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    Snowy slopes of Tomamu Mountains

    For a travel destination as picturesque as Hokkaido, travelling there once or twice is simply not enough. If you have been following our travel section, you would know that Hokkaido is a place we cover most extensively (click here for our Hokkaido features). Even though we have been there a couple of times, one activity we have been dying to try out is skiing.

    With the launch of Club Med Tomamu Hokkaido, its second all-inclusive holiday resort on Japan’s second largest island, the thought of making another trip there to experience the powdery snow-capped slopes of Hokkaido is definitely swimming in our heads. The new resort is roughly 90 minutes away from New Chitose Airport and an express coach will send you straight there.

    Snowy slopes of Tomamu Mountains
    Snowy slopes of Tomamu Mountains

    Club Med Tomamu Hokkaido features a total of 29 ski courses that span a total length of 21.5 kilometres as well as 4 ski trail ratings suitable for all levels of skiiers. The resort provides ski services like pre-arrival equipment rental, ski in and out access, as well as all-inclusive ski and snowboard lessons for guests aged 4 and above with professional ski instructors. This certainly makes things a lot easier for families and first-timers like us who have no idea what to prepare for a ski trip.

    If you are wondering if the resort is only suitable for holidayers with just skiing in their itinerary, you couldn’t be more wrong. Club Med has a slew of activities that will certainly drain all your adrenaline and then some. Activities like mountain biking adventure in the snow, snow trekking and snow sledging will certainly provide a lot of instagrammable opportunities to make the trip one to remember. If you like, you can also pay a visit to a nearby ice village where you can ice skate to a ice hotel and have a drink at Bar Icewood. For family with kids, Club Med Tomamu Hokkaido also offers a suite of kid-friendly activities and exclusive ski slopes for suitable for beginner and intermediate levels.

    Club Med Tomamu Hokkaido - resort room

    For now, we can only imagine how it feels to kick back and enjoy the amazing landscape from the comfort of Club Med’s room after a full day of outdoor adventure and activities.

    For more details on the resort, pricing information and promotions, visit Club Med Tomamu Hokkaido.

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      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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          Tokyo neighbourhoods: Shimokitazawa (photo by Ryosuke Yagi on Flickr)

          Tokyo counts as one of our favourite travel destinations here at GrateNews, and the first things that come to mind are the wonderful shopping and delicious Japanese cuisine. Just as iconic are famous Tokyo neighbourhoods such as Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya and Ginza.

          Japan’s capital city, however, is much more than those popular tourist spots. We’ve identified some of our favourites, leaving out those that most travellers have heard of.

          Tokyo neighbourhoods: Shimokitazawa (photo by Guwashi999 on Flickr)


          One of the most up-and-coming neighbourhoods in Tokyo, Shimokitazawa is currently one of the hotspots for youth in Tokyo – it’s both happening and laid back at the same time. Comprising numerous cafés and hipster shops selling unique fashion, walking through its streets reminds one of the more famous and popular Harajuku. However, Shimokitazawa is our preferred destination due to its charming narrow streets and artistic vibe.

          Keeping up to its image as a centre for the arts, music and theatre performances and are also a mainstay in this neighbourhood located in Western Tokyo.

          Tokyo neighbourhoods: Kichijoji (photo by Ewen Boey)


          Kichijoji is a big hit with the locals, and has a reputation as one of the most desirable residential neighbourhoods in Tokyo. One of the highlights of Kichijoji is the beautiful Inokashira Park, which is an ideal spot for viewing cherry blossoms in Spring. The body of water here is also the source for the Kanda River.

          The shopping scene in Kichijoji is always bustling, and there are many shops worth exploring in the streets around the main sheltered area next to the train station. Visit on a weekend and you’ll spot many Japanese youths hanging out in this hip neighbourhood.

          With a quaint park at one end of the district, and a bustling shopping scene at the other, Kichijoji is great for both kicking back and doing some serious shopping.

          Tokyo neighbourhoods: Tsukishima (photo by Yuya Tamai on Flickr)


          Talking about quaint Tokyo neighbourhoods, if you prefer somewhere quiet and away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, then Tsukishima might be the place for you. Time seems to slow down in Tsukishima, a reclaimed island just outside of the main Tokyo city centre.

          With a blend of old world traditions and modern skyscrapers, visitors to Tsukishima can slow down from the normally fast-paced Tokyo lifestyle, and slowly unwind.

          If that isn’t good enough for you, Tsukishima is also the birthplace of the legendary Tokyo dish – monjayaki, finely cut ingredients pan-fried in a light batter.  It’s pretty similar to okonomiyaki. Having a meal here is reason enough to visit this island neighbourhood.

          Tokyo neighbourhoods: Odaiba (photo by Luke Ma on Flickr)


          On to another island neighbourhood – Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo Bay.

          Fronted by an iconic view of the Rainbow Bridge linking it to mainland Tokyo, Odaiba is a popular shopping and sightseeing neighbourhood, well loved by locals and tourists alike. Offering an unparalleled view of the Tokyo waterfront, Odaiba also holds one of only two beaches located in urban Tokyo.

          The other distinct landmark in Odaiba is Daikanransha, a 115-metre tall ferris wheel that was the world’s tallest when opened in 1999.

          Onsen lovers can check out Oedo Onsen Monotagari Hot Springs here as well, it’s one of the more famous onsens in Tokyo. Other attractions include the distinctively designed Fuji Television building, Miraikan (Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation), a replica of the Statue of Liberty and much more.

