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Hokkaido is the northernmost main island of Japan, it’s known for its volcanoes, natural hot springs and ski areas, but why am I talking about it today?
Well, apart from the winters waist-deep snow and picturesque settings, there’s the famous Hokkaido zoo; yeah, that’s truly terrific obviously, I mean, who doesn’t love a zoo, if you didn’t, isn’t that like, treason or summin? Come on, what’s not to love about walking with penguins and seeing a polar bear pace up and down because he’s stressed the fu*k out? I love a good zoo, not because I want to see animals trapped in small boxes stuffed full of tacky foliage comparable to a hampsters cage, but because I like animals; I like that they don’t lie to me or try to scam me or… talk to me even, they’re good like that, their way of life seems simplistic, uncomplicated and without vanity, like a Japanese minimalistic furniture store.
So, why did I go there, you may ask, well, the truth is, I like snow, I like Japan, and I wanted to have a go on a snowmobile, like a big fu*king kid, giddy and giggling, clapping my hands together as I chase a squirrel around a tree. So, without further ado, here are my Top 5 things I like about Hokkaido.
I spent a few days tucked away in the capital of Hokkaido, Sapporo city, which has somewhat of an urbanised ’30 Days of Night’esque’ vibe to it…well if it’s snowing… and if there wasn’t a great big fu*k-off-mall there.
If you aren’t familiar with the film, ’30 days of night’, it’s set in Alaska, somewhat barren and overwhelmingly white from snow, and there are loads of vampires that talk in a funny, breathy language; I suppose it’s not really that similar then, though, Japanese people are quite pale and they do talk in a… (steady now).
That’s not really a good comparison, is it? Let me try again.
Sapporo, it’s nothing like ’30 Days of Night’… (Yeah, I haven’t got much to say about this hence why it’s fifth).
4. Things to do.
If you’re a camera neck-strap wielding tourist, snapping pictures of literally everything, from lampposts to drainage covers because you think it’s cool and unique, then you’ll be jumping for joy at all the touristy traps Hokkaido have laid for you, literally (figuratively) waiting to snap you by the ankle and charge you a fortune.
Now I don’t know whether or not I’ve presented this before, but I get irritated by most things, but surprisingly Hokkaido seemed to suppress that inside of me with its large maps of neverending activities, gosh so many activities. As mentioned previously, you’ve got the Zoo, you’ve got the malls, skiing, Onsens, parks, temples, mountains, and most amazingly, drift ice sightseeing.
If you’re not interested in drift ice sightseeing then you’re probably a murderer or a racist, but for the rest of us normals let me expand on that a little further. If you’re unsure of what drift ice sightseeing is, then allow me to decrypt the activities name… you see the sight of ice drifting.
If you want to smash into ice and fear for your life at the zero risk of death, then you need to be in Hokkaido between January and March. If you’re a murderer but feel upset by being left out, then you can join the drift ice tour, sit back, close your eyes and pretend that the sound of ice smashing is someone’s head crunching under your hateful and probably small feet.
It’s Japan, so, I mean, everything is amazing, truly, I cannot stress this enough. You know when you watch Gordon Ramsey slap up a banging meal and those failing restaurateurs shovel in a mouthful (not of Gordon), and go “oh wow, that’s amazing!”, Yeah? Well, I always wanted to experience that, but I never did until I lived in Japan.
Now, don’t tell me that you’ve experienced that, because you haven’t, that’s bullshit straight away and I’m not having it, popping down to the pub and having a ‘two for $10’ will never qualify for the standards of ‘tastebud-nectar’, nor will going to a ‘fancy’ restaurant, because you know what, in the west, food just does not compare to the east… well, Japan anyway.
In Japan, everything, and I mean everything is fresh, not ‘fresh frozen’ (whatever that is) nor microwaved, it is all fresh, scrumptious, and to die for; even McDonald’s in Japan is at another level.
Now, I usually whine about not having a proper Christmas dinner since living in Asia, but for the first time I didn’t, nope, I was actually in Hokkaido last Christmas and enjoyed one of Japans many barbecue restaurants. If I remember rightly, to complement the food and make it more festive, I think I just shuffled my beef around my plate and shaped it all together with my hands and turned it into a turkey… the oil held it all together.
I forgot to mention, Hokkaido is also famous for its beer.
2. Asahiyama Zoo.
Alright, it’s small, so don’t expect, ‘Neverland’ after my hype, but its diversity of animals was impressive. Once you’ve skipped past all the sh*t, like, a frog, and a shite bird and other stuff that you can find in your garden, you get to the heroin of animals, like wolves, polar bears and penguins.
As the entire Asahiyama zoo and surrounding areas were covered in a vast and immensely deep blanket of snow, the individual habitats almost blended into one large snowy savannah, creating a sense of wilderness and free-roaming animals, which I loved because it meant that I could pretend I was in the ‘Poles’ (I wasn’t going to fall into the trap of which pole has what animal).
The highlight here is the ability to be able to walk with Penguins and I really do mean walk side by side with them, albeit there is a red line drawn across the snow to ensure you don’t molest the waddling birds, but there’s nothing more than that separating you from them.
Why does it deserve not only a place on my list but second in position? Well, that may stem from the time that I dedicated to getting to the zoo, (over three hours), so I feel as if I need it to not be a waste of my time.
1. Because It’s Japan.
Japan, is just Japan no matter where you go, its consistency of high standards and courteously perfected manners are flawless. Okay, Tokyo isn’t really ‘Japan’ in my opinion, as it’s more of a cultural cyberpunk circus of western themes, anime, clubs and lap dances.
Outside of Tokyo though, people are without a doubt, the most kind, patient and gentle that I have ever experienced, and you know that if I’m saying that, it must mean something, considering that I myself hold manners in the highest of regards and find flaws in almost everything (or as the Chinese call me, “picky“).
The Japanese people blow me away with their consistent consideration, patience, and soft faces, especially the middle-aged women, whom I wish wholeheartedly that just one of them was my mother (seriously, I’m not picky, any one of them will do). If you’re a ‘Weeaboo’ or a ‘Japanophile’ (I know a few), who has never actually been to Japan, yet devote your entire life believing that you yourself are Japanese because you watch anime, then Hokkaido may not be the ‘Japan’ you know. It is, however, as Japanese as sushi or temples, in the sense that it is traditional and an ‘everyday Japan’.
As my time in Hokkaido came to end, my mood was dampened for just a second, before I reminded myself that I live in Japan anyway, so I wasn’t going to miss a thing (you cheeky bastard, Lee). Am I here to encourage you to piss-off to Hokkaido? Nah, I’m not, I’m here to tell you what I think about it, and whether or not you want to go has fu*k all to do with me.
See below for more images of Hokkaido I took whilst out and about.
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