So now its time for the first blog update of the year. What will it be about?
SNOW! And snow! With some extra snow.
I love it.
The last week of December i spend 6 days in Hokkaido, and it was my first ever real long-trip all by myself ( i know i went to Japan by myself but that doesn’t count in this category) and it was great! The week before that, i mostly studied and took some time for myself to relax and enjoy the time leading up to Christmas, since this would be my first ever Christmas away from my family and home. It was nice to enjoy my free time, since we had not had any small breaks since the summer holidays, and also did some last minute planning.
On Monday, i flew from Fukuoka to Chitose (The airport close to Sapporo) and get to see the first real snow since i had left Sweden. It was so beautiful. I have always loved snow for its cleanliness, its perfection and how re-freshening it feels against your face when its snowing. I left Fukuoka at 13.00 and landed in Hokkaido at 15.00. Once i had gotten of the plane it was a very easy trip to Sapporo via train that only took 30 minutes. But at the airport i noticed something strange and unusual, that i hadn’t seen since coming to Japan, at the airport there were now Russian on almost all signs. I had forgotten for a moment, the fact that Hokkaido is literally next to Russia and has a lot of Russian tourists. Sometimes they had more signs in Russian than English, but by now i can tell in Japanese Entrance, exit, bus, train and so forth.
And riding the train was fun seeing all the beautiful snow i soon will be able to feel again. From the window view, it looked and felt alot like Scandinavian climate, and from what ive seen on pictures of Summertime Hokkaido, it is like Scandinavian summer aswell. And as you might guess, i got a few curious looks from the people on the train. I guess westerners are even more rare on Hokkaido than in the rest of the mainland. But they never look at you with disgust or anger, i have so far never been treated ill by a Japanese person for being a westerner.
Once i arrived at Sapporo Train station, i was in awe. It was a very beautiful station and as i left the station to head to my hotel, i got a chance to smell the cold winter air. It was minus degrees and a mild snowfall was going on. I felt almost like home.
And the hotel i got, for a very good price, i might add, was amazing. Super fresh and clean, nice bed, nice bathroom with a bathtub that i actually can fit inside, and very helpful staff. And best of all; they had a breakfast buffet! Great selection all the fruits you could eat. (What? i like fruit!)
After arriving at my hotel and dropped of my luggage, i went to the Sapporo’s famous Oodori Koen. One thing that made this hotel so great, is that it is literally across the street from the Park (koen), next to a 7eleven, and 5 minutes walk from the closest subway station. Fortunately for me, it had just gotten dark and the light shows in the park had started. Sapporo is famous for its winter light shows and i got to see how they had made the park come alive in bright and colorful lights. I spend the rest of that day exploring the park and the close-by shopping areas. It felt so relaxing walking around in this weather with my winter clothes on while listening to some Christmas music from speakers all over the city.
After a good, long sleep, i packed my stuff to go on my next stop, Wakkanai. My main goal with this entire trip, the most northern city of Japan. The checkout of the hotel went all fine, the breakfast was great, i took the subway to the train station and the weather was lovely as always. But at the station, i had some bad luck. All buses and trains going north from Sapporo was cancelled. I had gotten some warnings from people in Fukuoka that i should be careful for there being a snowstorm coming to Hokkaido, but although i would be able to handle a snowstorm with no problems, the transportation lines i guess did not handle it as well.
So with the cancelled plans, i went back to my hotel and made another booking for the day and after spending a few hours looking for interesting locations in Sapporo i could travel to, i went exploring the nearby cityscape. Winter time really fills me with joy, because i noticed after a while, that since i had arrived in Hokkaido, whenever i was walking outside, exploring, i always had a big grin on my face. I felt so happy just walking around this beautiful landscape that i smiled without even realizing it.
I walked south from my hotel to the livelier district of the city, and even got on a Ferris Wheel on top of a building. It felt strange in a way, walking around in a city with the climate of Sweden, and the cold of Sweden, but with the Japanese culture. In really is a mental culture shock to feel so at home, but so far away at the same time.
