Hokkaido Day 1: CTS Airport to Lake Toya
Traveling days are always challenging, especially because it takes us so long to get out the door and on the airport bus to Incheon. We usually leave our apartment four hours (!!) before a flight, so we had a very early morning.
We met my mom at CTS airport in Sapporo, went to the post office at the airport to pick up our ETC card and pocket wifi (details in “tips” below), and then proceeded to the Honda rental car. After we figured out how to switch the GPS to English and how to work the carseat, we were off to Lake Toya. It was a very rainy day, so we couldn’t see very much along the way. When we arrived at the town of Lake Toya, we were surprised to see a lot of people dressed up in… interesting clothing (and wigs). Mom asked if it was Halloween! Turns out, there was a costume role play (“cosplay”) and parade the next day (we even saw some costumed people checking in and also in the buffet line)!
Our hotel at Lake Toya was definitely a (huge) splurge. The Lake View Toya Nonokaze Resort was highly recommended by various blogs as well as TripAdvisor. It’s right on the lake, and all rooms have a lake view. A fancy dinner (tons of quality sashimi!) and breakfast (I may have over-indulged in the fresh croissants) buffet were included, and it had the largest (and best) onsen (Japanese hot spring baths) of our trip. There were supposed to be fireworks over the lake (every night) — Mom and I were really excited… yes, Chinese people love fireworks — but it was canceled due to bad weather (very windy and rainy).
After dinner and putting Baby M to bed, Alex and I went for a walk along the lake (one of the many perks of traveling with grandma!). The information sign for Lake Toya said that it was a volcanic caldera lake, and that it is Japan’s northern-most lake that does not ice over in the winter! We ran into more cosplay people at the local 7-Eleven (buying some Japanese whisky) before heading back to the hotel.
The three of us took turns going to the onsen. Onsens are gender segregated and you have to go naked. (I asked my Japanese friend to call the hotel to confirm that we didn’t need to pack bathing suits… and she had a good laugh about my “very American” question!) The Nonokaze has an onsen on the 2nd floor (average, just one tub) and a huge one on the 9th floor (multiple pools — including a lemon soak, a wet and dry sauna, which I swear cured my cold, and an open-air infinity hot spring bath). The public baths are open except for two hours (2 AM to 4 AM, I think), when they are cleaned and then the men’s and women’s baths switch sides (the layout is slightly different). There were instructions posted in our room on how to use the onsen. I wish I had taken a picture of it because it was very funny. Something like “Don’t roll your body in big towel. Don’t wrap hair inside big towel. This only happens to people in Hollywood.”
Alex used the open-air onsen that night (in the rain). I decided to try it in the morning (beautiful view of Nakajima island — in the middle of the lake, sunshine, and cool air blowing on my face). Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any pictures of the view (cameras/phones aren’t allowed in any onsen).
While I’m still cringing at the price we paid for the Nonokaze resort, it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The only thing that would have made it better would have been fireworks. (Yes, I’m still disappointed!)
Summary of our Hokkaido self drive: Whirlwind Tour around Hokkaido
- Get an English GPS
- Leave your own carseat at home and rent one (it was an option with Honda)
- Rent an ETC (electronic toll collection) card so that you don’t have to deal with paying for tolls with cash. Most rental cars have card readers installed. Looking at our receipt, we paid 2600 yen for just the rental (which does seem kind of expensive) but I found this Japan Experience website that rents for only 350 yen!
(Do note that tolls in Japan are really expensive… for example, we paid 2100 yen, ~21 USD, for less than an hour drive!)
- Not necessarily a driving tip… but rent a pocket wifi (mobile wifi) so that you will always have access to the internet. We rented ours from ToCoo, along with our rental car and ETC card. http://www2.tocoo.jp/en
- And the most important tip? MapCodes!! Japan seems to be all about MapCodes – these are six to 10 digit numbers that pinpoint a location. If you don’t have a destination’s MapCode, it makes it much harder to find. In fact, our GPS could only find a destination by telephone # (which was a little hard for us… couldn’t figure out which part of the # was not required — country code, etc.) or MapCode. Luckily, Honda Rental gave us a booklet with some MapCodes of popular destinations, and we googled the rest (again, it was nice having internet all the time!).
Almost all onsens have a sign saying anyone with tattoos can’t enter. Alex and I had to look this one up… Tattoos are usually a sign that you’re a gang member (in Japan).
Onsen etiquette: http://www.onsenjapan.net/onsenbasics.php