3 days in hokkaido


After 21 hours of traveling (and mostly sleeping), I’m very excited to finally arrive in Sapporo. Joyce lands a few minutes after me, and we are reunited after three long years apart (the last time we’d seen each other was the summer I graduated from college). It’s as if we’d never left each other, though, and we spend the bus ride to downtown Sapporo catching up on our lives. Right after we get off the bus, Joyce introduces me to what is now my favorite convenience store: Lawson. Here’s what you should know about Japanese convenience stores: the industry is an oligopoly driven by Lawson, 7/11 and Family Mart (affectionately known as ‘Famima’). These convenience stores don’t even compare to the 7/11’s in the US. Here are some of my favorite things all three players have: onigiri (the seaweed and pickled plum ones are vegetarian), milk tea (in the refrigerated section), tons of brioch-y pastries, noodle sandwiches (Yakisoba pan), and steamed buns (with fillings ranging from curry to pizza). Joyce of course gets a corndog, mostly because she wants me to see how clever their ketchup/mustard dual container is. I’m very impressed.

We walk for around ten minutes and arrive at Hostel Yuyu, a lovely two-story building with a zen-looking wood façade. The employees at the reception desk are very friendly and helpful. On our way to our room upstairs, we walk through a library filled with adorable children — the hostel doubles as a childcare facility during the day. What a brilliant idea.

Our room looks like something straight out of a MUJI catalog. Made of unfinished plywood, the bunk beds are long enough to accommodate for a mattress and for us to keep our bags. Joyce and I get settled into our little nooks before heading out to do some exploring, since we’ve still got a few hours left before sunset.

We first walk through Nijo Market, Sapporo’s fish market. The latter features a number of interesting catches, including fresh fish and shellfish as well as prepared dishes such as “kinki grilled fish” (I kid you not). We then stop by Choju Giga, a vintage clothing store right along the Sosei River, before entering the Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade. Arcades aren’t really a thing in the US. I’ve seen a few in France, but they seem to be much more common in Japan. These structures are essentially covered shopping alleys, which are great for store-hopping on a rainy day. Inside the alley we pass by a number of shops, including the men’s clothing store Seek, which is filled with well-curated men’s products. A little further out from the arcade, we step into more fashionable shops, including Garage69 and South2 West8, and a really cozy coffee shop, FABcafe.

As it gets dark, we stroll through the long and narrow Odori Park. At night, the park allows for a beautiful view of the illuminated Sapporo City Museum, whose architecture oddly resembles that of a European mansion.

It’s proving difficult to find a dinner spot with vegetarian options, so after much searching we end up at the franchise CoCo Ichibanya, which has an entire vegetarian curry section. If you’re vegetarian, make sure you order specifically from this section, because the default curry sauce contains meat, even if served with vegetables. I get the mushroom curry, and it’s absolutely fantastic. Curry places are scarce in NYC, so I’m not too hard to please there. If you’re not into mushrooms, I also heard the spinach and eggplant is great.

Random note: Vehicles in Sapporo are tiny, and it’s not just the cars — tiny trucks are everywhere, and I’m obsessed. Picture a truck that’s the size of a small minivan. Joyce thinks my obsession is hilarious.


Our morning begins with a few slices of Okameya bread, a soft and flaky white bread which we find delicious topped with jam and butter.

On our way to the bus stop, we visit the Hokkaido Shrine Tongu — our first shrine of the trip! After struggling to figure out which bus will take us to Furano, we end up asking a 7/11 employee for help and realize Google Maps hadn’t directed us to the right stop. Oops. At the correct bus station, we then spend a couple of minutes figuring out how to use the ticket machine, which Joyce accidentally breaks with her coins (luckily, there is a second machine).

Because our bus leaves in an hour, we have just enough time to walk through Sapporo’s 500m Museum, a gallery in the underground concourse between Odori station and the bus station. There, we see Hiraku Suzuki’s “THE WALL 01”, reminiscent of constellations, and works part of the multi-artist “Drawing to Think” exhibit. While I wish the pieces were shown in better lighting, having a public museum that connects two transit stations is a really great idea — not only does it provide visual stimulation to passerbies on their commute, it also promotes promising local artists.

After stocking up on portable foods from Lawson, we board the Chuo bus to Furano. The bus ride is around 2.5 hours long, and is worth staying awake for if you’d like to get a glimpse of the Hokkaido landscape. At the Furano station, we transfer to another bus that takes use to Nakafurano, a small town merely 20 minutes away from Furano. From Nakafurano, we walk for 15 minutes to Farm Tomita, the town’s main attraction.

