Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hokkaido Contd.


Mmm, someone's bum!
I started taking pictures on something other than a disposable (though I love thee) while in Hokkaido.
The view from a cheesy "chocolate" factory we were tricked into going to. By tricked I mean we willingly found ourselves trapped in a place that was not a chocolate factory at all, but a scary depository for fake antiques and out-dated museum displays where they happen to make cookies that have some chocolate on them. My favorite part of the museum was a fact on a wall somewhere that stated that though Japan is one of the largest producers of chocolate in the world, it exports only a small portion of this chocolate because "Japanese chocolate is made most suitably to Japanese taste," meaning that Japanese chocolate really isn't that great and only something that people can eat because they have grown up doing it. That being said, the chocolate produced in Hokkaido was incredible. They have this thing called nama choco which means "raw chocolate" and is kind of like the love child of caramel and fudge and chocolate and is sooooo delicious.
The view from the Sapporo guesthouse we stayed in while studying Japanese at a school in the city.
Volcano climbing. Mountain climbing seems to be quite popular in Japan and you can always count on everyone being prepared to last out a storm on deserted island for their morning walk up the mountain. While we often are hiking in funny foot gear, lack warm clothing and enough food or water, the other hikers we pass consistently seem to have just spent a few hundred dollars on this season's outdoor gear and carry with them small feasts. I really admire how common it is to see people climbing steep mountain trails who are in their 60's and 70's in numbers that you would never see at home. I'm going to keep this Japanese example dear to me for my whole life... Gotta keep that body moving!

We visited a very volcanic area in southern Hokkaido where canyons were yellow with sulfur and the steam boiled up all around us. It is usual for hotels in volcanic areas (where isn't it volcanic in Japan?) to have onsen, or hot springs inside of them arranged in varying degrees of relaxing to rustic decor. Near this area we went to one of the most amazing onsen I have ever been to, which seemed like it was a giant indoor naked hot water park. Each pool was fed by a spring with a different mineral make up and we spent ages just trying each pool out. You could order alcohol on little floating trays and the outdoor pools looked into an alpine wood. Naked beings of all shapes, sizes and ages were running about and it was absolute bliss after a long day's hike.

Instead of the rollerskating rink, can I have my birthday there next year?
Looking into a pool of boiling and belching sulfur water.
We camped by a beautiful lake and awoke to mists and children catching small fishes.



Near the lake was a particularly active volcanic area. During WWII a volcano grew out of the ground in a field but local authorities kept it on the hush because they thought it was a bad omen. I can't even imagine a volcano just growing out of the ground one day! Isn't that supposed to happen over thousands of years? Barbecued eggs anyone?

In Sapporo I soaked up as much cute coffee shop and amazing coffee as I could get (Kagoshima is sadly lacking in great coffee, but the green tea is top rate).



Toward the end of our trip we headed north to central Hokkaido to see the countryside. We stayed at an enchanting hostel in the middle of fields, fields, fields, run by a New Agey family who cooked two meals a day straight from their garden. At night I could hear a brook outside our window and I don't think I've slept that well in ages. The grandmother of the house knocked on our door for breakfast at 7:30 each morning and I felt like I was in some kind of dreamy wholesome countryside camp.
Queen Anne's Lace - one of my favorite flowers and reminds me of summers in New England on my grandparent's farm.

Onions onions everywhere.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hokkaido

We went to Hokkaido for a couple weeks to escape the subtropical Kagoshima heat, study a little Japanese, climb volcanoes and eat some of the famed regional specialties. Hokkaido is the northernmost island of Japan, with cool weather to show for it. Hokkaido was a different Japan than I have experienced thus far - tall Japanese people, "fat" Japanese people, Japanese people with tattoos, natural parks in the middle of the city, proliferation of international foods and locally made dairy products!
Most larger Japanese cities I have been to are all too commonly "concrete" themed, but Sapporo had lots of herbs growing in the middle of the city. Blackberry bushes even! In Kagoshima a friend found a blackberry bush for sale for $300 and in Sapporo they were in people's front yards everywhere.
There was a beer festival in a downtown park for the weeks we were there. Sapporo Black label is definitely the best Japanese beer. I love you drunk Japanese girls.
The countryside was pastoral and dreamy in a very Pennsylvania way.

There was still a a little jungle.
We studied Japanese and it was hard. Nothing new about that.
One of Hokkaido's specialties is many varieties of crab. On my birthday we went to a crab restaurant where we had our own personal server dish us out dozens of kinds of crab cooked in as many ways.

I had never had crab sashimi before, but mmmmm creamybutterydelicious!

One of my favorite Japanese snacks is senbe, rice crackers, that come in all sizes, flavors and levels of delicious and crunchy.
Before our crab feast we had champagne and cheeses at a lookout point with all of Sapporo below!

Me, Brian's reflection.
Every weekend we headed out to the countryside to check out nearby volcanoes, hot springs and lakes. A lake dreaming of Disneyland.

We climbed a volcano steaming with sulfur and couldn't walk for days after.
Sapporo's parks: A land of long-haired dachshunds!
Inner-city lake-ing.

Get in my stomach!