Tag Archives: Japan

Reflection: Coming Back From Japan

I slept for the first two days after getting back to Salt Lake from Japan. Literally. Ok, I was up for a few hours in the afternoon and stayed up til about 3am each night, but I felt like I had the flu or something and had to sleep it off. Adjusting to being back home is a lot harder than adjusting to a new place. My friend Andy said he usually gets his culture shock when he returns to the states from Japan rather when he first gets out to the foreign country. I have to agree with him there; Japan is totally different and definitely has a distinct culture we don’t have here in the states, but it’s all fascinating. I’m enthralled the whole time observing how people live their daily lives over there. But because my brain is curious and looking at EVERYTHING the entire month of being there, when I got back to something familiar it just had to shut down. When I was awake and walking around again back here in the states, it was as if I was seeing everything around me for the first time again. Shopping was a new experience once again because my eyes looked at packaging and ads as if they had to decifer them. I was looking at EVERYTHING here, as I had in Japan. It was kind of cool actually. I gained a new perspective not only on a foreign culture that I’d never had a true glimpse into, but also found a new way to look at everything that was familiar to me at home as well. It’s also nice to feel like I’m not in danger of getting horribly lost all the time if I’m on my own, and that store clerks understand exactly what I say to them and they respond back to me in perfect english (well, culturally perfect anyway).

Made it back just in time for Spring; my favorite!
Made it back just in time for Spring; my favorite!
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And Then There Was One

Those cloud behind me near the ground? Sulfurous steam spewing from the active volcano that is Asahidake.

It’s March 16th (I’m talking to you from the future, biches) and I am the last one from our group that traveled from the U.S. to Japan about a month ago. I can’t believe it’s been three weeks already! It feels like time flew by, I don’t know if I’m ready to go back to the states. Although, I do still have another three days here, so I don’t have to come to terms with it quite yet.

At first I was getting nervous about being the last one to go- I’m in a foreign country, with a giant snowboard bag and I hardly know how to speak the language (it’s getting better but my vocab is still at the point where the three year olds know way more words than I do. However, I’ve probably learned the most from the three-year olds so I guess I should be thanking them. They assume I know everything because I’m a big adult. Who’s winning here? Everyone).

Now, I’m excited. The main staff of Niseko Negula (the pension where our group was based from over the last two weeks) are headed to another resort on Hokkaido; Kiroro, for a few days of snowboard vacation time and they’re graciously stringing me along for the outing. I love the people here already and enjoy helping out around the place with chores. Interacting and working with everyone after the guests have all left is priceless to me. I got to paint one of the three-year old’s nails this morning (her name is Kokoro and it means, “heart”) after eating a home-made breakfast in the common room. That’s something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life. Anywhere that there is snow you can snowboard and have fun. What you can’t find just anywhere are people of a completely different culture that welcome you into their family and home. Hanging out and bonding with everyone here is something I can never duplicate. It means so much to me that I’m getting to do this right now.

I’m already thinking about how I can come back to Japan some day…

Alright, next on the agenda- load up the cars and drive to Kiroro! Wataru also mentioned we’re stopping somewhere along the way for seafood lunch and a tour of a WHISKEY FACTORY WITH FREE TASTINGS. I had to ask him how to say, “I really like whiskey!” in japanese because I was so excited when he told me that. Whiskey daisuki des! Afterwards we’ll head on to some hotel(I don’t have my international driver’s license so I won’t be driving; that will be good) near the resort and get some snowboarding in over the next two days.

Everything’s working out and I’m so excited that I get this extra time to explore Hokkaido. Things don’t always turn out the way you think they will, but if you go with the weird flow of things it’s bound to work out fantastically in a way you never could have planned for.

I’ll be posting another entry or so on japansnoboarding.com to round out the story, but for the most part I’m going back to writing mainly on Gofer. I reposted my highlight entries from Japan Snowboarding to this blog so you can get a feel for how my life has been going since I started posting on that site.

I hope you enjoy this adventure’s story, and I can’t wait to share what happens next! (I think it’ll be pretty good.) Here’s to these awesome guys who made this trip to Hokkaido possible-

Gotta love those Toto's
Colby just loves those Totos.
Tyler's so ethnic.
Tyler’s so ethnic.
Andy and Dubs show you that if you have two hands, you usually need to two drinks.
Andy and Dubs show you that if you have two hands, you usually need to two drinks.

Hope you all had safe flights and I’ll see you again when I get back to the states!

