Traveling To and Around in Hokkaido

Traveling to Hokkaido has been made relatively easy now with the opening of the Hokkaido Shinkansen since March 2016. It now takes about four and a half hours from Tokyo to Hakodate which is south of Hokkaido. Easy! No scanning of baggage and waiting around for planes.
I have yet to try this out but this is something I am gonna do next time. I took a plane this time because the bullet train is still more costly and also the plane ride takes less than 2 hours.

We bought the JR Hokkaido Pass this time but I definitely felt it was very underused. At 24,000 yen, we probably only used this for 4 or 5 days and wasted 2 days of it. To be honest, Hokkaido is really vast and this pass only allows us to take JR trains and not the bullet trains. We only had 7 days and it really isn’t enough because we spend half the time traveling. Due to my biasness to Biei and Furano, we stayed in Biei for the first 3 nights. We made new friends there and they ended up driving us for Day 2 and Day 3! (Note: we arrived on Day 1 evening) They also drove us all the way to Abashiri which was like about 4-5 hrs away by train. If they hadn’t drove us, we couldn’t have reached there earlier. The amount of JR trains we took probably didn’t cover the cost of the Pass as well. To go to Utoro, you have to take a bus from Shiretoko which wasn’t cheap but not covered under JR. Boo.

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Shiretoko station.

And so, my advice is – don’t buy the 7 days Hokkaido Pass. Instead, the flexible 4-day pass would be a better choice. Why? The reason is because you will end up getting so tired of just moving everyday with your luggage and the places are so pretty and there are so much to see and do in one place that you would want to stay longer than 1 night in 1 place! Really. After discussing with my buddy, we really should’ve bought the flexible 4-day pass instead.

But wait – there’s an even better option if you are traveling to Tokyo after that.

The JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass!!

It covers the Hokkaido Shinkansen all the way to Tokyo at just 2000 yen more than the normal Hokkaido Rail Pass!! PLUS it is flexible 6 days use in a 14-day period!! Like wow.

Seriously. I should have gotten this. I wonder why I didn’t know about it then.

In summary:

1 – If you can rent a car and drive around, that’s the best – because the best places in Hokkaido are inaccessible by train. If we hadn’t had the ojisans to drive us around, we probably wouldn’t have seen the best parts.

2- Get the JR Hokkaido Pass flexible 4-day if you only have 1 week to spend in Hokkaido. Or get the JR East-South Hokkaido Pass if you have 2 weeks to spend in Hokkaido and you are heading down south all the way to Tokyo after that.

 

 

Drift Ice Walking Tour

Drift ice also known as Ryuhyou (流氷) is a phenomenon that is commonly sighted in winter from late January and till late March. It really depends on the wind direction and weather, to be honest. This time, my friend and I signed up for a drift ice walking tour for our YOLO experience so I shall be sharing more about this.

We signed up the tour by Shinra, an environmental group that runs eco tours in Shiretoko. They do a few other tours too so you can mix and match or pick a full day tour. Bear in mind that you would be asked for your weight when you sign up so please be truthful about this so you get the correct size of dry suit plus you won’t crack all the ice.

Price: 5100 yen for adults. 2600 yen for kids 7-12.

The tours conduct pickup at a few designated places and hotels. In our case, we actually booked a hotel in that list which turned out to be probably the best hotel i stayed for this trip. We chose to stay at Prince Hotel Kazanomiki (プリンスホテル風のみき).

Word of advice here: do note the name of the tour guide you are assigned to in the confirmation as there can be another tour at the same time as yours by another tour guide.

We got taken away in a small van and we were told to change into the dry suits provided by the tour guide. You would have to wear something warm inside like a base layer and if possible a fleece jacket if it is really cold.

The dry suit is actually not easy to put on. It feels like you are binded by rubber and i think i probably walked like a penguin.

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My buddy Helen in her dry suit

To add on to yout sense of security, you will never drown in this as the dry suit keeps you afloat on the water. Plus, it helps u stay warm! I frankly didn’t feel cold in this.

And then the tour guide started leading us to the seaside and we treaded on the ice in one line. She tested out the path and made sure that we don’t step on thin ice. Well, it wasn’t easy. Some ice are so slippery that I could hardly stand up. Some people fell a few times and that’s normal.

