When autumn rains fall on treelined craft hub Ninguru Terrace, find shelter in a wooden hut occupied by a real-life forest gnome busy at his craft.
This is no surprise.
Central Hokkaido is a fairy-tale adventure for travellers young and old. Gracious green hills yield luscious wine grapes, succulent vegetables or cheese made by rosy-cheeked farmers.
A breath away are waterfalls and lakes of cobalt-blue waters out of a fantasy picture book.
There are rumours of dragons on volcanic Mount Asahidake and an ice palace where one can dress like a Disney princess.
My 2 ½ days in central Hokkaido are benevolently warm in an autumn delayed by a series of typhoons.
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I expect frost on Asahidake, which is 2.3km above sea level and the highest mountain in the northernmost island of Japan. However, the sun beams on the autumn slopes.
Gusts of steam rumble from natural vents in the volcanic soil.
Five minutes on a rocky trail best navigated with alpine poles and I wish I had worn fewer layers.
My host from the Asahikawa Touring Promotion Council leads me back to the lookout point for a reviving cup of coffee.
The faraway steam puffs like a comforting cat. No, a purring dragon, says my host. “Tourists from China say this place has good qi,” he adds.
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