Tokyo Adventures 2: Japanese culture past and present

Recently Tokyo was listed as the world’s largest Mega-city. I don’t think it takes a special list to understand that Tokyo is massive. One trip to the Skytree, the Tokyo Metro Government Building, the Daiba waterfront or the Mori Art Musuem sky deck and Tokyo’s size will become startlingly clear. This sprawling metropolis is a playground for the gastro-brave, the weird, the culture buff and the shop-a-holic. Tokyo is so massive that many of our trips there have been between other business so they don’t make for good chronological reading. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have anything worth sharing.

The crowd on a quiet day at Senso-ji

The crowd on a quiet day at Senso-ji

In the first Tokyo Adventures post I talked about finding western food and shopping for crafts and cosplay items. This set of adventures highlights the interesting dichotomy between Japan’s traditional culture and it’s backwards march in to the future.

Senso-ji & Skytree

Asakusa is by far one of the top tourist destinations in Tokyo. I won’t be able to share anything with you that isn’t already covered ad nauseum somewhere else. It’s no surprise that one of the top tourist destinations in the most populated city in the world is a little crowded. I was there on New Year’s Eve during the day which is supposedly off peak. I would hate to see what it’s like when it is peak season.

The main temple in Asakusa is called Sensō-ji and its large pagoda tower and main temple building are impressive and well maintained. Throwing a 5円 coin is considered very auspicious but all I had were 10’s. One throw for my wife and me! The immensely crowded thunder gate, which just got a new lantern, is at the entrance to Sensō-ji. If you were hoping to take that perfect picture of the bright red lantern looking all serene, you can pretty much throw that thought away now or show up at 5AM. On the bright side you will have many random Japanese people in your pictures and you can make up stories about them…

Asakusa is lauded as being one of the better preserved wards from older eras of Tokyo but for my money it just looked like Japan. Not to mention from Asakusa you can see the Asahi building, with its “golden flame” on top (we thought it looked like a golden flaming poo) and the Tokyo Skytree, which are both ultra-modern. The Sky tree costs a whopping 3,000円 to get to the top although it is the tallest tower in the world at 637 meters. We skipped it since the TMGB is free.

Not too far from Asakusa is Ryogoku. Right outside the station there are many Chankonabe restaurants. Chankonabe is basically “sumo food.” It’s a special kind of hot pot recipe that is basically a light stew. You can check out our Cooking in the shower recipe for Nabe here. To the immediate north of the station is Ryogoku Kokugikan and the Edo-Tokyo Museum. The Kokugikan is still a functioning sumo arena as well as a museum of sumo wrestling. We stopped here for the Edo-Tokyo museum and a special exhibition of ukiyo-e artwork.

The Edo-Tokyo museum has a strange a ultra modern appearance but was designed to resemble old kurazukuri store houses from Edo period Tokyo. I thought it resembled a star destroyer. Anyways, the museum in and of itself was interesting as a survey of Japanese history. A majority of the display space is centered around Tokyo after the capital changed from Kyoto to Edo in the early 17th century. Attention is paid in the museum to just about every influence that shaped Edo into Tokyo from kabuki to rice production in the Kanto region.

We attended for a special exhibit of ukiyo-e 浮世絵 (pronounced: ooo-key-yo-eh) which translates to “Pictures of the floating world.” Ukiyo-e is more commonly referred to as “Japanese wood block prints.” The Edo-Tokyo museum had gathered together an entire retrospective of famous ukiyo-e from around the world and put it all in one chronologically ordered display. Hiroshige and Hokusai are easily the most famous of the artists but they were active in the mid 19th century. The floating world has been captured in Japanese art with roots all way back in the Heian period. The time line of ukiyo-e acts as a window to the development of Japanese culture, as the themes and subjects change based on the economic and social influences around them. The British Museum, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Boston Museum of Fine Art and the National Library of France all have massive collections of ukiyo-e. In Japan, the largest collections are at the Ukiyo-e Museum of Nagano and the National Museum of Modern Art – Tokyo. What made the Edo-Tokyo museum’s display so impressive is that they had gathered the signature works from all of these museums and many more and put them all in one exhibit. We were truly blown away by  the comprehensive collection of the “floating world.”

