Sunday, 20 April 2014

A Little Adventure: Kuratake-yama (倉岳山), Otsuki-shi, Yamanashi

West out of Tokyo, the first place you come to is Yamanashi Prefecture. Yamanashi is landlocked, fertile and mountainous – Mount Fuji occupies a big chunk of its southern border – and it is here that the relentless urban expansion slows, trickling away into valleys and mountain passes that rise, in the north and west, towards the central Japanese Alps.

The Chūō Line railway escapes straight out of the capital through here, and in so doing traverses the municipalities of Uenohara and Ōtsuki. These are “bedroom communities”, many of whose residents commute into neighbouring Tokyo; but for the most part, these realms are of mountains, forests, and picturesque little towns neither fully urban – for all their farms and greenery – nor fully rural – for their density and infrastructure. The mountains are relatively gentle, in easy reach of the railway, and not as frequented as the hotspots of Oku-Tama or the Tanzawa range. And this, along with the views afforded by their special proximity to Mount Fuji, makes them attractive and under-represented places to roam.

Here is one of those mountains: Kuratake-yama (倉岳山), or “warehouse peak”, in Ōtsuki. This route is a pleasant up-then-down-again exercise, offering a bit of everything: mossy ravines, kept cool and fresh by their running rivers; high forests, a mix of evergreen and deciduous; and rolling ridge paths, with impressive views off both sides through breaks in the trees. On a clear day, expect to reach the peak to find the massive profile of Mt. Fuji right there in your face.

The walk is neither merciless nor long: Mt. Kuratake stands at 990m high, but you get a relaxing 4km of horizontal distance for the climb, and another for the descent, so at no point, save one or two very short bursts, is the steepness particularly brutal. The whole thing can easily be done within 5 hours, and will not trouble anyone in at least reasonable shape.

Kuratake-yama (left), seen from the start of the walk at Torisawa station.

What makes it fun right now is that the paths have not been serviced since the winter, in which time, it may be observed, tree falls and tons of snow melting off the slopes have carpeted the routes in detritus. This makes for many pleasant occasions of clambering over stuff, and at times the path becomes indistinct, but in essence you simply follow one river valley up to the ridge and the other back down again, so there is no serious risk of getting lost, and the soft ground generally cooperates with your soles.

To get there, take the Chūō Line west out of Tokyo – past Tachikawa, past Hachiōji, and past Takao. Once out of Tokyo Metropolis and into Yamanashi, the station you want is just a few stops ahead: Torisawa (鳥沢). The walk starts there, and finishes at Yanakawa station (梁川), the last stop before it. This area can be reached in about 1 hour 30 minutes from central Tokyo.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Koma (高麗) and Hiwada-yama (日和田山), Saitama: The Secret Korea

Tokyo's cherry blossom season has come. After the last two weeks the urban sakura has almost run its course, but the blossoms in the mountains lag behind, and now reach their peak.

Many good mountain sakura locations are in easy reach of the capital, and this one coincides with a relatively relaxing hike to its north: up the 305m Mount Hiwada (日和田山), in Hidaka-shi, Saitama Prefecture. Besides its profusion of cherry blossom trees, this route is a lovely blend of scenic views, casual mountain trekking and gorgeous fields of seasonal flowers, with a waterfall thrown in because well why not.

Hiwada-yama overlooks the little town of Koma (高麗), a couple of stations up the Seibu Chichibu Line from Hannō city. There is more to Koma than there appears. Its story begins a millennium and a half ago: not in Musashi, as the region was then, nor in fact in Japan at all, but in Korea.

Koma is the Japanese rendition of Goguryeo (고구려): one of three kingdoms on the Korean peninsula from the first century BCE to 668 CE, and the ultimate source of the name Korea in English. It was by far the largest of the three, and controlled parts of what is now northeast China, and some Siberian Tungusic populations, in addition to most of the Korean peninsula itself. The other two kingdoms, Baekje and Silla, neighboured Goguryeo on the peninsula's southwest and southeast corners respectively.

Also shown is the Gaya Confederacy, annexed by Silla in 562 CE. Japan is in the lower-right corner, indicated by its ancient name Wa ().

Like the disgraces of too many human societies, these three kingdoms decided, for some unpardonable reason, that they ought to violently compete. Goguryeo ended up in an alliance with Baekje, but Silla developed a relationship with a much more formidable partner. That partner was, of course, China, that ever-present shadow across the long Korean story.

