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From Hokkaido Snow to Fukuoka Soba, Japan offers year-round wonders

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 24, 2022 5:00 am Updated Jan 02, 2023 1:00 pm

Stephanie Zubiri tells a story of traveling to Fukuoka, where she took an amazing trip across the Kunisaki Peninsula, a sort of birthplace of both Shintoism and Buddhism, and met a monk there who talked about his passion for making soba noodles.

She visited a 900-year-old temple in the forest, where the young monk was preparing to take over the temple from his father, and he was so passionate about soba, he’d make it every day for visitors to the temple. Indeed, his soba became so popular, it got recognized by the Michelin Guide.

Hostess Stephanie Zubiri raises a sparkling sake toast to Japan travel with JNTO Manila office executive director Makoto Watanabe.

That’s the kind of off-the-books journey the Japan National Tourism Orginazation (JNTO) encourages more Filipinos to take. With its interactive exhibit “Season of Endless Discovery” at the newly opened Mitsukoshi Mall in Bonifacio Global City, you’ll see glimpses of Japan’s many seasons, including Hokkaido winter wonderlands, cherry blossoms and autumnal splendor.

This is what the JNTO wants, to encourage Filipinos to see a deeper, more unique experience of Japan—outside of Tokyo and Osaka’s well-worn pleasures. And now it’s open again to tourism, with JAL offering special travel packages ongoing through the seasons.

JNTO booths represent Japan’s “Seasons of Endless Discovery” at Mitsukishi Mall BGC until today.

Hokkaido happens to be the place Filipinos love most this season—what with its wintry landscapes, ski resorts, opportunities for snowball fights and sledding, and places like Sapporo that become magical winter landscapes (with magical steins of beer to match). Personally, I’m an onsen fan, having dipped in the steamy waters everywhere from ice-frozen Hokkaido to the foggy mountains above Kobe. Each one is a distinct pleasure.

Kawachi Wisteria Garden in Kitakyushu City is considered one of CNN’s “31 Most Beautiful Sites”

But there’s so much more to see, as JNTO Manila office executive director Makoto Watanabe explained. Japan has had some hiccups—recently shutting down tourism for a few months while other places in Asia got their tourism numbers up and running—but it’s now open again, with multiple-visa travel for Filipinos.

Besides Hokkaido, I mentioned to Watanabe that my wife and I take frequent trips to musical fests in Japan—mostly Summer Sonic or Fuki Rocks, in steamy August. (Watanabe was surprised that we were able to score tickets from here. Ah, the wonders of the internet.)

A deer gamely poses before O-Torii Grand Gate on Miyajima Island.

But on a more basic level, it’s just great to explore the history and culture of Japan and see what it unfolds for each visitor. From amazing temples to majestic natural beauty, the east and west coasts of Japan are full of discoveries—from riding camels on sand dunes in western Tottori to feeding deer amid orange temples on Miyajima island off the coast of Hiroshima.

Our media host Sunny Ku was there as JNTO shared Japanese delicacies and a toast of Alain Ducasse Sparkling Sake for the event, and Zubiri, hosting the event at Mitsukoshi Mall, made a pitch for the year-round wonders of the Land of the Rising Sun: “I encourage you to explore the seasons of Japan—it’s one of the places in Asia that celebrates the different seasons in splendor. Whether it’s spring with cherry blossoms, the beautiful golden summer, and the autumn with the orange leaves and ginkgo trees, and of course winter in Hokkaido.”

Truly, if you’re going to revenge travel this year and the coming seasons, it’s best to do something new and off the beaten path. Japan offers that and more.

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Visit the JNTO “Season of Endless Discovery” booths at Level 2 of Mitsukoshi Mall BGC until Dec. 25, and enjoy JETRO products and treats now available here. For more information, visit the JNTO website. For updates on social media, follow Visit Japan Philippines on Facebook and Instagram.