Sapporo, Japan: Chocolate Fantasy at Shiroi Koibito Park

If you have looked for sweets as a souvenir in Japan or have received them as a gift from someone who has been there, you might have heard of, seen, or even tasted Shiroi Koibito by Ishiya Chocolate Factory. Meaning “white lover” in Japanese and inspired by a walk on a snowy day in Hokkaido, the aptly named butter langues de chat have decadent white chocolate-flavored filling in between and beautiful packaging featuring snowflake patterns and Hokkaido’s snowcapped mountain. Originally the most popular souvenir in this coldest region of Japan, Shiroi Koibito is so beloved that it has become available at a few major airports around the country and established itself as the second bestselling souvenir nationwide. As a big fan of chocolate, I must say that Shiroi Koibito is no. 1 Japanese chocolate for me (a tie with Royce) and one of the top five among all the chocolate I have had in my life.

While the taste of something delicious usually melts away too quickly for our liking, there is a way for us to extend that fleeting moment of happiness for a bit. At Shiroi Koibito Park in Sapporo, Hokkaido, we can experience more than tasting the famous white chocolate biscuits. Albeit not super big, this chocolate entertainment park offers a wide range of chocolate delights and other sweets and merchandise produced by Ishiya that aren’t available elsewhere, as well as fantastical decorations and colorful seasonal flowers.

And one of the greatest things of all: many areas in Shiroi Koibito Park are free to enter.

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Asahidake, Japan: The Mountain Where Ainu Gods Play

At the heart of Hokkaido lies Daisetsuzan National Park or Japan’s biggest national park. It is home to over a dozen of mighty and high peaks and among them, Mount Asahidake stands unrivaled in Hokkaido when it comes to height and perhaps, beauty. Rising 2,290 meters, the mountain is actually an active volcano and it is poetically described by the indigenous Ainu people as the garden where gods play or “Kamuimintara” in the Ainu language.

The beauty of this godly playground is fortunately not off-limits to us mortals. It is even easy to access thanks to a combination of bus and ropeway that takes visitors up to the altitude of 1,600 meters. To explore it fully and hike to the top is another story though. “Daisetsuzan” actually means great snowy mountains and the national park lives up to its name, with Japan’s first and long-lasting snow that stays on Mount Asahidake from late-September until July. In addition to the short season for convenient visit, the weather on Mount Asahidake is very turbulent. It can change rapidly and even on a sunny day, there are possibilities that the way to the summit is shrouded in fog, rendering the hike inconvenient or even impossible.

With the goal of summiting it, I visited Hokkaido’s tallest mountain and volcano in August, which is its only month without snow (unless it is an unusually cold year). Although I was lucky that there was no snow, I was unlucky with the gloomy weather and the thick fog. Having to abandon my full-day hiking plan was a pity, but it turned into an opportunity to enjoy the shorter nature trail on Mount Asahidake at a more leisurely pace. Looking through the photos later made me realize the fog created interesting combination between the minimal sky and the maximal meadows, blurring the line between sparse and full. Moreover, the fog added the mystical air fitting for the link to Ainu gods.

A note to fellow Pokemon fans before we dive into the visuals: the mountain range of Daisetsuzan National Park has inspired one of the most significant locations in Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum, Mt. Coronet (Mt. Tengan in Japanese). Just like Mount Asahidake and its prominent status as the Roof of Hokkaido, Mt. Coronet rises at the center of Sinnoh and is the fictional region’s highest mountain as well. The eternal snow around the peak area is probably a tribute to the long winter in Daisetsuzan National Park. Although Mount Asahidake doesn’t have an ancient ruin at its peak like Spear Pillar at the very top of Mt. Coronet, it was designated as where the Legendary Pokemon Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina descended, possibly due to its celestial, sacred status in the Ainu religion.

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Otaru, Japan: Crafty Canal City

The world is nothing short of small cities with big amount of charms. I haven’t been everywhere, but few probably have all the charming details packed into its quite limited space like Otaru.

Once one of the most prosperous port cities on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, Otaru is long past its heyday for fishermen and merchants, but traces of its glory days remain almost everywhere and in so many aspects that travelers should dedicate a day to explore this small city. Otaru is lined with century-old warehouses and other European-influenced buildings that have been refurbished into craft shops, seafood restaurants, and cafes that look as if they belonged in picture books.

What’s more, imagine these time-honored places reflected upon the water of Otaru’s historical canal flanked by cobblestoned paths and classic gas lamps. Romantic.

For nature lovers, Otaru offers not only calming sea views as expected of a harbor city, but also a mountain that bursts into green in summer and turns into a tranquil silver world in winter.

