It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Hokkaido is a land rich in nature. Mountains and volcanoes, lakes, and forests dot this northernmost main island of Japan and fortunately, many are well-preserved and remain quite under-the-radar, especially those in Eastern Hokkaido. Apart from holding superlative titles in the country and/or possessing unique qualities, some of these natural landmarks are steeped in history and age-old mystery, and have even become sources of inspiration for modern fantasy.
There is another truth that those who have been reading this blog for a while might have acknowledged, that I am a huge fan of the Pokemon video games. I have done many fangirl’s pilgrimage trips around Japan to visit the real-world places that have inspired the in-game locations and I treasure every single location, but if I have to pick my most memorable trip, my trip to Akan Mashu National Park (inspiration for Distortion World, Turnback Cave, Sendoff Spring, and Lake Valor in the Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum games) in Eastern Hokkaido is the one. I first heard of the national park more than ten years ago thanks to Pokemon and since Distortion World has remained the most fascinating Pokemon locations for me to date, I naturally looked forward to visiting the national park the most.
Let me tell you a little story of my struggles before I could make this trip happen. I visited Hokkaido for the first time during my summer break in August 2019, but as bad luck would have it, a very heavy rain hit Hokkaido on the day I was supposed to travel from Kushiro to Akan Mashu National Park and all trains and buses in Hokkaido had to be suspended until night time. Safety is the most important, but I was still dejected because the next day, I had to go to another city several hours from Eastern Hokkaido and it wasn’t possible to visit Akan Mashu National Park anymore. Then came COVID-19 and border closures in 2020. I was stranded at home in Bangkok until Japan started reopening for people with existing student visa in September 2020. I thought that summer 2021 would be my last chance to revisit Hokkaido and get to Akan Mashu National Park before graduation. And finally, I could realize my decade-old dream in August 2021.
Although my visit to Akan Mashu National Park began as a flight of fancy, it has become even greater because of the existing mystery and history in the area, as well as the serene beauty. Let’s explore everything together in this post.
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.
In addition to the awe from dramatic sunset and the nostalgia that comes with the mellow one, I have always had a strangely contemplative feeling when looking at the sunset. It feels as if I were in an in-between state, but a positive one. This is random of me to say, but my love for sunset is intensified by all the dramatic and nostalgic scenes that happen at sunset in anime and Japanese video games, especially Kingdom Hearts. There is a place called Twilight Town in the game, where the sunset is endless because the town is situated between the realms of light and dark. My 15-year-old self found that pretty poetic and resonate with my feelings about sunset, up until now. The surroundings in the sunset become neither too bright or too dark; the air at sunset is neither too hot or cold (unless we are out in winter); and on good days, we can enjoy the sun, the moon, and the clouds at once during the magic hour (though unfortunately, I have yet to capture them all in one frame).
I wish I could enjoy sunset more often. Here in Bangkok, I must admit that I don’t get to watch sunset that often because office hours rarely allow me to (most Thai office hours are 9 to 6, but we often have to stay until later). But when I was studying in Nagoya, I had more opportunities to savor these ordinary yet magical moments thanks to classes being finished earlier and a good friend who is also a fan of sunset. My friend and I lived in the same neighborhood and she occasionally texted me when she believed the sunset of the day would be great. I am very thankful for her because sometimes, I would have missed out on some of these vibrant sunsets without her text.
Our former neighborhood in Nagoya may look simple, but I have seen one of the three most brilliant evening skies in my life there. This post is where I gather my treasured memories of the sun, the clouds, and the moon, from sunset and twilight to dusk.
By the way, I adjusted saturation and had to tweak highlight and shadow in some photos because the streetscape came out too dark. However, I didn’t make drastic changes to the colors. If you see purple in a photo, I saw purple when I took it and same goes for orange, pink, etc.
We often compare climbing hills to overcoming obstacles, but some people get over certain challenges by creating hills. Those people are the world-famous Japanese architect Tadao Ando and the legendary Japanese-American sculptor and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi. And it just so happens that Tadao Ando’s and Isamu Noguchi’s artistic hills are in Sapporo, the capital city of Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido.
In major Japanese cities, urban life isn’t just about what we see on the ground. The undergrounds and the sky-high buildings are just as happening.
Japan isn’t the only place in the world where the urban environments are characterized by well-utilized underground space and eye-catching skyscrapers. Still, I find many Japanese underground passages and high-rises interesting and I think we can’t talk about big Japanese cities without mentioning them.
To explore some aspects of these Japanese urban environments, come with me to Nagoya Station, locally known as Meieki. There is much to discover under, inside, around, and above this biggest train station complex in the world.