+crowded world++japan++hokkaido++sapporo++may 18 2011

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FOR the past few days my folks had been on the train across the north of Japan with my folks, and we made it as far as Hokkaido, which is known in Japanese as the "North Sea Way". and I have to say it is pretty amazing scenery (with some real wilderness). I haven't been to Russia before, but this island has a Russian/Siberian feel to it in my imagination at least. Birch trees with white trunks glistening in the sun, cute little towns with houses out of a Scandinavian toy factory, and peaks covered in snow. Walking out in the wetlands looking for cranes, I was attacked by pesky marsh insects. For the first time since my last trip to Iceland in 2006, I feel like I am back in the sub-Arctic!

Those wetlands were in fact the Kushiro Shitsugen, and how we ended up there was an exercise in stupidity (my parents'). We were on the hunt for the elusive tanchou, but nobody told us they were not in season (having flown off somewhere cooler). It was a nice train ride, a one-man densha via Kitahama (North Harbor) to Abashiri. This was the closest I had come to real wilderness in Japan.

I went for a walk late in the evening, and just like last night (and the night before), I felt thrilled to be back in Japan. I headed down over a bridge, where there was some kind of entertainment district on the water. Perhaps I might have even passed Haruki Murakami's love hotel, somewhere in the gloom. I didn't see any of his bears, although they were probably out there!.

Yesterday we were standing in thick snow on the peak of Asahidake Mountain in Hokkaido, Japan, visibility about 1 metre, temperature about 6.5 degrees C. And this is just a few weeks away from the start of summer! Just sank a few ales and other beverages at the Hakodate Beer Museum, near the fish markets, with gulls squawking outside.