Every parent’s dream guide to Hokkaido with kids!
Here’s how to plan a fun, educational holiday in Sapporo, Hokkaido with the family!
Visiting other countries with little ones is more than just a fun experience. It offers a myriad of positive benefits for you and your children, ranging from creating shared memories to real-life lessons in history, culture, and geography.
More and more Singaporean families understand this and are actively searching for edutainment-led destinations to travel to with their little ones. One location popular among Singaporean families is Hokkaido (北海道) – the northernmost and second largest of Japan’s main islands.
Sapporo is the capital of this prefecture, and is the perfect base camp for families going on a Hokkaido adventure.
Hokkaido offers your family the perfect balance of fun and learning experiences. Here’s why:
Your child’s first global classroom lesson will start on the plane ride from Singapore to Hokkaido. Tell your kids that this island is known for its volcanoes and natural hot springs, and ask them to look out for both as you fly over and into Hokkaido.
Hokkaido is a foodie’s paradise where you will find ocean-fresh seafood (especially crab and sea urchin), soft-serve ice-cream in a delectable array of flavours (try lavender-white chocolate), and ramen such as you’ve never tasted before!
Part of the educational experience that travel offers kids is the exposure to culture through food.
Here are our top three, must-try dishes in Hokkaido!
- Ramen: This dish was imported to Japan during the Meiji Era from China, and has evolved to become uniquely Japanese. Kids will love this noodle soup dish, comprised of a miso-based broth with slices of pork and chicken, seafood, boiled eggs, and fresh vegetables.
- Uni Ikura Donburi: Unique to Hokkaido, this rice bowl dish stands out from other versions of donburi with the addition of sea urchin and salmon eggs. Head to Nijo Fish Market for the tastiest and freshest version of this delicious meal (don’t forget to point out the different types of seafood there to your kids!)
- Soft serve ice cream: Kids will go crazy over the delightfully creamy, soft serve ice-cream found all over Hokkaido. It is available in an amazing range of flavours, and is made from fresh, local milk and cream.
This Japanese prefecture is also known for its natural beauty, from spectacular flowery displays in summer, to an exhilarating snowy experience in winter.
Another reason to travel to Hokkaido is its year-round temperate climate. From May to August, the weather is sunny and perfect for outdoor fun and activities. During the colder months (November to January), the entire prefecture transforms into a magical winter wonderland.
Whatever the season, options for edutainment activities here are endless, as you’re about to find out!
Hokkaido with kids: Ideas for Summer fun!
1. Sakura picnic (hanami) and day-out at Nakajima Park
Close to Sapporo’s city centre is the gorgeous Nakajima Park. Here, you will see an array of cherry blossom trees including the pastel pinks of the double-flowered cherry tree, the deep magentas of the Sargent tree, and the haunting beauty of the weeping cherry tree.*
This heavenly sight is perfect for encouraging your child’s creativity and imagination, and teaching them about the Japanese tradition of hanami, or flower viewing. Encourage them to describe what they see – through drawings if they are younger, and via a haiku** and art if they are older (remember to bring pencils and paper!)
Pack a picnic, and laze under the flower-heavy canopies of the trees, while your little ones run wild, working up an appetite to tuck into those picnic treats – family bonding at its best! Don’t forget to take plenty of we-fies to share on Instagram and Facebook!
If you are at the park on a weekend or during Japanese school holidays, head to the Sapporo Children’s Puppet Theatre “Kogumaza.”
Here, your kids will get to enjoy traditional Joruri puppetry and learn about Japanese musical instruments, honing their creativity and interest in art and music in the process. The shows are perfect for fidgety younger kids, too, as most of them are under an hour in duration.
Towards evening, stroll down to the Sapporo Observatory (entrance is free) where your kids can view the marvels of outer space through the huge 20-cm diameter refracting telescope. As you remind them to spot the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter, as well as the ringed beauty of Saturn, you can be sure you’re encouraging their interest in learning more about astrology!
*To check for updates on the cherry blossom forecast for 2018, please save this link.
**A Haiku is a Japanese poem of 17 syllables, in three lines of five, seven and five. It should typically evoke images of the natural world.
From Odori station, hop on a Namboku Line train and alight at Horohirabashi station. Then, it’s just a short walk back to the park. The whole trip takes under 20 minutes.
2. Lessons in culture at the Hokkaido Shrine
A great place to teach your kids about Japanese customs is the serene Hokkaido Shrine (北海道神宮 Hokkaidō Jingū). This Shinto shrine is located in Maruyama Park, Sapporo, and is devoted to four kami (divine beings) including the soul of Emperor Meiji.
Allow your child to take part in the ceremonial custom of the cleansing of hands and mouth at a water pavilion called the Temizuya. Your whole family can offer a prayer at the shrine – tell your kids that they have to do “two bows, two claps and one more bow” for their wish to come true!
From Odori Station, get on a Tozai Line train. Your stop is Maruyama Koen Station. From there, it’s a short walk to the Shrine. The trip will take you 20 minutes.
3. Cookies and train rides at Shiroi Koibito Park
Combining elements of fun, taste, and tales about sweets, this amazing space makes for a very popular family destination. Here you’ll find the Shiroi Koibito Factory, where the famous Hokkaido cookies (白い恋人 or “white lover”) are baked.
