Thursday, 24 June 2010

Pieces of Japan: Day 5 - Smoke on Water

23rd December 2009
Noboribetsu, Hokkaido, Japan

 Hell Valley: Silent Hill

Standing at the edge, I gazed out to the sight that laid before me, and taking in all that was around me in silent appreciation.

Smoke, clouds of smoke, rose skyward from the land below, dissipating into a thin veil of steam as they drifted towards the heavens. The lingering smell of sulphur too distinct and pungent to ignore. Faint hints of speech and laughter drifted in and out of my hearing, bringing about an almost-silence only broken by the occasional chirp of the bird in the tree.

Warm rays of sunlight slipped through the barren branches, as the sun made her last stand against the darkness, slow but surely slipping behind the mountains, making way for the night that was to come.

Last Stand

Looking behind out of curiosity, I saw her, back towards me, clumsily wading through the snow; one step at a time, each leaving a footprint that was at least ankle-high. Second day in and she didn't look any more orientated to it. The sight made me smile silently to myself, but that smile slowly became a smirk as I bent over...

Digging my hands deep into the snow, I grabbed a pile of it and started to clam them together in my hands, followed by the execution of a repetitive circular motion. Once I felt it was enough, I called out to her.

"Darling!" I shouted.

As she turned around, the snowball hit her squarely on the shoulder, shattering into smaller flakes and falling back to the ground.

She bent over and dug into the ground in front of her, getting ready for her counter-attack.

A sense of playfulness filled the air, as we had our snowball fights, tree-targeting games, and just rolling around in the snow. 

Our constant laughter rang through the previously silent hills as the sun continued her march into the darkness.



Dai-ichi Takimotokan:  Fit for a King

Room with a View

A silence filled the lift as we waited for it to arrive at our designated floor, whilst the Kimono-clad lady held firmly onto the handle of our suitcases. Exiting the lift and gliding down the corridor, we came face-to-face with the door; the one obstacle that remained between us and a Life of Luxury - even if it were only for a day...

With spacious traditional Ryokan-style rooms, impeccable service and an in-room traditional Japanese dining-feast fit for a king, Dai-ichi Takimotokan definitely impressed us on multiple counts. Lying on the fringe of Hell Valley, the view from the room sure didn't hurt either.

Feast for a King

Yet, all these took a backseat when stacked against the main attraction of the hotel...

Smoke on Water

I stood petrified.

My hand firmly grasping onto the door handle, as beads of water dripped off of my naked body. Steam was still being emitted from my body, with the faint smell of sulphur lingering in the air. My vision was blurred from all the steam and vapour.

I had already made up my mind much earlier, and knew it was inevitable and eventual; but yet when it came to it, my legs would not move; my body tensed up, as I needed that moment to brace myself mentally.

Taking a deep breath, I forcefully pressed my wrist downwards and swung the door open, taking quick and long strides out of the door.

The chilly winter night-wind greeted my face with a harsh kiss on the cheeks, before caressing the rest of my body, including areas too sensitive for comfort. Even though my goal was only a few steps away, each step I took felt so slow and so painful, and every second exposed to the cold winter wind blowing the drops off of water of my naked body felt too much like an eternity.

My feet sank into the pool first, sending an immediate numbing sensation upward to the rest of my body. My body followed shortly after, and I was quickly shoulder-deep into the Cypress-styled bath. The water was presumedly boiling - the second warmest of all the baths - and yet, for a few seconds too long, by body was still shivering - numb at best, before finally being able to regain a sense of normalcy and being able to feel the heat.

Ahhh, a sigh of relief; as I felt my muscles starting to relax in the soothing hot water.  

With almost 30 baths, featuring 7 different types of onsens that were purported to have differing remedial effects on the body, the main attraction of Dai-ich Takimotokan was the gigantic common bath. I personally likened the place to an "Onsen Amusement Park" - with a variety of conventional indoor and outdoor baths, as well as some novelty baths that had you lying flat, hot and cold foot baths, and one of my personal favourites, the waterfall bath that helped to message the aching shoulders, neck and back; it was hardly any surprise that more than an hour was spent with each visit - with full relaxation and rejuvenation achieved at the end of every visit.

