So this weekend, most of my team members went on an expedition to climb Mount Fuji. I did not. Not because I had no interest, but – well, I just didn’t want to go enough. Between the costs of traveling to Tokyo and staying overnight in the city and paying for the guided tour the group decided to use, it was going to be a bit pricey. I know, I know, those moments are priceless. But, being a person who’s not really into hiking or camping out in a public lodge on the side of a mountain, nothing about the trip sounded appealing to me except actually being at the top of the mountain. Which wasn’t enough motivation for me to go, at least this time. Next year – who knows?

However, my friend (who also decided not to go) and I did decide to plan a little adventure of our own. It’s been hot and humid here almost every day, so we were really craving a nice swim. Thanks to my friend’s research, we found out about a sort-of nearby lake, Lake Inawashiro, that supposedly has a place to swim. So yesterday we hopped aboard a train to Koriyama, the nearby city, and from there took another half-hour train ride to the tiny town of Joko.

At Joko, we got off the train. The station was a small waiting room on the platform. We walked to the other side of the building. Hm. Certainly a small town. There were some small, quiet streets and a few buildings. Some road workers. Nothing really significant. Definitely no lake in sight. The only other people to get off the train were two girls about our ages (well, probably younger – I forget how old we are!). Which way was the lake? We stood around and looked at maps on my phone. The girls stood around and fiddled with their phones. Just about the time they started walking, we decided to start walking and see what we could find. We set out behind them, trying not to act like stalkers. They took a path that led up to a main road. We decided that was a good choice, too. No, we’re really not stalkers, I promise!

When we got to the top of the incline and reached the main road, we looked in both directions. One way seemed to lead toward mountains. The other direction looked more open, so we decided to head that way. As we started walking, we felt a tantalizingly cool breeze. It must be coming from a body of water, we thought hopefully.

We walked for a few minutes longer. Then – wonder of wonders – we could see the lake through the trees! We walked around, trying to find the best way to access the waterfront, and ended up taking a path through the trees. We discovered  a nice, long beach, with very few people on it – not very picturesque, and with a lot of dried stalks and other debris on it, but still a beach. The lake itself, guarded by a green wooded mountain by its side, was beautiful.  Besides, all we wanted to do was swim, so it was perfect for our purposes!

But our adventures were not over yet, oh no. Before we picked out a spot and got cozy, we decided, we should really use the rest room. We walked to the main entrance and around the parking lot, in search of bathroom facilities. Nothing. Well, let’s try the other end of the beach. We had seen what looked to be public buildings over there. So we traipsed back to the other end of the beach. Lo and behold, we happened upon a small campground area, and – look! Porta-potties! Of course, they belong to the campground owners, so maybe we should ask. Or maybe they’ll know of another restroom nearby that we can use.

Near the entrance of the campground was a small trailer set up as a store, and in the front a man and woman were sitting at a table under the shade of a canopy. We walked over. “Excuse me, is there a restroom nearby?” I asked, trying to use my polite Japanese.

The woman looked a little surprise, but she stood up and pointed to the porta-potties. “Oh, go ahead,” she told us. She walked us over. “Are you here to swim? Did you come by train?” she asked. Yes, we told her, and thanked her for the use of the porta-potties.

After exiting the potties, we decided to thank the owners again as we passed them. “Arigatou gozaimasu!” we said, bowing. We intended to just keep going, but they stopped us with questions. “Where are you from?” We started talking, and before we knew it, they were inviting us to sit in their camp chairs and pouring us iced coffee! We continued our conversation – mostly in Japanese, with some English thrown in for good effect. The couple – husband and wife – both turned out to be very friendly. We got another set of drinks (soda this time) and some bread from the package they had on their table. Before we knew it, we were being invited to come visit them sometime! “I want to learn English,” said the wife.  She offered to pay us, and even to feed us Japanese food. We had a blast, talking and laughing about America, our jobs, and having a “sushi party” at their house. Who knows if that will ever come to pass – it seemed like they were serious, although it was weird for me to have strangers invite me to their house upon a first meeting. But in any case, it was lots of fun to connect with new people and to make some unexpected acquaintances!

We did eventually get around to excusing ourselves and doing what we came for – swimming! The water was a nice temperature, and a good depth for swimming and just lolling about in the water. The beach left a little to be desired, so after we were finished swimming, we packed up and headed back to the station, just in time to catch the two o’clock train. After heading back to Koriyama, we spent some time in the big city, and I went through some hair-raising (for me) experiences, trying to purchase bus and train tickets. (It really wasn’t that scary, it’s just something I’m not used to doing. Good thing I have a patient friend!) Fortunately, the day ended well when I was able to locate a bookstore and purchase a couple of Japanese textbooks that have been on my wish list!

So, Mount Fuji, sorry I didn’t see you this year. But even without you, I still had a great time, exploring new territory and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be in my comfort zone over here – but I also know that if I don’t push myself to do new things, they’ll always be scary for me and I’ll never grow as a person. So I’m thankful for every new experience I had this weekend, even the scary ones!



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