Goodbye Tomakomai

IMG_20160903_121650_HDRIt’s two days before I finally say goodbye to this apartment where I’ve spent the larger part of my two years in Tomakomai (苫小牧), Hokkaido. Looking back, I remembered during the first few months when I first arrived in this industrial city with a population of a little under 200,000, I would take train rides out every weekend, either to Sapporo or to explore the surrounding areas outside the city. That’s because short of chimneys billowing thick columns of smoke, there’s scarcely anything here in Tomakomai. It’s an ugly city.

And I hated it here.IMG_20161113_150720_HDRAs I count down to the last week in this city, I found myself re-visiting some of the places that I had initially explored when I first arrived two years ago. First up is Midorigaoka Park (緑ヶ丘公園), the largest park in the city. Tomakomai is not blessed with wonderful weather. It’s grey and cloudy most of the time. In other words, depressing! So on days when the sky’s perfectly blue and clear, and the sun is shining at its brightest, people head to the parks or to climb Mount Tarumae (樽前山).IMG_20161113_150055_HDRDuring my first visit to the park two years ago, I got lost. It was a cool late autumn evening, and I decided to explore the woods that connect to the park. But as I ventured deeper and deeper, I felt something amiss. I was the only one in the midst of the greenery. However, I kept on walking further and further into the foliage, despite the waning sunlight. What really set alarm bells ringing and prompted me to turn back was when I came across a wooden sign with the words that warn of bear sighting in this part of the woods. Terrified, I promptly retraced my steps as quickly as I could, and only breathed a sigh of relief when I heard sounds of passing traffic.IMG_20161113_152346_HDRThis time, however, I opted for a less adventurous approach. Having bought a bento box of stir-fried Chinese noodles and a can of beer from 7-Eleven, I headed to the Kintaro Pond (金太郎池), where I found a shady spot under the trees. I dug into my lunch, while watching gulls and Mandarin ducks paddling leisurely and dogs chasing after frisbees.IMG_20161113_144601_HDRSufficiently fuelled up, I ambled towards the observation tower, which offers a 360 degree panorama of the city. On a clear day, you could probably see as far as Mount Tarumae and the peaks around Lake Shikotsu (支笏湖).  But today is not the day.IMG_20170727_151403Many thoughts clouded my mind as I surveyed the scenery before me, the grid-like city layout, the ugly chimneys and billowing white smoke, the oil tankers dotting the port of Tomakomai. How did I end up here in the first place? I made a decision to take a sabbatical after getting worn out at work as a teacher in Singapore. I had become disillusioned in a job I used to love – teaching. The more years I accumulated in the teaching service, I found myself doing less of the job I was initially called to do.IMG_20180727_162553And at that time, JET seemed like the most attractive option. I had always wanted to explore living and working in Japan – and the inspiration behind this, would you believe, was after watching a Japanese TV drama called “Beach Boys” during my teenage years. That drama followed the adventures of two Japanese executives who quit their jobs and left their highly stressful urban lifestyle behind for one summer and stumbled upon a pension by the sea.IMG_20161027_074440_HDRI figured spending a couple of years in Japan could allow me to get away from the mundaneness of working life, from Singapore for a while. I must admit, a part of me had secretly wished I was posted to some rural city / town by the sea. Maybe then, I could live out the laid-back life as portrayed in that drama I watched more than 20 years ago. But a part of me was also worried about being posted to the countryside. I am such a conflicted individual. However, as it would turn out, I got neither of those. I was posted to Tomakomai.

Sometimes, I wondered if I had, as a friend put it, committed “career suicide” by coming to Japan. Would I still be able to return to Singapore and carry on working as I had used to?

If I have a second chance, would I do this JET thingy all over again?

Probably not.

