This family trip had been great headache. From Free&Easy in Hokkaido, we changed to Turkey after the March 2011 nuclear problems in japan. Then, the Turkey trip cancelled as there was insufficient people (it was only a month before departure date). After that, parents went to travel fair and we ended up on a 7D5N Hokkaido tour. It was at a really really really relatively affordable price of $1,700 SGD (all inclusive excluding tips (700Y*6D=4,200yen approx 63 per person).
Flight there was JAL, nothing awesome. Transit at Tokyo Haneda airport. It was a full flight and probably at a sales price as we were not allowed to extend for a few more days in Tokyo =(
Just a short summary before i go into each day in detail. The trip’s main focus was on hot springs as the flowers were not in full bloom yet. Apart from that, it was food, food, food & food. I kind of feel really guilty for eating too much, but then again if you don’t eat, you will regret. The food is simply too awesome. (to be justified by pictures)
1. Did not feel or see any sign of nuclear threat
While I was there, I did not feel any threat from the nuclear disaster at all. At supermarkets, we can see japanese signs at the sashimi corner, probably showing a disclaimer that the seafood did not contain radioactive waves. However, the tourism industry seemed to be greatly hit by this disaster. When we visit tourist spots, there were only 2-5 tour buses at the most. Of which, many were local tours which were mainly students on school trips. Our tour guide seemed to have only one tour for the whole month of June as he said he was going on a vacation till next month =/
2. Temperature ~ relatively cool with slight drizzle on some days.
In fact, the hottest time I felt throughout the whole trip was at their airports, airplanes and at the hot springs.
3. Struggling without knowledge of Japanese
It was really a terrible nightmare for me to communicate with the sales staff there. I felt pathetic most of the time and just give up 99% of the time I attempted to ask them a question =( Then again it was my fault as I was totally equipped with almost no knowledge of jap. However, of course some of them could understand or speak a little English, but the majority really can’t. I tried to type out what I want out on my iPhone but they can’t seem to understand written form too. Couldn’t get to ask for the things I wanted if it requires more than just hand signals and facial expressions =/
4. June is pretty much a season for nothing in Hokkaido
Cherry Blossoms bloom from sometime in March to April. During Winter holidays, people do skiing. Lavenders and Sunflowers bloom in end July/August. So June was pretty boring and we did not manage to see anything awesome. We did managed to pick strawberries though.
5. Food, Food & Food
The meals were really well-planned. We were exposed to a wide variety from steamboat pot-style to grilled to steam dishes. The buffet dinner at the hotels were really fantastic with like unlimited servings of awesome beef and sashimi. Also, there were self-expense upgrades of Hokkaido crabs (sashimi-style) & Kobe Beef (O. M. G. you seriously have to try). And everywhere we ate Hokkaido ice cream. Flavours ranging from Melon to Lavender to Milk to Peach to Green Tea to Sweet Potato etc. Ranging from 200Y~350Y. (I think i really over-ate while i was there =/)
6. Hot Springs
This was something I did not try when I went to Japan in 2003. It’s just a mindset thing which I don’t agree with but I didn’t have much of a choice this time since I had to accompany my mum. We went 3 times in total. 4 out of 5 hotels had hot springs. There was one night we didn’t go because i stayed in the lobby using wifi till quite late and my mum decided not to go. heh. this plan failed because she insisted we went before dinner =/ the awesome thing about hot spring is the shampoo and soap and facial foam they provide you! There was the horse oil shampoo which cost 50$ for one bottle. i spammed it while showering in the hot spring bath. Well, it was indeed a cultural shock for me. you enter the door, and then you have to strip naked and place your clothes into a basket. Then, you have to walk to the bath area and sit on a stool and bathe. 2 of the hot springs i went to had small mirrors where you can only see your face while you bathe. the last hot spring had a big mirror o.o, but it was blurred. i’m still quite conservative and keep my eyes to the floor when i walk. i still can’t believe i actually went to a hot spring in japan, or rather three hot springs =/ Nevertheless, I didn’t regret it as upon reaching singapore, i realised that my skin was indeed smoother. i felt it when i was bathing. it might just be psychological effect for all that horror i suffered. i still can’t imagine how mixed hot springs would be like. i doubt i will ever enter one. traumatized. but it is definitely something you should try when you are there.
And now I shall write about my daily update.
Day 1: 12th June 2011 Sunday
Took the night flight; reaching Haneda Airport at about 7am.
