Quote of the day:
“A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor.”
– Victor Hugo

Right, it’s a New Year 2011 to everyone of us.. It has been a while since I returned from Japan so I thought I’d log a little bit (more like a lot) on what all these memorable experiences were about. Out of every trip I had though, this one was most certainly out of plan at the last minute, literally.. It all started this way.

Day 1: Summary
– Last minute preparation for Japan trip
– Departure to KLIA @ 3 PM and arrived an hour later
– Incident occurred: Plan changed from 4 people to 2 people
– Transit flight to Singapore Changi Airport @ 6:30 PM
– Ate dinner at Changi Airport
– Departure to Haneda, Tokyo International Airport @ 9 PM

Day 1: Reviews & Details
The day actually started off just fine. I was playing Bejeweled 3 after I woke up at 8 am in the morning. Kept playing until my mom came home with 9 burgers. I couldn’t resist it so I ate at least two of them. Several hours later, my brothers woke up and the day carried on with some last minute preparation. Later in the afternoon my father came back with my uncle and we loaded our stuff in to leave for KLIA. The heavy rain caught us during the wrong day. It was raining more than half the time. In a very ironic and dramatic way, the rain subsided only after we reached the airport. For several moments, we were worried sick that we couldn’t make it in time.

When we arrived, my father went for parking while we checked in and met our tour leader and guide for the first time. Apparently, we were the first to reach the checking counter. Several moments after, a few more families started clustering and gathering at our area. My two brothers were extremely excited, but I kept that neutral feeling, probably waiting for the flight to come first. When it was finally time to enter, my mom couldn’t go past immigration. Everyone started worrying, especially my two brothers. At the last minute, we found that her passport had a block and she could never go through unless that problem was settled, and that could take weeks of processing.

We went back to the checking gate and discussed things with the tour guide, full of anxiety. After concluding, only me and my brother could go through. It was frightening given that it was the first time I had to ever leave my parents for at least a week. We were the odd one out. Leaving with no other choice than to forfeit the trip, I took all the money available and went for the departure gates with my brother. It was one of the scariest moments in my life and I was sure to make the most out of it.

We left for Singapore later that evening with heavy hearts. We found it difficult to absorb that our parents won’t be around to guide us and well, I have to deal with that sooner or later, so why not sooner? Ate chicken rice later which was somewhat expensive but we had to eat at some point. We then took a night flight to Haneda, Tokyo, Japan later then. The whole flight lasted for an approximate 6.5 hours which was crazy long since we’re sitting there. The seats were amazing however. All the flights we took except the last one and the domestic flights had computerized screens that could give flight information as well as entertainment in the form of games, movies and songs. I took my time watching one movie while trying to doze off a while later.

Day 2: Summary
– Arrival at Haneda, Tokyo International Airport @ 4 AM local time
– Departure to Chitose International Airport, Hokkaido @ 8 AM
– Arrival at Hokkaido @ 10 AM
– Took first and set lunch @ 11 AM
– Went to Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Hell Valley
– Checked into Noboribetsu Mahoroba Hotel somewhere after dark

Day 2: Reviews & Details
We hit Haneda around 4 am in the morning with barely any sleep at all. With that quite much worried feeling, things carried on. We got to walk around the airport for a short while and we got our first purchases there as well; a bottle of Lipton Lemon Tea and a bottle of mineral water. Later then, I noticed an airplane that had a Pokemon theme all over it. We waited for a while before we left for Hokkaido at around 9 am.

Our next flight was a domestic flight to Chitose International Airport, Hokkaido. When we arrived there approximately an hour later, we could already see ice formed on the roads. Apparently it had been raining the day before, but that was a good thing. We had our lunch first thing after our arrival at Hokkaido. There, we had to deal with the other members where we were sitting smack dab in the middle of the group. Lunch carried on as per normal and we headed off for Hell Valley later that day.

Shikotsu-Toya National Park was more of a mountainous area that had several active hot springs as well as a jungle if anyone would like to trek in those areas. In any case, we walked down a very slippery path to what seemed to be a well, but was actually a hot spring. Gases were evaporating from the spring. I also heard from a tour member that the spring contained water that was easily 80 degrees hot. In other words, do not drop anything in it. At that point of time, we still haven’t met any of the other members yet, so ya, it was pretty much a rough day.