Maybe if I had a more “exciting” posting (say, Sapporo, Osaka or Hakodate), maybe if I had a larger circle of JET friends, an endless list of maybes. There’s a cliché that you will often hear in JET, and that is ESID – Every Situation Is Different. Perhaps, that is true to a large extent. But ultimately, we make our own choices, given the cards we have been dealt with. There are definitely highlights from this experience, as much as regrets.

But I would not have known, if I have not tried it.

That, was my choice.     LS

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hokkaido, Is Home

IMG_20180216_150556It’s that time of the year again, when winter puts up a valiant fight with spring in a tenacious tug-of-war that manifests itself in the daily temperatures in Japan. Last week saw a violent blizzard pummel the whole of Hokkaido, forcing schools to close and kids to stay at home. (Teachers, of course, report for work as usual. Don’t ask me why, because this is Japan. Logic doesn’t hold much sway here).

That same weekend, in the aftermath of the blizzard, temperatures rose across Japan, hitting as high as 21 degrees Celsius in Kagoshima. To put things in perspective, 21 degrees is equivalent to early summer temperatures in Kyushu. But we are still, apparently, in the throes of winter.

IMG_20180129_081012I can’t wait for winter to pass. Winter sucks. I hate being woken up by frozen toes in the early hours of the morning. I’m sick of having to do a merry dance to the toilet, which for some reason only the architects in Japan know, is situated next to the door to my apartment. I resent having to pile layer upon layer of clothing, and yet my fingers still freeze every time I head out. In a nutshell, I hate winter, and I’m more than happy to see the last of it. Yet, every evening when I watch the news on TV, I’m reminded that I live in Hokkaido, where winter lasts half a year. Even as daily temperatures rose across Japan, here in Hokkaido, we are still mired in sub-zero temperatures.

But Hokkaido is winter. Winter is Hokkaido.

IMG_20180211_210634Its powder draws avid skiers and snowboarders around the world to its numerous ski resorts. The annual Sapporo Snow Festival is a top tourist draw, transforming Odori Park into a winter wonderland. Many cities and towns in Hokkaido, too, have their own mini version of snow / ice / winter festivals, not so much to celebrate the cold as to find an excuse for debauchery.

IMG_20180210_131734In February this year, the Winter Olympics was held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Olympic fever gripped Japan, its athletes dominating daily news headlines in a country that is always eager to celebrate and worship sporting excellence. The press hailed the graceful performances of male figure-skating champion Hanyu Yuzuru and praised female speed skater Nao Kodaira for her display of sportsmanship in embracing a tearful Lee Sang-hwa.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter OlympicsChinami Yoshida (second from right) celebrates with Japanese skip, Satsuki Fujisawa and other members of the Women’s Olympic Curling Team after edging Britain to the bronze medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics, South Korea. Source: Reuters Pictures.

Hokkaido, too, crowned its own sporting champions. A group of young women from a nondescript city in Hokkaido propelled the profile of a nondescript winter sport (at least where Japan is concerned) to the national psyche. That sport, in question, is curling.

The Japan Women’s Olympic Curling Team may have only bagged a bronze medal in Pyeongchang, but their sporting achievements have struck gold back home. All five members on the team hailed from Kitami, a city with a population of just under 120,000. Average attendance in the city’s curling facility spiked during the Games. In the city’s souvenir and pastry shops, you can find the cherubic faces of the women curlers plastered all over boxes of Kitami omiyage, including the cheese cake that the ladies were filmed snacking on during their breaks. There’s even a shrine where you can pick up an omikuji (a Japanese fortune-telling charm) in the shape of a curling stone.

curling charmsSource: Kyodo News.

In the words of Chinami Yoshida, a member of the Women’s Olympic Curling Team (pictured above): “Never in my dreams did I imagine that one day, I would be an Olympic champion. In this town where there is basically nothing. However, I’ve learnt that it doesn’t matter where you’re from. It matters to have a dream. And that dreams do come true.”

