Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tengendai (January 11, 2009)

On the day I left for Vietnam, I accidentally agreed to go on a snowboard trip with some teachers from Icchu.  I say accidentally because at the time, I didn’t realize that only 4 people total would sign up, it would be 3 hours away, or it would cost $300 (actually more with the current wacky exchange rate).  In the end, I’m glad I signed up to go.  I kept laughing at the way the trip unfolded, as it was almost exactly like the last Japanese weekend trip I went on … and the one before that.  They all start with a long (2-4 hour) ride to a place that can also be found much much closer to where we live.  Once in the area, the crucial stop to a convenient or grocery store is made to pick up more snacks and cans of alcohol than we will ever be able to finish.  The ridiculous thing about these crucial stops is that A. technically not allowed into the ryokan we’ll be staying at, B. the purpose of buying everything is to eat and drink immediately after the enormous dinner and endless bottles of beer that comes with our stay, and C. Japanese people just don’t eat THAT much!!

We skied and snowboarded in the coldest and most blizzard weather conditions I’ve so far experienced in Japan on both Saturday and Sunday.  With how much it was snowing, and the size of the snow chunks coming down, it was impossible for skiers and snowboarders to make a smooth downhill course.  It was a little frustrating at first when I kept on falling because the edges of my snowboard kept getting caught up in the snow.  Then I realized that because of the fluffiness of the powder, falling was painless, and anything was possible. 

After the first day of skiing/snowboarding, we went back to the Ryokan and bathed in the coolest onsens thus far!!  One was an ‘olympic’ onsen.  The only reason I can think of for this name is that it’s kind of long and rectangular.  The hot spring water was scalding hot, and came right up to floor level.  It was the perfect remedy after an ice-cold day.  The other onsen was a Rotenburo, or outdoor onsen.  There was a roof to protect our heads from the snow, but besides that, we were out in the cold.  The warmth of the water combined with the beauty of the falling snow makes for a gokuraku kimochi – or a heavenly perfect feeling. 

Dinner at the Ryokan consisted of whale fat sashimi, coy fish in all forms, nearly raw beef, shabu shabu, and the usual mix of delicious Japanese dishes.  We ate and drank until it was all gone, and then headed back to the hotel room for more snacks and chuhais.  It was really nice getting to know some of my colleagues outside of the courteous business scene.  One of the teachers teaches Japanese, and is one of those who knows a little about a lot of different things.  Every other minute was a ‘did you know’ moment.  I learned a lot from her about Japanese history and the education system, which was pretty neat. 

We woke up early the next day for more skiing and snowboarding, but thankfully only stayed for half a day.  When in Yonezawa, we MUST get Yonezawa beef.  We had it yaki-niku style and it was DELICIOUS.  Fatty and greasy, yes, but also flavorful and moist and perfect!!.  

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