Archive for July 2019

2019 Summer Trip to Hokkaido   Leave a comment

I usually go to Japan in the spring and the fall. But this year, domestic trips took up the entire spring season, so I decided to go to Japan in July. The only place to travel to in July is Hokkaido, because the rest of Japan is muggy, humid, and hot. My friend, Kendra had gone to Hakodate, and I had not been there on my trip to Hokkaido 2 summers ago. So this time, I wanted to include Hakodate in my trip. I invited Valerie to be my roommate and Marcus and Linda from Kansas City to join us for their first trip to Japan. So I planned this 10-day trip for the four of us, starting in Chitose near the airport to Lake Toya, to Hakodate and finally to Sapporo. We ordered our rail passes and our pocket wifi from the JR website. I made all the hotel reservations near train stations.
We all arrived at Chitose airport in the evening, so we stayed overnight near the train station. The next morning, we traded our rail pass vouchers for our rail passes and made seat reservations to Lake Toya. The hotel provided a shuttle to pick us up at the station and the driver took us through the mountains on a scenic route. We got to our hotel, checked in, and since our afternoon was free before dinner, we took a lovely, leisurely walk along the lake front. There were sculptures and lake tour boats to enjoy along the way, with flowers and trees and benches. We went back to prepare for dinner in our kimonos. After dinner we went out to the lake to watch the nightly fireworks show. Then back to our hotel for our refreshing onsen baths.

Dinner at our Lake Toya ryokan. Many small dishes!

After breakfast the next morning, I did another quickie onsen bath before we checked out and took the shuttle back to the train station for our 2-hour ride to Hakodate.

Selfie on the train.

Our Sheraton Hotel was right next to the station. We stayed there for 3 nights and every morning we went across the street to the Hakodate Morning Market for fresh seafood breakfast! They had many choices of delicious seafood. On our first afternoon, we decided to look for some famous Hokkaido soft serve ice cream. The next day we toured around the city: we went to a star-shaped fort called Goryokaku, ate hamburgers for lunch at Lucky Perriot, and went to Motomachi-the European district where we had tea at the British Consulate and saw the Russian Orthodox church.

Goryokaku Fort

That evening, we took the ropeway up to Mount Hakodate for the view of the city at sunset and at night. It was very cold up there.

Hakodate city from Mount Hakodate in late afternoon

Hakodate city at night from Mount Hakodate

On our second day, we took a bus out to a small tropical botanical garden in a glass building. Then Val and I went to Yunokawa Onsen, while Marcus and Linda went to the Red Brick shopping area. It was only $10 for us to enjoy the lovely onsen and then beautiful 100-year-old garden near the lobby. Hakodate has several locations of Snaffles, where we got their heavenly, light & delicious mini cheesecakes. It was our favorite treat of the entire trip!

Lovely 100-year-old garden


We took a 4-hour train ride to Sapporo and checked in to the Nest Hotel, located between the train station and Odori Park. Great location!

Train ride to Sapporo

The first thing we did after checking in was to look for Zoff eyeglass shop. We found the closest one back at the train station underground mall.

New glasses for these 3, ready in 45 minutes!

For 3 nights, we had dinner at the Bic building where on the 10th floor are many restaurants, including a ramen hall with several ramen shops. I was so excited to find Tonkatsu Tamafuji, that we had to eat there. I had never eaten at the one in Kapahulu, because of the hours-long wait.

We took a day trip to see the Tomita lavender farm, the blue pond and the Shikisai Hills flower farm. Although I had done these things 2 years ago, I didn’t want my friends to miss these. We were lucky because Yumi from Tokyo booked a private car w/English speaking driver who drove us around all day!

Tomita Lavender Farm

Shikisai Hills flower farm

The next day we took the train to Otaru, where we walked, shopped and ate our way around town. Val and I took a cab to Kim Glass Design where we tried our hand at blowing glass, making our own drinking glasses. It rained in the afternoon, the only rainy day of our entire trip!

