Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Day 3 Itinerary: Utoro Onsen ウトロ温泉

Day 3 - 05.02.2013

Breakfast: Kushiro Royal Inn

Early lunch: Washo Market (和商市场)

Kushiro JR Station (1109 hrs) > Shibecha JR Station (1224 hrs)
by DL Fuyu-no-Shitsugen Train.
Fee = 1,340 yen

Joined JR Twinkle Bus Course (1240 - 1615 hrs).
(1) Shibecha-Kawayu Line: visited Lake Mashu and Mt Iwo. Fee = 1,000 yen
(2) Kawayu-Utoro Line: visited Oshinkoshi Falls. Fee = 1,000 yen


Check in: Shiretoko Grand Hotel Kitakobushi

Dinner: Shiretoko Grand Hotel Kitakobushi

Watched 27th Shiretoko Aurora Fantasia at 2000 hrs.

- End of Day 3 -

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Fisherman's Wharf MOO 釧路フィッシャーマンズワーフMOO

Visited 04.02.2013

Decided to stroll to Fisherman's Wharf MOO after a fulfilling dinner in Robata. MOO faces Kushiro River and is located near Kushiro's busy fishing port and scenic Nusamai Bridge. Read in many travel guide books that this area boosts a spectacular sunset view, therefore it will be good to drop by for a evening stroll to admire the beautiful scenery (unfortunately, sky was already totally dark when we finished our dinner).

- Nusamai Bridge across Kushiro River -
One of the few, large scale shopping complexes in Kushiro, MOO is made of three levels of shops and eateries. The ground level comprises of a wet seafood market and shops selling Hokkaido's favourite souvenirs, dried seafood such as scallops and squids (some of them are available for taste testing before you decide to purchase). Most of the shops were about to close (1900 hrs) when we arrived. Overall, the place is quiet (with few shoppers mingling around) and shops are pretty repetitive here, whereby you can spot many similar products among different stalls. I suppose MOO should be more "lively" in the morning with the wet market in operation. Restaurants occupy the second and third floor and close much later at 2200 hrs.

Do you know? In the evenings, from May to October, special tentages are set up outside MOO, with numerous food stalls serving robata-yaki, one of Kushiro's well-known delicacies. What a great way to spent the evening savouring fresh seafood on the grill just beside the scenic Kushiro river!


Fisherman's Wharf MOO 釧路フィッシャーマンズワーフMOO
From Kushiro JR Station, walk straight along Kita dori for about 15 mins.

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Video: Place was featured in 《Women 爱旅行》. Fast forward to 13:35 to see their feature on Fisherman's Wharf MOO.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Robata 炉ばた

Visited 04.02.2013

Robata-yaki is actually similar to our conventional barbecue whereby food is grilled over charcoal fire. This form of Japanese cuisine is common among fishermen and is said to have originated from Kushiro, the place with abundant fresh seafood.

Came to know about Robata through various travel guidebooks and programmes. This restaurant has been around for half a century, specialising in robata-yaki all this while. Took some time to locate this restaurant as there were several other shops found in the same cluster (do keep a lookout for the signboard and lantern imprinted with 炉ばた). In the restaurant, an old lady (who is the chef behind all the delicious robata-yaki) takes the "center stage", while customers are seated around her and the hot charcoal grill. Area was dimly lit and at most 15 people seating occupancy. Both English and Mandarin menus were available, but the price of every food item was not specified. Therefore, do check out the price of the items (especially seafood) with the staff before you place the order.


(1) Seafood - Squid stuffed with miso paste, mackerel pike (秋刀鱼), Okhotsk atka mackerel (花鲫鱼) and scallop.
- All agreed that the squid stuffed with the restaurant's very own miso receipe was the winner in Robata! As most of us know, squid is easily overcooked and can become hard to chew. However, the squid here was cooked to perfection and all credits go to the chef with many years of dedicated experience in front of the hot charcoal grill. The miso paste, tasted both sour and sweet, was very appetising and went well with the squid.
- Okhotsk atka mackerel was grilled to crisp light brown colour, retaining the fatty texture and taste of the fish.

(2) Meat - Skewered pork meat which comes either dipped in sauce or lightly salted.
Meat was so tender and delicious which made us craved for more (and we did order two additional sticks in the end).

(3) Vegetables - Eggplant, shittake mushroom and asparagus.

Bill: 9,950 yen. Not overly expensive considering we ordered quite a number of seafood items for four persons.


Robata 炉ばた
Opening hours: 1700 - 0000 hrs (till 2300 hrs in winter), closed on Sundays.

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Video: Restaurant was featured in 《Women 爱旅行》. Fast forward to 43:10 for their recommendation on Robata.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Kushiro City Marsh Observatory 钏路市湿原展望台

Visited 04.02.2013

As the sightseeing taxi was hired for three hours and there was time left after visiting Akan International Crane Center, our taxi driver recommended this place as it was along the way back to Kushiro town.

