First Impressions of Japanese Skating Rinks

I went Ice skating Saturday for the first time since the day I departed for Japan.  I thought things were going to be difficult and that I wouldn't remember much or my body just couldn't handle it, but all of that was wrong.  Am I sore everywhere?  Yes.  Do I have blisters?  Oh yeah.  Did I fall and nearly kill myself?  A bunch of times.  Would I do it again?  You bet your munchkins I will!

The journey there is quite the ordeal.  The rink had practice time from 1:10-2:40.  However, because the rink is in Nagano, and I live in Maebashi, I would have to travel "state lines," as it were, to get there.  Nagano is the prefecture just north west of Gunma.  I had to leave my house around 8:50 or so to catch the 9:03 train to Takasaki, then transfer to Yokokawa, in which I would take a bus up a mountain about 3000 feet above see level to arrive at Karuizawa, Nagano station.  But my journey doesn't end there.  I was still 6 miles away from the rink.  I wasn't about to walk there.  That would have taken me 2 hours.  Though, I probably had plenty of time.  I arrived at Karuizawa station at 11am.  I basically just took pictures and shopped at the station for a bit.  I even bought lunch, not that I ate any of it because I was so excited, but I still bought food none the less.

After about an hour, I stood in line for a taxi and took it to the rink.  That one taxi, cost me more than the entire round trip.  Once at the rink, I couldn't believe I was there.  I didn't believe it until I was actually inside, and on the ice skating.  Which brings me to point number one:

1. The smell is exactly the same.

I am not sure what I was expecting, but I thought the familiar rink smell, was something significant to AZ rinks.  I never realized that all rinks in the world smell the same. 

As soon as I walked inside, I felt the familar cold, and was greeted by the smell.  I was so overcome with happiness, that I had to lock myself in the bathroom because I just broke down sobbing.  I had finally made it to the place where all my worries and all my troubles dissappear for that moment on the ice.  I could feel myself returning to normal.  It was like God was assuring me that He had this planned from the beginning, and wouldn't put me somewhere where I couldn't be myself.  He created me.  He knows that skating is as every much a part of me breathing is to life.

After composing myself, I went to watch the other skaters who were taking turns practicing their programs, because they have a competition next weekend and the weekend after.  While watching them I noticed something,

2. They skate to the same songs.

It was a surreal feeling watching them skate the all the familiar songs that the kids from back home skate to.  I thought there would be differences because of the culture, but I guess when it comes to skating internationally, there are no differences really.  Listening to their songs actually made me think more about creating a post on the top ten songs to never skate to.

The last program before the public skate time started, was an adult ice dancing couple.  It was really cute!! I felt proud and exciting knowing that adult skating is also a thing here.

3. Admission prices are cheap.

At first, I thought it was rather expensive, $12 to skate for an hour and a half?  But after talking to the worker, he told me that the price decreases when you have your own skates.  So it really was only $6 for an hour and a half of practice.  I was rather impressed.  I am accostumed to practice times being $12 for 30 minutes. 

4. Japanese skaters are serious.

I knew that Japan has had very good skaters throughout the years, so has America, but what I did not expect, was that all of the skaters would be good!  There were people doing quads and triples.  HUGE ones, I might add.  And here I was, doing singles.  I think only the 5 year olds were doing their single jumps.  I was amazed at the amount of dedication they were taking to jumping and spinning.  They would do the same move, over and over and over, until their coach claimed they did perfection a certain number of times in a row.  I saw one guy do at least 8 quad toes before he moved one to other jumps.  It was amazing. 

Their spins they would do over and over also.  However, they spent more time working on Jumps and various moves than they did spins.  Watching them do their moves made me admire their coaches hearing abilities.  There were at least 30 people doing serious jumps and spins and here was this one girl, trying to do back power pulls and I could hear this coach teller to sit back and get off her toes.  How he heard her scratching the ice is beyond me.  Speaking of Japanese coaches,

5. Japanese coaches don't ever raise their voices.

My coach would always yell at me from across the rink to either stop doing something or start doing something.  Japanese coaches, stand and watch silently or follow the student closely.  During public times, they did group lessons.  One half of the students worked on Jumps, and the other half worked on spins.  If they wanted to work on moves, they saw coaches individually.  The coaches would calmly state their direction and stand back and watch the skaters jump, then tell the student what they did wrong or right.  If they did it right, they told them to do it exactly the same.  Then again, then again.  Until the coach was satisfide that the student knows how to do it.

