I had no idea that Sapporo — or Hokkaido, really — was such a destination. When you think of Japan, you usually think of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, but Sapporo should be added to that list.
We did a lot in a week, and yet, we didn’t do enough. We didn’t get to see the famous Sapporo beer museum, the clock tower, Shiroi Koibito chocolate factory, Odori Park, or some of the other recommended sights. We also didn’t get to try any of the all-you-can-drink bars in Susukino, where you pay a flat fee to drink all the alcohol you want (sometimes they require a nominal order of appetizers). In Otaru, they are known for their glass-blowing, which is similar to Murano in Venice, and we didn’t get to see that. We also didn’t get to take in any of the Ainu museums to learn about the indigenous people of Japan.
We loved the things we did do, and to be honest, Laurie and I couldn’t find a thing to eat when we got home. Nothing looked good enough. The food there was amazing, and due to the agriculture on the island, everything is super fresh. When we say, “We have to go back!” — we really mean it. Here are some of our highlights from Sapporo. To see all the previous blogs, click here. To see all of my photos from the trip, click here.
We covered a lot of ground in a week. Here are some of our favorite things to do and see in Japan's fifth largest city. First things first: make sure you try all the dairy they offer, from butter and cheese to yogurt, pudding, or straight milk. Our favorite was the soft serve ice cream, which is found everywhere.
Tips for when you go:
Again — we wouldn’t send you to a foreign country without tips! Here are some quick and useful tips (most from my last Fukuoka trip) to help you prep for your trip to Sapporo.
Do NOT think you can exchange your money in Japan. You can — but it’s a hassle with paperwork and lines. Instead, head to Pacific Money Exchange in Waikiki (339 Royal Hawaiian Ave., 808-924-9318), which offers really good rates for kamaaina. (Message me to find out how to get a better rate.) Believe it or not, a lot of places in Japan — even in Tokyo — don’t accept U.S. credit cards.
On the flip side, you can’t exchange coins when you return to Hawaii, so use them up.
You can definitely pay as you ride, but if you’re planning to jump on subways a lot, consider getting a 1- or 2-day pass, available at the ticket machines — which have English settings, by the way.
The subway has English signs, so are fairly easy to use if you know how to use a subway system. The trains, however, do not have many English signs, so you’ll need to ask the conductors (or other travel information people) to direct you to the right platforms at the right time.
When catching the train in Hokkaido, be mindful of the various stops along the way: there are many stops that have similar names. For example, we accidentally got off at Minami Otaru when the stop we wanted was simply Otaru. We also almost got off prematurely for Chitose Airport at (I think) Minami Chitose. So don’t be afraid to ask people if you are at the right stop.
If you don’t need the trappings of a luxury hotel like a Hilton or Hyatt, opt for a business hotel. These are all the same throughout Japan, very clean, and usually close to a train station. Best of all, they’re very reasonable. One thing to note, however, is that many staff in Sapporo don’t speak English, and they don’t have many English signs. We really enjoyed our last evening at Best Western Nakajima Koen because — due to its being part of an American chain — the staff spoke excellent English and they had many signs that we could follow.
No matter where you decide to stay, I highly recommend you have a Japanese friend help you using Jalan.net, a Japan booking site. Big mahalo to @YumekoAlisa for helping us book our hotel.
DITCH YOUR TOILETRIES
Most hotels in Japan provide toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, room slippers and all of your bath needs. Some even provide sleepwear, face masks, Q-tips and shaving cream. As long as you’re not picky about your toiletries, you’ll have a little extra room in your luggage.
BRING YOUR OWN TRASH BAGS
Just the plastic bags you get at the grocery store are good enough. We found that there aren’t a lot of public trash cans around Hokkaido, so if we ordered take-away food, we ended up toting our own trash until we could find one. Just keep a couple of little plastic bags on hand, just in case.
If you plan on bringing back a lot of omiyage, consider shopping at the airport. New Chitose Airport actually had a lot of the same stuff we’d been buying throughout the trip, at slightly lower prices. The drawback is that if you have a lot to buy, you have to carry it on the plane.
Items to buy: Hokkaido white milk chocolate Kit Kat, corn chocolate, caramels (these use their prized dairy products, butter and cream), melon candy (they’re known for their melons), Shiroi Koibito chocolate, Royce chocolate, ramen, and anything with a bear on it. You can also buy canned bear meat and seal meat, but … really?!
WHAT TO EAT
Every area of Japan has its specialties. In addition to sushi, of course, you need to have ramen — miso butter ramen or shoyu ramen, to be exact. Other things Hokkaido is known for:
- Lamb grill
- Their vegetables, but especially potatoes and corn
- Melon (looks like a cantaloupe)
- Seafood, especially crab. Especially hairy crab. Uni and scallops are also big here.
- Salt. They’re big on flavored salt.
- Dairy products: Milk, butter, yogurt, pudding, cheese, and most of all, soft serve.
If you are like us and need to tweet, Facebook, instagram, and blog, consider renting an international wifi device. Public wifi is scarce and is very slow. You can save on international roaming charges, too: Once you land, set your phone to “Airplane” mode, then turn on the wifi. This essentially makes your phone an iTouch, so you can’t make calls (you can send and receive text messages with other iPhones). If you take calls, you need to turn your phone off “Airplane” mode, but this means you will incur international charges.
Reserve ahead of time to ensure you’ll get one, and have them deliver to your hotel (it’s free). Our friend Yumi Ozaki (@StrayMoon) recommended renting a device from this company, which was very reasonable. Whatever company you choose, it’s worth it to rent an extra battery pack to extend the wifi’s life when you’re out and about, because the battery sucks.
LEARN SOME JAPANESE
Although many Japanese speak English, don’t assume everyone can. In fact, since Sapporo is less metropolitan than Tokyo, you can expect fewer people will understand English — even the hotel staff. If you don’t know any Japanese, download an app to your phone or bring a language book.
Have fun! And mahalo to Hawaiian Airlines!