Things got better after we checked in and our parents called to check on us. We took our dinner which happened to be a cross between international and Japanese dining. The hotel had several hot springs for people to bathe in, but under one condition: No clothes are allowed. That alone got me to run away from the idea of entering the hot springs. In any case, the hotel also had an amusement center and a large-ish souvenir store where I didn’t exactly buy anything. The elevators were amazingly small and could only fit few people at any one time.

Our bedrooms were traditional style rooms where we actually sleep on the floor. It was great since I had the knack to sleep on the floor once upon a time. There were also tables like all other hotels, but as usual, we sit on the floor. They also had special Japanese robes called a “yukata” which I wore to sleep that night. The air-conditioner was also a heater instead of a cooler to stabilize the internal temperature. There were similar devices installed in the airports we were in. We went to sleep that night with our stuff all over the room.

Day 3: Summary
– Still moving around Shikotsu-Toya National Park
– Took a first glimpse of snowing weather @ Mt. Usuzan
– Went to look at bears
– Went snowmobiling later that day
– Checked into Niseko Green Leaf Ski Resort somewhere after dark
– Attempted skiing, but ultimately failed

Day 3: Reviews & Details
Okay, we checked out a little late today due to the stupid mistake of not waking up early enough. As a result, we had our breakfast late as well. Upon leaving the hotel, we went to a lake which was once again more towards sightseeing. There really isn’t much to write about on this particular section, except I saw a few ducks in the waters. I wonder how they lived in those weather conditions.. In any case, we only stood there for about ten minutes and that was pretty much it. We moved on to Mt. Usuzan later that morning.

One could only access the top of that mountain through a cable car, and so we did board a cable car, or as they call a gondola, to the summit. It was that and then that I had my first glimpse of snowing weather. It was enjoyable for a while, until the snow started running in your face, then it got really annoying. The sad thing is that I fell at the doorstep when I was just about to leave the station. Talk about being unfortunate. We climbed on higher to the summit where there was a clear view of the city. It was great, but I couldn’t stand the weather for long as gales of wind kept blowing into our faces.

Later that, we took lunch. It was also a set lunch that consisted of pork, chicken, tempura prawns and some noodles I guess. After lunch, we went to sort of an unnamed bear range. Well yes, the bears were contained not in cages, but more of gigantic pits several feet below our standing level. There was an activity where we throw apples to the bears and they catch them with their mouths. I managed to throw two and strike successfully. My brother though, he didn’t throw it with enough strength at all. Apparently the bears displayed a lot of rivalry as some of them would fight for that one apple.

The next activity was the highlight of the day. We went for a one- or two-hour snowmobiling excursion at the cost of ¥10,000 per person. Yes, that approximated around RM374 or $121.26 per unit. It was a great experience nonetheless. The method of starting the vehicle was more or less similar to how start a lawnmower. I only wished we could travel in our own paths but sadly, it was a fixed course. Maximum speeds allowed travel of up to 30 km per hour and at that speed alone I was unable to operate my father’s car properly. We stopped for a hot chocolate break somewhere on the upper grounds and drove back down about ten to fifteen minutes later.

We checked into Niseko Ski Resort later in the evening. Skiing and sledding activities were promoted at that single place. Fun fact, the hotel is actually owned by Malaysia’s YTL. In any case, me and my brother took our shots at skiing. At first I underestimated the sport but later on, what the tour guide said was very much true. On the first day, you learn to fall and only fall. The next day, you finally learn to ski. In which case, we lost several thousand yen on that. We returned the equipment the next morning and borrowed plastic sledges instead, and they were free of charge. In any case, we rode down the hills with relative ease and had fun with the wind blowing in our faces. We checked out after having about a half hour of fun in the snow with a few new friends.

Day 4: Summary
– Sledge fun in Niseko in the morning
– Departure to Sapporo, largest city in Hokkaido, by coach
– Visited Otaru Canal for another photography and viewing session
– Visited Shiroi Koibito Park, a.k.a couples zone
– Visited Tanukikoji underground shopping street
– Checked into Arts Hotel, Sapporo for the night

Day 4: Reviews & Details
We woke up slightly earlier today because I had to return the rental slip for the skis before the deadline. Same time, we had to check out like every other day, but today was a little special. We took a rushed breakfast and immediately went back to the rental zone. Why? Because sledges were free to borrow! So what we did was we borrowed one each and started riding down the hills. Fortunately, we weren’t alone. We had a friend to slide along. It was annoying, however, to walk uphill because the snow was deep, or at least it felt sorta deep. Later that, we left the hotel and at the last minute, I forgot to return the room keys. Another member too had forgot the same after we departed, about an hour later while on the road.

