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  • Grab your woolly hats, scarves, and gloves

  • because we're off on a road trip across Hokkaido.

  • ...And it's bloody cold.

  • Hokkaido is Japan's second-largest island and most northern prefecture.

  • Last year we visited Sapporo, the island's vibrant capital city,

  • and I've returned for a road trip in a reasonably-priced car

  • to uncover what makes Hokkaido such a popular tourist destination

  • amongst Japanese and foreign travelers.

  • There's so much to see that we've turned the journey into a two-part series.

  • In this episode we'll journey across the island's seismically-active landscape,

  • and in the second episode we'll stuff ourselves with the local cuisine.

  • Joining us on our trip is my good friend Chris,

  • a real-life American person who'll be acting as the cameraman

  • and also splashing around in some water.

  • That's- that's what he does.

  • Let's get to know Chris with a quick Q&A session.

  • Chris, what is your favorite thing in the world?

  • - Ice cream. - That is the end of the Q&A.

  • So, this is our car. It's a Toyota Vitz,

  • also known as Toyota Yaris to most other countries.

  • It's cheap, it's gonna get us from A to B,

  • and we rented it from Nippon Rent-A-Car.

  • There's three good car companies, good rental companies,

  • in Japan that I recommend. Nippon Rent-A-Car, Toyota Rent-A-Car, and Niconico.

  • Niconico tend to be the cheapest, but I often go Nippon Rent-A-Car,

  • just 'cause I find the cars are slightly nicer and newer.

  • So this is a map of Hokkaido.

  • This is where we are now, in the city of Hakodate,

  • and we're gonna drive along the coastline here, all the way to here.

  • This is called Noboribetsu, or Hell's Valley.

  • It's a very seismically active region, lots of geysers and hot springs and things.

  • And then we're gonna drive from Noboribetsu to Furano.

  • Now, Furano is right in the middle of Hokkaido

  • and it's known for its big, rolling fields filled with lavender.

  • And I think it's gonna be a lovely way to end this video,

  • with a shot of the nice, rolling lavender fields of Hokkaido.

  • So, are you ready, Chris? - I'm ready!

  • - Are you ready, viewers? [Chris nods camera]

  • - 'Course you are. Let's go and have a look.

  • After 200 years of being closed off to the outside world,

  • Japan finally opened up in the 1850s,

  • allowing foreign trade at five ports throughout the country,

  • one of which was Hakodate.

  • In fact, the first-ever U.S. citizen to be buried on Japanese soil lies in the city;

  • one of Commodore Perry's men,

  • who passed away while American ships were surveying the port in 1854.

  • And in the years that followed, the influx of trade and foreign cultures

  • led to the presence of some not-so-looking Japanese architecture,

  • architecture which can still be found throughout the city today.

  • So this is our first stop.

  • It's the top of Mount Hakodate, overlooking the entire city.

  • It's quite a unique kind of place, given that we've got the sea on both sides

  • and the city runs in between it.

  • I've not been to a city in Japan quite like it.

  • Great view. Incredibly cold, can't feel my fingers, but...

  • Nice place to start the trip, I think. It's very romantic.

  • It's just a shame that the person who's with me isn't...

  • isn't someone you can really have romance with,

  • but, uh... yeah.

  • So we're at the base of Mount Hakodate,

  • and it's a little bit of an odd kind of district,

  • 'cause there's lots of foreign, kind of European-style buildings around,

  • like this Russian Orthodox Church. Because Hakodate opened in 1859--

  • it was one of the first ports in Japan to open to the West--

  • lots of European powers rocked up and started building

  • churches and red brick buildings everywhere,

  • so the whole area feels a bit of an anomaly.

  • It doesn't feel like being in Japan. It's the least Japan-looking district

  • that I've been in in Japan, and there's also a glove on the floor, look at this.

  • Come over here.

  • A glove.

  • What can it mean?

  • I quite want to wear it, 'cause I don't have any gloves

  • and my hands are fffffffreally cold!

  • But I'm gonna leave it there.