I definitely do not share the same lofty ambitions or dreams as Chinami, but I do remember that my personal little dream is to experience living and working in Japan since deciding to study the language more seriously more than five years ago. Cliché as this may sound, I’m currently “living my dream”. In addition, I’m living in Hokkaido, a popular holiday destination choice among my fellow countrymen back home. Yet, here I am, lamenting the freezing winters in Hokkaido. I suddenly realized I have many reasons to celebrate and to be thankful, even in the freezing depths of winter.

Like the people of Hokkaido, I find myself unconsciously cheering for the curling team as one of my own. And as much as I hate the cold and the fact that we have six months of winter here in Hokkaido, I’ve also come to realise that Hokkaido, is home.   LS

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

More Time For R&R

DSC04429Winter used to be my favourite season when I was working as a professional teacher in Singapore. This is because in Singapore, we have no winter. More importantly, as a teacher in a public school, winter marks the start of the “travel season” as the academic calendar draws to a close by mid-November. The “luckier” ones would have already jetted off by the last week of November. However, for most teachers, CCA commitments (i.e. sports teams and club activities) and numerous meetings (end-of-year reviews, staff planning, department meetings, CCA meetings, etc. etc.) are often packed into the last two weeks of November. Since 2011, I have spent all my “winters” overseas – five of them, in Japan. DSC04506Going into my third winter in Hokkaido, (the first came in 2015 before I went on the JET programme) winter now actually marks the end of my “travel season” as the daily sub-zero temperatures here made travelling less enticing, even potentially dangerous. Of course, as a tourist in Japan, you don’t really worry about blizzards or care about the biting cold. If I’m being honest, in those days prior to living in Hokkaido, I might have secretly welcomed it. These days, I spent most weekends at home, in front of the heater. Even a trip to the local supermarket or the launderette becomes a battle of wills. On weekends like these, I like to reminisce about the places I have visited in the past year.DSC04474On this note, I will leave you with some snaps from my most recent trip to Wakkanai, and the islands of Rishiri (利尻島) and Rebun (礼文島)To say I’ve been to Rishiri and Rebun (R&R) would be stretching it since I actually only had time to scratch the area around the ferry terminal, thanks to a combination of my own ignorance/optimism and the infrequent ferry timings.

For those who love off-the-beaten-track itineraries, these two tiny islands off the coast of Wakkanai are definitely up your alley! Don’t forget to pencil in a few days on each island because even though the islands are tiny, they are not small enough to make a round trip on foot.DSC04505By the way, the snow-capped/cloud-covered peak that featured on the packaging of the ubiquitous Shiroikoibito or 白色恋人 cookies (a souvenir synonymous with Hokkaido) is actually that of Mount Rishiri.

Another noteworthy tip is to schedule your trip in summer because you will get to savour some of the freshest uni (i.e. sea urchin) and seafood that Hokkaido has to offer. In fact, it is said that R&R probably offer the most delicious uni in Japan. I learnt this the hard way of course, as I visited in October this year, only to be told that uni was not in season.I had to settle for another of their famed delicacy, the “hokke chan chan yaki” or grilled fish in miso sauce.

As for Wakkanai, I found it to be rather disappointing. I did enjoy catching the sunset at Cape Soya though, a saving grace in my humble opinion. Otherwise, I would recommend that you plan your trip with one of these two islands (or both if time permits) as your base, instead of Wakkanai.   LSDSC04438

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Whirlwind Trip to Kawayu

DSC04308I’m sitting here at my kotatsu typing away instead of being at school. The reason, Typhoon No. 21. Just when you thought typhoon season is over, here comes a humongous one to take the stuffing out of you. And of course, bearing in mind that this is Japan – typhoons love this long strip of archipelago for some reason. So here I am, typing away as the winds howl like the wolves outside, and the rains pelt my windows with a vengeance that sometimes have me wondering if I should start taping them. Or maybe it’s too late for that anyway…

DSC04244Living in Japan has taught me to be grateful for the weather, and to constantly check it every day. That has become one of the main reasons I tune in to the news broadcasts every night. While many Japanese watch the news for developments ahead of the upcoming Lower House General Elections (okay, perhaps not), which concluded last night with a sweeping victory for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling LDP party, I was more concerned about the rampaging advances of Typhoon No.21.

