ニシタイ 西葛西駅前タイムズ

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AD!Venture 2017.02.24 Hometown Hokkaido

dummy-image Hokkaido: Japan’s northernmost island. While home to only 5 percent of the Japanese population, it contains 20 percent of the country's land mass (so says Lonely Planet). It is a beautiful prefecture, summer or winter, with breathtaking views of fields, mountains, and flowers.

My own trips to Hokkaido have consistently felt like a reconnecting to human roots. I have riden a bike through fields of cows in Ebetsu, and spent a day at the Ainu museum Porotokotan. I have visited blooming flower at Farm Tomita and sweated myself into a heart attack at a mixed-sex Konyoku. In Otaru, I bought an handcrafted music box, and in Kuriyama, I joined the town festival to celebrate a fresh round of Yubari melon crops.
This warmth of community won me, and so it is that, hearing of Hokkaido's aging population and declining birthrate problems during my last trip, I vowed that I would help if given the chance.

Well, while I have not had the chance to live in Hokkaido and directly invest, I have been given the opportunity to write a little something.

So, I asked two coworkers from Hokkaido, Nishi-san, one of our graphic designers, and Mine-san, one of our event directors, to sit down with me and tell me about where they come from and what they might like the world to know about it.
Here’s what they said.

Why go?

In a word: nature. Hokkaido is beautiful and should be any outdoor-lover’s target destination. If you enjoy hiking, camping, farm-fresh foods, mountains, hot springs, fields full of flowers, and/or wildlife (bears!), Hokkaido will more than satisfy.

(Mine-san snaps a beautiful view)

Saying that, Mine-san warns that Hokkaido is no “day trip.” As its northernmost city, Wakkanai, is more than 8 hours by train to its southernmost, Hakodate, someone who really wants to explore should plan at least a few days to travel around.

Nishi-san assures us, though, that in that expanse there is an atmosphere for everyone. Sapporo, the capital, is a large city much like Tokyo’s Shinjuku, with all the conveniences and night life. However, even within the city, mountains, parks, and fields are easily accessible. The Maruyama Zoo is also close-by and quite popular.

(Nishi-san's morning in Susukino City)

What’s not to miss?

Only a short car ride from Sapporo Station, Nishi-san highly recommends checking out the ski jumpers at Mount Okura Stadium. She goes every year. “It’s not quite like baseball, but it’s fun. People get together, and stand and watch the jumpers launch. It’s like watching golf, I guess, except more exciting and with more snow.”

(Playing in the snow at the ski park)

For Mine-san, Hokkaido means camping. As a child, she went camping yearly in the summer, heading to the mountains, or finding some woods to explore. “When I was a kid, a local volunteer, a teacher or a scout, would come by and gather all the kids who wanted to go, and we’d all go together. It was great. Hokkaido summer is never too hot, so it always feels good to be outside.”

(Running through a wide field before heading back to the concrete of Tokyo)

Lastly, but importantly, Hokkaido is also home to many Ainu villages. For anyone interested in native culture, there is a museum and preservation area open to the public, called Porotokotan (“large lakeside village” in the Ainu language), where you can take in some history or buy handmade goods (like an iconic kibori no kuma). I spent a day there during my first trip to Hokkaido and was only able to take in a fraction of the discussions, shops, and activities available.

What’s surprising?

Non-Hokkaido-ians may not know, but Hokkaido generally enjoys cooler weather than the mainland. If you’re heading up in the summer, plan to hit those few weeks that are warm enough for swimming. If you’re going during winter, say, to check out the world-renowned Snow Festival (I still haven’t gone, but I want to go!), be prepared.

(Mine-san hitting the slopes to sled during winter)

Nishi-san warns that not just any shoes will cut it during the winter. Shoes from Tokyo, pretty as they can be, may, at best, lead to slipping, or worse, may fall apart. She insists that if you don’t bring shoes with good rubber soles, to be sure to stop by a local shoe-smith who will put some on for you.

Perhaps as equally important is learning to walk in winter terrain. Both Mine-san and Nishi-san laughed that many from out of town are unaccustomed to snow (*cough* Tokyo-ites *cough*) and aren’t aware there’s a technique to moving about. I was lucky enough to receive a demo. “Learn how to lift your feet carefully and balance on your balls,” they said, “or else be prepared to land on your butt. Hard.”

(Nishi-san and Mine-san teach me how to walk in snow...without the snow.)

Um, but what about food?

When it comes to food, both Sapporo-ians watered at the mouth. Sapporo beer, soup curry, ramen, fresh sea food, icecream and cheese, they agreed that there is nothing not delicious from Hokkaido.

If you have your eye on sweets, Nishi-san says head to the Ishiya Chocolate Factory. Chocolate, caramel, the well-loved "shiroikoibito", you can fill up or buy enough to feed an army back home. Mine-san, on the other hand, recommends the dairy-products. Cheese, milk, icecream, much of the rest of Japan imports their dairy from Hokkaido, so wallowing in them at the source should be a goal. 

(Genghis Khan!)

There’s also the lamb. While Hokkaido has a strong cow image, Mine-san explains that families eat a lot of lamb at home. “We really like ‘Genghis Khan’! Or lamb shabu shabu.”

Nishi-san, however, stands by the seafood. Hokkaido coastal towns have seafood fresh enough to ruin you for the rest of Japan, and Hokkaido itself boasts of a more unique fair: traditional fermented seafood called izushi.

(Nishi-san's Seafood Choice)

As for me, out of all of this, my ears perked up at the mention of “fish jerky” (saketoba). Nishi-san told me it’s one of Hokkaido’s chinmi, or delicacies, and narrowed her eyes at my surprise. For someone who so loves Hokkaido, it is a wonder I’d never heard of it. But, then again, Hokkaido is no day trip indeed.

So, unable to wait until my next trip to Hokkaido to allieviate myself of this shameful ignorance...

to a Tokyo antenna-shop I went. 

Searched high and low for saketoba (It was there. It was expensive).

And, to be honest…

it was harder to chew than I thought it would be.

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