Besides the normal sounds of skating on the ice, and general talking, it was a rather quite skate.

6. Posted rink rules are not enforced. 

The rink rules are that you just skate around in a circle and never really do anything else.  You don't go backwards, you don't spin, you don't jump, so I was kind of afraid that I wouldn't be able to do anything.  I was also planning on pulling the gaijin card if I needed to because I really wanted to actually practice, however, the posted rules were not at all what I witnessed happening. 

The rink was "split in half." Half of the rink was reserved for jumping practice, and the other half reserved for spinning.  The outer rim is for those who can't skate or those who are practicing moves.  I saw a couple adult skaters doing their best to practice some 3 turns and edges.  People are really skilled to be skating in Japan because, as I said before, there were at least 30 good skaters doing a bunch of stuff at a time.  The fact that the adults were able to do their edges without hesitating was impressive to me. 

7. Free skating is done in turns.

They have a sort of line system when it comes to spins or jumps.  Each person has their turn and if you miss it, then you mess everyone else up and get nasty lazer eye stares.  Because these skaters were doing mostly triples and doubles, the amount of speed required to achieve those jumps is significantly higher than I am used to.  I really had to book it on the ice if I wanted to keep my place in line.  I have never done so many jumps with such high speed before.  My coach would be proud of me for jumping while being scared out of my mind.  Also, I am a clockwise skater.  The only other clockwise skater was a 5 year old who was just learning how to do a lutz, so that doesn't really count as she stayed by the rims of the rink to practice it.  Everyone else was counter clockwise.  not only that, but they have amazing accuracy in spotting their jumps.  I do not have this jump spotting skill, so every time I went to jump, I had to quickly break away from the line, so I can get myself going in the other direction so I could jump.  I think I only accurately spotted 3 jumps out of the many I did.  On the bright side for me, I was able to do my lutz going the same direction as everybody else.  After I did my jumps a couple of times, the other skaters kind of figured it out that I jump the other way.  So whenever they saw me in the line, they sort of separated more so that I had my own space to jump.  I think they realized that I suck at spotting.  *Sigh* such is the curse of a clockwise skater.

8. Zambonis are driving the same.

I don't know why this really impressed me, but for some reason, I expected the driver to be on the other side of the zamboni, driving it the other way.  However, this was not the case,  He drove it just as anyone else would in the US.  I found it interesting though.  Since we are on the topic of zambonis,

9. Ice resurfacing is an art.

They take great care in making sure the ice is sufficiantly smooth.  They don't just leave holes in it from either hockey or figure skaters, they take the time to patch it up after every session.  Each practice session has a zamboni resurfacing scheduled.  You would never see something like that in America.  Arcadia should take note.  Although, I do wish they would have resurfaced half way through the practice session.  With 30 skaters constantly jumping and spinning, the ice gets messed up rather quickly.  Also, the shear number of people on the ice, made it start melting.  When I had gotten off the ice, I was expecting to have to wipe ice off my blades but there was just water.  My entire boot was covered in water and so was the bottom of my pants.  That being said, I still like the fact that they take such great care of their ice.

10. Locker rooms are actually used for changing.

In the US, locker rooms are used for storing stuff, while everyone took turns changing in the bathroom.  Well, in Japan, there are showers, and a sink, but no toilets, you have to go somewhere else for that.  While I was getting my boots on, people come walking in to the locker room and just start undressing and changing into skating clothes.  Quite shocking for me to all of a sudden see so many women and girls in their underwear.  Once they changed, they quickly headed out the ice to put their skates on.  It was strange.  The locker rooms were actually used for their intended purpose?  What is this world coming to?

That is all for now.  I look forward to what else Japan will teach me.