Posts Tagged ‘Hokkaido’

Life Below Sapporo

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

At times the streets of Sapporo can appear to be deserted – where are all the people?  The official statics suggest that around 2 million people live in the city and yet many of them don’t appear on the streets in the city centre.

The reason for this becomes apparent when you leave the footpaths and descended below ground and down into the intricate network of Sapporo’s underground walkways.  This is where you find the crowds.

In summer, the temperatures here ease up into the hight 20′s (degrees C). During the winter months, Sapporo’s temperatures drop to below freezing and monthly snowfalls in excess of a meter are the norm.  Throughout the year locals descend underground to avoid Mother Nature but they also use the underground passageways because they are a great way to move about the city.

The intricate and extensive walkways are aligned with the subway system and are also home to hundreds of shops and restaurants.  You can get off the train, buy your morning coffee and pastry, enter your office building from below and start work.  A very comfortable way to live.

And if you think that being underground with thousands of people would be rather noisy – think again.  This is Japan.  The locals don’t “do noise” so the experience of being underground is quite serene. A bit like a cosy burrow.

When in Sapporo, get down and get moving – just like the locals.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Obliging Nibblers

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

The blue summer sky overhead is suddenly filled with swarms of insects.  Not knowing if the are locust, bees, wasps or something unique to Japan we stop and digest the scene above us.  It quickly becomes evident that the mass of flying bugs are harmless and beautiful four winged dragonflies.

We stare in amazement at the huge number of the graceful insects that are along the floodbanks of the Sorachi River near the town of Furano.  The airspace is teeming with them and we are mesmerized by the aerial antics of these low flying creatures.

After a few minutes we turn our attention to the variety of plants and flowers that line the pathway we are walking on and realise that the dragonflies are having a feeding frenzy too.  Hundreds of them are zipping from flower to flower and doing what dragonflies do when they find a tasty morsel.

With our cameras at the appropriate settings we venture closer and closer to the dragonflies in the hope that we can take photos of them feeding.  Fortunately these little insects don’t seem to be too concerned about our presence and, after a while, we realise we can get up close and personal to them.

Over the next 20 minutes or so we take dozens of photo’s of obliging dragonflies in different poses as they feed on the beautiful flowers. A photographer’s delight!

Whilst we came to the Furano region to photograph the stunning array of colourful summer flowers these beautiful dragonflies have provided us with an unexpected photographic experience.  What a win!

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Fields Of Rainbows

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Acres of brightly coloured flowers all perfectly aligned and following the contours of the land stretch out in front of us like a rainbow that has decided to lay itself across the landscape.  Bees, dragonflies and an assortment of opportunistic insects make the most of Hokkaido’s summer blooms and fill up on the delicacies offered up by the variety of plants.

We are in Furano, Hokkaido and we are allowing our eyes to feast on the beautifully prepared gardens that draw thousands of tourists to this area of Japan during Hokkaido’s brief but stunning summer.  Hills that entertain skiers in winter are full of lavender, sunflower and other beautiful plants.  Lower fields around Nakafurano and in Farm Tomita are covered with the many colors of Sage, Cosmos and the bright pink of the Cleome.  It is a gardener’s paradise and a photographer’s easel.

The cloudless blue sky overhead allows the full intensity of the sun to make the stunningly beautiful colours of nature even more vivid and we stand in awe of the display that is neatly arranged before us.  Mother Nature has put on a show that makes one appreciate how beautiful the simple things are when you take time to stop and smell the roses (or other types of flowers).

The region around Furano is also renown for being the “fruit bowl” of Hokkaido and many of the vegetables and fruits that adorn the masses of food halls in Japan are grown in this region.  Today, while our eyes savour the stunning display of flowers our palates soak up the taste of juicy cantaloupe – a seasonal delicacy grown right here in Furano.  Our personal favourite was the soft ice cream infused with the orange melon’s pulp.  Wow.

After several hours of roaming around the garden beds in the Furano region we board the opened carriage Norokko Flower Train and literally ride off into the sunset.  The spacious booth style seats in the train give us room to unload our backpacks and cameras and the large open windows provide an unobstructed view of the passing fields and towns.

We arrive in the city of Ashaikawa just as the sun is setting and just as our stomachs have emptied out enough to consume another steaming hot bowl of locally prepared ramen.

Another incredible day in Hokkaido!