Background: Kushiro Marsh is the largest wetland in Japan, home to almost 2000 different species of plants and animals. It is also first Japanese marsh registered under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Various ways to get closer to this protected wetland:
(1) Hop onto the train travelling northwards along the Senmo main line from Kushiro JR Station as this train route goes through Kushiro Marsh. Take the limited period SL Fuyu-no-Shitsugen Train operating from January to March or Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko Train operating from May to September, as they allow passengers to take a closer look at the wetland while travelling at a slower speed. Had the chance to sit in DL Fuyu-no-Shitsugen Train during this trip (the steam locomotive version was out for repair at that point in time).
(2) Alight at Kushiro Shitsugen JR Station (釧路湿原駅) and walk to Hosooka Observatory (細岡展望台). This observatory provides a panoramic scenery of this natural landscape - Kushiro river winding its way through the wetland. Did not manage to visit the observatory during this trip. 

Location of Hosooka Observatory: 

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-  Exhibition hall provides information on the importance of Kushiro Marsh as a life support for many species of plants, fishes and animals (majority of the displays in Japanese though). Both the observation lounge and rooftop area on the third floor provides a good view of this massive wetland. Later found out that this place was much larger than I thought after reading the brochure. Walkway that spans a distance of 2.5 km (takes about an hour to cover) in the same premise allows visitors to come closer to nature. Personally felt that it will be better visit this place in summer when extensive lush greenery can be seen.

- Admission ticket -

Kushiro City Marsh Observatory 钏路市湿原展望台
Admission Fee = 460 yen
Opening hours: 0830 - 1800 hrs (1 May - 31 Oct); 0900 - 1700 hrs (1 Nov - 30 Apr)

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How to get there?
(1) Local bus. From Kushiro JR Station (釧路駅前), take Tsurui, Hororo line (鹤居线幌呂线). Alight at Kushiro City Marsh Observatory (釧路湿原展望台) bus stop. Bus journey takes 40 mins. Around 6 round trips per day.
Refer to bus schedule: http://www.akanbus.co.jp/localbu/senkawa.htm


Commemorative stamp:

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Akan International Crane Center 阿寒国際ツルセンター

Visited 04.02.2013

Pictures of Tancho, otherwise known as red crowned crane, can be found almost everywhere in Kushiro - airport, on bus stop shelters, road signs and even manhole covers! Reason being, Kushiro Marsh, the largest wetland in Japan, is the home to this endangered species. If you are lucky and observant enough, real Tanchos can also be spotted while travelling on the road within Kushiro.

- Tancho imprinted on manhole covers and bus shelters in Kushiro -
Background: Uncontrolled hunting and habitat destruction led to decline in Tancho population in the late 19th century. Measures were subsequently implemented by local government to preserve and protect Tancho and their natural habitat (Kushiro Marsh). Akan district in Kushiro subprefecture is where artificial feeding of cranes first started. Akan International Crane Center was later established in 20th century to reach out to the public on their conservation and research efforts.


- Hired a sightseeing taxi to get to the place as public buses were infrequent. Managed to cover Kushiro City Marsh Observatory within the three hours duration.

- Main building houses an exhibition hall providing all information you want to know about Tancho (mainly in Japanese though) and a shop selling souvenirs - postcards, ornaments, books, etc, all featuring Tancho in various forms.

- During winter, food is scarce in the snow covered wetlands and artificial feeding of cranes takes place in Tancho Observation Centre, located just beside the main building. Approximately 100 - 200 cranes flock to this place in search of food during the cold winter season. Many visitors (especially professional photographers) flock to this place (only open from November to March) too but with a totally different purpose - to capture phenomenal photos of the beautiful crane. Seeing the dynamic behaviours of 100 cranes right in front of my eyes did leave me speechless - truly an amazing and unforgettable sight! In Tancho Observation Centre, all photographers were battling the cold weather outdoors, standing by with their sophisticated camera equipment, waiting for the very right moment, competing to snap the winning and precious shot.

Wish fulfilled - to be able to meet this bird symbol of Hokkaido in person!  


Akan International Crane Center 阿寒国際ツルセンター
23-40, Akan-cho, Kushiro city, Hokkaido, 085-0245, Japan 
Admission Fee = 460 yen
Main building: 0900 - 1700 hrs
Annex (Tancho Observation Center): 0830 - 1630 hrs (only open from 1 Nov to 31 Mar)

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How to get there? 

(1) Local bus. From Kushiro JR Station (釧路駅前), take bus bound for Akanko Onsen (阿寒湖温泉) and alight at Tancho-no Sato (丹頂の里). Bus journey takes 70 mins. About four round trips per day.
Refer to bus schedule: http://www.akanbus.co.jp/localbu/akan.htm


Commemorative stamp: 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Kushiro Royal Inn 釧路ロイヤルイン

Stayed 04.02.2013 (1 night)
Booked via email (info@royalinn.jp).