Matane~

Home Away From Home- Niseko Negula

Reblog from my posting on japansnowboarding.com March 10th

photos by Jeremy Dubs

When we dropped in to Niseko Negula we had no idea that we were not only going to be staying at a great pension (a pension is a cross between a nice hostel and a bed and breakfast) location but that we were about to become a part of Negula’s fantastic community itself too. Wataru (the owner) initially impressed us by being a warm and welcoming person and then surprised us by being a great musician with extremely musically-gifted friends as well.

Wataru Miyazaki, the owner of Niseko Negula
Wataru Miyazaki, the owner of Niseko Negula

Twice now we’ve had nights that have ended in full-blown group music jams; where staff and guests alike are dancing, playing music and laughing together. Both times they’ve happened directly following a meal Colby prepared in the kitchen for everyone, all-in-all being a real community event.

The Negula living room is always full of excitement. The atmosphere is electric and its great to meet people of various cultures in such a great atmosphere.
The Negula living room is always full of excitement. The atmosphere is electric and its great to meet people of various cultures in such a great atmosphere.

We were each sitting around in the Negula common room, finishing the last bits of delicious yakisoba, mashed potatoes, cabbage salad or fried chicken (depending on which meal night it was) and then Yui (or Masato, or Yasue) sat down in front of a mic with an instrument and simply started jamming out.

The first night Yui and his wife Maico played a beautiful set that included renditions of a few Beatles songs, some tunes sung in japanese and a mongolian song that as far as has been explained to us is meant to mean anything from Happy Birthday to wishing someone good health in general. Once the music started up, everyone who could grab an instrument and play coherently did so.

Masato-San and Band
Masato-San and Band

The second night, Masato and Keita grabbed guitars and began playing that same Mongolian good-health song. I think they played it about four different times; I’m not too confident Masato knows any other songs on guitar (which was actually a great thing, because none of us knew the song at first but by the end of their session we’d all learned the words and were singing along. I was loving it). From there, Yuki (a visiting/traveling musician) grabbed his violin, blew us all away with his talents on that stringed instrument and the rest, they say, is history.

Negula Jam Band
The Negula Jam Band – Maico, Wataru, Macun, Iku

I don’t know how long we played for each night, but it was nothing short of at least an hour, though you had no idea what kind of time was passing. We were a group of American, Australian, Cambodian, Japanese and more, having the best time we possibly could. Everywhere you looked there were ecstatic ear-to-ear grins. People couldn’t help but clap or sing along when they caught the tune. Being in a foreign country where communication is limited to fragments of either english or japanese, it’s amazing the type of connection you can feel with others when you’re laughing and creating music together.

Yui Akimichi - Resident chef and musician at Negula
Yui Akimichi – Resident chef and musician at Negula

 

I think it’s safe to say these nights of gathering for delicious food creating spectacular music together have added more depth to our experience out here in Niseko, Japan. We’re approximately 5,000 miles from the closest place any one of us might call home, but with things like this being a part of our trip, that distance hasn’t been too much of a problem for us being able to relax and feel right at home out here.

Its a Negula Party Night
Its a Negula Party Night. Kampai!

 

Matane~

Until Next Time!

Mix Nuts Bowl Session at Rusutsu Resort

Reblog from my posting on japansnowboarding.com from March 4th

 

Japan is full of surprises. Did you know they have an event at Rusutsu Resort called “Mixed Nuts Bowl”? Neither did we. Ever heard of the Holy Bowly? Mixed Nuts was like that; a whole course of snow shaped like a set of downhill skatepark bowls, hips and a transfer or two.

Our friend Yuki at Negula pulled one of us aside Thursday night and showed us an edit from last year’s Mixed Nuts Bowl. It turned out to be at a resort not far from where we were staying and happening the next day. Snow had been a bit lacking for us lately, so we were all excited to have the chance to get out and ride in something.

We loaded our five-person car with six people plus all of our snowboard/photo/film gear (it was cozy) and drove off towards Rusutsu. After hanging out in a closed amusement park-

Colby found an octupus to surprise.
Colby found an octupus to surprise. Photo- Jenna Kuklinski

-we made our way over to the resort. As per the usual, we didn’t really know what we were supposed to do once we got there, so we asked a couple kids in a lift line. As soon as they realized we needed help finding where to sign up for the event, they unstrapped from their boards, jumped out of line, grabbed a flyer from a liftee and walked us the 100 yards or so over to the tent where we could sign up. Once we’d gotten things sorted and waivers signed the two kids strapped back in and rode off. They weren’t even doing the event themselves. People here are really too nice.

