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    Thursday, May 31, 2007

    Episode 10: Trailwalker Special Out Now!

    In Episode 10 of the first ever podcast to break the world record for the number of hours spent being edited, Joseph whisks you away into the world of The Blisters and the Longlegs, a.k.a. The Trailwalkers.

    100km. 7 mountain peaks. A 3500 meter climb. 31 hours. Without sleep.

    It was an epic adventure, and you can hear all about it in episode 10 of A Year in Japan. Includes live recordings made during the event itself, bringing you all the drama of the those dark and desperate hours.

    There's also a brief news update, some shout-outs, and some worrying episodes of presenter madness.

    You cannot afford to NOT listen to this show!


    Download Episode 10 now (45 minutes of nail-biting tension!)

    Advanced Version
    (suitable for most computers and iPods etc. Features chapter markers, lots of photos, and hyperlinks)

    Basic MP3 version (suitable for wind-up gramaphones and other devices that refuse to play the advanced version. Audio only).

    More listening options here

    Feedback welcome: joseph[at-mark]ayearinjapan.com (mp3 messages / videos also ok)
    Skype: josephtame


    Links to stuff I mention in the show:

    Oxfam Japan Trailwalker 2007


    Our team site
    (Donate here, see team photos and blog etc)

    Official Trailwalker Japan event site

    Oxfam Japan

    Oxfam International

    The situation in Sudan

    Wednesday, May 30, 2007

    Epilepsy update

    I've been pretty much seizure free for quite a while now, with the exception of the few episodes I had at the gym following some knackering workouts. Just been taking my nice purple pills (Epilim Chrono), 700mg every night.

    This past week though has been very different. I've lost count of the number of 'dizzy spells' I've had since I finished the Trailwalk. It's mightily odd, and has led me to try and figure out what changes might have brought this on.

    There's only two things I can think of. One is the fact that now the stress of the event is over my body feels able to let go of the reigns, to no longer hold it all back, to fit away happy as larry. Its not unusual for that to happen, but what is unusual is that it's carrying on for more than a few days.

    The only other change I can think of is my diet. My temporal lobe epilepsy is ultra-sensitive to tiredness, and thus it's essential that I eat well, keep my energy levels up. I haven't actually changed what I eat at mealtimes, but I have cut right back on my intake of the organic multi-vitamins and protein I've been taking (the lack of nutrients in today's fruit and veg [link] is a problem that is only going to get worse as the years go by, especially in places like Japan. Hence my burning desire to have my own organic vegee garden). In fact, after the Trailwalk I stopped taking supplements altogether for a couple of days, as I kind of splurged following the event, incapable of rational thought.

    I remember a couple of years back when it was suggested to me that multi-vitamins and a protein supplement might help me deal with my epilepsy in a natural way (as a vegetarian a lack of protein in my diet can be an issue, especially in Japan where organic nuts and seeds are ridiculously expensive). At the time I thought that this was highly unlikely, but recently, having learned a bit more about just how complex our bodies are, I can see that ensuring I'm getting enough nutrients / protein could have a profound effect on my overall wellbeing. I'm not saying that natural supplements alone can control my epilepsy (unfortunately), but I am beginning to think that they could play an important role in my management program.

    Thus, the experiment begins. From now on I shall be making sure I take them every day, as I did pre-Trailwalk.

    I know that a few of my readers have epilepsy, thus, I'll keep you posted.

    Mongolia reaches its bandwidth limit

    It doesn't really inspire confidence when you come across the following message whilst attempting to access an Embassy website in order to apply for a visa.
    Bandwidth Limit Exceeded
    The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to the site owner reaching his/her bandwidth limit. Please try again later.
    Apache/1.3.37 Server at www.mongemb-jp.com Port 80

    Mind you, the Russians aren't much better off than the Mongolians. 10 minutes after clicking on the link to the consular section I'm still waiting for a response from the server...

    Is this a sign of things to come?

    Departure date set for 11th August, arrival in London 30 days later.

    Lots of stuff happening in between.

    Oxfam Trailwalker vid

    Found this on You Tube. This team's sentiments kind of echo our own!!




    Tuesday, May 29, 2007

    Hold the front page!

    Yay, famous again!

    We (the Trailwalkers) made it on to the front page of the Sheffield Uni website! Well, at least a link to a press release by the media centre. See http://www.sheffield.ac.uk and look bottom right for the link.


    The whole story can be found at

    http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/mediacentre/2007/816.html

    Exciting stuff!

    In other good Trailwalker news - I can almost walk properly again!


    Monday, May 28, 2007

    School's Out!

    The cheers that erupted all across the campus could be heard for miles as the p.a. system whirred into action - yes, finally Rikkyo has succumbed to the measles outbreak that's now closed at least four Tokyo universities - we were told to leave the campus as soon as possible, and not come back till next week!

    Sunday, May 27, 2007

    The end draws near

    When feeling positively overwhelmed by the difficulty of the grammar I'm studying, I try to take comfort in the fact that it's taken from the highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (a test I once intended to take, but now I have little interest in).

    Recently I've had a few emails from people saying, "Oooh, you'll be going home soon, how does it feel?" etc.

    Not all that good to be honest for reasons I explain below. I'm currently planning to leave in early-August, and spending 5 weeks traversing China, Mongolia and Russia. Last night I drew a huge map of the route (using Google Earth as a guide) so that I could get a better idea of where I'll be stopping off etc. It's a blooming long way, and is going to take a good deal of organising. For a start there's the visas - for the Russian one I first have to obtain a letter of invitation (which costs) before I can even apply for the tourist visa.

    It's my intention to keep my blog updated as I travel along the route, and by the looks of things that should be possible. As is the possibility of being continuously drunk on Vodka, it sounds like it's very difficult to avoid having it forced down your throat. I guess by the time I reach Hereford I'll have got over my aversion to the stuff.

    It's pretty amazing really though, if you think about it, that it's possible to go all the way from Shanghai to Hereford by train!

    Drawing the map and buying a couple of guidebooks and three phrasebooks (I'm going to need to learn the Russian alphabet! As if Japanese wasn't enough!), has made it all that more real. Thinking about it, I realised that it's only about 10 weeks away, an incredibly short period of time. This fact really upsets me. I don't really feel like a one-year exchange student, I feel more like someone who lives in Tokyo with their partner, and is being told they have to go work abroad for a year. I loathe long-distant relationships, and just with *Twinkle* being away in Kansai for a couple of days (as she is this weekend), well, it kind of leaves me feeling disabled and agitated.