The Great Wave off Kanagawa is one of the most famous examples of ukiyo-e

Spending the day in the past made us forget about modern Tokyo even though the building we were in looks like a spaceship from the outside. That same evening we spent some time Harajuku and the experience, while still amazing, couldn’t have been more opposite. Harajuku is the heartbeat of fashion culture in Tokyo and the bleeding edge of Japanese trends. Ultimately, Harajuku has become ultra popular with westerners, cosplay enthusiasts, fashionistas and artists because of the everything but the kitchen sink mentality of the district. The standard fare in fashion are there with Zara, H&M, Uniqlo and then there are stores that sell hoodies with faces on them, a t-shirt that just says, “Locality” and costume stores where you can get just about any female anime character pre-made, wig and all. Check out the Harajuku Tokyo fashion blog on Tumblr for a glimpse at some of the outfits you’ll see walking around. Also near Harajuku is Meijingu, or the Meiji Shrine which contrasts so heavily with the hustle and wild freedom of Harajuku, but remains just as much a part of Japanese culture.

Modern Japan is also closely associated with electronics, state of the art trains and robots. The Toshima ward which houses Ikebukuro and the flagship stores of Yamada Denki and Bic Camera is no stranger to technology. Toshima is also one of the most international areas of Tokyo with a high concentration of foreign born residents and the first ward to elect an openly gay assembly member. If two massive electronics stores weren’t enough, you can take the train to Shinjuku or Akihabara and see pretty much all the same stuff. In an area about 1/10th the size of Disney World in Orlando there are more than 260,000 people living and at peak hours more that 400,000 in the Toshima area.

Visiting Ikebukuro and the Toshima ward offers a little slice of everything from from modern art at the Tokyo Metro Art Space to Cafe Du Monde’s beignets to stores where normal size women can shop for shoes to the largest selection of laptops I have ever seen. I previously mentioned Sunshine city but Ikebukuro is so much more than that if you need to do some shopping in Tokyo. Although it isn’t as popular as Akihabara, Shibuya or Shinjuku, that you will still  have many intimate moments with store staff as you are forced to touch crotches to let other people by in the aisle.

Tokyo’s modern culture and history clash all over the city, the above is only a small sampling. A place where there are lines around the block on New Year’s Day at the shrine to burn offerings and where two eight story electronics stores next to each other didn’t stop a third store from going up across the street. A place where carrying a flip phone and a smart phone is no big deal. A place where repressed cultural norms lead to covering up the top half of your body, but still wearing the shortest skirts imaginable. The list of examples could go on and on as a very traditional society adapts, fights, struggles and moves forward in the largest megacity in the world.

Modern Tradition.

Modern Tradition.

Liebster Award

liebsterWell, this is new. Recently a fine gentleman by the name of Nathan from Introvert Japan nominated us for a Liebster Award. Not to be confused with the Lobster Award which is given to the most handsome Maine lobster as voted on by restaurant patrons. If you are a lobster, “the Lobster” is literally a death sentence, but we digress.

We are honored in a way that cannot be put to words, so here is a picture of a red panda.Red Panda

The red panda’s cuteness, which it has in abundance, represents the honor we feel for having been nominated/given a Liebster. Three cheers and a hearty hurrah for Nathan! Nathan felt that An Easy Distance met the criteria of being a quality blog with less than 200 followers (followers…THAT HE KNOWS ABOUT, MUHAHAHAHAHA), to wit he has given us a chance to pass the Liebster on to yet another generation of young blogs.

The origins of the Liebster are unknown, possibly the internet gods bestowed it to the original bloggers to pass down, or maybe Bill Gates is still secretly operating a 98° boyband fan blog and needed a way to earn followers. Regardless of its origin, the Liebster entails two things that must be done to complete the awarding:

1) Answering some personal questions.

2) Nominating some other blogs for the award, around 10 to be imprecisely precise.

Lucky for you, because Easy Distance has two writers, everyone gets two answers for the price of 1 question! It really is a bargain. For those of you that are new to Easy Distance, we have a couple subsections of our blog, one of them is Love and Travel where we tell stories from two perspectives. Shana is in italics and Andrew is in regular type face… On to the questions.

1) What’s your favorite book?

This is an insanely difficult question for me because I love books. Non-fiction, fiction, classical, contemporary, sci-fi, fantasy, horror and poetry, they have all been assaulted by my eyes for hours on end until they gave in and told me how the story ended. Let me pick some authors instead. PLEEEEEZE. K. Thanks.

Modern American Lit – Chuck Palahinuk and Cormac McCarthy: Palahinuk’s Survivor and Choke are two of the most mortifying reads. I loved laughing out loud at their gross morbidity. However, Suttree by McCarthy combines that awesome sense of macabre with humor that is only matched by his beautiful prose. (Example: a guy going to prison for raping an unwilling watermelon) (I laughed while typing that). Blood Meridian is not humorous at all but is equally brilliant and horrifying as a stark portrayal of lawless southwestern America in the late 1800’s. Special nod to John Kennedy O’Toole for Confederacy of Dunces which added the phrase, “floral abortion” to my lexicon.

