Playing with the sand at the side of the road

Japan 2017 Redux: Day 4 "Asahikawa Zoo"

Day 4: 2017-05-01 Monday

Today’s the day we head back to our home base in Tokyo from Asahikawa.

This was my first time in Hokkaido. The initial urge was to visit Sapporo, given that it’s the capital, but I think getting an idea about somewhere a little more inland was a nice change of pace from city life.

Our flight’s in the early afternoon, but it wouldn’t be a holiday unless we squeezed one more activity into the morning.

Let’s go to the zoo!

07:40 - 08:27 Denkikidou no. 41 / 42 / 47 08:10 - 08:54 Denkikidou no. 41 / 42 / 47 Then on the :40s and :10s Asahikawa Station Stop 6 - Asahiyama Zoo Tickets can be bought in Lawson again 440 yen

Zoo Open 8:30 - 15:30 820 yen

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Polar bear at Asahikawa Zoo
Polar bear at Asahikawa Zoo

The zoo really punches above its weight for the animals that it gets.

My notebook

It really does. And because it’s relatively compact, you feel like you can get up close and personal with many of the animals, much more so than other zoos I’ve been to.

This did make me a little uneasy though. I stood and watched the polar bear for about five minutes, and it just continually made the same circular path in its small enclosure, stopping and yelling at the sky in the same place every time. I don’t have an explanation for why it was doing this, but the frenzied pacing certainly made me think it would be happier in a larger space. But then again, I guess this is just how zoos work. Maybe it’s best not to think too hard about it.

Note to self: do not stand near a shitting hippo.

My notebook

Some schoolkids at the zoo asked me questions in English as part of a school assignment. Do I like cheese and sake? I mean, who doesn’t?

Animals duely looked at, it was time to get back to Tokyo.

12:30 - 13.14 no.41 bus Asahikawa zoo - asahikawa station

13:40 - 14:20 lavender go bus Asahikawa station - asahikawa airport 620 yen

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Each flight out of Asahikawa Airport actually has its own bus - the flight numbers are listed alongside the bus times from the station. This is useful for the vast majority of passengers who can check in online though, as the bus arrives just on the cusp of the check-in time.

Because I was using a reward flight paid for with Avios, I had the ability to see my flight details with JAL, but no possibility to check in online at all. This necessitated getting an earlier bus from a different company, then spending a little too long sitting in Asahikawa Airport.

I’m still not sure if I’d have been OK getting the regular, flight-specific bus, but I didn’t really want to take the chance getting stuck in Hokkaido and needing to negotiate my way back.

Asahikawa Airport
Asahikawa Airport

The flight back was much like the first, with nice views and free coffee, something I still find is something of a novelty on economy flights these days.

One thing I noticed on the flight back made me shudder in embarrassment about the outgoing flight. On the way to Hokkaido, the announcements on the flight were in both Japanese and English. ‘That’s nice,’ I thought. I guess this is just the way it is.

On the way back however, when I stepped on the plane one of the attendants asked me if I was OK with Japanese. In horribly broken Japanese in response, I said I was totally fine with it. Then, on the entire flight, only Japanese was spoken.

‘Oh God,’ I thought. ‘They only spoke English on the outgoing flight because they noticed me, the only westerner on the plane.’ I only had a vague idea about why they quickly asked about my proficiency in Japanese on the way in, but I totally could have been half asleep and actually answered truthfully. At least I spared the return flight crew needing to remember the English translations for their script.

To this day, I still cringe when I think that every announcement they had to make in English was because of me.

!! GRAB A DISCOUNT TICKET from the airport Tokyo Monorail ticket machine モノレール&山手線内割引きっぷ 500 yen takes you to a Yamanote line station from Hamamatsucho

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I’d forgotten about this little ticket, but it makes another saving when getting back into Tokyo from Haneda Airport.

18:24 - 18:47 Tokyo Monorail towards Hamamatsucho Haneda T1 - Hamamatsucho

18:52 - 18:56 Yamanote Line anti-clockwise towards Tokyo / Ueno Hamamatsucho - Yurakucho

19:05 - 19:46 Yurakucho Line (Y) -> Seibu-Ikebukuro Line towards Hoya Yurakucho - Nakamurabashi

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I haven’t mentioned IC cards yet, but they’re absolutely the best way to travel on any kind of public transport in most of Japan. Each operator has its own contactless card that can be topped up with money at various terminals in stations. However, even though each operator has its own card, name, and style, the vast majority of them are all interoperable with each other, even on some private rail lines. Though obviously check this locally first, as there are exceptions.

Getting one of these issued costs a little extra, but they’re valid indefinitely, as far as I can tell.

I had an old Pasmo card, issued by the Tokyo Metro, from my previous trip two years previously, and it worked flawlessly when I brought it back a second time. The next time I get back I’ll be using it again.

This does mean you can almost choose which card you want to use based on which has the best design, which is hotly contested. Though do note that it does matter who issued it if you lose it and need to somehow get it replaced.

We’re back in the greater Tokyo area tomorrow, heading to a real hotspot during Golden Week—to see some flowers!