Common Ground – Friday Song of the Week

Dear Chris and listener,

While 80’s synthwave is definitely not my music of choice, I do appreciate the time capsule that Hi-Lights is. And since you mentioned Vice City, I couldn’t watch the music video without wondering when the cops were going to show up, or whether or not she was going to stop to pick up a hooker or two.

This week I am going to share with you something rather high up on my musical taste buds. Kognitif’s Common Ground ft. The Mic Jordan is one of my favourite tracks from one of my favourite albums. As a world-class DJ, he layers multiple melodies and progressions over his track with seeming ease. You feel like you’re listening to multiple songs at the same time, and in the best possible way. I stumbled upon this glorious mishmash of hip-hop, trip-hop, funk, and jazz, last year. It has been one of my top go-to albums since then.

Hope this gets your foot nodding.

The track list so far:

Find Me” by Marcus D (Ft. Jun)

Hide” by FKA Twigs

I Am Here” by Funky DL

El Pescador” by Banda Magda

Empires” by Electric Swing Circus

Jungle” by Tash Sultana

Never Knew a Thing (Live)” by Kileza

Time of Extinction” (소멸의 시간) by Jambinai (잠비나이)

Hi-Lights” by Savlonic.

Common Ground” by Kognitif ft. The Mic Jordon

Time of Extinction (소멸의 시간) – Friday Song of the Week

Dear Chris and listener,

Thank you for sharing Kileza’s track with me. Her wonderful voice is definitely a pleasure to listen to, and the raw emotion she pours into her singing is definitely sure to ring an emotional bell or two.

This Friday I want to up the tempo a bit, and feature some foreign artists. The band I’m talking about is Jambinai (잠비나이). They’re from South Korea, and they blend metal, rock, and traditional Korean music in quite a fantastic way.

The track I want to share with you is Time of Extinction (소멸의 시간), one of their more agressive and upbeat numbers. The track has a steady build up of energy. A sinister Koto starts setting the tone, and one by one, the other band members chime in with their own layer of sound, until the track builds up to a chaotic explosion of musical expression. The music video also doesn’t leave you wanting for much with its juxtaposition of colourful silhouettes.

Look forward to hearing your two cents.

Our musical discourse so far:

Find Me” by Marcus D (Ft. Jun)

Hide” by FKA Twigs

I Am Here” by Funky DL

El Pescador” by Banda Magda

Empires” by Electric Swing Circus

Jungle” by Tash Sultana

Never Knew a Thing (Live)” by Kileza

Time of Extinction” (소멸의 시간) by Jambinai (잠비나이)

Jungle – Friday Song of the week

Dear Chris, and listener,

The Electric Swing Circus definitely made this usually static booty want to go “Pop, pop!” If you don’t enjoy this track, I feel like you have to call human customer support and demand you get your missing parts back. The track is fun, but more than that, the music moves. It’s not static in its composition, and it’s just fun and fresh. And if that was not good enough, the music video really has a pulse! I’ve seen a good share of electro-swing on Youtube, and it’s usually just people dressed up in retro costumes playing 4-chord jazz pretending it’s swing. But this video POPS real hard. Love it.

I accept your declaration of war. And what better way to wage music war than to throw strange mishmashes of genres at your respectable (or otherwise) opponent. This week I am going to hit you with Tash Sultana’s Jungle. This girl came on the scene only last year, and seems to be the spirit child of Jimi Hendrix. She plays a prodigious mix of rock and reggae guitar. And with her mastery of looping pedals she’s truly a one-woman band.

The glove has been thrown.

Find Me” By Marcus D (Ft. Jun)

Hide” by FKA Twigs

I Am Here” by Funky DL

El Pescador” by Banda Magda

Empires” by Electric Swing Circus

Jungle” by Tash Sultana

El Pescador – Friday Song of the Week

Chris, and listener,

I dug the Autonomy track you sent me. I enjoyed the trumpet melody line that contrasted his vocals. The trumpet was just blowing carefree notes while his voice delivered the rhymes in an intense contrast. It was an enjoyable blend of hip hop, soul, and jazz.

