Tastes of Asahikawa

One unusual thing that I and my colleagues did in our most recent trip to Japan is that we decided to stay in a minimally advertised destination in Hokkaido.  Instead of staying in a more popular Sapporo or Furano, we decided to stay for 2 nights in a remote place called Asahikawa. 

And since there are limited tourist spots to go to (aside from going to a mall and a zoo), I and my colleagues decided to explore Asahikawa through its food.  Our first destination was the ramen house our hotel has recommended, the Ichikura Raman. 

with the asahikawa gang just outside ichikura raman (edwin, malou, gie and dominic) 
surprisingly clear to the palate yet with a distinct flavor of a ramen

 Since Isahikawa seem to be popular with shoyu-based ramen (shoyu: Japanese soy sauce), I settled and ordered the Okhotsk Shoyu Ramen.  This ramen according to the menu is composed with unique Hokkaido ingredients like Namuro dried salmon flakes, Esashi dried herring and Rishiri kelp from Oumu.  I was really happy that Ichikura Raman was the ramen place our hotel has recommended.  And aside from their ramen, one surprising dish in this joint was their Gyoza.  It was one of the best gyozas that I have tasted!

A lot of people say that it would be a sin for a tourist in Hokkaido if he/she failed or refuse to try the Hokkaido ice cream.  This soft frozen dairy is one plain ice cream that is simply made of milk.  It has no fancy flavor, no fancy add-ons and no fancy flairs for an ice cream.  For me, its plainness makes Hokkaido ice cream remarkably exquisite and amazingly elegant. 

happy crew handing me my creamy ice cream 
savoring every moment of yummy-ness!

Then, one of the highlights of our Asahikawa stay was the dinner at Jingisukan Daikokuya.  This restaurant is the top rated local-cuisine restaurant in Asahikawa as per Tripadvisor.  It is so popular people would have to wait and queue outside before they be given a table.  Specialty of the house was Hokkaido’s grill icon called Genghis Khan (also termed Jingisukan).

Like their sophisticated ice cream, Jingisukan is a must try in Hokkaido.  It is a unique style of yakiniku in which mutton and lamb are grilled on a convex skillet shaped like an upside-down bowl.  Since the meat are grilled over charcoal, we were surprised to see and experience the amount of smoke inside the popular restaurant.  We nevertheless did not complain because the smoke actually added up to the character and atmosphere of the establishment. 

outside the resto, waiting for our turn

 

an asahikawa highlight

I personally prefer beef over lamb, but the marinated flavor and the stunning taste of the meat served to us gave me some second thought if I really do prefer beef over lamb. Genghis Khan was strikingly delicious!

Asahikawa may not be of the same level as that of Osaka, Tokyo or Sapporo where there are tons to see and marvel at.  Asahikawa nevertheless has loads of gustatory surprises that tourists can taste and talk about.

Para maiba naman!

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Farm Tomita in Furano

Last week was my second visit to the beautiful Hokkaido, the second largest island in Japan.  I never recognized this place as compared to how it looked when I was here the first time.  The beauty, appeal and character of Hokkaido is totally different during the winter season.  Since it is summer, my second visit felt like it was my first.

I personally prefer Hokkaido during the winter months.  Maybe it is because I have so much summer here in the Philippines.  It is basically like 365 days of summer in my tropical country. 

And since it is summer, I and my companions took the opportunity to visit the Farm Tomita’s lavender fields in Furano.  Try smelling the flowers in these photos…       

Ambango…

A Candle Lit Visit at Nakajima Park

Nakajima Koen is the end point subway station of my family’s recent journey from Osaka to Sapporo in Hokkaido.  After reaching this station, the remaining thing that we have to do is to drag our luggage and walk for a couple of minutes for us to reach our designated hotel.

Upon touchdown at Hokkaido, we only got to personally feel the snow with our very own hands when we got out of Nakajima Koen station.  Everyone were so excited with knowing what the actual feel of the snow is, we literally left our humongous bags and luggage right at the doorstep of the station and ran towards  the northern end of Nakajima Park which is located right above and outside Nakajima Koen station.  And since its Japan, no one (of course) stole our luggage.

The following morning when we proceeded to Nakajima Koen to ride the subway, we noticed that artisans are starting to work on their snow pieces so as to decorate, spruce up and embellish the park.

Nakajima Park is actually not part of the 3 major sites and venues of the Sapporo Snow Festival, but this park was transformed into something very dramatic to support and in a way reinforce and bolster the joys of the ongoing festival.

lighted pathway
lighted pathway
love this shot
love this shot (I dedicate this shot as well as the music of the video below to my late friend, Red, who passed away while I was in Japan)
a totally different drama at nakajima
a totally different drama at nakajima

Nakajima Park turns out to become a ‘snow-lighted park’.  Japanese call it YukiAkari.  And after long and arduous preparations, YukiAkari will only run for three nights.  Lucky for us because we were there when it opened.

