Arden Garden

Started off the day at Circular Quay with the sun finally showing its face during this seemingly cold winter. I met up with friends and we had originally planned to visit Cockatoo Island via the ferry, but we had some last minute plan changes due to time constraints. Instead, we chose to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens, which was having a beautiful floral display inside. I’m not quite sure why, but it definitely made me feel as if it were springtime.

There’s this big white building that you have to pass by to enter through. It was pretty neat. It had a little floating island in the centre of it. I’m not quite sure what is the purpose of this place, but it looks pretty sick.

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There were lots of different plants and flowers inside. Good thing it wasn’t too crowded so it wasn’t too hard to walk around to observe the flora and take nice photographs.

At the end of the day, my friends and I spontaneously decided to have some nice Thai food because we were incredibly hungry after walking all day and having had no lunch. Of course, the food was super delicious albeit being super spicy.

 

Bondi to Coogee

Toward the end of my break, my friend and I met up to do Sydney’s famous coastal walk between Bondi Beach and Coogee Beach. It was my first time ever trying the coastal walk, and it wasn’t as long as I thought it would be. But then again, I did have great company with me to keep me distracted from the far distance. We started the day off with brunch at a cute little café at North Bondi called Speedos Café. When we arrived it was super packed and we almost went to find another place to eat at instead, but luckily there was one spare table left. It had quite an interesting array of Aussie-style breakfast foods and the best part of it was that it catered to all eaters, whether you were vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free etc.

126 Ramsgate Ave, North Bondi NSW 2026 | Speedos Café

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Soft braised pulled lamb and quinoa bowl with smoked almonds, green peas, pomegranate, roquette, labne and mint.

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Caramelised banana and chia vegan pancakes with poached berries, fig, pistachio crumble, and maple syrup.

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Starting off the coastal walk at Bondi Beach.

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The sky was quite clear and blue, however, the weather was very blustery and cold. Made it a bit difficult to climb the surrounding rocks and cliffs by the sea. I felt like I was going to be blown away by the strong winds.

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The best part about this coastal walk is that you’ll never get lost (unless you try). There are clear signs and maps directing visitors to the right path, and telling you what is up ahead. The walk from Bondi Beach to Clovelly and Bronte Beach was actually much shorter than I had expected. I always imagined the distance to be quite long, but the walk itself isn’t that hard because there are smooth paths laid out for you to walk on. I loved that there were so many smaller, less-crowded beaches along the way, so if you want to swim in a more quiet, private area then there are plenty to choose from. Unfortunately, the weather was imperfect on the day and my friend and I decided not to swim (despite really wanting to) because the conditions weren’t good, plus it was super cold.

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Half of the coastal walk path was under construction on the day that my friend and I decided to go on, so we had to take several detours along the way. One of them was even through a graveyard!

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Made it Coogee in about 2 hours. It actually didn’t feel that long because I guess I was distracted by catching up with my friend along the way, and also the beautiful views of Sydney that were spectacular. I would highly recommend anyone do this once at least (especially if you’re a fellow Sydneysider) and take a companion with you! It’s a great time to make conversation and there’s the plus side of getting some exercise done too.

Tsuruhashi

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On some of my days off from classes, my friend and I would go to Tsuruhashi, which is also known as Osaka’s Korea Town. It’s a long street that’s lined with lots of small Korean restaurants and lots of local stalls that sell traditional Korean ingredients, such as homemade kimchi. There are also a couple of Korean beauty and makeup stores too, which I definitely spent quite a bit of money at. It’s my first time going to a proper Korea Town as Sydney doesn’t exactly have one (not that I’m aware of). It was also my first time trying proper homemade kimchi, since this place is mostly run by Zainichi Koreans.

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First time having proper legit Korean barbeque with all homemade ingredients by the local Koreans.

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One of the fun things to do is try all the free kimchi samples that all the nice old ahjummas were happy to let you have.

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Sat down in a random café to try some smoothies and tea. Quite relaxing, but a tad overpriced.

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This shop had a whole bunch of snacks printed with random K-Pop groups on them.

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One of the funniest things my friend and I saw was a misspelt version of Tae Min’s name from SHINee on a random DVD disc.

