A Travellerspoint blog

3 Days of Snow

Snowboarding at Happo and Hakuba 47

snow -2 °C

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So I haven't bothered doing new blogs for the last 3 day because each has been fairly similar. We have been waking up aeons 7:30 - 8 for breakfast in the dining hall. This is pretty basic so we stock up on cereal, toast and juice to get a bit of energy in the morning, and them we begin the long process of getting kitted up and heading to the slopes.

On Sunday we decided to catch the free shuttle to a different mountain called Hakuba 47, but we had also heard it was a long weekend so we were expecting more people than our past ski days. We were not wrong! First of all to get on the shuttle we had to squash our way into the small bus and I was left standing, when this lovely Japanese guy insisted on holding my board for me and giving me his seat. I tried arguing but he didn't speak English well so he basically just stood up with his board, took my board, and then gently pushed me down onto his seat. He spent the rest of the time standing in the door well with both our boards, what a gentleman! When we got there the bottom field was absolutely packed and if turned out that not only was it a long weekend so lots of locals had come out but Hakuba 47 was also hosting some sort of event which included lots of boards and skis painted with manga and anime characters, crazy J-Pop music blasting through the announcement speakers on the chair lifts, and men dressed up as women manga characters like Sailor Moon - wigs, tights and all!!

After we made it through the lift pass line and got on the gondola we decided to all split up again to work on our favourite areas and decided on a meet time of 3:30pm back at the shuttle stop. The guys spent their day working on small jumps and tree runs while I enjoyed the long trails and a few cups of hot coffee to rest my knee. We all spend 50% of the time dodging people and when half the riders were even more inexperienced than us, this was a task in itself! It's always awkward when someone falls right in front of you and you have no other option than to basically ride over the top of them! :/

But we all managed fine and headed back together on the shuttle (which was slightly less packed than on the way up) where we then relaxed in our room for a while before heading down to the bar to play some cards, have dinner (chicken burgers are amazing) and then have an early night. Well... some of us had an early night.... others (Marc and James) stayed up until midnight playing Pokemon. Yep. Pokemon.

Monday was basically the same story except we just walked across the road to Happo. Was far less busy than Sunday but we were all really feeling it by this stage in the trip so all of us had finished and were back relaxing by about 2:30 pm. We headed to the bar again for an early dinner (this time pizza) and then had another early night while Marc and James played chess until about midnight again. They're pretty hardcore like that!

Today we headed over to Hakuba 47 for our last day of snowboarding and once again had to squash our way onto the little shuttle bus. But once we got there it was like a ghost town! With the long weekend over and all the locals back at school and work we could do a whole run without seeing anyone else! We stuck together a little more today although by 1pm we were all doing our own thing and by 3pm we were all stuffed and met at the earlier shuttle to head back (except James who stayed until 4). Zac and I packed as soon as we got back so that we could relax tonight, and that is exactly what we are doing now while the others sort out their stuff :) We were very adventurous and once more had dinner at our lodge bar (it really is just too cold to go back outside once you've had a warm shower!) and now I am sitting down at the lounge area on a warm comfy couch, with a hot chocolate from the vending machine at our front door, about to enjoy my last evening here with a good book :) Tomorrow we have to be up and waiting at the lobby at 8am for the shuttle back to the airport, so I'll let you know how that works out in my last entry for this trip tomorrow night on the plane home!!

Posted by clairebear89 01:21 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Rest Day in Hakuba

Got naked and had a bath in the snow with some Asian ladies ;)

sunny -2 °C

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Well before I start on today, here is a quick recap of yesterday....

It was our second day at the Happo mountain across the road from us so we were all a little more confident on which runs we enjoyed and were capable of (not to mention the perfect sunny weather which meant we could actually see more than 3 metres in front of us!) so we set a few meeting times and places so we could check everyone was alive and then split up for the day. I got my board waxed first because it was in need of some TLC and then did a few of the intermediate runs before accidentally ending up on a black run. Wasn't too scary but had a few metres of very slow falling leaf style!! Everyone finished up at different times and then at 3pm Zac, Marc and I went for a walk back down to the super market (so long!!) to get some snacks while Nick and James had a game of chess. After some down time in our room we headed out for dinner at a little place down the road and then came back with the intention of heading down the the bar at happy hour (8-9) to grab a drink. What actually happened was that we all got too comfy in our room and fell asleep before then while Marc and James stayed up playing Pokemon... I know what you're thinking, and yes we are that hard core!

