Hokkaido Winter Drive – Concluding Thoughts

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It was a fantastic time doing my first winter road trip in Hokkaido, Japan. I first fell in love with Hokkaido 10 years ago on our first trip there. This time, we experienced a whole new dimension and we found ourselves falling in love again with the country and the wonderful people here. This are the things we will remember from the trip:

  • Driving in the Snow – we had some truly unforgettable legs, especially at Jozankei and Niseko, where we were literally driving through a winter wonderland. It was a very surreal special feeling. What beautiful mountains and countryside they have in Hokkaido, and with the entire landscape capped in snow, it was simply magical.
  • Check the Dates! – can you imagine my horror when I went to collect my car rental in Sapporo, only to find that I had booked the car on the wrong dates? In my rush, I had carelessly put the month as October instead of November on my car rental booking. To make it worse, there was no longer any car available to rent from Sapporo. Thankfully, I had my brother-in-law to save the day. We managed to find an available rental car in Otaru two days later. So the first two days of the road trip to Jozankei and Otaru, we used my brother-in-law’s rented car to shuttle both our families.
  • The Wonderful People of Hokkaido – In Otaru, my wife and son had to wait for me at the hotel lobby while I drove back to Jozankei to pick up my brother-in-law’s family. After some time, my son became hungry, and my wife had to walk to the nearby convenience store to pick up some food for him. Now this would be a trivial affair for most of us, but my wife suffers from cerebral palsy which affects her walking and her balance. It can be quite a scary ordeal for her to navigate uneven ground or even steps. When she walked to the convenience store, she found the store front had steps at the door with no railings to help with balance. An elderly Japanese man was waiting for his bus at the nearby bus stop. He noticed my wife’s hesitation at the store front and asked her what the matter was and if she needed any help. After my wife explained the situation to him, the man offered him his hand to help her up the stairs, which my wife gratefully accepted. As my wife looked around the convenience store, she then noticed that the man came back into the store and he started speaking to one of the attendants at the convenience store. As it turned out, he explained to the attendant my wife’s situation and that his bus was about to arrive. He had asked the attendant to help my wife down the steps after making her purchase. My wife was extremely moved my the man’s simple act of kindness. He really went the extra mile to make sure that my wife’s needs were taken care off. When my wife shared with me what happened, I was really bowled over. How amazing the people are… so thoughtful, so sincere, so genuine. The world would be a better place if we were all like the wonderful people of Hokkaido.
  • The Amazing Food – I always tell people, it is almost impossible to find a bad restaurant in Japan. The food here is amazing, and even the fast food taste better than what we get back home. We believe that it is because the people of Japan take pride in what they serve their customers. The attention to detail, the commitment to quality ingredients and food preparation processes, all these result in a food paradise that is unlike any other country on the planet.
  • Thank God for Google Maps – This was a life-saver, especially when the supposedly English-enabled GPS unit in our car strangely did not have an English keyboard to input the required destinations. What’s the point of having an English-enabled GPS when there is no English input mechanism? SMH.
  • My Son’s First Experience with Snow – He took to the snow like a dog to a bone. 🙂

All in all, these four days on the road in Hokkaido really opened our eyes to a different world, one that we will always remember. We hope to go back soon!

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This is part 10, and the final entry of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, look out for my next blog series which will start shortly!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

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Hokkaido Winter Drive – Otaru to Niseko

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After one night in Otaru, we set off for Niseko, a town near the dormant volcano of Mount Yotei,  surrounded by major ski resorts. We were eagerly anticipating this leg of the journey, as we were keen to experience the wintry conditions there.

Our first challenge of the day would be to figure out how to pump petrol in Japan. The pumps were truly amazing, offering a completely self-service experience from start to finish, except that we had a bit of trouble because we could not read Japanese and we had to get help from fellow motorists and eventually the station manager in the office to key in the correct settings onto the touch screen. The key things to remember is to pump the correct fuel! Normally, the green colored pump will dispense diesel and the red and yellow colored pump will dispense regular petroleum and high-octane petroleum respectively.

Before you start pumping, you have to make payment via credit card or the automatic currency counting machine, and you have to put your hands on the red hand diagram to discharge static electricity and avoid sparking off a fire.

After you finish pumping, the machine will automatically dispense you the change, which was pretty cool!

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At our rural gas station, the fuel lines came down from the ceiling!

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After pumping fuel, we headed into the highlands, and we were treated to some seriously snowy driving conditions. The scenery was surreal and beautiful beyond words, especially for people like us who come from a land of perpetual heat and humidity. There were lengthy stretches where the roads were white, and we could not see where the roads end and the fields begin. It was a real treat!

