life in hiroshima and beyond

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My short-lived TV career

Yesterday I spent the day helping out with a shoot for TV travel program. Although I’ll only appear in a small segment of the show, it took a full day to shoot, but that’s the way these things go.

I’m not a big fan of TV and have always had very mixed feelings about being involved in anything TV related in Japan. However, after meeting with the freelance director a couple of weeks ago, it seemed it might be a good opportunity to get across what a special place Hiroshima is to visit to an overseas audience interested in making trips to Japan.

After a full day, as the sun started to set, we moved to the riverbank next to Chuo Park for the final, and most important part of the day’s filming: a talk between myself and an actor playing a travelling American. This was where I expected to be able to talk about how over the 18 years I’ve been in Hiroshima I’ve come to love the place and how it is proving to be a great place to raise a family, as well as the reasoning behind the tourism related work Joy and I do with GetHiroshima.

As we walked along the riverside, the director comes alongside and, after stressing how important this shot is, proceeded to say he wouldn’t be needing me to mention any of the stuff we talked about in our initial meeting.

He wanted to “go deeper”.

He didn’t need me to talk about Hiroshima’s incredible example of largely leaving recrimination behind in an effort move forward with its campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

He didn’t need me to talk about how my children – two clearly non-Japanese kids who are on paper American – have never been on the receiving end of any nasty or even careless comments from their classmates at the public school they attend, even during or after classes about the A-bombing. This was something that had struck me for the first time when talking with the director over drinks. I wondered if this was a result of Hiroshima’s “peace education” program and thought that it perfectly illustrated the fact although western tourists may feel some trepidation coming to Hiroshima, they should not let fears that they will not be welcome stop them from doing visiting.

He also didn’t need me to talk about the message which, alongside Joy, I’ve been working hard to get across for 10 years. About how if visitors extend their stay in Hiroshima, they have time to not only absorb and start to make sense of all that they have learnt, but give themselves the opportunity to make connections with local people around a teppan or at a bar, putting a face on the tragic city. How, by enjoying modern Hiroshima, it’s message of reconciliation and desire for future peace is felt all the more powerfully.

He said that these sentiments would come across as contrived.

But it’s all true, I said.

He said, there’s no point, no one will believe it. He wanted to “go deeper”.

Fucking television, I thought.

I have no idea what he really wanted out of me. I got the feeling that he wanted me to come out with some things that Japanese people would be reluctant to say to about Hiroshima, its past and its message, but his “directions” were so vague, (or too “deep” for my Japanese language level) that I can’t be sure of that.

One thing was for sure though, I felt ambushed and I was angry. I wanted nothing more than to pull out the mic, tell him to stuff his program and storm off diva-like. If it had been earlier in the day, I might have done just that. But, after a long day with the “traveler” and the rest of the crew, it just didn’t feel right to leave them in the lurch. As the “traveler” did his lead in, I could feel my shoulders shaking with anger. I did my best to answer his questions honestly. I don’t know why, but I also tried to “go deeper”, to give them something that they might want.

I’m not even really sure what I said in the end. My feelings and thoughts about the bombing and “peace” in Hiroshima are in a constant state of flux and I may said some things on subjects that I am not qualified to talk about and on which so many other people here are.

I doubt I went deep enough, but after the final shot the director seemed, on the surface, relatively pleased with it. He apologised for making me uncomfortable, saying he needed to push me, to make me look more serious, I look too friendly.

Make me sound negative about the city I love and I will sue you, I said.

I may have nothing to worry about. It may end up looking (possibly) and sounding (unlikely) great. Maybe no one will see it. In the larger scheme of things, who cares? These are big issues and the feelings of a dad who spends some of his free time recommending places for people to get drunk in really don’t matter. And of course, it’s television, so hopefully the show will be shown a few times before disappearing into the ether just like in the 20th century.

But shooting finished 9 hours ago and I’m typing this at 3am because I can’t sleep. I’m still fuming inside. I’m angry at the director. I’m angry at television. And, I’m angry at myself. I feel that trust was betrayed. That I was used. I feel violated.

Ultra Trail Mt Fuji 2013, The North Face videos

I’ve put all the videos of the action at the front of end of the 2013 Ultra Trail Mt Fuji 100 mile trail race posted to YouTube The North Face Japan together on one page and in order. Click on the course and elevation maps to see which parts of the course are being featured in the videos.


