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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Hokkaido Autumn Road Trip 2016 (Part 7) - Obihiro and Tokachi Subprefecture



After the land of Seafood, here I come to the land of agriculture.

Tokachi is a subprefecture in Hokkaido and Obihiro is the city in this subprefecture. Tokachi has a large agriculture sector and the main crops produced are wheat, potatoes, beets, and beans, but there has also been progress in the production of nagaimo (Chinese yam), lily root and burdock. The amount of arable land in Tokachi is the highest in all of Hokkaido.


Animal husbandry is big business in Tokachi with a major dairy industry. Tokachi itself has 40% of beef and dairy cattle in all of Hokkaido. Tourists come to Tokachi to visit dairy farms and savour the dairy products. 十勝牛乳 is a common milk brand in Hokkaido and the name is translated as Tokachi Milk, produced by Yotsuba company.

Tokachi produces the largest amount of wheat in Japan. The headquarters of 3 nationally renowned pastry companies Rokkatei, Ryugetsu, and Cranberry are also located in Obihiro. There are many interesting pastry shops in Obihiro and I don't think it is possible to try all of them in one trip.

There are lots of restaurants in Obihiro. Really a lot! And I saw quite a number of them putting a sign infront of their shop that English Menu is available. The Tokachi Subprefectural Bureau is heavily promoting Tokachi as a tourist destination, but is often overlooked by foreign tourists. There are many websites providing up-to-date information for tourists, and they even have printable translating sheets (for pointing) for basic conversation needs. They do understand that tourists need to be understood and tourists hope to enjoy this area and not feeling lost.


Quiet streets at 8.30am

Obihiro's Shopping Street, but it was nothing interesting
Weather for the days when I was in Obihiro


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Pacific Coastal Road


The drive from Kushiro to Obihiro was scenic, but a bit foggy.  As we drove along this quiet curvy road a long the sea, we saw wrecked trees, and one hillside with trees torn in the middle of the trunk, but I didn't get to take the picture.  Leaves were gone and the scenery had an eerie feeling but still it looked beautiful. It felt different when we were on this road, the scenery gave me a cold lonely feeling. The 3 tropical storms, Chantu, Mindulle, Kompasu that landed in this area back in the second half of August might have been to much for this coastline to bear.

As the car was moving, it was not easy to get a clear shot  of the area with my phone. To make things worse, it was a cloudy day.
bald trees

I like the bare cliff. The lines look interesting to me.

Poor trees.... they were like this for the whole stretch of the road

This part was my favourite. I couldn't capture the whole scenery,

This area was nice too, but not on this pic, lol.

After about an hour on the road, we reached Atsunai. My hubby decided to try his luck at Atsunai station to see if there is any washroom. The town was super quiet and we saw no one on the streets.

Luckily there really is a washroom. I didn't see this small outdoor washroom on Google Earth. It was there, but I couldn't see the wording on the wall. The cool weather made us feel the need to use the washroom every hour!




We continued to drive along the coast..... beautiful, beautiful!
Here's a video of the coastline...




And then we also drove past grass farms, where they grow grass to feed the animals during winter.
The black things are wrapped up bales of grass.



Fast route : Shiranuka to Obihiro

The journey from Shiranuka to Obihiro is not that far, around 100km. Instead, we took a much longer route along the coast. If one don't have the time, just enjoying the coast from Shiranuka to Urahoro is sufficient, but it is the coastal road that bypasses Urahoro that is the nicest, IMPO.

It is anyway, a road trip, so we want to enjoy the best scenery that we can find along the way.

But it is also because of the following location of interest that made us drive the extra kilometers.

Longer scenic route: Shiranuka to Obihiro.
The video was shot somewhere within the purple line
The location marked in red is Churui Shirogane Machi

Churui Shirogane Machi

Churui Shirogane Machi is an area with tourist facilites. There is an onsen hotel, a farmer's market, a road station and an archeological museum!!

Finally we reach Churui's Michi No Eki. I wanted to come here to try cream puffs filled with lily root cream. Lily root is known as  百合 'bak hup' in Cantonese. I have never eaten fresh ones before, and was hoping to buy some to bring home.



