There were so many good places to eat in Sapporo. Here are a few; we had to return to some of them because they were worth the second round.
Ichikura is one of several small ramen places in the Ramen Yokocho lane, a small alley in Susukino (red light district in Sapporo). Each ramen place can only sit an average of 10 people. Ichikura is the only one with Michelin rating.
Kitano Gurume. Less than 20 minutes from Odori Station is the Seafood market at Nijuyonken via Tozai subway line. The restaurant is at the second floor of one of the biggest seafood stores in the area. They had the yummiest grilled king crab. And their sashimis are the best. The restaurant is open from 7am to 3pm, while the market is open from 6am until 5pm.
Fukuyoshi. We were lucky to find this yakitori place by chance while walking at Susukino. Of the different restaurants we ate at, I must say they have the best chicken skin, chicken tail, and chicken wings.
Kushiage and Kushikatsu
This became a default hangout at night for us. It was right by the shopping street a few meters from our hotel.
Gab wanted some good steak for dinner and we were not disappointed when we tried this steak restaurant along Tanukikoji shopping street. We were lucky to get seats even if we did not have prior reservation.
Gab and I went to Sapporo with his sister and brother-in-law (both our close friends and high school batchmates), Kris and Fil. We timed the trip so we can be there for the Sapporo Snow Festival. There were supposed to be five of us in the trip but our friend, who is a doctor at a government hospital, opted to stay due to the coronavirus threat. She supplied us with masks and sterillium to protect us from infection especially inside the airport and crowded places, and during the flight.
Hotel Sunroute New Sapporo
We got lucky in picking a hotel that was right by Tanukikoji Shopping Street (which had two Don Quijote mega stores) and close to Odori and Susukino subway stations where we took most of the rides to our destinations.
Sapporo’s chocolate factory in Shiroikoibito Park was our first stop. It was a short 30-minute trip from Odori Station to Miyanosawa Station by Tozai subway line. A tour inside the chocolate factory costs ¥600 per person.
We booked our Snowmobile Experience via KKDay weeks before the trip (Php 5,100 per person). Glad we did since slots were limited per day. Our reservation included a shuttle pickup at 10am at one of the nearby hotels. The trip to Snowmobile Land took around 45 minutes with a nice, scenic view up the mountains. We suited up as soon as we got to the resort and were given instructions on how to use the snowmobiles. Each group had dedicated instructors guiding them throughout the course. Halfway before we headed back to the cabins, we stopped for photos where we also got play a little bit in the powdery snow. We were done by 12:30pm and were dropped off in Odori Park by the same shuttle bus.
P.S. I was so scared that I requested if I could ride with my husband. The instructor told me to try it first. Had much difficulty at first especially during practice round, but I got the hang of it and finished the entire course!
With our guide, Umeru.
At the end of the course, we were given a 5-minute treat – Gab and I did snow rafting, while Kris and Fil did banana boat.
We took the streetcar (tram) from Susukino to get to the get in point for the ropeway that took us to Mt. Moiwa. A free shuttle took us to the Moiwa get in point after alighting at Ropeway Iriguchi Shiden Station. We bought tickets (¥1,700) that included ride to Morris Car (small cable car) to get to the summit.We tried to catch the sunset once we got to the summit, but it was cloudy due to the snowfall earlier in the day. Nevertheless, the view going up was spectacular. It was dark by 5pm so we were able to also get a magnificent night view overlooking the city.
Northwest of Sapporo is Otaru which is a port city known for its glassworks, music boxes and distilleries. It took about an hour from Sapporo Station via JR train to get to Otaru.A short 13-minute walk from Otaru Station is the picturesque Otaru Canal.
Right by the canal is the Visitor Information Center where we got a map and some recommendations to visit in the city.
By this time we were already used to snowfall, but it was the first time it snowed hard after we had lunch. We did not mind it, though, and walked in snow while waiting to get a taxi.
