Some Surprising Facts About Everyday Life in Japan

As a foreigner I’m constantly aware of how different Tokyo is from where I’m from in America.

Here’s a few facts about my daily life in Tokyo that most people wouldn’t notice unless they get a chance to live or visit here.

You might be surprised to learn that:

  • Crows are humongous here, and are known to swoop down and take small pets. I’ve even seen them attack people if the person has food.
  • You can find a vending machine almost everywhere you go. There you can buy hot and cold drinks, some depending on the season. In the winter you can buy hot canned corn and sweet bean soup, and they’re delicious. It’s not very expensive, usually less than 200円 (less than $2 USD), but those costs do add up over time if you’re on a budget.
  • There is a convenience store at almost every corner, and the food they sell is not only cheap and edible…it’s also delicious.
  • But… you can rarely find a trash can once you leave the store. People carry their garbage with them until they get to the next こんびに (convenience store) or train station, etc.
  • Many Japanese people do not use paper towels in the kitchen, they use washable cloths. They also call paper towels “kitchen paper.”
  • Most homes do not have a dishwasher.
  • Homes usually only have a clothes washer, but not a clothes dryer. Most everyone hangs their clothes and bedding out to dry.
  • It is more convenient to ride a bike, walk, or take the train than it is to drive and park. (within the city, anyway). Parking costs money and paid parking lots with an open spot are sometimes hard to find if you don’t have one of the fancy car navi systems that shows you open lots.
  • In Tokyo most Japanese people hurry- even employees. They will actually run to go open up their cash register,  help a customer, etc.
  • Often English is used as a novelty… not as an indicator of what kind of business it is. For example, there is a place near me called “Flamingo Saloon” with an old-west style sign. It’s a hair salon. This can be very confusing for a new person who can’t read or search online for services in Japanese. There’s a learning curve, for sure, and sometimes that curve is going to the place, realizing it’s not what you thought it would be, and leaving.
  • You can find the kcalorie content on pretty much everything, and sometimes it’s even listed on the menus. This helps when trying to decide what to grab to eat when you’re out and about.
  • Inanimate objects “sing” to you, or make other such noises…and I love it. My rice cooker plays “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” when you turn it on and when it’s finished cooking,  my hot water boiler plays “Fleur de Lise” when it’s finished boiling,  the trash truck plays a song the entire time it’s driving, the floor waxing/buffing machine in the train station also plays a song… the list goes on, and on. I think it’s really interesting and pleasant.

Of course these are just a few examples of what  I’ve experienced while living here. I  might jot down a few more later, or write a new post about it. I’m not sure yet.

What did you find surprising when you lived in or visited Tokyo?

Added 3/12/16

  • Japanese packaging is so easy to open- from onigiri to shipping boxes. It’s very convenient!
  • Surgical-style face masks. How could I have left this out of my original list? People wear face masks for many reasons. Sometimes they’re sick, sometimes they’re worried about getting sick, and sometimes it is due to allergies.
  • There are so many choices for shampoos and conditioners that many drug stores will sell trial sized packages of most of the popular brands on the shelf.  This is great when you’re not sure what to buy-especially if you can’t read all of the package. It is very cost effective compared to buying a large size of a product that you might end up not liking.

 

Losing Erik to Feline Chronic Kidney Disease/Chronic Renal Failure

You might have stumbled upon this because you’re searching for information about feline chronic kidney disease (CKD) or chronic renal failure (CRF). You might be frantically reaching out for any bit of recent-real-life information like I was.

I want this information to be an account of what happened to our family and to our sweet boy.

It happened so fast, and he exhibited only a few of the physical symptoms that vets tell you to look for.

Even on his very last day the vet wasn’t sure that it was time just by looking at his bright eyes and cheerful, active body language and attitude.

But it was time. And I want other people to learn from our experience.

In mid-August 2015 our battle with feline chronic kidney failure began.. only we didn’t know that’s what was happening.

I took details notes about his symptoms, behavior, and the resources I found, so I thought someone else might find them useful.

I included our story and also specific examples of behavior like eating, litterbox, etc. If you’re more interested in that just scroll to the bottom.

RESOURCES

Before I share our experience I wanted to be sure to provide this well known site that thoroughly discusses feline kidney failure.

This online guide was essential as my husband and I learned how to care for Erik throughout his disease. It also helped us prepare for what it would be like to euthanize a pet and what we should expect, since neither of us had ever experienced that.

I highly recommend reading every inch of this website.

Tanya’s Comprehensive Guide to Feline Chronic Kidney Disease

 

TIMELINE

August/September:

In August our otherwise big, healthy, loving boy had been hiding from us. Erik loved people, though, so he eventually came out and sat on his heating pad.

