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The first place we went was Otaru after we landed in Chitose.  Otaru (小樽市) is a city and port located in Shiribeshi, Hokkaido, Japan, northwest of Sapporo. The city faces the Ishikari Bay, and it has long served as the main port of the bay. With its many historical buildings, Otaru is one of Japan's leading tourist destinations. Also, because it is located within a 25 minute-drive from Sapporo, the city recently has seen growth as a bedroom community.

Otaru is situated in the western part of Hokkaido, facing Ishikari-wan Bay. It has developed and prospered as "the sea entrance of Hokkaido" over the last 100 years and it has gained the nickname "Wall Street of the north." The glassworks shops, coffee shops, restaurants and shopping malls along the canal have been converted from stone-built or brick-built warehouses, which were used for storage when the canal was crowded with jostling barges in former flourishing days of commerce. When night falls, oil lamps on the cobbled streets are lit. The town gently evokes a nostalgic mood.

Sasaki-san getting stopped at security in Nagoya's airport, "Whatcha got in the bag, sir?"

Just got in our Toyota Noah ... it's a minivan.

Jonathan's excited about being on vacation.

The first of many fun pictures on this vacation ...

Hokkaido's coastal cities are well known for their seafood, fresh seafood.

Check out these prices, yep that is over $100 for some of those big boys, of course they are around 4 to 5 pounds each!

A famous glass shop/museum in Otaru.

Otaru is known for glass works.

Otaru also has a canal that runs through the edge of the city with lots of shopping and restaurants lining its edge (just not right here).

Jonathan and Ashley at twilight on the first night.

Sasaki-san, Akemi, Jonathan and Mike.

Take out Jonathan and add in Ashley.

A cool looking hotel across the street from where we ate dinner in Otaru.

The ceiling of the hotel we stayed in, it was really cool ...

one end of the ceiling ...

the other end and the lobby.

Our room.

 

The next set of pictures are randomness taken during our drive from Sapporo to our next destination.

All of us on a big ole' sled being pulled by a big ole' horse.

Now Jonathan is on the big ole' horse.

The black was very hot on my legs.

Akemi, Koichi, Sasaki-san, and Mike.

Mike backwards on a cute little pony.

Crazy Koichi! I think the crazy American has a bad influence on his Japanese friend ... later we will find out that's a big no! Kocihi is just crazy.

The countryside is simply beautiful, it really does look like the U.S.

On the road again and again and again, we travelled around 1200 kilometers (around 750 miles).

Ashley trying to keep warm in the Noah, unbelievable.

Here is a policeman on a bike in one of the small cities we drove through.

 

Daisetsuzan National Park (大雪山国立公園, Daisetsuzan Kokuritsu Kōen), or Taisetsuzan is located in the mountainous center of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaidō. At 2267.64 square kilometers, Daisetsuzan is the largest national park in Japan.  The name means "Great Snowy Mountain(s)", an apt description of these peaks — there are 16 peaks over 2000 meters with trails and many more without trails — that offer some of the most rugged scenery in Japan.

Sounkyo Guide Map

Sasaki-san just glad to get a break from driving!

Akemi is just happy to be out of the Noah.

Some beautiful flowers.

Beautiful scenary.

Going up the Sounkyo-Kurodake Ropeway.

Almost to the top.

Interesting rock formations on the way up.

At the top, 1300 meters above sea level ... when we hiked the Chuo Alps last year we started at 2,800 meters!

A sign welcoming us to Daisetsuzan National Park at the Kurodake Station. It is located at the 5th stage of Mount Kurodake.

There are lots of people waiting to go back down the ropeway.

The veiw, although overcast, was very nice.

Akemi pointing out Mount Kurodake to Ashley and Mike from the top of the observation deck at Kurodake Station.

Taking time to get our pictures taken, we did that a lot ... one of the perks of going on a vacation with several people.

Jonathan can't even put the camera down for a second to get a group picture taken.

It felt really nice on the observation deck, it was very very windy though.

There were lots of dragonflys everywhere we went in Hokkaido, the bright red ones looked really cool.

For some reason this rock outcropping and tree just looked neat among the regular trees and bushes.

