Happy New Year!
It’s been a long, long time since I’ve blogged about anything other than the stress of clerkship. I’ve actually just spent my first day back in a new hospital as I’m writing this, and it’s been another anxiety-filled, stressful experience. (We spent the last two weeks blissfully rotating in the community).
To ease a little bit of my stress before another early and long day tomorrow, I’m here to share my top 20 highlights during our 2019-2020 winter holiday in Japan.
Winter in Japan
My family has always spent Christmas and New Year in the Philippines. But as our families grow older (and a little bit apart and also a little bit smaller), it’s time to try out new things and experience different kinds of holiday celebrations. It was our first time celebrating abroad.
There are a lot of beautiful things about Japan in the winter. The number one thing is SNOW, which I’ve never loved or touched or appreciated before this trip. There really is something beautiful and magical about a “White Christmas“. (But don’t be fooled! I actually can’t survive the cold for prolonged periods of time. I love snow, but not enough to live with it every year).
Part 1 featuring Osaka and Sapporo
To celebrate the new decade (CAN YOU BELIEVE IT’S ALREADY 2020?), I’ve compiled 20 standout moments of our latest trip in Japan, starting with the first half of our trip in Osaka and Sapporo. (I blogged about our 2015 family trip to Japan here.)
#1: Chibo Okonomiyaki, Dotonbori
Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi are at the heart of Osaka’s Minami Area. It’s home to the well-known Glico Man, takoyaki food stands, and floors of tax-free shopping at Don Quijote. It’s also home to delicious okonomiyaki! At my sister’s recommendation, we lined up at Chibo Okonomiyaki.
It’s only fitting that the very first “moment” in this blog post has something to do with food. Out of the many wonderful things that Japan has to offer, their varied cuisine is right on top of the list.
#2: Osakajo under the sun
Osakajo, or Osaka Castle, was built in the 1500s and it remains one of the most popular landmarks in Japan. It’s surrounded by a beautiful park and open areas for public activities.
Normally, we wouldn’t go back to places we’ve visited or tried before. But the weather was so bad when we visited in 2015 that we simply had to go back and enjoy the sights for a second time.
#3: MOS Burger
You’re probably wondering: what kind of list is this??? I’m not too sure to be honest. But I’ve been absolutely craving to try MOS Burger after I found out late last year that it was going to come to the Philippines (I saw the signs in SM Megamall and Robinsons Galleria, okay).
Verdict: delicious. Lots of tomato.
#4: Convenience Store Onigiri
Speaking of food— when we first came back from Japan in 2015, I got hooked on convenience store onigiri. I looked for these babies EVERYWHERE in Manila. I actually got lucky a few times and saw some Japanese rice balls in 7 Eleven and Family Mart, but they got faded out of the lineup pretty quickly. And the quality was truly never the same.
So when we went back to Japan, I literally took every chance I could get to eat some onigiri. Late night snack? Onigiri. Breakfast? Onigiri. Picnic food? Still onigiri. I just can’t get enough of these mini-meals!
You can also see a little bit of our other convenience store favorite: coffee and milk tea. I will fondly remember you, Suntory Boss Cafe Au Lait.
#5: Osaka Light Renaissance
Finally something a little bit more festive: the Osaka Light Renaissance and Nakanoshima Illumination Street.
In Japan, Christmas is all about lights. Everywhere you go, there’s a mix of technical art and public design every night. The Osaka Light Renaissance, or the 17th annual Osaka Hikari-Renaissance, was a projection mapping event where lights told a story with the Osaka City Central Public Hall as the canvas. The Public Hall is sandwiched by a street of light (Nakanoshima) and by lanterns and food stalls along the river (Tainan Temple Plaza of Lights).
The truth is that Japanese people aren’t as extravagant with their holiday celebrations as us Filipinos (let’s face it– who is?). So we had a bit of a hard time hunting down things to do in Osaka, Sapporo and Tokyo for Christmas and New Year. But luckily we were able to dig through the internet for the right places to be! It would have been a very dark Christmas Eve otherwise.
Bonus: Yarn-Hunting in Namba
Aside from walking around Namba to see some temples, we also hunted down some yarn for my mom’s business (check out her made-to-order crochet creations and other handmade crafts through her social media).
