Japan – Niseko

So here we are in Japan. Thanks Mrs Kelly for teaching us all about it in year 4 back in 1977 at Gladesville Primary School. Who would have ought I’d make it here almost 40 years later. There’s not much to report at the moment. We’ve seen a snow capper Mt Fuji towering over Tokyo, a Star Wars plane (!) and the snow covered city of Sapporo. The rest remains a mystery for exploration tomorrow after a good nights sleep.
Our plane rides have been on time and comfortable. Plane travel is hardly enjoyable (my apologies to those who espouse to the journey being part of the holiday) but these flights weren’t too bad. The Piper wasn’t well, an upset tummy thanks to some nerves about traveling, but we all survived largely unscathed. Check back here over the next few days for updated adventures.

30th and 31st January

When life is full of wonder and has some awe in it then you are living. Japan is wonder full and awe some! We are safely tucked in at the feet of the gods, protected by Mt Yoti to the north and Mt Nisekoannupuri to the south. Our bus ride here from Chitose was simple, relaxed and in stunningly sunny weather. The snow on the ground and the roofs was at least a foot deep but who knows how deep it really is? We passed Lake Shikotsu towered over by Mt Eniwa. The water reflected the blueness of the sky perfectly and looked incredibly inviting. The rocks in the shallows, topped with a foot of snow, suggested otherwise. I still think The Piper would have to stick his toe in at least.
The two and half hours passed very quickly but included an experience of powered snow. I have barely ever seen snow and never experienced snow that looks like it’s heavy and your brain tells you it will weigh a lot and when you touch it your hand goes straight through it. Your foot sinks and is completely unsupported. A shovel full weighs nothing. My brain was exploding with the magic of it. I had to touch it again to be sure. My coastal Australian brain wanted the snow to be like sand. It’s nothing like it. I almost didn’t want to get back on the bus. Lucky I did.

Shortly after we arrived here in Hirafu, at Neseko in a winter wonderland. A picture postcard place covered in snow, with snow flakes falling gently from the sky. I can completely understand the open mouthed response from The Newby now when we were in Wangi Falls just a few short months ago. I am almost dumbstruck by this place. The environment is unlike anything I have ever seen except perhaps on a Christmas card. The trees are loaded with snow, the roofs are laden, the cars are weighed down and the mountains are awash with white. It’s simply wonder full and awe some! I’m delighted to be here, despite not being a skier or boarder and in spite of (normally) hating the cold.

The Besty and The Newby have built a snow person. Her name is Jilly, a variation on names, and she stands outside the house ready to greet returning ski warriors and others. In fact the challenge will be issued to the children to make another and The Imports (a lovely couple, friends of The Besty’s from South Africa) can judge the winner. I think Jilly will win and so she should. The snow shovelling I did and the down on hands and knees construction by The Newby and The Besty were significant and certainly worthy of a winning outcome. We’ll see …

We are healthily clad in warm clothes and so the cold barely penetrates. I have my coat, pants and boots, as does The Piper. Just as well. It’s cold here. Well below zero. And apparently getting colder in the time we are here, which is from 29th December 2015 to 6th January 2016. Which brings me to tonight. It’s New Year’s Eve. As I write it’s 5pm on Hogmanay and it’s dark. We’re all inside doing our thing. The kids are playing hide and seek. The Bestie is doing a 1000 piece shoe puzzle jigsaw. The Newby is surfing tinterweb. The Imports are back from the bottle shop with supplies and I’m happy to be amongst family and friends.

And now it’s 10pm on New Year’s Eve and we’ve wished family and friends on the east coast of NSW all the best for 2016. Queensland are next, then us here in Japan then Western Australia, followed by Canada and Mexico. The Imports, The Besty’s man and the children are outside building a snow person and we are sending the pictures to The Drummer for judging. The results should be in tomorrow when I send pictures of taken in the daylight.

1st January 2016The results are in and the adults snowman won, although I told the kids that theirs won. But The Drummer had to judge in the basis of the night time photos because our neighbours trashed the snowmen at midnight, replacing the bigger ones head with a fire extinguisher (which is now the property of this house). So that was the seeing in of the new year, complete with small fireworks set off by the neighbours and a larger display set off in town which we could see glimpses of in the distance.

The day dawned snowy and white so the skiers headed off to the top and across to Annapuri while we took the children over by bus. Day one of them boarding on their own after 2 days of snow school. They did a fantastic job of skiing nice long, clean runs including a steep red one in front. No need for any more ski school. The parents had a great go of the boards too, on our bottoms giggling and laughing all the way. A long day spent in the snow having a fabulous time by the kids while we drank hot wine by the window watching them.

Our evenings have been consumed with jigsaw puzzle construction. We have been working on the high heeled shoes and finished it tonight. Tomorrow it’s on to fruit, in a 1000 pieces. Oh my word … An early night on New Year’s Day thanks to a late one the night before.
2nd January
Today we took the gondola (or as they call it here, the gondora) up to the top and met the skiers and boarders for lunch. The Newby hit the slopes this morning for the first time and for some bizarre reason decided it would be ok to ski down from the top of the gondola run. Not as easy as he thought it would be but he made it and then spent the afternoon taking a lesson from The Import. At a cost of about Au$200 that was money well saved. A ski lesson for the cost of a beer.