With the help of the Chinese Tang Dynasty, Silla conquered Baekje in 660 CE, then Goguryeo in 668 CE, then turned on the Tang themselves and drove their forces out of the peninsula. This unified Silla would eventually fragment and recombine, becoming superseded by Goryeo; Goryeo in turn lasted until the pressure of Mongol occupation and internal wars broke it down, to be replaced by Joseon. Joseon was what eventually crashed into the twentieth century as the European empires ripped off great chunks of Qing China in their slavering maws, and propelled Japan into a rapid, and ultimately tragic, pursuit of European-style imperialist “modernity”.

In the last hundred years, the Korean destiny has been bound irreparably to the drool of hungering foreign powers; half a century of Japanese occupation was followed by a brutal severing in half by the Cold War blocs. Both halves built themselves up upon cruel and ruthless authoritarianism, but have come to define themselves relative to the world in opposite ways. One half has fully embraced the capitalist madnesses that rampage across humanity. The other has created madnesses of its own by slamming the door on the outside world, and resolving come what may to never rely on anyone else again.

But let's rewind, back to the three kingdoms. When Silla conquered Goguryeo in 668 CE, many of Goguryeo's people fled across the sea to Japan. These immigrants found places to live across what is now the Kantō region, but in 716 the Japanese court established Koma County for them, whereupon almost 2000 of them are recorded as having moved there. One of their royals, by the name of Jakko (), was appointed as Koma's governor, and is celebrated in Koma's heritage as having taken responsibility to construct roads, buildings and industries in what was then mostly wilderness, thereby creating a foundation for Koma's future. Jakko is now enshrined at Koma Shrine, which is overseen, it is claimed, by his direct descendants.

Koma. The town itself has a pleasant, colourful rural atmosphere.
This hiking route can be completed within four hours, and starts with a gentle circuit around a beautiful field of flowers and sakura trees. It then leads up to the top of Mt. Hiwada, Koma's centrepiece, where the best views are in evidence. From there it proceeds along the forested ridge to Monomi-yama (物見山), before winding its way down past the Five Virtues Waterfall (Gojō no taki, 五常ノ滝) to come out at Musashi-Yokote (武蔵横手) station. And if you have time and energy to spare, it is worth closing the triangle with a walk back to Koma along the picturesque Yokote Valley.

To get there, take the Seibu Ikebukuro Line to Hannō – or, if coming from further west, the Hachikō Line to Higashi-Hannō. Then change to the Seibu Chichibu Line, on which it is two or one stops respectively to Koma station. This takes about an hour and a half from central Tokyo.

There is a bit of climbing involved, so good shoes are recommended, but none of it is long or backbreaking. There are plenty of convenience stores and facilities on the way, and the mountains themselves are fairly popular, have occasional houses and public toilets, and are easy to get on and off as needed.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Twin Peaks: Tsukuba-san (筑波山), Ibaraki

On a clear day, look out from a high vantage point in Tokyo, such as Tokyo Tower or the Skytree. To the west the mountains ring the horizon, a reminder that everything here, even this urban infinity, subsists at the pleasure of Japan's volcanic geology. At one extreme, Mount Fuji watches on in its silent vigil. Towards the other, the imposing ice-capped spine of Honshu rears redoubtable in the background.

East towards the sea, however, everything is flat. There is scarcely a hill to be seen. But there is one exception: a conspicuous double-mountain to the northeast, all the more peculiar for how it has that skyline all to itself.

It is Mount Tsukuba (筑波山) – one of the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains. The principal mountain in the flat southern half of Ibaraki Prefecture, it overlooks the “Science City” of Tsukuba, a 1960s planned concern devoted to scientific research and discovery which houses the prominent University of Tsukuba, as well as an Annex of the National Archives of Japan.

Mount Tsukuba has two peaks: Nantai-san (男体山, “male body mountain”), at 871m high, and Nyotai-san (女体山, “female body mountain”), the rightfully taller at 877m. A sacred mountain, the peaks are respectively associated with Izanagi and Izanami, the ancient Shinto deities who mythologically birthed Japan's islands, gods and people. The Tsukuba Shrine at the mountain's base is one of the oldest in Japan; people have been coming there to worship the mountain for 1,300 years.

Tsukuba Shrine.
Tsukuba-san is notably not volcanic. It is composed mostly of granite, and features many large boulders and rock formations for which it is famous, each bearing its own resemblances or stories. The best-known of these is the “Toad Rock”, whose apparent likeness has given Tsukuba-san a permanent cultural association with toads now profusely represented in its installations and merchandise.

