Hokkaido
You can now fly directly from Manila to Hokkaido!

Winter in Hokkaido is an exciting season marked by gorgeous snow festivals and winter activities held throughout the country. It transforms into a gloriously white winter wonderland, filled with exciting bucket-list-worthy experiences from sparkling winter wonders, to thrilling snow activities and heartwarming onsen spas.

It may not be the first choice for many travelers going to Japan, but for most who have been to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Hokkaido is exactly the next Japan adventure we are all looking for! Good thing, you can now conveniently fly from Manila to Sapporo in less than 5 hours! No more stopovers in Tokyo, unlike my previous trips.

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Here are my top 10 recommended experiences you should try when visiting Hokkaido…

Hokkaido Series:
-HOKKAIDO: 10 Experiences to Try in Hokkaido! @flyPAL
-Hokkaido Eats: 10 Dishes to Try in Hokkaido! @flyPAL
-SAPPORO SNOW FESTIVAL: Winter Wonderland in Hokkaido! (First Timer’s Guide)
Noboribetsu Hot Spring Village: Warm Your Body and Soul in a Traditional Onsen!
-HAKODATE: 7 Awesome Places You Should Visit in Hakodate, Hokkaido!
HAKODATE Food Trip: What and Where to Eat?! 

-HAKODATE ASAICHI (MORNING MARKET): HOKKAIDO CRAB, TUNA, SQUID, AND SEAFOOD GALORE! 
-LUCKY PIERROT: HAKODATE’S NO.1 BURGER CHAIN!

HOW TO GET THERE

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The fastest way is the new direct Manila-Sapporo flight by Philippine Airlines. Thankfully no more stop over at Narita, Tokyo.

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The less than 6 hours flight will operate thrice a week every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, departing from the Manila’s NAIA 2 at 2:00 am and arrives at New Chitose Aiport at 6:30 am.

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Before you leave Manila make sure to grab a WiFi hotspot unit that supports international data roaming. If you forgot to book one in advance, myPAL Roam pocket WiFi, luckily for you, is available at NAIA Terminal 2 beside Manila Cigars. (Make sure to book in advance though, there are days that no pocket WiFi’s are available for rent.) It costs Php390 per day for Asian countries, and a hundred more at Php490 per day for Australia, United States of America, Middle East, Russia, Europe, and others. From my experience, it lasted from morning till night without recharging. With 87 countries supporting the service worldwide, myPAL Roam was worth the extra expense.

 

1. THE CHANGING SEASONS

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Hokkaido is beautiful throughout the seasons, but it absolutely transforms in Winter! You’ll be sure to marvel at the changing sights and seasons. Whether it be in a magical winter wonderland made of crystal ice and snow….or visit during springtime to catch the cherry blossoms or run in a field of gorgeous tulips and lavender!

 

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February is the coolest month in Hokkaido, yet millions of people step out of their hotels and home to brave the cold temperatures outside with one destination in mind–the Sapporo Snow Festival, a winter dreamland made from crystal-like ice and white snow.

Held in early February, the festival is one of Japan’s largest winter events, attracting visitors from all over Japan and around the world. About two million people come to Sapporo to see the numerous snow and ice sculptures lining the grounds of Odori Park, Community Dome Tsudome, and Susukino Street.

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Hundreds of snow sculptures stand in all their splendor along the 1.5km park in downtown Sapporo. The ice and snow art come in all shapes and sizes, mostly made and carved by the local citizens. The most stunning ones are the gigantic, state-of-the-art snow and ice sculptures by the Japan Self-Defense Force, which are the biggest attractions of the Sapporo Snow Festival.

Here’s a first-timer’s guide to the Sapporo Snow Festival…

Read more: SAPPORO SNOW FESTIVAL: Winter Wonderland in Hokkaido! (First Timer’s Guide)

 

 

2. EXPLORE THE CITY OF FOOD

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One of my greatest joy, when traveling to Hokkaido are sampling the delicious cuisines!