This week I’m going to share a track with you which impresses me in its layering. Don’t get me wrong, the aesthetics lack for nothing – Banda Magda’s El Pescador has a big band Mediterranean sound that will get your foot nodding. But the sequence in which the instruments join in, weave through eachother, and finally climax, is absolute finesse. This track could be on Masterclass teaching composers and audio engineers how to make and layer a track.

I think it’s nothing short of criminal to listen to this song on an iPhone or a tablet. Make sure you got yourself a proper headset or at least decent speakers. This is a song you have to listen to at least two or three times. The first time you’ll hear the aesthetic and the lead melodies, which granted, are great. The second time you’ll start paying attention to the many melody lines and rhythms playing off eachother. And from the third time on, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a sense of the spectacular chaos sculpted by the many musical elements of this gorgeous track.

So far we have have built the following playlist:

Find Me” By Marcus D (Ft. Jun)

Hide” by FKA Twigs

I Am Here” by Funky DL

El Pescador” by Banda Magda

Happy listening 😉

 

Hide – Friday Song of the Week

Dear Chris, and listener,

I want to reciprocate the gesture of sharing a piece of your world with me.

As this is the first time we do this exchange, I also want to share something that currently reflects some small part of my world.

I recently met a friend who pushed me further down the rabbit hole of obscure, yet wonderful music. She also shares my love for trip hop, but unlike me she has done more than just dip a toe.

The track that I want to share with you is “Hide” by FKA Twigs.  It’s a bare bones trip hop track. Tahliah’s voice doesn’t leave you wanting for anything. It rises and falls between the weaves of a day-dreaming jazz guitar. The precussion is simple and works. The bass pops its head up when it’s needed, but is always noticed. More than anything, this track has a unique musical idea and identity that is so rare to find in the trip hop universe. With so many preformers trying to outdo eachother on producing the freshest sound, FKA Twigs just does it. And like all great preformers, they do it better live.

FKA Twigs – Hide (live)

Thank you for sharing this experience with me.

Vladi

🌸Okinawa: Cute Stone Doggos, Karate, and Good Vibes🌸

It was a time of unrelenting heat. It was a time of ever-present humidity. The summer was upon me, and it found me with no plans how to best spend it. So I sat beneath a tree in the local park to meditate upon this serious matter. As sweat poured down my body, and the infernal song of hundreds of horny cicadas dominated all manner of sound, a truly profound thought came to me: go somewhere even hotter. Ladies, gents, and other such creatures, today we look at Okinawa.

The islands of Okinawa have always held an attraction for me. Japan has no shortage of history and culture by any stretch of the imagination. And even so, The Ryukyu kingdom stands apart in my eyes.

The Ryukyu kingdom came to officially be in 1429. At the time, there was no trade agreement between China and Japan. The Ryukyu islands situated between them proved a great middleman of both trade and culture. While the two nations couldn’t openly trade with each other, they did so through the Ryukyu islands. The islands became a melting pot of culture. The earliest forms of Karate were born there, inspired by Chinese Kempo. The Ryukyu kingdom thrived on trade, and it continued to develop its own unique culture that was neither Japanese nor Chinese, but a thing of its own. In 1879 the Ryukyus officially became the prefecture of Okinawa, but their culture and heritage strongly endures to this day.

As a long time student of Karate, it was my Mecca. It was the birth place of Karate along with Kobudo – the use of traditional weapons such as the nunchaku, sai, bo staff, tonfa, and kama. And after a year in Japan a pilgrimage seemed overdue.

A comfortable two and a half hour flight later I landed in Naha. The first thing I noticed, literally as I walked out of the airport air-conditioned doors, was the wall of heat. The air was just moister and hotter than anywhere I’d ever been before. And that’s saying something from someone coming from central Japan. That being said, three or four hours later I no longer noticed it. Vending machines are accessible virtually everywhere, so as long as you stay hydrated and pace yourself, honestly it’s just fine. If you’ve heard any horror stories about unimaginable heat and humidity, dismiss them. Don’t let them sway you from an otherwise awesome experience.


