There’s less than one week till Christmas! I hope everyone is ready… presents bought and wrapped, Christmas tree up, ugly Christmas sweater (that you secretly love) waiting to be worn! Isn’t it just the best time of the year? Continue reading “To Market, to Market”
Sapporo, the city of the north… Despite it’s harsh winter weather and average annual snowfall of about 6 metres, it’s surprisingly Japan’s 5th largest city. It’s not constantly dark and gloomy, though. Just think, endless chances to have snowball fights, make snow angels, go skiing, eat fresh seafood, slurp down miso ramen – there’s a lot to love! Continue reading “Snow Magic in Sapporo”
Last month, I went on a very short trip to the top end of Japan. My big sis, her partner and my little brother flew over for a bit of fun in Hokkaido! It was awesome to have some family time so far away from home. I wish I could see them more than once or twice a year!
Hokkaido is one of Japan’s four main islands, close to Russia, and gets some pretty serious snowfall during the winter months. The snow arrives in November and sticks around til May! It’s bizarre to see the tops of road signs sticking out from a field of white. In the mountains, they use overhead signs to tell drivers where the road is. Summer huts, and any evidence of summer for that matter, get completely buried!
The snow in the north is famous for being powdery dry – perfect for snow sports. But there’s a lot more to this huge island that just that. When I think of Hokkaido, I think of a remote (…very, remote) land, hot springs, the Sapporo Snow Festival, delicious butter corn ramen, the freshest of fresh seafood, mountains and vast plains, Sapporo beer, and the indigenous Ainu people. I’ve never been in summer, but from what I hear it turns into a wilderness adventure land… mountain climbing, rafting, fishing, camping – that kind of thing!
This was my second time to the north island – both of my trips have been to go snowboarding. Last year I visited a small, local ski resort called Kiroro with a friend, and this time we headed to the world famous Niseko at Mt. Niseko-Annupuri. The beginner slopes were pretty packed, but further up it was very spacious with lots of skiers choosing to zip through the trees instead. I’m always in awe of little 5-year-olds flying down the runs – no fear! Apart from the actual slopes, another reason I loved Niseko was for the spectacular view you get of the neighbouring volcano, Mt. Yotei.
Niseko is famous for its village as much as its slopes. There are plenty of restaurants and bars to enjoy, and there’s just as many people about at night time as there is during the day! With the help of cheap airfares and package deals, the village becomes overrun with Australians making the most of the ski season. The resort is so popular among Aussies that one of my favourite Aussie hiphop groups actually played a gig at a bar in Niseko a couple of weeks before we went! That was very cool, although not cool we missed seeing them…
The more time I spend in Hokkaido, the more I love it. It’s a great place to get away from it all!
Plums, called ume in Japanese, are arguably more a part of Japanese culture than the cherry blossoms. The sakura are so short-lived that I feel like if you blink you’ll miss them, and then it’s all over for another year. Whereas the plum blossoms stick around for a good month or more. But not only is the flower popular, the plum fruit itself is well integrated into Japanese cuisine! You are guaranteed to find an umeboshi (pickled plum) in almost every bento lunch box, sitting on top of the rice. It’s too sour for me, though. My hiking buddies often snack on sour, dried plums as an energy boost! Another common way to have it is as furikake seasoning sprinkled on top of your rice. You can not only eat it, but drink it, too. Umeshu is sweet alcohol made with plums and is always listed on the drink menu at restaurants (I love it!).
While the famous cherry blossoms bloom when the weather is much warmer, the plum blossoms start to show their faces towards the end of winter. I actually saw the first plum blossoms just starting to bloom in mid-January! Since early February, they have taken over the streets and parks of Tokyo. Lots of public gardens have official plum festivals, but you don’t necessarily need to go to those places to see these beautiful flowers. There are so many trees randomly all over the place, in people’s backyards, next to train tracks, even growing in alleyways! The flowers range from white to pink to red to yellow. They are like splashes of colour all over the city.
Looking through the photos I’d taken over the past month, I noticed there were lots of images showing the different stages of blooming. I think the little buds are adorable! And then, when they burst into life, it’s really a spectacular vision. One day I want to do a timelapse video of this! For now, I’ve decided to do a little ‘life of a plum blossom’ photo story. Enjoy!
Then, everyone joins the party! The whole park comes alive with a distinct, sweet fragrance filling the air!…
The flowers stay like this for a few weeks before falling to the ground. Then it’s time for the fruit to grow!
