Autumn in Japan 2018: Full Day in Sapporo


When my sister Cea (the youngest) and I planned a trip to Japan by end of this year, specifically in its northernmost and coldest part called HOKKAIDO, we weren't thinking of movie locations (Kita Kita in Sapporo) or that we're in for dairies overload. We wanted to see more of the snow haha.





Cea said the last time she experienced winter was during our first--in the States during our holiday vacation back in 2013-2014. She picked the dates because she's the one who has to take office leaves, and the rest were all in my hands. I haven't been to this side of Japan, and there weren't much written stuff about Sapporo or Hokkaido in my favorite travel blogs, so it made me nervous to plan everything. But it also meant I am in for another ride!

I love planning for a trip because I guess it made me more immersed in the place we're going to. I super enjoyed my Europe trip with Ate, but since I just went along with her plans I am a bit zero when it comes to info or planning. I have nothing much to share!! But with my Korea trips and this one for Japan, I am excited to blog about them right away! And so after another typical long intro,  let me go to the nitty gritty of our autumn trip to Hokkaido and hope I get to cover everything before your own trips!

HOW TO GO TO HOKKAIDO

There are several transportations that you can take to get to Hokkaido. It turns out, Hokkaido is a large island and Sapporo is just a part of it (also its capital and largest city). Sorry hindi ko alam ito before, haha! Sapporo is also where their international airport is located.



Direct Flights from Manila to Sapporo

There are airlines that has direct flights from Manila to Sapporo's New Chitose International Airport. I guess this is the more convenient transportation option, but also a little bit pricier. This is okay with me, but I guess I still wanted to see my favorite city Tokyo for this trip. I checked Sky Scanner now and only Philippine Airlines (PAL) has direct flights for January at about Php 36,000+ round trip.

Connecting Flights

I checked Sky Scanner and saw that Jetstar has NAIA to New Chitose flights, but with a transfer from Narita Airport. Price is about Php 26,000-Php30,000 round trip. Jeju Air also offers same destination at same estimated cost, but stopover is in Incheon International Airport.

When we first booked for our round trip Narita flights, our plan was to take the bullet train to Hokkaido but had change of plans after not acquiring a JR Pass. Cea and I also decided that 8-hour train rides can be torture and tedious for us Titas hehe, so we just booked another plane ticket for the same day as our arrival to Narita Airport. Airfare is about Php 10,000 including 30 Kilos luggage allowance (since it's winter time, and yes, in case of shopping LOL). We took Vanilla Air, a low-cost airline in Japan, owned by ANA, for the first time. We also headed back to Narita via same airline, and stayed in Tokyo for about 3 more nights.



By Land (Train or Bus)

And lastly, our original plan, in Japan we can always take the train aka the Shinkansen. I've tried this before with my Ate when we had Osaka-Kyoto then Tokyo route. I also tried a sleeper bus with my friends back in 2017 for same route. I like both of these mode of transportations, and each has its own perks and downside.

When you take a bus, travel is longer but it's more matipid in a way that you don't have to book a hotel na for that night. There are no baggage weight constraints too, compared to airline's stricter policies.

Meanwhile, you can also take the JR Tohoku / Hokkaido Shinkansen from Tokyo. Price is about 27,000 Yen and still mahal for me, but when you get a JR Pass at about Php13,000 (7 day unli JR train pass) that you can use for other trains for the rest of the trip I guess sulit naman sya. But you have to be strategic with your routes para mas magamit sya.

I haven't tried JR Pass ever, so I have nothing much to say about it. Maybe I'll get one on my next trips when I plan a longer stay, and mas iikutin ko pa lalo ang Japan.

Anyway, photos from our trip! 

After about 4 hours on the plane, Cea and I finally arrived in Narita International Airport and still have time to spare for late lunch before our check-in again for our domestic flight. We transferred from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 via a free bus shuttle. There are restos in Terminal 3 where we had our first meal in Japan:

I remembered being in this airport in 2017 when we took Jetstar! Anyway, this is also the airport for Vanilla Air's domestic flights. We were early for our check-in because like any typical Pinoy during flights #praning. Haha! The counters opened about 1.5 hours before departure.

It was another 1 hour and 45 minutes flight, but Cea just slept the whole time. I distracted my self by listening to my Korean playlist, or reading the in-house magazine in front of me. The flight felt longer than it should be, but we were tired narin talaga. I cannot imagine if tinuloy 8-hour train namin ito!

