Oh Hokkaido, were you even real?
It’s a question I’ve found myself asking on repeat this week, as I’ve been writing up my feature on my Walk Japan journey to the most northerly of Japan’s four main islands.
Surely these moments were too magical to have been anything but a dream?
Watching dozens of endangered red-crowned cranes – which I’d seen throughout my life depicted in Japanese paintings, in tiny paper birds festooned on temples and shrines, and on everything from kimono to the tail fins of Japanese jets – in the flesh.
Snowshoeing through snow-covered pastures dusted with delicate auburn larch trees, like something from an ancient Japanese woodblock print, and exploring the thin finger of wild Shiretoko Peninsula, known by Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu people as ‘the end of the Earth’.
Meeting a pair of ice fishermen on frozen Furen lake, as sea eagles swept through the sky waiting to retrieve their cast-offs, before watching the ice floes drift down from Siberia.
Sure, we didn’t see any temples, Zen gardens or ancient architecture, as you do in the rest of Japan. But Hokkaido more than made up for it with its untouched wilderness, abundant natural beauty and, perhaps best of all, fantastic natural hot springs, with mineral-rich spring water flowing down from the volcanic mountains.
Enjoy this two-minute journey – perhaps just a figment of my imagination – into the heart of winter at the end of the Earth.