Winter in Japan II: Niseko Village, Hokkaido-ken

After I left Sydney I went back to Brisbane for a couple of days before returning back to Japan where I would be spending my winter.

As I sit here thinking about Hokkaido I feel that is SO far away and such a LONG time ago that I was there, but really it hasn’t been THAR long. Coming back to Japan after my trip to Australia was simply weird because I did not return back to Ehime, my apartment and my teaching job. This was really an adventure for me.

I always wanted to do a ski season somewhere in the world and I always thought that I would end up doing it in Canada. Yet, I had heard so many amazing things about the powder snow of Japan that I really wanted to go check it out myself. I also had a working visa ready to go and the opportunity to spend 4 months working at the Hilton Hotel in Niseko Village, Hokkaido. So I thought that it was to be now or never… so I went. At the time that I made the decision it was a no brainer, but by the time I left Ehime it was a decision that really tore me apart but the decision was made and off I went.

Not going to lie the first 2 weeks in Hokkaido for me were the worst I have experienced in a LONG time. I was just not prepared to deal with some of the things that I saw and experienced. I had lived for the last 16 months of my life, in my own apartment, had my own schedule and was free to do as I liked on my free time. Suddenly I was surrounded by people literally 24 hours a days, I went from living alone, to living with 3 other people (who I must say I absolutely love, and couldn’t have asked for better roommates!)  and my daily schedule except for my days off were pretty much planned for me and that included what and when I was to eat meals. It really was a lot for me to take in. Not to mention that when I first arrived there was ZERO snow. I kept wondering what on earth had I done to myself, but then…

IT SNOWED!! and the snow didn’t stop coming and I thought I lived in the most beautiful place in the world. Is true, Niseko has some of the best snow in the world and is all 100% powder. The lightest snow I have ever seen! At first I found it challenging and scary to snowboard with all that powder. I have never experienced being completely covered by snow when making a turn and as I quickly learned, you cannot be afraid of speed when dealing with powder, or you’ll never make it down, and you will be stuck in that same place until the snow melts in springtime. I would like to think that I became a much more confident rider in the time that I spent there. I know that I still have TONS to learn and improve but I was very happy with myself when I packed my snowboard at the end of the season.

Also, eventually with time everything became a routine and quite normal. I think I got lucky by working at ski valet too. While the uniform was the ugliest out of all the staff at the Hilton I think I worked in one of the most relaxed and fun departments in the hotel. While the job was a bit stressful every now and then, we always managed to make it work somehow. I also couldn’t have asked for a more fun, easy-going and all around awesome manager. Shirai-san was so incredibly kind and helpful to all of us while we were there, and thank goodness he speaks English! Also a big shout to all my lovely co-workers, we made it a great season and yes we of course might have had our disagreements every now and again, but we all managed to be respectful, fun and kind towards one another and they’re for sure the people that I miss the most.

Of course, the place and the experience would not have been as awesome as it was if it had not been for all the people that I met while I lived there from my co-workers at ski valet, ski instructors, the food and beverage staff and how can I forget the Niseko Village staff! I also met some of our guests and was able to come across interesting people, had great conversations and learned a bit more about the world from them. Even though I had 2 Japanese roommates and lived in a basically all Japanese staff dormitory I didn’t learn a lick of Japanese, once again proof of my complete inability to learn the language.

I know that a lot of things happened while I lived in Hokkaido, but at this point I can’t remember them all, so I will just sum up the highlights of the season:

– The biggest highlight of course was the snow! how will I ever be able to go back to icy Ontario skiing conditions?!?!

– Thomas went to visit me in Hokkaido for the Christmas holidays and I had a wonderful Christmas Eve and Day with him in town. I was happy to show him what I was up to and we both enjoyed spending Christmas in a snow covered place… just like back at home in Canada.

-Partying in Hirafu with Tash (that ONE night). I went out with Tash only ONE night in the whole season, but that was enough to keep me at home for the next 3 months. I had way too much tequila, going up that hill in Hirafu was NOT fun and the hangover lasted for a good 5 days afterwards. Haha, good times!

– I turned 25 years old while in Hokkaido. I celebrated it with good friends, a full day on the sloped and a day off!! =)

-The MTV Week: Ok maybe the night out with Tash was not the last time I arrived home past 2am. MTV Australia was in the hotel for a week doing “Japan JAM” to be honest, to this day I’m still not sure what the point of that visit was, but there were free drinks for 3 days, what else can I say? One morning I woke up with a Hawaiian lei around my neck, and holding a flashing light on my left hand after sleeping for 3 hours and had to get up to go to work. It was awful, but totally worth it!

-Moe and Monica’s visit. My friend Moe and his girlfriend Monica went to visit me for a couple of days while the MTV crew were in town too. We were able to stay in the hotel for 2 nights and totally enjoy the MTV celebrations! The snow conditions at the time were not great, but I think both of them had a great time and I absolutely loved having visitors over.

-My last 2 night in Niseko. I stayed in the Hilton the last 2 nights that I was in Hokkaido, and on my very last night Noel and Holly came and kept me company. It was really nice of them to stay with me and the best sendoff I could have asked for.

Before I knew it, it was time to say goodbye to Niseko and Hokkaido and after a beautiful snowy bus ride to Sapporo I was once again on a plane on my way to Tokyo and then…? That’s right I went back to Ehime, back to Niihama and back to teaching, but more on that later.