Luckily, it doesnt bother me. I love Japan in so many ways, that the only thing that Japan is missing, is my family. The culture is so fantastic, interesting and exotic. The people are so kind and helpful ( if you are to them aswell of course) and the environment is stunning. The only things that stop me from moving to Japan at this moment, is that it is scary to take such a step, i miss my family, and the Japanese work environment is soul crushing. They really do work themselves to death here, sadly. But that doesnt keep their spirits down! They always keep going with their super friendly and polite attitude no matter how mentally exhausted they are. I do actually want to try to work here in Japan, to see how it really is to work in this system and experience how it is from the Japanese point of view. Once i return to Sweden, i will set plans for my next adventure in Japan. And who knows, maby one day in the future ill move here permanently.
And with that, the next day i went to my 2nd point on the list, Sweden hills. Sweden hills is a small little area just south of Sapporo that was build in 1985 after the Swedish ambassador visited the area and pointed out how similar the landscape was to Sweden.
The entire area is covered in buildings make in the style traditional Swedish wooden houses.
(Please ignore the scary way this video is showing on this blog. My eyes were not intended to stare into your soul and judge you.)
It took me about 45 minutes by train to reach the closest station, and after that i walked for about 20 minutes until i got a little lost. Because of the huge amount of snow, the roads the map showed me, was all covered in knee deep snow. Because the roads was very difficult to cross, i tried another route along some train tracks. I passed a few houses where someone was shoveling snow, so i decided to ask him if he knew the best way to reach Sweden hills. He told me that from here were no good walking paths to take, and that i should head back the way i came and try to take a path up a small hill instead. I thanked him and went on my way back to where i ad been 20 minutes earlier.
But lo and behold, the same person i had asked for direction drove past with his car and offered to give me a ride to Sweden hills. (Once again, if you are polite and kind most Japanese, you seem to get twice the kindness back). During the short ride we talked more about Hokkaido and i asked him if there was any kind of information center located in Sweden hills, and although he often visited Sweden hills, he did not know of any Information center, atleast the English term for it, it might be some better Japanese word, but i sadly did not know it at that time. But he dropped me off at a house salesman’s house where i could ask for directions. He pointed me to head upwards and followed the nearby signs which i did.
It was during this time i got the real grasp of Sweden hills beauty. All the houses were just like any Swedish house and even the insides look just like them. The landscape surrounding the buildings reminded me of home and even the roads were as slippery and dangerous as i remember. Because it snowed so much, it seems they did not use any salt or sand on their roads. i did not see a single grain of sand during the entire day.
But after some more walking and getting lost, i found a family of a mother and two children shoveling snow, and asked them fore directions aswell. They were all very curious and interested of what i was doing there and did their best to help me. They all even guided me to the information center that was just a few minutes away. I even got into a snowfight with the young daughter during the way. I definitely won.
Once i arrived at the information center, i was in for a big surprise. Inside there were some Japanese people from the area, and also some Swedish people! It was fun and all, but for alot of people when they travel abroad, they want to stay in contact with people from their own region or country. I am usually the opposite. I usually try to avoid Swedish people or Western people when i am out traveling in Japan, but sometimes it can be nice to speak your native tongue with people for a short time. Inside, we all sat around a table drinking coffee and eating some swedish candy. We were 2 Japanese people and 4 Swedes talking. One Swedish girl actually worked at Sweden hills and could help us translate the Japanese that was to difficult for us to understand (The dialect in Hokkaido can be very very difficult, especially from the older generations) and we all talked some more of where we came from, and what we did in Japan. The two other Swedes were students, just like me, but on was in Tokyo and one was in Sapporo.
But the biggest surprise of the entire trip, was that after talking some more to the Swedish girl who worked at the information center and after she asked me some more about how i came to Japan, since she was also from Stockholm, she and i realized both came to the same conclusion at the same time. She was one of the two from Blueberry (The agency i book this entire one year trip with) who had helped me before and after coming to Japan! We had both sat next to eachother and talked for many 15 minutes before we realized it, because although we had written to eachother for a while and knew eachother, we had only met once, because she started helping me about 1.5 months before i actually went to Japan.
It was so weird to meet her in Sweden hills at the same time as i was going to Hokkaido, as she was only working there for 3 weeks before going back to Sweden, and to have us both sit next to eachother with no idea of who the other was! The world really is a small place.
And after that lovely meeting, one of the Japanese gentlemen took us all to a Ramen restaurant right next to the train station and treated us to a free meal. It was an absolutely fantastic day, that i will not forget in a very long time. I wanted to take many many pictures and share it with you all, but i had such a great time, i completely forgot about taking pictures the rest of the day. Since we all sad and talked for such a very long time, once i got back to Sapporo, it was already very late, so i decided to just jump into bed and prepare for the next days grand adventure; Wakkanai!
