STUNNING HOKKAIDO: Experiencing the Best of Winter in Niseko, Sapporo, Sounkyo, Biei, & Lake Shikotsu

Stunning is the perfect word to describe all the things that we experienced during our #Hokkaido2018 trip as it qualifies for all of the word’s textbook definitions. To be extremely impressed and completely astonished or dumbfounded was mostly the reactions we had throughout the whole trip.

We would be stunned by how amazing it was to be in the midst of winter wonderlands.

We were surprised at how something so simple in a destination can feel so grand.

Every experience was such a blessing that there’s no better word to describe it than simply stunning.

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Winter Illumination at Lake Shikotsu

If you’re interested to be stunned (both literally & figuratively as you’ll just stop and stare most of the time) and experience the most stunning travel moments, check out our recent trip to Hokkaido!

HOKKAIDO TRAVEL & BUDGET GUIDE

Here is the 6 day schedule during our whole stay in Hokkaido:

DAY 1

DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6

Jetstar Flight to Hokkaido (via Tokyo)

KKday Wing Taxi Hokkaido Ltd Private Van to Niseko

Hirafu Intersection – Seicomart

Niseko Central’s Yama Shizen

 

Niseko Central’s Yama Shizen

Breakfast at Mūsu, Odin Place

Pastry Take-out from Koko, Odin Place

Snowmobiling at White Isle Niseko  

Snow Tubing at Hanazono Niseko Tube Park

Late Lunch at Hanazono 308

Grand Hirafu Mountain Resort & Gondola

Dinner at The Alpinist, Odin Place ⋆ 

Drinks at Mūsu, Odin Place

Ki Niseko ⋆ 

Breakfast Buffet at An Dining, Ki Niseko ⋆ 

Ki Niseko ⋆ 

KKday Hokkaido Resort Liner Public Ski Bus to Sapporo

Odori Park & Sapporo TV Tower

Nijo Fish Market (Donburi Chaya)

Soseigawa Park

Susukino Ramen Alley (Ganso Sapporo Ramen Street)

Unwind Hotel & Bar Ignis Sapporo

 

 

Breakfast at Unwind Hotel 

Japanican Tour Day 1

Sapporo Station

Sunagawa Service Area

Asahimaya Zoo

Hokkaido Ice Pavilion

Sounkyo Kankou Hotel

Sounkyo Ice Festival

 

 

 

 

Japanican Tour Day 2

Sounkyo Kankou Hotel

Biei Snow Fields ⋆ 

Ken & Mary Tree ⋆ 

Hokusei-no-Oka Observatory Park ⋆ 

Lunch – Herb Hill Furano ⋆ 

Best Hokkaido Ice Cream Ever! ⋆ 

Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival ⋆ 

Sapporo Station

Sapporo Ramen Republic

Hotel MyStays Sapporo Aspen

Hotel MyStays Sapporo Aspen

New Chitose Airport ⋆ 

Jetstar Flight to Manila (via Tokyo)

 Super Favorites!

CAUTION: This article is long as I summarized our whole #Hokkaido2018 winter trip in one write-up. Use the table (schedule) above as reference for the order of travel experiences shared. I wrote this travel narrative chronologically to how we experienced them so it’s like I brought you with us! If you’re looking for details on a specific destination or activity, just CTRL+F! I hope you enjoy our travel experiences and photos. 

FOR FOREIGN READERS: I used a bit of Filipino words in this write-up because I like providing emotional reactions in my own language. Please note that there are no English translations for these words.

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Ken & Mary Tree Area at Biei Snow Fields

 

Tourist Visa

All Philippine passport holders require a visa to enter Japan. In my case, I didn’t need to apply for a tourist visa for this #Hokkaido2018 trip as I was granted a multiple entry visa before my Tokyo trip last Jan 2016. My visa, along with the rest of my family, is valid until Nov 2020.

Back in 2015 during my first visa application, my sister and I were granted a single entry visa. During our next application when we included our mom and other sister, we were all granted multiple entry visas.

On both applications, we submitted all our requirements at Reli Tours, SM Megamall. We paid ₱950 each per visa application and received our approved visas a few days to a week after.

For more information on Japan visa application requirements, check out this GUIDE from the embassy.

FAQs:

  • Did we submit COEs & ITRs? Yes, we did!
  • Can you apply for a multiple entry visa at once? For first time applicants, I think single entry will be granted initially. For the next application, I found out that most of the time applicants will be granted multiple entry status. In the case of my sister (the one who I didn’t apply with during the first time), she was granted a multiple entry visa at once on her first application when we applied as a family.
  • How much was indicated in our bank statements? Around ₱50,000 to ₱250,000
  • How long did the application process take? When my sister and I applied the first time, it took us around 10 minutes. When we applied as a family, it took a bit longer, around 45 minutes or so.
  • Did Reli Tour representatives ask us any questions? Nope. They just looked and organized our documents in front of us.
  • How did we pick-up our passports with visas? We had an authorized representative pick them up.

 

Flights to/from Hokkaido

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If you’ve been following my Japan travel articles for a while now, you’d know that 5 out of my 6 (including this #Hokkaido2018 trip) trips to Japan were flown with Jetstar. 

In summary, here are the details of all my Jetstar flights so far:

Flight Route

Month & Year of Travel Roundtrip Flight Rate

Manila – Osaka – Manila

June 2015

₱7,723

Manila – Nagoya – Manila

April 2016

₱5,840

Manila – Nagoya – Hokkaido – Manila

Dec 2016

Sponsored

Manila – Nagoya – Manila

April 2017

Sponsored

Manila – Tokyo – Hokkaido – Manila

Jan – Feb 2018

Sponsored

Click the links for a detailed write-up of each flight route. 

NOTE: As of June 2018, there are still no direct flights from the Philippines to Hokkaido from any commercial airline. 

UPDATE (July 6, 2018): Philippine Airlines will fly non-stop flights from Manila to Sapporo (Chitose) starting September 10, 2018. 

Jetstar offers the best rates to Japan and most convenient connecting flights in one booking. To reach Hokkaido from the Philippines (Manila/Clark), you can transit in Osaka, Tokyo, or Nagoya.

At Kansai (Osaka), Narita (Tokyo), or Chubu (Nagoya), Jetstar’s airport hubs can fly you to any destination in Japan like Hokkaido, Okinawa, Fukuoka, and many more.

It’s really overwhelming sometimes when I visit Jetstar’s website and find that there are so many more routes to be explored in Japan. There are more travel experiences to be grateful for and shared.

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As you can see from the table, during our recent #Hokkaido2018 trip, I took a different flight route. Instead of a Nagoya transit, we flew in through Tokyo.

Was there a difference? The Manila to Nagoya route has less flight time by I think 30 minutes or so compared to a Tokyo route. But having flown through Nagoya quite a few times already, transiting through Tokyo was a welcome change. I think I’ve already familiarized myself all too well with the Nagoya Chubu airport by that point so having a new airport terminal to experience was refreshing.

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The flight from Manila to Tokyo took around 4.5 hours and then our transit at Narita was around 2-3 hours so we had breakfast there.

The succeeding flight from Tokyo to Hokkaido took another 2 hours but this felt like a breeze because if you’re seated by a window, the view occupies you. During winter season, the scenery is spectacular! Most of the land area was covered in snow so it seemed like it meshed with the clouds making me feel like I was flying through outer space.

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For the return flights, our Hokkaido to Tokyo route was delayed for around 4 to 5 hours because a storm hit Tokyo. We were happy with the change because we were able to spend more time at the New Chitose Airport. Even with the delay, we were able to catch our connecting flight from Tokyo to Manila as it also rescheduled to an hour later departure.

Overall, the flights were smooth and convenient. I’m still crazy hoping for a direct flight from Manila to Hokkaido someday because it really is a worthwhile winter destination!

If you’re interested in taking this flight route with Jetstar especially during winter season, here are some things that you should be aware of:

  • Sale fares to Hokkaido can cost at least ₱7,500+ and on average ₱11,000+ per way but if you’re lucky enough to catch a break on the lowest of the low fares, you can purchase a one way flight to Hokkaido for only ₱5,000+.
  • Jetstar is very strict with the 7kg carry-on weight requirement. Let’s not plead for any allowances because Jetstar is keen on details. If you want allowances, avail check-in baggage. Please also note that when boarding flights from Tokyo to Manila, Jetstar announces that tourists should only carry 2 pieces of carry-on bags including shopping bags bought from Duty Free.

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  • When transiting through Tokyo, make sure that you have extra jackets or pants in your carry-on as you’ll be walking through open walkways and jet bridges to the domestic departure gates. The weather adjustment will really hit you there so it’s definitely better if you’re prepared.
  • During winter season, expect delays. On both my trips to Hokkaido, I experienced delayed flights from Hokkaido to Nagoya/Tokyo. My best advice for circumstances like these is to get the first or second earliest flight to the transit city and get the latest flight back to Manila from there.
  • If you have leftover JPY coins and want to spend them, buy Jetstar merchandise or snacks from the in-flight menu. Purchase the ILOHAS WATER with the green leaf design. It is the best water in the world for me! It’s ¥250!
  • While booking your flight and don’t know what meals you want to eat yet, purchase travel vouchers so you can decide what to choose on the flight itself. ¥500 or ¥1000 vouchers are available for add-on purchases.
  • If you want more legroom, I suggest availing fire exit seats for the longer flight from Manila. For the Tokyo to Hokkaido flight, although it was a bit cramped, the flight felt like a breeze. Request for a window seat so you don’t miss out on amazing views on both flights (city – Hokkaido and vice versa).

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For a more detailed write-up or review of this Manila – Tokyo – Hokkaido – Tokyo – Manila Jetstar flight, read Fly Jetstar to Hokkaido & Experience these Stunning Winter Destinations!

Summer is about to end in the Philippines and in a few months, WINTER IS COMING! So if you’re looking for flights to Hokkaido for winter season 2018-2019, you should definitely check out Jetstar’s connecting flights.

Book your flights today at www.jetstar.com! #Jetstar2Hokkaido

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Experiencing the Best of Winter in Hokkaido

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My mom Yoga-posing at the Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival

After our #Hokkaido2018 trip, I realized that my trip last 2016 was just barely scratching the surface of what Hokkaido can offer in winter. Back then, I traveled during early winter (December) and it was a bit different compared to visiting during Hokkaido’s peak season (January – February). There’s more snow, more activities, and more people!

For my #Hokkaido2016 trip, read An Early Winter Experience in Japan: Exploring Niseko, Sapporo, & Otaru

During our recent trip, we went back to my favorite Niseko, a pass through in Sapporo, and new winter destinations through a stunning tour of the eastern and coldest parts of Hokkaido.

NISEKO

Stunning Hokkaido Best of Winter Niseko Sapporo Sounkyo Biei Lake Shikotsu (90)

Pond Area at White Isle Niseko

Niseko is a destination that has the allure of the west while still maintaining Japanese sophistication and discipline. It has become a place that I’ve come to love very much. 

Growing up in a tropical country while being brainwashed by Hollywood movies with winter themes definitely made snow and winter experiences a yearning. Visiting and experiencing Niseko made up for all of that! It was a SNOW ALL YOU CAN FEST! My world was suddenly painted with white and ice.

If I had the chance to choose a destination for a winter vacation home, it would definitely be Niseko! I feel that it is a winter wonderland that I will always come back to.

Check out these travel guides based on my Niseko travel experiences on TripZilla:

Too busy to read our whole experience, check out this quick Niseko travel guide

DAY 1

PRIVATE VAN TO NISEKO VIA KKDAY

KKDay to Niseko (3)

From the New Chitose airport, we rode a private van to Niseko booked via KKday. At the domestic arrival area, we instantly saw our driver holding up my name. He led us to our van which was parked outside at the other end of the airport’s parking lot. It was quite an uncomfortable walk especially since we were still adjusting to the weather in Hokkaido.