- Twin room cost 9,100 yen, inclusive of breakfast. Small room size but equipped with all the necessities and amenities. Front desk was approachable and patient to cater to our needs, and helped to arrange a sightseeing taxi to get to Akan International Crane Center, despite not being very well-versed in English.

- Strategic location of the hotel - less than 3 mins walk from Kushiro JR Station. Upon stepping out of the train station, look to your right and Kushiro Royal Inn is located just behind a church. Washo Market (和商市场) is a stone throw away from the hotel as well. Taxis are also readily available in front of train station.

- There is a good selection of hotels are available nearby Kushiro JR Station. Eventually decided on Royal Inn after reading multiple rave reviews commending on their sumptuous spread of breakfast. Restaurant is located on the 10th floor (only open during breakfast hours), providing a good view of Kushiro city. I can only say the variety of bread served for breakfast was incredible, definitely comparable to what you get in a traditional bakery! Bread was fresh from the oven and tasted delicious. Buffet table also provided a good spread of both Japanese and Western cuisine. Definitely a fulfilling breakfast to start off one's day!

- Unable to access the reservation page on their English website and had to do it via email (info@royalinn.jp). Do ask for non-smoking rooms if you do not like the lingering smell of nicotine in the room.


Kushiro Royal Inn 釧路ロイヤルイン
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Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Kushiro JR Station 钏路駅

Kushiro JR Station (K53), on Nemuro main line.
Super Ozora, limited express train serves between Sapporo and Kushiro.


- Kushiro Airport is about 45 mins bus ride away from Kushiro JR Station.
Bus schedule: http://www.akanbus.co.jp/airport/index.html

- Kushiro JR Station is the interchange train station for Nemuro main line and Senmo main line:
(1) travel westwards along the Nemuro main line to Obihiro.
(2) travel eastwards along the Nemuro main line to Nemuro.
Do you know? Those who know Japanese manga series well may be familiar with Lupin III (ルパン三世). The artist behind this masterpiece was born in Hamanaka, a small town that lies along the train route between Kushiro and Nemuro. To commemorate the success of this manga series, some of the train carriages serving the route between Kushiro and Nemuro are wrapped with pictures featuring characters from Lupin III.   
Check out the date of travel for this train: http://www.jrkushiro.jp/lupintrain.html
(3) travel northwards along the Senmo main line to Kawayu Onsen, Shiretoko-shari and Abashiri.


What's nearby?

(1) Washo Market (和商巿场): less than 5 mins walk from train station. As Kushiro has one of the biggest fishing port in Hokkaido, a wide selection of the freshest seafood can be found in this market. Get a bowl of Kushiro's specialty Katte don here - rice bowl topped up with your favourite treasures of the sea!

(2) Hotels
Similar to Obihiro, many business hotel chains have set up branches around the train station, such as Route Inn, Toyoko Inn, Comfort Hotel and Super Hotel. Stayed in Kushiro Royal Inn for one night during this trip.

(3) Fisherman's Wharf MOO & Nusamai Bridge (幣舞桥): walk straight along Kita Odori for about 15 mins. Nusamai Bridge is well-known for its scenic spot for sunset viewing - did not manage to catch that during this trip.


Commemorative stamp:

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Day 2 Itinerary: Kushiro 钏路

Day 2 - 04.02.2013

Breakfast: Sanyoan

Sanyoan (1050 hrs) > Obihiro JR Station
by hotel free shuttle service.

Obihiro JR Station (1135 hrs) > Kushiro JR Station (1303 hrs)
by Super Ozora. Day #1 usage of flexible 4 days Hokkaido Rail Pass.


Check in: Kushiro Royal Inn

Hired a sightseeing taxi with the help of hotel front desk.

Sightseeing taxi pick up from hotel at 1400 hrs.
(1) Akan International Crane Center
(2) Kushiro City Marsh Observatory

Time taken = 3 hours
Fare = 16,000 yen


Dinner: Robata, for robata-yaki.

Visited Fisherman's Wharf MOO.

- End of Day 2 -

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Sairinka (Swan Festival) 彩凜華

Visited 03.02.2013
Year 2013: 26.01.2013 - 24.02.2013
Year 2014: 25.01.2014 - 02.03.2014

Sairinka is an exclusive event held annually during the winter season in Tokachigawa Onsen from late Jan onwards for about 1 month. In winter, snow covered Tokachigaoka Park (Hanack) is decorated with numerous conical features which come in various sizes, with the tallest one standing at 5.4 m. At night, these features, which are fitted with LED bulbs, lit up in different colours under the dark starry skies. Main highlight of this night event is to witness the colourful display and synchronisation of lights and music. See how the colour of the cones changes in accordance to the background music/sound effects, creating a magical and warm atmosphere in the dark, cold night.

