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Hokkaido Volcano Hike: Mt. Yotei

Learning What Hiking Means in Hokkaido

By Eric Ysasi, owner of http://www.kumalanguage.com - translation and writing service Kuma Language Services. Written in Spring of 2016 about our climb in 2014. 

Hiking - In Texas Terms

Say the word "hiking" in Texas and the typical Texan mind will conjure images of a leisurely stroll down a caliche road in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. As long as you take a minute every now and then to walk down a manicured park trail, you can call yourself a hiker and no one will think twice about it.

I'm a Texan, and my whole life I thought that hiking was just a walk on a path that wasn't a sidewalk or street. I went to a nearby state park called Lost Maples with my family as a kid where they have multiple mile hiking trails. My mom told me that we'd be hiking a 3 mile trail one day, which I thought was ludicrous, and I remember climbing 2 or 3 minutes of a steep incline that seemed even more ridiculous.

Of course, I felt triumphant at the top of the hill and had a blast sliding down the loose rocks on the downhill. But that first hiking trip set the stage for what I would deem hiking for the better part of 25 years of my life. In Texas, where plains of tall grass really do wave like the ocean and the sky stretches further than your eyes can see, the Earth beneath your feet lies flat and silent, rolling only here and there to let you know that it's still alive amidst the serenity of the valleys.

Land in Japan is decidedly different.

 

The Hokkaido Definition of Hiking

Count yourself lucky if you decide to live in Hokkaido. Your experience of Japan will be unlike that of any of your Japanophile friends. Don't think bright lights and robots, forget crowds of salarymen and painted young Japanese girls. Hokkaido is impossibly peaceful, even in the buzz of its only large metropolitan area, Sapporo.

My Texas sensibilities were thrown out the door when I embraced the majesty of the quaking Earth beneath northern Japan. Shifting plates have crafted beautiful natural structures throughout the island of Hokkaido in arrangements that even Frederic Church couldn't recreate. Mountains crash into one another punctuated by deep valleys rich with fertile soil where farmers transform the landscape into mosaics of green and yellow.

More impressive than the natural beauty is the reality that unfathomably broad tracts of land remain largely untouched by humans. The distance between towns is enormous, and the land that lies therein is almost completely virgin. It's a testament to the Japanese, or at least Hokkaidoan, respect for nature and the belief that everything, from rocks to buildings, contain spirits and are governed by gods.

It's in these lost worlds that Earth's children congregate for mountain climbing, skiing, snowboarding, picnics, and any number of gatherings and ceremonies.

I enjoyed the great fortune of waking up to a mountain, or something more like a hill, in my backyard. The locals called it "Yakushiyama" or 薬師山, a name shared by many of Japan's smaller mountains where Buddhist medicine men crafted cocktails intended to heal wounds and ailments common among the people of Japan. The steep inclines from Lost Maples reappeared at Yakushiyama - only this time, they were ten-fold the height and distance. The first trek my wife and I took through Yakushiyama took us nearly 2 hours, which was due in part to our lack of knowledge about the local area. Still, it left us hungry for much, much more.

I decided against my better judgment to do my first real mountain climb with a group of friends led by Jeremy Blanco, another Hokkaido English teacher who had an obsession with conquering physical challenges. Since I normally take relatively good care of my physical health, I thought that a hike up a mountain would prove to be a slightly elevated challenge compared to my previous hikes in Texas. But the long, steep, unforgiving trek up the mountain disagreed with my definition of hiking.

 

Footprints on Mount Yotei

Jeremy and his friends had arranged a group hike up a mountain in West Central Hokkaido. They call it Mount Yotei (羊蹄山). As we drove toward its trailhead, we could see the huge swell in the distance where we'd be climbing. The peak was surrounded by a beautiful ring of clouds - a rare and encouraging omen. We strapped on our gear, put on our clothes, and the hike began. The first few steps were just as flat and easy as I remembered all of my hikes - then we encountered the first major incline.

As I forced one foot in front of the other, I looked over my right shoulder, where I could measure our progress by the size of the shrinking barns and farmhouses. I could see where one crop began and the one before it ended and I knew that each one of those grueling steps I took meant one more push toward the heavens.

