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What's The Japlan?

Fri Feb 20

- Landed in Tokyo. Jana was there to greet us. Got finger scanned and picture taken in Japanese. High security. Dropped off our bag at the black cat, Takhyubin. Well worth the $20 to send our luggage ahead and not drag it around the streets of Tokyo.

- Hopped on the Narita Express and disembarked at Shibuya station, home of the busiest crosswalk in the world. Made it to our AirBNB stay with surprisingly little trouble.

- We knew the apartment would be a bit tight for 4 people. Unfolded our mattresses, hooked up the ladder to the loft, and watched some Japanese TV.

- Went out for dinner to Onnadojo Teppen Shibuya. Had some trouble finding it, but eventually tracked it down. Worth it! Took off our shoes at the entrance and were lead to our sunken booth. Picked some Japanese style tapas, including sweet potato sticks, burdock (a root vegetable), avocado, fried chicken, and the 'meet Dorian' bowl.

- Upon leaving, our shoes were waiting for us by the door. The waiter continued to wave 'good bye' to us as we left, and ran after us with our mints that we forgot.

- On the way home we stopped at Tokyo Hands. Pretty tired, and didn't see a whole lot we wanted to look at.

Sat Feb 21

- Jana took a shower with no hot water.

- Headed down to the fish market. Bought some green tea kit-kats. Couldn't get into the actual market, as we were too late. Walked around and bought egg on a stick. Looked at knives.

- Went for matcha lattes at Douter. Took the subway over to the International Forum. Cool architecture. Bought some goods at the bakery. Went to the Imperial Palace area to eat them in the park.

- Took in a small view of the Imperial Palace (a corner of the roof) and then tried to find T's Tan Tan Ramen. We walked around forever, through the maze of the Tokyo subway stations. At one point, we gave up, and Heather went to buy some cloth. During that time, we managed to locate T's Ramen, which turned out to be perhaps our favorite meal of the trip (certainly the best ramen).

- Went and bought drinks and snacks at Tokyo Foodshow. Went back to the room, got cleaned up, had a few drinks, and went to the Park Hyatt for a drink at the New York bar (Lost in Translation bar). Took in the views from the 52nd floor. Bought tickets from the concierge for 'The Robot Show'.

- Took a taxi back towards the street with the Robot Restaurant in the Shinjuku area. The taxi had an unusual feature, the driver could pull a lever to open the door for you.

- Walked around the Golden Gai district, and popped into the The Albatross Bar. Tiny, tiny (but seated 11, huge by Golden Gai standards) , with a disco ball and Michael Jackson playing. Took the risk and ordered the homemade plum tequila, which turned out to be delicious.

- Made our way to the Robot Restaurant. Got our tickets, and headed down to the basement. Pretty trippy stairwell. So many colors. So many screens. Seated in our 2x2 gameshow booths (front row). Made us test the lean back level (should have been the 'duck your head' level).

- The drummers came out. Then the robots. So loud. So chaotic. Lasers. What is going on? Robots wrestling. People riding robot horses. Motorcycles. Singing. Dancing.

- Made our way back to the Shibuya area. Walked around for a while, and found a restaurant named Draemon. Wood-fired pizza, thin crust, delicious! As we left the restaurant, our coats were waiting for us. As we walked down the street a bit (with the servers calling 'bye' to us over and over, we discovered that there were hand warmers in our pockets, placed there by the restaurant. Japanese service for the win!

Sun Feb 22

- Went to a French bakery in Shibuya station for breakfast,

- Made our way to Asakusa to see the Sensoji Temple. Walked through a long row of vendors. Ate some sort of deep fried treat (green tea with bean paste in the middle, delicious). Bought a beer from a vending machine.

- Walked over to the Asahi building. Unfortunately it was closed. Walked back and checked out the cat cafe. Decided not to go in.

- Saw the Tokyo Skytree, but the top of it was in the clouds, and being a day with low visibility, we decided it wasn't worth going up.

- Took the train over to the Akihabara district (Tokyo's geek area). Bought a mouse (forgot mine at home). Walked around and tried to find the robot store, but couldn't.

- Started making our way to the Omotesando area, but first we stopped at a tempura and soba noodle place in the station (Sobaichi). We had to order from a touch screen, all in Japanese, so we didn't really know what we were getting, but it turned out to be delicious, and was one of the cheapest meals of the trip, at around 4 dollars.

- In the Omotesando district we first stopped into a place that had a robot. Chris played rock, paper, scissors with the robot. We're not entirely sure who won ("If you won, congratulations, if not, better luck next time!). The robot also had some pretty good kung-fu moves.

- Then we popped into a candy store. Walked up to the Audi Forum (cool architecture). Walked by a chocolate fondue place with a huge lineup. Took a look at the Tod's building (architecture). Went for another match latte at Douter.

- Decided to take the train all the way out to Yokohama to go to Cosmoworld. It was a bit of a trek to get there, and we ran into an issue with our train ticket not covering the fare. Finally though, we made it, and went on the 'underwater' roller coaster. Unfortunately we didn't have time for the large ferris wheel.

- Back in Tokyo, I went to Ichiran Shibuya by myself, where you order from a screen, and then are seated by yourself at a small booth. Below the curtain in front of you, the ramen is placed in front of you, without you ever seeing the server. After that, I went to Loft.

- Meanwhile, the girls tried to go for sushi at Umegaoka Sushi No Midori but the wait was so long (2 hours plus) that they decided to just get takeout instead. It was pretty good.

Mon Feb 23

- Got up early to get to the train station. Took the train to Nagano. We think Chris accidentally bought us a first class ticket, because it was by far the nicest train we had ever been on.

- At Nagano we caught a bus to Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, where the snow monkeys live. At first, we weren't sure we were going to make it, since the bus was filled completely, but another one pulled up right behind it.

- At Jigokudani we went into the museum nearby, which offered luggage storage. Then we started our short hike to the Snow Monkeys, along with a fair number of other tourists. The hike was through a fairly snow covered forest, descending down towards a river valley.

- Entering the park, we saw our first snow monkey right away. He didn't appear to be too fazed by the large number of tourists walking past him on the steps. It appeared most didn't even notice him sitting there.

- We walked down towards the river, where some of the monkeys were playing in the snow. There were also tourists with gigantic lenses trying to make the monkeys dance by ringing a bell.

- Next we went over to the hot pool area, where some of the monkeys were just chilling out, with a small army of tourists surrounding the pool. Again, this is just another day for the monkeys, who were completely at ease with the tourists. They are pretty interesting to watch, that's for sure. Their eyes were my favorite feature.

- We walked back and had lunch at a soba noodle place near the museum. We had tempura and dumplings that didn't have any filling.

- Went to pick up our bags, and *thought* we were going to take a taxi to Hachisu station, but that did not go as planned. After the taxi driver and the 2 museum workers discussed where we were trying to go for what seemed like 40 minutes, we gave up on the taxi idea, and decided to take the bus instead.

- While waiting for the bus, a guy with a van that read 'Snow monkey shuttle' on the side stopped at the bus stop, and offered us a ride for the same price as the bus. We gladly took him up on the offer.

- From Nagano station we took a bus to Nozowa-Onsen and found our accommodation, Kenashi Liftside House which turned out to be right on the ski hill, next to the lift. Very modern, with a ping pong table, and relaxing atmosphere.

- Checked in, met Jay, the very chill and relaxed manager. Tried to go rent our gear at the shop across the street, but the rental shop was closed. We popped a few beers into the snow, and played some No Thanks in the common area.

- Walked into town. Bought some breakfast for the next day, and some more drinks. Went for dinner at Pasta Di Pasta. Chris ordered 'Salad Pizza' thinking it was a mis-translated vegetarian pizza, but it turned out to be literally a salad on top of a pizza.

Tue Feb 24

- Got up early and went to get our rental ski gear. At the rental store we didn't have to give a credit card or any ID, and in fact cash was the only option available.

- Got to the hill by 8:30 AM, a new record for us. Unfortunately we were not rewarded with deep powder, but crunchy, very groomed runs. The area was experiencing a warm spell for the past week or so, and great snow was not to be found anywhere on the hill.

- At lunch we walked down the hill into town, and had some more Soba noodles. I tried some locally made beer, made from Soba.

- Skied some more. The snow started to soften up a little bit.

- One thing we noticed at the ski hill were a lot of announcements over the loud speakers. Everything from the weather, to announcements about people 'accidentally' taking each other's rental skis. These were always read by an Australian.

- A lot of the lifts also had wind covers that automatically came down.

- For the last run of the day we took the Skyline run back. Great run!

- Showered up, had a few drinks, and got ready for dinner.

- Went into town, and stopped for a drink at the Craft Beer Bar. Tried some beer made by Japanese micro-breweries. I had a tasty Belgian style white beer. Chris had a saison.

- Went for dinner at Wakagiri. Chris and Jana had sushi and tempura. Ordered by pressing a button on our table. Met some Aussies that had lived in Banff.

Wed Feb 25

- Walked down the hill again from Nozowa Onsen and caught the bus to Tagari Nozawa Onsen. From there we caught the train to Matsumoto station, switching in Nagano.

- Took the bus to Matsumoto airport (MMJ) and flew to Sapporo (CTS). Everyone on the ground crew waved as we took off. So did the people along the fence in the park. The flight attendants wrote each of us a nice little note in English, about the weather forecast, when we would be landing, etc.

- In Sapporo airport we had a quick lunch (soba and tempura, yet again). Hopped on the bus to Hirafu. Got picked up and dropped off at our accommodations (Fresh Powder apartments).

- Went to Rhythm to rent our gear. We were fitted with premium, expensive, rental gear. Custom Burton for me, and fat powder skis for Chris. Rhythm was very busy, and very full of Australians.

- Back to the apartment, which was pretty nice, and right next to the gondola station.

- Freshened up, and went out to buy some 500 yen muffins (at Mariposa).

- Stopped by the local SeicoMart, which was the busiest convenience store we've ever seen. Stopped up on drinks and snacks. Stood in a line that literally snaked throughout the entire store.

- Went for dinner at Lava Lounge Pizza. Heather caught up with us here, after her own day of travel. Ordered some expensive pizzas.

Thu Feb 26

- Woke up and ate our $5 muffins. Pretty good, but $5...

- Headed to the Niseko gondola lift. Heather complained about all the 'chumps' at the hill. A bit of fresh snow over night. Not the waist deep powder we were hoping for, but found some pretty good snow in the trees.

- The chairlift / gondola layout at Niseko was a little weird, and tough to navigate.

- Went for lunch at the the Green Farm Organic Cafe. Good burgers, comfy chairs.

- Back to the hill, got in a few more runs. Decided to make our way back home on the final run. 2 random guys asked us how to get back to the Hirafu station. At some point, Heather and I got separated from the group. We ended up getting lost, overshooting the way back to Hirafu, and had to figure out how to get back, which wasn't easy. Meanwhile, the 2 random guys stayed with Chris and Jana, and thanked them for navigating them home safely.

- Chris and Jana gave up on waiting for us, leaving us for dead, and decided to make their way back to the apartment. But just as they had lost all hope, Chris gave one final look back, and saw my distinct snowboarding style, fumbling his way down the mountain.

- Back in the apartment, had a few more drnks, and headed out to try and find somewhere to go for dinner. We soon discovered that it was impossible to go for dinner in Niseko on a whim. You apparently needed to reserve your seat at any restaurant well in advance. Our hunger and impatience were growing.

- Tried to go for dinner at a pizza place, only to be told that we could make a reservation for 9. At which point Heather exclaimed "I don't want to make a *bleeping* reservation, I just want to eat!". At which point I chimed in with my apology to the host, "Sorry, she's very hungry."

- Giving up on any hope of going out for dinner, we decided to try the local food trucks. No reservation required! We ended up with Indian food, which was pretty good.

- Tried to get money out of the only international ATM in town, but it appeared to be empty, drained by Australians.

- The sidewalks were a source of entertainment, with tourists slipping everywhere. Chris saw a bunch of people fall, including a very dramatic one by a guy who landed right on his head.

Fri Feb 27

- Woke up and caught the bus to Rusutsu resort. Went inside the hotel to buy our lift ticket. Pretty interesting hotel, next to a theme park covered in snow, and an old-school merry-go-round.

- Took our skis and snowboards on to the escalator, up to the hill.

- Rode the chairlift up, and realized we were on the wrong side of the resort, the beginner / kid's side. Took a run in next to the amusement park which was a little different.