Sci-fi/Fantasy – Piers Anthony’s On a Pale Horse, Asimov – ALL (particularly Nightfall and Nemesis), Dan Simmons – Hyperion Cantos, Kurt Vonnegut – ALL (Cat’s Cradle is the best though).

This isn’t going very well is it. OK, I promise, only one more.

Non-fiction – The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins and Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer.

Sorry. Not Sorry. Books are amazing.

Andrew may have trouble with this one, but mine is “The Count of Monte Cristo,” unabridged in all its 1,200 page glory. Runner-up: “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations”

2) Choose a new name. What is it?

I like alliterative names, so something like Alex Applebee or Morgan McMurdock. A good jazz name is always cool, Franky “Two Tone” Fitzsimmons.

Andrew and I recently had a debate about the proper pronunciation of “hegemony.” Turns out we were both right, but I learned that I liked his pronunciation more: he-je-muh-nī. It’s beautiful, and I thought it would be a lovely name. Also beautiful, the word “diaspora,” so I guess my name would be Hegemony Diaspora.

3) If you didn’t know how old you were, how old would you think you were?

11 – I can be incredibly childish but I’m usually smart enough to know better.

23- Since I am now doing what I should have done after college, I feel like I just graduated.

4) Imagine you’re on death row. (Sorry to be grim.) What’s your last meal?

French Laundry

Is it weird if I want to know why I’m on death row because that would change my meal choice? A little? yeah. I would likely go for a really good pizza or hamburger. Also a really good Italian deli sandwich would be a great last lunch instead of last dinner if they were executing you at like 2pm instead of midnight.

One of those custom-designed 20 course meals from French Laundry, or some such equally respectable gourmet kitchen. It is a must before I die, although I doubt a prison would have (or spare) the budget for such an experience.

5) Do you want tomorrow be fun or peaceful?

Life is short, have fun while you can. Besides, who says peaceful can’t be fun?

Fun usually involves other people, and building and sustaining personal relationships is paramount to me. Fun.

6) What’s your favorite quote?

Look at that mustache!

Mark Twain had a knack for brevity and power, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” Although, a less surly version would be Plato’s, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”

“Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying ‘What I do is me: for that I came.'”- Gerard Manley Hopkins

7) What makes you lose track of time?

The internet. In general my computer with photography, writing, reading and did I mention the internet.

Talking to people. I can spend hours in a conversation and not even notice.

8) You have a door to anywhere. Where does it go?

Holy Smokes. Ok, so remember earlier where I mentioned, Dan Simmons’ books Hyperion Cantos. The first book introduces these devices called “farcasters” which are basically portals that go anywhere in the universe where there is a companion portal installed. So, really rich people have farcaster toilets where you can use the loo on tower in the middle of the desert or they have a private bedroom on another planet. Anyways, I would have a door that goes to the top of a mountain, for many reasons, but mainly mountains are awesome.

My parents’ house. Yeah, I know that might sound lame, but when that’s all the immediate family you have and you live thousands of miles away, you just want to go home sometimes. Plus my parents’ German Shepherd goes absolutely nuts when I walk in the door. Can you imagine visiting a friend who proceeded to tackle you, kiss you and run around the house for five minutes shouting “Shana’s here!! Shana’s here!!” It would make you feel pretty damn special.

9) What makes you smile?

Not in any order: playing guitar, taking awesome photographs, my wife’s face, great food with good company, good whiskey and wine, snowboarding.

Tap dancing, sitting in restaurants, clouds, free chocolate, someone else smiling, Andrew’s terrible puns, being in a room with people I love, anything Shakespeare related, and finding tissues in my pockets that I strategically placed there but forgot about until I needed them.

10) What’s one possession you’ll never throw away?

I’m such a packrat. I love keep sakes. I have a ton of them from my travels. It’s unlikely I would ever willingly throw any of that away. My Green Bay Packer Owner’s certificate is a good candidate as an exemplar.

My grandmother’s watch, which I “borrowed” from my mother and am wearing at this moment. It’s the only watchband that has ever fit my tiny wrist, and it has no batteries, just needs to be wound once a day. I love it’s antique qualities, and I have a thing about the time. At any given moment, I have to be able to know what time it is, even if I never check to see. There’s probably a clinical term for this, and owning a watch is more convenient than stocking clocks in every room. The answer is always near at hand…get it?

There you have it, those are our answers. Thoroughly insightful, no doubt.