This is what I came for and reaching here at almost 4pm, has left us with just a few lily root  cream puffs in the fridge. Luckily there is a few left.

The puff shell was ok and the filling was non dairy cream, with bits of lily root. Special? Hmmm.... Initially I thought the filling was mashed lily root, so, I was kind of disappointed.


This Michi No Eki sells Sarabetsu potato chips as well, and we grabbed 3 packets of it.  It's quite nice and not that salty. This area is a major potato producing area.



We walked over the the Naumann Elephant museum. But we didn't go in due to lack of time. Inside there is a full scale skeleton of the Naumann Elephant, of which is extinct and lived in Southern Japan 15,000-500,000 years ago.

Naumann Elephant Museum

Naumann elephant replica

The Naumann elephant looks like an elephant with fuzzy hair. But it's not a mammoth. After taking pictures with the elephant, and it's not even 5 yet, I walked over the farmer's market, but it was closed. Too bad, can't get my lily root bulbs.

Location of Churui Shirogane Machi


In my plans, I wanted to go on South Tokachi Dream Road route and our next destination will be Tokachino Fromage, and Kotofuke Station in Nakasatsunai, but because weather forecast said, there will be rain at around 6pm, and it was so gloomy, we better put the planned route aside and skip Nakasatsunai, and get going to Obihiro instead.

The drive to Obihiro city was supposed to be for 1 hour, turned out much longer because it was after office hours and it was raining.

Panchou Butadon


Reached APA Hotel Obihiro Ekimae at about 6pm, parked, checked in and then walk out to dinner.
Our dinner for that night will be the absolutely famous, Panchou Butadon, of which is just very near to our hotel. We walked quickly there as it was going to close at 7pm,


Panchou Butadon was said to be the inventor of this dish. But in the whole of Tokachi , there are many many shops serving this iconic dish. There is a website dedicated to Butadon in Tokachi. The Butadon in Tokachi is not the same as the butadon on main island of Japan. Here the pork is like pork chops.


 Ordering this dish, one will need to choose how many pieces of pork you will want. Their online menu can be seen here.  I took 4 and he took 6 pieces . If one orders the 10 pcs set, the bowl will overflow with pork!

My husband hasn't been eating pork for a few days, and I look at him eating happily. He really enjoyed this meal. Imagine him smiling as he eats.... that's how happy he is.

Usually we don't like eating pork loin, just like how we don't like eating chicken breasts. But this one isn't dry. It's tender and moist, and the pork chops were nicedly caramelized and fragrant. If we were to stay another night, I'm sure we will have another bowl of this, maybe in another restaurant. But it's really good.


We left the shop at 7.10pm, and we still saw people walking in. The official business hours stated in their website is 11am - 7pm, but they still served walk in customers at 7.10pm.




Kita No Yai (Stalls of the North)


After having butadon, we walked around for a short while, and reached Kita No Yai. These are makeshift stalls that have nowadays become permanent features of this town. If one is an adventurous foodie, this place is not to be missed. The stalls here serve rare meat dishes. Browse through their official website, use an online translator and you will find out about the dishes available here, that are not quite for the faint hearted. Bear skewers, lamb sashimi, and horse. Yes horse meat. Japanese people have a tradition to eat horse meat.


Maybe due to the recent typhoons, the eateries were all walled up.




I came to this stall owned by Hide Chan to have lily root okonomiyaki, of which is actually lily root tororoyaki. I do not understand why they won't call it tororoyaki as it is made with Nagaimo instead of flour. To make this, the lady grated a lot of chinese yam, added seasonings and panfried it like a big pancake.

Yurine Tororoyaki (they call it okonomiyaki)

See the pieces of yurine (lily root) petals?

Lily root bulbs were peeled by the petals and generously placed in the chinese yam pancake. Fragrant, soft and gooey, it tasted very good. The portion was really big, and I didn't expect it to be so big, at 7 inches wide. It could be a meal just on its own.

Lily root bulb is rich in folic acid and chinese yam or nagaimo is very nutritious too. Both can be found in dry form at Chinese herbal shops and they don't come cheap.


And this.... maybe to some of you it sounds inhumane to eat it. This is horse sashimi.