DSC04259DSC04264In September, another typhoon (Typhoon Talim) had forced me to cut short my long weekend trip to the Kawayu Onsen area. To sum up that trip, I never had a chance to explore the beautiful Kawayu area in depth except for a sightseeing bus tour – which was exactly that, you stayed on the bus mostly save for 15-minute stops at Lake Mashu and the sulfurous Io Valley). I never took a dip in any of the popular onsens here either (save for a 10-min bath).

Well, I guess I had other things to give thanks for. I made a couple of new friends (both from Taiwan), who turned out to be great travel companions even for that half a day. I also managed to get a refund on a night’s stay from the owner of the pension where I was staying. We had  a lengthy ding-dong over email explaining my reasons for cutting my stay short, and I’m thankful that he had been kind and understanding. And last but not least, I’m grateful to salvage a few good shots from my trip, given the less than pleasant weather from the approaching storm.   LS

P.S.: My apartment windows are still rattling from Super Typhoon Lan right now. What a name…if only you know what the name means in the Chinese vernacular…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Damn You, Mr Kim!!!

1503957699616_cropSeptember is most commonly associated with typhoons in Hokkaido. Memories of Typhoon Lionrock (otherwise known as Typhoon No. 10 in Japan) that wreaked havoc in Southern Furano last September is still fresh in the minds of many Japanese in Hokkaido. However, this year, instead of typhoons, we have a new (or old) threat! That of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and his beloved missiles!!

We had not one, but two incidents of the J-alarm being triggered as a result of missile tests from North Korea. On both occasions, my mobile phone screamed like crazy and jolted me out of my snooze. The first time it happened, on 28 August, my first thoughts were that a massive earthquake must have occurred in Japan, but after checking my earthquake app, I quickly dismissed that notion and (feeling inexplicably relieved) went back to sleep, only to be awakened by a recurrent “scream” from my device.

1503957698551_crop

Confused and a little dazed, I flicked on the TV and to my horror, the words “Missile Alert!” in black and red appeared on the screen – like the subtitles of a horror movie. Now, I’m really scared s***-less because I’ve never experienced anything like this before!!! What was I supposed to do? Where was I supposed to go? Should I still report for work at school today?

These thoughts raced through my mind as I glued my eyes to the repeated broadcasts of the missile tests on TV, hoping to glean as much information as I could.

I texted my supervisor and Singaporean friends (also ALT teachers like me) in other prefectures, and also posted “I’m safe” messages on Facebook. If the missile had indeed landed on Hokkaido (or anywhere else in Japan), it clearly had not struck my city. Because I was still alive!

Thank God for being alive, I thought!! I went through the rest of the workday at school a little shell-shocked if I’m being completely honest. The events of that morning weighed heavily on my mind. At school, however, my colleagues seemed pretty nonchalant to the whole “missile incident”. Are they immune to it? Or are they hiding it too well?

Later that day, I learnt from the news that the missile had flown over Hokkaido and dropped into the sea about 1,180 kilometres off Cape Erimo in Eastern Hokkaido. No cause for concern you might say. To put things in perspective, that is roughly the same distance between New York and Atlanta, or between London (England) and Venice (Italy).

For the rest of that day, I couldn’t help but think of this: that in the event that a missile did strike my city, or for that matter, anywhere else in Japan, there’s no escape!!! Forget about evacuation, forget about rushing to the nearest building, or an underground shelter. The chances of survival are almost zero!!

Less than two weeks later, my phone screamed its head off and woke me up again. A second missile test from North Korea!!

