Sunday, 17 November 2013

A. Pre-trip planning:
1. Check on the Japanese holidays, especially the Golden week periods. Try to avoid these dates which are slightly different each year :
 In 2013, there are 8 long weekends besides the Golden week holidays
  • Coming of age day long weekend - January 12, 13, 14
  • National Foundation day long weekend - February 9. 10, 11
  • Marine Day long weekend - July 13, 14, 15
  • Respect for the aged Day long weekend - September 14, 15, 16
  • Autumnal Equiniox day long weekend - September 21, 22, 23
  • Health and Sports Day long weekend - October 12, 13, 14
  • Culture Day long weekend - November 2, 3, 4
  • The Emperor's Birthday long weekend - December 21, 22, 23
2. Set the dates that you want to travel as some of these factors may affect your decision:
a. Air ticket availability and black-out dates for special offers. For my SQ ticket, I must complete my tour on or before 10 Nov. 2013.
b. Availability of the friends that you plan to meet.
c. Availability of accommodation - hotels, ryokans or friends' home. For the former, internet booking can be good option. I used for my hotel booking.

3. Purchase the Japan Rail pass - online or at local travel bureau. Mine was purchase at JTB at Ion-Orchard. It was a 7-day pass @¥28,300 (About S$358 then) and I was given an exchange order and a little booklet with all the info about the JR Pass, the major stations at which I can exchange for the actual pass, map showing the major lines applicable, reservation of seats, conditions, etc.

B. My travel plan: (use to select the timetable & route to plan)
1. Period: 30 Oct. ~ 6 Nov. 2013 (8 days)
2. Places of visit: Osaka, Tokyo and Sapporo
3. Commencement/End date for JR Pass: 31 Oct./6 Nov.
4. Reservation of seats on Shinkansen should be made at the time of turning in the exchange order with your passport for the pass. This is to ensure that you can sit comfortably during the 2~4 hours trip between cities and need not scramble for the free seating in 2 or 3 appointed cabins. My reservations were as follows:
a. 1 Nov. 2013 - From Shin-Osaka  to Tokyo Station - Hikari 510 (0730~1040hrs)
b. 1 Nov. 2013 - From Tokyo to Shin-Aomori Station - Hayabusa 13 (1100~1428hrs)
c. 1 Nov. 2013 - From Shin-Aomori to Hakodate Station - Ltd. Express Hakucho 23 (1440~1701hrs)
d. 1 Nov. 2013 - From Hakodate to Sapporo Station - Ltd. Express Hokuto 97 (1711~2116hrs)
   (As all reserved were already taken, I took the free seating)
e. 4 Nov. 2013 - From Sapporo to Hakodate Station - Ltd. Express Hokuto 84 (0730~1134hrs)
f. 4 Nov. 2013 - From Hakodate  to Shin-Aomori Station - Ltd. Express Hakucho 30 (1204~1418hrs)
g. 4 Nov. 2013 - From Shin-Aomori  to Tokyo Station - Hayate 360 (1434~1824hrs)
h. 5 Nov. 2013 - From Tokyo to Shin-Osaka Station - Hikari 473 (1303~1603hrs)

*Remember to wake up early and be at the station and correct platform about 30 min. before departure time. You may use the waiting time to buy a bento for your breakfast, lunch or dinner as there are lots of variety to choose from. Alternatively, you may buy yours on board when the trolley is being pushed down the aisle.
For travel on local lines, the JR pass may be used, except for travel on subways in Tokyo which are not run by JR. Other than that, for every Hankyu or Kintetsu train between towns, there is a JR train but you've to get off at JR station and then walk to your destination or take a cab (Flag-down at ¥620). Walking for 10~15 mins. on foot is normal in Japanese context.

C. Special Weekend/Holidays Subway Tickets
1. Whole day unlimited travel on all subways lines in Tokyo and Sapporo for only ¥500 - a real bargain as
each trip of few stations would set you back by ¥160. In Sapporo, taking the subway Toho Line from Sapporo to Sakaemachi Station and back cost more.

D. Arrival in Osaka on 30 Oct. 2013
1. The airport limousine from Kansai Airport to Ibaraki-Osaka Prefecture cost me ¥2,000. After clearing customs and going thru' arrival hall, go out via Exit G and the limousine vending machine is on the left-hand side. The entire trip from Kansai Airport to Hankyu Ibaraki Station took 1hr 10min., mainly becoz the speed limit on most portion of the route was 60km/h.

Mama met me at Hankyu Station and we went back to her home which was a short distance away by taxi and it cost ¥1,100.

