ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Japan

ARCADES & TEMPLES, Nishiki Market (錦市場) & Teramachi Shopping Street (寺町通商店街), Kyoto, Japan

No matter in Rome, Buenos Aires or Hong Kong, taking morning walks is always one of our most enjoyable ways to appreciate a city. With an ever-present tranquility, elegance and otherworldliness, Kyoto is perfect for a morning stroll, especially to appreciate the beautiful tones of aged timber, indigo shingles and seasonal vegetation all under the crisp air of surrounding mountains. And what’s best to start a morning walk? For us, it’s a cup of good coffee. Tucked in a corner of an almost unnoticeable parking lot a block away from Nishiki Market (錦市場), a tiny coffee shop successfully captured our attention with its rich aroma and lovely ambience. Housed in an old machiya house, Weekenders Coffee provokes memories of a traditional kissaten (喫茶店) where writers and intellectuals in the old days gathered for a cup of tea or coffee. Opened since 2005, Weekenders was one of the first espresso shops in Kyoto. At Weekenders, a few customers may gather at the forecourt sipping coffee while resting the eyes upon a tiny Japanese garden. This was exactly what we did: sitting in front of the coffee shop at 7:30 in the morning, sniffing in fresh morning air and coffee aroma, and being enchanted with the pleasure of life.

At Nishiki Market, pickle vendors and fishmongers were busy setting up their stores. Laughter and giggles could be heard behind the counter of a tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette) shop, where a team of staff were busy making omelettes for the day. It was still way too early to taste the food and shop for grocery at the iconic 400-year-old market. Unlike the crowded scenes during our 2016 visit, this time we almost had Nishiki all by ourselves. At the eastern end of where the market met Teramachi Shopping Street, we were once again attracted by the lanterns of Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine (錦天満宮) just like in 2016. Headed north from the shrine, we entered the arcade of Teramachi Shopping Street (寺町通商店街), a famous destination for both locals and tourists.

Literally means “Temple Town Street”, Teramachi (寺町通) has much more to offer than a covered arcade both sides flanked by shops. In 1590, 80 or so Buddhist temples from the area were relocated to Teramachi. It was Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉), the powerful daimyo (feudal lord) or de facto ruler of Japan, who ordered the move during Sengoku period (戦国時代) in the late 16th century. In the subsequent centuries, stores selling books, Buddhist rosaries, medicine, stationery, handicrafts and clothing flourished and gradually developed into the present arcades. Today, in the midst of shops, restaurants, and entertainment facilities, places of worship and even small graveyards maintain a strong presence at Teramachi, with temple entrances open right next to boutiques and stores. While most shops on Teramachi and the adjacent Shinkyogoku Shopping Street (新京極商店街) had yet opened for business, we took the opportunity to do some temple hopping while window shopping at the same time.

Hidden in a corner of a neighborhood parking lot, Weekenders Coffee offers great coffee in a traditional setting. [2022.12.27]
The coffee aroma goes well with the traditional machiya setting. [2022.12.27]
Weekenders Coffee is the perfect place to start the day. [2022.12.27]
The tiny forecourt has a certain zen quality that calms every customer. [2022.12.27]
A marvelous cup of latte to start our first full day in Kyoto. [2022.12.27]
After Weekenders, we walked over to Nishiki, the 400 year old market at the heart of Kyoto. [2022.12.27]
We came too early. Most shops at Nishiki Market had yet opened for business. [2022.12.27]
Staff at Miki Keiran (三木鶏卵) tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette) shop were busy preparing omelettes for the day. [2022.12.27]
Unlike 2016’s visit, we didn’t eat or buy anything at Nishiki Market. [2022.12.27]
Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine (錦天満宮) marks the eastern end of Nishiki Market. [2022.12.27]
The lanterns of Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine forms a lovely gateway to the shrine compound. [2022.12.27]
Nade-ushi, the cow messenger associated with the deity of Tenjin, the god of scholarship, is proudly on display at Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine. [2022.12.27]
Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine is full of fine details and elegant offerings. [2022.12.27]
It was surprising to see red maple leaves were still around at the end of December. [2022.12.27]
From Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine, we turned north onto Teramachi Shopping Street. [2022.12.27]
Perhaps it was the cold weather, we were quite hungry as we walked. We stopped briefly at a local bakery chain store Pan-no-Tajima (パンの田島) for a quick breakfast before continuing our walk. [2022.12.27]
Along with the adjacent Shinkyogoku Shopping Street (新京極商店街), the covered arcade of Teramachi (寺町通) offers a wide range of merchandises, from clothing, books, souvenirs to religious goods. [2022.12.27]
The covered arcades also serve as a primary entertainment district for the younger generation. [2022.12.27]
Selfie backdrops for New Year celebration could be found at a number of spots in the shopping arcades. [2022.12.27]
Wandering at the shopping arcade in early morning when most shops were still shuttered offer us a quiet moment to admire the visual complexity of the retail district. [2022.12.27]
Literally means “Temple Town Street”, Teramachi (寺町通) is home to many temples and shrines since Toyotomi Hideyoshi relocated a large group of religious institutions into Downtown Kyoto four hundred years ago. [2022.12.27]
Thanks to the red banners, Eifuku-ji Temple (永福寺) and Takoyakushi-dō (蛸薬師堂) is one of many temples relocated to Teramachi Shopping Street 400 years ago. [2022.12.27]
Behind a few clothing stores we found the entrance of Seishin-in Temple (誠心院), and a cheerful selfie backdrop to welcome New Year visitors. [2022.12.27]
In such close proximity to the busy shopping arcades, it was a surprise to find a cemetery behind Seishin-in. [2022.12.27]
The cemetery at Seishin-in appeared like a tranquil backyard for the temple. [2022.12.27]
The triangular Rokkun Plaza (ろっくんプラザ) is a well known meeting point at the heart of the shopping arcades. [2022.12.27]

