A Weekend in Nagano

Less than a week after climbing Fuji, I was back in the mountains.

The Fuji trip had in fact been a last-minute one, and for some weeks now we had been planning a trip back to Nagano, to the Kamikouchi park, to first make our way to the Karasawa hut, and then explore a few of the surrounding mountains, like Kitahodaka and Okuhodaka.

As happened the last time we went trekking in that area, we were accompanied by friends of ours who live in the prefecture, William Habbington and Tammy Chrichton (that would be them, pictured in the photo at the top of this post, along with me and my wife).

What a trip.

First off, we were incredibly lucky to have amazing weather throughout — weather reports had us worried during the preceeding few days, with 50% chance of rain.

After a night bus ride from Shinjuku that had us arrive at the entrance of Kamikouchi at 6 in the morning — where we met with William and Tammy — we then made our way to Karasawa in record time and arrived at the hut, with a helicopter hovering over the mountains that surrounded us.

Even though it was mid September, the fact that it was a long weekend attracted quite a few other trekkers, and we were greeted with news that futons would need to be shared by 2 people at the hut — we checked in to the nearby koya first, and they were saying it might end up being 3 per futon.

The following morning, we were up at 4:30, and out on the mountains by 5 — wearing our headlamps of course, since the sun had yet to come out. After close to two hours of ascent, we came to a point where I could no longer continue — it’s not secret that I have a fear of heights, and I had reached my limits. The others continued on, and I went back down by myself. I would try an alternate trail to see if I could later meet up with them at another point, but I had to give up on the path as well after ascending for about an hour, and so made my way back to the Karasawa hut.

Little did I know, I would spend the night alone.

It’s a good thing I turned back when I did. From the reports by everyone, the rest of the journey was even more treacherous than anyone expected, and had everyone on edge — there’s no way I could have reached those areas. They stayed at a different hut that night, and came back down the following morning, after ascending one more peak before the trip back.

They met up with me at the Karasawa hut at 9, and not long after, we would head back to the Kamikouchi entrance, to hop up on a bus that would take me and and my wife back to Tokyo (Tammy and William had come by car).

The last part of the story is that on that final day, my wife, William, and Tammy were supposed to follow a different path along the top of the mountains to head back to the Kamikouchi entrance. Because of high winds, they decided not to do it, and when we all got back home, we found out that someone had fallen off that path and died two days previous.

That helicopter we spotted on our arrival at Karasawa? It was searching for the body.


Toe and Nathan

I may blog for myself, but this sure made me feel good.

I was checking my @replies on Twitter, and saw this tweet:

8 years ago today, @jeansnow posted this …and that’s how @nathanadams found me. Thank you, Jean. I still owe you a lot!

It was posted by Toe Adams (@pantone185), and this is the post she refers to:

I’ve just been turned on to a really nice blog called Groovisual Diary. It’s written by a Japanese girl called Toe, and she writes all her entries in Japanese and English. The only sad thing is that she wrote a post today saying that she plans on stopping the blog. If you’re into the kind of stuff I talk about here, then you’re sure to enjoy her site, so have a look, and let her know if you’d like to see her keep going.

Even though we haven’t been in touch in years — I would say around the time of that post — I do remember quite enjoying Toe’s blog, and the few emails that we exchanged at the time. But I never knew that that my humble post resulted in this.


Thanks, Toe, for the kind words, and thank you, Nathan, for following my site all those years ago.


Mount Fuji

I climbed Mount Fuji last week.

It’s the sort of thing you figure I’d have done before — considering the number of years I’ve lived in Japan, and also the fact that me and my wife are pretty avid mountaineers. But we’d just never gotten around to it, and one of the main reasons that I hadn’t shown much interest was because I kept hearing that during the climbing season it was so crowded that you had to wait in a queue to get to the top.

Not my idea of a fun hike.

But despite the fact that we had a big weekend trek planned the following weekend, we suddenly decided to do it. The official season was over (it ends on August 31), which would mean less people, and there wouldn’t be any snow yet — that starts towards the end of September. In a last-minute manner, my friend Ryan Ruel also joined us, after he found out about our plans through Facebook — having no gear, another friend chimed in and offered to help.

