Arrival in Hokkaido was like a breath of fresh air – whilst the weather in Honshu had been bearable, it was most definitely hot. Being that bit further north, Hokkaido’s climate is lovely, with hardly any humidity. My first couple of days were spent in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, where I spent most of my time shopping (after the small towns in Honshu, shops were a big deal!). Visiting the Sapporo Beer Factory was also a must!
From Sapporo I headed to Furano on the “Lavender Express”. Furano, a town in the centre of Hokkaido, is known for it’s beautiful fields of lavender, certainly a sight to see. After arriving in Furano, I wandered about the station trying to figure out if there were buses to the local attractions. Found out there was a bus leaving RIGHT NOW, so I raced off and got a ticket and jumped on… Turned out it was a sight seeing bus for “Kita no kuni kara” (“From Northern Country”), a long running Japanese television drama. Very similar to going to Australia to do the Neighbours tour… Amongst other things, we saw the house that the main character built from recycled products – an old bus, refrigerator doors and so forth. We also visited the ice cream factory (asparagus ice cream any-one?) and the jam factory (huge variety of jams to taste, including pumpkin!). In Nakafurano, I was lucky enough to meet a guy who’s traveling around Hokkaido with his elderly father – they took me around for the day (they have a car to get around), so transport was taken care of! They even took me out for “gengis khan” barbecue for lunch, yum.
From Furano area, I headed north, to Wakkanai, a small town at the tip of Japan. Arrival in Wakkanai was fun – the town was in the middle of a summer festival, so there was street performances and food. I wandered off to find my hostel (“only fifteen minutes walk from the station”). Turned out it was fifteen minutes straight uphill – I got there, but only just! Whilst I was struggling up the hill with my backpack, a crew of teenage boys came jogging past me in their club uniforms. Bleh, they might have been jogging, but I had a heavy backpack! The hostel was lovely – I got there and crashed, and was woken up later that night by the owner – there were fireworks in town that could be seen from the hostel. So we sat on the roof, watching the fireworks go off by the waterside. As breakfast was served at 7am, I was up and only slightly awake by 7.05am the next morning. Wandered into the breakfast room, still very much out of it, to be greeted by yesterdays baseball club, who all immediately bowed and shouted “ohayou gozaimasu” (good morning) to me – I was so flummoxed – I mean, it was 7am, I hadn’t even wiped the sleep from my eyes and there’s all these kids shouting at me, eek! Whilst in Wakkanai, my main (only) aim was to see the sun set over the most northern part of Japan, Cape Soya…
Another day, another location – my last stop in my little trip around Hokkaido was Noboribetsu Onsen, south of Sapporo. Noboribetsu Onsen is famous in Japan as one of the best onsens in the country, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Two nights in the area allowed me to visit the baths 5 times – and they were amazing. From the “hot waterfall” (streams of hot water falling from 2 floors up onto your back) to the “walking onsen” (two ankle deep round pools, one containing hot water, the other containing ice cold water – the idea is you walk in the hot one for a lap, then swap to the cold one for a lap, the feeling is incredible), there’s plenty to keep oneself amused. Due to it’s eery sulfur spots (which provide alot of the water for the onsens), the area is also known as “hell valley”.
On the way back to Sapporo, I stopped at a little town called Muroran, which has recently re-invented itself as a whale/dolphin watching location. From there I took a sightseeing boat out into Volcano Bay. Although no whales were seen, we saw a heap of dolphins, so it was a fun day. Unfortunately, despite the fact that I had lathered myself in sunscreen twice before going out, I got extremely burnt on my arms. I can’t imagine how bad it would have been if I hadn’t have been wearing sunscreen… I was planning on heading into Otaru (a town known for its sushi), however my sunburn quickly put an end to those plans, so I headed back to Sapporo instead, intending to have a quiet night. Of course, Sapporo is in the middle of it’s summer beer festival, so that plan didn’t work – why do I always end up at a beer tent?!
Tomorrow I head down to Kyushu – whilst I’m excited to be seeing everyone again, I’m not looking forward to the temperature difference – right now (in Sapporo), it is 24 degrees, with 56% humidity. Fukuoka is 32 degrees, with 84% humidity – what am I getting myself into?!