2012 Japan Trip Day 16 – Kurokawa

Date of Travel: 14/02/2012

It was only 6:30am but we were all packed and ready to go as we wanted to reach Kurokawa by 2pm. Luckily we had already reserved train tickets the night before, so that was one last thing to worry about. We quickly hopped on a tram to Nagasaki JR Station, bought breakfast, caught a train to Shin-Tosu, transferred over to the first Shinakansen of our trip to Kumamoto, and finally transferred to yet another train to reach Aso station.

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As we wanted to make damn sure we did not miss the bus to Kurokawa, we arrived at Aso station with quite a lot of time to kill.  While waiting, we decided to have some lunch at the station. At the time, it was raining quite a lot outside. Though the weather was not as bad as the day before, we were worried that the heavy rain could ruin our experience at Kurokawa. When the bus came, we tried to board it, but the bus conductor animatedly told us off as the bus was on a break for a few minutes. Was an interesting experience…

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When we arrived at Kurokawa, the rain was a bit heavier than before. However, some staff from Yamamizuki Ryokan were present with umbrellas and a minivan to pick us up! Now that is service ladies and gentlemen! When we arrived at the Ryokan, they distributed umbrellas to all their guests, and helped bring our luggage to the reception area. After filling out the required forms, we were shown to our “room”. This “room” was larger than I had imagined. It featured a spacious tatami mat room, a smaller tatami room with a view of the forest at the back (we stored our luggage here), a wooden hallway with a couch, tv, massage chair, and a toilet at the back. A friendly staff in a kimono came in shortly after to make tea and served us a red bean jelly cake for a snack. Despite the hectic travel schedule from this morning, the atmosphere of this inn really made us feel refreshed.

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The weather cleared up shortly after, and we debated what we wanted to do. The original plan was to have a walk around town, but as it was quite a walk into town, and that we felt so relaxed at the ryokan, we decided to hit the outdoor onsen instead early instead. While heading down to the onsen, we had a wander around the ryokan. The ryokan itself was beautiful. Its architecture was Japanese style, and its décor reminded me of exhibits you would see in museums. We didn’t walk around the garden as it was still raining lightly, but we could see that it was also beautiful. We hit the outdoor onsen shortly after. It was awkward initially, as it was the first time we had been to an onsen on this trip, but we got used to it pretty quickly. We tried the indoor bath first, but it was too hot and stuffy in the room so we went out to the outdoor one. The bath was located right next to a river, and the cool air mixed with the warm water made it really refreshing. We spent a good hour in a bath just relaxing. Sorry ladies – no photos 😛

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After the bath, we wore the yukatas which were provided by the staff, and spent some additional time relaxing. We stopped by the ryokan’s gift shop to buy some souvenirs and snacks. We headed downstairs for dinner shortly after.

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Dinner itself was amazing. It was almost a work of art! It featured about 11 different dishes, all of which were beautifully presented. For one of the dishes, we were given the option of either steak or fugu (blowfish). While the fugu was most likely prepared properly, we didn’t want to take the chance (at least this early in the trip) and went for steak instead. We are such wimps, but meh! After the steak course, we thought only desert was left. Man, were we wrong. The waitress whipped out a large clay pot and prepared nabe! Despite each dish being quite small, we were very full by the end of it all.

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When we arrived back in our rooms, we found that some fairies (staff) had magically prepared the futons for us. Before going to sleep however, we decided to go have a look to see if the bath was still open. Unfortunately, it was currently being cleaned. However, I asked the staff if we could go take some photos of the bath area since it is currently being cleaned, and they said it was okay. So photos galore!

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After taking photos of the bath, we explored parts of the ryokan further. We returned to our room shortly after, where we shared a Yuzu pudding desert I had bought earlier in the day. This was the most relaxing yet fun day of the trip thus far, and was a much needed rest with us being only about a third of the way through the trip!