Tip: As night time is extremely chilly (well below 0 degC) in winter, thick warm clothing is definitely a must to insulate yourself from the cold. Do look out for distribution of free warm milk/drinks to keep your body warm while staying outdoors in the night. Rest area and food/drink stalls are housed in tentages set up within the venue and these temporary indoor facilities are equipped with heaters as well.

Tokachigawa Onsen Tourist Association: http://www.tokachigawa.net/english/
Sairinka (in Japanese): http://www.tokachigawa.net/event/sairinka/index.html


Sairinka (Swan Festival) 彩凜華
Tokachigaoka Park 十勝之丘公園
Opening hours: 1900 - 2100 hrs

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Video: Showcasing a short segment of 2013's Sairinka lights display show.

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Sanyoan 三余庵

Stayed 03.02.2013 (1 day)
Booked through Japanican.

- Japanese style room: Manyo -
Background: First read about Sanyoan through this book (北海道,一个人的幸福旅程) which I stumbled upon in the library. Milly (the author of the book) has been to Japan numerous times and have published a series of travel guides to share her knowledge and experiences accumulated over the years. In this book, she wrote about her 20+ days summer holidays in Hokkaido, covered entirely by herself. Sanyoan was one of the hotels/ryokans she stayed during the trip and had full of praise for this top-notched hotel located in Tokachigawa Onsen. Her excellent narration has intrigued me to find out more about this ryokan, which had left her a deep impression in many aspects. Curiosity eventually made me part a hefty sum of money to gain this experience myself.

Tokachigawa Onsen is famous for their unique and rare botanical moor hot springs. The water is slightly brownish in colour, completely different from the milky white sulphur rich hot springs that are more commonly seen. Moor hot springs is also referred to as a "beauty spring" because it brings about skin smoothing and moisturising effects.


Mode of transportation: Tokachigawa Onsen is about 20 mins bus ride away from Obihiro JR Station.
(1) Free hotel shuttle bus services provided by Sanyoan & Daichii Hotel to/fro hotel and Obihiro JR Station/Tokachi-Obihiro Airport. You will need to inform the hotel beforehand (via email or phone) to pick you up from the designated locations.
- From Obihiro JR Station (north exit): two pick-up timings at 1440 and 1645 hrs.
- From Tokachi-Obihiro Airport: one pick-up timing at 1540 hrs.

Shuttle bus from Sanyoan to:
- Obihiro JR Station: two departure timings at 0920 and 1050 hrs.
- Tokachi-Obihiro Airport: one departure timing at 1050 hrs

(2) Free shuttle bus service to Tokachigawa Onsen from Obihiro JR Station for guests of selected hotels/ryokans (inclusive of Sanyoan). This bus service is available till Mar-2014 and pick up location is at the north exit of train station. Collect a bus voucher from the ticket counter and hop onto the designated bus (three pick-up timings at 1526, 1651 and 1811 hrs).
Return bus trips to train station is available in the morning as well. Do inform the hotel/ryokan staff if you intend to utilise this bus service.
Please check up Tokachigawa Onsen Tourist Association website for the most updated information on bus service availability.
Tokachigawa Onsen Tourist Association (Japanese): http://www.tokachigawa.net/
Free shuttle bus service information (1 Apr 2013 - 31 Mar 2014): http://www.tokachigawa.net/img/index/pdf/2013-busfree.pdf



- Adore the laidback and relaxing ambience and attentive hospitality of staffs, which you will experience immediately upon stepping into the ryokan. Drinks and light snacks are served upon arrival and staff will check with guests what time do they want their dinner to be served and any food allergies/preferences to take note of.

 - Booked two rooms, inclusive of two meals (dinner and breakfast):
Japanese style room: 60,900 yen (834 SGD)
Western style room: 54,600 yen (747 SGD)

- There are only 11 rooms in this ryokan (located on the second and third storey), each having its own distinct layout and name. Stayed in the spacious Japanese-style room, Manyo (万叶) and opposite Western-style room, Yukiguni (雪国). Each room is equipped with a Japanese cypress bath, allowing one to enjoy moor hot springs in the comfort and tranquility of your private space.

-  On the ground level, there are two communal bathhouses (male and female changover time at 2100 - 2115 hrs) and each has its own outdoor area. Had my first experience soaking in the open air hot springs when there was light snowing and ambient temperature was below 0 degC. You will need to bear the cold for a while when shuffling from indoor to outdoor, but once immersed in the hot springs, the feeling is truly extraordinary and unexpectedly soothing and enjoyable!

