Sunday, April 17, 2016

Big in Japan (04.03.2016 - 28.03.2016)

So of course we spent some time on the main island of Honshu before and after visiting Hokkaido.

Especially in Tokyo, strollin through the Shinjuku and Shibu district. Visiting the metropolitan building for a look from above, wandering through the busiest cross road in the world, play in some video game arcades but skipping the even louder slot machine and Pachinko halls.
Nobou gave us a grand tour starting in the fish market district in the morning and ending the day in the country side for an amazing dinner.

Afterwards we travelled south to Hiroshima by bullet train. This takes only 4.5h for the whole 675 km distance (about Zürich to Berlin). Here we visited the museum of the bomb site, quite a gloomy and horrific exposition. The devastation has been ultimate… Also we visited the Itsukushima island with its free roaming deer and famous great torii. But here already the tourist masses where getting bigger.
Although not as big as in Kyoto, our next destination after a brief stop in Kobe to eat some Kobe beef ^^. Kyoto got mostly spared by the WW2 bombings and has a lot of old buildings, temples and shrines to show. This together with the starting cherry blossom season made it packed with tourists. After Hokkaido where we were more or less by our own this was a bit of a shock. Later we headed back up to Tokyo for some last days before flying home :(

Having a stroll through the bamboo forest
But let me summarize the highlights of this country:

The food: For most of the world Japanese food equals to sushi. How wrong! In hindsight it felt we spent most of our time travelling from restaurant to restaurant! We had awesome ramen, delicious Teriyaki, expensive Kobe, crazy Yakiniku, famous Okonomiyaki, Mongolian grill, Japanese curry, a classic and traditional meal in a little hut placed in a wonderful garden (BIG thanks to Nobou again!) and of course crazy kaiten sushi (sushi on conveyer belt, with an extra express belt for side orders and a third for clean up. The place also had a beer pouring automaton ^^).

The transportation system: Coming from Switzerland not much in terms of public transport amazes us, except Japan! Tokyo looks like its just metro and subway tunnels and the rest of the country is criss crossed with Shinkansen lines! For example there is a bullet train between Osaka and Tokyo every 15 minutes! The tramways in Zürich barely have that frequency… O_o
And of course the Kei cars! OMFG we so need those in Switzerland. Tiny cars for a dense area is like a super logical conclusion. But back home everyone wants an SUV :(

The people: Incredible how friendly, polite and helpful the Japanese are, even tough most don’t speak any other language. The formality and politeness trumps everything we’ve encountered so far. You didn’t have to be on the lookout all the time for your stuff or any thugs trying to cheat you. I truly felt more secure than back home in Switzerland! It was so refreshing and different to previous trips! 

Truly looking forward to the next visit!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Snowboarding in Hokkaido (08.03.2016 - 20.03.2016)

With our trip long over it was time of to start the tale. A while ago the idea to go snowboarding in Japan got much more popular with the flight prices plummeting. So it came that Melanie, Patric and Patrick (aka Winston) ended up in Hokkaido for almost two weeks of snow and fun. 

Our days up north were split between Furano and Niseko. The two more famous ski areas I could find online ;) 

Furano had a lot of hotels with german names like Naturwald or Edel Wärme o_O. Quite weird hearing them pronounce it, hehe. There weren’t many other foreign tourists (or any tourists at all). It was snowing on the night we arrived and then again almost every day.
We mostly spent our days riding the fluffy powder between the birch trees! Sooooooo an amazing experience. This is THE (emphasised enough?) reason to go again! 
Patric and Patrick in the chair behind us ;)
Unlike back home it isn’t generally prohibited to enter the forests. Usually there were designated gates to cross over or they asked you to take off your skis/board not to leave tracks which any beginners then would follow :D
Speaking of beginners, the riding level is definitely lower than in Europe. And snowboarding is still “cool” :D Not many skiers, all Japanese cool kids are snowboarding ;)

Niseko on the other hand is way more popular with western tourists. Mostly Australians, Expats and others from Singapore or Hong Kong. This makes the main town of Hirafu a bit sad, when entering a bar and not a single local is inside… 
To avoid the crowds and especially the high lodging prices we stayed in the nearby town/hamlet of Moiwa. There is a little independent ski resort here which allows you to reach the bigger Niseko United resort and ski back in the evening. The Moiwa Lodge was great and we had some enjoyable days. Sadly it only started snowing again when we left. There was enough snow left (about 3 meters), don’t get me wrong. Just not the fluffy powder we had come to love in Furano ;) 
Here they have even more back country possibilities accessed by so called gates. Seeing the runs we have missed we definitely have to visit again!
Brown = Groomed slopes, G1 - G11 access to the back country.
We stayed were I'm pointing ;)

Of course we spent some days on the Honshu main island, more to that in a future post!