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Hokkaido, Japan: A Winter Wonderland Adventure

Updated: Feb 4

How we got there

A visit to Japan is not complete without experiencing riding the Shinkansen, the iconic bullet train. This is my preferred mode of transportation whenever I am in Japan. The trip from Tokyo station to Sapporo JR station takes a little over 8 hours. It is fast, clean, and efficient. The ride is comfortable and the views are stunning. Its economy section will put any airline economy class to shame. They are also known to be always on time.

The Shinkansen fare in Japan is not cheap. The Tokyo to Sapporo trip will cost you almost 28,000 Yen (215 USD) and that is only one-way. But don’t worry, there is a way to explore the whole of Japan without breaking the bank. You just need to purchase the JR Pass, also known as the Japan Rail Pass, it is a discount pass for tourists traveling in Japan that allows unlimited travel on Japan Railways (JR) trains, including the Shinkansen (bullet train), within a specified period of time. They are available in 7, 14, and 21 days denominations. The 7-day pass will cost you around 228 USD. Compared to the 215 USD one-way trip to Sapporo, the JR Pass is a steal. You can buy this from your travel agency or any authorized online platform. We got ours from our travel agency and some of my friends got theirs from Klook.

Navigating the bustling train system of Japan as a first-time traveler can be intimidating, but don't worry, there are plenty of resources you can find online. One of the most helpful tools I've come across is Hyperdia, which is available both as an app and an online website. While the app comes with a small fee, the website is free to use. Hyperdia's user-friendly interface makes it simple and straightforward to plan your bullet train journey, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Where did we go

On our trip to Hokkaido, we explored three cities: Sapporo, Otaru, and Asahikawa. Since our visit was during winter, my recommendations will be centered around this season.


Susukino District

Sapporo is the largest city and capital of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. It is known for its snow festivals, delicious seafood, and beautiful parks and gardens. In winter, the city transforms into a winter wonderland with its stunning snow sculptures and ice sculptures at the Sapporo Snow Festival. Of all the places in Japan, this city is my favorite. It has lots of snow, Jingisukan, and of course Sapporo beer. Too bad I was not able to visit the Sapporo Beer Garden. Well, that is another reason for me to come back.

Odori Park - This a must-visit for those in the city especially during winter where it plays host to the Sapporo Snow Festival, a winter wonderland of towering ice and snow sculptures that are nothing short of breathtaking. There are also live performances and food stalls in the park. Imagine drinking an ice-cold beer outdoors with temperatures below zero while taking in the sights and sounds of the festival.

Susukino District - is well known for its nightlife and entertainment, and is considered to be one of Japan's largest entertainment districts. The area boasts a variety of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs, as well as shopping and entertainment venues. There are also ice sculptures in the middle of the road during the Sapporo Snow Festival.

Red Panda at Maruyama Zoo

Maruyama Zoo - The reason we went to this zoo is that I wanted to see a polar bear. Although, I would have preferred to see it in the wild. We also learned that they were able to breed the polar bears in captivity which is really good for the specie. Another animal that I liked was the Red Panda. It looks like a fox but it is a small panda with a long and fluffy tail. The zoo is just a 25-min train ride away from Sapporo JR station.

Nakajima Park - It’s one of the well-known parks in Sapporo. It is known for its spacious lawns, ponds, walking paths, and various attractions, including a traditional Japanese garden, museums, and a historical village. However, we were here in winter so we were not able to see much. But it is still a nice park to stroll around.

Polar Bear at Maruyama Zoo

Sapporo Teine - If you want to try skiing or snowboarding but don't have the time for a day trip to Niseko, You can head out to Sapporo Teine Ski Area. It is known for its excellent facilities, including well-groomed slopes, a variety of terrain for skiers and snowboarders of all levels, and modern lifts. This was also a venue during the 1972 Winter Olympics. I had my first snowboarding lessons here. Getting there from Sapporo JR station is very easy. Check out the directions below. You can also use the Hyperdia app I mentioned earlier for train and bus schedules.

Directions to Sapporo Teine

  1. By bus:

  • Take the city bus #88 or #78 from Sapporo Station West Exit Bus Terminal to Teine Kōen Mae bus stop.

