The wind cancels the ferry to Rishiri on our first day.

As we descend into Wakkanai Airport, I see waves crashing heavy against the snowy shoreline of northern Hokkaido. Beyond that the sea roils, a stormy green accented with whitecaps that feels cold just to look at. The route to Rishiri, a remote island 20 kilometers off the northwestern tip of Hokkaido that we are hoping to ski, is closed.

Fellow journalist and skier Francesco Bassetti and I are stuck in Wakkanai, a once-prosperous fishing town rendered almost obsolete by the Russian seizure of Sakhalin and its fishing grounds at the end of World War II. The town is Japan’s last major settlement to the north and just an hour’s drive from Cape Soya, where a sign quietly protests the country’s diplomatic tensions with Russia: This is the farthest north “freely accessible” point in Japan.