Japan… blew my mind.
We’d talked about it before. Oh you know, it’d be cool to head for the pow, but I’m never too serious about booking my travel. I’m that girl who’s all like… goddamn I don’t got the caaaash… You know that girl – yeah well that’s me. I’m that shit one.
Til all of sudden my mate Laus was like, you know what dickhead, you missed out and I want you to come. It’s six weeks out so I pull my shit together, grab my gear and throw down that money.
You only live once. I think someone said that before… Oh yep. It was Laura.
6 March 14
Ketts and I are walking… outside the Melbourne International Airport terminal, searching for the smoking area. We find it – pleasant-ness left to be desired – whatever. Eight hours later we’re sucking away in Singapore… before we grab a Boost juice. Smoking areas in airports suck; and at the same time throw an amazing insight into where you actually are when travelling. You wouldn’t really walk outside otherwise, right? Stuffy and humid.
It’s like, 7:30am. I don’t even know. I didn’t even look at flight times when I signed up for this shit. I pictured my best mates – Laus and Ketts and I – just in Japan in the snow. Suddenly we’re looking for a bus, it’s pretty fucking freezing, and we got one. We’re taking pasty selfies on the way into a city we’d never comprehended before. It’s basically just how I imagined, but better.
Tall buildings flash past, but not as tall as I’d pictured in my head. Due to the fact that Japan sits on the tectonic equivalent of a huge broken plate, the likelihood of earthquakes means that there are no buildings with floors in excess of thirty. Every fifth window has a little red triangle on it, to mark a clear rescue path. Our hotel is located virtually on top of Shibuya Crossing, smack bang amongst the action, and we’re here for almost a week. It’s a sunny crisp day, so we check in, drop our bags in the lobby and saunter out with only the blatantly touristy prerogative of discovering our first vending machine.
Shopping in Shibuya is sick. Before I even knew it, I was the owner of 5 new flat-brims and a tall Michael Jordan hoodie. I made friends with Max, an African-American from LA with a five story clothing boutique; and hit up a heap of retail assistants about where was good to go out, and when. Quite unexpectedly, by literally walking into an unmarked elevator and pressing buttons, we stumbled upon a sky high, dingy cafe, inside which one could smoke and gaze out through caramel, coffee coloured glass at what was now becoming an overcast day. Lo and behold, by the time we re-emerged, there were tiny snowflakes tumbling down around our ears, which is pretty rare for Tokyo city! Needless to say – a pleasing start to an end-of-season snow trip.
As far as areas and stops on the underground- Harajuku was my favourite. It just felt cosy and comfortable and like the kind of place I would have hoped existed, somewhere. The day we were there the sun was clear, frosty and bright, the walkways wide and set out with stone brocades and separators – and when I think of Harajuku in colours, it is brown, khaki and grey. Dignified, straight up. The shopping there is quality too – fresh, street-style designs, and beautiful vintage olds reworked into something quaint, quirky and new.
The rest of the week passed by too quickly in a flurry of nightclubs, boutiques, gyozas, spicy ramens, epileptic lights and new sights. We started each day with Starbucks from the station below our hotel and finished it with beers and cheap vodka from the vending machine in the laundry room- which we would literally clean out with our spare change. We visited Fuji and rode roller coasters, shopped our faces off, drank Grey Goose to Cafe Patron to hot chocolates from vending machines, shook Polaroids and laughed a lot. But by the end of the week, when it was time to head up to the mountains, the three of us were just chomping at the bit: we were ready to hit pow like it was going out of fashion.
The shuttle that picks us up from the airport is by no means a luxury coach, but I’m so tired I don’t care. I pull a thick scarf out of my bag, roll it up against the dark, freezing glass and am asleep against the window before we’ve left the outskirts of Tokyo city. I wake again five hours later – thanking my lucky stars for the ability to literally sleep anywhere – just in time to see the lights of Hakuba struggling to twinkle through black, frosty air as we pull in at the lodge. Its 2am. Down come our ski bags, we sleepily collect our keys from check in and wind our way through passages like little rabbit warrens, finally passing out in tiny rooms of two under fluffy, down covers.
March in Hakuba means bluebird days, halfpipes, coke in big cups, lift passes, ramen, cigarettes and new friends.
Our first was spent at Happo One, the mountain directly above our lodge. Its serviced by the main gondola, which gets you fucking high, though on this day it was pretty heavy riding – it was sleeting and too slushy as they’d been waiting about a week for a good fall. I was also getting used to my new all mountain Armada TSTws, which were quite a bit wider than what I’ve generally ridden in the past [oh wow – by the end of the week though, these babies were like an extension of my legs, and it actually made me want to cry taking off my boots at the end of each day. Simon from Bumps is a god – thanks Simon!]. You know what though? After apres, dinner and an impressive bar hop session we must’ve all fallen asleep with our fingers crossed, because the dump we got overnight was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Day two morning hangovers were shrugged off, coffee was draaank and we met up with a couple of the boys from Perth to max Hakuba 47, a veritable playground. This mountain is SICK. So sick, in fact, that we end up back there again for day three to ensure that we’ve really smacked it properly, like a bad baby. H47 has a massive halfpipe with full park, fast lifts and short sharp runs that are super fun, peppered with sneaky little jumps and tree runs. We made like the mountain goats and couldn’t spend enough time up there.
Our third and final summit of choice (not a fucking easy feat when there’s nine, NINE MOUNTAINS, at your very beck and call), Iwatake, was F U N. You could literally ride almost every inch of this bad boy… snow everywhere. Like, you could actually jump off the chairlifts in some spots and be fine. A super rad park with some big kickers (there went half my day) and huge, sweeping mountain bowls leading down into tight valleys, fast runs with sharp turns and a bunch of really different terrains linked by a dogfight of chairlifts. Laus and I lost our shit and went on the grommets version of an eight hour acid trip – we were in. the. zone. and it was getting so warm that I stripped down to thermals and my tee. We didn’t stop for lunch… we just shredded that mountain from top to tip as many times as we could. We finally met up with the others for the last two runs of the trip; and that’s when I stacked it and twisted my knee. Errrrrmmm I copped an earful of snow, hard, and you know it was worth every bit.
Our last day was spent visiting the snow monkeys and recovering from the night before. The snow monkeys were a bit anti-climatic, and I would’ve much rather been back on skis trying to ward off the impending sense of gloom and doom that is synonymous with a return date… but it was good to get out into the country beyond the mountains and see some more of the rural aspects of Japanese culture. My love for Japan has a lot to do with the visual textures and colours of their foliage, architecture and landscapes… It’s a truly different country, and a pocket of the world I am sure I’ll wear by my heart for a long, long time.
The next day, as we piled back into the bus, I was devastated… I sat right up the back, leaning against Ketts with my beanie pulled down around my ears, my sunglasses on and my headphones in, crying. Yes, properly crying. I was very hungover, and halfway back I realised I’d left my favourite black ski jacket from Switzerland at the bar, but I was also inconsolable to the fact that we were leaving such a beautiful place with such rad people and incredible mountains. Visiting a traditional Samuri temple on the way back helped. But otherwise I was a mess.
So hopefully I will now be going back for two weeks in November of this year… too long between visits definitely, but in the meantime I’m going for ramen and gyoza every second day of the week, so I’m coping, clearly. If you’re ever down for that delicious spicy soup, you let me know. You, me, Little Ramen Bar, Little Bourke St.
Love you Japan, you babe.