Wednesday, September 3, 2014

[Travel] Itinerary to Sapporo, Hokkaido (札幌,北海道), Japan.

Sapporo, Hokkaido is definitely one of the most memorable and fun destinations for my entire Japan trip. The relatively quiet town has breath-taking views, fresh air and many more exciting tourist attractions for your entertainment. Here is a list of what you should not miss in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan. 

New Chitose Airport/ 新千歳空港

Doraemon Exhibition/ Doraemon Merchandise Shop/ Doraemon Cafe

Hello Kitty Merchandise Shop

Royce' Chocolate Factory and Chocolaterie

You may wish to browse around New Chitose Airport as soon as you have touched down Sapporo, Hokkaido. The airport is definitely one of the coolest airports in the world! It has a few interesting things that you may wish to explore- Doraemon Cafe, Hello Kitty Merchandise Shop and Royce' Chocolate Factory. You may find some interesting merchandise products that you could not find elsewhere, though most of them do not come cheap, but you can always find some interesting products here to add to your collection.

To reach Sapporo Train station (from New Chitose Airport), simply buy a JR Train ticket which costs 1,070 Yen per trip from the machine. The train ride is approximately 40-50 minutes. 

Aji no Tokeidai/ 味の時計台

Sapporo has some of the best Sushi and Miso Ramen eateries in Japan; we did manage to try a few Ramen eateries but we thought Aji no Tokeidai stood out. The Ramen specialist is quite a successful establishment which has many branches not only in Sapporo but many other parts of the world as well, including Shanghai, China. We settled our dinner here at the branch near Susukino/ Odori Train Station, it was somewhere between the pathway to subway. 

The signature dish- Miso Ramen (756 Yen inclusive 8% GST) was especially delectable. The pork broth appeared to be very greasy but it was smooth and light on the palate, leaving a unique lard-aftertaste lingering the mouth after a few sips on the broth. The noodles, on the other hand, were beautifully cooked till al-dente and wonderfully complemented by the vegetables. You will also experience the melt-in-your-mouth Japanese Char Siew/ Roasted Pork Belly. Highly recommended. 

Otaru/ 小樽市

It costs 640 Yen for a one-way train ticket from Sapporo Train Station. 

Otaru is a small port city that you would definitely want to spare half a day or a full day here to explore the area. You get to buy fresh seafood or dried seafood products at relatively cheaper rates than most cities in Japan. You may even order a cup of drink (or even Otaru Beer) and sit nearby the canal and enjoy the breath-taking view. 

Sankaku Fish Market/ 三角市場

It took us around 50 minutes for the train ride. Walk out of the JR Otaru Station and walk towards left, you will be able to see Sankaku Fish Market, which houses many seafood restaurants that serve some of the freshest seafood in Japan! 

We wandered around the area and was greeted warmly by the lady owner of this stall. She offered us to try on their Tri-color Don (1,500 Yen with Crab Miso Soup). Diners can choose any three choices out of seven- Hotate (Scallop), Uni (Sea Urchin), Botan Ebi (Sweet Shrimp), Kani (Crab), Salmon, Ikura (Salmon Roe) and Tobiko (Flying Fish Roe). It is a must to try their Hotate, it was so fresh and soft that it literally melts in your mouth! You can taste salty-seafood essence in your mouth after a few bites. Another quintessential order will be Uni/ Sea Urchin, it shared the same characteristics as Hotate, it melts as soon as you pop it in the mouth! The meal was then completed with a bowl of Crab Miso Soup. 

Canal Cruise

Otaru's Canal is the central part of Otaru city and used to be one of the busiest ports in Japan. We thought walking by the Canal may be too tiring for us, thus, we decided to enroll in a canal cruise. The day cruise (for 40 minutes) costs 1,200 Yen per person; it costs more for night cruise (probably 1,500 Yen per person). There is a kiosk near the central part of the Canal where you can purchase the tickers for the canal cruise. Avoid boarding the cruise during hot afternoon on Summer, unless you want to be toasted or grilled along the journey. It was a great experience if you ask me, the chilly sea-breeze, rippling and wondrous emerald-blue sea view are worth every single penny spent. 

Melon and Vanilla Soft Ice Cream atop Rock Melon (700 Yen)

Grilled Snow Crab Legs (800 Yen)

Grilled Squid (350 Yen)

Walk towards the tourist district once you have finished the cruise and you will be greeted with plenty of eateries. We spotted Soft Ice Cream parlor that offers Soft Ice Cream together with Rock Melon which we thought it was rather intriguing. The Soft Ice Cream was beyond amazing but the Rock Melon was nothing out of the ordinary, probably overshadowed by the sweetness of the Ice Cream. Snow Crab Legs, on the other hand, were for novelty sake; definitely nothing to shout over. Grilled Squid, however, was toothsome. It was nicely done and even better to be served with a dollop of Japanese Mayonnaise for the extra sweetness and smoother texture. 

