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Thread: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

  1. #1
    Senior Member limwhow's Avatar
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    Default Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    Hello to all fellow CSers.
    I have some questions which I tried searching on CS but after reading through all the threads, can find no firm answer.

    It's the end of the year again. And I am seriously planning to go for a Self-drive holiday to Hokkaido from around 16th Dec till 22nd Dec.
    It's going to be a family holiday 7 person in hopefully a big Toyota multi-seater.
    And I intend to drive to travel to Sapporo, Otaru (both in the south-west), Furano (central), Asahikawa (Cenral-North), and any other places suggested.
    My questions are:

    • Does it snow heavy from mid-December onwards? And does it ice up the roads?
    • Any of you kind CSers have driven before in the snowy, icy roads of Hokkaido in any types of self-drive vehicles? What were your experiences?
    • In Winter, besides Sapporo, Otaru, Furano, Biei, Asahikawa, are there any drive-worthy places to visit for the special wintery scene?
    • We are not skiing people but who knows... maybe if it is good we may consider one day to skii.

    And let's say if really we self-drive minimally, maybe in the city, and take the public transport from city to city... is that difficult in Winter?

    Apologies, ladies and gentlemen, for my long-winded questions.
    I am a little confused now and I certainly need some good advice.
    Thank you all in advance!

  2. #2

    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    I booked a tour for my family to Hokkaido Dec last year. It was snowing in Furano and it got rather chilly, even during the day.

    The coach we were in travelled from one spot to the next without much problem though along the expressway. The road was cleared of snow ... there were 'snow-plows' that went up and down the major highways to sweep the snow away from the road ...

    All the best with your planning and journey

  3. #3
    Senior Member limwhow's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by LancerEX View Post
    I booked a tour for my family to Hokkaido Dec last year. It was snowing in Furano and it got rather chilly, even during the day.

    The coach we were in travelled from one spot to the next without much problem though along the expressway. The road was cleared of snow ... there were 'snow-plows' that went up and down the major highways to sweep the snow away from the road ...

    All the best with your planning and journey
    Ah LancerEX, many thanks for coming in and helping me.
    Were there lots of private cars and vehicles apart from the coaches on the roads during the time of your travel?
    And may I ask which are the major spots you went to, just so that I have an idea.
    Thank you once again, LancerEX.

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    Senior Member giantcanopy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    hi wee how, i got no experience driving in snow before erh, but winter will be really beautiful. I have seen some wonderful snow shots of the trees in winter in Biei and Furano by local photographers. While in other seasons, they are easily accessible by leisure cycling and cars, but i am not too sure if it is easily traversable during winter. Otaru has a snow gleaming festival ( the best shot i have seen so far was actually a local tourism poster in Otaru )

    Going further north there are crane sancturies where u can see the crane dance. not too sure if easily accessible ( but remember to bring along ur 400mm to 600mm lenses )

    btw, if u got time u can go catch the snow monkey in Nagano, but not in Hokkaido.

    When u come back from the trip, i must learn some pointers from ya.
    The 17tse would be so lovely to use for landscapes

    Ryan

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    Senior Member limwhow's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by giantcanopy View Post
    hi wee how, i got no experience driving in snow before erh, but winter will be really beautiful. I have seen some wonderful snow shots of the trees in winter in Biei and Furano by local photographers. While in other seasons, they are easily accessible by leisure cycling and cars, but i am not too sure if it is easily traversable during winter. Otaru has a snow gleaming festival ( the best shot i have seen so far was actually a local tourism poster in Otaru )

    Going further north there are crane sancturies where u can see the crane dance. not too sure if easily accessible ( but remember to bring along ur 400mm to 600mm lenses )

    btw, if u got time u can go catch the snow monkey in Nagano, but not in Hokkaido.

    When u come back from the trip, i must learn some pointers from ya.
    The 17tse would be so lovely to use for landscapes

    Ryan
    Ryan,
    Thank you so so much for replying to my plea for help.
    You have certainly given me very good information. And I am definitely going to take your advice to go slightly up north to Otaru from Sapporo.

    After traversing several forums, I have come to realise that for us tropical people who have no experience in driving in wintery conditions, the snow and ice on the roads will pose difficulty, not to mention danger.

    Thus most likely we will catch the (very well-developed) MRT system.

    And aiyoh... you ah, my landscape photos really not up to standard lah, Ryan.
    And haven't even tested out a TSE before. Haha...
    Maybe one day i will, but not after seeing more of your TS works.