Zac had a pretty bad cold when we woke up in the morning so we decided on a rest day for everyone to recover. I suggested going to some onsen and the boys wanted a massage as well so they caught a taxi to the massage place while I went for a walk to the closest ATM and then up to Wadano to find the onsen. There I met the boys, who had given up on waiting for a massage and come to the onsen instead, but unfortunately it was closed for cleaning for half an hour. So we split up again and the boys went to find another onsen while I went for a walk to find a cafe further into the next village. It wasn't too cold outside but was lightly snowing and sunny skies so it was the perfect day to wander along the little paths between the villages and I definitely started to feel like I had found Narnia! During this walk I saw 3 people ahead of me and as they came closer I heard them yell out, " Hey that's Claire!" It took me a while to realise who it was because of the sunnies and beanies but then I realised it was Amy and Emma, who are over here for a few days as well. Was crazy to run into them on a random little road in Japan! After catching up with them for a little while I found a cool cafe where I had some hot milk and baileys before heading back to a hotel called The Ridge where I had been told had awesome massages. I booked a massage for a few hours ahead and then went back to the onsen to try it out.

As I walked in, right at the split between the male and female ones, I heard some loud voices interrupting the peace and quiet of the area and then realised it was the boys.... They told me afterwards though that they were the only ones in there so it was ok! I went into the ladies one where I was not so lucky. There were a number of other guests, all of which were naked and walking around, so I quickly and awkwardly stripped off before sitting down on the little stools at the shower area where you have to totally clean yourself before getting in. A little bit weird sitting on a chair to shower, but all part of the experience! I then went outside where a cute little bath built in the rocks was waiting and I slid into the extremely hot water where I sat for ages with the snow falling onto my head and shoulders. After I while I was getting ridiculously hot so had to sit up on the rocks for a bit before passing out. Bit weird to be sitting outside in the snow, naked, with other people watching.... But actually not as awkward as you would think!

After about 45 minutes in the onsen I dried off, got dressed and headed back to The Ridge to have my massage. I got there a bit early so he made me a free cappuccino (actually the best I have had in Japan so far!) and when he was ready he brought me down to the massage room and I got sorted and told him where was sore and which muscles were tired. It was such a good massage and I was feeling really relaxed and much better until he decided to massage my legs. This started off awesome but then he was massaging quite far up my leg which was a little awkward, but then even worse he started massaging my feet which was sooooo not cool!! Then he started pulling my toes, one by one! He very nearly got a kick in the face before realising that I obviously was not feeling relaxed by that, had a laugh about ticklish feet, and went back to massaging my shoulders which he said had ridiculous amounts of knots. So for those of you who know how I feel about feet, I hope you enjoy that story!

By the end of the massage I was feeling very relaxed and sleepy so I walked back to our lodge where I found the boys chilling in the room, Zac was feeling a little better after they had been to the onsen, so we took a pack of cards and headed down to the restaurant in our lodge to get some lunch and play scumbag. We went out to dinner after a while and ran into the Patterson group again (apparently Hakuba isn't as large as it seems!) had some really good sushi, came back for a drink at our lodge for happy hour, and are now back in our room, about to have an early night so we can get up at a decent time in the morning for a day on a different mountain. Shuttle bus is free from our lodge and our passes cover 9 different mountains so we decided we would have a look somewhere else while we are here.

Hope you guys are all having a great weekend!!

Posted by clairebear89 04:52 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Coldest Bus trip ever plus our first day on the slopes

So much snow!!!

snow -3 °C

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So our last day in Tokyo started with a sleep in after a late night playing cards. We didn't have to check out until 11 so we took our time packing up and getting sorted for the snow before leaving our luggage at the hotel to head back to Shibuya to spend our last day doing some more shopping and showing James the coolest area of Tokyo. We split up on the way and the boys headed to the Burton store so Zac could buy pants, James could buy a snowboard and Marc could buy a GoPro, and I headed back to the Shibuya 109 department store to buy some more quirky Tokyo fashion. I also bought some necessary items - new ski goggles to match my jacket and a J-Pop CD/DVD! We met up again after 2 hours and some devastating effects to our bank accounts, and then had lunch at the cool sushi train place to show James the best restaurant in Shibuya. After we picked up our luggage we then had to manoeuvre 5 suitcases and 3 snowboards around the subway system, onto the Narita Express train and finally to the arrivals lounge back at the airport where we then had to wait 2 hours for the shuttle bus to take us out to our lodge in Hakuba.