We went to the Music Boxes shop next. It was an impressive three storeys of music boxes and gift items.
We were treated to this mini spectacle outside the shop.
The Kitaichi Glass Shop with equally impressive glass items was just a few meters away.
Otaru was such a pretty city to visit.
Historical Village of Hokkaido
We took a taxi from Shin Sapporo Station to the Historical Village of Hokkaido. We were welcomed with an amazing view at the entrance.
We got tickets that included a visit to the Hokkaido Museum (¥1,200 per person). By noon, we got the place almost to ourselves.
The snow festival was celebrated in three sites: Tsudome (opened last January 31), Susukino (opened on February 4) and Odori Park (opened on February 4). It took us several days (and nights) to visit all sites. The festival ran for a week.
Tsudome had various ice activities mostly for kids and snow sculptures. It was 38 minutes from Odori Station to Sakaemachi Station via Toho subway line. A shuttle was available outside the train station to take visitors to Tsudome.
Susukino had varied and intricate ice sculptures. We were able to go back to this area a few times since it was only 750 meters away from our hotel.
Odori Park had snow sculptures that stretched for over a kilometer. Each section featured various themes.
These International entries were among the best in the festival. Can you guess which country won as champion?
For me, the trip is not complete without visiting some of the known, iconic locations in the city. We made it a point to visit the Clock Tower on our last day in the city.
Some Travel Tips
IC Icoca Card. We were able to reuse the IC Icoca card we bought during our Kansai trip in 2018. We had it loaded with ¥10,000 at the Odori Station. We used it in the subway trains, streetcar/tram (also called shiden) and JR trains. We had over ¥3,000 left which we were able to use for shopping and food.
Pocket-sized body warmers can be bought in convenience stores to keep you warm during heavy snow.
Having a light umbrella to shield the face against falling snow would help.
Sapporo had lots of wifi hotspots around the city. However, we opted to bring 2 Flytpack wifi-routers rented via Travel Recommends so we can easily communicate when we had to split and to go to different places.
Sapporo Shiden Local (streetcar/tram for Mt. Moiwa)
Spent the Holy Week with some of my highschool friends in the Kansai region of Japan. We had a flexible itinerary which we adjusted each day; some based on our energy level, some upon spur of the moment 😁
March 24: Osaka
Arrive in Japan via KIX
Lunch in Nishinari-ward
Dinner in Shinsekai
March 25: Osaka
Shopping in Shinsaibashi
Lunch in Shinsekai
Dinner in Shinsekai
March 26: Kyoto
Lunch in Shinkyogoku
Dinner in Gion
March 27: Nara
Lunch in Nara
Shopping in Nara
Dinner in Dotonbori
March 28: Kyoto
Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion)
Lunch in Gion
Shopping in Shinkyogoku, Takashimaya
Dinner in Gion
March 29: Kobe
Lunch at Nankin-machi (Chinatown in Kobe)
Dinner in Kobe
March 30: Osaka
Universal Studios Japan
Dinner in Dotonbori
March 31: Osaka
Shopping in Shinsaibashi
Shopping in Namba Parks
Dinner in Namba Parks
April 1: Osaka
Depart for the Philippines via KIX
I used Sygic Travel mobile app to manage our itinerary and move schedules around. The app also provides information about places to visit, hours of operation and entrance fees, if any.
Going Around Kansai
We used various passess and travel cards to get around.
Haruka and ICOCA
We used the “Haruka+ICOCA” set for a discounted ticket to the Kansai-Airport Express “HARUKA” (worth ¥1,400, but costs ¥1,100 with the set) which provides direct access from Kansai-airport Station to Tennoji, Shin-Osaka and Kyoto Stations.
Along with the set is an ICOCA card, which is a pre-charged integrated circuit card (worth ¥1,500, with ¥500 security deposit that can be refunded when you return the card) that can be used for JR, subways, private railways and city buses across Japan as long as it bears the IC or ICOCA icon. It can also be used for payment in convenient stores, shops and restaurants in train stations and at the airport.
