Saturday, 30 October 2010

Typhoon Chaba

It's currently typhoon season in Japan (and the rest of the southwest Pacific) and typhoon 1014 "Chaba" is currently in it's way past Tokyo and back out to sea, where it'll lose it's ferocity and die at sea.

Below is a couple of screengrabs from the Japanese Meteorological Agency ( which does a fine 'n' dandy job of charting typhoons, earthquakes and similiar forecasts.

Today it hasn't stopped raining in my part of southern Nagano and judging by the noise of the overflow river next to my house, it rained a lot last night too. Chaba is (was) rated a 4 (5 being the most violent), and managed to kill a few people down in Okinawa on it's way up the south coast of Japan. For me the good news is that the typhoon clears the skies of clouds, so tomorrow will be a lovely day!

The red X is where I live, roughly.

Climbing Mt. Kaikoma

Last Saturday I joined two teachers from my school on a mountain hike/climb a ways from Ina-shi. The mountain, Kaikoma, is nestled deep in the famous Japanese mountain range “Minami Alps”, and stands just under 3000 metres in height. The journey to the top was a hard 4-hour hike/climb and a 3-3.5 hour return.

At the bus stop as the sun rises over the Minami Alps

So I arose before dawn and joined them at Matsukawa IC for the drive north. After reaching Ina we headed east through Takato and up into the mountains. We parked and caught the bus deeper into the mountains. The drive up was really enjoyable; the Autumn colours here are simply breathtaking. We also saw deer and “mountain deer”, which look a lot like really butch and leathery goats. I managed to get a fleeting photo of one before our bus disappeared around the windy mountain road.

The "mountain deer"

An hour passed by and soon we found ourselves overlooking the great valley we'd travelled through, the Kurogawa (黒川; “Black River”) snaking it's way through the mountains far below. A few minutes more and we arrived at the base encampment to start the climb. At this point it was just before 8 in the morning and the sun had been up for about an hour, although it was still horrendously cold. I'm so very glad I wore my skintight longjohns under my jeans! And my proper walking boots of course.

On the bus we'd managed to pick up another Japanese hiker who spoke good english. He'd also done the hike several times, so just like that our group became four, including a "guide", and we hiked together.

Our destination in the distance

The hike itself was the hardest I've done since I've been here. For a substantial portion of it we were actually climbing, hands and feet on rocks and boulders. I enjoyed it of course, but it was really hard-going. The route we followed took us through a beautiful Autumn-coloured forest, along a stream, then up through a forest, across a really alien-looking mountain of boulders, another really steep trail (which we climbed as much as walked), until finally we broke through the trees at the top at about 10.30. Exhausted, I collapsed onto a rock and was in the midst of breaking out my sandwiches when one of my colleagues laughed and pointed into the distance (upwards). “Lunch is there, the top of the mountain.” Yes, we were just a little over half way to our goal. I munched some peanuts dejectedly, then hauled myself up for the next part of the climb, which saw us struggled over more boulders and lots of scree on very steep slopes. One thing that always amazes me here is how many people go hiking, yet there are no safety measures should you find yourself heading for the edge of the cliff. None at all. Not even signs. You'd bounce and cartwheel all the way down too!

Anyway, after our final slog we arrived at the top, and I was unsurprised to find a small shrine at the top, with offerings from the travellers over the years. I was surprised however to realise how many mountains I could see. We couldn't have picked a better day to climb – the sky was clear, the sun warm, the wind just a little chilly – and there before me I saw the great range of mountains moving into the distance. And low and behold, there was the top of Fuji-san, another 800 metres above us. I must climb that next year!

Kofu (Yamanashi Prefecture) from the top of Kaikoma

Windswept, sunburnt and absolutely knackered. But victorious!

After salami sandwiches and coffee for lunch we headed back down, taking a slightly quicker route than the one up. It was still gruelling – my toes kept sliding into the fronts of my boots because the mountain was so steep: the following day I would still be suffering with sore feet. Other than that though, I was fine, which surprised me a little.

Hello Fuji-san!

Shrine at the top. The offering: a bottle of tea

The route down took us back down the scree and boulders, then through another part of the forest. The Autumn leaves blossomed above us, and I jokingly called out to any wandering bears, much to the horror of my colleagues. Apparently bears are dangerous. I told them I wanted to eat bear ramen and they looked at me with a mixture of reactions, but mainly mirth, which was the idea.