The second thing I noticed was how little like the rest of Japan Okinawa looked. If the Japanese signs were to poof out of existence and I had to place my best bet on where I was, I’d have wagered maybe northern Spain, Monaco, or Greece. The streets are wider. There are gardens, flowers, and vegetation hanging out of balconies and adorning street corners. Even the buildings themselves are colourful and the architectural designs vary greatly. A very sharp contrast to the concrete and homogeneous jungle that is Tokyo.


If you’re a museum junkie like myself, you will probably find the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum to your liking. The exhibit has a great collection of old Ryukyu documents, pottery, works of art, and so on. It gives you a decent idea of what life was like six or seven centuries ago. Also, once you’re done getting your history fix, you can just hop on over to the other side for some art. There are regular art exhibits in the very same museum from both contemporary and historical Japanese artists. No pictures allowed there, unfortunately. But hey, you have eyes.

Naha Budokan

For you would-be warriors out there, there’s two facilities worthy of mention. There’s the Budokan in Naha. If a samurai was transformed into a building, it would literally be it. They have classes and seminars on just about every Japanese martial art imaginable. They are open to foreigners as well. Just keep in mind to pay attention to the etiquette, as you are in another country. If the sensei at said classes are willing to share their culture and tradition with you, the least you can do is reciprocate with respect and humility.

Also, freshly opened this year there is the Okinawa Karate Keikan. A facility truly devoted to the preservation and continued influence of Karate. Masters from different styles come to teach there, predominantly the more Okinawan-centric styles. If you train a different style, don’t let that discourage you. The differences in the styles are pretty small. For the most part you can follow along without too much difficulty. They are very welcoming to foreigners, and some of the younger black belts there speak English and really go out of their way to help you and welcome you.


The facilities themselves are ideal. Large, well-lit dojo with plenty of room for large classes. There’s a garden around the facility if you want some time to collect yourself after a hard work out. And then there’s Shuri hall – a room made in the style of traditional Okinawan dojos. It is used for special ceremonies and important black belt rankings. As a practitioner of Karate, it felt difficult not to be in awe and in love with the place. A lot of time, work, and thought clearly went into making it a Mecca for Karate-ka, and even with my high expectations, there was no room for disappointment. Also, it is worth mentioning that they hold a week-long Karate seminar every summer, open to foreigners from all over the world. The classes cover several different styles of Karate as well as Kobudo. 10/10.

So, you’ve just finished a vigorous session at the Mecca of Karate. What next? How does one Karate even more? By stopping by the Dojo Bar for a drink, of course! Located conveniently in Naha, it is a hub for fellow Karate pilgrims.

The DOJO bar is unique in Okinawa, perhaps in the world. Okinawa is the birthplace of karate and kobudo and the DOJO bar is a tribute to that heritage and a gateway for visitors to the island, its people and its rich fighting arts culture. We offer a truly special place, open and easily accessible to all, across cultures, countries and styles.


Of all the tourist attractions in Okinawa, I feel like one’s actually worth its salt. I am talking about the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. I’ve been to a great number of aquariums, and while most of them are decent, I would say they barely cover the price of admission. I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It is by far the best and biggest I’ve ever been to, and I’ve visited a good amount. Also, while most aquariums are just giant boxes, this one is designed beautifully. The tanks are all underground, and above ground you have beautiful winding gardens with the ocean as a backdrop. The selection of marine life is spectacular. There is a whole host of species which are only native to Okinawa. So you’re not just seeing pretty fish, but you’re getting a good idea of what the surrounding waters hold. Pictures speak louder than words, so I’ll let them do just that.


