The Other Side Of Hokkaido That You Should Visit (Note: Not Sapporo or Niseko) | Winter In Japan 2019


Our winter in Japan trip was from February 14 to 17. We left the night of the 13th, and slept on the plane (Japan Airlines). It was around midnight when we stepped foot in Japan (Haneda International Airport), took the free airport shuttle to another airport terminal for another plane ride to the underexposed side of Japan. This is my kind of Valentine's! πŸ’–




I really enjoyed this trip! I will recommend it to anyone who wants to experience snow at its finest. Japan really is the KING when it comes to seasons, my best sakura (spring) and autumn trips are both in Japan. I dare say even my best winter trip is this, if not tied with my memories in Korea on my first fully consented solo travel last winter 2018. Iba talaga, parang season on steroids!









So if you're planning to go back to Japan for the snow I suggest that you might as well explore MORE of this beautiful country outside of Tokyo (or even Kyoto and Osaka). When it comes to winter, you HAVE TO be in Hokkaido!

But people only know Hokkaido more for Sapporo or even Niseko. This northernmost prefecture of Japan is also the country's second largest island, meaning marami pa syang sub-prefectures, towns, and cities including Memanbetsu. This district was the main agenda of our trip!

Day 1

• Lake Abashiri
• Hotpot Lunch in Okhotsk Bazaar
• Old train from Abashiri Station to Hama-Koshimizu Station
• Oshin Koshin Falls
• Drift Ice Walking
• Dinner in Namishibuki (Michelin Starred resto)
• Hotel: KIKI Shiretoko Natural Resort


No time to waste, our group opened our luggages and bundled up the moment we arrived at the Memanbetsu Airport. Imagine the ladies taking over the airport's small restroom, changing into our winter clothes, washing our faces and putting on little makeup only to end up covering our cold faces with scarves and face masks, haha!

There is no snow shortage on the first day of our winter trip! We went fishing on this beautiful frozen lake, although Kuya Melo and I more of just took lots of Instagram pics around the area, hehehe!




Our Japanese meals include hearty soup dishes (YAS!), hotpot for lunch and ramen for dinner:






Being part of media trips meant not being able to explore on my own (one of my favorite parts whenever I DIY travel), I am glad we had one activity where we took the train from Abashiri Station for the view of SNOW and iced lakes!





Ang ganda ganda ganda, can't even sit still as I watched the sparkling white lands accented by the clear blue skies as background:


We also had a quick stop for this waterfalls which is said to be one of the most beautiful in Japan. People had to go up for a full view, but the pathways were so slippery that I witnessed so many people slipping and sliding! πŸ˜€


I guess the highlight of Day 1 for me is our Drift Ice experience! It's not everyday you get the chance to WALK on frozen lakes! We had to wear this solid waterproof dry suits na even the footwear / boots are connected to the full clothing para walang lusot yung water in case you fall on thin ice! Akk!

My phone died while we were in the middle of ice, so I had little to no documentations of this, but more time to actually feel and see everything around me! I'd say, this is next level HIKING!



Asa dulong dulo kami ng trail nila Jookie and Kuya Ed, haha! Panay tawa lang kami nito! 😁


Witnessed snowfall while we were on our way back to our hotel, right after dinner. Still magical to me!

Another favorite part of this trip is that we all had solo rooms all throughout so we can fully rest after a long day. We never stayed for more than one night in one hotel though, since we have to transfer and explore other parts of Hokkaido. Now that I think of it, parang nag hotel hopping nadin kami!

Each room we slept in has a touch of Japanese aesthetics. Our first hotel (KIKI Shiretoko Natural Resort) is very modern Japan, much like a Muji home with the wood and neutral color palette. I think this is my most favorite from all the hotels we stayed in as, aside from being HUGE, it is also very modern so hindi masyado scary mag isa hehehe.


Enjoying a bar of BLACK ice cream from our kombini run:


We also always have a bath tub in all the rooms we stayed in, which I took advantage of every night to defrost my cold bodeh! Hehe!

Wonderful morning view from my hotel room's window:


Day 2

• Ainu Cultural Experience - Ainu wood carving, nifty stores
• Traditional Ainu lunch
• Snow mobile at the frozen Lake Akan
• Kaiseki (Japanese multi-course meal) for Dinner
• Lake Akan Ice Festival
• Hotel: Hotel Akanko Sou


Day 2 just proves that there is still more to see and do in Japan, especially during the winter. I love the variety of places and immersions we had for this trip, and on our second day, we had a mix of chill and extreme activities!

