Monthly Archives: April 2018

We took a stroll out to find something to eat at Fukuoka’s night food stalls (Yatai). It’s not the cheapest food you’ll find here, but the atmosphere is worth the inflated prices.

Half the fun is walking along and making a selection.

We chose our stall based on the fresh asparagus and large mushrooms on display. The asparagus tempura was so delicious we opted for a second serve. We ordered a set grill of squid, fish roe roll, pork and another meat item which was unfamiliar yet tasty, and some grilled mushrooms.





We swapped islands today – from Hokkaido to Kyushu, but not before taking the scenic route to the airport via the town of Mikasa, Lake Katsurazawa and a very large dam created from the Pankemoyuparo River. It was quite a chilly morning as you can see from the third photograph below.


After a two and a half hour flight from Sapporo this afternoon, we are in Fukuoka having successfully paid for our accommodation by inserting our room key followed by a credit card. The airport is within the city boundaries and the subway ride to our hotel was only 3 stops.

There is laundry on the go before we head out for tonight’s meal. Tomorrow is a full day exploring what Fukuoka has to offer.

We are in Iwamizawa tonight because it’s just half an hour’s drive to Miyajima Numa or Marsh. What’s so special about a marsh? This one is a registered Ramsar wetlands and at this time of the year, for just a couple of weeks, it hosts up to 60,000 Greater White-fronted Geese (真雁).

They stop off on their migration route to their summer home in Siberia, feasting on the after-harvest rice grains in local farms (not so much of a problem), then moving on to pre-harvest wheat if the other food source runs out.

Mass movement of the geese at dawn and dusk is the attraction. We dropped in for the sunset show and were not disappointed, save for a wee bit of camera lens envy. So here, with only a 200mm lens, are some photos that hopefully convey the action as the sun disappeared over the water.


today’s haiku

on long haul geese flights

en route to Siberia

a short stopover

Day two in the car on Hokkaido. Today’s breakfast and lunch provisions were courtesy of 7-11, the convenience store with all that the hungry traveller needs.

First stop today was Bear Mountain, a forest reserve for Japanese Brown Bears set in the midst of ski resorts. We chose to walk along the high boardwalks in the centre to view the bears as they wander about.

We drove back to Furano via Lake Kanayama and had our first experience of putting petrol in the vehicle. Japan has lots of full service stations, all included with the price of the fuel. So no wrangling with the petrol bowser was required.

We spent the afternoon driving around the farmlands of this region. Visiting flower and lavender farms aren’t as much fun when the flowers are not quite ready to bloom. Still, there were a few shots of colour to make it worthwhile.

The landscape of mountains, fast flowing icy rivers and forests was improved today by a bright sun and sky.

The day was topped off by a visit to Miyajima Marsh where we watched thousands of geese return after a day out feeding on spent rice fields. Today’s other post features the geese.

When one of your daughters is making a career as a whisky distiller, we have a responsibility to visit one of the best makers in the world. And, when you’re en route in a rental car, the designated driver also has a responsibility not to partake of the tastings on offer. (Japan has VERY strict drink-driving laws with as good as zero tolerance and very heavy penalties.)

The Japanese word for whisky is, like most foreign words, written in Katakana script.

uisukii - Katakana script for the word whisky

The late Masatake Taketsuru is considered the father of Japanese whisky. He came from a family of sake brewers, and became a chemist to learn more about the sake making process. In 1918, Taketsuru-san travelled to Scotland to study whisky distilling at the University of Glasgow. He returned to Japan two years later with his Scottish wife and, after a stint with Suntory, went out on his own to build Yoichi distillery which was completed in 1934. The first whisky with the Nikka brand was launched in 1940.

The word nikka means daily work or daily routine.

The Yoichi Distillery is west of Otaru. Whether or not any purchases were made is yet to be disclosed. Hope you enjoy these photos, RBW!





We’ll be moving around the middle and south of the island of Hokkaido over the next couple of days. This map via Japan Ryokan and Hotel Association might assist as a reference point for some of the place names.

Hokkaido Map -


Our activities today were brought to us by the first rental car of this trip. No need to type in your Japanese destination on the GPS, thank goodness. Simply put the phone number or map code of your destination into the system and voila!

All went pretty smoothly except for a road closure later in the day that required a considerable deviation, but we made it to Furano in time for dinner.

First stop today was Otaru and its old canal and warehouses.



 Then it was on to Yoichi and the Nikka Whisky Distillery, which rates its own post next up.

The landscape was stunning, particularly as we climbed higher. We also had a fox and a deer sighting.


This is Mount Yotei, an active volcano which last erupted around 1050 BC.


Tonight’s meal was at Kumagera (The Black Woodpecker), a Japanese Regional restaurant with great atmosphere. Himself had the Furano speciality, omelette curry rice which he appeared to enjoy very much.

