Refreshing summer in Hokkaido–back to Sapporo (避暑就去北海道–回到札幌)

After coming back from Otaru (小樽), I still got about half day and the next morning in Sapporo(札幌) before I concluded this trip.

In my opinion, Sapporo seemed like every big city in Japan but just less crowded. As usual, there were department stores, electronic stores, all kinds of stores near the train station. I stayed in the same hotel as the first night in Sapporo, ANA Hotel Sapporo, which was less than 10 minutes walk from the train station. ANA Hotel is a very common business-type of hotel chain all over Japan. It’s decent with fair service and quality, which I had no complain about after staying in several of them in Japan.

I decided to take the subway to Odori Park(大通公園) to walk around. Odori Park is situated in the heart of Sapporo, where it often holds different ceremonies and celebrations for seasonal occasions. P1060581 P1060579 P1060577 P1060575There were indeed some activities going on in the park, with a corner clustered with several large tents and crowds. Apparently it was a beer party!

There were also several carts selling BBQ corns. Summer is the harvest season for corns, along with melons (cantaloupes), potatoes, and asparagus in Hokkaido.

Many people have read Japanese comics (manga) and are familiar with Japanese’ creativity and imagination. In Japan, it’s not hard to see that some creatures are personified in very cute illustrations. Here’s the corn illustration I saw all over Sapporo this time: P1060583Odori Park is also a place for people to relax after a day’s work. I saw several people apparently just got out from the offices and decided to sit around enjoying the breeze.

I walked further away from Odori Park and arrived in “Anuki Koji” (狸小路). It’s a very long shopping street that crosses several blocks, constituted by restaurants, drugstores, entertainment shops, and some hotels. P1060589 P1060586 P1060585 P1060584

For people who have been to Japan several times, it’s not difficult to find out that many Japanese people are enthusiastic player of UFO Catcher. I’m certainly not addicted to it since I’m always not the winner. 😛 You will be surprised what the prizes are sometimes–besides stuff toys being the usual prizes, this time I saw plums, cookies, socks, and the one I really couldn’t anticipated the most, was it dry meat… or dry sausage?? And I did see some people spending quite a few money to catch these giant…dry meat? Sausages?? DSC_0671

The next morning, I took the subway to Nakajima Park (中島公園). It was much serener and greener than Odori Park. There was a big lake and numerous trees that I would stroll around longer if I had more time. It reminded me of New York’s Center Park.
P1060591P1060592 P1060593 There were many hydrangeas blooming in the park. Hydrangea is my favorite flower because of its violet and blue shades that don’t seem as common in flowers. P1060597Isn’t that green plus violet and blue combination just nice? 😀
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Watanabe Junichi’s (渡边淳一) little museum of literature is next to Nakajima Park. It’s constructed by the famed architecture–Ando Tadao (安藤忠雄). It contains a small library and displays Watanabe Junichi’s works. I’ve read several of Watanabe Junichi’s works; I can’t say I favor every of them since some of them were overly sad. However, I still enjoyed his works as he always has observed human characteristics carefully and described them vividly in his stories. P1060595

Sapporo is also popular for its beer. What’s the best way to conclude your trip in Sapporo? A visit to Sapporo’s beer museum and factory was what I did. 😀P1060601 P1060602 P1060624P1060625

This little model explained how beers were prepared, processed, and shipped. What caught my eyes the most was how cute these figurines were! P1060617 P1060618 P1060619 P1060620 P1060621 P1060622 P1060623

Finally I’ve arrived in the tasting area. The museum was free, but the tasting wasn’t. However, the charge for tasting was pretty fair. A glass of beer was 200 Japanese yen, or a set of 3 different kinds was 500 Japanese yen. There were also soft drinks for 100 Japanese yen each glass. You’d also get some free snacks to go with your drink. Kanpai! 😀 P1060630

So this concluded my trip to Hokkaido. I must say that Hokkaido is great for summer as the temperature is just fine and the weather can’t be even nicer. Shinchitose (新千歲) airport contains many shops and you really can spend hours stocking up what you’ve forgotten to buy in Hokkaido or to further fulfill your shopping desire. 🙂

Refreshing summer in Hokkaido–Otaru (避暑就去北海道–小樽)

Otaru (小樽) is a port city on the coast of Sea of Japan; its development started as a major financial and trade district in Hokkaido. However, after Sapporo has been flourished, the prominent industries in Otaru have become art crafts including glass works and music boxes. It also has become one of the favorite places for tourists due to its Victorian-style lamps adorned streets, ancient buildings, and picturesque canal.