Day 2: 13th June 2011 Monday.
The international flight was followed by a domestic flight to Chitose Airport in Sapporo.
Upon reaching Chitose, we went for lunch!
It was in a tourist-friendly place with long tables. Everything was already prepared neatly by the time we arrived. Once we say down, all we had to do was to break the chopsticks and start eating.
After lunch, we visited the famous Ishiya Chocolate factory. The one which produce the famous chocolate: 白色戀人~
That place is really interesting. nice architecture and interesting clock performances when the clock strikes.
the owner had a toy museum~~ with a lot of displays!!
We had some really awesome cheesecake at that place and melon ice cream! anyway on a random mode, the people there don’t distinct between “r” and “l” so it’s kind of like meron ice cream when they speak. hmm.
After that we went back to the hotel and had some free & easy shopping which we went to the wrong place. Supposed to go sapporo underground shopping mall, but we ended up at sapporo station shopping arcade! it was a long walk 2 and fro. about 20 mins walk. That place was not bad. There’s a supermarket with awsome food samples. the good thing of being a foreigner and knowing nothing about japanese is u can be thick skin and keep eating because you wouldn’t even know if they are scolding you. heh.
FYI, 1000 Y is about $15 to $17 so this rock melon cost $60++
This is a very good marketing strategy. You bring a big huge bread fresh from the oven, gather a crowd over and sell this hot and pipping bread!
After returning back to the hotel, we went to take photo of the historical NHK tower and the historic tokeidai clock tower.
We toured a ramen street and the red light district.
Very expensive huh..
We also had dinner at some departmental store top floor. Salmon in every meal, how awesome.
In the same building, I found the awesome 100Y shop which was actually 105Y probably due to inflation. we managed to catch some pimps with their blown up dyed hair. i’ve finally decided that i’m gonna do my hair dark brown. chocolate brown. going blonde and bleach is kind of ugly.
Anyway, we were greedy and the sashimi at the supermarket were going at ridiculously low prices so we decided to grab a box and a couple of snacks. it was 8pm+ and obviously they were clearing stock. sad to say, they were not fresh and nothing awesome.
Day 3: 14th Jun 2011, Tuesday
The day started with fantastic breakfast at the hotel. I really can’t remember the name of the hotel =/ but it was fantastic. had my good portion of orange juice, milk and the bread. omg, the bread was so good! though i attributed some of the supposedly good taste to the KimTakGu baker show i had watched which made me appreciate the true flavour of bread more and more.
After breakfast, we went to a temple in the morning.
did the traditional routines of rinsing mouth.
threw a coin and made a wish.
there were some street stalls too~ as you can see.. it was drizzling.
After that, we went to Sapporo station shopping arcade, the same one we went yesterday. Did nothing much, just walked around.
after that we went for lunch at this place whereby most of the families bought the fresh hokkaido long legs crab. it was freaking 12,000W. probably the only fresh crab which can be served sashimi style. the whole crab over-ruled the poor fish at lunch.
the powder seasoning for the rice was awesome and i keep spamming it on the also tasty rice. which my mum ended buying 3 bottles. feel like smuggling one to korea when i’m there 😀
After that, we went to visit the Otaru Canal. There was some historical meaning to it as it used to be like ‘Singapore River’ whereby it was a port and a lot of trading took place in that area. Seems like they did not really develop it much.. Looks pretty gothic in a way.
After that, we proceeded to the Otaru shopping strict whereby there is the music box museum. this 3 storey high shop which has a lot of musical toys! i really really wanted one but i decided to save on that money. they really have a lot a lot a lot of things! we spend quite some time in that shop.
Other than that, there were several glasswares shop and also awesome food especially cheesecakes!
Our tour guide recommended us this shop: LeTao (they gave chocolates as free samples and it cost about $1 per piece) and well, we ate 2 because we walked past twice. But we went back in for a set meal. had 2 sets. each come with a slice of cake and drink. the cake was really really really nice. i don’t know how to describe it but they have different layers of cheese and it was a soft touch to it. LeTao has like about 4 to 5 shops down the street but we went to the main branch. The seats were on the 2nd floor and the 3rd floor is sort of like a viewing gallery.
After tea, we continued walking down the streets and there were other local products like the circular cake at takashimaya which is freaking expensive and long queue. it was really nice with the nice caramel taste. looks similar to kueh lapis but i’m still not sure if it’s worth the price. really expensive. like $20+ for a small small small cake. hmm.
