President Steve Konopa, Jim Callahan and Jim Weinhart participated in the first-ever Blue Ridge Ski Council's Asiafest, this year to Japan. Steve and Jim have provided reports on their adventures, not only skiing or snowboarding, but also catching the sights of Tokyo and Kyoto while contending with the coronavirus outbreak.
Steve's report, with many accompanying pictures, can be read at the following link:
To view Steve's report, use the magnify button in the pop-up at the bottom of the page and select "Window width." Also, during their trip, the exchange rate was about $1 = 110 yen.
Report from Jim Callahan
Hakuba was a wonderful ski destination though we experienced mixed conditions. Our final day blessed us with wonderful powder runs but limited visibility. At one point, Steven & I made our way to the top of the mountain, above the clouds, and enjoyed some bluebird conditions, if only for a while. Of the ten ski resorts in Hakuba, I was able to ride on five of them. My focus was on finding mountains with snow cover more so than ski-able acreage. This brought us to the most distant slopes in the region; Cortina. The conditions here were not as great as we'd hoped but we still very much enjoyed the mountain. As a side trip, we took a day to see the famed snow monkeys (other than the slopes, this was my absolute favorite thing we experienced in Japan) then lunched in the village of Obuse. After lunch we walked around the kiosks in the market and were able to try some regional treats including miso-caramel ice cream and barbecued locust. Both were delicious though I must admit that the texture of the locust was a bit off putting for my taste.
From Hakuba we traveled by bullet train to Tokyo and met up with one of Steve's friends who gave us a wonderful tour of his city and took us to a fantastic authentic Japanese restaurant which was recently featured on a popular TV show in Japan. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to eat fugu (puffer fish), a Japanese delicacy that must be prepared just so as it is a very poisonous fish. It was delicate and delicious. Even more enjoyable was the hospitality of the chef and server of the establishment. They went far out of their way to make our experience both authentic & memorable. We were able to go to the top of the Tokyo Sky Tree, the final day it was open before the Japanese government shut it due to the COVIN-19 concerns. We took in as many of the sites as possible in this magnificent city but really, a month spent here wouldn't be enough time to see it all! We walked around the Emperor's Palace, watched the commuters in Shibuya Crossing, and stumbled across a Shakey's Pizza; a childhood favorite of both of us. Though the toppings were a bit strange to me (shrimp & mayonnaise, corn, teriyaki chicken), it still sparked nostalgia.
From Tokyo, onto Kyoto. I wasn't excited about Kyoto. I knew little of the city and had no real expectations. Well, Kyoto was an absolute delight & I only wish we had more time to experience the rich culture and history this city had to offer. Some of the highlights of Kyoto were visiting the Golden Temple, the Fushimi Inari Shrine, and walking through a bamboo forest. We ate dinner in a tiny little back alley establishment. I was actually frightened to even walk in the door but when we did, we were greeted by an expatriated Canadian who welcomed us with beer! This eased my tension a bit and soon the man was introducing us to two actual Geisha girls. The food turned out to be amazing, absolutely delicious. But it's the Geisha's that I can't stop thinking about! hahahaha
For the pop culture enthusiasts, in both cities, we visited the Hard Rock Cafe which had rock & roll memorabilia we could all enjoy. The servers at both were happy to sit and chat with us about music and other shared interests.
While in Japan, the perspective we received was that back in the US, there was seemingly a bit of a panic over the COVIN-19 virus. I didn't know what we'd be coming home to! While in Japan, we came to learn that Japanese schools were closed, most museum were closed, and the government warned the citizens to stay home. This was apparent in both Tokyo and Kyoto. Sites that should have had long lines had none. We were lucky enough to get into Sky Tree the night before it was ordered closed but we did miss out on museums. The Tokyo Giants preseason baseball game was closed to the public, and the Tokyo marathon was canceled (except for elite runners). We attempted to visit the Tokyo zoo, which was closed, but instead stumbled across a Samurai festival which was a wonderful consolation prize! Personally, I think the virus scare may have been more advantageous than disadvantageous as it allowed us to quickly navigate the cities. The Japanese government was very obviously taking as many measures and precautions possible to contain the disease. They were taking it very seriously. There was no traffic in Tokyo, a fact that amazed us all! While we did take precautionary measures, we didn't let the scare freak us out. I was receiving daily reports from a colleague of mine in the CDC and for a brief moment, there was concern that we'd be in mandatory self quarantine upon our return to the states. Thankfully, we made it home safe and sound.
It was a wonderful trip though long and exhausting. We signed on the trip through the Harford Ski Club in Havre de Grace, MD. It's a small club and they were the most wonderful and welcoming group. We really seemed to fit in well with them and their kindness will be forever remembered.
There are a TON of pictures. I'll bring either my phone or laptop to our next meeting or you could check some pictures out on either Steve's or my Facebook pages.