I finally got down to blogging about my June vacation! In June, we went to Hokkaido for 12 days. There were 3 adults, 2 kids and 1 senior in our group, so we rented a car throughout all 12 days to get around.
This post is Part 1 of a 5-part series of our travel journal for this trip, and you can find links to other parts of our travel journal at the end of the post. For an overview of the trip, check out our itinerary outline.
Hokkaido Trip June 2014
On the first day of our trip from , we flew from Singapore to Narita and Narita to Chitose via ANA. The transit at Narita was pretty straightforward when we flew all the way with ANA. We checked in at Singapore and received our boarding passes for both flights. After clearing the customs at Narita, we picked up our luggage and followed the sign to ‘domestic transfer’ and there was a counter for us to drop off our luggage again. There was no need to lug our luggage around the airport and to check in again for the domestic sector.
The tourist information counter lady recommended we visit Narita city, but I had just done that in my previous visit and did not fancy doing it again. If you have not done it before, you could do it because 4 hours is a long time at boring Narita Airport. Whatever it is, DO NOT go into the domestic boarding area until it is close to boarding time because there is nothing there besides one small lonely souvenir kiosk.
Finally, after a flight delay and long queue to take off at Narita, we arrived at Chitose at 9 pm. Everything was closed by then, so we just checked in to Air Terminal Hotel which was connected to Chitose Airport and stayed there. MF complained that he was hungry and the only thing to eat at that time was vending machine food. Do not underestimate vending machine though, the vending machine at the hotel had hot food like yaki soba, takoyaki and fried rice. There were also cup noodles for sale at the hotel lobby. MF ended up eating yaki soba from the vending machine which was not bad at all.
We spent the whole day flying from Singapore to New Chitose Airport and spent the night at Air Terminal Hotel which is connected to the airport. The kids loved Air Terminal Hotel because our room faced the airport runway and they could watch the planes taking off and landing.
We picked up our rental car and drove first to Lake Shikotsu. Lake Shikotsu was pretty boring in summer. The only reason I was here was for my favourite cheese imo mochi. Imo mochi is a popular snack in Hokkaido. Unlike normal mochi that is made of flour, imo mochi is made of potato.
You can find imo mochi at many snack kiosks in Hokkaido, but after trying out so many, my favourite is still this cheese imo mochi at Lake Shikotsu. It is sweet and crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and oozing with hot yummy cheese.
The snack kiosk was located beside the Lake Shikotsu Tourist Information Centre. There are tables and chairs inside the shop where you can sit and dine. It is also a souvenir shop and there were some crackers for sample. I remember the squid cracker was pretty yummy. Another popular item here was the soft-serve, which according the to sign is #2 in Japan and #1 in Hokkaido!
After having our fill of cheese imo mochi, we went for a walk around the lake before hitting the road again.
There was nothing particularly interesting for the kids at Lake Shikotsu, but it was good spot to take a break during the long drive from Chitose to Lake Toya.
I don’t think the kids minded being able to get off the car for stroll. Or run. Whatever.
After we were done eating and strolling around the lake, we drove on to Lake Toya. We had planned a rest stop at Kinoko Oukoku, which is a shop specialising in mushroom products, but the kids were asleep when we reached there so we skipped it.
Just before reaching Lake Toya, we reached Sobetsu Fruit Village. We stopped to pick some strawberries at Takashina Fruit Farm which was the only farm open in early June. We paid the entry fee and were free to pluck and eat as many as we liked and there was no time limit. We were pretty noob and didn’t bring anything to wash the strawberries, the Japanese people there brought their own cup and water for washing the fruits. So if you’re planning to go fruit picking, don’t forget to bring a cup.
It was still early in the season and many of the strawberries were still pretty green, so we had to dig around a bit to find the red ones. I didn’t think the strawberries here were very sweet. The ones we plucked in Australia were much nicer!
Nevertheless, strawberry picking was a fun activity for the kids, regardless the taste of the strawberries. MF took his strawberry picking very seriously and went all out, digging through the leaves, to find the red ones.
