Day 1 (2/2).
In the Northwest Pacific between the Sea of Okhotsk and Nemuro Strait (根室海峡) lies a pointy peninsula extending from the easternmost part of Hokkaido. Translated as “the end of the world” in native Ainu, Shiretoko Peninsula is often considered to be the last pristine wilderness of Japan. Because of the famous Oyashio Current (親潮) that brings the nutrient rich subarctic current from Alaska and Bering Sea to the east of Hokkaido, Shiretoko is blessed with magnificent biodiversity and probably one of the world’s richest fishery. Shiretoko is also the southernmost point in the Northern Hemisphere where sea ice can be formed. The peninsula is also defined by the volcanic landscape of the Shiretoko Mountain Range (知床連山), and of course the lovely onsens dotted around the peninsula, such as Utoro Onsen (ウトロ温泉), Aidomari Onsen (相泊温泉), Seseki Onsen (瀬石温泉), Rausu Onsen (羅臼温泉) and Iwaobetsu Onsen (岩尾別温泉). The special natural characteristics of Shiretoko have led to the establishment of Shiretoko National Park (知床国立公園) in 1964 and later enlisted in UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2005.
Determined to test our luck to check out the beautiful wildlife including Brown Bears, Ezo-shika Deer, Ezo Red Fox, Blakiston’s Fish Owl, Steller’s Sea Eagle, and the Orcas, Sperm Whales and Dall’s porpoise in the sea, Shiretoko was the top priority for our Hokkaido travel itinerary. From Memanbetsu Airport (女満別空港) near Abashiri (網走), we picked up our rental car from Toyota-Rent-A-Car and began our 1.5 hour drive to Utoro Onsen (ウトロ温泉) in the town of Shari (斜里), the gateway of Shiretoko National Park.
After an hour and 40 minutes, our JAL flight took us from Tokyo Hanada to Memanbetsu Airport in Eastern Hokkaido.
The road from Abashiri to Shari offered us beautiful scenery of the Sea of Okhotsk.
From Shari, we continued driving along the sea up the Shiretoko Peninsula.
Before reaching the onsen village Utoro, we arrived at one of the tourist attractions of Shiretoko called Oshinkoshin Falls (オシンコシンの滝).
Just two minutes up a flight of steps led us to the viewing platform of Oshinkoshin Falls.
From Oshinkoshin Falls, it was just a few minute drive to Utoro, where we would stay for two nights.
58m in height, the Oronko-iwa Rock (オロンコ岩) is an iconic feature at the fishing and onsen village of Otoro (ウトロ). The rock separates the village from the breakwater structures out in the sea.
At the Oronko-iwa Rock parking lot, we had our first fox encounter: a furry fox sneaked behind our black car while we were taking photos of the setting sun.
The Oronko-iwa Rock is a popular spot for watching the sunset.
It was 6pm when we enjoyed a brief moment of the peaceful sunset out in the Sea of Okhotsk.
From the Oronko-iwa Rock, we could see the onsen hotels at Utoro.
The posters at Utoro visitor centre promote the salmon fishery and winter sea ice of Shiretoko.
After the red-eye flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo, the short domestic flight from Tokyo to Memanbetsu Airport, and the drive from Abashiri to Utoro, it was time for us to check in at Shiretoko Village, our onsen hotel in the hills behind Utoro village.
We always look forward the the meals at the onsen hotels in Japan. At Utoro, we were treated with local seafood, deer meat, local salmon roe, and hairy crab.
It was the time for hairy crabs in Hokkaido. Each guest was provided with a delicious hairy crab.
Drifting ice is the most popular local feature to promote various drinks and food products from Shiretoko, from sake, beer to ice-cream.
We ended our first day in Shiretoko with a bottle of local grape juice.
Day 1 (1/2).
Our flight landed in Tokyo Haneda at around 6am. Before our next flight to Hokkaido’s Memanbetsu Airport at noontime, we had a few hours to spare in the Japanese capital. Tsuyu (梅雨), the rainy season in Japan, was in full force in mid June. Given the proximity to the city centre, we wouldn’t want to miss the chance of revisiting Tokyo. We took the monorail and then transferred to the metro heading for Tsukiji Market. 40 minutes was all it took to reach Tsukiji. It was pouring when we came out the metro at the Kabuki-za Theatre (歌舞伎座) exit. We followed Google Map to make our way into the quiet lanes near the outer market.
Opened in 1935, the 83-year-old market has officially moved to the new Toyosu Market (豊洲市場) in October 2018. With no intention to watched a tuna auction behind glass or checked out seafood and produce stores in a brand new shopping centre like setting, we preferred to revisit the old market at Tsukiji, where the Outer Market remained open for business. At the market, generations of social interactions have developed a strong sense of community. The chaotic turret traffic at the inner market, desperate tourists cramped in long lines for an early sashimi breakfast, cafes serving simple coffee on dark wood counters, street food stalls along busy lanes and covered alleyways, the spirit and ambience of the old market have drawn us back to Tsukiji again and again. This time around, our Tsukiji experience took us to a craft coffee shop, a back lane sushi eatery and a historical Shinto shrine.
