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.
Anime News Network


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.