For me, the experience was …kinda terrifying. I was so conscious of my step then and while shooting with my gopro that I lost my step quite a few times. The ice was moving as we walked. It was thrilling. I was wondering if I would fall into the water anytime.

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Dipping my toes in the icy cold sea.

Adding on, you are actually able to fully immerse into the water! (If you dare to)

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We stayed and watched the sunset and it was probably the most memorable experience i did the entire trip. We were so lucky to be able to do it that day because the following day most of the ice were already swept away by the wind!

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Here is a video I made from the tour:

Enjoy!

Top 5 Must-see Hokkaido Spots in Winter 

In this post, I’m gonna share my top favourite spots in Hokkaido which not many people know about. These spots are recommended to me by the locals while I was living there. If you have only been to Sapporo, then you haven’t seen the REAL beauty of Hokkaido.

Spots are not in any particular ranking. All places are accessible via JR trains and buses.

  1. Biei
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Mile Seven Hill in Biei @dingalingy_

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Foxtracks at Mile Seven hill in Biei @dingalingy_

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Biei hills 美瑛の丘

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Ken and Mary tree, Biei ケンとメリーの木

Biei, also named Patchwork hills, is one of the prettiest places in Hokkaido and Japan. Your favourite Calbee potatoes are grown here if you still do not know. Biei is also famous for its agricultural products such as onions and pumpkin.

The reason why it is called Patchwork hills is because every season, you can see something different about this place.

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Biei hills in Autumn after harvest.

2. Furano

Furano is well know for its flower fields in spring and summer. In winter, you can’t see any of that but nevertheless it is still pretty like a winter wonderland.

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At Shikisai no oka, Furano.

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Ningle Terrace ニングルテラス

3. Shiretoko – Utoro

In winter around Feb to mid March, tons of drift ice (Ryuhyou 流氷) from the Okhotsk sea would gather at Abashiri and Shiretoko. It’s a sight not to be missed!  photo GOPR0985_1488619114762_high_zps4dvgmfro.jpg

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Drift ice at Shiretoko @dingalingy_ 流氷

You can do even walk on the drift ice! There’s lot of tours doing that. I’m gonna write a separate post on that.

You also cannot miss going to the Shiretoko Five Lakes. It is also said that they are one of the clearest lakes in Japan. But in winter they are frozen and covered with snow but still the snow capped mountains are a sight to behold.

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Shiretoko five lakes 知床五湖

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Close up of Shiretoko five lakes 知床五湖

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Shiretoko five lakes snowshoe tour

There are snowshoe walking tours conducted for Shiretoko Five Lakes. Bear in mind that this is a protected zone and only a certain number of visitors are allowed into this area and has to be led by a guide. Sightings of wild animals such as bears are not common in winter as they are still hibernating.

4. Teshikaga

A lot of people don’t know that actually Teshikaga is a really beautiful place. It is not common on the tourist radar because of the lack of promotion of its tourist spots.

However in Teshikaga, you can actually see this:

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Lake Mashu @dingalingy_

A huge crater lake that used to formed part of an active volcano.

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Lake Kushiro canoeing

There’s plenty of activities you can do such as hot air balloon rides, canoeing, snowshoe tours. It is also very close to Lake Akan, another famous lake in Hokkaido.

5. Otaru

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To be honest, I really only went to Otaru for this Canal and its sweets. It’s a huge draw for couples. If you are going to visit with your partner, this is a must-go place with your other half. In winter, this place turns ultra romantic when it snows.

Otaru is also the mecca of pastry sweets (in japanese we call it sweets). Many famous candymakers have their main branch there. For example:

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LeTao

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Rokkatei 六花亭

There’s also Kitakarou (北菓楼). All these shops have free tastings which is why I usually skip dessert after lunch.

However, beware of the hoards of tourists here.

Hokkaido, my favorite place on earth.

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It has been more than 3 years since I last set foot on this land. This snowscape from the plane makes me feel even more excited than ever and I immediately wished that it was Christmas.
This vacation I chose to reconnect with my old friends whom I met more than 3 years ago. The keyword is “reconnect”. And this time round, I decided to come in winter to have my slice of winter wonderland. If you have read my previous blogposts where I was working as a helper at a guesthouse, you guessed it right – I’m heading back there – but this time round as a guest!

