Food and Fun in Hokkaido

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!

Tokyo Tower, the Heart of the City

May 5th is Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day) in Japan. It’s one of four national holidays that make up “Golden Week”. I won’t go too much into the background of this day because I wrote a post about it last year, but basically Kodomo no Hi is a day to celebrate boys. It’s tradition for families with sons to put up koinobori (carp streamers) outside their houses. These days though, you can see koinobori flying high in lots of places, especially above rivers where they look like they’re swimming upstream!

Today, I went to Tokyo Tower where they have 333 koinobori flying at the base. There is one carp for every metre the tower is tall i.e. it is 333 metres from the base to the highest point of the antenna. The tower was completed in the year Showa 33 (equivalent to 1958) – however, this ’33’ is actually a coincidence!

From talking to Japanese people over the years, I definitely feel as though they think of Tokyo Tower as the original symbol of their capital city. It was built after World War II and became an image of hope for a nation in recovery. It was the country’s tallest tower until 2012 when Tokyo SkyTree was completed. And although SkyTree is a new and super exciting attraction, and will eventually take over all broadcasting, I think Tokyo Tower will always be a nostalgic icon and the heart of the city.

Koinobori at Tokyo Tower:

View from the top:

View from surrounds:

Currently in… Hokkaido!

I’m so excited to be in Hokkaido – it’s my first time to be up in the northernmost island of Japan! I have traded the first few days of cherry blossoms in Tokyo for the small ski resort of Kiroro, about 75 minutes west of Sapporo.

It’s my third snowboarding trip in as many years, and I love it. Since I’m still technically a ‘beginner’, and having heard plenty of horror stories of things going wrong on the mountains, I admit it’s kind of scary! But the thrill of cruising down a run is not like anything else I’ve done. It’s an exciting sport both to do and watch!

Kiroro is a fairly unknown ski resort near Otaru city. It’s pretty small compared to the other resorts I’ve been to in Nagano. I didn’t really know this before coming as my friend was the organiser so I was a bit bummed at first. But actually as it turns out, the lack of crowds has meant lots of runs all for ourselves and I don’t have to worry about accidentally running into anyone! This is a very good thing. I’d say 90% of the visitors are Japanese which is a nice change from places like Hakuba which are basically an extension of Australia! The only down side to the trip has been that the famed dry ‘powder’ snow hasn’t shown itself. It hasn’t snowed in at least a week and the snowfall has been generally lower than the usual 13 metres per season. The ski season lasts until May in Hokkaido but it’s been very warm, spring-like weather, which is very rare and not what I wanted! Anyway, it just means I’ll have to come back again next year!

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