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Jump to February:
    Week 1:   1st   2nd   3rd   4th   5th   6th   7th  
    Week 2:   8th   9th   10th   11th   12th   13th   14th  
    Week 3:   15th   16th   17th   18th   19th   20th   21st   22nd  
    Week 4:   23rd   24th   25th   26th   27th   28th   29th  
Image Jump:
- Snow Festival!
  • It's the Sapporo Snow Festival
  • Snow Taj Mahal
  • Snow Bunny
  • Better Than a Bad Smoker
  • Hanover Building
  • Abe Lincoln
  • City Lights & a Giant Head
  • Kids' Hearts
  • Elementary School Song
  • Celebrity Love Match Wheel
    - Naked Man Festival!
  • Loinclothed Men In The Water
  • Buns, Buns, Buns (Viewer Discretion Advised)
  • Bucket Man
  • Men in Loincloths
  • A DDR Pad
  • Week 1

    Sunday, Feb 1

      IN A NUTSHELL: Snowball Olympics

      Somehow I slept pretty well in the room full o' futons. (The guys were nice enough to give me the end futon even though I told them anywhere was fine.) When Kim came out in the morning and told us to wake up, take showers, turn on the heater, etc, I was the only one who moved. I got up to turn on the heater (the one thing that actually gets me to get out of my bed at home, too) but went back under my warm futon blanket afterward. Later, when she turned on the lights, the guys jumped out of bed and got organized so fast, I was the only one left in my futon, looking like the lazy one. Kim and company made eggs and toast for breakfast - lovely - but all during this time, they were listening to hip hop music. How can anyone listen to rap in the morning? Maybe to wake everyone's brain up? I surreptitiously turned it a bit (just a bit) down but a bout ten minutes later it was turned back up, and louder. Culture shock for Enya-listening me, yet I seemed to be the only one who didn't love it. Maybe I need to broaden my horizons?

      Marching in With Our Flag We walked up to the field and waited as the sun rose from over the mountains. They had all the teams lined up in the shade (brr!) off to the side. FINALLY, they played a fanfare over the speakers and every team marched on individually, holding their signs and flags in front of them. One brave all-men's team disrobed until they were wearing nothing but red loincloths! That team carried two loinclothed fellows on their shoulders as they jogged (stiffly) across the snow. That made me forget right about how cold I was! When they called our number, I pretended I was part of the gaijin team (not everyone on our team had arrived) and jogged out with the rest of them. We were the only gaijin there as far as I could tell. Anyway, aside from the near-nude men, the procession reminded me almost exactly of a gymnastics meet (of which I went to several as a child) especially when each team was lined up side by side and received an individual welcome. Because Kim, the JET in this town and the organizer, is from New Zealand, our entire group was introduced as being from New Zealand. People must have really thought we came far for this event in the middle of nowhere in Japan. Anyway, as each of the 73 teams was introduced, I was also reminded of the Olympics (I swear I heard them sneak that bit of Olympic Theme Music in during the horn-heavy fanfare) and could not help but be amused that this was all essentially for a snowball fight. We guessed that since they had the opening ceremony today instead of yesterday that today must be for the Really Serious snowball gamers. And we were a part of it.

      Warm Footsies I was very happy for the warm patches Kim gave me for my feet as I tried to keep my face out of the sun and cheer my team on. Oddly, with the giant blocky obstacles, the helmets, and some of the clever costumes, I was reminded of Ender's Game. It was like Ender's Game on the ground with snowballs instead of laser guns. Anyway, due to a mix up about how many points the flag was worth, we strategized to wait it out instead of going for the flag and consequently our draw turned into a loss, but in general, did FAR better than ever expected. I don't think we'll ever make it to the finals in Hokkaido, but I'm considering joining the team next year.

