Cutting Room Floor: Buried At Hirafu Station

In recent months I've had a backlog of writing that hasn't been able to find a home. Turns out that I have had a place for it the entire time, right under my nose. I hope to add a couple of these every few months, so stay tuned. To kick things off, here is a brief memory of some time spent in the snowy confines of Hokkaido, Japan in the winter of 2015.

Wordlessly, the train slides up to platform, its hello flashed quickly against the fogged windows of Hirafu Station. Inside, a steam tornado swirls from the tiny stovetop, as our stationmaster, Yoshi, counters the outside storm with another log on the raging wood fire.

Doors open and train passengers shuffle into the station’s waiting room, each lugging a thick layer of white on their black overcoats.

Lost amidst our bottle of sake and trip maps, it takes a few minutes to realize that the train’s departing beeps never sound. I rise from Yoshi’s hand-hewn table to find a neon army of municipal workers shuffling out onto the tracks. Snow shovels in hand, they battle the snow bank accumulating around the engine’s front wheels.

Nothing out of the ordinary, I think. We’ve been on Hokkaido, Japan’s north island, for nearly a week and haven’t seen the sun for more than a few hours. It’s the Japanese winter fabled by poets and winter journeyman worldwide, the reason our group of powder skiers set aside day jobs to trek halfway around the world in search of snow we’d only imagined from the opposite end of computer screens.

Minutes pass and the conductor steps onto the platform. Checking his watch and bowing his head against the galaxy of falling flakes, he paces the deck front to back, back to front, his footfall swept away before it can be retraced.

“How long until they move again?” I ask Yoshi. “This happens a lot, right?”

The stationmaster goes stiff, shuffling manically around the room in search of his coat. As he steps toward the door, he looks back and shakes his head solemnly.

“Never. This has never happened before.”

Over my shoulder I catch the audible gasp from our powder contingent. In a trip full of best days, tomorrow could be the best yet.