  • But that's the kind of exciting thing you can find at the base of Mount Hakodate.

  • Gloves.

  • - *whimpering* - You don't... seem to handle the cold very well.

  • - I'm LA-born, mother--

  • - LA-born?

  • - Gosh... Dude. *shivering*

  • - *laughing* - Wait, let me zip my--

  • Ohh, God.

  • - That's a pretty impressive building; this is the old government ward building,

  • so the government of Hakodate used to be based there.

  • It's a very decadent-looking building.

  • The only thing more impressive than this building

  • is that elaborate snowman over there that's hastily been built this morning;

  • come and look at this!

  • The first snowman I've seen on a trip so far,

  • and the detail and the quality of that expression is exceptional.

  • That's a really good snowman. 8 out of 10.

  • Got my British tea, and-- Oh, look!

  • It's like being in the UK all over again.

  • So we're in the old British Consulate building that was opened in 1859.

  • These days it's just got a nice tea room and a museum.

  • And it's a great place to get some British tea.

  • We're sitting here, the snow's just kicked off outside,

  • so it's bit of a blizzard at the moment.

  • And our journey-- after this tea, our journey across Hokkaido will begin.

  • So from Hakodate to Noboribetsu is about 200 kilometers and a three-hour drive.

  • But because Hokkaido's scenery is supposedly legendary,

  • it's supposed to be quite a nice drive, so...

  • This is going to be an incredible trip,

  • because Chris has brought a drone with him.

  • This is the first video on this channel ever

  • that's going to use some drone footage.

  • I'm a bit of a skeptic when it comes to drones--

  • Yeah, you can get some nice, artistic shots,

  • but I like to make it feel like you're in the car with us going on the trip,

  • not like a hundred meters in the sky, so...

  • But yeah, maybe he can change my mind.

  • - With drooones!

  • - En route to Noboribetsu, we'd stop off at

  • one of the most active volcanic sites on Hokkaido.

  • So we've just stopped off halfway between Hakodate and Hell's Valley.

  • And this is an active volcano called Usu volcano.

  • We're about to go up it, actually, and get a better view

  • but you can see here, there's steam coming out.

  • There's steam and smoke, so it must be good;

  • Isn't that right, Chris? - So good.

  • - Let's go and have a look. - Let's go!

  • Makes the snowman we saw in Hakodate look like the best snowman ever.

  • This one doesn't even have a face, so let's contribute to that.

  • There you go-- oh, shit.

  • There you, now he's got a nose.

  • Look at that!

  • So here we are at the peak of Mount Usu, 2,400 feet up,

  • and there's absolutely no wind.

  • It's really eerie to be this high up and have no wind,

  • but the view is spectacular.

  • This is a really volcanic kind of region;

  • it's so volcanic that there's been four eruptions since 1900.

  • And in fact, this kind of mound-- this lump sticking out here before us,

  • is called Showa Shinzan, and it erupted in 1943.

  • Before, that was just a wheat field, and now it's a small mountain that's just risen up.

  • When it happened, in between 1943 to 1945,

  • the authorities were really worried about it as they thought it was a bad omen

  • because it was happening during World War II;

  • they thought it was a bad symbol, and...

  • Yeah, what do you think, Chris? Isn't it amazing?

  • - Perfect for a drone, eh? - Perfect for a drone?

  • Let's see what you can do... with this drone of yours.

  • Go on then, show us-- show us what you can do. - Compass... error.

  • Compass error. *laugh* - "Compass error."

  • - "Too much compass--" no, what--?

  • Metal interference. Where's the metal? Do you see any metal?

  • - Well, the volcano. I'm sure there's some metal going on here.

  • What a sight this is.

  • *laughing*

  • - Where's the metal?

  • - *laughing* A member of staff just ran over and told him off for trying to use the drone.

  • Apparently you're not allowed to use it up here.

  • And even if we were allowed, we still couldn't

  • get the damn drone up and running due to magnetic interference, so...

  • Yeah, don't bring your drone up here.

