Escorted Tour from Honolulu – Hokkaido Snow Festival 2020

Day 1 & 2    Honolulu – Chitose

Traveled directly to Chitose Airport via Hawaiian Airlines.  We all met at the main terminal Hawaiian Airline’s check in counter. We got together about 3 hours prior to our flight to make sure we all get through the TSA checkpoint. It was bit slow check in process and we were so anxious to check in for Hokkaido trip.  Our flight time was a about 9 hours and 30 minutes.  We all enjoyed watching movies on the plane. We landed in Chitose on time.   It was a huge temperature difference between Honolulu and Chitose but we didn’t have to feel it because out hotel was located at Chitose Airport.  It was so convenient to just walking distance for our dinner and shopping!

Day 3    Chitose – Asahikawa – Sounkyo

After our breakfast at hotel, we met our English speaking guide at ground level and started our Hokkaido excursion.  We were so excited to see snowing!  First stop was at Aeon Mall to pick up some snow cleats and gears!  We do need them for safety.  And we headed to Asahikawa.  About one and half hour driving, we stopped at Sunagawa Oasis for little break.  We started experiencing of Hokkaido soft ice cream already!  And about one and half hour later, we stopped at Ramen Village in Asahikawa.  About 8 different flavor ramen restaurants.  It was a very cold day for us so we wanted to go quickly.  Of course ramen was ono!

After good lunch, we headed to Otokoyama Sake Brewery and museum.  Otokoyama brand has been around over 350 years and still being the greatest sake brand.  Asahikawa’s high-quality water is a primary ingredient in Otokoyama sake.  Also Otokoyama was the first sake to receive the Monde Selection Gold prize.  We got to see the sake brewery video and learned how they make sake.  Also I found the section at museum who carries Otokoyama sake in Hawaii restaurant.  We could try tasting some of their sake and purchased, too!  It was a great experience.

And we were almost at our hotel, but since we had little time, we visited Ginga and Ryusei Water Fall.  Ginga water fall was frozen already.  But Ryusei water Fall was not frozen yet.  It was like 15 ℉ but fun to be outside.  And finally we went to our hotel to check in.

Finally we headed to our Hotel where is located in front of Lake Abashiri.  It was a beautiful scenery from the lobby.  We had great Japanese dinner with everyone!

Also many of us enjoyed great onsen, too.

Day 5    Abashiri – Kushiro – Akan

Our smelt fishing tour was also cancelled due to bad windy weather.  Some individuals were fishing but hotel was cancelling so we couldn’t go out.  Also we have tried to find out about drift ice breaker cruise again but it has also been cancelled.  So we decided to leave a little later than last couple of days, so we could relax in our room.

Then we headed to Mt. Iou for sight seeing.  Mt. Iou is an active volcano with 512 m in height in Teshikaga town between Lake Mashu and Lake Kussharo. In Akan Mashu National Park, here used to be a sulfur mine, so it has been called Mt. Iou. A lave dome was born from 1,000 to 1,500 years ago. There are more than 1,500 large and small fumaroles, and those still have been vomiting forth steam. A mysterious view with greenish brown and yellow ground changed colors by sulfur and native light brown ground can be seen, and it smells the sulfur like bad eggs in the air. But everywhere was covered by snow and it was deep.

Since we didn’t go smelt fishing and ice breaker cruise, we had a chance to visit Lake Mashu.  This lake is a caldera lake in Akan Mashu National Park. It vies for the position of “clearest lake in the world” and is considered by many to be Japan’s most beautiful lake.  Lake Mashu is also one of the country’s deepest lakes and although it is usually appreciated for its clear blue water, it is also famously and frequently blanketed in heavy fog.

After Lake Mashu, out lunch restaurant was in front of Mashu station which is called “ Poppotei” where Ton-don (mashu port rice bowl) with special sauce is very famous for. It has been awarded second place in the nationwide ekiben (a bento, or packed lunch, often sold at train stations) contest. The Mashu-no-megumi ramen noodles in a specially made salty soup, made with the secret ingredient of cow’s milk, and topped with plenty of locally sourced vegetables. And it came with home baked cheese cake and Ryuhyo ramune drink.  Ramune is a type of carbonated soft drink originally created and sold in Japan.  And the bottle has a marble in it.  It was delicious.  Also the owner of this restaurant was so friendly and we became a big fan of this owner, too!

After great lunch, we headed to Tsurumidai for watching Japanese red crowned cranes.  At 2 pm, people feed cranes, so we could see more cranes.  It was a beautiful view to see them in wild.  I personally never seen them in nature.  So we were so excited and fascinated seeing them so close.  We were there for about 40 minutes.