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Tram from Kokaidomae Station to Nagasaki JR Station – 120 yen
Bus from Aso to Kurokawa – 960
JR Trains covered by JR National Pass

2) ACCOMMODATION
Yamamizuki Ryokan – 16,950 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store at Nagasaki JR Station – 390 yen [nikuman and sandwich]
Lunch at Aso station – 750 yen [Champon]
Dinner provided by Ryokan

4) ATTRACTIONS
N/A ~all free~ [well…kind of anyway…onsen was included with the accommodation fee]

5) OTHERS
Souvenir from Yamamizuki – 900 yen [cellphone strap and yuzu pudding]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
20,070 yen (378,475 yen total)

Total Cost of Kyushu Leg excluding Airfares and JR Pass
52,432 yen (10,487 yen per day)

2012 Japan Trip Day 15 – Nagasaki

Date of Travel: 13/02/2012

The worst feeling you can have while on holiday is to wake up to the sound of heavy rain pelting against the window. And that was exactly what we got on what was really the only day throughout the whole trip that there was really bad weather. It was somewhat fitting too, as we were heading to Nagasaki Peace Park. For those who are unaware, Nagasaki was one of the two cities in Japan that was hit by an atomic bomb at the end of the World War 2. I acknowledge that Japanese soldiers did many horrible things during the war, but the effect of the A-bomb is something that should not be inflicted on anyone. Thousands of innocent civilians suffered while those in power were left unaffected. Bearing witness to the monstrosity of war and nuclear arms, Nagasaki and Hiroshima are now aiming to discourage other countries and cities around the world to stop nuclear testing, and are trying to promote world peace. Sadly, they have been largely unsuccessful. Prior to the trip, J.C. and I folded a thousand cranes together, which we aim to leave at the Peace Park in memory of those lives lost and for future peace.

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The main Peace Park grounds featured about a dozen sculptures and displays from countries around the world, also hoping for peace in the future. The rain enhanced the gloominess of the area, and quite frankly I felt very uneasy walking around. We managed to find a sheltered area next to the Peace Statue to hang the cranes. It was quite touching to see the amount of other cranes which other visitors had left.

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After spending some additional time walking around the park, we headed off towards the Atomic Bomb Museum which was located nearby. Many interesting displays made out of a thousand cranes were showcased at the front foyer of the museum. As mentioned previously, it was nice seeing others showing their support for Nagasaki.

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Inside the museum were displays showcasing the horrors of the atomic bomb. Due to sensitivity of these displays, I had purposely refrained from taking any pictures/videos here (I think I would not have been allowed to anyway). Next to the museum is the Peace Memorial Hall for the atomic bomb victims. The remembrance hall was recently constructed between 2000-2002, and was absolutely beautiful. It was a nice way to pay tribute to those unfortunate souls who lost their lives in this tragic event.

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There was a small park just outside the museum which we wandered around in for a while. The sadness seeping through the atmosphere definitely made us very uncomfortable. After taking a few photos, we stopped by a convenience store to buy a late lunch then headed off to Sofukuji temple for a change in scenery.

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As Nagasaki is located close to China, the design of its temples are heavily influenced by Chinese style temples. This was apparent at Sofukuji where, unlike the simplicity in the architecture of temples in Kyoto, its exterior is pained in red, and the arrangement of the roof tiles and columns gave it a rough feel. There was also a distinct lack of a proper garden which we so often saw at various temples back in Kansai. At the back of the temple was a graveyard, which was hauntingly beautiful with its many gravestones covered in moss. There was also a reasonable view from the graveyard at the city.

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Our next stop was the Confucious Shrine. Unfortunately it was closed by the time we reached it. We then decided to head over to Chinatown (one of three within Japan, the other two are located in Yokohama and Kobe) instead for a quick stroll. There was nothing really special about the place, though it was quite late when we arrived so many of its shops were already closed. Brownie did spot on a map that there was also a monument to the 26 Martyrs of Japan near the JR station, and so we stopped by there as well. There wasn’t a whole lot to see here either, though the first and only church I had come across on this trip was located nearby.

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After such a gloomy day, we headed back to the JR station to have some dinner and do some window shopping among a more lively and upbeat atmosphere. Afterwards, we headed back to our accommodation to do some laundry as we won’t get a good chance to do so for almost a week. While waiting for the laundry to dry, we headed over to the Megane (spectacles) bridge. The reason why this bridge was called as such was that the reflection of the bridge on the water, combined with the bridge itself, made it look like a pair of glasses. It is a pretty bridge, especially at night. After our laundry was done, we headed back to our accommodation and started packing. We had a very early start the next day, so we hit the sack shortly after.

