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 – Back to New Chitose Airport

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How time flies when you are having a good time. Sadly it was time for us to head back to New Chitose Airport, where our winter escapade began.

We had to choose between the quick route along the Hokkaido Expressway and the more scenic seaside drive along Route 36. Naturally, we chose the Route 36, also avoiding the expressway tolls which aren’t cheap.

This was a surprisingly smooth journey, except around the Tomakomai area, where there were plenty of traffic lights. This is a great area to have a meal or to shop, but pity we didn’t have the time to do so, as we were rushing to return our car before the 12noon deadline.

Thankfully, we made it to the Times Car Rental depot in good time. It was a pretty smooth and quick process returning the car, and in no time we were on the complimentary shuttle bus heading towards the airport.

The New Chitose Airport is nowhere as big as Changi or Narita, but it is certainly a shopping and dining paradise nonetheless. There are loads of wonderful restaurants. We settled for lunch at a Sushi restaurant which amazed us with its high tech checkout process.

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All the waitress had to do was to use a handheld device, armed with Near-Field Communication technology, to “scan” all the empty sushi plates on the table. It looked a lot like a magician waving her magic wand. In a few seconds, the cost of our meal was automatically displayed on a compact LED screed which we then brought to the cashier to settle our bill.

After lunch, we explored the myriad shopping and entertainment options at the airport mall. There were a lot of places to keep kids entertained, from Hello Kitty World, to Doraemon World, to Royce Chocolate World:

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Only in Japan, where kids of all ages never grow up! 🙂


This is part 9 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, click HERE to read my concluding thoughts about our trip!

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

Hokkaido Winter Drive – Sapporo to Jozankei

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The first day of our drive was a short 30km route from Sapporo to Jozankei along the route 230. Within Sapporo city, the speed limits were 50km/h with plenty of traffic lights, and this meant that progress was really slow. Once we cleared the city limits, the drive was much smoother with the speed limits up to 60km/h and fewer traffic junctions. The drive also became more scenic with plenty of trees and mountains to enjoy. The surroundings also became progressively whiter with snow on the ground and on the trees. It was a pity my son fell asleep so he did not get to enjoy the scenes!

Jozankei is a quiet, quaint town that caters mainly to the visitors who come to enjoy the hot springs in winter. There is hardly anywhere to eat or to hang out, save for the restaurants inside the many hotels and resorts in the area.

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We spent the night at Hotel Sankaien, a simple and reasonably priced onsen hotel with Japanese style rooms. When we arrived at the hotel, we woke our son up and he was mesmerised by the winter landscape. Before this trip, he had never experienced snow and as a first-timer, you can imagine his excitement to find himself enveloped in a white wonderland.

Our room had a good view overlooking the stream that runs through the town.

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This is part 2 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, click HERE for part 3 where I share about the breathtaking drive from Jozankei to Otaru!

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

2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive – Blog Series

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In this blog series, I share the experience of my first winter drive in Hokkaido. Many of you are fans of my Singapore-Thailand road trips. This road trip, however, is a completely different animal, especially for many of us who have never driven in the snow and icy conditions before.

This was also the first time in 17 years I’ve rented a car for a holiday drive. I booked a car from the excellent website Rentalcars.com , a zippy Mazda 2 which is sufficient for two adults and one child. After doing a bit of research, I realised that an International Driving Permit would be required for driving in Japan. This is easily available at the Automobile Association of Singapore.  The application procedure was super easy and convenient- I did a walk-in application at the Ang Mo Kio office and it took me only 10 minutes, all you need is your Singapore driving license, NRIC and $20, they will take your photograph on the spot. The IDP is valid for 1 year.

For this trip, we were travelling with my brother-in-law’s family and it was really nice to have great company for this winter drive, we were extremely excited and were all hoping for snowfall, especially as they had not experienced snow before.

This would be my third trip to Hokkaido, and our first one in 9 years. For our previous trips, we did not drive and hence were limited to wandering around Sapporo and Asahikawa on foot and using public transport. Driving definitely adds a different dimension to the experience. Renting a car in Japan is not cheap though, and because of this, we decided to spend the first few days exploring Sapporo on our own, before renting the car for the last 5 days of our trip.

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We took the JR Airport Express from New Chitose Airport to Sapporo, tickets cost just over JPY1000 for adults and JPY500 for children. From there we took the Sapporo Subway a few stops to our Ibis Styles hotel.

My wife and I really love Sapporo, as it offers all the convenience we need, great food, good shopping, wonderful hotels, in a more chill (both literally and figuratively) and less crowded environment than the other big cities of Japan. I vividly remember our first trip here in Deccember 2008, which was such a magical experience as we landed at Chitose Airport in a sea of white. The people here are so warm and courteous. We always remember the time a cyclist passed us as we were walking on the streets in the snow in Sapporo, and as he passed, he turned around to apologise to us. Simply incredible, and something we certainly did not expect.

This time round, looking at the weather forecast, it didn’t seem quite cold enough for snow in November, but we were quietly hopeful.

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This is part 1 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series,  please click HERE for part 2 where I share about the drive from Sapporo to Jozankei Onsen.

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