Our trip to Japan was centered around the “Squirtogether” event scheduled for the first weekend in October, but there were distractions….
The first was that a volcano near our destination, Mt. Ontake, decided to erupt ~unfortunately killing dozens of people. That was about 70 miles south of the places we would be ~so it ended up just being a noteworthy event. It still gave us pause for thought- as did the distraction of a disgruntled worker destroying a lot of United’s ability to sort air traffic in Chicago on the day of our flight….
Our undaunted guests of honor this year were Superzombie Steve Graybill and his wife Helene Scalliet~ (for those not in the sport- zombies are practitioners of the mystery art of submersion…it’s…nothing to be scared of…) accompanied by our good friends Sarah Anderson and her husband- zombie legend John Bell. Sarah is a long time mystery mastress herself. This would be John and Sarah’s third trip to Japan so they knew what to expect and looked forward to another sampling of Japan and its waters.
Sarah is a skilled photographer with a keen eye for framing and I’ll borrow from her stash of photos for this report- thanks Sarah! (http://www.sarahanderson.net) Helene was also kind enough to loan a bunch of her sweet shots for this report- domo arigato Helene!
We flew across the Pacific from LAX~ landing at Tokyo Haneda airport around 5:30 in the morning. We were so glad to see our hosts and caretakers- Hiro Enomoto-san, Taiki Sugawara-san, and Iimura Shuichi-san to smooth our transition into Japanese culture. Taiki traveled for over 30 hrs. from Sapporo on the beautiful northern island of Hokkaido. First stop would be showers and naps high on the hill at Hiro’s Palace in Sagamiko, just outside of Tokyo. But first- yes -we had to fit 3 kayaks and 8 people into an elevator at Haneda! No problem!
Taiki is on the left here- he is Japan’s chop meister (he custom sizes squirt boats) and a famous mushroom hunter and bear whisperer. Iimura (on the right) is a gifted chiropractor and eternally polite.
The fact is- we totally crowd Hiro in his house- but he is always so gracious. “I’m easy” is the way he solves a lot of problems.
BTW~~ there’s no way to tell this story slowly… just scan the pics if you’re in a rush
We would eat from 7/11 s a lot- which is actually pretty good- sushi, salads, hard boiled eggs, sweet breads, and soups.
I can’t wait till we get this aloe yogurt in the US- we need it! And- if you can’t read the kanji- they often clear things up with English on the signs:
So Day 1 was rounded out by a relaxing afternoon at a popular fishing lake- Miyazawako- where some friends of Hiro’s have a unique and casual coffee/beer bar in the shade on the shore of the lake. The fishing is conducted in an orderly manner:
But there’s always a bit of the artsy and original hiding in the corners of Japan as well:
Hiro showed us how to fish for this particular fish- with bread balls the size of a billiard ball on a barbless hook that’s scary big. But only this duck showed any interest in the hot afternoon sun.
Some of the crew finished a pretty hike around the lake and then stopped to see what this fishing excitement is all about.
Day 2- Tamagawa!
Rejuvinated~ Tuesday morning saw some of the crew take off on a hike to the top of the hill behind Hiro’s house that got steeper and steeper…
You carry a stick on hikes through the woods to sweep away spider webs.
Then for the afternoon- off to our friend Megumi’s excellent kayak school (http://gravity-jp.com/) on the Tamagawa river. She graciously loaned us kayaks to explore an easy section of the river which John and Sarah and I had been on before. It featured the “JB” mystery spot- which was no longer what it was before a typhoon changed it a few years ago. This is typical in Japan- the spots come and go over the years. John and Steve and Taiki ran the minimal cfs with their squirt boats so they wouldn’t miss any sinkery. Steve and John both got a mystery near 20 seconds at the JB spot- but that was after a lot of trying. Ah! Back to being boat people!
And then in the afternoon we got to have a special visit to the house of Hiro’s (and my) friend Michyo! She has a bit of a coffee cafe on the back of her house looking over the beautiful lake and we enjoyed a pleasant hour of me trying to speak Japanese and drinking Michyo’s oishi (delicious) coffee and- even okashi (sweets)!
We all want Michyo’s camper!
That night we ate Japanese Chinese food- how exotic is that? And Iimura shared his chiropractice with members of the crew who were trying to fight off old age. What a way to gift people! Thanks Iimura!
Sights to see…
There is a quiet but dramatic flair to Japan- in both the natural and man-made worlds.
Wednesday started with a trip to a beautiful lake- known for it’s swans I guess.
We need more boats like this in America. And buses like this:
Wednesday’s mission would be for me to acquire a lifetime supply of rare figured Tochi wood veneers for my paddle tips. I was buying the last of the supply from these guys and they aren’t planning on buying more- so I used the opportunity to stock up- and they gave me an excellent price by the way. So yeah…. now~ I’m set for life on this amazing gold veneer!
