I have a bit of a commute for my job, so I’ve tried to find different ways to make use of the time in a more constructive manner, and one of those ways is to listen to podcasts. As I have quite a few on my list right now, I thought I’d break this up into two posts – ‘Motorcycles’ and ‘The Rest’. As an aside, I’m currently running a cheaper Android phone (a Lenovo Moto G5+) and the DoggCatcher podcatching app. (I did a round-up of my podcasts in 2009 and 2011; a few I still listen to, some have gone away.) Anyway, on with the list:
Adventure Rider Radio RAW – Out of Canada, this is a monthly panel show, usually running 90-120 mins. of experienced overlanders discussing situations, kit, their books etc.. I’ve not done anywhere near the travelling they have, but it’s often interesting for tips and funny anecdotes, as well as differing perspectives on how to travel for long periods. The same production team also make the weekly Adventure Rider Radio, but this can be hit and miss as there can be a lot of native advertising in some episodes – probably worth a try though.
Front End Chatter – Two motorcycle journalists from the UK discuss street bikes as well as some racing content and usually runs for 60-90mins every two weeks. There’s a lot of light banter and some very decent Q&A in most episodes.
Two Enthusiasts – Two American chaps, based out of the Pacific north west of the US discuss bikes, with a slant to technology and the motorcycle industry itself. This is an extension of the usually decent news website Asphalt and Rubber, and each episode goes for between 60-90 minutes.
Moterrific – Two American ladies this time make this podcast on a semi-regular monthly schedule, with each episode running around 60-80mins. They discuss areas to ride, gear, and dip in to some of the challenges women face in the hobby from perception, to decent gear, to bike height.
Tabibike Ladies Bike – A Japanese podcast which doubles up as both motorbike podcast and Japanese study for me, where the two hosts discuss bikes as well as bike culture, all the way into food and happenings during rides. This podcast is a little shorter at around 40 minutes per episode.
So those are the ones I’m currently listening to, but feel free to recommend others.
Imagine if there was a place called ‘such is life’ . Well, potentially in Japan, there is, and it’s a huge dam.
I say potentially, as it’s a bit of a kanji joke – the name – Ogouchi – is written in kanji as 小河内, which with a liberal interpretation, could phonetically be read as ‘shouganai’, which is the Japanese equivalent of ‘such is life’. Yes, puns in Japanese can be many layered.
Anyway, getting past all that, when I found the Shouganai Dam on the map, I knew I had to go and take a look – partly for the name, partly because dams are usually impressive, but mainly because the twisty roads through the mountains to it were just so enticing to a biker such as myself.
I planned my route similar to my previous Tanzawa / Yabitsu Touge route, because it’s accessible but fun, coming in from the south on route 246, keeping on the back roads and those mountain routes pretty much all the way up, but then planned to come out to the east through the rural roads, and then get on the Ken O expressway to come back [map at the end of the post].
On the Road
I was out of my house by seven am sharp, and the weather was fantastic – dry, sunshine, mid 20s degC., not too humid, and made my way up to the Route 246 in fairly light traffic. Some people may have seen Route 246 as a course on Gran Tourismo. In real life, on a bad day, it’s far worse, especially in mid Kanagawa, where is it one of the main free roads west. Fortunately for me, Saturday morning wasn’t too busy and I could make good time, and not have to stop at every single traffic light, every 100metres, which is sometimes the case.
A few Km down and it was time for the interesting right turn onto Route 70. Interesting for a couple of reasons, mainly the convenience store after the right, which I usually stop off at for a breakfast snack, and partly for the petrol station on the opposite corner – a great place to fuel up, but between the crossroads and the various entrances/exits for these two businesses, you have to be a little careful on two wheels.
Whenever I have to use franchised outlets for things, I prefer to at least try something new, and this time, at that 7-11 on the corner, they had a new onigiri (rice ball) – dry curry – which they even heated up for me. It was nice. It was very nice. I would recommend it. You can also chat to the many cyclists and bikers who often use the place as a meet up spot, as it effectively marks the beginning for people starting a run on the Yabitsu pass.
