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    Goryokaku Park
    Goryokaku Park

    Every year, groups of tourist from all over the world visit Hokkaido (北海道), one of the most scenic prefectures in Japan. From ski trips to hot springs and seafood binge to dessert overload, there is every reason to visit this picturesque destination.

    You probably had your itinerary down, noting every restaurant to eat, how to get from point A to point B, but there are still stuff you need to get done, preferably once you land at New Chitose Airport. So, before you scoot off New Chitose Airport at Sapporo to head into the city, here are some important items to check off your list and ensure an amazing holiday in the country.

    1. Buy your train tickets – Hokkaido Rail Pass

    You probably have a pretty good idea about where you want to go and what you want to do when in Hokkaido, so all you need to do is in what order you want to visit the various locations. Once you sort that out, you can better decide which Hokkaido Rail Pass to buy, that is if you are not driving of course. The Hokkaido Rail Pass is a multi-trip discount pass that allows you to travel from Naka-Oguni to as far as Wakkanai, thanks to an well connected JR Hokkaido lines. There are basically 4 types pf passes, 3 days, 4-day Flexi, 5 days and 7 days passes. Here are their prices:

    JR Hokkaido Rail Pass prices

    Adult tickets – 12 years and older Child tickets – 6 to 11 years old
    3 days S$205 S$103
    4-day flexi S$274 S$137
    5 days S$274 S$137
    7 days  S$299  S$149
    JR Hokkaido Rail Pass
    JR Hokkaido Rail Pass
    JR Hokkaido Rail Pass reserved seat ticket
    This is how the reserved seat ticket looks like.

    Although a 5-day pass might seem more value-for-money, we find that a flexible 4-day rail pass that allows you to decide which days to take the rail over a 10-day period gives you a lot more control. After all, you may not travel consecutively everyday without stopping overnight at a place like Hakodate or Noboribetsu.

    Bonus tip: Book your reserved seats

    An important thing to remember when travelling on the JR Hokkaido Rail is to book your reserved seats that comes with the pass. You don’t have to pay additional fees and it guarantees you a seat in the the reserved section of the train you want to take. To reserve your seats, all you need to do is to go to the booking office at the train station and tell them the train and the date you are taking the train. If you can plan ahead, it is better to reserve the seat once you reach a new city or prefecture. This will save you a trip to the train station.

    When taking the train, show your ticket and passport to the staff in the glass booth next to the gates. The staff will stamp the date on your flexible 4-day pass before letting you through.

    Children under the age of 5 travels for free.

    JR Hokkaido Rail and track numbers
    The numbers indicate the track the train is on.

    2. Get the Otaru – Sapporo 1-day pass with free subway rides

    Take advantage of the Otaru – Sapporo 1-day pass that is available only to tourists to Hokkaido. It cost roughly around S$21 (1700 Yen) and allows you to take unlimited rides on JR Hokkaido trains between Sapporo and Otaru. You will probably only take the train twice, once to Otaru from Sapporo and another time back to Sapporo if you are on a day trip. The pass also comes with a free 1-day pass for all subway lines in Sapporo. You don’t have to use the free subway pass on the same day as the Otaru – Sapporo JR train pass. We recommend reserving it and using it for the day in your itinerary that you are traveling to multiple locations in Sapporo, like Maruyama Zoo and Shiroi Koibito Park.

    Sapporo - Otaru Welcome Pass
    Sapporo – Otaru Welcome Pass
    Sapporo - Otaru Welcome Pass
    The Welcome Pass also comes with a free one day subway ticket for traveling in Sapporo.

    3. Check Asahiyama Zoo dates and buy tickets

    At the counter where you buy your train tickets, you can also find out about Asahiyama Zoo’s opening schedule and buy your tickets at the same time. Located in central Hokkaido in the Asahikawa (旭川) prefecture, the zoo that is home to about 700 animals allows visitors to interact and see many of the animals up close. While taking pictures of penguins, our phones were so close that we were shoo-ed away by the zoo keepers. Asahiyama Zoo is closed for maintenance on certain days in Summer (typically around early April) and Winter (normally around early November) to prepare for the seasons. The dates vary from year to year, so it’s best to check the zoo website and validate it again with the counter staff when you are at Sapporo airport.

    Check out our full guide on Asahiyama Zoo.

    Asahiyama Zoo tickets
    Asahiyama Zoo tickets
    Asahiyama Zoo flamingos
    Flamingos at the zoo

    4. Get the free WIFI pass

    If you are not going to subscribe to a data plan or don’t intend to get one of those MIFI devices to surf the internet, get the free WIFI pass. The pass is valid for 14 days and is a lifesaver when you need to check your emails or post images to Instagram.

    Free Wifi pass for tourists
    Free Wifi pass for tourists

    5. Get a pocket WIFI

    For those that can’t live without connectivity and is more generous with their travel budget, you may want to consider renting a pocket wifi. It is basically a small device that allows you to create your personal hotspot. Although most times you can get by with the WIFI at the hotels, renting a pocket wifi will give you unlimited access to high-speed internet wherever you are in Japan.