- Shunju main dining room is located on ground level of hotel. Menu is changed every season, utilising seasonal and premium ingredients cultivated and harvested from the land of Hokkaido. Totally blew away by the sumptuous and delicious 9 course dinner! From the freshest sashimi, juicy and tender Tokachi beef, flavourful soup with matsutake mushroom tofu to the last delectable chestnut mousse cake, all the dishes were plated beautifully and artistically. Given a basket containing sweet beancurd skin stuffed with rice to be eaten as supper back in the room. You will be asked to choose between Japanese and Western style breakfast for the next morning just before you leave the dining room.

- Western style breakfast -
- Japanese style breakfast -
- Breakfast was equally pleasing too. Japanese set comes with grilled fish, stewed pork, tofu soup and nagaimo, which is a specialty of Tokachi, and served with congee/rice. Bread which is fresh from the oven and handmade jam, bacon, sausages and eggs (choice of scrambled or sunny side-up) were served in the Western set menu. Milk, yogurt and fruit juices were available on the buffet table, which is laid in front of the open concept kitchen.

- There is a covered passageway from Sanyoan to Daichii Hotel (both under the same hotel group). Guests from Sanyoan (but not the other way round) are allowed to use the facilities (bathhouse) in Daichii Hotel. A souvenir shop is also found on the ground floor of the hotel where you can find almost all Hokkaido's famous souvenirs here or grab a postcard to send home. From the entrance of Daichii Hotel, you can get a good view of Tokachigawa (十胜川) or even make your way down to the river bank to feed the swans on a good day.

Recognition: Featured in Michelin Guide Hokkaido 2012.

Conclusion: So far, the best ryokan I've stayed in my life. Both food and service standard have been exceptional and have made the hefty expenditure seemed worthwhile after all.


Sanyoan 三余庵


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Rokkatei (Main store) 六花亭本店

Visited 03.02.2013

Hokkaido is well-known for its exquisite and delicious sweets and confectionery. A handful of the well-known brands originates from Tokachi subprefecture. Reason being the main ingredients of these products such as wheat, sugar beet and beans are cultivated in the Tokachi plains.

Apart from Shiroi Koibito's Chocolat Blanc et Langue de chat (白色恋人), Royce' Chocolates and Calbee's Jaga Pokkuru, one other brand that will never go unnoticed in souvenir shops is Rokkatei. Rokkatei has emerged to become a trademark of Obihiro since its existence in 1933. Even though Rokkatei's products can be found in almost every souvenir shop in Hokkaido, to taste the most extensive collection of sweets and confectionery, you will still have to visit the larger scale stores or this main store in Obihiro.

This main store is located 10 mins walk away from the north exit of train station (nearby Fujimaru departmental store). The large selection and range of products available in this shop is indeed an eye opener, as compared to those you get in the airport or other parts of Hokkaido! The sweets can be purchased individually here (while you are only get them in boxes containing a certain quantity in other shops), thus allowing customers to buy a greater variety of products. A small cafe is located in one corner, serving their signature cream puffs and biscuits and free coffee available to go with these light desserts.



- Top left hand corner picture: yellow wrapper: sesame and miso seeds biscuits; transparent wrapper: soybean and caramel sweet; white wrapper (on the bottom right): from the Northern Country -
(1) Sesame and miso seeds biscuits (ずいずいずっころばし): wrapped in yellow packaging, the fragrance of sesame can be detected upon tearing open the wrapper. Simply adore the crispy texture of this biscuit.
Side note: Bought a piece of this biscuit to try and wanted to get more in the airport before departing Hokkaido. To my dismay, I could not find this in Hakodate Airport. Therefore, do purchase them first if you happen to find the biscuits in larger stores to avoid disappointment.

(2) From the Northern Country (北の国から): this biscuit was developed to commemorate the 30th anniversary broadcast of this popular long running drama serial in Hokkaido, Kita no Kuni Kara (from the Northern Country). This product may actually looks simple, milk chocolate sandwiched between marseillan biscuits, but the milk chocolate filling is extremely smooth and delicious! Managed to find this in the airport.  

(3) Soybean with caramel (マルセイキャラメル): this tasty sweet was only introduced late last year. Not overly sweet, crunchy bits of soybean can be savoured with every bite. May not be available in the airport (did not find this in Hakodate Airport).

(4) Other signature products - marseillan butter sand biscuits (raisins and cream sandwiched between two pieces of biscuits, マルセイバターサンド), chocolate biscuits sandwiched with white chocolate (雪やこんこ), strawberries coated with white or milk chocolate, various types of chocolates (dark, milk, matcha and white): these products can be found in the airport.


Rokkatei (Main store) 六花亭本店
Opening hours: 0900 - 1900 hrs


Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Pancho Buta-don 元祖豚丼

Visited 03.02.2013

Buta-don or grilled pork over a bowl of rice is a specialty of Obihiro. You can find many restaurants serving this local delicacy in Obihiro. My first encounter with buta don was in New Chitose Airport when I first visited Hokkaido in 2012 (link to my previous post). At that point of time, I was totally awed by the sweet and succulent slices of pork and I told myself that I will visit its place of origin (Obihiro) to taste this dish again. Finally I fulfilled my wish during this trip!