Other than that, i bought chocolates and here and there. the cream puffs were sold out. but heard it was really nice.
we ended our shopping trip with another hokkaido soft ice cream:D
An Ice Cream on a Cold Day keeps the Coldness away =p
The hotel we stayed was really nice. Kiroro Piano Resort which is actually a ski resort in winter. the buffet dinner entitles a serving of hokkaido crab too! but it was nothing compared to the $$$ one we paid for lunch. hmm. food was great too.
Day 4: 15th June 2011, Wednesday
Breakfast at Kiroro Piano Resort:
First stop was a Sake Brewery (Nam San). The scenary outside was very nice. Sake was really good too. Had free samples which we ended up buying. Heh. Had free re-fills of their fresh water which actually, i can’t tell the difference between plain water =/ I drank the famous fuji water in the airplane but I felt it taste no different from ordinary water. hmm.
After that we proceeded to this place which had a lot of ramen stores. We had lunch there. I was kind of disappointed because the ramen was from packet whereas the one I used to eat from big splash/Holland V was hand-pulled and stuff like that but it turned out not bad! The ramen shop we chose did not serve egg. RAH. we couldn’t communicate with the people there too so we did not bother trying to ask for egg. However, I felt it was a little on the salty side. I ordered Miso. Hmm. The cha-siew was awesome. omg. the best part of the whole ramen.
We were told that we need to slurp as loudly as possible and I tried my best! Heh. But the chef did not look at us to acknowledge or anything like that. We were sitting on bar seats, right in front of the kitchen counter so we could watch him cook our ramen in front of us. He actually check the ramen with his fingers to check if it was bouncy enough. Didn’t use a timer though. Maybe every single time is different. We had gyoza too. we could order as long as there are pictures. Ha.
Price was acceptable. it was 1,000W for mine.
After lunch we went to visit the waterfalls: Ginaga and Ryusei Falls. It was okay I guess but maybe the one that I saw at the vietnam and china border was too awesome that every other waterfall pales in comparison =/
the best part about this place was this melon ice cream thingy which cost 500W. You know we have seen how expensive the melons cost through this trip but we haven’t actually tried one! For 500W, you get half a melon topped with delicious vanilla ice cream! The melon was really sweet and good!
And one really cute gesture that the sales people do there is that when your tour bus leaves, they will come out of their shop and wave at you. Really sweet of them to do and the guide will always joke around and say “who gave them a hankerchief just now?”
After the somewhat magnificent waterfalls, we went back to the hotel. Can’t remember the name but it was tatami style. I remember that I was so tired that I decide to lay the bedsheets myself. There were 4 sets of mattresses so i piled 3 for mine. After diner when I return, they re-arranged everything and I had only 1 set of mattresses. So I had to open the cupboard and pile more mattresses on top of mine. Hmm. They do things very orderly in a black or white manner. Rule by rule. just like the way they queue. The tour guide always say, you can only ask for hot or cold water. You tell them warm, they get really confused. There was a day in the hotel bathroom, whereby there was only hot or cold water when we are bathing. When you turn the temperature thingy, u turn like 0.5degrees, it’s super hot like 40degrees celcius. and then you turn 0.5 degree to the other side, gosh the water is freezing. I took forever to bathe that night because of that.
I didn’t like tatami style. I feel thankful for my bed. Anyway, as Japan was on energy saving, the rooms did not have air conditioning. It was like not hot and not cold. I was almost sweating under the thick blankets. Hmm.
Day 5: 16th June 2011, Thursday
The day started when we visited this place with nice scenery. I bought a postcard there. that was all I remembered of the place. There were nice mountains and unbloomed flowers. Really a nice sight of green.
We also bought corn there. It was freaking 300W but we could eat it raw and gosh it was super sweet! Apparently it wasn’t the corn season so perhaps the price was high as a result?
After that we proceeded for our flower sighting. Went to two farms. The first farm was quite a sad sight as all we saw was the soil where the seeds lie beneath. There weren’t many flowers in bloom.
seems like kara visited there before?
their yakult is so cute!
Second farm we went was Tomita farm which was supposedly famous for their lavenders but it wasn’t in bloom yet. we managed to see some other purple flowers and poppies and others. Managed to see some lavenders in their greenhouse though. The backdrop mountain view was scenic and breathtaking. Took a couple of Polaroids there!
