Day 6 Jozankei Daiichi Hotel Suizantei

The morning we departed from New Prince Furano, we went for another walk around the gardens, and nearly missed our shuttle bus for the JR Sapporo Station. The Japanese operate by clockwork, and the shuttles do not wait for even 1 min.

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From JR Sapporo Station, we left our bags at the train station for a day, and took a pre-booked bus (Jotetsu Bus) bound for Jozankei Onsen from the bus terminal at the south exit. Our stop was the Yukemuri No, Showa Building, Odori 2:30pm. The bus ride was 50 minutes and took us in front of the hotel.

 

This hotel was recommended by a Taiwanese travel guide, and I was quite pleased with it. I pre-booked a Kaiseki breakfast and dinner, which was just too much. There’re is no way your stomach can stand none stop eating.

Suizantei is a hot spring town very near to Sapporo, so the locals will take off for the weekend for a spa retreat. On our bus, was a lone Japanese traveller with only a paper bag, as we later learnt that you can walk around the hotel with the Hotel provided Japanese pajamas and slippers.

Our lovely Japanese style room, converted into bedroom with futon bedding at night and fresh tatami mat. We didn’t choose to eat in the room. At that time, it was my first Kaiseki, so we were really impressed. But I’d say that Kyushu was a better Kaiseki experience. We met a very pleasant bar tender on our first night, who mixed us a Singapore Sling – complimentary drink.  Later in the morning, he took on another role, and it appeared that he was a mid-career changer.

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We were not used to going to the onsen, and only went once. But to make your trip worth it, some go in the morning and evening.

Will I visit Suizantei again?  Its not a pretty onsen town compared to those in Kyushu, as it looked over-built with huge hotels and very ugly air-con pippings jutting out from the back, very Tokyo, and not a rustic look that I’ve come to associate with certain parts of Japan. I certainly recommend the Daiichi.  There are cheaper options of accommodation in the little town, which I failed to book because of timing, but no regrets for the experience.

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There are lots of free onsen baths for your legs along the walks, courtesy of the local government.

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Return to Sapporo, retrieve baggage from Station. Home sweet home.
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Day 5, Furano, New Prince

Some of our friends stayed at the Furano New Prince in winter, probably because of the ski slopes nearby. But was it worth it in summer? We weren’t sure. It came highly recommended in tour books.

Its inconvenient to stay here in summer as you’ve to take hourly public shuttle bus (260 yen one way). Because I couldnt get the second night in Natalux initially, I had no choice but to book this hotel.  No regrets.   The Hotel grounds are worth a visit.

The flower gardens were converted from disused golf courses. Hot spring onsen, shops selling local produce, famous Ningle wooden terrace selling crafts from hobbyists. Hot air balloon. Skip the famous baked milk in summer. We had dinner at the hotel as it was inconvenient waiting for the coach and getting back when there was lovely, cool fresh mountain air to enjoy here.

If you’re staying here and not driving, take the coach from Sapporo instead of JR train especially if you’ve large luggage. I came in summer and had to ponder how to fit my luggage into the tiny shuttle. We left them at the overnight lockers in train station.

We stayed one night at Natalux and the other night in New Furano Prince Hotel.

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Day 4, Furano Natalux

Day 6 Jyozankei Daiichi, Suizantei

Day 4 Furano, Hokkaido

We stayed one night in Natalux and one night in New Furano Prince, because Natalux was full on the second night. (The room was available by the time we arrive as some people double book). But we didn’t want to change hotels.

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We booked stayed two nights in Furano, one night in Natalux and one in New Furano Prince, as at the point of booking, Natalux was only available for one night.


As we did not rent a car, Natalux was a good option. Convenient and next to the JR Station. But note that the JR Station has no lifts, and we had to carry the big bags up and down the stairs. If we had taken a coach from Sapporo, this inconvenience will be reduced. Otherwise, Natalux is next to the city centre where you can rent a car, and take the  Lavender Express 3 train (Track 5), ride a bicycle, visit Tomita Farm.

