Of Snows and Hot Baths

In the middle of Daisetsuzan National Park, nestled in narrow scenic gorge flanked by cliffs,

abundant hot springs, powerful waterfalls,

and fantastic rock formation is a full-scale mountain resort town called Sounkyo.

It has become quite touristy because it is an excellent base for trekking and skiing around the National Park.

From late January to the end of March, the town hosts (you guessed it) the Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival (Sounkyo Onsen Hyoubaku Matsuri).

The highlight of this festival is the frozen waterfalls along with the man-made, multi-story high structures that have a maze like tunnels running through them, all built around the Ishikari River.

Snow domes and ice sculptures likewise scatter around the compound.

Heated quarters with warm drinks and food here.

And even if logic tells you to stay indoors due to the severe cold weather, make sure to be there at night


The Ishikari River runs through the festival.

or miss out on the spectacular lights that illuminate the whole place come sundown. On weekends, you’ll be lucky to witness fireworks too.

Us in an ice bar display

The best way to end the evening is to thaw off at one of the many hot springs found in town. At the Sounkyo Kanko Hotel, we went for the spacious outdoor bath at the back of the hotel. Crazy it may seem, but because this open-air bath is unisex, it was wonderful to be sharing this experience with the hubby. Getting ourselves to walk the short distance from the dressing room to the pool in skimpy clothes provided by the hotel was unimaginable, but once in the hot bath, it was nirvana. This being the last stretch of our Hokkaido winter holiday, it seemingly melted away all the frozen kinks in our body, accumulated over the past days.

Ahh… Always a good experience, this bathing in the snow.

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Sapporo Snow Festival

On our way to our accommodation from the airport, our cab drove through Susukino to reveal a row of illuminated ice sculpture.  That was our prelude to the Yuki Matsui, internationally known as Sapporo’s Snow Festival.  For seven days every February, Japan’s largest winter event is turned into a winter wonderland of snow stations and ice sculptures.

From a few snow statues created by high school students on its main site, Odori Park in 1950, the festival is now an event visited by millions.  Packed with people walking the slippery path that spans the 1.5km Odori Park showcasing spectacular snow and ice sculptures of different size and shapes from local and international participants.

 

We came across humongous structures such as the Arc de Triumph sculpture and the Taipei Guest House.

 

Some serve as a stage for concerts and other performances.

This giant Cup Noodle that double as a slide is a favorite,

Star War characters R2D2, C3PO and Darth Vader and other cartoon characters make up the fun stuff.

Meanwhile, I am drawn to the smell and the sizzle of beef being grilled on an open barbecue pit, even if we just came from lunch.

Not to be left out are the food stalls of various kinds.  A piece of advice to future attendees, skip lunch that day and head straight to the park.

The row of illuminated ice sculptures that I saw the night before is less dramatic in daylight.

Packed with bars, restaurants, pachinko and red light establishments, Susukino really comes alive upon sundown and so does its displays found on its main street.  We weaved through the sculptures into Ramen Alley for lunch.

The alley has 17 old style ramen shops to choose from.  In a shop randomly selected to fit all 7 of us, we slurped down a bowl of noodles in miso broth topped with seaweed, spring onions, char sou pork, hard-boiled egg, corn and a slice of butter—unique ingredients that make Sapporo’s Ramen worth a try.

The third venue is a multipurpose dome where a variety of events take place inside.  Outside the dome is where the fun is.  Large snow slides and a snow rafting area is set up for the merriment of people of all ages.  Sadly, as the venue is a little away from the city center and is only open until 6 pm.

Useful Info:

Odori Park:  Odori-nishi 1-chome to 12-chome, Chuo-ku

Susukino Venue: Ekimae-dori from Minami 4-Jo to Minami 7-Jo, Chou-ku

Tsudome: Sapporo Sports Facility “Tsudome” Sakaemachi 885-1, Higashi-ku

Panag-apoy: A Sagada Ritual

In Sagada like the rest of the country, All Saint’s Day is the day they gather together and remember the departed. families-gather

But while it is common to light a candle or two, the indigenous community of Sagada, instead burn wood from old pine, locally known as “saeng”.

lighting-the-saeng

The Panag-apoy, as the Kankanays call this ritual, was an event I had wanted to witness since I learned of it many, many years ago.   Not for lack of trying but victorious, I never was until two years ago. The threat of rains, I thought, would once again thwart the gathering as it did in my previous attempts.

sun-showing

But lo and behold, the sun came out on that 1st day of November and finally allowed this curious spectator a glimpse of this unusual ritual.

A ritual that’s been practiced since the 1900s and is not purely indigenous. It is a combination of Anglican rites, influenced by the teachings of American missionaries, and the Igorot culture. St.-Mary's

It starts with a liturgical service at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin.

priest-blessings

Followed by the blessing of the saeng and the tombs. And as the priest moves around, one by one the saeng gets lighted and laid by the tomb.

bonfire

ablaze

By day’s end, the Sagada cemetery behind St. Mary glows in the dark. And truth be told, it is a surreal sight to behold.  
glowing-in-the-dark

Like me, many go to witness, document or to just experience this amazing tradition unique to the northern Kankanays.

spectators-wait

more-spectators

 

Panagbenga

mwtwhite2flower

My visit to Baguio,our summer capital coincided with the Panagbenga Festival.  I was there more to support my friends’ participation in the 4×4 off road challenge in La Trinidad.

4x41

But I obviously will not pass up the chance to witness even just a glimpse of the well- attended festival.  We failed on our first attempt to even get close to the area so the following day, we woke up really early (like 5AM), walked to Session Rd. and caught the commencement of the parade.  Come join me in the festivities!

crowd

crowds-2

Panagbenga is a kankanay term for “a season of blooming”.  It is also known as the Baguio Flower Festival.  It is held during the month of February, a month-long annual flower festival and was created as a tribute to the city’s flowers and as a way to rise from the devastation of the 1990 Luzon earthquake.

jimmsjolibeelhuilierpharoah

san-miguel

The festival includes floats that are decorated with flowers.  It also includes street dancing presented by dancers clad in flower-inspired costume, that is inspired by the Bendian, an ibaloi dance of celebration that came from the Cordillera Region, where Baguio is.

panagbenga-dancersband

We didn’t stay to catch the actual parade as there was just too many people and I don’t particularly like crowds.  We instead decided to go to the market while everyone was busy with the festival but I was pleased to have witnessed even just a glimpse of the Panagbenga Festival.

This is my entry to this week’s My World Tuesday.  For a glimpse of more worlds, click here.

Source:  Wikipedia