Blessed with the surrounding ocean and bountiful nature, Hokkaido offers a paradise of ingredients from fresh vegetables, dairy farming to mouthwatering seafood. It is known for its ramen, king crabs, milky sweets, “Genghis Khan” mutton and fresh sushi!

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If there’s one thing you can’t miss when visiting Hokkaido, it’s their seafood! Fatty salmon and tuna, sweet hairy and king crab, and amazing squid sashimi are among what tourists from Japan and overseas always rave about when in Hokkaido.

The cold sea surrounding Hokkaido is rich in plankton, which helps produce high-quality delectable seafood, while the cold temperatures also help with building layers of fat for the fish.

Hokkaido

(Niseko Milk Kobo-Takahashi Farm)

Hokkaido is the largest producer of milk in Japan, so it only fits to have soft-serve ice cream shops all over the city.

Hokkaido is well-known for its delicious and high-quality dairy products. It’s the cool climate and fresh air, with freshly grown plants and vegetables that make the cow grow healthily and naturally. It is characterized by the creamy and strong milk taste.

Here’s a guide to Hokkaido’s must-try food, from home-cooked dishes to seasonal specialties that’ll make your mouth water…

Read More: Hokkaido Eats: 10 Dishes to Try in Hokkaido! @flyPAL

 

 

 

3. WINTER ACTIVITIES

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Winter is a wonderful season to travel and boasts many exciting experiences that cannot be found at any other time of year.

Hokkaido is a winter wonderland popular with tourist from around the world for its wide range of cool winter activities offered. Coming from the Philippines, a place that does not receive any snow, Hokkaido is a tourist hotspot for someone like me looking for a winter escape.

We toured Niseko Ski Resort, famed in Japan for having the finest dry light powder snow with an average of 15 meters in fact! They say it’s the holy grail for skiers. You’ll see many locals and foreigners crowd the ski slopes often skiing and snowboarding as their the main activity.

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For anyone new to winter, it can be a bit overwhelming, but if you are looking to enjoy something other than skiing or snowboarding? Snowmobiling is a great way to enjoy the local scenery with a banana boat tied at the back where the little tots can enjoy. You’ll also be happy to know the ski resort often stays open all night, which means limitless fun for everyone! In the evening, relax and get into a steaming onsen perfect after a cold day playing out of the snow.

In fact, Niseko doesn’t even look like Japan, but the Swiss with all the vacation houses lining up the streets.

 

 

4. ENJOY THE ONSEN (HOT SPRINGS)

Noboribetsu Hot Spring Village

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Venture to a land where steam and the smell of sulfur emerge from the ground, as we visit Hokkaido’s most famous hot springs that will surely warm your body and soul!

Noboribetsu is a place that boasts of its onsen’s mineral-rich waters. Here you can take a stroll through the rustic streets in traditional yukata, see the fantastic view of Jigokudani (Hell Valley), enjoy delicious Hokkaido seafood, and relax as you indulge in the area’s many outdoor hot spring baths.

The city is also known as the “department store for hot springs” due to the nine different kind of spring water in the area. The source of its waters come from the hot volcanic pit of Jigokudani. These natural spring waters are piped to the many hotels and traditional Japanese inns around town. Hot spring contains natural ingredients that are said to be effective in cleansing and beautifying skin. It also provides visitors relief from exhaustion.

Onsen is better when it’s cold, even better when outdoors! Trust me you’ll love it! 😉

Stroll along Jigokudani (Hell Valley)

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The most impressive site in Noboribetsu is the Jigokudani (Hell Valley), where the steam comes out of the yellow, snow-covered volcanic rocks. The whole place smells like sulfur but don’t worry, you really wouldn’t mind the smell.

Jigokudani is a valley that was formed by a volcanic eruption ages ago. The valley has a total area of 11-hectares and was given the name Hell’s Valley because of the many geysers and bubbling springs that remind you of hell.

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Tip: It’s an easy 15-minute walk. But make sure to wear good shoes as some of the paths are slippery from the ice.

