Tales from the Northern Sea Circuit

For those of you who didn't know, I went traveling to Hokkaido this past weekend (August 22nd to 25th).
One reason why I went was because I had never been north of Nagano in Japan. But the main reason I went was to visit Isis who is living in Shiranuka, Hokkaido working for the JET program.

Overall, Hokkaido was pretty awesome. The weather there was a lot colder when compared with Tokyo and considerably cooler than Toronto, at least during the summer months. It was nice to escape the summer heat and humidity of Tokyo to the fresh, cool, and crisp air of Hokkaido.

Hokkaido in Japanese is 北海道(ほっかいどう) which means "Northern Sea Circuit", as per my blog post title. Hokkaido has a pretty interesting (and sometimes sad) story which you should read up about in wikipedia.

This blog post is a little bit of an experiment. During my trip, I was posting to Twitter giving somewhat live updates to my trip. It was pretty cool to take random pictures and upload them to facebook or post to twitter.
Now, given those tweets, I'm going to write my blog post revolving around them in a sort of chronological fashion. (By the way, If you want to follow me on twitter, add 'marreka'. For privacy reasons I have made my tweets private so you can't randomly spy on my life, but feel free to add me to track what I'm up to!)

Without further ado, my trip to Hokkaido as I twittered them!

Leaving work now for Hokkaido! 12:31 AM August 22, 2008
To catch my flight, which we took at about 3:00 PM for reasonable fares, I had to leave work a bit early.

At haneda airport 01:45 PM August 22, 2008
Arrived at Haneda airport (Terminal 2) via the Tokyo Monorail. This past weekend was the first time I had ever rode the monorail. Nothing special, really.

Went through the security gate with my cellphone. So cool. Next, boarding in 30 mind! 02:28 PM August 22, 2008
This was pretty cool. What I did was book my flight and select my seating online. From there, all I needed was either a mobile phone with Osaifu-Keitai and ANA Mileage Club application installed, an Edy-enabled ANA Mileage Club point card (or credit card), a printout of a QR (2-dimensional) barcode, or a boarding pass. Using one of the above, you can skip past the check in counter (unless you have luggage, of course) and go straight to security. All I had to do was swipe my mobile phone over the reader and I was ready to go through security. Getting right to the gate took 5 minutes from monorail to gate.

I meant mins. Stupid iPhone 02:28 PM August 22, 2008
Haha... silly iPhone messed up my earlier twitter.

One thing I didn't twitter between my typo and boarding was that I bought an awesome Starbucks mug. It's a "Japan Airport Special Edition" with a bunch of Japan's landmarks printed on it. It's super cool :D

Boarding now! See you on the flipside 02:54 PM August 22, 2008
To board my flight, all I had to do was put my mobile phone on the reader and out came a printout of where I was sitting and what flight I was on. Because of this, getting everyone onboard took literally less than 15 minutes.

The flight over to Hokkaido was fairly uneventful. It was cool to see Tokyo from the air! But unfortunately it was a cloudy day over Japan, so once we got above the cloud line we couldn't see Tokyo anymore. One thing that I found particularly awesome, though, was that Mt. Fuji was poking its head through the clouds. It was really cool to see Mt. Fuji from the plane!

In kushiro, Hokkaido. 04:56 PM August 22, 2008
For this trip, we decided to rent a car and drive around from Kushiro through Abashiri down to Sapporo. It was really awesome to be able to see so much nature and go through mountain passes, but it was quite the long drive.

I swear I'm in Canada except all the Asians speak Japanese instead of Chinese. 05:09 PM August 22, 2008
Haha... This is actually a reference to something I said two years ago when I went back to Canada. Then, I had said "It's like I'm in Japan, except all the Asians speak Chinese".

From the rent-a-car place, which is where I wrote this, we drove down from Tancho-Kushiro Airport to Shiranuka to meet up with Isis.

Here's a funny story: Shiranuka is so small, that Kiyo and I drove right through it without realizing we had passed the city. Once we were through, I looked at the GPS and realized we were past the city. Kiyo was in disbelief because it had taken no time at all to get there. It took about 5 minutes of us discussing this until we came to a consensus that we totally missed the town's "core".

