Niseko-Bound

For a change in scenery, and because some friends were there, I ditched Sapporo for Niseko on Saturday. Located two hours away, Niseko is reachable by train or by bus. To get to the train station, I would need to take a few subways.

One mental image of me lugging that behemoth snowboard through a turnstile made the decision easy. Bus it was.

My hotel reserved me a seat on the bus and phoned me a cab to the station so I wouldn’t be dragging the board up and down Sapporo’s neatly gridlocked streets at 7am. The bus departed from the station at 8:45, so I scheduled the taxi for 8am.

Unlike Manila, transportation and life in Japan are more or less on-schedule. 8:45 was not a suggestion – it was a rigid departure time and also marked the last bus from Sapporo to Niseko until Sunday. I was not going to miss it.

At 8:15 – after some melee at the hotel front desk – I jumped into the cab and we made it to the station quickly. The weather was cold and brisk, though it seemed to have rained in the night, as the ground was covered in dangerously slippery slush.

Sapporo station is intimidating in its hugeness, especially when you have no idea where you’re going. Especially when you’re dragging sasquatch in a body bag behind you. I’d been told to collect my ticket from the second floor, but I had no idea where this was. I approached two security guards and pointed to the slip of paper my hotel concierge had given me.

One guard kindly led me outside and gestured toward a set of steps leading up. Not only were these steps steep, they were slush-covered and looked mighty dangerous to be lugging a snowboard up. Surely there was a lift someplace, or an escalator.

I walked briskly around but to no avail. It was 8:32. Silently swearing under my breath – how did people with wheelchairs get to the ticket station? – I rolled the board back in to the guards and, in a mild panic at possibly missing my bus, attempted to ask them if I could leave it there so I could run up and get my ticket.

I use the word ‘ask’ loosely.

In a charade that would’ve won me a HeadsUp match, I laid the snowboard at their feet and pretended to march out the door, pointing upwards. They got it.

One guard, wearing a face mask, shook his head.

“I…have no right to receive this,” he explained. I had a feeling he’d say that. 8:35. I opted for panic and pointed at the paper where my bus departure time was written.

“I’m going to miss my bus,” I tried. “I can’t take this up the stairs.”

I mimed difficulty rolling the board up the stairs. The guards discussed something in whispers before the masked guard finally spoke up. (I should mention here that I also had my other bags with me. If it had just been the board, I could’ve done it.)

“OK,” he said. “I will follow.”

I thanked him profusely and watched as he struggled to hoist the bag over his head.

“No, you don’t have to do that…it has wheels,” I tried, pointing to the wheels. He only smiled and steadied the board over his head. I mimed wheeling the case, and he laughed cheerfully, still holding the board. Unable to communicate how sorry I was about making him do this, I instead opted to rush to the stairs, where I thought he’d wait with my board.

Instead, he carried it upstairs to the ticket office.

I felt pretty awful. I’ll be honest: if I’d carried it, with my backpack and other bags, I would’ve wiped out and probably chipped a tooth. But I also felt mounting concern with every step he took that he might also wipe out on the precarious slush, and that would’ve been worse.

Once we reached the ticket office, I thanked him again, unsure of how to express the depth of my gratitude. He bowed a little, and I remembered reading somewhere that the deeper you bow, the more thankful you are, so I bowed as low as I could until it was practically a kowtow and waved him off as he left.

8:40.

Here, I wheeled the board in a broad 180, much to the amusement of a group of elderly Japanese people whom I nearly wiped out. It was like a game of Skip-It gone wrong.

There was one person in front of me at the ticket desk, and she had many questions. After obtaining her ticket, she began inquiring about various destinations in Japan and how she could get to each and every one of them.

Panicked, I gently tapped her shoulder and explained that I was going to miss my bus, and I just needed to claim my ticket.

I like to think that my polite demeanor was what made her step to the side. In reality, it may have been the upsetting lunatic glint in my eyes.

There was no escalator, but dragging the board back down the stairs was a bit easier than going up. The board lumbered and crashed down the steps behind me until I reached my platform and the driver dutifully loaded the thing into the bowels of the bus.

At 8:44, I collapsed into a seat, breathless.

At 8:46, we pulled out of the station.

I was en route to Niseko, for the price of a ticket and my dignity.

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