Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Epilogue

Week 1 of the 2013 ELI Pedometer Challenge

By Charles Wetzel

I entered the ELI Pedometer Challenge from Japan, and during the course of the ELI Pedometer Challenge, I walked from Yokkaichi to Tsu, Yokkaichi to Nagoya, and Yokkaichi to Kyōto-fu (and along the way, Kameyama and Iga). I braved Mt. Gozaisho, arriving at the peak during a blizzard and weather that was -6 degrees Celsius with high winds. I slept in a farmer's tool shed after getting lost next to a rice paddy in a valley surrounded by the mountains of Kyōto-fu and had many other adventures. This document is the first in a four-part series chronicling my adventures in the Kansai and Tokai areas of Japan during the four-week ELI Pedometer Challenge. To see the other three parts, click the "Week 2," "Week 3," and "Week 4" links above.

I found out about the Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) Extended Learning Institute (ELI) 2013 Pedometer Challenge on February 3, just a day before it began, when I visited the NVCC Web site. I was instantly interested in the idea. I had been using pedometers for years, especially the accelerometer-based pedometer built into the Nintendo 3DS. This contest would give me an excuse to see more of Japan (I live in Yokkaichi City, Mie Prefecture, Japan and am an English conversation school teacher here, as well as an ELI student) and get some exercise and lose a few kilos. If I won something, it would get me some recognition in the NVCC ELI community, and even serve as a resume stuffer. In the end, I got 1,163,345 steps in 28 days (approximately 508 miles, assuming that 1 mile = 2,000 steps), which means that I ended up winning the Pedometer Challenge.

When I first entered the Pedometer Challenge, I had two goals:

  1. "Hike to the summit of Gozaisho (it's a nearby mountain and I have been meaning to do this for almost two years)"
  2. "Average 11K steps per day during the contest time (1K more per day than the doctor-recommended amount) -- this should be very, very easy since I don't have a car and have, in the past, routinely averaged that amount even without any sort of special NOVA event"

I work as an English conversation school teacher. I teach all ages. My youngest "student" is six months old. My oldest student, last time I dared to ask her age, was 63. I teach a number of kindergarten students. Generally, each kindy class, we sing a song and do a dance. This helps me accumulate steps. I also walk to and from work, which is good for some steps.

The first week of the contest, I was still deciding whether to even try for a top spot. The first day, I only made 4,584 steps. I wanted to wait and see how "hardcore" the other contestants were and then decide whether to just have fun, or whether to attempt to compete. If, for example, people were doing 50K steps on the first day, I wasn't going to bother to compete with them. However, as it turned out, nobody did that many steps, and then I decided to start walking 20K steps on weekdays and 50K steps on each weekend day and hopefully aim for some kind of prize.

On the weekdays in the first week, I did a great deal of pacing in the parking lot near Kayo Mall, where my English conversation school is located. I also had a Japanese lesson with Hagino Sensei on Friday, which involved walking downtown to the Yokkaichi International Center and back.

On Saturday, February 9, I decided to actually go out and see Yokkaichi City a bit. I walked downtown to Kintetsu Yokkaichi Station. From there, I walked to Yokkaichi Harbor:

Yokkaichi is near Nagoya, and is considered inside the Nagoya Metropolitan Area even though Nagoya is in a different prefecture (Aichi). People often call Nagoya "Japan's Detroit" because it is where the automotive industry is based. Toyota City and some major Honda operations are both located in the Nagoya Metropolitan Area. In this photo, here are some Honda cars lined up on the dock, ready for export (note the lack of license plates):

Here are some Honda cars being driven onto the Honda ship for export. For some reason, when I snapped this picture, a car was being driven off the ship (not sure why):

So...that was the major highlight of February 9. I also ran some errands and paced around the parking lot near Kayo. Oh, and how could I forget?! I scouted out the Big Boy restaurant! One of my adult students, Tadakazu-san, who welds mufflers at Jobs Shiohama, had told me about the Big Boy steakhouse. So I looked it up on Google and jogged there and back, planning to eat there the next day:

The next day, I jogged to and from Big Boy. I had this delicious but small and expensive steak meal:

I had made up my mind to set out for Tsu. Tsu ( in Japanese) is the city with the shortest name in Japan. In fact, in a different Romanization system, it can simply be written as "Tu," making it one of the shortest place names on earth. It is located somewhat south of Yokkaichi, past Suzuka City and Kusu. It is 17.9 miles away from Yokkaichi according to Google Maps. It took me nearly six hours/over 30,000 steps to reach Tsu on foot. My feet were killing me by the end of it! Here are some pictures from the walking trek to Tsu:

This was the first distance billboard I saw indicating how far I was from Tsu, going along Route 23. I was 24 km away at this point.

I eventually crossed Kusu Bridge. I had been to Kusu Bridge before for the Kusu Festival (Ղ). During that festival, the people of North Kusu and the people of South Kusu had played tug-of-war across the bridge. I pulled with the North Kusu team, both because North Kusu is where the newcomers to the city live (and I am a newcomer to Japan, so that's just perfect) and also because my students who live in Kusu, the Japanese Koide family and the Zainichi Korean Han family, are all from North Kusu. I also met and shook hands with the governor of Mie Prefecture (Eikei Suzuki, Liberal Democratic Party) on this bridge during the same festival, last October. I also shook hands with the mayor of the city on this bridge.

Here is a not-so-flattering image of Japan, the kind of thing the western media normally won't touch. It's a far-right-wing extremist base. These far-right-wing extremists espouse a school of thought that is very similar to wartime Japan. Observe the camo truck, the angry barking dog chained up near the front of the property, and the general junkyard atmosphere. Not shown in this picture, but also present at the same site, was a sound bus (a bus equipped with loudspeakers) with slogans painted on it in kanji that say "RESPECT THE EMPEROR" and advocate retaking certain islands north of Hokkaido from Russia. It also had a World War II-era rising sun flag on it. Far-right-wing extremists often pay homage to World War II war criminals at the Yasukuni Shrine, advocate re-militarizing Japan and kicking out the US forces in Japan, and and advocate re-writing textbooks to delete historical events that show Japan in a bad light like the Rape of Nanking in China. In short: these guys are dangerous and best avoided.

Here is me 15 km from Tsu.

First Indication I Was in Tsu

When I got to Tsu, I wanted to do something Tsu-related before coming home. So I decided to ask some pretty young ladies at the train station about Tsu's special delicacies. They were happy that I had asked them, and told me to try Tsu gyōza or tenmusu (also known as tenmaki). Tsu gyōza are an adaptation of the Chinese jiaozi (steamed dumplings) dish. Tenmusu is seaweed-and-rice-wrapped tempura (in this case, deep-fried, batter-covered shrimp). I was actually more in the mood for Tsu gyōza, but couldn't find any restaurants near the station that served it, so I settled for tenmusu.

I ate these tenmusu. Then I went home on the train, and walked from the station back to my house. I had succeeded in walking over 50,000 steps that day and my feet were killing me more than they would for the entire rest of the contest (they were just getting used to the routine, I suppose).

Pedometer Screenshots for the First Week (proving my steps)