Next on our itinerary was Asahiyama Zoo, which is one of the most famous zoo in Japan. Unfortunately, we were unable to see many animals as some of them were not available during the winter. Yes I can totally understand. I cannot imagine a tropical animal like orang utan walking around naked in the icy Hokkaido winter. Even for me, who is used to the bitter cold from Switzerland to South Korea, Hokkaido’s winter is totally in its own league. Although the sun rays are pretty strong, the temperature in some parts of Hokkaido is way colder than that you will feel at the top of Mt Fuji, or the Alps in Switzerland. I was not disappointed because I managed to catch glimpses of Harry Potter’s white owl, Hedwig, werewolves, no I mean wolves, polar bears and many more animals from the Northern Hemisphere.
After that, we travelled to White Isle Snowmobile Park, which is still in Asahikawa, to have a ride around the hills on a snowmobile. This was the most amazing experience of my life. When we arrived at the top of the gentle-sloping hills, I could hear nothing but the engines from all of our mobiles. When we switched off the engines, the silence was so deafening I got a huge shock of my life. Not even the sound of wind. It was snowing, yet I could hear nothing. I was overwhelmed by the whole experience, and the scenic beauty was so surreal, it had to be captured on my lens. With a cup of hot chocolate prepared by the kind Japanese guides, we sat in the soft and fluffy snow and watched the sunset, as darkness fell across the land.
The next day was the coldest day we experienced in Hokkaido, and visiting Sounkyo Gorge seemed really pointless since it is a waterfall in Asahikawa, and obviously during winter there is no water falling from the top, with temperatures hovering around -14C. But to our surprise, there were still some water, and we managed to get good pictures from that beautiful scenery. We left the site with seriously frost-bitten noses, ears and hands.
Then, we proceeded to the Snow Park, which was at Kiroro Ski Resort. Honestly, I was not surprised when the entire ski resort was almost empty. Either we were very early that day, or it was definitely because of the huge decline in the number of tourists in Japan following the disaster of March 11 2011. It was even more heartbreaking to see the Japanese behind the counters with the ever-ready smiles and services even though they had to explain rules and regulations to only a few tourists around. Even Japanese were missing in action at the ski resort. Well, it might have been a blessing in disguise though, as we had the entire slopes to ourselves, and we almost called that slope the Singaporean Slope. There was surprisingly quite a sizeable number of Singaporeans touring around Hokkaido at that time. Weeeeeeeee.
Cousins taking a photo together while having fun in the snow.
In the evening, after a tiring day of travelling, we were treated to a wonderful traditional Japanese spread of sashimi, Hokkaido crab, and steamboat filled with Hokkaido vegetables and mushrooms. Yum. After that, my cousins and I went for a dip in the hot spring, which is located right in our resort hotel in the middle of the mountains of Asahikawa. The hot spring was located in the open, and the few seconds of walking naked in the freezing cold into the hot spring was torturous, but once we dipped into the hot spring, it was heavenly. But FREAKING HOT. I thought I was boiling in a hotpot. After about 15 minutes, I really had to get out as my skin started turning red. If I stayed any longer I was almost certain I was going to be boiled alive. This marked the last day in the wilderness. The next day we travelled to the capital of Hokkaido, Sapporo, to get the feel of life in the 3rd largest city in Japan.