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Trip Report Reporting from Hokkaido

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A 2-hour flight from Osaka on ANA took us to Sapporo yesterday. We caught an airport bus from Chitose airport into the city (about an hour and a quarter away--why so far?) and easily found our business hotel, the Richmond, which is just 5 minutes walk from Sapporo Station. A train from the airport would have taken half as long, but we figured we would save a little money and enjoy the scenery. The weather was overcast and threatened rain--more than a week since we have seen the sun. The ambiance on the way in from the airport was a bit like northern Maine in spring, just after the snow has melted.

Our hotel is perfect for our needs--very conveniently located, clean, and efficient. Our room is tiny but perfectly appointed. Very reasonable too, at 3,200 yen total for the 3 nights we are staying here.

We immediately liked Sapporo. It is not all that exciting, kind of like a nice midwestern city, but it is easy to figure out since the streets are laid out in a grid. Flowers everywhere--at this time of the year the city is loaded with lilacs, tulips, pansies, and a whole array of other colorful flowers, especially along the narrow park that spans 15 or so blocks in the center of town.

We wanted very much to try the crab that is so abundant here in Hokkaido, so for dinner we headed straight to what I can only call a crab palace, Kani-Hanke, right near the station. It was a real treat to step into the restaurant, drop our shoes, and be shown into the elevator and up to a private booth, the first we have had with a well for our feet. Nice and comfortable! We splurged on the crab -- my husband ordered a kaseiki crab meal, with delicious hair crab as the centerpiece, and many other small dishes presenting crab in various ways. I settled for the straight stuff--king crab, boiled and cut (still in the shell) into easy to eat pieces. Though I still prefer my favorite food in the world, Dungeness crab from Washington, this was right up there with the best we have eaten.

Today we spent the day touring the highlights of Sapporo -- the botanical garden (nice but not spectacular), the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, the fish market where we ate very fine sashimi and a great ramen/shrimp/octopus/lettuce/peppers salad, and, what else, the Sapporo Beer Museum where we enjoyed the draft beer served at the end for 200 yen--a kind served only there at the museum. Wonderful. We had intended to take the bus or subway around, using a day pass, but we ended up walking everywhere. It amounted to miles but allowed us to see a lot of the central part of the city. And the weather cooperated--we saw the first sun in a week.

Tomorrow we take a day trip to Otaru on the coast. More crab in our future?

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    Oops, the hotel cost for 3 nights is 32,000 yen. I am always leaving off essential zeros in Japan! Still, pretty cheap.

    Hair crab is smaller than king crab but easy enough to eat. Chopsticks were pretty good to dig the boiled meat out of the legs. The hard thing was eating raw crab (sushi) with chopsticks. Kind of slimy--we ended up just picking up the legs and sucking the meat out.

    We spent the day at Otaru, just a 45-minute JR ride from Sapporo. It was a nice place to walk around--lots of shopping possibilities in the glass showrooms (it wants to be the Venice of Japan), a pleasant canal walk alongside the old factories, which have been nicely preserved, beer tasting and German-style lunch (with Hokkaido potatoes--delicious) at the Otaru beer factory, and good views of the cold-looking sea on the train ride along the coast. All in all an excellent way to spend the day. Tomorrow we pick up our rental car and start off on our cross-Hokkaido trip. Should be fun, and the weather looks like it will cooperate!

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    Don't miss Daizetsusan and Furano.

    You are probably finding out by now that Hokkaido is a whole different type of Japan. So much natural beauty there and nothing of the old Japanese architecture because they've only just begun there,lol.

    Have fun and awaiting more of your report!

    Aloha!

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    At last, I have found some time to finish this report (or at least start to finish it--we are back in the U.S. but STILL on vacation, currently sitting by a river in Montana!)

    As planned, the morning of June 5 we walked from our Sapporo hotel a few blocks to the Grand Hotel, the pickup place for our rental car, a Nissan rented through Tooco.com, which we found on Japan-guide.com. We chose Nissan because it was one of the only agencies that would allow us to drop the car at a different site from the pickup location. Our plans called for us to drop the car in Kushiro on June 14 and then fly from there back to Tokyo. The rental, including built-in GPS and drop-off charges, came to a little over 65,000 yen; gas, which runs about $8 a gallon in Hokkaido, cost us about 13,000 yen. Not too bad, especially considering the flexibility the car gave us, and the fact that getting around Hokkaido by public transportation does not appear to be all that easy. Driving is on the left in Japan, but we have a lot of experience with that, so aside from turning on the windshield wipers when I meant to turn on the blinker, driving was a breeze.