FIRST GETAWAY SINCE THE PANDEMIC, Kyoto (京都) and Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉), Japan. 2022.12.26 – 2023.01.01

After returning from Sri Lanka in December 2019, we never thought it would be another three years before we could travel again. Haven’t traveled for such a long time, it almost felt a little surreal when we went online to purchase the plane tickets. In fact, our trip was a rather ad-hoc decision made less than ten days before departure. To resume traveling after Covid, Japan was an intuitive choice for us, where cities are clean, people friendly, and the food fantastic. A revisit to Kyoto was always in our mind since our last visit in 2016. Kyoto is such an amazing city where we can wander around aimlessly from dawn till dusk, just to take in the rich history, seasonal colours, and serene ambience. Apart from Kyoto, we picked Kinosaki Onsen, a hot spring town 2.5 hours train ride away, as a side trip. After booking one of the last Kinosaki ryokan rooms available online, buying a new suitcase (we threw out the old one during the pandemic), and uploading our vaccination papers to the Japanese authorities, we could finally think about what to do in Kyoto. The planning turned out not as easy as we thought, since many attractions, museums, shops and restaurants would be closed around the New Year. On the other hand, staying in Kyoto for the New Year to witness their traditional celebrations could be a unique and remarkable experience.

After hosting our best friend for dinner at our apartment on Christmas Day, we left for the airport before dawn on Boxing Day. Hong Kong International Airport was full of outbound travelers like us, who were desperate to fly out the city as soon as the Covid restrictions were relaxed. We were overwhelmed by joy and excitement as soon as we boarded the plane. Didn’t recall we have ever got so excited just to look out the window and watch the plane lifting off. After three hours of flying, our plane made a turn over the mouth of Yoshino River (吉野川) and Tokushima (徳島), and gradually descended over the waters of Wakayama Bay (和歌山湾) and Osaka Bay (大阪湾) towards Kansai Airport. Several minutes later, our plane gently touched down onto the tarmac runway, signifying our return to Japan after 3.5 years. Despite the additional Covid related procedures, our arrival at Kansai Airport was rather smooth and hassle free. After picking up the JR rail passes and topping up our old ICOCA cards, we hopped on the Haruka Express train bounded for Kyoto Station (京都駅).

Evening had already fallen upon by the time we arrived in Kyoto. Under the glazed canopy, the splendid station atrium was teeming with rush hour travelers. We found our way to Shijo Karasuma (四条烏丸), checked in at our hotel, and immediately headed out to look for a restaurant (as we had skipped lunch on the plane). In Downtown Kyoto, we were spoiled with dining options. Before eating, we stopped by a small shop selling traditional Kyoto pickles or Tsukemono (漬物), a regional household delicacy dated back to the pre refrigeration years. All kinds of local vegetables pickled in salt, soya sauce, vinegar, or miso, and packed in lovely wrapping. It was impossible to resist and we ended up getting some to bring home. For dinner, we picked a cozy izakaya with a decent menu of deep fried Kyoto snacks. Fried shrimps and beef skewers topped with sea urchin, all washed down with sips of local sake. What a perfect treat to make us forget about the pandemic misery and officially kick start our short Kyoto vacation.

We arrived at Hong Kong International Airport after sunrise. [2022.12.26]
It was exciting to resume traveling after three years of pandemic. [2022.12.26]
Our plane made a turn over Yoshino River and Tokushima before descending to Osaka Bay and Kansai International Airport. [2022.12.26]
The JR office at Kansai Airport is often the first site where foreign travelers would visit. [2022.12.26]
By the time we hopped on a Kyoto bounded Haruka Express train, the sun was already setting. [2022.12.26]
Kyoto Station was teemed with pedestrians when we arrived in the evening. [2022.12.26]
Outside the station, the 131m-Kyoto Tower stood proudly as the tallest structure in the city. [2022.12.26]
The inner streets of Shijo Karasuma were full of lovely machiya (町家), traditional wooden houses with ground floor shops and upper residences. [2022.12.26]
Housed in machiya, small shops or restaurants in Downtown Kyoto were cozy and warm. [2022.12.26]
Before dinner, we stopped by Eirakuya (永楽屋室町店) to shop for traditional Kyoto pickles or Tsukemono (漬物) and Japanese confections. (2022.12.26)
We ended up picking an izakaya serving deep fried snacks for dinner. [2022.12.26]
The deep fried snacks went perfectly well with sake and beer. [2022.12.26]
Our hotel blended in well with the surrounding machiya houses. [2022.12.26]
A lush green courtyard sat silently as the centerpiece of our hotel lobby. [2022.12.26]
During breakfast time, our hotel restaurant was quite popular among local Japanese. [2022.12.27]
Just a stone throw away from our hotel, Karasuma Dori (烏丸通り) is the main north south thoroughfare in Kyoto. [2022.12.27]
A morning stroll around the neighbourhood of Shijo Karasuma brought us face to face with many machiya houses. [2022.12.27]
Since Kyoto was spared from bombing during WWII, many machiya houses survive till the present day. [2022.12.27]
Other than traditional houses, minimalist modern buildings dotted around Shijo Karasuma as well. [2022.12.27]
Interesting buildings include this office block near our hotel. [2022.12.27]
But what caught our eyes in most cases were always the timber machiya houses of Kyoto. [2022.12.27]

THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE GINZA, Causeway Bay (銅鑼灣), Hong Kong

It is no coincidence that Hong Kong was able to establish itself as an international shopping destination. Without sales tax and tariffs on most goods, geographical proximity to China and other manufacturing Asian countries, decades of expertise in sourcing, trading and global logistics, large demand on products from all over the world and at every price ranges, all contribute to the relatively low consumer prices and high merchandise variety in Hong Kong. Bilingual with English and Chinese also help to cement Hong Kong as a popular shopping paradise for international tourists, receiving over 65 million visitors a year (2018). To talk about the development of the retail scene in Hong Kong, it is impossible not to touch upon Causeway Bay, the city’s prime shopping district. And to talk about the emergence of Causeway Bay, the story should trace back to 1960.

On 3rd of November 1960, thousands of spectators arrived at the intersection of Great George Street (記利佐治街) and Paterson Street (百德新街) to witness a 4000-guest cocktail party for the grand opening of Daimaru (大丸). Back then, little people would foresee that a new upscale Japanese department store in the warehouse dominated East Point (東角) would rapidly and dramatically transform the urban landscape into a vibrant shopping hub that we now call Causeway Bay. It is no exaggeration to say that the arrival of Daimaru was revolutionary to most Hongkongers: 400 staff trained in Japanese etiquette, row of staff bowing at entrance to greet customers, customer-first services, fixed prices, delivery services, split payments, trial eats, attractive displays, soft background music, facial care services, 60% products made in Japan, and even ladies dressed in kimono to serve customers for trial makeups. These may sound no big deal today, but in 1960 the innovative shopping experience has become an instant legend, drawing almost 100,000 customers on the second day of business. After Daimaru, the next two decades saw another three Japanese department stores arriving in Causeway Bay. In its heyday, over 500,000 sf of retail space in Causeway Bay were split among the four department stores: Daimaru (大丸 1960 – 1998), Matsuzakaya (松坂屋 1975 – 1998), Mitsukoshi (三越 1981 – 2006) and SOGO (崇光 1985 – present). From then on, Causeway Bay has become the most essential shopping district in Hong Kong nicknamed as Little Ginza. The Japanese department stores have become synonymous to fancy home appliances, trendy fashion, delightful toys and mouthwatering food-hall, just as Daimaru has become synonymous to Causeway Bay, where public minibuses designated to the area would simply put Daimaru’s Chinese name dai yuen (大丸) as the destination.

Japan’s “Lost Decade” economic stagnation in 1990’s and the shift of consumer culture towards shopping malls significantly affect the Japanese department stores. After 38 years, Daimaru ended its business in Hong Kong in 1998, the same year when Matsuzakaya also closed its store at Patterson Street. Mitsukoshi was doing fine in Causeway Bay, generating 40% of its overseas earning from Hong Kong alone, but was forced to exit the city in 2006 due to demolition of its host building, Hennessy Centre, to make way for the much taller Hysan Place Shopping Centre. Thanks to a takeover by a local billionaire, SOGO remains as today’s anchoring landmark at the iconic street crossing that defines the very heart of Causeway Bay. With Asia’s largest LED screen installed in 2017, SOGO and the little triangular patch of pedestrian entrance forecourt remain as the most popular meeting spot in the area. Apart from financial crisis and change of consumer taste, one of the biggest issues behind the department stores’ inevitable demise was probably Hong Kong’s skyrocketing real estate price and retail rent in the past two decades, especially in Causeway Bay. In 2011, a 1000 sf (plus 600 sf mezzanine) noodle shop near Times Square was sold for a whopping HK$100m (US$ 12.7m). Without factoring in salary and utility expenses, the shop would need to sell 500 noodle bowls each day for 19 years in order to see the same HK$100m on their balance sheet. Eight years later in 2019, the same retail space changed hands again for HK$180m (US$ 22.9m). 2019 also saw Causeway Bay having the world’s most expensive retail rent for the sixth time since 2013, at US$2,671/ sf annually. In comparison, Upper 5th Avenue in New York was at US$2,250, London’s New Bond Street at US$1,744, Paris’ Avenue des Champs Elysées at US$1,519, Milan’s Via Monte Napoleone at US$1,466, and Tokyo’s Ginza at US$1,219. At such rate, not many shops, especially a multi-level department store, can manage a consistent revenue to commit a long term lease. Interestingly, the rent has dramatically dropped in recent years due to the pandemic.

From the rise of Daimaru, to establishing Causeway Bay as a shopping paradise and the world’s highest retail rental market, to the declining retail scene due to overinflated rents and recent pandemic, a cycle might have come to a full circle. Not only did the Japanese department stores help to define the development and urban landscape of Causeway Bay, they also contribute on establishing Hong Kong’s consumer culture that worth US$5.2 billion a month (2016), and successful build up Hongkongers’ common interest on Japanism, from consumer products and hospitality to food and culture. A generation has gone by since the closure of Daimaru, Japan remains as the no. 1 travel destination for Hongkongers, even for youngsters who have never experienced Little Ginza in Hong Kong.