I went to cuddle him as usual and felt his paws and ears- they were almost ice cold. He was alert, sitting up, and showing no signs of distress. I fully expected he had a cold or something very minor, but I still took him in right away.

When we got there they said his blood pressure was dangerously low and that he was severely dehydrated, which came as a huge shock to us. How did this happen? What was wrong? We still don’t know what happened.

They gave him fluids and ran blood tests, ultrasounds, and x-rays. He was back to normal and they sent him home with us that night.

At that point I thought maybe he had acute kidney failure, but to this day I have no idea what would have caused it, as there was nothing that he appeared to “get in to”, eat, etc. and we don’t have any dangerous chemicals in the house.

He was perfectly fine from then on. Like it never happened, until a few weeks later I noticed he was drinking more water than usual. He and his brother always loved to play in the sink and the bathtub, but this was different somehow.

I thought he was just not wanting to drink from the fountain. Their water fountain was old, so I thought maybe buying a new ceramic one might help.

It didn’t. He was constantly  jumping in the bathroom sink and tub.

Then maybe 3 weeks later I noticed he appeared to be losing weight little by little. Then later the obvious food-pickyness started. Erik LOVED to eat. He loved all kinds of food and was an adventurous eater. But when he started to turn up his nose at even his favorite foods I was concerned.

During all this time he had a few followups and  I had been researching the symptoms. His blood work was normal. At his first episode I thought he had liver problems, but the vet said that was not the case.

October:

Then, 2 days before we left for our vacation in October I noticed more pronounced weight loss around his spine and hips.

The food pickyness had gotten worse. His attitude never changed. He wasn’t laid out, he wasn’t lethargic. He wasn’t crying or showing any distress…but he was dehydrated again and his BUN and creatine were stage IV kidney failure.

Erik needed to be hospitalized and given IV fluids and observed. We cancelled our vacation and visited him every day of his 12 day hospitalization. He didn’t want to eat until we visited.

He was released after his blood work seemed stable. He would bounce stage II and III depending on the day of the blood work. We started subQ fluids at home after that.

November:

Around mid-November I noticed he was a little wobbly. He was still walking, but he just didn’t seem as sure footed as usual. I thought it might be because of his weight loss.

His coat was still bright and soft, though his fur was a bit spaced out where we were giving him his subQ fluids.

Erik had  to be hospitalized a few more times between October and December. The vet tried hormone therapy, but he didn’t respond as well as we had hoped.

IMG_9753

Erik loved to snuggle

At one of our followups the vet also discovered that he had severe anemia that had not been present in previous blood work. This surprised everyone because he never showed the tell-tale signs of anemia except for the slight wobbliness.

Since he slept with us we lowered our bed to the floor to make it easier for him. We tried everything we could think of to make his daily life easier. We kept him warm and tried to bring things to him so he didn’t have to do too much.

We were presented with a last-ditch option- a transfusion. At first we said no, because it was highly invasive for both Erik and his brother, and it was only going to give him a few more months, at most.

After thinking about it we did try it. And we are glad we did. It gave us almost 2 extra weeks with him. In those 2 weeks even though his health quickly deteriorated he remained bright, loving, and cheerful.

December:

He had one major seizure 5 days before we said goodbye. Though he was awake he was rigid and urinated freely. It lasted only a few seconds and he acted like nothing happened afterwards.

In his last week he was passing blood in his urine in both large clots and in liquid, and the vet said that was to be expected due to his condition and the recent transfusion.

He had very small seizures, too, but I don’t remember how many. My husband would whistle and sing to him and we’d pat him until he seemed like he could see us again. We think that he had high blood pressure at the end, as well.

Next he started bleeding from his gums a little bit. I knew it would be happening soon, so I was doing everything I could to help my family emotionally prepare.

Erik loved to sleep on my chest and 1 day after the light bleeding started I woke up to find blood on my chest, my face, the comforter, and his little chin. I was too shocked to panic, and he just looked up and me and smiled, snuggling against my face.

I wrestled with my gut vs. my heart. I couldn’t believe it was time. I wanted more time. I needed more time. But when we saw him go to the litterbox then come back and lie down, turn his head slightly (as if he was having a light seizure) and cry my husband and I rushed him to the vet and prepared ourselves.

Making the decision to say goodbye when your pet has such a will to live but his body is dying is the most painful experience of my life so far. He was not ready to go, but his body would not have lasted much longer. CKD cats can go peacefully on their own, but the likelihood of him having a heart attack, more seizures, and other episodes like that was just too much to risk. Neither of us wanted him to suffer more than he already was.

It seems that, for us, his kidney failure related anemia is what took him. He could no longer filter his own blood.

In the end he had lost at least 2-3 kg. We actually didn’t ask what his weight as at his death, but I know he was a fraction of the big, beefy boy he had once been.

