Thursday, February 25, 2010

Japan/SoKor Day 9: Nozawa Onsen skiing and crazy karaoke

December 19, 2009
Japan Trip Day 9: Nozawa Onsen skiing and crazy karaoke

I woke up this morning and had an early brekkie to prepare me for a long day of awesome skiing in the Japanese Alps. It was a great Japanese-style breakfast cooked by the amazing staff at Lodge Nagano - complete with rice, soy sauce and an "Onsen Egg" - an egg (mostly) cooked - in an onsen! Not quite a hard-boiled egg... more like a medium-boiled egg. :) You break it on the side of your rice bowl and mix it in your hot rice to cook it some more. Very good. Also had some muesli, miso soup and coffee... then ready to hit the slopes!

Will fitted me for gear and then we headed up to the slopes. The beginner and intermediate runs were green and red, respectively (corresponding to green and blue in Canada, I think), and there were plenty of those. We started with a 15 min gondola lift up the mountain, that was so exciting.

When I was in Tokyo last week, the guys at the hostel went a couple of hours outside of Tokyo to go skiing and they said it was terrible, slushy snow, and only 1 run was open. They said it was good to be able to say they "went skiing" in Japan, but they didn't really enjoy it. They said they wished me luck for my ski trip the next week, and hopefully there would be lots of snow. Word has it that my little "snow dance" that I must have done last week in Tokyo did the trick - it has been snowing constantly here in Nozawa Onsen for at least for the past 30 hours... there was 1.5m of fresh powder on the mountain!! Amazing!! It is a Saturday today, and the mountain only opened for the ski season on THURSDAY. This is literally the best possible timing. So this is the first skiing weekend of the season, and also it is still 1 week away from the Japanese student holidays, so I had an amazing day of skiing, without huge amounts of crowds. Amazing.

The day of skiing was great. I hit most of the green and red runs. There were some crazy 'ol school skiier guys, wearing some unexpected snow suits - see my photos. That was great. After a bunch of skiing in the morning, I went to get some lunch. There was some Japanese curry that looked good, along with some other tasty stir-fry-looking stuff, but everything was "Pork-o!" I ended up getting "Fried Chicken" and "Hot Potato Chips" (i.e. chicken and potato wedges), along with some other great unhealthy food to keep my energy up for another several hours of skiing in the afternoon. I then zipped up all my gear and headed back out on the mountain, this time going all the way up to the very top of the runs and skiing on a bunch of the runs from the top. At this point, most of the snow had stopped so I got some beautiful clear views of the village and the mountains around us. This was a great day of outdoor goodness, it really makes me want to learn to Snowboard at Tahoe some winter.

After I finished skiing, it was getting close to 4 or 5pm, so I headed back towards the hostel. In true backpackery fashion, rather than paying $2 for the bus, I carried my heavy boots and skiis down the hill back to the village. Since I'd just arrived the night before, I had no idea where I was, and I overshot the hostel by 10 blocks. I then fumbled with all the stuff I was carrying and noticed someone coming down the road. It was an Austrian dude who was an employee at the "sister" hostel, Villa Nozawa! This was great, he helped me carry my stuff to the other hostel, and gave me a ride back to Lodge Nagano with Corbin's sister Caitlin.

Once back at the hostel, it was dangerously close to "magic hour" - that glorious time around sunset where photos look amazing. So I dropped all my stuff, grabbed my SLR camera, and booted it back outside to take some photos of the onsens before it got past dusk. I also took a little bit of time to get a few souvenirs, including a cool little Shinkansen train toy. Sugoi!!

Then back to the hostel, and we ordered food "for delivery". This was an experience in itself. We ordered sushi and udon soup, and delivery was super fast. There is no delivery fee or tipping, and the delivery people bring the food on their little vespa motorcycle, served inside of reusable containers, dishes, pots and plates! They even gave us a tray for all the food! Hilarious. You eat your food and then place the plates in your entryway or on the door step, and they will come by to collect the dishes the next morning at 9am!

We had our great dinner and hung out, and then took off to the "Foot Bar." There was some hot sake boiling in a container, so I joked with the bartender that it was a "Sake Onsen". I also ordered some Plum "Wine" which apparently was also actually a kind of Sake. We met up with a crazy Aussie, and some people from the other hostel. While at Foot Bar a group of loud Japanese locals walked by and were excited to see foreigners. We went outside to take photos with them and one of the dudes patted my belly, and said "Good times!"?!?!? Haha I think they don't often see many somewhat "portly" folk in Japan, so they thought I was either good luck or hilarious (or both). :)

Corbin and I were a foosball powerhouse force to be reckoned with, and after a few games we took off to a local Karaoke Bar. "Kah-rae-ohhh-kayyyy" everyone yelled, as we made our way along the small "main street". We walked (or should I say, "burst") into the Karaoke Bar, and it was already quite busy, all with local Japanese people from the village or Japanese skiiers. As we walked through the door, the entire place erupted in cheering!! For us!! As well as cheering for us on arrival, we got a lot of high fives on the way in. People were so excited to see foreigners there, so we knew we'd better pick some good songs that we could all sing together. We selected some on the cool touch screen wireless song queue, starting with Britney Spears "Hit me baby one more time" which was a huge cross-cultural success. :) People sung along a bunch, and I noticed someone's grandma sitting there, clapping along to our singing. AMAZING.

