The 28 of us departed from Honolulu on time by Hawaiian Airlines 441. The flight was over 10 hours, but we landed smoothly at the Shin Chitose International Airport. The airport was completely covered by snow, except for the runway. Hokkaido is such a beautiful snow country! The majority of us enjoyed eating our first meal of our choice at the terminal restaurants . There were so many wonderful selections of local gourmet food there. Yummy!
We met our English speaking tour guide and driver, Ms. Michiko Mizuguchi and Mr. Takahashi, and took off from the Airport Terminal Hotel. Hokkaido here we come! The first stop was Sunakawa Highway Oasis along the way to Asahikawa. We first tasted samples of ever popular “pumpkin seed cookies” and generously contributed to their sales. Kitakaro’s soft-serve ice cream was unforgettable too. Some of us were able to enjoy sledding in front of the store. It was good fun playing in the snow.
Our lunch stop was at Asahikawa Ramen Village. Choices, choices… but we were able to pick a favorite Ramen shop to try. Hot Ramen broth surely tastes the best in cold weather. After lunch we visited Otokoyama Sake Brewery. There were many good samples available to try. At night, we were able to enjoy the Sounkyo Ice Festival after dinner. It was super cold(-13 centigrate!!), but we all enjoyed our first snow festival of this trip! Know what the best part was? Catching mochi thrown from the stage? Or maybe going to the Onsen (hot spring) afterwards! They had a Rotenburo (an open air outdoor Onsen) surrounded by snow and it was extra nice after the long day!
We took some pictures at the Ginga Ryusei Waterfalls. There are two waterfalls: one is elegant and beautiful representing the wife, the other is more masculine representing the husband. The masculine waterfall was not frozen so we enjoyed its gorgeous view despite of the coldness!
After a Sushi lunch, the next stop was the Ice Breaker Cruise out on the Sea of Okhotsk. It was an enjoyable one hour cruise on the Ice Breaking ship, the Aurora II. Sometimes there are Seals and Eagles and we saw one Eagle towards the end of the cruise.
Our dinner at the hotel was Japanese set menu served in the Kaiseki Style. Nabe (hot pot), Kamameshi (flavored rice cooked in cast iron pot on table top), Sashimi, tempura, and many more dishes continuously kept coming! Wow! But we can’t forget to talk about our main dish. Hairy Crab! It was sweet. We all wore our Yukata to dinner and enjoyed each other’s company.
After enjoying great hospitality at our lakeside hotel, Abashirikoso, we headed to Lake Kussharo to look at swans who migrated during the winter. The area called Sunayu has warm water throughout the year because of its geothermal heat so swans come to rest there. They are so gracious, aren’t they?
Then, we enjoyed the snowy Mt. Iou, oh the smell of sulfur was very strong(!) and the view of yellow vent coming out of an active volcano was impressive.
Our lunch was a Japanese set menu featuring Hokke, a popular fish used in local Hokkaido Cuisine. It was huge! The area the lunch restaurant was is famous for its sulfur hot springs, Kwayu Onsen, so you could smell it even in the building.
We spent some time at Tsurui Mura to see the Japanese Red-crowned Crane, a beautiful species of crane thought to be extinct in Japan until discovered in Kushiro Marsh in 1924. Now there are over 1000 birds, but they only reside in this region of Hokkaido. At Tsurumidai Sanctuary the cranes are fed everyday so we could watch this beautiful species closely here. The red crest on their head is actually a patch of bare skin. Male and female birds look almost identical but you can tell them apart by the songs they sing to each other.
We enjoyed a steak lunch at the restaurant on top of the Ikeda Wine Castle, overlooking the snow covered town. The town office runs this winery and Tokachi Wine is made out of locally grown grapes.
After lunch, we visited the Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan. The igloo village has the ice bar, hot spring, hotel, and even a chapel. Some of us tried snowmobiling, drinking juice from frozen cups, and taking pictures with the ice polar bear. We all had so much fun experiencing the ice world.
We had another fabulous Japanese Kaiseki style dinner. After dinner, we visited the Sairinka Night Festival. It was a heartwarming snow festival, and their main attraction is a display of lots of hand covered cones made out of special agricultural material. These change color with laser lights collaborated with popular music. It was very unique. There was also a beautiful light tunnel that we could walk through too.
Tokachigawa Daiichi Hotel is famous for its Mole Onsen fascility. Many of us enjoyed the bath at night and even early in the morning. No wonder we look so nice and shiny today!
We were heading to Sapporo today. On the way we visited Shiraoi Ainu Village and Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival.
Shiraoi Ainu Village was an eye opening facility which displayed the Ainu’s rich indigenous culture. Thank you to Dr. Nakamura, the curator, who briefly explained about their cultural heritage. After leaving the village, we ate a late lunch of warm seafood pot at Kani Gotoen. Boy, their statues of bear, crab and salmon sitting on top of the roof were huge!
Then we arrived at Lake Shikotsu and enjoyed the beautiful Ice Festival in the afterno on. Of course, I won’t forget to mention about warm potato mochi on the way back. It was yummy!
After the long drive, we finally arrived in Sapporo, our final group dinner took place at fancy Hanagozen restaurant. It was a full course of Japanese crab Kaiseki and everything was very delicately prepared. It was the amazing last dinner together.
Free day in Sapporo. The majority of us walked to the Sapporo Snow Festival at Odori Park. There were giant Anime Characters and replicas of famous buildings from around the world. Some of the sculptures were created with the help of a special unit of Japan’s Self Defense Force. Some of us even came back at night to see the lighted sculptures because they were just amazing!
We all spread to Daiso store, Tokyu Hands, the department stores and so on in the afternoon. Our hotel was right next to Susukino Ice Carving site. Did you enjoy strolling the street to admire the beautiful ice scriptures?
We visited Otaru as our final sightseeing spot on the last day. The nostalgic canal was picture perfect covered with snow, and we enjoyed our lunch and strolled down the street. The music box store, Kitaichi glass shop, LeTao’s famous cheesecake, and many more were just some of the attractive shops that were lined up on the popular Sakaimachi Street. Did you all get the world-famous non-drip soy sauce bottle at Sa Shi Su Se So? Some even change color depending on the light.
Good times fly quickly, and it was time to say good-bye to Hokkaido. Our flight home was short, about 7 hours, and we arrived safely at Honolulu Airport. Thank you everyone for being such wonderful tour members.
A Hui Hou, till we meet again!
Posted by Kat Spear
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