Japowski 2017!! made possible by Grandma and Grandpa Casey who watched our precious boys for 3 weeks while we played in the infamous Japowder!! The trip was nothing short of absolute bliss! Scroll down and see for yourself. There is also an interactive map showing the peaks we toured, the onsen's we soaked and the lodges and families we stayed with! We will be back!
Below highlights the different peaks we ski toured, onsen we soaked in and the lodges we called home during our stay in the Hokkaido region of Japan. Zoom in to see further details including links.
Tucked away at the base of the Moiwa ski hill sits Shinya-san's Woodpeckers Lodge In Hokkaido, Shinya-san is a legend... well known for his tireless efforts with the area’s avalanche control. The lodge, Shinya-san's home he built some 35 years ago. It is a quaint building adorned with mountain gear and memories. Posters from events, weathered black and white photos of expeditions, letters from Himalayan climbing dignitaries, portraits of the Dalai Lama and his children’s drawings are just some things that take pride of place on the walls.
Living at the lodge with his wife Noriko-san and its steady flow of guests. Shinya-san’s typical winter day involves waking up at 4:30 am, calling ski partrol, collecting data from the Japan Meteorological Agency and the coast guard to write his daily avalanche report, all before 8:00 am. Our typical day at Woodpeckers started off around 6:00 am being spoiled by Noriko-san's amazing breakfasts followed by some snow condition beta from Shinya-san. After a full day of choking on blower Japowder we would seek out a local onsen soak and sip on sake, before returning back to Woodpeckers for our 6:30pm dinner spectacular with Noriko and Shinya-san! We cant say enough about Noriko and Shinya-san and just how special their home is!
Ski Trip?? or was it an Onsen trip?? :) I think we showered once in 3 weeks! None of the places we stayed even had showers:) Its all about the onsen in Japan...our next house remodel is going to be an onsen:) They are great and the whole tradition surrounding them is oh so enjoyable. We visited 10 different onsen, most being male and female segregated, Kristin did finally come across a mixed onsen near the conclusion of our trip:) So what is the onsen....
Onsen is a Japanese bathhouse built around and sourced by water originating from a local hot spring. Traditionally, bathhouses are public venues accessible to most townspeople and city dwellers, but modern tourism has brought the onsen to ryokans and luxury hotels. The attraction of natural minerals and its benefits for the skin and overall health have made onsen very popular. Travelers familiar with the Japanese culture of modesty may find themselves surprised by the onsen practice as it involves a degree of public nudity.
1) PAY AND ENTER (NO SHOES) - Depending on the size of the establishment, you might be greeted by a female staff member or a vending machine where you can pay admission. Onsen with lockers will provide a bracelet key which you can keep as you bathe. Others will provide a basket for your things. Look for the nearby shoe rack and change out of your shoes into slippers (a standard for any traditional Japanese space). Females enter through a red curtain marked by 女 and males through a blue curtain marked 男.
1) EMBRACE NUDITY – If you’re going to have an authentic onsen experience, you’re going to have to hurl your modesty out the condensation clouded window. Leave the swimsuits at home.. Don’t worry though, everybody else will be naked too. In fact, Hadaka no Tsukiai means “naked communication” in Japanese, in every sense of the word. Onsen is a popular activity with families, colleagues and friends alike, and represents an area of sheer relaxation where communication can be free and easy. So bare all and get chatting!
2) CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN – Before that though, you’ll be needing a proper good scrub down. Keep in mind that onsen are never for washing, but for leisure and healing, so refrain from a cannonball entrance caked in a layer of sweat from the days tour. Most onsens have rows of individual showers and buckets, where one can squat down and thoroughly cleanse the hair and body. You’re almost ready to submerge!
3) TALK OF THE TOWEL – Most onsen will provide you with a petit ‘modesty towel’ for covering your essentials on the way in and out of the healing pool and cleaning yourself when showering. Never dunk this in the water! It’s associated with cleaning the body and thus polluted. Instead, place it at the side of the water, or if it takes your fancy, you can fold it up and balance it delicately on top of your head.
4) ENJOY - Once you ease into the onsen (making sure not to jump, dive or cannonball in) you’ll feel brand new levels of relaxation. This is the time to contemplate life, ponder your next days tour plans and let your troubles melt away into the sacred waters. You’ll notice the color of the water to be varying shades of yellow, green, brown and red. These are due to the naturally-occurring minerals at the onsen. The water can be extremely hot, up to 100+ degrees F! To avoid shocking your body, do hanshin-yoku and submerge just the lower half of your body up to your waist. When sweat beads have appeared on your forehead, then try zenshin-yoku and submerge up to your shoulders.
5) COOL DOWN - After exiting the pool, do not rinse off your body again or you’ll wash away the healthful minerals. If you feel the need to cool off, rinse below your knees only. Dry yourself thoroughly before re-entering the locker room.
With 10 ski days spent in the Niseko zone we unfortunately never had the weather window required for an ascent of Mt. Yotei-zan. Weather windows in Hokkaido in January are very rare, however necessary to climb the 6000' vertical feet to the volcanoes summit. 6-8 hours are typically required to climb, then ski down into the volcanoes crater, skin back out then ski the 6000' back down.
Of course a high pressure system developed overnight and most of Hokkaido saw the clearest day of the month of January on the day we had to head home!! Ehh Krisitn and I cursed at the beast as we drove by taking these pics of the massive assault on the west face. Watch the zoom in slideshow...and you can count 27 skiers climbing the west face! Odd choice....the west face is a standard route, but the winds had been blowing strong out of the NW for the past several days..poor skiing conditions for sure. Kristin and I had amazing days skiing off the summit of Mt. Chise-nupuri and Mt. Shirakabayama the previous two days, taking advantage of the leeward aspects, thus skiing deep pow off the southeast faces of both summits! Mt. Chise-nupuri was so stupid good that we skinned back up for a second huge run off the summit. Only if we had the one extra day!... We would of climbed and skinned via the SE aspect on Mt Yotei-san....look at the next pic, its the SE (leeward) side...its looked awesome! I noticed only two skiers going up! It would of been almost untouched!! Dang ... now we have to go back! oh darn!
The origins of Jingisukan dish
This dish takes its name from the 13th century ruler Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire that stretched across Eurasia.
In the late 19th century, the Japanese government encouraged sheep farming as a source of wool. People were also encouraged to eat mutton to grow bigger and stronger. This culminated in the dish known as ‘Genghis Khan’. The authorities occasionally organised events in Tokyo and Hokkaido for people to sample it. But the dish began to become familiar among Japanese people around the 1930s. It is still popular particularly in Hokkaido where there is still a lot of sheep farming.
Specialized cast iron pans are available in Japan for Genghis Khan. The pans have a raised centre to hold the meat, while the surrounding section for the vegetables is shaped like the brim of a hat and designed so that it will catch and coat the vegetables with the meat juices. Many homes in Hokkaido have these special pans. They are not used for any other dish. Genghis Khan holds a rather unique place in Japanese cuisine.
On our last night in Hokkaido Kristin and I sought out a local's favorite sushi joint. After a 30 min stroll through the streets of Sapporo we came across this tiny little place in a back alley:) We shared this perfect quiet spot with three locals and two sushi chefs for about 2 hours. Initially challenged by our language barrier ordering consisted of pointed at different fish and shaking of heads. Then the locals helped translate between us and our chef. Orders become more creative and seemed endless we ate enough sashimi and drank enough sake for a small army.....this become apparent when they handed us a tiny tiny piece of paper with several Japanese characters on it and some numbers...now these i recognized... 27,000 yen :)