Sapporo, Japan: Chocolate Fantasy at Shiroi Koibito Park

If you have looked for sweets as a souvenir in Japan or have received them as a gift from someone who has been there, you might have heard of, seen, or even tasted Shiroi Koibito by Ishiya Chocolate Factory. Meaning “white lover” in Japanese and inspired by a walk on a snowy day in Hokkaido, the aptly named butter langues de chat have decadent white chocolate-flavored filling in between and beautiful packaging featuring snowflake patterns and Hokkaido’s snowcapped mountain. Originally the most popular souvenir in this coldest region of Japan, Shiroi Koibito is so beloved that it has become available at a few major airports around the country and established itself as the second bestselling souvenir nationwide. As a big fan of chocolate, I must say that Shiroi Koibito is no. 1 Japanese chocolate for me (a tie with Royce) and one of the top five among all the chocolate I have had in my life.

While the taste of something delicious usually melts away too quickly for our liking, there is a way for us to extend that fleeting moment of happiness for a bit. At Shiroi Koibito Park in Sapporo, Hokkaido, we can experience more than tasting the famous white chocolate biscuits. Albeit not super big, this chocolate entertainment park offers a wide range of chocolate delights and other sweets and merchandise produced by Ishiya that aren’t available elsewhere, as well as fantastical decorations and colorful seasonal flowers.

And one of the greatest things of all: many areas in Shiroi Koibito Park are free to enter.

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Nagoya, Japan: Life Goes On (And Under, and Over the Ground)

In major Japanese cities, urban life isn’t just about what we see on the ground. The undergrounds and the sky-high buildings are just as happening.

Japan isn’t the only place in the world where the urban environments are characterized by well-utilized underground space and eye-catching skyscrapers. Still, I find many Japanese underground passages and high-rises interesting and I think we can’t talk about big Japanese cities without mentioning them.

To explore some aspects of these Japanese urban environments, come with me to Nagoya Station, locally known as Meieki. There is much to discover under, inside, around, and above this biggest train station complex in the world.

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Mino, Japan: Railway to the Lights

With how reliable, convenient, and well-connected trains in Japan are, vacations and even staycations in the countryside from major cities are pretty much effortless.

While living in the Chubu region’s center of Nagoya, I had many chances to make easy day trips to charming small towns around Chubu. One of the most memorable experience for me has to be how I managed to jump onto a train ride after my morning class, visit the traditional merchant town of Mino in the countryside with an atmospheric paper lantern festival, and come back to Nagoya on the same day.

Frankly, I would recommend spending a whole day or even staying overnight in Mino for a vacation in that area, but considering how busy I was with my thesis at the time, I was thankful it was possible to set aside some time at all for a pick-me-up staycation. Even the train ride in the area is in and of itself an interesting experience.

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Nagoya, Japan: Hopping Through the Seasons at Miwa Shrine

Find one shrine, get infinite floral art free.

While it isn’t unusual for Shinto shrines to be decorated with some flowers, Miwa Jinja Shrine in Nagoya has to be one of the most creative and generous. There is something new to discover every month and adding in the shrine’s interesting connection with rabbits, relationships, and happiness, it has become one of my most favorite finds in Japan.

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Hakodate, Japan: Twinkle, Twinkle, Big Port City

As the third largest city in Hokkaido with twinkling panoramic night view regarded as the best in Japan and one of the top three in the world, Hakodate already has what it takes to become a big star among travelers.

And as beloved as Hakodate night is, Hakodate actually shines both in the night and in the day. This oldest international port city on Hokkaido comes highly recommended in travel guides for its lively waterfront and hill lined with Western-influenced buildings. That said, Hakodate retains the chill atmosphere like most places in Hokkaido and getting to and around the city is easy.

From sunrise to after sunset, there are plenty of things to do and see in Hakodate. I had to start my city walk around noon though, so I didn’t have enough time to try fresh seafood at Hakodate Morning Market and trace the Boshin War history at the star-shaped Goryokaku Fort. Sunshower and rain also came and go throughout the day, but let’s see the scenes I have managed to capture in this charming city.

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