Eriksgoodbye

Saying goodbye

This is the last photo we have of him. As we waited for the vet to arrive we sat in the car to keep him away from unnecessary stress.

Shortly before it was time to go inside he weakly reached over and put his paw on my husband’s hand, gripping it tightly. Erik-chan loved to grip us when we held his paws or held him in general, so this was a special moment for us all.

I wish we could do more for him. I wish there was more that can be done for every cat who gets this condition. I want there to be other options, and I hope they’re available in the coming years.

Progressive, degenerative diseases with no cure, both human and animal, bring sadness and loss wherever they’re found. I hope that someday that will not longer be the case.

 

AT HOME CARE

We gave him nightly 200 cc of nightly subQ fluids. He received 1 kidney pill and 1 vitamin daily (both Japanese medication) and was usually such a good boy about taking them.

I would sit behind him, placed my hand through his arms so my arm was on his chest and my hand could tilt his head back.

Throw the pill in there, and blow on his nose or put water or food on it to get him to lick and ensure that your cat swallows the pill.

At times Erik was the master of stashing the pill in his cheek and spitting it out when I wasn’t looking, so just make sure it’s been taken. To be sure I started giving him a treat afterwards. If the pill fell out we started the process again.

LITTERBOX

I’m including a bit about the litterbox because I didn’t see this in any of my research.

Once the nightly subQ treatment started Erik started using the bathroom more frequently. I expected that due to the nature of the therapy.

He flooded the litterbox, which we read about but didn’t know what to make of it until we saw it.

What this meant was that he urinated to often and so much that it meant we had to change the litter much more often. Almost daily. To avoid this we added a layer of baking soda and litter. Then we placed a cheap dish-drying tray on top of that and covered it with litter.

That seemed to work well and prevented us from changing it so much.

Another thing I had never see before was the way the urine “leaked” through regular hefty trash bags, but it never had before. We used the same bags as we did before he got sick, but once his condition worsened we found that the urine literally leaked through the trash bags.

We had to double bag and put it in a cardboard box just to make sure nothing got through as we were changing the litter.

EATING

Eating became an exhausting daily battle of trial and error.

IMG_1589

We tried buffet style daily to figure out what he would eat.

Every day was different. I bought baby food. I bought kitten food. I bought every kind of canned food available to me. My family is stationed overseas so we didn’t have many options, but I bought them all. I tried everything to get him to eat.

He rejected the recommended Science Diet KD and Royal Canin. He would nibble if I added tuna juice, but that’s all. He wouldn’t eat much of it.

I baked chicken, and he wouldn’t touch it. So I bought a turkey and baked it. I found that he would eat bits of roasted turkey if I sat by him and hand fed him. Then he stopped wanting to eat that, too.

Eventually I decided to try Japanese wet cat food. Same thing- I bought 1 of every small can.

We found that he loved the Japanese version of Sheba and he heartily ate that until he left us.

KIDNEY TRANSPLANTS

Depending on where you live kidney transplants may be an option. I am in Japan, and this is not a common procedure.

I found 1 university several hours away from me, but they said due to his age and advanced kidney failure that a transplant would be much more risky- that he would likely die from the operation instead of kidney failure.

If you can catch it early and find a medical school or clinic that will agree to do this you might consider it. It is expensive (I was quoted something like $15k.), but at this point I was desperate and didn’t care. I just wanted to try my best to do everything I could for my baby.

 

SOME PHOTOS OF ERIK-CHAN

Rest well, sweet boy. We love you so much. You brought us almost 11 years of joy, love, and laughter.

 

 

 

Our Visit to the Famous Kitsunemura (Fox village) in Japan

Kitsunemura, 蔵王キツネ村 or Fox Village near Zao in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan is now world famous thanks to bloggers, so naturally it was on the top oIMG_1519f our Japan bucket list when we learned we were moving here.

Mainland Japan has 4 seasons, the best being fall and spring. Summer is hot and humid. Winter is okay, but I don’t particularly like being cold.

For us, a well-timed trip is key to our overall experience. Making the journey only to find that you’re either too early or too late to see the seasonal flowers or trees kind of puts a damper on the trip’s mood, so I’ve been faithfully checking the foliage reports in Miyagi and Twitter posts from that area for the past month to see what the trees looked like.DSC_1231

 

I finally found a US holiday that aligned with the foliage up north’s schedule (the leaves turn later the farther south you go), so we took the
opportunity and went.

We decided to drive, which was about 3.5 hours and cost 8212 yen going there, and 7630 yen coming back on the toll roads.

If you decide to take the shinkansen it will be much more expensive, but that’s up to you. You’ll need to arrive at Shiroishizao Station and take a cab to the village. Just spend a few minutes googling and you’ll find several articles that provide detailed instructions on how to get there by train.

