Hokkaido has always conjured up the image of snowy landscapes, clear blue skies and a myriad of fresh seafood in my mind.
Having travelled to Sapporo, Otaru and Hakodate in the past, this impression has strengthened. At the same time, I have also discovered many unexpected sides to Hokkaido.
In December last year, I was fortunate enough to join four students from Singapore as they journeyed to Japan’s northernmost island.
The students were the winners of the Singapore Japanese Speech Contest.
Started in 1996 by the Japanese Association, its aim was to encourage cultural exchange. With the support of the government and private enterprises, the four winners were gifted with a 6-day 5-night trip to Obihiro and Sapporo.
After landing in New Chitose Airport, we transferred to Obihiro City via the Milky Liner. The students then met with local tourism officials to share their first impressions of Hokkaido before going live on a local radio show!
That night, we were treated to a lovely robata-yaki (炉端焼き) dinner. Literally translated as fireside-cooking, this method is similar to barbecue, in which food items on skewers are slowly grilled over hot charcoal.
While the four winners met with local high school students for a brief exchange session, I was whisked off to visit some of Obihiro’s most famous attractions. The first stop we made was at Kōfuku Station (幸福駅). The closed railway station on the defunct Hiroo Line is a popular sightseeing spot said to bring happiness to all who come by.
Visitors can also hop on board an old train to take some photos, or stop at the old-school souvenir shop to pick up some gifts.
For lunch, I had the pleasure of savouring Obihiro’s specialty — Butadon!! The hearty slices of pork went incredibly well with the generous serving of Japanese rice.
After lunch, it was time for the four students to present their speech to an audience which included local tourism officials.
Held at Obihiro Financial Centre, the students kicked off the session with a short presentation about Singapore before reciting their speeches individually. After a tiring but meaningful day, all four spent the night with their loving home-stay families!
A day of fun and excitement was in store for us! Together with the students’ home-stay families, we paid a visit to Oak Leaf Farm and learnt about farming techniques before taking a ride on a new-age tractor.
Other highlights of the day included watching an exhilarating Ban’ei Horse Race. This form of horse racing sees carthorses compete by pulling heavily weighted sleds up and down ramps while urged on by jockeys.
The day ended on a sweet note with a Christmas cookie decorating session at Ryugetsu Tokachi Sweetpia Garden.
That night, we stayed at Tokachigawa Onsen Daiichi Hotel (十勝川第一ホテル) and enjoyed a soak in the hot spring waters known as 美人の湯 (Bath for Beauties), as well as an extravagant kaiseki (会席) dinner.
A fruitful day spent at two local high schools, where we experienced mochi-making and a traditional tea ceremony demonstration.
This was the last day we spent in Obihiro, and we were extremely sad to leave behind the amazing food and people as we headed to Sapporo.
Our agenda of the day was a visit to the beautiful Former Hokkaido Government Office building and exploring Odori Park!
Ended the day with a hot piping bowl of Hokkaido-style ramen~
Left for Singapore with our hearts warm and bags full of yummy souvenirs!
Want to see these breathtaking sights and taste the amazing food first-hand?
From now until 28 Feb’17, simply answer 5 questions in the Explore Scenic Hokkaido Contest to win a pair of return tickets to Hokkaido!!
*Explore Scenic Hokkaido Contest is proudly supported by the Hokkaido Government Representative Office, Tokachi Singapore Friendship Society and Prot Global Pte Ltd.
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