Japan

So I had my first weekend-long snowboarding trip in Japan last week. You can't fail to notice some subtle differences if you're not from anywhere around there.

image courtesy of Flickr (creative commons license)

 

  1. In Japan snowboarding is more popular than skiing. While Snowboarders are a minority in most European skiing resorts, they constitute the majority here. This might be because most people are in their teens or twenties here, the age group where snowboarding is most popular. At the same time you see surprisingly few older people and small kids. Skiing is apparently not the favorite pastime for Japanese families.
  2. There is pitiful little variance in the type of snowboards here. Everybody seems to have a freestyle board with one of those ungodly strap bindings mounted nearly perpendicular to the driving direction, and you certainly can't rent anything else there. Give me back my freeride board with soft step-in binding!
  3. In Europe nobody cares whether your neighbor in the ski lift is a friend or a total stranger. Not so in Japan. For some strange reason Japanese are too inhibited to take the lift together with strangers. They won't abandon this habit even in the face of horrible rush-hour queues, to the point that the lift operators have to convince singles to travel together. This can even be accompanied by a mini-introduction (紹介)! Crazy!
  4. European skiing resorts all issue magnetic skipasses, to be scanned by automatic lift gates. Since some years ago you can even stuff the pass inside your coat, and the machine can still scan it. In contrast to this, in Kitasiga Ryuuou (北志賀竜王) we were given old-style paper badges that had to be attached to the upper arm with an armlet, and the lift operators would manually scan every passenger. Uh oh.
  5. When queueing up for the lift, the Japanese stay away from you at a reasonable distance, so not to ram the tip of their skiers/snowboard into the back of yours. I really, really, REALLY miss this in Europe!
  6. Furthermore they will refrain from queue-jumping, something that you will miss in Europe, as well. Too bad that there are no good English skiing resorts.
  7. So you would think that, considering how much emphasis the Japanese put on safety everywhere, skiing lifts would be extra-safe in Japan?!? Think again! They come without frames to prevent you from falling 5 meters, no footrest to put your snowboard/skiers onto, and in some cases not even a proper backrest! All those extra-safety considerations made me cling to the top rail extra tightly from boarding to alighting. The Japanese don't seem to mind though, since they rest their hands in their lap even in the face of strong wind from arbitrary directions. (However, Kazuya-kun reckons that this is a particularity of the rather old Ryuuou resort.)
  8. In Europe helmets are more and more turning into a standard piece of equipment, since most fatal accidents are caused by head injuries. In Japan hardly anybody wears one, and when I wanted to rent a helmet at the shop I was told they don't have any. Go figure!
  9. Maybe Japanese just don't need helmets because they drive so slow and careful. At least I hardly saw anybody who is maxing out speed here. Raceboard anyone? Nah!
  10. Of course, taking jumps and other obstacles is the same fun here. But I saw a lot of guys either too brave or overestimating themselves who would spew their equipment in all directions when hitting ground. Some don't seem to have a choice though, since all their friends take the jump while the girls make videos of it. 仕方がない。
  11. During all the weekend I didn't see any other western person in the entire skiing resort. So naturally I would attract quite a few furtive glances. I was sooo glad I wasn't a novice anymore, so not to make a complete fool of myself in front of everybody.
  12. Of course, no cold day outside would be complete in Japan without a well-deserved Onsen at the end. Enjoy the hot water on the 8th floor of your hotel right next to the valley station lift!

image courtesy of Flickr (creative commons license)