From the airport, our group of 70 broke up into 2 groups and we rode the tour bus towards Sounkyo (Soun gorge), at one of our bathroom breaks at a rest stop along the freeway, Satoshi and I shared a nama caramel (soft caramel) soft serve. We really enjoyed this. We also received these cookies by Kitakaro from our tour guide, which were like wafers with milk chocolate in the center. (The rest stops along Japan's highways are really interesting places, you can find interesting souvenirs as well as different local food things. I've heard that some rest stops are upscale by having hot spring bath areas...you may never reach your destination!)
From the rest stop, we visited the Ice Pavilion, this place lets you experience -21C (-5F) and -41C (-41F) temperatures. I must say that mohair is such a wonderful resource! I used my mohair scarf as a mask to block the wind from hitting my face. A gross but neat experience was that you could actually feel the water in your nose freeze before it dripped out (sorry! too much info, I hope you weren't eating while reading this) The most exciting part was seeing "diamond dust", the sparkly "dust" that I think is formed with snow and certain light reflections. That river in the photo is the Ishikari river, according to the guide, in Autumn you can see many salmon swimming up stream.
After visiting the Ice Pavilion we went to check-in at the Choyo Resort Hotel near Sounkyo (Soun gorge). Sounkyo is located in the Daisetsu-zan National Park.
About a 5 minute walk from our hotel was the Sounkyo Hyobaku Festival. These huge ice objet are created by the hotel workers in the area every year. They build the structures and shoot water at them for several days. Each night various travel agencies and vendors sponsor firework displays. They started this festival in hopes of luring tourists to the area during winter.
The temperature according to the front desk was -10C (14F) and windy. We had wrapped our scarves around our faces, but poor Satoshi, his glasses would fog up and he couldn't see anything. At times I had to lead him around like a blind man.
Since we didn't see the shuttle bus when we were ready to head back, we decided to walk back to our hotel. On our way back to our hotel, we stopped at Seicomart, a local convenience store and picked up a sujiko musubi. 120 yen (about US$1.20) Sujiko is the sac with the salmon roe inside. This type of musubi is only found in Hokkaido and was highly recommended by our foodie bus guide. Satoshi said it was really delicious.
For breakfast on Saturday, we went to the hotel buffet and I enjoyed this yaki-onigiri (grilled rice ball) doused with a thick hot mushroom soup and topped with shiso (perilla).
p.s. actually because the temps were so low, I noticed my digital camera was acting weird, whenever I would turn it sideways (perpendicular) to take something, the camera would vibrate so much that I would only be able to take a photo with the camera parallel to the ground.