Tuesday, December 14, 2010

HOKKAIDO 北海道 [A Family Travelogue]

14 - 23 December 2010


After seeing so many beautiful travel series here in the forum...
... 东京之旅 tokyo - 2011 by Canto...
...and many lovely and meaningful series by our fellow CSers here,
I thought I would like to share our humble little travel series for our recent family trip.
These are photos taken by SereneXMM and myself.
They aren't terribly good. But are what I would call record and memory shots.


A Family Travelogue
14 - 23 December 2010

We have always made it a point to go for at least once a year family holiday.
And family holiday means including the ourselves, the children and the Grandparents too.
This year, our original plan was to go to Perth.
But the heat during the summer month of December down south,
presented us a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit
the beautiful land of Hokkaido

Here, I have simply put up our photos in order of travel with some anecdotes.
We have departed from our usual practice of framing up every picture and putting our names onto them.
But instead, we leave them un-framed and un-named,
with the Captions describing the photos individually.
Every photo has been post processed.
Some have not been processed in the ideal fashion.
Others suffer from poor composition, exposure and colour casts.
We apologise for the deficiencies.
Many of the photos have annotations and inserts embedded in them
to enhance the light-heartedness of the moment.
All are done in good fun...

We just wanted to post these photos up here to share with our
beloved photography community and importantly,
as per my personal aim always, for us to remember the trip by.

We hope we could present our simple little family trip in an enjoyable way
and yet with snippets of little information
for all our viewers here.

The trip was undertaken with a simple aim: To go on this trip Free and Easy.
"Free and Easy?!" I asked, when I first heard of that.
"I don't speak Japanese, I can only read some Hiragana, I don't know how to
drive in the winter snowy condition... How to Free and Easy?"
I protested.
"You can do it one. So it's decided already," The children's Grandfather insisted.
Wah lau eh... it's a nightmare for me because I needed to plan the route, the city of travel, how to go from one point to another, where to eat, what to eat, how to communicate, and how to navigate.
A kind friend and my own sister passed me loads of materials.
I bought several Chinese Self-plan travel books, and spent sleepless nights on Tripadvisor.com to ask questions after questions.

Plane tickets

This is the easiest part.
Bought the tickets flying in and flying out online. Done.
Only trouble is, our flight out of Singapore was at 12am on the 15th Dec 2010.
And our eldest son, this troublesome fellow, would only touch down at Changi Airport at 8:20pm on the 14 Dec 2010, from a school trip to Prague.
That meant we literally had only a couple of hours to drag him by the collar from the arrival hall to the departure hall to make it for our flight's check-in at 11pm.
Tricky bit of manouevre needed. And lots of luck, hoping he suffers no delay in returning back to Changi Aiport.

Another kind friend guided me how to buy a Garmin Oregon GPS and how to download Google Maps as overlays into the GPS and how to plot all my waypoints.

Not being experienced in driving in snow, I posted by question in a couple of forums and have gotten affirmative answers that I should forget about driving during winter.
So we opted to go by the Hokkaido JR train means of transport manjorily, interspersed by the Subway, and even a couple of bus trips.
That meant one thing - our luggage had to be really as compact and as portable as possible.

The Chinese travel books and Tripadvisor.com had several good, almost budget business hotels recommended and we simply booked through fax. Simple enough.
The Japanese hotels didn't require booking fees. They were indeed gentlemanly.

There were so many beautiful places to visit and so many wintry sights to see in Hokkaido.
For many weeks I was to-ing and fro-ing between tens and tens of places, until a couple of friends told me to forget about packing them in. Go easy. Just choose the nice few places. Enough.
Well, that's just what I did.

Now this part is tricky. It could range from a relatively cheaper 750yen to 1000yen (S$12-16) bowl of Ramen or a S$100 per person kind of high class set meal.
This was my first time. And I could only quietly note down the prices and the varieties of the restaurants to go to and plot them into my Garmin Oregon GPS.

We knew we wanted to do Snowmobiling. But I didn't know which company to engage.
So I studied Tripadvisor.com like crazy until I came upon this one called Sapporo Snowmobile Land, apparently the biggest snowmobile company in Sapporo.
Correspondence through email settled the prices and the arrangement for transport to and fro the hotel and the mobile site.

We also wanted to soak in the famous Hokkaido onsen.
Again, some research and some email correspondence got it settled.

Camera Equipment
Now this one was the most heart-breaking part. Both SereneXMM and I love to bring all our camera bodies and lenses to shoot. But this type of family trip meant that our photographic equipment had to be kept to a minimal.
So at the end:
SereneXMM brought her Nex5 with the 16mm pancake, the Fish eye adapter and the 18-55mm.
Me, I brought my 1DMkIV with the 16-35mm f/2.8 and the 70-200mm f/2.8 on my ThinkTank belt and harness under all my cold wear.

DAY 1: Depart Singapore - transit Beijing - New Chitose Airport, Hokkaido

Well, we got to be at the airport at 8pm to wait for the eldest to touch down from Prague.
So we were all set to go.


Yah yah yah... the elder sister just can't suppress her excitement...  

Well, while waiting for 哥哥, the eldest son to return to Changi Terminal 2 from Prague, the children had a relaxing time together with the son of our family friend.

Murphy's Law: "When things can go wrong, they will."

Oh no... my son's flight was delayed and landed in Singapore one hour late.

Not only that, his luggage got lost somewhere inside and was taken back into the aircraft and flew back to Colombo where he transited.
He was now effectively... luggage-less and clothes-less.
Luckily the careful-planning Grandmother packed an extra full set of clothings for him.
What a close shave. 

Finally, the young man had arrived and quickly settled down.
We just managed to squeeze through our check-in with the bare minimal amount of time to spare before the plane took off... whew...!
Never again!

Here the children are... happily awaiting take off.


Here we were... relieved... but only for the time being..

Arriving at Beijing for the Transit...

Arriving at Beijing international airport after 6 hours of flight at 6:08am

It was negative 12 degrees Celcius outside there.

The air stewardess announced over the radio to put on all our warm clothings.

"Warm clothings? For what... we are going to walk through the bridge into the building mah, right?" and so we thought...

Until the cabin door opened and the gush of freezing cold air overwhelmed our nostrils and chilled us to our bones.

"Huh? You mean we have to walk in this cold to the building on our own yah!??" we chorused.

Disembarking from the plane to... walk to the airport building in Beijing International Airport at 6:15am, exposed to the elements at minus 12 degrees...

Quite an experience for us.

[Translation: "Aiyoh, Beijing Airport is too cold already!" said the Elder sister.]

I don't know whether we should consider ourselves lucky or not to have a bus ferry us part of the way to the main building.

But what I knew for sure was, it was still dang cold inside the bus and the Grandfather could not tahan already...

Well, we only spent one hour in transit here in Beijing International Airport and off we flew to Hokkaido.

But still, we waited. For it was only a short wait here in Beijing.

Finally, we were boarding our fight to Hokkaido at 7:39am.


The flight to Hokkaido was filled with a palpable sense of anticipation, for we were closer to our final destination already...

[Translation: "Grandfather, I filled up my name incorrectly on the Arrival Card. What do I do?" said ZL.]

Arriving in Hokkaido...

At 12:12pm we finally, finally landed at New Chitose Airport, which was about 35mins by MRT to Sapporo, the main city in which we will stay in Hokkaido.

[Translation: "Yay, it's snowing in New Chitose Airport!" said ZX the Elder sister.]

Around the same time, the eldest brother discovered something...

Hey, don't be cocky, young man! This is the door meant for the very famous small Japanese robots, not for human beings!

New Chitose Airport

Wow.. so many things to shop and to buy. But we knew we couldn't because we still had a long journey ahead.
We will buy once we are back here on our return trip.

It was really easy to buy Hokkaido JR Pass for every one in the family.
The JR Pass counter is just right at the airport and the counter girl servicing us spoke beautiful English.
What a great way to start our trip!

... until Grandmother realised that one of her luggage container her warmest coat was MISSING!
AARRGGHH... it was stolen from right under our nose while we were buying tickets! - Did I hear someone in the audience saying "Murphy's Law"?

The young lady was very nice.
She calmly brought all of us to the central station counter at the New Chitose Train station a short walk away and explained our situation to a lady staff.
Then what happened after this was totally beyond our imagination...
The lady staff asked Grandmother a few questions to verify the characteristics of the luggage and coat and lo and behold! The lost items were right at the counter!
An honest passerby who have found and picked up the bag had returned it to the lost and found department.

Our highest admiration to the Japanese people... their display of honesty is really first class!
What a way to start our trip!

Day 1: Sapporo

Sapporo, Here we come!
Taking the JR Train from New Chitose Airport to Sapporo JR Station was simple.
It took about 35 minutes, and it cost about 1320 yen, which we used our Hokkaido JR Pass to pay for.
Here is a photo of this bunch of poor, tired, thirsty, a-little-hungry, cold, Japanese-illterate Singaporean standing so desolate in the middle of the Sapporo JR Station...
All looking towards me, who was holding the Garmin GPS, the Japanese Translation phrase book, and supposedly the one who knew how to walk from the Station to our hotel.

Sad to say... I didn't know where to go and how to go. I was just as lost as my group. Hehe...
I could only vaguely make out a sign board in Hiragana saying something like Eki-kita-guchi 駅きたぐち, meaning the 'North Gate of the Station' and put on a brave front and pointed towards there:

"Nah... there it is! That's our exit to walk to our hotel!" exclaimed this tour guide with a little too much enthusiasm.
And we ended up here:

Well, aside from the very obvious that this tour guide was a little lost, the fact that it was cold and started snowing gave the much-needed distraction from the feeling of lost amongst the group.

The girls were the first not to be able to conceal their excitement in seeing and touching snow for the very first time in their lives.

Enthusiasm which was not exactly shared by their Grandfather, who was the one person who could tolerate little cold.

[Translation: "Wah lau, brought me to this kind of weather, making me suffer!" said Grandfather.]

The beautiful lady of course had every right to complain for she was carrying a Karrimor 65litre backpack behind and another backpack in front containing all her camera equipment and all other chaplunk things.

Time was running short. It was almost 4:30pm and that is when it turned dark here in Sapporo.
The GPS could receive signal but intermittently when walking in between tall buildings and the direction that was given was all in big big circles going round and round the final destination.
The poor troupe had to drag their luggage on wheels through thick snow, literally dragged and making all kinds of noises under their breaths.
Until finally we made a turn, and we arrived!

The famous Toyoko Inn Eki-Kita-Guchi hotel, of the Toyoko Inn chain of value-for-money hotels catering to local Japanese business travellers and those travelling on budget like us.


Now it has been said again and again how clean and efficient the restrooms in Japan are.
But nothing prepared us for what we were to behold.
Right inside our packed but very well organised hotel rooms were the most amazing toilet bowls we have ever seen.
Those who have been to Japan before would laughed at us and say we were Sua-Koo (ignorant).
But we do not deny that.
The toilet bowl had a built-in spray that could spray both the bottom behind as well as the bottom in front.
And it was sooooo good, that both the children as well as the adults kept going back in to use them again and again and again...
This, in one of my client's own words, is: "World Class!".

As the children dumped their luggage and got ready to go out for a walk and for dinner, they begun to realise that they are in the midst of a snow city.

And everywhere they turned, there was snow on the ground, snow in the trees, snow falling in soft flakes from the sky...

... and they could not hide that smile on their faces upon being reminded of that wonderful fact.

Here... we were getting ready to go for dinner.
Waiting and re-organizing outside the hotel before moving off...

... and the girls wasted no time in getting their hands cold and half wet...

[Translation: "Grandfather, I really like this Toyoko Inn because not only is it cold here, we can also play with snow." said ZL.]

Day 1: Sapporo

Dinner at Daimaru Sapporo-den

Our Toyoko Inn Hotel was only 5 minutes (literally 5 minutes, no more...) walk in the snow to the JR Sapporo Station.

And what was so wonderful about the Sapporo station was that EVERYTHING was there - shopping centres, book stores, restaurants.

Names many of which were unfamiliar to me - ESTA, Apia..., and names that were familiar to me, if not somewhat vaguely - Daimaru etc. etc.

Anyway the hordes of (well-mannered) crowd that thronged the Stations and the myriad of Japanese signs served to confuse this already very confused Tour Guide.

"Where are we going to have dinner, Papa?" the young ones and the old ones all looked towards me...

Wah lau eh... stressed ah.

"The Chinese guide book says that there is a very famous Buffet restaurant up there at 8th Storey of Daimaru called Daimaru Sapporo Den 大丸札幌店. Apparently not bad. So let's try ok?" replied the Guide with quivering voice.

Armed with a smattering of broken Japanese, we managed to make our way up to the Buffet Restaurant.

I have not encountered such well-mannered and courteous service staff before.

Despite not being able to understand what I was trying to explain to them, they were still very patient and went out of their way to assist us in locating our destination.

The Buffet restaurant was surprisingly reasonably priced. And adults only paid something around S$30 for unlimited buffet including lots of Japanese sashimi, shushi, tempura, teriyaki as well as international and Chinese food.

My goodness, I have not seen the children and the old folks ate the way they ate that night for a long long time!

They must have been famished!

Luckily the Guide book didn't fail me.

My favourite Zaru soba...

and SereneXMM's favourite salmon...

... and some Chinese food...

Day 1: Sapporo

JR Tower T38

So many guide books, travel books and those who have been there have stated and re-stated time and again the beauty of viewing the whole Sapporo cityscape from the 38th floor of JR Tower 173m from above.
Our original intention was to reach JR Tower just before sunset and stay on until nightfall so as to view both the day and night scene.
But like all trips, sometimes things don't happen the way we wanted them to.
So at 7:30pm, with barely half an hour left in the opening hours, we paid 750yen per adult and 450yen per teenager to go up.

The night scenes were spectacular.


"Hey, we can see our hotel there... at the lower right hand corner!" exclaimed the Grandfather.
And true enough... Toyoko Inn was there.

I have always imagined, before we arrived in Sapporo, seeing a whole scene of misty white looking from high above, with snow-paved roof tops and roads...
But I guess colourful night scenes like these were part of the wintry landscape of Sapporo too...

... walking back to the Hotel...

Well, the dinner was nice and sumptuous. The day had been long. And the travellers were tired.
What a lovely weather to take a nice slow stroll on the icy pavements back to the hotel...

... the bicycle wheels were snow-capped...

... the post boxes were snow-capped...

... the shrubs (? fir trees... pardon my ignorant in the correct name) were snow-capped...
(Hmmmm... OOF. But this was the only shot that portrayed better the mood of that moment. So bo bian lor... Apologies.)

... and we had to be careful crossing the roads for the main roads were snow-covered...

... and what did the children do again? Played with the snow lor... what else?! Haha....

By the time we stepped into the hotel lobby, the zzzzz bug had begun to hit.
Soon, all were in snowy, winter, slumber-land... 

Day 2: Sapporo

Free & Easy

It is well known that for those of use who travelled free and easy, and especially like me who went every where by public transport, it is impossible to see as many sights as those who are on a guided tour.
But of course F&E gave us just that little added advantage of flexibility.
Both in destination, timing and importantly food.
Don't get me wrong. I am not one to stinge on food. But often the stomachs of the young and the old may not be hungry at the right moment.
And having a choice of what we want to eat and where has significantly cut down on the whole cost of the trip.
In fact, after coming back from the whole trip, and doing some calculation, we found that per person, we spent only about two-third of what my friends did with their guided tour same period to Hokkaido (and even one or two days less than us).
But of course, this is merely an aside.
Our going F&E is really never originally to save on cost but that has been exactly how we loved to travel.

This first-time-Japan-tour-guide here planned this for the day:

  • Snowmobiling at Sapporo Snowmobile Land!
  • Lunch at the famous Ramen Kyowagaku to enjoy various types of Hokkaido Ramen
  • Nice walk to Hokkaido University compound
  • Hokkaido Old Government House to enjoy a unique scene of old Hokkaido during the Meiji period
  • The famous Hokkaido Clock Tower
  • then walk to Odori Park to view the famous Christmas Light-up and Display
  • to see the Sapporo TV Tower
  • to enjoy a classic Hokkaido Crab Dinner at Susukino
  • then sleep.

Sounded really ambitious.
Some of my friends dropped their jaws when they saw this itinerary.
And they dropped their jaws even more when they found out that I was going to walk all the way in Sapporo. No cars. Sorry. Don't know how to drive in winter.

Day 2: Sapporo

Breakfast in Toyoko Inn Hotel

So early in the morning.
Breakfast at Toyoko Inn Hotel.
People may be thinking: "Siao ah.. breakfast also wanted to write."
But I thought it would be useful for some of my fellow forum mates who would like to go on their own and would like this information.
Toyoko Inn chain of hotel is really one of the best ways to stay in Japan as in most major cities they will always have one of their hotel right next to either an MRT Station or a JR Train Station.
And what's better? It is dang cheap. For one room that can sleep three teenagers or two adults, it only cost S$120 per night. And the rooms were all spotless, clean, tidy and with everything in!
Once I became a member (signed right on the spot), my rates per night in the Toyoko Inn in another city Hakodate actually was even cheaper at S$95 per night.
And all Toyoko Inn came with free breakfast (and dinner, just that we were never in time for dinner).
Here is the breakfast. It is really the typical Japanese breakfast with free flow of coffee, tea, and food.
During breakfast we saw many Japanese business executives in the dining hall having their morning cuppa and reading the papers.
Even until today, my whole family still misses the breakfast of Toyoko Inn.

While waiting for our Snowmobile transport, our youngest daughter did it again...
A Singaporean-made Japanese-Snow-man...


Many tourists to Hokkaido would not hesitate to ski.

In fact, Hokkaido is so famous for skiing that when I told people that we were not going to ski, I got a blank look and lots of question.

Now snowmobiling is a different type of experience. And something that I planned right at the beginning of the trip to give the family the highlight and the big bang to start off their trip with.

The exhilaration of a speeding snowmobile, up in the mountain, with rows and rows of trees flying past you and snow falling on your face sooo painful that you had to put your visor down...

The scenery and the experience is priceless.

There are many snowmobile companies in Hokkaido. I was also confused initially.

And the prices varied. Some offered different level of experience, different terrain and different duration.

I chose Snowmobile Land because not only was it one of the more established ones, they were also very professional, which I will explain as we go along in this travelogue.

Even before we arrived at Sapporo, they have already emailed me back home in Singapore that their bus will pick us up at our hotel at 9am.

And true enough. 9am sharp the bus drew up on the front of the hotel.

Talk about Japanese punctuality! Another big Thumbsup!

Day 2: Sapporo - Snowmobile Land!

The trick with either skiing or snowmobiling in Hokkaido is - the timing must be right.
If the temperature is not cold enough the few days before, and importantly if the snow is not enough the night before, the snowmobile operator will call us and cancel the event.
So I literally had to monitor the snow amount on www.snowjapan.com for a few weeks to reassure myself that we had enough snow for the snowmobiling.

I kept looking at my Garmin Oregon GPS and saw that the bus was taking us to a mountainous area 5km to the north-west of JR Sapporo Station called 五云山.
Snow was aplenty both in the air and thick on the ground. As the bus strained up-slope we could feel that the temperature just became even colder.
Snow was pelting down against the windscreen of the bus like rain-drops.
My goodness... what a start to Day 2!

Arriving at the training house...

We were greeted by a team of young men and women who was surprisingly very fluent in English.
We were originally very worried and we packed ourselves with water-proof track pants, water-proof gloves and water-proof everything.
But when we arrived, we were very relieved to hear that Sapporo Snowmobile Land provided everything.
We all slipped into the overalls, both top and bottom and their special boots and gloves and helmets.
In fact, many of us left our own Outer shell layers, gloves and track shoes at the training shed!
What great service!


Here was how we all looked - all decked up and ready for the ride...

Here EVEN the grandparents were game for the ride..! THUMBSUP!

How much we spent altogether for all seven of us?
45,000 yen. Good price for an extra-ordinary experience.

... finally... walking to the Snowmobiles.

... seeing the rows of Snowmobile lining up waiting for us sent a adrenaline rushed all the way through...

The Snowmobile Trail

Just for information for some of our good members here who may be thinking of doing the same, Sapporo Snowmobile Land has some interesting rulings:

  • A participant younger than 16 years old must be a pillion rider and cannot ride his own snowmobile.
  • An adult male can rider with a pillion rider behind him.
  • But an adult female is NOT ALLOWED to have a pillion rider behind her.

Hmmm... but you know what? When the Counter Manager was told that my son was 13 and a half year old, he took one quick, shocked look at that young man and told me that this young man better take a whole snowmobile all for himself! HAHAHA...
My son was half a head taller than me and of a big muscular build!
Good decision, Snowmobile Land - that's why i said they were good!

What's more, we all had to have training on a flat piece of show ground, going round and round in circles first, as the instructors train us on the handling of the snowmobile.
Only when he was totally satisfied that we could all handle the machines were we allowed to start the 60mins ride.


Here is the typical snowscape that we come across on the trail.

... and here is the brave old folks on their snowmobile...

... and who else but yours truly on the snowmobile but yet cannot stop shooting... cannot miss the moment mah... This is real dedication to the job of a record photographer!
(Our youngest daughter was sitting pillion with me...)

.. and the whole family was lined up in a convoy all vrooom vrrrroooommm... ready to go!
Where was SereneXMM? Right in front lor of course... taking this photo mah...

It must be experienced to be believed, but as we sped up and down the slopes, the gushes of wind swept the snow flakes onto our faces so hard that a couple of times i tried to lift up the visor, only to be met with painful hits on my face.

But we all were just soaking in the lovely environment and peaceful surrounding, peace only broken by the roaring noises of the engine and the smell of the petrol...

... yours truly having h*ll of a time zooming by in the snow...

... beautiful scenery that could only be beheld off-road.

... Our courageous Deputy Record Photographer and Deputy Tour Guide (a lousy Deputy Tour Guide... hehe...) on her Snowmobile.

.. and the muscular young man appreciating the warmth and the water-proofing of the Snowmobiling gloves...

... and the girls up to no good again!

Through peaks and valleys we rode, across twigs and branches...
A few close shaves as our snowmobiles slid sideways in the slippery snow.. but more due to inexperience and an eagerness to cheong the speed high high...
But the instructors were always close at hands..

... Ok.. home run liao. The instructor stopped to give us a last instruction on how to tackle an up-slope on our way back...

And of course, as always... the young man can't wait to rev his engine to full... Here he could snowmobile.
Back home he couldn't even motorbike. Of course he would make full use of this opportunity!

At last, the ride ended.
It was a most up-lifting run. And an experience befitting of a trip like this.

And again, as we walked back... we saw all the snowmobiles lined up... as if waiting for their next fun ride.

.. and for the Photographers, it was their first attempt at Sports Photography Snowmobile style.. erm... with Sony Nex 5, in SereneXMM's case.. hahaha....

After Snowmobiling... what else is good to do?
Snow fighting lah!

Now, as for the snow-fighting thingy, Haha... I think being people living in the tropics for too long, we all can't be blamed for grabbing whatever opportunities we have to play with snow.
Snow fighting must be something that is rarely seen in Hokkaido... but only participated by Sua-Koo Singaporeans going that for that first time... Hahaha...

So FUN, right??!!

Day 2: Sapporo

The Ramen of Hokkaido -
Lunch at Ramen Kyowagaku 拉面共和国 (らめん
Even before setting foot on the shores of Hokkaido, everyone already knew that Hokkaido is famous for its Ramen.
But there were so many stores, so many styles... where to eat and what to choose from?
Many a kind-hearted friends have posted on theirs and mine Facebook telling me which were the nice ones and which ones to avoid.
Honestly I was utterly confused.

I've read up before-hand that there were a few types of Ramen famous in Hokkaido:

  • Shoyu Ramen (Soya sauce ramen 酱油拉面)
  • Shio Ramen (Salt ramen 盐拉面)
  • Miso Ramen (Bean paste ramen 豆瓣浆拉面)
  • and different cities in Hokkaido have their own version of Ramen.

So we were literally spoilt for choice. Which again, was a total nightmare for this newbie Tour Guide.
But to make things simple, although deep inside my heart I knew that there were plenty of nice tasting ramen all over Sapporo, I opted for the easy way out. For those new to Sapporo and simply don't know where to go, don't think too much. Just make straight for this location: JR Sapporo Station - ESTA shopping mall - 10th Floor - Ramen Kyowagaku.
There were many stores selling all kinds of Ramen here. It was really a tikam-tikam game for us.

Here is just a record shot of the place. Yours truly and the half a head taller son...

.. the girls were good for they led the way in helping me tikam-tikam to choose a Ramen shop.

Finally we ended up eating in this shop called Dai-shin 大心.
Why? Very simple. Because the cartoon is very very cute. You know girls lah.. they just go by cartoon and colours mah...

Many people have asked, is it expensive eating out in Japan.
Well, apparently Hokkaido is not as expensive as in bigger cities like Tokyo.
But one bowl of Ramen at any chaplunk store would also be around S$10+.
Here is the menu for reference: the version that costs 750 yen = S$12. And the version that costs 1000 yen = S$15+.

Well, but I must say, the taste and the smell and the portion all are certainly unique.
Something which certain Japanese restaurants in Singapore have tried to come close to, but never exactly the same...

Here, the Grandfather dishing out his specialty... haha...

[Translation: "Here, let you all have the special seaweed rice," said Grandfather.]

Fortunately I did assign the elder sister to learn some simple Japanese phrases together with me prior to coming to Hokkaido.
For the effort paid off as she was able to order hot tea and hot water for the Grandparents when I was not around...
.... and she knew how to get to the toilet... Hahaha...

The First Slip on the Icy Pavement

Well, so far we have been lucky... all of us.
Despite the snow and the frozen ice on the pavement, we haven't had any fall yet.
Close calls, yes. But no outright fall... until this young man here decided to give the Hokkaido pedestrian pavement the official slippery index a good test... right after lunch.
Haha... our first fall in Hokkaido.

Day 2: Sapporo - onwards to Hokkaido Old Government House!

By the time we finished lunch at Ramen Kyowagaku, it was already quite late.
One thing that i have miscalculated and for which until today I am still slapping myself again and again on my cheeks, is that during Winter, the day time hours were very short.
That is why by the time it came to 1-2pm, we were basically rushing to meet all our destinations.
Thus, it was with a heavy heart (a figure of speech) that I had to announce that we had to give the Hokkaido University a miss.
Why? Because we were on foot and did not have the luxury of a tour coach and a professional tour guide.
But heck... let's move on to the rest of the sights.

En route to the Hokkaido Old Government House, we past by some interesting sights that were unique to Japan, maybe to Hokkaido...
... yet another Ramen Den...

Forced-marching through the streets of Sapporo... haha...

Yodobashi Camera... apparently this is quite a famous place to buy photographic equipment in Sapporo.
But... nah, I think I've got most of my camera equipments already lah... no point adding on to my check-in luggage weight...

By afternoon, most of the snow in the morning has stopped. And the temperature nudged to just above zero. A lot of the snow has been cleared off the side of the road and the pavements, leaving only the remaining bits and pieces on the leaves...

It was 3:14pm by the time we reached this part of Sapporo on foot... and we haven't even come to the Hokkaido Old Government House...
Wah lau eh.. if there were ever to be a test for Newbie Tour Guide, yours truly will fail with flying colours...
Imagine.. Late for every single one of the sights! Haha.... 

Day 2: Sapporo - Finally, Hokkaido Old Government House!

Finally we arrived at the Old Government House.
This house was quite a spectacular sight. From about 100metres away as my GPS indicated its position, we could already see the red bricks of its walls.
And once we stepped through the main gates and into its garden compound, our breaths were taken away by its grandiose, and the whole un-touched, un-spoilt, un-stepped-on sheet of white snow on its land.
With the coniferous all around, it was indeed a sight to behold and I would state here and now that we would never forget this structure ever for in my mind, it was representative of Sapporo, and Hokkaido.

{distortion - taken by UWA.)

This Old Government House was constructed in 1888 and it was built by the local Japanese Architects but modelled against the Massachusett State House.
The building was characteristic of the buildings during the Meiji period in Japanese history, when the Japanese Government was opening up itself and reaching out to Europe and America for their technologies.

I really liked the park.
It was totally quiet and peaceful despite being smack right in the middle of the city of Sapporo.
And standing here looking at these three elegant Japanese ladies making their way through the park, I felt as though I was in a movie.

... a reverie broken by the laughter from my children.
These rascals have found the smooth, perfect snow too tempting and proceeded to add noise into the smooth landscape.


哥哥 getting ready for yet another snow ball fight...
Goodness, it was a wonder that the Sapporo police hasn't come after us...

妹妹... again, with a Singaporean-made Japanese-snow-man... right in the middle of the field of the Park of the Hokkaido Old Government House!

... and who else but our lovely on her Nex5... shooting in the classic, relaxed SereneXMM style...

Day 2: Sapporo - The Clock Tower 时钟楼 (时计台)

About one kilometre down the road, we came to the Clock Tower, with the help of the GPS... but not without turning a couple of rounds and asking for a little bit of directions.
It was indeed turning darker already, for by this time it was getting a little colder...

... and the youngest of them all was, more than a little tired to keep her eyes open.. haha..
But the day is not over yet! There were more things to come...

[Translation: "I've played the whole day today and I'm feeling tired and I want to sleep." said AhLiXMM.]

There was supposed to be a very famous Ramen store somewhere just next to the Clock Tower.
But we had no opportunity to explore for we were firstly late, and secondly we had another feast in store for us right after this.

Day 2: Sapporo - The TV Tower 电视台 (テレビ台)

Just diagonally across the Clock Tower stands the 147m TV Tower.
I used to be the place to go up to to view the cityscape. But now with the newer and higher JR Tower T38, it has lost just that little bit to its new competitor.
But still, its resemblance to the Eiffel gave it its flavour and tourists still flocked to its 93m observation tower to enjoy the view from high up.
But it was a little late for us... so we thought we'd just check it out from below.

Day 2: Sapporo - Odori Park 大通公园 ~ The Christmas Lightup

Well, December wasn't exactly the time for the Snow Festival which is typically held annually in February in Odori Park.
But on this night, Odori Park was lit up with a different kind of lights - those of Christmas Lightup for it was almost Christmas when we were there.

... all kinds of souvenirs to buy...

... all kinds of handicrafts to marvel at...

... and all kinds of everything to shoot at... SereneXMM working ferociously with her Nex5...
So far so good, the Nex5 hasn't died on her yet despite the cold... hehe...

... and the Japanese Santa Claus came a-Ho-Ho-ing!

Another view of the TV Tower from Odori Park.

Not the TV Tower, but part of the Christmas Lightup...

... and I personally find this one to be one of the most memorable photos for the trip.
It was a terrible photo - poor focussing on the right side, super high ISO and terribly noisy...
But it portrayed exactly the scene and the mood I wanted at that very moment.

Day 2: Sappro - Odori Christmas Lightup & Susukino

The Grandmother had hoped to see Snow Festival ice carvings.
But she knew that December was not the time for it yet.
But the lightup was kind of a consolation for her, for it was a special scene very different from what we have at home.

This being the first time for us, it was good enough for all of us.
And I am sure the children were as in awe as I was.

... It was only about 5pm but the sky was so dark already.
Made every one felt just like having dinner.
And walked down south towards Susukino we did...

Crab Dinner any one?
People always say: "If you are in Hokkaido, make sure you enjoy the classic Hokkaido Three-type-crabs dinner. Must eat huh! Must eat!"
Ok lah.
I am not so much a crab person. Only SereneXMM and the Grandfather are.
But still, a deluxe crab dinner was in order.

The crab restaurant that this tour guide planned for dinner wasn't far.
It was only about 200m down from Odori Park somewhere at Susukino.
The tour guide didn't even know what Susukino was. To him, it was merely a word in his GPS.

Here is the GPS track of this troupe from JR Sapporo Station to the various places and finally ending up at the crab restaurant.

So we walked and walked...
... and made a left turn and there it was... the Big Crab sign.

It said Kani Shogun かに将军.
"Papa, what is Kani Shogun?". Sh*t. I should've known the question will come.
"Kani means crab in Japanese. And Shogun mah... Shogun is, you know last time there used to be a movie called Shogun, you know...
.... I think it means maybe a warrior, a warrior General something like that...".
 Never mind. Like that any how explain also can pass. Hey... I newbie tour guide mah..
Wah... this food joint must be dang high class man.
Because there was a well-dressed senior gentleman at the front lobby who very gently guided us how to take off our shoes and very carefully placed them in a well-designated slots.
My, such care given to even footwear. Must be a very high class set up...

Anyway, this Kani Shogun was highly recommended in one of the Tour Guide books.
So it must be good.
And come on lah... How expensive can a few pieces of crabs be in Japan, right?
...... Ahem... well, we'll just wait and see.

... well... no, not wrong place.
Papa has decided to give all a luxury of a life time mah... So all of you, please order as you like and just don't look at the prices. OK?

[Translation: "Aiyoh.. goodness, so many different Crab set meals and they're all in Japanese. How do I order?" Said Grandfather.
"Grandpa, just point!" suggested the young man.]

So Grandfather just closed his eyes and tikam-tikam just pointed.... and unfortunately his finger landed on the most expensive set on the menu. Haha...

Our nth highlight of the day: Hokkaido Crab Extravaganza!

So, with fingers pointing all over the menu and my brain ticking away doing quiet mental sums of the total damage... a few Kimono-wrapped old Japanese women came up and set up the charcoal grill on each of our table.

Here is just a short intro to how some of these beautifully decorated delicacies looked like:

Don't ask me what this was. I just knew it was some crab's upper limbs.

And this one mah... this one... it looked like the left elbow of another different species of crab..
I don't know what name...

And yah! This one...! This must have been its other elbow...
But just happened to end up on another family member's plate...

This one with the tomato and lettuce, must be the Japanese version of Big Mac...

Now hey, this one! This one we know... the girls' favorato sushi...!

The old Japanese lady with the wrinkled face was very nice.
She pitied us for paying her boss all these stacks of Japanese yens.
So she took out some of the left-over of the crabs we ordered and peng-kang (grilled) for us..
Here, i think, are some of the breast meat, right thumb, left thigh, loin meat...
Hmmm... sure looked nice and delicious!

Haha... so grooosss right? The way I described the meal?!
Haha... all the jokes that I have made were just for fun. Just for fun. This restaurant was simply great!
But in all honesty, it was a very very unique experience for all of us... having succulent, raw Hokkaido crab and grilled crab pincers on a cold, winter Hokkaido night.
Something that we are certainly not going to forget for a long while.
What we have also found out was, Hokkaido crabs are certainly very different in taste and in texture from the local Sri-Lankan crabs that we are so used to eating back home in Singapore.
So it would require a total change in mind-set and a complete adjustment in wallet composition before one ventures into the world of Hokkaido Crab Meal.

After the onslaught...

Er... what I meant was, after we have slaughtered the crabs and all their appendages, we walked out happy, contented, and full onto the cold of the night again.
The night wind woke us back to reality as the night scene of Hokkaido bombarded our senses.

Not far from Susukino was the small shopping arcade of 狸小路.
How to pronounce that in Japanese, I didn't know.
But there was lots of CDs, and lots of typical cute cute Japanese crafts and items for sale there.
And of course, not short of more restaurants.
"Hey what does the signboard says?" I asked the elder sister, for she was the one who was holding the Japanese book.
"しやぶしやぶ... It means Shyabu Shyabu, Papa..." the young lady peered into her book and decipher each syllabus.
Hmmm... This Papa quietly made a mental note to remember how to come here for another round of meal.

Another meal.
Another night.
Another one kilometre walk back to the hotel.
"Papa, Papa.... hey they have Daiso here! Daiso! Daiso! That $2 shop. Can we go and see.. can we go?"
Wah lau.. the children. Once they see Daiso, they were like gone crazy.

"Hey, but you all please don't any how buy things ok? We still have a long long journey to go." instructed the tired Papa.
Haha... actually that's how family trips are.
We adults have our fun, then the old folks have theirs. And when the opportunity presented themselves, the children have their own set of fun.

With bags and bags of Japanese tit bits and bottles of Sake from Daiso in our hands, we happily walked back to our hotel, stomach full, body warmed, and mind happy...
... but of course, with the Papa's wallet significantly lightened.

Again, very very soon... every one slipped into Winter Slumberland in Hokkaido...

Day 3: Sapporo to Otaru

Detour:- Ishiya Chocolate Factory at Miyanosawa

Wow. It's Day three already.
We were just beginning to enjoy the hotel in Sapporo and we had to uproot ourselves and start travelling again.
The next four days will see us travelling from city to city. Thus we dumped a great deal of our stuffs in the Sapporo hotel and brought just the essentials on the roads.

It's all because of my sister lor. I told her that the factory is out of the way. But she insisted.
She told us: "哥, you all have got to go to that Ishiya Chocolate Factory outside of Sapporo! You all must! The children will love it, and the chocolate are fabulous!"

Ok lor. She said until like that... how can we not go.
But honestly, this Ishiya Chocolate factory is a little out of the way, without a tour bus.
But heck, since we are on a Free and Easy, let's just rough it out a little lah.

So we lugged all the stuff, walked to the Sapporo Subway Station to take a Subway train (MRT. Not train.) to Odori Station.

... waiting for MRT... looking so poor thing, all these poor little old and young Singaporeans...

Took a MRT to Odori.
Their MRT are very similar to our Singapore's MRT system. I guess it's pretty internationally universal, these MRT layouts and diagrams.

Alight the MRT, change another MRT to Miyanosawa (宫の沢).
I kept looking at this photo here. I couldn't tell which drew more of my attention - the lovely young man with the wrinkle in the photo, or the two lovely Japanese ladies... 

The MRT trip took about 35 minutes. And it cost only around 200 yen per person.
Of course, the children prices are cheaper - Half price.

Ishiya Chocolate Factory

Those good CS members who remembered the trip to the chocolate factory during their trip would surely recall that the journey was nothing special.
Got on the tour bus, sat down for less than half an hour. And wala! Arrived at the chocolate factory.

Those who have chosen the more tedious and much less luxurious way of travelling would certainly remember themselves carrying all their luggage climbing up the long flight of steps up the Miyanosawa MRT station, reached the outside, looked around struggling to find their directions, and walked left and right, up and down to search for the small lane leading to the chocolate factory.
Provided, of course, if you have a GPS with you. Aaahhh... that would change the whole picture.
With the little gadget - one straight road, one left turn followed by one right turn, and we arrived.
But still, not without much walking...

Here... just outside the Miyanosawa MRT (Subway) Station - all these wicked fellows were there enjoying the snow while the poor tour guide sweat like crazy to find his bearing...

... and the children - wah lau eh - they really knew what to do with snow!
They seem to have an intrinsic creativity in them when it comes to all things snow...
even if it was the very first time they come into contact with the fluffy white stuff...

... and of course, what else than the usual snow-balling that served nothing but delay the poor tour guide in arriving at his destination...

.. and the usual mischievous no goods that the girls would indulge in...

[sorry, this picture PP-ed a little more, cos the original was a little too dark...]

And finally we stumbled upon the fabled Ishiya Chocolate Factory...
.. wow, looking up at the architecture in awe...

What was so special about the Ishiya Chocolate Factory.

  • Well for one, it had that cute little Shiroi Koibito (白い恋人) Park just beside it. A theme park made for children to play.
  • Secondly, its whole architecture was made like that of a chocolate factory in a fairy land story. So it catered to children and those who were young at heart.
  • Thirdly, there was a a section in the factory where one could view through the glass panels the automated conveyor belt system that manufactured their famous Shiroi Koibito (白い恋人) chocolate biscuits.

So there we have it.

Here are some shots from SereneXMM's Nex5 with her Fish eye here..

Some more shots by SereneXMM (in addition to all her other shots shown in the previous sections) of the interiors of the Chocolate Factory.
She was very intrigued by the use of Fish eye inside the building... went a little crazy with it.. haha...

... and right inside, there was a self-playing piano which attracted the attention of the family so much...

[Translation: "Grandpa, this piano can played itself. It's so special! It's the first time I'm seeing this" said AhLiXMM]
... indeed, it was.

... and just across the piano, was a display of all their lovely pastries.
The Japanese are really deeply in love with all things colourful and kawaii...

It was quite interesting walking through the chocolate factory.
Every time we turned a corner, there would be something interesting on display.
Just that it ranged from one theme to another. And out of a sudden you would have a magnificent exhibit of Gramophones...
I was feeling a little confused... haha...

... and we had to ask our way around to finally arrive at the famed glass window over-looking the actual process of automated Shiroi Koibito Chocolate biscuit production.
Apparently this item was all the rage in both Japan and outside of Japan...

... and SereneXMM at it again with her Fish eye on the Nex5...

... and again with the Fish eye on Nex5..

... and AhLiXMM finally could not tahan, and asked permission to buy her own box of Shiroi Kobito chocolate...

Day 3: From Sapporo to Otaru

It is one thing about reading on paper how to travel.
But it is another thing about actually doing it on the ground.
The distance from the Ishiya Chocolate Factory to the JR Station that I initially wanted to use to take a train to Otaru was, about 1.8km away.
Not a great distance.
But with the old folks and the children dragging some lousy luggage that cannot move in snow, it was turning out to be a little bit of nightmare.
So I had to execute a change of plan before a mutiny started...
We took a bus from a few blocks down from the chocolate factory instead.

The bus was much cheaper. Only about 300 yen an adult person. And it took about 45 minutes.
But it took a nice, winding, scenic, costal road to Otaru... a sight that we would have missed had we taken the train.

Otaru 小樽

Otaru is a well know port town on the northern shore of Hokkaido.
Famous for its picturesque street scene with Vicrtorian style street lamps and buildings lining its streets, not to mention its canal that was previously buzzling with life and commerce within and without the warehouses.

Some have said that Otaru is a touristy town.
I beg to differ, for I personally find a charm that was only unique to Otaru.
My memories of Otaru were all positive and favourable ones and Otaru could easily be labelled as one of my favourite cities.

Alighting the bus from Miyanosawa, we found ourselves standing in the middle of the town, just beside the JR Otaru Station.
A family of seven, carrying and holding on to luggage big and small, staring out to the street and buildings...
... and then turning towards the tour guide in the desperate hope that he will guide them out of this.

... and the Garmin Oregon 450 GPS kicked into action.
It guided us up an over head bridge directly opposite the bus station...

... and led us along pedestrian paths lined with strange green fences and posts...

... it made us trudge through thick snow-padded pavements strewn with bicycles..

... and it showed us a side of Otaru that could only be seen by walking along its sidewalks...

... and it brought us past historical buildings that called out to us, wanting to tell us their stories...

With blind faith, this tour guide followed the arrow on the GPS and just walked and walked while his whole team behind KBKB-ed (meaning, complained).

[Translation: "Aiyoh Aiyoh.. it is so difficult to drag this lousy luggage on the snow..
You want to take my life!" complained the Grandfather.]

... a blind faith that finally rewarded us the fruit of success - arrival at the hotel right on the front step.

[Translation: "Luckily, we walked not more than 1km to arrive at the hotel.." said the Grandfather.]

Day 3: Otaru - Lunch at 斩拉面 (斩ラメン)

This poor little newbie tour guide's life is dang tough.
Why? Other tour guides have the privilege of recce-ing their destinations way before bringing their customers on a trip.
But this guide, he is as new to the places as his travellers. And what's worse, he is learning on the job!

So faced with a pack of 6 hungry people, his mind had to turn fast... and his attention was drawn across the road to a little enclosure...

A quaint little set up of eateries within which he stumbled upon a traditional teeny-weeny little stall called 斩拉面 (Zhan Ramen).

Manned by a sole receptionist-cum-cook-cum-waiter-cum-cleaner-cum-cashier, this team of hungry Singaporeans found, much to their delights
one of the BEST ramen they have ever tasted!

... there was something for every one... a special taste for every palate...

... and this handsome Japanese man certainly did not disappoint when it came to the crunch:
Miso Char Siew Ramen!
Phew-weeeee! Mama Mia! The full-bodies fragrance just floated through the steamed air!

... to emerge fully satisfied, completely energized... and totally readed for further walk down the long long road...

Day 3: A slow stroll in Otaru

Well, with our stomachs filled and thigh muscles rejuvenated, we were ready for more action.
I took the leap and pointed down the main road along the canal:

"Ok, it's a very very short walk from here all the way to the end of the road where we will come to the Music Box Museum and the Glassware shops...
Trust me. It's going to be a very very short walk..."
encouraged the tour guide.
Short walk my foot.
But then again, I was the one holding on to the Garmin GPS, not them, hehehe..
So they die die have to believe me!

... this SereneXMM ah, she has this thing going for trees.
And she specially go on a look out for 梧桐树 (don't know how to call it in English)..
She had her share of 梧桐树 in Chengdu, China. Now in Hokkaido, she also wants to shoot a Japanese version of it...

... the Grandfather - at it again! Cannot tahan cold one lah, he...

[Translation: "Hands freezing, feet freezing, nose freezing, lips freezing, face freezing, ears freezing...
Help me wrap them all up!" trembled the Grandfather.]

... but that young man who is one whole head taller than the Grandfather... he is like - nothing!

... and the children.. wah lau eh! They couldn't stop handling the cold, freezing snow!
In fact, I was amazed at how they held up the snow with one finger.
I was almost expecting them to spin the snow ball like a basketball! Hahaha...!

... and goodness, I hope no Japanese people saw this scene!
Our very own Singaporean children misbehaving by throwing big big snow balls in the streets of Hokkaido!


Hehe... I have always wanted to do this.
Just waiting for the right opportunity to do so only.

The temperature was about -3 degree celcius that afternoon.
Snowing it was.
And lots of old and new snow on the ground.
I gave SereneXMM a wicked grin, and then gently lowered my Canon 1DMkIV + 16-35mm onto the ground right in front of me.
Left it there for a good few minutes and all of us just squat down and observe it...

It sat there, and we squatted there, eyes non-blinking for quite a long while.
But at the end, the camera won.
It could withstand the cold and wetness much much better than any one of us.

Day 3: Discovering Otaru

Actually Otaru is not too big on the map.
It's truly a town facing the sea, backed by the hills.
Most travellers would find themselves traversing the main road alongside the canal and the piers, as we ourselves did.

There were small stalls selling really fresh seafood just on the road side.
Hmmm... now we began to understand why crab meals in Japan cost more...
A 7800 yen (S$121) a crab, and a 6800 yen (S$107) a crab cost price would certainly mean once up on the dining table, the price would jump a few more folds...

Walking further and further brought us to the Music Box Museum (so called Museum. But they are mainly a retail shop for Music Boxes.)
No purchasing of tickets needed as, naturally, they want to make money from the sale of their music boxes...
This Music Box souvenir is apparently another famous and highly sought after item here in Otaru.
Some limited edition ones can easily fetch prices in the tens of thousands of dollars.

... looking from the second floor of the Museum.

Day 3: Otaru Glass Factory 北一硝子

The name 北一硝子 apparently was now synonymous with an industry of glass factories and manufacturers.
And Otaru was the famous town for this.
A trip to Oatru was never complete without at least a trip to one of the many Ornamental Glass-ware shops.

... almost felt like a bull in a china shop... haha...

.. but the multitude of colours was definitely eye-opening!

Somehow it felt as though to me that the girls were enjoying the white fluffy stuff much more than the adults...

... more to come... after I finish work late tonight... haha...

Day 3 Evening: Otaru Ice Cream

There were so many different types of ice creams in Otaru.
Again, apparently from what I read in the Guide Books, the Otaru ice cream have many famous types and they were a MUST-TRY.
Not bad. A stick like that cost around 300-400 yen depending on types.
We had quite a bit of fun that night...

[Translation: "So many different types of ice cream, how am I going to order? Aiyah, again any how point lor..." complained the Grandfather.]

True enough.. ordering in Japan, for Sua-koos like us who knew not much Japanese, was really an act of any-how-point...

There were Green tea falvour, black squid flavour, and some classic flavours.
I didn't remember any one of us venturing into the absolutely unusual sotong flavour..

It was only about just right after 4pm.
And the sky was turning dark already.
Goodness, imagine! Blue sky at 4pm??!!! Totally unheard of back home in Singapore...

... and by Day 3, I have come to a final conclusion that the snow on the ground in Hokkaido is more comfortable than the best sofa back home in Singapore...

What time only? 4:25pm.
Simply unbelievable. My whole day gone already... and we haven't even gone to the Canal yet!

Walking to the Otaru Canal 小樽运河

Frankly, those who have been to the Otaru Canal would know that she presents herself in a very different light in the day time as compared with at night.
And those who were in Otaru in different seasons of the year will report different views.
That is simply just how wonderful this little canal with its warehouses is.

... about 100 metres from the Otaru Canal, I looked down and my heart leaped to my mouth... in joy...
Because I thought the girls are going to make ice-kachang for me... hehehe...

And finally we arrived at one of the main bridges, 浅草桥 that crosses the canal.
This is where many of the wonderful scenes of the Otaru Canal were shot, during summer, during winter, during the famous Snow Festivals in February each year.
But on this night, both SereneXMM and I had only our cameras and no tripods.
On our left and right sides were a few Japanese Photographers with tripods big and small all set up and remotes in hands.
We looked at each other and shook our heads.
Initial shots were at exposures of 4-5 secs, handheld.
Laughingly, we rested our cameras on the fencing at the side of the bridge, stopped down the ISOs to 100 and hoped for the best.
Hope this one can make it...

[shot taken with ISO 100. Fence-held.]

As always our style, SereneXMM and I simply love to capture the moment as a record shot.
We were both shooting the nice, peaceful scene of the Otaru canal and when we turned our heads, we saw to our surprise, a group of teenagers enjoying themselves crazily by gently infusing the water of the canal with additional load of frozen water.. ahem... snow.

[shot taken with ISO 10,000... crazily dark, it was]
What we found interesting was that the light shining from behind the splatter of snow gave quite an interesting effect.
At least to the Sua-Koo Singaporean record photographers... hahaha...

And another Singaporean-made-Japanese-Snow-Man on the banks of the Otaru Canal - what's new?!
Sometimes as a Father, what I have come to realise is, every day, every moment, every time -
the children's mind will come up with strange but creative thoughts and notions that surprise me...
... bizarre though they might be.. Haha...

[shot taken with ISO 10,000... no choice again, terribly dark!]

Brief (very Brief) History of Otaru Canal

The Otaru Canal was built in 1923 and it used to be a part of a very busy port where the larger vessels would dock further out, where a non-stop rush of smaller boats transport merchandise to and fro the many warehouses on both banks of the canal.
Every since then, the canal and the docks have fallen into disuse and was slated for demolishing, together with all the warehouses, until in the 80's, with efforts from the local communities, the canal and the warehouses were restored, and refurbished to their current state.
Many of the old warehouses have been converted to eateries and shops, yet maintaining the nostalgic mood.
And victorian-style gas lamps have been erected, and pavements re-lined with stones to create that special atmosphere.

We were lucky for on this cold winter night there was really not too many people, as compared with perhaps a nice autumn day or summer evening.
And we almost had the whole canal to ourselves.

Here are some more shots by SereneXMM on the Otaru Canal.. on her Nex5.

Otaru Canal by SereneXMM on her Nex5.

We walked across the other bridge and explored the inner parts of the complex with the warehouses.
What struck us was the many many icicles hanging down from the roof of the warehouses. Another shot by SereneXMM on her Nex5.

... and the girls up to no good again...

[Translation: "Aiyoh.. so dangerous! Two young little girls playing with icicles yah!"]

Indeed, the icicles were stony hard and frozen.
Pretty dangerous as a weapon.

Day 3: Dinner at 政 Sushi (政寿司) in Otaru

The Guide books all said that there was a famous sushi restaurant just across the Otaru canal.
Searched high and low we did... and found it we finally.
Since it had been such a long and tiring day for the whole family, I thought it fit to give every one a treat no less than the Crab Extravaganza last evening.

The set up was beautiful and classy like in many Japanese restaurant.
And the atmosphere was really cosy.
And again we were served by an elegant old lady with wrinkled face.

Here was all of us going through the same routine of ordering Japanese meals...

[Translation: "It's so difficult when it comes to meal time in Japan. Don't know how to order and don't know what to eat..." said the big brother.]

Wah... whole lot of sake, syochu.. and what had we...

[Nex5 by SereneXMM]

... and whole lot of live squid sashimi... like what Wurdelak said.
[Nex5 by SereneXMM]

Full to the brim... after a nice dinner...
[Another ISO 10,000 shot. Despite that, the shutter speed was only 1/40sec. But of course I was at f/4.5 to increase the DOF a little more...
But strange, Otaru must have been rather dark for me to have to be on high ISO so much... haha...
But it was just me lah.. refuse to use the flash...]

[Translation: "Blur blur ordered... Blur blur ate..."]

Day 3: Finally... back to the Hotel, and sleep...

Actually it wasn't late at all by the time we walked back to the hotel.
But for some strange reasons, this group of customers seemed to be very difficult to please.
Complained walked too much lah, complained food not up to their standard lah, complained the timing not right for the canal photoshoot lah, complained not enough light for correct exposure lah...
Wah lau eh...

... even not cold enough also must complain...

But heck, lah... it was sleeping time already.
and indeed every one fell right into bed sound asleep very very soon.

Whatever it was... I hoped that that evening would be a restful one...

Restful one...?
Haha... well, Mr Tour guide... you'd better rest early now first because you are going to be woken up at 3:30am.
What? 3:30am? For what?
Just wait and see.

Day 4: Otaru - Early hours of the morning...

We were all sleeping soundly when suddenly a gush of wind shook the old glass windows... and the freezing wind seeped into the warmed room.
(The night before, SereneXMM complained that the room was a little too warm, so yours truly here opened the windows a small slit so that the air could circulate.).

It was 3:30am.
We both took a look out the window and saw the sky beginning to show speckles of beautiful white fluffy snow.
Not to let the chance slipped by, SereneXMM grabbed her Nex5 and did what a record photographer was best in doing...

... We were truly crazy.
Such a cold night, people would have been cuddling up under the warm blanket to sleep.
But here we were, window wide opened, and shooting.
We must have been quite a sight, should there be any sane soul out there staring up at us from the roads below.

but still, I could only say this:

  • How often could you wake up at 3:30am to behold snow falling outside the window,
  • to hear the cold wind howling and pushing against the window pane,
  • to find that the only people awake and enjoying the magical scene were yourselves,
  • to have the rare opportunity to crack your brain trying to hasten the shutter speed of the camera to capture the snow scene?
So up we woke and had one of the best times of our lives shooting snow.

and shooting the Victorian-style street lamp with snow flakes swirling around it...


Day 4: Away from Otaru to... Hakodate 涵馆市
By 6am, the snow was heavier already.
And the roads, buildings and trees were decorated all white.

Struggling to wake up, the children prepared for a long long train journey ahead- four and a half hours by JR train to Hakodate.

This hotel that we were staying in used to be an old Bank Building.
That is why its rooms were huge by Japanese standards and the views were spectacular.
The old Victorian building certainly lent its flavour to a romantic stay here.
But the breakfast was a little bit of a let down.

The Complain King at it again...

Luckily the sister has some good suggestion...

Day 4: Onwards to Hakodate...

We must be really Sua Koo.
But don't laugh at us if we say this was the first time we saw so much snow.
So naturally the excitement mounted as we walked out of the hotel, lugging our bags to start walking towards the JR train Station a kilometre away...

The children just didn't want to lose the chance for a last touch of the snow at Otaru before we leave.

... and SereneXMM, she and her Nex5 was forever at work... hehehe...
So I believe she has proven that the Nex5 works without any problem in the snow, right?

... and this morning, the walk with the luggage was tougher than the day before as the snow thickened.
Poor fellows, my tour mates... They didn't have the luxury of tour coaches right at the door steps to ferry them to and fro their destinations.
Instead, they had to trudge through the snow with their heavy bags... Haha...
It's a poor man's way to travel.

But the landscape and the bare trees in the landscape with the Neo Victorian buildings really made it all worth it...

And here, we all gathered half-way through our walk to re-organise...
... and to catch a breath.

Before we finally got to the train...

For those of us who have never taken a JR Train in Japan, this is in my personal opinion, one of the best and easiest way to travel.
I am sure every body who have ever been to Japan would swear by the JR (Japan Railway) system.
It is easy. Just easy.
And often times, despite their deficiency in the English language, the Japanese JR staffs more than made up for it with their willingness to help us poor travellers.

For a big family, it is important to check up the exact timing of departure of the various train from one station to another station.
If possible, try to make reservation before-hand, at least half an hour to one hour before the train departs.
This will allow us to have designated seats instead of having to move up and down the train searching for seats.

But still, the Japanese are such orderly people that even searching for seats was never a big problem.
The seats are super-comfortable. And there are more than sufficient space for storage of our big 65 litres back packs and big tua-leng-kong luggages.

Day 4: JR Train journey from Otaru to Hakodate

It was a really long journey from Otaru to Hakodate, passing through many cities.
No wonder it took four and a half hour...
In fact, the journey was so long that both my feet were frozen cold during the trip.
Could not tahan... haha,...

Day 4: Hakodate 涵馆市


This port city has also quite a long and interesting history.
It was established in the 15th century and for many years had been one of the battleground between the Japanese and the native Ainu people, seeing many an Ainu uprising until they were finally suppressed.
There was a famous Japanese merchant Takadaya who set up Hakodate as a trading port, which further boosted Hakodate's importance in the area.
During the Meiji period, as Hakodate opened itself up to foreign trading ships as a port, the Americans, French and Russians set up their consulates here and their influences could still be seen today in terms of architecture.

As we arrived in Hakodate just after lunch, we had little time for any other activities.
Thus our very short itinerary for the day was:

  • Check into the Toyoko-Inn Hakodate Hotel
  • Try to look for lunch any where near the hotel
  • Take a leisurely stroll down the main thoroughfare of Hakodate to..
  • ... hopefully arrive at the Cable Car Station at the foot of Hakodate-yama (Hakodate Hill)
  • then take a Cable Car (called Ropeway in the Japanese terminology) to the top of the peak to enjoy the scenery before sunset.
  • stay on at the peak to enjoy the night scene from atop the famous Hakodate-yama
  • ... then sleep.

Sounded simple enough.
Until we actually tried to execute it....

Day 4: Hakodate - Lunch and The Walk to Hakodate-yama 涵馆山

I still remember very well, before I even stepped foot on Japanese soil, I was wondering for months how a Japanese food stall selling typical Japanese ramen and food would look like.
My only impression of the food outlets was formed by all the Japanese shows I watched over the years, both as a young man, and later as an even younger man.

But the past three days had given me opportunities to see with my own eyes how the set up of various restaurants, but more interestingly, the small family-run ramen/sushi stalls looked like.

This one not far from our Toyoko-Inn Hakodate Hotel looked like this.

Erm... right after taking this photo, I turned and took a nasty slip and landed right on my buttock!
The ground was REALLY slippery with frozen ice! BOMBP..!!!!

And back to the subject matter - here inside the ramen store, it looked like this...

[Translation: "AhLiXMM, let's try their Gyoza and Char Siew Ramen here." said Grandmother.]

Almost like the Fiesta Sushi chain we had back home in Singapore.

As a port city, Hakodate had its fair share of old warehouses, many of which had been converted to eateries, pubs, bars, clubs and the likes.
A walk down the streets would bring us to a few of these, oozing with Nostalgia.

The weather was quite lovely - cold and wet.
The main difference which we all experienced here in Hakodate was, the snow was not too new, and the road was wet with melted ice.
And while we had absolutely no problem walking on the pavement in Otaru, here in Hakodate,
every one of us was struggling to keep ourselves in balance as the melted ice on the wet pavement was a walking hazard.

Here below was that typical scene of dirty old snow with icy pavement which we were 'skating' across... haha...

Day 4 Evening: Struggling to Reach Hakodate-yama

The Problems with:

  • Walking by Looking at Maps only
  • Not having prior experience on the ground
  • Not following guided tour

So far, I think my Garmin Oregon GPS has outdone itself, guiding me to almost 99% of my destination with uncanny accuracy.
But here in Hakodate, I have finally come face to face with the first major obstacle in my virgin tour guiding trip in Japan.

Studying the map in detail nights after nights during the planning stage back home in Singapore, I failed to realise that:

  1. when we arrived at Hakodate, it would be cold and wet and extremely slippery. Extremely, extremely slippery.
  2. once we cross the road Jiujigai, the terrain would take a steep rise up towards the Cable car station, known as Ropeway Station!

[The route above showed how we walked from our hotel at Toyoko-Inn to the Cable Car Ropeway Station just at the foot of Hakodate-yama]

Thus, it was really really one of the major shock when the scouting team in front shouted out to me and I looked up ahead,
and found to my horror that there was a stupid sloping road leading all the way up to nowhere.
And not only that, the Cable Car Ropeway Station was no where to be seen in the near vicinity!

Now, the picture below doesn't give the actual feel of the slope.
Neither does it demonstrate how slippery the actual pavement was as this was the initial up-slope.
More was to come. But by then I was in too shock a state to take photos.

In fact, I was cursing and swearing under my breath how stupid I was to have walked the family so far out here only to find an obstacle.
Now had it been just ourselves and the children, we would have not given it too much thought.
But here we had two old folks whom I needed to especially be careful with fall-precaution.

So how?
Every one's gaze was now towards me as I had to make the decision to go ahead or call it off. It was already getting really dark and cold.
"Look, this slope is not too bad lah... Yeah, the road is really slippery with ice all over.
But you all must walk slowly and make sure your front foot is stable before transferring weight over from the foot behind.
And also... try to hold on to the chain at the side of the road or whatever tree branches you can find..
OK? Let's go!"

... what useless advice from a totally inexperienced newbie tour guide.. Haha...
So off we went, the entire family.
And what happened after that?

The Grandfather had a spectacular fall right on top of the slope just as he was turning to the left!
BOMP!!! Right onto his buttock!

So stupid of me, right?
Luckily he was fine and broke no hip bones.

Finally, after sloshing left and right in the ice, we made our way to the top of the slope and arrived at the coach car park of the Ropeway station.

[Translation: "Aiyoh... Slippery yah!" squealed the sister.]

Well, the road on the car park was a wonderful mixture of engine oil, ice, slush, tyre dirt - a sure formula for more spectacular acrobatic feats.
Fortunately none came from this family troupe of brave acrobats.

Seeing all the tour coaches parked serenely at the side, and after thinking back at what we went through just now, for the very first time on this trip,
I seriously questioned the sanity of my bringing the family on Free and Easy.
Imagine the comfort and the ease the other tourists would have experience coming up on the tour coaches!

Day 4 Evening: Up the Hakodate-yama!

Well, we made it.
Only to come face to face with a huge crowd of both foreign and local tourists queuing up to buy tickets up and down the peak.

As I was taking this photo of all of us in the queue, it occurred to me that although the time was only 4:30pm,
we had essentially missed the daylight hours already. And I was resigned to the fact that by the time we reach the peak,
the sky would be really dark and we would only catch the night view from the famous Hakodate-yama.
Well... at least we still had a night view. Right? Er... wrong (As will be demonstrated later.)

