Wednesday, March 19, 2008


This past weekend I celebrated the end of winter with my favorite kind of vacation, a ski trip! I went with Edel to Appi, one of the best resorts in the area, in our neighboring prefecture to the east Iwate-ken. The drive there was surprisingly short, which was my first time on the highway with kenji-kun (my car), who performed beautifully, cruising at 120km/hr at some points and at one point even passsing a mercedes!

I had previously been quite disillusioned by the Japanese ski experience, which thus far had not included any lounging by fireplaces, taking in some sun on lodge decks in adirondack chairs, nor drinking overpriced and over-topped with whipped cream hot cocoa, the fine accoutrement of the New England ski vacation experience. Lodges at the ski-jo's around here are very industrial-looking and do not give any hint of a log cabin vibe. Anyway, at Appi, it was thankfully a different story - they seemed to have caught on to this idea, if not so much in the on-mountain lodges (which included a random skyscraper hotel) as in the pensions in the "pension village" below the slopes.

We arrived at our pension called Rocky and were enthusiastically greeted by the owner, who we decided to call "Rocky" despite his actual name being Sato-san. We had picked it based on a blog entry from friends Tricia & Jason, who made a trip there last month. When we said we lived in Akita, Rocky immediately made the connection to Jason, and proceeded to present us with a photo of himself and their family outside the pension. I think he had a little man-crush on Jason, as he avidly recalled things Jason had said and done while there, but had little to no recollection of Tricia and Jonas (their ridiculously cute son). After taking pictures of us pretending to eat the fish on sticks that had been roasting in the fireplace, we retired for the evening.

Conditions were questionable on our first day of skiing after a night of rain but we explored the mountain and quickly found our favorite areas. I would say the mountain was just a little smaller than Mount Snow, despite the fact that it claims to have just 21 trails (Mount Snow claims 107). It had 2 long runs both over 3 miles, a la Deer Run, and also had 2 high speed gondolas to the peak. And for a daily lift ticket of about $50, it was quite a value. Also, I've figured out the snack of choice here for ski breaks is not hot cocoa, but, inexplicably, soft serve ice cream (sofuto kurimu) which is a real treat mid-morning.

Afterwards, we (of course) visited the onsen, which was nice but nothing too special. We noticed the water temp there and at our pension's onsen were both significantly cooler than what we were used to - apparently "some like it hot" in Akita. We were then served a lavish several-course dinner, probably the best meal I've had since coming here (I think Tricia said something similar), and at this point I will one-up their blog entry by actually having pics of the food.

salmon, salad, and beef

Edel and I spent dinnertime mockingly moping the hard life of being an ALT in Japan. Seated across the fireplace from us were an older Japanese couple who took a liking to us and sent us over some beer inc. a Guinness (or Guinness-like substance) for Edel. The rest of the guests were fairly young and in larger groups, which started the wheels turning for me of arranging a big trip here next year possibly somehow to the benefit of Everest of Apples. After dinner, I rooted through Rocky's movie collection and found one english-language non skiing-related video, The English Patient. Demonstrating his superior hostess-with-the-mostess skills, he rewound the movie for me and sat through all 3 hours of it with me (Great movie, RIP Anthony Minghella).

edel with guinness

Rocky's breakfast buffet

The next day, breakfast (a combo of japanese and western including, strangely, a baked egg) was served buffet style and our time on the slopes was sunny enough to take amazing pics with the nearby Iwate-san in the background. We cut out early and had lunch at a French restaurant we had found in the pension village called Chez Johnny. The food was great, and we ate in what seemed to be the living room of the woman owner's house. She even had patee and espresso. She invited her husband out to meet us after telling us she had named the restaurant after him and we were surprised to find that he was not a frenchman as we so thought, just a regular nihon dude. Anyway, a surprisingly culinary weekend, and I highly recommend Appi, Rocky and Chez Johnny to anyone and everyone.

mount iwate

this is an abandoned pension (sadly, there were a few) called the pamplemousse, that inspired daydreaming of pension-owning

This is the omiyage (souvenir in the form of snackfood) I brought back for the teachers at my school, yummy appi bunny cookies!

On Monday I celebrated St. Patrick's Day for the second year running. Apparently, I came to Japan to hang out with Irish people.

Leprechaun-san with his friend, shrimp sushi

the irish girls of honjo, cathy and edel

the irishman of honjo, owen

even phil, the resident englishman, reluctantly donned a shamrock

Tomorrow I am providing entertainment for kids' "Tea Party" and Friday is the last day of school for the year -school year runs April-March. And a disclaimer from my ikebana sensei, the plant I liked from last week's class is not called bracken, but instead "osmond shoot".

And some news for you: nearly half of japanese people bathe with their cellphones and an article about self-mummifying monks. Please enjoy!


Tricia said...

Too funny. I am just catching up on my blog reading after 2 weeks of travel...I am happy to see that you took our suggestion and visited Rocky and Sato. Isn't Sato a riot? I can't believe he did not remember Jonas. The minute I drove up to the pension, he took Jonas from my arms and carried him in. I thought it was funny that he grabbed Jonas from me so quickly. We wanted to try to get one more wknd of skiing in at Appi, but we ran out of time. I would suggest Appi over Tazawako for sure, because it really isn't too much further since you can take the expressway. You should definitely plan a fund raiser there. Okay, so this comment is long enough...I will stop now.

sophiesaffron said...

I loved Rocky and Sato! Yeah, it was so weird he did not remember Jonas! Also, he gave us a print- out of the photo you have on your blog with him to give to you guys!!
Looking forward to hearing more about your adventures down south!