          Tokyo neighbourhoods: Ebisu (photo by Azlan DuPree on Flickr)


          Named after the legendary Japanese beer, Yebisu, this stylish neighbourhood is only a couple of stops from central Shibuya, without the crowds and chaos.

          One of the most expensive neighbourhoods to live in Tokyo, Ebisu, along with neighbouring Daikanyama, is known for its trendy boutiques and cafés. Whether you love chilling out in parks, shopping at fashion forward boutiques or having pastries over afternoon tea, Ebisu would be an ideal district for you.

          Yebisu Garden Place, formerly a beer brewery, is also worth checking out

          A common misconception is that Yebisu Beer (one of the most, if not the most delicious beer in Japan) was named after this neighbourhood. In fact, it’s actually the other way around. Speaking of which, do check out the Museum of Yebisu Beer while you’re there. People-watching over a refreshing mug of Yebisu draught beer is one of the best around. Other notable Sapporo Breweries in the area includes the Beer Museum Yebisu and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

          Tokyo neighbourhoods: Nakameguro (photo by Hajime Nagahata on Flickr)


          Nakameguro is the hippest neighbourhood in Meguro, and one of the most stylish in all of Tokyo. The neighbourhood has a distinct European feel to it, and is known to be a centre for fashion, art, culture, and of course, food.

          Nakameguro’s laid-back and European atmosphere sits well with us, and we really enjoyed the trendy boutiques, cafés and galleries. Vintage fashion and furniture lovers will go absolutely crazy over here, with Nakameguro’s wide selection of vintage wares on sale.

          Visit during cherry blossom season and you’ll get to not only admire the beautiful scenery, but also enjoy the festivities in the area, with food stalls lining the streets during this period.

          Azabu Juban

          Located and near the bright lights vibrant district of Roppongi, Azabu Juban is on the contrary, a quiet low-key neighbourhood of Tokyo. This slow-pace enclave boasts trendy cafes and fashionable boutiques as well as century old establishments and shops.

          This meeting of old and new gives Azabu Juban an eclectic vibe that is popular with youths and tourists. If you are in the area, don’t forget to make a pit stop at Abe-chan, a super popular yakitori place that’s been around for decades. The restaurant has a pot of sauce at the front of the shop has been around for 70 years! Other places include Naniwaya Souhonten for its Japanese ‘Taiyaki’ pancake with sweet red bean filling and Tanuki Senbei, a shop selling fresh rice crackers since 1928.

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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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              at Tsukiji Fish Market
              It is usually very crowded in the mornings but it's still very comfortable and easy to walk.

              Moving to a better place, the Tsukiji Fish Market was meant to open at its new location in November 2016. However, complaints about toxins in the ground of the new location in Toyosu put the planned move on ice – as reported by the Japan Times. The new custom-built facility stays closed and Tsukiji Fish Market where it is now. It’s reason enough to revisit the market and gather up some facts.

              Entrance of Tsukiji Fish Market
              Entrance of Tsukiji Fish Market
              Dried goods stall at Tsukiji Fish Market
              Dried goods stall selling seaweed, dried scallops and snacks

              Tsukiji Fish Market in Numbers

              • The market is 80 years old – and nearing its end.
              • 1800 tonnes of fresh, frozen, and processed seafood goes through the market every day.
              • Although it’s known for the tuna auctions, there are 480 different types of seafood sold daily – worth of 1,5 billion Japanese Yen (13 Million euros).
              • 42000 people work at or use the market.
              • There are a total 630 wholesale vendors.
              • An incredible 19000 vehicles come and go every day.
              • 1800 metric tonnes move every morning from 2am until noon.
              • Every 2 weeks there is another fish in season.
              • Uncountable meals made with that amount of seafood and fish.
              Fish delivery at Tsukiji Fish Market
              This man is delivering tuna to the restaurant

              Things You Need to Remember

              • Don’t be a bother. Keep out of restricted areas and let the personnel run their business. If you disrupt the fish auctions in any way, you will be kicked out without warning.
              • It’s wet and smells fishy. Leave your high heels and flip-flops at home, as you won’t get in. You might also want to avoid wearing your nicest clothes to prevent the staining fish smell.
              • Don’t bring small children or pets. The market is no zoo nor enjoyable for kids or your dog who probably will go crazy with all this food.
              • Don’t smoke a the market! This might be obvious, but considering that you can smoke in many bars and restaurants in Japan, some people think the market is no exception.
              • Don’t touch anything! You are not selling nor buying – only looking.
              • Stay close to the market on the night before your visit somewhere. Your transport options from the city to the Tsukiji Fish Market are rather limited that early morning.
              • It is cold! Even if you are visiting Tokyo during the summer month, you will need to bring a jacket or something else to keep you warm. Remember that you are looking ar frozen fish!

              Tsukiji Fish Market Opening Hours

              • Outer Market 5:00 am – 1:00 pm
              • Wholesale Market 9:00 am – 1:00 pm
              • Tuna Auction 5:00 am – 6:15 am

              Closed on Sundays, public holidays, and on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month

              Finger food stall at Tsukiji Fish Market
              There are many stalls like these selling finger food and grill meat.
              Giant scallops at Tsukiji Fish Market
              Giant scallops!
              Scallop stall at Tsukiji Fish Market
              The owner preparing the giant scallops

              Tsukiji Fish Market (築地市場) Address

              5-2-1 Tsukiji (Tsukijishijo Station, Toei Oedo Subway)

              Tel: +81 03-3542-1111

              Tsukiji Market


              Article first published on theFoodstuff.com

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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


                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