Japanese Winters

The idea of visiting Japan for an extended period of time wasn’t a new one for me; I’d known about the working holiday visas for a while and loved the idea that it was something different to anywhere else I’d never been before. In recent years I’d seen Asia, but knew Japan was nothing like the Asia I knew. In fact, and we’ll get onto this shortly, Tokyo felt a lot like a huge American city, at least on ground level anyway. But the rest of the country? Out of this world.

I’m in Hakuba right now, one of the more popular ski resorts with overseas visitors. Located about four hours North West of Tokyo, Hakuba as a ski resort was born decades ago by a small number of families who wished to use their land and huge snow fall every year to copy the European idea of luxury ski holidays. Sadly for the general public, these families were in competition with each other and even now in 2018, there’s still issues which have been caused by this. If you’re familiar with a European resort, you’ll wonder why the mountains aren’t linked and some clear flaws in piste design; on lift finishes 10 meters below the next loft meaning a short walk up-hill. On skis. On snow. . However, I’m not a skier so we’ll move on.

In 1998, the Winter Olympic Games were held in this here Nagano province and Hakuba was one of the focal points. As a result, the town grew in its popularity and investment in the area soared; there was big plans to bring some of the millions of Tokyo residents here every weekend in the winter season, plus targeting the international markets too. A very liveable town, is Hakuba with enough amenities such as shops and services. The train station is a bit awkward as its twenty minutes walk from the rest of town, but its near my house so I don’t mind. Plus, trains don’t mix with mountains too cheaply.

There are two simply amazing things about Hakuba and reasons I would come back:

The food
The onsens

And yes, I am aware that the same food can be found all over Japan (see other post) and onsens are most places, but I can’t live anywhere in Japan because I don’t speak Japanese. Hakuba is full of Canadians and Aussies and my English is half decent.

I simply love onsens. I’m a big fan of casual nudity, albeit this is just with other dudes rather than my wife. I like the idea of sitting for an hour in perfectly hot water which, due to it being sourced underground from volcanic sources, has special mysterious healing qualities a tour guide like myself will never fully understand. It is alkaline, one with a PH of eleven (in England, that would probably be illegal), and sometimes a cloudy colour. You must wash before you enter as the water is around forty degrees and would otherwise become a bacteria fest. It’s lovely. So clean. Relaxing. Perfect.

An example of this; my best Aussie buddy Luko came for ten days recently. When he arrived, he looked forty (something). He snowboarded everyday, rode pretty hard too,  having some good smashes. He also visited an onsen everyday which firstly, allowed him to ride everyday and secondly, meant that he went home looking thirty.

Up until mid-January, we had had some of the largest dumps of snow in the world, which Hakuba is famous for. Thanks to its location on the Pacific and the 3,000m peaks, it combines with some impressive statistics. Sadly for me, I’m both the only guy in our (massive) company who doesn’t ski or snowboard – I love here to spend time in Japan with my wife and to enjoy chatting to happy tourists. I’m also the guy who drives the most, so this winter, my snow driving skills have vastly improved.

Overall, I’m loving Japan. I could live here. I might live here.

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