Who doesn't love traveling to Japan? Once shrouded in mystery and difficult to get into, the doors have now been opened to us Pinoys to find our way there.
Of course, the natural choice is to head to where all the action is: Tokyo. Or perhaps Osaka, where even the Japanese go to for some R&R and some serious eating. But I will make a case for beautiful Hokkaido, home to some of the most breathtaking scenery, freshest fish and most bountiful produce in Japan.
Here’s how to make the most of a quick 48 hours in Sapporo, the center of Hokkaido.
3:00 p.m. Check In at the Cross Hotel
I like this hotel mainly because of it’s central location and it’s flavor. It’s steeped in jazz and art, the rooms pretty big, and they happen to have a public bath on the top floor. It’s a long day to get here—a flight to Tokyo, then a domestic flight to Sapporo—so a soak in the bath after a long day is such a treat.
5:00 p.m. Evening Stroll at Odori Park
This park is in the heart of the main city. Walk along here and get a feel for things. Check out Sapporo Tower, and if you are so inclined, head over for some retail therapy at all the nearby shops.
7:00 p.m. Dinner at Ramen Alley
One of the things that Hokkaido is known for is ramen—specifically miso butter corn ramen, as well as one of their inventions: curry ramen. A fun place to indulge in this is at Sapporo’s Ramen Alley—aka Ganso Ramen Yokocho—a tight alley with row after row of tiny ramen joints. Seek what your heart desires (though a lot of people gravitate to the corner shop with Anthony Bourdain’s mug plastered on their window!) I say find the one that serves Shijimi Clam Miso Ramen. When you’re done here, walk around nearby Susukino, the red light district (don’t worry, it’s safe) to digest all those noodles.
8:00 a.m. To the Market
If you’re feeling lazy, there is no shame in heading to Nijo Market, near Odori Park. It’s more accessible, and the whole point anyway is an amazing breakfast featuring the star seafood off the seas of Japan. Sapporo Wholesale Market is a little further—hop on a cab and it’s 10 minutes away—but it will also reward you with overwhelming freshness and deliciousness from the bounty of the land and sea. When you’re done with either, you’ll have plenty of time to go home and shower for the rest of your day.
10:00 a.m Baristart
I value my morning coffee, and if I can help it I want some espresso based drinks. This tiny tiny cube of a joint serves some of the best coffee I’ve had anywhere, and with a bonus for you latte lovers: you can choose from three different kinds of milk, all from the cows of Hokkaido.
10:30 a.m. Clock Tower and Government Building
To get a sense of place at Sapporo and Hokkaido, enter the Clock Tower and read up on the history of the region to learn why it became an agricultural mecca. Then head to the Government Building to expand that knowledge even more. For you Japanese movie fans, some of the rooms in the building feel like a scene straight out of Rurouni Kenshin.
12:00 p.m. Sapporo Beer Museum & Sapporo Beer Garden
This is a fun touristy activity—one of those rare ones that I think are worth it. Sapporo is known for its great beer (I’m pretty sure it has to do with their fantastic water source!). Go over and check out the beer museum, then head over to the massive Beer Garden for a dinner of Jingisukan (or “Genghis Khan”)—an all-you-can-drink beer and all-you-can-eat mutton fiesta, where you cook your slices of mutton on top of a steel “helmet”. Noisy, smelly but in a good way, and fun especially if you’re with a group!
2:00pm Hokkaido Museum
Look around and find out more about the land you’re staying in. It’s a good place to start learning about the indigenous people of Hokkaido: the Ainu.
4:00pm Okurayama Ski Jump & Winter Games Museum
This is secretly one of my most favorite things to do in Hokkaido. The Olympic Museum is so much fun, with simulators of all sorts of winter sports (please do the figure skating machine!). When you’re done with that, hop aboard the ski lift and get a great view of Sapporo from the Okurayama Ski Jump. (I have a newfound respect for ski jumpers—that ramp is insane!)
7:00pm Dinner at Umi Hachikyo
Head over to this izakaya themed after the fishermen of Hokkaido, and have a bowl of another Hokkaido specialty: ikura (salmon roe) don. The ikura from these parts are miles apart from any you’ve ever tried. Pickled in soy, some are even sweet, and intertwined with large hints of umami. At this izakaya, they even have a ritual, filling your bowl with roe until it overflows. Delicious!
8:30pm Nightcap at Susukino
If you’re still up for a drink before heading home, Susukino is the place to be. For a genteel drink, try Bar Yamazaki, with its soft music and vibes. If you're lucky, you'll see the owner (who’s in his 90s!) in action.
8:00am Jozankei Onsen
If there is anything that says Hokkaido, it’s onsen. The public baths of Japan provide some of the most relaxing experiences ever—a practice that’s been done for hundreds of years. Once you get over the initial shock of getting buck naked in front of strangers, it’s all good from thereon. One of the most popular places to do this from Sapporo is the town of Jozankei, home of various onsen sites, fueled by sulfuric waters deep in the earth. Reserve a bus ticket on Kappa Liner, head over to the town (the bus ride takes an hour or so), and soak your worries away.
12:00pm Soba Lunch
Hit up Soba Koyo-tei, a soba restaurant that’s been around since the 1920’s. You’ll be ready for some food after all that onsen time.
2:00pm Shiroi Koibito
After lunch, head back to Sapporo and visit Shiroi Koibito Park. You’ll feel like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory. Take it slow and just enjoy all the colors and smells of Hokkaido's famous confectionery. Have a seat in their café and enjoy the beautiful view while nibbling on pastries. And at the end of the tour, make sure to buy some Shiroi Koibito as souvenirs. This stop is for the child in you.
4:00 Mt. Moiwa Ropeway
As your 48 hours in Sapporo come to a close, take in the sprawling view from Mt. Moiwa. You'll ride a cable car halfway up, then a funicular rail car the rest of the way. Stop for a moment at the top and enjoy the sights and serenity.
7:30pm Crab dinner at Hyousetsu No Mon
You can’t go to Hokkaido without indulging in some crab. It’s a right of passage. Check out the 50 year old Hyousetsu No Mon and fire up a course meal. If you’re not so hungry, at least have some crab shabu shabu, and enjoy the clean sweet flavors of this specialty from the waters of Japan. Worth every bit, and a fitting end to your time here.
JJ Yulo organizes the Just Jonesing series, which takes travelers on curated tours of different destinations around the world.