Friday, 21 December 2012

Autumn Colours 3 - North Takao Ridge

After the South Takao Ridge, we now have its counterpart on the north side. The photographs in here come from two separate December hikes, catching the back end of 2012's autumn.

Again, you can find instructions and details here if you'd like to attempt this one yourself. This is among the best so far for splendid views, as north Takao is packed with deciduous woodland with fewer of the south's evergreen plantations, and frequent openings provide panoramas in both directions. To the north, Tokyo's sprawl subsides into spreading Oku-Tama mountainscapes, while the south offers the main ridge's colourful slopes and some impressive views of Mt. Fuji.

Be warned. This is a serious trek, and a jump up in challenge from the south or main ridge. Though you will not go higher than 731m, almost the entire route consists in steep climbs or descents, alternating unrelenting. The ridge is far less travelled than Takao itself, and there are few escape routes should you run into trouble once on it. Treat this walk with respect: go at a decent level of fitness, and bring a map and a compass as well as sufficient food and water. There are no toilets, so be sure to bear a toilet roll. And especially in winter, start walking as early as possible, to make sure you make it down before darkness sets in around 4:30-5pm; a flashlight is recommended just in case.

The paths are in good condition, not too rocky and often soft. Signposting is good, despite a few spots of confusion.

North Takao Ridge
Length: Approx. 14km. However, it will feel like a lot longer.
Hiking Time: Allow at least 7-8 hours.
Height: After the first hour-and-a-half's ascent to 556m (starting at 211m), the main section is an arduous 6km up and down a long series of peaks. Eventually the ridge merges into the Takao-Jinba ridge at Mt. Dōdokoro (堂所山), the walk's highest point at 731m. From there a sustained descent returns you to the road at 237m, with a final half-hour of flat pavement to Sagami Lake.

1) Go to Takao Station (高尾) on the Chuo or Keio Line, and go out of the North Exit.
2) From the bus terminal there, many buses go to the Hachioji Cemetery entrance (Hachioji reien-mae, 八王子霊園前) where the walk starts, including buses 1, 2 and 11. It only takes about 6 minutes to get there.
3) The walk ends at Sagami Lake and Sagamiko Station (相模湖駅), one stop past Takao Station on the Chuo Line.

Friday, 14 December 2012


Not all of Japan was flattened in World War II. In Saitama Prefecture, Tokyo's neighbour to the north, the city of Kawagoe came through relatively unscathed, and to this day offers glimpses into the region's Edo-period heritage (1603-1868 CE).

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Autumn Colours 2 - South Takao Ridge

Following Sengenrei, here is some information on another nice autumn hike. Mt. Takao is one of the most popular and crowded mountains in the Tokyo metropolis: making it an all the more welcoming surprise that the southern ridge is comparatively secluded, tranquil and dense with foliage.

This route is longer and more rigorous than Sengenrei, with much more in the way of steep climbs and descents along an undulating ridge. At reasonable fitness however it should not be too challenging.

For those concerned, it is possible to skip about a third of the route here covered. The description here begins with Mt. Takao and Mt. Shiroyama, as previously featured, then swerves away to the south ridge. But if time, energy or stamina are limited, a short bus ride goes from the start point straight to the south ridge's ascent, cutting an hour or two and some of the steepest sections from the walk.

The south ridge follows the border between Tokyo Metropolis and Kanagawa Prefecture, to the north and south respectively. Though much of it is enveloped in woods and plantations, these occasionally break to provide great views over either. On a clear day, Mt. Fuji watches from the horizon.

South Takao Ridge
Length: Approx. 14km (9km if only doing the ridge itself)
Hiking Time: 5-6 hours
Height: Takao is 599m high, with easy options available for ascending it. Some gentle ups and downs follow the ridge to Shiroyama at 670m. From there to the south ridge requires a steep descent into the valley and ascent to get back up from it. The peaks of the ridge itself are about 450-500m high, with varying ups and downs between them.
1) Go to Takaosanguchi Station (高尾山口駅) (Chuo Line to Takao Station, then Keiō Takao Line one stop). You can start the hike from there, or...
2) Take a 15-minute bus ride from the station to Ōdarumi (大垂水) bus stop, if you are cutting out the Takao-Shiroyama section and only doing the South Takao Ridge.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Autumn Colours 1 - Sengenrei

In Japan, where coherent seasons are culturally meaningful and still in fact exist, kōyō (autumn colours) are to this time of year what sakura are to spring. Temperatures fall, and a cooling wave sweeps the green of the trees into reds and golds, progressing south as winter approaches.