We expected a small bus with not many people but were very concerned to see over 40 joining our group and then even more concerned when we got out to the bus and the driver was chucking our snowboard bags up through the back window of the bus and along the back seat. Because we got there first we decided we would be the cool guys and take the seats at the back of the bus in front of the now huge pile of snowboard cases, but we soon realised that was a mistake as even more people were turning up with boards that we then had to pull in through our window and stack up the back. I'm pretty sure we worked hard enough to be paid, or at least be given an OzSnow jacket and a name badge for the week! However I did impress the guys with my muscles lifting the board bags so all was not wasted ;)

Once we finally got going (after the extra 4 people had settled in to sleep on the floor in the aisle or sit on the weird extra fold down chairs in the middle) it was already past 9 and the driver announced it would be a 5-6 hour trip plus a stop for dinner. That was not a pleasant thing to hear, but we settled in for a long, cold bus trip armed with a few episodes of New Girl on my iPad and a double headphone adapter to share it. After the dinner stop we all tried to get some sleep but it didn't work to well for anyone with the noise of one group of pretty bogan guys sitting near the back. As we finally pulled in at 3am we then realised we had to unpack all the boards from the back of the bus and when we got out of the bus and the snow was knee deep and super slippery it became all the more challenging! It was absolutely freezing and trying to slide down the icy hill with a suitcase, satchel and snowboard bag was a little to much for so early in the morning, but it just made us all the more thankful when we finally got into our room (2 bunks and 1 single with a share bathroom down the ball) and crawled into our beds after setting the alarm for 8 so we could be up to get our gear and head to the snow :)

It took a little longer than we expected in the morning for Marc and Nick to get their hire gear sorted out but we were all happy to relax a little more and enjoy breakfast while we tried to wake ourselves up enough to get our gear on. Once we walked outside though it was impossible to wipe the smile off our faces! The gondola is literally 100 metres from our front door and once at the top of that you can strap in and get straight on the lifts before enjoying the crazy long and windy runs that are here at Happo Mountain. It was snowing lightly all morning as well which helped to keep us awake and also added to the huge amount of fresh powder on the tracks. The best stack of the day was as we hit our first section of untouched powder and Zac face planted straight into it, disappeared for a minute because it was so deep, and them sat up with a full Santa beard of snow before shaking it all off like a little puppy after he's had a bath. I laughed so hard I then stacked it and had to spend a good 10 minutes digging my way back out of the deep powder. That was how we spent the rest of the day - mixing it up between fresh powder stacks and winding tracks with amazing views! All the trees are covered in powder and the chair lifts go for so long that you actually have time to look around and enjoy the views. By the time it got to 3 we were all to wrecked to keep going after fighting our way through the deep powder, so we decided to get changed and go for a walk down to the main town to find some restaurants and for a few of us who forgot to bring towels to buy some. Google said it would take 20 minutes.... But google lied. It also didn't help that after 10 minutes outside it was near blizzard conditions and I took a wrong turn so we walked for ages down the wrong road before realising and turning around. By the time we finally made it to the town, frost bitten toes, fingers and noses galore, we vowed that no matter how much it cost we would pay for a taxi back! So we had lunch at this cool pizza/burger bar, stocked up on supplies and then found a taxi.

We asked the driver whether he would let us squash 5 people in and he said that was fine, but we soon realised that was the least illegal thing to happen. As police drove past him at the lights he subtly pulled his seatbelt on, his phone rang while he was cruising round icy narrow streets and he answered it, and he was flicking his high beam on and off into hotels we passed as if he wanted to start a disco, but we got back eventually and came inside to get ready for our group dinner.

At 7 we went down to the restaurant of our hotel to meet with the other group members and have a big traditional Japanese sumo meal consisting of huge pots on boilers in front of us filled with a mix of chicken, tofu, mushrooms, carrots, lettuce and who knows what else all mixed in a broth which we then boiled ourselves and ate with big fat noodles. It was good fun to meet some of the other people we had been on the bus with and it was particularly fun that lots of them are young and very chilled out and easy to chat to. After dinner Nick went upstairs to check his laptop while we went into the bar to have a drink while happy hour was on and while there the tour guides got us to do what they called a "Shotski". Basically they have a ski which they have drilled 4 big holes in that they shoved shot glasses in and they fill those with saki and the two people on the end hold the ski with one hand each and the two people in the middle put their hands behind their backs and you all put your mouth on the glass then the end people tip it back to drink and then back down. We were pretty pro at it, but while down there we saw 3 shot glasses break from people stuffing it up, so I feel there is probably a better way to do it... But anyway, was a fun thing to watch and a good ice breaker to get talking to some of the other people staying with us.