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
One day Nagasaki tram pass – 500 yen [purchased from Nagasaki station]

2) ACCOMMODATION
Nagasaki International Hostel Akari – 2,900 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store – 372 yen [Pokari sweat, chocolate melon bun and onigiri]
Lunch from convenience store near Peace Park – 408 yen [Yakisoba, Okonomiyaki and Nikuman]
Dinner at Hamburger and Steak Blues Kitchen at JR Nagasaki station – 1,974 yen [New York steak set]
Drink while waiting for laundry to dry – 120 yen

4) ATTRACTIONS
Atomic Bomb Museum entrance fee – 200 yen
Sofukuji Temple entrance fee – 300 yen

5) OTHERS
Umbrella – 450 yen

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
7,224 yen (358,405 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 14 – Nagasaki

Date of Travel: 12/02/2012

The day which I had been worried about the most has finally arrived. This was the start of a frantic stretch in our plan where we travel between 7 cities/towns in 8 days, and was the day we finally activate our JR pass. After sleeping in later than usual, we checked out of the hostel, went to Hakata station to activate the JR passes and reserve tickets to Nagasaki, then went and bought breakfast. Shortly after, we hopped on the train, and managed to arrive at Nagasaki shortly before noon. We immediately took a tram to reach our next accommodation – Nagasaki International Hostel Akari.

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Our room at Akari was one of the most spacious of our trip. There was plenty of space to store our luggage, and there was also a bathroom and toilet ensuite. The staff were also among the friendliest we had encountered on our trip, which is saying a lot as almost every place we stayed had friendly staff. Akari Hostel is located along a section of the Nakashima River which featured almost dozen beautiful stone arch bridges. We definitely appreciated the lack of traffic in this area, unlike all our previous accommodations (though Sapporo wasn’t too bad).

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We took a tram to the port, and located the Takashima Traffic Advisory group’s office. This is one of the few groups around Nagasaki that operated a ferry to reach Gunkanjima, which is a completely deserted mining town. As there was still time before the ferry, we went to grab some lunch from another convenience store (first time we had done so for lunch on this trip). We returned to the port, and hopped on the Black Diamond ferry. Though the ride to Gunkanjima was a tad pricey, the ferry ride alone offered great views of Nagasaki and its surroundings from the sea.

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After about a 20 minute ride, we arrived at Gunkanjima island. The reinforced concrete buildings were in a worst state than I could have possibly imagined. The amount of corrosion and concrete spalling was fascinating, and the deserted buildings and the flying crows above made this place seem almost haunted. It felt like a zombie outbreak was about to happen at any moment! I was a bit disappointed that we only saw a small section of the island from behind the safety of railings, but with the state the buildings are in, I probably wouldn’t really want to be walking among them anyway! There are plenty of Haikyo adventurists who had taken amazing photos of the buildings online, so be sure to check those out.

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Heading back towards Nagasaki, I glanced back at the island and understood why it was called Gunkanjima (Battleship Island). It was hard to imagine that the island was at one stage the most populated area in the world. Once we arrived back in Nagasaki, we took a few photos of the ferry along with its captain, then had a look around a nearby mall. There was also a Pachinko parlour which we decided to enter to have a look. The thick stench of cigarette smoke and the deafening noise made us turn around within a few seconds, with Brownie and J.C. yelling “what the hell was that?” I cannot imagine people spending hours in such parlours each day…

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As it was too early for dinner, we decided to head up Mount Inasa to have a look around. As it was getting dark and we didn’t want to get too tired climbing up the mountain (it was just the start of our hectic stretch afterall), we took a cablecar to the top. There was a restaurant up the top which we decided to have dinner at. We sat at a counter next to the windows. While the food was average for its price, it was the view that made it all worthwhile.

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The view from Mount Inasa was perhaps the best night view we had of the entire trip. Not only were we able to see Nagasaki city, but almost a full 360 degree view of other smaller towns. The dispersion of lights was amazing. Interestingly, a sign pointed out that the patches where there are no light resembles outline of some animals. I was able to visualize some of it, but many were too farfetched for me! As we had nothing planned after visiting the mountain, and that this frantic stretch in our schedule had just begun, we decided to call it a night early and headed back to out accommodation.

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
JR National 21 Day Pass – 57,700 yen
One day Nagasaki tram pass – 500 yen [purchased from Nagasaki station]

2) ACCOMMODATION
Nagasaki International Hostel Akari – 2,900 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store near Hakata Station – 480 yen [Chocolate twist, curry bread and hotdog]
Lunch from Daily Yamazaki convenience store @ Motofunamachi – 295 yen [Teriyaki burger and Inari sushi]
Dinner at Hikari Restaurant @ Mount Inasa – 1,750 yen [Turkish rice, plum liquor and castella]

4) ATTRACTIONS
Ferry ride to Gunkanjima with Takashima Traffice Advisory Group – 4,300 yen
Cable car ride to Mount Inasa – 1,200 yen