Hozenji Temple is a small and quaint temple right between Dotonbori and Namba. The Buddhist statue of Fudo Myo-o is covered with moss.
#6: Sapporo White Illumination
We flew to Sapporo on Christmas Day to finally experience some snow. Merry Christmas!!!!
Fun fact: Sapporo is the second snowiest city in the world! It actually didn’t snow all that well during the day, but by the time we stopped by the Sapporo White Illumination at night, we were blessed with that famous snowfall.
The 39th Sapporo White Illumination can be found along Odori Park as well as some other select places in the city. The seasonal lights really bring out the holiday spirit, along with the (overpriced) German Christmas Market.
#7: Otaru Canal
One of the biggest inspirations of our trip was the film Kita Kita (2017), which translates to I See You. This 2017 Philippine romantic comedy film starring Alessandra de Rossi and Empoy Marquez, directed by Sigrid Andrea P. Bernardo, was set mostly in Sapporo.
The couple also went to Otaru Canal, one of the leading tourist spots in Hokkaido. I think it took us under an hour by train to reach the town from Sapporo. Once there, it’s easy to get around the whole town by foot. The thick blanket of snow made every corner picturesque.
P. S. There are some tourist spots in the movie that we didn’t get to visit because of the season, like the Flower Farm. We also didn’t go to Sapporo Beer Garden, despite all tourist spot rankings, because… we don’t drink beer. Lol.
#8: Hokkaido Seafood Bowls in Otaru
Aside from glassworks and music boxes, Otaru is also famous for their Seafood Donburi. Because it’s a port city, you can really savor fresh seafood and high quality sushi.
There are plenty of shops selling delicious kaisendon. We kept walking around trying to find the perfect place that hits the spot in both taste and price… but we eventually gave up and just went inside the next shop we encountered (so I really can’t tell you where we ate, sorry!). I do know we ate in a place with those fancy tablets you use to order from the table, haha!
Ever since we ate Chirashi Sushi in Tsukiji Outer Market in 2015, I have been obsessed with any seafood or sushi rice bowl dish. The fresher, the better! Can’t believe it hates me and my budget though…
Fun fact: The difference between Chirashidon and Kaisendon, apparently, is that kaisendon uses non-vinegared rice.
#9: Hokkaido Ice Cream
What’s after a delicious meal? Dessert! And this time, it’s Hokkaido Soft Serve Ice Cream, which is a unique regional dessert made with fresh Hokkaido milk.
I know —who tries out ice cream in the cold? Me, apparently!
#10: Mt. Moiwa Sightseeing
We capped our stay in Sapporo with the 531-meter high view from Mt. Moiwa. The view is designated as one of Japan’s Three Major Night Views, and it truly did not disappoint.
Travel tip: Getting anywhere that’s not by subway or by walking is a bit out of my comfort zone in Japan. Going up to Mt. Moiwa, you’d have to ride a tram or traincar from the city to the base of the mountain, take a free shuttle bus to the Moiwa Sanroku Station, and then ride a ropeway or take a hike up to a station in the middle of Mt. Moiwa (Moiwa Hillside Station), before finally going up to the very top via cable car.
Luckily, this awesome blog Trippino Hokkaido had a pretty good summary of how to get there. The blog even mentioned that you can get a discount coupon for the ropeway and cable car by getting a flyer from inside the tram.
Travel tip: Go up to Mt. Moiwa an hour or two before sunset, so that you can enjoy a little bit of the daytime view. Sip some hot coffee while you wait for the cityscape to light up at night. There’s also a restaurant inside. If you go too late, you’ll still be able to enjoy the stunning night view, but you’d have to contend with more people queuing up the tram, shuttle bus, and cable car.
End of Part 1
We spent a grand total of 11 days in Japan. This post covers a half or so of our fun and chill journey (that I sorely miss even though it’s only been a few weeks).
Before I really end this post, I’d like to thank my mom for being the strong woman that she is, and for continuing to open my eyes and heart and mind to the wonders of the world. Thank you for trying to look forward to the next adventure even through all the challenges life throws at you. I’d also like to thank my sister for shouldering a share of the trip, including fixing the bookings and itineraries, and for taking lots and lots of photos.
I should probably sleep now since our call time is still (to our shared regret) 7 in the morning. Hope to write Part 2 soon! (Also hope to survive surgery rotation.)