A2-W1 (Mokotsu-ko – Fumoto)

W1-A4 (Fumoto – Nishi-fuji)

A7-A8 (Subashiri – Yamanaka-ko)

A9-A10-Finish (Nijumagari – Fuji-yoshida – Finish)

Hasetsune Gear


Salomon 12 liter Skinpack
1.5 liters water in bladder
2 bottles of premixed Hammer Perpetuem (Cafe Latte Flavor)
One bag of Perpetuem powder to mix at the 42km check point (the only aid station on the course – limited to 1.5l water per runner)
24 Hammer electrolyte tablets
12 Hammer anti-fatigue tablets
3 Hammer energy surge tablets
3 Hammer electrofizz tablets (for last stages to mix with spring water)
3 GU Roctane gels (Chocolate Rasberry)
2 Black Diamond Storm headlamps with lithium batteries
Spare batteries
Arm sleeves
Rain jacket
Medical kit
Spare contact lenses
Emergency blanket

It is raining and cool this morning so will likely add merino long sleeve and waterproof legs in case of becoming immobilized at night.

Still trying to decide wether to carry trekking poles or not.

Ben Nevis 2012

Ben Nevis is the UK’s highest mountain and although, at only 1344m, it is relatively low compared to many of Japan’s peaks, it is still a rough mountain to run. In fact, I find the Ben Nevis mountain race just as (if not more) tough as an Ironman triathlon or the 100 mile Mt Fuji Race.

This was third attempt at the race and I ran my best time so far, 2:01:13, knocking almost 4 minutes of my best time set on my first time back in 2004. I was a bit disappointed to miss going under 2hrs (taking photos and video en route may have had something to do with this – doh!) but I was happy to crack the top 100 for the first time, coming in in 79th place.

The word of the day to describe conditions at the summit was “wild” and although the rain held off until after I’d finished, winds on the upper slopes were strong and visibility down to just 20-30m. Just before hitting the full brunt of the wind on the last drive to the summit, my hands were getting very cold and my shorts and get it on my head – pulling on a pair of gloves would have taken forever with cold hands.

A poignant reminder of how hard this race can be was that my uncle, who along with my dad has done this race many times, had to perform CPR on a friend who happened to be a few steps ahead of him. He had been moving quite well, when for some reason he collapsed. My uncle thought he “had gone” when he rolled him over. My uncle and another runner stopped to help until the race marshalls arrived and took over. Fortunately, the stricken runner was released from hospital that night after being brought down the mountain on a stretcher by mountain rescue and treated for mild hypothermia.

My attempts at this race are intermittent and I’m not sure when I will be back, but I really would like to break the 2 hour barrier sometime. I should perhaps leave my camera behind me next time.

Ben Nevis Race Results 2012 | 2010 | 2004

Evening recce in the Trough of Bowland

Last night I joined a few my dad’s fell running clubmates in the Trough of Bowland on a recce of a race they are hosting at the Hodder Valley Show this weekend.

It was a beautiful clear evening and although a little soggy underfoot in parts, very runnable. Hopefully the good weather will hold and the show and my last fell race on this UK trip will be a enjoyable, and dry, one.

All the pics from the run taken with a Sony DSC-TX10 on Flickr here.

My road to Ultra Trail Mount Fuji

The inaugural 100 mile Ultra Trail Mount Fuji (UTMF) takes place this weekend. Billed as the sister race of the mecca of ultra marathoners, the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, UTMF, at 156km, is a shade short of the 100 mile mark. But who’s counting? More than 8000m of accumulated elevation gain and a course that does a complete loop of the iconic 3776m Mt Fuji will more than make up for a measly 4km.

The race has been a long time coming. Back in 2010, I was excited to emerge from a frantic mouse clicking battle on the race registration site with one of the coveted 800 spots. The following February, I was able to escape the Japanese winter for a few weeks to Southwestern Queensland. There, keeping my eyes peeled for poisonous snakes and killer spiders, I gradually built up my long runs on Toowoomba trails. A few days before I was to return to Japan, I staggered in the door, jazzed at completing my first back to back 50km/30km training weekend. I collapsed in front of the TV and saw the, initially unfathomable, images of the massive tsunami that had swept away so many lives back in my adopted home nation a few hours earlier.

The planned UTMF was one of the many running events (trail and otherwise) in Japan that were cancelled in the months after the disaster. I took part in two tough Kanto area trail races of around 40km and looked around for an alternative longer distance event. I prevailed in another click battle and set my sights on Hasutsune in October; reportedly, one of Japan’s top trail races, a distance of approximately 70km, mostly run in the dark.

In the run up to Hasetsune, I was feeling a little jaded as my earlier races had felt like something of a slog and training through the long and very hot and humid Japanese summer had sapped my motivation. It was just at this time that the rescheduled date for UTMF was announced. Organizers said that anyone who had succeeded in getting a spot in the original race would receive priority for 2012. I was no longer sure that I was up for putting myself and my family through the training required to complete a 100 miler, especially if the final experience would be more pain than gain.

