After 4 days and 3 nights in the saudade of Tokyo, a city that actually lived up and dare I say, exceeded expectations (even though travel never is supposed to go your way, every now and then with rare exceptions like in Tokyo, it sometimes does), some of us had to move on. Saying goodbye to Shayra, Kelly, as well as the friends we made along the way, the rest of the gang headed to Narita Airport for our 3pm Spring Airlines flight to Sapporo.
Narita Airport is far far outside Tokyo, especially if you’re trying to get to Terminal 3 (which requires an extra shuttle bus, or in my case, a 1.5km sprint which took care of my cardio for the rest of the week), so the wisest way is to give yourself at least an hour and a half to get there.
Luckily for us, check-in closed only 35 minutes before departure so we were able to rush just in time to get our tickets, check our bags in, and even scan them through security. The upside is that we were even personally escorted by the airline staff to the gate to ensure we’d make it to our flight on time. It kind of reminded me of the time we tried to make it to our flight to Auckland 7 months ago, except this time the only thing I was missing was a wisecracking negative-nancy Uber driver who would keep telling us we wouldn’t make it…until we met a crazy bus driver after landing in Sapporo (more on that later).
After landing at CTS airport at 4:45pm, we quickly reclaimed our bags at baggage claims and boarded 1030¥ Bus 22 waiting outside to take us to our lodgings in the Susukino area of central Sapporo. The drive took about an hour and half due to traffic, but it was made somewhat amusing by our sassy bus driver who kept yelling at his passengers for small infractions (like not moving their bags) the first half of the ride.
We arrived into the Susukino area of Sapporo at 7pm, checking into our lodgings at Grids Sapporo a few minutes later around the corner.
Although Susukino is the ideal place to stay as you’re literally in the middle of the largest entertainment district north of Tokyo, it also used to be known (or still is) as a Yakuza-run red light district. If that’s the case still, this has got to be the most sanitized red light district I have ever seen.
The first order of business, however, was to ensure that Donna could make the most out of her last night of her trip! So we changed the itinerary around and decided to head to Mount Moiwa for views over Sapporo.
To get there requires some coordinated effort. First you have to take the Sapporo Shiden tramcar south 10 stops to the Denshajigyosho-Mae Station.
Then you can either walk 8 minutes uphill to the ropeway station or take a free shuttle bus that departs across the street from the Higashihonganji-Mae Station. It leaves every 15 minutes.
Once you get up to the Ropeway Station, head up a floor to buy your tickets. You can ride the ropeway and hike up for free or go all fancy and take the roundtrip ropeway + cable car.
The ropeway car is truly stunning as they turn off all the lights and you start to see what makes this a worthwhile journey in the evening.
If you choose to do the cable car afterwards, it’s another line and short wait.
Once the cable car (or your hike) makes it all the way to the top, there’s another extensive climb involving a few flights before you’ve truly made it.
Apparently this is one of the rare few vistas where the recommendations encourage folks to go after sunset and not before. And we can see why.
When I first stepped outside and saw the view, my breath was literally taken away. Maybe it was the wind.
After lingering here for up to an hour just taking it all in and listening to some choice background music I picked, Donna and I headed back into the city center of Sapporo, hopping on the last cable car to depart at 9:50pm.
Once returning to the Susukino area, we first swung by the official geographic center of Sapporo, the JR Tower. Although it’s not much to look at from the outside, it’s actually taller than the Sapporo TV Tower if you want those better views.
Round the corner is the Sapporo Clock Tower, officially designated “third most overrated sight in Japan.”
Unfortunately for us, we got a renovation effort that began on May 31 until November:
Then on our way to the TV Tower, we strolled through the 1.5km long Odori Park, which is actually 12 small separate square block parks stretching over 13 consecutive city blocks.
Odori Park eventually ends at the Sapporo TV Tower, which is a carbon copy effort of the Tokyo Tower and the Eiffel Tower.
After a few minutes here, we strolled back to the late-night eating area of Susukino and kicked back over some fugu (puffer fish) and other late night munchies for a few hours.
Now as I’m blogging here at 3am in the morning, I just felt the ground rumble just a tad bit and it would just occur to me that what I felt was probably an aftershock, given that horrible earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 had just struck Sapporo just 11 days ago. Nevertheless, after walking around the city a few hours here today and you really can’t tell since Japan has done a tremendous job recovering both from its worst typhoon in 25 years as well as one of its worst earthquakes since 2016. I just hope that the worst is over.
Edit: Just confirmed, whatever I just felt was a legit 4.8 magnitude earthquake!
