To someone whose never seen snow, my winter trip to Hokkaido was nothing short of magical!
Located in the Northern-most part of Japan, it's the country's second largest island and is a favourite to a lot of skiers and snowboarders during the wintertime. It's also the birthplace of beer in the country.
My first stop was Niseko, a town in Hokkaido famous all over the world for its ski resorts and winter sports. The four main ski resorts - Annupuri, Higashiyama, Hirafu, and Hanazono are all interconnected and can be visited with one ski pass. This tiny town has a population of about 5000 but has seen a record of about 200,000 tourists in one of their winters. That's 40x!
I stayed in a hotel called Niseko Northern Annupuri for two nights (including Christmas!) and I have no regrets at all. It's located at the foot of the Annupuri ski resort so it was very convenient. To get to the hotel, you can take a coach bus directly from the airport and it takes about 3 hours to get there.
Skiing lessons - and yes, I sucked at it!
The view from my hotel room window.
Snow storm on the second day.
Niseko town is where all the bars, cafes and restaurants, ski shops and rentals are.
My second stop was Sapporo, Hokkaido's capital city. From Niseko, I took a bus that came literally at my resort's doorstep and dropped me at the Sapporo train station.
Sapporo hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1972 and since then, it has also become a popular tourist destination in Japan. Today, the city is most well-known for their beer and their annual Snow Festival which is held every February (I might go back there just to see this! lol).
Sapporo Beer Museum
One notable place of interest in the city is the Sapporo Beer Museum, the only one in existence in Japan.
The place used to be a brewery that opened during the Meiji period but now houses an interactive museum where visitors learn about its history and sample some of their beer. In the same area but located in a separate building, you will find the Sapporo Beer Garden where visitors can have meals in several restaurants and of course, enjoy their beer!
The Clock Tower (Tokedai)
Sapporo's Clock Tower is considered both a historical and cultural symbol of the city. Built in 1878, it used to be the military drill hall of the Sapporo Agricultural College where the students did their military training and physical education.
Now, the Clock Tower has exhibits that tells the story of the building and considered one of the landmarks of Sapporo.
Former Hokkaido Government Office
I arrived in Sapporo at night and while I was walking from the train station to my hotel, I passed by this very grand and magical-looking building lined with trees all decked in lights. It was the former Hokkaido Government Office.
Nicknamed the "red brick office", it was used for around 80 years before the city transferred their government offices to its current address. The building was built in 1888 and has the American Neo-Baroque architectural style which was popular abroad during that period.
I went back in the morning to visit the place again and was able to go inside and look at the exhibits. The building is open to the public for free where visitors can take a look at materials and information about Hokkaido.
Sapporo TV Tower
With an observation deck that's 142 meters high, it is one of the best places to enjoy the city from a bird's eye view.
The TV tower was built in 1957 and cost 170 million yen (roughly about 1.5 million USD). A souvenir shop and restaurants occupy the third floor and it's basement is connected to Aurora Town, one of Sapporo's underground shopping malls and arcades.
Of course, a trip to Hokkaido would not be complete without trying their famous soft-serve ice cream. Never mind that it was -12 degrees when I was there, I just had to try one. All I can say is, they weren't kidding. It really is the creamiest soft-serve ever.
If you're visiting Japan, make sure to add Hokkaido to your itinerary. It is definitely a place worth visiting to.