It is a fine time to hike. The summer inferno has passed while the freezing bite of winter is yet to come, and clear skies are frequent. Here is the first of several examples: the Sengen Ridge, out west of Tokyo in the Akiruno (Akigawa/Itsukaichi) area. Another, the South Takao Ridge, will follow on here shortly, with likely more to come after that.

Sengen Ridge
Length: Approx. 10km
Hiking Time: 4-5 hours
Height: Up to 890m, starting from 255m. Early ascent (occasionally steep) is followed by relatively level and gentle paths along the ridge until a steep descent at the end.
1) Go to Haijima Station (Ōme Line from Tachikawa, or Hachikō Line from Hachiōji, both short distance), then change to the Itsukaichi Line to MUSASHI-ITSUKAICHI STATION (also short).
2) From Bus Stop 1 outside the station, take bus No.10 to Hossawa no Taki Iriguchi (Hossawa Falls entrance) – 22 minutes, 460 yen. The walk begins from that bus stop.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

On Love - or, Rage at a Broken World

(Wondering what the relevance of this video games reference is? Go down the list and look at Number 9.)

This is a more personal post than most. However, its implications concern the public good, and thus it deserves open treatment.

What motivates us, to do the things we do? No, I don't mean crimes against humanity this time; I mean more generally. We each have our specializations, our skills, our fields of choice, our primary areas of concern. What draws us to that which may to others appear unusual, unexciting or unimportant?

Why, for example, when there are so many problems of our world to choose from, am I writing a Master's thesis on the persecution of sexual minorities? Or object so categorically to the gender norms of this world? Why, in discussing development issues, do I criticize the economic, material-focused paradigms that have dominated its approaches for so many ages and marginalized problems of how humans relate to one another as human beings? Why my emphasis on the normative, the ideational, the abstract?

We all have different answers to the question of what drives us. And on reflection, I find that one of mine is not simply a sense of injustice, or a will to improve humanity – though these are of course significant.

It is pain.

Pain, of a variety too many of us know well. Pain of a form rarely captured in analyses or indicators on the present state of humanity: because it has come to be considered inevitable. Its normalization: and thus, the alienation of those to whom it is anything but.

Something We Are
We humans are defined, literally and as a base for everything else, by two things:
-Our relationship to the Earth, from which we come, and our failure of which has produced our great sustainability crisis;
-And our relationship to each other, as creatures all sharing a genome, a journey, a baseline of form and essence, and the aforementioned planetary home.
And a key concept with regards to both of these but the second especially, is love.

On love, one hears few facts, many opinions, and a great deal of opinions disguised as facts. It has been called amazing, appalling, natural, constructed – frankly, two hundred thousand years of the human journey have not sufficed to give us a clue when it comes to understanding it: and perhaps that is as it should be. Its power springs from fundamental chaos. It is not supposed to be controlled, nor directed, nor disciplined into neat conceptual structures. It breaks all chains.

That is why, of course, I will not pretend that what follows is more than opinion. Opinion is the best any of us can manage on this; because in its current condition in our world, we are not equipped to reach for its facts.

I do not speak of love here as an emotion, or a romantic impulse, or a rational commitment. I consider it all of those and more a consummation of all that makes us human, in balance (or broken imbalance); one of those very few things that is not a construct. I speak of it in the broadest terms, as that thing which connects every human to every human. It is not something we have, something we do or something we feel. It is something we are.

I wonder if it is something this little comrade is too?

So what does it mean that so many of us, in our experiences, have cause to connect it with insufferable agony? What does it mean, that we see it to bring us such pain?

Abandonments; betrayals; manipulations; selfish interests, negative externalities, grief, excruciating rage and the surge of a vengeful drive, a hatred, a will to harm. Who's been there? Who knows it? Have you? The answer may more likely be yes than no.

As all are different, it affects all differently, and leads us to different conclusions. To some it is merely part of life: no doubt the fount of much cynicism towards love as a concept and humanity itself. Others find the fortitude to remain optimistic and try again and again, accepting it as part of the world but striving to triumph over it. Others still find it of little importance at all.

