Dynasty Travels: 8D6N Colourful Hokkaido Tour, Last of Day 7 + Day 8

Sunday, 24 April 2016

If you had seen my last post, you would have realised that I missed out the last bit of Day 7's itinerary. Well, that was deliberate. Since we had the opportunity to visit an additional outlet mall just prior departure, I thought I'll combine both into a single post.
Day 7's itinerary:
Central Wholesale Market --> Ishiya White Chocolate Factory  --> Asahi Beer Factory  --> Mitsui Factory Outlet
Day 8's itinerary:
Rera Outlet Mall --> Chitose Airport
Yup. Unfortunately, that's about the only picture I took of the Mitsui Outlet Mall. Let's just say that I was hit hard by the shopping bug and forgot all about everything else.
At least, while at Rera Outlet Mall, I snapped a couple more with the mobile phone. Heh. By then, I had one round of shopping at Mitsui, so I guess the shopping bug was tamed a bit.
So anyway, one of the reason for combining the outlet malls into a post: There's really only so much you can write about malls and shopping. Besides, the brands I like or buy from, may not be what you as a reader would be interested in.
But really, the main reason is because my strategy for overseas (ok, maybe just limited to Japan)outlet shopping  is pretty much similar not matter where I go, and I thought I'll write about that in this post.
So, once you know which outlet mall you're headed for in Hokkaido, the very first thing you should be doing as part of your homework, is to go and google for the mall's website. The website is a treasure trove of information and here's what you should be looking out for to facilitate your shopping spree:
1) Directory of brands / shops available at the outlet mall, and where they are located in the mall.
This is especially useful if you have only a limited time allocated for shopping. Once you know which brands are available, you can prioritize which shops you want to head to first, which ones you would like to spend more time in.
As the Mitsui Outlet Mall was super huge and had 2 towers, you can imagine how important it was for us to know what we wanted to buy in the 2 hours that was given to us. Yup, 2 hours. Man... I'm telling you, I could easily spend an entire day in there,
I printed out a map of the Mitsui Outlet Mall prior departure as a backup but you can always pick up a map from both malls when you get there.
2) Occasionally, the websites features special events, promotions and even discount codes. Well, like I said, good to check things out before you go. You'll never know which coupons or codes might come in handy.
Once at the outlet malls, ask your tour guide or head to the reception/information counter for the coupon booklet, like the one in my photo above. This is common at the outlet malls. The coupon booklet lets you know which are the participating outlets and the conditions for use of these discount coupons. Once you have these on hand, SHOP ON! The savings from these coupons can be quite substantial when added up!
For those who enjoy shopping and shopaholics, my advice is to set aside at least a few hours or half a day at the outlet malls. If you do not have the luxury of time, then too bad, it's got to be a "divide and conquer" strategy. Both malls have food courts within their premises (and the food is way better than our Japanese stalls in Kopitiam) so you can also settle one of your meals before or after your shopping.
For those who enjoy supermarket shopping when overseas (one of my favourite thing to do when on a trip), you will be pleased to find out that the supermarket within Mitsui Outlet Mall stocks up on local farm produce as well!
Both outlet malls had free wifi available as well as coin lockers in case you need to store your stuff while you shop. They also accept all major credit cards so no worries there. Hmmm... or maybe you should lock your cards away.
My parents and I had a great time shopping. My mom hauled back a Coach bag and wallet while I got myself a Fossil bag (on an awesome bargain) which has since become one of my favourite work bags. We also bought some clothes from Gap, and sandals from Hush Puppies. My dad had wanted a pair of shoes from Hush Puppies too but they were out of his size. We also bought back sports wear from Addidas and Nike for the brother back home. But I was supremely disappointed to find out that the G-Shock and Baby G watches were at about the same prices when compared to Singapore! I also didn't have enough time to try on the Levis. Otherwise, it was a really great haul considering we only had 2 hours in Mitsui Outlet and another hour and a half at Rera Outlet. And that's including meals at both malls too!
An additional note:
Rera Outlet is really close to Chitose Airport. There's even a shuttle bus to and fro the airport and mall, so you can include it into your itinerary immediately after arrival or just before departure. Well, just make sure you have the time and energy. I personally know of a friend who visits Hokkaido pretty regularly. She and her family would hit Rera Outlet immediately after arrival just to get additional winter gear (at way cheaper prices than Sg) for their trip. A pretty good idea for the future winter Hokkaido trip I'm planning myself. Just make sure you already have the basics so you won't freeze getting there to Rera!
Tourist Information:
Mitsui Outlet Mall
Address: 3-7-6 Omagari Saiwai-cho, Kitahiroshima City, Hokkaido
DID: 011-377-3200
Opening Hours: 10 am to 8 pm. Restaurants and the food court close an hour later at 9 pm, but the last order timing would vary according to shops.
Check the website for days when the mall would be closed.
Rera Outlet Mall
Address: 066-8765 1-2-1, Kashiwadaiminami, Chitose-shi, Hokkaido
DID: 0123-42-3000
Opening Hours: 10 am to 8 pm. Some restaurants open at 11 am. Mall's opening hours may also vary with season.
Otherwise it is open all year round.

