I arrived in Hokkaido late at night, having flown halfway across the Pacific Ocean, like the Oojishigi or the red-billed Sandpiper.
From the rickety rural train that had only seen snow a few months ago; I stared blankly into the countryside, the night framed by the silhouettes of the forests. The silence was punctuated by the shrill sound of the train horn, a relic from the 1950s. What could be on the train tracks? Was it a Sika Deer or a Higuma Brown Bear waking up from its hibernation in May? My mind wandered as its sound entered the depth of my stomach.
The next morning, entranced in the birch forest, the sound of the train horn came back to haunt me. I asked Kae about local wildlife, and not surprisingly, there have been some sightings of deer in the woods nearby. To local guides like Kae, it is all part of living with the ebbs and flows of Mother Nature. Many of her colleagues have grown up in the countryside, and whether you want to ask them why the Blakiston's Fish Owl is known as the Philosopher of the Forest, or the family farm where you can pick the best organic asparagus, this part of the world is filled with stories of wonder and adventure. The Ainu would offer the owl offerings called inau, as it is seen as a deity that taught them about conjugal love.
Surprisingly, Kitahiroshima is just 16 minutes on a direct train from JR Sapporo and 20 minutes from New Chitose International Airport. Located high above the surrounding forests, you can watch the seasons change from the panoramic windows of your room. In Spring, take a walk amongst the trees and enjoy the cherry blossoms. In Summer, indulge in a round of golf or tennis, or explore the Shiretoko National Park, home to the world's largest concentration of Brown Bears. In Fall, rent a bike and cycle the gentle 17 km dedicated Elfin Bikeway from Kitahiroshima to Shiroshi-ku in Sapporo, and feel the breeze as the soft autumn sun rays filter through the red autumn leaves. Feeling thirsty? Drop by for a brewery tour at Asahi on the way. They serve non-alcoholic beer too, just so you can make it back in one piece.
Of course, if your ideal vacation is more spa resort than Bear Grylls, soak your tired body in one of the indoor or outdoor hot springs. Take in the view of the forest while you soothe yourself in a mineral bath. The sulfur and iron in the water literally take away your fatigue, a great way to be one with this ancient land.
In some ways, the hotel looks a bit Nordic, from the retro-looking furniture to the quiet efficiency of the staff. For newcomers to Hokkaido, this resort eases you into this vast wilderness by bringing everything at your feet. With a ski school and snowfields at your front door, Kitahiroshima Classe Hotel gives you the joy of your first snow fight less than an hour after you land at New Chitose Airport.
The rooms are spacious by Japanese standards, with their largest and newly renovated combination rooms at 47 square meters. It has ample space for five people, with a Japanese-style tatami mat room and a European-styled room decorated in chestnut and moss green hues, in harmony with the tranquil forests outside. All the rooms here have a view of the mountains or the golf course, and if that is not enough, come up to the top floor for a panoramic view over a breakfast buffet. If you can unlock yourself from downtown convenience, this hotel is ideal for families and couples alike, and while you can easily reach the craft beer pubs in the downtown entertainment district in Sapporo, you are far enough to sleep soundly without any fear of being woken up by the sound of drunken Karaoke party-goers or blinded by the neon lights of Susukino. The solid wall-to-wall windows do a great job in blocking any outside noises, though you can’t count on them to shut out the imaginary bear growls or train horns in your head.