Japan

Night view from Mt. Hakodate

Once the sun descends behind the mountains, the city of Hakodate comes alive like a sea of glittering jewels. Hakodate-shi as it is known locally is the capital city of Oshima Sub-prefecture in Hokkaido. The view from Mt. Hakodate is acclaimed as one of the three best night-views in Japan.

Hakodate wasn’t in our plans for this tour of Tohoku But as it happened, the weather in Aomori was totally drab and we didn’t want to waste a day brooding So armed with our JR Passes and in a spur of the moment thing, we just caught the train to Hakodate Why Hakodate? We did tour the incredible island of Hokkaido a couple of years back in 2016 It was a memorable trip whence we covered the beautiful snow covered areas of Sapporo, Otaru, Obihiro, Kushiro, Abashiri, Asahiyama and even Wakkanai But we missed out on Hakodate because of lack of time
Lovers Sanctuary on Mt Moiwa

Lovers Sanctuary on Mount Moiwa

Its my last night in Hokkaido. We take the Ropeway to the observation deck on Mt. Moiwa. It is thrilling, witnessing the spectacular panorama of the streets of Sapporo and the Ishikari Bay, twinkling like countless diamonds floating on a dark sea. I so love Hokkaido!!

We woke up to a beautiful sunny day The grey clouds from the day before had cleared up It was the last day of our Hokkaido trip We lazed around at the hotel discussing the amazing places we had been to on this trip It wasn’t until noon that we left the hotel for Mount Moiwa How to reach Mount Moiwa Mount Moiwa or Moiwa-yama (藻岩山) is one of several small, forested mountains southwest of Sapporo The mountain is known for the spectacular view of the city from an observation deck at its summit From here one can view a spectacular panorama of the streets of Sapporo, Ishikari Bay and
Otaru Canal

The mesmerizing Otaru Canal

We take a walk on the streets of Otaru. The roads are lined with vintage houses from the bygone eras. And the word is the Otaru Canal turns into a mystical place in the evenings.

It was the last stretch of our winter tour of Hokkaido We were back in Sapporo, the most happening city of the Hokkaido Prefecture I wouldnt call it a beautiful morning, but the frozen lake at Nakajima Koen, just outside our Hotel looked amazing Nakajima Koen The JR Station at Sapporo is huge and connected to endless shopping arcades We hung around for a bit and then headed for Mt Moiwa Mount Moiwa is one of the most interesting spots to see the city from, as it lights up in the evening On the way the weather started to go downhill, real fast It
Cape Soya

Whiteout at Cape Soya

We ride to Cape Sōya in Wakkanai. Cape Sōya is the northern-most point of Japan and just about 150 kms away from Russia. In fact one can just take a ferry from the port nearby, to Russia. Once we reached, the breeze suddenly picked up and we were barely able to see beyond a few meters in the Whiteout. Ugh, my palms are numb again!

Cape Sōya in Wakkanai, at a northern latitude of 45 degrees 31′ is the northernmost point of Japan It’s not one of those scenic landscapes that I chase after, but nevertheless I was keen to visit the absolute tip of the country We had a day’s rest in Asahikawa and were going over the plans for the next day’s trip to Wakkanai Looking at the train schedules we felt it was going to be very tight for us to go all the way to Wakkanai and come back on the same day Express trains are few and local trains are not a very good idea for traveling such a long distance We both came to the same conclusion and decided to head for Wakkanai on this day
Polar Bear

The Polar Bears of Asahiyama

I do not approve off Zoo’s. The idea of animals in captivity does not appeal to me. The only reason I had to visit Asahiyama Zoo was I couldn’t come back from Japan without meeting the Polar Bear. With their numbers plunging by 40% in the last 10 years, this might be my only chance of seeing the white bears.