The “Toad Rock”. Note the mass of stones in its “mouth”. More on how they got there later.

Add to this the mountain's superb variety of trees and seasonal flowers, the panoramic views across its surrounding flats, and its easy accessibility, and you have a recipe for another massive mountain touristification phenomenon. The saddle between the two peaks has been colonised by restaurants, souvenir shops and viewing platforms, serviced from two directions by a cable car and a ropeway. Fortunately humanity's works have not nearly overwhelmed it so much as, say, Takao-san, but if you go, do not expect to have much of the mountain to yourself except in the most immiserating weather conditions.

The view north from the saddle.
This does however make Tsukuba-san a flexible day's outing. Only an hour and a half from central Tokyo by public transport, it offers a relaxing family excursion with much to enjoy for dogs and small children, requiring only as much physical exertion as you are comfortable putting in. As a more serious walk, it offers a steep but forgiving hour-and-a-half ascent up the mountain, and a rocky ramble across and down which in total can be completed in as few as four hours, or five to six if you opt to explore multiple paths or take your time around the top. Experienced hikers will find little to challenge them, but Tsukuba-san is perfect for unconfident beginners seeking to gauge their endurance, or for some good exercise to get back in shape.

To get there, take the Tsukuba Express train from Akihabara Station; the Rapid service takes only 45 minutes. At Tsukuba station, take Exit No. 3, then go to Bus Stop No.1 for the bus to Tsukuba-san (about 40 minutes, 700 yen one-way, timetable here). Get off at either Tsukuba Shrine Entrance (筑波神社入り口, Tsukuba Jinja Iriguchi), or Tsutsujigaoka (つつじヶ丘), depending on which side you want to climb from. This article covers a circuit starting and ending at the shrine. The mountain's routes are well-signposted, with maps on frequent display, and there are clusters of restaurants and shops at both starting points and at the top.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

On Suicide, or Suicidogenic Societies

Warning: this article deals frankly with the subject of suicide. Some readers may find these themes distressing.

If you have come upon this article because you (or someone you know) is considering suicide, please click the header for the full article and go straight to the end for a crucial message I would like to give you (or them). I will not attack you, nor disservice you with the kinds of statements you have likely already had inflicted on you.

Currently, about 30,000 people commit suicide in Japan every year.

That is a harrowing enough statistic – double the number of deaths from the March 2011 Triple Disaster, every year – but it also confronts you directly in daily life here. I have yet to find myself on a Japanese train that gets traumatically stopped because somebody jumped in front of it, but a number of close friends have, and such incidents recur nigh-daily on my Facebook feed or in local news. I did, however, experience it in the UK, when a London-to-Newcastle train I was on last autumn got taken out of service because of it.

No human society is alone in this. Suicide represents about a million deaths a year across the world, spanning every country on the planet. This is a global problem of hideous proportions.

When people talk about somebody jumping in front of their train, it is typically with the deepest sympathy for those affected. The thousands of passengers inconvenienced; the driver who could not brake in time, and will watch those gruesome images play out for the rest of his or her days; the bystanders who caught sight of the carnage; the police and rail staff who have to clean up the entrails and blood; and any friends or family resultantly bereaved.

But I have noticed that any reference to the person who jumped, in contrast, tends to lack compassion. The suicidal person, one hears, is selfish. “Why couldn't they have just done it somewhere else?” The sentiment is of cold disdain for his or her apparent weakness, cowardice, lack of concern for others. And it may be expressed with a certain passivity, the language of shrugs and avoidance and “well, you know”s, as though the act of suicide morally cheapens the deceased, makes them somehow too distasteful to merit the privilege of entertainment on the commentator's tongue.

Stuck on that train so disrupted at Durham station on a late autumn evening, the passengers around me saw fit to joke about it. Together they openly mocked that unseen, unknown, invisible someone who had departed from our world in circumstances they had no concrete information on.

Why couldn't they have done it somewhere else?” This feeling was bounced around with humour. With the most unhesitating amused contempt.

Still don't see my concern? Consider this account by Jay Griffiths in her Orion article, 'Artifice v Pastoral', in 2009.

