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Monday, June 30, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - JR Tower Observatory Deck T38 JRタワー展望室

Visited 10.02.2013


In Sapporo, there are several elevated spots to capture a overhead view of this city. Personally have been to Sapporo TV Tower and Mt Moiwa on my first trip, therefore decided to visit T38 to admire Sapporo again in a different angle at night (just before we head back to our hotel).

Located just beside the train station, JR Tower stands at 173 m above ground and is the tallest building in Hokkaido. Apart from the shopping mall that occupy the lower levels, the observation deck on the 38th floor provides a 360 degree view of Sapporo city and mountain ranges in the distance. Try locating some of the more prominent landmarks - Sapporo TV Tower, ferris wheel of Norbesa in Susukino, and Mt Moiwa. Another feature of Sapporo city is its roads are laid out in a grid pattern. Clear, distinct straight roads and buildings bounded within each designated grid. A cafe and souvenir shop is also located on the observation deck.

South side - spotted Sapporo TV Tower (on the left) and ferris wheel (on the right)
North side - brightly lit roads in grid pattern
For the gentlemen, please remember to pay the restroom a visit which promises to give visitors "a sense of openness" - peer through the huge window panes that enclose the toilet while you are...


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JR Tower Observatory T38, JR タワー展望室
Opening hours: 1000 - 2300 hrs (last admission at 2230 hrs)
Admission fee = 720 yen (before 100 yen off with discount voucher)
Discount voucher can be retrieved from Tourist Information Centre in Sapporo JR Station.
http://www.jr-tower.com/t38

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Commemorative stamp: 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Snow Brand Parlour 雪印パーラー

Visited 10.02.2013

Left: I am No. 1; Right: Dream Jumbo Parfait
Snow Brand may sound familiar to some of us in Singapore. Does Neo Soft Vegetable Oil Spread ring a bell? Yes, this is one of the huge range of dairy products manufactured by Snow Brand. They have a limited number of products featured in Singapore (so far I have only seen butter, margarine and cheese here). Got to taste their milk when I was in Hokkaido. Love the rich and creamy flavour of the milk (does all Hokkaido milk taste so good?) and the reason to why the milk tasted so good is because of its higher milk fat content (3.6%). Like it so much that I had milk everyday throughout my trip in Hokkaido!

Left: Tropical fruits parfait; Right: Chocolate parfait
Snow Brand is a locally renowned name in Hokkaido, established way back in 1925. In Hokkaido, they also operates several cafes/restaurants, selling ice-cream and parfaits. Visited their flagship store, Snow Brand Parlour, located within walking distance from both Sapporo subway station and former Hokkaido Government Office. Had a scoop of Snow Brand's royal vanilla ice cream at New Chitose Airport previously (on my first trip to Hokkaido) and was totally captivated by the taste! Have been thinking of this ice cream since then - definitely one of the best ice cream I have ever had.

Snow Brand very own Royal Special Ice Cream
This cafe features jumbo sized parfaits to satisfy those with sweet tooth. The largest of them all, "Dream Jumbo Parfait" is stuffed with ice creams of various flavours, mixed fruits, Baumkuchen cakes, topped up with fresh cream. At least require a group of 8 (with empty stomachs) to gobble down this gigantic parfait. Go for the other signature parfait "I am No. 1" if you are visiting in a smaller group. Ordered two regular sized parfaits, tropical fruits and chocolate. Both tasted very good and we regretted not ordering "I am No. 1" to challenge! Ordered the royal special ice cream too and it was as satisfying as my first encounter at the airport. This royal special ice cream was actually made specially for Emperor and Empress during their visit to Hokkaido in 1963. It took Snow Brand half a year to create this ice cream that contains 16% milk fat, 4 times higher than normal whole milk. You can imagine how rich this ice cream is just by judging on its milk fat content - truly a "sinful" dessert that you can only savour "once in a blue moon" due to health consideration.

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Snow Brand Parlour 雪印パーラー
〒060-0003 札幌市中央区北3条西3丁目1番地
Opening hours: 0900 - 2100 hrs; 1000 - 2100 hrs (2F cafe)
http://www.snowbrand-p.co.jp/shop/01_honten.htm

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Video: Cafe was featured in 食尚玩家. Fast forward to 14:10 for their feature on this cafe.

