Posts Tagged With: Hokkaido

I Can Go The Distance – Rebun Island Day 2

I have often dreamed of a far off place, a tiny slice of paradise called Rebun Island. In this reoccuring dream I’m standing at the top of a lush green craggy cliff which is covered in wildflowers of yellow, white and purple. I slowly lift my gaze to look out at clear sapphire-blue waters stretching endlessly out as far as the eye can see. I turn my face up to the sky to feel the warm sunshine and a cool ocean breeze comes out of nowhere making my hair swirl majestically the way it only does in dreams. I’m on a wandering path, but in that moment I know I’m standing exactly where I’m meant to be. That’s all the dream is, a perfect moment in paradise…but it’s enough to bring me a great feeling of peace. The best part of this dream is that it’s a real memory, which makes it all the more vivid.

Hiking and admiring the beauty of surrounding nature has always been my way of finding harmony in life. This hobby adds balance to my otherwise busy life and it’s a means by which I make my own happiness. Being surrounded by nature always feels so right, more so now that I’m an adult and spend most of my days caught up in the rush of everyday existence and to-do lists. In moments where I’m stressed I have taken to closing my eyes and recalling that perfect moment on Rebun Island.   The serenity in that perfect memory gives me strength.

My second day on Rebun Island I had originally planned to hike the famous 8-hour course. Unfortunately for me I injured one of my knees prior to departing for Hokkaido, too much running had resulted in a synovial fluid deficiency lubricating my knee joints. This is turn caused the bones in my knees to rub against each other painfully. You can see my white knee-brace in most pictures in this post. I was heartbroken to have injured myself only a week before the trip of a lifetime, but at the same time I was very lucky because my doctor told me that if I was careful I could still do some hiking in Hokkaido. She told me very strictly though that I would have to prioritize which hikes were the most important and only do a few, and while I hiked them to be very careful, going slow and not pushing myself too hard. Taking my time wasn’t an option for hiking the 8-hour course however, so my hostel strongly recommended I chose the 4-hour course which is the first 12 kilometres of the 8-hour course. A perfect compromise! Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 12.05.22 PM

If you want the beauty of the 8-hour course but lack the time, the 4-hour course is a beautiful and very scenic subsection of the most famous hike. It begins at the same place as the 8-hour course, Cape Sukoton, but ends halfway along the full course at the Hamanaka Bus Stop, from where you’ll take a bus back. They told me to budget about 5 hours for this course, but I hiked it in about 5.5 hours because I wanted to take so many photos!

The hike begins at Cape Sukoton, the northernmost point on Rebun Island. It gets pretty windy here so be sure to bring a warm jacket, even in the summer!

rebunislandhike2 rebunislandhike1 rebunislandhike3 rebunislandhike4rebunislandhike6There were quite a few other people from the hostel doing the same hike so we all started together, but eventually drifted apart. I did the hike with one other young lady from the hostel who spoke English very well and had been road tripping around Hokkaido like myself, but on a motorbike which sounded amazing. After 2 weeks of being alone I had a great time hiking with, her swapping stories and chatting about life.

The beginning of the hike starts along a paved road that will eventually lead you to the beginning of the hiking path. The hiking path then leads you up the coastal ridge overlooking the ocean. It was pretty nippy and windy which was better than a cup of coffee to wake me up. I loved seeing the beautiful lily wildflowers in this area so keep your eyes peeled!

rebunislandhike7 rebunislandhike8 rebunislandhike9Soon the path turned into a steady incline up the cliffs from which the views just got better and better. On your right side you have the deep blue waters of the ocean and on your left the rolling green hills of the island.

rebunislandhike10 rebunislandhike13 rebunislandhike12 rebunislandhike14See the cute dog in the last photo? That poochie, dear readers is the luckiest dog in the whole world. Why? He is spoiled positively rotten. Every single day one of his family members takes him for a “morning walkies” up this ridge. They walk all the way to the best viewpoint (about 1.5 hours up) and then back down resulting in about a 3-hour long walk! If I am ever reincarnated I hope to have this dog’s life!

From the top of Cape Gorota was a view so beautiful I couldn’t believe I wasn’t dreaming. In Canada you typically have to work your little butt off and climb to the top of a mountain to get the beautiful view, I hadn’t even broken a sweat yet and I was being rewarded with views of clear sapphire waters and the island’s lush green hills below!

rebunislandhike11rebunislandhike15 rebunislandhike17 rebunislandhike19 rebunislandhike20 We followed the trail down and began our descent towards Gorota Beach, a sandy beach along the western coast.

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We reached the beach and I stopped for a bit to rest. My knee was tired and I wasn’t able to keep up with my friend’s pace any longer, so I encouraged her to leave me and I would see her at the bus stop perhaps. By this time the sun was out in full force so I stopped to apply more sunscreen, drink a lot of water and eat a snack. After my break I was feeling much more optimistic.

And I won’t look back, I can go the distance! And I’ll stay on track; no, I won’t accept defeat! It’s an uphill slope, but I won’t lose hope, till I go the distance and my journey is complete…” I put on some of my all-time favourite hiking music and with the powerful words of Michael Bolton singing “I Can Go The Distance” from Disney’s Hercules began my journey again. It is such a perfect motivation song when you’re not feeling like you have the power to finish something. Incredibly cheesy I know, but it’s what I was in the mood for!

After Gorota Beach it was another steep trail up to the most breathtaking view of the entire hike in my opinion. It is on the top of this craggy cliff I’m standing in my dream. One couldn’t ask for a more perfect place in all its wild and majestic beauty to dream of. I took a moment to truly savour this moment, bask in the warm sunshine and breathe the crisp ocean breeze in. I couldn’t have been happier, and all my worries seemed to vanish. Perhaps that’s why my dreams bring me here, it’s a place with zero stress associated with it. My own little slice of paradise…

rebunislandhike24 rebunislandhike25After this cliff you’re almost finished, just a short walk back down and inland towards the Hamanaka Bus Stop. I had to stop and ask for directions in the little town, but eventually made it to the bus stop with about 20 minutes to spare before the bus arrived. (Be careful to not miss the bus as I think it’s about a 2-hour wait until the next one!)

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On the bus ride home, I squealed with glee because out on the water was a harem of seals out on the water. Talk about a great name to describe a group of seals, harem! Aren’t they just adorable floating around like that! rebunislandhike27rebunislandhike28

If you ever visit Rebun Island, please enjoy this hike, as with the Flower Hike it’s suitable for all levels! It’s not too difficult of a climb, but I do strongly recommend wearing solid hiking boots. It was a superb day hiking and one day I hope to go back and do the 8-hour hike. Until then I’ll just have to content myself with my dreams of paradise.