It started drizzling while we were doing our strawberry picking. But thankfully we were inside sheltered tents, so we could continue the picking in spite of the drizzle.
Although we were allowed to stay as long as we wished at the strawberry farm and pluck & eat as much as we wanted, our visit was cut short when MY decided to poo and we had to go back to the car to change his diapers. #RealityofFamilyTravel
We drove on to Lake Toya for lunch at Sendoan (仙堂庵) which was located on the second floor of the Wakasaimo store along Lake Toya’s southern shore.
The restaurant offered a beautiful view of Lake Toya, which you could enjoy if you had a seat next to the giant windows. Which we did. The tables next to the window were tatami-style and the restaurant provided little stools for the kids to sit on.
The food was delicious and reasonably priced. Below is the menu when we were there, you can click to enlarge it.
Lake Toya is known for its hotate (scallop), so we ordered all sorts of hotate cuisine. Those who didn’t take raw food could order friend hotate.
Or hotate wappameshi. Which I DO NOT recommend.
IMHO, fresh hotate is best eaten raw. The raw hotate here was splendid! Sweet with a slight crunch of freshness, it was the best hotate we had during the whole trip. We loved the hotate that came with the hotate ikura don so much that we ordered 2 more servings of hotate sashimi.
Each set meal served at Sendoan came with a big bowl of soup, cooked with baby scallops.
The kids meal here was also excellent value for money! Less than 600 yen and came with a free toy. I would highly recommend dining here if you are visiting Lake Toya with kids.
If you are here after lunch and too full to dine at Sendoan, there was a cafe at the first storey selling very cute cakes. The kids would love them.
After our lunch, we went downstairs to check out the rest of the Wakasaimo store. This is Wakasaimo’s mascot, Mr Wakasaimo. If I’m not mistaken, he represents Wakasaimo’s signature snack. Which is a potato-shaped looking snack made of yam.
if you want to try Wakasaimo’s signature confectionery, just grab some samples from the store. They were pretty generous with them. (Japanese are generally very generous with their samples.) If you like them, you can buy a couple of boxes home!
We went for a short stroll around Lake Toya after lunch. There was a small playground, but the kids preferred to just jump around and climb up and down the stone sculptures around the lake.
But if you’re wondering what the playground looks like, here’s a photo from our Oct 2013 trip.
There are plenty of things to explore around Lake Toya, such as taking the sightseeing boat, riding the ropeway up Mount Usu or walking around the trail at Nishiyama Crater Promenade, but we were in eating mode and drove further West to Lake Hill Farm for more food.
Lake Hill Farm was famous for their gelato. Which received a thumbs up from MF.
We also bought a chou cream to try, but the chou cream was disappointing. The filling was okay, but the crust was dry and tasteless.
After eating, we went for a walk around the farm. It wasn’t much of a farm, just some rabbits, horses and a goat.
There were balls and racquets for kids to play for free.
The kids had fun running around the field chasing the ball. It was nice to let these hyperactive kids get away from the urban jungle of Singapore and just run around freely in the vast green field and kick the ball without fear of the ball rolling to the road or hitting something or somebody.
While the kids were well-entertained, I went to check out the surroundings of Lake Hill Farm. And I reckoned that if the weather wasn’t so gloomy, we would have gotten a pretty nice view from the farm.
I also found some of these pretty purplish flowers, which I think are wisterias?
After our visit to Lake Hill Farm, we drove back to our hotel, Toya Sun Palace.
Can’t say I loved the decor in the room much, but I was quite happy to have a lake view!
We headed straight for the swimming pool which had big slides and a kids play area.
There were also floats that you could borrow (free of charge) to ride in the wave pool.
There was also a giant ball thingy for the kids to run around in for a fee.
After swimming, we had buffet dinner at the dining hall.
Every night from late April to late Oct, there is a 20 minute fireworks display at Lake Toya at 8.45pm. As MY was sleeping, I stayed in the room to watch the fireworks while hubby brought MF to the shore in front of the hotel to watch.
The next morning, once MY woke up, he headed straight for the window to check out the lake view outside. It was nice to see the city kid having an appreciation for nature! Must be my genes.
