GOODBYE CHERRY BLOSSOMS, HELLO SKIING!
VOLUME 1, ISSUE 2, MAY 9, 2005


Spring in Japan?...not so fast please.
by Simon Bernard

Photo by Hakkoda Guide
Nobuhiko Hamabe
Courtesy of
Hakkoda Powder Snow Tours
While most folk think cherry blossoms when the weather warms a bit in Japan, many of us head to higher ground. Japan, especially Northern Tohoku, has some of the absolute best and extensive spring ski/snowboard areas. Spring snow, also known as corn snow, is really a ball to play in, and its firmness gives easy access to views at the top of some mountains not available during the summer!

Hakkoda in Aomori Prefecture and Mt. Gassan in Yamagata Prefecture have been two of my favorite stomping grounds for over 10 years now. With 8 mountains in the northern mountain range and a slew of mountains across the street in the southern range, Hakkoda gives you more variety that can’t be matched!
Actually, Hakkoda was only known the last 20 years as the spring ski capital of Japan. Little by little the secret has leaked out; it provides access to the best powder snow on ungroomed slopes in Japan, making it a winter must-do starting in November. This year with the tremendous amount of snowfall, spring snow will stretch well into June!

With a gondola that can take 100 people every 10 minutes to the top of Mt. Tamoyachi (1324m), you can then hike over to Mt. Maedake and go down the open bowl to the Doozo Tea House, a 4km run… or hike over to Narasawa and do a 5km run to the Hakkoda Onsen …or hike up to Mt. Akakura (1548m) and do the 7km long Hokibatai run to the Tashiro tea houses. Variations of this route can be done from Mt. Ido, Mt. Odake (1584m) and Mt. Kodake.

When the gondola closes after Golden Week, the action shifts just 15 minutes by car on Rt.103 south to the Kasamatsu Pass(1040m) where you will be going through 8 to 12meter high walls of freshly dug out snow, an amazing sight even if you do not ski or snowboard. From there you can hike to the Senin mountain hut, Mt. Odake, or Mt. Takada Odake. On the other side of Rt.103, you can do the southern Hakkoda range and even make your way down to Lake Towada on skis!

I must also mention here that Mt. Iwaki(1625m), the largest mountain in Aomori has a 7km. run from the peak to the Yayoi shrine and another 5km. run from the smaller peak to the Hyakusawa ski resort with very little climbing involved. Best to go right when they dig out the road in the middle of April and before Golden Week. Located just west of Hirosaki City, you can enjoy the 500 cheery trees in full bloom around the castle after your adventure on the mountain!

Gassan is a different story. Gassan is named after it’s moon shape. Literally in the middle of nowhere, the valley collects snow all winter long. You can’t even get there until they dig the roads out in April! With a lift that is a kilometer long, you can board/ski the valley some years until August.

But the beauty of Gassan starts where the lift ends. A short walk will bring you to a T-bar that will take you up part of the way of Mt. Ubagadake. Within 20 minutes you are now at the top (1670m) with a 360 degree panoramic view of Mt. Gassan, Mt. Chokai, the Asahi and Iide mountain ranges, and the Sea of Japan. Wow!

From there you can ski/board back to the lift or continue your pilgrimage. You look over at Mt. Gassan and all you see is a white open bowl between you and your goal…no trees. After hiking the ridge around to the summit (just over one hour), you stop at the Dewa sanzan (three mountains of dewa) shrine. From the top of the mountain (1984m), you can go off the back steep bowl or start your way down the front bowl back to the lift. If you go early enough, no later than Golden Week, you can start your journey back from the top of the mountain on your skis/board! The snow melts from the top down and the bottom up.

Access to Mt. Gassan has become so easy with the Gassan Interchange on the Yamagata Expressway. Then it is just a 10km drive through the switchbacks to the parking lot. If you go during Golden Week, get there very early or you will have to park part way down the mountain and take the shuttle bus up. The lift is a 15 min. walk from the parking lot.