Jonathan showing Mike how to change some setting on his camera.

Sasaki-san and Akemi getting close to the dragonflys ...

you could actually touch them!

One warming up in the sun's warm rays.

Sasaki-san enjoying one of his cigarettes in the crisp clean mountain air!

The view from the ropeway platform.

On the way down.

The ladies.

The guys.

A foot onsen ... "Oh my gosh, that is SOOO hot!"

Jonathan isn't too sure about this.

Finally he adapts and shows his seal of approval!

 

Two waterfalls in Daisetsuzan National Park Sounkyo Valley.  Gin Ga No Taki means waterfall of the universe and Ryu Sei No Taki means waterfall of shooting stars.

Daisetsuzan National Park Sounkyo Valley map.

Gin Ga Waterfall

Jonathan taking Ashley's picture on a rock.

Ashley and Jonathan

Jonathan enjoying the running water.

Ashley chillin' while Jonathan and Mike are taking pictures of the waterfall.

Ryu Sei Waterfall

Akemi and Sasaki-san

Ashley and Jonathan in front of Ryu Sei No Taki.

All of us in front of Ryu Sei No Taki.

 

Some pictures of a place we stopped at on the side of the road on our way to Akan Lake.

A little fox farm and crab farm and restaurant and other stuff ...

Koichi feeding a fox.

Ashley's turn.

Some big ole' crabs.

A lot of smaller ones, well if you consider a pound small.

These guys were huge.

 

The Akan National Park is a mountainous park that stretches across the eastern part of Hokkaido.  The park includes a group of volcanoes, such as Mt. Meakan-dake, Mt. Oakan-dake and Mt. Akanfuji, which are situated around three famous volcanic lakes - Lake Akan-ko, Lake Kussharo-ko and Lake Mashu-ko.  The Akan National Park is a very popular destination for its magnificent panoramic views and hot-spring baths.  Since the park is situated inland, the temperature fluctuates rather sharply - it may rise as high as 30 degrees centigrade on a hot summer's day but it can fall as low as 10 degrees centigrade in early morning and at night due to the radiative cooling phenomenon.  This phenomenon often produces a sea of beautiful clouds that can be viewed from high elevation locations.  Glittery stardust that completely fills the night sky and spectacular soft rimes provide further delights for the eyes in winter.

Lake Akan-ko is a lake of mystery and beauty. It is well known for marimo - curious looking spherical moss, which is a natural monument and is unique to the lake.  Mt. Oakan-dake elegantly looks over the eastern shore of Lake Akan-ko.  Lake Mashu-ko is internationally famous for its highest level of clarity in the world.  There is also a primeval forest of spruce and white fir.  The Akan National Park attracts many visitors throughout the year with its magnificent scenic wonderland.

Hotel Emerald on Lake Akan.

Lake Akan is home of the all natural moss ball, marimo.

Dusk on Lake Akan.

Crazy Koichi

Our room was a Japanese style room, lots of tatami, but very nice!

The wood carving (lamma) in our room ...

it was really cool.

All of us at the end of one of the best dinners we had ... buffet style with Japanese and Western style food.

This is a giant wooden carved owl (hukuroo) over the entrance to Ainu Kotan (Ainu village).

Wood carvings of bears (kuma) are very popular in Hokkaido. Mike bought this one, but not for the price in the picture ... he got a deal.

Apparently they carve totem poles in open area between all the shops in Ainu Kotan.

A bear head ...

and an owl.

One of the wood shops.

Everyone in the area between the shops, it was a nice night out.

There was a mommy and daddy cat with nursing babies and of course ...

Ashley just couldn't resist ...

the little babies.

This guy carved Ashley's name in katakana on a small little wooden owl keychain.

Lake Akan the following morning, lots of cloud, fog and rain.

 

Lake Mashu (摩周湖, Mashū-ko) is a landlocked endorheic crater lake formed in the caldera of a dormant volcano.  It is located in Akan National Park on the island of Hokkaidō, Japan.  Mashu is famous for the clarity of its water, and the fog that envelops its surface.

Lake Mashu ... it's there I promise.

look, it's right there through the trees.