The pieces had to be broken down into packages the size I can fit in my suitcase. They had a crew get right on it and in the meanwhile they showed us how they shave thin veneer slices off of huge logs- with this incredibly powerful lathe which turns at a relatively slow rate. They set the pace so the receiving crew can properly stack the veneer. This crew was focused!
We also meet up with our old friend Ono-san! He’s in the background in the checkered shirt and he came to say hi and have dinner with us.
So from here we made our way to camp at the Kisogawa river. At a Kwikstop- I was surprised to meet up with an old Japanese squirtboating friend- Kenji-san. He’s still a fun-loving good time guy!
So- the camp was on the shore of the Kisogawa- but also next to an interesting monkey park with unusual decorations.
A scarecrow exhibit?
It’s in the Hida-Kisogawa Quasi National Park near Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture.
It seems the park is centered around the myth of a special boy who came to the world in an unusual way….
Some stuff is hard to explain…..
So- Thursday was a day we really looked forward to- a newish play spot, Akabeko (Red Bull) on the Toyogawa was at a good level. It features crystal clear water and beautiful geometry. We met up some of Japan’s most ardent squirt boaters- from the left- (Iimura- of course) Sue-san, Rolly-san, and Masanori-san- who runs the Creek Sound Outfitters near Borobus (a favorite mystery spot-when it’s in), then there’s Taiki and Hiro too).
See how beautiful? A steep trail down leads to…
A small portage in the cool water- you could see little trout dodging everywhere. ^ And finally~~the Red Bull!
John got a bit involved in ‘helping’ the dropzone by moving a rock or two in the right channel here and accidentally sort of smashed one of his fingers- which he kept bandaged but would later give peeks at if you were near by and wanted to see a REAL zombie finger!
But it was a really good session and we all got pretty good and tired.
As we drove out through the evening a steady rain started as we headed more into the mountains to get to the Nijimasu campsite- where the Squirtogether would be held. We were going through awesome creek country- but might need a typhoon to catch one of the creeks with enough water.
We ate at an American-like restaurant which featured this cool tiny kayak made of wood:
When we left the restaurant the wind had picked up and by the time we got to the campground- it was pretty epic gale force
winds- but without rain. We worked in crews on some tents and got a bit of sand in our faces–it was wild but quite survivable.
That turned into a memorable night. In Sarah’s own words:
“Our beautiful campsite~
It’s amazing the tents are standing in the morning. We arrived in total darkness and in the midst of one of the most intense wind storms I’ve ever experienced. The wind was blowing at a steady 30-40mph with higher gusts. It made setting up the tents an adventure – we all had drama, some of it lasted all night. The weird thing is that the wind blew ALL night and then the following day until late afternoon. Much worse than the typhoon that came later in the trip!
Azumino, Nagano Prefecture”
So… my tent flapped all night because I didn’t have enough stakes and I didn’t sleep much- but I learned my lesson!
Steve named it “Tombi Kaze” which directly translated means Black Kite Wind- as huge “Tombi” we’re flying around during the entire session and it was quite windy. Maybe I’ll try it next year!
Next stop? A famous wasabi farm- the Daio Wasabi Farm in Azumino, Nagano Prefecture. We got to try raw wasabi and it sure was a burst of flavor in your mouth!
Wasabi needs gravel and cool clean fresh flowing water- and later- shade. And it’s a popular ice cream flavor- here enjoyed by Rolly-san and Teru-chan.
And the gift shop had more artsy and unique creatures for sale:
Then we moved on to sample the new “Rhino” sinkspot- a small ways upstream from Nijimasu and just a few minutes from the wasabi farm. It had recently been discovered by our friend Akinori-san. This is on the Saikawa river. A nice warm day.
Nearby- this is part of the rice-making process- I wish I could explain- but…
And then the party moved on down to Nijimasu- a few of us paddled the distance and ended up doing some very small boating in shallow island channels- probably did NOT have to do that- but we got lost- and then found!
Nijimasu was very nice- cool water as usual- but not as cold as times in the past. And easy to sink and stay down for a while- but you couldn’t travel far without getting caught in some strong downstream currents. So- lots of 10-15 second mysteries were being had.
That night we ate at an exceptional noodle house which had excellent tempura as well.
Saturday started with opening ceremonies which were highlighted by the much anticipated arrival of Toru- a top zombie in Japan. He showed up about two minutes late but parked in a hurry and ran up tearing off his jacket and showing he is actually an American superhero. We’ve all seen him fly (underwater). He is unforgettable!
Toru owns two restaurants and has a hard time finding time to play and it’s always great to see him. He and Yoshiko spent the day sinking at Rhino and also the new Tombi Kaze near the campground.
Yoshiko was dropping lefts as well. Sometimes she would come up from a mystery draped in long strands of river grass.
So- the sessions went on almost too long this day and we just had time to grab another 7/11 dinner before the auction started. That was really fun (alcohol WAS involved) and many great deals were had. Sarah auctioned off the boat she brought and the bidding was pretty intense as the boat fit and worked well for a number of paddlers. Sue-san won the auction and I’ll bet he has fun exploring the potential of this design.