- Caught a gondola over to the other side of the hill, across the highway.

- Rusutsu had some pretty good snow, and we took in some first track runs. This would turn out to be our best ski day of the trip. We all really liked Rustsu, with it's long runs through the trees, and the more authentic experience of being at a Japanese ski hill.

- At one point we tried to take a group photo during one of our runs, but Jana ended up stumbling over the side of the ledge, not realizing there was a drop-off. One of the funnier moments of the trip (to everyone else).

- Went for lunch and really mixed it up, by having Ramen instead of soba noodles.

- Skied a few more runs and made our way back towards where the bus dropped us off. We separated while went to take a picture with the giant snowman. Heather went on her own. She ended up having a Fear and Loathing moment, trapped in the Japanese ski resort, with weird merry go rounds, freaky Christmas scenes, and she ended up closing the elevator doors on some Japanese kids trying to get to the swimming pool, all in her desperation to get out and catch the bus.

- Took the bus back to Niseko and had some drinks, watched some Japanese TV. I ate some leftover pizza, while the girls went out for fondue (Niseko Supply Company). The fondue was good, apparently. They had crepes for dessert, and the mulled wine was very good.

Sat Feb 28

- Skied at Niseko for one more day. This time we got there a little earlier, and seemed to be one step ahead of the crowds. Had a good run down and fresh tracks.

- At one point we did a great run, where we lucked out and stumbled onto a run that was opening just as we got there, ahead of the crowds again. It turned out to be a great run, with fresh tracks again, although we did have to hike out.

- Traversed across to the far side, skied down some fresh powder, and Heather had fresh tracks again because she passed some guy 'fiddling with his Go Pro'.

- Made our way back to Fresh Powder and caught the bus, which was definitely a milk run, to Sapporo.

- Checked in to Sapporo Aspen Hotel. Our first proper hotel of the trip. Fancier than we expected. The room came with tooth brushes, razors hair elastics, shower caps, combs, hair brushes, you name it. All of which we promptly stashed away in our suitcase.

- Took a little tour through Sapporo's underground mall. Found a store entirely dedicated to cat parephenelia, and we bought wash cloths, slippers, bowls for Yeti's food, and a snack bowl (for humans).

- Checked out the food market, where I had chicken on a skewer, and Chris had a hot pastry with bean paste in the middle. Walked through the electronics section, and back out to street level.

- Walked through Sapporo and saw Odori park and the giant clock tower. We were on our way to Samurai Soup Curry.

- We were seated at a Japanese style table, where we had to sit right on the floor, which turned out to be very uncomfortable, particularly because the room was so tiny.

- Chris ordered 'level 7' (out of 10) for the spice level of his curry, which turned out to be insanely hot. Not sure how anyone could stand level 10. It was a good thing they had Kleenex at the table.

- Jana really regretted not ordering the fried chicken for her soup curry. Chris had '20 kinds of vegtable' in her soup curry.

Sun Mar 1 --------- - Made our way to the train station where we picked up some pastries for breakfast.

- Caught the rapid train to Sapporo airport (CTS)

- Flew from Sapporo to Tokyo (NRT) on Jetstar.

- Had some time to kill so we spent it shopping in the Tokyo airport, where we finally find all the varieties of Kit-Kat bars (sweet potato, wasabi, matcha, chili, green tea cherry blossom, rum raisin, strawberry cheesecake)

- Ate on the 5th floor of NRT. One of our cheapest meals, and it was delicious. More noodles, more tempura, last meal of the trip, as we watched the planes taking off and landing from the observation deck.

Things We Learned & Loved About Japan

- The Japanese people love to wave good-bye. Airports, restaurants, you name it.

- They all have heated toilet seats. That alone makes them better people.

- The train stations play nice, video-game like music when a train is leaving.

- They don't talk loudly in restaurants (or anywhere really). Or talk on their cell phones in public.

- No napkins, anywhere. No paper towels in the bathroom.

- They *really* separate their garabage. I swear I counted 8 different bins at one point.

- Everything comes individually wrapped. Crackers, chocolates.

- Crime is nowhere to be seen. You feel safe leaving your valuables anywhere.

- Vandalism doesn't seem to exist.

- They have green tea Kit Kat bars. And at least 10 more flavors.