    You need to rent if for a minimum of 5 days for approximately S$68 and up to a maximum of 30 days. There are a lot of companies offering this service and as well as promotions for the device, so shop around first before your trip. You can request for the device to be delivered to your hotel if you decide to rent one later, if not, you can ask for the pick up to be at New Chitose Airport.

     

    We hope that these tips will make your Hokkaido trip an enjoyable one. And oh, don’t forget to get a map too while you are at the airport.

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      Hokkaido Shrine near Maruyama Zoo in Sapporo
      Take your kid to a Shinto shrine.

      Hokkaido (北海道) is one of the most scenic prefectures in Japan and one that is extremely popular with Singaporeans. From its picturesque flower fields in summer to its powdery snow in winter, Hokkaido is a destination I can never get enough of visit after visit.

      The city is also known for having one of the freshest sea produce in Japan, thanks to its proximity to the ocean. Whether it’s the kaisen-dons (raw seafood rice bowl) or the fresh unis (sea urchins), Hokkaido is an amazing holiday destination. While all these might sound perfect for an adult, it could be potentially sleep-inducing for young kids around the age of 5. They will probably wished that they are heading to Tokyo to meet with Japanese speaking Disney characters.

      Before you give up the notion of going to Hokkaido with young children in tow, check out my guide on the 12 things to do with kids in Hokkaido.

      1. Squid fishing in Hakodate Morning Market

      One of the must-visit places for visitors to Hokkiado is Hakodate, the third largest city in the northernmost island. Know for its fresh seafood and night view atop Mount Hakodate, Hakodate’s Morning Market located close to Hakodate JR Station is a great place to stop by early in the day. Opened from as early as 5 am, you can shop for fresh and dried seafood, vegetables, fruits and have your breakfast from the many stalls serving a multitude of seafood dishes. Other than the tanks and tanks of live crabs, shellfish and even octopus (we saw a huge one when we were there) at the market, kids will be thrilled to try out squid fishing here as well. There are many squid tanks around the market so it’s hard to miss. It is pretty easy to ‘hook’ up a squid with the rod provided and your kids will have no problem doing it all by themselves. These tanks are normally operated by restaurant owners so once you caught the squid, a staff will ask how you would like to ‘cook’ the squid. I asked for it to be prepared sashimi-style. The price for the squid fishing and dish is 1000 yen (S$13).

      How to get there: Take JR train to Hakodate station and walk to Hakodate Morning Market (9-19 Wakamatsu-cho)

      Squid fishing at Hakodate Morning Market
      Anyone can fish a squid!

      2. Sakura picnic (hanami) at Odori Park, Sapporo

      This is an easy one. Pack some awesome food and snacks from the supermarket and restaurants and have an impromptu picnic at Odori Park during the cherry blossom season. It’s a great time to take a break from all that walking and sightseeing and experience the traditional Japanese custom of hanami (flower viewing). You can let them run wild in Odori park (there is even a black slide sculpture) or spending some quality time over a relaxing meal with your kids, all while basking under the beautiful shades of pink of the cherry blossoms. Another great location to do this is at Goryokaku Park in Hakodate where there are thousands of cherry trees. It is hard to time the season of the cherry blossoms, so do your research before you go. When we were there in Spring (late April), we missed the bloom in Goryokaku Park for just a few days but managed to catch it in Odori Park, Sapporo.

      How to get there: Take subway to Odori station in Sapporo

      The scenic Odori Park during the sakura season
      The scenic Odori Park during the sakura season
      Cherry blossoms in full bloom at Odori Park
      Cherry blossoms in full bloom at Odori Park

      3. Maruyama Zoo

      Maruyama Zoo is one of the most popular zoos in Hokkaido. Located in Sapporo, the concept of the zoo is to recreate the natural habitat of the animals so visitors can ‘experience’ these environments. The zoo is grouped into zones like Tropical animals house, Kangaroo house, Reptile house and Kid’s Zoo, where they get a chance to feed and touch animals like rabbits and guinea pigs. There is also a large outdoor playground for kids to expend their inexhaustible energy on. Unlike the Asahikawa Zoo below, Maruyama Zoo is open all year round from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm daily. The zoo is free for anyone under the age of 16 and 600 Yen (S$7.50) for adults.

      How to get there: Take Sapporo subway to Maruyama Koen station, walk past Maruyama Park to get to the zoo. Once you alight at Maruyama Koen station, there are signs that will guide you to the zoo. The walk to the zoo is roughly 15 minutes from exit 3 of the station.

