Lake Toya Hot Spring – The Lake View Toya Nonokaze Resort

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Private-use hot springs: Yes
Rooms with private view spa: Yes

With views of Nakajima Island and Mt. Yotei (also known as Hokkaido’s Mt. Fuji) across the serene lake waters, and active volcano Mt. Usu in the south, Lake Toya is perhaps the most scenic spa resort in Hokkaido. Enjoy the balance of tradition and convenience with their wide selection of Japanese-Western style rooms, all of which face the lake, and some of which include a private view spa. Along with the top floor public spas, featuring chloride spring, sulfate spring, sodium bicarbonate saline spring, the private onsens are perfect for catching the evening fireworks shows on the lake between April and November.

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Access:
Take the JR Rapid Airport Train from New Chitose Airport to Minami Chitose, then take the JR Limited Express from Minami Chitose to JR Toya Station. A 15-min. taxi ride from the station.

WEB:
http://en.nonokaze-resort.com/

Noboribetsu Hot Spring – Takinoya

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Private-use hot springs: No
Rooms with open-air baths: Yes

Surrounded by the lush greenery of Shikotsu-Toya National Park in southwestern Hokkaido, Noboribetsu is heralded as one of the world’s most extraordinary hot spring resorts, boasting nine types of water. With four of these—salt/saline spring, iron-rich ferruginous spring, radium spring, and sulphur spring—sourced from the nearby Jigokudani Valley, Takinoya is an ideal hide away for physical healing. The three onsens here come with a variety of beautiful backdrops, including rich forestry and a beautifully manicured Japanese garden. Though lively in the spring and summer, winter also makes for a great quiet escape, under the gentle cover of snowfall.

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Access:
Take the JR Limited Express from New Chitose Airport to JR Noboribetsu Station. A 10-min. taxi ride from the station.

WEB:
http://takinoya.co.jp/ (Japanese)

Sapporo Snow Festival

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Sapporo Yuki Matsuri, Snow Festival in Sapporo, Hokkaido

The festival, the biggest in scale of this kind, started in 1950, and has become one of the most popular events in winter for now. Approximately 230 snow creations and ice sculptures are exhibited at three sites, mainly at the Odori Site with enormous snow creations and many attractions, at the Susukino Site with fantastic ice sculptures, and at the Tsu-dome Site with the huge playground where children and adults can play in snow. http://www.snowfes.com/english/index.html

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Access:
(1) The JR Hakodate Honsen Line to Sapporo Sta.
(2) About 50 min. by bus from Shin-Chitose Airport to Sapporo Eki-mae Bus Terminal.

Abashiri Ice Breaker Cruise

Abashiri is a major tourist destination in winter. Its shores by the Okhotsk sea are the southernmost point where the ocean freezes.

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icebreaker cruiseOne of the most popular attraction is the Drift Ice Sightseeing Icebreaking Ship Aurora that takes passengers out amid the outstanding whiteness of the ice. Departing from Abashiri Port, a highlight of the trip is when blocks of ice strike the bottom of the boat and cause its entire body to shake as the Aurora ship proceeds at a constant speed of 3 knots. But don’t worry! The boat is very safe and sturdy, and the sailing is overall very smooth.

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Be astounded by the sight of drift ice stretching across the ocean horizon and see the ice shift and churn while being greeted by sea birds and seals. Recommended for all nature and scenery lovers.

Seagull resting on the ice
Seagull resting on the ice
Seagull (Umineko)
Seagull (Umineko)
Black-tailed gull (Kamome)
Black-tailed gull (Kamome)

The 491-ton, 3,000-horsepower ship usually operates from late January to March. Hope for fine weather as the ships do not sail when the weather is bad.

[ Information ]
Address: Minami 3, Higashi 4-5-1, Abashiri city, Hokkaido
Fare: 3,300yen (Booking required)
Phone: 0152-43-6000
Web: ms-aurora.com/abashiri/en/

 

Furano Ski Area

Blessed with the lightest and driest snow in Hokkaido, as well as great view of the Daisetsuzan Mountains, the Furano Ski Area attracts all levels of skiers in winter.
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Situated in the center of Hokkaido, this area benefits from Siberian storm systems that pass over the Sea of Japan and dump powdery snow. Even though Furano gets relatively fewer snow than other ski areas in Hokkaido, it gets more days with fine weather and it still gets knee-deep and the occasional neck-deep snow in some areas.
The Furano Ski area even hosted the International Ski Federation Downhill World Cup 10 times. While Japanese top skiers choose this area as training base due to the great conditions, about 80% of areas are rated beginner or intermediate.