After a while Nick came down to join us and then once we all decided if was time for some quiet we came back up to our room. Now I am lying in my top bunk bed typing this while the boys play cards down the bottom. Some of them are discussing Pokemon, a subject which I now know more of then I ever needed to, and some are playing with the GoPro videos taken today, but I assume that very soon we will all crash so that we can be up early in the morning to be at the lifts as they open. We now know that you have to go outside to get to our ski gear lockers, so at least tomorrow we won't need to walk bare foot through the snow after forgetting to bring shoes down in the morning, and we are fairly confident where the different cafes are so we will be able to split up a bit and all go on the levels that we feel confident on.

Loving the snow here and so amazed by how much powder is on the mountain, but believe me, as we were walking through the blizzard today I had my first moment of wishing I was back home in a heat wave!!! Hope you are all enjoying it :)

Posted by clairebear89 05:44 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Imperial Gardens, Roppongi and Shinjuku

Peaceful, quirky and crazy busy all in the one day!

sunny 8 °C

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This morning Zac and I got up early to go to the Burton store in Omotesando while Nick and Marc had a sleep in, but were very disappointed when we got there and found out it wasn't open yet. We thought it would surely be open by 10 so we went and looked through a place called Oriental Bazaar which was full of souvenir items and I stocked up on my presents for back home before we returned to the Burton shop to find it wasn't going to open until 11! It seems that a lot of shops in Tokyo don't open until late because they then stay open until later at night. So we gave up on that idea and went home to get Marc and Nick and go to the Imperial Palace and Gardens. We walked to about 3 different entrances this time until we found one that was open and by that then it was time to meet James at Tokyo station, so Marc and Nick stayed at the gardens to get some cool photos and Zac and I walked up the block to find James. Luckily it was very simple to spot him despite it being such a busy station. Probably has something to do with him being quite and tall and with very blonde hair! While Zac took him back to the hotel I went back to find the others and then we all headed down to Roppongi for lunch.

We decided it would be quicker to walk rather than have to transfer 3 different times on the subway, but on the way I had my first major mind blank with directions and had to stand there for a good 10 minutes flipping the map upside down and sideways and backwards until I realised that the map was wrong! Well that's the story I'm sticking with anyway... Eventually we made it to an area called Roppongi which is a fairly new district and an area full of cool sculptures, art museums and lots of high rises. We had lunch at a really traditional place to introduce James to Japan - it was called Outback Steakhouse and was covered in boomerangs and didgeridoos and played awful Kylie Minogue remixes, but we decided that a steak was exactly what we needed so it did the job.

After lunch I was determined to find a giant spider sculpture which I had seen once in a travel book, so we wandered around the Roppongi area past sculptures of glass thrones, love heart gateways and giant smooth pebbles before finally coming across the gangly legs and disturbingly real stomach of a big black spider. It was just as creepy as the photo I had seen (although dad you would not have been impressed by the welding job on it's legs) so we took some photos underneath before jumping on the subway and heading for a totally different area to the chilled out art district of Roppongi.

Arriving in Shinjuku was just as bustling as Shibuya and the station was so large it took a little while to work out which of the 10 exits we wanted to use and where we would come out so that we were headed in the correct direction of the camera store I thought the boys might want to check out. Once we got our bearings sorted we walked through alleys surrounded by towering buildings, most of which had ads projected onto the side of them, and found a Starbucks so we could all get on the free wifi and check how much we had to spend in the shops. The camera store had a clothes store attached to it so we were all kept busy for a little while on our own levels before meeting up and walking through the busy streets to find the Hanazono Jinja Shrine. It was interesting to hear the big drums coming from inside and see the people praying on the front stairs but we didn't stay too long as it felt like we were intruding on the ceremony or service. As we left there was a crowd of business men at the gates concluding some sort of meeting and we got to witness some interesting culture as they all continuously bowed to one another as they backed away. From what I could see, the younger men bowed much lower to their elders than they did to each other but I'm not sure if that's more because they are higher up in the business or if it's just the respect doe elders that is so evident here in different ways.

We walked back down the street to a subway station just as the sun was starting to set and I explained to the boys how to get back to our hotel so that they could go chill out while I did some shopping in the cool department stores and little shops around Shinjuku and after they left I made my way through the maze of streets, looking in chain stores like Topshop and Forever 21 as well as little Japanese quirky stores like Honey Bee and Don Quixote. By about 5:30 my legs were about to drop off so I headed back to the hotel and found the boys eating their Maccas dinner and sitting on their computers. We took James down to our "local" to celebrate our last night in Tokyo and to show him how cool the huge ball of ice they use in the drinks is (we are so mature) and sat down there for as long as happy hours lasted (that's right, they have happy hourS!) and then Nick went back early to talk to Rahnee, Zac and I went to get snacks and drinks for the card games we had planned and Marc and James went ice skating at the little outside rink that is near the bottom of our hotel.

