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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Hakata JR Station 博多駅, JR Kyushu Rail Pass (Northern Kyushu & All Kyushu)

Hakata JR Station - East exit (Chikusi exit)
Hakata JR Station, the biggest (and busiest) train station in Kyushu.
Easily accessible by both subway from Fukuoka Airport and by Shinkansen from Honshu, Hakata JR Station serves as a gateway for many to other parts of Kyushu.

Main lines include:
(1) Kagoshima main line - travel northwards to Kokura, southwards to Kumamoto and Kagoshima.

(2) Kyushu Shinkansen line - connecting Hakata to Kumamoto and Kagoshima.

(3) Sanyo Shinkansen line - connecting Hakata to Shin Osaka. Operated by JR West. 

(4) Kuko line of Fukuoka City Subway.

Special sightseeing & limited express trains departing from Hakata JR Station include:
(1) Ltd Express Huis Ten Bosch - connects Hakata to Huis Ten Bosch, a European theme park located in Nagasaki prefecture.

(2) Ltd Express Kamome - connects Hakata to Saga and Nagasaki.

(3) Ltd Express Midori - connects Hakata to Saga and Sasebo.

(4) Ltd Express Sonic - connects Hakata to Oita and Beppu.

(5) Yufuin no mori - connects Hakata to Yufuin and Beppu.

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What's nearby? 

Hakata JR Station - West exit
(1) Shopping malls
- JR Hakata City, the building just above the train station, comprises of both AMU Plaza and Hankyu. For Tokyu Hands fans, you will be glad to know that there is one branch conveniently located here. Do check out their ground floor which has a section dedicated to Kyushu souvenirs - a good place to source for last minute gifts/merchandises.
- Yodobashi is located adjacent to the train station.
JR Hakata City: http://www.jrhakatacity.com/english/

(2) Numerous hotels to choose from.
Stayed at two different hotels during this trip.
- Hakata Miyako Hotel, 2 mins walk from east exit (Chikusi exit) of train station.
- JR Blossom Hakata Chuo Hotel, 2 mins walk from west exit of train station.

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JR Kyushu Rail Pass


- There are two different types of rail passes, both available in 3 and 5 days:   
(1) Northern Kyushu area, can only be used in Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki and Kumamoto 
(2) All Kyushu area

- Restrictions: Do note that this pass cannot be used on the Shinkansen between Hakata and Kokura, which is operated by JR West.

- Purchase: Rail pass can be purchased at main train stations in Kyushu (e.g. Kokura, Hakata, Kumamoto, Nagasaki, Oita, Saga, Kagoshima, Miyazaki, etc). In Hakata JR Station, there is a counter, served by English speaking staff, specially arranged for foreigners. After purchase of rail pass, you can proceed to make seats reservations immediately without having to queue again.  

- Be prepared! The only way to reap the most benefit/credits out from these rail passes is to do homework/research prior to purchase. Plan your itinerary and make use of Hyperdia to check the train fares between locations, then decide which pass suits you best. This pass can be used on Shinkansen, limited express and local trains operated by JR Kyushu and most importantly, no additional fees are required for seat reservations!
Hyperdia: http://www.hyperdia.com/


- One of the reasons to why train rides are so appealing in Kyushu is its seasonal sightseeing trains! Most of them operates on weekends and certain months, making only 1 - 3 trips per day, therefore it is advised to make reservations in advance to avoid disappointment.

- Was glad to know that in the second half of March, most of these sightseeing trains were also operating on weekdays due to cherry blooming season. Planned the ride of these sightseeing trains on the later half of my 12 days trip, as I would only purchase the rail pass and reserve seats on the day I arrive - thought I would stand a better chance to get my seats on these trains. Despite that effort made, some of the more popular train timings were already fully booked. Had to tweak my itinerary on the spot to fit in less popular train timings. Do have a backup plan in place, in anticipation for such last minute changes.

