2012 Japan Trip Day 11 – Sapporo

Date of Travel: 09/02/2012

Unlike the previous day, we asked the hotel staff if they knew whether the buses and trains to Asahikawa were running before we actually went to the bus and train stations. It was a good thing we asked too, as neither were running. Hence, we decided to split our day into two parts; visit the Historical Village of Hokkaido in the morning, then head back to Otaru for another walk along Sakai Machi Street since all of us enjoyed it so much.

We took a train and a bus to reach the historical village. This village is actually an open air museum exhibiting buildings from all around Hokkaido built in the late 1800s to the early 1900s. The whole village was covered in snow at the time we visited, which really made the place even more beautiful.

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Many of the buildings had exhibits of how people used to live back in those days. We entered an old ryokan, an old restaurant, and many more. Just walking around on the tatami mats and smelling the scent of the wood used in the construction of these buildings really brought a sense of nostalgia to the place. It really did feel like people used to walk through the halls of these buildings, only for the buildings to be unused and left as museum exhibits.

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We entered a building that used to be a Sake store. Inside, an old couple were grilling mochi and heating up Amazake for visitors to try. To my surprise, the Amazake was delicious! It must’ve been just that one place along Susukino Street that we tried a few days prior which was horrible. We sat down with the old couple and tried communicating (us speaking in broken Japanese, and them speaking in broken English). It was a lot of fun! Two other lovely female tourists also joined in the fun.

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Shortly after, we realized how much time we had lost while chatting, and went to explore as much as we could before the next bus left. We entered a few other buildings, such as a sweet shop, a pottery shop and others. As we were heading back to the exit to catch the bus, J.C. and Brownie kept on taking photos of other buildings despite me rushing them to hurry it up (it was their idea to go to Otaru afterall). However, we exited the building just in time to see the bus take off!

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With the next bus only coming an hour later, we headed back into the village. We played around with a snow sled available for visitors, and were once again joined by the two female tourists. After a few rounds, we headed to the nearby café to have some lunch. We discussed several options on what to do after lunch. J.C. was keen on going back to Otaru, while I was against it as I wanted to be back in Sapporo for the snowboarding event at Odori Park at night time. Brownie was on the fence. We even discussed splitting up for the afternoon. After deliberating for a few minutes, a bright idea suddenly popped into our heads. We were barely done looking around the village, so why not spend the afternoon looking around some more?

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There was so much to see around the place that we still weren’t finished exploring every building by the time the sun started to set. While the inside of the buildings were pretty, the shadows caused by the sun setting among the fields of snow were also beautiful. We started heading back to Odori Park shortly after where it was my turn to be a nuisance! While waiting for the bus to arrive, I decided to head off to the toilet. Just as I was about to enter, Brownie pointed out that the bus had arrived. I looked at my watch, and saw that the bus wasn’t meant to depart for another 5 minutes. As Japan’s transport system usually runs to time, and that I REALLY needed to go, I hopped into the toilets anyway much to the dismay of Brownie and J.C.. This caused Brownie to go into a panic mode. He quickly hopped on the bus to notify the driver that I was in the toilet. However, he had no idea how to translate it into Japanese, and said “Tomodachi wa toilet desu”, which literally translated to “my friend is a toilet”, and got a smile from the bus driver in response. I hopped into the bus a minute later, and the bus left four minutes later at the scheduled time (as I predicted), but I got hammered by Brownie and J.C. regarding my poor decision making for most of the bus trip back anyway! Still better than the alternative of relieving myself on the bus though…

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We arrived back at Odori Park just in time to get a good spot to watch the night time snowboarding event. The tricks were not as impressive as the previous time we were there, but the atmosphere was better. Towards the end, they were doing group jumps which were fun to watch. It was a great way to enjoy our last night in Sapporo. Admittedly, my hands were absolutely freezing taking videos despite wearing gloves! We walked back to the international snow sculpture competition section to see who the winners were. Hong Kong won with their amazing dragon sculpture, though India was a close second in our eyes. New Zealand’s attempt at the Waitomo Caves was still a disappointment, though nowhere as bad as Singapore’s attempt to sculpture a knot…

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We headed back to the accommodation for dinner again. I’m sure they weren’t too happy as it was quite late by the time we returned (kitchen closes at 9pm, and we ordered just before that). The meal was just as delicious as previous days nonetheless. We did eat in the reception area rather than our rooms since our futons were already setup. After dinner, we headed back up to our rooms, and starting packing in preparation for the third leg of our trip. I can only look forward to the adventures that awaits once we arrive at Fukuoka for the Kyushu leg of our trip!

