ultramarinus – beyond the sea


SEAFOOD, CANAL, & HISTORY, Otaru (小樽), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.22

Day 8 (3/4).

It was raining with occasional thunderstorms all the way from the Hill of the Buddha to Otaru.  After a week on the road, we finally arrived at Otaru (小樽), the port city at Ishikari Bay roughly half an hour of train ride from Sapporo.  For many Japanese and East Asians, Otaru has become famous after the 1995 hit movie “Love Letter”.  Directed by Shunji Iwai (岩井 俊二) and starring Miho Nakayama (中山 美穂), “Love Letter” was filmed entirely in Hokkaido, particularly in Otaru.  After the film, The little port city Otaru has become a cultural destination.

We dropped off our bags at the hotel, returned the Toyota near the railway station, and found our way to Sankaku Market (三角市場) for a seafood lunch.

IMG_0223Situated near Otaru Station, Sankaku Market (三角市場) is very popular for tourists and locals for fresh seafood.

IMG_0211The market sells seafood from all over Hokkaido.

IMG_0213The market has only one narrow aisle and shops at both sides.

IMG_0222Some shops also offer seafood snacks or lunch.

IMG_0220We chose the most popular eatery in the market, Takinami Restaurant, where there was a long queue of visitors at the door.

IMG_0217Seafood appetizers

IMG_0218Sea urchin, crab meat and prawns with rice, and crab miso soup

IMG_0226Despite the rain, we made a brief visit to the canal area of Otaru.

IMG_0235We didn’t stay long at the canal because of poor weather.

IMG_0275Instead, we dropped by the Otaru Art Base: four historical buildings were preserved and converted into art exhibition spaces.

IMG_0255Built in 1923, Takahashi Warehouses was turned into the Stained Glass Museum.

IMG_0258Most of the stained glass windows on display were manufactured in England in the 19th and early 20th century.

IMG_0264These stained glass windows were preserved from churches that got torn down.

IMG_0244In the heydays, there were 25 banks supporting the economy of Hokkaido.  One of them was Mitsui Bank (三井住友銀行).  The Neo-Renaissance building symbolizes the prosperous years of Hokkaido.

IMG_0295The former lobby and reception counter are splendid.

IMG_0305Former conference room

IMG_0288Former vault.

IMG_0314Other than the history of the former bank building, there was also an art exhibition in the building.

IMG_0330After checking out the Art Base, we returned to the hotel and finished the slide of Yubari (夕張) cantaloupe purchased from the market.


HILL OF THE BUDDHA (頭大仏), Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.22

Day 8 (2/4).

The fun part of being an architect is that one could never predict what the next project would be until the client knocks on the door.  For Tadao Ando, while he completed his iconic Chapel on the Water in the late 1980s, he might never imagine that over two decades later he would get a chance to realize a Buddhist shrine that houses a 13.5m statue of Buddha in Hokkaido.  Situated in Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園), Ando’s take this time on creating a spiritual encounter with the Buddha image is consisted of an artificial mount planted with 150000 lavender plants and a large oculus over the Buddha’s head.  From parking lot entry to the statue, the diversity of spatial experience allow visitors to cleanse their heart before reaching the Buddha, while the concrete finishes of the architecture offer a neutral environment for lights, shadows and rain to define a spiritual atmosphere for the shrine.

IMG_0202Before reaching Ando’s Buddha, we had a strange encounter with a row of what looked like to be replicas of the Moai statues in Easter island.

DSC_6328The forecourt is dominated by a water feature where visitors must walk around in order to enter the shrine.

DSC_6245.JPGit was windy and rainy and we quickly walked around the water feature.

IMG_0151Because of the wind and rain, we only had a quick look at the fine details of the water feature design.

DSC_6255An cool looking passageway then led us directly into the shrine.

DSC_6259At last, we arrived at the 13.5m Buddha statue.

DSC_6290We decided to walk around the circular shrine to check out all sides of the Buddha, as well as the smaller shrines at the circumference.

DSC_6292The statue is slightly higher than the egg like structure, and the head of the Buddha actually sticks out.

DSC_6300The surrounding wall panels are tilted inwards, allowing visitors to stay dry when walking around the statue even in the rain.

DSC_6301No matter at what angle, the Buddha and the concrete structure look in perfect harmony.  The rippled concrete structure also makes the shrine to appear in a solemn and contemporary ambience.

DSC_6304Everything is in gradients of grey, except the offering flowers.

DSC_6309Most people would walk to the front of the statue to pay their respect, say their prayers and leave some coins for offerings.

DSC_6311Looking back out towards the entrance, the passageway appeared like a tunnel out of a science fiction movie.

