June 4 — Trips from the Road

Despite rainy weather, we decided to make a day trip for abalone. The swell wasn’t the predicted 2 feet that we hoped for, but it wasn’t too bad. The water could best be described as “sharky”, due to a combination of runoff from the cow pastures, tiny bubbles mixed into the dark silty water and the appearance of pockets of blue sky that casted our silhouettes down to the obscured depths. Who says that you have to make better decisions when you get older? Apparently, we didn’t look too appetizing to any sharks that may have seen us. Despite horrible visibility, we got 5 of the little suckers after about 30 minutes in the water.

But enough about that, I decided to break out my D-50 and to take pictures on the ride back home. If you ever get a chance to drive, hike and dive this stretch of coastline a few hours north of San Francisco, take it!

Civic

My car has served me well during our last two years together. Without my Civic, I would have gone insane. It performed well in hot weather (albeit without air conditioning in the Kyushu heat), the pouring rain, and on snow-covered, icy roads. We have travelled the Milk Road countless times, and have discovered places that few people will ever see. I will truly miss it, and will remember it as fondly as my Legend from back home.
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When I got the car, it had 160000 km on it. During two years, I put about 35,000 on it without any major problems. After owning two cars made by Honda and driving them in all conditions, I have nothing but good things to say about them.
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Here’s to two years of adventures and almost 200,000km.

