From Mountains to Beaches – Hotel Gracery and Sapporo

Apparently the Daiichi Hotel Suizantei has a free shuttle bus departing from the hotel at around 10am which was delayed to 10:30 due to the snow. This puts our arrival into Sapporo at about 12 noon. The bus dropped us off at the JR Sapporo station to make up for the delays and it was easy enough to find the Hotel Gracery since it is located just opposite and can be reached via the network of underground passageways linking the station with the nearby buildings.

JR Sapporo Station and Tower
JR Sapporo Station and Tower

The lobby of the hotel is located at the upper floors of the building and we had to access it via elevators from the basement that is linked directly to the hotel building. The lobby is pretty small but it has a small lounge beside it that provides complimentary coffee and tea for guests. There is also a small convenience store selling Royce chocolates and other Sapporo foodstuffs. The downside to the hotel was the concierge who wasn’t too well-versed in English and nor were they able to recommend places of interest in Sapporo.

Bathroom in Executive Single Room
Bathroom in Executive Single Room

I booked an Executive Single Room as photos provided by the hotel showed the rooms to be somewhat small and cramped. Thus I decided to pay slightly more for the larger rooms. Perhaps I booked quite late as I wasn’t certain of my itinerary at the time. The room was up to my expectations though with a clean and modern bathroom on the right upon entering. The shower was built over the bathtub like those mid-tier hotels in the United States. What was interesting was the open air clothes hanger and the lack of a closet which made the room appear more spacious. There was a queen bed and a lounge chair with a massage function at the corner.

Executive Single Room
Executive Single Room

With regards to the hotel, it wasn’t the cheapest but was perhaps the smallest of the hotels I stayed in during my trip to Japan. The location of the hotel, though was one of the best since it was very convenient to get to the rest of Sapporo. However as we were there on New Year’s eve much of the shops were closed earlier than usual and many places were not open. However I did get to experience the festive cheer as families crowd the Daimaru and Esta shopping arcade in the JR Sapporo buying last minute groceries and foodstuffs for the family reunion. The scene reminded me of the atmosphere one sees during Chinese New Year in South-East Asia. The first day in Sapporo was spent browsing for food in the vast JR Sapporo network of shops, cafes and department stores. There is even a ramen street referred to as Sapporo Ramen Republic, a section on the 10th floor of the Esta Department Store that houses some of the best ramen stores in Hokkaido. This is highly recommended for fans of ramen, the value-for-money meal in Japan one can buy!

Sapporo Ramen Republic
Sapporo Ramen Republic

For the second day in Sapporo, we started the day with breakfast at Mos Burger and proceeded to explore what Sapporo has to offer to travellers. However, with temperatures below 0 degree celcius, we opted for indoor places of interest, and thus chose to visit Susukino すすきの, which is the entertainment district of Sapporo. Supposedly this area would be busy on a normal night but as it was New Year’s eve, this place was more quiet than usual and maybe 50% of the stores are closed. Being an entertainment district, pachinko parlours can be found in nearly every corner of the block in this area, and two of my friends decided to spend some money experiencing the favourite leisure activity of many Japanese. The pachinko parlour we headed to was located in Tanuki Koji 札幌狸小路商店街, a pedestrian shopping arcade that can be accessed between the Susukino and Odori 大通 subway station.

Tanuki Koji Shopping Arcade
Tanuki Koji Shopping Arcade

After the walkabout in the morning which consisted of a second breakfast in a coffee shop around Tanuki Koji, we headed to have Ippudo ramen for lunch. Ippudo ramen is one of the famous chain of ramen restaurants (2 other famous ones being Ichiran and Santouka), and they do have branches in Hong Kong and Singapore. However, having tasted the one in Sapporo, I have to say it is worth it to head to Japan for this ramen, as the taste was different, even though I couldn’t fathom where it tasted differently.

Susukino in the Day
Susukino in the Day

One of Ippudo’s signature ramen dish is the one in the red bowl and on the table are a variety of sauces and condiments that one can add to the ramen. Like my experience in Yoshimuraya ramen in Yokohama, it is preferable to have a taste of the soup before adding anything else in, and add the toppings to your preferences thereafter. This not only makes each ramen unique, they allow diners to create flavours to their liking!

Ippudo Ramen
Ippudo Ramen

Besides pachinko parlours and food joints, Tanuki Koji also has a wide range of shops that sells Hokkaido specialty foodstuffs and Royce chocolates is one of the best things to buy from Sapporo. The province of Hokkaido is also famous for lavender so these shops also sell pillow cases filled with lavender that is said to relax the mind and provides for a good night sleep. Since the shops will be closing as early as 6pm on New Year’s eve, we needed to rush back to JR Sapporo Station to do the grocery shopping for the evening dinner. Food bought from the supermarket are not usually the best in many countries, but the Japanese shop in supermarkets and wet markets are nearly nowhere to be seen. Add to the fact that the highest grade of Toro (tuna belly) and Wagyu (Japanese beef) can be found inside Japanese supermarket, we headed to Daimaru in JR Sapporo station. Our dinner tonight will comprise solely of food bought from the aisles in this supermarket and with no stove or pots and pans, sashimi is the way to go. Seafood in Sapporo is one of the best in Japan due to the variety and for fans of Uni (sea urchin) and Crabs, Sapporo is the main supplier of these 2 types of seafood even to Tokyo, so their prices are cheaper and fresher! The sashimi meal was truly a great way to end the last day of 2012!

Tuna, Toro and Uni
Toro and Uni in Daimaru
Uni Goodness
Uni and Hokkaido Crab for Dinner
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