    The Grand Hotel was a great pickup location. We usually try to avoid picking up cars in city centers, but Sapporo's grid system and orderly traffic makes driving in the city very easy. In addition, the hotel is right on the route out of town, joining up with the highway with virtually no turns. Convenient!

    The car came with a built-in GPS system (called a Navi). It took a while to figure out how to switch it to English, but with the help of a couple of workers at the agency we managed to do so. It turned out that the English part of the system consisted only of announcements in English ("Follow the main route," "In 0.7 kilometers, turn right," in etc.)--the actual town names were all in kanji. But combining the GPS with a paper map we had picked up at the tourist office in Sapporo, we were able to navigate the island quite successfully. And it was kind of nice to hear some English, even if it was a preprogrammed voice! As we were to learn over the course of our 10 days crossing the island, very little English is spoken, even in the tourist high spots (the exception, surprisingly, being the Shiretoko peninsula).

    Our first destination, where we had reserved three nights at the Grand Hotel (popular name in Hokkaido!), was Daisetsuzan National Park on the slopes of the Daisetsuzan Volcano.

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    We spent a couple of nights in the Sounkaku(Sounkyo)Grand Hotel in 2009. Was this the same hotel? Had a fantastic time there. Stereotypical of the large ryokan hotels of Hokkaido. Anxiously awaiting more of your report.

    Aloha!

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    BIEI AND FURANO

    The early June weather was cool (high 60s) with a mix of sun and clouds as we approached the mountains a couple of hours east of Sapporo. When we were in Sapporo we had picked up a tourist brochure that pictured the vast lavender fields near Biei and Furano, so we wanted to see them before heading into the mountains. Unfortunately it was too early in the season for lavender to be blooming. I can imagine how pretty the fields are, set against the snowy mountain background across the beautiful valley, when they are in full purple bloom. Happily, though, the large commercial flower farms accommodate early visitors by planting spring flowers (poppies, tulips, etc.) in adjoining fields, as well as greenhouses with early-blooming lavender. We visited Tomita Farm and another flower farm during our stay in the area. They're set up for tourism, with foodstands featuring lavender ice cream and cantelopes, among other treats.

    Another worthwhile stop was the Takushinkan photography gallery near Biei that displays the gorgeous work of the late Shinzo Maeda and his son Akira. The photos feature seasonal pastoral scenes from the Biei area--absolutely beautiful landscapes, and the setting of the studio is lovely, a real inspiration for photographers.

    DAISETSUZAN NATIONAL PARK

    There was plenty of snow on the side of the road as we headed up into the mountains. We easily found our hotel, the Daisetsu Grand, which is on the eastern slope of the beautiful Asahidake volcano, just a few hundred yards downhill from the ropeway. Our room wasn't so grand (a Western-style twin-bedded room with no view to speak of), but it was adequate for our purposes. The public baths (separate ones for males and females) were pleasant, and since there were only a few other people staying at the hotel in early June, we had them mostly to ourselves. There are a couple of other nice-looking hotels on the slope that might be worth checking out if you are planning to stay on the mountain. Since Hokkaido's high summer season doesn't really start til July there weren't many tourists in the area, and the hotels (including ours) had only a few occupants. At the Grand little English was spoken, but the staff (especially the lone waiter in the restaurant) were helpful and we all managed to communicate the essential information to each other over our 3-night stay. Breakfast and dinner were served in the dining room overlooking the volcano and were quite good--the dinners were traditional multi-dish ryokan meals, and breakfasts were buffet-style, which we appreciated since we were kind of tired of Japanese breakfasts after 3 weeks of them.

    Since the area was still covered by snow and we weren't equipped with snow-hiking shoes, we were pretty much confined to walking along the boardwalks over the marshes where snow had melted--not the significant hiking we had planned, but still beautiful, with marsh marigolds and swamp cabbages blooming like crazy, and white birches glimmering against the blue sky. Fortunately, the Asahidake "ropeway" (actually a hanging cable car) was running, so one of the days we took it (2,800 yen each, roundtrip) partway up the the volcano and headed out onto the snowy slope for a gorgeous 2-km loop walk across the snowpack, past half-frozen ponds and smoking fumaroles, with an ever-changing sky revealing the surrounding mountains and then covering them in clouds.