When the pilot announced our final descent, I looked outside the 5:20pm sky and it was already pitch black. It still surprised me, haha! Hello mid-autumn Japan!

We were tired and hungry travellers, so Cea and I decided to stay in the airport for dinner and strolling before riding another long bus ride to the city center. New Chitose International Airport has a lot to offer! Sayang we weren't able to dedicate more time here, ang daming stuff that you can try just in this airport.

We had decent dinner in a random Japanese restaurant. That onigiri (triangle rice) has CHEESE inside, sarap!


Then Cea and I went to the New Chitose stores recommended by her friends. They have a Calbee store, Royce, Le Tao, etc. Must-try daw are the ice cream, the melon, corn, Le Tao goodies, and all the other dairies! They even suggested that we get Hokkaido BUTTER from a grocery, haha! Yun lang ata di namin natry, but the rest check!



We weren't able to buy here, but I tried the corn and melon while we were in Otaru. Masarap!

We tried Le Tao in the airport cafe during our flight back to Tokyo:


Since we just had heavy dinner, we decided to just have dessert aka ice cream! We picked this indie looking ice cream shop called Jersey Brown. They serve all sorts of ice cream, but happy na kami ni Cea sa Milky soft-served ice cream in a cone. The best!!

Cea said the seller is also a nice old lady who allowed her to take photos of the store, hehe!






After we satisfied our tummies, it's time to take ANOTHER 1.5 hours bus ride to our hotel. We just asked the information counter for our bus, paid via a vendo machine (1030 Yen), then looked for the bus number. Make sure to keep all the tickets and whatnots they give you (luggage number yun). Cea almost lost hers haha (antok pa!), but they waited naman before the bus moved.




WHERE TO STAY WE STAYED IN SAPPORO

Again, there are different ways that you can explore Hokkaido. You can stay in its different cities for a night or every two nights, or just stay in Sapporo and take day trips.

I cancelled a lot of hotel and hostel options during my planning stage, so thank God for:

1) Agoda's FREE cancellation policies 😂
2) Friends who reply to your Facebook crowdsourcing posts!

Minsan may nabook ako na mura nga, but ang layo layo pala sa city center. Another time during planning, I booked iba ibang hotels pa around Hokkaido but naisip ko na sobrang lagari to always check-out and transfer nanaman sa isang hotel with our huge bags and limited time. It's just a short trip anyway so okay na yung one hotel and just maximize wherever we can go.

UNIZO INN SAPPORO

I decided to push my booking in Unizo Inn Sapporo. I am sure there are a lot of other hotels and hostels in Sapporo, but I suggest if from my experience you check the ones within ODORI PARK or ODORI STATION. From our hotel, we just WALKED to a lot of Sapporo's tourist spots. Okay din sa SUSUKINO area since that's where the foods are, hehe.

Medyo mahal kay Unizo than my usual budget accommodations before. But since dalawa naman kami ni Cea and it did saved us a lot on transportation costs, okay na okay na.



We arrived in the nearest airport bus stop to our hotel nighttime na. A lot of tourists still went down the bus so we still felt safe, plus it's Japan! I think it was even drizzling that night.

The bus stop nearest to Unizo Inn Sapporo is the Sapporo Grand Hotel, na ISANG TAWID LANG! Ito palang super recommended ko na ang Unizo. Aside from the convenience, I think we passed by about 3-5 different convenience stores on our way to the hotel.

Welcome to our room! I booked for the cheapest room available, and it's their Semi Double Non Smoking Room. Again, cheapest but not cheap! Hahaha! We paid about Php 12,000 EACH for 4 nights (so that's about Php 3000 per head per night). No breakfast yet. Steeper than my usual Php 500 to 1000 per night budget in Korea, but in exchange of privacy and convenience pwede na.


Our bed is so small, but buti nalang magkapatid naman kami ni Cea, haha! We also had aircon problems during our stay. Since malamig outside, minsan nagiging heater sya but hindi comfortable ang mainit na room for me. We had to adjust it all the time na para lumamig. Anyway, Cea said comfy naman siya, but if like me bet nyo yung winter wonderland na room medyo struggle sakin yung adjustments ng aircon nila.


Cea and I made a system with our HUGE luggages by placing them side by side, cover leaning up the wall para may malakaran parin.


They provided these robes that we didn't use naman, a laptop desk we used for our kombini snacks, and they also handed our bottled water during check-in palang (amounting to our number of days in the hotel).