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Hitsujigaoka Observatory Hill 羊ヶ丘展望台

Visited 10.02.2013


Background: Before WW2, the original site was a wool research facility set up by the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce. At one point in time, about 2000 sheeps were reared on this vast pasture and many visitors were attracted to this place after the war. However, the increasing number of visitors to the site affected research activities. Sapporo Tourism Association eventually took over the management and operation of Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill in 1959 as they saw tourism opportunities in this area.

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Highlights: 

(1) Statue of Dr William Clark: A bronze statue of Dr William Clark, the founder of Sapporo Agricultural College (the predecessor of Hokkaido University) was erected here in 1976, to mark the 100th anniversary of his visit to Hokkaido and 200th anniversary of American independence. Behind the statue is Ishikari Plain, and a panoramic view of Sapporo city center can be seen in the far background. The best time to visit is in summer when visitors get to see sheep gazing this vast pasture. In winter, the sheep are all reared in a hut just behind Sapporo Snow Festival Museum. Dr Clark's parting words for his students "Boys, be Ambitious!" has since become a well-known quote and motto of Hokkaido University.

Left: Bought this cute postcard depicting Dr Clark; Right: Bronze statue of Dr Clark
One interesting activity that I found out later was that you can make a "vow of ambition" here. First buy a form from the administrative office located in Austrian Pavilion. Write down your wish/dream on the form. Ring the "Bell of Ambition" and make a wish. Lastly, drop your form into the slot on the stand supporting the Statue of Dr William Clark. When you visit the same place many years later, you can retrieve this form from the staff to remind yourself what was the vow you have made then.

Right: Bell of Ambition
(2) Hitsujigaoka Rest House: One of the item on our "must do" list was to savour Hokkaido's signature Genghis Khan BBQ again! Have read that this restaurant here served pretty good Genghis Khan BBQ,  therefore decided to settle our lunch here. Cooked the lamb meat, together with cabbages, beansprouts, onions and pumpkin on the oiled hot plate. Meat was as usual tender, but with a subtle mutton smell. Still preferred the lamb we had in Sapporo Beer Garden during our first trip.

Genghis Khan BBQ in Hitsujigaoka Rest House
(3) Sapporo Snow Festival Museum: A two storey building which contains all the past photos, posters, souvenirs of Sapporo Snow Festival. Miniatures of snow sculptures, which were created using clay/plasticine during the design stage, were also on display here.

Sapporo Snow Festival Museum
(4) Others: You can find their commemorative ink stamps on first floor of Austrian Pavilion, located near the entrance. Souvenir shop is on the second floor of the same building. Clark's Chapel, located beside Sapporo Snow Festival Museum, is a restoration of the former Sapporo Kita-ichijio Church. There is another bigger chapel named Sapporo Blanc Birch Chapel, located beside Austrian Pavilion, which is used to hold wedding ceremonies - happen to see one taking place during our day of visit!

Left: Clark's Chapel; Right: Sapporo Blanc Birch Chapel
Conclusion: Beautiful scenery of Sapporo and Ishikari Plain can be viewed from here. Will love to visit this place again during summer. Was slightly disappointed with the Genghis Khan BBQ as it did not duplicate/exceed the good impression we had during our first visit to Hokkaido.

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Hitsujigaoka Observatory Hill 羊ヶ丘展望台
Opening hours:
0830 - 1800 hrs (May - June)
0800 - 1900 hrs (Jul - Sep)
0900 - 1700 hrs (Oct - Apr)
Admission fee = 450 yen (50 yen off with discount voucher)
Discount voucher can be retrieved from Tourist Information Centre in Sapporo JR Station.
http://www.hitsujigaoka.jp/en/

大きな地図で見る

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How to get there?

(1) By subway > bus.
- Take Toho line (blue line) to Fukuzumi Station (H14).
- Proceed to the bus terminal and take Bus 84.

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Commemorative stamp:

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Sapporo Sweets Cafe さっぽろスイーツカフェ

Visited 10.02.2013


Japan is well known for their intricate desserts. I can still remember being fully captivated by the delicious rich and creamy milk pudding on my first trip to Tokyo. In Hokkaido, desserts is truly a signature of this northern island. This is because almost all ingredients required to create this delicacy, such as wheat, dairy products, eggs and fruits, are produced/cultivated locally. Therefore, freshness is guaranteed over here!