The ride’s route was very scenic so I really tried not to doze off. The winter wonderland outside the moving van shouldn’t be missed!

The quality of the van can be likened to colorum units in the Philippines. It’s very basic. Throughout the ride, it got very cold as there was no heater operating despite asking the driver to turn it on. Our assigned driver wasn’t fluent in English and could only understand a few words so there was a bit of discomfort in understanding each other.

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After 3 hours with no stopover, we finally reached our destination. I couldn’t fathom how incredible it was that we were finally there. It was very overwhelming!

VAN VERDICT: The driver asked for extra fees (for parking, highway, etc) and didn’t provide us with change. He just took our full bill without even attempting to provide the change. On the plus side, the driver did show us a photo of our accommodation at the beginning of our trip for assurance and said thank you at the end of the transfer. I also liked that the driver was punctual at the arrival area of the airport. Overall, the ride was smooth despite the occasional freezing moments inside the van. 

Here are the rates for a private van booked via KKday:

Hokkaido Charter Service (operated by Hokkaido Wing & Taxi Ltd – Japan Holiday Travel)

Rate (per van)

Sapporo – New Chitose Airport vv (vice versa)

₱9,600+

Sapporo/New Chitose Airport – Niseko, Lake Toya, Noboribetsu vv

₱10,680+

8 hour charter sightseeing (anywhere in Hokkaido)

₱10,680+

Do I recommend this private van transfer? YES & NO!

If it would be the same driver and the van would still have no heater, I would not recommend this service to travelers of 5 or less.

After browsing through a few chartered van services in Japan, this private van booked via KKday is one of the most cost-efficient options of traveling around Hokkaido or transferring to Sapporo/Niseko from the airport if you’re traveling in a group of 6 or more.

Imagine only paying ₱1,200+ (group of 9) for a 3 hour transfer to a Hokkaido destination or an 8 hour private van sightseeing tour as compared to paying around ₱1,900+ for a public bus per person. In Japan where transportation is one of the most expensive items in a budget, this is an affordable option.

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I’ve already shared my sentiments on our transfer experience with KKday and they assured me that they would communicate with their Japanese counterparts to address these problems. If driver quality and service would improve and address the problems we experienced (freezing van, long walk to parking area, not providing change, language barrier, etc), then I’d definitely recommend this van transfer.

You can book your private Hokkaido van transfers via KKdayFor a more detailed write-up or review of this private van transfer to Niseko, read Book your Niseko (Hokkaido) Transfers with KKday!

NISEKO CENTRAL (YAMA SHIZEN) 

For our first accommodation in Niseko, we stayed at Niseko Central (NC)’s Yama Shizen.

NC is the largest accommodation provider in Niseko with centrally located rooms and homes in Hirafu, the largest village in Niseko.

Upon our arrival from the airport, we found ourselves in the middle of two buildings surrounded by glorious pristine snow. The flakes kept falling as if it were confetti proclaiming our arrival.

Getting out of our van, we rushed inside Yama Shizen West’s lobby area.

Luxury Stays HTM Niseko (5)

Our assigned NC staff, Jen, then led us to our room. Check-in happens inside the room as there’s no formal check-in reception area. It was a very personal experience with Jen. She explained all the things that we needed to know while we quietly marveled at the cozy room that we currently resided in.

When Jen left, the main thing that we loved and noticed about our room first was the view and balcony covered with piles of snow. I felt like a 5 year old kid again whose winter dreams were coming true right before my eyes. I couldn’t get enough of it! I just had to wear the in-room slippers and get out there! It was pouring heavily and the cold was unbearable but I didn’t care (for like 5 seconds! HAHAHA) because it was mesmerizing!

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At first glance, our room at NC’s Yama Shizen looked like a mini apartment. There were 2 comfortable beds, a TV, Sofa, Coffee table, mini Kitchen area with complete amenities, a clean bathroom, recycling drawers, lockers, and even a holding room where shoes and winter equipment are placed. The bathroom doesn’t have a complete toiletries set-up but stores were just a few minutes walk away so what was needed can be purchased conveniently.

The room can get pretty cold at night especially if the window blinds are up as the windows are not that airtight so make sure to request for an extra portable heater.

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Do I recommend staying at Niseko Central’s Yama Shizen? YES! I recommend Yama Shizen for long term stays in Niseko. It’s a luxury accommodation with a home-y vibe that doesn’t make you miss home too much.

Sale/Early Winter rates for Niseko Central’s Yama Shizen rooms start at ₱8,500 per night and requires a 3-night minimum stay.

For a more detailed write-up or review of our stay at Niseko Central’s Yama Shizen, read Luxury Stays in Niseko: Yama Shizen (Niseko Central) & Ki Niseko

For more information, visit www.nisekocentral.com or inquire at stay@nisekocentral.com

HIRAFU INTERSECTION & SEICOMART TAKE-OUT

After checking-in at Yama Shizen and resting a bit, we started to prepare for our first planned destination in Niseko, Milk Kobo.

Since it was our first afternoon in Niseko, we wanted to wear as much layers as we could so we can adjust easier to the cold weather outside. Watching our balcony, the snow wasn’t letting up!

Jen informed us that it has been snowing constantly in Niseko for the past weeks. YAY, right? Uhhh…Noooooo…

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Once we were outside our accommodation, OHHHH WHOAAAA BRRRRR NNNNNNNNN, it was so cold! It felt like we entered Narnia? HAHAHAHA!

It was very cold! I SWEAR! The Uniqlo Heattechs we bought were #OOTDFAIL! ANG LAMIG GUYS! SOBRA!

I didn’t wear my sunglasses at first so when snow flakes went into my eyes, it stung! So if your eyes are sensitive, make sure you wear sunglasses during your first day in Niseko!

You should also pad more layers to parts of your body that gets cold easily like hands or feet or face. We felt like we were in costumes wearing a beanie + neck warmer + scarf + sunglasses + 3 tops + 2 pants + 3 socks + boots + gloves! Kahit ganyan na suot namin, MALAMIG PA DIN! SOBRA! 

Stunning Hokkaido Best of Winter Niseko Sapporo Sounkyo Biei Lake Shikotsu (81)

We walked for around 2 to 3 minutes down from Yama Shizen to reach the Hirafu Intersection bus stop. This is the main area where almost all shuttle transfers and local buses stop.

Our first walk outside Niseko was overwhelmingly a mixed feeling. We were laughing off the freezing cold and we couldn’t take out our iPhones or my camera from our bags to take photos. It was a struggle to open the zippers of our bags. GRABE! SOBRANG LAMIG TALAGA that it was very hard to function! HAHAHAHAHA!

Prior to the trip, I planned out the bus that we will be taking to Milk Kobo. We were supposed to wait for the Niseko United Bus at a specific time. But by the time we arrived, our bus wasn’t there during the schedule we picked.

It was really cold at that stop. We were Brrrr-ing mostly while waiting. All the shuttles and buses that passed weren’t our designated bus to Milk Kobo. After 20 minutes and still no bus, we decided to just purchase food from the Seicomart convenience store nearby and eat it back at Yama Shizen.

We couldn’t take the cold any longer! It was a bummer too because I really wanted to taste the desserts at Milk Kobo. If we took a taxi, it would cost us around ₱1,500 per way and that was just too much compared to paying around ₱240+ for the bus per way. Oh well, maybe next time? 

The Seicomart was just a few seconds away from the bus stop and OMG SUCH A RELIEF after that 20 minute or so wait at the Hirafu Intersection bus stop.

My mom and I went crazy inside the store and bought sushi boxes, onigiris, beer, ILOHAS water, and other snacks.

Food selection at Seicomart Hirafu convenience store

Food Selection at Hirafu’s Seicomart

After cashing out and heating ourselves for a bit inside the convenience store, we braved the snowy Hirafu wonderland again. We walked back the way we came and we noticed a few food vans along the way. 

Food Vans in Hirafu Town

Outside Yama Shizen, there was a pile of snow that we wanted to take photos on. The snow was kind of growing on me but my mom was fully chilled and wanted to go inside so taking photos had to be a snap.

My mom and I settled in for the night in our room, ate our Seicomart food haul on the table by the snowy window, and just bonded.

The view from our room was alluring and such a wintry blessing. It was a good first day and night in Niseko.

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Food Haul from Hirafu’s Seicomart

DAY 2

I woke up earlier than my mom the next day to slide the curtains up for her so that when she woke up she’d see the amazing view of white outside.

I’ve learned to be grateful for simple things such as views because of my mom. Whenever she would be in the midst of a nice scenery, she’d always act like it was the greatest blessing of all and that trait caught on to me. When I lifted the curtains, I was literally stunned that we were there. We woke up to something like THAT! It was an amazing way to wake up!

BREAKFAST AT MŪSU, ODIN PLACE NISEKO

Musu Koko Alpinist Odin Place Niseko (15)

For breakfast, we had a very indulgent meal at Odin Place, Niseko’s trendiest complex in the heart of Hirafu. It is a 5 minute walk from Yama Shizen. The establishment houses the following:

1st floor

Burton (Snowboard Gear Brand)

Explore Niseko (Activity Booking Center)

2nd floor

Koko Bakery & Coffee

Mūsu Apres-Ski Bar & Bistro

Zaka (Luxury Alpine Apparel)

Moncler (Italian Apparel and Lifestyle Brand)

3rd floor

Niseko Tap Room (Craft Beer & Rotisserie)

The Alpinist

Sushi Wakatake

Nisade (Niseko Alpine Developments)

Mūsu is a bistro by day and après-ski bar at night. The restaurant provides the best comfort food that will sustain you all throughout your winter’s day and a hip happening place to unwind after that said day.

Musu Koko Alpinist Odin Place Niseko (11)

My mom and I sat by the breakfast bar and had one of the best hot chocolates and Eggs Benedict we’ve ever had.

More than the quality of Mūsu’s breakfast meals, everything was much better because of the view outside. The hoopla of cars with frozen caps, winter sports enthusiasts lugging around their equipment, and snowflakes that kept pouring down was the perfect view for the perfect breakfast on our first morning in Niseko.

Musu Koko Alpinist Odin Place Niseko (13)

After breakfast, Odin Living’s manager, Jean, treated us to a few pastries from the bakery across from Mūsu, Koko.

Koko is a take-out café and bakery where you’ll smell the most tempting aromas of sweet and freshly baked goodies! If you’re looking for snacks to savor while resting during your skiing or snowboarding on the hills, this is the place to go to.

For a detailed write-up or review of our breakfast & pastry take-out experience at Mūsu & Koko, read A Taste of Mūsu, Koko, & the Alpinist at Odin Place Niseko

For more information on Mūsu Bistro and Koko Café & Bakery, visit www.odin-living.com or inquire at reservations@odin-living.com

SNOWMOBILING AT WHITE ISLE NISEKO

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After an indulgent breakfast at Odin Place, we were all set to start our winter activities for the day! Since I already tried snowboarding back in 2016, I decided to experience a few winter activities that do not require lessons or winter gear rentals. 

After checking-out at Yama Shizen, we were picked up by White Isle Niseko’s van for our snowmobiling tour. From Hirafu, it took us around 15 minutes to get to White Isle. It consisted of a few zigzag roads to get there but a ton of scenic snow and trees.