    Sometimes I feel that I just want to get on with my life, without the 'interference' of uni.

    Of course, this is a rather daft point of view. I mean, come on, thanks to this course I am able to do what I do actually love doing - learning - AND I get paid to do it! This is bliss compared to those times when I've had to work to pay the bills - I've had all my bills paid for me now for 3 years now, and can enjoy the same next year (with a shortfall of about £500 due to an increase in the rent...). (What? Student loan repayments? What's that...?)

    So yes, I'm very fortunate to be in this position.

    But I still don't want to go back to the UK in 10 weeks!

    ...anyway, back to the grammar.

    A call for urgent action

    Climate change is something I feel really passionately about, and thus when I head the latest news about the US outburst against taking action to combat global warming at next week's G8+5 summit in Germany I was absolutely horrified.

    Basically, the Bush administration has told Germany that it refuses to discuss any form of mandatory emissions targets - absolutely vital if we are to avoid irreparable damage to our planet.

    Read the article in the Financial Times here.

    YOU CAN HELP!

    Sign the online petition here (Avaaz.org has a proven track record of getting our voices heard on the global stage):

    http://www.avaaz.org/en/climate_g8/a.php


    Here's the message leaders will hear:

    "Climate change is the greatest threat facing our world today - and we are almost out of time to stop it. You must tackle this problem now, decisively and together. Start working toward a new global agreement this year. Set binding global targets for emissions to avert catastrophic climate change. Take bold action immediately - and we will join our efforts with yours."

    Already 166,464 of us have signed. Can we get to 200,000 signatures by Thursday? If each of us tells five friends, we could raise a million voices by next week's meeting.

    http://www.avaaz.org/en/climate_g8/a.php

    This global summit is the key. Before it's too late, in these next ten days, let's raise a global cry that can't be ignored -- to help save our fragile planet, and avert looming danger to millions of lives.

    Thank you.

    Friday, May 25, 2007

    This 'Facebook' thing

    I've never really been one for social networking sights. They tend to bore me, with endless memes that are so dull they even make The Daily Mumble look like a good read. Don't even get me started on Mixi - it clearly points towards the need for a revolution in the education system. What's extra interesting is that whenever anyone discusses anything that has slightly more substance than "I tried the new potato-flavoured KitKat today, oisshiiiiiiiii" then the comments come to an abrupt stop. I think the fact that Japan is the world's No. 1 when it comes to blogging speaks oodles about the society. OOOh I so want a good old riot. Everyone tearing their clothes off and racing through the streets shouting "Go and shove an apron up your nose Mr Abe San".

    Which brings me neatly on to Facebook.

    I only really discovered this social networking site last week. I've been registered on it for a while but never paid any attention to it. I'd occasionally get messages through it from a Canadian friend, but other than that it was as meaningless to me as spending more than £30 on a mango.

    Then it all happened. I can't remember who triggered my visit, but anyway, I logged in, and found some tool where it automatically scans your brain and add all your friends in real life to your facebook account.

    And then, BANG!! The facebook thing explodes!

    The thing that really gets me is the way that all these friends from all these different circles all appear on the same page. Notes from friends from when I was at school 19 years ago saying what they're up to today, right next to abuse and insults from my current uni coursemates. Old work colleagues complaining about how my old boss did something really silly last week, to professor yaffle telling the mice how to clean the ship. Ok, so that last one isn't quite true, but I think you get my point.

    Anyway, basically, the message is, if you're not on Facebook, get on Facebook, and watch your entire life slosh away down the broadband time drain.

    oyasumi

    The 3rd Floor

    It is said that everything around us is a reflection of ourselves.

    I found that to be true today when choosing to alight on the 3rd floor.

    The life of a salaryman

    It's true. 98.7% of Japanese men are salary men, who slave away over a hot keyboard for 37 hours a day, 9.5 days a week, rarely seeing their wives or children.

    The lack of adequate time for relaxation means that many have to just take it wherever and whenever they can get it.

    Such as at 11pm on the Yamanote sen, the busiest train line in Japan. Of course, you see people falling asleep on the trains all the time, but not usually with the kind of style the company president I was faced with tonight (between Ueno and Ikebukuro) displayed.


    This one is called...

    Feet On Steps.



    They are my feet. But I just borrowed the steps.

    Wednesday, May 23, 2007

    Oxfam Japan Trailwalker 2007 - Part Two

    It was just after 7pm when we said goodbye to our support team for the night and set out for checkpoint 5. The route we were now faced with was not all that inviting, involving as it did a climb of over 500m up one of the most difficult footpaths of the entire course, to the peak of Mt. Kintoki. This would then be followed by a steep descent down to Checkpoint 5, some 12km away.

    With headlamps flickering, we entered the forest. The footpath was not really designed for night-climbing, being as it was more an endless series of hazardous rocks and roots to be scrambled over than a well-established path. It wasn't long before we caught up with the team in front of us - we were glad of the company, and grateful that we could leave the task of navigation to someone else - all we had to do was follow their boots!

    A little way up the mountain we all paused for a drink. We talked a little, whereabouts in the UK are you from and all that... and it was then that I overheard one of the other team speak to another member by name. A name I recognised.

    Whilst working in the Oxfam office in March, I spent a good deal of time entering team details into the database. There was one team in particular that caught my eye - The Wandering Bureaucrats, 4 folks from the British Embassy in Tokyo. As some Mumblers may know, it has long been one of my ambitions to work at the British Embassy - indeed I actually applied for a post there a few years ago (and not surprisingly, was turned down!). As I entered the team details, I thought how nice it would be to meet these folks during the Trailwalk event. I also realised that it was highly improbable, what with their being over 700 participants and no was other than numbers to identify them.

    Thus, when I heard that name I really smiled. Of all the teams we could find ourselves paired with by fortune for this harsh ascent, none could be better than The Wandering Bureaucrats. After all, isn't it their job to ensure the wellbeing of all British Citizens in Japan?! I had to wonder, could this be a result of self manifestation?

    As the hike continued, so it grew increasingly difficult with the mist closing in and reflecting back our torchlight, blinding us to the rocks and roots below. In a way this was a blessing. With very low visibility we had no way of knowing just how much of a climb lay in front of us. So taken up with just the next step, there was no time to consider how far we still had to go.