The event itself was super fun; as Madison Ellsworth put it, “It’s like skating a bowl but I’m on a snowboard and actually good at it.”

A rider starts carving down the course at Rusutsu's Mixed Nuts Bowl Photo- Jenna Kuklinski
A rider starts carving down the course at Rusutsu’s Mixed Nuts Bowl Photo- Jenna Kuklinski
Jenna Kuklinski Hiking the Course
Jenna hiking the course. So nice of them to think to add steps. Photo- Jeremy Dubs

The riding was one thing and then the announcer for the event was another. This dude was something else; at first he merely called out tricks people were doing, most of them in english. Then; and I don’t know if people switched off here or if it was the same guy, but the person on the mic was suddenly rapping for a good solid hour and a half. It was mostly in Japanese, but every now and then he’d get on a kick of just shouting, “Mix Nuts Bowl! Mix nuts! Mix Nuts! Ride, ride, ride, ride! Mix nuts! Ya! Ride! Microphone! 1, 2, 3! group 247 we here! Mix Nuts! Mix Nuts Bowl!”; it was amazing.

You can just tell he's staring at the camera thinking of new ways to remix "Mix Nuts" on the mic. Photo- Jeremy Dubs
You can just tell he’s staring at the camera thinking of new ways to remix “Mix Nuts” on the mic. Photo- Jeremy Dubs

Towards the end of the night we still didn’t know if the event was a contest or something they were just doing for fun; but we didn’t really care either way. We’d gotten out on our boards and just rode in a group full of Japanese shredders. Watching those guys on their surfy carving boards fly around the banks was a reminder of how tricks aren’t everything; if you have great style anything you do, down to simply carving, will look unique.

We walked back to the car, loaded everything up again and headed back to Niseko Negula, our home away from home. There was more riding to be done tomorrow.

Good Times all around; Colby hanging out with Yuki, Keita, Yasue and Nimo on the side of the bowls. Photo-Jenna Kuklinski
Good Times all around; Colby hanging out with Yuki, Keita, Yasue and Nimo on the side of the bowls. Photo- Jenna Kuklinski
Mixed Nuts Rusutsu Flyer
Mixed Nuts Rusutsu Flyer

Hiking Mt. Yotei

Repost from my entry on japansnowboarding.com; Feb 27th. Enjoy!

We tried to get up early, we really did. As with most things such as this, it just wasn’t early enough. Even so, our day of hiking and filming on Mt. Yotei near Niseko was nothing short of phenomenal.

We were up around 6:30 and out the door maybe an hour later. A quick stop at Seico mart for snacks and then another jaunt down the road and we found ourselves at the base of this stunning volcano.

Nimo the Inu found Yotei. Photo by Masato Aihara
Nimo the Inu found Yotei. Photo by Masato Aihara

Snowshoes were passed out, bags were packed, cameras started clicking and then we were off! We had one fantastic and diverse group heading out all together; Keita Nakamura again, Masato Aihara; a chef at Niseko Negula, Ryu Okawa; a friend of mine I’d met in Alaska and found out he was in the Niseko area, Wataru Miyazaki; the owner of the place we’ve been staying at- Niseko Negula, Darryl Naidu; an Aussie staying at Niseko Negula as well, and Mori-Mori; a determined guy who hiked the whole way snowshoeing in his ski boots.

We all trudged the mile or so to the base of the mountain together where we’d finally start our ascent. Getting in to the woods at the base of Yotei was exciting and bit intimidating at the same time. The volcano loomed up huge in front of us all, looking almost too steep for anyone short of seasoned mountaineers to summit. Keita and a few others said they’d all done it before though, so we had to believe it could be done and hike on.

Andy with the traditional peace-sign shot. Photo by Jenna Kuklinski
Andy with the traditional peace-sign shot. Photo by Jenna Kuklinski

As we clomped and slid (two people had skins on some planks) further up the side of the mountain the place grew more and more still. Earlier we’d stopped in a wide-open field to film a few talking pieces and get everyone’s first impression of the mountain. Our friend and mountain guide, Keita, had said during his short inquisition that he loved how quiet things got when you were high on the side of a mammoth mountain. I was beginning to see what he meant.

Jenna and Colby starting the hike up Yotei. Photo by Andy Stern
Jenna and Colby starting the hike up Yotei. Photo by Andy Stern

Japan is different, in almost every single way. It’s not just that we don’t share the same language. It’s the fact that they have things like necklace name-tags on their milk jug, just to let you know it is in fact milk. They drive on the left side of the road. You get carded for cigarettes but anyone can pick up a beer and be drinking while walking down the street (smoking, however, must happen in indoor designated areas unless you’re outside of town). Toilet seats are all heated and no one tells you how many group baths you’ll take with strangers, scrubbing next to them on low stools.

