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Hokkaido Day 6 [Part 1]: I ate a Squirmy Live Squid

We now travelled to Hakodate, where there was a famous seafood market that sold most of the fresh seafood that was to be imported to various parts of Hokkaido. For the first time in my life, I really felt like I was in a BBC Documentary as I saw all these sea creatures wriggling around and swimming in their tanks. Much better than Sentosa’s Underwater World haha!

It was pretty weird seeing these squid swimming backwards. How do they navigate exactly? Don’t they sometimes bump into something at the back? They seemed quite inefficient in their swimming style, upon hitting the end of the tank they would sink hopelessly downwards despite their efforts to flap their “wings”, and it was quite difficult for them to rise up and swim again once they had sunk down.

As crabs were in season, we saw loads of them at the market, with the largest priced at 70 000 yen.

We were pretty awed at how nonchalantly the young fisherman was weighing and carrying the crabs as he separated them into the various tanks. Unlike in Singapore, crabs here weren’t tied up or restricted (which if you think about it, is pretty mean. Imagine spending your day in a straitjacket. It’s frustrating and unbearable), but the crabs didn’t seem like the type to bite, claw or struggle much.

Since the crabs seemed so tame, I bravely put my finger in the water just above the crabs to provide you all with something so you can imagine how large these crabs really were

The ones on the left were the largest crabs in the market, the ones on the right were the smallest crabs, which are about 4x bigger than our Sri Lankan crabs? haha. Unlike our crabs however, the meat of these crabs is extremely sweet and best eaten plain (in my opinion). The Japanese also love cooking them in a miso/shoyu soup hotpot to accentuate and complement the sweet taste.

We also saw stores selling salmon (right) and each storefront had very colourful banners (left). Some even had cartoon-esque drawings of the seafood they specialised in. Generally, each store specialised in selling about 1-3 different types of seafood. We saw squid, salmon, crabs, scallops, abalone and sea urchins.

One or two of the stores we visited also gave us free dried scallops! Initially our family thought that these were merely sweets shaped to look like scallops (since the Japanese are the ultimate kings of making something look like something else), but imagine our surprise when we bit into these and discovered that they were real scallops! Very yummy and I’ve never tasted any other dried scallop fresher than this. Beware of scallop breath though!

Since our tour guide had strongly recommended it, and seeing that my family had been longtime fans of the show Japan Hour, we decided to take the plunge and try out some live squid. Words won’t suffice here, so I’ll just let the videos share my experience with you

Disclaimer: If you are easily disgusted, please refrain from watching.

I wouldn’t say my conscience wasn’t pricked, but you know what? I don’t regret it. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I’ll never forget, and because I steeled myself and went for it, I left with no lingering doubts or unhappiness that this was an experience I didn’t miss out on. Besides, I’ve had more than enough verbal blasting from my friend Rachel. This is how our conversation went:

  • Me: Oh hey in Hokkaido I ate live squid. I have the video! You wanna see?
  • Me: Ok ok sorry I didn’t realise you’ll be that squeamish. I won’t show you the video
  • Rachel: NO! I want to see! SHOW ME!

Hahaha. So well, you might not want to ever participate in it, but now the event is in the past and if you’re curious, it’s here for your viewing pleasure :) Unlike what we get in Singapore, the flesh of the squid was very clear and translucent. Surprisingly, it tasted crispy (especially the legs) and extremely firm.

I have to say though, that it was slightly freaky how the little suckers on each leg sucked on our teeth and gums, but it didn’t cling very hard and there was no damage done (to us). The legs were the only active part of the squid wriggling around as we ate, due to the fact that the squid’s muscles are almost exclusively concentrated at that part of its body. They served the squid with soya sauce and a ball of ground ginger. As brave as we were being that day, none of us had the guts to try the body of the squid (the orange mushy part you see) so I can’t describe how that tasted like.

Tokyo’s Ginza Street up on the next post!

Hokkaido Day 5 [Part 1]: The Dancing Bears

We went to the Bear park/ranch known as King of Hokkaido.. but the first animal we saw were raccoons! These little creatures were all huddled up at a corner where snow wasn’t falling, I didn’t like the fact that their entire cage was an open area, with no warm place or shelter for them to huddle under. What if it rained??As they were huddled up, we didn’t see the raccoons doing anything much, but I remember that for a time last year I was completely obsessed with the idea of getting a pet raccoon. Here’s why:

Isn’t he absolutely cute! I love that raccoons are hardy enough so you can “throw” them on a soft surface. My rabbits are simply too fragile for such activities. Not that I have a love of throwing animals around, I don’t!

