Climbing Mount Fuji in August, My Story and Tips

I’ve climbed Mount Fuji four times using three different routes, and I look forward to climbing again with my daughters. It may not be the most beautiful trail, and it’s anything but solitude with nature, but the view can be incredible and what an experience to be on the summit waiting for sunrise with thousands of others. Most healthy people should have no problem getting to the top of Mount Fuji, but there are some basic things you need to know. Following are my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned from each climb. I had fun writing this, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading and learn what you need to know.

My First Time Climbing Mount Fuji via Kawaguchiko 5th Station Trail

I wanted to climb Mount Fuji during our first year in Japan.  Most people climb during an official season during July and August, so that became my plan. I quickly learned that if you get any five people together in Japan and mention climbing Mount Fuji, someone will probably quote: “Your are wise to climb Fuji once and a fool to climb it twice.” It’s not an inspiring proverb.  But most people who quote these words have never climbed the mountain themselves.  … Keep Reading

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Learning Japanese for Real Communication and Conversation

I’ve been learning Japanese for years, and I know what works for me and what doesn’t. I want to learn how to communicate and have real conversations in daily life. But most teachers, especially in Japan, take a textbook centered approach from the start, centered on proper grammar and reading.  In my case, if I’m not learning to relate with people around me, and that means talking with them, then I lose motivation for the hard, disciplined work of language study.

Here’s a tip for those of you who want to learn Japanese for communication.  Try JapanesePod101. You can learn the basics of listening, vocabulary, and conversation on your iPhone or Droid as you ride the train or walk around. I ENJOY it, and that’s coming from someone who really doesn’t like language learning.

The best part is that it’s free to get all the daily podcasts. You can pay for additional features, but you don’t have to. I’d recommend paying if you’re going to be dedicated and use them, but you don’t need the extra stuff to get most of the benefits of this amazing service.  Try it and you’ll see.

JapanesePod101.com – Learn Japanese with Free Daily Podcasts

Here’s what I like most about JPod:

  • It’s professionally done with voice actors and fun story-lines.
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Get a Driver’s License in Japan, How to Pass the Driving Test

Getting your Japanese driver’s license can be intimidating, especially when you hear stories about people failing their driving tests multiple times. Here are some tips to help you pass your test the first time.

My purpose is to provide practical information based on my own experience. I have a current US driver’s license, so I was eligible for a simplified process (paperwork, fees, an easy written test, and a “simple” driving test on an enclosed course). I will describe all of this in detail below, including information that may help you pass the driving test on your first or second try. I completed this process at the Kanagawa Licensing Center in Yokohama, but the principles should apply at other licensing centers.

People used to drive on International Driver’s Licenses for years in Japan, but the law changed years ago. Now you’ll have to pay a hefty fine if you are caught driving with an International Driver’s License after living here for more than a year.

UPDATE AND CAVEAT:  I have heard from MANY people over the years who say this advice helped them to pass their driving tests on the first try, and I think the advice and principles still apply today despite having written the following more than 10 years ago.… Keep Reading

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Giving Birth, Having a Baby in Japan

What do you imagine when you think about childbirth in Japan?  Many of our impressions were wrong. For some reason, I thought that Japanese doctors would combine modern medical care with a more natural approach. We had much to learn, and I wrote this to share some of those lessons.

We moved to Japan in March, 2002, and confirmed one month later that we were pregnant. We already had a two year old daughter, so we had some idea what we were doing and what to expect. I want to be clear that our story is just ONE example. You can have a variety of birth experiences in Japan, and there are different kinds of doctors and hospitals. However, I will risk making some generalizations starting with this: If you want a particular type of birth experience in Japan, you may need to work hard to make it happen.

I’m writing this article because my wife, Hitomi, doesn’t have the time. Neither do I, but that’s life now. I wish you could see all of this through her eyes directly, but I’ll do my best to share our joint perspective.

You also should know that I arrived in Japan with zero language ability, but Hitomi is Japanese.… Keep Reading

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Tips for Heating a Cold Japanese House, Make a Warm Home

Old, Cold Japanese Houses, Insulation, and Imports

Why are Japanese houses so cold in the Winter? And how do you stay warm in one?

Old Japanese houses are not insulated. The opposite, in fact. In the old days, they were heated by small fires inside with vents in the ceiling to let out the smoke. Decades ago people transitioned to kerosene heaters, and those are still widely in use today. Both of these heating methods produce poisonous gases, so houses had to air out for safety reasons. The houses also had to air out because of the humidity. If humidity gets trapped inside the walls in a climate like Japan’s, you get mold. The old houses are  made to vent air from underneath the house and up through the hollow walls. Even modern houses and apartments are not well sealed and include vents in the walls you can open to let air freely pass.

The way to stay warm in such a house is to blast heat from a kerosene or natural gas heater. When you’ve got one of those turned way up, it’s like sitting next a camp fire. There’s no way to efficiently heat an old wooden home that is thoroughly ventilated, but those homes are generally small with sliding partitions to make rooms even smaller.… Keep Reading

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Learning Kanji


This is another face from the crowd and one of my favorite shots from the Undoukai.

Two days ago we came back from a trip. I won’t tell you where we went, but I’ll show you a photo in a couple of days and let you guess.

Someone emailed and thanked me for posting a link to Kanji.Koohii.com. It’s an incredible service for anyone using Heisig’s method to learn the Kanji. Once you sign up, you can steadily add “flashcards” and review them. The site is very consistent with Heisig’s principles, and it’s set up to automatically spread out your reviews (differentiating between the kanji you have and haven’t masterered). I highly recommend it. The site was created by a guy (in Belgium, I think) for his own use. He shared with others, and it’s growing by word of mouth. A friend told me about it (he’s at the top of the list over there), and I think I’ve sent quite a few people over there myself now. As for me, I started and quickly zoomed up to about 700 kanji. But I hadn’t REALLY mastered them, so my reviews bogged down and went very, very slowly (with less then 50 percent accuracy).… Keep Reading

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