A good reference to find out past seasonal trains schedule: http://jprail.com/

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My sums:

(1) Northern Kyushu area 5 Days rail pass: 9,000 yen (bef 1 Apr 2014)

  • Day 1: Hakata > Takeo Onsen, by Ltd Exp Midori; 3,000 yen (reserved seat)
  • Day 2: Takeo Onsen > Huis Ten Bosch, by Ltd Exp Huis Ten Bosch; 1,730 yen (reserved seat)
  • Day 3: 
    • Huis Ten Bosch > Sasebo, by local train; 270 yen
    • Sasebo > Nagasaki, by Seaside Liner; 1,600 yen
  • Day 4: 
    • Nagasaki > Shintosu, by Ltd Exp Kamome &
    • Shintosu > Kumamoto, by Shinkansen; 7,700 yen (reserved seat) 
  • Day 5: Kumamoto > Aso by Aso Boy; 2,180 yen (reserved seat)
Total cost without pass usage = 16,480 yen
Savings = 7,480 yen (45% discount)


(2) All Kyushu area 5 days rail pass: 17,000 yen (bef 1 Apr 2014)

  • Day 1: -
  • Day 2: 
    • Yufuin > Kurume, by Yufuin no mori &
    • Kurume > Kumamoto, by Shinkansen; 7,160 yen (reserved seat) 
  • Day 3: 
    • Kumamoto > Hitoyoshi, by SL Hitoyoshi; 2,570 yen (reserved seat)
    • Hitoyoshi > Yoshimatsu, by Isaburo; 1,220 yen (reserved seat)
    • Yoshimatsu > Kagoshima chuo; by Hayato no kaze; 2,430 yen (reserved seat) 
  • Day 4: Kagoshima chuo > Ibusuki by Ibusuki no tamatebako; 2,070 yen (reserved seat)
  • Day 5: 
    • Ibusuki > Kagoshima chuo, by local train; 970 yen
    • Kagoshima chuo > Hakata, by Shinkansen; 10,170 yen (reserved seat)
Total cost without pass usage = 26,590 yen
Savings = 9,590 yen (36% discount)

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Commemorative stamp: 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Arrival & Departure, Fukuoka Airport 福岡空港

Day 1: 15.03.2014
Day 13: 27.03.2014


Arrival: SIN T3 (0110 hrs) > FUK Int Terminal (0825 hrs) by SQ656
Departure: FUK Int Terminal (1000 hrs) > SIN T2 (1535 hrs) by SQ655

Currently only SQ has direct flights from Singapore Changi Airport to Fukuoka Airport in Kyushu. Others will require a connecting flight to reach Kyushu. 

Kyushu is made up of seven prefectures (Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Kagoshima and Miyazaki) and there is a airport in every prefecture. There are regular domestic flights between Haneda Airport and the airport in each prefecture, which means one do not necessarily have to depart from the same airport that you arrive in. 

Fukuoka Airport website: http://www.fuk-ab.co.jp/english/

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Travelling between Fukuoka Airport <> main city: 




(1) Subway: 
Fukuoka domestic airport and Hakata is separated by only one subway station and the travelling time takes less than 10 minutes! For passengers shuffling between domestic and international terminals, there are free regular shuttle bus services, every 5 - 8 minutes, commuting between these terminals.  

Fukuoka City Subway website: http://subway.city.fukuoka.lg.jp/eng/index.html
Hakata (K11) <> Fukuoka Airport (K13) via Kuko line (orange line), fee = 260 yen 
Tenjin (K08) <> Fukuoka Airport (K13) via Kuko line (orange line), fee = 260 yen

(2) Bus: 
Direct buses to Hakata/Tenjin are available at both international and domestic terminals and depart every half hourly. Took the bus at bus stop #2 and alighted at Hakata JR Station Chikusi Exit. 

Nishitetsu bus website: http://www.nishitetsu.jp/bus/rosen/airport.html
Fukuoka Int Airport <> Hakata, fee = 260 yen, approx 18 mins
Fukuoka Int Airport <> Tenjin, fee = 310 yen, approx 33 mins

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Commemorative stamp: 


Monday, October 6, 2014

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Day 1 Itinerary: Fukuoka 福岡

Day 1 - 15.03.2014

SIN T3 (0110 hrs) > FUK (0825 hrs) by SQ 656

Fukuoka Airport > Hakata JR Station Chikusi Exit
by Nishitetsu Bus (for Hakata & Tenjin). Fee = 250 yen.

Check in: Hakata Miyako Hotel

Bought JR Kyushu Rail Passes and made seats reservation at Hakata JR Station.
- 5 days JR Kyushu Pass for northern area only (17.03.2014 - 21.03.2014): 9,000 yen
- 5 days JR Kyushu Pass (22.03.2014 - 26.03.2014): 17,000 yen

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Bought 1 day Fukuoka City Subway Pass. Fee = 500 yen.
* 500 yen on weekends & Public Holidays, 600 yen on weekdays.
[520 yen & 620 yen from Apr 2014 onwards] 

Hakata > Nakasu Kawabata
by subway, via Kuko Line.

