Expectations and the Bitterly Cold* Realities of Working at a Ski Resort Hotel in Japan
** in reference to the weather
Expectation and Reality sometimes overlap, maybe a little or maybe a lot. Most often, the aspects of Reality that end up being most significant are what you never even considered when conjuring Expectations in the first place. Oh, the Unexpected!
Now, I am comfortably once again situated with my relatives in Tokyo after a winter of working at a ski resort hotel in Hakuba. I have been reflecting about Expectations, Reality, and the Unexpected from this experience, mainly because I went in not knowing what to expect. In this day and age, you can find blogs about how to prepare for just about anything, whether it be college, travel, retirement, or retiling your bathroom. But you can’t find much (in English) about working a resort job in Japan, in particular as someone from overseas.
Expectations and Corresponding Realities From Hakuba
1. Having never lived somewhere with so much snow, I thought I would be cold all the time and that I would really hate it.
The cold hardly bothered me. Proper clothing and footwear made all the difference. Even on the windiest, snowiest days, I was toasty while outside Indoors, the there was always a heater running whether inside the hotel or at the dorm.
2. There would be many fun coworkers to become friends with.
People who work seasonal resort jobs are pretty chill, and befriending coworkers was easy (if I could be sneaky about it.) At work, if I became too wrapped up in conversation with coworkers, even during the most boring task (primarily wiping the endless piles of dishes and cutlery), a supervisor would appear with a new task to ask specifically me to do. Always, the task_ happened_ to take me far from the people I had been getting to know. This happened regularly, and not only to me. At least when not clocked in, all I needed to do was wander around the hotel or over to the staff canteen to find someone to hang out with.
3. Japanese would be spoken most of the time, and I would never have much chance to speak English.
I spoke a lot of Japanese… but also so much English. Many hotel guests were from Japan, but also from abroad. Knowing Japanese, even if not that well, and English was handy. In free time, I could also speak English a lot with my new friends because… let’s go to the next point!
4. My sister and I would sorely stick out from the rest of the staff as the only people from overseas.
The ski resort hotel staff was far more international than I could have ever hoped for! I was so excited to meet met the Nikkei girl from the U.K., and then the Nikkei Canadian guy within the first week. My second week, the interns from Indonesia and China arrived! As weeks flew by, I met other seasonal and full-time staff who were from other parts of the world or were Japanese and had lived in other parts of the world.
Of course, we stood out, both in appearance and anytime we didn’t speak Japanese. The importance was, we were not alone!
5. In every minute of my free time, I would be skiing and snowboarding endlessly. Duuuuh, that’s mostly why I went for this job.
I didn’t ski or snowboard that much. My last month on the resort, I only skiied once. Work exhausted me, and my preferred free-time activities were sleeping and eating. The remote location of the hotel also meant that if there was something I needed to do in town (mail something, grocery shopping, etc.) then it would take most of the day, leaving no time for the slopes. Still, I skiied and snowboarded far more in those 3.5 months in Hakuba than I had than in the last ten years, and that was good enough for me.
The Curveballs: What I Didn’t See Coming
1. The deliciously greasy staff canteen food made me bloated and fatally gassy. (As in, fatal to the lungs of those around me. Mine too.) I was constantly farting. Tums provided a little relief, but not as much as finding out that I wasn’t the only one having this issue.
2. When the new U.S. president took office in late January, the resulting changes hit me far harder than I expected. Those first weeks were rough, even from across the ocean. It still sucks, though I suppose I’ve gotten used to it grudgingly.
3. Even though I enjoyed the experience overall, with just three days left in my contract, I woke up totally unable to stand the place AT ALL. I went to the office to cut my contract that day and was on a train to Tokyo the next. I liked the job, and I had good friends. So what was wrong? As mentioned, the resort was remotely located atop a mountain and was hard to leave without a personal car. Aside from being almost inescapable, I found living and working every day in the size of an area that takes not even ten minutes to walk across to be suffocating. I got along unexpectedly well with all my roommates, but sharing a small room with 2-3 other people meant no privacy. Most deeply, I missed unwinding by hopping on my bicycle or skateboard to ride somewhere, anywhere in the anonymity of the city. Even if I had brought my skateboard or bicycle to the resort, it was too snowy and icy for either anyways. I had wanted to try a ski resort job for years, so I didn’t expect to feel this way so strongly. That was the most unexpected of all.
For My Nikkei Readers
Though I am a quitter, I still HIGHLY recommend working on a resort in Japan if you have the proper visa or citizenship. If your Japanese is not great, it’s a good chance for you to improve. And I promise, there is a position you can do even with really basic Japanese ability and no work experience. A lot of resorts receive international guests, so workers who can speak foreign languages (especially Chinese, English, and Korean) are definitely wanted. During the busiest holidays periods of the year, positions can be as short as even just two weeks.
Most of all though, it honestly is a fun and unique experience. You will befriend so many types of people, and make memories living somewhere most people only travel to. I’ll write more about how to find resort jobs at some point.
If I were a university student still, I would have worked a summer or winter position in Japan in lieu of studying abroad in Japan. And so I make up for lost time now! Since I now know I really dislike snowy and remote areas, for my next resort job, I hope to work at a beach resort located an hour away from Osaka.