2016/12/05

この世界の片隅に "In This Corner of the World"

Sometimes, in the case of historical or traumatic events, our feelings of discomfort and sorrow might prevent us from seeking out further information. The merit of the knowledge we can gain from such information is invaluable. Perhaps this is especially true of wartime events in Japan in 1945.  Every so often, there is a movie or other media which chronicles these events, such as in Grave of the Fireflies or Barefoot Gen. However, many storylines are told from a military point of view, or focus on the victims in Hiroshima city, who suffered the most. These shocking recollections and horrific tales should certainly be read or watched by all, but it takes a lot of inner strength to sit down and do it.

Also, could it be that something is lost when we only look at the violent and horrific acts? What of the people living elsewhere in Japan? What of the civilians who went about their daily lives? What struggles did they endure and what did they take pride in? How did they make a living and how did they entertain themselves? What did they value most?

I did not expect to learn so much when I watched In This Corner of the World (この世界の片隅に), an animated feature which was released in Japanese theatres on November 12th, 2016, and is based on the graphic novel series of the same name. It is a beautiful rendition of everyday life in wartime Japan. The film starts in the 1930s in Japan, with a Japanese girl named Suzu, who lives with her family in Hiroshima city. She grows up, marries a man named Shusaku, and moves to a nearby town called Kure, where she will live with his family, help with the farming, housework, and look after Harumi, her sister-in-law's daughter.

Throughout the film, military themes are present as Kure was a military base for the Imperial Japanese Navy. At one point, there is a fire raid on Kure and several times the family has to take cover in a bomb shelter under their vegetable fields. However, unlike other movies in wartime settings, the plot does focus a lot on the day-to-day experience of an average person. Furthermore, unlike other movies that are set in Hiroshima in 1945, there is nearly no gore or graphic imagery. In the scenes where attacks and raids are depicted, nothing was overly shocking or upsetting, and nothing made me cry. Certainly, however, these parts are sad. I feel like they are necessary to paint a wholesome picture of young Suzu's life. She is happy, she is perplexed, she mourns, she is frustrated, she is content. This is her experience as a woman in 1945. Thus we can connect with her and we can learn from this.

There are even amusing and heartwarming plot points--for instance, at one point in the summer, Harumi finds a line of ants leading to the house and Suzu discovers that the ants have gotten into the sugar pot. Her attempts to purify the sugar fail so she goes into town to buy more, which is expensive due to rationing. After buying some, she gets lost in the maze of buildings, but is saved when she meets a wealthy young lady (Edit: Sorry, I made a mistake. The woman who helped Suzu was a brothel worker.) who tells her the way. Small details such as these, plus the authentic tone and old timey language use gave me a feel for the setting in 1945. In fact, I feel as if I probably missed a few references due to a cultural "generation gap," if you will.

On the subject of the language used in the film, it was not only quite old-fashioned but also I felt like I was listening to a genuine, bonafide "Hiroshima dialect." A lot of people know that the Hiroshima dialect uses turns of phrase such as "ja ke." This and other regional phrases and words were often used in the film, but I also felt the tone, the rise and fall of the characters' voices, was also very indicative of Hiroshima, yet sounded very natural and not overdone. Some people might think this would mean that the movie is difficult to understand because the dialect is so strong, but this is not so. I found that the characters spoke slowly and clearly enough that I could catch most of the words. I know almost nothing of the Hiroshima dialect, but after watching this movie I feel like I have a better understanding of what it is like.

In This Corner of the World goes beyond being a movie about wartime Japan. It is a movie about love, how we define family, loss, and new beginnings. These themes are depicted with beautiful art and the creative use of different mediums. It has won three awards so far, and is nominated for a fourth. Personally I cannot recommend it enough!

Here are a few links for those interested.
Wikipedia
IMDB
Anime News Network

2016/06/27

Three hillclimb races, plus a solo climb

So recently I have been obsessed with hillclimbs (riding your bike up a mountain road) and I participated in three hillclimb races: Ibukiyama in April, and Koma ga take and Utsukushi ga hara in June. In May, I didn't have any events but I did take the train to KisoFukushima station to do the Ontake hillclimb.

Ibukiyama Driveway Hillclimb 伊吹山ドライブウェイヒルクライム: April 10 2016


This was actually my first hillclimb race. Ibukiyama driveway is normally only accessible by motorized vehicle but every year they open the gates for this race. It goes along the border of Gifu and Shiga Prefectures. The driveway doesn't go all the way to the summit, but it is 15 km long and has a grade of 6.8% (although there are sections that are more than 20%). Up until this point, the longest climb I had ever done was 10 km.
My result was satisfactory for me. I got 79/139 in the women's category with a time of 1:25:33. I wasn't last, in fact I was in the top two thirds. Since it was my longest climb to date, I was just aiming for a finish.
My feelings about the race... At times it was really difficult and I got discouraged when people passed me, but in general it motivated me to do more climbs and especially seek out longer climbs.

