Saturday, August 17, 2013

Japanese word of the day: Sawanobori

What? Two outdoor-themed posts in one day?!?

Like the last story, this one starts with an e-mail, except this time it was from Yuri Mazuka, the organizer of the Climbing Club at the RIKEN AICS (Advanced Institute for Computational Science). I've never been to AICS (they pronounce it "ikes", as in Mike & Ikes), but it's just one Portliner stop away from CDB. She was inviting people to come along on a "sawanobori" (沢登り) event. In the e-mail (which had Japanese and English sections), she translated it "shower climbing (hiking along a mountain stream)." A hike along a mountain stream sounded like a nice idea.

We met at 8:00am at the JR Namaze station, just north of Takarazuka, and climbed through some neighborhoods to the place where the trailhead was supposed to be. As you can see, there was some healthy debate about exactly where we were going, initially.

We started off hiking on a trail, but then when we reached the river people took off their backpacks and started getting out special river shoes. Then I realized that "along" was not quite the preposition she wanted -- we were hiking in the river.

In some places, we couldn't really follow the river as well:

Fortunately, we were able to go around the obstacles.

I hadn't realized this, but Takarazuka (much like Ithaca) is gorges:

Eventually the water ran out, and we were just climbing a dry riverbed. This is when we started to realize how hot it actually was -- being knee-to-ankle deep in cold water makes the summer temperatures a lot easier to take, while it lasts.

When we reached the top, Yamamoto-san opened up his (suspiciously-large) backpack and pulled out a styrofoam cooler filled with dry ice and ice cream. No kidding. Apparently the climbing club has a budget from the RIKEN Kyosaikai (Mutual Benefit Society) and he used it to get ice cream for everybody. The only thing better than ice cream on a hot day is completely unanticipated ice cream on a hot day.

While we were hiking along the ridge, we came across this thing on top of a hill overlooking Takarazuka:
People were referring to it as a hanshaban and talking animatedly about it as if it were something really cool. I asked what on earth a hanshaban is; the Japanese answer was far above my skill level and the English answer was something along the lines of "ummm.... Han. Sha. Ban. Get it?"

I took a picture of the sign so I could google it when I got home. I'm not 100% sure, but I think this thing is a reflective (hansha = 反射) plate (ban = 板) that is used as part of a passive relay system for super-high frequency radio communications. Apparently they're used a lot in mountainous areas where it's hard to get the uninterrupted line-of-sight that you need for microwave radio relay links. This one is owned by the Hankyu rail company and apparently has something to do with transmitting signals between Takarazuka station and the neighboring stations. This explanation, alas, is far above my Japanese skill level.

After that, we hiked back down on dry ground:

We passed a little temple in the woods where Mazuka-san rang the bell for us.

There are more pictures and an incredibly detailed down-to-the-minute itinerary of the trip on the climbing club's website.

Pasayten Wilderness

It has taken me a while to write this post. This has nothing to do with writer's block or difficult content or anything like that. Ironically it's because I've had extra time -- Quinn and Gus have been in the US for the last few weeks and I've been here in Japan by myself. Instead of having extra time for all of the little things I usually put off, though, I've blown off the little things completely and just spent a whole lot of time at work.

Back on July 11th, the three of us flew from Osaka to Seattle to begin some much-needed vacation. It was Gus's first time meeting my parents. The trip involved another first -- Quinn and I leaving Gus with other people so we could have an evening together. Hopefully we'll be able to have a date night next summer too. We also ate a lot of Mexican food while we were in Washington. On the 17th, Quinn and Gus left for the East Coast to spend some time with her family.

What did I do? Back in 1992, I went on a 60-ish-mile backpacking trip in the Pasayten Wilderness with a bunch of guys from church (and some intrepid adult leaders). It was one of those formative adolescent character-building ordeals that people talk about, and I'm confident I didn't appreciate it properly at the time. It also rained the whole week. Anyway, early this year one of the former kids (Keith Dyer) sent out a message on Facebook inviting anybody he could reach to come back and do it again for a 21-year reunion. I debated for a while, and decided to go for it.

The cast of characters:

Keith Dyer, our fearless inviter.

His big brother Duffy Dyer, making good use of a lightweight folding chair. I didn't even tell him to do the Japanese-girl peace sign; he just instinctively knew it would be a good idea.

Stefan Gehring.

Kirk White. The 1992 trip was his idea, so he takes responsibility for all the consequences.

Dan Dickson. He's not really smiling in this picture, because he was sick pretty much the entire time, with no clear idea why. He definitely gets toughness points for keeping up despite it all, though. Don't ask me what toughness points are actually useful for.

Brandon Parker.

...and I almost forgot about me!

We hiked along ridges...

...and in forests...

...and through fields...

...and over talus...

... and occasionally on snow.

The accommodations were pretty nice...

We always had water available...

Although sometimes we didn't find a place to stay until after dark.

Some sections of the trail were better-maintained than others...

...and sometimes we had to improvise.

It's not every day, though, that you feel like you're literally on top of the world.

After the journey was over, of course, we replenished our strength with hamburgers. Last time it was McDonalds (remember, we were 12); this time we stopped at a hole-in-the-wall place (the name was "Good Food") in a small town we drove through on the way home.

They even had outdoor seating!