Breakfast was served in the same buffet hall where we had dinner the previous evening. But because it was dark when we had dinner, I didn’t realise what a view the buffet hall had!
After having more amaebi (sweet shrimps) and ika (squid) that morning than in an entire year in Singapore, it was time to bid farewell to Lake Toya.
We started our long drive to Hakodate. Along the way, we took a break at PA Yakumo which is next to Funkawan Panorama Park. There was an indoor playground for the kids there which was absolutely free!
There were also outdoor play areas but it was raining so we couldn’t go. After the kids had enough fun, we continued the drive to Hakodate. Our first stop was Lucky Pierrot, a famous burger chain at Hakodate. We visited the branch opposite Goryokaku Tower which had a few free parking lots.
My favourite burger from Lucky Pierrot was their hotate burger. Which we had with cola in a Lucky Pierrot can. Lol.. Gotta love buying touristy stuff like that.
After eating, we went for a quick visit of Goryokaku Tower.
Goryokaku Tower offered a pretty unique view of a city, surrounding the star-shaped Fort Goryokaku.
I had been to Goryokaku Tower before and, while the view was nice and I do recommend visiting it if you are in Hakodate for the first time, it was not a place that warranted a second visit. So while hubby and his friend and MF went up the tower, I went for a walk around the fort with MY.
Fort Goryokaku is most well-known for its cherry blossoms, making it one of Hokkaido’s top cherry blossom sites. However, June was way too late for cherry blossoms. Though there were other flowers in bloom.
From Goryokaku, we drove on to the Red Brick warehouse district.
I love the rustic look of the Red Brick Warehouse district, and the old metallic doors and windows.
There was no way I could resist getting a Frappe from gorgeous Starbucks at the red brick warehouse district.
But if you’re looking for something more uniquely Hakodate, head to Snaffles cafe instead. Snaffles originated in Hakodate, although it also has cafes in Sapporo and its signature cheesecake can be bought at many souvenir shops in Sapporo, Chitose Airport and even in Singapore. However, having tea at Snaffles cafe is still one of my must-do things in Hakodate. At their cafe, you can order their signature cheesecake individually instead of buying the whole box. And they also serve a wide range of cakes besides their signature cheesecake, which you can enjoy with drinks.
After tea, I brought the kids to Brick Labo located near to the information counter (same building as Snaffles) for some Lego / Duplo fun – free of charge!
Hubby and his friend went around shopping in the meantime. Hubby came back with lots of cuttlefish snacks (Hakodate is known for its abundance of squid and their dried cuttlefish snacks are pretty fresh and yummy.)
Our next destination was supposed to be Mount Hakodate for its ‘million dollar night view’, but it was super cloudy that day and the mountain was totally surrounded by thick clouds.
We figured we weren’t going to get much of a view, so we didn’t waste our money going up. It was a real disappointment, the kids would have loved riding the ropeway. (They always love all forms of cable cars and ropeways.) Let me just insert a photo I took from Mount Hakodate donkey years ago.
Since we skipped the trip up Mount Hakodate, we had an early dinner at Uni Murakami, a restaurant recommend in our guide book.
It could have been earlier, if not for the fact that we had to wait an hour! They do accept reservations and told us we could make a reservation for later that evening and come back later. Since the kids were sleeping and my friend’s mum couldn’t walk much, we just sat in the shop and waited for a table. When MY woke up, he entertained himself by looking at the live seafood in the shop.
After waiting for an hour and finally getting our food, I didn’t think it was worth the wait. It was way over priced and didn’t pass the taste test either. I’ve had lots of seafood throughout Hokkaido and in my opinion, the seafood here was no way up to Hokkaido standards and the price was above average. The kids enjoyed the uni gratin (which we mixed with rice for them) though.
I woke up at 5+ am in the morning and everyone was still asleep. Since the sun was up already, I decided to go for a walk around Hakodate city centre.
After the kids woke up, we visited Hakodate Morning Market. There are many famous markets in the various cities in Hokkaido, but imo, Hakodate Morning Market is one of the best.