    A fantastically clear shot showing just what it was like mountain climbing by night

    Reaching the peak of Mt. Kintoki was a surreal experience. The path suddenly ended, and there we were, on the top of the mountain. Buffeted by the strong wind, I felt elated... and then somewhat confused by the appearance of a tea house.

    This was totally unexpected. Oxfam had arranged for this little hut to be made available to Trailwalkers throughout the night, with green tea served by a litle old lady for every team that paused to rest inside its cosy walls. Heaven knows how she got up there - there was no sign of any access for vehicles. It was there that, as we set out again to navigate the steep descent, I thanked the Rambling Bureaucrats for their guidance - and conversation about the Best British Biscuits which had served to take our minds off the trek on the way up.

    It was a difficult stumble down the mountain. The mist made the stones slippy, the darkness making it hard to pick out obstacles ahead. Keen to make it down as soon as possible we make good time, although, as it was to emerge an hour or two later, this was to come at some cost.

    I felt ecstatic when CP5 came into view, and I couldn't help but yell for joy. I was especially happy as my mentor at the Oxfam Office was manning this checkpoint. It was so good to see him, "Look, we're actually doing it! All that hard work of ours, the months of preparation, it's paying off!!"

    My happiness was only dampened by the pain that had started to arise in my left knee - my GOOD knee! That final descent had been hard on the joints, and in a bid to protect my 'bad' knee, I'd used my walking stick on the right, putting even more pressure on the left. Well, the next section was a 10km stroll down a quiet asphalt road. I reckoned if I took it slow, I should be ok. Out with the freeze-spray, the cold pads and painkillers, the bandages. I trussed myself up as best I could, and then on we went.

    Bandaging my knee

    The next 6km or so were OK. It was nice to have a flat surface along which to drag one's feet, and a path wide enough to walk side by side and natter. Everything seemed to be going alright.

    It was at 1.30am, after 16.5 hours and 60km of almost non-stop walking, that my knee suddenly gave way. It was quite extraordinary. The road took a slight dip, and I don't know how, but that slight change in incline led to me suddenly lurching to the left as my knee refused to take my weight. I assured Taro and Osamu that I was alright, and took another step - at which point I nearly fell over! It was no good. I'd have to rest.

    I sat on the curb in disbelief. This couldn't be happening. After coping with all those horrendous paths, how could my knee possibly complain at this wee little asphalt slope? I got up again, and hobbled another 50 metres, but clearly, it wasn't going to work. My team mate, Vicky, asked me if I'd like to take a painkiller. This was no ordinary painkiller however - this was one of those giving to post-op patients in hospitals, and was so strong that it often caused severe sickness. I remember saying to her that I didn't care what the side effects were, I'd take anything to get rid of the pain!

    A few minutes later, I realised that I had to face the truth of the situation. There was no way I was going to complete the course in this state. Also, with me holding them back, there was no way any of my team mates would either. It was a really tough decision to make, but in the end I realised that I just had to make that call.

    Having dialed the number for the Oxfam Control Centre, I recognised the voice on the other end of the phone immediately, it was one of the staff I worked opposite in the office. She was very surprised to hear from me, and sounded pretty disappointed when I said I'd have to retire, and needed a rescue car. One things for sure though, she wasn't half as disappointed as I was! I handed over the electronic wristband that we used to clock in at every CP to Vicky, assured them I'd be OK waiting by myself for a car, apologised for abandoning them and wishing them good luck for the remainder of the course.

    Then began the wait. I perched myself on the tall bank next to the road, and mulled over what had happened. I felt so upset that all these months of preparation had led to this, and couldn't help but shed some tears.

    After 15 minutes or so of sitting in silence, I felt the pain killer kicking in. Not in terms of pain-killing, but more in terms of establishing its presence in my stomach. It was a good job I was sitting on the tall bank, as when I was violently sick it all went into the gully below, leaving me feeling clean, and empty.

    It turned out to be a long wait. The rescue vehicles were in demand, but I was told one would show up eventually. Until then, I had plenty of time to reflect. I thought about what a truly amazing thing Oxfam had organised. About our team spirit which had never flagged, about the generosity of our donors that enabled us to raise so much money, about the beautiful Japanese countryside that I'd had the pleasure of traversing that day, about our incredible support team, and about the pure happiness that I had felt many times over the previous 17 hours.

    This was what life was all about.

    I just couldn't quite accept that it was ending like this. But I couldn't see any other way.

    My two hour wait was punctuated by a few other teams passing by. It was wonderful to make instantaneous, if brief, friendships based on our shared experience. One team in particular - team No. 1, from Hong Kong, was particularly generous. The problem was, at about 2am my phone battery died, thus I lost contact with the Oxfam Control Centre who had told me they'd call me to let me know when they cold get a car out to me. I asked this passing team if I could make a phone call. They willing lent me their mobile, and then proceeded to unpack and provide me with hot tea to warm me up!

    It was about 3.30am when the rescue vehicle turned up. I was so happy to see the driver - another friend from the office. I was taken the couple of kilometers down the road to the next checkpoint, where I treated my knee as best I could and waited for morning to come and the support team to wake up.

    By 7am, I got word that the team had made it to CP7, and were now going to take a short rest to recuperate from what had been an incredibly tough 16km slog through the early hours. Shortly after that I was picked up by our Support crew; we then continued to join the others at CP7.

    Seeing them there really upset me. I felt I'd deserted them - after all, I'd been the one that had got them involved in it in the first place! Talking to Jon about how much I'd wanted to complete the course saw the tears well up again ...there had to be a way.

    Checkpoint 7 was some kind of civil hall, and in addition to a sleeping place, there was a "stretch area", where professional sports physios provided their services to any walker that needed them.

    Still in considerable pain, I didn't think they'd be able to do much for me, but hey, if there was a slight chance anything could be done that might get me back on the path, I'd be willing to do it. And this was how I met my hero.

    Lying down on the mat, I explained to the physio what had happened. Hearing this, he stopped stretching me, and asked me to wait a minute. Off he went, and came back moments later with a young looking chap who turned out to be the head physio. He asked me a couple of questions, prodded me a bit, and then proceeded to tell his colleague the plan of action.