After we finally found Isis' place (we passed it like three times), we went out for dinner to a ramen shop in the town. While there, we had a special Shiranuka version of ramune that is Shiso leaf (Perilla leaf) flavoured, called Tantaka Ramune (鍛高ラムネ). We tried both red shiso and green shiso flavour! It was really tasty!

After we ate, we decided to drive to Kushiro from Shiranuka (about 30 minutes) to see the "city". It was kinda cool to see Kushiro, but it's just a plain Japanese country-side city. It reminded me of Matsumoto and Ueda city centers. Since we were in the countryside, everything died down around 20:00. As a result, we went back to Isis' place at like 22:00... Haha.

SOOO COLD 11:53 PM August 22, 2008
This was me complaining that night-time Shiranuka temperature was something around 10 Celsius... So cold after a summer of 30+ Celsius every day.

The next morning (Saturday, August 23rd), we started our trip across the prefecture. The first thing we did was drive to a famous red shiso farm along country highway 392 somewhere around here in Tantaka(鍛高-たんたか). It was really cool to see the huge swaths of purple-ish red leaves.
From there, we drove back down 392 to Shiranuka and Country Highway 38 (Kushiro kokudo-釧路国道-くしろこくどう) towards Kushiro to head up to Lake Akan. Along the way, we had "breakfast" at around 11:30. What also made it "breakfast" was that we had a bowl of rice with charcoal grilled (炭火焼) pork called "kono-butadon" (この豚丼 meaning "This bowl of rice with pork on top"), which is famous in Shiranuka. It was pretty awesome.

After we finished off our "this pork bowl", we drove up to Lake Akan. Unfortunately, it is one of those towns who relied heavily on tourism to survive, and as a result is pretty much dead or on the verge of dying; It was pretty depressing to drive through it. Also in Akan is a little Ainu museum street called "Ainu-kotan" (アイヌコタン), which means "Ainu village" in the Ainu language (To learn more about the history of the Ainu, read this wikipedia article or for further reading buy a book on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca). It was cool to see the traditional crafts of the Ainu, but it was yet another testament to the lack of attention the Ainu get.

After we left the Akan region, we started driving along Highway 241 mountain pass (阿寒横断道路) alongside Mt. Oakan (雄阿寒岳-おあかんだけ). As we were driving the mountain pass, we passed a lot of bikers who were traversing the mountain pass... That's pretty impressive. I would love to try that sometime.

After we got through the mountain pass, we stopped at a rest stop somewhere along highway 241 near Mashu Onsen (摩周温泉). While we were there, I got this awesome cup of coffee... It was SO good. The coffee was freshly ground and brewed right infront of me.
The store we got it at was this quaint little shop with a lot of trinkets and 80's era decor. The workers were all wearing Mennonite type clothes, which kind of reminded me of Waterloo and Grebel.

At my lake I'm Hokkaido! (lake mashu) 03:29 PM August 23, 2008
Ah... finally. After three years, I finally visit my lake in Hokkaido! I call it my lake because in Japanese, by full name (Matthew) is pronounced "Mashu" (マシュー, can be written as 摩周). Since the name of this lake is also Mashu (摩周), I claim it as my lake.

While there, I had some super awesome Hokkaido ice cream and a slice of Yubari Melon (夕張メロン). Very tasty.
I also bought this cool (but expensive) handmade towel that says (translated sort of) "Natural spring faction, Mashu Onsen" (源泉派 摩周温泉 in Japanese). It's pretty cool.

After leaving Lake Mashu, we continued along to Abashiri (網走-あばしり), passing through Hama-Koshimizu (浜小清水). There was a cute little train station and a beach right behind it. We stopped to check it out and have a little photo shoot.

From there, we got to Abashiri and decided to call it a day. There, we ate at a great restaurant that had sushi, crab, and other good stuff. The hotel we stayed at was pretty sketchy, though.

The next day (Sunday, August 24th) we drove from Abashiri along Lake Notori (能取湖). Before getting to Lake Notori, we stopped at a little parking area by the seaside that had a great view of the Sea of Okhotsk (オホーツク海) approximately here, just above the 76 hexagon.
Along lakeside, there was this cool looking bike trail that connected Abashiri to a smaller town along the lake. I wish I had my bike in Hokkaido!