Stunning Hokkaido Best of Winter Niseko Sapporo Sounkyo Biei Lake Shikotsu (79)

White Isle has the largest snow field area for snowmobiling in Niseko. Once we arrived, this was the first thing we noticed – a vast field covered in snow and a blurry horizon because of the constant winter fall. It was another SNOW-ALL-YOU-CAN buffet for us!

After staring for a few seconds at the vast field, our tour guide Chiba asked us to enter White Isle’s reception area. There, you’ll find lots of winter wear and gear for rent. This is also where they handed waiver and liability release forms to sign.

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The staff asked us if we needed to rent waterproof pants or other wear but we declined. After that, they assessed our helmet sizes and made sure it fitted us well. There’s no locker at the reception area so you’ll be bringing all your stuff with you during the snowmobile ride so make sure to bring a waterproof bag.

We first went to the practice area where Chiba taught us how to maneuver our snowmobiles. It was really easy going around in circles at the area. The main thing to control is the handles and there was no need for any foot work while using the snowmobiles.

After practicing and driving around in circles, Chiba taught us some signals to do while we’re out snowmobiling in White Isle. He introduced hand gestures like waving, halt hand, and many more.

I requested to be seated behind Chiba during the whole tour so I could take photos easier while my mom rode her own snowmobile behind us.

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WOW! SNOWMOBILING WAS THE BEST WINTER ACTIVITY DURING OUR STAY IN NISEKO!

White Isle’s vast space was so beautiful. It was like we were riding through a winter dream or paradise. We passed through large snowfields, winter trees, and just magnanimous piles of snow! And mind you, it was constantly snowing heavily during the whole ride. The whole experience was so awe-inspiring that it was hard to take in. SUPER STUNNED!

It does get very cold at times. My mom told me that her hands were freezing (naninigas na!) but she didn’t care because she was having so much fun.

WATERPROOF WEAR IS A MUST! I was wearing semi-waterproof pants and halfway through the ride, I could feel the cold wetness seeping in so make sure to wear a lot of layers!

Since it was constantly snowing, a lot of flakes get in your face through the ride. Just like when you’re riding a bike and you’re going against the wind but instead of wind you get cold wet powder so make sure you’re wearing goggles, sunglasses, or clamp down the visor of your helmet through it all. It does get foggy but you have to endure it a bit because the weather makes the face too cold.

Stunning Hokkaido Best of Winter Niseko Sapporo Sounkyo Biei Lake Shikotsu (80)

Halfway through the ride, we stopped at a hill overlooking a vast snowfield again with views of trees and mountains. Here, Chiba gave us unlimited hot chocolate!

OMG! RELIEF! OMG! PINAKAMASARAP NA HOT CHOCOLATE EVER! Not only did it taste good but it helped ease the freezing weather and was heightened by the amazing view.

The snow looked so soft that my mom just started to lie down and make snow angels! HAHAHAHAHA! It was a really funny moment.

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After around 10 minutes of just staring and drinking hot chocolate, we rode again and stopped through a forest with a pond.

This was a photo-op stop. We plowed ourselves through snow and took photos near a river. The snow was so gorgeous! We got to sit on it, be surrounded by it, and feel it! It was such a #KIDDREAM come true! I loved this stop!

Chiba was smiling all throughout because we were having the time of our lives! Mom and I threw snow at each other and the snow looked and felt like fine diamond dust in our hands.

AGAIN, IT WAS VERY COLD THERE BUT WE DIDN’T CARE! SOBRANG GANDA PARA MALAMIGAN! PROMISE!

Stunning Hokkaido Best of Winter Niseko Sapporo Sounkyo Biei Lake Shikotsu (87)

After a few photos and enjoying the snow for a bit, Chiba gestured us to return to the snowmobiles. We then made our way back to White Isle’s reception area. We freshened up inside and rested for a few minutes.

Chiba asked us where he’ll drop us off and we told him to bring us to Hanazono 308.

Do I recommend this snowmobile tour? YES! YES! A THOUSAND TIMES YES! If you’ll visit Niseko, MAKE SURE THAT YOU DO THIS ACTIVITY! I swear that you’ll have the time of your lives!

Here are the rates:

White Isle Niseko Course

Rate per person

Forest Course (30 minutes)

₱3,400+

Large Snowfield (60 minutes)

₱7,400+

Super View (90 minutes)

₱8,800+

Please note that we experienced the Large Snowfield 60 minute course. All courses include FREE pick-up and drop-off anywhere in Niseko.

For more information on snowmobiling at White Isle Niseko, visit www.niseko-weiss.co.jp/isle/isletop-e.html or inquire at booking@snowmobilepark.jp 

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SNOW TUBING AT HANAZONO 308

If you grew up watching a lot of Hollywood films with winter themes like me, you’d know these references. Remember when teens or kids in movies would travel to Vail, Aspen, or Lake Tahoe and have winter breaks in a lodge or something? I feel that Hanazono 308 epitomizes all those kinds of scenes.

When we were dropped off by Chiba at Hanazono 308, the atmosphere was bustling! We didn’t feel like we were in Japan. I felt like I was in a lodge film scene where all the cool college kids were having their winter breaks at. A lot of Australians and Europeans were hanging out there.

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Hanazono is an entertainment winter resort where you can do any winter activity you can probably think of. Hanazono 308 is like the main lodge in every winter vacation story. It has all the retail shops, restaurants, and winter activity tickets & equipment that you’ll need for your whole trip.

It was really crowded there. And the bathroom STUNK! OMG! This is the first Japanese bathroom I’ve said of this. Since most of the tourists crowd there, it takes a toll in the restrooms.

There’s a reception area where you can avail the winter activities that you want and locker storage for you to place your valuables in.

Outside, it was still snowing heavily but we didn’t mind. It was time for our second winter activity of the day!

After getting our Snow Tubing tickets at the activities reception, we placed all our valuables inside the rental lockers. I only had my camera with me.

I asked the Hanazono staff if we needed to rent any winter wear for Snow Tubing and she said that what we were wearing was fine. Just layers of winter wear and boots.

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Exiting the Hanazono 308 lodge, there was so much activity. People were walking from different directions.

The view was a bit hazy because of the continuous snowfall and there were just piles and piles of snow. Tourists were mostly skiing and snowboarding.

A further walk down, we found the Snow Tubing area. There were no other tourists for this activity, JUST US! We handed our tickets to the stand-by staff and he just told us to pick any salbabida to use.

Snow Tubing is basically sitting on a big salbabida and sliding down a hill. At Hanazono, there are 2 courses – straight and curvy! After each slide, you go up the hill via a conveyor belt which is also used by skiers and snowboarders on the other side of the area.

The belt was really a relief factor because it gets really cold and being led by a belt inside a tunnel upward calms and heats us up. The conveyor belt takes around 2 to 3 minutes to reach the top.

Hanazono Tube Park from the top of the starting point of the slides

Once at the top, you just place the salbabida by the edge and sit on it. A bit of movement and you’re off sliding down! It was such a smooth ride with hint of swirls in the middle! With the heavy downpour and the slide, it was a fun snow activity. I prefer the curvy slope while my mom liked the straight one as she said it was less scary and slower.

We spent around 45 minutes sliding and conveyor belting up. After that, my mom was starting to get really cold. We didn’t finish the hour because it was freezing. 

From afar, we could see kids warming up and getting ready for their ski lessons while their parents were off to their ski routines on the adult slopes. It was really fun seeing these families try out different snow activities.

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After putting back the salbabidas, we headed back to the lodge. At the entrance, we noticed that tourists were getting rid of snow on their clothes by using a thin air sprayer. My mom and I had fun using this! It was like getting rid of soap bubbles around our body using an air spray!

Once inside, we collected our things and ordered a meal at the food court. It was really packed as people were resting from their winter activities. The ramen my mom ordered was good but it took a while for us to eat it because the line was really long.

After that, we just took in the view outside and the lively atmosphere around. It definitely felt like a college winter break! HAHAHA!

Going back to Hirafu, we took one of the free shuttles that was waiting outside Hanazono 308. It gets a bit cramped as people bring in their winter equipment. We disembarked at a stop nearest to Hirafu Intersection so we can get into a Ki Shuttle to our second accommodation, Ki Niseko.

Snow Tubing at the Hanazono Tube Park is one of the most affordable activities you can try while you’re in Niseko. It costs ₱1,220+ per person per hour.

For more information on snow tubing at Hanazono, visit hanazononiseko.com/en/winter/activities/tube-park or inquire at info@harmonyresorts.com

My mom snow tubing at Hanazono

GONDOLA & SNOW WALKING AT GRAND HIRAFU

From Hanazono 308, we took one of the free shuttles to a bus stop in Hirafu that is near the main Intersection stop. From there, we waited for a free Ki Niseko shuttle.

After checking-in and resting for a few minutes, we headed out to the Gondola as we planned to watch the sunset from the Grand Hirafu mountain resort.

This sunset viewing did not happen as our first 2 days in Niseko had continuous and heavy snowfall all day and all night so the skies and views were hazy.

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View of Mt Yotei from Hirafu Gondola (Photo from #Hokkaido2016 Trip)

Compared to my experience back in 2016, the Grand Hirafu mountain resort was busier during our recent trip. There were more tourists and the lines at the gondola were longer.

Going up the mountain, we didn’t have a private gondola as a snowboarder entered our pod with us instead of taking the next unit.

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It was around 5 PM when we went up the mountain. It was freezing! The gondola windows were blurred because of the fog and the feeling throughout the ride was icy. The temperature worsened once we reached the top.

It was so damn cold but still mesmerizing! The forest path and our feet pushing down the snow up to the middle of our legs was a struggle but worth it.

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We planned to stay inside the mountain café to watch the view but once we arrived, it was already closed. Please note that the café closes at 3 PM.

Since it was colder than we expected, we just took photos and walked for around 20 minutes. We heated up inside the café’s reception area as this was still opened so tourists could use the bathroom.

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Even though we felt like we were inside a freezer, the view was very peaceful.

Although the cold stunned us, the beauty of it all stunned us more.

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I’ve experienced night & day at the Grand Hirafu mountain resort (one with less snow, higher sign, more sun, a breathtaking view of Mt Yotei, and a steaming hot café to rest in + one with more snow, no sun, fogs and clouds all around, no Mt Yotei, a lower sign, and a closed café). 

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View of Mt Yotei from the Grand Hirafu Mountain Resort (Photo from #Hokkaido2016 Trip)

If you want the challenge of freezing weather with a hint of a Game of Thrones like winter woody scenery experience, visit from late afternoon to night. But if you’re one for the view, visit on a sunny midday.

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Riding the Gondola and Snow Walking at Grand Hirafu mountain resort is the most affordable winter activity you can try while you’re in Niseko.

A roundtrip gondola ride costs ₱879+ and walking up there is FREE.

For more information on the Grand Hirafu Gondola and Mountain Resort, visit www.grand-hirafu.jp/winter/en

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KI NISEKO!

After all our winter activities for the day, it was a relief to settle down and spend a few hours at our accommodation, Ki Niseko.

If you’ve been reading my articles and social media posts for a while now, you would know that I am in love with Ki Niseko.

2016 Stay: SERIES: Travel Gratefully with Ki Niseko

This hotel is the best hotel I have ever stayed at in my entire life so far. It screams of luxury with the silence of Japanese discipline everyone admires.

Ki Niseko also has the best people which makes an already luxurious experience the best and most unforgettable one.

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When I stayed in Ki Niseko back in 2016, all I wanted to do was my bring my mom there and make her experience and feel all the luxurious things I did. And it came true! Our dream stay came true!

I was able to let my mom experience Ki Niseko’s treat of luxury. My mom couldn’t stop saying, “Ang ganda!” all throughout. There, she was stunned. And that’s all I wanted, to see her THAT happy and grateful. Ki Niseko made that happen for us.

