JAPOW! Part5

Just Another Morning of Commute, Part 2

Another morning with a foot of snow fell overnight, a local snow clearer getting busy from before-dawn for us to be able to drive through these roads.

It is quite a common sight to see in the morning in snowy regions of Japan.

In case you have not seen anything like this, here’s a video of just another morning for us.

Enjoy!

Which month to visit Japan for snow?

El Nino or La Nina, or which month?

img_4987

El Nino or La Nina?

Global Warming. The affect of human activities on the ocean currents and the atmosphere. It’s controversial. I know some agree with these theories and some others don’t.

But in this post, I go along with the idea that this is true, solely based on my time in ski industry observing the weather over many years.

Anyway, so this is widely believed that when La Nina hits this part of the world, it’s meant to be a good winter in Japan.

This website, Western Pacific Weather, has a really easy-to-understand explanation with a video how La Nina affects Japanese climate.

This website, Ski Asia, has an interesting chart of snowfall record each year up to 2016 winter, in association with either El Nino or La Nina year.

It shows that each La Nina year, Japan had a huge amount of snowfall.

So generally speaking, I’d say (if you have a choice) La Nina year has a better chance of having a lot of good snow.

Which month?

I need to make clear that I’m talking about winter months here for the purpose of skiing or snowboarding.

This is another question frequently asked by so many people who are after a good snow in Japan.

These graphs were borrowed from: https://en.climate-data.org/location/5320/

temperature-graph

climate-graph.png

So as you can see from the graphs above, generally January and February are the coldest months in Nagano.

Once March comes, again generally speaking, the coldest chill in the air gets replaced by blue skies and a slightly warmer temps during the day.

At the same time, if you’ve chosen to come over here during those months, a couple of other things to be aware of.

  1. Normally, from the 1st of Jan through to the 9th or so, this is the time japanese have holiday and gets busy with them.
  2. After the period, you start seeing the flock of Japanese school groups in lessons, mainly on beginner slopes because this is the time for Japanese schools to have school trips.
  3. 26 of Jan is Australia Day and you normally see lots of Aussies, particularly around Hakuba on holiday.
  4. Chinese New Year. It changes every year but you definitely will see heaps more of them than other time during this period. They normally have a different pattern of behaviour that it gets busy around more of a snow activity side of the things like, tubing, tobogganing so you want to check with this fact especially if you have little kids who are into these things.

Hopefully this helps your planning of your next trip to Japan in winter.

Make sure to include visiting Jigokudani Snow Monkeys if you ever come Yudanaka way!

See you next time.

JAPOW! Part 2

Just another morning in Yamanouchi, Nagano, Japan.

The key to the survival in this kind of snowy region in Japan,

Clear snow off your car the night before when you know it’s gonna snow overnight!

Otherwise you’ll end up spending looooong time the morning digging your car out of snow and get it going. You’ll be late for work!!

Enjoy the video.

A nightmare of renting a car in Japan

This could be the hardest challenge you face while travelling in Japan

img_2086

Or even before setting your foot on the soil, over the internet while organising your trip. You may even forget about hiring a car when you can travel around the whole country by trains and buses.

Why is it so hard? I just want to hire a car. But it’s not that easy.

I hope in a way this is happening only to me.

At the same time, to be fair, I’ve rented a car only in small-mid sized towns and never in cities or at airports. The situation can be quite different and easier if you are picking up your car at those places.

The reasons that make it so hard are

  • You can’t choose a vehicle like you normally do shopping online, choosing an item with a photo and click and so on
  • You have to contact companies by sending emails and wait
  • Often those reply emails are not helpful if your request/order is not suited to their situation and, in this particular case, I have to go through all the process all over again through their website and by emailing and waiting
  • You can’t find too many options for 4WD vehicles although you want to drive in snowy regions during winter
  • You can’t make credit card payments
  • Sometimes you don’t even know exactly what kind of a car you are hiring until you actually get to the rent-a-car place

AND I DO SPEAK AND READ THE LANGUAGE!!

I can only imagine your nightmare to go through without being able to read or speak Japanese.

img_5006

This time there isn’t a single thing I can do for you to help out or ease your situation. The enemy is so huge, I’m just a tiny dot on a map.