  • And don't bring Chris up here, either.

  • What do you think it was?

  • - I don't know.

  • Usually... I'm used- I'm like, next to some kind of metal object,

  • but I can't see any metal objects here besides, I guess,

  • the inside of the volcano, but...

  • - Maybe it's your heart of steel, Chris.

  • *both laughing* - Like Superman? *laughing*

  • - *speaking Japanese*

  • This is another famous dish in Hokkaido: corn and potatoes.

  • Not together; separately.

  • On a scale of 1 to chaos, loads of tourists have just rocked up

  • while I was ordering the corn.

  • It's all-- it's just one man, this one corn salesman,

  • who's been undated by about 30 to 40 people. *laughing*

  • They've just come off a truck.

  • Still, the corn's fantastic!

  • It's corn that's just been laced with incredible amounts of butter.

  • Corn and dairy products are a really big part of Hokkaido's food culture, and...

  • I actually-- when I when I came to Sapporo,

  • Natsuki ordered lots of corn, he loved it.

  • But I didn't, and now I can see why he ordered it.

  • I did order a potato.

  • Don't know where it's gone.

  • He appears to have run off!

  • He's gone.

  • Oh, here he comes!

  • Noboribetsu is Hokkaido's largest hot spring town,

  • one of the best known in all of Japan.

  • Whilst many of the country's hot springs are only visible behind closed doors,

  • here in Noboribetsu the town's seismic activity takes on a far more visible role.

  • We're about to reach the ominous-sounding Hell's Valley,

  • the steaming valley that runs alongside Noboribetsu, where

  • 3,000 liters of hot water gush from the surface of the earth every single minute.

  • It's quite a lot, innit?

  • So we just turned a corner down the street,

  • and there's a massive pillar of smoke rising up;

  • I say smoke, it's obviously steam-- and that is Hell's Valley.

  • It's, uh... starting to look like the gateway to hell.

  • It's kind of just poking out between the mountains.

  • Given that it's about minus 4 today, I'm looking forward to getting near the steam.

  • It's a bit of an alien sight, I've never seen anything quite like it.

  • I'm amazed there's any snow at all, actually,

  • given how much steam is rising out between the between the cracks

  • and the rivers of hot water.

  • The smell of sulfur is pretty overwhelming.

  • I think the thing that strikes me the most about the Jigokudani Valley is,

  • it would be a really good skateboard park.

  • I don't even do skateboarding, right, but you look at those ridges

  • and you think, "Yeah!" Imagine going up and down like that,

  • in between the- in between the steam.

  • There's a sign over there saying "no drinking the water,"

  • "no drinking the 60 degree water,"

  • which makes me wonder, "Have people actually attempted to drink this?"

  • Which would seem strange, given how sulfuric it actually smells. *laugh*

  • Well, you'd have to be mad to drink it,

  • but I would do anything right now to get in there and have a swim,

  • bloody hell. Anything.

  • What's it like?

  • - Tastes chemical-y. - You didn't just drink it, did you?

  • - Yeah. - You are- you are so odd.

  • - Master Onsen Man. You gotta drink it. - It smells horrific.

  • - Look, look: look at this black sand. Look.

  • - And you drank that?

  • You- you are... ugh. - Onsen Man!

  • *laughing*

  • - So, we found this secluded foot bath...

  • that Chris has been drinking from.

  • We're just in a forest; there's actually nobody around.

  • And there's just this area where you can sit down

  • and dip your feet into the water.

  • And it's a little bit odd that there's no one here. I don't know why--

  • I guess it's 'cause it's quite isolated.

  • We're in a forest and it's a little bit of a walk off the main road.

  • - Look, it's black sand!

  • Look at that!

  • - Wow.

  • This video just got 20 percent better!

  • - I feel like you can exfoliate your feet very well in here.

  • - I would get in it myself, but we didn't bring any towels.

  • Sometimes it's just nicer to live vicariously through Chris' experience.

  • - Noboribetsu dance.

  • Noboribetsu dance!

  • Yeahhh, boy!