    With a back of iced water strapped to my knee, he proceeded to stretch in some mightily odd ways that I never knew I could be stretched in. Whilst he was doing this, I asked him what my problem was, and whether he thought I could continue.

    He was incredibly positive, and whilst he didn't specifically recommend I continue, he clearly saw that I was desperate to start walking again, and so instructed me on how I could walk in order to avoid the pain. He then taped my leg up - all the way from my toe to above my knee, in such manner that my leg was turned inwards. It was all a bit bizarre, but I guessed that with 10 years experience he knew what he was doing.

    He really was my miracle. It was not long after that that we set out, a full team once again, to tackle the final 23km. The elevation map was not all that promising, showing a 13km climb of 800 metres, followed by a brief descent and then another two peaks to conquer.

    The initial section was ok, being as it was along a little asphalt road, but once we entered the forest things got a little sticky. I looked like such a grandad, limping along at an incredibly slow pace with my walking stick! I really had to laugh at myself. Only 29 and in that state!

    Here, it was decided that as technically the 6 of us were two teams (and I was no longer officially participating), that one of the teams should go on ahead at a speed that suited them, whilst myself and Taro and Osamu would continue at a more leisurely pace.

    Taking it easy: a rest point at the top of one peak provided us with welcome relief!

    Following the Oxfam ribbons

    Old man Joseph and his trusty walking stick
    Steps of death - they were so slippy following the morning's thunderstorm

    I don't know what happened, but there reached a point when the pain just seemed to disappear. The three of us were absolutely exhausted, but felt exhilarated too - the finish now seemed in sight, being as it was only a few hours off. The weather also cleared, following an incredible thunderstorm a few hours earlier that thankfully too place when we were all at a checkpoint! The view from that ridge was just beautiful, and I wished that all my friends who think that japan is nothing but skyscrapers and concrete could be there to enjoy it with us.

    This is Japan

    Joseph meets Mount Fuji

    Osamu and Taro at the final peak

    Descending from the final peak

    Emerging from the final forest we were greeted by an awesome sight - Mount Fuji, and at its foot the vast Lake Yamanaka. We were nearly there! Up to the final peak, and then a dash down to the finish. I was so excited - I'd actually made it! I limped as fast as possible, looking a bit like one of those olympic walkers trying not to run! Takashi, our amazing support team driver, had walked from the finish back down the course to meet us - I was so so happy to see him! And then finally, through the woods, and across the finish line!

    It was a very emotional moment, with our first team waiting there for us, along with a big crowd, all cheering and applauding. A remarkable sense of achievement.

    A knackered, but happy team at the finish line

    Our first team, "The Blisters" (Nigel, Vicky and Jon) managed to complete the course in an amazing 30 hours and 55 minutes, coming in at 39th out of 160 teams. An incredible achievement considering how many 'professional' teams had taken part, and what amateurs we were. I arrived about an hour later, with Osamu and Taro - "The Longlegs" crossing the line at position 44, after 32 hours and 5 minutes.




    Taking part in Oxfam Japan Trailwalker 2007 was one of those few-in-a-lifetime experiences that will stay with me forever. It was one of those incredible adventures where you push yourself way beyond the bounds of your 'normal' world, into a place where every moment is a demanding physical, emotional challenge.

    Coming home, you feel somewhat forlorn, lost without your team-mates with whom you shared this experience. In our case, we are fortunate: four members of the team had their partners with them, either as a fellow walker or as a member of our support team. Thus, we don't feel that pain that comes when you have returned from a far-off place to somewhere where people just don't understand.

    I'd like to sincerely thank Nigel, Vicky, Jon, Taro and Osamu, Takashi, *Twinkle* and
    Misako for taking me up on my invitation to participate in this mad challenge. I am very, very grateful.

    I'd also like to thank all the Oxfam Japan staff & volunteers who have put literally thousands of hours work into making this happen.

    Last, but by no means least I'd like to thank you, our sponsors, for helping us raise in excess of £2000 for charity. The response was staggering, and I'm truly grateful.




    Of course the question now is, will we be doing it again?!!

    Watch this space...


    Joseph

    Monday, May 21, 2007

    Oxfam Japan Trailwalker 2007: Part One

    The scene: In a bar, central Tokyo, Japan. January 2007.
    Joseph: Sponsored walk anyone? In aid of charity, should be a laugh!

    Friend A: Ooh, that sounds interesting. I could do with a bit of exercise.

    Friend B: Yes, does sound rather spiffing! I could bring along a picnic hamper, and the Pimms!

    Joseph: Jolly good. I'll put you down for it...
    How the scene should have been played out:

    Joseph: Sponsored walk anyone? In aid of charity. It sounds pretty hardcore!

    Friend A: That's not the Oxfam Trailwalker is it? I've heard of that.

    Friend B: Oh yeah, didn't it start in Hong Kong in 1981 as a military training exercise organised by the Queen's Gurkha Signals?

    Friend A: Yeah, that's it. My friend from Hong Kong was over in Japan last week, and they said that the Japan course is much harder than the one back home.

    Friend C: You'd have to be mad to take part in that. Its not just a sponsored walk. It's a matter of survival. A friend sent me a link to their homepage last week. Have you seen how many mountains you have to climb? And all in 48 hours? No way.

    Joseph: So, shall I put you down for it then?
    That was the most difficult physical challenge I have ever faced in my entire life. It was also a very emotional experience, which at one point saw me crying on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, waiting for 2 hours, praying for a miracle.

    Just thinking about the event as I write this brings tears to my eyes. What a team. They were absolutely incredible, and I am so proud of them.




    It all started at 4.45am on Friday, when *Twinkle*'s dad rang our doorbell. It was a long drive to the start of the course.

    One might not think of driving through central Tokyo as being anything special, but believe me, it is when you're on the motorways which criss-cross the very heart of the city, raised 5 or six storeys up above the grind of the streets below. This is a different world. It's like flying. Flying through an only-too-familiar landscape, but seeing it from an entirely different perspective. The train takes half an hour to get from the north to the south. You always see the same things, and rarely find yourself more than 6 metres from ground level. Here we were, cruising along on top of roads that at some points were stacked 4 high, playing "Where are we Now?".

    "Look! There's the DOCOMO Biru! We must be in Shinjuku"
    and then just minutes later
    "Wow! Check out the Mori Tower! So THIS is what the view is like from on top of that road that runs right over Roppongi!"