It started with me traveling from Sapporo to Wakkanai via train. When i first planned this trip, i failed to take into account that the entire trip would take 5.5 hours. I got on the train at roughly 13.00 and went nonstop until half past 6. Oh dear was i restless during that trip, i got so restless i actually did my homework on the train! Luckily, it was daytime and the scenery was breathtaking. On my side of the train was nonstop mountains the entire half of the trip. What made it feel really interesting was that, instead of going simply in a straight line very fast for 5 hours, the 2nd half was just zigzagging up and down mountains. That gave more time to see the fantastic landscape, which made the trip a bit more bearable.
And once i arrived at Wakkanai station, it had already gotten dark and i got quite hungry. My hotel was just 4 minutes walk from the station and the check in went without any problem, and i even had a small chat with the receptionist (Only staff from what i could see).
What i saw on the way to the hotel was a very beautiful hill that a popular park is located. After checking google maps for the entrance to the park, i found out there was a small path leading up the hill that starts right next to a nearby shrine. The shrine was fantastic in the evening, covered in snow. I stopped by to pay my respects to the spirits by ringing its bell and then ventured on. The problem with this path though, was that it was not plowed. Snow still covered it like it had not been walked on for weeks. And from what ive heard, it had been very very much snow the last few weeks. Buuuuuuuuut i do like me a challenge form time to time, so i went on. It was very exhausting because it was almost up to the knees with every step i took. This path only lasted about 10 minutes walking until i reached a road for vehicles that actually was plowed.
(Once again, so sorry for the horrifying thumbnail on this video)
Once i reached the path it got much easier to climb the hill, if a bit slippery, because they had not salted or sanded the path, and the view got better and better the higher i climbed.
I finally reached a crossroad where the path to the left lead higher up the mountain towards a big wind turbine, and to the right, i had the main hub for the park, with the monuments and a great view. I decided to restrain myself and go for the right path, because if i had taken the left, i probably would have gone on for several more hours.
The problem with the path to the right though, was that it also was not plowed. But it made it more fun to traverse. After more huffing and puffing, i reached the main garden area of the park. It was very spacious and covered in snow. The point when i realized that this area was probably closed, was when i walked past the information center and saw that it was covered in snow. The snow was so high, that even the vending machines was covered in snow. But now i had finally reached the main area of the park, and how was the view? Fantastic! You know those amazing pictures you sometimes find on the internet and think, “They have to have had photoshopped this picture in some way!” because it looks so unreal? That is what i felt when i stood on top of that mountain, looking out over the city and the ocean infront of me. Winter is really the heaven of seasons.
And after sliding down a slope to reach the road again, now with going downhill, i could simply skate on my shoes all the way down. Finally the non sanded roads very to my benefit! Once i reached the car entrance to the park, i saw saw the signs that said the park was closed down ( a little late, but hey, i cant help the walking paths not having signs). Since i still had not eaten a proper meal, i stopped by a convenient store and bought a rise and chicken bento, some fruit, lemon tea, and an ice cream. There is NEVER a bad time for ice cream. It was lovely to just walk in this small and quiet town where the only sound you could hear was the waves going back and forth. I took a small hike along the beach until i was stopped by the snow and was forced to follow the walking path.
And at the end of a pier, i was followed by a friendly and hungry fox. Im not sure if that means luck in Japan, but i took it as a good sign. Extremely tired and somewhat cold, i went to bed for the night in a very nice, Japanese styled hotel room. And was mentally preparing for tomorrow. My trip to Soya Misaki. The most northern point of the Japanese mainland.
New energy and new spirit i rose up with hope and excitement for this new day. My goal for today was one thing: Go to Soya Misaki and then return for my 17.00 train to Sapporo. I woke up to perfect weather and a short path to the bus station (same as the train station) and left around 10.05. Nice clear view over the water and the landscape close to the sea. Small fishing towns are really special to look at. It has such a personal touch to it. They are so cozy and remote. Although i would probably not like living there my whole life.