Lunch: Ichiran Ramen (一蘭) @ Nakasu head shop & office

Shopping @ Canal City

Nakasu Kawabata 中州川端 > Ohori Park 大濠公園
by Fukuoka City Subway, via Kuko Line.

Visited Maizuru Park 舞鶴公園.

Ohori Park 大濠公園 > Hakata 博多
by Fukuoka City Subway, via Kuko Line.

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Dinner: Hakata Hanamidori 博多華味鳥, branch @ Hakata JR Station Chikusi Exit.

Shopping @ AMU, Hankyu, Yodobashi

- End of Day 1 -

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Hakodate Airport 函館空港


Hakodate Airport: http://www.airport.ne.jp/hakodate/en/
Approx 1 hr 20 mins between Hakodate and Haneda Airport.

Other flights:
- Domestic flights from Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Okushiri island and Misawa (in Aomori).
- International flights from Taipei and Seoul.


There are a handful of restaurants and shops housed within the airport. Had our dinner in Restaurant Pollux, located on third floor of the airport, before boarding our flight back to Haneda Airport.

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How to get there?
(1) Bus to Hakodate Airport (bus stop 11), bus stop located in front of Hakodate JR Station. 
- Bus schedule (between Hakodate JR Station and Hakodate Airport): http://www.airport.ne.jp/hakodate/en/time_schedule/bus/en.shtml

- Bus schedule (in Japanese): http://www.hakonavi.ne.jp/howto/time.html
Approx 20 mins; fee = 410 yen

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Commemorative stamps:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse 函館金森赤レンガ倉庫

Visited 13.02.2013


Our last stop before heading home was to this prominent landmark of Hakodate. Hakodate Port, opened in 1859, was one of Japan's first international ports, alongside Nagasaki and Yokohama. During those days, flourishing trade businesses increased the demand of warehouses near the bayside. Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse, the first commercial warehouse in Hakodate, was constructed then. The bustling trade port has become a scene of the past and the bay area has been transformed into an entertainment district. These warehouses have stepped down from their original function (for goods storage) and converted into shops and restaurants.


Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse is made up of three areas:

(1) Bay Hakodate: Houses Hakodate Music Box Museum, operated by the same company (Orgel Doh) who owns Otaru Music Box Museum. The rest are mainly souvenir shops.

(2) Kanemori Aka-renga Soko (金森洋物館): Spent most of my time in this area. Whole array of souvenirs can be found here. Some of us may be familiar with Pastry Snaffle's, which has two branches in Singapore currently (in Plaza Singapura & Bedok Mall). This famous cheese cake confectionery brand originated from Hakodate and has several shops/cafes in Hokkaido - one of them is located in this warehouse. Ironically, my first encounter with Pastry Snaffle's cheese cake was in Singapore (not in Hokkaido where it originated from) and I liked it alot - as I am a fan of rich and creamy cheese cakes! Hope to visit their cafes next time in Hokkaido...
Pastry Snaffle's: http://www.snaffles.jp/english/

(3) Hakodate History Plaza (函館ヒストリープラザ): Houses Hakodate Beer Hall, Hakodate Roman-kan (shop selling glass crafted products) and other wagon shops.


All in all, Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse is quite a touristy place - you can find repetitive items sold in different stalls. After doing your shopping in these warehouses, I will recommend visitors to take a leisure stroll along Hakodate Bay - enjoy the sea breeze and at the same time, admire these historical monuments once again.

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Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse 函館金森赤レンガ倉庫


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How to get there? 

(1) By streetcar.
Take streetcar #2 (heading towards Yachigashira 谷地頭) or #5 (heading towards Hakodate Dokku-mae 函館どっく前), alight at Jujigai 十字街. Walk towards Hakodate Bay. 

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Gotoken Curry Express 五島軒 函館カリーエクスプレス, Hasegawasutoa ハセガワストア

Visited 13.02.2013

(1) Gotoken Curry Express


Was time for lunch after visiting Goryokaku Tower. Chanced upon Gotoken Curry Express, located on the second floor of the tower and decided to give it a try. Gotoken, a restaurant that was established more than a century ago, started out selling western cuisines. However, curry became Gotoken's signature dish later on (during Taisho period between 1912 - 1926). This was created based on a recipe which was improvised by the second generation owner who had undergone training in Imperial Hotel then. 

