I've mentioned a few times on Hashtag Jetlag that as uptight and highstrung as I can be, I made a rather spontaneous trip to Japan in January of this year, primarily to go skiing, something I've never done before. To preserve what tiny shreds of dignity I have left, I won't get into the events that caused me to start looking for cheap flights to Tokyo in the first place, but I will tell you that one Friday night happy hour, I became swept up in a web of cocktails, romantic fantasies, encouragement from well-meaning friends, and a deep desire to escape last year's harsh East Coast winter. I found some ridiculously cheap flights to Tokyo, and the Tokyolo adventure was born.
As a wise ex-boyfriend of mine once said, "YOLO is going to put a lot of people in credit card debt."
Credit debt was never the issue here, but the truth is that YOLO can get you into some fucking trouble. So there I was at one of my favorite local spots with some of my favorite people, errbody gettin' tipsy, and we all decided that hey, YOLO, let's go to Japan. Let's just fucking do it.
Monday rolls around, and pretty much everyone at that happy hour was like "Hmm...yeah...about that. You were serious?" MF'ers all bailed on me except my fabulous, adventurous roommate Rhi, who has been lecturing me about how I need to be more spontaneous for years. Not only was this badass down to go, she wouldn't let me wimp out, and a couple months later, we set off for Japan.
Our first stop was Niseko, a ski resort town in the northern-most island of Hokkaido. While not known for its food, it is known for its world class snow. Or at least that's what I'm told, not having had anything to compare it to.
Now, as I said, I've never gone skiing before, but it isn't that I haven't wanted to. Not having grown up in a particularly snowy or mountainous area and not having been raised by particularly wealthy waspy parents, the opportunity to go skiing just never arose.
I did become especially interested in skiing during my junior year of college when I fell madly in love with Bode Miller during the 2006 Winter Olympics. As you can see from this visual biography that my talented friend Alexis made that year, skiing has always been a part of my future.
Rhi and I booked our flights and hotels through Ski Japan, and I highly recommend you do the same should you decide to take a ski vacation to Japan. For a pretty decent price, we stayed in a really nice apartment, and they took care of getting us from the nearest airport, Sapporo, which was two hours away. Plus, everyone who works there is Australian, presumably because they follow the snow during what is their summer, and god I love an accent, mate.
Ski Japan partners with Niseko Base Sports, who I also recommend, because we all know that dragging me around doing something outdoorsy takes a special kind of person. The ski instructors were of that special species, super friendly, patient, and very good, and renting all the equipment and getting set up was easy, in a country where, as a Westerner, things aren't always so easy.
NBS set us up with our ski instructor who looked like Prince William, pre-the days of his thinning hair. Or at least I think he did, but I may have just been dazzled by the British accent since, as Colin Frissell in "Love Actually" says, "Stateside, I'm Prince William without the weird family."
Anyway, Prince William was great. Rhi had only been skiing once, and he was very patient with us. He claimed I was doing really well, picking things up more quickly than most. He may have been humoring me, but I giggled and took what he said at face value because we all need a win every now and then, amirite?
The first day was a success. I only fell once, and unlike falling off a bike, falling into the soft, powdery snow in Niseko for whatever reason made me laugh uncontrollably. I was looking forward to our second day on the mountain.
Prince Will told us what levels we were now at, and the next day we had a new instructor. This time it was an old British dude, who I was happy to find seemed less interest in honing my nonexistent technique and more interested in taking us around some new routes (with more opportunities for falls).
It was a blast. Despite all of my doubting friends and family, I loved skiing and picked it up pretty well. The only thing is they really try to get you to go slow. Like so you can gain control or something. LOL. If you're like me and you're a skiing novice, I will tell you that you leave your skis straight and parallel (like french fries) to go forward and pick up speed. And if you want to slow down or stop, you go pigeon-toed (pizza).
The other way to slow down is to start making turns, and I managed to do that pretty decently, but I just...preferred not to. I liked going downhill really fast (Bode, we're soulmates, call me). Basically, my second lesson consisted of the old bloke laughing his ass off at me, going, "Well, at least you're brave."
After a break that day, Rhi and I met up with a friend of mine who was working in Niseko for the season, and we went skiing with him for a couple more hours. I guess a huge part of the appeal of skiing in Japan is that you can go twilight skiing, and I have to admit, it was pretty cool skiing at night.
Unfortunately, this is where things went downhill in more ways than one. At some point, Rhi fell and her ski came off. Not a huge deal; my friend helped her get back on her feet and we did a few more runs after that. After he left us, she and I went back to our apartment, and as we were taking off our ski boots, I noticed she had a hole in her pants. And upon further examination, she realized she was bleeding. Except the blood had effing FROZEN into a weird congealed blob and she never felt it because we were so cold. Basically she had a two-inch gash in her shin.
Now, I edit medical textbooks for a living, and it takes a lot to phase me. Unfortunately all the STD photos in the world didn't prepare me for that, and *I* was the one dry-heaving while calm, levelheaded Rhi told me to take deep breaths and got up to go clean it off and cover it with pretty much all the Band-Aids we had with us.
She wrapped it up as best she could, and we went out to for our last dinner in Niseko, stopping along the way at every place that looked like a convenience store, looking for anything that *might* be gauze or an antiseptic. Unfortunately the only recognizable item in most of those stores were the little SARS masks that everyone wears in Asia.
Probably the reason why Rhi is such a great roommate for me is because she is so chill while I am more or less a hotheaded disaster. We couldn't find Band-Aids anywhere. Even the Ski Japan office didn't have a first aid kit, and neither did the surrounding hotels. My penchant for a sexy Australian accent waned when one of them told us to just slap some toilet paper and duct tape on it.
Honestly, I kind of lost my mind at this point. No one had anything but Band-Aids, and the best they could tell us to do was go to Kutchan, the next village over, the next morning and wait in line at the clinic. Welp. I was avoiding certain people in Kutchan because REASONS, and we were leaving around noon the next day for Tokyo. Rhi had resigned herself to the fact that she would have to wait until Tokyo to get checked out, but I was pissed.
I mean, we are talking about a country full of bidets, people but no one had a goddamn first aid kit. Every toilet has a high-powered ASSHOLE WASHER, but no one in this freaking SKI RESORT had anything better than a Band-Aid. Does this seem counterintuitive to anyone else? I chalk it up to the fact that there were more Australians in Niseko than there were Japanese, and Australians are characteristically chill about...well...everything (unlike me). Like I don't understand this. Rhi could NOT have been the first person to have gotten hurt there. What do people do when they REALLY get hurt?
Of course, it took two hours to get from Niseko to Sapporo. And then two more hours on the plane from Sapporo to Tokyo Narita. And then two MORE hours on the Narita "Express" to a subway stop where I just said fuck it, let's find a cab to take us the rest of the way. We had to wait one more day for the clinic. Needless to say, a rocky start.
But truth be told, once we got our shit together, the trip was on the upswing the rest of the way. The next morning, we found a clinic that was way better than any Patient Last jams around here, and Rhi got stitched up. Yes STITCHES. And we rewarded ourselves with some bombass food the rest of the time.
Unlike riding a bike, I can't tell you that the moral of the story is to go for a few practice spins first, since skiing doesn't really work that way. And even though I was questioning my YMCMB loyalties at that moment, the truth is, Drake's onto something, you know?
Isn't travel all about the unexpected? And don't you only live once? And what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and of course gives you something to write about in your blog so all your friends can laugh at you.