A few weekends back I took a three-day trip to Japan for the 5th (?) annual FiveTen Cup! Sorry for the delay. Most people ask, “why was your trip to Japan only three days Ethan?!?” The reason the trip was only three days and not longer was because I had finals the day after I got back. Bummer, I know. And I’ve been mega busy since then, getting ready for my six-week trip to Australia that’s coming up in just a few days!!! It’s a hard life, I know. Someone’s gotta do it. Better that it’s me jumping on the bomb than you!
So, back to Japan! Upon first arrival, it was about four in the afternoon, Japan time, which translated to midnight, PST. This was something that I wouldn’t really get used to for the rest of my short trip- how overwhelmingly sleepy I’d get around three-four in the afternoon. One thing I noticed as soon as I left the airport was how warm and humid it was outside. The climate seemed very similar to the south, except with slightly more smog in the air. Maybe Brion Voges would just go and crush?!?
I met my gracious host and guide, Kaiho, just outside the terminal. Not wanting to miss out on any cultural experiences, I took him up on his offer to go check out this huge temple that was a short distance from the hotel. We walked around this palace-like temple with its ornate structures and beautiful trees and stream crossings. Simply amazing! After a long flight and the jet lag getting the better of me, we drove back to the hotel and I flopped down on the bed and CRASHED.
The next morning I awoke at 5:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I called Kaiho (and woke him up! sorry) since he said we’d be getting a very early start. He came and picked me up and we headed to Yokohama where the comp was happening that day. On the way we talked about climbing in Japan, FiveTen’s presence in Asia, about Japan itself and about past American visitors to Japan who had competed in the FiveTen cup. We had a chuckle that San, the Japanese suffix that denotes respect, was sort of redundant with my name since Japanese people pronounced my name ‘E-san’ anyway. I think I knew this already, but I was surprised to recall that none of the men (Paul, Kevin, a very strong lot) had won a FiveTen cup in all the years it had taken place! I was under the impression that it was just going to be a sort of fun, locals kind of comp- nothing too serious, and not too heavy on the competition aspect. Boy would I be proven wrong!
We arrived at B-Pump, the bouldering gym that hosted the event, about six hours early. We watched the opening ceremony, watched some of the other competitors climb, did some walking around and sightseeing, and did a little slacklining. When it was finally time for me to start warming up I was exhausted! I warmed up with some of the other competitors in the open category and man, those guys are lean! They’re like ripped bean stalks with long, monkey-like arms that just kinda float up problems. I was super impressed by how many inhumanly strong Japanese climbers there were that I had never even heard of!
I was competing last in the Qualies so I had slightly more time to warm up and stretch but I knew I was in trouble when I couldn’t do one of the problems from the advanced category… The upstairs portion of the gym had slightly taller walls, more overhung terrain and more seating for spectators so that’s where the qualifiers and finals were held. Unfortunately there was zero ventilation so it was really hot and muggy up there! I sucked pretty badly in the qualies. The problems were really fun and well set, but I just didn’t climb very well. I felt close to every problem I didn’t do, but just couldn’t quite sew any of them up completely, except for qualifiers #1, which was like hard V7, and I even fell once on that one! I think I ended up in like… 27th or something… worse than I’ve ever placed in a comp! Even though I did so terribly in the qualies, they allowed me a spot in the finals! Haha! Since they were taking top 8, I felt pretty bad for everyone who placed 9th-26th (especially Keita Mogaki, one of the only Japanese climbers I actually knew before the comp, who placed 9th in the qualies) but what was I gonna say? I had pulled my hamstring pretty bad on the last problem in the qualies so I prayed there were no right heel hooks in the finals.
The finals were crazy! The MC was wearing this ridiculous silk (?) outfit, embroidered with FiveTen’s logo and these giant sunglasses. They had a fog machine, a FiveTen laser that they beamed onto the same spot on the wall, and huge awesome volumes! The crowd was really psyched! Thankfully for me it ended up being all left heel hooks in the finals! I climbed much better than I did in the qualies, coming agonizingly close to #1 and making it pretty high on #3… I think I ended up in like 5th or 6th.
Remember in Dosage 5 when Dave Graham is topping out that boulder problem at horseshoe canyon, the one they had to drain all the water out from underneath, and Ty Landman says “Sachi Ama” in a sort of surprised voice? Well, Sachi Ama indeed! I think Ty was saying Sachi’s name because he thought it was funny and for whatever other unknown reason… but there ain’t nothing funny about this kid’s climbing! Sachi was the only one in the finals who actually sent a boulder problem, gaining himself first place in the open category! Sachi is really strong, skinny, humble, and will surely win a lead world cup this year (I tried to convince him that he should compete in the bouldering WCs too, because he could surely do well in them, but nothing doing).
After the finals were over, the crowd wanted more action so a bunch of the finalists sessioned on the last problem in the finals which didn’t get sent during the comp. Each try we’d get higher and higher. Myself and a few others tagged and almost held the finishing jug, and one other competitor came as close as possible to finishing the problem from the start, but in the end no one actually showed control of the finishing jug. They had me give out the awards to all the medalists in each category, which was pretty funny and awkward because I wasn’t wearing a shirt for most of it. I think I definitely embarrassed some small children who had won the junior’s category, who were embarrassed enough just being on display in front of a large crowd… sorry kids! After the finals were over we drove back into Tokyo and being too tired to even eat dinner (this is really unusual for me!) I just crashed at the hotel.
The next day we went to the B-Pump gym in Tokyo (where the cup was held last year) for a FiveTen demo and event. Sachi and I set a bunch of fun boulder problems for the climbers that were there, had a fun little swag giveaway and signed some t-shirts and stickers, and just had a generally fun and relaxing time. There was also a Gibbon’s slackline event and a few of the slackliners were FiveTen athletes! I talked to one guy from Germany named Bernd Hassmann who was on a two-week tour of Asia for Gibbons. He stuck a huge jump from the slackline to a hold at the top of the wall! After the event we all went out to dinner in the mall where the hotel was and we all parted ways after that… The next morning after meeting up with Kaiho for one last lunch, I searched high and low for the Matutake and/or Shitake tea that my brother requested, but my efforts proved fruitless... then it was back on the plane to be transported back to SF like I had never left! My plane landed around 9am and after a shower and a change of clothes, and no sleep in about 36 hours, I was at school cramming for my finals... in the imortal words of Chris Parsons, "I never wanna get old. I wanna do this $h!# forever!" Now all I have to remember my short time in Japan are pictures and these sweet custom hand towels!
I’d like to thank everyone that made my trip possible including Sang Lee and Nancy Prichard. I’d also like to thank Kaiho, my ever patient guide, Yumi, my ever patient translator, all the B-Pump staff and the organizers of the comp for making it all possible, all the competitors and spectators also for making it all possible, and all the really nice and psyched people I met, shook hands and hung out with over there.
I’d have to say, the parts of Japan I saw weren’t at all like I imagined. I imagined myself in downtown Tokyo, swimming through a sea of short Japanese people…. Because of movies like Lost in Translation I guess. Narita, Yokohama and the parts of Tokyo I experienced were more like parts of Europe with short little bridges crossing rivers and streams, lots of tall buildings separated by narrow streets and lots of advertising on every surface. I’d say though that by far the coolest part about Japan that I would come back again for next year if I were invited back (besides that amazing boulders set by the route setters, and the amazing little cucumbers) were all the really nice people!
Thanks for reading my epically long blog-post. Check out the flickr set from my trip: