Our family’s winter adventure in Japan started on one Sunday in early February. Since our multi-destination flight tickets we purchased required us to go first to Vancouver, Canada, we had a very short line at the baggage check desk. It was great not to have to wait in a long line.
We had a propeller airplane ride from SeaTac to Vancouver. It was foggy outside, but at times the blue sky broke out above the milky white clouds. One might say the sight was “heavenly.”
It was an ANA airline that took us from Vancouver to Haneda, Tokyo. The service was very good, including the food they served (soba, spinach, salmon and some root vegetables and gelato for supper). Later, when the plane was approaching Haneda they served Japanese style sandwiches, apples and tiramisu. Each time they served meals they provided “oshibori” (a hot wet cloth to wipe your hands with before meals); they also used metal eating utensils. The plane ride was very smooth and comfortable. I would say ANA is a classy airline.
A connecting flight from Haneda took us to New Chitose (the airport near Sapporo) around 10 pm on the second day of our trip after going through the Custom and getting on the connecting flight. While we were in the air the cabin announcement informed that the plane might have to go back to Haneda in case New Chitose’s landing condition was dangerous due to ice. (Like the east coast of the United States, Japan has been experiencing an unusually cold winter this year.) But, everything went well; in fact, the plane ride from Haneda and New Chitose was smooth. The taxi driver we picked up at New Chitose Airport impressed us with his fluent English. He was familiar with the Niseko and Rusutsu Resorts crowds (a great many Australians and New Zealanders). If Japan had more people like this taxi driver, tourism in Japan would become more popular to non-Japanese speaking people (I am assuming here that most people travel abroad tend to speak English to a certain extent because it has become a world business language due to the economic and political powers of the United States and Great Britain.) I truly believe Japan is a wonderful place to visit.
We had a slow start the following day. But since I woke up at 4:20am inadvertently I felt a little sleepy throughout the day – obviously the dreaded jetlag syndrome). We had breakfast at the hotel (I was happy that the buffet included an espresso- making machine) and headed for Otaru via Sapporo. In the train from Chitose to Sapporo an old man (one of the group tourists) made room for me to sit and initiated a conversation. It turned out that he was one of the male group tourists that filled the train and he initiated a conversation with me probably to show off to his fellow passengers (he gave me this impression because each time when we were discussing some issues the men sitting around us responded by muttering or by nodding) his familiarity with several topics including the former Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka’s bribery scandal (he incorrectly thought the bribe was from the Boeing). They were on their way to Sapporo to see the Snow Festival. It seems in Japan many communal activities are done in a strictly gender-segregated manner particularly among the older generations. At JR Sapporo station we purchased Sapporo-Otaru Welcome Pass that allows the unlimited access to the JR trains and Sapporo subway system. While trying to find the Midorino-Madoguchi (the green window) to purchase the tickets I lost my favorite pair of sunglasses. (Since I was bundled up from the top to the bottom I had to place my sunglasses on the ticket counter rather than in my pockets that were full with thick gloves). We took the JR train from Sapporo to Otaru which is famous for canals and glass works. We did some touring in Otaru in wind-swept bitter coldness, seeing canals, snow lantern making for Light Festival, and glass work museums/shops. In some of these shops a tourist can experience glass-work making. The most impressive and beautiful sight I encountered during this brief outing was the sight of Sea of Japan from the train near Otaru-Kikko. The waves were dramatically fierce, exuding the Nature’s power. After dinner at Masa-zushi (a restaurant recommended by the tourist office) we got on a taxi for the Otaru station because we considered the streets too slippery to walk safely. And we were glad to do so because the last train from Otaru to Chitose was 7:04pm! Had we walked we might have missed the last train to our hotel, which was one hour train ride from Otaru! I learned that one should always check the time schedule of the public transportation particularly when in a foreign country; one should always know how to get back to your lodging in good time when leaving the lodging.