Horse is not only eaten by the Japanese, but by a majority of European countries. But having it as sashimi, I guess only the Japs will do it this way. This small dish of horse sashimi costs us 1200yen.
It doesn't taste bad, it was tender and sweet.




We were stuffed.... the night was still young, so we walked to a nearby supermarket called Daiichi. Looked around at prices and bought some stuff.

By 9pm, we were back in our hotel.

Rokkatei, Obihiro Head Office


I think we woke up latest in this hotel, as we only woke up at 7.30am. There was no need to wake up early as our first destination of the day was open at 9am.

Rokkatei is a famous bakery chain in Hokkaido, and it's available at many places in Hokkaido, but it started in Obihiro.  Rokkatei even has restaurants and vineyards in Furano and an artsy park in Nakasatsunai. I think, it's the most prominent bakery in Hokkaido.

We were a bit early to arrive, so we waited outside. When the clock hit 9am, we walked into the shop.


 The famous strawbery chocolates. 


The picture above and below are confectionery that one can buy by the piece.
Mix and match to your preference



Gift boxes are available. 
Picture above are one box containing one product, and picture below is mixed products boxes.


 Chilled products

 And not forgetting cakes. They all look so good. I wonder how they taste like. 


The picture above and below are limited edition products. 
Available only at head offices, either Sapporo or Obihiro. 
All three are sold at 180yen per piece, tax included



We bought 2 pieces of the tube like pastries , one raspberry pastry and one chocolate buttersand

The translated name is 'Obihiro Departure'. I wonder why..... Light tangy filling 

Crispy Pie. We bought two of these

Yukikon Cheese

complimentary coffee and tables for guests to enjoy their bought pastries.



Cranberry at Esta JR Obihiro Station


After breakfast, we walked back to JR Obihiro Station, to visit the food market at Esta Obihiro, called Tokachi Shoku Monogatari. It's located on the far right of the station, at the West wing.




At first, I went to the East Wing, and got a bit dissapointed because all I saw was empty boxes of pastry on display. LOL. 2nd Floor of East Wing was the Obihiro Product Federation's office, and there were racks of regional products, some were for sale but some was for display.


Then we walked to the other side of the station, and then, we found the nicely renovated area that I saw online.



Tokachi Shoku Monogatari is an outlet that sells Tokachi dairy and pastry. If one does not feel like going shop hunting, a drop by to this place will be great. It's conveniently located in the JR station.



Bread and buns made with local wheat and ingredients



Tokachi has a hotspring that has beautifying properties, and so, beauty products are also produced in Tokachi. Some are made with the plants in this area.

Desserts and local pastry



Although Obihiro is not a coastal city, there are dried seafood here as well. I suspect these white balls with black stuff in it are octopus mouth. These octopus mouths are not small, they are only slightly smaller than a ping pong ball


The main reason I came here, was for this. Cranberry!

No, they do not sell bakes made with cranberry, it's just a name. Their signature product is baked sweet potato.


These baked sweet potato are sold by weight at 216yen /100g. And sadly this branch does not sell slices. Only the main office sells them in slices.

So, I have no choice but to buy a whole piece :(


This one that I bought was 991yen, at almost RM40! It's quite big, at about 8 inches long. The potato was precooked, mashed, placed back onto the skin and baked with a layer of custard on the base. It wasn't too sweet, but at a level where we felt indulgent, but yet not overwhelming.

I thought, we will have problem eating it. But no! We walloped it in just one sitting. Eating it while still cold tasted awesome. I think it will less tasty once it warms up to room temperature. It should be either warm or cold for it to be awesome.

I also bought some food souvenirs here of which I saw at a good price. Hokkaido melon candy and Glico Camembert Collon were sold at 100yen per pack instead of bundle packs that comes in either 5 or 6, as I only needed 3 of each.

Location of Cranberry JR Obihiro Branch


Makubetsu Fishway Observation Facility


We went back to our hotel, checked out and drove to Makubetsu, hoping to see some salmon migrating upstream :) Salmon migrate upstream from the sea to spawn during Autumn.

From Obihiro to Makubetsu Fishway Observatory was only 15 minutes drive. But....... it was all in vain because Typhoon Lionrock has brought heavy rain and caused damage to the river. The observatory was closed as well. Oh dear!
I thought I found it.....

