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Where in the World (Japan) – Getting to Hokkaido (with thanks to Japan’s rail system)

Hokkaido Map

One of the marvels of Japan is its train system. You could set your watch by the accuracy of the train schedule. Once, during my four years in Japan, I was on a train that experienced electrical failure and we were stuck for 20 minutes. When I reached my destination, I was greeted by a rail employee who handed me a pre-printed excuse note that I was to give to my employer, asking my employer to accept the rail company’s apology for making me late to work. That’s right. Unless you have a note from the railway company, no one in Japan will believe you if you tell them that train was late.

This is important when you’re traveling.

The title of this post refers to Hokkaido. As I mentioned in my first post, Japan has four main islands. The northernmost island is called Hokkaido. Its most famous festival, which occurs in February, is called the Snow Festival. It takes place in Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido. This was my initial target destination.

The snow festival is known worldwide and attracts millions of tourists each year. It started in the 1950s when the Self-Defense Forces got bored and started building elaborate snow sculptures.

As getting to Sapporo via train in a single day takes precision scheduling, I booked my travel through a travel agency. To get to Sapporo from where I lived at the time, I needed to ride two bullet trains and three express trains. My layover at any train station was no more than 20 minutes, and less than 10 minutes in one case. If I had missed a train, I wouldn’t have reached my destination. Not a problem in Japan. Every train left on time, and arrived on time. I made the trip in somewhere between 15-16 hours. Much of my trip was along Japan’s east coast. I even took a train underneath the channel that runs between Japan’s main island (called Honshu) and Hokkaido.

If I had to use one word to describe Hokkaido, I would say “open.” Much of Japan has a crowded feel to it. Hokkaido feels like farmland by comparison. Sapporo is only one city. Other wonderful places include

Hakodate – This city is famed most for its “million-dollar view,” a spectacular view of the city from the top of Mt.Hakodate. However, the city is also famous for its morning fish market, which stretches for several blocks and offers local fare from the nearby bay as well as nearby countries.


While in Hakodate, we stayed in a Japanese-style inn. At this inn, dinner was served to us in our room.




And my boys discovered that a Japanese-style hot bath followed by ice cream is an excellent idea.


Asahikawa – Asahikawa is the second largest city in Hokkaido. One of the city’s biggest attractions is the Asahiyama Zoo, the northernmost zoo in Japan. The great thing about this zoo is that it has cold-climate animals, making it fascinating.


My kids greatly enjoyed this, particularly the red panda and the old-fashioned candy on a stick. We watched the candy maker craft horses and other animals while the candy was pliable. The process has been used for hundreds of years and actually appears in one of my Japan novels.


Next Week: The location revealed.

Map of Hokkaido from

New Casual_ResizedWalt Mussell primaily writes historical fiction with inspirational and romantic elements. His favorite setting is medieval Japan and he refers to his  writing as “Like ‘Shogun,’ but the heroine survives.” He also writes Biblical fiction and is working on a manuscript with a 19th century American setting. He has one published novella in the Christmas anthology, Hot Cocoa for the Heart.

Mary Preston - April 18, 2014 - 3:45 am

I could have used a few notes in my time. Thank you for the fantastic post.

Marilyn Baron - April 18, 2014 - 5:03 am

What an interesting post. I wasn’t familiar with any of those cities so I learned a lot. The rail system sounds amazing.

Walt Mussell - April 18, 2014 - 8:11 am

Mary, when the train employee handed me the note, I looked at it and had to confirm what it was. I couldn’t believe it.

Walt Mussell - April 18, 2014 - 8:12 am


I love Hokkaido. The whole area is amazing and has so many things to see.

Piper - April 18, 2014 - 9:28 am

I’m not guessing, but I know that excuse stuff in America would go over like a lead balloon! The boys look as if they had a wonderful time! So handsome!

Pam Asberry - April 18, 2014 - 9:52 am

Unbelievable, Walt! It sounds like we could learn a thing or two from the Japanese!

Walt Mussell - April 18, 2014 - 10:28 am

Piper, excuses don’t go over anywhere. The train being late is the equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.”

Walt Mussell - April 18, 2014 - 10:43 am

Pam, in my four years in Japan, I never drove a car. Public transportation is amazing.

Susan Carlisle - April 18, 2014 - 11:33 am

Thanks for sharing your adventure. I’m enjoying it very much.

Walt Mussell - April 18, 2014 - 12:44 pm

Susan, glad you like it. I’ve enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

Maxine Davis - April 18, 2014 - 1:08 pm

Walt, I am very much enjoying the articles about Japan. It looks fascinating – and clean. Looks like your family really enjoys it, too. I would love to ride the bullet train. I think.

Walt Mussell - April 18, 2014 - 1:23 pm

Maxine, we so wish we could go back, but it will be awhile.

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