Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Great Kitaura Hike of 2007-Day One

As if leaving elementary school and entering Ye Olde Academy weren't adventure enough, the Powers That Be (slap-brass Fmaj7add9 chord followed by a corny bass hook) decided to kick it all off with an adventure.

As if the Sports Festival and all the practice leading up to it hadn't been enough of a workout, the Powers That Be (repeat last fanfare) decided to follow it up with an even bigger workout.

I actually participated in the first 7th grade study camp, which took place back in 2003. At that time we just rode buses to the Shirayama Youth Nature House, a prefecture-run camp/convention center, and did a whole bunch of activities once we were there. This time the location was the same, but the content was very different. You see, this time getting there was more than half the battle. We actually hiked the entire 15-kilometer (about nine and a half miles) distance from Ye Olde Academy to SYNH with backpacks.

I realize that was nothing compared with the backpacking I did back in my own school days, but you have to remember that these kids lead very sheltered lives. Moreover, it had been years since I had hiked any distance with a backpack, let alone 15 kilometers (with 150+ spastic adolescents)!

It was cloudy and rather chilly when we assembled at the north parking lot of Ye Olde Academy, but the sky cleared almost as soon as we set out. When we turned off the main road onto the hill that would take us down to Lake Kitaura, we were greeted by a patch of wild hanging wisteria up in a tree.

Hike Prelude

Wisteria was the symbol of the once-almighty Fujiwara clan, who controlled the Imperial Family during the Heian Era (late 8th to 11th centuries, one of Japan's golden ages). I took it as a good omen.

Eventually we found Lake Kitaura.

The Hike1

As you can see from the water in this pic, we also found the wind. It was blowing hard.

The Hike2

The kids were all supposed to be wearing hats to protect them from the sun. Most of them opted for Ye Olde Academy's official hat (as did I). The strong gusts meant most of the hike was an ongoing battle between hat and wind. Quite often the wind won, and the sight of a kid running after his or her hat was a common one. Then there were times, like in this pic, when kids sent their friends after their hats.

The Hike3

It wasn't long before many if not most of the students gave up on the hat thing altogether.

The view as we went along was mainly the choppy lake (actually, the word root "ura" in the name "Kitaura" means "salt-water lake" or "large lagoon", and that's what it is. Actually, "sound" is probably a better translation, but whatever) on the left and either grass or endless expanses of rice paddies on the right.

The Hike4

However, every once in a while we were greeted by something different, such as this tiny Shinto shrine on an island in the paddies. (I would've gone closer, but the trail was separated from it by a steep bank and a canal.)

The Hike5

Eventually fatigue, apathy, and social concerns began to affect the students, and our formation suddenly fragmented into chunks of mixed classes. After stopping to take the shrine pic I wound up in a gap between such chunks.

The Hike6

Occasionally we'd round a bend and the wind would suddenly die down. The flatness of the terrain also brought about some interesting optical illusions. Things that looked to be just right up ahead would turn out to be far away once we went around another bend or cleared an interloping rise.

The Hike7

Eventually we stopped for lunch at a small pier and harbor next to one of the many locks. The wind was screaming, so a lot of kids' garbage (which they were supposed to port) wound up "accidentally" flying away.

The Hike8

One of our school vans remained on standby to haul away kids that were overcome with fatigue or whatever. In this case, it was serving as a shuttle to a nearby elementary school, where the kids could take a toilet break. (I decided just to deal with it till we got there.)

(picture censored for reasons of PRIVACY)

Yes, the kids were tired, and some of them were already kind of fed up with the whole thing, but it didn't seem to dampen their spirits any.

The Hike13

Here's a shot of the shrine that stands in the middle of Lake Kitaura. For much of our hike it was just on the horizon, visible just over the rise of the land, and it seemed to be getting nearer and nearer. Then we cleared the rise, and Presto! As you can see, it was still quite far away! I guess it was the same optical illusion that gives rise to the Harvest Moon.