    I tell you, life looks much sweeter up there. You can see the blue sky for one thing.

    Getting to the start point was not without incident. As planned, our team was split into three for various reasons: two of us in the car with our support team, two of us taking the bullet train, two of us on the Odakyu Romance Car (a pretend bullet train). Human error when programming the SatNav meant that the car took us to a place with a very similar name to the one we were heading for. U-Turn, 30 minute traffic jam. Being team leader, I felt responsible for everyone, and thus I was pretty stressed out by the though of not making it on time! I couldn't bear to watch the scenery not pass by, and so covered my head with a jumper, and put my latest positive-thinking audio book on.

    Finally, we arrived at the start point. Nigel's reaction was not atypical:
    The first thing that I thought when we arrived at the sports track was that we would never be able to do it. We were surrounded by people whose muscles rippled with every step; they also had all the right walking gear: boots, bags, thermals, sticks, etc, and there we were strolling round in shorts and T-shirts shooting the breeze. When the event kicked off this feeling was accentuated by the fact that some teams started running round the track in order to get a head start!



    Yes, some of the 160 teams of 4 were actually running! Feeling confident that we'd see their exhausted bodies by the side of the track later on, and repeating to each other the story of the Hare and the Tortoise, we set out at a steady pace (we were later to be proved right, as only 85% of teams made it to the finish line).

    The starting trumpet!

    We had two teams of 4 entered for the event, although upon our arrival at the start point we were all saddened to get a message from one of our team mates, Tom, telling us that he was feeling absolutely dreadful, and in no fit state for walking. Takashi, another member of our second team, had previously decided not to attempt the walk itself, but rather to be our support team. Although it was a real shame that he wouldn't be walking with us, his decision turned out to be an absolute godsend - without him we would have been absolutely stuffed!



    The 100km course, which crossed 7 mountains and involved ascents totaling over 3500 metres, started out fairly easily. With over 600 walkers talking part, it was hardly surprising that for first two sections we found ourselves either in a long line, or in bunches of teams. That was especially useful when it came to section two - a relentless uphill slog which in itself had exhausted myself and Takashi some 6 weeks beforehand when on a training hike - now we found it not all that difficult at all, just follow the shoes in front.



    Single file please!

    Typical Nigel!

    On we plodded, past the now only too familiar rocks with their ancient carvings, the sulphuric late, the forest with the steps that finished my right knee off back in March. This time my right knee was in tip-top condition. The training was paying off, as was the purchase of a walking stick. In addition to that, I was wearing three knee supports (all on the same knee!), making it rock solid. Great stuff. I smiled when I thought of the last time I'd visited that spot, and been in a great deal of pain.


    Reaching Hakone Yumoto we proceeded through the ancient checkpoint from the Edo era, and the not so ancient checkpoint from the Oxfam Trailwalker 2007 era. For some reason, NHK TV's DoumoKun was having a go at playing samurai that afternoon. We didn't find him to be too talkative though, and so continued on our hike towards CheckPoint 4, Ashinoko camping Village, which lay at the other end of the incredibly long lake with its boats that had escaped from DisneySea.



    That involved a vicious 350m climb, with some harsh steps made for giants. Anyone would think the Japanese were giants judging by their public footpaths... I'd say it was around that time, after about 9 hours of non-stop walking, that we began to feel pretty tired. Despite this hardly being surprising, it was a little worrying, as we were only 39km into the course!



    Our support team, at that point in the form of *Twinkle* and her dad, were absolutely fantastic, especially Takashi, who'd been on the road since 4am, meeting us at every checkpoint and providing us with food, drink and vital moral support. Check point 4 was to be our last meeting that day: they'd then head off to pick up Misako, the third member of our support team who'd come all the way from Hiroshima by bullet train to be with us, and retire to their ryokan in order to be up bright and early for us in the morning.

    Supporters on the route

    Check Point 4 marked a real turning point, as it was here, whilst we stocked up on dried fruit and sports drinks, that the sun set and night truly set in. It also marked the beginning of a section that was to smash all our preconceptions of this being any old sponsored walk. We were in for a real shocker, this was to be something else entirely.



    In the next update, read about how the British Embassy helped us conquer the 1150m Mount Kintoki, the hut at the end of the world, and the descent that was to prove catastrophic for the team as it was.

    Then it's time for tough decisions to be made, tears to be shed, bears to be heard in the forest, rescue vehicles to be summoned.

    Ours pass, the storm breaks ...are our prayers for a miracle to be answered?

    It's all coming up in The Daily Mumble...

    who said Japan was all concrete?

    Sunday, May 20, 2007

    We Did It!

    Wow. That was an absolutely unforgettable experience. Very, very difficult.

    I am so happy we took that challenge on, and I am delighted we made it to the end, although it was very touch and go at times, and tears were shed along the way.

    I'll post all the details soon, but for now, just to say our two teams came 39th and 44th out of 160, and that we were all absolutely shattered having walked almost non-stop for over 30 hours!


    Our two teams, the Longlegs and the Blisters, and our fantastic support team that drove over 500km over the weekend in order to look after us.


    We were very sorry that one of our team members, Tom, was taken ill on Friday morning, and was unable to join us.

    Photos, in a rather odd order, are now available here.

    Saturday, May 19, 2007

    96km down, 4 to go!

    just come out of the forest, and BOOM! There's Mt.Fuji in front of us!

    83km down, 17 to go

    WANTED
    New left knee

    Friday, May 18, 2007

    the long night begins

    well folks its pitch black in the forest now. we've just started out on the hardest section. a 12k slog up a mamma of an ankle-twisting root-strewn path. Messages of encouragement welcome! email josephinjapan atmark ezweb.ne.jp :-)

    7.5 hours in

    Been on the trail for 7.5 hours now. Blister count is a mere 1, which between 6 of us ain't half bad! the training has certainly paid off, as the knees fine. gettin a bit of grief, but the walking stick's working wonders. covered about 40k so far. reckon it's gonna be a cold night, what with the altitude and breeze. ganbarou.

    on the road

    It's 5.53am, and myself and Jon are with our support team, Takashi and Twinkle, in the car on the way to the start point, an hour or so West of Tokyo. didn't sleep much last night, excited and nervous. just trying to picture a 100km trail over the mountains. i read somewhere that only about half the participating teams complete the course. hmmm! (i hope u can read this ok, it's a mobile phone update job)

    Thursday, May 17, 2007

    Life is Wonderful

    I found a beautiful piece by Mother Teresa today.