Now on to the second major task associated the Liebster. Here are some burgeoning blogs that belong in your blogroll.

http://fishinginzambia.wordpress.com/
My cousin Shou is off in Africa teaching English for the Peace Corps. Awesome. One of his fellow Peace Corp volunteers runs the blog Fishing in Zambia, also awesome.

see what I did there…?

http://thepigandquill.com/
If you like pictures of delicious food with recipes and a little humor Emily’s Pig & Quill is a great place to stop by. Give her some love.

http://rojoshooter.com/
Awesome photography shot here in Japan.

http://tokyo5.wordpress.com/
Heavy metal fan, family man and tourist extraordinaire. Check out his app too.

http://mytefladvertures.wordpress.com/
Follow a journey from the beginning. This young lass is blogging about ESL teaching and she hasn’t even left yet. She’s thinking about China.

http://audiographer.wordpress.com/
Is there anything cooler than the background to the music? The story behind the song? Check out some interesting sound bytes with Elisa on Audiographer.

http://uncoveringjapan.com/
While they do have over 300 followers I am a rule breaker, a deviant and an avant-garde awards-giver-outer. Check out Uncovering Japan for great travel highlights in… Japan.

http://cookingwithawallflower.wordpress.com/
Pretty self explanatory title actually. +1 Google points. Go there, go back to your kitchen and make stuff.

http://theculturemuncher.com/
Living in Korea would likely provide an equal amount of culture shock as Japan does. You can read more about that here on the Culture Muncher.

Below are the questions we would like you answer, you can copy and paste them to your blog or go free form and answer in a long form essay. However, because there are two of us, we get to ask 15 questions, its only fair. Also, in a reverse Liebster switcharoo… DUNDUNDUUUUN, it would be really cool if Nathan would also answer these questions…

  1. Favorite play seen in a theater. Musicals are acceptable as well.
  2. What is your next travel destination and why? Can we stay at your place while you are gone?
  3. Who was your best teacher, school or otherwise?
  4. What is the best season?
  5. Design your own house. What are the three coolest, most unique, awesome parts of your new home?
  6. A local TV news crew is conducting people on the street interviews during a street fair, you are a LARPer. You are asked by the reporter, “What do you think of the festivities so far?” What do you say to the camera?
  7. What is the meaning of life?
  8. Would you want your first child to be male or female? Why?
  9. Where was your favorite picture taken?
  10. What is the most absurd thing that has ever happened to you?
  11. Have you ever been legitimately mistaken for a celebrity? Who was it?
  12. Would you rather smell like Velveeta but be amazingly handsome/beautiful or be horrendous to look at but have a free supply of Velveeta for life? Things to consider: being mistaken for nachos, awkward sex life, and awesome sports viewing parties.
  13. Could you get by without a car? For how long?
  14. Which do you prefer, the city or being out in nature? Why?
  15. Pretend you are a cave person. Would you rather be on the hunt or stay in the cave?

Well there you have it. Those are our questions. I hope you enjoy our blog. We’ll continue to publish long form adventure, teaching, romance and cooking content because listicles are making us more stupider. I is more stupidified for has typing that word, “listicle” ugh.

I’m going to go wash my mind out with soap now. You should leave. But not our page. Just this one in particular. Go here: About Easy Distance

Matsushima Oyster Festival

oyster festivalThe first Sunday in February every year since 1978 is the Matsushima Oyster Festival or Kaki Matsuri. Not to be confused with the persimmon festival which is also Kaki Matsuri but isn’t held in Matsushima or in February. Matsushima is one of the top three most scenic places in Japan according to the list of Japanese unnecessary but thorough lists of things. For reference you can see 100 best waters of Japan and 100 best soundscapes of Japan.

The Oyster Festival is a celebration in the peak of oyster season of the delicious little bivalve. The oyster can be consumed in numerous ways. In Matsuhima the preference for eating oysters is grilled. Japanese oysters can be quite massive and on the half shell can be a real choking hazard. If you brave the cold you can stand in a massive line for one free grilled oyster. A free oyster for as many times as you can make it through. However, you get more oysters (three or four) for your time from the kakinabe line. Nabe is a stock soup that can be customized with different ingredients. At the oyster festival they give out free bowls of oyster soup to those patient enough to make it through the long wait. I recommend the kakinabe, it’s worth the wait.

Besides free grilled oysters and free oyster soup, there are both paid for and complimentary grill stations where you can set down with your group of friends and family and grill out in the cold February air of coastal Miyagi. Many of the food stalls will have deals on bulk seafood and meat for your grilling pleasure as well as single pre-cooked portions for the impatient or grill handicapped. Not to mention if you don’t get there early, there will be a long wait for a grill since the festival is very popular. Our group did not indulge in the grill area as we were feeling a bit lazy and wanted the food cooked for us.

Free OYSTERS!!

Free OYSTERS!!