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Ki Niseko is a ski-in and ski-out boutique hotel. It is the #1 hotel in Hokkaido on Trip Advisor according to Traveler’s rank. A 5 star rating may be the best normal rating, but for us, Ki Niseko deserves 100 stars!

My mom and I stayed in a 1 bedroom condo.

Everything was so pristine and the smooth woody interiors heightened that. We had luscious twin beds, a full kitchen counter, a sofa set, and a dining area. The bathroom was well-equipped with high-end toiletries, a sink, a Toto toilet, and a bath tub. The room also came with a washing machine placed inside one of the cabinets.

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We stayed in the room for a few hours to rest.  Just like at Niseko Central’s Yama Shizen, one of our most favorite features of the room was the window view. Our 1 bedroom condo had a resort view.

So what we saw was like a winter screen saver on a laptop, frost covered trees and window panes. It was like staring into a beautiful aquarium of snowflakes and more. I even joked that we were watching a live film set of Game of Thrones, waiting for Jon Snow to be chased by White Walkers through the trees.

Our window view was dazzling!

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After a few hours of rest, we went out for dinner & drinks.

DINNER AT THE ALPINIST, ODIN PLACE NISEKO

During winter, Ki Niseko provides free shuttles to designated stops around Grand Hirafu. This is very convenient because the stops are convenience stores, rental retail shops, restaurants, a main bus stop, and even Kutchan town. From any of these stops, you can go to other destinations around Niseko (if any) more conveniently. The Ki Niseko free shuttle runs every 15 minutes.

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We alighted near Rhythm Japan because this is the closest stop to Odin Place (this is where we had breakfast earlier!).

At around 7 PM, the sidewalk was pretty crowded as winter sports enthusiasts were all coming down from the mountain from a day of skiing & snowboarding. Some were returning their gears, some were walking to the bus stops, and some were entering Odin Place’s Mūsu.

From breakfast to that night, the dramatic change was evident. Mūsu wasn’t a bistro anymore. It was an après-ski bar. There were a lot of tourists enjoying and having drinks.

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We went up to the 3rd floor and made our way to The Alpinist. Across from it, Niseko’s Tap Room was full of people cheering and clinking their beer mugs. It was a fun atmosphere.

The opposite could be said for The Alpinist, an Alpine-themed cuisine restaurant. The chalet inspired interiors gives off the feeling that you’re eating at a fine dining restaurant in Switzerland. It was a perfect setting that complimented the snow fall outside.

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My mom and I ordered a Raclette set for 2, La Banane Caramello (Banana Caramel Crepe), and La Crème Bruelle (Creme Brulee). For drinks, my mom ordered white wine while I settled for a steaming glass of hot chocolate (the same one I ordered and loved during breakfast).

Just like breakfast, everything was very indulgent. The setting also made it perfect! All the ingredients were of quality and to die for. It was such a #YOLOeats experience!

We were so full after. It was such a beautiful food fall.

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If you’re looking for a restaurant in Niseko, this place is the best restaurant to eat during your last night. It caps the whole destination so well.

After dinner, we met up with Odin Living’s manager, Jean, again to thank him for another gastronomic food experience. Even though we were satisfied and full, he insisted we try a few drinks at Mūsu.

DRINKS AT MŪSU, ODIN PLACE NISEKO

Entering Mūsu at night, you’ll immediately feel the party bar vibes. You’ll find the atmosphere enjoying and quite calming like it’s the perfect place to unwind.

Jean introduced us to his professional bartenders who entertained and treated us with a quick drink exhibition show. The result of this was my mom’s drink, Pachinko Punch, while I had a Lollipop Softail. Jean recommended this for me since I said that I didn’t drink alcohol.

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With our tummies full and satisfied, we just enjoyed our drinks while standing by the breakfast bar looking out the window. We watched as the snow fall while downing our drinks.

The songs played were enticing to dance to and the atmosphere of it all was a great way to cap the night off. My mom and I cheered to a full day and stared at the view again more gratefully for all the blessings we have experienced for the day.

Odin Place, from breakfast to dinner and drinks, is definitely your go-to hipster complex.

For a detailed write-up or review of our dinner experience at The Alpinist & night cap at Mūsu, read A Taste of Mūsu, Koko, & the Alpinist at Odin Place Niseko

For more information on Mūsu apres-Ski Bar and The Alpinist, visit www.odin-living.com or inquire at reservations@odin-living.com

MORE OF KI NISEKO!

FINALLY, all our planned activities were done! We will finally turn in for the night at our amazing accommodation.

At the lobby, the staff greeted us with a big smile and asked us how our night was. The people at Ki Niseko are the greatest. They make sure that what you invest is returned tenfold in your experience.

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After showering, I immediately tucked myself in the most luscious bed I have ever laid on in my entire life while my mom chose to sit by the sofa and stare at the view for a while.

From the enclosed glassed bedroom, I laid down on my left and stared at our live winter screen saver. I closed the lights and just drifted off but not without a last peek of beautiful snow fall.

DAY 3

When I woke up, I felt very well rested. I didn’t want to leave my bed. I just wanted to stay under those covers the whole day.

While struggling to get up, I noticed that my mom wasn’t beside me. Instead she was on the sofa sleeping. She took her pillows and comforter from the bedroom and slept there. I asked her why she transferred and she told me that the view was calling out to her to sleep there. HAHAHAHA!

My mom really loved the view of our room.

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To her, it was simply magical. She slept comfortably because she cushioned the sofa with the thick comforter so it was still a good alternative. The view meant more to her than the bed.

Ki Niseko Resort View – 1, Ki Niseko Bed – 0 HAHAHAHAHAHA!

BREAKFAST AT AN DINING, KI NISEKO

Aside from the Ki Niseko rooms, one of the experiences I was most excited for my mom to try is the breakfast buffet at Ki Niseko.

Back in 2016, that was one of the best breakfast buffets I’ve ever had in my life so far.

During our recent experience, An Dining was divided into two – guests who wanted to have the breakfast buffet and those who just wanted to have coffee and tea. I wanted to sit by the window just like last 2016 but the staff informed me since it was peak season and Ki Niseko was fully booked that only rooms with 4 or more guests were seated by the window. 

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The breakfast spread was pretty much the same but the quality was still top notch. I also requested for their fresh wasabi because THAT WAS THE BEST WASABI EVER! Store bought wasabi back home doesn’t compare to fresh wasabi in Japan, I SWEAR! It’s not spicy and you endure the zing because it heightens the flavor of the food. 

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When I told my mom to try the bread with the Hokkaido butter first, her reaction was just “WOW”. That’s what she kept saying! Again, BEST BUTTER IN THE WORLD! I loved seeing my mom enjoy those little luxuries. It made me happy to make her feel that way.

After our rewarding breakfast experience at An Dining, we immediately returned to our room and fixed our stuff. We had an hour to spare and we just chose to hang–out by the sofa and stare out at the view. 

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After checking-out, our Ki Niseko transfer to the Hirafu Welcome Center was all set. It was such a sad moment saying goodbye to Ki Niseko for the second time but I’ll always carry with me all the best experiences I’ve had at this unforgettable accommodation.

Do I recommend staying at Ki Niseko? YES! YES! YES! A thousand times YES! Staying at Ki Niseko is an investment especially during winter time so book your rooms months in advance especially when they advertise early bird winter deals.

Sale prices per night start at ₱9,000+ while average prices during winter start at ₱49,700+. If you’re lucky and chance upon promos during closing months (March to April), you can snag a room for at least ₱4,500 per night!

For a more detailed write-up or review of our stay at Ki Niseko, read Luxury Stays in Niseko: Yama Shizen (Niseko Central) & Ki Niseko

For more information, visit www.kiniseko.com or inquire at stay@kiniseko.com

PUBLIC BUS TO SAPPORO VIA KKDAY

Back in 2016, Hokkaido Resort Liner’s Public/Ski bus was the mode of transportation I took from New Chitose Airport and to Sapporo. This is the most affordable and convenient option to take to Niseko if you’re travelling alone or with a few people.

After the Ki Niseko shuttle dropped us off at the Hirafu Welcome Center, we went inside and easily found Hokkaido Resort Liner (HRL)’s staff. They just asked for our names, checked their list, and told us to wait.

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After a few minutes, the HRL staff called for us and led us to our bus. We asked him what order was our designated hotel stop in Sapporo (Sapporo Excel Hotel Tokyu Hotel) and he said it was the first stop.

The bus driver took our bags and we went inside the very well heated bus. It was clean and spacious. The seats aren’t reserved so you can sit wherever you want. At the back of the bus, there are a few rows with bigger leg rooms so check that out if that is what you prefer.

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At Niseko, the bus was only occupied by 6 riders. There were more passengers when we stopped at the Rusutsu Ski Resort. After 30 minutes, we stopped for a break. I didn’t go down but my mom did and she said that the bathroom was dirty.

The bus ride was smooth overall and the views were spectacular. Don’t sleep and just marvel at the views! Super worth it!

When we reached the first designated hotel stop, the bus driver alighted immediately. My mom and I gathered our things and disembarked a few seconds later. Right then and there, the driver had already taken out our luggage. This was really efficient! Even though there were quite a number of passengers, he remembered our luggage. He didn’t even stop to look at who would alight at that specific stop when we halted.

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The HRL ski bus tickets are available for purchase online on their official website and KKday. The rate is almost the same when booking on both platforms but when KKday has promo discounts or sales, ski bus tickets are slightly cheaper when booking via KKday.

Here are the ski bus options and rates that you can book from KKday:

Hokkaido Resort Liner Bus Routes

Rate (per person)

New Chitose Airport to Niseko or vice versa [vv] 

₱1,893

Sapporo to Niseko or vv 

₱1,893

New Chitose Airport to Niseko and vv with cable car tickets

₱3,592

Sapporo to Niseko and vv with cable car tickets

₱3,592

Sapporo to Niseko to New Chitose Airport or vv with cable car tickets

₱3,871

Do I recommend taking the Hokkaido Resort Liner (HRL) Ski Bus to/from Niseko? YES! If you’re a solo traveler or traveling with a few people, this bus is the most economical option to take when visiting Niseko.

You can book your HRL public ski buses via KKday

For a more detailed write-up or review of this public bus transfer to Sapporo, read Book your Niseko (Hokkaido) Transfers with KKday!

NISEKO TRAVEL TIPS

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  • Use free shuttles to travel in and around Niseko (ex: Hanazono & Grand Hirafu shuttles, Ki shuttle). Use the Niseko Tourism app for live tracking of shuttles & buses.
  • If you’ll be skiing or snowboarding for consecutive days, use of Niseko United Bus is free when you purchase a Niseko United all mountain pass.
  • Book your hotel rooms 6 months in advance for more affordable rates.
  • Purchase transfers and winter activities on KKday.
  • If you’re staying at a qualifying hotel (Ki Niseko, Niseko Central, etc), use the Experience Niseko Passport to avail discounts from establishments in and around Niseko (even Hokkaido).
  • Purchase winter wear or souvenirs in Sapporo or at the airport, everything is more expensive in Niseko.
  • A lot of winter deals pop-up during mid-March to April when winter season is coming to a close.
  • Don’t know where to eat? Browse this Wine & Dine Guide
  • Planning your Niseko trip? Use these online platforms as references – Niseko Tourism Experience Niseko

 

SAPPORO

UNWIND HOTEL

If you’re looking for an accommodation in Sapporo that is a shy away from the hustle and bustle of the city but not too far to access it, Unwind Hotel is worth looking into.

