Thursday, 14 April 2016

Take a Hike: Mount Takao!

My adventure to Mt. Takao began on a train. The fastest route from where I live to Mt. Takao should have taken about 50 minutes by train. So, after sitting on the train for 70 minutes and noticing that I wasn't even half way, I knew something was wrong. That's when I realized that not all trains are the same. At least not the ones to headed towards Mt. Takao. I should have taken the express train, but instead I took the local one! And to make things even more confusing, there is a third type called the semi-express! The difference between these trains is that the semi-express and express skip quite a few stops, which makes them much faster than the local one. Realizing my mistake, I got off at the next station and then waited about 20 minutes for the next express train. And what a difference it made. Within 20 minutes I was at the transfer station and then it only took me 20 minutes to get to Mt. Takao. 

The train station. 

The first thing I was greeted by after exiting the station to Mt. Takao was this beautiful map of the area! There are about seven trails. 

A map detailing the various trails to get to the summit of Mt. Takao. 

My initial plan was to start with Trail 6, get to the summit and do Trail 5 (a loop around the summit), then descend via the Inariyama Trail. You'll see how that plan goes soon...

Hooray for signs! 

The start of trail 6. 

Saw this while hiking.

   
Parts of trail 6. 

The view from one side of the summit. 

Sansai soba (buckwheat noodles with mountain vegetables)

After recharging with soba and taking in the view, I felt more recharged than ever. So, I took my original plan of doing only three trails and threw it to the wind! I decided to do three more trails - one that would take me off the summit, one that would take me into the middle of the mountain, and then one that would take me back up to the summit. 

That was the new plan! Until I got lost. 

I took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up finding this!


And this...


Oh, and this!


And then I can't forget these...
  

I was still pretty eager to conquer the trails, so I ended up turning back instead of exploring further. It turns out that I had ventured off to was the Yakuoin Temple area when I missed a turn and ended up going straight. I eventually made it back onto Trail 3.  

Then, Trail 3 led to Trail 2. 

 
 

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to complete Trail 2 because rather than being a direct trail, it loops around in a circle and I lost track of the second half of the circle. So, I ended up proceeding onwards to Trail 4, which took me back up to the summit. 

 
 

After making it back to the summit of Mt. Takao, it was time to refuel again!

Matcha ice cream. 

After finishing my loop around the summit (completing Trail 5), I noticed the view that I missed during my initial ascent. There, right in front of me, so close and yet so far, was Mt. Fuji. It was breathtaking. 

 
Can you spot Mt. Fuji?

I then proceeded down the summit, back towards the station via the Inariyama Trail. 

 
 
Glimpses from the Inariyama Trail. 

After making it back to the train station, I then proceeded to reward myself with food (again).  

Dango - Japanese dumplings made from rice flour!

Then I saw something that made me happy. There was a station for cleaning up your shoes that came complete with things to scrub them! 


After the long day, I felt tired but at least my shoes looked brand new. 





Hanami and the Bubble Man

In Tokyo, cherry blossoms (or "sakura") typically bloom in the last week of March and the beginning of April, depending on the weather. Luckily for me, the cherry blossom season for this year came about a week after I arrived in Japan (talk about good timing!). In order to enjoy the cherry blossoms to the fullest extent, the Japanese partake in "hanami", which literally translates to "flowering viewing". However, this phrase is typically used to refer specifically to cherry blossom viewing. Families, friends, and colleagues will picnic while appreciating the beauty of the cherry blossoms. For me, I was lucky enough to be invited to go to Yoyogi Park with a colleague from work for the occasion.


The beautiful cherry blossoms!



When people hear "picnic" in the U.S., the food they think of are probably sandwiches and fruit. While picnicking for hanami, there is no standard food - you can eat whatever you want! Walking into the park, I could hear the rustle of plastic bags that held the snacks and drinks picked up from nearby convenience stores. Just outside of the park, there were stands full of vendors selling delicious food that ranged from yakisoba to ice cream. People in the park were eating things ranging from pizza to sushi to even hot pot! It was quite a cloudy day so I was pretty jealous of that hot pot.

I met a new acquaintance while looking at the cherry blossoms and she explained to me that cherry blossoms are valued in Japan because of the concept of "hakanai". There is no direct English translation for this phrase, but she described the term as the idea of fleetingness - cherry blossoms are so treasured because their beauty only lasts for a short period of time. Then, they wither away and die. And once they're gone, they're gone. At least until next year. I immediately fell in love with the concept after hearing about it - it just felt so poetic and seemed to mirror life.


