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About the beginning of April, a neighbor offered us tickets to the Nagano Olympics! He couldn't go -- something about weeding the yard -- so he gave them to us for half price. What a deal! Yoko thought that she had seen something about the Olympics on TV a few weeks earlier, but the neighbor said that was only the practice session. The real thing hadn't started yet.

So off we went! We took the night train from Osaka and, after stopping to milk the cows every couple of kilometers, we arrived at Hakuba Station at 5:30 in the morning. Which was lucky for us, because we managed to beat the crowds. In fact, walking up the hill to the slopes, we didn't meet a single person! In Japan, that's quite an accomplishment, if not an Olympic record.

Aaahh-yup! This is the right place! That's the Olympic logo in the lower left-hand corner, and the sports symbols in the lower right-hand corner.

Hakuba will be the site of many of the skiing and jumping contests.

In the background, you can see the two ski jumps, where the Japanese team has the highest hopes of taking home the gold.

Strange, but there still doesn't seem to be anyone around. Perhaps we're early?

Could this be the ''Herminator" coming down the slope?
Oops! My mistake. It's the "Calvinator." For someone who put on skis for the first time this morning, he's doing quite well. Not many kids his age make the Olympic team on their first day.

Here comes one of the Austrian lugers!
Nope, just Brian zooming down the slopes. (How did HE get on the Austrian team???)

Two-man, freestyle bobsledding? Since when is THAT an Olympic sport?

Now here's an interesting concept -- white dirt. Wonder if it has the same wonderful flavor as the brown variety....

Like any good mother would, Yoko keeps an eye out upstream for the Olympic downhill racers. Hmm. Not a skier in sight. Must be lunchtime.

So here we are, halfway up the Tsugaike slope in the middle of the Japan Alps. There's only a handful of people on the slopes -- none of them Olympic athletes (probably still in bed) -- and what do we find? A Kentucky Fried Chicken store! At least we know where the American Olympic athletes will be having lunch after they wake up.

Hey, Calvin! Still hungry? Open wide! Kentucky Fried Snowball coming your way!
One step closer, kid, and you're walking back to Kobe! This is your Father speaking! Put that snowball down! Now! It's not funny! BRIAN! NO! ARRGGHH!

Now WAIT a minute! That's Yoko on a snowboard, wearing a vest with starting number 5! Something very strange is going on here! Did none of the foreign athletes come, and the Olympic organizers are pulling people off the streets to fill the team rosters? How come no one's asked me yet?

Here's Yoko taking a rest about half way down the Olympic course. Snowboarding at the Olympic level must be very tiring. She took a lot of rests.

Culture note: Yoko is wearing ski wear while snowboarding. I have yet to see any of the olympic snowboarders so I can't say for sure, but in Japan, snowboarders wear ONLY offcial snowboard fashion and skiers wear ONLY official ski fashion. It's a rule, I guess, and Yoko was the ONLY one on the slopes to break it. (She's been hanging around a certain fashion-flaunting foreigner too long.)

Hmmm, I wonder where Yoko got that snowboard, anyway.... (Read the English on the bottom of the board!)

Days were spent looking for Olympic athletes, but nights were spent at this very unusual pension (bed and breakfast?)

I stayed here about 10 years ago with friend Julian. Abe-san, the owner of the pension, used to work in Alaska, and actually built the pension himself with wood that he brought back from Alaska. He calls it Alyeska, the old word for Alaska.

Interesting place, great food, excellent host, and quite handy to Hakuba, Tsugaike and Iwadake ski grounds.

Okay, so we didn't go to the Olympics. But we DID go to Hakuba for three days at the beginning of April, which is pretty close to the end of the ski season in Japan, which, in turn, accounted for the very un-Japanese-like emptiness of the slopes, despite the perfect weather.

And we had a pretty good time. Yoko wanted to take snowboarding lessons, and she did. Calvin wanted to take skiing lessons, and he did. Brian wanted to try sledding, and he did. Michelle wanted to eat snow and dirt, and, god bless her, she did.

Me? Well, the day we left, I suffered a ruptured external hemorroid, which left me with a desperate desire not to sit down too abruptly. So I sat in the snow -- gingerly -- and watched Michelle and Brian and Calvin and Yoko all do their things. That was fun enough for me. And I got to take these pictures. Besides, there's always next year....What? You mean the Olympics are only held every four years? Sheeesh!

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