18 02 2010

Yet again, Saturday brought another snow-filled adventure to our “If you can’t beat the snow join it” month. This time it was snowboarding.

We arrived at the Annupuri ski slopes of Niseko mid morning on Saturday, after spending a night in the hostel nearby. By the time we had all our gear checked out and fitted, we had missed the first lesson. That was ok, because Nick and Perry showed us what to do before the afternoon lesson.

We spent the better part of the morning getting ourselves up and falling on the way down to the place to buy lift tickets. I think I was the first of the newbies to get up, but I fell the most. Heather had snowboarded before so she didn’t count.

It was difficult to stay up and I hadn’t had any luck staying up for any amount of time, when it was time to head up to the top of the slope and try coming down. We purchased lift tickets and boarded the lift. Having skied before, I had a small idea of what to expect. It was (as usual, with my small fear of heights) a bit scary. When we arrived at the top, I crashed and burned coming off the lift.

When we reached the top, the guys showed us a bit more of what to do and began to follow us down. Heather took off because she knew what she was doing. And Lindsay went to the left by accident (the harder slope) so Nick went after her. Perry stuck with Ros and I as we went down the first part.

Perry commented that I was making myself fall out of fear. He was right, I would get up, freak myself out by going too fast and not really know how to slow down so I’d fall. He encouraged me to try to stay up anyways. I was doing better for a few minutes and Perry said he’d meet me at the bottom of the hill and went to see how Ros was doing.

At that point, I had more than half of the hill to finish. I was able to get myself going several times, but there was a drop on the left side and I kept drifting to that side and making myself fall because I hadn’t figured out how to steer back to the right. I spent most of that leg of the slope falling to keep from going off to the left.

During this mess of up, fall, up pattern, I caught the words of a song that was playing on the speakers, it said something like, “I can do anything.” It reminded me of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” I started reminding myself of this every time I fell. The falling continued and despite the fact that I wanted to quit several times and walk down the hill, I reminded myself of this, and after probably another half hour of falling (this time to avoid falling off the course on the right), I made it to the end.

When I arrived, I found that we were now a few minutes late for our lessons. I knew my blood sugar was low (I had a headache) and ran to the shop to grab something to eat, to tide me over through the lesson. I ended up with a snickers bar.

After that, we met our instructor and went back out. There was a large part of me, which never wanted to be near a snowboard ever again.

Our instructor led us out and had us stretch (a very good thing at that point) and practice a bit with only one foot on our boards. She kept reminding us to look up, probably about the second time she said this, it reminded me of my ski instructor saying “Look where you want to go.” And it clicked. All of a sudden, I wasn’t falling as much, I was staying up and I was able to steer a bit. It was an exciting discovery.

Our instructor wanted us to stay behind her and stick together, this was hard because it uses a lot more muscles to move slowly, than it does to move faster. After I felt that I had gotten it, I wanted to move faster.

When we finally made it back down the hill, she gave us a bit more instruction and then our lesson was over.

Heather and I headed in to return our things and take a break. Ros and Lindsay both decided to go one more time. My body hurt so much that all I wanted to do was stop and get out of the cold. In that time, I drank hot cocoa and 4 glasses of water after drinking nothing all day.

That evening, we hung out at the hostel. Dinner was amazing after being on the slopes all day. After dinner we headed to the Onsen for a nice relaxing soak in the baths there. On the way, in a bit of a giggle about Japan’s funny usage of “Let’s enjoy . . . together,” Heather announced to Perry (about the onsen), “Let’s enjoy naked together.” Luckily, despite only knowing Perry for a about a day she got a good laugh out of him.

Upon our arrival back at the Hostel, the hostel owner played his accordion for us. Nick had found out before when he stayed, that the hostel owner plays and convinced him before our arrival to play for us. He was amazing. Our new friend Andy the Australian (who was also staying at the hostel), and I spent part of the time wondering how you learn to play an instrument with so many buttons and how you would go about writing music for one. We all took a ton of photos and were quite amazed by the hostel owner.