      Floor tiles with animals printed on them at Maruyama Koen subway station
      Floor tiles with animals printed on them at Maruyama Koen subway station
      At the entrance of Maruyama Zoo
      At the entrance of Maruyama Zoo
      A curious chimpanzee at Maruyama Zoo
      A curious chimpanzee
      A sleeping hyena at Maruyama Zoo
      A sleeping hyena

      crocodile-maruyama-zoo

      Outdoor playground at Maruyama Zoo
      Outdoor playground

      4. Asahiyama Zoo

      If you have to choose between one or the other zoo, Asahiyama Zoo (旭山動物園) is the one you want to visit. Located in central Hokkaido in the Asahikawa (旭川) prefecture, the zoo is home to about 700 animals. What’s really great about the zoo is its unique design which allows visitors to interact and see many of the animals up close.

      If you are there during Winter, (December through March), check out the zoo’s famous Penguin Walk designed to give the chubby birds a workout so they don’t become too obese. One thing to note is that Asahiyama Zoo is closed for maintenance on certain periods of the year, so it’s best to check the zoo website for the most updated schedule.

      How to get there: Take the JR Hokkaido train heading to Asahikawa. Take buses 41, 42 or 47 in front JR Asahikawa Station to the zoo. Check out our full guide on Asahiyama Zoo.

      Polar bear signage at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
      There are a few signages like this one near the entrance around to zoo. Be sure to look out for it.
      Polar bear at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
      The polar bear section has these glass domes known as “seal eyes” that let you view the polar bears from different angles as they roam their enclosure.
      Penguins at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
      The famous “Penguin Walk” happens only during Winter
      Ramen at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
      Delicious shoyu ramen with a piece of kawaii seaweed with the face of a seal printed on it

      5. Hokkaido Shrine

      It is great show your kids different customs and culture with a Shrine visit. The Hokkaido Shrine in particular is a perfect place to let them observe and participate in these customs. If you are lucky, you will see couples holding their weddings in customary dress as well. Built in 1869, the shrine dedicated to Shinto deities is amazingly well maintained and is surrounded by lush nature. If you are there during the cherry blossom season around late-April to early-May, take time to stroll through the parks and trails near the shrine. Let your child participate in customs like cleansing of hands and mouth at a ceremonial water pavilion called the Temizuya. Here’s how to do it:

      Cleansing your hands and mouth at Temizuya

      1. Scoop up some water from the tub using a small ladle provided with your right hand and pour water over your left hand.
      2. Repeat the same process by transferring the ladle to your left hand and pour water over your right hand.
      3. Next, hold the ladle with your right hand and pour some water into a cupped left hand.
      4. Use the water in the left hand to rinse your mouth and spit out the water beside the Temizuya. Don’t rinse with water directly from the ladle or swallow the water.
      5. Clean your left hand with the remaining water and lift the ladle to let some water trickle down the handle before putting it back at its original spot.

      Do note that you only scoop up water once in the beginning of the cleanse. It might seems like a lot of steps but it is normally completed in about 10-15 seconds. If you can’t remember the steps, just see what others are doing and do the same.

      Another thing you can do is to offer a prayer at the shrine. To make it easy for you, just remember you have to perform “two bows, two claps and one more bow”. Here’s how to do it:

      Offering a prayer

      1. First, drop a coin into the offertory box that looks like a long chest with gaps.
      2. You will see a bell with a rope beside it. Ring the bell once before beginning your prayer.
      3. Walk toward the enshrined deity without slouching, then bow twice at a 90 degree angle.
      4. Clap your hands twice.
      5. Hold your palms together and bow once more to complete the prayer.
      Hokkaido Shrine near Maruyama Zoo in Sapporo
      Visitors to Hokkaido Shrine write their prayers on these wooden blocks.

      6. Shiroi Koibito Park

      This place is a toy museum, a candy store and a chocolate factory all rolled into one. And its most famous product is its Shiroi Koibito chocolate cookie – two paper-thin butter cookies sandwiching a layer of white chocolate, that you can buy all over Hokkaido. The main park is free and most kids will be busy hopping in and out of little houses (too small to fit me) upon entering in the park. There is a Shiroi Koibito Railway at the end of the park where you and your kids can board a miniature steam train to tour parts of the park. The ride lasts about 10 minutes and costs 300 Yen (S$3.80) for adults and 200 Yen (S$2.50) for kids aged 12 and below.

      For 600 Yen (S$7.50) more, you can also visit the Shiroi Koibito Factory where the famous cookie is made. In the factory, you will get to understand the history of Shiroi Koibito and see a live cookie production line. I would say that the factory tour is probably optional as there are a lot other places in the park that you can go for free like the toy museum, rose garden and Candy Labo factory. Oh, don’t forget to get everyone a Shiroi Koibito soft serve ice cream. It’s totally worth the calories.

      How to get there: Take the Tozai Subway Line in Sapporo to Miyanosawa Station. Take exit no. 5 and walk for about 10 minutes to the chocolate factory.

