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8-Day Hokkaido Itinerary: Days 2 and 3 at Lake Toya and Hakodate

After our pre-planning and our Day 1 at onsen town Noboribetsu, we visited Lake Toya and Hakodate on Days 2 and 3.

10 a.m.: Check out of hotel at Noboribetsu and drive for one hour to Lake Toya, which has an active volcano, Mount Usu. When Mount Usu erupted in March and April 2000, over 60 new craters opened up on the west side of the mountain.

You have three options here but they are closed during winter:

Kompirayama Walking Trail (40 minutes): starts at the Toyako Visitor Center in Toyako Onsen and leads to the Nishiyama parking lot. Along the way, you can see various ruins, including a destroyed public bath house, apartment block and bridge. The trail also passes two of the largest craters from the 2000 eruption, as well as large erosion control dams.

Nishiyama Crater Walking Trail (20 minutes): At the end of Kompirayama Walking Trail is Nishiyama parking lot. If you want to skip Kompirayama, you may drive up to this parking lot. At Nishiyama, you will see more newly created craters around Mount Nishiyama. Several destroyed buildings, disrupted roads and broken phone poles have been left untouched for visitors to witness the destructive power of the volcano. Then you will reach another carpark.

Observatory on top of Mount Kompirayama: The paid observatory is accessible by car. It provides panoramic views over Lake Toya and the new craters on the west side of Mount Usu.

12.30 p.m. : Lunch! We had the Michelin Bib Gourmand ramen Ippontei 一本亭.

1.15 p.m.: Start your 3-hour drive to Hakodate.

4.15 p.m.: Check into your hotel. Since you’re driving, the location of the hotel doesn’t really matter. But as all our travelling plans, we like to stay in the city centre, where most things are accessible. We stayed at Smile Hotel Hakodate, which is just across from Hakodate JR Station, and a 3-minute walk from Hakodate Asaichi Morning Market. Of course, if you have some cash to burn, you can stay at Four Points by Sheraton Hakodate, which is just beside the station and in front of the market.

I want to talk about Smile Hotel Hakodate since some readers may want to stay here too.

Actually, there is nothing much to say. It’s a very tiny functional room with a prefabricated toilet ubiquitous in Japan; many 2- or 3-star Japanese hotels use the same model of toilet. You have to pay for parking at ¥500 a day; it’s a full day of parking, so it’s pretty worth it.

The best thing about the hotel is the fantastic location.

4.30 p.m.: Drive to Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse & Bay area. It used to be a warehouse in 1909 but has been refurbished to become a commercial shopping and eating area. You can buy your souvenirs here.

6 p.m.: You can eat at the Red Brick Warehouse area, but we scouted around and didn’t want to eat anything there. We drove to Tsunezushi, Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand sushi restaurant.

Next Day:

9.30 a.m.: Go to Hakodate Morning Market for breakfast. It is a small market and takes less than 30 minutes to stroll. Take your time.

11 a.m.:  Drive to Old Fort Goryokaku 五稜郭, a western-style fort completed almost 150 years ago. It is worth going because this is where the last civil war of Japan took place. There are two parts of the fort. First there is the star-shaped fort itself, which is free to enter. And then there is a Goryokaku Observatory Tower, which overlooks the fort, so that you can see the star shape clearly. The Observatory requires payment.

1 p.m.: Lunch. We took a 5-minute drive to Unagidokoro Takahashi うなぎ処 髙はし which specialises in unagi.

2 p.m.: Drive and park at Mount Hakodate Ropeway. Then cross the road to walk around Motomachi, an historical area just below Mount Hakodate. If you click on the Motomachi link, there is a suggested walking route, which will be exhausting. I would suggesting seeing only the Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward and Hokkaido Russian Orthodox Church. They are parallel on the road with the Ropeway, so just cross the road.

4p.m.: Return to the Ropeway to take a cable car to Mount HakodateWatch the sunset turn into night.

I want to manage your expectations here. It was a terrible experience for us. Firstly, the cable car wasn’t working that day, so we had to take the bus up. We waited for the 3rd bus until we could squeeze on. Up there, it was super, super crowded. All the tourists in Hakodate were congregated there. Everybody was rushing; it felt like war. It was terrible although the view was stunning.

7 p.m. We wanted to go to Asari Honten at Hakodate, a sukiyaki restaurant which is over 100 years old, but it was full and we didn’t make reservations. So we went to Asari しゃぶしゃぶあさり, which is also another sukiyaki restaurant. Not really sure why their shop names are so similar or if they are related, but it was fantastic. One of the best meals in Hokkaido.

Next Day:

8.30 a.m.: If you stay near the JR Hakodate station like we did, revisit the Hakodate Morning Market for breakfast, but this time, just eat and leave. No gallivanting.

9 a.m.: Check out of Hotel.

If you want to see other places in Hakodate, click on the link to their official tourism site.

And then we will proceed to the skiing town Niseko, but we didn’t ski. (Well there are many things there to do besides skiing.)


You may be interested in…
10 Must-Eat Food in Hokkaido
What to Eat at Niseko Hokkaido
Hilton Niseko Village Review, Hokkaido: Naked in Nature! Wild Wild Wet!
Oyado Kiyomizuya 御やど清水屋, Noboribetsu Hokkaido: Onsen Ryokan at Hell Valley (And the Best Kaiseki Ever)


Written by Dr. A. Nathanael Ho.

