Climbing and Dancing My Way Across Japan

 “Don’t hassle me, I’m local.” – Bill Murray’s shirt in What About Bob

What a month. I’ll need to be delivered to work tomorrow in a wheelbarrow. From crack climbing at Japan’s best climbing area, to moonwalking across the floors of Tokyo’s finest clubs, to bringing folks together under the awesome power of Stevie Wonder for a night of flared pants and over-confidently unbuttoned shirts, this was a good one.

Ogawayama

I was graced with a visit from none other than the Rhode Island Tiger, Uncle Dom, during Japan’s Golden Week. Golden Week is week-long stream of holidays that allow folks to travel throughout the country and enjoy some well-deserved time off. Many people visit temples or take part in various cultural activities celebrating Japanese culture. But our trip didn’t really have much to do with any of that. Our focus was on a voyage to Japan’s Wild West where we would cruise the country’s most famous climbing routes. So, after snagging UD from the airport, we rented that tiny car I mentioned last month; picked up the Yokohama Cowboy and the Saitama Terror; packed the Toyota Passo with as much climbing gear, Pocky, and beer that the tiny vessel could handle; and the four of us rode off to Ogawayama in Nagano Prefecture.

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A little Japanese barbecue

Uncle Dom started off the trip in true Japanese fashion by giving me a gift of his size twelve 5.10 Quantams.  Needless to say I was stoked on the gift, especially because I’ve been climbing in 5.10 Huecos for over two years now, which would be fine except the left shoe has had a pretty big hole near the big toe for about a year now.  But despite just how grateful I was to UD for his cordial and culturally apropos offering, after a few climbs I ran back with feet screaming to my Huecos.

A word on Huecos: Although this shoe has been neglected by many and loved by one, the Huecos are not your average climbing kicks. This is footwear you sport on a first date. You thank her for picking up the check, tell her you respect her decision not to see you again, drop her back home, and then head to your local crag to send the hardest route without changing out of your tux. Some people mangle their feet with shoes that look like they were used in the San Gimignano torture chambers. They flail their disfigured toes in hopes of getting the optimal move on that one route they’ve been trying for years. I’ll stick with my Huecos…love my Huecos. On my wedding day, look down. Guess what I’ll be wearing. Thanks, 5.10.

After not being able to do much more than bouldering the past few months, I kicked off the trip with some fear management on a trad climb that I may or may not have done a little overthinking on. A few falls on gear and some deep breathing preceded my finish, but it was just what I needed to get excited for the rest of the week.  We got on some really nice lines and had some fun on a three star multi-pitch climb with a crux 5.6 pitch that made some Gunks routes look like climbing the birch tree in your backyard. When Aaron wasn’t cracking the guidebook code, Shoko wasn’t  biouvacking in sub-arctic conditions, and Uncle Dom wasn’t scaring away the neighborhood kids, they were climbing hard and earning every beer they had back at the campsite at the end of the day. Or, well, most of the beers. It was a great group to be climbing with.

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If this trip had taken place in any other country, the recurrence of nudity may have been alarming. But finishing each day at an onsen was a reward that made me appreciate where we were all the more. Also, there is nothing that drives locals out of hot springs like three naked foreign men sitting curiously close to the tub’s jets.

We finished our trip on Japan’s most famous crack, the Ogawayama Layback. It was a climb that required little to no layback technique and was more psychologically daunting in all its eminence than it was technically difficult. So, come to think of it, the trip ended with a bit of fear management, too. But clipping the anchors at the top of the crack never felt so good.

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Ogawayama Layback

I can with confidence say that this was one of the best climbing trips I have been on. I had a blast and the trip really helped me to orient my climbing goals for the future. There is truly something special about getting back to what you love, especially when what you love has the potential to awe and, frankly, scare the shit out of you.  I’m looking forward to many more routes—hopefully some really big ones— and I’ll absolutely take the lessons I learned at Ogawayama along with me.

In addition to a great week out west, Uncle Dom snapped some beautiful photos at Nikko and we also got to do a bit of drinking in Tokyo. A truly memorable Golden Week, and one that lived up to the splendor of its name, which is kind of lame, but I appreciate it. Thanks 5.10. Thanks Uncle Dom.

Tokyo and Kyoto

By now I’m sure the notoriety of my dancing has stretched across the globe, and not just because I’ve consistently posted it in its own exclusive section on every one of my blog posts. On the weekends in-between rock climbing and Funkfest, I did a significant amount of rug-cutting, to the point where a rug-cutting organization could have been established, with ports in Tokyo, Kyoto, and New York City, and the only manufacturer being me as I cut away at thousands of rugs with tireless legs. Dramatic? Maybe.

