Sunday, May 31, 2020

10 Reasons Why You Should Go To Hokkaido, Japan

This snow sculpture right here was more than enough reason for me to go to Hokkaido!
Hey world. I hope everyone is okay despite the coronavirus situations going on. I took a long break from writing for many reasons apart from just traveling and exploring. I went back to dancing more often last 2019, and started taking dance classes again. It took up a lot of time that I normally used for watching random Youtube videos, sleeping, as well as hanging out with friends partying or exercising. Now normally, a lot of people try to exercise during Christmas season or diet before pigging out and going all out on eating at Christmas eve. Food during Christmas eve or also known as "Noche Buena" is one of the traits that happens here during Christmas season. Filipinos love Christmas season. They start celebrating it as soon as the "ber months" begin (September, October, etc.) We try to mimic a lot of Christmas traditions here which other countries (especially in Asia) would find weird. One Christmas thing that Philippines can't get due to its geographic location is snow. Unlike the northern parts of Asia, Philippines doesn't get cold much. We're a tropical country so it's mostly sun and rain we have here. I know a lot of people in Philippines would like to experience a white Christmas or Christmas where we see snow so delicate and white, but since it's not possible to experience it in this country, I would definitely make a suggestion to try out a city that has snowy seasons, but isn't as far away from Philippines like US and Canada is. That city is Sapporo in Hokkaido prefecture, Japan!

Otaru Canal! So much beauty all around it! Go to Otaru Saint Germain near the train station for some amazing pastries!
Without a doubt, Japan is my favorite country in Asia, and maybe even the world! I have explored probably more places in Japan than most people I know! So when I went to Hokkaido, it was not only beautiful, but really life changing! Japan has such varied landscapes. Hokkaido is Japan's northernmost island. It is well known for its culinary culture, beautiful city life and amazing natural beauty! Every season has special events such as the Sapporo Winter Festival in Odori Park or the Ice Festival in Biei! It may be completely different weather from the tropical climate I'm used to in Philippines, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to explore this amazing and unique part of Japan! So here are 10 reason why you should go to Hokkaido, Japan!

When going to Asahikawa, make sure to stop by Ramen Aoba for their delicious ramen!
1. The Sapporo Winter Festival!

I cannot tell you enough how much this event changed my perception of perfection in Japan! This annual festival features snow sculptures from all over the world, and my goodness the works of art there showed me just how amazing not only the snow sculptures are, but also the people behind the works of art! It is really perfection brought to life! Some examples include a life size statue of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, a fully detailed Japanese temple with a projector animation included, and several popular cartoon characters brought to life like Pokemon, Star Wars and even Youtube sensations like Pineapple Pen! It may not sound appealing through writing, but once you look at the photos of the Winter Festival, as well as the videos, you will see why I fell in love with Hokkaido! That event alone should be the main reason why you should go there! They got activities, performances as well as super delicious food being sold everywhere there!

During the Sapporo Snow Festival, they set this man made snow slope for you to go snowboarding at!
There are even several foreign souvenirs being sold there, depending on the theme such as Russian dolls or Finnish handcrafts! I had an amazing time just walking around, and seeing the amazing works of art! They even add animation to some of the works of art there using a projector screen! The music performances during the night as well as the music applied to the snow sculptures make it an incredible experience! If there's any reason to come to Hokkaido, this would be the number one reason! I cannot wait until I have the chance to make it there again!

This is a Chirashi don with everything on it! When you go to Hakodate morning market, make sure to try their food!

2. Some of the best seafood and fish in all of Japan!

A friend of mine once told me that the colder the region is, the tastier and more savory the fish will be! Hokkaido is no exception! You want the best seafood in all of Japan?! Most likely Hokkaido has it for you! Based on my experience, seafood in Japan tastes so fresh and amazing, without that fishy or in Tagalog "malansa" after taste. Most of the travelers I have met have said that Japan is seafood heaven, and that some of the best tasting fish comes here! Buttery, fatty, melting, and heavenly goodness. The typical Japanese diet is heavily seafood based, which is no surprise since Japan is surrounded by seas all over its island. Other places that offer very tasty seafood are the prefectures of Sendai and Aomori, which is also known for their top quality tuna! Remember: when in the northern parts of Japan, do not miss out on the seafood!

This Otoru fatty tuna belly sushi makes all the language and cultural barriers worth it!

