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hokkaido

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    Noboribetsu
    The devil welcomes you to Noboribetsu

    Planning a trip to Hokkaido? Lucky you! Everything from Hokkaido’s amazing food, rich culture to picturesque scenery is sure to wow its visitors. My favourite city in Hokkaido is Hakodate, thanks to its beautiful bay area and what seems like endless supply of fresh, succulent seafood. Check out our list of the 15 things to do in Hokkaido to make your trip a memorable one.

    1. Enjoy Kaisen Don

    How Singaporean to pick a food item to kick off a must-do list! But didn’t they say that the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach? First on our list of dishes to try is the kaisen don or seafood bowl. Whether your favourite seafood is swordfish, salmon, snow crab or those juicy ikura fish eggs, there’s such a wide variety of kaisen don in Hokkaido that you’re bound to find one that suits your palate. Some of the best places to enjoy kaisen don is at a seafood market like the Hakodate Morning Market or the Sapporo Nijo Market.

    Kaisen don in Hokkaido
    You can have Kaisen don for breakfast
    Kaisen don in Hokkaido
    Kaisen don for lunch…
    Kaisen don in Hokkaido
    and Kaisen don for dinner. Burp
    Kaisen Don in Otaru
    The mother of Kaisen don. Look at the variety of seafood!

    2. Experience Winter at Asahiyama Zoo

    Enjoy your own version of the penguin march at this well-loved zoo. During certain periods in winter when the ground is covered with snow, visitors get to walk alongside the adorable, waddling birds. It’s guaranteed to be a fun-filled experience for kids and family. Do note, however, that the zoo is closed for a few days during winter so make sure you check the opening schedule on the Asahiyama Zoo website before you go.

    Penguins at Asahiyama Zoo
    Playful penguins at Asahiyama Zoo

    3. Savour a sea urchin or uni

    Fresh sea urchin can be found in various restaurants or seafood markets throughout Hokkaido for about 1,000 yen a piece. Savour the soft and creamy orange flesh of this sea creature and you’ll remember its sweet taste for life! Oishii! Some may choose to have their uni slightly torched but we think fresh is best.

    Fresh Uni at Hakodate Morning Market
    Feast on fresh uni at Hakodate Morning Market

    4. Have Soup curry

    Unlike the usual Japanese curry, soup curry is thinner in consistency as the gravy combines soup and curry – thus its name. There’s different levels of customisation depending on where you eat, including choice of meat, the soup base, amount of rice and down to the spiciness of the curry. it’s very popular among the locals in places like Sapporo city – so don’t miss this special culinary treat.

    5. Organise a picnic during sakura viewing season

    Every year, tens of thousands of tourists flock to Hokkaido and parts of Japan for the sakura or cherry blossom viewing in Spring time. If you’re lucky enough to catch the Hanami or cherry blossom viewing activity, why not join in the local practice of setting up a picnic at these scenic spots too? Just pack a picnic mat, bento and some snacks and enjoy the best of what nature has to offer.

    The scenic Odori Park during the sakura season
    The scenic Odori Park in Sapporo during the sakura season

    6. Shop at Don Quijote

    No shop is equally ecclectic or well stocked as Don Quijote, which is located across Japan rather than just Hokkaido alone. It’s your one-stop shop for everything from Japanese snacks to make-up to Halloween masks and cosplay supplies. Every aisle is crammed with supplies so take your time to shop here.

    7. Enjoy the produce of the season

    Take a walk along the fresh produce section of the supermarket or farmers’ markets in Hokkaido and you’ll find a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. But the best produce are often the fruit or crops of the season, not to mention it’s more environmental too. For instance, honeydew and persimmon are the sweetest and most abundant in Autumn, while strawberries are the best enjoyed in Spring.

    Honeydew are seasonal produce in Hokkaido
    For big groups, go for a whole honeydew. A mid-range one costs around 1500 – 2500 Yen

    8. Attend a festival

    The Japanese simply love festivals! There are various festivals to celebrate the season, religion, cultural practices and other special occasions, so plan your travel date accordingly. Some of the most popular festivals include the Sapporo Snow Festival in February, the Kamome Island Festival in Esashi, Hokkaido to celebrate the sea in July, the Kachimai Fireworks Festival in August and the Yokata Andon (fighting lantern) festival at the end of August. Did we mention there’s even the Nemuro Sanma festival in September which worships fish!

