Tokachi & Obihiro – In search of happiness

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Day 1 of Hokkaido Roadtrip: Sapporo – Obihiro – Tokachi

(Read the overview story here.)

Early in the morning, all of us met up at Sapporo station and picked up our rental car from the Toyota Rental Car shop nearby. Then it was a 2 hours drive to Obihiro City, stopping at a supermarket to stock up on snacks and drinks for the road. At Obihiro, we popped into the visitors’ center at the station and got information for the day.

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Brilliant weather to start the trip!

At Obihiro, we had the famous Buta-don (“pork bowl”, roast sliced pork on rice). It was.. mouth-watering!!! And then we bought the 500yen sweets-coupon which allowed us to visit 5 confectionaries of our choice in the area. It was a mad rush for the sweets – soft-served ice cream, sweet potato pies, waffles, cheese cake…

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Buta-don, pork bowl
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Sweet potato pies
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Pudding
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Cheeeeseeeee!

Satisfied with the gourmet run, we continued our journey down into the southern area of Tokachi. First stop, the former Aikoku (愛国 – “Land of Love”) station, followed by the famous Kofuku (幸福 – “Happiness”) station. As you’d have expected, these two stations are famous because of their meaning, travelling from the Land of Love into Happiness!

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Catching the train from Aikoku….
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Bound for Kofuku – the station of happiness!
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The beautiful scenery of Tokachi

For the night, we rented out a log cabin near a dairy farm. It was huge, and smelled of the fragrance of wood. Since it was dark and rainy outside, with nothing for miles, we stayed in and made our own hot pot for dinner.

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Home sweet home! ❤
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The table is set, dinner is ready!

The best place to spend Japanese summer? Hokkaido.

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Driving through Hokkaido must be one of the best way to explore the region.

I often get asked what is the best season to visit Hokkaido. Most people would say it is during the winter, where you can visit numerous large-scale snow festivals and also enjoy the famous powder snow if you are a skiier or snow-boarder.

For me, I’d say the best season to visit is in summer, when the weather is comfortably warm (unlike the rest of Japan where it is humid and blazing hot), the days are long, and the flowers are blooming. That is why I organised a road-trip around Eastern Hokkaido.

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The famous flower fields at Furano.
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One of the Five Lakes of Shiretoko NP.
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The beautiful coastline of Urahoro, looking out into the Pacific Ocean.

Together with 4 other people I’ve never met before this trip, we covered 1,200km in 10 days, visiting

  1. Obihiro
  2. Hiroo & Urahoro
  3. Kushiro City & Kushiro Marshland NP
  4. Lake Akan & Lake Onneto, Akan NP
  5. Lake Mashu & Lake Kussharo, Akan NP
  6. Utoro & Shiretoko NP
  7. Okhotsk Coastline
  8. Abashiri & Koshimizu Lily park & Cheese Factory
  9. Sounkyou Hotspring
  10. Asahidake, Daisetsuzan National Park
  11. Hokuryu Sunflower Park
  12. Biei
  13. Furano

Here is a map of our tracks:

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It’s been a long journey and we enjoyed driving cross-country, stopping at the farms, beaches, national parks and anywhere else that caught our interest. It was late July when we went and we had a few rainy days but other than that, the weather was great!

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The uber-adorable calf from the dairy farm at Tokachi.

It’s hard to say what was the highlight of the trip, but if I have to choose, it would be the last day, when it was bright and clear after two days of pouring rain. We were driving down from Asahidake towards Biei and the view of the mountain ranges right in front of us was simply breathtaking. It was like watching a IMAX movie, if you get what I mean.

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A panoramic view of the mountain ranges of Deisetsuzan NP.

In any case, the trip had some of the most scenic drives I ever had in Japan, as well as some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in rural Japan. And as the locals said, even though Hokkaido is cold, the hearts of the locals are warm! We were very fortunate to have stayed with some of very friendly and kind guesthouse / farmstay owners.

