Brace yourselfs, long post is coming. Pictures are provided below when opening the post.
Last weekend, me and seven friends rented a car with the desire of experiencing more of Hokkaido. This is the northern island of Japan once long ago colonized by the japanese. It is very different from the rest of Japan, the biggest difference being population density. It is quite spacious here, not very different from Stockholm in that perspective. Previous to this trip we had just been touristing in Otaru and of course Sapporo which is where I study.
Our initial plan was to see the blue pond, visit Daisetsuzan National Park and then take it from there. We went off in our eight-seated Nissan minibus with good mood and high expectations, not to mention high volume. Our first stop was meant to be after about a two hour ride. However, during this whole weekend we stopped several times when we saw something by the road we wanted to investigate. This included mostly toilets and convenience stores. We did however also stop once to look closer at a giant buddha statue standing in the middle of nowhere. The area was closed off but stupid westerners like most of us can be called, we justified our sneaky intrusion with the argument of the place being completely deserted. It turned out to be some kind of temple and the big space also had some cool buildings which we did not dare or care to trespass…
Some kilometers and a quick stop at the nearest 7/11 later, we arrived at 美瑛ちょ。This blue pond was accidently created when people where building a big vulcano barricade for an eventual eruption. In the cavity that emerged, some kind of mineral from the vulcanic soil was absorbed into the water. The mineral reacts with sunlight and reflects a very distinct blue color. This is how I remember it anyhow. Since Apple launched Mac OS X Yosemite, it has been one of their standard screensavers. I believe this commercial action has increased the tourist attraction to this pond. Seing it with my own eyes was different from the beautifully edited pictures on the interwebz. I shouldn’t say it was a disappointment but is was not really that blue, haha. At lest definitely not as blue as the pictures was indicating.
The companionship then continued the expedition to a guest house just outside of Furano where we met very nice people. The host family provided us with a very genuine japanese homecooked dinner and also breakfast the morning after. At night we enjoyed some sake and went outside into the darkness to watch the stars in the clear sky, it was truly amazing. I always feel very small and insignificant when I think about the universe. But then I find comfort in that if intellegent life did not exist nobody would appreciate the beauty of it. We then went inside to sleep on the floor with thin madrasses. I slept like a baby.
The following saturday was my birthday. Next stop was Daisetsuzan National Park. We drove through some pretty awesome landscape on the way and eventually stopped in Sounkyo. We put on our modest hiking outfits and went first on the ropeway and then the connecting chairlift. A rather difficult and slippery climb of unknown distance later we reached the top. It was cold and really windy but the happiness of reaching the top always makes you warm. The harder climb, the greater the conquer. This is the most legit metafor I know. I was hoping to see a crater at the top but it was either too cloudy or simply not a vulcano…
I celebrated my birthday at 1984 m with a japanese malt beer.
Then we half-walked half-sled on our asses down the same path. We were wet and cold all over so what could be better than visiting an onsen. An onsen is a bath house/hotspring of vulcanic heated water. We took the car to drive to an onsen close by and were driving around for about 30 minutes before we realized there was one just 100 meters from where the car was just parked. It had two floors with different heated pools and a sauna. It was overwhelmingly nice. After the relax session and a meal of ramen we began driving to the next hostel. In which we drank wine, ate crackers with cheese and played uno a while before bedtime. Birthday accomplished.
The last day we cruised to Asahikawa to visit the famous Asahiyama zoo. It was quite powerful to see all these magnificent creatures but for the whole time I had a big lump in my stomach. Most of the animals looked to me as they were very miserable. I am not an expert at all but moving in the exact same pattern over and over again in a small cage doesn’t seem like a sign of good health. Especially not for animals who are used to cover huge areas in their natural environment. The body language and sounds also came across me as frustration. I know zoos can be good in the way that they can preserve species and breed healthy animals to later be released into the wild and so on but to incarcerate them like this just for humans to look at them feels very wrong. They have the right to be free just like us. I feel bad and kind of guilty about this. At least the gibbon monkeys and penguins looked pretty happy and playful in their larger spaces.
Afterzoo was held at a ramen place in asahikawa. On the way from there we saw another cool temple and stopped to check it out. Just as we parked the car there was a convoy of drumming Japanese monks walking to the temple on the avenue of lamps adorned with cherry flowers. It happened to be the inauguration of a buddhist festival and so they were executing a ceremony. This is held only once a year. Biggest coincidence ever. We were trying to act respectful and not making noise like we usually do, thus we were probably seen as very engaged about the religious event since we came there to observe the initial celebration with some other older Japanese ladies. We were for this reason invited to see the inside of the temple and even to take photos. Something was burning inside of the temple spreading a very peculiar smell, it made me think of myrrh but was probably something else. I must say it was a spiritual experience.
The trip was concluded at Matsuya which is on of the best asian fast food restaurant in Sapporo, and to sum it all up I had a really awesome weekend.