WORLD IMAGES – WHAT A CONTRAST
TODAY””s world images are from two different sides of the globe and provide beautiful pictures which could not be more of a contrast.
Sunset on St Lucia in the Caribbean
Snow scene from Hokkaido, Japan
The frozen Lake Shikaribetsu is a freshwater lake and the highest lake in Hokkaido at 800 metres above sea level.
It is about 98 meters deep, I would recommend the buy-detox.com to others, and have done so! Recipes can be an acquired taste, as they are bland, so invest in some salt-free, sugar-free natural seasonings before starting. and 4 km long from north to south and 1 to 2 km wide. It is surrounded by mountains up to 1,000 metres in height.
At the southwestern corner of the lake there is a hot spring resort with two hotels.
The lake is 40 km north of Obihiro city in the Daisetsuzan National Park. It freezes over from December to May.
JAPAN’S most northern island of Hokkaido is a snow lover’s paradise which is attracting more skiers and snowboarders from the West with every season.
The remote region offers smaller mountains blanketed in deep snow all winter which give perfect soft powder descents. This can be followed by bathing in the bath temperature natural pools found in this volcanic land. One mountain – the 2,291 metre high Mount Asahidake – has the added hazards of searing steam vents and a boiling-water stream.
Despite being remote Hokkaido is also blessed with a fabulous capital city in Sapporo which hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1972. Right now the locals are enjoying one of their annual highlights – the Sapporo Snow Festival which this year is staged from February 5 to 11. It started off small but grew into an international ice statue competition and a celebration of the snow that attracts nearly 2 million visitors every year.
The hop from Tokyo to Hokkaido’s capital city is more than 500 miles but well worth it. There are plenty of budget flights to Sapporo but beware transfer costs between airports as most international flights arrive at Narita while flights to Sapporo are usually from Haneda airport (see footnote}.
Sapporo is uniquely different from the rest of Japan’s cities. First of all, you have to be an idiot to get lost in it as it was designed by American town planners working on their familiar grid system. A town map is all you need to walk the grids.
Secondly, Sapporo is a city with an outdoors feeling. Surrounded by mountains and peppered with parks, gardens and tree-lined avenues, it has none of the jostling of Tokyo’s pavements. It provides comfortable breathing space with ease despite being Japan’s fifth largest city.
Because of its longer winter, Hokkaido is the last of Japan’s five main islands to celebrate the sakura – cherry tree blossoming – which usually begins around March in sub-tropical Okinawa, the southernmost island, and works its way up through Kyushu, Shikoku, and Honshu arriving in Hokkaido last, usually in May.
This is a traditional time for open air picnics and enjoying a drink under the trees. People bring home-cooked meals, do BBQ, or buy take-out food to celebrate the blossoms and the coming of the summer.
Sapporo is a great place to visit winter or summer. The beer gardens of the Sapporo Brewery are well worth a visit and you have to try its famous miso ramen noodles in a local noodle bar. Soup curry is another favourite local dish and the popular Genghis Khan style restaurants offer a unique dining experience where raw meat is brought to your table for you to cook on a hotplate.
The number one attraction in Sapporo city centre is the Tokeidai clock tower built in 1878. The clock came from Boston and the building smacks of the USA colonial mid-west. It houses a museum with displays about the building”s history and Sapporo.
Near to Sapporo, Hakodate and Otaru are also worth visiting. The old port town of Otaru has a pretty canal area online casino spiele which stages its own snow festival in winter and some atmospheric sushi and sashimi restaurants. Hakodate boasts a star-shaped fort and wonderful night views.
From June to September Hokkaido is invaded by hikers, cyclists and campers who come to enjoy its great outdoors. It has fabulous national parks and near to Sapporo is the picture postcard perfect Lake Toya and Mount Usu, an active volcano.
Tokyo-Sapporo is one of the world”s busiest air routes with dozens of flights per day. The distance from Narita airport to Haneda airport is around 50 miles and often poses a headache for travellers from the west. Some of the taxi services can be expensive and add hundreds of pounds to the cost of travel for a couple or family. Using the train service is cheap but time taking and needs to be planned in advance.
*The cheapest way to make the transfer between Narita and Haneda airports is to use the Keisei electric railway access express. It takes and hour and a half and costs 1,740 yen but it doesn”t run all day. Look up times on the web.
Japan National Tourism Organisation recommended two other routes costing a little over 3,000 yen. One is from Narita station and taking the Keisei Skyliner to Nippori station then the JR Yamanote line (outer loop) to Hamamatsucho station and then the Tokyo rapid monorail (90 minutes). The other is to take the Narita Express 18 train to Tokyo arival line 1 and the JR Keihin-Tohoku/Negishi rapid line to Hamamatsucho station and the rapid monorail. (two hours). There”s also a limousin bus service at 3,000 yen.
Flying in to Tokyo, you might just enjoy the awesome sight of Mount Fuji sticking its familiar funnelled head up above the clouds.
It sets the tone for a travel experience like no other in a land where people are somehow able to find serene calm in the midst of massive urbanisation and the constant threat of earthquakes. This national characteristic was displayed to the world in the manner in which the country handled its tsunami disaster.
