After spending five nights around Kushiro, on the east coast of Hokkaido, including the night in Rausu, it was time to move on. I had now seen the birds I had come to Japan to see and I had two weeks to visit a few other places. I decided I had to go to Sapporo, while on Hokkaido.
I walked on mostly icey sidewalks about six blocks to Kushiro Station, expecting to have time for breakfast but was put on a train leaving immediately. I had booked in for three nights at a pretty high-end hotel in Sapporo. I was hitting the last few days of their Snow Festival, so I was paying about $400 for the three nights, much more than I have been paying. I arrived at the main Sapporo Station about 11:30, ending up in a Mr Donuts for a surprisingly nice soup, coffee and two donuts. I was thinking about buying day passes on the subway but would leave that for the two full days in town.
I figured out how to use the subway, three stops to my hotel, Sapporo Park Hotel. I came up out of the subway into a nice park and walked around a bit until Google got me to the hotel entrance. They let me into my room early. My cough had persisted and so my only interest was to get warm and lay down. The hotel was not providing breakfast which annoyed me, forgetting that it was still loads cheaper than anywhere else. I hunkered down trying to keep warm. About 7:00 I went down to the lobby not really expecting a simple restaurant or even a kiosk with anything to eat. I wasn’t up to going out yet. At a souvenir type kiosk I bought some fancy snacks and a beer which got me to sleep.
In the morning I dressed with everything I have and headed out sometime around 9:00. I was using my monopod expecting even more packed snow and ice on the sidewalks than in Kushiro. A couple of blocks on I came to the first Ice Sculptures on a boulevard down the middle of the busy street. It went on for a three or four blocks. I had pancakes and coffee in McD, still finding it hard to pick out restaurants that are open.
In a pedestrian mall that also went on for a number of blocks I found an optometrist and bought clip-on sunglasses to fight the intense glare. Even with a grey day my pupils were closing with the snow everywhere. The beige glasses meant I could see a little definition in the snowy parts of the walk. More and more as I got closer into the centre of Sapporo the sidewalks and often a one metre band along the road were heated and clear of ice. Still the snow/icy parts were often a step up or down. I was glad I had my stick.
Wearing my glasses more now as the clip-ons made the glare less intense I took to wearing my mask less often, as the mask clouds my glasses in the cold temperature. There is close to universal mask use here unless people are eating or drinking. But no one has every indicated concern when I do not have one on, even when I am hacking away trying to cover my face.
A couple more blocks and I was into one of the Festival’s Ice sculpture areas, although now I would call it more packed snow carving. There were a number of building size pieces, very professionally done and dozens of car sized pieces, some more amateur like. I think many of these may be in competition for awards. Tomorrow is the last day of the Sapporo Snow Festival. Many families were out enjoying activities and buying souvenirs offered at many kiosks along the way.
Gradually I started making my way back not following the same route. I ended up farther east and had to use Google to help me. I never was tempted to go looking for something else to do. I guess I was starting to feel a bit better. Near my hotel I found a funny little café filled with books and kitsch. It was run by an old woman who took about half an hour to make coffee for me. While there an elderly man and then a woman came in and had similarly laboriously prepared meals. I thought that I should come back when I was ready to eat. I never did.
I did come out again that night looking for a meal and ended up in a place that specialized in barbecued offal. I had jumbo shrimps and veggies that I did on a hibachi and filled up with rice.
My second day in Sapporo, now Saturday was similar. I headed out following my route yesterday. I went into a Mr Donut hoping for the same soup I had when I arrived, but I guess it was too early, so my breakfast was coffee and donuts. In the big snow sculpture area there were now thousands of people, mostly young families enjoying the snow. Many of the little sculptures were small slides for the very little ones to play on.
I now noticed more attention to the snow and ice conditions. Obviously the young people just hustled on as if there was no problem. But some older people with canes had spikes attached and those in wheel chairs had skis under the front small wheels. I also saw a child’s strider with skis attached under the wheels. This is big snow country.
At noon there were lineups at many restaurants. I ended up in a Yashino, a chain I had used before. I just pointed at something and it was great and reasonable. Back in my hotel I worked on my Steller’s photos a bit and tried to make bookings for down the road. The best I could do was three more nights, including two in Nikko. Getting there, I know will be more complicated that I have had it so far. I also booked for hotel breakfast, as I plan on leaving Sapporo early afternoon and will have time in the morning. I have been unsuccessful finding minshuku type accommodation on booking sites. My Nikko place will require at least one non-JR train and quite a bit of walking. That’s ok, but my spots of interest are all in snowy areas and I do not handle the icy sidewalks with as much alacrity as the agile Japanese of all ages.