What You Need

Besides the essentials of backpack, extendable poles, and lots to drink, you want to be more prepared if you are planning to go back country. An emergency snow blanket, extra warm wear, hot thermos, food, whistle, compass, map, transceiver, (cell phones don't always work in the mountains, but bring one anyway), beacon, probe and shovel to name a few things.

Hydrating yourself before, during, and after hiking is essential. Sunglasses work better than goggles when climbing, as goggles tend to fog up. You will also need to make arrangements to leave a vehicle in the back of Hakkoda where you are going to come out or see if the hotel or onsen you are staying at would be willing to pick you up. Also, don't forget a camera and sunblock!



What To Expect

Expect the unexpected. Mountain weather is so unpredictable, especially when climbing. Sunshine can turn into zero visibility without warning. Be sure to check the weather report the night or morning before you head off.



In Conclusion

While you do not necessarily need a guide at Gassan, it is highly recommended to have one at Hakkoda! A lot more information about Hakkoda can be found by going to www.hakkodapowder.com You also do not need to be an expert skier or boarder to enjoy spring snow! Seeing Japan from the top down instead of the other conventional ways can really give you a new perspective on life! See you at the top!



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Simon Bernard is an American who has lived in Aomori for 17 years. A former skier and now a snowboarder of 12 years, he works for local Japanese government offices promoting local tourism and events. Simon is out snowboarding over 100 days each year and has worked to improve the service in, access to, and information about Hakkoda. Any questions about Hakkoda, Gassan, or for those needing English or Japanese speaking guides can be sent to him at bernard@infoaomori.ne.jp


COMPLETE LIST OF SKI RESORTS IN AOMORI PREFECTURE

Aomori Prefecture


HAIKU ENTHUSIASTS SUBMIT YOUR HAIKU TO THE HAIKU INN...
Why I Love Writing Haiku
by Alex Noble

Why do I love writing haiku? There are many answers I can give to this question, but let me share with you one that is especially satisfying to me. This is that quality of timelessness that haiku writing carries with it. For me, haiku stops time. The discipline of searching for, finding, and capturing a “haiku moment” in the midst of daily pressures and chaos, is like a meditation. And, as a meditative process, it brings a calm, centered sense of purpose, and allows me to step aside from the ‘ten thousand things” and visit an island out of time, a place where time ceases to exist as we normally know it.
Perhaps it is the intense focus on a single, pure concept. Perhaps it is the sudden, almost overpowering discovery of vibrant beauty in the midst of the ordinary. Perhaps it is the invitation to step outside of myself and see with new vision, fresh perception. For whatever reason, the writing of haiku creates a space all its own, a sacred space where I can catch my breath and become awake to a higher order of beauty and mystery in the world around me. Why? Because haiku invites me into a magic garden where I can be fully present and alive to a single, perfect moment, one which will probably never be repeated, or revisited. It is in this “haiku moment” that I feel one with all things.

Haiku moments can be found anywhere and everywhere, once we decide to see with our “haiku eyes.” For example, imagine in your mind’s eye:

A single bright red maple leaf floating on a dark pond…

A seagull, writing its winged calligraphy against a yellow dawn sky…

A black caterpillar bristling its way up a jade green stalk of bamboo…

See and feel deeply each of these images, and then bring one of these images into form in a haiku poem. The classic structure is five syllables for the first line, seven for the second, and back to five in the third line. While this may seem to be a demanding form, it is also profoundly liberating. As you enter the moment with all your senses, and also with appreciation for the beauty you have encountered, you will find that everything falls away, and you are left in a special communion with your subject, whether it be maple leaf, seagull, caterpillar, or your own discovery. And you will find yourself suddenly reinvigorated, refreshed, and newly awake to the thousands of haiku moments all around you, all the time.

So, if you have not tried haiku writing before, look around you, right now. Find an image that speaks to you, embrace it, and put it into form. And send it to our Haiku Inn. We look forward to hearing from you!


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