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I figured the changes in seasons offered a good opportunity to update my blog. The spring was seemingly short lived as the chilly winter air transitioned to comfortable warm temperatures with intense sunshine quite quickly. Spring seemed to last only as long as the cherry blossoms which transformed the Japanese attitude amidst the ongoing tragedy endured by those in the Tohoku Region. Perhaps the traditionally celebrated blossoms were timely as a shift in outlook was necessary for everyone in the country, as the constant burden of the recent disasters was taking a severe toll.
While many were torn as to whether to celebrate the cherry blossoms (sakura), the general feel of those participating was a deep respect for those affected by the tragedy, but an appreciation for optimism and continued recovery
While I enjoy dwelling on the recent spring events, all those avid blog followers will note that I've neglected addressing much of my activity from this past winter. So, the remainder of this blog will focus on that. It was a lively winter and my pursuits offered me good opportunity to expound upon the perspective I’ve been developing since my arrival in Japan ten months ago. I continued my mindset of "never refusing an invitation" in order continue opening my mind to new activities and approaches. I’ve also discovered my life to be substantially more exciting with this mindset, as I continually find myself in situations I’ve never been exposed to in the past. I’ve realized any sort of reluctance to uncertainty is simply weakness due to my own insecurity and ignorance. So, I’ve focused on eliminating it through an entirely open approach to everything I learn, every person I meet, and every activity I participate in, with the ultimate goal in mind of achieving the essence of a completely open mind.
So, I’ll elaborate on some of the strange activities I’ve found myself participating in since the holiday season
SKIING IN NAGANO:
My first trip to Nagano in the middle of January was to Nozawa Onsen Resort. This is a quaint, traditional and very authentic Japanese ski village at the base of an expansive mountain resort covered by forests. The town is renounced for its 21 natural hot springs interspersed throughout the village. Some are indoors, some outdoors, and some are even occupied by Japanese Snow Monkeys. All of them provided relaxation nonetheless, especially after a long day out on the mountain. I didn’t have much in the way of expectation, but was definitely caught off guard when my friends and I made it to our accommodation after the five hour bus ride from Tokyo. The room we stayed in was about 12’ X 15’ and slept five people. It was traditional Japanese Tatami (straw mat) style with nothing other than a table for us to sit around
As soon as we arrived I recognized how exhausting of a weekend it would be. There was loads of fresh snow. The Japanese Alps are famous for their feathery powder, and the massive amount they receive each season. Over the two days we were in Nozawa, we received over 45 inches of fresh snow. This made for some tremendous skiing, and also some interesting experiences as a result of exploring unfamiliar terrain with such an incredible amount of snow. I had some memorable lines that would rank up there with some of the best I can recall. The terrain was diverse, with quite a bit of tree skiing. As great as the snow was, the lack of steep grade due to smaller elevations than I am familiar with made for some frustrating runs. I’ll attach a story about one particularly adventurous run at the end of this blog.
Nozawa/Dosojin Fire Festival:
The reason I went to this resort the weekend that I did was not because of the great fresh snow
As I mentioned earlier, my second experience skiing in Nagano was completely different from my first
On the Saturday night my friends and I attended a Reggae Festival in the Ski Town. It was in fact not solely a reggae festival at all. The style of music was varied, with everything from Ska, to Irish Folk, to Dub, to Electro, with a few hints of Reggae intertwined. The venue was incredible, as it was a massive six room Victorian Style Mansion converted into a music hall
It was another good weekend. The only downside of these ski trips is that we don’t return to Tokyo until quite late on Sunday night. After my first weekend, I made the last bus back to Togane, but it was close. After the second weekend, I didn’t make it. In fact I wasn’t close to making it at all. So, I had to crash with a friend, and catch the first train in the morning in order to make it to school in time on the Monday. These days are always a struggle, especially after an exhausting weekend, but nothing some peppy junior high school kids can liven up.
