Last Post in Japan: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned

Well, here it is…my last post as a program host and DJ in Japan. Hopefully not my last post as a writer, but I’m still mulling over what direction I want my next blog to go in if I have one. I have some great ideas, but also some other goals that may temporarily interfere with writing on a regular basis. That being said, I’ve learned a few valuable lessons while being over here that I wanted to share. Some are heavy, and some are light-hearted. My typical dichotomy. Enjoy the random pictures from my time over here!

Lesson 1) I have been taking precious relationships for granted. Sometimes it takes being separated from the ones you love to realize how much God has gifted you in that area. I even consider myself a very social and loving person, but for one reason or another, I tend to hold people at a comfortable distance so as to not be crushed if the relationship ends or even greatly diminishes. That fallacy leads to only nearly great relationships, and I’ve realized that no matter how I’ve been hurt by friends or loved ones in the past, I shouldn’t let the past have any sort of control over what may or may not happen in my future, especially in something as important as relationships.

Lesson 2) Anyone can learn to use chopsticks. I mean this literally and figuratively. Figurative chopsticks being ‘things we are unfamiliar with’, obviously. When being thrown into a foreign culture, for any amount of time, it causes a shift in the way you view the world and yourself. This may sound elementary, but you all of a sudden realize that the place you’re currently in isn’t just a spot on a map, but a place with real people and real customs, in some cases COMPLETELY different from your own. You get an insider’s look at how a person growing up in a certain place, views the world entirely differently than someone on the other side of the world does. After some time, you find a way to blend the culture you’ve grown up in with the culture you now inhabit. Basically you learn to use the chopsticks, or starve. For some this may cause a shift in their core beliefs and/or values, for others they may be even more strengthened in what they already believe and be even closer to being able to relate to others on a deeper level.

Lesson 3) Japanese television is REALLY hard to get used to. I’m not joking when I say that I spent a grand total of maybe 4 hours where I was intentionally watching Japanese TV. (Not counting when it was on in the background while I was eating in the cafeteria at my dormitory) At first, it was funny because it was so obnoxious, then it quickly lost its luster. They eat food on almost every show. Like…you’ll be watching the news, and one moment they’re talking about N. Korean plans to launch a satellite and the implications that will have on their society, and the next second they are all taste testing some Japanese delicacy and talking about how delicious it is. It’s hilarious! Don’t even get me started on the shock value of Japanese game shows. All that being said…the Japanese are hilarious when they want to be 🙂

Lesson 4) God is always pursuing us. I’ve talked with a couple of close friends about my faith journey while living in Japan, and I’ll give you the abridged version. It has been a rollercoaster. I have had some of my highest and lowest moments in my walk with God while living over here. Going from a society where I heard Christ proclaimed multiple times a week, was involved in student ministry, and had friends keeping me accountable in my faith, to living in a society where Christ isn’t proclaimed at all was much harder than I thought it would be and came with consequences. We aren’t meant to walk alone in our faith. There’s a reason Paul had Timothy. There’s a reason the disciples were sent out in pairs. Now, I’m not saying I didn’t know some Christians over here, or even that my friends didn’t encourage me from time to time. I’m saying that I didn’t seek out a dynamic of group growth that is needed in a Christian’s walk with the Lord. Going long periods without those needed interactions left me feeling numb among other things, which was my own fault. But God in His greatness still found ways to use me, even during times I was straying away from Him. On multiple occasions someone would blatantly ask me about my faith, and even make plans to grab a drink or a bite to eat and talk about God, faith, and purpose. I was baffled at the lack of knowledge of who Jesus is over here. One girl had never heard the two words ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ put together, and thought that Christians had to spend years going door to door and selling books and pamphlets. There were far more misconceptions than that. There were times when I would hear myself professing Christ and wonder to myself why I even deserve to carry such an amazing message in my current wayward state. I finally realized though, that I will NEVER deserve to know, or even speak about Christ’s love. It’s by the Grace of God I even know what I know, and it’s the Spirit of God working inside me that yearns to love and speak truth to others. Once I realized I wasn’t even in the equation, and that I am just a vessel being used, it took the guilt and pressure off of me and I just spoke into their lives and prayed that God would reap. I have been constantly reminded that God is pursuing me even if I feel like I’m not worthy to be pursued, and that His love and grace far outreach our human expectations for what they should look like.

Lesson 5) When someone in Japan asks if you want ‘tako’, it doesn’t mean a Hispanic ‘taco’. Tako is the Japanese word for octopus. Write that down.

Lesson 6) God provides. This isn’t a new one to me, but rather one that repeats itself over and over again in my life, especially in times of trial. He gives me what I need, when I need it. He provided people over here that became amazing friends, and really even family. He provided a place to stay, where food was taken care of and there were people to help me with paperwork that I wouldn’t have had a clue how to do by myself. He provided a fun workplace with opportunities to travel around and see different parts of Japan and some other surrounding countries. He provided me a job that allowed me to explore my creative side and some free time to pursue other interests that I had put off, like writing, reading, or film work. I could go into great detail about how God has provided for me over here, but really if we all take a step back and look at our life like a timeline, it’s so apparent that God takes care of us. If you are a child of God, even parts of your life that are hard and messy, turn into good things on the other side. The most important thing to remember is that if God is so richly blessing us, we are responsible to unclench our fists and give back to others in need. The parable of the talents comes to mind.

Lesson 7) Japanese people are the most polite people ever. You might be saying to yourself…”Wow, that’s a pretty big generalization”, but I honestly mean it. I know they have a past (like every nation), but their current cultural expectations of how to treat others, is spread across the country in a way I’ve never seen. I’ve had a man in Tokyo walk 5 blocks out of his way to show me where I needed to go. I’ve been given gifts by two different Starbucks crews when they found out I was leaving the country. I’ve had locals come up to me and offer to show me where the most spectacular spots are in the area when I was traveling. Even amongst themselves, they give gifts to their family and co-workers after they’ve been traveling to other prefectures. Politeness is in their language, their postures, and in their greetings. I have been blown away time and time again this year by how these people show respect to each other.

Lesson 8) I can do WAY more than I thought I could. Those of you who know me, obviously know that’s only because of God working in me. God has gifted each of us in specific ways, and wants us to shine for Him in those specific ways. Moving to Japan, learning and performing a job that I had ZERO experience in, learning conversational Japanese, comprehending Japanese business practices, and being a world away from family and friends for a year were all things that I would usually shy away from in fear of failure and rejection.  For whatever reason, God granted me some gumption to say ‘yes’ with only a blurry view of what living in Japan might look like, and the results have been confidence, experience, and memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything. What journey might God want to take you on, to grow you in very specific ways? Do you want to grow?

