Day 20 – Tokyo to Hokkaido
I left Tokyo today for a more sedate pace of life. I jumped on the Shinkansen train to Hakodate, which took about 4.5 hours. Riding the bullet train is a quintessential experience of travelling in Japan. I did what most Japanese people do and bought myself a bento box to take with me, and amazingly I found a VEGAN box! It was so beautifully presented, with carved vegetables, different types of rice, beans pulses, and other things I had no idea what they were, but it was tasty!
Of course the train was perfectly on time! I then changed onto a local train for a short hop down to the port of Hakodate. It reminds me of towns I visited in New Zealand funnily enough. I arrived at 3pm and headed up the nearby mountain by way of the cable car. It is pretty quiet here, and so much cooler than the south, about ten degrees cooler in fact which has been a welcome change. I found a park and lay on a bench and had the place to myself and it was wonderful.
Hakodate is really just a stopover for my journey tomorrow up to the main city of Hokkaido, Sapporo. But it does have its charms. I wondered through the older area of the town, a few schoolkids said hello to me and I ended ups at the supermarket for dinner – a running theme of this trip so far! I also discovered the oldest concrete electricity pole in Japan. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. How lucky I am to have seen that. I like visiting smaller more out of the way places, as you get a truer sense of what it is like to live in a country. Electricity poles and everything.
Onwards to Sapporo.
Day 21 – Sapporo
Local trains in Japan are quite different from the whiz-bang-whallopp Shinkansen bullet trains, but they are still pretty good, though slightly reminiscent of British Rail in the late 1980s. It bizarrely took almost as much time to travel from Hakodate to Sapporo than it did to go from Tokyo to Hakodate, and if you look on a map you’ll see how outrageous that is!
Sapporo is the largest city on the island of Hokkaido and perhaps most famous for beer! It certainly is very laid back and so much quieter than Tokyo! The weather is about 10 degrees cooler too. The level of English is also noticeably less and therefore the old Google Translate app has been coming out a lot more. The hotel I am staying in is great as it has its own Onsen (Japanese spa). On the first day I went down twice and floated in the soothingly warm water, it was amazing!
I also discovered a great Indian restaurant called Jyoti. It was like being back in the UK, loads of familiar curries and can breads to choose from and more importantly loads of veggie options! To round off my evening I stumbled across a fantastic five night outdoor free dance festival called ‘Yosakoi Soran’. It is an annual event apparently and celebrates a particularly energetic group style of Japanese dance and it is amazing! If you watch my video you’ll see some examples. The coordination and costume changes are stunning.
Day 22 – Hokkaido
Today I spontaneously decided to go on an adventure! Within ten minutes of waking up I decided to go see some of the island as the weather was good, so I grabbed my rail pass and headed to the station.
My ultimate destination was a town called Furano. The journey itself was lovely, trundling through the Hokkaido countryside, with rivers and mountains. The place I ended up at was an area famous for lavender and flowers. It was a long journey but was beautiful. I was a little early for the full effect of the fields and fields of lavender but what I saw was still great. You can buy lavender everything – lip balm, ice cream, cakes, pillow cases, perfume, you name it! The area is also famous for its melons.
I did have a funny experience too, whist looking at the nearby mountains. There seemed to be this low lying white cloud hanging around one particular mountain. Whilst sitting there pondering why it hangs around that mountain especially, it suddenly dawned on me that I was staring at an active volcano!!!?!
I ended my evening back at the dance festival and got myself a front row seat! After all that sitting I thought I should indulge in the Onsen experience once again which was a soothing way to end day 22 🙂
Day 23 – Beer and the eternal frustrations of a vegetarian abroad
Bit more of a lazy day after yesterday’s exertions. I started the day by booking my onwards train trips, from Kyoto to Horishima, then to Kobe and lastly to Osaka. The lady who helped me at the station spoke perfectly English which in Hokkaido seems to be quite unusual. I then took the old green line streetcar to find a veggie restaurant that I had seen recommended online. However, a tale as old a time proceeded to unfold, as I walked for ages to try and find it. But couldn’t
It has happened so many times that I have decided to stop trying to search out veggie places anymore using Google maps. It frustrates the hell out of me! I am just going to try and find veggie food in normal restaurants and chance my luck. Today was the second day in a row that I ate from a 7/11 store! Literally just rice and edamame.
I then walked over to the Sapporo Beer Museum. The brewery was set up in 1876 because the Japanese government were trying to develop the island of Hokkaido, as it was largely just agricultural in the 19thC. They had originally chosen Tokyo as the base but decided to bring it up here. You can walk around the museum , look at the history of the brand and see some interesting advertising posters (all using women to advertise the beer!). Apparently it is the most popular beer in Asia. I bought myself a limited edition classic beer and sat on a bench and enjoyed a nice chilled brewskie! (I don’t drink beer much).
I then headed back to what has become my daily ritual and relaxed in the Onsen. I took a few photos (highly illegal) of what it looks like. Basically there is a single sex bathing pool with hot spring water. Then there are individual cubicles where you can wash, shower, shave, brush your teeth, you name it. I have noticed that Japanese men like to come down later in the evening and it is their evening regime to sit in the pool and have a shower before bed. It is a lovely relaxing way to end the day.
Day 24 – Otaru, a garden and a museum
My last day in Hokkaido today. I started my day in the sunshine at the Sapporo Botanical Garden. It was lovely and quiet, the only other occupants were a group of al fresco painters and some very noisy crows. It seems that people here are a bit scared of crows, there were signs up saying they cause mischief and to be wary of them! That’s why I like them.
I then headed to the nearby Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art. It wasn’t modern so much, a lot of the paintings are from the 18thC but it was a great gallery nonetheless. I then immediately broke the rule I set myself yesterday and tried to find a veggie restaurant I saw in a leaflet. Big mistake. It was closed. That really is it it now. Never again.
I decided to see a bit more of the island and jumped on the train to the nearby town of Otaru. It used to be a busy fishing and trade port, but that industry died off years ago. That left the town with a series of canals and docks that became redundant and in need of repair. Luckily for us tourists the town regenerated the area and now it is a lovely area for boat rides, cafes and shops. I visited the local museum which was lovely, and I had it virtually to myself. I like to support local galleries and museums, sometimes they are not amazing but if you don’t support them, they won’t be around! Support your locals museums people 🙂
Tomorrow I am flying down to Osaka, then staying for a few nights in the old city of Nara. I have really enjoyed Hokkaido, the peace, the pace of life, the countryside and people. I definitely got stared at way more up here, as there are significantly less white people and less English is spoken. I do however like going to more out of the way places, and seeing the less obviously touristy side of country.
I ended my evening watching the start of the new series of Tales of the City! I have such an affinity with this series, having read the books when I visited my good friend Liz who was living in San Francisco, way back in the day. In fact we visited the inspiration for Barbary Lane last year on a trip up to the city, which is actually called Macondray Lane.
Watch it, it’s great!