I took a 5-day trip on my own to the northern island of Japan, Hokkaido, for the holidays. It was a wonderful experience. The weather was snowy, the scenery was astonishing, and the food was delicious. Here is a recap of my adventures.
I flew into 新千歳 Shin-Chitose airport outside of Sapporo
early Monday morning, Christmas Eve. The flight from Tokyo
was a quick 1.5 hours. I had to take a train into the city from the airport. Along the way, I saw my first snow in Japan and it was beautiful.
Upon arriving, it was too early to check into my hotel. But I decided to drop my bags off and wander around the city.
Downtown Sapporo is more or less like one of the neigborhoods in Tokyo, complete with flashing neon signs and tall buildings. It was of course, much much colder. I stopped in for lunch at the ラーメン横丁 or ramen alley as a recommendation from my guide book. This little alley was lined with ramen stalls specializing in their own different type of ramen, a Sapporo specialty. I had some tasty noodles that warmed me right up.
After lunch, I wandered around the city a little more, then checked into my hotel. It was becoming late in the afternoon and I really wanted to check out the 札幌ビール園 Sapporo Beer Garden. Sapporo has a nice network of buses and subways to get you around. Japan's amazing like that, you can go to almost any city and the public transportation is excellent and standard.
sapporo @ night
So I took the subway out to the museum. The beer garden is located inside the old factory (they've moved their beer production to a different location further outside the city, which also offers tours) which looks like something straight out of late 19th century industry - complete with smokestack. The inside is three levels and there's a self-guided tour and two Japanese speaking tours. I decided to do the self-guided tour. I wandered around the inside of the museum, looking at the various displays of old memorabilia, dioramas of the beer production process, and the history panels of Sapporo beer. At the end of the tour, there's a bar where you can sample all of the different beers. I couldn't resist. I also couldn't resist trying the 黒ビール and イカ ice cream (that's black beer and squid flavor).
To my surprise, they both were delicious, especially the squid. Full of beer and squid ice cream, I went back to the hotel for a nap. I ate dinner at a 回転寿司 kaiten-sushi (revolving) restaurant nearby the hotel. The sushi was fresh and delicious.
Christmas Day was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and it had snowed the night before, so a fresh blanket covered the ground. I started my morning out by going to the morning fish market. Hokkaido is really famous for its seafood, especially the crab. I love the morning markets! The vendors are so lively and offer you tastes of the fresh crab before they pressure you into buying it (btw a single crab can cost upwards of 7500 yen, 75.00USD). I had breakfast at a tiny tall that featured 親子丼 (oyako-donburi, which is traditionally chicken and egg over rice in a bowl, but the version of oyako-don here was salmon and fish eggs over rice).
I had a crab donburi, yum! Energized, I went to Sapporo station and hopped on a bus to my next destination for the day: 定山渓温泉 Jozankei-onsen.
This tiny village up in the mountains about an hour outside of Sapporo, was founded by the monk Jozankei several hundred of years ago. It is famous for the 温泉 or hot springs. I hiked around the town on foot, stopping at all the landmarks like the 神社 jinja or shinto shrines, the 寺 tera or Buddhist temples, the various kappa statues, and the foot bridge overlooking the river. After I was thoroughly chilled, I went to the Jozankei hotel, the oldest hotel there, to use their onsen. I spent over an hour soaking and relaxing in the 42 degree celsius water! Their baths were huge, with over 15 different baths, including two that were outside.
Those were my favorites because you could sit and look out at the snowy landscape. I ate curry at the hotel restaurant before catching the bus back into Sapporo. I took a long nap on the bus as my body was thoroughly relaxed.
Christmas dinner in Sapporo. A famous dish of Sapporo, besides the ramen and seafood, is something called ジンガスカン Jingus Kan. Why they call it that, I'm not sure. But it's basically lamb that you grill yourself over a stone pot with vegetables. It was....delicious of course! After a long day of sightseeing, onsen, and good food, I crashed back at the hotel. Of course, it wouldn't be a true Japanese Christmas if I didn't have some Christmas Cake. I had a slice before bed. All in all, it was a wonderfully relaxing Christmas Day.
Wednesday morning, it was time to leave, so I checked out of the hotel and dropped my bags off at the station.
I had some time to kill, so I took a trip to the 円山公演 Maruyama-koen, or park. The park itself is very large and holds a number of Shinto shrines and Buddhist monuments. I paid my respects to the larger one, 北海道神宮 Hokkaido jingu. I decided to go for a short hike up the mountain that was part of the park. Standing at about 230 meters and completely snowed over, it was a little bit longer and more challenging of a hike than I thought. But it was worth it. I especially enjoyed seeing the various statues of Buddha lining the sides of the trail. It was such a peaceful journey to the top. When I reached the summit, I stopped for a break to enjoy the view. I could see all of Sapporo! I was fortunate for clear weather that day. After taking in the view, I turned around and headed back to find some lunch.
I was going to try to check out the 植物園 shokubutsu-en or botanical gardens, but they were closed. I was sad because I hear it's one of the best things to do in Sapporo. I grabbed some quick ramen and went to the station. Sapporo is a wonderful city and I enjoyed exploring it. Being more like a big city though, I was anxious to get away to my next destination, a quiet seaside town called 函館 Hakodate.