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Niseko Japan


Friday, February 8, 2008

One of many volcanic mountains.

Julia and I both woke up again at 4:00am bright eyed and bushy tailed. The jetlag is still with us I am afraid. However, we had to get up at 6:00am today to leave for Niseko and the start of our snow skiing in Japan. There was a bit of confusion in the lobby as we and a few other parties waited for our bus but, in true Japanese fashion everything ran like clockwork. Other than the great views of the Hokkaido we got the bus trip to Niseko was uneventful.

The sun was shining when we arrived so I was able to snap this photo of the big volcano towering over the village. I found out later that this is a rare view this time of year as the mountain is often completely obscured by clouds.

Once we arrived at the Scott Hotel in Niseko we were greeted by the Ski Japan representative and given a tour of the Hirafu village. The weather kept changing all day. Patches of sunshine followed by white-out and falling soft powdery snow; which is fine by us as this is why we came here.

As I mentioned in an earlier update the toilets in Japan are quite interesting to say the least. Here is a photo of the control panel of one Julia snapped in a ladies wash room.

The control panle.

I felt like a bit of a weirdo taking a picture in the loo, but couldn"t resist.

The toilets in Japan are the complete opposite from those in Egypt, that is they are squeaky clean. Here they are fitted out with lots of extras to make the whole loo-going experience truly as exhilarating as possible. The little things that make all the difference include heated seat, music to cover up embarrassing sounds, various squirts of warm water at different angels. You get to press different buttons and super fast air jets blow air to dry everything. Who knew that going to the bathroom could be so much fun? I haven"t seen this yet but a have heard of loos where the hand washing basin sits on top of the toilet and the water from washing your hands is used to do the next flush. Very space and water saving.

Julia looking relaxed after a long day of skiing in her hotel provided pajamas.

Today we all took part in the Onsen bathing ritual. The hotel we are staying at has an indoor and outdoor spa bath with water supplied by the local volcanic springs. As is so typical in Japan you do not just jump into the spa you have to follow a traditional set of steps. First you must take off your shoes at the outer entrance to the spa. Then you go into the changing area where you undress. The interesting part to my experience here was that there was an elderly cleaning woman working in the men's changing room while I was in there disrobing. I politely waited for to leave but in the end I just had to strip off in front of her; I guess this was one of the unwritten Onsen steps.

Once naked you take your hand towel with you into the bathing area. In the bathing area you grab a short plastic seat (which is bucket like) and a plastic bowl, then set up in front of one of the bathing areas. There you find a shower nozzle, tape, body soap, and shampoo. You clean yourself with your hand towel until you are nice and clean then you step into the bath making sure you do not put your hand towel in the water. This can be achieved by leaving it on the side of the pool or more traditionally placing it on your head. After soaking in this pool until you can take no more you may go to the outdoor pool. The spa pool water was very warm and it was snowing outside. These two conditions made it a hypnotic experience. When you are finished soaking you tip freezing cold water over your head and leave. All in all the Onsen is a fantastic experience.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Lawrie and Julia with the big volcano looming in the background.

We had an excellent day of skiing today. Julia was booked in for ski lessons so after breakfast Andy, Lawrie, and I accompanied Julia down the ski slope to her ski school meeting area. Julia surprised us all with her skiing skills as she had completely underestimated them to us. We had a few runs with her and then Andy, Lawrie and I took off to explore the mountain.

From Julia: I had a cute young Australian instructor who called me doll all morning; very flattering for someone old enough to be his mother. There were only 3 students in the group. One was an Australian woman from Perth who was seeing snow for the first time. When she heard I was from San Francisco she said it"d be too rude for her to tell me what she felt about Americans. Our instructor then pointed out that I was from San Francisco which isn"t the same as the rest of America! Skiing was lots of fun today and David and Lawrie (and the lunch time beer) helped me do a couple more runs this afternoon.

Niseko ski area is covered with a talcum powder consistency snow. It is extremely dry snow due to the very low temperatures. The highest point on Mount Niseko is only 1,308 meters or about 3,900 feet. This is very low as ski resorts go especially with this kind of powder snow, but being low means you do not have issues with the lack of oxygen that you typically get with higher altitudes resorts.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lawrie about to step off the edge.

We had a full day of blue skies and lovely sunshine today. Julia continued her lessons and really began to move forward with her skiing technique.

Some friendly Japanese folks we met in the ice bar.

We left the hotel for dinner this night and ate at a fish house run by a "Fishing Master" which was recommended to us by a Ski Japan host. It was fantastic food but Julia and Andy finally broke down and mutinied against the small portions and general low calorific value of the food and ordered double portions. Once again we drank a little too much sake. As we staggered back to the hotel we came across an ice bar. This is a bar that is made completely of ice. Yes, to was cold in there.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The ski team.

The storm that had been predicted finally moved in on us today. It snowed on and off all day which lowered the visibility, made it colder, and improved the skiing. We are expecting it to continue to snow for the next three or four days. Last night Julia won a door prize of a $100 worth of professional photographs from a local ski photographer.

So after lunch we all met up with the photographer and he took us all over the mountain getting us to pose for him. It was a lot of fun. Julia and I had a quiet evening this evening. While Andy and Lawrie went out for dinner and drinks we stayed in and had an early night. It is getting harder as I get older to ski all day and then party all evening.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Night time at Niseko.

We had more snow and some sunshine today. The skiing was fantastic! Lawrie, Andy, and I skied the entire mountain. Effectively this ski resort is three resorts that are independent but we have a pass that gives us access to all of them. We skied with Julia in the morning and the afternoon; she is moving away from the snow plough and keeping her skies parallel. This is great progress.

We consumed much alcohol at the Jam Bar and ate a great dinner then once again staggered back up the snow covered hill to the hotel.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The volcano Mt. Yotei on the clear day we had on Sunday.

It really snowed today and the temperature went down to -16 degrees Centigrade or 3 degrees Fahrenheit without the wind chill; and it was windy. We only skied until 1:00 pm as it was just too cold for us. Julia has come down with another cold. She did ski today but only half the day like the rest of us.

It was so cold that our hand-held radios and my camera stopped working. It turns out that below freezing batteries stop working. When we came in for lunch everything started working again as the batteries heated up. I had been filming everyone skiing. But Andy was having problems getting down a particular hill. Andy did actually make it down the hill but by then my camera had stopped working so I could not film him.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Julia and I enjoying sake during our stay in Niseko.

It continued to snow all last night and all day today. The place was covered with powder snow at least a foot of new snow had fallen when we got up this morning! Julia's cold got a bit worse last night so she slept in this morning. This worked out as Julia had a private ski lesson schedule for the afternoon which she soldiered on and did.

Lawrie, Andy, and I got up early and made first tracks on the as yet un-skied powder snow. It is a rare experience making first tracks so we were all very pleased. It continued to snow all day which caused us to have many hot chocolate stops during the day. The bad news is that Lawrie fell while he and I were skiing through the trees. As he went down he heard something tear in his knee. He was able to ski back to the hotel where we put his knee on ice and administered Advil. We are not sure of the extent of the damage but we are hoping for the best. Meanwhile Julia was having her private lesson. All of this training and Julia's enthusiasm has paid off as she really can ski now.

This is our last day at Niseko. We leave for Sapporo tomorrow at 9:15am where we will continue our train tour of Japan.

Skiing Video


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