    One of the days we drove partway back down the mountain and across to Tenninkyo spa, which is lower and thus had little snow (later in the season we might have hiked over to there from Asahidake). There were still a couple of cherry trees blooming in the ravine above the river, but the highlight of Tenninkyo is the huge triple ribbon waterfall that may be the most stunning I've ever seen--it's a short walk up to it through the woods, and you can hear the roar before you round the corner to see the falls. Worth a detour!

    On our final day in the area we did a day trip to Sounkyu spa from Asahidake. It was a long drive (2 hours each way), but the countryside was pretty. Especially nice were the individual Japanese garden plots that graced many of the farmhouses, the pretty rice fields, and the brilliant yellow rapeseed fields scattered throughout the valley. At Sounkyu we took another cable car and then a chairlift partway up Kurodake, which, like Asahidake, was also covered with snow, again limiting our hiking opportunities. Beautiful views from the top of the chairlift though! By early July I think the area would be great for hiking. We also drove down to Sounkyu Gorge to view the array of waterfalls along the gorge. Nice, but not quite as beautiful as at Tenninkyu.

    The Daisetsuzan area is one of the highlights of Hokkaido.
    We especially loved the Asahidake area. If we had it to do over again, we would stay 2 nights there and then go on to Sounkyu for the third night.

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    The afternoon before we left the Grand Hotel Daisetsu for our next destination, the hotel manager approached us as we came into the lobby from our day's activities. He had a fax in his hand, addressed to me. Uh oh--kids have money problems? Somebody's ill? Thankfully, nothing serious was amiss. Rather, the fax was from folks at Japanican.com, the website we had used to make several of our reservations in Hokkaido, including the one at the Grand. They explained that the hotel on the Shiretoko peninsula we had reserved for 3 nights later in the week had just informed them that it was closing, so we needed to make other arrangements. The Japanican staff apologized (as if it were their fault) and offered us another hotel, an upgrade--another Grand--at the same price, including breakfast and dinner. We had not reserved dinners at the canceled hotel, so this offer was truly an upgrade. The fax said that an English-speaking member of the Japanican staff would call us right before dinner that evening to confirm whether we wanted to accept the offer. No brainer! I cannot speak highly enough of the service Japanican.com gave to us in this situation--much appreciated.

    Before we reached Shiretoko, however, we had 2 nights in our next destination to look forward to: Lake Akan. I'll describe that in my next post.

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    LAKE AKAN

    The drive from Daisetsuzan to Lake Akan was going to be quite fast using the excellent highway system, so we decided to take a little detour to see a couple of flower gardens near the northern coast that were listed on our map. We headed first to Engaru, where acres of slopes in nearby Engaru Park were swathed in bright pink moss. Pink moss is a favorite late spring flower in many Hokkaido gardens, but these were really vast, impressive plantings so they were fun to photograph. Even more impressive were the tulip fields at our next stop, the Tulip Park in Yubetsu. The park has a hokey Dutch theme, complete with windmills and wooden shoes, but the tulip fields are amazing. There was a large section of the park where people could (for a price) dig tulips for replanting in their own gardens, and there were plenty of people doing so. Before we left the area we lunched on delicious cold soba from one of the food stands just outside the park.

    We drove along the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk for a while before heading inland to Lake Akan. The GPS took us on an interesting route through the countryside, which was quite enjoyable. When we arrived at the lake we easily found our first night's accommodation, Yamaguchi minshuku, a simple place in the heart of town. We chose this family-run accommodation to balance out the splurge accommodation we had reserved for our second night, which, to our surprise turned out to be right next door. Yamaguchi is a no-frills place that I found to be quite pleasant, though the shared toilet was down the hall and the public bath in the basement was not very inviting. The dinner that night and breakfast the next day were decent, our room was spartan but sunny and very clean, and the location was ideal. This was the least expensive place we stayed in expensive Hokkaido, and we were happy to save a bit of money.

