The First-Timer’s Winter Travel Guide to Sapporo in Hokkaido, Japan (2020)

The First-Timer’s Winter Travel Guide to Sapporo in Hokkaido, Japan (2020)

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There are many reasons to love Hokkaido. It’s Japan’s northernmost prefecture and one of its most beautiful.

We attended the 2017 Sapporo Snow Festival and remember it fondly. Every trip to Japan is memorable but that one trip was particularly special because it was a good mix of experiences, some of which we had never had before.

It was our first time riding a snowmobile and experiencing the magic of an onsen. We enjoyed miso ramen and Sapporo beer at its birthplace and tasted jingisukan for the very first time. It also rekindled our love for skiing, something we hadn’t done in over twenty years.

And let’s not forget about the festival itself. Held every year in the first week of February, it featured large and highly detailed sculptures made of snow or ice, some of the most impressive measuring over 10 meters tall (33 ft).

If you’re planning to visit Hokkaido in winter, to attend the 2020 snow festival, then this updated winter travel guide will help you plan your trip.

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Skiing in Sapporo

GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Sapporo at a Glance
  2. Best Time to Visit
  3. Traveling to Sapporo
  4. Where to Exchange Currency
  5. Best Area to Stay
  6. Things to Do
  7. Side Trips from Sapporo
  8. Japanese Food Guide
  1. Where to Eat
  2. Points of Interest (Map)
  3. How to Get Around
  4. How Many Days to Stay / Sample Itinerary
  5. Budget / Summary of Expenses
  6. Travel Tips
  7. Visa Information (for Filipinos)

SAPPORO AT A GLANCE

Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido, Japan’s largest and northernmost prefecture. It’s Japan’s fifth largest city and the second snowiest city in the world, getting an average snowfall of about 4.85 meters (15.9 ft) a year.

Sapporo first garnered international attention when it became the first city in Asia to host the Winter Olympics in 1972. Today, it’s one of Japan’s most popular tourist destinations – famous for its miso ramen, Sapporo beer, and playing host to the Sapporo Snow Festival which draws in over 2 million tourists annually.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Hokkaido is beautiful year-round and offers something different each season. There’s really no bad time to go but if it’s your first time visiting Sapporo, then you may want to go in winter or summer. This guide focuses on winter but I’ll talk briefly about the other seasons as well.

APR-JUN: Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost prefecture so it’s cooler here than in the rest of the country. If you missed the cherry blossoms in warmer parts of Japan, then you can catch them in Sapporo or in others parts of Hokkaido in late April or early May.

JUL-AUG: Assuming you’ll be going beyond Sapporo, then summer is a great time to visit Hokkaido. Flowers are in full bloom, most notably lavender. Lavender has been cultivated in Hokkaido for more than half a century and the flower fields of Furano (about 2-3 hours from Sapporo) are one of the island’s biggest draws. They usually start blooming in late June and reach their peak around mid-July to early August. Lavender is the most popular but Hokkaido is also known for poppies, lilies, sunflowers, and salvias.

SEP-NOV: The island’s foliage makes autumn a wonderful time to visit Hokkaido. Throughout the island, leaves turn to brilliant hues of red, orange, and yellow. It lasts till around early November, but aim for October for peak fall colors and relatively mild temperatures.

DEC-MAR: Serious skiers and snowboarders are no strangers to Hokkaido’s snow which is said to be some of the best in the world. If you enjoy skiing, then winter is definitely the best time to go. Ski season in Hokkaido typically starts in mid-December and lasts till early April. If you’re interested in the Sapporo Snow Festival, then that happens around the first week of February every year.

We went in early February to attend the Sapporo Snow Festival. It was cold, but not nearly as cold as we thought it would be. In fact, we found early December in Seoul to be even colder. Nonetheless, be sure to pack a thick jacket, thermal underwear, a hat, gloves, and a scarf, especially if you plan on going skiing.

Climate: Annual Monthly Weather in Sapporo

To help you better understand the weather in Sapporo, I’ve included average temperature and annual rainfall/snowfall graphs below. Suggested months to visit are indicated in orange. Since the focus of this guide is on winter in Sapporo, then I’ve only highlighted February, the month of the Sapporo Snow Festival.

