Hokkaido Day 14 (Sapporo) (27 Feb 17) – Goodbye Hokkaido, Till We Meet Again

Night view of Sapporo

Farewell Hokkaido, Farewell Japan

Today we fly to Bangkok from Hokkaido, where we will be staying for 2 nights before heading home to Singapore. We headed for Sapporo JR Station at 6.30am to catch or 7.05am train to New Chitose Airport. We wanted to cater sufficient time as we will be lugging our luggage and walking in the snow one last time before we head back. At the train station, we had to carry our luggage up 2 flights of stairs to reach the platform where we boarded the train to New Chitose Airport. I usually have the habit of reaching the airport 3 hours before flight in case there is a long queue at the customs. As expected, there is a long queue at the security prior to the immigration. However after clearing security, clearing customs is quite fast. There isn’t much shops at the airside in New Chitose Airport, we spent our time in the airline lounge before heading to board the aircraft.As we were sitting on our seats in the aircraft, looking out at the snow-covered tarmac of New Chitose Airport, I felt a sense of unwilling to leave Hokkaido. Afterall we had alot of fun and did a number of firsts in Hokkaido. We did skiing for the first time, we built our first snowman, we experienced snowing for the first time, we walked on the frozen lake for the first time, we sailed through ice for the first time, we soaked in onsen for the first time and soaked in onsen in the snow for the first time. So many first times we done in Hokkaido.
Traveling on JR from Sapporo to New Chitose Airport
Arrived at New Chitose Airport, ready to check in
Walking towards the International Terminal
The queue to clear the security is very long. Do arrive at the airport early
There are not many shopping options or things to do at the airside of New Chitose Airport. There are more things to do in the public area of the airport though
Relaxing in the lounge and grabbed some breakfast before we board the flight back

Afterthought

I quite like the pace of our Hokkaido trip, which we had time to leisurely visit the sights. Each day was planned with at most 3 places to visit. We had the chance to slow down our pace and look around us at the peaceful snowscape in Hokkaido. What kept us from feeling bored is the snow. We spent our time playing with the snow, walking in the snow and admiring the snow scenery. I thought travelling should be relaxed and not rushed (that is one of the reason why I detest package tours). Travelling in Hokkaido requires a certain amount of planning, especially in winter where public transports are less frequent. Planning for this trip, however is not difficult. There are websites that helped in the planning of our Hokkaido trip from the Hokkaido JR website to the hotel websites to the websites of the places we have been to. I find traveling in Hokkaido to be very pleasant, everyone is so courteous and made us felt so welcomed and Hokkaido doesn’t feel crowded. We will be back to Japan again, perhaps visit another city the next time we come back.
Aircraft taxiing to the runway

 

Take off from New Chitose Airport

 

We are going to miss the snow and the fun we had in Hokkaido

 

Farewell Hokkaido, Farewell Japan. We will definitely return to Japan
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Hokkaido Day 13 (Otaru) (26 Feb 17) – Day Trip to Otaru and Viewing Sapporo from Mt Moiwa

The beautiful and peaceful iconic Otaru Canal

Day Trip to Otaru

The original plan was to visit Mt Moiwa in the morning and by noon arrive at Otaru. However Mt Moiwa Ropeway opens at 11am, which would mean half day will be wasted. We made the decision on the spot at Sapporo JR Station to visit Otaru and return by evening and head over to Mt Moiwa. JR from Sapporo to Otaru took about 1 hour. We bought our train tickets from the vending machines which also allows us to get reserved seat tickets. We also bought our train tickets to New Chitose Airport for tomorrow since we are already at it. Once arrived at Otaru we headed for the Otaru Canal, which is about 10 mins walk away from the train station. To get to Otaru Canal, we walked straight along the street with Otaru JR station behind us. As we were walking towards Otaru Canal, we were surrounded by thick snow and couldn’t resist playing with the snow. As we were playing with the snow, my friend and I started building a snowman by the side of the walkway. We were hoping that our snowman will still be around by the time we return.
Taking JR from Sapporo to Otaru 
We reached Otaru Station in about 1 hour’s time
In Otaru Station
View of Otaru JR Station
Walking towards Otaru Canal
On the streets of Otaru (near Otaru JR Station)
My friend building a snowman on the streets of Otaru
The snowman we built
Buildings in Otaru is influenced by westerrn architecture

The Charming Otaru Canal

We were greeted by a canal across a road, we knew we have arrived at Otaru Canal. Rows of brick-walled warehouses lined up across the canal, standing tall and unwavering by the cold winter of Hokkaido (was -4℃ at the time we were there). Covered with snow and icicles forming on its roof, these buildings eluding a sense of majestic to these buildings which once served as storage space in the first half of 20th century. These days these timeless warehouses transformed into shops and restaurant continue to stay relevant to their changing roles. As we strolled along Otaru Canal on the snow covered pathway the stroll was comfortable and peaceful as we gaze at the canal and the warehouses, despite having quite a number of visitors strolling along the same path. A bridge nearby, Asakusa Bridge, where a lot more visitors gathered. The view from Asakusa Bridge is even more charming. This is where one can take iconic pictures of Otaru Canal running in the middle with warehouses on the right side and the modern buildings peaking through the snow on the left side. Diagonally opposite Asakusa Bridge is the Denuki-Koji Street, which comprises of a cluster of restaurants that are built on whatever land they can find here. On the outside of Denuki-Koji Street are some small stalls that sells some street food. My friend and I headed into one of the cafes to have a small portion of melon soft serve. It was snowing when we exited the shop and seem heavier by the minute. We headed over to the sushi restaurant opposite Denuki-Koji Street.

There it is, Otaru Canal
Taking wefie at Otaru Canal
The warehouses standing unwavering to the cold winter weather
Me at Otrau Canal
The snow and icicles on the warehouses gives it a different personality
Denuki-Koji Street Opposite Asakusa Bridge over Otaru Canal
Me on Asakusa Bridge over Otaru Canal
My friend with Denuki-Koji Street
Shops selling street food in Denuki-Koji Street
We went for the melon soft serve in Denuki-Koji Street. It is a pity the melon is not from Hokkaido as we were told Feb is not the season for Hokkaido melons
Denuki-Koji Street
My friend in Denuki-Koji Street
It started to snow as we were getting some street food in Denuki-Koji Street
Going for sushi in a restaurant opposite Denuki-Koji Street 
Maki with tuna
The sushi here is very fresh and tasty

Strolling in Otaru

After lunch, we walked along Rinkosen Street, the street opposite Otaru Canal, towards the Otaru Music Box Museum. There are a number of restaurants and souvenir shops on this side of the side. We went into one of the restaurant to have some ramen and grilled scallops. As we were walking along Rinkosen Street, we came across a shop selling 7-tier soft serve with 7 different flavours. Feeling full from our 2 lunches we had earlier, we opted for the 3-tier soft serve with lavender, vanilla and melon flavours. The soft serve tasted rich and not too sweet, perfect to be eaten in the snowing winter of Otaru. We went into LeTao cafe and got ourselves both flavours of their famed cheesecake. Their cheesecake did not taste too cheesy, coupled with the rich Hokkaido milk it is made from, the cheesecake is simply heavenly. Even my friend who is not a fan of cheesecake got bought over by LeTao cheesecake.

After lunch, we headed back to Otaru Canal and explore the street behind the warehouses. The snowing weather makes Otaru Canal more charming
There are some restaurants souvenir shops in this warehouse
The street behind Otaru Canal
Most of the warehouses are restaurants
My friend in the street behind the warehouse
Some of the warehouses on Otaru Canal
Lunch no.2. We had grill scallops and crab
And Miso Ramen
The grill scallops. There are uni also
The restaurant we had our second lunch in
We saw this shop selling 7-tiered soft serve. We only got stomach space to fit 3 and got the vanilla, lavender and melon flavour soft serve
We passed by one of the restaurants displaying live seafood outside the restaurant
LeTao Cheesecakes is a must try when coming to Otaru
We ordered both flavours. The delicious cheesecake is rich and does not have a cheesy taste

Otaru Music Box Museum 

Feeling satisfied after our cheesecake, we headed to red-bricked western-styled Otaru Music Box Museum. Outside the Otaru Music Box Museum stands the Otaru Steam Clock which chimes every 15 mins. The interior of the Otaru Music Box Museum is mainly made of wood, from the flooring to the wooden stairways that leads to the 2nd and 3rd floor of the museum. My first impression of Otaru Music Box Museum, apart from it being crowded with tourists, is that it is a big shop selling all sorts of intriguing designed music box made of glass and some in wood. I was very careful when navigating in the museum amongst the hordes of tourists. The real gem is the room on the 2nd floor, near to the entrance of Otaru Music Box Museum. This is where the more expensive and unique and some antique music boxes are being displayed. We were quite turned off my the massive crowd flocking into Otaru Music Box Museum and left the museum.

Walking towards Otaru Music Box Museum along Rinkosen Street  
An oil lamp opposite Otaru Music Box Museum
The steam clock outside Otaru Music Box Museum which chimes every 15 mins
Taking a picture with the steam clock
There are a lot of music boxes for sale in Otaru Music Box Museum
The Otaru Music Box Museum feels more like a huge shop selling music boxes than a museum
Customers can choose what music for their music box here
More music boxes on sale
View of the music box museum from second floor
Sleeping with a lucky cat
This is part of the display on second level
One of the more expensive music boxes

Otaru Canal in the Evening

It is getting dark and still snowing, my friend and I made our way back to Otaru Canal Sakaimachidori Shopping Street to take pictures of the night view of the canal. Sakaimachidori Shopping Street has a mixture of western-style and ancient Japanese styled buildings. Personally I find the old Japanese styled buildings to be more charming. The street has shops selling all sorts of souvenirs, mainly souvenirs made of glass. Otaru is famous for its glasswares from decorative glass ornaments to practical glass kitchen wares, one is sure to find some glassware that suits one’s needs here. I learnt from my research for the my Hokkaido trip that a cafe in Otaru sells cream puffs that is bigger than one’s face. As we are strolling along Sakaimachidori Shopping Street, we found Kitaichi Glass 3gokan Cafe Bar which sells the signature gigantic cream puff. My first impression of the rustic cafe is it is rather dark, as they used kerosene lamp to light up the cafe. However as we were settling in, I like the cosy ambience in this cafe. As we tucked into the gigantic cream puff, we found the cream inside the puff is generous and not too sweet and has a rich texture to it.

Sakaimachidori Shopping Street viewed from Otaru Music Box Museum
My friend in front of  Otaru Music Box Museum facing Sakaimachidori Shopping Street
This cream puff is gigantic! Still the cream tasted fresh and yummy
We had the giant cream puff at Kitaichi Glass 3gokan Cafe Bar. The rustic restaurant has a distinct kerosene smell  as they use kerosene lamp as lighting.
Showing how big the cream puff is in Kitaichi Glass 3gokan Cafe Bar. The cafe is located inside one of the glassware shops.
We found a snowman in front one of the glassware shops along Sakaimachidori Shopping Street
Taking wefie on Sakaimachidori Shopping Street
Taking pictures with random buildings in Sakaimachidori Shopping Street
There are some Japanese styled buildings alongside Western styled buildings on Sakaimachidori Shopping Street
One of the shops in Japanese styled building on Sakaimachidori Shopping Street
We walked along this canal to get back to Otaru Canal. The buildings here are simply charming with the snow all around it
Me in front of the canal that links to Otaru Canal
My throwing a snowball into the canal
Walking along this small street is very peaceful. The snow covered buildings are beautiful sight to looking at.
Taking picture of the canal. There are some shops selling glasswares along the canal

The night view of Otaru Canal is peaceful and beautiful and has a very different flare from the day time. The Victorian-styled lamp lining along the pathway beside the canal gives a very romantic feel to the canal. Taking picture on Asakusa Bridge is a ritual that many tourists come here for, but taking pictures on the pathway is equally beautiful. After taking picture of Otaru Canal, my friend and I headed back to Otaru JR Station to catch the next train back to Sapporo. Along the way, we saw the snowman we built earlier in the day is still there. It survived the snow storm and mankind’s destruction! We headed to Otaru JR Station and took a train back to Sapporo.