I don’t remember enjoying the plum blossoms as much in any other year I’ve been in Japan. For some reason this year I’ve really taken notice of them. I love how they have the power to draw so many people, but at the same time they make each person slow down and stay a while to enjoy their beauty and sweet smell. Nature is pretty remarkable!
I love having Fridays off work, but today is extra exciting!! I’m sitting here in a café 26 floors up. Looking out of these giant glass windows, all I can see is a vast sea of ‘white’! It’s bizarre but very cool seeing snowy roof tops in Tokyo. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was snow country, but it actually only snows a few days a year.
I woke up this morning to the delightful sound of snow crunching under people’s boots. It has since turned into icy rain, but a beautiful mist is left hovering over the city. From inside this warm cafe, it actually looks quite cozy out there, like we’re inside of a fluffy cloud. With visibility only a few kilometres, Tokyo has suddenly become quite small!
This morning, I visited Shoin-jinja, a shrine built in the 1880s. It was originally dedicated to Master Shoin, a teacher of military strategies and tactics, who was killed when he was 30. These days, it’s dedicated to the God of Learning and apparently many people come from all over to pray for success with their studies. Shrines feel so much more peaceful covered in snow. I always feel like I should tread softly!
There’s just something intriguing about snow. Maybe it’s to do with the change it brings. It completely transforms a place that you have gotten used to seeing every day. I know there might be some people reading this who are currently 5-feet deep in snow and wishing they were anywhere else, but when it’s not something you’re used to seeing, it’s like that feeling you got as a child waking up on Christmas morning! My inner child wants to run out and build a snowman or start a snow ball fight! I love seeing kids wide-eyed in wonder when they see all those beautiful snowflakes falling from the sky.
After all those pictures of a grey concrete city covered white snow, I leave you with these bright and cheerful flowers.
Have a great weekend everyone!
My Top 6 Winter Illumination Spots in Tokyo
No. 6 – Yebisu Garden Place
In the trendy district of Ebisu lies a shopping complex by the name of Yebisu Garden Place. Yebisu is a popular Japanese beer, and there used to be a brewery here about 25 years ago. The winter illuminations aren’t too extensive, but there’s no doubting the very Christmasy feel! This year they have a ginormous crystal chandelier displayed – the largest made by Baccarat!
No. 5 – Shinjuku Southern Terrace
Number 5 on my list is the colourful lights at Shinjuku Southern Terrace. Location, location, location! These lights are right outside Shinjuku Station and therefore attract A LOT of people! I love the light-covered gardens and shrubs, and the huge rainbow of Christmas trees. If you can manage to get a window seat inside Starbucks or Krispy Kreme, it would be a great vantage point for people watching as well!
No. 4 – Omotesando
Omotesando is a glitzy part of town where designer stores line a long, straight street. Grand trees on either side of the road stretch as far as the eye can see. In summer, the trees are full of vibrant, green leaves. Then in winter, the bare branches are transformed into glowing towers. The first thing you notice is how tall these trees are! And then you think, how much effort went into putting all of these lights around the trees?! But I for one am grateful to all the people that worked hard to prepare the illuminations as it is a stunning sight!
No. 3 – Tokyo Midtown & Roppongi
I didn’t make it to Roppongi this year, but last year’s lights left a lasting impression on me. The blue field of lights that seemingly jump into the air at Tokyo Midtown was beautiful. Roppongi Hills is a favourite for Tokyoites, year after year. The view from the overpass looking down the road with Tokyo Tower in the distance is worth braving the cold for!
No. 2 – Marunouchi
Marunouchi is the business area next to Tokyo Station. During the day, it might be all about work, but at night, it’s another story. At 5pm, it turns in an illumination heaven! This year, they have been at the top of the national popularity rankings. The theme is “Disney Timeless Story”, and throughout the whole Marunouchi area, there are Disney-themed displays where you can get your photo taken with characters. Just be prepared for some waiting! The Frozen display, with statues of Anna and Elsa, had a waiting time of 2 hours! Outside on the street, Marunouchi-naka Dori is lined with what they call ‘champagne gold’ lights. Very fancy!
No. 1 – Naka-Meguro!!!
The inaugural ‘blue cave’ at Naka-Meguro was just as impressive as it sounds. During spring, the Meguro River comes alive as the cherry blossoms overhanging the canals bloom. Those same trees have been turned into 500 metres of BLUE BLUE BLUE! It really is something else. I was completely blown away and enjoyed the the very dreamy and magical vibe it created! Although the LED lights are hard to look at when there’s so many of them, it was definitely the best illumination display in my book!