Our tour to Hokkaido this year not only took us to the world famous Sapporo Yuki Matsuri, we were also introduced to unique areas of Hokkaido enjoying local snow and ice festivals fresh seafood and beautiful scenery. My favorite part was going to the onsen…and the food…and the snow…I think we all enjoyed everything Hokkaido has to offer in the winter. William (That’s me) and Kat (She’ll be writing about the last two days) were the Tour Escorts for this group
After meeting up at our hotel connected to the New Chitose Airport, our first stop was to Aeon Shopping Mall to get some last minute winter gear. Most of our group was from Hawaii, you can’t buy a lot of what we needed. Next stop was Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival. They build bamboo frames and pour river water over the frame over the course of a month to slowly build all the Ice sculptures. The shopping area also sells Miso Pudding!
We enjoyed a Seafood Nabe Lunch at Kani Gotoen and explored their fish market. Some of the finest Hokkaido dried scallops were selling over $100 for a small bag! After lunch, we went to the Ainu Village in Shiraoi. Have you heard of the Ainu? The Ainu are the original inhabitants of Nothern Japan and Hokkaido distinctly different from the Japanese. We learned about their history and unique culture.
In the evening we arrived in Sapporo and went to see the giant snow sculptures at the Snow Festival site in Odori Park. There were giant Anime Characters, recreations of famous building from around the world and even one sculpture commemorating the new Hokkaido Shinkansen opening in March that had a projection mapped light show. We found out that many of the sculptures are created with the help of a special unit of Japan’s Self Defense Force.
In the morning we explored more of Sapporo. Used the train, visited the underground tunnels connecting the city (Better than trudging through snow!) and ended up spending most of our time at the Nijo Fish Market near Susukino and the Daiso 100 Yen Shop, always a popular choice.
In the afternoon we visited Otaru by train to see their Canal light festival. Otaru is a unique city with beautiful western style buildings among the traditional Japanese streets. Did anyone get the world-famous no drip Soy Sauce bottle? It even changes color!
We had lunch at the Asahikawa Ramen Village, we all got to choose what kind of Ramen we wanted to eat and even pay our respects at the Ramen Village Shrine. Then we had a last minute shopping spree at Uniqlo, Last chance to buy more warm clothes!
We visited the Takasago Sake Brewery to learn about the craft of making Japanese Sake. Hokkaido grows delicious rice and the snows bring clean fresh water, the two ingredients for Sake. We even learned about traditional methods such as slowly filtering and collecting the sake in an igloo to keep it cool. I think everyone’s favorite part was the tasting…
At night we visited the Sounkyo Ice Festival. Sounkyo Onsen is deep in the mountains of Hokkaido. I won’t lie, it was very VERY cold. But the festival was worth it. They had a Taiko performance and fireworks; and you could explore and walk through all of the impressive Ice Sculptures. Know what the best part was? Going to the Onsen Hot Spring afterwards! They had a Rotenburo (an open air outdoor onsen) and while your body relaxes in the warm waters your hair might actually freeze!
We took some pictures at the Ginga Ryusei Waterfalls. There are two waterfalls: one is elegant and beautiful representing the wife, the other is bold and…less beautiful…representing the husband. The waterfall representing the wife was completely frozen. It was great to spend time in the mountains.
Our next stop was an Ice Breaker Cruise out on the Sea of Okhotsk. Only…well…there’s no easy way to say this. The weather was too nice and we had no ice! As you say in Japanese, “Zannen” (Too bad; what a shame). We still enjoyed taking the cruise and it was hard to complain on such a beautiful day!
Our dinner at the hotel was an amazing Japanese set menu with Scallops and Nabe and Sashimi. And the main dish. HOKKAIDO CRAB! It was very amazing. We all wore our yukata to dinner and enjoyed each other’s company.
After departing our (frozen) lakeside hotel, we visited Lake Tofutsu to look at the swans who migrated down from Russia during the winter. Which begs the question, how much colder could it be there?! In the gift shop that sold a towel that when you put it in hot water it…oops…never mind…too inappropriate for the blog. If you were there, you know what I’m talking about.
Our lunch was a Japanese set menu featuring Hokke, a popular fish used in local Hokkaido Cuisine. We also had Soba and Nabe with two kinds of mochi. The area the lunch restaurant was is famous for its sulfur hot springs, we even stopped by to take a picture in front of a giant sulfur plume. And yes, it was smelly.
Our next stop was Tsurui Mura to see the Japanese Red-crowned Crane, A species of beautiful crane thought to be extinct in Japan until one bird was discovered by chance by an Elementary School student. The crane is a famous symbol of Japan (take a look at the logo of Japan Airlines) and everyone was really excited to have a chance to see the birds in person. 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.
And sadly my friends this is where we part ways, I had to go home early but don’t worry! My fellow Tour Escort Kat will tell you about the rest of the trip! I’m sure the first thing she’ll say is how much everyone missed me…
We enjoyed a steak lunch at the restaurant on top of Ikeda Wine Castle, overlooking the snow covered town. It was interesting to learn about the delicate processes of making high grade sparkling wine.
After lunch, we visited the Lake Shikaribetsu Igloo Village. It was so fun snowmobiling, drinking juice from frozen cups at the ice bar, and taking pictures of a young couple taking an ice bath (how nice of them to let us do that). We all had so much fun experiencing the ice world.
We had a fabulous Japanese Kaiseki style dinner. Most of us visited the Sairinka Night Festival. It was a very heartwarming snow festival that displayed of lots of lights with hand covered cones made out of special agricultural material. These change color with laser lights. Neat! There was also a light tunnel that we could walk through, and some of us even tried sledding down a hill. Whoopee!
However, the highlight was Mole Onsen. Did you all enjoy the bath at night and in the morning? We were all very refreshed!
Farewell to Hokkaido! The fun times pass by very quickly. We had our final local meal for lunch at Sapporo Outer fish market. The Kaisen(raw seafood) Donburi was so ono! Others chose to eat warm Ramen.
After some last minute shopping at Ario Shopping Center, we headed to the Chitose Airport 30 min. earlier than the itinerary due to the weather. It was a good thing we decided to get there early, because the lines were crazy! Thankfully, Hawaiian Airline was able to take off despite 2 hours of delay. We all arrived at Honolulu Airport safely with a lot of happy memories from Hokkaido. Thank you everyone for being such wonderful tour mates. Aloha Ahui Hou, till we meet again!
Posted by William and Kat
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