    Thank you so much, once again!

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    Moderator daredevil123's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by limwhow View Post
    Ryan,
    Thank you so so much for replying to my plea for help.
    You have certainly given me very good information. And I am definitely going to take your advice to go slightly up north to Otaru from Sapporo.

    After traversing several forums, I have come to realise that for us tropical people who have no experience in driving in wintery conditions, the snow and ice on the roads will pose difficulty, not to mention danger.

    Thus most likely we will catch the (very well-developed) MRT system.

    And aiyoh... you ah, my landscape photos really not up to standard lah, Ryan.
    And haven't even tested out a TSE before. Haha...
    Maybe one day i will, but not after seeing more of your TS works.

    Thank you so much, once again!
    Bro driving in snow and ice is no joke. Some things you have to do the direct opposite what your instincts tell you, like when skidding a bit, must accelerate not brake. I drove in bad weather during my years in the USA, and even then, I get quite worried from time to time.

    My advice is, to avoid driving altogether.

  7. #7
    Senior Member limwhow's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by daredevil123 View Post
    Bro driving in snow and ice is no joke. Some things you have to do the direct opposite what your instincts tell you, like when skidding a bit, must accelerate not brake. I drove in bad weather during my years in the USA, and even then, I get quite worried from time to time.

    My advice is, to avoid driving altogether.
    Wah lau, brother daredevil123.
    That is one heck of a difficult thing to do - going against one's instinct!
    What you have said is really very true.
    It is only these past couple of days that I have learned the futility of driving in the snowy winterworld of Hokkaido with little experience.

    I certainly will not attempt it.
    I still want to come back home to Singapore in one piece to report to people like you and all my good CS friends... Hahaha...!

    Thank you for giving me this very timely reminder and a Big Kam Sia!!!

  8. #8

    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    I will be going to Hokkaido in Dec & have done fairly extensive research to share with you. I dropped the idea of driving & opted to travel via travel agency on a 9D8N tour (more economical but less freedom). It is too dangerous to drive as it will snow heavily from mid Dec onwards. U can take trains for your entire journey but you will have to do your planning well in advance as it will be miserable to be lost in the cold winter's night (worst if u have kids & old folks with you). If u can read Chinese, get this guidebook 正文社日本旅遊書 4 - 北海道旅遊全攻略:最新冬春版 from Popular or Kinokuniya- the best F&E guidebook than any Lonely Planet books (I researched almost every single travel books available out there to say so lah) that will get u going (including most affordable accommodations).

    You should include Hakodate as it is a charming small city with alot to offer plus 1 of world's top 3 greatest night scenes from the mountain. The places to visit will vary alot if you have kids travelling with you...but you can't go wrong with the 'usual suspects'.

    Hokkaido is not cheap...your 7D5N (given your specified dates, you have to factor in days wasted flying in and out) F&E budget will most certainly exceed the price of a package tour...

  9. #9
    Senior Member limwhow's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by BaguaPhoto View Post
    I will be going to Hokkaido in Dec & have done fairly extensive research to share with you. I dropped the idea of driving & opted to travel via travel agency on a 9D8N tour (more economical but less freedom). It is too dangerous to drive as it will snow heavily from mid Dec onwards. U can take trains for your entire journey but you will have to do your planning well in advance as it will be miserable to be lost in the cold winter's night (worst if u have kids & old folks with you). If u can read Chinese, get this guidebook 正文社日本旅遊書 4 - 北海道旅遊全攻略:最新冬春版 from Popular or Kinokuniya- the best F&E guidebook than any Lonely Planet books (I researched almost every single travel books available out there to say so lah) that will get u going (including most affordable accommodations).

    You should include Hakodate as it is a charming small city with alot to offer plus 1 of world's top 3 greatest night scenes from the mountain. The places to visit will vary alot if you have kids travelling with you...but you can't go wrong with the 'usual suspects'.

    Hokkaido is not cheap...your 7D5N (given your specified dates, you have to factor in days wasted flying in and out) F&E budget will most certainly exceed the price of a package tour...
    Hello BaguaPhoto,

    My goodness, you are like one saviour that comes smashing out from the clouds!
    I have just dumped the whole idea of driving and have booked my airplane tickets for 6 adults and 1 child for and 8D7N Hokkaido attack.

