Jun 4, 2017

Hokkaido Spring Day 1: Hakodate, Goryokaku Park & Mt. Hakodate

I took a red eye flight with a layover in Kuala Lumpur on my first ever trip to Hokkaido. I had bought the tickets only 3 weeks before the trip so AirAsia’s tickets were the only ones I could get that didn’t break my bank. My return tickets cost me SGD$628.50

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My flight was scheduled to fly at 8:45 pm and it was a whirlwind of a busy day! Thank God I managed to get everything together in time! After finishing all my morning and afternoon appointments, I rushed home and took the MRT to the airport because what do you think? because I’m cheap! I checked myself in with AirAsia's check-in booth to avoid having my bag weighed. I hadn’t bought any baggage space for the trip over (Cheap alert!) but I think I might have accidentally crossed the 7kg limit by one of two kilos, oops=X. I had grand visions of leisurely whizzing through the departure gates with just the booth printed boarding pass but verification of travel documents was required for entry into Japan so I was sent back to the counters to have my passport checked.





Had a brief layover at KLIA. Maybe it's the fact that I'm flying a Budget airline this time but man, the boarding gate between my flights were so far away! I also had to go through the x-ray machines twice even though it was a transfer. The last time I flew with Malaysia Airline to Osaka, I didn't have to do any of that. Was it just a difference in airline or are they stepping up security after that fiasco?

Since I didn’t have time for dinner, I was psyching myself up for a cup of hot piping Tom Yum noodles on the clouds. It was 1:30 am by the time the food cart for the second leg of my flight appeared. I waited excitedly for my sodium ladled fuel but as it turns out, AirAsia does not accept Credit card for items below RM13. I offered to pay by Japanese Yen but was told that only 1000 yen notes can be accepted and with no change given because, well, the air stewards don’t have loose change to give. Driven mental by my hunger, I almost shelled out 1000 yen for the noodles but halted myself in time when my brain finally processed the Maths. It all kicked in and I realize how ridiculously overpriced that noodle would be! I asked the Stewardess what else the 1000 yen could get me and apparently it's equivalent to 37RM. That's 4.6 times more than my 8RM Instant cup noodles! So I swallowed my hunger along with my pride and politely declined the transaction.


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Here's a bit of price comparison to prove why not going ahead with the purchase was the smart (but hungry) choice. Not sure why I didn't think of paying with SGD then *shrug*.

Arrived a little earlier than expected. Then cooped myself up in the ladies toilet for a good 30 mins to wash up and slap some presentable makeup on.  Then I went to the domestic airport to get my Hokkaido rail pass. The queue was slow and it took around 40 mins for me to be served. Thankfully they went by a ticket queuing system so I didn't have to worry about queue cutters.  Reserved my train ticket to Hakodate but since I had narrowly missed the last train, I found myself with 50 minutes to spare till the next limited express train. I decided this was my call to shop for a packet of Ekiben (Train Lunch Box) because one must always eat an Ekiben when you travel by train, is that not the Japanese rule?


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That said, Shin-Chitose Airport is pretty amazing. It's spacious,  modern and has everything you need. If you want to save money while buying omiyage (souvenirs), buy them on the air side of the airport when you return because they are tax-free! Of course, you can always buy them tax rebated outside but they usually require a minimum spending which I seldom hit in a single store.  The international area was so much smaller than it’s domestic zone though.

they say one must always opt for seafood in Hakodate so I bought myself some seafood sushi bento!


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Ekiben: 950yen  + Bottled Milk tea (500ml): 140 yen

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I arrived excited in Hakodate around 3 hours and 20 minutes later. Tried to take a bus to my hostel but failed. Couldn't recognize my bus and ended up on the wrong bus! Goodness, gracious!  Alighted and eventually took a cab. I've been avoiding cabs in Japan like a plague because we've all heard how exorbitant they can be. But given how late and lost I was, I decided a bit of spending was justified to allow me to enjoy what was left of the day.  The Cab fare was 550yen for a short 5 – 10 minutes ride. Honestly wasn’t as bad as I thought! It’s pretty much similar to how much they chareg over here in Singapore actually.

Dropped my stuff as fast as Sonic (the hedgehog) and left my empty mobile charger behind to charge while I zoomed to Goryokaku Park. It was as promised, a short walk away and it was fabulous!


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It was mankai (满开, Full bloom)! There were so many light pink Somei Yoshino in bloom that I couldn't help but fall in love with this fragile flower all over again. Cherry Blossoms in full bloom are beyond spectacular – it’s like you’re cruising on fluffy pink clouds that sway and gently rains down pink petals whenever the wind rustles it.  Looking at the rows of blossoming Sakura trees makes me feel like I'm in a pink cloud forest and embarrassingly, never fails to make me feel a little unnecessarily saccharine and melancholy. I spent the next few hours loitering around the park, firing away at unsuspecting picnickers and trees and also went to the observation tower ( Goryokaku Tower).
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Happy park go-ers paddling on what used to be a battle defence installation – a moat!