Lesson 9) Here’s a no brainer: Regular exercise and healthy eating will put you in good shape. I’ve always had a long and slender build, but it’s been interesting to watch how my weight fluctuates while being over here in Japan. Before I started biking 20 min to work at HFM, I actually gained some weight because I was eating baseball player sized meals (living in the Carp dorm) and only biking 5 min to work and then sitting all day. When my schedule changed and I started biking all the way across town to work I dropped several pounds. Then, my legs started to get huge because of all the biking that I was doing and my weight shot back up. When I started working out in the mornings a few days a week, I noticed another increase in weight, and when I started swimming a few nights a week, I saw a loss. I guess I’ll say it was more of a “weight re-distribution”, than a weight gain/loss. The only reason I watched my weight that closely is because there was a nice scale right by the showers and it was easy to step on and see what had happened, and Japanese people would allllllways ask me my height and weight in kilos. Eating foods with basically zero preservatives, which are fresh and well-balanced, has made me more conscious of what I eat… in a good way and I’m definitely in the best shape of my life. I’m used to working out, but I’m hoping to bring this habit of healthy eating back to America with me. I’ll need some accountability partners.

Lesson 10) I can’t remember where I heard this, but the quote: “You usually don’t discover what you love to do, you re-discover it” has really been on my mind lately. One good thing about being separated from a comfortable place for an entire year is that you can really explore parts of yourself that didn’t get a lot of exercise in your bubble of comfort. I’ve rediscovered my love of capturing a moment and telling a story in speech and writing, of meeting new people and making new friends (not a shocker), of traveling and experiencing different cultures, and finally of telling stories through filming and video editing. Now this last one might be a surprise to some, since I don’t talk about it a lot. I started experimenting with editing film at the end of high school and then took 2 or 3 classes in editing, directing, and storyboarding in college. I remember the first time one of my videos was shown in front of an audience (approx. 1,000 people) there were moments of roaring laughter and then almost everyone applauded at the end. It was my first time being a part of something that I liked to do and other people enjoyed too. Then…(here come the excuses), life happened. A mixture of different circumstances led me away from having the hardware, software, or time and really even the heart to pursue any projects in this field. But now, I can’t make those excuses…and I don’t want to, even if I could. I’m ready to take chances and see what happens. It doesn’t always have to be a big change all at once. In my case, I plan to do side projects to gain experience before jumping further into it. God will either bless it or close doors appropriately, but it’s my job to take steps and I have more confidence to do that now than I ever have. Is there something that you love to do that may be risky, but you’re more interested in making excuses for why you’re not doing it? Is living a safe/sheltered life actually living?… or is it just surviving?

For those of you who have read my blog and encouraged me to keep going, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a little about this journey I’ve been on for the past year. Like I previously mentioned, I may start another blog, so stay tuned to see what direction I go in. I also hope that you were somehow encouraged or inspired…or maybe just got a good chuckle from something you’ve read here. If you hear nothing else, hear this: Take chances and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. God can do more with our messes than we can do by playing it safe, and it glorifies Him more in the long run when others see how He’s worked in our lives. Thank you again, and God bless!

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In the Lap of Luxury

This past weekend was the last of a four-weekend stretch of trips traveling to Kyushu to promote travel to the area. Like the three weekends before it, Kyushu stayed true to form and gave us even more memories to cherish. We visited Fukuoka and Kagoshima prefectures this time, which are actually a little distance from each other, and actually during the airing of these specials, we will let on that we traveled from Kagoshima back up to Fukuoka, with the other trips in-between, even though the ‘first’ and ‘last’ stops were actually done on the same weekend.

This time the early morning walk to my local train station wasn’t nearly as inspiring. I walked with my head downcast as the overly cool breeze cut through me and rain lightly drizzled down. I arrived a few minutes early again to get a light breakfast before our departure, and the beautiful girl from last weekend wasn’t there. I still took small bites to be safe. On the bullet train I looked out the window while Taka-san and I were discussing some plans on what we’d be talking about, and saw an overcast sky and low-setting fog laying like a blanket in the valleys, exposing the mountain tops. After getting the rent-a-car in Fukuoka we headed towards a Daibutsu (Giant Buddha). The journey to this statue was one of the most beautiful paths I’ve ever been on. I could go on and on about the attention to detail that the Japanese spend on their plant life and masonry, but I’ve done that before. The light rain and the fact that it was autumn and the leaves were turning and falling just added a whole new layer to how beautiful it was. The way the rain set on leafs and plants made me feel like everything was in high-definition. On the level right below the big Buddha statue I saw a woman with an umbrella praying in front of a statue and I literally almost knocked three people over scrambling to get a shot of it. It looked like something straight out of a dream, and I had to have it.

Here's the one.

As we went up the staircase towards the statue, I guess I didn’t really prepare myself for how big this thing would be. It was enormous. We snapped as many pictures as we could without getting our cameras or phones too wet, as the rain didn’t relent until we were on our way out, of course. Regardless, it was a massive statue and it was fun to see it.

For lunch we drove for a while towards the coast and met with some gentleman from the tourism department for the area and together went to a restaurant to taste-test some rice burgers. When we arrived at the diner just off the beach, I was shocked to see such large waves. When we turned into the parking lot I saw signs for a surf competition that would be held there the following day. The diner was surf/beach themed and had a great view of the beach. The rice burgers were delicious, and we did our standard: “Mmmmm, this is great!” for the microphones for our show, and then dug into the food with great haste. Next on the agenda was ceramics, which I was pumped for because I’ve only done it once, but loved it.

We arrived at the ceramics studio and were greeted by the owner of the studio and pottery shop. We wasted no time, and set up the sound equipment next to the spinning wheel where the clay is put. The potter sliced a chunk of clay out, kneaded it for about a minute and slapped it onto the wheel. He gave us a smirk. We all looked at him with faces that said: ‘Uhh, now what?!’ He laughed and sat down and did a demonstration of how to mold and shape the clay. He brought water from the bowl over to the clay, showed us what to do with each hand as the wheel spun, and put the finishing touches on his bowl he made for us. It was a beautiful bowl, and seeing it birthed in front of our eyes made it even more so. So you can imagine how we all shrieked when he slammed it onto the table and crumpled it, rendering it useless. Now, it was our turn. Both Taka-san and I both had our share of poorly made bowls and cups, and it wasn’t until the potter came back from helping customers to guide my hands during the last part of the cup I was making, that something came out right. He told us it takes about 3 years to become an expert potter using the technique he had showed us, and I believe him.

Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in 'Ghost'

After pottery we made our way to a local high point lookout spot complete with a pretty nice waterfall, and from this height we could see the coast where island after island jutted out of the water. I hate that I’ll never be able to take a picture over here that does a grand view any justice whatsoever. That night we headed into downtown Fukuoka and ate at a Yatai shop, which is an old-school tent style of mobile restaurant. Fukuoka is famous for them, and apparently they are endangered because the government has placed sanctions stating that once the shop owner dies, the shop can’t be passed onto anyone else. They also have very strict hours of operation, and several other laws they have to abide by just to exist because of possible Japanese mafia ties. It may be for this reason that people pack them every night to eat and drink and laugh with their friends. After eating we got onto a bullet train and headed to Kagoshima prefecture.

Inside the Yatai shop

First thing on the list Sunday morning was riding an old-fashioned train along the coastline. During the ride, we got an awesome view of Sakurajima (Japan’s most active volcano), spewing steam and smoke out into the air in the distance. When we arrived to our destination we did a quick taste testing at a sweets shop and then headed to another restaurant to do the same. Both places used local ingredients grown in the area in their foods. Once we were heavy with grub, we headed to a spa where we were going to get some interviews. This spa/onsen was famous for burying people in sand and having the natural heat from the ground rise up and steam them. Once I got undressed and into my yukata I headed down to the beach and was greeted by a man with a smile and a shovel. Now, I’ve never really had a fear of being buried alive, but once this guy started shoveling sand onto me, and I felt the weight, I winced momentarily. But…once I started to feel the heat, and listen to the waves crash against the shore, and close my eyes…I was in paradise. I could feel my pulse all over my body because my heart was working harder under the pressure of the sand. (Apparently, this is part of the detoxifying effects of being buried with hot sand. Your blood goes from a dark maroon to a brighter red afterwards as well)

Sakurajima smoking in the distance

I had already been under for 20 min, so the guy made me take my hands out to cool off.

After a good spell in the sauna and onsen and another shower, we were off to another beautiful lookout spot, where there is a shrine where people come to wish for love. I could see how being in such a beautiful place could make one want someone else to share it with. To our right, there was a mountain that came out of nowhere. There weren’t any other mountains around it, and people in the area called it a ‘mini Mount Fuji’. Every direction we looked, there was another view that took our breath away.

I’ve made numerous memories that you can’t put a price tag on during these business trips. I’m meeting interesting people, tasting delectable foods, snapping some fun photos, and gaining life experience that I wouldn’t trade. I’m seeing more and more of God’s creation, as well as learning about myself and what kind of man He has made me to be in the process. Having said all that, there’s no way to express how much I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends when I get back home for the holidays…

…But first, 2 days in Tokyo and 6 days of adventure in New Zealand. Stay tuned…


Beppu: For Lovers.

Have you ever longed for the feeling of being a kid again? You know what I’m talking about; youthful vigor and the sense of wonder for the world around you while being deprived of the cares of what responsibilities lay directly ahead of you. That place may be Oita prefecture on Kyūshū Island, Japan. What other place can you visit a town frozen in the 1950’s? How many places allow for an impromptu parade down cobblestone alleyways while two old men serenade you with ancient Japanese guitar and accordion melodies? Where can you see countless hot springs with billowing steam and water with colors ranging from blood-red to turquoise? Where else can you go shopping for your groceries one moment and then the next you’re steam cooking them using natural steam vents in a local woman’s backyard? The answer to those questions is: ‘Not many places’.

Pinocchio and Mrs. Claus' love child!

Well, this was my third weekend in a row to go to Kyūshū, and I was especially excited because we were going to be going to the hot springs capital of the world – Beppu.  My friends here in Japan had talked up this city, as had the travelling book I bought before I came, hailing it as a honeymooner’s destination. On my walk to my local train station early Saturday morning, the air was crisp and the morning sun smiled warmly on me, giving me good vibes for this approaching trip. When my local train arrived at the bullet train terminal, I grabbed a quick breakfast sandwich so I didn’t have to eat some variation of seafood or rice for breakfast with my coworkers. I’m still not used to that. Imagine my surprise when one of the most beautiful girls I’ve seen on my short time on earth, angelically (and in slow motion, somehow) passes right in front of me and shoots me a smile that seemed to say: “I have 5 seconds before I’ll never be in your life again, tell me why that should change”. Now, imagine my dismay when I smiled back like a chipmunk with 30 acorns in his mouth…a mouth full of bacon, egg, cheese, biscuit, and more bacon. Moral of the story…take small bites.

On the shinkansen ride to Kokura station, Taka-san and I reviewed some notes and studied briefly the legendary and historically monumental Usa shrine in Usa-shi that would be our first of many stops on this two-day excursion. When we arrived at Usa shrine, we met with our tour guide and started down a long pathway towards a Torii gate that looked very similar to the one in Miyajima. Much like the last trip, I fell into the quandary of needing to interview and banter with Taka-san while at the same time, try to get great pictures for the HFM webpage. If I lagged behind, the cord from my mic would become taut and befuddle our sound man Kusada-san.  We made it work with some give and take. From what we were told, the Usa shrine was founded somewhere near 708-714 AD, and was the first of over 40,000 Hachiman shrines now in existence. It is the 2nd most prestigious shrine in Japan and still receives Imperial patronage. This wasn’t the first time I was awestruck with the Japanese attention to detail and overall national pride. Everywhere I looked was like a flawless garden. Historical or religious structures are kept pristine, and it almost seems like every blade of grass knows its place…every bush, trimmed to perfection. Another standard I see is that the elderly citizens comprise most of the tour guide force. Almost everywhere we’ve been, our guide has been well over 65, and they take great pride in being able to serve their community and share information with visitors. After we toured the shrine, we took part of a tradition of buying a fortune…or the opportunity for a fortune (some were warnings or curses), and then tethering them together with others. Mine was a warning: “Your current love interest (crush) may be dangerous.” Which makes perfect sense, since my present crush is a Thai gypsy working for a local circus as a knife throwing expert. I mean…tell me something I didn’t already know! Anyway, we had many places to visit during the first day, so we moved on…

The next thing that we did was one of my favorite parts of the trip. There is a giant part of the city we were in called ‘Showa no Machi’. ‘Machi is the Japanese word for ‘city’, ‘no’ is like an apostrophe + s, and ‘showa’ stands for an era of time (1926-1989 AD) where Emperor Hirohito reigned. Obviously many things happened during this period, including: the Second World War, occupation of Japan, the status change of the Emperor from a ‘living god’, and the transformation of Japan into a democracy with a constitutional monarch. As we walked down the cobblestone streets, everywhere I looked had store windows full of retro paraphernalia or movie posters ranging from the late 1920’s to the late 1980’s, mostly from the 50’s and 60’s. The stores were still open for business, selling newer equipment in the back, and displaying nostalgic treasures in the front. The store clerks stood out front to wave to and greet us as we walked by. All of the buildings were from the late 40’s and 50’s and the overall combination of all these things left a mood in the air of a more simple time mixed with an eerie Twilight Zone feeling. We toured candy/toy shops, where most of the candies were also toys, e.g. a bubble gum flavored mint-shaped candy that doubled as an annoying whistle (picture below). In the back of the shop, was a museum of old toys, comics, movie posters, and other collections, while outside the shop were old style cars, a glass bottle Pepsi dispenser and hoards of kids playing with hula-hoops and spinning tops in the courtyard, like they were being paid to be actors…but they weren’t. A little later, a refurbished old bus took us on a more overview-like tour of the area. I had a great time, and felt more like a kid than I had in a while. Showa no Machi was a blast.

