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Thread: Hokkaido, Japan

  1. #1

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    Dec 2003
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    Hokkaido, Japan

    Planning to travel to Hokkaido, Japan this coming September. A 10 day trip and looking for suggestions on travel, places to stay, methods of travel, photographic locations, etc. Will fly into Tokyo and have a few days to explore on my way to Hokkaido.

    Comments and suggestions appreciated, Kreig

  2. #2

    Hokkaido, Japan

    I have never been in Hokkaido but i will go there during late August for a few days. I live in Tokyo so for me it's just a short flight to go there.

    I will rent a car during my stay in Hokkaido so i easily can move around. The roads are nice and there is not so much traffic either. If you can get used to drive on the left side of the road it should be no problem. The train system is good all over Japan but you are still limited to where you can go so i prefer a car. You should get an international drivers license if you rent a car. There are guided tours you can join but then you can't make up your own schedule. You can also buy a package in Japan with air tickets (Tokyo to Hokkaido), hotel(s) and car and go by yourself, this is probably cheapest.

    I will go to the easternmost part of Hokkaido and start at Shiretoko peninsula which is a National park. I'm not sure in which direction i will head after that. The western part of Hokkaido is more populated with cities like Sapporo and Hakodate. Other popular places are Furano with it's colorful fields with lavender and flowers.

    The distances are quite big in Hokkaido so don't underestimate the time it takes to travel. There are several small airports in Hokkaido so i suggest find an airport that is close to where you are going.

    The English proficiency in Japan is not very good so communication could be a problem. The Japanese are usually very friendly and helpful so it's just a fun experience. Many places only accept cash so don't rely to much on credit card.

    You can easily buy 4x5 (~8,400JPY for 20 quickloads) and 8x10 film in Tokyo at major branches of BIC Camera or Yodobashi Camera. I'm not sure if it's easily accessible in Hokkaido however so i will take film with me.

    Have a nice trip !

  3. #3

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    Hokkaido, Japan

    I will try to give you as much information as I can. I was an exchange student in Sapporo, Hokkaido for almost two years, and have been living in northern Japan for nearly 10 years since then.

    Tokyo. Tokyo has some good areas to photograph. Asakusa Temple, and Meiji Shrine are very popular places, as well as Shibuya and Tokyo. I actually prefer going to Odaiba and taking some pictures of the skyline from there. YOu might be better off getting out of Tokyo and going north to Nikko, which is about 90 minutes north of Tokyo. It is well worth a day visit.

    Hokkaido. Sapporo is a nice modern city, the main park by Sapporo Tower has a few good spots, but really there is not much to photograph. You would be better off getting out of Sapporo.

    Hakodate is a city with alot of character. It was one of the three ports that was opened to international trade after Perry and the black ships came in 1853. The night view from Mt. Hakodate is considered one of the ten best views in Japan. Its well worth the time if the weather is clear. There is a very non Japanese feel to the city, the old sea point cemetaries on both the east and west side of Mt. Hakodate are nice. About 30 km north of Hakodate is Onuma National Park. It has a quasi-active volcano and several very pretty lakes.

    As Peter recommended Furano is well worth the visit. My host family has a cottage near there and I use to spent weekends there. If you are visiting in late September, the leaves will be just starting to change colors. Its a beautiful area.

    Otaru is a port city near Sapporo that has a lot of historic buildings and a nice port area. It might be worth a visit.

    Outside of Sapporo getthing LF film is going to a be a problem, I would recommend you bring enough with you for your trip. I agree with Peter7s comment that most people can't speak English, but in general they are very friendly and helpful.

    You should have a wonderful trip. If you want to know anything about more specfic places please let me know and I can try to help you. I still go to Hokkaido once or twice a year to visit friends. So my information is pretty current.

    Hope it helps.

    Gary

  4. #4
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Hokkaido, Japan

    I was in Japan at the end of 2002. I didn't make it to Hokkaido, but I did make it as far north as Sendai. You might want to take the bullet train to Hokkaido, with a couple of side trips on the way.

