As the native son of a warm southern isle, closer to Taiwan than Tokyo, these snowy plains were perhaps meant to remain a distant, foreign world. And yet, here I am, plodding through the snow.
The snow breathes with each steady footstep, punctuating the frigid silence that looms over the vast Sea of Okhotsk. The sheer volume of water impresses upon me the sea’s heft, a thick layer of midnight blue, broken only by the horizon. Raised in the tropical waters off Miyako Island – so clear you can see the ocean floor from the sky, the water’s surface colored merely by a faint gradation easing gently off into the distance – Shiretoko’s bottomless sea is an imminently unfamiliar landscape.
Soft snowflakes begin to flutter down on the pitch-black port in Utoro, dancing in the amber glow of the streetlamps. Their light silhouettes the imposing Oronko and Godzilla outcrops, resolute rocky shadows rearing up out of the darkness, beckoning me to an alien planet in a distant galaxy.
I remember hearing of the Oronko, a tribe which is said to have once dwelled atop the Oronko rock. I picture their life atop this precarious perch, chosen precisely for its inaccessibility, and hence protection against enemy invasion. Danger lurks close at hand in any era, but where there is darkness, there is light. At least here, they had the stars for illumination. The entire Milky Way cascades down over me, undisturbed by the modest glim of Utoro.
As if time has stopped, I am the only source of movement in this serenely lonesome world. I am startled by the reminder that I, too, am a part of nature. I locate a certain value in this negotiation with nature. Touched by distant light, the luxuriant silence fills me with an acute appreciation for the dignity of this expansive land.
Even at its most bountiful, nature is no match for humans, whose arrival signals a loss of precious, eternal time. The southern islands of my youth have become dotted with loud parasols and the entreats of vendors hawking tapioca from food trucks. Even the sound of the waves has been drowned out by the loveless strains of J-pop, the smell of the sea inextricable from the saccharine scent of sweet milk tea. The air that filled my lungs in Shiretoko was not so fickle. Here, I discovered a quietude in nature, a place where everything belongs: the sea, the mountains, the cliffs, and even the people. All lifeforms here coexist to a code of mutual respect, pulsating to the same harmonic rhythm.
I believe that Shiretoko is a rare last bastion, where one can still feel the flow of innocent, unspoiled time. Pondering the ever-so-human meaning of time and space, I felt this clasped my hands around the cold snow which would slowly warm my ink.