Here, the cable car that we managed to squeeze ourselves in was jammed-packed sardine style with loads and loads of visitors...

... and we literally had to fox-trot up a few flights of stairs with the crowd to come to the roof-top where the best vantage point was.
Where was the beautiful night scene? This was it. Among the crowd, we managed to find one tiny spot and squeezed ourselves in to shoot this miserably little souvenir shot of night-scene-from-atop-Hakodate-yama.
Happy already, right?

The Sudden Snow Up here...

Then came the unexpected.
Out of a sudden, the weather turned. And it began to snow heavily right up here at the peak of the yama.
Wow, so exciting it was... up here and having snow in your face and on your parka and every where.
I took this shot, again one of the few which I sincerely considered memorable to me as a record shot as it demonstrated the emotions of the family members
at that very moment.

(This was again one of the several occasions when I was glad that my humble camera had sufficient ISO capability to take these nonsense
without resorting to flash, although I did have my flash with me.
Taken with ISO 10,000 f/2.8 1/25 sec, EV -1.)

It was fun. Initially. Until every one of the visitors realised that the snow was getting heavier and it was really really cold up there...
that we found ourselves the only few crazy enough to tolerate the weather left still standing at the roof top.
Hmmmm.... there, we finally had the whole place to ourselves... almost to ourselves.

[The weather condition really darkened everything around us. Even with the light from the building, it was really dark.
This shot I had to really struggle. And I bumped up the ISO to 256,000 f/2.8 EV -1 to achieve some respectable shutter speed of 1/125 sec to intentionally freeze the snow flakes instead of having them appear as streaks.)
Hmmm... challenging condition not only to walk, but also to shoot.

Day 4 Night: OK, Enough of Hakodate-yama! Let's go down...!

'Twas a shame that we couldn't have a nice daylight view of the Hakodate cityscape from atop Hakodate-yama.
'Twas also a shame that the night view of Hakodate was more than partially obscured by the fog and snow.
But what we experienced up there that night was something special, I felt - heavy snow fall atop Hakodate.
Hmmm... something to remember forever, I am sure.

Ok, time to go!

This time round, we gingerly made our way down another sloping path on the other side.
The frozen ice mixed with fresh new snow on top was no less slippery.
A few times, the children had to do some emergency corrective actions to prevent themselves from falling flat on their bums.
... and they had the cheek to laugh out loud each time they had to do that!
These children ah... they are really free spirited creatures!

Here is another view of the road. Hmmm... I think this one portrayed the slope a little better...

Finally on flat ground...

Shopping at the Local Supermarket!

Now this was what I called fun.
You see, the good thing about being on our own was, we could decide when we wanted to eat and where and what we wanted to eat,
instead of being subjected to a rigid eating time.
Of course on the other side, we missed out the rich, luxurious food at EVERY meal that a guided tour would provide.

But here, the old folks were up to their no goods.
They led the whole team to the local supermarket and did their own marketing in preparation for the dinner and supper for the night.

Grandfather (jokingly): "Honey, let's buy this 10kg sack of top class Japanese rice back to the hotel to make porridge and have it with sushi and tempura!"
Grandson: "Haha... we must have made ourselves poor after having all the 1000yen ramen, such that we had to resort to buying food from the supermarket!"]

Well, the truth is.. when you are in Rome, do as the Romans do.
And when you are in Japan, shop and eat as the Japanese do!

Anyway just as an aside, we didn't spend too much at the supermarket despite buying quite a few packs of dried food, cup noodles, Cokes, and drinks and such.
And yes, we bought quite a few packs of prepared and ready-to-eat tempura, chicken drumsticks, sushi from the fresh counter too.
Only about S$100 plus.
Hey, that fed the whole family for the dinner and supper that night.
Quite a refreshing change from the usual luxury meal, wasn't it?!

 Some more... pastries and bread from the Pastry shop!

We spied a pastry shop across the road from the supermarket, and all of us skated slipperily over.

And the Grandfather and SereneXMM wasted no time in grabbing quite a few loaves of French Toasts and other pastries...
Look at the smile on their faces... they must have been hungry and terribly happy to see so much food!

The interesting thing about shopping in the supermarkets in Japan was, they expect the shoppers to bring their own carriers.
And if we were to ask for plastic carriers, we had to pay extra for them.
Good! They are good examples of those who cared for the environment.
So we contributed too - by loading up everything into our backpacks and harvest sacks.

So we finally walked the last 1.2 km back to our hotel.
But not before dropping by 7-Eleven to buy shoe-stoppers for every one at 525yen per set (around S$8).
Now, I must say that we had not had the need to purchase any of these when we first started in Sapporo,
despite hearing so much advice from tour companies and friends who advocated doing so.
But this evening after experiencing first-hand the extent to which the frozen pavements could be slippery,
and after suffering a couple of falls, we decided that it was high time to give these wonderful inventions a go.

Here they were... S$8 per pair.
Well worth their money in rubber and aluminum! Haha..

In fact, after we purchased and slipped on the Shoe-stoppers, walking for the remainder of the trip in Hokkaido became so much more stable.
We could really REALLY feel the difference and the confidence these stoppers gave us.

Our advice for all who are thinking of going during Winter:
Don't need to worry yourselves overly by buying the very expensive version back here in Singapore (prices range from $49 - $69 per pair).
When you are over there in Hokkaido, just pop into any 7-Eleven or Sunkus convenient stores and buy your pair at 525yen.

Day 5: Hakodate - Nettai Shokubutse-En 热带植物园 (The Tropical Botanic Gardens)

Hakodate was such a big city, bigger than Otaru in many ways.
And one could easily spend days after days just staying in Hakodate and yet still couldn't finish exploring it.

During my reaserch, I have found one place that I kept coming back to and reading about.
I believed it was a place that not too many people would end up going. But I could be wrong about that.

What attracted me about the Tropical Botanic Gardens, 热带植物园,was that when visited during winter, one could see
a bunch of very lovely monkeys soaking in the hotspring (onsen) maintained at 43 degree celcius.
Apparently the monkeys loved this onsen thing and would ofen display adorable expressions while soaking in the hot water.

Now, this Tropical Botanic Gardens was a little out of the way.
And without a tour coach at my disposal, and after discussing with the reception lady at the hotel, I found that one of the best ways was to take a tram to YuNo Gawa 川の汤 Station, and walk about 2km from there.

Well, that one comes later.
Meanwhile, we woke up early in the morning to another snowy day in Hakodate.

The early risers: AhLi XMM and the Grandmother having a swell time testing how snow falling on palms felt like...

The elder sister 姐姐 said to me:
"Papa, you know the snow flakes really are like what they have always drawn in the cartoons.
They've got many spokes to them - 6 spokes. See, Papa, see...?"

Sure enough.
The observant and fascinated young lady was correct.

Here we were in the morning, after our usual Toyoko Inn Hakodate hotel breakfast, standing outside waiting to move off.
Right next to us was the famous Asaichi 朝市 (The Morning Market) that sold all kinds of fresh seafood, road side food stalls and Hakodate ice creams.
But this morning was special.
We needed to go off early to the Tropical Botanic Gardens first.
So the Morning Market would have to come later.

Following my GPS, we crossed a couple of streets to come to the tram station, the Hakodate Eki-mae (涵馆駅前) Tram Station.
The tram ride to the sea-side station of YuNo Gawa (湯の川) wasn't expensive.
It came up to about 300 yen per adult. As usual children were half price.
But what I wanted for the children was the chance to take a real-life tram for their first time.
This mode of transport wasn't exactly available every where and I thought since we have taken the bus, the subway and the JR Train in Hokkaido, we might as well complete the picture by doing the tram as well.

Day 5: Hakodate - Finding our way to the Nettai Shokubutse-En 热带植物园 (The Tropical Botanic Gardens)....

Taking the tram was the easy part.
From the Hakodate Eki-mae Tram Station near the hotel to the YuNo-Gawa Station took about half an hour.
Actually it was quite fun because we were travelling with the locals, and seeing everything with a fresh mindset.

And I am sure the children would be quietly taking in all these as part of their life experiences.
Hopefully in the future, when their time come, they would fall back upon all these experiences to embark on their own journey where I left off.

Some funny moments on the tram...
(This was a real scene).

"Nah... you dropped your ticket..." offered the Grandfather.
"Don't know what you are talking about lah...!" said the other Grandfather.]

So we alighted the tram at the last station, YuNo-Gawa (湯の川) Station.

My Oregon 450 GPS pointed south, about 1 km plus to our destination, the Tropical Botanic Gardens.
It looked straight forward enough on the map.
But when it came to the actual terrain, my goodness... we had to negotiate a few small roads.
We literally found ourselves in the middle of a residential area.

How many metres?
I really don't know. When we zig-zag along these small little roads, the distance can really add up.
But one thing I knew.
Walking along the residential area opened up our eyes to the actual living conditions here locally.
And we were impressed by the beautifully landscaped houses.
The orderliness of the roads.
The typical look of Japanese wooden homes.

Here is a classic example of what we saw that morning, by SereneXMM on her Nex5.

 It was truly exciting to be walking so far into the neighbourhood and yet find ourselves immersed in this very quiet and serene environment.
Nary a dog bark, nary a car screech... Nothing.
All peaceful and... wintry.
The quietness only broken by some mischievous Singaporean teenagers...

... teenagers doing what?
Doing what they do best lor... play with the road-side snow... again!

We walked and walked.
And walked, and walked.
I honestly didn't know where I was leading the whole family. Honestly didn't know.
It was times like this when the feeling of being lost came whelming.
Stupid GPS. Didn't know if it was correct or not.
Even the Grandfather also KB KB now...

I bargained with them:
"Ok Ok... look. There is a river here. The arrow on the GPS points just right there.
You all come and see... there, right? It says there.
So let's just walk along the river and see what we get when we hit the end of it 500m away..."

At some parts, the snow was really thick, making walking in them a little tough.
And it certainly appeared like we have walked into some backlane or what...

Looking back, my team members gave me the endorsement that I was looking for:
Two big fingers-down! HAHAHA...
I think they probably meant Thumbs-down instead... Hehehe...

Day 5: My senses tell me we must be nearing...

Never mind the self-doubts (actually it was more a GPS-doubt... hahaha...).
Just close one eye and continue walking 吧!
Actually, had it not been for the GPS, we wouldn't have arrived so deep into the residences.
And we also wouldn't have come to this lovely river side and the nice scenic bridge that we were about to cross.

Now, here at YuNo-Gawa, there were many many small little Onsen Ryokan 温泉旅馆 (Hot Spring hotels).
And many of these are family-run.
They offer that little more extra in personalised services and food.
And of course, superb Onsen, as the name YuNo-Gawa implied.

But for us, we were simply passing by.
Our Onsen highlight was to be on Day 6 in Noboribetsu.
That one would have to wait, as Noboribetsu was the Onsen town of Hokkaido.
Here, we were quietly and relaxly walking and enjoying the view of a lifetime.

Here the Grandmother taking in the scene by the river side...

While the elder sister looked for targets for her palm-hardened snow balls... Haha... just joking..

Crossing the Bridge to the Tropical Botanic Gardens...

So we finally came to and crossed that bridge.
Here was a Nex5 work by none other than our SereneXMM...

Interestingly, I have come to realise that many of our CS members were very keen in trekking GPS's.
I have received quite some enquires about the GPS that I was using...
I think maybe I should quit my full time job and join Garmin as their GPS tester... haha, that is if they even want me..
OK, so just for fun, I did a GPS Photolink of the bridge picture and guess what I found?

As above in A, this little Garmin Oregon 450 GPS was indeed doing its job!
It geo-tagged us right onto the bridge as shown above!
So to those of you who are thinking of getting a Garmin GPS for your next trip, don't wait.
Because I just heard that over the past few days the Garmin Oregon 450's have been flying off the shelves such that
they are going to be out of stock very soon already...

Day 5: Hakodate - Tropical Botanic Gardens

We crossed the bridge..

And soon, we arrived at this big empty space of snow... just by the sea side..
Apparently this was the back yard car park of the Tropical Botanic Gardens.
But now it was all covered in snow..
The rolling clouds gathered out at sea as we watched...

And for the first time, the Grandfather must have been very happy for he started throwing snow balls with the grandchildren too!
Haha... siao liao lah!

Haha.. and here we were - the Nettai Shokobutsu En.
What awaited us inside?

Day 5: Tropical Botanic Gardens...
... finally, The monkeys!

This Tropical Botanic Gardens was really inexpensive.
Tickets were only about 200 yen (around S$3) per adult, and half price for children.

And yeah... we walked all the way here just so that we can see the monkeys soaking in the onsen.
Seriously. It was all because of what that Guide book said.
I thought it would have been quite a sight.
And I wasn't disappointed.
The whole family was delighted to see so many so many cute little red-faced monkeys enjoying themselves
soaking in the onsen, and running round and round!

Here was the Grandfather of the pack... grouchy fellow!
(But apparently he was enjoying his soaking in the 43 degree celcius water...)

And here, every child was lost in his/her own reverie while the father watched over his pack..

.. and the older ladies in the family sat eyes half-closed in sheer enjoyment..

Feeding the monkeys...
True to what was reported in the guide book, we could buy monkeys-feed at 100 yen (around S$1.50) per pack.

Something which the children had been looking forward to...
Feeding these mischievous little primates!

There were actually many very young and cute monkeys running among the older adults.
And in all honesty, they were VERY VERY CUTE.
I am very sure that any of our CS members here who have children (and even teenagers like ours)
would truly enjoy seeing them and interacting with them.

For us the adults, simply just standing there and marvelling at the apes was pure enjoyment
for every moment, we would see funny and almost comical expressions and scenes acted out by the monkeys.
Not trained, not forced... but just their very natural selves.

Day 5: Hakodate - back to Asaichi 朝市 for brunch...

The Morning Market, Asaichi next to our Toyoko Inn Hakodate hotel was one of the famed spots in Hakodate.
And a trip to Hakodate would not be complete without at least setting foot on the grounds of this very very typical Japanese market
famous for its fresh seafood supplies, apparently at a cheaper price than other cities in Hokkaido.
And also famous for some of the freshest and tastiest sashimi in Hokkaido.
Understandable, as Hakodate is a port city just beside the sea.

Anyway, on the return trip, we took a 15 minutes bus that travelled along the costal road back to JR Hakodate Station.
There was a bus station not far from the Tropical Botanic Gardens where we waited for that one single bus number 6.
It took a while to come. But the duration of the journey back was short.

(Remember, if any one of our CS members were to take the same route of travelling back to the JR Station, just make sure you ask
the very nice lady at the counter of the Botanic Gardens to give you some direction.)

We walked back towards our Toyoko Inn Hakodate Hotel.
As we could see, the hotel is literally just beside the Asaichi morning market 朝市.

Now Toyoko Inn Hakodate Eki Mae Hotel was one of the many within the Toyoko Inn chain.
And booking for this hotel, as in all other Toyoko Inn hotels, could be done through email or fax.
This Hakodate Hotel was the cheapest we have ever come across - only S$95 per night!
It was mind-blowing. I think it was a combination of the fact that I just signed up as a Toyoko-Inn member
and that we were staying on two of the less peak days, that was why the price was so low.
But the rooms were the standard, beautifully clean and tidy Toyoko Inn chain style with everything fully provided within,
and breakfast also included free.

Here were some scenes of the famous market.
Of course crabs were one of the most salable food items... as a whole industry of crab merchants were anchored here in the market.

Crabs, scallops, squids, clams, lobsters, crayfish, fish roe, sea urchins, all kinds of fresh fishes for sashimi making...

(We did some comparison of prices... but found little difference between the prices here and those of Otaru... maybe we were not the expert in quality determination..
Perhaps the quality of the crabs here was better and of a higher grade? Not sure, don't know...)