Sapporo Sweets Cafe serves like a "satellite" shop, showcasing sweets made by different confectionery stores located in Hokkaido and the selection changes on a monthly basis. Sweets and confectionery from 5 - 6 patisseries are featured monthly in this shop. A competition is also held annually in which Sapporo Sweets Kingdom Promotion Council selects the best sweets/confectionery created for the year! A prestigious recognition indeed.


The cafe is located in the underground shopping mall, Aurora Town, just beneath Odori Park. Upon arrival during lunch time, the cafe was already fully occupied. Fortunately, the wait was not too long (about 15 minutes). Was definitely spoilt for choice as there was a decent variety of sweets/confectionery on display at the front counter... and all looked equally delicious! Picked a mont blanc, pear tart (which was beautifully arranged as a flower) and strawberry cake, and ordered drinks to go with the desserts. Like the mont blanc in particular as the chestnut puree was very rich in flavour. Overall, a very good place for afternoon tea, especially when you get to taste novel creations by local pastry chefs all at the same time without having to travel to different cafes.

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Sapporo Sweets Cafe さっぽろスイーツカフェ
Located underground in Aurora Town
Opening hours: 1000 - 2000 hrs
http://www.sapporo-sweets-cafe.jp/

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Sapporo Snow Festival さっぽろ雪ま つり

Visited 10.02.2013

Year 2013 (64th): 05.02.2013 - 11.02.2013
Year 2014 (65th): 05.02.2014 - 11.02.2014
Year 2015 (66th): 05.02.2015 - 11.02.2015


Back in 2012, I attended a seminar, which was organised by JR Hokkaido, in Singapore. In this seminar, the ambassadors of Hokkaido recommended itineraries suitable for winter travelling and shared tips on maximising the value of Hokkaido Rail Pass. That was when I first got to know that there were numerous events and activities held in Hokkaido during the winter season. And Sapporo Snow Festival is by far the largest winter event in Hokkaido, attracting about 2 million visitors from Japan and aboard every year!

Do you know? The first Sapporo Snow Festival, which was started more than half a century back, was held in Odori Park and comprised of only six snow statues built by local high school students. Over the years, local efforts to promote this festival have seen these snow sculptures growing in size, quantity and quality. These intricate life-sized snow and ice sculptures have received worldwide recognition and Sapporo Snow Festival has risen to become one of the most prominent international winter event every year.

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Highlights:


The main event venue is at Odori Park, which stretches from Sapporo TV Tower (1 chrome) all the way to Shiryokan, 札幌市資料館 (13 chrome). Back in Asahikawa, I was already awed by the one and only massive Transformer snow sculpture display. Here in Sapporo, you will find even more remarkable (and jaw dropping) snow and ice sculptures on display during the festival week! I was particularly impressed by their exact replication of iconic buildings/structures all around the world. Was truly an eye opener for me. Don't forget to visit the site in the night to see the vast transformation of snow and ice displays under lighting.

64th Sapporo Snow Festival (Odori site) statistics:
- 5 big, 6 medium and 115 small sized snow sculptures;
- 2 big and 6 small ice sculptures.

2 chrome: Ice kingdom - a princess with white wings. Managed to catch a glimpse of this when I visited it again on the last night.

2 chrome: Ice palace colourfully illuminated at night. 
3 chrome: A giant ski jump structure is erected to showcase snow board and free style skiing at different times of the day, inclusive of night jump as well!

3 chrome: Skiers performing in the day.
4 chrome: Ise Jingu - A Modern Legend. This awesome snow sculpture was constructed to celebrate the legend of Ise Shrine (located in Mie Prefecture) and commemorate the 62nd Shikinen Sengu in 2013. This ceremony is held once every 20 years for over 13 centuries (1300 years ago). All the structures in the shrine's inner and outer sanctuaries as well as the sacred vestments and treasures stored there are renewed. This symbolises Shinto concept of new life, reminding everyone of the importance of maintaining a youthful spirit and fresh optimism for the future. This is my favourite snow sculpture of all and its beauty was beyond words to describe. I could only gasp in astonishment and "wow" in admiration as my eyes scanned through every intricate detail of this gigantic piece of art work.

You may start to wonder who created this magnificent art work. They are actually deployed from the Armed Forces, the same people behind the big snow sculpture in Asahikawa Winter Festival. Once again, a big salute to their active involvement in this external event! 