      Shopping Spree (Warm Footsies, Part 2) I headed back to Miyoshi after the last game (not opting to wait until the evening for the closing ceremony) and did some shopping. On my list? Warm Footsie Things! I was determined to stock up on these warm patch things, if they were really that easy to buy. First, I bought exercise pants on sale at Mac House (shouldn't this be a computer place?) and bought quasi ski pants on markdown from the place across the street. I found ones my size in the men's section since the women's clearance rack only had tiny, pink ones. The ski pants for serious skiers (i.e. not pink) were over $150. As if! Afterward I went to Sungreen and FOUND HOT PATCH THINGS. Lots of them! Warm mini patches, warm big patches, warm in-soles, warm little bean bags to put in your jacket pockets... yay! I stocked up. I bought random stuff at the 100 yen store including a pocket mirror with the brand name "lame" which does have an accent over the 'e' but still could be the reason it didn't sell at a regular store. In the supermarket part, they had a chocolate selection for Valentine's Day but, oddly, almost none were in heart-shaped boxes. Maybe that's an American thing. I bought some, anyway. Mainly for myself.

      And Now It's Time For More...
      Strange English in Japan
      Location: On the Spare Tire Cover of a Rav4
      (all spacing and grammar errors are theirs)

      Top of tire: It's a outdoor sport which began to shine lately
      Middle of tire: To choose sports for fashion or your personality,the basic idea is to enjoy yourself which is important
      Bottom of tire: Outdoor sports is the science to raise spirits

      Popura Earlier, I had been reading a magazine in Kim's apartment and noticed that the katakana for the poplar tree was "popura" which looked familiar to me. I realized it was because "popura" is the name of the closest convenience store to me. As I drove by on my way home, I double checked. Sure enough, over the katakana that said "po-pu-ra" was a little symbol of a tree. How did I never notice before? I'm still going to call it "po-pu-ra" instead of poplar. It sounds cuter.

      More Boar Maruyama called and invited me over for dinner. I was too surprised by the offer to do anything but accept, but I knew I was way too tired and still in the middle of reading the weekend's worth of email. I went anyway. Had a nice boar dinner (cooked this time) with ramen (tender boar rib inside) and rice. Good stuff, of course. I confused Maruyama by refusing beer this time. She just doesn't know what to do with me. Sometimes I drink, sometimes I don't. I'm so inconsistent. Then she brought out a giant bottle of Coke instead and I was in Heaven. I have no will power when it comes to Coke and when she put the bottle right beside my seat for me to drink at leisure, I knew she loved me. Her husband commented that I was good with my chopsticks (honestly, people... it's not like we're struggling for a conversation topic, here) and I've done my latest thing, which is to tell them, "No, I do it wrong, the nursery schoolers told me." I use my middle finger to operate the top chopstick, not my index finger and apparently that's not proper form, according to the kids. The kids give me more lessons in etiquette than the adults because the are not afraid to tell me things like "Don't mix the yummy juice left over from your beef dish with the rice no matter how good it tastes." The kids had been quick to assure me that because I was a gaijin, though, it was probably okay. I wonder what other faux pas I've still been making (after over 2 years total in Japan, sheesh.)

      The Most Unusual Thing I've Heard This Year So Far Two Maruyama children, less than 7 years of age, suddenly started singing along perfectly to... no you won't believe it... "Top of the World" by the Carpenters! Whaaaa? Their mother told me that she uses Carpenters songs to help her English (which, I admit, is the best in the family) and I suppose she passed along her Carpenter's Love to her small children. One first grader and one preschooler singing "I'm on top of the world, lookin' down on creation..." and so forth just made me gape in amazement. And they sung right along to the next song on the CD, too. Whoa! Although I hit the tail end of the Carpenters generation and can't sing along myself, it's still impressive!

    Monday, Feb 2

      IN A NUTSHELL: Getting Silly Songs Stuck in My Head

      Chanting and Singing I walked into the elementary this morning and realized I had left myself all sorts of copying and flashcard making to do before my first class. I must have procrastinated last week. Bad me. Don't do that again, especially when you are teaching the kids a Genki English song and you left the CD at home! Somehow, despite having to drive home and find the evasive music in a Pile of Important Stuff (I have several such piles) and drive all the way back, I managed to make a nice no-katakana printout and get all my sports flashcards glued in time. I had later classes charade the sports as we went along (though badminton and rugby were a bit of a challenge) and although the kids did well in the four classes I taught the song in, it was really me who learned the song. I listened to it over 10 times and could not get it out my head the rest of the day (which was the point of the song, but... I already know my sports in English.) Even typing the word "badminton" above put the song back in my head. Sheesh. Anyway, I did the Jazz chants as a warm-up (it was a very musical day) and actually got complimented on them! Yay! And the 1st and 2nd graders LOVED number karuta (i.e. I say a number and everyone tries to grab the card with the number on it from a pile). All in all, a good day.