Our first stop is in this nice cultural village where we learned more about Hokkaido's Ainu indigenous ethnic group (they can also be found in Russia). They are quite different from the Japanese when it comes to their culture and even physique--to me, they add a certain spice to what we've commonly known Japan for.



Sam enjoying the stroll around these Ainu wooden crafts souvenir shops:

We also tried our hands on Ainu traditional wood carving:


Then we went to one of the nifty restaurants for our traditional Ainu lunch. I love the feel of the place upon entering, it was filled with trinkets made of carved wood. The details sparked joy that I had to blurt out "Hindi talaga ako magiging minimalist!" 


They have really unique dishes like this pizza, rice with beans, and a mashed sweet potato side dish.


From artsy fartsy and cultural morning, our afternoon was spent on the frozen lake again. This time, we tried our hands on snowmobile! This is another first for me, and for someone who can't even ride a bike--I was so nervous and excited!



But going out there in the open field was really breathtaking, and even peaceful! All I see was my snowmobile, the vast frozen lake, tiny buildings, and the ice covered mountains at a distance. Half wishing I can go for another round!




Dinner was kaiseki style in our hotel's restaurant, it's a Japanese multi-course meal. The OC set-up of a kaiseki still amazes me, sobrang ayos ng pagkaka arrange talaga. I am also very grateful for all the vegetarian alternatives I was served for this whole trip. Never felt deprived, I leave the table full and super satisfied.



Last stop for the day was not required, but we all went for it anyway.

Knowing that we still had a last stop, I left all my cold paraphernalia in our bus (my gloves, face mask, ear muffs), not knowing that our bus left na pala for the day since we can walk from our hotel to the festival! Haha!

Since it's definitely colder at night, I tried to layer with whatever is left in my luggage. I also doubled my coat, and survived the -10 degrees (which felt more of -20 since it's night time and we're on a lake!).



Paulit-ulit nako but this is also a first for me! Ang cool pala ng ice festivals, they make sure there are random winter activities and shows for the guests. Installations were created so people can enjoy the cold night, from slides to sawing blocks of ice to booths that serve cups of hot beverages.

When the first fireworks display boomed, we all separated from each other--running for our own corner by the lake. Shaira, Jay Jay, and I capped the night side by side with the Fuyu-Hana-Bi or winter fireworks. Set aside the boppy background music, I am still moved by how fireworks display makes everything extra special. Add a frozen lake to the picture, and it all seems straight out of Disney!





Late kombini run, strolling (or crawling) through the almost deserted icy streets of our area:




We stayed in solo tatami rooms for the night, which is a traditional Japanese interior design with wide spaces, minimal furnishing, and where you sleep on the floor with just mats. Sobrang cool na cool ako sa room when I first entered it!

I enjoyed my cups of hot matcha tea by the flat chair and table next to the window, watching the spectacular view of the frozen lake where we did the snowmobile and ice festival. It was an unexpected view since we entered our rooms ng nakasara lahat ng wooden windows, then I decided to try and slide them open. It was the sight that really made me say "Thank You Lord!" overwhelmed for being there and receiving all these--wiping the fog from the glass window and maybe a little from the tears embarassingly forming from the corners of my eyes hehehe.

Then I received direct messages on my Instagram stories reminding me of Japanese horror movies I was so fond of when I was younger HAHA, and my imagination just can't stop, won't stop! πŸ˜‚

In short, I slept in the middle of my tatami room with all my lights on! πŸ˜…



Self-timer! Ang saya saya ko pa nyan, hahaha!






The center furnishings were pushed to the sides at night, and were replaced by these mats and sheets:


I tried a mint salt bath (again, a kombini find) that night:

My unexpected view of the sunset from my room. Dito talaga ako napa "Thank You Lord!":


Day 3

• Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary
• Ikeda Wine Tasting
• Ice Village in Hoshino Resort Tomamu
• Buffet dinner in Restaurant Nininupuri
• Hotel: Air Terminal Hotel (New Chitose International Airport)


Ahhh by Day 3 you might think I am already so used to the snow, but this view still distracted me during breakfast:


First stop was in a well-maintained crane sanctuary, Japan's national bird and also happens to be the logo of Japan Airlines! The nice thing about the Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary is that you don't just go there to see the cranes and take photos of them, but they also have an information zone where you learn more about how the Japanese were able to revive these birds after almost being close to extinction more than a decade ago!

They also have a souvenir shop where proceeds go to the crane sanctuary. I can't help but get a piece to show my support for this animal preservation site.








