Monday, July 30, 2012


We were able to catch a free flight back to Iwakuni after visiting Tokyo and climbing Mt. Fuji. I got to ride in a C-130!

From Google
I couldn't take pictures of the plane or the flight line but found the above picture on Google. The plane had most of the wiring exposed. The pilot met us on the runway and escorted us onto the plane. I got to sit through the mission brief although I shouldn't repeat anything I heard. The crew chief was responsible for us in the cargo hold. He gave us two sacks - one with an oxygen mask with 30 minutes of air and one with a life vest if we landed in water. We sat along the bulkhead in drop seats. We were given ear plugs because it was so loud!

Inside the plane...

Across from us on the plane..

Opening the back while on the runway
I was super excited! What a cool experience - and not something that everyone gets a chance to do! \ Can't beat free, although I would have paid for the experience!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mt Fuji - Oxygen

Along the trail of Mt. Fuji the mountain lodges sold canned oxygen for people who are having trouble adjusting to the changing altitude. We never had a need for it so we saved a few hundred yen by buying at the bottom of the mountain.

I didn't notice anything substantially different other than a slightly plastic taste in the back of my throat. Next time we climb Mt Fuji (yes, we'll probably do it again) we will use it at the top to see if we feel a difference.

Studio Ghibli Museum

I know it has been so long since I posted! After our vacation life became a little hectic and I haven't had a chance to sit down and write. While we were in Tokyo to climb Mt Fuji we knew we had to fit in a visit to the Studio Ghibli museum. Tickets are advance sale only. We bought them from a Loppi Machine a few weeks ago.

Monday morning (before the Fuji-san climb) we took the train to Mitaka in Tokyo. They only let groups in at 10AM, noon, and 2PM. We bought tickets for the earliest entry. After a short walk from the train station we arrived at the Studio Ghibli museum!

How cool!

AH! So excited!
  Once we got inside there was no photography allowed! How can I share this epic adventure without pictures? First off our tickets are three frames of animated film from the Studio. No paper ticket stubs, instead we got a paper-framed pieces of 35mm film stock that was shown in theaters.

The first floor was a homage to the history of animation. From strobe lights and moving backwards, paper flips, and computer generated images. There were so many displays that were amazing visual feats all through the movement of paper and color.

The second floor had a large section about the process of animation from the perspective of the artist. There were details on how color layering is done and set design is created in Japanese animation.

We saw a short film only shown in the museum. It was shown in a small theater next to the museum. For more information on the various rooms of the Studio Ghibli museum go here.

While we were at Studio Ghibli we ate at their restaurant. Outside the entrance we saw some tasty tomatillos!

 Once inside we shared a table with three other groups. Two older ladies across from us we friendly, but we quickly exhausted all our Japanese and all of their English. The menu had two interesting drinks that we just had to try.

Check out those prices! Japan is expensive!

Blue Sky and "Here Come the Sun"
The drinks came with real straws - no plastic here. Dustin got a curry pocket with tofu soup. I had a chicken salad sandwich. We finished the meal with the biggest slice of strawberry shortcake I have ever seen. Between the sweet drinks and tasty dessert we were bouncing off the walls in the museum!

Totoro at the entrance
If you like animation this museum is for you. The technology is phenomenal!

Saturday, July 14, 2012


In Japan gaming is everywhere. Whole buildings are dedicated to arcade style games with whole floors for a specific theme. While walking around wasting time before our bus we found a 13-story gaming complex. The first floor was all crane-style games.

Interesting concept - push prize off

Little bags of Oreo crumbles

"I missed it! Let me try again?"


Definitely could have wasted LOTS of money in there!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ueno Zoo

What a nice zoo.. and large! We spent a few hours walking around and had only seen a quarter of the animals. Some of our favorites:

Then the best performance of the day:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ice Sculpting

While in Tokyo we decided to head back to Ueno (where we visited the Museum of Sciences on our last trip) to visit the zoo. While walking from the train station to the zoo we passed an ice sculpting contest in a park.

Visitors could buy a ballot for 1,000 yen (about $13.00). We walked around and enjoyed watching the sculptors move so quickly. At one point a big chunk fell off of one - by the startled look on the face of the sculptor I don't think it was suppose to come off.

Walking through the crowd was a woman passing out free Red Bull. Energy drinks are becoming a growing trend in Japan. We haven't seen them in the vending machines yet, but I'm sure it is not far off.

We come across some of the most interesting things while walking around this country!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji is the world's most-climbed mountain. Even with that superlative, it doesn't make the experience any less special to Dustin and me. Living in Japan has brought many adventures. One thing we knew we had to complete (and mark it off the Bucket List) was to climb the highest mountain in the country. Only 1% of the Japanese population will ever climb to the summit. Many of the 300,000 people that reach the summit each year are foreigners.

"He who never climbs Mt. Fuji is a fool. He who climbs Mt. Fuji a second time is a fool." - Japanese Proverb

I've heard variations of the above phrase often when we would discuss Mt. Fuji. A Japanese friend told me that "Mt. Fuji is a mountain to look at; not to climb." She is obviously part of the 99%.

