On the Hokkaido Expressway (Doo Jidosha-do) that connects north and south Hokkaido via the city of Sapporo, is an interesting rest area called the Sunagawa Highway Oasis (suna means sand and gawa means river in Japanese). It opened on April 26, 1991 and at that time was the second in Japan and the first in Hokkaido. It soon became an attraction in itself, and most travelers plan to stop there, especially on their way back to Sapporo after a trip somewhere north in Hokkaido. Even our students said that it’s a wonderland, especially for kids! Most of the tour buses stop here, although only for 15-20 minutes usually, and their schedules advertise this stop, often such, “Where you can enjoy shopping and tasting at the sweets shops”.
We stopped there on our way to the Daisetsuzan National Park area and again on the way back. It was a long weekend, with many people traveling, and the Oasis was incredibly busy. It’s a fanciful pink building that at first doesn’t look like a service area, but more like an entertainment complex—which I guess in a way it is. Up the back is a play area for children and a park, and inside it’s like a huge shopping complex. The shops and the cafeteria are run by the major manufacturers of Hokkaido, and it’s possible to find many (most) of the Hokkaido specialities here. We saw melons, boxes of potatoes, whole crabs, the famous stuffed squid from Hakodate, Royce chocolates and other Hokkaido chocolate confections (tomato chocolate anyone?). Hokkaido is well-known for growing vegetables and especially potatoes and Satoshi introduced us to some potato chips that are truly the best we’ve ever had. They are freeze-dried French fries and are delicious, not oily, not too salty.
There are many types of Japanese sweets, just as the bus tours advertise, and a vast assortment of packaged food items. It’s a Japanese tradition to give gifts after traveling anywhere, and food is the most popular. Many companies have come up with beautifully packaged goods, often with a local theme, so for example in Mie we bought small cakes in a box with a picture of the Mie Shrine. Here, I see boxes saying “I love Hokkaido”, or with pictures of some of the Hokkaido mountains.
You can also get other souvenirs, such as T-shirts and wooden animals, notably owls and bears: Owls and bears were/are very special animals for the local Ainu people, and the tradition obviously continues.
Soft serve icecream was very popular that weekend and people with kids waited in long queues. I waited in the same queue for coffee, which was actually pretty good.
A fun stop, bustling and full of energy.
Click on the pictures below for a bigger view.