    People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self centred;
    Forgive them anyway.

    If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
    Be kind anyway.

    If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies;
    Succeed anyway.

    If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you;
    Be honest and sincere anyway.

    What you spend years creating others could destroy overnight;
    Create anyway.

    If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous;
    Be happy anyway.

    The good you do today, will be often forgotten;
    Do good anyway

    Give the best you have, and it may never be enough;
    Give your best anyway.

    In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
    It was never between you and them anyway.

    Today I am the lucky recipient of over 24 hours of wonderfully encouraging and inspiring audio.

    Life really is so wonderful when you take a step back.

    Wednesday, May 16, 2007

    T minus 49 hours and counting

    OK, Sleep Management Program has been initiated.

    Friday will see me having to get up at 4.30am, and not get to bed again for at least 40 hours. About 3/4 of that will be spent walking.

    Thus, today I'm forcing myself to get up early despite a late night, so tonight I'll be tired enough to be in bed by 10pm. Tomorrow, I hope to be in bed by 9pm, so as to ensure I get 6 hours sleep at least, and hopefully 7.

    I'm increasing my Epilim (anti-epilepsy drug) intake temporarily to stave off any tiredness-related seizures. I've noticed that my seizures are not just brought on my sleepiness (as I always thought was the case), but also by relatively short periods of intense physical exertion, thus, if I don't up my dose, Friday could be a great seizure fest. I first noticed this last summer when doing hard physical work, but it wasn't until I started to go to the gym this Spring that I could say for sure that there was a definite link between the two.

    I'll be making the rounds today at uni too to collect some more donations to try and get us nearer to our target. I know the International Centre staff want to to support us, they just need a little encouragement.

    I bet you'll be glad when it's over: I'll stop going on about donations. Maybe. Technically we have until July to raise funds... :-) (click here to donate!!)

    I'll also be attempting to catch up on this horrendous backlog of homework I have. I'm not quite sure how it came about, but I find myself today with a humoungous mountain of essays and reading to do, and of course my kanji study which is now being encouraged by my participation in a bit of PhD research, which involves being interviewed every week on my progress.

    I'd like to have a web-cam strapped to my head throughout the walk to show you just how lovely Japan is, but I think you might get tired of looking at Nigel's arse for that long.

    As shown above, the weather forecast remains excellent. Not scorchingly hot. These temperatures are for Tokyo so I expect it will be a little cooler up the mountains. I have my faithful Tilley hat to ward off the rays.

    I'm looking forward to sunrise on Saturday morning (4.34am) - that should be nice. Hope to get some good pictures too.

    Anyway, must get on.

    xxx

    Sunday, May 13, 2007

    T minus 5 days and counting

    Would you like to help us climb the final £200?!

    Thank you so much for all the donations until now, I can't quite believe we've made it so far!

    I've bought my headlamp and walking stick, stocked up on protein and sports drinks, now lets just keep our fingers crossed that the weather will be ok!

    [EDIT]

    Tuesday 15th May

    With just 70 hours to go until the start of the hike, we're just £30 (US$60 / JPY7000) away from our target! Very exciting stuff! THANK YOU to everyone who has donated over the past couple of days.

    Thank you to those who have been clicking on the ads too, it's really made a difference! (Ads are at the bottom of the page on the right).

    I'm almost 100% recovered from a sudden cold which had me flat on my back on my futon all day Sunday), and my arm which popped out of its socket yesterday is feeling much better.

    AND, more importantly, the weather forecast is CLEAR SKIES FOR BOTH DAYS!! Hurrah!




    Thursday, May 10, 2007

    A Year in Japan Podcast: Episode 09 out now!

    www.ayearinjapan.com

    In Episode 9 of the first ever podcast about life in Japan to have been listened to by aliens, Joseph takes you on a journey through his last month in Tokyo, which has included TV appearances, starting a new semester at Rikkyo University, working part time, playing with dictionaries and Training hard for a 100km /48 hour hike to Mount Fuji.

    There's also the latest news from Japan including a fantastic designer bra to increase voting day turnout and some remote control cameras, tips on what to get your Japanese girlfriend or boyfriend to do for you, and lots of groovy listener feedback!

    A show not to be missed!

    Download Episode 09 now (a whole hour of audio amazement!)

    Advanced Version (suitable for most computers and iPods etc. Features chapter markers, lots of photos, and hyperlinks)

    Basic MP3 version (suitable for wind-up gramaphones and other devices that refuse to play the advanced version. Audio only).

    More listening options here

    Feedback welcome: joseph[at-mark]ayearinjapan.com (mp3 messages / videos also ok)
    Skype: josephtame

    Sorry, HOW much?

    I had to double check.

    120,000 yen for just one day's work? That's, er, £500 (US$1000).

    I didn't actually realise that the agency that I did some TV work for last week were keeping my details on record - I was only doing it for a one-off bit of fun, and to promote small ear-lobes.

    Thus my surprise when I got that phone call a few minutes ago, asking me if I'd like to audition for a commercial for a travel agency that will be broadcast nationwide for up to six months.

    I guess that means I'll have to get my hair cut again.

    Of course, there's no guarantee that I'll make it to the auditions, let alone the actual shoot.

    But, tee hee, that's the first time I've had someone offer me so much money for 10 hours of my time!

    :-)

    [edit]

    Sadly I didn't make it! Wel, there's always next time!

    Click to give

    Any click on the ads displayed at the bottom / to the right of the Daily Mumble will result in a 10p / 20 cents donations being made to our Trailwalker fund!


    Monday, May 07, 2007

    Individual responsibility

    I was back in the gym this morning after a break of about a fortnight. It was good to work up a sweat again, and be lectured by that rather funny old man about the dangers of using a treadmill. He's like a permanent feature of the place; his presence, and rather repetitive questions (we have the same conversation each time, no matter how hard try to change its course) are reassuring.

    Arrrrrgghh, I've lost the use of my right arm due to the salary man who's fallen asleep on me! (I'm on the subway home).

    Ok, I shall continue left-handed.

