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)
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
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.
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.
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
- Scoop up some water from the tub using a small ladle provided with your right hand and pour water over your left hand.
- Repeat the same process by transferring the ladle to your left hand and pour water over your right hand.
- Next, hold the ladle with your right hand and pour some water into a cupped left hand.
- 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.
- 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
- First, drop a coin into the offertory box that looks like a long chest with gaps.
- You will see a bell with a rope beside it. Ring the bell once before beginning your prayer.
- Walk toward the enshrined deity without slouching, then bow twice at a 90 degree angle.
- Clap your hands twice.
- Hold your palms together and bow once more to complete the prayer.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.