I refer to it as the Cabin in the City because of its chalet inspired or woodsy interiors. It’s a warm and cozy hotel that’s very inviting. It’s not like most hotels in Japan where space is limited. It has that western feel to it but still have a few features of mainstream Japanese accommodations.

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Once the HRL bus from Niseko drove away, we immediately saw a big sign inviting us to UNWIND.

If you plan on visiting Niseko, Unwind Hotel is a very convenient accommodation to stay in as one of HRL’s bus stops to & from Niseko is just across the road.

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Check-in was very interactive and comfortable. We were given a welcome drink while the assistant manager, Kevin, explained to us all the things we needed to know about Unwind Hotel.

The homey vibe and interior of the lobby was so relaxing. It was just the start of our experience there and we were already unwinding!

My mom and I stayed in a family suite. Once we entered, I felt like I came back from a day of hunting because of how the interiors really resembled a cabin in the woods. The overall feel of it was really cozy!

The room consists of a mini kitchen bar, toilet room, shower room, hanger aisle, and the bedroom which is separated by a divider. The bedroom has 2 semi-double beds, a double deck bed, sofa set, mobile phone, TV, and lamps. The room also comes with special toiletries made for Unwind Hotel that is available for purchase at the reception’s gift display.

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After settling down for a bit, we met up with Kevin back at the lobby a half hour later so he could tour us around the hotel.

At the lobby, you’ll find the reception area, gift shop, a public bathroom, and a simple fire place. You can also find decorative wood pieces that capture the hotel’s concept.

After that, we went to the top floor to see the hotel’s Bar Ignis and the outside deck which was covered in snow. During non-winter season, the deck has a fire place and seats around so guests can drink wine, watch the burning fire, listen to music, and just relax outdoors. When I first google-d Unwind Hotel in Sapporo, the rooftop really drew me in. In wintertime, it is covered in illuminating lights so it is still a nice sight from inside the bar.

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After the tour, my mom and I left for our quick Sapporo itinerary that afternoon. The Nakajima Park station was just a 5 minute walk away from the hotel.

From Nakajima Park station, we disembarked at Odori station.

ODORI PARK & SAPPORO TV TOWER

My mom and I were in Hokkaido a week before the Sapporo Snow Festival started. The goal of this trip was to share other winter travel experiences that can be done in Hokkaido.

The Sapporo Snow Festival draws in millions of tourists annually and that can get very overwhelming for some – crowded flights, fully booked and overpriced accommodations, long lines, and many more.

I’m not saying that the Sapporo Snow Festival isn’t worth it but I wanted to search for other winter attractions that are just as worthy to experience as the popular festival that isn’t during the peak week.

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From Odori station exit 9 or 10 (I think? There were so many exits! I forgot! Sorry!), we immediately saw construction for the snow festival at Odori Park. Most of the park was covered in steel walls blocking any sight of any sculptures being made. All we saw were contraptions that were in lengthy heights.

My mom’s badminton group visited Hokkaido the week after us to experience the Sapporo Snow Festival. The group was kind enough to let me share photos of the snow structures that they saw.

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Snow Sculpture at Odori Park, Sapporo Snow Festival 2018 (Photo from Valle Verde Country Club MWF Badminton Group)

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Minions Snow Sculpture at the Tsu Dome Site, Sapporo Snow Festival 2018 (Photo from Valle Verde Country Club MWF Badminton Group)

Walking towards the Sapporo TV Tower, we found a lot of food stalls and an ice skating rink where a lot of kids were playing.

NIJO FISH MARKET

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Around a 5 minute walk from the Sapporo TV Tower, we made our way to the Nijo Fish Market. The market is a mini version of the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.

There, you’ll find fruits, raw seafood, packed dried fishes, vegetables, snacks, and many more.

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This is a very tourist-y market. Some stall owners prohibit people from taking photos unless you purchase from them.

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We went to the inner parts of the market to eat at Donburi Chaya. My mom and I ordered a sashimi bowl, beef bowl, and grilled scallops.

OMG! The grilled scallops were so soft and tasted so good! This was our favorite dish from all the things that we ordered.

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SOSEIGAWA PARK

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Sapporo isn’t as snowy as Niseko given that it’s a city and automatic trucks immediately remove any snowfall blocking roads and sidewalks but my mom and I noticed that snow wasn’t cleared at Soseigawa Park.

Walking to/from Nijo Fish Market, you’ll immediately notice that in the middle of the road lies a long park lined with trees and a river.

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Instead of the sidewalk, we walked through this park because of the snow. The benches were almost gone because of the snow dump.

It was really nice to walk here.

Sitting on the benches was fun too! My mom loved it! 

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RAMEN ALLEY SUSUKINO

Even though we were still full from our “snack” at Nijo Fish Market, our next stop was Susukino’s Ramen Alley. We took a subway from Odori and alighted at Susukino. It’s just one station away.

You can actually walk to this alley from the market but we weren’t sure of the directions so we used the subway instead. 

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Take Exit 3 at Susukino station and walk either to your left or right. Turn at the next corner and turn again at the first corner after that, you’ll immediately see the big yellow sign in the middle of the alleyway.

My mom and I ate at Ichikura.

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This was a recommendation from my mom’s chef friend, Mr. Sandy Daza. The chef at Ichikura immediately took a liking to us when we said we were from the Philippines. He said that a lot of Filipinos ate there. He even said a few words in Filipino like Salamat and Mabuhay.

Ichikura has around 8-9 seats and is only managed by 1 person, the chef. He cooks, cleans, takes orders, accepts payments, etc.

We each ordered a ramen bowl. 

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The ramen was tasteful. All the ingredients complimented each other well and the smoky after taste was absolutely divine. The noodles were yummy too. It was an explosion of flavors in our mouth.

Even though we were still full from our “snack” at Nijo Fish Market, we slurped our ramen until no other ingredient was left. 

For a bowl of ramen at Ichikura, prices start at ¥800 (₱381+).

UNWIND HOTEL & BAR IGNIS

One subway station ride away, we made our way back to Unwind Hotel just in time for the free wine service at Bar Ignis that starts at 5 PM daily. This is for checked-in guests only.

Bar Ignis officially opens at 7 PM for all.

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When we arrived at the bar, there were quite a number of people there already. Some were chatting, a couple was reading, and a few kids were looking at the view outside. 

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My mom opted for the red wine while I requested for a soft drink. Kevin said that soft drinks and juices were free too just in case guests do not drink wine.

I chose coke in a wine glass. HAHAHAHA! It still seemed like I was drinking wine.

It was really nice and cozy settling down at Bar Ignis during the free service. My mom and I talked while staring out at the view. It was a very peaceful atmosphere.

There was a fireplace, furry rugs, and decorations that scream cozy cabin.

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My mom had a few glasses while I just had the one. After thanking Kevin for everything, we went back to our room to turn in for the night.

The Lavender spray inside the bedroom was so relaxing! It made the already cozy feel cozier! I know I’m saying cozy a lot but it’s true. There’s no other word to describe the experience.

DAY 4

BREAKFAST BASKET AT UNWIND HOTEL

My mom and I had to wake up early to be on time for a group tour. Unwind Hotel doesn’t offer breakfast buffets but every stay comes with an in-room breakfast basket.

Every morning, a basket will be placed outside your room. In our instance, we requested for it earlier so we can eat breakfast and pack our stuff simultaneously.

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The breakfast was good and simple. The basket included 2 canisters of soup, juice boxes, bread, coffee, and tea. It was really convenient to eat breakfast without having to shower, change clothes, or go to a designated restaurant. No hassles!

We had a nice and quick breakfast inside our cozy room.

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Sale prices start at ₱8,200+ while average prices during winter season start at ₱12,000+ per night for a Family/Friend Suite.

For a detailed write-up or review of our stay at Unwind Hotel, read A Cozy Stay at Unwind Hotel & Bar in Sapporo

For more information on Unwind Hotel & Bar, visit www.hotel-unwind.com/en or inquire at customer@hotel-unwind.com

JAPANICAN TOUR

(Two Day Stunning Tour to Two Ice Festivals – Sounkyo & Lake Shikotsu and Biei Snow Fields with English Speaking Interpreter, Roundtrip from Sapporo Review & Write-up) 

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Japanican Tour Bus Outside Sunagawa Service Area

Prior to my trip back in 2016, the only knowledge I had on anything Hokkaido! was that, 

  • it was the snowiest region of Japan,
  • it celebrates the famous Sapporo Snow Festival annually,
  • and French Baker’s super yummy Hokkaido cakes (I’m not sure if they still sell this! I do remember having this snack for the last time back in 2012 and still vividly recall how good it tasted).

So when I finally visited for the first time last Dec 2016, I was elated!

There was so much more to Hokkaido than all those things. I had the chance to experience Niseko and now, it is one of my favorite places in Japan – a destination that I always want to go back to now during winter.

Even though there was no Sapporo Snow Festival, I had the chance to experience unbearable cold in Otaru and its best cheesecakes, Sapporo’s mini Tsukiji Fish Market, the Odori Park winter illumination, and many more!

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Winter Illumination at Odori Park (Photo from #Hokkaido2016 Trip)

Right then and there, I was hooked. And I knew that there was still MORE to Hokkaido than what I knew and already experienced!

So the next year when another opportunity was provided, I decided to set out and find more travel experiences in Hokkaido that was just as worthy as the Sapporo Snow Festival. Don’t get me wrong, I am not hating on the snow festival. I still wish to experience it someday but just like with my experience with Niseko, I want to discover and experience more places!

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The Ice Throne at the Sounkyo Ice Festival

After a lot of research, I was set on experiencing other winter festivals specifically the ice festivals at Lake Shikotsu and Sounkyo. After seeing photos of the Biei Fields in winter, I was completely enamored by it so I included it as well.

I also found a lot of articles including a visit to the Asahimaya Zoo and its famous penguin walk parade. My kid self remembered the Penguin scenes in Madagascar so this was added too.

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Penguins at Asahimaya Zoo

I found the perfect tour that included all of these destinations but upon checking the price that it would cost around ₱10,000 per person, I decided to look into doing a DIY tour.

But after much thought, research, and weighing the pros & cons, I decided that the most economical thing to do was avail the tour from Japanican. We also got to save a little on the tour because we booked it 2 months in advance and an early bird discount of 10% off was applied.

We didn’t have to book separate tickets for all the activities and transportation. We had a guide to learn from plus most of the food we ate was already taken care of. Convenience and quality of the tour justifies the price.

Here is a comparison of the Japanican Tour VS a DIY tour of the preferred sites I indicated above. Rates indicated are for 1 person only. 