Ayan yung bottled water, haha! Kulang pa siya sakin but again, ang daming convenience stores sa baba.

No closets in the room, but there are two rods with hangers for our coats and clothes. Bedroom and bathroom slippers are also provided.

Like a typical Japanese bathroom, our toilet and shower room is small but clean and complete. The toilet is remote controlled and heated kaya sobrang bongga! They also change ALL the towels daily, and make sure our room is clean when we get back. Again, comes with the price!


Tub and shower area. Shampoo, body wash, and conditioner are all provided.




The tiny bed, na nag kasya naman kami ni Cea hehe.

The quiet view from our hotel's window, konnichiwa Sapporo city!


HOW TO GO AROUND SAPPORO

Ang pinaka natakot ako about this trip is going around Hokkaido. I remembered my first time in Jeju, I ended up just taking an expensive cab because hindi madalas ang bus. It was also in that trip where I didn't look up (or had no time to research) on travel time so isang destination palang took an hour to get to--ubos kaagad half of the day! Haha!

That was how I imagined Hokkaido, and maybe ganun nga siya if I resorted to DIY. But my game plan changed the last minute when Cea agreed on spending on tour buses for our day-trips. For our Day 1 though, I pushed for just a city tour where we can just WALK or take the TRAIN.

Average one way train ticket is about 200 Yen. They also have unlimited train card for one day, but since panay walks lang kami ni Cea that day medyo huli na when we thought of buying one and just bought yung tingi-tingi.




Our neighborhood is BEAUTIFUL! If Sapporo is a filter, it looked like VSCO's A6!! Haha! It was dark and gray, very classy and quiet. I love its contrast to busy Shibuya. At night though, medyo mas maraming tao and bright lights lalo na sa Susukino area. In our area though in Odori, it was very peaceful.





Since we are the typical early risers, most of the cafes were closed yet (opens around 11am). We just settled for convenience store breakfast na hindi na masama.

The nearest station to our place is Odori Station in Odori Park, where the city's landmark Sapporo TV Tower is also located.






What station to take? Where to get off? We relied mainly on GOOGLE MAPS for directions so make sure you are always connected on your travels. For solo trips, I love using local sim. But for group or inter-city travels (multiple destinations) I use Tep Wireless pocket internet.

WHERE TO GO AND THINGS TO DO IN SAPPORO

For just a day, you can already do a lot of things in Sapporo. Actually if it were up to me, a day or two is enough to explore the city center, but the surrounding cities about 2-3 hours away will make me stay here longer. If you have just a day to spare in Sapporo, here are some places that we were able to go to in less than 24 hours:

HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE

Also known as the Red Brick Office, Cea and I just walked to this area using our Google Maps. It was easy, not sure if it's far but the cool weather and nice view (and our first time out!) were enough to have us walk!



We passed by the back area of the baroque American architectural building (and not by the gate on the photo above), and had our first taste of an autumn park in Sapporo.



There's a beautiful pond where branches of orange and red trees drop down to touch the water:



On the side, heading to the front gate of the building are more autumn trees but this time in glowing yellows and golds:


We walked outside to cross and enter the building called Akarenga Terrace. They have a semi "observatory" on its top floor where you can check the view of the Old Hokkaido Government Building and its nearby parks. Entrance is for free, so we went in nadin. There are restaurants on that floor, so you can also dine in here while enjoying the view.



View from the terrace:




SAPPORO CLOCK TOWER

Another landmark that's very near Unizo Inn is the Sapporo Clock Tower. It's easy to spot with its nice pale green color and wooden church-like exteriors. Sapporo Clock Tower has a very rich history, Sapporo considers it as their symbol.

We entered the building for FREE, where citizens welcomed us with a map and info sheet and even asked us where we came from. They were very apologetic that it's cold outside, at naloka kami ni Cea haha! They are mostly old ladies, and they are so enthusiastic about the clock tower, sobrang cute and nice nila huhuhu.




On the first floor is the museum and a souvenir shop.

The Sapporo Clock Tower pretty much still looks the same through the years:



We waited on the second floor at the lecture hall for 12nn to hear the clock. The ladies told us to touch the walls so we can feel the room vibrating! Ang cute lang!



The amazing part about this clock is that it is powered by GRAVITY alone--no batteries, no electricity, and not even nuclear power. About 50 kilograms of wooden box filled up with small stones hang at the bottom of the clock, making the whole technology simple, clean, safe, and pollution free. Only in Japan!