 

Jozankei Hot Spring Village

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Jozankei is one of the most popular hot spring districts in Hokkaido due to its proximity to Sapporo. The hot springs are only a 45-minutes drive south from the center of the city.

We spent our “Jozankei time” at Kokoro no Sato Jozan footbath. They don’t have a time limit, so you can enjoy both nature and unlimited sweet treats at the spa.

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The hot springs contain sodium chloride such that when you soak in it you find your body warming on the inside.

 

 

NATURE & LANDSCAPES 

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(Mt. Yotei in Niseko, also known as the “Mt. Fuji of Hokkaido”)

With its magnificent nature and spectacular winter scenery, Hokkaido boasts the largest reserves of untouched nature in all of Japan. With UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Global Geopark, and unique wildlife. The island offers mountain ranges and active volcanoes in its center, as well as dense forests, serene plains, raging rivers, and dramatic shores.

 

Mt. Usuzan Ropeway & Lake Toya

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Lake Toya is the 9th biggest lake in Japan and one of the Three Great Landscapes of Hokkaido! With a breathtaking caldera lake that was formed from a volcanic eruption some 110,000 years ago. It also offers countless beautiful views with picturesque spots to see Mt. Usu, Mt. Showashinzan, and even Mt. Yotei off in the distance.

Fun Fact: There are islands in the center of Lake Toya which are collectively called Nakajima which are famous as the habitat of the Ezo deer. At first, someone placed only two Ezo deer on the small island, but they soon populated the area.

Usuzan

Anyone visiting Mt. Usu is highly recommended to take the Usuzan Ropeway up to the UNESCO Global Geopark to visit the active volcano. The 6-minutes ride is worthwhile as you could see the wide stretch of winter landscapes and the township far below the area.

From the viewpoint, you could see the Toya Caldera and enjoy the Usu Volcano Global Geopark, and its every changing landscape changed by volcanic eruptions well documented by a local postmaster Masao Mimatsu.

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Don’t miss the chance to take photographs against the breathtaking panoramic views of Hokkaido! It is spectacular and surprisingly serene.

 

 

5. LOOK FOR “KITA KITA” MOVIE FILM LOCATIONS

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Have you seen the movie” Kita Kita”? If you have, these film locations in Sapporo are definitely familiar to you!

About the Movie:
Kita Kita (I See You) is a Philippine romantic comedy film directed and written by Sigrid Bernardo. Set in Sapporo, Japan the film follows Lea (Alessandra de Rossi), a tourist guide living in Japan who goes blind having witnessed her Japanese fiance’s infidelity. Afterwhile, fellow Filipino (Empoy Marquez) makes a sudden appearance and befriends the visually impaired Lea in the best possible way and eventually falls in love with each other.

 

Otaru Cruise

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Here the Otaru Cruise is a popular 40-minute cruise down the famous canal. During the 19th century, Otaru flourished through herring fishing. They say, during that time if you put your hands in the canal you could already catch a fish!

But later on, the big pier was constructed where they directly ship the cargo to the warehouses. Since then they didn’t need the canal anymore and decided to convert it into a shopping district where you can find many souvenirs, sweet shops, and restaurants.

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The cruise itself was very nice. The speed was slow enough to take pictures. The scenery is quite relaxing and we had such a beautiful day to explore. Plus the seat warmers were very helpful since we cruised during winter time.

 

 

Fushimi Inari

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Yes! There’s also a Fushimi Inari Shrine in Sapporo! Built in the Meiji era it is actually the branch shrine of Fushimi Inari in Kyoto. It’s a bit smaller than it’s counterpart with only 27 vermillion tori gates, but it makes up with its winter wonderland charm.

This is where Tonyo and Lea came to pray for her eyes. I heard the shrine is a power spot which brings good luck for relationships.

 

Sapporo Clock Tower

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One of Sapporo’s most iconic and oldest attractions. It was constructed in 1878 as a military drill hall of Sapporo Agricultural College and now serves as a museum for the city’s history.