“Damn you fat-ass Kim!!” I yelled, got up to brush my teeth and get ready for school.  LS

Summer Sojourns (Part 1) – Lavender Furano

DSC03674Summer hit Hokkaido like a home run out of nowhere this week, with daily temperatures soaring above the thirties. The week before, Kyushu had been battered by Typhoon No.3, leaving swathes of land in Fukuoka and Oita under water. Here in Hokkaido, however, temperatures are slowly creeping above 25 degrees during the day. When dusk falls, it drops severely to the mid-10s (15 or 16 degrees). And then, it took a sudden spike above the 30s.

Unlike my colleagues at school, I welcomed and embraced the heat. For once, it felt like I was back home again, having been born and raised in the tropics all my life. I was thankful for the opportunity to continue my exploration of Hokkaido.

Here in Hokkaido, summer means lavender and melons – and Furano is synonymous with both. There’s even a dedicated train line that only operates during the lavender season – ferrying tourists by the hundreds every day from Furano to Lavender Fields Station for only 460 yen (return). From Lavender Fields Station, it’s a 5-minute walk to Farm Tomita.

DSC03623Farm Tomita is the top tourist draw in Furano. Despite the scorching heat, thousands brave the summer heat to wander among its purple lavender fields. Although it’s still considered early in the lavender season, meaning to say, the lavender is not in full bloom yet, the purple flowers had bloomed sufficiently to make for beautiful images.

19780377_10154690842427036_5535549101343014770_oAn essential part of the Farm Tomita experience, besides snapping a ton of pictures beside these flowers, is lavender ice-cream. You can choose from a variety of flavours – lavender, melon or a mix of lavender and melon/vanilla. I recommend getting the lavender/melon or lavender/vanilla mix.

Complete your Tomita experience with a slice or two of honey melon – the perfect dessert to beat the heat. Truth be told, however, that I preferred the ice cream to the melon. Granted, the melons were sweet and juicy, but at 250 yen per slice, and knowing the premium prices that honey melons command in Hokkaido, I actually have tasted better ones from back home. Still, having come all the way to Farm Tomita, leaving this place without having tried both the ice cream and melons would have been a gross travesty!!

DSC03664I did, however, give the lavender souvenirs a miss. If there’s one thing that Japan does exceptionally well, it is to milk the tourist experience with all kinds of delicious and exquisitely packaged sweets and obscenely cute knick knacks that will have you tossing your entire fortunes into their cash registers.

At one end of Farm Tomita, there are shops selling lavender scented perfumes, lavender hand cream, lavender hand soap, lavender bath salts, lavender moisturising cream, lavender potpourri, lavender everything.

At the other end, there are cafes and restaurants offering all manner of melon desserts and drinks. Purple and orange may not be a fashionista’s idea of a matching outfit, but here at Farm Tomita, it is a winning combination!   LS

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Yosakoi Soran Festival 2017, Sapporo

DSC03495 cropCries of “Yaaaaaaaaaa…Yaren Soooran Soooran…Hoi hoi!!” continued to echo in my ears as my train left the platform at Sapporo Station bound for Tomakomai. I had gone into town over the weekend to catch the annual dance extravaganza in Sapporo that is the Yosakoi Soran Festival.DSC03527Held at Odori Park during early June every year, this dance fest, which drew its name from the original Yosakoi Festival of Kochi Prefecture, attracts Yosakoi dance teams from all over Japan. In its 26th edition this year, the festival boasts some 270 teams and close to 30,000 participants. The festival has indeed come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1992 with only 10 teams and 1,000 dancers.

Weather forecasts prior to the festival had not been promising, with grey skies and rain predicted over Sapporo and in fact, much of Hokkaido. Watching the preliminary performances on TV that morning, it didn’t seem very promising to be honest. Even the event hosts tried valiantly to wear a smile, despite being pelted with rain on their faces.

