3 Oct 2014
having my company’s corporate event at Shanghai Dollies before rushing back to pick up our luggages for a 1am flight. I was probably 50% drunk when we were on the plane, and this was my first time being intoxicated on a flight. It was rather fun 🙂
Our flight with SQ departed Singapore for a 7+ hours flight towards Nagoya and we landed in Chubu International Airport around 9am Japan time. We had a good 3 hours to stroll around the Nagoya airport before boarding our domestic ANA flight to Asahikawa Airport. Nagoya Chubu International Airport was where we started our first ramen (with many others to come) in Japan. The ordering concept is rather unique. We had to choose our orders at a vending machine and were issued with tickets for the chef to prepare our noodles. The ramen was decent but not overly fantastic. Each bowl of ramen cost around ¥800 (SGD9.40), which is the usual price in Japan but it only came with 1 piece of chashu. If you are not in the airport, the same price in other ramen shops would probably have gotten at least 3 pieces of chashu.
I stayed up the flight from Singapore to watch X Men : Days of Future Past, and the fatigue made me slept through the domestic flight to Asahikawa. From Asahikawa Airport, we took a bus (¥620 each) to Asahikawa Station. Being first time, we were unfamiliar with their transport system. There is a vending machine near the exit of Asahikawa Airport (it is a rather small airport and you will hardly miss this) which sell the bus tickets. There were around 10 people that boarded the bus but we were the only 2 that purchased tickets off that machine. We later learnt that you could have just pay the amount when you are alighting. The schedule for these buses are always about 15 minutes after each flight touch down, so it can be pretty tight if you are picking up luggage, going to the toilet, picking up maps, and still trying to figure out the ticket machine. It is safer to board the bus asap as the intervals can be more than an hour apart.
The walk from the Asahikawa Station to our hotel (Asahikawa Grand Hotel) was pretty quiet and we did not see many people or traffic. We felt that there wasn’t much shops or interesting things to do at that time. It started to rain when we left our hotel and the hotel staff was nice to lend us 2 umbrellas. The first thing that shocked us was the sun setting around 5pm. Given the late arrival, there wasn’t much to do except for a nice dinner. Having read reviews of the Asahikawa Ramen Village, that became our first checkpoint for Hokkaido. We boarded a train towards the the Minami Nagayawa Station and the sky was total darkness when we alighted at 5.30pm.
Unlike Asahikawa Station, the Minami Nagayawa Station was just a one track station with a small shelter as the “station”. I was shocked to see a 1 track station and my immediate reaction was to look for the station that has an opposite track. There was none in site. I took out my iPad and from Goggle Map, I verified our location and confirmed that there is only one station by the name of Minami Nagayawa Station. There was no other station in sight and I started to panic. All these while thinking that trains only travel in one direction and the track we took would be heading further away from Asahikawa Station.
Feeling lost, I checked with a Japanese lady who helped to confirm that last train heading back to Asahikawa Station was 7.45pm. I was asking how could I get back when it is a 1 track station but we could not really communicate in English vs Japanese. I had learnt basic Japanese years back but it was too limited to conduct a decent conversation. After awhile I got the sense that this is the station and the only 1 track would serve trains moving from both directions (was finding it hard to believe). While not too certain if we were correct about the station and having fear that we would be strangled if we missed the last train, we decided to take the leap of faith and walked towards the Ramen Village. We found the Ramen Village after a 15 minutes walk in the rain.
By looking at the photos, we could not really tell which is the best among the 8. I read from reviews that each has its own unique taste and and we eventually went into one that had quite a bit of customers, thinking that it must be good if the locals chose to dine there. During the meal, we realised that those customers were a bunch of family from China (which makes them tourists rather than locals), which render my concept of choosing the shop with the most amount of customers useless. The noodles tasted normal but their chashu was rather good. I also ordered Goyza but it was not as crispy or tasty as our Singapore version. This simple dinner cost ¥1,850 (SGD21.70). It was our first day in Japan so having ramen for both lunch and dinner was still pretty satisfying (it was only later that we gotten sick of ramen).
There were some department stores around and we went to Uniqlo where I purchased a sweater. We wanted to check out their Toys R Us but decided not to risk missing the last train. Indeed, at exactly 7.45pm, a train coming from the opposite direction picked us up and we were transported back to Asahikawa Station. We now know that this world has train station that operates like this, and felt pretty much like “mountain tortises”.
Amber’s boots cracked and the sole split when we were walking back to the hotel. It was really funny as she had to step higher in order to land on full sole. She seemed to be marching with a single leg. Due to this mishap I had to tweak tomorrow’s itinerary as she needed to get a new pair of footwear. The initial itinerary was to be collect our rental car at 8am and head straight to Sounkyo Gorge, follow up Mt Asahidake. These 2 destinations requires 4 hours of driving and would have taken up the whole of tomorrow. The problem was the departmental stores only open after 9.30am, and that delay would render it rather impossible to execute the initial itinerary. Left with no choice, I made some plans to push Mt Asahidake into Day 3. One of the good thing about free and easy travel, is the freedom to make changes if need be.
We got a mini cake from the bakery to celebrate our wedding anniversary (4 Oct), and officially started our first day of Japanese junk food (tibits).
I was determined to end the first night only after trying a Japanese Onsen. Some hotels provide it for free but for Asahikawa Grand Hotel, it costs ¥1,000 (SGD11.70). While I had done some research before the trip and do know that the Onsen for different gender is separate, I was caught by surprise when an old lady greeted me in the changing room. She did a quick tour to show me the lockers, the pools, and the lounge. The locker room is where one is supposed to undress and it was the same room that she was walking around. For a moment I kept thinking if I was suppose to undress in the pool area but it really did not make much sense to me. Feeling puzzled, I checked with her a few times but the language barrier made it difficult to understand each other. Unfortunately there wasn’t any other male patrons to demonstrate how it was done. Still trying to figure out where to undress, I saw another lady walked into the pool area where naked men were. It was then that I realised it was alright for these female staffs to be around. While it was weird for me but the rest of the male patrons did not seemed to be bothered with these ladies. They seems oblivious to one another. However the female customers have their own section and males are not allowed to be in. I wasted no time in enjoying the various pools (with varying temperature) even though this Onsen is similar to a typical Singapore Spa. I ended the night looking forward to those Japanese Onsen that are filled with minerals water.