Visited to this restaurant specialising in buta-don which is located just opposite the train station (from north exit). Pancho Buta-don is one of the more popular restaurants in this area, with long queues formed during lunch and dinner hours. We were lucky enough to grab the last empty table before the queue started to form. The waitress came up to us with the menu and could converse in simple English. Available in four sizes (松,竹, 梅,华, in ascending order), the smallest portion (松) comes with 4 slices of pork and cost 850 yen. Every one size up means one additional slice of pork. Do take note that miso soup does not come together with the rice bowl and has to be ordered separately.

Rice bowl was served shortly, revealing thick slices of grilled pork out of the lid! The meat was tender and juicy. What I liked most was the fatty portion of the meat which was surprisingly not too oily to digest. The sweet sauce went well with the rice too, and you will unknowingly gobble down more rice than you normally do! Do take note of the opening hours of this restaurant to ensure that you do not leave Obihiro disappointed.

Yet another successful and delicious encounter with buta-don!

Side note: Original plan was to arrive in Obihiro on Monday, but after knowing that this restaurant was closed on Mondays coupled with the strong desire to taste this famous rice bowl, I decided to shift the visit one day ahead...


Pancho Buta-don 元祖豚丼
Opening hours: 1100 - 1900 hrs, closed on Mondays, 1st & 3rd Tuesday of a month

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Video: Restaurant was featured in 食尚玩家. Fast forward to 7:00 for their recommendation on Pancho Buta-don.

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Obihiro JR Station 帯広駅, Hokkaido Rail Pass

Obihiro JR Station (K31), on Nemuro main line.
Super Tokachi, limited express train serves between Sapporo and Obihiro.


Hokkaido Rail Pass

Where to purchase? 
Hokkaido Rail Passes can be purchased from major train stations - New Chitose Airport, Noboribetsu, Abashiri and Twinkle Plaza in Sapporo, Hakodate, Asahikawa, Abashiri, Kushiro and Obihiro. As this pass is exclusive to foreigners only, you will be asked to show your passport prior purchase.

- With a holiday itinerary in hand, refer to useful websites from JR Hokkaido and Hyperdia to find out the fares required for each train journey. Calculate the total train fares accummulated for the entire trip.
JR Hokkaido: http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/index.html
Hyperdia: http://www.hyperdia.com
- Choose from a range of rail passes available (3 days, 5 days, 7 days or flexible 4 days out of a travel period of 10 days) that can derive the maximum savings.
- Do note that you do not need to fork out additional money for reserved seats with this rail pass. And to get a reserved seat, show your rail pass to the ticket purchase/information counters and obtain a separate reserved seat ticket for the train ride.

My sums:
Chose the flexible 4 days rail pass which cost 19,500 yen.
Day 2: Obihiro > Kushiro, by Super Ozora; 2,420 + 2,260 (reserved seat) = 4,680 yen
Day 5: Abashiri > Kamikawa, by Ryuhyo Express Okhotsk no kaze; 3,880 + 2,810 (reserved seat) = 6,690 yen
Day 7: Asahikawa > Sapporo, by Asahiyama Zoo Train; 4,880 yen
Day 10: Sapporo > Hakodate, by Hokuto train; 5,560 + 3,030 (reserved seat) = 8,590 yen 

Total cost without pass usage = 23,040 yen
Savings = 3,540 yen (~15% discount)


- Work of art on the north exit of Obihiro JR Station -
What's nearby?
(1) Hotels
A good selection of hotels conveniently located around the train station. Popular hotel chains such as Dormy Inn, Comfort Hotel, Toyoko Inn, Richmond Hotel and Hotel Route Inn have set up branches in Obihiro. JR Company also operates a hotel - JR Inn, which can be found just beside the train station. Did not stay in Obihiro overnight during this trip.

(2) Shopping malls
ESTA: Managed by JR company, this departmental store is located within the train station itself. Divided into two wings, East and West.
- Obihiro Tourist Information Centre is located on 2nd floor of East Wing, a place where you can grab brochures/gather information of nearby tourist attractions. There is a Can Do 100 yen shop (equivalent of Daiso) on the 1st floor too.
- Tokachi Shogu Monogatari, located on the 1st floor of West Wing, a food hall selling specialties of Tokachi subprefecture. You can find the famous Obihiro buta-don, sweets and confectionary from Rokkatei (which originates from Obihiro), agricultural products and etc here.

