When my husband and I were planning our honeymoon, Hokkaido was on the top of our list as we were drawn by its culinary delights and pristine nature. We soon learned that visiting in November would not be the best time to visit, as the vibrant autumn leaves would have already fallen. It would also be too early for snow, making for the surroundings to be cold, grey, and wet. Thus, we decided to visit other parts of Japan (Tokyo, Hakone, and Okinawa) instead.
Five and a half years later, I would never have imagined to visit Hokkaido, and it was all the more special since we went with two close friends. Not only is Hokkaido known for its active snow season, but it is also a cool escape from the hot, humid weather further south. Although I love visiting metropolitan cities like Tokyo with its amazing food and cultural attractions, I wanted to explore the lesser known pleasures of Japan apart from the bustling city life. Its untouched nature, fertile fields, and slower pace of life allowed us to take our time seeing each scenic view, and allowed us to spend quality time with our friends. Our days were filled with spoiling ourselves with numerous soft serves, and me going crazy over the most gorgeous irises.
Another memorable treat was we stayed at Kappo Ryokan Wakamatsu, located in Hakodate. My husband and I love ryokans, and we always make a point to stay at one at every trip. Although Kappo Ryokan Wakamatsu was founded in 1922, we were impressed by how much of its interior was up to date yet rich in its cultural history. Overwhelmed by their warm hospitality, we were immediately served a cup of freshly whisked matcha tea, paired with their signature homemade matcha cake. Not only did the tea soothe the fatigue of traveling, but their matcha cake had an amazing texture reminiscent of a French macaron. Not to mention their luxurious kaiseki meals that were carefully prepared, curating some of the best ingredients Hokkaido had to offer.
Tips to know before traveling: Renting a car will likely be faster and more cost-effective than taking the JR depending on the destinations. We assigned two people be designated drivers so that they can take turns as most cities are pretty spread out. Although we really wanted to visit Shiretoko National Park, active bear season begins in May/June so we weren’t allowed to visit unless we paid for a park ranger tour.
Shikisai no Oka
We visited a little too early for the flowers to bloom, but it was neat to see panoramic views of flowering fields over the most perfect cloudy blue sky. During the summer season, these rolling hills would be filled with colors contributed by dozens of flower and grass species.
If you might vaguely remember one of Apple’s wallpapers featuring a very blue pond - if you do, it is the Shirogane Pond! It is real, and it is that blue!
Similar to Shikisai no Oka, it features gentle rolling hills of flowers. They are also known for their melon farm, which also features melon-flavored soft cream and themed desserts. We were fortunate to see gorgeous blooms there, and the most beautiful white birch forest.
Jozankei Futami Suspension Bridge
A beautiful vista point featuring a vibrant red suspension bridge coupled with a serene view. It made for a peaceful stroll, as we took in the tranquil scenery of beautiful river valley. One day, I would love to see this area painted in red and yellows during the autumn season!
We recommend taking the cable car to witness a gorgeous panoramic view of Sapporo during the golden hour close to sunset. Not only do you realize that its capital is quite large, but one can also enjoy some of the most luminous natural landscapes nearby.
glass shops, seafood donburi and artisanal desserts
One thing many might not know about Hokkaido is that it wasn’t fully integrated into greater Japan until 1947. By that time, Japan had already westernized which explains the European style seen in this port city. We loved visiting Kitaichi Glass, and appreciated the colorful handmade pieces. Some food and dessert spots we recommend there are the seafood donburis at Kitano donburi, desserts at LeTAO, and finger-licking delicious fried chicken at Naruto Honten.
Translated as “Hell’s Valley,” Jigokudani is a must-see spot in Noboribetsu. The terrain shows beautiful earthy hues, and the visitors are immediately welcomed by the strong sulfurous smells. Serving as the city’s main source of hot spring waters, the valley displays clusters of erupting geysers where numerous vents of hot water and steam escapes.
Shiroi Koibito Park
One of my favorite things about Japan is purchasing all the delicious souvenir treats to take home or share with friends. Shiroi Koibito is a famous European-style confectionary that is commonly found at most Japanese airports. Manufactured by Ishiya in Sapporo, these cookies consists of two buttery, crispy cookies sandwiching a thin layer of rich white chocolate. The theme park is dedicated to their famous cookies, and features exhibitions, restaurants, and its manufacturing facility. it is also the best place to purchase the cookies at its lowest price!
Yosakoi Soran Festival
My husband and I spent our last weekend in Sapporo witnessing a dance festival featuring naruko clappers accompanying Soran Bushi folk melodies. The event in Sapporo is one of the largest in the nation, attracting tens of thousands of dancers from different prefectures and millions of visitors. We were mesmerized by the performances and music that combines traditional dance with a modern twist. Each team put out their best, from cleverly designed costumes, vibrant makeup and hair, and performance filled with energy and vigor.
places and eats
We recommend checking out spots located in the heart of the city, including the JR Sapporo Station, Susukino, and Odori Park! As for eats, we absolutely loved White Cosy for fantastic parfaits, Daruma for Hokkaido’s signature lamb BBQ (husband’s favorite), Kinotoya for cheese tarts, Nemuro Hanamaru for delicious and affordable conveyor belt sushi, Sumire for rich miso ramen, AND INITIAL for yummy soft serves, and Kitakaro for desserts and the absolute best rice crackers.