DSC_0941With only a week’s notice, I was fortunate enough to find  a very nice, reasonably priced ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) with an in-room hot spring and included breakfast, which allowed for my husband and I to enjoy onsen together.

DSC_0965I’ve been told by Japanese people that it is very rare to find a mixed-gender public hot spring (onsen) these days, so I thought it was a nice luxury that we should try.

The breakfast at the ryokan was delicious, the onsen made our skin feel unbelievably smooth, and the crisp mountain air made for a refreshing break from our fast-paced Tokyo lives.

I wish we could have stayed longer. Or that we could go every month. Or.. just live there.

 

The staff members at both the ryokan and the fox village were very kind and accommodating. Granted, we communicated in elementary Japanese, so I can’t speak to how well they could assist foreigner guests.

I’m not sure about the hotel, but I know that kitsunemura has seen many, many foreign guests over the years.

If you speak zero Japanese, just be prepared to try to use hand gestures, writing, or however else you can think of to communicate if you find that the staff member you meet doesn’t speak or understand much English.

Kitsunemura has over 100 wild foxes living in a large, open space with plenty of room to hide, play, eat, and sleep. They also have a small petting zoo with lots of rabbits, some minature horses, a few crows (?), guinea pigs, and small goats.

There has been some visitors who felt the animals were not well taken care of, but when I was there clean water was abundant, the animals all looked happy and those who were awake were curious, wild, and playful with one another.

I feel like the staff at kitsunemura aim to take excellent care of all of their animals. and I was pleased with the experience.

Overall… 10/10.  We both really enjoyed the ryokan and onsen, and who couldn’t enjoy watching wild foxes play and lounge in a large, natural habitat? 

The logistics, you ask?

Total run down:

Tolls: 15,842 yen. About 3.5 hour drive from northwest Tokyo.

Gas: ~ 8,000 yen

Hotel: ~21,000 yen

Kitsunemura: 2,000 yen + 400 yen fox cuddle experience

Omiyage (souvenirs): 1,500 yen

Meals/road trip snacks: ~4,000

And now, for adorable kitsune (fox) pictures! (mix of iphone and dlsr that my husband and I took)

Just click the thumbnail to view the full image.

 

 

My First (and Last) Time to Skydive

In August I had the opportunity to use an event credit I had with a local adventure club, so I decided to use it towards skydiving.

Yes, skydiving.

It has been on my bucket list since I was in middle school, and even though I’m terrified of heights I thought I should do it if I had the chance.

The problem is that my husband exceeds the height and weight limit of skydiving companies here in Japan, so I had to go it alone.

Even though I really wanted him to be there I thought it would be no big deal to go by myself. We had just climbed to the top of Mount Fuji 2 weeks before, so I was sure this would be easy.

Except, it wasn’t. The whole language barrier thing kind of poses a big problem when you’re about to jump out of a plane at about 4,000 meters.

The day started by all of the club members arriving at Fujioka station early in the morning. This is a very small station and the closest store is about a 10 minute walk. It was so early that the store wasn’t open yet, so I started walking around foraging  for breakfast.IMG_0792

Luckily I was able to meet and talk with an older couple who owned a hardware store. My Japanese speaking ability is intermediate, but I was able to ask them if they had any snacks for sale.

Instead they gave me a bag of pastries and snacks and wouldn’t let me pay them. I told them I was skydiving that morning and they wished me good luck and sent me on my way.

I ran back to the station so I could be sure to catch the shuttle to the jump site and made it just in time.

So, we arrive to the site and we get the safety briefing in English. No problem. All of that was very clear.

What wasn’t clear is what would happen once inside the plane and how it would happen. You know, the logistics of who would go first and whatnot.

They were doing back to back jumps that day, so while everyone else was geared up and in the plane I was standing out waiting on my teacher to parachute down, unhook from the last jumper, and hook on to me.

By the time my teacher hit the ground he literally ran to me, strapped my to his chest, and threw me on the plane- no introductions, nothing.

What I didn’t realize (and nobody told me) was that since I was the last person on the plane I would be first one off.

So, we’re up in the air. It’s a hot summer day. We’re all sweating and terrified. I’m sitting on a stranger’s lap and he’s trying to point out mountains and such as we rise higher and higher in this little tin can of a plane.

DCIM100GOPRO

About this time I’m thinking “hm, maybe I can still change my mind?” but at that same time my teacher threw the plane door open.

What happened next was somehow both simultaneously instant and in slow-mo. The door flew open. I’m thinking “oh, that’s a nice view” but then I realize he’s PICKING ME UP. I guess I’m supposed to be moving by myself at this point but I’m frozen and confused since I didn’t know I was going first.