Cherry blossoms were in bloom.
At the top after the race.

Solo ride: Ontake Hillclimb 御岳ヒルクライム: May 5 2016


So on Golden Week I decided not to do a tour this year. But I still really wanted a good challenge so I decided to ride my bike up Ontake, which is indeed the volcano that erupted a couple of years ago. Don't worry it's safe because I have been skiing on it twice since. Anyhow, I think this is my hardest climb to date, and also my longest and highest (over 20 km and 1200 m elevation gain... that comes to an average grade of 6%).
So I hopped on the train with my bike in a bag and rode over there, rode up and then rode back down.  It was very difficult. Have you ever tried to drink from a water bottle at 80% maximum heart rate riding up a 6% hill? I wouldn't recommend it. The Ontake climb doesn't have any long downhill sections. Just REALLY steep sections followed by not so steep sections.
My total time was 2:11:54 for a distance of 20.8 km.
Halfway there, looking at the summit.
At the top of the road, looking at the summit.
The road goes right through a ski area.
On the way down I had to take a picture of my bike next to a ski lift!
About 5 km down from the top.
 After I finished, I was immensely satisfied (I finally broke my highest and longest climb record, and I rode my bike up a volcano!) If you haven't tried this, I highly recommend it.
The only bad thing about riding up Ontake is, you know there aren't many steeper, longer, or more challenging rides left in Japan... If I want to break my record I pretty much have to ride Mt. Fuji.
Another bad thing about riding up Ontake is that after an hour you feel like you're just about to give in and then you realize that you're only halfway up.

Central Alps Hillclimb 中央アルプスヒルクライム: June 12 2016


After Ibukiyama I signed up for two more races, Central Alps (Kiso-komagatake) and Tour De Utsukushigahara, both in Nagano. Komagatake is in Komagane city and has some ski hills. Like Ibukiyama, the driveway is normally closed to regular traffic and only buses can run up and down, but they closed down the driveway until 9 am for the race. It was only about 9.7 km but a lot steeper on average than Ibukiyama with an average of 8.4%. In addition, there were NO downhill sections (around km 12, Ibukiyama has a couple short downhill section where I was able to put out 30 km/h) so I felt it was almost more challenging.
I was able to get 12th of 18 in the women's category with a time of 1:08:44. Overall my place was 169th out of 194 participants. Not my best time on a 10 km climb but I really don't have the hills around here in Aichi/Gifu to practice steep sections long distance. Anyhow I will be looking for some steep hills soon to practice my form. One thing I am happy with on this race is the fact that I was able to sprint to the finish and also pass quite a few people and keep up with or pass people of a similar pace.
After the race up the 9.6 km climb, we took the tram (no extra charge) nearly up to the summit where the award ceremony was held and they gave us free food and drink. The view from there was amazing.

Tour De Utsukushigahara ツール・ド・美ヶ原: June 26 2016


Utsukushigahara is a highland just outside of Matsumoto city, in Nagano prefecture. "Utsukushi" means beautiful in Japanese. I have to say this hillclimb was very beautiful and it was calming when I was standing on the pedals yet barely inching forward in some sections (average of 17% over half a km at the start). By the way... there was a recumbent bike class, and it had maybe 8-10 riders. I was impressed. I don't even want to think about doing some of those >10% sections on a recumbent bike.
The "Champion" class started first, then the women's class was second.

The course is almost 22 km and the average grade is 6%. Mostly it is 1-2 km sections of 8%, 13% and so on interspersed by very short downhill or flat sections. However, 17km in there are several downhill sections where I was able to put out 55 km/h. For that reason I definitely want to go next year as well.
I have to say I'm quite happy with my result. I actually got 30th out of 61, so in the top half of the women's category. My time was 1:53:25.
My favourite TV show, Charider (チャリダー) was there doing a segment 
The view from the top (parking lot/finish line)

After the race we got locally grown tomatoes with salt!! Delicious



Women's category Top 6.
The first place winner had a time of about 1:20.
The overall race winner had a time of about 1:06.
After the race, I got to go in an onsen (the best way to end a day of hard working out, or in this case, just before lunch). Matsumoto city is famous for Asama Onsen. Since most of the participants in the race were men, there were almost no women in the onsen so it was very peaceful.

2015/05/06

Golden Week 2015: Shikoku, Chugoku and Kansai cycling tour

In Japan, Golden Week is a week of 3 or 4 consecutive national holidays and is a popular time to travel for Japanese people.

This year I decided to see Shikoku which is the only main island I hadn't been to in Japan. I went by bicycle and carried my tent and sleeping bag with me. The only other tour I have done with the tent was around Lake Biwako and that was only 3 nights or 400 km!