DSC_6323Similar to the concrete structure in the shrine, the ceiling structure of the passageway also has a series of ripped vaults.  Above the passageway is the mount planted with 150000 lavender plants.

IMG_0139In August, the Hill of the Buddha will be filled with the fragrance of lavender.

IMG_0138Before we left, we checked out a small display adjacent to the forecourt of water feature of Ando’s drawings, sketches and photos of the construction.  For architecture lovers, the detour to the Hill of Buddha is well worth the time and effort.

CHURCH ON THE WATER (水の教会), Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.22

Day 8 (1/4).

Many people acknowledge the harmonic relationship between buildings and nature in Japanese architecture.  Taking the site’s natural context as design inspirations and the dominating factor for spatial arrangement is popular among modern Japanese architecture, where buildings are sometimes configured according to the site terrain or to a unique relationship with a natural element such as a feature tree or a water body.  This respect to nature is quite apparent in the works of Tadao Ando.

On our way to Furano, we tried visiting Ando’s Chapel on the Water but failed to get in because of a private wedding taking place.  We decided to return once again when we left Furano.  To ensure entry, we managed to arrive at the official time for visit: 06:30 to 07:15.  Getting to the chapel in Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム) at 06:30 meaning we had to leave our hotel in Nakafurano at 5am.

IMG_0129We made it to Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム) on time for the 6:30 visiting time slot for Ando’s Chapel on the Water.

DSC_6240We were surprised to find that at least 30 people were already waiting for the staff in the waiting lobby.  We were soon led out to a path leading to the concrete enclosure of the chapel.

DSC_6154We walked along the concrete wall of the chapel until reaching an opening into the inner court.

DSC_6159Once we got into the inner court, we finally had our first glimpse of the beautiful chapel architecture and its famous cross in the water.

IMG_0050The entry path continued to the back corner of the chapel, where a flight of stairs led us up to the small semi enclosed platform dominated by the cross concrete members.

DSC_6228From the platform we followed a spiral staircase descending down to the main chapel space.

DSC_6183Used for wedding ceremonies, the chapel is simple and elegant.  The prime focus for all visitors is the view of the cross and water pond, which takes the place of the traditional altar piece.

DSC_6186The enormous opening can be shut with the hydraulic powered sliding door.

DSC_6206Once the door is shut, the sound of the moving water would be shut off from the interior.

DSC_6209The staff demonstrated the closing and opening of the sliding door for us.

DSC_6224Once the door was opened, the interior was filled with the sound of moving water again.

IMG_0060The exterior scenery was peaceful and calming.  The boundary between the interior and exterior didn’t seem to exist.

DSC_6225We could sit there for a long time just to take in the peaceful scenery and calming sound of water and birds.  We could imagine how the scenery might change in different seasons.

DSC_6233To exit, we followed the spiral staircase to the lower level, passed through a circular space and left the building from its side.

DSC_6235Outside the building, we could see the frame structure housing the track for the sliding door.

DSC_6239Just like the Church of Light, visiting an early work of Tadao Ando is always touching and inspiring.  Taking the effects of light, reflections, sounds and water to formulate the spatial qualities of the architecture, seeing his buildings has always been a spiritual experience for us.

NINGLE TERRACE (ニングルテラス), Furano (富良野), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.21

Day 7 (5/5).

After rolling hills of wheat fields and floral farms, it was about time for us to leave Furano.  Before calling it a day, we decided to end the day with a final touch of fairytale like fantasy.  Hidden in the forest adjacent to Prince Hotel Furano, the Ningle Terrace is consisted of fifteen shops housed in small fairytale like timber houses.  These houses are more than just cute eye candles.  Each shop is occupied by a local craftsman selling his or her unique handicrafts.  Owing to the power of the famous scriptwriter Sou Kuramoto (倉本 聰), the Ningle Terrace has become another attraction in Hokkaido related to his creative talents.  Used as the film set for one of Kuramoto’s work, deep in the forest Coffee Mori no Tokei (珈琲 森の時計) has become a pilgrimage site for his fans.

DSC_6145It was our final evening in Furano.  We decided to sought after a magical finale.

IMG_9989Before entering the forest of Ningle Terrace, we stopped by the interesting gift shop selling products related to Sou Kuramoto (倉本 聰).

IMG_999215 shops make up the beautiful Ningle Terrace.

IMG_9995The atmosphere of the Ningle Terrace was quite romantic with the lighting.

IMG_0013Deep in the forest stands Coffee Mori no Tokei (珈琲 森の時計), a filming place for one of Sou Kuramoto’s (倉本 聰) work.