- Fujimaru and Nakasakiya -
Fujimaru (藤丸): located about 10 mins walk from north exit of train station. Established in Obihiro, Fujimaru has all the conventional features of a departmental shopping complex, except that it is slightly smaller in scale. What attracted me to this place was Tokyu Hands Truck Market located on its 6th floor. Those who have been to Japan should be quite familiar with Tokyu Hands, a shop that sells novel and innovative lifestyle goods and merchandise. Currently in Hokkaido, there is only one official branch in Sapporo. Understand that this truck market is only held for a limited period of time - opened since Sep 2012 and was supposed to close in May this year, but it looked like they have further extended their operation due to overwhelming response. Selection of goods may not be as extensive as what you get in their official branches, but it was still a pleasure to see some of the out-of-the-box ideas in store.
No closing date for this truck market has been announced yet, so do check out their website for the latest updates.
Fujimaru: http://fujimaru.co.jp/
Tokyo Hands Truck Market (Obihiro): http://www.hands-truck.com/shop/obihiro/


Nagasakiya (长崎屋): did not get to visit this other shopping mall, located just outside the south exit of train station. From what I know, there is a Daiso outlet housed in this shopping mall.

View Larger Map

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Day 1 Itinerary: Obihiro 带広, Tokachigawa Onsen 十胜川温泉

Day 1 - 03.02.2013

Tokachi-Obihiro Airport (0940 hrs) > Obihiro JR Station (1018 hrs)
by Tokachi Bus. Fee = 1000 yen

Tokachi Bus timetable:  http://www.tokachibus.jp/%E7%A9%BA%E6%B8%AF%E9%80%A3%E7%B5%A1%E3%83%90%E3%82%B9/?lang=en

Purchase of 4 day flexible JR Hokkaido Rail Pass and Twinkle Bus tickets from Obihiro JR Station Twinkle Plaza.
JR Hokkaido Rail Pass: http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/english/railpass/index.html


Lunch: Pancho Buta-don (元祖豚丼)

Dessert:  Rokkatei main store (六花亭本店)

(1) ESTA @ Obihiro JR Station
(2) Fujimaru 藤丸百货; Tokyu Hands Truck Market located on Level 6.


Obihiro JR Station (1440 hrs) > Sanyoan (1455 hrs)
by hotel free shuttle bus.

Check in: Sanyoan in Tokachigawa Onsen

Dinner: Sanyoan

Visited Sairinka (22nd Tokachigawa Swan Festival) held at Tokachigaoka Park.

- End of Day 1 -

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Day 0 Arrival: SIN > HND > OBO

Day 0 - 02.02.2013
Day 1 - 03.02.2013



(1) S'pore Changi T1 (2200 hrs) > Haneda (HND) Int Terminal (0540 hrs), 羽田空港
via JL036.

(2) HND Int Terminal > HND Domestic Terminal 1
via Airport shuttle bus service, to board bus at level 1.
- Loop service which ferry passengers from Int Terminal to Domestic Terminal 1 and 2. 
- Bus comes every 6 minutes. 

(3) HND Domestic Terminal 1 (0755 hrs) > Tokachi-Obihiro Airport (OBO), とかち帯広空港 (0925 hrs)
via JL1151.

Haneda Airport: http://www.tokyo-airport-bldg.co.jp/en/
Tokachi-Obihiro Airport: http://www.tokachiobihiro-airport.jp/index.html.en


Both ANA and JAL fly to Obihiro from Tokyo at least three times a day. However, chose JAL over ANA this time round because the transition time between the international and domestic flights was significantly shorter despite the more costly airfare (~100 SGD).

Alternative ANA Route:
SIN (2220 hrs) > HND (0600 hrs)
HND (0710 hrs) > OBO (0845 hrs) - ANA do not allow reservation seats on the earlier domestic flight which is less than 2 hours apart from arrival of the international flight. 
HND (1220 hrs) > OBO (1355 hrs)


Commemorative stamp: 

- Haneda Domestic Airport -

Hokkaido Summer 2012 北海道夏季之旅 - New Chitose Airport 新千歳空港

Visited 16.07.2012

Our return flight to Narita Airport was at New Chitose Airport, the largest airport in Hokkaido. Took the morning train from Noboribetsu to reach the airport several hours (approx 4 hours) before flight departure timing. Reason being New Chitose Airport itself is an attraction of Hokkaido as well! Apart from numerous eateries and shops offering local delicacies and products/souvenirs, there are several themed areas (nominal fee required for some) all housed within this airport. Therefore, I recommend allocating ample time to tour New Chitose Airport sufficiently before bidding farewell to Hokkaido.

New Chitose Airport (CTS): http://www.new-chitose-airport.jp/en/


How to go there?
New Chitose Airport JR Station (AP15), along Chitose line.
- Take the Rapid Airport train if you are coming from Sapporo and Otaru.
- If you are coming from Noboribetsu, Lake Toya & Hakodate, you will need to alight at Minami-Chitose JR Station (H14) and transfer to Rapid Airport train to reach New Chitose Airport.