Kumamoto Hash House Harriers Tribute

For the past three years, many people came out on a free day, no matter what the weather was like, in order to run the hash in Kumamoto Prefecture. It became a ritual and was something that many of us looked forward to doing each month. Running through all sorts of dangerous environments, stalking the hares and scrutinizing their spoor. The best hashes were the absolute worst. I ran my first hash in the city (City Hash #2).
We started out on the roof of the Parco Building, getting sprayed with beer and then plunged into the longest and most frustruating hashes I have ever run. We ran all over the city following the hash marks marked with chalk and flour, and worked as a team to get to the end. Unfortunately, there was a hitch. The trail died off half way through, and like Scooby Doo and the gang, we all split up and got into all sorts of trouble. After much time spent searching, some of us were lucky enough to finally stumble upon the true trail, and we made it to the finish about a half an hour past dawn. But there was a problem. No one was there, and worse yet the bastards didn’t leave any beer! We were stranded in a park next to the railroad tracks in the middle of the city, and we were getting cranky.
Finally, we all met downtown and got the explanation. Mark, Joe, and Austin all went to go look for us because they inferred that we got lost (they finished the course about two or three hours before us), and finally found us when they came back. It took about another hour to fully straighten things out and to round up those who had strayed from the path, but we finally did it. We headed off to the onsen to make our gaijin-selves less offensive to the locals, and proceeded to have a signature crazy night out. Blurred memories from that night include Austin doing a cannonball on the hood of some poor, scared out of her wits Japanese woman and the usual debauchery in the Sharps and Sanctuary. Everyone was pissed about the hash, but it brought us all close together and cemented social ties within the group.
The hash has been a great place to meet people who think the same way, have the same interests, or are complimentary to us. I feel sorry for all of those people who were scared away by the stories of near death experiences, exaggerated explanations of fraternity-like rituals, or just an aversion to being outdoors and getting some exercise. You’ll never know what you missed, and maybe it’s better that way.
Some of my favorite perils during the hash include:
wading through liquid shit in Kiyokushi, exposing ourselves to unknown pathogens and a really horrible smell.
jaywalking across really busy streets, Frogger style.
getting plastered with cobwebs in the forests.
watching bamboo fall and impale itself into the ground a few feet away from another hasher.
climbing across/up/down very high and dangerous places where if you fall, you will either be seriously injured or killed.
swimming through jellyfish infested waters.
getting caught in a forest with different colored path markers mixed with the markers used by the local farmers, which were put on almost every other tree!
driving a hare to the emergency room because he cut his hand by leaning on his glass door and sliced the thumb tendon, leaving him in a thumbs up cast for a couple of months (pure gold, that incident).
going far down a steep hill, only to find the initials “YBF”.
having to rescue some grumpy OC girls climbing over wet, jagged rocks.
running in the dark through the cold rain, trying not to catch pneumonia.
Generally, the best stories come from the most painful, embarrasing, and tiring hashes. I had an awesome two years running with you fools, and I will miss meeting with you all on every month to run, party, and recover from injuries and hangovers the next day in the onsen. Thanks to everybody who helped to organize and run these good times.
Below is a list compiled by Mark Fingerhut otherwise known as Disco Ass. I have taken the liberty to make a few changes, but if you want the original version, click here
for the Excel file. Please enjoy, and feel free to send me updates or corrections.
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Thanks to Shige for the photo.
Kumamoto Hash House Harriers
FORMAT:
Hash Name//Hash Date//Location
Immortalization(s) (denoted with italics, mortal name first followed by immortal name)
Hares (“+”)
First Finisher(*)(*), oh, wait I put in one too many (*)s…
Hash, Year 3
City Hash 5, 6/26/04, Kumamoto City
Monica Alborg- Proctortoise
Kate Gardner- Princess Dive
Ed Snook- DJ Chu-Hi
Muppet/Disco Ass+
Sakuraba*
The Dam Hash, 6/19/04, Ryumon Dam, Kikuchi
Derek- Stiffulis Hige
Shitfuck/Professor Q+
Fracas*
City Hash 4/YBF, 3/13/04, Kumamoto City
Paul Steele- Cherry Bandit
Muppet/Disco Ass+
Fracas*
Ashikita Hash, 2/21/04, Ashikita
Jamie Mackay- Sliced Bush
Asshole Kool-Aid+
Fracas*
Kyokushi Hash 2, 2003/12/6, Kyokushi, Kikuchi
Suzanne Strom- Asshole Kool-Aid
Danny Stapp- Dis Nut
Val- re-christened Shitheel
Professor Q/Shitfuck+
Kinpo/Quarry Hash, 10/2/03, Mt. Kinpo/City
Froilan Vispo- Nuck-a-nuts
Muppet/Disco Ass+
Nuck-a-nuts*
Waterwheel Hash, 2003/9/6, Takahama Beach, Amakusa
Dave Seabeck- Shitfuck
Matt Durish/Con+
Muppet/Disco Ass*
Aso Hash, 2003/8/30, Aso/Kugino
Adam Yoshida- Sonic-san
Lettuce+
Fracas/Shitfuck*
Hash, Year 2
City Hash 3 (4人), 2002/6/14, Kumamoto City
3 participants- all immortals
Muppet/Disco Ass+
Fracas*
Mashiki Hash, 5/?/03 Mashiki
Mike “Steak” Russel- Sex Wax
Fracas/Professor Q+
Tatsuda Hash, 3/15/03, Kumamoto City/Tatsuda
Kelvin Chatman- Tinkerbell
Chihuahua/Tailbone+
Fracas*
Kyokushi Hash 1- No Joy, 2003/2/22, Kyokushi, Kikuchi
Rob Baldwin- Tailbone
Professor Q/Fracas+
City Hash 2 – No Joy, 2002/12/7, Kumamoto City
Joe Debiec- Professor Quintana
Disco Ass/Sakuraba/Muppet+
City Hash 1, 10/?/02, Kumamoto City
Elise Coleman- Chihuahua
Muppet/Disco Ass+
Kikka Hash, 9/?/02, Kikka, Kikuchi
Mark Fingerhut- Pepper
Ringworm/Sakuraba+
Disco Ass*
Hash, Year 1
Aso Tri-Hash, 6/29/02
Kate- Kid
Skip – No Joy
Muppet, Lettuce, SuperDesu+
2002/6/1
Adrian- Bookbag
Ringworm, Sakuraba+
2002/4/13
Tiki- Frogskin
Ringworm, Sakuraba+
2002/3/16
Ben Colbridge- Lettuce
Ringworm, Sakuraba+
2002/2/9
Who was immortalized? Maybe we will never know…
Ringworm, Sakuraba+
Ringworm caught by Will and Testicles
12/3/01 Monday
Treve Brinkman- Super Desu
Joe Fingerhut- Muppet
Ringworm, Sakuraba+
Stopped by police due to threat of anthrax (bonus points)
2001/11/17
Kelly- Pipes
Ringworm, Sakuraba+
Muppet came within 10 feet of catching Sakuraba
2001/10/13
Will- Sir Will and Testicle
Ringworm (James), Sakuraba (Austin Philbin)–immortalized by default
police called by alarmed country folk because they thought we were terrorists
Note: I notice that the race where Jason was immortalized is not included, or it is not mentioned when but the name Fracas puts the hash some time after the night where he was misbehaving at the Sharps. I think it must have been some time before the end of the 2nd year…