Sunday, I woke up and my whole body was sore. It hurt to move everything. I wasn’t feeling sure about putting my body through it all again. Everyone was going again, and I decided to as well. I’m really glad I did.

The first time down the easy slope, I did well. I only fell a handful of times and most of those were due to the fact that my legs were TIRED. I felt so proud of myself.

The second time down we took the gondolas up. The gondola ride was amazing because Nick, Heather and I ended up in a gondola with a couple of much more experienced boarders who had good tips for keeping my gloves dry on the inside, which had been a problem to this point. Turns out, I had not realized I needed to do up the thing on the end of my jacket around them.

When we got to the top, we discovered that the hill was way, way steeper than the one we had been going down. Ros was able to get up first and Lindsay next. Heather and I struggled quite a bit. Heather finally got up and off she went. Nick had to coach me a lot to help me get up on the steeper hill. I couldn’t use the same way I had been on the less steep hills.  I finally figured out the better way to get up (after Nick showed me a dozen times) and made it down with lots of falls. I have to say I was very proud of myself when I made it down from there.

Both of those times, I fell in almost the exact same place near the bottom of the hill and did a face plant. Both times I was very thankful for the rented goggles and helmet.

The last time down, I made it with very few falls. At that last point when I fell, I freaked out and fell before I got to the face-plant spot, so when I ended up there, I was going much slower and managed to only fall on my knees.

When it was time to head home, I was glad to have joined in again. Though I wasn’t ready to leave my friends, I was ready to be done with snowboarding for the day. It wasn’t until Monday, when I was at my sorest, that I realized I really loved it and can’t wait for this weekend in Furano when I’ll have another chance to get out and do it again.



11 02 2010

Saturday was our snowshoeing adventure. I wasn’t super sure about the idea, but I knew a few good friends (Heather and Liz) were both going and decided to join in as it’s a winter sport I’ve never had the chance to experience at home.

We met in Sapporo station at eight that morning. Everyone introduced themselves (I got to meet a few JETs I hadn’t met before). Leon (our guide) asked about our gear – to make sure we had everything. He wasn’t entirely sure about my shoes, but decided they were ok (they’re uggs style shoes). He also informed us that he wanted us to tell him if we got cold so he could take care of it before it was a problem.

We left Sapporo for a place a bit south of Otaru. It was a beautiful day and we were wondering if we were going to be too hot with all of our layers. Leon gave us a quick how to for snowshoes and we began the hike.

A short amount of time into the hike we hit our first steep hill. It was a bit difficult, but mostly because I was afraid of going sliding backwards like I almost did a couple of times on my skis. At one point, Leon reminded me that I needed to be on my toes to dig my feet in and all was ok. I realized I needed to use my feet as I would going up stairs (staying more on my toes than any other part of my feet). As I got the hang of it, it wasn’t bad.

The fantastic view we found at the top of the first hill

The beginning had our steepest hill. Not long after we finished it we found a beautiful flat space, which looked untouched by people. The snow was completely smooth and across this field was an incredibly beautiful bright orange temple; it was beautiful in contrast to all the white snow and sky around us.

When we got closer to the temple, we stopped because there was a snow-covered road and one of our group decided he didn’t have the right gear to continue. At this point, while we were stopped, I realized I was hungry. I inquired about lunch and it sounded like it was going to be a while longer, so it was time for snacks. I discovered that granola bars are not good frozen weather foods because they get really, hard when they’re kept cold for a long time.

The orange temple

As we began to climb again, the weather began to turn. We hit near white out conditions. The majority of this time, we had been able to see the sea. When we hit the white-out snow, I couldn’t see much farther than the front of the group. They passed, right as we hit another temple, at this temple we were able to hide under the eaves and be out of the snow a bit. The wind slowed and the day became cloudy, though not terrible hiking conditions. Ken, our new friend from Gunma Prefecture, commented on the weather and we told him that was a bad idea.