Not to compare soaping up next to a stranger with hiking a volcano in snowshoes; what I’m trying to get at here is that even the hiking is different. We were in an area that was easily accessed from town; the hiking was steep in places for sure, but not too bad. If this were a place in the states we would have seen at least one or two other groups out there. Instead, the only living thing we saw outside of our company was a giant white rabbit that ran across the snow and scared Dubs. It was empty, but not desolate. The terrain here is breathtaking, it can’t be describe in any other way. Andy commented at one point that he was getting chills down his spine. Later, our friend Ryu admitted to feeling the same. That’s how Japan is.

After hiking for about four hours Madison spied something in the trees he really wanted to hit and right after he sent it we found another gully that was begging us to ride through it. We then had to pause and debate for a minute; if we stopped there and filmed everyone going through the area then we wouldn’t be able to summit. If we pushed on to summit then we would have gathered very little footage from a whole day of hiking. After a bit we decided that we should forgo summitting for the day and instead get clips of riding in the trees.

Dubs checking his camera while Masato does the same behind him. Photo by Jenna Kuklinski
Dubs checking his camera while Masato does the same behind him. Photo by Jenna Kuklinski

Though getting to the top of the cratered volcano would have been amazing, we were all just as stoked to be riding through the trees and finding super fun natural features. There are so many stumps, gullys, sun-splotched clearnings of untouched snow and fantastic backdrops on the side of Yotei that we rode until we could ride no more and were still talking about how we could probably spend our whole trip on the slopes of Yotei.

Ryu Okawa hikes and skis fast. Photo by Masato Aihara
Ryu Okawa hikes and skis fast. Photo by Masato Aihara
Keita Nakamura goes deep into the chute at Yotei. Photo by Masato Aihara
Keita Nakamura goes deep into the chute at Yotei. Photo by Masato Aihara

Madison Ellsworth lays out a slash 2. Photo by Masato Aihara

Masato Aihara has some great surfer style. Photo by Keita Nakamura
Keita Nakamura has some great surfer style. Photo by Masato Aihara
Keita Nakamura getting chased by his inu Nimo. Photo by Masato Aihara
Keita Nakamura getting chased by his inu Nimo. Photo by Masato Aihara

When we were spent we packed up all of our hiking gear and strapped back in to our boards. Riding down through the trees was just as fun as hiking features and though I can’t speak for everyone, I know I had a perma-grin plastered on my face the entire way down.

At the bottom we were greeted by the other half of our group with running high-fives, tons of laughter and more mad grins. We hadn’t accomplished our original goal for the day, but what we had done was just as amazing. If this is how things are going with week-old snow, I can’t wait to see how it is when we finally get a real snow storm to blow through.

Oh, and after all of this we went to another Onsen to scrub clean on stools next to naked strangers. It was fantastic.

The crew stoked for a day hiking Mt Yotei. Photo by Masato Aihara
The crew stoked from a day at Mt Yotei. Photo by Masato Aihara

Getting Japan

I don’t know that it’s been a full 24 hours yet since I left Utah (I’m confused on how the time zones are fitting together. Sorry), but already I’ve been having the best time ever. Everything over here is so new and different to me that even the small things are exciting. When was the last time you got excited when you walked by a soda machine?

Free Breakfast and coffee. Yes.
Free Breakfast and coffee. Yes.
ADORABLE DONUTS
ADORABLE DONUTS

The highlights so far have to do with food. They fed us so much on my flight from LAX to Tokyo, it was like some kind of airline miracle. Then I had a “double check what you’re buying because every label is in Japanaese and what you think is a soda could be an alcoholic grapefruit drink” lesson in the Tokyo airport and slept through my flight to Sapporo to land safely in Chitose.

Next came what I was afraid would be a big hiccup- everyone I’m doing this trip with originally had a flight that would have put them in Sapporo ahead of me by several hours, so I was planning on meeting up with them and didn’t make a plan otherwise. I found out a day or so ago that their flight changed and I actually was going to have about a ful day of waiting before they landed in Japan to meet up with me.

So, it’s 9pm, all the hostels are closed, the currency exchange is closed and I have a giant board bag and not too much of a clue. I did almost get confused for some snowboard chick named Maui(?) and joined another snowboard crew, but they kind of realized I wasn’t the person they were looking for after all.

