- Heat Tech
Chances are you will have been in another area of Japan before you get to Sapporo, the biggest city in Hokkaido. Before you enter the icy landscape be sure to stop at a Uniqlo, a popular Japanese low cost clothing store, and buy several long sleeve “Heat Tech” shirts. These are basically like having long johns but much more comfortable and saved me from the teeth chattering cold of northern Japan. There are also “Heat Tech” bottoms that you can get, but for me having lined pants was enough. Southerners, don’t forget your gloves or your scarf either!
- New Chitose Airport to Sapporo Station
Once you fly into Hokkaido you are about 45 minutes away from the center of Sapporo, the ticket for the train is about $10 and will take you directly there. I really appreciated how convenient the train was and also how warm it was inside. Bring a backup battery charger for your phone, there were several times that I had my phone out in the arctic winds and my battery depleted very quickly.
- Yuki Matsuri
If you decided to go to Sapporo during the month of February, then you probably will coincide with the biggest festival of the north, Yuki Matsuri. When you venture into Odori Park, you will immediately see the massive crowds gazing at the exquisite snow sculptures spread throughout the park. Some of the sculptures are small and cute while others like the 2016 “Attack on Titan” sculpture are gigantic about the size of a small house rather than a traditional sculpture. The level of detail that is put into these masterpieces are absolutely amazing and should not be missed. When I saw pictures of past festivals I knew at the moment that I had to see this festival, and I was not disappointed! I could go on and on about how wonderful this event is with amazing smells and tastes that come from all the food booths that were set up, but take a look at my photos because I think they speak for themselves.
- Day trip to Otaru
About an hour train ride west of Sapporo is the quiet picturesque town of Otaru. During the same time as Yuki Matsuri, Otaru hosts a lantern festival. At night you can experience the canals all lit up with ice lanterns and lights floating in the water. It was a beautiful and romantic sight to behold and really took me back to some of my adventures in Europe (Amsterdam came to mind). There is also a whiskey distillery just a short train ride from Otaru (20 minutes) in Yoichi. The distillery is very impressive in all the snow. It looked like it had been picked right from a storybook with little cottages throughout the vicinity. You can also do a free whiskey tasting at the end of the tour to warm yourself up!
- Jozankei Onsen
No trip to Hokkaido can be complete without an adventure to the Japanese hot springs (onsen in Japanese). You can reach Jozankei from the bus station inside Sapporo Station. Once in Jozankei, you will be able to reach different onsen, some are located in a little village setting so you will have access to different shops and restaurants. I went to a more secluded onsen which was the last stop on the bus route. Here we could see more of the wilderness in Japan’s northern territory. I loved seeing the mountains all around and miles and miles of endless snow. The onsen itself was idyllic; surrounded by snow, large boulders, and rocks; the setting gave me a lasting impression and the hot spring and steam relaxed me completely. It was an incredible experience and I can’t recommend it enough. Americans will feel uncomfortable being nude in front of strangers but that shouldn’t stop you from experiencing this unique Japanese custom.
- Stuff your face
Hokkaido has some of the best food seafood in Japan, if not the world. I had the BEST sushi I’ve ever had in my life in Otaru and I think it was worth the trip just for that meal. Ramen is also a favorite in Sapporo with the famous Ramen Alley located about 15 minutes away on foot from Odori Park. I tried food at the festival, restaurants, local bakeries and everything was delicious. Step off the plane with your chopsticks in hand because you won’t want to put them down.