In Otaru Canal in the evening
Taking wefie on Asakusaga Bridge. This spot has the best photo spot of Otaru Canal, especially in the evening
My friend on Asakugawa Bridge overlooking Otaru Canal.

 

The pathway beside Otaru Canal also offers great photo spot
Taking picture with Otaru Canal in the evening

Our Final Destination – Viewing Sapporo from Mt Moiwa at Night

Reaching Sapporo, we headed to our last destination of the trip – Mt Moiwa. To get to Mt Moiwa Ropeway station, my friend and I took the subway from Sapporo JR Station to Susukino Station and changed to the Streetcar (Shiden). The Shiden is a tram system that runs from Central Sapporo to Western areas in Sapporo and is the only way (other than catching a cab) to Mt Moiwa Ropeway Station. We alighted at Ropeway Iriguchi Stop and walked about 3 mins to the bus stop where a complementary shuttle bus picked us up and brought us to the base station (Sanroku Station).
The Streetcar or Shiden is the only way to get to Mt Moiwa Ropeway
Inside the crowded Shiden
The shuttle bus that took us from Shiden stop to Mt Moiwa Ropeway Sanroku Station
The bus ride to Mt Moiwa Sanroku Station takes only 3 mins
Map in Sanroku Station explaining the stations of the Ropeway System on Mt Moiwa
My friend with the Mascot of Mt Moiwa
This is the Ropeway that will take us to Chufuku Station where we changed to the mini cable car to the summit Sancho Station

Mt Moiwa is a 531m mountain located in Southwest of Sapporo, a romantic place for locals to date. The jewel of the crown on Mt Moiwa is its unobstructed view of the entire Sapporo and beyond. On a good day, one can see as far as Japan Sea. To get to the summit, we took the Mt Moiwa Ropeway to the mid station (Chufuku Station) and another mini cable car to the summit station (Sancho Station). As the ropeway pulls us up to the Chufuku Station, the City of Sapporo shine like stars in the sky beneath us. It felt as if the ropeway is hanging through a cleared path in the forest of Mt Moiwa. The ropeway reached Chufuku Station in 5 mins. There is a big souvenir shop at Chufuku Station, as we were trying to catch the mini cable cars to Sancho Station, we thought we could come back later to get some souvenirs.

Inside the mini cable car towards Chufuku Station
We are already mesmerised by the view of Sapporo city as we ascend in the Ropeway, to the mid Chufuku Station
Night view of Sapporo from the Ropeway
Night view of Sapporo from the Ropeway

We changed to a mini cable car in Chukufu Station which brought us to Sancho Station in around 2 mins. The mini cable cars are essentially 2 small train like cable cars running on rail tracks. Once at Sancho Station, my friend and I went directly up to the observation deck on the roof top. As we were exiting the lift, we were greeted by a huge diamond-shaped tripod with a bell in the middle sitting in the centre of the observation deck. It is believed that couples who rang the bell together will find happiness. The Bell of Happiness is surrounded by some railings for couples to put a padlock with their names on it, which is believed that couples who does that will forever be in love with each other. Pass the Bell of Happiness we saw what we came here to see, the view of Sapporo. The night view here is touted to be the new 3 most beautiful nightscapes of Japan. The cold winter wind (it was around -8℃ at the time of our visit) did not stop us from admiring the beautiful night view of Sapporo. Sapporo shone like stars in the sky, brightly lighting the darkness around us. As it was dark, I find it a little tough to make out where is what, on top of that we couldn’t see Sea of Japan due to the darkness. What a better way than looking at Sapporo from Mt Moiwa at night as a way to draw the curtain to our 14 day trip across Hokkaido. My friend and I looked back at our maiden trip to Japan and recollect how much we had enjoyed ourselves while traveling in Hokkaido, looking at Sapporo from Mt Moiwa. Soon it is time for us to take our leave traveling back to Sanroku Station and head back to our apartment. After all we have to pack our luggage for our early flight out of Hokkaido tomorrow.

My friend at Mt Moiwa Rooftop Observation Deck
Me ringing the Bell of Happiness. As we were the first ones to take picture with the bell, I broke the tranquility (and in the midst startling some people) when I strike the bell
Night view of Sapporo from Mt Moiwa.
Panoramic shot of night view of Sapporo City from Mt Moiwa
Another panoramic shot of Sapporo City from Mt Moiwa. It was freezing up here but the view was well worth it
Me with the night view of Sapporo City
The lights make Sapporo City look like stars in a galaxy system
Night view of Sapporo City is both stunning and peaceful
Night view of Sapporo City
My friend raining the Bell of Happiness
Taking a wefie at the Observation Deck of Mt Moiwa with the beautiful  night view of Sapporo City behind us
Enjoying the view of Sapporo City from Mt Moiwa
One last shot of Sapporo City before we head back to our apartment
Taking the Ropeway back to the base station of Sanroku Station
Night view of Sapporo City from the Ropeway as we descend. If you look closely you can see Sapporo TV Tower (it is lighted up in Red)
Night view of Sapporo City seen from Mt Moiwa Ropeway

 

 

Hokkaido Day 12 (Sapporo) (25 Feb 17) – Change in Plan: Shopping in Sapporo and In Search of Ramen Alley

Snowing Susukino district where we had a hard time looking for the famous Ramen Alley

A Sudden Change in Plan

The plan today was for us to visit Otaru and leave shopping in Sapporo on our last day. As we were walking towards the ticketing machines in Sapporo JR Station, we saw Daimaru (a large departmental store in Sapporo JR Station building). Since a friend of ours had asked us to buy some stuff for her,l I suggested to my friend that we check out the departmental store and find where this store is so that we do not have to waste time tomorrow locating the store. As we were searching for that store, we realise we spent a considerable amount of time as Daimaru Departmental Store is very big (with 7 floors of shopping). By the time we found what we were looking for, we realised that half the day is gone. We decided to change in plan and visit Otaru tomorrow instead. We would see if we have time to visit Hokkaido Shrine and Mt Moiwa later in the evening.

Shopping mall in Sapporo

Walking Through the Malls

Since we were at Daimaru, we started from the top of the departmental store at 7th floor and shopped our way down to level 1. We spent considerable amount of time shopping for Black and Blue Label, formerly a series from Burberry which is only found in Japan. After getting our stuffs, we found it rather bulky and headed back to our apartment to leave our shoppings before heading out to shop again (since our apartment is 4 mins walk from Sapporo JR Station). My friend and I went to a few of the nearby shopping malls to shop. As the sky was getting darker,  suggested to my friend to head to the famed Ramen Alley in Susukino area.

Taking a wefie in the streets of Sapporo
We found a snowman in Odori Park

 

Taking a picture with the snowman
It is already dark by the time we are done shopping near Sapporo TV Tower 

In Search of Ramen Alley

We took the subway from Odori Station to Susukino Station. It started to snow heavily as we exited Susukino Subway Station. As we did not bring our map out with us (trusting Google Map), we spent some time looking for the Ramen Alley. Google Map led us to a building which it stated as Ramen Alley. However it looks different from the Ramen Alley I saw when I was researching for our Hokkaido trip. Feeling fedup, we decided to forget about Google Map and go around searching. We turned left after exiting the building, hidden between 2 buildings is the Ramen Alley that we were looking for. True to its name, all the shops here sells only Ramen. The ramen shops here are very small with limited seating. We walked along the Ramen Alley, we chose the shop that has empty seats, trusting that all the shops here serves delicious ramen. The ramen broth in the restaurant is delicious and the ramen is very delicious. The serving is very generous and we had a hearty ramen dinner. After dinner, as we exited Ramen Alley to head to Tanuki Koji for more shopping, we realised that Ramen Alley is actually a small alley behind Holiday Inn ANA Sapporo Susukino. We shopped in Tanuki Koji which is nearby Ramen Alley for souvenirs to bring home, as we might not have time to shop tomorrow. As it was getting late, we did not have time for Hokkaido Shrine and Mt Moiwa. We decided to visit Mt Moiwa tomorrow before we head to Otaru.

It was snowing heavily when we arrived at Susukino

 

Taking a wefie in the snowing Susukino district
Snowing in Susukino

 

This is the famous restaurant with a giant crab… we did not eat here but just took picture here
My friend in the snowing Susukino
Susukino district at night
Susukino district
Me covered with snow while looking for Ramen Alley
We finally found Ramen Alley
Ramen Alley is a small alley between 2 buildings
In one of the Ramen restaurant in Ramen Alley. There is a sign that says no photographing, we can only secretly take pictures
I had the spicy miso ramen
My friend had the miso ramen
We also got Gyoza as a side dish
Me in a random street in Susukino wih the snow covered tree and traffic light
Snow covered tree in the snowing weather
Snowing in Susukino district
Night scene in Susukino
My friend in the snowing Susukino district
Fresh snow near our apartment

 

Hokkaido Day 11 (Sapporo) (24 Feb 17) – Our Last Stop in Hokkaido: Sapporo

Night Shot of Sapporo TV Station

Goodbye Toyako Onsen, Hello Sapporo

Today we headed out to our final stop of our Hokkaido trip – Sapporo. To get to Sapporo, we too the complementary bus shuttle provided by the hotel, which took us 4 hours to travel to Sapporo. This option saved us ¥6,250 per pax, if we were to take the JR (¥330 for local bus to Toya JR Station and ¥5,920 for JR tickets to Sapporo). Always check out if the hotel does provide transfers to your next destination, chances are they do provide at a much cheaper rate. We checked out of our hotel in time for the complementary bus ride from Toyako Onsen to Sapporo JR Station. It was snowing rather heavily as the bus was making its way towards Sapporo. We stopped halfway for toilet break and the snow seem heavier. The 3 hour bus ride zipped us through the highways and passing some towns along the way. As we got nearer to Sapporo, the snow seem to subside a little. We arrived at Sapporo JR Station a little after noon. As we were too early to meet our host for our Airbnb accommodation, my friend and I left our luggages in the lockers found in the JR Station and made our way to our first destination in Sapporo – Sapporo TV Tower and Odori Park.
Making our way from Toyako Onsen to Sapporo
I love the snow scene along the way to Sapporo
Making our way from Toyako Onsen to Sapporo
The snow makes even the most ordinary looks beautiful
The snow got heavier as we were heading towards Sapporo
Making our way from Toyako Onsen to Sapporo
Making our way from Toyako Onsen to Sapporo
Making our way from Toyako Onsen to Sapporo

 

We arrived in Sapporo JR Station some 3 hours later
Outside Sapporo JR Station
Taking a wefie in Sapporo JR Station

Viewing Sapporo from the Sapporo TV Tower 

We walked a few blocks from Sapporo JR Station towards Odori Park. Walking along the streets of Sapporo, I noticed there isn’t many people around, unlike my impression of Japan over the television. It is not too difficult to realise we have reached Odori Park. Odori Park is a stretch of park that cuts through a few blocks in the centre of Sapporo. In winter, the Odori Park is a vacant space in the midst of tall buildings that is covered with snow. Odori Park looked bare at the time of our visit, due to the demolition of the ice sculptures and snowmen when the Sapporo Winter Festive ended a few weeks ago, the entire park looks like a place where the locals dump their snow. Standing at its eastern end is Sapporo TV Tower.

