I have been in this beautiful country for just five days and yes, I think I may be in love……
For those of you who read my blogs, you would know that I am an avid traveller and tend to fall in love with new places pretty easily. That being said, I certainly don’t want to cheapen the intense and deep emotions I have already developed for this beautiful country by inferring that my love is fickle – it definitely is not!!
We landed into the northern island of Japan, Hokkaido Island, which is the second largest main island and is relatively sparsely populated when compared to the other main islands.
We have spent the first few days here in Sapporo, a snow covered city of just under two million people. Sapporo is famous for its annual Snow Festival which attracts around tens of thousands of visitors to the event each year. This year though, there was a significant lack of snow (Australia’s on fire and there is no snow in Sapporo, what is going on with the world?). Tons of snow was shipped in from different regions of Hokkaido just to make the event happen! The snow has well and truly arrived now and the city looks like something out of a fairy tale.
Sapporo is also famous for its beer along with its phenomenal powdery snow that makes this region one of the best skiing and snowboarding destinations on the planet.
One of the many reasons we came to Sapporo is so I could learn to snowboard. I haven’t really spent much time in the snow so I was excited to learn something new and become an extreme athlete (on baby slopes with lots of kids under the age of ten). Still in my infancy snowboard stage, I have a few more days on the mountain to reach pro status before we head down to Tokyo.
There is so much to love about Japan and here are five stand out-things that have truly lit me up so far:
The Onsens: Onsen is the term used for a Japanese hot spring and extends to cover bathing facilities in hotels and buildings. A distinguishing factor here is the water is geothermally heated and has a mineral content to it.
As someone who is obsessed with hot water and being submerged in it, I am in love with the Onsens – especially when it’s -4 outside and the snow is falling. Last night, after exploring this freezing cold city in our many layers of clothing, I got naked and spent two hours languishing in three different hot baths, interspersed with some sauna and freezing cold plunge bath action – absolute bliss!!
I gotta say, I floated back to our hotel room in my hotel-supplied PJ’s (a special outfit one wears to and from the Onsen that made me feel like I was an official member of the “Special Onsen Team”), star-fished onto the bed, and had one of the deepest sleeps I’ve had in years.
The other thing I loved about the Onsen is it is a place of self-care and nurturing. Everything is supplied in there from a razor to shave my legs, through to moisturisers, shampoos, conditioners, hairbrushes, and make up remover pads.
By the time I left, I felt that I had spent two hours of quality time with myself and my thoughts. No phones, no conversation – just me, myself and I.
The heated toilet seats: OMG, I need one of these bad boys! There is nothing more pleasurable than placing your cold butt on a hot toilet seat, ahhh it’s heaven!! Every single time I sit on the loo, I have a spiritual moment and announce to my partner that “I love Japanese toilet seats, please, please, please will you buy me one for my birthday?”.
Not only are the toilet seats amazing but the whole toilet experience is pretty damn impressive. I don’t know how much time the Japanese people spend sitting on the loo, but someone has really though it through.
Being the curious cat that I am, I decided to really explore all my toilet options from the menu that is in every toilet I have visited. By pressing the numerous buttons I have enjoyed:
- a gentle spray of warm water post pooping
- some lovely thought-provoking music to enjoy whilst I ablute
- a jet clean option for more hectic situations.
We sure have some things to learn from the Japanese when it comes to toilets. I believe the toilet experience alone is worth a trip to this wonderful country.
The elegant, delicate and accommodating nature of the Japanese people: These people are simply delightful!! Nothing is too much trouble, everyone is polite and helpful and even though I have absolutely no idea what is being said or why I am being bowed at, I just bow back and smile a lot. They seem to like that!
The Japanese people have an elegance about them that I have not seen displayed by a culture of people ever before. They are quiet and unassuming and have a “can do” attitude that I love. Taxi drivers wear ties, young people stand for old people on the subway, and there is the quiet hum of etiquette and respect with each interaction.
The word delicate came to mind when we were on the subway and I was watching an elderly lady sip at her teeny, tiny thermos of tea. My first thought was “Geez, that’s a small thermos, that won’t last her long”. Then I realised that unlike me, she wasn’t going to guzzle it all down in one hit. She would most probably take tiny sips all day long. Hmm, a delicate consumption of tea, how novel! Not only are the people delicate but the crockery is delicate, the food is delicate and the snow is delicate – fine, detailed and refined.
This is an old culture. The Japanese traditions and behaviours seem well ingrained and they seem to know who they are and how to operate in their world. I have seen no aggression or antisocial behaviour whatsoever. In fact, my partner has accidentally left our backpack in two different venues and upon our return it has been handed back to us with all the contents in place and a deep look of relief on the waitperson’s face.
The Japanese people are simply lovely.
The snow: White mounds of soft powdery snow sit on every street corner. I am continually fighting the urge to just throw myself on top of a pile and make snow angels. The only thing stopping me is the fact it’s -4 Celsius outside and snow down my pants could turn an amazing day into a cold, wet and whingey one.
The mountains we have visited are also covered in the same delightful substance in quantities that simply blow my mind! Snow, snow and more snow! In fact, there is so much snow that today’s activities out on the mountain have been cancelled due to extreme weather conditions. I am sitting in the hotel restaurant writing this, watching another massive dump of it cover this lovely city.
Coming from a hot country, snow really intrigues me. Not only is it beautiful to look at, but the feel of it, how it forms in piles, how it affects how the city operates, how people live and work with it, and what happens when it all melts, are thoughts I continue to ponder.
The food: The first night we arrived, I followed my partner into this completely unsuspecting doorway with some Japanese symbols on it. I was very uncertain, “Are you sure this is even a restaurant?”. He assured me that “Yeah babe, trust me”.
Best decision I ever made!
We were in a traditional Hibachi Grill restaurant and the smokey air smelt delicious (in Japanese, a hibachi grill is called a fire bowl – a heat-proof container full of hot coals). After taking our shoes off, we sat at a Japanese style floor table and started ordering lots of different little plates of food to cook on our very own little hibachi grill: eggplant, onion, chicken, squid and other delicious vegetables. With a big mug of cold Sapporo beer in hand and tongs in the other, I was feeling very happy indeed.
Sapporo is also very well known for its ramen and there are many ramen restaurants to choose from. Yesterday, with the help of Google, we discovered a very small and very old (est. 1953) ramen restaurant which was spectacular. When we walked inside the three staff all chorused a very robust and loud welcome and shuffled us to a table. We were given a storage box for all the clothing we’d peeled off and this was placed under our table while we ate. We ordered a big bowl of steaming hot spicy ramen and once again I had another spiritual moment!!
All the food here is amazing. We bought sushi from a department store two days ago to eat on the train (I don’t think that is kosher as we had some funny looks) and it was better than what I have eaten at some of the best Japanese restaurants in Perth! I really can’t explain why it tastes so good, it’s definitely super fresh, but its more than that. I feel like the food here has a bit more love infused into it somehow. Who knows but I am going to make the most of it!
So, Japan, you are delighting me in ways I did not expect (maybe that is a big part of my deep enjoyment – having no expectations) and I can’t wait to explore you further. Tomorrow we are picking up a hire car and getting out on the open road, so watch this space. (A quick snippet of me behind the wheel – we are now in Tokyo)
Arigato Gozaimasu (thank you very much ☺️)