    Anyway, being back in the gym also gave me a chance to catch up on the Reith Lectures, this year given by Jeffrey Sachs. Good job I had sweat dripping off my forehead as the latest instalment had me in tears. What I find most upsetting is the incredibly pessimistic attitude of all those 'intellectuals' in the audience, posing questions after the lecture.

    There's this attitude that we could never bring about the huge changes that are vital in order to rid the world of poverty, to combat the aids crisis, to bring industrial pollution under control. There's this attitude that bringing the population explosion of developing countries to an abrupt halt is impossible (it is not), that mosquito nets donated by the rich countries would end up in Swiss bank accounts, that the whole situation is so hopeless that we might as well give up now.

    I am a strong supporter of Jeffry Sachs' view that we can bring about these huge changes. I also believe that it starts with the individual, as without individual action there is no group action, and nothing will change. I do not agree with those who believe it is the role of Governments alone to sort out the problems of others, or to combat climate change. As an Englishman I am a beneficiary of many of the sacrifices made by many of the poorest countries. Great Britain would not be as wealthy as it today were it not for the exploitation that we, and other developed countries, carried out in the past. I owe it to those people to regard their problems as my problems too.

    Look at what we, that is YOU and I, as a community of 59 donors, have achieved so far with our Trailwalker event. We have now raised over three quarters of the $4000 dollars our teams have committed to donate to Oxfam, money that will be DIRECTLY FUNDING programs that will save many lives. This is a remarkable achievement, and we should all be mightily proud of our parts in this. It's not ez]exactly been all that difficult either (the difficult bit comes in a fortnight when we do the walk!). WE have shown that great changes are possible - it's just a matter of scale, and people realising that they too have personal responsibility.

    It's been an interesting year this. I've been reading quite a bit on personal responsibility, mainly in connection with taking control of our lives and steering them in the direction we want them to go in... but this can also be applied to our personal CO2 emissions, our indirect use of child labour and other modern-day slaves, our poisoning of local water courses through our purchases of supermarket lettuces.

    I've also spent some time around wealthy people who give a lot of money to charity. Giving money to charity has, in the past, been something that I'd do on an occasional basis, whenever there was a big crisis somewhere, but it was never a part of my everyday mindset. This past year has seen that attitude change, and I've been on the cusp of doing something about it for some time, even more so since I started working with Oxfam. Trailwalker has also had an impact on my attitude - I've really been taken aback by your generosity.

    This morning's lecture and my thinking throughout the day since then has finally helped me reach a decision. If I am to be happy with myself as a member of a society in which most people have a disposable income (and a society in which I enjoy a high standard of living at the expense of others in places such as China and the Philippines), I need to commit to give a proportion of my income to charity on a regular basis. I'd be hypocritical not to. So that's what I'll be doing, as of today.

    That decision made, I feel much better.

    Now go and have a listen to the Reith Lectures. It may just change your thinking.

    Golden Week Review

    So, it's the end of "Golden Week", one of Japan's longest holidays of the year. So that'll be four days off, followed by two days in the office, then another four days off, won't it? One has to wonder who came up with the crackpot idea to go in on a Tuesday and Wednesday.

    I was naughty, I skipped uni on both days.

    At the beginning of the week I was really pooing my pants, so much homework to do, and so little time to do it in. I had the Sheffield thing on, the research for the BBC into toilet seats catching fire, the hours spent grooming my right ear for its NHK TV debut, two full-day training treks for the trailwalker, a day in Saitama being healed (more on that on the podcast), the mammouth Year Abroad Project, a whole pile of homework for Rikkyo uni, oh, and the odd meal or two.

    Well, fortune really smiled on me. Firstly, thanks to a temporarily broken back (which is much better now, thanks), I was unable to go hiking Thursday, which although left me very disappointed at the time, did actually mean I was able to get my project finished by Friday night. Today's hike was rained off in the end, giving me another full day in which to catch up on all that homework, AND spend a good few hours in bed with my cutey watching "Finding Neverland", which had me in tears. Lovely film. It's rare that we have time to relax together these days, so it was a real treat. having said that, we did go for a picnic in Shinjuku gyouen yesterday (Children's Day).



    Having had a week off exercising due to my back problems and all, I was a bit worried that I would have lost all my hard-won fitness, but no: tonight I broke my all-time press-up record by doing a world-record breaking 36 in a row!

    My book-retailing business continues to do well: yesterday at 3pm I bought a book for £10 (US$20) - by 5pm I'd sold it for three times that amount to someone who lived only a couple of miles from the place I'd bought it from! I've made a few hundred pounds profit over the past couple of months on books now. My customers are always happy too as I ALWAYS offer the lowest prices.

    I'd really like to get another podcast episode out, just a bit too busy at the mo. Oh, check out the latest Ouch podcast for my contribution via my mobile.

    Basically, LIFE IS GREAT! I'm a happy bunny. A happy bunny going to bed now.

    xxx

    Saturday, May 05, 2007

    The post you've been waiting for

    Dear Mumbler,

    A couple of months ago you received the wonderful news that I and 7 of my friends are going to try and walk 100km in 48hours along a rather scary path across a whole bunch of Japanese mountains to raise £2000 (US$4000) for Oxfam, which is, as I type, working around the clock to relieve the suffering of hundreds of thousands of victims of the Darfur crisis.

    Thanks to the immense generosity of our friends, including many of you, we have now raised £1521 (US$3000), but with only 6 days to go until our fundraising deadline, we are at risk of missing our target! If you would like to help us reach our goal, please visit our team website where you can make a donation incredibly easily and quickly. Offline alternatives are also available.

    http://www.tamegoeswild.com/trailwalker

    We are immensely grateful to those who have already sponsored us - you can look forward to receiving a staggeringly professional one-off team newsletter once we have completed the challenge.


    Joseph


    Official event website: http://trailwalker.jp

    Friday, May 04, 2007

    The most beautiful sound in the whole wide world

    Can you hear it? A faint "shuffty shuffty shuffty" kind of sound?

    You know what it is?

    It's the sound of pure joy. Of relief. Of YIPPPPEEEEEEE!!!

    It is the sound of 42 pages of a Year Abroad Project reeling off my HP printer. Tomorrow it shall be photocopied, and dispatched to Sheffield University.

    This morning, I promised myself I'd get it finished today, and I have. Yes, it is a pile of poo, and yes, I am a little concerned that I might not actually pass as it is so weak in terms of theory, and yes, I am not at all proud of it, but heck, it's done. It's been a monster. I defeated it. Raaaaaaa.