While driving through all these places, we were trying to find a place to eat. It was about 10:00 and we still had not had anything to eat. After an hour or so of driving, we finally found a little restaurant along the Okhotsk Country Road (オホーツク国道) past the town of Tokoro (常呂町) that had fresh seafood donburi. It was pretty good.
From there, we drove along side Lake Saroma (サロマ湖) until we got to Kami-Yubetsu (上湧別町) through to Engaru (遠軽), from which we took the not yet completed highway (so it was free!) towards Asahikawa (旭川市). The drive through the mountains was very beautiful.
We were pretty lucky that they had the highways partially built, so we could completely bypass the mountain passes. This shaved at least an hour or so off our travel time. While it wasn't as scenic, we also were able to get to our destination on time.

Finally, we arrived in Asahikawa between 14:00 or 15:00. While we wanted to stop and have Asahikawa ramen as a late lunch, we unfortunately did not have time. Instead, we drove to the outskirts of town to get a cup of starbucks... Yes, we were that desperate.

Just left asahikawa. En route to Sapporo/Chitose. 04:00 PM August 24, 2008
After we got back to the highwawy, we drove straight down to Sapporo. The drive took about an hour to Sapporo (札幌市), then another 15 minutes to Chitose (千歳市). Unfortunately, we didn't have a chance to stop over in Sapporo to have a bowl of ramen.

Originally, we wanted to go to Tomakomai (苫小牧) to get seafood, but we didn't have time. Instead, Kiyo and I checked into our hotel in Chitose and went to get dinner at a nearby restaurant. Of course, the seafood was still incredibly awesome and super fresh.

After we ate, we had to say bye to Isis who took a train back to Shiranuka from Chitose (about 3 hours). It was great to see Isis again and we were all sad that we won't be seeing each other again for a long time.

In chitose, getting ready to sleep. Flight to Tokyo tomorrow. Last week in Japan :( 09:50 PM August 24, 2008
After we left the train station, we went back to our hotel. Because we were so tired from the 800KM drive, we just went to sleep. Nice and comfortable.

The next day (Monday, August 25th), we had to go back to Tokyo. The first thing we had to do was to refil the gas, which is only significant because this was the only time we did so. That's right, 800KMs on a single tank of gas. Impressive, no?

I'm at shin-chitose airport, waiting to board my flight to Tokyo Haneda airport. 09:48 AM August 25, 2008
Once again, check into my flight using my mobile phone! So fast!
This time I had a drink with me in my starbucks mug, so the security guy sniffed it. Kiyo joked that he was testing the green tea to make sure that it was up to standards ;)

Boarding now! See you on the flipside. 10:19 AM August 25, 2008
On our way back from Hokkaido, we boarded an ANA 747 double decker plane. This was my first time ever on a double decker plane and I even got to sit on the top floor! Yay!

Along the way, I watched pokemon. It was awesome. I would like to point out that Japanese Meowth sounds so much more annoying, and Pikachu sounds exactly the same.

When we arrived in Haneda airport, I saw the pokemon airplane sitting at a gate and then as it was taxing to the runway. I was in a rush so I was only able to take a quick snapshot of it.

Arrived safely at haneda. Off to work! 12:26 PM August 25, 2008

And that was that. Overall an awesome weekend of nature and food! I hope to one day go again and do the southern shore... But this time I'd like to actually visit Tomakomai (苫小牧), Sapporo (札幌), and Otaru (小樽) ;)

Pictures of my trip should be coming soon to flickr! Right now I'm in the middle of my move back home with sobetsukai (送別会, [reading]そうべつかい, [lit]seperation meeting, [proper]goodbye party) almost every night, so I don't have too much time to sort through my photos.
I'll post another entry once they're up!

P.S. Sorry for the horribly long post. Thanks for reading this if you read through it all.


Tony said...

I like your idea of expanding on tweets as a blog entry.

Anonymous said...

Aww... nice post Matt :)
I'll miss you - come back again anytime with your bike :D !!!
Have a great trip back!