I had run out of things to say about glorious cherry blossoms, along comes a new flavour.  Night cherry blossoms!

DSC04475

A friend very kindly invited me along to his Friday night work-do which involved sitting under the cherry blossoms and drinking large amounts of alcohol.  I’ve executive-ly summarised the agenda for you in the following photograph:

Cherry blossoms by night, Tokyo

Something a little confusing is that the Japanese word for going to view cherry blossoms during the day is hanami, which literally means “flower viewing”.  However, if you go and look at cherry blossoms at night, it’s not called “night flower viewing” – it’s called yozakura, “night cherry blossoms”.  A small distinction, but unless you know that’s specific word, you’ll forever being saying things like: “So what time shall we leave the the flower viewing that occurs at night?”.

Also, I’m hazy as to if this actually occurred, but I think I mistakenly called the event yozakana on several occasions.  Yozakana, however, is not actually a word that exists in the Japanese language.  Upon consideration, I can only imagine people were translating it as “night fish”.  Luckily, I was never asked what manner of entity a night fish might be.

Cherry blossoms by night, Tokyo

Cherry blossoms by night, Tokyo

The park in question was right next to Tokyo Tower too:

Cherry blossoms by night, Tokyo

If you’re in Tokyo in late March / early April, definitely try to wangle yourself a yozakura invite, and preferably with a big group – the parks are overflowing with people over the cherry blossom season, and there’s power in numbers!

4700 miles east of 4000 miles north

Well, this will be the last post of 2008.  I’m spending it recuperating from a year of work and study, staying with family on Vancouver Island in Canada.  There’s been a historic snowfall here – everything is blanketed, so it looks like my first white Christmas!

I’m staying in a town with a population in the ten thousands, and so the difference to Tokyo couldn’t be greater.  Bald eagles fly around and perch on trees near the river, looking for salmon down below.  In the barber shop, everyone greets everyone by name.  Stores close at 5pm on the dot, and it’s a ghost town on Sundays.  Someone directing traffic through the icy streets was chatting to a passerby about his family.  And of course, everyone speaks glorious, glorious English.  Well, something close to English anyway, eh?  (Sorry Canadians – really, you’re all very nice).

Well, today is my first day ever of learning how to snowboard, and if I survive, I’ll be back and posting next year.  Here’s a few pictures of snowy Vancouver Island for anyone about to have a much hotter Christmas while insisting on sending Christmas cards that pretend we can all make snowmen in the southern hemisphere.

Merry Christmas and a yoi otoshi o (Happy New Year)!

Puntledge River in the winter

Coastal run

Snapple
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Slowly dying by the foot of Fuji

Today, my body knows only pain. Pain, punctuated with agony to keep things interesting. My legs feel like lead pipes, their ability to bend seemingly given up the ghost. My walk is not dissimilar to a robot, with stairs now presenting a major challenge. Yes, these are my rewards for having attempted a half-marathon yesterday.

The Kawaguchi Lake Marathon is held once a year near the foot of Mt Fuji. It’s 44 kilometers (or 27 kilometers) of hell through some absolutely heavenly scenery:

Kawaguchiko marathon

Honestly, at plenty of points along the way, I just wanted to forget about the whole “running” thing, sit down in a deck chair and just admire the view for a while.

Some co-workers were kind enough to invite me along with them, and it was a great weekend.  Around 10 thousand people turned up, and I can understand why it’s such a popular event.  For one, it’s just hitting the tail of autumn, and the leaves are still changing:

Kawaguchiko marathon

Amazingly, some people still had the energy to raise their arms above shoulder height:

Kawaguchiko marathon

There’s nothing like running towards a steaming active volcano:

Kawaguchiko marathon

And let’s not forget the most welcome sight of all:

Kawaguchiko marathon

This was my first attempt at a half-marathon, and if I learned anything, it was that my preparation was woefully inadequate.  Still, it was a great experience, and I’m trying to re-engineer my pain into some sort of feeling of self-satisfaction and accomplishment.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go and be mercifully immobile for a while.  I may be some time.

Autumnly

Kitakaruizawa is a stunning place to go to see autumn in full de-bloom, a mountain area that’s a 1 hour bullet train and a 40 minute bus ride from Tokyo.  It’s a place with a real countryside feel – and unfortunately, like country areas in lots of countries, that means that it’s slowly dying as young people flock to big cities for better job opportunities and a faster pace of life.  You can really see that faster pace of life on people’s faces, though – the average Tokyo commuter’s stony mask is a marked contrast from the much more open and receptive expressions you’d see around the streets of small mountain villages.

Sometimes, the city comes to the country, too.  On the bus ride from the bus station, plenty of small B&Bs dotted the winding road, and unfortunately, a lot of them looked quite run down or shut.  The place it turned out I’d be staying, on the other hand, was a modern, 13-story resort with tennis courts, buffet restaurants and hundreds of rooms, a fairly unsightly grey oblisk that dominated the sleepy little town of Kitakurizawa.

At any rate, autumn in Japan is something to behold.  Reds and oranges explode across the countryside just like they did in all the reading primers from my childhood (rather than Australian autumn, which is more a gentle segue from summer to winter where it gets slightly colder).

The good news is that since the autumn colours hit in the colder, higher-altitude places first, I’ll get to enjoy it all over again in Tokyo in a few weeks!  Unfortunately, this time I’ll be competing with around 12 million other people for a look.  Until then: mountain pictures.

Autumn mountains

This sign advertises autumn fruits: plums (puramu), peaches (momo), nectarines (nekutarin).

Autumn fruits

Nestled

Craggily so

More below…

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