Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Winter In Sapporo ( Part 1 )

(Above) On the bus reaching Sapporo

We took a express bus from Noboribetsu to Sapporo which lasted over one and a half hours and alighted at the JR Sapporo Train Station bus terminus.Sapporo is the capital city of Hokkaido Perfecture, Japan and is the 5th largest city there. It was a cold and snowy Sapporo that we were anticipating for our arrival there. When we arrived, it hadn't snowed yet and we thought we were abit early. However as we walked to our hotel, the first snowflakes came down and it was a very nice feeling, as if to greet us on our arrival. We thought Noboribetsu was cold but Sapporo was even colder. Gloves and scarfs plus cap were the order of the day as the chilly winds and cold air really made one numb with cold. It snowed very heavily on the second day we were there such that we had to wear our sunglasses to shield out the heavy snowflakes flying in our direction. It was abit difficult to navigate around as visibility wasn't very good and our hands were freezing each time we took out our gloves to take a shot or to read the map. (Above ) Me posing in front of our hotel - Keio Plaza Sapporo

We stayed at Keio Plaza Sapporo and the service there was impeccable. When we were told that there was an error in our hotel voucher instructions received by them, they apologized and immediately said they would upgrade our standard room. We were pleasantly surprised when the desk manager waved away the approaching porter and instead personally led us to the room.
(Above) Entrance corridor to the main room. Gayle is checking out the dressing table!
When we opened the room, we were overjoyed because they had upgraded our room at no extra cost to the executive corner suite on the 20th floor of the 21 storey hotel. It was a really luxurious room with a huge bathroom by Japanese standards and filled with branded toiletries like L'occitane , Shiseido and Kose .
Those who have been to Japan will really know this is really luxurious by Japanese standards, as compared to the cramped , minute hotel rooms common in Japan.
(Above) Gayle hopping around with joy at our very nice room
To add to that, we received 3 food vouchers for breakfasts and lunches at any of their hotel restaurants.

(Above and Below ) The luxurious washroom and toilet !

(Above) The Toto Washlet above. State of the art toilet bowl in our hotel room. We saw it at the TOTO showroom in Singapore when we were scouting around for a toilet bowl and were wondering when would we be able to try out one and we did in Japan. Priced at SGD$10 000 at that time. Sitting on a $10 000 toilet bowl is really shiok! Firstly, the seat has a warmer so especially in cold winters, it is just so comforting to sit on a warm seat. It has an automatic lid and is controlle via an infra red remote control mounted on the nearby wall.
It has a built in front and rear washer with warm water. One has to try that to know it's a nice guzzy feeling, a shiok feeling like someone scratching your back.
Our stay in Sapporo was a joyful one especially with the hotel staff so helpful and polite. We were lucky to meet Cho, a Chinese guest relations officer at the hotel who helped us translate from Mandarin to Japanese when we wanted to ask the hotel staff for information. We will most probably look for a stay in Keio Plaza if we go back to Japan.
(Above and below) We had a good continental breakfast buffet spread each morning. There was also the traditional Japanese breakfast on offer too but I guess, nothing beats ham, sausages, bacon and sunny side up eggs for breakfast! Below, you can see a card stand which is used to indicate that this table is taken when we are out to get our food from the buffet table. When you have finished and are leaving, just place the name card stand face down to indicate to the staff to clear the table and that the seat is vacant for the next guests. Quite a good system instead of our Singapore system of putting bags and tissue packs to 'chope' a table.
(Below) One thing that is good about Sapporo and Japan in general is that their malls are underground and air conditioned at a comfortable temperature. This is really a boon for shopping in comfort, away from the harsh cold of the winter. The malls are connected to each other and stretches a few kilometres. At the supermarket! Our first stop to look at all the food on display.

(Above) What to eat for lunch ? A difficult decision to make in Sapporo with so many offerings
(Below) what to eat for dessert - Hokkaido ice cream !
(Above and Below) - Mind You ! These are cakes sold in the supermarket and not at some high end pastry cafes. Look at the workmanship, flair and quality of the cakes ! We ended up eating lots of cakes for dessert in Japan.
(Above) Sweets galore ! Just pick your cup, fill it with sweets and weigh it at the cashier.
(Below) Gayle posing in front of one of the underground malls 0 Fashion Walk which is linked to JR Sapporo station.
(Above) In front of Tokyu Departmental store, something very much like Tangs and Isetan combined.

(Above) 3 Coins, a budget store that sells high quality and wide array of products from fashion items to household items. Very crowded during lunch time and after office hours.

(Above) Gayle at the FANCL Store which has a corner booth that sells fresh fruit juice that have 'boosters' ingredient added to the juice to enhance skin complexion, eyes etc based on what you want to enhance. Quite cheap at 100 yen a cup.