      The Bidding War Continues As a fund raiser for Habitat, a Hiroshima woman put together an auction for people to bid on services other JETs offer. It's working marvelously and I've not only bid on something myself (the karaoke singing lessons one of course) but have been bid on for my own computer/web lessons I offered. It's a brilliant idea and judging by the bids, they may raise $1000. Clever idea!

      Oops I am scared to plug in my space heater because it got wet so I don't know how I will dry my clothes. I put water in my potato soup mix instead of milk. I forgot to go to volleyball tonight and I was so excited about it last Monday. And I ate all the ice cream in my house!

    Tuesday, Feb 3

      IN A NUTSHELL: Bean Day

      Introducing 9th Graders to Frank Sinatra Ack, both of my activities were being used and both during first period. I had done them, I just had to print/copy them FAST. I'm not good at being fast in the morning, especially on Tuesday morning since it is always my first day back to the Jr. High after three long days. However, it went surprisingly well! They actually (gasp) enjoyed my Celebrity Love Match. It was so silly and cheesy, I thought they would just laugh at it, but instead, they laughed with it. All of them (except Kuntaka-kun who did not participate) had fun finding their "love" match. Oddly, they seemed to perfectly understand the English questions (i.e. "Have you ever been to a concert?") which they SHOULD since I used patterns out of the book; I just did not think they remembered. After that, we did a song (which, up until then, we had never done in Tomomi's class.) Out of the three I suggested, he chose "It Was a Very Good Year" which is a 1965 Frank Sinatra song that is sung vveerrrryyy sslloowwlly. Good thing I had the Sopranos soundtrack on hand. I was surprised he, being not significantly older than me, knew so well who Frank Sinatra was. I barely do. Is he especially popular in Japan? Anyway, I made a little 'choose the right word' sheet to go with the lyrics and the kids did pretty well. Note to self: check that the lyrics perfectly match before giving them to students. Although it did not affect any of my 'choose the right word' parts it made me cringe when Frank sung something a little different than the lyrics I downloaded and printed, especially since this was supposed to be a listening exercise.

      Boys Both girls were absent from 8th grade, so I said, "Good Morning Boys" to the class, which got a bit of a snicker, at least from Tomomi. Well, I was the only girl. Or maybe I'm watching too much Lord of the Rings ("Meat's back on the menu, boys!") Our on-the-board sugoroku game was a hit. It would have helped if I could remember which team was which color magnet since I kept moving the wrong one forward.

      Have a Bean Tomomi was telling me about bean day while the 7th graders were practicing reading. At temples around Japan, the monks (or temple staff) throw beans out to the crowd, and everyone tries to catch them. Why? Because it is "setsubun" or, in other words, the lunar new year. I was excited when "setsu" was a kanji I had just learned but confused when "setsubun" seemed to literally mean "joint part." Anyway, since it is similar to the new year, you say "Oni-wa soto, fuku-wa uchi" ("demons out, fortune in") when you receive the beans. Then, I believe you take them home and eat them. Tomomi said he would eat 32, because he is 32 years old. Anyway, around 12:45, when the lunch cart was rolled into the staff room, it occurred to me that I had not even thought about eating together with the students (in the lunchroom) in a long time. I think it would be different if I had an assigned place or routine, but I don't like picking a table where I haven't been invited and feeling obligated to start a conversation. At the elementary school, I sit at the same table every time, so I don't mind, but otherwise, I prefer quiet lunches and my lunch time to myself (even if the teachers sometimes have sporadic lunch meetings.) Right after the teachers had handed out all the lunch trays, Nosohara-sensei sat down at her desk, looked at me and asked, "How old are you?" I was kind of startled by the question and thought she already knew the answer. I hesitantly answered, "27" and she said, confidently, "Then you should eat 27 beans!" I nodded, kind of confused, until I looked down at my lunch tray.

      They aren't kidding. With lunch today, we received a little bag of beans.