When that first incline began to level, I hoped deep inside that all of that work had pushed us near the top of the mountain. Of course, I was hopelessly wrong. The entirety of the remaining climb challenged my withered legs through steady inclines, upper body climbing, rocky crags, and loose dirt. Though we made plenty of stops for food and water, my Texan idea of hiking did not prepare me for the full-body assault of a real mountain trek.

Another new climber just like me started to lag behind the others, and we began to worry that she may give up before the last haul to the camp. My enthusiastic new friend Eisuke and I tumbled back down the trail with whatever remaining strength we had and grabbed a few of her packs to help her up the final mile or two of the hike.

As it turned out, your hero Jeremy had been hoofing it with her the whole time the rest of the team was rushing to the top, regaling her with stories of intense physical challenges and personal victories. His words had been lighting her fire while we clumsily hopped to the campsite. I remember being truly humbled at his dedication to seeing the entire team to the peak.

 

3 Or So Hours of Sleep

Once we huddled the whole team into an overbooked emergency shelter to lay down a sleeping bag, we annihilated most of our remaining food supply and rehydrated. A few of the more advanced climbers enjoyed a shot or two of whiskey and a hot bowl of soup, but for most of us, onigiri rice balls and Calorie Mate nutritional sticks sufficed.

We still had to force our tired bodies up early to catch the sunrise at the top of the mountain. The campsite was a measly 30 minutes or so from the top, but there was still plenty of prep in the morning before we could forward. In my haste to pack for the climb, I managed to totally foil the "bring a flashlight" portion of the to-do list and lazily packed an oversized flashlight with dead batteries. Thankfully, the English teacher Paula from my neighboring town had a powerful headlamp she was willing to share and she lit my path to the finish line.

We slogged to the peak where we had to wait only minutes in the thin, cold slice of atmosphere before the sun peeked above the horizon. The ring of clouds that had formed near the top of Mt. Yotei scattered at the command of the sunrise and we beheld a truly golden landscape of unreal magnitude. The patchwork of farmland gave way to rolling hills sprinkled with wildflowers. We drank in warm, moist air as plains of rocks and grass opened at our feet.

As far as first climbs go, I couldn't have asked for more. The physical challenge of hauling my body, food, and water to the top of an unforgiving wonder of nature made the taste of the sunrise only sweeter. After a magnificent rest, a few laughs, and plenty of water, we threw ourselves back down the mountain.

An experienced mountain climber knows that the way down can sometimes be tougher than the way up. I'm not an experienced mountain climber, and I didn't know. Once I started to feel the pain of the descent, I opted to instead try to run down as much of the mountain as I could without losing control and tumbling to a harrowing demise at the foot. It worked for a while - I was saving lots of time and the drive to catch my breath distracted me from the fatigue in my legs.

I and my hiking mates eventually caught up to the group of hikers that had left earlier than us that day. We all managed to convene at about the same time back at the trailhead, but each one of us had grown and changed since we last set foot there. Tears were shed, hugs were shared, and high fives were exchanged.

Our rewards? Fresh spring water straight from a large natural fountain, cold, soft ice cream from some local vendors, a well-deserved hot meal in Kutchan, and memories that will never, ever be forgotten. My definition of hiking changed that day from a park walk to a mountain climb, and even though I'm in Texas again and hikes are few and far between, I still look to the mountains and dream.

 

By Eric Ysasi, owner of http://www.kumalanguage.com - translation and writing service Kuma Language Services

 

 

 

 

Photo by Jeremy Blanco. View of Lake Toya from peak of Mt. Yotei. Pictured is Kelsey Fast. 

Photo by Jeremy Blanco. View of Lake Toya from peak of Mt. Yotei. Pictured is Kelsey Fast. 

Video by Jeremy Blanco of a HAJET BBQ to promote intercultural learning and a sunrise hike led together by Jeremy Blanco and Adam Gentle of HAJET done the year following the story written by Eric Ysasi.  

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Splitboard Project and Backcountry: 再挑戦しましょう!

Splitboard Project and Backcountry: 再挑戦しましょう!

Backcountry & a Splitboard DIY...

 

Sho's 1st Person Account:

ハイクアップしてのバックカントリーはしたことがなく、楽しみで楽しみでしかたなかった。 たまたま、連日遭難のニュースがあり、まわりの人たちからは「生きて帰ってきてね」と言われました。

前日には積雪があり、当日は風もなく快晴で最高のコンディション! スノーシューを履いてのハイクは初めての経験でした! スノーボードを装着したリュックは重かった。

最初は楽々とハイクしていたが、登るにつれて斜面の傾斜も高くなり、全身の疲労が…………一歩一歩踏み出すのが辛くなってきた!

