Saturday, December 17, 2016

japan 1: skiing at yuzawa

The biggest wow moment of the trip came about when we, slightly groggy after sitting in the speeding Shinkansen for over an hour, emerged from a dark tunnel to see a town blanketed in snow.

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* Our train: Bound for Gala Yuzawa

Snow on the rooftops, vans resembling cakes with a thick layer of white cream and icing sugar on top, huge fields of blinding white.

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* Icing on the van

The gasps were audible, because the last thing we saw before entering the tunnel was green fields, houses and dry, gray roads. No snow. 

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* Views from the train, before Yuzawa

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* Mount Fuji in the distance

And apart from me, none in the family have actually seen that much genuine, powdery, pretty snow. (our time in Melbourne, the snow was patchy and much of it on the ski slopes was manufactured)

How lucky we all are, how lucky these kids are, to be able to see a snowscape.

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* Yuzawa from the mountain (more like hill) top

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Lugging all of our bags off the train and having to take the 10-minute walk from the Echigo Yuzawa station to our accommodation was a delight, as we skipped past water spouts on the road (I think they’re meant to run the ice off the road) and Lu, all of her train fatigue forgotten, giggled and delved deep into the ice-kacang-like snow on the roadside with an equally delighted Jo.

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* Us and our luggage

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Our three days at Yuzawa was the best part of our trip. Not only because it was quiet and relaxed, devoid of the bustle of Tokyo, it was action-packed. Like it or not (because they’re expensive), our family has developed a definite liking for skiing-type holidays, this being our second.

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* The action lovers

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Day 1 was blustery and icy, with falling snow. (oh, the thrill when the kids realized that it was snowing!)

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* Snowflakes in Jo's hair

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Day 2 had not an iota of snow, with blinding sunshine which made for spectacular photos.

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* Shading her eyes against the light reflected off the snow

Our playground of choice (tour agent’s choice, rather) was Gala Yuzawa, one of several ski resorts in the area and apparently the only one in Japan which sits directly on top of a Shinkansen train station. Meaning plenty of locals literally step off the train with their skis or snowboards, play the whole day, then step back onto the train in the evening to head back home.

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* Sizing, procuring and paying for our equipment which was all clean and in super condition

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* Wearing our overalls underneath heavy jackets, I think I got Lu's the wrong way around

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* Going up the slope in the cable car from the ski resort

KK and Day had the time of their lives, because after skiing on Day 1, they decided to sign up for a snowboarding class on Day 2. 

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The class barely scraped the surface of what they need to know, but after coming down the slopes several times and falling spectacularly, they started having fun.

So much fun that even after KK injured his ribs (sneezing became painful and he couldn’t quite carry the luggage), he longed for a couple more days of snowboarding, ribs be damned, so he can become as proficient as some of the guys whizzing past him.

(He hopes to go snowboarding again with Day, so that’s great news because it means he’ll be willing to fly again)

Skiing and snowboarding are also two of the rare things where I see Day trying hard, again and again, to become better. (doesn’t apply to schoolwork or piano or any of the usual yardsticks of success)

* In which KK takes very long to appear, long after Day and Jo, and when he does, falls


* In which the trio ski in the dying light of the afternoon, and regrettably have their last run before the ski lift stops running at 430pm. KK still takes very long to appear but makes it back nicely

Lu and I, we tried skiing. Lu learnt it in Melbourne, but apparently forgot everything. What made it worse was that the easiest slope at Gala Yuzawa is quite a bit steeper than the gentle almost-horizontal one she was doing in Melbourne). I, focusing on taking photos in Melbourne, was a first-time skier hoping to rely on the rest of my family to educate me.

The one time Lu and I went up the ski lift and came down the slope is one I will never forget, in its full pathetic glory. My knees ached and touched each other as I desperately tried to keep the “A” shape of the skis as per Jo's instructions (to go slow), and as I monitored Lu out of the corner of my eye, every time she fell, I struggled valiantly to get to her and pull her up, falling down in the process. We spent most of her time on our backs, panting, perspiring like mad under our crazy layers of clothes, legs aching, laughing like we were deranged, wondering how to get back up with the silly skis strapped on our feet, and knowing that we’d probably fall back down and repeat the whole thing in a minute.

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* Another of my countless falls,, photo by Jo who tried very hard to slow down for the two of us but eventually gave up

As we neared the end, we took off our skis (with a lot of effort) and walked back down.

Jo couldn’t stop laughing.

I might have tried again because at times, as I stayed on my feet, it felt rather thrilling. But then Lu said: Forget about skiing. I’m going to make snowmen.

And that’s where I and she spent the rest of our time. She did love making her snowmen, though, sitting outside despite the cold and the gales to perfect her snowmen, and sobbing when she returned from a toilet or food break to find that some kid had kicked it down.

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* Jo's feature-less "snowman": Three spheres

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* Making snowmen with friends from Singapore we coincidentally bump into, the kids are all in the same school and the boy on the left is going to be Lu's classmate in 2017

Jo vacillated between the two parties: KK and Day, Lu and I. She wants the best of every world. She has also made it very clear that the next time we go to a snow resort, she wants to try snowboarding.

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