And so I finally made it to Hokkaido. I’d wanted to go to Hokkaido for absolutely forever; and even more so once I heard how hot summer in Nagoya was going to be! In fact, if Cassdoll hadn’t decided to come visit me, I probably could have easily spent the whole summer holiday up north. But when a visitor comes all the way from Australia to see you in Japan, you kind of have to show them Tokyo. And I don’t regret it for a minute. The sites, the shopping, and the Disney adventures just can’t be replicated anywhere other than Tokyo. And I’m not sure I would have been forgiven if we’d spent our whole holiday far away from the big city, just relaxing in the cool(ish) temperatures of Hokkaido. Having said that, I am very much glad we made it part of our trip, despite certain misgivings on Cassdoll’s part. Our first port of call was Hakodate, which, while quite famous within Japan, is far from a top tourist destination for those traveling from further afar. During the couple of days we spent there we saw only a handful of western-looking humans; although from a spirited conversation we had with one of our taxi drivers (who was clearly quite keen to practice his English) we gleaned that Hakodate is quite popular with Asian tourists, however not as much during the warmer months. So in other words, we were quite the site! After being in Tokyo, where half the population seems to be foreign, it was an interesting combination of refreshing and daunting. I think slightly more daunting for Cass, who isn’t quite as used to being stared at as I am I would imagine.
Our first stop after we stumbled off the plane was of course our hotel. Given the small size of Hakodate airport, it was relatively easy to find our way onto the bus that would take us to the station nearest our hotel. It was even easier to find than I had anticipated, as we saw it as soon as we stepped off the bus! The Route Inn hotel was small but had friendly and helpful staff; and while the beds made our hard French Keio Plaza beds seem like fairy floss cloud cushions in comparison, we spent a fairly pleasant two nights there. As soon as we had checked in, dumped our luggage, and eaten a quick meal of sashimi, karaage and tonkatsu (that’s raw fish, fried chicken, and pork, for the uninitiated) we hurried off to Hakodate Mountain, which is said to be one of the top three best night views in all of Japan.
We were not disappointed. It was everything it was rumoured to be and more. Because of the unique location of Hakodate, the shape of the city all lit-up was simply spectacular to behold. While I could have happily stayed up there just staring out at the view, and of course taking endless photos, a certain friend of mine is a little more cold-blooded, so we slowly made our way back to the cable-car/rope-way, to glide smoothly back down the mountain to a waiting taxi. In fact because of the late hour we had made our start, I think we ended up on the last cable car down anyway. I didn’t much fancy a midnight stroll down a mountainside, so it was probably for the best that one of us had some sense.
Before going to Hakodate I had two main goals in mind: The first being to see the night view, and the second being to have some delicious seafood. It felt pretty damn good to have accomplished both of these goals within the first few hours of arriving in Hakodate! Of course our Hakodate adventures were far from over, and the next morning we set out to experience some of what the city had to offer. Our first stop was practically outside our front door; that being the morning market. Although, as we discovered later, it continued on beyond just the morning, so rising a little late didn’t affect our day too much. The market was amazing. There were what seemed to be thousands of live crabs, of different types, colours, and sizes. There were even some out in the open on display (claws wiggling menacingly), one assumes to attract business, although it merely disturbed us. There was also a vast amount of other produce available to buy. Including melons for as little as 4000 yen each! As we had woken up too late for breakfast in our hotel, we were forced to wander the market until we found something that looked appetizing. While I would have been happy with sushi for breakfast, some people tend to be more traditional when it comes to breakfast foods. Unfortunately there were no bacon and egg stalls, so instead we settled for Hokkaido milk gelato, which, when it’s fruit flavoured, is almost like having a breakfast smoothie, right? After ‘breakfast’ we continued our aimless meandering, until I was feeling peckish enough to sample one of the local delicacies. I have no clue what it was really, other than it looked like some kind of clam, and tasted quite delicious.
