Jozankei & Date: 定山渓&伊達

The last full day in Hokkaido, we decided (a little impulsively) to go ahead and drive down towards Lake Toyo and Date areas. We did not have much of a plan, other than to make some stops along the way and enjoy the fall colors.

We started the morning with an early stroll round town, just admiring the atmosphere in general before heading to the hotel breakfast. After breakfast we soaked in the hotel onsen before we jumped into the car and started on our way.

Our first stop was Hoheikyo Dam. Good thing we did this early, just as it opened (9am)… it was a Sunday. When we arrived there was enough parking, but as we left… there was a long line of cars waiting to park! This dam is on Jozankei Lake (funny, Jozankei dam is on another lake…). Anyway, we parked and started towards the dam. There are 2 options: a rather quick but crowded round trip bus ticket, or a 40 minute walk up a slight slope. We had a busy day ahead of us so we chose the bus. There were 4 buses continually making round trips, so there was not really a wait. At the dam/lake you can walk around and enjoy the leaves and the fresh air. Many people come to take photography, picnic, etc. It was really nice! But.. somewhat of a crowd! One thing I will mention: if you do not rent a car to drive to this dam, you can take a city bus– BUT it will have to wait in the SAME traffic as those waiting (to get in) to park at the dam parking lot… so you do not save any time!! Although the crowds are probably only during the Autumn season (so weekends in October)… probably other times of the year (or weekdays) are much quieter.

After the dam, we got back into the car and continued our road trip. Along the road we stopped at many local produce stands and a pasture with ice cream (yes, I ate MORE ice cream!) and cheese. There was also a road side michi-no-eki 道の駅 (service station), which was in Kimobetsu 喜茂別. Road side stations are popular stops in Hokkaido and each is supposed to be known for a certain food. I noticed a line for something called age-imo 揚げいも, which means fried potato. My husband was reluctant to stand in line but I insisted I would and he could use the restroom and get drinks; the line though long was quick, less than 10 minutes. Not sure what to order I just chose the number one regular age-imo  and hand-cut chips. They had some other stuff, but everyone was getting age-imo. Oishii~~ ! My husband was surprised to find me food in hand already, so I added some (free) sauces to my giant stick of 3 age-imo balls (it looked like an oversized dango!) and sat outside on the bench to devour. The age-imo is a cooked (reasonable sized) potato covered in batter (sort of like a corn-dog) and fried. It sounds weird, but it was really good, especially with the garlic sauce. The hand-cut chips were also crispy and hot. I highly recommend making a stop here if you are anywhere near the area!

Anyway, we continued our trip down the road, making many small stops along the way. We reached our “destination” of Date and stopped at the park next to the Bocca restaurant. While somehow associated with Bikkuri Donki, do not be fooled… this place makes its own fresh mozzarella and puddings. For lunch, my husband and I split caprese salad, margerita pizza, and potato-cheese soup. It was all very good. We also got pumpkin-caramel puddings to go… amazing.

At this point it was time to start heading back to Jozankei, and make any stops we missed along the way; one of these was the mushroom kingdom store. There were so many types of mushrooms and mushroom products. Plus you could get miso-mushroom soup (loaded with many types of mushrooms) for only 100yen.

As we headed back, traffic up to the Hoheikyo dam was really backed up. So, why not stop and relax in the Hoheikyo onsen? We were (barely) able to get parked, since this was a popular idea.

The building is a little run-down, and it was very crowded with people taking a rest from the stopped traffic. The facilities were similarly pretty “tired” looking, and the amenities scarce; I have been in rustic onsen that you could claim are traditional or retro, which makes them charming, but I don’t feel it applies to this onsen… “tired” is the best description. The changing room was elbow to elbow, make sure to have enough 100yen coins for shoe lockers, etc. Entering the bathing area was similarly crowded, and there was a bit of a wait for people to rinse off to get into the bath, as there were only about a dozen wash stations. After a good soap, rinse, etc., it was onsen time. There were 2 onsen; one inside and one outside. Almost no one was inside, everyone was outside. And, really it makes sense. The air was comfortable, the water warm, the scenery quite beautiful. Despite its tired and somewhat drab building, it was fairly refreshing. The outside onsen was a decent size, so it was not too crowded, plenty of space for everyone. While I would not necessarily recommend this onsen to everyone, it was not too bad… just be prepared for crowded weekends during autumn foliage season. Otherwise the place is probably pretty quiet during the off season.