Stepping out of Sapporo JS Station, we started to explore the city
Outside Sapporo JR Station
My friend on the streets of Sapporo
Sapporo TV Tower is sitting on the eastern end of Odori Park
My friend standing in the middle of Odori Park with Sapporo TV Tower behind
Taking a wefie with Sapporo TV Tower

One cannot miss Sapporo TV Tower when in Odori Park. The red lattice nearly 150m tall tower that resembles Eiffel Tower in Paris, is standing at the end of Odori Park. At the base of the tower, there is an information counter. To visit the tower, we took a lift to the Sky lounge on 3rd floor. Exiting the lift, we saw a shop selling souvenirs. Round the corner is the ticketing counter where we got our tickets to go up to the observation deck. Riding the glass lift to the observation is not for those who has height phobia. As the lift rises up 90m above the ground, the lift attendant seem to be introducing the TV Tower in Japanese. Since my friend and I do not understand Japanese, we looked out the lift and enjoy the view.

Sapporo TV Tower up close
Souvenir shop on 2nd level of Sapporo TV Tower
View from 2nd level of Sapporo TV Tower
As soon as the lift door opened at the observation deck level, panels and panels of large windows allowed us to see Sapporo City. The city seem to stretch into the horizon with numerous buildings, tall and short lining up in an orderly manner. As we moved around the observation deck, Odori Park, which looked like a place for dumped snow, became obverse. This is a stretch of white snowy unspoiled land that stretches as far as the eye can see. Along the sides of the park are some sparsely planted trees. We can see as far as Mt Hyakumatsuzawa over the horizon. There are pictures that points out where is what along the windows. Viewing Sapporo from the TV Tower, watching the life in the city going about doing their business is rather relaxing. There is a some shrine in the observation deck for visitors to make wishes. We left the observation deck after walking around a few times.
Taking a lift to observation deck in Sapporo TV Tower
View of Sapporo from the observation deck of Sapporo TV Tower
Me on the observation deck of Sapporo TV Tower
From the observation deck, we got a great view of Sapporo
View of Sapporo City from the observation deck of Sapporo TV Tower
View of Sapporo City from the observation deck of Sapporo TV Tower
The strip of white is where Odori Park is. It started snowing when we were in Sapporo TV Tower
View of Odori Park from Sapporo TV Tower
There are such maps around the observation deck telling visitors what is where when seen from the observation deck
A small shrine in the observation deck of Sapporo TV Tower

Glancing the Sapporo Clock Tower

I saw on the map that the Sapporo Clock Tower is nearby Sapporo TV Tower, and it is on the way back to Sapporo JR Station. My friend and I headed for the century-old clock tower. Sapporo Clock Tower is a 2-storey wooden building sitting in one corner of Sapporo. Despite being dwarfed by the buildings around it, Sapporo Clock Tower still commands the area with its unique structure, which seem at odds with the rest of the concrete buildings surrounding it. The clock tower was built in 1878 and the clock still functions after more than 100 years of service. The clock tower is currently a museum with displays about the building’s history. We did not enter the clock tower, but took pictures of it. The best photo spot of Sapporo Clock Tower is the corner of the street opposite facing the clock tower. After some shots, we headed back to Sapporo JR Station to meet up with our host for Airbnb accommodation and settled into our apartment.
The iconic Sapporo Clock Tower is a 2-storey wooden building
Entrance to Sapporo Clock Tower. The clock is still functioning after working for more than 100 years
Taking a wefie in front of Sapporo Clock Tower
Sapporo Clock Tower taken from opposite the road
Lunch time
I had the fried pork cutlet with special sauce
My friend had the curry pork cutlet

Making Our Own Cookies in Shiroi Kobito Park

Visiting the Shiroi Kobito Park was originally not in our list when in Sapporo, as I thought it is just another big complex selling the famed Shiroi Kobito (白い恋人) cookie with white chocolate fillings, which is available practically everywhere in Hokkaido. In a spur of the moment after we have settled into our apartment, my friend suggested to visit the Shiroi Kobito Park. Well since we are already in Sapporo, I thought why not. To get to Shiroi Kobito Park, we took the subway from Sapporo JR Station and changed to the Tozai line and alighted at the terminal station Miyanosawa. There are signs all over the station that guided us to Shiroi Kobito Park. The buildings in Shiroi Kobito Park have a European flare to it. The moment we reached Shiroi Kobito Park, the courtyard immediately attracted our attention. Covered with snow and decorated with small huts, snowmen, pine trees the courtyard, which has tons of photo spots, there is Christmas in the air.
We got a store value Sapporo Subway ticket from one of these machines
Waiting for the subway in Sapporo Station
Map of Sapporo Subway System
The subway is clean and efficient
Signs pointing how to get to Shiroi Kibito Park are all over the place from the Subway Station
Shiroi Kibito Park external facade
Entrance to Shiroi Kibito Park
Me in the front courtyard of Shiroi Kibito Park
One of the statues in the main courtyard of Shiroi Kibito Park
View of the main courtyard in Shiroi Kibito Park
Taking a wefie in the main courtyard of Shiroi Kibito Park
Me in one of the small houses in the main courtyard of Shiroi Kibito Park
The displays and the snow gave Shiroi Kibito Park a Christmas mood
Shiroi Kibito building has a European architecture
My friend in the main courtyard of Shiroi Kibito Park
Riding on a sledge in Shiroi Kibito Park
There are plenty photo spots in the main courtyard of Shiroi Kibito Park
Main courtyard in Shiroi Kibito Park

We headed inside the factory for the Shiroi Kobit Production line that can be observed through glass windows. The factory has a few floors, which is well marked out on the route to be taken. Following the route, the first thing was saw is the Aurora Fountain. A European style fountain, produced in 1870, the fountain looked colourful and lively, thanks to the colourful tiles and lightings in the fountain. European styled tins, cups and teapots are exhibited throughout the building. We were not particularly interested in these displays and followed the signs straight to the factory floor viewing gallery. There are 2 large window panels overlooking 2 factory floor operations. From here we can see how freshly backed cookies are made from the baking to the packing. Meticulous the staffs sieving out imperfections ensuring customers receive quality Shiroi Kobito cookie. From here we can also see how each cookie is individually packed. Exiting the factory floor observation area, we entered a cafe looking place. There is a counter and a large floor to ceiling window panel. This is where my friend and I experienced decorating our own extra large Shiroi Kobito Cookie in a kitchen. We were both given a small tube of white chocolate to draw whatever we want on the big heart shape cookie. After we were done, the staff took our cookie and chilled it for another 10 mins before we were given back our cookies and seal them off. It is a fun experience doing our one-in-the-world Shiroi Kobito cookie. As Shiroi Kobito Park was closing, we left the place after getting some products that are only sold here.

The first display we saw inside the Shiroi Kibito factory
Posing with a gigantic Shiroi Kibito biscuit
This fountain was made in 1870 and is still functioning
View of Shiroi Kibito from inside the factory
Exhibits in the Shiroi Kibito factory
The European decor inside the Shiroi Kibito factory exhibition area
Exhibit inside Shiroi Kibito factory
Exhibit inside Shiroi Kibito factory
Factory operations in Shiroi Kibito factory viewing gallery
Factory operations in Shiroi Kibito factory viewing gallery
Factory operations in Shiroi Kibito factory viewing gallery
Waiting for our turn to decorate our Shiroi Kibito cookie
Each of us is provided with a big piece of hear-shaped Shiroi Kibito cookie
My friend decorating his Shiroi Kibito cookie
Me thinking what to write on my Shiroi Kibito cookie
My (ugly) looking Shiroi Kibito cookie
My friend’s Shiroi Kibito cookie
Taking a picture with our masterpieces of Shiroi Kibito cookie
Souvenir shop in Shiroi Kibito factory, visitors can still visit here without going into the factory
Shiroi Kibito cookies on sale in the souvenir shop
Night view of the main courtyard of Shiroi Kibito Park

Shopping in Tanuki Koji

As the night was relatively young, we headed over to the Tanuki Koji Shopping Arcade. The 900m covered shopping arcade has over 200 shops, mostly selling souvenirs and pharmacies. There are some restaurants and pubs nearer to the end of the street. We took the subway to Odori Station and walked about 5 mins to reach Tanuki Koji. There are more tourists buying souvenirs here than locals shopping for their daily needs. I read that there is a shrine in Tanuki Koji. We walked along the shopping arcade and found the shrine in Tanuki Koji Chrome 5. The small shrine worships a racoon, which once was popular in this area. Praying to the racoon with a sack of money bag is believed to bring good luck.
On our way to Tanuki Koji Shopping Arcade from Odori JR Station
Street in Sapporo near Tanuki Koji Shopping Arcade
Tanuki Koji Shopping Arcade
Tanuki Koji Shopping Arcade
My friend in Tanuki Koji Shopping Arcade
Tanuki Koji Shopping Arcade has 7 sections to it
A shrine found in Tanuki Koji Chrome 5
Tanuki Koji Shopping Arcade
We passed by Sapporo TV Tower on our way back to our apartment. The TV Tower looks as charming at night as it is in the day
Random shots in the streets of Sapporo
Sapporo JR Station night view
Night view of Sapporo JR Station and Sapporo JR Tower

Hokkaido Day 10 (Lake Toya) (23 Feb 17) – Scaling the Volcanoes and Our Search for Scenic Viewpoint of Lake Toya

Showa-Shinzan is still emitting smoke

The Volcanoes of Toyako – Scaling up Mt Usu (Usuzan) 

Our itinerary was very light today, we originally planned to visit only the summit of Usuzan via the Usuzan Ropeway. We subsequently included Tenboudai after we reached the summit of Usuzan. Usuzan, standing at 733m tall, is an active volcano and has erupted 4 times since 1900, with the last eruption in 2000. During the 1944 eruption, a 398m new volcano, Showa-Shinzan was formed. After breakfast, we took the 9.33am local bus from the bus stop in front of our hotel to Usuzan. To get to Usuzan Ropeway, we took the bus to the terminal stop of Showan-Shinzan.
Winter local bus schedule, plying between Tenboudai and Showa-Shinzan
Alighting the bus at Showan-Shinzan stop, the majestic volcano is the first thing that caught my eyes. Today is a snow day. At this point, I almost forgot what we were here for. My eyes were set on the young volcano, which is still displaying its rage with the smoke emitting from various points on the volcano, as though reminding locals and visitors that it is not ready to sleep. We hurried up a flight of snow covered steps and took pictures of the partially snow-covered red and brown volcano.
Taking wefie with Showa-Shinzan in the background
Me with Showa-Shinzan
Usuzan and the Volcano Village
My friend with Showa-Shinzan signage
After containing our excitement of seeing Showan-Shinzan, we headed across the road and straight to the Usuzan Ropeway. Usuzan Ropeway gondola can take up to 106 passengers. We were the only ones who will be traveling up to the summit of Usuzan today, as it was snowing. The ride up Usuzan takes around 6 mins. As the gondola makes its way up to Usuzan, we could see the entire Volcano Village and Showan-Shinzan. The higher the gondola goes, the more of Toyako Onsen was visible. Nearing the summit of Usuzan, we entered into a cloud of snow. At this time I knew that it is unlikely we can see Lake Toya from Usuzan.
My friend in front of Usuzan Ropeway
Riding Usuzan Ropeway up to the peak of the volcano
Me inside the gondola as we were leaving the station
Usuzan Ropeway making its way up to the summit
View of Toyako Onsen
Showa-Shinzan from Usuzan Ropeway

 

The entire Showa-Shinzan area is covered with snow

 