    A performer taking photos with the crowd
    Devil and Fireworks performance in Noboribetsu

    N9. Visit the Hakodate Morning Fish Market

    If you visit the serene coastal town of Hakodate, the morning market is a must. It is breeming with fresh and cooked seafood every day of the week. Go on an empty stomach and enjoy your fill of seafood like grilled scallops, sashimi, seasoned cuttlefish as well as snacks like mochi and hokkaido milk ice cream. Keep a lookout for the prized whole tuna being transported around the market by fishermen. The occurrence never fails to raise awe!

    Interior of Hakodate Morning Market
    Plan your Hakodate Morning Market visit early in the day when it’s less crowded
    Hakodate Morning Market
    Crabs in abundance at the Hakodate Morning Market
    Street view of Hakodate Morning Market
    The market may not be big but it has plenty to offer

    10. Eat at Lucky Pierrot

    Another exclusive place of Hokodate is fast food chain Lucky Pierrot. The most famous item on the menu is the Chinese Chicken Burger which is served with a sesame specked bun and some fresh lettuce. The Fried noodles with chicken combo and Original Curry + Chicken are also very delicious and good value for money. There are a lot of other dishes and burgers to try so take your time to pick and choose what appeals to you.

    Lucky Pierrot stall at Hakodate
    Look at the number of items on the menu!
    Lucky Pierrot stall at Hakodate
    One of the many Lucky Pierrot outlets at Hakodate
    Chinese chicken burger at Lucky Pierrot
    The popular Chinese chicken burger at Lucky Pierrot

    11. Bask in an open roof onsen

    Going to an onsen is a popular experience in Hokkaido but more then just any onsen, pick one with an outdoor bath.  One of the most memorable onsen experiences I’ve had is at an outdoor onsen at Mount Kurodate in Asahikawa during Winter where I got to enjoy the contrasting temperatues of the cold surrounds while being submerged in the heated spring water, all whilst soaking in the the amazing views of the mountain. Simply out of this world.

    Open air onsen at Sounkyo, Hokkaido
    Open air onsen at Sounkyo
    Open air onsen at Sounkyo, Hokkaido
    Best time for open air onsen? When it’s snowing.

    12. Stay at a ryokan

    Get the full Japanese experience by staying at one of the ryokan or guest houses in Hokkaido. Prices per night vary quite widely depending on the ryokan, location and what’s included – such as meals and whether there’s a private onsen. You can also choose one with a personal onsen attached to your room, but those would come at a higher price. During my trip to Hokkaido in Oct 16, I spent a night at the Oyada Kiyomizuya ryokan in the popular onsen town of Noboribetsu and the overall experience was simply unforgettable.

    Ryokan at Noboribetsu
    A popular ryokan in Noboribetsu
    Ryokan at Noboribetsu
    Inside of a traditional Japanese ryokan
    Breakfast spread at a ryokan
    Waking up to a sumptuous breakfast spread!

    13. Take a ropeway

    If you plan to visit a mountain in Hokkaido, take the chance to ride on a ropeway if it’s available. It’s a scenic (or thrilling for some) to get to the top of a mountain in the elevator where you can get to a vantage point to enjoy the surrounding scenary. Some of the popular ropeways can be found at places like Mt Moiwa in Sapporo city and Mount Kurodake in Asahikawa.

    Ropeway up to Daisetsuzan
    Ropeway up to Daisetsuzan, a pretty thrilling experience

    14. Bring home a piece of Otaru

    The quaint, European-eque town of Otaru (about an hour train ride from Sapporo) is littered with ceramic and glassware shops. You’ll find nifty items like one-of-a-kind, handcrafted pottery, sake glass, music box made from glass and more.Take your time to visit some of these shops and bring home a piece of Otaru for friends and family.