At the souvenir shop prior to the entrance to the bear ranch, there was the option of buying either cookies or apples for the bear. My family however, refrained from doing so as all of us had wisely saved our apples from our meal the last night and thus had our own apples to throw! It wasn’t explicitly stated that we weren’t allowed to do so, so we kinda felt “safe” doing it.

Once the bears saw the curious humans shaking the apple in our hands, they stood up and some began to walk around (it’s very difficult for them to do so), whilst others began to bellow in harmony. It was rather funny! On the left you’ll see a slide there.. and we were wondering how the bears knew how to slide down. In actual fact, the bear used it as a prop to lean back on, whilst clapping his hands in very slow motions. A very smart bear, since standing up was tiring business for one his size. It also occurred to us that with the bears so desperate for apples, they might not be fed as well as they should? However, they all seemed quite large-sized, so we hope they were well fed.

Our lunch was situated near the Pacific Ocean and I took the opportunity to take pictures with it! No pictures of lunch again, we were absolutely starving, plus it didn’t help that some lunches have a time limit, since it’s a buffet/free flow. Whilst in the coach, a snowstorm started up, and unlike snow in other places, one can actually see “waves of snow” moving with the wind, precisely because it’s so light and it doesn’t fall to the ground easily. The “waves of snow” can be seen on the ground in the right picture. I should’ve taken a video!

We then proceeded on to see some colonial buildings in Odori Park. The red brick western-style building was the headquarters of the “Kaitakushi”, or Colonial Development office. It was responsible for the development and expansion of Hokkaido during the Meiji era. I didn’t take any pictures of it coz it was too cold, but we explored the museum inside, where a huge collection of old vintage cameras were stored

My dad was extremely excited about the old equipment and cameras stored here. His first ever job was working for a British Colonial alongside my grandfather, and while my grandfather was only an errand boy, my father learned how to edit, enlarge and use ink to painstakingly edit film for his colonial master. Talk about photoshop gone old school. I’m thankful we don’t have to do the same these days. Adobe ftw! Oh who am I kidding, I barely use Adobe Photoshop. Macbook iPhoto ftw!! haha.

On the top right of the second photo, you’ll see a micky mouse head! That’s a toy camera, which is the entire upper level of the shelf. Surprisingly, all these toy cameras are functional! Some were even used as spy cameras due to their insanely small size. I think the smallest was probably about the size of my thumb (width). Unbelievable. I’m not a fan of vintage cameras so I guess I couldn’t really appreciate what I saw, but nevertheless it was an interesting experience and my dad was so excited :)

Part 2 coming up soon!

Hokkaido Day 4:The Ainu Village

The smell of sulphur invaded our noses as we stepped into Jigokudani (Hell Valley). Despite the cold winter, geysers of hot steam were shooting up from below and steam permeated the entire place

standing in sulphuric glory

As the smell was pretty strong and the weather was friggin cold, we spent about 10 mins at the place before moving on to the Ainu village

These Ainu dogs are known for their loyalty, obedience and are trained by the village people to assist them in the catching and slaughtering of bears. I love how beautiful their white fur was! They were also very friendly, but we weren’t allowed to touch them in case of … accidents. The dogs were selling at 30 000 yen each and no longer work, but serve as tourist attractions.

We headed for the Ainu Museum housed within the village. The Ainu people were the “original” people of Hokkaido who were displaced when the Japanese settled over. “Ainu” means “human” in their language. They bear more angular facial features, resembling the Russians as they descended from Russian settlers.

The place we went to was known as Porotokotan, meaning large lakeside village, as it is located next to Lake Toya. In 1984 the Japanese government decided to respect the Ainu people and their culture, hence the preservation of the village as it is today. We watched the iyomante rimse (ceremonial dance sending bears’ spirits back to heaven) and saw how they played a mukkuri (mouth harp), which looked really tiring to me.

The Ainu people live off their Salmon catch, and due to the dwindling numbers of Salmon, they have to pay taxes to the Japanese government for each fish they catch. The salmon seen above are the salmon they’ve caught for this year, but they don’t eat salmon fresh like the Japanese love to do – instead, they smoke them and eat them next year. So the amount of food they have depends on last year’s bounty, and allows them to be forewarned of any food shortage.