Our view is bcoming obscured as we enter into the low clouds
We were the only visitors at the time we arrived at the summit station. It was snowing outside and was cold. We headed outside the summit station and found it rather cold. My friend and I than headed for the theater in the summit station on Usuzan and watched a short video clip on the local efforts for living with the volcano. After the short clip, we headed outside the summit station and turned right for the Lake Toya Viewing Platform. As we had expected, the low snow clouds has obscured our view of the lake. I felt rather disappointed to have came all the way and to miss out on the view. I told my friend we might not see anything at the Mt Usu Crater Basin Viewing Platform. Since we are already here, we decided to head for the Crater Basin Viewing Platform anyways. As we were walking towards the station, we came across a slope with a basket of sleds placed at the base of the slope. Instead of feeling dampened by not able to see Lake Toya from Usuzan, my friend walked up and grabbed a sled and slide down the slope. Although the slope is not too high, we had fun nonetheless. We had so much fun that the whole area was filled with our laughter. Sliding down the slope in the snowing weather at the top of an active Usuzan volcano was something that we did not plan for. It is an usual experience.
We saw a snowman Pikachu went we exited Usuzan Ropeway Summit Station
Sign outside the Ropeway Station point out where to go. The Crater Viewing Platform is about 7 mins walk from the Ropeway Station

 

We would have seen Lake Toya here from the Lake Toya Viewing Platform if not for the low clouds

 

Not to be damped by not able to see Lake Toya from Usuzan, my friend grabbed a sled and slide down the slope
My friend having fun sliding down the slope on a sled
My turn to slide down the slope
I had a go at sliding down the slope. It was great fun, especially when doing so in the snowing weather and on top of a volcano
After sliding down a few times, we headed for Usuzan Crater Basin Viewing Platform. The feeling of walking in the snowing weather along a cleared path with snow either sides of the path reaching thigh height with the low clouds is serene. The low clouds made our visibility of the path ahead of limited, plus it felt like we had the whole volcano to ourselves making me feel a sense of mysticism. The snow made an otherwise boring place looked beautiful, as though we are in some fairy tale land. We can’t resist to build a snowman. We had fun building a snowman each, despite the size isn’t that big. We started by gathering snow to form the base and then the head. To add icing to the cake, we plucked twigs and dried berries from the nearby plant. Building a snowman in the snowing volcano was a first for us. This is my very first snowman! After taking some pictures, we continued our path towards Usuzan Crater Basin Viewing Platform.
My friend enjoying the snowing weather, with no one around, it felt as though we own the volcano

 

The low clouds and the snow gave the place a sense of mysticism. It felt as if we were tracking at the top of a high mountain
My friend building a snowman in the snowing weather
Snowman building in progress
This is the snowman built by my friend
This snowman is built by me
We continued our journey to the crater viewing platform.Crossing a wooden bridge and up a flight of step that seem to stretch forever up the slope, we finally reached our destination. As we had expected, the low clouds blocked the view of the crater. All we could see was a wooden fence, a sign stating that this is Usuzan Crater Basin Viewing Platform as well as a tablet explaining the crater formation and its properties. The entrance to Usu Outer Rim Boardwalk is fenced off. This path that leads to the view of the lava dome and crater basin is closed during winter for safety reasons. In the middle of the platform is a pole of some sort and a tablet that tells us where Lake Toya and Showa-Shinzan is relative to us. Despite unable to see the crater, we enjoyed the weather and the walk towards Usuzan Crater Basin Viewing Platform.
The path to Usuzan Crater Viewing Platform
We crossed the small wooden bridge. The view here is very serene
Taking a picture on the wooden bridge
Usuzan Crater Viewing Platform
My friend posing at the sign that marks Usuzan Crater Viewing Platform with the snowball he made along the way
Taking a wefie with Usuzan Crater Viewing Platform sign
Me with the Usuzan Crater Viewing Platform sign

 

This is what we would see if not for the low clouds
The Usu Outer Rim Boardwalk is closed during winter
Panoramic shot of Usuzan Crater Viewing Platform

 

Panoramic shot of Usuzan Crater Viewing Platform. It would be the crater if not for the low clouds
A tablet that tells visitor where is what relative to our position
My friend stacking his snowball on the metal pole
We headed back to the Usuzan Ropeway Station. Reaching the station, we noticed the sky seem to be clearing. We can now see the peak of Ousu. At this point, I suggested to my friend to head for Tenboudai, which is the other end of the bus service line, where we might be able to get a view of Lake Toya. Seeing that the next bus is coming soon, we headed down to the Volcano Village.
The peak of Ousu peeking through the clouds
View of Ousu from the Ropeway Summit Station
Peak of Ousu

 

My friend enjoying the snowing weather

 

Me with the Ropeway

 

Descending from Usuzan Summit Station

 

As we descend the surroundings became clearer
Reaching the Volcano Village, we headed for the bus stop and checked out the timing for the next bus to Tenboudai. We noticed that the bus has just left and the next bus will only come 1½ hours later. We went back to Volcano Village to settle our lunch. After lunch we went into the shop at the Usuzan Ropeway Station to get some souvenirs while waiting for the bus to come.
Looking for lunch at Volcano Village
My friend at Volcano Village
Taking a wefie at Volcano Village

 

We found a shrine praying to the Volcano God in a secluded corner of Volcano Village

 

Model of Usuzan Ropeway System

Viewing Lake Toya at Tenboudai

We boarded the 2.15pm bus heading towards Tenboudai. We were keeping our fingers crossed, we were hoping that we can see Lake Toya from Tenbouddai. The ride ftom Showa-Shinzan to Tenboudai took around 45 mins, which took us down the mountains to Toyako Onsen and than up some hills again. Tenboudai is located at the west bank of Lake Toya. Finally we are at our destination. Passing through a building, which houses a souvenir shop and a restaurant, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of Lake Toya at the viewing platform. Here we could see the Nakajima Island sitting peacefully in the middle of Lake Toya. The sky was overcast, but our view of Lake Toya was not obstructed. The mirror lake reflected Nakajima Island, making it look twice as big. Low clouds started to form, as if it is providing a veil over Nakakima Island in the middle of Lake Toya, giving it a mystical feeling. We were luckily that there wasn’t much people when we arrived at Tenboudai, we were able to feel the serenity that this magnificent view offered. As we were happily taking pictures and enjoying the tranquility, peace was soon brought to an end when bus loads of tour group arrived. At any point, there were at least 2 bus loads of tourists arriving non-stop at Tenboudai. The area turned into a market place instantly. The next bus will come in round 1 hour’s time, my friend and I found some sitting area in the souvenir shop and observed the activities in Tenboudai while waiting for the bus to arrive. By the time we reached the hotel, dinner service has just began. After dinner, we went for our last onsen experience for the trip before heading back to rest early. Tomorrow we will head to our last destination for the trip – Sapporo.
Me at Tenboudai overlooking Lake Toya and Nakajima Island

 

Panoramic shot of Lake Toya and Nakajima Island. In a clear day we would be able to see Usuzan, Showa-Shinzan and Mt Yoei
Taking wefie with the magnificent view of Lake Toya
Low clouds started to form on Nakajima Island when it started to snow
Me at Tenboudai that offers a great view of Lake Toya

 

The low clouds seem to cast a shroud of veil on Nakajima Island
My friend on a wooden platform with Lake Toya int he background
The red building behind houses a souvenir shop and a restaurant. This building gets busy whenever bus loads of tourists arrive

 

My friend with Lake Toya at Tenboudai

 

Tenboudai and View of Lake Toya

 

Lake Toya viewed from Tenboudai

Hokkaido Day 9 (Lake Toya) (22 Feb 17) – Toyako Onsen: Home of the Land of Volcanoes

Lake Toya, a lake that never freezes

Towards Toyako Onsen

Today we headed for our destination for this Hokkaido trip, Toyako Onsen. To get there we took a local bus to Noboribetsu JR Station, then took the JR to Toya Station and transfer a local bus into Toyako Onsen. We checked out of our hotel in Noboribetsu Onsen in time to catch the 10.15am bus bound for Noboribetsu JR Station from the bus stop in front of the hotel. There are only a few timings which the bus calls into this bus stop, at the bus stop we found out that there are 2 buses a day that goes directly to Toyako Onsen. However we missed the 9.05am bus and the next bus is scheduled at 2pm. My friend and I did not want to wait for the 2pm bus and took the bus that goes to the JR Station instead. The 10.15am bus that came is a local bus, meaning there is no racks for luggage. We lugged our luggage with us to the seat. We were lucky that this bus stop is one of the first bus stops that this bus plies through. At later bus stops, due to the space constraint, people are not able to board the bus. The bus ride to Noboribetsu JR Station took around 20 mins, just in time for us to catch the next train to Toya Station (we took the train that stops at Hakodate). At the station, a lot of people were queuing to buy tickets at the ticketing counter. On the hind side, we should have gotten the tickets from the vending machine as we barely made it when it is our turn to get the tickets. There are no lifts or escalators in the station, we had to carry our luggage the stairs to get to the platform where the train bound for Hakodate pulls into.

On the public bus in Noboribetsu Onsen heading for Noboribetsu JR Station

The train ride took us another about 40 mins. At Toya JR Station, we found out that we can get the bus tickets from the JR Station ticketing counter. The staff advised us that the next bus is leaving soon and we managed to get onto the local bus that goes to Toyako Onsen Bus Terminal. As this is a local bus, there also wasn’t any racks for us to store our luggage. Luckily for us, the bus was relatively empty when we boarded it. The 20 mins bus ride to Toyako Onsen Bus Terminal took us to some suburban area of Toya. At first there are no signs of Toyako Onsen, as the bus went up a hill, over the horizon, we saw a lake. We knew that is Lake Toya. We alighted at Toyako Onsen Bus Terminal and checked with the staff there regarding any buses that goes to Usuzan Ropeway. Before I left for Hokkaido, I read from the bus website that public bus will not run in town during winter. A staff member at Toyako Onsen Bus Terminal told us that public bus is running only during this winter, which usually does not run in winter. I guess we were pretty lucky. Learning of the good news, we got a bus schedule from the bus and headed to our hotel.

On the JR towards Toya Station
View of Uchuira Bay from JR
Map of Toyako Onsen in Toya JR Station 
Lake Toya and its surroundings
This is the local bus that took us from Toya JR Station to Toyako Onsen
Toya JR Station
Leaving Toya JR Station
View of Toya and Uchuira Bay from the bus as we were driven up a hill
View of Toya and Uchuira Bay
On our way in the local bus towards Toyako Onsen
First glance of Lake Toya
Lake Toya and Toyako Onsen
Walking along the streets of Toyako Onsen, dragging our luggage on the part snow, part ice street was quite tedious. The town looks deserted. There are hardly anyone around, tourists or locals the like. Most of the shops seem closed at the time of our arrival, however taking a closer look, some of them are open. There are tons of foot baths and hand baths along the street of Toyako Onsen, there are 1 in front of every hotel. Toyako Onsen has 2 main roads, one nearer to the lake behind all the hotels, and another at the side where Toyako Onsen Bus Terminal is located. There is a Volcano Science Museum next to the bus terminal, which we will visit after we settle into our hotel.
Streets of Toyako Onsen is very quiet
Quiet town of Toyako Onsen
There are hardly anyone on the streets of Toyako Onsen
View of Toyako Onsen from our hotel

Strolling along Lake Toya 

We reached our hotel and was told that we were too early for checking-in. My friend and I left our luggage with the hotel concierge and decided to visit the Volcano Science Museum. Instead of walking along the road that we just came from, we decided to use the footpaths along Lake Toya. We simply can’t resist walking on the snow. Lake Toya is famed for being a lake that never freezes, partly due to the volcanic activities around the lake and partly due to it being a saltwater lake with a river that flows from the lake to Uchuira Bay. As we were walking along the lake, the sense of peacefulness settled in. There are no one on the street, coupled with the low clouds, giving it a foggy feel. It is certainly very relaxing walking along Lake Toya, with the 3 mountains in the centre of the lake constantly in our sight. There are a couple of piers nearer to the centre of Toyako Onsen, where sight seeing boats still plies at this time of the year, taking visitors around the lake.

