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Grab your woolly hats, scarves, and gloves
because we're off on a road trip across Hokkaido.
...And it's bloody cold.
Hokkaido is Japan's second-largest island and most northern prefecture.
Last year we visited Sapporo, the island's vibrant capital city,
and I've returned for a road trip in a reasonably-priced car
to uncover what makes Hokkaido such a popular tourist destination
amongst Japanese and foreign travelers.
There's so much to see that we've turned the journey into a two-part series.
In this episode we'll journey across the island's seismically-active landscape,
and in the second episode we'll stuff ourselves with the local cuisine.
Joining us on our trip is my good friend Chris,
a real-life American person who'll be acting as the cameraman
and also splashing around in some water.
That's- that's what he does.
Let's get to know Chris with a quick Q&A session.
Chris, what is your favorite thing in the world?
- Ice cream. - That is the end of the Q&A.
So, this is our car. It's a Toyota Vitz,
also known as Toyota Yaris to most other countries.
It's cheap, it's gonna get us from A to B,
and we rented it from Nippon Rent-A-Car.
There's three good car companies, good rental companies,
in Japan that I recommend. Nippon Rent-A-Car, Toyota Rent-A-Car, and Niconico.
Niconico tend to be the cheapest, but I often go Nippon Rent-A-Car,
just 'cause I find the cars are slightly nicer and newer.
So this is a map of Hokkaido.
This is where we are now, in the city of Hakodate,
and we're gonna drive along the coastline here, all the way to here.
This is called Noboribetsu, or Hell's Valley.
It's a very seismically active region, lots of geysers and hot springs and things.
And then we're gonna drive from Noboribetsu to Furano.
Now, Furano is right in the middle of Hokkaido
and it's known for its big, rolling fields filled with lavender.
And I think it's gonna be a lovely way to end this video,
with a shot of the nice, rolling lavender fields of Hokkaido.
So, are you ready, Chris? - I'm ready!
- Are you ready, viewers? [Chris nods camera]
- 'Course you are. Let's go and have a look.
After 200 years of being closed off to the outside world,
Japan finally opened up in the 1850s,
allowing foreign trade at five ports throughout the country,
one of which was Hakodate.
In fact, the first-ever U.S. citizen to be buried on Japanese soil lies in the city;
one of Commodore Perry's men,
who passed away while American ships were surveying the port in 1854.
And in the years that followed, the influx of trade and foreign cultures
led to the presence of some not-so-looking Japanese architecture,
architecture which can still be found throughout the city today.
So this is our first stop.
It's the top of Mount Hakodate, overlooking the entire city.
It's quite a unique kind of place, given that we've got the sea on both sides
and the city runs in between it.
I've not been to a city in Japan quite like it.
Great view. Incredibly cold, can't feel my fingers, but...
Nice place to start the trip, I think. It's very romantic.
It's just a shame that the person who's with me isn't...
isn't someone you can really have romance with,
but, uh... yeah.
So we're at the base of Mount Hakodate,
and it's a little bit of an odd kind of district,
'cause there's lots of foreign, kind of European-style buildings around,
like this Russian Orthodox Church. Because Hakodate opened in 1859--
it was one of the first ports in Japan to open to the West--
lots of European powers rocked up and started building
churches and red brick buildings everywhere,
so the whole area feels a bit of an anomaly.
It doesn't feel like being in Japan. It's the least Japan-looking district
that I've been in in Japan, and there's also a glove on the floor, look at this.
Come over here.
A glove.
What can it mean?
I quite want to wear it, 'cause I don't have any gloves
and my hands are fffffffreally cold!
But I'm gonna leave it there.
But that's the kind of exciting thing you can find at the base of Mount Hakodate.
Gloves.
- *whimpering* - You don't... seem to handle the cold very well.
- I'm LA-born, mother--
- LA-born?
- Gosh... Dude. *shivering*
- *laughing* - Wait, let me zip my--
Ohh, God.
