The three days of vacation actually came up as rather an accident. After striving for 3 months to prepare for my big test and enduring the humid heat of summer, I decided to use up these 3 days fully to rest and refresh.
Three days of vacation plus a weekend gives me total of 5 days–not short but certainly not long for me to plan something grand, not saying I did not have much time to prepare before the vacation. Anyways, so Hokkaido it was, not too far and not too hot, just seemed quite just for a 5-day gateway. Although it’s my 3rd time going there, I didn’t exactly realize how much time I would spend on transportation despite I know Hokkaido is a vast continent.
I didn’t get to visit the cutest green algae balls in Lake Akan (阿寒湖) during my previous 2 trips to Hokkaido though I’ve been to Lake Akan and seen numerous green algae balls known as marimo in shops, but I longed to see the real thing in Lake Akan, or rather, the ones in the reservatory center on an small isle on Lake Akan. Other than this, I’d like to go to Sapporo (札幌), and of course Otaru (小樽) again to stroll on the old streets and visit the glass factories, and since I’d pass by Kushiro(釧路) on my way to Lake Akan, I’d think why not visit some red crowned cranes, known as tanchozuru, in Kushiro.
At first I thought to go to Abashiri (網走), but I then realized that even going to Sapporo, Kushiro, Lake Akan, and Otaru would consume a lot of time on the traffic in my 5-day trip, I reluctantly gave up going to Abashiri.
It took me a long time to get out from Shinchitose (新千歳) airport due to the amazing crowd and another long time to stay in line purchasing my JR pass in the airport. Since I was going to Sapporo, I had to buy another ticket from the airport to Sapporo which was not contained in my JR pass…After a 30-minute train ride to Sapporo and dragging my luggage to check in to the hotel, I was already exhausted. I had no idea that I would spend so much time standing and waiting in the airport.
So… it was not too much that I decided to indulge myself with Sapporo’s delicious seafood. You could definitely see crabs in all the Hokkaido tour guidebooks. Lucky enough, my hotel was not far from a very famous crab house called “Kanihonke” (カニ本家), so there I was, sitting in this nostalgic Japanese-fashioned restaurant and uttering out my rusty Japanese to an elegantly kimono-cladded waitress.
It was such a satisfying dinner. I could still drool all over my keyboard when I saw the photos. The crab meat was so fresh that although it was only boiled, you could taste the light sweetness in it. I was provided only vinegar, mayonnaise, and some lemon wedges to enhance the flavor. However, it’s probably the best crab I’ve ever eaten so far, needing absolutely no other spice. The croquette was fried with outside crunchy but inside still soft and full of crab meat. I also ordered a pot of rice cooked with crab, and a bowl of miso soup with crab. I wouldn’t understand if anybody would dislike it. Oh my…
Hokkaido is also famous for its fresh milk as its milk cow husbandry is quite advanced. Japanese people are very fond of ice cream, and they often call the ice cream “soft cream.” Since the “Snowbrand Parlor” (雪印パーラー) was around and I got some coupons from the airline I booked, it’s no excuse to skip the dessert. 😀
Yummy! I’m not fond of ice cream in general. I always think it’s way too sweet and I generally dislike the taste or smell of milk. However, this ice cream really made me realize why “Snowbrand Parlor” has been so successful in milk industry. The ice cream was so creamy and rich and minus the “fake” or “complicated” taste, and it certainly didn’t have the “smelly” taste I’ve been afraid of.
Next morning, it’s a 4.5-hour train ride to Kushiro. That’s right… 4.5 hours. Trains in Hokkaido don’t run fast. It’s certainly not Shinkansen you’re hoping for. If you want to do a self-guided tour in Hokkaido, the most challenging part might be the transportation. It takes long, and it’s expensive.
And yes… a car was rented from a car rental shop near Kushiro train station. The bus from Kushiro to Lake Akan didn’t have the schedule suitable for me, therefore renting a car was the only option. It was not that difficult to drive in Hokkaido actually, especially the road from Kushiro to Lake Akan was pretty simple and the rental cars were all equipped with GPS system. Although driving in Hokkaido is on the left side of the road, you just have to be careful and remember the difference when you make left and right turns, otherwise you get used to it after 5 minutes. It’s a bit pricey to rent a car in Japan compared to in the U.S., however, it’s certainly not bad to enjoy a drive in Hokkaido. The car rental staff was very attentive to give instructions of the car, and even nicely entered all my destinations to the GPS system.
This car is quite environmental-conscience… it only consumed 4 litters of gas after going to Lake Akan and back to Kushiro…that distance was like… 140+km!
In Kushiro, there were two places I went to see the red crowned crane. Nobody’s stranger to the amazing photographs of these graceful large birds, known as “tanchozuru,” flapping and dancing in the snow.
The first one I stopped by was “Kushiro City Natural Park” (釧路市丹頂鶴自然公園). I was told there were around 20 red crowned cranes in it now.
When I really saw these legendary cranes, I had an impression that they seemed to be overly beautified by the photos. Japanese people call red crowned cranes “Gods of Marsh,” and these birds are symbols of long lives. They’re certainly unique, but maybe adding some snow in the background would make them “legendary?” The boards nearby introduced every crane; some cranes were over 20 years old. I just realized that all the red crowned cranes have that distinguished “red top” despite their genders. 😀
The second place I went was Akan Japanese Crane Center (阿寒国際ツルセンター) where it introduced red crowned cranes in details, including the breeding, migration, habitation, etc. I was hoping to see some crane babies but didn’t see any. Besides seeing the cranes, there’s a big forest on the back for hiking. However since I had to arrive to Lake Akan before 5 o’clock for the last cruise in the day to see the green algae balls known as marimo, I couldn’t afford more time here. *Theoretically* you could see foxes and deer in the woods.
There’s also Kushiro Marsh(釧路湿原国立公園) where people can go hiking, but I just didn’t have anymore time in Kushiro~~~~~~~~~~