We started with the infamous squid fishing that is not for the faint-hearted. There are many stores in the market offering squid fishing at different prices, so if you have time, you can walk around to find the best deal. We headed for the pioneer with the symbolic giant squid structure.
After we caught our first squid, MF insisted on trying so we paid for another squid and let MF fish for it. He successfully caught a squid!
After catching the squid, the owner cut it up right in front of us and prepared the freshest possible ika sashimi.
Watch the squid attempt to stand up even after its body has been severed. Eeeks! Like I said, not for the faint-hearted.
Do not forget the most exciting part before you start eating: pour a bit of soya sauce on the tentacles and watch it move!
I recommend you start eating the body first before you eat the tentacles and chewing the tentacles real well. If you pop the tentacles into your mouth straight away, it’s gonna stick to your throat!
If you find this experience too mild, I dare you to try the dancing squid bowl at one of the eateries in the building close to Hakodate station. Just search ‘dancing squid bowl’ on youtube for video demonstration.
Next, we went in search for some famed Hokkaido crab. We went to the stall with lots of live crabs facing Hakodate station. We told the guy we wanted our crab half sashimi and half BBQed and he went to find suitable crabs for us. He showed us two crabs, weighed it and displayed the price and we chose one. We chose a big one for a pretty reasonable price of 7000 yen.
I have never been a fan of Hokkaido crab as the ones I tried have always been tasteless and a chore to eat. However, the crab we had here was a pleasant surprise – at least the BBQ portion was. The crab shell was cut open for us, making it easy to take the meat out. The meat came off easily and it was so sweet and juicy! All the BBQ crabs I had before were dry with the meat stuck to the shell, this one was just the opposite.
The sashimi portion was disappointing though – it was cold and icy and absolutely tasteless. We should have just BBQed the whole thing.
After the crab feast, we continued exploring the market. We reached a building called Hakodate market square. This is where you can try to snitch a good deal with lots of bargaining. Most store owners were willing to bargain and the dried scallops here (after bargaining) was the cheapest we found throughout the trip.
There were some fruit stalls inside and we bought a big apple for the kids (an apple a day keeps the doctor away). The store owner cut it up for us on the spot. We also found a store selling snacks at discounted price. We tried to bargain but the owner refused to barge because the price he offered was already discounted. We bought many packets of my favourite Hori corn chocolate for 320 yen (usual price was 360 yen) each and we didn’t come across any store that sold cheaper than this for the rest of the trip.
Next, we moved on to this small but very popular store.
A huge bowl of uni (sea urchin) here only costs 1000 yen! It was too good to resist. They also had other seafood such as abalone for 2000 yen and botan ebi (gigantic prawns) for 700 yen.
Just opposite this store was a store selling super sweet hokkaido melons. Summer is the best time to enjoy sweet hokkaido melons. Although the melon was very sweet, I was a bit miffed with how stingy they are with their spoons. They only lent us one spoon for each slice we bought (regardless of whether you buy a big slice or small slice) and kept reminding us to return the spoon like we were planning to steal them. Sheesh.
After we had eaten everything we wanted to eat at the market, we went back to the hotel to get our car. We drove on to the Motomachi district, visiting the old Hakodate Public Hall first.
Next to the public hall was a small alley housing several soft serve stalls and everyone walking out of the alley was holding a soft serve cone. We couldn’t resist buying some for ourselves.
We wanted to drive around the church district but the roads were closed to vehicles due to road works. It had started raining so nobody wanted to get off the car to walk. We had also planned to drive up to Mount Hakodate for the day view, but it was still totally cloudy so we skipped that. (It is possible to drive up to Mount Hakodate in the daytime but the road is closed to private vehicles in the evening).
With nothing left on our itinerary for Hakodate, we drove on to our next destination, Onuma Koen.
Summary: Itinerary Outline for Hokkaido Self-Drive with Kids (June 2014)
Part 1: New Chitose Airport, Lake Shikotsu, Lake Toya, Hakodate (You’re here now)
Part 2: Onuma Koen, Niseko, Shakotan
Part 3: Otaru
Part 4: Sapporo
Part 5: Furano, Biei, Tomamu, Obihiro, New Chitose Airport