Friday, January 28, 2005

Not up to much.

I'm not up to much these days apart from the usual snow sport activities. I won't bore you with all that stuff though. I did take a day off yesterday and I did go to Hakkouda again and I did have a wicked day in wicked snow. And that is pretty much that. However, here are some shots I took walking home from school the other day.

This is the five story pagoda in Hirosaki where we hung out on New Years Eve praying to Buddha (Is that how you spell his name?)

A sky with many lines, Kaji machi during the day. But don't worry, it looks really pretty throughout the night when all that neon lighting lures your vision away from the hideous Japanese street aesthetic.

Bikes set in the snow. These bikes have been parked outside the station since the snow first started falling. They belong to the sensible people who know it's too dangerous to ride on the roads these days anyway. Some people still use their bikes throughout the winter, mind you, cycling on top of ice and snow. It's usually really old men who'd really damage themselves if they did fall off.

More bikes in the snow.

When the sky clears during winter, the high pressure systems make for a very deep blue, and twilight hours are the most colourful.

These machines come in handy for shifting the snow about. If you wake up during the night you can often hear them scraping up the roads outside. After heavy snowfalls the roads round here get really chewed up and turn to hard ice overnight, so these things are indispensible. These particular machines aren't the most commonly used. The ones you see most of the time have these funny churning devices at the front to chew up the snow and spit it out on the side of the road. I'll show you a picture another time.

Sorry for the bikes in snow obssession. I tend to find bicycles very photo-conducive, and I like the snow quite a bit too.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Thoughts on Ally McBeal

I'm not even sure if that's how you spell her second name since in Japan the series is known as Ali My Love. However, I've been putting myself through the series on videotape recently, and I've just about had my fill of that wretched woman. Ally McBeal is, from a red-blooded man's point of view, physically, if not colloquially, worth one. However, her character is awful and it comes as no surprise that she has trouble finding men in her life. She turns me off most when she pouts her lips in confusion, reminding me of a very irritating habit one of my ex-girlfriends used to indulge in. Do girls honestly think they look cute when they do that?

The crunch is that I like one or two of the other main characters in the series, such as Richard Fish, Georgia and John Cage, but Ali herself offers me nothing but irritation. It's probably because I used to go out with this girl who was so similar to Ali McBeal, in all her irritations. I just think about what our relationship could have been like if she hadn't been such a McBeal slave. And all the while she thought it was an expression of contemporary feminism. Contemporary stereotypes maybe, but feminism no way. The construction of more stereotypes is a questionable path towards liberation, take my word for it.

In it's entirity, Ally McBeal a show where personality is relegated to third place behind physical attraction and short skirts. It tries to tell women, and men, that self-indulgence is the norm, and that for women it is OK to be obsessed with your feelings all the time, disregarding the rest of the world and it's problems. Could you imagine a TV show where the women were downright ugly, but good people? No, of course not. And with that thought in mind, ask yourself about the real cultural capital of such a TV show.

But that's Fox TV for you, I suppose.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Another man lost on Hakkouda

I learned this week that a foreign fella got lost on Hakkouda mountain last weekend, and spent the night up there. I can hardly imagine what a nightmare experience that must have been. I was at the ropeway today, and the weather was biting. The wind was criminal off the top. In fact, after the first lift went up, I watched as skiers walked up to the exit and laughed in amazement at the weather outside. Spending a night lost on a dark mountain is one thing, but trudging through 3 metres of snow at such low temperatures isn't worth contemplation. Getting lost at Hakkouda could quite easily turn Touhoku's greatest powder resort into it's loneliest graveyard. Nasty. The guy was an American off the local base, who was there for the first time.

As for the rest of us, why do we do it? Because we love the pain, no doubt.

I still don't know what happened with regard to the car that was impounded by the police just outside the ropeway station a couple of weeks back. Attention was raised after it had sat there for three days unaffected and buried in snow. Someone had called the police on suspicion of it belonging to a group who might have got lost in the backcountry. The number plate was from Hiroshima, suggesting that they were not from round here and probably didn't know the mountain all that well.

Today was cold at the top. Around -14 degrees, but given the wind chill factor it felt like -30. A jolly good day was had by most of us though. And even Reyn enjoyed himself along the way, despite being stuck on fun skis in serious snow.

Dark clouds at Hakkoda. They break whenever and wherever they like.

Reyn getting his boots off.

Hugh after a good hard day on the mountain.

The road back home.

My bright blue ski pants.

Careful on the mountain folks.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Cracking day on Hakkoda

This is Iwaki viewed from Hakkoda yesterday. I was lucky enough to get my first bluebird yesterday, with it being about my tenth trip to Hakkoda mountain this season. The snow kept in good shape for the most part of the day since the routes down the mountain are west/south-west facing, but the bottom did get a little heavy toward the end of the day after a good dose of sunshine. The temperature stayed at around -4 to -6, so it was cold enough to hold out. Enough about the snow, here are some photos from the mountain.

Actually this was taken from the really tall bridge on the 394 driving back to Hirosaki via Kuroishi. And the one below.

It was a long way down to the bottom, and I had to get close to the edge for a shot without without the railing in the viewfinder.

This is my favourite because it shows both Iwaki and the Shirakami Sanchi in the background. The Shirakami sanchi is a national park with monkeys and bears and all sorts, but in the winter it's pretty much inaccessable.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Aoni Onsen - Authentic Japan?

