Trip to Myoko and Zao: Thinking the future of Frost-covered Trees and the Humanity

My first blog post of the year was a bit delayed, but I hope you'll join me throughout this new year.
The start of 2024 has been marked by a series of disasters including earthquakes and plane accidents, casting a shadow of unease over the year. I hope everyone is safe and well.

During the New Year holidays, I enjoyed my first ski runs of the season, traveling from Kiso Fukushima Ski Resort to Myoko-Ikenotaira & Akakura Kanko Ski Resort, and then to Zao Onsen. Although ski mountaineering was impossible due to a lack of snow and the earthquake, I devoted my time to practicing on the slopes.

Leaving Osaka at 4 a.m., my first destination was the Kiso Fukushima Ski Resort. It's a skiers-only resort where you can leisurely ski while enjoying the view of Mount Ontake. Despite low snowfall at the end of the year, the resort managed to open thanks to artificial snowmaking. The next day, I moved to Myoko in Niigata, visiting Ikenotaira Ski Resort and then Akakura Kanko Ski Resort the following day. Niigata also had little snow at the end of the year, and there were patches of ground visible, but the real snow (not from snow machines) was a real treat.

Akakura Kanko Hotel, a pioneer resort hotel established in Showa 12 (1937), has a great location and a significant presence. I took a photo, thinking if I could stay there next time.

While driving after skiing, I experienced the earthquake on New Year's Day. The tremor felt quite long even while driving a car. I shudder to think how scary it would have been if I'd been on a ski lift. When I stopped at a souvenir shop near Myoko Kogen Station, I saw scattered and broken bottles of wine and juice. At the accommodation I had booked, gas pipes were in trouble due to the earthquake and I could not take a bath, but I was just grateful to be able to sleep in a futon.

I was hesitant about going to Yamagata, but after confirming over the phone that there was no earthquake damage, I cautiously moved on to Zao. The roads around Joetsu were fine, and there were no issues with the journey.
Last February, when I visited, the Yamagata Zao area was completely covered in white. However, this New Year saw much less snow, with the town yet to experience any significant snowfall. The ski resort, despite having less snow than usual, had good quality snow and even small frost-covered trees were visible. The Aomori Fir trees (also known as Maries' Fir) at the mountaintop are suffering from a widespread dieback due to an infestation of a harmful beetle known as the bark beetle, making the 'snow monsters' look weak and lifeless.

It is anticipated that if these dying trunks decay and fall, the frost-covered tree area will be lost, leading to a vast expanse of snowfield instead. Skiing down the Zange slope, which runs between the frost-covered trees from the top of the gondola, is a delightful experience with a fantastic view, making one want to shout with joy. The slope is named 'Zange,' meaning penance, because the trees laden with heavy snow appear to be bowing in penance. The thought of such scenery disappearing is quite disheartening.

Efforts towards regeneration are being made by the Forestry Agency, and local elementary and middle school students are participating in tree-planting activities. I sincerely hope that the Aomori Fir trees will regenerate and once again create magnificent snow monsters!
From the gondola, you can see how the trees at the summit have become thinner. I heard that if you climb in the summer, you'll find a landscape of withered trees. The recent earthquake also destroyed the morning market in Wajima, and recalling the scenery from my past visit there left me with an indescribable feeling. This New Year's made me realize once again how quickly the scenery we're looking at can disappear.

This morning, I heard Michael Jackson's 'Heal the World' on the radio. Released in 1991, the year of the Gulf War, the song carries a message to 'heal' our ailing world. Sadly, Michael's wish has not been fulfilled, and in 2024, the world seems to be moving not towards becoming a 'better place' but rather regressing, and it appears that we, the public, are entering a mode of resignation. Contemplating the lyrics deeply made me wonder, 'can't humanity do something about this?'

Heal the world
Make it a better place
For you and for me, and the entire human race
There are people dying
If you care enough for the living
Make a better place for you and for me

Create a world with no fear
Together we cry happy tears
See the nations
Turn their swords into plowshares

Despite feeling insignificant, all I can do is pray for peace. 
See you in the next blog post!
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