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Along with the plethora of Korean restaurants and Korean beauty stores, are lots of K-Pop merchandise and music stores.

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Naengmyeon and Bibimbap on a hot summers day is a definite must.

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The most comfy curvy rails I’d ever found.

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At Mikunigaoka Station, they had these really weird anti-social chairs that faced away from each other. Found this pretty interesting because I’d never seen something like this in Japan before.

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Universal Studios Japan

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Having lived in Osaka for several months, I had not once visited Universal Studios Japan (USJ) at least once. So, decided to go here on the last few days of my time left in Japan. It was another definite must-visit for my friend and I, since we are both Potterheads. Who wouldn’t want to spend a day at a theme park on top of visiting home i.e. Hogwarts?

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First thing my friend and I found after we got our admission passes, was a merchandise store that had all the best Harry Potter goods. There was so much I wish I could’ve bought, but it was pretty expensive. My Hogwarts house is Slytherin and I definitely did not want to leave USJ without having gotten any kind of souvenir so I bought a small Slytherin towel that was under 1000¥. If only I could afford the full Slytherin uniform.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction site was so busy that you had to get a timed-entry ticket to enter the place during the day. It was extremely hot on this day and I felt bad for all the people who waited by the entrance gates. If you don’t like waiting, then you can go later at night where you can enter freely without a timed-entry ticket because it’s less busy closer to the closing hours. So my friend and I ended up going twice to the Harry Potter area so we could fully explore the place and go on all the rides.

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It felt so surreal and magical walking through Diagon Alley.

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In the waiting line for the Flight of the Hippogriff ride, you get to see a replica of Hagrid’s Hut. They even have his motorbike! This rollercoaster ride was a bit underwhelming though (not gonna lie). It was short and definitely designed for little kids.

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The main ride that most people are there for is the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey 4D experience, which was super duper amazing! I wasn’t expecting much from it since it was a 4D ride so I didn’t think it’d be that impressive. But boy did it exceed my expectations! It was actually amazing and I even got slightly scared of the dementors. Didn’t think they’d be that big. During the day, the estimated waiting time to get on this ride was 3 hours and I definitely didn’t want to waste precious time waiting in line. So my friend and I went back at night about an hour before USJ closed at 9pm, and the waiting line was less than 15 minutes! So lucky!

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During the day, my friend and I actually were lucky enough to have time to go on several roller coasters and rides. Went on 6 in total including the Jurassic Park ride, the 4D Dragonball Z ride, the Hollywood Dream Backdrop roller coaster, the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and the Space Fantasy roller coaster. Out of those I would highly recommend the Hollywood Dream Backdrop roller coaster, the Space Fantasy roller coaster and of course, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

Sannomiya, Kobe

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Just got off the train from Osaka. Took about two hours or more because my friend and I took the local train. Loved the local Kobe trains though because they were so unique and old-fashioned, quite different to the ones I had taken in Osaka.

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Exited the train station and immediately saw several Kobe beef restaurants. Already fallen in love with the city.

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First time ever going to Kobe! Much anticipated since last year when my friend and I decided that we would definitely need to visit Kobe at least once to try their Kobe beef. I wasn’t expecting much because I honestly had no idea what Kobe had to offer, but I really liked the layout of the city.

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A cute ‘Welcome to Kobe’ sign!

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My eye immediately caught sight of two Australian flags and a picture of Uluru on this particular building. Supposedly, there is such a thing as an Aussie bar & grill restaurant.

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Just walking around randomly, exploring the city for a bit. I seriously love how diverse this place is. There’s lots of international restaurants along with traditional Japanese ones.

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Aussie flag again.

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The first main destination of this Kobe trip was Ikuta Shrine. Ikuta Shrine is a Shinto shrine located right in the hub of the city. I decided to visit this place after some research, and discovered it is said to be one of Japan’s oldest shrines, supposedly founded in the 3rd century. How cool is that? The coolest part of this shrine though was the free entry. So it’s a definite must-see if you’re interested in visiting Kobe.

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This is the main shrine you see as you enter the premise and it’s quite vibrant in colour in comparison to other shrines that I’ve visited that have incorporated more earthy tones. There’s more to see within the area, however, I felt it was disrespectful to be taking photos inside and wanted to appreciate the serenity and calmness of the place.