You know what another goal of this tour was? To visit 29 prefectures before I turn 29. So now I have visited 29 prefectures!

Day 1: April 29th, 2015

I left Nagoya late, at 11:30 am. oops. I took the Shinkansen to Okayama and transferred to a local line going to Shikoku. I got to Kagawa Prefecture, at Sakaide station (you can take the train across to Shikoku, by bridge) and rode for about 3 hours before finding a place to camp.
Kagawa is Japan's smallest prefecture, at a whopping 1876.73 square km. (2nd smallest: Osaka; 3rd: Tokyo; 4th: Okinawa)

Tent Sweet Tent.

 Day 2: April 30th, 2015

On my second day I went from Kagawa to Tokushima Prefecture. The weather was perfect. Originally I had planned to go to the coast, but I decided to cut down on time and go inland, across the north area of the prefecture. I found this to be an easy and pleasant day.


By the way this is what my setup looks like. (very minimalist!)

I found a castle there... Kawashima Castle
I think it was around 5 pm I found a spot to camp on a trail in Miyoshi city, Oboke Gorge (literally in the middle of nowhere). The area is famous for rafting tours and I went to an onsen there in the evening! Unfortunately I didn't go rafting!
This is near the site and I took these photos in the morning.

 Day 3: May 1st, 2015

Next I went from Tokushima to Kochi Prefecture. This was a very difficult day because there were two large hillclimbs, one halfway in and one when I was almost finished! But it was also a very enjoyable day because there was beautiful weather and very little traffic. In fact, it is the 3rd least populous prefecture in Japan!
Also, I had a scary discovery in the morning as I went to pump my front tire. The tire had a weak spot and was bulging out, and I had a spare tube but not a spare tire. This means if I hit a rock, or inflated it further and the weak spot broke, I could get a flat. I did not inflate it and hoped I could hold out until I got to Ehime.

I came across this nice temple and got a sticker for my bike




on the final hillclimb... almost at the top

Day 4: May 2nd, 2015

On the fourth day I went from Kochi to Ehime Prefecture. This was a very pleasant day, except for the first 10 or so minutes going from Kochi to Ehime. There was a 5 km long tunnel that was all downhill and I did it all the way going 40-50 km/h. I've done that before but not with a sketchy front tire and carrying camping equipment. Oh well safety 2nd!
Ehime is the prefecture that is connected to Hiroshima Prefecture via the Shimanami Kaido. I planned to set out on the Shimanami Kaido but I had already ridden 50 km from Kochi to Imabari, the north tip of Ehime. Also, around noon I took the opportunity to get my tire changed at Banff Cycle shop (a good Canadian name). I also did laundry (phew) and went to see the castle (just looked at the outside). The Shimanami Kaido is over 70 km long so I wasn't sure if I could do it. However, lo and behold I got to Onomichi, Hiroshima before 8 pm. 
Ehime is very cyclist friendly. This is a regular convenience store that caters to cyclists. The sign says "Conbini cycle oasis: air pump, water, washroom, rest area, info"
In Imabari I took the opportunity to do a bit of sightseeing.
In front of the entrance to Imabari Castle
Imabari Castle
I started out on the Shimanami Kaido around 3:30 pm
The Shimanami Kaido connects 9 islands with Shikoku and Honshu. It is like a 70 km long Seawall!
Some of the bridges are about 1 km in length

Day 5: May 3rd, 2015

Day Five was a bit difficult. I was going from Onomichi, in eastern Hiroshima prefecture to Okayama Prefecture. I guess I was just frustrated with the bad state of the roads and the drivers. To top it all off, it started raining around 3 or 4 pm so I decided to get to Okayama city quickly to find a place to camp. After I got my tent all set up I went to Arashi no Yu which is an onsen and ganbanyoku. Ganbanyoku is like a hot sauna where the floor is warm stones, and you just lie and relax.

Before I got to Okayama city I passed through Kurashiki which is a city with a famous historical district. It is also famous for Bizen pottery.

 Day 6: May 4th, 2015

According to my iPhone, it was going to rain on this day too, so I put my camping equipment in a large Air Canada bag before packing on my bike rack. However, the weather was quite fine and by noon I stopped and took everything out to dry. I continued on from Okayama in to Hyogo Prefecture (home of Himeji Castle, Kobe city, and the Hanshin Tigers).
In Himeji I considered skipping the castle to save on time, but I figured why not since it is a world heritage site and literally only hundreds of metres from where I was riding by. I decided not to go in, but just take a picture because the crowds were insane (that's Golden Week for you).
Himeji-jo Castle, a world heritage site which was restored last year
Me outside Himeji Castle
Day 6: May 5th, 2015
CINCO DE MAYO!!!!! Just kidding, this is the last stretch of the trip so I rode over 200 km! I could have split it and got home on the 6th but decided to push myself.
So in the morning I started from my campsite in Miki, Hyogo and went through Ibaraki, Osaka; Kyoto, Kyoto; Otsu, Shiga; Inabe, Mie; and Aisai, Aichi (just to name a few of the cities I passed through).
To date, this is the only double century I've ridden with a tent and gear. It's also the first time I've cycled 6 prefectures in one day!
I didn't do much on this day except eat rice at convenience stores and try to figure out how much longer it would be.