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My unsuspecting victims under fluffy pink clouds….


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Red and white Japanese lanterns like these really set up the Hanami (Flower Viewing) mood!


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When I was there, park goers were either busy setting up their camping mats to reserve a space for their party or busy trying to get the fire going. Yes, the usually cautious and environmentally conscious Japanese are barbecuing under these flower trees and they definitely looked like they were having a heck of a time because the Hanami season is the only time of the year you are allowed to start a fire in these parks. These Japanese sure take their Hanami game seriously!


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Everything looks extra magical when the magic hour strikes. The golden pink hues never fail to wring a soft gasp out of me.


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I first saw the Star Fortress on a faction (fact + fiction) anime called Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto and the place has been on my “GO-TO” list since! Coupled with full bloom cherry blossoms, things couldn't have been more perfect!  I took a trip up to the observation tower to view the star fortress better and that cost me 900yen. Peering down at the beautiful star fortress from above was worth every penny! In fact, if you're ever there, going up the tower is a must-do for you to better appreciate the architect and history.



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Isn’t the Goryokaku ( 5 edged fortress) beautiful?


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On the tower, you can see far beyond and into the sea. I managed to catch the sunset on the tower too!


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Cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops were available at the lower floors of the Observation tower. I particularly liked the full glass windows that provided a beautiful and unhampered view of the park and it’s cherry blossoms while you enjoy your sweet treat in the warm indoors.


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Japan has a strong beer drinking culture and it’s no surprise large quantities of this alcoholic beverage is drunk during the Sakura viewing season (Hanami). But it was the first I’ve ever seen a beer station at a Park, these Japanese take their beer supplies very seriously. After all, there’s no celebration without alcohol right?



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Coming out from the tower after dark, the park has morphed into an entirely different beast. Dim, mysterious and vividly coloured, the blossoms turned the park into a gorgeous labyrinth of neons and blooms and erm, barbecued meat smog.


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After I begrudgingly left the place (I didn't want to leave at all!), I headed back to the hostel because my phone battery was dying. And I knew there was no way I could make it anywhere without my Google Maps. I met a fellow Dormitory mate in our room while I was preparing to leave and after a brief "Konbawa (good evening) ", we each blurted out " Samui Ne?(isn't it cold?) " together because it was seriously freezing! No exaggerations! My hand was so icy you could eat them as popsicle!
Since this was my only night in Hakodate, I had to squeeze a trip to the top of Mount Hakodate to see what Japanese regard as one of the top three most beautiful night scenery in Japan.  Getting there was a feat for me though. As I had to walk nearly 20 mins to the tram station. Let me take a moment to rant about how the Japanese name their tram and bus stops - they name it exactly the same! Even for buses or trams going to opposite direction, stops are still named identically, making it harder to know if you're at the right stop.


I had to miss my tram once to figure that I was waiting at the wrong stop. To add salt to the wound, I realize I was waiting at a bus stop instead of a tram stop! This burns so much my pride hurts. I only figured something was wrong when I saw my tram stopping before me, twenty meters away! I scurried like a rat on the run from a cat.

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Round trip tickets up to Mt Hakodate set me back at 1280yen.

Maybe it was the bone-chilling cold or the fact that I was never a fan of concrete jungles but I had a hard time pretending to be impressed.  If you intend to go, I recommend going an hour or so before dusk to better appreciate the landscape when there is still light to see them. Then stay there until sunset. Admiring the orange tinted shrubs while being alleviated by the ropeway probably makes for a better experience - much like the one I had in Mt Moiwa a few days after.


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Journey back was spine piercingly cold. I was shivering so badly I started to wonder if I would get hyperthermia lol.  The walk from the tram station to my hostel was admittedly, not very fun. There is supposed to be a lot of Supermarkets and restaurants along the way to my hostel but they were mostly closed by the time I got back at near 11 pm. I've only had one afternoon Bento that day so you can figure out how high I was on the 'hangry' chart. While convenience store was on every corner in Tokyo, Hakodate seemed to take on a more modest approach with them. It was hard to suppress my joy (and hunger) when I finally spotted one and practically ran into it to defrost and top-up my human fuel.

It was 11:35 pm by the time I sat down for dinner. I think it was pork cutlet with tomato spaghetti and chicken with glass noodles and rice. It only cost me 398 yen and it was heated by the store attendant but since I had to walk for a super long way in the cold afterward, the bento had backslided into a pack of frozen groceries. Praise God for hostels with microwaves, Hallelujah! I also bought a carton of Hokkaido Milk for 140. I'm not a fan of milk but I absolutely LOVE the milk tea in Japan. I suspect the quality of the milk was what made the difference so I decided I just had to get one. But I was so full from the bento that I left the milk for tomorrow.


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And this mark the end of my first day in Hokkaido!

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