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Sake, fire and empty ski trails!

Written on: Tuesday January 27th, 2015

A journal entry from: Japan I can

Nearing the end

It is always a funny feeling writing the final blog once back home. In a sense it is hard to find the time to sit down and start writing, however, it is also a sense of realization that the trip is over. On the one hand, you have to at moments ask yourself if it really did ever happen...

When we last left off, Dion had just dropped us off at Shibuonsen, which is a small mountain onsen village. These were natural onsens, and there is an evident sulphur smell in the town. Our accommodation was a quaint traditional Ryokan. This was our first night sleeping on tatami mats (woven grass type floors), where you simply sleep on a mat on the floor. What was really funny here was that the owner had asked us what was in our large purple case, and we explained that they were cross country skis and that we were from Canada and brought our skis to ski here in Japan. She then asked us where we stayed the night before and we had to try and explain that we stayed with Dion and his family. She new Akira's (legitimate famous skier) name and then assumed that I was a famous skier as well. That evening they showed me on the computer how they had found my information for the nordic ski club online and had read my travel blog, and even introduced us to others as a famous skier... It was too funny.

The following morning we got a ride to the base of the trail leading into the mountains up to the Snow Monkey Park. It was a beautiful 1.6km walk through a small forest trail up to the park. It turned out to be a great idea to go early as when we arrived the place was not crowded at all. Laure was in heaven here, she couldn't get enough. The Japanese Macaque come in the hundreds to the natural hot springs to bath during the winter time. You can get quite close to them and it is amazing to watch their faces and see how similar they are to ours. As we were walking back down tourist were coming in by the bus load! We ended up walking about 5km back to our hotel instead of waiting for the next bus.

Back at our Ryokan, we slowly made our way via car and train to Nagano and further up into the mountains to our last stop, Nozawaonsen. We had hoped to take two local buses to get there, but unfortunately some language barriers had us running down a train at a small rural stop back to the city. Although a longer journey, we didn't mind much as we both just closed our eyes a little and enjoyed the ride.

Arriving in Nozawa meant that we were now back into some serious snow! There was a solid 2.5 metre base everywhere you went, it was wild! Shoveling snow off of roofs seems to be a full time job, and along the streets there is lots of running water where the locals will push the snow into wholes to take the snow away. It will forever change how I look at our local snow falls. This town was pretty small, compact and filled with Aussies, yet had managed to keep its traditional charm.

What was really neat was that our time in Nozawa happened to fall on the yearly fire festival. A very important local festival where all the men from the village aged 25 and 42 build a large wooden tree tower. They start several days prior to the evening of the 15th bringing large trees down from the mountains and building the tower. The whole time offering heaps of sake along the way. It was an amazing spectacle to witness! Our hotel was quite close to the tower site, so we kept an eye on the progress every day. There were also many public onsens, and they were in nice shape. I had quite the experience the onetime sharing a bar of soap with an elderly man, as we both sat on the floor washing ourselves. I am sure that this sounds quite funny to read, but it was really a neat experience as we really couldn't communicate, but he insisted to share his soap and shampoo.

On a side note, I unfortunately had been suffering from some pretty severe back pain which was making me require Laure's help to even get out of bed. So I decided to go get a sports massage two days in a row and it seemed to do the trick! Oddly, skiing didn't seem to bother it, so that was good news!

Nozawa was the sight for the Olympic biathlon course, and was within walking distance from our place. On our 2nd day, we skied together at the course. It was sad to see how run down the facilities have become, and again the lack of skiers present. The course however challenging was beautiful and a lot of fun to ski. The trails were in perfect shape and I really had a blast skiing here. The following day I returned by myself as Laure was starting to feel a little ill and had the entire venue to myself. It was snowing and I put on some good music and just skied all by myself in the mountains for 1.5h. It was pretty surreal. As somewhat previously mentioned, x-c skiing in Japan is quite odd. The whole experience there has given me a much larger appreciation for our local club and ski community. *A further article will be written for the ski club on this matter at a later point.

After that final ski, I met Laure back at the hotel and we took "everything" out of our bags and started repacking for the voyage home. It's amazing how much stuff you can cram into a backpack. After some packing and a final public onsen we made our way out for dinner and to watch the fire festival. I could write a whole other blog on this, but the short of it is; the 42 year olds sit on top of the tower as the 25 yr olds defend it from all of the other men in the village. The other men take turns charging the tower with burning torches, literally beating the shit our of the 25 year olds. The poor 25 year olds seem to be too drunk on liquid courage to know otherwise. But it really is quite intense. As the tower is built of green wood, it isn't until they really set fire to the base that the whole thing goes up in flames (and the 42 yrs have come down a back ladder). The whole process is quite important to the locals and almost like a rite of passage for the men. A neat experience to watch.

The next morning we got up quite early as we were a little paranoid encase we were to have any troubles making our way to the airport. Luckily, everything ran smoothly and we took a taxi, then a local train back to Nagano. From there we caught a bullet train to Tokyo, and within a matter of about 3h, we were back in the big city. It was a strange feeling to walk out back into the hustle and bustle of a main Tokyo station. Temporarily we had forgotten what that was like. After a quick lunch and a little shopping we made our way with all our bags via monorail to the airport. The flight back was a little bumpy, but luckily we both managed to sleep a little. It was odd to leave Tokyo at 7pm only to arrive in Toronto at 5pm of the very same day...

We had no problems getting back to our hotel and grabbing the car and making our way back North!

It was an amazing trip and I think we both achieved what we wanted. To be pushed out of our comfort zone a little and to broaden our way of thinking. Combing back to Canada, it is really interesting to compare the way we do certain things and vice versa. I think that, that is the beauty of travelling. There is not one country that is perfect, but each country has certain things that they do extremely well, and we can all learn from those things and improve our society. For me, that is the cleanliness and politeness of the Japanese people. This really hit me, more than anywhere else I have been.

It is a great place to travel and I would highly recommend it!

Thanks again for reading and following the journey. I appreciate all the feedback and until next time, all the best!

David W.


From Nadia on Jan 28th, 2015

David et Laure, I really enjoyed reading all about your adventures! David you are a great writer and Laure I love your pictures! I'm so glad that you two are willing to share them with us through this blog! Can't wait to hear more about it in person! see you two soon!! -Nadia

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