After I had my shower, we had home-made plum onigiri with miso soup and an ohishashiburi talk. We missed each other and papa too.

E. Trip to Takatsuki and then Osaka to redeem JR Pass and look for Heart-shaped Chiffon Tin on 31 Oct. 2013
1. Visited Mr. & Mrs. Murata at their home and spent time recalling our previous Kaiseki lunch together with papa in 2001. Prayed for them - May the Lord bless them and grant them the desire of their hearts and salvation.
2. Had lunch at Daimaru Dept. Store near Hankyu Takatsuki Station before going to Osaka.
3. After arriving at Osaka, we went to the JR Station to look for the green "Reservation Office" sign and follow the directions leading us to it.

There are usually queues at the counters there as both locals and tourists make their seat reservations there.
4. Present your passport and the exchange order and the pass will be issued to you.
5. After obtaining the JR Pass, request for all the seat reservations based on your travel plan. (Refer to my plan in B).
6. Get the little envelopes and put all the reservation tickets for the same day in one envelope and write the date outside. This will enable you to show the particular ticket to the ticket inspector upon demand and avoid dropping the other tickets not due to be used.

7. As I have not purchased any pre-paid WIFI plan, we went to Hankyu Dept. Store and applied for the free WIFI made available to foreigner upon verification of my passport but only usable for the same day. Another better service is provided by JR West which allowed the registered user to access WIFI at major JR West stations for 8 days. However, you must be near the reservation office or exit control counters. Just go the Isetan Service Counter which is located within JR Osaka Building to register.
8. After I've Skype & WA my family, we went to Tokyu Hands and Loft but could not find the Heart chiffon tins.
9. Had Okonomiyaki before returning to Ibaraki with mama.
10. Visited mama's kind neighbour, the Mineoka's to bless them with a pandan chiffon baked by +Kellie, the Bakuteh ingredients and tiger balm, in appreciation of the help extended to mama when papa was hospitalised.
11. Got to know that their daughter was married and living in Singapore. Plan to visit them after my return to Singapore and perhaps bless them with the 1st Heart chiffon cake as gesture of appreciation for her parents taking care of mama!

F. My trip to Sapporo on 1 Nov. 2013.
1. At 0630hrs, Mr. Mineoka fetched me and mama to JR Ibaraki Station from which I took the local train to Shin-Osaka Station.
2. Checked the huge LED Time Schedule for all train departing from Shin-Osaka and found the platform for Hikari 510.
3. Bought a bento before going to the appointed platform & position (Car 7) to wait for the (Super express) bullet train.
4. Boarded train which departed promptly at 0730hrs for Tokyo. [If your trolley bag is big and heavy like mine, put your luggage behind the last seat of the train car.
5. Arrived promptly at Tokyo Station at 1040hrs. at Track 15 and transferred to Hayabusa 13 Super Express at Track 22 for next leg to Shin-Aomori Station.
6. Exchange my window seat so that a family can seat together but blessed to seated beside this kawai 2-yrs old little girl who was going to visit her oba-san in Aomori. Her name? She said Ni-sai? Her mum said "Wasure-chata!"

6. Had my bento after the train departed for Ueno en-route to Shin-Aomori Station.


7. There are lots of beautiful sceneries along the way.







8. Arrived at Shin-Aomori Station at 1428hrs at Track 11 and transferred to Hakucho 23 which departed at 1440hrs. for Hakodate, a major transshipment port.
9. Arrived at Hakodate Station at 1701hrs and transferred to Hokuto 97 which departed at 1711 hrs for JR Sapporo Station.

10. Arrived at JR Sapporo Station at 2116hrs and checked in at Sapporo Grand Hotel after 5min. walk in the chilly weather.

11. Went back to the underground shopping street at Sapporo Station for dinner.

G. DAY 2 in Sapporo (2 Nov. 2013)

From JR Sapporo Station, I took the train to Soen Station which was 1 stop away. The station master gave me a piece of simplified map and told me to exit the station and keep right as I pass by a petrol kiosk and continue for 5 mins, then I shall arrive at the outdoor market of the Central Wholesale Market. As that map was not drawn to scale, I ended up near a horse racing course, so I asked a police officer who was driving by in a tiny police-car. I was given a lift there by this kind officer instead of me noting down the left and rights turns to take. Praise God!

The photos showed the merchandise being sold there - fresh seafood.

Just by sampling, I could have a full meal! Tried a little only and convinced that they are really fresh and nice. Oiishi katta!

 Another area is for the produce of the land - fruits & vegetable.