That night we headed into Beppu and met up with a couple of tour guides right next to Beppu’s oldest onsen/hotel, which was across the street from Japan’s first, and therefore oldest, arched alleyway. What happened next, was one of those moments that I knew was so special and so unique, that I was intentionally focusing my mind to remember every detail. Pure, unadulterated magic was happening right in front of my eyes as two old men, one in his late 60’s and the other in his 80’s, emerged wearing captain hats holding a guitar and an accordion. A small crowd had gathered at this time and soon we were off. The two captains led the way singing their old Beppu songs down the narrow streets like they had been doing for decades, and I gladly followed suit and soaked up every moment of it.

Oldest onsen in Beppu

First arched alley in Japan

The next day was filled with exploring different parts of Beppu. We spent some time wandering the streets and snapping some pictures, and then around lunch we headed to the local grocery store. I gathered from Taka-san that we would be picking out food that we wanted to have steam cooked, using a natural steam vent from a woman’s back yard. We choose our food, and headed towards her house. When we got there, I saw that she had turned her house into a place of commerce and had drilled down to the water source to use the natural steam to run a steam cooking business. She showed us which food needed to go into which basket, and told us that each kind of food has a certain amount of minutes that it should be steamed. We separated the food into three baskets and put the first basket on the vent, and she pushed a timer. Two minutes later we did it with the second basket, and two minutes after that, we did it again, so that when the timer went off, all the food was ready. Now, being an American, I thought it only proper to choose steak as one of my foods to be steam cooked…but to be honest, I didn’t even know you could steam-cook a steak. As we removed the burlap sacks and wooden tops from the wicker baskets with the food, super hot steam shot up in our faces, and we quickly took the food off the vents. It was all incredibly delicious, except maybe for the banana that we put in for giggles, which had bloated and was literally sweating.

Our final goal of the day was to take the Jigoku (Hell) tour in Beppu. Several different hot springs are on this tour, and it was a little more touristy than the rest of the trip, but still beautiful, nonetheless. We saw hot springs that ranged from bloody colored to turquoise in color, rocks that naturally steamed and a geyser that went off for 5 minutes every 25-30 minutes. Both my manager and myself were snapping pictures like madmen to attempt to capture some of the beauty we were experiencing during this whole tour.

The bamboo stick and basket is someone boiling eggs.

Geyser!

Steaming rocks...

Well, this upcoming weekend will be another business trip to Kyūshū, but this time to Fukuoka. I’m looking forward to sharing that trip with you as well 🙂

Sun setting on Beppu as the steam rises from numerous residential hot springs


Dream Job

A little over a month ago the president of the Carp (baseball team) had a meeting with my manager, a few other employees, and me about a series of business trips to Kyūshū that he wanted us to go on to help promote travel to that area. This past March, Kyūshū added a bullet train line to Kumamoto, which is a huge deal for an area that already thrives on the tourism generated from Mount Aso and the countless springs and onsens located there.

Yamamoto-bucho, Taka-san, Kusada-san, Nii-san and I arrived at the Shinkansen gate early one evening and immediately Kusada-san started taking sound samples for our radio program special. Part of the job this time was for me to help in the taking of pictures for the HFM website that is going to be featuring this series of trips to Kyūshū, so I started snapping away on my iPhone. Now, I had done interviews before, very many times in fact, but walking and talking with a mic and creating witty banter out of thin air with Taka-san for the next three days was proving to be quite a daunting task, especially with the language barrier.

The first night was spent getting the rental car, eating and then settling into the hotel. 5:00am came very quick, and just like that, we were off on our tour of the Kumamoto/Aso area. The first thing on our ‘list of things to do’ was to visit the biggest natural spring around Mount Aso. On our drive to the spring, the morning clouds spread out like a blanket over the valley below and let the peaks of the mountains bask in the rising sun, while the valleys waited their turn. Our tour guide met us at the welcome cabin and we wandered through a winding garden path with a large stream to our left, and finally entered the fountainhead area…the source of 60 tons of fresh spring water every minute! There were numerous springs where the water burst forth, but one in particular was awe-inspiring; and while no picture could do it justice, we did our best to capture this picturesque spot. Below a few feet of crystal clear water I could see dozens of little volcanoes of gravel, as the water shot up from the earth displacing whatever was directly above it.  We got a few sound bites of Taka-san and I drinking the water directly from the source, and talking about how incredible it was. I, for one, was surprised at how pleasing the temperature was. It was crisp and cool and probably the best water I have ever had the pleasure to drink. I made a joke to Taka that my parents had once told me when I was a child not to drink water from streams, because I didn’t know what was put in it up-stream, e.g. someone adding their ‘water’ to the water; but now I was the one upstream, and in fact, there was no upstream…only a spring of water gushing forth from the earth. I could drink with confidence. I did just that.

We loaded back into the van and started driving directly to Mount Aso. On our drive up the mountain, we stopped twice because…well, the view beckoned us to do so. In stark contrast to my last volcano climbing experience (7-8 hour hike through the night), this time we were able to drive all the way to the top where there was a parking lot and welcome center. Our ‘climb’ up a cement ramp took about 25 seconds, and I we were immediately face to face with the crater of the largest active volcano in Japan. Toxic steam billowed out constantly, and when the wind was to our favor, I could see the pristine turquoise color of the water brewing in the crater. We did some interviews of some of the spectators and gave our own impressions and took a quick look around and were soon on our way to Aso Shrine.