I reject these conclusions. All of them.

Broken, Broken
I too know these nightmares. A catalogue of practically all the ways that love associates with pain: a barrage, unyielding, recurring, of every means this world has found to shred the hope and crush the dreams of the heart. And though I have not experienced the pain of poverty, the pain of grave illness, or hunger, or thirst, or war, and so on, and thus cannot speak for how they compare, I can say this: that the pain of the failure of love embodies torments, agonies, horrors not surpassable at the pinnacles of all the pain the universe can harbour.

I came to know that pain, and decided that it was wrong.

Not natural. Not possibly natural. Created, by a species which has allowed terrible things to happen: whose structures, whose norms, whose established mentalities, have rendered it not socially accommodating of love.

Love is not harmful, in itself. Society breaks it. Breaks it to the point where its members must bear those unspeakable pains: and a world where that can occur, with such regularity that one can consider it "normal", is a world I must consider broken.

For this concerns not the sharp and rending pain of such episodes alone, but the perpetual pain of alienation: the politics of love. For that is the crux of the matter: "normal" is exactly what we have made it.

Not broken, they say. Love just hurts. It's life. We have to accept it. It's reality. Move on. And who can blame those who feel this way, when that pain has sliced through the tendons of all that they are?

And yet, I state: no it is not. It is corrupted life. It is broken reality. So what breaks it?

Gender, for one thing. The creation of an artificial tension between male and female, a will to mutual exclusion and misunderstanding, as though these be conflicting species of aliens, rather than humans with more in common than in contrast. The expectation of special behaviours, attitudes, attributes and appearances from both, and the stigmatization of those who do not conform.

And another: the outright mess our species has made of sexuality, which we permit to obsess us while simultaneously terrifying us out of our wits. Thus, nonsensical norms of behaviour, rigid relationship structures and categories, prejudice against sexual minorites – all again concerned with the breaking of those who do not conform, under cover of a massive taboo against frank discussion of sex in the first place.

And other things too. Even some of the most established norms and expectations of human relationships, things so taken for granted that the language itself must struggle to critique them for inability to speak without their loading, I lament as the sorriest constructs. So much that is constructed, indeed, that represses the natural flow of heart and mind in balance; that denies and punishes the diversity of the human; that institutionalizes forces hateful of love.

Who is anyone, to tell people who they can or cannot be with, or to tell them how many, and of what sex, what class, what caste, what ethnicity or sexual preferences? Who is anyone, to separate those who love? Who dares to segregate male and female? Who dares stir conflict between them, imbalance their equal power, or compel them against their will? Who is anyone, to dictate to a person who loves that his or her love is not his or her own: that it is meaningless, or belongs to a god, or belongs to the state, or is "unnatural"?

Of course this cannot explain all the horrors. So many failures of loving relationships result from the triumph of selfishness: a betrayal of our own humanity which our species still cannot account for. But we will be challenged to ever do so, unless we can clear out all the pernicious layers of junk our least worthy interests and ideologies have piled upon the fields of love.

So why do I fight these things? Why am I so critical of human society, above all in its gender calamity, its sex taboo, its prejudices and normative, relational problems?

Because these are such things as derailed my journey in blistering pain to the point where all that I truly wish for, personally, is beyond my pursuit within the boundaries of this world.
Because both the norms of society and the norms of physics stand in the way of my dreams, and I must lash against both for meaning in this world.
Because I seethe at these wrongs we do unto love, and the soul-ripping anguishes visited upon our kindest people all over the world every hour, every minute, which we have deigned and dared too long to call "normal".
And because so long as there is fire in my heart and breath in my hide, I mean to strike against the ruination of love in this world in the hope, however remote it may be, that if this world endures, then at some point, even if long beyond my time, this planet will be a place where no-one must ever endure those hells again.

A world where love is restored and empowered:
-Restored, in that it brings only good to all whom it touches, and is no longer associated with harm;
-Empowered, in that it becomes its own justification, and the highest authority as a fundamental fount of what is ethically good: and thus cannot be legitimately overridden or harmed by any power or any purpose.

Think that sounds idealistic? Consider the alternatives.

