My journey through Japan began from the north, and I made my way down as far as Hiroshima. The first stop in Hokkaido was a great introduction to Japan that was contrary to most preconceptions as this was Hokkaido in summer, but just before families from the rest of Japan would arrive due to the summer vacation period. For the most part, this was a road trip with several other friends and we rented a seven-seater car for a week.
Arriving in the evening at Sapporo airport, it was relatively late by the time that we picked up our vehicle and began driving to our first stop. Since this was the case, our first stop was an hours’ drive away – Lake Shikotsu. Lake Shikotsu is generally a quiet and less-travelled location as it is small and does not have much in the way of attractions aside from a view of the lake. One of the owners of the hostel welcomed us and gave us a brief introduction to the area – it is government protected, and thus little in the way of development can actually occur. It was a rather small and quiet town (nothing taller than two storeys at all!), and at eight in the evening, it was already dead quiet. All the shops had already closed, but the owner was nice enough to re-open one of his other businesses – a small café where he made us each a plate of Japanese curry. That said, it truly felt quite peaceful and detached, especially as our accommodation had traditional Japanese style rooms and a natural hot spring.
We made our way over to Lake Toya the next morning, where one of the lookout points offered an amazing panoramic view of the entire lake.
There are plenty of Japanese mushrooms for sale in this area if that’s what interests you. Driving in Japan for the first time, there were various oddities we noticed – strange downward pointing arrows, and the fact that no one seemed to follow the absurdly low speed limits. Upon googling, we found out that the arrows were actually for the winter season when snow covers the roads so that drivers can tell where the road boundaries are. As for the speed limit, it seems as though residents drive up to 30 km/h above the posted speed limits, and speed cameras usually only care about an excess of around 30 km/h above the limit. It’s a strange system indeed, but it honestly does not make sense to travel at 40 km/h on a major countryside road that is non-residential.
After taking a look around the Lake Toya area, we headed for our accommodation in Noboribetsu where we would also see the nearby Hell Valley (Jigokudani), famed for its volcanic landscape that can appear to be like a scene from Hell. Something we only discovered from the posters in our accommodation was that there would be a local festival for the ‘demons’ held in Jigokudani that evening.
We also went around to various areas in Furano, Biei, and Otaru where there were many, many lavender and other flower fields, farms, and wineries. Melons and cherries are in season during summer, and melons are extremely popular (and expensive) here. It was very picturesque, and also incredible to see how much work goes into these flower fields as many of them are snow fields during winter, which means that the flowers must be replanted for every summer season. By the way, most things tend to bloom in summer, and peak season is when Japanese families visit in late July and August.
For the last part of our Hokkaido tour, we spent some time in Sapporo city. We were able to get some shopping done, and take a look around at the city’s attractions. We did an AirBnB stay at an apartment in the city which really made us feel at home in this city, though parking can become an issue.
This being my first time in Japan, it feels as though I’ve seen it through a different lens. There’s far more to it than novels or anime can show, and these photos are but one tiny aspect.