The first thing I noticed was how many children were in Yukata. Yamamoto-san told me that at ages 3, 5, and 7 the children are brought to the shrine for some sort of ceremony. Our tour guide was a 70-year-old volunteer who told us that this shrine boasts a rare two-roof gate, instead of the traditional three-roof gate. It was hard to take pictures there because he kept motioning me to come over to where he was while I was looking for good shots. I’m still amazed at how many rituals there are in this culture. To enter the shrine, one puts 5 yen in a trough, bows, claps twice, bows and prays (or wishes) …the order might be different. At one point, I saw some priest waving a large gold-plated scepter type thing over some children. Pretty standard, really 🙂

Next, of course, was horseback riding at El Patio Ranch. This part of the adventure, I was stoked for. When we arrived, the smell of manure immediately reminded me of the farm where I grew up, as did the dogs who ran to greet us. Riding a horse with a cumbersome recorder strapped to me, while holding a microphone tested my multitasking skills. After my ride-along interview with one of the guides, she asked me if I wanted to get the horse into a run with her. Now, it had been years since I’ve had a horse in anything over a trot, but my manhood was on the line. I dropped the recording equipment off and followed her lead. Running with a horse isn’t a ‘fake it till you make it’ kind of activity, so I was trying my best to recall proper technique while watching closely to how she was riding. Luckily, I did alright and ran Cheyanne about 15 times around the ring. When I got off, I could automatically tell my thighs and lower back would be having a little talk with me later about that little stunt. Taka rode a horse for the first time ever, and did great. I loved seeing him smile from ear to ear. We did some wrap-up interviews and hit the road.

We left the ranch and headed back into town where we took on a new tour guide who showed us around the merchant district of town. I was very impressed by the fact that there were no major restaurant or business chains. Everything was private and had, in most cases, been in a family for generations. We walked into several shops and did interviews and, to my great joy, walked into an akaushi (Red cow) burger shop where the owners were more than happy to provide us with as many free burgers as we could eat. I had two, and I can honestly say this beef was on a different level of freshness than anything I’ve had before. Ever. These cattle roam on the steep mountainsides and drink fresh spring water everyday. A cow’s lifestyle couldn’t get much more healthy than that if they had a gym membership. The rest of the evening consisted of doing literally THE most awkward thing I’ve ever done…interviewing gentleman as they bathed in the onsens. I’m not joking, we would march in…Taka and myself with mics and Kusada-san with his boom mic, and Taka would interview them as they sat there bathing and looking completely sheepish. Apparently, it didn’t strike my co-workers as awkward, but I was acutely aware that I was interviewing naked Japanese men.

Awwwwwkward

When we got to the traditional Japanese hotel we were staying at, I was still stuffed from the two mammoth burgers I’d had a couple of hours earlier. I had no idea that the hotel had prepared a substantial spread of food, and that I would be eating and giving feedback on how it tastes for the program. It was at this point that I remembered that one of my dream jobs was to be able to travel and get paid to critique food and amenities. Never in my life did I imagine myself being able to do that. I guess interviewing old bathing men was my payment to be able to live out that dream. After dinner I went to the onsen in our hotel and later went outside and soaked my feet in a hot spring and read a book in my yukata. That night was filled with a symphony of snores as my three male co-workers and I slept in the same room on futon mattresses on top of tatami mats.

Another early morning, we had to be up at 5:40. We had a quick breakfast and then were picked up by a tour bus that took us on a tour of the Aso mountain range, which is really the remnants of the ring of the original crater left after the mega eruption thousands of years ago. Everyone in the bus had their own winter coat folded and waiting in their seat, and at first I didn’t know why, but later when the roof of the tour bus retracted to give everyone a better view, nobody asked any questions and donned their nifty blue coats quickly. We got a good view of the sunrise and Taka and I shared the view into our mics. Next on the schedule was going to a community festival at Kumamoto and then touring the castle. The festival was fun, and I got a chance to see what a Japanese marching band was like and we also got a private photo-op with Kumamon. (Japan’s most famous ‘regional mascot’) Japan has a mascot for almost everything. Some cities have them, companies, all sports teams… you might think I’m making a gross overgeneralization, but come and see for yourself.

Last but definitely not least, was touring Kumamoto Castle. One of the most famous castles in Japan. We turned a lot of heads marching into such a crowded area with a posse of people recording what we were doing. We had two tour guides during our tour of the castle and it took quite a while to get through the entire thing, but when we got to the main area on the other side of the main structure my heart skipped a beat as I saw men and woman dressed in samurai, ninja, and guard apparel. I HAD to get some awesome pictures. One of my mantras is to ‘never shrink away from an awesome moment’. Once we got our fill of incredible pictures and interviews we went into the main castle. It was magnificent, and one of the most interesting parts was the area where the lord of the castle used to sit while people would come to visit him, or to have tea. It was incredibly ornate, and there were several sections of tatami that one had to cross over before finally arriving to where the lord was. To end our tour, we were given special privileges to go to the level above where the dining area used to be and eat the same meal that used to be served to royalty there hundreds years ago. This area has since been reserved for wealthy individuals to have wedding parties, etc. to gain funds for further reconstruction. Since we are doing a series on promoting travel to this area they allowed us to partake.

Caught a ninja on camera. That's more rare than seeing a unicorn.

Japanese super hero friends

I had an absolutely wonderful time on this business trip, as usual. Since it’s Thanksgiving, it’s even more proper to give God thanks for allowing me such an incredible opportunity to be able to do so many cool things. He truly has blessed me beyond measure in all areas of my life. I wish all my friends and family a happy Thanksgiving, and I’m excited to see you all over the holidays. Take time today to take stock of what God has given you and tell those closest to you how thankful you are for them.

I’m looking forward to posting my most recent new experience of watching Sumo wrestling in Fukuoka as well as attending a home church there. I have another business trip this weekend, which will be my third trip to Kyūshū in three weeks. Thanks for reading 🙂


Should Christians be ‘great’? 3 steps towards ‘greatness’

Where do you want to go?

Do you ever wonder how some people on this earth rise to greatness beyond what most others even dream to be or become? This can be greatness in any field: business, entertainment, religion, strength, friendship…anything. I, like many others I’m sure, have had aspirations to be a part of something bigger than myself and to continually rise to the occasion of greatness and a life full of purpose. Now, just to be clear, I’m not talking about wealth. Wealth is sometimes a byproduct of greatness, but most assuredly not always. In fact, some of the wealthiest people are the unhappiest, and are continuing to pursue wholeness and happiness like a ravenous beast. Also, being ‘great’ doesn’t have to mean worldwide greatness; it can, most certainly, be regional or local, and most times is. So what does it take to be great? I’ve thought of 3 points that I believe leads to someone being ‘great’. I’m going to work to align myself towards being the best I can be, and I think we all should.

1.Realize it’s OK to be ‘great’.