Average Temperature
Average Temperature in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Annual Rainfall/Snowfall
Average Temperature in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

TRAVELING TO SAPPORO

Hokkaido is the northernmost prefecture of Japan and separated from the main island of Honshu. Most travelers to Sapporo will probably be flying into New Chitose Airport. It’s the fastest and cheapest way to get there, though you can go via Shinkansen as well.

BY PLANE: We flew to Chitose from Fukuoka via ANA. We wanted to explore Kyushu after Sapporo so our port of entry/exit was Fukuoka. You can check Skyscanner to find flights to Sapporo from wherever you are. I just did a dummy booking and there are several flights from Tokyo Narita to Sapporo Chitose for around USD 50.

You can take the metro to get to your hotel in the downtown area. You can use hyperdia.com to plan your route. If you’re traveling in a group or have a lot of luggage and would prefer to arrange for a private transfer, then you can do so through Klook. Follow this link to book airport transfers from Chitose on Klook.

BY TRAIN: This takes longer and is more expensive but you can get to Sapporo by Shinkansen bullet train as well. I just did a dummy booking on hyperdia.com and a one-way trip from Tokyo to Sapporo will cost you around USD 250. On top of that, total travel time is over 8 hours (not counting transit times) compared to just 1.5 hrs if you fly from Tokyo.

The only time I see this making sense is if you’re getting a JR Pass and doing a multi-city tour of Japan. This will give you unlimited use of all JR national trains in Japan, including Shinkansen bullet trains and the Narita Express. You can purchase a JR Pass in 7-, 14-, or 21-day variants from Japan Rail Pass or Klook.

WHERE TO EXCHANGE CURRENCY

The unit of currency in Japan is the Japanese Yen (JPY). Banks and post offices are the best places to exchange currency in Japan. Based on what I’ve read, people seem to prefer post offices because the transactions are faster.

I exchanged currency at a bank and the process did take some time. I had to fill a bunch of paperwork then wait for the transaction to complete. If you’re arriving in Sapporo via New Chitose Airport, then you can exchange a small amount there, just enough to get you into the city, then change the rest at a bank or post office.

Another option is to withdraw JPY from an ATM. The rates are competitive and can allegedly be even better at times. Just make sure you advise your bank that you’ll be using it abroad so you don’t run into any issues. In my experience, my ATM card works in some machines but not in others.

NOTE: Some ATM machines may ask if you’d like to proceed “with or without conversion”. Always choose WITHOUT conversion. Proceeding with conversion authorizes the foreign bank operating the ATM to do the conversions for you, usually at unfavorable rates. According to this article, the difference in rates can be as high as 10%.

BEST AREA TO STAY

If you’re visiting Sapporo specifically for the snow festival, then the best place to stay is around Odori Park. It’s the main site of the festival and the most convenient place to be. However, the week of the snow festival is peak season in Sapporo and one of its priciest. Hotel room rates, especially around Odori Park, will be at their highest.

To help you understand where all these recommended areas are, I’ve created the color-coded map below: (Please note that marked areas are approximations only)

BLUE – Odori
GREEN – Susukino
ORANGE – Nakajima Park
PURPLE – Kita Ward

I’ll provide targeted links under each description but you can book accommodations in Sapporo through Booking.com or Agoda.

ODORI

The Sapporo Snow Festival is comprised of three sites, with the main site being at Odori Park. This is the best place to stay if you’re going to Sapporo for the festival. This is the main downtown area so there are plenty of shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes here. If you can get a hotel room facing the park, then you’ll have a view of the snow sculptures from your room. You can search for a room around Odori Park on Booking.com.

SUSUKINO

Susukino is Sapporo’s main entertainment hub. It’s similar in feel to Odori during the day but it’s much livelier at night. It’s home to the festival’s second site featuring sculptures carved from blocks of ice. If hotels around Odori Park are too expensive, then you may find a cheaper alternative in Susukino. It’s just one stop away from Odori on the metro and where you’ll find Ramen Yokocho, a narrow alleyway of about 15-20 ramen shops. You can search for hotels in Susukino on Booking.com.