There was a fantastic crab soup, grilled scallops, grilled oysters, tsubu (a conch shell), abalone, squid, octopus, as well as numerous desert stands selling crepes and chocolate dipped bananas. The cold weather made a cold beer unappealing but there was also hot sake available to warm you from within. My favorite besides the kakinabe was the grilled pork stand, for 400円 you got a cup o’ pork which, included sausages, bacon and a good cut of ham. The best value was probably the 5 fried oysters for 350円, they were very tasty and a real bargain.

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Outside of stuffing your face, there was very little do at the festival that wasn’t geared towards entertaining younger children. Although interestingly enough, we did meet Jenny the PR dog from New Horizon 2 Unit 1. There was a military display of the Japanese Self Defense Force and some nihon-shu retailers were giving out free samples of sake on the street. So we definitely stopped there.

Unless there was a recent snow, winter is not the best time visit Matsushima as all the trees are bare and missing their spring flowers, summer greens or autumn fire. If there has been a recent massive snow fall before the festival, dress warm, and take a walk out to Fukuurajima while you’re there and check out the beautiful island covered in snow. There is the Zuigan-ji museum which is pretty cool and it’s indoors so you’ll have a chance to warm up. Also at Zuigan-ji is a special exhibition of statues that normally aren’t available for public viewing but because the main temple is under renovation, the statues are on display.

finished

finished

Overall I think once at this festival is enough. In Japan there is always an excuse to have a festival. I mean, there is a snow festival and a fire festival as well. Oysters are great but I prefer mine overpriced and in a classy restaurant. If you do end up heading there next year getting to Matsushima is very easy from JR Sendai Station as the Senseki line (tracks 9 and 10) goes directly to Matsushima Kaigan station twice an hour during peak times. Matsushima Kaigan is about a 10 minute walk from the festival area if you move slowly. Make sure you don’t go to Matsushima Station on the Tohoku line, it is much further away and not nearly as nice of a walk.

Niseko – A pinnacle of powder

I’ll admit it. I’m a little arrogant when it comes to ski resorts. I grew up near Lake Tahoe, CA and my father got me started at age 6 on a pair of rental skis. My spur of the moment ski trips were to places like Heavenly, Squaw Valley and Kirkwood. Lake Tahoe doesn’t have the world’s greatest snow or most vertical feet, but its steep, deep and full of variety.  I’ve skied at Mt. Baker, Snowbird, Mt. Bachelor and Happo-one as well (read about my Hakuba trip herehere and here). I thought I was pretty spoiled.

Then, I went to Niseko. Now I am really spoiled.

Niseko

you can't tell but there is a huge smile on my face

you can’t tell but there is a huge smile on my face

The snow in Niseko, as any ski travel site will tell you, is absolutely legendary. I read once that a lot of foreigners think that the Japanese word for powder snow is, “niseko,” because the resort has become synonymous with great snow. It’s not likely I can add anything to the conversation by telling you about how the Gobi Desert and the Sea of Japan make freaky weather-love and science together to create soft dry fluffy powder that falls at world record rates. I won’t tell you that boarding through Niseko snow is like flying, even when it’s tracked out. I’m not going to tell you about any of that.

I spent nearly two full days there and I can say it was some of the best boarding in my life. It wasn’t simply the snow, it was more than that. The variety at Niseko (if you buy the more expensive all resort pass, WHICH I DID) is awesome. There is so much to do, plenty of reasonably steep runs but more over any of the diamond runs that run from the uppermost lifts allow you to get pretty much anywhere on the mountain. There are banked gully runs (like a natural half pipe with TREES!), wide open bowls, tree runs, groomed runs, trick parks, and so much intermediate and easy stuff that I don’t think you could ski the whole place in three full days. And that’s not even counting back country.

It's always in your field of vision, when you can see it.

It’s always in your field of vision, when you can see it.

The view on a sunny day at Niseko is absolutely incredible as well. Yotei-san, which is affectionately referred to as “Kita-Fuji” (North Fuji), is a slightly smaller version of the famous Fuji-san, a perfectly conical volcano that basically fills your entire field of vision. It reminded me of old school racing arcade games like, Cruisin U.S.A., where the background is static and never changes. Sadly I was still having issues with my Contour camera because Apple hates backwards compatibility on non-Apple peripherals. So, I don’t have any awesome powder videos with Yotei in the background. You’ll have to take my word for it.

(watch the clouds, they never move – that’s what Yotei-san is like as you go down the mountain)

But like I said earlier, it wasn’t the snow, the variety, or the view that made Niseko so mind-blowingly awesome. I loved it because it was quiet. For being the most popular mountain in Hokkaido and maybe in Japan, and the dearth of Aussies that take over the town at night not-with-standing, the mountain itself was peaceful. For a solitary skier or boarder it made the experience that much more memorable.