Actually, at least I’ve raised your awareness of this renting a car situation in Japan, so that’s something, a bit of contribution to the travellers’ world, I want to believe.

I just have a tinge of doubt in my mind, that there is something I don’t know but you know, about renting a car in Japan. It could be in fact very easy and I’m just missing something.

If so, please tell me what I can do to make my life easier!

See you next time.

Today’s Phrase

Kuruma Wo Mikka Kan Karitai Desu 車を3日間借りたいです = I want to rent a car for 3 days

Listen multiple times and you’ll get this!

 

Foreign Currency Exchange in Yudanaka

The Only Place in Yudanaka to exchange to Yen

ryuoo-ski-park-yudanaka-shop

Japan is such a “Cash Society”

Like many other Asian countries where you need to carry a wad of cash in your wallet or pocket.

Credit Card payments are not as readily available as other Western countries.

Like New Zealand, that I live, all the payments can be made by simply tapping my credit cards on EFYPOS (or DEBIT in most countries?) terminal.

I seriously do not carry cash with me these days in daily life in NZ. So this cash-carrying culture is something I’m not used to (anymore) either.

Anything can happen

Still, you can always do some research in advance and get prepared for it.

However, some unforeseen circumstances can put you in a difficult situation where you need lots of cash, like your hotel actually don’t take credit card payment and you were not aware of it until the last minute!

Solution For You

So I introduced this place when I talked about the coin lockers at Yudanaka Station. It’s in the same place, right across the station.

yudanaka-info-centre-front-door

Here’s the aerial map to show you where.

yudanaka-station-coin-locker-001

Their money-exchange machine takes 9 different currencies as below.

  • Euro
  • Chinese Yuan
  • US Dollar
  • Hong Kong Dollar
  • Taiwanese Dollar]
  • Korean Won
  • Thai Baht
  • Singaporean Dollar
  • Australian Dollar

freign-money-exchange-machine-at-yudanaka-4

Basically, you just follow the instruction on the screen.

  • Choose the currency you have
  • Confirm the exchange rate that gets calculated daily by the machine
  • feed the notes (No coins obviously)

freign-money-exchange-machine-at-yudanaka-1freign-money-exchange-machine-at-yudanaka-2freign-money-exchange-machine-at-yudanaka-3

Their shop is open from 8am till 5:30pm.

So, hopefully, now you know at least a place to rush to when you get caught short in Yudanaka!

Remember, preparations is the best prevention!

See you next time

Today’s Phrase

Ryougae Ga Dekimasuka? 両替ができますか? = Can I exchange money?

This is an useful phrase to know!

Ryuoo Ski Park 竜王スキーパーク

Ryuoo Ski Park Up Close

ryuoo-ski-park-main-building

Today’s Phrase

Ryuoo Ski Park 竜王スキーパーク = Pronounced as more like Liu-Oh

I know this is very hard for lots of people, but you gotta try!

 

What kind of mountain is Ryuoo?

This mountain/resort is made up with 2 parts.

Valley Area and Skyland Area.

And they are connected by Ropeway and Kiotoshi courses in between, being a very steep terrain only ideal for advanced skiers and snowboarders.

Also, Kiotoshi 木落し stands for “Tree Falling“, meaning “So steep that even trees fall off the face” (My translation)

Please be aware that these Kiotoshi courses tend to open up well into January due to the nature of the terrain hard to accumulate snow.

Valley Area – Lower part

ryuoo-v8-chairlift

6 Chailfts, wide open long trails, mostly gentle incline.

Along V2 Lift you have some more speed with steeper terrain.

There are some “Ungroomed” space left near V2 Lift and V10 Lift for you to enjoy some powder.

The Top part of Valley Area has V5 Lift with steeper runs, but they don’t seem to open early in the season.

The reasons being,

  1. Steeper so no groomer vehicle goes there
  2. Therefore in need of wait for the accumulation of enough natural snowfall for safety

Skyland Area – Upper Part

ryuoo-s1-chairlifttrees-with-snow

2 Chairlifts, 3 Trails

The view from the upper part, (The highest point being at around 1930m or over 6000 feet) Skyland Area is superb on a clear day.

