Last stop: Tokachi (6/6)

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Greetings. This is Nazrul from the Hokkaido Government Representative Office.

Map route (map source: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism)

It had come down to my last leg of the whole journey, where I needed to head west from Kushiro all the way back to New Chitose Airport for my flight back home. My last leg would bring me to the region of Tokachi, which is famous for producing high-quality wagyu (Japanese premium beef) and dairy products thanks to its vast pastures, clean water and pristine air.

But before making my way there, my first task was to catch the early sunrise at Lake Akan, followed by a cruise across the lake. To my surprise, my morning was greeted with an unimaginably thick fog that enveloped the entire lake and shrouding Mount Oakan completely out of sight. It was quite a sight to behold – not to mention eerie – and because of the fog, I decided that the cruise would be pointless since I wouldn’t be able to see anything and enjoy the experience.

Lake Akan covered in fog at around 5:15 AM
Mount Oakan was rendered completely invisible

Though I was disappointed by the unforeseen circumstances, the fog gradually dissipated after sunrise and the sky opened up eventually. The sheer difference was rather amazing to witness, and the scenery transformed in a span of less than two hours.

Fog began to dissipate by around 7:00 AM
Mount Oakan slowly appeared in the background
By 8:00 AM, the sky was completely clear and Mount Oakan came into full view

I was awake very early that morning – around 5:00 AM to be exact – and since my bus back to Kushiro would leave only at 10:00 AM, I decided to have a stroll around the lake. From there I made a serendipitous discovery about the town: it’s full of cats. A whole community of cats reside around Lake Akan!

Feline siblings by the lake
Sleepy cat
Some of the cats were apparently not used to strangers

I also went to take one last look at Ainu Kotan, and I was surprised by how different the atmosphere is compared to nightfall. It was a very lazy weekend morning, so it was completely peaceful and quiet. It was very novel to me to have such an experience.

Last look at the main entrance to Ainu Kotan

I reached JR Kushiro train station after a two-hour bus ride from Lake Akan, after which I have to take a limited express train to my next stop, Obihiro. I’ve neither been to Obihiro nor Tokachi region personally, and I finally got to do so and see it for myself. Needless to say, I was looking forward to the food, since most of Hokkaido’s best meats and dairy products were produced in this region.

JR Kushiro train station

I was told that a must-visit place in Obihiro is the Ban’ei Horse Racing tracks. Located in the center of the city and a 15-minute taxi ride away from JR Obihiro train station, this horse race is said to be unlike any other and is available only here. The race involves race horses pulling sleds up two slopes measuring two hundred meters, and winning the race requires the syncing of horse’s sheer power and stamina, and the jockey’s judgment in pacing the horse.

Entrance to Ban’ei Horse Racing tracks (with Silver Spoon advertising board; entrance fee: JPY 100 per adult)
Horses warming up before the race
Climbing up the slope requires strength and endurance, and this race is part of Obihiro’s history and culture

Apart from Obihiro, the other place I wanted to explore was Tokachigawa Onsen. Located east of JR Obihiro station and a 30-minute bus ride away, this hot spring resort is a popular retreat for visitors both local and foreign, and lies on the other side of the Tokachi River.

Accommodation of the night, and final one for my whole journey: Hotel Tetora Resort Tokachigawa

I woke up early yet again to explore the hot spring resort first thing in the morning. Being on a weekend morning, it was as quiet and serene as I had expected, and it’s always a pleasure to go on a long stroll on a cool morning without any noise or distraction around me.

My last morning in Hokkaido
Directory pointing the way towards various hotels in Tokachigawa Onsen

I was told to check out Garden Spa Tokachigawa Onsen situated approximately a kilometer away from my hotel. Opened in December 2016, this new complex features restaurants, bakeries and even a mixed public spa that both men and women can share (swim-wears and towels available for rent). The water at the spa is pure natural spring water, and visitors who want to experience a hot spring bath without staying at a hot spring resort, can do so here. There’s also a foot bath right behind the spa!

Garden Spa Tokachigawa Onsen (opening hours: 09:00 – 21:00, depending on season)
A piece of history at the back of the spa

Before making my way back to the hotel, I found a few interesting places in the area. One of them is the Tokachigaoka Park, a spacious open park that overlooks the entire Tokachigawa Onsen region, and features a giant flower clock. Since the surrounding terrain was relatively flat, a small elevation enabled me to have a panoramic view of the entire place.

Tokachigaoka Park (free entry)
Giant flower clock

It’s also useful to know that there’s a tourist information office right in the heart of Tokachigawa Onsen. Here visitors can get information on recommended activities around the area, as well as rent bicycles.

Tourist information office at Tokachigawa Onsen

My last discovery was the Tokachi-chuo Bridge, an imposing structural marvel that stretches over the Tokachi River. This bridge serves as the gateway between Obihiro city center and Tokachigawa Onsen, and is perhaps the pride and joy of the whole city. I felt a bit sentimental coming here, since it was a perfect way for me to end my long journey across Hokkaido, from the deep south all the way to the far east.

Tokachi-chuo Bridge

After a thirty-minute taxi ride from my hotel to JR Obihiro station, I realized that I still have barely an hour before my train leaves for New Chitose Airport. It came to my attention that I could not leave Tokachi without trying their specialty buta-don, a hearty bowl of rice topped with succulent meats that are char-grilled to perfection. After scanning through food reviews online, I learned that Buta-don PANCHŌ is a local favorite for this dish. Unfortunately, the bee line awaiting outside the store even before the opening hours meant that I would never make it in time for my train. That made me go for the second best option: Buta-hage Obihiro’s main branch, right inside JR Obihiro station.

Buta-don at Buta-hage (JPY 1,340)

During my two-hour ride onboard the Super Ozora limited express train en route to the airport, I reflected on my business trip, my fourth since joining the Hokkaido Government Representative Office back in January 2016. It was an arduous journey that spanned over 600 kilometers across Hokkaido, involving 2 two-hour bus rides and 2 regional domestic flights.

As I’ve told all my walk-in guests at my office, Hokkaido is huge and requires plenty of time to fully explore and appreciate. Many people continually travel there multiple times, including myself, and it’s easy to know why: despite traveling there several times, there’s always something new to discover and enjoy. Food, scenery and hot spring remain to be the main pulling factors of Hokkaido, and I hope that more people, first-timers or repeaters, would come and visit the region time and time again.

As I boarded my plane and flew back home to Singapore, I wondered when my next trip to Hokkaido would be. Only time will tell, and until then I will be mentally ready for my next adventure through the magical place that is Hokkaido. I hope you have all enjoyed my blog entries; if you have any questions regarding traveling around Hokkaido, be sure to write in to me or drop by my office for any queries!

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