    Like most tourist-oriented towns in Japan, the main street of Akan is lined with shops chock-full of souvenirs more or less related to the local area, in this case including glass containers with the green algae balls that Lake Akan is famous for and tons of wood carvings with Ainu designs. Around the corner is an Ainu village area lined with more shops full of more wood carvings, as well as a performance area for the nightly dance shows put on by Ainu residents. We strolled the shopping streets but weren't tempted by any of the souvenirs. At night (every night, at least in the summer) there was an Ainu-led ceremonial torchlight march from the lakeshore to the Ainu village, which basically was designed to bring the tourists who were staying in the many hotels along the lake up to the village for evening shopping. We joined in the march, just for the fun of it, but again declined the opportunity to buy.

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    In the morning we checked out of Yamaguchi minshuku but couldn't check in to our splurge hotel, Akan Yuku-no-sato Tsuruga, until 3 (as in all the other places we stayed in Japan, the check-in time is strictly observed), so we spent the day taking advantage of the beautiful natural environment in the Akan area. First we stopped at the guide shop next door (other side) to Yamaguchi and went out for an hour's guided canoe paddle on Lake Akan. We would have preferred kayaks, but there were none available so the canoe was a good alternative. It was fabulous to be out on the lake in the morning with great views of the surrounding volcanoes.

    Our next stop was Onneto Lake, a short drive away. This lovely turquoise jewel of a lake was quiet and a good spot for walking--both along the lakeside and up the trail to the lookout point. We brought our newly purchased bear bells along and they came in handy--the trail up the hill had clear bear tracks along it, so we carried on a loud conversation and rang the bear bells as much as possible--we didn't want to surprise a Hokkaido bear!

    Our final stop for the day was Lake Mashu, which fills an old volcanic caldera and is reputed to be similar to Oregon's Crater Lake in the deep blue of its water. Unfortunately the day, though sunny, was quite hazy so the lake wasn't as stunning as it could have been, but the drive was pleasant. We learned through trial and error that there are several observation points along the edge of the crater, all but the first of which are free (we paid to park at the first one and were rewarded with the standard souvenir shop).

    Back at Lake Akan, it was time to check in to Yuku-no-sato. At 45,000 yen, this was the most expensive place we stayed at in our 5-week trip to Japan, so we were expecting great things. It turned out to be one of the best adventures of our trip, so I'll describe it in a little detail.

    The facade of the hotel was standard, large ryokan hotel style. We were met with a phalanx of greeters who were eager to help with our luggage, though we each had only a small daypack, having left our roller bags in the car, which the hotel staff promptly stored in the nearby parking area.

    We handed our reservation confirmation to the uniformed person at the check-in desk, who immediately excused herself and a few minutes later brought back someone from the back office who specialized in English. She took over from there and led us through the hotel to our room on the third floor, along the way picking up a server who would serve us tea and otherwise cater to our needs in the room. It was a beautiful room, too, overlooking the lake, with a gorgeous view of the volcano. Lovely! But not what we had reserved. We had actually sprung for an even nicer room, with a balcony and a private hot bath. As nice as the first room was, and as uncomfortable it made us to make the staff uncomfortable, we spoke up and explained to the English speaker that this was not the type of room we had reserved. In the meantime, we had been served with frothy green tea and mochi at the table in the main tatami room. The English speaker apologized and asked us to make ourselves comfortable while she returned to the front desk to recheck our reservation; a few minutes later she returned and confirmed that yes, she had led us to the wrong room.

    No harm, no foul. We all (us, English speaker, server) trooped down the hall 6 doors to the room we had reserved. As beautiful as the first room was, this one was far nicer (though without the volcano view). In fact it was the largest hotel room I've ever been in, anywhere. There were 3 distinct rooms (dining area with charcoal firepit, tatami room for sleeping and television viewing, and lounge area with upholstered chaise lounges), plus the outdoor balcony with the hot bath we had dreamed about for many months. There were also three sets of clothes for each of us: yukatas for lounging, terry cloth bathrobes for the balcony/hot tub, and cotton pajamas for sleeping. What fun! We were so glad we had made the staff uncomfortable and insisted on the room we had paid for.

    Another highlight of the hotel was the public baths, which we took advantage of before dinner. As usual, there were separate facilities for men and women, and there was a changeover period late at night so that the women could enjoy the men's facilities in the morning, and vice versa. The baths were fantastic. Really! There were multiple pools--I counted at least 13--both indoor and outdoor; a sauna, a cave pool, a multipool footbath, a 700-year-old tree stump bath; backsprays; whirlpools--a whole array of water arenas that were a pleasure to partake in. The dressing rooms were really comfortable and well equipped as well. A wonderful place, well worth the $$ we were paying for the room. Plus our own personal hot tub on our deck. Hot water heaven.

