Meguro Gajoen is a wonderful hotel with exquisite design, a museum inside, and a waterfall included. This summer, it's sparkling with festival lanterns and dragon lights.
Winter is happening.
In the Northern lands of Hokkaido, March is the perfect time to enjoy a pure white day. Iced landscapes, frozen waterfalls and freezing winds are welcoming you. Around Asahikawa, the landscape looks like a foreign and dreamy country. Take the bus to Sounkyo and you will find yourself into the wild.
Snow and Crystal Museum
The Frozen Waterfall Festival of Sounkyo
A happy girl enjoying the snow
August in Tokyo : wet, steaming hot, buzzing with insects, exhausting. Let's try to forget all this by hitting a matsuri : a Japanese local festival boasting bright colors, yukata, and - oh surprise - tons of food. There are firework matsuri, omikoshi matsuri, street dancing matsuri ; Asagaya Tanabata Matsuri is just a pleasantly noisy festival with lanterns and giant paper dolls.
Time to play who's-wearing-the-best-yukata-tonight
ECOWAS (Economic Community Of West African States) countries are not the usual African stars in Japan, who cherishes Kenya and Tanzania the most. But today, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo and their neighbours were under the spotlights at Sodegaura, Chiba-ken, a city which expressed the desire to offer its citizens a full African experience. Once again, I was almost the only white girl around... I'm so exotic.
My companions for the day
Kids playing Malian music
The two Kadidiatou's chicken & onion couscous
The wali game - Surprisingly, I like it...
I didn't expect that, but the old Japanese people who attended the Fair were amazingly willing to speak English and even French, and aware of the situation in Mali! The Japanese countryside is full of surprises...
Aoyama, the blue mountain in the heart of Tokyo. Shinjuku's skyscrappers shining on the horizon. A very high building with a balcony. And the first hanabi of the season for me.
Watching hanabi ("flowers of fire" in Japanese) is a major summer must-do in Japan, just as hanami in spring. Everybody wants to watch the same thing at the same time from the same places. Lucky me I have friends who have friends with amazing terrace apartments.
It starts with an empty sky...
Then, it gets red
There are two schools of thought about Hokkaido, the Northern region of Japan: the first says that you should avoid going in winter. Too cold. Freezing. It's better to wait for the sunny season when it turns pleasantly refreshing. The second answers : don't you think that you would miss the spirit if you don't go in winter ? How could you ever say "I've seen Hokkaido" if you've never seen it under the snow ?...
I was hesitating about going or not going before spring when I heard of the Snow Festival in Sapporo, the capital of the North. The Snow Festival. Just the name made me daydream. So here I go, with my warmest clothes and wintery expectations, pretending to be the Snow Queen and enjoying the whiteness of life in Sapporo ! Let it snow !
For the travellers' information : I used Skymark to fly from Tokyo Haneda to Sapporo New Chitose airport (18 000 yen, go and back, with webwari). From the aiport, it takes about 30 minutes by Express train to Sapporo station (about 1200yen). There is a good "welcome pass" for the tourists (2500 yen, including the transportation between the airport and sapporo, plus illimited subway) but nothing special for the residents like me. By the way, the subway is not a must : the main spots of the city are easy to reach by foot (even on snowy days !).
I arrived under the sunshine early in the morning but quickly, the sky turned white. From the street, I could see 30 to 40 centimeters of snow on the roofs, and even more on the floor ! But it was less freezing than I expected, and I wasn't cold at all. Maybe too excited for that...
Everywhere in the city, you can see the star as a symbol of the "pioneer spirit".
The White City
The classiest smoking area ever
Of course, the main attraction of Sapporo, in February, is the Snow Festival at Odori Koen. Pure and fleeting beauty. Foreigners, don't be surprised if the kids jump on you to practice their English sentences (just as in Kyoto...). It happened to me at least 20 times in two hours. Fortunately they were cute enough. I also got interviewed by a local TV about the shape of snowmen in my country. I am afraid to say that it is exactly the same than Japanese ones... Fail.
Kawaii Snow Art
I really think that actually, Sapporo is more beautiful under the snow. Except the ancient buildings, the city's architecture is commonly modern, not especially charming. However, the historic buildings smell like Russia and UK. It is totally different from the atmosphere of the rest of Japan.
Tokei-Dai, the symbol pf the city
Sapporo City Hall
Most of the sidewalks in Sapporo are heated from below, in order to prevent the snow to invade the way; I have serious concerns about the ecologic cost of this system, but I have to admit that at least, it's amazingly effective...
With heating system
Without heating system
Lunchbreak : impossible for me not to have a Sapporo beer ! No way ! And the best place to enjoy this proud beverage was the Sapporo Beer Garden. Warm, cosy and affordable place where I got Hokkaido potatoes, tasty sausages and the most delicious king crab balls. (bus ticket from the station : 200yen)
Sapporo Beer Bear
Bye-bye Sapporo; on the afternnon, I took the train to go to Otaru Snow Lights Path Festival (小樽雪あかりの路). The small town is situated at 30 minutes by train from Sapporo station and it really worth it ! I am afraid that my pictures can not reflect the magic of the place. It was... wow. I was enchanted.
Into the white
Magic in the air
Waiting for the night to fall, I had a delicious "gouter" at a French-style coffee shop with an amazing view on the canal. Cake and coffee set for 700 yen. This lemon and chocolate pastry was amazing... not even mentioning that RFI was braodcasted in the place (sister !!) and that the program was about Mali... My little world is following me wherever I go !
5 o'clock break
And then I was ready for the snow storm... and the most magical snow and fire scenary ever. Enjoy !
Fire under the Ice
But beauty doesn't make you feel warm. I still had to taste the region's king crabs and sushi...
I didn't regret my choice even one second : Hokkaido in winter, it rocks !Thank you for reading, and don't miss next year's Snow Festival in Sapporo and Otaru !
Lovely Yokohama is always sunny for me. This week-end, it was definitely the most perfect weather for African Festa 2011, the biggest Africa-related event in Japan, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Of course, the Malian Embassy was there, with musicians, singers, an African dance teacher (fortunately nobody pictured me when dancing), delicious food (tieb n'dien, niebe, to and so on), baobab powder, hibiscus, shea butter and many other stuff made in Africa.
Blue sky for ordered for Africa
People queuing for Malian dishes
Our lovely Malian star
My lunch : fish tieb n'dien and spiced roasted chicken
Malian band on stage (Cheick Tidiane Seck and friends)
He played this song among others. Very interesting !
The cutest drum player ever
My first baobab juice : yummy ! Offered by my Senegal "family"
The view on Yokohama by night... could be worse
I shook a hundred hands, received one thousand smiles, had sweet tea for free, and got real shea butter at the end of the day. Don't miss African Festa next year !