The main restaurant, located near Jujigai, still offer western cuisines. This other smaller branch specialises in mainly curry items - pork, beef and seafood curry cooked in various ways such as English, French and Indian. The gravy are served in English style silver sauce boats unlike Japanese curry restaurant. Very thick and dark curry gravy, a blend of roux and their homemade broth, which tasted both sweet and spicy. Personally I still prefer the soup curry version. Gotoken also sells packaged curries, enabling one to savour again back at home.

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(2) Hasegawasutoa Convenience Store

Skewers cooked on the spot. 
Sometimes, tasty food pops up in unexpected places - which makes food hunting such a pleasure! Hasegawasutoa, is a convenience store chain found only in Hakodate. In Japan, its common to find ready-to-go bento in convenience stores. However, in Hasegawasutoa, they only make your bento box upon order. What is most unusual is that their well known yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) are actually made of pork and not chicken, entirely different from what its name implied! Pork is more readily available and cheaper than chicken as there are more pig farms in South of Hokkaido, therefore pork has been used in meat skewers in Hakodate traditionally. To prevent misunderstanding as well, the lids of these bento boxes are imprinted with an adorable pig cartoon.


Chose the salt flavour. Each bento comes with three skewers, each with alternating pieces of pork and stalks of green onion, served with rice at the bottom. We were amazed by how these simple looking grilled meat skewers were exceptionally tasty! The juicy meat and crunchy green onion makes you want to eat more with every bite. It's a pity that we only had one box (as we already had our lunch)... Apart from the plentiful fresh seafood that Hakodate has to offer, please do not miss out this "B grade gourmet" when you visit Hakodate!

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(1) Gotoken 五島軒 函館カリーエクスプレス



(2) Hasegawasutoa ハセガワストア - Goryokaku branch
Opens 24 hours. 


Other branches: 

Spotted another branch near Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse, which is easily recognisable by the big bento box display. Store is just located adjacent to Lucky Pierrot restaurant.



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Goryokaku Tower 五稜郭タワー, Goryokaku Park 五稜郭公園

Visited 13.02.2013



Goryokaku Tower is an observatory building overlooking Goryakaku Fort. This two storey observatory which stands at 90 m tall, is actually pentagon in shape, synonymous to the fortress beside it.  

History of Goryokaku Fort (extracted from information brochure): 
Construction of the fort dates back to 1853 when a US fleet arrived at a Japanese port. Succumbing to US demands that Japan opens its doors to the rest of the world, the Tokugawa Shogun concluded the Treaty of Peace and Amity between United States of America and Japan in 1854, and opened Hakodate Port for international trade. Aiming to maintain governance over Hakodate, the Tokugawa Shogun instituted the Hakodate Magistrate's Office, which promoted land reclamation and industrial development, while fortifying the defensive capabilities of the area. Ayasaburo Takeda, a researcher of Dutch studies, was ordered to design a new fort when the Magistrate's Office was slated for relocation. He devised a fort modeled after European citadel towns, which took seven years to complete construction.

Left: Mount Hakodate in the background. 
In 1952, Goryakaku Fort was designated as a special historic site by the national government. Goryokaku Tower was originally opened in 1964, but later replaced by this newer landmark in 2006. The observatory commands an excellent view of star shaped fortress, Mount Hakodate and the Tsugaru Straits (a channel between Honshu and Hokkaido, connecting the Sea of Japan with Pacific Ocean). Did not believe such impressive looking fortress actually existed when I first saw it in books. Was totally speechless when I finally got to see this in real life -  the contrast between the majestic looking and well defined five pointed star and the surrounding buildings. Another attraction not to be missed when you visit Hakodate!


Goryokaku Fort is decorated different every season. There are about 1,600 cherry trees planted within and on the perimeter of the fortress and this promises a beautiful scenery in spring. In winter, the star fortress sparkles brightly at night as illumination are installed on its perimeter. Exhibits were also on display on the observatory levels, explaining the history of Goryokaku and Hakodate.


Though we managed to visit the fortress later (which is converted into a community park), I found it difficult to relate what appears on the ground level to what was seen overhead from the observatory tower a while ago. Therefore, I will still recommend visiting the observatory tower first before making your way to the fortress. The restoration of the Magistrate's Office, which is located in the centre of the fortress, showcased the sophisticated architectural skills during that era. Decided to give this a miss due to time constraints (and additional admission fee...) - had one more attraction to cover (Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse) before making our way to Hakodate Airport in the late afternoon.

