Hokkaido Day 1 (Tomamu) (14 Feb 17) – Hello Hokkaido, Hello Tomamu

 

Our 14-day journey took us around 1200km around Hokkaido

Arrival in Hokkaido

Our maiden Japan trip was planned to take us across from East to West of Hokkaido, taking mainly the public transport during winter. The whole journey took us around 1200km across the Northern State of Japan. We were greeted by a land of white when we woke up from our overnight flight with a brief layover in Bangkok. Our plan was to visit the Doreamon Sky Park located in New Chitose Airport after we collected our luggage, however the park only opens at 10am. My friend and I headed for the JR Station located in the domestic side of New Chitose Airport and got our tickets to  our first destination in Hokkaido – Tomamu. I read that Tomamu Station does not have a ticketing counter, this was verified by the staff when we purchased our tickets to Tomamu, we took the opportunity and bought our tickets from Tomamu to Kushiro as well.

Snowy landscape of Hokkaido as we approached for landing
We were thrilled to see the snow covered New Chitose Airport and can’t wait to get out to play with the snow

As we still have some time to spare before our scheduled train departs, my friend and I decided to get Bentos to be eaten during onboard the train. The shopping arcade in the airport looks more like a shopping mall than an airport. We whizzed through the maze of shops selling practically everything, from souvenirs to biscuits to bentos. They even have a live seafood section here! We got our bentos  from a store manned by an elderly lady. Despite speaking very little English, that does not stop her from providing the excellent service that the Japanese are known for.

Ticketing at New Chitose JR Station
My Friend and I at the New Chitose JR Station
Shops in New Chitose Airport selling all sorts of stuff
Seafood on sale in New Chitose Airport
More food in the shopping arcade in New Chitose Airport
Bentos!

JR Ride to Tomamu – Our First Stop in Hokkaido

The JR ride from New Chitose Airport to Tomamu Station takes around 2 hours with a change of train at Minami Chitose Station, just a stop away from the Airport Station. We started to chow on the bentos that we bought after the change in train. The bentos are very fresh and delicious, a very good start for our journey in Hokkaido. The 2-hour train ride seem to pass quickly, most of the time I was looking out the window at the snowy landscape of the vast land in Hokkaido. There isn’t much build up area where the train zipped through. Arriving at Tomamu Station, hordes of visitors to the resort started to crowd around an elderly gentlemen, it is not hard to miss the porter whom would transport our luggages to the resort, at the same time guiding visitors to the free shuttle buses that would bring us to the resort. Shuttle buses to the resorts are timed according to the arrival and departure of JR trains that stopped by Tomamu Station, a very well planned and easy access to the resort. The bus ride took around 5 mins.

Our tickets to from New Chitose to Tomamu Station
The train that would take us to Tomamu
Inside the Green Car of the JR
On our way to Tomamu
My friend bought the pork bento. The pork was tender 
I opted for the salmon bento
Nearing Tomamu Station
We arrived at Tomamu Station after 2 hours from New Chitose Airport
Tomamu Station

As we arrived at the reception ahead of the rest of the visitors whom were still looking for their luggages when we have collected ours, the queue at the check-in was relatively short (which began to form up fairly quickly after the rest of the visitors collected their luggages). Checking-in was a breeze and soon we found ourselves in the room that the hotel assigned. We were glad that we have gotten a high floor unit (32nd floor out of 35 floors), the view out of the room was stunting! We could see the ski slopes and the mountains forming the backdrop to the resort. Below the resort, there seem to be some skiing lessons going on.

Reception at the time we arrive
At the ski resort in Tomamu
View from our hotel room

Unkai Terrace and the Terrace of Frost Tree

After settling into our room, my friend and I wasted no time in heading out to the Unkai Terrace, which the room rate included the gondola tickets to the peak of Mt Tomamu. There are complementary shuttle buses running to different parts of the resort at regular intervals, which we made use quite often during our stay in the resort. Prior to my trip to Hokkaido, I read that at the top of Unkai Terrace is where the Cloud Walk is situated, exclusive to Tomamu Resort, boasting great views to the mountains and the valley in the entire Mt Tomamu region. The ride on the gondola up Unkai Terrace took around 10 mins, it was snowing as we alighted the shuttle bus and made our way to the gondola station. As the gondola ascended to the peak of Mt Tomamu, we were treated to stunting views of the mountains that form the ski resort. Rows and rows of triangular trees form the forested area, with the snowy condition, the view is out of this world. And this is just the beginning of our ascend to Unkai Terrace. As the gondola climbs towards the summit station, the views of the valley became clearer. It is at this point that I realise how big the entire Tomamu Ski Resort is.

Base Station of the gondola up Mt Tomamu
Gondola base station
The beautiful winter scenary as we ascend Mt Tomamu in the gondola
The winter landscape around Tomamu Ski Resort was amazing

Exiting the summit gondola station, immediately is the Terrace of Frost Tree. A small shop housed in a shipping container sells food and drinks to visitors was placed at the backdrop of the Terrace, where  the mountain range that surrounds the ski resort was in full view. The ski resort seem to form the heart of the mountain ranges, the view is especially tranquil when the entire area is covered with snow. One can seem to find peace looking out from the Terrace of Frost Tree up in Unkai Terrace.