Once we had maxed out all our senses on the crab market, we made our way to Goryokaku; a pentagon shaped park with an observation tower that is one of Hakodate’s main attractions. We had lunch in what I have been told is the best burger place in Hakodate, if not all of Hokkaido: Lucky Pierrot. The Chinese chicken burgers we had were quite tasty, and the lucky potato was interesting, and more than a little cheesy. After lunch we went through the souvenir shop at the bottom of the tower, and then made our way up to check out the second most famous view in Hakodate. It was beautiful, although not quite as breathtaking as the previous night’s view had been. You can see for yourself if I have been proactive enough to include some photos. There is only so long you can stare at scenery, not matter how striking it is, so after a time we made our way back down and walked across to the park that we had been observing from above. It was a perfect day, with just the right amount of warmth in the sun, and with none of Nagoya’s humidity. We spent quite a relaxing afternoon just sitting on a bench seat in the park, making up stories about the three pigeons who had decided that we might have food. We decided they were in the midst of a love triangle; a heated battle between the two male birds, for the unattainable affections of the female. It was a simple sort of happiness we enjoyed that afternoon.
Hey look, another gallery from Goryokaku!
Later that afternoon we returned to the hotel to collect our baggage, and hopped a taxi to our next accommodation. It was located in the ‘onsen district’ so I was more than a little disappointed when the reality didn’t quite match up to the image I had in my head. It looked not too dissimilar to any other smallish hotel. There were about 10-15 floors I believe, and on one of the higher ones there were a number of different onsen, or hot springs. It was for this experience that I had booked the place, so I was sincerely hoping not to be disappointed in this regard as well. We had purchased the meal package, so at the appropriate hour we prepared for dinner and made our way to the right floor. It was also a little different than I had envisioned. But ce la vie; it was still a pretty decent meal. The dining hall was quite large, and had a number of different tables set up buffet style, where all manner of local delicacies as well as a small amount of western fare were on offer. After being shown to a table and grabbing some plates, we loaded up on bits and pieces of everything that caught our eye, including some of the famous crab. It was a challenge to break into, but a challenge we mostly enjoyed; the resulting flesh being quite interesting and unexpected for both of us. It broke apart quite easily, unlike the shell encasing it, and the flavour wasn’t quite worth the hype in my opinion. It was definitely good, but Hokkaido crab just doesn’t hold a candle to Tasmanian crayfish.
When we returned to our room, after stuffing ourselves full of as many tiny little cakes as we could handle, we discovered our futons had been made up and our room was looking very cozy and comfortable. Now that I had seen just how many people were staying in the hotel, I decided hitting the onsen directly after dinner probably wasn’t the best course of action. Instead, Cassdoll and I had a few rounds of uno and looked through our trip photos, while chatting about all manner of meaningless girly topics. It was a perfect little slumber party. I eventually managed to psych myself up enough to brave the onsen, and I am glad I did. Other than a quick dip in a small ryokan onsen in Takayama, which wasn’t much more than a large bath, I had never really experienced Japanese hot springs. I was not disappointed. After completing all the mandatory disrobing and washing, I stepped outside (yes outside!) and into the rooftop onsen. It was overlooking the city, which wasn’t super relaxing; however Hakodate is fairly small, and I was able to gaze up into the night sky and just let the steaming water just melt my worries away. It was quite hot, as these things tend to be, so I couldn’t stay in long. I had the place to myself though, as luck (or the other women’s fear of the scary foreigner) would have it, so I was able to wander around and cool off and then get back in quite a number of times without having to worry about how much therapy the other guests would need after my visit. I eventually made my way back to our room (but not before trying a couple of the indoor baths, which were nice, but lacking the atmosphere of the outdoor one) and fell into bed at around 1am; utterly exhausted but totally relaxed.
The next day we headed back to Hakodate station to catch our train to Sapporo. It took a while to score a locker for our luggage, but we eventually managed, with time enough still remaining to go and enjoy a nice lunch at Hakodate Beer Restaurant. We elected not to try any of the varying types of beer available there (in every colour and flavour imaginable), but we did have some huge prawn crackers to go with our seafood lunch.