Late Snow Hike

As you can probably tell, I have a lot of stuff that I want to post, and not much time to do it. That’s why I’m finally getting around to this hike, which I did on Sunday, April 4th- two days after my birthday and one after our fire drills. I woke up at 6:00 to the sound of heavy rain, and thought that Hieda (Tomoya) sensei would want to cancel due to the weather. To be honest, I was hoping this because I hate waking up early, especially if it means enduring freezing rain and exercise. Fortunately, he was game to proceed as we had planned. As we drove North on the Yamanami Highway onto the plains of Kuju, we noticed that the peaks of Kuju, which were brown and bare just yesterday and had been for the previous three weeks, had been covered in a thick layer of snow over night. We ascended the peaks, and started up the trail. No one else was there, which was very strange for this time of year. All the way up, we treaded through thick, virgin snow, each foot fall producing a pleasant sound that was half way between the squeak of squishing styrofoam and the crunch of pea gravel.
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The weather took a turn for the worse, and it started blizzarding. The strong winds slowed our progress, but we made it up in about an hour. At the top, we stumbled upon an emergency shelter, and Hieda sensei made us some ramen and udon with his mess kit. I can’t imagine a better tasting meal, with the wind howling and the snow devils swirling about.
On our descent, we were surprised to see who was climbing the mountain in such weather. About 50 people were climbing up, half of them were groups of retired Japanese, mostly old women decked out in the latest climbing gear. The other half responded to my “Konnichiwa” with a “Ahnyoung-haseyo”. It was really strange practicing rudimentary Korean (just one word, really) in my corner of Kyushu on a snowy day in April.

Continue reading Late Snow Hike

Jump Picture Start

A jump in front of Kaimon-dake, Kagoshima. Props to Kaori Tanaka, the photographer.
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Taking good jump pictures requires a few things including but not limited to a steady hand, good timing, interesting locations, and a willing partner or group. The jumper must be willing to jump off of whatever will make the picture look its best. The photographer should be ready to place themselves in the location which provides the best angle to shoot from, framing a shot so that the captured environment will complement the jump. Both of these roles can be dangerous, and in the case of the photographer the danger may come from the jumper smashing into them. The photographer and jumper should change roles occasionally, depending on whose turn it is.
A few years back, I took part in a collaborative project with Justin, Sayaka, and Taro in taking various jump pictures. On our Kyushu roadtrip we stopped at various scenic areas and shot up countless rolls of film, a good portion of which involved us jumping. We jumped off of high places, took running jumps, flip jumps, jumped into things, onto things, etc… Some of the jumps were foolish to try and invited injury, but taking chances is how one takes part in greatness.
So now I think I will try and revive the project, maybe make it an interblog project with Justin and possibly Taro (if he should ever start writing again). Of course feel free to send in your own jump pics, and I will post any good ones that I see. Just don’t cry to me if you hurt yourself or someone else in pursuit of a jump picture. That’s just part of the price for such high-stakes photography.
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Valentines In Hiroshima

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Japanese busses are made for Japanese people. Even beer doesn’t help much in these situations. These situations call for Night Formula Contac and a Jack chaser (or four)…
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Here’s the whole crew (from left to right): Pyon-pyon, Peek-a-boo, Ralph(read caption #1 again), demon-bunny snowman, Faceplant, Lippy, and The Menace.
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The Menace wins the best jump award in the “sledding” category, Faceplant wins best wipeout. As usual, warnings were issued to members of our group. Yes that “Riding out of bounds is prohibited” announcement that was made ONLY IN ENGLISH was specifically for you, sayaku gaijin.
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Pyon-pyon launching her first successful jump, aaand she’s hooked. Time to buy a helmet.
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On Saturday it rained and strong winds kicked up, scaring away the faint of heart and fashion boarders. We perservered through the cold rain, sledded down impossibly steep and dangerous runs both feet first and Skeleton style (with Joe’s board breaking away from its tether, ricocheting off a tree, and smashing the skis from under an oblivious resting victim- no injuries luckily), had epic snowball fights, and constructed a couple of jumps and a snowman while waiting for the runs to resume. Sunday was excellent as well. The snow turned to a viscous slush under the sunny skies, but this allowed us to practice jumping without fear of smashing into ice, namely the 180. It was a day of cutting through trees, jumping off cliffs and ledges, and riding every slope on the mountain. Ah, good times in Hiroshima.

