Japan, Part I: Traipsing Through Tokyo

I’ve never let a potential trip wait so long to be blogged as I have this trip to Japan.

Relevant for that leading sentence:

I remind myself that one reason I write about my trips is so I can look back in later years and remind myself of some good times. So here goes nothing.

First off: Jared and flew from NYC-> Hong Kong -> Sapporo (New Chitose Airport). The route from NYC-> Hong Kong only took 16 hours, took 16 hours, 16 hours, 16. That’s long enough for two sleeps. I took about 1, on account of the Advil PM; I also finished a book (without pictures).

My ass went numb at one point, too.

Hey, stop thinking about my butt.

flying to japan

I’m ready! (No I’m not.)

By the time we got to New Chitose Airport (close to Sapporo), we realized we were in Japan, which meant our brains were still working! That’s when we first encountered Onigiri.

Salmon wrapped in rice, wrapped in seaweed. $1.50 Onigiri!!

Salmon wrapped in rice, wrapped in seaweed. $1.50 Onigiri!!

And also, we discovered Japanese attention to detail/organization:

At that moment, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what time it was, even if I had a watch. We stopped at New Chitose because it is in Hokkaido, and Hokkaido was our final destination, since this was a ski trip after all. But before skiing, we had other business to take care of. Neither of us were “going to fly 32+ hours and not visit Tokyo.” So we went to bed, because the next morning, we were on our way to Tokyo.

I think we did a lot of the stuff in Tokyo that folks often do. In the interest of clarity, I’m going to break down our trip to Tokyo in categories.


We stayed in an AirBnb in Shibuya on Dogenzaka street. It was clearly an investment property — the owner never lived there and only rented it out. It was spacious.

The perfect fit.

The perfect fit.

There were sweet-ass arcades, apparently owned by SEGA?

Tekken UNLIMITED (whatever that means). I still play Paul Phoenix.

Tekken UNLIMITED (whatever that means). I still play Paul Phoenix.

We also ate at Freshness Burger.

It's so... fresh.

It’s so… fresh.

Checked out some views

Squad goals.

Squad goals.

Chilled with a doge

Hachikō the dog, frozen in time.

Hachikō the dog, frozen in time.

Yoyogi Park and Meiji Jingu Shrine

We sauntered.

I guess it's just a park. I don't know.

I guess it’s just a park. I don’t know.

And we found the bathrooms.

If the portos are unisex, then these signs must be an indication for...

If the portos are unisex, then these signs must be an indication for…

Ah, the signs were both actually just saying: "CAUTION."

Ah, the signs were both actually just indicating: “CAUTION.”

Then we discovered the entrance to the Meiji Shrine, and some decorative sake barrels.

Raise the roof.

These Sake Barrels are actually empty.

These Sake Barrels are actually empty.

And made it to the main shrine

Zen times Ten.

Zen times Ten.

Shinjuku Golden Gai

Drinking in the Golden Gai area was one of the most memorable and cool things we did in Tokyo. Quite a few of the bars won’t even allow tourists in, which is judged by one’s ability to speak Japanese. No Japanese? No entry.

The bars in the area are tiny. What you see here is pretty much what you get.

The bars in the area are tiny. What you see here is pretty much what you get.


Tsukiji Fish Market

It’s the fish market you’ve all heard of. It’s massive, and they apparently auction off massive tunas in the early morning (5 a.m. or something). We couldn’t be bothered to wake up for that. But we took photos later anyway!

Off with his head.

Off with his head.

It's a real operation.

It’s a real operation.

Served on a leaf.

Served on a leaf.

Tsukiji SUV. 217 mpg.

Tsukiji SUV. It gets 217 mpg.

Tokyo Skytree and the Hyatt Hotel (“Lost in Translation” bar)

Easy tower, EASY.

Easy tower, EASY.

Mt. Fiji in the background. Civilization in the foreground.

Mt. Fuji in the background. Civilization in the foreground.

A bad nighttime shot of the skyline from the Hyatt Hotel.

A bad nighttime shot of the skyline from the Hyatt Hotel.