After watching wild Tsuru, we headed to our hotel in Akan.  We could visit Ainu Village on the hill.  Some of us went and talked to Ainu shop.  It was very interesting to see what they had.

And we had the greatest dinner buffet at hotel.

After dinner, there was Ainu Fire Ceremony on Lake Akan behind our hotel.  So some of us visited the ceremony and saw the fireworks.  And we had an experience of cutting bit ice, eating smelt, and etc.  Also there were great onsen facility at our hotel, so we were busy doing everything at the hotel.  Some visited the Ainu music, too.

Day 6    Akan – Obihiro – Tokachigawa

We had another great breakfast at the hotel and headed to Obihiro area.  On the way there, we stopped at Ashoro An for a short break.  Ashoro became very famous after a popular singer, Chiharu Matsuyama, sang there.  Ashoro An is owned by his friend and his character goods were everywhere at this shop.  They were selling local goods, too.

And Ashoro An we visited Ikeda Wine Castle shop.  Ikeda Wine Castle is a tourist facility in Ikeda town located in Obihiro city. The official name is Tokachi-Ikeda Reseach Institute for Viticulture and and it is called Wine Castle because the appearance of the building looks like an European-style castle in the Middle Ages. However, the wine castle was closed when we visited there, so we tasted some wine which is produced there.  We bought some souvenirs and headed to our lunch place.

We went to eat famous Ikeda beef steak in Yutaka which is close to Ikeda Station.  Ikeda beef is a brand of beef and famous for its quality.  We all got to eat a great steak.  After so many meals with fish dishes, it was a nice change!

About an hour later, we stopped at Shihoro Michi no Eki for a short break where our guide told us that they are famous for and recommended us to buy delicious potato chips. We all got to buy it and enjoyed our snack until the next stop.  Michi no Eki is a Roadside Station is a government-designated rest area found along roads and highways in Japan. In addition to providing places for travelers to rest, they are intended to promote local tourism and trade.

We got to Lake Shikaribetsu about 40 minutes later.  The Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan is an annual winter event held in Shikaoi Town.  The event features an ice village with igloo lodges, bar, and Onsen bath that are all made with ice and snow and special events.  It was a nice clear sunny day but it was very cold.  We went through the festival and stopped at the ice bar and onsen. Some of us even rode on snow mobile!

After the activities, we arrived at our hotel in Tokachigawa Onsen.  We had a huge Japanese dinner with lots of fresh sashimi and many other delectable delights.

We were all ready for the Sairinka Festival after dinner.  Our hotel shuttle bus took us there.  Sairinka is a festival based on the theme of more than 1,000 white swans that fly to Tokachigawa Onsen every year. Various attractions, such as the laser show and an illumination show, with about 667 light bulbs and LEDs, charm the visiting tourists. It was again cold but it was like being in a fantasy world.

Day 7   Tokachigawa – Chitose (Lake Shikotsu) – Otaru

We have to travel about 118 miles from Tokachigawa to Lake Shikotsu.  So we left around 8:30 and stopped at Shimukap for a short break.  We also stopped at Kiusu for another short break.  When we finally arrived at Lake Shikotsu it was lunch time.  We had organic lunch buffet at Lake Shikotsu Tsuruga Resort Spa.  Of course it was snowing like crazy!

Then we walked to the Lake Shikotsu Hyoto Ice Festival.  There were rows of ice sculptures made by spraying water from Lake Shikotsu and freezing it. The lake boasts some of the clearest waters in Japan. The color of the ice is bluish hues which makes all the sculptures different.  The ice slide looked really fun.  I didn’t try it personally but adults can come down the slide and have fun like kids.

After walking in lots of snow, we headed to Otaru where we were staying.  We stopped once for a short break.  The we finally arrived to the Otaru Canal!

Our hotel was not too far from the Canal.  Our hotel was located right next to Aeon mall so we enjoyed dinner at leisure and, of course, shopping after checking in to the hotel.

Day 8   Otaru – Yoichi – Sapporo

It was clear and sunny to begin our day.  Our first stop was the Nikka Whisky Distillery in Yoichi.  Nikka is one of Japan’s top whisky makers.  The company was founded by Masataka Taketsuru, known as the father of Japanese whisky, who studied whisky making techniques for several years in Scotland before bringing the trade to Japan. He was instrumental in establishing the country’s first whisky distillery, the Yamazaki Distillery near Kyoto, before he set out on his own to start Nikka Whisky in Hokkaido.

The Yoichi Distillery was built in 1934, on a site chosen for its clear water, brisk air and rich peat. Taketsuru believed that the conditions in Yoichi best resembled those found in Scotland and would be perfect for recreating Scotch whisky. The traditional distillation process that he brought over is largely unchanged today. Nikka has been recognized and ranks among the world’s best single malt whiskies and has won numerous awards.  We joined the distillery tour which included tasting some of their whiskies.