Dynasty Travels: 8D6N Colourful Hokkaido Tour, Day 7 (Part 2)

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Here's the unfortunate thing. It would appear that as days (while on tour) went by, the number of photos that I took, got lesser and lesser. By the time I hit Day 7, let's just say I had major camera fatigue. Also, Day 7 was the one day in our entire Hokkaido trip where it rained. Gloomy skies and rain, hence the reluctance to also bring the camera out. Although, having said that, we were indoors for most of Day 7. Yup, it was just an excuse.
No matter what it was, the lack of photos obviously does not bode well for a blogger. We'll get by for the next couple of posts, but I seriously have got to remember to keep taking photos on the next trip!
Day 7's itinerary in reality:
Central Wholesale Market --> Ishiya White Chocolate Factory (白い恋人パーク) --> Asahi Beer Factory ( アサヒビール北海道工場) --> Mitsui Factory Outlet
I kind of feel that this next tourist stop on the itinerary won't need much introduction from me. Anyone who had visited Hokkaido (or any part of Japan I think) would have heard/bought or had friends request a box of the famous Shiroi Koibito chocolate cookies. Yup, it's that famous "two thin butter cookies with that layer of chocolate sandwiched in-between". The one that comes in a pale blue metal tin. This famous confectionery is not a particular favourite of mine or my family's, but I know of scores of friends and colleagues who are fans of the chocolate biscuit.
In fact, this particular confectionery is so famous, visiting the theme park would seem like a must in most tour group itineraries. Even those on free and easy tours would have made this one of their pit stops. So based on that, what you can expect at the Shiroi Koibito theme park (aka the Ishiya White Chocolate Factory)? Crowds. Crowds and crowds of tourists.
Having said that and as someone who absolutely hates crowds, I have to say, it was still pretty enjoyable. But don't say I didn't warn you.
At the entrance of the theme park, you will be presented with a "passport" as well as a token Shiroi Koibito cookie. I found the passport quite useless actually since everything was in Japanese, but the pictures inside would give you an idea what to expect while in the theme park.
Those of you who enjoy workshops would be glad to know that there is a cookie-making workshop at the Ishiya White Chocolate Factory. Ok, it was more like a cookie-decorating workshop. After you don their hygiene gear (you know, plastic aprons, hats, foot-wear and the works), they will shuffle you to the work tables where each individual has a Hokkaido-shaped cookie to decorate. You'll be given a box at the end to store your cookie and it'll even last the flight home! Ours came out of our luggage unscathed. But I suspect that's really because of my superior packing skills.
I also think this would be great as one of those parent-child bonding activities to do while on holiday. That is, if you're one for such workshops. While my parents and I participated, to be honest, I just wanted to be out of their hygiene gear asap, and instead tour the grounds and get to the food.
Yup, that's me and my parents. We prefer sights, landscapes and food.
While in the building, there are a lot of exhibits on various floors, including cake decorations, toys and even kitchen ware. Apparently the Meissen cup and saucer above was one of the most expensive exhibits around. The exhibits were kind of weird though. Apart from the cake decorations that could still fit into the overall theme, I didn't think that I'll find toys and gramophones around in a chocolate factory.
What did make sense to us, was this display of Japanese efficiency. My parents and I actually stood at the windows watching the industrious workers sort, pack and monitor the production of the famous confectionary. The only reason why I chased us off? Limited time and I wanted to get to the café, theme park grounds and souvenir shop.
Now the photo above was me being greedy and only remembering to snap a picture after a mouthful. Okay, it might have been a few mouthfuls. I honestly cannot remember. What I do remember was that the soft serve was awesome. Even in the cold, rainy weather.
And since I forgot to grab photos of the café and souvenir shop, let me just grab some pictures off the "passport" and share with you what you should be focusing on.
On the bottom right (picture above), you can actually get customised souvenirs. It's basically one of those "take your touristy photo and I'll print it on the container" thing. Of course it'll cost you though. So unless you're looking for a special photo keepsake, you can probably skip this. Especially if you are on a budget.

