Sunday, November 22, 2009

Snowshoeing (and eating)
in the Land of the Rising Sun

Continuing my World Hiker special series of my favorite countries and places based upon their culinary contributions, I lead you now to Japan. A decade ago Heather and I headed to Hokkaido in the heart of winter. Here upon Japan's big island-which makes up 20% of the country's land mass but harbors only 5% of its population, we found plenty of open spaces to snowshoe and ski. Japan has an amazing national park system and there are plenty of parks in Hokkaido. We skied calderas, snowshoed up volcanoes and across massive frozen lakes (as pictured below in Akan National Park) and saw some great wildlife like the Tancho (red-crowned crane). And then when it was time to retreat, we headed back to a warm Minshuku (Japanese bed and breakfast) to enjoy delicacies that were not only gastronomically out-of-this-world, but aesthetically pleasing to look at too, arranged as if part of an artist's masterpiece. And when we left the backcountry and spent some time in the big city, I enjoyed buying hot coffee in a can from vending machines and beer too that was dispensed from a sidewalk vending machine. Beer and coffee at my command on every street corner and no freaky barista or gruff bartender to dispense it-just a few 100 yen notes will do, arigato! What a country!

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