The resorts and ski schools there are also quite accommodating for families, providing child care and ski lessons for children in English. Furano is made up with two zones, the Kitanomine zone and the Furano zone with various accommodation options. Aside from skiing and snowboarding, you can also try snowmobiling and backcountry skiing.

Read also: Top 3 Hokkaido Resorts


[ Information ]
By train:
From Chitose airport or Sapporo, Furano can be accessed by JR train via Takikawa Station which takes approximately 2 hours. JR runs a “Lavender Express” from Sapporo Station to Furano Station too. Take taxi from Furano Station to the ski area which will take 5-10 min.

By bus:
Take Chuo express Bus from a bus terminal in the basement of Sapporo Station to Downtown Furano. Buses run hourly from 8AM to 7PM. (3 hrs., 2,260 yen one way). There are direct buses from the New Chitose Airport to the Furano resort (3 hrs., booking required), too.

Open: from Nov. 26, 2016 to May 7, 2016 (Dates are subjects to change)
Lift ticket: Adult 4,000 yen (From Nov. 28 to Dec.11 and Mar. 22 to May 5), Adult 5,200 yen (From Dec.12 to Mar. 21), Senior 3,500 yen (From Nov. 28 to Dec.11 and Mar. 22 to May 5), Senior 4,700 yen (From Dec.12 to Mar. 21)

[ Address ]
18-6 Kitanominecho, Furano-shi, Hokkaido

Niseko Ski Resorts

Being called as the “St. Moritz of the Orient”, Niseko has about 100 years of history as a ski town. The perfect powder snow and its long ski season which lasts until early May have lured skiers every winter. From late 1960s, commercial ski areas such as Niseko Moiwa, Niseko Annupuri and Niseko Higashiyama were opened one after another. The resort is internationally renowned while the number of Australian tourists has been increasing these years. For people who want to try all the slopes, Niseko all mountain pass is recommended.

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Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu
Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu is the biggest ski resort in Niseko and stretches from Niseko Annupuri’s summit (elevation 1,308.5 m) to its base. Foreign skiers are increasing especially in this area. English speaking instructors provide ski and snowboard lessons to all level of skiers.
Address: 85 Niseko, Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun
Phone: 0136-58-2021
Web: www.grand-hirafu.jp/winter/en/

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Niseko Village Ski Resort
Niseko Village Ski Resort is a world-class ski area which combines adventure and nature with superb facilities and amenities with English speaking staff available. It has a long 5,000-meter slope, and is rather suitable for intermediate or advanced skiers.
Address: Higashiyama Onsen, Niseko Cho, Abuta Gun
Phone: 0136-44-2211
Web: www.niseko-village.com/english/winter/

Niseko Annupuri International Ski Area
Located in the quasi-national park land, the Niseko Annupuri International Ski Area is family-oriented and attracts skiing beginners. Experienced skier can also enjoy its runs including a 565 meter champion course and 250 meter challenge course.
Address: Higashiyama Onsen, Niseko Cho, Abuta Gun
Phone: 0136-44-2211
Web: http://annupuri.info/winter/english/
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[ Transportation]
By train: Take Ishikari Liner from Sapporo to Otaru, transfer to Niseko. (90min. 2,100 yen). From Dec. to Feb., “Niseko Express” goes between Sapporo and Niseko (Reservation required).

Take taxi or bus from Niseko station to all ski areas for 15 min. By bus: Take ski bus (Chuo or Dounan) to Niseko ski area from Sapporo station. (3 hr. – 3hr. 45min. 2,300 yen. Reservation required)

By car: 2 hr. drive from Sapporo to Niseko (via Route 230).

[ Address ]

204 Yamada, Kutchan-chō, Abuta-gun, Hokkaidō 044-0081

Ski in Japan: Top 3 Hokkaido Resorts

While crisp gold and red leaves are still falling across Tokyo, it won’t be long until Japan’s peaks are powdered with fluffy white snow. And with the ski season starting as early as mid-November in Hokkaido, it’s not too early to plan for your winter wonderland trip. In this series, we bring you the hottest resorts for the coolest ski trips, complete with onsens and scenery to accompany your downhill thrills. 