しかし、登るにつれて景色も良くなり、疲れを忘れさせてくれた。 今回は頂上までは行けず、途中から降りることに。

下りのバックカントリーは最高だった! 膝くらいの高さのヴァージンパウダー! まるで波乗りをしてるかのようだった!

綺麗な景色を見ながら、そして、ヴァージンパウダーを楽しみながら、木と木の間を滑り降りる! 登りの辛さなんて、一瞬で吹き飛びました!

ジェレミー、アルマ、ベン、ありがとう! 貴重な経験ができました! 次は頂上を目指して、再挑戦しましょう!

鈴木翔

 

"I had never gone snow mountain climbing and back-country. I had been really looking forward to it! But,there was a news about distress.I was told to "come back alive!"

The day was the best condition, a lot of snow, no wind, clear and sunny! It was the first experience that I put on a snowshoe. It was heavy to shoulder the backpack and snowboard.

It was initially easy to hike up. However, I fatigued as we hiked up more..... But the scenery was so beautiful. It has refreshed me completely! We weren't able to climb to the top in this time. 

Climbing down was really awesome!! Virgin powder. The snow reached the height of my knees! It's just like a surfing!

We slid down between the trees,taking in the beautiful scenery and Virgin powder snow. My tiredness flew out the window!

Thank you,Jeremy,Alma and Ben. I had a amazing experience! Let's try this again!!"

- Sho 

Watch the video we made below! Click on the `V` to enlarge the media player.

 

Editor's Note:

My friend "Bobteru" is the man who is doing the fine work on creating the splitboard. I did the logistics of going through yahooauctions.jp to find the necessary gear while Bobteru helped make sure I wasn't getting ripped off! This was his second time now, both this season, to make a splitboard. I lucked out that he has a big appetite and I could pay him to help me by making a few huge Chicago style deep dish pizzas!

 

The mountains in this video are Mt. Yotei and Mt. Komogatake of Hokkaido, Japan. The footage of Komogatake contains a mid-February ascent as well as a late Winter early Spring ascent. The footage of Mt. Yotei was taken on an early March ascent to the 1,200m tree line. We did not climb to the peak of Yotei on this climb due to making sure our group of 3 stayed together and deciding to head to a secret jump! We'll be back though!!!  

 

Pizza photos courtesy of a guest!

Mt. Yotei a few hours after returning to the base! 

The board before reconstruction! 

The board before reconstruction! 

The board mid-way through.

Bobteru drilling the holes to fit the binding plate. Even though the equipment was his, he let me do some drilling! No pics though ; / lol

The finished product!

The finished product put to the test...and...success! 

photo credit to Alma Thrift

Mt. Komogatake of Onuma, Hokkaido, Japan

The Chicago Deep Dish as payment! 

Looking onward to the next mission!

Video: Experience Japanese Culture via the Kultura と  Body Exploración Style

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Video: Experience Japanese Culture via the Kultura と Body Exploración Style

 

 

If only a short video could put into words the true experiences of our time abroad, with respects to all aspects ranging from both the beautiful and rough moments. This video reflects a piece of a larger whole of living abroad for 2 1/2 years now in Hokkaido, Japan. Please enjoy the video inspired by the outdoors and people of Hokkaido.

Music: "Wings" by Nicolai Heidias on the album Nicolai Heidias Acoustic.

Additional Camera people: Tomomi Kasai, Paula Kaufman, Ben Lee.

Voices: Fumio Naka, Jeremy Blanco, Santiago Blanco, Lili Ann Blanco

Film Locations (Hokkaido): Assabu, Esashi, Hakodate, Okushiri, Matsumae, Fukushima-cho, Kamino Kuni, Shikabe, Kikonai, Yakumo, Nanae, Hokuto, Niseko, Taisetuszan, Biei, Furano, Akan National Park.

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Run In the Philippines: Exploring One's Ancestry

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Run In the Philippines: Exploring One's Ancestry

 

Ever want to see where your grandmother grew up or the land of where your mom took the bus daily?

After 27 years of waiting, my family offered me the room and board...

We ran, climbed (trees), and swam.

This video captures some of it....

