Four days in Hokkaido: snowmen, and sushi, and orgel, oh my!

Last Sunday, February 8th, I got up at the crack of dawn and flew to Sapporo, Hokkaido!  As a result of luck and careful planning, I managed to get a four day weekend, so I planned on spending three nights in Sapporo, perfectly timed to go to the 60th Sapporo Snow Festival (ゆきまつり).  Originally I planned to go alone, but it turned out my friend, Ken, could also get some of the time off work, so I had company for three of the four days.  I have to say, this made all the difference to my trip.  I love travelling alone, but having a Japanese friend with me meant that I could try so many more things, and go to so many different places that I either couldn’t do alone, or wouldn’t want to do alone.  So I’m really glad about the way things turned out!

Day One: Sunday February 8th

I arrived at the airport ridiculously early, as is usual for me!  But fortunately Starbucks was open.  This set a kind of precedent for the rest of my trip, and I actually lost count of the number of times I found myself in Starbucks… oops.  Still, I was on vacation… 😉  My flight left Nagoya at 9am, and I arrived in Sapporo around 11am.  It was very exciting to fly, actually, and it made it feel even more like a real vacation!  Finding my way from New Chitose Airport to Sapporo city was really easy, and before I knew it I was walking out of the South Exit of Sapporo station, and feeling tiny flakes of snow landing on my face for the first time in a long time!  I was so amazed by the sheer quantity of snow, and have to admit that it was a little daunting at first!  I didn’t pack very lightly (because I wanted to have lots of clothes to stay warm!) and I had to drag my suitcase across thick ice on my way to find the hotel.  Naturally, I got a little lost trying to find it, and walked (slid…) round the block a few times before I finally found my hotel.  I stayed at the Toyoku Inn Sapporo Eki Minami Guchi (i.e. Toyoko Inn Sapporo Station South Exit).  It was a simple business hotel, but not bad at all.  They served a Japanese style breakfast in the lobby (onigiri (rice balls), miso soup, tea, coffee, etc.) and they even showed some selected movies for free.  I was very happy to find that they were showing Sex and the City, and I have to admit I did crash out and watch it with a can of Sapporo beer on my first night, as I was totally exhausted!

After getting my bearings and leaving my bags at the hotel, I started off on my first adventure.  I wanted to go to Shiroi Koibito ParkIshiya‘s chocolate factory where they make Hokkaido’s famous Shiroi Koibito chocolates.  The factory is located at the end of one of Sapporo’s three subway lines, at a stop called Miyanosawa.  I got a little lost coming out of the station, partly due to the heavy snow that was falling which made it hard to see and walk, but eventually I saw the wonderful sight of the chocolate factory looming before me!

The factory was fun, and it only cost 600 Yen to get in.  They had a display of old chocolate packaging and tins, a display of hundreds of hot chocolate cups and tea cups, and even a display of old toys.  Also, you could see the production line and watch the famous Shiroi Koibito chocolates actually being made.

The smell was amazing! 😀

I stopped by one of the two cafes inside the museum and had the most gorgeous Baileys hot chocolate and a cake.  The taste of the hot chocolate was really divine!!

Also, naturally, there was a big ‘omiyage’ (gift/souvenir) shop, where you could buy all of the chocolates.  There were many to choose from and I wanted to try everything!

If anyone was thinking of going to Sapporo for a few days I would recommend visiting this chocolate factory.  I read somewhere that it was like the ‘Disneyland of Hokkaido’… well, I don’t quite agree with that, but it was fun, quaint, and the chocolate is great.

Day Two: Monday February 9th

I woke up fairly early on my second day, so I decided to do a little exploring before meeting my friend.  First I checked out the Clock Tower (one of Sapporo’s most famous sights):

Actually, I only knew to look for the Clock Tower because of one of the textbooks I use at school.  There’s a conversation in the textbook where one of the characters has just been to Sapporo, and his friend asks “Did you take a picture of the Clock Tower?” and he replies “Yeah, how did you know?”, and his friend says “Everybody always takes that same picture”.  Well, me too!  haha.

