Tag Archives: summer

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!

 

Day trip to Enoshima & Kamakura

If you are a Slam Dunk fan, you’d know about Enoshima, the coastal area where the comic was set.

A few weekends ago, we organized a day trip to Enoshima to enjoy the sun at the coastal area. Located in Kanagawa prefecture, Enoshima is only an hour away from Tokyo city. We bought the Odakyu Enoshima-Kamakura Freepass at 1,470yen, that gave us access to Enoshima and Kamakura.

The rocky coastline of Enoshima.

Upon arriving at Katase Enoshima Station, we were greeted by the sea, and picnickers and beach-goers! As we crossed the bridge over to Enoshima Island, you could see the calm and smooth windsurfers on one side, and high-speed jet-skiiers doing their tricks on the other side. What a contrast!

The Hatase Enoshima station building is designed to look like the Dragon Palace of a local myth.

The local jet-skiers at their party.

Arriving at Enoshima, we were met with a very strange “welcome party” of men in loincloths! Wow! Japan never fails to surprise me! It turns out that there was some local festival going on and the men were carrying the portable shrines (aka mikoshi) around the area.

Surprise festival!

Moving on, we followed the crowd uphill to the Enoshima Shrine, and then over the hill to the other side of the island, where you can look out into the Sagami Bay. There were no sandy beaches but instead, rocky outcrops where you can stand and watch the waves come crashing in. Beware of sea cockroaches, though, because they are EVERYWHERE and it totally freaked me out. That aside, the scenery was beautiful… but perhaps better appreciated from one of the restaurants looking out into the sea! We had our lunch at one of such restaurants, with sumptuous meal of Shirasudon (whitebait and rice), the local specialty.

View from the Enoshima Shrine
This small shrine in Enoshima Shrine grounds is known as “The Dragon’s Place”. According to the local myth, the dragon protects the island, hence it is a repeated symbol you will find in Enoshima.

Having a splashin’ good time in the sea!
Shirasu-don, white bait and rice, for lunch! You have to add in a bit of shoyu, soy sauce, and mix before eating.
Lunch with a view of the Sagami Bay.

After Enoshima, we took the train on the Enoden Line. It was a scenic train ride, slowly chugging along the coastline to Hase, Kamakura, where we visited the famouse Kotokuin, the temple with the Kamakura Daibutsu (the Great Buddha of Kamakura).

Learning how to do it right at a temple.
Us in our “Buddha” posture with the Daibutsu.

Dora-yaki with red bean jam and green tea ice cream!
Another food that is popular in the area, Tako-senbei, roasted octopus cracker. While queuing up, you can watch them place the octopus and batter in the press machine and voila! Out comes a crispy cracker in a few seconds!

After which, we continued on to Kamakura station and took a walk down Komachi-dori, a shopping street with plenty of souvenir shops and restaurants. Our final stop for the day was at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, the most important shrine in the area. The main hall of the shrine was a big and impressive building situated at the top of a long flight of stairs, overlooking Kamakura’s waterfront.

Walking down the street of Komachi-dori

Exploring the grounds of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.

In all, it was a long day but we covered a lot of ground and made a lot of new friends.. all in a short day-trip from Tokyo!

Misaki Fish Market & Jogashima Island

We visited Misaki Fish Market and Jogashima Island last Sunday. Lesser-known compared to Tsukiji Fish Market, Misaki is just 60mins outside Tokyo, but famous for its tuna auction! It is only one-hour from Tokyo. You can get there with Keikyu one-day Misaki Maguro pass. It is only ¥3,060 from Shinagawa, includes train, bus, one-meal (maguro-don) and entrance to choice of onsen / aquarium / ferry.

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In order to catch the Tuna Auction which ends at 9am, we had to meet at Shinagawa Station in Tokyo at 6.15am! After a sleepy one-hour ride on the train, we finally arrived at Misakiguchi Station in Miura, Kanagawa, caught the bus to Misaki Port Bus Stop and made our way to the Fish Auction market. To our dismay, there is no tuna auction on Sundays (both tunas and fishermen are resting) so there was only the sale of some small local fish. Instead, we saw a couple of interesting fish – including flat fish, mackerel, eel, octopus…

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Most of the action died off around 9am, and we left to look for a restaurant for some maguro-don. The one-day pass actually includes a free meal at some of the local restaurants.

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After a hearty breakfast, we took a bus across to Jogashima Island, a rocky outcrop of an island where most of the shops and buildings seem to be the same from 1980s, where children are knee-deep in the water hunting for crabs while their dads await next to their fishing poles for their catch.

We walked along the coast, hopping up and down the rocks and made our way to this landmark “hole” in the rock. Then we climbed up the cliff, and continued to the other side of the island. It was an easy 1 hour hike, with some amazing views of the coastline.

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After Jogashima, we caught a bus to the Marine Park (a.k.a. aquarium). The entrance was included in the day-pass. It was a small aquarium, and seemed to have been around since 1980s. We saw some cute animals and then caught the bus back to Misakiguchi Station before heading back to Tokyo!

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It was a relaxing day at the beach, a great getaway from the busy city life!

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