      Glass house at Shiroi Koibito Park
      Glass house
      Shiroi Koibito production line
      Shiroi Koibito production line
      The 2nd floor of the Shiroi Koibito shop houses an impressive collection of toys
      The 2nd floor of the Shiroi Koibito shop houses an impressive collection of toys

      7. BAKE cheese tart

      Been reading about the BAKE cheese tart that is all the rage now in Singapore? The one you have to queue 3 hours at ION Orchard to get a bite of? Well guess what, you don’t have to queue at the Sapporo JR station outlet. The pastry is well-loved for its crispy baked tart dough and luscious, soft cheese mousse made from blending three types of cheese: cheese from Hakodate and Betsukai, both in Hokkaido and cheese from France.

      The aromatic cheese tart is an absolute kid’s favourite and if you allow it, they will have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

      How to get there: Sapporo JR Station

      Kinotoya BAKE cheese tart at Sapporo
      You will not get sick of eating this cheese tart everyday

      8. Otaru and its amazing desserts

      Otaru is a small city just off of Sapporo that you can get to most places on foot. Whether it’s the scenic Otaru Canal or the Sakaimachi Street, Otaru offers plenty of opportunities to take selfies as well as wefies with your children. Otaru is also famous for its desserts and snacks. The number of dessert cafes in this small town is just insane! Our top dessert picks for kids are LeTAO’s creamy baked cheese cake of the Double Fromage and soft serve ice cream from Rokkatei (六花亭). For more on Otaru, check out our ‘6 things to do and places you absolutely must check out when in Otaru‘ feature.

      How to get there: Take a JR train to Otaru from Sapporo JR Station.  Here are 6 things to do and places you absolutely must check out when in Otaru. We recommend getting the Sapporo-Otaru Welcome pass for JPY1,700 (S$21.50) that comes with a one-day pass for unlimited use of Sapporo’s three subway lines. You can use the pass for the Shiroi Koibito Park and Maruyama Zoo visit.

      leTao double fromage cheesecake and brulee tart
      leTao double fromage cheesecake and brulee tart
      8-layer soft serve at Otaru
      This soft serve at Otaru is an 8-layer giant cone
      Otaru canal in Otaru
      The perfect selfie and wefie spot in Otaru

      9. Cycle around Hokkaido

      There are many towns in Hokkaido that are ideal for cycling as well. Whether your kids are old enough to cycling on their own or simply being a pillion rider, cycling in Hokkaido offers an unique way of exploring parts of the prefecture. My top picks would be to cycle in Hakodate and Biei. Hakodate, due to its quiet and laid-back vibe, has little traffic and is ‘kerb-friendly’ at traffic junctions. Cycling here allows you to explore places like Chiyodai Park and Motomachi Bay area easily. The flower fields of daisies, lavender, sunflowers and poppies in the town of Biei makes cycling a leisure and enjoyable experience too. Cycling here allows you to stop anytime you want for pictures and simply taking in the sights.

      10. Hell Valley (Jigokudani) trail and performance

      The town of Noboribetsu is famous for its onsen hotels and the Hell Valley (Jigokudani). The natural geysers and strong sulphuric scent makes this place a great location for the kids to have a first hand geographic experience. The Jigokudani has a easy-to-walk trail where you can bring your kids through the different landscapes, lush forestation and hot springs. Follow the trail and you will reach a look out point overlooking the otherworldly Oyunuma Pond with smoke spewing out of its surface. A breathtaking view is absolutely worth the 20 mins trek. On the way down, you can take a break and spend some time soaking your foot in a hot spring as well.

      On selected nights, the town also features Oni (devil) fire dancing performance. Actors will dress up in Oni costumes and dance to the rhythm of drums. The performance comes with a series of handheld fireworks, giving the performance a surreal and dream-like atmosphere. Do stay on after the performance to take pictures with the performers.

      How to get there: From Sapporo JR station, take JR train to Noboribetsu station. At the station, transit to a bus to Noboribetsu Onsen. The bus ride is around 10 minutes and costs 340 Yen per person.

      Oni statue at Noboribetsu
      The town is full of Oni (devil) statues
      hell valley noboribetsu
      Hell Valley
      Oyunuma pond noboribetsu
      Oyunuma pond
      Foot bath at Noboribetsu
      Foot bath
      A performer taking photos with the crowd
      A performer taking photos with the crowd

      11. Sapporo Children’s Puppet Theatre “Kogumaza”

      Put down your iPads and iPhones for a couple of hours and go really ‘old school’ at Sapporo Children’s Puppet Theatre “Kogumaza”, located inside Nakajima Park. The theatre here is dedicated to hosting puppet show performances and making these puppet characters come alive for children. The unique theatre organises puppet shows every weekend and during long school holidays, run these shows daily.

      If you are worried about restless and noisy children, fret not. The theatre actually encourages children to express themselves and be as interactive as possible even when the show is on. The theatre also offer puppet classes for both children and adults. Most of the shows are less than an hour long and charges an affordable 300 Yen (S$3.80) for children above the age of 3 and 1,000 Yen (S$12.60) guests above the age of 18.

