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February 2005

snow festival

February 15, 2005

snow scene
snow scene

In Hokkaido, I experienced many interesting things, most notably being naked in air temperatures of minus 10°C and tasting meat-flavour caramels. Thankfully, the sub-zero nudity occurred in the context of a pool of naturally hot spring water. The meat-caramel experience was an unforeseen—though with hindsight, embarrassingly predictable—consequence of my buying a packet of caramels for the amusing picture of gravy-covered meat on the box.

In fact, both bathing in a hot spring bath surrounded by snow and going to the Sapporo snow festival were two major items on my list of “things to do in Japan” that I brought with me inside my mind when I came out here. I think that leaves me with only two more items, and they both involve being beneath the ocean waves: I want to see a manta ray in the wild, and I want to dive off Yonaguni-jima, the last island before Taiwan, to see the bizarre, ancient underwater structures there that may or may not be man-made.

In Hokkaido, I stayed with my friend Alex, who is nominally doing the same job as me, only he’s living in a city of nearly 2 million people in Japan’s northernmost prefecture, in a climate that is below zero for about half the year, while I live on an island of about 2000 people in Japan’s southernmost prefecture, where the temperature is above 20°C for all but about two months of the year. Although they’re in the same country, Hokkaido and Okinawa could hardly be more different.

Unfortunately, though all the snow and whiteness was very pretty, it was also viciously cold, and I didn’t take as many photos as I otherwise might have done, just because of the pain involved in having my hands out of my pockets for any length of time.

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problem solved

February 9, 2005

Decision made: I’m going … but staying. It occurred to me that, given two options that you can’t choose between, there is the possibility of doing neither. So, I’m going for a third option: I’m not recontracting, but rather than leave Japan when my job finishes, I’m planning to move to the city and just make it up as I go along for somewhere between a few weeks and six months, depending on the cost of living, how quickly I get bored, whether I can find a good sanshin teacher, how strong the pull from China becomes, and all sorts of other factors. With hindsight, the decision seems obvious: although I love Okinawa and this island, another year and a half of this job would almost certainly be too much, and I’d much rather leave feeling I could have stayed longer than wishing I’d left earlier.

So, now that’s sorted, I’m flying off today into the frozen North, for the Snow Festival in Sapporo, Hokkaido, right up at the other end of Japan. Enough of this warm Okinawan weather for me. The thermometer in the school corridor is currently reading 22C. Today’s forecast in Sapporo is -6C …

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