I arrived in Japan a little over 3 months ago. I got off a place in Tokyo, boarded a minivan to Hakuba through the night and woke up at about 1am in a very rainy Hakuba. I woke up next morning and went for a very disappointing ski.
The weather was less than perfect and they had very little snowfall, this continued for a few weeks to the point where I considered apply for jobs elsewhere. I was having to spend 30 minutes of my lessons taking students up the gondola at a cost of ¥5100 ($55) plus the cost of a lesson, and then walking them up and down with their skis and then waste time taking them back down. I felt we were giving a bad product due to the lack of snow, and I was the face of that product for my students.
Luckily I stuck it out because a few weeks into January we got a monster dump of snow, 2.6m in about 5 days. Things got a lot better from there as it opened up the mountain to us.
I lucked out with accomodation, I was put up in an old guest house at the base of the neighbouring mountain, there was only a few of us there, it was tidy and had central heating. A rarity for Japan. There were a few conflicting members of the household who didn’t last long, otherwise we were a tight nit family.
The Japanese ski resorts weren’t really what I expected, I feel the media has done a great job at selling them to westerners. From my understanding, Japan had an economic boom where they popped up everywhere, followed by a recession, and it doesn’t appear in most parts of town things have changed since then. So without snow Hakuba looks very run down, old and grey. With snow it’s a winter wonderland. We also didn’t get the “average” 10-12m of snow, we topped out at about 6 but the snow conditions were still better than most resorts I’ve been too and when it snowed it really snowed.
I came to Japan with the attitude of “I’ve chosen to be here. Nobody is making me. So I’m just gonna do what I’m asked with a smile” my experience and good attitude got me perks that not many others got, I was responsible for the house company car, I got to do lessons at other mountains regularly and being duel certifed meant I could work everything, and got a really good variety of lesson. I felt well and truly valued as a team member at Evergreen and have been invited back next year.
A few things you have to get used to living here.
- You can’t always get by on English. Google translate was a great help but you’re not always going to find someone who understands you.
- The mountains don’t like you leaving marked runs. I’ve had passes taken of me for this here. Never had that happen anywhere else. Some resorts are coming around to this and have intact put areas aside just for this.
- The food here is magnificent. I felt like I was playing Russian roulette in the supermarkets at first, but within a few weeks I had tourists asking me where stuff was. But try everything you can. I now eat Octopus. I never thought I’d say that.
- Onsens. At first the idea of stripping down in front of friends and strangers and taking a bath together isn’t appealing. But you really must try it if you come to Japan. It’s really not that bad. And he onsens are great.
- Drivers. If they get lost of frazzled they will drive insanely slow. Then just stop with hazards on. Because if you have hazard lights on, you can do what you want.
So much has happened that I just can’t fit in one blog post, I’ve had a blast but for now my season is over, my wife made it to Japan in one piece and for the last week we’ve been road tripping around Japan. I’m sitting in the car on the way back to Nagano to extend my visa so I have the option of returning next year and then off to Tokyo for 4 days. But il write about all that in another post.