    Unlike in the other ryokans we stayed in in Japan, our dinner at Yuku-no-sato was a buffet served in the banquet room. This turned out to be a real plus because, after almost a month in Japan, we were ready for the alternatives the buffet offered--Japanese, Chinese, and "Italian" stations, with surprisingly good food, including excellent sashimi, tempura, steak, duck, gyoza, salads--lots of choices. I'm not normally a fan of buffets, but it was great to be able to choose what we wanted and not feel we had to eat all the dishes that are normally included in a ryokan set meal.

    After dinner we returned to our room, ready to relax for the evening, but that was not to be--at least not yet. We thought the English speaker had told us to leave our room unlocked so the maid could make up our beds while we were at dinner, so we had left our keys in the room. When we arrived at the room, however, the door was locked, so the maid had apparently locked the room after she made it up. Our fault for misunderstanding the procedure. No problem, though--we went downstairs to the front desk and started to explain that we were locked out, and soon another English speaker was pulled from the back office to help solve the problem. He was a friendly young man who indeed spoke enough English to understand that we needed to be let in to our room, and we were soon back there ready to enjoy the evening, after thanking him for his trouble. We immediately headed to the balcony and were chagrined to see that my purse, which I had stupidly left sitting on a small table there, had been opened and the contents had been scattered across the floor. Yikes--our passports, money, credit cards, camera...were they all lost? In Japan, no less?

    Without disturbing the "scene of the crime," I checked the zippered pockets of the purse and was immensely relieved that nothing valuable seemed to be missing. But other stuff, including lots of papers, packets of tea, a plastic bag with hair products in it (a gift from another hotel we had stayed at), a Hello Kitty keychain, and a disposable toothbrush and toothpaste, were scattered around the floor. What had happened? Who had tampered with my bag? We needed to get to the bottom of this in order to feel comfortable about staying in the room, so I headed back down to the lobby to find English speaker #2 and report it to him. He returned to the room with me and offered a possible explanation--"Maybe the wind blew the purse off the shelf?"--which did not fly. I assured him that nothing important was missing and that I didn't want to make a big deal out of it, but I wanted the hotel to know that this had happened. He was clearly stumped and said that NOTHING like this ever happened in the hotel--and I believed him.

    Finally, at his wit's end, he went to the room phone and called in reinforcements--the Director of International Guest Relations for the Tsuruga hotel chain, who happened to be based in the hotel. Within minutes he was in our room and entered the balcony where we were standing. He looked around, taking in the scene, and within seconds announced: "The raven did it!"

    And suddenly it all made sense. A local raven, one of a group that plies the forest surrounding the hotel, must have landed on the balcony and rifled through the open sections of my purse, pulling out all the loose items and taking anything with food value--a couple of crackers and some packaged mochi we had been given earlier--but leaving the inedible passports, money, etc. Case closed. What a relief to have the answer! With the positive outcome, we all had a good laugh at the situation: the raven did it, with the sharp beak, on the balcony.

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    Still following also! Looking now at two bottles with marimo in them in our hutch and chuckling. Why did we buy those things anyway? Lots of ravens there....glad that's all it was.

    Aloha!

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    ht -- Isn't it funny how things like little green algae balls capture our fancy while we're traveling? Fortunately I'm usually able to restrain myself, but I do end up shopping for more than I need. Oh well! By the way, I finally found your Hokkaido trip report--it doesn't have Hokkaido in the title so I didn't see it at first. I think we got to many of the same places as you did, so it's interesting to read your perspectives.

    Our next (and final) stops were the Shiretoko Peninsula and Kushiro. With luck I'll get this report completed in the next few days and then get some photos posted!

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    SHIRETOKO PENINSULA

    Sadly, after a nice buffet breakfast and a final visit to the fabulous baths, we had to checked out of the Yuku-no-sato. We were sad, though the hotel staff probably weren't sad to see us troublemakers go! (Actually, they were as pleasant as always, giving us a lovely send-off.) We were headed to the Shiretoko peninsula, a World Heritage area reputed to be an exceptional place full of wildlife and wild beauty. We had reserved 3 nights there and were wondering if that would be too much. It wasn't!

