Breathtaking Hokkaido

For years, Hokkaido has been on my travel list.  I’ve wanted to put a tick next to this place on my list for yonks.  Years of listening to other people’s stories about how great the place was, and having amazing pictures on various locations in Hokkaido presented to me when I least expected it; I was done being the sitting duck. I needed to take matters in my own hands.  One night, while sitting on the floor in my apartment, I took out my work calendar. I looked at the upcoming two months very carefully. I was looking for something… and within a moment, I concluded that October was the answer I’d been searching for. And whether by fate or not, I received an email from a low cost carrier (LCC) about domestic Japan airfare sale the moment I opened my laptop. In less than an hour, my bank savings account was 24000 yen less, and I’d purchased return flights from Tokyo to Sapporo New Chitose Airport. I was set.  On the second weekend of October (a long 4-day weekend), I was going to fulfill my dream! I was going to Hokkaido once and for all.

This idea to visit Hokkaido and see the flowers in October wasn’t as random or out of the blue as it sounds. Truthfully, it was actually inspired from a chat with my colleague, TF.  TF had recently went on a work trip to Aomori for a student conference. He talked about how great it was. The discussion topic very quickly moved onto how wonderful it would of been if he’d gotten to go to Hokkaido as well. He then proceeded to show me photos of his Hokkaido trip from last year’s autumn season. Clearly, Hokkaido was miles better than Aomori.  Was I jealous? Sure I was! I knew Autumn was coming, hence the 24000 yen decrease from my personal savings account that evening.  My goal in Hokkaido was clear. I wanted to see the flower fields. I’d already heard heaps about the delicious food and dairy products. There was no way I was going to pass up on that. But the flower fields are also famous, and located in the inland areas of Hokkaido. After a bit of chatting with colleagues and digging around travel guide books, my destinations were set. First was Sapporo, next Furano, and than finally Otaru. Considering the factors of time, distance, and cost to get to each location, I decided to book a car for the entire period of my trip to Hokkaido.

The first night, I was in Sapporo.  It was inevitable as I was flying in to New Chitose Airport. My flight was the second last one of the evening with Vanilla Air. Hence, by the time I arrived in Sapporo, it was moments before midnight. I wanted to stay in a decent hotel with a 24-hour front desk – and within walking distance to the rental car center – which meant a hotel located in the central part of town.  Sapporo, that night, was 13 degrees colder than Tokyo. It was only 9 degrees celsius that night. Before getting on the plane, most people were wearing light and semi summer style clothing.  But getting off the plane, people had their light weight jackets and coats ready. Thank goodness for preparation – I had my thermal coat in hand. The subway out to Sapporo city was straight forward enough. My hotel was located around Odori – for which I already had plans to visit again in February 2017 (another story for another time). Before hitting the sack, I did a few checks of my route for the next day to be ready for the road to my next destination.

Destination two was the ultimate reason why I wanted to see Hokkaido in Autumn. I drove roughly three hours out east of Sapporo, and headed towards a town called Biei. Biei is a haven for all nature lovers and city escapers.  Seeing rural Hokkaido presented me with a whole new meaning to the term ‘breathtaking nature’. The words such as beautiful, stunning, amazing, spectacular, astounding – none of these capture the true existence of this town.  It was far away, but absolutely worth all the effort to get there. My time in Biei was filled with endless fields of colourful flowers, and yards of trees and green hills. Each place I went to was a highlight.  I visited the Four Seasons Farm (shikisain no oka), Hokusei no oka, Blue Pond, and more.  Another huge gain from the trip was the amount of delicious local products I got to eat at each stop. There was creamy potato croquette, full cream dairy milk, lavender cheese cake, creamy pumpkin soup, omelette rice – just to name a few.