Harajuku & Takeshita Street

I imagine this is something like New York City’s St. Marks street.



Onesies on SALE. Get them while they're hot, or not.

Onesies on SALE. Get them while they’re hot, or not.

A good look for a pilot.

A good look for a pilot.

Food Things

The food, the food, the food. Best Ramen I had was at this place that has 3.5 stars on Google Reviews: Samurai Noodle. Oh well. A 3.5 ramen to the Japanese is 35.5 to me.

Heads down for ramen at Samurai Noodle, JP.

Heads down for ramen at “Samurai Noodle, JP”.

Ramen meal 1 of 74.

Ramen meal 1 of 74.

Plastic food displays! Very common and tasty.

Plastic food displays! Very common and tasty.

The stove-tops for DIY Okonomiyaki, "Japanese Pancakes."

The stove-tops for DIY Okonomiyaki, “Japanese Pancakes.”

Okonomiyaki in the making.

Okonomiyaki in the making.

Okonomiyaki, preparing to be eaten.

Okonomiyaki, preparing to be eaten.

I'll have THAT (pointing) one, please.

I’ll have THAT (pointing) one, please.

Vending machines on the exterior or entrance of restaurants will take your order and make you pay on the spot.

Vending machines on the exterior or entrance of restaurants will take your order and make you pay on the spot.

Ramen meal 2 of 74.

Ramen meal 2 of 74.

Japanese version of "street meat."

Japanese version of “street meat.”

Get ready to get eaten, little fishy.

Get ready to get eaten, little fishy.

Art and Decorations






I think this was outside of a love hotel. Not sure if there is some deeper meaning here.

I think this was outside of a love hotel. Not sure if there is some deeper meaning here.

Sorry, we're open.

Sorry, we’re open.

This was written in backwards so that it could be read from a mirror opposite of it.

This was written backwards so that it could be read from a mirror opposite of it.


Random Things!

Also self-explanatory?

The karaoke bar we went to was 5+ stories; the bathrooms were also filled with puke. :(

The karaoke bar we went to was 5+ stories; the bathrooms were also filled with puke. 😦

Smokers must stand in a sectioned off area.

Smokers must stand in a sectioned off area.

The decibel level for some construction is tracked.

The decibel level for some construction is tracked.

Some clubs have self-serve lockers!! Groundbreaking, folks.

Some clubs have self-serve lockers!! Groundbreaking, folks.

The public transportation manners were shocking. Look at that perfect escalator behavior.

The public transportation manners were shocking. Look at that perfect escalator behavior.

Those are the highlights. Tokyo was one of the most exciting cities I’ve been to in my life. I want to go back and stay for a few months, although I’m not sure when I’d carve the time out for that wishful endeavor. But, when we departed Tokyo, we weren’t really sad, and that’s because we were on our way back to Sapporo — our starting point for our ski exploration trip on the northern main island of Hokkaido. Read about the skiing in Japan Part II: Heaven is Actually Called Hokkaido.

Arigatou gozaimasu, Tokyo. Konnichiwa, Sapporo.




Japan, Part II: Heaven is Hokkaido

After arriving in Sapporo and collecting the rest of our squad, we picked up the rental cars and started driving to Niseko. Worth mentioning: the steering wheels were on the Right side of the cars, and we were driving on the Left side of the road. But that’s normal for plenty of folks, I’ve heard, even when they’re sober.
"I think this is the GPS."

“I think this is the GPS.”

No clue, but they were great!

No clue, but they were great! (Beef jerky substitute.)

Once we learned how to drive again, we finally arrived at our condo in Niseko. We had a healthy weather forecast.
We went out to the town to grab food around 7 p.m. and that’s when we realized that, during peak season (or Australian/Chinese holidays), you need a reservation in this town. So without a reservation, we starved… until we finally found a place that would seat us as a walk-in.
Japanese Pancakes!

Japanese Pancakes!

But, let’s talk about the skiing. From here, I’m just going to break this post down into sections for each ski area.