It was a beautiful day!

This was a volcanic area (Iooyama), only all it had was lots of smoke, heat and a strong sulfurous smell.

The yellow color was very cool looking on the rocks.

Mike and Jonathan taking more pictures ... they might as well glue the camera's to their face.

Sasaki-san and Ashley ... peace!

Huddling for a picture under the umbrellas and protecting the camera, of course.

Lake Kussharo, it is actually kind of warm because of the volcanic mountains and underground hotsprings in the area.

People dig down in the sand and get hot water from the ground.

Wildlife ... just like home in Kentucky.

 

Two thousand spectacular varieties of animal and plant life thrives in Kushiro, Japan's largest marshland.  In eastern Hokkaido, Kushiro stretches out right to the north of Kushiro. This is a huge marsh with an overall area of 183 square kilometers, and was the first Japanese marshland registered under the Ramsar Convention on wetlands. Two thousand varieties of animals and plants live here, including Hokkaido deer and the white-tailed sea eagle. In summer, all sorts of wild flowers bloom, while in winter the Japanese crane, a designated special natural monument, flies in.

To view the wide marshland, observation points have been set up in the surrounding hills. At the marsh observatory in Kushiro, a sightseeing walkway has been set up so that you can walk around the marsh. The Hoso'oka Observatory has great views - of the winding Kushiro-gawa River beneath, and the Akan Mountain Range in the distance.

The marshlands around Teshikaga.

Ashley enjoying the rain.

Mike, Akemi and Sasaki-san.

Going back down the path ...

Kushiro Shitsugen National Park

The Hoso'oka Observatory.

The photographer for us and strangers, Mike Clark.

The man hole covers had owls on them.

 

We stayed at Sahoro Resort Hotel on Mount Sahoro.  Mount Sahoro (佐幌岳) is located in the Hidaka Mountains, Hokkaidō, Japan. It is the site of the Sahoro Ski Resort.

Sahoro Resort Hotel

The fog lifting of the mountains in the morning.

Some pretty flowers in front of the hotel.

Ashley is just waiting so patiently!

 

Bear Mountain is Japan's first brown bear sanctuary.

Bear Mountain. The only bear sanctuary in Japan.

Everyone posing for a picture and Koichi being Crazy Japanese.

Our first bear! They're so big!

Pictures and desriptions of all the bears on Bear Mountain.

Jonathan and Sasaki-san posing with the youngest bear in the park (8 years old). He liked the water.

Koichi, Mike, Sasaki-san, and Bear.

He finally cooperated and we got a picture with him.

Akemi looking at the bear through the glass.

Mike taking a picture of Jonathan taking a picure of him.

Jonathan taking a picture of Mike taking a picture of him.

A little bear tussle.

Mike and Jonathan as Big Bear and Little Bear.

Sasaki-san and Akemi as Big Bear and Little Bear.

Trying to get another one with the bear.

Aww...Jonathan is hugging the bear.

Koichi imitating the bear.

 

Furano (富良野), located somewhat debatably in the precise geographical center of Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, is an amalgamation of several quaint farming towns around a minor municipal center.  Furano is known as Heso no Machi (the Belly Button Town) due to its central location. Furano's inland location (almost 100 km -- about as far inland as Japan gets) and high elevation result in a continental climate, the reason behind Furano's successful ski hill and wine industries. There is a very large temperature variation, so a light jacket is recommended even in the summer. Summer midday temperatures may exceed 30 degrees C, and midwinters will drop below -30. Furano has very heavy snowfall in the winter.

Tomita Farm in Central Furano City. Furano is well known for lavender, unfortuantely it was out of season by about a month..

In a pretty gazebo.

A map of the whole farm.

The grass covered roof of the bathroom.

Why?

Some of the pretty flowers that we saw at the farm.

Some of the lavender that was left. It's a little out of season.

Koichi, Sasaki-san, Jonathan, and me with some of the flowers and the farm sign.

A random picture of everyone looking out over the farm.

Why am I upside down?

This is where the lavender is grown but its already been harvested.

Me and Jonathan with our lavender ice cream, Mike with his melon ice cream, and Koichi with his swirl of both.