The Murasaki Hanamame being sold online @¥1,790 per 100g but I bought mine at the shi-jo for ¥1,500/kg. Ten times more beans and less than online selling price. Just need to cook with kuro-sato in a pressure cooker for 3 hours and it became a super yummy yawarakai dessert! Not to be missed buy on your trip to Sapporo.


Tried the persimmon from Yamagata @¥120 - succulent & sweet!

Then it was time for lunch. I had a yummy bowl of miso butter ramen (¥980) at the shop run by a father and his son.


Back to Odori Park to check into the Resol Trinity Sapporo Hotel. The park is at its doorstep.


After a short rest, went out to the park before the sun set at about 1650hrs. As darkness set in, the Sapporo TV Tower was lit up colourfully.



Not enough of ramen so I went Apia Underground Shopping Mall to have a bowl of Kani hotate ramen (¥1300). Yum yum!

There is another smaller outdoor seafood market called Nijo Fish Market (二条市場).

H. DAY 3 in Sapporo (2 Nov. 2013)
Went to the Canaan Praise Church of Sapporo in Sakae-machi. Reminiscence of the Japanese Fellowship meetings at Cornerstone as we worshipped the Lord and sang Ima koko ni (今ここに), etc.


 Visited Hokkaido University as recommended by Rev. Nagasawa and saw the bronze bust of Dr. William S. Clark which was erected as a memorial for his contribution to the education in Hokkaido. His phrase of exhortation to the youth there, "Boys be ambitious" was engraved in the stone.

The expansive campus.

Dinner was nabe mono at Daimaru. With temperature outside  at 6°C, this was certainly body warming.

The display of an array of osettsu for the customers to pre-order for the big day in the Japanese calendar - New Year Day (1st Jan.). They looked so real and appetising.


Other places that could have been visited in Sapporo (Courtesy - JNTO):

Million dollar night scene of Sapporo
on top of Mt. Moiwa.
Lake Toya hot spring
Lake Towa

Yet others are Shiroi Koibito Park where visitor can watch the assembly lines for the sweets and cookies, the Sato-Land Farm Park for hands on experience in butter making and harvesting of vegetables.

I. From Sapporo to Shin-Aomori (4 Nov. 2013)

Checked out from hotel and walked for 5 mins. in cold morning breeze to JR Sapporo Station. Bought a bento of sushi and boarded the 0700hrs train (Super Kokuto 211) for Hakodate and arrived at 1031hrs, way ahead of original plan. Ate the breakfast of sushi after the train started off.

The scenery along the way. (Try to spot the rainbow.)

















As I was ahead of schedule and the next train, Limited Express Hakucho 28 was due to depart at 1119hrs for Shin-Aomori Station, I went out to look outside the Hakodate Station.


Wall mural at Hakodate Station

Bought my lunch from the stall just next to the station entrance - ikura kani zushi @¥1,500. Highly recommended!

Hakucho 28 that took me to Shin-Aomori Station.


J. From Shin-Aomori to Tokyo Station (4 Nov. 2013)

My reserved seat was on Hayate 360 (1434~1824hrs) so the station staff issued me with reserved seat up to Sendai on Hayate 36, after which, I continued to Tokyo on free seating.

Arrived at Tokyo Station at 1708hrs. Without exiting the station, I went to the JR Yamanote Line to take train to Shimbashi Station. The sky was already dark when I went out thru' Karasumori exit and turned left for the direction of Daiichi Hotel Annex.

As I could not see any building signage of the hotel, I asked a man who was chatting with his friends for the direction. He flipped open his phone to check on the GPS and instead of telling me, he just left his friends and led me to the hotel. Another typical kind Japanese that I have encountered in my many trips to Japan, the 1st being in 1985 during my maiden trip to be trained as a subway engineer in Itami, Osaka. Praise God for their kindness to the lost. I pray that they would be found by the Lord.

Checked into Daiichi Hotel Annex (DHA), had a nice shower before meeting my friend at the lobby.

One night in Tokyo (4 Nov. 2013)
Taking the Toei Asakusa Line from Shimbashi Station to Oshiage (Skytree) Station would cost ¥210 and return. This time of the year, the Skytree is lit up like a Christmas Tree and the flight of steps leading to it are decked with dynamic snowflake patterns of White LED. Simply beautiful and photo perfect location. If you are there before 2100hrs, you can catch the "Million Dollars Night Scene" of Tokyo for ¥2,000 per adult.

