Travel & Food | Hokkaido, Japan

Sunday, September 15, 2019

This is the second part to my husband and my second trip to Japan -- the Hokkaido edition! To read more about our overall trip, take a look at my post about our trip to Tokyo.


Hokkaido is known for their milk and soft serve (aka soft cream), so the husband and I definitely ate a lot of those while we were here. We specifically visited the cities of Sapporo and Biei -- each with their own unique characteristics.





SAPPORO, HOKKAIDO, JAPAN


What we did (and tried to do)


  1. Mount Moiwa Ropeway. [Tried] The hubs and I really wanted to visit this place, so it was on our list. It's basically a gondola ride that takes you up a mountain, where you can get a great view of the city. Perfect for photos (day or night) or just breathing in the fresh mountain air! Luckily, the hubs and I saw a sign on one of our subway stops that said that the Ropeway was closed as of 8/24/19 with no telling when it would reopen. If you plan on doing this activity anytime soon, be sure to look for signs or ask around when you're in Sapporo!
  2. Shiroi Koibito Park. [Did] How can you be in Europe and Japan at the same time? By visiting this park, of course! The architectural design of this park -- its buildings, gates, and details -- are all based on Tudor-style architecture. The park is a perfect day (or most-of-the-day) trip that adults and families can enjoy.

    The park is very picturesque and has shows every hour or so that can be watched outside of the park. The park itself is free to walk through and take pictures. There is even a free picture printout that you can get of you/your group with the iconic Shiroi Koibito white chocolate cookie and the Tudor-style buildings and garden as your background (Travel Pro Tip: look for the photographers near the greenhouse of the park). If you're lucky enough and time things just right, you might be able to find the bubble machine that, well, makes bubbles! It's pretty neat and happens towards the end of the show, but you'll need to find that bubble machine first (Travel Pro Tip: you'll find the bubble machine near the water fountain).

    There is also a small flower patch that is decorated by theme. The theme the hubs and I saw when we went was Halloween. There were cute little pumpkins with faces and "Happy Halloween" signs scattered on the flower patch. It made for great pictures! For another free photo experience, you'll need to have your QR code scanner handy, and hopefully, good reception/cell service (Travel Pro Tip: you'll find this freebie near one of the ends of the said flower patch). To get your free picture, you'll need to scan the QR code, which will lead you to a website. The website never loaded for me because I didn't have good reception and the free wi-fi on site wasn't accessible (at least for me/my phone) from the flower area outside. The idea is this: a camera from the rooftop of the building will get a picture of you/your group with the flowers. Think aerial view. And the photo will be loaded to the website that the QR code lead you to, so you can download the picture or save it.

    For the kids, there is a playground area featuring many tiny houses in different styles! Most of the homes have play furniture inside too. Definitely fun if you're a little one! For a small fee, there is also a train ride for adults and children located across from the park (the access and place to purchase the train tickets is near the parking area). Near the train ticket booth and on the garden side, there are stands selling Shiroi Koibito soft cream (see the "what we ate" section for more about it).

    The inside of the main building itself has several floors. The first floor houses their stores -- Shiroi Koibito and Candy Labo. On the second floor, you can do a self-paced walk through of the history of the brand and cookie. There is also a kid's play area and craft area (for a fee). There is another area (different entrance from the shops) where you can purchase tickets to do a factory tour, which will grant you access to more floors. For a very minimal additional fee, you can do the factory tour with a chocolate tasting. The hubs and I opted for the latter option.

    The factory tour itself was interesting and not bad. It can get crowded, since it is a self-paced thing. For an idea of what it's like, you walk up the stairs for several floors or take the elevator up to the viewing deck, where you are able to look down through windows into the factory where they make and package their signature cookies and cakes. Plastered along the walls are plastic, postered replicas of the confectionery maker's notes, ideas, and thoughts!

    For the chocolate tasting part of the tour, the hubs and I was given a set time and a bracelet for entrance. We had to check in on the ground floor past the ticket booth for the tasting. When the time came, we were brought into a room, where they did a show about the chocolate making process and how to properly do a chocolate tasting. The presentation was all in Japanese, but there was English subtitles on the screen. We tried different things from raw cocoa chunks to actual, packaged chocolate (nutty and floral flavors). At the end of the tasting, you get a little certificate that you completed the chocolate tasting course. Overall, I thought it was a different and unique experience, but the hubs didn't think it was worth it.
  3. Sapporo TV Tower. [Did] The hubs and I made it here during our second night in Hokkaido (after the bus trip to Biei area). You take the elevator up to the reception area, where you purchase tickets from a machine. After that, the people from the reception lead you to the elevators to take you up. The top of the tower had some really nice views overlooking Odori Park and other tall buildings and streets. Of course, the city lights against the night sky made the view extra nice! The walkaround area at the top isn't big (like the Space Needle in Seattle), so it can get crowded. When the hubs and I first reached the viewing deck, it was reasonably crowded. There were pretty much people at every window, and we were able to have our own window and moved as people moved. Once we came full circle, there was another group of people who had just come up the elevator, and it was a pretty big group. One of the windows in particular was packed with people because of a fireworks show happening at one of the parks. The fireworks show was great to watch from afar, but definitely not capturable with a smartphone camera (unless you don't mind the poor resolution). Depending on how much of a photo-enthusiast or how crowded the tower is, you can probably get away with seeing all there is to see within 30 minutes. There is also a mini shrine dedicated to the tower near one of the ends of the gift shop on the viewing deck. It's cute to check out and reminiscent of the many shrines the hubs and I visited on our trip to Kyoto. Once you're finished, you'll take the elevator back downstairs and go through the main tower shop, which has more snacks, souvenirs, and etc.