5) OTHERS
Souvenir from Mount Inasa – 420 yen [Mount Inasa magnet]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
11,845 yen excluding JR Pass, 69,545 yen including JR Pass  (351,181 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 13 – Fukuoka

Date of Travel: 11/02/2012

We woke up to the best weather we had encountered throughout our whole trip. As such, we got some breakfast from a convenience store nearby, hopped on a subway from Nakasukawabata station to Ohorikoen station, sat by the large pond, and had breakfast. Those who pictured Japan being just one big polluted country have obviously not witnessed first-hand how beautiful Japan can be. The water in the pond was very clean, and the reflection of the sky and the city in the water made it all the more beautiful. After breakfast, we took around the park. It was a perfect way to start the day!

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Next to Ohori Park lies the Fukuoka Castle Ruins. Or at least, they think these used to be ruins. Apparently they weren’t too sure! The large stone bases were very similar to those from Nijo Castle, and is very typical of Japanese castle construction. There was a fantastic view of the city from the top of the hill, where we could see Fukuoka Tower and Fukuoka Dome in the distance. On the way back down, we stopped by a well. This well was used to sense if earthquakes were coming based on the water level. An interesting concept.

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From the Castle Ruins, we took about a half hour walk to Hawks Town Mall for lunch. It was our first taste of Okonomiyaki on this trip. The mall itself wasn’t that grand (though I suppose nothing could compare against Canal City). We did try the batting cages while at the mall, which was quite fun though difficult. The mall was located right next to Fukuoka Yafuoku Dome, home of the Fukuoka Hawks Baseball team. The dome ground was surrounded by copper hand moulds of famous people. The most notable was perhaps Michael Jackson’s. Jigyo Central Park is also located right next to the dome, and features a very pretty clock tower.

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North of the dome is Fukuoka’s artificial beach. As it was winter, there were no one else on the beach at the time. We weren’t daring enough to hop into the water either! We headed east along the beach towards Momochi Seaside Park, where Fukuoka Tower was located. Robosquare, which is a show room featuring the latest robots, was only a short walk away from the tower, and had some interesting exhibits.

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As it was starting to get late, we slowly headed back. Along the way, we got distracted by an owl statue next to the Fukuoka Library. We decided to go in to have a look around in the library, but it was so quiet in there and we felt like an annoyance, so we quickly headed back out. We also stopped by ruins of a fortress against a Mongolian invasion at Nishijin, which was definitely less impressive than it sounds!

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After quite a long day of walking around the place, we decided to head back to Canal City to have dinner. Brownie was also getting quite a bad headache, so we decided to take it easy. We took a subway from Nishijin station back to Hakata station, where J.C. got us lost trying to find the exit! When we finally did, it was only a short walk to reach Canal City. It was very busy and there was an event going on. We looked over the edge and saw a “meet and greet” session with some idol group. It was kind of creepy to see the amount of grown men shaking hands with young girls. The security must’ve thought the same about me as well and requested for me to stop taking photos and videos of the event. At the time, I was only taking a video of a water fountain display. See the corresponding video on my youtube channel if you don’t believe me – I’m innocent!

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After dinner, Brownie decided to call it a day and headed back to the accommodation himself while J.C. and I continued to look around the mall. There was an Ultraman shop (man that brings back childhood memories) and a Jump shop (specializing in goods from popular shounen manga like Naruto, One Piece and Bleach). Apart from that, nothing else really caught our attention. As such, we decided to head back to the accommodation early. We had an early start the next day anyway in order to catch the earliest train out of Fukuoka.

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Halfway back towards our accommodation, we came across the entrance to the Kushida Shrine. It appeared that there were some events ongoing based on the interesting decoration they put up at the entrance. J.C. and I decided to explore the shine since we were already there, and took plenty of pictures around the place. We then called it a night, and headed back to the hostel to rest our feet.

