Hokkaido – birthplace of the earth

As some of you may or may not have noticed, I have been afk for while. For the non-geeks among you: afk means away from keyboard. The reason was our trip to Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan.

Like many Japanese companies, Toyota had decided to send all of their employees on a mandatory holiday around mid August. To avoid the crowds, we decided to go the most remote Japanese destination we could think off: Hokkaido. Further more, we were looking forward to spending some time in a refreshing 30°C atmosphere instead of the scorching 36°C of Nagoya.

Hokkaido is the northernmost island of Japan, marked in dark green. The tiny red cross indicates where we live.

I can wholeheartedly recommend Hokkaido (in summer) to anyone who likes any or all of the following: lakes, mountains, volcanoes, onsen, forests, seafood, wildlife (not necessarily in that order). I guess in winter it’s mostly nice for people who like snow.

It was a great trip. We got to see Japanese minshuku and youth hostels from the inside for the first time; an experience that deserves it’s very own blog post later on. The food was delicious, with a lot of fresh fish and seafood and a dish with mutton and cabbage called Genghis Kahn.

Seafood don

The Genghis Kahn dish (Jingisukan in Japanese)

The nature was overwhelming. We bathed in a natural onsen by the lakeside.We walked trough forests and wandered along the shore of beautiful lakes. We met a host of wildlife that we’d never seen before, like cranes, chipmunks, dolphins and a fox. Fortunately we didn’t run into any bears.

Lakeside onsen - free of charge, just dive on in (Lake Kussharo)

Lake Shikotsu

Cranes by the roadside

The cutest little chipmunk

An audacious fox looking for an easy meal

The chipmunk has the children eating out of his hand – or was it the other way around?

Whale-watching trip in Muroran. We didn’t see any whales but there were a lot of dolphins.


And then there were the volcanoes. I had never seen an active volcano up close before. It was overwhelming, almost like an apocalyptic scene. A barren rocky landscape with blotches of yellow left by the sulfur. Hissing steam escaping from the rocks and the smell of rotting eggs (from the sulfur). Apparently this is what hell is supposed to smell (and look?) like, only worse.

Volcano crater on top of the mountain (Tarumae-zan)

The hellish mountainside of Io-zan volcano

Boiling water and sulphurous gasses on the slopes of Io-zan volcano


Again I was confronted with the fact that the earth which seems so stable to us most of the time, is actually a living thing of sorts. One of the volcanoes we saw just popped up out of a vegetable patch some odd 60 years ago. Another one violently erupted in 2000 and turned a lively little town into a post-apocalyptic ghost town that is now visited by tourists.

Showa-Shin-zan, which emerged out of a field in 1943 after a series of earthquakes

Ghost town. The orange building in the back used to be a cooky factory - image taken at the Nishiyama Crater Promenade

It made me think of Hokkaido as the birthplace of the earth. This also relates to the relationship that the Ainu, Japan’s indigenous people who now mostly live in Hokkaido, have with nature and the earth. Hokkaido, with its mountains and forests, covered in mist and clouds, seems like a mystical place to me. Mysterious things such as the birthing of the earth from an active volcano definitely seem possible here.

Mystical Hokkaido