Japan's Chubu region records some of the heaviest snowfall on Earth, but the beauty of its pristine, snow-capped landscapes will warm the heart of even the fiercest critic.
There's a certain visceral pleasure when you step onto a landscape covered by a blanket of freshly laid snow.
With each stride you take, your foot sinks slightly into the white powder, followed by a muffled "pop" as the snow compresses between the soles of your shoes and the pavement below.
Turning around to look behind, you see a trail of perfectly formed footprints marking your passage. It almost seems that with every step, you are forging a path of discovery - and for this writer, a first-time visitor to Japan - it turned out to be so in more ways than one.
This is Shoryudo, the "dragon rise" region - a nickname given to nine prefectures in Chubu and Hokuriku located in the central part of Honshu Island. Stretching from Ishikawa prefecture in the north (which forms the dragon's "head") to Mie prefecture in the south (its "tail"), the area is home to the Japanese Alps and records some of the heaviest accumulation of snow on the planet every winter.
When our flight touched down at the Chubu Centrair International Airport in Nagoya in the early hours of the morning, there was a sense of anticipation in the air. Greeted by our well-informed and amiable guide, Kyoko Kitamura, the itinerary for our group was meticulously laid out.
Riding the dragon's back
The route for our visit in mid-January would take us from Nagoya city in the Aichi prefecture, up north to the Naganto and Ishikawa prefectures, then double back down south through the Gifu prefecture to our starting point.
The first stop was Tokoname city, an area which used to produce some of Japan's finest ceramic products, more than 1,000 years ago! It isn't the hotbed of pottery anymore, but relics of its past industry are evident everywhere you turn. Footpaths are lined with recycled pottery fragments and even a fair number of walls and embankments are composed of it. The city also has a certain feline patron, which Malaysians may be familiar with - Toko-nyan, a cat figure with a waving paw, beckoning people to the city.
Aichi also offers the Mikawa Bay National Park, which has a splendid vista of the picturesque Takeshima Island. This, coincidentally, was a popular spot for Japanese authors to find their muses - one being the 1968 Nobel Prize for Literature winner Yasunari Kawabata, writer of Snow Country, a book set in the Chubu region.
There's even something for the kids at the Lagunasia theme park in Gamagori, complete with a London Eye-like giant ferris wheel, not to mention an abundance of natural hot spring onsen (Japanese public bath) resorts to kick back and relax after a long day out.