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Okutadmai Races & Tokyo, Japan
April 24th 2012
Okutadami Races & Tokyo

Japan was a real "experience"! If we thought Maranuma was a bit off the beaten track, Okutadami is in the middle of nowhere!

The journey from Maranuma in Gunma Prefecture to Okutadami in Niigata Prefecture was uneventful enough. After about 20 miles we joined the motorway and that took us to @ 30 miles from Okutadami. En route we passed a few ski "resorts" that had closed for the season so we began to wonder what the snow would be like at our destination.

There was no hotel available at Okutadami itself which is closed from December until March because it has too much snow to operate! We stayed about 1/2hr away at the Hotel Yumoto. We were the only non-Japanese people staying in the hotel which was mostly full of elderly Japanese people who walked around all day in hotel-regulation dressing gowns, presumably preparing themselves for the evening's meal (with help-yourself beer and sake) and Karaoke! We were really grateful to find that we had a shower in our room because that is unusual in Japanese hotels where people normally bathe together (men and women in separate areas). We did, however, have standard "futons" and hard pillows to sleep on which were not very comfortable.

On our first evening in the hotel we were literally man-handled into the Karaoke room by enthusiastic fellow guests who insisted that we would sing! Whilst me, my dad and Victoria avoided it, my poor mum had no choice other than to sing – the only English-speaking song she could find was "Honey, Honey" by Abba. The other guests were very excited at the prospect of a foreign visitor singing and there was lots of clapping and cheering when my mum took to the floor. At this time, Victoria and I made a swift exit, partly because we didn't want to face the embarrassment of my mum's singing but also so that we could avoid being asked to perform!

The next day we trained in Okutadami which is accessed by a 30 minute drive THROUGH the mountain. It is, without doubt, the least scenic drive to a ski resort that I have ever endured. The hill had a panoramic view over the Okutadami Dam which is one of the largest Dam's in the whole of Japan.

Race Day 1 – this was OK. I was pleased to get into the top 30 flip and end up with a good result, my 2nd best to day in Slalom (92.52).

Race Day 2 – my first run was probably the best I have ever had and put me into the flip ahead of my sister. I had a fairly clear run on the second run and ended up scoring 84.09 – I was very excited! I have calculated that my Slalom FIS points will be 88.09 which I am really pleased with.

This year has been hard to juggle school and skiing. There was a lot of pressure in trying to get selected for the Youth Olympics after which was the Games themselves. At that stage I wasn't sure how I was going to be able to do any more racing this year because the pressure of GCSEs was mounting up. Knowing that I couldn't do it all, we decided that I would concentrate on just one discipline; slalom. I think it has been a good move and I am really pleased with how this season has ended up.

We left Okutadami immediately after the second race (changing in the car park!) to drive to Tokyo for some r & r. We stopped at the motorway services for some Gyoza dumplings and arrived in Tokyo in the late afternoon.

Whilst in Tokyo we visited Disney and took an open-top bus ride around the city (it only took 45 minutes!). We also did some shopping – there are several high-end department stores selling only designer clothes, jewellery and perfume and each with a Harrods tea room serving English Afternoon-Tea! Everything is very expensive in Japan, though, so we really only bought gifts to bring home.

On our last evening we went to a special Teppan Yaki restaurant in Tokyo. The chef, who cooked the food on a hot plate at our table used massive knives to slice, chop and serve the food. We even had ice cream cooked on the hot plate! We had a very early start the following morning; getting up at 3.30am to catch our 12 hour flight back to London.

Sayonara Japan!