He sits me on the edge of the plane. I still don’t know what’s happening. Then he throws us out the door. Untitled

My stomach goes up into my lungs. Then I realize I’m seeing the sky. I shouldn’t be seeing the sky. For several days after I thought we were having trouble in the air,  but now I think he was just trying to have fun with me. I was not having fun.

So, after what felt like 5 minutes of facing the sun he jerks my pack and throws me so that I’m under him, facing the ground.

Untitled3By this point I’m already confused about what just happened, it’s hot and muggy, and I’m free falling from 4,000 meters. There really is nothing like feeling the wind hitting you was you plummet towards the earth.

When our neon-green chute caught air we both jerked up  and thought I was going to vomit. But luckily that feeling didn’t last long.

The view parachuting down was nice. However, my teacher thought it would be fun to do some kind of turning left-to-right action, which I had to ask him nicely not to do because I already felt quite sick. IMG_0806

I was so thankful to hit the ground. Everyone else on the trip seemed to have a blast, and I’m glad they did. I, on the other hand, had a headache for the rest of the 1.5 hour train ride home and felt shaky for the rest of the day…but I did it!

I can attest that the sights, sounds, and feelings were certainly unique and something I will always remember, but once was enough for me.

What was the craziest/most adrenaline pumping thing you’ve ever done?

Our First (and Maybe Last) Time to Climb Mount Fuji

My husband and I just did something pretty crazy. We climbed Mount Fuji and reached the summit.

While many people reach the summit each year, this is a big deal because we’re city people.  We’re not outdoorsy. I’m from Arkansas, but have never been camping besides 1 time as a kid, and I didn’t even stay the night.

Needless to say I don’t really do “the great outdoors.” I’m moderately healthy and active, but am recovering from cancer. I exercise and eat well, but I have some obvious health conditions that could have kept me from making it to the top.  David’s much more capable of physical activity and roughing it than I am.

So, that’s who we are and how untrained we are, and here’s our guide on how we climbed Mount Fuji and reached the summit.

How it happened

We had gone back and forth about climbing Fuji. We wanted to do it last year- our first year in Japan- but my cancer diagnosis last summer kept us from climbing since Fuji is only open for climbing in the summer months.

This summer rolled around and David and I had talked more about climbing Fuji. First we planned to go with friends. Then one of my hiker-enthusiast friends suggested I try a shorter 3-4 hour hike. She went with me on my first hike ever at Mount Mitake and wasn’t thrilled about the whole hiking thing (it was a nice place and I had fun with my friends). I’m just not into summer hiking in the humidity.

David and I stopped talking about Fuji after that. Even so, I started doing some stair climbing pretty regularly in addition to other exercise, because I had a feeling we would do what we always do and say “oh, let’s just do it and get it over with.”

And that’s how it happened. We picked a date and I booked a trip with our local military outdoor center so we’d be able to take a bus there and back, get cheap rental gear, and go with strangers. We didn’t know how we’d react to the challenge, so if it resulted in us being hot, tired, and grumpy we didn’t want our mild-mannered friends to see us like that.

In the end, we did it. We reached the summit through determination, pacing ourselves, and supporting one another. It was something that was nice to say we did, but we’d never do it again. Cool experience, and great for team building and such, but for us it was a “one and done” kind of thing.

Before the climb

You’re reading this because you’re either a regular reader (thank you!), or you’re interested in climbing Fuji (thank you!) I’m going to give you a run down of what I saw, what I did, and what worked for me.

I did a great deal of research on climbing Fuji before our climb date. I spent a lot of time reading both official website and personal blogs because I wanted to see what people of all shapes, sizes, and physical conditions said about their experience. I was particularly concerned about my health and endurance post-cancer, so I was looking for as many personal stories as I could find.

Unfortunately I didn’t find many guides, just mostly ” what not to do” in the form of people’s failed ascent stories.

From my experience, being prepared is critical to a successful climb- both physically, mentally, and supply-wise.

  • Research the different paths, too. We took the yellow route, the Fuji-Subaru line trail. We didn’t have an option, this was the route that our group guide chose. This is supposed to be the easiest path, though, so it’s worth noting.
  • Avoid caffeine or alcohol 24 hours before.
  • Tape up your feet with mole skin- the toes, sides of your feet, and heels.
  • Pack your gear, then make sure you have the bare minimum. You can buy water if you drink all of ours.
  • Be mentally prepared to make it to the top, but accept it if your body won’t let you. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Packing

Here’s the supply list that was given to us with a few additions from me:

  • Thick soled hiking boots (casual shoes or trainers are not a good idea, in my opinion)
  • Long sleeved wicking shirt
  • Compression socks-wicking
  • Compression leggings- wicking
  • Wicking shirt
  • Medium size backpack
  • Lightweight rain gear
  • Warm/light fleece jacket
  • Headlamp with extra batteries (if climbing at night)
  • Gators
  • Trekking poles
  • Hat (with visor)
  • Small hand towel
  • Utility gloves (for climbing the vertical rock walls-wicking is best)
  • Water bottle or hydration system (i.e. Camelback)
  • Water (at least 2.0 liter)
  • Light meals (beef jerky/protein, etc.)
  • Aspirin
  • Small First aid kit (some adhesive bandages and ace bandages)
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunblock
  • 3 folded up plastic bags (to keep your things dry & for trash)
  • Small roll of toilet paper
  • Blister kit with moleskin and scissors to cut the moleskin
  • Change of socks
  • Oxygen can
  • Wet tissue (to clean your face after the descent- dust gets EVERYWHERE!)
  • Cotton surgical mask (when dust rises on the descent)
  • Watch & cell phone
  • Camera
  • Map
  • Money for stamps on your hiking stick (each station’s stamp costs at least 300 yen) plus food, souvenirs, etc. I think we took about 30,000 yen (and as many 500 yen coins as we could).

We brought everything on this list except the gator boot covers (wish I had rented them- they’d keep the rocks out of your boots on the descent).

We used everything on this list except for the toilet paper, rain gear and warm jacket. Our long sleeve UnderArmour and gloves were enough for both of us.

I strongly suggest you pack all of these items, and be sure to keep your pack as light as possible. Around 5 pounds was what we were told to pack, but I forgot to weigh it before.

  • As far as food goes- we packed high calorie protein bars and those squeezeable protein gel pouches.
  • Packing your backpack correctly is important, too. I highly recommend a hiking pack instead of a regular backpack because a hiking pack is set up with a ton of pockets and easy to access hooks and pouches.
  • Put the protein meals and yen (to pay for burned stamps on your hiking stick, and other incidentals) in the pockets on your waist belt or shoulder straps for easy access.
  • Put your first aid kid (bring scissors!) in an easy-to-access area. Same with your map, phone, sun screen, and oxygen can. You want to be able to get to these things without taking your pack off, if possible.

Climbing

I think that getting to the summit was more mental, than physical. I saw several fit-looking young men turn around at the 8th station.

I’m sure there are plenty of other tips from real hikers….but as a semi-athletic non-hiker this is what worked for me.

  • What you want to do is pace yourself and take your time. If you don’t make it to the top, that’s okay. You don’t want to over do it and you don’t want to get altitude sickness. Pushing yourself makes altitude sickness worse and you need to turn around immediately if you feel lightheaded, get a headache, or feel nauseous.
  • Stop for a rest when you need it, but try not to sit down and try to keep it under 5 minutes. We found that stopping for 1-2 minutes frequently helped us regain the strength to keep going.
  • You also want to climb and descend, when possible, in a zig-zag. Instead of walking straight ahead, you zig-zag in a wide pattern and you do it slowly.
  • I don’t know why this works, but I met a elderly man on the mountain who told me he climbs twice a year and he taught me this method. I had heard about it before from my hiking-enthusiast friend, but totally forgot about it and had never done it before until this kind man showed me.
  • When you climb stairs or the rock climbing section of the trail you want to alternate legs that you push yourself up onto.
  • Hydrate. Drink water when you stop for a rest. Even though I drank probably 2 liters of water I didn’t have to use the bathroom until the 7th station on my descent. Your body will thank you for staying hydrated!
  • The trekking poles make hiking SO much easier. Get them if you can.
  • From the 7th station to the 8th station it is about 2 hours of vertical rock climbing. Literally. You’ll need gloves and hiking poles. Sometimes I got so tired that I just climbed with my hands, and that’s okay, too.
  • At the summit you can see several souniveer shops and little resturants. We ate udon at the summit and got a few flags for our hiking stick. They offered to stamp the date on the flags, so that was pretty cool!
  • You can even what is probably one of the world’s highest vending machines and post offices there at the summit.

Descending

For me, this was the hardest part. My husband said it was difficult, but not painful like it was for me.

You’ll need your mask or towel here, the dust stirred up by other hikers is very thick. Just a heads up, when you get home you’ll find it in your nose, ears, and hair.

I was wearing rented hiking boots that were fine on the way up (I got a blister around the 8th station, but mole skin did the trick and I didn’t feel it after that). But, on the descent this was a different story. Even though the ends and sides of my toes were taped up very well, the descent wrecked my toes.

The descent is at a steep slope of lava rock from the summit to the 6th station. Some of the slopes had some soft grey rock, and that was easier on my toes because I could dig my heel into it, but the majority was this awful, hard, slippery red lava rock that provided zero comfort.

My toes keeps hitting the ends of the boots with each step. I tried side stepping and zig-zagging, but it didn’t bring any relief to my pain.

