The long holiday of Christmas and New Year just wonderfully ended! It was a 2-week vacation of icy wind hunting with family in Baguio and food feasting with close friends. My 2017 was very exhausting but the long vacation have given me enough drive to start 2018 with brighter hopes. I hope you did too! Happy Winter!
The welcoming spirit of 2018 has enthused me to turn my laptop on and continue writing this 2-month old draft blog. This was meant to be posted before the holiday in hopes you would have more ideas for a good snowy holiday. I hope I am not too late! I wish you booked a trip to Hokkaido for the first two weeks of February.
The Winter Vacation
In last year’s winter season, I was blessed to have traveled in three beautiful countries of our globe – America, Japan and Canada. Each has its own winter flavor to share with travelers from tropical countries.
If your travel group is a family with kids, my recommendation is Hokkaido of Japan. I traveled to cities of Boston, New York, Washington, Prince Albert, Jeju, Seoul, Gwangju, Whitehorse and Dawson but Hokkaido tramples them all. Japan’s northern island will delight your children at their core. You might be too. The adult in me vanished a second after horizon turned up with these snow surfs.
CAPITAL OF HOKKAIDO
Festivals happen simultaneously on February in four different locations of Sapporo City – Otaru, Tsudome, Susukino and Odori. The festival dates coincide all in second week, which essentially means, you can absolutely do festival hopping even if you only have three days.
But make it a week. There are so much to enjoy in Sapporo City alone that you might have panic attack if you won’t be able to sink the beauty of winter from this city.
While capital city is your best bet, there are so much abundance of activities and festivals in other cities like Asahikawa, Heiwa Dori, Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Otofuke, Obihiro, Kamikawa, Noboribetsu…. Ugh. The list overwhelms me.
What to see in Sapporo City?
First. Ice Sculptures were brilliantly made by locals’ hands. Craftsmanship was astounding. Blocks of ice were heavy and humongous. A typical ice sculpture can weigh approximately 300 pounds. Imagine the total area required one masterpiece an ice sculptor need to carve. Some of ice sculptures in Susukino area were constructed by locking them together like Lego and some were layered on top of each other. Some sculptures were very intricate and while some may look too simple they were all crafted with artistry and, in my engineering way of articulating things, very architecturally. Toolbox of ice sculptors were scary. Walking on a long ice stage that melts each passing second took safety very carefully. Right shoes and right gloves. Maintenance was no joke too. The exposure to wind can shorten the “life” and even the “design” of an ice or snow sculpture so locals also do frequent retouch.
Second. Always overawed by our capacity to create functional structures just from anything. I glided on a snow-made slide in Tsudome site. It was my delightful 8-second activity that day. I was sliding on a black rubber tubing rotating and bumping from side to side. It seemed Susukino was competitive so they had their ice version of slide. It was incomparable with Tsudome but I witnessed here how a slope of flat surface can quickly prompt adults as soon as they saw the crowd and hear the laughter to walk up on an ice stair, line up, hold their breath and slide down with just a paper cardboard. There were also smoking room made from bricks of ice, a podium and a man-made ski slope in Odori! We watched snowboarders and freestyle skiers compete over who did the best exhibition in Shiroi Kobito Park Air Jump.
Third. Snow in its glorious shimmering dust texture or piles of ice sun can come through combined with specks of light, ambiance can change into a very dreamy and magical surroundings. While you can experience this in Susukino and Otaru at night, you might as well go to a Light Path Festival in Otaru. If you have watched the Filipino movie Kita Kita, you definitely know the scene both main characters were paddling in a small boat. They were in Otaru Canal, a very famous and romantic location for slow evening walk even in the middle of cold winter. Canal was decorated with gas lamps hanging few inches from the water surface and shedding light on tiny water ripples blown by soft chilly wind. Locals also decorated their boutiques and restaurants with snow lamps and streetlights are also accompanied by ice lamps. You can take your time walking in Otaru at night for reason the glistening white snow padded on roofs and streets add more light in the surroundings. Never thought snow, ice and light can together create romantic atmosphere.
Fourth. Snow Sculptures in Odori are slick and monster. We’ve talked about the impressive craftsmanship but seemed like locals weren’t still satisfied they incorporated their own culture. Colorful strikes of lights were projected on a huge snow podium of Final Fantasy. People gathered and took videos to capture the light performance and the grumbling sound of fight scenes. There were monuments of anime like Pikachu and Doraemon. PineApplePen guy was so famous. He had the most number of paparazzi. He beat Donald Trump snowhead!
Fifth. Beer and Meat – just the right snack combo. You can buy your beer from convenience store or get them in food stalls in Odori. It will be more refreshing to drink beer with grilled meat in other hand. Spirit of beer and hotness of meat will warm your body tired from walking and taking photos for hours.
MORE TO SEE IN HOKKAIDO
These are only in and around Sapporo City. I haven’t visited other cities in Hokkaido Prefecture but through the course of my itinerary research last year, there are other places, food and activities Hokkaido offers. Do snowboarding and skiing as outdoor activities in Niseko. Something I wanted to learn but was afraid to try first. I always imagine avalanche. Too much movies, I know.
At east side of Hokkaido, a cruise can take you to a shore where you can witness bird migration and playful gathering of different species of cranes. OMG – I remember there is also the Alpine Route where the IG-worthy Snow Corridor in Murodo. Who would think about building a corridor on a highway? Haha. The corridor is a road flanked with 20-meter high snow and can be accessed by bus. There is also acres of land dedicated for one resort hours train ride that have its own ski slopes and snow village. And lastly, you should go to onsen situated in mountains. It is definitely a worthy experience to do a traditional activity that puts your mind and body in tune with nature.
BEST ADVICE I CAN GIVE
Festivals are in peak season so it would be best to expect the accommodation will increase their prices. And they get sold out very fast. Airbnb and guesthouses double the prices, on the other hand, hotels can cost ten-fold or to be more precise, a minimum of P10,000 per night and per person.
I might be too late but in case you’re traveling next year instead, do not book two or three weeks before your visit. Book your choice at least two months before the festivals. The prices shoot up nearing the dates of festivals. The good thing though is festivals are scheduled and announced at least four months ahead. Google it in October.
I have always vouch for Airbnb in Japan. Most hotels are located in prime locations. Ice sculptures will be set up right across your hotel building if you will stay in Susukino. Hotels are likely to have their own parties for you let alone the gigantic Christmas tree and bright ornaments decorated in the reception area for family photo. But then, the prices is much higher than having yourself hosted by Airbnb locals.
For sure, Japan is known to be an expensive country. But we want an extraordinary winter vacation. Can you make it? Of course. I have started to fully believe nothing is impossible in life (my 2017 realization) and that applies even in your dream winter vacation. Always remember knowledge is power. Asking questions is the start of everything and ultimately being comfortable to fiddle into what is unfamiliar makes traveling a good memorable experience.