After our 3 week family trip to Japan for my son’s karate tournament in July, our friend Dave asked us to come back and work for him for the winter. We would help him manage his 80+ staff in his ski school, run the cafe, and enjoy the Japanese Alps. It was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up and all that we needed to do was rent out our house and pull the kids out of school for four months. So we did.
I was also yearning to put more travel into my life, and possibly a breath of life into my failing marriage. I thought a bit of travel may be just what it needed, and it would be a wonderful family adventure for us all at the very least.
I booked our first night at the Hotel Nikko Narita for $85 through Booking.com which worked out perfectly after our long flight from Toronto. It had a free shuttle bus from the airport and was directly across the street from the best ramen I have ever tasted in my life for about $6/bowl. Welcome to Japan!
The next morning we took the train into Tokyo and then a 5 hour bus to Hakuba. There are a few ways to get to Hakuba from Tokyo but I have found the Alpico bus to be the most direct and the cheapest. It leaves from Shinjuku station and costs about $45 one way.
Once in Hakuba, we settled into our winter home, The Windjacket. It was a big old house that was in rough shape and had no indoor heating …but was within walking distance to the ski lifts. Lesson #1 for the kids was learning to adapt, which they did quickly. We lived with about 20 international staff who were in their 20s and 30s and who the kids absolutely loved. As a mother, I loved the fact that they had 20 ‘big brothers and sisters’ looking out for them all the time.
During the day, we would work and ski, and at night we would hang out with our international family, and do some homeschooling with the kids. It was surprising how little time they actually needed to homeschool to keep up with their peers.
We used Kahnacademy.org and mathxl.com to keep up in math. We used kto12reader.com for reading and spelling. We used RosettaStone to keep up in French. We wrote journals every day and read books. We looked on youtube and other sites for science and geography. It was an education they couldn’t get at home and they didn’t fall behind which was the main thing. In fact, when we returned to Canada the next April, the kids were ahead in most subjects.
It was our second trip to Japan with the kids that year and it was a lot of fun. We skied a lot, made a ton of new and adventurous friends, saved some money, and enjoyed Japanese food. But the hopes I had of the trip healing my marriage were in vain. Instead, it made me realize that my ex and I were heading in different directions and that change was imminent.
The following year, Dave asked us to come back to work in Japan for him again. I agreed to go back while we figured out our next move. That winter, we officially enrolled the kids in Japanese school while we were there. Here is a photo of my daughter at lunch time. In Japan, they have hot lunches and all the kids serve it up and clean up afterwards. We had to buy my daughter a special apron and mask to wear so she could help. Unfortunately, the whole Japanese school thing only lasted about a week. It turned out to be really ineffective as they didn’t speak a word of Japanese and would just sit there all day. We pulled them out and went back to homeschooling. And although it was another fun winter full of adventures and beauty, we did end up separating when we got back the following April.
And now we are all much happier.
Since separating, my ex continues to go back to Japan each winter to work for Dave, and when the kids visit him in March, I take a trip somewhere warm and exciting.