Jr. High School Speech Contest

Back in the summer of 2012, Thomas spent most of his days helping students throughout our city of Niihama prepare for the annual English Speech Contest. Every year our town sends students to the prefectural contest and those students who win go on to the national contest.

After months of preparation, the prefectural speech contest took place in October of 2012. That weekend happened to be the Sake Festival in Hiroshima Prefecture a pretty fun event that we were hoping to go to, but Thomas felt that it was important to see his students perform at the contest and me not knowing the difference between one sake and another, didn’t mind not going to Hiroshima after all.

The contest took place in Matsuyama and we made our way early in the morning. I don’t teach children anymore and this is one of the few events in which I got to see some of what Thomas does at his work. The children were excited to see him there and there were a lot of children from Niihama participating, which was very encouraging. Unfortunately none of his students won, but we were glad to have gone.

There was one girl in particular who really touched my heart. She has a stuttering speech disorder and Thomas worked with her very hard throughout the summer. The day of the contest she got up there and talked about her stutter disorder while growing up and how it has affected her life, but also how it encouraged her to try out for the contest and talk about an issue that affects her so much personally. She stopped a few times for long periods of time, but she completed her speech and by the time she got off the stage, I was in tears. She did SO incredibly well!

Thomas took a couple of pictures with his students, but due to privacy concerns I won’t be able to upload those pictures. Overall, it was great experience for the students. After the contest Thomas and I walked around Dogo Onsen which is the oldest onsen in Japan (and it also inspired the movie Spirited Away) and ended the day by having dinner at my favourite french restaurant in Matsuyama.

I am posting a few pictures of Dogo Onsen since I don’t think I have done so before.

Dogo Onsen.

Dogo Onsen.

The film Spirited Away was modeled after Dogo Onsen.

The film Spirited Away was modeled after Dogo Onsen.

A man relaxing outside Dogo Onsen.

A man relaxing outside Dogo Onsen.

Dogo Onsen, Japan's oldest hot spring.

Dogo Onsen, Japan’s oldest hot spring.

 

Outside Dogo Onsen on a lovely fall day.

Outside Dogo Onsen on a lovely fall day.

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Climbing Mt. Ishizuchi – November 2012

 

On top of Ishizuchi Mt.

On top of Ishizuchi Mt.

After living in Ehime for over 3 years and always saying that one day I would do it, it finally happened… I climbed Mt. Ishizuchi! We went back in November when the weather had cooled off from the hot Japanese summer and the tree leaves had changed into fall colours.

Climbing Mt. Ishizuchi was a much bigger challenge than what I was prepared for. We began the day early in the morning and began our climb up. Everything went pretty well for a couple of hours. We reached Mt. Ishizuchi’s shrine, a beautiful shrine at the entrance of the path that leads to the highest mountain in Western Japan at 1982m high. This is where climbers pray before making their way up to the top and from the window you can see the summit of the mountain.

Shrine at the bottom of Mt. Ishizuchi.

Shrine at the bottom of Mt. Ishizuchi.

Paper cranes inside a shrine at the bottom of Mt. Ishizuchi.

Paper cranes inside a shrine at the bottom of Mt. Ishizuchi.

After a brief stop at the shrine we began our climb. I got to say that there were a lot of stairs going up! Also on the way to the top, you come across 3 sets of chains, which if you choose to you can climb up to the top. We decided to go up the first set of chains and boy was that scary! This chains are attached to the mountain, but if you let go of them you go straight down to your death… no joke. There is nothing that could top you from getting a very serious injury and I have heard from several friends that people have indeed fallen and died. It was very physically challenging to go up the chains and once you begin climbing there is no other option but to make it to the end. Unfortunately, in the first set of chains once you make it up you got to get down… using the chains again! Thomas was horrified once we reached the top and realized that we had to use the chains and climb our way down again. If I remember clearly he said: “This is the stupidest thing we have ever done!” Thinking back on it, it really was quite dangerous but fortunately we made it up and down without sustaining any injuries.

Our lovely friend Ian on our way up.

Our lovely friend Ian on our way up.

So we continued our journey to the top and then it got quite cold and icy, and I knew we were reaching our destination. Snow was beginning to accumulate at the top and after about 3 hours we made it to the summit. The views from up there were just incredible. I wish we had been able to stay up there longer but it was quite windy and cold so I was only able to capture a few shots.

Cold Thomas at the summit of Mt. Ishizuchi.

Cold Thomas at the summit of Mt. Ishizuchi.

When we began our descent is when things got a little rough for me. I had completely forgotten about an old snowboarding injury and with all the steps leading to the bottom, my knee couldn’t handle the pressure and it was an incredibly painful experience. My knee was in so much pain that at some point I just broke down and began to cry, but Thomas was so incredibly kind and carried my backpack all the way down. He just waited for me and we very slowly went on our way. I was also very afraid that it would get dark and we would get stuck somewhere on the mountain. Fortunately we were able to make it down just as it was getting dark. So while it should have taken 2-3 hours to go down, it took me over 4 hours. I was so glad that we made it!

After we all gathered at the bottom of the mountain, we went for a well deserved onsen and caught the train back home. By the time I went to bed my knee was twice its normal size and it took me 4 days to be able to walk properly again.

While it was a very challenging experience I am very happy that I was able to climb Mt. Ishizuchi. This was something that I really wanted to do before departing Japan and it would seem silly not to do it considering the mountain is practically on our backyard. The views all the way to the top were incredible and we were with a very cool, chill group of people, who helped each other both on the way up, and the way down.

The experience also taught me that as much as I would like to climb Mt. Fuji, I reckon I am better off seeing it from a distance!

Almost there.

Almost there.

Fall colours!

Fall colours!

Let's do this! At the entrance of the path leading to the summit.

Let’s do this! At the entrance of the path leading to the summit.

Statues at the bottom of the mountain.

Statues at the bottom of the mountain.