Japan Trip of 2013 – Part Three

After spending time in Tokyo and other parts of Japan last year, we moved northwards into Japan’s northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido, where we joined in some of the many winter festivities occurring at the time.

The train ride up was a long one. Even with Shinkansen speeding through to Shin-Aomori at 300km/h, a slower connection to Hokkaido via the Seikan Undersea Tunnel is required, thus a trip from Tokyo requiring about six hours bu rail. The Hokkaido Shinkansen can be seen under construction along much of the original train line, once complete, is expected to make the journey in just four hours.

Our first stop on this snow-covered island, is the city of Hakodate, where we discover that dragging luggage through snow, whilst it is snowing, is not fun.

Seeing as we were nearby the famed Mount Hakodate, we decided to go up the rope-way that evening, and scare some crows off the cable.

The mountain is supposed to offer you “one of the greatest views in all Japan”, however when we went up, the snow just means you look out into white. =(

The next day, I payed a trip down to the Hakodate Morning Markets, where much delicious seafood and crabs are sold.
I was also wanting to hunt down the infamous “Dancing squid” dish (embedded below) so that I could order it myself.

Appears I was in the right place, however very few of the places were open. Nonetheless, you cannot come here without ordering some donburi from here, and it’s bloody delicous!

One of my secondary aims of visiting this city, was to drop into one of the many burger chains here called “Lucky Pierrot”.

My friend Leon about to enjoy one of their tower burgers.

Each restaurant has it’s own unique decor, but are generally modeled around cheap, american-style, fast food joints. Being Japan though, they can be a little quirky. (e.g. a shrine for worshiping soft ice-cream?)

More recently however, they’ve attracted international attention after beginning to sell “whale burgers” on their regular menu. And to us, they were guiltily delicious.

Afterwards, we made quick trip by Fort Goryokaku, a popular “hanami” sight during Cherry Blossom season. In winter, it’s mostly a snow covered park, with the surrounding moat frozen over.

In the centre of this star-shaped park, lies the Former Magistrate Office, recently reconstructed after it was demolished in the late 1800s.

After a long train ride from Hakodate into our base city of Sapporo for our explorations of Hokkaido, we spent the next day in Hokkaido’s second-largest city of Asahikawa, and the Asahiyama Zoo.

Depsite being so far away from much of developed Japan, Asahiyama is the second-most visited Zoo in Japan.

The daily penguin walk is one of the main attractions of this Zoo.

You get to be up-close and almost personal with these funny creatures.

Other attractions are little holes that you can stick your head up into, giving you a view from inside enclosures.

And they have red pandas! ^^

That evening we dropped into Tokiwa Park, the centre of Asahikawa’s Winter Festival, where there are stalls and sculptures a plenty!

To our surprise, the GIANT sculpture that is main stage was “Transformers” themed. Impressive!

The next day in snowy Sapporo, the Beer Museum/Garden was on our agenda.

This very informative diorama explains how Sapporo Beer is made.

Old posters of women enjoying Sapporo line the corridors.

…and at the end of it; Cheap beer tastings!

That night, we met up with some fellow Aussie tourists from our hotel, who told us about a place called “Ebi Kani Gassen”.

All you can eat of sweet, delicious, crab, prawn and beer for 90 minutes! (depending on your selection)

Exploring Susukino, Sapporo’s main entertainment district, the streets are lined with marvelous ice sculptures and displays.

Of course, alcohol is a major sponsor…

…and so are very obedient dogs.

A small hop away, is the the neighbouring bedroom community of Otaru, famed for it’s European style architecture, and little canal.

Sea Urchin, Squid and Natto (fermented soybeans) flavoured ice cream.

I had read in a guide the night before about an ice cream parlour called “Kita-no-aisukurÄ«mu Yasan” selling some quirky flavoured ice creams. The above flavours were strangely delicious, and tasted very much like their non-ice-cream individual flavours.

Much of the community here is involved in the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival.

The canalside is lined with little snow sculptures and candles.

While the old railway corridor is romantically decorated with snow and light.

The next morning, on our last full day in Sapooro, one of my friends and I decided to climb a mountain. Wasn’t the best of ideas…

Okay, so we didn’t climb the entire thing, we got a cable car to near the top of Mt Miowa, and then climbed our way to the peak’s observatory deck. But the view from up there is very nice! (Weather permitting)

Odori Park runs through the centre of Sapporo, and is the centre of snow festivities in this city.

All sorts of miscellaneous activities and shows can be enjoyed along it’s 1.5km stretch.

And as always, plenty of food!

Including this somewhat disfigured Hatsune Miku Red Bean Bun…

At the very eastern end of the park, stands Sapporo TV Tower.

Again, the view is quite pleasant, allowing you to see much of Sapporo…

…as well as looking back at Mt Miowa in the distance. It was a shame we were leaving Japan the following morning.

A tram in snowy Hakodate

I miss Japan. quite a lot. As I am writing this post almost a year overdue, I look back at my time spent there, having seen and experienced much beauty and deliciousness! I look forward to my next visit sometime in the near future, and still hope to one day, spend some time there for the long-term.
Who knows? Maybe in 2020, I’ll be watching the Opening Ceremony for the Olympics in the heart of Tokyo?