  • For more general information about Rebun Island click here.
  • To read about my adventures on Day 1 on Rebun Island click here.

Categories: Tips For Traveling In Japan, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rebun Island, Hokkaido

During my 3 years living in Japan I’ve been to many exciting and beautiful places. One of the most rewarding experiences was my adventures as a solo traveller on Rebun Island during the summer I road tripped around Hokkaido.

Rebun Island (“Rebuntou” in Japanese) is a very small island off the northwestern tip of Hokkaido Japan.  This tiny island is only 29km long and 8km wide! In the language of Hokkaido’s native people the Ainu, it is called “Repun” which means “island in the open sea.”  Its other nickname is “The Island of Wildflowers” because the island is dotted from one end to the other with alpine flowers during the summer months. This nickname drew me to Rebun Island like a bear to honey. Although this island is itty-bitty and most people in Japan have no idea where it is, I loved it and will always treasure the days I spent on this island. rebunisland

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 9.37.18 AMIn the right hiking circles Rebun Island is quite famous in Japan among outdoors enthusiasts, renown for its rich flora and the alpine flowers which cover most hikes. In particular I had heard very good things about a spectacular 8-hour hiking course which runs from the north of the island to the southern tip.  That was it though, that was everything I knew about Rebun Island before I went. The biggest problem planning a trip to this scenic hiking retreat was the utter lack of information in English. I was going where no foreigner I knew had gone before. I was on my own, with limited Japanese, a little traveling wisdom under my belt and most importantly a willingness to roll with the punches in the name of adventure. It’s journeys into the great unknown, like this one, that show you what you’re truly made of.

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WHAT TO DO ON REBUN ISLAND:

Hiking! Hiking! Hiking! This is what people come from all over Japan and the world to do on Rebun Island. There are several beautiful treks to do:

  • The 8-Hour Course: The most famous hike on Rebun Island. Beginning from the northern tip of the island at Cape Sukoton you hike almost the entire length of the island along majestic ridges, cliffs, beaches and forest trails. (Time Needed: 10 hours/Distance: 25km)
  • The 4-Hour Course*: If you want the beauty of the 8-hour course but lack the time, the 4-hour course is a beautiful and very scenic subsection of the most famous hike. It begins at the same place as the 8-hour course, Cape Sukoton, but ends halfway along the full course at the Hamanaka Bus Stop, from where you’ll take a bus back. (Time Needed: 5.5 hours/Distance: 12km)
  • The Flower Hike* (Also known as the Momoiwasu Course)The most popular trekking course which I highly recommend because it’s the path with most alpine flowers and spectacular views from the southern tip of the island! Starting from the Momoiwa Tenbo-dai to Motoji-toudai (Time: 3-4 hours/Distance:2.5km)
  • Rebun-dake Course: This is a course takes you to the summit of the highest mountain on Rebun Island Mt: Rebun. (Time:  Distance: 4.5km Altitude: 490m)

*I hiked the Flower Road on my first day on Rebun Island and the 4-hour course on my second day. I had originally planned to do the 8-hour course but once I arrived on the island I opted for the 4-hour hike due to unexpectedly injuring my knee just prior to my Hokkaido road trip so I could ‘play it safe’. I really recommend both hikes that I did and wish I had planned to stay one day more so that I could have hiked to the top of Mt. Rebun too. Be sure to budget a lot of time for the hikes as they are breathtaking and you’ll surely want to savour the magnificent views and stop for many photos. 

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HOW TO GET TO REBUN ISLAND

To get to Rebun Island in itself was daunting. Ultimately, after much research, I settled on a route. I returned my rental car in Sapporo, and from there bought a special discount train ticket from the Hokkaido Railway Company that could be used to Wakkanai and back again to Sapporo. The price for the “Direction 3 Discount Ticket” which is a roundtrip ticket that you can use to get to from Sapporo to Wakkanai during the summer was 12,200 yen. It is 100% worth tracking down this ticket booth located near the Tourist Information Desk in the Sapporo train station if you plan on taking a train to Wakkanai, as the normal price for a round trip is 20,340 yen (you’ll save over 8,000yen)! The ladies speak English and are very helpful answering questions. Be sure to bring a good book for on the train, it’s a long train ride which takes about 5 hours. (For more information about this train ticket click here)

Once you arrive in Wakkanai you must take a ferry to get over to Kafuka Port on Rebun Island. A roundtrip ticket on the Heart Land Ferry is 4,800yen. A one-way trip takes about 115 minutes. There are several choices for times to get from Wakkanai to Kafuka. (For more information on ferry transportation click here)

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ACCOMMODATION RECOMMENDATION ON REBUN ISLAND:

I read legendary reviews of the Youth Hostel on Rebun Island. The price for a night is pretty standard for a youth hostel, about 4,000 yen per night. The staff is quite famous for their warm welcoming, and if you visit Rebun in summer it’s likely the staff will be waiting for you at the ferry terminal, shouting and waving a Momoiwasu flag! The location is breathtaking, right on the water (look for the red roof in the picture below!).

The biggest advantage to staying here it that the staff arranges a daily bus trip in the early morning to the 8-hour hike trailhead. If you’re planning to trek this hike, having that free transportation is invaluable. The hostel also serves breakfast, will make you a packed lunch, and serves dinner (all at an extra price) but extremely tasty!

After reading reviews I was both terrified and intrigued beyond measure. I knew when I booked it that I was either going to love it or hate it, so I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. I’m happy to report I loved it, and already dream of going back one day! If you are looking for an unforgettable experience there is no place I would recommend more highly than the Momoiwaso Youth Hostel.  It’s more like staying at summer camp than a hotel though so be careful you’ll need boundless enthusiasm and lots of energy!  (To make a reservation click here

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Momoiwasuhostel

BEST TIME TO VISIT REBUN ISLAND:

The best time to visit Rebun Island is indisputably during the summer, from July to late August. It’s a frozen and very cold place in all other seasons due to being located on the northernmost tip of Hokkaido, Japan. During the months of June, July and August is also when the wildflowers come out and transform the whole island into a hiking wonderland. I visited in mid-August and enjoyed the weather very much.

LOCAL SPECIALITIES ON REBUN ISLAND:

Thanks to the cold, clear waters around Rebun Island the seafood produced in this area is superb! Things you should try:

  • #1 Seafood Ramen: I am pretty certain that I will never forget the jumbo seafood in the seafood ramen I ordered on my first day! For the price of 500yen for a bowl, which was positively stuffed with delectable goodies, it was the jackpot of all ramen!

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  • #2 Sea Urchin: Be sure to try sea urchin (“uni” in Japanese) as Rebun Island is home to some of the largest and most delicious pricky little monsters in the world supposedly!