Those of you foodies, please note. The soft serve comes in 3 types, chocolate, white chocolate and a mixed version.
A tip: The white chocolate version is actually the same type that goes into the white chocolate cookies. You can go for the mixed if you want to try both. I always preferred the white chocolate in the cookies, I just went for the full white. No regrets.
What's less well-known (but I personally find yummier) is their canned chocolate drink. That's the one bottom of the photo above. There is a café at the top floor of the building that serves cakes and this special chocolate drink. If you have the time and opportunity, please do enjoy the chocolate drink. Let me know how the cakes fare though.
However, if you're like me, short on time and opportunities, grab a few cans of the chocolate drinks to go. This is seriously one of the best canned chocolate drink I've had. Rich and good. I've also seen it around some of the convenience stores in Hokkaido, but it doesn't always seem readily available. I couldn't get enough of them during my time there.
Another tip if you're shopping at the souvenir store. Many people just aim for the standard box of Shiroi Koibito cookies. First, if you have a tour guide, ask if they will be bringing you somewhere else where you might be able to get them cheaper. Some of the shopping streets have such stores and they are oftentimes cheaper. In addition, these stores carry other snacks/souvenirs and some even offer you boxes to pack them all up neatly. Especially if you buy quite a bit. That makes your subsequent luggage-packing a lot easier. If you don't have a tour guide, do a bit of online homework. It's not difficult to locate such stores.
However, what you should be purchasing at the souvenir shop at the Ishiya White Chocolate Factory are the non-standard items. That basically refers to anything else that is not the famous white chocolate/chocolate cookies that come in that pale blue tins. The stores that I mentioned in the paragraph above, tend to carry only the more well-known Japanese snacks. Makes sense for them to do so actually.
Of course, if you're not certain that you'll being able to hit those stores that I mentioned, then please by all means, make sure you get your share of the Shiroi Koibito cookies. I wouldn't want to be accused of making you lose your precious cargo of famous chocolate cookies.
What I am saying though is while at the souvenir shop, do take a look at the other items that are being offered by Ishiya. These are the ones that may not be readily available elsewhere. If you're not certain which ones are good (and honestly, I've forgotten which ones myself), get the assortment pack. I find the assortment pack a pretty good way to try almost everything they have to offer. Plus, they're pretty good to share around with the family and everyone gets to try everything as well!
Of course, by the time my parents and I finished our soft serves and purchased our Ishiya snacks, we had only a few minutes left to tour the grounds. Sigh. As usual. The lack of time.
What I can tell with you based on initial impressions amidst a gloomy, rainy weather, was that the kids would probably enjoy this place. There were train rides, a tree house and what looked like a playground. For the adults, there's a rose garden, which probably means Instagram-worthy pictures are likely aplenty.
Unfortunately, those were the only few photos I managed to grab before we were ushered back up on the tour bus.
Next stop, the Asahi Beer Factory. There are a few beer factories/distilleries that conduct tours, including Nikka and Suntory. It depends on what's available on the tour package or where and when you're headed if you're going on your own.
While at the Asahi Beer Factory, we were told that photos were not allowed in some parts. The tour itself was quite educational and brings you through the process of making those beers. In fact, it was then I learnt that hops was actually quite an important ingredient of the beer-making process! (And just a couple of weeks back, I read somewhere that there was a shortage in the hops harvests this year! Hopefully that doesn't affect the breweries!)
At the end of the tour, visitors will be treated to (up to) 3 glasses of Asahi beer. My dad had some and he found it pretty good, especially since he went for the best pour. However, as my mom (who's allergic) and I don't drink beer (I do take alcohol, just not beer), we were treated to their drink products. My mom opted for the apple juice which was quite sweet. For me, it was a no-brainer. I just asked for my all time favourite - a Calpis.

What fascinated me was that Asahi produces many other products, including one of my all time favourites - the Calpis series of drinks and candies! While I don't drink beer, whenever I am in Japan, I become a Calpis-aholic. Friends who travelled with me to Japan and my parents have since learnt to just buy me the Calpis drinks or the Japanese yogurt/yakult drinks whenever they are at the convenience stores.
There are even seasonal Calpis products that I always look out for whenever I head to Japan. I got the candy packet in the picture above at the Asahi Beer Factory itself. This was the hard candy version and had an additional cherry flavour as the seasonal flavour. While I couldn't find them on this particular Hokkaido trip, I actually prefer the Calpis gummies though. I usually buy the Calpis gummies whenever I hit the Daiso stores in Japan. Other things available at the Asahi Beer Factory include their beer jelly chocolate, beer cakes that come in pretty barrels, etc.
Well, if you ever head to Japan and happen to come across Calpis, just try one and let me know if you'll like it!

Dynasty Travels: 8D6N Colourful Hokkaido Tour, Day 7 (Part 1)

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Today's post is going to be a pretty short one actually. For one, I'm tied up helping my friend prepare props for her upcoming bunny photo shoot. Yup, she has several rabbits and she gets professional studio shots done for them! How amazing is that! But before I digress, another reason is also because I've been busy doing my "homework" for another trip! Hurray (for me)!

So anyway, back to this Hokkaido series, thank goodness I'm finally on Day 7. I really hope (or maybe more like have to) finish this series before the next trip!

