Words and Photos By Sam Beltran
The Hokkaido adventure continues:
3. Tsurui Tancho-Ito sanctuary
The red-crowned cranes were once endangered birds in Japan, but decades of conservation efforts have sustained these wild birds in their sanctuary. The Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary is a must-see for nature lovers, but there is something beautiful about seeing these white- and black-feathered birds against the pure white blanket of snow. Over 300 red-crowned cranes fly during this time of season for their feeding, where you’ll see flocks of wildlife photographers from around the world striving to get their best shots.
4. Food adventures: a Michelin-starred ramen joint and a Japanese wine castle
A suburban town in the northeastern part of Hokkaido might be the last place you’d expect to find a Michelin-starred restaurant, but leave it to this island to surprise you. Namishibuki is a ramen joint and an izakaya, a tiny and intimate establishment that can seat about 30 diners, where guests can kick their shoes off and dine on low tables. Order a bowl of hot miso ramen, a Hokkaido original, and pair with a cold glass of sake, as encouraged by our friendly Japanese guides.
Meanwhile, wine lovers will enjoy a trip to Ikeda Wine Castle, the home of Tokachi wine which originated in the town of Ikeda cho. The colder temperatures in Hokkaido mean that the grapes are cultivated differently than expected in wineries around the world.
While the Ikeda Wine Castle may look like a fortress, this winery on top of a hill overlooks the mountains. At the basement is a cellar where vintage wines all the way from the 1980s are stored, while the top floor houses a buffet restaurant serving tender Ikeda steak.
Ikeda is somewhat of a food town, so the wine castle’s shop downstairs offers an array of the best cheese and dairy products (a must-try in Hokkaido), aside from their own wines.
5. Ice Village at Hoshino Resorts Tomamu
Hokkaido takes the Scandinavian ice hotels a step further and turns it into an entire Ice Village, connected to the Hoshino Resorts Tomamu, one of the most popular ski resorts in Hokkaido. For just 500 yen (a little over 260 pesos), you can already gain access to what is, hands down, one of the most wonderful experiences in Hokkaido. Stepping into the Ice Village feels like a once-in-a-lifetime moment and one that’s best reserved for Instagram.
Open only between the months of December and March, a walk through the idyllic, snow-coated forest leads to the village down below, where an Ice Slide will lead you to the entrance. Once you get there, a cluster of fantastical ice structures are for you to explore: Order a hot cocoa at the Ice Café, or if a cocktail is more to your liking, at the Ice Bar; explore the Ice Hotel’s room where everything is made of ice, except for the beddings. Other activities such as ice skating and even a visit to the Ice Chapel are also available for guests to enjoy.
Read more on our Hokkaido trip:
Part 1 here
The Indigenous Ainu village here