    15. Check out the Otokoyama Sake Brewery Museum

    The range of sake or Japanese rice wine in Japan is mind-boggling. It ranges from under S$10 a bottle to the hundreds. One of the most popular sake in Hokkaido is produced by Otokoyama. If you visit Asahikawa, drop by the Otokoyama Sake Brewery Museum where you’ll get to see the brewery behind a glass panel, the equipment used for making sake and most importantly get a tasting session! The brewery is located at

    079-8412 Hokkaido Prefecture, Asahikawa, Nagayama 2 Jo, 7 Chome−1−3.

     

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      Man sitting on bench at Odori Park

      Sapporo is the largest city of Hokkaido. But due to its accessibility and location, it’s also commonly thought of as simply a stopover city, rather than a destination for the many tourists who fly into New Chitose airport in Sapporo. With the many attactions and unique experiences, Sapporo is really more than just as a stopover or connection city. Whether you’re after some sight-seeing, something fun for the kids and family to do or a vibrant nightlife culture, Sapporo will not disappoint. Check out our guide of fun things to do in Sapporo.

      1.Odori Park 大通公園

      Great for: families, couples, solo travellers

      Every year, major festivals and celebrations are celebrated at Odori Park. There’s the Summer Festival and Yosakoi Soran festival both taking place in summer and in winter, there’s the Snow Festival and White Illumination to look forward to. Depending on the time you visit Sapporo, you may get to catch ones of these exciting events. But even if you didn’t manage to time your visit to coincide with the celebrations, Odori Park is still worth a visit. Clean and well kept, it’s a great place to watch the best of what the different seasons has to offer – lush greenery in spring, yellow and red foilage in autumn and white and snowy scene in winter. Don’t forget to stop by the landmark TV Tower at the eastern side of the park for some selfies. One of my most enjoyable moments in Hokkaido was spent at Odori park having a bento picnic amidst the park’s beautiful surroundings.

      Fountain at Odori Park, Sapporo
      Fountain at Odori Park
      Cherry blossoms, Odori Park
      Cherry blossoms in full bloom
      Mario cosplay at Odori Park, Sapporo
      Who knows, you might get to see Mario too!

      Address: Next to Odori Subway Station or 10- minute walk south of JR Sapporo Station

      2. Shiroi Koibito Park 白色戀人公園

      Great for: families, young kids

      Shiroi Koibito cookies are the Tokyo Bananas of Hokkaido – every tourist brings home some. The Shiroi Koibito Park in Sapporo is also very popular and consists of the Shiroi Koibito Factory where the dessert is made, Cookiecraft Studio, a dessert café, a rose garden and a vintage toy museum. For a small fee, you can take a tour of the factory and try designing your cookie at the Cookiecraft studio. Don’t want to pay for entrance fees (like me)? Well, there are a few free – and rather enjoyable – activities too. Inside the dessert cafe on the first floor, there’s a candy-making kitchen to showcase the fascinating process of how hard candies are being pulled and twisted into shape before being cut into small, bite-sized portions. Also free is the toy museum on the second floor which exhibits a wide range of vintage toys. My favourite part of the park is the rose garden where you not only get to admire the beautiful flowers but also enjoy the views of the European style courtyard and buildings in the park.

      Address: Miyanosawa 2-jo 2 Chome, Nishi-ku, Sapporo 063-0052

      Glass house at Shiroi Koibito Park

      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
      Shiroi Koibito production line
      Shiroi Koibito production line

      3. Mount Moiwa 藻岩山

      Great for: families, couples, first timers to Sapporo, photograhy enthusiasts

      Perhaps one of the best ways to view a city is from a distance and for that, we recommend Mount Moiwa, located in the middle of Sapporo city. To get to the peak, you can ride the ropeway (1100 yen) that takes you from the base to three quarters of the mountain to a transfer station. You can continue on to the peak by taking a small cablecar (600 yen). There is an observation deck and a restaurant called The Jewels at the summit. Guess how else you can get to the peak? Yes, it’s possible to hike up there too! There are 5 five hiking trails ranging from 2.4km to 4.5km, and the best time to do this is during Summer where the weather is conducive. You can visit Mount Moiwa in the day or night time and the views are vastly different – though both amazing. Personally I’m biased and find the dazzling lights after dark more romantic, so I figured the best time to go would be 1-2 hours before sunset. Once you’re at the peak, take your time to enjoy the breathtaking views of the cityscape and the surrounding areas such as the Ishikari Bay. We wouldn’t recommend you hike back in the dark so make sure you catch the last transport back to the base of the mountain.