I’ve never been too keen on fishing back in the States, but a few people who I’ve grown close to while here are big fishermen, and I’ve followed on a few fishing excursions. Back in January I went Wakasagi (a type of fish, about the size of a pinky finger) Ice Fishing in Gunma Prefecture. I went with a fellow teacher at my school. I’ve been able to formulate a rewarding relationship with him, language barrier aside
Anyway, I was appreciative of him inviting me. He actually invited me back in August when I first arrived in Japan. I had no idea what to expect, but figured it would be a new experience nonetheless. We ended up leaving at midnight and drove four hours so we could get out on the ice by the crack of dawn. There were eight people including me, none of whom spoke much more English than the very basics. I was able to get by alright with the Japanese I knew, and this particular weekend was a huge confidence booster as far as the language is concerned. It’s often not proper grammatically, but, when I can get my point across, I’m usually happy enough with that, as is the listening party. The ice fishing was alright. We were on the ice the entire day, from sunrise to sunset. We only had a tent, no shanty, and of course as Japanese tradition holds, we weren’t allowed to wear our boots in the tent. So, the only sort of protection from the cold was essentially worthless because our feet would be frozen after about ten minutes. The people I was with caught lots of the little fish. For some reason, I didn’t have such good luck. I only caught two fish the entire weekend. Everyone else was at least in double digits. I was the brunt of countless jokes, to which I still haven’t heard the end of from my coworkers at school
That evening we drove all the way to Yamanakako, at the base of Mt. Fuji. We stayed in another traditional Japanese Hotel, and woke up again at sunrise to get out on the lake below the beautiful volcano. There were blue bird skies the entire day, with a clump of clouds seemingly stuck on the summit of Fuji. We were far enough south that the lake didn’t freeze, so we went out on a covered heated boat with open troughs on either side where we were able to drop lures, and catch the same type of fish. Another day filled with laughter, confusion, and likely much misunderstanding due to the language barrier.
BABY EEL FISHING:
My other fishing excursion was actually a few weeks ago. I have a good friend who lives out on the coast near my apartment. I often surf with him. He owns a small restaurant that I frequent whenever I’m out surfing
TOKYO FOOTY LEAGUE – SALA F.C.
A big part of my winter here in Japan has been influenced by the new soccer team I began playing on in January
The soccer has been great. I’ve really enjoyed playing, and I travel quite some distances to make it to the games. I realized once I began playing how much I missed being on a team. I definitely needed some sort of a competitive outlet. Sometimes it gets the best of me out on the pitch, but I try to contain myself, and channel it in positive directions. We usually play 2-3 times per month in Chiba, Yokohama, or Saitama (north of Tokyo)
Other than Sala F.C., I compete weekly in a Futsol League in Togane. It is local, convenient and good quality. None of the guys I play with speak any English, so at times it can be a struggle to communicate, but helps me improve my Japanese as well.
I have a few other noteworthy events, occurrences, and excursions to mention, although they don’t necessarily deserve a category of their own. The first weekend of March I took a trip up to Ibaraki, the prefecture north of Chiba (where I live). We drove four hours in each direction for dinner. I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but I’ve realized, it doesn’t matter how good the dinner is, it’s never worth 8 hours in the carAnglerfish Photo. Fortunately I didn’t look at any pictures until after I had eaten it. Please take a look for yourself. I was even lucky enough to get to gnaw the scaly mucus like flesh of the lamp which illuminates the way for the gnarly looking deepwater fish.
I found out in Japan you buy car/moped insurance from 7/11. Strange!
I realize I still haven’t written a blog about teaching in my Junior High School. This is because my perception of how things are run in the schools here changes so drastically, and so frequently. I want to wait until I’m certain about my analysis of the school systems here. Although, I assure you, it will be my most passionate and insightful blog when I finally get around to writing it. For now I’ll mention that witnessing my Junior High School’s Graduation was an eye opening experience, into the importance of the formality and tradition prevalent in Japanese Society
For those of you that are unaware, I have decided to re-contract, so I will be remaining in Japan for one more year beginning in August. I’ve enjoyed my time here, and as a result of my experiences and the insight I’ve developed into such a completely different society compared to the States, I am really making progress which has inspired personal growth. This is exactly what I am seeking at this point in my life, so needless to say, I am content to be getting it, and I would be doing myself an injustice to cut my opportunity here short. I continue making progress in the language, and rigid societal customs and expectations, thus helping me feel more comfortable here. I’ve developed tremendous perspective in the last two months, which I consider to be the most exciting from the standpoint of unexpected events, interactions, and emotions occurring. It is hard to believe everything I’ve lived through in the past two months, but I hope to channel my experience in a positive direction
As always (if you’ve made it this far) I appreciate any comments or questions about what is going on for me in the Far East.