So the bus ride took me roughly 50minutes and dropped me of right infront of the monument pointing towards the sea. The wind was very heavy and cold, it hurt against your face when looking straight at it. But it did not matter. I was here. I was finally at the north. One of my big bookmarks of Japan had been checked of. I could not believe where i actually stood. This was a moment where it all sank in. I am in Japan. I am studying the hardest language on earth. I am doing this all alone, without anyone to fall back upon or save me if i fail. I am at the other side of the world.
And i was happy.
It felt amazing. But it was so cold, it got very difficult to take any pictures without cloves on. And here is where fate had an amazing twist in store. When i was walking towards the main monument, i saw a young Japanese couple that (in very improper winter clothing, i might add) tried to take pictures of the statue, without freezing to death. I offered to take a picture of them together so they would not have to take one with each separate, and they in turn, offered to take a picture of me aswell (the one above).
After a short chat, they ran as fast as they could back to their car to warm up, and i went on strolling along the beach looking at the beautiful ocean. When i started heading towards the gift shop, i saw them pull up their car infront of the building, (they had driven about 15 meters with the car) and we started to talk some more, and we all headed into the store to get a card and a stamp of the exact time and date we were at Soya misaki. While inside we talked some more, and they asked me about myself, what i was doing in Japan, and more importantly, Wakkanai, why i came to Japan, where i was from and things like that. They were kind enough to offer me a ride back to Wakkanai since they also were heading that way, and the bus here went on a very uneven schedule.
While heading back to Wakkanai, we talk more and i found out that they were a newlywed couple that had just gotten married one month before, and was here to visit the girls parents. The wife lived in Tokyo and the husband lived in Asahikawa (a city here in Hokkaido, but is located in the middle of Hokkaido) so they both were exploring Wakkanai, just like me. They were both extremely kind and fun to talk to, so we all decided to go and explore together. First we went to another pier on the other side of Wakkanai and saw its beautiful view aswell.
Because we all were getting slightly hungry, we headed to the girls family restaurant (I think the parents were owners or something like that, i could not translate it 100% but they were involved with the restaurant in some way atleast) and i got the chance to meet her parents. They were all very kind and welcoming, plus the Ramen we had was delicious! After that her parents had left a little earlier than us, she got a call from her father that told her that seals were resting in a nearby harbor, so we all jumped in the car and flew of to the parents home, where the father would guide us in his car to the harbor. With more beautiful scenery during the 30 minutes ride, we finally reached the harbor and saw them. After some praying that we would make it safely (the area was covered on somewhat deep and wet snow, that this car was not made for, and the husband did a very good job in trying to make sure we did not get stuck or fall down the water), we reached the pier. There most have been atleast 50 seals either swimming or resting against the rocks. They were very curious of what we were doing, because you could see their heads bop up and down in the water. Fantastic view and atmosphere, but they all wanted to quickly return to the cars because of the extreme cold.
Since it started getting a bit late, i asked if we maby should head back towards the city again, with no objections from them, since they knew i had to get on the train and buy some gifts for my friends back in Fukuoka. Inside the train station, they had a somewhat big selection of souvenirs from both all over Hokkaido, aswell as from Wakkanai. I asked them for advice on what to get, since they both had tried some of the goods, and there was much Japanese i could not read. They helped me pick some dried fish that is great with alcohol, some sweets and some more food from Wakkanai. Since now it had gotten to 4 o’clock, i sadly informed them that this was the end of my adventuring in Wakkanai.
It was sad to leave them after spending about 5 hours of exploring together, and they were very sad to see me go. I thanked them deeply for all the amazing experience and joy they had given me that day, which made my trip so much, much more fantastic than i ever though it could have been,
After waving them goodbye, i headed to the train entrance and awaited the train to take me back to Sapporo.
The rest of the day, not much happened other than me having a permanent smile on my face, after such an amazing day. I had so much fun, that i will definitely come back to this glorious city in the future. And hopefully, i can meet those lovely people one more time and maby someday, take them to adventures. They were an very great couple and i wish them all the best in the future.
With that, my journey to Hokkaido was over. The same day i arrived in Sapporo around 23.00 and fly back to Fukuoka at 1 o’clock. It was an amazing experience to see this fantastic part of Japan, that is so different from any other part ive seen. I feel so fortunate to get the chance to spend this time in Japan and get to know such great people like those ive met. No matter how long i live, no matter what else happens in my life later on, i will always remember my time here in Japan with nothing but joy.
Take care everyone, and happy new year to all of you.