Waseda Students on Break Part 3 – Snow AdventureMon, Mar 23, 2020
One Saturday, a few weeks ago, I struck up a conversation with a tourist from Australia. I asked her about her experience in Japan so far, what brought her here, and the things she wanted to do during her stay. She had had a great experience to date and in response to my question about her plans, her response was, “To see the snow.” She and her friend have traveled all the way from Australia to see Japan’s snowy mountains and snowboard its white slopes. Skiing and snowboarding are extremely popular in Japan and are also major attractions to foreigners. Many of the Waseda students I’ve talked to wanted to take advantage of their proximity to the snowy mountain ranges during the school break. Many clubs, including Waseda International Circle and Niji no Kai went on ski and snowboarding trips over spring break. The following article features the story of Genesis and her experience on Niji no Kai’s ski trip.
Genesis, a student with the Center of Japanese Language, is on exchange to Waseda for a yearlong program. When she first arrived at Waseda, Niji no Kai had promoted their club during her orientation. Their club planned various trips and events throughout the year, including a three-day ski trip over spring break. About a month before winter break, she started to get notifications on the Niji no Kai group chat about the circle’s upcoming snow camp. She signed up and a few weeks after the end of the semester, she was off to Togari Onsen Ski Resort.
She woke up early to meet the club at Shinjuku Station by 6:30. Sleep still tugged at her barely conscious mind, but she had to get moving, taking the additional 30-minute commute from her house to Shinjuku. With the help of the cold morning air, she was fully awake by the time she arrived at the station. She met up with the rest of the club just before their time of departure and headed to Nagano Prefecture by bus. With the ski resort being 270 kilometers away, the early departure was necessary to avoid traffic and to arrive at the ski resort with enough time to fit the students with rental equipment, teach the beginners the basics, and to do several runs down the mountain before the end of the day.
The bus ride being so long, Genesis was able to catch up on lost sleep. They stopped a few times for bathroom breaks and snacks and had a quick lunch of combini food. Lunch being taken care of, they headed straight for the snow upon their arrival. Genesis rented snow gear which included snow wear, snowboard or ski, boots, and accessories for about ¥3000 (30 USD). The rental was good for all three days. Once the students were outfitted for the snow, they headed out into the cold air.
This was Genesis’s first-time snowboarding and she was both nervous and excited. Having grown up in Southern California where dry heat and cool winters were the norm, there were very few opportunities to go and play in the snow. Thankfully, she wouldn’t have to face Nagano’s frozen mountains alone. There were a handful of beginners and the more experienced club members were more than willing to help out the first timers. Her training started off with strapping one foot into the board and using her other foot to propel her forward, somewhat like skateboarding. She had expected the board to glide smoothly through the snow, but she was met with resistance; only sliding a few inches at a time. She tried to slide and steer her board, but it felt awkward. Her clothing was bulky, and it was difficult to move her feet in the clunky boots. Her legs felt clumsy as she tried to slide, stop, and correct herself. After giving it a few tries, she still felt awkward but, it was time to move on to the next thing.
She was instructed to sit on the snow with the board in front of her. Her other foot was strapped in and one of the experienced students helped her stand. Standing with both legs strapped onto the board was another challenge. It required leg muscles she didn’t know existed. She was shown how to stand, position her arms, slide, and stop. They told her to face forward, the board lengthwise under her, parallel with the slope. She could slide by shifting her weight forward slightly without letting the front of the board bite into the snow. If that happened, the board would come to an abrupt stop while propelling the rest of her body forward into the snow. She could then break by shifting her weight back, digging her heels into the snow. Breaking completely without falling over was difficult. She had to shift her weight back and sit on her heels without going too far back as to upset her balance. The tendency was to either go back too far and fall or lean back too far, try to correct by leaning forward, overcompensating, and fall with arms flailing. Either way, the result was often the same.
On top of the regular challenges that comes with learning a new skill, it began to rain. When moving downhill, the rain wasn’t so bad. The exertion from snowboarding kept the body warm. However, riding the ski lift back to the top of the mountain was miserable. The lift moved slowly, exposing the rider to the wind and rain, unable to do anything but wait. The rain continued to pour down without mercy, and soon enough, the cold wetness seeped through the snow pants and jacket, even though they were water resistant. Despite the rain and sore legs, they powered through the afternoon, concluding the day at the hotel’s public bath. Soon enough, the hot water washed away the aches, pains, and cold that had seeped into her bones. After dinner, Genesis went to bed and rested up for another day of snowboarding.
They had perfect weather the following day with a breakfast buffet of traditional Japanese food. After breakfast, they were back out onto the snow. Having learned more control, she felt more confident on the board and successfully made it down the slope without any help. It was slow work, but she was getting it. The soreness from the previous day was tolerable but her muscles ached as the day progressed. After lunch, she and her friend went down the hill a few more times then, headed back to the hotel to relax.
That night, the club hosted a get together. The president of Niji no Kai went around the group and spoke with everyone. He only knew a little bit of English, but he tried to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable. Genesis said that a lot of the first-year Japanese students don’t know a lot of English and most of the international students only knew a bit of Japanese. So, there was a language barrier between the two groups. However, a lot of Japanese students join the club wanting to practice their English and international students often want to practice their Japanese. Genesis said that even though there is a barrier, it is important to initiate conversation. It may be awkward and halting but that comes with trying to learn any language. Since both sides are trying to learn, it’s okay to make mistakes and not understand everything completely.
The following day, they spent the morning in the snow then headed back to Shinjuku in the afternoon. The trip had its highs and lows. Genesis was able to try snowboarding for the first time and do it for three consecutive days. Having snowboarded myself, I know that one day of snowboarding can be trying, much less three. It was difficult and uncomfortable at times, but she persisted. By the end of the trip, she could stand up on her own and get down the hill without any assistance. The weather on the first day was horrible but it was perfect the following day. In many ways, language learning is mirrored by this story. One starts out with the awkwardness of foreign sounds to one’s mouth, followed by the mental strain of learning, and external obstacles that hinder progress. There are good days and bad days. However, with persistence and perseverance, it concludes in a new level of competence. That level might not be fluency, but it is a level of mastery not previously attained. The study abroad experience will be full of highs and lows, new experiences and challenges. But if you power through the obstacles, you will learn new lessons and life skills along the way.
Advice for Students:
- Don’t be afraid to speak to your fellow Japanese students. They’re also trying to learn English, so they understand that learning a new language is difficult.
- Try to communicate in Japanese even if you only know a few words. It’s okay to make mistakes.
- By joining an international club, you’ll end up with Japanese friends as well as friends from all over the world. Try to befriend both and don’t let language barrier get in the way.
Location: Togari Onsen Ski Resort in Nagano Prefecture
Length of Stay: 3 days, 2 nights
- Meet at Shinjuku
- Travel to Nagano by bus
- Lunch on the way to resort
- Sento (public bath)
- Relax at the hotel
- Niji get together
- Returned to hotel to pack
- Spent time with fellow students
- Left for Shinjuku Station
- Arrived at Shinjuku
*This article was written and contributed by the following student.
Gabriella de Asis
Exchange Student from California State University, Northridge
(Currently studying at Waseda’s School of International Liberal Studies)