Our first small group tour of 2018 was our Winter Wonders Tour. This tour was an 11 day tour which ran from February 3rd to February 13th, 2018. Our small group from Australia had a wonderful time traveling through northern Japan taking in beautiful winter scenery at some of Japan's most famous Buddhist temples, Shinto Shrines, and nature spots. The highlight of the tour was undoubtedly the 2018 Sapporo Snow Festival though!
We began the tour by exploring Tokyo. We visited the bustling Tsukiji Fish Market on the first morning, and then went to the very top of the Tokyo Skytree. We were blessed with fine weather, which made the spectacular 360 degree view of the largest metropolis on earth even more spectacular. While in Tokyo we also visited the iconic Ueno district, where we went to the famous Ameya Yokocho Markets, Ueno Park, and Ueno Zoo, where we were able to see a wide variety of amazing animals such as giant pandas, gorillas, polar bears, elephants, tigers, lions, and giraffes.
After spending our first two days in Tokyo, we then traveled north by shinkansen and limited express train to Sapporo on the northern most island of Japan, Hokkaido. On the shinkansen ride north from Tokyo to Hakodate we enjoyed breathtaking winter scenery of the Tohoku region. On the limited express train ride from Hakodate to Sapporo we took in amazing views of the Pacific Ocean. For me personally, having grown up in tropical Queensland in Australia, it was the first time in my life to see the ocean and snow at the same time.
After arriving in Sapporo in the late afternoon, we headed straight to the Susukino Site of the 2018 Sapporo Snow Festival. Here we saw amazing ice sculptures, ice sculpture shows, and even slid down an ice slide. The temperature on our first night in Sapporo plummeted to minus 11.1 °C, the coldest temperature of our entire tour.
On our second day in Sapporo we took a leisurely day trip to the nearby seaside city of Otaru. Here we explored the beautiful canal area taking in some breathtaking winter scenery at a place which has been described as the "Venice of Japan". While in Otaru we also enjoyed freshly brewed beers and ciders at one of the local beer factories, visited Otaru Suitengu Shrine, and enjoyed a delicious sushi lunch at one of the many sushi restaurants that line "Sushi Street". Sushi Street is one of the most famous places to eat sushi in not only Hokkaido, but in all of Japan. The seafood here comes directly from the trawlers, and is some of the best sushi I have ever had.
After returning to Sapporo in the afternoon, we went to the main site of the 2018 Sapporo Snow Festival, the Odori Park Site. Here we joined the multitude of other people in enjoying spectacular laser mapping shows, huge ice carvings, concerts, delicious street foods, and wonderful views of the Sapporo Tower lit up.
After spending two fun filled nights in Sapporo we traveled south by limited express train to Hakodate, a port town on the the southern most tip of Hokkaido. Here we visited the historic Goryokaku Fort. Before entering the fort itself, we went to the top of the nearby Goryokaku Tower to get a bird's eye view of this rare star shaped fort. After taking in the fort from 90 meters above, we then went inside and explored its spacious grounds. With close to a meter of snow covering everything in the grounds, it provided us with a uniquely "Japanese" winter scene.
That night we traveled to the very top of Mt. Hakodate by aerial ropeway to enjoy the amazing night view of the city and surrounding bay. The night view from the top of Mt. Hakodate is widely considered to be the best night view in all of Japan. Once again we were blessed with the weather, as a snow storm cleared nicely for us just as we made our way up the mountain.
After our stay in Hakodate it was off to Sendai. On the shinkansen trip from Hakodate to Sendai we were lucky enough to be on the western side of the train so we could get to see magnificent mountain views almost all of the way down to Sendai. After arriving in Sendai we made the short trip out to Matsushima Bay. Here we took a leisurely 50 minute cruise around this beautiful bay. Matsushima Bay is dotted with over two hundred small islets, many of which are covered with Japanese pine trees. Matsushima Bay has been considered one of the three most beautiful scenic spots in all of Japan for centuries. After our cruise we took time to explore the town of Matsushima, visiting several small shrines and temples. We also came across an old pine tree that was more than 700 years old!
At night we explored downtown Sendai, and ate at a wonderful restaurant that served the local delicacy, beef tongue. Although it is not for everyone, I love it and would highly recommend trying it whenever in Sendai!
Our next stop was Yudanaka Onsen in Nagano prefecture. Before settling in for a relaxing night at a local ryokan (traditional hot spring inn), we made the climb up to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey park to see the fascinating snow monkeys soaking in natural hot springs. We were lucky enough to see two snow monkeys in the hot springs while we were there, and several dozen other monkeys frolicking around in the snow and river. That night we enjoyed a delicious, traditional dinner and stayed in a traditional room with tatami mats and futons. Breakfast the next morning was also a delicious, traditional meal with rice, fish, pickles, tofu, and miso soup.
Our tour ended back in Tokyo where we visited the Imperial Palace near Tokyo Station. We walked through the East Gardens and took photos at Tokyo's most famous bridge, the Imperial Palace's "Double Bridge". At night we enjoyed a farewell dinner at an "Okonomiyaki" restaurant where we had the traditional pork okonomiyaki (vegetable pancakes).
During the tour we experienced some cold temperatures and snow, but all in all we were blessed with relatively stable winter weather for most of the tour. As with our Shades of Autumn Tour 2017, this tour was also a problem free tour which everyone enjoyed to the fullest! Please be sure to check out our Gallery Page to see photos and videos from the Winter Wonders Tour 2018! You can also see more videos on our YouTube Channel!
We look forward to seeing you on one of our fully escorted private or small group tours of Japan sometime soon!
A&C Tours Japan