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Trying hard not to disturb the little calves.
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A happy family with our guesthouse owner, whom we affectionately call “Mother”, and her son, Yuji.

And although I had my own reservations about travelling on such a unconventional trip with people I do not know, I must say, those worries are unwarranted! Turns out that everyone was really chill and laid back… Afterall, we just wanted an amazing holiday in Hokkaido and guess what? We got what we wanted.

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Summer in the forgotten island of Izu-Oshima

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Everyone knows of Tokyo, the big crazy city that has everything any traveller can ever dream of – age-old shrines, tallest tower in the world, high-tech robot restaurants, a little strange maid cafes and owl cafes, and convenient rapid trains to other cities… But have you ever heard of the Tokyo Islands? Under the administration of Tokyo, these islands are part of the Izu Peninsula and are a world’s difference from the big metropolitan city! The island we visited for our summer vacation, Oshima Island, is the biggest and nearest to Tokyo (about 100km away). We spent three days basking in the sunlight of Oshima Island, cycling, fishing and diving! Another great place found in rural Japan!

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We took a night ferry from the Takeshiba Ferry Terminal, Tokyo. To my surprise, there were a lot other people on the ferry, mainly young adults. I’m guessing they are from the local college since the summer vacation just started. It seems like everyone is escaping the big city for a summer island vacation.

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Sailing right under the Rainbow Bridge
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Arriving at Izu Oshima and being greeted by a beautiful sunrise at Okata Port

After a 5-hour ride, we arrived at Okata Port of Izu Oshima just after dawn, too early for us to check-in to our guesthouse! We took a cab to the “town” of Motomachi and had breakfast of fresh seafood bowl at the only restaurant which was opened at that time. Despite its proximity to Tokyo city, Oshima island had a typical island-country feel. The architecture seem to suggest that it has stopped in time, left behind by the rapid modernisation of the big cities Tokyo and Yokohama. Everything seem to go at a slower pace, young and old men fishing by the ports, old ladies sitting in front of their shops, and children wading in the sea.

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Quiet and laid-back island life focused on activities in the sea…
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The buildings seemed to have stayed the same since 20-30 years ago.

Day 1 was all about cycling.

We rented bicycles near the visitors’ center and cycled along the amazing coastline. It was an easy ride on the Sunset Palm Line, with a spectacular view of the Sagami Gulf and the Izu Peninsula on the other side. We followed the coastline northwards and went to the dairy farm, where we had some fresh ice-cream just before the it closed at 4pm. Then we watched the cows for a bit before heading back to Motomachi for some hotspring.

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Cycling along the beautiful coastline…
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Delicious fresh ice cream!

Day 2 was spent fishing.

We rented cars (there are a total of three rental companies, book early!) and drove down to the southern part of the island where there were a few recommended fishing points. Another scenic drive on the island! We visited an isolated black sand beach called Sunanohama and spent the rest of the day basking in the sun trying to get some fish. Some of the locals stopped by to see how we are doing and gave us tips too!

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Gone Fishing!

The effort paid off and we had a total of 60 fish at the end of the day, including some saba fish (mackerel) and aji fish (Japanese horse mackerel). We celebrated with a feast of seafood BBQ and beer!

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Our catch for the day!

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Turned dinner!

Day 3 for Diving!

Our last day was spent diving at a beach called Akinohama in the north. It was blistering hot on land but the water was a chilling 20 degrees! The visibility was great and it wasn’t overcrowded with divers. There were also many other people just swimming in the sea or doing cliff diving from the rocks. image

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Into the deep blue sea we go!

So, cycling, fishing and diving on the quiet island of Izu Oshima. The island really reminded me of Okinawa and there was hardly anyone else around. The shops and restaurants are all very small and family-run, and everyone is friendly and just wanting to talk. Indeed, a well-spent summer vacation. And the best thing about it is that it’s almost right at Tokyo’s doorstep, just a ferry-ride away!

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We’ll be back!