NAKAJIMA PARK

Nakajima Park is the area just south of Susukino. It quieter than Susukino and not too far away, making it a good choice for people wanting to be near the entertainment district without actually staying there. You can search for hotels in the Nakajima Park area on Booking.com.

KITA WARD

Kita Ward is the area north of Sapporo Station. We stayed at an AirBnB on the border of Nishi and Kita Wards. This is a more residential area and a good choice for people wanting a quieter stay. The metro made it easy enough to travel to and from downtown but personally, I would have preferred to stay closer to Odori or Susukino. I suggest staying here only if you can’t find a hotel room in the previous three areas. You can search for hotel rooms in Kita Ward on Booking.com.



Booking.com

THINGS TO DO

1. Attend the Sapporo Snow Festival

The Sapporo Snow Festival is held on the first week of February, making it the ideal time to visit Sapporo in winter. You’ll find large snow and ice sculptures of popular characters at all three of the festival’s sites. Based on the character below, can you guess what year we attended the Sapporo Snow Festival?

As described, Sapporo is the second snowiest city in the world – getting an average snowfall of about 4.85 meters every year – making it the ideal environment for a snow festival. Check out my post on the Sapporo Snow Festival for more pictures and information.
Sapporo Snow Festival, Hokkaido, Japan

Time to Spend: About a full day for all three festival sites / Entrance: FREE

2. Taste Freshly Brewed Beer at the Sapporo Beer Museum

If you enjoy drinking beer as much as we do, then the Sapporo Beer Museum needs to be on your itinerary. Sapporo is one of the oldest beer brands in Japan and has been brewing in Hokkaido since 1877. There isn’t much to the museum but people come here mainly for the beer tasting and the all-you-can-eat lamb jingisukan which is one of Hokkaido’s signature dishes.

Check out my post on the Sapporo Beer Museum for more pictures and information.
Sapporo Beer Museum, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Time Needed: Around 2 hrs / Entrance: FREE

3. Visit the Historical Village of Hokkaido

If you like living museums or enjoy taking pictures, then you’re going to love the Historical Village of Hokkaido. It’s an open-air museum boasting over 60 period structures spread out over 54 hectares. All the buildings at the village are from the Meiji and Taisho eras (mid-19th to early 20th century) of Japan, and were recreated to reflect what pioneer life in Hokkaido was like.

Check out my post on the Historical Village of Hokkaido for more pictures and information.
Historical Village of Hokkaido, Japan

Time Needed: At least half a day / Entrance: JPY 800

4. Bathe in an Onsen

I didn’t understand people’s fascination with onsens, until I actually tried one. Simply put, bathing in a hot spring makes you feel AMAZING in winter. You feel so warm and relaxed you become practically impervious to the cold! There are many onsens around Sapporo, one of the biggest and most popular being Noboribetsu onsen town which is about an hour and a half away by JR train.

Another option is Jozankei Tsuruga Resort Spa Mori No Uta which you can visit from Sapporo on a day trip. Follow the link to purchase onsen day tour vouchers on Klook.
Onsen, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

5. Go on a Food Tour

We love going on food tours. It’s the best way to learn about local dishes and restaurants that aren’t as easy to find on Google. You can do all the research you want, but nothing can ever compare to local knowledge. We haven’t done any food tours in Sapporo but we’ll be doing one in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima soon.

If you’re interested in going on a food tour in Sapporo, then you can check out this Sapporo food and bar hopping tour on Magical Trip.
Tourists eating and drinking with their guide in Sapporo, Japan

6. Take a Cooking Class

Aside from food tours, we enjoy taking cooking classes as well. Food tours teach you about local food and restaurants but there’s no better way to learn about the cuisine than by taking a cooking class. So far, we’ve taken cooking classes in Hoi An, Phuket, Bali, and Chiang Mai, and I’ll be taking one soon in Tokyo.

