Day 1/2 Honolulu ~ Chitose
The Shin Chitose International Airport, covered lightly with snow, welcomed us to beautiful Hokkaido after a long 10 hour flight. We checked in at the convenient Airport Terminal Hotel. There were so many choices of local gourmet foods in the terminal restaurants so most of us were able to enjoy the food upon arrival.
Day 3 Chitose ~ Asahikawa ~ Sounkyo
We met our English speaking tour guide, Kimi, and driver, Yasu, and left the airport to the Aeon mall to buy snow cleats. Wearing snow cleats makes it so much easier and safer to walk on the icy ground, so it is strongly recommended to purchase one. (They are less than $10!) After that we headed out to Asahikawa City, stopping at Sunakawa Highway Oasis. This service area offers many varieties of Hokkaido goodies such as the ever-so-popular “pumpkin seed cookies”, soft-serve ice cream and cream puffs at Kitakaro.
We then had lunch at the Asahikawa Ramen Village. All of the shops looked so good, it was hard to pick just one! Hot Ramen broth tasted the best in cold weather.
After lunch we visited the Otokoyama Sake Brewery and enjoyed the walking tour and Sake tasting. Many of us purchased the award winning Otokoyama Daiginjyo or the brewery limited Daiginjo. Ater the brewery, we drove into the Daisetsuzan National Park to visit the Sounkyo Gorge.
At night we went to the Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival. It was super cold, 5℉! The fireworks didn’t fully pop up since there was such a strong breeze and snowfall, but we managed to stay at the festival site till the end of the event during which they throw Mochi from the stage. Yes, of course we caught some too!
It was heavenly feeling going to the Onsen (hot spring) when we came back to the hotel! They had a Rotenburo (an open air outdoor Onsen) surrounded by snow and it was extra nice after the long day!
Day 4 Sounkyo ~ Abashiri
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. The ship cruised for an extra 15 min. to catch up with the drifted ice. It was an amazing view to see ship proceed over the ocean covered by ice.
Our dinner at the hotel was a Japanese set menu served in the Kaiseki Style. Beautiful presentation! We all wore Yukata and enjoyed the Japanese style dinner.
Day 5 Abashiri ~ Kushiro ~ Akan
The first stop today was Lake Kussharo where swans migrate during the winter. The beach along the lake called Sunayu is warm throughout the year because of its geothermal heat so swans come to rest there.
Then, we enjoyed the active volcano, Mt. Iou. The sulfur gas was constantly coming out of several vents. It was a short walk over so some of us walked to the vents.
Our lunch was a Japanese set menu featuring grilled Hokke, Atka Mackerel. It was huge! The lunch restaurant was located in Kawayu Onsen and is known for its sulfur hot springs, so we could smell sulfur gas even inside of the building.
We spent some time in the afternoon at the Tsurui Village to see the Japanese Red-crowned Crane, once declared extinct until it was rediscovered in the Kushiro Marsh in 1924. Now there are over 1500 birds, but they only reside in this region of Hokkaido. At Tsurumidai the cranes are fed every day in winter so we could watch this beautiful species closely here.
Our hotel was Tsuruga Wing in front of Lake Akan where indigenous Ainu Village is located by. There was a small fire work display and ceremony conducted by Ainu chief on the lake at night.
Day 6 Akan ~ Obihiro ~ Tokachigawa
We enjoyed a steak lunch at the restaurant on top of the Ikeda Wine Castle, overlooking the snow covered town. After lunch, we visited the Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan. The igloo village has an 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 Festival. Its 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 facility. Many of us enjoyed the bath at night and even early in the morning.
Day7 Tokachigawa ~ Chitose ~ Otaru
It was a long drive from Tokachigawa to Otaru. The highlight of the day was the Lake Shikotsu Hyoto Festival. The snow was falling heavily with strong wind so it was tough staying out there. Inside of the ice cave was much nicer, and it was amazing how they decorate the ice cave with natural pines.
Lunch was at Tamafuji on the way to Lake Shikotsu. Many of us had known Tamafuji from its Hawaii restaurant on Kapahulu Ave.. We all enjoyed their delicious Tonkatsu!
Day8 Otaru ~ Yoichi ~ Otaru ~ Sapporo
It was a fun day in Otaru. First we visited Nikka Whisky Distillery in Yoichi which some of us had known about from the NHK morning TV series “Massan”. It was a beautiful facility and we enjoyed tasting their premium whiskey, Taketsuru 21 & 17.
After Nikka, our surprise stop was the glass making studio. Otaru is famous for their glass works. We had fun making our own Otaru style glass cups.
Otaru’s main street offers so many options. Many of us enjoyed shopping for popular non-drip Shoyu bottles at Sashisuseso. Other stores include the Music Box shop, LeTao cheese cakes, and Kitaichi Glass. Some of us even walked far to the popular fried chicken restaurant, Naruto. It was very crowded but very good fried chicken.
We finally arrived in Sapporo after a long day. Our final group dinner took place at the fancy Hanagozen restaurant. It was a full course of Japanese crab Kaiseki and everything was very delicately prepared. It was an amazing last dinner together.
Sapporo is so beautiful! The snow-covered Hokkaido Jingu Shrine was so serene. We also enjoyed the thrilling Okurayama Ski Jump hill, a great view of the city from Hitsujigaoka Park, and fresh fish Donburi at Central Wholesale Market that was ONO!
Today was a free day in Sapporo. The majority of us walked to the Sapporo Snow Festival at Odori Park. There were giant Anime Characters, replicas of famous buildings from around the world, and even a Star Wars display. These sculptures lit up at night and some displayed amazing projection mapping.
We strolled freely in the town to visit the Daiso store, Tokyu Hands, and several other department stores. Our hotel was right next to the Susukino Ice sculpture display so most of us were able to visit the site at night.
Day 11 Sapporo ~ Shin Chitose Airport ~ Honolulu
Time flies when you’re having fun, and it was already time to say good-bye to Hokkaido. We had a last minute shopping stop at the Ario Mall on the way to the airport. The airport was kind of chaotic but we all made the flight back home safely with a lot of fantastic memories of the Northern land of Japan.
A Hui Hou, till we meet again!
Posted by Kat Spear
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