We recommend that you tour the factory so your little ones get a truly enriching multi-sensorial experience. At the Cookiecraft Studio, for example, little confectioners can make their own heart-shaped cookies!
This fun experience has an important element of learning that combines maths (measuring ingredients), science (what happens during the baking process), and fine motor skills (cutting out cookie shapes).
Of course, the icing on the cake is that your kids will also get to eat the scrumptious delights that they make!
As part of your tour of the park, you will want to visit the courtyard which features the “Chocolate Carnival,” a parade of mechanical dolls in the Toy Exhibition Room, and the “Shiroi Koibito Railway.”
Here, your kids will learn about the Benkei steam locomotive which was first used in Hokkaido with the launch of the Horonai Railway in 1880. You can also enjoy a train ride, which lasts for about ten minutes.
A fun fact to teach your kids is that the year after the line was launched, Emperor Meiji rode the line, but the train was late to arrive because it had to pull nine cars in bad weather!
Opening hours: 9 am to 6 pm (last admittance 5 pm)
Admission fees: Free for kids aged 3 and below;￥200 for kids aged 13-3;￥600 for kids aged 16 and above
Train rides: ￥300 for adults, and ￥200 for kids aged 12 and below
By train: Get off at Miyanosawa Station on the Tozai Line, Odori Station. It’s a short seven-minute walk from here. The whole trip is around 20 minutes.
By bus: Hop into a Chuo bus or JR bus from JR Sapporo Bus Terminal (Otaru direction). Get off at the Nishimachi Kita 20-chome bus stop, and walk to the park. The trip will take you about 30 minutes.
Mum tips for summer:
The best time to see cherry blossoms in Sapporo is in May.
August is the hottest month in Hokkaido, with an average temperature of 22°C(72°F). Singaporean kids, being used to much warmer weather, might need a light jacket, even during August.
Tap water in Japan is safe to drink, so you don’t have to worry about lugging heavy water bottles everywhere.
Make the most of the glorious weather by walking around as much as possible. Sapporo is stroller-friendly.
Hokkaido with kids: Ideas for winter fun!
1. The Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri)
One of the highlights of the winter season is the annual snow festival held in Sapporo for one week every February. Singaporean kids who get excited about the snow play area at Gardens by the Bay in December won’t believe their eyes when they attend this festival!
The event started in 1950, and the main site is in Odori Park. The festival showcases unbelievably large snow sculptures, some measuring 25 metres wide and 15 metres high. At night, these sculptures are brought to life with lights.
While your kids will be awe-struck by the beauty of these snowy creations, don’t forget to weave in a bit of learning by teaching them how ice is formed.
The next Snow Festival will be held from February 5 to 12, 2018.
Odori Park is located in the heart of Sapporo, and is an easy walk if you are staying in the city centre.
2. Takino Snow World
This park is perfect to give little ones their first real “snow” experience! Located in the Takino Suzuran Hillside National Government Park, the gradual 7° slope is ideal for your kids to learn how to ski. In fact, it’s perfect for adults who need some practice, too!
Besides downhill skiing, Takino Snow World has cross-country ski tracks ranging from one to six kilometres that would be fun for the whole family. The fun doesn’t stop here, though! You can also enjoy an exhilarating tube-sledding track on one of the longest slopes in Hokkaido.
There’s also an indoor playhouse where the kids can frolic, while mum and dad relax.
Entrance to Takino Snow World is free. Ski equipment and clothing can be rented at the location. The best time to visit is from mid-December to mid-March.
From Odori station, take the subway Nanboku Line until the Makomanai station (20 min). Thereafter, take the Chuo Bus #102 Takino Suzuran Koen Line for a half an hour ride until the “Suzuran Koen Higashiguchi” stop.
The whole trip will take about an hour.
Mum tips for winter
The most sensible way to dress your child for winter is in layers, so they can be comfortable inside and out. In very cold weather, the first layer should be thermal underwear. Then, you can add on a long-sleeved top, jeans, thick socks, waterproof covered shoes, and finally, a waterproof jacket/ parka. Don’t forget to also take a beanie (woolly hat), gloves or mittens, and a scarf!
Encourage your child to keep up their fluid intake. Because it may be harder to notice that they’re sweating during winter, they may not feel thirsty and will not drink enough water.
Pack a rich moisturiser to prevent dry skin caused by the cold weather, and a good chap-stick to stop lips from cracking.
When heading out, always pack an extra pair of socks – there’s nothing worse than freezing your toes off in wet socks!
Hokkaido with kids: Final tips and suggestions
Get a Japan Railway (JR) Pass
If you have a Hokkaido railway pass, you can ride all JR Hokkaido trains (except Hokkaido Shinkansen) without worrying about buying tickets each time. All the locations we’ve suggested here are very close to Sapporo, making public transport a great option for travelling around with kids.
During winter, taking public transport is better from a safety perspective, too, especially if you are not used to driving on winter roads.
Also, getting your kids involved in mapping out your public transport routes is a fun and educational activity you could engage in each day!
To learn more about the public transport system in Sapporo, click here.
Rent a car
With young kids, it’s always better to base yourself in one location (e.g. Sapporo) and plan for short, manageable trips while keeping mealtimes and naptimes in mind.
So there you have it, mums and dads. A great guide to Hokkaido with kids, with fun, educational activities for all seasons! Are you packing those bags yet?
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