Shaving, Snowboarding, and a Dog

Today was the first time I shaved in three weeks. In those three weeks, I visited my family in Concord, spent a lot of time on airplanes, and did some traveling in Japan. I didn’t shave in that time because my plan was to come back to Nanae and make an event out of going to a new barbershop for a straight-edge shave. Last night it occurred to me I had to go to work today. That gave me 12 hours to find a late-night barbershop. I didn’t look. This morning was a really disappointing time in my life.

I spent three days at Niseko last week. It’s a big ski mountain a few hours by train from Nanae. Half the people there were Australian – some of the bartenders didn’t speak any Japanese. They said they rarely need it with all the Australians, so they never learned. The second day I spent at Niseko was the best day of snowboarding I have ever had. It snowed heavily for several days before I arrived, and it didn’t stop while I was there. The guy who picked me up from the train station told me he had only seen this much snow at Niseko a couple times in his life. The snowbanks on the road were 9 or 10 feet high at times. It felt like driving through tunnels carved into the snow. Outside my hotel window, the snowbank was closer to 15 feet. The first night I was there, I explored the mountain a bit and wasn’t very impressed. The second day, I got off the chairlift and wandered around – I saw another lift that wasn’t operating the night before. I got on to see where it went. It went really far in a new direction. I got off and saw another lift, so I got on that one too. Eventually, after a couple more chairlifts, I got to the summit and realized the first night I had only snowboarded the bottom 20% of the mountain. The top 80% was much more impressive. I could have looked at a trail map, but I liked the idea of exploring blindly. The drop from the summit was very steep and somewhat intimidating. When I dropped in over the edge and started carving across the mountain, I immediately lost control and somersaulted a bit down the slope. It didn’t hurt at all because there were about 18 inches of powder beneath me. It took a while to dig myself out, but I was excited about discovering the powder because I now had free range to go wild with very little risk of real injury. The rest of the day was incredible. The style of snowboarding required here was new to me. There was enough powder that if I kept my weight evenly distributed or leaning forwards, like I usually do, the front of my board would sink and get stuck (more somersaults). I changed my technique and kept almost all my weight on my back leg to get the nose of my board above the powder. I used my back leg to direct the back of the board like a rudder. Turning this way is less precise, but it works in powder. It felt like surfing. I was in white-out blizzard conditions – this in addition to the powder gave me the feeling I was surfing through the clouds. It was very cool. The rest of the mountain had other terrains I liked a lot – forest areas, shrubbery areas, wide-open bowls, etc. Parts felt like being in a big snowy desert. There was enough powder that I could explore almost anywhere without much risk of hitting rocks or breaking bones from dropping over small rock-faces. I did a lot of things I might not normally do. The chairlift rides were surreal. The blizzard allowed for maybe 60 yards of visibility – the chairs in front of me ascended into whiteness and disappeared into the sky.

The bed and breakfast I stayed at by the ski-mountain had a dog. I was curious if Japanese dogs are the same as American dogs, so I took him for a walk. When we got outside, I waited for him to start walking. He turned to look at me and waited for me to start walking. He looked really confused. Finally he started moving, but he looked like he felt guilty about it the whole time. Japan has a very strong sense of hierarchy among social roles – this left me wondering if maybe Japanese dogs learn that too, and he was waiting for me to choose our path. When we got back to the bed and breakfast he went straight to the couch and curled up in a ball. I think he needed some time to reflect and regain his sense of identity because of our walk.

















Skiing in Niseko

By Ben Mirin, CIR

Call me spoiled, but I recently tried skiing for the first time in Niseko, Hokkaido, one of the world’s premier skiing destinations.  Residents throughout Japan migrate to this spot every winter to take advantage of the incredible snow, and perhaps to mingle with the plethora of foreign tourists that congregate there almost year round.

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10 Things I Didn’t Think I Would Need in Nanae, Japan (Part 2)

By Ben Mirin, CIR

2. A fly rod

I did not expect to see salmon jumping in the Europe River at this time of year.

A week ago, I was awake at a time I only reserve for two activities: bird watching and fishing.  The former was on my agenda, and I had leapt out of bed after a long night of karaoke to meet my friend Tanaka-san for an expedition to find White-tailed and Stellar’s Sea Eagles near Yakumo, a coastal town roughly 1 hour from Nanae by car.

Together with Tanaka-san’s daughter, Miu, we spent the morning cramped in the car, driving among different lookout points that Tanaka-san had memorized.  At each stop, we lowered our windows and peered through the freezing rain to scan treetops and shorelines for birds.  The name Yakumo has a meaning: 1 week and 8 days of rain.  I wondered what could attract eagles to such a place.

The answer became clear when the rain let up.  Stepping outside momentarily, I walked to the edge of a nearby bridge and looked out over the river.  Hundreds of spawning salmon were tailing and splashing all along the shore.

Almost on cue, eagles began to cry in the cold morning air.  Looking up I saw dozens of them circling over the water in search of the fish. Dozens more were clearly visible in clouds of black and white plumage that peppered the surrounding hillsides.  I had never seen so many of these huge raptors in one place.

A White-tailed Eagle in flight

Continue reading “10 Things I Didn’t Think I Would Need in Nanae, Japan (Part 2)”