    Plane Ticket
    Actually Air China
    [Singapore-Beijing (1hr40min transit)-Chitose Sapporo (total 11 hr)] and back [Chitose Sapporo - Beijing (6 hour transit just nice for us to buy lots of Chinese books in Beijing airport)- Singapore (total 17hr)].
    Including airport tax all in, booked through zuji.com is $1058 per adult, and $860 per child.
    The price I think is reasonable. And the arrangement of 6 hour transit in Beijing suited us just nice for what we wanted to do.
    I am going down to 书城 tomorrow and your recommendation of this book 正文社日本旅遊書 4 - 北海道旅遊全攻略:最新冬春版 from Popular is just what I needed.
    I will buy it tomorrow.

    My question to you:

    • My itinerary are roughly at this point in time like this:
      Day 1: arrived at Sapporo and walking tour of Sapporo: Sapporo Clock tower, Sapporo Beer Factory, Ishiya Chocolate factory, Odori Park, Night life scene and Underground shopping, Old Hokkaido Government Buidling, Hokkaido Museum.
      Day 2: take Hokkaido JR to Otaru and stay there for one night. Hope to enjoy some onsen there and eat some fresh seafood.
      Day 3, Day 5: Take the Hokkaido JR to Hakodate and stay two nights there.
      Day 6: Take the IR back to Sapporo. Day trip to Nopporo Forest park to do sleighing on mild slope. Then return to Sapporo to spend the night.
      Day 7: Another day trip from Sapporo to hopefully one of the nearby lakes - Lake Toya or something like that. Spend the night in Sapporo.
      Day 8 -Flight home.
      Thus with an itinerary like this, would you advise me to buy a what, 3-Day or 4-Day Hokkaido JR pass?
      And in your opinion, would you add in any other nearby destination cos I have quite a lot of time around Sapporo?
    • What do you think of a trip to Lake Akan? Is it too far for nothing?
    • What do you think of Noboribetsu?

    Wow... such a loadful of stuff I have asked you.
    Would really appreciate more of your kind help for a lost fellow CS-er here!

  10. #10

    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by limwhow View Post
    Ah LancerEX, many thanks for coming in and helping me.
    Were there lots of private cars and vehicles apart from the coaches on the roads during the time of your travel?
    And may I ask which are the major spots you went to, just so that I have an idea.
    Thank you once again, LancerEX.
    I have taken the trouble to post a couple of pictures of the road conditions in Hokkaido for your consideration ... i have driven in the US and Australia but not in such cold weather, I book my family on a group tour

    4 pics below:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kennysygoh/5065461178/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kennysygoh/5065464424/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kennysygoh/5065494166/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kennysygoh/5065471802/

    The temperature that few days were 1-3 degrees Celsius

    Winter is beautiful ... just look around you
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kennysygoh/5065498428/

    Cheers,
    Last edited by LancerEX; 10th October 2010 at 01:50 AM.

  11. #11
    Senior Member limwhow's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by LancerEX View Post
    I have taken the trouble to post a couple of pictures of the road conditions in Hokkaido for your consideration ... i have driven in the US and Australia but not in such cold weather, I book my family on a group tour

    4 pics below:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kennysygoh/5065461178/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kennysygoh/5065464424/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kennysygoh/5065494166/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kennysygoh/5065471802/

    The temperature that few days were 1-3 degrees Celsius

    Winter is beautiful ... just look around you
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kennysygoh/5065498428/

    Cheers,
    LancerEX, wah thank you really for taking the trouble to share with me the photos of the road conditions in winter.
    After seeing them I was glad i decided not to be the hero in driving on these snowy roads of Hokkaido, lest Singapore should have 7 less Citizens during that week. Hahaha...
    And your picture of the plant in the snow is beautiful!~ where was that taken?

  12. #12

    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    Your current itineary is looking ok, not too ambitious. Just remember that the sky turns dark at 4.30pm in winter so u are better off starting the day as early as possible since u will get alot of time to rest at night! You can find all the answers to your questions in that book I recommended. Consider staying in the very clean and economical Toyoko Inn chain of hotels in Sapporo & Hakodate - they have many outlets next to all JR stations - check page 01-14 and 01-15 in that guidebook (2 & 3 pax rooms available - a twin room with ensuite bathroom can go as low as S$120/- nett!). In Hakodate, must try to stay in Toyoko Inn which is just right next to that superb Hokkaido's most famous morning seafood market - 涵馆朝市!