      How to get there: Take the subway to Nakajima Koen Station on the Namboku Line. The theatre is about a 1-2 minutes walk once you exit the station.

      Sapporo Children’s Puppet Theatre “Kogumaza”
      Photo source: welcome.city.sapporo.jp

       

      12. Random playgrounds in Hakodate

      One of the advantages of going on foot and public transport is the opportunity to soak in the sights and sounds of the attractive country at your own pace. On top of that, you will also get to explore unique spots that are hard to get to with self-driving. In Hakodate, there are many playgrounds like these with basic stuff like a swing, slide, and parallel bars to play with. Go old school and enjoy some outdoorsy fun with your kids. They can have their iPads back when the trip is over.

      Playground at Hakodate, Hookaido
      There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s only a swing.

       

      If you have places to recommend, places you want us to check out or suggestions on things to do with kids in Hokkaido, do let us know by posting in our comment section below.

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        Fresh Uni at Hakodate Morning Market
        Fresh Uni at Hakodate Morning Market

        Hakodate( 函館) is the place to be if you’re a seafood lover. The city is famous for its Hakodate Morning Market and the myriad restaurants touting fresh sashimi, seafood hotpots and Hokkaido’s well-loved king crab. However, that’s not the say that food is the only attraction in Hakodate. Places like the Hakodate Bay Area, Mount Hakodate and Goryokaku Park are some must-sees.

        Not a seafood lover? We’re got other recommendations for you too. Check out our feature on ‘where to eat in Hakodate if you’re not into seafood’.

        All in all, we’d recommend setting aside 2-3 days for Hakodate.

        Top things to do in Hakodate

        1. Mount Hakodate

        Hakodateyama, Hakodate, Hokkaido Prefecture 040-0000, Japan

        Most people prefer to visit Mount Hakodate at night. Indeed, the night view from the summit is breathtaking.

        The best way to reach the  summit station of Mount Hakodate is via the Hakodateyama Ropeway. It’s a three-minute ride that’s both breathtaking and thriling, especially if you have a fear of heights. But if not, the best spot to stand in the ropeway is near the right-hand window towards the back of the car. You’ll get a good view of the city as the car is being hoisted up the 334- meter mountain. A one-way trip costs JPY660 or JPY1200 both ways. The ropeway operates during the coolder months between October and April.

        Night view of the bay area from Mount Hakodate
        Night view of the bay area from Mount Hakodate

        During Mid April to November, the main public transport to the summit station is by bus. But do note that the bus can get very congested so don’t carry too much things with you. Also, there’s a pretty long wait for the bus of at least 20 minutes. During our trip to the summit, we’ve also had the misfortune of getting a guide who spoke halting English, so we couldn’t understand half of the things she was saying. The bus departs from Hakodate Station and takes around 30 minutes to reach the peak of Mount Hakodate. It costs JPY400 for a one-way ride.

        When you reach the summit, take your time to enjoy the panaromic view of the city below, which is shaped like a hand fan. Depending on the season, the scenery changes. On a fine day, for instance, you’ll get a clear view of the dazzling night lights below, whereas on a foggy Summer’s day, the view may be obstructed by a veil of fog. The souvenir shops at the summit station are quite well stocked with food gift items and other knick knacks. As the shops are quite very popular with tourists, you might want to set aside some time to browse around. We had the BBQ king crab in a small portion. The flesh was very fresh and sweet.

        2. Goryokaku Park (五稜郭)

        43-9 Goryōkakuchō, 五稜郭町 Hakodate-shi, Hokkaido 040-0001, Japan

        If you’re in Hakodate ‘s Gorykaku Park during Sakura season, you’re in for a treat! The park is adorned by some 1,600 cherry blossom and Japanese wisteria trees in bloom. Dressed in a sea of beautiful pink cherry blossom and layers of cascading lilac and purple wisteria, the scenery at the park is truly a sight to behold, not to mention the fresh flora scent that perfumes the air. Autumn is another popular month to visit the park to see the vibrant red and yellow foilage of Fall.

        Cherry blossoms in full bloom in Hokkaido
        Cherry blossoms in full bloom
        Yugura Shrine at Goryokaku Park
        Yugura Shrine at Goryokaku Park
        Goryokaku Park during autumn
        Beautiful autumn colours at the park
        Visitor Centre at Goryokaku Park
        Visitor Centre at Goryokaku Park

        The other attraction at Goryokaku Park is the 107-meter tower overlooking the park and the star-shaped structure that is the Goryokaku Fortress, built to commemorate the Battle of Hakodate. To get to Goryokaku Park, take the tram to Goryokaku Koen-mae Station. The park is an eight-minute walk from the station.

        Be prepared for a good walk in this massive park so comfortable shoes are a must. Pack a sandwich and drink to enjoy with the awesome scenery.

