Friday, May 25, 2007

Miyogi-san, Motorcycles

Well, it seems I have not had enough of Annaka since I was back there again this last week. This time for hiking, not running. Miyogi is one of the famous mountains of Gunma, and a glance through these pictures will tell you why.
The whole mountain is like a natural castle. Some amazing erosion has taken place. In fact, it felt a lot like Guilin in southern China, but less crowded, less polluted and less touristy.
There were some really fun parts of the hike where the way up the mountain was to shuffle along a cliff while holding on to a chain.
And other parts where you used the chain to pull yourself up.
We didn't find our way to the top (stupidly we left the map in the car), but saw beautiful scenery regardless.
And ate Yokogawa-eki Kamameshi on the way back.
After the hike, Yuri, Kentaro, Hidechi, Sayaka and I went to see the motorcycle races in Isesaki. Everyone decided to make some bets "for fun" except me (since I didn't even know the word for odds in Japanese I would have been making totally random guesses).
My impression of motorcycle racing? Mostly boring, quite uncomfortable (adults are usually polite enough not to stare at me, but not at the track apparently, and absolutely filthy. I have no desire to go back, but it was a fun experience.
Tons of other stuff happened this week, but since it is all work related, none of it is going on the blog. Suffice to say that this week I made what could turn out to be major breakthroughs.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Annaka Tooashi Marathon

Well, for several weeks I have been training for the race I ran last weekend: the Annaka Tooashi Marathon. The Annaka Tooashi Marathon is one of the oldest foot races in Japan, with a legendary history stretching back hundreds of years to when the local king ordered his Samurai to run from his castle to the gates of a garden 20 kilometers away. These days it follows roughly the same course. Over the years, the race somehow became a costumed marathon. So, when I was preparing for the race, I not only had to get my body ready for a 20km run uphill, but I also had to make my costume. While I had been planning it for weeks, it came together, like usual, the day before. Here it is, my Kappa costume.
A Kappa is a monster from Japanese legend that lives in ponds and pulls people under if they go swimming alone. They have a bowl of water in their head which is the source of their power. If this bowl dries up they could die. They also love cucumbers.
And have a shell like a turtle.
My costume was a big hit. But not because it looked great. Almost everything I used to make the costume was real food (seaweed, pigs ears, fish paper, cucumbers, nori, etc.) so I smelled like a Kappa would. In fact, I smelled so bad that as I walked by I caught the attention of this reporter, who then interviewed me for his newspaper. I am still looking for the article.
Here are some shots of the other people who ran the race.
Great costume, but 20kms in this is hard.
Me and the Monkey King.
Yuri's friends, who also ran the race.
Castles running by.
Kama-meshi lunch box...
Daruma-san Kyodai...
Well, as it turned out, my costume was a big hit, and was selected as one of 10 winners for "Best Idea". My time was also not all that shabby. Out of the 2000 or so people who ran, I placed 90th. I also felt great when I had finished and it didn't hurt nearly as bad as I thought it would. Here is my trophy.

All in all, a fantastic race. If you happen to be in Gunma, you really should go to see the Annaka Tooashi Marathon.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Happy 2nd Birthday, 6 Billionthvoice!

Oh my, things have been so busy lately (see the previous entry) that I almost forgot to wish the 6 Billionth Voice a happy birthday! Here's to two years of keeping me on track and encouraging my adventures! Thank you to all of my readers. I'm sorry that things have been a little irregular recently, but after this next week things should be back to normal.


My Golden Week, Almost Went to OZ

Golden Week is a set of one three day weekend and one four day weekend that often becomes a 10 day vacation (a lot of people get "sick" on Golden week). As such, everywhere is crowded. It is one of the only times that some families can spend time together since some jobs require parents to work late into the night, and some jobs also require them to work weekends.

So what did I do? Well, for the first part of Golden Week (the three day weekend) it rained like crazy, so I basically stayed inside and read entries in Wikipedia. On Sunday I went hiking with Steve, the other guy in the area from Hawaii. We compared alot of notes and are planing several outdoorsy trips. Monday turned out to be beautiful, so I got up at 9am and started running from Shibukawa to Takasaki. Something like 30km. I have never run that far before. It took me three hours and by the end I was toast. It got to the point where even my cheeks were sore from grimacing. I called Yuri and asked her to save me, and she arrived in her car with a towel and a bottle of water. I spent the rest of the day feeling great.

The next day was not so good. I had class, plus intense muscle pain. Still I managed to get through the next two days.

Then on Wednesday night, the real adventure began. Having missed the train, Yuri came to pick me up. We then drove to her house in order to meet her friends at midnight. At midnight we started driving to Chiba. I made two wise choices that night: 1) I slept in the car. 2) I bought food in the middle of the night when we stopped at a rest stop. We arrived in Kisarazu, Chiba at around 4:30. About 4.5 hours too early for our planned activity: clamming!