      Am I Getting Too Concerned? So after lunch (yeah, right, as if I could sit there and count food before I eat it. I got to about 5 before just eating the sweet beans by the handful and finishing the bag) was the 7th grade class, which includes Kuntaka-san's little sister. Because Kuntaka-san is my least productive student, I wondered about Ai-chan. Once, when I listened to her, it seemed like she was kind of tired and grumpy, which I rarely see especially among the genki and close-knit girls in that class. I've tried to listen in more and give her more attention. She is a bit behind, but just as much as Aki-chan (who will be a heartbreaker for those high school boys, I can tell you) but I worried. Well, today I had an opportunity. One of the girls was absent and so I got to be her partner for reading practice. After we went through the reading, she started, really sweetly, asking me some questions to get to know me better. I asked her some questions, too, and we had a nice conversation. Turns out her family moved here from Miyoshi when she was in fourth grade. I heard switching schools is pretty rare because of the importance of exams and I wondered if that affected her at all socially. I moved in 3rd grade and it took awhile for me to shake off that feeling that I was 'new' and couldn't know my friends as well as their other friends did. But the girls in the class all seem to get along. I learned that Kuntaka is the oldest out of the six kids in the house, including a toddler and two elementary schoolers (I will have to look up which two.) I don't know. I have a feeling she doesn't have the best family situation. I could be wrong and just making an assumption based off Kuntaka's behavior, but I hope she is not too unhappy.

      Pipe Logic? I talked to Carina tonight and she's been having water pipe problems, too! That makes at least 3 JETs I know who have had repeated water pipe freezing/bursting problems. Hello! Does this happen to all the Japanese? Is plumbing a multi-million dollar business, here? With all the ways they try to save water (with the small flush and everything) you'd think they would have developed a high-tech way to protect the pipes. You'd think. They do it in Hokkaido, why can't they do it here?

    Wednesday, Feb 4

      IN A NUTSHELL: I Recontracted!

      Too Much Fun With Images I had no classes today. I brought my laptop today. Good combination. I was having so much fun making a Japan Celebrity Checklist for the Bihoku Group ALT meeting as well as finding Random images to use for Eikaiwa (for which burningman.com was a great source - I nearly forgot about that insane Art Campout Event in the desert of Nevada), that I barely got around to actually lesson planning. I did not see Tomomi today, so I could not confirm, but I did at least put a couple things on his desk, even if only partially finished. I really am getting carried away with the celebrities, though, and more because I'm having fun looking it up than because it will help my fellow JETs who don't have internet access.

      Official! I'm glad the meeting felt official. I was getting worried my recontracting form, if I turned it in, would get lost in the shuffle before the deadline on Friday. But, no. Maruyama-san actually went to Miyoshi today and when she came back, she sat down with Takata-san, Jicho-san, and me in the special couch office and explained What Would Happen When The Cities Merged (which I think I will start calling the Great Conjunction). Basically, Sakugi and several other spread-out villages surrounding the city of Miyoshi (population 20,000) will all become officially part of the city of Miyoshi, thereby cancelling out the board of education and town halls in each of the towns. Maruyama-san did not know a lot, however, and the most common thing she said to me was, "It's not clear yet." I double-checked "hakkiri" in the dictionary to be sure, but I was right. However, I gathered that I may pick up another school in another town, that the towns whose ALTs were not/could not recontract would not get a new ALT, that my "housing allowance" would change (am I getting a housing allowance?), and that I may have to drive to Miyoshi a LOT more to see my supervisor at the new Board of Education. The good news is that I can stay in my house and don't have to move to an apartment in Miyoshi, though for the thirty seconds that I thought that was what she said, I could see benefits to that as well. Also, I am likely keeping the elementary school duties but losing the nursery school. Anyway, I actually filled out and signed the form right on the spot and was greeted with a kind of official "yoroshiku onegai shimasu" immediately afterward. Either for formalities' sake, because they did not know for sure what my intentions were until now, or they were pleased (or not pleased?) that I was returning, it too ambiguous to tell the meaning, but I appreciated it. But since everyone saw me fill it out, I should be relatively safe from paperwork mishaps. Knock on some wood.

