Just a heads up, this is a bit of a long post….you’ve been warned.
I had a day to explore Sapporo so I had a good walk around with Matt who I’d met when I first arrived. There’s a lovely park that runs through the middle and luckily there was still some cherry blossoms still in bloom. I’d missed them further south and while not all were out in Sapporo it was still lovely to see some of them. My second evening there turning out to be really fun. I met Matt a little later after he had been doing some exploring of his own and we decided to have a look in one of the arcades. I’ve seen these places in most of the cities I’ve stopped in and they tend to be huge with floors of different arcade games. I’ve never really been to one before but it was great fun! After messing about on the different games we met up with Brandon and Marina who had joined us for a drink the night before and also their friends Dyana and Sam. The 6 of us then went bowling, funnily enough this is exactly the same as back home, you throw a bowling ball and hit pins, pretty standard but the videos for when you missed were brilliant. A very excited Japanese person shouting at you was certainly unique. After that we decided to go to a Karaoke Bar. Now I wasn’t sure how this would go, in fact I think I said I’ll come along but just watch but I guess if there’s one thing you have to do when your in Japan it’s Karaoke. We found a Pirates of the Carribean themed place which was already very fascinating and you then got a room which I hadn’t realised as I had expected a bar where you sing in front of everyone…no thank you! Having a room was somehow better and with all you can drink included it was brilliant (I think this may have helped my willingness to sing). You then had iPads to choose which songs you wanted to sing and sang to your hearts content. I ended up having an amazing evening with some really cool people. I’d even consider going again! Now there’s something!
The next day with a slightly broken voice I got on the train along to Otaru. It was only half an hour away and on the coast so I thought it would be an interesting place to check out. It was a nice little town, famous for seafood and the canal which runs through it. I also found an amazing little coffee shop run by this elderly gentleman. As you walked in the room it smelt of woodsmoke and the coffee turned out to be epic. It was also a jazz bar so in the background was this beautiful music which I have no idea what it was but it made for a brilliant atmosphere. I’d booked a guesthouse for the night and when I got there I discovered I was the only person booked in which was kind of cool so I had my own room which was nice. That evening was a lovely clear one so I managed to go and get some nice pictures of the canal with the moonwhich was really beautiful.
After a night in Otaru I went another two hours on the train to a place called Kutchen where I jumped on a bus to get me to the ski resort of Hirafu. Apparently an amazing place to ski which I had unfortunaly missed but it was still nice to check out. It wasn’t a very big place so I had a little wander around and then went to the local Onsen. For anyone who doesn’t know what an Onsen is it’s basically a number of different baths which are various temperatures and also a sauna. They’re found all over Japan, are very popular and a great way to relax. This being my first I was a little unsure about the dress code. I’d heard you normally go in naked but I realised I was the only person at this particular Onsen when I arrived meaning I didn’t have a reference and I couldn’t read any of the signs to get a clue. I decided to play safe and wear my shorts, I figured it was better to find out you had to be naked when you weren’t than the other way around, it could have been a little awkward being the only person without any clothes on. Anyway about half an hour later some locals turned up and wore sod all! My bright blue board shorts got some strange looks…oh the irony! After my fashion faux par at the Onsen I walked up the nearest hill to get a better look at Yotei-zan which was a stunning volcano in the distance. I was very lucky to get a really clear night and a beautiful view as the sun went down.
Back at Kutchen I got the train down to Hokodate where I planned to stop for the night before getting the Shinkansen down to the town of Nikko the following day. On the train I met a guy called Alex from Sydney who was also going to Hokodate so that evening we went for an explore and got some food. We were both at the same hostel so in the morning before catching our trains we went to explore the morning fish market. There was all sorts of amazing stuff but to me the most incredible thing was the size of the king Crab! They were just incredible. Alex suggested we got some sashimi which was a great shout. We got some crab, oyster and Salmon with a bowl of rice which was all really delicious and super fresh!
The trip to Nikko from Hokodate took most of the afternoon so it was 6 by the time I got there. On the little train up to Nikko I met a Dutch girl called Mica and another Australian called Peter who both happened to be staying at the same hostel as me which was cool. After dumping our bags we went to find some food and managed to find a cheap little local place although weirdly not much else was open. Nikko is only a small place but it has a Unesco world heritage site of 4 temples and lots of things to do in the hills around the area. During the day it’s mental with coach loads of people but at night it was strangely quiet. I’d booked two nights in Nikko giving me a day to explore. In the morning, Peter, Mica and I went to have a little explore, we first ended up at the river that’s runs through the town before working our way back to the temples where we did a nice walk up into the forest to find a shrine that was hiding up there. We had been told by a few people that it was a two hour hike which considering it was only 5km seemed a really long time. It turned out to be 45 minutes not two hours and the waterfall that I was looking forward to seeing on the way ended up being a little bit smaller than I expected. It didn’t really matter though as it was away from the crowds and it was a beautiful day! In the afternoon I had a wander around the temples but didn’t go in them as they were really expensive and super busy but it was nice to have a look at them.
From Nikko I decided to head towards the Japanese Alps region and my first stop was a city called Nagano. It was a busy little place but nice to explore and there was a lovely temple there which was fun to explore. That evening I went on the search for food and found a very local little place which didn’t have anything I could read on the menu. I managed to order a beer which wasn’t very hard as I just pointed to the guy next to me but food proved a little more tricky. I asked if there was any noodles which seemed to get a response and not long after I got an amazing plate of delicious stir fry noodles! Epic! The chef and his wife were both lovely asking about my trip and where I was from. It was a really nice evening.
About 45 minutes from Nagano in the hills is the town of Matsumoto. There’s a very famous castle here which I really wanted to see. Luckily the weather was great and I got an amazing view of the castle with the hills in the distance. I even managed to get a tour of the castle from a lovely old lady who spoke great English. She told me all about the history and what all the displays were. It was fascinating and an amazing building built entirely from wood. After the tour my guide asked if we could get a picture together and if she could find me on Facebook, I’ve not seen anything yet but keep your eyes out for that gem!
From Matsumoto I decided to go to Kanazawa which turned out to be one of my favourite cities so far. Apparently because it was relatively untouched during the war a lot of the old building are still in good condition. There are two districts which are particularly interesting, one where Sumari warriors used to live and the other where a lot of geisha live. It was amazing to explore both of them and occasionally see people dressed in the traditional dress. Also there was another castle complex which had recently been restored which was nice to explore and next to that was Kenrokuen Garden which apparently is one of the best Japanese gardens you can see. It was stunning but of course very popular so finding a quiet area to explore was tricky. Still certainly worth a visit though.
I’m now in Kyoto but only for a night as I wanted to break up my trip south. I’ll come back here on my way back to Tokyo for a few nights to really explore. The plan next to to head south down to Kagoshima. The train pass I’ve got is really great, I’ve just been turning up each day and asking for the next train to wherever I want to go and there’s always been space. I really recommend it to anyone who’s thinking of coming here. You can get a 7 day, 14 day or 21 depending on how long your here for so its quite flexible. Anyway sorry it’s such a long post, there’s just so much to see here! Hope you’ve enjoyed it and below are a few more pictures I’ve taken along the way.