Despite being a holiday weekend, I only had to wait in line once. Once. I can’t remember ever not waiting in a line at Northstar on a holiday weekend. Off the lift there were groups of people picking their lines but there are so many runs, I just had to pick the one they didn’t. Finally to really get your money’s worth, being able to get right back on lift after a run is great, provided you aren’t marooned in shoulder deep powder somewhere. I was struck constantly by being alone on the hill even though I knew the place was crowded. I could see other skiers and boarders but they might as well have been on another planet. There is a lot of space to spread out and make the most of the fresh pow, the stunning view, and the variety of Niseko.

Another shot of Yotei-san from the summit.

Another shot of Yotei-san from the summit.

Something else occurred to me, do I like boarding with others or can I do board all by myself? I’m still not sure. Sometimes when you do really awesome stuff you want to make sure others saw it because, “That was awesome, did you see that!?” When you board on your own there is never any arguing about what run to take and wasting time not boarding. Plus singles get through the lines faster. Experiences are sometimes better when you share them with others and in general I prefer company to being alone but with snowboarding, I haven’t made up my mind.

Enough philosolophisizing, the G2 gate to the summit of An’nupuri-Niseko ranks at least in the top three runs of my life; along with conquering, “The Wall” at Kirkwood and doing the summit run at Mt. Bachelor. It starts with an “easy” 20 minute hike to the summit and then you drop into a powder filled bowl that funnels you into a 2 to 3km gully which then spits you out through a birch and cedar forest that could a set piece from Game of Thrones, eventually shooting out near the Nook restaurant at the base of the An’nupuri Resort.

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Speaking of restaurants, my only complaint about Niseko, and it’s a minor one, is that the food was too expensive. At least at the Nook it was. That was the only place I ate at (on the mountain). I had become accustomed to the great value offered by the restaurants in Japanese ski resorts but the Nook was more like American ski resort pricing. Hot tea was 400円 and my small beef bowl was 1,000円. Big beers were 1,050円. The food prices were a minor inconvenience for such an awesome place to snowboard.

This hot dog stand was great and inexpensive compared to the Nook, but its not on the mountain.

Hokkai-dog was great and inexpensive compared to the Nook, but its not on the mountain. +1 for the pun.

Getting to Niseko is actually easier than it looks considering its relative distance from Sapporo. There are four main bus companies that all operate daily service from both Sapporo Station and from New Chitose Airport. Some bus packages include round trip and your lift ticket. During the busy season they can get booked up so definitely make reservations if you can. If not you can check out my review of Chuo Bus here for more details (Coming Soon).

Niseko is a fantastic place to spend a week or more going up to the top of the mountain and back down again but it will be expensive. Accomodations and food in the area are not cheap. Is it worth it? If you love skiing or snowboarding, totally. I will have to find my way back eventually. Save your coin and get up to Hokkaido for some of the best boarding in the world.

Ski and Snowboard Resort List – Tohoku

It has been difficult for me to find a comprehensive list of ski resorts in Japan, in English, with functioning links.

Until now…

Well, for Tohoku at least. I have finished a massive project, organizing all of my snowboarding research into 6 spreadsheets (SPREADSHEETS ARE SO INTERESTING) that you can sort with links to all the active websites I could find (websites which, unfortunately, are mostly in Japanese).

Zao Eboshi

If you have solid Japanese skills or the patience to use your web browser’s translate function you can use Snoway.com, my most frequented source for information but Snoway is still incomplete. Also, before you hop in a car or on a train, I would verify directly with the ski resort that they are actually still in business. Post 2011, many of these places have had trouble getting skis and boards on the mountain and tourism in general is depressed all around Tohoku, particularly in Miyagi and Fukushima.

Spring Valley - IzumiThese lists are not complete. Many of the ski resorts in Japan are small municipal parks with or family owned. My research method consisted of cross referencing wikipedia.jp, snoway.com, snowjapan.comskijapan.com and area searches on google maps. It is likely that I missed a small resort or two. If you know of any that aren’t on the list that are cool and worth checking out please send them along or leave the info in the comments. More over, I have included ski trail map links to the larger places.

All that being said, this is likely the most comprehensive list you will find in English.

MIYAGI – You can check out my in depth reviews of Zao Eboshi Zao Sumikawa and Spring Valley.