The rooms at Natalux, for the price you pay, is bare with concrete walls. Certainly comes with basic shower facilities and toiletries. Helpful staff who speak English. The Furano omu curry rice served at lunch is value for money. We had the Japanese breakfast which saves time, unless you want to walk 10 mins to Shinya. Otherwise there are no facilities unlike New Furano Prince which boasts an onsen, and shopping as well as gardens.

Furano is a good place to drive. Renting a car is so easy. Toyota car rental is just around the corner of train station and starts from 6000 yen. So do bring your international driving licence just in case you decide to drive. Otherwise it’s quite time consuming to wait for the public transportation. The place is small but sights are at least 10 min drive apart which makes walking quite difficult to see the farms.

Definitely include Biei. And if you are driving check out the Pension homes and Highland hotel. Natalux may not be necessary.

If you’re European or New Zealander, Furano in summer reminds me of Southern France. I didn’t see any Caucasian tourists in Furano. Maybe because its a Japanese version of European landscape. But for the Asian tourist, Furano is worth visiting.

Unlike some Asian towns where you see a pile of rubbish or a ugly tall building in the middle of the landscape, Furano farm fields stretch beyond the eye and photographs don’t do it justice. Somehow tourists including non – Japanese are very disciplined and do not pluck the flowers so the place is well maintained.

I had my doubts while planning for the trip so these comments are written for someone with similar doubts.

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We had dinner at the Kumagera and had Sukiyaki and Wagyu beef capaccio. For the price we paid and the quality of Japanese food, its good but certainly not anywhere close to One star Michelin as some blogs claim. Better than most restaurants in Furano (lack of choices) but not as good as food in Sapporo and Tokyo. The chef/ owner spoke some English and was very friendly.

A more value for money option would be the tempura and pork cutlet set which I saw most Japanese tourists order. The highlight was meeting a elderly Japanese couple who were expats in Singapore in the 1980s. They’ve retired and now driving around Japan for holiday. They suggested that we try the white asparagus which was in-season. We later realised that Japanese mainly eat Sukiyaki in winter. White asparagus is in season in summer.

Day 5, New Prince Furano

 

Day 3 Sapporo

 

On Day 3, we spent time travelling around Sapporo on the train. Visited several of the Shopping malls. At Pole Town, this lady in a Japanese tea shop served us Japanese greentea. Bought a Le Creuset pot.

We had dinner at Tenohira,Susukino.北海道の地酒と海鮮 掌. Just stumbled into the Izakaya because we saw a “14th generation sake” displayed. Chef speaks English and we ate whatever he put in front of us. Including fresh, transparent squid.

 

Tenohira, Sapporo Susukino(Hokkaido), 011-241-5005 (+81-11-241-5005)
Sapporo municipal subway Nanboku Line Susukino Station 1-minute walk

 

Day 4, Furano

Day 2 Sapporo-Otaru

Breakfast at Sapporo

Breakfast at Sapporo

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Fish roe, crab floss and egg strips

Fish roe, crab floss and egg strips

 

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Our hotel breakfast came with a choice of a Japanese breakfast at Sapporo Central Market Jogai (not to be confused with Nijo Market) or Hotel breakfast. We were picked up by a hotel shuttle.

We left hotel at 8.30am, had breakfast and returned to Sapporo station by 10.10am. Nice experience, but for the next 2 nights, we opted for the Hotel western breakfast. Possibly give Nijo market a miss. Unlike Tsukiji which even the locals and tradesmen frequent, Jogai Central Market caters to tourists. Hokkaido has a touristy feel. Most Japanese working there are connected to the tourism industry and arrived around 10-20 years ago, i.e. recently, to break away from the pressure of large metropolis lifestyle in Tokyo.