4 chrome: The marvellous Ise Jingu snow sculpture in the day.
The same snow sculpture looking more stunning at night!
5 chrome: Both Hoheikan (Historical Guest House) and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (中正纪念堂) from Taiwan are replicated here in snow and ice form, respectively. Was particularly amazed to see the latter as it resembled the actual monument which I have seen before during my visit to Taiwan.

5 chrome: Hoheikan
5 chrome: Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
7 and 8 chrome: Thailand's Wat Benchamabophit (Marble Temple) and Japan's Kabuki-za threatre (located in Tokyo) were recreated. Yet again, all the fine architectural details of the buildings, from the roof to every window and door, were portrayed in the life sized snow sculptures.

7 chrome: Wat Benchamabophit (Marble Temple)
8 chrome: Kabuki-za
10 chrome: Most adorable snow sculpture featuring Japan's very own manga character - Chibi Maruko Chan, her family and friends against a backdrop of Diamond Head and Waikiki beach in Hawaii.

10 chrome: Chibi Maruko Chan in Hawaii! A snow sculpture created to celebrate the operation of direct flights between Honolulu and Chitose. 
- 11 chrome: Entries from all around the world participating in 40th International Snow Sculpture Competition were on displayed here. Was proud to know Singaporeans participated in this event as well, and we came in fifth! 

Can you tell what this is before reading the description? 
Entries from our neighbours - Thailand (left) and Malaysia (right). Thailand's entry glitched the top spot in this competition. 
Don't forget to grab limited edition merchandises from souvenir stalls located at various parts of the event venue. One good way to view the entire stretch of Odori Park (especially at night when the park is illuminated beautifully) is from the observatory deck of Sapporo TV Tower. Do note that this landmark is expected to become more crowded than usual during this festival period.

Conclusion: A dream came true for me! There are two reasons why I will want to visit Hokkaido again in winter - one is for the drift ice sighting in Okhotsk Sea and the other has got to be Sapporo Snow Festival.

Food stalls can be found in event venue as well.
Not forgetting these small adorable snow sculptures!
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Sapporo Snow Festival さっぽろ雪まつり 
http://www.snowfes.com/english/

How to get there? 
Two additional shuttle bus services are specially arranged during this period.
- Tsudome Bus: shuffle passengers between Sapporo JR Station, Odori and Tsudome site.
- Maruyama Zoo Bus: shuffle passengers between Sapporo JR Station, Odori site and Maruyama Zoo. Visitors can also enter Maruyama Zoo for free during this period as well (cost 600 yen for an adult ticket normally).
Purchase a Snow Festival Free Pass (400 yen) for unlimited rides on these shuttle bus services.

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(1) Odori Site
Take subway Toho line (blue line) to Odori (H08).
Start your snow festival journey from Sapporo TV Tower (1 chrome) and walk westwards towards 12 chrome. Open to visitors till 2200 hrs. 

(2) Susukino Site
Take subway Namboku line (green line) to Susukino (N08). This site features mainly ice sculptures. Open to visitors till 2300 hrs during the festival, lights off at 2200 hrs on the last day.

View Susukino Site in a larger map

(3) Tsudome Site
- Take subway Toho line (blue line) to Sakamachi, 栄町駅 (H01).
Opening hours: 0900 - 1700 hrs

This site is transformed to a snow playground, where visitors can try out various winter activities, such as tube and ice slide, snow rafting, bamboo skiing, etc. Decided to give this site a miss due to time constraints.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Day 8 Itinerary: Sapporo 札幌

Day 8 - 10.02.2013

Breakfast: Best Western Fino Sapporo

Utilised Sapporo-Otaru Welcome Pass, unlimited subway rides for one day.

Sapporo > Odori by subway.

Visited 64th Sapporo Snow Festival held at Odori Park.

Desserts: Sapporo Sweets Cafe in Aurora Town.

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Odori > Fukuzumi via Toho line.
Fukuzumi Bus Terminal > Hitsujigaoka Observatory Hill
by Bus 84. Fee = 200 yen.

Late lunch: Rest House in Hitsujigaoka Observatory Hill for Genghis Khan BBQ.

Hitsujigaoka Observatory Hill > Fukuzumi Bus Terminal
by Bus 84. Fee = 200 yen.

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Fukuzumi > Odori via Toho line.
From Odori subway station, walked along underpass towards Sapporo JR Station.

Tea break: Snow Brand Parlour for ice cream

Shopping: ESTA and Daimaru, in Sapporo JR Station.

Visited JR Tower Observation Deck T38.

