Saturday, 28 December 2013

by Khor Su Wern, Sophomore 2 Cempaka, Class of 2015

My fairly long plane flight of nearly eight hours finally touched down in Japan’s second largest island, Hokkaido. I feared at first that there wouldn’t be any snow left by the time I visited Japan. Thankfully, to my relief, when I reached my hotel there was a fresh carpet of snow on the ground. And so on the first day of my trip, I got the chance to learn how to ski! After breakfast, I suited up in layers upon layers of warm clothing, gathered my ski equipment and stepped out into the frosty winter paradise.

Photo Credit : Khor Su Wern

As anyone who knows me can testify, I’m not much of a thrill-lover but skiing was genuinely exciting. I highly recommend everyone to at least try skiing in Hokkaido if one gets the chance. It’s a wonderful experience and I would certainly do it again. After skiing up and down the slopes, my family and I visited Lake Toya, a large volcanic crater lake which never freezes, even during the frigid winter when the temperature is bone-chilling. Later in the day we got the chance to go on a cable car up to Mount Usuzan. From our small compartments high up, we could glance down at the scenic view below which included an active volcano in the valley. Upon reaching the very peak of Mount Usuzan we were greeted by a beautiful, panoramic view of Mount Showa Shinzan and Lake Toya down below, waves still flowing gently across its surface although the ground was covered in snow.

Photo Credit : Khor Su Wern

The next day we visited Jigokudani, also known as Hell Valley, where columns of steam constantly rise from the numerous crevasses in the rocks. It was snowing heavily when we reached Hell Valley - the entire area was covered in a thick sheet of snow! Had I sat on one of their benches long enough, I would be so well-covered in snow that I would resemble a snowman (a shivering, rather thin snowman, but a snowman nonetheless). We then journeyed to the small harbour city of Otaru which is situated northwest of Sapporo (the capital of Hokkaido). This was definitely one of my favourite places throughout my visit. The Otaru Canal (also known as “The Big Drain”) is a short and narrow waterway running through the harbour town which is known for it's incredible history. Given it's picturesque look, it's also a great spot for pictures.

Photo Credit : Khor Su Wern

Otaru’s streets are packed with craft. It's where glass handicraft shops, a music box museum, art galleries, and cute Japanese souvenir shops are located. Not to mention the well-known lavender ice-cream that's only, exclusively sold in this area. Yes, ‘lavender’ ice-cream. It combines the unique lavender fragrance and taste with the smooth, creamy texture of ice cream with the added benefit of making your mouth smell of perfume. It is definitely a must-try if you ever travel to Otaru!

Photo Credit : Khor Su Wern

If you’re a huge fan of Japanese animes such as: Totoro, Rilakkuma, Pokemon, Hello Kitty, Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Doraemon etcetera, you’re guaranteed to go nuts about the abundance of cute merchandise here. There are rows upon rows of shops filled with 'kawaii’ (cute) Japanese cartoon merchandise and goodies. Being a huge Totoro fan, naturally I visited the Totoro shop. The minute I entered their two-storey shop located near the famous music box shop and museum, my jaw dropped. You can find nearly all kinds of knick-knacks, from Totoro chopsticks to Tupperware holders to Totoro music box keychains. I highly recommend this area if you are a cutesy-anime fanatic-like me!

After we were finished walking through Otaru's many winding streets, we visited Shiroi Koibito park, which not only has fantastic winter decorations including real snow (take that, Malaysian shopping malls) and reminds me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but also produces and sells some of Hokkaido's finest confectionery. Outside the factory, once you get pass the stunningly spectacular winter decorations, there’s a small dwarf village filled with cute, miniature houses each one furnished with doll-sized furniture. And of course, like most people, I couldn’t resist going into one of these little houses (because of my petite size, I managed to fit in them quite comfortably). And the bone-chilling cold outside will definitely make you want to step into their toasty-warm, melted-chocotae-smelling store which sells some very well-known chocolates, hard candy and many more delectables!

Photo Credit : Khor Su Wern
To conclude my journey to Hokkaido, I dropped by Odori Park, the venue for the annual ice carving festival where, as you've probably guessed, contestants carve ice. Every February, master craftsmen will carve impossible sculptures using only ice, chisels and hammers, and lots of hard work and determination. Hokkaido, with it's beautiful scenery, both natural and man made, is truly a winter wonderland. Indeed, I was sad to say ‘Sayonara’ to this wonderful place but at least I’d keep the amazing experience.

by Unknown 18:28 19 comments | in , , ,


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