I visited the Okinawa theater, where you can see some classical Japanese plays. I also went to see Okinawa World where you can explore some pretty cool limestone caves. I saw the shrines, the castles, the beaches. But honestly, the best part about Okinawa is, well, Okinawa. Unlike most big tourist places there aren’t many attractions and things to do. Rather, the atmosphere and the place itself is the attraction of Okinawa. By all means, I urge you to see some of the beautiful temples and castles. But make time for Okinawa itself. Go to a few Jazz Bars (one that comes to mind is Parker’s Mood) or workshops. Strike a conversation with some of the locals. They’re more than happy to exchange a few words with a foreigner, and you’ll learn much more about the real Okinawa from them than any other museum or castle. The transportation in Okinawa is pretty limited, so if you have an International Driving Permit (IDP) or a Japanese license, just rent a car for a few days and drive around the island. It doesn’t take more than three hours to go from North to South. Take the ferries to the smaller islands, and just soak in this awesome and truly unique place!


Oh, and last but not least, as promised – a vast abundance of Shisa stone doggos!

 

American Gods: First Look

Ladies, gents, and other such creatures, draw your pentagrams, sacrifice your goats, and gather ’round your sabbath bonfires because we got ourselves a show to worship.

Creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green have brought us Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Blessed be they.

Creators
Our noble writer, Neil Gaiman, and two randoms.

For those uninitiated in the cult of Gaiman, American Gods is a new TV series based off of Neil Gaiman’s book by the same title.

Gods still roam the earth. Some are big, some are small, some are old, some are new. We start our show with our chief character, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle). At first glance he’s a typical convict. He’s got the shaved head, the permanent scowl, the chiseled body. However, there’s more than meets the eye with this guy. He also appears to be very thoughtful and reserved. He listens more than he talks. His characteristics seem out-of-place with his introduced persona. The show has barely started and it’s already got me asking questions and wondering about the who and how.

Shadow Walk.jpg
Our main man, Shadow Moon. Yes, his mom was a hippie. How clever of you.

He’s set to be released from prison in 5 days. He’s looking forward to seeing his wife who he seems to love dearly. He’s anxious to prove to her that he’s a better man coming out than when he went in. He is terribly anxious something bad’s going to happen, a feeling that might just be enforced by the strange and surreal dreams he’s having. Say what you will about a man, but when you start dreaming of bison with flaming eyes, I draw the line – shit be cray.

 

Flaming Bison
When the acid kicks in.

Enter the rock star. On his way back from prison he has the terrible misfortune of having to sit next to Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). If anyone ever gave Ian McShane the role of the devil it would look something a lot like this. He’s absolute charm, mischief, and entertainment. To say he’s perfect for the role makes “perfect” a poor adjective. He IS the role. He somehow happens to know a lot about Shadow’s personal life, but he keeps the “how” in the dark. He tries to persuade Shadow to work for him, though he’s not really specific about the type of work he has in mind. Shadow doesn’t seem to be too keen, but Mr. Wednesday’s nothing if not persistent, and nothing if he’s not sly. Our TV show takes off from there in a whirl of dynamic dialogue and the unraveling of what seems to be a fantastic world.

Americna-Gods-Odin
Our rock star of the show – Mr. Wednesday, played by the devil himself, Ian McShane.

Now, without giving more of the plot away, I will say this: the show’s got a lot to work with. Not only do we have a talented cast, but we have none other than Neil f’in Gaiman as a writer. We know what happens when TV is written by actual writers. Game of Thrones, anyone?

The idea of ancient deities roaming the modern world and how they come to terms with it is fascinating enough on its own. But more than that, the show looks at the idea of belief itself. What makes a thing real? What is the power of belief? In this day and age, with our rapidly changing world, what things do we believe in?

The visual style of this show caught me a bit by surprise. There’s a few scenes that introduce some visually curious elements and it seems to be an appetizer for what we’re going to get throughout the season. Bright colours, strong contrasts, over exaggerated violence. They set the tone for something vibrant. This strikes me as a show that’s not afraid to take a few risks, and that’s always encouraging. I’ll take something that tries to be bold and new over safe and worn to death any day.

The show snares your interest from episode 1 and has you asking more than a few big questions by the time the episode’s over. Well worth the watch. The stars might have just aligned for Gaiman’s adaptation.