Mt Yotei is the snow covered volcano seen from Lake Toya Promenade 
Taking a wefie with Nakajima Island in the background
My friend with Lake Toya in the background
Me with Lake Toya in the background
Taking a wefie in Lake Toya
Panoramic shot of Lake Toya
Introduction of Lake Toya and Mt Usu

There are a lot of photo spots along Lake Toya. My friend and I occasionally stopped for some photos, at the same time breathing in the cold fresh air of Lake Toya. We came across a foot bath with a small dragon statue in it. There are no hot spring water inside this foot bath, guess it is only operational in other seasons. We headed for the main road towards Toyako Onsen Bus Terminal.

Lake Toya and Nakajima Island
The snow scene in Lake Toya
My friend with the sign of Lake Toya
Me with the same sign along Lake Toya Promenade
Footpaths are a common sight in Toyako Onsen
Taking a wefie with a footbath
There are some nice photo spots along Lake Toya Premenade
Taking a picture at Lake Toya Promenade
My friend had ramen for lunch
I opted for the pork cutlet curry rice

Learning about Volcanic Activities In Lake Toya in the Volcano Science Museum

The Volcano Science Museum is housed in the same building as Toyako Visitor Centre, occupying a small section of the visitor centre. Entering the Volcano Science Museum is chargeable at ¥600 per adult. Entering the Volcano Science Museum, we went through a small corridor where the inner models of the earth and volcanoes are being displayed under the glass panel on the floor. As we entered the exhibition area, we were escorted by a staff member to a auditorium where we were shown a short video clip on the formation of Lake Toya and the eruption of Mt Usu. I find it interesting that during the show, we were able to feel the tremors of volcanic eruption, through the use of powerful speakers on the floor. The tremors are very pronounced and was cleverly included during the show at appropriate timings. After 20 mins of the show, we headed out to the exhibition area to finish the rest of the tour of the museum. At the exhibit area, the only other thing that is prominent is a small truck which is being damaged by the volcanic eruption of 1977. There is also a section of the JR track that is on display, buried under a glass panel on the floor. We headed to the simulation room where the tremors of the eruption in 1977 was being simulated, pretty much the same as that in the theatre. The Volcano Science Museum is very information and educational (this is where we learnt more on the geography and how Lake Toya is formed and the volcanic activities around Lake Toya).

This picture is taken at a random spot on the street in Toyako Onsen
The Volcano Science Museum and Toyako Visitor Centre is located next to the Toyako Onsen Bus Terminal 
Taking a wefie at Volcano Science Museum and Toyako Visitor Centre
The exhibition area of Volcano Science Museum
A model of Lake Toya and the surroundings inside the Volcano Science Museum
There are some volcanic rocks on display in the Volcano Science Museum

We did not spend much time in the museum, as it is very small. My friend and I walked around in the rest of the visitor centre. The exhibits in the visitor centre is free, and it introduces us the flora and fauna around Lake Toya. We did not stay here for too long as we did not find it particularly interesting. As we were heading outside, we saw a sign pointing to somewhere in Japanese. This led us to the Konpira Crater remnants of the Disaster walking Trail. As this trail is closed during winter, we can only see the remnants from the observation deck. The Konpira Crater remnants of the Disaster walking Trail preserves the remains of buildings and a section of Toyako Onsen that was damaged by the volcanic eruption. Damaged buildings and roads making this place feel like a ghost town. The view of Lake Toya from the observation deck was great though. We headed back to the hotel as it is about time for us to check-in soon after.

The Toyako Visitor Centre displaying the flora and fauna around Lake Toya 
Rest corner in Toyako Visitor Centre
View of Lake Toya from the observation deck of Konpira Crater Remnants of the Disaster
Great photo spot of Lake Toya from the observation deck of Konpira Crater Remnants of the Disaster
The foot path in Konpira Crater Remnants of the Disaster was closed, we can only see the  remnants from a distance. It feels like a ghost town in there
My friend walking on the observation deck of Konpira Crater Remnants of the Disaster

The Light Tunnel and the Onsen

After checking-in, we lazed abit in the hotel room as it was close to dinner time. After dinner, we headed out to illuminated Tunnel nearby the hotel. The 70m tunnel is decorated with mainly white lights with other coloured lights scatter across the tunnel. It feels magical especially under the snow and a sight not to be missed in this winter only event. We returned to the hotel shortly and checked out the onsen in the hotel. The onsen in the hotel is located on 9th floor and has a very small outdoor onsen area. The onsen water in Toyako Onsen comes from Mt Usu. The eruption in 1910 rose the temperature of the water to 42℃, making it perfect as onsen water. Despite being a smaller facilities, my friend and I had a good soak in the onsen water, although we did not enjoy the outdoor onsen as much as we did in the other onsens we been to during this trip. The outdoor onsen was placed in a covered balcony and did not really have that outdoor feel. We returned to our room to rest for the night after a good soak in the onsen, a great way to end the night.

Lake Toya Promenade at night 
Taking wefie at Lake Toya Promenade at night
The Illumination Tunnel in Toyako Onsen which is only available in winter
Taking a wefie in the Illumination Tunnel
Inside the Illumination Tunnel
The lights in the Illumination Tunnel
Exterior of the Illumination Tunnel
Inside the dome area of the Illumination Tunnel
My friend inside the dome area of the Illumination Tunnel
Taking a wefie inside the dome area of the Illumination Tunnel
Inside the dome area of the Illumination Tunnel 
Inside the dome area of the Illumination Tunnel
My friend inside the dome area of the Illumination Tunnel
Onsen in the hotel
Onset inside the hotel
A rest area for guests outside the onsen
The corridor that leads to the onsen
Male onsen area

Hokkaido Day 8 (Noboribetsu) (21 Feb 17) – Visiting Noboribetsu Jigokudani the Hell Valley and The Bears

The snow covered Jigokudani

A Visit to Jigokudani

We headed for Jigokudani immediately after breakfast, wanted to see the famed Hell Valley as we missed out on it due to the heavier than we though snow storm the night before. It is a good thing to visit it early before bus loads of tour groups arrive, making taking pictures tough. There are several paths to take at Jigokudani. Only Jigokudani was opened during winter (the other paths are Oyunuma Pathway No.1 and No.2, Funamiyama Pathway No.1 and No.2). The Jigokudani Pathway is about 570m and would take 10 mins to complete (without all the stops for photo). Jigokudani Pathway took us down to the valley floor where the source of a crater formed by explosion some 20,000 years ago being the U-turn point. There are 2 ways one can take on the Jigokudani Pathway, my friend and I took the path that brought us to the down to the valley and turned back to continue the path that took us to a view point that overlook at the Hell Valley. We were walking carefully down to the valley floor as the ground was covered with ice, we came across a small shrine, a short detour from the path.
Walking from our hotel to Jigokudani
Me at the entrance of Jigokudani
Daimoku-Ishi, a natural stone with sutra inscribed on it in black in by a priest
Me in front of Daimoku-Ishi
View of Jigokudani from the second lookout
Taking a wefie of our first glance of Jigokudani at the second lookout
Nata-Zukuri Kannon, a Goddess of Mercy inside the some shrine near the second lookout
Panoramic shot of Jigokudani
Jigokudani with steam sprout from one of the holes
Me at Jigokudani
A model of Jigokudani
Noboribetsu Jigokudani
Jigokudani viewed from Jigokudani Pathway
Yakushi-Nyorai, a small shrine at the start of Jigokudani Pathway
There are 2 paths on Jigokudani Pathway, we took the lower path. But they ended up in the same place
Yakushi-Nyorai
Yakushi-Nyorai close up

As we were walking along the pathway, a stretch of wooden walking, extending from the path into the valley floor. Walking down at the Jigokudani valley floor feels like walking in another planet, a valley with no form of life and steams sprouting out occasionally from holes on the ground and puddles of boiling grayish water scattering all over the ground. The mountains around us are bare with earth brown and red, covered with thin sheet of snow at parts of the mountain. Temperatures of water here can reach as high as 88℃. At the end of the wooden walkway at the valley floor is a loop surrounding Tessen-Ike, a geyser with grey water, boiling by the forces of nature. As I look up behind the mountain that is nearest to us, steams constantly racing to the sky creating a think white blanket. The view here is more spectacular rather than dangerous as we were well protected by the railings on the walkway. As more tourists arrive, my friend and I headed back to the detour point and got back on track. The path snakes up the hill, although this area of the path is covered in thick snow, the stairs that leads us up the hill is still apparent. Threading carefully upwards, the steam from the valley floor was still gashing out from the ground, the scenery is breathtaking.

Jigokudani valley view from the valley floor
The snow from last night
Steam are constantly blowing from the ground that gave Jigokudani the hellish look
Steam in Jigokudani
The steam gave me an impression that the surrounding is hot
Me with Jigokudani in the background
The way to Tessen-Ike, a geyser located in the centre of Jigokudani
The valley floor looks bare without the existence of plants
Me on the valley floor
My friend on the valley floor
There are streams of hot boiling water running in parts of the Jigokudani valley floor
Jigokudani Valley floor
This stream is the source of the steam
A hot stream on the valley floor of Jigokudani
Tessen-Ike, a geyser in the centre of Jigokudani Valley
More steam coming from behind the hill in Jigokudani
The snow doesn’t seem to cool down the steam in Jigokudani
A hot stream in Jigokudani valley

The path led us to a point where we can see the detoured path that led us down to the valley floor. Standing at the Haridashi Lookout, taking in the awesome view of the valley, I felt a sense of peace partly due to the lack of crowd here. The view point offered us a glimpse of the power of the explosion that made Jigokudani what it is today. There are thick snow at the view point and its surrounding. This is a perfect spot for photographs. As we were completing the Jigokudani Pathway loop back to the entrance of Jigokudani, we came across a sign in front of a pathway. This pathway the Oyunuma Pathway which is closed during winter season. My friend and I then followed the path through the thick snow which led us back to the entrance of Jigokudani.

On our way to Haridashi Lookout. This kinda look like a peak of a very tall mountain
Jigokudani
Me on the pathway to Haridashi Lookout
View of Jigokudani Valley from Haridashi Lookout
Panoramic shot of Jigokudani from Haridashi Lookout
Panoramic shot of Jigokudani from Haridashi Lookout
My friend sitting on the snow in Haridashi Lookout
My friend on Jigokudani Pathway

Feeding the Bears in Noboribetsu Bear Park

It is already past noon by the time we reached the entrance to Jigokudani. We headed back to the hotel to grab battery for my camera, which went flat due to the cold weather. We did not originally planned to visit the Noboribetsu Bear Park, however we couldn’t resist the call to visit the Bear Park walking past it a few times when we were strolling along the main street of Gokuraku Shopping Street of Noboribetsu Onsen. Noboribetsu Bear Park entrance is sitting on top of a hill next to the Gokuraku Shopping Street, one can’t miss the pink colour building overlooking Noboribetsu Onsen. To get to Noboribetsu Bear Park, we walked along a street located in middle of Gokuraku Shopping Street, opposite the only 7-Eleven in Noboribetsu Onsen, that led us up the pink building sitting on top of the hill. This is the entrance and the gateway to Noboribetsu Bear Park. We got our tickets in this building and took a gondola up Shihorei, or Bear Mountain according to the locals. The bear park itself is sitting on top of a mountain, some 550m tall.