This morning on the radio...I heard of an unhappy lad, only seventeen, who climbed up a multi-story car park and for some three hours he delayed, agonizing about his life and wondering whether to jump, a strange, sad Hamlet of suicide. A crowd of some seven hundred people gathered, and people in the crowd began jeering, cruelly goading him to jump. “Jump, you ****, jump,” it was reported...He jumped to his death. People in the crowd shoved forward to take pictures of his dead and mangled body, and the local chief constable reported that people in the crowd posted pictures of the scene on the internet after the event.

Perhaps you begin to see what I am getting at. But I want to make this real clear.

To those baying and bloodthirsty mobs; to those observers or commentators who casually remark about the patheticalness or selfishness or weakness of people who commit suicide as though they have half a bloody clue what they are talking about; to those who gallivant on their moral high horses and speak of suicidal people as though something of the dust and filth beneath them; and to those contemptible wretches on that train in Durham, who were mildly irritated by the delay but found that person's death funny: I say – enough.

That assault on suicidal people. That normative massacre. Enough. It stops. It finishes, today.

This is an article I have waited to write for years. I have only waited because I did not want to do it until I could do it properly.

Because you see, I've been there too.

Because I have known what it means to hanker for the freedom of my own demise for years on end, and to make an attempt on it.

Because I have stood at the brink, reached across the frontier, and shaken hands with death.

Because I knew then, as I already did, that we, the human species, have created horrors in life infinitely worse than anything death could present us.

And because, having turned my back on that frontier as circumstances contrived, I am not going to waste that experience by not bringing it down upon the sausage-machines of living hell our societies have created, which condemn millions, millions too many to a fate as soul-rippingly miserable as any we make films about or build monuments to or craft human rights treaties about – yet whose victims we jeer from that company with unparalleled scorn.

So I do not write on this lightly. The agony of knowing only to seek your own death is something no living being should have to experience. Not one. If you know it, or have known it, you know it is something you could not wish upon the vilest of your enemies. And a world in which this agony exists is suspect enough, but a world in which it exists for millions of people is a disgrace of metaphysical magnitude.

I write this because I want this travesty to end. I write this because I want no-one to ever have to go through it ever again. I write this because we, humanity, keep doing this to people, systematically, while denying our role in it. And because of my own experience of this, you will excuse me if I occasionally come across as just a bit furious in the following evisceration of all those people who, in their ignorance, their sanctimoniousness, or their desire to feel superior, have yet to recognise that their self-satisfied supercilious attitudes to suicidal people are actually quite a fucking contemptible thing.

That compassionlessness, that callousness, is precisely what transforms this into a world which drives people out of their lives in the first place. That is what I write this to assert.

Too long have we relegated suicide to taboo status, an inconvenience best not discussed, so that when it happens it can swiftly be blamed on the moral or cognitive poverty of the suicidal individual, as though all the rest of us are alright and suicidal people are just unwelcome anomalies in an otherwise functioning society.

Keep this up, and we will continue, day after day, to lose hundreds of thousands of human beings – all their love, all their dreams, all their diversity, all their contributions to making this a better world – until we lower ourselves to consider that our societies are causing suicide.

And let's be completely clear what causing means. It does not mean the “romanticisation” of suicide, as has become a popular scapegoat. It does not mean things like “positive cultural interpretations” of suicide, a charge so frequently hurled at Japanese heritage, for example. Scapegoats - all scapegoats. Thirty thousand shattered salarymen, alienated youths and miscellaneous tortured souls do not jump in front of Japanese trains or hang themselves in Aokigahara because they believe it brings supreme honour upon them in the name of the emperor or some such. That seventeen-year-old did not jump off the car park because he had taken on romantic ideas about the transience of life and eternal mystery of death or suchlike. And I did not walk into the Thames on that January afternoon because of any of that shit. I did it because other people had tortured me to death, while the social norms and structures established my suffering as 100% my fault, inscrutably and comprehensively, while completely ignoring all those others' malicious deeds, holding up those cruel norms and structures as though they were absolute and commonsense laws of the universe, and castigating me simultaneously for ethical failures and for mental disorder for not accepting those judgements without question.

There are few matters where I accept that you have to have directly experienced something to properly comment on it. That's usually too easy an excuse to silence criticism. But suicide is the singular exception. If you are capable of attacking suicidal people, then you simply do not know what it means when existence itself becomes a twisted abomination of torment devouring all time, space and reason. (Worse still there are known to be people who simply do not care, surely be the very originators of evil.)

