(In the previous episode, my mother and I are on a mother-son trip to Japan. We traveled by train from Tokyo to Aomori, planning to continue our journey to Hokkaido by slow train. Yes, I know we could have flown but that would be boring. Or waited for the launch of the Hokkaido Shinkansen due to launch in late March. But time and tide waits for no man… and his mother.)
We crossed over from Aomori, Honshu to Hokkaido via Hakodate and then took the train all the way to Sapporo where we spent two nights. The coastal view from the train ride was awesome, as the train took us through cities like Noboribetsu and Tomakokai.
Mom and I ate our fair share of Sapporo ramen and even did touristy things like riding the giant ferris wheel. These ferris wheels are in every major Japanese city I've been. Tokyo has one, Yokohama has one Nagoya has one, and Sapporo has one. It must be a thing.
For ¥600, it wasn't too bad an experience. We got quite a good view of Sapporo by night.
With Sapporo as our base, we took an unplanned random day trip to Otaru.
In Otaru, we ended up in Tenguyama, or 天狗山, because we jumped into the wrong bus. We wanted to take the stroller bus to town but got on the Tenguyama bus instead. But it turned out to be the right choice. After a ride on the ropeway, we discovered that the view up there was pretty spectacular. There was also a sizable skiing and snowboarding crowd.
Otaru is a touristy town but nice nonetheless. We took another bus and we ended up at the Sakaimachi shopping street. We resisted buying the glass souvenirs but caved in to some ice cream cones and dried cuttlefish.
Part of the reason we felt full was because everywhere we went along the street, there were food samples handed out. You can get pretty full just eating samples. Ahem.
From Sapporo we rode a train to Furano. We didn't expect it to be so quiet. Perhaps it was the end of the winter season, or folks went to the ski resort nearby instead.
But we didn't mind. It was a nice, quiet and beautiful town. The only challenge was finding dinner on a Sunday night. In the dead of winter. In deserted snow-covered streets.
After some walking, we found a drug store open and we bought instant noodles and drinks for dinner, just in case. We looked like a bunch of desperate fugitives stocking up on supplies for a mad dash to freedom.
But after we left the drug store, we did manage to find a yakiniku restaurant run by a mother and daughter team, and boy, did mom and I have a feast.
"Where are we going tomorrow ah?" asked mom, between bites of the giant prawns and scallop.
"Dunno leh," I said, my mouth filled with bibimbap and grilled pork.
That night, I did some research and declared, "Tomorrow we shall go and visit the town of Biei and see the famed Blue Pond!"
Tomorrow came and we set forth on a train to Biei. Only to discover that the Blue Pond was closed for maintenance and dredging works till April. We weren't the only ones who discovered Aoike was closed. Two young men armed with a tripod and their camera bags found out while waiting for the bus from Biei Station. At least we found out at the station itself.
No fear, such hiccups never deter my mother and me. We sallied forth to Shirogane Waterfall at Shirogane Onsen. The kind lady at the tourist office told us the waters there were ALSO blue and worth a visit even in winter.
A 30-minute bus ride later, we were there and yes, it was a lovely waterfall. Walking to the bridge that overlooks it took a bit of work though, as the ground was covered in snow and ice. My mother and I looked like penguins trying to walk without slipping.
As we took the bus back to Biei (which has way more attractions during the other seasons), we had to decide where else to spend our day.
Over a quick lunch of chicken stew (which was oh so lovely) in Biei, I picked Aibetsu, famed for its mushrooms and a shrine. Why didn't we go to Asahikawa, a bigger city with a famous zoo with its penguin march? Because my mother and I are rebels and like to go to ulu places and see quaint towns.
Also, mom has seen penguins march elsewhere before and says Singapore has a great zoo already.
Hey, who am I to argue with the woman who gave birth to me, right? So off we went, and jumped onto the infrequent train along the Sekihoku line to see "mushroom town".
Well, let me just say, Aibetsu is really really quiet. So quiet that the station had no staff present (perhaps because it was winter). And we proceeded to trudge through more snow for about a kilometre to the shrine, crossing the Aibetsu Bridge that crossed the Ishikari River.
We got a little lost along the way but found ourselves in a centre for training handicapped people for jobs. They had freshly baked An Pan buns and other pastries. All handmade. And freshly-made coffee. We made friends with the staff there and they directed us to the shrine, which was just behind their building.
After the Aibetsu shrine visit, we walked back to the station again, but this time powered by coffee and An Pan buns. We sat in the empty Aibetsu Station, seeking warmth from the furnace, while waiting for the 4.22pm train. Miss that train and the next train is after 7pm.
We decided it was enough for the day, and retired to our Furano hotel, ready for our next destination. But before that, there is laundry to be done, and I am the professional travel laundry person in the family.
My ¥300 laundromat awaits. Also, typing this on my iPhone while sitting on the toilet has made my left leg dead. Sayonara for now.