The next morning, my senses still intact after eating a puffer fish and sleeping through an earthquake, the few of us left inquired into the possibility of visiting the Sapporo Beer Museum and Beergarden, which I was informed not to spend too long there as it’s not very big and everything is printed in Japanese, but alas it was closed due to the fact we arrived on a national holiday. Although I’m no longer much of a beer drinker, for 300-500¥ you can get a few tastings of all their beer if you want.
After that it was a free day for the rest of us! So I headed back to the hostel check into my flight after as well as study for my upcoming boards. After a month of travel, it’s time that I buckle down and be a doctor again.
What To Eat In Sapporo
Not native essentially to Sapporo, but this is where I had my first puffer fish, one of the most poisonous vertebrates in the world. It’s been over 6 hours and I’m still doing okay:
This eel was tremendous:
Hairy Crab (alive!)
King Crab and Snow Crab Shabu Shabu
King Crab Sandwiches from Saera (thank you Angela!)
Ramen Yokocho (an alleyway full of ramen shops!)
…and that’s it y’all. Peace out ’til the next monsoon.
Flying United Polaris Business/First Class (2-2-2),
From Tokyo To Denver
After a month of traveling and as my feeble 31-year-old bones needed a break, I decided to opt in for a 60,000 mile (discounted from 70,000 miles) transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards to United.com for a flight itinerary that included a free ANA economy class flight from Sapporo to Tokyo, a free United Polars Business/First class flight from Tokyo to Denver, and then a free United economy class flight from Denver back to NYC.
Since only one of those legs was a business/first class and I was initially on an economy class flight, I technically was not supposed have access to any of ANA’s swanky business class lounges until getting to Tokyo. However, I was still able to sweet talk my way into the ANA business class lounge in Sapporo by flashing them my business class ticket from Tokyo to Denver. After a few clicks in the computer, they let me through!
Following an uneventful flight from Sapporo to Tokyo, I then checked out ANA’s Business Class Lounge at Narita Airport. They even have their own noodle shop inside!
Then I was ready for the main event. I took the separate boarding gate to my United Polaris Business/First seat.
Unlike the cramped the 2-3-2 (2 seats in the wings and 3 seats in the center) Polaris configuration I had experienced 9 months ago when returning from Tokyo to NYC and 6 months ago when returning from Amsterdam to NYC, this flight boasted a much spacier 2-2-2 configuration. However, it was still not the ideal 1-2-1 Polaris configuration that United is currently trying to upgrade their flights for.
An enormous amount of Saks 5th Avenue bedding awaits you on the Polaris product:
The amenities kit they provide now comes in a hard tin case instead of a soft bag that I got 9 months ago. The contents are the same: eye mask, socks, ear plugs, toothbrush, toothpaste, a pen, and a trio of Cowshed products including hand cream and lip balm.
And with a champagne to start things off, we took off on time!
The meal has much improved since the one I had 9 months ago with a separate Japanese selection everyone was trying to go for.
Zensai – Meatloaf with eggplant, grilled shimeji mushroom, chrysanthemum flower jelly, sesame tofu, ginkgo nuts
Sakizuke – Grilled salmon, abalone, endive, wasabi, chrysanthemum flower, Japanese ginger julienne, hoshisho, shisho
Kobachi – Turnip stuffed with seafood, grilled yam, wheat starch with dashi, mini asparagus, egg-vinegar sauce
The entreé was a yellowtail teriyaki with simmered daikon and carrot, brandy chestnut, served with rice, miso soup, and pickled vegetables
Dessert – international cheese assortment, signature sundae, brownies, and filled japanese mochi
In the middle of the flight while I was studying, the staff even cooked me up a grilled cheese sandwich and heated up a warm minestrone soup.
For breakfast, we were served a seasoned mackerel with yuzu sauce, tawara rice, taro, seasonal vegetables, and fruit.
We landed on time after 10 hours in the air, where I was lucky to be in the front of the line for my passport to be stamped back into the United States. The fact I still did Global Entry may have been overkill.
Then using the same strategy as I had did earlier in Sapporo, I sweet-talked and convinced the United Club at Denver International Airport to give me access to their lounge even though my onward transfer flight to NYC was in economy class (I was initially denied). After making the case that I had just flown in on a Polaris Business/First product, they typed in a few buttons on the computer and I was in!
After a 3 hour layover in the lounge, my onward economy class flight from Denver to NYC was nothing special other than it was delayed by an hour. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.
- At time of posting in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, it was 20 °C - Humidity: 92% | Wind Speed: 4km/hr | Cloud Cover: n/a