Trip Report – Round-the-world 2013 – Hokkaido Part 1

During this trip, we finally managed to check off a place on the list of places in Japan I absolutely must visit. Having been there an innumerable amount of times, I have tended to stick to the Kansai area (Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe) – venturing as far as Nara, Takamatsu, Hiroshima and Matsuyama southwards, and Tokyo, Chuzenji and Nikko northwards. But very little in between, despite absolutely wanting to go Okinawa, Matsushima, Hokkaido and a few other places.

This part of the report is about Hokkaido; a few posts later, I will mention another place I managed to visit on this trip, which made me very happy – though that place was more of a geeky one, whereas this is more of a culturally entertaining, visually beautiful, and quite tasty to boot.

We started by flying from Kobe to Sapporo. The Kobe airport (UKB) is an interesting concoction. It was built entirely as a pet project by a local politician, and it was pretty much doomed to fail from the beginning: Itami Airport (ITM) serves far more flights, is still relatively close, and can shuttle you anywhere in Japan. Kansai Airport (KIX) is the international gateway, located in the middle of nowhere, difficult to get to, and a huge pain in the ass to really use. But Kobe? Whatever airlines initially flocked to it realised that, well, it wasn’t nearly as glorious as ITM, and there was very little point in flying to it when they already flew to ITM. So they kind of abandoned it, and now, only ANA, Air Do, Skymark and a few other random flights go to it. That said, it was convenient for us – so we flew Air Do outbound, and ANA on the return.

As always, all Japanese airports are clean, open, well-lit and just….. proper. Side story, but when I first went to the Dubai airport in 2006, I remember reading stories about how clean, open, advanced and modern it was. I landed, and my first impression was, “okay, but this is kind of like Kansai, except worse”. Similar to my impression of Singapore: “it’s excellent, but … it’s kind of  a step down from Japan”. Regardless; some shots of the airport.

First, the shuttle train taking us there:

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Did I mention it was very dead, and nobody flies there?

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Not sure if you’re seeing a pattern here. 🙂

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There was a board with adjustable dates. The kids managed to mess them all up (that’s 20_3 year, __month, _5 day):

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Of course, my sense of civic duty rebelled, and knowing how rule-bound the Japanese are, I felt obliged to hopefully stump at least one of them:

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Boarding area (notice how orderly everything is):

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In Japan, as in the Soviet Union, much is done for the kids. Hell, this whole airport was probably built in some way for the kids – since it serves Hokkaido and other vacation destinations. The airline’s slogan is “Air Do: Bear Do Dream”, and their planes are painted with bears:

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So when we were boarding the plane, in the same vein, there were some tarmac workers which weren’t quite behaving like the typical TSA grunts…

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Flight to Hokkaido was uneventful. Landing there, I was seeing scenery which was DEFINITELY not typical Japan:

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Chitose Airport (CTS) is just as awesome as all the other Japanese airports.

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What was more impressive, though, is that a part of the wing was dedicated to an aircraft museum, where much was on display:

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And what aircraft museum wouldn’t have a nice view of the tarmac?

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After oggling planes for a while, we went off to grab our rental. It was a glorious little Honda Fit:

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And off we went. Next stop: the museum of the Ainu, the deeply persecuted First Nations of Japan who have only recently begun to be acknowledged as the original settlers of Japan. Stay tuned!