The pink building is the ropeway station and ticketing counter for accessing Noboribetsu Bear Park
An old school gondola that has been phased out
We are going to visit the bears

The gondola ride up to Noboribetsu Bear Park is an attraction itself. As the gondola ascends up to the summit of Bear Mountain, the entire Noboribetsu Onsen slowly comes into sight. The more the gondola ascends towards the summit station, the more of the surroundings can be seen. Near the summit station, I can see the mountain ranges that seem to protect Noboribetsu Onsen and the road leading to Noboribetsu Onsen. Arriving at the summit station, the first thing that caught my attention is the shed that houses a small race track. At the time of our visit, there is a duck race on-going, where visitors can bet on. Winners will get a souvenir from the bear park.

Riding the gondola up to Bear Mountain
We could see the entire Noboribetsu Onsen as we ascend on the gondola
Noboribetsu Onsen seen on the gondola
Noboribetsu Onsen seen on the gondola
We could see the path that leads to Noboribetsu Onsen
Riding a sled pulled by a bear
Entrance of Noboribetsu Bear Park on Bear Mountain
Duck race!

There are 2 bear farms on the left from the exit of the gondola station. We headed for the first bear farm, which houses male bears. There is a tunnel that says “Human Cage” beside the stairs that leads to the open observatory for this farm. After buying a packet of biscuits, my friend and I entered the “Human Cage”. This is where we can face to face with the Hokkaido Brown Bear, which is worshipped by the local Ainu people as a god. The only thing that separates us from the bear is a panel of glass. There is a metal rod that allowed my friend to push a piece of biscuit through to feed the bears. As the bears seem inactive, we wanted to head to the open area to feed the brown bears from top. However as we exited the “Human Cage” tunnel, we saw a flock of crows at the railings and decided to head for the second farm.

Coming face to face with the Hokkaido Brown Bear in the “Human Cage”
My friend posing with a Hokkaido Brown Bear
My friend feeding the Hokkaido Brown Bear through a feeding device
Hokkaido Brown Bear waiting patiently for my friend to insert the food into the feeding device

The second farm is where the female bears are being housed. Unlike their male counterparts, these female bears are more active. They did stunts and begged visitors for a piece of feed. As there are a murder of crows around, waiting to snatch the feeds from the bears, we were very careful not to let that happen by throwing the biscuit very close to the bears. At times, we managed to land the biscuit directly into the mouth of the bears (hope it is not too painful for them).

The female bears in the second farm snatching food that we threw down into the enclosure
My friend feeding the bears in the second farm
A female bear begging for food
Female Brown Bears in the second farm
Me feeding the brown bears
Brown bears in the second farm
Brown bears waiting for their snack
The bear on the right is begging for food
Bears in Noboribetsu Bear Park
My friend feeding bears
There is a 3-storey building at Noboribetsu Bear Park. The first floor is a cafeteria, while the second floor is a Bear Museum that educates visitors on the Brown bears, from their evolution to their autonomy to their close cousins living all over the world. There are some preserved bears carcasses in the museum allowing us to take a closer look at a bear. On the third floor is a lookout that provided great views of Lake Kuttara and a panoramic view of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. However it was closed during our visit.
A perserved brown bear in theBear Muesem
Artefacts on display in the Bear Museum
Skeleton of a bear
My friend looking at a brown bear
Me with a brown bear in the Bear Museum in Noboribetsu Bear Park
My friend posing with a brown bear in the Bear Museum
View of Lake Kuttara
As the Bear Park was about to close, my friend and I headed back to the gondola station for our ride down to Noboribetsu Onsen. We spent the rest of the night having dinner and a good soak in the onsen.
Time for dinner
Appetiser
Sashimi and Chawammushi
Egg yolk sauce in prawns
Snow crab and octopus
Tempura
Dinner time
Dessert at the end of dinner

Hokkaido Day 7 (Noboribetsu) (20 Feb 17) – Journey to the West of Hokkaido: From Abashiri to Noboribetsu Onsen

Flying from Memanbetsu to New Chitose Airport

Abashiri to Noboribetsu Onsen is about 420km apart. The 2 primary options that we had when planning for this trip was to either fly and transfer to a shuttle bus, or take the JR and transfer to local bus at Noboribetsu JR Station. We opt to fly for our westerly journey to Noboribetsu Onsen, Flying domestic, when booked at least 75 days before departure on domestic airlines costs ¥10,200 per pax. Taking into consideration the bus fare to the nearest Memanbetsu airport from Abashiri (¥910) and the shuttle bus fare from New Chitose Airport to Noboribetsu Onsen (¥1,370). The total cost for the flight option is ¥12,480 per pax and the journey can be completed under 3 hours. Comparing the JR option, which takes more than 6 hours and costs ¥13,940 (including the ¥340 per pax for Noboribetsu JR Station to Noboribetsu Onsen), the choice is obvious.
We were able to gain half a day in Noboribetsu Onsen by choosing the domestic flight option over the JR option when traveling from Abashiri to Noboribetsu Onsen
After checking out of the hotel, we took the local bus from Abashiri JR Station to Memanbetsu Airport. The buses bound for Memanbetsu Airport are timed according to the flight departures from the airport. We took the 9.40am bus in time to catch our 10.40am flight to New Chitose Aiport. The local bus ply through Abashiri City and the City of Memanbetsu before terminating at Memanbestu Airport.
Waiting for the bus to take us to Memanbetsu Airport
The bus to Memanbetsu Airport is timed to the outbound flight from the airport. Despite being winter, the bus is still a very reliable mode of transportation
The bus to Memanbetsu Airport is a normal local bus, there is no luggage racks and we dragged our luggage to the seat 
Zooming past Abashiri Prison when we were heading towards Memanbetsu Airport 
Bye bye Abashiri
Frozen Lake Abashiri
It took us 30 mins to travel from Abashiri to Memanbetsu Airport by bus
Wefie at Memanbetsu Airport
Welcome to Memanbetsu Airport
Taking a wefie in Memanbetsu Airport
We are boarding the ANA Domestic flight to New Chitose Airport
The ground is covered with snow. What a magnificent sight.
Flying across Hokkaido from Memanbetsu to New Chitose Airport
Hokkaido is covered in a blanket of snow 
Taking a selfie onboard the ANA flight
We covered 420km within 50min by flight

Doraemon Sky Park in New Chitose Airport

The flight took around 50 mins, after collecting our luggage, we headed for the bus ticketing counter to get our tickets for Noboribetsu Onsen. There are only 2 timings for the bus heading to Noboribetsu Onsen, 12 noon and 1.15pm. We took the 1.15pm bus as we wanted to visit Doreamon Sky Park, which is located on 3rd floor of  New Chitose Airport.
This is the bus ticket counter that we bought our bus ticket from New Chitose Airport to Noboribetsu Onsen from. It is located next to the information counter on the arrival hall of the domestic side of the airport

 

Doreamon Sky Park is has seven zones. There is a cafe, a kids play area, a library, a shop and a amusement zone on top of the Park Zone. Doreamon is a Japanese cartoon character whom has traveled through time to help a boy to woo the girl of his dream. The Park Zone as a paid area where scenes from the cartoon series are replicated in life size forms, making use of optical illusion to allow guests to interact in each scenes. This is a great place for photography for Doreamon fans.My friend and I took pictures a each of the scene, which took us around 45 mins. There is a Doreamon mini-skit performance the end of the Park Zone, to entertain mainly the children visitors. After the short 10 min skit, visitors can take pictures with Doreamon. However only 1 picture limited to 1 device will be used by the staff for photo taking. We exited the Doreamon Sky Park and headed for bus stop 29, near the ticketing counter where we bought our bus tickets, to board a bus to Noboribetsu Onsen. The bus ride from New Chitose Airport to Noboribetsu Onsen takes around 1 hour. The bus
The Smile Road is located on 3rd floor of New Chitose Airport between the domestic and international terminals
Entrance of the Park Zone of Doreamon Sky Park in New Chitose Airport
Me with Doreamon Statue at the entrance to Doreamon Sky Park
Ticketing vending machine for Doreamon Sky Park
Ticket to Doreamon Sky Park
Some of the gadgets that were in Doreamon’s front pocket depicted in the comics
More gadgets that were in Doreamon’s front pocket depicted in the comics
More gadgets that were in Doreamon’s front pocket depicted in the comics
Life size Nobita’s room with Doreamon and his sister Doreami
My friend playing on the interactive game in the Park Zone of Doreamon Sky Park
The main characters in Doreamon comics
The “What if” Telephone booth, a gadget in Doreamon’s front pocket
A very big Doreamon
This is the street where Nobita’s house is in
The opening to the purse is too small for me to squeeze through
My friend with one of the displays in Park Zone of Doreamon Sky Park
One of the displays in Doreamon Sky Park
The door that allows users to go anywhere is also one of the gadgets in Doreamon’s pocket
Me posing with Shizuk in front of the tunnel that shrinks people
Look who we found got shrink by the tunnel
My friend in the mouth of a rat, a nemesis of Doreamon
Time traveling on Doreamon’s time machine
The use of optical illusion makes me feel shrunk
And I got enlarged
My friend posing with Doreami, Doreamon’s sister
My friend with Doreamon in Nobita’s room
Nobita seem surprised to see me going up to his room
Doreamon performance in Park Zone of Doreamon Sky Park. Too bad we couldn’t understand as it is in Japanese
My friend and I posing with Doreamon at the end of the show

Noboribetsu Onsen – The Town of Hell

Noboribetsu Onsen is a small town with a handful of shops. We covered the whole town on foot within 20 mins. There are numerous demon statues scattered around Noboribetsu Onsen, each has their prosperity symbols. Due to the volcanic eruption on the nearby Mt Hiyoriyama some 20,000 years ago, a volcanic caldera was formed. Along with it the formation of blow holes that constantly emitting powerful jets of steam, resembling the scenes of Hell. The mascot of Noboribetsu Onsen are demons. The locals believed that not all demons are evil, those that were represented in Noboribetsu Onsen are actually good demons, who prays for the fortune for people and takes away their bad luck.

Onboard the bus heading towards Noboribetsu Onsen from New Chitose Airport
Everything covered in snow is just beautiful
It was snowing when we arrived at Noboribetsu Onsen Bus Terminal
View of Noboribetsu Onsen from our room

After settling our luggage in our room, my friend and I explored Noboribetsu Onsen at the same time look for lunch. It started to snow as we made our way into the town. The snow was a welcomed sight to us and did not bother us much. As we were walking along Gokuraku Shopping Street, the main street of Noboribetsu Onsen, there seem to be only a handful restaurants for our choice for lunch. We settled lunch at a restaurant that seem opened. As we were making our way to Jigokudani after lunch, we passed the Enma-Do shrine, a temple with a huge statue of the King of Hell (Enma) with animated performances at fixed timings located near to the entrance of Jigokudani affectionately known as Hell Valley. We managed to catch the animated performance where Enma come to live, after chanting some phases in Japanese, the statue changed face from the kind-look to the angry red face.

