Saturday, February 22, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Asahiyama Zoo Train 旭山动物园号

Travelled 09.02.2013

Asahikawa JR Station (1605 hrs) > Sapporo JR Station (1746 hrs)
Fee = 2,420 yen + 2,460 yen (for reserved seats) = 4,880 yen

One round trip per day on stipulated dates (typically in operation on weekends and during the week of Sapporo Snow Festival & Asahikawa Winter Festival). Despite being called "Asahiyama Zoo" Train, this train does not bring you directly to the doorstep of Asahiyama Zoo (I had this misconception too). The train will stop at Asahikawa JR Station and passengers will have to transfer to a local bus (approx 40 mins bus ride) to continue their journey to the zoo.



1st carriage (blue) - Polar Bear; 2nd carriage (orange) - Wolf; 3rd carriage (yellow) - Lion; 4th carriage (green): Chimpanzee
- One of my most looked forward train rides - this train is well liked by both adults and kids. The train is made up of five carriages with different animal themes: polar bear, wolf, lion, chimpanzee and penguin, and each carriage is beautifully wrapped with its own theme. The thought of being able to board this colourful train will make one feel excited and young at heart again!  

Kids playground in 1st carriage; Polar bears and owls "Hug Hug" seats meant for photo taking only
- The 1st carriage is polar bear themed and is virtually a playground for children. A carpeted TV and storybook area will keep the children occupied throughout the journey. Commemorative stamps are found in this carriage and there are a total of five (each representing one of the five themed train carriages) to collect. Staffs, dressed in adorable animal costumes, are constantly surrounded by the kids wherever they go.
2nd carriage - Wolf; animal face stickers pasted on mirror for you to fit your face in
3rd carriage - Lion; A very mild looking lion with pink nose?
- The 2nd to 5th carriages are passenger carriages and the themes are wolf, lion, chimpanzee and penguin, respectively. Adore the details that can be seen in the interior design of the carriages. All the seats are fitted with head covers depicting faces of animals such as polar bear, hippopotamus, squirrel and lion. Stickers with animal facts are pasted on the table on each seat. Each carriage has four "Hug Hug" seats which are made up of adorable large sized stuffed animals such as polar bears, owls, lions, tigers, penguins, hippopotamuses, chimpanzees, etc, and they emerged as the most popular photo taking spots in the entire train. The theme is extended into the toilet as well whereby the mirrors are pasted with stickers of animal face which you can fit your face into! Overall, there are numerous features for everyone to explore and journey will never be boring on board this Asahiyama Zoo Train!
4th carriage - Chimpanzee; Adorable chimpanzee and hippopotamus on "Hug Hug" seats
5th carriage - Penguin; Animal facts found on stickers pasted on tables
- All passengers are issued with beautifully designed boarding certificates which come with lanyards that you can hang over the neck! The boarding certificates come in two different designs for outward and return trips (outwards: Sapporo to Asahikawa). For the return leg, we received the certificate which had a pictorial of penguins. Do note that there is no cafe in operation on this train. Only drinks vending machines are available. Therefore, do grab a ekiben at the train station before boarding the train (if you expect hungriness to creep in during the train ride).

- Felt fortunate to be able to ride onto this version of Asahiyama Zoo train before it underwent a revamp in July 2013. It was redesigned by Hiroshi Abe, an author of picture book and former breeding staff of Asahiyama Zoo. Animals such as giraffes, flamingos, zebras and orangutans have joined the crew with this revamp! Check out its latest look on JR Hokkaido website:

Commemorative stamps: 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Mori no ma Cafe 森の間

Visited 08.02.2013

Headed to Heiwa-dori shopping street for late lunch after returning from Asahiyama Zoo. Came into Feeeal Shopping Mall and spotted this delicious looking hashed rice with omelette picture on the shop directory. Made our way up to the third floor and found this corner cafe. Mori no ma - a cafe in the forest, connecting people in the bustling city to nature. This humble cafe aims to create a laid back ambience for guest to take a breather while enjoying the delicious and healthy "slow" food served by them. Did notice that majority of the customers were ladies, who were spending their afternoon with friends, chatting over a cup of coffee and dessert.

There were no English menu and I could only make out what the food was from pictures featured in the menu (and not all the dishes in the menu had pictures depicting what they were). After peeking at what nearby diners had on their tables, we ordered the hashed rice with omelette (チキンと豆のオムハヤシライス) which caught my initial attention while browsing the shop directory, and root vegetables and meat patty served with potato salad (根菜ハンバーグとポテトサラダ) . Both dishes felt so well balanced, nutritionally and aesthetically. Omelette was runny, cooked in the way I liked it. Fresh ingredients are essential to what seemed simple yet delicious tasting dishes in this cafe. A surprise find for all of us, Mori no ma is indeed a gem tucked in a small corner of the city.


