After a week of coming home from Japan I’m at a festival and preparing to watch a friend perform. Just when she’s about to start and the room simply can’t fit in anymore people, three women still somehow squish in and push in front of me. I almost fall backwars and am now pushed against the wall as the concert starts. I take a deep breath and just look forward to be able to listen, but the three ladies prevent this as they start talking and shouting loudly in front of me. One can wonder why they even came in in the first place… This was the first time I truly missed Japan, Japanese and the Japanese culture.
Before my season I had decided on Japan because of the following reasons. I wanted to develop my skiing ability, explore the Japanese snow conditions and was longing for a unique adventure. My season in Niseko gave me all of these three and so much more.
I had the privilege to work at Niseko Base Snowsports (NBS), which was an Australian driven ski school. So there were plenty of Australians and they were all great people. Our bosses were extremely welcoming and the training was fantastic. The manager, Paul Lorenz, is a ski legend and it was a dream come true to ski and get feedback from a skier of his caliber. He forced me to think in new ways about my skiing and made me a better skier. At times this was extremely frustrating but it’s what it takes to get better. The trainings were also great in terms of getting to know my colleagues. The 5 months of skiing made me a better skier than the prior annual week of skiing with the family, it’s a completely different experience. Being able to push myself and see results of my development motivated me and is something I’m proud of.
But the real life lesson of the season didn’t come from my own skiing. It was all about giving the best possible experience to the guests of the day. You could have children between the ages of 4 and 14, an entire family or even a 70 year old man from Malaysia. And they all wanted to become pros during their short holiday. You’re required to involve yourself in strangers lives and really get to know your guests. This, for me, was what I learnt most from. When people are learning and pushed outside their comfort zones, they can become emotional and frightened. Dealing with this and at the same time motivating and challenging the contrast of guests you may have gave me a valuable skillset that I take with me after the season.
It wasn’t only the skillset of dealing with people that I brought home with me, in a way I also brought people home. Not literally, but in the form of new good friends. At NBS (the ski school) we lived together despite gender, age and work. So just as there were many instructors like me, there were also drivers, receptionists and rental dudes. We lived 22 in the accommodation -two Danes, two Brits, three Kiwis, one from Canada, one from Hong Kong and the remaining from Australia. These people immediately became my family away from home. It’s not the first time that I lived with so many people, but being a part of such an international unit is something I really learnt a lot from.
My best experiences in the snow were also with this family. In Niseko it sometimes feels as if the snow never stops. I remember one specific morning in December when we had shoveled snow the night before, but woke up and were uncertain if it had been done at all. It seemed as if we hadn’t shoveled snow for a couple of days. Everything was covered in at least half a meter of snow. Our understanding of a “powder day” was completely redefined during the stay in Niseko. You almost get accustomed to the insane amount of dumping every day. And as I chose Japan and Niseko motivated by the amount of snow, things were perfect. The snow season allowed many days off to be spent with long back country trips.
We experienced powder days ranging from knee-deep to even neck-deep. You could literally have used a snorkel as people joke about! It doesn’t hurt to fall in the soft snow so this allows you to push yourself even further, of course without being too reckless. This culminated in our day trip of Mt. Yotei. Yotei is an active volcano right in the backyard of the ski resort. With the right conditions, knowledge and equipment you can tour up to the top and ski into the crater. we attempted this 1600+ meter vertical hike with skis and skins, and by boot-packing the last stretch. This is without a doubt, the physically most challenging thing I have ever done. It also required pushing myself mentally, especially the last bit.
- Christiane, Snowminds Instructor
I used to think that girls had a tendency to believe that a lot of things are more difficult or dangerous than they actually are. A lot of us proved this wrong this season. So a huge shout out to all Snowminds girls, who I skied with during the season and all the hardcore ladies from my ski school who have been a huge inspiration to me. You learn so much during a season and it’s super important that you have the courage to grab the chance to become an instructor. My experience is actually that a lot of the girls got a technical understand a lot quicker than the guys -sorry guys.
Lastly, I started traveling in the foreign country. Well, actually Japan isn’t completely foreign for me. I was born in Tokyo and lived there for a couple of years. Honestly, I don’t remember much of this but my parents have a special connection to Japan so we have visited several times. I still saw a lot of new sides of Japan during my season. The resort of Niseko isn’t that Japanese and the most spoken language is probably English.
So it was on our small shopping trips to the nearby town of Kutchan and the karaoke trips where we had the encounters with the Japanese culture. But my true encounter with Japan came after the season. What awaited me? A country filled with polite, welcoming and understanding people. Japan accepted the rowdy impolite Danes who were drunk, noisy in the public transport, unaware of bowing rituals and received items with one hand instead of two. It can be difficult to understand such a coded society, but this was something I completely fell in love with. At times I feel that we, with our primitive behaviour, can learn a bunch from Japan.
Japan is an enjoyable combination of being extremely conservative and simultaneously just as modern and innovative. You have the side of Japan that values family, religion and traditions, and a side with top-notch technological development and the unmatched transport system. The transport system is so effective, its crazy just thinking about how many people are passing through each day. And let me repeat myself: we could really learn a lot from Japan. The country is incredibly exciting, different, fun and educational to travel in. Its difficult to comprehend the reality of Japan and its clash/blend of the traditional and futuristic sides.
Japanese can at times seem reluctant and shy and this can prevent really getting to know them. I believe that this originates from their respect for others, and in my experience, if you show them the mutual respect they are really open and fun to talk to and also without a doubt have an outgoing side -sometimes saké helps a bit as well. I really couldn’t imagine a better country to travel in -the trains are always on time, the people are completely unique and welcoming, the food is fantastic and the nature is remarkably beautiful. And of course clean, as the Japanese treat it, just as anything else, with nothing but respect.
All three things I intended for my stay were fulfilled during the season, what I didn’t know was that I would simultaneously develop my human skills while having the time of my life. I pushed some personal boundaries, tested my skills while teaching everyday and proved to myself that I could thrive even in a foreign country much different than my own. I achieved a cultural understanding, which I have become fond of and really learnt from.
So, had I been at a concert anywhere in Japan, the ladies in front of me would have offered to sit somewhere else and never behaved as the others did. If the roles had been reversed they probably wouldn’t have complained but just thought to themselves; “They’ll probably understand one day…”
Christiane traveled with Snowminds as a ski instructor in Niseko, Japan. If you want to experience Japan don’t hesitate to contact us or read more about our dream trip Japan: The Dream Trip. If you want to become a certified instructor see all our courses here; Japan and send an application yourself!
Christiane Tetzlaff, July 29, 2018