Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Here is an actual picture of a pair of snow kangaroos. The female is the larger of the two and more powerful, but otherwise indistinguishable from the male. In general, the female will kick the crap out of potential suitors until she finds one who fits the bill. Little is known about their habits and I'm lucky to have cought them on film.

Monday, January 24, 2005

It has been supposed that the picture that I posted of the Kamoshika is actually that of a Japanese Snow Kangaroo. This is decidedly not the case. Snow kangaroos are somewhat taller with large pontoon like feet to help them jump through the drifts of often powdery, deep snow that coat the mountains and hills around Nagano and elsewhere in Japan. Snow Kangaroos are most closely related to the Yeti-dog of inner Mongolia and are recognisable by their dog like canines which they use to root for grubs and tubers. The Kamoshika, on the other hand is also known as the Japanese Serow and is related more to the goaty-llama type animals that so frequently inhabit petting zoos around the world.

In other news, I just finished Eric Larson's "The Devil in the White City" a true historical account of H.H. Holmes, the first known serial killer in the US as well as the trials and tribulations of the World Columbian Exibition in 1893. Let me start out by saying that i'm a little biased of course because I'm really an urban planner at heart and also as a one time resident of Hyde Park in Chicago, I have a soft spot for Chicago based literature and since I was only a 5 minute walk from where the Exibition was held, more than a passing familiarity with the grounds. All the same, it's history that reads like fiction. It was so good that I found myself cringing at the thought of such rabble rousers as Eugene Debs spoiling the progress of the honorable architect and builder Daniel Burnham.

This, along with The Jungle is a "should read" for anyone who has stepped into Chicago for more than a passing glimpse at the airport.

Friday, January 21, 2005

This is the lovely Boob Mountain Range. I ascended almost to the right teat that you can see there, but snow and a cramped schedule prevented me. Damn that 3:00 class!

I would like you all to see one of the finest names for candy in all of the land. This really defines a bit of the japanese love of the sappy. In what must be one of the corniest, most faux-sincere countries on the planet, it's really the product names that stand out.

Behold the mighty Kamoshika, lord of the buxom hills.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

I climbed within 20 vertical meters of the top of Lower Boob Mountain the other day.

If you look outside our window, you can see two mountains off over the M-Wave building. From this perspective and that from much of this part of the city, you would swear that they were meant to emulate a voluptuous relative of the Jolly Green Giant. Since I had no class until 3, I took it upon myself to do a little mountaineering up along the ridge line. Jennifer and I had attempted to summit Greater Boob this past summer on an incredibly hot and humid day, we were forced back by lack of supplies and also lack of will. I decided I wasn'a ganna stand fer it anna' moer!

My new boots proved to be adequate and the snowshoes that I purchased for the low low price of $50 last week were actually unnecessary, though I lugged them all the way up just in case. I could have used them at the top, where the snow was about a meter deep, but the terrain was so steep as to prevent their effectiveness. What I really could have used were some ice axes. You know, the kind that mountaineers always carry to help them through all kinds of snowy and icy terrain , and which also may be used as a crude hunting implement or means to defend against wildlife gone amok.

As we touch on the subject of wildlife gone amok, I ran into 3 examples of the unique and strangely zen Japanese Kamoshika. The animal is rather like a goat but when you bumble across one you are momentarily unsure what to think. Dawn, the Kiwi from Suzaka usuall describes them, "You know, Kamoshika, the pig-dog-goat-bear things." Fortunately for me, they are incredibly docile (often giving the impression of stupidity) and allowed me to take several choice pictures of them.

I finally reached the not-quite-summit and then, realizing the time, lept down the mountain in a quarter of the time that it took me to get to the top. That's the beauty of jumping into giant snowpatches, they don't hurt you, unless they're covering pits or logs.

Overall it was a successful expedition. Next, I will make an attempt at Greater Boob. My report will be featured exclusively on this website.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Last saturday as i mentioned, was the Nozawa Village Fire festival.