The set is worth ¥3,100. Instead of the regular ICOCA card, we opted to get the Kansai One Pass which has the Astroboy design.
Picked up the actual Haruka tickets and IC cards at the JR ticket office outside the airport, near the entrance to the train platforms.
JR West Kansai Rail Pass
We used 1-day (P914) and 3-day (P2,276) JR Passes to get to Kyoto, Nara and Kobe from Osaka. We were supposed to do a non-consecutive day trip to Kyoto, hence, the separate 1-day pass, otherwise we could have gotten the 4-day pass. Bought both passes via Klook and picked up the passes at the H.I.S. Counter near Northern exit at the Arrival area in KIX airport.
Tip: Klook offers discounts and vouchers that you can use for future purchases (cheaper than buying directly from JR website or via travel agency). Also, you can use the voucher sent to the mobile app in picking up the actual passes (no printed copy needed).
Kyoto 1-Day Pass
Bought a 1-day pass (¥600) at the Kyoto Tourist Center to get around Kyoto via city buses on our first day trip.
Nara City Loop Buses
To get around Nara, we took the Nara City Loop buses from Nara JR station using ICOCA card for payment.
The recommended taxis in Kyoto based on this blog are MK taxi and Yasaka taxi for the English speaking drivers. The same taxi companies probably operate in other cities, too. The flag down rate is cheaper, though, in Kyoto than in Osaka (¥590 vs ¥670); an additional ¥80 is charged for every 415 meters. For groups of 4 going on trips that are 4km or less away, it is best to take a taxi than a train or bus which costs ¥230 per person.
Used a mix of the following websites to know which trains/subways/buses to take:
Hyperdia – for the actual train schedule and platform information for trains and subways (mobile app available)
JR West website – use the online timetable and route finder for JR trains and buses
Google Maps – for general information for trains, subways, buses and walking (mobile app available)
The space was good enough for 8 adults and 2 kids.
The place was pretty close to JR and Nankai train stations as well as Osaka subway stations (6-minute walk). There were 24-hour convenience stores (Lawson and Family Mart) and supermarkets nearby.
Our default place for lunch and dinner in Osaka was Shinsekai which was 15 minutes away on foot from our airbnb place. It is also where the Tsutenkaku Tower and Spa World are located, but we did not get to enter both.
One of the main attractions in Osaka is the castle, which also has hundreds of cherry blossom trees around.
Universal Studios Japan (USJ)
One of the few Universal Studios theme parks with a Harry Potter area. A recent addition was the Minion Mayhem Park, which lives up to its name.
Namba: Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori
Namba is a great place for shopping with its long line-up of stores, restaurants and gift shops. There were only a few Money Changers in the area and not all accept credit card for payment; it is best to have some yen ready when you go there.
Be sure to check if store offers tax free payment so you can get a refund. It is only available to shoppers with foreign passports and landing permission stamp.
We also discovered some great restaurants near Namba Parks.
Kyoto has more sighseeing places with all its temples and castles that are among Unesco’s World Heritage list.
You need to get a ticket worth ¥400 to enter. Some cherry trees have not blossomed yet when we visited and the viewing deck was under construction. It did not stop the throng of tourists, though, from visiting it.
From the temple, we strolled through Ninenzaka Path. This area has more preserved streets and traditional shops selling all kinds of local foods, crafts and souvenirs.
Fushimi-Inari is known for its 10,000 torii gates and 12,000 steps. Our group took on the challenge and completed the climb to the peak of Mt. Inari. You can see a view of Kyoto from the summit.
This temple is also known as the Golden Pavilion.
Unfortunately, we had to skip Nijo Castle because of the very long line at the ticket counter. We were only able to take a picture at the gate.
The cherry trees were not yet in full bloom when we visited, but they provided a pretty scenery nevertheless.
