Tag Archives: Fukushima

Culture Shock! Hiking the Narrow Roads of the Deep North

This past month I finally bought myself a Fukushima trail map, in preparation for the coming summer. I think I need some more maps, however. Just arriving in Japan last year, I had pretty low confidence on navigating roads, and reading posted signs about land usage etc. so I refrained from any major excursions. To be honest, after going on a minor hike through a nature park last spring, I got stopped and questioned by the police. I was terrified, and since they took so much time running my papers and were asking me all sorts of questions even though they had said something to the effect of “this is just a patrol,” I got really freaked out and worried that I did something wrong. So anyway, this Sunday was going to be my first adventure guided purely via the guidance of my shiny new map I had been staring at for a few weeks…Friday of course, I had a flashback to the first hike that I went on in Virginia. At that time, I had a map and choose a trail that a guidebook had recommended. After walking for a few miles, my friend and I found that we had inadvertently wandered quite a ways off trail. I pulled out my compass and map and set us back on route, (which meant that we would be following a stream bed for a ways until it linked us back to the trail) but in the depths of that I had to surrender my extra food and water to my companion to keep his spirits up while dealing with his questioning, “Are you sure that that is North?”

Anyways, as I searched my belongings for a compass around 8PM, I realized that my compass was probably sitting in a garage in America, so I had to go buy a new one. Consequentially I learned from my local gear supplier that I needed a refresher course on how to use a compass properly. (What , me who constantly confuses East and West, forget how to use a compass? Yes.) What with GPS, familiar geographic regions with easily memorized routes, and just plain carelessness, I had gotten rather complacent and let any trace of mountaineering skills go out the window…

Which brings me to Saturday morning: It’s hot, humid and freight trains roll by apartment one after the other. I check my phone for the time 4:30, and note a missed call and several text messages that came in while I was asleep. Vulgar words and photographs sent by a co-worker I had met once at a training conference months ago. I regretted having a smart phone instantly, and decided that rather than get pissed off that there was no option to send an electrocute offender button, I might as well just get an early start to the day, since the weather forecast was sketchy and my ambitions high.

I followed my map to the projected start point to find that the route was closed. No problem, I took a new bearing and went to a more accessible start point…and man was I tired, and just ready to have a gentle wander rather than a great adventure. So I found that I was walking along the Shin-Oku-no-Hosomichi (the new narrow roads of the deep north)a walking trail network whose segments connects all of the Tohoku region.

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I circumnavigated some lakes, and found the alternate and unlabeled access point to the trail that I had originally wanted to take…The first trail blaze was an ominous red circle spray painted above a bear scratched tree.


It was then that, I pulled out my compass to confirm and I had that dumb moment where I realized that reading very clearly labeled Japanese maps was challenging, and that though compasses will point you where you want to go, you don’t always believe the route they are telling you to take. It’s kind of a cruel joke.

Anyway, I had already decided at this point that I was going to be returning to my home before the weather changed, so I just wanted to scout the trail out for future use. I maybe went a kilometer or two, and it was obvious that if it rained, this trail would be treacherous, and it would be easy to get lost. There were a lot of small streams with the potential to get glutted in the event of rain, and the trail was narrow enough that a misstep in wet weather could send you down a steep slope. In addition to this, the trail had a number of fairly small downed trees that made continuously sight lining the route fairly challenging. This is something I would call my first clearly defined moment of Culture Shock! There are some common flora and fauna between Japan and America, but the environment is clearly different. I had a moment of rediscovering that after a year of fairly routinized adventure, and heavy language study that I had no knowledge base of the environment to back me up in the event of an emergency. It was sad to admit it, but ultimately, I’m a child here in Japan. So now have an inventory of things that I need to learn about if I want to become familiarized with the lay of the land here! It might take a lifetime…However, I felt happy that I had located this trail, and now it’s filed away for a day with better weather!

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Snap / Shot


I stand in a wide space.