By the time we got to Day 7, the official itinerary given by Dynasty Travels is almost moot:
Central Wholesale Market --> Hokkaido Shrine (done on Day 6) + Maruyama Park (park next to Hokkaido Shrine which we completely skipped!) --> Odori Park (done of Day 6 which obviously did not register much on me) --> Asahi Beer Factory --> Tokeidai (that's the clock tower done on Day 6) --> Mitsui Factory Outlet.

See what I meant by moot?

Which means in reality, what we had left by Day 7  to cover:
Central Wholesale Market (札幌場外市場) --> Ishiya White Chocolate Factory --> Asahi Beer Factory --> Mitsui Factory Outlet.

Unfortunately, I think the itinerary is a little mis-leading. Where we actually visited (or where you would visit) was the Curb Market or Crab Market (depending on which website you read) that's next to the Central Wholesale Market. In reality, fresh produce is delivered daily to the Central Wholesale Market but then these are sold via bidding. Products are then made available at the Curb/Crab Market once the bidding ends, and that's what's open to the public. 

The Curb/Crab Market hence is really the 60+ shops that line the 2 sides of the street. What we found in abundance were vegetables (depending on what is in season) and seafood, especially crabs! No brain-er then why Crab market became a moniker.

Given that it's 60+ shops between 2 sides of a street, it's not that huge a place. So if you want to compare prices, it's not difficult to do so. 
However, I have to say this after experiencing Japan on several trips: the Japanese price their products according to quality. So in a way, you get what you pay for. They also take quite a lot of pride in the quality of their produce. Hence, I personally do not bother to do price comparisons and I'll just pay whatever they tell me. In fact, I've also had enough encounters where the stall owners would on their own accord, extend their hospitality in ways such as a drink or a freebie or even a recipe. Admittedly, less so in the more touristy places, but it still happened enough times for me to be mightily impressed.

Another interesting fact I came to learn, the best in Japan is oftentimes also not exported. While in the Curb/Crab market, it's actually a pretty common sight to see locals purchasing produce to be sent to someone else who might even be in another prefecture. However, they stop short of shipping their goods internationally. But that doesn't stop you from carrying them home in your own luggage! Of course, you have to check your own country's restrictions as to what can be brought in! I've seen people throw away food at customs just because they failed to do that. 

Another tip if you intend to bring produce home, put the Curb/Crab Market on the last/second last day of your trip if possible. You'll want to bring back the produce you bought as fresh as possible. Some items may not last the journey home if this was one of your initial stops on your vacation. 

So, on that note, let me just give you some tips as to what are the good stuff you can bring back with you. 
Disclaimer though, I traveled in July, so some produce might be seasonal.

If you like asparagus, you can get them easily at the Curb/Crab Market. I didn't bring them home this trip but the last time I did, they were seriously awesome. 

I didn't get a picture as I was too busy devouring samples, but melons are also great to bring home for the family, especially since Japan doesn't export the quality ones. You can let the stall owner know that you intend to carry them home on the aircraft, and he'll pack it up nicely for you. We brought 2 melons home with us (mostly for the brother who didn't come along this trip), and the melons survived the plane journey unscathed. 

However, please note that the melons can ripen very quickly, which was why I mentioned earlier, that you should time your visit to the market carefully. Let the stall owner know when your flight home is. He/she should then be able to help you pick the melons accordingly. The one where we purchased our melons from refused to sell his melons to some tourists who were flying home only a week later as the melons would have rotted by then. Instead, he cut them slices to eat, free of charge! 
Love that hospitality. Absolutely love it!

Another must-buy in my opinion: corn. My luggage was getting too heavy so we only bought a few ears but another family in my tour group bought an entire carton of them. Yup, you heard (read) me right. A carton of corn ears.

Get your hands on the albino ones (that's what I called those white ones). If you don't believe me, just get one first, eat them raw on the spot. Yes, you can and in fact should eat them raw. In my mother's and my opinions, they are absolutely wasted if cooked. The local tour guide Ms Reikko backed us up on that claim too. These albino corns are to-date, the sweetest corn I have ever tasted. It was so good that when we returned to Singapore, my mother just lamented about the lack of luggage weight. 

Don't just take my words for it, go try it yourself.

Like I said, crabs are plentiful here. Plus, they're huge-assed. Seriously plus-sized. Some were even bigger than both my hands put together. They'll probably taste super yummy (since I didn't have any, I can't say for sure), but I sure as hell wouldn't want to meet these monsters on the beach or in the sea ever. I'll just see them on the dinner table and that'll be great,

There are also restaurants in the market. So you can actually purchase your seafood and have them prepared by these restaurants. Some of these stalls were even slicing them crab legs up as sashimi. Yup, you can't get them any fresher than that!

Heh. And this picture is just so I can prove that there were other seafood available and not just crabs.