Friday, April 20, 2012

The Japan Trip - Day 06

I think I should probably mention our morning rituals.

JX is the earliest to wake up, being the earliest to bed after all, closely followed by XM (usually). Then Bryan's stupid alarm goes off and I'm forced to go over and kill it (and him). I don't know what JX does in the unearthly hours of the morning, seeing as I'm not even awake yet, but I presume it involves a lot of household-y things like making breakfast and hot chocolate and writing and stuff, although he usually writes at night. There is usually breakfast involved, and much discussion about "the plan", which is Bryan's way of making sure we don't waste a second of the very expensive daylight.

It was drizzling slightly that morning, which disappointed us because we were supposed to go hiking that day. Nevertheless, we got in the car when Inoue-san came to pick us up, and trundled along the frigid country roads towards the little town on Mt Daisen. There was a lot of snow lying around, or at least it was ice, and Inoue-san told us that it had snowed the previous week, which was unusual for this time of year, and therefore there was still much frozen water lying around. I guess it was fortunate, since there was enough time for people to get the snow off the roads and paths, but still recent enough such that we could trudge through the drifts, which was very exciting for me since I hadn't seen ice lying around on the ground before.

I tried scattering ice cubes on my floor a while back; it didn't have the same atmosphere.

Our first stop was supposed to be the information centre, but it was apparently closed when we got there. We thought it was because there were no hiking trails in what was effectively still winter. Seasons slow down the further up you go. So Inoue-san brought us into the town, where almost everything was closed - it was early in the morning and I think most of the business caters to the winter skier tourists and similar. She went to ask questions in a building, which turned out to be the real information centre, and then went to inform the local police about us. Not because XM was taking on the role of "party lolicon", but because it was dangerous to go hiking in this inhospitable weather, and so to make sure that someone with all the ropes and grappling hooks and snowshoes can go look for us in case we don't get back by sundown.

But seriously, who wouldn't want to get lost in such an adorable wilderness?

She then dropped us back at the alleged information centre, which turned out to just be a starting point for campsites and hiking trails. We found one nearby, apparently snowed out with a thick layer of melting ice overlaying the staircase. We then decided that slipping and dying on a remote mountain slope would put a dampener on our plans, so we walked back into town to escape the persistent torrential drizzle.

Not pictured: the winter-starved mountain bears waiting at the top.

The first shop that we reached specialised in mountain-climbing and winter supplies, which we didn't really need but what they did have was a roof, so we went in. There was a wide variety of jackets, hiking shoes, carabiners and other assorted equiment. JX bought some waterproof spray for his shoes, which he complained were getting very soggy.

They also sell door handles in the shape of ice picks.

As we wandered the empty streets, we stumbled upon the Daisen Museum of Natural History, which we also entered because it was warm and had no entrance fee. It mainly catalogues the wildlife of the Daisen area. There was a flower-spotter's guide by the entrance, some illustrations about food webs for little kids, and a lot of taxidermy. It was also the place where Bryan took a picture of the O RLY eagle.


We went to the information centre to get some directions, and at the same time stop for lunch. The lady at the counter apparently had been to Singapore before, some ten years previously, and mentioned Orchard Road. We got a good, robust English map of the area, and settled down to have lunch. I had cold soba, which I had bought from the combini, and it was delicious because it was so cold. Somehow the conversation came around to TNN, and somehow Bryan came up with the evil Shogun of Swing and his army of Disco Ninjas, which came about because Bryan kept singing Smooth Criminal that it got stuck in my head.

So cheap yet so good.

We trudged up the main street, which was at a slight angle and was still very empty, even after lunch. We passed this huge drift of snow, and got the idea to all do something with it. Xi Min got an "explorer" photograph of him surveying the land from the top of the mound. We carved the words "Hi Mom!" into the snow and took a picture, with the intention of sending it home to let our moms know we were alright.

Xi Min, scaling Mt. Hugepileofsnow (reenactment)
We never managed to send the photo though.

At the top of the town was a large Buddhist temple. It had many beautiful statues carved from solid rock, a lot of Buddha-looking people and a few Chinese dogs, and the whole effect was something out of a Tomb Raider movie. Most of the statues had red ribbons tied around their necks, though, and it was theorised that this was to keep them warm.

Then they came to life and started attacking the well-endowed young woman with the dual handguns.

We followed the mountain path back down into a dead forest, trees with branches but whose leaves had moved south for the winter. It was a beautiful sight, one rarely seeing in my native country unless there's a toxic spill somewhere. We followed the path down to the river. It was very wide and very deep, but not filled with much water. I presumed it was because the summer meltwater had not arrived yet; it was still lazing around at the top of the mountain.  There was a stream coursing through the centre of the rocky and uneven banks, and we carefully picked our way across the shifting boulders to it.