- That's a pretty impressive building; this is the old government ward building,
so the government of Hakodate used to be based there.
It's a very decadent-looking building.
The only thing more impressive than this building
is that elaborate snowman over there that's hastily been built this morning;
come and look at this!
The first snowman I've seen on a trip so far,
and the detail and the quality of that expression is exceptional.
That's a really good snowman. 8 out of 10.
Got my British tea, and-- Oh, look!
It's like being in the UK all over again.
So we're in the old British Consulate building that was opened in 1859.
These days it's just got a nice tea room and a museum.
And it's a great place to get some British tea.
We're sitting here, the snow's just kicked off outside,
so it's bit of a blizzard at the moment.
And our journey-- after this tea, our journey across Hokkaido will begin.
So from Hakodate to Noboribetsu is about 200 kilometers and a three-hour drive.
But because Hokkaido's scenery is supposedly legendary,
it's supposed to be quite a nice drive, so...
This is going to be an incredible trip,
because Chris has brought a drone with him.
This is the first video on this channel ever
that's going to use some drone footage.
I'm a bit of a skeptic when it comes to drones--
Yeah, you can get some nice, artistic shots,
but I like to make it feel like you're in the car with us going on the trip,
not like a hundred meters in the sky, so...
But yeah, maybe he can change my mind.
- With drooones!
- En route to Noboribetsu, we'd stop off at
one of the most active volcanic sites on Hokkaido.
So we've just stopped off halfway between Hakodate and Hell's Valley.
And this is an active volcano called Usu volcano.
We're about to go up it, actually, and get a better view
but you can see here, there's steam coming out.
There's steam and smoke, so it must be good;
Isn't that right, Chris? - So good.
- Let's go and have a look. - Let's go!
Makes the snowman we saw in Hakodate look like the best snowman ever.
This one doesn't even have a face, so let's contribute to that.
There you go-- oh, shit.
There you, now he's got a nose.
Look at that!
So here we are at the peak of Mount Usu, 2,400 feet up,
and there's absolutely no wind.
It's really eerie to be this high up and have no wind,
but the view is spectacular.
This is a really volcanic kind of region;
it's so volcanic that there's been four eruptions since 1900.
And in fact, this kind of mound-- this lump sticking out here before us,
is called Showa Shinzan, and it erupted in 1943.
Before, that was just a wheat field, and now it's a small mountain that's just risen up.
When it happened, in between 1943 to 1945,
the authorities were really worried about it as they thought it was a bad omen
because it was happening during World War II;
they thought it was a bad symbol, and...
Yeah, what do you think, Chris? Isn't it amazing?
- Perfect for a drone, eh? - Perfect for a drone?
Let's see what you can do... with this drone of yours.
Go on then, show us-- show us what you can do. - Compass... error.
Compass error. *laugh* - "Compass error."
- "Too much compass--" no, what--?
Metal interference. Where's the metal? Do you see any metal?
- Well, the volcano. I'm sure there's some metal going on here.
What a sight this is.
*laughing*
- Where's the metal?
- *laughing* A member of staff just ran over and told him off for trying to use the drone.
Apparently you're not allowed to use it up here.
And even if we were allowed, we still couldn't
get the damn drone up and running due to magnetic interference, so...
Yeah, don't bring your drone up here.
And don't bring Chris up here, either.
What do you think it was?
- I don't know.
Usually... I'm used- I'm like, next to some kind of metal object,
but I can't see any metal objects here besides, I guess,
the inside of the volcano, but...
- Maybe it's your heart of steel, Chris.
*both laughing* - Like Superman? *laughing*
- *speaking Japanese*
This is another famous dish in Hokkaido: corn and potatoes.
Not together; separately.
On a scale of 1 to chaos, loads of tourists have just rocked up
while I was ordering the corn.
It's all-- it's just one man, this one corn salesman,
who's been undated by about 30 to 40 people. *laughing*
They've just come off a truck.
Still, the corn's fantastic!
