Christmas in Hokkaido

Christmas 2018 was very memorable for me and my family for the following reasons : 1. It was Thomas’s first Christmas 2. We celebrated it in another country for the first time 3. The trip was a gift from Thomas’s grandparents. We couldn’t be any happier and more grateful! This was a long -anticipated David family holiday, with some bumps along the wait including my baby bump, but it was worth all the intense preparation because it is the best yuletide celebration we have had to date. (well, for me, at least. Because hello? Snow!)

We celebrated Christmas eve with my parents and siblings in Aruga by Rockwell (will write about this awesome staycation on a separate post) and left at around 9:00 pm to catch our red-eye flight. Needless to say, Justin, Thomas and I were at the airport when the clock struck twelve. Together with us in the flight was Justin’s brother, Martin.

We took the Eva Air Hello Kitty Jet which means, we had to stop over Taipei and wait for a few hours before we get to Sapporo. So basically, the four of us spent Christmas day in transit with luggage and a baby in tow. Not to mention our minute-to-win-it like experience of having to change not just wet but soiled diapers five minutes before boarding! So memorable, indeed!

We reached Sapporo at around 9:00 pm and had onigiri for Christmas dinner. The best! All of us were billeted at Ibis Styles, Sapporo which served as our home for three days before we traveled to Hoshino Resorts, Tomamu to bask in the snow for a few more days and then headed back to Sapporo again to celebrate the New Year.

I would probably run out of headspace (right state of mind) if I write about every little detail of our trip so I will just do a run down of what I think are the highlights of our winter holiday.

OTARU

This deserves a solo post. But, for the sake of this list, i’ll encapsulate my experience in three words: Magical but expensive. Magical because of the snow-covered Otaru Canal and the charming, European feel of the city; expensive because it just is. Most claim it to be a tourist trap because of the scores of souvenir shops selling pricey mementos around town. Nevertheless, I would say it is worth the experience. There are a lot of reasons to go to Otaru but below are my top three.

  1. Otaru Canal – The best spot for a family photoshoot, this attraction has a certain charm that takes you back in time and makes you feel like a character in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Thomas and his Daddy
Thomas and the guys
Thomas with his grandparents
Thomas and Mama

2. Naruto Honten – Really good fried chicken! For about JPY1200, you could stuff yourself with their large spring chicken combo meal with rice and miso soup. It was so good I forgot to document my food! But what makes it even better is it was a treat by Justin’s brother, Paolo. So grateful!

Going there is a bit tricky if you are planning to meet up with friends or family for a meal. There are two branches of this restaurant in Otaru and if you are unaware of this fact, you could end up waiting in the wrong restaurant like what happened to us. 😂 One branch is located near the station, called Naruto Denuki Kouji which is a smaller and newer shop.  While the main branch, Wakadori Jidori Naruto Honten is about a 15 -minute walk from the canal area. We went to the latter.

This spring chicken meal set is around JPY 1,200

3. Le TAO Honten – The name of the store “LeTAO”, is an acronym for the French phrase “La Tour Amitie Otarumeaning “Beloved Otaru Tower.” As its name suggests, LeTAO became the sweet shop loved by the people of Otaru, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018.

As Honten means headquarters, main branch or flagship store, Le TAO Otaru boasts of three levels of cheesecake goodness, with the shop on the first level, cafe on the second and observatory deck on the third. Although we were only able to admire it from the outside due to the massive crowd present at the time, we were able to try their famous Double Fromage Cheesecake at the New Chitose Airport.

Otaru is a very romantic place, indeed.

SAPPORO WHITE ILLUMINATION

Although most of the magnificent light shows ended on the day we arrived, we were still able to catch some illumination shows. My favorite was the one at the Sapporo Station south exit station square . A huge Christmas tree was brightly lit and flashing lights with music reflected on the walls of Daimaru’s exterior. It is a great experience especially for little kids. Here are some of the shows we missed:

1.Odori Park
2.Sapporo Ekimae-dori
3. Minami 1jo-dori
4. Sapporo Kita 3-Jo Plaza “AKAPLA”

While winter illumination events are now held all over Japan, it was in Sapporo that the tradition originated in 1981.

Sapporo Station South Exit Station Square

THOMAS STATION

Located at the 9th floor of ESTA in JR Sapporo Station, this is a happy place for kids under 6 years old. From the train ride, bouncy house and ball pool, the railway toys and the overwhelming Thomas and Friends merchandise, you could easily spend at least 2 hours of fun and maybe a (couple or more) thousand JPY worth of goods. 😉

Thomas at Thomas Station

PECHE GRAND

is a little patisserie, café and wine bar located on the Red Brick Plaza – a beautiful tree lined road that leads to the Old Hokkaido Government Building. The pretty interiors match the fancy and quality French desserts to complement their fresh brews. There is nothing like sipping hot coffee and savoring a slice of that soft and luxurious strawberry gateau while watching the fluffy snow fall on the fairy dust-covered roads.