Top right: Restoration of Magistrate's Office
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Goryokaku Tower 五稜郭タワー 
http://www.goryokaku-tower.co.jp/
http://www.hakodate.travel/en/things-to-do/top7/goryokaku/
Opening hours:
0800 - 1900 hrs (21 Apr - 20 Oct);
0900 - 1800 hrs (21 Oct - 20 Apr);
0900 - 1900 hrs (during the "Dream of Pentagonal Stars" event)
Admission fee = 840 yen

Hakodate Magistrate's Office 函館奉行所
located within Goryokaku Koen.
http://www.hakodate-bugyosho.jp/en/index.html
Opening hours:
0900 - 1800 hrs (1 Apr - 30 Oct)
0900 - 1700 hrs (1 Nov - 31 Mar)
Closed on 31 Dec - 3 Jan for maintenance.
Admission fee = 500 yen

より大きな地図で 五稜郭タワー を表示

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How to get there? 

(1) By Hakodate streetcar:
Take either line 2 or 5 from Hakodae ekimae, heading for Yunokawa Onsen (湯の川). Alight at Goryokaku koen-mae, follow the directions and walk for another 15 mins.
Hakodate ekimae <> Goryokaku koen-mae; Fee = 230 yen

(2) By local bus: Goryokaku Tower, Torabisuchinu Shuttle Bus (五稜郭タワー・トラピスチヌシャトルバス). Bus departs from Hakodate JR Station. 
Hakodate bus website: http://hakobus.donan.net/

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Commemorative stamps:




Monday, September 1, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Hakodate Asaichi 函馆朝市

Visited 13.02.2013


One of the top three markets in Hokkaido (alongside Kushiro's Washo Market and Sapporo's Nijo Market), Hakodate Asaichi is a seafood lovers' heaven! Plentiful quantities of seafood are off loaded at the nearby Hakodate Port everyday, which means visitors are guaranteed the freshest gifts from the sea in this market. But what makes Hakodate Asaichi different from the rest? 

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Highlights: 


- Squid is Hakodate's city fish for many reasons. The shape of Hakodate city is said to resemble the squid from a bird's eye view (Mt Hakodate being the head and rest of Hakodate city looked like the body of squid). Apart from that, Hakodate boosts the highest number of squids catch in Hokkaido annually, making up 90% of Hakodate's overall live catch as well. The locals' affection for squid has even gone to the point that a "squid dance" is created for their annual Hakodate Port Festival in summer! From food (such as squid ink soft serve, squid buns) and souvenirs to mascots, road signs and even manway covers, it seems that the presence of squids cannot go unnoticed in Hakodate.

- One activity that is unique to Hakodate Asaichi is this live squid fishing from a tank placed in the centre of ekini market (えきに). Get a fishing rod from the counter to proceed with squid fishing, without the need of a bait - the trick is to aim for the fin of the squid. After paying for your catch, the staff will dissect the squid on the spot, cutting the main body into thin translucent strips (ika noodles) within minutes. Only managed to see the entire process from the side and did not get to taste the squid sashimi (should have done so...).   


- Undoubtedly, the most popular seafood in Hokkaido has got to be crabs. In Hakodate Asaichi, I got to try a crab bun. A very nice savory snack that is filled with a mixture snow crab meat, bamboo shoot, onion, egg white and soy sauce. Apart from seafood, there are also meat, vegetables, fruits and dried goods stalls, catering to the needs of locals. Always felt that visiting the market was a good way to understand the lives of local, as this is a place which brings people together and is always bustling with life and spirit. 


- We finally get to taste some seafood at one of the many grilled seafood stalls in the market. Feasted on fresh uni (sea urchin), scallop and abalone. Love the uni especially - sweet, slightly briny taste and creamy texture, melted in our mouths almost instantly! If you are a sashimi lover, I will highly recommend to leave an empty stomach in the morning and try out the chirashi don (ちらし丼) and katte don (勝手丼) which are offered by many shops here.

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Hakodate Asaichi 函馆朝市
http://www.hakodate-asaichi.com/
1 min walk from Hakodate JR Station.
Opening hours: 0600 - 1200 hrs (Jan - Apr); 0500 - 1200 hrs (May - Dec)

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Commemorative stamp:

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Day 11 Itinerary: Hakodate 函馆

Day 11 - 13.02.2013

Breakfast: Doutor, branch @ Hakodate Wako [Closed]

Visited Hakodate Asaichi.

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Purchased 1 day streetcar pass. Price = 600 yen

Hakodate ekimae > Goryokaku Koen-mae
by streetcar

Visited Goryokaku Tower and Goryokaku Koen.

Lunch: Gotoken Curry Express, in Goryokaku Tower.