I arrived in Otaru from Kushiro (釧路) at almost 5 o’clock. After checking into my hotel, I decided to take a walk to the street. I was very surprised that there were so less people on the streets, and the stores seemed to start closing. The streets full of old-fashioned buildings emitted a very nostalgic and exotic atmosphere, especially the store-clustered area stood out like a backdrop for a beautiful early 20-century movie. However, the people-less streets also showed an unspeakable solitude. I then realized that most business closed at 6 o’clock at night, so I had to come back the next morning to explore more! P1060457 P1060458 P1060465 P1060466 P1060476 P1060477P1060470 P1060472 P1060473P1060480

There’s a dome shaped roof on my hotel, Hotel Nord, that’s open for customers to enjoy some refreshments and the gorgeous aerial views of Otaru. P1060500 P1060501 P1060502 P1060503 P1060506

After taking some photos from the hotel’s dome roof, I took a walk toward a shopping streets. Most of the shops, whoever, were not opened yet, but it was fun to look around what these shops were before heading toward the canal and the most prosperous town center in Otaru. P1060509P1060511P1060516Lily of the Valley, known as “すずらん” in Japanese, is a specialty in Hokkaido. This street lamp is cleverly designed in the shape of lily of the valley. I thought it’s absolutely adorable. 
P1060513When I finally reached the town center, I found that indeed the lively sceneries made a huge contrast of the loneliness in the previous day (or previous late afternoon, I should say…).

Kitakaro (北菓楼) carries both Japanese and western-style desserts. Its celebrated cake is called “Fairy’s Forest”(妖精の森), which is a Baumkuchen (layered cake). In my opinion, it tastes kind of like a stiffer version of honey cake… 
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This is the very famous glass studio in Otaru. There are several stores that carry various genres of glass work collections. P1060552LeTAO is also a popular dessert store here. The presentation of different types of chocolates was certainly beautiful.  P1060554 I thought I was in a stage set for an old movie. 😀P1060555 P1060556 P1060558 P1060560 P1060562 P1060564 There are several “Silver Bell” (銀の鐘) cafes in Otaru, conveniently named “Silver Bell First,” “Silver Bell Second,” “Silver Bell Third,” and “Silver Bell Fourth.” Silver Bell Fourth also provides a “floating ice hall” for customers to enjoy the very freezing experience! The special perk for customers is that you can choose the cup for your coffee to take it home! They even supply the sink for you to wash your cup and some paper boxes for it and the saucer that comes with it, if any. This is such a brilliant way to get your special Otaru souvenir that will always remind you the lovely time you’ve experienced in Otaru!P1060528

I opted Silve Bell Second, majorly because it showed a very interesting creature called “Clione,” commonly known as “Angel Fish” or “Floating Ice Angel.”P1060521 P1060527

These creatures came from Sea of Okhotsk with the floating ice; they’re very tiny with the bigger ones for about 3 cm long. It’s difficult to capture them in the photos because they kept flapping their tiny transparent fins shaped like wings, and apparently they could swim pretty fast too! I did film some videos of them swam in the tank with better quality though, but WordPress does not allow me to upload any videos. 😦

This is my cup! 🙂P1060523

Of course I took it home! 😀P1060678

Here I had to get my wallet ready–this lovely shop was determined to take my money away! Besides numerous glass studios, another famous Otaru original product is the elaborately decorated music box. P1060529

This store, called Otaru Orgel (小樽 オルゴール堂), does not exactly sell orgels. Instead, it sells a vast selection of music boxes, and everybody is bound to find something for his or her taste! The standing clock in front of the store is a steam clock built by a Canadian horologist, Raymond Saunders. DSC_0662P1060533 P1060534 P1060535 P1060538P1060540 P1060541 P1060543P1060545 P1060546 P1060547 P1060548

So did I bring back anything? I tried to stay calm while screaming at everything I saw here, and finally decided to take this little guy home. 🙂 P1060688

Even the postal office in Otaru is unique with a touch of ancient charm. P1060549

Kitaichi glass studio (北一硝子館) and Taishou glass studio(大正硝子館) are two largest glass studios in Otaru, both having several branch stores scattered in town center. Taishou makes delicate cute little figurines, such as animals, vegetables, fruits, etc for customers to arrange them to for decoration. Kitaichi’s works focus on more practical use, including various types of wine glasses, saucers, plates.

I got myself a small glass vase from Kitaichi. Though it’s quite small, it cost me 1200 Japanese yen. P1060692

After a heavy shopping and light lunch, I headed back toward my hotel. This canal has appeared in numerous photos. If there’s only one photo you can take in Otaru, this is the one! Not only just the photos, the stamps, the illustrations, everything that associates to Otaru can this image emerge. P1060565