If you’d like to take a class in Sapporo, then you can check out airKitchen’s list of cooking classes in Hokkaido. The click-through page lists cooking classes offered throughout Hokkaido so be sure to choose one that’s held in Sapporo.
Student making gyoza in Sapporo, Japan

Pictured borrowed from airKitchen

7. Shop at Don Quijote

Shopaholics rejoice! Shopping in Japan doesn’t have to be expensive, and Don Quijote is proof of that. Like Daiso shops, Don Quijoute is a discount chain store with over 160 branches throughout Japan. And I’m not talking about rinky dink shops either. Many of their branches are like mini department stores with several stories of products ranging from groceries to electronics to clothing to household goods. Best of all? Everything is tax-free.

Visit the Don Quijote website to find the blue penguin nearest you.
Don Quijote, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

DAY TRIPS FROM SAPPORO

1. Attend the Snow Light Path Festival in Otaru

Otaru is a charming port city less than an hour from Sapporo by JR train. It’s proximity makes it an ideal day trip destination from Sapporo, especially in winter when it hosts its own festival called the Snow Light Path Festival.

Held at the same time as the Sapporo Snow Festival, you’ll find snow and ice lanterns lighting up the preserved canal area at night. Being a port town, Otaru is also home to some of Hokkaido’s best seafood, not to mention a wealth of pastry and dessert shops selling the most delicious dairy products.

Check out my post on the Snow Light Path Festival in Otaru for more pictures and information. Otaru is easy enough to visit on your own but if you’d like to go on a guided tour, then you can book one through Klook.
Snow Light Path Festival, Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan

2. Go Skiing at Sapporo Teine

A Russian skier friend of mine told me that the best skiing he’s ever experienced is in Hokkaido. He’s skied everywhere but he loved it here so much that he now goes back every year.

Aside from the festival, this is what I was most excited about on this Sapporo trip. Serious skiers and snowboarders head out to Niseko but if you want to go skiing just for the day, then Teine is an excellent choice. It’s about an hour away from Sapporo and easily accessible by public transportation. Check out my post on skiing at Sapporo Teine for more pictures and information.
Sapporo Teine, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

3. Ride a Snowmobile

Adventurous travelers will enjoy this. Neither Ren nor I had ever ridden a snowmobile before so we were excited to try something new. We did a fun 1-hr, 20-25 km snowmobile ride at Snowmobile Land which is about an hour away by bus from downtown Sapporo.

You can check my post on Snowmobile Land in Sapporo for more pictures and information. You can also choose from several snowmobile experiences in Sapporo on Klook.
Snowmobile Land, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

4. Explore Noboribetsu

Noboribetsu is Hokkaido’s most famous hot spring resort. One of its most distinctive features is Jigokudani or Hell’s Valley, a valley situated just above Noboribetsu Town known for its hot steam vents, sulfurous streams, and other volcanic-related activities.

Located about an hour and a half away from Sapporo, there’s enough to see and do in Noboribetsu to warrant an overnight stay. But if you’re pressed for time, then it’s possible to visit on a day trip. Just be sure that the tour you select starts in Sapporo.
Noboribetsu Hell Valley, Hokkaido, Japan

PHOTO: “Winter in Hokkaido(Noboribetsu) – 72” by Lionel Leong, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom, removed watermark

THE ULTIMATE JAPANESE FOOD GUIDE

Japanese is my absolute favorite cuisine in the world and a big reason why we love visiting this country. If you love Japanese food as much as we do, then you might want to check out our Japanese Food Guide. It includes popular dishes in Japan as well as regional specialties by prefecture, including Hokkaido.
Japanese Food Guide

WHERE TO EAT

1. Nemuro Hanamaru

Without a doubt, Nemuro Hanamaru is one of the most popular restaurants in Sapporo. Do an internet search and you’ll find this kaiten-zushi restaurant (conveyor belt sushi) on nearly every “best restaurant” list in Sapporo. All that attention does have its downsides as this was the longest we’ve ever had to wait at any restaurant – 2.5 hrs to be exact! If you’re willing to wait, then you’ll be rewarded with awesome sushi at surprisingly affordable prices.