    After we left Akan we drove through another part of the national park, along the shore of Lake Kushan to Kawayu Onsen. We were glad we had chosen Akan-ko as our base, since it is right on the lake and has more of a center to it.

    We made a stop at Iozan, an active dome volcano with impressive fumaroles and sulfur deposits. Visiting at the same time were dozens of high school students from the Kushiro area, who swarmed the base of the volcano in their blue track uniforms. We learned from one of the group's advisors that they had originally been scheduled to take travel to Tohoku, but the earthquake and tsunami had necessitated a change; thus they were touring their home island instead.

    Before reaching Shiretoko we passed Abashiri, famous for its prison, but that wasn't on our agenda. Instead we spent our touring time at the impressive Northern Peoples Museum, which has well-done exhibits and enough video (and English labels) to be well worth a stop.

    The weather, which had been sunny (if cool) for most of our time in Hokkaido, had turned rainy, and we were met with intense thunderstorms--and glorious rainbows--as we drove along the coast toward Utoro and the peninsula.

    Our hotel in Utoro was the surprisingly nice Grand Hotel, which we had been upgraded to by Japanican.com when the hotel we had reserved nearby had suddenly closed. The Grand is a typical Hokkaido resort hotel, with excellent amenities, nice rooms, and beautiful public baths. Very nice! We were happily surprised by our comfortable harbor-view room and the very friendly, accommodating staff. As in other places we stayed in Hokkaido, we were the only Westerners, so the staff made extra efforts to take care of us. Dinners and breakfasts (included in the room charge) were buffet-style--very good, with lots of choices, though by the end of our 3-day stay we were ready to move on.

    Utoro was a good base to visit the accessible parts of the Shiretoko peninsula. Interestingly, more English was understood/spoken in the Shiretoko area than anywhere else we visited in Hokkaido--likely because Shiretoko's World Heritage designation has led to more Western tourism. Nonetheless, Shiretoko isn't an easy place to visit, what with the large bear population that discourages hiking and the limited roads into the depths of the peninsula. One (expensive) way to enjoy it is by boat. The day we arrived we reserved a spot for the next day on a 3-hour boat trip to the tip of the peninsula. Since our hotel was right on the harbor it was a short walk to the embarkation area, but as we approached the boat we were intercepted by a staff member from the boat company, who told us that our trip had been canceled because the boat "wasn't working." (He obviously knew who we were, since we were the only Westerners in the vicinity.) From our room the evening before we had seen the boat come in to the harbor with no obvious problems, so we were a little surprised that it wasn't available in the morning. However, the boat company offered us either a refund or a trip on another, smaller boat operated by another company. We chose the latter and were rewarded with a nice trip along the coast of the wild peninsula, viewing waterfalls and volcanoes first encased in fog and then, dramatically, revealed in beautiful sunshine. A nice trip to the easternmost point of Japan, though we saw no wildlife to speak of.

    There were plenty of other things to see on the peninsula as well--waterfalls, informative nature centers, lakes, snowy mountains, and the active fishing zone centered on Rausu on the other side of the peninsula. These occupied a good two days, which, happily, were sunny and pleasant. Unfortunately it was too early in the season for us to be able to do much hiking, but even so our three days on Shiretoko were really nice, and we were glad we had taken the time to visit the area.

    Our final destination in Hokkaido was Kushiro, from which we would fly back to Tokyo. To get there we drove south along the coast to Shibetsu and then headed inland. We were already regretting that we had no more Japanese baths in our near future when we spied a brochure with a picture of Yoroushi Spa, which was not far off our intended route. It had a lovely natural setting and was very enticing, so we decided to make the detour for one last hot springs experience. We arrived at the inn about 11:30 in the morning and learned that the baths would not open until 1:00, but we were welcome to take off our shoes and wait in the lovely lobby, which turned out to be a great place to relax, have coffee, and read while we waited for the baths to open. As 1:00 approached we put our books away and eagerly anticipated a soothing soak in the outdoor hot springs. It was not to be, however. At 12:55 the lobby doors opened and in poured two busloads full of Japanese tourists, who swarmed the lobby and headed toward the just-opening hot springs. Aaargh! The fantastic experience was not to be. We found our shoes and regretfully headed out toward Kushiro.

