**Greetings, Go Girl readers – I’m happy to be here! Tune in the last Sunday of every month to check out more tales of gripping suspense and titillating adventure in the Land of the Rising Sun. Or, more accurately, just stories of me playing outside in Japan. Happy trails.**
There are days I seriously question my decision to check that little box marked “rural” on the application form to teach English in Japan. But having made my futon, I lay in it, much more satisfied in the end, to be in my little corner of the country than in any grey city or sprawling suburb I’ve seen thus far. For I’ve found that Japan offers so much more than the crammed crosswalks of Shibuya in Tokyo. Even more than the beautiful temples and flowering cherry blossoms of Kyoto. Rising amidst all these forms of civilization are the volcanic mountains that comprise Japan’s landscape. And for this girl, that means one thing: play time.
Living on the northernmost tip of the Japan mainland, on a peninsula shaped like a battleaxe, Japan’s north island – Hokkaido – is a stone’s throw away – or an hour-thirty-minute ferry, depending. On clear days, I can see the houses on the far shore buttressed up against the mountains, looking like a 5th grade diorama. Until two weeks ago, however, I had never been there.
Coupled with a few days in Hokkaido’s capitol, Sapporo, to catch the yearly Snow Festival – towering, multi-story sculptures made out of snow and ice – and of course, the beer that made the city famous, we ventured on to Niseko, touted as one of Japan’s top ski resorts. The rumors were true: more snow than I have ever seen in my life! (And I’ve seen my fair share of snow.) The town itself is quaint and not at all “Japanese-y.” The lodges are modern in design and spread out in a maze-like grid pattern of quiet, homey streets. In fact, the town is more or less overrun by Aussies and Kiwis, to the point where I saw some natives and thought, Oh look, Japanese people!
The skiable portion of the mountain is actually made up of four separate resorts: Hanazono, Hirafu, Niseko Village, and Annapuri. They all wrap around a mountain called Nuppuri, and are easily traversable at the top, which is above tree line. Although we were stuck in a cloud most of our first day with low visibility, we lucked out with bluebird skies and a great view of the looming and dramatic Mt. Yotei on the second. Where Niseko lacked in steeps and vertical (I get it, not everywhere is like Colorado!) it made up for in the fluffy white stuff. In layman’s terms: sick pow! And in comparison to sky-rocketing lift ticket prices back in the States, a day’s pass at Niseko is still half the price of home even in high-season.
In short, two days at Niseko was not nearly enough time to take in all its snowy wonder, especially if you were to add the acres upon acres of backcountry terrain out the gates. But as a wise friend once told me, Any day you see your tracks in the snow behind you is a good day…well, I’ll certainly keep what I’ve got.
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