    Travel Pro Tip: You get coupons to use for the shop at the viewing deck. The coupon equates to $0.50 USD. Not much, but every bit helps! The shop at the viewing deck has some Hokkaido specialties (ie. their caramels), which you can use the coupon on.
  4. Tanukikoji Shopping Street. [Tried] This is another place that the hubs and I tried to visit; however, we were later than we thought time-wise and most of the shops were closed by the time we got there. All I can say is that there are some shops that are open, most of which were convenience-like stores that sold skincare products, quick snack foods, and the likes. There were also a couple of food and dessert shops open late, and there weren't any people at some of the shops. It's hard to say if those food shops would have been good or not. The hubs and I did find a very good soft cream place, Ugly Duck, that we both would recommend! You can find our experience with their soft cream in the "what we ate" section below!


Where we stayed


  1. Sapporo Park Hotel. A nice and classy hotel we stayed at. The inside decor of the reception area was nice and spacious. It was also located on the ground floor (unlike Tokyo, where the hotel reception was on the 2nd or higher floors -- understandable, given the population density/space). The hallways and the room itself was clean and neat, but you can tell that it is dated and not as modernized as the places we stayed in Tokyo. The room size itself was similar to or slightly larger than the places we stayed in Tokyo. We actually had a desk in addition to the small dining table area. And yes, we had the classic bidet toilet. We had an actual room key (yes, a key), which we had to check back in each time we stepped out of the hotel and retrieve it each time we returned back. Staff were friendly and professional. The hotel is located conveniently near a subway station and the limousine bus (the bus that takes you directly to the airport).


What we ate


  1. Suage 2. One of the foods Hokkaido is known for is their soup curry. What is soup curry? I would describe it as curry that is more liquified like soup! The seating and waiting area was packed when the hubs and I first got in. We were eventually seated within 15-20 minutes of waiting. For ordering, you pick the kind of curry, the kind of soup (ie. do you want additional fish sauce/flavoring or basic?), the spiciness level, the amount of rice you want, and any additional toppings or drinks you want.

    I thought the soup curry was good and not as salty as the curry we had while in Tokyo. It was different in that the curry was soupy and not saucy. The soup curry was fresh made to order, which means.. you better watch your tongue! Mixing the curry soup with the rice added just enough flavor without being overbearing (like how sauce consistency things can be sometimes). The locally grown vegetables that comes as part of the soup was a nice addition and didn't decrease the amount of meat that was given in the soup. My only real complaint about the soup was the layer of oil on top. Soup curry is something unique to try; but if curry in soup form isn't really your thing, you can move right along without missing anything!
  2. Ugly Duck. Located as part of the Tanukikoji Shopping Street on the second floor, it can be hard to find. But, if you do manage to find this place, all I can say is you've found a hidden gem...like us!

    The hubs and I wanted to get our taste of the "Hokkaido soft cream" so many blogs, websites, and etc have raved about. We wanted to get a taste of what made this soft cream so special. By the time we had finished dinner at Suage 2 (you can read more about our dinner in point #1) and headed over to the Tanukikoji Shopping Street, most of the shops were closed. We decided to walk around and take a look anyways. Every time we spotted a dessert shop, we'd stop by to take a look at their menu. Most of the places that were open later were more of the mainstream dessert shops that you could probably find in the Asian areas of cities back in the United States.

    The Ugly Duck caught my eye. Not because of the menu, but because of its mascot -- a duck! As I took pictures of the storefront, I noted that they had soft cream. The hubs decided to do some quick searching about the place and found only one 5/5 star review on Trip Advisor. As it would get later and we had an early bus trip to catch tomorrow (see the section about Biei below), we decided to stop in and give it a try.