Existing since 1897, Farm Tomita is known for its vast and beautiful lavender fields. Since we visit the site in September, all of the lavender crops have already been harvested (the best time to see them is in July). However, we still get to see the multi-colored Hanabito field, as well as the Autumn field. And while we may not get to see actual lavender flowers in the fields, we get to experience lavender in many other ways. I try lavender ice cream, for instance, a welcome refreshment on this warm day. There are a couple of buildings throughout the farm, from which you can buy anything and everything lavender — essential oils, soaps, eye pillows, soaps, and more. We also get to see the distillery and perfume-making processes at work. Joyce especially loves how everything is lavender-color, from the staff’s shirts to their scooters.

From Nakafurano, we get on the return bus all the way to its final stop, the New Prince Hotel. This is where you need to stop if you wish to visit Ningle Terrace, which is what we’re about to do. Ningle Terrace looks like something straight out of a Claude Ponti book (if you get this reference, I’m 99% sure you’re French). Picture a dozen wooden cabins surrounded by tall pines, the whole mood complete with string lights. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s also a pretty magical experience. I recommend visiting the shop with the creepy gnome-carved candles for a good laugh. One caveat of going to Ningle Terrace in the evening is that the buses stop running after the afternoon, so you’ll have to take a taxi to get back to downtown Furano. This’ll cost around $20 — less if you share!

Furano is mostly a ski town, so it’s very quiet in September. However, there are still plenty of food options to choose from. We grab dinner at Masaya, a cozy restaurant where you can watch the cooks prepare your meal on the grill. I get the mochi okonomiyaki, which has nothing to do with dessert mochis. Made of potatoes, cheese and cabbage, my okonomiyaki (isn’t that such a fun word to say?) is one of the most comforting foods I’ve ever eaten.

Tonight, we stay at Hostel Tomar. We booked a private room, which feels like a very adult thing to do.


We check out from Hostel Tomar, and decide to try to find a café to grab some breakfast before boarding our train back to Sapporo. The issue with Furano is that basically no cafés or bakeries are open before 10am, which, as a French New Yorker, is wild. With a little research, we manage to find Polar Coffee, a cute coffee shop that opened just recently. Turns out the employees speak Chinese, so that’s the language I decide to (somewhat clumsily) order in. Joyce gets the iced white mocha, and I get the iced chocolate with a double-chocolate muffin. The muffin is the biggest fucking thing I have ever seen, and it’s delicious. But it doesn’t beat the iced chocolate, which is basically a fancy-ass milkshake. I’d fly across the world every day for it. Okay, maybe not.

We take two trains back to Sapporo, and then another train (which actually looked more like a subway) to Otaru. Otaru is a small harbor city located a 30 minute ride northwest of Sapporo. The city served as a major trade and fishing port in Hokkaido, and its still-standing old warehouses and trade company office buildings are testaments to this past.

Once in Otaru, we walk around and decide to stop by the post office to write some letters and send them out to our friends and family. The mailbox we toss the letters in is very cute, and looks similar to those you’d find in the UK. After this wholesome little interlude, we stroll along the busy Sakaimachi Street, where we see some traditional buildings. Many, if not most, of the shops there are quite touristy and sell glass products, which I’m not a huge fan of. We do step inside LeTao, a big cheesecake shop that’s apparently very popular in the area. A lot of the products in there are pretty mysterious, but luckily there are samples for you to try. I get a box of langues de chat filled with a thin layer of tangy cheesecake for my parents. They love langues de chat and cheesecake, so I can’t really go wrong there.

My favorite store in Otaru is Character House Yume no Oto, a two-story wonderland of your favorite Japanese characters. The upper floor is entirely dedicated to the Miyazaki universe, and I could spend hours marveling at all the No-Face, Totoro, Jiji’s and Susuwatari iterations for sale.

We then walk along the popular Otaru Canal, which is actually fairly short. From our side of the canal, we admire the quaint buildings across the water. Having been to Bruges, I must be a little jaded, because everyone around us seems in total awe of this place. Joyce purchases some lovely watercolor postcards from an artist called Hitoshi Horii.

Back in Sapporo, we struggle once more to find a restaurant that caters to my vegetarianism. We settle on Sapporo Cheese House Mero, a place known for its raclettes and fondues, both of which seem to be very popular in Hokkaido. I get a pasta dish with cream sauce, and Joyce tries raclette for the first time in her life. I give her a few pointers, because dipping potatoes in the cheese is a major faux-pas (just kidding, Joyce — watching you eat raclette is one of the most romantic things we’ve ever done together).

Our romantic evening continues (and ends) with us sharing a big chocolate ice cream sundae thing at And Initial. Sugar cravings fulfilled, we head back to Hostel Yuyu. The staff was nice enough to place us in the same beds we had stayed in on our first night, so we feel right at home.

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