Dinner: MOS Burger

- End of Day 8 -

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Kani Shogun かに将軍

Visited 09.02.2013


Crabs! A delicacy that is well liked by many people. In Singapore, we are more familiar with Sri Lankan crabs, which are cooked in various sauces - chili, black pepper, salted eggs, etc. Crabs found in Hokkaido is generally very much larger in size, such as king crabs, snow crabs and hairy crabs. As compared to what we get in Singapore, crabs are typically not cooked in savoury sauces here, but boiled/steamed to retain natural flavours of the meat. And because of the abundance of crabs here, crab feasting has become one of the main highlights of tour packages in Hokkaido. There are many restaurants in Sapporo specialising in crabs cuisine (quite easily identified by the gigantic crab replicas hung outside their shops). Followed recommendation in travel guide book and came to Kani Shogun, which is located Susukino district. Managed to also download a discount voucher for selected set meals from their website.

Bottom right: Crab sashimi
Kani Shogun comprised of four levels of dining space. Despite that, we had to queue for quite a while (at least 20 minutes) as the restaurant was full house that day (most probably due to the crowd from nearby Susukino Ice Festival as well).

Ordered their 8 and 9 course snow crab suki course as we wanted to have a steamboat equivalent on CNY eve (another reason was that this set meal was featured on the discount voucher that month...). This crab meal was definitely not cheap - cost about 5000 yen per person. Course came with tofu with crab meat, fried crab dumplings, fried crab meat stuffed in shell, steamed crab, crab sashimi and a steamboat to "shabu shabu" juicy crab legs. Tried raw crab for the very first time - meat was fresh but was not used to the texture of sashimi version. With the help of the waitress, the leftover soup was transformed to a porridge that contained rich flavours of seafood and vegetables and I like it a lot.

Dinning experience was not at its best that day as waiting time between dishes were longer than usual. Will love to try hairy crabs next time, though need to save up for such extravagant meal again!


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Kani Shogun かに将軍
札幌市中央区南4西2-14-6
Opening hours: 1100 - 2300 hrs
Walk out from Susukino subway station (on Tozai line) Exit 1; or Hosuisusukino subway station (on Toho line) Exit 2
http://www.kani-syougun.com/

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Best Western Fino Hotel Sapporo ベストウェスタン ホテルフィーノ札幌

Stayed 09.02.2013 - 11.02.2013 (3 nights)
Booked thru Japanican.


- My 2nd visit to Sapporo. One mistake made for this trip was our accommodation in Sapporo was booked too late (despite being three months ahead). Most of the hotels, especially those located near the train station, were seeing full occupancy during the week of Sapporo Snow Festival. Had to spend some time searching for reasonably priced accommodation through several hotel booking websites as the price of rooms were marked up during this period of time (hoping someone will give up the rooms due to change in travelling plans). Tip: book your rooms as early as possible, after the dates of the festival are released.

- Fortunately spotted this rather fair deal offered by Best Western Fino Hotel Sapporo. Double room (inclusive of breakfast) for three consecutive days cost 52,800 yen (~ 241 SGD/night) during the peak season. Found this not overly expensive for a hotel that is located within 2 mins walk from Sapporo JR Station. As this was the best option I have come across so far, I immediately grabbed the remaining two rooms without further hesitation. Even though I could only get smoking rooms, there were no lingering cigarette smell in both rooms, fortunately. 

- Room was small and has limited walking space. However, the usage of natural colours made the small enclosure felt cosy. Room is equipped with all the basic necessities that one require. After having a number of disappointing (or boring) buffet breakfast for the past few days, Best Western Fino surprised us with a delicious spread of food in both Japanese and Western cuisine, with a different menu to offer everyday.

- What's nearby? Hokkaido University is a stone throw away from hotel. Did not have time to visit the campus but will want to explore this place further on my next visit.

Managed to catch a glimpse of its campus directory at its entrance
- Felt that it was one of the best hotel chains I have experienced so far in Hokkaido. Strategic location and high quality service basically summed up my impression of this hotel.

Recognition: Awarded two stars in Michelin Hokkaido Guide 2012.

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Best Western Fino Hotel Sapporo ベストウェスタン ホテルフィーノ札幌
〒060-0808 北海道札幌市北区北8条西4-15
http://sapporo.bwhotels.jp/
2 mins walk from North Exit of Sapporo JR Station.

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