Hot tubbing monkeys in Hakodate
A mere 30-minute ride by city tram from downtown Hakodate lies an easily accessible hot spring spot, the Yunokawa Onsen. But what makes Yunokawa Onsen famous is the fact that this hot-spring spot is filled with not only people but also by monkeys in search of ways beating the winter chills.
The bath at Saruyama in Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden is filled with spring water from December to early-May each year. There you can see some 70 to 80 Japanese macaques pampering themselves in the hot spring pool, heating their bodies with the onsen water, or waiting to get fed. Small bags of monkey food are sold for 100yen so that tourists can feed them. These hot-tubbing monkeys are sure to steal your hearts, just like they’ve stolen the attention of media from across the world.
3-1-15 Yunokawa-cho, Hakodate, Hokkaido
April – October: 9:30 am – 6 pm / November – March: 9:30 am – 4:30 pm, Closed on: 29 December – 1 January
Hot-tubbing monkeys: From 1 December to 6 May the following year
About 20 minutes by Hakodate Bus from JR Hakodate Station and get off at Nettai Shokubutsuen-mae stop
Frosty desserts and even frostier trees
The Hoshino Resorts Tomamu’s Muhyo Terrace sits at an elevation of 1,088. What better place to savor creative café dishes and the spectacular view of frost-covered trees?
Rime ice, or muhyo in Japanese, is a natural phenomenon that occurs when mist in the air freezes and attaches onto plants when the temperature drops to a range between -10°C and -2°C. Take the gondola from Resort Center (Unkai Gondola Sanroku Station) and enjoy a 13-minute ride to Muhyo Terrace, a tourist complex that rises from the snow-capped slopes. There you’ll find the bar-counter-style Cloud Bar, the 57-meter-long suspension bridge Cloud Walk, and a menu inspired by the rime ice such as snow crystal or snowman beverages at the Tenbo Cafe.
As muhyo easily melts when the temperature rises, consider ascending the mountain before noon.
Please be aware that views of the rime-covered trees and the business hours of the café are subject to change depending on weather conditions.
Hoshino Resorts TOMAMU, Naka-Tomamu, Shimukappu-mura, Yufutsu-gun, Hokkaido
From 1 December 2019 to 5 April 2020
Muryo Terrace hours: 8 am – 3 pm
Cafe hours: 8 am – 3:30 pm
About 10 minutes by shuttle bus from JR Tomamu Station
Where whooper swans gather
Lake Kussharo, the biggest caldera lake in Japan, is a hot-spring-hot-spot in Eastern Hokkaido dotted with countless springs. Hot waters can even be dug out from under the sands on the local beaches.
During wintertime, the lake mostly freezes over but a small part of it melts from the thermal heat of the springs. This area becomes a gathering ground for over 400 whooper swans, an incredibly moving sight that has inspired many.
Lucky travelers might even encounter the omiwatari (crossing of the gods), a natural phenomenon that occurs only in severely cold months. When cracks form on the surface of the frozen lake are pushed upwards by rising temperatures in the water, the contraction, and expansion cause this phenomenon which looks like a destroyed path through the ice left behind by a crossing deity and can be as long as 10km.
Biruwa, Teshikaga-cho, Kawakami-gun, Hokkaido
About 35 minutes by Akan Bus from JR Mashu Station, alight at Wakoto Peninsular stop
Traveling the forest by dog sled
Some of you might have already gotten a taste of winter sports in Hokkaido. But aside from the usual snowboarding and skiing, why not try something a little bit out of the ordinary this winter?
Try out a dog sled tour and you can experience the authentic feeling of being a musher (the person who controls the dog sled). You can sign up for your dog sledding debut at Mushing Works in Shikaoi, Outrider in Engaru, Hokkaido Adventure Tours in Minami Furano, and many other spots in Hokkaido every year from mid-December to April. Control your own team of dogs and fly through forests at 20km/h!
Or if watching dog sledding is a bit more your speed, check out the Eniwa Sled Dog Race held at Ekorin Village on February 1 and 2 2020. The two-day dog sled event is held near Eniwa, which is close to Sapporo. So, how about making some furry new friends this winter?
From mid-December to April (depends on facilities and snow accumulation)
Mushing Works Sled Dog Tours: https://www.mushingworks.com/
Outrider Sled Dog Tours: http://www.outrider.co.jp/
Hokkaido Adventure Tours: https://hokkaido-adventures.com/
Eniwa Sled Dog Race: https://eniwainuzori.com/
Top off a night of drinking in Sapporo with a parfait
Hidden away in a back alley of the ever-bustling Sapporo Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade is Parfait, Coffee, Sake, Sato. When you first enter this hole-in-the-wall, what will strike you first is the visual impact of its noren curtains and soft-serve ice cream shaped lamp. This shop is famous for its shime parfait, a parfait that Sapporites eat to finish off a night of drinking.
Deriving its name from what it specializes in – parfaits, coffee, and liqueur – this Japanese-style restaurant serves mainly western cuisine with parfaits as its signature item. You can pick from 4 colorful flavors, each a work of art. The handmade soft-serve ice cream, sorbet, and mousse cakes are also not to be missed. Or if you want to go for the grand slam, order the Parfait Special Course (¥2,600), a combination of sake, coffee, parfait, and snacks to indulge in all your guilty pleasures at once.
Just across from Sato is the sister restaurant, aptly named Parfait, Coffee, Sake, Sasaki. Both of them are super popular joints, so you can expect it to be filled with locals, even on freezing Sapporo nights.
Dai3 Kowa Building 1/F, 6-1 S2, W1, Chuo-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Tuesday – Thursday: 6 pm – 0 am / Friday: 6 pm – 2 am / Saturday: 1 pm – 4 pm and 6 pm – 2 am / Sunday: 1 pm – 4 pm and 6 pm – 0 am
Monday (closes on Tuesday if Monday is a national holiday)
About 2 minutes on foot from Odori Subway Station
Taking a drive around Hokkaido
Spanning roughly 400km from north to south and 500km from west to east, Hokkaido is an enormous island surrounded in all directions by the ocean. To conquer this natural wonderland, a rental car is your way to go.
Hokkaido prides itself on the majesty of its nature. Enjoy the heart-soothing scenery and dynamic landscapes of areas such as the 18-km-long Ten ni Tsuzuku Michi (Road to Heaven), the birch tree-lined White Birch Avenue in Tokachi, the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean at Chikyu Misaki (Cape of the Earth), and many more. You’re sure to experience a sense of the vastness and openness of Hokkaido – as long as you make sure to stopover at bizarre destinations while planning your own road trip.
Here are some gems we’ve rounded up during a road-trip across Central and Eastern Hokkaido. Check out this incredible footage to discover more with your four-wheeled buddy!