柳井 English Society

Y.E.S. – Yanai English Society – is an English conversation club held the second Wednesday of every month in a humble café in a little town called Tabuse just up the Sanyo Line. A modest, yet always engaging, group of people gather here each month to chat for two hours about various experiences in our lives, all sharing in the common interest that is the English language and cultural exploration.

This video showcases a bit of what goes on at these meetings; the latter half being our going away party, and the former being the actual meeting. It has been one my highlights of living in Japan. I have learned so much from everyone here! The song is by a band called The National and I’m pretty sure I’m totally ripping off Vincent Moon’s vision for the song. ごめん!



Why We Climb?

There really is no proper way to describe the expedition that is climbing to the top of Japan’s highest peak on less than three hours of internet café cubicle sleep during what had to be the busiest weekend of the short climbing season, but I’ll throw some adjectives out there: stupid, beautiful, punishing, remarkable, defeating, engaging, humbling, and, well, you get the point. Mt. Fuji’s summit (all of 3,776.24 m) is no laughable peak, nothing to shake your walking stick at, or look up at and think “Ehhhh, no worries…how hard can it really be?” And while it’s perfectly tee-peed complexion may look quite stunning – even gentle – as you whiz by in the comfort of your window Shinkansen seat trying to snap a photo or two, once on the rock itself, it gets downright ugly, at times even hellish.

But, that is the intrigue of the climb, is it not? The desire to defeat such things as the ascend up Mt. Fuji is all part of the human condition. We must go higher! Trek further! Push ourselves to the absolute limit! Why? Because we downright believe we can!

And, so we did.

The six of us conquered the beast in no less than 12 hours on no less than 20-minutes of shuteye, surviving on nothing but peanuts, chocolate, and chocolate-covered peanuts*. We hiked all evening, through the entire night, and into the wee hours of the morning when we realized the goal of summiting for sunrise (Ryan and Shak somehow ended up making it) was just not possible due to the excessive crowds and limited trail space. At this point, it did not matter, the sunset a welcoming blessing to one of the longest periods of darkness that I can recall.

We sat on a cluster of disagreeable volcanic rock, clutching each other for any hint of warmth, and took in what I will always remember as The Sunrise. Swarms of people cheered as the sun poked its radiant face through the distant horizon, appearing as far from us as the summit had three long hours before. My body and mind were in such states of excessive exhaustion that I could barely focus my camera to capture the surreal beauty which panoramically surrounded us, not that a lens can do what we witnessed much justice anyway. But there we were, 100 meters from the top, thanking the good Lord for another day, trying desperately to process exactly what we were about to accomplish.

At this point my mind trailed back down-mountain to roughly four hours before when it did not seem like summiting was even at all possible; the mountain had seemingly won, the wind frigidly swirling around us, and we were about to give in to its persuasiveness. As we sat in that moment looking down at whatever village happens to scatter itself throughout the mountain’s foothills and up at the stars that seemed inches away, I thought about how it does not matter when we summit, or even if we summit. Just the fact that we are out here together living this life, experiencing as much as we possibly can, even if that means occasionally overstepping our physical boundaries, this has all been simply a sensational and literally indescribable adventure.

Perhaps climbing mountains is unambiguously metaphorical. Ascending Fuji did not necessarily change my life, but life-changing events do not always present themselves right after they occur. And to wit: never again, Fuji-san. Thank you, but never again.

*My first asterisk! But, seriously, we also ate a ¥600 cup of instant noodles! And drank lots of water.

A Mt. Fuji photo album can be seen here.

Brandon’s – good friend and fellow climbing-mate – recollections and amazing photos of the adventure can be viewed here.

On reflection, of reflection, in reflection

There is a subtle and strikingly desolate beauty to this building – the only structure remaining after the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. The decision to keep the premises as a memorial and site promoting International Peace has been no less than a controversial one, but to this day, the A-Bomb Dome – as it is now dubbed – continues to reflect in the routinely calm river near Hiroshima’s downtown core.

And, not surprisingly, the peaceful park that surrounds the Dome, is a place where people from all walks of life gather for a stroll, a photo op, a memorial service, a sing-a-long, or a Junior High history lesson. Each day brings a new crop of visitors to the grounds: vacationers, locals, repeat visitors, students, second-generation radiation survivors, peacemongers – all here for dissimilarly similar reasons, but I like to the think a common bond is formed by everyone who pays a visit to this historical site.

And that is of reflection, whatever the reflecting may happen to be.

On reflection, of reflection, in reflection. A hard thing to try and not do when you are riverside gazing at the Dome’s remaining jagged composition amidst sipping a tallboy and listening to the quiet folk of a local’s early evening hymns.

On a Saturday evening a day or two, or three ago, I took in the stillness of the air in Hiroshima with a couple (they are a couple!) close friends. They will soon return to the United States after taking in all that Japan can offer in a year’s time, so our conversation that floated gently under the voice of a young woman singing in the distance was of the more potent, and of course reflective variety. We discussed how exactly unforeign this entirely foreign place has become, the concept of time in defined one-year segments, home away from home, and goodbyes that have been said and that are inevitably just around the fictional corner that will be so entirely hard to turn.

Our hunger for delicious Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki ended the riverside chat before things got too out of control emotionally. I was then reminded of something I had written about saying goodbye after first coming to Japan, and well, here it is (again):

I cannot avoid goodbyes that have not yet been said, and the goodbyes that have been said are ever-so-difficult to swallow. However, I have learned that I can and should not dwell on these goodbyes – past, present or future – as there has to be a hello before every goodbye, followed by another hello.

I know that when July draws to a close, and I ride home alone on the train from an airport in Ube after what will be the most intense “see you in three weeks” of my life, I will put on a song called “The Trapeze Swinger” by Iron & Wine. Various songs by Sigur Ros, Mike Midwestern, Bon Iver, and possibly a Top 40 hit or two for good measure will follow. As I flip through these songs, I will look out at the Japanese countryside – the saturated rice fields, broccoli mountains, and intimidating houses – and smile through the tears knowing from that moment on, God will be bringing me that much closer to you. And no matter the distance, the clocks will continue to circumnavigate, and the calendar pages will continue to be torn one day at a time, bridging the gap that time has created, but can never maintain.