Sapporo is clearly a city with a night life and Friday night on the eve of Golden Week means that everyone is out and about.  Here are a few quick and dirty shots from the wide angle lens as we walked out to and from Ramen Alley.  Our Ramen chef said no to a photograph of him preparing the meal. After a while he relented as long as I didn’t show behind the counter, because – secret recipe.

We may have bought two tiny Hokkaido cheese tarts on our walk home.

Breakfast did not disappoint. A buffet feast from which I selected grilled salt salmon, fresh tuna, dim sum, cold egg ‘omelette’ and cherry blossom soba noodles with yoghurt juice and coffee.

With a maximum of ten degrees Centigrade predicted, we rugged up for today’s outing.

The tramway system in Sapporo runs a circuit around the city. With a flat fare it’s a good way to get your bearings.

First stop was Mt. Moiwa Ropeway where the ticket Station noted a “slightly good” view from the summit today. By the time we got to the first station up, the “slightly good” optimism had reverted to “poor”.  Still it was worth the visit for the landscape alone.

Next was a tram and subway ride to Maruyama Park, the location of the Hokkaido Shrine. We had a most enjoyable lunch at a little place just outside the park gate.


imageThe Hokkaido Shrine was a very active space in Maruyama Park today. This weekend marks the start of Golden Week in Japan, where most everybody takes advantage of a few public holidays that coincide in the one week. Himself even got to take a photograph of some of the visitors to the Shrine.


The Botanic Garden of Hokkaido University aka Sapporo Botanic Gardens was established in 1886. It is also only open from 29 April to mid-November, so our trek across town to visit came to nought.

The cherry blossoms are due any day now, although a few early starters were giving visitors to Maruyama Park and Odori Park some pleasure. I posted earlier today re cherry blossoms and their significance to the Japanese people.

We are off to Ramen Alley for dinner tonight. Tomorrow we pick up a rental car and drive!

At this time of year, a trip to Hokkaido is the only way to possibly see sakura or cherry blossoms. They are just starting to come into bloom and we are likely to miss them at their peak. Nevertheless, those early bloomers gave us some pleasure today in Sapporo.



This word is mono no aware (pronounced mono no ah-wah-reh) and its literal translation is “the pathos of things”.

More fully, it relates to the feeling of gentle wistfulness at the brief and transient nature of beautiful things and an awareness of the sadness of existence.

Hi ka raku you is another beautiful word meaning “blossoms fall and leaves scatter – the impermanence of worldly things”




today’s haiku

the coming of spring

beautiful, fragile, short

the blossom’s lesson


This morning we flew north to the island of Hokkaido. We made an early morning subway journey, miraculously avoiding the infamous rush hour at Tokyo Metro Station, reserved seats for our purchased NEX Express tickets, and bought a scratch breakfast for the ride out to Narita.


The flight north was a treat, with views of spectacular snow-covered mountains.

We caught a bus into Sapporo after my beginner’s language skills prompted the bus  attendant to go out of his way to assist me to purchase the tickets from a vending machine.

Our digs for the next two days have everything we need, including a laundry on the premises. The size of the room gives new meaning to the term living in each other’s pocket. At least we get the opportunity to be very polite to each other every time one of us needs to move about in the space

Enough of the minutiae, today’s Sapporo activities included:

A walk through Odori Park towards the Sapporo TV Tower. The cherry and plum blossoms are due with just a few deciding to bloom.


A lift to the top of the Sapporo TV Tower with views of the city.


A train ride and walk to Sapporo Beer Museum for an educational experience, perhaps not the major motivation for the visit, and some tastings.


This was followed by a lamb and vegetable dinner named Genghis Khan by the beer garden operators.


We are back in our tiny room on this quite cold night in Sapporo. Tomorrow we will seek out this city’s famous seafood and Ramen Alley, and head up to the heights for a larger perspective on this port surrounded by mountains.


We were fortunate enough to arrive at this Buddhist temple just on 3 pm and be able to watch Goma, a fire ritual performed 5 times a day by monks of the Shingon sect. No photographs of the ritual are permitted. It involved taiko drums, fire and the chanting of Sutras. Very impressive.


Afterwards we had coffee and tea near the temple grounds where we watched the world go by.


A train ride out to Ochanomizu and a short walk leads to Ochanomizu Origami Kaikan, a 6 story centre specialising in high quality traditional Japanese paper. The current gallery exhibition features samurai hats. There are classes in paper craft going on all the time. The staff are happy for visitors to wander around, including into the paper making workshop where we watched paper being painted and hung.

All things origami and washi paper are available in the shop which we will visit again at the end of this trip. I was in heaven.