Major Theodor von Lerch

The little fella in yellow below requires a bit of explanation. If you are skiing in Yuzawa, or anywhere in Niigata prefecture, you are likely to come across him in one form or another. He graces the packets of souvenirs, pops up on poster, and there is even a giant cuddly version of him who waddles around at festivals (either delighting or terrifying small children.)

Major Theodor von Lerch in "cute" character form.

Major Theodor von Lerch in "cute" character form.

2011 was the centenary of the start of skiing in Japan and Major von Lerch was an Austrian soldier who introduced the sport over here. He is now immortalized as Reruhi-san in the shape of the character above. It all started out on a slope over in Joetsu city in Niigata but Reruhi-san is now the mascot for skiing in the whole prefecture. From these humble beginnings skiing took off, reaching the height of its popularity as the thing to do in the early nineties. 

The birth of the sport over here is an interesting story, and there is a great article on it over on Outdoor Japan.  As an international ski school in Yuzawa we own note of thanks to the man that made it all possible.