      Jazz Chants Even More Fun With Adults! I was actually nervous about demonstrating my elementary school activities in front of my peers during our Bihoku ALT meeting. Stupid, maybe, but I was shaky. However, when it finally came my turn, it was very successful! My fellow JETs had a lot of fun doing the chant! (It was the e,(beat),e-e-egg; apple,apple,(beat),a; ooo,ooo,oooctopus one in case you are curious.) And it's so much easier when people can understand my English. And the celebrity list was a hit! They were even DOING my silly "Find your Love Match!" activity example. Grant was happy he ended up with Britany Spears.

      Image Joy I was kind of sleepy by the time I made it to eikaiwa. I sat in the massage chair beforehand, but it was not getting exactly the part of my back I needed. Jicho-san came for the first time and I wanted it to be a good lesson, though it was starting out a bit slow. However, once I took out all my random color-printed images, it because much more interesting. I let everyone choose from the stack of images, but not show anyone else. Then I had them write 10 words related to the picture, then 3-5 sentences. Afterward, I collected their pictures, mixed them up and then we as a group tried to guess who had whose picture based off the words. I don't know where the details of this idea came from. I made it up as I went along. My subconscious must have been helping.

      Even my Eikaiwa I brought my brand-new-but-broken flashlight to eikaiwa, but they couldn't get it to work either! They said I should take it back to UFO with the receipt (which I think I actually threw away because I was getting into the habit of keeping too many receipts) figuring that the switch was defective. I haven't tried the 100-yen store flashlight yet. Maybe if I buy enough, one is bound to work...

      Don't Forget Your Hat! I packed for my Big Hokkaido Trip tomorrow. It was strange packing for a ski trip since I am so used to having everything I need at my beck and call back home. I still don't have goggles, though.

    Thursday, Feb 5


      Things I Should Have Known About Osaka My goal was to get from my house to Osaka airport by 3pm this evening to make a 4pm flight to Sapporo. The plan was that I would meet the rest of the group at the ANA counter where a guy named "Dave" would hand out tickets. It was snowing when I awoke so I left early at 9:30am to drive to Miyoshi, but I just missed the bus. The buses were late because of the snow and I ended up waiting almost 40 minutes for the next one. But once it arrived, everything from the ride to Hiroshima, the streetcar to the main station and getting immediately on a super fast shinkansen (bullet train) went fine. Once in Osaka, I got on a local train (it was running 25 minutes behind schedule, but that did not affect me since they run every 25 minutes and I caught the previous delayed train) and managed to make it all the way to the airport. I arrived at the terminal at 3:05pm, only five minutes late. I looked around at the ANA counter, the place where "Dave" and the group would be waiting. I did not see anyone immediately. I walked around a bit and saw a group of gaijin at a counter, except it was a counter you had to have a boarding pass to get through. I called over to them. "Are you the group going to Hokkaido?" "No, we're going to Okinawa," he replied. In Japan, Okinawa is about as far as you can get from Hokkaido. Confused, I went to the information counter to ask about the flight. She looked at her computer and said, "There's no 4pm flight here. The only 4pm flight to Sapporo leaves...
              ...from the other airport."

      I Feel Suddenly Obligated to Report...


      My Only Question Why did the woman who sold me the train ticket to the airport in the first place not ask me WHICH airport I wanted? Did I just not understand her? Or did she assume I wanted the more international airport since I am a foreigner? Either way, IRK! I was trusting that I would be presented with any problem as it happened and therefore it never occurred to me to think that Osaka had two airports (which OF COURSE it would - it's the second biggest city in Japan) nor which one I would be at.

      To Make a Long Story Short(er) I was at Kansai International Airport. The flight was leaving in forty minutes from Osaka "Itami" International Airport, which was an hour and a half away. I looked on my train map (that I had looked at earlier) in the JET Diary and, sure enough, there was that Other Airport, just sitting there with just as big of a plane symbol and even CLOSER to the shinkansen station. D'oh! Super, big, mega d'oh! I felt very stupid, even more so because I had come to the airport with NO information. The organizers had not given me a receipt, a flight number, the reservation name, or even a single phone number. I had absolutely NOTHING. Part of it was my own fault since I usually prepare better than this. I was even going to email them for a phone number the previous day, but never got around to it because I've been so busy. I did quickly guess the name the reservation was under ("HAJET") and somehow, I convinced this poor woman at the information counter (who had excellent English, but was apparently not comfortable with it because she switched back to Japanese immediately if I said anything in Japanese and I had to ask for English again every time) to call her boss who called the other airport who found the travel agent for my group who had a phone number for the organizer on that end. It took time (I was pacing dramatically, making the few other customers who arrived nervous, I think) but she managed to get me a phone number at quarter to 4. I called and told the person on the other end (thankfully one of the group members and a native English speaker) that I would not be arriving and that I would get another flight, so please don't cancel my hotel reservation. Now, having made contact, the challenge was getting to Sapporo.