Niseko Annupuri

Niseko has four resorts on the one mountain, and plenty of interesting skiing. Some results from day one:


We even got to do some night skiing, which was exciting with dark-lens goggles on.

The next day, we were up skiing again (surprise surprise), and Scott discovered his Snowlipop.

I don’t really know how these things amass, but we saw them amongst the plentiful powder while we were there, and I have never seen them skiing anywhere else.

We also saw some alpenglow:
And we got above the clouds:


Once we arrived at Rusutsu, we were a bit surprised with the layout the resort. We parked at the “base,” which was home to a massive empty parking lot. We walked into a hotel, purchased our tickets, took an escalator and were walking on marble/tile floor. After walking past gift shops, we finally made it outside, where we loaded onto a gondola that took us across the highway, to another base lodge. The ski experience was starting to become familiar again once we took a high-speed quad for our first run. However, we were reminded that we were in a foreign country at the bottom of the run when we skied through a snow-covered amusement park. WTFs were whispered, spoken and even yelled.
Just tall enough to ride.

“Is that a ferris wheel?” … “Yup, that’s a ferris wheel.”

The amusement park sighting was a positive omen, indicating how the rest of our day was going to go. Because it went like this:


At lunch, we discovered one of the most efficient ramen-making machines ever:


Two thumbs up for Kiroro. I think we hit it while we were in transit, on the way do Asahidake. But, despite being on a bit of a tight timetable, we still had plenty of powder to ski, and there were great views. This was a cool resort.



Furano was kinda weird, but maybe it felt that way because we visited at the end of our trip. I always feel weird towards the end of a vacation. Here’s a photo of the trail map, because the skiing was average on that day, and that’s all I’ve got:


At 7,517 feet, Asahidake is the tallest mountain (actually a volcano) in Hokkaido, duh. At the base of the mountain is a large hotel/resort called the Asahidake Manseikaku Hotel Bear Monte (quite the mouthful). This place comes equipped with a traditional Japanese onsen, which, was an unusual and through-provoking experience. It also had bus-loads of people dropping in to visit while we were there. The dining area was kind of a trip, since it was a buffet-cafeteria, which was unexpected at such a massive “up-scale” resort tucked away in the mountains. I will say that one of the most memorable experiences of the trip was the day spent trekking in Asahidake, where you could see plumes of smoke coming up from the surface of the volcano. The weather was pretty spectacular.

“Put that cigarette out!”


Apparently volcanoes can get hot.


Traversing across the moon.

Despite our last ski day of the trip occurring in Furano, I decided to end this post with Asahidake because it was so spectacular. Nobody wants to end on average. Ski you later.

This Is Why You Should Care About Horse Racing

When the gates open for Race 11, the crowd cheers, but when there’s a Triple Crown on the line, the crowd erupts. With every galloping hoof imprinted on the sand, the crowd crescendos. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are on the line. People are no longer sitting, they’re standing, or they’re jumping up and down.

There’s jostling in the crowds, and those who aren’t in a great position to see the race are trying their hardest to catch just a little glimpse of it from anywhere they can. The screaming and cheering continues, along with the horses, around the turns and over the straightaways. After the horses pass the final turn, the majority of the crowd realizes that the Triple Crown-hopeful is in the lead.

The crowd realizes that their hopes, which are sabotaged too often by life, may actually be fulfilled.

They’ve bet on this horse, not just to win money, but to see a dream come true. The galloping hooves continue and the crowd gets louder, and louder. And when American Pharaoh crosses the finish line, the sound is deafening. The cheering becomes one solid pitch of noise that happens to carry a multitude of human emotions.

You realize you just witnessed a being gain a piece of immortality and you hope that one day, you will too.

Here are some pictures from the day:

American Pharaoh and Co. warming up.

American Pharaoh and Co. warming up.

Not a bad bet.

Not a bad bet.

I'm happy because it was my bet.

I’m happy because it was my bet.

And the day is over.