In Tokyo we went to a club called Womb. I’m guessing it is called Womb because medical professionals will have to drag you screaming out of it at the end of the evening. I’ve been there before, and in any other country a club with the name “Womb” would most certainly be one to steer clear of, but let me tell you, this place is awesome. Except for the weekend we went this month. It sucked that weekend. Still, despite the surplus of predatory foreign men (I like to think that I am only one of the latter two adjectives) and trance music that made me feel like I was sixteen and in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we still danced like nobody’s business. And it was actually business that nobody wanted to be a part of.  So despite the lame vibe we still had a good time. Plus, I always say that life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain. I always say that.

After the club took a cab to a famous fish market and waited in line at five in the morning—in the rain—to eat sushi. This was one of the worst ideas of my life. I am honestly still wondering how I did not predict the toil of this situation given the variables involved. Drinking all night. No sleep. Fish market. Rain. Waiting in line. Eating sushi. 0 times any other number is always zero and so is the outcome of all of these variable added together. There was absolutely no dancing in the rain, it was wholeheartedly an aggrieved waiting for the storm to pass. Sensei slept on my shoulder and I slept on Nith’s. People seemed happy and this only added to the nightmarish confusion that fell over me as the minutes passed. At one point Sensei left to go to the ATM and when he didn’t return for a long time I seriously thought that might be it for him. My mind went there. I thought he curled up next to a pile of fresh salmon and went into hibernation for the next half-century. Anyways, he came back, and thank god because I made him eat 70% of my sushi.

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5 am. Waiting to die.

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Sensei eating the famed sushi…at 6 am.

The following weekend I went to Hip Hop’s for a boat ball. I live tweeted the whole thing and the response was startling because there was none. I had a really good time, met some great folks, and at one point a young Japanese man who spoke very little English sang the most articulate version of “YMCA” that I have ever heard. I felt entranced by the spot on eloquence of his angelic voice as my arms shifted from the M position to the C position, the most difficult position in the sequence and one that is often done half-assed, in my opinion.

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Hip hop was unable to contain her excitement

After that it was, of course, time for a club. As a side note, I’d like to say that before I came to Japan I had been to only a handful of clubs. I was never a club guy. Yet here I feel as though I am Pauly D given the frequency of my club visits and dancing. The only difference between us, now, is that I doubt Pauly D asks the DJ to play Cher. If he does, I highly doubt he is offended when the DJ refuses. So we went to this club called World Peace, or something like that. It was a powerful message that didn’t quite deliver. The inside was filled with gyrating twenty-somethings and not altruistic nuns as the club’s title had alluded. But the DJ was pretty cool. After that I ate a helping of shwarma (I confess I had already eaten one before the club at Hip Hop’s suggestion).

Funkfest: Japan

For those of you who know me, you may know that one of my passions in life is throwing a party that I like to call Funkfest. I’ve been doing it both successfully and unsuccessfully since I was about seventeen. The inaugural party was one I’ll never forget, and a few of them were unintentionally and permanently forgotten, but each has been pretty good. Maybe.

I decided that I needed to have a Funkfest before leaving Japan, and so with the use of my good buddy Sensei’s apartment, the cooking talents of Chef Dale and the planning talents of Alan and Hip Hop, we threw what I’m convinced is the first and last party of its kind in Japan.

We moved all the furniture out of Sensei’s two main rooms, revealing what has become my new favorite material to dance on, tatami. I’m not sure that tatami has ever seen so much groove as it did at Funkfest. There were times that the friction of dance most certainly could have set it ablaze. But it endured. Funkle Joe takes the award for best dancer of the evening. I tried my best to keep up but was slowed down remarkably after trying to imitate a split that he made look easy. This imitation resulted in a groin strain and a violently bruised ego. However, it proved to be a blessing in disguise as it saved me from potentially shattering my pelvis later on when I declined to do the worm despite resounding chants. It was the first time I have ever declined the worm and I like to think that this was a step towards adulthood.

After having learned so much about culture and traditions in Japan, it was nice to tarnish my own culture by sharing Funkfest. I think it is notable to mention that at one point in the evening we felt the tremors of a sizeable earthquake that had hit off the coast of Japan. I’m not an expert in seismic activity, but I do think that Funk had something to do with it.

Winding Down

With only two months left in Japan—and, coincidentally, two more posts left in this particular blog—there is definitely a lot on my mind. The rest of my time here will fly by, as I’ll have a lot of preparing to do before I head home and because it takes me at least two months to say goodbye to anybody. Japan is a place where I truly learned a lot about myself and about people, time, and the nature of happiness. It has changed my plans and taught me to appreciate things I may have taken for granted before. But, more about that next time.

Get down on it,

Jon

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