It's corn that's just been laced with incredible amounts of butter.
Corn and dairy products are a really big part of Hokkaido's food culture, and...
I actually-- when I when I came to Sapporo,
Natsuki ordered lots of corn, he loved it.
But I didn't, and now I can see why he ordered it.
I did order a potato.
Don't know where it's gone.
He appears to have run off!
He's gone.
Oh, here he comes!
Noboribetsu is Hokkaido's largest hot spring town,
one of the best known in all of Japan.
Whilst many of the country's hot springs are only visible behind closed doors,
here in Noboribetsu the town's seismic activity takes on a far more visible role.
We're about to reach the ominous-sounding Hell's Valley,
the steaming valley that runs alongside Noboribetsu, where
3,000 liters of hot water gush from the surface of the earth every single minute.
It's quite a lot, innit?
So we just turned a corner down the street,
and there's a massive pillar of smoke rising up;
I say smoke, it's obviously steam-- and that is Hell's Valley.
It's, uh... starting to look like the gateway to hell.
It's kind of just poking out between the mountains.
Given that it's about minus 4 today, I'm looking forward to getting near the steam.
It's a bit of an alien sight, I've never seen anything quite like it.
I'm amazed there's any snow at all, actually,
given how much steam is rising out between the between the cracks
and the rivers of hot water.
The smell of sulfur is pretty overwhelming.
I think the thing that strikes me the most about the Jigokudani Valley is,
it would be a really good skateboard park.
I don't even do skateboarding, right, but you look at those ridges
and you think, "Yeah!" Imagine going up and down like that,
in between the- in between the steam.
There's a sign over there saying "no drinking the water,"
"no drinking the 60 degree water,"
which makes me wonder, "Have people actually attempted to drink this?"
Which would seem strange, given how sulfuric it actually smells. *laugh*
Well, you'd have to be mad to drink it,
but I would do anything right now to get in there and have a swim,
bloody hell. Anything.
What's it like?
- Tastes chemical-y. - You didn't just drink it, did you?
- Yeah. - You are- you are so odd.
- Master Onsen Man. You gotta drink it. - It smells horrific.
- Look, look: look at this black sand. Look.
- And you drank that?
You- you are... ugh. - Onsen Man!
*laughing*
- So, we found this secluded foot bath...
that Chris has been drinking from.
We're just in a forest; there's actually nobody around.
And there's just this area where you can sit down
and dip your feet into the water.
And it's a little bit odd that there's no one here. I don't know why--
I guess it's 'cause it's quite isolated.
We're in a forest and it's a little bit of a walk off the main road.
- Look, it's black sand!
Look at that!
- Wow.
This video just got 20 percent better!
- I feel like you can exfoliate your feet very well in here.
- I would get in it myself, but we didn't bring any towels.
Sometimes it's just nicer to live vicariously through Chris' experience.
- Noboribetsu dance.
Noboribetsu dance!
Yeahhh, boy!
- So, we're on the home straight now going into central Hokkaido,
going into Furano, and it's 2 degrees Celsius
and there's a lot of snow, noticeably more snow.
It's a real winter wonderland.
Anything you want to add to that, Chris?
Anything you'd like to say? While we're on the home straight? - I just really gotta... just really got to go to the bathroom.
*both laughing*
- To be fair, he's in pain.
To be fair, there hasn't been a service station in the last hour.
We've been driving for two hours now and we've only seen one service stop,
so if you're coming to Hokkaido, be extra vigilant;
otherwise, you'll end up like him.
- That's something where you do not want to be!
- As we arrive in central Hokkaido after our 400-kilometer journey,
we first stop in the snowy woodland wonderland that is Ningle Village,
hidden away in a forest on the outskirts of Furano.
We're in a little village called Ningle Village.
It's kind of just in a forest full of snow.
Looks quite romantic, really.
Ready to mingle? In Ningle?
Wha-- - Ningle! *laughing*
- Ningle. What does that even mean? "Ningle village..."
