Hokkaido, Japan: Venturing Off Okinawa

I had never heard of the annual Sapporo Snow Festival, until John came home telling me about it at the end of January. Surprisingly, in 2016 we really didn’t go anywhere. We did take a couple nights trip up the coast to the beach at Okuma when Grams was visiting in November, but other than that we had stayed put. Between adjusting to life with three little ones, and John’s 60-70 hour work weeks, we were happy just keeping our heads above water. We had planned to venture off our tiny island of Okinawa for several trips in 2017, and one of the trips we’d been planning had recently been scratched. So we decided to jump online, do some quick research, and see if we could find good lodging and cheap tickets. Sure enough, Peach was offering great prices on their last minute flights to Hokkaido and we booked some of the last hotels in Sapporo and Otaru. Cheap flights are a must when you’re a family of five. We’d already saved up money for the trip that hadn’t worked out, so our budget was happy.

Hokkaido is actually an island, all the way above the northern part of the bigger island of mainland Japan. The city of Sapporo is similar in climate to Chicago or Boston. The Japanese seemed very proud of Hokkaido, and we got to know the shape very well, as it was on everything from coffee drinks in the vending machines to t-shirts and ice cream shops. It reminded us of the pride Texans have and the way you can find the shape of our state everywhere. I found this map at worldatlas.com – you can see Okinawa at the very bottom of the image, and Sapporo is near the top on the island of Hokkaido.

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Map of Japan from worldatlas.com

The next challenge was gathering warm enough clothing for all of us. After living for a year in Okinawa, where the coldest temperatures we’d seen were in the high 40’s, we’d all but forgotten about cold weather.

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The middle of November in Okinawa…no warm clothes necessary!

Thankfully we have awesome friends here who were willing to loan us some of the gear we were missing. The last few things we were able to secure on clearance from the bunny store out in town and the PX.

The last difficulty was packing all that bulky clothing and gear for all five of us into a manageable amount of bags. This was especially important considering we planned to take many trains and buses, where we’d be carrying all we brought with us. We managed to fit it all in our large L.L. Bean duffle bag and a smaller L.L. Bean duffle carry-on (seriously, these bags have been great investments!). Between those and a couple backpacks we were set! Unfortunately I have no pictures of us with our luggage – obviously because our hands were always full when we were dragging everyone from point A to point B.

We set out on Sunday morning. It was our first time taking a plane trip with all five of us (besides our move to Okinawa from the states when Violet was 8 weeks old). I was pretty nervous. We were outnumbered, which is a scary thought with all the transfers and details that traveling requires. Ironically, I had packed all of Violet’s socks for the trip, so the morning we left all I could find were two mismatched socks. I guess you could say she’s a christened member of our family’s travels now.

Violet passed out in the hotel in her mismatched socks.

We flew through Tokyo, switched planes, rechecked our bag and baby bed, and boarded our second flight to Sapporo. It was a full day of travel – about 8am to 8pm.

The kids did great on the flights and were so excited when we could finally see snow from our plane.

Once in Sapporo we bought tickets for the train that ran to downtown, near our hotel. It was a little scary taking that train, since the stops were super quick, and we had three kids, our luggage and umbrella stroller to manage. Thankfully, the other tourists as well as the Japanese locals were very friendly and helped Olivia and Cliff climb off the train. It was the most logistically challenging part of our trip.

Near 8:00pm we finally arrived in Sapporo at the Prince Hotel.

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View from our hotel room.

It was one of the last rooms available, and all we could get was a room with two twin beds. In Japan, kids under 6 stay free when they use existing beds, so it made it affordable, but we were pretty crowded in that tiny Japanese-sized double twin room! At least Violet had her own bed!

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Olivia and Cliff didn’t seem to mind sharing a bed – they slept soundly!

That night we tried in vain to find some good dinner. We were all too tired and cold to think straight, and after a failed attempt at one restaurant that was more like a Japanese pub, we ended up just getting some to-go food from Lawson’s (a Japanese convenience store) next door. They have yummy chicken, onigiri (triangle rice balls wrapped with seaweed), sushi, etc.

The best part about the hotel was how close we were to the festival – just a quick 3 block walk and we were right in the middle of all the excitement. We all went to bed early so we could get a good start the next morning. More to come soon!

 

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