An empty cavern, where scrolls and paintings 5 times my size can be hung with ease. The air outside was chilly, but in here it is cloying. My stomach is empty and my throat is dry. I remove my coat and roll up the sleeves of my sweater. In front of me is a four paneled canvas filled with dark hills defined by darker lines. Shadows cast by shades of paint all recede behind one silver bough. The only sound filling the space is that of my heartbeat and breath, the slight shift of the gallery attendant, my feet shuffling on to the next image.


In the winter time of 2011(?), I had placed all of my belongings into heated storage. I took a flight to New York City. “Go to a museum,” my professor had ordered, “Recharge your creative energy.” I emerged from a sea of clouds and questions into a place where I suddenly did not fear catching pneumonia. My poetry in NY, was offered radio slots, where in Seattle it garnered cold shoulders.

I strolled through the Noguchi museum and let the statues and carvings clean my mind. Imagine the work of the sculptor, to stand before a block of stone and feel what it will become. Noguchi liked to collaborate with dancers, and so I imagined them traipsing about the sculptures.


The art museum of Fukushima is at the base of Shinobu Mountain. In between the galleries, there are small rooms where one can refresh their mind by gazing into the full life of traditional houses, soaring birds, and cherry blossoms.

ImageI back away from an image of a waterfall pouring over a mountainside until I’m sitting in the middle of the gallery and gazing up like the artist might have when they were inspired. A whisp of white paint on it’s own is flat, but now, I am watching the fog roll in over a jagged and balding summit set. A painting captures motion like writing might. When gazing, one perceives not only the moment that the artist has frozen, but the actions that occur before and after.

Learning the Land

imageI didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, but I don’t regret doing so. I’m living life for small victories right now.

Today’s small victory was a test drive to the city office I have to visit tomorrow for work. My

reward, after reaching my threshold and returning home, was an adventure into Fukushima-city. Here, I assured myself, I would be able to get coffee in a cafe rather than from a vending machine and see real live humans that were not directly involved with the act of grocery shopping or driving

Of course, who only wants to go to a cafe? There was, in fact, radiant sun and a gentle breeze to enjoy. I walked through the city and gained some elevation in shinobuyama park. And once I was climbing shinobuyama, I began to understand that some cities have mountains that look after them. Shinobuyama is a sacred place that has become the resting place of many over the years, and it has sweeping views over the entire city of fukushima. As I climbed higher and higher the sound of sirens yielded to the call of crows and other birds. Power cables gave way to plum and early cherry blossoms. And all of this park was filled with the spirits of the ones who watch the city. I thought, those who grew up here truly are blessed with great luck. At one peak of the mountain, there is a temple bell devoted to prayer for world peace and eternal bliss.

I told myself, that when I could read the Japanese signs, that maybe then I could go and ring the bell if that’s really OK. Everywhere I go, I am scared of breaking unspoken rules. This is not something exclusive to my living in Japan.

Cleaning Wounds

I was listening to “Broken Chords Can Sing a Little” as I read this little article on radiation clean up in Fukushima. What interests me is the strategy of shoveling earth away and dumping it to remove the threat of radioactive caesium from the environment. I am going to make a little jump here from terrestrial to ocean life just to explain why I find this an odd manner to deal with pollutants. A few months ago, I read a paper on transition metal release in ocean dredging sites. Basically, the idea was that these metals were bound in a relatively innocuous substrate. As the metals were disturbed however, they were released into the ocean and took on biologically active molecular conformations receiving another go at wrecking havoc on the environment.

Cleaning up contaminated sites is important to the health of the occupants of the land in in the long and short run. I acknowledge, benthic and terrestrial environments are naturally quite different, but the only place pinned down as a concern here is the sanding of asphalt, not the shoveling of soil. I want to know if shoveling away the soil and isolating it is really the best way to clean up the environment. What are the next steps in the remediation process? It sounds like the plan is to bury the Caesium contaminated soil out of site to degrade over it’s half life with the trust that time will cure all wounds. What other solutions are out there?