Icy roads ahead

Icy roads ahead

Last Tuesday, a coach carrying 16 Singaporean tourists and a tour guide skidded off a snow-covered road in Hokkaido and crashed into an adjacent field.

The tour guide lost two front teeth while a 68-year-old grandmother suffered a broken leg in the crash.

It was the second coach accident in six weeks. On Oct 23, the head-on collision of a tour bus carrying 33 Singaporean tourists and a truck killed both drivers.

With ice and snow on roads and unpredictable weather, winter can be a treacherous time to be on the road for even the most experienced drivers.

A spokesman for the Automobile Association of Singapore said snowy conditions result in low visibility, decreased traction for car tyres and longer braking distances.

In addition, if your car breaks down, it may be a challenge to locate you due to the road and weather conditions, he cautions.

"Prolonged waiting times along with extremely low temperatures make vehicular breakdowns, in snowy weather, dangerous for drivers and their passengers," he adds.

Statistics from the Japan National Tourism Organisation and travel agencies here show that the winter months from November through February are the favourite time of the year for Singaporeans travelling to Japan.

The organisation observes that more than 75,000 Singaporeans visited Japan during the winter months last year. This is about 40 per cent of the 189,220 Singaporeans who travelled to Japan the whole of last year.

By far, the preferred month was December, when 38,100 Singaporeans flew to Japan. In comparison, the next most popular month was June, with 21,735 Singaporean tourists.

Similarly, about 40 per cent of the 5,000 tourists that Dynasty Travel sends to Japan each year choose to go during November or December.

"Winter holidays in Japan are very popular among Singaporeans, when families enjoy bonding timeduring the year-end school break. They like to get away from Singapore's tropical weather and enjoy snow activities," says Ms Alicia Seah, director of marketing communications at Dynasty Travel.

Hokkaido in winter is particularly popular for its hot springs, excellent ski fields and facilities, and winter festivals such as the Sapporo Snow Festival which boasts enormous snow palaces and brightly lit, multicoloured snow sculptures, sledding and snow ball fights.

But the 5m of snow the island receives every year can make getting to Hokkaido's highlights hazardous.

None of the tour agencies which spoke to SundayLife! offer self-drive itineraries to Hokkaido in winter, though they do at other points of the year.

For example, Dynasty Travel offers self-drive itineraries to destinations such as Hokkaido and Niigata in north-western Honshu only from April to October. During winter months, those looking for a winter experience can take one of their four group itineraries to the region, which use coach transport.

ASA Holidays does not offer self-drive itineraries to Japan and does not advocate self-drive tours in winter. "It is best not to drive around due to the language barrier and lack of familiarity with the country and its roads," advises an ASA sposkesman.

Instead, take public transport and take note of weather reports before heading out, he said.

Mr Daniel Yong, 40, learnt this the hard way when he and his friends got caught in a blizzard while on a self-drive tour of northwest Japan last year.

"It caught us all by surprise," he recalls. Their car got stuck in a deep snow bank and had to be pushed out with the help of other motorists.

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