If We Don't Fix It
The thing is, pain is not only terrible in itself. Now this does become relevant to crimes against humanity. The heights of pain obscure our reason, make our emotions turbulent, and thus reduce our power to control our own actions. Pain begets anger, hatred, a will to destruction, especially against those perceived to have caused that pain. Here's a consequence, and here's another. Until we learn we cannot build society upon the blood and tears of others, we will not put a stop to our violence problem.

Now here's a line of reflection we can explore, but perhaps should not.

Our world – whether "natural" or "broken" or otherwise. Imagine it going into the future in its current condition. Imagine the most horrific things you've experienced, multiply them as many times as the number of people going through such things now, and envisage that repeating itself from here to infinity: generation after generation, experiencing the agonies rife in our world today. Is it good that our world should proceed like that?

Now compare that with another scenario. An end to humanity.

Future generations, by not existing, would be spared that suffering. The net release of pain into the universe would be vastly lessened.

Yes, it is horrific. No, I have not reached such a conclusion, nor ever do I hope to. It is as much for this reason as any that I hold to the insistence that these sufferings are wrong, come not of a functioning universe, and can – must – be changed.

But there are more than seven billion of us in this world now, and sooner or later, if we continue to have them experience such things and tell them it's "normal" and to just get over it, then that pain is sure to start leading the most nerve-stricken among them in directions like these. Some of them, sooner or later, might just decide it better to consign the world to flames instead of abiding its nightmares to go on indefinitely. And with all the creations we've come up with to slaughter countless masses of people on an impulse, is this really a chance we wish to take?

I cannot envisage just what it will take to do away with this descent. All I can urge for now is this. As an individual: if nothing else, please, break no hearts – or if you absolutely cannot evade it, then proceed with all the kindness and care you can muster, then do your best to help repair those wounds. And if you hold political power, of any degree: do what you can – and this cannot be done through force – to make this a world where the breaking of hearts is the problematic exception, not the anguishing norm.

Perhaps this is still not clear. So if you haven't yet then go to the top of this entry, click the link to the video games analysis, and take a close look at Number 9. See that? It could be us.

We should consider this when deciding on what reality we want to choose. And that is all I wish to say on these matters today.

The bear wants a better world too.
These themes are explored in a book I am currently writing, which I hope to seek publication for within the next year, and will certainly post about here when that happens. Therein, you can follow the progress of a visitor to our world from very far away, with a quite different conception of love to that of a humanity laid low by the consequences of its mistakes. What might such visitors make of these consequences – and to what might those consequences drive them?

Oh, and if any of you know of (or are connected to) a good publisher, I would be very much interested to speak with you...

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Climate Change Resilience in Guyana

Here's another United Nations University (UNU) piece: my paper on resilience and the indigenous communities of Guyana, written last autumn (2011) for the Global Change and Sustainability intensive course. I am posting it here in case it is of any help for those currently taking that course, but also for general interest, especially as concerns Guyana.

The text is as it was when given to the UNU, though I've added a few pictures here to make the columns of text less terrifying. And as before, for those writing in a similar capacity now, this is here to assist and encourage thinking, not to substitute for it. Plagiarizing my stuff is a very fast way to get put in hospital. Please attribute it properly if you use anything from here, okay?

Enchancing resilience against climate and ecosystem changes in Guyana's North Rupununi region
Ai Chaobang (a.k.a. John Ashton), UNU-ISP MSc Sustainability, Development and Peace
12 October 2011

1) Resilience, Change and Sustainability
2) Enhancing resilience against climate and ecosystem changes in the North Rupununi communities of Guyana

Reducing and coping with climate change, significantly influenced by human activity, presents one of the supreme challenges of our era.1 It is a manefestation – perhaps the foremost – of the sustainability crisis humanity must urgently address.

A frequent concept in the sustainability discourse is that of resilience, and here I seek to explore what it means in that context, as well as how we might measure and enhance it. I then apply it to the specific case of the indigenous communities of Guyana's North Rupununi region, and consider what resilience means in their circumstances and how it might be improved.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

10) MATSUSHIMA – The Aftermath (松島)

The travelling poet Matsuo Bashō, setting eyes on Matsushima, was apparently so overcome by what he saw that it left him speechless. In an apocryphal but now immortal haiku, he could only remark:

Matsushima, ah!
A-ah, Matsushima ah!
Matsushima, ah!

