Hokkaido Day 3: Daisetsuzan National Park & Sounkyo Onsen
As we drove out of Otaru, we regretted not having had more time in the town. (Although maybe Alex was secretly glad — Otaru is known for its blown glass and for its music boxes… It would have been neat to make something out of glass at one of the workshops, but Mom would have wanted to visit the trinket shops.)
We stopped by the city of Asahikawa (second largest in Hokkaido) for lunch, at a ramen shop called Santoka Asahikawa (#4 of over 1,400 restaurants reviewed on TripAdvisor). Alex and I tried the original ramen as well as the miso ramen (poor Mom ate a rice/salad bowl since the soup is pork based, I think). Both were very good, although I’m not a huge fan of ramen (the noodles are really good but the soup is somehow salty AND bland at the same time). We saw other people getting little white rolls, which I had assumed were wet towels, but were actually rolls of rice. (I don’t understand how the Japanese can be so small, but eat so many carbs — a big bowl of noodles, plus plain rice?!)
After lunch, we got coffee at the Starbucks nearby (the lavender tea latte was pretty good!) and went to the grocery store to get yogurt and bananas for Baby M. (Tip for people traveling with a baby in Japan: try to bring as much food as you can. You won’t find baby food, or diapers, at the ubiquitous 7-Elevens. So unless you have a car and can find a grocery store, you’re sort of out of luck.)
Daisetsuzan National Park is the biggest national park in Hokkaido. Daisetsuzan means “big snow mountain” but it actually contains many mountains, with 16 peaks that are over 2 km high. There are several access points and hot spring resort towns (onsen), but we chose Sounkyo Onsen (to the north) because it was on the way to our next destination (Shiretoko Peninsula).
We stopped to take pictures in front of two famous waterfalls (Ginga no Taki and Ryusei no Taki, collectively known as Meotodaki — “husband and wife”). You can view the waterfalls from the parking lot, but behind the gift shop, there are steps that take you higher for a better view. Summer is bear season in Hokkaido, so there was a sign at the bottom of the stairs saying to “watch out” for bears. Since we weren’t carrying bear spray and bear bells (these are real things!), we headed to Sounkyo Ropeway to take the cablecar up Mount Kurodake.
Mount Kurodake isn’t the tallest peak in Hokkaido (neighboring Mount Asahidake holds the title), but the view from the 5th station (where the cablecar lets off, halfway up the mountain) was beautiful anyway. We walked around (there are paths through the forest) and saw the chairlifts leading up to the 7th station (separate ticket). You can hike to the summit, as well as between the two peaks. (We chose to take the ropeway down.) The view from the 5th station was nice (lots of snow visible on nearby mountain peaks) — even though the conditions posted next to the ticket window at the base of the mountain said the visibility wasn’t good.
Our hotel in Sounkyo (Sounkyo Kanko Hotel) was gigantic. It definitely catered to large tour groups (several tour buses parked outside). Since there were so many people, the buffet dinner was staggered in shifts. Our vouchers were for a 5:30 PM dinner (fine by us!), so as soon as we checked in (our first truly Japanese style room — tatami mats on the floor and thin ‘mattresses’ to sleep on), we headed to dinner. The most popular item at the buffet was the king crab leg, but Alex and I both only halfheartedly picked at one (each). (People at other tables had plates piled high… I guess we aren’t that Asian. Although I could hear my dad’s voice instructing me, “Don’t fill up on the cheap stuff! You have to get your money’s worth!” Well, I ate a lot of sashimi.)
After we put Baby M to bed, Alex and I walked to ‘town.’ Almost all of the shops were closed (by 8 PM), so we headed back to the hotel. We again took turns going to the onsen. The hotel had gender-separate indoor onsen, but a co-ed outdoor onsen. We could not figure out how that was going to work, but luckily, the hotel provided drab brown ‘bathing attire’ for the outdoor onsen. Alex and I hung out together in the open-air onsen for a few minutes (one of the perks of co-ed!). The water smelled strongly of sulfur and was extremely hot. We could hear the rush of the river behind us — I imagine the view would have been nice in the daytime!
The next morning, we went to the breakfast buffet (no crab legs this time). We went at 7 AM, but we really wished breakfast would have started earlier… Sunrise in Hokkaido is around 3:30 AM in the summer, so it was fully bright by 5 AM (Baby M’s alarm clock), so I’d sit around hungry until 7! We then packed up and drove east to Shiretoko.
Summary of our Hokkaido self drive: Whirlwind Tour around Hokkaido
Ginga no Taki MapCode: 623 177 613
Daisetsuzan National Park: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6775.html
Sounkyo Onsen: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6777.html
Sounkyo Kanko Hotel: We didn’t see any English on the signs outside, but we matched the picture on TripAdvisor to find it. It’s situated on a hill, so the back entrance and overflow parking lot is on a lower level, but the front entrance (and where you checkin) is further up (closer to town).
Wifi only available in the lobby. (Luckily we had our pocket wifi with us.)
Note: When we booked through hotels.com, we weren’t given the choice to opt in/out for the breakfast and dinner buffet. The hotel room was pricey, but when we checked in, we were informed that the buffets were actually included in the price we paid. In fact, there were no prices listed for the buffet, so I’m thinking you don’t get the choice to “opt out” and pay for room only.
Kurodake Ropeway: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6783.html
Roundtrip adult ticket: 1,950 yen; Roundtrip child ticket: 1,000 yen. If you have a Hokkaido Road Map (Honda rental car gave us this booklet), you can get 150 yen off each ticket.
MapCode: 623 204 513*27
Mt. Asahidake Ropeway (although we didn’t go here) MapCode: 796 861 037*83