Forgive me for the romanticizing, but I loved this experience.

 

Key Things Learned

  • The people of the PI, of whom I met, across the age groups want similar things as to my friends, family, and coworkers of Southern California such as; a need for family, friends, relationships, a job, and to live out certain fantasies or dreams. 

  • My mother's aunt speaks not only English and Tagalog but because of the Japanese occupation she even worked a bit as a translator and can throw around a few phrases in Japanese still to this day. Now there are two people in the family who can speak Japanese. 

  • A son of my mother's close family friend may as well be my cousin. I say this because we met at one family gathering when I graduate college and as soon as I made the move to travel to the PI, a simple reach out to him resulted in a place to crash for a few nights, a few meals together, some good laughs, shared stories of travel, and someone who was a family friend quickly became a person I personally can call a friend and have invited to visit anytime to wherever I may be living. 

  • I am continuously amazed by the hospitality offered by the people of the Philippines as well as those of Filipino ancestry now living in the United States. It never ceases to inspire me. 

  • While a photo, may not move on screen, a photo often will move through time. (message!)

 

  • Through internships, volunteer work, athletics, jobs, and travel - I have seen that it is often the labour workers whom have the natural athletic built which some folks spend hours upon hours trying to mold. This man whom appears (based off facial features and skin age) to be above 40 or even 50 years old. 

 

  • We've all experienced that moment...when you think...this dude's job is dope. 

The Run

I wake up to the calls of about four or five roosters. It's 5 a.m. and I quickly prep for some photography to be followed for a jog. My cousin Pil is passed out and there's not a sound in the house. As I stretch while walking outside barefoot the dogs and goats lay at rest. An ancient tree awaits to be  climbed. I get to the a natural saddle in this tree about the size of an oak. It is peaceful and relaxing. Well, until I notice an anthill next to my hand! I move around to a different spot and later get down. There is a family of 4 across the street looking at me with smiles. I wave, say Hello and move on towards the bay side to view the herons skimming the sea and the crabs making there way into dark holes as I near. I look behind me and there is Bon, the probably 10 or 12 year old boy who would become an inspiration to me. A the moment, I figure he was either interested to see my camera or was thinking "this guy climbs trees, has a funny accent, i want to check this guy out for a minute." I offer to let Bon take a few photos of the birds. He politely declines. Alright then, I keep shooting and am scoping out the houses within feet of the water in linear distance but about 10 feet above being held by carefully placed sheet metal and wood. I'm just thinking 'wow this view is great.' "Hey, are you sure you don't want to use this camera?" there are some great shots right now of this wildlife and scenery. He shrugs again politely and continues watching the birds now walk along the lowering tide scouring for sea life.

 I begin to realize it's probably nearing 6 a.m. and I better start my jog because later around 8 I am supposed to meet with my Uncle for breakfast. I look to the kid and say "Hey I'm going for a run, wanna run?", without hesitation this shy kid says "yes", no smile, no exclamation point, just a straight "yes." We pass by his house shortly and he says something to his mom in this Masabate-Cataignan dialect, maybe some of it is Tagalog, I don't really know but it sounded different from what I grew up hearing my mom speak.  His mom smiles and waves goodbye as if to say "see you soon and enjoy your run." I am very surprised that all of this is transpiring. The only thing I know about the kid and his family is that they live next door to my Uncle and say they know him well. So, we're off, we can turn left and go downhill toward the coast or turn right and head up the Valley and climb a few hills. I notice I lean towards the hill and the kid also leans towards the hill. We begin our ascent and it lasts about 20 minutes at a slow but steady pace. We pass by locals beginning to open their shops, a few folks waiting around maybe for a bus ride, and onlookers at the crack of dawn. Our pace remains steady and neither of us seem to be slowing down after we peak the second hill. I begin to test this kid a bit, I jump from one side of a ditch to the other a few times, about a meter distance in width, and he follows suit, with a barely noticeable grin that could just as easily be taken for a face that is in a challenge and loves it, or wants it to end already.  