A shopping centre known as Fashion Walk now occupies the space of the former Daimaru. [Photo: Great George Street, 2020]
Across from Fashion Walk, another shopping centre Causeway Place (銅鑼灣地帶) [Photo: Great George Street, 2020]
Diagonally across from the former Daimaru stood the site of the former Matsuzakaya (松坂屋) Department Store. The multi level space is now home to a flagship store of H&M. [Photo: Intersection of Great George Street and Paterson Street, 2022]
Just 30m west of Fashion Walk, the entrance of SOGO Department Store at East Point Road and the busy pedestrian crossing in front have become the most iconic urban scenery of Causeway Bay. [Photo: Hennessy Road/ Yee Wo Street crossing, 2020]
Outside of SOGO, a large crowd gathers in front of the LED screen of Island Beverley Shopping Mall (金百利中心) on 30th of April 2022 to celebrate the birthday of Keung To’s (姜濤), a local celebrity from the popular boy group Mirror. [Photo: East Point Road, 2022]
The streets surrounding SOGO are some of the busiest streets in the area. [Photo: East Point Road, 2020]
In the years before the pandemic, only shops catered for Mainland Chinese tourists, such as pharmacies and jewellery shops, could afford the outrageous high rents surrounding SOGO. [Photo: Lockhart Road, 2014]
From SOGO, the pedestrianized East Point Road extends below Laforet (東角) shopping centre to World Trade Shopping Centre and the former Excelsior Hotel. [Photo: East Point Road, 2014]
Billboards and LED screens are everywhere in the area surrounding SOGO. [Photo: East Point Road, 2014]
Measured 72m x 19m with a surface area larger than five full sized tennis courts, the LED screen on the building facade of SOGO Department Store facing Hennessy Road is the largest LED outdoor screen in the Asia Pacific. [Photo: bend of Hennessy Road and Yee Wo Street, 2020]
SOGO’s large LED screen can be fully appreciated further down the road from Yee Wo Street. [Photo: Yee Wo Street, 2020]
Replacing the 41-storey Hennessy Centre (興利中心) where the former Mitsukoshi Department Store was located with today’s Hysan Place was a bet on the success of a vertical shopping centre. [Photo: Hennessy Road, 2022]
Appeared as facade features facing Hennessy Road, the express escalators provide convenient access to different vertical shopping zones in Hysan Place. [Photo: Hysan Place, 2022]
Look down from Hysan Place, the forecourt of SOGO and the Hennessy Road/ Yee Wo Street crossing always look busy. [Photo: Hysan Place, 2022]
Most of the building facade of Hysan Place on Hennessy Road is reserved for the office lobby entrances. [Photo: Hennessy Road, 2021]
Social unrest and the pandemic in recent years have greatly impacted the retail business in Causeway Bay. [Photo: former Nike flagship store at intersection of Hennessy Road and Percival Street, 2022]
Situated across Paterson Street from the former Daimaru Department Store, the 4-storey Don Don Donki at Pearl City was the most recent introduction to the area. Opened in 2020 during the pandemic, the Japanese discount shop seems to be quite confident in Causeway Bay’s retail scene in the near future. [2022]

HOW WE USED TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS

2020.12.24.

We got off work early for Christmas Eve. Some restaurants were about to close as we picked up our takeout from a small Japanese restaurant in Tai Hang. In Hong Kong, no restaurant is allowed to serve customers (except takeouts) after 6pm. No countdown events, Christmas parties or family gatherings. Just a simple dinner at home for the two of us seemed to be the most appropriate Christmas Eve celebration for this unusual year. 2020 is an extraordinary year. I can hardly recall another incident in my lifetime that has simultaneously affected virtually every single human being in the world. The terrible pandemic is forcing all of us to face the same fear, frustration and isolation. Most planes have been grounded, borders shut, and international tourism has almost come to a complete halt. This abrupt disruption to our lives lead us to realize that celebrating a festive moment with families and friends or spending the holiday season at a foreign land shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Memory is interesting when it works with time. At this bizarre moment of frustrating lock downs and social distancing, a recollection of how we had spent Christmas and New Year in the past two decades remind us how we used to freely experience the world and appreciate every little things around us. Looking beyond the vivid fireworks and lavish parties, it was our curiosity, freedom and gratefulness that allowed these joyful moments to simply make us happy in different stages of our lives. At this time of physical restrictions and emotional stress, looking back at these little moments of ours have become more precious than ever. Everyone deserves memories of celebrations that worth cherishing. Hope our little sharing would remind you some of your own best moments of Christmas.

We wish you Merry Christmas and good health for the upcoming 2021.