What's nearby? 
(1) Chitose Outlet Mall Rera - located just beside Minami-Chitose JR Station.
There are two large scale outlet malls in Hokkaido for shopping lovers - the other being Mitsui Outlet Sapporo Kitahiroshima which is located closer to Sapporo city. Personally have not been to any of the outlet malls in Hokkaido yet.
Free regular shuttle buses services are available from New Chitose Airport to Rera - convenient for visitors to plan this one of their last pit stops in their trip itinerary before departing Hokkaido.

- Chitose Outlet Mall Rera website: http://www.outlet-rera.com/english/
- Mitsui Outlet Sapporo Kitahiroshima website: http://www.31op.com/sapporo/foreign/index_en.html

Location of Chitose Outlet Mall Rera:

View Larger Map



(1) Calbee Plus - Calbee is a famous snacks manufacturer that originated from Japan, and potato chips (available in various flavours) being the most commonly seen product in Singapore. However, the range of products from Calbee in Japan is much more extensive than what we get in Singapore, and will definitely make one spoilt for choice. Most importantly, one do not need to visit the manufacturing plants to taste the most freshly fried potato chips/snacks now because Calbee has set up a shop in New Chitose Airport serving this popular tidbit, hot from the oil fryer!

Hokkaido is well-known for their delicious potatoes and sweetcorns which explains why Calbee is making use of these ingredients in their products. One of the most popular souvenirs from Hokkaido has got to be Jaga Pokkuru Potato Farm, a more delicious and flavourful version of Jagabee.
Other made-in-Hokkaido products include:
- Jaga Pirika Potato Farm (じゃがピリカ): fried white, purple and pink potato cubes. You can also find this snack stocked up in Meidi-ya's Come-In-Hokkaido shop in Singapore occasionally.
- Imoko Kobutaro (いも子とこぶ太郎): scallop seasoned potato chips and kelp. This snack can also be spotted in Come-In-Hokkaido shop every now and then.    
- Sweet corn sticks (スイートコーン): love the strong aroma and flavour of sweet corn in this snack.

Due to its huge popularity, Calbee Plus shops have sprung up in other parts of Japan too - outlet can be found in Tokyo train station, Tokyo Sky Tree, Odaiba and Harajuku in Tokyo and Okinawa, thus providing more avenues to taste these freshly fried potato snacks!
- Calbee+ shop: http://www.calbee.co.jp/antennashop/

(2) Doraemon Waku Waku Skypark - A place definitely not to be missed by Doraemon fans! Located on the third floor, Doraemon Waku Waku Skypark is divided into several zones, whereby the main park zone requires an admission fee of 600 yen (adult). Unfortunately, we did not manage to enter the park zone because it was crowded during the day of our visit (happened to be a public holiday).

Apart from the main park zone, there is a cafe/restaurant serving food that are simply too adorable to be eaten (e.g. dorayakis featuring Doraemon & Dorami, pizzas with Doraemon stenciled on it, etc) and a gift shop offering a wide array of Doraemon products. There is a handful of Doraemon figurines located outside the main park zone for photos to be taken (to at least make up for the disappointment of not being able to visit the themepark).

- Doraemon Waku Waku Skypark (in Japanese & Mandarin): http://www.shinchitose-entame.jp/ja/doraemon/

(3) Royce' Chocolate World - For the past few years, chocolates from Royce' has been a popular choice for Christmas gifts in Singapore (can be seen from the long queues can be spotted in their shops during the Christmas season). Personally I only got to realise that Royce' actually originates from Sapporo through this trip.

In Royce' Chocolate World, you can oversee the manufacturing process of chocolates, from start to its finished product, or visit the museum displaying a collection of chocolate related products and exhibition explaining the history and development of chocolates over the years. Of course, do not forget to grab some chocolates that are exclusive to Hokkaido only as souvenirs back home!

- Royce' Chocolate World: http://www.e-royce.com/english/rcw/index.html
- No admission fee required to enter its museum and factory.

(4) Lunch in Miso Kitchen - Settled our lunch in this restaurant located in Streetcar Dining District. Have heard about this famous pork bowl (buta-don) which is a signature delicacy in Obihiro, from travel guide books and TV programmes. Spotted the picture of the rice bowl in their standing menu display and immediately decided to patronise this restaurant. I must say, we were truly awed by this simple looking pork bowl - tender and juicy pieces of pork that were cooked to perfection! Made a mental note that I must drop by Obihiro on my next trip to Hokkaido to taste this heavenly buta-don again!

(5) Others:
- Steiff Nature World - a museum display of teddy bears, which are all created by Steiff, a German based plush toy company. Admission fee = 600 yen (adult)
- Many sweet and confectionary shops, such as LeTAO, Rokkatei, Ryugetsu and Snowbrand, can all be found in New Chitose Airport. How about another slice of Double Fromage cheese cake from LeTAO or a scoop of royal vanilla ice cream from Snowbrand before you depart from Hokkaido?