TOKYOPOP Fam: Konnichi-wa!
How’s everyone doing? This week I’m dipping into Japan as a travel destination - and an incredibly beautiful one at that. I visited Hokkaido for my first time ever (yes, even after 20+ years being part of Japan, I still have a long list of items unchecked). Because long blogs tend to be boring, I’ll aim for a succinct insight into my experiences this week exploring parts of Japan’s northern island.
With only five true travel days, we were limited in the places we could visit. Hokkaido is a large island - the second largest of Japan’s main five - so we had to choose a few places to visit, especially since I was driving!
The first few days were based in Toyako, a beautiful lake in between the city of Sapporo (not the beer but yes it comes from here!) and resort area of Hakodate. In the summer, the weather is quite nice, and we did have some rain but also lots of sunny days. The nights are chilly but the sun is warm, which made for great weather. In the winter, Hokkaido is famous for being a winter wonderland, much like Canada. I’d like to see that one day, but being born and raised in Los Angeles, I prefer the heat.
Toyako reminded me a little bit of Crater Lake in Oregon since it’s the shape of a donut (although it’s more developed than Crater Lake).
Since I was there for the Ironman triathlon race (which is it’s own crazy story!) that meant staying at the hotel for the 3 days before the race, getting set up, finishing training, and focusing on the upcoming competition. We were able to enjoy the onsen (hot springs) at the hotel, and a delicious buffet (including ikura, fresh hotate scallops, grilled steak, fresh fruit and much more, yum!). We drove around a bit, visiting the ocean and checking out the wilderness. Then, during the race itself, I was able to really enjoy the scenery of the surrounding regions including Niseko (a famous resort) via bicycle.
Driving up past Noboribetsu, we ate lunch at an amazing grilled seafood place called Lamp-tei in the tiny coastal town Takeura. The whole squid grilled in its ink was amazing - along with fresh salmon, hotate scallops, and much more.
Once we reached Sapporo, we checked out the town over the next couple of days. Sapporo is tiny compared to Tokyo, and even Osaka, but it still has all the key necessities of a Japanese city: amazing food including cheap yet delicious kaiten-sushi; karaoke; pachinko; Uniqlo; lots of shopping; and convini / vending machines everywhere. We sampled uni-don, which is a huge heap of fresh sea urchin on top of rice;
and enjoyed tasty Hokkaido cakes and “sweets” (lately the Japanese use the English word “sweets” to describe basically all dessert items).
Then we took a 2-day excursion up to Furano and Obihiro. These towns are in the middle of Hokkaido’s farmlands. Farming is a major industry for Hokkaido, and it supplies Japan with a significant amount of its agricultural products. In particular, we noticed the major crops everywhere were corn, onions, and melons.
There were ranches for both beef and milk, especially near Obihiro. In Furano, we visited the gorgeous Farm Tomita,
which has been Japan’s main lavender grower, providing lavender oil to many manufacturers, and even winning a prize in France.
They have quite a tourist business, and their farm features gorgeous arrays of colorful flowers from all over the world. But the lavender products are just amazing - and I bought some dry flowers and scented oil. We had lavender ice cream, tasted fresh melons, and ate roast beef donburi (roast beef on rice) for dinner.
Then, in Obihiro, we barbecued mutton meat they call “Genghis Khan”, supposedly because this dish is originally from Mongolia (there are actually various theories). At any rate, it was tasty - then we visited a farm, got some “sweets” for the drive back, and returned to Sapporo.
As you probably know, I love Japan, and have visited many parts of it. Hokkaido’s famous for its sweeping landscapes, and wide skies, which are rare for Japan but quite common in the States. I’ve also traveled all over the US, and Hokkaido has bits of pieces from Washington, Wyoming, Iowa and even Colorado. While the majesty of those States are truly untouchable, Hokkaido is a unique combination of “big natural beauty” and Japan’s culture. It can get a bit boring, though, to be honest, after the non-stop stimuli found in Tokyo. If I can convince my body to brave it, I’d love to see Hokkaido basked in its white blanket of snow!
So, that’s this week’s edition - mata na!!
Old Phone in Hokkaido:
At a great little uni stand in Sapporo ("Gannen"):