Unlike the way most people do it — which is to start late in the day, sleep in a hut midway, and then wake up in the middle of the night to hike the rest, in order to see the rising sun — we did the entire run in one day. We took a bus from Shinjuku late in the afternoon, arrived at Base Camp 5 in the evening, and stayed at a hut — Ryan slept in the hut, while we brought our tent, but it ended up being so cold (we don’t have sleeping bags yet) that we shivered the entire night. We finally entered the hut at around 3am, and slept a couple of hours in front of a stove.

We started the hike at around 5:30, and it took us about 6 to 6 and half hours to make it to the top. It’s not a difficult climb on a technical level, but tiring as hell. My favorite part of the day was walking around the crater, which takes about an hour and a half. The way down was the worst thing we had to deal with. Although it took us about 3 and a half hours (and we had to go back to the hut to get our tent), it’s a slippery trail filled with small rocks that made it hard on the feet and knees.

I don’t ever want to do that again, but I’m sure glad I got to experience it at least once in my life.


The Hachiko of Ikebukuro

My dog escaped again.

He’s done so a few times over his three short years, and it’s hard to get angry. Unfortunately, he suffers from a bad case of separation anxiety, which basically means he don’t groove when he’s left alone. Who knows how it happened, but it may be tied to the fact that not long after we got him was when I injured my spine, leaving me housebound for the better part of half a year. Even when I got better, I would mostly work from home, so he was always used to having me — or my wife — around.

So how does he escape? My friend Brian Gray — a damn fine game localizer here in Tokyo — left the following comment yesterday on Facebook: “Just curious—how exactly does he escape? I’m picturing giant, Looney Tunes, dog-sized holes in the sides of your house.” As I replied, for one of his escapes, that’s not really far off — he smashed through the front door (we live in an old house, with glass sliding front doors).

But here’s how it goes. He first manages to pry open the door of his crate with his teeth. Then, there’s a room in our house with another set of sliding doors, and he knows now that even if they are locked, he can apply pressure in a certain way to jump the lock and slide it open — think patio doors. He then finds himself in the garden, and there’s a high wall all around it, but he has found a way to jimmy himself up and over it by using a tree (back on tree, he pushes himself up the wall).

Oh, by the way, my dog is a Great Pyrenees. He’s big. Real big.

I’d say this has happened 4-5 times over the years, and luckily he always ends up at the police station, where I go to pick him up. The way it works is that someone spots him, they call the police, who then come and pick him up. He’s quite friendly, so he doesn’t really run away from people, and the police usually don’t have any trouble putting him in their van — a gentle invitation does the trick.

Last Sunday’s escape was interesting in that after he left the house, he made his way to a Starbucks where we often go — they have a couple of tables outside, so we can sit outside with him. Apparently, he ran to the Starbucks, and then just sat in front of the shop, waiting. The manager at the Starbucks recognized him, and called the police — and after they came, even offered to keep him at the shop until we could pick him up. The manager at Cafe Pause also noticed him pass by — it’s on the way to the Starbucks — and so some of the staff followed him as well, and they kept us informed on what was happening — we were on a bus, coming back to Tokyo after a day of climing Mount Fuji.

So there you have it, my dog is a modern day version of Hachiko — that’s even how passersby and the staff from the cafes referred to him.

Once back in Tokyo, I went to the police station to pick him up. As usual, after I had him, I was surrounded by officers, who all wanted to see him, pet him — he’s quite the hit. The following night, we brought a little gift to the managers of both cafes, in order to thank them for their help, and to apologize for the situation.

The biggest damage of all? Having to buy a new crate for him.


Blogger, Since 2002

I’ve been blogging for 10 years.

Yesterday (September 4) marked the 10th anniversary of this blog — here’s the very first post. I’ve been writing on the web for longer than that though.

