水曜日, 10月 06, 2010

Greg and the River

This last weekend our group of JET programmers (Myself, ALTs, and Japanese friends) set out to Otoyo, Kochi, on Shikoku (one of Japan's 4 main islands), for a white-water rafting experience!
Click these pics to enlarge:

There were 27 of us altogether (I think) and half met to board our chartered bus at Hiroshima Station. Since we hired a driver, everyone was able to relax and drink some beers as we hurtled toward Fukuyama to pick up the rest of our bunch.

In Fukuyama, we had a restroom break, bought some more supplies, loaded everyone else on and rolled out for our hotel. Maybe our old, curmudgeon driver was trying to get us off his bus, or maybe we always drove like a maniac, but we got to hotel before we knew it and it was a beautiful, high-class ryokan. Even though it was now around 10 pm, three attendants in penguin suits waited to greet us and show us to our rooms which the lovely Myia, who was our trip leader, was kind enough to plan down to who would stay with who.

My room had a great time, but decided we wanted to keep it going a little longer, so we joined forces with some more friends to go searching the sleepy town for a convenience store. On the way we saw some dodgy-looking yakuza-type guys who seemed to be wearing some kind of festival clothing probably left over from the morning, but we steered clear of them and kept going until we eventually found our way. Our group of 7 got back to our hotel room safely and after a few drinks, songs, and stories, finally hit the hay.

The next morning I got up super early to use the hotel's bath house, before joining everyone for a huge, traditional, Japanese breakfast, then it was back on the bus for nap on the way to Happy Raft, the company in charge of guiding us down the Yoshino River that day.
Immediately I could tell the guides were gonna be a lot of fun. Most of them were from New Zealand, Australia, and Japan, and they wasted no time in giving us shit the way you treat an old friend. Everyone had crazy nicknames on the piece of tape on our helmets that was supposed to be used to I.D. people (mine said "Dick"), but others, like the girls on my raft, included "Shorty", "Bluey", and "M". Most of us put on wet suits provided by Happy Raft, and it took being in the river for about 5 minutes before I was overwhelmed with happiness at my decision to "bee one of the hive".  The water wasn't ice cold, but the suit was most definitely a life saver.

After hearing our safety talk 3 times and splitting up into teams, we got on our boat for one last bit of training in following our guides commands. Finally, as our guide Adam, who introduced himself first by his nickname "Schmiegel", tightened down our life jackets one-by-one, he shoved, or asked us - depending on his whim - to jump in the water. From there we had to learn how to climb, or be lifted back in. Then we finally were ready to go!

Our guide Adam was really friendly and open. Before we knew it it seemed like we had all shared our life stories, and he even started teaching us the ins and outs of working for Happy Raft as a guide (in a nutshell: when you fuck up, you have to buy the other guides beer =P). He is only 24, but already had many years experience in both Japan and New Zealand. From the start it was obvious he knew what he was doing, but as the day went on and rafts got stuck and people flew overboard, our raft remained almost completely unscathed, and it was definitely thanks to him.
Adam kept mixing up the seating order so everyone got to try being up front through some rapids. We even sat backwards twice and watched him take charge, face screwed up in concentration. Whenever we hit a patch of calm river it was acrobatic diving time. He started it off by doing a running full gainer off the nose of the boat, and we all tried our own variations. (Micah also pulled off the gainer, which was pretty crazy). This went on for the entirety of the day and after watching just a couple guides sneak up and ambush the other guides, it quickly turned into all out pirate battles where anyone could be surprise attacked by another boat!

Just before lunch we pulled up at some rock cliffs and almost everyone climbed up and jumped down. One climb was about 10 meters up, but I was plenty satisfied with my 5 meter fall. Then we rounded the bend, pulled over on the other side of the river, and climbed up a cliff to where fresh baked bagel sandwich lunches awaited us!

We were almost 2/3rds of the way done with our 10k adventure done the river, and taking a break to get warm, dry, and fed was a double-edged sword. I felt both immensely better and incredibly tired, but I knew that once we got back on the boat and got our adrenaline pumping, everything would be all good, and sure enough, it only got better:

 So that was our Saturday! We got dried off and changed back at their base, they gave us some tea and cake, and we had a considerably quieter bus trip home, but fun nonetheless.

火曜日, 10月 05, 2010

Touch Rugby Tourny

So picking up where I left off:

I felt great getting off work and caught a streetcar to the station where 6 of our team members were meeting to drive to Naruto, a township of Tokushima City on Shikoku. There were four Japanese players, (two in front, two in back), John the coach, and myself. Our driver, a lead-foot after my own heart, got us to our hotel an hour ahead of schedule, despite starting a half-hour late, and we went to a delicious, little izakaya (Japanese restaurant for drinking, with easy-to-share entrees). Since it was still only September 25th, I did not partake in the drinking part, but the food and conversation were both excellent. We left to stop off at a convenient store, pick up more snacks and drinks, and meet up with 6 more of our team, just arriving at the hotel. I had booked us a tiny and deserted, old ryokan (Japanese style lodge with tatami mats and futon), so we laughed and talked late into the night and took many pictures.

