The good people at Lonely Planet inform me that Shigakogen is the world’s largest ski area. I have a deep aversion to all things associated with cold and winter, so it was fortuitous that Greg wanted to check it out in balmy September.
This photo above kills me. Not just because it is $10 to go up and down this unnecessary beast. Not just because it is bright blue and completely out of place in this beautiful natural landscape. Not just because a guy is needed to “assist” those people about to get off this painfully slow treadmill. No, the greatest thing is the painted arrow and sign on the ground telling you which way the exit is, because it would be impossible to go anywhere else.
Japan is overly helpful like that. When I got off the plane a few days ago, as I was about to step off the aircraft and on to the elevated gate that you walk to get to the airport terminal, there was a woman in white gloves standing there and extending her arm to show the way. There is absolutely nowhere else to go. It’s a narrow tunnel leading to one destination and yet there she is directing traffic.
A guy on a ladder might be fixing a light bulb on the side of a shop and a big area will be roped off with pylons, there will be a walkway detour with flashing lights and five overly-vigilant guys in elaborate uniforms equipped with electric wands are on guard to guide people around.
This is the kind of thing that makes Japan fascinating to me unlike any other country I know. Japan is mind-blowing in so many small ways that a first-time visitor can’t help but wander around in a perpetual mild state of shock.
The other side of the mountain has a scrubby landscape that has a highly sulfurous smell from all the natural hot springs. I became nauseous, but I bravely stayed conscious knowing my billions of blog readers demand it. Lake Yugama here is really a bright aqua color as it has one of the highest acidic levels in the world, though my camera doesn’t show it.
I like that the nicely crafted wood bench is left untethered while the tacky plastic electric ice cream cone is chained to the pole, though in America you would need 15 locks as a college student would try and steal it in 2 seconds. The cone is pretty cool, isn’t it?
I must admit that I once spent a day in Kyoto trying to find and convince a candy company to sell me a similar plastic electric model of their otabe-chan, which, when plugged in, is a woman whose head bows nonstop while proferring her sweets. It made such an impression on me that my first email user name was otabe. (Yes, I was a full-grown adult male at the time.)
Soft ice cream in Japanese is called “softo”, which you can’t get me to stop saying.
What’s significant about the building on the right and the setting of this photo? Amidst this little farming village, far away from anything, tucked between orchards and dilapidated barns is a sharp Italian restaurant. (The toilet was fantastic, too. I’m thinking it deserves its own blog post.) You can have a viable business in Japan in the most obscure and unlikely of places.
Japan is not expensive. Exhibit A:
Even at 83 yen to the dollar, chicken at 290 yen a kilo is a good deal, methinks.