  • The journey takes about 30-40 minutes and the fare is around 220 yen.

  1. By train:

  • Take the JR Hakodate Line from Sapporo Station to Teine Station.

  • The journey takes about 20-30 minutes and the fare is around 330 yen.

  • From Teine Station, take bus #88 or #78 to Teine Kōen Mae bus stop, which is located near the ski area.

Hokkaido Government Building - If you are in the Odori Park area, make sure to stop by this stunning architectural gem, a true representation of Hokkaido's rich history and culture. The neo-baroque style building boasts stunning intricate details and stands tall amidst the modern cityscape. It's a perfect spot for capturing memories and taking picture-perfect selfies!


Otaru is a charming coastal city located in Hokkaido, Japan that is a must-visit for history and culture lovers. With its picturesque canals, charming street lamps, and stunning early 20th-century architecture, you'll feel transported back in time as you explore this magical city. A day trip from Sapporo, Otaru offers stunning views of the sea and surrounding mountains, as well as a rich cultural heritage that is sure to captivate and inspire.

Directions to Otaru

  1. Take the JR Rapid Airport or the JR Hakodate Line from Sapporo JR station

  2. Get off the train at Otaru Station.

  3. The journey from Sapporo to Otaru by train takes about 40 minutes.

A King Crab on display at Sankaku Market

Sankaku Market - If you love seafood, you should not miss this place. This market is famous for its rows of street-side shops selling fresh seafood and restaurants serving reasonably priced bowls. And the best thing is that it is just a few steps away from the Otaru.

Otaru Canal - After eating your seafood bowl from Sankaku Market, a good way to burn those calories right away is to walk your way towards this historic waterway. You can take a leisurely walk along the canal and admire the views of the water and historic architecture. The canal is lined with street lamps, adding to its picturesque appeal.

Sakaimachi Street - After your leisurely walk in Otaru Canal, you can go towards Sakaimachi. This street is lined with shops, restaurants, and other businesses, many of which sell local souvenirs and traditional handicrafts. One of them is the famous Otaru Music Box Museum. If you love music boxes is your thing, you will love it here.


We didn't get to spend much time in Asahikawa mainly because our only plan was to go to Asahiyama Zoo to see the penguin walk. Also, it was snowing heavily that day and temperatures were around -14 deg C (the coldest I’ve experienced at that point). They say that Asahikawa is the coldest city in Japan and is also known for its Ramen.

Asahiyama Zoo - There are several zoos in Japan that have “penguin walks” but the one at this zoo is the most popular. I am not really sure why; maybe because of the weather in Asahikawa. They are really fun to watch as they waddle through the zoo’s snow-covered walkways. If you want to see penguins up close and interact with them, this zoo is a must.

What we ate

As a self-proclaimed noodle connoisseur, I have a biased love affair with all things Japanese cuisine (except seafood coz I don't eat them). But let's be real, who wouldn't fall head over heels for a country where even 7-Eleven has gourmet eats?

Asahikawa ramen- It is unique for its rich, hearty broth made from pork and fish, simmered for hours to create a savory flavor. The thin, straight noodles are made from wheat and vegetable flour, and toppings typically include sliced pork, green onions, and vegetables. Known for its strong flavor, it differs from Tokyo-style ramen.

Jingisukan- It is a popular Hokkaido dish made with a combination of lamb and mutton, cooked on a unique skillet, and seasoned with soy sauce, sake, and sugar. The dish is served with vegetables and rice and is known for its unique texture and taste. I recommend Sapporo Genghis Khan Main Store. For me, this is the best Jingisukan in Sapporo their sauce is amazing.

Sapporo Miso Ramen

Sapporo Ramen - is unique for its miso-based broth, It is a ramen known for its rich and savory flavor that sets it apart from other types of ramen. Ingredients like butter and corn are often added to Sapporo ramen, and the noodles used are thicker and chewier than those found in other regions. These unique characteristics make Sapporo ramen a must-try for any ramen lover. I have no particular place to recommend since each ramen shop has its own variation. What I would suggest is you visit Ramen Alley, this narrow street is filled with different ramen shops.

For more photos of our trip please visit my Sapporo photos page.

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