Kushiro is known for 2 things. One is tancho which is Japanese crane. The other is Washo, a seafood market where you take a bowl of rice and pick your choice of sashimi to go with it.
My original itinerary was to check out from ANA and have breakfast at Washo Market, then drive to Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary to see the Japanese cranes in the wild. According to Japan Guide, there are several places to watch the cranes. I chose Tsurui because of good reviews and it’s free.
In the end, we had breakfast at Syake-Banya instead because they offer both sashimi and grilled seafood. One of my aunts doesn’t take raw food and I wasn’t sure if Washo Market sold cooked food, so Syake-Banya was a safer choice.How this places works is you enter the brownish building on the right to choose the seafood for grilling, rice and soup optional, and if you wish, you could order sashimi donburi that comes with soup.Pay at the counter and proceed to the blue and white striped tent beside. We sat on benches around tables with a charcoal grill in the middle. I expected to cook the seafood ourselves but an elderly man was there to grill our food. He totally knew what he was doing and within minutes we had a feast of scallops, sanma, salmon and squid. They were all so good that we went back to the store to pick another round of seafood.
The sashimi donburi was equally fresh and delicious. I ordered the ultimate set that came with salmon, uni, squid, prawns and salmon roe. Another wonderful thing about eating here is that you won’t stink of smoke because they use a special type of smokeless charcoal.
After a very satisfying breakfast, it was time to visit the cranes. Instead of going to Tsurui, which was a 45 mins drive one way and then 30 mins back onto the highway to Obihiro, we decided on Kushiro Japanese Crane Reserve. It’s on the way and guaranteed to have cranes. We first toured the small but very informative exhibition room then ventured into the cold to see the cranes in action.The cranes were all in enclosures. You can see them through the fences or simply swing the flap and look through the opening.
More information about the cranes can be found in the restroom cubicle. You can warm yourself on the toilet seat and read at the same time.
Ukifune (浮舟) at Honbetsu was our lunch stop. I read about its delicious pork steak on good! hokkaido! and decided to make the slight detour to try it on our way to Obihiro. The route according to google map was straightforward. But when we keyed the place into the GPS, we were directed via a much longer route.
Check the setting of the GPS at the car rental office. I suspect mine was set to either economical mode that avoided all the toll roads or scenic mode.
The positive thing about following the GPS was that it took us to the coastal road where we got to see the North Pacific Ocean and tsunami road signs.Another good thing that came out of it was we caught a glimpse of wild cranes by a stream near Shiranuka. It’s apparently quite rare to see them in the wild. Too bad the road we were driving on was narrow and winding with no place to stop to get a better look.
A final plus point traveling on the longer route was a visit to チーズ工房 白糠酪恵舎. If it wasn’t for the signboard, we wouldn’t have known that the building was a cheese shop.The owner’s wife could converse in simple Mandarin and told us they were in Singapore recently for the Hokkaido fair held at Resorts World Sentosa. Well, we may have missed it then but we sure were glad to chance upon this shop. Inside might be small with barely enough standing room for all 10 of us but we still got lots of yummy treats.
We overstayed at Shiranuka Rakukeisya Cheese shop and almost couldn’t make it in time for lunch at Ukifune. Good thing the restaurant was easy to find even though it wasn’t along the main road. There’s free parking diagonally across and it’s within walking distance from Honbetsu’s Michi-no-Eki, Stella Honbetsu. Don’t be deceived by the outward appearance. The food they served inside is incredible. Look at the size and thickness of the pork steak!The master at work. See the plates on the left? 10 portions of spaghetti waiting to be served with the pork.Voila! Pork steak with ginger sauce.Pork steak with demi-glace sauce.Pork steak with garlic sauce.Juicy and tender. My husband was very impressed with the perfection in which the owner cooked such a thick slice of pork. All 10 plates were totally cleaned out. The owner’s wife was so pleased to see we enjoyed the food that she gave each of us a うまい棒.
It was about an hour’s drive from Honbetsu to Obihiro on Doto Expressway. We went directly to Hotel Nikko Northland Obihiro located just beside the JR Obihiro train station. Check out the hotel merchandise that uses the Tokachi pig as its theme.Even the hotel room key card is cute. I was so tempted to keep it and report it as lost.The rooms were spacious. And there’s ample underground parking that cost 550 yen for overnight parking.A short walk across the hotel was a shopping complex that had Nagasaki, a departmental store as its main tenant, a small Daiso, a food court, Fukuhara supermarket, a rather large drug store and some other shops.
While the rest ate Curry Shop Indian at the food court for dinner, my husband and I checked out the supermarket. They sold sushi, bento sets and sandwiches but we were still full from lunch so we bought cereal and yogurt back to the room.
The most challenging item in a winter packing list for me is snow shoes. There’s just so little options in Singapore. Aside from the typical shops like Winter Time, Universal Traveler and Cold Wear, I also checked out the outlet stores at IMM. Eventually we bought online via qoo10. I was apprehensive at first because I like to try shoes before buying but we took the risk. Turned out the shoes were comfortable, fit well and had good traction.
Another option worth considering is to buy the shoes when you arrive in Hokkaido. Of course that’s provided you’ll be staying in the city before venturing to the countryside. Nagasaki Departmental Store at Obihiro had a wide selection of nice and relatively cheap snow shoes. Then there’s ABC-Mart, a shoe shop that has outlets all over Japan. There’s one at RERA Chitose Outlet Mall and several all over Sapporo. I actually bought a pair from the outlet at Sapporo Esta when the one I wore gave way towards the end of the trip.