I waddled my way to the corner of the bath, being particularly careful not to expose an inch of my body below my neck to the biting winds. I huddled myself into the corner and closed my eyes, taking in the full experience of my first outdoor bath, as I felt the scalding water soaking through my skin and soothing my aching body.

Opening my eyes, I saw a little puff of smoke emitting from the water's surface on my left, as the vertical stream of vapour rise upwards.

Shortly after that, another one on my right.

And then another in front of me, and then another on the right, and another, and another...

I tilted my head to a 45 degree angle, looking out towards Hell Valley below. The night was pitch black, a kind of darkness that could only be had with a natural landscape with no man-made lights, and with nary a star in light and no moonlight to guide the wandering eyes.

But the light behind me was sufficient for me to spot little white specks falling graciously towards the water's surface, swaying and dancing to the effects of gravity -and their inevitable end; but yet in a manner that almost depicted them enjoying every last minute of the journey.

A little white speck fell onto my right shoulder, and sent a slightly chilly sensation around that area.

I tilted my head fully upwards, and saw the little specks of snow coming towards my face in an almost stereoscophic three-dimensional fashion. Each little speck touching my cheeks caressing them briefly.

I've heard many things about the wonders of the combination of Onsen and snow, and as my mind reached that realisation, it drifted off to an entire different place far away into the pitch-black sky.

- Her words: ddoodles -
- Photo Album @ 23rd Dec 09 -


Saturday, 5 June 2010

Seven Virtues

Who is... Courage? She who Fights for Freedom; or He who Lets Go?

Who is... Faith? She who believes in Fate; or He who believes in Will?

Who is... Temperance? She who holds her Heart, or He who holds his Tears?

Who is... Justice? She who Executes her Rights; or He who Denounces his Privileges?

Who is... Prudence? She who Peers into the Future; or He who Reflects on the Past?

Who is... Hope? She who Finds in Today; or He who Seeks for Tomorrow?

Who is... Love? None.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Pieces of Japan: Day 4 - A (mis)Step Away from Christmas

22nd December 2009
Sapporo | Hokkaido | Japan

Standing still, I looked down at the process I subjected myself to. The soft, fresh and fluffly whites crumbled under my feet and weight, as my feet sank slowly into the ankle-high snow. The reality sank in almost as slowly and gradually as well, as my mind drifted off to the morning's panic.


Daylight Savings

Exiting from the shower as casually as the morning before, I proceeded to put on my wristwatch only to turn pale in the face of the face staring back at me.

"6.15" read the time, as I let out an uncontainable, "Fuck!"

In 3 seconds, I explained to her that we had made a major mistake and forgot to adjust our morning alarms with the 1-hour time difference taken into account. In short, we were an hour late and had less than another to get on our plane to Hokkaido.

Within 5 minutes, I had put on my clothes, sat on my overflowing luggage to lock it, and was already dragging it out of the door in a hurry.

Stepping out into the morning winter breeze with only my long-sleeve-tee was the least of my worries, as sweat continued to drip from my brow despite the freezing cold, as I shivered with fear from the panic and anxiety that I was experiencing more so than the bitter wind.

Shuffling up and down the deserted morning street like madmen with suitcases full of vengence, we circled our vicinity frantically for a saviour.

"I think maybe we can still  try to catch the train," she said.

I looked my watch and looked back at her and shook my head disapprovingly.

Finding two cabs by the junction, we locked and loaded.

"Which terminal of Haneda Airport?" the cab driver asked in his native tongue.

Moving my index finger frantically up and down the sheet with the flight details, I realised that it was not printed. Communcation breakdown ensued as I tried to explain that we were taking the Japan Airlines flight, but apparently, they literally read "JAL" as it "Je-ru" over there, little to our knowledge.

