On arrival in Niseko, I received a photo challenge from my sister. So here it is – our first seven days in Japan, in black and white images. In the exercise, there were to be no people and no explanations. I have chosen to annotate them for this post.
Category archive: Humans of …
Jason Sauer had his legs amputated in 2011. One day he was walking, skiing and snowboarding – the next his life was to be redefined as he faced the prospect of losing his limbs. Uncertainty and challenges followed, as well as many life lessons. His unapologetic story is one of courage and determination, retold here in two posts.
In less than a month, we will be back in the snow – atop Mt Hotham. The start of a new season brings excitement, hopes and challenges. We are looking forward to resuming our residence in this familiar place and to embracing what the 2017 Australian winter will bring.
For us, returning to an Australian ski resort like Mt Hotham is like returning to a favourite vacation place. You revisit your favourite spots and seek out the familiar faces of people who frequent them. There will be the returners, the new staff and the space left by absent friends.
There will be much laughter, hugging and hand-shaking. Meetings, inductions, pot-lucks and famils will help welcome newcomers into the mountain ways, social groups and community rituals. Catch-ups and chats will reveal the adventures and experiences had between seasons.
There will be new things to discover – new businesses, new watering holes and eateries. Where will you get the best coffee? Which venue has the best music? What’s changed with the ski runs? What are the new snow-making facilities? Are there other changes in the resort?
A new perspective on a familiar place
Having returned from working in Japan, in a different style resort, I wonder how this new perspective on Mt Hotham will be? I will be working in the resort full-time, returning to live “in the bubble” again. After being in the Niseko region where everything was new and different – job role, resort organisation, snowfall, language and culture. This one is our home resort. It presents a chance to reconnect with friends, to reengage with the people who make up the community that we enjoy belonging to and to bask in the beauty of this part of the country.
Engaging with familiar folk and places is like receiving a warm embrace. You have a place. You contribute. You are liked, perhaps needed. It’s not that this is not true of other places. There is something special about your home resort though. That and the temporal nature of ski seasons and their iterations that build connection. You recombine with other like-minds interested in living the snow life. You experience the highs and lows of the season together and then go your separate ways again.
People ask, “Is it enough?”
People ask me if this lifestyle offers enough to keep me interested and fulfilled. I enjoy the spirit that goes with communities like these. I enjoy living in cities but am probably a country girl at heart. Combine that with the loveliness of the snowy environment and it is a delightful backdrop for a period in which I can try new things and meet new people. Bring on the delights that lie ahead in 2017!
I recently met a friend for lunch. He has become a vegan, so in looking for a place to meet, I chose Lentil as Anything. It is not just an establishment offering vegetarian and vegan foods – it has no set prices, and an inclusive philosophy. Their business model differs from most in the hospitality industry, and is a good news business story.
James is the manager of Monty’s restaurant and bar in Hirafu village. He is one of the first business owners I met – largely due to his coffee-making prowess! Many coffees and conversations later, he agreed to tell me more about his flexible lifestyle.
One of the better places to get coffee in Niseko, is Sprout. There is a mini-Sprout store in Hirafu village where I went to check out their brew and meet the resident barista, Emi. She has had a flexible lifestyle for years. This is her story.
Currently I am working as a coffee barista and a kitchen hand in a bistro. But it wasn’t always so.
Following her passion
Eight years ago I was working in a big company – importing and exporting. I wanted a change, to do something with coffee because I love it so much. I decided to quit my job and went to Melbourne to learn about coffee-making. I spent two years making coffee and working in coffee shops.
I thought, “That’s the place for me”.
She contacted me about available positions in ski rentals. I applied and had an interview. At the end of that, the interviewer asked as his last question, “What’s your dream job?”
My response? “Making coffee, being a barista – that’s what I want to do!”
I was very lucky, because they had one remaining barista position and offered me the job on the spot! That was six or seven years ago.
And so her flexible lifestyle began …
After that season I went to Canada for a year, working at a coffee shop. Returning to Japan, I came back to Niseko straight away and did the same thing. The job wasn’t just making coffee, but managing the coffee shop – ordering supplies, making meal supplements for the shop and rostering staff. I was thinking about numbers and money all the time and didn’t have a lot of time to make coffee, which is what I preferred.
I was a customer at Sprout coffee shop and had thought that if I could work there I would be very happy in the winter. That started me thinking about changing jobs again. I was thinking of applying there and at the same time someone suggested I did. It was a synchronous moment!
Meanwhile, someone else asked me about work in Spring. I wanted to work somewhere that wasn’t too hot in Summer, near lots of trees and of course, to work with coffee. There was a job making coffee in a restaurant in the Yatsugatake Mountains. It required doing some baking and making desserts which suited me just fine!
Working year-round in the mountains
The altitude there is almost the same as Mount Annapuri, has lots of trees and natural beauty. There are not many people there. I started work and spent Spring, Summer and Autumn there and winter in Niseko. I followed that cycle for four years.
Last autumn it was time to change my life’s routine. I decided to stay in Niseko for a while – at least for two years. (That’s how long the lease is on my apartment).
Baristas travel easily
Having a barista job has made it easy to travel – especially in Canada. I didn’t speak French but wanted to work in French Canada. I gave myself two weeks to find a job there before I would have to move elsewhere for work. After one week I had a job as a barista even though I couldn’t speak French. I did learn the language over the time.
Coffee is becoming more important to Japanese people. Filtered coffee is still popular but in the last five to six years, people have started drinking espresso as well. It is growing in popularity – especially in Tokyo.
About this flexible lifestyle
Sometimes I found it hard to keep moving from place to place because I like to collect things – like coffee cups! I also like baking. I always wanted to have my own oven. That was one of the reasons I decided to move into Niseko and buy a new oven.
Advice to other travellers
Have something professional that you do. For me, it’s making coffee as well as cooking. I got a chef’s licence last year. I don’t have much experience as a chef but I thought it would be easier to get a job in a kitchen and there are so many restaurants in Niseko.
When I started travelling there were fewer people doing the same and many were surprised at what I was doing. Now it’s getting more popular. From this year, I think we (Japanese) can get a working holiday visa in Australia until we are 35 years old. So, it is getting easier and easier to do this.
Coffee and food – I think that’s what I want to do. Not sure that I want to have my own restaurant. I used to have more passion for owning my own coffee shop but now I prefer learning new things from my mentors.
When I was working in the importing/exporting job, I thought it would be very difficult to quit and start travelling around. Once I got used to it, I found it was so easy and I was so happy all the time. Now I receive less salary than before, but I am pretty sure I am happier and healthier.
I will have to check in with Emi next year to see how she likes being in one place for a while.
Even though I started working in the ski school a few weeks ago, I only recently attended the company induction program. Sixty-five of us were there. This was new for me. I am usually on the other side delivering the training. So began the first of many changes in my new world of work.