I believe that some people look down on greatness or maybe mistranslate it, particularly Christians. This should not be the case. There is a difference between being conceited and puffed-up and being truly ‘great’. John 3:30 reads: ‘He (Christ) must increase, and I must decrease’, which is absolutely true. Our view of ourselves must be kept in check, and if you are a Christian, you must always realize that any good or righteous or selfless thing we are able to do is because of God working in and through us. We should be reflecting our Savior, and He was the Greatest. Some of the greatest heroes of the Christian faith are the apostles and Jesus’s disciples. Most were unlearned men, poor, not princes or kings, and still to this day considered to be some of the greatest men because of their dedication, even to death. They were great, not because they went around telling everyone how great they were, but because they lived their lives with integrity for something much larger than themselves. They had extreme character. If someone following Jesus misconstrues ‘being great’ for ‘being sinful’ and believes that being humble means to be unknown to people and perform sub par work, then they have completely missed the point, and are being counterproductive to the Kingdom. Colossians 3:23 reads: ‘Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.’ It doesn’t say: ‘Do shoddy work, only enough to get by, and shun greatness, because only heathens try to be great’; that verse can be found in 1st Opinions 3:23. If I had the option between spending money as a shop with fantastic product from a person who isn’t a Christian, or purchasing crappy merchandise from someone saying they’re a Christian, I would buy the better product 10 out of 10 times. Something that got me thinking about this topic was Steve Job’s death. Jobs, one of the ‘tech greats’ of all time was a Buddhist. Nothing against Steve Jobs, or Buddhism; on the contrary, Jobs was one of the greatest masterminds of media and connectivity to ever live, and I have several friends who follow Buddhism whom I love dearly. But every one of those friends knows where I stand in my own faith, and they know what I believe about Who God is.  From now on, the way I live my life, and how I respond to situations is how they might view Christianity. That is a bigger responsibility than I sometimes realize. My point is this, what if Steve Jobs had been a follower of the Christ, how many lives could he have touched by billions of people seeing his incredible drive and character, and equating that with the God he followed? If many Christians live life at the low end of the ‘greatness spectrum’, what does that say about the God they are claiming to mold their lives after?

2. Set your aim.

To be ‘great’ you need to know what God created you to do, and more importantly, why. By asking yourselves a few questions, you can make turning your dreams into reality more tangible. Of course, that means you would have to have dreams first. I’ve come to find that most of the things that I’m passionate about, the things that jolt me into action, the things I’ll usually bring up first in conversation, aren’t things I still have yet to discover, but more accurately, things I’ve already discovered and might have forgotten, or things I have put into a ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ category. Sit down with a pen and paper and write out the things you’re passionate about…things that bring good to others and yourself, and are inline with your morality, of course. Many times our pasts may have even beautifully aligned us towards realizing our dreams; we just haven’t ‘connected the dots’, as Jobs would put it. What are some things you’ve done that you’ve loved doing? What is standing in the way of you doing those more often? Also, just so you know, ‘greatness’ is seldom defined by a job you do. Jesus was a carpenter. No, in fact, ‘greatness’ is defined in how you live your life and the impact you make on other’s lives. In some cases, a person’s profession is nothing but a footnote in a much greater story. Their character and overall ‘greatness’ is exemplified in how and why they did what they did.

Language barrier?

3.Every ‘great’ thing starts somewhere.

I’ve said this before but, my good friend Jonathan gave me a book on tape called: ‘The Slight Edge” when I was going through a rough patch of life, working odd jobs and parking cars with a valet company for a living. God taught me so many things during that part of my life. He taught me how to live in times when money was lacking. He taught me to accept that there are times when I must depend on others, because I didn’t have the strength or means to do it myself. But through this book, I came to realize a universal truth – ‘We are a product of how we spend our time.’ The concept was simple. Find what you love to do, and spend at least a portion of each and every day towards that goal. There will come a time when you look back and see how far you’ve come towards your goal or even a day when the goal itself is realized, but only if you actually start moving towards it. We’ve all seen the miracle stories of people losing mass amounts of weight and we’ve seen them crying and telling people how amazing it feels, and that they were living in a prison of their own body until their workout regimen started. Little by little they started to see results, until their goals were finally realized in the end. We’ve seen people emerging from obstacles of poverty, class, gender and location to obtain greatness in many areas throughout history. We know HOW it works, I think the question is: Are we willing to DO the work?

Elementary school Japanese lessons. I feel like a kid again!

Played in a local baseball league!

Local community festival

When I first came over here, I knew deep down that I would be a different person upon my return home, maybe noticeable in some ways, and not immediately noticeable in others. I’m learning a very unique language and gaining international business experience. I’ve gotten into decent shape from biking and working out, and eating healthy food in smaller portions. A pull towards a more creative career path has re-emerged. And my love for people of all walks of life has grown and is continuing to grow, even still. I am slowly becoming a different person in some ways, but what made me who I am continues to be the driving force behind my progressive transformation or metamorphosis; that driving force is my relationship with God through Christ. It gives me purpose and makes me want to be ‘great’ in all that I do for the rest of my life. Not for me, but so that I can be a ‘burning city’ on a hill for God, not a covered lamp. We are, whether we want the responsibility or not, ambassadors for Christ…let’s never forget that, and let’s strive for greatness.


Nambu Ushioi Uta Competition 2011

Well it happened again…one of those moments. You know the one I’m talking about; where you’re interviewing a 78-year old woman who has been singing traditional Japanese music (minyo) her whole life, and while she’s answering your battery of questions, an inner dialogue starts in your head. “How can this woman, and all of these people be drawn together by one song?” “Does America have it’s own Nambu Ushioi Uta?” “She’s wearing an owl brooch…I think my mom has an owl brooch like that, haha.” I immediately re-focused and put myself back in the game. I had a long day ahead of me, and I knew that it would be imprudent to miss an opportunity to be fully immersed in such an extraordinary culture.

These surrounded the competition building. Beautiful!

Taka enjoying a local waterfall

Cave a few miles from the competition

Too many signs!

Part of a special program that I’m working on for HFM, is an hour-long show that will be aired in more than just Hiroshima prefecture (although, I’m unsure of how broad of a scope it will be just yet), and will be about comparing traditional Japanese music and traditional American folk music and also looking at how music and tradition can bring a community together especially after a natural disaster. I’m comparing the large flood that Nashville had in the spring of 2010 and the earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan in the spring of 2011. The scales of magnitude are incomparable but the concept is the same: people rally together after disasters, and there is a peculiar power in music to lift the spirits of those hurting and in need.

Tsunami damage

This particular trip was to Iwate prefecture, which is abounding with beautiful scenery and replete with rich culture. After the nearly 7 hours spent on bullet trains to get to Morioka, we then rented a car and drove inland, through the mountains another two hours. It’s a miracle I didn’t get car sick, because Sakashita-san was driving like we stole something and we were on curvy mountain passes, not long stretches of highway. I convinced him to pull over when I saw a spot where we could get some pictures of a lake with some mountains in the background. We ended up stopping for about 15 minutes and just looking around and appreciating the scenery, and skipping rocks on the lake, of course.

