Note: Please excuse typos. All Japan trip blog entries will be types on my phone.
On January 18th, Ron, Juni, Luke, Martina, Jeanne and I flew into Tokyo. We stayed in Tokyo for one night (which was quite a tease!) en route to our first destination: Hakuba. I have never seen any place more beautiful!
I am going to be honest... I love China very much, but it is pretty nice to get a break from the dirty, overcrowded, polluted, noisy streets. Hakuba has blue skies, crisp clean air, snow-capped mountains and the whitest freshest snow I've ever experienced.
Tokyo and Hakuba have been exceptionally clean. In fact, I have not seen one piece of garbage anywhere! We haven't actually seen any garbage cans anywhere, but it is expected that you carry your garbage with you all day until you find a trash bin. Japan seems to be the epitome of "zen". Tokyo is clutter-free, peaceful and organized. It is frowned upon to spit or litter here. The subway is so sterile, it looks clean enough to sleep on the ground. It is going to be hard to go back to China after this!!
The people we have met have all been so friendly and honest. Unlike China, no one tries to scam you or rip you off. My friend dropped her 10,000 yen bill ($100 equivalent) on the ground, and our cab driver chased her down the street to give it back to her. Everyone constantly bows to you to show their gratitude and goes out of their way to make you feel comfortable and welcomed. Ron and Juni both speak fluent Japanese, which has been very helpful, but knowing Japanese is not necessary (most people know some English).
We are currently in Hakuba to ski for 4 days, and then we are heading to Morioka (where Ron and Juni used to live and teach) and then back to Tokyo for five days. I have only skied once before, but I am learning very fast! I am already flying down the intermediate slopes and feeling great. I feel like I am on top of the world- cruising down the mountains with not a worry in the world- just the breathtaking views of Japan's snow-capped mountains, fresh air filling my lungs, surrounded by some of the best friends I've ever met.
We are all staying in an adorable little cabin "Alupa Lodge" which is directly across from the ski lift. Every morning, we just step into our backyard and ski Japan's mountains for 5 hours! At the end of the day, we are all exhausted and ready to relax and eat.
The food is quite pricey here, so we have been going to Lawson's (a convenience store) and getting snacks to share for dinner (sushi, edamame, eggs, nuts, fruit). The convenience stores are filled with delicious and fresh food! We have only gone out for one meal so far because we are all trying to save money, but whatever money is left over at the end of our trip we will put towards a nice meal at a trendy restaurant in Tokyo. The food is so fresh and flavorful- lots of seafood, seaweed, Ramen style noodles, eggs, tofu- it's not as oily and greasy as the food in China (and you actually know what meat you are eating!) I can get vegetarian sushi for about 2 dollars at the convenience store, which has been incredible. There are also vending machines everywhere filled with amazing snacks and drinks. You can get hot and cold drinks from the vending machines, and some are even stocked with beer!
After sharing our snacks for dinner, we hit the bath house. Our cabin has one bath house for men and one for women. There is a procedure you must go through to prepare for the bath to ensure it stays clean. First, you get naked and sit on a stool facing a mirror. You relax and pre-wash your hair and body before getting into the bath. Juni, Jeanne and I spendfrom 5-8pm sitting in the bath and relaxing our muscles after a long day skiing (I left my bath house pictures out of the blog, sorry ;) After the bath, we dry off in the sauna and get into our bathrobes. I could get used to this ritual!
The hot baths at Alupa Lodge are preparing us for our next stop in Morioka, where we will be staying at an Onsen hotel (Onsen means "hot spring"). We will be staying with Ron and Juni's Japanese friends and relaxing in the natural Onsen for 5 days. Life is good!