Heading North: Tokyo to Hokkaido by train

trains are my preferred way of traveling in Japan. Almost all of Japan can be accessed by rail. most of my train travels in Japan though were southward. I don’t know why we never bothered going north until summer of last year. with most of my company paid holidays used up, I didn’t have enough holidays left for a trip abroad. we have been to the south of Japan a few times too many. so instead, we have finally decided to give the north a try. and what better way to do this than ‘railing’ it all the way up. yes Tokyo to Hokkaido by train! As we had only 5 days to do this, we limited the places we intended to visit. Hokkaido is famous for the flower farms during summer so we made sure to visit one during our trip.

did i mention how much I love train rides? I love how exciting the first few hours are. At the start of the trip, people are giddily crafting an image of how the trip would go. I also love how each hour that passes carefully strips you of that happily crafted image. The last few hours of a long train ride brings out the cray-cray in all of us. that’s when it gets real exciting. it’s like watching those reality tv shows played out in front of you. people get cranky, some get super agitated. minutes inside the train turn into grueling eons. and that’s when we resort to the good ol’ word games which could turn people into competitive lying monsters. Countries are made, songs are composed, movie titles are pulled out of people’s asses.

6 competitive friends + lots of hours inside trains and you’ve got yourself an awesome trip!

Here’s what my friend R had to say about the said trip.

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A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step… followed by sleeping on a train to Niigata.

It was my last summer in Japan. I wanted to escape the Tokyo heat, the incessant shrieking of cicadas and the smell of sweat-moisturized skin of sun-baked people. With 5 days of consecutive holidays, we decided to head north to Hokkaido to witness the magnificent polar bears of Asahikawa zoo. Okay, so the flowers are great too that time of the year…

We availed the Tohoku-Hokkaido rail pass for roughly 10k¥ because we were on a budget (read: cheap). With that pass, we can take all ordinary trains (and some rapid trains) for 7 days without having to pay extra. After days of research, a couple of mishaps and necessary ticket/hotel preparations, we were set for our 5-day vacation.

Our first night was spent on a train bound for Niigata (moonlight echigo night train)*. It felt like I was on platform 9 3/4 and I was waiting for the train to Hogwarts, which probably doesn’t make sense because Hogwarts Express is not a night train (or is it?!). Anyway, we spent the next 24 hours, hopping from one train to another, playing naming games. It was fun. It would have been more fun if I’d won even once. Around 7pm, we arrived at our first destination, Hirosaki. Where? I know.

Moonlight Echigo

Well, we planned on staying in Aomori prefecture for a night before heading to Hokkaido to take a break from all the train rides. We chose Hirosaki because they have a castle. And castles can’t be bad, right?

Hirosaki castle

So the next morning, we went to the park, looked at the castle from afar, had shrimp fry for lunch and visited some ninja dojo. Actually, I’m not so sure about the ninja dojo, but I’ll leave it like that because I think it sounds cool.

My friend, Moko the ninja dog

We then went to Aomori to catch our night train to Sapporo. Interesting fact about this train, it goes through the longest underwater tunnel. Cue third-world excitement. I wanted to take a picture when the train is in the tunnel so when the photo shows up on my phone’s photo locations, the pin is going to be on top of the water. Unfortunately, I forgot all about my great plan when I got caught up watching Bridesmaids on my phone.

We arrived at Sapporo around 5am and had to wait in the train station for about an hour for our next train. T maximized the situation by sleeping. We maximized the situation by hiding and waiting for T to wake up. We spent minutes laughing at possible scenarios. T woke up, looked around, and found us. FUN.

Next on our schedule was our ultimate destination: Asahikawa Zoo, home of the polar bears. We arrived at the surprisingly modern Asahikawa station around noon, decided to leave our bags in the station lockers and headed straight to the zoo.

ZOO TIME!

polar bears!

Interesting facts about polar bears:

1. They are the biggest bears

2. They don’t drink water

3. They are the best. Also, dogs and lions.

After days of average food and one bad service (Fish or Meat, but that’s another story), we decided to look for a nice place to have dinner. Our requirements include meat and well, meat… lots of it. We stumbled upon this place called Morrow’s.

worst resto in Japan: Fish or Meat in front of Aomori station.
the best eat in asahikawa!

We were not disappointed.

The next morning, we’re ready for some flower power. We took the flower train (not the train’s real name), which is only available during summer to bring tourists to different flower farms. It was an open-air, spacious, free-seating train with tables.

inside the flower train

Colors hurt my eyes

Before starting our almost 24 hour trip back to Tokyo, we ate the best ramen… Bar none. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the place.

Now that I’ve written what happened on that trip, I realized that the details were kind of mediocre. Nothing on the superlative. I do, however, feel that it was one of the most fun trips I had in Japan. I guess, when you are in a good company, it doesn’t really matter how fancy your hotel is, how delicious your food is, how great the weather is.. Great friends make great travel experiences.

photobombed

Note:

* the moonlight echigo requires reservation one month prior to departure

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I’ve been busy with the whole moving back home that updates were completely forgotten. I have a few posts waiting to be published. I will try to publish a few more before i leave for the BIG one- my awesomest adventure yet.

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