Team Japan

I often wonder what it is that drew me back to Japan. I grew up here of course and have that sense of belonging but so did my siblings and they are happily living in the US. What specifically made me want to come back and not them?

First, I can’t discount the influence of a single encounter. I was living in Colorado at the time when my sister told me about a ski resort that was looking for staff. Having nothing better to do I thought, “what the heck” and spent the Winter snowboarding in Shiga Kogen. I didn’t have any plans to move back to Japan until then and that single introduction probably changed my life. Who knows if I would have found a different path back to Japan (I have the feeling I might have) but when I spent that Winter in Nagano I knew I had to stay.

Now that I’m here though, there are a few specific reasons that I just like Japan better than anywhere else. First, Japan is an endlessly interesting place to study. Churchill’s riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma quote actually describes Japan better than Russia. There is a simultaneous depth of culture and weirdness that in my opinion is not found anywhere else. For example, any aspect of Japanese culture from its history, food (which has it’s own branches), art forms, religion etc. is a rabbit hole that you could spend years going down. As a guide, I’m constantly making new discoveries because of the sheer volume of things I want to know. After living here 23 years I’m still asked questions about Japan on every tour that stump me. Second, I relate to Japanese peoples’ personalities better. Most Americans are willing to bare their life stories within a couple of meetings but in Japan – as with myself – it takes some time. It’s not that Japanese people don’t open up, someone just has to be in the inner circle before they do. There are a few ways to get into that inner circle including alcohol and speaking Japanese so I often experience a side of Japanese people that someone who doesn’t speak Japanese simply can’t. And perhaps superficially, Japanese food is just healthier and higher quality than American food of the same price. It’s easy to eat healthy and feel good here whereas in America it takes a conscious, concerted effort.

Another reason I have stayed is that I feel like I have more to contribute than I would living in the US. Speaking English and Japanese in Japan is a valuable skillset whereas in the US it wouldn’t be a significant advantage. In the US the competition for everything from houses to jobs to venture funding is fierce whereas in Japan, there just aren’t as many people competing for the same resources. Macro economically competition is good so it’s the reason the US is so far ahead but as an individual, it’s nicer being in a small pond. I definitely have a competitive advantage here that I wouldn’t in the US. I stand out here and while I hated that as a kid, I realize that it’s valuable as an adult. It’s no exaggeration to say that everyone who meets me remembers me because I’m this weird white guy that speaks perfect Japanese and those connections often come in handy sometime later.

Finally, this is a bit simplistic but despite its issues, I fee like Japan is still one team. I hate to say it but being ethnically homogenous probably helps. And while I am not, as you may have noticed, ethnically Japanese, I do feel like I’ve been let onto the team. I feel like I have skills that can contribute to making a better society, to brining more business here and to diversifying Japan in a positive manner. That’s what makes living here interesting for me.


“He soon felt that the fulfillment of his desires gave him only one grain of the mountain of happiness he had expected. This fulfillment showed him the eternal error men make in imagining that their happiness depends on the realization of their desires”

Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina

The other day was beautiful. Riding up the lift at Yokoteyama Ski Resort, I was gazing at the mountains around me and thinking about how truly blessed I am. Never in my life will I have to worry about my basic needs being met. I know people who barely know where their next meal will come from. With that perspective, everything else is icing on the cake, a bonus that I don’t deserve. I get to ski everyday, travel the world, experience different cultures, meet interesting people and reunite with old friends. I am thankful for this opportunity.

photo 2

Yet it’s difficult to retain that perspective. It’s easy to focus on what I don’t have or look at other peoples’ accomplishments and feel like I’m missing out or not living the dream. It’s easy to worry about the future or be discontent with the present. But I’ve realized that life is more about attitude than circumstance. If it’s enough it’s always enough. If it’s not enough, it’s never enough. Whatever your it is, life is about learning to be content with that. Of course there is room for improvement and achievement, but if in our quest for more we forget to enjoy what we already have, I’m not sure we’ve gained anything.

photo 3I’m now officially finished working at Shiga Kogen and moving to Sugadaira about an hour away to be a ski instructor. An old family friend owns a ski lodge there so I’m going to hang out with him, ski a lot (hopefully) and mix it up. I’m excited!

Snow Monkeys and other Frozen Adventures

Yesterday was a great day. A cold one, but exciting nonetheless. For my first day off in 2 weeks (working at the hotel has been crazy), I decided to head down the mountain to see Japan’s famous snow monkeys. We have a sister ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) near Jigokudani National Park, and I was able to catch a ride with some Australian guests heading in the same direction.

It’s about a 30 minute walk from the road to where the monkeys bathe in the hot springs. For some reason, after being at the ski resort I thought it would be warmer down the mountain and forgot to bring anything but a thin jacket. At -10 degrees Celsius, it got pretty cold. The monkeys were totally worth it though. We were just feet away from them as they sat in the onsen (hot spring), walked all around us and played. Watching these monkey enjoy their bath just like people is hilarious.

Snow Monkeys!

Snow Monkeys!

We could have touched them

What’s up?

After returning, the plan was to play tennis in Nagano City with Tori, an English girl who also plays tennis and works at the ryokan. I have an old tennis buddy in Nagano whose dad owns a tennis school so I thought we would check it out. After a few hours of trying to get off work, wondering if our boss would let us use the car, and getting lost, we finally made it. When we arrived, it was still a balmy -5 Celsius (23 Farenheit). By the time we left, it had gotten down to -9 degrees, 16 degrees Farenheit. Needless to say, we were pretty cold but the tennis was at least decent and it was great to see an old friend.

Tennis with Taishi and friends in Nagano

Tennis with Taishi and friends in Nagano

We finished after 10:00 and still hadn’t eaten so we stopped at a ramen shop and got the best ramen and gyoza I’ve eaten in a long time. I finished the evening with a rotenburo, a natural outdoor hot spring to wrap up a pretty darn good day.