(Above) Mother Garden and no this is not a shop selling motherly things ! It is a dog clothing botique selling winter coats, jumper suits, beds and other accessories for dogs and cats.
More on Sapporo in the next posting!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

In Noboribetsu - hot spring capital of Hokkaido

We arrive at Noboribetsu and take a shuttle bus up to the hill resort area where the hotels and hot springs are located. Picture above shows us along the main shopping street which is basically two rows of souvenir shops, dining inns and convenience stores plus a tourist information office. The hotels are clustered at the start and end of the street. Our hotel - Yumoto Noboribetsu is located at the start of the street and opposite the bus terminus which is very convenient for arrival or departure.
We check into our Japanese styled room which means baically sitting on the floor with tatami mats and sliding doors for access.
(Above) Our room at Yumoto Noboribetsu. If you are wondering where are the beds, well, they will be setup for you come bed time. Scroll down to see the beds.
Japanese toilets are really space saving so it means alot of getting used to plus bruised elbows knocking into the walls as you move about. They do have a special tap(The right tap above) for drinking water so you don't have to boil water unless you want to make a hot drink whereby you can use the hot pot or kettle available.

Seeing my current car in Noboribetsu- the first Mitsubishi 'i' since we first arrived in Hokkaido, just couldn't resist taking a shot with it.

This looks like a natural shot by somebody else, capturing the both of us seemingly walking out of a 7 -11 convenience store. Actually , we had a camera located opposite with a timer to take this shot. Thier hot chocolate instant cup mix is quite good and value for money, making two cups of hot cocoa for SGD$3.
As we were going to have a full course traditional sit in Japanese dinner that evening, we decided to have a light meal of ramen noodle soup. I had mine in soy sauce soup base while Gayle had hers in miso soup paste.

Posing outside the dining inn where we had our ramen. It was easy to order as the cook had an English menu presented to us after asking which country we were from.

We then walked to a little park at the top of the street and sat down, enjoying the very cold but refreshing air and having some fruits. Initially when we first arrived, we were coughing as the cold air was slightly discomforting as we breathe the very cold air in but we soon got used to it. Note the background scenery which shows undulating hills. After that we went back to our hotel. Feeling cold after our trip out, we went down to have a hot spring bath in the hotel. There were different pools with different temperatures and we could only tahan the 39 degrees ones as anything else was too hot for our liking. A pit we couldn't take any shots there as it was a naked zone. All you have is a face towel to dry yourself or cover your modesty,whichever you choose. Interesting experience of sitting down Japanese style and bathing with a tub of warm water. Each bath counter had stools and buckets,tubs and a whole array of Kose skin conditioner, soap, shampoo, hair conditioner etc.We both had a good bath there before returning to our room and await our dinner. Out of the blue, while returning to our room, in such a traditional Japanese setting, we came across a Haagen Dazs ice cream vending machine!

Our Obasan coming in to our room to setup the table and prepare our dinner. She was very friendly and cheerful. We both spoke to each other with some English and with lots of gesticulation.

(Above) Our dinner ready for us and we take a shot before starting. At this point, the flame in Gayle's rice stove went out and we called the reception, and did our best to tell a Japanese speaking receptionist that the flame had gone out and we needed someone to light the stove. But the only word that seemed to register to the receptionist was ' fire'. She replied , ' Ohhhhhhh FIRE! okay' and she put down the call. The both of us were half expecting a Fire brigade to come rushing into our room to put down a fire. Luckily, our friendly Obasan appeared to save the day and relighted Gayle's rice stove.
(Above) Toasting our glass of Japanese sweet wine, which was very refreshing and sweet, very addictive also.Our traditional Japanese dinner set above. It was a very FULL dinner and we kept the desserts for later as we were just too full.

Sashimi platter. Strange thing that we notice is that the Japanese seldom serve salmon sashimi but serve other types of fish like tuna, yellow tail, swordfish. We wonder whether all the salmon has been exported out to other countries like Singapore.

(Above) Scallop being heated on a charcoal stove.

(Above) Another interesting dish - fusion Japanese seafood cold dish

(Above) Note the intricate presentation of Japanese food. The top of the small cherry tomato has been sliced to make a lid and then the insides of the tomato dug out to make a crevice which is filled with tuna.(Above) After 20 minutes, the rice was cooked and what a lovely fragrance enveloped us as we each opened our own rice stove. You can see the aroma steam practically flowing out.

(Above) Gayle cooking her mushroom and vegetable platter in the soy based soup stock.

(Above) Our fruity dessert which we kept for later. One thing about Japanese cream is that they are so light that you can eat lots of it without getting ' gelat' .

(Above) Japanese tea leaves set for a soothing end to help our digestion after the dinner.
We then called the reception to inform that we had finished our dinner and soon a team of obasans arrived to take away our dinner trays and tables. Then they prepared our beds. They asked us whether we would like to sleep facing the TV and then prepared it in that direction. Very personalised service. An interesting experience. The mattress was so comfortable and especially after the good dinner, we zonked out till the next morning.

Next morning, we were served traditional Japanese breakfast dishes accompanied by porridge. Again, another very rich and full meal. After our breakfast, we rested awhile before leaving for the bus terminus to catch our bus to Sapporo, our final stop in Hokkaido. We had gone for the seafood stop(Hakodate), traditional hot spring and Japanese stay stop(Noboribetsu) and now we were heading for our shopping stop(Sapporo) in Hokkaido.(Above) Gayle all packed and ready to go. Me posing infront of our hotel - Yumoto Noboribetsu in the background, while waiting for our bus to Sapporo. The winds are quite cold there.(Above) In our bus as we go down the hill to the main road en route for Sapporo.