Snow crab
When I reached there after having buffet dinner with my friend at basement of Daiichi Hotel, Shimbashi, it was way passed 2100hrs. There is 20% discount for hotel guest so it cost about ¥4,800 per adult for a 2-hour helping of snow crabs, sliced abalone, tempura, roasted wagyu beef, etc and unlimited access to the dessert spread. Nice fresh Japanese food, so it simply worth the money. Thanks for the treat my friend!

Parma ham with cheese
Jelly-fish & smoked salmon
 with harusame

Other attractions that can be reached with the ¥500 ticket are Odabai AquaCity, DiverCity Tokyo Plaza, etc. Rainbow Bridge at night is beautiful.


My Tokyo Mission (5 Nov. 2013 morning)

My wife tasked me to go to Kappabashi to search for the 17cm Heart chiffon tins which are Made in Japan (really good quality). As I've to leave Tokyo for Osaka on the 1303hrs Shinkansen, I woke up early and went on Ginza Line to Tawaramachi Station and exit in the direction of Kappabashi. Look out for the big chef head (BCH) which is the starting point for the whole street of cooking and baking stuff. Go to "Okashi no mori" shop お菓子の森 {same side as BCH shop, left side of street less but 200m down- below the brown building in the photo)  which has 2 levels - Level 2 for all baking needs and Level 1 for cooking utensils. The baking tins here are cheapest @¥1,710 for a 17cm heart-shaped tin as compared to ¥1,900 further down the road.



Square chiffon tins.
Kellie's next target.

K. From Tokyo to Shin-Osaka Station (5 Nov. 2013)

Checked out of hotel DHA at 1200hrs, walked to Shimbashi and took JR Yamanote to Tokyo Station. Transferred to the Hikari 473 at 1303hrs and arrived at Shin-Osaka Station Track 16 at 1603hrs. Then crossed over to Track 17 for JR train to Nishinomiya Station.

Nozomi - not covered
by JR Pass.

     Exclusive cabin for females.

Met by my friend and wife at the station and then went to their apartment. Saw for the 1st time how the car was parked using the automated parking system within tight space. Can consider for use in Singapore?

 Saw the rapidly setting sun from their balcony.


Had sashimi and traditional Japanese food - so fresh and yummy!


Super soft, fluffy & moist egg roll.
@Aleo would have loved it!

L. Nishinomiya / Osaka on 6 Nov. 2013

Good morning Nishinomiya!

     Breakfast for the 3 of us.

Morning walk around the neighbourhood.                        

The many trains running on Osaka Loop Line.


One of the longest shopping street in Japan with more than 600 shops from one end to the other. All kinds of merchandise & food could be found here.

The famous TKG (Tamago Kake Gohan) set from one of the shops. Simple yet delicious - fresh egg stirred into steaming hot rice with a little sauce. The other part was the curry udon with a karaage and a ebi-fry. Yum yum.


The awesome sight appeared before us on the way back to Nishinomiya from Osaka.
Tenshi no hashigo (Angels' ladder) as my friend exclaimed! It reminded me of the dream that Jacob had when he lied down with his head upon a rock in Bethel - angels ascending & descending on the ladder from earth to Heaven.

The water in the canal that runs alongside the road was so clear & clean that we could see big koi swimming in them. 

Looking for your dinner?

M. Nishinomiya to Kansai International Airport on 6 Nov. 2013 (Evening)

We had bento and then watched a short video clip on Discus fish and prayed before they send me to the JR Nishinomiya Station around 2000hrs. The train took less than 20 mins. and I arrived at Osaka Station. Crossed over to Track 1 (same as Loop Line) and queued behind the markings on the floor with "Traingle" signs. At 2032hrs the JR Kansai Airport Rapid train arrived promptly and took 70 mins. to reach the airport, Terminal One.

The LED time-table with Traingle
& Circles showing the place to wait
at Track 1 which serves multiple trains.


Stations on the way to airport.

After getting off the train at the airport, get to the exit, turn left and tada, Terminal 1 for international flight is right there! If you have already checked in online, you will have time to skype your family, call your Japanese friends on LINE, even upload some photos to your Facebook timeline. Strong wifi signal is available right beside the station counter next to the turnstiles.


  1. Like the snow crabs! ♫♫☼☼♫♫

  2. We should try the snow crab buffet too!

  3. Hi Michael, thoroughly enjoyed you blog and pictures, I missed Hakkodate, Sapporo and Japan! The ikura kani rice looked absolutely oishii ^^
    I always order ikura don at the fish market, can't get any fresher. Thanks and sharing your travel and the infomation. Glad that the Japanese are still helpful to foreigners ^^ God bless

    1. Glad to know that you enjoyed my blog. If see the latest posting, you'll be convinced to use JR pass for your next visit to Japan. God bless