After our visit, we headed for lunch, which was a crab hotpot! By this time, we were pretty much addicted to crabs. It’s not everyday that you get to enjoy luxuries like that, particularly back home in Singapore.

Evidently my family was really starved that day because I don’t have any photos of our meal at all in my camera, but here’s a pic of me holding the smallest King Crab of the restaurant’s seafood market. They actually offered me bigger ones but they were way too heavy for me to confidently carry on my own! The crab here cost about 25 000 yen, with the most expensive (and largest) crab costing upwards of 70 000 yen. With literally hundreds of crabs filling the entire restaurant, it’s hard to imagine that only 2 crabs qualify to be 70 000 yen crabs. Those were insanely huge, but not as big as the ones we saw later on the second last day at the seafood market.

The Japanese there were really very friendly, I didn’t even ask to hold the crab. All I did was start taking pictures of the crab before a lady came and handed this crab to me, gesturing for me to take photos with it. Really unlike other places I’ve been to, and I appreciated it :)

That evening was spent yet again in another onsen, this time at Lake Toya Hot Spring Resort. We enjoyed a sumptuous dinner, and could barely finish it all. I really love the food we had at Hokkaido!

Hokkaido Day 3 [Part 2] : Steamy Stuff!

That evening, we stayed at Noboribetsu Hot Spring Resort, where we would have our first try of the traditional Japanese onsen (hotspring). As it was my first time seeing such a traditional Japanese-styled hotel, I was very intrigued, and surprised that it was more comfortable than it looked. The room was small (what you see in the photo was the whole room) and at first my mother and I had no idea where we would sleep – but oh well, that was a problem we would solve after dinner, haha! We were also forewarned by our tour guide that each tatami mat cost anywhere from 30 000 – 40 000 yen each, so we refrained from dragging our luggage over it, in case we spoiled it.

The traditional Japanese yukata is measured by height, otherwise it’s free-sized. My mother and I took the S size each (since we’re shorter than 1.6m). It has to be worn with the left side over the right side – wearing it the other way would mean that you’re a dead person on your way to your funeral LOL. Since many Japanese students were staying with us at the resort that evening, our tour guide took special pains to emphasize how to wear the yukata properly.

Our evening meal was generous as usual, with personal sets for each person. We had a hotplate set, accompanied by pickles, chawamushi, rice, salmon on top of salad and were given an empty metal bowl to fill with ingredients to cook with soup. The buffet spread of ingredients was limited, but of great quality.

The buffet spread of ingredients for hotpot (left) and sashimi (right)

I was super fascinated with this gigantic mushroom from my set meal. Super yummy! And here’s me happily cooking my hotpot.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw how humungously awesome these scallops were. Unfortunately, my obsession with taking photographs = slightly overcooked scallops. We were also served scallop claypot rice, a bowl of ramen and an apple. In the end we were so full that we all brought the apple back (uneaten) to our rooms to save for the next day or maybe to munch on in the coach. It turned out to be a great decision!

That evening, we all visited the onsen. As you steam naked, unlike in Japan hour where they wear towels for decency’s sake, no photographs were allowed. There are at least 2 baths for you to soak in, one which is of moderate temperature (20 degrees and up), whilst the other one is 50 deg celcius. The water is very murky as it is full of minerals. After steaming, one gets to sit and wash up and they provide loads of wonderful shampoo and soaps. I really had fun trying out all their shampoos etc and I must say that those were the BEST shampoos I’ve ever used in my life. My hair glowed wonderfully afterwards.The shampoos I tried were the Ma You (horse oil) and Pomegranate Tannin Shampoo.

After that, I decided to try out one of my new purchases, Steam Cream, which I got from one of the major departmental stores, Daimaru. Since their limited edition christmas designs were out, i purchased two, one for myself, one for a friend and my mother purchased the plain tin. I’ve previously heard loads of rave reviews from online beauty bloggers about this product, so I was definitely curious. It cost me about $15 SGD. Here’s an excerpt from the Steam Cream website:

When you blend natural oils and butters with extracts and flower waters, they form an emulsion. If you’re a whizz in the kitchen, you’ll know that they like to separate back into their original parts and it’s difficult to keep them in a nice smooth form. That’s why most moisturisers are held in tough emulsions; the problem with them is that when they reach your skin, they just sit there. When we make STEAMCREAM, we use steam power to create a stable, light emulsion that separates on your skin, so the ingredients, including oatmeal, almond oil, organic jojoba oil , and lavender oil, can work to soften the outer layers and hydrate the deeper ones. All our ingredients are cruelty-free