Kim Glass Design

Our last full day in Sapporo, we walked to Odori Park, where we were lucky to come across a jazz festival there! Then we went to Nijo Fish market and went shopping at Daiso, Don Quixote and in the shopping malls on street level and below street level where there are mazes of shopping.

Notice the road repair gates with Hello Kitty.

The fabulous food! Of course, everywhere we went there was soft serve ice cream; Melon flavor, chocolate, lavender and more! Also, every city seems to have their own version of light and fluffy cheesecake. The seafood in Hokkaido can’t be beat for freshness and flavor. I’ve never had crab leg tempura until Hakodate. Peaches, melons, grapes, ramen, soup curry, tonkatsu, and ikura were all amazing!

Tonkatsu Tamafuji

Miso ramen, so yummy!

Juicy, sweet peach!

Crab tempura.

Fresh scallop on the grill

Melon soft serve

Lari’s Top Seven: (because I had done some things 2 years ago)
7: Fresh, sweet peach -with juice dripping down your chin
6: Tonkatsu Tamafuji (although Honolulu has one, I never went there)
5: Snaffles cheesecakes in Hakodate
4: Yunokawa Onsen and garden
3: Lake Toya
2: Hakodate Morning Market
1: King Crab and scallop cooked on the fire at Sapporo Nijo Market

Valerie’s Top Ten:
10: Hakodate Fish Market: Kani Tempura breakfast every morning with fresh fruit (preferably $40 grapes! 😂) Cantaloupe and Apples
9: 7-11: Morning coffee, Seaweed Musubi, Onzen (?), and snacks galore – wanted to buy them all!
8: Lake Toya: Enjoyed walking along the Lake’s pathway on that beautiful sunny day taking photographs of the activity, the scenery, the boats, and one another. One regret was not taking the boat to the four islands in the center of the lake.
7: The Blue Pond: Although man-made, the color is beautiful and mystifying. It was hard to leave.
6: Furano: Tomita Farms – The Lavender fields were beautiful; however, the lavender ice cream was remarkable!
5: Shikisai flower Farm – Amazed by the colors and designs created by the method in which the farmers planted their flower beds. Breathtaking!
4: Rooftop Yunokawa Onsen and 100 year old garden: In the garden, all the plantings were perfectly placed around the koi pond. What a wonderful place to find yourself or to become centered.
3: Sculptures: They were all so beautiful and they were everywhere! In public streets, in the park, the fish market… wish I could read Japanese! I’m sure each one had a story.
2: Glass Blowing with Kim: What a hoot, so much fun! The staff were so helpful, no stress! End product was gorgeous… to mine eyes!
1: And last, but not least, I loved the Ropeway Tower and Gorytaku Park with the temple in the center. I LOVE temples! The surrounding trees were phenomenal… The Historical buildings in Otaru, the Russian Orthodox Church, temples in the surrounding area – all AMAZING!
FOOD AND DESSERT: Given a choice, I would definitely eat dessert before dinner! SNAFFLES, all flavors, is my favorite!

Linda’s Top Ten:

10. Goryo kaku Tower and park, Hakodate

9. Blue pond, beautiful and weird.

8. Nikko in the rain.

7. Nebuta Museum WA-RASSE in Aomori.

6. Toilets!!  They were clean, abundant, and free.  What more could a visitor want??

5. The trains and other forms of public transportation were fantastic, and on time.  Like our experience with the Swiss trains when the clock “clicked” the minute the train moved, clean and comfortable, and unlike the TGV you could see the view out the window.  They could be that fast but were not, and this was good.

4. Lavender and lupine, et al. fields were beautiful and lavender ice cream much to my surprise was yummy!

3. Rice fields trimmed in marigolds.

2. I  loved the social rules (being considerate of your neighbors, not talking on phone in train car, cueing for everything).  The “rules” were frequently explained or printed in English, Chinese, Korean, occasionally in Spanish and German and obeyed.  Soooo, civilized!

1. The Hokkaido “tour” arranged by  Lari and meeting Valerie.  It was great seeing you again, meeting Val, and thank you so much for doing the planning, Lari.  Hokkaido had been on my 2-do list for decades.