My love for the backcountry (Part.1)

Interviewer: Max Mackee (Kammui Founder)
Photos by Ranyo Tanaka


Actor Shota Matsuda, who grew up skiing as a child, talks about the allure of the backcountry and why he skis and climbs. From his relationship with nature to his favorite ski gear. Interviewed by backcountry buddy, Max Mackee from Kammui.

Max: Good evening. First of all, can you tell me a little about your background and where you were born and raised?

Shota Matsuda (Shota): I was born and raised in Tokyo. As many Japanese people know, my father was a famous actor in the Showa period, and my mother was also an actress. From around the time my sister and I were in elementary school, our mother was away from home a lot for filming. I was sent to a soccer camp during summer vacation and a ski school during winter vacation. I started skiing when I was about 8 years old, in the second grade of elementary school, and that was my first encounter with skiing.

Max: Where was the ski school?

Shota: There was a ski school in Aomori where my siblings and I were taken. My babysitter's parents lived in Aomori, so they sent us all with the babysitter's kids, Kyosuke and Akiko. We all went to school together.

Max: That's amazing.

Shota: In the winter we went skiing in Aomori, and in the summer we went to a soccer camp. Ryuhei and I went to Italy and played soccer. Thanks to the babysitter, we were able to go to Italy, where the babysitter’s husband was working, I don't know what his job was, but anyway, he was working overseas. So we went together, soccer in the summer and skiing in Aomori in the winter.

Max: I heard last week that both you and Ryuhei were goalkeepers?

Shota: We were both goalkeepers for some reason, and I don't know why, and I used to look up to Mori-san (Atsuhiko Mori of Wacko Maria).

Max: So how did you fall in love with skiing?

Shota: I think I liked skiing from when I was a kid, simply because I liked the feeling of speed and the sensation of skiing downhill.

Max: That's great. I only started skiing when I was 16 years old. Because I lived in England for a long time, I could only go snowboarding once I started my career as a lawyer.

Shota: Skiing was pretty normal for me from an early age. I didn't really have any sense of fear until I started backcountry skiing. I wasn't really afraid of the slopes. In junior high school, I went to Hakuba on a school excursion \and I didn't really understand why my friends couldn't ski. That's how close I was to skiing from when I was in elementary school.

Max: Lucky you, Do you remember where in Aomori?

Shota: Not specifically It was really rural as I remember the grandmother spoke in the Aomori dialect, and I couldn't understand it very well.

Max: Funny, as we met in Aomori, in Hakkoda, right?

Shota: Yes.

Max: So before we talk more about the backcountry, can you tell me about your experiences in nature outside of soccer and skiing when you were growing up?

Shota: During our childhood, if my mother basically had a normal working week, she would pick one day to take us all to a park to have dinner outside, in nature. Basically, my first camping experience was eating dinner outside in the park at night by candlelight with my family..

Max: Seriously?

Shota: Now that I think about it, I think it's kind of wonderful. I have to respect my mother!

Max: I wonder where she got that idea?

Shota: I don't know about that, I guess she tried to keep the kids occupied.

Max: I've been reading a lot of books on this subject lately, and scientific research has shown that there is a positive impact on learning, focus and creativity when children grow up and learn in an environment within nature.

Shota: When I think about the children of the Heisei generation,when I was in elementary school in the late 80s and early 90s, there were not many restrictions on us. I think that's why my mother brought some blankets to a regular park, candles and fed us curry in the park. . We loved it because it was fun, and I still remember how creative it made me feel. You don't have to go out into real nature, just enough to give the kids a taste of it. I still remember how exciting it was for me to have this small change in my life.
Maybe that's why I feel an affinity for camping and things like that.

Max: So moving on to backcountry skiing and snowboarding, which we both love and kind of connected us initially.. When did you first go into the backcountry?

Shota: So after skiing as a kid and middle school, I moved to England for a while. When I came back and became an actor and started getting work, I found that the days were very busy and short and months passed by in the blink of an eye. I didn't have a chance to go skiing, and then I had three or four days off for the first time in a long time. I wanted to do something active gone and have fun, rather than just relaxing and doing nothing for four days. It happened to be during the time I was working on a January show, and I hadn't taken a break for two or three years, so I was under a lot of stress. So I decided to get out of Tokyo and climb a mountain with a friend (Ryuichi).
I was young, so I wanted to move my body and clear all the stress, tension, and everything else in my head. So we climbed in the middle of winter at Mount Io-Dake (硫黄岳) in Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳). It took me about seven hours because it was a pretty harsh winter season.