🌸Moonlight Masquerade in Tokyo🌸

Moonlight Masquerade Mask

Mr. Author Guy, say I’m in Tokyo and I want cool venetian masks, dimmed lighting, jazzy tunes, finger painting, and awesome people but I don’t want to pay more than ¥2001? Say no more, young rascal, Mr. Author Guy’s got ya. Ladies, gents, and other such creatures, I recently had the opportunity to partake in just such an event – The Tokyo Moonlight Masquerade. Hosted by the Spectrum Series (which I urge you to find on Facebook), The Moonlight Masquerade is an event hosted four times a year in Tokyo. It usually features some of the best local artists and musicians. And I’m not talking paint-by-numbers musical acts either. You will hear a great blend of local indie talent blending and fooling around with everything from jazz to blues, to soul, to funk, to rock, and everything in between with their own creative twists. This particular event hosted (in order of appearance) SOU, Xandra Corpora, Audible Bond, and The Roamers. We also had the very talented Ayaka Nakamura do a live painting while the acts were performing.

First things first, we can’t take anything away from the venue. The event was hosted in the Aoyama Moon Romantic club. This mystery little hut of awesome is hidden away in one of the small alleys of central Tokyo. You can find it here. It’s named for the giant moon that usually decorates the stage. It’s just big enough not to be crowded and just small enough to be intimate. The people are warm, the drinks are cold, and the vibes are right.

 

The night opened up with SOU, a guitar and drum duo. They were a perfect opening act. Their music started out slow and haunting. Melancholy and dissonant guitar melodies slowly drew us in as the atmosphere in the crowd started building up. The drums and the guitar both picked up the pace to make up for some truly spectacular climaxes. You couldn’t ask more from an opening act.

Xandra Corpora graced the stage next. And the only word that comes to mind is “wow”. She was a summer storm of energy. To my ear she did a blend of blues, blue grass, soul, and funk, but all in her own bombastic way. Her voice was absolutely explosive as it dove through melody lines and trills. Just everything about her performance fizzed with energy.

And a little taste of her sound:

Next followed Audible Bond. Whatever Xandra did in energy, Audible Bond did in smooth. Their blend of chilled out jazz, soul, and R&B brought us down and hypnotized us as they went through their numbers. Their energy was great, they pulled the crowd in, and their music lacked for nothing. If you ever have the chance to see them, do. The forty minutes of your life that you’ll never get back will  be well worth it.

Here’s a little snippet of their sound:

Last, but certainly not least, The Roamers filled the stage. If they were a drink they’d be an aged, dry whiskey. Classic, tested, and plain good. They rocked the stage with their funk music which would invariably find its way to some pretty dirty rock sections. And it was always the perfect blend of it, too. You’d have the funky bass and drums accompanied by the vocals which tantalizingnly threatened to go out of tune and never did, and just when you got into the loop, they’d darken it with some heavy guitar. It was a marvelous fusion of sound and style.

Here’s a taste of their funk:

 

And the unsung hero of the night – Ayaka Nakamura. Japan based artist, she soaked up all the evening’s vibes and sounds, stirred them with her imagination, and infused them into her live art. She painted along the musicians all night, and the result was truly spectacular.

So if you are visiting Tokyo or are in the area and have a love for all things artistic, you’ll be well out of your mind not to check this event out. From my experience, the people are there are as varied, awesome, and creative as the music on the stage. Make sure you don’t miss the next one 😉

Shoe Collage

🌸Dildo-Nosed Demons, Monkeys, and Shrines (AKA: Mount Takao)🌸

Ladies, gents, and other such creatures, today we take a look at Mount Takao. It stands apart from other mountains in that it has dildo-nosed demons, known as Tengu, glorious snow monkeys, and numerous shrines and gardens. Frankly, it is one of my favourite places in Japan, and it is absolutely gorgeous in the fall.