Mori no ma Cafe 森の間
3F, Feeeal Shopping Mall
Mori no ma Cafe:
Feeeal Shopping Mall:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Asahiyama Zoo 旭山動物園

Visited 09.02.2013

Undoubtedly this is the most popular attraction in Asahikawa & zoo in Hokkaido. But what made this zoo stands out from the rest in Hokkaido (there are zoos in Sapporo, Obihiro and Kushiro)?

History. Asahiyama Zoo was opened in 1967 and started with only 75 different species of animals. Response was lukewarm and the number of visitors gradually declined over the years. Situation worsened when the zoo met with a crisis in 1994 (a handful of animals in the zoo died of an echinococcus infection) and this caused the zoo to be closed for several months. It was till 1997, when the newly appointed chief proposed a revamp and the fate of Asahiyama Zoo was completely turned over. New facilities were added to the park and these behavioral exhibitions aimed to bring visitors closer to these animals and as much as possible preserve the animals' natural state of life. This move helped the zoo gained tremendous popularity to the point that its visitorship came second to Ueno Zoo in 2007! The success revolution story of Asahiyama Zoo was even adapted into a film in 2009 - the belief that one's dream can eventually come true as they took on the difficult task to revitalise the zoo over the years. 

To me, the main attraction was to see these animals in a completely different setting... in snow - a sight which is uncommon for people living in tropical countries.



(1) Penguin Aquarium. Yet again, penguins won the hearts of most visitors. There is an underwater enclosure which allows visitors to observe how these streamlined bodies creatures maneuver in the waters. The most popular activity is the King Penguins parade which takes place twice a day (1100 and 1430 hrs) during the winter months (Dec - Feb, reduced to once a day in Mar). See how these adorable penguins take small and careful steps on the snow route. Do grab a good spot along the designated parade route at least 10 - 15 mins before the commencement of event.

Penguin Parade - what most visitors were waiting for!
(2) Seal Museum. See how the seals move agilely through the water tunnels, in a twinkling of an eye! In the outdoor enclosure, observe how the seals slide on their stomachs and lie leisurely on the snow grounds. Adore the look of contentment reflected on the faces of these seals! You can also visit them during their feeding times, which takes place twice a day. Please follow the instructions of crew to remove the slip on spikes on your shoes when entering indoors and avoid usage of flash photography.

Seal Museum
(3) Polar Bear Museum. Visited the polar bears during their feeding time. In the indoor exhibition area, visitors can observe their dynamic plunges and powerful kicks in the waters through the huge glass panels. There are also capsules which you can pop your head into to view the polar bears' movement on land more clearly.

Polar Bear Museum
(4) Other attractions include chimpanzee house (an indoor enclosure to see the human like characteristics/expressions of these chimpanzees), the tamed wolves in the wolf forest, Hokkaido's Sika deer and Japanese cranes (Tanchos), amphibians & reptiles house, etc. Giraffes, goats, sheep, ponies, owls and eagles can also be found in this winter wonderland. Spent approx 3 hours touring the park (we reached at its opening time of 1030 hrs). Lastly, don't forget to grab exclusive merchandises from the souvenir shops located within the park before heading home.

Wolf Forest
Sika Deer Forest
Other animals featured in Asahiyama Zoo.

How to get there?

(1) Local bus:
Take Bus 41 or 47 from Bus Stop 6, located just outside Asahikawa JR Station (旭川駅). Approx 40 mins; fee = 440 yen
Bus schedule (search for Bus 41 and 47):

(2) JR Twinkle Bus:
Twinkle Bus Sounkyo-go available from Feb to Mar. This seasonal bus commutes between Asahikawa JR Station and Sounkyo Onsen, and allocates ample time for passengers to visit the zoo during the journey.

- Asahikawa JR Station (1050 hrs) > Asahiyama Zoo (1130 - 1515 hrs) > Kamikawa JR Station (1715 hrs) > Sounkyo Onsen (1800 hrs)
- Sounkyo Onsen (~0920 hrs) > Kamikawa JR Station (0950 hrs) > Asahiyama Zoo (1130 - 1500 hrs) > Asahikawa JR Station (1540 hrs)

Fees (based on 5% consumption tax):
Asahikawa JR Station < > Sounkyo Onsen - 1900 yen
Asahiyama Zoo < > Sounkyo Onsen - 1500 yen
Kamikawa JR Station < > Asahiyama Zoo - 500 yen


Asahiyama Zoo 旭山動物園
Admission Fee = 820 yen
Opening hours:
1030 - 1530 hrs (winter season)
0930 - 1630 / 1715 hrs (summer season)

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