Max: Wow. How old were you?

Shota: I was 23.

Max: limbing snow-capped mountains with all the equipment in the middle of the winter.

Shota: (laughs) We were supposed to stay at a place called Akadake Sanso, but my friend Ryuichi thought it would be more fun to stay in a tent. It was really tough. I used crampons on ice for the first time.

Max: Without any training at all? That's pretty amazing. I haven't done much winter mountaineering.

Shota: Of course, it's a mountain, so there are places where it's icy, places where there is no snow at all, and places where there is a lot of snow. But it was really in love at first sight when I saw the sunset view from the mountain.

Max: Funnily enough, I have also climbed a mountain with Ryuichi (laughs), and that was a real mind blowing experience for me. We had just got our first round of funding for Kammui, but I had a lot of stress with work partners and other business issues. . I climbed Mt Kurodake with some friends including Ryuichi and Ian Spalter (who became an advisor for Kammui). By the time I got halfway up the mountain, I realized all my problems were so insignificant and I was “in the moment”, at peace. When I got to the top of the mountain, I could see the sunset over Mt. Fuji and it was a holy moment for me. Something I will remember for a lifetime.

Shota: I know what you mean.

Max: That time, when I felt the power of nature, I knew that what we were trying to do at Kammui was worthwhile. The whole experience was like meditation.

Shota: It was just like that.
I was young at the time and all I was doing was working, so I really felt freedom through that experience. It was a lot of work, but it was much better than lounging around at home. I could have just relaxed on the couch alone and watched a movie. Then again, I am an actor, so I would think about something when I watched a movie. So climbing from morning to night, using my entire body, up to Akadake-sanso (赤岳) and climb up to Iōdake (硫黄岳). I saw the pink sunset at the summit and came back home in the dark, looking at the stars and talking about love with my friend. I was so tired that I pitched my tent next to Akadake Sanso (赤岳山荘) and went to sleep right away. I was knackered but my mind was energized.
On the way down from that climb, I saw people with skis and that's when I realized there was something called backcountry skiing. I went home and back to my work, and it just so happened that the art guy on my film crew was a backcountry skier or snowboarder. I asked him what he was doing during his vacation, and he told me that he was backcountry skiing. He showed me pictures of him skiing in powder with different equipment and having a great time, away from the slopes and in a different way to mountaineering. That was really exciting.

Max: So that's about 15 years ago? Did someone teach you from there?

Shota: That's where I got hooked, and the guy who taught me was Yuta Ueno (Kammui Guide from Nozawa Onsen) . Yuta was the first one to teach me what kind of skisweares are suitable for backcountry. Until then, I had only been skiing on the slopes with regular skis, so when I went to powder areas, it was difficult to ski. I am really grateful to Yuta because without him, skiing would have been a little boring.

Max: Yuta Ueno is great. I just met him recently as he is a guide for Kammui and offered mountain biking experiences for our launch event.

Shota: It's important to approach nature with the right teacher right?
So what Kammui does is to connect you to the best person for whatever way you want to experience nature, whether it's surfing or SUP or backcountry or something else. For something like backcountry, there's a risk involved so I think it's important to have a guide who can ensure you are as safe as possible . It's important for everyone to be safe as nature can be dangerous.

Max: I agree. Nature can be peaceful and beautiful but it's also powerful and can be dangerous. I kind of think that's the real beauty of it.



Shota Matsuda

An actor, born 1985 in Tokyo, Japan, to Yūsaku Matsuda, an actor and Miyuki Matsuda an actress. He has an older brother, Ryuhei Matsuda, who is also an actor, and a younger sister. His father passed away in 1989 when Matsuda was 4 years old. Shota has starred in various films including Boys Over Flowers (2005), Ikigami (2008), Lessons for a Perfect Detective Story (2009), Final Life: Even if You Die Tomorrow (2017)



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