Terrace of Frost Tree in Unkai Terrace
View of the ski resort from Terrace of Frost Tree
Panoramic shot from Terrace of Frost Tree
Shop selling food and drinks at Terrace of Frost Tree

After snapping some pictures, my friend and I headed out to the Cloud Walk. We were treated to stunting snowy mountains views even walking on the snowy path towards the Cloud Walk. At one point, we came across a sign that reads “Stop for awhile”. When we saw the Japanese Language on the sign, it seem to suggest that the Cloud Walk is closed. As it was snowing, we thought that the Cloud Walk was closed and decided to head back to the gondola summit station for our gondola back to the base station. We stopped by the Mina-Mina Beach, an indoor heated swimming pool within the resort grounds momentarily to see what’s inside before catching the next shuttle bus back to our room to rest.

Making our way to Cloud Walk
Even the view on the way to Cloud Walk is stunning 
Me on top of Mt Tomamu
View of the surroundings on our way to the Cloud Walk in Unkai Terrace 
Snow snow everywhere
Descending back to the Unkai Terrace gondola base station
Sneak peak of Mina-Mina Beach

Visiting the Ice Village at Night

Within the resort grounds lies the Ice Village, which is only open during winter months. After dinner, we headed for the Ice Village. Instead of catching the shuttle bus, we made our way to the Ice Village by foot through the covered walkway that linked the different hotels within the resort. The walk to the Ice Village from our hotel took around 10 mins. The entrance to the Ice Village was marked by an archway made entirely out of ice. From the archway, a one-way path took us cross a small wooden bridge and up a small slope. The village is nowhere in sight as we were walking in the snowy path up the slope. At the top of the slope, there it is. The ice village bathed in colourful lights is perched at the bottom of the slope. We were excited when we saw the ice village. As we were making our way down the slope, we came across an ice slide. It was not well marked and can be easily missed under the cloak of the night. We took the option of sliding down the ice slide instead of walking down the ice steps. The slipperiness of the slide as a result of the ice zoomed us down the slide fairly quickly. It was fun!

The ice archway marking the entrance to the Ice Village
Taking a wefie at the Ice Village signage in front of the ice archway
Walking though the snow covered pathway. The Ice Village is still nowhere to be seen
Finally saw the Ice Village on top of the slope

 

The long ice slide that we took down to the village

 

My friend sliding down the ice slide after me

The Ice Village is essentially a place where all the buildings are made of ice. Even the furniture inside these ice huts are carved out of ice. These buildings housed shops. There is an ice hut sells cocktails, where visitors can carve a glass out of ice and the bartender would pour your choice drink into the glass that one carved. There is a shop that sells flowers, frozen in ice. And another that sells desserts. At the heart of the Ice Village is the Ice Chapel. It was closed for a private wedding ceremony at the time of our visit. Beside the Ice Chapel is a single room Ice Hotel. The hotel room has a bed that is carved out of ice and a dinning table as well as couch that is made of ice. Even the chandelier in the room is made of ice. There is another door that leads to the backyard of the hotel room. Here lies 2 deck chairs made of ice and a small side table for one to relax on. I wander if anyone would even lie on these deck chairs as the climate is simply too cold to sit on these icy chairs out in the open.

Taking a wefie in the Ice Village

 

The Ice Village is made up of ice huts such as these, the external look the same, but each hut offers different things inside

 

This hut sells pastries encased in cabinets made of ice

 

These pastries look delicious

 

The interial of the single room Ice Hotel
All furniture and even the chandelier is made of ice
The sundeck chairs in the back yard of the ice hotel

As we headed back to the Ice Chapel, a staff member informed us that there will be a fireworks display starting in around 5 mins. Since it is 5 mins away, my friend and I waited for the fireworks. Soon a display of pyrotechnics lighting up the dark winter night sky from behind the Ice Chapel. Watching the fireworks rushing up the night sky, illuminating the Ice Chapel with a kaleidoscope of colours and patterns was magical. It felt like a scene in some Disney cartoon display real life in front of me. The fireworks display lasted for 15 mins. We left the Ice Village when the fireworks died down.

The Ice Chapel looks beautiful especially bathed in white and blue lights

As we were walking back, we saw a small pathways almost covered by trees. A few visitors headed into this pathway. Curious, we followed them. This pathway leads to a compound surrounded by grey concrete wall. It is the Chapel on the Water, designed by a famous architect in Japan. The Chapel was made out of simple materials like stones, woods and glass. We followed the crowd inside the Chapel, which look more like a dungeon than a place of religion. Down a spiral staircase, a large floor to ceiling glass panel formed part of the wall. Outside the glass panel lies a large Cross sitting solemnly in the snow. In other seasons, this Cross would be sitting on a pond, however during winter, the snow covered pond blended with the surroundings. The solitude Cross came across as peaceful when watching it from inside the Chapel. Inside the Chapel, a sense of zen can be felt. The tranquility was soon broken when a group of tourists from China came into the Chapel talking loudly. We were rather irritated and left the Chapel to return to our room to rest of the night. We wanted to get sufficient rest for our ski lesson tomorrow.

View of the Cross from inside the Chapel on the Water (or snow in winter)

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