Also being higher in altitude, the snow tends to be drier and softer than Valley Area most of the times.

At the same time the temperature is a lot colder than what it is at the lower part of the mountain so be prepared to get in colder climate.

Oh and quite often it’s in the clouds with lower visibility.

The terrain is definitely for beginners to intermediate.

There are 2 restaurants, right above the top ropeway station at at the very top of the mountain off S1 Lift so you have somewhere to rush in if it’s too cold for you.

At those restaurants, mainly you find Japanese food like Japanese curry and ramen and so on.

Some Useful Links

– Link to their English Website

– This is the link to one of my past related post Let’s go skiing!

The Location

Free Shuttle

They run every 1-1.5 hour between Yudanaka Station and Ryuoo Ski Park.

It only takes 15-20moin to get to the resort.

The first one top depart Yudanaka is just after 9am, the last one to depart Ryuoo is just after 5pm.

It departs from right in front of Yudanaka Station.

Lift Passes

Half Day: Morning 8am-1pm, Afternoon 12pm-5pm, Adult ¥3400, Kids (4 y/o to 12 y/o) ¥2200

1 Day: Adult ¥4500, Kids ¥2900

2 days: Adult ¥8000, Kids ¥5100

Rentals

Half Day: Morning 8am-1pm, Afternoon 12pm-5pm, same as the lift passes, Adult ¥3500, Kids ¥2000

1 Day: Adult ¥4000, Kids ¥2500

2 days: Adult ¥7500, Kids ¥4500

If you are staying in yudanaka, one idea is to go see the guys at Yudanaka Rental/Info Centre right behind Goen restaurant.

You can get yourself set up with gear even the day before you head up the mountain.

That’ll be a good time-saver for you to be prepared the day before, rather than rushing for everything in the morning, with a possibility of waiting if they get busy.

I hope you will enjoy your time up on this mountain, and snow too!

See you next time.

 

 

 

Foot Bath 足湯

Warming up from your feet

japan-foot-bath-5

What is it?

In most of Onsen towns, you will find so-called “Public Foot Baths”.

Those are the place where you soak just your feet in (most cases) running hot water in public setting.

Link to Wikipedia in English for detailed explanation of what they are.

Why?

Basically because it warms you up.

But more precisely,

According to the idea based on Eastern Medicine, Your feet are supposed to have lots of vital function to your body system.

You must be familiar with Reflexology. That’s to massage the back of your feet where there are supposed to be so many different “Tsubo ツボ = Pressure Point” that are connected to different part of your body like organs and so on. Then by massaging them, you have those functions revitalised and re-activated.

There goes a similar theory here. At your feet, you have several thick veins and arteries. And they are the furthest from your heart. Therefore, in cold circumstances, you have less active circulation.

By warming up your feet, it encourages your blood circulation at the furthest point from your heart=Your feet, thus warmer body.

How to do Foot Bath

This is a no brainer. Take off your shoes/boots, sit down comfortably and simply soak your feet in the water.

What you need

So if you are staying at one of those Onsen towns in Japan, you want to carry a small towel called Tenugui=手拭い, at least. Ideally, a bath towel as well in your backpack so that you can always be ready to jump in an Onsen or soak your feet in any foot bath.

You now know one thing better than before.

Keep enjoying your time while travelling in Japan!

See you next time!

-Today’s Phrase- 

Ashiyu Wa Karada Ga Atatamari Masu 足湯は体が温まります = Ashiyu warms up my body

Listen and practise. You’ll know what exactly means once you’ve experienced!

 

Nearest Onsen from Yudanaka Station

Kaede No Yu 楓の湯

In Yudanaka, this is the closest Onsen to the station.

It actually sits right behind the station.

Entry Fee: ¥300 for Adult, ¥150 for Kids (Up to 12 years old I think)

Open:  10am – 8:30pm

Closed: The 1st Monday every month

So once you walk in, there is a locker for shoes.

The you’ll find a touch-panel ticketing machine.

You buy a ticket and then give it to someone behind the counter.