Ubuyama Snowboarding Safari

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My snowboard planted in a foot of powder in front of Yamaga Shogakko in Ubuyama. Arguably, this is the best place for snowboarding in my village.
Today I woke up late (10:00AM- I MUST be gettin old), and was shocked to see that 61 centimeters of snow (according to the news) had fallen over night, over the snow remaining from the previous storm. It was then that I knew that I had to dedicate today to finding some more spots to go snowboarding (last year I also went, but there was not quite enough snow to make it worthwhile). I spent 45 minutes debating under the kotatsu whether to go out for breakfast, or to go down into the caldera for groceries, since my fridge was empty. Instead, I decided to save time and get moving, went over to A-mart (this is NOT a convenience store, but a baser convenience store-like shop, with greatly hiked up prices) and picked up breakfast and dinner materials. That done, I cooked up a huge bacon, egg, and cheese sandwitch that seemed to be the best thing I had ever eaten in the cold of the morning, and set out at 11:10.
Phase 2. I thought long and hard about good spots to go, and drove around, scoping out the area. Since the roads were nearly impassable for the Wingroad, I decided to only board areas that I could reach on foot. I started out going boarding down by the logging road down by the swimming pool. This offered some stunning views of the clamshell terraced snow-covered rice fields that Ubuyama is famous for, and I stopped to take a few shots. Unfortunately, it was not steep enough to get sufficient momentum to cut through the fresh powder, and the snow was too thin in some parts because it was sheltered by the trees. As beautiful as this place was, I had to move on.
Despite the dangerous roads, I decided to jump in the car (this lead to some fun snow driving, more like sledding and sliding in areas) and to go to the steep hill next to the windmill. Unfortunately, some construction worker had the same idea, except instead of tearing down it on a snowboard, his idea was to use a backhoe to obliterate the hill and to flatten the surrounding area as part of the ongoing land development in that area.
So I began thinking… Blast! I live in the friggin’ mountains! Are there no new places to explore? I could go to Hokubu and check out around Ikeyama and Yamabuki suigen, but the roads are under construction, and so I might not make it through safely. I want to go to Mt. Kuju, but the roads up there are impassable for certain… And then I remembered last year, when I tried to snowboard around Yamaga Shogakko. So I walked up the mountain and through the tunnel (screaming such gems as “Echo!” and “Hey you guys”- you know whats up), up the long driveway, taking the shortcut up the long set of stairs, walking in back of the snow covered gym and past the frozen swimming pool, up the hill in back of the school. It was really steep, but also really short. I bombed down around there a couple of times and rode down the zipline, which shot my ass with a sharp parabolic curve deep down into the arctic blue powder, just below the pure white surface. As fun as it was, it was not satisfying for the purposes of a snowboard safari. I thought again of the road leading up to the shogakko…
The middle of the road was cleared by the blade of a tractor, but off to the side was a long, 8 foot wide stretch of virgin powder with a skinny, treaded groove (made by one of the tractor’s tires) running the entire 200 meters down. The grade was steep enough to be interesting, and the groove gave me a starting place to build up enough speed. The first ride down, I rode the groove like a record needle, and shot down with amazing speed. It was over within 30 seconds, and I was hooked.
I then started off into the powder, cutting back into the groove when the board would cut down and submarine, regaining speed. Eventually, I had groomed the whole length of the run, and practiced riding and jumping off of the long heaping margin of snow boulders separating my snow from the hard, steaming asphalt. I also practiced riding down on the backside of the board, slowly teaching my left foot to lead.
I spent a total of 4 hours climbing slowly up this hill, trying not to build up a sweat, and then shooting down. I could not stop myself from repeating the ride over and over, and despite the shortness of the run and the small area which I was confined to, I never lost interest. It brought back memories from one year ago, spending 2 hours on sliding my car around on the snow, doing donuts, finding out little secrets on how to make my car drive like it was not meant to be driven, and busting all manner of spins all the while blasting myself into a trance-like state with the help of DJ Shadow. Ah, the simple things in life are often the most enjoyable and addictive.
Occasionally a local would drive by and do a double-take, stopping to watch for a while and I will surely be questioned about this when I go back to work on Monday. Only when it got dark and cold did I retreat back to home. I reflected on a day well spent, while enjoying a hot bowl of garlicky kimchee miso based nabe (props to Jus for the original recipe. ah, the possibilities of future variations on this most excellent dish!).
As for snowboarding around Ubuyama, I can only think of two remaining spots to hit. I must remember to check out the construction roads that lead down to the dam, and the area around the Hokubu campgrounds and Higothai hana koen. I guess there’s always tomorrow.
Ah, and just for the record, snowboarding in Ubuyama kicked the pants off of going to the Mt. Kuju “ski resort” (but most likely, hiking up Kuju and then boarding down would be a better ride). Let’s take a look at the trade offs:
Yamaga Shogakko’s steep driveway/road vs. Mt Kuju ski resort
Yamaga pros:
Free (as opposed to 5,000+ yen)
Within walking distance of my house.
Fresh, virgin white powder.
No “Great Wall of Young People” sitting in the middle of the course talking on their keitais blocking the slopes.
No closing time.
Technically challenging areas.
Allowed to change or modify the course as I see fit
Good exercise
Kuju Ski Resort pros:
Speaking English ensures a crowd of awed people (maybe this is a con).
Cafeteria with decent food (but expensive as hell!).
Ski lifts.
500 meter long groomed “course”.
Ski patrol (if I got badly hurt, I would have to crawl 1 km to my home).
Young people in abundance (this is important when you live in a demographic such as my current village).
Being the best snowboarder on the mountain (no, wait… thats the SAME as Yamaga. and sadly, this is not an exaggeration. yes, they were ALL noobs, albeit noobs dressed and equipped in the latest, most expensive gear.).
Close to the Kurokawa onsens.
And so, although I had a good time at Kuju last year (since I got fresh powder there, and the blizzard chased away everyone else off of the slopes), I would have to say that boarding locally was a much more enjoyable experience. Would’ve been nice to have a few snow bunnies along, and a cafeteria in which to sip on hot cocoa and to munch on a cheese burger and Snickers bar. But it was still a pretty good day.