Separately we both had a school term in Rome. In the eternal city, both our studio and apartment were located in the lively neighbourhood of Trastevere.
Rome, December 2002
Wooden decorations for Christmas tree, festive balloons, magic shows, and many others. The Christmas market at Piazza Navona was our first experience of an European Christmas.
Rome, December 2002
I used to go to Vatican for evening walks during my stay in Rome. Vatican was relatively quiet and peaceful throughout much of December. A large Christmas tree was put up at St. Peter’s Square.
Vatican, December 2002
Another big Christmas tree was set up at the Victor Emmanuel II Monument.
Rome, December 2002
After graduation, we moved to London in 2007. At Christmas, we made a short trip to the Belgian capital for Christmas break. Like many locals and tourists, we spent the night at the Grand Place for light shows and Christmas countdown.
Brussels, Christmas Eve, 2007
Back in London, the Covent Garden was particularly festive during Christmas. The Apple Market was full of delightful vendor stalls and dining patios.
London, December 2007
Elegant, sparkling, and eye catching. One thing we loved about Christmas in London were the amazing shop windows.
London, England, January 2008
Cinema became a big part of our lives in London. We often went to the BFI and Leicester Square after work. At Leicester Square, a carousel and small fair would be set up during the holiday season.
London, December 2008
We decided to stay in England at our second Christmas in London. We made a short trip to the area of Liverpool and Manchester. During that trip, we were particularly fond of the Christmas lights in Leeds.
Leeds, England, December 2008
In 2009, we returned to Toronto to do our professional licensing. In Toronto, Christmas is always cozy and homey, and so does its lights.
Toronto, December 2010
In 2011, we made a trip to Cambodia and Hong Kong. With two of our friends, we experienced one of the most noisy countdown at the bustling Pub Street in Siem Reap.
Siem Reap, New Year’s Eve 2011
On our way to New Year’s countdown in Downtown Toronto, we stopped by the atmospheric Distillery District to test out my new DSLR. From then on, film camera has eventually faded out from my travel packing list.
Toronto, New Year’s Eve 2012
Before relocating to Hong Kong, we made our 90-day trip to South America. We spent the entire month of December in Patagonia and made it to Ushuaia (world’s southernmost city) in Argentina. Reaching the “End of the World” definitely deserved an early Christmas dinner at the beautiful Kaupe restaurant.
Ushuaia, December 2013
Ushuaia is the main port going to Antarctica. We didn’t take the chance to do an Antarctica Christmas trip. Perhaps we would regret it, who knows.
Ushuaia, December 2013
For almost a week we based ourselves at Argentina’s El Chalten to do day hikes near Mount Fitz Roy. At Christmas Eve, we did the longest day hike of the week to the glacier lake right below the magnificent mountain.
Mount Fitz Roy, Christmas Eve 2013
We booked the best room at Yellow House Hotel well in advance just to take in the panoramic harbour view of Chile’s Valparaiso, and enjoy the world famous New Year fireworks from the comfort of our room.
Valparaiso, New Year’s Day 2014
Getting off work at 2:30pm on Christmas Eve, talked about a short getaway trip during dinner, bought the plane ticket right away, then packed a small carryon bag and get a bit of sleep before heading off to Hong Kong International Airport at around 2:30am on Christmas Day. At 7 in the morning, we finally arrived in Taiwan. That trip remains as our quickest travel decision so far.
Main Station, Taipei, Christmas Day 2014
Thanks to the convenient public transportation network, we have been to many neighbourhoods across the city of Hong Kong. Because of Cinematheque movie centre, we often find ourselves in Yau Ma Tei, home to a wide spectrum of people from new immigrants to elderly. Christmas Carol in Yau Ma Tei has to be catered for all.
Hong Kong, Christmas Eve 2015
New Year, Chinese New Year, HKSAR Anniversary, and Chinese National Day. There were once numerous firework displays each year over the iconic Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. All shows have been scrapped for 2020.
Hong Kong, New Year’s Eve 2015
Most Hong Kongers love to visit Japan, and so do we. Their fine sense of beauty and comfortable balance between traditions and technologies go beyond just commercialized eye candy for festival decorations and celebrations.
Railway Station, Kyoto, December 2016
Famous for their lighting technologies, Christmas lights in Japan often create a coherent ambience reflecting their pursuit of romantic fantasy for the holiday season.
Kyoto, December 2016
Under the dreamy lights, the sense of community remains strong during Christmas in Japan.
Kyoto, December 2016
We didn’t expect to see Christmas celebrations in Myanmar (Burma), a Buddhist nation in Southeast Asia. Seeing such a large crowd and festive decorations in Yangon was a pleasant surprise.
Yangon, December 2017
Christmas celebration, Southeast Asian style. Street food is definitely a must.
Yangon, December 2017
I took my parents to Shanghai for a short trip. At the Bund, we passed by the historical Peace Hotel and its Christmas tree.
Shanghai, December 2018
After two trips to India, our third journeys to South Asia was a winter getaway to Sri Lanka. The trip was full of history, spices and fine tea. In a Buddhist country, we were surprised to see so many churches in Negombo, a coastal town near Colombo. A heritage since the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, Christmas is celebrated in a number of coastal towns in Sri Lanka.
Negombo, December 2019
After visiting and staying at a number of cities around the world, Hong Kong remains as our top destination to experience the festive energy and Christmas decorations in an urban setting. Political and social unrest in 2019 have taken a toll in the financial hub. Tai Kwun, a cultural and commercial complex at the former colonial police headquarters in Central, remained as the place to go for expats and the younger generation.
Tai Kwun, Hong Kong, December 2019
Due to the pandemic, most Christmas celebrations have been cancelled across the city. Christmas trees have been downsized, and lighting decorations have been scaled down. In Central District of Hong Kong, the high-end commercial complex Landmark Atrium remains as one of the few venues still maintain a relatively large Christmas installation.
Landmark, Hong Kong, December 2020
But perhaps the most representational thing for this year’s festival season is the Christmas face mask. Social distancing with a bit of festive joy, why not?
Hong Kong, December 2020

RED STAR & GENGKIS KHAN, Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール株式会社), Sapporo (札幌), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.25

Day 11 (2/2).