I am not a fan of Zoo’s The idea of animals in cages does not appeal to me The only reason I went to the Asahiyama Zoo was to catch a glimpse of the endangered Polar Bears Located in the very north of Japan, Asahiyama Zoo is home to some 700 beautiful creatures It opened its gates for the very first time in early 1967 Helped by the natural climate, it is the first facility in Japan to have succeeded in the natural breeding in captivity of animals that live in cold regions, such as Polar Bears, Amur Leopards, and Scops Owls In winter people come here specially to witness the penguin walks Welcome to Asahiyama Zoo. The place where Polar Bears are... We reached
Sea of Okhotsk

Cruising the Sea of Okhotsk

It was supposed to be a drift ice cruise. Each year ice forms near the mouth of the Amur River in Russia. From there it drifts southward, aided by currents, until it eventually rolls onto Abashiri. The drift ice appears around late January and stays till mid-April. Unfortunately it was gone, almost a month early. What is going on!! Can someone please take a stand and stop this global warming?

It was the day of our cruise on the sea of Okhotsk We had booked the Aurora Ice Breaker cruise months in advance and we were looking forward to a ride among the famous ice drifts (流氷, Ryūhyō) of Abashiri The drift ice cruise starts at 930 am in the morning We got up early and walked down to the harbor The footpaths were covered in snow and extremely slippery at places We walked slowly and carefully As we walked, we talked about the interesting stories we came to know about the Ainu people of Hokkaido at the Museum, the day before On the way, we passed a very peaceful Abashiri river The river had a
Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples

Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples

We go on an incredible journey into the lives of the Ainu people at the Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples. The true origins of the Ainu people remain a big mystery to this day. It is common knowledge that the Japanese language is inspired by Chinese but it has to be stated that the Ainu speak a language that resembles no other language in Asia or its surroundings.

My initial interest in Abashiri was just to experience the Drift Ice phenomenon that occurs every winter along the coast But as I went around northern Japan, my curiosity for the Ainu people grew with every trip My first foray into the world of Ainu took place at Lake Shikaribetsu The Ainu are an indigenous ethnic group of people who live in Hokkaido in Japan as well as in Russian islands of Kuril and Sakhalin My thirst for knowledge about this ancient culture grew stronger when I had another brush with it at Lake Akan where an entire village exists, recreating the ways of the Ainu This village, known as

Ainu Kotan at Lake Akan

Ainu Kotan is a small Ainu village near Lake Akan. The village comprising some 40 Ainu households live here in scattered huts in an attempt to preserve the Ainu culture. The Ainu are greatly skilled in wood works and various shops can be found in the village selling wood carvings and embroidery.

From the sparkling Lake Mashu, the White Pirika bus rode on towards Lake Akan Shitona, our tour guide told us it was going to be a long ride of about an hour On the way she kept giving out more information about the lake I couldn’t understand a word of Japanese, but Mani translated some of it for me She went on telling us stories of the area She even sang a couple of folk songs for us which I very much liked We rode on, past unspoiled primitive forest in its natural beauty The road to Lake Akan is lined with Sakhalin spruce Lake Akan (阿寒湖, Akanko) is a crater lake in Akan National
Lake Mashu

The sparkling Lake Mashū

We ride to lake of the Gods. The aborigine Ainu called it so, for a reason. Surrounded by 200 m high crater walls, the deep blue mirror-like waters of Lake Mashu make for a unique landscape. We are lucky travelers I guess, for it is frequently blanketed in heavy fog and a rarity to view at its scenic best

After the extra-terrestrial experience at Mount Iwo, we were on our way to Lake Mashū (摩周湖) It was pretty obvious that our guide, Shitona, was in love with the lake and she kept telling us over and over, how beautiful the lake looked on a bright sunny day Although it is usually adored for its clear blue water, the lake is frequently blanketed in heavy fog and it is a rarity to view it at its scenic best Lake Mashū or Mashūko, is the smallest of the three caldera lakes in Akan National Park The comma-shaped lake with a circumference of 20 km originated from volcano activity of Mt Mashū some 32,000 years ago

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