Route70 is a pleasure to ride – starting off with gentle curves, a steady incline, not many traffic lights, and lightly used roads. As you get up to the pass roper (as delineated by a larger bus stop, a gate, and a small bridge), the road narrows and widens, the bends are sharper, compensated for by fantastic views off one side – just beware cyclists coming the other way at speed down! I think I did a whole post on the Yabitsu Pass, or Yabitsu Touge as it’s known.
At the end of the pass there are a few ways to go, but this time, as I was heading further north, I took a left I’d not taken before, and since I was getting a little thirsty, I was looking for somewhere to stop. Then, just a few hundred metres from the junction, there was this nice Sunkus with some patio tables outside, so I bought a lettuce sandwich and an ice coffee, and watched all the various two wheeled vehicles come and go for a while, before setting off again, and regretting I hadn’t brought my CamelBak water-bottle on what was turning into a nice hot day.
Off again, from Route 64 to 518, twisting higher up into the next group of mountains, then a few junctions and up to Route 76, and over into Fujino. I wasn’t planning to, but I actually got off to take a few photos there – it’s a small almost-town where two rivers meet. It’d be very picturesque if it weren’t for the factory perched up on one mountainside. I’m going to say it’s a concrete factory, but I can’t back that up.
More uphill turns which were plenty of fun, and just great cornering out of and above Fujino, and keeping an eye out for a petrol station, since I’d hit the half tank point and I like full tanks. I missed one, a nice, small, local one which I kind of regret as there was a small group chatting on the forecourt, and so I ended up a few kilometres later on at a Cosmo – nice people though. Then I was through Uenohara, which seemed like a tranquil town save for its very congested main road, then up again into the countryside up to the dam. I came in from the south, weaving along the narrow road, but always with fantastic views, until I came to a small car park on one corner, overlooking the lake.
Actually, that lay-by had a camera club or something there, all with nice looking cameras with large zoom lenses all adorned with camouflage for some reason – I mean, they’re sat next to silver cars in a stopping area, chatting, so they’re not exactly blending in to the wilderness but I’d guess there is some bird watching to be done. One chap was also flying his drone out over the valley – I should have asked him where he uploaded to. I should have asked what birds they were hoping to spot too.
More twisties and we’re down to the level of the rivers and the lake behind the dam, and some nice small bridges. The lake is called Okutama, after the local area, and the small nearby town. I stopped to have a drink at one of a couple of restaurants nearby – both looked a little worn, but the staff were friendly, and the drinks were cold, and on a hot day like it had become, that was enough in itself.
Then it was on to the dam itself, which is a huge wall of concrete as one might expect. There’s a visitors centre, and a generous carpark too, which is free. On this day, it was pretty much empty, but given the coach spaces and the visitors centre having a lot of child friendly areas, I suspect it gets a lot of school visits.
I decided to take a walk across the top of the dam, despite the heat, and even though it is what it is, it’s still impressive to see a 100m plus drop on one side, and water on the other. I also went up one of the viewing towers, which have some basic models in them and don’t add much beyond some welcome air conditioning.
There’s not much on the other side of the dam – a shrine for the areas drowned, and presumably those who died in its construction, and a hiking route, which I followed for a couple of kilometres, but biker gear is not the best wear to go mountain hiking in this kind of heat! I’d be interested in coming back and doing it though, as it looks like a nice route.
It’s a very tranquil place all told, and I spent a couple of hours sitting and walking around it, talking a little with the staff in the towers and visitors centre, so it was a good destination, even though I was more interested in the way of getting up there.
Leaving the dam was simple enough though there are a couple of road signage oddities which clearly sent some people the wrong way, but I headed out from the east, through tunnels which varied in age from bubble era 1980s concrete ones, to ones which dripped water from their ceilings, and which I imagined had been blasted out in the early 1900s. The road out isn’t as twisty to the east and you soon get on roads which are more frequently punctuated by villages, but it’s still a nice run.
I’d taken a little longer than I planned up to the dam and at it, so I was thinking of ending the day with some expressway riding, and make use of the extension to the Ken O to Ebina and Chigasaki. It was a nice fast run, but there aren’t any services on it, so make sure you take a toilet break or have a drink before you get on! As a new road of course – and not busy when I got to it – the asphalt was beautifully smooth, and it was nice to watch houses and rice fields fly past (at the legal speed limit of course).