But what we knew was for sure, the display and the layout of the seafood at every shop was attractive and colourful.

Day 5: Lunch at Occhan No Den 阿伯之店(おっちゃんの店)
Asaichi Morning Market

The displays were so attractive.
So attractive that the Grandfather was thinking thinking and thinking VERY hard whether he should buy a huge crab that cost S$150.

I asked him: "Pa, you want to buy this huge expensive crab? And then get the shop owner to cook and steam for you?
Or you want to eat raw like the other night at Sapporo?"

That got him thinking even harder. And he replied: "I buay gam guan lah...
I just want to understand why a crab in Hokkaido costs S$150 and also I want to find out
for myself how nice it really tastes..."

I think the Grandfather kena poisoned bad bad here... hahaha...
Finally it wasn't me nor SereneXMM, but it was the Grandmother who pulled him away from his beloved $150 crab, telling him that his fresh crab lunch is round the corner.
Yah... that made lots of sense..

So the tour guide pressed the touch screen of his Garmin Oregon 450 GPS and locked in the route to our next lunch waypoint.
And a few turns later, we came to this place:

Occhan No Den 阿伯之店(おっちゃんの店)

Courtesy of SereneXMM on her Nex5 with Fish eye adapter.

Now this Occhan No Den (Literally meaning the Old Uncle's Shop) was one of the highly recommended dining shops by the Chinese Guide Book.
What was so special about this shop?
It was run by a very friendly Uncle who has his fresh seafood supply retail on the ground floor as shown above, selling these:

fresh Japanese clams (the actual technical name, I didn't know)
(SereneXMM Nex5)

Freshly wrapped and vacuum-sealed scallops...
(SereneXMM Nex5)

Dried scallops...
(SereneXMM Nex5)

Lunch time...

And for their famous meals, the customer just needed to walk through a small doorway up to the second floor to reach the dining hall.

Here at the dining hall was where really thick, fresh sashimis, scallops, urchins, prawns, crabs, roes, were all served in big portioins.
And very unique style of ordering - you just combine 3, 4 or 5 types of sashimi you wanted and the uncle will mix them all up for you and present on a platter.
The prices are a little higher than outside, but this Uncle's shop was famous for its portion and freshness.
And after taking a few mouthfuls, I couldn't help but agree whole-heartedly.

Studying the prices on the menu list, we found the prices to be slightly higher.
But upon scrutinising the types of sashimi and tasting the quality of it, I personally would say this Old Uncle's shop
certainly lived up to its name as one of the most value-for-money eateries in the Asaichi Morning Market.

Here are a couple of sets...

And here was my warm sake... cheap - only about S$10!

And my lovely urchins,scallops, salmon sashimi on don (rice)...

Lunch Over... time to go down for shopping...

Lunch took a little longer than usual. But soon, it was over...

[Translation: AhLiXMM said to Grandmother: "Grandmother, although the sashimi in this shop was very tasty, but I am sure I am not going to feel full.
Later can I buy ice creams downstairs?"]
Well, of course Grandmother would say yes... for it was yours truly who would be paying mah.... right?

After a nice, really good fresh local sashimi don lunch and sake drink, we made our way down the steps...

(SereneXMM Nex5 with Fish eye)

The fresh products were very hygenically vacuum-packed.
SereneXMM's sisters have reminded again and again and again that she must bring the fresh scallops from Hokkaido back for them.
Well, if they ordered her, then she'd better not go against their commands, right? Haha..
Anyway, the prices of these fresh scallops weren't cheap too.
One strip of the fresh scallop that SereneXMM was holding was S$100.
We count, count, and count and finally concluded that it was more expensive than back home in Singapore.
The only possible answer was that the products for sale in Singapore was from China.
Anyway buy must buy... Just close one eye and just... buy lor!

Honestly, all of us walked through the whole of Asaichi morning market and found nothing that interested us to buy.
Prices, if indeed really cheaper than in Otaru or Sapporo, was still more expensive than back home in Singapore.
But certainly what could not be denied was that there was a difference in quality and taste of the seafood.
But no interests = no buy lor...

After buying, we stepped out onto the open market again...


The children were totally captivated by the Hokkaido Ice creams.
We adults couldn't tell why. Both SereneXMM and I tasted all the flavours from every one but found that the ice creams were a little too sweet.

But still, children weren't made to be understood.
Here I was buying every one a post-lunch ice cream.
Price was about S$5 per one scoop ice cream cone.

As the shop was about to close, we all stood very relaxed outside and enjoyed our Hakodate ice creams...

Day 5: Hakodate - continuing the walk

Starting from the shopping mall just in front of the Hakodate Eki-mae tram station from where we took the tram this morning, we walked westward down the main road 海峡通.

Here is our GPS mapped track of how we walked from the Asaichi Morning Market across to the Hakodate Eki Mae Tram Station and down the main road...

Today's weather was good and cool just after lunch.
And we simply strolled down the main road 海峡通 but somewhere we turned right off northwards towards the sea, as indicated by the track in red on the map.

This is where we were... A in the map above.

Although Hakodate has for sure changed a lot over the years, but there was still some industrial-ness of its buidlings, its roads and certain architectural structure.

Once we reached the harbour, and could see the sea, we also found many old warehouses of the wharfs...
In fact this day we are looking at the warehouses-converted restaurants from the other side of the building as compared with last night,
when we were walking along the road on the inside.

On the right side were yacht moored at the dock...

And here, as we continued forward, we walked up an old curve bridge...

... and walked down to see another different view.

The warehouse were out in full force from this side of the road...

Day 5: Hakodate -
Walking down to the Historical District

The after lunch walk was monotonous during the first half as we walked along one of the main road Kaikyo Dori 海峡通.
We found many of the shops and more modern buildings on Kaikyo Dori a little boring.
In a way, the cities out of Sapporo were not terribly crowded and there was significantly lesser people and cars.
Perhaps that was why when we compared this to what we had back at home, it appeared to be a little more sleepy.
It seemed that the more happening area was the smaller coastal road along the Red brick warehouses next to the sea.

Continuing from the curve bridge, we passed the famous Red Brick Warehouses on the left side.
These Red Brick Warehouses, also known as Kanemori So-Ko 金森仓库 were a group of warehouses built at the end of the Meiji period.
These now house a collection of commercial facilities, eateries (we saw some Genghis Khan grilled lamb restaurants, Hakodate Beer, Sushi joints, bars and pubs etc. etc..).

As we reached the Blue Moon Bay Cruise, it suddenly started raining.
Here it was - the Blue Moon Bay Cruise at A (on the right upper corner of the map).

The rest of the track marked in red indicated the remaining parts of our walk after this.

... and so it rained. And we ran for cover...

... in the Blue Moon Bay Cruise cafe and supermarket.. But there wasn't much to buy there.
So we merely bought more cookies and pastries and sat on the benches outside to eat...

SereneXMM Nex5 Fish eye

... and at the same time we found to our delight that this place was pretty romantic in its own quiet way...
Munching our cookies, sitting under the shelter of the Blue Moon, and enjoying the view of the Kanemori Warehouses...

SereneXMM Nex5 Fish eye

We sat for a while.
And then the rain turned into snow! Waahahaha...
This is never going to end, we told ourselves.
The Grandfather said:

"Aiyah... what is this little bit of rain and snow, right?
We've been through worse... come, come, let's move along, shall we?"

Hehe... precisely what I wanted.
In fact the old man was correct.
This very team actually had much tougher walks under oxygen-rarefied atmosphere, in temperature of negative territories, high up above 5000m before. (Another story altogether, that one was...)
So ok, guys... the old General says go, we shall all go!

Some more brief histories of Hakodate

You see, one of the most important thing about coming to Hakodate was to visit the historical district.
Hakodate had a turbulent history in its own way, revolving around Japanese colonisation of the land and the subsequent Ainu revolts.
In the year 1454, Kono Kaganokami Masamichi from the Kono family came over to Hakodate and built his own mansion right here in the historical disctrict.
The mansion resembled the shape of a box. And thus the name 箱馆 (box mansion) was given to not only the mansion, but also the place.
The word 箱was later changed to 涵, and the final name of Hakodate 涵馆 came about.
Of course, the aboriginal Ainu were finally defeated and suppressed and now very much assimilated into Hokkaido's culturo-socio-economical structure.
But there had been a recent efforts to re-introduce the history and culture of Ainu to the people of Hokkaido.
To keep things simple for myself and my children to understand, through the years of turmoil after the Kono family's downfall,
there was a shogunate that came in to expand the colony to the eastern parts of Hokkaido.
And there was the famous merchant who came and established the trading post here.
And during the Meiji period, the Hakodate government became the centre of administration for the rest of Hokkaido and it was here that the American trading ships first arrive to set up their post started doing trading with the Japanese.
Of course, following closely the Europeans came and set up their Embassies and Churches, and European-style houses here in Hakodate.
That is why there was a saying that Hakodate is the most European-like city in the whole Japan.

Continuing our walk...

Looking back, I felt that in order to really explore the whole historical district, it would have been better to visit during the non-winter seasons
as it would be easier to walk around and the daylight hours would have been longer.
But anyway, during winter the whole area presented itself in a very different light which again more than made up for the lost of other opportunities.

Here we were, at the Jetty marked B. a distance after we turned in.
I remember distinctly, it was still snowing quite a fair bit here, and right after this point as we continued our journey, the snow got even heavier...

Admiring the jetty...

... and what? The General complained of cold? Again?

Fascinatingly, the houses all over this district were all like this.
Neo-Victorian style in design.
And at that point, the whole place was literally like a dead town, not many pedestrians, hardly any vehicles...
Only a few crazy Singaporeans braving the snow. 笑的! (Siao one!)

Again and again, we peered to our left as we trudge through the snow-lined pavements and took in the sights of sloping roads.

Another junction, and we finally arrived at the Motoi-Saka Dori 基板通, the main road leading up to the Old Public Hall of Hakodate.

"This certainly feels like that famous steep Lombard Street of San Francisco." remarked the Grandfather.

I agree whole-heartedly... hehe, only thing is, I have never been to Lombard Street... Hahaha...!
At the junction, the old folks walked by a green building. I turned my head to look as the passed by, and was impressed that this was one of the famous buildings mentioned to death in the Chinese Guide Book. Those who have read the Guide book would probably see this building's picture again and again.
Apparently this house (or building) was built by a very rich trader and was named after the company called 相马(株).
More of its significance unfortunately escaped me at that point in time.
Leaving me with little else to do than to take a snap shot of the old folks with the 相马(株) house. Hehe...

(Too much contrast in the snowy land. I started using my flash with this series of photos.)

Walking further up Motoi-Saka Dori 基板通....

... and coming to this junction here...

(This one also taken with flash.)

Hakodate - The Historical District

* Motomachi Park 元町公园
* The Museum of Photography History 涵馆市写生历史馆
* The Old Public Hall of the Hakodate Ward 旧涵馆区公会堂
* The British Consulate
* ... and more...!

Truth to be told, there are many many more sights than what was listed up there.
There was the old cemeteries, the Orthodox Russian Church, and more and more...
But one look around the whole place all coated in snow, my heart sank and I knew that there was only a limited number of places that we could walk to.

"Never mind lah," I told myself. "It has to be like that in Winter. All the snow and cold are there to be viewed and enjoyed."
"We will certainly not be able to complete the whole circuit. Just the important ones will do."
So up the slope we climbed.

Well, certainly there was something magical about this Hakodate Mountain for whenever we neared its foot, there was always more snow.

Among all of us, the most poor thing was the Grandfather.
Why? Because he was wearing a no-brand parka that wasn't exactly water-proof.
And therefore in the mix of rain and snow at this hour, before long, his parka was all soaked through.
Wah lau eh... I think experiences like this certainly showed us the importance of good winter-wear.
Good Base-layers (long johns), good middle layer (fleece or down) that can wick sweat, and a good Outer Shell layer that is breathable and water-proof.
Not to mention a good pair of wind-stopping and relatively water-proof gloves.
But there was never a single pair of gloves that can do everything.
Thus each of us had two pairs of gloves. One for general purpose warm-keeping and wind-stopping.
And another pair for playing with snow!

Talking about playing with snow.. I think none of us was as enthusiastic as our AhLiXMM for she would be the very first one to dive right into a thick field of perfect and untouched snow upon first sight!

 The Motomachi Park 元町公园

These two fellows appeared to be tired.
Strange, why? The day wasn't over yet...
I look at the way the 姐姐 (elder sister)walked... she was literally bending forward walking up the gentle slope! Haha...
Must be too much snow already lah... Too thick already lah.. no?

(Shot taken with flash. That is why the snow flakes in the foreground were more obvious.)

Some record shots of the Park...
Here the Grandfather was almost soaked through... almost, except for some remaining areas still a little dry... Poor Old General..! Haha...

(Shot taken with flash. Because with the snowy background, contrast was too high. Thus needed to overcome that with some fill-in.)

Walking up the Park, we came to the first building that I was longing to see.
The Museum of Photography History.

Here is SereneXMM at the edge of the Park with the Museum behind her.

(Again, with flash.)

The Museum of Photography History 涵馆市写生历史馆

To all my beloved friends of photography out there.
I must make a confession.
All the while as I was planning the trip, I have wanted to visit these old historical buildings and to see what they had inside.
But when on the ground and under intense fire, sometimes the well-intentioned plan goes askew.
Exactly like what happened here.
I only saw the museum from outside.
And as the old Mrs General was KB KB-ing cold lah, dark alreay lah, snowing lah... what-not-lah, the initial assault plan was abandoned.
Maybe there would be a next time for me... maybe...
But for all of you who would be going there in the future, please do give its interior a visit, for my sake for my sake... haha!

My only consolation was I thought there was a nice angle of this old historical Museum from the slope just above it.
And especially in winter, the bare tree and the white, glistening snow on the ground did lend it a feeling of remoteness.

The Old Public Hall of the Hakodate Ward 旧涵馆区公会堂
Here was the plate right at the entrance to this old building.

Looking a little lonely up here on its own slice of land, I was sure the Old Public Hall had seen better days.
Unfortunately, I knew not enough history of the Hakodate of old to fully appreciate the significance of this lovely architecture in blue.
Otherwise I would have understood where it stood better, and also would have been able to recall stories of its days of Glory.

Similarly, this tree must have seen its own share of better (or who knows, even worse days of turmoil?) days and weather...

The only reason why yours truly wasn't in the picture was that the one single picture where I was within, was taken by the old General and that picture really could not make it. Haha...
So I had to sacrifice myself and use this group photo instead...
But also, I took this opportunity to expound the importance of good, water-proof outer shell, as it could be clearly seen that by now,
the Grandfather's outer layer was all soaked through.
Poor old Grandfather.
Luckily his middle layer and base layer held fast.

Seeing another group of Singaporeans...

It was very interesting.
Because it was over here at Hakodate and right up here on the hill just in front of the Old Public Hall, that we saw
a second group of Singaporeans gazing up at the blue building right in front of us.
(The first group of Singaporean family we saw was while we were walking on our way to the Tropical Botanic Gardens.)
You can never miss a team of Singaporean.
The way we look, the way we talk, the way we wear our clothes, the air around us... it's unexplainable but it's simply true.

Just a crazy candid shots of the children going absolutely berserk with their snow ball throwing.
The elder sister was holding too huge a snow ball for her to throw ahahaha...

(Clicking on the photo would yield a bigger one.)

Day 5 Evening: Hakodate -
Walking back to the hotel...

It was 4:14pm only.
But the sky was again threatening to shut off all its lights.
What a shame, I thought, as we were only just beginning to warm up to the historical buildings and to enjoy ourselves.
But never mind never mind... there could still be another time.

Walking down the slopes of Motoi-Saka Dori was easier.
And as this was the second night, we roughly had an idea how to walk back the slightly less than 2km distance.
Any initial intent of grabbing a tram was trashed as the children were adamant about walking back.

Here we passed by the Hakodate Literary Association 涵馆市文学馆.

... and ...

