Thursday, February 27, 2020

Cultural immersion in Hokkaido

A big drawcard for me in accepting this particular job in Japan was that I would be working for a small Japanese company, at a ski resort not over run by foreigners (ie Australians!) and would be living and working amongst Japanese nationals. Anyone who knows how much I love to live like the locals when I go travelling can see that this opportunity was right up my street....

A couple of days after arriving I needed to go to the local municipal council office and register as a local resident. Every person in Japan has to do this, and must register again every time they move to a new residence. The office has huge books full of street maps, so they can identify exactly which house you are living in. Kind of Big Brother, but that's just the way it is.

Our staff house had a mixture of long and short term residents, both Japanese and international. It was the meeting place for various gatherings, in particular the weekly English language class that Alex hosted. Although "hosted" was a rather loose term, because every week the Japanese staff would descend with copious quantities of food and alcohol, and cook up a veritable feast before lessons began. One of the Japanese instructors, Kuroda-san, baked a chiffon cake each week, topped with lots of cream. My favourite was the matcha flavoured one. Matcha flavoured desserts are so good....

Not a huge amount of formal lessons eventuated, but lots of conversational English made up for it. Here is a selection of food porn for you....

One day Yonehana-san, our big boss, was given some Cod by a fisherman friend, so his wife and Yamada-san (our resident chef) cooked up an amazing banquet, using all parts of the fish. The Shirako (look it up!) were spectacularly delicious. Who knew??

In January we attended the local school's Mochi festival. Mochi are pounded rice cakes, and this local festival has been around for a very long time, with all the school kids, parents and grandparents from the local community getting involved in making and eating them. We were invited because our boss's children went to the school, but with falling attendance, the school was closing down at the end of the school year. I'm glad I got to experience it, and everyone was so welcoming even though it was to be the final time.

A visit to Hokkaido is not complete without a visit to the Sapporo Snow Festival, unfortunately marred this year by warm temperatures and a lack of snow. But still fun, and I managed not to catch Covid-19 whilst there!

Closer to home Otaru hosts it's own snow festival, as does Winkel Village. This is because our boss, Yonehana-san, is on the local tourism board and thought up the idea a few years back. So we have a whole bunch of volunteers staying in the village, including some staying at our house, from Japan and Korea, helping out with the festivities. I had been to Otaru's Yuki Akari no Michi before, but had no idea of it's extent or origins.

Finally, a visit to Japan isn't complete without a visit to an onsen. Asari is an onsen town, so we had access to a number of local onsens at discounted rates, including one in the hotel next door. Needless to say I visited pretty regularly during my stay.

But all good things come to an end, and with a trek in Australia planned for the end of February, I bid goodbye to my new friends in Japan and flew back to Australia a mere wing and a prayer in front of a building pandemic.

That's next....

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