Category Archives: Hokkaido 2016

Going nuts over a bowl of ramen @ Ichiryuan

At 11h30 in the morning Yasuko and I think about lunch. It is cold this morning and a nice steaming bowl of noodle may warm us up. Ramen it shall be.

You think ramen is a portion of egg noodles, in a broth with some other stuff in it? Think again…

Ramen is an art form. Every ramen shop has its little secret, a special broth, the perfect noodle, refined toppings and all of it cooked with pride and perfect timing.

We decided to skip hundreds of other good lunch options and headed for that one place with excellent rating recommended by the front office staff, for “miso ramen” à la Hokkaido.

If a ramen restaurant is good, you have to queue. No queue, no good. So we waited patiently for half an hour, moving one waiting seat to the left at a time whenever somebody was let in. Meanwhile we had enough time to study the menu to decide which ramen it shall be and to buy the appropriate ticket at the vending machine.

Of course, a restaurant with a meal ticket vending machine has hundreds of tables, right? No, ONLY 16 seats, that is!

The lovely waitress collects those tickets, give or take 2.6 minutes before our estimated time of access to the pleasure dome so that the kitchen can mentally prepare for the ramen ahead. The result is a minimum waiting time once you sit down at the table.

And here we go – noodle slurping. This is the moment when I love to glimpse over to Yasuko. The first few ramen followed by a spoon of broth and her face says it all. It said “oishii”, delicious. The world around it eclipses and for a moment, there is nothing but the steaming bowl and its temporary owner.

If you get a chance, give it a try:

Noboribetsu Foot Onsen

We’re off to Noboribetsu Onsen. It’s located in Jigokudani, the “Valley of Hell”, and indeed, steaming hills and mountains, blubbling water, geysers and dark, thick mud ponds everywhere. No doubt the devil will make an appearance soon.

We observe this natural spectacle from a safe distance, but not distant enough to escape the omnipresent devil’s fart (i.e. sulfur smell).

We stroll the walking path leading to another hot spring “Oku-no Yu”, a hot water pond with 120 degree at the bottom and 50 degree on the surface. From there, hot water streams into a river and down to a foot-bathing spot,  nicely setup in the nature.

Basically, if a Japanese can soak any body part in sufficiently warm water (that would be equivalent to freaking hot for me), life is good. Downstream, at the beautiful foot bath spot, the temperature was 40 degrees celsius. Pleasantly warm at best, according to Yasuko. So we sat comfortably under the trees of the river bank and soaked our feet.

Usu-zan, an active volcano

A still active volcano above Toya-ko (洞爺湖), Usu-zan (有珠山) is one with an impressive story of recent eruptions and destruction. That story is very well documented and illustrated at the nearby Volcano Museum. In the earthquake-simulation room you hear and feel the roaring sound of eruptions, see flying red lava and rocks into your window in an eerily realistic way. We came out of the eruption show feeling small, vulnerable and powerless.

This volcano erupted two times in the last 40 years and created a couple of new craters and cones. The earthquake in 1977 covered the town of Toya-ko Onsen with lava and rocks. Due to a rare predictability of this volcano’s activity, nobody died.

Steep 260 steps up and down

We did a beautiful stroll around the Usu-zan crater, watching steaming smoke and inhaling sulfur-saturated air. It’s a peaceful and scenic walk with a steep staircase going 260 steps up and down.   It’s also a bit scary to imagine that the mountain might explode again  anytime.

After the walk, we went back to the Toya-ko and warmed up our feet…

Toya-ko foot bath
Toya-ko foot bath

Hiking Mt. Yōtei

From Makkari Trailhead (371m) to Yōtei-zan (1989m) , 11km hike, 1500m ascent and decent

Hiking up 1’500m of altitude to the crater of Mt. Yōtei, Hokkaido’s Mt. Fuji, … and down again. A fantastic view of the enormous crater and the mystic Toya Lake in the south with an island floating in the middle.

8h after the start, the only thing we wanted was an onsen and a steaming bowl of udon

Great to soak in the outdoor bath at Makkari Onsen with a direct view of Yōtei-zan, reflecting our hard, but memorable day of hike.