... and we saw the tram that we would have otherwise taken had we not decided to walk the full distance...
Here driving along Seibu Loop Route 西部环状线.

And of course, passing by this supermarket which we have frequented over the past two days.
It was called コプさっぽろ (Kopu Sapporo), the English name of which until now I still couldn't make out.
But really, its prices were so reasonable and its female counter staffs so polite, I would be back here in the blink of an eye
should I require any more items.

We made the last left turn up Nijikken-Zaka Dori (二十间坂通), the smaller road besides 海峡通, we were on our final home run to the hotel.

Here is the famous Hakodate Beer that I am sure many of our forum members would have seen in a different light
and a different colour in spring, summer and winter.

We walked pass the Hakodate 明治馆, as we lugged all our barang barang from our shopping (again) from Kopu Sapporo Supermarket.

To brush past the Hakodate Kokusai Hotel 涵馆国际ホテル.
The Christmas light up here was getting more brilliant.

Here as we walked, we heard from the street on the other side nearer the sea, cheers and celebration noises.
Apparently here just before Christmas, there would always be a giant Christmas tree on display right here,
at this part of Hakodate.

"Should we go and watch it? Came so far here already... want to watch it? Yes? No?" The struggle within the tour guide.
But all it took was one look at all the tired faces of the young and old, for the answer to that question to surface naturally.
It's ok. There would always be another time... if it is so fated to be.
And off we continued walking towards our hotel...

Day 5 Evening: Hakodate - Home run to the hotel...

For all the walk, the hunger, the rain, the snow and all the cold, today was another day full of eye openers for this small group of Singaporean.
This road sign basically showed where we had been.
It just seemed unbelievable that the Old Public Hall was only 1.5km away from here.
It certainly felt much further than that.
Well... perhaps when one walked in the snow, the extra burden in slowing one down really made a difference.

Arriving at the doorstep of our hotel the Toyoko Inn Hakodate...
The two ladies just happened to glance at the clock and they were both shocked by the time...
What?! Only 5pm! It felt like 9pm already!!!

[Translation: "Wah... despite all the shopping packets big and small, we managed to reach back to the hotel in the snow.
We should be able to eat in a while's time." remarked the Grandmother.]

At the very least, these few hungry fellows could have their dinner and supper and from the way they were eating,
one couldn't be faulted to think that they were even having their breakfast for the next day!

Another tiring day.
And another wonderful night of restful sleep.

Day 6: Bye Bye, Hakodate... Hello, Noboribetsu 登别!

It was Day 6 already.
And we all woke up to a wet, and snowy Hakodate morning.
The temperature plummeted to a nice and warm (yes, after a while, this would began to feel nice and warm...) negative 3 degree the night before.
But on daybreak, the mercury nudged the zero and we had a good mixture of snow and some rain.

Onsen? Why Noboribetsu?
You all could easily have enjoyed any onsen any where in Hokkaido?

Yupe. That was what a few of my close friends asked.
Indeed. Why Noboribetsu when we could have easily did it in Hakodate or even back in Sapporo?
Well, the fault lies with the Grandmother.
She was the one who insisted on going to Noboribetsu for the one-of-its-kind, most-genuine Hokkaido Onsen.
Well, I couldn't blame her.
Noboribetsu was not called the Onsen town for nothing, and right through the middle of Noboribetsu ran an Onsen Dori 温泉通(Onsen Street) that saw, littered on both sides of the Street, Onsen Hotels, Onsen Ryokans and all of the facilities related to the Onsen industry in this area.
In fact, Noboribetsu was so famous for Onsen that even the local Japanese would take a weekend getaway trip to this scenic little town just for that very purpose.

Geographically, Noboribetsu sat on a bed of hot springs sprouting sulphur steam on a constant stream.
And its very unique location had given its spring water a unrivaled concoction of minerals that far exceled many other areas of Hokkaido.
And thus it came as no surprise that the Onsen facilities in Noboribetsu was one of the best in Hokkaido.

... and so to Noboribetsu we came...

Day 6: Train Ride to Noboribetsu

Even before we arrived at Hokkaido, we had already checked from the JR Train schedule website that the most suitably timed train for us that very morning would depart at 8:15am.
Thus we woke up especially early that morning, gobbled down our breakfast and at 7:30am, took that 10 minutes walk from the hotel to the JR Hakodate Station.
By this time I have learned that to ensure smooth seat allocation, I had to arrive at the train station half an hour earlier and to make a reservation for all of us.
Now one thing about this reservation matter: If we were like any other Japanese buying the one way tickets, making reservation would require paying more on your ticket.
But using the JR Hokkaido Pass meant that everything was included. And it was a privilege for tourists like us to make reservations on the seats so that we knew exactly where each of us sat, and there would be no mad rush searching for seats.
What was more, the very gentle and courteous Station Masters would usually allocate seats together or at least close to each other for the whole family.

On this day, the train trip to Noboribetsu took two and a half hours...

As could be seen, the train was superb. Clean and comfortable.
And one could literally take a deep sleep on one's seat if tired...

Nah... but we were too busy shooting out the window...
... or perhaps shooting our own reflections in the window.. hahah!

The landscape outside was simply spectacular.
Our shots were mostly marred by the snow and water droplets on the window.
Thus, the scenery was best appreciated with the best cameras in the world: our own pair of eyes!

SereneXMM asked me:

"Hey... my landscape shots out of the windows can make it or not?"
"Erm... not too bad lah,"I replied.
"But got a lot of snow and water droplets on the window leh... some more streaks of water marks across the pictures leh.."
"Like that... can use meh, your pictures?"
"Wei... try lah! PP them lor..!"
Insisted the enthusiastic Nex5 photographer.

So, there we have it.
Two of the shots out of the window of a cold, snowy landscape of Hokkaido, by none other than SereneXMM on her beloved Nex5.

Well... can make it or not... we'll have to let our good friends decide lah...

Day 6: Arrival at Noboribetsu 登别

It must be the warmth emitted by the hot springs of Noboribetsu, for when we alighted from the JR Train at the Station, we almost instantly sensed the very special woody smell of the platform.
And the earthly feel of the whole place.

Stepping out of the small little train station brought us to the one and the only bus stop outside.
The rain pelted us from above, and made all things wet, creating puddles after puddles on the ground.
My guide book said we were to walk to the bus stop and take the one single bus for a 15 minutes journey to the Onsen Dori.
Luckily for the guide book, we were able to aga aga find our way around with help from our GPS.
Those who were not so lucky (ahem... referring to the two young and pretty ladies from Beijing who were standing lost beside us) had to really squeeze their brain to decipher the Japanese words on the sign board...

Well... SereneXMM was her usual friendly self.
Before long she struck a conversation with the two nice Beijing ladies and gave them the reassurance that they were on the right track... just by following us!
Wah lau eh... she didn't know how stress that made the humble tour guide! Haha...

At the Onsen Dori Bus Terminal...

You could never be lost here.
The very friendly bus driver ferried us all the way along a nice curvy wurvy road up the slope to a really sleepy little township.
The bus itself was old-fashioned and a little tight.
The passengers on the old fashioned bus were all old and wrinkled Japanese ladies and gentlemen (serious! Not joking!), except of course for ourselves and the two young pretty Beijing ladies.
The bus terminal itself was oldish and small, so as to fit into the whole picture of a small, old, relaxed and sleepy Onsen town of Noboribetsu.

Alighting from the bus, automatically all eyes were upon me.
But this time round, my GPS was well-readied.

"Ok, everyone. Grab your luggage and let's take a nice slow walk up this sloping road. Our hotel is only 500m ahead up north!" This time round I was much more confident. Hey, how could I not be? It had been 6 days already. And my GPS hadn't failed me yet (no major disaster yet!)

Here was that scene right out of the bus terminal...

[Translation: "Crazy weather... siao one lah! Out of nowhere suddenly came rain!" complained the Grandmother.]

Well, we couldn't exactly blame her for saying that.
Because over the past 5 days, we had cold and snowy weather with lots of snow.
But once we arrived at Noboribetsu, all these snow seemed to have melted into rain as they floated close to the ground level.
Deep inside me, I half-explained to myself that the heat generated from the ground must have met the snow flakes half way up the sky to gave us not snow, but rain here at Noboribetsu Onsen town!

The small little main street up was lined with quaint small souvenir shops... we made a mental note to be here this evening for some shopping...

And the Noboribetsu-ians are such romantic people.
Imagine sitting face to face on these two little stone benches in the shape of foxes, and chit-chatting away in the nice, warm summer breeze.
Of course, right now in the wet wintry weather there would most likely not be any one in their right frame of mind doing just that.

Haha... who else but the most mischievous little AhLi XMM to jump at the opportunity to pose right in front of the 阎罗王 half way up the street!

Walking to our Onsen Hotel:
Dai-ichi Takimotokan 第一滝本館

"Grandma, I am hungry!" said the elder sister.
"Ok Ok, later I will bring you to this Ramen shop to have your favourite Ramen!" replied Grandmother.]

Well, there are Onsen hotels in Noboribetsu, and there are Onsen hotels in Noboribetsu.
But why this particular one, Dai-ichi Takimotokan?
Firstly because my Guide book said so.
Secondly because Tripadvisor.com said so.
Thirdly because one of our friends recently came back from Noboribetsu said so.
I guess... these are enough reasons for us to want to take the hotel.

Walking through the main doors of the Dai-ichi Takimotokan, we were met by a team of very courteous and well-dressed female staff on each side of the door bowing to us.
Wow... what a hotel.

Some history of Dai-ichi Takimotokan

The story goes this way: In the year 1858, there was a man called Takimoto who brought his wife to a hot spring just next to the Jigokudani (Hell Valley 地狱谷) for she suffered from skin disease.
After soaking in the mineralised spring waters, her skin disease was cured. And the man built the first onsen ryokan (hotspring hotel) which finally became Dai-ichi Takimotokan at this current location.
Well, so much for the romantic story... we'll see what the onsen would do for me that afternoon... later...

Just so as to be objective, the main reason why we decided to take this largest Onsen Hotel in Noboribetsu was simply because it had 30 different hot spring baths in it, with both indoor and outdoor onsen, and what was more, several of these onsens where opened 24 hours!
Now that was what I call great onsen facilities!
For those family who had children and teenagers, this onsen was also very family friendly for it had swimming pools and wading pools for the children to play in while the adults soaked in the onsen.
One thing about Onsen in Japan was, there seemed to be some kind of ruling that children younger than 12 years of age were not allowed in the adult onsens.
But interestingly enough, our AhLi XMM was not asked to leave when she waded into the onsen and was able to enjoy herself to the fullest!

Jigokudani - Hell Valley 地狱谷

Will take a breather here to PP and arrange some more photos before continuing on our next section....

Thank you for coming on board our thread and do feel free to leave your comments.

Wait... we forgot about lunch..
The 姐姐 (elder sister) was hungry... 

We were walking half way to the Jigokudani (Hell Valley) already when we suddenly remembered the elder sister was hungry.
So we made a U-turn, back-tracked to the little Ramen store just before the hotel...

The chef was the typical across the counter type.
Well, he was dedicated in his job, that was for sure.
But the wrinkled old lady manning the shop was a tad less enthusiastic.
Well, slightly less enthusiastic than the usual ramen shop staff whom we were so used to over the past 5 days... hahaha..

Well... the Ramen was... Ok lah... so so lah...
To make up for it, we ordered my favourite sake as up till now I have not really had too many bottles of sake while in Japan for the sake of keeping alert while on the job mah...

Haha... don't mean to complain.
In fact, nothing to complain about. Honestly, in Hokkaido, everything was World Class... sincerely. And so often, we looked back at the service that was provided to us here in Hokkaido and wonder with a sense of regret why we in Singapore back at home couldn't provide a level of service that was equally good.
Being philosophical about it merely brought up all the various combinations and permutations on the factors contributing to this undeniable fact that the Japanese were just that good.
But until we all back home reached that level, I guess we could never explain why... not yet.

... kena stuck at the Souvenir shop... 

Again, as so very often while travelling, we found ourselves walking past a very nice little souvenir shop on our way back up to the Hell Valley and guess what?
Yupe... we kena stuck there for a short while...

But ok lah... that was what Free and Easy was all about, right?
You were Free to roam and Free to drag your time.
And you were Free to make it Easy for yourselves, but not so Easy for the tour guide lor... hehehe...

Still, it was a good stop, for the Grandparents found what they had been looking for for the longest time - their favourite Japanese chopsticks!

[Translation: "Ei! This is the Japanese chopstick that we have been looking for!" exclaimed the Grandfather.]

Now the following was a true story...

The big brother had a couple of Prague Crown coins in his pocket from his recent trip and he actually mistakenly passed one 500 Crown to the Japanese store-keeper, thinking that it was a 500yen coin.
It was after a while later that the store keeper ran out with the Prague coin laughing!
I think the 500 Crown was most probably worth slightly lesser than the 500yen!
Luckily she never lost money due to his mistake! Hahaha...

Finally, Jigokudani the Hell Valley 地狱谷.

Now, I am sure many of us here in the forum who have been to Jugokudani before would be very familiar with the road leading up to its entrance.
And you all would also remember seeing these two giant statues who were the protective deities flanking the one single shrine which had been erected there since 1000 years ago.
The original statues had been replaced with these two newer ones and the wrathful appearance apparently only worked for devils and evil beings... they didn't work for these children! Hahaha...

See.. the young man even held up his hand-made wooden revolver against the deity. Goodness!

And here.. did we see some signs of fear on the girls' faces?!
Not really....

Jigokudani & the Onsen Hotels

A few may wonder what this Hell Valley place is.
Jigokudani is essentially and literally a valley of volcanic activities with streams of hot spring, sulphurous steam vents leading deep down the crust, and the constant supply of hot spring water to the onsen industry around Noboribetsu's famed Onsen Street.
Many Onsen hotels (mega ones) and Onsen Ryokan (small ones) have sprung up around the springs.
Visitors are spoilt for choices indeed, and those who come with family and children would usually find themselves staying in the bigger ones with more choices of facilities, while the couple there for a romantic get-away would usually bunk into the small, but more personalised Ryokans that served no less magnificent traditional Japanese meals.

Initially I was also planning to book a small family-run Ryokan for the more personalised service but after some consideration, decided not to for the following reasons:

  • this is the first time we were there. And I think it would probably be better to play it safe to go with the bigger boys for this time.
  • the bigger onsen hotel offered us buffet style breakfast and buffet style dinner with, I heard, plenty of crabs and Japanese food... we all liked the sound of that.
  • we also managed to get two big Japanese-style rooms, sleeping on tatami-ed floors which, I thought, would be quite an experience for the children.
  • and... with food and stay and all the onsen you can use, for all 7 of us, it came up to 105,000yen (S$1650) per night. For the experience, it was certainly worth while!

地獄谷 (地狱谷)

When I searched ClubSNAP for pictures of Hokkaido, I have come across many many photos of Jigokudani by all the very established photographers here on the forum.
And as I viewed their works I began to, not only be humbled by the quality of their photographs, but also to discover that Jigokudani presented itself with very different colours during different seasons of the year.

In autumn, the foliage would be a roaring mixture of multitudes of colours.
And now, as we wandered into its belly in the depth of winter, it displayed its yellow on a background of streaks of snowy white.

Some review had mentioned that Jigokudani could be done in half and hour to one hour's time. But I beg to differ. The wonderful thing about Jigokudani was, one could take a good nice nature walk in any of the several trails, and each trail could take anything from 15 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how much time one took to appreciate its surrounding beauty.
Here, during winter, some of the trails were not accessible. And several were piled with slippery ice... and we happened to be walking along one of these.

Here, a mere record shot of the steam arising from the depth of the valley... a composite of two photos taken by SereneXMM.

... and stopping to appreciate the wonders of Nature...

This was another one of the many record shots of the beautiful valley.
The only difference between this record shot and the many other record shots was the presence of ourselves! Haha... here we could just make out the three children and I walking along the trail, giving some perspective to the whole landscape - of course, another shot by SereneXMM.