I love how cute and accurate these snowmen are in Maruyama Park! I'm amazed at how neat and clean they look!

3. Ramen! Under cold, snowy weather!

Okay let's face it: when it comes to Japanese food, one of the top things that comes into your mind the moment you think about it are sushi and ramen! Ramen is without a doubt one of the top comfort foods to have in Japan! The piping hot and flavorful soup, the long and chewy noodles, along with the delicious, umami filled toppings like tamago soft boiled egg, negi spring onions, and the incredibly soft, tender and delectable chashu pork slices usually from the pork belly are sure to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside! Try having that type of ramen in under cold and snowy weather, and I'm pretty sure you will have the ultimate comfort similar to having a home cooked meal at your dinner table! When it comes to ramen, Hokkaido is one of the top prefectures in Japan that specializes in it! Another prefecture that is well known for ramen is Fukuoka, where the original Tonkotsu ramen came from. I am still undecided on which place has the best tasting ramen, but if you have the opportunity to taste both, I highly recommend it! From Sapporo to Asahikawa all the way down south to Fukuoka, ramen is built in to Japanese culture, and is here to stay!

This is the fanciest meal I had in Sapporo! Kind of like beef carpaccio with black truffle and egg yolk!

4. Out of this world experience with skiing, snowboarding, snow and ice!

Let's face it: when are you ever gonna experience doing snow activities like this when you live in a tropical country? It's a different feeling when you actually see snow and touch it with your bare hands! It's so soft, white and finer than any shaved ice you will ever have. Several places like Niseko, which is just a train ride away from Sapporo train station offer skiing lessons as well as snowboarding lessons! I tried skiing before and I personally prefer snowboarding more because I have more control with my body. It's such an exciting feeling when you're sliding down the hill, and you're balancing it all out. It's like how you get to stand on your surfboard during a huge wave, while you're at the beach. It's an exciting feeling! It may not be something you're used to, but it's worth trying because if you live in a tropical country like I do, you'll probably never get an experience as unique as this!

They put this super cute teddy bear inside the bus since it was around Valentine's day I went!

5. Extremely fresh and creamy dairy products all around you!

Hokkaido prefecture produces a lot of the milk that is being sold in Japan, so of course it has to be great! Let me tell you: their dairy products are some of the purest and creamiest milk I have ever had! It's so fresh and creamy when you drink it, and when you consume it in ice cream, soft serve, or even in yogurt or cheese form! Klook offers tours to get to shops that sell these products, and I was lucky enough to have gotten to taste and purchase many of the dairy products. Are you a fan of those sweet and creamy cookies shaped into a square? Those are called Shiroi Koibito, and their headquarters and main factory are located in Hokkaido, and they offer tours to explore the whole place there, as well as buy their other products. You will see Hokkaido milk being sold everywhere in Sapporo, as well as the different types of soft serve ice creams! It's sweet, flavorful, creamy and intense! It will difficult trying not to have another one after finishing your cup or cone! The dairy products are one of the things I remember the most in Hokkaido!
This soft serve ice cream was being sold at Sapporo Chitose Airport! One of the creamiest ice creams I've ever had!

6. Experience local and unique dishes and drinks!

Hokkaido somewhat has its own separate culture since it's such a huge prefecture as well as the fact that it's separated from the Honshu main area where the more popular and urbanized cities of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are. Ainu people's are present in the Hokkaido prefecture like how the Ryukyuan people are in Okinawa prefecture. One type of local food I enjoyed in Hokkaido was Gengis Khan (jin-gees kahn). It's grilled sliced mutton or lamb meat with all kinds of vegetables such as onions, carrots and mung bean sprouts. It's so tender, soft and delicious because of the fact that it's grilled usually on a metal skillet. I couldn't get enough of this dish when I first had it! It's such a great pairing with hot rice! The several meat skewers such as the beef, pork and chicken were great as well during the extremely cold season of Hokkaido! All of these grilled foods were perfect with an ice cold beer! Also, don't miss out the chance to have Hokkaido beer if you're into beers because certain brands such as Sapporo, Asahi and Yebisu are produced in Hokkaido. There is even a museum dedicated to beer history and beer making in Sapporo! Some of the best seafood I have ever had in Japan were from Hokkaido! The colder the region is, the better tasting and more delectable the seafoods are! The tender bite of the otoro fatty tuna belly there was probably one of the most memorable meals I had there! I am thankful that my friends recommended me the places I went to such as Ramen Aoba, Niku-hisa, Hakodate Morning Market and Machi no Sushi Shikibana Maru. My friend Aya-chan was definitely the most helpful at this because she brought me to an incredible place that only locals know, and I am forever grateful that she introduced me to that place! It was so delicious!

I had to line up for over an hour for this, but Ramen Shingen in Sapporo has one of the tastiest ramen I have ever had!
7. Experience complete and quiet snowy atmosphere!

Who here wants to experience the soft and white powdery snow right in front of you? I'm sure when you live in a tropical country like mine, you'd want to say to yes! It's not something that you see often, and when you get the chance to experience it, you'd want to go for it, right? I think that Hokkaido has a unique feel to it in the sense that the peacefulness and quietness while being around the snow makes you feel like you're in a world of your own. Yes snow exists in other countries too, but if you're an anime watcher or are into it, how joyful would it feel to actually be in all of the places that were mentioned in TV shows and anime as well? You will really feel like you're in a video game or anime show in most places you visit in Japan. Adding snow to that setup just makes it even more unique and memorable for me honestly. There is nothing more appealing to me than experiencing something that I normally don't get in my home because of varied landscapes. I live for moments when I can step out of my comfort zone of home, go to unique places, and explore different countries that seem foreign to me, but I can love just as much as my own.
Since I love cookies and pastries, I wanted to visit the Shiroi Koibito Cookie factory because I love seeing how they make it!

8. See parks and mountains that are not like any other parks in your country!

Have you ever been to a park, and noticed that the whole park itself was shaped like a star? Or have you ever been to a park, and saw super unique designs of a snowman, or even made into designs like a famous well known cartoon character? I have! I saw quite possibly, a snow design of the characters from the Disney movies, Frozen and Baymax, and I thought it was so cute that I saw it out there, just left out there for all the public to see, and people just appreciate it. I went to many mountain tops as well, including the well known Mount Moiwa. Such a nice place for me cause the cable car to get there was both scary and exciting, but the fact that you're at such a high altitude makes it even more intense! It's extremely windy and cold at such a high altitude so that makes everything much more exciting for me. But knowing that I made it all the way up there makes me cherish that experience!

Mount Moiwa may have been super cold, but it's absolutely worth it to visit because of the beautiful view point!
9. Experience onsen (hotspring) under snowy weather!

This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I honestly love onsens! Yes it's awkward being nude in front of others who are completely nude, too! But honestly, being in a hotspring or bathhouse refreshes your body and mind in so many ways! There have been studies conducted and even commentaries done on Youtube about onsens, and its wonderful effects on the body from relaxing it to strengthening it as well. It's not just a place to clean your body, but also to relax your mind as well. The heat that the pools, showers, sauna, and steam room conducts provides so much relaxation for your body. Many of us enjoy taking a hot shower or going into the sauna or steam room after working out at the gym, so why not this for a change? I know Japan and its city life or pace of life can be overwhelming for others, so experiencing a bathhouse can be a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city life. Can you imagine that heat now along with the contrast of the intense cold and snowy weather? That contrast feels amazing for me honestly. I don't get much opportunity to experience things like that! Yes, it's difficult to experience all onsens if you have a tattoo, but there have been many onsens that are okay for people with tattoos lately. I personally have been to one where tattoos are allowed, and it felt just as good as the rest of them.

Tomiko-san! Such a strong and joyful woman! I hope that you are doing well, and I hope you take care always!
10. Meet people from all walks of life for your family and yourself!

Honestly, some of the most incredible people in all of the places I have been to, I have met in Japan. Not just the locals, but travelers as well. Everybody knows a thing or two about Japan, whether it's about food, anime, technology, culture, history or famous places. So expect to meet people from all walks of life there! I have met people from so many countries who are either traveling, studying or working there, and most of my experiences have been great. Some of them I talk to even up to this day! But even more intense are the locals! Just the strength, discipline, knowledge, and hard work that they put into their day to day lives have been quite surprising for me! I do know enough Japanese to survive, so I guess I have an advantage since I had the opportunity to study it. Once you do get to talk to the locals regardless of whether or not you know Japanese, you get to see how kind a lot of them are! A lot of them came from humble backgrounds, and are so hard working and polite towards you. They really do make efforts to help you when you ask for it, so I really appreciated it when I had moments where I was lost or didn't know where to go.