Check out my post on Nemuro Hanamaru in Sapporo for more pictures and information.
Nemuro Hanamaru, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Expect to Spend: Around JPY 2,000-2,500 per person

2. Sapporo Beer Museum

Like Nemuro Hanamura, the restaurants at Sapporo Beer Museum are extremely popular. They’re known for their all-you-can-drink and all-you-can-eat jingisukan specials. Jingisukan or “Genghis Khan” is a lamb yakiniku dish that you grill yourself on your table. It’s one of Hokkaido’s signature dishes and Sapporo Beer Museum is one of the most popular places to have it. In fact, it almost feels like a rite of passage for first-time visitors to the city.

There are many restaurant halls at the museum, all of which are huge. Even then, they do get packed so it’s important to make reservations in advance. You can ask your hotel for help or purchase vouchers in advance through Klook. Check out my post on Sapporo Beer Museum for more pictures and information.
Sapporo Beer Museum, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Expect to Spend: Around JPY 3,000-4,000 per person with drinks

3. Gotsubo

Hokkaido is known for its seafood and these oysters are a good example of that. They’re available throughout the city but we enjoyed them here at this tiny sidewalk restaurant called Gotsubo. It’s a TripAdvisor favorite that serves grilled oysters on the half shell for just JPY 150 apiece.

If that isn’t enticing enough, the owner frequently throws in an extra oyster or two depending on how many your order. We enjoyed this place so much that we ate here twice in five days. Check out my post on Gotsubo in Sapporo for more pictures and information. We only had the oysters but they serve other types of seafood as well.
Gotsubo, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Expect to Spend: JPY 150 per oyster

4. ホルモン食堂 4条店

We enjoyed the jingisukan at Sapporo Beer Museum so much that we wanted to have it again, but this time over coals. We found this restaurant in Susukino with no formal English name (as far as I could tell).

Jingisukan is typically cooked over a convex metal skillet but they let us try it using this flat wire grill instead. As good as it was cooked over a gas stove, it’s even better imparted with that smokiness which you can only get from grilling with charcoal. Check out my post on ホルモン食堂 4条店 in Sapporo for more pictures and information.
ホルモン食堂 4条店, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Expect to Spend: Around JPY 3,000 per person with drinks

5. Shirakaba Sansou at Ramen Alley

Ramen Alley is literally an alley of ramen restaurants in Susukino. Many people online said it was touristy and to be avoided so I initially didn’t want to have Sapporo’s signature miso ramen here. However, this particular restaurant was recommended by locals so we decided to give it a shot. As expected, they were right.

Miso ramen is one of the four main types of Japanese ramen and is said to have been invented right here in Sapporo, so you have to try it. Check out my post on Shirakaba Sansou in Sapporo for more pictures and information.
Shirakaba Sansou, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Expect to Spend: At least JPY 880 per bowl

6. Hokkaido Kani Syougun

Japan’s love for crab is legendary, and Hokkaido is one of the best places in the country to have it. When it’s in season in winter, the city looks like it was invaded by crab. You’ll have several types to choose from like king crab, snow crab, hairy crab, and thorny crab.

We originally wanted to go to the popular Kani Honke restaurant but it was fully booked the two days we went. We couldn’t leave Sapporo without trying its famous crab so we went to Hokkaido Kani Syougun instead. We had two kinds here – the king and snow – both in a hot pot which seems to be the preferred way of enjoying crab for many Japanese. Check out my post on Hokkaido Kani Syougun in Sapporo for more pictures and information.
Hokkaido Kani Syougun, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Expect to Spend: At least JPY 5,500 per person with drinks

7. Korombia

We were on the hunt for some good yakitori and Google led us to this izakaya in Susukino. Korombia has a wide selection of yakitori and kushiyaki, most of which were very good, but the most memorable dish of the night was the chicken sashimi.

I had been curious to try chicken sashimi ever since I first learned about it. Like most people, I was shocked and intrigued that you could actually eat chicken raw. Based on what I’ve read, you need a special license to serve raw chicken in Japan which is what makes this find all the more special. Check out my post on Korombia in Sapporo for more pictures and information.
Korombia, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Expect to Spend: Around JPY 3,000 per person with drinks

8. Nijo Market

Nijo Market is a public market just a few minutes’ walk from Odori Park. You’ll find all kinds of fresh seafood there, most notably crab if you’re visiting in winter. Prices do seem a little higher here so you may just want to have a quick snack rather than a full meal. At the very least, you’ll want to take a stroll through the market as the seafood on display really is impressive.

