Arriving in Kagoshima-ken, Satsuma-sendai-shi

December 30, 2011

A few days before New Years Eve I boarded a plane to Japan, carrying with me a Pelican case containing a camera, a netbook, an assortment of cables, and instructions on how to connect all of it to a telescope at Kagoshima University on the southernmost main island of Japan.  The goal was to capture a Kuiper Belt object’s passing in front of a distant star in order to better understand the size and orbit of this icy world known as (20000) Varuna.

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Fuji-san: caves of lava and ice

September 12, 2011

Where were we?  First we climbed Fuji-san in the dark, walked around the summit, descended down its slopes of scree, and spent the night at a vacation cabin, Tozawa, on the shore of Kawaguchiko.  The adventure continues…

But first, a word or two about the local fruit suppliers.  Everywhere we drove near Fuji-san sold fruit.  Peaches (もも, momo).  Grapes (ぶどう, budou).  Mushrooms (きのこ, kinoko).   Other local specialties from the mountain whose kanji and hiragana I didn’t recognize.  A favorite rhyme about peaches and plums in Japan:


(A Japanese plum is a kind of peach, a peach is also a peach; both Japanese plum and peach are kinds of peaches.)

Yet, nowhere in these verdant prefectures did I see a single peach tree or grape vine, much less an orchard or a vineyard, despite abundant greenery and rich volcanic soil. Where do they grow those gigantic, dulcet, coral, iconic peaches so icon of the islands in Japan? Continue reading

Fuji-san: Kawaguchiko (絶好調)

September 11-12, 2011

河口湖, Kawaguchi-ko, literally translates to “‘river mouth’ lake”, one of the eponymous bodies of water in the Five Lakes District.  Arriving at the lake was fuzzy in my memory: I promptly fell asleep as Tatsuya-san pulled out of the parking lot on Fuji-san and drove down the mountain slopes.   Continue reading

Fuji-san: descent (下山)

September 11, 2011

After a hike up in the dark and a tour around the summit caldera in the morning light, we descended (下山, “ge”, down + “san”, mountain) from the summit of Fuji-san. A brilliant blue sky arched overhead; clouds of all sorts of morphologies stretched below.  We took a different route down the mountain than the one we used to ascend, this version of the Yoshida Trail sporting a plethora of switchbacks.

Torii, studded with coins, marked the entrance to the summit.

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Fuji-san: summit

September 11, 2011

我々はついに富士山頂に達した! After climbing Fuji-san all night in the dark until sunrise, all of the JAXA folks who started made it to the top! Morita-san had a harder time than he’d anticipated, so upon reaching the top he promptly turned around and jetted back down the mountain. The rest of us followed Dan-chan clockwise around the caldera rim.

The thing that impressed me most about the summit of Fuji-san was the diversity of basalt colors: red, black, brown, ochre, yellow, grey. These rocks are at least a thousand years old, and over the millennia, they maintained their intense hues.

Spelling something

We were trying to spell out JAXA but the cold had addled our brains.

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Fuji-san: climbing in the dark

September 10-11, 2011

山頂が雲の上にそびえている。 My first view of Fuji-san (富士山, “abundant soldiers”, “without equal”, or “immortal”, depending on what origin you believe) was through the window of Hayashiya-san’s car.  The caldera of the volcano emerged from clouds in the distance, suddenly dominating the view.


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