I began studying Japanese in college and, after getting enough work experience to be a desirable commodity, found a position in Tokyo. I moved to Japan in March, 1994 and was quickly sucked into Tokyo's busy life. My office is in the middle of Tokyo surrounded by a vast urban sprawl.
Although I work in an American company, there are of course things peculiar only to Japan to be found. For example, I came into work one day to find the biggest daruma I had ever seen. Daruma is a Japanese doll representing perseverance towards achieving a goal or wish. To "activate" it, one eye is painted in. Once the goal is achieved, the other eye is painted and the doll is discarded. I never did find out what goal this daruma represented.
Though I spend far more time in the office than sanity allows, I've been able to fit in some extra-curricular activities. Being volcanic and all, Japan has plenty of mountainous terrain. Just an hour straight down the Chuo Line from Tokyo, decent hiking can be found in the Chichibu-Tama area. The first Japanese mountain I climbed was Mt. Kumotori, the tallest mountain in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. Standing at 2,018 meters (6620 ft) it's not a shabby climb.
In August of 1995, I tackled Mt. Fuji along with my good friends Chikako and Shinji. Like most people, we climbed throughout the night in order to experience the sunrise from the top. Though it is not unusual for 5000 people to climb it in a single day, Mt. Fuji is not a trivial climb and is 3,776 meters (12,388 ft) of pure drudgery (though we actually start from the 5th station, 60% of the way up). Lots of people complain about it but it was definitely a worthwhile experience. In fact, I climbed it a second time in September of 1997 with my brother Alan and my friend Kaare. This was outside the official climbing season so this time it seemed more like a "real" mountain with much less traffic and no way stations or vending machines. It was a very cool experience to see a bit of snow on the top and the ground and buildings covered in brilliant rime ice.
Where there's mountains, there's bound to be some winter skiing action. While I've heard complaints about the skiing in Japan, compared to Michigan, the skiing is brilliant. Gala-Yuzawa is just an hour or so from Tokyo. Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics, is not that far either and even more accessible now via the super-fast shinkansen ("bullet train"). For a change, though, a weekend ski trip to Hokkaido is always a good idea.
However, certain people from warmer climes, despite excellent tutelage, may decide that skiing is not their cup of tea and refuse ever to wear ski boots again. No matter what, though, a hot spring (onsen) bath in the middle of the snow is highly recommended. Just don't do anything stupid like roll around naked in the snow.
Of course there are many cultural things to do in Japan like visiting temples and castles. Odawara Castle is close to Tokyo and is the only castle I've seen which has a live elephant living next to it. Kamakura, Nikko, Kyoto and Nara are all beautiful, historic cities and worth a visit. In Nara and Kyoto, though, be careful of the rabid English class students. They will accost you and quickly rob you of any free time.
One can quickly get "templed out" so attending a Japanese baseball game, or, perhaps a Sumo tournament may be just the ticket. Of course there are plenty of bars and restaurants and eating out or going out to drink are all common pastimes.
While I'm living here, it's of course an ideal time for friends and family to visit. Although Japan is prohibitively expensive, I've been fortunate to have been visited by my friends Jon, Jeff, Hans & Chris, Mom & Dad and brother Alan. Visitors give me an opportunity to travel around to Japan to places I may not otherwise go. Plus I get to experience Japan through fresh eyes once again.
Though the rail and bus systems are unsurpassed, a motorcycle brings true transportation freedom. I had never ridden a motorcycle before but after trying a moped for a while, I entered Japanese driving school, got a license and bought a reliable and peppy Honda Spada. Now I shun the crowded Tokyo trains and ride the motorcycle nearly every day.
I was fortunate to find some good motorcycling friends who gave me the opportunity to tour Japan and visit such places as Kakegawa Castle, Omaezaki, Nagano and Sado Island.
If you go to an onsen resort, you may have the pleasure of the company of a nakai-san or what I tend to think of as the poor man's geisha. She sits with you during dinner to make pleasant conversation and to keep the sake and beer glasses full. They often have a ridiculously small cup, called an ochoko, which they use to take dainty sips of sake.
Sometimes you may run across a fertility shrine which contains a giant wooden phallus. These may be put up, even in modern times, to encourage the growth of a dwindling small-town population.
In Japan, one is sometimes challenged to eat new and unusual foods, usually fishy in nature. Believe it or not, a big tuna head makes for a very delicious meal. I still have not determined the appeal of octopus which is basically tasteless and has a texture akin to a bicycle tire. You may be happy to learn that McDonald's and pizza is plentiful in Japan. It's not always the same, though. There are versions of pizza unique to Japan so be careful.
Japan is a good base for reaching some great dive spots. I've had the pleasure of diving in Guam, Thailand and the Philippines. In September of 1997 I finally had the opportunity to dive in Japan with my friend Matt. We went diving in Atami, a short train ride from Tokyo. I also tried underwater photography for the first time using a camera housing for disposable cameras.
You can see more recent Japan pictures here. These are from my 1999 motorcycle trip all around Japan. Also you might be interested to see a birds-eye view of my Tokyo neighborhood.
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Created: Oct 2, 1997
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2003