JAPANICAN ARRANGED TOUR (₱9,838+)

DIY TOUR (₱13,931+)

Tour amount: ¥22,000 to ¥28,000 (₱10,400+ to ₱13,250+) per person depending on date of tour

Paid amount (includes 10% early bird discount): ₱9,338 per person

Tour Date: Jan 31, 2018 to Feb 1, 2018

Inclusions:

  • Tour Bus/Driver
  • Tour Guide
  • Tour Hand-outs
  • Pick-up at JR Sapporo Station
  • Sunagawa Service Area Stopover
  • Asahimaya Zoo Fee
  • Lunch at Asahimaya Zoo – personal expense: ₱500+
  • Hokkaido Ice Pavilion Fee
  • 1 night accommodation at Sounkyo Kankou Hotel
  • Dinner at Sounkyo Kankou Hotel
  • Sounkyo Ice Festival Fee
  • Breakfast at Sounkyo Kankou Hotel
  • Biei Snow Fields Sightseeing Roads
  • Ken & Mary Tree Stop
  • Hokusei-no-Oka Observatory Park Stop
  • Lunch at Herb Hill Furano
  • Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival
  • Drop-off at JR Sapporo Station

 

Sapporo to Sounkyo Onsen Bus (One-way): ¥5,500 (₱2,600+)

Inclusions:

  • Tour Bus/Driver
  • Pick-up at designated Sapporo Hotel
  • Sunagawa Service Area Stopover
  • Lunch at Asahikawa Station – personal expense: ₱500+*
  • Asahimaya Zoo – personal expense for entrance fee: ¥800 (₱380+)*
  • Arrival at designated Sounkyo Hotel

Sounkyo Ice Festival – personal expenses for entrance fee: ¥300 (₱141+)*

Accommodation, Dinner, & Breakfast at Sounkyo Hotel – personal expense: ₱5,000+*

Sounkyo to Sapporo Onsen Bus (One-way): ¥5,500 (₱2,600+)

Inclusions:

  • Tour Bus/Driver
  • Pick-up at designated Sounkyo Hotel
  • Ginga & Ryusei Waterfalls
  • Asahimaya Zoo – personal expense for entrance fee: ¥800 (₱380+)*
  • Lunch at Furano Marche – personal expense for lunch: ₱1,000+*
  • Arrival at designated Sapporo Hotel

Sapporo to Lake Shikotsu Sightseeing Bus: ¥2,800 (₱1,330+)

Inclusions:

  • Tour Bus/Driver
  • Pick-up at designated Sapporo Hotel
  • Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival
  • Drop-off at designated Sapporo Hotel

*Estimated prices for items not included in sightseeing bus tour rates

Sightseeing bus tickets to/from Sapporo, Lake Shikotsu, & Sounkyo are available via Japanican, Klook, Hokkaido Resort Liner, Eastern Hokkaido Sightseeing Bus, & Chuo Bus.

Please note that sightseeing buses indicated are WINTER routes.

If you’re interested in this arranged tour, check the Japanican website from October to November as the links are not available right now (as of June 2018) because it’s not winter anymore or yet.

UPDATE (Aug 6, 2018): The Japanican link for this tour is available again. Visit this link – www.japanican.com/en/tour/detail/ECS2H00311HHS. Upon checking the tours for Jan & Feb 2019, I noticed that the price of the tour is more expensive. Please note that we were not sponsored by Japanican last Jan – Feb 2018. I think we had the chance to avail introductory prices. Try to wait for 10% to 20% off promos if you’re really interested in booking this tour!  

Please note that this tour is more expensive when you avail it during the week of the Sapporo Snow Festival. We took the tour when it started on its first week (a week before the festival) so it was cheaper. Again, we also booked early and got a 10% discount. Payment is via credit card only. You cannot pay during the day of the tour.

For more information on Japanican winter tours, visit www.japanican.com 

MEET-UP AT JR SAPPORO STATION

After checking-out at Unwind Hotel & Bar, we walked towards the Nakajima Park subway station. We walked to Exit 1 since we were carrying a big luggage and this exit has elevators.

We were at the subway around 7:30 AM and it was pretty packed so me and my mom had to squeeze ourselves in at 2 different subway doors. We alighted at Sapporo station and walked towards the North Exit.

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Our Tour Guide, Tomo, checking the Japanican guest list at the Kane-no-Hiroba Plaza & Bell

Right before the north exit doors, you’ll find yourself along an aisle or corridor. Walk towards the middle and look for the the Kane-no-Hiroba Plaza sign.

This is the meeting place or starting point of numerous tours because there were a lot of people crowding at this area. Your landmark should be the bell in the middle. We found the sign for our tour which was placed on a small table where our guide was waiting. She introduced herself as Tomo, checked her list, and told us to come back there at around 8:15 AM.

My mom and I bought snacks at the Mister Donut nearby! OMG! You have to buy donuts there when you visit Sapporo Station. It’s like eating pastries from Wildflour Bakery in Manila. SOBRANG SARAP TALAGA SA JAPAN! The quality was so good at a very affordable price.

When we went back to the meeting place, Tomo was already gesturing for all the guests on the tour to gather. She then led us to our bus at the parking. For our tour, there were only 10 guests so it was very spacious inside the tour bus.

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When the bus started moving, Tomo started to make her introductions. She also distributed travel pamphlets and information sheets.

I really liked Tomo because she made the tour a very detailed learning and efficient experience. She had visual aids and even question & answer portions with prizes. She was like a walking clock too! She would let us know how many minutes we had before reaching every specific destination. I felt like no time was wasted and Tomo made sure that our experiences were maximized. She was all smiles and very thoughtful too!

SUNAGAWA SERVICE AREA

It took around 2 hours before our first stop. It would have been shorter but we drove behind a truck around the time that it was spraying chemicals on the highway road for the purpose of melting the snow.

It was snowing heavily outside our bus. It was an amazing ride all throughout. MABUBUSOG KA TALAGA SA SNOW VIEWS SA BUONG TOUR!

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Our first stop was at the Sunagawa Service Area. This was a rest break or bathroom stop. The snow was really cold and powdery that we were quick to run inside the establishment.

The area was like a mini mall. What I liked about it was all the free taste samples available! OMG! If MABUBUSOG ka sa labas dahil sa snow, sa loob naman MABUBUSOG ka dahil sa FREE SAMPLES!

There were so many samples to try!

The staff kept on giving!

There was no limit!

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My favorite snack from Hokkaido – Sapporo Okaki Oh! Yakitokibi. It’s like eating my favorite childhood snack, Sweet Corn or Tomi, but with a very complimenting smoky flavor! Super addicting!

All the products there can be bought at the New Chitose Airport so you can sample products there and just buy what you want at the airport.

SOBRANG ADDICTING NUNG SAMPLE SNACKS! HAHAHAHA! It was actually a SNACK BREAK not a bathroom break! HAHAHAHA!

ASAHIMAYA ZOO

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I’ve been to quite a few zoos in different countries like

  • the Beijing Zoo where we saw the cutest pandas but tourists tend to push and shove,
  • the Manila Zoo where every Filipino student has probably had the chance of experiencing a field trip to once in his or her lifetime,
  • the Singapore Night Zoo which was such an enjoyable experience for me & my family,

but this time around, it was such a unique experience to explore a zoo with a lot of snow!

After around an hour or so from the Sunagawa Service Area, we finally arrived at the Asahimaya Zoo, one of the most famous attractions in Hokkaido.

Inside the bus, Tomo explained all the things that we needed to know about the zoo and that we had 3 hours to explore it.

From the entrance, all of the guests of the tour went on separate ways and explored the zoo according to preferences.

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It was blinding white at the zoo with continuous snowfall. It did get a bit cold but we were too enticed by the different displays of animals that we just shrugged off the weather for a while. 

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Some of the animals have underground enclosures where you can walk through to see the animals swimming from above. It was really cute to see the seals dancing around.

But for the Hippo section, due to the enclosure, it was a bit KULOB and smelly. I trust that the Japanese zoo staff takes care of all its animals because of their culture but yeah at the Hippo display, it really stunk!

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I found the giraffe to be so pretty! Because up close you can see its long lashes.

After some photo-ops and animal viewing, we settled down for lunch at one of the zoo’s restaurants. Lunch fee is not included in Japanican’s tour amount so you have to personally pay for it.

The restaurants are very crowded but ordering is easy. You just have to insert money in one of the vending machines, choose the meal or snack you want, and a receipt will come out. We gave the receipt to the cashier and waited for our number to be called. The prices of the menu range from ¥150 to ¥900.

The food was very tasty. We really liked the fries. It was so fresh and crispy! The restaurants are a good place to rest and heat up as well.

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The main event of the Asahimaya zoo is the Penguin parade walk which happens at 11:00 AM or 2:30 PM daily, weather permitting.

Tourists were lined up at the parade by 2 PM waiting for the penguin’s walk. Everyone had their cameras out and trying to find a good angle to take their photos.

This was a really cool feature because it reminds me of the penguins of Madasgacar where in they say, “Just smile and wave boys! Smile & wave!”. The parade completely felt like a live version of that which was really fun.

It was like a white carpet for penguin celebrities and we, the tourists, were paparazzi. The staff at the zoo makes sure that tourists do not cross the line as to not disturb the penguin’s route.

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What I find most funny was that 15 minutes before the parade, a lone penguin was already at the gate ready to walk. HAHAHAHA! A bit excited, much?

The parade was for both the guests and the penguins as it was considered as their exercise for the day.

In case you miss the parades, the penguins are still nice to look at in their section plus you wouldn’t be bothered by all the tourists crowding for a photo.

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After the parade, at around 2:45 PM, my mom and I started to walk back towards the entrance.

When entering the zoo, it’s downward hill walk with a lot of stairs, so going back it was a bit of a climb. But the snowy surroundings make the walk more fun and playful so that you don’t feel the effort too much.

While walking back up the stairs, catch your breath, and take the chance to look back and stare at the view, it’s very stunning!

We found Tomo waiting for us at the reception near the exit and pointed to us where the bus was parked.

HOKKAIDO ICE PAVILION

Kamikawa is the coldest region in Hokkaido. It holds the record for the lowest temperature ever felt in Japan. How many degrees? -41oC!

An hour away from the Asahimaya Zoo, we stopped by the Hokkaido Ice Pavilion. This is a very tourist-y establishment where you can actually feel the coldest temperature ever recorded for 10 seconds! Sounds scary, right?

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Tomo led us to a reception area where we were asked to be seated. A pair of giddy Japanese hosts welcomed us and asked us to color a few cartoon characters handed out on pieces of paper.

After coloring, a demonstration was made by a man wherein he heated our colored papers and all the colors disappeared. The hosts said that if we place the pieces of paper in a freezer or cold area, the colors would reappear. 

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My mom extremely covered inside the pavilion

After the presentation of Kamikawa facts, one of the hosts led us inside the ice pavilion where we were asked to wear in-house jackets and snow hats.

Walking through a path, we passed by ice sculptures and interiors until we reached the main room of the pavilion.

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There, tourists can take photos of the icy sculptures and even heat up inside heat rooms while waiting for others to finish experiencing the 10 second –41oC room. We were also informed that some tourists have taken their shirt off during the whole thing as a challenge.

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When it was my turn, I went inside a room that was illuminated by blue light. The host explained that when we were ready, we just press the red button. When I did, a blast of air just gushed on top of me for 10 seconds. It wasn’t scary at all! It just felt like I was being blown by a big hair dryer with really cold wind in an already cold place. That was it!

The hosts also handed us wet towels that when spiraled around inside the pavilion will freeze. We can attest to this! It was really cool that after 5 spins, the towel was like an ice stick.

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After returning the winter wear, we were offered complimentary hot tea at the souvenir shop. Tomo also led us to another retail shop full of Hokkaido souvenirs just like the ones at the Sunagawa Service Area.

What I love about this stop is the slide outside the pavilion! We were each asked to get a plastic board then led up the stairs to the top of the slide. The hosts instructed us to sit on the tray and form a line and hold each other. Once everyone was seated, the hosts pulled the first guests and everyone else followed suit and off we went! It was so much fun sliding while the snow was falling!

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The obstacle made it more exhilarating and fun too! I tried this once while the other tour guests along with my mom tried it 2 more times while I took photos of them. The hosts were really enthusiastic about this.

This was my favorite part at the Ice Pavilion! A MUST DO!

SOUNKYO KANKOU HOTEL

A 30 minute bus ride away from the Hokkaido Ice Pavilion, we finally arrived at the hotel we were settling in for the night.

At this point, we were a 5 to 6 hour bus ride away from Sapporo.

Inside the bus, Tomo explained to us all the things we needed to know about the hotel, our rooms, and the Sounkyo Ice Festival happening later that night. At the reception lobby of the hotel, we were just handed our keys and no check-in process was required.