I ordered this cake set for JPY 1,100 ( 2 cakes and 1 drink)

FUKUBUKURO

This Japanese New Year custom epitomizes the real meaning of the phrase “shop ’til you drop”. We went to the mall at 9:00 am with high spirits and left at 8:00 pm with aching bodies.

A combination of two Japanese words, fuku, which means ‘good luck’ and bukuro, which means ‘bag’, Fukuburo is a lucky mystery bag filled with random stuff, sold by retailers on January 1 at lower prices. Malls could get crazy packed on this day. I highly recommend leaving your babies or young kids in the hotel if you want to keep your sanity. For more information on this event, read my dedicated post here.

Crazy queue! But, since this is Japan, everything was efficient.
Worth the wait! This little bakery too was cramped! but we were happy we waited as this boulangerie and cafe serves really good breads and pastries for affordable prices!

HOSHINO RESORTS TOMAMU

A ski resort located at Naka-Tomamu Shimukappu Yufutsu Hokkaido, this is a 2-hour train ride or 1. 5- hour private ride (add 1 hour if the roads are heavily covered in snow) from Sapporo. We hired a bus for the entire family to comfortably get there. We had so much fun despite the freezing temperature. Even if you don’t or can’t ski, there are many activities for everyone, including babies. More on this fun trip here.

On the way to the Unkai Gondola Ride

NEW YEAR’S DAY LUNCH AT MERCURE SAPPORO

On New Year’s day, we all gathered at Bordeaux Restaurant for thanksgiving lunch. This is Mercure Sapporo’s French buffet restaurant. This is a really special family lunch because it culminated our Christmas vacation , that which is a gift to all of us from mom and dad, and, it served as a prelude to mom’s 70th birthday on January 3rd.

Everything on the buffet spread was delicious. From the starters to the desserts, I enjoyed every bit. Indeed, it was a celebration meal.

Some of the places we went to but not featured here are: Sapporo Beer Museum, Nishiki Market, Ishiya Chocolate Factory and New Chitose Airport. I will write about these spots separately.

Two days after celebrating the new year, we flew back home with cold hands, warm hearts, full bellies and even fuller smiles as we once again filled our memory banks to the brim.

ありがとうございました !
(arigatou gozaimashita!)

Traveling with a Baby on a Winter to Japan

When Thomas was 8-months old, we flew out of the country with him for the first time. It was almost a year’s worth of planning because we booked the trip when I was still a few months into my pregnancy. But seriously, coming from a tropical country, I felt that I still was not prepared enough to bring an infant to the -20 C winter wonderland that is Hokkaido. I was anxious for months about how to keep him warm, how to feed him, what medicines to bring, etc. I did an extensive research by talking to his doctor, to other parents and by reading other blogs. Thankfully, I was able to come up with a plan that fortunately worked. The key is ORGANIZATION. So to cut the story short, I packed his clothes and essentials two months before the trip and made sure to be as organized as I can be as he and I shared one 20kg luggage for the entire 10-day trip. Below are some tips that you might find useful if you are traveling soon with a baby during the cold months.

CLOTHES

Shop for clothes and shoes at least two months before the trip to ensure the correct size .(babies grow so fast it hurts!) I highly recommend buying bigger sizes to allow room for layers. Proper layering is so important because babies could easily freeze or overheat if not done correctly. A good rule of thumb is that a baby, especially an infant, needs one more layer of clothing than you do. If you are baby-wearing, you (your body) count as another layer so be mindful of that as well. Remember to remove hats, mittens and sometimes footwear and jackets when indoors as it could get really warm inside trains, taxis, malls, etc. There were times when Thomas was just in his base layer sans shoes and socks because it was too hot inside the mall. They said that an ideal room temperature for a baby is 16 to 20 degrees Celsius so keep that in mind too. Here is a list of his winter clothes and where we got them.

  1. Base layer – Heat Tech leggings and long-sleeved top (Uniqlo)- must be snug fit to allow the technology to work.
  2. Second layer – fleece onesie footie pajamas (Carter’s) OR non-fleece (Mother care) OR fleece or wool separates / cotton separates if wearing fleece as third layer. (H&M)
  3. Third layer – cable knit sweater (H&M) , pants (H&M)
  4. Fourth layer – Ultra light-weight jacket (Uniqlo)
  5. Fifth layer – heat tech socks (Uniqlo) , Hats (H&M and Uniqlo), Mittens (H&M)
  6. Extras -Shoes (H&M), Fleece blanket that I clipped on the carrier (Uniqlo), Fleece-lined water repellent, wind-proof jacket (Carter’s)

Remember to check the temperature and weather first before layering your baby. We were only able to use all the layers above in Tomamu where it was – 20 C. In Sapporo, where it was averaging from 0 C to 7 C, Thomas was mostly wearing four layers with socks and shoes. He seemed to enjoy the cold as he didn’t like to wear a hat and mittens most of the time. So, always remember to check the baby’s comfort first before piling on those clothes.

