(This post is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start at the very beginning, click here.)
Before we get to the itinerary proper, here are guides to a few important matters that you need to prepare for before actually going to Japan. These are based on my experience and there are actually many resources online for you to research if you have the time.
Going to icy cold Hokkaido from a equatorial climate is a big change. BIG change. If you are going during the snow period, you need to get proper shoes and clothes. We got most of our items from Lazada, but if they’re from China (they most likely are) you need to be careful with the sizing.
Shoes – The cheaper winter shoes are for cold climates but not suited for snow as they are not water-proof and have soft soles. Get proper snow shoes with fur-lining inside and a good grip at the bottom. If you are not sure of the type you need, go to the winterwear shops in our shopping malls (like Universal Traveller or Winter Time) to check out the shoes before comparing them online. I can’t stress the importance of proper shoes as you do NOT want to slip and fall on slippery icy surfaces. Alternatively, you can wear normal shoes and buy this slip-on studs from the pharmacies there. But the downside is that if you enter some shops with timber or marble flooring, they will ask you to take them off. And one more thing, buy one size bigger because you need thick socks.
Clothes – I think the logic is simple, get the best you can afford. While we were in Hokkaido in early February, the temperature is from -1 to -10 degrees during the day and at night it can go to -17 degrees or lower. And it snowed every day. Get the affordable Heattech products from Uniqlo. For coats, you can get them online. For pants, I wore my regular jeans there and it was ok because it did not get wet easily in the snow. Get beanies / caps, gloves (water proof, with finger grip for using your smartphone), face masks, scarves. Additionally, if you are susceptible to the cold, get ear muffs and sweaters. Also important – get heat packs from Daiso. They are very useful.
Internet is important if you are travelling with your own itinerary. There are 3 options – get international roaming (DiGi currently has a good offer), get a simcard or a WiFi egg. Since the WiFi egg is the best option for the 4 of us in the family, we went for that option. I took the unlimited data plan with TravelRecommends at RM18/day for up to 5 users. It uses Softbank 4G networks and the connection is fantastic, much faster than my Unifi 50Mbps at home. I highly recommend using it. The only downside is that the battery life lasts about 6-8 hours only, so you need to get a powerbank or turn off the egg when not using if you plan to go out for longer that.
I think the same applies to any area in Japan – if you are travelling a lot within the city, buy a Kitaca card. If you are travelling long distance between cities using trains, get the JR Pass. The Kitaca card is a prepaid card like Suica and ICOCA in other regions and can be used for all buses, trains and within the city. Some taxis and shops accept them, too. The JR Pass is for long distance train travelling, but it is very expensive so you need to calculate whether you will save money using it or not. All these tickets including special tickets like the Asahiyama Zoo train tickets can be bought at the JR Office at Level B1F at Shin-Chitose Airport. For the JR Pass, it is advisable to book beforehand before going to Japan to save time.
The best websites Japan travel is Google Maps and Hyperdia. For research, I recommend Japan Guide. For this trip, I also installed and used GuruNavi for searching good restaurants.