After now about 25 minutes we reach the base of the opposite side of the hill and see a sign in English that reads "Thank You", I guess for visiting. I look at Bon, he says something, I don't know the words but common sense tells he means something along the lines of, "how far do you plan on running?" I give him my water and he downs it. We stand back up and head back towards home. Then it happens, his sandal breaks. I just realized, he's wearing sandals. This whole time Bon has been running in sandals. We must have already ran 4km's with still another 3km separating us from breakfast.. I stop and before I could even form any real thought, he picks up the sandal off his right foot, he leans forward, and he runs up the hill. "Has he ran this before?" I wonder now. We continue on and in about less than an hour total from the beginning to end, we return from this 6-8km morning jog. Bon's Mother is eager for his return and pats him on the back, we give each other a high five and again without much of a hint of a smile. Bon goes on to receive another water bottle I hand over to him and proceeds to down it in large gulps. He continues standing as if he is not at all tired, until his mother finally tells him to sit down and take a rest. Bon's Father returns home and three other brothers make their way to the front yard. These tall lanky boys pat Bon on the back for his morning hour run. Bon's Mother then turns to me and asks more about my family ancestry. She discovers what she thought she knew all along once she saw me around my Uncles house and heard about me, I am actually distant cousins to Bon and her family! There is a sense of accomplishment in the air and Bon's calm cool demeanor remains as such, but this time the faint sometimes grin, sometimes intense focus on the run, turns into one of light on the porch of his home. 

The oldest brother, JC, stands at about 172cm (5'8") but his hands are the size of someone 2 meters tall, as are his feet. This guy might be able to do something real cool athletically I'm thinking. I notice this I guess cause I play sports so often. There is something about athletic culture that we tend to notice what someone might have the potential to do, sometimes for better or worse in our quick assesements. I also notice the huge hands and feet because, well, he's walking around barefoot and his hands are being used so vibrantly in our conversation. He's pumped to be able to use his English and talk about travelling, He wants to visit anywhere really. JC has a friend that my take an international trip to visit family in Eastern Europe or Asia, so JC is hoping to tag along

JC is a bright college student who seems to be the responsible older brother of the family. Later he notices I look a bit thirsty and asks if I like coconut. "Yea I like coconut". He says "wait here." He walks towards a coconut tree. This is one coconut tree in a sea of about twenty or thirty trees that surround their small farm house. I take out my camera in anticipation. He does exactly what I was thinking he'd do. He climbs the coconut tree with no ladder, no rope, just the tree and very slightly carved out grooves that don't go in more than half an inch. Within 10 seconds he's reaching for a coconut and within 20 he's dropped one to the ground. Another brother, Ajin, strolls over with a machete and opens up the coconut. Within a minute of being asked if I like coconut, I have coconut juice quenching my thirst. It's not over, we still get to eat the fresh, oh so soft coconut meat. Again it's not over, he drops another, and another, and another. We have enough for everyone to enjoy our morning treat with a glass of coffee. JC even rations out the portions meticulously to his baby brother as not to `spoil` him. He actually says "I don't want him to be spoiled, even though he is the baby, he has to wait like every one else." 

This morning was something special. 

 - Written by Jeremy Blanco

 

Epilogue

In reading this story into island culture of the PI I think it is first important to note that "culture" is ever evolving and one should not assume that a native or local people automatically prescribe to what we may see on television, media, or even only one person such as myself's story of an experience. Culture is the total sum of individuals as well as tradition which has been passed on from generation to generation while still evolving regularly. To a subconscious extent, I tend to reflect my own perceived values or even perceived hopes upon the people I visit. For instance, in this running story, take into account that I myself am a runner and athlete, therefore my story due to my brain's wiring and interests are going to lean towards athletic endeavors and often times adrenaline seeking pursuits. Think about this, here is someone on 'vacation' who decides to go for an early morning run on a tiny island with a kid I barely knew anything about except that he can run, was a family friend (turned out to be my cousin), and wanted to run up a mountain with me. Before moving to Japan to teach English, I coached high school athletics for 4 years, gave daily hikes as an outdoor education teacher for students the same age as Bon, and worked for the youth conservation corps building trails and leading youth on strenuous mountain hikes and fitness training. I felt confident that should Bon have any problem on the run we'd be able to return him safely to his family. Here is an author who wanted to run, wanted to experience an adventure, and wanted to connect with family. All three of those happened due to a bias. The story could have easily been about craft making, farming practices in a developing country, family dynamics on a socio-economic-status level, trust, luck, and so on. The amateur anthropologist (myself) in this case remains an enthusiastic amateur, so further study is definitely needed. Thank you for taking the time to read this and hopefully we will all continue our education on such matters, I know I need to!

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