According to the plan, we were supposed to visit Lake Abashiri and Sounkyo (Daisetsuzan National Park) before arriving at our hotel in Asahidake.
After our disappointing Lake Akan experience, we decided to give Lake Abashiri a miss too as the weather wasn’t looking too good either. We headed straight to Sounkyo despite the rain but it wad bad too.
Left: Expectation; Right: Reality
Reality of the skies:
Initially, we considered taking the ropeway up but the visibility report said “poor”. Furthermore, the entire area looked deserted, with 0 sign of other tourists/locals.
As we were running late on schedule, my friend called the hotel wanting to inform them that we will be late, hoping that they will save some dinner for us. However, all we get as a reply from them was “NO ENGLISH”. The staff didn’t even bother trying. BAAAAAAH.
Asahidake Manseikaku Hotel Deer Valley, the second cheapest hotel with the least satisfactory service (largely due to their lack of English), is (sadly) the only hotel we stayed two nights at.
There was a screw up with the hotel rooms we booked the “Two Connecting Premium Room option”. We ended up getting two rooms (one premium, one normal) side-by-side. Another funny thing was that their premium room could fit 4 people (2 beds, 2 tatami) but it cost the same price as getting 2 connecting rooms.
It wasn’t a very good start to our Asahidake stay and we were staying here for two nights >_<
Apart from the fairly big rooms, I also enjoyed the high ceilings, spaciousness and remoteness of the hotel. We barely bump into much people (except during dining). Do note that there are no lifts in the hotel and you will have to carry your luggage up the stairs.
We only reached the hotel at 8plus (kind of got lost due to the very dark roads) and as expected, the dinner was no longer available for us as the kitchen was closed. However, they managed to put up a set of “leftovers” on a tray for us. It was cold food but.. better than nothing. I had 3 bowls of instant ippudo ramen on standby.
Thankfully, their breakfast buffet spread is quite decent (I love the egg). Do note that this hotel location is very isolated and I highly doubt that you can get food anywhere else.
Breakfast on Day 1 vs Breakfast on Day 2. Pretty obvious to see what I enjoy eating 🙂
This was the scallop at dinner which my friend spent 15 minutes arguing against. It was just a display of their inflexibility which could be due to their obedience to “the policy”. When you enter the restaurant, each diner is given one “coupon” to exchange a “special”. For that evening, the special was Scallop & Beef. I took my coupon and went to their live station counter pointing to the beef, but the chef pointed to my coupon and passed me the scallop. So my friends went over to the entrance guy and asked to change to the beef coupon. Sadly, we were informed their policy is such that guests staying for their 1st night will get the beef coupon and guests staying for their 2nd night will get the scallop coupon. So.. we explained that we didn’t have dinner on the 1st night and that we really wanted to eat the beef. Despite the endless debate via google translate, the japanese waiter was willing to be patient and polite in rejecting us instead of choosing the easy way out by just giving us the beef coupon. This was at the expense of delaying the clearing of tables (If I’m not wrong, there were only two staff on the floor).
*Moving ahead to the next morning*
The sky was still pouring when we were ready to set off. We decided to switch our itinerary by visiting Asahidake city first, before returning to Mt Asahidake in the afternoon, hoping that the rain will stop by then.
It was a 20 to 30 minute drive from our hotel to the city. Our half-day city itinerary for the city was pretty simple. 2 sake places + Ramen Village and we were done.
The first Sake place we visited was Takasago Sake Brewery. The brewery area was under renovation when we were there but thankfully the sake shop + sake tasting area was still available and we were the only people around.
Free flow of fresh spring water.
We were very lucky as there was one male staff on duty and he could speak good English! We tried almost all types of available sake and he was very generous in his sample serving – pouring a good 1/3 to 1/2 glass instead of the usual 1/6 or 1/8 size serving in the second Sake shop. He was very patient in explaining to us the various level of sake in terms of dryness and sweetness.
I bought a sake-flavoured ice cream and a bottle of sweet sake from this shop. Regretted not buying more..
Anyway, to highlight how good this service staff was, he brought out this pretty decent Umeshu for us to sample even though it was “impossible” for us to bring it back to Singapore due to custom regulations (Only comes in one size – 1800ml). Nobody ain’t stopping my friend from buying this huge bottle – we finished this ultra huge 1800ml bottle of Umeshu (Plum Liquor) in 3 nights.
After the first sake shop, we went straight to the next sake shop (10 mins Drive) – Otokoyama Sake Brewery and Museum; a place I visited with a tour group back in Jun 2011.
Free Spring Water and a beautiful Garden.
This Sake Brewery and Museum is bigger and more commercialized compared to the previous shop. It has a huge carpark (catering to tour buses) and they asked for our driver the moment we entered the building. Driver is not allowed to sample any sake to protect them against Drink Driving which is dangerous and maybe illegal in Japan. It was definitely more orderly and organized. There were 2 floors of museum information, containing artifacts and various awards and accreditation this brewery has obtained. Information in English (if any) was very minimal and we were done walking in 5 to 10 minutes.
We proceeded back to the first floor for Sake Tasting. Either we were too drunk on sake from the previous shop, or the sake in the current shop really pales in comparison. Apart from the very tiny portions of the sample size, there were also two types that required 300Y for a glass. Even so, the sake was less tasty than most of the sake we had tried in the first shop.
I ended up buying another bottle of sweet sake (only one that appealed to me) together with a sweet rice snack. As this shop was bigger, tax refund was also allowed and they sealed our purchases into a plastic bag which says “Do not open before leaving Japan.”
Wouldn’t hurt to visit both sake places but I would strongly recommend Takasago Sake Brewery for better service and higher quality Sake.
We had lunch at the popular Asahidake Ramen Village (previously been here too during my tour). There were 8 ramen shops in total – some with longer queues and honestly speaking, I don’t think there is a huge difference between any of those ramen shops. We went with the one with the shortest queue (yes, you have to queue for all shops if you arrive at lunchtime), and it was a pretty decent bowl.
After lunch, we proceeded back to our hotel area – which was near Mt Asahidake; hoping that the weather would remain good.
Along the way back, we spotted a random park. The best part of self-drive is that you are able to stop (almost) anywhere, everywhere to enjoy the scenery.
This was supposed to be an information centre but it was closed when we were there.
Beautiful sky; random elevated platform and pavilion.
Along the way back, there was a beautiful and big lake, Chubetsu Lake. We stopped for a photo.
There were hardly any cars along the road since it wasn’t peak season yet.
Couldn’t find much information of this lake in english but I know that there’s a dam and its also a possible camping site.
Continuing with Mt Asahidake in my next entry!