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Ryounkaku Onsen

Getting to Ryounkaku was difficult. One option is by train, the other is by bus. The option I chose was by car, from Sapporo Station I rented a four wheel drive Toyota Vitz near the Sapporo Station at approximately 15:44. The car rental staff was kind enough to pick me up and take me to their office in order to process my paperwork for the car. I handed over my Japanese license and my Visa card and I was done and out on the road in less than 20 minutes! I had to cover 200 km before 9pm because the mountain pass gates close off at around this time for safety reasons; mainly related to ice and snow. I arrived in Furano at 8pm, all in 3rd gear! The configuration on the gearshift was unfamiliar to me, and I didn't realize it until after I had arrived. The car still sounds fine, though.

The Hokkaido Expressway felt like the German Autobahn because everybody was driving well over 140km/hr. After reaching my exit it was nightfall and then I continued up a long winding mountain road which lead me up to Shirogane Onsen area - wrong route! I do not recommend driving around iced over roads, especially on mountain passes at 8pm. It is the most dangerous type of road condition you can drive in. I even got lost a couple of times and the temps outside was minus 12 below zero with nobody insight. I stayed calm and called the hotel for directions in Japanese. They advised me to head down near Kami-Furano, forty minute drive, and then take a back route since all the mountain pass gates heading up from Shirogane were closed down for the night; there was just too much ice and snow on the road. The hotel where I was staying is the highest onsen point in all of Hokkaido, so that should give you a sense of how dangerous the road conditions were. I think it was somewhere like 1250meters above sea level....and pitch black outside. I knew that If I had gotten stuck no help would've found me that far up and that late, so I kept my eyes glued to the window.

The hotel staff were blown away when I walked in. How did they think I was going to look? I have spoken with them on at least five occasions before I left Honshu. So on the third and fourth calls, they recognized my voice. Then when they saw me unaccompanied they were happily confused and curious. Nevertheless, they treated me like royalty and even upgraded my room at no additional charge and allowed me to use the onsen all night. Breakfast the next morning was all-you-can-eat.

The Ryounnkaku is one of those hotsprings that people travel far and wide for. It's the kind of onsen that one must sit in in order to appreciate. It is truly a one of a kind onsen experience. Tonight marks the first night I spent sitting in an open air bath in the middle of a snowstorm! And I don't say that lightly nor do I say it with the least bit of exaggeration, but a fact. I was sitting in an open air hot spring in the middle of a night time snowstorm to the point that I had to wrap my face. No picture was possible at that time.

Compared to last night the morning was a lot nicer. The morning temps were around minus 12 - very cold for me. I wasn't able to spot any wolves, something this area is known for, and since there's a valley gorge that separates us from the backdrop, it was totally safe from wolves.

I had a liquid breakfast called Sapporo Classic. Normally I drink nihonshu, but since this beer was so good and there were no sake shops nearby I binged off of this delightfully refreshing and delicious brew.This high up in the Tokachidake Mountains was wonderful. So pristine, so quiet, so peaceful. So far up. Surrounded by snow clad pines and spruces. So far up and away. So high up. So surrounded by millions of years of history and evolution. So high up! So up and away from it all.

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