We’ve been to Okinawa for summer before, so last February 2022, we headed to the opposite part of Japan for winter – Hokkaido! Hokkaido is the largest and northernmost prefecture in Japan. It gets so snowy that most houses and streets are covered with it. Hokkaido is the best place to go during winter.
Day 1: Onsen chillin’ good
Spent most of the first day travelling to Rusutsu Resort Hotel & Convention. This hotel has the best 温泉 (onsen; hot spring) that I have been so far. Inside the onsen spa, it has a nano-mist sauna, cave bath, and outdoor bath. The outdoor bath is very good especially when it’s snowing outside as the cold weather matches very well with the hotness of the water. The only downside of this hotel is the fact that it does not have a USB outlet or any kind of outlet near the bed (very mendoukusai haha).
It is not allowed to take pictures inside the onsen so check out Rusutsu Onsen – Kotobuki for more details.
Day 2: Fall like a pro
When we booked the hotel, we chose “Ski and Stay Support Package (Half Board)” which includes accommodation, breakfast and dinner buffet, and duration lift pass that can be used from 9:00AM on the check-in day until the last operation time on the check-out day. For more winter package offers, please refer here.
On the 2nd day, we had the breakfast buffet, checked-out from the hotel, and then enjoyed snowboarding using the lift pass that was included in the package. There is a rental station inside the hotel wherein ski and snowboard gears can be rented. As for the mountain tracks, Winter Trail Map varies from Beginner to Expert so everyone of different levels can enjoy skiing or snowboarding. I did the intermediate trail even though I don’t really have that much snowboarding experience (always-fall-when-landing-from-cable-car level) but the snow is soft so falling doesn’t hurt that much.
Here are some pictures that were taken in the mountain tracks. We were very tired and dead after this busy day of snowboarding and falling (mainly) but it was all so worth it.
Short story time!
I lost one of my fleece jackets because I put it above the locker and maybe someone “mistakenly” took it, so lessons learned, do not buy a fleece jacket from Uniqlo! (it’s not unique ha ha ha)
Also, prior to the hotel stay, we made an arrangement with the management to replace the dinner buffet since we could not make it to the hotel by dinner’s end time, so we got a 3000 yen coupon (I think it was for each person) that we can use for lunch around the restaurant inside the hotel.
Day 3: Big heads
On our previous Okinawa trip, I bought OKICA which was the IC card used exclusively in Okinawa. On Day 3 of this Hokkaido trip, I bought SAPICA, which means Sapporo’s IC Card (Sapporo is the capital city of Hokkaido), as part of my IC cards collection.
The main event of this day is to visit Makomanai Takino Cemetery. It is a cemetery but an interesting sightseeing destination wherein giant big heads (similar to Easter Island Moai heads) surround the place. There is also a replica of Stonehenge, and a giant Buddha statue in the center. It is definitely a fantastic spot to take pictures.
It was also nice and relaxing when walking around the place. The streets were full of snow, and there were not that many people. Along the way to the bus stop, we saw snow footprints that didn’t look like it was from a human and also an old building that looked like it was only being supported by the steels around it in order to not collapse completely.
In the evening, we went to Mt. Moiwa Ropeway with the love bell and panorama view of the city. We did not really plan to go here because it’s just one of the go-to sightseeing spots in Sapporo but we did it to kill time. The night view was great from the top (as always) but everything else was just okay.
We wanted to drink brewed beer afterwards but all the restaurants we tried to visit were already closed or about to close because of the 9:00PM restaurant curfew as part of the preventive measure against COVID-19. No beer so we just went back to the hotel. Defeated and hungry, we decided to order food from UberEats. The food was very disgusting! We ordered Thai chicken rice, but the chicken was raw and hard to chew, the rice was very wet, and sauce was everywhere. Another lesson learned, never order food from a “restaurant” in UberEats when it’s past 10:00PM.
Day 4: Top of the world
Nothing was planned out for this day except for the travel to the next hotel location. But I accidentally discovered a skyscraper from an ad inside the train station so I decided to try to see it first. It was actually one of the popular sightseeing spots in Sapporo with an observation deck that has 360-degree views over the city – JR Tower Sapporo. It was nice even though all we had to do was to sit and look over the city. Views from the top always gives me the feels. Everything else below just seems so small that it makes me re-evaluate my own existence.
Next stop, Noboribetsu Sekisuitei!
We arrived late and the place is huge so we didn’t have much time to check out most of the stuff around. I was looking forward to the onsen because it looks good on their site but I was not able to try it. The onsen was indeed relaxing and good according to the other baka gaijin, but the water has a strong rusty or sulfuric smell due to the fact that it’s from Jigokudani. The room was kind of old and outdated, but overall it’s fine. Hotel staff visit each Japanese-style room to make the bed so you don’t need to do it by yourself. For dinner, we were expecting 懐石 (kaiseki; traditional multi-course Japanese dinner) but it turns out to be just buffet. There’s also a yukata inside the room that can be worn around the hotel.
Day 5: Hell and bears
Checked-out from the hotel, and first decided to visit the nearby River Oyunuma Natural Footbath. The way to that place was all covered with snow, and when we finally arrived, it was all deserted and unuseable.
After the uneventful visit to the open foot bath place, we went to Jigokudani (Hell Valley). The smell of sulfur was all over the place. There was not that much to see around (especially that most places were closed due to COVID-19) but the valley is one of the sightseeing spots in Noboribetsu so better to check it out.
Since it was still early, we tried walking around and found Noboribetsu Bear Park. It is located on top of the mountain and can be accessed through the ropeway. They have large bears and an underground feeding area called “human cage” where people can go and feed the bears through a tube. There’s also a museum (not a fan) but it was interesting to see reserved bear body parts.
After a long day of walking around Noboribetsu, we took the bus back to Sapporo and ended this day with a good glass of beer that we very much deserved. かんぱい！
Day 6: Wet… market
I’m a fan of seafood so I always make sure to include the visit to the wet market to our itinerary. On the last day in Hokkaido, we went to Nijo Market to enjoy some fresh seafood. There were lots of seafood stalls around but very few customers (again due to COVID-19). We tried some, enough to fill our bellies and not puke on the plane back to Osaka.
So that’s it!
The overall trip to Hokkaido was a little less fun than what we had in Okinawa. In the future, when COVID-19 restriction gets more relaxed, let’s give Hokkaido one more chance. And oh, don’t forget to try their soup curry (3rd picture below is just hot soba with duck meat though hahaha), it’s good for the cold weather plus it’s everywhere.