Tuesday, May 31, 2011

All-Girls Glorious Spring Hokkaido Roadtrip

In the spirit of our grandabulous autumn Hokkaido roadtrip last fall, my partners-in-driving, Krista and Vanessa, and I headed out of Sapporo once again to the north-central part of our island just in-time for the arrival of Spring there. We were greeted with lush gardens, colorful dairy farms galore (made me a bit homesick for Kansas), and some amazing colors that you have to see to believe:

After a night stop with our friends in Engaru, our first destination was the Holland-rip-off tulip gardens in Kami-Yubetsu. Yes, it is anything but Japanese-y, but it was still pretty nonetheless (thanks in part to the gorgeous weather that decided to accompany us):

And from there it was on the road again, only to be lured off by an excessively large crab claw in Monbetsu:

And since we were already there, we thought we'd better join the kids at the park jumping on the Fuwa-Fuwa Dome (translates to "fluffy dome"...these things are everywhere across Japan and are so, so awesome):

Our primary destination was actually spotted on a poster on our last roadtrip. Takinoue is a sweet little town known for mint, turkey farming, it's pink fairy mascot...

...and especially it's acres and acres of shibazakura, or pink moss phlox, which cover the hillsides like a thick 70s-esque-era rug:

It's one of the most gorgeous places I've ever seen:

We saw this guy just a few weeks ago at hanami in Sapporo and were really surprised to see him, bushy eye-brows and fancy get-up galore, up in Takinoue as well:

Gratuitous driving pics (not recommended):

Our original plans included camping out for a night, but unforeseen rains dictated that we make ourselves a car tent and sleep in the michi-no-eki (roadside station) parking lot instead:

The next day, we headed to the beautiful area surrounding the town of Biei. The watery rice paddies encompassing the farms in this part of Hokkaido are so, so dreamy:

The cute little town of Biei looks more like it came out of the Midwest, U.S.A. rather than in northern Japan:

With a quick stop at the area's Blue Pond...

...and the pretty Shirohige Waterfalls:

...and it was back to our city-life in Sapporo with another glorious roadtrip under our belt, and a renewed sense of pride for our beautiful (and uncharacteristically non-Japanese-y) island of Hokkaido!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

You Gotta Go to 由仁町 (Yuni-cho)

Out in the rolling hills and farmlands of Hokkaido, just about 35 minutes outside of Sapporo, lies the quiet little country community town of Yuni-cho. My Aussie friend, Sam, works as an English teacher there, and everytime I visit, it's always a tasty adventure!

This past Saturday was designated as Yuni Food Day, as there are so many quirky little eateries utilizing some amazing farm-fresh foods. One of these places (and first of our day) is Bennu Cafe and Art Gallery:

The place is run by an English woman (and 18-year Japan vet) named Kate and is so colorful and inviting that it's hard to believe the place is surrounded by cows and crops:

At the back of the cafe is a hip botique shop filled with clothing, jewlery, and other fabulous treasures gathered from her many trips to Bali and beyond during the long winter months that the cafe is closed:

And on the side is an entire gallery showcasing her pottery for sale. Cuteness alert:

It's the organic coffee and homemade treats, however, that really "take-the-cake" (whop, whop, whaaaa):

And the most inviting swing in the world, just outside!

So, you know Japan is known world over for its crazy vending machines, but did you know that in the countryside of Hokkaido it is not uncommon to stumble upon an egg vending machine? EGG VENDING MACHINE! Did I just type that?

Yes, there are the standard white and brown fresh farm eggs. In Yuni-cho, however, you also have the Golden Egg variety:

Which I most definitely had to buy (I think "buying an edible golden egg from a vending machine is somewhere hidden on my life-list of things to do):

Turns out, they are smoked and flavored. EGG-cellent:

When you're in Yuni-cho and it's lunch time, you MUST head to the Farm Yard:

Known for their local and seasonal vegetable, herbs, and fruits, this is THE place to go for soup curry (Hokkaido's speciality dish) and UH-MAY-ZING pies:

Think we couldn't handle any more after all of that? Wrong. Last stop of the day, and one of the best reasons why YOU should visit Yuni-cho, is this place:

Yeah, it looks cute and quaint, but on the inside of the Ushigoya Ice Cream Shop (located on the grounds of Yuni's North Star Dairy Farm) is a hidden rasta party of deliciousness:

Fresh, super-flavorful, homemade ice creams from the dairy's own milk cows:

And the proprietor behind all of the craziness, Ya-chan herself:

If you don't want one of the pre-made ice creams, you can get a "maze-maze" mixed up on a cold stone for you by Ya-chan herself! Flavors range from "Love in Chocolate" and "Sweet Potato Cheesecake," to the ever popular "Lady Boy":

Oh, yeeeeeaah:

Apple-cinnamon-caramel custard, anyone?

So there you have it. Yuni-cho, folks. I'd say get there fast while the eatin's good, but then it's ALWAYS good out in those parts!

(Thanks, Sam, for a great weekend)