I was indeed impressed with the formulae of this cream. It was really a dream to use. Compared to the moisturizers we brought along (Bodyshops’ Body Butter, Jergen’s Body Cream), this cream really felt much lighter to the touch. However I’m not sure whether its efficacy is more superior to the other creams, they seemed to have similar moisturizing abilities. Compared to Bodyshop’s Body Butter, its scent isn’t as pleasant, but I appreciate that it leaves a less “sticky” feeling after moisturizing.

You can purchase Steam Creams from local online retailer Soap ‘n Sorbet at $26 SGD each – it isn’t as cheap as I purchased in Japan but considering that one does not need to fly to Japan to get it, or deal with the hassle of international shipping etc, this is pretty cheap!

One of the must try foods in Hokkaido is the cream puffs from the Nouvelle Patisserie Japonaise. It is simply delish! As the regular sized puffs looked incredibly huge, we purchased the small puffs instead, at 430 yen per box (about SGD $7). Our local store Beard Papa cannot compare to the absolute deliciousness of these puffs. Unfortunately, due to their freshness, we could not bring them back to Singapore as they have to be consumed within 2 days of purchase. That said, it left me quite keen on making my own cream puffs, since I just can’t forget how wonderful they tasted. There’s something about cream puffs that just oozes a heavenly luxury.

Next up, Dancing Bears and a visit to Hell Valley :)

Hokkaido Day 3 [Part 1]: Toys Galore!

After a good rest in our hotel, we were up and ready to face our packed schedule for the next day! The great thing about Japan’s hotels is that even their most basic hotels trump all those hotels we stayed in during our China tour. Not only are the basic requirements met (i.e. nice pillow, toiletries, working toilet), but everything is very well maintained and though the rooms were not always very spacious, they never resembled the hostel rooms one gets in Hong Kong (where the door is literally at the foot of the bed..). The thing I loved most was the bathtub in every room we got. Nothing beats a nice soak in a hot tub after a day in winter :)

I don’t often travel to very cold countries during their winter period, so I don’t really own a lot of thick winter wear, nor do I see the need to buy so many and wearing them once or twice every few years or so. So I make do with a few woolen pieces and layer with knit wear, which I wear by their own in Singapore as well – it really isn’t too hot! The heart-striped pinafore above was purchased from Delias a few years back :) It’s one of my favourite online stores and I have quite a few pretty pieces from there!

Our first stop was a photostop at the famous Otaru Canal, located in the town of Otaru, which is famous for its glasswork shops and old stone warehouses.

Personally I didn’t really see anything really special or glorious about this Canal, but it was pretty fun playing in the snow. We made a few snowmen! haha :)

We then headed on to the Kitaichi Glass Shop, which sold a variety of glass art works, glass ware, toys and music boxes. Once again we were bedazzled by the sheer number and variety of toys and little trinkets.

the Good Luck Cat in various poses, expressions and forms. Super cute! Some even had kimonos

Unsurprisingly, the Music Box Shop was similarly packed from top to toe with toys and music boxes of all shapes, sizes and designs.

For those who are enthralled with Japanese kawaii culture, these toys and trinkets are definitely a sight to behold, not just within the tourist places we were brought to, but also their neighbouring shops as glasswork and trinkets seemed to be something that every single shop along the streets of Otaru specialised in. There were tons of green-pea looking trinkets (what looked to me like green peas with faces etc.) These are unique to Hokkaido, and represent a “moss ball”. Many buy moss balls to bring home and it just grows.. I have no idea why they like it. Owls also seemed to be very popular creatures.

Suffering from a cute overload, my dad convinced us to explore the local seafood stalls – where we saw various crabs, scallops and other dried/live seafood on sale. Since it was nearing lunch time and we were feeling slightly peckish, we decided to buy ONE scallop. Mind you, each scallop was pretty big, and one was more than enough for a huge piece for each of us.

