Mount Fuji

by Jennifer

Sandy summited, while just 400 meters below the summit I lay in a fetal position, a pile of tiny volcanic rock grating across my skin as I prayed that sleep would help me get down the summit without the use of emergency services.


Milk Tea and Camping in Hakone

by Jennifer

Beverage of choice: sweetened tea with milk

Either served cold in a paper carton from Lipton at 100 yen from any convenience store or so hot in a can from a vending machine that I play hot potato till I can find a high enough place to set it down without my heavy backpack causing me to perform a serious squat exercise in returning to standing position.

An abundance of milky teas choices in japan
An abundance of milky teas choices in japan

I walk enough to avoid added exercise in my daily routine.

Fuck stairs. Where are the escalators?

In the night, about 9:30p, we were woken by voices. Sandy quickly grabbed the blanket and draped it over his airing balls. The sound of footfalls on the concrete steps leading to our campground. Not again.

A young man’s voice. A female, light, hint of nervous, giggle and we realized we were in the middle of this guy’s date night plans.

To forestall any creeping around our tent, when Sandy saw the man’s flashlight a lighting in our tent, he shot up and yelled to him, “Hello. Do you speak English?”

Just as good a spot to camp as any
Just as good a spot to camp as any

The man was completely startled. I can only imagine his face looking like that of one climbing slowly up dark stairs in a horror movie and finding himself startled by something at the top of the steps. He took a moment to compose himself and sidled, “Yes. A little,” and skipped back down the stairs to the 2nd floor balcony choosing to concede the coveted top floor to us.

I remained in a fetal position, trying to ignore this foray, listening as the man both credulously and fiercely whispered “Gaijin!” to his questioning female partner who had probably turned back down in horror seeing our tent looming at the top of the stairs.

“Foreigners,” is the translation of what he said. Having looked up what Eric meant when he wrote we ought to “gaijin smash” on our way out of Japan – which loosely means that foreigners assert themselves in ways that defy Japanese tradition with little rebuff as the natives are too polite and non-confrontational to curb our rude behavior – I later chuckled to myself that one could make a Japanese horror movie of a protagonist constantly being accosted by foreigners committing minor faux pas’s to the point of madness.

Anyway, not long after this hushed whisper we heard the fireworks start. Low, infrequent rumbles that made them seem launched by amateurs, but before long, a 20 minutes display continued. I’m not sure what the fireworks were for, and have no curiosity to inquire, as it was all rather another odd coincidence in a series of funny inconveniences.

Sleep continued intermittently, but I did not care as each time I woke enjoyed walling to the opposite end of the long balcony where I could squat and peeing into a gutter, sitting and listening to it pool at the top before tinkling down the drain.


Morning at 4a, a little breakfast, packing up, and off we went to the public bathroom down the street to wash up, put on sunblock, and start our 6 hour hike down the rolling roads of Hakone, back to Odewara JR station.

No fishing allowed in the Gora Station bathrooms
No fishing allowed in the Gora Station bathrooms

A luxury, we later discovered, to be up so early and walking when it was cool. At 9a it started to cook – inching towards 90, although the shade of all the tree lined roads made it feel cooler than walking under the open gray skies of Tokyo’s imperial garden. “Good experience” I figured as in a day we would be waking up at midnight to climb Japan’s highest peak, Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji is a bit of a daunting task for me. At 13,000 feet, the altitude alone poses a threat to my health and my ability to summit. That, a lack of recent hiking, and low will power stand in my way. Sandy, on the other hand, temporarily lived and ran at this height while in Ecuador. He had hiked Chimborazo, at 20,700 feet. He also has a lot more will power than me.

Sandy would make it. I might die – or more likely pass out and need an expensive ambulance to take me down the mountain. At the least it would be really cold at night, and with my poor blood circulation leaving my limbs frosty as ice, I would be partially miserable. However, many of us do things we won’t enjoy because we enjoy the challenge – like Sandy toting an extremely heavy backpack all around Japan – complete with tent, macbook air, and everything else he would need during our trip.

Why do we do so many things we don’t really like to do?

“Because we have so much time on this Earth,” I think to myself as I spend six hours walking down Hakone with my own heavy backpack.

First Night in Tokyo

by Jennifer

Part 1: Missing Luggage and a Tokyo Rooftop Respite

We got to Japan and arrived at a line that had many a constant traveler in the crowd claiming, “It’s never like this,” as the line snaked its way back and forth 10 lines of queues and out into another room. 1.5 hours of waiting. A kid not far ahead of us, part of an exchange group of middle schoolers from Canada, spent the whole time leaning over a vomit bag, green to the gills. I could not understand that Narita did not make an exception for this, the child was so clearly ill.


 Goes without saying that much of Narita airport continued with this heavy feeling as when we finally made it through customs, the wait had been so long our checked bag no longer had a designated corral to be retrieved from. Eager to get out of there, I walked and waited in the customs line, hoping Sandy would arrive shortly with the bag and we would stroll on out of there.