Skiing (Hunting Powder) in Verbier, Switzerland and the 4 Valles

The vastness of skiable terrain here in the Alps is matched only by the amount it subsequently impresses those visiting. You cannot ski it all in a day. You cannot ski it all in a week. Sure, you could ski all of the chairs, maybe, but a single tram ride gives you access to thousands of skiable vertical feet. Subsequently, you can find more adventure than Indiana Jones while here.

For example, here’s a photo of the entrance to the top of Mont Fort:


And here are some photos I took from the top:


Bring your skis.


Also, bring your skis.

Look down.

Look down.


My buddy, Benjamin, is also captured taking some photos.

To get to this view, we had to do go up this way:

Another gem from the top:

And then I came down:

Nothing but smiles.

Nothing but smiles after coming down the gut.

This day stands as the best day of skiing so far, but there were some other good moments:


Near the top of Mont Gele.


My dad performing a fancy (and very intentional) pole trick.


You can go your own way. (And I did.)

And finally, we ended our trip to the 4 Valles at ski bar Le Bob after skiing back to Nendaz. I’m guilty; I had a beer.



Nendaz, Switzerland (It’s pronounced like “Hawaii”)

If you haven’t been to the Alps before, Swiss, French, German, Austrian or Italian, then I’ll have you know that they are large. (Large enough to pass through those 5 countries, and a few others.)

We are staying in Nendaz, which is in Switzerland. Our place is called Chalet Natacha and was rented to us by a company called Interhome. Chalet Natacha’s name reminds me of Russian girls (pretty ones). To be clear, there are no Russian women staying in our chalet. Chalet Natacha rests on a steep hill, which is actually more aptly referred to as an impenetrable fortress of a mountain. You may try to drive your car up to Chalet Natacha, but you will slide backwards, forever and always. So you park at the bottom of the hill and walk up. And we’re gonna call that exercise.

My little Russian woman loves views. In fact, this is what she offers us from the living room:


Despite the terrible view, we are still having a grandiose ol’ time. I’ve had no problems maintaing my diet from the Whole Life Challenge. Because all of Europe, especially France, Italy and Switzerland are known for their Paleo-only menu selections and their general disdain for wine, cheese and chocolate. My one major obstacle right now is that I’m supposed to be on a diet. I am basically slapping bread out of the hands that try to feed it to me. In lieu of bread, I have chosen air as my primary form of sustenance. So far I’ve lost all of my weight. I suspect I will perish shortly.

This is a joke. I’ve broken lots of my dietary restriction rules and now have “CD” (Carpe Diem) stamped on my forehead. Skiing is the name of the game here, and that’s what I came to do.

“I’ll take my skiing with some ice,

please, snowtender.”

My first day of skiing and I was questioning my equipment selection. I thought I should have brought my ice skates and Kristi Yamaguchi out there with me.

I didn’t take a lot of photos because the conditions were marginal and I was still jetlagged. When you’re jetlagged, you forget how to use cameras, duh.


Climbing Mt. Shasta, Camping on a Glacier, and Skiing Down

Once you’ve got an idea in your head, you have to do something with it — let it die, or act on it. We brought ours to life.

“Let’s climb Mt. Shasta.”


I just wanted to do something fun. Climbing mountains is fun. Or is it? Things that come with climbing a mountain or can come with climbing a mountain:

  • A diet primarily based on beef-jerky and energy bars.
  • Snow.
  • Snow in your face.
  • Snow in your boots.
  • Snow in your tent.
  • Wind.
  • Wind in your face.
  • Wind outside of your tent (which subsequently makes you think that the big bad wolf is outside about to blow your goddamned tent down the goddamned mountain.)
  • Wind inside of your tent, because the wind can be everywhere.
  • Discomfort caused by “rural” or “ancient” methods of relieving oneself.
  • Pride in overcoming the challenge of the previous point.
  • Tiredness.
  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Fear.
  • Joy.

Let me elaborate on that.