A little background on festivals in japan. Festivals are the only times when this otherwise staid and calm culture really just freaks out. Festivals are a chance for the participants, whomever they may be, usually young men, to get totally ripped with their buddies and go do something stupid while wearing ridiculous outfits. The one we saw last spring in which men ride logs down dirt embankments was one example. Another example is the festival where they fly giant kites which sometimes kill people upon crashing. The Fire festival is the latest and by far the most outrageous disregard to safety and common sense that i've ever been witness to.

This particular festival is based around two traditions: First is that of burning your newyears decorations on the 15th of January, the second is on the idea that the ages of 25 and 42 are particularly bad luck years for men here. The synthesis of these two beliefs results in the following procedure.

The townspeople of Nozawa Village drag a bunch of brush and trees down from the mountains sometime in the fall and let it get good and dry. Then about the 13th of January they prepare the shrine which looks something like a giant ornamental birds nest reaching about 40 feet high. On the 15th of January the 25 year olds and the 42 year olds get pretty lit on sake and light a large bonfire at the edge of the arena surrounding the shrine. At this point the 25 year olds and the 42 year olds gather around the shrine and chant and get ready with the old guys on top of the bird nest platform. The next stage is where it gets really interesting. Village notables as well as some young children light reed torches on the bonfire and march towards the large shrine in a ceremonial effort to set the thing on fire. The younger set of unlucky men, armed with pine branches and nerves steeled with alchohol wait for these dignitaries to try to light their shrine and then calmly swat the flames out. After about 2o or so minutes of this the shit hits the fan and groups of drunken village men of all ages join the fight. They take up the torches that the old guys pitch down from the roof, run to the bonfire and lighting them, head back for the shrine to do battle. These guys are for real, they stage ambushes, rushes and full on frontal assaults with their burning torches. I saw guys whipped in the face with bundles of these flaming reeds. Time and time again the stupid drunks attacked eachother. While the supposed goal of the attackers was to destroy the shrine, it seemed more like the attackers were trying to destroy the faces and hair-dos of the defenders. It was not unusual for glowing embers to sputter out on the hair and flesh of the unlucky 25-ers. Thank god that i'm not from Nozawa, as this would be my year!

here's another shot of the hapless 25 year old defenders. Note that these guys are hooked by the wrist to the shrine, thus giving them some motivation to keep it from going up in flames.

torches being carried towards the shrine

Friday, January 14, 2005

I wish that I were competent in cool things such as avalanche prediction. It is my utmost desire to travel via ski to the more remote places in the snowy mountains around nagano, but my boundless enthusiasm has had a kick in the shorts after receiving this email from a fellow foreigner in the area.

If you or one of your friends starts a slab avalanche, you have a few seconds to get off that slab before it breaks up and you fall over. Once you're down, your board/skies will dag you under. If you make it unscathed to where the avalanche finally settles, you will often be in a sitting position. You have 2 options then. Try to punch a hole through the snow before it freezes or try to make as big a breathing space around your head as possible. All it takes is a few cm above your outstretched hand. As you breathe under the snow, your breath will melt patches of the surrounding snow which will immediately re-freeze to form a fatal bubble of ice around your head- not a nice way to go.Avalanche snow settles and freezes within seconds. You will not be able to wriggle or move. Snowboards or skis have no chance of getting through it. You have approx 15 mins of breathing air available before you fall unconscious. Then your brain has a further 3-4 mins before it starts dying of oxygen starvation. So your friends have 15 mins to dig a hole for you to breathe on your own

I'm reminded about my tendency to go overboard with stuff. I tend to get an idea in my head and obscess about it for a good long while and then, without much experience to back my mental calculations, i go nuts. Former roomates and friends of mine will readily confess that it can happen that I get in a little over my head. One might consider my home-made banana moonshine or the cortizone injection that I whipped up in our kitchen using some anti-itch spray and a bit of stolen lab equipment.
I guess the moral of this story is, I should probably show some restraint when venturing out of the groomed tracks this winter. Please, all you praying folk, pray for my willpower and restraint.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

I'm in the process of reading my third Tom Robbins novel. I've read "Another Roadside Attraction" and "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas" and now I'm on to "Villa Incognito". While they are always good for some trivia and a laugh, I didin't really fall in love with the other two, and I'm not sure why I'm reading this one. I guess I shouldn't be so critical of myself, it is afterall a book and not a cycling or climbing magazine. It would behoove my atrophied noodle to work on reading more works with more than 10 pages devoted to a single topic.

