Lodge owner Myoko says her experience through the pandemic has been “nothing less than life changing”, and warns that when Japan reopens to tourists it will be “an absolute shit show…but in a good way “.
Myokoite Jamie Majewski has called the area home for the past turbulent years. He opened his large group-style self-catering accommodation, Good’en Inn, in early winter 2019. Like the rest of the people of the Earth, the Western Australian could not have known the changes the tourism industry was going to see soon.
Despite the unfortunate moment, Jamie says her hands-on approach to Good’en Inn resulted in brief validation, meeting with “great response from guests”. His business has had a “fantastic start to the season”, insists Jamie, always positive.
Soon things changed.
“After the pandemic hit and the borders closed, tourism for large group bookings just came to a halt,” Jamie recalls. “I had to change tact and furnish the rooms individually. Future investment plans have been suspended.
Spotting a once-in-a-lifetime chance to “enjoy Japan during the unusual time” (read “sharing the mountain with far fewer people”), Jamie says he “was happy to stay and weather the storm.” This same storm provided new opportunities. Specifically, literal storms. Huge snowstorms.
Many businesses in Myoko were at the mercy of Mother Nature. The infamous 2021/22 winter season, or “Snowmaggedon” as Jamie calls it, has left many buildings vulnerable to damage. While a quick survey of Myoko reveals a handful of victims, the number would be greater if not for this in-demand handyman.
“Snow removal and basic repairs to the property were in high demand,” recalls Jamie. He attributes it both to the lack of labor usually provided by working holidaymakers and “business owners stranded abroad not being able to reach their properties for basic seasonal maintenance”.
“I remember the times when I would finish the laps, come back inside and have a coffee just to come out and start all over again because 50cm had already fallen.”
“The magic of Myoko is the constant fight against nature and the elements, whether it’s the forest trying to reclaim the mountain by pushing 30 cm a day or the snow trying to crush all existence with a meter overnight. “
Jamie continues, “Checking snow forecasts daily has become an addiction to predicting my future suffering. Never before have I heard of people not going to ride on a powder day because it was impossible to move on even the steepest slopes.
On his property, Jamie recalls his usual hour-long snow removal routine, suddenly taking a few more hours. “I remember the times when I would finish the laps, come back inside and have a coffee just to come out and start all over again because 50cm had already fallen,” he says.
“My property is usually easy work, but the walls get so high that I couldn’t move the snow over them,” says Jamie. “Around the same time the walls had reached six meters in front of my front door, my snowblower engine exploded. I made a retreat and gave up the front access to the house. A tunnel formed and eventually engulfed the entire area which included both my front door and my gas cylinders.”
“Unfortunately, a week later, I discovered that the propane gas cylinders that supplied my radiators and my hot water needed to be changed. So began the ten-hour expedition to recover the facade of the house with a shovel, beer and a few lessons learned”.
Before the reader feels too sympathetic, it’s worth pointing out that this period of a few months has had its upsides. Resilience requires optimism, but for Jamie, that didn’t require him to work too hard to find it. Of course, silver linings appeared on the mountain.
The last few seasons have been unimaginable and inexplicable,” enthuses Jamie. “The pandemic period has given me an incredible opportunity. Endless powder tracks where the only track you could see was the last one you laid down. Arrive at the lift ten minutes before opening and the only people there chasing the first tracks with you are some of your best friends from the local community.
“The ride was unlike anything I had ever experienced,” he continues. “I was able to walk through ground I had never experienced and really explore and enjoy Myoko-san without the crowds. This, coupled with my professional obligations, has not changed anything in my life”.
He goes on to mention similar scenes during midweek day trips to places like Lotte Arai, Madarao and Nozawa. Subsidy promotions from the prefectural government have helped locals move to different resorts, easing financial burdens without sacrificing too much fun during these difficult times.
There is no evidence that Jamie’s fondest Covid-era mountain memory actually happened. As he recalls, “My most memorable moment of the pandemic seasons would be dropping the ledge at Suginohara – the one directly under the top chair as it passes over the ravine. It was the biggest fall of my life. Only to find out that the old pal’s finger was covering the camera the whole time.” Of course, my friend.
Jamie cites the variable conditions and variety of the mountain as why the ideal experience of Myoko Mountain depends on the day you embark on it. “I don’t think you can have a favorite run or hike or experience once you know the mountain and the resorts well enough,” he says. “Depending on the conditions, there is always an incredible place to explore. And if not, you pack a rice ball and a one-cup nihonshu and go up just to see the view that so few others are lucky enough to see”.
What lies ahead, both for Jamie and Myoko in general? He speaks with what many other Myoko business owners would like to call down-to-earth optimism as they envision a bright future.
“I originally just wanted to open up accommodation where people in large groups could come and stay and enjoy the winter,” says Jamie of his plans ahead of a more recent consideration. “But now I have a greater appreciation for the region and I would find it hard to tell you which season I prefer.”
“The Myoko area has so much more to offer,” says Jamie. “Whether surfing forty minutes away in the Sea of Japan or enjoying lake life ten minutes away at Lake Nojiri. Hike through the fall leaves or sit by Takada Castle admiring the cherry blossoms. Eat traditional Japanese street food or barbecue by a waterfall.
“I’ve been here for three years and always find a new place to go or someone tells me about another secret local gem. This is where I would like to focus my activities and help people experience all that I have experienced for themselves. I would like guests to come back during the so called “off season” and see how it really is.
From issues related to the ski season, Jamie sees a thunderous return. It will be “an absolute shit show. Weak yen and snow-hungry powder fiends tearing the place apart…but in a good way.”
Jamie is as pragmatic as he is enthusiastic about the challenges of Myoko’s life. “Language and culture are always difficult no matter where you are in the world. But I think here in Myoko, if you’re willing to try, learn, respect and appreciate these things, the support you get from the local community is extremely positive.” True.
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