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  • #3 Grilled Fish With Miso Paste: This is a famous local specialty. A local fish (the name of which I forget, sorry!) which is grilled and then topped with a dollop of miso paste and green onions. Japanese tourists at the restaurant each ordered one of these so you know it’s something you gotta try! Om nom! IMG_1886 IMG_1889

For anyone visiting Rebun Island who stumbles upon this blog, I hope you have a wonderful trip and enjoy the beauty of this tiny wildflower paradise with it’s rolling emerald hills as much as I did.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

I’m One Lucky Duck: 2013 in Reflection

2013 was unbelievable! Possibly even one of my best years yet, so let me just begin this post by saying I am one very, very lucky duck!

I’m stealing this idea from a good friend of mine’s blog. It may be almost February, but it just seemed like such a fabulous chance to look back at the past year and feel grateful for all the wonderful things that did happen I couldn’t resist! It was guaranteed to put a spring in my step as I prepare to put my best foot forward in 2014!

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2013 began with an amazing two-week vacation to Cambodia and Singapore. Which, for a girl who loved pretending to be Indiana Jones when she was little, was a dream come true. Also, speaking of dreams, my stomach is still dreaming of the amazing cuisine of Singapore (a.k.a. The Land of Foodies). Dearest Singapore, I’ll be back one day, to eat more of your delicious food, that is a promise! cambodia singaporeAt the end of January, right in time for Valentine’s Day, my friend Tomomi and I traveled to Kyoto to attend Salon du chocolat which is an international chocolate festival. I basically died and went to heaven because I ate some of the most delicious chocolate my stomach will ever taste, I was surrounded by the most beautiful chocolate my eyes had ever beheld and I even had the honor of meeting both Jean-Charles Rochoux and Pascal Le Gac (2 very famous luxury chocolate makers!)salon du chocolateIn February I released my inner snow queen and went on 2 fun winter adventures: a 3-day snowboarding trip to Hakuba, Nagano and a weekend getaway to the quaint & picturesque town of Shirakawago.nagano shirakawago 1 shirakawago 2

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As the snow melted, the best adventure was waiting right around the corner. My parents came to Japan, and I couldn’t have loved our time together more! We 3 musketeers spent two weeks traveling around Japan creating beautiful memories to last us a lifetime. I will forever remember our good fortune that the cherry blossoms decided to say “konnichiwa!” to my parents too by blooming an uncharacteristic, never before heard of, 2 full weeks early!!! So my parents actually got to experience the most beautiful side of Japanese spring season! It was a once in a lifetime trip!

momanddad2 momdad6 momdad7You would think life would calm down after such a whirlwind vacation, but it just never seemed to. Adventures waited every time I tried to stop and catch my breath! Life just got better and better!

A beautiful hike up Mt. Aoba with good friends…aobayama1 …I walked across burning hot coals with my bare feet in a firewalking ritual at a Fukui temple…walking on fire…and participated in a day long prefectural-wide scavenger hunt with a KarRally team dressed up as Madonna throughout the ages! (That’s me second in on the left if you can believe it!)Kar RallySoon after this, came the unfortunate and busy time when good-byes had to be said to old friends as they left Fukui to pursue their dreams, and say hello in greeting to the new ALTs who came into my town to take their place. There’s never a dull moment in my life and this was my last summer in Japan so I lived every day with a carpe diem mindset.

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Two weeks road-tripping throughout Hokkaido lived up to my 2013 New Years Resolution to be more adventurous. I had never undertaken such a large holiday initiative before and I had my hands full juggling all the necessary research, planning and budgeting all by myself. It was also a personal test of sorts, designed to push me out of my traveling comfort zone because I had never done such a long trip, alone, in a foreign country before.  I learned a lot about myself during those long scenic drives and saw many breathtaking views that made me wonder if I had somehow wandered out of Japan and into a fairytale!

Such as at the Furano Lavender Farm, with purple blossoms stretching as far as the eye could see…hokkaido1…The mysterious turquoise waters of Lake Biei…hokkaido2….the wild splendors of Shiretoko which stole my heart. Seriously everyone, you’re lucky I decided to return to civilization after this place. I was sorely tempted to become a modern day Japanese Tarzan living in the wild…hokkaido3 hokkaido5 hokkaido6Reflecting on my photos of Mt. Rausu which I summited in the heat of summer – with a messed-up knee no less! – I couldn’t help but smile and think to myself “Damn, I am pretty badass!” I’m very proud of that hike in reflection! hokkaido 7And finally I went up to the beautiful Rebun Island which no one I know has ever done before, for 4 memorable days of hiking in wild flower paradise!
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I returned home to Fukui exhausted but happy as a clam. In need of rest and relaxation I traveled with my friends to the Earth Celebration at Sado Island. There is nothing quite like good friends, good food and summer music festivals in my opinion. Our inner hippies rejoiced as we let our inhibitions go, camped on a beach, went swimming in the ocean every morning to wake-up, and lay out every night gazing wistfully up at the constellations that were clear as diamonds. The pounding taiko drums at the Kodo music festival made my blood pound along in harmony and my soul soar as traditional Japanese music echoed across the field under a starry summer sky. I felt in that moment ready to take on the world. Sado Island is my personal paradise and I simply know I’ll remember that trip until I’m old, with grey hair and many more years under my belt. sado island

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My favorite season Autumn was lovely and relaxing with plenty of hikes, include a hike up the famous Mt. Hakusan which is one of Japan’s 3 most holy mountains. Watching sunrise dawn at the summit of this mountain with a best friend on each arm, I knew that right then and there was exactly where I was supposed to be. Choosing to stay a 3rd and final year in Japan had been the right choice!hakusanIn November, I was spoiled absolutely rotten when my friends Robin, Denea and Kim came all the way from Canada to visit me! (*Insert here the appropriate and necessary squeal of joy!*) Robin has insisted that 3 years is much too long for me to be gone, and insists I return home as promptly as possible. In the meantime, much to my delight, she couldn’t resist visiting! We had so much fun and I haven’t laughed so hard in years! Especially the maiko dress-up experience, none of us are going to forget that any time soon!i08cUQWmDSC_0001

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As Christmas drew near I was blessed with the ability to pop down to Kobe to see the Kobe Luminarie, an extraordinary Christmas light display which filled me with Christmas cheer…IMG_2323…before jetting off to be reunited with my amazing family and spend our first Christmas together in 2 years! I was glowing with happiness, and radiated perpetual joy every single day I was able to bask in their love and the tropical Hawaiian sun!1522230_10100844383650401_413116668_n 1486826_10100846565128701_1229695093_n 1504063_10100846565153651_800997576_n

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Finally, let me end this post by saying that I am grateful for the opportunity in 2013 to have been living my dream. I am still stunned sometimes when I remember the fact that I am living in Japan. I live in JAPAN and that is awesome!