Another One Bites The Dust

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Yes, I have sent yet another cherished watch to the junk pile… The Wenger was with me for many adventures and accompanied me on my various travels. It has been diving in Catalina, helped me to teach sailing in Newport, plummetted off of the Circus Circus bungee platform, and has kept me on track for this past year in Japan (among many other things). It was a faced paced round of Duck-duck-goose that finally did it in. I dove for the vacant spot left by the goose, and BOOM, the band broke.
This is not the first time that a watch of mine has died a violent death. When I was living on Picasso Avenue, I lost my Spider-Man watch (limited edition Fossil) in a similar incident. A group of us had just come back from a party on D.P. to our pad, and noticed that Diane was missing. She was last seen drunk, and talking to a couple of guys, so we were obligated to go retrieve her before she got herself into trouble! Me, Steve, Brian, and Chris jumped on our bikes and took off toward the coast. I decided that going down the ramp would only take away more precious time, so decided to jump the curb, between two cars, and join the convoy on the street.
My bike came down in an ungainly angle, and the impact between my front tire and the pavement catapulted me down over the handle bars face first. The impact was a hard smackdown, that I can only describe as “black”. With great effort I pushed myself up and uttered the words that would be used to mock me for the following months “I broke my watch!”, oblivious to my own state. It was completely smashed beyond any hope of repair. Bits and pieces of the obliterated face reflected the dim yellow glow of the streetlights, the braided leather band snapped in the same place. My bloodied jeans were frayed threadbare at the points of impact, a testament to the power of friction.
The sting of roadrash over my face, right hand, arm, shoulder, hip, and knees accompanied he realization that I was bleeding, and my chest hurt. I limped inside, and Brian took off to find Diane. They returned immediately.
I went to the bathroom and pulled out the good ‘ol hydrogen peroxide and cotton swabs. It took 30 minutes to sterilize all of the wounds and to scrape all of the small rocks and grit out. Everytime I applied the peroxide, it really hurt, so much that I would scream out in pain. This was followed EVERY TIME by waves of laughter, followed by insincere statements like “I’m sorry but its really funny”, or “we’re not laughing at you!” followed by more laughter. What good friends huh, laughing and making fun of my agony!
For the next couple of weeks I looked like the recipient of a good thrashing. Slowly, my wounds scabbed up, the scabs peeled off, the pink new skin got tanned, and I recovered. However, for months my chest still ached, and Brian and Chris took potshots, jabbing me in the ribs whenever an opportunity arose. My father visited some time later, and after inspecting the pain, he told me that I had broken my rib. Of course once they found out, this made the bastards laugh even more.
Moral of the story: Not only is BUIing (Biking under the influence) against the law, but it can be very painful physically and psychologically. But after a fall, you must get back up and ride again! With practice and perserverence, one can learn to BUI in a safe and controlled manner, maybe.
Well, its time to get a new watch. I can only hope that the next one will fare better than its predecessors…

Ride On!

I have tried to ride many different things down many different steep areas around Japan. Snowboarding in the local hills, mountain boarding on Mount Aso and the Ubuyama Bokujo, cardboard down Kikka-machi’s huge steep astroturf hill, homebase down the long roller-slide in Kyokushi, Taro’s longboard down a jinja, et cetera. But this was the most fun I’ve had recently.
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At English camp, I tried riding a sled down a really steep grass hill, and had many good rides. My students saw this and tried their luck at it. All of the boys couldn’t do it, and felt really bad because this girl could nail it from her very first run.
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If you ever get the chance to ride sleds down steep grass hills, keep in mind that it is even more fun to wear zoris, and the key to successful jumping is looking good in the air (extra bonus for a good wipeout).