All in all, another great day out, and I’d go back to Ogouchi to be honest – great runs, friendly people to chat with on the way, and plenty of small places to stop and check out.
Here’s a few more pictures, which include the obligatory bike shot:
We like to get out camping regularly, so I thought I should add one of the recent places we stayed at since I haven’t added any for a while – the BOSCO camp site.
BOSCO is up in the mountains of central Kanagawa Prefecture, near Tanzawa. I love the drive up there as you go over the Yabitsu Touge, a narrow winding road, which is great fun on two wheels, and still acceptable on four. Just beware hikers who walk on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
It’s a nice site – and a large one, but I don’t mean it’s pitch next to pitch next to pitch, it’s spread out along a valley and a stream along with some tributaries. It’s organised by pitch size too; as there were just 3 of us in a small tent with minimal ‘stuff’, we got a nice pitch by a stream and waterfall. Larger groups got large pitches further downhill, catering for up to six or seven family/groups it seemed, which I think it probably a good idea. Obviously then this is not back country, but it’s not cramped and impersonal either, and even the larger groups were friendly and the atmosphere was relaxed, which reflects the people the site attracts.
There are places for the kids to play, some hiking routes, and the main stream. Tip: always wear full shoes, not sandals though as mountain campsites do tend to have the small Japanese leeches – Yamabiru. I know that sounds disgusting, but trust me, they’re not actually that bad. If they bite you, you can lever them off with a fingernail, and put a plaster on it. As they use anesthetic (and anti-coagulant), it doesn’t actually hurt.
We didn’t hire a BBQ or fire bowl, but these are options, and the latter at least looked relaxing. I love BBQs, but when camping, I prefer my small stoves.
This also reflects the differences in camp style – I tend to travel light, small (4 sqm) tent, more backpacking sized gear, despite having the kids with me, and they don’t seem to mind. We have a small camping table, tarp and some chairs, and that’s about it. The 3 person family just over from us had a Snow Peak ‘Land Lock’ tent which retails at near 200,000yen, and is ~ 26sqm. That’s a serious sized tent, and though many ‘auto campers’ do indeed try to take a decent chunk of their house/apartment with them, that’s not to say all do – I picked up some tips on kit and technique from a few groups who had very functional gear and seemed to be having a better time, and one chap on a motorbike rolled up with just a bivvy bag and a tarp strung over his old BMW.
The site has decent toilets in quite a few locations, a shower block (we didn’t see it), and some good fresh water and plate cleaning sinks, which were great, and everyone kept them clean. The staff were also very friendly, which helped after a leech took an enthusiastic bite at my foot and after I levered him off, I needed a plaster, and answered the perennial question of ‘what did I forget this time?’. Yes, plasters. The chap at the entrance gave me a couple for free from their first aid kit.
I should also mention that the rubbish disposal area was excellent – allowing for not only the usual food packaging to be disposed of cleanly, but also the gas bombe cans, which was helpful. Of course we know to never, ever mix your gomi up in Japan! There’s a little shop too with some basic packaged food and fuel if you’ve forgotten anything, but sadly no plasters.
I should say BOSCO is a little expensive – at the time we stayed, just the pitch and with a ‘late out’ for the Sunday – meaning we could leave at 4pm rather than 11am – ran to 9,000yen. That’s a lot for a camp site pitch, but the 1,000yen just for the late out is probably worth it, since about 80% of people were up and packed away around 10am, leaving most of the day for us to mull around in peace.
We had a great time – there was very little rain whilst we were there, and it’s a beautiful location, and easy to hike around, and it kept us all engaged whilst we were there, which is really the objective of a bit of a camp – get away from it all, walk around, cook some food and read a book if I get a few minutes. There’s something very calming about reading a book next to a river, or watching the clouds drifting as mist down the stream through camp, and crossing the stepping stones, so we may go again later this year.
So I’ve completed day 8 of NaNoWriMo 2014, and the best way to describe it thus far is ‘not bad‘. I came into this year’s event completely unprepared – I just didn’t do much beyond decide a concept for the story. This was certainly no master stroke, it was a combination of being busy with personal commitments and really struggling with enthusiasm to be honest. A bit of a departure from my first & last attempt in 2011, but my story idea this year also didn’t delve so much into any particular history or other real factual stance.