This is where Lea toured the old couple.

 

Sapporo TV Tower

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Another favorite attraction in the city is the Sapporo Tower located in Odori Park, with an observation deck 90m above ground and provides a 360-degree view of the entire park. It offers “urban” and “natural” landscapes, from building structures to mountain scenes. Not to mention, a view of the entire Snow Festival if you’re able to make it in February.

Remember the scene where the Japanese boyfriend proposed to Lea?

 

 

 

6.  WINTER  ILLUMINATIONS

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Winter illuminations around Christmas and New Year have become a popular attraction all over Sapporo, that has become a tradition since 1981.

You’ll find your favorite parks transformed into a dazzling dreamland adorned with thousands of colorful lights. Be amazed by the larger-than-life cosmic and Christmas themed illuminations as it opens free to the public.

The street running north-south from Odori Park is the venue for this illumination. You’ll find 520,000 light bulbs used at Odori Park that’s complemented by the TV Tower, which changes color every hour, and the sight of the illuminations spreading out below you from the top of the tower are both beautiful.

It’s a great place for couples to enjoy the illumination displays along with the German Christmas Market from late November to December.

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But my favorite is in Shiroi Koibito Park, the confectionery factory’s exteriors are transformed into a fairytale world with the winter illumination. It feels like I’m more in Swiss than in Japan here.

The popular photo spot has a total of 110,000 lights featuring light decorated Santa Claus sled with reindeer, snowmen, Christmas trees, and even cosmic displays.

Besides the illuminations displays, you can also take the factory tour and bring home some famed Shiroi Koibito langue de chat for pasalubong! Hokkaido milk chocolate sandwiched with light textured Frenched baked cookies that easily melts in your mouth. Held from early November to late March. (Check for the schedule online)

Tip: If you forgot to buy, you can also get these at the airport for the same price.

 

 

7. NIGHT VIEW

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During the night, the city of Sapporo glows from the surface of the world with bright lights and incredible beauty. Mount Maiwa Ropeway is part of the top three popular night views in Hokkaido alongside Hakodate and Otaru. A ropeway takes you from an elevation of 531 meters, that offers three spectacular views out over the city from the observation deck at its summit.

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If you are visiting with a special someone, why not ring the Bell of Happiness and leave a padlock with a message of your love on the railing? This is where the lovers from the movie “Kita Kita” rang the bell to make a wish.

 

 

8. DRINK A GLASS OF CLASSIC SAPPORO BEER

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“The City of Beer”

Of course, a trip to Hokkaido would not be complete without a glass of Classic Sapporo Beer which is only available in Hokkaido and nowhere else in Japan! The beer is quite sweet and tastes a bit like juice but with some hoppy bitterness.

The history of beer in Sapporo begins in 1876 with the Kaitakushi Beer Brewery (the predecessor of Sapporo Beer). Sapporo Beer’s star logo is derived from the “Red Star” symbol of Kaitakushi, that’s also used on the clock tower and red-brick government buildings.

 

Nikka Whisky Distillery in Yoichi Town

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But don’t miss out on trying whiskey in the factory tour! Yoichi is known as the Scotland of Japan and home to the famed Nikka Whisky, the first distillery founded in Hokkaido since 1934.

But what makes it special you say? The founder Masataka Taketsuru wanted to make Scotch whiskey the traditional way by using grass charcoal to get that distinct smoky flavor that Nikka whiskey is known for!

Nikka Whiskey

The strong and rich flavored malt whiskey is produced using the traditional process of preparing the whiskey have remained unchanged since the distillery’s foundation. And thankfully for us, we need alcohol to fight the cold!

 

 

9. WEAR A KIMONO IN A NINJA VILLAGE 

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Step back into the past and visit this village showcasing the splendor of the Edo Period, the most beautiful era in Japan’s history, and learn about the enigmatic culture of the ninjas and samurais.

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NOBORIBETSU DATE JUDAIMURA is only 15-minutes away from Noburibetsu Onsen.

