Looking in Japan 1: snow

Two reasons we chose Japan for our honeymoon are SNOW and OPPORTUNITIES FOR SNOWBOARDING we knew we’d find there in February. Before you ask, dear comrades, I do not snowboard*. However, I married a man who does.

Happily, I’ve learnt through our Japanese adventures that there are many other ways to enjoy SNOW and I thought I’d share some of them with you! Be warned I got very excited with our travel photos so you might want a mug of tea before settling in to read this!

We traveled from Tokyo to Sapporo for its famous snow festival. This festival mainly takes place in Odori Park throughout which you can see the most amazing giant snow sculptures…

…we saw snow Star Wars…

…a snow knitter with snow yarn balls and a snowy garment on her snowy needles…

…a brilliantly unflattering snow Donald Trump holding the big apple in his tiny snowy hands…

…a snow moomin…

…a snow heart…

…and a beautiful snow Japanese house, complete with tiny snow tassels at each corner.

As you can see, the sculptures are all beautifully lit at night and range from professional sculptures the size of buildings to smaller pieces made by local snow sculptors. Some of our most magical evenings were spent wandering through the park, watching laser shows projected onto the big snow sculptures, enjoying the ingenuity and beauty of some of the smaller pieces, sipping hot sake from little glass jars and feeling the snow coming down in drifts around us.

Snowy Sapporo is also lovely in the daytime; we loved looking at the city and its encircling mountains from the wondrous T38 Observatory deck of the JR Tower; from 38 floors up you get a fantastic perspective.

We headed east of Sapporo on our adventures in search of Crane sanctuaries and Ainu culture. On our way a mix up about where we were meeting our host meant that, on the down side, we were temporarily stranded at the smallest, snowiest most isolated train station I’ve ever seen… but that, on the up side, we traveled around Lake Akan on a tiny train seeing deer and snow and long tracts of a completely mesmerising landscape of snow, trees and mountains…

…we arrived by the shores of Lake Akan in time to see an amazing fire festival down on the frozen lake. The evening began with a moving performance by folks wearing traditional Ainu costume on a snowy, owl-shaped stage, after which there were fireworks on the deeply frozen lake. I wished I could understand more of what was taking place but I got enough of it to comprehend that Ainu culture lives on in modern Japan through ceremonies, performances, dance and representations like this one: it was a privilege to be there to see it.

Shops in which descendants of the Ainu people make and sell traditional wood-carvings line the main street on the shores of Lake Akan and the distinctive patterns and carvings can be seen everywhere – even on boats and buildings – and there were ice-lanterns there as well, to light the way at night…

…by daylight the cats of Lake Akan seek and gather round warm manhole covers…

…and the forests and mountains are clad in mist and snow…

…and sometimes people do a little dance on the lake because the snow makes them a bit giddy.

On our way back to Sapporo we stopped to see and hear the Cranes at Akan International Crane Sanctuary; this was magic. We had watched Japanese Cranes on various nature programmes but nothing beats seeing them with your own eyes, all elegant and tall with a majestic, trumpeting call.

From Kushiro station we traveled back to Sapporo to fly down to Nagano, where we had a date with yet more snow and snowy creatures. I took about ten million photos from the plane because it was so amazing to see the snowy, mountainous landscape come into focus as we began our descent.

A ponderous train ride took us across further snowscapes to our destination of Yudanaka – a destination that I heartily recommend to anyone contemplating a February jaunt to Japan. This is an onsen town, which is to say that while the whole place is blanketed in snow, hot volcanic water courses through its veins and is channeled by ingenious piping into many delicious public and private bathing contexts. It’s a beautiful place in which the sound of flowing water is a constant accompaniment, and where gorgeous old Japanese buildings can be seen everywhere.

We stayed in a wonderful old Ryokan with paper dividing walls, tatami mats, mattresses on the floor and this view.

In Yudanaka we discovered there are few pleasures greater than feeling the deep freshness of snowy air on your face whilst simultaneously luxuriating in blisteringly hot volcanic water… and nobody knows this better than the star attraction of the area: THE SNOW MONKEYS. I forgive you if you scrolled through this whole post just to see these guys for they are, by far, THE BEST THING EVER WHEN IT COMES TO SNOW AND WAYS THAT SNOW CAN BE TRULY AWESOME.

Here they luxuriate in their natural spa…

…here they do important MONKEY STUFF in the snow…

…warming up again…

…climbing trees.

Meeting the snow monkeys was absolutely amazing – it was everything we had hoped it would be and more. However, I am also blown away by all the other ways in which SNOWY Japan is beautiful; by the loveliness of lines of trees and mountains standing out starkly against so much crystalline white; by the restrained palette that results from blanketing everything in snow; by how inky shadows appear against such a bright background; and by just how fricking magical the world looks when it is covered in snow.

There is so much for the knitter’s eye to pick up on… so many special palettes, patterns, and shading schemes that seem particular to snow. More generally, the different festivals and celebrations of snow that we felt and experienced in all the snowy places we visited were really inspiring in terms of aligning oneself to, and living with, the rhythm of the seasons. I feel so inspired by having this new perspective on winter and by my memories of how snow looks in different kinds of light… most of all, I keep thinking of the special way a forest sounds when all its trees are covered in snow, of tracks that lead off and away into the snowy distance, and of one magical evening spent recording water flowing beneath the streets of Yudanaka while the snow fell silently all around us and the lights of the buildings lay in glowing circles on the white ground.



*like never in a million years.

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7 Responses to Looking in Japan 1: snow

  1. Terry Hickman says:

    Beautiful! What else is there to say??? Thanks so much for sharing these, and your delightful trip. I”m looking forward to seeing how SNOW is going to find itself expressed in your designs to come.

  2. Freyalyn Close-Hainsworth says:

    Oh wow! Thank you so much for sharing these – what a wonderful experience you can share for the rest of your lives together.

  3. That was a wonderful read. Thanks x

  4. Irene Jackson says:

    What an amazing honeymoon you have had, truly memorable .

  5. Yumi says:

    Thank you for sharing your lovely story and those photos. They really urged me to travel Hokkaido in winter!

  6. T Emery says:

    It is my life long dream to travel to Kyoto, Japan. I want to take a small group of knitters to see a Noh play, Kabuki theatre, watch a Bunraku master, an authentic tea ceremony (if one could be found), and to then gather ourselves and knit and walk a segment of the Path of the 88 Temples using only Japanese materials. I believe now, however, hot springs may have to end that trip! (Well, and a Sumo demonstration!)❤️❣❤️Thank you so much for this lovely vacation break!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful pictures, combined with your evocative and beautiful descriptions I’ve been taken far far away from a damp and dreary Norfolk.

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