Needless to say, I was in two minds whether I should make the train ride into the city in the pouring rain. Perhaps, to convince myself that maybe I should sit this one out and watch the performances on the TV, I made one last-ditch attempt to search for an available hotel / hostel on Booking.com. And against all odds, I found one!

A few days ago, all the hotels I scoured were either fully booked or had jacked up their prices by a few times, so to find a place with a reasonable price was nothing short of a miracle! Granted, it was a capsule hotel / hostel, and I have my doubts about capsule hotels in Japan. I was never a fan of confined spaces, especially shared ones. However, the newly opened Grids Sapporo Hotel & Hostel in the heart of the boisterous Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade in downtown Susukino, was a pleasant surprise. It exceeded my expectations of a capsule hotel on all counts.

When I reached Sapporo Station, the first sight that greeted me was dancers in brightly coloured costumes scurrying across the station. I later learnt that this was because in addition to the stage performance in Odori Park, there were also various performance venues scattered along streets in and around Odori Park. So it was a pretty fascinating sight, seeing all these dancers in heavy makeup and psychedelic costumes rushing from place to place, sometimes, with prams and kids in tow, on foot!!DSC03501Over the course of the weekend, I would, too, scurry from place to place, camera in tow, trying to catch as many of these street performances as possible. It’s nearly impossible to catch everything, of course, and because the performances were simultaneous at the different locales, you are bound to miss out on some of them.

Still, I would run the length of Odori Park, from 5-chome to 10-chome, hoping to catch the major attractions – those teams that have been tipped for a run-in for the best dancers. And even though the rain threatened to dampen my spirits, the performances from the yosakoi dancers were like energy boosters. The rain served only to make their cries louder and more defiant.DSC03474When the music starts, the dancers – men, women, students and children – burst into a flurry of movements, gyrating, spinning, fist-pumping, cheering, shouting, and always smiling. Costumes changed colour every few seconds. Flag bearers waved and swiveled gigantic flags with grace and finesse. Some teams even had a humongous dragon head or parts of a ship, in addition to terraced paper lanterns strung on bamboo poles.

DSC03513Adrenalin and emotions poured out from their faces, all the months of sweat and toil distilled into that five minutes in the limelight. They seemed to lap up the energy from the crowds, the applause, the rallying cries from their peers, and hearty waves from friends or family members who had come to support.DSC03571Personally, I enjoyed watching the university teams the most. The energy and drive that these youths displayed were amazing, not to mention the perfectly executed dance routines. One girl was hobbling on crutches at the dancers’ holding area backstage, her right knee heavily strapped. But when it was time for her team to perform on stage, she tossed her crutches to the ground and rushed onstage with her peers for one last hurrah.

I find myself lost for words to describe the emotions that were running through me as I watched team after team of bullish youthful exuberance exploding on the stage.

It was simply, breath-taking!  LS

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sapporo: A Winter Wonderland

img_20170205_115802-3SNEAK PEEK: SAPPORO SNOW FESTIVAL 2017

A friend was pretty amused when I exploded in exuberant joy that I have just snagged a hotel room in Sapporo this weekend!

What’s the occasion this weekend, she asked. What do you like about Sapporo?

Well, firstly, there’s nothing to dislike about Sapporo. If I could pinpoint something, it is that there’s just too many people in this tiny city.

Secondly, what’s the occasion? It’s the eagerly anticipated Sapporo Snow Festival!!! It’s probably the biggest winter event on the Japanese calendar this side of the archipelago.

I’m not sure how many winter festivals there are in the world, but the Sapporo Snow Festival probably ranks amongst one of the most well-known.

Months before the Festival, almost all the hotels in downtown Sapporo, that is, Odori Park, Susukino and even nearby Nakajima Park, are fully booked, with most hotels charging three to four times above the average room rates. So you could imagine the exhilaration when I managed to snag one myself, one week before the Festival.