Mount Takao is located in Saitama, about a 40-60 minute drive/train from Tokyo. The easiest way to access the mountain is through Takaosanguchi station, on the Keio-Takao line, located conveniently at the base of the mountain. There are convenience shops nearby, so I wouldn’t worry about stocking up on provisions. There are plentiful snack booths, souvenir shops, and washrooms along the way. Though be warned, it can be quite crowded during the weekends during the fall period. That being said, the further up you go the crowds tend to disperse a bit.

There are several trails to choose from. Most people take trail #1, which is more or less a straightforward path to the summit of the mountain. You can reach the summit in about 90 minutes if you keep a constant pace, maybe 120 minutes if you take the odd break here and there (and really you should, the place is beautiful and worth your time). The beginning is pretty steep, but don’t be discouraged, after about 30-40 minutes the elevation levels out for a very pleasant hike. However, along the way many other trails intersect and you can easily spend an extra few hours exploring the mountain. There are many different shrines hidden along the mountain, gardens and gazebos for some relaxation and contemplation, as well as simple, lush natural beauty covering every square cm of this gorgeous place.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, he promised us monkeys. SNOW MONKEYS! Worry not, nature’s little agents of chaos are here. There’s a little enclosure halfway up the mountain where you can see these little dudes. It’s about ¥400 for adults. You can go in and have a look at them, and I THINK you can also buy food to feed them, but I don’t rightfully recall. If Japanese people in uniform start talking to you in a stern tone, then you might not be allowed to feed them – play it by ear. Credit must go to the following blogger (http://crystaltjapan.tripod.com/letsgototokyo/id25.html) for the photos, alas I didn’t actually go to the enclosure this time by way of democracy via my monkey unappreciative friends(?).

Also, Yakuo-in temple is definitely worth visiting. It is a historic temple more than halfway up the mountain. It was established in 744 and later restored in the 14th century. It was considered a holy site, and many people would make pilgrimages to the temple for enlightenment. Tengu statues stand guard around the temple looking menacing. The Tengu are servants of the gods, often depicted holding uchiwa (Japanese fan) which they use to sweep away misfortune and bring good fortune. They are guardians of the mountain, looking to help the good and chastise the evil. Also, they have dong-like noses, just saying.

Last, but surely not least, there is the summit. It’s a wide resting area with benches, gazebos and a restaurant. There’s even a little bit of a park branching off to the side if you feel like turning a few idle pages or just sitting down to enjoy the presence of the mountain. The view from above is quite lovely, you can see distant mountain ranges in Saitama which make for a scenic peisage. Also if you linger ’till dark you can see the local towns lit up beneath the mountains.

Anywho, that is my tale of dildos, monkeys and beauty. If you are in Japan I strongly recommend you check it out. This is by far one of the best experiences you can have in a day.

🌸Climbing Mount Fuji or The Insufferable Trials of Three Mortals🌸

T’was the season for masochism, my dear gents, ladies, and other such creatures. T’was the season for atonement. The credit of all my youthful transgressions finally reached its limit and demanded payment. Carelessly leaving the seat down, blissfully j-walking, not offering my seat to the pregnant, one-legged, old lady on the train. Alas, my sins caught up with me. And lo, the gods decided it was time to get their pound of flesh.

And so Zeus said onto Hypnos, “Make his dreams swirl around the distant peaks of  Fuji. May he perilously yearn for its cloudy heights.”

And so Hypnos said onto Zeus, “How binding should I weave these dreams.”

And so Zeus said onto Hypnos, “I ‘unno, enough?”

And so the spiteful Hera added her 2 cents, for she was bored “Oh, make him do it in one day. Like make him think it’s actually a good idea. And have him go down on the same day, too,” she added thoughtfully, twirling her hair.

It was then that Boreas and Zephyr, Zeus’ sons, stopped playing Xbox and joined in, “We could throw some harsh wind his way,” Said Zephyr.

“Real harsh shit,” added Boreas.

“And rain,” concluded Zeus, “shit is always more dope with rain.”

And so with the divine tides against us, my two friends and I made our way to Mount Fuji.