IMG_0002The interior of Coffee Mori no Tokei (珈琲 森の時計) looks quite surreal.

IMG_0010Coffee Mori no Tokei (珈琲 森の時計) wasn’t full, but it was impossible for us to find a seat at the central communal table.

IMG_0007At Coffee Mori no Tokei (珈琲 森の時計), the central communal table is reserved for coffee lovers who wish to grind their own beans and make their own coffee.

IMG_0004Other than coffee, we also ordered a light dinner to end our day at Coffee Mori no Tokei (珈琲 森の時計).

PATCHWORK ROAD & PANORAMA ROAD, Biei (美瑛), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.21

Day 7 (4/5).

Famous for its rolling hills and agricultural fields under the shadows of Taisetsu (大雪山系) and Tokachi Range (十勝連峰), Biei has long been known for its beautiful rural scenery.  Throughout the years, Biei has been a popular filming location for television commercials, TV shows  and music videos.  To promote tourism, local officials have designated two driving routes: Patchwork Road and Panorama Road for exploring some of the best scenery of Biei.  These two routes bring visitors to meander between rolling hills and wheat fields and arrive at various lookouts, viewing towers, and parks.  With the aid of a tourist map and road signs, we managed to drive along these two routes to explore the area causally.

DSC_5974Just a stone throw away from Bi.Ble restaurant, we made a brief stop at Tree of Ken and Mary (ケンとメリーの木).  This poplar tree appeared on a 1973 Nissan Motor TV commercial, and has since then become a popular site for local visitors.

DSC_5988Known as a major attraction on the Patchwork Road, the pyramidal lookout at Hokusei-no-oka Observatory Park (北西の丘展望公園) offers visitors a 360 degree overview of the surrounding landscape.

DSC_5990At Hokusei-no-oka Observatory Park (北西の丘 展望公園), a man-size raccoon sculpture greeted all visitors among the vending machines.

DSC_6004Some tourists preferred to visit Sanai no Oka Observatory Park (三愛の丘展望公園) by cycling.

IMG_9937In June, the fields surrounding Sanai no Oka Observatory Park (三愛の丘展望公園) are covered in lush green wheat.

DSC_5999Wheat field near Sanai no Oka Observatory Park (三愛の丘展望公園).

IMG_9941Chiyoda no Oka Observation Deck (千代田の丘見晴らし台) situates away from main roads and receives only a handful of visitors throughout the day.

DSC_6027From Chiyoda no Oka Observation Deck (千代田の丘見晴らし台), we were impressed by the surrounding scenery.

DSC_6028Cattle roamed freely on a green slope near Chiyoda no Oka Observation Deck (千代田の丘見晴らし台).

DSC_6040We stopped by one of the many rolling wheat fields.

DSC_6041Some fields had yet occupied by farmer’s crops.

DSC_6060Large crows stood at the ridge of the hill to search for food.

DSC_6140Like Tuscany of Italy, Biei is largely covered with green rolling hills.

DSC_6072With 15 hectares of land, Shikisai No Oka (四季彩の丘) is one of the busiest tourist attractions in Biei.

DSC_6074 Again we were too early to see the full flower blossom at Shikisai No Oka (四季彩の丘).

DSC_6143 The supposedly colourful hills of Shikisai No Oka (四季彩の丘) were mainly green.

IMG_9980Despite heavily edited, the poster reveals what all tourists want to see when they come to Shikisai No Oka (四季彩の丘).

DSC_6124A fox family were running around the Shikisai No Oka (四季彩の丘) while we were ther.

IMG_9965The hay man welcomes every visitor at Shikisai No Oka (四季彩の丘).

BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.21

Day 7 (3/5).

Driving north from Farm Tomita in Nakafurano (中富良野) brought us to Biei (美瑛町) in half an hour.  We followed the GPS to look for Bi.Ble, a French restaurant that caught our attention while we researched for the trip.  Recommended by a guidebook, we were attracted by Bi.Ble’s dishes made from local ingredients, its pleasant timber interiors, and its picturesque setting surrounded by wheat fields.  The entire compound is consisted of four buildings: a culinary school and a staff/student dormitory occupying two former school buildings, a new one-storey hotel and a new restaurant facing a wheat field.  With the aid from GPS and Google Map, we didn’t have trouble finding the place and arrived at Bi.Ble at around 11:30am.  We didn’t make a reservation, and were lucky to get the last table available.  Other than the seafood of Shiretoko, dining at Bi.Ble to sample some of the best ingredients from Furano and Biei turned out to be one of the most remarkable meals we had throughout the trip.

DSC_5972Occupying the former Hokuei Elementary School, the Ecole Hoteliere Etude is a culinary school affiliated with Bi.Ble Restaurant.