After the Clock Tower, I checked out some of the Snow Festival.  This was the 60th Sapporo Snow Festival. It was nice to be able to go on a special anniversary year. As I saw the sculptures, the staff of the festival were busily preparing for another day, cleaning the sculptures etc.

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I first heard of the Sapporo Snow Festival a few years ago, when my friend Ed went to it.  He took these amazing photos of what appeared to be a field full of snowmen.  That image has stuck in my mind ever since, and fortunately he gave me a tip before I went on my trip.  There are three main areas to the festival, and the snowman part is in the kids part.  So, after meeting Ken at the station, we set off on the bus to the Tsu-Dome Site of the Snow Festival.

There were some amazing things to see there, including a giant Ponyo sculpture:

And the adorable festival characters!

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I chased them around for a bit but couldn’t seem to get them to pose for a photo fr me, as they were being attacked from all angles by kids and mums!

Finally we spotted the ‘build your own snowman’ area.  I have to say though, my first reaction was one of sadness.  It was more of a graveyard of snowmen than a field of them!

It was a really sunny day and they were all melting into each other!

Anyway, the ones at the front were fresher, and they seemed to be surviving alright…

I love the one with the real face and the shirt and tie!  Apparently the guy who made him skipped work to go to the festival!  It’s an awesome snowman though!

Of course, Ken and I had to have a go…

Ours are the two at the front.  Mine is the one with the haiku round his next, of course!  😉

So, are you wondering why they all look so similar?  Well, when you go along to make the snowman, you are given two small silver bowls and two large silver bowls.  Then, you have to pack the snow into the bowls, and bash it together, to make two spheres.  It’s very clever.  They also give you the wooden face parts, which you bash in whilst the snow is in the bowl. Of course you don’t have to make them this way, and some people have clearly been more creative, but I have to admit I actually had some help from one of the staff with mine!  It was pretty hard work bashing the tins to make the snowballs!

Here you can sort of see what I mean…

Anyway, it was excellent fun and I think if there hadn’t have been so much to see and do I would have happily sat there all day bashing tins and making snowmen!  If I ever go to the Snow Festival again I will definitely go to this part first!

We had lunch in a gorgeous sushi restaurant (Sakana Isshin) which was also a complete bargain!

The seafood in Sapporo is amazing. The sushi tasted so fresh and delicious.

That afternoon, we wandered around the Susukino Site, which was mostly ice sculptures.  Susukino is the downtown (and slightly dodgy) area of Sapporo, and I don’t think I would have wanted to be there at night on my own.  It was ok in the afternoon though.  Some of the ice sculptures were really amazing (and, some were melting, actually!!).

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After being impressed by the ice sculptures in Susukino, we walked back to the Odori Site (the main site) to see some of the snow sculptures by night.  Quite magically, it actually started snowing again as were were walking around the snow sculptures…

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We also decided to go up the TV Tower.  Actually, Sapporo is a lot like Nagoya, in that it has an Odori Park and a TV Tower.  The layout seemed very similar to me! The queue for the TV Tower was really long, and it took us about 40 mins or so to actually get to the top of the tower, but I think it was worth it for the view.

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The food and omiyage (gifts/souvenirs) in Hokkaido are really amazing.  One thing I purchased (with utter delight!) on day two was Royce’s famous chocolate covered potato chips (or crisps, to those of us from England!).  They are soooooooo delicious!

Day Three: Tuesday February 10th

We began day three with a trip to Otaru, a nearby port city.  Otaru is famous for orgel (or, music boxes) and glassware.  We decided to get off the train at JR Minami Otaru Station, rather than the main Otaru station, and then walked up through the city back to the main station.  I think this was a wise decision, as the best of the city was certainly at the end we started at.  Around the main station area it was just like any other city, really, but at the JR Minami end it was much more interesting and small town-like.

The whole place was thick with snow, and I don’t think I have ever seen so many snowmen just freely standing about the streets!  It was quite lovely.

