A byte of life from the Land of Sumos and Sushi

Friday, February 25, 2005

Well, would you? An anti-cigarette littering campaign as seen in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan.

Snow and Ciggies Don't Mix.

In Sapporo, there was an amusing anti-cigarette litter campaign being pimped out to the people. As the city is covered in snow for large periods of time, they are keen to keep the snow white and virginal, rather than grey and dirty. So, the powers that be had come up with a great set of adverts to persuade smokers not to drop their butts, or even flick ash onto the sacred snow. I think someone should make these ads into T-shirts.

In a recent talking test, a student told me one of his hobbies was 'snow diving', apparently a winter sport that is currently becoming popular here.

If only green really did resurface in the spring.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Some days are better than others

This morning, I woke up to a foot+ of light fresh snow; instantly the day was off to a good start. I then had two lessons which went brilliantly and were pure fun, but the highlight of the day occurred when I nipped out to take the school dog for a quick walk in the fresh snow.

The sun had come out, the sky was blue and the freshly fallen snow was sparking all around. As I walked around the school grounds with the pup in tow (or more accurately me being towed) I breathed long and deep. It was one of those "just happy to be alive" moments.

Then, from out of nowhere, two of my fellow teachers pull up on the school snow mobile, and ask if I want to go for a tazz? Do I heck!!... So on I get, and off we go. Firing round the grounds through knee deep powder with me at the throttle, inhaling the cool air, on a beautiful crisp winters day. I don't remember this being in the ALT job description, but it's just one of the extra duties that you have to be prepared for in my line of work.

As I ripped along, I was powerless to remove the huge smile from my face and I wondered what I'd be doing in England, had I never left for these shores. However, my only regret today was leaving my camera at home.


Anyway, I'm just about to leave "work" and head to the slopes for a night boarding session.

Life is Sweet.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Seal, bear and whale meat in canned curry form.

Endangered Curry in a Can

There are many urban legends surrounding dodgy back street curry houses in the UK. Stories about pigeon masquerading as chicken, or cat as beef are rife. It is impossible to know if there’s any truth to these tales, but I recently discovered some Japanese curries that make no secret of their key ingredient.

It is well known that the Japanese controversially still eat whale. I exclusively revealed back in November’s edition, that they also were partial to a slice of bear. On the recent trip to Sapporo I can now add seal to the list, and even better still, I found that you can buy all three of these succulents meats in canned curry form!

So next time you're down your local Indian, feasting on a tikka masalla, be thankful that the range of possible rogue meats contained within is at least limited to wild birds and stray pets rather than bear, whale, or seal.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

3000 Hits and Counting

The counter has been up for less than 3 months, and has already reached more than 3000 hits. Thanks to everybody for reading my drivel, and a big fat special thanks to those who have left comments, or words of encouragement. To the peeps back home - let me know you've been checking in, leave a message, or at least some quality jip; Gary, Danny G, Chris, Jamin, Fat Bob, the Baldwin Bros, Matt Basham, Yoda, Jemski, Tubbs, The Caped Crusader, Berkulator, The Effect boys, etc, I await your abuse.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Cool Dude - The Snow and Ice Festival in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan.

As Cool As Ice

Last weekend a party of English teachers made the long haul to the northern island of Hokkaido to check out the Sapporo Snow and Ice festival. The 21 hour ferry trip was mainly spent sleeping and gambling, with my Y400 (£2) winnings on the poker table seeing me through to a free meal.

Being cheapskates, we opted for the cheapest form of accommodation, which was a medium sized room, and some blankets. In Japanese style, we just piled into the room and kipped on the floor, no beds, no mats, no nothing. The other thing of note was that there were no single showers. Insted, a large hot tub (sento) room was available, in which participants of the same sex strip down, hose down, and then wallow in a hot pool in your birthday suit, whilst watching the white horses ride the ocean waves out to sea.

Being much further north, there was a noticeable drop in temperature, which didn’t rise above –7C during our stay. I barely saw an inch of pavement or tarmac as everything was covered in a permaforst of compacted snow and ice.

The snow and ice sculptures were very impressive. Some were as big as buildings, and extremely intricate in their design. We also visited a brewery, in which was deserted, and we checked out Niseko, a famous ski resort. Hokkaido is famous for its powder, and Niseko didn’t disappoint. Deep fluffy snow was most everywhere to be found, and there were plenty of nicely spaced trees to make things interesting, but it was bloody freezing.

In conclusion, a great trip, and I hope to return to the northern wastes in summer for a longer stay.

A white house.

Mr Vader and R2 spent too long on the ice planet of Hoth.

In the deep freeze - these real fish were entombed in this sculpture.

Amazing in scale and detail - this is a snow replica of a famous Japanese temple.

Cool Rider.

This was one of my favourites. Unfortunatley - the entire sculpture was much to large to fit into a shot - so this is just a fraction of the overall piece.

The sheer scale of the snow sculptures was impressive. Not impressive enough, however, to make me want to queue in the -10C temperatures for 30 minutes to slide down the ice slide like these young nippers did.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Land of the setting sun - the last run of the day at Rokuroshi.

Second Victim Falls to the Snow.

Well, me and my snow crew have been doing the rounds, checking out all the ski areas within range. I am pretty happy with my lot, and there are still more we're yet to investigate. This weekend I’m going to Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan to see the world famous Ice Festival in Sapporo. We’re taking the ferry, a mammoth 21 hour journey which should be interesting to say the least. We’ll also be visiting one of the biggest and best ski resorts in Japan.