DSC_5966It is green everywhere in Biei, even the school building.

DSC_5956Across from the school building stands a minimalist building cladded with green metal panels.  This new addition to the school complex serves as a hotel with several guestrooms facing the wheat field.

DSC_5968Each hotel room has a decent window.

IMG_9924Each room enjoys the view of the picturesque wheat field below.

DSC_5961Bi.Ble Restaurant is located at the far end of the compound.

DSC_5963Biei is well known for its high quality wheat and flour.  In July, the wheat would turn yellow.  By August, the wheat would be ready for harvest.

IMG_7286The first things that greeted our arrival at Bi.Ble was the famous bakery and its fireplace.

IMG_9885Almost all tables in the restaurant had been reserved.  Came without booking, we arrived just in time to sit down at the last available table facing the wheat field.

IMG_9886Beyond the wheat field lies the distant volcanic mountain ranges of Daisetsuzan and Tokachi, whose ashes produce the highly fertile soil of the area.

IMG_9890Perhaps the easiest way to appreciate the taste of Biei is to sample the simplest and purest ingredient of all, freshly baked bread made from the wheat of Biei.

IMG_9894Appetizers made with local pork and produces decorated with a touch of nature.

IMG_9899The dining experience at Bi.Ble was a fusion of French culinary techniques and Japanese aesthetics with the palette of Hokkaido.

IMG_9900From the local volcanic soil, even the most ordinary ingredients like carrot and potato tasted better.

IMG_9903Each dish was like a minimalist painting to us.

IMG_9905Each dish came in small portions, but it ended up quite a filling meal after all the courses.

IMG_9907A fine dessert to ended a special meal.

IMG_9915After visiting the lavender farms and floral fields of Furano, Bi.ble has given us another brilliant way to appreciate what the unique landscape of Central Hokkaido has to offer.

FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.21

Day 7 (2/5).

Known as one of the most popular attractions in Hokkaido, Farm Tomita (ファーム富田) is probably on every visitor’s itinerary when traveling in Central Hokkaido.  Situated in front of the beautiful Tokachi Mountain Range, the highly popular tourist attraction began as a humble farm back in 1903.  Not until 1958 when lavender was first planted in Farm Tomita for its essence.  After 1970, lavender farming had gone through a gradual decline due to its low profitability.  In 1976, a photograph of Tomita’s lavender fields appeared on a popular calendar published by JR, the national railway of Japan.  This calendar photo had completely changed the fate of Farm Tomita, converting it from a sleepy farm unknown to the public to a popular tourist attraction acclaimed to the entire nation.  Other than checking out the floral fields, visitors also come to purchase all kinds of lavender products, from hand soap, essence oil, perfume, and even food products.

We arrived at Farm Tomita at around 9am, less than half an hour after its opening time.  The farm was already packed with groups of visitors, and even the parking lot was almost filled up.  Given we came a few weeks out of peak season, we could imagine how busy it could become in late July.

DSC_5855Compared to other farms in the area, Farm Tomita is quite well organized.

DSC_5888Other than lavender, Farm Tomita also has a variety of floral fields to attract visitors, including the vivid Autumn Field where flowers would remain until the first frost.

DSC_5863In the Spring Field, Iceland poppies, oriental poppies, and chives offer visitors a beautiful scene prior to the lavender season.

DSC_5874The Spring Field was full of life.

DSC_5878With flavour of onions and garlic, Chive flowers can also be used as herbs.

DSC_5885Iceland poppies are hardy perennial found in many parts in the world.

IMG_9815Just like our earlier encounters, the lavender had yet reached their full bloom at Tomita.

DSC_5893But that wouldn’t discourage visitors to pose for photos in the lavender fields.

DSC_5901The scent of lavender filled the air.

DSC_5904The sloped lavender field is the favorite photo spot for many visitors coming to Tomita.

DSC_5913We could imagine the layers of purple waves in a few weeks’ time.

DSC_5932Many love to stand in the rows of lavender for photos.

DSC_5936Somehow the sloped terrain of the field was perfect for appreciating the layering lavender.

DSC_5934Other types of lavender had yet developed their buds.

IMG_7240A number of houses in the farm contain displays of old distillery tools.

IMG_7262As well as information on essence extract process.

IMG_9833At Tomita, many souvenirs are made with lavender essence, including bathing soap.

IMG_9864Not as famous as Yubari (夕張) Melon, Furano Melon is nonetheless the must-have snacks for tourists coming to the farm.

DSC_5954After a relaxing stroll in the farm, it was time for us to bid farewell to Tomita and moved on the the nearby Biei.