    The hubs and I each got our own soft cream in their large size. I took my first bite as my hubs took his. Wow! We both were impressed. The soft cream had that milky taste to it. And by milky, I'm not talking about the usual milk you drink here in the United States. There was a distinct taste to the milk that made it...for lack of better words... different, but in a good way! And don't worry, you don't need an acquired taste for this. The milk used for the soft cream is from the Yamanaka Dairy Farm. The soft cream was creamy but light, maybe like if ice cream and soft serve had a kid. Or maybe this is what soft cream is. I don't know, but it was absolutely delicious. Now that we're back from our trip and I'm writing this post, I really wish we had gone back for seconds. It was, hands down, the best soft cream we had during our entire trip in Hokkaido.
  3. Nemuro Hanamaru JR Tower Stellar Place. The place looked pretty busy on the outside with a long line and waitlist on the clipboard. Upon being seated, the hubs and I noted that there were some empty, clean tables with no one seated. We're not sure why that is, but on to the foods! We requested the English menu and ordered crab miso soup, seafood salad, a salmon nigiri set, and a shellfish nigiri set. Each of the nigiri sets came with five pieces of fish. The hubs and I shared the sets, and we each had our own soup and salad. The crab miso soup was tasty and had crab legs. It was a specialty because the crabs were fresh and local to Hokkaido (if you see pictures on the link, notice how spiky the crab is). The only con to the crab soup was that there wasn't much meat to the crab. The crab was cracked, but it was still hard to open because of the spikiness of the shell. Personally, we're not sure if we would order it again. Maybe, given the low cost; but maybe not, given that there isn't much meat and it does take some work. The seafood salad was a refreshing and pleasant surprised. They use locally grown vegetables for the salad and there were many slices of different fish in the salad. If you're trying to lay off the rice/carbs, this would be a great alternative and very much worth the price! Both the hubs and I were happy with our salad!
  4. Queen's Soft Cream Cafe. This is the place the hubs and I agreed would rank either the same as Ugly Duck or as #2, just below Ugly Duck. This place is located at one of the subway stations, and also sources their milk from the Yamanaka Dairy Farm. You will need to purchase your order first from a machine, then hand the tickets to the person at the counter so that they can prepare your order. One interesting thing about this place is that you can purchase a cup of milk for $1.80 USD. I know...it sounds strange to go to Japan just to buy a cup of milk, but remember, we're talking Hokkaido milk! The hubs and I purchased a cup of the milk along with our own soft creams. Having a sip of the milk itself, you can taste that distinct flavor! It reminded us of the soft cream from Ugly Duck! Sipping the milk along with eating the soft cream, we could tell the soft cream was just a bit sweeter. Also, the soft cream had the Hokkaido milk taste, but it wasn't pronounced as the soft cream from Ugly Duck. The place itself was easy to find and had plenty of seats!
  5. Donbei (丼兵衛). While in Japan, you've got to get your fill of uni (or sea urchin), and this is your place to do just that -- freshly and at a reasonable price point! Let me preface this to say that this place is known for their 500 yen chirashi bowls. Not bad for the price, but I, personally, would rather try some of their other bowls. The bowl that is offered for 500 yen has a mixture of mixed chopped fish and eggs (tamago...not the fish eggs). Honestly, when in Japan, I'm looking to fill up on raw fish and not on filler things, so the hubs and I both skipped on the 500 yen chirashi bowls. This place also sells out of those bowls (and others) because of their price point. There was also a very long line and wait list (all with locals) when my hubs and I got there. It's a telling sign that this place is a must-try!