So I am going to confront some popular myths here, myths as preposterous as they are shameful for ever entering our suicide discourse in the first place.
  • The myth that suicide is necessarily a choice;
  • The myth that suicide is necessarily selfish;
  • And the unspoken assumption that suicide is principally a problem with suicidal individuals, which reflects no further on the societies around them.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Snows of Izugatake (伊豆が岳)

Musashi: the old province that encompassed the lands around what is now Tokyo. Though abolished in 1868 with the introduction of the prefecture system, the name was retained in many of its old districts, whether for memory, or prestige, or differentiation. To this day, consider all those train stations which bear Musashi in their names.

Oku-Musashi, or “Inner Musashi”, now refers to the mountains of western Saitama, the prefecture bordering Tokyo to the north, whose wilds represented the inner reaches of the old Musashi province. These peaks are relatively low, typically around 1000m or so, and stretch across the west flank of Hannō city as they rise, further west, into the great mountainscapes of Chichibu (contiguous with Oku-Tama to the south, some of whose mountains also feature in this blog).

This was my first hike in Saitama, and as with Oku-Tama and Tanzawa, these mountains have their own distinct character. Another level closer to Japan's central highlands, there is a certain Alpine something about Oku-Musashi. My route began at Shōmaru station on the Seibu-Chichibu Line – about an hour and a half from Ikebukuro station in Tokyo – and ascended to the summit of Izugatake (伊豆が岳), the high point of the walk at 851m. From there a long ridge with many sharp peaks trails south then east to Ne-no-Gongen temple (子の権現), then descends, gradually, back into the valley past the mines of Agano, finishing at Agano station. Though 851m might not sound like much, in a February of brutal snowstorms it was in fact quite satisfactory.

Quite satisfactory.

The result was an eight-hour slog through snow that reached a metre deep in places, up and down sinew-shredding gradients fit for a lunatic, along a course more properly popular for its thousands of colourful flowers and rich greenery at saner times of the year. As such I will not be presenting it here with the usual detailed instructions, for the magnitude of the snow meant I had next to no contact with the actual earth of the path at any point on the route, so I cannot purport to advise on it. If your idea of a hike is some pleasant exercise through bright and leafy nature, you might want to give Izugatake a miss until summer. However, if it is in fact a full-scale body-breaking, soul-wringing catharsis you actually want, or if you are struggling with emotional poisons only the cleansing force of the primal earth can purge, then by all means head for Izugatake right now, for you will find nothing better than these mighty snows to plough the toxins from your psyche.

“Beware of forest fires.”
Ne-no-Gongen temple.

If you attempt it, give yourself at least eight hours of daylight, bring plenty of food and water, and go with maximum respect for the challenge before you. Good shoes that can survive being under snow all day (i.e. underwater) are essential; crampons are strongly recommended. Izugatake is popular enough that you will run into other people – likely elderly Japanese super-hikers – on the mountain itself, but most of the ridge sees little traffic in these conditions, and there are no services until near the end.

The route is long and often steep – imagine the North Takao Ridge with fewer but higher peaks – but the biggest drain on your energy will be the snow itself. Expect most of your footsteps to immediately sink until your other foot is level with your thigh. Expect also to fall forwards a lot when this happens; the deep, soft snow makes this safe, but you still have to put the calories into pushing yourself up again, and after dozens of times they start to add up. Definitely not a place or season to faff around, then, but if you know it is what you need, then you will come out a better person than you went in.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Mt. Takanosu (鷹ノ巣山) - The Falcon's Nest

Many fine mountains rise up in the wilderness of Oku-Tama in western Tokyo. A couple are covered on this blog: the sacred Mitake-san and pointy Ōdake-san, as well as the Takamizu three mountains.

Further in are the more serious mountains, like the forested pyramid of Gozenyama over Lake Oku-Tama, and the lush and rocky valleys and streams of Kawanori. Neither of these are featured here, as I have saved them for a Tokyo hiking guidebook I am currently writing (and seeking editorial oversight and publishing for – feel free to leave a comment if you know anyone who might be interested).

And then, deeper still, you have buggerations like these.

The high peak on the right is the 1737m-high Takanosu-yama (鷹ノ), or “Falcon's Nest mountain”. Still within the Tokyo Metropolitan Area, it is a herald, the first prominent peak on a ridge that rises west to Tokyo's edge, to Kumotori-yama, the capital's highest mountain at 2017m. It is said that during the Edo period, government officials would come to Takanosu to hunt hawks – and wanted to keep the birds to themselves, so had the mountain placed off-limits to the general public.

