A gentle snow storm in Hokkaido.

After returning from an awesome trip to South East Asia with sibling and friends, the now-fully winterized Hokkaido was a stark reminder as to the rather different weather we experience here. On speaking with several JET folks both in Hokkaido and further afield on the mainland, it seems the January post-holiday blues are in full effect. Nonetheless, myself and my neighbouring colleague Chris had long-ago planned to do as much skiing (Chris) and snowboarding (me) as possible in order to avoid said depressions! And let me now say, it’s freaking awesome!

Ok, to be fair, the first day is a bastard. I don’t think I have ever fallen over as much in such a small timeframe in my life. Oddly, I was reminded of when I started to learn golf and experienced a similar level of frustration and humiliation. Nothing says ‘you suck’ quite like falling down a slope like a ragdoll while eight year old Japanese kids zoom past me laughing their asses off at the gaijin strugglging to get back onto his feet and down the hill. It’s a pain, and it’s difficult, and my body doesn’t know how to lean right against the board without catching the edge and falling over like a clown. And there‘s the physical pain as well. Ice hurts. It reaaaally hurts. On one particularly bad wipeout I could’ve sworn I’d broken my bum. Twisted knee, stiff and sore muscles and being perpetually cold and wet and covered in snow from head to toe. The first day, much like the Normandy invasion, was tricky. Needless to say, I slept well that night!

The second time, however, is when snowboarding becomes fun. I don’t quite know how I did it, but at some point your body pretty much gets sick and tired of you falling down like an ass and kinda switches into ‘boarding mode’. Once this physiological switch turned on, I found myself carving back an forth down the slope in utter childish glee. Whereas before I had absolutely no control over my descent, I found myself heading for the lumpy bits of snow that aren’t ploughed at breakneck speed, creating a fountain of powder behind me. Truly snowboarding is fantastically enjoyable once the basics sink in and some balance is achieved. Not to mention what great exercise it is. Even now, 2 days later, my legs are stiff from the exertion. If anything, snowboarding has reminded me how important sport is to me and how much I enjoy it. This is the first time in 15 years that I haven’t played hockey for a club or team, and I think I’d actually forgotten what fun it is to play sport! SO! If you live in a winter snowland and find yourself getting cabin fever, go rent a board and play outside. It’ll do you the world of good!

Aside from snowboarding, the past week or so has been spent reacclimatizing to Japan, enjoying the comforts of home but missing the enjoyment of an overseas holiday, and seeing sea lions! Yes indeed, near Wakkanai there is a small dock that plays host to a gaggle (herd?) of sea lions, who seem to think the -15 degree weather up north is preferable to wherever the hell it is they come from. Their fat and lazy demeanor was quite hilarious, and watching them ‘playing’ in the frigid ocean water was amusing right up until I lost all feeling in my face thanks to the cold and opted to retreat back into the car. It also turns out Wakkanai has the world’s most depressing aquarium which, after the bitter-sweet experience of Cambodia, should be a blast in the coming weeks!

Sea lions!

So, in summary:
#1 Snowboarding breaks your bum and associated ligaments
#2 Snowboarding is AWESOME!
#3 Skiers are annoying, with their poles and lame thin instruments and dorky pants
#4 Sea lions are as funny as they look.

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