      Address: Minami Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture 005-0041, Japan

      4. Maruyama Zoo 札幌市円山動物園

      Great for: families, animal lovers, kids

       Maruyama Zoo is the first zoo in Hokkaido – and a very well-kept one. The animals look well cared for in the environment created specially to suit their living habits. What’s also great about Maruyama Zoo is that it doesn’t just allow you to view the animals in their natural habitats, but also lets you interact with some of them. In the “Kids’ Zoo”, you can pat and feed animals like squirrels, rabbits, young kangaroos and other small animals. Don’t miss this chance to get in touch with nature.

      Address: 064-0959 Hokkaido Prefecture, Sapporo, Chuo Ward, Miyagaoka, 3 Chome−1

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

      5. Sapporo Beer Museum

      Great for: Beer lovers

      In case you’re wondering, there are other stuff to do at the Sapporo Beer Museum apart from, well, chuggling down a beer or two. For 500 yen, you can take a guided tour of the museum to learn about the history of beer in Japan and the process of beer making. Also popular here is the all-you-can-eat mutton BBQ at the adjoining Sapporo Beer Garden. Now, if beer is your thing, you’ll fit right in here. There’s an all-you-can-drink beer buffet for some serious imbibing. Don’t want a hangover the next day? Go for the beer sampling session instead.

      Address: 065-8633 Hokkaido Prefecture, Sapporo, Higashi Ward, Kita 7 Johigashi, 9 Chome−1−1

      Opening hours: 11.30am – 8pm (entry until 7.30pm), Tues – Sunday. Closed on Public Holidays.

      6. Pole Town

      Great for: ladies, shoppers

      Raining or too cold to explore Sapporo? No worries. Time to hit the underground shopping. In case you’re wondering, by “underground”, we literally meant underground — not the dark, dodgy stuff. The 400m-long Pole Town begins from Odori Station and stretches all the way to Susukino Staion on the Namboku Line. There are hundreds of shops selling clothes, shoes, accessories and kawaii knick knacks waiting to be explored. Prices are relatively affordable so shop to your heart’s content here.

      Address: Pole Town – Minami 1-jo Nishi 3-chome〜Minami 4-jo Nishi 3-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo

      Tanukikoji shopping arcade above Pole Town, Sapporo
      Continue shopping at Tanukikoji shopping arcade just above Pole Town

      7. Susukino district

      Great for: Party goers, couples, night owls

      Welcome to Susukino, the nightlife district of Sapporo where the streets are decked with bars, restaurants, cafes and pachinko shops! Take your hit at one of noisy pachinko machines – or check yourself into the first gitzy love hotel that tickles your fancy — just for the fun of it. Well, why the heck not? Whatver it is, take your time to explore the 4,000 or so restaurants and bars in the Susukino, the largest entertainment district of Northern Japan.

      Nearest station: Susukino station

      8. Sapporo TV Tower

      Great for: Families, couples

      The Sapporo TV Tower is located on the east of Odori Park. If you don’t know where’s the east, just stand in the middle of the park and look to either side, you won’t miss it. The tower offers a 360° view of Sapporo and has become one of Sapporo’s landmarks since its completion in 1956.

      The vicinity around the tower is also a great place for a picnic or a short rest. You can access the souvenir shop located on the 3rd floor to check out some unique collectibles like fridge magnets and buy your tickets for access to the observation deck located more that 90 meters above ground. We recommend reaching the place around 5pm in the afternoon and stay till past 6pm to observe the changing scene from day to dusk.

      Address: Odori Nishi 1-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo
      Opening hours: 9.00am – 10:00pm
      Admission fee: Adults ¥720, High School Students ¥600, Junior High School Students ¥400

      Walk to Sapporo TV Tower
      Walk to Sapporo TV Tower
      Sapporo TV tower at 5.30pm
      The observatory deck is 90 metres above ground

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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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              Penguins at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
              Images shot on iPhone

              Even if you’re not crazy about animals, Asahiyama Zoo (旭山動物園) is one of the attractions in Hokkaido you won’t want to miss. 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.