8PM - Starting Point
There are four main trails that go up various sides of Mt. Fuji. They range in difficulty and popularity. We chose one of the more popular trails because of it's easy access from Tokyo. The trails all start at a 5th Station. Then as you continue up the mountain you will come to different stations (6th, 7th, etc.) along the way. But more on these stations later.

We chose the Yoshida trail. Our bus from Tokyo brought us right to the 5th Station and gave us a chance to change clothes, buy walking sticks, and fill up on water.

5th Station - Yoshida Trail
There are two ways to climb Mt. Fuji. A day climb will get you to the summit at around 2PM. A night hike gets you there for the sunrise. In the "Land of the Rising Sun" this is an especially nice treat - and an adventure we wanted to take.

We started a little after 8PM. The first few kilometers of the trail are long switchbacks of small lava rocks, dust, and red rock. It was a tiresome course of back and forth. Every few steps small rocks would slide out from under our feet and we would have to take that step again. We had a two couples that got off the bus with us and started at the same time. We would pass each other every so often during rest periods. Other than them, the bottom part of the mountain was empty. The temperature was a comfortable 65 degrees with no wind.

About an hour into our hike we arrived at out first station. The traditional souvenir for climbing Mt. Fuji is a walking stick. Along the way you can get them branded for 200 yen (almost $3.00).

Getting our stamp!

 At the next station we met some interesting guys. It was nice to pause here for a few minutes, get our stamp, and talk with the group stationed here.

Getting a Mohawk above 9,000 feet!
The trail from here turned into larger boulders. Although we were never rock climbing in the traditional sense we were using our hands to keep balance and climb up the hardened lava rock. In most places the trail was about 15 feet wide and marked with chains. Often we would use the chains to pull ourselves up steep sections. Unfortunately, none of the pictures came out in the darkness. My motivation came from looking up the mountain at the lights of our next station. I have learned a critical lesson from this: distance is very deceptive!

Making friends along the way

Getting our stamp at station 7
Dustin and I didn't eat a good dinner before we started climbing. We had spent the day sightseeing in Tokyo and then jumped on our bus to take us to Mt. Fuji. We had prepared to eat, but were too excited. It wasn't until we got to around the 7th station that hunger struck. We packed granola bars, jerky, Powerbars, peanut M&Ms, and gummy bears for the trip. Snacking ensued and we kept climbing.

A station/mountain hut
 At most of the stations along the trail were also mountain huts. Many people will buy a small space on the tatami mats for 5,250 yen (about $70). That small (but heated!) space puts you head to toe with all the funky boot juice of every one else trekking up the mountain but can be a welcome respite from climbing. One plan is to start hiking earlier in the day, stay in a hut, and wake up early enough to finish the climb and reach the summit for sunrise.

I was not worried about the difficulty of the hike. Dustin and I are in fairly good shape so not making it to the top never crossed my mind. I was worried about the weather, temperature at the top, and altitude sickness. We stopped along the way for a minute here and a minute there to acclimate. I never had any trouble breathing, but Dustin made a few comments. While climbing it felt like there wasn't enough oxygen to hold him over through the exhale. By the time he was done exhaling he was panting. We never experienced nausea or dizziness, just the sense of breathlessness.

Still smiling!
At each of the stations were toilets for use. They cost 200 yen (again, about $3.00) per use and were very basic, but got the job done. Closer to the top they became co-ed. During my research I had read about the shared toilets, but I imagine it could be quite startling!

Quite a funky smell!
At the last station we stopped for a little bit to get warm inside the mountain hut. Many people were waking up to start climbing again for the sunrise. The trail starting getting crowded. We met an older man from Europe that opted to hike with us to the summit. The trail at this point was two-people wide and extremely steep. The final 900 meters are some of the most difficult of the entire trail. Slushy and steep is the best way to describe it.

There was a reverent quiet as we hiked those last few hundred meters. There was a sense of shared jounrey among those of us on the trail. Through our sweat, blood (for some), and tears (for others) we were going to be rewarded with something spectacular.

Finally we reached the top! But we were about four hours before sunrise! It was a chilly 17 degrees at the top of the mountain that morning. We had added layers along the way, but they weren't enough to keep us warm. I had read about people dying on Mt. Fuji - many from hypothermia. After being at the top I can understand how that happens. We curled up on a pallet to keep warm and try and get some sleep. Sleep didn't come, and honestly, neither did the warmth.

Starting to get light...

Wait for it...

Hurry up! We're cold!


People who didn't make the summit turned around.

The crater

We made it!
We made a quick visit to the post office and official high point. Then it was time to start the climb back down. We were very eager to get down to warmer altitudes, but so was everyone else.
Waiting in queues on the way down

Beautiful views
 Because the sun was up for the down trip we were able to take better pictures of the trail. Below is the hardened lava rocks we climbed over from Station 7 to Station 8.5.
Climbing down the rocks
Climbing Mt. Fuji was an amazing experience. We had such a good time and met wonderful people from all over the world. As the saying goes, "He who never climbs Mt. Fuji is a fool..."

Tired but happy!