Monday, 2 July 2018

Hokkaido - Noboribetsu Day 7 and 8

    This is the last leg of our trip. We took a public coach from Esta Mall in Sapporo to Noboribetsu. It was convenient as our stop was the last - Dai-ichi Takimotokan. We were here about a decade ago. Thankfully, things have no changed much and the resort was just as welcoming. 
     Takimotokan has a long history. This is evident in the multiple postcards and photos on the walls leading to the dinning hall and onsen. It boasts of several baths, fed by the hot springs in the Hell Valley vicinity, as well as an indoor swimming pool and water slide for the kids.
This time round, we chose the Japanese-styled family suite, comprising of a large living/ sleeping space (think tatami mats), sitting room, foyer area, and attached bath and toilet. The little one had a field day with the available space.
Enjoying our snow crab
tempura and buffet dinner
Breakfast and buffet dinner were served at the large communal dining hall. Despite being a buffet, the quality of food here didn't disappoint. Of special note was the marbled panfried beef served every evening. I can't remember another time where we went back for serving after serving. 
    Our days here were spent exploring the nearby town and surrounding Hell Valley area. The whole area boasts numerous hot springs and reeked of sulphur. Our nights were spent at the resort's onsen baths. Just two words - relaxing and invigorating.
    The last night, the cousin-in-law and I decided to brave the cold to witness the Onihanabi. This was a ceremony to welcome summer and ward of evil. Participants dressed in demon costumes carried fireworks as others beat out a stead rhythm on ancient drums. I found it ironic that "demons" were used to drive out evil. 
    After the ceremony, we decided to check out the night scene at Hell's Valley. The night scene was truely different from the day. It's worth spending some time if one happens to be there.
    Unfortunately, our time here was limited. It had been a good break. Soon it'd be back to the daily grind. Till the next vacation...

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Hokkaido - Sapporo Day 6: Shiroi Koibeto Park and Ishiya Chocolates

     Today was wet and extremely cold. It also happened to be the day that we planned to visit the Shiroi Koibeto Park. Japan-lovers would be very familiar with the sweet confectionery that this chocolate manufactures. The wifey and I visited here in winter almost ten years ago. Unfortunately the cruel weather and freezing temperature made it feel more like winter than late spring. On the bright side, the most of the distance from the subway to the factory is now indoors. One only needs to cross a road and walk a short distance in the open air.
     The production line was not available for viewing as it was undergoing renovation. Nevertheless, it was not a fruitless trip, all thanks to the wifey's last minute inspiration. She signed all of us up for a cookie-making class a few days before we departed for Japan. Here are the pics...
The Lil One was so proud of her cookies that she keep a constant hold of it for the rest of the trip.
She didn't want the rest of our cookies; only her own. She single-handedly finished her bag of cookies.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Hokkaido - Sapporo: Day 5 Otaru

     Today is Otaru day. The wifey and I visited Otaru about ten years ago in winter. This time it's late spring. How different the place can be. Perhaps it's the season. Perhaps times have changed. But the Otaru of today felt much more commercialized and touristy. It no longer held the quaint rustic charm of times past. Huge chains of modern shops (e.g. Le Tao), coupled with numerous carparks; add more than a dash of tourists (PRC tourists at that), and you have the modern Otaru of today. All looks and no heart.
     Nevertheless, we sought out shops that we enjoyed ten years ago. Prices have gone up inevitably but there are bargains still to be found. The shopkeeper originally charged us 38,000 yen for the crab. When we expressed a drop in interest,  he indicated with his calculator for us to name a price. The wifey, gamely typed out 25,000 yen. He came back with 30,000 yen. I told the wifey to go for 28,000 yen. He did some mental calculations and it was a deal - that's SGD125 saved! We'll never know whether he tried to recoup some from the uni and rice we ordered, but it was a satisfying meal to say the least. I'll let the pictures do the talking...
The aftermath
Otaru Canal

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Hokkaido - Sapporo: Day 4

     Today we leave our Asahikawa base and head to Sapporo on the JR train. This is the Lil Muchkin's first train ride. Originally excited, she soon settled down and slept through the one and a half hours to Sapporo.
      As our hotel rooms were not ready, we headed out to the underground shopping mall, Apia. Here, we located the Sanrio shop and bought enough to have points to redeem free gifts.
     The main highlight of today is dinner at Nemuro Hanamaru. Situated on the sixth floor of JR Tower Stella Place, this restaurant serves the best sushi in Sapporo, according to Trip Advisor. Take a number and you'll be lucky if it's your turn after waiting an hour. In the meantime, we explored Diamaru departmental store just next to Stella Dining.
The restaurant queue took up both sides of the space.
     The wifey was quite disappointed when we learnt from one of the shops in Diamaru that Burberry Blue Label had seemingly exited Japan. A quick check with Uncle Google explained that Burberry London had cancelled the licensing for Blue Label. However, since the products were developed locally, the brand could now exist under its own name, hence the "new" entity Blue/ Black Label Ctestbridge. Needless to say, we'll find time to check it out tomorrow.
      Back to the restaurant; it was finally our turn after almost an hour and a half. The food arrived on thw dot and soon it was clear why this is considered to best sushi restaurant in Sapporo.
Oh so good miso swordfish sushi
     The ikura was unlike those found in back home. Instead of being overly salty, it was almost sweet. The Lil Munchkin had a field day, consuming more than four on her own. Another note-worthy sushi was the miso swordfish. It was unlike any swordfish I had tasted. Unlike the expected white chunky meat, the translucent flesh coupled with bits of Japanese lime turned out very refreshing.
     We also had four servings of chawanmushi, two bowls of asari soup, the cousin had grape juice and plum jelly; all this for around eighty sing bucks! A fitting end to our first day in Sapporo.