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.
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.
With how reliable, convenient, and well-connected trains in Japan are, vacations and even staycations in the countryside from major cities are pretty much effortless.
While living in the Chubu region’s center of Nagoya, I had many chances to make easy day trips to charming small towns around Chubu. One of the most memorable experience for me has to be how I managed to jump onto a train ride after my morning class, visit the traditional merchant town of Mino in the countryside with an atmospheric paper lantern festival, and come back to Nagoya on the same day.
Frankly, I would recommend spending a whole day or even staying overnight in Mino for a vacation in that area, but considering how busy I was with my thesis at the time, I was thankful it was possible to set aside some time at all for a pick-me-up staycation. Even the train ride in the area is in and of itself an interesting experience.
While it isn’t unusual for Shinto shrines to be decorated with some flowers, Miwa Jinja Shrine in Nagoya has to be one of the most creative and generous. There is something new to discover every month and adding in the shrine’s interesting connection with rabbits, relationships, and happiness, it has become one of my most favorite finds in Japan.
As the third largest city in Hokkaido with twinkling panoramic night view regarded as the best in Japan and one of the top three in the world, Hakodate already has what it takes to become a big star among travelers.
And as beloved as Hakodate night is, Hakodate actually shines both in the night and in the day. This oldest international port city on Hokkaido comes highly recommended in travel guides for its lively waterfront and hill lined with Western-influenced buildings. That said, Hakodate retains the chill atmosphere like most places in Hokkaido and getting to and around the city is easy.
From sunrise to after sunset, there are plenty of things to do and see in Hakodate. I had to start my city walk around noon though, so I didn’t have enough time to try fresh seafood at Hakodate Morning Market and trace the Boshin War history at the star-shaped Goryokaku Fort. Sunshower and rain also came and go throughout the day, but let’s see the scenes I have managed to capture in this charming city.