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Subway from Nakasukawabata station to Ohorikoen station – 250 yen
Subway from Nishijin station to Hakata station – 250 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
Fukuoka Riverside Hostel (since been closed) – 3,000 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store near accommodation – 355 yen [Hotdog, onigiri and orange juice]
Lunch at なんでやねん @ Hawks Town Mall – 880 yen (Kansai style Okonimiyaki)
Cafe coffee flavoured Pocky – 210 yen
Dinner at Canal City – 880 yen (chicken dish)
Oolong Tea – 128 yen

4) ATTRACTIONS
N/A ~All free~

5) OTHERS
Souvenir from Canal City – 800 yen [Homura (from Madoka) figurine]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
6,753 yen  (281,636 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 12 – Fukuoka

Day of Travel: 10/02/2012 We woke up to the heaviest snowfall we had seen yet in Sapporo. We checked out of our accommodation early to make sure we reach New Chitose airport on time. Our main worry was that the trains would be delayed, but luckily this wasn’t the case! Still, it was a shame to leave the Snow Festival when the Snow finally started falling. We ended up arriving at New Chitose Airport earlier than expected and checked in our luggage. As there was still over an hour before we had to go through security, we decided to explore the airport. The main foyer featured a large Hatsune Miku and Vocaloid exhibition. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Vocaloid, it is a voice synthesizer program which is increasing with popularity with many popular pop-songs being released in Japan. Hatsune Miku in particular is the face of the most popular voice bank in the range available. I also use her for my virtual rock band Contradicting Illusions. The Vocaloid brand originated in Hokkaido, and hence Hatsune Miku/Vocaloid has a very huge presence at most Winter Festivals in the region.

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In addition to the Vocaloid exhibition, there was also Melon Bear. This is a popular mascot of Hokkaido. It combines together melons and brown bears, both of which Hokkaido is well known for. We also stumbled across Mos Burger, which is a Japanese burger chain. We decided to eat there to see how its like compared to western burger chains. The burgers were somewhat small, but were definitely tastier than those from McDs! Also helped that I had a shrimp burger, which was very unique (and I love seafood)!

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We went through security checks after lunch, but then found that the plane was delayed because of the snowfall. Unfortunately there wasn’t much that interested us in the departure hall, so we just lazed around until our flight was due to take off. We did spot a Pokemon plane though!

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By the time we arrived in Fukuoka, it was already evening and the sun had set. We took a train to Hakata station, and checked into our accommodation at Fukuoka Riverside. The room we stayed in was the smallest of the trip, as there was barely enough space to fit our luggage – let alone move around the room. However its proximity to Canal City, a subway station, and a shopping arcade made it worthwhile.

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After resting for a short while, we headed off to find some Yatai stalls to have dinner. Most of these are located near Canal City, which is one of the largest shopping malls I had ever seen. We found that many people dining in these stalls were smoking – a lot. As such, we decided to just take a few pictures of the stalls, and head to Canal City for dinner instead.

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One of the floors of Canal City featured a large array of ramen restaurants. We decided to give ramen another try (after the monstrosity which was miso ramen). We tried ramen from Ramenjinanbo Hakatadu, and must say it was pretty darn delicious! We also ordered some Gyoza (dumplings) on the side to share around.

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After dinner, we explored as much of Canal City as we could before the shops closed. We first entered an amusement arcade that featured games a lot older than I was expecting. I even saw a Typing of the Dead game that even featured keyboards you would expect to see being used back in the 1990s! There was also a display with hundreds of small screens showing strange light patterns, and looking at it for a prolonged period of time made me feel like my mind was tripping. There was also a cute cleaning robot with a happy face. Touching its face will bring up many options, such as playing mini-games or drawing. It was awesome!

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A quick view over the ledge of some of the levels shows just how large Canal City was. As we were getting tired, many of the shops were closing, and we had barely covered many areas within the mall, we decided to start heading back. We did get distracted by crepes along the way, as well as a water fountain display.

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Back at the accommodation, I climbed up to the roof to have a view of the surrounding area. It was not the best view ever, but it sunk in that we were no longer in Hokkaido due to the lack of snow. Looking back at our activities throughout the day, we did not get up to very much. Still, it was good to take a bit of a break once in a while!

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Subway from Sapporo JR Station to New Chitose Airport – 1,040 yen
Flight from New Chitose Airport to Fukuoka Airport – 10,000 yen
Subway from Fukuoka Airport to Gion Station – 250 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
Fukuoka Riverside Hostel (since been closed) – 3,000 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store near Sapporo JR Station – 260 yen (egg/tomato/cheese sandwich)
Lunch at Mos Burger @ New Chitose Airport – 740 yen (Shrimp burger set)
Dinner at Ramenjinanbo Hakatadu @ Canal City – 820 yen (Ramen and Gyoza)
Strawberry crepe with ice cream and chocolate @ Canal City – 430 yen

4) ATTRACTIONS
N/A ~All free~

5) OTHERS
N/A [Need to save money once in a while right?]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
6,540 yen excluding flights, 16,540 yen including flights (274,883 yen total)