Thursday, April 12, 2007

stinky ski-ing in hokkaido

You can probably ski. I can't, but who cares? It's nearly summer and by the time global warming is done with you, you'll be too tanned, hiding from the storms to scared to care . The first time I ever set off down the snowy slopes , (this is leaving aside the tin trays and bikes of my youth, I was Snowploughing!) I crashed into a fellow Scout who had just broken his leg and was inconveniently lying motionless and in my way. I had to walk off the hill carrying both his sticks and skis and mine as penance while he, the lucky bastard, was carried off pretending to be in pain. As I stumbled down the hill trying to control an impossible array of unruly lengths of wood, he even had the temerity to scream. Trying to impress the girls no doubt. I was even made to visit him for several weeks after, while he skived off school with a large plastered legcast which all the girls seemed to sign when I wasn't there.

I always thought ski-ing was about freezing your nuts off, being permanently wet, sniffling and sipping hot toddies every night to ward off the world's worst chill. This is because I learnt at Aviemore and Glenshee in Scotland, the winterperson's winterplace. I'm not saying it wasn't fun, it certainly was at the time, how we laughed at the permanent closure of the road connecting Cockbridge to Tomintoul, but some years later it came as something of a surprise to discover that you could ski in sunshine, surrounded by elegant smiling people who appeared to be wearing teeshirts rather than cagoules, with suntans rather than pinched, cold, wet blue noses (and I don't mean that in a religious way). From the Alps to the Rockies: warmth, comfort, and apres ski which didn't involve sprinting through cold, freezing rain.

But a little hardship does you good, so the frozen cold of Hokkaido in Northern Japan wasn't too daunting, I just didn't expect to stink so much.....

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Before he died at the tender age of 101 Keizo Muira owned the Muira Ski School at Teine, outside Sapporo City in Hokkaido which was where I met him, flying down the hill at speed, looking for all the world like a man half his age. British centenerians generally explain that they have reached the Queens telegram with a diet of fried lard, 100 fags a day and a port and lemon for breakfast. Mr Muira, made of slightly sterner stuff enjoyed, among other things, brown rice. I think he ran the place since the Olympics were held there thirty odd years previously but the last I heard, after he'd ski-d down Mont Blanc at 99, he was celebrating his 100th by ski-ing down someplace in Utah. Gawd rest 'is soul, 'e was as fine a specimen of the species as you're ever likely to meet. Although to be honest, brown rice makes me puke.

I look back on my time in Hokkaido with a sense of wonder. Yes, we were there for the ice and snow sculpture show where the army press together many tons of hard packed white stuff to fashion life size jumbo jets and mickey mouse sculptures which the Japanese have loved for many centuries, and yes we toured the Sapporo Beer brewery in the freezing cold, determined to drink ourselves stupid in the alloted time you're given for "unlimited beer". And yes, we went for dinner one night to the Genghis Khan, a bar-b-q hall where lamb is cooked (by you) on top of moon shaped griddles at your table. The meat doesn't stick because you spoon the fat over the top, creating palls of smoke and acrid smells. Fine, who cares, ain't ya been to a barb-b-q before? Yes, I have, but not one where you check your coat in and rather than hang it up they put it inside a plastic bag and hand it back to you. It's the smell of the cooking you see. Repulsive. Lasts for days. (But at least your coat escapes). At the karaoke bar that night we were given the special corner table, well away from the hoi polloi, some of whom even moved further away in deference to the arrival of some elegant and finely turned out strangers.

The most beautiful thing I have seen in Japan, and that's saying something in a country of such intense beauty, was in Hokkaido. At a crossroads, where the snow had been ploughed aside to clear the sidewalk, each of the four corners was marked by a clear ice bollard, about three feet high. Inside each bollard was a fish, frozen as if swimming in midstream. (you can imagine, the Japanese being so up on animal and fish rights they no doubt gave Goldie a painless death. Yeah, right) Each fish was different (well obviously) and each, in the crystal clear ice, shimmered in the morning sun.

It was so beautiful I think I dreamt it. .

6 comments:

Brit in Hokkaido said...

The army help out to create the huge ice sculptures on Odori, but a lot of the smaller ones are done by local community groups and businesses too.

The last time I went for Ghengis Khan I asked for a bowl of rice as I am female and can't just eat plates of meat for dinner. the waitress looked at me like I was mad! I know what you mean about the smell though...

nationwide said...

But did I dream the roadside fish? That really bugs me. Not Googleable and I have no pix. Grrr.

Brit in Hokkaido said...

No. I doubt it. Sounds v familiar to me...

nationwide said...

God, what happened to my reply? It got lost. Anyway, it said thankyou and you're very lucky to stay there and I'm jealous and I read your very enjoyable blog, having been introduced by another blogster, the very witty Hfactor.

Brit in Hokkaido said...

Yes H is very funny, isn't she.

nationwide said...

yes