I personally didn’t get too much hype about it, but sure I agreed that it was enchanting enough to have many people taking this photo again and again…though they pretty much look identical, heh…. 😛P1060567 P1060570I realized that there was annual “Tide festival”(潮まつり) coming up at the end of July. However, when I went to Otaru Plaza that serves as a tourist’s information center, I then saw many blue wind chimes hanging there. I simply thought they’re quite charming with a unique blue hue. The price was fair, 1500 Japanese yen each so I got one. Then I read the description on the panel, saying this particular wind chime was the winner of this year’s “Tide Wind Chime” (潮風鈴) designed and handmade by studio J-45’s glass master–馬場雅己. There were only 300 limited wind chimes made. That time I didn’t know who 馬場雅己 was until I searched him online later and found his works were exhibited in Taiwan early this year! Of course, this wind chime has been immigrated to my house safely, and its unique blue hue seems to cool down the hot summer in Taiwan. 🙂 P1060674I departed for Sapporo at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon… after 2 long train rides in previous 2 days in a row, I was glad that it only took 30 minutes from Otaru to Sapporo…

Refreshing summer in Hokkaido–Lake Akan (避暑就去北海道–阿寒湖)

After driving for more than an hour to Lake Akan (阿寒湖), it’s lucky that I arrived in time for the last cruise at 5 o’clock to tour around Lake Akan and meet the precious creature–marimo.

P1060385At first when I planned the trip, I asked on the travel websites about the transportation from Kushiro(釧路)to Lake Akan. There’s bus to go between these places, but the schedule was not suitable for me. I was questioned by many people about why I *had* to see some seaweeds. Honestly, it’s not my first time to go to Lake Akan, and I understood that most people tended to go to Furano(富良野) and Biei(美瑛) for flower fields especially summer is certainly the right time. I was temped at first–I’ve been to Furano and Biei before, and it’s definitely no hurt to visit them again. And it’s actually a lot easier of I gave up Lake Akan to go to Furano and Bie, and probably I could even afford to add Asahikawa (旭川), which I have been to before too. However, I finally decided that I would still go to Lake Akan, since as long as I wanted to go there, I just had to endure the inconvenience of the transportation.  It proved that it’s not a difficult drive from Kushiro to Lake Akan.

Lake Akan shined with green lights under the sun. The cruise took me around the lake and would stop at the marimo reservatory center on an isle on the lake. P1060387

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Marimo reservatory center is quite small and you’re only allowed 15 minutes in it. P1060400

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Marimo is a type of green algae (毬藻、マリモ); they’re considered precious treasure of Lake Akan. The temperature and current are very suitable for these green algae to grow in the lake. Since these green algae photosynthesize and tumble due to the wave, they’ve grown into ball shape. It’s not always they can grow into the ball shape; it really depends on where they reside. Some larger ones need several hundreds of years to grow. The indigenous people in Hokkaido, known as Ainu, have composed songs for these green algae balls and even held ceremonies for them. I personally find marimo quite fascinating.

The reservatory center introduces how marimo come to the shape and what these algae become like if they do not have the suitable current to roll them into perfect ball shape.  P1060413 P1060414 P1060411

There’s also an underwater camera that shows tourists how these green algae balls are doing in the lake. 🙂 P1060404

I was reluctant to move forward and kept staring at these very cute green balls tumbling in the water in this current-simulation tank. P1060412There are some larger algae balls: P1060407 P1060408

And a very precious jumbo marimo:  😀P1060409There were some shops near the lake selling wooden crafts. P1060421

After the cruise and walk around these shops, I came back to my hotel nearby the lake to attend my dinner.

The hotel I stayed–Akankoso (阿寒湖莊) is an old hotel. Despite the decoration seemed a bit outdated, the quality was not compromised. The staff was very friendly and attentative. I especially looked forward to its dinner.

I stayed in a Japanese style room overlooking the lake: 🙂 P1060417P1060420

Dinner time! 😀 P1060432 akan dinner

The hotel provides natural indoor and outdoor hot spring. I didn’t go to the outdoor one because I was so full after the dinner and decided to take the bath after 11 o’clock, when the outdoor one was closed. The indoor hot spring, however, opens almost 24 hours a day except a clean time between 2 am to 3 am.

Good morning, Lake Akan! P1060418

The breakfast was Japanese style too: P1060436

After the breakfast, I still got some time to walk around the lake before heading back to Kushiro. P1060442 P1060444 P1060445There are quite a few hotels around the lake, including a very nice one–Tsuruga Resort(鶴雅リゾート).

By the way, I found these manhole caps quite interesting: 😀 P1060446 P1060425 P1060424 P1060440 P1060439

After checking out from the hotel, I received 2 pumpkin muffins from the hotel staff. It’s time to drive back to Kushiro and take train to Sapporo(札幌) and transfer to Otaru(小樽)… wooooooo… another 5-hour train ride… uh!

Refreshing summer in Hokkaido–Sapporo, Kushiro (避暑就去北海道–札幌, 釧路)

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.

hokkaidoAt 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.

P1060590 crab house menucrab house food

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. 😀

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snowbrandYummy! 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!

P1060376In 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.

P1060375When 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?” P1060360The 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. 😀
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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. P1060377 P1060378Besides 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.
P1060382 P1060383There’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~~~~~~~~~~