The next morning everyone was in surprising good shape. I guess they had not drank as much as it seemed, or maybe my coveting brain was simply torturing me that night. We dressed out in the morning, grabbed breakfast on the way, and showed up early to warm up. Although the weather had been cool and overcast all week, it chose this, one morning to be blazing hot and sunny, and even as I squeezed out my sunscreen I knew, I would burn.

Our A.M. preliminary matches were excellent. Of the three teams we faced we won them all, and one team gave us a great challenge, which honestly does make winning feel more satisfying. We stretched some more, ate some lunch around 12:30, and booted back up to warm up our muscles to match my burning skin.

Our next match was against the other field's 2nd place team, and they were good. They gave us a great run for our money, but the inexperienced ref calling the first half was so noticeably bad at calling the game, that a national level player who happened to be visiting to watch the tournament offered to step in and ref the last half of the game. The pace picked up, everyone got into it and gave it our all. Our two teams traded the lead 3 times and at the end of it all, we were tied 5 to 5. Now, in touch rugby, when a woman scores a try (goal), they receive 2 points. Therefor we were told that the winner would be determined by number of total tries, rather than a sudden death. This meant that we lost with our 4 tries to their 5 all male tries. And we played the losing team from the other pitch for third place. This definitely killed our morale for a while, but the last game was equally fun and we got our picture taken with the team we tied (who went on to win the tournament) after the closing ceremony. 

Oh! Also, because we won that game, our team still managed to take home the third place, with the same or better win-record than 2nd place (depending on how you count our 4th game). All in all, the whole experience was one of the best we've had as a team and consistently fun. Probably for the first time ever at a tournament, there were no injuries and we had plenty of people for substitutions, which meant we kept up our level of play, even though our last game.  
We rock. Go Ship-Heads!

Acupuncture WORKS.

Acupuncture has existed for thousands of years and yet for the uninitiated the question remains: Do little needles stabbing your pressure points have any medical benefits? I was one of these people, until recently. Stretching, massage, Japanese Icy-Hot (called "Saronpasu", but basically no different than tiger balm), and ibuprofen, all failed to relieve my worn out knees and legs, and after two months of pain I finally decided to give acupuncture a shot.
I went to my local sekkotsu-in, a Japanese "bone-setter", which normally specializes in massage therapy for sports injuries, fatigue, and keeping the elderly fit. That said, there are many kinds of sekkotsu-in. Some are more dedicated to relaxation and chronic fatigue. These are not covered by health insurance (at least in my neighborhood), but my shop was authorized to accept health insurance if for the purpose of health-related injuries. Since I first experienced the pain after a day of mountain-climbing, I was approved and paid 1000 yen for my first massage, and 500 yen for each massage after. However after the second massage in a week, my joints still ached so I asked how much acupuncture was, and (not expecting an affirmative) whether health insurance could be used as well. To my surprise, they said the cost of acupuncture is the same as a massage, but required a consent form, signed by a general practitioner. This usually runs around 4000 yen, but I was desperate, and 5000 total for my first time still sounded cheaper than what I had heard of people paying for a single acupuncture session, so I agreed.

             Flash forward to the fateful day and I am laying on my stomach, getting ready to be stabbed. "Can I take pictures?" I asked. "Sure" said the young therapist. He then offered to take them for me once he had finished inserting the needles. Great, I thought, and he got started. First he showed me one of the needles he would use and they were the same thickness as my leg hair. That helped me relax a little. He explained that in order to relieve the pressure on the tendons behind my knee caps.

              Starting on my lower back, then my calves, and lastly my thighs, a dozen needles were slowly inserted into me. Although there was no piercing pain like getting a shot or a cut, there was a duller, deep ache as the needle reached the nerve that he was aiming for. Once he had finished I was in for a real shock, of the electrical current variety. Attaching leads to each of the thick heads of each needle, the therapist turned up the juice until I felt slightly tingly. I immediately imagined the scene from the Matrix when Neo is covered from head to foot in hundreds of similar needles to revive his atrophied muscles, but the reference was lost on the doc and he put a towel over me, closed the curtain and left me to relax for about twenty minutes.

When the gently pulsating currents wound down, the machine they were attached to played a little jingle and my therapist walked back and, with a cotton swab of alcohol, removed each needle, quickly and painlessly. He wiped each spot, but there was never any blood. Afterward I checked and some areas were pink like a minor mosquito bite, but that was it. He then massaged the same spots for another 20 minutes, helped me stretch out, and recommended I go to an onsen (hot spring) or take a long soak in a hot bath. So I went home and did just that, and the next morning I felt like a completely new man. I walked to work, did my thing there, walked home, and got packed for a touch rugby tournament the next day where I ran around on a grass pitch all day and my legs never once bothered me! 
So, did it work? YES. Was it worth the money? YES. Did it hurt? NO! Why doesn't everyone do this? I have no idea. It really did help immensely. Obviously, I had been doing a lot of other things to aid in my recovery, including stretching daily, taking it easy, and getting massages at the same sekkotsu-in, but I have no doubt the acupuncture was the final push I needed to complete my recovery.