Playing with the sand at the side of the road

Japan 2017 Redux: Day 2 "Number one in Hokkaido"

Day 2: 2017-04-29 Saturday

The day started bright and early from my base for this trip, in Nakamurabashi. Almost as soon as arriving, I’m headed for another plane, this one to the northern island of Hokkaido.

07:51 - 07:53 Seibu Ikebukuro line Nakamurabashi - Nerima

08:01 - 08:35 Oedo Line (E) towards Tocho-mae Nerima - Daimon walk to Hamamatsucho

08:44 - 08:59 Tokyo Monorail towards Haneda Hamamatsucho - Haneda Domestic T1

10:40 - 12:20 JAL 553 Tokyo Haneda - Asahikawa

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I can’t remember how I came up with this routing that included a walking transfer, but I think it was mostly due to wanting to use the Tokyo Monorail, which departs from Hamamatsucho. Hamamatsucho is on the Yamanote line, so easily accessible from the city, but Daimon station is literally right beside it anyway.

Apparently you can see Mt. Fuji between two buildings on a clear day.

I think I saw the buildings in question but it was much too hazy to actually see the mountain itself.

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If you have a choice of airports in which to arrive in to Tokyo, Haneda is absolutely the best choice. If you compare the time taken for me to get to the west of town from the airport, Haneda is the winner by a country mile. Many country miles, in fact.

Haneda domestic security easily the best airport security security experience in YEARS. Bags in baskets straight through, no faff with tiny liquid bags. Amazing.

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It reminded me of what air travel used to be like. Walking through security and not being shook down was a massively refreshing experience.

Drinks were free on the JAL flight to Asahikawa. The stewards have great English as well.

Despite seats not being available, I was offered a window / aisle seat choice.

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I was fretting about seats at the time, because I’d booked the flights in a rather non-standard way. I happen to have some Avios, which are points awarded for flights taken on British Airways and other partner airlines. One of the most efficient ways of redeeming Avios is actually on domestic flights in Japan using Japan Airlines (JAL). Reward Flights cost around 6,000 Avios each way, with taxes of around £2 each way, which is ridiculously cheap if you compare it to prices for similar distances going from the UK to continental Europe.

This article has much more information on why this is such a good proposition. For me it was amazing, as I was able to get a seat on a flight departing Tokyo around the beginning of Golden Week (the week where everyone in Japan flies home from Tokyo), only needing to book around a month and a half before the flight itself.

Miyama Pass

I can’t quite believe it now, but I decided to go exploring south of Asahikawa straight from the airport, instead of heading straight there. I had very limited time here and wanted to spend time in the countryside around Asahikawa.

12:55 - 13:23 Lavender-go Bus # 3 Asahikawa Airport Bus Stop 2 - Miyama Pass (Miyama-toge) 旭川空港 - 深山峠 It’s the stop after biei station at 13.11 640 yen

Miyama Pass location:,142.4482169,17.12z

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Miyama Pass is a kind of wide-open space in the middle of the countryside. When I got off the bus (which has the “dreaded ticket number system” for payment that I still struggle with to this day) my first thought was why the hell this road even had a stop. I think it’s just because things are so wide and open that everything feels like it’s nowhere. I described it as feeling like “the last bastion”, though quite a few tourists pass through the… Pass.

There are these giant buildings around, including a palacial structure for Biei Station - on a single-track line in the countryside, a giant Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!-style museum, which included a full Ferris wheel. I’m surprised they can run it all!

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I stopped by a cafe called Coffee&Bread えん, which was exactly the kind of place I wanted to be in. Rustic, pokey, and natural, with a heater in the corner, and with a nice ham and egg sandwich set on the menu and great coffee.

The interior of Coffee&Bread en
The interior of Coffee&Bread en

From here I went on a bit of a trek, going down the pass and crossing over the Furano Line, then back up the hill to Shikisai no Oka. This was not a walk I found in a guidebook, and it showed. The road was relatively quiet, but it had no footpaths, and winding uphill roads with cars coming the other way was perhaps not as picturesque as the photos make it out.

Shikisai-no-oka (2.9 km walk) 展望花畑 四季彩の丘,142.4542079,15.1z

9: 00 ~ 17: 00 (Alpaca ranch and restaurant until 16: 30)

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Shikisai no Oka had some lovely flowers in rolling fields, and a bustling alpaca farm! The time of year meant that not too much was in bloom, but the flowers were still nice. The alpacas were quite pungent, but otherwise quite docile.

A baby alpaca sitting down on the floor, eyes closed
The little guy, just chilling

If we all could be as chill as this little guy, we’d have fewer problems.

Another short walk to the nearest station on the Furano Line, to Bibaushi. This is one of those rural stations that is so desolate it makes you wonder if there even is a train coming at all.

The signboard at Bibaushi Station
Bibaushi Station

It was time to head into Asahikawa. This train also used the dreaded zonal ticketing system, which confused me a lot. You’re supposed to pull a ticket from the machine inside the train when you get on.

There’s a machine inside the train to pay, but the driver was off like a shot at the end of the journey. Just when I thought I’d gotten away with it, the fare adjustment window at Asahikawa Station took the ticket and charged the correct amount.


Dormy Inn Asahikawa Natural Hot Spring ドーミーイン旭川,142.3577083,17z

There’s a 7-eleven opposite!

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Writing down all the important information, as usual.

Outside Asahikawa Station
Outside Asahikawa Station

I don’t think I’d realised just how large Asahikawa is as a city.

Jet lag was still an issue at this point, and sugar was needed to get through a hump at around 7pm. Luckily, we had the perfect way to alleviate that.

Donuts and coffee from Mister Donut
Strawberry donut & some amazing cream-filled cronut with half chocolate

If there was one place of business that I could magically transplant over here, it would be Mister Donut. It serves these incredible looking glazed donuts for not too much money. The ambience of the store is also quite particular—it has a radio station playing western music with an American DJ speaking English. Apparently I even “heard a new Coldplay song there I hadn’t heard before.”

It’s somewhat close to Tim Hortons or Dunkin Donuts, but I can’t overstate the quality of the donuts compared to these places. It’s fantastic.

Who are the Chainsmokers and why are they number one in Hokkaido?

My notebook

Why indeed.

I finished off the day with the hotel’s free evening ramen. They just make ramen for the hotel guests and give it to them, all-inclusive. Sprits were high finishing off the first day in Hokkaido.

Tomorrow we head up a mountain, and then accidentally go down a mountain. Until then… 👋