It's a little village filled with log houses, log cabins,
and it's got a very nice kind of wintery feel to it.
Each of the cabins is selling craft goods and things,
so if you're into your craft goods, it's the place to be.
But really, it's a bit of a photographer's dream. Isn't it, Chris?
- It feels like you've kind of left Japan.
- And have gone where?
- Hobbit Land! - *laughing*
So, just stopped for a quick coffee before we
go on to the rolling lavender fields of Furano.
Chris has got this baked milk drink that I'm very eager to see him consume,
because I don't know if it's good or not. It looks kind of weird.
- So, the lady said it's sweetened milk.
She said, in order to spread the sweetness around,
you gotta- you should stir it before you drink it, so... here we go.
Oh, that looks really good.
- Is it?
- All right.
*slurp* - *laughing*
- Oh, shit!
Yo! *laughing*
I just spilled on myself. Dude, that's really good!
- Yeah? - It tastes like a s'more!
- I don't know what a s'more is.
- You want to try some? - Yeah.
- Dude, try some.
It tastes like a s'more. I'm not even jok-- - What is a s'more?
- Wait, are you-- are you not kidding? - Why don't I know what a s'more is? *laughing*
- Is that an American thing? - Yes, probably! Like eggnog, or... burgers.
- Oh, okay. "S'more" is basically, right, you have a marshmallow...
and you bake it over, like, a campfire--
- Okay, I know that is. - Oh, okay.
- It really does taste like a s'more! - *mocking British accent* It's rather good!
- Do you want some of my apple pie?
Oh, for God's-- come on!
You're a disgrace. First you drink all the baked milk...
and now you've finished my apple pie.
Oh, I'm gonna have you killed.
- Apple pie for baked milk.
- But first, lavender field! - *grunts in agreement*
So after 230 kilometers of driving through the snow and the mountains,
we're finally here at the rolling lavender fields of Furano!
Yeahhh!
And... it's closed.
[dramatic horn sound effect]
To be fair, we are four, maybe five months late.
Um, I don't really know what we were thinking by driving here, to be honest.
Obviously it was gonna be under a foot of powdery snow.
Still! if you like snow, it's quite a nice place to be,
and here's what it's supposed to look like in July and in summer.
[upbeat music]
Well, I think when it comes to this video,
it's more about the journey rather than the destination.
What do you reckon, Chris? - Dude... you're an idiot.
- Yeah... Yeah, I suppose I am.
Still, it was a fun trip.
Now we've got to drive back to Hakodate,
another 230 kilometers back the other way, so we better get a move on. [on screen: It's actually 400 km]
But for now guys, many thanks for watching, and...
Yeah, I think that's about it really, innit?
I'll see you next time. *laugh*
And Chris, you can find your own way back for calling me an idiot.
- Wait, what?
Wha--?
- So long, dickhead!
Well, we may not have seen Furano's legendary rolling fields this time,
but at least we learned that sweetened milk tastes like a s'more,
drones don't always work on volcanoes,
and sulfuric water tastes "chemical-y."
Our three-day road trip across Hokkaido cost about
25,000 yen to rent the car, with an additional 12,000 yen on toll roads.
And whilst the highway tolls are avoidable,
if you're looking to travel seamlessly across the island in a few days,
the highways are definitely recommended.
But with English signs almost everywhere,
getting around Hokkaido wasn't any trouble at all.
And even with the disturbing levels of snowfall,
all the roads were magically cleared of the crazy snow.
If you are planning on driving, just be sure to bring an international driver's license
and you're all good to go.
In the next episode of our Hokkaido trip
we explore some of the island's most iconic dishes
and get lost in Hakodate's sprawling market.
But for now though guys, as always, many thanks for joining us on our trip.
We'll see you next time!
It's very succulent, very juicy, very fresh.
I- Well, I literally saw the crab get killed about 10 minutes ago, so...
I feel a bit... a little bit guilty.