    Day 7: I don't recommend Lake Toya as it is just a frozen lake with not much things else to see or do. Go Noboribetsu instead as it has alot more - besides the volcanic steam spewing Hell Valley (skip this if no time), you can get the discounted 3 Theme Parks in 1 ticket that covers the Bear Park, Marine Nixe (the most famous winter-only penguin parade is here) & the Edo Village. Again, u will get a good idea referring to that guide book from page 08-1 onwards.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    . deleted post. inaccurate info posted.
    Last edited by Elessar; 10th October 2010 at 10:13 PM.

  14. #14
    Senior Member limwhow's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by BaguaPhoto View Post
    Your current itineary is looking ok, not too ambitious. Just remember that the sky turns dark at 4.30pm in winter so u are better off starting the day as early as possible since u will get alot of time to rest at night! You can find all the answers to your questions in that book I recommended. Consider staying in the very clean and economical Toyoko Inn chain of hotels in Sapporo & Hakodate - they have many outlets next to all JR stations - check page 01-14 and 01-15 in that guidebook (2 & 3 pax rooms available - a twin room with ensuite bathroom can go as low as S$120/- nett!). In Hakodate, must try to stay in Toyoko Inn which is just right next to that superb Hokkaido's most famous morning seafood market - 涵馆朝市!

    Day 7: I don't recommend Lake Toya as it is just a frozen lake with not much things else to see or do. Go Noboribetsu instead as it has alot more - besides the volcanic steam spewing Hell Valley (skip this if no time), you can get the discounted 3 Theme Parks in 1 ticket that covers the Bear Park, Marine Nixe (the most famous winter-only penguin parade is here) & the Edo Village. Again, u will get a good idea referring to that guide book from page 08-1 onwards.
    BaguaPhoto,

    You have again given me very good advice here.
    In fact I just returned from Bras Basah Popular. The book 正文社日本旅遊書 4 - 北海道旅遊全攻略:最新冬春版 no more stock.
    They have it at IMM. I will need to go down to IMM to get it. But these few days very tight.

    Your Tokyo Inn chain recommendation sounds really good.
    And thank you for telling me about Lake Toya and to take up Noboribetsu instead.
    Only thing is, I need to plan my itinerary again because I will be out of Sapporo for 5 days while the Hokkaido Flexible 4-Day JR pass is only for (of course) 4 days.
    And travelling on this JR is not exactly that economical if we don't buy the Flexible JR pass.

    Now I am trying to plan if it is possible for us to JR travel from Hakodate to Noboribetsu and stay one night there, then the next day when the JR Flexible 4-Day pass runs out, to take another form of transport back to Sapporo.
    Do you have any suggestion on this, BaguaPhoto?

  15. #15

    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    I took in more places over a two week span with self drive a couple of years back but I honestly think your itinerary is too packed.

    E.g., the beer factory and chocolate factories are at different parts of the town, definitely need to take train. The clock tower and Odori Park, government took me half a day. So, but considering the time you reach there, the early sunset hours and the fact you have a whole family who may not be enthusiastic as you, means you may not complete all.

    Hopefully, you will be able to stay near the canal in Otaru, so you won't have to venture too far to take the classic picture.

    If you are considering Noboribetsu, I suggest to spend a night there. You won't want to rush to return to Sapporo after soaking the onsen!

  16. #16

    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    IMM like very far...you can try Kinokuniya Bookstore at Taka as I saw quite a few the other day... There are also some other books around (but they are more generic like covering all seasons (but u can buy those as well as they will add up to a wealth of knowledge prior to setting off) while that recommended book is more winter specific and better. Don't think I am able to offer u another advice abt the JR Pass arrangement. Suggest u google and get that book for more details.

    You may want to find out more from the staff at JTB (near Orchard Ion basement foodcourt), they are quite knowledgeable and sell JR Passes as well. While there, check out Prologue Bookstore at Level 4 (more high class Popular Bookstore) as I last saw the recommended book there (u can also pick up other related titles).

  17. #17
    Senior Member limwhow's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by acpical View Post
    I took in more places over a two week span with self drive a couple of years back but I honestly think your itinerary is too packed.

    E.g., the beer factory and chocolate factories are at different parts of the town, definitely need to take train. The clock tower and Odori Park, government took me half a day. So, but considering the time you reach there, the early sunset hours and the fact you have a whole family who may not be enthusiastic as you, means you may not complete all.