That said, here I am. After 8 days, I’ve done about 9,000 words – that’s fewer than the run rate of 13,333, but similar my last attempt, where it wasn’t until day 16 that I hit the run rate, which was lucky as I knew I had to finish 2 days early due to a business trip, whereas this month I should have until the 30th.
Enough of that, let’s talk about what I have done. The story is unfolding fairly well I think – I’ve established a morally ambiguous protagonist, and since this person reincarnates, I’ve already got female and male ‘versions’ on the go. There is also the mysterious and obligatory megacorp out to do bad things. Or are they? One thing I’m trying to do this time is make the morality of the various parties a little less clean cut.
So far almost all of the writing has been done on my Lenovo laptop in the beta version of Scrivener for Linux, on Mint 17 though I did do a few hundred words in the ‘real’ Scrivener on the MacMini also. So where have I been writing? Here’s a sample:
– The dining table – away from other distractions, and with a bit more space.
– The coffee table – sat on the floor, with a different view.
– The computer desk – I only did this once, at the Mac Mini, it just doesn’t seem to work for me.
– In the Kua Aina Burger Emporium – they have wide tables, and acceptable tea and coffee. Burgers are a bit expensive though so I haven’t actually been eating them.
– JR Tokaido Green Car train – this actually went quite well, but it’s too pricey to make a habit of.
As far as a soundtrack, or playlist goes, I’ve been listening to the Rathole Radio podcast a little lately, and trying tracks from that – mainly Creative Commons licensed works – specifically Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys with their “Soft Time Traveler” album.
As for a story title, I have a few in mind, which is amazing for me – I’m terrible with coming up with story titles. I’ll wait till next week to mention any, and see which ones are still with me. Right, back to the story.
I was looking for somewhere different to go on the bike for a few hours, and using a tried, trusted and very scientific method, I looked at my map to see where there were very few roads, thinking fewer roads meant a generally quieter area. It didn’t take more than a minute to see the Tanzawa area in central Kanagawa. With all the research I needed done, I got a fresh flask of tea, the camera, hopped on the bike and off I went.
There’s a rough route here on Google Maps (I hope this works – it’s been a bit hit and miss lately):
There are actually several ways to get to where I needed to go, but I thought I’d get some faster roads in to warm up, and avoid some traffic, so I took the quick Fujisawa bypass down to the coast, did a little on the 134 before cutting north on the 61 up to Isehara. Isehara is a notable place for me since it’s where I lived for two years on my first tour in Japan, teaching English in schools on the JET programme. It seems not much has changed, a few new places, more car parks, but it still seems as nice a small town as it was.
Contrast that with Route 246 which is as comically evil road out here in Kanagawa as it is in central Tokyo. It’s not a fun road on two wheels, but fortunately on this day, it wasn’t too bad, and most of the drivers were relatively sane.
It was route 70 I really wanted though, and the climb into the mountains aiming for the Yabitsu pass, so just before Hadano I made the right and began the ascent though increasingly relaxed housing, more fields and a great view of the mountains.
I’ll be honest, I somehow managed to take a wrong turn, for which I blame my being easily distracted by small and interesting looking roads. I realised my error when I… ran out of road. This was to be something of a theme for the day.
I soon got back on track, and onto the important job of loving the road and the scenery, it’s just a great little area to go and look it. It also seemed popular with cyclists.
There are a number of things to see along the way, some small shrines, which aren’t really notable, and a few viewing points, which give great vistas of the towns below.
There’s a small service area at the beginning of the Yabitsu Pass. OK, there are some vending machines and a toilet at the start of the Yabitsu Pass to be honest, but don’t worry about that, it’s fairly secluded, and offers just kilometre after kilometre of beautiful twisty roads, shaded tree cover, mountains, and small rivers running down these small valleys.
On the day I went there were also quite a few hikers which is great, but I noted many walked on the left, and not (per international convention I thought) facing oncoming traffic, which would be their right, so be careful on real hairpins, since not only could there be someone walking on the road, but they may well have their backs to you. I think this was a bit of an issue for the cyclists a few times.
I love twisties, have I ever mentioned that? I don’t ride a bike for speed, I just like seeing what’s out there, meeting people at stops, and winding, winding roads, and this area is great for that.
