Woohoo!!! Day one of the Hokkaido trip with the family sans brother for the first few days. Our first day is spent travelling. We fly ANA to Narita before transiting to Haneda by bus. I gotta say, Haneda had like a zillion awesome pastries on display. I think the Japanese must be obsessed with Baumkuchen because I see it everywhere.

The wait time is like forever so I spend it mostly sitting around doing nothing. It’s hella boring and on the telly in the waiting lounge is some crap show about Sarkozy. We settle for a ramen lunch. It’s a place called Ramen Ten and despite any reservations I had about an airport ramen place, it’s actually really good. This sort of low expectations reversal is going to happen often I hope. I had some shoyu ramen, which was nice, light but tasty. The ramen wasn’t particularly superb but the pork used for the chashu was most exerrent. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s still really good. Actually the whole of Haneda looks really good, unlike every other airport in the world. I start sifting through this idea of Japan growing up with perfection in built to the social fabric and feel sorry for myself that I will never attain nirvana; but I doze off soon after.

We finally arrive after a huge waste of time. I think we maybe coulda gone to Tokyo for an hour or 2 but it’s cool. Abashiri is like, frozen. It’s only about 6pm or so when we get there but it’s pitch black and there’s mounds and mounds of frozen ice and snow everywhere. This is my first time experiencing a proper winter climate, not the crappy Sydney one. It’s cold but nice cold. Not too dry cos it’s near the ocean. Don’t think I’d want to live forever in winter but I also think it’s really nice 1/4 of the year. I think I should move to Japan already after Haneda and landing in Abashiri and staring at the nice details in airports and buses and handrails and toilets.

Anyway, we grab the bus to the hotel, Abashiri Route Inn. It’s like opposite the train station so it’s kinda convenient cos this trip we’re taking the trains. It’s a little quaint, small but clean and decent. No complaints concept. We drop our bags and take a walk to dinner. Now before the trip, I basically did my eating “research”, which is basically using tabelog.com to find places to eat. I think it’s pretty good but I have to use google translate in some pathetic attempt to understand it. Needs some guesswork and good fortune. I also read some other websites and found that Abashiri has 2 tourist foods, specially made for the out-of-towners featuring local produce. The first is zangi-don, a dish of rice topped with fried salmon mixed with mountain wasabi, which unlike the regular stuff is sticky and gluey as all hell, like natto. The second is Moyoro-nabe, a hotpot which approximates the food the local Moyoro might have eaten. We opt for neither! Haha!

For Abashiri, it was definitely the Abashiri Beer Hall/YAKINIKU joint. Pretty highly rated and we immediately understand why when we get there 7ish with a queue inside. We’re told to come back at 9! We say ok! So we walk! All the way to the harbor and back plus a visit to the local supermarket, a place called Foodmaster Basic, which is at least as good as Meidi-ya and the fish is real cheap like.

Anyway Yakiniku is really good. At first I thought it was just a crappy beer hall because Abashiri has a brewery that makes these pink, green and blue colored beers and I wondered how good grilled meat would be in a place where the seafood is supposed to be better. How wrong I was. They used beef from nearby Shirotoko, Iberican breed pork and this superb local chicken. The cabbage was super crunchy and super sweet. The crab was lovely and even though it’s the typical pre cooked version, it was nice, moist and sweet.We also had wonderful mushrooms with miso, mirin, soy, sugar and butter in foil and potatoes with butter in foil. Both were sugoi. The chicken was a big surprise, we had the soft bone but the meat was superb, really tender, juicy and delicious. It was probably one of the best tasting bits of chicken I’ve had in ages. The pork though, had to be the star of the show, oh man, it had everything and was just outstandingly beautiful pork. At this point, I think that if the produce at a mid-tier restaurant on the edge of nowhere Hokkaido can have food this good, what then the insane kaiseki banquets and suchlike? Did I mention not to get the stupid colored gimmick beer? Just get the pilsner instead.

I grab some sleep whilst I ponder the paltry life I lead. In the morning we would head off to the Aurora Icebreaker to catch a glimpse of some drift ice!