Sounkyo Kankou Hotel was your typical tourist-y hotel where all the tour group buses stop over and stay for the night. Almost all the guests we saw were bundled in groups.

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The rooms provided were Japanese style. I was really excited for it because up until that point, I have never experienced sleeping in a Tatami even though I’ve been to Japan 5 times already. The doors were even designed as those Japanese sliding doors you would often see in Japanese movies.

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Once we entered our room, I noticed that we didn’t have any beds. I found out later on that with Tatami rooms, the beds are set up at night. But we did find the mattresses inside the closets when we were exploring the room.

Since we arrived at night, it was a bit dark and hazy outside so we didn’t get a clear scene of what the view was from our room. Amenities of the accommodation include a separate shower room, toilet room, and an adjacent sink outside. There was also a window bar with a heater built in, 2 chairs, and a table facing the view.

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After resting for a bit, we went down to the restaurant wherein Tomo advised us to go to at a certain time to avoid the influx of tourists during dinner.

The dining area was very crowded and bustling. It resembled a very noisy cafeteria. The food spread though was diverse, plenty, and really delicious.

The plates provided were like those canteen plates with dividers. We later realized that this was very efficient. Sounkyo Kankou Hotel houses thousands of guests per night due to tour buses. There are a lot of food selections and food waste is inevitable but by controlling the portions of what guests get by dividing the plate into 9 compartments, guests will be able to sample small portions of the food served.

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The food was a mix of western, Japanese, and Chinese. There was a Sukiyaki spread, soup bases, fresh ingredients for soups and salads, meats, seafood, and many more.

My mom took advantage of the unlimited lobster provided. She ate quite a few while I tried to taste most of the food on display in controlled portions (Thanks to the plates! Haha!).

Observing the tourists around, most were Asians specifically Japanese locals and Chinese. There weren’t any westerners in sight at the hotel.

SOUNKYO ICE FESTIVAL

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Sounkyo Ice Festival Photo Sheet from Japanican Tour

♫ I wish to go to the festival! ♫ (Into the Woods fan here! Hahaha!)

Around 8 PM, we headed towards the Sounkyo Ice Festival that was just a 5 minute walk away from the hotel. Tomo advised us to go around this time as there was a 10 minute fireworks display at 8:30 PM, weather permitting.

We really padded ourselves with layers because we were in the coldest region in Hokkaido and we were exploring it at night! 

While we were walking, the snow kept falling again. But it didn’t feel like flakes this time, it felt like rain.

Although the road to the festival from the hotel was icy, it wasn’t hard or slippery to walk on them.

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At the entrance, we gave the staff the ticket Tomo provided us earlier and he gave us a coupon for a hot drink.

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The lights were really nice and the ice structures were so intricate that I couldn’t help but be super impressed by the people who created this ice festival. The interiors of the ice sculptures were well defined and amazing!

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Even though it was cold while walking around the ice festival, once you enter the ice structures, it gets a little heated. I feel like heat was insulating a bit so it made the exploration of the festival at night more bearable.

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My mom had fun posing at different ice sculptures and structures while I had a good time taking photos of her.

Aside from the ice displays, there’s a café, bathroom, and even a snow tubing area.

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A lot of tourists were lining up to take a photo at this ice structure

If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, there are ice structures that you can climb up to and watch the view. My mom and I felt like we were a part of the brotherhood of the night’s watch guarding the wall from white walkers.

This festival encourages creativity with the ice structures which makes the destination a really fun experience.

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My mom on the Ice Throne! She is the Ice Queen!

At 8:30 PM, the fireworks started on time. Everyone inside the ice structures went out to view the 10 minute fireworks.

This was a really mesmerizing moment because along with the fireworks, the fall of what felt like rain resembled diamond dust in our midst.

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Do I recommend experiencing the Sounkyo Ice Festival? If you’ll be taking this tour with Japanican or exploring different parts of East Hokkaido like the Asahimaya Zoo and passing through Sonkyo, this is a worthy place to visit.

But if you’re thinking of JUST going to this one ice festival, I recommend that you visit the Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival instead which is just an hour away from Sapporo.

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The Sounkyo Ice Festival runs from late January to late March every year. Admission is ¥300 or ₱140+ and includes a ¥100 coupon for a hot drink.

MORE OF SOUNKYO KANKOU HOTEL!

Around 30 minutes after the fireworks and a lot of photo-ops, my mom and I started to walk back. She deviated to the convenience store while I headed straight for the hotel.

I was supposed to connect to the internet at the hotel’s lobby because there is no wi-fi inside the rooms but my phone died at the ice festival. My phone was 70% at the time it died. It couldn’t handle the cold outside!

Glad that WE did though! BARELY? HAHAHAHA!

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When my mom came back from the convenience store, we went up to our room together. Once we entered, our beds were already made! The mattresses and pillows were laid out and all of our stuff that we left in a mess earlier was organized as well.

DAY 5

I woke up feeling very relaxed! And greeting me a good morning! was an amazing sunny and snowy view outside our window. It was really hard to get up! I just wanted to sleep in my Tatami and stare at the view outside.

We woke a bit earlier than usual so we could eat breakfast earlier than most. The selection of breakfast was delicious and it was fun to eat on the sectioned plates again. HAHAHAHA! I was really into it!

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After packing and fixing all our things, my mom and I just spent our remaining time by the window maximizing the view we had.

It was really a beautiful morning view.

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We checked out at around 8 AM at the reception. We just returned our keys and everything was good. We waited at the lobby sofas for Tomo and the rest of our tour mates.

A lot of tour groups were also preparing to leave and going in the tour buses that were parked outside of the hotel.

Day 2 of our Japanican tour was my favorite! All the places we went to were amazing and all the scenery we passed by were mesmerizing & euphoric.

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Passing by so many beautiful views during the bus ride, I was left stunned in my seat.

I didn’t want to sleep at all for any of it!

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Even though the cold and long drives tempted sleep, I never gave in.

The views were just too astonishing to close my eyes.

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From the hotel, Tomo described all the views we passed by. There were gorges, frost covered forests, and perceptive shaped structures on the mountains.

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My mom and I just stared outside. SOBRANG GANDA TALAGA!

The scenery was an amazing lead up or introduction to the stunning…

…BIEI SNOW FIELDS

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Out of all the destinations in the Japanican Tour, the Biei Snow Fields was my ultimate favorite. You’d probably ask me, why the Biei Snow Fields? Hokkaido is a region full of snow fields! What makes it different?

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Do you know that feeling you get when you visit different beaches and we’re more drawn to those that have whiter sand and clearest waters? Well, that’s the feeling I have for the Biei Snow Fields.

It’s like the snow is fluffier, more luscious, whiter, has overwhelming vastness, and the skies have a lighter hue of blue which compliments the fields much better.

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When the bus was driving through the sightseeing road of the Biei Snow Fields, I felt like I was in marshmallow land. I just wanted the bus to stop, alight, and jump on them like big bouncy balls of cotton.

It looked that soft and enticing from the bus!

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When Tomo was directing us to look at a specific view, we kept transferring from the right to the left windows of the bus simultaneously because everything was superb and gorgeous!

My winter heart was so happy at that time that I felt teary eyed! 

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Our first stop was the Ken & Mary Tree. The winter-scape was exhilarating!

My mom, at every luscious snow she could get her hands or body on, was just bouncing around and making snow angels on her own.

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Our next stop was the Hokusei-no-Oka observatory. We were very lucky because at these  stops, we were the first and only ones there. When it was our time to leave, that’s when the buses with loads of tourists came.

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The observatory looked like an obelisk. The pyramid-like structure in winter was such a sight to behold.

The crunch of ice and powder snow beneath our boots was a playful moment and the view from the observatory was really cool.

Again, we were simply stunned!

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ANG GANDA NG LAHAT! IBA! NAKAKAIYAK TALAGA!

At the top, my mom and I just hugged each other while looking at the view. It was such a meaningful and grateful moment for us to be in the midst of something so spectacular!

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HERB HILL FURANO

I would compare Herb Hill Furano to the restaurant at Sounkyo Kankou Hotel but with much better interiors. This, too, is where all the tour groups stop for lunch.

We loved the food here! Everything was very delicious and they used the sectioned plates too! EH DI SOBRANG SAYA KO NANANAMAN! HAHAHA!

I couldn’t get enough of the pumpkin tempura! The pumpkin was so fresh and the fried batter was addicting. I LOVED THIS RESTAURANT! I would definitely go back to this place again. Maybe in spring when all the lavender flowers are in bloom?

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Furano is known for its fields of Lavender during spring and summer so the souvenir shops at Herb Hill Furano sold all things lavender!

I was mostly into the Lavender skin care products being displayed. There were a lot to try! It was really fun and satisfying to try the expensive samples!

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At the buffet, they also served Lavender Ice Cream. At first, it tasted like we were eating skin care or an oil from a spa but the dessert does grow on you. It turned out sweet and quite addicting that we did finish our cups.

If you’re visiting Furano, Herb Hill is a MUST-EAT place!

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It took around 3 hours to get to Lake Shikotsu. We had 2 bus stops for this. One in the middle of the 3 hour ride and another bathroom break when we were closer to the lake.

BEST HOKKAIDO ICE CREAM EVER!

After 1.5 hours from Herb Hill Furano, our bus stopped for a bathroom/rest break.

My mom and I decided to buy ice cream at the outlet nearby because Tomo, our tour guide, recommended it. We immediately found an ice cream shop and ordered the 2 flavor swirl. After tasting it, we thought it was just okay. After a few seconds, my mom noticed our other tour mates coming from around the corner holding different ice cream cones and cups. We then realized that we bought from the WRONG ice cream shop! GRRRRRR! Both cones even had the same price!

Just to be sure, we bought one from where our tour mates got theirs.

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BEST ICE CREAM EVER! (Left); Ice cream MISTAKE! (Right)

AND OH WOW! THAT WAS THE BEST ICE CREAM WE EVER TASTED! It didn’t compare to any of the other ice cream products we tried during our whole Hokkaido trip. If we could go back to that rest stop, WE WOULD! SOBRANG YUMMY OMG! When the cream hits your tongue and you get that first taste, it’s a splash of YUMMY-NESS! QUALITY luxury milk! #FOODGASM

NAKAKAIYAK SA SARAP! We never got to taste ice cream as good as that for the rest of our trip! HUHUHUHU! I wish we took note of the brand!

UPDATE (June 10, 2018): I checked our Hokkaido photos again and zoomed in on our images with the ice cream & YAY! I got to capture the brand. Barely! When in Hokkaido, find North Plain Farm Ice Cream 100% Pure Hokkaido Milk! Ice cream cone rates start at ¥300 (₱144).

On both my trips to Hokkaido, I’ve tried quite a few Hokkaido ice cream products and not one of them came close to the heavenly creaminess and sweetness of North Plain Farm’s! Not one! BEST ICE CREAM EVER!

Find it for me, please? And I’ll taste it vicariously through YOU! HAHAHA!

According to info online, NPF ice cream is only available in East Hokkaido (Asahikawa) areas. No references of availability at the New Chitose Airport or Sapporo.

I also searched North Plain Farm on the internet and found these: 

They also sell bread, cheese, yogurt, & milk! I WANT TO TRY THEM ALL! 

UPDATE (June 11, 2018): Since I want you guys to taste the BEST & top quality Hokkaido milk ice cream EVER! as well, I emailed North Plain Farm and asked for the specific locations the soft serve is available at in Japan.