After a good soak, I changed back into my clothes and drank a beer while hanging out with my husband for a bit, hoping for the traffic to die down a bit. There was an Indian restaurant in the onsen, but opted out of it after eating all day, plus there was a long wait to get in. When we left, it was still fairly bumper to bumper with people returning home after a long day of leaf-viewing, but we managed to make it back to the hotel. *Special note: this onsen allowed tattoo. It also allowed drinking beer while in the outdoor bath, but the older Japanese ladies gave stinkeye to the younger (and mostly foreign) ladies doing this. On the men’s side my husband said many of the ojiisan had a beer.

Back at the hotel, we took a night walk to enjoy the illuminated pathway by the river and the bridges, before going back to the room and relaxing with some beers. The next morning was an early day to head back to the airport. Since we were returning the rental car to the airport, the drive was quite lovely and we ended up taking the “back roads” and stopping at a waterfall area, perfect to see some ore autumn leaves!

The Sapporo airport was much larger than we anticipated; there is HelloKitty area, Doraemon area, Royce Chocolate factory, a spa, a cinema… we did not have much time unfortunately, but I was able to make some omiyage purchases and grab some goodies for the plane ride home!

Full album on imgur:

Hokkaido 北海度

Previous days here and here.


Jozankei: 定山渓 (part II)

Continued from Sapporo (part I).

After spending the morning in Sapporo, we loaded into the rental car and started our route towards Jozankei onsen town for some leaf-peeping.

On our way out of the city, we stopped in some orchard areas, tasted some fruits, and purchased some snacks for the road. We also stopped at a winery, which had wines and hard cider (real hard cider, not just soda!).

After trying some wine, we stopped at a soup curry restaurant for lunch… yum! This place was nice, you had several choices to customize your order. Right after lunch my husband wanted to stop at a conbini; next door was an ice cream shop and many people were indulging despite the chilliness in the air… so of course even though I am stuffed, I have to try some! I ordered camembert cheese flavor, it was really good!

The next stop was at Jozankei Dam to check out some autumn leaves (kouyou 紅葉). It was gorgeous. There are 2 locations,  one at the dam itself where there is a museum, and one on the lake overlooking the dam.

Afterwards we headed to the hotel, checked in, grabbed a town map and set off to explore Jozankei. There are many kappa statues hidden all over. The town itself if rather small and not so many shops or restaurants, but it was nice. There are a few footbaths and even a hand bath. The river had a nice walking path, which is illuminated at night. The leaves were pretty but dusk settled in quickly being up north. After strolling around the whole town, we felt a bit tired so we grabbed some beers and snacks as we headed back to the room. Back at the hotel I changed into yukata and relaxed in the onsen baths.

Kappa 河童 are a type of yokai 妖怪 demon that inhabit rivers and lakes in Japanese folklore, supposedly luring people in, sometimes paying harmless pranks to drowning. Supposedly cucumbers are the favorite meal (ever heard of kappa-maki, a type of roll sushi?). Jozankei has many statues of kappa scattered all over.

continued in Part III: Jozankei & Date.

There are too many wonderful pictures from the trip, so here are the highlights. For more, go to the imgur album here.


Sapporo: 札幌 (part I)

We took a 3-day trip to Hokkaido, stopping over in Sapporo overnight, then continuing on to Jozankei Onsen. It was October, so the weather was crisp, and the leaves were turning!

We arrived Friday night in Sapporo; our bags came quickly and we jumped onto the JR train from the airport to the city. IC cards are accepted here, so I used my PASMO without worrying about separate train tickets. The ride was not so short, maybe about 45 minutes.

We made it to our cheap hotel just south of Susukino area, checked in, and got ready to see the nightlife. We decided to walk from our hotel up towards Sapporo station area, even though it was a bit chilly. Most of the tourist sites were closed at this time, but we could at least enjoy the views. We walked by Odori park, Sapporo TV tower, Sapporo clock tower, the Sapporo Beer Hall… and stopped for some famous Sapporo miso ramen topped with corn and butter for dinner! We passed by the touristy “Ramen Alley,” but continued on to a smaller place out of the way, which happened to be quite popular with the local crowd.

The next morning, we got up early and ate hotel breakfast which came with the room; this is very popular in Japan unlike the US, so consider trying the hotel breakfasts.. it is nothing like the stale pastry and cereal that make up the typical “continental breakfast” at many budget US hotels. Afterwards, we walked to the Nijo seafood market and back to Odori park for some day time photos. The leaves in Sapporo were only just starting to turn, but it was lovely anyway.

At this time, we needed to check out and pick up the rental car… time to drive to Jozankei!

Our time in the city of Sapporo was wayyy too short! We have already decided we need to go back another weekend. Maybe when the weather warms up…

continued in Part II, Jozankei Onsen.

For more trip photos, go to the imgur album here.