Sitting here in Furano, sheltered from the below-zero temperature outside by the warmth of Pension Furanui, it's difficult to imagine I was in the heat of the Australian summer just a few days ago. It's quite surreal being here - I have been planning and dreaming of coming to Japan to live for three or four years now, and here I am. Not where I plan to be living and settle down for the year, but nevertheless I'm in the country.
It was quite an emotional journey getting here - sadness at leaving people behind in Australia, anticipation and a little fear of what lay ahead as well as a somewhat-buried excitement. It was a long and exhausting trip, but once I was on the bus heading from Narita airport in Tokyo to Haneda airport and my accommodation for the night, it clicked that I was in Japan. That I was finally here pursuing the dream I had for so long. It's a great feeling!
I checked into my hotel at Haneda airport (so far, everyone I had dealt with, in the hotel and airport, spoke enough English to make it easy for me) and headed out in search of dinner and a much desired glass of cold beer. At that moment, I truly knew I was in Japan. I could see no other foreigners in sight, only Japanese people, and a bunch of shops either selling sweets or offering meals to weary travellers, the shopkeepers and workers blaring out what I assume were promotional spiels for the wares they peddled. After traversing the restaurants on offer, I found one with a reasonably priced (which in Japan, at least from my experience so far, still means quite expensive) meal I was interested in - fried Salmon steak, rice, miso and the cold beer I sought. This was my first Japanese-only speaking experience, and it went okay. At least at restaurants you can point and just hand money over.
The next day I caught my flight to Asahikawa, on the northern island of Japan, Hokkaido. When I got off the plane it was -7 degrees outside, which I'm pretty sure is the coldest temperature I'd ever been in (so far). I caught a bus to Furano, and stepping off it, Laden with my 25kg pack (I managed to avoid two excess baggage charges with that one, too!) and smaller backpack, I of course slipped over nearly straight away on the snow. It so happened that an American woman was walking by and saw me, and told me about a guy she thought was Aussie who ran a shop ten metres down the road that sold snow grips for shoes. Of course, the next stop was that very shop, and 1500 yen later my dignity was saved. Turns out the guy was Kiwi named Jaan, and I hired my gear from there too.
I checked in and had some dinner at a nearby ramen restaurant. The lady was very nice and spoke a little English. I spoke to her in Japanese, exhausting nearly every grammar point and sentence I knew how to say, but it was good practice, and I'm very glad of the study I've done over the past two years to get my Japanese to at least a basic level. Unfortunately the pumpkin ramen, while delicious, came with two rather large slices of pork in the bowl (I didn't think it would, considering it seemed vegetarian, but I'm starting to learn not to assume that in Japan). I didn't want to be rude, so I ate around them and was thankful for the fact they didn't secrete their meaty taste into the soup. She offered me an origami crane, a Japanese good luck charm, which was great.
That brings me to today, my first full day in Furano. I had some breakfast at the pension (western style, sadly - I was hoping for Japanese style, but I'm not going to turn down a free meal when it's all so pricey) and dressed to go snowboarding. I soon remembered what I had learned the first time snowboarding in New Zealand, and had some fun crusing down the slopes, trying my best not to take out every other skiier and boarder on the hill. I think I looked the part too, in my brand new ski jacket and pants - warm, comfortable and stylish (as well as being green and brown :P).
After lunch I had a lesson booked in. I had asked for the lesson in English, since I didn't think my Japanese would be good enough to survive an entire lesson. Turns out I was correct, despite the fact that my instructor didn't think so. I learned a lot, and spoke a fair bit of Japanese. The instructor would speak to me in Japanese unless I didn't understand, which was really good practice.
Despite the fact that the sun was out for most of the day, towards the end of the lesson it started snowing heavily and the wind picked up. As a result it got very cold, very quickly. My instructor thought it was about -10 degrees, ridiculous! I intended to do some more boarding after my lesson (it finished at 3:30, my pass was until 5:30) but after one run my fingers were so frozen they were practically numb, so I decided to call it a day. A nice warm shower later and I'm sitting here writing this. It's about time to seek out some dinner and a cold beer, then have a quiet night. I'm pretty tired after dragging my lazy arse up and down the slopes all day, but I feel good and happy to be here.
They have vending machines everywhere here... there's one sitting just out in the middle of the snow outside, it's crazy. You can buy cold beer from some machines too, which is a nice touch. I've been drinking Japanese beer like it's going out of fashion! Sapporo beer tastes so good on tap.
Alright, the ramen are calling and I've crapped on long enough - perhaps you're not even reading this anymore. It's annoying typing on a Japanese keyboard- hopefully I can get an adaptor for my Mac tomorrow and charge it up; there's free net here, I just need power.
Photos coming soon! They require the aforementioned power adaptor for my mac.