The flower journey ended with Hokkaido soft serve ice cream again 😀
After that, we took a long bus ride to this spectecular volcano at Lake Toya. We stayed at Toya Sun Palace. http://www.toyasunpalace.co.jp/spa/index.html
The sight was mesmerizing , and we could view the lake from our hotel rooms. The hotel rooms were arranged in a straight line, so that everyone can view the lake!
After dinner, there was a firework show which was not bad. but my poor camera and my lousy skills were incapable of capturing it on film. Anyway, the fireworks are thrown into the water before they explode into the sky. no idea how it was possible but there was just this boat in the lake speeding around.
The lake is rather huge. The tour guide said it will take 1 hour for the bus to go around it. and this lake is actually an active volcano opening. hmm. Until now I can’t seem to picture that logic into my head. i woke up at 3am that morning and the sky was bright! so i sat by the window and watched the ducks swimming by and the random boats in the lake.
and then i decide to go back to sleep. sleep is never enough 😀
Day 6: 17th June 201, Friday
In the morning, we visited a strawberry farm where we get to pick unlimited strawberries and stuff it into your stomach before exiting. it was really small but i ate until i couldn’t put any more into my mouth. most were sweet. turns out to be, the most perfectly shaped strawberry isn’t the sweetest. those weirdly shaped ones tasted the best! it didn’t have to be big. as long as it is very red, it will taste great!
After that, we went to a place whereby we could see Mt Showa (active volcano which sprouted after an earthquake in 2000) and a Bear Ranch. I was very disappointed with the way they locked the bears up in concrete. It was really a poor sight. Seeing how the bears performed to get their treats of apples and biscuits from the visitors really makes me wonder if they are fed well. I mean, I do know that the bears are locked up mainly for safety reasons, seeing their habitat of concrete makes the whole place very solemn. Kind of like a prison. Shouldn’t they try to make it more like a zoo by throwing in more greenery? Had to admit that the bears were really cute, but it was really cruel.
After that, it was all cultural. Went to Shiraoi Ainu Village whereby it was the indigenous Japanese people, the natives. It was all “fake” somehow, as how they got destroyed when civilization drove them away and assimilated them. Hmm. But it was a nice place with a nice lake. Watched some cultural performances of dance which were okay only. Hmm. Went to their museums, saw their history and heritage and lifestyles and equipment, the usual stuff..
After that, we went to Edo Samurai Village where we first had a fantastic steam lunch! I never knew steam food could taste so good. Haha. There was this sauce thingy whereby I dipped every single thing in it before putting it into my house. Wonder how much MSG I consumed throughout =/
Apparently the entrance ticket to samurai village was very expensive! like 3,000Y or something. But it was not bad. went to watch the samurai show. They really walk without footstep sounds.
Then we had the geisha show and the outdoor ninja show.
We went to visit this cat museum which turned out to be a rather scary walk. The floors would tremble and stuff like that.
On the other hand, their ghost and demon house was nothing much. They just had individual scene whereby you press a button and there will be a story blabbering in japanese and then the figurines will transform and show their ghostly sights. Like head turning 360 degrees or a face with only one eye or long neck monster.
After that, we went to the impossible maze house thingy which they say was the first test for the ninjas. you have to clear it in 3 mins in order to be a ninja. Well, I was the lazy sister who just tagged behind my brother. Heh.
The whole village setting was really cool with all the japanese scenes which you used to see in manga and anime. I don’t really watch much japanese drama. I guess if it was slightly more crowded it would feel more like a theme park feeling but a pity it wasn’t crowded at all. probably only 5% of what it could handle.
After leaving the village, we went to visit this place known as Hell Valley which was actually a boiling pond from an active volcano. We were greeted with a huge red face demon when we enter the whole stretch. Kind of funny how they theme the whole area with the “hell” theme.
Hotel was tatami setting again but the food was really fantastic.
omg omg omg. the beef was like so awesome and free flow. the sashimi was delicious too! we ate and ate and ate. i was really smart this time and i ate only the good food. didn’t even bother trying everything on the buffet spread. heh.
so after dinner, we went out to the streets to walk. we were not really interested in the small fire-spraying which my tour guide didn’t really promote to us. So we were just walking along the streets but out feet brought us there anyway. since we were walking in that direction.
