Hokkaido Christmas cum New Year

18 01 2011

I always love having a white Christmas and counting down in a foreign country. Hence, for 2010 Chirstmas, I decided to spend it in Hokkaido and then joining the Japanese to celebrate their New Year.

Took JAL to Haneda airport and then transit to New Chitose Airport. Dislike JAL as the service is pathetic and I can’t believe that there is no inflight entertainment system on the flight that I took. However, all this grumbling stopped when the plane flew into Hokkaido. From the air, the scenery is beautiful like all things have worn the white wedding gown.

Upon arrival, we drove to Shiraoi Ainu Village, which showcase the Ainu lifestyle. Ainu is the indigenous people living in Hokkaido and looked very differnt from the normal Japanese (and of course their lifestyle is different). After the Ainu village, we drove to Jigokudani or Hell Valley to visit the famous sulphur valley and its sulphurous boiling pond (and of course, this translate into onsen or hot spring). I stayed in the No. 1 Onsen Hotel which is the BEST onsen that we have throughout the trip as the water is really good (sulphurous water). After soaking in the onsen, I had a good Japanese buffet dinner and a good night rest……

After breakfast the next day, I went to the nearby Noboribetsu Date Jidai Mura. This is a beautiful place to take photo, especially where it’s all white and snowing. Passing the gate, it seemed like I have been transported back in time to the Edo period with the town of Edo spreads out before me with trade-mans, warriors, a feudal lord, a princess, mill wheel houses and warriors’ mansions and of course, the famous Samurai and Ninjas. I spent quite a fair bit of time here and had lunch in the eatery just outside the Edo town. The eatery serves food from the Edo period (it’s like the steam basket with Udon and meat). It’s light in taste but very nice, especially since it’s so cold and hence great to eat something hot and steamy.

After lunch, we went to the highlight of the trip – Rusutsu Resort. Before reaching Rusutsu, we stopped for a snow mobile ride. I love riding the snow mobile through the mountains (although it was so cold that I almost got frost bite on my hands but it’s all worth it). In the evening, we reached Rusutsu and guess what, we were upgraded to the suite which normally only VIPs will stay (1 room occupies 2 levels)! We were also given free vouchers for the super nice Japanese dinner which cost around $130+! As usual, after dinner, we went for the hot spring and then wandered around the resort.

The next day, we went snow rafting, snow tubing and skiing on powder snow (one of the few places in the world that has powder snow). A pity though is that dog sledging was fully booked and hence we couldn’t do that.

After spending the day in Rusutsu, we bid farewell and went to Lake Toya, with its beautiful lake and virgin forests surrounding the lake. Before reaching Lake Toya, we stopped by Mt Yotei which looks like Mt Fuji in Central Japan. Afterwhich, we moved on to Mount Showa, an interesting landform that was raised from a farmland after two years of volcanic activities. At Mount Showa, there is also a Bear Ranch where we feed the bears and watch them play and live. It’s a bit sad though to see so many of them being enclosed.

From Lake Toya, we drove to Otaru the next day. The drive was long (around 4-5 hours) as the expressway was closed due to the heavy snowfall and we have to take a detour. Otaru is really a nice town and has an European feel. It is famous for the canal (which is almost the “postcard” photo) and the musical box museum. After Otaru, we drove back to Sapporo on New Year’s Eve. As it is the eve of New Year, most shops are closed except for 1 or 2 ramen store, hence we had ramen for dinner that night at this famous ramen street (the most corner store is the famous one which many celebrities will go). After dinner, we visited the Ishiya Chocoloate Factory which lights up magically when night falls and I felt like I have been transported to a fairytale land. Of course, must buy the chocolates and eat the chocolate cakes from Ishiya. They are really good!

The next day was New Year and we were treated to Sake in the hotel early in the morning. Japan is the best place to spend the New Year. When shops open on New Year’s day, they will be selling this “lucky bag” whereby they will say you pay for example $50 and get say $200 worth of stuff (but you don’t know what exactly are those). Japanese are crazy over this as it symbolises good luck for the whole year if you manage to get really good stuff in the lucky bag. I too bought a few (especially at the factory outlet where branded stuff prices were slashed to the lowest possible) and were happy with them 🙂

Before leaving Hokkaido, other places that I have visted are the Sapporo Nijo Fresh Seafood market (where I bought the famous King Crab), Odori Park, Sapporo TV Tower, Tokeidai Clock Tower. Afterwhich, I took the domestic flight back to Tokyo where I walked around to shop more.

As I have just visited Tokyo not too long ago, I decided to take a day out to visit Yokohama (around an hour plus train ride from Tokyo). Yokohama is a nice city just like Tokyo but of course less crowded. Things are also relatively cheaper and hence I continued with my New Year shopping and Lucky Bags acquiring. One must try in Yokohama is to go to the Chinatown and eat the big Bao (it’s famous there and the queque is really long but really delicious).

Overall, I love Hokkaido and I love Japan. Had a great trip and hopefully will be returning soon for skiing the next winter 🙂

Tips:-

– Do try out the onsen (Japanese hot spring). Most hotels in Hokkaido have onsens in the hotel itself. Make sure you follow the instructions in the onsen (eg must take a bath before soaking in the onsen, no clothing of any sort allowed while soaking in the onsen, etc). The onsens are usually split into male and female sections and its part of the Japanese culture so you don’t have to be embarrassed.

– Do try out the king crab, the long leg crab and the hairy crab. They are expensive but you will not regret it (especially the crab sashimi is so nice!).

– For good shopping bargains, do visit during the New Year season (ie when shops open for the 1st time in the year either on 1st or 2nd January, that’s when you will have huge discounts and fortune bags).

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