East Bound and Down




Nearing the end of my time in Japan, I managed to do the first thing I decided I wanted to do here, which was visit Hokkaido. Hokkaido is the northern island of the Japanese archipelago which is known for snow, milk, beer and whiskey, at least to me. Obviously I couldn’t see it in the snow, which would have been beautiful, but I still appreciate the beauty of the place nonetheless.

In late summer, the temperature is a much more bearable mid to upper 80s, compared to the grueling upper 90s and low 100s I was just getting used to in Kyoto in the second half of my program. The train system is less frequent and connected to everywhere, which made for some interesting navigation challenges when my phone company decided to suspend my data the last week of my time here. There’s a lot more nature to see and the cities are much less sprawling, which is part of the beauty I appreciate. I think what I appreciate the most is that it just feels like a Japanese version of home, in climate and just general feel as I was out and about.

I made it out around Yoichi to see the Nikka distillery where I learned the founder spent time on Scotland learning how to make whiskey and even fell in love with a Scottish woman, then about his trying to make authentic whiskey upon his return to Japan and the 20 something years it took before he could fulfill his dream. I visited Asahikawa in central Hokkaido where I went to their City museum and leaned a bit about the Ainu culture, Hokkaido’s indigenous people. They even had little comics for kids with some displays that made for interesting translation practice (since I’m about at that level of literacy) while learning about the day to day lives of the Ainu. I even visited the Sapporo brewery, which was at the top of my list, where I also learned about the history of the company and it’s founders learning about making beer in Germany. They had an exclusive brew there where they recreated the original brew they started with back in the early Meiji era (being the late 1800s) which I actually found I preferred to their modern product.

I don’t have a lot to say on the milk unfortunately, but I love milk and it was some of the most delicious I’ve ever had. I wish I’d had time to visit a farm, but it wasn’t in the cards. Regarding people, I interacted with some while out and about and generally found the culture of the north more authentically friendly. In particular, my hotel had an izakaya (a kind of casual bar) which I visited a couple of times and had more lengthy conversation with the worker there. There were notably fewer foreigners in Hokkaido than I was used to seeing, to the point I saw two non Asian people in my 5 days there, an older couple out in Yoichi. This is to say that I drew attention and the lady at the izakaya had plenty of questions and interest. We joked about Kentucky Fried Chicken when it came up that I’m from Kentucky, she told me about how she was learning French and how it gives her a headache because it’s hard when talking about my study abroad and ability to speak japanese. All in all a wonderful time while we went back and forth on casual topics and she got other workers involved in conversation which made for dynamic and fun practice applying all the language skills I’ve been picking up in my time here.

Anyway, I could wax poetic for much longer about how enamored I’ve become with Hokkaido and how it might be my favorite place I’ve been to in Japan, but suffice to say that I wish I didn’t have to leave yet. I’ll be heading home soon, which is bittersweet. I’ve been in Japan longer than I expected, but I’ll also miss life here once I’m gone, as I’ve grown accustomed to the reserved culture and the general convenience of life here. I’ll be back one day though. Maybe future endeavors will bring me back to Hokkaido for a longer time or during the winter, where I can explore the culture more, but even hot and humid summer Kyoto I’ll miss, as it started to feel like home by the end.