My trip to Japan for the Five Ten Cup was so many things: a whirlwind of language, laughter, people, and very intriguing food. I boarded a plane to Tokyo and stayed just long enough to get over my jet lag, overwhelm my senses, and expand my perceptions before returning to the other side of the world. In the few days I spent in Japan I was immersed in one of the most interesting and engaging cultures I've ever experienced. I learned so much about a nation I had otherwise only equated to good sushi, and this trip left me wanting to learn more.
I arrived in Narita Airport after a ten-and-a-half hour flight, dazed and confused. I navigated through customs thanks to the English signs and met my guides Yumi Takizawa and Shin Tachibanazono. They greeted me enthusiastically and we set off for my hotel. Yumi was my main translator and we chatted while navigating the maze-like train system. I was immediately struck by the sheer volume of people, and how everyone went about their business in such an orderly fashion. As we walked through downtown Tokyo I was completely overwhelmed by the crowd, the lights, and the unfamiliarity of being on the other side of the globe. We had originally planned to grab some dinner but my brain and stomach protested. Too much jetlag and bad airplane food did not make a good combination. With regret, I told Shin and Yumi I would meet them in the morning and proceeded to pass out at 8pm Tokyo time.
I was wide-awake the morning of the competition at 4am and busied myself until it was time to leave. Breakfast was an interesting (and surprisingly yummy) combination of toast, scrambled eggs, mini-hot dogs, wintermelon soup, and pickled algae. The competition was held at B-Pump Tokyo: a three-story gym with the warm-ups on the main level, the bulk of the climbing on the middle level and more climbing on a sick color-changing WallTopia structure on the third (one of three in production!). The comp format was similar to the States; a two-hour citizens portion categorized by ability with top 6 qualifying for Finals. The big difference was that during citizens, instead of completing your hardest 5 problems, you had to complete as many hard problems as you could manage and they counted all of them! This proved to be far more tiring than what I was used to but I did my best and went into Finals in first place. Not too bad after all that traveling!
The Finals format was familiar, with three problems to complete. I was feeling the jet lag kick in so I downed an energy drink right beforehand, which was perhaps not such a great idea. I immediately felt jittery and tight, definitely too caffeinated. But I was awake! Although I went into Finals in first, I fell once on problems 2 and 3 which bumped me down to third for my overall placement. Still pretty good ;) especially since Aya Onoe and Yuki Matsushima (placing first and second) are both strong World Cup competitors. Another World Cup-per, Sachi Amma, won the men’s Open division. Afterwards I had the honor of handing out the prizes to all the divisions, as well as watching Sachi play an entertaining “Rocks Paper Scissors” game with the crowd for a crash pad.
My last full day in Japan was spent exploring the traditional town of Asakusa and some of the quieter neighborhoods surrounding Tokyo. I prayed at the Sensoji Temple, acquainted myself with the shrine of an Otanuki-sama (a raccoon-dog deity to ward against theft and fire), wished for and received a lucky paper fortune, saw a monk, ate more sushi, and tried natto. Natto is fermented soybean paste and I can’t say that I enjoyed it but at least I tried. My ultimate food highlight was trying and actually enjoying ‘uma,’ or raw horsemeat. I panicked afterwards and said to Yumi, “I just ate my Zodiac sign! Is that bad luck?” She shrugged and said, “Well you liked it so that must be a good sign! If you hadn’t liked it that might have been a problem.” Although it was too late in the day to explore the outdoor bouldering, I stopped by one of the fifty (yes, fifty!!) gyms in Tokyo called the Underground and put in a good session before celebrating my last evening with Shin, Yumi, Ray, and Takeshi.
When I arrived back in the States, it was as if the past 3 days had been a wild dream. I felt equally glad to be home and a sense that there was so much more to be seen in Japan that I had missed out on. But what I missed most was the people I had quickly befriended, and who had so readily accepted me into their culture. Despite the language barrier, our main source of communication was laughter and I know from experience that laughter is what the strongest friendships are founded on. I was drawn into their community and felt accepted despite not really knowing anyone at all. Coming from America, a country that emphasizes a strong sense of individualism, I noticed how the Japanese culture supported like-mindedness and harmony within the mentality of their nation. From the moment I met these people I sensed their strong sense of unity and realized how resilient the Japanese could be to anything in their path. I arrived in Japan prepared for anything and walked away inspired by everything. This trip strengthened my desire to find and create unity within my own American community, and to ultimately find unity within myself.
‘Till next time Japan… I cannot wait to return!