2014 is great so far: I managed to dodge the scorching Australian summer and went skiing in Japan for 3 weeks -- on a budget! I volunteer about 2-8 hours/day in hospitality work in exchange for free ski pass, gear, room and board! I'm staying at Appi-Kogen in Iwate Prefecture, northern Honshu, perhaps the snowiest place I've ever been (see map). Not only have I realized one of my dreams of being a ski-bum, but the work I do is as interesting (or more) as being a tourist: I get to experience a different side of the ever-so-facinating Japanese culture, especially the dynamic between worker and employer. I've heard that the austere worker-boss relationship inherits from Samuari, with the expectation of one being willing to die for one's master, etc. I've never been an obsequious person, and so I've struggled a bit to adapt to the workplace, but learned a lot in the process, about myself and Japan.
Aside from the skiing some of my favourite cultural tidbits include:
i) Humility. For example, when you present a gift or food offering to another person, you should ask forgiveness in the process for presenting to them such a terrible gift/food. This even applies to introducing someone to your spouse ("here is my terrible wife").
ii) Soba bars. Imagine ordering and paying for a meal from a vending machine outside a restaurant, receiving a coupon, and then entering to sit alone on a long bench along the wall with other quiet business-attired Japenese men. Yum!
iii) Mochi-panda. An adorable 'hello-kitty' kid's character and multitudinous consumer item, except its a panda, and its frowning, because its about to be eaten.
iv) dancing to Nine-inch-Nails on a TV Dance competition show
v) 'epic Pow' as they say in Australia. "Lots of snow."