But then,,,,,,,,

If trees were knocked down by the river currents, what more about the fishway facilty. I guess it must be flooded inside.
Location of Makubetsu Fishway Observation Facility


So, we turned our car around and head West... towards Memuro. Let's just have an early lunch. I'm quite surprised... we can still eat. The baked sweet potato was already digested! LOL

Kagura


Memuro is a town in Tokachi Subprefecture. Memuro has a lot of corn fields and the local gourmet dish here is corn fried rice. But I'm not coming here for fried rice.



Kagura is a 1star- Michelin Restaurant. I didn't know that beforehand. We arrived at about 12noon and from the outside.. it looked like an old warehouse. But once we stepped inside, it was a very comfortable place


Kagura is one of the rare restaurants, among those that we visited that comes air conditioned and it actually feels cool. The other places we went to either feels stuffy with no air cond at all, or the air cond just felt warm.

Kagura,is a yakiniku restaurant. They serve their own brand of beef, Memuro Beef. Memuro beef is not wagyu. But it is well marbled. It is branded as Memuro Beef, as most of the beef in Japan is branded with the town it comes from. It's been days since we had beef and my husband was grinning from ear to ear as the food arrived.

Left: Hokkaido Shimizu Lamb set , Right: 'Fall' set (rice not shown) 
 We looked at the pictorial lunch menu, and we ordered two lunch sets. Actually, they cost the same as dinner meals, except for lunch, they throw in free rice, appetizer and soup. Kagura is one of the few places in Hokkaido where one can have Hokkaido raised lamb, and this lamb is from Shimizu Machibi, a farm in Tokachi.

Although lamb dish Jingisukan seems common in Hokkaido, most of the restaurants use imported lamb or mutton from New Zealand or Australia. Hokkaido raised lamb is not easy to find, as the amount produced on this island is very limited.



 I like this stove, the grilling rack makes beautiful marks on the meat and it's really hot. I mean the stove is hot, but surprisingly, we feel very comfortable grilling our meat. The ventilation is really good. We didn't feet hot, nor did our faces felt the heat as we were managing our meat on the stove.


The picture above and below is 'Steamed Kagura Prime Specialties, half 'set'. The meat was thin and very tender! Half set gave us 3 large pieces. Lots of vegetables underneath, and we haven't been eating much vegetables during our trip. It's great to munch on some greens.

The special dipping sauce enhances the steamed beef. They provide different dipping sauces for different meat and cuts


We wanted to have more beef, and we asked for the best cut 'Four Calvi' priced at 2595yen per serving, but it was not available. Then we settled for the second best, 'Above Calvi'. It was well marbled and the flavour was really good.

Hmm... what is Calvi? I don't know, it's google translated.
See the marbling! And we just gave it a flash grill to score some mark. Had it medium cooked.

We had an enjoyable lunch! I enjoyed drinking the seaweed soup a lot. It looks very clear, almost like water, but it is very tasty.

And the best part of it was, the ladies washroom. It felt like I was in a hotel, but even better than a hotel! Please do visit the ladies' if one were ever to come to Kagura.


The whole washroom experience was wonderful. They were very thoughtful of their female guests.
At the powder table, there's lotion, cotton buds, cotton balls, oil absorbing paper, tissue paper, and to avoid smelling bad after a yakiniku lunch, one can use the deodorizing spray on their outfits before going back to the office.


At the washing area, there are free tissue packets, hand towels, mouthwash, paper cups and dental floss to make sure that you won't have bits of meat stuck in between the teeth.

But, all these are only for the women, non for the men. I showed these pictures to my husband, and he said, the male washroom is pretty much the regular male washroom. LOL!!! Too bad too bad!

The pictorial menu and the cost of our lunch 7516yen (around RM300).

We left Kagura at about 1pm, and I thought we have aaaaaaaaample time to go back to Sapporo.



From Memuro to Sapporo


We wanted to visit Nissho Toge (Nissho Pass) for beautiful view, so, we just followed the route on Google Map. I knew there were some traffic disruptions there from the MILT website I checked earlier, but we thought it could be just like the other spots we past by where there were just construction work. We drove past beautiful farm lands, very beautiful.