When people mention “Sapporo” many will immediately think of beer.  Established in 1876 as Kaitakushi Brewery (Pioneer Brewery, 開拓使麦酒醸造所), Sapporo Beer is the oldest Japanese beer.  It was the pioneer period when the Meiji government raced to settle on the Island of Hokkaido ahead of the expanding Russians.  A regional government known as Kaitakushi (開拓使) or Hokkaido Development Commission was set up in Sapporo to oversee the island’s pioneer development .  Reference to the northern Pole Star, a red star is used as the symbol of the Kaitakushi.  This Kaitakushi red star appeared throughout the old Hokkaido, from building facades such as the Sapporo Clock Tower to bottle labels of Sapporo Beer.

After visiting the Former Hokkaido Government Building, we made our way to the Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール博物館), the historical brewery about half an hour walk from Sapporo Clock Tower.  We have decided to spend the last few hours of our trip to learn more about beer making in Hokkaido.  We also planned to fill our stomach at the museum’s Beer Garden with a Genghis Khan or (Jingisukan, ジンギスカン) lunch.  Not sure if it has anything to do with Mongolia, the Genghis Khan is a local Hokkaido dish serving grilled lamb and local vegetables on a special round grill.  Perhaps in reference to the lamb eating custom of Mongolian soldiers back in the prewar years, Genghis Khan (Jingisukan, ジンギスカン) has become a popular local dish after a sheep farm was set up in Hokkaido in 1918.  The first Genghis Khan (Jingisukan) restaurant opened in Tokyo in 1936.  Decades after Genghis Khan restaurants continue to flourish in Hokkaido.  For our 2019 Hokkaido trip, a hearty meal of grill lamb and draught beer at the historical brewery of Sapporo Beer offered us a satisfying closure.

IMG_1012On our way to Sapporo Beer Museum, we passed by Sapporo Factory (サッポロファクトリー), a shopping and entertainment complex housed in a former brewery of Kaitakushi Brewery, the predecessor of Sapporo Beer.

IMG_1014The building of Sapporo Factory was renovated and converted into a commercial complex in 1993.

DSC_6612At Sapporo Factory Hall, there is a small exhibition house that tells the story of beer making in Hokkaido.  The Kaitakushi star can be seen at the small exhibition house.

DSC_6619We arrived at Sapporo Beer Museum after another 15 minute walk from Sapporo Factory.

DSC_6620Visitors gathered at the entrance to wait for the museum to open its door.

DSC_6623An enormous brew kettle greet all museum visitors at the entry hall.

IMG_1033On display are some of the earliest beer bottles from the late 19th century.

DSC_6627No matter how the label design has evolved throughout the past century, the star of Kaitakushi remains as a visual focus.

DSC_6630The evolution of marketing posters reflects the social and cultural changes in the past century.

DSC_6641Since 1966, the Beer Hall at Sapporo Beer Museum has been a popular restaurant serving the Mongolian barbecue Genghis Khan.

IMG_1056Genghis Khan is self served on a special round grill.

IMG_1058We ordered different kinds of lamb meat.

IMG_8113Not to be missed were the special draught beer at the Beer Hall.

IMG_8119The bear sculpture in the gift shop reminded us of the wilderness of Eastern Hokkaido.

DSC_6647After the hearty lunch, we walked around the museum ground for a bit.

DSC_6651Until it was time for us to pick up our backpacks at Cross Hotel and headed for New Chitose Airport. This concludes our 11-day Hokkaido journey.

* * *

Introduction
HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道)

Day 1 – from Tokyo to Shiretoko Peninsula
Day 1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
Day 1.2 ARRIVAL IN SHIRETOKO, Utoro (ウトロ)

Day 2 – Utoro
Day 2.1 SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖)
Day 2.2 UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂)
Day 2.3 FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝)

Day 3 – Rausu
Day 3.1 RUSA FIELD HOUSE (ルサフィールドハウス)
Day 3.2 JUN NO BANYA (純の番屋)

Day 4 – Rausu
Day 4.1 MOUNT RAUSU (羅臼岳)
Day 4.2 FANTASTIC ORCAS, Nemuro Strait (根室海峡)

Day 5 – Lake Mashu & Lake Akan
Day 5.1 SUNRISE AT LAKE MASHU (摩周湖)
Day 5.2 MOUNT MASHU TRAIL (摩周岳) , Teshikaga (弟子屈)
Day 5.3 SILENT NIGHT AT LAKE AKAN (阿寒湖)

Day 6 – On the road from Lake Akan to Furano
Day 6.1 FISHERMEN BELOW MISTY OAKAN (雄阿寒岳), Lake Akan (阿寒湖)
Day 6.2 TREATS OF OBIHIRO (帯広), Tokachi (十勝)
Day 6.3 ARRIVING IN FURANO (富良野)

Day 7 Furano & Biei
Day 7.1 LAVENDER BUDS, Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.2 FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.3 BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.4 PATCHWORK ROAD & PANORAMA ROAD, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.5 NINGLE TERRACE (ニングルテラス)