Trail Maps: Zao EboshiZao SumikawaZao ShiroishiZao ShichikashukuSpring Valley

YAMAGATA

Trail Maps: Zao OnsenYonezawa – RitsukoTengendaiAsahigatakeJangle Jungle

IWATE

Trail Maps: Appi-KogenShizukuishiHachimantaiGeto8OkunakayamaAmari OnsenIwate KogenHiraniwa

AKITA

Trail Maps: Tazawako – JeunesseOpas TaiheizanDaisen Odai

AOMORI

Trail Maps: Naqua ShirokamiOwaniMoya Hills – Hakkouda

FUKUSHIMA

Trail Maps: Alts Bandai – Inawashiro – Takatsue – Numajiri – Hatoriko – Daikura – Minowa – Nekoma – Takahata – Nango – Grand Sunpia – Adatarakogen

There you go. I hope you get out on the mountain and shred some serious pow!

If you want to the whole list in in excel format: Tohoku Snow Project

A massive link pile-up 1/24/2014 – 2/7/2014

This is Chopper Dave in the News 5 UltraJet Copter for Channel 5 News. We’ve got a massive link pile up over there on Easydistance.com… its going to add a good solid 10 to 15 minutes extra to your browsing time today. As always, browse with the Ad Blocker on, your eye in the sky with web traffic and weather together every 10 minutes on the 5, back to you Anchor Dave, HEYOOOO!

Thanks, Chopper Dave. These last two weeks have been chock full of awesome travel, ESL, humor and cooking stuff and we’ve spilled it everywhere in the gigantic car crash of internets below. Hooray!

Travel

Japan

We are in Sapporo, Hokkaido for Yuki Matsuri (the Snow Festival). We took  a ferry, overnight into the dark, cold waters of the Pacific… Stalk us at the snow festival by tweeting, instagramming, tumblring, and facebooking, there will be NO PRIVACY.

On snowboarding, I visited Zao Eboshi and you can read about it! My recap of a day and a half at Niseko United is coming soon.Zao Eboshi

Japan Travel published a photo story of Fukuurajima, featuring some of my photography, a recap of Sendai’s Pageant of Starlight, a fantastic campground in Minamisanriku and a look at Sendai’s local ramen chain.

Follow @TheTravelLiz on twitter through her Tokyo adventures and beyond.

Not Japan

Asia –
South Korea: Easy Distance added an awesome South Korean side trip to the Atlas Obscura. You can read a more personal adventure here on Easy Distance and find out what it’s like to carry a hot bag of vomit through a 600 year old traditional village.

Thailand: The battle for Thailand’s soul – A great but depressing read from BBC News

Africa –
Zambia: My cousin Shou (who is an excellent artist I might add) is keeping a travel blog of his time Africa. Why don’t you pay his site a visit?

South Africa: The Travel Dudes give you info you need to kiss a great white shark… honestly for me, there are too many fish in the sea.

Europe –
Germany: Easy Distance wrote an article about the Green Vault on Atlas Obscura, a must see collection of royal weirdness in Dresden, Germany.

England: If  you are a fan of Sherlock, check out the Sherlock trail here “On the Luce”

South America –
Chile: Have a look at the best view in Santiago from TheWorldWanderer.net

englishESL teaching

In the last two weeks we published a 3 pieces of a 4 part in depth look at the decisions and realities of being a teacher in Japan. You can read through the series here.
Part 1 – ALT vs Eikaiwa: Epic Life Decision Battle
Part 2 – The Reality of being an ALT
Part 3 – ALT vs JET-ALT: The Battle Continues
Part 4 – A day in the life, a humorous retelling of a day as ALT (Coming Soon!)

As an ESL teachers we are constantly reviewing our own grammar and knowledge of English. I find myself on Grammar Monster quite a bit. Here is a great little blog about teaching in China, AnIrishExplorer.

nabeCooking in the shower

Nabe, ALL THE NABES. Nabe is the dish of February… winter. You can read our recipes on Cooking the shower and find out, why exactly, do we cook there…

Humor and Cool Stuff

There were a ton of Super Bowl commercials floating around the twitter and facebooks but the US of A has nothing on Japan. Check out some these crazy ads from Japanese television.

Kogelmann - BackflipSoulryders are showing trailers for their Movie, “Lines of Control.”  My friend Mark Kogelmann is one of the guys from SoulRyders, these guys are savage, take a look.

Here are some style ideas for dudes on our Suit Up board.

Have a listen and read this awesome story about the recently passed Pete Seeger from AudioGrapher

Last but not least, DefendersNW is starting another rebuild project. Check out their twitter feed and their web store.