See how dark the soil is in this area? That's why it's so fertile! The contrast between the grass and soil is really obvious.



We were expecting nice views very soon on Nissho Pass, But ..... the road up front was closed. So, we turned right, trying to go around the closure. More roads were closed... and detour and detour and closed and detour! We drove past rivers and we saw destruction from Typhoon Lionrock. No wonder so many roads were closed. In the end, we wasted more than 1 hour driving around and around. We decided to give up and find a way to go on the Expressway. But even that was difficult with all the road closures.

This is the Expresway that cost 8-10times more than PLUS highway.

When we finally found a way onto the Expressway at Shimizu, it was such a relief! After driving on the expressway, we decided to go back onto the national road, to save cost and to see the more country views. It was a scenic drive, beautiful river, beautiful mountains, fresh air. We stopped at Shimukappu Michi No Ekifor a toilet break. We had delicious coffee jelly ice cream here, the ice cream was rich and smooth.



Location of Shimukappu Michi No Eki


The joy of driving on the national road didn't stay great for long. It turned out to be a bad decision.We drove for more than 45 minutes going uphill behind a crane at 20-30kph! There was no way to overtake as the road was winding and it's yellow line all the way. We are now 2 hours behind schedule! We were supposed to visit Yuni for ice cream and golden egg vending machine, and then visit Chitose Salmon Museum, but it seems impossible now. I calculated, the time that we will reach Chitose will be 5.45pm and there won't be time left for the museum. After tailing the crane for more than 1 hour, we finally managed to overtake the crane. It took us around 1.5 hours to drive 50km from Shimukappu to Shin Yubari!  If only we stayed on the expressway, it should have taken us half the time.

After 5 minutes overtaking the crane, we made a stop at Yubari Meroad Michi No Eki. Yubari is the land of the famous Hokkaido Melons and Yubari is the most famous of all. Yubari itself is a bankrupt town, after the collapse of the coal mining industry. But the Yubari Melons are faring well. There are loads of melon products sold here, Yubari melon jelly, Yubari Melon Cake and so many more.



Location Of Yubari Meroad Michi No Eki


I told my husband, let's get back on the Expressway to get back to Sapporo. We can't visit anymore places by now. I don't want to tail behind the crane again, because with our 10 minute stop at Yubari, I'm worried the crane will be in front of us by now.

The drive back to Sapporo was unexpected. As we experienced smooth traffic all these days, we forgot that rush hours during weekdays in Sapporo wasn't going to be smooth. Traffic jam, slow traffic that came with rain....

Susukino at night

All in all.... it took us 6 hours to drive back from Memuro to Sapporo. Of which it could have just been 3 hours if we used the Expressway throughout, and had time to visit Yuni and Chitose Salmon Museum. If it wasn't for wrong planning to use the local national roads we wouldn't have been detouring around Shimizu for an hour plus crawling an hour behind a crane . Will saving RM175 in toll fees worth the lost 3 hours plus a few spots in our itinerary? Well....  oh well...

We returned the car just in time, according to the time we promised. Paid our ETC toll fare accordingly and we talked about our drive today with the car rental staff. Then the staff told us that Nissho Toge had collasped and he showed us an online picture of it! It was totally scary!


There was a huge landslide and a few stretches of the road was gone with it. He told me the road will be closed until 2018 for repair work. Oh My! But I doubt that it could be reopened by 2018. It was really very bad.

We walked to Frame Hotel of which is just behind Times Car Rental, kept out stuff and went out for dinner....

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Useful links for Obihiro and Tokachi Subprefecture

Makubetsu : http://www.makubetsu.jp/kankobussankyokai/english/
Tokachi Subprefecture Website : http://tokachibare.jp/about_tokachi/ (Use Google Translate, Mapcodes included)
Tokachi Tourism: http://visit-tokachi.jp/ (Built in English option)
Tokachi Food Production : http://www.foodvalley-tokachi.com/?page_id=6979 (use Google Translate)
Obihiro Food Site : http://obikan.jp/ (Built in English option)
South Tokachi Dream Road : http://www.scenicbyway.jp/recommend/top.php?rid=7&lid=2


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