Week 50

Emma says, "I just can't stop slipping, literally." Her words are broken up by the dry shush of tumbling scree. "Every step I take I just start sliding and I can't stop." When she says can't I hear it as cawn't.

Oliver says, "Great investment." He's talking about hiking boots, which he is wearing and which Emma isn't wearing. He says it quietly, so I can't tell if he's saying it to himself or he's saying it to me. He's looking down at his feet, which isn't really indicative of who he's saying it to, because we're on a pretty steep slope and looking anywhere but where he's putting his feet would probably end up badly for him and for me as well, just below. I'm wearing the same boots, so I hazard a "Yeah, we did a good thing," by which good thing I mean to refer to the boots holding us Vibram-ly tight to the mountainside while Emma shushes her way on shaky legs a little bit further up the trail.

The trail is switchbacked like the thread on one of the seams of the shoes I'm wearing. This occurs to me in class and I lapse into little flashbacks, phantom legs chugging forward like the coupling rods on one of the old-timey locomotives. I'm not moving at all but I'm back on the side of Tokachidake, and it's only when I snap back into class have I realized that I entered this weird fugue at all, which is a little worrying, only realizing what's happened after it happened.

Back on the mountainside I feel the weight of my body. It's a really strange experience, this detachment from my body qua part of me, like as if my body was something separate hanging lifeless on whatever impetus my soul can muster on the real world. It feels as though my body is more a part of my pack than my self, like I'm carrying my body up the hill with me, which I guess I am -- but it feels no longer as though my body is propelling me. Hours of propulsion up the mountain has made that movement almost a part of physics, a fifth force pulling matter around, pulling me to the top of the mountain รก la Teshio. So moving upwards isn't a part of my body anymore but just a thing that happens; but the weight of my body isn't something that can be disburdened onto physics and hiked away with repetition, for some reason. The result is that I am at few times more aware than on the side of a mountain of the fact that I carry with me everywhere a big 80-kg bag of meat and liquid, which meat and liquid is admittedly allowing me to carry it everywhere but which doesn't lessen the 80-kg load, which four hours up the side of a volcano seems a lot heavier than it looks in pixelly bits on your screen.

That's not the only little annoyance up the side of this mountain. Bugs at altitude seem on the whole a lot sharper and hardier, living up on the scree and the clay and the big igneous boulders: they are big and black and hard-lined and with buzzes that share more with helicopters than flies or mosquitoes. They are big enough that after a time your conceptualization of them moves from insect to animal. This shift occurs somewhere after they've bumped into you a couple of times and you've begun to understand that the physics of insects (which, it continues to occur to you, are classified like biologically as animals, as in Animalia) can affect your own Personal Physics, like with vectors (but not necessarily magnitudes) similar to as like for example getting hit by a rugby player or a truck. That these bugs are things which, upon contact, alter your inertia in minute but sensible ways. Things that if you hit them with say a rolled-up newspaper or a regular-type book, could maybe handle it in some other way than immediately going splat, could maybe even walk away from the ordeal, worse only for being winded or whatever the bug equivalent of being winded is. Things that swatting at might land you a little red mark on your palm where the impact was a little heavier than you might have expected, like swatting at a small flying rock. Things that you probably wouldn't want to swat at in the first place because these things have like barbs or stingers or mandibles or otherwise some sort of serious biological firepower that you can almost see with the naked eye while they're in flight, which is legitimately frightening. Which fright actually starts some time before the bug is even in swatting range, because you can hear their helicoptered hum from a good distance away, pitch slowly dropping as they Doppler effect their way towards you. And then when they finally arrive they orbit you like a little satellite, like orbit for real, ellipsoid and with periods and perigees and apogees that you can hear them buzz through with menacing proximity. At first it seems their orbital insertions and escapes seems random, the kind of thing that you can fervently pray away, but after a time the mathematics of the thing becomes clear to you, realizing that moving within range of the heat signatures of other people can actually pull the little bug away from yourself. Of course passing the bug to one of your climbing mates is like passing around a bad head cold, and only solves the problem for a couple of seconds before the bug comes back. The real trick is to find someone going the other way and get just close enough to this poor hiker when you exchange konnichiwas to send the bug over to him, and then to pull in all the air you can muster and just anaerobically power your way ahead say some five or six meters so the bug can't find you again, and you're free until some other hiker brings some other orbiting bugs along and they orbitally insert to you, and the cycle begins again.


We stopped at Fukiage Onsen, which consists of a lodge with onsen, a small campsite, and a big parking lot. Some hundred meters down the road from the lodge is a natural onsen, a hole in some rocks with hot water out in the open air. It's a mixed onsen and most of the literature indicates that it's the sort of thing you do with at least like a bathing suit on, but when we headed down to check it out during the daylight hours, it was thronged with drooping middle-aged men wearing nothing at all, which for men is pretty much S.O.P. but for women might be a bit of a show. We partook some time later, around midnight, which was somewhat scarier for the total lack of lighting. Don't let the darkness keep you away, because nighttime pitch-dark onsen is in my top-probably-like-four best things that I've done since I came here.

The climb up Tokachidake doesn't start at Fukiage Onsen, though. From Fukiage there's a path traversing the foot of the mountain across to the real trailhead leaving from Tokachidake Onsen; this path is probably about 2 km long but is totally flat and features a river crossing and gratuitous amounts of pyroclastic rock from Tokachidake's apparently legendary eruption back in the 1920's, which basically obliterated the small town of Fukiage and did some serious hit points to Kamifurano and even Biei as well.

The climb itself is pretty direct, a progressively steeper and steeper climb directly up to the rim of Showa Crater, followed by a shallow climb up to the Mordor-esque last 300 meters, which is sharp and in places nearly vertical and strewn thickly with rocks ranging from a dirty mustard yellow to deep, deep blood-red to the purple of a fresh bruise. At the very peak these rocks fall away and a beige-ish crag juts up vertically, lots of long straight lines of stone, the way that stone looks in cel shaded animation, the way that stone looks in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

The whole thing should probably take like between 6 and 7 hours.

Everything You Have Heard Japan JET Programme


Week 53

Driving down south, visiting the Jozankei sex museum, sleeping in the Matsumae Michi-no-Eki parking lot


Week 49

Climbing Teshio-dake with Tony and Oliver, visiting an abandoned school on the outskirts of Monbetsu.