    First, as Gary suggests, is Nikko. It's a beautiful and ancient complex with thousands of ancient Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese Cedar) trees (they are massive and very tall) planted by a couple of monks about 800 years ago IIRC. The buildings and the trees together are spectacular. The river is nice too.

    Second is Yamadera. This is an ancient site with 1100 steps carved into the mountain to get to the top. Apparently monks get up well before dawn and run the steps in the dark. Basho visited. It's very Japanese.

    Third is Matsushima Bay. This is a bay that is dotted with islands - several hundred. Red lacquered bridges. A tourist destination for the Japanese (and the Japanese do love to travel). Very nice.

    All off the above are easily accessible by train. You end up taking the JR Tohoku Shinkansen Line (bullet train) from Tokyo north. From this, you'll have to get off and transfer to other trains to get to these places, but each is a single train transfer, and they let you off in the middle of town, easy walking distance to where you want to go.

    The train system is pretty easy for a gaijin (roughly, that's "foreigner" - you're going to hear that word a lot) to learn as all the instructions are in kanji (pictograms) and romanji (North American and European lettering system).

    The tourist information places in the major train stations usually have maps that are in both kanji and romanji also - you can read the name of where you want to go, point to it, and the Japanese person you are asking directions of can read the kanji. Very effective with cab drivers for example. Wordless communication.

    One thing to note - in Japan, there are steps everywhere. Pack light because you'll be lugging that suitcase up and down steps every time you turn around. This is especially true of train stations.

    Finally, if you are going to do much train travel, do consider a JR rail pass. You can't get it inside Japan - available only to tourists, and you have to get them in advance.

    Finally, on the subject of LF photography. The scale in Japan is small because land has been at a premium for centuries. The gardens tend to be small, so you really need those wide angle lenses. At least a 90mm for 5x4, and wider lenses aren't at all out of the question. The walkways tend to be narrow, and there are crowds. Therefore they aren't fond of tripods which interfere with the flow of people in and around things. Some of the shrines and temples will give you a permit to use a tripod before they open the gates for the tourists, but you have to apply in advance (could be several days) and they may well just turn you down. And most of the monks and their assistants don't speak any English at all. If you can get a Japanese friend or guide to print up a little explanation (in Japanese of course) of what LF is, and why it requires a tripod, that you can hand to a monk that he can read, you may get better results. Or may not. That said, I did get a permit this way -- for an hour at the Ryoan-Ji rock garden - had it all to myself from 6:00am to 7:00am. Wish I'd had the 80mm lens then, but as you can see the 110mm wasn't too bad ;-).

    Enjoy your trip. It's a really interesting place.

    Bruce Watson

  5. #5

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    Hokkaido, Japan

    Good suggestions above, and I'll add what I can think of FWIW.

    Travel to and from Hokkaido

    Train if you want to visit somewhere on the way (~10 hours by express), plane if you want to max the time spent in Hokkaido (~1.5 hour hop). The cost would be comparable either way.

    Travel in Hokkaido

    You should be able get to most places using public transportation, but a car gives you freedom and the ability to reach extremities. Flying has become a lot cheaper nowadays, too. Personally I like the not-so-hectic pace of traveling by train while enjoying the scenery (and beers).

    Stay

    One of the cheapest ways would be to use youth hostels (http://www.youthhostel.or.jp/English/menu2.htm) if that's your style.

    What about "onsen ryokans" (hot spring inns)? There are 16 active volcanoes in Hokkaido, thus many hot springs. You can't beat a relaxing time in a big, hot tub (some are outside) after a long day's hike. Old (= prestigious) inns may charge you arms and legs, but I'm sure there are reasonably priced ones as well. You can use just the communal tub for $10 or so without staying, too.

    Lodging capacity, particularly at reasonable rates, could be limited. I would make reservations in advance at least at key (popular, remote, etc.) locations. If you go without reservations, I recommend you check the accommodation status as soon as you move to a new location.