      A Very Indirect Reservation The woman at the ANA told me that the only other flight to Sapporo that evening happened to leave from Kansai airport (which was, all things considered, convenient) and that there was plenty of space. However, I would save 4000 yen ($40) if I made the reservation from my cell phone! So here I was, at an airport counter, making a reservation on my cell phone. Actually, to be precise, she was making it because the menus were all in Japanese and I couldn't read it very well. As she made it, I couldn't help thinking that $40 was probably meant to be a savings for not taking up the airline's time. Too late. The total came to about 31,000 yen. It was not until I went to the reservation counter that I found out that the price was only for One Way. A shocking $300 for an hour and a half flight. Now the big question was, were they going to cancel my flight back because I did not arrive on the departing flight? I had no idea. Neither did anyone else. And the mystery English-speaking person I called before had her phone turned off (no doubt because she was now ON her flight.) I decided to cross my fingers, buy just the one way ticket, and hope that I still had a reservation back.

      Ranting About Whale Rider I had over two hours until my flight and oddly, was never asked for my ID. I spent the first hour upset at myself, feeling totally, totally stupid until I realized that it was not that I was stupid, but that I had made assumptions that since this was a yearly trip, they had everything taken care of. Because I've been so busy (I was even up until 3am the previous night trying to get organized) I did not plan ahead much, trusting to experience. I usually always plan ahead and think through all possibilities. Too many other things have been on my mind and to-do list and I did not want to stress out further by worrying about the trip. Well, I won't make that mistake again. Having decided that no, I'm not getting stupider with age, I felt a little better. I sat down in the waiting area (thankfully relatively empty) with my book. I had recently bought "Whale Rider" because the movie is apparently quite good and, in general, I find the Maori culture fascinating. Although I was really looking forward to reading, I could tell from the first sentence that the writer (who I mistakenly thought was a woman until the writing made it obvious it was not and I checked back to the introduction) was not very good at narrative. It was three chapters before the girl (the "Whale Rider") was even mentioned and the stuff that came before was strangely written, as if it was trying to be poetic, but only doing a marginal job. I admit, it could have been my mood that made it not seem as good. I hoped the story of the girl would catch my interest more. However, the book only seemed to be peripherally about her, despite that she was the title character as well as pictured on both the front cover and the back cover. The 'story' seemed to be the life of her older brother. I normally would not mind if a story was told from someone else's point of view except the brother did not even live with his sister and, in fact, took a random two-year trip to Papua New Guinea in the middle of the book that had nothing to do with the story (following an equally pointless trip to Australia) and I wondered if maybe the author was just talking about his life instead of remembering he was telling a story. The character saw his little sister once a year or every couple of years. Those scenes were the best but the rest of the book is him talking about his dull life, making fun of his otherwise well-written mother, even making a few fat jokes about her (where the novel went from bad to worse) then a color-blind joke about her (which is strange because color-blindness is relatively rare among women) and hanging out with his friends. His characters either seemed like caricatures or like people he must have known in real life. Luckily, it was not very long and I managed to get through the whole book during my wait. The beach climax was actually quite good and we finally, at the end, got to go into the girl's character for a little while. I am amazed, absolutely amazed, that this is a seasoned writer. He has a list of his published books on the inside cover. Are all his works so amateurish and unorganized? At least there were not too many grammar mistakes, but still. Learn to tell a story! Okay, done rant. I will still see the movie because I heard it is from the girl's point of view which, unless I'm mistaken, would cleanly cut all the bad parts out of the book.