The train ride was fairly uneventful, but comfortable nonetheless. We arrived in Sapporo in the early evening and made our way to our hotel; another Route Inn. It was more difficult to find than we had anticipated, given the number of maps we had, as well as the fact that we asked for directions once we exited the station. When we finally did happen upon it, it was the back entrance. We took what we could get though, and after some initial confusion with trying to locate reception (on the 5th floor, not the 1st) we made it to our room to unwind and relax after a day of traveling. Our hotel was located in the entertainment district of Sapporo, an area called Susukino. Because of that, it wasn’t too difficult to find somewhere to eat, even taking our indecisiveness into consideration. We eventually settled on a suave looking Italian place with very friendly and inviting wait staff. Using a combination of my broken Japanese, and their broken English, we managed to order some cocktails and pizzas; which, I have to say, were some of the best pizzas I’ve had in Japan. If I remember correctly, the place was called Bettina 64, or something similar. So if you happen to find yourself in Susukino, I highly recommend you check it out!
To be honest, Sapporo as a city doesn’t excite me a whole lot. There just isn’t a great deal that separates it from any other major city in Japan. The only real reason we decided to come at all was because my travel agent at JTB told me that four nights in Hakodate was simply too much time. Granted, she was right, but there are definitely more interesting cities than Sapporo to visit if you happen to be in Hokkaido. However, we were definitely going to make the most of it while we were there! So the next morning we walked along the main road from Susukino – getting our bearings took some time – and did a bit of shopping and sightseeing (the clock being one really famous thing in the city centre) before hopping on a bus to Okurayama. Located part way up the mountain is one of the sites from the 1972 winter Olympics: the ski jump. The Sapporo Winter Sports Museum is definitely worth adding to your Sapporo itinerary, and I would imagine the ski jump would look even more impressive covered in snow in the winter, which is when Sapporo receives the majority of its visitors. As it was, we were enjoy the quite harrowing experience of being able to ride the chair lift up to the top of the ski jump and look out yet another magnificent view (an incidental focus of the holiday). After gazing out across the city for a time, we headed back down on the chair lift and began to work our way slowly through the museum. It includes quite an impressive array of Olympic memorabilia, as well as quite a number of interactive displays which allow people of all ages (as well as future Olympians) to try their hand at various winter sports.
Once we had finished watching a series of 20-somethings spin around and around on a device supposedly imitating the sensation of figure skating, and stuck our heads in all the appropriate holes for silly Olympic-themed photos, we wandered down the hill to the bus stop and headed back to Susukino to find some dinner. The place we ended up at didn’t really compare to the previous night’s fare, but it filled a gap. Then it was one more sleep in Hokkaido, and back on the plane (a pokemon plane to be precise!!) to Tokyo, where we would load up on even more souvenirs (I had already bought a truckload while we’d been in Hokkaido) before taking a Nozomi shinkansen to Nagoya!!
Home Sweet Home
The holiday wasn’t perfect – holidays rarely ever are – but it was definitely fun. The last week of Cassdoll’s stay was spent eating and shopping in Nagoya, and accompanying me and a couple of friends to another summer festival! Kariya wasn’t quite on the same scale as Tokyo, but it was still lots of fun; and I had not one, but TWO servings of strawberry kakigori (shaved ice). She also had the immense pleasure of watching me teach some of my kids classes! What a treat! Going back to work was quite challenging after such a fun-filled holiday; made even more so by the fact that Cass could continue shopping and relaxing, while I was busy stopping two year olds from ingesting flash cards.
Although now, given the amount of time it has taken me to get this account typed up, it’s not all that long until winter break! Granted, no one will be visiting from home (not this winter anyway), but I’m sure there’ll still be plenty of chances for me to get up to all sorts of mischief.
Soon to be available for your viewing (reading) pleasure: Autumn Adventures: Halloween Edition