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Me, frozen to my toes at Biei station.

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Hallway

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A warm and welcoming entrance.

I’m gonna say a few words of advice to travellers seeking the authentic experience of Hokkaido as I’ve lived here before. Yes, hotels are comfortable but nothing beats staying in a place that you can feel like home. And this is the number one reason why people kept coming back.

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Hoshi no Anne, Biei

Hoshi No Anne | Email: hoshinoanne-hata@nifty.com

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View from the dining room the next morning.

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Breakfast – Western style.

Breakfast consists of fresh salad and fruit and some pumpkin potage. The main is actually homemade bread made by the owner which i have simply forgot to take picture of as i was too hungry and busy eating.

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Check out the view!

In any case this place is full and you failed to secure a room, you can also check out this place which is a similar rustic cottage guesthouse located not far away:

Alp Lodge Biei

http://www.alp-lodge.comE-mail alp-lodge@memoad.jp

The Straight Line

2 years ago, I started this blog as a travel diary when I first mustered up my courage to move to Japan by myself. It wasn’t easy. I graduated from the top university, landed myself a job in the public sector and made a stable income and my folks happy. I was going according to what they wanted my life to be and possibly what most Singaporeans do. I wasn’t unhappy with my life but I wasn’t contented too.

Every time I open my Facebook page, all I could see were pictures of my friends in some place not in Singapore, having fun (I know Facebook creates these deceptive imagery because no one posts pictures of their ugly sides). I was envious.

One more thing to note was, I had never left Singapore until I was 21. Yes, you might not believe it because nowadays kids in Primary 1 already been to Tokyo Disneyland and they can even write essays on it. The first place that was stamped on my passport was Malaysia, because my friends wanted to celebrate me getting out of Singapore so they took me to Johor Bahru. My 2nd country that I visited was Japan and then Japan.. Japan.. Japan almost every year.

My first Japan trip was a homestay trip organized by the school and it was memorable. You might ask why I have never been able to get out of small squeezy Singapore, well, the answer is simple. My parents could never afford to take me on trips. I have never been on a holiday with my family which kinda cultivated my character where I like to go solo or with friends I guess.

Well, you always want what you don’t have. I just had a promotion at my job in the civil service and I was also seeing a guy at the time. It was fine and everything was going well but it just didn’t feel right.

One night, I lay in bed and I tried to recall what I have done in the past 2 years at my job and in my life since university. Shockingly, nothing came to mind. I still remembered how I broke out in cold sweat and my palms became clammy as I tried so hard to flush out my memories.

Nothing.

And then I pictured myself that if tomorrow I were to die, I would be stiff like this on my deathbed with no memories to cling on to for the past 2 years. I decided that I cannot live my life like this anymore. I quit my job and the guy that I was seeing then even told me that I was stupid. I flipped my life over and my parents were unhappy with my decision. It felt like the whole world was objecting to me destabilizing my stable world.

Even so, I went to Japan.

I lived there for half a year, studying the first 4 months in a school and then worked for the remainder 2 months. It was a whole new experience for me, living on my own.

Then by pure luck, I managed to get a cruise ship job with one of the cruise ship companies who owns the most innovative ships. And my life changed.

360 degrees.

In 2 years, I went to Asia, Western Europe, Eastern Europe (backpacking), Eastern and Western Caribbean. I have been to the most beautiful beaches you could possibly lay your eyes on. Every day, it was a different place. Every week, I meet new people, make new friends from countries I used to hear of but never been and never know how it’s like.

I have learned so much and my life is no longer a straight line like it used to be. It’s now a curve with hyperbolas, twists, dips etc.

So, what I’m trying to say that is.. take that first step.

Because you will never know where that first step would lead to.

 

 

 

 

My Life as a Helper-san (Part 1: House)

It has been almost a week since i came back to Singapore.

My 2 months in Hokkaido flew by really fast…! Well, a lot of people were curious about what i did while i was there so i thought I’ll give you a little intro to the inn that i went to and a little insight on the life of a helper-san.

Let’s take a little tour around the inn.