For lunch we had miso ramen at a stall on Apai Food Alley around Sapporo Station. Pretty good. Intense broth, about 740 yen per bowl. Locals were slurping their noodles, but we couldn’t finish ours.

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Uni or sea urchin

Uni or sea urchin

 

Rescue dog with the Otaru Fire Department

Rescue dog with the Otaru Fire Department

After lunch, we went to the JR Information Desk at Sapporo Station (near our hotel) to purchase a ticket to Otaru.

We bought the Sapporo/Otaru one day pass for tourists, which was a good deal, it includes a separate ticket for unlimited one day travel on the Sapporo subway, which we decide to use on Day 3. The Sapporo Tourism Centre is next to the JR Information Desk, so you can do your research there, which we did to confirm our ryokan stay at Jyozankei onsen on our last day. There’re different counter staff speaking (fluent, I must add!) English, Mandarin etc and very helpful.

My feedback on Otaru:

1. Very convenient to get there: There’re about 4 trains per hour between Otaru and Sapporo. The airport rapid which plies Chitose to Otaru, takes about 30 mins from Sapporo, while the semi-rapid takes 45mins.

2. Stop at Otaru Station (final), if you want to visit the Otaru Canal and walk to the shopping/eating street (10mins).  If you want to start off with the shopping street, stop at Minami (means “South”) -Otaru which is one stop earlier than Otaru Station. We missed the stop as it looked non-descript.  No signages.

3. Five hours is more than enough. Most shops in Otaru close at 5.30pm (pronto).  Some sushi joints, according to the Japanese guidebook, close on Wednesdays. We didn’t realise it, as it was still bright in summer, and the staff were in such hurry to close the shop and pack up. My conclusion, is that they’re from out of town and have to catch a train?

4. Visit Otaru if you’re making a pit stop from Niseko to Sapporo. Or you’re utterly bored in Sapporo. Or its winter and you want to visit the Snow Festival. In summer, if its to see the Otaru Canal, this is it – the entire length of the Canal.

Otaru Canal

Otaru Canal

5. The glass souvenirs? Hmm, nothing to shout about and the Venetian Glass museum, is well from Venice.

6. I highly recommend Le Tao, as a place to rest your feet and enjoy their superlicious cream cheese cake (must try!).  Have pasta lunch there, if you’re early. If you miss Le Tao, don’t fret, you can get it at Daimaru food basement in Sapporo. Plus frozen ones to bring home.

Cream cheese at Le Tao

Cream cheese at Le Tao

Aristotle's "Pathos", and cream cheese cake

Aristotle’s “Pathos”, and cream cheese cake

7. Maybe I’m a bit sore because I missed buying the Otaru souvenir, a hello kitty cup/ saucer for my mom. There’s a glass cabinet outside the shop, showing what you’ve missed. Shop is at the start of the street, next to the Post Office if you’re coming from Minami Otaru station. Otaru was the “wall-street” of Hokkaido, some 100 yrs ago. But I don’t see much old heritage buildings around.

Otaru Hello Kitty souvenir

Otaru Hello Kitty souvenir

8. Have an ice-cream at the stall beside the Venetian Glass Museum, next to Le Tao. Very good. Much, much better than the one we had at a random shop near the Otaru train station (frequented by locals). My favourite flavour is the orange- melon. 3 flavours in one cone is most value for money. Beyond that, your tongue can’t taste the difference, although there’s an option for 5 flavours.

Purple-lavender, white-vanilla, orange-melon

Purple-lavender, white-vanilla, orange-melon

Artists baskering along the Canal

Artists baskering along the Canal

9. Catch the last rapid airport at 7.30pm unless you want to take the local train. No worries that you’ll miss anything. We left at abut 6.30pm as most of the shops were closed anyway. There’re hiydrangeas growing wild around the Minami Station, that’s how interesting the horticulture is.