I couldn’t quite remember where I went later on because I was extremely exhausted. I slept in the bus for a bit because the journey would’ve taken approximately 90 minutes from Niseko. In any case, we hit Otaru Canal a while later. Our tour guide cited the Straits of Malacca as a scene nearly identical to that canal. There we saw a few reminiscent objects such as the rickshaw and the trishaw, if there was one. The road was extremely slippery as it was raining at that time. Some of the water had even frozen. Given the condition of my shoes which were meant for walking, I nearly fell several times. Generally, it was another feat of cold but it wasn’t as terrible considering it was only noon at that particular moment.

We had lunch later. Our dish for the day was smoked salmon. As usual, it was another set lunch, but they probably have an attractive dish at each place. We managed to become second last to leave the place. Or maybe we were last while our new friends Nick and Bernard were relaxing around. After lunch, we went into Otaru Village by bus. There, we were given two free hours to do some shopping. Three key locations were as follows; the soft-cream shop (which is essentially ice cream only MUCH softer and melts instantly in the mouth), the music box museum (a shop where musical toy boxes are exhibited and sold) and the ¥1,050 shop (where everything is sold at that price).

So yeah, we walked around the area for a good amount of time. As a result, we bought several music boxes, three to be exact, a few souvenirs from that shop and two cones of soft cream. Well, my brother only took one but I couldn’t resist. We also got a bunch of chocolate from some of the shops. Father called in between to inform us there was an earthquake in Tokyo, talk about devastating. Fortunately, the good people of Japan weren’t hurt and there were no casualties whatsoever. When we were done, which was about 4 pm in the afternoon, local time, we headed for the Shiroi Koibito Park.

And skipping the usual coach rides, we hit the place nicely. It was much darker by then and thank goodness it was snowing and not raining. This was a total place for viewing and only viewing purposes. Many statues could be seen and well, it’s much harder to describe without pictures. Couples could be seen flocking to this place as 恋人 (koibito) literally meant lover in Japanese. Fun fact, the same word in Chinese means sweetheart. I couldn’t get much of the picture but there was a story to the place, involving some cookies. Speaking of cookies, located adjacent to the park was a shop that sold the cookies mentioned earlier. I thought maybe we could get a few boxes or so but our tour guide mentioned we could buy them later that night at a cheaper cost, so I went with that anyway.

Later that evening, we went for the Susukino nightlife entertainment zone, in which the main headline for that location was: The Sapporo TV Tower. Though not having much to see, the Sapporo TV Tower looks analogous in design to Paris’ Eiffel Tower, only much, much shorter. A couple of weeks ago, I read that this place was where the annual Sapporo Spring Festival was held. I came out a little too early, I guess. But in any case, the place was pretty much alive given how much people were around. At least the population beats the quieter areas. My brother got a doughnut later before we left; he couldn’t stand the hunger. In any case, I got one too just to get something to snack on.

Our last destination for the day was the Tanukikoji underground shopping street. Though not literally underground, this “street” consisted of 7 platforms constructed in a collinear design in such a way that the shopping zone technically spans over seven roads. Many things were available, including, but not limited to, pachinko slots grounds, restaurants, fashion stores, sports equipment stores, cinemas, convenience stores, more restaurants, and basically what anyone could imagine in a shopping mall, except that it’s only one floor, but seven streets long. I didn’t get myself anything, though I did notice a Subway restaurant. Tempted I was, but I didn’t get anything in the end. My brother however, got himself a pair of shoes. Also, to correct my statement, I did get something, the lovers’ cookies I mentioned earlier.

Later then, our dinner and the only time we ate this particular meal, was ramen. It was essentially the same as Chinese wanton noodles with soup, but somehow this one tasted better. The soup was rather more enriched and we were served side dishes including a bowl of fried rice and something called a gyoza, some sort of dumpling. It was the only night I had ramen anyways, so I might as well enjoy it. With exhausted limbs, we checked into Arts Hotel, Sapporo that night. As usual, I found myself a yukata robe to wear and the night closed in quietly. Day four had come to an end.

I guess that pretty much concludes the first half of the trip. Our last day in Hokkaido would be the day after this one. Part 2 will come later on.