Nowadays the government won't stop you, but you still have to convince the mountain itself of your worthiness. For a good challenge, scale it from the north side, starting in Nippara, one of Oku-Tama's isolated mountain villages famous for its limestone caves. This confronts you with a nasty, calf-crunching sustained ascent up a vertical distance of 1.5km, a gauntlet of narrow slope trails and merciless gradients. After reaching the summit, another four hours along the gentle but neverending Ishi Ridge will return you to Oku-Tama town and the train station. And if you are feeling particularly insane, you can do this now, in February, where peak and ridge alike soar high above the snow line and those punishing trails are locked in ice. Like this.

Yes, that is the path.
And so is that. Doesn't it look fun?
But if you do, you may just find that the mountain agrees that insanity is better, indeed, than “normality” in a world at any rate gone mad. And it will reward you, in proportion, as you stagger onwards and upwards, puncturing at last through that mad world's ceiling to come upon a landscape of utter wildernesses of freedom, more formidable than you could ever have the right to expect so close to a world-class urban colossus like Tokyo. And beyond the peak, you may just find you have the ridge all to yourself: an authentic and haunting winter wonderland, where furry animals stop to watch you, mountains line the horizons, and the madness of humankind fades to oblivion.

Needless to say, this is not a picnic. “Insane” is not the same as “careless”. Takanosu in the snow is right up against that difficulty threshold where specialist ice equipment becomes mandatory; crampons or at least a hiking stick will do you no harm. Sturdy shoes with good grip are essential, as are a map and a compass. At times the ascent becomes a full-scale scramble on all fours and a serious test of body and mind, and under no circumstances, save the most extreme, should it be attempted in wet conditions, especially at this time of year. Start early and plan absolutely to be down by sunset, and over-estimate how much food and water you will need, for the ice and snow will wear you down fast. Note too that the entire route, though well-signposted and hard to get lost on, is unserviced by shops or facilities.

Above all, treat the mountain and its life with respect. You don't have to submit, but nor should pride have a place in your rucksack. Deal with the mountain as an equal; teach it and learn from it. If you do, then the trees, the rocks, the snow and the mountain itself will be your friends and help you on your way. Literally, as we shall see.

Oh, and watch out for bears.

Length: 15.7km – or 32,161 steps, as reckoned by Comrade Nintendo 3DS step counter.
Hiking time: Allow at least 8 hours.
Height: The first 3 hours are a sustained climb from 630m (in Nippara) to the 1737m peak of Mt. Takanosu. The rest is much gentler but very long, with some short steep descents on occasion.
Access: Take whatever train line is convenient out west to Tachikawa, then ride the Ōme Line all the way to the end, to Oku-Tama station. Then take Nishi-Tokyo Bus No. 20, right outside the station, to Naka-Nippara bus stop (中日原), which takes 28 minutes and costs 450 yen.
Click here for bus timetable: left column for weekdays, middle for Saturdays, right for Sundays and public holidays. From central Tokyo this whole journey takes about two and a half hours, so be sure to plan precisely with train and bus times.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

On Heroism

hero: late 14c., “(person) of superhuman strength or physical courage,” from Latin heros “hero,” from Greek heros "demi-god" (a variant singular of which was heroe), originally “defender, protector”.
-Online Etymology Dictionary

'He won't always follow orders,
for he dares to answer “Why?”
and unless he likes the reason,
he refuses to comply.'
-The Sultan, Quest for Glory 2

'Being a hero has a lot of perks, you know. You get the respect of the people, cheap rates at inns, and you can even walk into people's houses and take stuff.'
-Luka, Monmusu Kuesto

Increases melee, ranged, and spell casting speed by 30% for all party and raid members. Lasts 40 sec.
Allies receiving this effect will be unable to benefit from Heroism again for 10 min.
-'Heroism' ability available to players of the Shaman class in World of Warcraft

'Heroism by order, senseless violence, and all the pestilent nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism – how I hate them!'
-The World as I See It, Albert Einstein (1931)

'Nice job breaking it, hero.'
-GLaDOS, Portal

Heroes and heroism. Treacherous territory, this. The kind of territory where, no matter where you stand at a given moment, you can expect that someone somewhere would very much like to shoot you. Nonetheless, let's have a brief exploration – and let's keep moving.

Let distinctions between fictional and non-fictional heroism be of no concern for this discussion. Heroism, after all, is one topic where the line between is not so easy to place; where one person's reality may be another's most monstrous nonsense. And vice versa.