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Top 3 Hokkaido Resorts

Snow and Hokkaido are a natural pair, where feather-light powder falls throughout nearly half the year, and its famed Sapporo Snow Festival crowns the season from Feb. 5-11. So for the full Japanese winter experience, start here on its most northern island, where blankets of white wonder await!

Niseko United

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Number of courses: 60
English instructor: Advanced booking recommended
Pick up an All-Mountain Pass for access to all four resorts on Mt. Nikes Annupuri. With a total of 48km of groomed slopes and a course as long as 5.6km, this 4-in-1 spot is great for longer stays.

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Address: Niseko Annupuri: Aza Niseko 485, Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun
Access: Take the Niseko United Shuttle Bus to all our resorts from Kutchen Station.
Web: http://www.niseko.ne.jp/en

Hoshino Resort Tomamu

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English instructor: Advanced booking recommended
Number of courses: 25
Just over an hour away by train from Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport, this resort comes with an open air hot bath facing the lush forests of Tomamu. Give ice skating a go as well as the Ice Village and enjoy its various ice sculptures.

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Address: Naka-Tomamu, Shimukappu-mura, Yuufutsu-gun
Access: Take the shuttle bus from Tomamu Station.
Web: http://www.snowtomamu.jp/winter/en

Furano Ski Resort

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English instructor: Advanced booking recommended
Number of courses: 23
Known for its gorgeous rural landscapes and clear blue skies in the winter, you will not find a more picturesque skiing backdrop than the Furano Valley. After skiing, grab a drink at a snow dome ice bar.

富良野③

Address: Nakagoryo, Furano-shi
Access: Take a taxi from JR Furano Station or the direct shuttle bus from New Chitose Airport.
Web: http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/furano/index.html

 

Hokkaido By Rail and Car: Day 3 – Kamikawa, Sounkyo

Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island, is also referred to as the “The Big Land in the North” by the locals. Blessed with picturesque nature and bounty from the sea and land, it is a favorite getaway destination for the Japanese and tourists alike. WAttention flew in to Sapporo and did a 5D4N rail and rental car tour through the big land. Follow our trip and train details here!  

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L’EX Okhotsk No.2

Day 3:
7:21 Board the L’EX Okhotsk from Kamikawa Station
9:41 Arrive Kamikawa Station

BEAR PARK AND ICE PAVILION

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Feed the bears and experience minus 21 degrees all in one venue!

Bears roam freely on some mountains in Hokkaido, but you don’t have to head to the deep forests to see one. In fact, you can see 12 huge bears at the Asahikawa Bear Park at the Daisetsu Mori-no-Garden and watch how they try to charm you for cookies (provided by the park). After that, find out why the bears decide to hibernate in the Hokkaido winters by entering the Ice Pavilion, literally the coolest entertainment place in Japan with temperatures going below minus degrees Celsius.
Around 15 minutes by car from the station.

LUNCH @ FRATELLO DI MIKUNI

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Set lunch at Mikuni, a fine dining restaurant by Mikuni Kiyomi

Within walking distance from the Daisetsu Mori-no-Garden, is a fine dining restaurant with a view of the Daisetsuzan Mountain Valley, run by renowned chef, Mikuni Kiyomi, who is also known as the Food Ambassador of Hokkaido.  Enjoy the tastiest food of the season here at prices that won’t break the bank!

KURODAKE ROPEWAY 

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Autumn foliage from the ropeway

Mt. Kurodake is the highest peak in the Daisetsuzan National Park at 1,984m and is easily accessible by ropeway which leads to the 5th Station halfway up to the peak. From there, one can take a chairlift further up to the 7th Station. The view of the carpet of autumn foliage on the dramatic mountain ranges is simply stunning.
Around 30 minutes by car from Fratello Di Mikuni.

GINGA WATERFALL AND RYUSEI WATERFALL

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Two minutes’ drive from the ropeway are two waterfalls around 80m high, with water that comes from melted mountain snow. Ginga (silver river)  is meant to be a “female” waterfall for the way it falls in several strands and Ryusei (meteor) is thought to be a “male” waterfall for its powerful straight stream.

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What better way to end the day than to soak in an outdoor hot spring, with autumn foliage and the background soundtrack of the gushing river?

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And the onsen experience of course wouldn’t be complete without a kaiseki meal featuring foods of the season such as river fish!