Fearless mountain explorers.

The water was fast (relatively), and icy cold. It was also crystal clear and very refreshing. Against everything my mother would have shouted at me were she there, I ripped off my footwear and plunged my feet into the frigid waters. It was sooooooooo cold! I felt my extremities go hypothermic. I couldn't leave them in there for long, but it was such a great feeling. It's probably like the reverse effect of a hot spring.

One of the best feelings in the world.

The rugged mountaineer skips merrily across the rocky landscape.

His pants are wet.

I helped Bryan take a picture of him in the middle of the river, which he spent fifteen minutes getting to and another fifteen minutes drying off after he slipped on a stepping stone and fell in. Xi Min wandered off upstream, and then tried to climb a snow-ridden slope, managed to get halfway, then slid down again. I also took a picture of myself topless, not as exciting or attractive as you might think, but in that rugged mountain explorer pose, just for fun. It was freezing, but also very liberating to just thrust your bare naked chest out into the wind.

Saxton Hale, eat your heart out.
Xi Min, climbing back up after wrestling a bear at the foot of that slope.

After this hydrolic encounter, we wandered over to another mountain path, paved with stones all over, all the way up. There was a foot or two of packed snow and ice lining the sides, so it seemed like a corridor of snow leading all the way up the mountain. In effect, we got the winter landscape scenery as well, with the bare trees scattered all over. It was a long way to the top, even though we didn't want to rock and roll. I entertained myself by observing the melting ice, the way it usually starts melting from the bottom, because that's where most of the heat comes from, and so you end up with shelves of ice then a gap then the ground.

An icy walkway into mystery.

At the top of the climb we were rewarded with a huge Buddhist temple, the type where you go to learn kung fu, and it even had planks for visitors to traverse across the flooded area at the entrance. When we arrived, we found out that we had just climed the longed stone path in Japan to get there. I mean, isn't that the sort of thing you tell people at the beginning of their journey, not at the end after they've spent the last hour going, "not long more now". I guess it adds to the whole "you have endured the long journey to get here; now we shall practice kung fu" atmosphere of the place.

"Ughhh... just... go on... without... me..."

As expected, we were not very interested in the temple, and so we wandered over to the wilderness, where the snow had piled up five feet thick, and someone had dug a small pit to a buried signpost to illustriate this fact. Naturally, I climbed in, because where else can you be surrounded neck deep in snow? It was a hassle climbing out again, though. Bryan and XM climbed in, pretending it was a dugout, and posed with their umbrellas as rifles as I took photos.

"Grenade! Uh, I mean, snowball!"

It started to drizzle, so we made our way back to the temple. Xi Min bought a fortune, but he couldn't read a word of it, so he ended up asking the monk on shop duty to read it for him, which he understood, I guess, in a way. We made our way back down the longest stone path in Japan, slipping slightly here and there because that's the nature of wet stone. I ate one of my momoji manju on the way down. I really needed the toilet.

Bryan really started practising kung fu.
As we were walking back through the main street, we stopped by a rest house so I could empty the ballast tanks, if you know what I mean. The rest house was a large place, which I guess also doubled as the town's art museum, because there was paintings all over the panelings. We also stopped by a souvenir shop, where I picked up a small pin to remember Mt Daisen by, and as I was paying the lady asked us where we were from. I told her, and we found out that she was actually Chinese too, from China, and spoke to her in Mandarin. We chatted a bit and then left, but as we were talking outside, she came to us and gave us a small badge each, on the house. It was really nice of her.

The only other interesting thing on the way back was SUNTORY BOSS, who is THE BOSS OF THEM ALL. It's a brand of coffee sold in vending machines across Japan, and Bryan and I each bought a can to try (and because it was so freaking cold - Japan has warm drink vending machines).

When Inoue-san brought us back to the cottage-mansion, she said she had provided a barbeque dinner for us. It turned out to be a home-style teppanyaki dinner, and she provided all the raw meat and vegetables and rice. We roasted some of the pork and bacon and sausages and walked over to the neighbouring house - which is also apparently hers and she rents it out as well - to give it to her.

Grillin' and chillin'.

We spent the rest of the dinner watching Japanese programming, which is mostly dramas, variety shows, and awesome commercials. There was come cooking show for kids which starred this very young idol-looking person. There was a irritating half-Arabic girl who looked exactly like Kumar, and she was being sickeningly cute and just pissing us all off. There was a Power Rangers-esque show with a cute female lead. And there was also some local news about some bears who had wandered into someone's backyard and killed him, I think.

The poor girl.

We then karaoked for the next three hours.

*All pictures in this post courtesy of Bryan.

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