Why the January Pilgrimage to Ski Japan Is Worth Every Penny
A visual recap of Japanuary, a 10-day trip to experience the legendary dry powder that makes Hokkaido a worldwide destination
Graham Hiemstra, David Ryder
Contax T2, Yashica T4
Kodak Portra 400, T-Max 400
After what felt like a lifetime of waiting, I was just a week away from fulfilling my dream of snowboarding in Japan. But the forecast looked grim. A centimeter here, a few more there. It didn’t make sense. Hokkaido is where the snow is—it’s where it always is, every January. They call it Japanuary for a reason.
After some reassuring words from participants of years past, I ignored the forecasts, packed my bags, fired off some last minute emails before setting my OOO message live, and tried to mentally prepare for the 27 hours of travel it would take to get me from New York City to Sapporo.
Fast forward and I’m driving north from Sapporo to Central Hokkaido in a van with my cousin—award winning photojournalist and Field Mag contributor David Ryder—and two strangers, one being our guide via Stealth Backcountry Tours.
"Ski untouched waist-deep snow, eat ramen, sushi, and ice cream, visit 7-Eleven, drink beer from vending machines, soak in onsen, repeat"
We had chosen to skip Niseko, the most well known ski resort town in Hokkaido, after hearing countless stories that the Aussie population has begun to outnumber the Japanese and that the vibe scales have shifted heavily towards a more Western experience. Sure, we had come for the snow, but it’s Japan after all, and we weren’t interested in missing out on the cultural aspect too. Either way, it was nuking out, and all signs pointed to the endless epic powder to come.
Over the next six days the four of us, plus our local Japanese guide and Gentem style master Kazumasa Yamada, aka Junior, did little more than lap untouched waist-deep snow, eat ramen and sushi and ice cream, visit 7-Eleven, drink beers from vending machines, soak in onsens, and laugh to the point of crying from stupid inside jokes and life as a gaijin in Japan in general.
I had all the intentions in the world of creating a wealth of content from the trip. But day one, as the beautiful mindfuck that is Japan set in, I instead decided to embrace the slow pace of life as a snowsurfer and let my overzealous work dreams and pent up stresses from city life fade away. Forecasts be damned, it snowed a foot plus every day. And I wasn't going to let that go to waste.
"The urge to document life’s most precious and anticipated moments is sometimes best ignored"
Moral of the story: the urge to document life’s most precious and anticipated moments is something we all feel. But sometimes it’s best to ignore such feelings of obligation and free yourself to experience the beautiful ephemerality of it all.
Even still David and I together managed to burn five rolls of film with our respective 35mm point-and-shoots. What you see above is a series of snapshots—a window into Japanuary 2018 for our crew, made up of both earnest efforts to capture sick turns and half-assed attempts at answering that little voice in the back of my head screaming “don’t forget the photo essay!” Either way, I hope you dig it.