Day 2, 02JAN2017
Early start to our train trek today. Equipped with our reserved seat tickets, Josh and I departed the Remm Hibiya Hotel at 0550 and set off on foot for the Tokyo Train Station. We were slightly intimidated by the sheer mass of the train station – a place where it appears as though every monorail/subway/train intersects from throughout Tokyo in one central location. That being said, the attendants at the station were incredibly helpful and the color-coded directions and images were really easy to follow. Once we found our platform and appropriate color and number on said platform corresponding to the exact location where our reserved car would arrive (seriously, the Japanese have efficiency down to an exact science), Josh procured two tiny pre-packaged – and HOT – coffees for us from the platform café.
Our first train experience in Japan was on one of the famous Shinkansen or “bullet trains.” This mode of transportation shot us direct from Tokyo Central Station all the way to Hokkaido in 4 hours and 15 minutes. For those who are somewhat familiar with the Japanese islands, you may be wondering right now: “How does one take a train from Tokyo on Honshu Island all the way to Hokkaido Island?” I’ll tell you: via a 30 minute underwater tunnel.
Our route today commenced at the Tokyo Station and via the Shinkansen Hayabusa we arrived at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station on the southern tip of Hokkaido. The train journey stopped only a handful of times thus making the trip extremely efficient and fast. Driving clear across Honshu Island we passed a montage of metropolis. The island is packed with sky-scrapper laden city after sky-scrapper laden city. After a much needed nap, Josh and I attempted to embrace Japanese culinary delights and shared a bento box from the food cart.
I’m not entirely sure what Josh or I were expecting with regards to the bento box experience, but I certainly was not prepared for the amount of teeny tiny fish, their eyes intact, peeking up at us from the tray. Packed with various pickled veggies, smoked fish, curried cold chicken, a sweet egg concoction and the obligatory tray of rice, Josh and I taste tested everything and really didn’t love anything. Needless to say, we won’t order it again, but the experience was cool.
Once we arrived at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Josh and I scrambled to grab all our luggage and transfer via a torrent of people and staircases to our next train. Although it looked as though we were caught in a mad dash of humans moving from one train platform to the next, the movement in and of itself was extremely smooth. Once again we arrived at our platform and were embraced not only with color-coded messages indicating which place our reserved carriage would arrive, but we were also assigned an animal associated with the number. This truly is easy travel.
The Limited Express Hokuto transported us from the southern tip of Hokkaido to Oshamambe. This train traversed an ever changing landscape of seaside villages to pine trees caped in fresh snow. We were definitely on our way to the ski resorts! At Oshamambe we disembarked from the train and awaited our third, and final train trip of the day in a small station. It was here, of all places, Josh ran into a fellow Australian Army member, traveling solo in Japan. They shared a Sapporo Beer from the station’s single kiosk, and within minutes we were on our final train ride.
This last ride, on the JR Hakodate Line, took us on an hour and a half ride into the center of Hokkaido, through Niseko and Sapporo. The snow here was thicker, the mountains rising on all sides of us – Josh was getting more excited with every mile covered. Finally we arrived at Kutchan Station, grabbed a taxi, and within half an hour we arrived in Hirafu at the base of the Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu.
Our home for the next six nights is called “North Point Pension” and is situated at the eastern base of Hirafu. We met the onsite managers: Carmen and Tony and were promptly shown our warm room. After a short nap, Josh and I met Purcy and Foley for dinner.
Niseko Pizza was delicious and much appreciated after having only eaten the experimental bento box all day. We then converged at Wild Bills for a few rounds of pool before calling it a night.