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Subway from Sapporo JR Station to Shin-Sapporo Station – 310 yen
Bus from Shin-Sapporo Station to Historical Village – 200 yen
Bus from Historical Village to Odori Park – 230 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
Nakamuraya Ryokan – 5,775 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store – 375 yen (mixed sandwich and Oolong Tea)
Lunch at Hokkaido Historical Village – 730 yen (Soy Sauce Ramen)
Dinner at ryokan – 900 yen (Buta-don)

4) ATTRACTIONS
Hokkaido Historical Village entrance fee – 550 yen

5) OTHERS
Laundry – 250 yen

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
9,320 yen (258,343 yen total)

Total Cost of Hokkaido Leg excluding Airfares
57,908 yen (11,582 yen per day)

2012 Japan Trip Day 10 – Sapporo

Day of Travel: 08/02/2012

In addition to the winter festivals in Sapporo and Otaru, many other parts of Hokkaido also have similar events. The second largest of these events was due to start in Asahikawa on this day, and supposedly features a massive firework show. Of course, we had planned to attend this event. We woke up early and headed to the bus station to take a bus to Asahikawa (it was the cheapest option). After purchasing our ticket, we sat down and had breakfast be bought from a convenience store. However, the dashboard kept on showing that the bus was getting delayed. After another 15 minutes of waiting, we asked the staff at the counter the reason behind the delays, and it turned out that there was a massive snow storm the night before which made it dangerous to travel via bus! Luckily we got a refund. Never worry, we had a backup plan – take a train!…except we found out that even the trains were cancelled once we reached the JR station! Well there goes the whole day’s plan down the drain!

We discussed among ourselves other options we could take, and we decided upon the Shiroi Koibito Park, where the Shrioi Koibito chocolate factor was located. We took a subway to Miyanosawa station, and from there it was only a short walk to the park. From the exterior, the main building looks like just an ordinary building. Once at the entrance though, it became clear that there was something special about the place.

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The park was quite spacious, and was mostly covered in snow. Many of the buildings resembled European style buildings not commonly seen in Japan. There was a bubble machine blowing bubbles around the bridge, mechanical animals/humans humming and singing happy tunes, and many other unusual displays.

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Before entering the chocolate factory, we decided to have lunch at a restaurant just across the park. It was a bit pricey for what we got, but it was convenient so we didn’t mind. After lunch, we paid the entrance fee (and got a free cookie), and entered the chocolate factory. We were greeted with a beautiful water fountain and some small European displays. I also took notice of a “staff only” sign, which shows that even these sorts of signs can be cute in Japan!

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We entered a hallway with the sides decorated as if it were melted chocolate. Slightly further down the hall were large glass windows that we can look through at the main chocolate factory. All the workers were dressed in matching white overalls, and the way which they worked was so efficient and almost mechanical. There was also a sign showing some “testing” of these cookies. I wouldn’t mind the taste-testing job!

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The rest of the factory consists of unusual displays that seem more suited for museums than a chocolate factory. There was a toy museum, a display of the interior of a traditional house, music boxes, and many more. Brownie was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a fountain of melted chocolate that he could dip his face into…too much Willie Wonka I suppose?

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We stopped by the café at the top floor to have a few snacks. I ordered an amazing parfait which included Shiroi Koibito cookies and baumkuchen! The view outside from the café was pretty too.

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Like Otaru, the park grounds were even more beautiful once the sun set. They did a very good job setting up the lighting of the place. It almost reminds me of how people would decorate their houses around Christmas time. Definitely brought a warm to the place. Brownie and J.C. also had fun climbing in and out of the various tiny houses that were scattered around the grounds.

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We headed back to Odori Park, and decided to visit the western end of the park as we had not done so yet. One of the blocks were dedicated to an international snow sculpture competition. Must say, I was a bit disappointed with New Zealand’s attempt of the Waitomo Caves, though I must admit that it would be hard to depict a cave in a snow sculpture to begin with. Entries from Malaysia, India and Hong Kong (my favourite) were very impressive though!

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Further on from that were smaller snow sculptures of characters from kids shows. In addition to that was a giant One-Piece X Toriko stage. Nearby was an interesting Nissin noodle advertisement featuring Yoda from Star Wars, with the caption “Boil Japan”. Bad use of Engrish Japan…bad…

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It was probably the coldest night of the trip thus far, so we decided to head back to our accommodation for the night. For the second time since we arrived in Sapporo, we decided to eat at our accommodation. I had a simple grilled pork dish, but it was delicious! Glad we decided to eat at our ryokan where it was nice and warm. After chilling out for a bit, we hit the sack for the night. Afterall, the next day would be our last full day in Sapporo!

