Hokkaido, the European Side of Japan Part 2

By Anissa Ratna Putri - November 27, 2016

Back with my adventure in Hokkaido on late summer last year! On this post, we will explore the central part of Hokkaido. For those who interested in cute polar bears and daily living of Hokkaido people, this post might worth to read.

Day 3: Asahiyama Zoo and Kurodake Ropeway

Another day in the northern part of Japan starts with a simple breakfast at Toyoko Inn. We then check out from the hotel and go to the famous Asahiyama Zoo. I am actually not a big fan of a zoo - I mean I don't mind to visit it in daily life, but if I travel, zoo usually is not on my list. However, there is a special animal here that I really want to meet: a polar bear! And Wina also wanted to meet penguins, too. So here we go.

As we walked inside the zoo we were greeted by a mix of a polar bear and... something. It's a polar bear, but its face doesn't look like one. Can anyone identify what kind of animal is this?

We headed to penguin house afterward, and right before we entered the house, we met another photo spot: seal with three faces! As if it was made special for the three of us.

And finally, here are the stars: penguin and polar bears. Since it was early autumn, penguins stay in their cage. Some said that in winter those penguins will be walking outside their cage, mingle with visitors. That will be cuteness overload!! Even inside their cage, they are still cute, though. As for the polar bear, we met about 2-3 bears inside the cage. It's like my dream comes true, to meet this animal face to face. Well, it's not like the way I imagine it ('meet a polar bear in Arctic') but it still makes me happy.

Wina, Maria, and the penguin
Cuteness overload!
The cute/cool polar bear
After seeing the stars, we walk around the zoo, seeing other animals. Asahiyama Zoo has a quite big area. They have an area for animals, restaurant for lunch, museums, and library. The collection of their animals not only include those animals living in cold places like a polar bear, seal, and penguins but  also other common animals such as deer, giraffe, lion. They even have orangutan! I wonder how those orangutans survive during winter as it can be very cold in Hokkaido.

Orang utan!
Asahiyama Zoo
Opening hours: Everyday, 9:30-17:15 (Entry until 16:00 - hours might be different in some season)
Closed in New Year and some days between summer and winter
Fee: 820yen

We spent 4 hours at the zoo. Hayashi-san said we were 'captured' by animals inside :p
On our way back home, we decided to stop by one of ropeway of Daisetsuzan National Park mountain: Kurodake Ropeway. If only I had time, I would love to explore Daisetsuzan more! On the internet, I saw the landscape is really beautiful - in addition, it is one of the earliest places in Japan to have the changing color of autumn. But since we had very limited time, we decided to just experience the ropeway.

Kurodake Ropeway lift us to 1,300 m up in the mountain. Its final stop is the 5th station, halfway to the summit. From this height, we can enjoy an observatory area and a cafe where people can have a cup of coffee while watching a beautiful scenery from above. Unfortunately, when I was there it was another foggy and cloudy day. We can  barely see anything - all are white.

The house where cafe and observatory area is
Observatory area
After the 5th station, there is a walking trail into the forest that leads to a chair lift that will lift visitors up to the 7th station (1,984 high above sea level). We chose not to ride the chair lift and goes back to our car instead. It is quite a disappointment to not be able to enjoy the beauty of Hokkaido's nature. But it is the risk that I took when I decided to go on September - the rainy month. Should anyone wants to enjoy the beauty of Hokkaido nature, I suggest them to visit in August.

Hours: Everyday, 6:00-19:00 (summer) and 9:00-16:00 (winter)
Fee: 1950 yen (round trip, ropeway), 600 yen (round trip, chair lift)

Day 4: Honbetsu
On our 4th day, we didn't go anywhere. We experience living as local in Hokkaido: join local activities and visit the neighbor. In the morning I, Wina, and Maria join Hayashi-san and the local discussing local problems and activities. I think it's some kind of 'Pengajian' and 'arisan' in Indonesia. I and Wina barely understand the discussion, fortunately, nice Maria translated it for us. One of local discussion that inspires me is when one of the ladies telling us about her effort to reduce food waste. She creates a list of food-inside-the-fridge and put it in the front of the refrigerator. Every day, she will cook based on this list - so she will maximize the use of what is available inside the fridge instead of buying new ingredients and later left some old ingredients as a waste. 

After having a discussion with locals, we were walking around the neighborhood. Near to Hayashi-san place, there is one house that makes me curious. The building made from wood looks like a classic old house - but they have a solar panel on their roof. Since I went to the local meeting with the owner of the house, she invited me, Wina, and Maria to come to her house. What a nice opportunity to answer my curiosity.

Turns out the house belongs to a couple who runs a farm named "Sophia Farm Community". The husband name is Ben and the wife is Konomi. Both of them were surprised when I and Wina said we chose to study in Japan about the environment because we thought Japan has managed their environment really well. From their perspective, Japan is far away from what one can call "eco-friendly country". We had a discussion about an environmental problem as well as eco-living. They explain the eco-living way that they are going through, how they choose products based on the producer track-record, how they try their best to live self-sufficiently by running a farm. Ben also explained about how he built the house by himself using a mix of natural and leftover ingredients. In their lifestyle, they try to waste nothing and use everything at its maximum capacity. We had our discussion accompanied by a homemade soba cookies made by their intern. At that time Ben and Konomi had two interns - one from U.S. and another is from Japan.
Fresh baked soba-cookies
Material used by Ben for the house wall: wood, glass bottles, straw
Ben and Konomi farm
Now, listening to their story, I and Wina feel so far from the definition of "environmental-friendly way of living". For me personally, I learn about the environment since 4 years ago, and now had a chance to excel my study into another level - yet, my way of living have not changed. This visit to the neighbor was a chance to open my eyes that there are actually other people out there who fight for a better environment - not only me and my communities. It was also a friendly reminder to me, that if I really care, I can change my way of living closer to what they called "environmental friendly living". So now this holiday post turns into some kind of summary from a field visit, hahaha. But I'm glad to be able to meet and talked to Ben and Konomi. 

We were back from Ben and Konomi house near to dinner time. At dinner, Hayashi-san wife made her special Potato Gratin. This menu was actually served in Hayashi-san restaurant back then in 80's or 90's. Apparently, they ran a famous family restaurant at that time, it even reviewed in Japan Guidebook. The potato gratin served with kale salad - fresh from the farm. It tasted really good I am feeling like I want to eat it again while writing this. 
Potato Gratin and Kale salad
One day at Honbetsu gave me a chance to experience how local is doing in everyday life. It also a gentle reminder for this environmental study student about what environmental friendly living really is. This summer break feels like a kind of mix of traveling and home-stay experience, and I love it.


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