In the end I hobbled pathetically down from about the 9th station to the 6th station. My husband carried my pack from the 7th station on, and our guide realized that at my pace I was going to miss the bus. We said that was okay, and that we’d just get a hotel and stay somewhere…but he ran to the base of the 6th station and found some horsemen with ponies I could ride.

It cost something like 16,000 yen (about $130 usd), but I was no longer in pain and it was well worth it. David couldn’t open his wallet fast enough, and I got a pony ride out of the deal… so it wasn’t all bad.

It’s the morning after our trek now, and while my toes and legs hurt I’m not as exhausted as I expected. I kind of expect it to catch up to me tomorrow..but as of right now this semi-capable 14 month-post cancer patient is doing okay. My husband took the day off, but still went to the gym to lift weights. So, that’s how a perfectly healthy person feels the next day.

Final Notes

Just do your research. Take it easy. Respect the mountain, and listen to your body. If you ever climb Fuji, I hope you have a good experience!

Also, please donate 1,000 yen (less than $10 USD) when you see the little booth by the horse pen at the 5th station. It goes to the conversation of Mount Fuji and I heard that many foreigners aren’t donating in recent years. You get a cool button showing you donated and the year, and a free 3-day wifi passcode that works on top of the mountain!

Update: 2 months have passed, and the worst thing that happened to me was that I lost 4 toenails due to the injury I sustained on the descent. We have also been talking about maybe hiking again next year… so…we will see what happens!

A Foreigner’s First Concert in Japan

Last weekend David and I attended our first concert in Japan- the Sekai no Owari Twilight City tour in Yokohama. Much to my surprise the whole concert process is pretty different than all the concerts we’ve been to in the states. In the states when you want concert tickets you have a few methods of getting them:

  • winning them (free) in a contest
  • getting them through a fan club membership
  • buying them from the artist’s recommended venue
  • buying them from a ticket broker like Ticketmaster
  • buying them from individuals

It’s somewhat similar here in Japan, but we had some hurdles. First off, we don’t speak and read enough Japanese to buy tickets from auction sites or individuals. Second, we don’t have a Japanese bank account or credit card, so we can’t easily pay for them on said auction sites or from said individuals. This really limited our ticket buying options.

Getting Tickets: Japan has this really interesting lottery system that they use for many different things, including concert tickets. Each convenience store chain hosts a specific concert/artist. In our case we wanted to see Sekai no Owari. Lawson was the chain hosting their ticket lottery.

To enter the lottery you have to have a membership point card (at least you did for Lawson). Considering I don’t have a Japanese name it was a little difficult, but I just made it work on the online form. After you get a membership card it’s time to enter the lottery. You have to put your name, number of tickets, and date you want in the drawing. For really popular groups you can only enter once, so ask your Japanese or expat friends to enter their names in the lottery, too- but have them read the rules. For our show if you won you weren’t required to pay for them- no credit card was needed, but a friend did this for another band and ended up winning the lottery for 2 different shows. She had to pay for both sets of tickets! Luckily she was able to sell them.

Then you wait a month or so to find out if you won. We didn’t win with our entry, but my friend got the email that she (I) had won.

Winning the Ticket Lottery: Next you have to take the ticket lottery conformation number and go to your local convenience store and use their electronic transaction machine to get the placeholder tickets. These transaction centers can do much more than confirm event tickets, you can pay bills and utilities through them, too.

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These are just placeholder tickets- no seat numbers listed!

There was no English option, so the helpful clerk typed in all the information for me after my 4th failed attempt at retrieving the paper ticket stubs. I finally got it printed out. Then you take it to the register and pay for your tickets. That’s right. You won the lottery, but it’s not free. You just won the right to have guaranteed seats. The tickets that print out don’t even have the seats on them. You could get amazing floor seats, or you could get nosebleed seats… that’s part of the lottery-ness of it all.

Going to the Concert:

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Sekai no Owari Twilight City set

Then you wait some more. You wait and you wait and you wait until about 2-3 weeks before the concert when your actual tickets arrive. Mine arrived to my friend’s house, because they were linked to her membership rewards card and online account. I anxiously waited to find out what the seat numbers were. Would we get lucky with those, too? Based on the online seating chart our seats weren’t great, but they weren’t terrible. We had our tickets and the day of the event finally came around. We had no idea what to expect at the venue, so we arrived about 4 hours early. In the future we could probably arrive 1.5-2 hours early.

There were a lot of similarities to US concerts, like the huge crowds and long lines- especially for the women’s bathroom. There were some differences, too. At this show the concession food was reasonable, maybe only $1.00 more than what it cost outside the arena. It might have been because this band had a theme relating to local festivals, and food at matsuri (festivals) are usually quite cheap.