DAY 4 brings us to Furano!

Here’s the rest of the series:
Hokkaido By Rail & Car: Day 1,2 – Sapporo, Lake Toyako
Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 4: Biei and Furano
Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 5 : Feasting at Furano

Bite Into Japan’s Best Burgers At Hakodate’s Lucky Pierrot

 

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Japan’s best local buns: Lucky Pierrot’s Chinese Chicken Burger, 390 yen

Hakodate in Hokkaido may be famous for its fresh seafood and salt-based ramen but it also boasts what has been voted as Japan’s “Best Local Burger” in  a Nikkei survey. And 1.8 million customers a year can’t be wrong.

In fact, their 17 stores are almost always packed, with locals and tourists alike queuing for a taste of what can only be found in Hakodate.

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Funky facades are Lucky Pierrot’s Trademark

This local burger chain started in 1987, and soon became a hit for their Chinese Chicken Burger (featured in the photo above), which consists of juicy fried chicken with a hint of ginger and drizzled with a sweet and slightly spicy sauce.

Since then, their menu has expanded to include other originals such as:

Squid Burger, as Hakodate is famous for its squid

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The Foot-Long Burger, limited to 20 a day:

 

 

 

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Scallop Burger, a result of a customer contest:
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Genghis Khan Burger, the taste of Hokkaido:

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Hakodate Snow Burger:

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As well as curries…

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Pasta…

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And what some claim to be Hokkaido’s bests Omurice, or omelette rice:

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All featuring the much-loved Chinese Chicken.

 

Each restaurant interior is distinct and overflowing with as much character as the quirky storefront murals, and each store has a slightly different menu.

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Soul food for the locals.

 

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The first Lucky Pierrot store, located near the Hakodate Bay Area.
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A newer store near the Hakodate Bay Area.
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The Chinese Chicken Burger looks set to take the top seat for a long time.

Lucky Pierrot is such an institution that it even has its own array of souvenirs for tourists to take home, from canned sodas, to chips and of course, t-shirts.

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One reason for the queue is that the food here is prepared upon order, using fresh ingredients. To avoid waiting, one is advised to call beforehand to place your order and come to pick it up. Don’t bother testing your luck, as there’s almost always a queue!

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URL: http://luckypierrot.jp/ (Japanese only)

 

 

Picturesque Japan: Unkai Terrace

Heaven in Hokkaido

Tokyo’s towering skyscrapers – not to forget about the Tokyo Skytree – might take you up high in the sky, but Hokkaido’s nature takes you above the clouds. A 13 minute gondola ride in Tomamu goes up to an altitude of 1,088 meters, which is just high enough to surpass the clouds.

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The Unkai Terrace is located near the endpoint of this gondola, and trust me, you will understand why this terrace was named Unkai, or “sea of clouds”.

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Tomamu has been a popular ski resort since the early eighties. However, the amazing summer view remained a secret only known by the gondola staff until a summer service started in 2005.

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Tomamu in summer and winter

From the Unkai Terrace, you can see one of Hokkaido’s most stunning views, but only if it’s your day. The endless sea of rolling clouds that conjure the illusion of heaven can only be seen if the right amount of clouds appear at the right time of the day.

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As Tomamu is not easy to reach and the gondola and terrace are only open from 4:30 am to 8 am and from 11 am to 2 pm, staying at Hoshino Resort is highly recommended.
Hoshino Resort Tomamu consists of The Tower and Risonare Tomamu, and both feel just as close to heaven as the Unkai Terrace itself!

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If you are in luck and get to see this phenomenon of heaven in Hokkaido, sitting down on the terrace with an “Unkai Coffee” while gazing at the clouds like a lookout staring at the sea from a crow’s nest might very well become the highlight of your trip to Hokkaido, or even to Japan in general!

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Next in this series: Picturesque Japan: The Oki Islands

Spot information

Name: Unkai Terrace
Address: Nakatomamu, Shimukappu-mura Yufutsu-gun, Hokkaido
Access: From Tomamu Station (JR Hokkaido), call for a pickup bus with the telephone on platform 2 that takes you to the resorts.
Period: From May 16 to October 13 (check the website for time schedules)
Gondola Round Trip Fares: 1,900 yen (adults) 1,200 yen (children)
Official Information: http://www.snowtomamu.jp/unkai_terrace/index_en.html