The summer of 2021 was unforgettably hot in Japan, and it was also a beautiful one riddled with great journeys for me. Traveling to Hokkaido and experiencing its pristine nature had been a long-held dream of mine; only a child getting their first bicycle or a mother holding her firstborn for the first time can understand how I felt when I made it.
I had an itinerary like all tourists do, but I’m not a person who sticks to itineraries. I only make them just in case I miss out on a place. It’s not because I am too cool to follow a list. I’m simply too lazy to follow an itinerary, cross things off it, or tick boxes. It’s all about my mood when I get up. I rise and shine, see how I feel about going to XYZ, and then embark on the journey.
However, my mood didn’t affect my decision that time. I was determined to go north and see Cape Soya and the Sea of Okhotsk. Craving something I had never seen before was new and odd, even for me. For that reason, this blog isn’t an itinerary—it is more of a record showing how I followed my heart. I prepared mentally and physically for what it desired for the longest time.
I saw the famous places in Hokkaido and didn’t treat them like I needed to get them out of the way while trying to reach the north. Each location on the island was unique and worth visiting. I had a chance to see Otaru, a canal city bearing a striking resemblance to Europe. I felt the sea breeze on my skin while hiking Cape Kamui in Shakotan and couldn’t take my eyes off the waters famous for their deep Shakotan blue.
I visited Tomita Farm in Furano—the most famous lavender field on the island. After taking countless photos among the lavenders, I visited Biei’s patchwork fields and its popular blue pond, Shirogane. Driving up and down the tiny roads was like riding a rollercoaster—the only difference was that I could view my surroundings without screaming or barfing. Everything was so soothing and lovely. The fields were vast and flat, unlike where I live.
One memorable evening, I visited a local beach in West Hokkaido, where I watched the sunset while surrounded by local residents. Just as people who live in the desert love the rain more than anyone else, northerners love beaches and summer more than southerners. And there was no better way to realize it than being at that beach with the locals and watching them interact.
Once I watched a bird swayed by the wind in the sky. The bird didn’t resist. Instead, it surrendered and let the wind carry its body without flapping its wings. And there I was, standing in awe. Watching the bird, I realized how inaction and stillness pushed it forward. It made me realize how I sometimes prevented life from moving me forward by opposing and fighting change—so much wisdom to learn from a mere bird.
And then came the day I prepared to go to the north. My first stop was Wakkanai, the northernmost city of Hokkaido. After a 7-hour drive from Sapporo to Wakkanai, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I hadn’t even seen its photos before, after all. But I wasn’t surprised to see traffic signs in Russian, given its proximity to Russia.
Reaching the northernmost point of Hokkaido and watching the Sea of Okhotsk was an ethereal experience. The Sea of Okhotsk had a different smell and color from the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. I saw seaweed and other plants floating on the sea and breathed in their scent. For me, the Sea of Japan is more cheerful and friendly, while the Pacific Ocean is a more nostalgic and thought-provoking place.
On the other hand, the Sea of Okhotsk is where I could be comfortable in solitude without feeling lonely. I could hear myself grow louder as the voices around me diminished—like someone had turned down life’s volume. While listening to my heartbeat in front of the bluest blue sea, I squinted and saw the horizon where Sakhalin Island should be. They say you can see Sakhalin Island from this part of Hokkaido. I wasn’t that lucky, but life was already generous to me that day in Wakkanai.
I found a nameless beach on the side of the road. Two fishermen also seemed to enjoy the solitude that the Sea of Okhotsk gifted people. I wanted to sit there for a long time and stay still. I yearned to be a part of that beach that day, transform into a speck of sand or a shipwreck—a feeling so overwhelming that I could touch it like the sand under my feet. The urge to escape was real—a major sign of burnout.
I’m not Don Quixote, and I don’t fight invisible windmills or wind turbines, but my journey to Wakkanai was quixotic. I discovered the rest of Cape Soya that day in search of wind turbines like a modern Don Quixote. I found the wind turbines towering into the sky with cows lazily grazing under them. They blended in with the environment, making me feel like the only odd piece. I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had approached me and asked me to leave.
I had a few realizations that helped me explore my emotional geography during my short stay in Hokkaido. I could pay attention to the details since Hokkaido’s serene and uninterrupted nature painted and unveiled an area in my mind that had been blank before.
A single trip to an unknown place shaped how I think today. And just like that, a quote from the book Sahara Unveiled, which I reviewed on my blog, inevitably comes to mind: “So much of who we are is where we have been.”
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