The Hike14

Another incidental view, this time of some white storks hunting frogs in a rice paddy...

The Hike15

...a truck with a load of rice sprouts ready for planting...

The Hike16

...and heeeeeeere's the planter! (Actually, I tried to get a shot of the thing in action, but the driver suddenly pulled up on the bank and jumped off just as I was getting my camera ready. The JERK!!!! )

The Hike17

Finally, ofter several hours of walking, we drew near to the Sun Bridge (also known as the "Kitaura Great Bridge"), with the Shirohama Youth Nature House near the other side. Our hike was almost over.

Once we finally got there, the kids were assigned their rooms, received their bedding, unpacked, and assembled for an hour of "getting-acquainted activities" (no pics, unfortunately) before bathing, having dinner...and then attending a "how to study effectively" seminar followed by an hour of supervised homework. (That's right; having any kind of fun was strictly against the rules this year.)

As for me, I was surprised at how good I felt. Mentally, I was still feeling very drained by the stress I'd been suffering, much if not most due to the family problems at home. However, physically I was in excellent shape. In fact, when I realized I'd forgotten to pack my shampoo I promptly took advantage of the students' bathing time to run down to the nearest 7-11 (about a kilometer away) and buy some! (In retrospect, that was probably the straw that broke the camel's back, but anyway...)

The kids were told to be prepared to bed down for the night at 9:30. Lights out was at 10:00. At both those times I went to check on the boys of my class, who were all in one, big room. Both times I went there the boys leapt from their futons, kow-towed in front of me, and chanted, "[Moody]-sama! [Moody]-sama!" (Sama is a high-level honorific. If -san is equivalent to English "sir", -sama is more like "lord"!) Nothing like that had ever happened to me before in the eleven years I've been a full-time teacher at Ye Olde Academy, so I wasn't sure quite what to make of it. Unfortunately, our grade's disciplinarian showed up right behind me and, seeing the boys kow-towing and chanting instead of in their futons, promptly blew up at them. (I felt bad about that.)

It only took a few rounds of knocking on doors and scolding to get the kids to quiet down. I mean they were really quiet! Amazingly quiet! I was thankful, because it meant I might actually be able to get a much-needed good night's sleep during a school outing! What a concept!

To be continued...


  • That sounds like fun (although not w/150 kids I admit). No big hills, no mosquitos (the wind) and a nice "hotel" at the end.

    It'll be interesting to see how this develops!

    By Blogger ladybug, at 11:33 PM  

  • I enjoyed the picture story. i am quite surprised that The Powers That Be let the kids do such a long hike.

    Our wisteria in London is already finished :(

    By Blogger Olivia, at 3:34 AM  

  • Its been a long time since I walked that far!

    On the other hand, Lord Byron and I (my dog) went to an off leash dog park Saturday and we both got lots of exercise.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:11 AM  

  • So nice.. the weather is nice, the walk is nice, the smilling faces are nice, the view is nice... everything is just so nice :)

    By Blogger Selba, at 10:49 AM  

  • Exercise, that’s what it’s all about. Now if we could get these fat kids in the states to start walking…

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 1:27 AM  

  • Moodysama... really cute. I like these kids.

    The hike sounds like it was just what the dr. ordered.

    Did anyone suffer blisters and such on their feet or all ok on that front? That's the one thing I hate about long walks/hiking. Proper footwear is essential.

    By Blogger Tania, at 6:31 AM  

  • Hey Steve! That's just something else! I mean the whole hats thing. Just like old times, eh? Nice to see you "chummin" it!

    By Anonymous Paulo, at 3:40 AM  

  • Nice pics. At least the weather was good, wind not withstanding. That's quite a hike. How many guards, uh, other teachers were there?

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:54 AM  

  • Nice. Surprised that the kids call you "Moody" too.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 7:40 PM  

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