Miyagi Zao Eboshi – In the long run…

In the Miyagi area the snow resorts tend to be on the small side. Smaller mountains, lower elevations, less chair lifts and lower prices than what I was used to California. Zao Eboshi is similar but for one key element. From the top of the resort to the bottom there is a 4,300m run. You must be asking yourself, “How does a resort with a maximum elevation of 1,350 meters have a run that is longer than the distance from the peak of Mt. Fuji to the bottom?” The answer is simple. It’s flat.

Zao EboshiThere are three maybe four decently steep sections of Eboshi. The furthest left lift off of the main gondola (if you are facing the mountain) will take you all the way to the top of the resort. From there, right before the mogul field you can cut over to your right and there is a good steep section of un-groomed snow there (2-3 on the course guide). I would not recommend going off piste near the top as the chairs are about head height. Also from the top is the start of the 4,300 meter run which winds its way down the left side of the mountain if you are facing East. About a quarter of the way down, to the right there is an off shoot that has a short diamond run (1-3) that is the steepest area of the mountain. From there you can circle back around to the a single seat lift at the bottom of the run. As you exit the single chair lift, to your right there is a decent area for tree skiing. I saw others going out that way and that slope leads back to the gondola house. Finally there is run 10. It has a Japanese name but… yeah it’s number 10. Run number 10 was my favorite run. It was challenging, it had terrain, it was decently steep in parts and had deep snow.

Anything besides those three areas is basically a green run. A beginner snowboarder may have some serious trouble if they are unable to maintain speed through long flat and slightly uphill sections of the lower half of the mountain and the 4,300m run. The run that spits out directly in to the gondola entrance is mild but has a decent grade if you made it there from 1,000m run of flat traverse that precedes it. There are two parks for the tricksters, a small one on the top half of the mountain and a large one on the bottom half.Zao Eboshi

Getting to Zao Eboshi is an absolute breeze. There is a bus that for 4,800円 includes round trip fare and an all day lift ticket. You must make reservations a day in advance, I was able to make the reservation in English. The girl on the other end didn’t speak it well, but she was able to understand me. It leaves Sendai station at 8:00AM and also has pickups at Izumi-chuo and Nagamachi-minami stations. The bus pick up isn’t too obvious at Sendai station. Common sense would tell you it would be near the other buses, but this is wrong. It’s actually to the left of the taxi stand on the first floor, West exit, door 13. The bus arrives around 9:30 giving you the majority of the day to ski or board. The return trip from the resort leaves the mountain at 4:30 (16:30). You pay your whole fair on the bus in cash and the nice lady will give you a lift ticket when you leave the bus. If you are south of Sendai this resort is easier to get to than Spring Valley and less money if you can take the bus (or drive). If you are north of Sendai, I would head to Spring Valley instead because they are basically the same ski resort.

For being a Saturday the place was not very busy, which was awesome. I never had to wait longer than a minute or so to get on any lift. There are also three resorts of similar size within a few minutes drive of each other, so that may help spread out the crowds. The other resorts are Miyagi Zao Sumikawa, Miyagi Zao Shiroishi and Miyagi Zao Shichikashuku. Storage King Noble’s Headgear (literal translation of Zao Eboshi’s name) suffers from one major issue and two minor ones. The major issue is that their lifts are too long and slow. I consistently found myself thinking that for as short as the good runs were, I was spending a lot of time in the lift. While I was on the lift I kept thinking, “this is inordinately slow.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want the lifts to go too fast. The single seat lift seemed to the quickest turn around with the best run.

always with the moguls...

always with the moguls…

The first minor issue is that two of the three best runs were closed for the later half of a Saturday. One closure was for a competition. One of the better runs was open all day but there was a slalom course school going on. I shouldn’t complain about a closure for safety but I’m going to anyway. The number 6 run has a steep drop into a crevice that acts as a natural half pipe with turns. They gated it off in the afternoon because it got too warm and the snow wasn’t holding. The other minor issue was weather related. In the late afternoon some cloud cover rolled in and immediately the top half of the mountain became an ice skating rink instead of a ski runs. I had read as much on some other sites like snowjapan and ski japan but it seems to be a consistent problem at Eboshi.

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I have yet to see a “bowl” at any of the Japanese resorts thus far, something I quite liked in Lake Tahoe. The boarding hasn’t been bad and the snow has been relatively good. Even at Happo-one which is my favorite thus far, I wasn’t really blown away. Eboshi’s 4,300m run was plastered all over the ski resort. The ideal of Japanese skiing is either destroying your knees on moguls or cruising along at leisurely pace for extended periods of time. Both of these things are not great for snowboarders. On skis it’s not that bad, but when snowboarding it can be a real drag to get stuck on a long flat area and have to hoof it out to the nearest grade. My advice for Zao Eboshi is to maintain speed and go to the steep stuff early before it closes.