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Daily Expenditure
1) TRANSPORT
Subway from Odori Station to Miyanosawa Station – 280 yen
Subway from Miyanosawa Station to Odori Station – 280 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
Nakamuraya Ryokan – 5,775 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store – 260 yen [Chocolate donut and apple pastry]
Salty Pocky (not sure where I bought this from) – 157 yen
Lunch at Shiroi Koibito Park – 950 yen [Fried prawn and curry rice]
Parfait at Shiroir Koibito Park – 735 yen
Dinner at ryokan – 900 yen [Buta-don]

4) ATTRACTIONS
Shiroi Koibito Chocolate Factory entrance fee – 600 yen

5) OTHERS
N/A [Need to save money once in a while right?]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
9,937 yen (249,023 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 9 – Otaru

Date of Travel: 07/02/2012

After spending the previous day among the crowds of Sapporo, we headed west towards thesmall town of Otaru by train. We had a few things planned, but I underestimated the traveling time. By the time we got there it was almost lunchtime, so we decided to spend most of the afternoon wandering around Sakai Machi Street. As many paths were covered in slippery snow slush, I decided to purchase grips for my shoes. Along the way, many shops had built cute snowmen and animals outside their entrances, which really gave the town a lot of life.

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Otaru is well known for its glassware and music box products, both of which added to the Winter Wonderland feel to the place. We did some window shopping before deciding on lunch. There were only a handful of places opened for lunch along Sakai Machi Street, but we managed to find a place where I could have a very decent bowl of seafood on rice for a reasonable price. We did some shopping after lunch. I bought a music box for my dad’s birthday, while Brownie bought some beautiful cups.

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We got so carried away with window shopping that nightfall kicked in before we noticed! It was really only after dark did the beauty of Otaru really sink in. Many of the street lamps were turned on, giving a lonely and bittersweet atmosphere to its surroundings.

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We slowly walked towards Unga Kaijo, which is located at Otaru Canal. This was one of the sites of the Otaru Snow Light Path festival which is usually held in conjunction with the Sapporo Snow Festival. This area featured a path along the canal which visitors can walk along which is lit up by ice lanterns. Lanterns were hung across the canal just above the water’s surface, and large icicles hung from old warehouses on the other side of the canal. A heavy fall of snow occurred while we were moving along the path, which gave off a surreal feeling that we were in a dream. At the end of the path were several shelters made from snow, and a cluster of ice lanterns around each other.

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We continued towards the other site of the festival at Temiyasen Kaijo. This site is based along an abandoned train track. There were slides for kids at the beginning of the path, and beautiful display of lanterns and snow sculptures along the way. Finding the words to describe the elegant beauty of it all is impossible, so I will let the photos speak for themselves.

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On the way back to the train station, we decided to look for some food since it will be quite late by the time we arrive back in Sapporo. We found a restaurant along a shopping arcade near Sakai Machi Street. It was a good meal and was good to get some warmth after being in the cold for well over an hour or two. We then took a packed train back towards Sapporo for the night after what was perhaps the most relaxing yet magical day thus far.

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Daily Expenditure
1) TRANSPORT
Train from Sapporo JR Station to Otaru – 620 yen
Train from Otaru to Sapporo JR Station – 620 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
Nakamuraya Ryokan – 5,775 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store at Sapporo JR Station – 402 yen [Pokari Sweat, custard pastry and kitsune sushi]
Lunch along Sakai Machi Street – 2,000 yen [Seafood-don]
Dinner at shopping arcade near Sakai Machi Street – 1,530 yen [Nigiri sushi and Katsu]

4) ATTRACTIONS
N/A ~All free~

5) OTHERS
Music Box from Kaimeiro– 2,205 yen
Snow grip for shoes – 740 yen
Laundry – 167 yen

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
14,059 yen (239,086 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 8 – Sapporo

Date of Travel: 06/02/2012

The day of the Sapporo Snow Festival has arrived, and there was definitely a buzz in the air. We arrived at Odori Park at about 10am, and it was already packed with people. While we had not yet explored the western end of Odori Park, we decided to head back east to see some of the performances on the larger stages. The first major one we stumbled upon was an Indian dance performance on the large Taj Mahal stage to some songs from Slum Dog Millionaire. The Disney Stage was also pretty popular, with some Disney characters present to give the kids plenty of entertainment.

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Slightly further along was the snowboard ramp, where plenty of local professional snowboards showed off their skills. While most had pretty basic tricks (e.g. 360 horizontal twists), there were several standouts. One snowboarder managed a 360 vertical flip on such a short ramp! It was definitely one of the more popular attractions at Odori Park. Afterwards, we headed off to look for some lunch at the outdoor stalls. We did pause to listen to a performance from a Chinese singer at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall along the way.