The lady was barbecuing the scallops and selling them – we only bought them after several of our tour group members had tried them and were raving about them. It seemed quite common for the seafood stalls to cook the food on the spot once it was ordered. On the right is cooked King Crab. One packet costs 500 yen, which is about $8 SGD. By my parents’ calculations, the same amount of crab (same type) in Singapore would cost close to $20 SGD FROZEN, not fresh. Fresh King Crab is an impossibility on our sunny island. *sobs*!  Unlike us, who consume our crabs in chilli and black pepper goodness, the Japanese often prefer to eat their fresh crabs plain and cold, which is simply delicious as their meat is extremely sweet. Very different from our Sri Lankan crabs.

After a buffet lunch at a hotel, we headed for shopping at Mitsui Outlet Park Sapporo Kitahiroshima. It was opened just last year and holds loads of high-end stores, most of which had items costing even more than the total amount of yen my family had changed from SGD to. It was pretty empty actually, though there were considerably more locals there than tourists. I did however, like its spaciousness. Unlike similar high-end stores on the street, the outlet stores here contain more past-season items at great discounts. Coach was on 30-50% off, with a further 20% off on one item (upon entering the shop they would offer you a coupon). It also contained many other exclusive stores such as Burberry Blue Label (exclusive to Japan), Paul Smith, Armani, Barneys New York, Fossil, Ralph Lauren, Furla, Diesel, Folli Follie, Tommy Hilfiger, Timberland, BEBE, Vans etc. There are 128 stores in total, some of which are the only store that the brand has in Japan. The Outlet Park is also famous for its farmer’s market, which contains a large assortment of local produce from the farmers in the region.

Hokkaido Day Two [Part 1]: Sapporo Beer Museum

The weather we experienced in Hokkaido was -2 to -7 deg Celcius. Add on wind chill, and you’d realise that it was pretty darn cold out there. Hokkaido has an extremely dry climate – though my entire family lathered on moisturizer, our faces were peeling from the extreme dryness by the end of the day. However, due to the dry climate, the snow in Hokkaido is very beautiful, large in mass but low in moisture, making for extremely fluffy snow. We really had fun frolicking in it and making snowballs :D

Here’s what I wore that day! A pink knit woolen sweater with a tank top knitwear beneath. Of course I wore my thick down jacket over this, and it was sufficiently warm for me throughout the day, even with the heavy snow fall. Having a huge tote bag is a great idea for trips like this, as the Japanese are very concerned about how cold we would be, so the interior of restaurants etc. were extremely warm. So my tote bag was great for stuffing in my voluminous jacket + gloves etc. whilst sitting down to enjoy my meals :)

We paid a visit to Sapporo’s Beer Museum, which was crucial for Sapporo’s economic development in its history. It was quite educational learning about how beer is created, and why its flavour/texture is so distinct. I also loved looking at how ideas and concepts about beer have changed over history.

Above is the mini size model of the factory we visited. It was built in 1890. Wonderful how really old buildings can last for such a long time, considering that Japan experiences more earthquakes/tremors than any other country in the world. It is now preserved as one of the precious cultural legacies from the Meiji Era.

What I later realised is that in each tourist/educational attraction we were brought to, the Japanese were very fond of making mini-models out of everything, and weren’t just content with merely mimicking the real-life structure. Instead, they often injected “kawaii” elements into it, to make the learning journey that much more fun to see. The above model depicts how scientists had to study the hop and barley plants before deciding on the best method to formulate Sapporo Beer as it remains today.

The Barley and Hop are gathered, dried and transported to the factories. They undergo various quality checks in the process. The Barley and Hop are fermented in the factories, heated and mixed together. It’s amazing how the staff specially took the effort to Christmas-ify the exhibit. So many museums around the world rely on static exhibits that hardly ever change. Seeing the extra effort put into this exhibit made it all the more special.

I’m sure that those who love beer will fully appreciate the spirit of debauchery and luxury they showed in this exhibit. The beer is bottled up into bottles with the distinctive red star, which is the logo of the Sapporo Beer Company, and a stick figure luxuriates in the excessive foam overwhelming the giant glass of beer in the middle of the “beer fountain”.

As with most prefectures in Japan, their “specialty” goods are usually not exported out of the prefecture, hence maintaining the exclusivity to each prefecture. As Sapporo’s specialty is its Beer, it specifically does not export any of its Sapporo Classic Beer series, from liqueur chocolates to the Beer itself. It does however, export its other varieties of beer. The distinguishing factor between Sapporo Classic and other varieties of Sapporo Beer is that the Classic Beer remains true to the taste first created in 1890.