Five times over I made my through the queue at customs and then finally gave up to search for Sandy, who had been making a claim of lost luggage.

This was a hitch as we had thought to get some nap time on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Sapporo. Where to go? How would we sleep? We took a bus to Tokyo to start looking for a place to sleep. 20 minutes in United called to say they found our bag, but by then it was too late to return and claim our lost bag that night.

After exchanging our 21-Day Japanese Rail vouchers for the actual tickets, I was too exhausted to venture out into the night, so we located a 24 hour manga cafe a mile away that charges $15/head for 7 hours, and $1/hour after. Having just blown $56 on the airport bus to Tokyo station, I was all about cutting any costs and started looking hard and steely at each quiet side street we passed for a possible crook for us to sleep unawares tonight.

As we walked I noticed many buildings had entrances and elevators that people, very unlike NYC, seamlessly entered without an RFID electronic key or doorman to check them in. We passed a number of these before I suggested to Sandy that we try walking in one and find a space to camp, knowing that at 7p most of the offices looked closed.

We slipped into a nondescript building, took an elevator as high as we could to the 8th floor and low and behold all the employees were gone. Even better there was an unlocked bathroom, a small galley kitchen with a sink and one burner, and an outdoor stairway that led to a roof with a small space tucked in behind the hearing and cooling elements of the building that we could also unawares to anyone else.

View from our rooftop "hotel"
View from our rooftop "hotel"

The floor was hard concrete, and our tent was in the lost bag. However, we spread out the blanket I had pinched from our flight, stuffed some clothing under our heads, and took gratitude in the lack of rain and warm night air that allowed us to sleep on the roof without trouble.

Part 2: Busted

Getting busted. And a wealth of good will.

Woke up at 1a, feeling good after 5 hours of sleep in the hard ground. Sandy and I decided to take a stroll and see if we could find a bite anywhere – restaurant or garbage picking, but much was closed and we saw Japanese people don’t seem to waste as much food. We watched the glowing figures of construction men at work – construction, road repair, garbage pickup. Japan makes such a sound choice requisitioning these men to perform such labor at a time that will leave most others undisturbed. Things are magically fixed overnight and these men need not deal with the heat or the traffic of the day time.


At 3a, when we returned, not ten minutes had passed when we heard the elevator lifting. Thinking the building was empty we both turned and faced each other with looks of anticipation and turned our attention back to the door as it slid open and a tired gentleman wandered out and looked taken aback with surprise. We started out apologizing and pointed at the rain outside, trying to explain – sadly in English – that we were in here temporarily to escape the rain. He shook his head and mumbled, “No, no, no,” looking exasperated.

We did not want to cause him any trouble, so we packed up and headed downstairs. I felt relief that he did not try to hold us and call the cops. Harmless though we are, I would not blame him for being frightened. One can never guess what squatters are up to, and even those that look harmless may damage, steal, or leave a mess behind.

The downpour outside was no real cause for alarm as across the street we found a deep and dark covered entrance of a parking garage. It was much cooler to be outside and the sound of the rain was soothing. Neither of us was none too tired, so I settled in to write while Sandy hopped from one awning to the next in the rain, looking for an outlet to charge our phones. Finding none he came back.

Minutes later, we stared in astonishment when we saw the man that had just shooed us out of the building, exit the building and wave, beckoning us to return inside. We felt bad for disturbing him earlier and and shook our hands in a gesture that meant “Thanks, but no need.” He insisted, not leaving the doorway till we got up and headed his way.

It didn’t feel creepy; there was only kindness. He seemed to have changed his mind about the young adults he had found crashing in his building. Maybe he thought we were homeless. He directed us back to our spot on the 8th floor and we thanked him profusely as we settled in and plugged our electronics to charge. He ascended to the floor above, and it was then that we knew he must be the superintendent of the building.

10 minutes later he descended and asked us to join him in his small room upstairs. He did not speak much English, but enough to ask if we were married. Assuringly, I could truthfully answer yes, as we followed him up the steps into his office.

“A very small room,” he cautioned, trying not to allow our expectations to be diminished. It was a fairly tidy room and here we said hello and goodbye to another man who been visiting – a coworker? a friend? I do not know. He was equally taken aback, but introduced himself and shook our hands.

“Are you hungry? Have you eaten dinner?” he asked, rubbing his belly to give us further indication as to what he meant. Overwhelmed by his generosity, and not wanting to further trouble him, I replied, “No. We are great.”

In a kind man's office, drying from the rain
In a kind man's office, drying from the rain

He then left us in his room and stepped outside, returning 10 minutes later with two pints of apple and orange juice, next asking which we preferred. If it did not break my heart, this man with visibly meagre means, who we had frightened with our surprising presence that dreary night, had gone out, purchased these drinks, and then poured us each a glass.