We then headed to Otaru for shopping, glass making, and dining.  We split into 2 groups.  The first group tried their hand at making glasses at Il Ponte while the other group were shopping and dining.  Our instructor explained the process thoroughly but when we tried, it was very hard to make the glasses.  But we were able to make glasses with their help.  We made glasses and will receive them in Sapporo (about 2 days later).  It was a great experience!

After first group finished, we switched with second group so they could try glass making.  We enjoyed Sakaimachi for shopping and dining for couple of hours.

After finished making glasses and shopping, we headed to Sapporo.  We checked into our hotel and relaxed in our room for a while before being picked up for our final crab dinner.  This restaurant is popular with the local people so of course it was great!  So much great food and we even celebrated a few birthdays, too!

Day 9   Sapporo

Our hotel is located in Susukino so access is great to go anywhere!  It was a nice day for sightseeing in Sapporo!  First we went to Okurayama Ski Jump Hill where there is a ski jump on the eastern slope of the Mt. Okura. The stadium has hosted a number of winter sports events including Winter Olympic 1972.  We took a ski lift to the top and we saw a breathtaking view from the top.  We were able to see ski jump by the ski jump team.  Most of us have never seen this scene in front of us before.  It was a great opportunity to see the great jump.  We were all captivated watching them.

We visited Hokkaido’s Jingu Shrine before our lunch.  It was constructed in 1871 to hold the deities, Okunitama, Okuninushi, and Sukunahikona, and also the soul of the Meiji Emperor. It is the main Shrine in Hokkaido and very popular place for visitors and local people. This place is popular for Hatsuhinode – New Year’s is Japan’s most important holiday, and people visit the Shrine for their health and wellbeing.  Some of us tried omikuji – fortune telling paper for our future luck.  According to our guide, trying Rokkatei Hangansama is a must!  That is an excellent sweet.  This famous treat is named after “the father of Hokkaido Island volunteer” (Yoshitake Shima). It is made from Hokkaido rice and buckwheat flour with plenty of azuki bean paste inside. It is a fresh soft rice cake you need to eat at the shop!  It is supposed to bring you good luck!

For lunch, we visited Sapporo Central Wholesale market.  It was a lunch place for sea food lovers!  So much fresh seafood everywhere!

After lunch, we visited Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill – Hill of Sheep which was developed in 1906 as a cattle breeding location, then sheep breeding started in 1919.  This park is famous for Professor William Clark – pioneer – father of Hokkaido and written on his statue are the words “ Boys, be ambious!”  There were some winter activities going on even in snow, some of us enjoyed them!

We then headed back to our Hotel and had dinner on own.  Some visited Susukino Ice Festival which was only 2 blocks away from our hotel.  It once again started snowing a lot on the way back home.

Day 10 –   Sapporo

Finally Sapporo Snow Festival Day!!!  We walked via the underpass to the Snow Festival Odori site.  It was a nice day again but we wanted to walk through the underpass so we can discover places to eat and shop.  It wasn’t that cold and not too many people were at site yet.  It wasn’t crowded yet so it was a perfect timing to get there.  The Sapporo Snow Festival is one of Japans most popular winter events.  It started in 1950 and it has been popular ever since.  It brings more than 2 million visitors from all over world every year.  There were less people than other years so we were lucky to see those snow statues in open spaces.  We walked through Odori Park up to 8 chome HTB snow square.  Many vendors were selling food and drinks but we were still full from breakfast so we only enjoyed just looking at the many snow statues.

The we spread apart and enjoyed rest of our free day in Sapporo.

Day 11 –  Sapporo – Chitose Airport – Honolulu

We had another great breakfast and some time to relax at the hotel.  We all checked out and met with our bus driver.  Our bus left for Ario shopping mall and Sapporo Beer Museum.  Some of us went to the mall for our last shopping opportunity while some went to the beer museum.  At last, we arrived at Chitose Airport.  After we checked in, we spread out and enjoyed a last bit of shopping and dining.  Our flight was on time and we came home safely.  It was a great and memorable trip for all of us.  Thank you so much for coming to our snow festival tour with JTB!  Hope to see you all soon on other JTB tour!

Posted by Anne Clausen

Please inquire detail for 2020 escorted tours at:

JTB USA Honolulu Office
1450 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 1370
Honolulu HI 96814
Te:(808) 979-0111 >> Branch Special >> Honolulu

⇒ Search Cheap Airfare to Japan by JTB USA
⇒ Japan Rail Pass The Best Way to Travel in Japan
⇒ Explore Japan’s top destinations with the help of JTB Sunrise Tours