Guess what sight we saw. There were a lot of people holding the red lightstick directing traffic at the road. After reaching the place, there was actually a stage set up and the whole area was very crowded. All the seats were taken and we ended up seating in front of the stage, being the 4th row. Prior to the performance at 8:30pm, the place started filling up as tons and tons of people started streaming in. I was like.. are they watching NDP parade or something? there were really a lot of people for that.. performance which I wouldn’t really bother.
Alright, it was just a devilish dance whereby masked man came stomping in, playing drums and instruments.
Then at the bridge, they take this fire extinguisher look alike and started spraying fire into the air. There were 6 of them in a row standing on the steps of the stairs. So the first wave started with one by one. then it was a 1 by 1.5. Meaning the second person start spraying halfway through the first person. Then they sprayed together. This performance was really nothing fantastic but everyone kept cheering and clapping. hmpfmfmfmp. We had nothing to do anyway.
After the performance ended, despite the huge crowd, exit was rather orderly as we made our way back to the shopping street. And guess what, there were people gathering outside this “temple” for God of Hell. There was supposed to be a face changing performance at 9. and being kaypoh, we decided to wait with everyone else. The performance started late and i was really getting figidty. but omg after a string of blabbering japanese, the whole face change was hilarious. his face became red and then he blabbered more japanese and then his face turned back to normal. The time i spent waiting was twice or thrice as long as the performance itself. Well, we had nothing to do anyway.
After that I decided to give pachinko a try. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pachinko It is a japanese slot machine. Being someone who is not exactly gifted in gambling, my 500Y vanished in less than 5 mins. It was an expensive good experience though. There were a lot of such shops in Japan.
After that we went back to the hotel. It was a tatami night again. aww.
Day 7: 18th June 2011, Saturday
First stop was a seafood market.
It was really fresh and it’s kind of amusing and sad to see the snail being burnt alive. i don’t know =/ but it went into my mouth anyway. Sea urchin was, urm? i didn’t understand what’s the hype with it. Freaking expensive too. But i didn’t like it.
I didn’t try the oysters. but my bro said it was really fresh and gobbled the whole thing down without leaving any for me.
I bought the scallop. It was so awesome that we bought another one right after the first bite of the first one. It was 300W. For that many sashimi.
We went for souvenir shopping after that. He brought us to this shop where by we could get 10% off. The funny thing about Japan is that the prices are similar islandwide. Even their vending machines. I wanted to visit a CD shop. eventually found one but i couldn’t communicate and their collection of CDs were not a lot. Well, I wanted a Japanese Single by a Korean artiste. The staff brought me to the Kpop section. But if they sing in Japanese, won’t they be at the japanese section rather than the korean section? I gave up and left.
After that, we went for lunch. It was hotplate style but the highlight was on our $$$kobe$$$ beef was served! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kobe_beef
It was 9,000Y for one slice. It came with a certificate. What so amazing about kobe beef? it melts in your mouth. The Kobe Cows drink beer and gets massaged. The taste was really great.
After lunch, it was shopping at the factory outlets. I managed to find a CD shop and bought one single which cost 1,000Y for 4 songs. I died trying to communicate with him. His english was equivalent to my japanese. I gave up and left. I wanted to swap the postcards but he just couldn’t understand.
Bought an Adidas jacket for less than 90sgd. I could get additional 10% discount if I bought 1000W more for clothes and shoes but I combed the whole shop and there was nothing I wanted and affordable. Decided to forsake the 10%.
Spammed money in the 7-11 buying random snacks. heh. After that it was to the airport and we bid farewell to the bus driver.
The airport has a lot of shops which sells souvenirs. i ended up buying royce and rilakuma. heh. my new collection to my bed. la la la~
We had ramen at the airport for dinner which wasn’t awesome. The egg was very nice though. It was sweet! Killed time at the airport using TAB and watching my dramas.
Took domestic flight back to Haneda airport, took bus to international terminal, cleared customs. ran to the shop to buy my green tea kit kat. went on the flight and i’m back in hot sunny and humid Singapore!
This has been my first group tour in many years. As much as I love the freedom and independence in free and easy travel, I would have to agree that I would not have stayed in such fantastic hotel and eat such great food if I had not follow a tour. Even though tours are usually pricier, for the benefit of traveling in groups, especially with family members, the hassle-free convenience seems to be a better option most of the time.
Oh wells, it was a good trip and I would love to return to Japan again in the near future. $_$