Inside the park is a small tent where you can draw anything on a paper cup (for free) and this cup will be turned into a lantern.  Your personal paper cup lantern in turn will be added as part of the park’s lighted decoration.

super cool
super cool gallery of sorts…
nengkoy was here...
nengkoy was here…
erika's "mon amour" piece is also lighted
erika’s “mon amour” piece is also lighted
peaceful
peaceful

Those ice and snow lanterns are so pretty!  The pictures don’t really capture the atmosphere of the flickering candles in the snow.

Bunder’s 2014 Vimeo video actually captured some of the feel and beauty of this portion of Sapporo.  Watch it…

This has been my personal favourite among the amazing sites I saw during my family’s Sapporo adventure.

Super nays…

Tsu Dome: The Family-Oriented Site of Sapporo Snow Festival

team langit conquering tsu dome
team langit conquering tsu dome

The first Sapporo Snow Festival venue my family went to before seeing the sparkling Susukino and the magnificent Odori Park is the white snow fields of Tsu Dome.  This site is our first snow endeavour as a family.  It’s so obvious that it is our first snow adventure because as soon as we arrived at the site the first thing me and my family did was to take shelter by getting inside a heated cabin and ordered the hottest instant noodles available!

nengkoy after being thawed by a hot instant noodles...
nengkoy after being thawed by hot instant noodles…
tsu dome! fun! fun! fun!
tsu dome! fun! fun! fun!

It was the first day of the festival when we arrived at Tsu Dome.  This is evidenced because the snow artists for the site’s snow sculpture exhibits has just started with their work.

The distinctive character of Tsu Dome as compared to Susuki and Odori Park venues is that the features are family-oriented and the site is more interactive.  There’s a lot of things to do in the site that involves snow-related family activities.  The site actually fits more to the children’s liking and I have never seen so much Japanese kids in my life until that day!  It’s the Sapporo Snow Festival that should not be missed if you have kids.

young sculptors up for something...
young sculptors up for something…
thatcher in a picture perfect moment...
thatcher in a picture perfect moment…
that is sooo japanese!
that is sooo japanese!

Good thing my genius nephews and nieces considered this place as the first site to visit among the three major venues of the snow festival.  Otherwise, this site could have become a little boring if our itinerary started with the bravura of the giant snow sculptures of Odori Park.

Anyway, aside from the outdoor snow activities, there are also lots of kiddie features, events and goings-on inside the imposing dome.  Channeling the kids in us, every one of us did the snow rafting ride as towed by a snowmobile.  I, my younger sister, nephews and nieces also cracked the thrill offered by the gigantic snow slide!

awesome!
awesome! after the doing a scary water rafting in davao river, this is kid stuff for nengkoy
super fun!
super fun!
picture muna
picture muna

Tsu Dome was a nice start.  It was a pure clean fun site of the Sapporo Snow Festival.

Ang kukyut ng mga bagets! Ang sarap pisil pisilin!

Miso Ramen: The Seventh Level of Heaven

The non-negotiables when I’m travelling abroad with friends or family are the sights to see and the food to eat.  I can scrimp on room accommodations and modes of transportation but the gastronomic exploits needs to be remarkable.  Besides epicurean remarkability need not be expensive and extravagant.

That is exactly what I and my family had when we were in Hokkaido.  Since Sapporo is the birthplace of Miso Ramen, letting the humongous chance to try the authentic would simply be absurd.

That is why we had Miso Ramen not once but twice while we were there.  The enticement is just too strong that is why we tried twice which I classify as the old and the new forms.

First stop was Horyu (TakaraRyu), a Sapporo Ramen specialist operating since 1957.  Prior to going to Sapporo, we were not aware of the existence of this ramen house located right at busy street of Sapporo-Ekimae Dori.  This was actually our first meal after our smooth flight from Osaka to Hokkaido.  Everybody were so hungry we almost ended up eating inside a FamilyMart near our hotel.

so hungry i wanted to eat the facade!
so hungry i wanted to eat the facade!
clueless how prestigious the ramen house is...
clueless how prestigious the ramen house is…

But thrusting and trusting my instinct on which food establishment to dine by the mere look of the façade, I urged my family to dine in this authentic Japanese ramen house.  And by the looks, smell and taste of the special miso ramen served by Horyu (TakaraRyu), I can proudly say that my hunger instinct did not fail me that time.

enchanting!
enchanting!
wicked rice topping!
wicked rice topping!
they were actually requesting for my autograph but i was to amazed to say yes
they were actually requesting for my autograph but i was too hungry to say yes

It is surprising to note that as you enter Horyu (TakaraRyu), photos of Japanese celebrities are posted on the wall enjoying their miso ramen.  What is also surprising to know is that this restaurant has been awarded the Governor of Hokkaido Prize because of its traditional taste and old-fashioned way of preparing miso ramen.  My further research about Horyu (TakaraRyu) indicates that this ramen house is a very successful and well distinguished food establishment in Japan operating in multiple branches in 9 prefectures in Japan.  And the one we dined at (with a total of 29 seats only) was the main or premier branch were all its success started.

