2022 Fall Malaika Stambler Temple Japan

A Hokkaido minute

Hokkaido is the northern prefecture of Japan, known for its national parks, incredible seafood, grilled lamb, lavender and melon ice cream, and skiing. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve spent my summers with my family, but I wanted to check it out during the frigid winter months. So my travel buddy Aden and I decided to go during finals week. Great idea!

I left Tokyo right after finishing a final project at 4:30 am.

It was raining and gloomy in Sapporo. The first stop was the beer museum. I am a beer girl, so I was very excited about this. I went to the Sapporo beer museum with my dad a few years ago and they taught me to pour beer. The museum was a bit different, but we still got to try samples of 3 different beers and see a lot of really cool vintage posters and advertisements. I want them all as a calendar or room décor or something. 

The next activity was a day trip through Otaru. Outside the hostel it was snowing! The whole day, the snow continued. It was so beautiful!!! We ate breakfast at a cafe in Sapporo and took a bus to Otaru. Otaru is known for its ice cream and canals. I ate squid ink ice cream there a few years ago. This time I ate melon ice cream on top of a melon slice. The Otaru canals were beautiful. It’s a quaint city rich with history of indigenous Japan and the Inu people. The signs there are in Russian, English and Japanese due to its proximity to the Russian tundra. 

The next leg of the journey was Niseko, a ski resort, but there wasn’t enough snow on the ground to ski. Because it was before ski season, we were actually stuck in a dangerously desolate area. It was snowing and we didn’t have any food on us before we checked in at our lodge. I failed to realize there were no grocery stores or restaurants open outside of ski season. So this day in Niseko was not ideal. On our way out of our lodge in the morning, we were trudging through the snow in a blizzard walking to find food when a van pulled up beside us offering a lift. They dropped us off at Milk Kobo, the nearest restaurant, and made a contact in my phone in case we needed another ride. The restaurant was closed. A bus stop outside read that the next bus wasn’t until late afternoon. So we were stranded in  blizzard conditions and couldn’t even see the mountains.  I fell in the snow and lost my commuter pass. I thankfully had the phone number of the person who drove us there, so I gave her a call and she called us a taxi. 20 minutes later it pulled up and took us into town. My toes were still numb when the taxi dropped us off at a 100-year-old soba restaurant across from the station where we had our first meal in two days. 

Experiences like these, I’ve learned, are just a part of traveling. There will be good days, and there will be bad days that make us more resilient globe trotters.  My first instinct when trouble strikes is optimism, but ultimately escaping the unsafe situation and finding a warm restaurant was better than turning lemons into lemonade in this instance.

When we returned to Sapporo, we walked around in the city snow. We ate Genghis Khan, a specialty grilled lamb dish and self-grilling experience only available in Hokkaido. I don’t eat lamb usually but it was wonderful! We ate sushi too which was amazing.

I made it back to Tokyo just in time for my art books and zines class final. Whew!

Hokkaido is truly a wonderful place and I wish I could go back when there are less blizzards and more snow on the ground. 

Make sure to check out stories from other students studying abroad!

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