Another Lavender park/farm up the street.

They had a lot of pretty flowers all together.

Going up on the chair lift.

Making it safely off the chair lift.

Crazy Koichi!

The farm and city below.

Not real sure what Jonathan is pointing at.

Jonathan trying to set up the camera to get the group shot with the city in the background.

All of us with the city in the background.

I like clicking off pictures with the remote.

Going down on the chair lift.

Me tripping down the stairs after getting off the chair lift...thank you mom for not naming me Grace.

Everyong laughing at my blunder.

Me and the pretty lavender.

Jonathan and Mike looking like they're hunting something.

The hunters found something!

The pretty flowers with a dragonfly.

Us laughing at the pictures of Jonathan and Mike.

Hi!

Getting lunch at McDonald's...yummy!

Mike's first McDonald's since he's been in Japan!

Not real sure.

 

We visited Asahiyama Zoo in Asakhikawa, Hokkaido.  It is the most popular zoo in Japan, so we have now been to the top 3: Asahiyama, Ueno (Tokyo), and Higashiyama Zoo (Nagoya).  As with the other Japan zoos, the animals were very active and it was quite an enjoyable time.  Asahikawa (旭川市) is a city located in Kamikawa Subprefecture, Hokkaidō, Japan.  The city is the capital of the subprefecture and the second-largest city in Hokkaidō, next to Sapporo.  It has been a Core city since April 1, 2000.  As of 2004, the city has an estimated population of 361,488 and the density of 483.53 persons per km˛.  The total area is 747.6 km˛.

The most popular zoo in Japan, Asahiyama Zoo.

Emporer penguins

The whole zoo is basically on a hill.

A black panther ..

very cool.

A family of lions, another very neat shot.

A jaguar.

A polar bear ...

a pretty neat exhibit.

There are lines to see the animals, something you don't see in the states, there are just so many people and they really like to see wild animals.

Just like at Higashiyama Zoo, most all of the animals were very active.

An animals point of view ... look at the humans in the cage.

A red panda

This was the coolest monkey exhibit I have ever seen. It was actually for orangutans. The middle is completely open ...

of course that little guy is 50 plus feet in the air, but there is nothing under him except humans!

After he crossed the top he came down and played in his jungle gym.

Mommy and a new baby.

After we left he decided to go back to the other side.

Another view of the zoo.

Even the rhino was running around in circles!

A cool seal exhibit, this was very popular with all of the visitors.

Koichi ...

and Mike on the motorized kiddy things.

 

On our final night we stayed in Sapporo again.  Sapporo (札幌市) is the fifth-largest city in Japan by population and the third-largest by geographic area.  It is the capital of Hokkaidō Prefecture and an ordinance-designated city of Japan.  Sapporo is best known outside Japan for hosting the 1972 Winter Olympics, and the annual yuki matsuri in the city, internationally referred to as the Sapporo Snow Festival, which draws more than 2 million tourists from around the world. The city is also home to the eponymous Sapporo Breweries.

Sapporo clock tower (さっぽろ時計台 Sapporo Tokeidai) is a wooden structure and well-known local tourist attraction.  The building is of American design and is one of the few surviving Western style buildings in Sapporo, a city developed in the 1870s with assistance from the American government.  It is known by many as the symbol of the city and is a main feature of almost all domestic and international tours of Sapporo.  The clock after which it is named continues to run and keep time, and the chimes can be heard every hour.

Our room at New Ohtani Sapporo Hotel in Sapporo.

Us in front of the Sapporo clock tower.

Yep, crazy Koichi and Mike.

Ashley and Jonathan walking to dinner.

Our final dinner in Hokkaido, kampai!

We had crab and Jonathan thought it would be funny to pretend it was pinching his nose.

Crazy Koichi and Crazy Jonathan dancing in the middle of an intersection in Sapporo.

Some of the produce in the airport you could buy and take home to friends and family, as well as for yourself. Yep, $2.50 per ear of corn.

Some crab for $30 to $80 and ...

some $20 cantelope (famous Hokkaido melons). We have lots of fruit in Japan and ALL of it has been better than U.S. fruit, we will miss that!