Check out my post on Nijo Market in Sapporo for more pictures and information.
Nijo Market, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

POINTS OF INTEREST IN SAPPORO

To make it easier for you to visualize where everything is, I’ve pinned most of the places recommended in this guide on this map.

HOW TO GET AROUND

The subway system in Sapporo, and Hokkaido in general, is very efficient. It’s comprised of local trains and JR trains. You can get pretty much anywhere you need to go using the train system. As long as you have a constant wifi connection and access to hyperdia.com, then you should have no problems getting around. Depending on your needs, there are a few transportation cards you can get in Sapporo.

One-Day Subway Pass

If you’ll be using the local subway a lot, then you may want to purchase a one-day ticket. It allows you unlimited rides on subway trains for the whole day and costs JPY 830 for adults and JPY 420 for children (ages 6-11). If you already have your itinerary mapped out, then you can use hyperdia.com to estimate how much you’ll be spending on subway transportation per day. In our case, it was only worth it on one day of our trip. You can purchase the one-day pass at any subway ticket-vending machine.

SAPICA / Kitaca IC Cards

SAPICA and Kitaca IC Cards are two types of stored-value cards that allow you to use Sapporo’s public transportation system without having to purchase single journey tickets each time. They can be used on subways, buses, and streetcars in the Sapporo area. In the case of the Kitaca card, you can use it anywhere that accepts IC cards, even outside Hokkaido. Both cost JPY 2,000 with an initial stored value of JPY 1,500. You can refer to the Sapporo travel website for more information.

Hokkaido Rail Pass

Aside from a day trip to Otaru, we stayed in Sapporo the whole time but if you plan on exploring more of Hokkaido, then the Hokkaido Rail Pass may be worth it. It’s available only to non-Japanese and it allows you unlimited rides on all JR trains (except Shinkansen) and some JR buses within Hokkaido. You can refer to the JR Hokkaido website for more information.

HOW MANY DAYS TO STAY / SAMPLE ITINERARY

This is a tough one. Though this guide was written specifically for Sapporo in winter, few people visit Hokkaido and stay only in Sapporo so the length of your visit really depends on how much of the island you want to see. Hokkaido is huge so you can realistically spend a few weeks here and experience just a fraction of it.

To keep it simple, if you’re planning on attending the snow festival and don’t intend to stray too far from Sapporo, then I’d say about 4 days is enough. Here’s a sample 4D/4N itinerary to help you plan your trip.

DAY ONE

• Visit the Odori and Susukino sites of the Sapporo Snow Festival
• Visit the Tsudome site of the Sapporo Snow Festival
• Enjoy the view from the observation deck of Sapporo TV Tower
DAY TWO

• Explore Nijo Market
• Visit and have lunch at the Sapporo Beer Museum
• Explore the Historical Village of Hokkaido
DAY THREE

• Explore Otaru
• Visit Nikka Whisky Distillery
• Go back to the Otaru canal at night for the Snow Light Path Festival
DAY FOUR

• Spend the whole day skiing or snowboarding at Teine Ski Resort

BUDGET / SUMMARY OF EXPENSES

As you probably know, Japan isn’t cheap. It’s one of the most expensive countries in Asia. Also, it’s mostly still a cash society so make sure to bring enough with you. Some places like hotels and ski resorts accept credit cards but for the most part, you’ll be paying for everything in cash.

