Thursday, February 16, 2012

Japan Part II: Epic Skiing Adventure

After our disappointment at the lack of snow in New Zealand, I was cautiously optimistic about skiing in Japan -- particularly since we (I) had chosen to stay on the main island, instead of going to Hokkaido where the powder skiing was. However, after traveling through many miles of barren farmland, I was relieved to see an appropriate level of snow as we approached the village. Ah Alaska, how we miss thee!

Yay, snow!  And we don't have to shovel.

It had actually been pretty warm recently in Nozawa Onsen, so there was a lot of runoff. Streams were running through culverts in the town, and I wasn't sure if that was water from the hot springs, normal springs or snow melt. No matter though. As you can see here, there was plenty of base for us to ski on.

Road cut through the town.  That's a lot of snow.

Part of the reason I picked Nozawa Onsen is because the village has 13 hot springs (onsen) with free Japanese bath houses to visit. Visiting an onsen is an interesting experience and is definitely different from visiting a hot spring in a western country. Unlike in America, in Japan you enjoy the onsen completely nude. The bath houses are segregated by sex, but you still are hanging out in the hot spring with complete strangers. Before getting into the hot spring, you completely wash yourself at these taps outside the spring, and then soak in the spring like a hot tub. I had visions of hopping from hot spring to hot spring around town, but soon discovered that I could really only take one at a time -- they were too hot!

One of the bath houses.  I didn't go in this one.

Ethan was too tired the second night, but I got over my fear of being naked with strangers and visited two separate hot springs. The first was all tiled with fluorescent lights overhead, while the second one was in a traditional looking wooden building with more stylish lanterns on the wall. In spite of the fact that the second spring looked cooler, I kind of liked the first spring better, because I shared it with a bunch of local old ladies who obviously used it for their evening gossip session. I have no idea what they were talking about, but I like to imagine it was about their grandchildren, who in the town said what to who, and how the quality of vegetables has really gone downhill lately.

Back entrance to the bath house I liked best.

Nozawa Onsen was a cute little town, with very narrow streets, lots of restaurants and cute little stores. They obviously catered to the skiing crowd. The stores all had these wooden steamer boxes filled with buns. We bought one, suspecting it was filled with azuki (a sweet bean paste) but were surprised to find vegetables inside. Later I looked up the word azuki and the second night we had an azuki bun for dessert.

Shopping at night.

Near the bus stop.
While we were there, we had a mild earthquake. I would guess it was about a 3, maybe a 3.5. Nothing for us experienced Alaskans. Ethan was in the lounge room of our guest house, using the WiFi when it occurred. He looked up, but no one else seemed to notice. The next morning at breakfast, a couple of Kiwi guests asked us if we had felt the earthquake. Of course we said yes, but the British girl hadn't noticed it. Ethan had to tell her it had occurred when she was sitting next to him in the lounge room! The Kiwis seemed surprisingly shook up by the earthquake (ba-dum-dum, I'll be here all night, folks), given the fact that New Zealand is pretty seismically active. In fact, the girl seemed to think it was a pretty big one. Maybe their part of the house shook more, I don't know.

Someone got creative with this snow bank.
I didn't take any pictures of the ski resort, but it turns out I made an excellent choice. Although it wasn't all powder skiing, there was plenty of untracked, deep snow off-piste to make Ethan happy, and the groomers were nicely covered with a recent snowfall that made me happy. The resort was not busy by American standards, and we were able to ski together all day, meeting at the lift and riding up together. It's been a long time since we've been able to do that, so I was really happy that the resort worked out for the both of us.
Ethan waiting for the bus in a snow squall.

We only spent 1.5 days skiing, because our time was limited and I really wanted to see a lot of cultural stuff. So after our quick trip, we left Nozawa Onsen and headed to Kyoto, for more traditional Japanese culture. 

To be continued... 

 For more (not a lot more, but more) pictures of Nozawa Onsen, go here.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

YAY! Love reading about your experiences and seeing the pics of Japan! Seriously, I want to go back so badly, its so wonderful and I know there is so much there I totally missed. And YES - you have to go back and ski Hokkaido - ski heaven, no doubt about it.