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A Camper Van and a Month in Japan.

A ski trip to Japan has been talked about for many a year now, but finally this past August we said “fu%k it” and pulled the trigger and bought plane tickets. Flying half way across the world for a ski trip when we have so many mountains in our back yard may sound crazy, but not if you know anything about the winters in Japan. For those of you that don’t know, Japan has a recipe for making snow like no other country in the world. In the winter when frigid Siberian air masses cross the relatively warm Sea of Japan, an incredible amount of moisture evaporates from the surface of the ocean forming clouds. Eventually these clouds start to precipitate, usually in the form of snow. And when they encounter the formidable Japanese Alps and are forced higher into the atmosphere, the mountains wring out everything they’ve got. Hence JAPOW!!!!!

We had set the bar pretty high for this trip, higher then most far away, condition dependant activity trips I’d say. We’d watched enough ski movies to expect nothing less then knee to chest deep powder in beautifully gladed birch forests, delicious bowls of ramen, and udon, and  fresh sushi washed down with a crisp Sapporo and topped off with a relaxing Onsen (natural hot spring) It may not sound possible, but Japan actually exceeded the expectations listed above. The snow was deep and blower, it was basically impossible to have a bad meal, the beer was delicious (but really, when is it not?) and you could pretty much just ski into all of the onsens. What really took it next level though was the incredible culture that went along with all this. The people in Japan are by far the kindest I have encountered in all of my travels. No one will try to scam you, steal from you, harm you or disrespect you. They will chase after you down the street to give you back a tip you left and refuse to accept gratuities. They go out of their way to help you if you look lost or confused. ” Bow offs” are an actual thing in Japan. It’s when 2 people continually thank each other bowing back and forth till they get so low it is no longer possible. When you enter a restaurant the entire kitchen will holler a big hello to acknowledge your entrance and make you feel welcome, and when you leave everyone says good bye. The level of politeness the entire country shows towards each other and foreigners blew me away continually the entire month we were there.

Adorable doesn’t stop with the people of Japan there entire culture is “Kawaii” which translates to loveable, cute or adorable. Every sign, advertisement, and product has an animated doe-eyed, jovial characters on it. To tell you that the roads are icy there is an animated dancing snowman with a frowny face, the plastic barriers are smiling pink bunnies, even the road side construction signs show a big angry digger digging up a poor scared little pipe. It’s actually amazing.

Before I left, I had this picture in my head of Japan being this fast paced, high-tech futuristic country. While there are elements of that in large cities, for the most part Japan is really quite old-school and rural. The ski hills have the “once was” feeling from the boom/bust cycle of their economy. All of the infrastructure on the hill is  dated, lots of the chairs don’t spin and the ones that do are really really old. When the economy was good everyone skied and Japan built ski hills…. lots of them. There are SO many ski hills it’s crazy some are large and some only have one or two chairs and a few of them didn’t survive the bust of the economy and are left abandoned. The homes simple and basic, are heated with kerosene. Bathrooms are typically not heated and are freezing but the heated toilet seats and bathroom slippers make your time in there quite pleasant. Food is cooked very traditionally in simple kitchens using techniques that haven’t changed in generations and one can spend a lifetime mastering and refining just one dish. I saw one homeless person the entire trip, you could eat off the streets they are so clean and people just generally seem happy and healthy. Japan really has their shit figured out.

Another amazing thing about Japanese people is that they LOVE having their photo taken which was great for me:) I unfortunately lost one roll of film, but there was so much to photograph in this amazing country I got over it pretty quick. Here is Japan through my eyes.

For any other camera nerds out there I was using 1967 Nikon F1 and shooting Portra 160, Portra 400, Portra 800 and Fuji Supremia 400 films

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The adorable ski town of Myoko.

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Made a short pit stop to photograph some of the local Japanese shredders.

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roof top snow removal is a normal winter time chore.

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This was our favourite places to eat. They are know for their okonomiyaki, (which was out of this world) and amazing their personalities which I think shine through in this and the below photograph. We would sit at the bar drink sake and the chef would always surprise us with some sort of tasty speciality. It was hard to eat anywhere else. Also, how amazing is her apron?!!

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I really give credit to those photographers that forego participating in sports only to capture their friends doing rad shit. I took two ski photos the entire trip.

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Erik looking pleased about his new moustache.

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Classic Japan.

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Ski photo #2.

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Nowsowa Onsen with Mount Myoko in the distance.

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Snow removal.

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Buying treats.

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Morning drive.

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We made it up to Hokkaido and although the snow wasn’t as deep we did get some amazing weather which allowed for some awesome touring days.

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More classic Japan.

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tootling in the woods.

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shoppers.

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spent an afternoon in Sapporo… we were a huge hit with the kids.

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That dog was chubby and was wearing an adorable little jacket. It warranted a photo in my mind.

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The appropriately named pizza box chair. The seat is pretty much the size of a pizza box… medium, not large.

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Takoyaki out a van?! Yes please!

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Rural Hokkaido.

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Birch tree blur.

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Just some adorable old ladies.

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Never too old to throw a pick axe around.

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wandering around a cute little town.

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The lifties at our favourite hill were all old enough to be your grandpa. They are all farmers that have rice paddies in the summer and work on the hill in the summer. They are adorable.

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Erik and our 4 wheeled home for the month.

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As you can see from this photo crowds were a real problem in Japan.

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slidey sticks.

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Hokkaido vistas.

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Triangle shaped sustenance.

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A rad soba place we happened upon.

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A friendly face.

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A snot bar isn’t my idea of heaven but whatever.

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little fishes.

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fish market.

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Tamago on a stick.

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Even the cars in Japan are cute.

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A really cool old book store.

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We saw the ocean.

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prayers.

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Spent an afternoon at a bowling ally. These guys were our neighbours, the are all over 80 and were so awesome.

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1,2.3 BOWL!!!!!!!!

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Our one night in Tokyo we went to this rad izakaya and I ate and drank so much I puked.

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one of the many amazing dishes.

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Sake bottles.

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Some salary men we befriended, their generosity with the sake and plum wine and strange delicacies may have been the culprit for my eventual decline.

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Izakaya decor.

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Sake induced night photography

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Some fine taxidermy.

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The famous Tokyo fish market.

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Makin’ deals.

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The body that was attached to these tuna heads sold at market for over 10k.

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Matsumoto castle.

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4 Responses to “A Camper Van and a Month in Japan.”

  1. Jesse Gregory March 8, 2017 7:07 pm #

    Unreal Pics! Looks like you had a great time. We are planning to do a very similar Japan tour next season. Perhaps I could pick your brain sometime. Would appreciate any intel.
    JG

    • almathedog March 9, 2017 10:38 am #

      Thanks Jesse! I would be happy to share some intel with you guys… maybe next time you’re on the west coast we can meet up for a beer:) Hope all is well!

  2. Ann Holbek March 10, 2017 9:30 am #

    Thanks for the wonderful visual trip! Just what is a snot bar?

    • almathedog March 13, 2017 1:09 pm #

      I think it’s meant to say shot bar 😉

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