RAMEN ALLEY / SUSUKINO

We left the clock tower in time for lunch, so I told Cea that we can head to the famous Ramen Alley narin. We just walked, but it's actually nearer when you take the train to Susukino Station.

Btw, Hokkaido turns out to be popular for their RAMEN!


This place reminds me of Shinjuku's Omoide Yochoko, also a narrow alley where local bars and restaurants thrive. 

We were supposed to enter the first ramen bar that we saw, with the picture of Anthony Bourdaine posted on its glass walls. We asked for a table, but the chef said that they are already by reservations so sige na nga. We walked and entered the next place that we saw. It says no photos of the cooking area, so here are the only pictures I was able to take of our lunch:





Okay naman sya, but hindi super spectacular as I was expecting haha! I even ordered the one with butter and corn for extra flavor, but medyo maalat for my taste. Cea didn't finish her bowl, I only went about halfway and I am matakaw na sa lagay na yan ha hehe. Anyway, baka dapat we went for the Anthony Bourdaine place next time!!

Btw, take note that I am a vegetarian but it's so hard to request for veggies-only ramen when in Japan. One time on my first trip to Tokyo Ate and I tried to request for no meat on a specific dish in the menu, and I think na ooffend sila when we do that here. To them kasi their recipe is perfect na, as is. I think you'll get same reaction when asking for condiments. They treat their food as ART! Kudos naman to them for that, hehe. But if you are a STRICT vegetarian then you might have a hard time with your food when in Japan.


Outside the Ramen Alley is the Susukino, also known as Sapporo's red light district. Shops like GU, Daiso, and Don Quijote are in this area, and also most of the restaurants, fast food chains, and bars. We walk to Susukino every night for our dinner. Ang ganda ganda dito sa gabi when all the billboards are lighted up!




NAKAJIMA PARK

We were supposed to go to Mt. Moiwa Ropeway and ride the cablecar, but it was sadly under renovations on the whole duration of our trip! So we decided to hop in the train and check out a nearby park where you can also view daw Mt. Moiwa ...




We went down Horohirabashi Station for the Nakajima Koen Park. According to the internet, you can see Mount Moiwa from the park but I guess it still depends on if it's a clear day. There's no Mt. Moiwa to be found, but here's what we saw on the river....


A cute doggo! We were distracted for a few minutes just watching what he is doing! He seems to be chasing something, but it turns out he's just getting flat stones and handing them to his fur parent (seated across us). Ang cute nya!




"Ang lamig dyan doggie!" Hehe. 💛

What's inside the park? There's a simple ski course during winter, the Concert Hall Kitara and Hoheikan, an astronomical observatory, Iyahiko Shrine, the Hokkaido Museum of Literature, and a Japanese Garden are all found within the park's premises.







SAPPORO BEER MUSEUM

We gave up on seeing Mt. Moiwa, and decided to go back to the train station and head for another stop: The Sapporo Beer Garden and Museum. If you've tried Sapporo beer before--with the iconic yellow star in the middle--then this is an amusing Hokkaido Heritage stop when you're in Sapporo.





I just learned now that Hokkaido is the birthplace of beer in Japan, and Sapporo Beer is one of its oldest beer brands brewing since 1877.

You can enter the museum for a fee (with guided tour) or for free--which Cea and I picked. It's not so bad nadin as we were able to pick up a number of information on the history of beer in Japan and the brand just by going around the museum.





Cea said that Sapporo Beer once attempted to rebrand to Nippon Beer, but it did not clicked. So they went back to Sapporo Beer rin.

HUGE TANK!



Our favorite zone, the Beer Tasting area! You choose the kind of beer and pay via a vending machine, and get your beer on tap by the counter. Cea and I are admittedly not beer people (mas ma wine ako haha) but sobrang sarap niya dito! 



Price list:


Dining area reminds me of Hogwarts:


Got the classic, while Cea accidentally got the dark brew haha!


CHEERS! We just have to have our pics taken at the Sapporo Mug photo zone hehehe:

Btw, even kids are allowed in the museum basta obvs hindi lang sila oorder ng beer, haha! You can get to Sapporo Beer Museum through train (Higashikuyakusho Mae Station then about 15-minute walk) or bus from Odori straight to the museum. We went there through train, but discovered the more convenient bus heading back to Odori. It was already raining by that time so thank God for the transportation convenience!