Day 8 – from Furano to Otaru
Day 8.1 CHURCH ON THE WATER (水の教会), Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム)
Day 8.2 HILL OF THE BUDDHA (頭大仏), Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園)
Day 8.3 SEAFOOD, CANAL, & HISTORY, Otaru (小樽)
Day 8.4 RAINY NIGHT IN OTARU, Otaru (小樽)

Day 9 – Yochi & Sapporo
Day 9.1 NIKKA YOICHI DISTILLERY (余市蒸溜所), Yoichi (余市)
Day 9.2 SOUP CURRY NIGHT

Day 10 – Sapporo
10.1 OKKAIDO SHRINE (北海道神宮 )
10.2 MORIHICO COFFEE (森彦珈琲本店)
10.3 KITAKARO SAPPORO HONKAN (北菓楼札幌本館)
10.4 SATURDAYS CHOCOLATE
10.5 GOTSUBO OYSTER BAR(五坪)
10.6 MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠)

Day 11 – Sapporo
11.1 FORMER HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE (北海道庁旧本庁舎)
11.2 RED STAR & GENGKIS KHAN, Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール株式会社)


FORMER HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE (北海道庁旧本庁舎), Sapporo (札幌), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.25

Day 11 (1/2).

Maybe it was the city’s grid road system, or the influence of Massachusetts Professor William Clark who came to set up Sapporo Agricultural College and whose teaching “boys, be ambitious” has become a motto for not just Sapporo but the entire Hokkaido, or the pioneer heritage developed in the 19th century when Japanese came to settle on this northern island of native Ainu, or an ambience generated by the many Western buildings in Downtown Sapporo, Sapporo does to a certain extent resemble the United States of America.  Looking at some of the city’s most well known buildings, such as the Clock Tower (時計台) and the Former Hokkaido Government Office (北海道庁旧本庁舎), a strong sense of Western touches reveal a pristine version of the American dream enrooted in the Japanese soil over half a century before the end of WWII.

It was the last day of our Hokkaido journey.  We had half day of time before leaving for the airport.  Leaving behind our luggage at Cross Hotel, we headed two blocks west to the forecourt of the Former Hokkaido Government Office.  Nicknamed the “red brick building”, the American Neo-Baroque building has housed the seat of Hokkaido’s government for over 80 years.  Through its display of artefacts and old photographs, the Former Hokkaido Government Office is a popular attraction for tourists to get a brief understanding of Hokkaido’s history.

DSC_6494The famous Sapporo Clock Tower reminded us of the American Midwest.

DSC_6588Nicknamed the “red brick building”, the American Neo-Baroque building has housed the seat of Hokkaido’s government for over 80 years.

IMG_1003The building has gone through a few renovations throughout history until the current red brick appearance.

DSC_6594Inside the building, the beautiful wooden staircase is one of the biggest features of the architecture.

DSC_6598The wooden details of the stair at the Former Hokkaido Government Office.

DSC_6600Not the most ornate wooden stair, the building interior reveals a certain simplicity and rawness of the pioneer era.

DSC_6602The building was the seat of Hokkaido for over 80 years.

IMG_8070For us, old photographs in the building which told the pioneer story of Sapporo were perhaps the most interesting display.

IMG_1007The “pioneer” train carriage was once filled with the dreams and stories of the early Japanese pioneers in the nation’s wild wild west.

* * *

Introduction
HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道)

Day 1 – from Tokyo to Shiretoko Peninsula
Day 1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
Day 1.2 ARRIVAL IN SHIRETOKO, Utoro (ウトロ)

Day 2 – Utoro
Day 2.1 SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖)
Day 2.2 UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂)
Day 2.3 FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝)

Day 3 – Rausu
Day 3.1 RUSA FIELD HOUSE (ルサフィールドハウス)
Day 3.2 JUN NO BANYA (純の番屋)

Day 4 – Rausu
Day 4.1 MOUNT RAUSU (羅臼岳)
Day 4.2 FANTASTIC ORCAS, Nemuro Strait (根室海峡)

Day 5 – Lake Mashu & Lake Akan
Day 5.1 SUNRISE AT LAKE MASHU (摩周湖)
Day 5.2 MOUNT MASHU TRAIL (摩周岳) , Teshikaga (弟子屈)
Day 5.3 SILENT NIGHT AT LAKE AKAN (阿寒湖)

Day 6 – On the road from Lake Akan to Furano
Day 6.1 FISHERMEN BELOW MISTY OAKAN (雄阿寒岳), Lake Akan (阿寒湖)
Day 6.2 TREATS OF OBIHIRO (帯広), Tokachi (十勝)
Day 6.3 ARRIVING IN FURANO (富良野)

Day 7 Furano & Biei
Day 7.1 LAVENDER BUDS, Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.2 FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.3 BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.4 PATCHWORK ROAD & PANORAMA ROAD, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.5 NINGLE TERRACE (ニングルテラス)

Day 8 – from Furano to Otaru
Day 8.1 CHURCH ON THE WATER (水の教会), Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム)
Day 8.2 HILL OF THE BUDDHA (頭大仏), Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園)
Day 8.3 SEAFOOD, CANAL, & HISTORY, Otaru (小樽)
Day 8.4 RAINY NIGHT IN OTARU, Otaru (小樽)

Day 9 – Yochi & Sapporo
Day 9.1 NIKKA YOICHI DISTILLERY (余市蒸溜所), Yoichi (余市)
Day 9.2 SOUP CURRY NIGHT

Day 10 – Sapporo
10.1 OKKAIDO SHRINE (北海道神宮 )
10.2 MORIHICO COFFEE (森彦珈琲本店)
10.3 KITAKARO SAPPORO HONKAN (北菓楼札幌本館)
10.4 SATURDAYS CHOCOLATE
10.5 GOTSUBO OYSTER BAR(五坪)
10.6 MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠)

Day 11 – Sapporo
11.1 FORMER HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE (北海道庁旧本庁舎)
11.2 RED STAR & GENGKIS KHAN, Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール株式会社)


MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠), Sapporo (札幌), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.24

Day 10 (6/6).

