Over the last weekend of Feburary, a grand troupe of us Kobe kids (along with another 230 so people) pilgrimaged up north to the snowy slopes of Nagano’s Kashimayari Ski Park, on the annual WhyNot ski trip.
WhyNot is a company that runs International parties and events across Japan. They typical host very ‘gaijin friendly’ nomihoudai (all you can drink) nights across various bars and clubs in Osaka, so they are a company many a Kobe JET is very familiar with. Our ski trip was run by the WhyNot47 project, a section of the organization that plans and runs various trips around Japan to each of the 47 prefectures, in an effort to dismiss the misconception that Japan is a dangerous place post 3/11 disaster. If you would like to know more the link is here.
Gathering on the chilly evening of Friday the 28th of February loaded up with snacks and booze aplenty, we boarded our bus departing from Sannomiya at midnight on the dot! Spirits were high in the hour after we set off, jikoushoukais (self introductions) were given and many a ‘beverage’ consumed, however at the back of our minds we all knew we would have a physically demanding day on the morrow the bus grew quiet after our first rest stop. I awoke in the early hours of the following morning, stiff necked and groggy due to a sleeping awkwardly on the bus. Casually glancing out the window at irregular intervals as we made out way up progressively further north, it almost seemed as if the seasons were winding back, the snow falling thicker and thicker as we ascended the mountain.
Upon arrival at the ‘Tateyama Prince Hotel’ a very fancy ryokan 旅館 (traditional Japanese style hotel), I was nothing short of overwhelmed as I had been expecting lodging far below its station; in fact my first thoughts that have stayed true are ‘this place is too nice for us’!
After jumping off the bus we check in our luggage, grabbed our rented gear and suited up, the next thing we knew we were boarding the transfer shuttle taking us to the slopes of Kashimayari Ski Park!
WhyNot were very accompanying for those even with the most basic of experience in winter sports, offering to take care of all the equipment and lessons for a fee.
As it was my first time seeing snow in all my days (being from the Australias) I opted to try my luck at skiing and booked a beginner ski lesson. Luckily my mate Erik was also in a similar position and accompanied me in my attempts to learn the basics of getting around the slopes. Unfortunately the lesson provided by our instructor left a lot to be desired, the general noise about the slopes compounded alongside his broken English left us in a position where we were getting very little out of the time we were spending under his care. An hour passed by and we had done little more than learn how to put our ski’s on and walk around a few meters, it was then he proposed a half an hour break! Looking out at the slopes, we glanced our friends enjoying themselves in envy, it was then we concluded amongst ourselves (pardon my French) ‘Fuck this shit’ and jumped on the nearest ski lift’s up to one of the gentler slopes.
At this point we had a fair idea of how to ‘go’, but little knowledge of just how to ‘turn’ or ‘stop’, I thought back to what the ski instructor told Ike in the episode of South Park in the boys go skiing ‘If you french fry when you’re supposed to pizza you’re gonna have a bad time’, and felt pretty confident I had this.
Over the next few hours I only fell over 70 or 80 times. I became terrified each and every time I reached a speed my body was not yet comfortable with, my legs instinctively failing me resulting in me ‘eating it’ time and time again. It wasn’t until the afternoon in which one of my buddies who is a very proficient snowboarder found me still failing epically at even the easiest of slopes, and insisted I come up to one of the tallest ones for a ‘trial by fire’. Reluctantly I jumped on the lift up heading up to the mountain whose peak was obscured by clouds, upon reaching the summit all I could think was ‘oh hell no’, as I looked out at the white abyss beyond. Somehow I made it down inch by inch (most of which I was on my ass), yet miraculously after having conquered the beast mountain (albeit in the least fashionable of ways), by comparison those gentle slopes which had tossed me around in the morning I could now traverse with ease. I think what it really came down to was a confidence issue, soon as I had it in my head that this was just ‘a little slope’ I stopped falling over every 10m and all of a sudden skiing was a lot more enjoyable!
One of the fun parts about WhyNot trips is that they always include a nomihoudai 飲み放題 (all you can drink) party in the evening of the Saturday night, very aware of this, myself and a couple mates retired early from the slopes to relax in order to utilize the hotels onsens and take a nap prior to the evenings festivities.
Having paid the very reasonable additional surcharge of 1000円 to reserve a private double room instead of a communal one, my mate Ryan and I who I was bunking with were delighted to discover that the small fee had bought us an identically sized room to that of our other friends who were sharing 7 in the same space! Needless to say we found ourselves with room a plenty.
After a long soak in the onsen, a brief nap and the amazing buffet dinner the hotel provided, I found feeling somewhat like a normal human being again. Onsen are a funny thing when you think about them, when I first arrived in Japan they terrified me, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would possibly want to get naked with their peers! Almost two years down the roads having been to them dozens of times they now don’t faze me in the slightest, in fact they are a rare treat! The whole concept of the naked body being shameful for some unknown reason is really a western concept, one that if you are to bath in Japan you must discarded with your underwear!
Anyhow I digress, at around 8pm the nomihoudai party began in the bottom floor of the hotel. If there is one thing WhyNot will always do well it’s alcohol! They had a wide array of canned chuuhai 酎ハイ (Japanese liquor that is often used in place of vodka and added typically to juices or sodas), beer and the ever abunai Strong Zero’s.
I think I know my way around liquor in Japan by this point in my adventures, and there are two kinds of nights out drinking you have do here:
1. Regular drinking
2. Strong Zeroing
The thing is, the morning after a night in which one was drinking Strong Zeroes are going to be agonizing without any doubt. The reason these drinks are so dangerous, is that although they don’t taste particularly alcoholic they are 8% alcohol, even drinking one tall can has 3 standard drinks in it! Personally I would usually only be willing to drink 1 or 2 of these a night before switching out for beer, however since they were all free things got out of hand rapidly.
There were more kampais than I will ever recall, shenanigans a plenty and at one point I found myself in some sort of circle pit screaming the lyrics to ‘what does the fox say?’. Needless to say I found myself spread out on the floor of my room, still fully clothed alarm blaring at 8:30am the following morning, my room buddy not in a dissimilar state.
We had almost missed breakfast but we discovered there was one bus headed back to the slopes at 10:30am. By this point those dozens and dozens of falls the day before had caught up to me, and my body was screaming for rest. Never being one to know my own limits I decide to ganbare and head back out to the slopes one more time (we had paid a good deal for the privilege after all)!
In retrospect the amount of damage I ended up doing to my back (was wearing a back brace for a week after the weekend) heading out for the second day was perhaps not one of my wisest judgement calls, however with a little experience under my belt skiing in general became a whole lot more enjoyable. I even managed to tackle the mountains highest slope that took me a whole half hour to get down (however half the time I was on my ass)!
12:30pm marked the last bus back to the hotel before our departure home, luckily most of the guys managed to squeeze one last onsen in before we left to defrost our frozen limbs.
We packed up and checked out with haste the 8 hours later we arrived home in Kobe, tired and weary but with a grand sense of accomplishment!
There are worse ways the spend the weekend 😉
In case you are interested in going next year (I know I am certainly keen to do so) here was the flyer for the event.>