Climbing back down

After the long hard hike we settled into an onsen at the camp near the carpark to ease the pains away. We then head back to Iida to a restaurant I hadn't been to before. While I love Japanese food and find 99% of it really tasty, it had been a long time since something had stood out to me, and the restaurant's udon/soup/broth was quite simply, divine. And well-deserved, I think.

The last leg through the forest

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Wild boar

This weekend I finally visited a small restaurant in my village that I've been meaning to since last year! Infact I can't believe I haven't before, seeing as I drive past it almost every time I go out. One of our block's newbies, Jake, came for the experience too.

We both opted for the 猪手食 (inoshishi teshoku; the wild boar meal set), which consisted of yaki-style wild boar meat and vegetables, plus rice, konnyaku (a jelly-like snack made from processed fish), miso soup, 漬物 (pickles) and fresh orange. It was the first time I'd tried wild boar and I found it juicy and tender, and the price of the teshoku, really cheap.

There are four items on the menu that I'm aiming to try, wild boar being the first. The others are 松茸 (matsutake; pine mushroom, an expensive delicacy available almost exclusively in Autumn), 熊 (shika; deer) and 鹿 (kuma; bear).

Matsutake - 松茸

To give you an idea of what these mushrooms can cost, the Principal of one of my elementary schools managed to find a crop of them out in a local forest (they are very hard to find) and brought them into school about ten days ago. He had between twenty and thirty of them, all of which fit on a standard newspaper page. I asked him what that would fetch in a shop and he told me the minimum would be 5 or 6万円 (£400+). He laughed when my jaw dropped.

Yesterday a local salesman came into my Junior High to sell punnets of these mushrooms. Each punnet had between one and three mushrooms in it, depending on their size, and each punnet was at least £10-15! That had better be a tasty mushroom!

The teshoku

The boar!


Miso soup


Tuesday, 12 October 2010


Yesterday I woke up to sunlight streaming through my shoji screens, so packed a bag, my camera and my guitar into my car and headed out the back of my village into the Minami Alps. My destination: Shirabiso Kogen, a big flat mountain top that overlooks the alps. I took my girlfriend there earlier this year and decided it was high time I paid it another visit. I took some pictures, had some food, and found a spot to plonk down and play my guitar. A day well spent, peaceful and serene. I could stare at these mountains all day... and I did.

First signs of Autumn.

Minamiminowa Illumination Festival

My favourite illumination. It reminded me of Will O' the Wisp on the surface of the water.


A terrifying head on a scarecrow. Too far Japan, too far.

Crab from Sonic the Hedgehog?

Cute house (terrorised by giant child in the background).

"Stained glass" style. Another nice exhibit.

On Sunday night I headed north with some friends for the Minamiminowa Illumination Festival, an event held in the middle of a forest/park. It was nice to see everything all lit up in the dark and glowing, and the exhibitions have now put me in a really Christmassy mood. If only I had some garish, electrically-powered tat to stick to the outside of my house... where are you poundland when I need you?!

Shimoina Footy

Despite Saturday being a dreary and rainy day, I headed out to Takamori to watch my school's football team play a couple of teams from Iida. It surprised me that our entire team were ichninensei's (first years), while the other teams were playing sannensei's (third years), but I suppose there's no rule against what age teams are played against eachother.

The first match we won 1-0, but the rain came down, the pitch got muddier, and then my boys had to face the top team in the Shimoina area. They fought bravely but were outmatched and beaten 5-0. Despite the rain and the score they remained cheerfully upbeat, and I managed to get a few pictures huddled under the team tent.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

My favourite tree..

(Click for bigger image)

I see this tree every day when I park at work, and regardless of time or weather, it's always beautiful. This was taken last week, right at the end of the summer.

A night at Odairajuku

Our house for the night at Odairajuku

A couple of weeks ago a group Iida english teachers took advantage of a day off school to spend the night in an abandoned settlement known as Odairajuku (大平宿). Well, that's what someone told me it was.

The drive up was like something from a Stephen King novel. That night a hefty storm was moving across the area and the drive into the mountains to Odaira was fraught with rain and wind, slow speeds and tight corners, giant toads and other beasties!

Anyway, there are several houses in the settlement that are available to rent overnight (or longer), so that's what we did. A night of barbequed food, drinks and not so good drinking games. Fun, at the very least.

And on the way down the following day Jackson and I saw our first monkey, despite my first impression that it was a small bear of some sort...