Winter in Hokkaido

Hokkaido, Japan is one of the most memorable trips I had with my kids. We decided that we should visit during winter. We set off for a ten days trip to Sapporo and Niseko. The kids saw snow for the very first time. They experienced snowfall for the very first time. The excitement and joy were written all over their faces. Snowball fights, build a snowman and make a snow angel, things they never did and could only dream of coming true.

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I got the flight tickets really early, in August via Cathay Pacific Airlines, transiting Hong Kong. Tickets were really cheap. I remembered paying only $600 for each ticket. It’s most definitely a steal. That was in 2015. The exchange rate was not too bad as well, almost one to one.

We took an early morning flight to Hong Kong and waited for our next flight to New Chitose Airport. Unfortunately, the flight was delayed for more than 2 hours. The kids were exhausted. Eventually, we got on the flight and arrived safely in Japan. The kids were famished by the time we arrived.

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I was told that there would be no more chartered buses to Niskeo for the day, the next bus will only come the next day. With the three in tow and heavy pieces of luggage, we decided that we will take our own public transport to Hilton Village, Niseko. It’s ONLY 4 – 5 hours away.  As we were all in a foreign land, we were up for it and eager to explore. We took the escalator down to the JR station at New Chitose Airport. “Oooooooo.. cold!” the kids turned and looked at each other and laughed. I realized that they were not dressed warm enough. We opened up our luggage at the train platform and started pulling out our warm clothing and piling them on.  The plan was we had to take the JR to Sapporo Station, then change a train to Kutchan and then another train to Niseko station before we can hop on a shuttle bus to the Hilton Village.

By the time we arrived at Niseko station, it was past 11 pm. The girls were suffering from motion sickness after the many train rides. One by one, they threw up. It did not help that the weather was at -4 degree Celsius and the shuttle bus service to the Hilton Village has stopped operations. We looked at each other, all weary from the traveling, decided that we should hail a cab. Thankfully, there was a cab station just outside the Niseko JR station. We dragged our heavy pieces of luggage across the slippery and quiet road and waddled into the cab station.

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At the Niseko cab station, the kids were exhausted.
It was already midnight. We approached the cab station master and requested for a cab to take us to our accommodation, 15 mins away.  In my mind, it should not be too difficult to get a cab. It is, after all, Japan, one of the most efficient countries in the world. To my horror, the cab station master told me the earliest cab would arrive only at 2 am! In my bits and pieces of Nihongo, I pleaded with the cab station master to do his best to get us a cab as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the girls were feeling nausea and I was feeling helpless. I am thankful for my boy. He remained calm and helped the girls with their pieces of luggage. We waited for about half an hour before the cab station master came out of his office to inform us that we were lucky and he found us a cab. That was the happiest moment of our lives! We gleamed and could only think of the comfortable beds and hot bath awaiting us at the hotel. We managed to check in close to 2 am. The kids were too tired to take their bath, they changed into their pajamas and jumped straight into bed. Within minutes, I could hear their little snores.

At Niseko

I woke up to this beautiful sight of Mount Yotei!

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Mount Yotei – the view from our hotel room at Hilton Village, Niseko.

I woke the kids up and got them ready to explore Niseko town. The son wanted to stock up some snacks after breakfast at the supermarket. The girls were well-rested and raring to go. We had our breakfast at the restaurant and took the shuttle bus to small town, where we were the night before. We went to the supermarket to stock up some snacks and had our cravings for Sapporo ramen and Hokkaido ice-cream satisfied before heading back to the village.

Snow Play

It started snowing in the afternoon and the kids got all excited. They wanted to get out there to play. We were at Niseko just before the skiing season, so it felt like there were only us at the resort. The kids loved it that they had the whole place to themselves. They rolled around and covered themselves in the snow.

They got tired and finally settled down to watch the sunset. I smiled and thought to myself, “this must be one of the happiest days of their lives”. Winter days are short. The sky got darker and we went back to our room. The kids got their dinner and took their hot bath. They were turned on the TV and were all ready for bed. “Hibernate mode”, they said.

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Sunset in Niseko.
They were comfortable in the room and I headed for the outdoor onsen. It began to snow again, but it did not feel cold. Just warm and relaxed.

At Sapporo

The journey to Sapporo was less of a hassle because we knew what to expect. We hopped on a bus to Niseko station and took the JR to Sapporo Station. From Sapporo station, we took the underground walkway to Susukino Station, where our hotel is – Mercure Sapporo. The toughest part of this journey back to the city was lugging the pieces of luggage up and down the stairs of the stations (Niseko station, is a small train station and there are no elevators). I am thankful for my son. It was only then that I realized that my precious son has grown up.

The first thing we did after we checked into our hotel was to look for food. The children were obsessed with the Lawson and Family Mart convenience stores. Before we head out every morning, and before we return to the room in the evening, we had to patronize Lawson or Family Mart. We combed through Pole Town and Tanoki Kuji Shopping Arcade. We went to the White Illumination Christmas market at Odori Park and had one of the best chicken thighs ever. We had the fabulously rich and warm Hokkaido milk while the little one skipped to the rhythm of the Christmas carols playing in the background – and fell on the icy ground.

We visited our favorite pet shop and played some games at the gaming arcade. We took a cab to the Shiroi Koibito Chocolate Factory and had very good creamy ice cream. We had plenty of sashimi and good food. We watched a game of ice-hockey at the stadium which we chanced upon while looking for an ice-skating rink. We had our Bakes cheese tarts, Potato Farm chips, and the popular corn chips along the way.

The kids missed the snow play in Niseko. They were talking about the fun they had and asked if we could take a train back to Niseko. After googling for an alternative, we decided to head for Mount Teine, just about 45 minutes away from Sapporo. We took a cab up to the ski resort. The children did not want to try to ski, instead they decided to take the sled. We spent the whole day sledding up and down the ski slopes, with them falling over their sleds, screaming their lungs out and all having a good laugh.

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Sledding at Mt. Teine

Good times passed so quickly, the ten days whizzed past us. We had a very jolly good holiday. Japan has always a special place in my heart, especially Sapporo.  The kids asked to visit again. I promised them. We will be back, I am sure.

 

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Lovely Sapporo, see you again.
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