Endnote: I’ve attached a story which I wrote for a friend who is a big powder skier in Utah. It is about a specific, somewhat exciting run I had in Nagano that resulted in not only adventure, but some valuable cultural exchange
Back in January I went to the Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort with a group of foreigners out of Tokyo. The resort was beautiful with an authentic quaint little Japanese ski town at the base. I would compare the mountain to a resort the size of Solitude (from what I remember). I had high expectations, as I’ve seen many of Nagano’s Resorts featured in Warren Miller films, but I never could have imagined how much snow was actually there. I had a tremendous first day, and made it out for first tracks in about 20 inches of fresh powder. It’s the only place I’ve skied where the snow would rival Utah’s powder from a fluff factor. I was able to cover the entire mountain, and find a few secret routes where I could consistently find fresh lines even at the end of the day.
The second day I woke up to approximately 25 inches more of fresh powder. I have never seen that much snow, so I was pretty anxious to get back on the mountain. After a few exhausting warm-up runs, I made my way back to the remote area where I had been the previous day. I thought surely it would be incredible with all the new snow. Now, having never skied in that much snow before I wasn’t really able to grasp the thrill I would receive, and the trouble I could get myself into
I realized I had my work cut out for me in trying to make my way down the flats in order to get back to the groomed trail. Fortunately I was in a small valley and I had been there the previous day, so I knew exactly where to go, but I was really struggling to make even the slightest bit of progress. Poling was virtually useless as my arms would sing below the surface of the snow before I could get any leverage. I was able to make my way over to the other tracks I had seen earlier at the trail head
It was a Japanese couple on snowboards. I think they were happy to see me, and I was happy to see them…We realized pretty quickly that we needed to help each other in order to get out of the valley onward to the catwalk which was about 500 meters ahead. They were in good spirits, but getting frustrated with the situation as well. They didn’t speak a lick of English, so I had no option but to put my Japanese into action. We developed an understanding that two people would trail blaze about 25 meters so the third could get enough momentum on the packed snow path in order to go ahead at best 10-15 meters further. We slowly made progress, but in doing so expended every ounce of energy we had. When I was in front my quads started burning so badly from lifting my skies out of the snow with every step, that in order to make any ground I had to lean forward and lift them to the surface of the snow with my hands. Finally we made it to the point where we could see the catwalk maybe 15 feet above us, as we were stuck in a rut below.
This was the point where I legitimately started to think we were in trouble of being stuck there for a long time. The reason we had so much trouble making it up to the catwalk was because the snow cats had inevitably plowed so much snow into the valley we were in, that it was heavy, thick, and deep. The Japanese man decided to try to climb his way up on his own, with his snowboard in his hands to get leverage in the snow. This was not a good idea, and he eventually started sinking from putting too much weight on his lower body
Once he was okay we started the process of gradually packing the snow while stepping on the two boards, skis and poles in order to get leverage. We packed two snow steps at the base of the rut we were in, then two steps made of the snowboards, and one step made of the ski. I went up first, getting stuck after the last step, but was fortunately able to wiggle up to the top. Then they threw me the ski poles and I was able to pull them up using the poles so they didn’t get stuck after the last step. Eventually we all made it up, and were able to grab our equipment as well.
In the end we all smiled and laughed about how relieved we were to be out
For me, as horrendously frustrating of a situation as it was physically, it was a fusion of some of the things I very passionate about; adventure and cultural exchange.
When it was all said and done, I sarcastically said in Japanese "one more time?" and they both keeled over laughing. We gave hugs, which the Japanese usually never do, and we skied and boarded off in our respective ways.