Here in Fukui, the snow continues to fall on a regular basis, with powderous conditions occurring every 7-10 days. However, I regret to inform you that the snow has claimed it’s second victim of the season. My digital camera was lost to the powder last week, and has not been seen since. It wasn’t wearing an avalanche transceiver, so I was unable to locate it, and I suspect it’s still buried deep. Let this be a lesson in snow safety for us all.

This is the price one must pay for a level of journalism this high.

Donations for a new one can be made through paypal. Thankyou for you generousity.

The deserted powder field at Rokuroshi Ski Area. For some reason, I have never seen anyone else round this side of the mountain. Not that I'm complaining.

Sam throws up a spray at Kuzuryu (Nine Headed Dragon) Ski Area following a dump of fresh snow.

Night Rider Line. My lone track during a night riding session at Rokuroshi Ski Area.

A snow covered one man chair at Karigahara Ski Area, during a night riding session.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The mythical capsule bed unit, complete with built in TV, alarm clock, and radio.


Approximately one month ago, after being ravaged by the Nagoya airport security officials, I checked into one of the most Japanese of creations, the mythical Capsule Hotel. With my hotel slippers on, I stepped out of the lift on the 7th floor, and was confronted by a scene that would not be out of place in a intergalactic sci-fi film. My initial impressions of this mysterious form of accommodation were: “this is the coolest thing, I have ever seen”.

Rows upon rows of double decker creme plastic moulded bed units (or space pods as I deemed them), lined the walls of the room. I crawled into my allotted number, to discover a TV, radio, and alarm clock were all built in to the set. I was fairly exhausted from the long days events so promptly found the bathroom and helped myself to a free single use disposable toothbrush. After searching the various shelves, I concluded that there was no toothpaste and resigned myself to the fact I would have to do without, whilst cursing the Japanese for their lack of dental hygiene. Seconds later, I was praising the Japanese for their ingenuity of invention as I discovered that the brushes were pre-impregnated with a suitable dose of minty cool toothpaste.

Back in the pod, I pulled the blind down and lay down looking forward to a good nights sleep. I thought I’d see what was on TV, but it appeared that there was only one channel. This channel appeared only to air Japanese porn – which I discovered blurs out any offending parts, so all you can see is a couple of naked people (sometimes more), who’s genitalia don't wish to be identified.

I rested my weary head on the rock hard bean bag pillow and tried to fall asleep, but this proved to be much harder than I originally envisaged. It was uncomfortably hot in the pod, and the air conditioning only came on periodically. Added to the noise from other men’s snoring, coughing, and porn channel watching, I soon realised it was going to be a long night. I discovered I had dropped off at one point when I was awoken by a bunch of rowdy drunkards, and then spent the rest of the night clock watching, urging the morning to come.

Capsule hotels are a refuge for the business man who just wants a bed for the night and a shave in the morning. Note I say businessman –women are not permitted in the majority of them. However they are really just compact youth hostels; being in your own pod tricks you into thinking you have your own zone, but in reality, you are still sharing a room with fifty other men. In conclusion, an interesting experience, but not one I’ll be rushing to repeat in a hurry.

Zone 3A, Sector B, Level 7. Space Pods in Nagoya Space Cruiser Capsule Hotel.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

At the scene of the accident, ski patrol marks off the danger zone.

Japanese Snow Claims its First Victim

The ski areas around the Fukui area are all fairly low in altitude. The highest can’t be more than 1800m, and most are below that. The nice thing about this is that there is a lot of tree skiing as no peak reaches above the tree line, and most notably for me, deciduous tree skiing. It was an unusual but beautiful sight to see groves of birch, beech and ash on the slopes in addition to the normal pine coppices.

A trip to the biggest resort in the area (Katsuyama Ski Jam) last weekend showcased some of the lovely powder runs through the aforementioned trees, but one of our group had to pay a terrible toll for our passage. The Japanese believe that the ancient tree sprits are the guardians of the mountain realm and should be respected as such. Perhaps incensed at the snowboarders frivolous trespass of their land, one tree fought back and took fellow snowboarder Ryan Nichols down to the ground with an almighty blow to the knee. Writhing in pain, the 24 year old Tennesseean managed to un-strap and drag himself on to the piste, but could go no further and ski patrol was quickly called.

Soon, Ryan was strapped up in an orange body bag, flying down the slope headed for the emergency medical centre. The damage done was fairly severe – “some chunks [of bone] are missing from my tibia, and there’s significant damage to my ACL and PCL – I’m in a hard cast from my ankle to my thigh”. However, true to his fighting form Ryan vowed to get back on his board: “[The Doctors] are obviously saying that snowboarding this season is not an option... but I’m not ruling it out”.

The amusing side to this incident (if there is one) occurred when I pulled out my camera to document the action. On seeing the camera, the ski patrollers instantly dropped all medical equipment, whipped out the peace signs, and without hesitation were soon rounding up the posse for a group photo, leaving the injured party lying in the stretcher, shuddering with post traumatic shock.

You’ve got to give it to the Japanese – they’ve got their priorities right.

Beautiful, but deadly. The Japanese believe that the tree spirits are the ancient guardians of the mountain realm. Tree runs at Ski Jam.

Ryan about to be envolped by a pink blanket.

The body bag begins it's descent.

Whilst the injured party lies dying, the rest of the party party on. Everybody say "Chiizu".

Sam, Ryan, and Laura, just minutes before the tree attacked at Ski Jam.