The clock continued ticking down as the fare meter ticked up at an insane rate.

Numbers and more numbers clouded my mind as I calculated the potential loss should we miss the flight, the cost of additional tickets versus the cost of forgoing our accomodation in Hokkaido.

The normal heart would cringe at the 4,000 yen cab-fare upon arrival at the airport, but with 20-minutes to spare, we had little room for such aching and only room for the anxiety that threatened to engulf us.

Sparks flying from the wheels of our suitcases and the frantic shuffling of feet got us into the flight with less than 10-minutes to spare.

Sunlight streamed into the window as the plane turned and took its bearing on the runway.

The warm morning sunlight hit my face and evaporated the sweat on my brow as I continued to stare out of the window, body still highly-tensed and staring out in a state of shock and disbelief - the disbelief of coming so close to missing out wonders of the island of Hokkaido.


Sapporo's Grid Layout from the Air

Odori Park : Snow,White.

Chuckles of laughter drew me out of my dream-like state and back to reality, as the feet and stopped sinking and firmly made contact with the ground below.

It's been a long time since I've felt the fluffiness of snow under my feet, and succumbing to temptation, I bent over and picked some up with my hand, rolling it into a small snow ball below crushing and letting the white powder filter through the gaps between my fingers and back to the ground. Like a child to a toy, I bent over and repeated the process again.

In a distance, she was amusing herself as she treaded through the snow looking at her footprints and making circles as she went along. It was her first encounter, and without the need for explicity, I'm pretty sure she was mesmerized to say the least.

Snow, White. Nothing but and stretching on as far as the eye could see.

Odori Park was completely engulfed in a white blanket of snow; Winter was definitely already in her full bloom in Hokkaido, and the scene had been set for a White Christmas with the accompanying illumination that would further bring out this point at night.

But for now, we had the entire Odori Park to ourselves, marvelling at the little things like footprints in the snow, snowball fights and pigeons; as the rest of Sapporo marched on by the park in indifference.

Nijo Fish Market: The Legend of the Invincible Snow Crab of Freshness

The mandatory meal of Legendary Hokkaido seafood and Snow Crab at Nijo Fish Market proved the legends to be true and made for the best meal over the entire trip. The combination of the sweet Salmon roe, fresh Salmon Sashimi-don, coupled with the even fresher and sweeter Snow Crab left us with many mouth-watering memories long after the meal.

Mother and Child = Awesome

Otoro and Maguro Don

Hokkaido Snow Crab

The Store-owner totally blind-sided us when he offered the Crab for posing

Sapporo Tower: Night and Day

By Day

By Night

Sapporo Clock Tower: Nihon-no-Gekkai
Voted one of the 3 most disappointing sights in Japan, the Sapporo Clock Tower hardly proved to be that bad.

What was questionable however? The choice of the eerie green lighting.

Icicles that Kill

Ghouls of Winter

Sapporo Beer Garden: Genghis Khan

5-by-2 squares on the grid-map from the nearest station, the night winter-walk proved to be enjoyable and all the more fulfilling when the meal that awaited was sizzling-hot Genghis Khan, a Hokkaido-trademark dish of Barbeque Lamb coupled with the beer that made Sapporo famous.

Sapporo means "Beer" for Good Reason

Genghis Khan - Lamb Chop Fry Along

Hobo at the Garden

Odori Park: Sapporo White Illumination

Flash after flash fired off, as we moved from one illumination to the next, making the best of our time and trying to capture all the beautiful sights that lined the way back to the hotel.

It was a different Odori Park, one still white-washed with snow, but now the white serving as a beautiful backdrop for the bright lights that blinded us.

A green praying mantis stood alongside a green dragon, both towering majestically over us.

Christmas had come early for sure, as the joy and atmosphere filled the air pockets between the different illuminated structures. At least until the lights went off, and the peace of Silent Night fell upon us for the rest of the walk back.


- Her Words: ddoodles -
- Photo Album @ 22 Dec 09 -