Lessons Learned in Our Travels to Japan
Words by Dan Norkunas
Pictures by David Lesh
Deteike, Deteike!!!, wait, what? So here we are three athletes Ashley Battersby, David Lesh, Ian Cosco and myself in Japan to get some shots for Rageâ€™s upcoming film. Besides Ian Cosco we have no prior experience in Japan. We have no guide, no real knowledge, a shoestring budget, and just a tip from some people that mentioned Niseko as the powder spot. As in all foreign trips we quickly realize our junk show. Between the four of us we have 600 pounds of luggage to haul around the Tokyo subway system. We quickly forgo the plan to go into the city and head to the domestic airport to catch our flight the next morning.
Lesson #1: Do not try to stay overnight at the Hanada Airport.
We are escorted out of all the areas that we try to spend the night. Finally a frustrated cop shows us a nook in the airport that we can crash at. The next morning we board our flight and head to Sapporo. On arrival we see tons of snow. The crew is stoked as we head to grab our rental car,
Lesson#2: If you plan on renting a car in Japan make sure to get an international driverâ€™s license before heading to Japan
We are instructed that there is no way possible that we can rent a car, alright, so weâ€™ll take a shuttle to Niseko. As the bus pulls up to our final destination, I open my eyes to see a flag of Australia, kinda weird. We get off the bus and are expecting to see flocks of Japanese people, but that really isnâ€™t the case. What we end up realizing later is that we have entered a strange area full of Australians in Japan. We claim it as Japstralia. We check into our hostel and laugh at Lesh as he cracks his head on a doorway.
Lesson #3: If you are any taller than Ashley Battersby get accustomed to bowing, not just to say hello, but to avoid every doorway, street sign, and any other of the billion things that are placed at eye level.
We are here to ski so the next morning we get up and head to the mountain. We are treated to good but not the typical deep powder of Japan. For the next few days we explore the terrain at Niseko and find some cool tree jibs and such. Ashley Battersby took advantage of her stature and bagged some solid pow footage. After each day excitement would build in anticipation for dinner. As much of you know Japan is full of weird food. When it is mixed with Aussie food it seems a bit weirder. We are amused by Leshâ€™s determination to find a fulfilling meal, that never really happened and Ashâ€™s love for a Japanese cheeseburger. The nights would be capped by a trip to the busiest convenience store in the world, to get some ice cream.
Lesson #4 Japan has some of the best ice cream creations in the world, but be aware of the sweet bean. The sweet bean is in everything, it lures you in because in the photos it looks like chocolate chips, but in reality its sweet bean paste stuffed in all types of deserts.
For days Cosco and I contemplate if the sweet bean is at fault for our strange odors. We decide that we had our fix of the mountain and head into the backcountry. We convince Brian the lodge manager to take us to find some jump building spots. He ends up driving us around for the next few days as we explore what the area has to offer. We find plenty of features to do highlighted by a solid 80ft bc jump spot. In constructing our crunky cheesewedge we are constantly overwhelmed by the smell of rotten eggs. This smell is much more powerful than that of Cosco and I,
Lesson #5 Beware of sink holes and sulfur pools. Japan is full of volcanic activity and these sulfar springs create holes in the snow. Brian, our guide, partially fell in one that was covered by recent snowfalls. He feared of death by rotten eggs, not the best way to go, but was able to wiggle out of the hole.
The sun ended up coming out and we had great success in the Japanese backcountry. Cosco tried a few double flip rotations Lesh got plenty of shots and Ashley held her own in the not so friendly snow. All and all a fun time was had by everyone. After a few days of rest, for the athletes sore bodies we decided to bid farewell to Japstralia and head into Sapporo, to find some urban jibs.
Lesson#6: When trying to find urban it is best to have transportation like a car to explore the area.
Lesh and I spend a full day walking around a huge city in a desperate attempt to find some jibs. We succeed in finding cool features for our last day in the Hokkaido region of Japan. The next morning the whole crew rides the subway to our features. We build a bomb drop off a bridge and quickly get some shots before getting shut down by the cops. There is obviously a communication barrier between the police and us so we nod our heads to their demands and leave the area before further trouble. We proceed to our next jib at the Sapporo Dome, which is home to the legendary Ham Fighters. Japan is big on baseball and even bigger in creating awesome names for things such as baseball teams. In walking up to the stadium we see huge crowds heading in.
Lesson#7 Do not try to do urban during a baseball game. Even though it might have been a preseason game the stadium is packed full of security bewildered by us walking around in ski gear.
We conceded our efforts to the great Ham Fighters and headed back to Tokyo. Tokyo if full of amazing sites, from the massive expanse of skyscrapers to the delectable smell of the fish markets. For a full day the crew explores the city sites highlighted by a traditional Japanese meal. Lesh as usual claims to have succeeded in ordering a great meal from a Japanese menu until it arrives. His three tiny asparagus pieces and 2oz chicken piece is once again not able to satisfy. We all conclude that the trip was a great success. We got plenty of shots for the film. Experienced a variety of cultural traditions, and had a great time.
The next morning we take the subway for what was planned to be an easy ride to the airport. In loading our 600 pounds of gear on a subway we are once again given some strange looks by the local commuters. Ashley who had been suffering from the stomach flu is in terrible pain and is unable to hold down her breakfast. Cosco assists her by giving her a helmet. At the next stop Cosco jumps out of the train with the other passengers that are over dealing with us.
Lesson #8 Do not exit the subway cars to find a trash can.
There are barely any trash cans in Japan, and Cosco is dumbfounded on where to discard the waste. Lesh and I quickly realize that Cosco isnâ€™t going to make it back and dive for the subway door. We are able to hold the door as Ian literally squeezes back into the train. We look around and assess the situation, We are packed in a full subway car and are blocking the doorway with our bags. Ashley just puked, and Ian just barely jumped back into the train, while Lesh and I held the door. The quick thinking Lesh says the only thing we know in Japanese â€œarigato gozaimasâ€.