Soon after I moved to Japan, I decided I wanted to develop a personal project that would somehow keep me in contact with friends from back home, and that would tie into arts and culture. I ended up starting the site with a friend of mine, Guy Bourgeois, and we called it (no, it doesn’t exist anymore). The idea was to produce a site that would promote new Acadian culture — I’m an Acadian, meaning a French Canadian from the Maritimes (Canadian east coast), different from French Canadians in Quebec. I learned HTML and designed a site, and then we invited people we knew or admired to write columns, contribute art and texts, and more. I took up the challenge of writing a weekly column about my adventures in Japan, which I wrote in French — it was initially called “Johnny Sushi,” and after a couple of years, when I moved to Canada for a year, I changed it to “Subbacultcha” (after the Pixies song).

On September 5, 2002, after a great 4-year run, we decided to end the site, but that would of course not mark the end of my online musings. I’d taken a liking to writing regularly on the web, and earlier that year I’d launched my own site,, where I wrote other things and shared photos. The reason I consider the start of my “blog” to be on the date I mentioned earlier is because that’s the day that I decided to try using this fancy new service called Blogger, that promised to make updating a site much easier — yup, I was pretty much a blogger since the very beginning.

The site later moved over to Movable Type, and then to WordPress (when MT started charging for its software), and that’s what I continue to use to this day.

How did that translate into working as a writer? Read on tomorrow.


Since 1998

And then I went to Japan.

Yesterday I wrote about how I first came to Asia, 15 years ago, and the post ended with me explaining how I made my way to Japan. After finishing the required credits for that East-Asian Studies certificate — with my wife’s first experience living in Canada seeing her endure North American Ice Storm of 1998 (remember, we were in Montreal) — we moved to Tokyo in early May. She would return to her studies, and I would search for a job.

The idea was to find a job teaching English — remember, I was fresh out of school with no work experience — and it’s funny to me when I get asked how one should go about doing that, because it’s obviously changed a lot. I remember that the thing to do back in those days was to check The Japan Times on one particular day — I think it was Monday or Tuesday — which was the day that job listings appeared.

If I remember correctly, I only went to two job interviews, and ended up working for the second school. It was called Shufu-no-Tomo Little Land, and it was part of Shufu-no-Tomo, a very old publishing company. The job was to teach children aged 3 to 12 — although I did teach 2-year-old for one year, which I didn’t much like. I did enjoy teaching kids though — I play a mean game of bingo and tic-tac-toe — and during my time teaching English in this country, it’s the only company I worked for.

Although I came here 14 years ago, I can only say that I have lived here 13 years, because I did go back to Canada in 2000. When I first moved to Tokyo, the plan was to stay for a couple of years, the time it would take for my wife to finish her Bachelors. But the return to Canada (to my hometown) didn’t exactly work out — for the both of us — and so in 2001, in February, we moved back to Tokyo. My wife was going to start her Masters in April, and I went back to teaching English at the same company, something I would do for a few more years.

How does all of that relate to what I do now? Tune in tomorrow.


15 Years in Asia

This year marks my 15th anniversary of living in Asia.

It was back in 1997, as a student at the University of Montreal in the East-Asian Studies program that I first went to China, which kicked off my adventures in Asia. Although I ended up in Japan, my studies focused on China — and the Chinese language (Mandarin). At the time, there was a program that allowed students from my department — and those in East-Asian Studies department at McGill University — to go to Nankai University in the city of Tianjin (about 2 hours from Beijing) for a 10-week intensive language study program that was credited back home.

Well, guess what? I met a girl. I even met that girl — a Japanese girl, now my wife — on the very first day I arrived in Tianjin. She was also studying Chinese at that same university, although she’d been there for a year. Without going into too many details — I’m sure no one wants to read an account of my love life — after the 10-week program ended, the entire group that I came with returned to Canada, while I re-enrolled at the university.

I ended up staying there until November (so a 6-month stay), which is when I decided I would move to Japan — to Tokyo, of course — but I would first go back to Montreal for a semester (January-April 1998) to follow two classes, giving me the remaining credits needed to receive a certificate for my program (which follows my first degree, a Bachelor of Arts with a Major in History and Minor in Mathematics).

So almost exactly a year after first going to China, I would then be on my way to Tokyo, for a new life there.

Don’t you just love how these things happen?

Update: The story continues.