With its east-meets-west air along the atmospheric canal, myriad of handicrafts, fresh sushi and gourmet sweets, and mountain and sea package, it is no wonder Otaru has been featured in J-pop MVs, manga, films, travel documentaries, and others. In this post, I will show Otaru through my perspective as not only a tourist and an admirer of the little details but also a fan of the Pokemon video games and the K-pop group NCT 127.

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Coming Home (Last Memories of Nagoya, Until the Day We Meet Again)

Though it has already been a month and a few days since I came home, writing this post from my very own bedroom still feels surreal.

I left Nagoya on March 30 and arrived in Bangkok on the same day. March was my last month in Japan before moving back to Thailand, so I knew it would be a very busy month, but it ended up more hectic than expected. Especially when comparing it to fun-filled February, with post-thesis defense indulgence like NCT 127 official cafe event along with my and Jaehyun’s birthday and Doyoung’s birthday; unforgettable day trips with friends and one last long solo trip before graduation, all of which I want to write full posts about one day; and the generally relaxing atmosphere. Not that March was 100% stressful. There were happy moments and heartfelt farewells too, but in the last few weeks, a lot of things just went wrong despite my efforts to finish the pre-departure procedures early on and these exhausted me. I wish I could have spent more time in March traveling and relaxing, but since everything already happened the way it did, I want to record personal reflections and some of the memorable moments (both the good and the bad) during my last week in Japan here.

I shared some photos and parts of the stories about the last week on my Instagram already, but due to word limit, I didn’t get to write everything I wanted. I also held myself back from talking about certain things because I don’t want to be too ranty or cringey there. As weird as this may sound, I am actually not comfortable sharing some thoughts and feelings with acquaintances and some friends who are following me on IG. It is easier to express myself more on this blog, where most readers are close friends and people I have never met.

With that, I am warning you that this is a long-winded post and some parts of this post are very ranty and cringey. Musings and photos from Nagoya to Bangkok aside, here go many stories, even the most ranty and random ones, that I want to immortalize in one place.

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2021 Advent Calendar (Photo Challenge Edition)

The way I am posting this a month after Christmas… But here comes the 2021 advent calendar or the annual self-made photo challenge of my friend Selina and me. For those who have never seen this kind of posts on my blog before, Selina and I prepare 24 photography themes as our advent calendar. From December 1 to 24, we draw lots every day to decide the daily theme and take a photo for each theme. Sounds simple, but it is really fun to document what catches our attention or what we want to remember every day before Christmas.

This is our third year doing this photo challenge, but this time, I couldn’t completely stick to the rules of taking a photo every day. All the 24 photos were taken in December, but probably half of them were taken after or before theme reveals and I matched the photos with the right themes in late-December. I was struggling with thesis writing and trying to meet my academic advisor’s deadline around Christmas in order to get her comments before submitting the first draft of my thesis to my graduate school earlier in January. On some days, I wasn’t able to find an interesting subject for the theme because I holed up in my apartment writing and on other days, I was so tired or sleepy that I postponed taking photos until I had better ideas or inspirations. I lived off convenience store food mostly and even had to take a social media break near my advisor’s deadline because I was so burnt out and had no choice but to force myself to keep writing. Now I have finally submitted the first draft of my thesis to my school though and while the thesis defense and final revisions are looming closer, I still want to get this post out before that.

I am sorry for the long and boring rant, but before going into the photos, I also would like to write here—to keep it as a memory—that I am very thankful for my family and friends in Thailand and Japan as well as Selina (who lives in another country) for all the encouragement. Actually, my struggles will not be over until I submit the final version of my thesis, but finishing the first draft was still a big step and the mental support I receive from them is no less important than academic support. And in spite of all the stress I went through before sending my advisor the thesis in December, I had very memorable Christmas and New Year celebrations. For this 2021 Christmas, I celebrated with my graduate school friends, accomplished my first part-time job in Japan, and got to watch NEO CITY SEOUL : The Link, which is NCT 127’s first concert with live audience ever since the pandemic started. I was still stuck as an online audience since I am not living in South Korea, but it was still great to have been able to watch the concert. NCT 127 members had very packed schedules from the third quarter last year, but they managed to prepare for the concert in short time and delivered great group performances as well as solo stages (bias fangirling time: Doyoung co-writing the lyrics for his solo and Jaehyun composing and writing his solo and working with one of my favorite producers to prepare a special rearrangement of the song for this concert!). I gained strength and motivation from their performances and words during the concert. As for the 2021 New Year’s Eve and the 2022 New Year, I got to meet an old friend again, finally experienced the Japanese New Year traditions for the first time with him and our mutual friends, and watched NCT and SHINee perform during the online concert SMTOWN Live 2022: SMCU Express @ Kwangya.

End of rant and appreciation paragraphs. Let’s see the photos now. All photos were taken in Nagoya and I am sorting them in theme reveal order, not the actual dates I took the photos.

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