Lunch add-on: Hasegawasutoa, Goryokaku branch

Goryokaku Koen-mae > Jujigai
by streetcar.

Visited Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse.

Suehiro-cho > Hakodate ekimae
by streetcar.

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Shopping:
(1) Boni-moriya departmental store (棒二森屋店)
(2) Kiosk in Loisir Hotel

Hakodate Bus Terminal (1645 hrs) > Hakodate Airport (1705 hrs)
by Airport transfer bus. Fee = 400 yen

Dinner: Restaurant Pollux, in Hakodate Airport

Hakodate Airport (1940 hrs) > Haneda T1 (2110 hrs)
by JL 1170

Haneda Intl Terminal (2340 hrs) > SIN T1 (0620 hrs)
by JL 035

- End of Hokkaido Winter 2013 Trip -

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Lucky Pierrot ラッキーピエロ (十 宇 街銀座店)

Visited 12.02.2013


Lucky Pierrot is a burger restaurant chain which originated from Hakodate. They have a total of 16 outlets and all of them are located in Hakodate only. However, its exclusivity does not stop here. Each restaurant has its own unique theme, aimed to create different dinning experience in all its branches. As their signature food is burger, Lucky Pierrot is often mistaken as a conventional fast food restaurant. This is not entirely true as they only prepare your food after order is placed.


Came to Jujigai branch for dinner after visiting Mt Hakodate. Very eye catching exterior, with a huge Santa Claus stand placed at its entrance and many other Santa Claus figurines placed on the second and third floors' balcony. This particular branch is Christmas themed and the festive spirit can be felt immediately upon stepping into the restaurant. Cosy setting with European style wallpaper and lacquered wooden furnishing, familiar Christmas tunes played in the background and entire restaurant is decorated with evergreen foliage, Christmas trees and countless number of Santa Claus figurines (in different shapes and sizes)!


Ordered our food from the counter on the first floor and headed up to second floor to find a table. Had to try the shop's most popular Chinese chicken burger (チャイニーズチキンバーガー), which clocked a magnificent sales volume of 300,000 annually! Ordered the pork cutlet burger (トンカツバーガー) as well. The set meal comes with a cup of thick cut fries topped with melted cheese and a glass of oolong tea. Chinese chicken burger tasted quite good - three crispy and juicy chicken chunks (like tori karaage) sandwiched between two pieces of fragrant sesame buns. On the other hand, the pork cutlet burger comprised of two pieces of fried pork cutlets - cooked just right, with its moisture retained.

Conclusion: Though the food served was not mind blowing, the beautiful interior and Christmas theme of this particular branch will definitely uplift the mood of every diner.    

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Lucky Pierrot ラッキーピエロ (十宇街銀座店)
http://www.luckypierrot.jp/
Opening hours: 1000 - 0030 hrs


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Other branches:

(1) Hakodate ekimae branch, located on the first floor of Boni-moriya departmental store (main building).
Opening hours: 1000 - 0030 hrs



(2) Goryokaku koen-mae branch, restaurant located just outside Fort Goryokaku.
Opening hours: 1000 - 0030 hrs



(3) Hakodate Bay branch, restaurant located near Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse.
Opening hours: 1000 - 0030 hrs

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Do you know?
Taiwanese singer, Ann (白安) went to Hakodate to shoot the music video for her song 《麦田捕手》(recorded in her first album which was released in 2012). Try to spot Hakodate city night view, Lucky Pierrot (Hakodate Bay branch) and other iconic landmarks of Hakodate in this MV.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Mt Hakodate 函馆山

Visited 12.02.2013


The view from Mt Hakodate has been named as one of top three cities' night view in the world - alongside Hong Kong and Naples. Mt Hakodate stands at 334 m high and from the summit, Hakodate city sits on a well defined "hourglass" shaped land, bounded by Hakodate bay on the left and Tsugaru Straits on the right.


Reached Hakodate later than plan (as we missed an earlier train from Sapporo to Hakodate) and skies had already started to darken when we check in to our hotel for the night. Original plan was to made our way up by late afternoon, in order to capture the transition from day to night. Fortunately, weather was promising on our only night spent in Hakodate (and last night in Hokkaido as well) - the most important factor that affects the scenery enjoyed from the viewing platform on Mt Hakodate.