Living here is so much more than simply amazing, it’s one of my biggest dreams come true. Thank you to all the amazing people in my life, you mean the world to me, which is funny because quite incidentally you do happen to live all around the world!

japan living in japanAs 2014 starts my heart is full to the brim with love and I’m eagerly awaiting whatever wonderful adventures this year has hidden in store!

XOXO, Jessie

Categories: Life in Japan, Lifestyle, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

La villa LUPICIA in Niseko

Good food, tea and mountain sports are the three biggest passions in my life. So when my friend Tomomi told me that my absolute favourite tea company Lupicia had recently opened a fabulous, new restaurant in the heart of Niseko, one of Japan’s finest ski resort areas, I knew I simply had to go! So, the second I left Otaru I began my quest to find it.

Lupicia’s teas are so good they turned me from a tea-fan into a tea-junkie, they are out of this world and contain no artificial ingredients. I was 100% certain their restaurant would also thrill and delight my taste buds.  La villa LUPICIA is already becoming quite famous in the right circles, given time I have no doubt that it will become one of the most popular fine-dining restaurants in Niseko.

Entrance into the Lupicia area of Niseko

Entrance into the Lupicia area of Niseko. On the left is the restaurant and the dark building behind it is the boutique.

The Lupicia boutique

The Lupicia Boutique. Here an array of Lupicia foods and teas are sold. Be sure to check out the signature Hokkaido tea blends sold here!

After a bit of shopping, I strolled over to the restaurant La villa LUPICIA. I was immediately smitten. The menu looked superb, and the atmosphere was very rustic and serene, a perfect combination for a fancy dinner after a lovely day spent in the mountains.

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I loved the tall windows all along the front of the restaurant. Such a nice touch!

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Cold Appetizer: Hokkaido oyster with seawater gelee and oyster cream

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Cassis juice (would have loved a glass of wine but sadly I was driving)

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Beef in breadcrumbs fried in butter sauce

The set menu includes a cold appetizer, warm appetizer, main dish and dessert. For each of the appetizers and the main you may choose between three different options, while for dessert you may choose between either the dessert of the day or the cheese plate of the day. Choosing my main was definitely the most difficult. The three options were a fish sautéed with yuzu butter (and we all know how much I love yuzu), lamb in breadcrumbs fried with mustard or roasted duck (which is a specialty of Niseko apparently) served with gooseberry sauce. Talk about difficult decisions!

Main: Roasted duck with gooseberry sauce

Main: Roasted duck with gooseberry sauce

Dessert: I chose the cheese plate of the day

Dessert: I chose the cheese plate of the day

After I finished my main dish, because the restaurant wasn’t busy, I  decided to snuggled up in one of the baby-soft blankets the restaurant has available with a cup of piping hot Lupicia tea and read some of my book by golden light before savouring my cheese assortment.

All in all, La villa LUPICIA is a fabulous restaurant. If you are wondering to yourself “Where to eat in Niseko?” I highly recommend La villa LUPICIA. A set dinner here costs 3,800 yen per person (which is more than I typically like to spend while traveling as I’m often on a strict budget) but you have to treat yourself every now and then, and for a nice dinner out this place is a total steal! One final thing I would like to say is that all of the staff were incredibly friendly to me and did speak a little English. Fear not foreigners with limited Japanese, with their English menu and incredibly kind staff, you’ll be in good hands at La villa LUPICIA!

DETAILS:

  • English menu available
  • Check out their website here (but it’s all in Japanese)
  • Phone# for the restaurant: 0136-21-7880
  • Phone# for the boutique: 0136-21-6818
  • Address: 倶知安町字樺山58-5, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido, Japan 044-0078
  • Facebook page here

Directions to La Villa LUPICIA (from Niseko Station):

Take ROUTE 792 and turn right onto ROUTE 66. You will cross a river. Keep going straight, following ROUTE 66. Turn right onto ROUTE 343, follow along and near the top of the hill on your right will be La villa LUPICIA.

Directions to La villa LUPICIA

Directions to La villa LUPICIA

* It will be close to the Niseko Village Golf Course, which is on the local map if you have one of those!

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The City of Glass: Otaru

Back to my Hokkaido road trip diary, now that one of my friends was able to help save my photo files off my old, and dying computer! Last time the adventure left off with me just leaving Shiretoko, and the beautiful Kaminoko Pond

It appears that in leaving Shiretoko I forgot to pack my luck. I kid you not, after I drove away it was just one terrible thing after the next, domino style. I had promised to meet my friend from Fukui (who was visiting Sapporo with his parents) for dinner that night, but instead of a little luck of the Irish rubbing off on me, it appears I suffered the worst string of bad luck imaginable. I’m not looking for a pity party, but seriously, it was terrible! So terrible I know it’ll be therapeutic to write down and hopefully let go of the negativity forever!

My Series of Unfortunate Events:

  • Typhoon like weather hit and I had to drive the 381km winding roads (which would not have been fun to begin with) in non-stop torrential downpour terrified out of my mind. This should have taken 6 hours, due to terrible weather, it took 8.5 hours.
  • Had an absolute BLAST with my friend and his parents at dinner. Genghis khan BBQ is fabulous and it’s a must do if you’re in Sapporo! Unexpectedly, I then went out drinking with him and his parents (must be an Irish thing, but loved it!) where I guess I drank a little too much and proceeded to loose my iPhone getting out of my cab home.
  • Spent the entire morning calling police stations and lost&found offices. Unfortunately nothing was open because it was a Sunday. Just my luck, eh? Seeing as I had no reservation to stay further in Sapporo, I was forced to leave…because, of course just my luck yet again, my hostel, and every other hostel was fully booked.
  • Admitting defeat, I printed off driving directions and road maps because I was now about to commence the last 2 days of my road trip with no GPS. Checked out of my hostel and upon arriving at my car saw that someone had dented the passenger side door, which would later cost me 20,000yen (approximately $200) in damage fees to the rental company. UGH!
  • Drove the entire way to Otaru and Niseko with no bloody idea where I was going and “winging it” in the truest sense of adventure. However, instead of the adventure and “liberated-at-long-last-from-the-ball-and-chain-that-is-technology” experience I was expecting, I instead proceeded to have numerous minor heart attacks on the Japanese highways with all of the road directions being written in kanji (which I am only so-so at reading).
  • Oh, and the cherry on top I broke my kindle (e-reader book) screen, rendering it completely useless, not long after.