I felt that the timeline that showed how Sapporo Beer Company’s advertisements had changed over the years was the most fascinating, as it truly showed cultural and social changes in Japanese society.

(1) Wooden hanging signs and (2) Famous Geishas promoting Beer

(3) Popularity of the Geishas declined, the image of the Western woman grew in popularity (4) Westernized, modern women promoting beer

(5) The Beginning of Celebrity Endorsements (6) More male figures endorsing Beer

We subsequently went to the Museum shop, where they didn’t just sell beer but a varied assortment of fruit wines as well. Japan is particularly famous for its peaches (July to September), Strawberries and Yuzu Oranges (both from November to February).

As my family generally doesn’t drink, we didn’t purchase any of their beer or liqueurs, and sat at the tables enjoying ourselves with some snacks we bought. I absolutely loved the chesnut gelato we tried, delicious! The apple sorbet we paired it with wasn’t as impressive, it just tasted like apple juice + ice. The yuzu orange juice on the right was probably the best orange juice I’ve tasted in my life. It was filled to the brim with pulp! Amazing.

Given the cold weather, we really enjoyed the hotpot we had for lunch :) Similar to what we had previously, it was a personal set for each person.

Don’t be alarmed by the amount of vegetables. We had free flow of shabu shabu meat to accompany the hotpot :) They provided lamb (without the lamb-y stench! very yummy), beef and pork. Our family also ordered one serving of Kobe Beef which was insanely expensive but worth the experience because it was perfectly marbled and cooked to perfection.  Part II of Day Two Coming up soon!

Hokkaido Day One: Japan’s Airports

おはよう! [oh-hai-yo: good morning] I just got back from my trip to Hokkaido yesterday evening, a trip that exceeded far beyond my expectations, and it was a truly awesome experience. I can’t wait to go back again! Unlike previous tours I’ve been on, this was organized by ANA (one of Japan’s largest airlines), and the Japanese pride themselves on giving the best, so we were pleasantly surprised by how generous they were with samples and whatnot, whilst not being pushy or hard selling any of their items! Very unlike China or other tourist spots I’ve been to :)

Our family left for Japan on 11 Dec 8.30am @ Changi Airport. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the 8 hour flights because long flights are really quite tiring and I also felt that we were “wasting” a day since we would reach Tokyo at 4.20pm, which would essentially be 5.20pm Tokyo time, since Japan’s timezone is one hour earlier than Singapore’s.

Thankfully ANA had quite comfortable seats even in the Basic Economy Class (which I took – ANA has Business Class, Premium Economy Class and Basic Economy Class) and their entertainment systems weren’t too shoddy either. I didn’t play many of the games but I did watch loads of movies. In my 8 hour flight, I managed to catch Eat Pray Love and Charlie St. Cloud. Unlike Caroline, I snoozed at Eat Pray Love because it was a tad too draggy for me, but I thought Zac Efron definitely broke out of his High School Musical shell and showcased his acting chops as an angsty, older-brother figure in Charlie St. Cloud. Not to mention his very hot bod.

As I kept my camera in the overhead compartment and was rather lazy to take it out, I didn’t take pictures of our food etc, but our ANA’s food was surprisingly GOOD! I generally don’t consume more than 1/4 of airline food because it usually isn’t tasty, but my seafood bento was pretty awesome, with huge 50cent-sized scallops and prawns with delicious sauce. Of course, these scallops (which I reckon are much larger than what I’ve had in many restaurants in Singapore) were tiny compared to the humongous ones we later consumed in Hokkaido. Awesomeness! What I also loved about ANA was that they ensured all passengers were extremely well-hydrated. We were served beverages at least 6 times throughout the flight, inclusive of this very cute waterbottle that accompanied me for most of my stay in Japan

As with most things in Japan, the bottle itself was very informative. The Bottle reads:

The new Boeing 787 is mostly built with Toray Carbon Fiber composite materials. These make the aircraft lighter, stronger and more fuel-efficient. Toray is focusing on an environmentally-conscious business.

The new Boeing 787 is ready to take off!

and on the opposite side, it reads:

Celebrated Natural Spring Water from Nyuzenmachi in Toyama Prefecture.

This natural mineral water comes from the spring delta at “Kurobegawa Senjyochi” and bottled locally at a new modern plant. Please taste and enjoy this select water which is a celebration of fine Japanese Spring Water.

