北海道: 第一印象

Red-crowned cranes in Hokkaido's wilderness.
Red-crowned cranes in Hokkaido's wilderness.

Every winter, Hokkaido is carpeted in an ethereal wonder. Sparkling grains envelope the entire island in a spiritual whiteout and light up the night sky in ways no torch can compare.

There is something magical about snow. In its purest, these diamond dust manifest in an appearance so splendid that they put the best of man-carved crystals to shame. They are so delicate that they vanish upon contact, much like a cherry blossom’s fleeting glory. Yet in abundance, they blanket the earth in a spiritual whiteout and light up the night sky in ways no torch can compare.

Every winter, Hokkaido is carpeted in such ethereal wonder. These sparkling grains envelope the island in a spectacular performance – the capricious sforzando of the snowsquall, the lyrical whisper of the flurries, the howling dissonance of the blizzards, and the magnificent finale of their triumph. Together, these movements breathe into the island of torii gates an air of meditative tranquillity.

Ainu Settlements Traditional Chinese Hokkaido Shrine in Snow Sapporo Man Morning Newspaper

Because of its vast expanse of uninhabited land, Hokkaido has plentiful wildlife and landscape unseen in other parts of Japan. The red-crowned cranes, in particular, went from near extinction to the current population of 2,750.

Hokkaido, roughly the size of Austria, is Japan’s northernmost prefecture and the second largest island after Honshu. Its population is 40% smaller than that of Austria’s and is the least populated prefecture of Japan. It is usually covered in snow every year from late November to mid April. Because of the general lack of humidity, Hokkaido has a higher quality of powder snow than other cold regions, making it an attractive place for snow sports.

Because of the vast expanse of its uninhabited land, Hokkaido has plentiful wildlife and boundless landscape absent in most parts of Japan. Among those rare animals that live on its rolling hills, national parks, and mountain ranges are the red foxes, white-tailed sea eagles, and the red-crowned cranes. The cranes, in particular, went from near extinction to the current population of around 2,750. 1,200 of those live in Japan and are non-migratory.

Traditional Chinese Ayoro Coast in Hokkaido Hokkaido Country Road Traditional Chinese

In addition to its unspoiled landscape, Hokkaido is also known for its regional delicacies. Having roughly a quarter of Japan’s total arable land, it is known for its raw milk, wheat, and soybeans.

In addition to its unspoiled landscape, Hokkaido is also known for its regional delicacies. Having roughly a quarter of Japan’s total arable land, it is known for its raw milk, wheat, and soybeans. The reincarnated Megmilk Snow Brand Company (雪印メグミルク) is a famous diary product manufacturer from Hokkaido that sells popular products ranging from ice cream to infant formula.

Hokkaido is also known for the quality of its ramen and aqua-cultural industry. Miso ramen, for example, is invented in Hokkaido’s capital Sapporo. Shio ramen, another specialty of Hokkaido, is known in the southern city Hakodate. In fact, many international ramen chains see their beginning in Hokkaido, such as Ramen Santouka and Aji No Tokeidai.

In terms of seafood, Uni (sea urchin) and kani (crabs) are but few of the many specialities in abundance throughout Hokkaido. Kegani (horsehair crab) and Zuwaigani (snow crab) are my personal favourites. They are sweet and firm without the rubbery texture commonly found in Alaskan king crabs. Seafood can be usually be prepared and consumed on-the-spot in coastal fish markets.

In the summer, Hokkaido is also known for its fruits. Yubari melons are notorious thanks to the media attention garnered at the biddings of 2014’s Sapporo Central Wholesaler Market. In that year, a pair of Yubari melon sold for the price of 2.5 million yen, or roughly 25,000 USD. Publicity stunts aside, each of those melons could be purchased for roughly 50 USD each.

Traditional Chinese Noboribetsu Railway Crossing Traditional Chinese Sapporo Station

Seeing Hokkaido in perpetual snow in winter is stunning. It is the blend of Shinto spirituality and magnificent snowscapes that makes this northernmost island of Japan so mystical, so unforgettable.

An overview of Hokkaido is not complete without mentioning Ainu, an indigenous people of Japan. The official census puts their population at 25,000, most of which lives in southern Hokkaido. Despite having finally received an officially recognition of its status in recent years (2008), the Ainu have long suffered discrimination even up to this day.

Most still live poverty, lacking basic resources available to other citizens. In the decades of forced assimilation, many Ainu traditions are lost. With the public’s growing awareness, however, efforts are made to preserve their heritage.

Hokkaido is very different than rest of Japan – the green expanse of nature; the bountiful supply of fresh produce; the indigenous culture in largely homogeneous Japan. It is no wonder that Hokkaido is one of the most popular tourist destinations among the Japanese themselves.

Seeing Hokkaido in perpetual snow in the winter is like seeing Tibet on the roof of the world – it turns even the most ordinary things into something extraordinary. It is the blend of Shinto spirituality and dreamy snowscapes that makes this northernmost island of Japan so mystical, so unforgettable.

Traditional Chinese Winter Illumination and Snow in Sapporo Sapporo City Core Sapporo Food Alley

 

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