There’s a lot to Hokkaido and so much to see that I figured wouldn’t be easy to do on my own from Sapporo so I scoured the web looking for tours. I found one that promised an English speaking tour for the dates I’d be in Sapporo that included:
- Campana Rokkatei
- Furano Wine factory
- Farm Tomita
- Shirogane Blue Pond
- Patchwork no michi
However my Tour and Charter tour meeting place just said Sapporo Bus Terminal. And when I’d walked around the morning the day before, before getting breakfast, I couldn’t figure out where I’d catch the bus. The station was a bit too big to figure out where was a meeting place for a tour. But no matter how I scoured the website I booked my tickets through or studied my confirmation e-mail, I couldn’t figure it out. So I was determined the day before (since we were leaving at 8:30 in the morning) to find out where I was meeting them. I went first to the station information and we went back and forth trying to figure out which exact tour I’d booked. It turned out I’d paid more for it online then it normally cost and that I needed to check in next door.
Outside the south exit are some stairs that lead up above the bus station that is next to/connects to ESTA. This is where you check in. I showed them my confirmation, they scanned it and printed out the following mornings ticket and told me to come back a little early to meet my group, but not as early as everyone else had to arrive to get their tickets printed. I was suppose to meet them by a star on the floor. Despite being with tour and Charter it was actually through Chuo-bus.
The morning of when I arrived I was glad I’d gotten my ticket confirmed the night before because there was quite a line. I looked around for a bathroom, there was one down the hall but it also had a long wait. Thankfully I had enough time and then was able to wait with everyone else. I got a little nervous while waiting because none of the signage was in English and I started to worry about my English tour that I had done something wrong. Eventually I just showed a lady in a vest moving people into lines my ticket and she motioned me into the correct line and I followed her downstairs to where the buses were with everyone else and showed the tour guide my ticket and then took my assigned seat.
I ended up being near a group of Japanese people. I wondered briefly how this was going to work because the other foreigners I’d noticed waiting weren’t on my bus. It was just me. And none of the languages being spoken around me were English. Eventually the tour guide got on and we headed out of town and she said she didn’t speak any language but Japanese and passed out headsets in plastic. The headset was uncomfortable looking so I pulled out my own headphones and plugged it in turning the dial to the correct setting for English. A British sounding man welcomed me to the tour and began explaining where we were in Sapporo and I felt a little bitter that my promised English tour wasn’t actually in English. I figured the extra money I’d spent was to pay for a special English tour, but now I haven’t a clue what that extra money was for other than like a fee for buying it online through someone else’s website. Eventually I really warmed up to the tour. Our guide didn’t do a ton of talking, everyone, even the Japanese people on our tour were listening to the audio guide. And when we arrived somewhere our guide would show us a time on a board and that’s the time we had to be back on the bus by. This made it fairly easy to go through the tour despite many of us not sharing any language.
After our first couple of stops I got moved to the back of the bus, through a various amount of pantomiming done by our tour guide, so that the group could all sit together and so that I could have more space.
It was an all day tour and after awhile I really loved listening to the audio tour. I found the order of things was hilarious. Like while we were going through the woods the guide informed me that bears, a cousin to the grizzly, is found in the woods and sightings of them are common. Then there was a breakdown of all the myths of what to do if you run into bears and all the Hokkaido locals who’d tried them and failed and ended up mauled. Then I was told about the foxes and squirrels. In other words scary thing that’s very dramatic completely undermined by softer things. It also explained why bears seemed such a huge part of souvenirs and things sold at shops. Apparently due to people moving around and a lack of food they come down out of the woods and forests and eat the melons and things the farmers grow. Which gives much more meaning to the angry (and sometimes cute) souvenirs I’d seen at the TV tower the night before of bears wearing melons as hats.
Another thing I learned that made me, and just me, burst out laughing, was that we were told that one of the volcanoes that made the island (there’s actually 20 volcanoes on the island) is still active (type b) and that it last erupted in 1988 and then immediately the audio started explaining, after warnings of how horrific the last eruption had been, about the statue of Kannon we were passing. (Kannon is the goddess of mercy). The abrupt change in tone and juxtaposition was what made me laugh. I feel like I learned a lot on my tour about Hokkaido, from culture and history, a little about the Ainu people and a lot about food, what’s grown, and what makes Hokkaido such a popular place to visit.
With each area we went to the guide would tell us a bit of history and name of the types of foods they grew, which usually ended in an ect, because it was too much to just list off. I feel like I learned so much from the audio tour, beyond it just telling me what to expect or that we were arriving at our next location.
Our first stop was Iwamizawa rest stop. One note of the tour is that you really got to beeline straight for the bathroom when you stop or before you get back on the bus because there’s not many other scheduled breaks. A list of our stops were passed around and there were a couple more bathroom stops on the list that we didn’t end up taking. Iwamizawa was the only rest stop we took at the beginning and we only took one other on the way home.
My day tour was 7,400 yen which did include lunch and an option of where I got dropped off at the end. (Options were the Sapporo factory, the clock tower or back at Sapporo station). I’m really glad I went but definitely bring snacks, your own headphones, a sweater, an umbrella, and drinks and use the bathrooms when you can and always be mindful of what time you need to be back by. Also you can definitely eat on the bus. I kept buying snacks at different stops and would be about halfway done with it and the guide would just wave me on to the bus.