Sapporo Beer Factory

Another famous tourist attraction is Sapporo Beer Factory. To reach there, take the Loop 88 Factory Bus Line near Odori Bus Station (10 min-walk from Odori Train Station), you may ask the information counter in Odori Bus Station for a more precise direction to the bus station. No, the bus station IS NOT within the Odori Bus Station, it is somewhere by the road side. It costs approximately 280 Yen for one way. 

It is free to tour the Sapporo Beer Museum but it is recommended that you pay 200 Yen to have a taste on the nicely brewed Beer. We tasted Sapporo Black Label and Sapporo Classic but we prefer the latter one, for its mellow bitter-aftertaste. Every single purchase of Beer-Tasting Ticket is entitled for a free snack (choice of Plain Cheese, Onion Cheese or Crackers). 

Shiroi Koibito Chocolate Factory/ 白い恋人

Entrance Fee: 600 Yen (a complimentary Chocolate)

Shiroi Koibito Soft Ice Cream (300 Yen)

The visit to Shiroi Koibito's Chocolate Factory was an eye-opening experience. It is one of the most successful stories of Sapporo, Hokkaido that the brand's products have become the quintessential souvenirs representing Hokkaido. It is optional to pay for 600 Yen for the Factory tour; I did not find it spectacular for the tour but my friend thought it was a good experience. You may still look around the area if you have decided not to pay for 600 Yen. Try to look out for some exclusive products as buying the famous Chocolate biscuits may be cheaper at New Chitose Airport's tax-free zone (Japan has 8% GST). On a side note, it is recommended that you should try the Shiroi Koibito Soft Ice Cream; so milky, smooth and delicious that you will burst into tears after a few licks. 

To reach the place, take train to Miyanosawa Station and walk west. Do ask the information counter or get help from random passerby by showing them the name. The place is so famous that every single nearby resident should be able to assist you. 

Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill/ 羊之丘展望台

Relatively quieter and far from Sapporo town center, Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill offers a scenic view overlooking the city. It may be a little tricky to reach there, take train to Fukuzumi Train Station (福住駅) and transfer to a bus. There will be display signs indicating the directions to take the bus to Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill. Entrance Fee was approximately 520 Yen on our visit, excluding the bus fare. It is worth to spend an hour or two here to relax and have a short walk around the area. Foot Bath Hot Spring/ Onsen is available for free too. The Park is open from 9 am to 5 pm Daily. However, opening hours may vary depending on season. 

Hokkaido Jingu Shrine/ 北海道神宮

It is free to enter the Shrine but the distance between the Shrine from Maruyama-koen Station is very far. It took us approximately 15 minutes to reach the place. It is one of the best Shrines throughout my entire Japan trip and it is definitely worth investing some time to explore the place. Experience the "Zen-ness" of the place and how prayers are done in Japan. You may wish to cleanse your hand before entering the Shrine. 

Nemuro Hanamaru/ 根室花まる

You will regret for not visiting this Sushi establishment; although the waiting time may set you back; but every second spent is worth it when you get to taste the Sushi. I am sure you will agree with me if you have tasted their Sushi. Nemuro Hanamaru is located at Stellar Place of JR Sapporo Station (6th Floor) and it offers some of the best yet affordable Sushi (in Japan) ever! 

Our wait was approximately 110 minutes, simply write down your name on the guest book and wait for your turn. The friendly and helpful staff will let you know when you should come back and we were glad that we did follow her instruction! The cheapest plate (Dark Blue in color) costs only 140 Yen (including GST) each! Every single plate consists of 2 pieces of Sushi. 

Salmon Sushi (140 Yen for 2 pieces)

Ika/ Squid Sushi with grated Daikon Radish (140 Yen)

Tebiko/ Flying Fish Roe Sushi (140 Yen)

Sweet Shrimp Sushi (140 Yen)

Kani Sushi (248 Yen)

Tamago Sushi (140 Yen)

It is a sin to miss their Salmon Sushi, so fresh and thickly sliced that we could barely put it in our mouth. For 140 Yen, it could be cheaper than many Japanese restaurants in Malaysia, not to mention the higher living standard in Japan. We did manage to kill at least 5 plates of the Salmon Sushi. The Ika Sushi was equally delectable too, unlike the plain version in Malaysia, Nemuro Hanamaru added some grated Daikon Radish for the extra vege-sweetness to the Sushi, pushing it to the next level. Others were pretty decent, though not out-of-the-world good, it was worth the wait solely for their Salmon Sushi. It could be the best Salmon Sushi that I have ever tasted. 

Nijo Market/ 二条市場

Lastly, you may want to drop by Nijo Market if you wish to seek for some Dried Seafood or to grab some yummy Seafood for your breakfast. Not as cheap as Otaru's but good enough since its pretty near to city center. Walk until the end of Tanuki Koji/ 狸小路商店街 (between Odori and Susukino Train Station), cross the street and you should be able to see Nijo Market right in front of you shortly. 

Have Fun in Sapporo!