Monday 06 February – Wednesday 08 February
With Zao onsen in the rear vision mirror we made our way to Sapporo via train. The trip took most of the day but we kept ourselves interested with Uno and food, the scenery outside was pretty with mountains and small towns covered in snow. That night we arrived in Sapporo, checked into the Hotel Sapporo Met’s where we would be staying for the duration of our stay then made our way downtown to find a nice ramen dinner and see the Sapporo Snow Festival 「札幌雪まつり」(Sapporo yuki matsuri).
We were lucky to find a ramen shop in the crowded streets, however, the Ramen cook at the shop certainly was a character and wasn’t too pleased with her shop being full of Australian foreigners… despite her harsh nature the ramen was great. We then wandered around and saw the really cool ice sculptures in the streets before returning to the lobby beers and chills.
The next day Jason and I planned to travel to Yoichi 「余市」 to visit the famous Nikka Whiskey Distillery 「余市蒸溜所」(Yoichi jōryū-sho).
The whiskey there is considered so good it has received various awards in 2015 and most recently the World Whiskey Award in 2016. The hour and a half train ride there was fun with the beautiful scenery outside, we even met some Australians.
Once at Yoichi we attempted to navigate to the Distillery but ended up a little lost so we decided to follow the mass of foreigners and luckily lead us to there. Inside the Distillery was not what I expected it look more like a small closed off village than a factory. We made our way to quickly to taste testing where we tried Apple Wine, Takesura and Super rare old.
However, the real stuff we found later on after leaving the shop. There was the aged single caste whiskey that we tasted. It was amazing and a shame we were out of time and had to leave.
Once we regrouped with the rest of the guys, we went to visit the Sapporo Beer Museum were we learnt about the history and how to pour the perfect Sapporo Beer.
After the Museum, we went next door to a restaurant where we drank and ate seafood, a few speeches were spoken and lots of love was shared. Our last night in Tokyo was tomorrow.
Saturday 04 February – Monday 06 February
Gone were the bright lights of Tokyo, we had finally reached our destination Zaō onsen「蔵王温泉」in Yamagata prefecture 「山形県」 . We had returned to the familiar sight of knee deep while being introduced to the unwelcome stink of sulphur.
We stayed at a nice little place called the Yoshidaya Ryokan 「吉田屋旅館」 , after checking in we had some free time to roam around the town with everyone and eat a conbini lunch. I found the scenery around the township to be wonderful how the snow blanketed the trees and melted around the warm water streams billowing misty sulphuric vapor.
After a delicious dinner, we made our way to the cable car lift to see the famous snow monsters atop the mountain summit. The trip was quiet and cold as we were carried up the mountain, we couldn’t see outside the windows because of the ice, fog and darkness clouding the windows. Once, reaching the summit the temperature dropped dramatically… I swear I almost lost my hand to frostbite taking photos.
We drank hot chocolate in a shop atop the mountain before we made our way back down the mountain to the ryokan were we had the usually party room antics followed by sleep.
The second day we had free time to do what we please. After breakfast most people went up to the mountain to go skiing of snowboarding, however, I spent the day sleeping until eventually going out for ramen with Tim and Danica.
The free day was much appreciated as I needed the sleep and relaxation after the rush of Tokyo. Next stop tomorrow was Sapporo!
Monday 23 January – Wednesday 25 January
Goodbye homestay and hello snow, The train ride to Nagano was pretty uneventful besides the head deep mountains of snow everywhere. I’ve never seen so much snow in my life, I was blown away by the sheer amount of it, I can only imagine how the people who had never see snow before felt. Once we left the station we bused it to our first stop the Hokusai museum. I found the museum to be really interesting, there was all kinds of art work from paintings to literally old manga. We couldn’t take photo’s for obvious reasons, even so I really enjoyed it. (https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/spot/museum/hokusaikanart.html)
Once we left it was time to travel to the Ryokan we would be staying at, the Uotoshi Ryokan 「魚敏旅館」. Upon arrival we helped unload the bags and checked in, I found the Ryokan to be quite nice due to the fact of our massive room with the boys. We went for dinner at a little restaurant called Tama ya chanko ryōri 「たまやちゃんこ料理」, It even snowed on the way there. Dinner was delightful and a few of us tried Basashi「馬刺し」raw horse meat. After dinner there was more party room antics then bed.
The next day we were spoiled with another wonderful Japanese breakfast that sadly not everyone ate, it was kinda embarrassing when people didn’t eat the food given to us… more for me I guess. After breakfast, we rode the bus to the mountain where we would see the snow monkeys, I was excited to see monkeys and more snow. After dismounting, It was a bit of a hike through the snowy hills to the monkeys, but we made it eventually and my god the monkeys were super cute. They were eating sticks, cuddling up in the water, and running around without a care in the world. We took plenty of photos and soon returned back down the hill for our pick up.
We made it back to the ryokan safely then had free time, a few of us decided on ramen so we found a little shop and ate till our heart’s content. The shop owners were lovely, and even gave us free apples as we left.
That night, we had a Kyūdō「弓道」demonstration with the owner of the ryokan. As I owned a compound bow when I was younger I found it super interesting how the Japanese style of archery differed from the western style, I really wanted to have a go but I knew the my pinched nerves in my right arm I wouldn’t be able to draw the bow without accidentally dry firing. It was still fun to watch the others give it a try. (http://www.kyudo.com/kyudo-k.html)
The next day we leave for Kyoto, I found the stay at Yudanaka to be relaxing as well as fun because of the laid back feel of the town and the snow. I’d love to return one day.