    Photo locations

    If you are a landscape person, you can't go wrong practically whichever way you go. Hokkaido boasts 6 national parks, 5 national monuments (managed by prefectures), and much more. I'd use these as anchor points in moving around.

    If you go towards east and have time, check out (among others) the three lakes (Masyu, Kussharo, and Akan) in the Akan NP area. The water of Lake Masyu is said to be one of the clearest (most clear?) in the world, and mists/fogs frequently cover it, creating mysterious and romantic atmosphere. That's why Lake Masyu used be one of the most popular destinations among Japanese honeymooners.

    If you stop at Otaru, I suggest Kamui Misaki (Cape Kamui, 40-50mi west of Otaru) for sunset shots.

    Unfortunately most of usable information I found on the web was only in Japanese. Let me know if I could help you, Kreig and Peter, get some specific information.

    Enjoy the trip!

  6. #6

    Hokkaido, Japan

    Hi Kreig,

    Having been in Japan for 8 years, I had the chance to visit Hokkaido a few times.

    The last time I went was in May of this year. I spent 10 days there, trekking in the Daisetsuzan national park (in the very center of Hokkaido close to the city called Asahikawa) and Shiretoko peninsula. Because of the winter conditions I shot with my D2X back then, but those places are definitely great for LF shooting too. A few images:

    http://www.photosig.com/go/photos/view?id=1520467
    http://www.photosig.com/go/photos/view?id=1522081
    http://www.photosig.com/go/photos/view?id=1523712
    http://www.photosig.com/go/photos/view?id=1520526

    These 2 are real wild places and most poeple only stay in the main part of the National Parks. Both are famous for the Grizzly bear, that are a REAL threat there (Shiretoko is in the top 5 on earth for regading the density of bear per square km and they are NOT very used to human presence). I would check with rangers or local before venturing too far without a guide in Shiretoko (Daisetsuzan is probably less of an issue).

    Don't expect many people in September. I met a local in May that had gone to Rausu dake in September 04 (the highest point in Shiretoko), and he ended up camping alone in the camp site located in Rauga no daira (a but under the top).

    Shiretoko is also famous for sea kayaking, which could be fun to try too.

    One thing to keep in mind is that Shiretoko is a very exposed place, and the temperature on top of Rausu dake in September could drop pretty low if the weather gets ugly. Good rain gear is an absolute must because of the possibility of remainders of typhoon roaming all the way up North. If I recall, 2 or 3 typhoons hit Hokkaido last year in August and September, which hadn't happened in many years. Weather pattern have become pretty unstable in Japan these past 2 or 3 years, and it is probably wise to anticipate by taking the right gear.

    A final bit of warning (don't want to scare you), the water in Hokkaido is mostly non drinkable because of infection resulting from fox. I would urge you to boil all source water for at least 3-5 minutes before drinking.

    Besides, these 2 classic, the Kushiro shitsugen (marsh) is another suposedely amazing place for Japanese cranes, although I haven't had the chance to get there yet.

    If you intend to trek in Hokkaido, or anywhere else in Japan actually, I would warmly recommend the Lonely planet guide called "hiking in Japan". It contains great information on how to get to the trails and the hikes they recommend are great. I have walked quite a few of those, so don't hesitate to contact me would you be interested in additional information.

    Cheers,
    Bernard

  7. #7

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    Hokkaido, Japan

    A friend of mine who is in the Tourism Promotion Department of City of Sapporo recommended some links. I found these good introductions to Hokkaido.

    Hokkaido government page

    http://kanko.pref.hokkaido.jp/kankodb/foreign/e/sitemap.htm

    Sapporo City page

    http://www.welcome.city.sapporo.jp/english/

    JR Hokkaido (train) page

    http://www.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/index.html

    Other links

    http://www.xene.net/english/hok.htm

    http://www.xene.net/english/lin.htm

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