Luckily, there was a super nice information lady who spoke english, and after many failed attempts at finding a hotel she finally told me there was a place in the same building four floors up that had a ‘relaxation room’ where you could spend the night. I set off right away and was just so stoked that I didn’t have to take the train to some hotel that would still let me check in so late.

I stayed at a spa. It was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to an actual spa in the states, but I have to say I don’t know how I got so lucky to find a Japanese bathhouse that was only 3,000yen for the night in an airport. Or maybe this is something really common and average in Japan. I don’t know yet!

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Yukatas!
I'm almost Japanese.
I’m almost Japanese.

When you check in they ask you to choose a yukata; #1-8. I picked #3 and they handed me a bag with two towels, yukata #3, and checked my two luggage bags for me. I found my locker and then realized the area the locker room lead in to- a community bath; ie; nude hot tub area with sitting-shower partitions. I had to walk around the building a few times before I got myself to go into the locker room, strip down and walk into this community bath where I don’t know any of the general ettiquite. Do you look at the other people? Do you avoid all eye contact? Do people fully shower at this crazy shower-head stooled station? What do I do with this wooden bucket? What about this round plastic brush thing? Is that for your feet? Which one of these bottles is the shampoo???

I rinsed off, got in the water and was instantly more relaxed. It was the best thing ever. I watched the other ladies that came and went to see what they were using all of the things for. That plastic scrubber-thing; not for your feet. It’s like a scalp massager when you’re shampooing (from what I gathered) and it feels AWESOME (I took one more to use later on this trip). Also, yes; you do fully shower yourself while perched on a very low wooden stool. I think I mistakenly used the body soap for shampoo, but it pretty much does the same thing so who cares.

The lobby
The lobby

After trying out each of the four hot baths and then getting re-dressed I bought some weird crackers (they had the stickiest sugar between them, I couldn’t eat it, but it was funny to try) and relaxed for a while listening to a burbling water fountain made of a stone vase. I still can’t believe I’m in Japan. My trip has hardly gotten underway and it’s already more fun than I expected. And so far I haven’t left the airport. I can only imagine it’ll get better when I start doing things like, say, snowboarding.

Ohayo

A lady about my age sat down in the window seat next to mine on the tiny jet that was flying from SLC to LAX. She was dressed up, make-uped, in a skirt and carrying a giant fluffy pillow and tan jangly hand bag. A really friendly person, we started chatting about where we were each headed. She was a Mormon girl from Arizona on her Mission, going from Temple Square to a place in california for about four months. I told her I was headed to Sapporo, Japan to snowboard.

“I love snowboarding! But, isn’t Japan kind of far to go to snowboard?”

Sometimes I forget that not everyone in the world is living the same lifestyle as myself and my friends. When I told people I know that I was getting to snowboard in Japan they usually responded with, “Dream Trip!”, “I’m so jealous!”, “Go slash some Japan Pow, you’re so lucky!” (“take a radiation suit”).That’s the same kind of mindset we’re all in. We know Japan has amazing snow, we all believe it’s a crazy fun place to visit and we all love to travel for the sake of traveling. What we forget (like I did) is that there is a whole other world (er, worlds, rather) that think we are, basically, a little crazy.

I’m ok with that.

Going from having this trip be a possible notion, to purchasing my ticket, to waking up at 3am this morning with my sister Rachel and Tyler to drive to the SLC airport to waiting here in LAX to board a plane to Tokyo… it’s kind of a whirlwind. It still hasn’t settled in. Though I keep getting reminded of where I’m about to dive into by all the people speaking Japanese around me in the terminal. The only thing I can really understand out of what they’re saying is, “Thank you”. I guess that’s not a bad phrase to know. I could just thank everyone I met in Japan. I’m going to be this American running around with a giant snowboard bag shouting, “Thank You! Thank You!” at everyone for no particular reason. I think it’ll go really well. I may have trouble actually getting  help with anything but at least they’ll find me polite.

Right now I’m a mix of excited and nervous. This is going to be my first international flight, and I have to sit relatively still for 11 1/2 hours in a middle chair of economy seating. I’m really hoping by some miracle they just HAVE to upgrade me to business or first class, though that does seem a little unlikely.

I’ll be posting as often as possible on here and everywhere else I can while I’m over there. I’ve been told the wifi is plentiful in Japan.

And now, for the next two and half hours before my flight I believe I may go find a place that serves mimosas and prepare myself to (inevitably) find I’ve been seated in the middle chair between two overly-large individuals and they’ll both fall asleep and drool/snore on me as I try to learn a few more words of japanese before I land in Tokyo.

Arigato!

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