    We made a brief stop at the International Crane Center near the Kushiro marsh, which had a couple of forlorn-looking cranes in pens but also very informative and worthwhile displays about crane life. After we left the center we had a lucky sighting of two cranes hanging out in a nearby farmyard, so we were satisfied. I am sure it would be amazing to see the cranes in winter.

    Kushiro itself isn't much of a draw, though we did have a fun dinner at a rotemburo restaurant in the entertainment district, walking distance from our hotel (the serviceable Route Inn, near the train station). It was an easy drive the next day to the small airport for our flight back to Tokyo--our Hokkaido adventure had come to an end.

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    I've posted some photos on my Shutterfly share site:
    http://aprillilacsphotos.shutterfly.com/4773

    Looking back at them, it reminds me that Hokkaido is a beautiful place. As HT said in a comment above, it's much different from the rest of Japan, with little of the traditional cultural features and charm that characterize Honshu. Glad we went, though, because it has long been on our list.

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    Thanks again for doing this report and posting your fabulous pictures. Your pics brought back so many wonderful memories we have of Hokkaido. Yes it is a different type of Japan up there. So much natural beauty. We must make it back for the summer season.

    Love the manhole cover pictures too! I have a bunch of them now from all over Japan and will put them together in one online album one day....

    Aloha!

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    Great report , we are looking into sking northern Japan next february. The Island of Hokkaido was made famous during the winter olympics back in 1972. I have been told the podwer snow is as good if not better than anywhere else on the planet. Have many people on the fourm skied Northern Japan ?
    Any info would be appreciated.
    Thanks

    Barbs.

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    Thanks all. Glad you enjoyed the pictures. Yes, let's do a combined manhole (personhole) cover posting. I have about 15 pictures of them from the various places we went. (I love that each place has its own design.) If someone makes the site, I'd be glad to post them to it!

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    Hi, I just re-read your report, in preparation for my upcoming trip to Hokkaido in October.

    Question: Do you remember which model of Nissan you rented? I'm also renting a Nissan, but it's a March--tiny car--so wondering if it's suitable for all the mountain driving in Hokkaido? Thanks for you input.

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    Hi JC98,

    Just noticed your posting. We had a very small car. Can't remember the exact type, but it was one of the least expensive--probably the P2 variety (a Note, or something like it--one step up from the March). We paid 1050 yen for 8 days, including drop-off charge since we picked up in Sapporo and dropped off in Kushiro. The car was perfectly capable of going up and down the mountains--the roads are very good--and was comfortable for long distances. I think you'll be fine with a March, but you could ask the rental agency if they think it's mountain-worthy.

    Have a great trip! Your posting prompted me to go back and read my trip report. Wow, we had fun.

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  1. 1 First trip to Japan-17 night Itinerary in Cherry Blossom season
  2. 2 Trip Report A week of blue skies in Beijing, who would've guessed?
  3. 3 US citizens applying for India visa--take care which website you use
  4. 4 One week in Thailand
  5. 5 How would you do Hiroshima & Miyajima if can only stay 1 night in Miyajima?
  6. 6 Is Asiana Airlines safe?
  7. 7 Can you HELP with figuring out United Miles and how to get them SF-Bangkok?
  8. 8 Vietnam Visa on Arrival - Help
  9. 9 Kyoto: hotel choices, guides,day trip to Nara
  10. 10 Japan Itinerary Help Please! 4.5-4.17
  11. 11 Which is better with kids, Dubai or Singapore ?
  12. 12 Trip Report Burma - Our Mad Dash Across Too Much
  13. 13 Assistance planning remaining 5 days in South Thailand
  14. 14 First trip to China ! Need help with itinerary
  15. 15 Mangalore, India as cruise stop…seems underwhelming
  16. 16 Final Itinerary Kyoto area through Kamakura (skipping Tokyo this trip)
  17. 17 Which to see first - Kyoto or Tokyo?
  18. 18 Indian visa
  19. 19 13 Hour layover in KL, never visited city before, ideas?
  20. 20 Trip Report The City, the River, the Jungle: Our Holiday in Kuching - Borneo
  21. 21 Trip Report Hello from Thailand - I'm here!
  22. 22 Art in Shanghai
  23. 23 Dress code in India
  24. 24 One week in India
  25. 25 Wedding anniversary in Bali
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