Sunday- Jim Snyder Cup Day!
The Squirtogether is the Japanese squirt championship – based on downtime and style points. Everyone gathers in the parking lot near Nijimasu (the arena where the competition will be held- Nijimasu means “Rainbow Trout”) and takes time to admire and set their sites on this year’s trophies- made by Annie Morris Simcoe, an artist who lives near me.
The life jacket is a pass me down for all the women winners- who sign it. It’s William Nealy art on a New Wave t-shirt decorated by John Schreiner’s mom and made by OZ legend Scott McGuinness. (OZ= Old Zombie)
Then a cool rain settles in. It would stay pretty much the rest of the day. Hello Supertyphoon Phanfone! Still- the competition went on. I got a quick session in before the competition and found it to be easier than in previous days and I could do these deep drops where I would just hang there underwater spinning slowly and doing nothing- tranced… That was fun.
The competition proceeded as usual with the gaijin (strangers- us!) selecting random groups of two for sudden death competition by selecting their paddles from a line on the ground. Then- it’s do or die! Some people like Hitomi (in the red below World Cup Freestyle gold medalist!) really improved their game at competition time. She even won the “Most Improved” prize! Yoshiko (in the blue) also won a gold medal in the World Cup squirt championships. Would this be the year she beats long time champion Motoko Ishida? No.. But she did really well with second place. We are really proud to have these strong women (as well as others!) in the sport. If Hitomi gets a smaller boat- Motoko will have to start training harder! “Motchan” has been busy starting a new kayak school called “Sweet Paddle” which we all hope does well for her. https://www.sweetpaddle
Ken Imaii-san signing up for the competition. This would be his year to win! He was very trained up and was charging hard the whole time- and yet he made it look easy and fun.
Made us forget it was a cold and rainy day… which it was. And we started feeling it as we said our goodbyes.
There was a big wreck on the way home that caused a long delay- until Hiro took off on some windy back roads to get us back to his home at Sagamiko.
It rained about a foot in a day and a half- but Japan was pretty ready for it- hardened to it. All the springs were gushing and the rivers were muddy and full of sticks.
Oh boy- guess what- tonight was the much anticipated trip to the famous Shu restaurant where we got to meet Shu-san himself and eat some of his spectacular dishes created from his organic garden out back. And- just our luck- tonight was music night- with an experienced jazz trio doing their take on some classics. And they captured the audience. The pianist had a sweet style and played wistfully with a light touch and firm hand. Sooo fun! And delicious! Cho oishi!
So- Monday was packing day and the typhoon just let up about 8 hrs. before our flight was scheduled to leave. Skies turned blue. That gave everyone time to pack the boats- as well as me packing as much of the Tochi veneer as I could. It’ll take at least 4 years to bring all this home in my suitcase!
We had some spare time so we went to eat at a sushi bar that worked with a little conveyor belt and digital ordering.
And then my Japanese sensei from Morgantown, Motoko Hattori, happened to be in Tokyo- so we met up and shared some pricey pie and coffee and good times.
We still had a couple hours to kill and wanted to see Tokyo- but we got in a major dither as to exactly what to do.
I suggested bowling.
~~ some looking around for a watch with a depth gauge.
Riding elevators and trains- it was life at Tokyo speed and I was a bit overwhelmed. Not..in…Preston.. County…anymore….
Earlier in the trip- Hideo had told us that the supertyphoon had vanished! Which turned out to be true a couple days later. And tonight he showed up at the airport and helped smooth the way for Steve and John who had prepaid for their boats to go home- but it wasn’t clear to everyone for a little while. He helped sort out the red tape and then we went on to eat a nice meal- our last in Japan. It was like the trip started slow and the pace just picked up as we went along until finally we were at the speed of Tokyo (almost). Next stop- LAX. But first- goodbye to everyone at security- we’ll see you again! Thanks so much! They sure know how to make us feel special.
And I watched a part of a movie on the flight and blinked a couple times and we found ourselves at the Hard Rock cafe at LAX- where I landed a monster salad and french fries- to strike a healthy balance. Next stop~ Washington Dulles!
So… then the crew bolts to their homes near Washington and I have a 5 hr. layover then a loud flight to Parkersburg, WV (?) and finally Morgantown in the middle of the day- somewhere. Got my luggage and my mind will show up a few days later. Steve, Helene, John, and Sarah sure are easy going and made this a very bump-free trip full of amusements. I couldn’t have asked for more. The challenges of the trip had been easily overcome and we had sampled from quite a variety of Japanese culture~ from raw wasabi and pachinko to a gale storm and a peaceful Red Bull, a jazz session with organic food, Tokyo and zombies-and pioneering a new drop spot as well! Quite a variety…. pretty yummy!
Next year’s guest? Dr. Harry!