Shikisain no oka
Shikisain no oka
Shikisain no oka
Shikisain no oka

 

Lucky RainbowClose to Biei – within a 30 minute drove – there is town called Furano. This was the town I stayed overnight in at a local ryokan. In Furano, the Cheese Factory, more flower fields, and Farm Tomita were all on my list of  attractions to visit during the third day of my trip. And it didn’t disappoint. Every place I visited in Furano and Biei was free. I was fully prepared to pay some sort of entrance fee – as I was used to paying to enter into Japanese gardens and various sights around Japan. But with no entrance fees to pay, the only thing one really needs to be concerned about is the weather. The flowers would be beautiful any time except Winter. However, sightseeing on a rainy day wouldn’t be as pleasant either.

Farm Tomita
Farm Tomita

So while I was sitting in a cafe at Farm Tomita, eating a tasty lavender cheese cake and drinking a warm pot of mint tea, I started to wonder about one thing – do people who live here have a care in the world? I mean, to be living in an area that feels so open and free – what is there to be really scared or concerned about? I know it is a stupid way to think. It is naive I admit… and what would a city girl like me know. But sometimes, a little bit of naive thinking isn’t so harmful, is it?  My perfect time in Biei and Furano ended when the weather decided to add a bit of heavy rain with a mix of strong cold wind around the afternoon. Steadily and slowly, I drove back to Sapporo.

I spent that evening exploring Sapporo. This was my only chance to see Sapporo city, as I was headed to a different location before my flight the following day. Surprisingly, I found Sapporo a bit dull. It was indeed a big city, bit that was pretty much it. It wasn’t as exciting as Tokyo – nor as authentic as Kyoto. One thing I do praise about it though is that the food there is divine.I was told to eat at a soup curry place by a work colleague – which certainly didn’t disappoint.  I also ate a lot of seafood – and, again, dairy products. For some reason, dairy products are just amazing in Hokkaido. I dare say it is the best in Japan.

Coming back to seafood, you may wonder if I did eat any of those huge crabs. Sadly, I did not.  I did, thankfully, go and eat similar Tsukiji style market sushi. This took place in my final destination of the trip, Otaru.

Otaru Canal
Otaru Canal

Otaru is located north-west of Sapporo, roughly an hours drive away. Otaru was a suggestion from a colleague of mine. I had no idea what to expect, as I was only told it was a nice place. I didn’t have any chance to research about it either, so I was very much going to this town blind. Otaru turned out to be a bustling city right next to the ocean. Many residences live on hills surrounding the port side. First thing I did once I crossed the toll gates and entered Otaru, was search for a lookout to oversee the view. I was curious whether I would actually find a nice view there… but it turned out to be more than spectacular. The lookout was called the Asahi lookout point.  It was a Sunday morning, quiet, cold, and peaceful. Overlooking the view of Otaru in such conditions was fantastic. I felt like a first class customer at a musical, sitting in the front row where I could not only see the cast up close – but even smell the sweat. The final 5 hours of the day before I had to return the car back to the rental center in Sapporo, was spent exploring Otaru central.

I discovered that Otaru was kind of a touristy place, as I stumbled across the central canal area with the warehouse markets. Lots of souvenir shops and tourists helped me come to this conclusion of course.

Team of Gulls
Team of Gulls

An hour before going back to Sapporo, I drove the car closer to the port side. I watched people do some serious fishing, and also visited a small beach with a huge pack of crows and seagulls just chilling. When I say a huge pack, I am talking about 40 to 50 of them.  What a sight that was.

 

The time to go home came too quickly as always. I returned the car with time to spare, so I walked around the famous Sapporo underground shopping mall. Previously, I said I thought Sapporo was dull. I said that was also because I didn’t see many people, and I mainly spent time on the ground level. After seeing the underground shopping mall, I then knew where all the people were. I didn’t do any shopping though – as I was traveling on limited luggage. And before I knew it, it was time to get on that plane and head back to Tokyo.  I was happy to be back knowing I’d had a fulfilling trip in Hokkaido. There are still so many things I want to do and see there. Next trip will be for the Snow Festival in February. I hope to also see the lavender fields and other beautiful nature sights in summer too. More on the travel list for sure; but first, as always, got to save money to make these dreams come true.

 

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