Monday, 26 May 2014

Hokkaido Snowstorm

The Story Behind The Cover Photo
Back in March (2014), when my second book of short stories 'The Truth In The Lie' was published, I promised I would at some point tell the tale behind the striking cover photograph, which was taken by my good friend Fumiko Jin. Fortunately Fumiko speaks fluent English – and speaks it with the most endearing Liverpudlian accent too. She is one of the busiest people I know, but she has finally given in to my pressure and 'spilled the beans' in the following Guest Blog-post:

Guest Blog-post by: 

Fumiko Jin – Magazine Editor and Freelance Journalist
Based in Tokyo, Japan.
(Fumiko is on the left in the photo)

The photo was taken near Kushiro City in the eastern part of Hokkaido.
A magazine colleague and I had gone on a business trip to the far-eastern peninsula of Shiretoko, which is registered as a World Natural Heritage Site. There we hoped to make a business deal with the local fishing trade union. 

A day before our planned departure from Tokyo, the weather had turned a bit nasty, with snowstorms and strong winds, and the managing director of the union had warned us to reconsider the visit. Being somewhat determined women, we decided to take a risk so long as the flight did not get cancelled.

As it turned out, the plane took off with only a one hour delay and transported us to Nakashibetsu airport, this being the closest airport to the city of Rausu. Here we found one of the Japan's biggest and most successful fishing ports. The wealth here is evident from the number of currency exchange stands. But on the day we arrived, we disembarked from the plane, to see a blanket of dazzling white snow, with swirling gusts of heavy snow still falling. The savage wind cut into us, making us wish we had brought warmer clothing. 

"There is no way I could let you drive under these conditions," said the young man at the car rental counter. "Even the locals would not dare, really!" His voice was gentle but firm. There would be no persuading him, we realised, so we phoned the managing director of the union. Kindly he offered to come to pick us up in his car.

Back at his offices, we had a successful meeting with him and his team and the business was complete within 2 hours. Content with our day's work we checked into our hotel, only to discover later that we were snowed-in. The snow drifts were so bad we found ourselves unable to even step out of the building. Unable to do anything but stay put, we called our office and warned them we would be delayed. We tried to make the best of things and consoled ourselves with the idea that an extra night would give us the chance of a much needed rest. Due to a complete whiteout, however, our rest period lasted for another three frustrating days. Even had we have been able to get out of our hotel, all the roads were closed so no one in the town was able to move. "Hmm," we said to ourselves, "there are downsides to being determined and independent women."

Eventually, on the third day, the weather improved slightly, although the road to Nakashibetsu Airport remained closed. The managing director of the union was a resourceful man, however. Hearing of our plight, he offered to drive us to Kushiro Airport, which was a four-hour drive from Rausu. We were by now feeling very sorry for all the trouble that had been caused by our ignorance and stupidity, yet despite this it was an offer we could hardly refuse. 

As we got further away from Rausu and closer to Kushiro, the sky began to clear and eventually the snow subsided. Rounding a bend on the icy road we were suddenly confronted with the most amazing orange sunset. It is rare to be able to see such a clear and strong sunset in this area, our host explained. I smiled. Perhaps after all, I told myself, it was our destiny to come here through the worst conditions, in order to experience the absolute best.

What's In Hokkaido?
Hokkaido is the most northerly island of Japan. Its vast open land is blessed with stunning mountains, green fields, clear lakes and an unspoiled coastline. It is a major tourist destination for the Japanese at all times of the year and has more recently become popular with foreign tourists. According to the guidebook in our hotel room (which we had plenty of time to read), in Summer one can enjoy hiking, cycling, sky diving and wildlife observation, both on land and from the sea. Fields of brightly coloured flowers almost look unreal in their vibrancy. I can also confirm that the birdlife really is outstanding and whale watching is great here too. In Winter, skiing and hot springs are what most tourists come for, along with the world famous Ice Festival – which has to be seen to be believed. You may also have seen pictures of monkeys taking a dip and warming themselves in hot springs. Well those monkeys are Hokkaido monkeys! Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the freshest of fresh seafood along with some well established tourist resort areas for those wanting a bit of luxury. Plenty of variety.

Hokkaido is just as beautiful in summer as it is the rest of the year
Photo courtesy of

The annual ice festival in the capital, Sapporo, takes your breath away.
Photo courtesy of

Bathing Monkeys. Photo courtesy of

As you would expect, it snows a lot - including during the Ice Festival
Photo courtesy of

Onsen (hot spring) bathing is popular with humans too.
Photo courtesy of

For those wanting to travel on two wheels, take it from me, this large and relatively undeveloped island is a bit of a cyclist's and motorcyclist's dream. The roads are well paved and neatly maintained, allowing you to ride throughout the entire 78,000㎢ of the island. Off-road cycling is popular here too. For those seeking something really challenging, there are some serious up-hill climbs among Hokkaido's 590 mountains. If you are thinking of coming here to cycle or motorcycle, I would recommend the summer period between June and September as being the best season. I hope I've whetted your appetite.

Fumiko Jin.

Photo courtesy Visit their fantastic site!

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