SAPPORO TV TOWER AT NIGHT

Since we're already in Odori Park area, and it was raining outside, Cea and I decided to check out the observatory of the Sapporo TV Tower. It's a typical indoor observatory with the 360 degrees view of the city, and souvenir shops on the side. Entrance fee is 720 Yen, inclusive of luggage stickers. You can go here from 9am to 10pm. I guess best time to go here is late in the afternoon para tuhog sunset and nighttime view.





DAY TRIPS FROM SAPPORO

The next days that we were there were all set for day trips to another cities. We went to OTARU (quaint harbor city), and FURANO - BIEI (nature trip). More on these on my next blog posts!

Onsen destinations are also a bit far from Sapporo and will entail a day-trip, this includes Jozankei and Noboribetsu. For winter, Niseko has the most popular ski resorts in Hokkaido as of the moment.

ESTIMATED BUDGET FOR HOKKAIDO TRIP

We tried to note our expenses while in Sapporo, but I am sure bilang distracted I still missed a few detail resulting to discrepancies here and there. There were last minute bookings like our domestic flights, so I am sure if you're on a budget and have planned this well may maibabawas pa dito.

Anyway, here's a rough estimate of our expenses for our 4 nights in Hokkaido:

Basics:
Round Trip Airfare Manila to Narita - Php 13,000
Round Trip Airfare Narita to New Chitose - Php 10,000
Accommodation for 4 Nights in Unizo Inn - Php 12,000

Tours via Klook:
Otaru (with buffet lunch) - Php 2478
Furano / Biei (with buffet lunch) - Php 3384

Transportations:
Sapporo Airport Bus - Php 476 x 2
Sapporo Trains - Php 92 / ride

Food:
Php 1000 to Php 1600 per day 
(note that some days have buffet lunch already kaya tipid)

Average cost of food:
*Kombini breakfast and / or midnight snacks - Php 350
*Ramen - Php 350 to Php 500
*Soft Served Ice Cream and other Snacks (Corn, Melon, Etc) - Php 180 each
*Local Japanese Restaurants - Php 350 to Php 1200
(most expensive was when we tried Mero Sapporo Cheese Factory with wine for dinner, hehe!)
*Fast Food - Php 390
(we tried MOS Burger fast food on one dinner)

###

IN CONCLUSION

Sapporo is not as intimidating as I thought, but it can get pretty expensive when you're for convenience! Medyo tita mode na kami ni Cea and we don't want to break our backs na, so gone are the days when we have to pull our 30-kilo luggages just to reach the nearest train for the airport. We are in a phase na okay na gumastos ng kahit konti, not too much, but just to make things a bit easier for us!

Same goes with taking tour buses instead of DIY-ing the whole trip! Since I haven't been here before, and we cannot afford to waste a day during our short vacation, joining a guided tour for our day-trip outside Sapporo is a bit mahal but also made our trip successful in my standards.

We were able to see a lot of things in Hokkaido in just a span of 4 days, and we didn't waste time and got inconvenienced. Cea also enjoyed her first Anagon Tour, I must say! When we were back in Tokyo, I knew she's still looking for the nature side that Hokkaido offered us that I felt she got bored in Shibuya, haha!

Overall, you'll still see me booking for another ticket back to Sapporo--bitin na bitin pa ako! Someday, I want to see it white with snow, as Cea and I originally planned. I am not always lucky with seasons as we were a week early for Sapporo's first snowfall. A few nights ago, Cea sent me recent photos of Odori Park--our neighborhood Odori!!!--all glistening and covered in fresh snow. Street vendors that were non-existent during our whole trip sprouted around the sides of the park, selling steaming hot corndogs and cheese logs! Sigh, just a week passed by and it's a whole new world altogether.

Dinner in Daimaru:


But the rustling and rain of golden leaves signalling the last days of Autumn, the cooler days where we can comfortably walk around the streets of Odori or Susukino without freezing to death, traveling anyway is basically just making the most of the experiences laid before you. There's no right or wrong way anyway, just the thought that we were given the chance to be there is more than enough to me. 💛






Next stop: Quaint little town of Otaru. 
To be continued!


Special thanks to my Facebook friends who were very generous with their tips and answering my questions when I posted online searching for Hokkaido tips! Shoutout to Marco Diala, Lace Tan, Diana Cortes, and Chaley Tiu! Planning would have been harder if not for travel friends like you! 😌

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