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Eventually we arrived at our beautiful resort – Niseko Northern Resort An’nupuri, which I highly recommend for its wonderful facilities and amazing food (the buffet breakfast is to die for!). We also enjoyed our visit to the Onsen here, and did plenty of playing in the snow!

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We must have had a full metre of snow fall that night, it was just so magical. The only problem is trying to find our car the next day!

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This is part 5 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, click HERE to read part 6 where I share about the beautiful Lake Toya as we drive towards Noboribetsu Hot Springs!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

Hokkaido Winter Drive – Otaru City

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Otaru Music Box Museum

This is the third time we have come to Hokkaido, but in our previous trips we have never visited Otaru. Otaru is a small harbour city, easily accessible from Sapporo by a 30 minute train ride. It is famous for the freshness of its sushi, as well as its canal walks and quaint shopping streets.

Having only one afternoon and evening to explore, we decided to take a walk down the Otaru Sakaimachi Shopping Street, which is popular with tourists and locals alike. Along this street, you can find plenty of local delicacies to eat, restaurants, snacks, deserts, mementos, everything that a tourist will need!

We had lunch at a sushi restaurant, and the food was delicious indeed!

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After lunch, we topped up with desserts from the Japanese Maccha Sweets shop, where they serve all sorts of Japanese Green Tea desserts, pastries and ice-cream.

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Walking further down the street, we picked up some souvenirs and eventually ended up at the Otaru Music Box Museum. This is a very interesting place, filled with music boxes of all shapes and forms. They also sell a host of music boxes of different grades and designs, but all of them were well crafted and unique. The prices are also pretty reasonable, considering the workmanship.

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Creative Designs

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Intricate and Captivating

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Sushi Music Boxes

We happily chose a simple music box with a lovely tune to bring back as a keepsake.

After the museum visit, we headed back to the hotel to rest and recharge.


This is part 4 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, click HERE for part 5 where I share about how to navigate the Japanese petrol stations without knowing any Japanese and our trip to the highland ski resort at Niseko!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

Hokkaido Winter Drive – Jozankei to Otaru

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Day 2 of our road trip was an incredibly scenic drive through the hills to the port town of Otaru. This leg was a truly magical experience, passing by dams, lakes, and ski resorts, taking us through all sorts of snowy roads and tunnels. We took our time here, as we wanted to soak in the breathtaking sights around us. A good place to take a first stop is at the Jozankei dam. We found a nice parking spot on the right side of the road just after the tunnel that leads to the dam. This was a great place to take photos, on both sides of the road:

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Sapporo Lake @ Jozankei

After we got back in the car, the weather suddenly took a turn for the worse. It was snowing heavily, to the point where we could not even see the road. This is where I would advise all drivers to slow down and to keep a safe distance from the car in front. Navigating these driving conditions can be tricky, especially for those of us who have never driven in snow before. Make sure that your rented car comes with snow tyres, and remember that if you brake too hard and start skidding, you need to release the brake until the tyres regain their traction with the road. This can be rather counter-intuitive, as when the car starts skidding, our reflex response is normally to press harder on the brakes. This would be a mistake, as it would cause the car to skid even more and we will find ourselves in a nasty accident. Do be extra careful when going down a windy slope, make sure your car does not pick up excessive speed as it might make it very tricky to navigate the sharp turns.

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Heavy snowfall as we enter a tunnel at Jozankei

When the roads are completely covered in snow, it can also be quite hard to figure out where the the sides of the road are. Do look out for the red and white striped arrows at the top left corner. These arrows will guide tell you where the side of the road is, and will help you get your bearings right. These arrows will also sometimes flicker with green or orange lights, and I believe that these give you an indication that the the road is bending to the left and right respectively. (someone correct me if I am wrong here!).

Do also look out for the roadside grit salt boxes. The salt helps to lower the melting point of water to help melt the snow on the road. These are only to be used in the most extreme of conditions.

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Remember to give oncoming cars enough space to pass!

After passing the lake and before getting back into civilisation, you will pass by another dam – Asari Dam – which is less scenic, but interesting nonetheless as you will experience a very interesting 360 degree loop in the road, which I presume was the most efficient and safe way to quickly drop the altitude of the road.

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Sun rising at Asari Dam

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360 degrees road ramp a la Hot Wheels play set

From here, it is a short drive to Otaru, using the Sasson Highway where we had to pay a 240 yen toll. You will have the interesting experience of driving under people’s residences:

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The road to the leads to the basement??

Very soon, we arrived at our hotel for the night – Hotel Authent Otaru.


This is part 3 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, please click HERE for part 4 where I share about our walk down the popular Otaru Sakaimachi shopping street!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series