Picnicking at Yoyogi Park!

I didn't know this, but there are actually several different types of cherry blossoms. I didn't get to see all the different varieties but I did get to see the classic one, which is called "somei yoshino", or the yoshino cherry. This variety can be identified by its white petals, which are tinged with pale pink.


Cherry blossoms up close.

While walking around the park, my new acquaintance told me about the locally famed "Bubble Man". Each year he comes to the park to do a bubble show because he can and also because it brings a lot of people joy. We kept walking and lo and behold, guess who was right in front of us? The Bubble Man! I couldn't believe my luck! His bubble making skills were on a level that I cannot even describe. Here are some shots of him in action.


Bubble man is in center in white. Watch him work his magic!


Look at how big his bubbles are! That wasn't even the biggest one!

 
It's raining bubbles!


Watching the Bubble Man in action was incredible. I had my mouth gaping wide open for a good majority of it because I was so amazed. It definitely felt like a magical moment to be able to see the cherry blossoms and the bubbles. The day was so wonderful and it could only end in one way: with ramen!




For more pictures and to follow me on my adventure, find me on Snapchat and Instagram as tranjes!

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Wandering To Work

Day 1 of work started the day after I landed and I woke up with one mission in mind: get to work on time. Being in a completely new area, this was easier said than done. I got lost at least five times while trying to find the train station and Google maps was of no assistance because 1) I did not have Wifi en route and 2) when I looked up directions prior to leaving, it told me things like "head northeast" and "cross the crosswalk". Well Google maps, let me ask you this, "which direction is northeast??" (my compass obviously didn't make the cut into baggage) and "which crosswalk???" Luckily, I knew enough Japanese to ask for directions and eventually found the Yoyogi Station, which is about a ten minute walk from where I live in Sendagaya (side note: one of the cool things about the Tokyo area is that everything is generally within a walkable distance).



One of the things I get to see during the walk to work. Notice the diagonal crosswalk! It's been a game changer.

In Japan, there are two basic methods of transportation (three if you count the bus): the train, which is commonly referred to as "JR" because that's the name of the company that operates it, and the subway. Aside from the company differences, the train goes above ground while the subway operates below ground.

If you have ever taken the underground in London, the transportation in Tokyo has the same feel to it. Everybody is generally in a rush and it feels a bit like Christmas every day because of that hustle and bustle. To take the transportation, you can either get the "suica" or "PASMO" card that you scan to get through the gates. Both passes are essentially the same in my foreigner eyes and you can actually use them to pay for food too! In London, the gates only open after you insert your ticket or scan your oyster card but in Tokyo, the gates stay open and close if you fail to scan your card or lack sufficient funds.



My suica card (yes, I wanted this one because of the penguin). The PASMO card has a pink train and subway featured on it.



My view while waiting for the train to arrive. There are gates that barricade passengers from falling onto the rails. These gates open when the train arrives.



I take the Yamanote JR line to work. You can tell this train belongs to the Yamanote line because of its green stripes!

The main reason the transportation in Tokyo reminds me of London is because of the culture during the ride. People are typically on their phones or reading quietly and it is generally frowned upon to speak. The voice in the train will routinely remind passengers to silence and refrain from speaking on their phones. During rush hour, things get very cozy in a case of what I like to call the "sardines in a can" situation. Every available space is utilized and there are times when there is so little space that everybody moves back and forth as one big mass as the train navigates the rails. Luckily for me, my commute often takes place during rush hour.

]

The commute on a good day. You can tell because I had enough space to take this picture. :)



The reason I'm in Tokyo is because I was lucky enough to be selected as an intern for the Run for the Cure Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to eliminating breast cancer through education and treatment (https://runforthecure.org/en/). The Run for the Cure Foundation can be thought of as analogous to Susan G. Komen back in the U.S. because of the incredible work it does to combat breast cancer. The organization even hosts a race/walk at the Imperial Palace in November! So if you're in the Tokyo area in November you should check it out!

So far, every day has been different and it really feels like I hit the ground running from the start, which is exactly how I like it.

During my first week, work took me to Tokyo Metropolis, aka what I like to call "actual Tokyo" (I work in Osaki, which according to Wikipedia is a commercial district in Shinagawa which is in turn a ward of Tokyo). Pictures and video do not do that place justice.



The view from way up high.

I can't believe week one is Japan is already over (by the time this post publishes, week two will be over)! The days feel like they're flying by!