My morning was spent at the hotel buffet breakfast rather than the set Japanese restaurant, which I will have in Nikko. I took the 1:27 train back to the Hakodate Shinkansen station that confused me when I first got to Hokkaido and cost me a $60 taxi ride into central Hakodate. This leg is to get me to the fast trains down into Honshu where I will spend the rest of my time. There is also a very inexpensive hotel at the station. I need to catch up a bit after my Sapporo splurge.
I got onto the Tokyo Shinkasen from Hakodate-Hokuto at 6:30, too early for the free hotel breakfast. This train goes under the ocean passage between Hokkaido and Honshu the largest and main Island in Japan. I never noticed the passage as I worked on my compute, finally writing a bit about what was happening here. Up until now it has all been about bird photography and sharing those photos. The trains on Hokkaido have been difficult to do computer work because of the tracks. The cars are nice but the rails are still clackity-clack type. On the shinkansen the clackity-clack is gone and the ride is silky smooth.
In 2010 when I was cycling south towards Tokyo Nikko was to be my last major place to spend some time, but it was completely booked. It has long been an important holiday spot for Japanese. It is important both for its nature and for its history. I had booked two nights in the Nikko area on the edge of Nikko National Park near a place called Kawaji Onsen, in large part because the hotel had an onsen and provided breakfast and dinner.
My route involved a non-Shinkansen JR train for about half-an hour, a twenty minute walk to a non-JR station and then two trains and about two hours waiting to get about 50 km into the mountains. It became more and more obvious that I had not picked out my spot very well. Off the last train I walked on icy roads through a mostly deserted little town to get to a high rise hotel set amongst other places of the same sort. There was lots of nature around but not much history and no temples, which fill the Nikko I had read about. One of the dozen hotel workers spent some time going over the Japanese only sheet I was given. He was explaining, not that I understood much at this time, onsen times and places and meal times and places and processses. I found my way to my room; no windows as I laterdetermined the room was actually below ground. I headed out and found my way to the men’s 12th floor onsen. There was also a women’s and a mixed one. There were two large pools, washing stations for about 20 people, and a separate cooling down area. The hot water immersion was part of what I hoped would drive my cough away.
Breakfast and dinner each of the two days were in a big room with about a dozen tables of Japanese fare. I don’t think it would be called high end, but there was lots there that I enjoyed. In the evening there was beer and saki you could have as much as you liked. The hundred or so people who were also eating went back many times selecting their favourite items. On my full day in the area I walked around the little town and up a river for a while. I enjoyed the day because walking around this unpretentious area reminded me of my Shikoku Walk
I got back on the web and did a better job finding two more nights in the Nikko I wanted in the first place. I had a similar two hour three train ride to get out of these hills and then back up a parallel valley to the real town of Nikko, where I spent two more nights
Nikko reminds me in small ways of Banff. A mountain town with lots of tourist accommodation. At this time of year it is not fully operational because it is very cold. I took a long bus ride to the far end of the attractions, close to 1500 m high and all I could do there was have a bowl of ramen to try to warm up. Back down in Nikko it was a bit better, but the main attraction for me was the hot sento in my little ryokan. I did have my best meal so far in Japan in a small restaurant where I was the only client.
My full day in Nikko was a temple walk. My Garmin says I walked 19,000 steps. My hip agreed. The first temples were built here around 700 AD. My walking companion Kobo Daishi from Shikoku helped set up Shingon Buddhism here and is credited with naming the area Niiko which means daylight. The main character in establishing the importance of Nikko was the most important Japanese Shogun, Tokugawa. His mausoleum, Toshogu, is reputably the most ornate shrine in Japan. The area abounds with other temples and the forest in which they sit are wonderful walking, even when a cold wind whistles down the still snow and icey walks.
Nikko was also the fifth station on Basho’s Narrow Road to the North. It marked, at the time, the barrier between the settled world of Edo and the wild north. Basho was one of the inspirations for my first trip to Japan. I was happy to finally get to Nikko, even if it took a little trial and error.
Hi Ken. We are enjoying your blogs. I don’t know how you find the time. I guess riding on trains helps. Mavis and I are in Kauai relaxing. So much rain has kept us off the hiking trails which are deep in mud and impassable water pools. Our accommodation is excellent – a good thing as we have spent many hours sitting listening to the rain and reading. We lucked out yesterday with a perfect day in the Waiemaya Canyon which is Kauai’s highlight. Managed a two hour hike along the muddy Nepali Coast trail to celebrate my birthday. Not falling on the slippery rocks was my principal focus. You would understand. It’s raining. I will go back to reading David Coperfield. Cheers. Rich
Very Interesting, Ken.
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