        3. Hakodate Bay area

        If you only have time for one place in Hokodate, we’d recommend you spend it at the Hakodate Bay area. Over there, you’ll get an expansive view of the beautiful port. Built more than 100 years ago, the rows of red-brick warehouses (Kanenori Red Brick Warehouse) along the bay, that have come to symbolise the Hakodate Bay area, have now been converted into souvenir shops and restaurants. One of best and cheapish way to enjoy the million-dollar view is at Hokodate’s exclusive fast food restaurant Lucky Pieriot. Just order your meal and park yourself at a table overlooking the bay.

        View of the Hakodate bay area
        View of the Hakodate bay area

        The Hakodate Bay area is filled with restaurants specialising in seafood. If you keen to try the famous king crab, note that it costs around JPY12,000 for a whole crab, so it’s best for larger groups. The crab can have it prepared in different ways such as in soup and BBQ. If a whole crab is too much, just opt for a smaller portion instead.

        4. Hakodate Morning Market (函館朝市)

        9-19 Wakamatsuchō, 若松町 Hakodate-shi, Hokkaido 040-0063, Japan

        Want to get some ultra fresh seafood at affordable prices? Then don’t miss the Hakodate Morning Market, which opens daily from as early as 5am (from 6am during winter) to noon. The shop owners are generally quite friendly and will offer you food samples to try. Don’t hesitate to try them and buy home your favourite snacks.

        With over 100 stalls touting the freshest catch of the day, you can really have your fill of the freshest sashimi, uni (sea urchin), salmon eggs and squid. One of the specialties of Hakodate is squid sashimi (also known as ‘dancing squid’). The dish is called dancing squid because the sea creature is still moving when it is served!

        Salmon at Hakodate Morning Market
        You can see seafood of all kinds at the market.
        Shellfish, clams, oysters at the Hakodate Morning Market
        Shellfish, clams, oysters, you name it they have it.
        Entrance of Hakodate Morning Market
        Entrance of Hakodate Morning Market
        Interior of Hakodate Morning Market
        Plan your Hakodate Morning Market visit early in the day.
        Street view of Hakodate Morning Market
        The market is not big but they have plenty to offer.

        While you’re at the Hakodate Morning Market, take some time to walk through the other sections of the market as well. There’s an area specialising in fruits and vegetables that you should check out. It’s a great place to pick up a Japanese melon, persimmons, grapes or any other fruits in season. Japanese melons are expensive, costing around JPY5,000 and upwards each but definitely worth it. You can also buy them by the slice for around JPY300-400. Sweet, juicy and perfumed by a slight melon musk, the fruit is a must try!

        To get to Hakodate Morning Market, take the JR Hakodate Station. The market is a stone’s throw from the station.

        manhole cover in Hakodate
        You can see these unique manhole covers all over Hakodate

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          Daisetsuzan National Park
          Images shot on iPhone

          Planning to visit Hokkaido on your next holiday? We bet you have many places in mind you would like to see. If you love nature and sightseeing and don’t mind some trekking, a visit to one of Japan’s 30 or so national parks is a must. One of the national parks we recommend is the Daisetsuzan (大雪山) National Park, located in the central part of Hokkaido near Asahikawa city.

          asahikawa-Daisetsuzan-hokkaido-6

          The largest national park of Japan, the mountainous area of Daisetsuzan National Park is home to Japan’s wildlife such as brown bears, deer and squirrels as well as a myraid of flora and fauna. Thanks to its temperate climate, the scenery changes with each season, from the fresh green foliage to striking red and yellow leaves of the Fall season before a blanket of white snow takes over in Winter.

          Part of the Daisetsuzan National Park, Mount Kurodake (黒岳) is located in the small resort town of Sounkyo. Overall, Sounyko is a great place to enjoy natural onsen (hot spring), ryokan stays and sightseeing. The more adventurous travellers can also visit the area for trekking or mountain climbing during the warmer months. In winter, skiing takes over as the entire area is blanketed with soft, powdery snow.

          We recommend a day trip to Mount Kurodake from Asahikawa or a night’s stay at one of the ryokans in Sounkyo. You might even want to extend your stay in Sounkyo if you plan to do lots of hiking at the national park. However, lodging is expensive with the cheapest option at around S$300 per night at a family room at the Sounkyo Youth Hostel. Before you go, check whether your hotel in Sounkyo offers free shuttle buses to and from Asahikawa, you can save some money that way.

          How to get to Mount Kurodake from Asahikawa

          mt kurodake
          The Dohuku bus ride costs JPY2,100 one-way from Asahikawa train station

          There are 2 options to get to Soukyo (層雲峡) by public transport.

          Option 1: take the JR train to Kamikawa Station (around 40 minutes, JPY2,000 one way). Get off at Kamikawa Station then hop on the Dohoku bus headed for Sounkyo (30 minutes, JPY870). This option is good for those who have a JR Pass or JR Hokkaido Pass as your train ride will be free of charge. You’ll only have to pay for your bus ride from Kamikawa Station to Sounkyo. Note that you cannot use either of the train passes for the bus ride as the bus service is run by a different operator.

