Raymond Garcia’s Wintry Holiday Getaway To Sapporo And Niseko
Raymond Garcia keeps himself busy as a continuously learning entrepreneur and as the CEO of the DFNN Group. That’s why holiday vacations are precious to him as a way to bond with his equally busy wife Charina, herself a restaurateur and skilled worker placement executive, and their three lovely daughters.
Since the late 1990s, the Garcias have been enjoying the wintry wonderland that is Niseko in Hokkaido, Japan—reputed to have the best snow in the Asia-Pacific region—way before it became the “in” spot for Filipinos wanting to try their hand at snowboarding and skiing. Raymond shares his family’s not-to-miss sights, sounds and tastes in Niseko as well as in Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido.
Snow, snow everywhere
If you want to be sure to see snow of the very best quality, then Sapporo and Niseko are hard to beat! The high probability of snow every year makes this the perfect way to celebrate the holidays away from the traffic in the Philippines. For our family, enjoying yuki (snow) is a time to bond together, whether it’s playing with the fluffy stuff, gathering for a meal of nabe (hotpot), or strolling in the underground mall. Just a warning for Filipino families who like to travel in big groups—Japanese restaurants are very small, and seating for eight or more people will be a challenge unless you make reservations ahead of time.
Sapporo’s holiday highlights
Sapporo’s huge underground mall system shouldn’t be missed. A nice area to explore is the mall located near the Don Quijote (a 24/7 tax-free budget department store) of Sapporo. For pet lovers, that same area near Don Quijote also has a cute pet store.
Sapporo TV Tower is located in front of Odori Park. During winter, the tower is usually covered in the best white stuff.
Sapporo Beer Factory, now converted into an upscale mall, boasts some of the best Christmas lights. We enjoy going in the early evening to see how the night lights play on the old factory walls. Make sure to try the Jingisukan or “Genghis Khan” (??????), which is a grilled mutton dish adopted by the Japanese.
Shiroi Koibito Factory reminds me of the movie Charlie & the Chocolate Factory since it is a cookie factory that doubles as a fantasyland that young kids will love. There’s a fun factory tour and restaurant which make you feel like you’ve entered the movie as a live participant. On the way to or near the factory, try some ramen and soup curry places like Ramen Yondaime Ichimaru Miyanosawa (Trust us, go in!), Abura Soba Senmonten Taoka Miyanosawa, and Soup Curry Samurai Nishino (the Japanese take on Indian and organic food).
Susukino is the evening party strip in Sapporo’s main entertainment district. Go from alley to alley in search of izakayas serving yakitori (skewered meat). There is a particularly nice izakaya at the corner of the street leading to the Tokyu Hands store. The tourist guides will also tell you to try Ramen Alley called Ramen Yokocho.
After a night of drinking in Susukino, breakfast at Nijo Market with the famous Hokkaido hairy crab (kegani) and super fresh uni is a great way to recover.
Niseko’s must-try dining spots
Abucha Second is one of the best places to eat in Niseko and is always packed. Either go early or have your hotel or resort book you a table. They serve some of the best nabe to help you recover from a day of skiing and snowboarding.
Niseko Pizza is great for pizza and other Italian fare, especially if you’re looking for a change from Japanese food.
Sushi Hanayoshi (? ??) is good for those who could not get enough sushi while in Sapporo.
65 Fujimi, Niseko, Abuta District
If you want to experience a nice kaiseki meal, stay at an onsen ryokan overnight.
Otaru’s wintry landscape
To see the Japanese equivalent of Amsterdam with snow, travel to nearby Otaru with its beautiful canals. Visit in the afternoon but make sure to stay until the evening, as the day and night scenes are completely different. The train ride to Otaru is also beautiful with views of the sea and the coastline. Just outside the station in Otaru is a fish market where you can enjoy a very fresh sushi bowl. Two other notable eating places are Sawasakisuisan Kaisenshokudo and Yabuhan Soba.