Whatever the reason, for the first time I didn’t have to pay over $4.00 for bottled water! I also noticed that there was a lot of cosplay. I mean, a lot. There was also a ton of young guys and girls doing “twin style”- where friends dress alike. Twin style is really huge in Tokyo right now, so seeing it wasn’t a big shock. Seeing so many people in cosplay did surprise me, though, especially considering that it was such a hot day. Some people had very elaborate and heavy costumes on.

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Sekai no Owari Twilight City show

Another difference was that people picked up after themselves. In Japan, everyone is expected to pick up their trash, so people had little plastic bags to put their trash and bottles in. In America most people leave their concession trash under their seats if they can get away with it. Something else that stood out to me was that when the crowd went to clap along to the music…everybody was in time with each other. In America you hear all sorts of off beat, out of sync clapping, but I didn’t notice it at all in our area.

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Japanese crowds clap in time!

And what about an encore? They do it here, too…. except it’s more polite. In the states we all chant “encore, encore!,” but at this concert the crowd sang a sweet sounding song that I couldn’t catch all the words of except for “one more time.” Everyone was singing this nice, polite song asking the artists to come out and sing once more- and they did. And it was fantastic. If I didn’t hear Dragon Night I thought I was going to go crazy, but luckily it was part of their encore.   Overall, it was a great first experience, but we couldn’t have done it without the help of our Japanese friends.

 

Have you gone to a concert in Japan? Did you find the food to be more expensive than this concert? What else was different from concerts in your home country? Feel free to comment!

My Time on NHK World’s Cool Japan TV Show

“My name is Angela and I have 2 cats.”

Since March I have appeared on 5 episodes of the long-running television show called “Cool Japan” that is broadcast on NHK’s BS1 channel, as well as on their global broadcast called NHK World.

Today I got my first message from a viewer through my blog (thank you for writing, Ich!), and it dawned on me that I should probably post about my experience on the show.

Whenever people find out that I have appeared on the program they always ask me how I got on the show, what it’s like, etc. so, there’s the scoop on it.

I started watching the program when we moved to Japan in November 2013. I enjoyed the show, and watched it almost every week.

Then in June 2014 I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and during my “surgery summer” I was home recovering, which meant I was able to watch every episode of the show.

During this time I also spent a lot of time online researching and happened to check out the Cool Japan website on NHK. At the very bottom of the site there was a button mentioning they were accepting new cast members, so I thought.. “what do I have to lose?” and I applied sometime in July 2014.

A few months went by without hearing anything. Then around September I got an email asking me to come for an audition. Of course I said yes. The only problem was that I was in Hawaii receiving cancer treatment and would likely not make it back to Japan in time for the audition. I said yes, anyway. I convinced my doctors to let me fly home maybe 2-3 days before my big audition.

I was jet lagged and filled with a low level of radiation. My hair was falling out and I was exhausted. But I made the trip to Roppongi from my city and auditioned. It was awful. The asked me to tell them about myself. I had not been asked that question since being diagnosed with cancer. I stuttered. I said “My name is Angela and I like cats.” I didn’t say where I was from, that I worked for Dell (at the time), that I was married, that I had a master’s degree…none of it. They looked at me like I was nuts.

It was a group audition with 3 other foreigners in my group. They were very genki and  from big metropolitan cities. I was sick and was from a small southern state in America. The audition topic was about night life. In my state nightlife consists of clubbing (which I don’t do), and going to the 24-hour Wal-Mart. We don’t really have anything else that’s open 24 hours, so I had very little to contribute to the conversation.

After the audition I was pulled aside and asked some questions about gachapon machines, but I didn’t feel it was a good audition at all. I was so sick, so I don’t remember much else about it at all.

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From my first episode- I was sure I’d never get asked back, so I wanted to be sure and get a picture!

A few more months passed-I assumed I made a fool of myself and would never hear from them again. I was so surprised when I received an invitation in February to appear as a panelist on the topic of Kawaii 2015 that would tape in March. I went. I talked. I had a blast.

It was so much fun! I couldn’t believe that I was sitting just a few feet away from people I watched on television every week. It was surreal and I turned into a fangirl for a moment.

Then I taped the other episodes I mentioned earlier.

 

 

 

For those interested, my episodes so far have been:

Kawaii 2015

Time

Edged Tools

Umami

Bridges

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It’s been a really fun and exciting summer, and I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to work on the show. I’m not sure if I’ll be asked back in the future, but I will always cherish my memories and experiences from the episodes I’ve done so far! I’m feeling better each passing month, and I think that being on the show and making people laugh has helped me in my cancer recovery.

If you’ve stumbled upon my blog because you saw me on the show, thank you for watching. I hope you enjoyed watching the episodes!