Feb 9, 2004

dailysoy on the slopes

Okay, so it's been a few days.

Rie and I headed up to her folks' place in Nagano for the weekend, hoping to find our ski legs one last time before the season ends. We usually stay close to Iiyama - there's a ski area just five minutes from their house - but since it was our third trip this winter, we decided to venture a little farther, to Shiga Kogen. I had been there with some other gaijin students several years ago, and since it's only an hour away from Iiyama I assumed Rie had too. Nope.

Not that it mattered. The place was huge, and we ended up riding a gondola to an area new to both of us. And the snow was great. I'm not a very experienced skier, but I think this stuff was the closest I've seen to the legendary "powder, packed powder" I remember hearing about as a kid on the radio ski condition reports. Never understood what that meant, or if it was even supposed to be good. It is.

And since it snowed the whole time we were there, we had a constant supply of fresh powder. So the skiing was fantastic, even if the air temperature wasn't. Next time we're buying full day passes instead of half-day, and we'll take scarves and masks and portable heaters.

Or we could go to one of these places.

The silly thing is, I almost enjoyed driving the rental car we took from Tokyo as much as I enjoyed skiing.

We don't own a car - The cost of fuel, parking and mandatory annual maintenance makes it impractical for us - so we naturally don't drive very much. Especially on the highways, which aren't free or even cheap. In fact, they're downright expensive. Of the four hours it took us from our home in Nerima, Tokyo to Rie's parents' place in Nagano, three hours were highway driving. Our toll? Over 5000 yen. So, at 107 to the dollar... over $45 anyway. Double that for a round trip, and that's about half what it cost to rent the car. You get the point.

But driving on the highway here is fun. Wouldn't want to pull an 8-hour shift, but 3 hours is about right. First thing, there's no such thing on this tiny rock as highway hypnosis - no road is straight enough for long enough. Secondly, once you get over the terror of being squeezed into a lane just slightly wider than the car you're driving, and can suppress the urge to force more distance between you and whoever's next to you, the sheer proximity to the other traffic can be exhilarating. And thirdly its... okay, so maybe it's not that great. But everything is backwards. Steering wheel on the right, driving on the left. Red means go. Etc.

When we arrived home in Nerima and unloaded all our luggage, we still had a couple hours before the car was due back. So we did something that let me cross one more item off my "Things to do in Japan" list - we cruised into the middle of town. Our apartment is well outside the Yamanote train line that runs an elongated loop around the several downtown centers, so our trip into the city, around the Imperial Palace, and back out again consumed the remaining time neatly. And with lots of flashy neon signage.

Alright, it's late and for some reason CNN is on our TV. I'm growing more and more distracted by noisy faces like Dubya and Michael Jackson and Larry King. And questions like, "Why have I never liked Martha Stewart?" and "What was so bad about Janet Jackson's halftime breast that all Soledad's Grammy commentary is focusing on how 'clean' and 'un-naughty' the show was, and that Beyonce 'was a real class act,' without making any specific reference to any real or imaginary naughty shows in recent history?"

Was that my imagination, or did Jacko just strike a pose for the courthouse security guard?


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