Another opportunity we embraced to enjoy slurping the now universal classic Miso Ramen (aka Sapporo Ramen) was on the night when we just came from adoring the sparkling ice carving exhibits at Susukino.  This time we tried the new and modern-day ramen house called Kita Ichi.  As expected, I ordered the ramen with the biggest photo on the menu called Tokusen Miso, in which my nephew translated as high-grade or Special Miso.

where magic happens!
where magic happens!
bewitching!
bewitching!
kita ichi means north one
kita ichi means north one

Kita Ichi is a new ramen house that is starting to swell and pop up like shitake mushrooms in Hokkaido. The outlet were we dined is actually not available/posted yet in Google (can’t find it!).

braving the freezer cold outside kita ichi! hahaha!
braving the freezing cold outside kita ichi! hahaha!

After clearly demolishing the bowls of Horyu (TakaraRyu) and Kita Ichi, I can profess that there really is no clear-cut difference in terms of my enjoying the delicious Sapporo Ramen.  May it have been served and prepared by an old or a new ramen house, I consider both as the 7th level of heaven…

Kesarapsarap!

The Young Susukino Vibe of the Sapporo Snow Festival

Another brilliant site among the most celebrated venues of Saporro Snow Festival is at Susukino, one of the dazzling and biggest red-light districts of Japan.

At Susukino, located at Chuo-ku in Sapporo, the festival features are not snow but ice.  It showcases various ice carvings in intricate and mind-boggling forms.  What I noticed is that these magnificent ice carving displays are entries to an ice sculpting contest.

cool sparkling tunnel
cool sparkling tunnel
frozen!
frozen!
superb pieces...
superb pieces…
i heart susukino!
erika & denden… i heart susukino!
amazed!
amazed!
cheers!
cheers!
erika's cool ride...
erika’s cool ride…

The Susukino site is totally different as compared to the gigantic snow highlights of Odori Park.  It is so evident that young Japanese folks in the area are not the usual reserved type.  They were more care-free and expressive. Maybe it’s because of the booze since glittery selection of bars, alcohols and spirits are readily accessible within the area.  The fun fab vibe and character of this site is similar to that of a huge street party spirit.

I had an undeniable fun at Susukino!

Ay hart Susukino!

Spectacular Sapporo Snow Festival at the Odori Park

Feeling, seeing and experiencing the Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido was the main reason of my family’s comeback visit to adorable Japan.  And true enough we were in Sapporo, Hokkaido during the week’s highlights of the snow festival.

breathtaking view from above!
breathtaking view from above!

Thanks to the genius talent and cleverness of my three dear nephew and nieces (Denden, Erika and Thatcher) who are all based in Osaka for arranging everything.  From domestic air travel arrangements, to accommodation as well as the well-organized itinerary for each day.  It was such a worry-free winter adventure.

The Sapporo Snow Festival as I learned during the trip has three main venues.  One of which is the Odori Park located right at the heart of Sapporo.  This is the site where spectacular and gigantic snow sculptures are aligned along the stretch of the 1.5 kilometer park.

It was my first time to see and watch an actual snowboard and ski jumping exhibitions!  It was super scary yet it was happening right in the middle of the park!

super thrill!
super thrill!
that ain't a bird!
that ain’t a bird!

Being a Filipino tourist in a foreign country, it is so remarkable and delightful to see and witness the Philippines’ participation in the festival. My family was very surprised to see the giant sculpture depicting the Manila Cathedral.  I initially could not believe that there is a Philippine entry, I was shouting “sNOw WAY!”

i was so stunned, i wanted to enter and hear mass!
i was so stunned, i wanted to enter and hear mass!
me and my dear sister feeling proud
me and my dear sister feeling proud
we love sapporo!
we love sapporo!

But because of its grandiosity, it is actually considered one of the most beautiful feature highlights at the festival and seem to be one of the most revered and photographed sculpture.  We were so proud we couldn’t stop taking its photo!

But the ultimately stunning sculpture was the almighty 50-foot tall giant snow sculpture of the Star Wars!  No doubt it was the most adored and most popular!

one happy gang!
one happy gang! (with my younger sister, niece and nephews)
wow!
wow!
may the force be with you...
may the force be with you…

It was so cool, the Death Star and three Stormtroopers were featured!  And since I adore movie villains, this giant sculpture easily became my favourite because there was no Star Wars hero present and instead the iconic yet most villainous Darth Vader snow-statue was mounted!

 

Super kool ‘di ba?!