    Hopefully, you will be able to stay near the canal in Otaru, so you won't have to venture too far to take the classic picture.

    If you are considering Noboribetsu, I suggest to spend a night there. You won't want to rush to return to Sapporo after soaking the onsen!
    Hello acpical my good friend!
    Hey, thanks for coming in and helping me out too.
    Now what you have said about the distance of all these sights that I want to do in Sapporo is very important to me. I have the first night in Sapporo, and when I return from Otaru - Hakkodate - Noboribetsu to Sapporo, I have another two nights in Sapporo.
    You are absolutely correct to say that the original itinerary is too tight.
    Thus I have sort of spaced it out a little.

    And your advice about staying near the canal at Otaru is important, as well as not rushing back from Noboribetsu!
    Man, you guys are great!

    I will my best to make my family as enthusiastic as possible!
    Thanks and see you very soon!

  18. #18
    Senior Member limwhow's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by BaguaPhoto View Post
    IMM like very far...you can try Kinokuniya Bookstore at Taka as I saw quite a few the other day... There are also some other books around (but they are more generic like covering all seasons (but u can buy those as well as they will add up to a wealth of knowledge prior to setting off) while that recommended book is more winter specific and better. Don't think I am able to offer u another advice abt the JR Pass arrangement. Suggest u google and get that book for more details.

    You may want to find out more from the staff at JTB (near Orchard Ion basement foodcourt), they are quite knowledgeable and sell JR Passes as well. While there, check out Prologue Bookstore at Level 4 (more high class Popular Bookstore) as I last saw the recommended book there (u can also pick up other related titles).
    BaguaPhoto, hey your this information about the Japanese Tourism Board being at the basement of Ion is very good. And yah... I might just go to Prologue there.

    Once again, thank you so much!

  19. #19

    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    hi Limwhow, i think so too (having travelled free-and-easy to many places with my family).

    In winter, you and your family are up again the cold weather and if it snows, like it did when i was Sapporo (beautiful romantic snowy) it is grey sky throughout the day. you will be wet, cold and miserable if you have to rush from one place to another and bear in mind that the traffic slows to a crawl when it snows.

    simplify your itinerary and just enjoy the chosen location a little bit more ... the new saying goes 'plan not to plan and be surprised'



    Quote Originally Posted by acpical View Post
    I took in more places over a two week span with self drive a couple of years back but I honestly think your itinerary is too packed.

    E.g., the beer factory and chocolate factories are at different parts of the town, definitely need to take train. The clock tower and Odori Park, government took me half a day. So, but considering the time you reach there, the early sunset hours and the fact you have a whole family who may not be enthusiastic as you, means you may not complete all.

    Hopefully, you will be able to stay near the canal in Otaru, so you won't have to venture too far to take the classic picture.

    If you are considering Noboribetsu, I suggest to spend a night there. You won't want to rush to return to Sapporo after soaking the onsen!
    Last edited by LancerEX; 12th October 2010 at 12:52 AM.

  20. #20
    Senior Member limwhow's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hokkaido in mid-December ~ dangerous for self drive?

    Quote Originally Posted by LancerEX View Post
    hi Limwhow, i think so too (having travelled free-and-easy to many places with my family).

    In winter, you and your family are up again the cold weather and if it snows, like it did when i was Sapporo (beautiful romantic snowy) it is grey sky throughout the day. you will be wet, cold and miserable if you have to rush from one place to another and bear in mind that the traffic slows to a crawl when it snows.

    simplify your itinerary and just enjoy the chosen location a little bit more ... the new saying goes 'plan not to plan and be surprised'
    Yes, you are absolutely right, LancerEX.
    In fact as the day goes by, my itinerary for our winter in Hokkaido becomes simpler and simpler.
    It's going to be easy for us.
    We are going to make use of the public transport and buy a 4-D Flexible JR pass or a 5-D JR Pass.
    And then we're just going to walk around leisurely and let the family 'suffer' and take in the magnificent view of winter.. haha...
    Most likely we end up Sapporo 2 days - Otaru 1 day - Hakodate 2 days - Sapporo final 2 days.
    Something like that.

    Coming back to something more pertaining to Photography lest I get spanked on my little behind by our moderators ...
    It will be a most interesting trip for SereneXMM and I will be bringing quite a few of our cameras and will be testing out their performance in the snow.
    This is a good chance to see which one will die off first... hahaha....

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