Miraitowa (future and eternity) and Someity (calm and powerful), the two official mascot of 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, greeted all visitors at the arrival lobby of Haneda Airport.
Turret COFFEE, a popular hub for everyone in Tsukiji who love coffee, offered us a decent dose of caffeine to start the day.
We came just in time to be the first few customers at Turret.
The cafe decor was simple and the coffee was aromatic and good.
Named after the 3-wheel cart that once roamed in the lanes of Tsukiji Market, a real “turret” was placed in the centre of the coffee shop as display and also seating.
Kitsuneya Beef Rice, one of the most popular eateries in the entire outer market, offers visitors a decent alternative to seafood.
For many, leaving Tsukiji Market without picking up several pieces of tuna toro sashimi would be a big regret.
We ended up sitting down at a small sushi eatery in a covered alleyway.
Despite relocation of the inner market, the sushi at Tsukiji Outer Market was equally fresh as before.
Today’s uni (sea urchin): Hamanaka (浜中), Uchiura Bay (噴火湾), Akkeshi (厚岸), Nemuro (根室), Rebun (礼文), and Nemuro (根室). Even looking at the names of the five fishing villages in Hokkaido would wet our appetite.
Before returning to the airport, we made a stop at Namiyoke Inari Jinja (波除稲荷神社), the unofficial guardian shrine of Tsukiji Market.
Built in 1659, the Shinto shrine dedicates to Inari (稲荷大神), the god of fertility, rice, tea, sake, agriculture. The Namiyoke Inari Jinja (波除稲荷神社) was specifically aimed to ward off disasters and diminish incoming waves.
The 1-ton Yakuyoke Tenjo Dai-Shishi male lion is one of the main features of the shrine. During Tsukiji Lion Festival on June 10th, the lion head would parade across the Tsukiji along with the red female lion head.
The 0.7 ton female lion head is slightly lighter than the male, but equally impressive. After coffee, sushi, and Shinto shrine, we took our time to return to Haneda Airport for the flight to Memanbetsu in Hokkaido.
Tsuyu (梅雨), the rain season, begins to hit Okinawa in May and gradually makes its way north to the rest of Japan until the end of June. During the wet season, rainy and cloudy weather affects the entire country except Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island north of the main Honshu Island. The seismic active island is 3.6% smaller than Ireland, with a climate significantly cooler than the rest of Japan. Seeking for a pleasant getaway from Hong Kong’s humid and hot summer, we picked Hokkaido as the destination for our 11-day vacation from 15th to 25th of June. Traveling in the remote national parks and rural countryside of Hokkaido, hiring a car was a necessity. The Hokkaido journey was our first road trip in Japan.
Known as Japan’s last true wilderness, Shiretoko National Park (知床国立公園) is the natural haven where Brown Bears and Blakiston Fish Owls ruled the primeval forests and Orcas, Minke and Sperm Whales roamed the waters of Nemuro Strait. With fantastic natural scenery, wildlife and seafood to offer, this easternmost part of Hokkaido topped our priority list in the travel itinerary. Next in the journey took us to the spectacular volcanoes of Akan Mashu National Park (阿寒摩周国立公園), where we came close to Japan’s clearest water at caldera Lake Mashu (摩周湖) and the fantastic onsen and fly fishing hot spot of Lake Akan (阿寒湖). While the lavender fields of Furano (富良野) and Biei (美瑛) had yet reached the peak bloom moment, the ultra fertile soil below the Tokachi Volcanic Group (十勝火山群) treated us with some of the best bread, corn, potatoes, asparagus, melons and milk that we ever had in our lives. Despite far away from Tokyo and Osaka, the architectural magic of Tadao Ando (安藤忠雄) in Hokkaido satisfied our thirst of contemporary design and aesthetics. Back in Obihiro (帯広), Otaru (小樽) and Sapporo (札幌), historic traces of early pioneers and contemporary dessert shops and local eateries brought us back to delightful charm of urban Japan. What’s more? Day after day of mouthwatering seafood, fresh produces, good coffee, and lovely patisseries reminded us how wonderful our world could be, when the water is clean, soil is rich, forests are healthy and people are friendly. Thank you Hokkaido. You have truly touched our hearts.
Located north of Honshu Island, Hokkaido is the second largest island in Japan.
Flying in from Tokyo Haneda, our Hokkaido journey began from Memanbetsu (女満別空港) near the Shiretoko Peninsula. After more than 1,181km of driving, we arrived at Otaru and Sapporo at the western side of the island.
This black hatchback hybrid Toyota Prius c (Toyota Aqua in Japan) provided us the means of transport from east to west across Hokkaido.
After 2 days of rain and wind, we finally had a glimpse of the active volcano of Mount Rausu (羅臼岳), the tallest peak in Shiretoko Peninsula.
The greatest experience we took away from Shiretoko was the close encounter with a pod of orcas in the Nemuro Strait.
The Mashu Lake (摩周湖) offered us a peaceful sunrise at 3:30am.