Royce Chocolate takes on a different packaging in Hakodate!
Made use of the streetcar (to Jujigai), followed by ropeway to reach the observatory. Trembled when the gush of chilly wind blew onto our faces when we stepped outdoors, but we were immediately welcomed by the stunning night view which looked exactly the same as what I have seen in books! City lights looked like millions of diamonds that sparkled brilliantly under the dark skies, bringing a smile to every visitor's face. To enjoy the panoramic view indoors, you can also settle your meal in the restaurant here. By far, this is best city night view I have seen in Japan (have been to Mt Moiwa in Sapporo and Mt Inasa in Nagasaki on separate occasions).

Conclusion: Undoubtedly, Mt Hakodate is a must visit attraction in Hakodate especially when weather permits!

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Mt Hakodate 函馆山
http://www.334.co.jp/eng/
Opening hours: 1000 - 2200 hrs (25 Apr - 15 Oct); 1000 - 2100 hrs (16 Oct - 14 Apr)
Ropeway carriage departs every 10 minutes normally.
Ropeway fares = 1,200 yen (round trip); 660 yen (one way)

Tip: Download 10% discount coupon from HISCoupon app.


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How to get there?

(1) Streetcar:
- From Hakodate JR Station, transfer to streetcar at Hakodate ekimae stop.
- Take the streetcar #2 (heading towards Yachigashira 谷地頭) or #5 (heading towards Hakodate Dokku-mae 函館どっく前), alight at Jujigai 十字街.
- Approx 5 - 10 mins walk to ropeway station.

(2) Local bus:
- Board Mt Hakodate bus from bus stop #4 outside Hakodate JR Station.
- Bus reaches Mt Hakodate summit directly.
- Fee = 400 yen (adult), 200 yen (child)
Bus schedule: http://www.334.co.jp/jpn/access/location/location2.php 

(3) Twinkle Bus Hakodate:
- Night Bus route covers Mt Hakodate sightseeing.
- Operating period: 1 Apr - 30 Sep
- Fee = 700 yen (not inclusive of ropeway ticket)
More information: http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/english/travel/twinkle.html

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Commemorative stamp: 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Loisir Hotel Hakodate ロワジールホ テル函館

Stayed 12.02.2013
Booked thru Japanican.



- There are many hotel options nearby Hakodate JR Station. Decided to settle for Loisir Hotel which is just a stone throw away from the train station. Loisir Hotel is one of the brands under Solare Hotels and Resort group, which also manages Chisun series of hotels. Have stayed in Sapporo Chisun Hotel on my first trip to Hokkaido and was pretty satisfied with my stay then.

- Booked the standard twin room A (exclusive of breakfast) at 7,980 yen/night (~99 SGD). Typical room size of 18 m2 (limited walking space in the room), equipped with all basic amenities. Souvenir shops are conveniently located on the ground floor (hotel lobby is on the second floor), allowing guests to perform last minute shopping of local specialties before heading back home. 

- Overall: Strategic location of hotel, great accessibility by both train and streetcar. A good hotel option for those visiting Hakodate for the first time.

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What's nearby?

(1) Bus to Hakodate Airport. Bus stop is located outside the train station.
Hakodate Airport: http://www.airport.ne.jp/hakodate/en/
Bus schedule to/fro Hakodate Airport: http://www.airport.ne.jp/hakodate/en/time_schedule/bus/en.shtml

(2) Hakodate eki-mae streetcar stop is located beside the hotel. Hop onto the streetcar to visit other attractions in Hakodate. Purchase a 1 day pass for 600 yen to enjoy unlimited rides on the streetcar. Passes can be purchased from Tourist Information Counter located within Hakodate JR Station, hotel front desks or directly from the driver. Bought mine from the front desk of Loisir Hotel.

Hakodate Streetcar Map (found in 1 day pass)
Rough guide on streetcar fares:
From Hakodate eki-mae > Jujigai, to visit Mt Hakodate and Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse: 210 yen
From Hakodate eki-mae > Goryokaku koen mae, to visit Goryokaku Tower: 230 yen
From Hakodate eki-mae > Yunokawa Onsen: 240 yen

(3) Hakodate Asachi Market (函馆朝市), located beside the train station and hotel. Seafood lovers will definitely want to savour the freshest catch of the day in this popular market. Chose the accommodation plan without breakfast because we wanted to visit the market in the morning.

(4) Boni-moriya departmental store (棒二森屋店), located beside the hotel. You can find quite an extensive line up of local souvenirs (mainly food) on the basement of Annex building. For MUJI fans, you will be delighted to know that they have one outlet on the fourth floor in the same building.
Website: http://www.boni-moriya.com/

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Loisir Hotel Hakodate ロワジールホテル函館
040-0063 函館市若松町14番10号
http://www.loisir-hakodate.com/


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Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Hakodate JR Station 函館駅


Hakodate JR Station (H75), terminal station on Hakodate main line.