Writing in Oku no Hosomichi, he described it as 'the most beautiful spot in the whole country of Japan...Tall islands point to the sky and level ones prostrate themselves before the surges of water. Islands are piled above islands, and islands are joined to islands, so that they look exactly like parents caressing their children or walking with them arm in arm. The pines are of the freshest green and their branches are curved in exquisite lines, bent by the wind constantly blowing through them...My pen strove in vain to equal this superb creation of divine artifice.'

And Bashō was not alone in this view. Matsushima, whose bay sits just up the coast from Sendai, is established in canon as one of the Three Views of Japan, along with the Itsukushima Shrine gate opposite Hiroshima and Kyoto's Amanohashidate sandbar of pines.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

9) SENDAI – Its Rise, Fall, Rise, Fall and Rise (仙台)

Sendai came as a surprise. After dawn-to-dusk train rides through the open fields of Tōhoku, all of a sudden there erupted this massive metropolis, and for a moment I felt as though I was back in central Tokyo (or one of the dozen central Tokyos).

Here was a serious city, and one identifiably of the South: the heat had returned with a vengeance, the humidity sweltered off the scales, and the trains became more crowded – and their occupants more grim in the face – in proportion to the southerly distance covered.

Sendai's image, captured in a train station window: giant Tanabata star festival streamers; Matsushima, to which we will return; and who is that fellow at the top with the crescent-shaped crest?

He is the “one-eyed dragon”, Date Masamune (伊達 政宗), his image celebrated as though the city owes him its very existence – which might not be far from the truth. His story is a fascinating prism of Japan's chaotic age of inner conflict, and even more so of the different view of it you get from a tenacious Tōhoku perspective.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

8) NARUKO – Kokeshi Road (鳴子のこけし)

Tōhoku's image hasn't had an easy time. Distant, cold and mountainous, the last region of Honshu to fall under Japanese consolidation, and once the home of the mysterious Emishi: aboriginal tribes who resisted the ancient Japanese tenaciously, and who may or may not have had something to do with the Ainu; but they faded from the record so long ago that nobody's really sure who they were now.

Thereafter, Tōhoku developed as a back-of-beyond agrarian region, too rough and remote to thoroughly settle, but nonetheless generating a great deal of rice to feed the nation. The dialects can range from tricky to utterly incomprehensible, though a fair number of its people pulled off the establishing of rather formidable power bases, castle towns and regional identities.

First among these centres stands Sendai, my final port of call on this voyage and base for exploring the east coast prefecture of Miyagi. Both, along with wider Tōhoku, are presently most associated with March 2011's triple calamity – especially to foreigners, for whom it may be the beginning and end of their knowledge of the region at all.

And yet, I found there a society keenly aware of itself and the destiny it's had to forge in the shadow of the southern political heavyweights, or of the wilder exciting frontiers to the north. And Tōhoku's nature, while not unbound and vast like Hokkaido's, offers a beauty of its own: one of concentrated secrets and stalwart local traditions, hidden away amidst the forested hot springs and mountain passes of Japan's upper spine.

As with the Namahage of Oga, it was a video game that brought me to Naruko. Nestled in the high ravines towards the border with Yamagata, this spa town and its neighbouring villages sit amidst natural hot springs which fill the air with a sulphurous fragrance. It is one of about a dozen onsen regions associated with a very peculiar Tōhoku tradition.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

7) HAKODATE – Beginnings and Ends (函館)

It is the end of winter, 1854, and you gaze across the glistening waters of Hakodate harbour. As far as you're concerned, this is the greatest and safest port in the world. But the light of the sun and cool, crisp winds of the sea do little to comfort you.

You are on edge, and so is everyone else still here. The authorities have herded the townsfolk far away, along with their horses, their ships – is it because those who are coming are frightening? Or is it that what they are bringing, and you sense this too, might just herald the cataclysmic collapse of your world, the only world your civilization has known for centuries?

What goes through your mind, your heart, as the Black Ships (kurofune, 黒舟) loom into the bay? They intrude with the certainty of drifting death. You know who is on them. And when the shogunate brought humiliation on the imperial throne by giving in to the foreigners' demands to open up, it is here – in Hakodate – that this capitulation actually means something. That's why the Black Ships are here: surveying the port they've coerced open to service the desires of foreigners and their ships on whatever terms they wish; the port which within five years, after centuries of seclusion, is to be forcibly plugged into the wild and whimsical network of international trade.