We warmed up to each other chatting. We answered his questions – we had just arrived and had a suitcase lost and then found, but irretrievable till the next morning. We were not on our honeymoon, but we’re recently married. From NYC. 1st time to Japan for Sandy and 5th time for me, although it had been 14 years since I had been to Japan. He lived nearby, but when it was late, he said he slept in his office, motioning to the rolling chair that he sleeps in.

Seeing that he may need to sleep, we offered to return to the 8th floor. He responded by handing us a blanket and a sleeping bag to lay out on the floor, which we did, taking off our shoes, and laying down for a rest. He dimmed the lights, went to his chair, and put on some light piano music for us all to fall asleep to.

Such a nice way to end the night.

We Made It To Japan!

by Jennifer

We made it to Japan!
Now to find where to sleep tonight. Cause it’s 2pm and sleep was intermittent during the 12 hour flight.

Intentionally traveling without room bookings and a desire to camp as much as possible as it is generally accepted to do so in Japan’s parks. So we will decide where we want to look homeless tonight. Luckily Japan is a fairly safe place to travel, so hopefully we are not taken unawares and instead find ourselves with flush with funds to spend on experiences rather than comfort.

We did both put out for a 21 Day JR Rail Pass that allows us unlimited rides on many lines running throughout the country, so I imagine some days we will book the longest train ride we can find, fall asleep, and awake in a new place – killing two birds with one stone – sleep and distance.

I’ve been fucking with my sleep pattern the last few days to make jet lag less of a drag. It will just feel normal being tired and wanting to intersperse my day with naps that feel like sleepwalking because I feel too much my presence during, than my refreshment after, a nap.

Must block out all light and sound -- Jen naps on the flight
Must block out all light and sound -- Jen naps on the flight

Inflight Viewing

10 Cloverfield Lane was so good – suspense, mystery, John Goodman.

The Lobster – very weird. The main character has to find a partner while staying at a hotel or he will be turned into an animal. He may choose the type of small, which is quite generous, as he will then have a second chance at finding a partner – although that partner will have to be the same animal as him if they are to live together… He chooses to be a lobster because they can live to be over 100 years old and they get to swim in the ocean.

The Danish Girl – didn’t know he actually undergoes a sequel change surgery. Eddie Redmayne is quite fun to watch in this, although it would be nice to see him not squint, bat his eyelashes, and smile every time he is engaged.

Zoolander 2 – I saw no point to continue watching

A Bigger Splash – dreamy, sneaky

IP Man 3 – classic, kung fu movie, but sure is Mr. IP and his school a pleasant, polite, and controlled bunch of men, even when they are kicking ass

What I Ate on the Plane

Drank a can of tomato juice, seltzer, and a decaf coffee with a drop of milk.

Vegan meals – specially requested by Sandy! Yay! Indian curry and rice for dinner, a spinach and lentil breakfast wrap, and lots of pre-packaged vegan chocolate chip cookies.

The Vegan Meal on our United Airlines flight
The Vegan Meal on our United Airlines flight

I did not eat a ton of what they offered as I am going the way of Eco Atkins while I travel – no majorly carby food (no flat out grains, breads, anything with sugar, including fruit) but vegetarian. Luckily we recently had found about a pound of shredded cabbage and carrots in the trash – sealed and fresh – so I ate this, 4 veggie burgers, and some low-carb, high fiber, net 6 carbs each tortilla wraps.

Sandy kept his tray down the whole flight, so we could rest our food and cups, and trade the chickpeas from his Indian vegan meal for my Jasmine rice.
What sacrifice! He takes good care of me.

I have 5 protein bars in my bag, but I’m hoping I don’t touch them.
“Why don’t you throw them out, so you don’t eat them?” I imagine my grandmother’s chortling voice.

They are the lesser evil to the green tea soft serve and the many types of pan (bread – pastry) that will call me like sirens to their sugary, crusty cliffs and throw me into waves of golden dough.


I’ve turned 30 – the point of no return in terms of staying svelte with little effort, and I refuse to become fat and old. One I can deal with, but not both! I have not committed to botox – to squinting my eyes as tears well up in the corners as the needles prick, prick, prick across my forehead filling in the collagen gaps. Routine botox cannot be any worse than receiving tattoos annually, I reason to myself. It is lack of money that prevents me from visiting some posh clinic on the UES to sit among the Park Avenue mom’s, waiting my turn to see the doctor with the needle. I don’t know enough about anti-wrinkle cream and its effects to start using it. Is it vanity or knowing that looks allows one more choice? It’s only rarely a competition with another.

Listened to NPR’s All Songs Considered 16 Number One Songs From Our First 16 Years. One of the podcast curators talked about how he spent his first paycheck from his job there on a stereo, put on a Bjork record, and let the music surround him. I’ve never thought about getting a sound system, but it does sound nice to listen to music in away that is encompassing. I imagine doing so in a windowless, at the center of one’s home, rooms on either side, but shelves set up with cds of records – sepia toned, and I see that I’m envisioning John Cusack’s room in High Fidelity.