Journey Through Japan

Day 4, 04JAN2017

Day Two on the Mountain, and my last day of snowboarding.

Today’s foray into snowboarding was much better and far more enjoyable. With the exception of a handful of anticipated spills in order to stop, I did not fall over today while snowboarding. What I mean to say by this is, I did not fall unexpectedly and as a result hurt myself or knock the wind out of me.

Josh took me 3/4s the way up the mountain on the Grand Hirafu resort and he stayed with me as I became more and more comfortable connecting heel and toe turns down the Shirakaba green run. By lunch time Josh and I had cycled through this run six or seven times and I felt great! Inject here: Josh is a fantastic snowboard partner. He’s incredibly patient and encouraging. I opted for a pre-lunch break in the Rest House and Josh went off with Purcy and Foley for a few big-boy runs. We then convened at King Bell Hut for lunch: nothing too special here, fries and a beef and rice bowl.

After lunch Josh accompanied me down and off the mountain via the Beginners Access green and then Alpen red run. Alpen was terrifying. Although it had snowed most of the previous night and full into today, portions of Alpen were so steep they’d glossed over with ice patches. I “falling leafed” down this portion of the run and was so relieved when I made it to the bottom. And then, boom! As I was trying to slow down and come to a stop at the bottom of Alpen a fellow snowboarder facing up the mountain and oblivious to my presence, ran into me. Now Josh claims I actually pushed this man over. In my defense I yelled at the person trying to get their attention, however they were coaching another skier down the mountain and they spoke Japanese – so they did not pay me any attention. When our two bodies collided with each other, I, having anticipated the collision, naturally had the upper hand and managed to hold on to them long enough so that I regained my balance and separated without falling over. My partner in this entanglement was still trying to regain balance when I skidded away, and, well, they fell over. Again, Josh claims I pushed them, I don’t believe I did.

With my day on the slopes concluded, I trekked home down the mountain while Josh returned to the slopes for the first time this trip with his mates. I don’t know exactly how many runs Josh managed to get in the remainder of the afternoon, but I do know I zonked out for nearly three hours when I returned to North Point.

Once everyone was off the mountain we reconvened at the onsen.

The Onsen.

This experience is like no other. In short, the place is a series of Jacuzzis fed by natural hot springs. At length, the onsen is a ritualistic bathing center wherein men and women experience serene relaxation in separated quarters because – and this is integral to the entire onsen experience – you are entirely naked. I say this because if any of my fellow Americans are reading this blog and are considering the highly recommended onsen experience, you have been forewarned. There is no such thing as modesty in an onsen. I take that back, if you go at night, the steam coupled with the darkness manages to provide some concealment, but that’s it: evaporating water is your coverage.

A few more tips for non-onsen veterans:

1: Bring a towel to the onsen, if you forget, most places offer a rental towel for a nominal non-reimbursable fee.

2: Remove all your clothes in the changing room – there is no “walk to the edge of the onsen then quickly disrobe and jump in without being seen.”

3: Be sure to follow all instructions on how to properly bathe before getting into the onsen. See, the boys did not warn me of this key step in the onsen experience process, I had to just go with the flow when I walked into the steamy enclave. Everyone else seemed to be sitting (not standing in a shower, but sitting on a stool with a bucket of water and a short spray nozzle) at one of numerous bathing areas and so I followed suit, cleaned off before getting into the hot springs, and was thankful to learn afterwards that this was indeed the requisite process.

4: Relax and enjoy the experience. An onsen, like any other hot spring experience, is exceptionally calming and does wonders for your skin and aching muscles.

The Onsen our group has used includes both an indoor and an outdoor hot spring. The indoor version was exceptionally hotter than the outdoor one, but both were included in the entrance fee so I bounced back and forth between the two whenever I felt as though I was burning up.

After the onsen – drink PLENTY of water.

After our second day of onsen experience I felt like a million bucks, or more specifically, I felt as though I hadn’t spent two days tormenting my muscles on the mountainside. All the stiffness in my joints was gone, and I could stand up straight without any issue.

Following the onsen I returned my snowboard gear and then the four of us were off in pursuit of a place for dinner. Boy did we find the best place!

Jam, a small restaurant tucked away under an apartment building serves a huge selection of hot, humble and filling foods. We’re still not sure how to classify this cuisine because it embraces a bit of everything: Japanese, American, Swiss, Korean, Mexican, you name it.

The place has six tables set for anywhere from four to six people each, and without a reservation you have to sit at the bar which hosts six normal sized people until a table clears up. We were very lucky because a table with reservations at 1800 cleared out quickly and we snuck in and out before the 2000 reservation arrived. I ordered the “PBC” – a combination of potato, bacon and cheese served on a sizzling hot plate fresh from the oven. PBC = food heaven. I paired the entrée with chilled tofu marinated in soy sauce, ginger and scallions.

After Jam, we ventured into Wild Bills for a night cap, and then parted ways to meet again the next morning.

Wild Bills “Nana-Coladas”

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