I was swooshing down the mountain at the Sun Raiba ski area. We’ll get to the name in a minute, I promise, but I was in snow-white heaven, back again on white fluffy Hokkaido powder when I saw it.
A skier with a green camoflauge Army helmet.
How unusual, I thought to myself. Must be a new fashion thing, comparing it to the idiosyncrasies of the Tokyo fashion scene and finding it on the conservative side.
Then I noticed he was wearing a full-on green military uniform.
Then I noticed that there were about 20 others dressed like him, standing in a line on the hill, and another two dozen at the bottom of the hill doing calisthenics. In a blizzard.
I wasn’t sure quite what to make of it. Was it Ground Self-Defense Force Day at the slopes? Two for one, if you bring your rifle?
I watched them ski for about five seconds, and figured it out. One soldier skied a bit of the way down the hill, and then the others imitated him, one by one. A brief snapshot of me doing the same thing when I was 10 flitted across my memory.
They were all learning how to ski.
I’m not sure how useful it’ll be in Iraq – I hear the snow isn’t so good there – but that’s kind of cool. At least some of the soldiers here get to learn to ski. Neat.
It was the best part of the day I spent skiing at Sun Raiba, and let’s face it, I haven’t a clue as to what the name means. However, for such a small resort, it’s got great snow.
Last year, I went skiing in Hokkaido, and had a fantastic time. The big frozen H quickly became my favorite place in Japan. Great food, great snow, what else do you need?
This trip had enough room for only one day of skiing, and I wasn’t going to complain. While the snow was still amazing, a light, fluffy powder that fell on my head like angel dandruff, I forgot that dealing with ski resort operators is always a sketchy endeavor.
There were only three lifts, but it was snowing hard enough for the lift managers to use leaf-blowers to clean the snow off the chairs after each revolution. And it was snowing hard enough for the resort to close the lift that went to the top of the mountain.
Talk about getting gypped. Good thing the full-day lift ticket was only 3000 yen.
Fortunately, dinner in Hokkaido is fairly difficult to screw up. The island is home to the best food in Japan.
The first dinner at the Mahoroba ryokan (Japanese-style hotel), where I was staying, was a biking dinner. “Biking” is a wonderful katakana-ization of “viking,” which the Japanese use to mean “stuff your face ’til you puke and pillage the nearby towns.”
Okay, so most don’t do the pillaging bit. I’m not even going to speculate on why they call it that, instead of tabehodai, the proper Japanese term for “all-you-can-eat.” Maybe the rumors of high mercury content in the fish are true. Who knows?
The food was good, but they made the mistake of putting out sashimi. I love sashimi. Usually, I’ll avoid it if it’s tabehodai, because the quality of the fish is much lower, but in Hokkaido, it’s hard to find low-quality anything.
Except ski resort managers, but good versions of those are harder to find than honest politicians.
I probably put away about a kilo of sashimi.
The second night was far more refined, elegant. My friend and I ordered the “special” dinner, which they brought to our room and laid out on special low tables. We had everything, and it was all fresh: crab, sushi, sashimi, miso soup, chicken nabe, and other delicacies I can’t remember at the moment.
It’s so nice living in a foodie culture.