(I’m pretty sure you can hire a towel but I forgot to check how much that is. It should be around ¥300 I guess)

Once you walk through the door you’ll see Womens first with red curtain, then Mens at far end with green curtain.

It was very busy when I visited around 3pm, with old locals as well as tourists inside.

Once inside Mens (Or Womens), you will find lockers where you can keep your cloths and valuables in.

You need one ¥100 coin to keep it locked. But it will be refunded when you come back to get changed.

Put ¥100 coin in, lock it and keep the rubber with the key to your locker around your wrist.

This refundable coin lockers are very common at Onsens or Swimming Pools throughout Japan.

You can also read my old article regarding around Onsen Etiquette here.

I’m pretty sure you understand my situation that I couldn’t really take photos once inside where lots of people get undressed. I could be jailed for that…)

So this place is highly recommended to soak your cold body in hot water when you have an hour before you leave on a train to Nagano or something.

Get amongst real Japanese culture while you are there!

See you next time!

-Today’s Phrase- 

Oyuni Tsukaru Maeni Karada Wo Arau お湯に浸かる前に体を洗う = Wash your body before you soak in hot water

Very important to wash your body first in Onsen!

For those who have never seen snow before

4 things you should know if you are thinking about skiing or snowboarding for the first time

Please skip this article if you are familiar with skiing or snowboarding. This post contains the very basic explanation for visiting ski resorts intended for beginners.

So Japanese winter is quite famous throughout the world nowadays.

For the amount of snowfall, its quality, the reason can be varied.

There are more and more visitors during the winter months visiting places like Nagano, Niigata or Hokkaido for winter fun.

It is a fact now that there are increasing number of people, from those countries that never get snow, taking up winter sports such as skiing or snowboarding for the very first time in their lives.

Even a place like Yudanaka has been filled with overseas visitors to go skiing or snowboarding during the busy winter months.

That’s awesome, we love to share the love and our passion.

BUT there are some things you need to know before jumping on it.

Take a breath and read these through.

When you finish reading, you will be in a way better position than before, that could ultimately save your life.

So here we go.

1, Snow is a natural phenomena. It doesn’t fall if it’s warm

Roughly explained, snow is a frozen form of rain, that means it got frozen near zero temperature in the sky. So if it’s above zero degree temperature it will come down as rain.

When you visit ski resorts early in the season, which is late November to the end of December, you may not see snow depending on the weather condition. Just like summer has cold or hot summer, winter has those.

There may not necessarily be any snow if the winter is starting up as a warm one.

2, If you don’t have your own gear, it takes time to get yourself set up for skiing and snowboarding at a Rental shop

Skiing and snowboarding are not something that you can go out and do right away when you don’t have a gear. You need to have your rental gear set up for you according to your shoe size, height, weight and ability level, that means you need to go through a certain process.

Particularly if you are a part of a group, the loser it takes to get ready the bigger the group size is.

3, Cotton is not ideal on the snow

It’s commonly known that cotton is not ideal for sports activities.

Wearing ja pair of jeans is not ideal when skiing or snowboarding, or it may even put you at certain risk like hypothermia.

Why?

It gets wet easily, hard to dry then wearing a wet clothing takes away your body heat.

Ski/Snowboard jackets and pants are there for a reason.

4, It’s wiser not to expect that you can ski or snowboard straight away if you have never done it before

Skiing and snowboarding are a sport with a particular set of equipments.

It will require some training or getting used to them. Quite likely you won’t be skiing and snowboarding elegantly right from the beginning when you have not done it before.

The best way to start out is to learn by taking a lesson.

Majority of major resorts nowadays has multi lingual ski and snowboard lessons available.

It is a dangerous sport to certain point, and you can reduce the risk of injuries by taking at least 1 lesson when you start out.

It will be easier and quicker to learn, more fun and less painful.

So, now you know about it a bit more and hopefully I’ve got your expectations right. It’s always better for you to do some research in advance and get your gear from the rentals the day before you go skiing or snowboarding so you have a whole day for it.

See you on the slopes!

-Today’s Phrase-

Ski Wo Rentaru shitai desu スキーをレンタルしたいです = I want to hire a pair of skis

You will need this phrase when hiring skis!