    From here on I can concentrate on my Japanese, as that's what I'm here to do.

    Hurray.

    and goodnight.

    Thursday, May 03, 2007

    Rooted to the spot

    I'm very disappointed that I couldn't go hiking today. When I woke up this morning the anti-inflammatory meds had worn off, and I was back in my paralysed state - I have since managed to get down from the loft by using the fall-down-the-ladder tecnique, it's quite effective in moving from high places to low places, and best of all, you don't even need a ladder!

    The silver lining, well, more a sort of an off-gray lining with a smearing of cat food along its outer edge, is that today I can continue to work on my essay, you know, try and reverse all my arguments so they fit in with my findings. Well, actually, it's been more a case of changing the study into a comparison of the wedding industry in the 1980s/1990s and now, instead of taking the wedding industry as a whole and putting a big sticker on it saying 'post modern'. I know, cunning. I'm thinking of putting some nice fresh sushi in with the package when I send it off to Sheffield to help persuade my tutor to give me a pass.

    I' m very glad I found that online survey thing. It was well worth the £5 fee, saved me heaps of time, and I reckon increased the number of replies I got. People don't seem to mind online-surveys that much, no having to open Microsoft Word, or find a pen. Best of all is when the results come in you just right-click, and select 'toggle Rikaichan' which then gives you all the translations for any kanji you don't know. The only issue I had with it was when I selected "export as Excel Spreadsheet" it had a problem with the Japanese characters, and thus it was a case of copy and paste into Excel manually from the webpage.

    I desperately want to be a photographer, and I really miss having a proper camera. I'm almost embarrassed of my photos of late.

    ho de hum.

    Wednesday, May 02, 2007

    The ideal wedding

    Unless I'm very much mistaken, one respondent has replied that their ideal wedding would include ...chasing sheep!

    Its interesting how much the wedding scene has changed over the past two decades in Japan. Gone are the 3 meter dry-ice emitting cakes and extravagant shows of spending.

    The keyword these days is "At Home", with the reception being designed as a thank you for close friends and family, for helping the couple reach this point in their lives.

    Whilst a part of me is glad that the wax cakes are out, another part of me is deeply dissapointed as it invalidates my entire thesis, which had been based on a few leading pieces of research in this area ...which having been carried out in the 1990s are now hopelessly out of date, something I didn't know until last week.



    I'm going through one of those 'falling in love with Bjork, again" phases. Her new album comes out next week, and all the video podcasts of her jumping about in her fantastic crocheted monster suit have really got to me.

    I even decided that I would go and see her live, no matter what the ticket price, but alas, she's not coming to Japan. If you're lucky enough to have a ticket to Glastonbury, you can see her there.

    Anyway, back to the perfect wedding.

    p.s. One more classic answer:
    Q: What's the most important part of a wedding day?
    A: Telling the bride she's beautiful even if she's ugly.

    Kanji and Cakes

    Just been going through the replies to my survey.

    Thank you to those who pointed out that the question which was supposed to read
    "Did your wedding include a cake-cutting ceremony?"
    actually read,
    "Did your wedding involve a getting inside the cake ceremony?"


    Ahh, the kanji! One slight slip up and it all goes pear shaped!

    The relief

    Wow. These drugs are great!

    The doc wasn't all that impressed when I told him I was going on a long hike tomorrow, so, well, we'll see how it goes. I could take a week's worth of anti-inflammatories at 6am I guess.

    Raaa raaa wiggedy waaaaa.

    The pain

    Wow. This pain is quite extraordinary.

    It was early yesterday evening, as I was sitting here working on my project, that I first noticed the twinge in my spine. By midnight, the pain was considerable, and didn't fade all that much even when I lay down to sleep. Waking up this morning it's excruciating. When sitting in an upright position the entire area around my lungs, front and back, really really hurts, in a making-you-gasp-for-breath-in-shock type way, and I cannot bend over at all due to the pain in my spine.

    I'm guessing, based on the way the pain gradually increased, that it's some kind of inflammation. I'm trying to think of anything I may have done yesterday that may have triggered it, but have drawn a blank. It's a similar pain to that that I had for a while after my snow-board backflip onto a rock in February, yet much more intense and with no discernible focus.

    I think I'm gonna have to go and see my favorite doc again and get some anti-inflammatory drugs.

    Hurrah for national health insurance.

    Tuesday, May 01, 2007

    Filming at NHK

    I enjoyed that.

    Made my way to the NHK studios, where I soon met Emma, a professional British actress who did a superb job of lying down in a pretend MRI scanner, although her socks did give the director a little cause for concern. We were then joined by Melissa, a freelance writer of things such as this and this and this and this), and then Randy, an American who was to play our professor for the day. Finally, when one of the other actors didn't show up, a Russian chap who's currently studying at Sofia University turned up to stand in for him. I forget his name, nice chap.


    Randy was funny, he really got into it. There was this one scene whereby we, the students, were supposed to be listening to him lecture us about tongue-twisters (we were recreating this piece of research). The camera was just on us as he spoke, although they weren't using the sound. All we had to do was nod in understanding, so the swine starts out by quoting Beatles' lyrics, "I am the walrus...", in a very serious professor-like tone. It was virtually impossible for me to keep a straight face, and of course the director had no idea what Randy was saying...

    Another somewhat memorable moment was when the producer handed over a script for Randy to learn in the space of 5 minutes. He was not a happy bunny, and I don't blame him! It was written in Japanese, which Randy doesn't read or speak all that much of, and thus needed translating. The result of this is that I can now add script-writing for NHK to my list of achievements on my year abroad (although, to be honest, it wasn't exactly very hard, and will be dubbed over or subtitled in Japanese).

    So, the back of my head will probably become quite famous on Saturday 30th June 2007 at 10pm (NHK 1), and if they don't cut it, my big nose too. You may even hear me say the tongue twister "Peter Piper..." but of course you never know until the actual broadcast.

    The thing that struck me most today was just how nice my fellow actors were. Really lovely people. I do love to meet new people, especially when they're on my wavelength (boom boom!)

    I'll be kept on the books, and maybe do some more work in the future should it arise.

    Few. My two days of fame is over. Exhausting stuff. I guess I'd better do a bit of study now.

    tatta.