Under the shadow of Mount Oakan (雄阿寒岳), dozens of fly fishermen stepped into the crystal water of Lake Akan (阿寒湖) to test their luck.
Farms and greenhouses were washed with heavy rain as we entered into Furano (富良野).
Still at least half a month to go before the peak season of lavender blossom, visitors were enjoying themselves at a relatively less crowded Farm Tomita in Nakafurano.
Compared with rainbow flower fields, we loved the wheat fields at Biei the most.
Tadao Ando’s Chapel on the Water has been famous in the designer’s world since the 1980s.
The Hill of Buddha is the latest addition in Hokkaido by Tadao Ando.
At Yoichi Distillery (余市蒸溜所), whiskey has been produced since 1934.
Saturdays Chocolate in Sapporo is one of the many excellent local eateries and cafes that we visited in the journey.
Last but not least, Hokkaido offered us the best seafood and dessert that we ever had as far as we could remember. Let’s begin to tell the story of our journey!
Linking the village of Yuen Long (元朗) and Tseun Wan (荃灣), the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail was once a major route for farmers from Yuen Long to bring out their produces to the market in Tseun Wan. Today, it is a pleasant hiking trail that leads visitors to enjoy the scenery of Tai Lam Country Park (大欖郊野公園), former villages such as Tsing Fai Tong (清快塘) and two of the city’s longest bridges: Ting Kau Bridge (汀九橋) and Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋).
Our hike began from Tsuen Wan West Station and passed by Tsuen Wan Adventist Hospital to reach the trailhead.
Soon the trail led us up the hill of Ha Fa Shan (下花山). The path was well paved with stones.
The narrow Rambler Channel (藍巴勒海峽) between the island of Tsing Yi (青衣) and Tsuen Wan (荃灣)/ Kwai Chung (葵涌).
Known as one of the world’s busiest port, Hong Kong’s container port is located right at the channel.
Further down the road the trail led us further west where we were treated with great views of Ting Kau Bridge (汀九橋) and Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋), two of the city’s most important bridges connecting the metropolis with its international airport.
Another highlight of the trail came as we arrived at the former village of Tsing Fai Tong (清快塘). The village used to be a 200-year old Hakka village of the Fu clan. Today, most villagers had moved to the new village at Sham Tseng (深井), about 45 minutes form their former home.
In 2002, a family of former villagers returned and set up a farm called Parent Farm (喜香農莊) at Tsing Fai Tong. Many hikers stopped at the farm to enjoy their seasonal flowers and beautiful lily pond.
We came at the perfect moment of the year to enjoy the waterlilies.
While hikers enjoyed the waterlilies, their pets got a chance to have some fun at the farm.
From Tsing Fai Tong, we chose to end our hike at Sham Tseng (深井) right in front of Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋).
Under the shadow of the busy highway Tuen Mun Road, the village of Sham Tseng (深井) is a well known village in Hong Kong.
Other than its view of Tsing Ma Bridge, Sham Tseng (深井) has been famous for roast goose for decades.
We couldn’t resist but to end our day with the famous Sham Tseng roast goose for dinner.
The moat, blue brick defense wall and guard towers of the 500-year-old Kat Hing Wai Walled Village (吉慶圍) remind visitors that villagers in the New Territories were once living in the danger of rival clans, bandits and the most important of all, pirates. For self protection, many villages in the Ming and Qing Dynasties constructed defensive walls around their homes. Walled villages mushroomed in the New Territories, creating walled compounds for specific family clans. In the 20th century, many villages demolished their walls or had them partially removed, while most houses have been replaced with modern homes. With a relatively well preserved moat and wall, Kat Hing Wai is actually quite a rarity. Measured roughly 100m x 90m, Kat Hing Wai is one of the better preserved walled villages in Hong Kong. Built during the era of Ming Cheunghua Emperor (1464 – 1487) with the 5m defensive wall constructed in the 17th century, Kat Hing Wai was a close knitted community of the Tang clan.
Outside Kat Hing Wai Walled Village, a small part of the original moat has been preserved.
For security reason, only a small opening serves as the entrance for the walled village.
Most houses in the walled village have been replaced by modern houses.
The central lane leads to the temple hall.
There were a wooden desk and a religious altar in the temple hall.
The altar table contained a built-in incense container.
Antique ritual tools could be found on the altar table.
The temple hall opens directly towards the only entrance of the walled village.
We didn’t see anyone during our brief visit of the walled village.
Almost all buildings have been replaced by modern buildings. The original character of the walled village has been somewhat diminished in the modern era.
Some older houses still had traditional banners on their outer walls. These banners usually advocate good fortune for the entire family.
“Kar”, the Chinese character for family, illustrates the importance of family bonding in a traditional walled village.
When looked closely, traditional touches could still be seen at certain houses in Kat Hing Wai.
In the past, the four cannon towers were the tallest structures in the village.
Today, the defensive structures of the walled village have been undermined by modern buildings. Even the well known Kat Hing Wai Walled Village has no exception. This is the harsh reality of contemporary Hong Kong.