Even 2 months after this nightmare has ended, it’s still painful to recall. I can vividly remember parking my car in Otaru, after many harrowing driving experiences (for the record it’s only 40 minutes from Sapporo, a mere 40 minutes!), putting my head against the steering wheel and wanting to cry. I had made it, but I was barely holding it together. It’s at times like this that traveling alone is really the pits, you have no one to cheer you up and try to make you laugh. You are forced to delve into the depths of your own wandering-weary soul all by yourself and find that gem of hope and optimism in light of a terrible situation.

I took several deep breaths, told myself to just breathe, just breathe. I played my favourite Michael Buble song to rally my spirits and slowly began to calm down. I was in Otaru, and I was going to enjoy myself. I was in Otaru, and I was going to enjoy myself. I was in Otaru, and I was going to enjoy myself…It became my mantra, and after several minutes I took one last deep breath packed everything into my purse and stepped out of the car ready to spend my now limited time in Otaru (only a few hours at most) having fun. Only of my friends used to have a quote for times like these. Screen shot 2013-10-17 at 10.40.19 AM

So true. I may not have been able to drink (I had to drive later) but I could brush my hair, apply a fresh coat of lipstick, smile at myself in a mirror, stand up a little straighter and go have an amazing adventure. That’s exactly what I did. So glad I did too, Otaru was simply delightful. IMG_1524 IMG_1525

Otaru is a small little city very near Sapporo that is often called ”The Venice of Hokkaido” for its beautifully preserved canal area and the multitude of blown glass.  Blown glass art is a specialty of this city so be sure to save time to go shopping! Nothing like a little retail therapy to turn a frown upside down!IMG_1547

My first course of action was to walk along the canal, breathing in the salty air and hunt down the famous steam clock. There is a steam clock outside the music box museum which was a gift from Vancouver (where I’m from) so I was determined to find it! It didn’t take me long and I arrived just in time to hear the main steam whistle which occurs on the hour every hour (it plays a little chime too, every 15 minutes). After that I strolled along happily shopping what felt like every glass store I saw.IMG_1536 IMG_1537 IMG_1540

When I was young and wild, or at least wilder than I am now, I dreamt of running off to Venice to learn how to blow glass. It has always been something that fascinates me. When I was really little, my favourite part of visiting Granville Island in Vancouver was dragging my parents to watch the glass blowers at work. It was nothing short of magical the way the artists blew the glass as effortless as if they were blowing up a balloon. About 3 years ago, after finishing university and before I moved to Japan, I actually took a night class at my local art college in Calgary. It was a dream come true and much more difficult than I ever imagined. Since then my appreciation of blown glass has increased even more. Therefore Otaru was like glass blowing heaven for me, I could have watched the artists at work for hours and shopped all day long. I think I spent more money shopping this day, than any other day the whole 2 weeks I was in Hokkaido.

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I bought a cute circle vase to grow my marimo in and a few under-the-sea miniature glass figurines to keep them company! It was a perfect souvenir!

I also bought myself the sweetest looking tea set. I adore yuzu (a Japanese fruit similar to a lemon) and was positively smitten with this set. It was hugely inconvenient hauling this around Hokkaido with me for the rest of the trip, but I bought the whole set (stand and all!) and brought it back to Fukui.

I also bought myself the sweetest looking tea set. I adore yuzu (a Japanese fruit similar to a lemon) and was positively smitten with this set. It was hugely inconvenient hauling this around Hokkaido with me for the rest of the trip, but I bought the whole set (stand and all!) and brought it back to Fukui.

Finally, if you’re looking for a nice little place to grab lunch, seek out PRESS CAFE. It’s right along the canal, and it’s a pleasant walk to get there. I know that sushi is a specialty of Otaru, but I was seeking somewhere quiet so I bypassed the expensive and busy sushi restaurants. The sushi in Fukui is plenty delicious enough that I don’t feel the need to seek it out when I travel.  If you stroll along the canal away from the busy area you’ll probably be able to smell this restaurant before you see it. Wait for the tantalizing scent of curry being carried on the breeze. I followed my nose and I wasn’t disappointed. They serve delicious curries and have a unique drink menu. I ordered the blood orange juice and my taste buds were singing hallelujah after the first refreshing sip.IMG_1528 IMG_1529 IMG_1531 IMG_1534

I loved the tall ceilings and general sense of spaciousness. I really savoured my meal here, relaxing in the tranquil atmosphere and gazing out at the Venetian canal before heading out. I guess the lesson that can be learned from this terrible, terrible day is that mindset when traveling is everything. Once I was able to tuck my bad mood under the rug and turn over a new leaf I was able to experience all the beauty of Otaru and salvage my day. Out of curiosity, any travellers out there, do you have any advice for a new solo-traveller for what to do when things just go unbelievably wrong? How do you deal with bad luck when traveling?

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Sometimes life closes a door. That doesn’t have to mean the adventure is over. It’s up to you to find another way…

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Kaminoko Pond

Sorry for the long delay between posts. As I’m sure you can understand, back to school in September for teachers is like Christmas for Santa Claus, the busiest time of the year by far. It seemed like a never-ending highly-stressful nightmare, but I’m happy to report that I’m alive! These days when people wistfully say that teaching English in Japan sounds like the easiest, funnest job in the world I just laugh, and then laugh a little more, and hopefully I stop laughing before they think I’m crazy. It’s hard work, anyone who thinks teaching is a “soft & cushy” job has obviously never taught.  Anyways, on to my actual story!

The Kaminoko Pond on the border out of Shiretoko was the last place in Hokkaido that I visited where I can honestly say I felt lucky. It would appear that I not only left my heart in Shiretoko, I left my luck too.

Kaminoko Pond (神の子池 Kaminoko-ike) is a very well known beautiful pond just outside the border of the Shiretoko National Park, near Lake Mashu.  Its aquamarine and emerald green waters are mysterious to behold and it’s no wonder it was given the name “Child of God Pond”…although, that may also be because the person who first discovered it thought it was a miracle not merely to behold but to find!IMG_1507IMG_1509It’s really nestled deep in the woods, so be prepared for an adventure getting there! You won’t need 4-wheel drive to make it there, but it is a bit bumpy. It’s well worth the trouble of finding, so don’t give up!

IMG_1509 IMG_1500  IMG_1511Seeing as there is VERY little information (in English) about instructions on how to get there I thought I’d try to help folks out.

How to get to Kaminoko Pond:

Coming back from Shiretoko National Park change from Route 334 and get onto Route 1115 (heading towards Lake Mashu). From the base of the peninsula, this will take approximately 1 hour (48km or so).
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When you see this sign turn in off Route 1115. You’ll need to drive a little bit uphill over some bumpy terrain, this will take approximately 10 minutes.