One must-see the action-packed Samurai Show, featuring a narrative drama filled with slapstick comedy and fighting scenes featuring ninja moves, and swordplay. The skit is in Japanese, so better grab an English brochure so you can follow the story. You can even test your inner ninja and learn how to throw ninja stars, knives, or arrows at Taiken Dojo, or fight your way out of a maze filled with optical illusions.

Every detail feels like you went back in time, even the attendants are wearing traditional costumes. My favorite part is renting a costume whether be a ninja, samurai or oiran (courtesan) and take pictures in this movie set-like old Japan!

 

 

10. ANIMAL ADVENTURE

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Ride a horse at a Northern Horse Park

The Northern Horse Park is a great place for a quick detour when arriving in Hokkaido as it’s just 15-minutes away from the New Chitose Airport.

The theme parks feature around 80 horses including ponies and thoroughbreds within the park. For the slightly more adventurous, I would recommend going for the horse-riding activity. The horses are very gentle and trot rather than gallops, plus there’s a guide holding the horse the whole time. Besides horse-riding, there is also horse-drawn carriage ride, but we weren’t able to ride it since the snow wasn’t thick enough for the sled.

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A must watch is the free Happy Pony Show. Where the kids would love the smart ponies perform tricks and jump over the obstacles! Clearly, they were not one trick ponies. There’s also snack time where the kids would love to feed carrot cookies to the friendly ponies.

 

Bear Park, Usuzan Ropeway

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Visit the only farm in Japan where you can observe brown bears in a close distance!

You can buy a  bunch of apples and cookies to feed them. We found the bears who are asking for food to make hand movements similar to praying. Who taught them how to do this?

 

NOBORIBETSU

You might want to visit the Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe while on your way to Noboribetsu. The park is host to an aquarium and a mini townscape that re-enacts Northern Europe, highlighted by the Nixe castle. With the penguin parade and dolphin performance as the main attraction.

 

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The Japanese monkeys look so relaxing as they warm up in the hot tub!

The Japanese Monkeys at the Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden hosts to over 100 Japanese macaques (or snow monkeys). Although they can be seen all year round, they are particularly sought-after during the winter time when they can be seen taking a leisurely dip in the hot springs.

Tip: The monkeys warm themselves in the steaming pool of mineral water from December 1 to the beginning of May.

 

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P.S. This trip wouldn’t have been awesome without my pals Jed, Koryn, Yosh, Vins, Marcelo, Kenneth, Tia, Mark, Aira, Mi Mai, and Kara who I’ve shared laughs, soft cream, and even a steaming onsen bath! And of course who could forget our ever-patient tour guide Kuni-san! Those few days felt so long, as every day we’d visit so many places, experience so many memorable adventures, and even still have the energy to stay up late with cans of Sapporo Classic Beer just to hang. This has been my third time to Hokkaido, but it still manages to excite me, I don’t know if it’s the winter wonderland magic or the newly found warm friends?

Hokkaido Series:
-HOKKAIDO: 10 Experiences to Try in Hokkaido! @flyPAL
-Hokkaido Eats: 10 Dishes to Try in Hokkaido! @flyPAL
-SAPPORO SNOW FESTIVAL: Winter Wonderland in Hokkaido! (First Timer’s Guide)
Noboribetsu Hot Spring Village: Warm Your Body and Soul in a Traditional Onsen!
-HAKODATE: 7 Awesome Places You Should Visit in Hakodate, Hokkaido!
HAKODATE Food Trip: What and Where to Eat?! 

-HAKODATE ASAICHI (MORNING MARKET): HOKKAIDO CRAB, TUNA, SQUID, AND SEAFOOD GALORE! 
-LUCKY PIERROT: HAKODATE’S NO.1 BURGER CHAIN!

Live an Awesome Life,


ABI of Team Our Awesome Planet

Disclosure:  We were media guests of Philippine Airlines and Sapporo Tourism Board. I wrote this article with my biases, opinions, and insights.