snow2.jpg (4026 bytes)Japan - The Snow Crystal Tour, Part 2
-- by Kenneth G. Libbrecht,   January, 2002
From the Ishikawa prefecture and the Nakaya Museum we traveled to Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan.
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The train ride was a bit long this time, but the trains were very comfortable and the time passed quickly.  Along the way, still on Honshu, the scenery changed rather abruptly to that of winter.  Take away the mountains (in the second picture above) and the result looks an awful lot like my youth in North Dakota -- lots of white and flat.   During a brief stop in Sapporo we found a Mickey Mouse snow crystal (third picture) advertising Tokyo Disneyland.  The last picture shows Sapporo at night through a snow crystal camera filter.
The Snow Crystals Museum in Asahikawa   Upon arrival in Asahikawa we were greeted with a delightful snowfall, consisting of large fluffy clusters of well formed snow crystals -- perfect for catching on your tongue (or on your nose, or in your eye, or wherever... first picture below).  A close-up view of these crystals atop a nearby traffic post (next picture) showed them to be mostly beautiful stellar dendrites.  From the look of the houses around town (next picture) it became clear that Asahikawa is no stranger to snow, lots and lots of snow.
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The snowfall made for a unique approach to the Snow Crystals Museum (first and second pictures above).  The museum brochure shows a summertime photo of this same scene, which -- although a fine picture -- simply does not have the same visual impact as the view during a snowfall.  It's a museum about snow, after all. 
   Later on, after it had stopped snowing, I noticed that the heated sidewalk in front of the museum (third picture above) was producing excess water vapor that was diffusing into some bushes nearby.  (The bushes can also be seen in this picture, under the bamboo supports on either side of the sidewalk.)   Inside the bushes I found some excellent hoarfrost formations (fourth picture).   These ice crystal formations apparently grow slowly from the water vapor supplied by the heated sidewalk.
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The architecture of the museum shows little or no Japanese influence, but rather looks like a Austrian castle somehow mysteriously transported to northern Japan.  The European influence can be seen in the first picture above, showing the museum entrance with its heavy iron doors and ornate light fixtures.  Elaborate snow crystal figures are found all over the museum, for example on the entrance doors (and door handles) shown in the second picture above.  I especially liked the glass with its deeply carved and very detailed snow crystals (next picture).  Even the crowd control fixtures (fourth picture above) are made from cast brass snow crystals (and rather nice sectored plates at that).
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   From the museum entrance one is guided down a long stairway -- hexagonal, of course, with snow crystal railing posts -- to a hallway lined with ice (next picture).  Beyond this is the central area of the museum, which consists of a small concert hall (next two pictures).
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The concert hall is flanked by a gift shop and a number of smaller rooms, including a small art museum and what appears to be a very elegant dining room (first picture above).  Next to this is a small empty circular room, perhaps five meters in diameter, richly decorated with snow crystal transparencies illuminated from behind (next two pictures).  The photographs are of excellent quality, and include a good selection of all different snow crystal types, including columnar and needle crystals.
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We did a bit of skiing on some modest slopes right in Asahikawa, in fact about a mile from the Snow Crystals Museum (first picture above).  Naturally it snowed again, so I tried my hand at some snow crystal photography using my point-and-shoot digital camera with a magnifier attached (see Taking Photos).   As you can see in the next couple of pictures, my results were hardly world class.   Pity, because it was a very nice snowfall.
Click here for the Next stop of the tour -- Hoarfrost at Lake Kussharo
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