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Time to finally try the holy grail of all foods. When you’re in Kobe, you might feel overwhelmed by the abundance of restaurants advertising Kobe beef, so you might find it hard to pick one good restaurant. Also, there’s a big price range between all the different restaurants. Generally, it will cost around 5000¥ to 9000¥ if you have Kobe beef at a restaurant. At a street vendor, you can try a Kobe beef skewer for about 1000¥-2000¥, which I recommend if you only just want to try the taste of it and want to save money.

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The restaurant my friend and I ate at was Steak Land, which is right outside Sannomiya Station. We heard about this restaurant through the YouTube couple Simon & Martina, who also tried their first Kobe beef steak at this restaurant. I ordered the Special Kobe Beef Steak Set and I don’t think it’s that expensive to be honest, considering I had friends who tried Kobe beef and it cost them at least 10000¥. The meat was super succulent and soft, and the chef cooked it perfectly medium-rare. It was so delicious I swear and I want to go back to have more. It was full of flavour and I highly recommend you try this at least once in your life.

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After lunch, my friend and I decided to take a detour and visit the massive Tokyu Hands that we had found on the way to Ikuta Shrine. We then spent a solid 2 hours in there of which we didn’t plan at all. Next thing you know, I walked out of the store having spent at least 20000¥ on souvenirs and stationery. I’ve visited all the main Tokyu Hands stores in both Tokyo and Osaka, and the Kobe store was by far my favourite. It had so many floors and a really big range of miscellaneous things! But because of this 2 hour detour, time passed and night fell.

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Was trying to find Nunobiki Falls, which is a waterfall located somewhere behind Shin-Kobe Station. My friend and I had no data or internet and got so lost trying to find the waterfall. It took us several hours to find it and it was more difficult considering it was dark and there were no people around. We walked up several mountain paths in the heat and even found a graveyard and a very creepy shrine place along the way. I felt like I was in some fantasy Ghibli film.

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Eventually found a random local on the mountain, who was so nice and gave us directions to the waterfall. Finally found it and it was amazing to see! Despite all the mosquito and bug bites I got, it was definitely worth all the trekking. What I found strange though was that there were absolutely no people around, despite it being a main attraction in Kobe. Maybe because it was night time and no-one wants to go hike up a mountain in the dark with no lights around.

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Cool vending machine that dispensed pancakes and waffles.

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Back to Osaka after an awesome, super fun day.

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I definitely want to come back to Kobe, not just for the beef, but to explore more of what the city offers. It has a really chill vibe that I really liked.

Shirahama, Wakayama

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Had a field trip to Wakayama and I had absolutely no clue that we would be taken to these cliffs. Coincidentally, before I had come to Japan, I spent quite some time researching and reading into some places to visit around the country, so I wrote a list of all the cities I wanted visit during my stay in Japan (if it were possible). Shirahama had caught my interest because when I was looking into the best onsen locations around the country, Shirahama was listed as the number 1 beach onsen location. So I also found out about Yoshino-Kumano National Park, which seemed like a cool place to hike or camp at. And then we got taken there! Was super happy about it.

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Yoshino-Kumano National Park was really beautiful and breathtaking. You could climb the rocks and walk around the cliff area. It was pretty safe too because the tide wasn’t as strong on this particular day, despite the slight wind and rain.

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Went to an Umeboshi Factory where we briefly learnt about Wakayama’s export and production history regarding these Japanese salt plums. Later, we got to make our own alcohol with the salted plums, which is called Umeshu. Was pretty awesome and quite simple to make. All you need is the Japanese plums, sugar and a base alcohol of your choosing. I chose to mix mine with brandy and Japanese sake.

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Checking out the souvenir store. Got lots of umeboshi flavoured snacks and souvenirs for family and friends.