Shinkyogoku and Nishiki Market
We did a little bit of shopping for gifts – Japanese dolls and match-flavored Kitkats – since they were relatively cheaper in this area. We had lunch at Ichiran Ramen, which apparently is the best ramen in the world. We opted for their default set since we had a hard time figuring out how to order through their vendo machine 🙂
We were greeted by deers as soon as we got off the bus. We thought it would be cool to feed the deers and have pictures with them. What we did not expect was their aggressiveness in ‘asking’ for food once they realized you have deer food (bought from vendors in the area) – at least two bit me in the butt and leg (proof below).
Just a few meters from the bus station is the impressive gate to Todaiji temple.
Inside the big gate, you will have to get a ticket (¥800) to enter another gate to the Buddha Hall.
Instead of another day in Kyoto, we decided to go to Kobe to get a taste of their… kobe beef!
One of the areas to get a taste of kobe beef without breaking the bank is at Kobe Chinatown.
We initially thought of just strolling around the city area after lunch. Then, we came across an article about Mt. Rokko and the cable ride to get there. So, there we went.
There are units that can be rented at the KIX airport. However, you might need to fall in line and per day rental might be a bit more expensive.
You can rent units via Flytpack. For Japan, it only costs P285 per day. A security deposit of P1,800 is required; it will be refunded fully once unit is returned.
Check for promos from affiliated credit card companies. I used Citibank’s promo code LOVE2CLICK, valid for Citi Visa cardholders, for a 12% discount in the daily rental.
Book at least 2 weeks in advance since delivery takes 5-10 days. You can follow up with Flytpack via Messenger; they are responsive.
It is best to have some yen exchanged in Manila prior to the trip.
According to this blog, Sanry’s in Robinsons Galleria has the best rates. Note that the rates mentioned are from 2015. Check BSP for the current exchange rates.
Based on our same day experience, we did get better rates at Sanry’s (Robinsons Pioneer) at P 0.4950 per ¥1, than at NAIA T3 at P 0.52. I was not able to check rates at KIX, but money changers near shopping districts had exchange rates of P0.56 to ¥1 or ¥1.79 to P1.
For our 9-day trip, we bought ¥50,000. Taxis, most restaurants and small shops only accept cash payments.
Tax Free Shopping
Here are some tips/reminders for tax free shopping. Make sure you always have your passport with you and that you have a landing permission stamp with a temporary visitor status to be qualified.
JR Passes, IC Cards, USJ
As mentioned above, we bought the passes via Klook at better rates. Affiliate credit cards such as Metrobank and Citibank offer discounts if you book using your credit card.
For JR and ICOCA, the vouchers will be sent to your email and to your mobile app (under Bookings). Note that children 5 years old and below are free. Children 6 to 11 years old are usually half the price. The vouchers will have to exchanged for the actual pass at H.I.S. Counter near the Northern exit at the Arrival area.
The Haruka+ICOCA set is not available, though, in Klook and will have to be reserved via JR West website. Print the reservation email and present it at the JR Ticket Office in KIX. You can only reserve up to 6 people per email. Use another email address if there is more than 6 people in uour group. Payment is cash only, ¥3,100 per person.
For USJ, you will get the actual eticket which will be scanned at USJ gate. It is valid for entry for 1 year upon booking. For children below 11 years old, rate is discounted.
Very few could understand and speak English. And for those few, their vocabulary is limited.
We used Google Translate a lot to communicate.
In one case, we were denied entry at a restaurant in Gion since no one spoke English at the restaurant.
Giving tips is looked down upon in Japan. It is even considered rude when you give someone a tip.
Medical care is quite expensive in Japan. For unforeseen medical or emergency needs, it is best to have insurance ready. We only paid P920 for the travel insurance we got through Standard Insurance Co.
Wheelchair Accessible Station Guide
This link might be useful for those traveling with disability: Japan Accessible.