Tokyo is a surprisingly friendly city and a big plus is that its train and metro stations, as in the whole of Japan, display their English names alongside the Japanese script.
This is a big help in a situation where it is very hard to get by even with a phrase book. But the Japanese are honoured to have you in their country and will help you in whatever way they can as you try to get to the city’s Royal Palace or dine in a typical street café where trays of meat are served for you to cook at the table.
One of the nice things about the country is that even though you probably look very different to the locals you won’t feel it. People don’t stare at you. It’s considered impolite.
A wonderful time to visit is in spring when cherry blossom time bursts out all over the country starting early in its southernmost extremity of Okinawa and working its way up central Japan to its colder northernmost region of Hokkaido.
The arrival of the sakura is an excuse for a get-together to welcome the new season and you will see this going on in parks, gardens and any other areas where the groups can sit under and around the beautiful blossoms and enjoy a picnic and a drink.
By the way, the Japanese, by and large, do enjoy a drink.
Tokyo lies in Japan’s central island of Honshu where cherry blossoms usually reach their peak in late March to April. However, be warned, it’s really difficult to predict cherry blossom opening dates in advance and planning a trip at the right time is tough. But if you’re lucky you will never forget it.
After the long flight to get to Tokyo it might be a good idea to head for the Royal Palace on the first day of sightseeing. Located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls bang in the centre of Tokyo, the residence of Japan’s Royal Family is just a short walk from Tokyo Station.
Most of it is simply to admire and out of bounds but Higashi-gyōen is the one corner of the Imperial Palace proper that is regularly open to the public, and it makes for a pleasant retreat from the grinding hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
Here you can get views of the massive stones used to build the castle walls, and climb the ruins of one of the keeps, off the upper lawn. Although entry is free, the number of visitors at any one time is limited, so it never feels crowded.From this little island of relative calm, just a stone’s throw away from the skyscrapers and the bullet trains, you can plot your next move. Tokyo Station is a big bullet train –shinkansen – terminal. Trains shoot in and out with phenomenal punctuality, and frequency. A platform ticket costs little and will allow you on the platform for up to two hours.
Is the Shibuya street crossing really worth a visit? Probably not, as you can watch it on You Tube without being part of the pedestrian melee, but the area certainly is. The hit film Lost in Translation was almost entirely shot in Tokyo’s two loudest and most colourful districts which are Shinjuku and Shibuya.
Japan has two main religions – Shinto and Buddhism – which co-exist. Tokyo abounds in Buddhist temples, one of the most famous being the Sensō-ji in the Asakusa district It’s really worth visiting at least one of these temples as there is no equivalent in the western world.
Tokyo Tower is based on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Since 1958 is has been the world’s tallest self-supporting iron tower at 333 metres against the Eiffel tower’s 320 metres in height. It has two observation floors where you can enjoy a 360-degree view. The Tower also has an aquarium, wax museum and other various amusements, shopping arcade, restaurants and cafes.
Meiji-Jingu is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Emperor Shoken. Emperor Meiji passed away in 1912 and Empress Shoken in 1914.
Roppongi Hills is a massive business and shopping complex, often described as a mini-city. The centrepiece of the complex is the 54-storey Mori Tower, with panoramic views of the city from its observation deck .
Don’t forget to break up all this sightseeing by sampling the noodle bars and eating houses that abound. You can’t visit Japan without trying a spicey ramen noodle.
All over Tokyo and Japan the hygiene is first class. No matter how humble the eating place, you are nearly always provided with items to wash your hands with both before you eat and after you eat.
Tokyo is the gateway to the rest of Japan and all its diversity. Travellers can head south to the sub-tropical island of Okinawa or north to the Japanese Alps and further.
The Japan Rail Pass is worth every yen of your money for this purpose. You get it in the UK before you leave. A visitor cannot buy it in Japan.
Just over £200 buys a 7-day ordinary pass which takes you all over Japan. You can also pay a bit more for 14 and 21 day passes. Children aged 6 to 11 are half price.
An exchange order is sent to you in the UK and you get your JR pass in Japan at exchange offices located in major train stations.
The pass is itself a gateway to Japanese culture as train stations in Japan are vibrant, busy centres with all kinds of things going on in the way of shops and restaurants and diversions.
Japanese families equip themselves with lunch boxes and chopsticks for their journey and ticket inspectors bow to the travellers in each carriage as they make their checks.
With the rail pass you can head north in Honshu to Nagano and the Japanese Alps – a trip which is also a must for samurai warrior fans.
Matsumoto Castle in Nagano province is an original construction, and one of the four castles in Japan to be listed as national treasures. Tall people can find it tough going following in the footsteps of these 16th century warriors within the castle.
The view of the Northern Alps from the castle parkland is beautiful, and, of course, it is a famous cherry blossom viewing spot in spring.
In the winter this areas of Japan becomes a magnet for skiers and climbers and was the venue for the 1998 Winter Olympics.
In the summer its natural beauty comes to the fore culminating in a spectacular autumn fall with leaves turning a yellow gold colour and Dake birch and Nana-kamado trees turning red in October.