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There were many good food options at the outdoor stalls, but the one which immediately caught by eye was grilled snow crab legs. That thing was massive! I was given scissors to try and pry open the shell. I saw a stash of broken scissors which showed how tough it was to remove the shells. The crab was delicious, though it was a bit cold since the heat didn’t go through all the way. Other options were tempting (e.g. curry soup, yakisoba), but I decided to save some money since I wasn’t too hungry.

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Shortly after lunch, we hopped on a bus towards Tsu-Dome, which was the second of the three Snow Festival sites. Unlike the Odori site which featured large snow sculptures and performances, the Tsu-Dome site was geared more towards kids. The indoor area for example featured rides and mascots for kids. There was also a snowman mascot, which Brownie and I called the “Terrorist Snowman” due to the clock it has on its chest…

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Outside, there was a snow sculpture competition for amateur competitors. Some of those sculptures were surprisingly good. There were also large snow slides, and snow sculptures of furniture and vehicles for kids. It was fun to walk around and soak in the festival atmosphere. Walking back to the bus stop, we stumbled across the first obvious case of Engrish, which brought a grin on our faces.

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Our next stop was Mount Moiwa. We took a tram from Susukino Street, then a cable car up to the top. Along the way up, we were really excited with the amazing view of the city which we got a taste off from the cable car, and could only imagine how beautiful it would be from the top. Unfortunately, we can only go by our imaginations…as a fog kicked in and covered the view of the city. What a disappointment! But we kept ourselves entertained by trying to take all sorts of creative photos in the fog. Best to make the most of every opportunity!

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A few minutes later, we realized we were late for a catch-up with one of Brownie’s friends. We rushed back towards Odori Park to meet up with them outside the Sapporo TV Tower. We decided to go up the tower, but half regretted our decision after having to wait over 40 minutes in the queue. Thankfully, the view of Odori Park was amazing! We decided to take a stroll along Susukino Street after we descended from the tower. This was the final of the three Snow Festival sites. Susukino is the main street of Sapporo, and is full of malls, restaurants and nightlife. The centre of the road was lined with plenty of ice sculptures – some of which were still being sculptured.

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We stopped by a ramen shop for some dinner. Sapporo is famous for its miso ramen, so all of us went for that option. However, the buttery broth was way too rich for Brownie and my liking. It was a poor first experience having ramen in Japan! Thankfully I had some beer to down it all down. We continued walking among the ice sculptures after dinner, and witnessed someone almost topple over his own sculpture by mistake.

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On the way back towards Odori Park, one of Brownie’s friends decided to treat us to Amazake, which was a drink made from pulp residue from Sake brewing. She bought it from a shady guy, who did not even seem to work there. The drink itself wasn’t very nice as it kind of tasted like dish-washing liquid, but definitely helped warm us up. Odori Park was almost completely deserted by the time we arrived there, as all activities had stopped for the day. It was eerie walking around when it was so quiet, but it was also nice not having to be rushed around by the crowd. After slowly walking back to the Ryokan, then bidding Brownie’s friends farewell, we turned in for a good night’s rest after a very cold but exciting day.

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Daily Expenditure
1) TRANSPORT
Bus to Tsu-Dome site from Odori Park – 200 yen
Bus to Susukino Street from Tsu-Dome site – 200 yen
Streetcar to Mount Moiwa – 340 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
Nakamuraya Ryokan – 5,775 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from SunkUs convenience store at Odori Park – 378 yen [Hotdog, Chocolate cornet and strawberry pocky]
Lunch from stalls at Odori Park – 1,230 yen [Crab leg, and potato stick]
Cookie and cream pocky at Tsu-Dome – 84 yen
Dinner along Susukino Street – 1,100 yen [Miso ramen and beer]

4) ATTRACTIONS
Cable car at Mount Moiwa – 1,700 yen
Sapporo TV Tower – 700 yen

5) OTHERS
N/A [Need to save money once in a while right?]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
11,707 yen (225,027 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 7 – Sapporo

Date of Travel: 05/02/2012

Despite how tired we were from our frantic few days in the Kansai region, we had to get up earlier than usual as we had to check in for our flight to New Chitose at 8:45am. Luckily, we had purchased breakfast coupons from the hotel lobby the night before, so breakfast was already sorted out. It was also the first time we had a proper sit-in breakfast during our trip. While it was good, I am still not used to having fish first thing in the morning. We hopped onto the plane shortly after to kick-start the second leg of our trip – the Hokkaido region.