Me posing infront of the hotel – Daiichi Takimotokan we are staying for the next 2 nights. Just love the snow
Gokuraku Shopping Street, the main street in Noboribetsu Onsen from the entrance of Daiichi Takimotokan
My friend and I taking a wefie in the snow outside the hotel in Noboribetsu Onsen
Snow covered Gokuraku Shopping Street in Noboribetsu Onsen
We found a couple of owl statues sitting quietly in the snow on Gokuraku Shopping Street in Noboribetsu Onsen
And a couple of horse statues too
We riding on the horse in the snow
My friend posing with a huge demon mace on Gokuraku Shopping Street in Noboribetsu Onsen
These are the Romance Demons, who are believed to bless the relationships for couples
The study demon, who is believed to bring good luck to those who needs to pass exams
My friend and I posing with the study demon
King Enma, the King of Hell in this kinder face sitting inside his shrine. The snow is starting to get heavier
King Enma changed to his red fierce face during the scheduled performance. We were lucky to have seen the performance without waiting

 

The demon of Business Prosperity who is believed to bring good luck for business owners
Sengen Park opposite the hotel we were staying. The highlight of this park is the geysers, which constantly emitting steam. It looks extra charming in the snowy conditions
My friend ordered the Abalone Sashimi rice set for lunch. The Abalone is so fresh that there is a small worm wriggling on it
I got the Uni (Sea Urchin) Rice Set with Egg. There is a generous serving of Unis on a bed of egg. It tasted very fresh and yummy

After the performance, my friend and I headed over to Jigokudani as I thought the Hell Valley would look nice bathing in night lights scattering along the walkways of Jigokudani. At this point, the snow seem to get heavier. We came across a traditional red Japanese wooden arch beneath a flight of stairs, leading to Yuzawa Shrine which sits on a flat plot of land on the side of the mountain. As we were walking up the flight of stairs leading to Yuzawa Shrine, I was mesmerised by the snowscape. The snowing weather further adds a sense of zen here. At the top of the stairs, lies a dark brown wooden building siting on slits. This is Yuzawa Shrine. The shrine immediately stood out from the surroundings due to its colour, contrasting against the white snowy scene and a couple of beige coloured buildings. It is closed at the time of our visit, nonetheless it made a great spot for wefies. As there wasn’t anyone else here, the grounds of Yuzawa Shrine felt especially tranquil. It is highly recommended for visitors to pop by this small shrine before heading to Jigokudani (since it is on the way).

My friend at the entrance of Yuzawa Shrine. The shrine is located opposite our hotel, Daiichi Takimotokan, at the entrance to Jigokudani
My friend and I taking a wefie on the stairs that leads to Yuzawa Shrine. The snow is getting heavier at this point
An ordinary lamp looks beautiful when covered with snow
Yuzawa Shrine is the dark brown wooden building. It looks solemn and dignified sitting in the snow
My friend and I taking a wefie in front of Yuzawa Shrine in the snow
Yuzawa Shrine up close
Me in the small compound in front of Yuzawa Shrine
Snow snow everywhere
Taking a wefie at the base of the stairs that leads to Yuzawa Shrine. The snowing was so heavy that we were covered in snow. I think if we stand still for 30 mins, we will become snowmen
No idea what this building at the base of the shrine is for. Perhaps it sells offering items for visitors to Yuzawa Shrine
My friend and I continued our walk towards Jigokudani. At the base of Yuzawa Shrine, nearer toe Jigokudani, we spotted a couple of huge statues of demons. The blue demon was seated while the red demon was standing, looking as if they are welcoming visitors to Jigokudani. As the snow was getting heavier, my friend and I gave up the idea of visiting Jigokudani and headed back to our hotel.
Entrance to Jigokudani. This signage is next to Yuzawa Shrine
The blue 2.2m tall demon at the Onizo Nembutsu (Praying Demon Statue). There is a small shrine between the 2 demons.
The 3.5m tall Red Onizo Nembutsu. These 2 demons are believed to be installed here during Edo period (1603-1868)
My friend with the red Onizo Nembutsu
It was snowing heavily that we abandon our plans to visit Jigokudani. Instead we found fun clearing the snow

Fatigue Reliving in the Onsen

The hotel we stayed in has the largest onsen facilities in Noboribetsu Onsen, with 5 indoor and 2 outdoor onsens. The onsen water came from the nearby Jigokudani and has sulfuric in nature (and smell too), which is touted to have healing properties for various medical conditions such as bronchitis and eczema. My friend and I headed for the onsen in the hotel after dinner. Soaking in the onsen immediately relives the fatigue of traveling. We headed for the outdoor onsen baths after dipping in some of the indoors. My friend and I still prefer the outdoor onsens, At the outdoor pool, we could catch a glimpse of Jigokudani. The cold winter wind neutralises the heat I felt from soaking in the onsen, making the soak very comfortable and relaxing. The onsen seem to promote the quality of sleep. I seem to be able to get a great night sleep after soaking in onsens. We headed back to our room and rest for the night, as we were determined to visit Jigokudani early the next morning, before bus loads of tourists arrive.

The restaurant in Daiichi Takimotokan where we had our dinner (included in the price of the room)
Dinner menu
We had the set menu, which features 2 hot pots, one for the soup and one for the rice
The rice hot pot which takes 30 mins to cook. There are scallops underneath the bed of rice. It was very tasty and well worth the wait
Japanese mash sweet potato for dessert and seasonal Japanese pickles
We each have a Red snapper simmered Japanese style. The Red snapper tasted very fresh
Vinegared Snow Crab, which tasted light and fresh
Japanese pickles and miso soup
We wore Yukata to dinner and to the onsen in the hotel
Entrance to the onsen
The male onsen
My friend in the changing area of the male onsen
Map of the massive onsen in the hotel
The tap on the left dispenses hot spring water and the one of the right just regular cold water
We took at walk at the souvenir shop inside the hotel after dinner
The garden within the hotel grounds

Hokkaido Day 6 (Abashiri) (19 Feb 17) – Riding the Special Train that Operates Only in Winter Along the Coast of Abashiri and Watching Angels in Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum

Replacing the old Ryuhyo Norokko is the modern diesel powered Ryuhyo Monogatari Train for the special winter round trip from Abashiri to Shiretoko-Shari JR Station

The Train Service to Shiretoko That Runs During Winter

The other winter only event in the city of Abashiri is riding on the Ryuhyo Norokko Train along the coast towards Shiretoke-Shari Station. The highlight of taking the JR on this route is the ability to see the drift ice from the train as this is where the train tracks passes close to the shore as the train cruises slowly along the tracks along the coast. However the Ryuhyo Norokko Train boasting panoramic views of the Sea of Okhotsk clutched in wooden seats ceased operations in 2016. Replacing the aging locomotive is the modern diesel powered Ryuhyo Monogatari Train, which resembles the JR that we have been traveling on in this Hokkaido trip. The Ryuhyo Monogatari Train took over the round trip runs plying the Abashiri to Shiretoko-Shari to Abashiri route from the Ryuhyo Norokko Train. There are no reserve seatings onboard the Ryuhyo Monogatari Train, all seats are first come first served basis. The best seats on the train are those on the left side of the train, where the coast will be seen. Naturally these seats were snapped up quickly as my friend and I stepped onto the train. We only found seats on the right side of the train, which meant that we can only view the drift ice from afar. As the train pulls out of Abashiri Station, the city sights seem boring. Passing through a tunnel, the coast was immediate to our left. The train started to slow down for the passengers onboard to get a glimpse of the coast and any drift ice on it. This got most of the passengers onboard this limited special service Ryuhyo Monogatari Train service excited. I can hear people gasping in awe and cameras snapping away, despite there is not much drift ice in sight, except for a couple of iceberg looking drift ice floating on the sea.
Ryuhyo Monogatari Train at Abashiri Station ready to depart along the coast to Shiretoko-Shari Station 
Wefie before we board the Ryuhyo Monogatari
Onboard the Ryuhyo Monogatari Train getting ready to see drift ice from the train
Staff explaining something in Japanese. As we do not understand Japanese we thought she might be introducing the special winter only Ryuhyo Monogatari service 
Ryuhyo Monogatari pulling out of Abashiri Station
Snow covered City of Abashiri
The Ryuhyo Monogatari slowed down as we reached the shoreline, where specks of drift ice can be seen from the train
The amount of drift being washed ashore 
More drift ice sighting from Ryuhyo Monogatari Train
This drift ice look more like iceberg

As the Ryuhyo Monogatari Train made its way to Shiretoko-Shari Station, it started to snow. Drift ice hugging the coast began to appear. At one point in time, the line between land and sea became blurred as the Ryuhyo Monogatari passed by snow covered beach with the drift ice hugging the shore. The Ryuhyo Monogatari made a 10 min stop in Kitahama Station, which is the closest station to the Sea of Okhotsk.  The Kitahama Station is a very small station constructed with wood. The highlight of stopping at this station is the 2 storey tall wooden structure, which allows passengers to get a good look at the Sea of Okhotsk. We climbed up the wooden structure and were able to see the drift ice and the coast with the sea beyond the drift ice. As it was snowing plus the strong sea breeze, it was not only cold, the snow hitting on my face making standing at the platform uncomfortable. My friend and I headed back to the train, and found ourselves seats that are on the left side of the train. This means we were able to see the drift ice better for the rest of the journey onboard the Ryuhyo Monogatari to Shiretoko-Shari. For the rest of the journey, drift ice were seen constantly. At one point along the tracks, it began to snow heavily. The white snow seem to stretch forever into the horizon. The Ryuhyo Monogatari soon pulled into Shiretoko-Shari Station. The train will continue its journey back to Abashiri Station.

The Ryuhyo Monogatari Train viewed from the wooden 2-storey platform 
Taking a wefie from the platform where the drift ice can be better seen
Drift ice being washed ashore viewed from the 2-storey wooden platform
Ryuhyo Monogatari Train in Kitahama Station with drift ice hugging the shore. Kitahama Station is the nearest to the coastline 
The wind is very strong plus the snow, but still we have some time to take a wefie before boarding the Ryuhyo Monogatari
We continue our journey onboard Ryuhyo Monogatari towards Shiretoko-Shari 
The line between shore and drift ice became blurred
Snow covered beach
I have no idea where the shore ends and the drift ice begins
Snow winterland in Abashiri
This is part of the beach which is entirely covered with snow
Taking a wefie at Shiretoko-Shari Station

My friend and I alighted the train, thinking that we need to validate our return tickets at the station. Upon enquiring a staff at the station, we were told that we need not do that and can validate our tickets when we reach Abashiri Station. By the time we got back onto the Ryuhyo Monogatari our “golden seats” were taken. We sat on whatever seats that were empty as the train is getting crowded. The return trip is very much repetitive, same sceneries same drift ice conditions. We were not too disappointed to seat on the none drift ice view side of the train. However as the train zip past drift ice, especially the part where the entire place is covered in a blanket of white, be it from the snow on the beach or the drift ice, I will still find it charming and an incredible sight. For the return trip, the Ryuhyo Monogatari stop at Hama-Koshimizu Station instead of Kitahama Station. Hama-Koshimizu station is a larger station. The station has a shop where visitors can sample corn soup and buy souvenirs from. The train 20 mins stop at Hama-Koshimizu Station feels like the train is here for passengers to get souvenirs from the shop in the station. The Ryuhyo Monogatari completed the rest of the journey back to Abashiri after the extended stop at Hama-Koshimizu Station. As we have seen the sights along the way just mere minutes ago, the sight along the coast ceased to amaze us.

The coast, the drift ice and the sky are all white
I can’t tell where the shore ends and the drift ice in the sea starts
Drift ice as seen onboard the Ryuhyo Monogatari Train
My friend in front of Ryuhyo Monogatari  when it pulled into Hama-Koshimizu Station for a 20 mins break
Shop in Hama-Koshimizu station
Passengers onboard the Ryuhyo Monogatari buying souvenirs at Hama-Koshimizu Station
The layer of white floating fare out in the Sea of Okhotsk is drift ice
No drift ice in sight as Ryuhyo Monogatari drove nearer to Abashiri Station
Blocks of iceberg looking drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk
Mascots of Ryuhyo Monogatari Train in Abashiri Station
Me taking a photo with one of the mascots of Ryuhyo Monogatari  Train in Abashiri

The Angels in Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum

Alighting the Ryuhyo Monogatari, my friend and I caught the next bus to the Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum. The Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum is a 3-storey building (technically 4 if the basement is taken into consideration), built on top the 207m high Mt Tento (or Tentozan) educating visitors on drift ice and the life inside the drift ice. My friend and I headed for the rooftop observatory, to catch the view of the entire City of Abashiri and its surroundings. From the rooftop observatory, we could get a great unobstructed 360° view from the mountain. The view from the rooftop observatory started from greenery of the evergreen trees around the Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum that calls Tentozan home. As we cast our sights further, the sea of white took over the sea of green where the frozen Lake Abashiri and the frozen Abashiri River that runs through the city into Sea of Okhotsk, as well as the entire Abashiri City covered in snow. Beyond the city of Abashiri, the colour turned blue where the Sea of Okhotsk was in sight, yet further into the Sea of Okhotsk, the white coloured drift ice could be seen. The view on the rooftop observatory was simply stunning. As it was getting cold from the wind, my friend and I headed to the basement of Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum.

Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum sits on top of the 207m Tentozan in Abashiri
Wefie at the entrance of Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum
The Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum has 4 levels
My friend on the rooftop observatory of Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum
Me at the rooftop observatory of Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum
City of Abashiri and drift ice (the white patch floating on top of the sea on the horizon) seen on rooftop observatory of  Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum
Panoramic shot of City of Abashiri and Sea of Okhotsk fromOkhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum
My friend with the frozen Lake Abashiri in the background
View of City of Abashiri on the rooftop observatory of Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum
Frozen Lake Abashiri seen from the rooftop observatory of Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum

Passing the ticketing counter, down a blue lighted staircase, we arrived at the heart of the museum, the Life in the Drift Ice display. The first thing that caught our eyes are 3 small tanks with semi-transparent organism swimming inside it. This is the thing we have came to see. The Cliones, otherwise known as the Sea Angels. These elegant creatures, about the size of a thumb, are actually  sea slugs. They were given the name Sea Angels as these elegant little creatures swim in the sea by flipping their wing-like fins, resembling angels flipping their wings when flying in the sky. I was mesmerised by these fascinating creatures and spent a good 30 mins observing them swimming in the enclosed tanks. One of the staff begin to inform us that there will be a short clip in the theatre further in the museum. The short 15 min video clip was about the formation of drift ice and the life beneath the drift ice. As we exited the theatre, what caught my eyes were a number of tanks, where stonefish-like fishes were kept. The rock looking fishes looked pretty similar except for the colour pigmentation on their skin.

Down this blue corridor is the Life in the Drift Ice display located in Basement of Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum
The Sea angel is also a mascot for the City of Abashiri
The Sea Angel is a white and orange covered in a transparent body organism that lives underneath the drift ice
The Sea Angel flipping its fins resembling an angel flipping its wings in flight
 
Life under the drift ice
Puffer fish that lives under the drift ice
Fishes that live under the drift ice
A weird looking fish that lives under the drift ice
These fishes looking rock

Snapping some pictures, we headed for the Drift Ice Experience Room. The drift ice experience room was kept constantly at -15℃ to allow visitors to experience the coldness on drift ice. There are real drift ice on display in the room, together with replicas of seals. I liked the colour display inside the drift ice experience room, where the day turned into night and back into day again constantly replays itself realistically. Prior to entering the room, we were handed wet towel and the staff told us to flip the towel while inside the room. So we did that and the towel stiffens. I thought the drift ice experience room was a great place for us to physically touch the drift ice, coupled with the ingenious way of using visual lightings to simulate the different time of the day, it was certainly an enjoyable experience.

My friend in the Drift Ice Experience Room in Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum
Taking a wefie with a fake seal in the Drift Ice Experience Room in Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum
Me in Drift Ice Experience Room in Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum. The ice on display are real drift ice taken from Sea of Okhotsk
Real drift ice taken of Sea of Okhotsk on display in Drift Ice Experience Room in Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum
I like the display of lights simulating different time of the day in Drift Ice Experience Room in Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum

My friend and I left the museum to catch the last bus back to Abashiri. After dinner we headed back to our hotel to pack for our next destination tomorrow on our Hokkaido trip. We will be travel from East to West the next day to the Onsen Town of Noboribetsu.

 

Hokkaido Day 5 (Abashiri) (18 Feb 17) – Next Stop, Abashiri and Cruising on the Ice Breaker

Drift ice is the reason that brought us to Abashiri

Next Stop – Abashiri

Our next stop for this Hokkaido trip is Abashiri. To get to Abashiri, we could have taken the bus from the hotel (costs ¥500), then transfer to the JR (costs ¥3,670). The total time taken for this journey would take us 4½ hours (2 hours by bus from Akanko Onsen to Kushiro JR Station and another 2½ hours by JR from Kushiro Station to Abashiri Station). We were fortunate that the hotel we stayed in provides transfer from the hotel directly to Abashiri JR Station, costing us only ¥500 (we saved ¥3,670 per person). The journey by bus takes around 3 hours. We left the hotel at 9am and arrived at Abashiri at 12.30pm, giving us half a day to tour around the place. Comparing to taking the JR, we will only arrive at Abashiri at 5.16pm, which we would have essentially wasted the whole day. The bus took us through more farmlands and wilderness passing by some towns along the way. The ground is filled with snow on the way to Abashiri, which I was glad to see as I was worried that winter might end soon, after all it is near to the end of winter season. There is a point in time the bus passed by a frozen lake with a sign that says “Lake Abashiri”, I know that we are near our destination Abashiri. As we pulled into Abashiri City, alighting the bus, the temperature felt a lot colder than that in Lake Akan. After collecting our luggages, we headed for the hotel which we will be staying for the next 2 nights. The hotel does not permit early check-in and the staff told us to return at 3pm when check-in will be processed. Wanting to waste no time, my friend and I decided to leave our luggages with the concierge of the hotel and headed for the Ice-Breaker Cruise.
Taking our last wefie at Akanko Onsen before we leave for Abashiri 
The bus bound for Abashiri driving through Akanko Onsen
There seem to be some temple in one corner of Akanko Onsen that we did not manage to visit
On our way to Abashiri
The winter landscape is just charming
Everywhere is covered with snow
Our pit stop, halfway between Lake Akan and Abashiri
Pit stop for passenger to go toilet and buy drinks
We journey towards Abashiri resumes
The winter landscape of wilderness Hokkaido as we drive towards Abashiri
Everything covered in snow is just beautiful
Some random shots on the bus towards Abashiri
A small town we passed by
So peaceful
We are near Abashiri
The snow just makes everything look so peaceful
The frozen Lake Abashiri
Finally arrived at Abashiri JR Station after 3 hours on the bus

Aurora Ice-Breaker Cruise

There is a direct bus from Abashiri JR Station to the Ice-Breaker Cruise Terminal, which is at the end of the bus route. There is no way anyone could missed that. We reached the Cruise Terminal after a 10 min bus ride from Abashiri JR Station. The weather felt colder when we alight the bus, partly due to the cold wind blowing from Siberia up north, the very same wind that brought the drift ice to Abashiri. Most visitors to Abashiri came here for the winter only Ice-Breaker Cruise. Drift ice will only reach Abashiri by early Feb and will completely disappear by mid-Mar each year. My friend and I managed to grab lunch at the Ice-Breaker Cruiser Terminal before boarding the 2pm Aurora Ice-breaker cruise.
Taking a wefie in front of Abashiri JR station
A sculpture in front of Abashiri JR Station
The bus that brings us to the ice breaker cruise terminal stops in front of Abashiri JR Station
Wefie on the bus that took us to the ice breaker cruise terminal
The Abashiri Ice Breaker Cruise Terminal
We got the tickets for the 2pm ice breaker cruise
Vending machine which we ordered our food from
Lunch time
The Aurora Ice Breaker Cruise calling into port
My lunch

 

There are 3 levels onboard the Aurora Ice-Breaker Cruise. Decks 1 and 2 are indoors while the deck 3 observation deck is outdoors. My friend and I opted to stay at the uppermost observation as we did not want to miss the moment the ship steers into the drift ice. As the ship slowly made its way out of the river into the Sea of Okhotsk, it gets colder. Wearing 5 layers of clothing does not seem to be able to keep us warm. The sea breeze got colder the more we cruise into the Sea of Okhotsk. Soon we found ourselves steering into a sea of white. This is the drift ice that we came to see and experience the ship breaking through the ice. With the cold sea breeze blowing, although it is -11℃, it felt more like -20℃. As the ship display its might breaking the ice along the way, it felt like we were cruising in the arctic ocean. As the ship drives into the drift ice, the sea of white gave way and behind us I saw a path of sea cleared of the drift ice following the wake of the ship. This is what the Aurora is made for, to display its might against the ice. The scene is nothing like that in Titanic where the might ship gave way to the ice, it is the other way round, where the ice gave way to the Aurora. A lot more passengers joined us at the observation deck, snapping pictures and taking videos of when the ship smashes though the vulnerable drift ice.
Me in front of Aurora the Ice Breaker Cruise
Wefie at the observation deck of the Aurora
Aurora is underway 
We are on our way to break some drift ice
The Aurora sailing towards drift ice
The white patch over the horizon are drift ice
Drift ice in sight on Sea of Okhotsk
Approaching the drift ice
Drift ice in Sea of Okhotsk
Drift ice everywhere, feels like we are sailing in the arctic waters
My friend on the observation deck of the Aurora with drift ice behind
Me in the observation deck with drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk
Taking a wefie with the drift ice in Sea of Okhotsk onboard the Aurora Ice Breaker 
More Drift Ice
Drift ice in Sea of Okhotsk
Drift Ice
There seem to be a huge chunk of drift ice coming down to Abashiri
Panoramic shot of the drift ice in Sea of Okhotsk

The Aurora Ice-Breaker Cruise went around breaking the drift ice for another 20 mins before heading back to the harbour of Abashiri. It is at this moment, my friend and I felt the cold is too much for us. We headed to the indoor area of the ship and found a seats facing the sea. The instant we were in the interior of the ship, it felt warm. We stayed put on the seats for the rest of the journey back to harbour.  As the Aurora steered into harbour, we saw a couple of warehouse like buildings and decided to head there after the ship docks. The Aurora called into the harbour. After docking, passengers were allowed to disembark the vessel. We headed to the warehouse looking buildings that we saw when the ship sailed into Abashiri Harbour. The building nearer to the Ice Breaker Cruise Terminal sells glasswares. Here we were able to see professionals working their magic in sculpting glass into pieces of ornaments. At one corner, there is even a hands-on counter for visitors to try their hand in making their own glass ornaments. We were not particularly interested in this as we thought Otaru (which we will be visiting later in our Hokkaido Trip) is better known for glass arts. My friend and I exited this building and headed for the building next door. This building sells mostly food stuffs and souvenirs. We did not spend much time here and headed back to the hotel to check into our room.

The glass ornament shop
Some of the items on sale
There are staffs in the room creating some glassware
Seem to be engaging in serious discussions about the glass ware
Taking a wefie in front of the glassware shop
My friend in front of the glassware shop
Look at the thickness of the snow, almost covering the whole building
The Ice Breaker Cruise Terminal

Exploring Abashiri City at Night

It was dinner time. My friend and I decided to walk around the vicinity of our hotel to look for dinner. We were walking the direction away from the Ice-Breaker Cruise Terminal. There do not seem to be any shops or any activities in this part of the city. We traced our steps and headed back to Abashiri JR Station. We walked in the direction of the Ice-Breaker Terminal and found that it is the centre of Abashiri City. At around 6pm, the whole city seem dead. None of the shops except for a small supermarket and a handful of restaurants, are opened. There isn’t much people in the streets either. We found Abashiri City a tad boring and lifeless. We found a place to settle our dinner and headed back to the hotel to rest for the night.
The weather is -11 deg C at night, we were in front of Abashiri JR Station 
The city of Abashiri at night
We spotted some interesting snowmen
City of Abashiri looks abandon at night
This is the city centre of Abashiri, not much people around
Taking a wefie in the empty Abashiri City Centre at night
We ended up having KFC for dinner