Clamming, as it turns out, is a huge activity in Japan. Just the kind of activity that Japanese families enjoy. Because of this, even though we arrived at 4:30, one parking lot was already full. When the gates opened at 9am, we waited about 10 minutes. This is what the clamming beach looked like at 9:10!
I guess another reason that clamming is big here is that red tide had not really affected Japan to the same extent as the US. Here is my haul.
Here is everyone else digging away. I figured out a method really fast and was done about 1 hour before everyone else in my group.
So clamming was fun, but the fact that no one other than me had had the foresight to eat breakfast and no one but me had slept, the 3 hour search for a restaurant that followed was probably not as fun for everyone else. That night we went to Tokyo, ate Okinawan food, and parted. Yuri and I crashed at a great Net Cafe in Ueno, and the others went back to Gunma. I went to sleep right away, and Yuri stayed up to watch a movie.

The net morning Yuri and I got up. Sure enough, she was sick. Little food, little sleep, cold water, etc did the trick. We decided that we would be going back to Gunma rather than staying another night. Still, never one to let a slight fever slow her down, Yuri and I spent the morning visiting the Sumo district of Tokyo and seeing morning practice.
This was classic.
Here is Akebono's hand.
After dropping off some vegetables, Yuri and I went to see the Vienna Boys Choir in concert.
Poor kids.
My assessment of the Vienna Boys Choir (V.B.C.)? Technical masters with beautiful voices, but they didn't have much emotional impact. They didn't seem to like very many of their songs. The few kids songs that they sang (during the 5 encores) were very good though, and it was clear that they enjoyed these songs.

We met up with more of Yuri's friends at the V.B.C. and decided to go to dinner together at a Aladin themed restaurant in Shinjuku. I forget what it was called, but the waiters and waitresses (who were amazingly good looking) did magic at the table. After dinner we all went to Odaiba and went though the Ninja house, like a haunted house, but for ninjas. The rotating room is shown below. This room was amazing. Incredible vertigo.
This is the view from Odaiba.
Before heading back to Gunma we had a bowling match, in which I took second with a score of 118. My best game ever.

So finally, after much delay, we headed back to Gunma. The next day we had a BBQ and cooked up the clams that we found. Good fun, but no good for Yuri's cold. Finally, on Sunday we rested.

This week at work somehow ended up being a really tough week. I had one kid literally stand on his desk and rip his clothing to shreds in the the middle of my class. Other things happened in class this week that almost match that in jaw dropitude, but I don't remember too many of them because one event over rides everything else that happened in story telling value.

On Thursday, I rode my bike through a tornado.

Allow me to tell the whole story from the beginning. I have been becoming more and more concerned about the environment, as well as more and more frugal. I recently decided to ride my bike to school whenever possible, both to save a measly 180 yen each way and reduce electric consumption just a little. Besides, it's good exercises. Well the first day I rode my bike was Thursday. Thursday morning there were clouds in the sky, but they looked like the same haze that has been in the air for the last week. After finishing my draining class and around 3pm, I looked out the window and noticed that half of the sky was dark green and brown, and the other half was grey. The vice-principal at school told me to get home before it rained, so I left work a little early. The first part of the ride home was fairly normal. I was in a hurry to beat those green clouds home since they looked a little dangerous, so I went as fast as I could. About 1/3 of the way into my trip, things started getting weird. The first thing I noticed was that the wind changed directions. Birds started flying around randomly, seeming kind of like they were panicked. Lightning began in the clouds above. Light rain began to fall. 2/3rds of the way through the trip, things got really, really insane. The air pressure changed (I have no idea if it dropped or rose, just that I felt a change in my ears). Winds started to blow randomly. Hard rain began to blow so hard it hurt. I saw one small dust devil. It was around this time that I started to have a really bad feeling. About 30 seconds later I came to a place where the winds was blowing vertically, rather than horizontally. I rode my bike right through, but just as I passed the wind strengthened and knocked a metal pole out of it's concrete hole. Tree branches began to fall all around me. As luck would have it, I was on a road with no shelter, so I did the only thing I could do, which was ride my bike as fast as I could. I made it home in record time to find that the storm had blown open my windows (which I had left unlocked) and the rain was pouring into my house. I cleaned up the mess and took a rest. Later that night I got an e-mail from a friend in Tokyo who had seen on the news that a Tornado had touched down in Shoebox, ripped the roves off of 11 houses and knocked out power for 2500 homes. When I asked about it at work today, one of the teachers said she had seen the tornado, and pointed to the direction I had been and said it had been roughly around the time that I would have been there. Man am I lucky. I nearly went to Oz.