When we got to the hotel, I immediately noticed that this was no Holiday Inn…this was 100% Japanese. We put our shoes in the shoe lockers and were escorted to our room. I obviously was confused when we got in, and it took me a second or two to fill in some necessary gaps in my thought processing. There was one main room with a low sitting table taking up almost the entire floor, a back room behind two thin paper (with wood panel) sliding doors, a TV in the corner and a VERY small bathroom when we first came in. Taka and Takuya started gathering some robes and a fresh pair of undies, and finally Taka told me we would be going downstairs to the onsen (community bath) before going to dinner.  After a Japanese shower, (sitting down on a bucket and manually directing the shower nozzle and also pouring water into a bowl and pouring it over your head for rinsing) a good 20-min sauna session, a huge communal hot tub and then a post shower, I was ready to eat. We all put on our own yukata and outer robe and heading to the dining area. We had an amazing and very fresh meal and when we got back to the room, the table had been moved, and there were three small futon mattresses laid out on the floor. They both literally jumped onto their beds on the sides, leaving me in the middle. Fast forward 3 hours I was awakened by rustling and Taka talking in his sleep. We had to be out the door by 6:15am, and Takuya apparently set his alarm for 5:00am. Then, much to my dismay, for the next HOUR…both of them kept hitting snooze on their alarms and one would go off every 7 or 8 minutes. It was insanity, but I digress…

Looked almost exactly like this

Now, for the big show…the Nambu Ushioi Uta competition. On our hour drive to where the competition was being held, we drove for a while along the coast and saw more of the damage that the tsunami had caused. Where we were at this time was hours and hours away from the beach near Sendai where we interviewed the volunteer workers and victims. I was again reminded of the magnitude of this disaster, and the amount of time and resources it will take to return to some sense of normality.  We arrived at the competition at 8:00am and we were there until the new raining champ was named at 2:30pm. During that time, we obtained numerous interviews from people literally ranging from 6 to 80 years old who had been singing this song for varying amounts of time. Along a hallway to my left I saw 25 huge portraits of former winners dating all the way back to the first year the competition was arranged. At one point we interviewed a group of cousins (about 7 or 8 in all) ranging from 6 to 12 years old whose grandfather had introduced them to the song who all had taken up singing it as well. When I entered into the stage area to watch a few performances, I was amazed that a crowd could sit through hundreds of contestants singing the same song. A few times I noticed the crowd almost breathing with the contestant and one time even wincing or murmuring if a note wasn’t hit correctly. It really was like they were experiencing this music on a deeper level than just listening. This song, and a lot of minyo music in general, originated in Iwate prefecture. The mountains surrounding this town were the mountains that the cows were herded over in this song that these people had been singing ever since it was a ‘work song’ to pass the time. I was truly honored to have a sneak peek into their lives and to have them let me take part of something that, to them, is engrained in their identity. It really is an experience that not many foreigners ever get to partake in. In fact, I was told by an elder that it had been quite a while since a foreigner had come, and the last time it was an Englishman several years ago. We wrapped up with an interview of the president of this competition as well as with this year’s winner, who was more than happy to also play a song on his wooden flute for us during the interview. We didn’t even have to ask!

Fantastic backdrop

All in all, it was another great trip. I consider myself to be extremely blessed to be able to travel to so many amazing places and meet such talented and kind-hearted people along the way. I’m getting to experience parts of Japan that are, in essence, the framework of what makes this country so abundantly unique.


Ascending Mt. Fuji-san

If you had told me a year ago that this summer I would be climbing to the summit of Mt. Fuji…I would look at you like you had two heads. It wasn’t on any sort of list that I had of something awesome that I wanted to do, until I found out I got the yearlong job over here, of course. Only a fraction of a percent of people on earth ever climbs Mt. Fuji, and the summit is only open for about 2 months out of the year, so there is a small window to climb it. On top of that, the most intense thing to do is to climb through the night and reach the summit before sunrise and watch the sunrise from the top. There is always a good chance that there will be too much cloud cover, or that the weather won’t cooperate, so it makes the climb to the very top somewhat of a gamble. I was extremely hopeful though because I had learned a few weeks before, that the annual Perseids Meteor shower was going to be at its peak during the night of our ascent. Meteor shower at the summit of Mt. Fuji before a beautiful sunrise…trifecta!!

I had cleared the dates of this excursion with my superiors and had pre-recorded my morning show and evening show to make up for the time I would be gone. I was taking off Friday and would be gone through Thursday…almost an entire week. We would be climbing Fuji-san that Friday night and Saturday morning and then be heading to Kobe and Osaka, where I would have an all-day music festival on Sunday and Universal Studios Japan on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday would be for exploring Kobe and Osaka and going to Carp vs. Tigers baseball games. I knew in my mind I was over-extending, but the thrill of it all had me drunk with anticipation.

For some reason Andrew, Brendan and I had the bright idea of trying to stay up really late on Thursday so that we could sleep on the train and bus on Friday before our climb. I didn’t get to sleep until around 5:30am. 8:00am came very quick and we were off on a bullet train towards Shizuoka. Of course, sleep eluded me the entire day, and I may have gotten 45 minutes of rough sleep in there somewhere on a train. We arrived in Shizuoka and grabbed a bite to eat and stopped at a Starbucks where we met some girls who had climbed Fuji yesterday. They showed us pictures and a video of the sunrise that immediately got my blood pumping. I had received my second wind and was ready to take on this mountain. Brendan had reminded us that even though it’s in the middle of summer it was going to be around 40 degrees up around the top during the night/early morning, especially with the wind gusting. We packed heavy, and when I saw the pictures that the girls showed us…I’m glad we did. It looked intensely cold.

Crater right behind me. 10 mins after sunrise

We arrived to ‘base camp’ by bus (Stage 5 of 10) where we got to see the sun setting around the side of the mountain and almost instantaneously the temperature dropped quite a bit. It was Obon weekend so it’s one of the busiest times of the two months that the mountain is open to climb Fuji-san because it’s the weekend everyone has off. There were hundreds and hundreds of people at this first stop. We put on our layers and grabbed dinner and watched as some people started to climb and others went into a large shared room to sleep until the morning and then climb. Most of the people who grab shelter for the night have children or aren’t dressed for the cold temperatures. We started climbing a little before 8:00pm and our headlamps joined a mass amount of other headlamps in a long, seemingly endless line of lights headed up the mountain. All of a sudden the childhood song ‘The Ants Go Marching One by One’ jumped into my head. Brendan got a great shot using the aperture setting on his camera, showing the climbers going up.

Thousands of climbers ascending in the full moon's light.

