Back in Japan

After a month and some change in North America, I’m back in Japan for the Winter. Yes, like a few times before I have decided to write more this year, both on this blog and my new Active Travel Japan blog. So here we go.

Traveling back to the US and Mexico, it was nice to see family and the friends that I could, but the fact that nothing was open made it a different kind of trip. I’ve never sat inside so much life, or seen my family sit around for that matter. Everything was open in Mexico so the two weeks I spent there on our Camp Cabo Pickleball Trip were fun. Although back in Japan it’s some more of the same, I do have my backyard ski resort to alleviate the boredom. You can only snowboard so much though so I’m trying to find things to do, hence the writing.

My sense from visiting the US is that it’s no longer a country at peace. While Japan has its social problems, at the very least it can rally people around being Japanese. It seems that for many Americans now, political affiliation is more important than being American. Whereas during previous crises like World War II, citizens and politicians alike were willing to sacrifice personal interests for the good of the country, I don’t see that happening anymore. You can argue that Japan is more unified because it’s more ethnically unified, but the US has been diverse for its entire existence so that is nothing new. Its diversity is not going away so it must figure out how to unify people around being American. Even if you disagree with someone else’s views, at the end of the day you don’t know everything and both sides are trying to make America better so just work together. I know it’s not that simple, but that’s what I see looking at the US from the outside.

Like I mentioned previously, the hardest thing for me during the pandemic has been maintaining a sense of purpose. I have been fortunate financially because of the popularity of the Pickleball Masterclass, but that means I could literally sit in bed and watch Netflix all day. I haven’t done that of course, but it’s hard to do something today when there is absolutely no sense of urgency because no one is traveling anyway. I suppose it’s a good time to find purpose outside of work, but I loved what I was doing so I didn’t necessarily feel that need in the first place. I am in no position to complain, these are just my rambling thoughts.

Anyway, a new lockdown in Tokyo has cancelled my planned pickleball coaching next week. Last week people who were going to rent my house canceled as well. It’s just that kind of year. I’m less disappointed now, I feel more deflated. I have come to expect everything I plan to get cancelled so I’m not even surprised anymore. A couple of groups of friends are coming next week to ski and snowshoe though so at least that’s something. If it doesn’t get cancelled that is 😉

More to come, please stay tuned.

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Sugadaira

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A few days ago I finished my ski instructor job in sugadaira. The experience was great. I became a better skier myself and I met some interesting people. I was also encouraged to find that everyone can ski. No matter how bad a kid was on the first day, by the third day they could zip down the slopes. Helping a kid learn a new skill was pretty cool.

I also realized that there is a certain type of abnormal Japanese person that becomes a ski instructor. These "mountain people" don't conform to society's norms and basically do what they want. I decided that I like these people and sort of fit in. Everyone has a unique story and everyone is accepted – we were all just mountain people who loved to ski.

After I finished teaching, my friend Greg and I snowboarded every day. The first day we hit the slopes early, went to a hot spring, ate a slow Italian lunch, took a nap then played chess by the fireplace in the evening. Pretty close to a perfect day if you ask me.

Then yesterday some Japanese ski instructor friends and I decided to climb Nekodake, a 2200 meter peak right behind sugadaira. We strapped on our snowboards and started walking from the top of the lift with snowshoes. Hiking in snow with a board strapped to you back is tough. We made it to the summit in a couple of hours though, saw a shrine, ate our food and decided to head back before we got too cold. Since it had snowed over 40cm over the weekend, the powder was amazing. Our 2 hour walk was depressingly short on a snowboard.

We got down and were just waiting for the last person – a lady in her 40s to finish up. We thought nothing of it and threw snowballs at each other for a while, until 15, 20, then 30 minutes passed. We called her cell phone and got through – she had taken a wrong turn, got stuck in deep powder and was slowly fighting to get back to the main slope. She didn't know how far she had gone down and the weather was rapidly deteriorating. She said she was still warm but at -10C we didn't want to let it get dark. After deliberating for almost an hour, alerting ski patrol and calling the police, another guy and I decided to go out on snow shoes and try to find her. We didn't think she was very far from the road and thought that if we yelled loud enough she might hear us, which is exactly what happened. She had gotten herself back on track and was skiing down when she heard us yelling. She was almost in tears when she saw us and sincerely said she felt lucky to be alive. It was a pretty intense and exhausting, but still a great day.

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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.