There also seem to be a lot of camp sites around the area, so I’ve pencilled them in for next year.
As you come out from the Pass, you start to skirt Lake Miyagase, which looks stunning, and is actually a man made lake supplying water for much of east Kanagawa and Tokyo, so if you look carefully you can see dead trees just below and protruding through the water line.
The colour of the rocks, the water and the treeline just looks so different to many of Japan’s lakes, and is quite a contrast to the very green feel of the place.
The lake has several smaller rivers feeding it, so I chose a road that followed one which the map suggested ended closest to mount Tanzawa, and headed up. More twisties! There were some small collections of houses, presumably for farmers, and the required white kei vans, coming and going, and more and more, signs were for hikers, pointing out hiking routes and estimated walking times. The roads started to get narrower, and there were more pieces of rocks and leaves in the middle.
Along the way I came across and angling farm, if that’s what they’re called, so I pulled over to have a look. At a turn in the river, a makeshift gravel carpark (and BBQ spot I suspect) had been created and several pools with weirs of rock built for fishermen to fish their own spot.
It looked like a lot of fun if that’s your thing, and each pond was well stocked. It looked a bit rigged if you know what I mean, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it. Yes, I know nothing about angling.
Further on, I made another wrong turn and hit another dead end, retraced my steps, and got back on route, and saw some beautiful waterfalls, but it was increasingly obvious that the road was not well travelled at this time of year – branches on the road, a rock slide, a stream flowing across it, and even a snake at one point. Some bent barriers also suggested a few drivers had been a little over enthusiastic on the corners.
I pushed on, taking care between the rocks, and trying to avoid branches in case they also turned out to be snakes, whilst at the same time trying to enjoy the view as the road was now quite high above the small river below.
Finally though, as all good things must come to an end, this did in the shape of two large steel barriers across the road, which didn’t entirely come as a surprise since the 50m of road up to them was basically a rock track.
That then I decided was the end of the run, and I headed back the way I came, stopping to take some photos of the lake, waving to a few bikers as they passed, and felt a little sad that this place was so close and yet I’d never ventured up here. I am planning to come back as part of a group next time, and perhaps we can try some other roads.
It has been three years since my first (and last) attempt at National Novel Writing Month in 2011, and though I enjoyed it, and was successful, I just didn’t get to do it in either 2012 or 2013. However, that was then, and this is now, and I’m ready to do it again. I even have a story in mind, and potentially, just potentially, a title. I’m terrible at coming up with story titles. Also, I use too many commas.
If you have no idea what NaNoWriMo is, check out their FAQ, and by all means give it a try – it doesn’t start till November 1st., so there still the option to create an account.
This year again, I’ll be using Scrivener (also a sponsor of the event) but this time, it’ll be mostly written on my GNU Linux based laptop in the beta version of Scrivener.
Another quick 1 second a day video. More of Tokyo and the suburbs, and a couple of days in Okinawa. I think I got a little more variety, but there’s still some similar shots which means I need to plan a little more! It’s surprising how addictive and helpful these short shot collages are.
Whenever I get a half day to take a run out on the bike, there’s always the decision to be made about whether I should go somewhere new, take some random turns, get off the beaten track, or go somewhere I know, tried and tested. Not always, if ever, an easy decision.
Earlier this week then, when I got that time, I went conservative and decided to do a run I know I can get through in about 6 hours, even with some vital stops for tea: down the Pacific coastal route 134, then up to the Dammtrax Cafe near Hakone in the mountains, then down the toll based Izu Skyline. Then back pretty much the same way.
I’ve written about this route before simply because I really like it – I even did a video for it over a year ago:
For me it kicks off with some nice straight and fast roads down towards the beach with great head-on views of Mt. Fuji in the morning mist, then out along route 134.
At 7am, there’s not usually much traffic, but since they’re widening the whole thing right now, there were some road works, but those of us on two wheels can usually get down the sides without too many problems – it’s worth noting that the vast majority of Japanese car drivers are quite happy to stay away from that left hand curb and give riders some space. Unless you’re being really obnoxious anyway.