          Option 2: Take the Dohoku bus headed for Sounkyo starting from Asahikawa Train Station. The journey takes around 1 hour 50 minutes one way and costs JPY2,100 one-way. There is no discount for getting a return bus ticket. This option is better for travellers who do not have the JR Pass or JR Hokkaido Pass. Also, it’s a straight bus that takes you all the way to Sounkyo, making it a smoother journey without transfers. Remember to use the toilet before you board the bus as it does not stop along the way.  You can buy your ticket on board. Check Dohuku bus timetable.

          For us, we opted to take the bus all the way from Asahikawa Train Station as we didn’t have the train pass. The bus ticket of JPY2,100 one-way was pretty steep in our opinion. But it was an enjoyable journey, passing many farms and villages on the way. The bus will stop you at Sounkyo town, in front of the post office. This is the same pick up point for your return trip.

          Mount Kurodake Ropeway

          If you plan to take the ropeway up Mount Kurodake, you can purchase your tickets from the ropeway station beside Sounkyo Visitor Centre, across from the bus drop off point. The ropeway station is located in the same building as the ticket counter. For us that day, what would have been a 3-minute walk to the visitor centre from the drop-off point turned out to be a 15-minute trek. Although it was still Autumn (early November), the roads had become very wet and slippery from the melting snow and our sneakers didn’t provide proper grip. If you’re planning to go in late Autumn or Winter, make sure you have proper footwear.

          Sounkyo Visitor Centre at Daisetsuzan National Park
          Purchase your ropeway tickets from ropeway station beside Sounkyo Visitor Centre
          View from Sounkyo ropeway
          View from the ropeway ride

          The ropeway (JPY1,850 return) will take you to the 5th station or about halfway up the summit. It consists of a large cabin the size of a mini-bus and is hoistered up some 1,000 metres above sea level via steel cables. The 15-minute ropeway ride is a rather thrilling one even for those who are not afraid of heights. Try to distract yourself with the breathtaking views, which changes by the season. It’s really quite a sight — something you’ll have to see to believe. From late autumn through to winter, you can expect a lot of snowfall in the area.

          The 5th station offers an observation deck with views into the gorge below. On the second floor of the station is Kurodake restaurant, in case you’re hungry. After your meal, you can proceed to the walking trail that leads to the forest. Be sure to take some photos there as the sights are amazing. To go further up the mountain, you can either hike from there or take the chair lift (JPY600), which would take you to the 7th station (seven tenth up the mountain). Unfortunately for us, the ski lift was closed for maintenance that day. So we just spent some time taking pictures at the trail before heading back down. Check out the 5th station trail map here.

          Observation deck at 5th station, Sounkyo
          View from the 5th station offers an observation deck
          View during the ropeway ride descent
          View of the gorge during the descent

          After you descend from the ropeway, you can either have some food at the restaurants in Sounkyo town or go to an onsen. Thanks to the Daisetsuzan volcano belt, there are good onsens in the area. Many of these onsens welcome non-staying guests for a fee. We recommend Mount Kurodake onsen, located near the restaurant stretch in Sounkyo town. It costs JPY500 for a full-day’s use. Mount Kurodake onsen boasts an indoor and outdoor onsen with the latter providing a view of the mountains. You may also check out one of the public baths in the area.

           Sounkyo Town at Daisatsuzan
          Sounkyo Town
          Cluster of restaurants at Sounkyo Town
          Cluster of restaurants at Sounkyo Town
          Meal at Tree Bird restaurant
          Buta Don at Tree Bird restaurant
          Mount Kurodake onsen
          Mount Kurodake onsen

          Important Note:

          If you’re taking the Dohuku bus back to Asahikawa, make sure you arrive at the pick up point 15 minutes before the scheduled timing. The buses leave on the dot, so you don’t want to miss your ride.

          snow storm at daisetsuzan
          Make your way back to the bus stop early as there’s a chance you might be caught in a snow storm

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            Shimonya-sirloin-steak-hakodate-hokkaido-main

            We know it sounds crazy to not want to gorge on seafood every chance you get in Hakodate. After all, the city is known for having one of the freshest sea produce in Hokkaido, thanks to its proximity to the ocean. From the Hakodate morning market to the various restuarants along the bay area, Hakodate is simply overflowing with fresh fish, prawns, scallops, squids and other sea harvests you can imagine. However, if you’re feeling like you’ve had one too many kaisendon (seafood bowls) or not a fan of raw seafood to begin with, here are 4 places you absolutely must check out. In fact, you should check them out anyway, because they are so good.

