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Spring is coming!

Monday was the first official day of spring, and Takinoue is really starting to show some headway in that direction. It’s still chilly, but for almost a week every day has been above zero- even though we got a little dusting of snow last night. Spring always takes a long time to settle in and for all of the snow to melt, but for now I’ve just been enjoying the (slightly) warmer weather and blue skies.

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I took the time to take a walk around, soak up the sun, and check out the Shokotsu river. This is one of the bigger waterfalls in town; in the summer, the spray reaches all the way to where I was standing to take this picture. The river is starting to thaw, and the waterfall is starting to flow again!

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This view is visible just down the road from my house, standing on the bridge near one of the local hotels. I love coming here and seeing how the seasons change; it’s gorgeous year-round. I feel really energized with the weather creeping warmer; the winter was wonderful, but I’m ready for spring!

Nighter at Sakuragaoka

Last night I hit the jackpot- during the day we had a little bit of snow, just enough to coat everything in a couple of centimeters of the super-fluffy stuff. It was very beautiful, but also a welcome change from the past week- it’s been very warm, and as a result everywhere the snow accumulated and hadn’t yet melted was solid ice. So, skiing for the past week hasn’t been a ton of fun.

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Sorry the bad quality pic- my iphone just wasn’t up to the challenge

But! Last night was awesome! The snow was dry and soft, it wasn’t bitterly cold, almost no wind. And, somehow, I managed to be the only person on the ski hill for almost the entire time I was there, so I got to goof off and use the entire hill. I even took some time to just stand there and look at our little town, and enjoy how quiet and peaceful it was.

The season is winding down, and soon spring will be here to stay- but for now, it’s nice to still squeeze in these little quiet moments.

Sakuragaoka Ski Hill

Sorry for the long break in posting; I’ve been busy with one of my favorite things to do in winter. I’ve been making a lot of visits to here- Takinoue’s local ski hill!

Sakuragaoka is located within Takinoue, and is only 5 minutes from my house. I have been going there almost every night to work on my skiing skills. Being from Texas, I had never actually practiced skiing before moving to Hokkaido, and I’m really lucky to live so close to a decent hill! With how much snow Takinoue generally gets every year, it usually has really great snow conditions, and I hope I will be able to ski well into March here.

It has 3 runs, and they range in level of difficulty. The course under the lift, the dynamic course, was super difficult for me when I first started skiing, but now I can do it (kind of). The other hills have gentler slopes.

Besides this, Sakuragaoka is really cheap to ski at- a day ticket is only 1,500 yen (15$) and a night ticket is 500 yen ($5). I actually ended up getting a season pass- which was 15,000 yen, which is around 150 American dollars. This is so cheap, especially compared to skiing in any of the popular America areas! I’m really lucky that this is an opportunity for me.

New Years Celebrations in Takinoue

New Years is one of the most important holidays in Japan. It’s a time when family gathers to spend the season together, and there are a lot of traditions that go into New Years celebrations.

For my New Years, I did many things! I spent the first part of the night eating osechi-ryouri with some friends and my sister, who was visiting from America. Osechi is a traditional Japanese meal for New Years. They spend several days eating osechi, which consists of many small dishes, like kamaboko (fish cakes), kuro-mame (sweet black beans), ebi (shrimp), datemaki (sweet omelettes with fish paste), and many other foods. Every food has meaning and symbolizes a wish for the upcoming year.

 

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Elaborate osechi-ryouri! It was delicious!

 

As midnight approached, I went to the temple with many other people. It was very cold, but we all  bundled up and gathered. During the summer, I can hear the temple bell ring from my house every morning, but I had never been to the temple at night before. There, we rang the temple bell 108 times. Each ring of the bell symbolizes one of the earthly desires of Buddhism, and it’s rung to leave them behind in the new year.

This year, when the bell ringing was finished, I… went to bed! But not before being invited to the local monk’s house (in typical Takinoue fashion), where we had some sake and chatted in the early hours of the  New Year.

 

The next morning, my sister and I went to Takinoue’s shrine for hatsumode, the first visit to the shrine of the year. Many people go right at midnight, but we were both tired from our travel and late night before. Takinoue’s shrine is really beautiful; it is set on a hill overlooking the town, across from the shibazakura hill. In winter, you have a lovely view of the town and river, covered in snow.

 

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This is the view from the shrine. It’s so beautiful in winter!

We went early, so it was still very quiet at the shrine. We only saw one other family there. My sister and I paid our respects to the shrine, and then get our omikuji, or our fortunes for the year. Omikuji  have a lot of detail and talk about things like your work life, travel, love, illness, your wishes, lost things… it goes on! It also gives you a general indication of your luck for the future. The best is dai-kichi, or “great blessing,” and the very worst is dai-kyo, or “great curse.” I’ve never seen dai-kyo though!

 

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My fortune for the year

 

I ended up drawing chu-kichi, middle luck! My sister, however, got dai-kichi; so hopefully she will have a very lucky year- and I’ll at least have a middle-lucky year!