To end our Sapporo foodie day, we decided to get up Mount Moiwa (藻岩山, Moiwa-yama) for the famous night view of the city.

IMG_0923From Susukino, we hopped onto Sapporo’s only streetcar towards “Ropeway Iriguchi” station.

IMG_8005Sapporo’s only streetcar line has trains running clockwise and counterclockwise in a loop.

IMG_0925After getting off the streetcar, we didn’t bother to wait for the connection bus, but instead, we took 10 minutes to walk up to the Mount Moiwa Ropeway station.

IMG_0926Nagasaki, Kitayushu and Sapporo are considered the three new greatest urban night views in Japan.

IMG_0928The cable car slowly left the Mount Moiwa Ropeway station.

IMG_0939Our cable car passed by a white Buddhist stupa halfway up.  Built in 1959 to commemorate peace after World War II, the Sapporo Peace Pagoda supposedly housed some ashes of the Buddha, a gift given by India to the Emperor of Japan in 1954.

IMG_0943Another cable car passed by in the opposite direction.

DSC_6554We arrived at the observation deck on Mount Moiwa right at the magic hour just before dusk.

DSC_6574At 531m above sea level, Downtown Sapporo was right below us.

IMG_8021The Koibito Sanctuary (Lover’s Sanctuary) atop Mount Moiwa is a popular photo spot.

IMG_0980After Mount Moiwa, we returned to the vibrant Susukino.

IMG_0982Known as one of the most famous entertainment districts in Japan, we came to search for a late night meal.

IMG_0990In an alleyway, we picked Haruka Ramen (ラーメン悠) for our late night meal.

IMG_0983The owner must be a fan of hard rock and metal music.  The small ramen shop is decorated with t-shirts, badges and album covers of rock bands.

IMG_0987We knew it was unhealthy to have late night meal, but we just couldn’t leave Sapporo without having a bowl of Sapporo ramen.

* * *

Introduction
HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道)

Day 1 – from Tokyo to Shiretoko Peninsula
Day 1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
Day 1.2 ARRIVAL IN SHIRETOKO, Utoro (ウトロ)

Day 2 – Utoro
Day 2.1 SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖)
Day 2.2 UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂)
Day 2.3 FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝)

Day 3 – Rausu
Day 3.1 RUSA FIELD HOUSE (ルサフィールドハウス)
Day 3.2 JUN NO BANYA (純の番屋)

Day 4 – Rausu
Day 4.1 MOUNT RAUSU (羅臼岳)
Day 4.2 FANTASTIC ORCAS, Nemuro Strait (根室海峡)

Day 5 – Lake Mashu & Lake Akan
Day 5.1 SUNRISE AT LAKE MASHU (摩周湖)
Day 5.2 MOUNT MASHU TRAIL (摩周岳) , Teshikaga (弟子屈)
Day 5.3 SILENT NIGHT AT LAKE AKAN (阿寒湖)

Day 6 – On the road from Lake Akan to Furano
Day 6.1 FISHERMEN BELOW MISTY OAKAN (雄阿寒岳), Lake Akan (阿寒湖)
Day 6.2 TREATS OF OBIHIRO (帯広), Tokachi (十勝)
Day 6.3 ARRIVING IN FURANO (富良野)

Day 7 Furano & Biei
Day 7.1 LAVENDER BUDS, Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.2 FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.3 BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.4 PATCHWORK ROAD & PANORAMA ROAD, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.5 NINGLE TERRACE (ニングルテラス)

Day 8 – from Furano to Otaru
Day 8.1 CHURCH ON THE WATER (水の教会), Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム)
Day 8.2 HILL OF THE BUDDHA (頭大仏), Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園)
Day 8.3 SEAFOOD, CANAL, & HISTORY, Otaru (小樽)
Day 8.4 RAINY NIGHT IN OTARU, Otaru (小樽)

Day 9 – Yochi & Sapporo
Day 9.1 NIKKA YOICHI DISTILLERY (余市蒸溜所), Yoichi (余市)
Day 9.2 SOUP CURRY NIGHT

Day 10 – Sapporo
10.1 OKKAIDO SHRINE (北海道神宮 )
10.2 MORIHICO COFFEE (森彦珈琲本店)
10.3 KITAKARO SAPPORO HONKAN (北菓楼札幌本館)
10.4 SATURDAYS CHOCOLATE
10.5 GOTSUBO OYSTER BAR(五坪)
10.6 MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠)

Day 11 – Sapporo
11.1 FORMER HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE (北海道庁旧本庁舎)
11.2 RED STAR & GENGKIS KHAN, Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール株式会社)