(1) Limited Express Super Hokuto & Hokuto commute between Sapporo and Hakodate.
(2) Limited Express Super Hakucho & Hakucho commute between Hakodate and Aomori on Honshu island via Tsugaru-Kaikyo line, passing through Seikan Tunnel.

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What's nearby?


(1) Buses

- Twinkle Bus Hakodate: JR operates two sightseeing bus routes covering several prominent attractions in Hakodate (exclusively for JR train users).

  • Mankitsu Bus covers a pretty extensive line up of places: Trappists Monastery, Goryokaku Park, Cape Tachimachi, Hakodate Asaichi Market, Seikan Renrakusen Ferry Mashumaru Museum, Motomachi Guided Tour, Foreigners' Cemetery and Kanamori Red Brick Warehouse. Would have love to join this sightseeing tour if I have allocated more time to explore Hakodate.
  • Night Bus focuses on Mt Hakodate night view.

More information: http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/english/travel/twinkle.html

- Bus to Hakodate Airport (bus stop 11)
Hakodate Airport: http://www.airport.ne.jp/hakodate/en/
Bus schedule to/fro Hakodate Airport: http://www.airport.ne.jp/hakodate/en/time_schedule/bus/en.shtml

(2) Hotels
There are many hotel options near the train station - Loisir Hotel, Hotel Route Inn, Smile Hotel, Comfort Hotel, etc.

(3) Twinkle Plaza and Tourist Information Counter are located within train station. You can make reservation for Twinkle Buses and purchase 1 day streetcar pass here.

(4) Hakodate ekimae streetcar station, is about 3 minutes walk from train station.

(5) Hakodate Asaichi Market, located just beside train station.

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Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Day 10 Itinerary: Hakodate

Day 10 - 12.02.2013

Breakfast: Best Western Fino Hotel

Morning stroll to Clock Tower

Shopping: Marui Imai, in Odori.
Bought packed lunches from Marui Imai.

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Sapporo JR Station (1317 hrs) > Hakodate JR Station (1649 hrs)
by Hokuto train. Day #4 usage of 4 day flexible Hokkaido Rail Pass.

Check in: Loisir Hotel Hakodate

Hakodate ekimae > Jujigai
by streetcar. Fee = 200 yen.

Hakodate Ropeway Station > Mount Hakodate summit
by ropeway. Fee = 1,050 yen (discounted)

Dinner: Lucky Pierrot, Jujigai branch

Jujigai > Hakodate ekimae
by streetcar. Fee = 200 yen

- End of Day 10 -

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Susukino Ice Festival すすきの氷の 祭典

Visited 11.02.2014

Year 2013 (33rd): 05.02.2013 - 11.02.2013
Year 2014 (34th): 05.02.2014 - 11.02.2014
Year 2015 (35th): 05.02.2015 - 11.02.2015 


Part of the larger Sapporo Snow Festival, an exhibition of ice sculptures is held in the nightlife district of Susukino in the very same week. This annual event is held along ekimae dori, between minami 4 dori and minami 6 dori, which is within walking distance from Susukino subway station. Managed to rush to this site on the last day, just an hour before lights off (2200 hrs)!

Highlights: 



- These works of art were entries for the ice sculpture contest and sculptors were given less than a day to create their masterpieces on the first day of festival. Having visited Heiwa dori shopping street during Asahikawa Winter Festival a few days back, the "wow" factor that these ice sculptures brought to me was definitely not as high as before. Despite that, I still found myself spending quite some time, admiring the fine details portrayed on each piece of ice sculpture. Personally I like to see how sculptors create mythical and fictional creatures, such as dragons and phoenixes, and they look particularly beautiful when they are illuminated at night.


- The most intriguing ice display has got to be this huge ice wall which was frozen together with crabs and fishes! An ice bar, which is constructed out of ice, allows visitors to enjoy ice cold beer/liquor (if you can withstand that in the cold weather) in the event venue. You may also get the opportunity to take a photo with the Ice Queen, the winner of their local beauty pageant. All in all, not a very big scale event, but still worth visiting especially if you are in Sapporo! 

Fishes and crabs all trapped in this ice wall.

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Susukino Ice Festival すすきの氷の祭典
Open to visitors till 2300 hrs, but lights out at 2200 hrs on the last day.
Free admission.

View Susukino Site in a larger map