On the final weekend of my winter break I went to Aoni Onsen, the little onsen resort set in a valley a few miles out from Kuroishi city. It was all I'd been told to expect, and all that I should have expected from a Japanese hotel. Aoni Onsen is hailed as Aomori ken's most authentic and oldy-worldy kind of onsen/hotel set up. I was told that I'd get picked up from the main road and whisked into the valley on the back of a snow-mobile and then spend the night in a thoroughly authentic Japanese hotel. I wasn't disappointed.

I wasn't disappointed because I've been in this country long enough to know what to expect from an authentic Japanese experience. The location of Aoni Onsen is fantastic. It took the shuttle bus (not snow-mobile) a lot of time and effort to make it down the steep and narrow road that connects the resort with the rest of the world. It felt really remote.

The scenery was amazing too. These first few photos were taken from our hotel room, which was a very basic, but ample space with futons and a kerosene lamp for lighting. One of the attractions, and marketing points, of Aoni Onsen is that there is no electricity and everything is run on gas or wood fire. This isn't actually true. The cash register is run off electric and the drinks machine is a dead give away. However, the rooms are all kerosene heated and are fitted with gas lamps. The biggest giveaway was the long electricity cable that ran alongside the road on the way down.

The above shot was taken from the outdoor onsen area.

Snow covered rocks in the river.

This is the kind of thing I expected most from my experience of authentic Japan. Plastic coating over a little wooden bridge and a traffic cone warning folks of some potential danger. I've talked about my idea of authentic Japan before on this webpage and this is an illustrative supplement to what I said before. It just seemed wrong to infuse such traditional design and architecture with plastic and traffic cones. Not postmodern, but wrong, plain and simple. It was only a matter of seconds though, before I managed to reconcile the traffic cones and plastic with creaking pinewood and rocks and rivers, as I reflected on what I'd learned until now about Japanese culture: leave conventional notions of authenticity at home before you board the aeroplane.

This is the main outdoor bath. I had it all to myself the following morning which was a real treat.

On the way back to the main road we passed some hunters on snow-mobiles. They had a hard time getting past on such a narrow little track.

All in all, I'd recommend anyone go to Aoni Onsen because it's a great place to relax. Although the dining hall was ridiculously hot and cramped, the rooms were good. And with the sound of the river in the background I slept better there than I have done in ages. It costs roughly one man, or, about fifty quid. But it's money well spent.

The next day I was up at Hakkoda with 85cm of fresh snowfall. What more can I say?

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Waking up in amazement.

Last night I went out to a small restaurant bar place with some friends and we sat next to the window where you could see the snow falling quite heavily outside. Still, by the time we left the place you could see that only about one or two centimetres had fallen. So, we drove back and I went to my apartment and everyone else went their own way. I got into bed and fell asleep for about seven hours and woke up and looked out of the window. The amount of snowfall that had accumulated over night was awsome. The words 'holy shit' found their own way through my lips as I stood their looking at two feet of snow. Cars were absolutely buried. I had to trudge knee deep out into the street to even get to my car. The photos don't do justice at all.

Here's one

If we got two feet through the night how much did they get on the mountain? It doesn't bear thinking about. So I looked at the weather log for the previous night and found that 'Oh yuki' was forecast. Oh meaning big, and yuki meaning snow. And now I have to go out there and start shovelling the stuff.

Later this afternoon I'll be going off to Aoni onsen, which is a little hot spring resort a few miles away from Kuroishi, or Black Rock City. Kuroishi is the next town along from Hirosaki and it usually gets hit with even more snow than we do. Part of the deal when you stay over night at Aoni onsen is that they pick you up from the main road by snow-cat. They don't keep their road open throughout the winter you see, and the hotel is set in a valley. I'm just wondering whether the place is going to be functioning properly after last night's dramatic snowfall.

Later in the day I started clearing the snow from around my car and the sun came out.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

How Real Men Iron.

Just when you thought I might come up with something remotely interesting to talk about, you find that this post is just about hot-waxing my skis. Yes, I took the step yesterday of becoming a true snow sports fetishist and started dripping hot wax all over my quiver.

After yesterday's rain, and consequential wet snow day on the mountain, I decided to get my hands on some hot-wax gear and give my board and skis a new coat so they'll run better. It was the first time I'd ever done it with hot wax, but I can tell you now that it made me feel like a real man! In the picture you can see the iron that I used to drip the wax onto the board and then I spread it evenly all over. I read a website first for application instructions, but it was pretty simple really.

I'm sorry for not updating this page so often recently, it's just that I spend pretty much every day skiing or boarding and I feel it'd be boring to repeat myself time and time again. I've posted these recent photos though. I hope you like them.

On New Year's Eve a few of us went to Aki's to spend time with her and her brother and sister-in-law. This is their new born baby Shizuku.

Later we all went to Tamenobu and met up with Steph, Taishi, Hugh and Paul. This is a picture of Taishi and Steph. Taishi is a Buddhist monk who happens to get time off on New Years Eve. You work it out.

This is Dennis the Menace (Jamie) and Aki. Don't know what they're looking at.

This is just a tree and a lamp post.

I'm going back up to Hakkoda tomorrow for what should be a filthy powder fest. I can't wait.