The last bit of the hike before lunch started out with those same conditions and then got more and more windy the higher we got. At this point, my water bottle froze shut, so I got stuck drinking the crazy protein water that I was given at some random event in my town. It was a sweet candy-like flavor, but it was still a bit weird (but not frozen!).

We finally made it to the towers where we were going to eat lunch around two that afternoon and we were starving. Luckily, Leon was making us Nabe and hot cocoa for lunch. To make our lunch area, we had to step on the snow lots with our snowshoes (to compact it) then dig out a circle (leaving the inside). This left us with a table (the inside) and a bench to sit on. The nabe and hot cocoa were delicious and it was nice to eat warm food. The only problem, I discovered is that we weren’t moving, so my hands got really cold as I tried to eat – I discovered that I had to wear gloves while eating, which is difficult with chopsticks.

As we started to pack up from lunch, Leon shared that it shouldn’t be much farther till we returned. I was exited about that, because I was feeling cold, sore and tired. When we left, I discovered that my feet were pretty cold, but figured that maybe moving more would help them warm up.

The next bit of hike included us walking fairly close to the ocean. There were not enough trees between the ocean and us to block the wind. It didn’t help that there was snow mixed into the wind and it did not feel good as it pelted our faces.

It was as we were getting pelted with snow that I realized my feet were pretty cold. I didn’t want to be the whiner who couldn’t deal with the cold and made everyone stop for nothing, but I didn’t want to not say anything if there was a real problem either. So, I asked the Lord for wisdom. He gave it. I realized that if my toes weren’t warming up, it was a problem. So I paid close attention to them for the next few minutes. They weren’t getting any warmer, I said something to Liz who passed the message up.

Leon decided the best thing to do, would be to wait to do anything until we were out of the strong wind. We hiked down the next bit and realized we had gone the wrong way, but got far enough down that we could take care of my feet.

When Leon took my snowshoes off, he saw that my boots were completely crusted with ice around the outside. He was able to scrap the ice off of them, and then he, with the help of Heather and Nick, quickly pulled my boots and socks off of one foot, replaced them with new dry ones, stuck a warmer into my shoe, and massaged my toes for a minute to get the circulation going, then put my foot back in. He then repeated the process for my other foot. My toes and a bit of my foot were bright red, which apparently means I still had circulation there and was a good sign. Nick then helped me get my better gloves on properly as well, so my hands would be warm enough.

When that had been taken care of, we hiked back up the hill and found the markers again to follow and get back where we wanted to be. As we hiked, my feet got warmer and warmer. I was glad I had said something because they weren’t getting warmer before. We probably hiked another hour before we hit a snow-covered road and it began to get dark. The hike was fairly short and easy from there.

When we got back to town, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so happy to see a city in my life. I was exhausted from the hike. I enjoyed getting to spend the time with these amazing friends, but I was ready to crash and get warmer dry clothes on.

A view from somewhere in the midst of the hike, before the snow made me hide my camera in my jacket.

Setsubun – A Japanese Throwing Holiday

4 02 2010

In my family Easter and Christmas are throwing holidays. Easter eggs and balled up wrapping paper. No, the throwing has nothing to do with Jesus, which is a bit sad considering what the holidays both stand for (his birth and death), but they are a very silly part of my family’s traditions.

The Oni

My students and their teacher dresse as the "Oni"

Yesterday, for the first time I experienced a real throwing holiday. In Japan, the third day of February is Setsubun. Setsubun is a holiday where people throw beans (or peanuts in the shell the class I was in) at the “Oni” (devil or bad spirit) to rid them from their houses and welcome in health and happiness.

In the classroom, teacher and two students put on Oni masks and tried to sneak into the room. The rest of the class and I threw peanuts at them to rid the classroom of them. It was hilarious. The best part is when I realized Setsubun is a real throwing holiday. I started laughing at the whole thing and that my family didn’t originate the throwing holidays. Japan did.