    There are a max of 8 seats at the restaurant, so the waitlist was a little slow to move as it moved 8 people at a time. The waiter took orders right before your group was up to be seated (so have your order ready). I ordered my usual -- half salmon roe with half raw salmon on rice. The hubs ordered the half uni and half salmon roe on rice. Each order comes along with a bowl of soup. There are cups that you can use to fill up tea at the back of the seating area. Once we did get seated, our food was mid-preparation and served fresh. The hubs let me try one piece of the uni, and it literally melted in my mouth! He was equally content with the freshness of the uni. Although people say uni requires an acquired taste, there wasn't really that "taste" to this uni -- I wonder if that's what fresh uni is like! My salmon dish was delicious, and it was one of the best salmon dishes I've had during this trip! In hindsight, I did wish I ordered the same dish as my hubs or maybe a full uni on rice dish. The uni was really that good!
  6. Hokkaido Regalo de Cream. Hokkaido is known for the dairy products -- soft cream, milk, and other things -- so what about their cream puffs? I'm a huge fan of cream puffs, but only the kinds that use quality/custard-y filling. I don't really care about that whipped cream filling. When the hubs and I passed this place, buying a cream puff to try out was really for me (but I was good and saved some for the hubs to try too)! The cream puff shell is made fresh by the shop and the cream puff isn't filled until ordered and paid for. The ratio of filling to cream puff shell was about equal (with maybe a little more filling than shell). The shell was dry, but not soggy, and the custard-y goodness added enough moisture with each bite! Oh, and did I mention the custard filling had vanilla bean specks too? Yum! This cream puff is one of the best I have ever had, and I'm sad I didn't just eat the whole thing myself! The hubs was also pleasantly surprised by the cream puff, the vanilla bean specks in the filling, and how it wasn't too sweet! The hubs and I will have to stop by again the next time we visit Hokkaido!
  7. Shiroi Koibito Park (Soft Cream). If you've ever tried the Shiroi Koibito white chocolate, imagine that flavor in the form of soft cream. That's exactly what our swirl soft cream tasted like! The chocolate part of our swirl just reminded us of the usual chocolate flavored soft serve back in the United States. But the "vanilla" part tasted just like the white chocolate! Compared to some of the other soft creams we've had on our Hokkaido adventure, we would rank it on the sweeter side and comment that you can't really taste the Hokkaido milk flavor. Overall, it was good and we would eat it again.
  8. Sapporo Ramen Haruka. A ramen shop with rock band decor. Kind of an interesting concept, right? Don't let the decor fool you! The ramen is delicious and made to order right in front of you! Some of their more popular ramen have the cheese top (Hokkaido is known for their dairy, remember?). The hubs and I skipped out on their cheese topped ramen and went for their scallops ramen. The ramen noodle itself was nice and chewy. The soup base was flavorful without being too salty. The scallops were presented nicely in a large shell, and the scallops themselves were fresh and huge! We'll definitely be back again to try their cheese topped ramen!




BIEI, HOKKAIDO, JAPAN
[AS PART OF 1-DAY BUS TOUR]






What we did


  1. Farm Tomita -- Flower Fields. Such a beautiful and large flower field! You can see different types of flowers growing in different field patches. There is even a small greenhouse overlooking one of the fields. It was a breathtaking experience seeing the colors of different flower varieties come together and literally add color to the field and hillside. Beware to watch your time and take your pictures quickly at all of the flower stops! You can really lose track of time as you try to capture pictures from one patch to the next.
  2. Blue Pond. Yet another breathtaking sight brought to you by nature by way of a manmade dam! The story behind the blueness of the pond, in a nutshell, is that a dam was built to prevent damage should the nearby volcano erupts. Water from the dam began to flow in some direction and created this pond. The water that flows through the blue pond gets mixed naturally with different rocks and elements and thus has its unique blue color.

    Fun Fact: The color of the pond changes each season. The pond is the deepest blue during the summer months.

What we ate


  1. Furano Wine House. The meal from here was included as part of our bus tour fare. The food was American(?) food. We had cheese fondue -- warm cheese in a bread cup that we were able to dip locally grown vegetables in. For the main entree, there was a dish of rice and a dish that had salad and "steak." I put the steak in quotes because this isn't your typical American steak. It's pretty much lightly seasoned ground pork clumped together and made to look like a baked chicken thigh. I know. It sounds weird, but it looked and tasted good especially with the glaze sauce on the meat. They also served tea or coffee after the meal.
  2. Farm Tomita Food Stand. While you're on your stop at the first flower field, don't forget to check out the novelty foods and gifts at the shops on the border on the field. Farm Tomita is known for their lavender fields, so be ready for lavender everything! Speaking specifically on the foods they have at this stop, they had lavender soft cream, lavender pudding, and lavender lemonade. There was also a shop that sold sliced melons (cantaloupe), which I learned is a specialty food for the area. Some whole melons can cost as much as $25 USD and higher (with current conversion rate). It's pretty crazy.

    The hubs and I each got a cup of their lavender soft cream. It was delicious and had that lavender taste, but it was missing that fresh Hokkaido milk flavor. I suppose you can't expect excellent dairy products from a food stand at the flower fields. The soft cream was good and something we would try again, given it is flavored with lavender straight from the fields.

Public transportation and some walking by foot was used to get around in Hokkaido. For travel to Biei, the husband and I booked a bus tour, so that we would have transportation to get there. Transportation, otherwise, would be doable, but more difficult to plan and a lot more costly if we had done that on our own. Joining a bus tour was definitely the way to go! The bus had air conditioning (not that we really needed it given the weather while we were there) and also had power outlets (perfect for charging my phone). My only complaint with going with a bus tour was the limited time at each of the stops; but at the same time, I was glad the time was limited because I could spend hours just taking pictures! Lunch was included with the bus tour fee.


Although this was our second trip, there were so many new things to do and places to explore! I can't wait to travel here again, although it may be a while because we still have many other countries we haven't even visited yet! The next question is -- where to next? Got suggestions? Leave them in the comments section below!



- Nicole G.
@nextwithnicole // @nursenicoleg


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