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Climbing Mt. Rausu

The next day was a rough wake up. My lovely and oh-so-NOT-considerate hostel roommates kept me up until 2am with their partying (UGH!) and I had to get up at 4am in order to meet my friend in Shiretoko for a hike. With only two hours of sleep under my belt I headed out.  I was a bit worried about the weather, but while it looked overcast it didn’t look terrible. I was more worried about the exhaustion that I felt deep in my bones. I don’t do well tired, I’m a complete bear, just ask my friends. If it hadn’t been for my eager friend waiting for me on his one day off that week, I know I would have cancelled the hike. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy the hike, but I will say that I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more had I been well-rested.

The goal of the day was to summit Mt. Rausu. It would be the first big hike I had done since injuring my knee and so I stuffed my bag with water, snacks, plenty of Advil, cold herb compresses and tiger balm in case it flared up.

Mt Rausu is the highest point of the Shiretoko peninsula. It’s a World Heritage Site and one of the top 100 mountains in Japan. I read reviews that claimed it is “renowned for its striking beauty, abundant wildlife and pristine nature. It also however, is quite famous for its brown bear encounters. Therefore, I strongly recommend wearing a bell and bringing bear spray. Good tip: I later discovered that it’s possible to buy bear spray from one of the information centres, the best part is that it’s returnable if you don’t use it. Brilliant idea!

The height of this mountain is 5,448 feet and the Rausudake trail is 12km return.  The people working at the information desks, and all the locals in the area will strongly recommend you start as early as possible, they were quite insistent telling me I should be at the trailhead by 4am or early. SORRY!?! WHAT!?!?! For a 12km hike, you have got to be kidding me! There was absolutely no way I was going to need 14 hours to hike 12km….

People in Japan take hiking very seriously. In my opinion you do not “absolutely need” to start this hike at 4am, so take their advice with a small grain of salt. I talked to other people on the hike who started as “late” as 10:30am and were still able to complete this hike well before the sun set. My hiking buddy wanted to start at 4am…but, seeing as that would have involved me getting up at 2am, that was not an option. We compromised and I agreed to meet him at 6am, though if I had had my way we wouldn’t have started till 8am (we still would have been fine, for the record!).

How to get to the trail head:

From the parking lot at Iwaobetsu Hot Spring, walk on the paved road that goes next to the large hotel until you come to a mountain hut and toilet. The trailhead starts here.  Be sure to sign the log book!

While I wouldn’t call this hike difficult, it was challenging, so it’s not for the faint of heart.  I didn’t take many photos that day, but my friend was kind enough to send some of his my way for this post. Enjoy!

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Jum was a great hiking partner, he had so much energy! We had a good time chatting about movies, hobbies and Shiretoko National Park, he’s got some great stories from working in the park for the past 3 years.IMGP1966-1

I totally forgot about taking this photo before Jum emailed it to me. I actually just about died laughing, I look ridiculous! Check out my non-existant “guns” why don’t you!

Everyone teased me that I wouldn’t see snow if I went to Hokkaido in summer. My friends know all to well it’s killing me that I haven’t made it to Hokkaido for crazy-awesome snowboarding, yet. He he he, suckers! Somehow here I am in my element, score! Muwhahahahah, yes that’s right, only the truest Canadians frolic in snow in the middle of August.

IMGP1959-1This was my favourite part of the hike, walking up this snow gully! From where I’m sitting, we had to hike up. Seriously fun stuff! My mood changed a lot after this point, it was the highlight of my day. Jum was very entertained by how much I loved the snow. Don’t worry though, I promised him not all Canadians are this snow-crazy.IMG_1489

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I did whip out my camera at this point because the sun had finally emerged and the mist was clearing up. Loved all the little wildflowers in this area, especially these little pink snowdrops. IMG_1407

Once you climb up around the corner everything flattens out a bit and you get to see the summit. We stopped here for a snack, a few pictures because you could finally see the peak and a short rest. I was really on the fence about climbing the last hour and a half up to the summit, but Jum encouraged me and next thing I knew we were off. Just as a warning the way up from here is challenging and involved a bit of scrambling over rocks. My knee was very bothered by this part, it’s very steep with lots of steps, unstable footing and rocky areas so take your time. IMGP1993-1

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What the hike up to the summit is like.

What the hike up to the summit is like.

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My glorious moment on the top of Mt. Rausu! Everything is downhill from here!

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View down from the summit!

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The clouds cleared for just a few minutes, it was nice to see a bit of blue sky!

As we headed down the mountain Jum pointed out a place I could fill up my water bottles which were running a bit low. The water comes from an underground spring and is safe to drink.

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Beautiful view as we descended the mountain.

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Snow! Snow! Snow!

IMG_1480 By the time I finished I was exhausted but happy. All in all it was a great hike that I’d recommend!

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Walking Up Warm Waterfalls: Shiretoko National Park

There are breakfasts, and then there are the breakfast of champions. My second day in Shiretoko started off great with this gorgeous plate of fruit accompanied by fresh banana, yogurt and granola. OM NOM NOM!IMG_1292

One of the most difficult things about long road trips is finding time to be healthy. Too many combini-store meals make me sluggish, so I have learned to buy lots of fruit and at least eat a healthy breakfast! After all, my mother always said “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” I lounged around the hostel for a bit having a bit of “me-time” simply relaxing, reading my book, skyping my family and savouring my yummy breakfast. That’s what holidays are about!

After, I headed out to explore some more in paradise. I decided to drive to the Shiretoko Pass and check out the mountain I was planning on summiting the next day.
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There’s me looking ridiculously optimistic about what the very next day would prove to be my Mt. Doom. I’ll save that story for the next post however, so stay tuned.

After this I drove to the Shiretoko Nature Center where I chatted for a bit with a Shiretoko local who really knew their way around. He was pretty good looking and I have to admit, I was a little disappointed when he ran off for a date with another lovely lady instead of hanging around with me.

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The Kamuiwakka Waterfall (カムイワッカ湯の滝 Kamuiwakka-yunotaki) is a famous waterfall and is one of Hokkaido’s coolest natural wonders. Its name in the Ainu language means “River of the Gods” and this is no ordinary waterfall everyone, it’s very very special. It’s an onsen waterfall meaning the water is hot! What’s even cooler? You are actually allowed to walk up the gentlest slope of this warm waterfall in sturdy sandals, bare feet (my recommendation) or, if you’re looking for an awesome souvenir, the stores sell special toe-socks with rubber grips on the soles of the socks! I would also recommend wearing a bathing suit, as you can go swimming in the deeper pools if you’re so inclined!

