I think I have started, stopped and restarted this post a handful of times already... the dots never really seemed to connect in the creative flow. Either I got caught up in a personal history of wanting to go to Japan or a play by play of the trip. Neither of these were doing the experience justice so the digital paper kept getting crumpled up and tossed in the bin. So here goes for attempt number...
Whenever I travel with purpose I look for a theme of the trip. This trip's theme was blessing.
In the months leading up to departure I was making a budget to estimate, very roughly, how much it would cost to explore the small piece of Japan we were planning. Being self-supporting I wasn't sure from where the money was going to come but at least I would have an expectation. With transportation costs coming in at $1,000 (flights and JR East RailPass) I estimated that at the very least another $500-600 would cover the two week trip with lift passes, food, accommodations and incidentals.
As the journey wore on, I would adjust my spreadsheet accordingly: adding notes, removing expenses we didn't encounter, etc.
The last evening in Japan, I made the final adjustments and added in the estimates for the final travel day getting back to Tokyo. I picked up my MacBook squinted a bit, turned it sideways, upside down, scratched my head and set it back down. Somehow I had spent two weeks in Japan on less than $250! This was accommodations, food, 4 days of snowboarding and transportation within the country.
We would go out for dinner with people, it would be paid for; we were teaching snowboarding, three of four lift tickets were paid for; we couldn't even pay for our own onsen!
Here's the story...
We landed at Narita airport March 9, a Friday night, with snowboards in tow, and had to get from one end of Tokyo to the other, on a Friday night, with snowboards, never having been to the country before. Somehow we made it from Narita through Tokyo Station, and several others, on the busiest night of the week, all the way to the YWAM base in Higashi-kurume on the western edge of Tokyo. Never has a shower been so needed at the end of a travel day!
The first day we were in Japan we toured around the city centre of Tokyo: saw some plum blossoms in the Imperial Gardens, Landon found a fishing shop down a small side street and we ate ramen on Ramen St in Tokyo Station. No snowboards in tow.
The following day we left Tokyo for Matsumoto where we picked up and driven another hour in the Japanese Alps to the ski village of Norikura-kogen, the highest ski resort in Japan. During our week in Norikura we volunteering with a ministry called Northstar helping around the lodge and teaching various outdoor ed activities including snowboarding, snowshoeing, climbing and igloo building. Yes, the first time either of the Canadians had built an igloo was in Japan! The first 4 days we worked with a guest group from the Osaka International School, and the last 2 days with Northstar's youth group: NAK (Northstar Adventure Kids).
NAK was my highlight! These kids were local Christian kids so we were able to interact with them more closely than OIS and despite the language barrier with most of them we had a riot. Early on they started calling me Romeo and it stuck for the rest of the weekend! I know it's a common statistic in Japan the youth struggle with depression and suicide but if these 10 kids could impart the Kingdom joy that they have to their peers we could quickly see a nation transformed.
Our last 4 days were spent with a missionary, Joyce Pogacic, in another ski town north of Nagano called Myoko-kogen, the oldest ski resort in Japan. She became our grandma for those few days -- feeding us way too much, and sharing amazing stories of her time as a missionary in eastern Europe in the 70s and 80s and her heart for Myoko. We prayed for her, over the several houses the she and her son are getting ready for hosting missions teams. We also had our last day of riding in Japan here and despite being the end of the season we were blessed with a few inches of fresh snow resulting in my favourite photo of the trip!
What did I learn from the trip to Japan?
- God is on the move!
- I need to learn a lot more of the language before I go back!
- The Japanese people are incredibly friendly and gracious towards us gaijin (foreigners).
- The Google translate app is a lifesaver.
- Fast food sushi in Japan is so much better than most sit-down sushi in Canada.
- Bring slippers, and gifts for everyone next time.
Will I be back?
Yes I most certainly will!
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