              Part of the snow leopard enclosure, for instance, consists of a cage extension built about 2 meters above ground. You can practically stretch up your hand to touch the felines’ fur. It isn’t an advisable thing to do, of course, but the thought of being in such close contact with a leopard is amazing. The lion’s enclosure is pretty impressive too. Instead of having to view them from afar, you can view the big cats behind a layer of glass.

              Penguins at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
              The famous “Penguin Walk” happens only during Winter
              Snow leopard at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
              Seeing the snow leopard that closeup is really something.

              While the zoo isn’t big, be prepared to spend at least half a day visiting each of the animal enclosures. The penguin and polar bear enclosures are very popular so make sure you make time for those. In Winter, (December through March), visitors from Japan and around the world visit Asahiyama Zoo for the famous Penguin Walk. Apparently, the walk was designed to give the chubby birds a workout so they don’t become too obese and inactive during the cold season.

              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.
              Polar bear at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
              That’s how close you can get to for some sections of the zoo.
              Seal section at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
              Be prepared for the visitors’ squeals of excitement and chorus of “kawaii” when a seal swims through one of these vertical glass tunnels before your eyes. We couldn’t help but joined in too.
              hippopotamus at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
              Who would have thought that the gigantic hippopotamus are such graceful swimmers.
              One of the monkey sections at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
              Watch the primates get up to their mischiefs up close

              How to get to Asahiyama Zoo

              A day trip to Asahiyama Zoo from Sapporo is quite doable. Take the JR Hokkaido train heading to Asahikawa. Take buses 41, 42 or 47 in front JR Asahikawa Station. It takes around 40 minutes to get there and costs JPY440 one-way. The last bus leaves the zoo at around 4pm.

              Bus to Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
              Bus to Asahiyama Zoo at Asahikawa JR station
              Zoo tickets for Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
              This is how the zoo ticket looks like. You can purchase them at the zoo or at Asahikawa Station.
              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.

              Alternatively, you can also take the Asahiyama Zoo Train from Sapporo to put you in the mood. The train departs Sapporo at 8.30am. For JPY6,130, you get a round-trip JR train ticket with non-reserved seating section between Sapporo and Asahikawa, round-trip bus ticket between Asahikawa Station and Asahiyama Zoo, and admission ticket for the Asahiyama Zoo. There’s no need to change for an admission ticktet at the zoo entrance. Check the schedule here.

              The delicious ramen at the Asahiyama Zoo is definitely worth a mention. Apparently, it’s quite a draw for the visitors too.

              Ramen at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
              Delicious shoyu ramen with a piece of kawaii seaweed with the face of a seal printed on it
              Udon at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
              Udon is another dish at the zoo’s cafe

              Special note:

              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 for the most updated schedule.

              If possible, avoid the school holidays and weekends as the zoo can get very packed during those times.

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                Otaru Canal, Hokkaido
                Images shot with iPhone

                Otaru is very popular among Hokkaido travellers, particularly those passing through Sapporo. The small city of Otaru is well loved for its European charms, thanks to the old brick houses and stone buildings found throughout the city. If you’re in Hokkaido, we recommend setting aside at least half a day to visit this romantic city to soak in its old world charms. As Otaru is rather small, you can get to most places on foot. So be prepared to do lots of walking. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes and bring enough warm clothing during the cooler months so you can enjoy the city to the fullest. Here are 6 things to do and places you absolutely must check out when in Otaru.

                1. Try the LeTAO cheesecake and caramel tart

                The number of dessert cafes in this small town is just insane! There seems to be a LeTAO or Rokkatei (六花亭) everywhere we turned and it didn’t helped that most of the cafes were giving out free samples to tempt us further. Who could blame us for going on a sweet binge? We liked everything we had but the ones that blew our minds were the LeTAO cheesecake and caramel tart.  The heavenly combination of light as cloud whipped cream on a base of creamy baked cheese cake of the Double Fromage was simply amazing. We’ve never tasted cheesecake like this — you’ll have to try it to believe how divine the Double Fromage is. The  caramel tart which had just the right balance of sweetness, saltiness from the cheese and slight bitterness from the burnt sugar reminds of a perfectly executed crème brulee.