Assuming you’ll be staying in Sapporo for 4 full days and sharing inexpensive accommodations with one other person, then a daily budget of around JPY 8,500-9,000 per person should be enough. This takes into account your accommodations, transportation, modest meals, and pocket wifi rental. Here’s a quick breakdown of expenses:

ACCOMMODATIONS

This is highly subjective. It depends on several factors like hotel preference, location, and number of travel companions. Keep in mind that the week of the Sapporo Snow Festival is peak season in Sapporo so hotel prices will be at their highest. I just did a dummy booking and the cheapest hotel rooms in the Susukino area go for at least USD 100. Capsule hotels start at about USD 32 per person.
MEALS

Your food budget can be low or high, depending on where you eat. If you stick to meals like ramen, then a daily food budget of JPY 2,000-2,500 should be enough.
TRANSPORTATION

Assuming you’ll be traveling a lot by subway and getting the one-day pass, then you’ll spend at most JPY 830 a day for transportation.
POCKET WIFI RENTAL

If you’re sharing the cost with one other person, then you’ll each be paying around JPY 285 per day.
TOTAL

This comes out to around JPY 8,707 a day per person. Please be advised that this is just an estimate based on our own personal travel habits. How much money you should bring is highly subjective and depends on many factors. For example, you’ll notice I didn’t factor in the cost of any activities in my daily estimate. Not everyone wants to ski or bathe in an onsen so I only considered the essentials. If you plan on doing any of the activities mentioned in this guide, then you can add the cost to the recommended budget.

TRAVEL TIPS

1. Plan your Trip with Sygic Travel or ViaHero

SYGIC TRAVEL: If you’re like us and enjoying planning every detail of your trip yourself, then Sygic Travel is for you. I’ve been using this free trip planning app for several years now. It helps me make an efficient itinerary by allowing me to pin all points of interest on a map then grouping them together by location. It’s available for free on iOS and Android.

VIAHERO: If you find trip planning daunting or tedious and would rather have a destination expert do it for you, then you can use ViaHero. ViaHero is a travel planning service that links travelers with local experts to create custom itineraries to different cities around the world, including Sapporo. If you’d like to try them out, then you can get a 5% discount on their services if you use our link.

2. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device

Having a constant wifi connection is a must these days. It’a almost as essential as packing a toothbrush. There are few free wifi zones in Japan so it becomes especially useful here. Having access to Hyperdia alone justifies the cost.

You can connect to the internet in Japan either through a sim card or a pocket wifi device. Personally, we prefer connecting via pocket wifi devices because it’s simpler, but it’s really up to you. Either way, you can book them in advance through Klook. Follow the links to purchase a 4G sim card or rent a 4G pocket wifi device (7GB data | Unlimited data). Be sure to reserve it at least a week prior to your trip.

3. Bookmark Hyperdia or Get the App on your Mobile Device

You’ll be riding the subway a lot in Japan so this free commuter app will be very useful to you. It’ll help you decipher the often confusing metro system. In fact, I wouldn’t dare use the subway without it.

WEBSITE: hyperdia.com | DOWNLOAD: iOS / Android

4. Plan Your trip Early

The week of the snow festival is one of the busiest times of the year in Sapporo so it’s important that you plan your trip as early as possible. In our case, I had booked most of our trip by September of the previous year. I got cheap international flights to Japan in July, and booked our domestic flights and accommodations in September. We went to Sapporo to attend the festival so I pretty much took care of everything as soon as I got confirmation on the festival dates. I suggest you do the same.

5. Make Reservations When Possible

Many of the restaurants in Sapporo (and the rest of Japan) are small so you’ll often find yourself waiting for a table, especially during the week of the festival when the city is flooded with tourists. As mentioned earlier in this guide, we tried twice to eat at popular crab restaurant Kani Honke but they were fully booked on both days. If there are any specific restaurants you want to go to, then I suggest asking your hotel for help in making reservations.

6. Check for Discount Passes

There are many websites that offer discount passes to tours and services. The websites I’ve used the most are Klook and Kkday. You’ll often find interesting activities that you wouldn’t normally think of yourself so it’s definitely worth a look. In fact, that’s how I learned about Snowmobile Land.

7. Get Travel Insurance

To be honest, we don’t always get travel insurance. Some trips may not call for it as much but on this trip to Japan, it was a must because we were going skiing and snowmobile riding. It would have been a disaster to get hurt and hospitalized in Japan without any form of insurance.

We buy insurance from World Nomads or SafetyWing. They’re both leading travel medical insurance providers used by many long-term travelers. Check out my article on why we buy travel insurance for more information. You can follow the links to get a free quote from World Nomads or SafetyWing.