I packed my baby’s outfits by creating a daily ensemble, neatly placing them in ziplock bags and labeling each bag with dates and expected temperature for each date. So, that was a total of 10 sets with 1 bag each for the extras – socks, mittens, base layers, hats. (always bring extra mittens in case your baby is a finger biter. ) This way, I was able to save a lot of space in my luggage!

FOOD

Thomas was formula- fed at 8 months. Here are the essentials we brought and some tips to make formula feeding easier. In our hand- carry, we brought eight Pigeon bottles filled with water and 8 packs of milk stored in a disposable formula bag. The rest of the milk ( 4x 1.8kg) were in the checked- in luggage. Don’t worry about airport security issues on water allowance. Just firmly say that it is for the baby and you will be allowed to go through.

  1. Mother -K Powdered Milk Storage Bags ( Baby Company) – this is so convenient as it lessens the bulk in the baby bag.
  2. Milton Sterilizing Tablets
  3. Pigeon Baby Water ( Available in most drugstores in Japan). Although their tap water is generally safe – just make sure to boil it.
  4. Solid Food – we brought rice crackers and puffs but we also bought in the supermarket in Sapporo. The restaurants are generally baby-friendly with options in the menu and cutlery fit for babies.

For breastfeeding moms, most changing rooms are equipped with chairs, albeit narrow if you want privacy. Breastfeeding in public is okay, I think as long as you’re wearing a nursing cover. Breastfeeding in trains is not a practice. I saw moms step out of the trains and fed their babies in the station. Their malls have nursing stations with comfortable chairs and baby caddies in case you need to pee and there’s no one to hold the baby for you. So convenient!

STROLLER OR CARRIER?

Since we went to a ski resort (Hoshino Resorts, Tomamu), we thought it best to use the carrier. Aside from the fact that it is hard to push a stroller on ice and snow, it is easier to keep track of baby’s temperature when he or she is just a sniff away. We used Ergo Baby Adapt on this trip.

MEDICINE BAG

Two weeks before our trip, we visited our pediatrician to ask for prescription medicines in case of emergency. It is best to see your doctor to ensure the correct dosage. Below is the list of medicines our pedia recommended we bring.

  1. Antihistamine
  2. Antibiotics (Suspension)
  3. Paracetamol Drops
  4. Nasal Decongestant Drops( for colds)
  5. Cough Medicine

and here are the things I included in our first -aid kit:

  1. Fora non-contact thermometer – this was in my pocket the whole time! I used this to check his temperature ( must not go below 36.5 C or above 37 C) and the room temperature ( between 68 and 72 degrees F is a good range in winter). When the room is too hot, research has shown that it can increase your baby’s risk of SIDS; when it’s too cold, baby can easily become uncomfortably chilly and wake up unnecessarily. Again, it is best to discuss this with your doctor to be guided accordingly.
  2. Saline solution – baby’s nose could get clogged due to the cold weather so this is quite handy.
  3. Chest rub – I brought Mustela Soothing Chest Rub for his chest and Vicks Baby Rub for his feet 🙂
  4. Aveeno Eczema Lotion – for his atopic skin
  5. Mustela Cleansing Water
  6. Mustela Cold Cream Stick – for his cheeks and lips
  7. Betadine ( the yellow one)
  8. Band-Aid strips

ADDITIONAL TIPS

During the flight, Thomas was just in his heat tech base layer. His second layer, jacket, hat, mittens and socks were in the hand-carry. Upon arrival at the airport, we changed him into full winter clothes . Changing rooms are available in most (or probably all?) airports in Japan.


Strollers are available in most malls and department stores, to be used inside for free.

Japan is generally a baby- friendly country with clean baby- changing facilities available in almost all public areas. But unlike the Philippines, or other countries (we have been to), baby essentials like formula milk, sterilizing tablets, diapers and baby water are mostly found in drugstores and rarely in groceries or convenience stores.

When traveling to a ski resort, make sure you’re all- packed for the trip as baby products are rarely available (in Tomamu – NONE AT ALL) in these places.

Bring a foldable umbrella or buy in convenience stores in case of heavy snowfall.

Don’t bring too many diapers! Save luggage space and just pack enough until you can go to a drugstore and buy more. We bought the brand Moony. It was a tad more expensive than our usual brand but it was super absorbent that we did not change as often as we normally would. It was worth it.

So, that’s about it for this post. If you think I missed an important detail or if you have other travel-with-a-baby concerns you wish to discuss, let me know in the comments section! Enjoy your trip and learn as much as you can along the way!

To read about our Christmas experience in Hokkaido, click here.

Sending you good energy,

Samantha