And then... WASP SAKE!!!!!!!!!! This has became one of the most re-told stories of my entire trip. Will (one of the awesome staff at the hostel) mentioned that there was a "Wasp Drink" that I had to try. I figured he meant W.A.S.P., as in "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" - so the drink would be light beer or lager or something. Turns out he meant exactly what he said... a WASP.. DRINK. This was total Fear Factor-style, it was Sake with 10 dead BEES in it?!??!?!?! Ewwwwwwww!!! I was totally grossed out but, as with everything in Japan, it's supposed to be "good for your immune system" - because it has some of the frickin' Wasp Venom in it. Oh man. So anyway, I couldn't handle the wasps floating around in the drink, so Will graciously said, "No worries man, I'll ask her to remove the bees", and then he brought back the drink right away... the drink that just 10 seconds previously had 10 DEAD BEES IN IT. So gross. I figured there was no way I could go this far and not actually try it... I needed a punchline so I could tell this story when I got home. I tried it... and man it was gross! It kinda stung your mouth a bit, it was very tingle-y, kinda sting-y... and made my tongue numb for a sec I think. So basically, exactly what you'd expect friggin' WASP SAKE to taste like. And... gross. You could even eat the wasps and the crazy Vancouverites were insane enough to do it. I couldn't handle that but definitely listened to more stories from other folks there about a Snake Sake from the South of Japan which has an actual Snake coiled up in the bottom of the bottle. Oh maaaaaan.

We continued the crazy night of Karaoke, I sung T.I.'s "Live your life" and one of the Japanese dudes there knew a lot of the words too! We shook hands and bowed to everyone on the way out. What a night!! I got back to the hostel and went right to sleep after such a long and awesome day. I love the people here. I made a bunch of best friends already and they were trying to convince me to change my trip plans and just stay longer. I was REALLY temped to, given how great everyone was and how much fun I had, and how great the snow was. But I had a reservation halfway across Japan for a hotel the next night, and I wanted to continue on and make the most out of my Japan Rail Pass... so I stuck with the plan, and went to bed for the 2nd night in the greatest little ski resort town in Japan. :)

Excited for a day of skiing

And... it snowed a LOT last night


Ol' school skiiers with "feathers in their caps" (literally)

Blizzard styles going up the ski lift

Still coming down several hours later


View of the Japanese Alps from way up

Beautiful skiing weather

Awesome times


Hilarious/awesome!!!! Another 'ol school skiier dude rockin' some interesting clothing

Sooooo awesome

Other people also surprised by the 'ol school skiier dude

And, as you always need when you are skiing - a really unhealthy fried lunch with cheesecake and hot chocolate.

This was one of my favourite runs, I did it like 5 or 6 times in a row

Stylin' on the slopes. Yeehaaaw.

Back down the chair lift and a nice view of the town of Nozawa Onsen

The lighting was just PERFECT, so I got home and ran back out instantly with my SLR to grab some photos. This was the onsen right near our hostel.

Restaurants along the main street

The mailbox at the corner of the main street and the road to our hostel

Another restaurant

Sooooo Japanese :)

Trucks driving like crazy on the main street

Love this photo

Hotel near the main wooden onsen

This is the wooden onsen that I posted photos of from the previous evening, this was so fun.

Loved this architecture


Best onsen ever

Hotel near the onsen

We got food delivered... and they bring it on reusable plates! You eat your dinner and they come by again the next morning to pick up the plates!!

The delivery people who brought the food. So funny, they posed for a photo!!

Renee and Caitlin ready for dinner

Out at "Foot Bar" on the main street. We were magicians working our magic on the foosball table

Random Japanese people who were excited to see it. Just before we said goodbye, one of these dudes patted my belly and laughed ("for good luck maybe?!") I don't think Japan has many "portly" folks like myself, so they were excited and thought I was funny I think. :)

Leaving "Foot Bar" - yes, another weird name for a bar!

Caitlin and one of our new Japanese local friends singing Bon Jovi

Wasp Sake!!!!!!!!!!!! SO GROSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Corbin's Wasp Sake (incl. wasps) and my Wasp Sake (with wasps removed, but still gross)

Corbin waaaaayyy too comfortable drinking the wasp sake! Those Vancouverites are frickin' crazy!!

Cool photo

The wireless device you pick your Karaoke songs with

More local dudes rockin' out

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