I noticed that many of the snowmen had PET bottle lids for buttons, eyes or noses, which I thought was very cute.

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As we reached Marchen Square the snow was coming down quite heavily.

So we decided to spend a while looking around the Otaru Music Box Museum.  There were some really amazing and unique music boxes (or, ‘orgels’ in the museum (or, more accurately, ‘shop’).  Even some music boxes shaped like sushi!  Some of the music boxes were very expensive though, and I couldn’t help wondering who would actually buy them!  They also had smaller, touristy ones, such as heart shaped key-chains which played popular Japanese pop songs!

Outside the museum was a steam clock, which was pretty cool.

Otaru has a big canal running through it, and this is probably the main tourist attraction.  Around the time of the Snow Festival in Sapporo, there is also a nighttime canal illumination in Otaru.  We didn’t actually stay for the illumination, but we walked along the canal and saw them setting up.  I imagine it would have been quite beautiful.

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The harbour area of Otaru was really beautiful, too:

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Otaru was a really lovely city to visit.  It’s not the kind of place I would want to live (I imagine it would be very inconvenient in the winter!) but it made a lovely day trip.  And one thing that made it even more wonderful was the amazing view on the train journey between Sapporo and Otaru.  The train track went right along the coast…

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When we had returned to Sapporo, we decided to check out Hokkaido University and visit the statue of Mr. Clark (William S. Clark was the first vice president of Sapporo Agricultural College – now Hokkaido University).  Clark is famous for saying, in 1877, “Boys, be ambitious”.  This phrase is now on his statue, and on many pieces of Sapporo merchandise (including Hello Kitty and Spiderman toys!).  There are a couple of statues of him, I think, but we saw the bust, which is on the main campus near Sapporo station.

The university grounds were really impressive, and it was very pleasant to just wander around, especially with everything looking so picturesque and covered in snow!

I was quite desperate to run out into the thick, white, pure snow and build a giant snowman, but I didn’t really fancy the idea of being escorted off campus for bad behaviour, so I thought I had better not… 😉

Later that evening, we saw a little more of the Snow Festival…

…and then had an amazing dinner at a soup curry restaurant called Ouchi (which means ‘house’ in Japanese).

The restaurant was quite small, and a little kooky (which I like).  Most notably, there were a lot of ET toys and statues around the restaurant!  The food was really delicious and I would highly recommend the restaurant to anyone planning to go to Sapporo!  I wish I could go there every week!!  おいしかった!!

Today’s omiyage?  Well, in Otaru we visited the famous store Rokkatei, home of chocolate covered freeze-dried strawberries.  Yum.  Actually, I love all of the Rokktei stuff I tried.  The butter-sand cookies were also amazing!

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Day Four: Wednesday February 11th

The final day began with a trip to Nijo Fish Market.  I was very impressed by the crabs there, although the market itself was quite small.  It was cool to see so many crabs though, some of which were still alive and moving about!

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Finally, before heading back to the airport, we took in the view from the JR Tower (38th floor):

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To be honest, I’m never quite sure how to finish a blog like this.  “And then we went home.  The end.” – but that’s such a rubbish way to end an adventure.  When people have asked me “How was Hokkaido?”, the one word I have found myself saying again and again is ‘awesome’.

‘awesome’: inspiring awe

‘awe’: an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.

So there you have it.  Awesome.  The end.

P.S. Please check out this link of you want to see the full collection of photos.  Also, there were (of course!) many new and exciting Kit Kats to be discovered in Hokkaido!  So don’t forget to check out my Kit Kat page too!

3 thoughts on “Four days in Hokkaido: snowmen, and sushi, and orgel, oh my!

  1. I love your trip, oh goodness this looks like Europe, not Japan- It reminds me of xmas all over again. So glad you had a wonderful time!

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  2. Hi there, i chanced upon your blog while researching Hokkaido’s trip. Would you kindly please let me know which area did you bought the other flavors like Corn, Jacket Potato, etc Kit Kats in Sapporo please?

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