With regards to logistics, the road to this waterfall is closed and the only way to get there is by taking a 40min bus from the Shiretoko Shizen Center, a round-trip ticket is 1180yen. Keep your eyes peeled for interesting wildlife on the way!IMG_1317_convertedIMG_1315_converted (1)

Yeah, you can actually walk up that in case you’re curious, “amazing” doesn’t do this place justice!IMG_1316_converted IMG_1323_converted

This photo was taken by my new at-the-time friend Jum who works for the Shiretoko National Park. He was stationed that day as a “tourist-supervisor-lifeguard” at the waterfalls, keeping all us tourists out of trouble and within the safety bounderies (despite whatever adventures we might want to pursue).

Jum introduced himself politely and asked if it was ok if he practiced his English with me because he didn’t get many opportunities. Surprised, I looked around at all the other tourists, it was easy to see why, I was definitely the only foreigner. As we talked, I discovered that this November he’s is planning to go on a 4-month home stay program in Alberta, Canada! What are the chances?! He couldn’t believe his luck either, when I excitedly told him I was from Alberta! It was definitely his lucky day! When he asked what my plans were the next day, I told him I was hiking Mt. Rausu, and he asked if it would be ok if we went together since it was his day off. He’s a much better English student than I am a Japanese student eh?

I was a little tentative to go with him I won’t pretend otherwise, mostly because I’m not one for doing long 8-hr hikes with strangers…. I thought about it for a bit and then eventually agreed to meet him at 6am the next morning. In the end, my fear of hiking alone in bear country far outweighed my apprehension of hiking alone with a stranger. The fact that Jum was actually a Shiretoko National Park Nature Guide made the decision a whole lot easier, he’s hiked Mt. Rausu about 10 times in the past 2 years!

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This final photo is of the beautiful view as I drove back to the hostel from the Nature Center! Gorgeous view, ne?

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I Left My Heart In Shiretoko

A long time ago a friend gave me some valuable traveling advice “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst and that way you’re always pleasantly surprised.” Day 4 dawned and the second I looked out the window I knew my plans were up in the air, the most ominous looking of thunderclouds clouded the sky blocking out every vestige of sunlight. Uh oh….so much for hiking. So I promptly rolled over, hey no judging it was 4 am in the morning, and I went back to sleep for another couple of hours.  Weather is a fickle mistress and it does no good whatsoever to shake angry fists at the sky and cry “why! WHY?” not always having perfect weather is a reality every traveller must face at one point. I wasn’t angry, if anything I was relieved to get a few more hours of rest to be honest.

When creating an itinerary I do my best to plan for everything within my control, and then after this careful planning always aim to give myself a little extra “breathing room” in my schedule just in case. Like I said, you hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. I never like to jam pack an itinerary in case something unavoidable happens. I can’t count the number of times that this traveling philosophy has helped me out on recent trips.

Only last Christmas while traveling with friends in Cambodia did my plans to visit Angkor Wat at sunrise have a rude awakening in the form of food poisoning at 2am. “Uuuuuugh!” doesn’t even begin to cover it. The disappointment of missing out on seeing Ankor Wat with my friends was almost worse than the food poisoning itself, almost. Luckily for me I had planned an extra two “safety days” at the end of my time in Cambodia before flying to my next destination (Singapore). Had I not, I would have left Cambodia without seeing its most famous site, which would have been tragically disappointing. So, as sad as I was to have to explore Angkor Wat alone, as my friends had departed for Thailand, I was happy that I could visit this historical monument, better alone than not at all!

Thus, when my plans to hike around the famous Lake Mashu area went up in smoke I simply fast forwarded my itinerary and phoned my guesthouse in the Shiretoko area to see if it was possible to shift my entire reservation forward by one day.  Luck was on my side, it was ok to check in later that afternoon. Off I went chasing the promised beautiful weather on the eastern-most area of Hokkaido, the Shiretoko Peninsula.

I stopped briefly at the top of one of Lake Mashu’s observatories to see if I could at the very least glimpse the supposedly clearest lake in the world….but no dice…I could hardly see 4 feet in front of me let alone down the valley to where the lake would be.IMG_1104 IMG_1105Vowing to return on my way back I headed off down the windy highway….and a mere half an hour later…WOW! What a change, eh? I was able to relax my white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel and cruising down the highway became a real pleasure after this. IMG_0999My nostalgia concerning wide open spaces after Biei was still on my mind. As I drove past beautiful golden wheat fields with their hay bales clearly visible against a robin’s egg blue backdrop of sky I couldn’t help but reflect on my childhood in Calgary, Alberta.  I would drive past the wheat fields every weekend in the summer while driving in my family’s car on my way to the mountains. Hard to believe I ever found landscapes like this boring, preferring instead to burry my nose in whatever book I was currently reading.IMG_1107IMG_1108After a quick check-in at the guest-house I was off to the peninsula. From the moment I first crossed this national park’s threshold I was in love. It stole my heart faster than a kiss and that was it, I was hopeless, utterly enamoured. Driving along that coastline is one of the most beautiful roads I have ever been on in my life. I knew in that first moment it was going to be an amazing three days! Even if I did nothing else than drive along the coastline I was destined to be happy as could be. IMG_1112 IMG_1113 IMG_1116

As fate would have it I saw a large sign along the highway indicating that one of my highly anticipate sightseeing destinations was coming up. The Oshin-koshin Waterfall is a must see when in the Shiretoko National Park! IMG_1118

Finding it was easy, walking up even easier, no hiking necessary to see this spectacular beauty of a waterfall so you have no excuses to not see it.
IMG_1137 IMG_1136 IMG_1129As you may notice I’ve got my knee all prepped for a little hiking.  Unfortunate reality that is my life, go figure, I injured myself a mere week before traveling to Hokkaido. Going in to see a doctor before my flight (that was leaving the very next day!) I was terrified she was going to ban me from any hiking in Hokkaido, which was the whole reason I wanted to go in the first place. Luckily the doctor said the pain I was experiencing wasn’t anything too major. My left knee is just currently lacking enough synovial fluid (the fluid contained in joints to reduce friction when moved) to move smoothly resulting in the bones rubbing a bit together. OUCH! She said as long as I did easy hikes, and took it slow I should be ok. That being said…

  • Advil and other doctor prescribed medicines taken? Check!
  • Icy-herb packs applied? Check!
  • Wearing my…knee-brace-socky-thing (to be honest I have no idea what you call it) over top of everything? Check!

I was excited to be heading off after this to the famous Shiretoko Five Lakes for my first hike of the trip!