I flew back on a Thursday night to meet up with my dad. He was my climbing partner at the youthful age of sixty-one. My dad can kick your dad’s ass (unless your dad knows jujitsu, and is in his 20s, and you can read this, somehow.) We drove up to Shasta from the bay area, approximately a 4.5-hour drive and spent the night at the Best Western. Holy shit. Have you ever stayed at a Best Western? It’s what I imagine staying at the Ritz Carlton is like, or maybe just the Carlton. We slept like babies that had a fresh pair of diapers and woke up the next morning for some buffetfest. Eggs, sausage, pancakes, the works, everything I ever wanted and dreamed of — I have big dreams.

We shot over to the meeting spot and met the guide and the other two gents in the group. I was the youngest by 21 years. I promised everyone I would make it to the top before them. I did this simply by standing there and not speaking. Oh, the power of youthfulness.

We drove over to the backside of Shasta; made it to our beginning trail over there and got our backpacks on. I mention this because backpacks are often trivial, unless you’re climbing a mountain, staying two nights there, and skiing down it. In that case, you need things like: food, water, plastic bags, ice axes, shovels, transceivers, avalanche probes, ski crampons, skis, ski skins, ski boots, ski clothing, ski poles, bandaids, camping stoves, fuel, alleve (optional), pepto bismol (optional, but recommended), toothbrush/toothpaste (optional, but not advised), sleeping bag, a mat for your sleeping bag, and a giant fucking backpack to carry all of the aforementioned. Also optional: bringing a girl with you to keep you warm at night, but in that case, you’d probably want to bring a toothbrush/toothpaste. See gear:


We got on our merry way. Peculiar to me was the entire setup I had going on my feet. I never went ski touring before in my life. What do you mean my heel comes up? What do you mean I won’t slide backwards on this hill? Are you sure these skin things work? They work. They just don’t work as well as you’d hope when you have 0 experience. As such, my first 15 minutes on this randonee setup was, to say the least, exciting.

Remember when you were a baby learning how to walk? Me neither, but that’s how I felt.

We hiked from 7,000 to 10,000 feet and made camp. We used our shovels to flatten an area and then we pitched our tents right there on the mountainside.


As the night rolled in, the wind picked up, a lot. I’ve never camped at 10,000 feet. I’ve also never camped at 10,000 feet when there’s 30-45 mph winds outside. Shit, I’ve hardly even camped. We cooked dinner inside the tent, which, apparently, is generally a no-no because you can asphyxiate yourself if you don’t have air coming through it. (Asphyxiation is bad.) Also, you can pretty much blow up your tent, which is not an advisable action either. But we cooked inside anyway, all five of us in a 4-person tent, which was really like a 3-person tent. It was cozy.


Dad didn’t know I took this picture of us:

After getting the water boiling, we ate ramen and other choice gourmet foods (actually wasn’t that bad). Then we went to bed. Then the wind picked up even more. And it was snowing.

Tent vs. wind: which one would you bet on?

Our tent survived the night, and so did we. But we missed our chance to summit, because to summit, we needed to leave at 5 a.m.. At 5 a.m., there was a fortified storm outside, and we hardly had a fort protecting us.

The wind finally died down around 8 a.m. and we went ski touring, climbing up to about 11,000 feet. We saw stuff like this:


And this:


And this:


After touring around on the glacier, we went back to camp. The weather was OK and we were actually able to cook from outside of the tent that evening. After eating, we went to bed. Around 10 p.m., the wind picked up. It howled throughout the night which made for ideal sleeping conditions, up until the morning. At 7 a.m., we were all up and the objective was clear: get the hell out of dodge. A blizzard had come, in May, and it was up in our grill, eating all of our meat and vegetables. We packed up in an hour, slapped on the skis and made our way down.

Good news: some decent powder.
Bad news: not for long.

Once we were down to about 8,000 feet, the snow became ice and the terrain shifted away from the smooth plane it once was, and it became somewhat of a minefield filled with “suncups.” These do not make for ideal skiing conditions. But, we made it look as good as we could and we powered through.


Once we got towards closer to the car, the snow was bountiful:


After making it back to the car, we drove to the Goat-Tavern bar back in Shasta City. I had a beer and I washed my hands, with soap. I couldn’t tell you which one I enjoyed more.