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Sunday, Jan. 28, 2001

JAPAN LITE

In what other country can you ski in a zoo?


When we finally arrived at the ski area after three hours of driving, I realized I had not packed my ski jacket. I had packed my winter sailing jacket instead.

Well, at least I'd stay dry should there be a tsunami on the slopes. Furthermore, the reflectors on the sleeves and the bright yellow hood would alert the rescuers should I fall off the mountain in a snow storm.

I didn't feel so bad, however, when I saw some of the other skiers: One had a pink rabbit costume on and another a green frog costume. A husband and wife team sported Disney ski outfits -- the man in silver with Bugs Bunny emblazoned on the back and the woman in bright pink with a bulbous Tweety Bird head on the back, as if Tweety were holding a magnifying glass up to his face. Or perhaps he was hoping to be noticed and rescued by migrating birds.

I looked up at the clouds which portended inclement weather. No problem, I thought, looking down at my rental equipment. My rental poles, with lime green baskets, yellow grips and purple straps could be used as emergency flares.

My husband and I walked through the little village behind treaded purple vehicles with purple flashing lights, like little pachinko parlors, crawling up the street carrying skiers to the slopes. When we passed the fried octopus-on-a-stick stand, the truck singing the "yaki-imo" song and the "Frenchdog" cart, I started wondering if we hadn't somehow arrived at the zoo by mistake.

We took out our trail map, titled "Joyful Ski," and found instructions of animated cows doing stretching exercises. "Radio taiso" for cows. The next panel showed the cows riding the chairlift in proper form, as any conscientious cow would. I'm not sure what the point was -- perhaps the discreet, indirect Japanese way of saying, "No grazing."

In conscientious cow style, we boarded the chairlift. That's when I spotted the road construction crew skiing down. They were skiing very cautiously in their bright orange duds, as if it was completely OK to leave that gaping hole in the road for a little skiing over the lunch break.

"That's not the construction crew," a Japanese person informed me. "Those are people in rental ski outfits." I was beginning to feel rather comfortable in my sailing jacket.

The first run was smooth sailing until -- GAAAWK! Tweety Bird was coming at me from the starboard side. Just as I gave Tweety the right of way -- Woosh! -- Bugs came at me from the port side.

No worries, I thought, regaining my course and tacking across the hill on a reach.

I coasted up over a swell when GAAAWK from the starboard side. Again?! Tweety and Bugs raced by at about 30 knots, leaving tails behind them like comets. It was definitely a regatta.

By late morning the clouds were clearing and fine weather was on the way. The conditions were excellent and we had moved on to more difficult terrain on the other side of the mountain. I was just ready to get out my sunglasses and sunscreen when GAAAWK -- pink and grey party streamers flew past me in the air causing me to lose my balance and crash. I glanced around for the coast guard.

No problem, I said as I got back to my feet, thankful for the muscles I had built up from using Japanese-style squat toilets for so many years.

I continued skiing down, trying to keep clear of small craft such as snowboards and Disney characters on magic carpets.

At the bottom, we decided to drop anchor at the bar for lunch. What -- no bar? Well, so much for becoming a drunken sailor.

As we sat in the cafeteria, we laughed at ourselves as we counted three different couples with identical Bugs Bunny and Tweety Bird ski outfits. GAAAWK!

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com


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