Within a few short years they'll come and go as they please, bringing all their crazy ideas and technologies with them, for good or for ill. And after a few years more, the Japan of the Tokugawa shoguns will collapse on itself: and right here, in Hakodate, is where its violent death throes will at last subside, and its final pillar will crumble.

Hakodate is in many ways the ultimate gateway, a bridge between eras and worlds. With typical origins – settlers who put their structures down and chased out the Ainu – Hakodate surged as the Matsumae clan's seat of power and perch on the edge of Hokkaido, and grew into the springboard from which Japan would launch itself at the untamed north. The shogunate, and dramatically more so the imperial regimes that followed, would widen and strengthen this bridge, so as to cross into Hokkaido and make it their own; and so too grow stronger on what came from far across the sea – for once forced open to trade, it was also a bridge to the world.

A bridge in time, too. On one side, Japan the island fortress, the “locked country” (sakoku, 鎖国) shut off from the outside world, which no Japanese could leave or foreigner enter on pain of death. On the other, Japan the global character: the creative, confused, sometimes brilliant and sometimes bloody phenomenon it's been since its integration into the world's diversity, a journey that continues to this day. Here was the threshold of this transformation.

This, all this, is Hakodate. Wherever you tread, wherever you look and listen, history is in your face and all around you. In Hakodate, more so than anywhere I've been, history is the present.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Reflections on International Peace and Security

For everyone following the Hokkaido-Tohoku series, don't worry – it's still on course, and this is just a timely interlude. Specifically, my contribution to the UNU International Peace and Security course of 2012, in the form of extended reflections I did on its themes in the previous year. Please excuse the small font-size errors which I've yet to work out how to fix.

I am posting this mainly for any benefit it might give to those currently working their way through this course, either on clarifying some of the topics or offering (perhaps) some perspectives on them. Even better if it's of interest to other people too, as a taste of what's going on in this organization that – hypothetically, at least! - is meant to help stop us from all destroying each other.


I'm putting this out in the hope that it helps and encourages people to think, and think critically, thus to develop their own opinions and therefore characters. I am not putting this out for it to serve as a substitute to that thinking. Plagiarism is bad! If anyone wants to use ideas from here in their own reflections or other work, please make proper reference to this blog entry! Because if you take something I came up with and use it as your own, I will be most assuredly upset. And when I'm upset, I write scary, scary things that drive whoever sees them to insanity just by reading them and cast the world in flames. And I guess that would defeat the point of discussing peace and security – so let's be friends and all do what is right for peace and security, okay?

And yes, each "wall" is one week's reflections. Writing is fun.

Weekly Reflections: 12 September – 13 October 2011
Ai Chaobang (a.k.a. John Ashton)

WEEK ONE: Responsibility to Protect, Terrorism, and Proliferation of WMDs
WEEK TWO: International Law
WEEK THREE: Peacekeeping, the UN System and its Foundations
WEEK FOUR: Humanitarian Intervention, National Interests and Democracy

Saturday, 15 September 2012

6) ASAHIKAWA – More Fuzzy Animals (旭川: 可愛い 動物!)

The Grand Penguin Dictator of the Universe stands on his rock on high, and casts a scrutinizing crimson gaze on the proletarians below. Never mind that their average biomass is over twice his own, or that they will empty the buckets of fish before he can reach them unless he better positions himself. No, all he has to do is leer from his rock, and all will bow before His Excellency's timeless might.

Frankly, it makes as much sense as our own species's power games. And I'd support this penguin over a great deal of humanity's Excellencies any day.

This fellow and his impressive yellow eyebrows swaggers round Japan's most original penguin exhibit, along with members of half a dozen penguin species. Unlike other penguin exhibits, this one contains a long underwater tunnel from which you can watch them soaring through the waves from beneath, brings you almost to nose-to-beak proximity on the surface, and takes them all out for a nice long winter waddle around the zoo, for exercise, when the snow on the ground is cold enough for their feet.

Asahiyama Zoo: like everything in Hokkaido, quite different from what you'd expect elsewhere. Despite its site in the suburbs of only 350,000-people-strong Asahikawa, this zoo has surged from prior tough times to eclipse even Ueno Zoo in Tokyo as Japan's most popular zoo.