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Michelin Bib Gourmand Ramen in Hokkaido: Ippontei 一本亭 at Lake Toya and Ramen Shingetsu ラーメン 信月 at Sapporo

Ramen is a must eat in Hokkaido. It is cold at the northern part of Japan so a bowl of steaming ramen provides much comfort and fortitude against the weather. Even the Michelin Guide awards the Bib Gourmand to 50 ramen shops in Hokkaido. 50!

Hokkaido’s variation of ramen differs from other parts of Japan in several ways. Hokkaido specialises in miso ramen and shio (salt) ramen. The miso ramen often has sweetcorn, butter, bean sprouts, finely chopped pork, and garlic, and sometimes local seafood such as scallop, squid, and crab.

During our recent trip to Hokkaido, we tried two ramen shops, both awarded the Bib Gourmand: one in the district of Lake Toya and the other at Sapporo. To be absolutely truthful, we weren’t impressed by either. We have had better in Singapore.


Ippontei 一本亭
78-19, Touyakoonsen, Touyako-cho, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido, 049-5721
〒049-5721 北海道虻田郡洞爺湖町洞爺湖温泉78-19
Tel: +81-142-75-3475
11.30am-2pm, 6pm-8pm, closed Monday

First listed in the Michelin Guide 2013 and then again in 2017 (the Guide didn’t published on Hokkaido from 2014-2016), Ippontei (一本亭) is a popular ramen restaurant in the Lake Toya district (洞爺湖).

They cook their broth for 20 hours using more than 10 ingredients and “electronic energy water.” (Google Translate provided the translation from the ramen shop’s website but I guess it means “ionized water”?) Their egg noodles are supplied by Nishiyama Noodles Factory, a popular supplier for many ramen shops in Hokkaido. They are committed to sourcing pork locally, using fresh (not frozen) pork known as “golden pig.”

Ippontei is most famous for their black shoyu (soy sauce) ramen (黒醬油ラーメン). You can also order their red ramen, which is essentially the black ramen with extra shio (salt).

See lah, see lah. Didn’t do research. We didn’t know what their specialty was and we couldn’t communicate. So four of us ordered two spicy miso ramen and two shio ramen and two plates of gyoza. When the ramen came, there was no egg. We realized, after listening to Japanese patrons order, that we had to say “shio tamago ramen.” In any case, we added 2 eggs. You should probably add char siew since the original bowl has only a slice or none.

The best thing here is the gyoza, which is a sad thing to say about a ramen shop. The gyoza is well seasoned, has thin skin, and is crisp.

But similar compliments can’t be paid to the ramen. The noodles aren’t spring, aren’t eggy, aren’t thick enough to give a good mouthfeel; I felt like I was eating instant noodles.

The shio broth is not too bad. But I think it should be called a stock, not broth. It’s not dense enough to be called broth. The stock tastes subtle, which is ok. But the spicy miso broth is not thick enough although it is indeed fiery.

You don’t have to go all the way out to try this ramen but if you’re touring Lake Toya like we did, this is an acceptable (though not ideal) option for lunch. It’s inexpensive: we paid about 4500¥ (S$ 60) for 4 people. Might be slightly more. I forgot the exact price.

MENU


Ramen Shingetsu ラーメン 信月
1F, N Grande Bldg, Minami 5 jo Nishi 3 chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo
北海道札幌市中央区南5条西3丁目 N・グランデビル
tel: +81-11-533-4844
12pm-5am

Sapporo has a ramen street, which we saw some tourists taking photos of. It’s not so much as a street than a dark cyberpunk alley and if this is situated in a third world country, it would be scary to enter the street. Ramen Shingetsu is not on the street; it’s in the building adjacent to the street.

Popular among salarymen who come here after a night of drinking, Shingetsu is really a tiny food stand with bar counter seating of 10 seats. It is newly awarded Bib Gourmand in June this year.

The ramen starts from 710¥. We ordered two shio ramen and two miso ramen. Between Ippontei and Shingetsu, the latter is better. Perhaps it’s because Shingetsu cooks the broth freshly upon ordering and the aroma fills the small space, whetting appetites. Whatever it is, there are deeper flavors here than the ramen at Ippontei.

Still, I can’t get used to the spare bits of meat floating on the miso ramen; it looks like I’m eating someone’s leftovers. And the curly chijiri-men noodles are so commonplace.

I think the Michelin inspectors are duped by the ambience of the stall to give it a bib gourmand. A portable transistor radio plays old Japanese songs in the shop, giving it a nice atmosphere.

The best thing, however, is not the ambience. It’s the price. I think we paid about 3000¥ (S$ 38) for four persons. That’s really a steal in Japan.

50 Bib Gourmand ramen in Hokkaido. 2 down, 48 more to go!


You may be interested in…
Oyado Kiyomizuya 御やど清水屋, Noboribetsu Hokkaido: Onsen Ryokan at Hell Valley (And the Best Kaiseki Ever)
How to Engage Geisha Services In Tokyo: My Experience with a Geisha
Sushi Dai VS Sushi Daiwa at Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo: Which Is Better?
Tokyo Itinerary Part I: Accommodation, Getting Around & Shinjuku


Written by A. Nathanael Ho.

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