Week one of the Hokkaido Camp
August 1, 2011 2 Comments
These activities were great fun, but were bookended by long explanations of equipment and talks about the potential dangers of going to the sea or the river by the Japanese staff at the camp. This is very strange too me, and seems very Japanese. While explanations are very important I found that there was far too much time given to explaining why we are going to the sea for example, what sort of clothing we should wear, and the potential dangers etc. Maybe its because I am English, but I found these explanations to be too long, and often so much time was given to the preparations for the day that we only spent about 2 hours at the sea or the river, which felt a little short.
The sea of Japan was amazing, this spectacular colour of blue that I have not seen anywhere else, it was also quite warm actually. There aren’t many beaches on the Sea of Japan side from what I saw, and the majority of them have loads of big bits of concrete on them (the Japanese love concreting their landscape from what I have seen).
The second day we went to the river, this time with the purpose of catching shrimps (ebi), unfortunately we didn’t get any because the river was flowing too fast and the shrimps were hiding, but of course the kids enjoyed it anyway. The trip was very short though because we then had our camp to prepare for.
I have never had so much preparation and explanation about camping before.
There was a lengthy explanation about putting up a tent, another about lighting a fire and then there was the ‘information board’, where new information was put for the kids to look at. All of this is completely alien to me, I am used to camps where the kids are expected to work out how to put up a tent themselves, the fire safety bit is also never that lengthy.
This camp was a little on the strange side though, apparently there is a longer camp in the third week, however some of the kids are only here for one week, so this way they get to experience some form of camp as well, even if it is a little short etc.
And then we come to the elephant in the room the 40km walk, this started on the Pacific coast of Hokkaido and finished on the Sea of Japan coast (the camp is taking place on the southern end of Hokkaido, so it is fairly narrow). My god was it tough, and it was designed to, this walk was meant to test all the kids and the staff in some way, demonstrate each persons limits, but also give them courage and confidence to do other activities.
It was hard, I finished it in 6 hours 45 mins, pushing myself quite hard, walking about 20km on blistered feet. The route however was not especially interesting, mainly being on the side of main roads, as well as a few country roads, this wasn’t the nicest of surface to walk on, and unfortunately we missed a lot of the spectacular scenery that Hokkaido has to offer. I did however get some photos from the top of a Mountain that we had to climb near the beginning of the challenge.
I didn’t get much chance to take photos on the walk, since it gradually got harder to continue again if I stopped to take a photo. The day got hotter, my feet hurt more and basically by the end it was more a case of finishing, and then going to the Onsen afterwards.
I think the idea of doing a 40km walk as a challenge is a fascinating one, all the kids and staff finished eventually, I think the last group took 14 hours, and the first person took about 6 hours 20 mins. What was also interesting was that throughout the entire experience three of the Japanese staff were patrolling the course in their cars with big bottles of sports drink, O-cha and water as well as snacks so that the kids and of course the staff could refill and restock for the walk. And importantly this was not a race, rather something to challenge yourself with and finish, no matter what your time was.
This turned out to be a very good idea considering most of the walkers took about 8 or more hours and used up a lot of energy and liquid to get to the finish line. At the start of the walk we also half filled a glass vial with sand from the Pacific coast, and at the end of the walk we added sand from the Sea of Japan, two very different colours. It is a very odd souvenir that I will take away with me, but an important one. It is filled with a lot of excitement, pain and lots and lots of swearing, luckily the kids mostly don’t speak English so they can’t understand what I was yelling at times.
The camp so far has been interesting, the activities have been fun, but I have been a little annoyed at times by the immense amount of potentially ‘over-preparation’ that we have on this camp. I am not entirely sure if this is a Japanese thing or something they do on this camp. Right now I am inclined to think a bit of both. I think it spoils the event sometimes because the amount of preparation and talks can take up so much time that we have a very short slot to actually do the activity.
But essentially I am experiencing another culture and an entirely different way of doing things on an outdoor camp and with outdoor activities. I may not agree with how it works but it is nevertheless an interesting and informing experience, something I would not have had if I were to simply visit Japan as a tourist. And one last thing, I never expected Hokkaido to be so hot in the summer, high 20s is madness on an island that seems to have snow for most of the year, especially in an area that apparently gets between 2-3 meters of snow.
There should be some updates each week when I have the time, it is a busy schedule, with me waking up at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, also very little spare time.