It’s a mix of toll roads – none of them too expensive – until this point, but I usually take them over the free local routes to get that nice elevation above the beach and ocean. You can ride along, see the early morning fishermen on the piers and the beach, the waves coming up the beach – it’s very relaxing. Along this section there’s a service area often used as a meeting point for bikers, so if you’re looking for a quick drink and a chat with like minded individuals, it’s great. I remember stopping in early one February, the kind of morning where ice was forming on the front of bikes – chilly. Unlike on those spring and summer days when the place is packed, there were just three of us, all out on our own, clutching hot drinks next to the bikes, generally not understanding those who don’t ride year round, and also realising it was likely us that were a bit nuts
That beach section, like most roads here, is in good condition, but as it’s been assembled in concrete sections, you get that rhythmic bounce at each join, like a train on it’s tracks.
There are a few routes into the mountains, but the two I usually choose between are the Toyo Tires Turnpike, and the Hakone Pass. The latter is free, but the Turnpike takes you straight to the cafe, and I think is a more entertaining ride up.
Either way, from here on out, it’s twisties, twisties and more twisties.
The Dammtrax cafe is a part of a general service area – it would like to be the smaller sibling of the famous Ace Cafe near London – and has a lot of photos and memorabilia from that place, but it’s not, it’s a corner of a food hall which also offers ice cream and ramen. That’s not to say it doesn’t have the idea – the staff are great, you can buy random biker items, and on most days, you’ll be sat with a bunch of bikers. The car park is huge though, and in the spring and summer months, owners clubs, manufacturers and other motor vehicle related vendors set stands up to sell their products and often have giveaways. In peak season you could probably spend a couple of hours just looking around at all the cars, bikes and talking to the people.
From here though, it’s a short run down route 20 to the upper entrance to the Skyline, and from there, it’s just over 40Km of fun. There are places to stop along the way, and at the halfway mark there’s a service area which sell the usual Japanese selection of gift foods and vegetables and food.
One odd thing along the route, a few kilometres from the beginning is an abandoned building, claiming to be an Energy and Environment Building, if you’re into abandoned building (‘haikyo‘) then this one might want to go on your list. I didn’t go inside, just walked the perimeter; I like the design, and that there’s a drive in ramp (though not I suspect for vehicles really). I’ve ridden past it so many times, but never stopped. Next time I’m up there I might take a closer look at the ramp.
The Skyline is a great road though, good surface, plenty of slopes, turns and enough straights that you can escape slow cars and buses if you get unlucky enough to be behind one. Don’
There’s also a lot of places to pull over for photos, since the road gets you great views of Fuji on one side, and the ocean coast on the other. If you keep your eyes open (so to speak) you’ll also see the odd farm track leading off the road – I’ve followed a couple of these, and they are a lot of fun. This time I rode up one for a few kilometres, and it was great to see a camp site I didn’t know existed, and a really nice stream and some waterfalls- a good place for a cup of tea from the flask.
The end of the Skyline is always a bit of a let down – there’s nothing there after the toll booth – just a long closed down restaurant place. A weird anticlimax, it’s also not very photogenic, though like the Energy Museum, I should probably look into it’s history.
As a country with a spine of mountains and volcanoes, Japan not only gets a lot of snow, it gets a lot of good snow, and has built some great snow resorts up around them, which is possibly another reason why the country has hosted the Winter Olympics a couple of times (1972 & 1998). It’s also the reason why one of the first things I did when I moved here was to take up snowboarding.
This year for our family snow trip, we went up to Kiroro in Hokkaido. As far as I know, Kiroro has not held an Olympic event, but represents another type of Japanese snow resort – the bubble resort. It was built during the height of Japan’s economic bubble in the 1980’s and has well appointed hotels and facilities, which are wearing a little bit, and the place has the feel of something a little over done, but still shows how Japan likes to do things. This is the first time we’ve been back in 6 years (2008, 2006, 2004).
There are two main hotels there with not much else around, as it was a purpose built resort. We stayed at the Mountain Hotel, which is closer to the main slopes, but a few minutes by free shuttle bus down the road is The Piano Hotel which has a large souvenir shopping area, and some more bars.
The are a good selection of courses, though there aren’t that many truly difficult runs, so it’s a relaxing venue, and it’s a resort which likes to leave a fair amount of powder around, especially on the edges of the pistes, which means you can play on the more groomed central areas, then branch off into powder and light trees.
By the time we went in early January, a small ramp of snow had formed at the edges of the pistes, meaning you could get some speed up and ramp into deep powder and between some trees. The powder was so light it was more like surfing at times, pushing down on that back leg and lifting the front up to stop from face planting or just plain stopping due to a lack of traction. Mine is an old 2000 Nitro board which doesn’t flex much, so by the end of a few powder intensive runs, that back leg was getting a little tired. Also, I will admit I had to paddle out a few times from waist deep powder when enthusiasm got the better of me. It was snowing so much that tracks were covered by your next run, and some people were struggling to keep going on the flatter areas.
The nighter course is pretty good too, well lit, and has a good covered 4 person lift up. Regarding the nighter, they have an ‘evening’ pass, and a ‘nighter’ pass – the former is about 1000 yen more and gets you an extra hour.
Thankfully, a day lift pass gets you the nighter included, which is nice, because I know some resorts which charge extra for that. I also didn’t see a ‘first run’ fee, which is another bolt-on extra some resorts started doing a while ago.
I also spent a day on my skis and really enjoyed it – likely because they have some gentler slopes for that, and skis are still not something I’m competent on, but I do enjoy them, and it means I can ski with my eldest, though she outpaces me nowadays. Wait till next year and we’re both on boards!
If you have a family, it’s good for the children’s ski school and activity centre which isn’t too expensive in comparison to some resorts, and they’ve gotten the kit rental for kids well integrated. As ever in Japan nowadays, the quality of the rental kit was excellent, the teachers were good and if you need it, a few spoke some English. There’s a large section of the area in front of the hotel dedicated to a family lift, a children’s play area and a sledging area, all of which is kept separate from the main ski areas.
The weekdays were very quiet which was great for us, and even at the weekend, it never got crowded. Also at the weekend, they had a DJ booth in the hotel snow centre, run by the local radio station, Air G FM in Hokkaido, who drive the music for the resort, take some requests and hold competitions, which actually added quite a bit of energy to the whole resort (snowboarding to old Wham songs was a bit odd).
The only downside to Kiroro is the cost, specifically of evening meals. The breakfast buffet is often included with the hotel price, and it had a decent selection. Lunch either on the mountain or in the hotel restaurant was also reasonable for a snow resort, such as ramen running from 980 – 1,300yen a bowl. However, you should be aware of the evening meal prices – they range from 4,200 – over 8,000yen per person – even a child’s meal in some restaurants cost over 2,000yen though we found one in the Piano hotel for 500yen but it was basically some soup and rice, and the adult meals were still over 4,200.
If you’re not on a package deal, be aware there aren’t any real supermarkets or restaurants outside of the hotels, so your only alternative is cup ramen and instant yakisoba from the snack shops in both hotels. We took this latter option as it was so much cheaper with 2 children, but also because it took us back to our roots on snow trips which we did things as cheaply as possible. There is a bus to Niseko which apparently takes an hour each way, but we didn’t explore that option.
The area doesn’t have the natural onsen spa baths some do, but the Mountain Hotel does have a ‘fake’ onsen, and a rotenburo, both of which were clean and well maintained. There’s something fantastic about spending the day on the mountain, washing off, then relaxing in pools of hot water for a while. Why more countries don’t have this, I have no idea. This was the first year I could take my son in too, and he loved it.
I’m not sure if we’ll be able to do another snow trip this year, but if this turns out to be the only one, I have to say I really enjoyed it. Kiroro is aging well, and whilst there are some pricing issues there, the place is a good place to spend a few days.
I mentioned in the last post about ‘boundary conditions’ and a quote from the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. Here it is. It’s in the fifth installment, where Arthur Dent is looking for information from an old man who lives up poles (and can seemingly teleport between them). He points out he only lives up poles in Spring, Summer and Autumn, as he goes south in the winter, to his beach house. He then explains why he bought the beach house:
A beach house doesn’t even have to be on the beach, though the best ones are. We all like to congregate at boundary conditions … where land meets water, where earth meets air, where body meets mind, where space meets time, we like to be on one side and look at the other.
The boundary condition part just stuck in my mind as another truism from THHGTTG – I think people are attracted to them, myself included. If you haven’t listened to Hitchikers you really need to do so – it’s a masterpiece of wit and observation.