The Imports generously took the children today over to the slopes on the eastern side of the mountain and they all boarded and skied and walked to the top of the gondola. The snow was coming down heavy and the wind was blustery at the top but at the bottom it was exceedingly slippery with no new snow falling today. Lots of people slipping and sliding, me included. Fortunately I was caught before I hit the deck but others weren’t so lucky and some eggs will need to be scrambled sooner rather than later.

Tonight we ventured out for a look at the Big Foot bar. We were likely in the wrong place, given that we were the eldest by a good few years (maybe decades). We still managed to enjoy a delicious hot buttered rum to warm our insides in readiness for an icy walk home with a few groceries. Surprisingly, for a busy ski village, the prices of supplies (or as The Newby says in his worst Japanese accent “surprise”) is very reasonable and we’ve stocked up on and enjoyed the regular stuff. The Piper has found hot chocolate in a can and is busy collecting food packages from all over the place and of all types. Perhaps he’ll start to pay attention in Japanese at school now.

3rd January
Today The Besty and I took to the snow ourselves (neither of us are skiing or boarding) on snowmobiles. The trip over in the bus was easy and fitted with helmets we were efficiently instructed on how to go and stop, and we off. We followed a couple of different trails into a wide field where we played on some clean snow before stopping for a few pictures and to make a pair of snow angels before heading back along the trails.

Riding snowmobiles is harder than quad bikes but just as much fun and as simple. No doubt these machines are governed so they don’t go too fast but somehow the guy behind me still managed to end up running into the back of me! It took him a bit of grunt to separate the two machines and we were on our way again. Today was another snowless day so it wasn’t a bad one at all for snowmobiling. Moving at speed was cold at times and I even saw a snowy willy willy. That was the same same as a dusty one from Coober Pedy, without the dust!

After our snowmobile adventure we headed home to thaw and wait for the skiers and boarders. Unfortunately their arrival home was not what I anticipated and as a result I’m now a grey old lady and we’ve tested out our travel insurance with The Piper taking a stack on the mountain. I wasn’t with him but by all accounts it was a bad one and they called for first aid and then an ambulance. He was taken to hospital and eventually I found out. My phone was off so they hadn’t been able to contact me. Needless to say I was dysfunctional and a basket case until I saw him. He had a CT of his head and neck and everything was cleared and he was discharged within two hours. I guess they see a lot of that here but when it’s your child lying there … Impossible to feel anything other than devastation. All good now though and with some rest the sprain should resolve. As you can imagine, he’s not on the slopes today and unlikely tomorrow. So, at this stage, I can recommend Alliance to anyone who needs it. Thanks to the meerkats!

We can report that the first aid response on the mountain was prompt and efficient, and that riding down the mountain on a toboggan fully enclosed in a zipped up orange bag was scary, as was the trip in a Japanese ambulance under a red light and siren for a few kilometres to the hospital with three paramedics. Likewise I can report that the taxi trip was harrowing and felt like hours rather than 10 minutes. But everyone was friendly, efficient and looked after us really well. And now he’s home and safe and fully functional, I might just kill him myself!

4th January As you would expect today was a quiet day for The Piper and I. After a late start and some TV we headed up to the gondora to watch the kids and other skiers and boarders. The Piper struggled to sit still but didn’t seem to be chomping at the bit to get back out there. Funny about that. After a few slopes for The Newby we left him to it and headed off for a little souvenir shopping. Just the little things in one of the local shops, as we’re off to Tokyo in a couple of days.

Now being snowed in, not seeing sun and having no access to my regular exercise preferences I have to say I’m going a bit mad. So The Newby suggested a swim at the Hotel Alpen pool. What a great idea and the perfect way for me to refresh and rejuvenate. Eight hundred meters later, a little sit an individually moulded spa bath and an invigorating all body shower I felt a million times better and ready for the evening at the ‘must do’ ramen noodle restaurant.

5th January
The Piper still has a neck brace on so there ends his snow sport career (at least for now). Instead of a day spent idle we decided to head for Kutchan and see it without experiencing Japan’s healthcare system. The local bus ride in was far less harrowing than the taxi ride two days earlier and I noticed my surrounding this time too. The Newby decided to hang with us so the three of us wandered the shops and enjoyed far too much food.

Our escapades involved the Daiso, or as we call them at home, the dollar shop. Everything is 100yen (or 108yen with tax) and we spent up big. Most of our purchases reflect the quirkiness of Japan and include things like moulds for boiled eggs, a frog frying pan for pancakes and toys that we don’t see in Aus. The Piper was in his element spending my money on stuff that will end up in the bottom of a toy box at home. But when in Japan one must do as the Japanese do!

With our shopping complete, we headed for lunch in a town with very little English signage. Seems we choose very well although the lack of coffee meant we had to find a cafe for post lunch beverages. The weather today was ideal for skiers and boarders and horrendous for shopping. The snow fell all day, quite heavy at times and the streets were quiet because of it. The only people out and about were those trying to keep the streets clear, and us! A great experience but not one I would want to repeat ever again. Give me a stroll along a Perth street any day. I’m just not a cold weather person.

With the snowboarding experience over we head for Tokyo and Disneyland. Follow us here …

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