We finished our night sitting in our pjs on two beds squashed together playing card games while we snacked and decided what the plan would be for tomorrow - our last day in Tokyo. All up it was yet another big day of walking, but I am absolutely loving seeing as much of this city as I can. I think I could live hear for a long time and never tire of how polite people are, never fully understand the coin system and never get used to how freezing cold it is in the morning!

Hope you are all surviving the heat wave back home! Tomorrow night we head for Hakuba and the snow and we have just read that last night they recorded the lowest temperature so far for this season... -15*C!! So looking forward to arriving in that weather at midnight tomorrow!!

Posted by clairebear89 06:23 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

The Happiest Place in Japan :D

Sunny day in Disneyland!

sunny 4 °C

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DISNEYLAND!!!! So that pretty much sums up our day :)

But for a little more information.... I couldn't sleep this morning so I headed out early to go to the supermarket and find some lipgloss and on my way I was passed by lots of businessmen and women heading to their first day back at work after the holiday break. It was so cool to see them all dressed up and rugged up and it made me wish I worked somewhere that had a decent winter where I could dress up like that! After I got back and the others were ready we headed to Tully's Coffee for breakfast on our way to the station where we had to change twice to get us to the Tokyo Disney line. We ended up changing 3 times though because I took a wrong turn :( But once we did get there we realised how glad we were that we had bought our tickets on a previous day!! The line outside the gates was ridiculously long, but we got to walk straight past everyone and straight through the gates. That made us feel like celebrities and we all decided they would think Nick was Justin Beiber so we waved at everyone as we walked past :)

It was very exciting to walk through the gates and see the big castle in the middle and hear all the Disney music, and after searching unsuccessfully for an English map, we walked through the Grand Emporium entrance gates, past the shops, and straight onto the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It was similar to the one I had been on at Euro Disney, but a little more amusing as some of the characters were yelling out in Japanese which made it a bit hard to be scared of them. After this ride we wandered round for a little while, I organised some FastPass tickets for the Big Thunder Mountain Rollercoaster, we climbed the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, went on the Peter Pan ride and then had some hot dogs for lunch. It must still be school holidays over here because there were lots of kids everywhere as well as teenagers dressed up as Mickey Mouse and carrying buckets of popcorn around their necks. Most of the rides had about an hour waiting time but it was kind of amusing standing in line and having the little Asian toddlers staring at us because we looked different!

After lunch Nick and Marc decided to go on the Star Wars ride but it had a 70 minute wait and Zac and I weren't that keen so we split up for a while and went to find coffee and look through the souvenir shops. We also stumbled across one of the shows and had to stop and watch because it was just too bizarre seeing Japanese people dressed up in Brazilian outfits dancing with a huge mascot Minnie Mouse to this strange Tango/Pop mix. When we met up again (Nick and Marc had bailed on the ride and went to a Captain EO movie) we went to Toon Town and went on the race cars and then took some photos with the cartoon buildings and watched the Disney Parade before heading back to Big Thunder Mountain to again walk right past the line of people who were looking at a 2 hour wait and got straight onto the next cart! It was no Cyclone or Tower of Terror, but it was definitely the best ride there. The scariest part was that it didn't seem to be designed for tall people so I was a little concerned one of the boys was going to lose his head on the tight turns. But we all survived so that was a relief! And then walked out past all the grumpy people still lining up... Suckers!

By now it was about 3pm and starting to get seriously freezing! So we had a look around a few more shops, took some photos in front of the castle (one of which we managed to convince some Japanese girls in school girl outfits with mouse ears to pose with us in!) and then headed back to the train station before it got dark and therefore unbearably cold. Back at Tokyo station we found a cafe and had some dinner before getting on the Metro and heading back to our station. We stopped at our "local" bar again on the way home and had a drink to numb our aching legs before going back to our hotel. The boys all chilled in one room while I had a shower to de-thaw my bones and now we are sitting around waiting for the new episode of Sherlock to download so we can all watch it before heading off to bed. But embarrassing that it is only 7pm and I'm ready for bed but it was just too exciting a day for me!

Hope you are all enjoying being back at work! Hehe :)

Posted by clairebear89 02:29 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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