Here’s the list: 

Enjoy! Want to try the best soft serve ever & other products from North Plain Farm? Check out this North Plain Farm Hokkaido Haul + Taste Test

LAKE SHIKOTSU ICE FESTIVAL

 

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Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival Photo Sheet from Japanican Tour

If the Biei Snow Fields was my ultimate favorite part of the Japanican tour, Lake Shikotsu is my second!

HAY! SOBRANG GANDA NANAMAN!

If you’re visiting Sapporo, LAKE SHIKOTSU SHOULD NEVER BE MISSED whether it’s winter or not!

LAKE SHIKOTSU IS YOUR BEST SUNSET DESTINATION! 

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If I were to describe this amazing destination, I would say that it’s a mix of Nami Island, Taal Lake, Mt Pinatubo Lake, and Lake Tahoe in one! But it’s definitely a unique destination on its own so make sure to visit so you can experience it yourself!

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From the parking lot, we walked around 5 minutes until we reached a pathway that resembles those of Korean TV scenes in autumn or something. It gives off that vibe.

Then suddenly, we were welcomed by a massive lake surrounded by mountains. It also has a dock and if you know me, I really love scenery with docks and bridges! Tomo informed us that we could enter the Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival anytime we wanted because it was free. She then left us to explore on our own.

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My mom and I decided to sit by the lake and docks first to watch the sunset which was imminent. OMG! ANG GANDA! NAKAKAIYAK NANAMAN!

It was an amazing moment to watch that beautiful sunset with my mom. It was definitely one of the best sunsets I have ever seen!

YOU HAVE TO EXPERIENCE THIS FOR YOURSELF! PROMISE! I’m running out of words to describe these amazing destinations! HAHAHAHA!

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After the sun hid behind the mountain, we headed towards the ice festival area. Just like at the Sounkyo Ice Festival, there were ice walls that resembled The Wall on Games of Thrones. The interior designs of the ice displays were creatively and intricately made as well.

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One of the disadvantages of being part of an arranged tour is that we have to follow the timeline provided by the guide. Our call time for the bus didn’t leave us much time to experience the ice festival at night.

It was still a bit lit when we left so we didn’t get to experience the ice festival during dark wherein the lights were fully defined and illuminated.

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But all is well, it was still a very good ice festival experience.

One of my mom’s favorite features of the festival was the free snow slide. We got to watch a lot of very cute kids slide, climb, and slide again. Adults were welcome to try the ice slides too! HAHAHAHA!

All the kids were super adorable!

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Seriously, LAKE SHIKOTSU IS A MUST-VISIT! Why?

  • It’s just an hour away from Sapporo!
  • Entrance is FREE!
  • A lot of buses operate between Sapporo and Lake Shikotsu!

NO EXCUSES! VISIT THIS AMAZING PLACE DURING SUNSET!

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The Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival runs from late January to mid February every year. Admission is FREE but if you wish to donate, they accept a fixed amount of ¥300 or ₱140+ that includes a ¥100 coupon for a hot drink.

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After boarding the bus, we took a very scenic route by the lake. From afar, I could still see the lights from the festival. Even into night, the views aren’t to be missed.

During the bus ride to Sapporo, Tomo was very accommodating in helping out all the tour guests with directions to their specific hotels for the night.

Tomo was the best. She answered all our questions and provided so many facts that made the tour more meaningful. She gave us all the things that we needed. The price of the tour was really worth it because of Tomo. If you want her as your guide, you can contact her here: Tomo Shimizu (090-1309-4530 or 81-90-1309-4530).

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Blue Pond at Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival

Here’s a list of all our favorites during the Japanican tour:

  1. THE BEST – BIEI SNOW FIELDS
  2. SECOND BEST – LAKE SHIKOTSU + NOT TO BE MISSED SUNSET! SWEAR!
  3. Heavenly Hokkaido Milk Ice Cream from North Plain Farm at the Rest Stop after Herb Hill Furano
  4. Penguin Walk Parade at Asahimaya Zoo
  5. Herb Hill Furano
  6. Scenic Morning Route from Sounkyo Kankou Hotel
  7. TOMO – Amazing Tour Guide!
  8. Free snack samples at Sunagawa Service Area! HAHAHAHA!
  9. Sounkyo Kankou Japanese Style Room with a Mountain View
  10. Slide at Hokkaido Ice Pavilion

SAPPORO

HOTEL MYSTAYS SAPPORO ASPEN

Our Japanican tour ended where it all started the day before, at the JR Sapporo Station’s north exit area.

After our thank yous and pleasant goodbyes with Tomo, we walked around 5 minutes to our accommodation for the night, Hotel MyStays Sapporo Aspen. I booked this hotel through Traveloka with a ₱1,000 off discount code.

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The room was a bit small, but normal for Japan standards. When our luggage was open, there was little space to walk.

The bathroom and amenities were very clean. Although the bed was comfortable, the pillows were a bit firm.

We chose this hotel because it was near the JR Sapporo Station.

For more information on Hotel MyStays Sapporo Aspen, inquire at support@mystays.com

SAPPORO RAMEN ALLEY REPUBLIC

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After fixing our things, we went out for dinner at the ESTA mall right beside JR Sapporo Station. We explored the Ramen Alley Republic at the 10th floor.

I preferred to eat the famous Make-Your-Own-Okonomiyaki restaurant on the same floor but my mom was too enticed at one of the ramen shops inside the alley that had a tempting smoky smell.

We also noticed that there were a lot of Filipinos roaming around there too. As expected, the ramen was really good because it had that smoky flavor. We ordered delicious Gyoza too!

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After dinner, my mom and I also went back to Mister Donut to try other donuts! ANG SARAP TALAGA! It was so moist and of quality that we finished all at the hotel room. We were supposed to bring some home to my sisters but SOBRANG SARAP KASI! HAHAHAHA!

DAY 6

We woke up early to catch a train to the New Chitose airport so we could explore it more. We just returned the key cards during check-out at Hotel MyStays and went on our merry way.

After buying our airport transfer tickets, we were surprised to find so many people at the train’s platform. RUSH HOUR GRABE! All throughout the train ride from Sapporo to New Chitose Airport, we were standing.

NEW CHITOSE AIRPORT

ROYCE CHOCOLATE WORLD

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My mom and I had savory pastries from Royce’ Chocolate World and coffee from the Starbucks nearby for breakfast at the airport.

Royce’ Chocolate World is definitely my favorite place at New Chitose! I can stay there for hours and never be bored!

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Please note that the products at Royce’ Chocolate World are not duty free so if you’ll buy gifts, check out the Royce products at retail shops on the first floor of the airport

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Our flight was delayed for around 3-4 hours. We weren’t sad at all because it meant that we had more time to explore the airport!

Check-in took a while though because of the long lines and some people were worried for their connecting flights. At the time, there was a recent storm in Tokyo so a lot of flights were delayed or cancelled.

After check-in, we shopped around some more!

KANTARO

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One of the most popular restaurants in Sapporo is Nemuro Hanamaru. I’ve tried it and it really is a great sushi restaurant. But the lines get pretty long and I feel that it’s just not worth the hour or more long wait. During my second trip to Sapporo, we tried to eat at Nemuro again but the line was just too long!

At New Chitose Airport, we discovered Kantaro, a sushi restaurant that is just as good as Nemuro and has NO LINES! It has the same quality & pricing. 

We had late lunch there and sushi plate rates range from ₱71+ (¥150) to ₱297+ (¥620). We had a total of 14 plates combined that costs us ₱2,268+ (¥4,760)

If you missed eating at Nemuro in Sapporo, Kantaro is a great alternative! 

SNAFFLE’S CATCH CAKES!

After lunch at Kantaro, my mom and I browsed a bit more at the shops before entering the departure gates.

A lot of samples were being handed out and we were surprised to experience a gastronomic bite at Snaffles! OMG! I thought to myself, Where has this been all my life?

OMG THE BEST CHEESECAKE I’VE EVER TRIED! Even better than the Le Tao varieties from Otaru! The catch cake was so creamy and tasteful. It was such a luxurious treat! We bought only one box KASI ANG MAHAL! HUHUHUHU! Unli free taste nalang? HAHAHA!

A MUST BUY AT THE AIRPORT! A box of 8 costs ₱619+ (¥1,296). This is available for purchase in Hakodate, Sapporo, New Chitose Airport, and Singapore only. 

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Weather

Our recent trip to Hokkaido was peak season meaning all the places we went to was at its snowiest or coldest! (Travel Period: Jan – Feb 2018)

For this trip, I made sure that we came prepared because I didn’t want to get sick like I did back in 2016. Time is wasted and you don’t feel good while exploring so you don’t really get to maximize experiences at a new destination.

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Biei Snow Fields

My mom and I wore a lot of layers, gloves, thick socks, hats, and warmers. It was a bit of an adjustment during our first day in Niseko but we got used to it in the next few days. There were still moments of uncomfortable cold but not as much as we expected. Layers were really significant in keeping us warm all throughout!

Since we were wearing a lot of clothes, it actually took around 5 minutes each time we wear and disrobe all of it. We made a gag of it and tell each other, “Alright! It’s time to put on our costumes!”

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My mom with a snowman outside Sunagawa Service Area

I’m glad we came prepared because I didn’t get sick at all!

Here are a few tips to combat the cold weather in Hokkaido:

  • Make sure your phones are padded well. When I took out my iPhone a few times to take photos, it couldn’t handle the cold so it turned off on its own even though it was halfway or fully charged. Be quick when using your phones outside!
  • Wear thick gloves, neck warmers, and socks!
  • If it’s your first time to experience a lot of falling snow, make sure you wear sunglasses. My eyes got a little bit sensitive when we were walking against the wind. A few flakes went it to my eye and it stung a bit. The sunglasses really helped.
  • Cameras are prone to fogging/condensation so try not to use your cameras out in the cold too long. Once you’re in a heated place, let it heat up on its own before wiping it.
  • Purchase heat packs at convenience stores especially if any specific part of your body gets cold easily.
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Walking around Hirafu Town in Niseko

 

Expenses

I am grateful for all the travel blessings paid and received during our Hokkaido trip! (Amount is for 1 person only)

Jetstar Flight (Manila – Tokyo – Hokkaido) Sponsored by Jetstar
Travel Tax ₱1,620
Wing Taxi Hokkaido Van Transfer from New Chitose Airport to Niseko Sponsored by KKday
Niseko Central – Yama Shizen (1 night) Sponsored by HTM Niseko
Ki Niseko (1 night) & Breakfast Buffet at An Dining Sponsored by HTM Niseko
Breakfast and Drinks at Mūsu, Dinner at the Alpinist, & Take-out Pastries from Koko Sponsored by Odin Living
Snowmobiling at White Isle Niseko, Snow Tubing at Hanazono, Grand Hirafu Mountain Gondola Sponsored by Niseko Tourism
Hokkaido Resort Liner from Niseko to Sapporo Sponsored by KKday
Unwind Hotel & Bar Sapporo (1 night) Sponsored by Unwind Hotel & Bar Sapporo
Japanican – Two Day Stunning Tour to 2 Ice Festivals + Biei Snow Fields ₱9,338
Hotel MyStays Sapporo Aspen (1 night) ₱1,795
JR Sapporo to New Chitose Airport (One way) ₱506+ (¥1,070)
Food & Miscellaneous Expenses ₱10,000
TOTAL ₱23,259+

NOTE: Philippine rates may vary depending on exchange rate. As of June 2018, ¥1 = ₱0.48

Please note that rates or prices indicated all throughout the article may be subject to change. Please visit official websites for current prices.

For sponsored write-ups, all are inspired by my experiences and nothing else.

3 thoughts on “STUNNING HOKKAIDO: Experiencing the Best of Winter in Niseko, Sapporo, Sounkyo, Biei, & Lake Shikotsu

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