      Even the Snow Cannot Stop Me I finally got a hold of the girl to ask if my return flight was going to be cancelled. She said she would have called me first except my number did not come up on her phone during my last three calls. Irk, I had forgotten to turn off that 'anonymity' setting that was the default for some reason. She was almost positive that it would not be cancelled. I, on the other hand, was pretty sure it would be. I decided to not worry about it just yet. After the flight had boarded, the flight attendant warned that we might have to turn around if we couldn't land in Sapporo due to snow conditions. I hoped, hoped, hoped that this was a typical warning on flights up to Hokkaido. Whether it was or wasn't, however, we managed to land in what looked like pure snow. I had to guess that the pilots were used to this. However, we had be towed, yes towed, to our gate afterward, which made me reconsider. My only snag was when I finally arrived in Sapporo proper and boarded a taxi, the taxi driver had never heard of my hotel. The only thing (the ONLY) thing that saved me was that my Board of Education had insisted that I make an itinerary for my trip and therefore I had looked up the hotel on the internet to find the phone number. If it had not been for that, I would have had no information at all to give the taxi driver. Whew.

      A Final Snag When I finally reached the hotel, they could not see my name at first because it was not listed as having a single room, like I requested and paid for. My name was on the twin list, but my roommate had already checked in and therefore had the key. They sat around with the list for awhile and eventually put me with someone who was present. They called her, but she did not speak Japanese, so they put me on the phone with her. When I introduced myself as Melissa, she thought I was the organizer since the organizer's name is Melissa, but I assured her I wasn't. I was the "Stupid Melissa" who went to the wrong airport. I started introducing myself as this to avoid confusion. I had been kind of looking forward to taking a shower and going to bed after my long day and now I had to deal with a person, however, this was not a bad thing since it gave me someone to whine to and get sympathy from. I probably ended up in a better mood than I had been left alone to wonder, "Why am I the only one who made this mistake?"

    Friday, Feb 6

    Saturday, Feb 7

      IN A NUTSHELL: Skiing Blind in Snowy Niseko

      Boot Camp After I woke up and ate the breakfast I bought from the Lawsons downstairs, I got bundled up. I put tons of hot patches in my coat and backpack (apparently you can buy these hot patches at Wal-Mart! How did I, growing up camping and skiing, not know about these?) as well as my hat, scarf, etc, and got set! After the Subway ride (our organizer forgot to tell us to bring change for the subway. I had brought some for a vending machine, but thought the tickets covered everything and had to bum 100 yen off of a nearby gaijin) and the Train ride (my reserved seat was in the non-smoking section, yay, and had an empty seat next to it, yay) and the crowded Bus ride, we finally arrived at the resort. Despite all the gaijin, they were organized about getting everyone their equipment and even had extra personnel to assist me with my inevitable Boot problem. They don't make boots that match both my feet and my calves (I have the same problem with my waist and hips, though some people would not see that as a problem) so I had to ask if they had an extender. Instead they brought out a newer, fancier boot that fit much better. Cool!

      High Tech Lift Tickets Instead of a lift ticket you attach to a zipper or to a band on your arm, this fancy ski resort was all self-serve electronic. The woman at the ticket booth gave me something credit-card shaped that I put in a zipped pocket (I'm glad my newly bought ski pants had zippered pockets) and I gave them a 1000 yen deposit for it. Then, when I reached the gate before the lift, the trick was to swing my hips until the magnetic ticket registered with the machine and let me through the turnstile. I've seen these at other places, just not as the only form of entry. So, after I did the twist, I got on the gondola lift.

      Small World The people who got on my gondola happened to be gaijin. One was from New Zealand, where I used to live and she used to live and work in Colorado, where I'm from. And here we are, on a random ski lift in northern Japan. Nifty coincidence! She's a ski teacher and was going on the slopes with an Australian ski teacher. They talked about how their goggles were fogging up a lot, lamented that I only had sunglasses. Then we were all off! It was interesting to look at the resort. Instead of evergreens, like I'm used to, the runs were between regular deciduous trees whose leaves had fallen off for the winter. I wonder why. Is the elevation lower here?

