Summer in North & Central Japan
Summer in North & Central Japan Reviews
A Japanese Summer in North & Central Japan Jul 24, 2010
Well what can I say, summer in Japan is hot, hot, hot. Even in Hokkaido, where I spent about 6 days, before moving south to Tokyo, it was pretty hot, but of course, temperatures were slightly cooler.
Anyway, in summary, I spent 12 days in Northern and Central Japan (Hokkaido from 24-29 July, Southern Honshu area from 30 July-4 August). Prior to stepping on Japan, I got a JR Rail Pass Exchange Order (from Japan Travel Bureaus you can find in your country) and once I touched down at New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido, made the exchange for an unlimited JR Rail Pass (you can pick between 7 days to a month I think -- I took the 14-day one, which was 41,500 yen).
So, the JR Rail Pass lets you travel on JR trains across the entire Japan for the duration from the first day you start (so in my case, I had 14 days of unlimited JR travel from 24 July).
In Hokkaido, I put my luggage in one of those coin lockers (the largest one cost about 600 yen for a day) and backpacked on a train to Fukagawa. I stayed at a youth hostel and then bus-ed it to Hokuryu to see the sunflower farms. Most Japanese are friendly enough to give you directions (if you then can understand where you wanna go). Try the JR station master or the hostel/hotel concierge if you need help...and always, always ask the station master the timings of the trains to/fro before you leave the station (in case you wanna get back).
After Hokuryu, I moved on to Tomamu because I wanted to watch the clouds over Unkai Terrace. Stayed at the Alpha Resort (which isn't cheap) but well, it's easier since you can wake the next morning at say 430am and get on the gondola to the terrace to watch morning clouds roll down the hills over the valley. You pay about 1500 yen to get up there btw (and you can have breakfast there if you fancy that sorta thing).
After Tomamu, I moved on to Furano station to visit Farm Tomita. To get to the farm, you either take the train from Furano station to Lavender Batake station (it's a cosy little choo-choo that has open-air windows). Since the train's all colored up to look like flowers, you see dragonflies trailing after the train the whole ride.
Either that or you take a faster JR train to Nakafurano station and walk about 15-30 minutes to Farm Tomita. I suggest you try the former (just for novelty's sake). At Farm Tomita, you get to see lavenders in full bloom of course, and then there's more lavenders at Lavender East (which you can visit on your walk back to Nakafurano station). The gift shop here is fantastic (lavender-based oils, shampoo, soap, hand cream, car fragrance, etc.).
Then it's off to Asahikawa for the night. Stayed at the JR Terminal Hotel next to Asahikawa station and then bus-ed it to Asahiyama Zoo the next morning. The zoo is basically a standard zoo with your bears, tigers, lions, penguins and polar bears. But the layout allows you to explore underneath their lairs and take pictures from below (like the penguins, where you can take a bottom-up photo of penguins swimming as if you're at the bottom of the ocean).
The more interesting exhibits at the zoo were the Hokkaido native animals section, which included owls, ferrets and the red fox.
After Asahikawa, it was off to Sapporo and Otaru, before taking a flight to Tokyo for the second leg of my trip. Otaru is a nice harborfront town with beautiful shops selling glassware, music boxes and ice-cream (like six-layer flavored ice-cream). Sapporo is of course, a great place/base to explore places like the Ishiya Chocolate Factory, Lake Toya, Asahi beer museum and the Hokkaido seafood streets.
(this is a pretty long review, so I'll continue with the second portion - Honshu segment where I visited Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagaoka, Shizuoka and Kanazawa - soon).
Part of the A Japanese Summer in July/August 2010 travel blog
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!