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The place that I dreamed of visiting, Shirahama Beach! This was the first time I went to a beach in Japan and it wasn’t bad at all. Quite different to the local beaches I’m used to in Sydney because it wasn’t crowded and the waters were pretty still. But that was probably because it was raining and I heard it gets really crowded here during the summer. Despite that, I really loved it! They had a foot onsen right by the beach and I know there’s proper onsens further ahead that I didn’t have time to check out because I was only given 2 hours to hang around here, so there wasn’t much exploration time. It was also beginning to rain and it did get cold and windier as they day progressed. The sand, which is actually imported from Australia, was soft too. Of course, Australian sand is always awesome quality.

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Despite the overcast, rainy weather, I really enjoyed the short time we had at the beach. I definitely plan to come back here and hopefully be able to stay several days here where I get to explore more of the city.

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Kyoto

 

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Started the day having a small brekkie at a café in JR Kyoto Station consisting of French toast, salad and coffee. Then took the train to JR Inari Station. Also found a sign directing towards Fukui! I definitely plan to go back there some day.

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Made it to Fushimi Inari Shrine! It’s so incredible and you can immediately feel its beauty as soon as you walk in.

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Plan of the day was to hike up the entire mountain. I recommend taking the off beaten tracks to go up the mountain as there are lots and lots of visitors that walk through the two main paths, which is where the trail with most of the torii gates are. I found it more peaceful hiking the empty trails and you can see lots of greenery along the way. I even found a path with lots of bamboo! Something I didn’t expect to find.

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Along the way you will find lots of little fox shrines and beautiful torii gates.

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Made it to the very top! If you climb onto some rocks and tippy toe, you can catch a glimpse of a view of Kyoto (unless you’re tall and you can just stand normally). Although you will still have some trees and bush covering half the view. Before I came here, I had read online that it takes between 2-4 hours to hike up Mt. Inari, but I digress. It took my friend and I less than an hour to hike up the entire mountain!

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Now to find another road to take to go back down the mountain.

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On the way down, I also found this really beautiful Shinto shrine and a small lake amongst the residences at the base of the mountain.

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Had dinner at a nice traditional Japanese restaurant at the top of JR Kyoto Station. Nothing better than a warm bowl of ramen on a chilly day. It was an awesome day exploring Fushimi Inari Shrine and I would definitely come back to Kyoto the next time I come to Japan to explore the other parts of the city.

Tokyo

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Leaving Sapporo, heading back to Tokyo for a couple of days. Sad to be leaving Sapporo because I had such an amazing time there and fell in love with the city. I’ll definitely be back the next time I travel back to Japan. But excited to visit Tokyo again! It’s been 2 years since I first visited Tokyo with the JENESYS Gang. It’s also the first time I flew with Jetstar Japan.

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Made it safely to Narita Airport! My first meal in Tokyo was a small bowl of kitsune udon. Sat around in the food court having a rest because my check-in time to my apartment wasn’t until later in the afternoon at 3pm.

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First trip to Harajuku. Never went the first time I travelled to Tokyo and was thrilled and excited to do some shopping here. My brother gave me a list of recommendations of vintage thrift stores, and I loved the great selection of clothing they had here! Definitely fell in love with young Japanese fashion after visiting this place. Although some people may dislike this place for being quite crowded and a tourist location, I still thoroughly enjoyed the area because there were so many hidden streets to explore. It was also the first time I visited a popular fashion store called WEGO, which has become my favourite fashion store to shop at in Japan.

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Also one of my favourite stores was a multi-levelled store called Kiddyland, which had a massive collection of toys, stationery, collectibles and merchandise. Every floor had a different section dedicated to famous brands such as Disney, Snoopy, Star Wars, Studio Ghibli, Moomin etc. I would highly recommend this place if you’re looking to find some unique souvenirs. I also managed to get myself a Calcifer spatula here, so they have a large array of awesome goods.

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Some snacks from the Family Mart that was right by my apartment, including ramen, curry bread, sushi and sakura mochi.

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Of course I had to revisit Shibuya where the famous scramble crossing is. This is the first place in Tokyo, where I spent the night exploring with all of the JENESYS Gang. Except this time I visited during the daytime and it was still just as beautiful. I also visited Tower Records for the first time, which I also highly recommend for any music lovers looking to buy CDs. They also sometimes have live music performances down in the basement floor, which is also cool to check out even if you don’t want to spend money buying CDs. It’s also where I found this wonderful advertisement featuring that happy chicken in the elevator.