                LeTao double fromage
                LeTao double fromage
                LeTao caramel tart
                LeTao caramel tart
                LeTao store in Otaru
                LeTao store in Otaru carries a variety of cakes, pastries and biscuits

                2. Have 2 scoops of Uni (sea urchin) ice cream

                A dessert binge wouldn’t be complete without ice cream. For that, we recommend Kita No Aisu Ya San for its variety of funky flavours from squid ink ice cream to uni (sea urchin) and Coenzyme Q10.  Too adventurous for your palate?  More popular flavours like peach, green tea are also available. Kita No Aisu Ya San is located at 1-2-18 Ironai, Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan.

                Kita No Aisu Ya San exterior
                Kita No Aisu Ya San is tucked inside a small lane. Here’s how it looks on the outside
                Kita No Aisu Ya San interior
                Go for 2 scoops of the unique Sea Urchin flavour for JPY500

                3. Otaru Music Box Museum

                Address:  4-1, Sumiyoshi-cho, Otaru, Hokkaido
                Opens daily from 9am-6pm

                The Music Box Factory is one of Japan’s largest. Music box lovers will be spoilt for choice, as you’ll find music boxes of all shapes, sizes and designs including those adorned with flowers, crystal animals and dolls. Try your hand at making your very own music box at the main building of the museum. If you prefer to just admire the creations, check out the museum section in Building 2. Over there, you’ll find a dizzying collection of antique music boxes from all over the world — it’s really quite an eye opener.

                4. Take a stroll along the Otaru Canal and selfie away

                You haven’t been to Otaru until you’ve strolled along the famous Otaru Canal and taken lots of selfies to prove it. So do as other tourists do and snap away with the traditional brick warehouses in the background. You might also be interested to get your portrait drawn by one of the street artists along the river bank.

                A visit to Otaru canal is one of the main things to do in Otaru
                The perfect selfie and wefie spot in Otaru

                5. Shop/eat at Otaru’s Sankaku Fish Market(三角市場)

                Address: 3-10-16 Inaho, Otaru 047-0032, Hokkaido

                We didn’t expect to find a fish market in Otaru but as Sankaku (meaning triangular) Fish Market was the first place that greeted us when we exited Otaru JR Station, we didn’t want to miss it. Compared to Hakodate’s Seafood Market or Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, the Otaru fish market is much smaller and triangular in shape (thus its name). But the variety of seafood was just as dazzling and the prices were pretty reasonable. If you missed the seafood markets in other parts of Hokkaido, get your fix here.

                Sankaku Fish Market at Otaru
                Sankaku Fish Market
                Sankaku Fish Market store
                A typical stall at Sankaku Fish Market
                Melons at Sankaku Fish Market
                Other than seafood, you can also find stores selling melons
                King Carbs at Sankaku Fish Market
                Most seafood stores at Sankaku can grill, boil and prepare the king crabs in sashimi style

                6. Pottery and glassware shopping

                Thinking of what souvenirs to bring back for friends and family? Check out the various pottery and glassware shops on Sakaimachi Street(境町通)where you’ll find everything from handmade tea sets to glass beads to delicate sake glasses. As most of the pieces are handmade, the shops here tend to carry unique designs. If you see something you like, grab it as you may not find a similar piece outside of Otaru. We couldn’t resist getting ourselves these pretty handmade yuzu tea cups and onigiri plates. And we’re glad we did. It reminds us of our lovely Otaru trip every time we use them.

                How to get to Otaru by public transport

                One of the quickest and most convenient ways to get to Otaru is via Sapporo. Simply hop on the train along the JR Hakodate main line heading for Otaru. The one-way trip from Sapporo to Otaru costs JPY640 and takes around 30 minutes by express train or 45 minutes by local train. Non-Japanese tourists should consider getting the Sapporo-Otaru Welcome pass for JPY1,700.  You’ll get unlimited use of JR trains between Sapporo and Otaru. The pass also comes with a one-day unlimited use of Sapporo’s three subway lines. The pass is sold at Sapporo station and New Chitose Airport.

                Display at JR Sapporo station
                You can take a JR train at Sapporo to Otaru
                Sign at Otaru station
                Sign at Otaru JR station

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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