Hokkaido with Hiroko 2016
I would like to report you the result of my brand-new tour, Hokkaido with Hiroko, 2016, conducted in this May.
We had so much fun, so many varied experiences and we learned a lot. Below are some brief summaries of the day-by-day episodes of Hokkaido with Hiroko 2016 . If you are interested in knowing more about joining this tour next year – Hokkaido with Hiroko 2017, please write me and let me know. You will receive the formal tour information when it is available – sometime summer months.
Day 1: The visit to Jigokudani, Hell Valley, was a way to learn Japanese mythology related to volcanism. First experience of the Hell Valley: we enjoyed Hell Valley ramen for lunch in which lots of chile peppers were loaded to the ramen broth for a ‘hell-hot” experience. After we walked through a mystical geothermal crater where volcanic gas and steam seeped from the surface of the rocks and vents, and geysers were shooting up streams of boiling water. Afterwards we all enjoyed a hot spring bath, and then everyone donned a yukata kimono and savored a superb Hokkaido kaiseki meal
Day 2: We visited Mt. Usu and Mt. Showa-shinzan – a place of continuing geophysical and anthropological change, research and discovery. We enjoyed a stimulating walking tour in the care of professional volcanologist guide. Here we learned that 2000 foot volcano Mt. Showa Shinzan erupted and grew out of the ground just in 1943, not thousand or millions of years ago! What we saw on this walk cannot be experienced anywhere else. The day ended with another hot spring bath and superb Hokkaido kaiseki meal.
Day 3: One of the highlights of this day was our stay at famous Windsor Hotel Toya, the site of 2008 G7 Summit. On the walls of the hotel we saw pictures of the heads of the G7 countries including George W. Bush. It was interesting to note that among these leaders only Angela Merkel retains her position as head of government. The hotel embraces gorgeous Lake Toya. Our activities were divided into two groups: one group enjoyed horseback riding, while the other, nature trekking. We had a delicious Hokkaido sushi dinner composed of local delicacies accompanied by good sake.
Day 4: We moved from Lake Toya to the town of Furano which is situated more or less in the very center of the island and is, therefore, known as ‘navel town’ of Hokkaido. Though we were not there in the winter season, it is known as the home of some of Hokkaido’s most famous ski resorts, the best skiing in Japan. During the season of our visit the town was overlooked by lush green mountains. Our hotel was an architecturally modern hotel that is an attractive contrast to typical local Japanese ryokan country inns. For lunch we enjoyed a local specialty curry, and then bicycling and walking. The dinner was an amazing French meal using local seasonal ingredients. It was prepared by a very talented chef who trained for years in France. The combination of French technique with the aesthetics of Japanese presentation provided a most memorable experience. Breakfast was gorgeous local fairs.
Day 5: We traveled further to the East reaching Lake Akan by way of Lake Mashu, one of the most beautiful volcanic caldera lakes in Japan. At Akan we visited the Ainu museum to learn about the indigenous people who lived in Hokkaido before the mainland Japanese populated the island beginning in the 15th century. The story of the Ainu is like that of so many aboriginal peoples – a history of subjugation, relocation and deprivation of their traditional culture. Fortunately, today there is a movement to preserve what remains of the culture, the language and the arts. There are today about 30,000-50,000 Ainu exclusive of those who have intermarried. Ainu has very different appearance from the typical Japanese and still face societal barriers in mono-cultural Japan. At the museum, in a lecture prepared especially for our group we learned the history and culture of this people. We were taught and asked to participate in Ainu traditional dances at one point in this event. It was a fascinating educational and cultural experience. After enjoying a hot spring bath, we were back in our yukata kimonos and savored more local Hokkaido fare.
Days 6, 7 and 8: We journeyed to the wild World Nature Heritage Site, Shiretoko National Park. Shiretoko, is a peninsula jutting eastward from the main body of Hokkaido into the Sea of Okhotsk. Because of its near inaccessibility and mountainous wild nature it is one of the few areas of Japan whose virgin natural surroundings have been preserved intact to today. Most of the peninsula has no hiking trails and can be accessed by well prepared hiker only on foot following animal trails and natural features of the mountainous land. We enjoyed a guided nature walk in an area accessible to ordinary visitors. This National Park is famous for its population of large brown bears, and before the walk we were instructed on what to do when we encounter one. The guide is equipped with bear repellent equipment that, on our walk remained, thankfully, unused. In our private bus we crossed over the mountains to the other side of the peninsula and the town of Rausu. There we visited the wholesale local fish market and attended the auction of the local catch. We made our own sushi lunch at a nearby fish restaurant. From Rausu we could look a few short miles across the water and see the Russian Kuril Islands that were captured from Japan at the final days of the Second World War, and which remain disputed Russian territory to this day. Because of this dispute there is still no formal peace treaty between Japan and Russia to conclude the Second World War. On one evening of our stay on the peninsula we ate at a local restaurant to experience the local cuisine.
Day 9: We moved to the town of Abashiri, which sits on the shore of the frigid Sea of Okhotsk. Abashiri is famous for two things. One is the yearly seasonal ice flow and the other is the large prison. The ice flow, which drifts down from the Siberian River Amur, covers the sea from January through March. It is a major tourist attraction. Abashiri prison was built in 1890 to house 1200 prisoners, most of whom were at that time political prisoners. Because of rough seas our scheduled activity in Abashiri – off shore cruising – was cancelled, and so we visited the prison, which turned out to be a fascinating experience. After stopping at a local Japanese bar, we ate out again in the town, this time enjoying the Japanese version of Korean barbecue.
Days 10, 11 and 12: Day 10 was occupied by the long drive along the Eastern coast of Hokkaido up to Cape Soya, in the town of Wakkanai, the very northern-most tip of Japan located at precisely at 45 degree, 31 minutes and 14 seconds North. Cape Soya is just 27 miles away from the Russian Sakhalin peninsula. When we arrived there, it was extremely gusty. We could not see the Sakhalin Island, but everyone posed for the photo at the monument to northernmost point of Japan and all were extremely happy that we reached this goal of our tour. The next day we took a lengthy ferry ride and visited Rishiri Island, famous for Mt. Rishiri, an active volcano whose a conical shape gives it the nickname Rishiri Fuji. Here we learned the amazing story of Ronald McDonald who in the 19th century intentionally drifted to this tiny island and, in Nagasaki, became a first English teacher for senior Edo government officers. On Rishiri Island we also made sure to purchase the superb Rishiri kombu, known as one of the best quality kelp in the world. It is used by chefs world-wide in Japnese and non-Japanese cuisine as well. The final day our tour was spent in the traditional way many Japanese travel on holiday – a long scenic train ride. We boarded the modern and comfortable Soya Express for the seven hour journey from the far northern town of Wakkanai back to Sapporo, the large, bustling capital of Hokkaido in the Southeast of the island. We had circumnavigated the entire island of Hokkaido and discovered many of the unique treasures it holds. We were left with extensive, unforgettable memories of this unique, beautiful and intriguing island – its natural wonders, hospitable and impeccable accommodations, people and it appealing and varied cuisine.
Please join me in the Hokkaido with Hiroko 2017!