A few weeks ago, not knowing any one else going on the trip, I signed up deciding it would be a great way to go skiing with all the logisitcs already planned and would also be a chance to meet new people in Tokyo.
Friday after work, I met the bus at Shinjuku station. I saw a group of people who looked like me standing outside the station and correctly assumed them part of my tour group. We boarded the bus, and at 8pm we were off on our four hour journey to Nozawa Onsen. It was obvious that many of the 50 people on board were regular “gainjins.” They came prepared for the bus ride with dinner, snacks, games, beer and even vodka soaked fruit. As the beverages kept flowing so did the bathroom stops. Finally, around 12:30 we reached the resort village of Nozawa Onsen.
Nozawa Onsen is a hot spring village located at the foot of Kenashi-yama Mountain which is home to around 5000 people. Nozawa Onsen is said to date back to 8th century…. More on the onsens later.
When the bus came to a stop, we walked stepped off the bus into a winter wonderland. Not only was it snowing heavily as we made our way to our hotel, but a wall of snow stood on each side of the road at least eight feet tall. As the walk got steeper and the snow deeper, I was really regretting bringing my rolling suitcase and my choice of dress, tights, and suede boots. Finally, covered in snow, we arrived to the hotel, pictured below, where the Japanese mom-and-pop owners greeted us. They spoke no English but one thing was clear, you were not to step into their hotel with one flake of snow on you. They were each armed with a straw broom and furiously started sweeping at our snow covered heads, coats, pants, shoes, and bags. The mom would be working on clearing off one person and as someone would try to pass her she start whapping them in the back of the head with the broom where some snow was left behind.
After making it through this decontamination process, I blindly followed a girl up the stairs where she introduced herself to me as Nicci, I learned she was from New Zealand, she told me her room assignment, and we also learned we were roommates for the weekend. Not only was she a regular on these trips, but she also spoke fluent Japanese thoroughly impressed me.
She found our room, slid open the pocked rice paper paneled pocket door and there it was. Our very humble four walled, bamboo floored, 10’ x 15’ room to share among three girls for the weekend. I was not sure of any of the customs or norms, so I relied on the monkey-see, monkey do technique. Nicci, went over to the closet, opened the door and pulled out a thin upholstered mat and laid it on the floor. I did the same. Nicci pulled out a big fluffy comforter and layed it on top of her mat. I did the same. Nicci reached on the top shelf of the closet and pulled out a small airplane-sized pillow and placed it at one end of her bed. I did the…"What the heck is this?!" This unfortunate excuse for a pillow was not only really small and limp, but filled with what seemed to be a mixture of gravel and pointy corn kernels. Both Nicci and our other roommate who had now entered the room swore I would find it comfortable but I was skeptical. I sucked it up and made an attempt to sleep on it, but after I was sure they were asleep I pulled out my bath towel and wrapped it around the pillow and slept comfortably the next of the night.
The next day, Saturday, we woke up early at 7:30am when the hotel “mom“ got on the intercom system and loudly announced that breakfast was ready. Breakfast and dinner were served in a dining room on the first floor. Traditional Japanese meals were served. Here’s a picture of breakfast. Japanese hash brown like patty with shredded cabbage, seaweed, smoked fish, miso soup, radish, and green tea. It was all tasty and really kept your energy up while skiing.
We hit the mountain after breakfast. We had so much fresh powder and it was a beautiful day. The skiing experience was pretty similar to what I have experienced in Colorado.