We spent the first night at a hostel in the city of Fuji. I will drop its name here, for it’s well worth a recommendation. This cozy little nook goes by the name of NASUBI, Mt. Fuji Backpackers. It is conveniently close to Fuji station, a mere 9 minutes, and 15 minutes from Shin-Fuji station. You can get a shuttle bus that will take you to the base of Fuji from either of those stations. The hostel itself is clean and cozy, and as spacious as you can get in Japan. The host was absolutely the best part of it. He seemed to have either discovered the secret to happiness, or he was permanently stoned. Then again, maybe those two intersect. But seeing him roll the perfect cigarette on the porch one evening, I am inclined to place my faith in the latter. He spoke good enough english to answer just about any questions we had about acquiring gear and the how-to’s of climbing Fuji. Also, he just gave us some free rain jackets right before we left, because peace and love, why not?

Also, to further esteem this hostel in my views, there was an N64 set up in the common room with just about every Mario World classic you can hope for. Nothing bonds world-wary travelers like breaking language barriers through competition in the age-old past time of gaming. Until of course, every language boils down to its most essential word, in our case being “fuck,” in the case of our two newly found French friends “putain,” and our one Israeli friend “ha-matzav-khara.” Ahh, Mario World, destroyer of friendships.

So the next day we headed towards  Kawaguchiko station, roughly an hour and a half away from Fuji city. On our way, we made a slight detour at Shiraito falls, which we were told were quite beautiful, which toats were.

After that pleasant detour, we were filled with the beauty of the Shiraito falls and we eagerly awaited grander beauty and sights on the distant Fuji. How naive, how very young we were.

We took the bus from Kawaguchiko station to the 5th station on Mount Fuji, which is where most people will start their hike. If you have need of equipment, worry not, there is an equipment renting shop right across Kawaguchiko station (which opens at 1PM). For the most part, you need warm clothes, a head-light, and a rain & wind jacket. During the summer season, you can have a 30°C temperature at the base, and 5°C at the summit. So make sure you bring warm clothes. Also, I strongly, STRONGLY suggest that you stock up on snacks and food at a convi store before you head towards Fuji. Everything is exceedingly expensive along the Yoshida trail. A bottle of water will cost you 600 Yen, when it’s a mere 100 Yen at a convenience store (around $7 dollars and a $1.50 respectively, to the non-Yen savvy). Even cup noodles are sold for 600 Yen a piece along the resting huts, demonic amusement dancing in the eyes of the vendors. Then again it could have been the lack of oxygen and exhaustion, who knows?

As a person who is in average shape, or maybe just slightly above, I found the climb towards the summit to be one of considerable difficulty. The trek to the Seventh station wasn’t bad. It’s a bit steep, but you start getting used to the elevation bit by bit, and frankly, the surroundings are quite beautiful. There’s still plants and lush greenery along the path, and with the mist that was clinging to the mountain that day, it was quite the sight.

So, first things first. Most people want to climb the summit in time for the sunrise. In order to do that, you have start your climb at around 10 PM (from the 7th station). If you have more money to spend, you can start at the 8th, 9th, or 10th station, each becoming more expensive respectively. We paid around 8000 Yen (~$90) each for our stay at the 7th station, and our accommodations made dodgy hostels look like palaces. Imagine a large living room, lined with 2 levels of beds along the walls. They fit about 200 people, so you are crammed like sardines to the point where you can barely turn in your own little space. You can’t really get any sleep as people are constantly coming and going, so  it’s more of a resting spot before the big hike. I understand that this is a big tourist attraction, a world wonder and such, but paying 8000 Yen for that kind of experience definitely left a sour taste in my mouth. All the more because Mount Fuji is a world heritage site, and therefore, supposedly has international sponsorship.

