A lucky business trip to Sapporo last Monday gave us an opportunity to travel to the prefecture that I most wanted to visit in Japan, the northern island in Japan, Hokkaido.
After landing in Chitose Airport at 8:30am on Saturday, we caught the train for 50 minutes into the city center, Sapporo. It was quite convenient that the train system in Sapporo also accepts IC card so the same system used every day in Tokyo, Suica can be used seamlessly (around 1,000 yen or AUD $14).
The road is wide, the mountains surround the city and lots of greenery within the city. We are definitely not in Tokyo anymore!
Sapporo Weather in August
It definitely felt cooler in Sapporo compared to Tokyo. The maximum temperature was only a few degrees less than in Tokyo (29 degrees vs 32 degrees), the minimum temperature was around 16 degrees, 6 degrees less than Tokyo and the most important thing was that there wasn’t much humidity.
It may be depending on which direction the wind came from as sometimes the breeze was quite cool and reminded me of spring.
A quick 30-minute train ride took us to the seaside port or the “Japanese Venice”, 小樽(Otaru). From the train station, a few minute walk led us down towards the canal and to the ocean. Some of the key differences between Venice and Otaru is that rather than riding on a gondola for a historical sightseeing tour, 人力車(Jinrikisha or human-powered cart) are offered to the tourist and the fine glasses are made into 風鈴 (Furin or wind chime).
The main tourist street is decorated with furin that it jingles above the tourists busily tasting and buying souvenirs. Hokkaido is famous for so many beautiful produce (more on that below) so there are a lot of tasty souvenirs to sample. So much so that we didn’t need lunch! One highly recommended Hokkaido sweet store is 六花亭 (Rokkatei). When my mom visited Hokkaido for her business trip, both of my colleague who visited Sapporo with me, my brother in law and we all bought souvenirs from Rokkatei. They are famous for their flower patterns and we all love their very raisin butter sandwich biscuit. Established in 1933, mom said it became “the place for Hokkaido souvenir” among the young ladies in the ’80s as they were the first sweet store that sold unique flavoured chocolates like blueberry.
Their soft-serve ice cream was so rich and full of creamy milk flavour (also came with a small and strong coffee to balance it out), it was the perfect place to rest after a day of sightseeing.
As part of the Sapporo marathon venue, there were plenty of people at Hokkaido University when we visited on Sunday but you will never feel crowded in this university! Sapporo University is HUGE. It can fit 38 Tokyo Domes or is bigger than Tokyo 23 wards (!) of 180 hectares.
One of the most interesting features in this university is the Sapporo Agricultural College Model Dairy Farm, or simply called The Modern Barn. Introduced by Dr Clark (who created the university motto, Boys Be Ambitious) the Model Barns were constructed as a replica of the barn in Massachusetts Agricultural College, this is considered the birthplace of Japan’s livestock farming.
It is amazing as Japan is now famous for Kobe beef, Hokkaido’s dairy and all made possible because of the learning from this model barn.
Hokkaido is famous for its seafood 🦀, potato 🥔, dairy 🥛, corns 🌽 and the list goes on. We were especially keen on eating as much seafood and dairy product as possible!
As we munched on so many freebies in Otaru, the first proper meal was at こふじ (Kofuji) in the central Sapporo. The underground restaurant was definitely not on foreign tourist radar and it was a very old school joint (they had a fax machine, a classic telephone like this emoji ☎️ and sold cigarettes behind the counter). We tasted massive scallops cooked in butter that we needed to bite into it a few times, fresh sashimi, cooked potato with butter, asparagus tempura and every dish was delicious. Although they hand wrote the receipt, they accepted cards which was convenient.
二条市場（Nijo market) is a fish market that also allows you to eat the purchased produce (in their dingy kitchen). You can buy one big scallop or oyster for around 300yen or so (AUD$4.25) which is very reasonable. If you wanted to sample some of the best, you can just buy a leg off a crab to try out a range of crabs, see which type of crab tickles your fancy then order a full one at a restaurant afterward.
Rather than eating at the market, we headed to 魚屋の台所 (Sakanaya no daidokoro, meaning the fish shop’s kitchen) located just on the outskirt of Nijo Market. They are famous for their seafood bowl and that’s exactly what we ordered.
I ordered a small seafood bowl. A range of seafood is simply piled on a bed of rice and they are all very fresh. My husband ordered salmon and salmon roe bowl which was sparkling with omega-3 goodness. The owner was very friendly and chatted with many of the out-of-towner (a group next to us were from Gifu prefecture for the son’s fencing tournament). He gave a great tip that a freshly cooked じゃがりこ (jagariko is a crispy potato fries like snack) can be bought at New Chitose Airport. I really wanted to go but didn’t have time on the way back but a great tip that my colleagues and Japanese local didn’t know.
For solo dinner, I headed to ぱさーる(Pasaru), an affordable but good quality conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Anticipating some queue, I visited for an early dinner at 6pm or so but there were already 8 people in front of me. I queued for approximately 20 minutes before I headed into the relatively small restaurant.
TIP: This is common in Japan but you don’t really pick up the sushi going around the conveyor belt but instead order straight from the sushi chef.
I selected a couple of uniquely Hokkaido sushi, for example, crab meat (the real ones, not the fake one in Californian rolls) and fresh oyster. For people not too sure, they also had the top 5 most ordered food and worst 5 ordered food going around the conveyor belt for some inspiration.
For lunch with my colleague on Monday, we headed to Treasure, a soup curry joint recommended by her old colleague, now a Hokkaido resident. We arrived half an hour before the opening time of 11:30am and before they opened, a queue formed up behind us. What I really appreciated was that they took the order while we queued and we basically received our meal as soon as we sat down. I forgot to take some photos as we tucked in straight away but you can order the basic type of curry, select the soup, the level of spice, amount of rice and any topping that you want to add. It was tasty, full of vegetable 🌽and I’m sure it is extra tasty at a cold Hokkaido!
In winter, they have skiing and in summer, beautiful sunflowers and lavender bloom in the countryside and beautiful produce all year round. Hokkaido is such a great place to visit.
Each prefecture is quite unique and Sapporo sure was different. I still don’t get why they have it, but Sapporo offers dashi vending machine. As it warns at the bottom of the vending machine, “Do not drink. This is a vending machine of dashi.” Dashi is used usually as a dipping sauce for soba and udon. Why, Sapporo?