Next Tour

I am hoping to possibly do another tour in August, of Tohoku.


A Public Service Announcement from Emma

When you are a bicycle tourist, or simply meandering around the countryside in Japan, always take your garbage with you! Since there are convenience stores everywhere, you're never likely to be more than 10 km away from a garbage can. So DON'T throw it even if there are other pieces of trash lying around. That trash has been thrown by some stupid Yanki kids. (Perhaps I will make a blog post ranting about them later)
On this trip I threw every little bit of my garbage away. (except for the time I forgot my bike bag in Kagawa... oh and my hammer in Okayama...) And now I'm really cool and you can be too by throwing your garbage in the proper receptacle. 
Love the earth and the earth loves you too!

2015/01/24

Skiing at Meiho (Gujo city, Gifu)

Today Satoshi and I went skiing at Meiho which is one of the closest ski areas to Nagoya. Considering how close it is, it was a pretty good time! The snow was crusty at first but around 11 it softened up a lot. Conditions were kind of like spring skiing at Seymour. 
Yes, that is Mount Ontake in the distance.

There were two parks, but one had a competition going on...
From the top we could see Mount Ontake which had a cloud of smoke coming out of it. Satoshi says there's a ski area on Mount Ontake so I hope to go skiing there too! If there is another eruption, I can ski out on the ash!



2014/10/07

Granfondo Yatsugatake 2014: My first cycling race

Hi everyone, after a long but unintended hiatus I am back to blog. I thought I would tell you about my bike race this past weekend. I went to Yamanashi prefecture, Hokuto city - Kiyosato, at Mount Yatsugatake for a 108 km bike race: Granfondo Yatsugatake. Just my luck it was not just rainy, but pouring buckets (a veritable typhoon!) for the entire day! However, I did have so much fun. I got to Hokuto the day before for registration. Kiyosato is a really beautiful part of town and so quaint. It is actually more countryside than Wakayama.

Kiyosato red bridge.
One of the best things about Kiyosato is the beautiful scenery. It is just the beginning of autumn now, and the leaves haven't started to change in Nagoya yet, but in Kiyosato, Yamanashi I saw the first changing leaves of the year! It's exciting!

Food tickets for the aid station, and my race number.
Another thing they pride themselves on is the local delicacies and vegetables! Interestingly enough, there were a lot of European restaurants (Italian, Swedish, etc.) scattered throughout the tiny town. However, I didn't eat there and got  tofu, pickles, and apples at the konbini instead. 
During the bike race, there were 7 aid stations giving out various foods like soba soup, salad, cucumbers with miso dip, oranges, grapefruit, apples, corn on the cob, sweet beans, salt candies, and rice balls. (There were also non-vegan foods like pork broth,  cookies, soft ice cream, apple pie, and chocolates.) That's what the tickets in the above picture were for. However, on the race day it was pouring rain, so they said to me, you don't need to give a ticket. They even let us have seconds and thirds of the food! I think some people must not have shown up due to the weather.
So every 20 km or so I could have a light meal! It was really nice. Usually on my long rides (more than 100 km) I'll only stop once or twice at a konbini to get tea and sometimes a snack. It was also heartwarming to see the old men's and ladies' smiling faces when they gave you a snack. 
There's me after the race!
I did it in 5 hours 40 minutes.

The last 30 - 40 km of the race were pretty tough because it was almost all uphill from there. I didn't walk my bike up the hills but I passed a couple of people having trouble. Finally, I got to the finish. I was glad it was only 108 km because after the race I had to ride back to the train station (maybe 12 km), still in the pouring rain. about 3 km from the station, I went to an onsen to have a shower and relax. Actually, I was very lucky because I met a pro cyclist there who noticed all my clothes were soaking wet, and she gave me a brand new cycling kit from her sponsor to wear home, so I didn't have to sit in my stinky wet bike shorts! By the way, I am so, so grateful to have a new pair of cycling tights and a jersey.. those are expensive!
From Yamanashi I had to go to Tokyo so I could transfer to the night bus going home. In Tokyo it was still pouring rain. I had 4 hours between the train getting in and the bus leaving so I went to a coin laundry to wash all my stuff, because not a single thing in my backpack was dry. Even the money in my wallet was completely soaked. I got on the bus at midnight and actually got a decent 5 hours of deep sleep! 

All in all, it was an amazing experience and I had so much fun! I'm hoping to maybe do another race soon, either cycling or running.