As much as we loved Tokyo, I think the real star this trip was Hokkaido.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure about Hokkaido at first because I always thought of it as a destination for elderly people and skiiers, of which I was neither. I’m a classic city girl who will take the bright lights and big cities any day. Besides, who brings a baby to Hokkaido in the dead of winter where it’s -5 degrees out on a warm day?
Turns out, me, that’s who.
And we loved it. I found Hokkaido to be breathtakingly beautiful, with her powdery slopes and laid back charm. In fact, we loved our time there so much that we’re in the midst of planning next year’s trip back, possibly with all 5 kids.
Our introduction to Hokkaido was exciting. So we knew that it was going to be cold and we were layered up all ready for the subzero temp. What we weren’t prepared for was a full on blizzard that welcomed us the moment we arrived in Sapporo.
We had taken a bus to Susukino from Chitose airport, dropping off at the bus stop 2 streets away from our hotel, the Mercure Sapporo. Normally, that would be an easy walk (even with the suitcases, kids and baby) but with the blizzard, it felt like we were getting punched in the face with a block of ice, then being mercilessly pelted with a torrent of snowballs. To make things worse, the road was icy and slippery so we had to take delicate geisha steps to keep from falling.
For a moment, we just stood at the side of the road looking at all the luggage and the kids and the baby and the snowstorm and the icy road and started laughing because it was nuts. Should we wait it out? Should we make a dash for it? How were we going to get across in the blizzard with all of this stuff??
There was only one thing to do, which was to gather our resolve together with our belongings/offspring and make the impossible trek towards the hotel in the snow. It took a while but we managed to make it across the first street unscathed; so far so good. At the second crossing, we were halfway across doing our unglamorous geisha shuffle when the pedestrian traffic light turned red. In an effort to hustle, Truett slipped and fell spectacularly on his bottom in the middle of the road. He tried getting up, took one step, and slipped again on the ice. The cars were getting ready to move and my son was flailing in the middle of the road like one of them three stooges. So there I was, with a baby in my arms trying to hold up traffic by gesturing to the drivers not to run over my child while the husband tried to help Tru to safety.
The kids were like “MOMMMM DID YOU BRING US HERE TO DIE??? WE DIDN’T SIGN UP FOR THIS!!”
But I really like these kids, they just took it all in stride. Truett’s pants were covered in icy slush but he just got right back up again and even helped with the suitcases without complaining. I think they’re a large part of the reason why we do the crazy things we do.
After that exciting first night in Hokkaido, the rest of our time turned out to be excellent. If Tokyo is the flamboyant, party-it-up fashionista, Hokkaido is the suburban mom who wore sensible shoes. I do like me a good party but I feel like Hokkaido and I could really get along.
Over the two days we were in Sapporo, we enjoyed delicious kaisendon and crabs at Noji fish market, shopped a bit at Odori, explored the Shiroi Koibito chocolate factory (so gorgeous!!), and had a lovely time at Sapporo beer garden. It was all exactly my kind of charming.
From Sapporo, we hopped on a train to Otaru for a night before heading on to Niseko where we spent the last 4 days.
Niseko is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. The kids took one look at all the soft, powdery snow and thought they were in heaven. And they were probably right, it was pretty close.
They had such a grand time building an ice fort, making so many snowballs, rolling around in the snow, and even managed to pick up snowboarding. Yes, snowboarding!!
Okay, back up a little. Snowboarding is one of those skills I never thought I’d be able to learn because a) it’s hard! and b) no, seriously, it’s ridiculously hard. I took lessons that one time at Mt Buller and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve tried to learn. It’s like the physical equivalent of learning Mandarin.
But it is also very cool. Every time I’d see snowboarders blitzing down the mountain on their boards, I’d stop and ogle, I can’t help it. It’s the kind of life skill that makes you instantly more awesome.
So since we had 4 days up in the mountains, this was the perfect opportunity to finally master snowboarding. We arranged for lessons with a private instructor, rented the gear, suited up and got ready to level up our awesome. Within 2 hours, Truett and Kirsten were already cruising down the beginner slope like it was nothing. Especially Kirsten, who was a natural at it. Every time she got on her board, it was like BEAST MODE activated. Even the Japanese instructor was all “you’re a monster girl!!” approvingly when she nailed it. She made it look so easy it was annoying.
Meanwhile, I took several days to finally get the hang of it. I fell so many times and so badly that my body was covered in huge bruises. By day 3, everywhere hurt so much. Like one time, I picked up too much speed and panicked so I went in for a toe brake and fell so hard I flipped over 3 times before ending up with my face in the snow. I don’t know what a concussion feels like but it was the only time I thought I got one so I just lay there with so much pain everywhere, afraid to even move. It’s discouraging to try so hard and fail so many times. I contemplated giving up because this is too hard and maybe I’m never going to learn this at the advanced age of 35, but if there’s one thing I have, it’s determination. Also, there’s a lot of pressure now that my kids are zipping down the mountain without breaking a sweat, I’m going to have to learn this one way or another. I checked to make sure nothing was broken, took a deep breath, got up and tried again.
It’s funny, when you’re learning something, it’s hard until suddenly, it’s not. After 3 days of bad falls, I got it. I could come down the mountain without falling, I could heel brake, I could toe brake, I could do the turns, it was like my body finally understood how this works.
And it was exhilarating. I can’t quite describe the feeling of boarding down a mountain on soft, powdery snow. It’s everything I imagined it to be, even better.
**The kids made this video on their own – they took most of the pictures/videos themselves and stitched them together. :)