Japan

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The Path of Peace

In Ryukyuan legend, Nirai Kanai is the mythical realm across the sea where deities dwell and when invited, bring blessings into the home of the villagers. However seductive that imagery really is, present day Okinawa still styles itself as the island paradise (there’s even a bridge here named after this place), if the tree-lined paths, the beautiful coastal roads, the constant warm sea-breeze and the island vibes are any indications of what’s plastered on tourist sign boards. After days of driving along the coast and staring at Okinawa’s turquoise waters, it is beyond difficult to go back to the cramped streets and buildings of Naha and not feel somewhat claustrophobic. The place I’m putting up...

Route 58

If route 66 has become synonymous with the ultimate American road trip, Okinawa’s own version is found on route 58, a road that narrows in parts and widens in others and stretches from the south to the very far north of the main island. I spent a couple of days plying this route from Chatan northwards, loving every minute along this stretch of capes, winding curves and the constant, unchanging view of the aquamarine of the sea. The cars thinned out the further north I got, eschewing the rural part of Okinawa, but the distances aren’t as great as I thought they would be, unlike Hokkaido’s roads. The expressway makes...

Okinawa’s draw

When I first decided that I wanted to dive as well as see things, few places came to mind. Okinawa was one of these places, because it seemed ‘cultural’ enough with things to do apart from dive, yet small enough to cover in a short period of time. For about a week away, Okinawa seemed like a fantastic compromise and so different from what I know about Japan: subtropical region that showcases its mix of cultural influences so boldly (particularly in the cuisine) such that calling Okinawa an integral part of Japan sounds almost like a misnomer. But it is in any case; standard Japanese is spoken here, as are incomprehensible dialects...

Through the fog and mist

Many, many hours after I checked out of the hotel, I find myself in my own bedroom trying to recall the last hours I spent in Lake Akan and Kushiro. I draw a blank, mostly because tiredness and jet lag addle my memory, but also because I think I didn’t do very much at all even with the aimless driving around. Exploring the Kushiro Marshland was a total washout, quite literally so, when the most I could see was a few metres ahead. Kushiro city itself looked drab and grey in the early afternoon light. In desperation to pass the time, I decided that looking at cranes was in order...

Separation anxiety

I woke up a blustery, drizzly day and found that temperatures have fallen a whopping 18 degrees celsius from yesterday, which placed us firmly back in Spring weather. Ichiro Baba suggested that I paid Lake Onneto a visit in Ashoro-cho, a trip that I took and in all honesty, found useless given the weather. All lakes look the same when it’s raining – grey, washed out and sort of colourless. I turned tail and headed back to Lake Akan, the last place I’m stopping at before I depart from Kushiro airport tomorrow. A half-hour drive from rural Teshikaga, it’s a place that appears to be built solely for tourists. The...

Lakes, allergies and spam folders

I got the distinct feeling that I was intruding when I pulled up at the door of Pension Polaris at noon, my accommodation for the night. Curtly, I was told that there was room for me but I could only return at 4pm. Peeved at the shortness of Ichiro Baba’s reply and the less-than-welcoming manner of his, I drove off, contemplated choosing another place to stay, then decided against it grumpily because I didn’t have an internet connection to book anything online at a discounted price. Cheap of me, yeah. In the end, I found myself stopping at various lookout points in the hills and mountains to get a look...

Caution, no bears in sight

“This is a Mandarin duck. And that is bear faeces. The bark of this tree has been clawed by a bear. This is a bear paw print. This mushroom is good for rashes, but you can’t take it out from this place.” I, along with another lady dressed in inappropriate attire nodded dutifully as Ayano Yuji (my guide through the lakes and a friend of Yamanoto in Iruka) spoke and made exclamations when needed. He conveys the wealth of information in slow, halting English, all of which I appreciated. My interest in ducks, admittedly, is restricted to the Peking duck on a dinner table so his ability to point out...

The wild frontier

I had lots of time to kill today, seeing as the distance to Shiretoko from Abashiri isn’t as great as the one I covered yesterday. The Shibazakura Park in Ozora-cho after checking out was my first stop at about 10am and already it was overflowing with tour buses. After a short climb uphill to see the sprawl of pink flowers that really look prettier from a distance, I made a long U-turn and went back to Abashiri to visit the Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples, a permanent exhibition featuring the indigenous cultures of the North. A woman who thought I was a student gave me a discount for the entrance...

Hit the road, Jill

I woke up at 5.30am (and it was already bright with some skiers doing their thing next door), having not slept that well last night because of the strange feel of the pillows, apart from the long journey ahead. The first half of the epic journey was exciting and the second half, hellishly monotonous. By 8am, I found myself on the expressway by accident and decided to continue on it  for the sake of finally being able to drive within a range of 80-90 km/hr rather than follow my carefully planned route through Sounkyo and Kamikawa. The toll cost 450 yen, but hey, for about 100 km of fast driving,...

Spring in Hokkaido

The blue expanse of sky pushed away the heavy clouds that had lingered over the past few days, finally casting the Furano-Biei landscape in hues of greens, yellows and browns. Feeling somewhat cheated at the bad pictures of the rain and all-around miserable weather, I thought to re-discover the patchwork circuit again. Then, panicked at the thought that I wasn’t ever going to make it to Asahidake in time, I decided to pay Shirogane a visit (the famed Blue Pond looked a murky green in the dim light), only to realise that the exhilarating roads go straight up to Tokachidake.  The Onsen at Tokachidake lodge itself was a disappointment but...