Summer garden outside a home in Otaru

Summer garden outside a home in Otaru

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Day 3

Day 1 Sapporo, Hokkaido

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Day 1, I’m finally in Sapporo, 29 June 2014.  Childhood dream was to visit Hokkaido in May and catch the pink moss, but my dreams were dashed this year when L cancelled our trip. But Hokkaido has different surprises in store for its visitors throughout the year. Most international tourists may find some difficulty getting around because the tourist information is written in Japanese unlike in Tokyo and Kyoto, attesting to the possibility that local tourism is vibrant. Hence, public transportation should be quite accessible given than most Japanese do not drive unlike in Europe and the US.

Transit in Haneda International airport. Take the free shuttle bus to Domestic Terminal 2 (ANA). The same shuttle bus loops the route from two domestic terminals and the international terminal. Allow for 1hr to collect your luggage and make your way to the domestic terminal (if the queue is short). At your departure terminal, ask to be checked through to the final destination so that you collect the boarding pass for the domestic route too. [Note: this is the convenience of taking the same airline for both sectors, ANA in my case. If I’m only going to Tokyo, I’ll probably take SQ. The seats at ANA are smaller. ] So all you need is to pick the luggage at the international terminal, and deposit it at the domestic terminal “Baggage terminal” 20 mins before departure.

Due to a prevalent gift-exchange culture, there’re many shops selling cute petite snacks at the domestic terminal. I grabbed a coffee after checking in and something to snack in the plane: Nenrinya Baumkuchen. Still hot, moist and delicious, served with whipped cream. Lovely packaging. No regrets as only water is served during the 1hr 35min flight.

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Upon arrival at New Chitose Airport, take the JR line to Sapporo Station (about 30 mins).

I chose to stay 3 blocks from the Sapporo Station, Mitsui Gardens Hotel (7 mins walking). No regrets because the hotel is so conveniently located and we save travelling time.  Shopped around the department malls, such as Daimaru (definitely visit the food hall in the basement), Paseo, Esta etc.  There’s a huge Kinokuniya bookstore around the corner.

Had lunch, and before we knew it, time to check into our hotel. Highly recommend this hotel, where the staff speak good English. Especially those on night shift. Quaint little bar on ground floor where guests can help themselves with free-flowing coffee from 3pm-6pm. Chill out with a good book and jazz in the background.

Summer Beer Festival at Sapporo Station

Summer Beer Festival at Sapporo Station

Dinner at Kani-Honke. Very convenient, opposite Esta department store at the Sapporo Station ( a second outlet in Susukino). Another tourist trap?   Wondered L aloud. [Besides the huge crab mascot hanging outside, there’s a sign in English and Thai.]  But his concerns were assuaged when we saw Japanese guests around. Our table came after waiting for 10 mins. [Possibly this is not tourist season?] We had to remove our shoes (customary or so you can’t run away without paying the bill) before taking the lift to a Japanese style room, quaint albeit in need of renovation by Japanese standards. Restaurant occupies a 7 storey building.

Food was served very fast and furiously. When we saw the pictures of the Kaiseki, L thought we night need to grab some Japanese curry after dinner.  But we struggled through the meal, because the portions although very delicious were sizeable by my standards. Japanese pine-legged crab served in different styles: raw, steamed, hot-pot/nabe, porridge, deep fried in shell, crab roe, in a maki-sushi.  Very fresh quality crab and good service, but not Japanese fine dining.  L got his kani-nabe hot pot. My personal favourite was the porridge, served at the end of the meal.  Unknowingly, we helped ourselves to soup from the hot-pot, not realising that the broth was meant to cook the porridge (the young Japanese server had left us with the boiling pot with no instructions). Luckily, she added some more broth (from sea kelp and boiling the crab meat).   Hand-roll was very good too. Soft and yet each grain of rice is distinct and flavourful. Take-out of the maki cost around 1450 Yen.

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Crab dishes at Kani-Honke

Crab dishes at Kani-Honke

Day 2 Sapporo-Otaru