The Shiretoko Five Lakes (知床五湖, Shiretoko Goko) are a five small lakes along the western coast of the Shiretoko National Park. They were formed long ago by the eruption of nearby Mount Io and the water comes from underground springs. According to legend the 5 lakes are supposed to look from above like a god’s five fingerprints.  The Shiretoko Five Lakes offer beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and wilderness. For any foreigners seeking directions you’re best of referring to them as “goko” which translates as 5(go) Lakes(ko). They are the #1 must see in the area so I decided to go there first (despite my itinerary) while the weather was the most beautiful day you could possibly ask for! Screen shot 2013-08-18 at 9.27.46 AMBefore you can hike however, first you must pay a small fee (300yen) and get a permit to hike at the Shiretoko Five Lakes office. It’s a very easy process that can be done in less than 10 minutes (if there are no lines!) at the information desk. I chose the 3km course (the longer one in blue) which takes you around all the lakes. It says 3 hours are necessary, but unless it’s bumper-to-bumper people traffic you can easily walk this in about an hour and a half. It’s very easy, and my hiking shoes were definitely not necessary. I saw a woman doing this “hike” in heels to put things in perspective.

Next due to the large number of bears in the area you must watch a bear information video warning you of the park rules, dangers and how to respond in various situations. It was so over-dramatic I think I started giggling 5 seconds in. It’s definitely good information however, especially for people who’ve never been in bear country before, and the video has English subtitles too! This whole process only took me about half an hour, but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s because I was there at the end of the day and was one of the last groups to go in. From the way the process was laid out I have zero doubts, it probably can get very busy, this process may take longer so prepare accordingly.

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Permit in hand, I headed off quickly after the video as not to be stuck behind the huge crowd of people.IMG_1147 IMG_1152IMG_1157 IMG_1160 IMG_1162 IMG_1163 IMG_1172 IMG_1189 IMG_1204 IMG_1210

It’s at this point the shorter trail and the longer trail converge. Both led towards a large 800m long elevated wooden platform that once you enter you can’t go back. Spectacular views of the largest of the five lakes can be see from here, you could also catch glimpses of the sea!IMG_1225 IMG_1235 IMG_1222IMG_1219

I spent about half an hour relaxing on a bench in front of the lake, savouring the beautiful panorama while basking in the sunshine’s warm glow. I really enjoyed the time of day I went, I started walking around 4:00pm (a little over 2 hours before sunset) so the sun wasn’t scorching hot and was just beginning to start descending as I walked along the boardwalk back to the parking lot.IMG_1228 IMG_1221 IMG_1223After I left the Shiretoko Five Lakes, I quickly headed off to the little town of Utoro to watch the sunset. When coming south through Utoro watch for a 7/11 combini. When you see it make a left and then another left immediately to go up a large hill towards all the high-end hotels. Park your car wherever possible and walk to the campground. Take a right at the campground office building towards a large cliff, this is the best place to view the sunset. I got there about 20 minutes before the sunset and held my spot at the front while happily munching on fresh watermelon to take the edge off my hunger. IMG_1252Glorious end to a glorious day. Can you see why I instantaneously fell in love with Shiretoko? Isn’t it just the most enchanting wilderness you’ve ever seen!? Friends and family will be lucky to ever see me again. I’m thinking of find myself a cozy little cave to live in for the rest of my life!

 

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The World’s Most Adorable Algae : Marimo

I am a plant murderer. It’s not something I’m proud of. It is simply something I’ve been forced to accept about myself, that despite my best efforts not to be, I am a plant serial killer. No matter how many times I try, the poor little things wilt into oblivion under my care. The only plant that has survived my care, so far, is a cactus. Pathetic, I know!

Despite this however, I love them! You may have noticed I took quite a few photos of flowers in Furano, and I always enjoy being surrounded by nature when I’m hiking, I just am a terrible owner.

Thanks to this love of plants Day 3 of my road trip brought me to the beautiful Lake Akan. IMG_1013

Lake Akan is a beautiful crater lake in the Akan National Park in the eastern area of Hokkaido.  What drew me here was something very unique, the marimo. Marimo colonies exist only in Iceland, Scotland, Estonia and Lake Akan in Japan. Naturally my curiosity was piqued.

What is a “marimo” you ask? Well, this little geek went on a miniature science field trip and is happy to share her newly acquired knowledge! My parents will be delighted, all that money spent on science summer camps clearly had a lasting impact.

Marimo (mah-ree-moh) are an exceptionally rare algae species that form into beautiful, velvety-looking green balls. They do this so as they roll around under the water all sides may do photosynthesis. Marimo have a growth rate of about 5mm per year. Left alone for a few centuries, Lake Akan’s marimo can reach the size of soccer balls! EPIC! The algae have been designated a National Special Natural Monument in Japan.

IMG_1059The plant was named “marimo” by a Tatsuhiko Kawakami, a Japanese botanist, in 1898! “Mari” means a bouncy play ball while “Mo” is a generic term for plants that grow in water. The Ainu people (native people who live in the region) have known about Marimo for much longer and refer to them as torasampe (lake goblin) and tokarip (lake roller).

When you go to Lake Akan, there is one thing you must do and that is go on the Lake Cruise. The price is pretty reasonable, 1,850 yen for a 85min cruise that includes a trip to the Marimo Conservation Centre. As far as I’m aware, this is the only way to get to the centre, which is on an island in the middle of Lake Akan, where you can view the real marimo.  Careful though, you only get 15 minutes at the centre so make the most of your time.

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Somehow these little rolly-poly-balls charmed me, and I began to think of them as endearing. Whoever would have thought that I would find myself thinking of a ball of algae as adorable? Bizarreness.

After the boat cruise finished, I found myself thinking quite seriously about purchasing a few of my own to bring back to Fukui. My plant serial killer tendencies however, made me pause. I’m terrible with plants, what if it’s the same for algae? Murdering marimo is terrible to even contemplate! Eventually though, eternal optimist that I am, I ended up buying a few to raise as pets.  Say hello everyone to my new little friends! Fingers crossed I don’t kill them! marimo 3 marimo 5

The ladies in the stores assured me that keeping marimo alive is super simple. For anyone who visits and wants to bring some home as pets like me (who needs cats or dogs when you have adorable algae right?) here’s how to take care of them:

  1. Change their water about once per week (purified water is best).
  2. Don’t place them in direct sunlight, even though your instinct may be to do so because they do photosynthesis, it will kill them. The lady I spoke with recommend placing my marimo somewhere that receives weak sunlight – such as near a covered (with curtains/blinds) window.
  3. If your marimo turns grey then simply flip it over and make sure the grey area gets light.
  4. If that doesn’t not work then you can get a bowl, add water, ice and salt, let them soak in that for about 3 hours .
  5. If the marimo aren’t perfectly round anymore, you can roll it back into shape in the palm of your hand.
  6. They won’t float unless the water is squeezed out of them.

Tomorrow the adventure continues with a trip to Lake Mashu. Stay tuned!

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