            Lucky Pierrot

            Lucky Pierrot at Hakodate Hokkaido
            One of the many Lucky Pierrot outlets at Hakodate. We recommend going to the one at the Bay area
            Lucky Pierrot at Hakodate Hokkaido
            There are just too many items on the menu
            Grilled squid at Lucky Pierrot
            Grilled squid
            Chinese Chicken Burger at Lucky Pierrot
            Chinese Chicken Burger
            Fried chicken noodles at Lucky Pierrot
            Noodles with fried chicken

            Exclusive to Hakodate, Lucky Pierrot probably has the most chaotic decor of all fast food restaurants in orderly Japan. The interior is packed (right up to the painings on the wall) with quirky vintage French/ Chinese decoratives and knick knacks and has a clown as its mascot. The menu is rather ecletic too consisting of everything from fried chicken, to burgers to Chinese style char mee (fried noodles), katsudon (fried pork cutlet) and soft serve. The only thing in common on the menu is that everything tastes great. If you only have space for a few items, make sure to try the Chinese Chicken burger — the patty is crispy on the outside yet so moist and tender inside, while the sesame specked burger buns are soft and nutty. The katsudon is pretty good too. Just remember that the portions are rather large so you’d want to pace yourself.

            Lucky Pierrot, Hakodate
            Address: 23-18 Suehiro-cho, Hakodate (Bay Area main branch), 函館末広町23-18
            Opening hours : 1000 – 0030hrs

            Shimonya (四文屋)

            Shimonya at Hakodate Hokkaido
            How it looks like from the front
            Chef at work at Shimonya
            Chef at work

            Located near the famous Goryokaku Park, Shimonya is a causal eatery specialising in donburri for lunch. At night, the quiet restaurant is transformed into a vibrant salaryman heaven serving kick-ass charcoal grilled yakitori (starting from JPY100) and sake. The food at this eatery is so good we would actually recommend you go there for both lunch and dinner. For lunch, try the char siew don (JPY500). The melt-in-the-mouth char siew has just the right amount of seasoning and smokiness and goes perfectly with the plump, flluffy short-grain rice. The chicken and leek yakitori, chicken balls (tsukune) and grilled chicken skin are a must from the dinner offering. The chef is simply a master at seasoning and barbequing. Make sure you order some sake to go with all that savoury goodness and watch the waiter fill your glass until it literally overflows — it’s a Japanese tradition, we were told.

            Char Siew Don at Shimonya
            A must-order, the Char Siew Don (only available for lunch)
            Buta Don at Shimonya
            Buta Don (only available for lunch)
            Grilled chicken sticks at Shimonya
            Assorted grilled chicken sticks
            Grilled chicken wing sticks and leeks at Shimonya
            Grilled chicken wing sticks with leeks
            Grilled vegetables sticks at Shimonya
            Grilled vegetables sticks
            Sirloin steak at Shimonya
            Sirloin steak

            Shimonya, 四文屋 函館五稜郭店
            Address: Honcho Hakodate Hokkaido (69 metres from Goryokaku Koemmae), 北海道 函館市 本町 7-14
            Lunch: 11:30 -14:00, Dinner: 17:00 – 22:30
            Tel: 0138-84-5265

            Asari Honten

            Asari Honten is slightly off the city grid but certainly worth travelling to for a good sukiyaki meal. Located at Horai-Cho tram station, the restaurant boasts a butchery on the first level and the restaurant decked out with beautiful tatami rooms on the second floor. The beef cuts start from ¥1500 yen, which comes with marbled wagyu (the cheaper cuts) and go all the way to (around ¥4000) for the A5 Wagyu.

            Asari Honten, 阿佐利本店
            Address:10-11 Horaicho, Hakodate, Hokkaido Prefecture 040-0043
            Tel: +81 138 23 0421

            Daimon Yokocho 横丁内

            Daimon Yokocho offers a nice cluster of izakaya style bars and kiosks you can venture into. Located about a good 10-minute walk from Hakodate JR station, you can get everything from yakitori, sushi rolls to ramen and of course, seafood — just take your pick. Another great perk of dining here: the opportunity to huddle up and mingle with the locals in one of these smokey bars. Do note that the eateries are really small so they’re not suitable for groups of five or more.

            Daimon Yokocho, 横丁内
            Address: 7-5, Matsukazecho, Hakodate, Hokkaido

            Burger shop Hot Box

            Maybe it was the cosy, charming wooden decor, but something about this tiny burger joint made us walk in to try the fare — and we’re glad we did. Hot Box specialises in burgers and they make them really juicy. Like most Japanese style burgers, the patties at Hot Box are not overly seasoned nor drenched in gravy so the taste of all that fresh, natural ingredients can come through. Go for the original burger, which comes with a thick beef patty and melted cheese sandwiched between two soft buns or a fancier version such as mashed potato bacon burger.

            Hamburger at Hoxbox
            Classic cheese burger at Hot Box
            Interior of hamburger joint, Hoxbox
            Interior of Burger shop Hot Box

            Burger shop Hot Box
            Address: 3-11 Matsukazecho, Hakodate 040-0035, Hokkaido
            Tel: +81 138-22-2772