From stage 5 to stage 6 wasn’t really that difficult, and we were actually sweating while climbing until about stage 7. At that point, the lower level of oxygen was more apparent and we also starting putting on layers. The climbing became much more difficult around stage 8, and I noticed several people using oxygen at this point. At stage 8 and 9 we saw people huddled in corners or under rock crevices with blankets covering them. They were planning on waiting there until almost sunrise and then climbing up right before to avoid the wind at the top…not a bad plan, but we wanted to explore the ring around the crater and get a great spot to see the sunrise. Also, I should note that there were people we saw wearing shorts and sandals. Some did less research than others apparently. At stage 9.5 we all had to take a break. We could even see the top, but resting took precedence when fatigue and shortness of breath set in. We lay there under a crystal clear sky lit by an almost full moon and watched as star after star fell from the meteor shower. Seeing a meteor shower at the top of mount Fuji made me wish there was a special someone of the female persuasion cuddled next to me rather than a dude, but body warmth is body warmth…survival is survival. After a 20-30 minute break, we continued up the last little bit, which actually took 30-40 minutes because it was so steep. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. When I reached the top I went straight to the shrine in front of me and sat down and attempted to catch my breath. There was a post office to my right where you can actually send mail from, so I sent my parents a card in the mail since it is the only address I have memorized. When Brendan and Andrew arrived a couple of minutes later they dropped some postcards and we started walking around the crater for a while before finding a spot that would be great to take a picture of the sunrise. We hunkered down at about 3:50am and the sky was already starting to get lighter, but sunrise wasn’t until 4:51am. The wind was atrocious and cut through all my layers, but I just kept telling myself that when the sun came up it would be okay. Brendan was taking loads of pictures, since he has the nice camera, and Andrew and I lay by each other with our backs to a rock face, breaking some of the wind shear. We spotted a few more meteors here, streaking elegantly across the early morning sky. Believe it or not, there was cell reception all the way up and at the top so we both called a couple of people and then started snapping pictures with the cameras on our phones as the sky turned into a masterpiece painted by the great artist…God, Himself.

I'll never forget this.

Warrior 1

To be completely honest, I don’t remember the last time I’ve watched the sunrise. I could probably count on one hand the amount of times it’s happened; I’ve never been much of an early riser. I will say this…no words can describe how amazing it was to see the sun rise from the very top of the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’. Being above the cumulus clouds caused us to see the rays of the sun creating different hues and tones off the clouds below, as well as off the stratus clouds above; and I was acutely aware of how blessed I was to see this phenomenal display of light piercing over the horizon. All of a sudden, all the pain, all the fatigue, all the work it took to get there didn’t matter as we watched the most majestic and mystic sunrise I have ever seen. The warmth of the new sun gave me a dose of energy that nothing else could’ve provided. Sharing the moment with thousands of people was also very humbling, as everyone had been on the same journey to get to this point and for a few moments in time we were family with strangers. We walked around on the crater and went the very highest point, which you had to wait in line for. It was right by an old weather station that was built at the summit. We got some great shots there and really everywhere up on the top of Fuji-san. The volcano hasn’t erupted since 1707 but is considered an active stratovolcano. When looking down from the cone into the crater, there’s no glowing orange magma or even cool steam vapors shooting up, but knowing that there was the largest recorded earthquake just a few months ago that might’ve mixed some things up down low, made me wonder when, or if, this baby would blow again! Maybe I’ve watched Joe vs. the Volcano too many times!

We weren't alone.

Post office and summit gift shop.

Crater.

Waiting in line for the top of the top.

We made it!

Top of Japan!!!

When you’re climbing up, the only thing on your mind is the summit. You don’t think about having to climb down the next day. The climb down only took about 3 and a half hours, and might’ve been faster had there not been so many people climbing up at the same time. There were several ‘traffic jams’ and some near falls by us and we navigated our way down the steep volcanic terrain. We got some awesome shots of us being above the clouds, and tried our best to encourage people as they climbed up, telling them how it’s worth it to keep going. When we got to the bottom, we took a bus to a Japanese onsen, and soaked in the steaming water for about an hour. I had pain in muscles I didn’t know I had, so an onsen was a good call. None of the three of us had packed towels, so we had to dry off with hand towels…awkward and hilarious.

Just hanging above the clouds. nbd

Head in the clouds. Warrior 1

At this point I was really starting to feel the lack of sleep, and I could feel a crankier version of myself starting to emerge as hunger mixed with fatigue and exhaustion. I started to wonder if I could handle the music fest I was going to be at all day the next day. We stayed the first two nights in a hotel that a friend of ours who plays for the Hanshin Tigers, Matt Murton, paid for us to stay at. We were all amazed at his hospitality and truly grateful to stay in a place so nice in Kobe Bay. All day Sunday was filled with Summer Sonic 2011, where I stood out in the sun all day and moved with thousands upon thousands of people as they moved from stage to stage to see their favorite musicians. The obvious Japanese favorite was Avril Lavigne, but my favorite show of the day was MuteMath. I met a Japanese co-worker who made the trip up to see the show, but the rest of the time I was flying solo. I met Andrew, Brendan, and Yoko later that night and we ate with our friend Tommy and his co-worker. The next day was Universal Studios Japan (USJ) and if it’s at all possible, my legs and feet hurt even worse on this day. We made a snap decision to buy express passes to jump to the front of any lines (up to 6 times), and it was the.best.decision.EVER. The longest we waiting in a line with the pass was maybe 10-15 minutes, while most people were waiting for almost an hour or more for rides. I’ll never go to an amusement park again without getting an express pass. The next two days were filled with sight-seeing in Kobe harbor and Osaka, and I absolutely fell in love with the area. It was good to have friends in the area to show us around to the good spots and host us. I hope to visit again soon.

Summer Sonic 2011 #Viva Brother

Summer Sonic 2011 #MuteMath

Brendan, Yoko, and Me at USJ

Osaka

Osaka

Chillin in Chinatown - Kobe, Japan

Kobe Harbor viewing tower

I still can’t believe I got a chance to climb Fuji-san. I’m very thankful to God for the opportunity, and also for the outcome. The whole time I was climbing, I was doing my usual paralleling of what I’m doing at the time, and my own spiritual path. I could write a massive amount comparing everything I encountered on the journey with situations I, and most other people, encounter on their own passage in life. Things like: dressing appropriately for the climb, planning, training, encouraging others etc.; but I’ve written a little about that before. I will say this though…God has an amazing plan for your life and for mine. He has a meteor shower mixed with a Mt. Fuji summit sunrise (so to speak) that He wants you and I to experience. But to get there, we have to climb. We have to climb through the night, and through the cold. When it’s hard to breathe, and when fatigue sets in, we push on towards the goal. The sun will rise one day, and the warmth of the sun will cut through the chill that we once knew all too well. The best thing is, we don’t climb alone. God Himself is with us throughout the journey, encouraging us and reminding us of why we’re climbing.

Don't climb alone...