So after our fretful rest, we packed our bags and started on our merry way. Past the 7th station, the scenery became more rocky and volcanic. The elevation was steep, and it definitely pays to stop and catch your breath every 15 minutes or so. There’s always people in front of you and behind you, which normally I’d dislike in any other situation, but having people there with you really helps. I could easily have seen myself giving up if it had only been me and my mates, but when there’s this constant stream of people going through the exact same thing as you are, it really drives you to keep going. There’s definitely a group effort/mentality aspect to the climb. You see that they too get tired, they too stop for a break, and they too choose to persevere. You exchange smiles along the way, in on a joke that you’re all sharing, and you trek ahead as comrades.

I hope you’ll forgive my lack of photographs here. Since it was pitch dark, full with mist, and I had no tripod. So, I was unable to take any good photographs during the evening part of the climb. So words will have to serve where pictures fail. By midnight, we were above the clouds. You can’t really see anything in the distance because it’s too dark. However, the stars are all AROUND you. Not above, but around. You feel like you’re in the center of a great dome of stars. They are really clear in the night sky, with no light pollution, and you feel like you are right next to them. The sight renders the meaning from the word “beauty”. And always behind you and in front of you, you can see little dots bobbing up and down, the other climbers tracing serpentine patterns in the mountain with their head-lights. And they grow more numerous and frequent as the climb goes on, until they reach the edges of your vision.

A little bit before the top we reached a pair of Tori gates. From a distance I thought they were covered in frost, but up close it turned out that people had wedged coins inside the pillars themselves for good fortune, as far as I can guess.

Good luck Tori gate on Mount Fuji
Good luck Tori gate on Mount Fuji

The last one hour of the climb was probably the hardest and steepest. At parts you have to use your hands to navigate and balance yourself across difficult paths in the rock. Also, a pinkish glow had started to set on the horizon, a timer reminding us that the sun was hot on our tail and we needed to pick up the pace if we were to greet it at the top. Goverment employees were stationed every 100 meters or so to make sure everyone was OK and to give encouragement to the climbers, egging them on to try just a little bit more.

At around 4:45 AM we reached the top. We were greeted by a fierce wind and fierce cold to boot. Zephyr and Boreas probably taking the piss. However, even their godly douchery couldn’t subtract too much from the beauty that eventually greeted us.

And they lived happily ever after? “Hahhahahaha, NO!” said Zeus as he chuckled like a child burning ants, which resembled humans on top of an anthill which strongly resembled a mountain. As the sun rose, the temperatures started climbing again. And as the clouds are now below you as opposed above, you get cooked something fierce. To add insult to injury, Hephaestus seemed to have joined in on the mortals roast, because the path back from the summit could only have been carved by a sadistic Greek deity. A serpentine path is carved into the volcanic rock all the way back down to the 5th station, at a very aggressive dissenting slope, made up of nothing but medium-sized rocks and sand. That’s IT. There is no reprieve, no flat paths for your aching joints to recover, just 5-6 hours of a constant decline over the most uncomfortable, and eventually painful, terrain you can imagine. It no longer becomes an issue of stamina or muscle strength, but just a sheer, relentless battering of your joints and feet. Again, I feel very fortunate to have experienced Fuji’s beauty, but for a site that is so famous and so well-funded, that was simply unacceptable. I can only imagine that the person responsible for planning the dissenting path strongly hated all things with feet, and was in a hurry to get to the sake bar before it closes. So he carved the most senseless and uncomfortable path in the rock and then ran away laughing maniacally, knowing he contributed to the maiming of millions of feet for the centuries to come.

We drove back on the same day, half awake in our car, hopefully eyeing the desolate roads for a welcoming “Ramen” sign where we could hopefully recovery some of our sapped strength. All in all, it was a great experience, if not an altogether pleasant one. I have read my fair share of Fuji articles by now, and I felt compelled to give my account as a great many of the other ones out there are definitely written with rose-tinted glasses. But you have the good, the bad, and the ugly, and in the end, it’s all one big experience.

Hope this was helpful!

And so, Zeus having tortured the poor mortals to the full extent of his amusement returned to his daily life, which mostly consisted of stroking his epic beard, hurling the odd lightning bolt, and trying to impregnate mortals under every which guise in existence. And all was well.