I decided to wait until I had finished Hasetsune, and that I would take my UTMF spot if, and only if, for some reason I found running 70km of trails in the dark fun. I was pretty sure that I was off the hook and that I could look forward to returning to more reasonable distances the following year. It was a tough race, but, to my amazement, the race went very smoothly and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was left feeling energized and, riding my longest post-competition endorphin rush, took my spot in the rescheduled UTMF.

That was then. And now event is upon me.

Am I ready?

I am having some doubts about my training, mainly focused on how well my running on the trails around Hiroshima city has prepared me for the long, steep ups and downs on the UTMF course. My regular training runs never took me anything above 500m, while UTMF starts at about 800m above sea level and we are close to 1500m for much of the first half. In the second half we will get up to a shade under 2000m, so even the fact that my training runs have started at sea level doesn’t make me feel any more confident. That said, scheduling 8-9 hour runs on weekends was tough enough on my partner, left alone to do that other endurance sport of entertaining two young children, without figuring in another couple of hours to get to and from higher peaks.

I’ll find out if these doubts are justified soon enough. Now I’m trying to push them to the back of my mind and focus on my race strategy; summed up by the mantra “slow, slow, slow!”

I have a tendency to get carried away in the early stages of races. If I do that this weekend I will really pay for it. Even a few seconds a kilometer could be the difference between feeling like I’ve earned my T-shirt and a DNF. I need to view UTMF as a experience, more as endurance hike than a run, and as a learning opportunity.

In this respect, it is fortunate that the toughest part of the course does not come until around the 105km mark. This 27km section starts with an 800m climb to a 1300m high ridge, goes over three 1500m peaks, and them up a very sharp climb to almost 2000m. I am counting on the sheer terror I feel at the prospect of trying to overcome this obstacle, to scare me into moving at a very conservative pace in the hours before I get to it. After all, if I get down in good shape, I can still stretch my legs and blast the last 20 miles (yeah, right!).

I’ve finished several Ironman triathlons, cycled to the top of Haleakala on Maui, done a 22 hour bike ride in torrential rain, struggled up and charged down Ben Nevis in Scotland, as well as running an 88km road race among the mountains of Hiroshima and, of course, Hasetsune mentioned above. They were all tough in their own way, and I said of several of them “that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done”. But, from all the books, interviews and online race reports I’ve read, running 100 miles over a course like this is a challenge on an entirely different scale. It’s a scale that I cannot comprehend, and this is the first time in a very long time, when I’ve had no idea whether I will be able to meet the challenge.

I’m trying to enjoy my ignorance. It may not be bliss, but may well be more pleasant than knowing what’s in store. It is certainly exciting, in a “I think I’m going to throw up” way. And, whether I cross the finish line or not, it is a precious thing. I may end up attacking the 100 mile distance many times, but I will only ever attempt my first once.

My longest 5 Finger run so far

five fingers takatogeyama

Yesterday, I completed my longest run so far in a pair of Vibram Five Finger shoes; 28km run mostly over local trails in Treksports.

After the previous day’s 36km sakura run over much of the same ground in my more orthodox Montrail Streaks, my feet felt like they were in heaven. At about twice the distance I had hitherto run in minimal shoes, I was worried that I would have problems over the last few kilometers, but apart from a little chaffing of my smallest little piggies, I finished feeling great. My calves don’t seem any more sore than usual, which I guess is a sign that I was ready for the distance.

I would like to try them out in next weekend’s Haigamine-Yasumiyama race in Kure, but I’m not sure that I’m ready to go minimal over the final 5-6km steep, winding asphalt descent.

Sakura Run

The sakura cherry blossoms were in full bloom throughout Hiroshima on a beautiful spring day today. After a late start I spent most of the day (5hrs 30min) on a long (37km) trail run. It was lovely to running in such perfect conditions, but I was quite jealous of all the groups enjoying hanami parties that I ran past. I did, however, take the time to stop and snap a few photos with my iPhone 3GS. Here are some of them (though, they do look a lot better on black like here). Details of the run are at the bottom of the post.

Sakura at the Peace Pagoda
Hiroshima Peace Pagoda

Sakura in Mitaki
Sakura in a Mitaki drainage ditch

OK, the last photo isn’t of sakura blossom, but I was very happy to find my way to the string of mountains behind Mitaki-yama and to get to the top of Maru-yama. Despite there being a giant white board erected off which to bounce TV signals, there is a fantastic view over Mitaki-yama of Hiroshima and the surrounding area. The iPhone couldn’t capture the great view, so I settled for a photo of two of the many magnolia flowers in bloom up there.

Also, I have feeling that finding the link to this trail has finally taken me to the “Hiroshima Alps” trail, which could open up the possibility of local 50km+ runs on trails without having to touch much road. Looking forward to getting back over there to explore more.


Signs of spring

Walking down through the torii gates on Futaba-yama on another unseasonably warm February afternoon, I noticed some flashes of pink off to the side of the forest path.

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