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Two Wheels and Two Legs – The Only Way To Travel

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Wearing high heels and a long dress for work today and wondering how to travel to work?  Not an issue in Sapporo – just jump on your beautifully maintained, customised bike and simply pedal away.

If you have travelled to Amsterdam you will appreciate how user friendly a city can be for cyclists.  Well, in Japan, Sapporo absolutely compares to the most bike friendly cities of Europe. Indeed, if you are not riding around Sapporo dressed in your finest outfits then you are just not cutting it!

Bikes of all shapes and sizes transit the sidewalks and cycle paths.  From bikes that have matching frame, tire and saddle colours (pink, orange, blue and yellow are among them) to bikes that are complete with two baby carriers.  Bikes for looks and bikes for practical use can be seen all around the city.

Unfortunately the Japanese cyclists in Sapporo don’t seem to care to much for their heads because non of them wear helmets – not a fashion statement in this part of Japan.  However, these two wheeled commuters do look stylish in their business suits, goth outfits and latest fashion attire.

And what do you do with your bike once you arrive at your destination?  Just put a simple lock around the rear tire.  It doesn’t have to be secured to any fixed object because crime here is so low that it would be extremely rare for someone’s bike to go missing.  Indeed, we started to wonder why anyone would lock their bike up at all.

And if you are wondering whether all of these bikes create congestion on the sidewalks it seems not.  Friendly security staff come along and carefully align them and pick up any bikes that have fallen over.  You have to love the Japanese!

Finally, if you are wondering whether it is safe to walk around with all these cyclists on the footpaths and roadways you can rest assured that you won’t get hurt.  The Sapporo cycle commuters are expert at negotiating pedestrians, other cyclists and traffic.  Indeed, we don’t even remember any bells are “excuse me’s” the whole time we were there.

If you want to join the locals on their bikes you can hire a bike from one of the bike rental shops or pick one up from the bike rental racks on the streets. Check out the Sapporo Community Bike Blog here.

And just in case you were wondering what happens to all the cyclists during the long Sapporo winter you can check out this site to see that the weather doesn’t slow the locals down! And here’s a great video to watch too.

Oh, for a bike friendly city like Sapporo.  Western cities and many Asian cities could learn a great deal from this city!

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Don’t Speak It But Love To Play It

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

The excellent english jazz song being played in the Tully’s coffee shop we are sitting in causes us to tap our feet and fingers in time with the beat.  The Sapporo Jazz festival is held annually over the summer months and shops all over Hokkaido are playing great jazz numbers.

Interestingly, the majority of the jazz being played is performed by english speaking artists from around the world.  And what’s unusual about this?  Well it is a big play on the senses.  Most of the Japanese workers in the restaurants, coffee shops and department stores don’t speak a word of english yet the majority of the music (jazz or popular) being played is performed by english artists.  Either the Japanese have great taste in english styles or someone is making a lot of money out of setting up their music programs for them.

We haven’t seen any live jazz during this visit to Hokkaido however it is something we will put on our travel agenda for a future trip to Japan. The line up of artists at the Sapporo Jazz (Ezo Groove) festival is excellent and a weekend visit from Hong Kong would be worth the effort.

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Time Keeping

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Not sure what time it is? What do you do if your watch is a little slow?  There’s an easy fix.  Check the departure time of the JR (Japan Rail) Hokkaido train you are sitting on and when it pulls out of the station reset your watch.  The trains in Japan arrive and depart as though they are linked to premium made Swiss clocks.

The Japanese are renown for their efficiency and one of the most tangible examples of this is JR Hokkaido.  If you are from a country where the arrival and departure times of public transport are “flexible” then you had best not rely on getting to the station a few minutes late in Japan – the train wont be there.

And what about the standard of the carriages?  Both subway and intercity trains are superb.  On the intercity trains even the most basic seats can be likened to a premium economy seat in a modern airliner – lots of leg room, in seat power, a huge dining tray and a seat that lays back far enough for you to get a very comfortable sleep.

We bought a 7 day, unlimited rail pass for our time in Hokkaido.  We were able to purchase the pass on arrival at Hokkaido’s New Chitose airport. We used it daily to travel all over Hokkaido.  For just over $40USD a day we enjoyed the luxury of the excellent trains and the efficiency of Japan Rail.

If you are going to be visiting Hokkaido and don’t want to spend your time driving or on buses then pick up a JR Hokkaido rail pass and experience train travel at its best.

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