Living On Top Of The World // Hakuba Mountains
Upon arriving in Japan my mission was to find some work, well, it was second on my list while I explored this new land, but while I was in Tokyo I cam across an opportunity..
I was being hosted my some lovely couch-surfers when the conversation got onto photography and one of them mentioned some work they had done up in the mountains that had some crazy views a photographer could only dream of!
And so she introduced me to someone currently working there, I sent my details and before I knew it I was crouching on the ground about to fly in a helicopter for the first time! I was pretty lucky in that 90% of the staff have to hike the 4 hour journey up the mountain.. but they had a spare seat so I jumped at the chance!
Arriving in my new home for the next 2 months I was greeted with the most spectacular view from my little window, my room was a tiny box with no electricity, no internet and no heating, but it didn’t matter because this view was unreal! It looked like my window was actually a desktop wallpaper!
These were the views I had to put up with everyday! The evening sunsets were unreal and being able to see distant mountains on clear days was a real treat, annoyingly My work shifts landed right on sunset but seeing gazing at the colourful clouds on my 10 minute breaks was quite something.
It wasn’t anything glamorous, I was working in the kitchen mainly, this included waking up early to start work at 4am making breakfast/do the washing up. I also would have to clean the rooms and then later in the evening prepare dinner/again more washing up.. The work was every single day unless a day off was requested, which was great for my savings but pretty flipping tiring.. Can you guess which is my pair of gloves above?
About halfway through my time on the mountain I celebrated my birthday by taking a day off (this and one weekend down from the mountain were my only breaks). I went for a morning hike, hoping to reach the top of one of the tallest mountains in the area but about halfway there I bumped into a family of wild Japanese macaques!
If you want to see what camera I use, go here!
They were enjoying the morning sun and didn’t take much notice of me.. at first. I managed to get pretty close and take some really nice photos but then they decided I had overstayed my welcome or maybe got a little too close, as the adults started to run at me while screeching! I decided not to stand my ground and fight, turning and hopping down the rocks away from them and throwing a few warning stones in their direction!! Luckily I was able to out pace them down the hill and they retreated back to the ridge.
The mountains are also home to a species of bird called raicho or ptarmigan in English, I managed to get up close with this little one who was a lot friendlier than the monkeys!
My birthday was the start of what seemed like endless storms and dense cloud coverage that continued until the end of my time on the mountain, which occasional breaks for a day or two. This meant that the supply helicopter was unable to resupply us on my birthday, the day it was scheduled for.. it was eventually delayed by 10 days meaning that we almost completely ran out of food and had to start limiting the number of guests!
During this time the infamous typhoon Jebi that was said to be the most powerful Japan had seen in 25 years passed pretty close to our location. We had to evacuate our normal sleeping quarters and all move into one building for safety, we also spent the previous day putting metal shutters on all the windows and bringing everything not nailed down inside.. Luckily the only damage was cosmetic, few smashed solar panels and wall panels ripped off but it was still a pretty crazy few days!
The Views, again..
Its easy to get used the the views when you see them all day everyday, and it was no exception here, after a few weeks it got to the point where I was no longer sitting and staring during my time off, but every now and then nature would throw something new into the mix and give a glorious show again! Seeing the peak of Mt. Surugi poking out above the sea of clouds or the evening fog eerily sweeping over the mountains were some of those moments.
Seeing the Milky Way in such detail is something I always love witnessing, and was one of the reasons I came here after seeing my friend’s photo of the stars. We only had a few perfect nights for stargazing, but it was worth being mega tired in the morning as seeing this many stars is not something everyone gets a chance to see.
If you want some help taking great photos, check out my guide here!
I knew coming to Japan that I would face a language barrier that was going to take some work to overcome in terms of continuing to learn after spending 2 years learning bits and pieces via a phone app.. but I wasn’t prepared to be the only foreigner working here, and to make things even more difficult there was only 1 guy who could speak English fluently, a couple who knew about as much English as I knew Japanese and the rest couldn’t speak any English..
To make things more awkward, of course I was the only vegetarian.. which meant I couldn’t join in with the group meals and had to cook my own food as it seemed almost every dish cooked included some form of fish or meat.. gah! Above is my signature vegan burger which I actually ended up serving for a few vegan customers when the chef was stumped as to what to give them!
For all the isolation I felt from this place, it was a very memorable experience being the first time I had been this high (altitude wise :P), I was forced to improve my Japanese and it was a great way to learn, made some great friends, endured the worst typhoon to hit Japan in 25 years and most importantly enjoyed some amazing photo/video opportunities. Would you live & work in a place like this?
Now check out the awesome video I made about my time there..
Thinking about coming to Japan on a Working Holiday Visa?: Check out this handy guide
Thanks for reading!
Taran here, owner of Nomad'er How Far. I'm fond of psychedelic rock, photography & videography, anything to do with space and I'm also partial to the odd gaming session. Oh and I love to travel :P Get to know me here!
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