Walking down to view the Medicine Buddha Shrine やくしゆにゆらい 药师如来

Not far from the top of the vantage point, we came to a small little out-pouching on the right side. Walking down brought us to a very interesting small little shrine at the edge.

It was the shrine dedicated to the Medicine Buddha. Apparently the history goes that there was a scholar who's Mother eye disease was cured by washing with the spring water, and as a gesture of gratitude, he built the shrine here in respect of the Medicine Buddha.

Haha... the girls were up to their mischievous no goods again..!

Huh??!! You see fish, AhLi XMM??!!! You are talking nonsense!
Must be all the fumes... you suffering from sulphur poisoning, my dear girl?!

Looking afar, we could see this small little landmark, a milestone of some sort.
Apart from the two lower words which meant 'Hell', I couldn't make the H*ll out of what the topmost word was...

The Bubbling hot spring source..

Any one walking along the main trail of the Valley would eventually arrive at this boardwalk which led straight to the belly of the valley where there was a tiny little fenced-up enclosure.

Right in the middle was a most interesting sight. A bubbling spring!

All of us surrounded the source and stared in sheer amazement as it spewed boiling water and heavy, pungent, odiferous steam!

Well, I believe if I were to sprinkle a little of this water onto the children, their disease of mischief would certainly be cured. Too bad I couldn't reach deep enough for some of the magical potion.. haha...
Maybe if I asked around... I might find some of the souvenir shops selling these in bottles...

Enjoying the Boardwalk...

I could say that we were all enjoying the Boardwalk, each in our own special way...
The elder sister in her own anti-fume fashion...

The Grandfather seemingly lost in his own reverie... in the deep comfort of his very own set of anti-fume mask...

... Here was yet another very difficult-to-capture shot, again taken by SereneXMM.. hehehe...

It is amazing that in such a warm environment infused with the mist of suphuric spring water, permeated with the unmistakable smell of eggs at the wrong end of their expiry dates, one could still find snow flakes upon rocks...

Again by SereneXMM...

Walking the Trails of Jigokudani

(by SereneXMM on the Nex5)

Honestly, not one of us knew what to expect at the Hell Valley.
Yes, we knew we were going to see lots of steam, stream, wooden beams and such.
But how it was going to be like inside the valley and how to go about walking there we were all ignorant of.
The big brother was leading the way this time.

"Papa, which way to turn now?" He asked, when he came to a divide in front.
"Aaah... the right trail looked too long and too far already. It says here it would take one hour to walk. I replied. "We'll take the shorter left side trail."
Luckily we did that. For it was later that we understood why in winter some of the trails were not passable - because of the slippery ice on the tracks.

Here, there was already initial tell-tale signs of slippery track, as the sister looked back with disbelief in our choice of road.

Here, the photo shown below, was our last respite before the downhill walk... and it happened that at this point in time, the snow got heavier, and to my inexperience eyes and senses, it felt like there was both snow and rain at the same time.
Could that really be so? Snow and rain simultaneously?
I really don't know. I'm a total newbie. And I gladly await any of our experienced CS members to enlighten me in this.

To those who were experienced in all things Winter, we could already see that the ground was pretty pretty slippery.. haha...

Well... now the snow and rain gotten heavy enough, to the extent that even the gung-ho big brother scrambled to put on his outer-wear!
Haha... cannot be too hero in the snow lah...

(by SereneXMM on the Nex5)

Happy in the thought that we were on our way back to the hotel to a nice, warm soak in the onsen, the family marched on...

Downhill all the way... on a rope...

What came right after was really fun.
It reminded us of long time ago when we had The Big Splash in East Coast Parkway where every one just slided down full speed ahead.
Only thing is here, there was some kind-hearted Japanese soul who stringed a series of ropes on some trees to prevent free-fall.
This was the one time when we realised that even the Shoe Stoppers didn't help that much... the inclination of the slope and the melted ice was the perfect formula for some sore bums!

It was so fun that even when SereneXMM looked at her photos with all the motion blur and realised that all CMI, she couldn't stop laughing and laughing...
... all while being drenched totally wet in rain and snow.
Luckily hers was Gortex material.
So she was perfectly dry inside...

What a walk it was!

But as always, we made it back to the shed at the bottom of the hill laughing our stomachs out.
Even the Grandparents were having a swell time.
Who could've imagined 'skating' on the snow to be so much fun?!

AhLi XMM giving the Grandfather a consolation hug...

And a reciprocal pat on the shoulder from the Grandfather...

... and as I looked up and held up my camera, ready for the next shot, the Golden light of the sun suddenly came streaming through the snow and rain.
And in that instance, we were all basked in the warmth and the laughter of this most magical moment.

And my finger did what it knew best on the shutter button.
Even now as I looked at this picture and I thought back about that moment, I could still feel a sense of happiness as the emotion welled up inside me.
This, my friends, was another one of those record shots that, though technically flawed and seemingly ordinary from the surface, was still of such significance to me, for what it represented deep inside was so very meaningful.

The Onsen Hotel

To all our good friends here in the forum who have not slept on a tatami before, it was quite an experience, especially here in the (almost) authentic setting.

We have never stayed in a Japanese style room ever before.
So it was quite a novelty to do so. So much more apparent in the children...

For us, the initial strange feeling as we struggled to dress ourselves up in Kimono soon gave way to a feeling of disbelief as we saw our own reflection.
This Japanese-looking father tried to act chauvinistically-macho in the Japanese style...

... and I think he did look quite the part..

The Soak in the Onsen

Excited about the Onsen... so much so that the excitement could even be seen on their faces...

Now for those of us who are so keen in going into the Onsen, yet in the typical Singapore way, very very shy about donning our birthday suits, the answer is:
Fret not, for at the end of the day one would be numb to the (supposed) initial embarrassment.
There was no other way out. Either you step in naked, or you don't go in at all.
It was so simple.
So what to do... all of us just did the unthinkable lor...

It was not without some trepidation that we all walked Kimono-ed from our rooms to the Grand Onsen, after negotiating a maze of escalators and lifts.
As always, the Onsen rules were:

  • Men and Women would be separated, at least in this Hotel.
  • Children below the age of 12 years old were not permitted in the Onsen for adults, unless they slipped through unnoticed.
  • You would have to walk into the Onsen stark naked with only one single small piece of towel covering your vital points.
  • And it was considered important to sit on a stool of the public bath to bathe and at least towel yourself clean before entering the onsen.
  • And it was considered rude to splash water around while bathing, to jump into the onsen instead of walking in, and to let your towel dangle in the water for it would be already 'unclean'.
  • No photography allowed... Sigh... so that is why I had no shots of the beautiful onsen.

My Dream came true - the Onsen Soak in the Snow...

Even before arriving in Hokkaido, I was dreaming every day of soaking in the outdoor Onsen in the snow.

The Dai-ichi Takimotokan Onsens were truly magnificent. There were so many types to choose from and of various types of temperature and mineral contents.
We could vaguely make out what they were from the Kanji (Chinese words) used to label each Onsen.
Well, I must say it was the first time that the Grandfather, the Father and the Son saw each other in the nude. Was pretty hard initially trying to look away from each other.
But soon, the embarrassment was forgotten as we got very engaged in the soak.

There were a few most unforgettable few Onsen, to me.

  • One was the one where we sat facing a huge ceiling to floor glass panel spanning the whole wall, giving us a panoramic view of the whole Jigokudani with the steam rising in the distance. We could even see visitors walking along the trails far away...
  • The other one was the Outdoor Onsen. This was our favourite. It was darn cold outside, especially when we walked through the automatic sliding door and 'Poomp!' the cold air hit us smack right in the face and in our naked body. We had to resist the urge to run right back into the warmth of the indoor and bravely stepped into the onsen. But from there on, it was smooth sailing all the way.


I was sitting there in the outdoor Onsen in the evening as the sky darkened around me.
Out of nowhere, I could feel droplets of coldness on my shoulder and face.
I opened my eyes and saw, for the first time in my life, flakes after flakes of white snow floating down from high up in the sky, making their way gently earthwards.
Just before the snow hit the water, the rising steam would meet the flakes, transform them into water droplets before letting them hit the surface of the pond...
Such a magical moment.

I simply threw all the cares away and lifted my head up... and let the snow fall upon my face again and again and again...
I'd never forget this experience.
And I would wish, in all sincerity, that all my fellow friends would be able to behold this wonderful sight when you all next arrive in Hokkaido for your Onsen.

The old folks were so impressed with the Onsen that they vow to take another Onsen trip in the year to come...

[Translation: "My face feel so smooth and soft after the soak!" said the Grandfather.]

... and from the look on everyone's face, we could certainly tell that it had been a remarkable highlight of the trip...
And one more thing... we have never in our lives seen ourselves all so... so... 'Japanese'! It was a strange feeling...

Buffet Dinner at the Onsen Hotel

People have commented time and again that the Buffet Breakfast and Buffet Dinner that came as part of the S$236 per person per night Onsen Package was one of the best meals that one could get.
I would honestly say that in terms of quantity, there was no question about it.
In terms of quality, well, the variety was certainly there and in good amount.
Just that certain items could have been better.
But then again, for approximately S$50 per person, and coupled with the fact that we were dining in Japan, I would say it was well worth the money!

Very cute, one of the waiters advised us to display this to show them that we have started eating and we were still at it... haha...

Now, I was very sure that few other places in Hokkaido let one enjoy so much free-flow of Hokkaido crab buffet style...

And not to forget our favourite sashimi...

and shellfish...

and desserts..

(this one by SereneXMM with NEX5.)

Day 6: An Evening Stroll down Snowy Noboribetsu Onsen Street...

It became customary to take the almost mandatory post-dinner evening stroll along the main road down the hotel.
There were quite a few small souvenir shops, as we had discovered earlier on in the day. And Noboribetsu Onsen Dori (Onsen Street) being a very small town, was certainly very easily accessible on foot.

We were glad that we actually did grab a few umbrellas from the hotel front desk for it started snowing again soon after we stepped out.

... and the snow just got heavier and heavier. It was really very very fun walking in this way. Fancy a bunch of Singaporeans who were so used to walking in the rain under umbrellas, now instead were walking in the snow under the umbrellas!

I could never get enough of the delightful old-fashioned street lamps in snow...

Time to call it a day...

It was getting quite late.
And all of us had a long, tiring but again, eventful day.
We just had a few more items to purchase from the souvenir shops before we called it a day and retire back to the Onsen hotel for a nice sleep in the tatamis...

A last splatter of snow flakes...

... and a last few shots of the night scene in snow... even my lens did enjoy several droplets of the snow, as apparent from the flares on the photo... hehehe...

Soon... we were all changed into our comfortable kimono and were lying soundly asleep in the warm quilt of the tatami... Honestly, the tatami wasn't bad at all for sleeping....

Day 7: Bye Bye Noboribetsu, Hello Sapporo...

As much as we wanted to stay, we had to leave early the next morning.
The JR Train journey from Noboribetsu to Sapporo was about an hour and a half.
There was a special hotel-chartered bus from Dai-ichi Takimotokan to Sapporo at 10am. But we were too late to book this, for we should have booked even way before arriving at Noboribetsu.
It happened that on this day, this special bus was fully taken. Not surprising for it was only 500yen per person, way way cheaper than the other alternative way of taking a 330yen bus to the JR Station followed by another 3000yen JR train back to Sapporo.
Well... but that's just life.
You can't get the best every time.

Then again, it was times like these when I thought to myself, how nice it would be if we had been on a guided tour and need not have to worry about taking bus or train or whatever lah...

Here... walking out from the hotel and saying bye bye...

... not even 10 steps away from the Hotel, and already missing it... hehehe...

As we walked along enjoying the cool, crisp air of the early morning, the beautiful golden light of the morning sun gave everything a cloak of yellow...

Noboribetsu Onsen Dori Bus Terminal

Walked 500m back to the Bus terminal to catch the old, green bus to the JR Station.
Hmmm... all these buses were driven by aged, elderly bus drivers.
But they were all very friendly.
We communicated with them literally via writing on pieces of paper and they will write back the exact fees we had to pay.

In the bright morning sunlight, we found a nice row of chairs to sit down and enjoy the scene while we waited for our bus...

Time to take out the souvenirs to enjoy them...

And to complain some more...

Actually, what the young man said was very true.
There was a famous zoo where one could feed bears and see penguins.
Some reviews online expressed disgust at the zoo saying that the bears were simply cooped up in their habitat and so sluggish that there was hardly anything interesting to see.
But other sites gave raving reviews of the zoo.
Too bad, we could not verify for ourselves. Perhaps if we have another chance to come to Noboribetsu, we would finally be able to give this destination a visit...

A view just before we leave the bus terminal...

Finally... on the bus to the Station...

[Translation: "Later on it's going to be another one and a half hour train journey," thought the Grandfather.]

Day 7: JR Train from Noboribetsu 登别 back to Sapporo 札幌

The last little wait at the Noboribetsu train station..

... and our trip back...

Thus, it was with the final run of the JR Train journey from Noboribetsu to Sapporo that we have come one big round back to where we started.

Sapporo: In search of the elusive...
IRORI RAMEN 爐拉面 (いろりラメン)...

Our trip was coming to an end.
But on this second last day of our vacation, there was a very important mission.
We were on the quest for that hard-to-find Ramen shop that the Grandmother read soooo much about from her research from her guide books... The Irori Ramen shop.

[Translation: "We are going to look for a ramen shop, one that I heard is very hard to find..." said the Grandmother]
I had to search the internet to find the exact GPS coordinate of this shop.
Apparently this shop was located in the basement of an office building, a bank building or something like that.

What it was famous for was this Special Dark Soy Sauce Ramen.
For that purpose my Garmin was put to its task again... and (luckily for me) it didn't fail in its job!

We finally found it, about 1 km walk from the JR Sapporo Station...

... and the old, wrinkled lady here was one of the MOST courteous and MOST hospitable Ramen old lady!
She kept serving us soya sauce, cold drinks and was smiling and bowing from beginning to end...

Honestly, I found the Char Siew Ramen here one of the tastiest in Hokkaido.

... and here, its prized dish - the Special Soya Ramen at 1050 yen...
I would say, in my personal opinion, this is the BEST ramen I have tasted on the whole Hokkaido trip!
Well worth walking and looking for this shop!

最后一天,我们带着依依不舍的心情从新千岁机场转机至北京,再从北京飞回新加坡。在这短短的几天内,我们深 深地感受到日本人的殷勤,日本人的礼貌,日本社会的条理。令我再次脱口而出:“日本这个国家, 真的是 WORLD CLASS!” 。这次的自行旅游,太过难忘了!我们大家都在心里暗暗地决定,来年,或是未来有任何机会,我们一定要回到日 本来游玩。

The Tsunami
On 11 March 2011, at GMT 0546Hrs, a massive earthquake measuring a scale of 9.0 struck the bed of the sea 400km north-east of Tokyo. This sent a gigantic Tsunami racing across the eastern coast of Japan, with waves measuring as high as 10m. The wall of sea water destroyed bridges, milliions of homes and many installations in major cities like Sendai and Fukushima. More than 20,000 Japanese people perished in this disaster, as even more suffered, stranded in far-out areas, in the wintry cold weather with little food and water, and with no electricity supply.

But what left an even more longer-lasting impact, was the massive damage done to Nuclear Reactors in the Fukushima nuclear plants. This resulted in the melt down of at least one of these several plants, despite extensive emergency measures taken by the Authorities.
Sadly, together with the physical and environmental damages, came the economical repercussion. Scores of travellers stayed away from Japan, including Hokkaido, and tourism was greatly affected.

But after seeing the way the Japanese people work and the way they live their lives, I believe sincerely that Japan as a society and as a country will bounce back from this major disaster in time to come. And I am equally confident that as a hard-working and organised people, the Japanese will rise to the occasion.

And Japan will certainly see us setting foot on her soil again.