We had our lunch in a wine castle, not literally a castle but it is shaped like one so they eventually dubbed the place as such. This is where we also brought most of our pasalubongs for families and friends (chocolates and wine). Aside from the buffet and free wine taste, most of us also had our soft served ice cream fix here--and I can't emphasize enough how this is a must whenever you're in Hokkaido!




Wine during winter? A+++++!!!!



Wine in Tetrapaks:


Our last stop for the day (aside from dinner and our hotel for the night) was at the Ice Village in Hoshino Resort Tomamu. I cannot pick just one highlight for this winter trip, but this one is a standout just because it exceeded everyone's imaginations!

When I first learned that we're going to an ice village, I was imagining it will be indoors and man-made ala Star City (haha)! But we were brought to a very unique, outdoor, literally frozen village where you enter igloo-shaped structures with cafes, a library, shops, bars, and even an ice hotel!

We visited this minimalist church with wide glass wall on one side, overlooking the snowy world outside--lone white cross standing at the center. I heard some of the girls in the group wanting to hold their wedding here, hehehe!



Entrance to the Ice Village is an arch with "brick" walls literally made of ice!


After a several turns and climbs, we finally had a glimpse of the Ice Village from a bird's view point. If only I have a drone with me, this place looks so magical from above! I remember hearing a faint sentimental background music while we absorbed this view of the igloos, the white birch forest, the sunset, and the feel of our freezing hands that still try so hard to document everything that we can!


We had to take the ice slide to reach the village!


The first igloo is a cafe that sells ice cream and bingsoo! It would have been a nice experience, but we were too overwhelmed to just chill (lols) in one area and soooo.. we just took pictures and hopped to the next ones!




They also have a library with actual books, a fireplace in one corner, and seats, tables and shelves all made of ice! Hello Kuya Ed!




Learned that you can actually rent this ice hotel room and spend a night here!! G ka ba, Jookie? πŸ˜„ I wonder where's the nearest toilet though, haha!



The irony of having sunbathing chairs made of ice, and I even saw a small pool nearby (not in pic).


Some of us went to the ice bar for a drink, which they served in ice cups! It is not only in-theme, but also very sustainable and eco-friendly too, hehe!


A store sells these winter clothes, if only I can afford them I needed the extra layer! Hoho!


Here's the Ice Village at night, all lighted up and glowing. It was so hard to leave this giant snow globe.

We had our super heavy buffet dinner in Nininupuri, a restaurant in the middle of Tomamu forest thus this amazing view as we eat one of our best meals. By then I can't help but think that it's already our last night in Japan, huhuhu.




We stayed in an airport hotel, this one is inside New Chitose International Airport in Sapporo. I've been to New Chitose before (with my sister Cea, during Autumn), and never thought they have this!

This is the perfect accommodation since we have an early morning flight to Tokyo the next day. It has a bit of 70s or 80s vintage feel to it, something I might have read from a Haruki Murakami novel.

Nakakapanibago that when I opened the curtains for my usual view inspection, the land wasn't covered with ice anymore--something my eyes had unconsciously been accustomed to the past days. We had a nice view of a JAL aircraft though, and it wasn't as noisy as I thought it would be even though we were sleeping right next to the airport!





I'll probably post our short but sweet Tokyo adventures on my next blog, but for now, I'll end this long post with a few tips (as usual)!

1) Since this is a media tour and everything's already organized for us, I had no chance to figure out how to commute and go about all these locations I've mentioned above (sorry!). I am not even sure if it's possible to visit these sites DIY style or on your own. What I can share is that this trip is organized by JTB Travel & Tours so most prob if you want the same itinerary, you can book through them so they can conveniently arrange everything for you! Here's their website (https://www.jtbphilippines.com/) and also their email (leisure_jtbmnl.ph@jtbap.com) for your inquiries.

2) Best time for Japan winter experience is January to February! Book for a Manila to Haneda overnight flight (Available via Japan Airlines), so you can spend your first full day exploring and not wasted a day in transit. 

3) Through slippery roads and frozen fingers, the worst thing you will do when you go on a winter vacation is coming unprepared! For winter travel OOTDs, check out my first post: How To Survive Winter Travels Without Spending Too Much!

If you have other questions I wasn't able to answer in my posts, feel free to comment below or message me on my Twitter or Instagram @anagon. ❤ I will try my very best to answer them, as always, anything travel or Japan or Korea related --- I love to be at your service! 😁


Again, a HUGE thank you to Japan Airlines and Havas Manila for having me in this media trip! Special thanks to Mr. Ogawa, Mika San, Cid and Jookie for taking care of the group, and to my winter buddies for making this a tough winter trip to beat! πŸ’™

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