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Hokkaido Day 3: Sounkyo Falls >Asahikawa >Odori Park >Kitahiroshima

February 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Date: Mon 25 Jan 2010
Stay: Kitahiroshima Classe Hotel (about 1-hr away from Sapporo city)

We were supposed to take the ropeway up to Mt Daisetsuzan for a good view but unfortunately the ropeway was under maintenance. Nevertheless we got to visit the famous Sounkyo Falls 层云峡谷瀑布. There were two of them, one was partially frozen. It was fun walking in the deep snow along this nature park. Here we took another group pic. Right after we left, there were a couple of tour buses arriving.

Milky Way Falls, said to be part of a pair with Shooting Star Falls

Infront of the semi-frozen Shooting Star Falls

Sounkyo - Known for its layered mountain edges

Thick icing everywhere

The Sounkyo park is huge with jagged rock faces and lots of snow-covered trees lining the mountains.

View from the bus

It was a scenic bus ride to our next destination, Japan’s #1 Asahiyama Zoo. It is known for its penguin parade during winter and we barely made it in time for the 11am show. The zoo is located in a hilly area which makes the icy steps and slopes tricky to walk on during winter. Everyone lined the path of the parade. JJ and I got a good position towards the less crowded end. We ended up following the penguins all the way back to their pen. There is something endearing about the waddling penguins, especially when they try to act cute by sliding on their chubby tummies. One even stood up and flapped its short wings together, egging you to applaud for its stunt.

The chubby and adorable penguins take their time parading down the path.

How warm the furry white coat would be!

We saw huge sleepy polar bears, furry white fox camouflaged amidst the snow, sad howling wolves and some lazy reindeers. Having been impressed by our tropical Singapore Zoo, to me the only thing that stands out from this small-scale park is the selection of winter animals.

Does this look like a zoo to you?

Lunchtime next and we headed off to yet another buffet at a restaurant by the name of “Five Star”. It was crowded with tourists. There was a DIY noodle station where you can select your choice of udon/ramen/soba and make your own dry/soup noodles with miso/shoyu or pork broth. Personally I found the Japanese-style pasta and little cake desserts more to my taste.

Snowflakes swirling furiously in the air

Just when we were about to leave, the snow storm started. It was so heavy that we could hardly open our eyes. It was quite a thrill! I was quite pleased that our next stop was the Otokoyama Sake brewery as we could warm ourselves with free tasting of sake.

Time to warm up with some sake!

There are three types to try for free – the fourth which is their best quality sake is available for tasting at Y150. Otokoyama has won recognition for its Japan’s #1 sake for 33 years consecutively. Having tried all the varieties, I must say, the best was indeed the purest of them all. Prices are also most competitive at its HQ. I bought the vintage brew which was packaged like a mini old straw barrel (Y1500 = SGD23). It has a screwtop at the back for pouring – I thought it would make a unique display item. I also bought a small sake cup to commemorate the visit.

Each sake variation has its distinct flavour

Mini 300ml vintage barrel + sake cup

Our guide Pen-zi told us that the quality of sake can be attributed to the spring water discovered by the owner. Town residents would bring empty cans and bottles to collect the sweet spring water just outside the lobby of the HQ on a daily basis. I had a 2-litre bottle which I promptly emptied and filled up with this amazing water.

Due to the heavy snowfall, Pen-zi was worried that the expressway would be closed. It could mean hours stranded in the area or on the road. Luckily the snow lightened up soon after and we were on our way back to Sapporo area.

It was almost evening when we reached the Sapporo TV Tower. Pen-zi led us to the underground mall. This is a long shopping strip which is well-integrated to the various departmental stores above ground. The strip is divided into two areas – Aurora Town and Pole Town. Pen-zi brought us to the basement of the Marui store for its delicious strawberry mochi. Aunt bought some for supper. We had an hour of free roaming. Sis went straight to the Burberry Blue Label located within the same store. Remember to bring your passport when shopping. You can get tax rebate for purchases above Y10,000 (excluding food, cosmetics and certain items). The rebate is immediately deducted from your purchase and you do not need to show your goods at the airport when you depart.

With about 15 minutes left, I brought the cousins up the TV tower for quick souvenir shopping and some phototaking at the tower. On its third level, there is a souvenir shop and a restaurant with a view of Odori Park – a good place to enjoy the Sapporo winter festival.

A relative of the Tokyo TV Tower?

We headed off to Kitahiroshima which has a ski facility but it is nothing like the real massive ski village at Niseko. Again, it’s off to the onsen and then more family bonding time!

We occupied the lift lobby temporarily for this family pic.

The strawberry mochi that took us by surprise! It's really soft and sweet!

Bonding over sake, mochi and chicken wings

Is it a) a urinal; b) a handwash basin; c) a water dispenser??