Tang-san! I admire your kindness and care when we met! I hope that we can meet again!
I met a housekeeper named Tomiko-san at one of the hostels I went to in Minami-Otaru. At the time I met her, she was 87 years old! The date stated on her ID was 1929, so I'm sure because this happened around 2017. I was super shocked because at her age, she has incredible strength to go up and down the stairs, carry vacuum cleaners, scrub, and carry mattresses as well as blankets and bedsheets all by herself! It amazed me that she's so used to walking up to the hostel I stayed at as well because getting the Champion's Guest House in Minami- Otaru was very steep and hilly for me. So I can imagine that others at an older age may struggle, but she was very strong and powerful to me! It amazes me the seniors and elders that I have met throughout all my journeys in Japan! They seem very young at heart, and have the physical capabilities of someone significantly younger. Tomiko-san was really an interesting person I met because she herself never had mango fruits in her life due to them being quite expensive in Japan. But the smile that she had on her face when I gave her a pack of dried mangoes from Philippines was so memorable for me that I just had to share with you guys!

Aya-chan! Thank you so much for everything you've done for me when I was in Sapporo! We will meet again I promise!
The next person I met was sadly homeless. I never got his name but I felt so sorry for him because he was stranded since I missed the last train back to my hostel, and the next one available was around 5 hours later. So I stayed at whichever places that were open like the Don Quijote, Yoshinoya, and whichever convenience stores that had chairs to sit on. So after shopping and exploring the places around Sapporo at 4am, I saw a homeless man wearing three jackets. He was staying by the stairs leading to the entrance of the trains since it was warmer there. The temperature at that time was around -3-4C degrees, and I felt so sorry because he looked like he was going through this everyday. He spoked to me casually in Japanese, and said to me that he likes staying by the stairs because it was warmer there, and that it blocked the cold weather. I felt so bad at that time so I asked him if he was hungry. He was silent, and so I assumed yes. I gave him a packet of mochi I bought earlier that day. The smile on his face was memorable for me, and made me thankful that I didn't have that struggle in my life. My wish for him is that he would find shelter and happiness after meeting him.

Makiko-san is an absolute joy when I spend time with her! I do hope we meet again because I know you miss Philippines!

The last 2 people I would like to talk about are my 2 hosts in Hakodate and Sapporo. One is Tang who is originally from Shanghai, China but living in Hokkaido, Japan for 20 years now. A mother of 2 kids, I am amazed at how she was able to learn the language and settle down in Hakodate, which is a very local and laid back city in Japan. She was very caring towards me, and even made the effort to pick up me since I was lost out in the cold weather that night. I don't know how she manages to live the day to day life in Hakodate because the last bus in Hakodate closes at around 7pm that time! I admire her motherly care, and her ability to listen to me as well. The last host I had is back in Sapporo at a district called Utsukushi-gaoka. Her name is Makiko-san! She is the one I see the most even after my trip. What I admire about her is the fact that she is a vegetarian. Makiko-san grew up in a farm in Hokkaido, so seeing animals all around her made her love animals. She is a very motherly woman as well since she herself is a grandma now! Her family all live scattered around Japan. What I love about her is the fact that she is willing to welcome foreigners into her home, and be brave enough to practice her English as well. She is also very well traveled around Asia, and has even been to my home country, Philippines! It's not often you get to see people in Japan be as open to you, but she is absolutely kind hearted, and her pet cats at home shows how loving she is, too!

This park is called Goryokaku-koen, and it is the highlight when visiting Hakodate! Seeing it from the top was amazing!
So I would like to say this: if you have an opportunity to explore a country with weather, environment and atmosphere different from yours, you should just go for it! I have no regrets visiting this amazing prefecture in Japan. It is absolutely stunning there, and all the things they have to offer there with their environment is slightly different than what you would normally get in the more popular places like Tokyo or Osaka. Having doubts or second thoughts about exploring Japan or any interesting country or place just leaves me with a lot of regrets. With the global impact of coronavirus being in our lives, it just makes you wonder where you could have gone but didn't because you were always hesitating, delaying or having second thoughts. Explore places that are different from where you normally go! I hope that maybe I have shown you a different side of why you should explore Hokkaido, and why the experiences you learn from here are memorable for the rest of your life!

The ice sculptures I saw around Lake Shikotsu area was so surreal! It's like it came from a movie set!

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