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We arrived in New Chitose Airport at 10:30am. After grabbing our luggage, we hopped on a train to Sapporo, which took about 35 minutes in total. The train started off in a dark tunnel, but suddenly went out into a field of white – blinding J.C. completely. It was very different looking at Japanese residential houses being covered in snow, and was a view I had never seen prior to this train ride. We arrived at Sapporo station around noon, quickly headed over to our accommodation at Nakamuraya Ryokan to drop off our luggage, and went off towards the Sapporo Beer Garten for some Jingisukan.

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Jingisukan is a grilled mutton dish which is usually served on a convex skillet, which is supposedly in the shape of Genghis Khan’s helmet (hence the name). We looked at the menu and had no idea what to order. I saw an expensive option at the back, and thought that it was an all-you-can-eat option as there was a time limit given on there (approximately 2,100 yen). Brownie wanted the same thing I was going for, but J.C. wanted a cheaper option (900 yen). The waiter however said we could not order what we had wanted, but we had no idea why as he was unable to explain to us the reason. J.C. interpreted the waiter as saying that the expensive option is for all three of us (e.g. 700 yen each) and that it was not an all-you-can-eat, so we went ahead with that option. We were still quite hungry after the first round, so I ordered more meat. Even after that we were still hungry, but as we were unsure of what the price would actually be, we were relunctant to pay more. The price came out to 2,100 yen each, and that it was an all-you-can-eat! So we ended up paying 6,300 yen in total but only ate the equivalent of about 1,350 yen. Yeah – epic fail. Turns out that the reason we couldn’t go with our original order was that those who went for the all-you-can-eat could just give more food to the one who didn’t, which would be cheating the restaurant and makes sense when we thought about it. So yeah, was not a good start to the Hokkaido leg of our trip. But all part of the experience of travelling! At least the beer was good…

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The Sapporo Beer Museum was located right next to the restaurant, and was free to enter. It had a very cute display showing how the beer was made. Most of the displays were in Japanese so we had no idea what they were saying. There was a section showing past bottles and advertisements of the brand, which was quite interesting to see how it changed with time. The grounds itself was covered in snow, and we had a brief snowball fight before heading off to Sapporo Factory, which is a popular shopping mall in Sapporo.

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Sapporo Factory has a very interesting interior. Along the sides are shops on about 4-5 different levels. Along the middle are steps surrounded by a lot of greenery and fake wind turbines. With the amount of glass window panes present, it gave the area an “outdoor” feel to it, which was very unique. Hilariously, there was a Hawaiian dance competition going on at the same time despite it being winter. I suppose the interior of the wall was warm enough for it anyway.

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We went out of the mall and headed towards Odori Park, which is a narrow park over 10 blocks long in the middle of the city centre. It is one of the sites of the famous Sapporo Snow Festival. Despite the fact that the festival was only starting the day after, the park was full of people having an early look at the various displays. We started off at the end with the Sapporo TV tower and worked our way west. There was a mini ice-skating ring, small ice sculptures, a large snow sculpture of marine life, a Disney stage, an ice sculpture of Taiwan’s Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, and hundreds of smaller statues.

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After such a long afternoon, we decided to head back to our accommodation to rest before heading out and finding dinner. We checked into the ryokan, and were brought to our rooms by really friendly staff. We were served green tea and a very delicious tiramisu mochi. After chatting among ourselves, we decided that we were too tired to go out looking for food, and decided to order some food from the ryokan. The food was amazing, and we were more than happy to come back to the ryokan for future meals if needed. After dinner, the friendly staff came back to set up the futons and laid out some yukatas for us to wear. I must say, this was the best possible first experience at a ryokan, as all of us really felt welcomed here. After chatting for a bit, we decided to call it a night. Tomorrow was the reason we all came in winter after all. Tomorrow – the Sapporo Snow Festival officially begins!

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Flight from Itami Airport to New Chitose Airport – 10,800 yen [ANA Star Alliance Airpass]
Train from New Chitose Airport to Sapporo JR Station – 1,040 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
Nakamuraya Ryokan – 5,775 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast at Itami Airport – 300 yen [breakfast voucher from Osaka Airterminal Hotel]
Lunch at Sapporo Beer Garten – 2,610 yen [“all-you-can-eat” and Sapporo Beer]
Dinner at Nakamuraya Ryoan – 1,100 [Tempura and Sashimi set]

4) ATTRACTIONS
N/A ~All free~

5) OTHERS
Souvenir from Odori Park – 1,260 yen [Cellphone strap]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
12,885 yen excluding flights, 22,885 yen including flights (213,320 yen total)