Christmas 2018 was very memorable for me and my family for the following reasons : 1. It was Thomas’s first Christmas 2. We celebrated it in another country for the first time 3. The trip was a gift from Thomas’s grandparents. We couldn’t be any happier and more grateful! This was a long -anticipated David family holiday, with some bumps along the wait including my baby bump, but it was worth all the intense preparation because it is the best yuletide celebration we have had to date. (well, for me, at least. Because hello? Snow!)
We celebrated Christmas eve with my parents and siblings in Aruga by Rockwell (will write about this awesome staycation on a separate post) and left at around 9:00 pm to catch our red-eye flight. Needless to say, Justin, Thomas and I were at the airport when the clock struck twelve. Together with us in the flight was Justin’s brother, Martin.
We took the Eva Air Hello Kitty Jet which means, we had to stop over Taipei and wait for a few hours before we get to Sapporo. So basically, the four of us spent Christmas day in transit with luggage and a baby in tow. Not to mention our minute-to-win-it like experience of having to change not just wet but soiled diapers five minutes before boarding! So memorable, indeed!
We reached Sapporo at around 9:00 pm and had onigiri for Christmas dinner. The best! All of us were billeted at Ibis Styles, Sapporo which served as our home for three days before we traveled to Hoshino Resorts, Tomamu to bask in the snow for a few more days and then headed back to Sapporo again to celebrate the New Year.
I would probably run out of headspace (right state of mind) if I write about every little detail of our trip so I will just do a run down of what I think are the highlights of our winter holiday.
This deserves a solo post. But, for the sake of this list, i’ll encapsulate my experience in three words: Magical but expensive. Magical because of the snow-covered Otaru Canal and the charming, European feel of the city; expensive because it just is. Most claim it to be a tourist trap because of the scores of souvenir shops selling pricey mementos around town. Nevertheless, I would say it is worth the experience. There are a lot of reasons to go to Otaru but below are my top three.
- Otaru Canal – The best spot for a family photoshoot, this attraction has a certain charm that takes you back in time and makes you feel like a character in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
2. Naruto Honten – Really good fried chicken! For about JPY1200, you could stuff yourself with their large spring chicken combo meal with rice and miso soup. It was so good I forgot to document my food! But what makes it even better is it was a treat by Justin’s brother, Paolo. So grateful!
Going there is a bit tricky if you are planning to meet up with friends or family for a meal. There are two branches of this restaurant in Otaru and if you are unaware of this fact, you could end up waiting in the wrong restaurant like what happened to us. 😂 One branch is located near the station, called Naruto Denuki Kouji which is a smaller and newer shop. While the main branch, Wakadori Jidori Naruto Honten is about a 15 -minute walk from the canal area. We went to the latter.
3. Le TAO Honten – The name of the store “LeTAO”, is an acronym for the French phrase “La Tour Amitie Otaru” meaning “Beloved Otaru Tower.” As its name suggests, LeTAO became the sweet shop loved by the people of Otaru, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018.
As Honten means headquarters, main branch or flagship store, Le TAO Otaru boasts of three levels of cheesecake goodness, with the shop on the first level, cafe on the second and observatory deck on the third. Although we were only able to admire it from the outside due to the massive crowd present at the time, we were able to try their famous Double Fromage Cheesecake at the New Chitose Airport.
SAPPORO WHITE ILLUMINATION
Although most of the magnificent light shows ended on the day we arrived, we were still able to catch some illumination shows. My favorite was the one at the Sapporo Station south exit station square . A huge Christmas tree was brightly lit and flashing lights with music reflected on the walls of Daimaru’s exterior. It is a great experience especially for little kids. Here are some of the shows we missed:
3. Minami 1jo-dori
4. Sapporo Kita 3-Jo Plaza “AKAPLA”
While winter illumination events are now held all over Japan, it was in Sapporo that the tradition originated in 1981.
Located at the 9th floor of ESTA in JR Sapporo Station, this is a happy place for kids under 6 years old. From the train ride, bouncy house and ball pool, the railway toys and the overwhelming Thomas and Friends merchandise, you could easily spend at least 2 hours of fun and maybe a (couple or more) thousand JPY worth of goods. 😉
is a little patisserie, café and wine bar located on the Red Brick Plaza – a beautiful tree lined road that leads to the Old Hokkaido Government Building. The pretty interiors match the fancy and quality French desserts to complement their fresh brews. There is nothing like sipping hot coffee and savoring a slice of that soft and luxurious strawberry gateau while watching the fluffy snow fall on the fairy dust-covered roads.
This Japanese New Year custom epitomizes the real meaning of the phrase “shop ’til you drop”. We went to the mall at 9:00 am with high spirits and left at 8:00 pm with aching bodies.
A combination of two Japanese words, fuku, which means ‘good luck’ and bukuro, which means ‘bag’, Fukuburo is a lucky mystery bag filled with random stuff, sold by retailers on January 1 at lower prices. Malls could get crazy packed on this day. I highly recommend leaving your babies or young kids in the hotel if you want to keep your sanity. For more information on this event, read my dedicated post here.
HOSHINO RESORTS TOMAMU
A ski resort located at Naka-Tomamu Shimukappu Yufutsu Hokkaido, this is a 2-hour train ride or 1. 5- hour private ride (add 1 hour if the roads are heavily covered in snow) from Sapporo. We hired a bus for the entire family to comfortably get there. We had so much fun despite the freezing temperature. Even if you don’t or can’t ski, there are many activities for everyone, including babies. More on this fun trip here.
NEW YEAR’S DAY LUNCH AT MERCURE SAPPORO
On New Year’s day, we all gathered at Bordeaux Restaurant for thanksgiving lunch. This is Mercure Sapporo’s French buffet restaurant. This is a really special family lunch because it culminated our Christmas vacation , that which is a gift to all of us from mom and dad, and, it served as a prelude to mom’s 70th birthday on January 3rd.
Everything on the buffet spread was delicious. From the starters to the desserts, I enjoyed every bit. Indeed, it was a celebration meal.
Some of the places we went to but not featured here are: Sapporo Beer Museum, Nishiki Market, Ishiya Chocolate Factory and New Chitose Airport. I will write about these spots separately.
Two days after celebrating the new year, we flew back home with cold hands, warm hearts, full bellies and even fuller smiles as we once again filled our memory banks to the brim.