Photography: Hokkaido Trip 2019

Photo above – Tōro Station (塘路駅). Without doubt the coldest train station I’ve had to wait at for a train.

As I did last year I’ve just spent time in Hokkaido over the Christmas holiday. In 2018 I went to Furano (富良野) and Biei (美英) photographing typical winter scenes – mostly copying the commonly seen photos of lone trees in a winter landscape. It was worthwhile doing once, but for me that was enough. So this year I chose to visit Kushiro (釧路) in eastern Hokkaido. Doing so gave me easy access to Kushiro Shitsugen (釧路湿原), according to one sign I saw Japan’s largest national park, and a chance to photograph some Steller’s Sea eagles (ōwashi・大鷲) and other wildlife, Lake Akan (阿寒湖) and Lake Masshu (摩周湖), and the North Pacific Hokkaido coast.

I like Hokkaido in winter. I enjoy the extreme cold. Hiking in -11°C temperatures in the snow for the potential of a photograph makes me feel alive, attuned to nature and to the environment. It’s the nature fix. It’s not for everyone, but it is for me. It doesn’t matter whether it’s on a bicycle, with a camera, or in a pair of hiking boots, they all lead to that fix. And I like returning home, taking out my bright yellow highlighter pen and marking off places on my giant Hokkaido map. When I’m lying on my deathbed, my life almost over, I want that map, along with ones for all the regions of Japan and the U.K., completely covered in yellow highlighter with not an inch of space to spare.

Over the next few weeks I’ll post photos from the trip and a few words about the experience.

Lake Akan. Frozen.

A quick side note to any non-Japanese residents of Japan. I’ve lived here for almost 19 years and had until this trip never once been asked to show my Residence Card (or old Gaikokujintorokusho) when checking into a hotel. On this trip it happened twice. Once at the Hotel Crown Hills in Kushiro, and once again at Chitose Airport Hotel in front of Chitose JR station. Both times I refused and they immediately apologised. I was told at Hotel Crown Hills that they have been requested by the police to ask all foreigners for either copies of passports from non-resident foreigners (来日外国人) or Residence Cards if they live in Japan (在日外国人). Under Japanese law you are not obliged to show your card to anyone other than Immigration officials and the police, so don’t do it if asked. Apparently it’s part of the the police’s security arrangements for the Tokyo Olympics (and the past Rugby World Cup) but there’s an inherent hint at racial discrimination by only asking foreigners and not Japanese as well. Go to Debito Arudou’s website for more info. I got the feeling that the hotels didn’t want to ask me and were very happy to apologise immediately once I refused. It was as if they were trying to follow the request of the police and simultaneously keep guests happy as well. But in all honesty, I probably shouldn’t have stayed in a business hotel. There are far nicer places to stay in Japan.

Cycled since I was a kid, moved to Japan in 2001, bought my first 'serious' camera in 2005. Spent the later half of the 1990s travelling in Australia, Hong Kong, India, Nepal, Japan, and the Philippines and wish I'd photographed a lot more back then.

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