Like many Japanese homes, ours has no central heating, and little to no insulation. Houses here are designed to be aired. Large doors and windows slide open to let the wind blow in. Great in summer, but downright chilly in the winter.

In some ways the lack of central heating makes ecological sense. First of all, put on a sweater and some slippers. Why heat up a whole house when you’re only in one room at a time? For that there are space heaters — electric and kerosene.

image stolen from the internetz

There’s also the kotatsu. Modern kotatsu are tables with built-in electric heaters. A thick duvet covers the table and traps heat inside. A wooden slab goes on top of the stack. Tuck yourself in, flick the switch and your legs stay nice and cozy.

 

 

Another brilliant invention is the Japanese bath. These are shorter and deeper than your average North American tub. When you sit down in the tub, the water comes right up to your neck. Your own personal hot tub. Ours is on a timer so the water is hot just before bed. It does the body good, helping me wind down after a long day, easing my sore muscles and warming me up, before jumping into the futon in the unheated bedroom.

japanese bath2

my own personal hot tub

japanese bath

a japanese bath is a beautiful thing.

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Can anyone remember back in 2007 when the City of Montreal handed out 100,000 pocket ashtrays? Yeah… didn’t think so. The goal was to help solve the litter problem. But after the press conference, I never saw another pocket ashtray until… I moved to Japan. 

People here actually use them sometimes. The little ashtrays are also at the heart of an anti-littering campaign lead by Japan Tobacco, with ads appearing on public transit and ashtrays all over the country. Complete with haikus in hilarious English translation, I just had to share a few of my favourites.

 

(Seen on Mt. Fuji) Inhaled. Burned. Thrown away. If it were anything but a cigarette it would surely be crying.

Inhaled. Burned. Thrown away. If it were anything but a cigarette it would surely be crying. (Seen on Mt. Fuji).

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I’m not one of those early risers you often meet at backpacker’s hostels. You know the kind. Keeners. Alarm set for daybreak. Chipper because they turned in early the night before. Their efficient yet loud movements through the dorm elicit grumps and groans from those less-enthusiastic. The keeners pour over detailed itineraries while drinking coffee from high-tech mugs. They stride out the door while I stumble zombie-like into the shared kitchen, fumble with the kettle, and pick sleep out of my eyes. I’m not denying my own keener status, it just takes me a while to get going in the mornings. That’s why, on my first morning at the hostel in Kawaguchiko, I was surprised to be the first one up in the dorm.

Conveniently located near the base of Mount Fuji, Kawaguchiko is a good base-camp to tackle Mr. Fuji himself, or the many day trips in the Fuji Five Lakes area. I contemplated the empty lounge as I ate my toast. In some ways it made sense. It was almost October. The tourist season is over. Mt. Fuji is technically closed. We’re the stragglers; the ones who put it off.. slept in.. missed the bus.. missed the season..

For my first day, I had a long but easy hike planned up Mount Mitsu-Toge. Figured I’d work up to Fuji, and hopefully find some hiking buddies in the meantime. But, about to head out, I met some guys from New York who were going for it. 

You’re welcome to come, one said. The first bus up leaves in 20 minutes.
Sure. Let me grab another water bottle.

When I came back, the first guy looked at my daypack and runners doubtfully. I’ll be fine, I told him. He finished lacing his hikers and swung his own expedition-sized pack onto his back. Only then did we get around to introductions.

Piotr and Adam arrived late the night before, straight off their flight from New York. They were jetlagged, running on adrenaline. We stopped at the seven-eleven so they could grab a konbini breakfast of champions to eat on the hour-long ride to the 5th station. I grabbed some onigiri for the road. We caught the bus from Kawaguchiko station. The summit was shrouded in cloud, but the ride up was clear and bright. The trees started showing their fall colours as we climbed in elevation.

We arrived at the 5th station just in time for the rain.

shell of life. The wings and exoskeleton are all that remain of this cicade The cicada’s wings and exoskeleton are all that remain.

The insects in Japan are large, but most of them aren’t so dangerous. One quickly learns to co-exist. For months the incessent meee-mee-meeee of the cicadas rang in my ears. Someone told me that they make more noise after they mate, which seems counter-intuitive to the usual cycles of nature. The cicada’s season is ending, but their ghosts remain; hard exoskeletons, and wing fragments litter the garden like fallen leaves.

The larger spider presumably ate the cicada. He spun his web outside my bedroom window several weeks ago. The elaborate lacework is almost invisible in the flat daylight, except for the corpses of insects, wound tight with silk.

web of life and death

web of life and death

The sign above a train stations bicycle parking area.

The sign above a train station's bicycle parking area.

Ōyama is an accessible day trip from Yokohama or Toyko

Entrance to Tanzawa Park.

Entrance to Tanzawa Park.

 

 

On the commuter train through Kanagawa’s expansive suburbs I wondered if there was indeed an end to the sea of houses and industry. That’s when the fellow next to me tapped my shoulder. I had asked him about directions earlier. Now he pointed out the window behind our seats, where mountains loomed up through the haze. Ōyama (which simply means “big mountain” in Japanese) is part of the Tanzawa-Ōyama Park in the Kanagawa Prefecture. It’s an accessible day trip from Tokyo or Yokohama, and definitely a good destination when the mercury gets up over 30.

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Bicycles are pretty much a way of life in Japan. And around Kamakura, so is surfing. It’s only natural that the two should go hand-in-hand. These special surf board racks mean you don’t get stuck in the heavy beach-bound traffic and guarantees you prime free parking.

Cycle to the Surf

Cycle to the Surf