What started as a mere adolescent muck-about in Odori Park has become one of the top tourist draws for the city of Sapporo and Japan, with an expected draw of around 2 million people from across Japan and the world, the Japan Times reported.

For its 68th edition, this year’s theme revolves around TPP!!! Nah, not the trade deal that newly elected US President Donald Trump threatened to destroy. Rather, TPP stands for Trump, Pikotaro and Pokemon-Go!!

These feature heavily in many of the sculptures that dot the park, with Pikachu and Pikotaro, proving to be very popular among the sculptors. There are also several renditions of giant apple-pen and pineapple-pen combinations!!!DSC03152.JPGThe Festival is most famous for juggernaut sculptures that turn Odori Park into a whimsical winter wonderland. This year features amongst others, Nara’s 1,300-year-old Kofukuji Temple, Paris’ Arc de Triomphe (perhaps, to improve French-Japanese trade relations?), mascots for the 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games (which kicks off from February 19-26 in Sapporo and Obihiro), the Decisive Battle scene from popular video game Final Fantasy and the ever-popular Star Wars.dsc03141dsc03115You can also catch international sculptors from 11 participating countries including the United States,  Australia, Latvia, Finland, Thailand and Singapore in action as they vie for the grand prize.

In addition, there’s also Citizen Square, an area just outside the former Sapporo Court of Appeals that feature a series of smaller sculptures lining both sides of the pathway outside the historical landmark.

Besides Odori Park, two sister sites at Susukino and Tsudome also feature ice sculptures and snow rides for the kids respectively.

For more information, please refer to http://www.snowfes.com/english

The Sapporo Snow Festival starts from 6th February to the 12th February.   LS

IMG_20170205_152059.jpg

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What’s Your Beef?

img_20161204_134224_hdrIt feels great to be able to pen a few words again and as some of you may have noticed, I have not posted anything new since my last adventure in Sounkyo in October. This is because after finally deciding to register my domain for a monthly fee from WordPress, I realised the fee doesn’t entail a free upgrade in storage space. In other words, I wasted my money on getting the domain. My account was already chock full. This, despite having combed through all my photos and deleting a good number of them. Needless to say, I was pretty annoyed with WordPress.

However, today, I received a sudden notification that WordPress had decided to spare me some extra space, so here’s a recent trip that I haven’t got the chance to publish till now.

As it turned out, winter descended on Hokkaido as soon as my trip to Sounkyo ended. It seemed like Hokkaido just decided to skip autumn all together and jump straight to winter. The cold makes travelling less enticing, and my weekends since Sounkyo had largely been spent tucking my legs under my kotatsu blanket and watching TV.

On one of these lazy weekends, I was watching a local variety show in which contestants gorged themselves to death, trying to devour as many plates of food as possible. On this particular episode, the contestants competed to see who could finish the most number of plates of steak in half an hour. And the setting? Shiraoi.img_20161204_124942_hdrFor the uninitiated (i.e. me), Shiraoi is famous for its beef, and though normally a sleepy town with pretty much nothing but a derelict Ainu village as its main tourist draw, the town’s cows have gained quite a reputation here in Hokkaido.

Shiraoi also happens to be surprisingly accessible from Tomakomai – about a little under 40 minutes by train. I decided, I had to taste some of those beef! A search on Tripadvisor told me that Amano Family Farm was the top ranked steak house to satisfy my belly carnivores. However, the catch is, without a car, this place would take at least an hour and a half’s walk from Shiraoi Station through fields of nothingness.img_20161204_132615_hdrimg_20161204_132132_hdrThe walk turned out to be not as bad as I thought, and the weather stayed ‘relatively’ warm at 5 degrees. Five degrees may not seem like much but here in Hokkaido, 5 degrees qualifies as a ‘warm’ day – considering the past week had seen temperatures hovering around the minus 10-14 degrees mark.

What about the beef? Well, I think I’ll let my pictures do the talking. Bon Apetit!   LS

This slideshow requires JavaScript.