The carpark

Andro (dog) and his house

Firewood stacked neatly outside front door.

Entering the front door..

Walking to the dining area

Dining area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bench area attached to the dining space

Going down the corridor…

The wash basins on the left. The door on the right is the female toilet.

Room ‘Chamomile’. Japanese style tatami room

Room ‘Borage’. ボリジ  Dormitory room.

Moving up to level 2..

Room ‘Sakuranbo’. Twin room with outdoor terrace attached.

You can see stars from this room!!

Outdoor terrace

A common area at level 2 with huge collection of manga and novels.

Room ‘Sumomo’. Single room tatami style

Well, the rooms are all not shown here. We were cleaning up after the guests had checked out so i only managed to take those that have been cleaned. By the way, i clean all the rooms on 2nd floor!!

Going up this flight of stairs would lead to the helpers’ floor. It’s the attic actually.

I shall not disclose our sleeping area cos i think it would be quite rude to Mayu-chan since she’s sharing the space as well.

But you can imagine it yourself… it’s the part of the house just right under the slanted roof.

Now to the outside…

Walking to the backyard..

Nao-san and Mayu-chan working hard at the ‘house’

Mayu-chan hard at work!

Andro (pronounced as AN-DO-RO) eating whatever fertilizer that we throw onto the soil

The fertilizer is actually mochi rice flour… And also the husk from the brown rice.

looking out from the ‘house’..

Our new halloween deco!!

Smiley mayu-chan

So here’s the introduction to the place that have kindly put me up for the past 2 months. It’s a really great house!! (it’s huge and warm)

Actually no matter how good the house is, if the people there wasn’t welcoming to me, i wouldn’t have had such a good experience. I really must thank Nao-san, Kazu-san, Mizuki-chan, Mayu-chan and all the guests that have made my stay memorable here. A pity that I left in a hurry on the day i depart so i didn’t manage to take any photo with the family on THAT day but i took plenty throughout the 2 months.

My work consisted of helping out in the mornings and evenings for meals and housekeeping and we have the afternoons off. So i woke up every morning at 6.30 am and start work at 7. Housekeeping starts right after we have taken our breakfast and tidied up the kitchen and ends at about 11+. Usually we have lunch at home or we eat out sometimes and then it’s free time alllll the wayyy.
Work resumes at either 4pm or 6pm and Mayu-chan and i rotate our shifts. Our evening usually ends at about 9pm for the first shift or 9.30-10 for the second shift.

It’s hard work cleaning, i must say. But all i gotta say it’s one of the most satisfying jobs i have ever done in my entire life.

Stay tune for Part 2: Meals!!!

Btw, in case you’re wondering why i stopped posting pictures of myself on this blog, it’s cos i gained like at least 3-4kg throughout my stay here. I’m too well-fed so my face kinda bloated up like a pig and i thought i looked hideous on pictures. -.-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ukishima Shitsugen (浮島湿原)

The weather was superrrr fine one day that we just HAD to go out if not we would feel we wasted our time.

That day, we had Hashimoto-san staying with us so the 6 of us went out together! Hashimoto-san runs a business hotel in Tokyo which i think is doing quite well and has quite a reputation.

The pictures turn out really great that day so i have lots to show!!

Hashimoto-san, Mayu-chan

The nature was too serene. I played girl’s generation’s new song Galaxy Supernova while walking. HAHAHA.

Well, there was a signboard that says beware of bears so i thought the song could replace the bell to scare them away.

End up,  Mayu-chan and i were humming to the song! LOL

Hashimoto-san’s pose!

The trees are just too pretty, i just keep snapping away!!

Then we took a hike up the waterfall area near Sounkyou (層雲峡) where there was momiji everywhere.

The forest was so green, i thought it would be a nice place to shoot an mv or something.

And then we lunched at this cosy little cottage cafe – Mitsumata Sansou (三股山荘).

The weather was really good!

Log cabin furnishing.

My Lunch

Mayu-chan’s lunch

Dessert – Pumpkin chiffon cake and Pear cheesecake

After that we drove off to somewhere and i slept all the way throughout until we reached someplace with a panoramic view.

Home sweet home.

See what’s for dinner!!!

Genghis khan….. !!!!

Mayu-chan trying to disturb me