Whether they are visiting from around the world or traveling from within the country, Japan's northern island of Hokkaido is becoming more and more of a booming hot spot for travel, despite its cold weather. With delicacies that include grilled mutton, fresh King Crab, and the ultimate cold-defying soulfood of ramen topped with corn and butter, there's no shortage of good eats. With a multitude of culinary treats, cultural sites, and beautiful landscapes to seek out, a trek to Hokkaido can be a daunting journey at first. Fortunately, the city of Sapporo serves as a great introductory hub, filled with attractions and comforts that make it Japan's year-long winter wonderland.

During the winter, Japanese people look forward to brilliant illuminations that celebrate the season and light up parks, plazas, and stations. As the first ever illumination event introduced in Japan in 1981, the "Sapporo White Illumination" has become a nationally acclaimed event, with its scale and festivities increasing every year. It started with just 1000 light-bulbs being used, but now in Odori Park alone, over 520,000 are installed, turning Odori Park and Minmi 1-jyo into jubilant light celebrations.

Winter in Japan, particularly the Christmas holiday, tends to have more of a romantic couple's image, and while anyone can celebrate, the gorgeous lighting displays of Christmas and cosmic themes take full advantage of Hokkaido's deep and starry skies as a fascinating sight to take in with that special someone.

Braving the cold, however, can be tough for even seasoned travelers of Sapporo. Fortunately there's a way to minimize the chill without having to bundle up in a cab and spend money in the form of a 520 meter underground tunnel space right below Sapporo City's main street. Not just a boring tunnel, but an underground space filled with shops, event areas, and even rest spaces. The long underground area links Sapporo and Odori station, giving you quick access to main attraction areas without having to step outdoors.

The Japanese winter season stays busy until February, a month undoubtedly highlighted by Valentine's Day. While most are familiar with the holiday around the world, in Japan it is celebrated a bit differently. On Valentine's Day, it is customary (although by no means mandatory) that women buy chocolates for men--designated into two categories: "giri choco", or "obligation chocolates" given out to friends and coworkers, and "honmei-choco", given out to actual sweethearts. These are repaid on a later holiday called White Day by men. Even without any romantic context, the exchange of chocolate fits in distinctly with the Japanese custom of exchanging gifts as a sign of appreciation and gratitude.

Regardless of the why, February calls for a boom in chocolate buying. One of Japan's premium department stores, Daimaru, has a branch in Sapporo that can handle all that and more. Daimaru offers a wide range of high quality chocolates sought out by travelers throughout Japan, and whether you need them for a Valentine's gift or not, would make a perfect souvenir.

Daimaru Sapporo is one of Japan's largest department stores and the biggest in its region. Conveniently connected directly to the JR Sapporo Station, it's a shopping center that serves as the area's hub of activity and trends. Stores of popular brands line the spacious interior, and it takes no more than a quick glance to see the latest styles in fashion. Not only that, Daimaru also has a vast selection of food and desserts. Following the concept of a "department store of excitement and discovery," Daimaru Sapporo strives daily to create a shopping center to satisfy all of their customers' needs.

Every year from late January to mid-February, a special area is set up to sell Valentine's Day chocolates. Customers can choose from an astounding array of chocolates including those from famous brands, delicately flavored chocolates made by Japanese pastry chefs, and beautiful chocolates that are pleasing to the eye.

Here are some recommendations of their 2017 lineup.

Chocolatier Ishiya’s popular chocolate delight “Popping Tall” is a decadent treat for adults that maintains a bit of childish charm. The Popping Tall takes vodka powder, fizzy candy, and salt from the Sea of Okhotsk that neighbors Hokkaido, and blends them into a gentle chocolate cocktail. This special flavor is a limited edition exclusive to the Daimaru Sapporo store.

Goncharoff’s “Wakarakuraku” offers a great opportunity to sample Japan’s regional and national liquors all through the convenience of delicious chocolate bottles. While you may have had liquor chocolates before, this set allows you to experience the variety of Japan’s most delicious spirits, including the Okinawan island spirit of Awamori, the dessert-esque nigori sake, plum wine, and more. All in the form of cute bottle bon bons!

The flavors of Kagoshima in Hokkaido? Patisserie Yanagimura gives you just that with their Autumn Shochu Bon Bon set. Based in Kagoshima, their owner-chef, who has even trained in Belgium, is offering up these Gateaux chocolates that contain potato shochu—one of Kagoshima’s proudest and favorite local spirits. These are sure to warm up visitors to Hokkaido with the taste of Japan’s southern islands.

If you ever have the pleasure of exploring Hokkaido, and particularly the friendly city of Sapporo, be sure to stop by the Daimaru Sapporo Store branch, where you can take home some exquisite seasonal chocolate and other Hokkaido goods as wonderful memories.

Daimaru Sapporo Branch

Address: Sapporo-shi, chuo-kukita 5 jiyonishi, 4-4, Hokkaido. 060-0005

Telephone No: 011-828-1111

Operating hours:

Basement floors 1-7, 10:00 AM-8:00 PM

8th floor Daimaru Restaurant Village 11:00 AM--10:00 PM

Homepage: http://www.daimaru.co.jp.e.md.hp.transer.com/sapporo/index.html

By - grape Japan editorial staff.

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