What I probably love most about travelling in Japan is that it is simultaneously foreign and familiar. It’s immediately clear that the Japanese have a different culture, they speak a different language and use a writing system that many foreigners can’t read and yet there’s an unmistakable and comfortable familiarity. While you might think that you could lose your way in such a strange land, there’s much that you know and recognise to keep you in a very happy place. What should have had me worried when I was invited by the Japan External Trade Organisation, a nonprofit parastatal, for a brief visit to their northernmost main island, Hokkaido, in February, was the weather. At the back of my mind I could hear someone saying that February is not a good time to go as it is the coldest month in that neck of the woods. And a further notice from the hosts about the climate in Asahikawa and Sapporo, the two cities we were visiting, should have been ample warning. The average was about -6.5°...

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