Yuzawa – The Little Snow Country to the North

1st in a series

Not being able to join the Japan tour three years ago was a big bummer. Japan is one of those countries people want to go to and check off their bucket list. It’s just awesome like that without even trying. Just hearing about it talked about, or read, or seen somewhere is enough to spark one’s imagination. Japanese culture exerts a strong influence on the world. There’s something about it that draws people in. One could understand the excitement and the fulfillment it brings me to be here. This is one of those things I can proudly say, ‘been there, done that’. Kudos to everyone who has been behind the success of this trip.

When we say ‘winter’, ‘ski resort’, or ‘snow’ in Japan, first thing that comes to mind probably are the more popular places to the north like Sapporo in Hokkaido, and Nagano.

Yuzawa, in the Niigata Prefecture however, is kind of under the radar, off-the-beaten-track, if you will (at least for the uninitiated).

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And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, you know. Seeing the glass half-full, one would appreciate the fact that you can, sort of like, have the whole of Yuzawa for yourself (yes, one does get that kind of feeling, even if just for rhetoric).

As of June 2016, the town only has an estimated population of 7,972. That’s just 22.3 persons per km²[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuzawa,_Niigata

As we say in the vernacular: “Pwede pang mag-tumbling sa loob” 🙂

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The whole place is blanketed in snow, and not a lot of people are on the streets. It’s like ‘the-world-is-my-playground’ kind of place.

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Due to its geographic location, this town has one of the highest annual snowfalls in Japan, earning it the moniker Snow Country (one of the many snow countries in the region called yukiguni, Japanese for heavy snow area).

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And as you can guess by now, skiing and snowboarding are its principal draw and main source of income during this season.

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Dealing with extremely cold weather is a challenge for tropical folks like us. We are not used to wearing extremely thick clothing (oftentimes several layers), with warmers especially on our extremities, where the cold would normally seep in. We find it restricting our movements. But, it is what it is. You wear it or you suffer the cold.

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Day 1 of our activity in Snow Country is snowshoeing – a form of hiking which uses snowshoes. The way it works is it distributes the weight of the body so that the foot does not sink into the snow completely, also known as flotation (can also be spelled floatation). We went to this place where the snow is about knee- to waist-deep in some places.

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We were asked to put on the proper gear to walk on snow. Now, if you think walking on snow is easy, think again.

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Photo courtesy of Stephen Tamba

Well, actually, it depends on a host of different factors: how long the trail is, for example; how steep the incline, how thick the snow is, etc. It can be really exhausting though, if you ask me, what with the weight of the clothing bearing you down. I find myself sweating inside my clothes towards the end of the trail. Also because being the first person in line after the instructors (on the second half of the trek), there is pressure to catch up with them seasoned folks (around 6-feet tall-ish Caucasians who have such huge gait). Maybe it needs a little getting used to.

I kind of learned from that experience so the next time around, I removed a layer from my five-layer attire. You kind of acclimate to the weather as you go along, too 🙂

It was fulfilling finishing the trail because we were already anticipating something good at the end of it – food! But wait, one gets to work for it first. It’s time to make soba noodles! Yehey!… (Nooo! We’re already famished, haha!)

The soba we made were served two-ways, one as hot noodles with soup and the other is cold like salad, with dipping sauce and wasabi on the side. They say among locals, the cold is the preferred choice.  I am yet to agree to that. Right now, I need a hot bowl of noodles. They also served us a basket of tempura. It satiates our hunger. We capped it off with hot tea.