In other news, tomorrow is the Nozawa Fire Festival. I believe that I posted a brief sketch of this last year, but tomorrow I will actually see the event, rather than just hear stories and legends. It is basically a time for the Japanese to get ripped on sake and burn down some towers upon which old men are standing. It sounds like good fun, i'll be sure to write more tomorrow.

Monday, January 10, 2005

the nice thing about this digital camera that Jennifer and I bought is that I can take as many crappy pictures as I want and post them simply and easily. My myriad readers should brace themselves for an onslaught of photography.

Here's a picture of me that some random passerby took shortly after my damaging fall. You'll probably notice two things. 1. The snow is really deep. 2. My skis are called Mountain Noodles.
Japan has the same attitude towards snow that it does about so many other things; let it be and maybe it will go away on it's own. The local government occasionally plows the larger streets in the event of a large snowfall, but they just let any road smaller than 4 lanes "clear up of it's own accord". This really makes for challenging bicycling to say the least. I haven't crashed yet this year, but then again, I only rode to work once so far. Today is snowing like crazy, so we'll have to see how my luck holds out.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

I don't know for sure, but knees aren't supposed to make a popping noise are they? I took a digger yesterday at the end of the day, while going not too fast and admiring the sunset. Sproing, flip, pop, groan is the appropriate order of it i believe.

Oh well, i guess it's just time to be a grumpy bitch while i heal up.

Friday, January 07, 2005

The first day back at work is always a hard one. Fortunately Friday is the easy day, my best students and best class environments. It's also easy since I've got a 3 day weekend coming up tomorrow through Monday. What a way to start back into the old grind eh? Skiing should figure prominently in the weekend's activities, I'm hoping to establish some new bruises and bumps on my arse.

In other news, jet lag is not as bad as the process of shrinking one's stomach to it's pre-gluttonfest proportions. Since being constantly exposed to food during the recent holiday binge, I've increased 2 dress sizes and have noticed alarming signs of distress around the seams of various clothing items.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Well, it's good to be back. Mostly, it's good to be done travelling as we were in some form of transportation for the past 27 hours (that includes airport time though). In the plane back I started and finished "Timequake" by Kurt Vonnegut and watched three shitty movies, "Little Black Book", "Catwoman" and "Shark Tale" with the last of those three being the most enjoyable by far.
I had a really good visit home. It was almost too easy to be back. It is one thing to live in another place for a year and a half, but really, there's almost no experience that can erase all of my formative years at home in the good ol' US of A. I honestly expected there to be a good bit of culture shock coming back home after my longest ever absence. The biggest problem I had was portion management. American restaurants are psychopathically overserving us. Why don't we just pay a little less, get a little less food and keep our waistlines thinner and our wallets fatter? I don't know, i guess there's always going to be a thrill in a mountain of food. The thousand calorie rollercoaster eating binge. Not only were restaurants troublesome, but the glorious home cooked food available at my fingertips every second of every day was sincerely heart stopping. I put on a couple extra kilos just for good measure at every house i visited.
Now, back in the land of no insulation and no snowplows, I'm going to find it hard to stop thinking about the life that could be, lounging around the US.

Oh yeah, if anyone out there across the ether finds a set of keys, 1 house, 2 bike lock; please let me know. You see, I somehow misplaced them in all the festivities. They're either at Ben and Marye's house, Emi and Tim's apartment, or someplace else in the Midwest. The last time I remember them was at Ben and Marye's house, but I'm pretty sure they made it past there. Oh well.