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Close to Shinjuku Station is the Lumine EST building that has a very cute café floor. Found this awesome Asian fusion café and tried their version of Vietnamese pho. I’m usually adamant about trying Japanese-style dishes of non-Japanese cuisine, but this wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was quite delicious that my friend and I visited that same café twice in one day.

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On my second last night in Tokyo, I went to the highest floor at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building where they have a beautiful observatory. There, you can experience seeing the gorgeous landscape of Tokyo.

Sapporo, Hokkaido

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En route from Sydney to Narita, then transferring to New Chitose Airport. Spent some time perusing the book store at the airport whilst I was waiting to board my flight. Hardly any people at the airport at 6am. Managed to catch the last Aussie sunrise I would see before moving to Japan.

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Was so close to missing my flight from Tokyo to Sapporo! Had to wait ages for immigration to process and approve my new visa. Then my luggage got taken to a new location because the conveyor belt for my flight closed. Had just 30 minutes to run with my luggage to the domestic check-in area and go through customs. Made it minutes before the flight left!

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Safely arrived in Sapporo! Was welcomed by this lovely sign. Looking forward to my first trip in Hokkaido.

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Pokémon Centre in Sapporo! Not as busy as the one in Tokyo, which I quite liked.

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The Pokémon Centre in Sapporo shares the same space as an arcade. Found a Neko Atsume claw machine and a small merchandise store for some anime idol boy band.

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The back of JR Sapporo Station.

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One of the most memorable places I went to in Sapporo. The ESTA building, located adjacent to the JR Sapporo Station, was the place I spent the most time in and it’s where you will find the best miso ramen. If you go to the very top floor, there is a hidden ramen alley that hides behind all the main restaurants on the dining floor. I highly recommend you to try all the different ramen they have here, especially if you want to try one of Hokkaido’s famous specialties!

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This is the front area of JR Sapporo Station and how the ESTA building looks like in the daytime. There was slight snowfall on the first and second day I was in Sapporo.

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Found a 24/7 manga cafe about a 10 minute walk from the train station with lots of manga classics.

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More exploring around the city. Walked about 20 minutes from JR Sapporo Station.

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The Former Hokkaido Government Office Building. There’s usually some nice flowers, but the flower beds were covered in snow.

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This is Odori Park, where the famous Sapporo Snow Festival is held annually. It was so slippery walking through!

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The Sapporo TV Tower! Only managed to stay outside here for a couple of minutes because it started snowing again and was so cold.

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Because it started snowing heavily, I found a random restaurant to go inside and have lunch whilst I warmed up. This restaurant was tucked behind one of the side streets near the Sapporo TV Tower. Had a big plate of Japanese pork curry for only 500¥!

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The snow subdued so I headed towards Maruyama Park.

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Maruyama Park – home to Maruyama Zoo and the Hokkaido Shrine. The entire park was covered in snow and it was so slippery.

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A Shinto shrine on the way up towards the main shrine.

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Made it Hokkaido Shrine! Hokkaido Shrine is a Shinto shrine that enshrines the soul of Emperor Meiji. It’s also where the main festivities for the Sapporo Festival is held. Especially loved the architecture and the design. There were hardly any people around because it was freezing.

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Three Style Chashuu Miso Ramen with extra egg. Tried out another ramen restaurant in the ESTA building ramen alley.

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Tried a random restaurant in the dining floor of the ESTA building that specialised in Butadon. The menu was daunting at first because it was completely filled with kanji written in calligraphy. Somehow managed to order a nice meal. The bowl of butadon that I had was mixed with egg and had a somewhat sweet sauce. It tasted great at the time, but unfortunately it gave me food poisoning later that night and it caused me to throw up the entire thing back at the Airbnb apartment I was staying at.

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On one of the last nights in Sapporo, I decided to check out Susukino, which is Hokkaido’s red-light district. It’s one of the four main “entertainment” districts in Japan. It was my first time going to any red-light district and it was quite hilarious. As soon as I exited the the train station, there was a large crowd of guys ready to pick up girls. All around the area there were bars, hotels, some restaurants here and there, and mostly adult-entertainment services. Despite how cold it was that night, it was fun to just be within such a bustling city area.