8. Bring the Right Power Adapter

Japan has Type A or Type B electrical outlets so be sure to bring the right power adapters for your devices. Electrical voltage is 100V and the standard frequency is 50/60Hz.

9. Learn Basic Japanese Etiquette

Japan is a country of many unwritten rules. You’re a foreigner so you aren’t expected to know all of them, but it would be good to familiarize yourself with the basics. Check out this great overview on Japanese etiquette for travelers.

VISA INFORMATION (for Filipinos)

Philippine passport holders need to secure a tourist visa to Japan. The entire application process is coursed through a travel agency so you don’t have to go to the Embassy of Japan. I coursed mine through Reli Tours & Travel and at the time, they charged PHP 950 if you’re applying as a tourist, and PHP 2,000 if you’ll be visiting friends or relatives. It takes between 3-7 days to process.

Check out my post on how to apply for a Japan tourist visa for a step-by-step process and a list of accredited agencies.

Have fun!

I’m not an expert on Sapporo but I hope you find this post useful. I’m only sharing some of the things I learned from our trip. If you have any suggestions, then please feel free to leave them in the comments section below. You’re welcome to join our Facebook Travel Group as well.

OUR GEAR

These are some of the things we brought with us to Sapporo. For a full list of gear, you can check out our “What’s in Our Backpack?” post. (NOTE: The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)

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There are 4 comments for this article
  1. Andy Laird at 4:31 pm

    We went to Hokkaido in February and it’s an amazing place for photography. If we don’t get there this spring for the blossoms we’re going in the Autumn fall.

  2. shawn at 2:25 am

    i love this very detailed guide for japan. but i do have to say, while certain regions in japan are very much cash based, meaning you can only pay in cash, the major cities of japan ALL ACCEPT credit cards. before your first trip to japan in 2018, we did SO much research prior to our trip. we literally researched for a good year prior to our April trip. every youtuber, every blog, every vlog said the same thing….bring cash. bring lots of cash. and it isn’t like those places we visited online were old sites or old youtube videos. they were recent. they were made in the same year we did the research in. but when we arrived in japan, we were shocked at how wrong all of them were, how wrong you are. our trip to japan consisted of visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and back to Tokyo. every city we hit, minus kyoto accepted credit cards. since kyoto is a very old fashioned city, yes they were mostly cash based. which was fine since all those vloggers told us to bring tons of cash. but tokyo? osaka? nara? i could easily use a credit card at the majority of their restaurants, especially their convenience stores like 711, lawsons and family mart. the one thing i will say, even in the big cities where cash was needed BUT it was to be expected were the shrines, the food stalls/street vendors. yes those places only accepted cash, but again, that made sense. same way that here in nyc, all those street vendors only accept cash. if you plan on visiting tons of shrines, yes bring cash. and since a good chunk of shrines have food stalls nearby, yes they will only accept cash. in those situations it made sense, but to do a blanket statement that all of japan is a cash based society and they have not adapted to the times is wrong to say and very misleading to tourists. i mean i guess i get why they say its all cash. it could be good overall if you only pay in cash wherever you shop. but that is true for most places, not just japan.
    so if your going to major cities for shopping and nice restaurants, your fine with your credit cards. if your going to japan to hit up small local shops in small cities or in the country side, yes please bring cash. OR even if you dont know how much to bring in cash, ANY 711 has ATM’s that accepts foreign debit cards so you can pull out cash, but they have a minimum of like 10,000yen which should be around $100 US. you can’t pull out say 50 dollars worth of yen. also, post offices are another good place where they accept foreign debit cards. so you have options for safe withdrawal of cash.
    so please. stop saying japan does not accept credit cards. because it’s a flat lie. but yes, be prepared to use cash in smaller cities and in the countryside, even in large cities if your going to shrines and street food vendors/food stalls, they require cash payment only. hope this small tip helps future japan goers!

  3. JB & Renée Macatulad at 6:47 pm

    Hi Shawn, thanks for sharing your experience. You’re partly correct. More establishments do accept credit cards these days but this is a recent phenomenon with Japan aiming to become more of a cashless society. You can refer to THIS ARTICLE from the Japan Times to read up on it.

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