Hokkaido, Japan

A child of summer can count the number of times she’s seen snow, no matter how many seasons of winter she has endured. Each moment is ephemeral, a love or fear at first sight, before it fades unrecognizably into the background like a normal day of rain. I remember this exact day of firsts. My first time in Japan, first time in Nagasaki, the first day of 2009 and my first time seeing snow fall, right before my eyes. I was ill yet with renewed strength borne out of a fascination for this unknown, and watched from a sliding door in the corner of Matsuo san’s living room. These soft flecks of snow, which danced and swayed, floated momentarily before landing on the nose of the family dog who barked at nothing at all.

Did you know that Exile Takahiro is from Nagasaki? The girls I met at that high school told me. I hold onto this memory like a folded piece of paper, still buried in the school uniform I wore over ten years ago. Before I left, I bought the album with the snowflake on the front, and every listen was my ticket back to those memories. Winter in Tokyo this year came and went without an echo, but on my trip to Hokkaido recently, I could feel the string tugging and beckoning me towards it.

Here was an autumn that felt like winter to my skin. The first stop, a pilgrimage, a visit to Shikotsu-Toya National Park was so cold yet secure like being in the lap of a grandfather. People and tourists milled about quietly outdoors and in gift shops and information centres, always in pockets of three or four. The landscape was a grey slate with a wash of blue across the sky and a bridge that once upon a time, must have been a gleaming fire engine red. I enjoyed this quiet grandeur of the scenery, but each current of strong wind that blew against my face, was like a question, to ask what this Malaysian girl was doing so far away from home.

From Chitose to Otaru and Sapporo we ventured and a sense of familiarity wrapped a blanket over me, as though a shield against the icy winds. I marveled at how kamaboko from a famous shop tasted akin to luxury fish cakes fanned out over the surface of hawker centre noodles. How a stall with a sign bearing a perfectly worded sentence of Malay, took me back to my Ah Ma’s house. How a favorite snapshot from the trip was taken by a stranger from home, a father of a family from Penang. My parents visited these places many years ago and took me along, via a fuzzy and unintelligible Skype call. But now here I was, pulling myself through an iPhone screen to be there.

There were other touches that had no other worldly comparison. Hot butter scallops, Yubari melon and bowls of raw seafood and rice, entities in their own right for they taste so gastronomically superior to anything else. Running across the garden of a ryokan past midnight as frost glittered in the lamplight and the floorboards ached and creaked under your weight. The lingering scent of cypress wood on the nape of your neck and clothes after a trip to the onsen. And falling asleep everywhere from outdoor foot spas to the cradle of a massage chair.

Shiawase (幸せ) and ureshii (嬉しい), are same same. One speaks to a deeper and more long-lasting feeling, the rhythm of a four-disc long Japanese RPG. One is a fleeting embrace, a series of ビシバシmini games at Taito Station. Many of my experiences in Japan have been exercises in understanding both the difference and the importance of each. I wish my relationship with my past wasn’t a one-way street. Whether through images or song or soft conversation, the versions of myself from previous moments #takemeback and it is these reflections which make present-day all the richer. In that same way, I wish I could shout back across the chasm, to reach back in time to tell all of them, just you wait, the best is yet to come.

Jyozankei Hotel
〒061-2302 北海道札幌市南区定山渓温泉西4丁目 340

Crowne Plaza Sapporo
Kita 3-Jo, Chuo-Ku, 1-2-9 Nishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 060-0003

Nijo Market

Shikotsu Toya National Park

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