      Sight: How Necessary Is It? There was a lodge at the top of the gondola. I went inside to change into thicker socks (my boots, despite being the right size, were loose around my feet and I figured the manufacturers did not count on me wearing super-thin high-tech ski socks) and I found a store selling goggles! I bought the cheapest pair I could find (2500 yen) and headed back out. It was snowing thickly, but I got back on a lift. This lift was a triple and a PLASTIC SHIELD automatically came down over me when I boarded. It was unnerving and kind of annoying since the plastic was so fogged, I could not see where I was or where I was going. Silly idea. After the plastic thing went up automatically, I got off and skied right to another lift, figuring I should try to get as high as possible before starting down. This lift had pretty much a metal square as a seat for one person with a metal loop no taller than my hand for the back. Those were the three most different lifts I've ever been on in succession. At the top of the metal square lift was what must have been a black diamond slope since it was so steep, but I couldn't SEE it. Snow was falling everywhere, the entire mountain was covered with fog and, on top of that, my goggles kept fogging up. If I took off my goggles, snow just fell into my eyes. And it was BRIGHT out. I was nearly blind but had no other option but to get down this slope! I could vaguely make out the shape of someone below me. I looked down and realized that I could not see my skis. Why? Because there was THAT MUCH powder. We're talking over a foot of powder. In fact, during my very long and arduous journey down the hill, I rarely saw my skis at all, just ripples from their under-powder location. Turning was difficult and moving faster than a couple feet per second was scary. I made it down, figuring that must be the worst and, looking back I suppose it was, but the visibility conditions were not significantly improved further down the slope.

      Is There Such a Thing As Too Much Powder? That's the question I kept asking myself. Out of all the times I've skied, I don't know if I've ever come across this much powder. Is this what ungroomed trails look like? There was a solid foot of soft powder right down to the bottom of the mountain. It seems these would be conditions to die for (if one could see farther than a turn or so ahead) but it actually made it hard to get an edge. I could just hear the voice of my conscience in the background (read: dad) saying "You have Snowboard Conditions from Heaven and you decided to SKI?" I tried to get some speed up knowing that part of the reason I was going slow was because I'm used to watching for slippery and icy patches ahead - not a chance of that here. However, the only place I could get a good groove going and some speed up was in the areas where it said "Speed Down."

      A Little Uplift At Lunch I stopped for lunch and was amazed at the percentage of foreigners at the tables. Why doesn't the ski resort have more English directions if it serves so many foreign customers!? Nearly all of the signs are Japanese only (but the runs themselves are numbered, so I guess that's universal) and the map was just confusing. But, yay for a ski lodge with Japanese food! I had some katsu-don. The pork was way too fatty but I had a nice conversation with a JET from Osaka who told me that he would not have known to go to the right airport either if his friend had not told him. That made me feel a little better.

      Maybe I Needed Snow Vision Glasses Only toward the very end of the day did the snow lighten and fog drift a bit. I left early to make sure I could get to the rental return place on time. It was farther down than I remembered, but I made it there on time. The returning went smoothly and I eavesdropped as other people went on and on about how good the conditions had been, even people on skies (not snowboards) and people who had never been skiing before. Do they have better snow vision than me? I felt like Harrison Ford in Return of the Jedi a lot today: "Instead of a big dark blur, I see a big light blur." And I felt like I was not fully appreciative. One girl said the powder was so light, it was like she was floating. Maybe she floated. I sunk. Well, this ends my Hokkaido Ski Experience which has, in terms of technology, been as good as back home and probably much better than anything I'm likely to find closer to Sakugi, but I never know until I try. Besides, there's a ski resort near my house which is called "Nekoyama" and who wouldn't want to go to a ski resort called "Cat Mountain."

      Roudo obu za Ringu Because we took the local trains back (the last express was ridiculously early) it took from 4:30pm to 8:30pm to get back to the city. Yikes. My roommate hadn't returned yet when I walked in and I felt like vegging in front of the TV, except next to the TV was a little coin machine. I couldn't believe I had to pay to watch regular TV and so investigated, trying to read the Japanese instructions and seeing what happened when I pressed buttons. I eventually got it to turn on without inserting money and, lo and behold, the Fellowship of the Ring was on regular TV! It was dubbed in Japanese, but I pretty much know what they are saying anyway. Cool! I spent the evening watching that, which made my night.

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