Indeed, as with most Japanese companies, ANA was quite conscious of promoting and using products of its own country as much as possible, not simply to boost the economy, but also because it took pride in its own national products, something which Singapore should definitely learn from.

We touched down on time, but the service at Narita Airport was rather slow, so my brother and I contented ourselves with watching the airport workers offload our luggage whilst waiting to leave the aircraftas you can see, the sun was already beginning to set even though it was only 5 plus when we touched down. During winter, days were much shorter and particularly in Hokkaido, the sun would set around 4-5pm. Thus, each morning we all got up bright and early at 630am before leaving the hotel at 8am each day.

We had about 1-2 hours in transit before leaving on our second flight that very same day, to Sapporo (in Hokkaido). Given that we had to allocate time for potential delays in immigration etc, our tour group didn’t leave the transit area but explored Narita Airport instead. We were quite amused and fascinated with the large range of goods available.

(1) various cakes – all display sets were fake but looked incredibly real, (2) stacks of fashion, manga, porn! and lifestyle magazines

(3)many of their goods were manga-themed, with even pop out character collectibles in each sachet, (4) kit kat flavours: sweet potato, porridge and annin flower

Since we also happened to be hungry (our last meal had been about 10am Singapore time on the flight and we had not yet consumed lunch/dinner), we also ordered from the food kiosk near our boarding gates

My hotdog! it came straight out of a packet (heated) and all i had to do was add the ketchup and mustard myself. Quite a fun experience, though it obviously wasn’t very fresh. but still quite palatable.

My brother chose a bowl of ramen instead. Shockingly, we only ate ramen x2 during our entire trip! Despite the fact that this was Narita’s version of fast food, I must say that the ramen was quite good, comparable to Sakae. They were also generous with the quantity and amount of seaweed, though it came without other ingredients.

Thankfully, our flight to Sapporo was only slightly more than an hour, we departed at 7pm (Tokyo time) and arrived at 8.40pm. Over there, we met our local guide Kelvin, who was a Singporean that migrated to Japan 20 years ago. It definitely showed through his strong Japanese accent, and none of us actually guessed he was Singaporean-born until he told us. Upon hearing that we would be putting up in HotelCom’s Shin Chitose Airport Hotel, we were all rather apprehensive, as airport hotels generally don’t have a reputation for providing more than the bare minimum. Besides, we were also rather hungry by the time we arrived at the hotel at 9.30pm.

To our immense delight, the spread that welcomed us at the hotel was more than satisfactory. The chawanmushi was simply delicious, it had REAL CRAB MEAT! huge chunks of it! Little did I know that even bigger crabs were awaiting me during the rest of the trip. Needless to say, we gobbled it all up, and this was our first and last time consuming chicken for the rest of the trip, which explains my chicken-binge-ing the minute I got home haha! :)

My outfits of the day! Tip: Never wear contacts for long-haul trips, particularly when traveling to an extremely dry climate. Hokkaido is famous for its very soft, flaky and fluffy snow, which is due to its extremely dry climate, so the size of the snow is large, but very low in water content. Knowing this, I decided against wearing contacts most of the time, and it was to my benefit as I didn’t suffer from painfully dry eyes as various other tour members did :)

Though our hotel room was definitely small, it was well equipped with toiletries! As i’m never one to trust toiletries from hotels, I brought over my travel-sized Olive Glossing Shampoo and Satsuma Body Soap, both of which were from the Bodyshop. However, I did try out some of the hotel’s products as well.

As previously mentioned, Japan is very proud of it’s own products, and every single one of the toiletries we used were produced by other Japanese companies in all the hotels we visited on the trip. At Hotelcom, we got to use Body Soap, Shampoo and Conditioner from Shiseido. The Ionizing Hair Dryer, shavers, toothbrushes, toothpaste and shower caps were also made by various other Japanese companies. So if you’re the type who likes to pack light, you can definitely skip on toiletries when traveling to Japan. In fact, at some hotels, they even provide sanitary pads as well as shaving cream, moisturizer and a varied assortment of green tea/charcoal cleansers as well!

Stay tuned for my day-by-day descriptions of my trip in Hokkaido :) It’s definitely one I would recommend to friends and family – already, my family is keen on returning in April during the Sakura Season, or September, where most of the fruits are ready for harvest. As Japan believes in preserving its national pride, it keeps its best produce and harvests within its country, and whatever is exported is usually “below average standards” in quality, so everything truly exceeded our expectations :)

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