If You Love Chocolate, You Need to Visit Shiroi Koibito Chocolate Factory
One of the first things that many people notice when they get to Hokkaido and begin browsing the gift shops in Chitose airport is the pretty looking Shiroi Koibito gift boxes that are on display. Seriously, you'll see them everywhere. Shiroi Koibito seems to be Hokkaido's answer to the Tokyo Banana souvenir that is also very popular in gift shops. I'm going to make the somewhat bold assertion that Shiroi Koibito deserves your attention for living up to the dessert hype and delivering some tasty white chocolate biscuit goodness. I can't imagine a trip to Hokkaido without these delicious little chocolate cookie treats, and to get the full experience, it is very much worth a side trip to the Cookie Factory on the west side of Sapporo.
Getting to the Most Pleasant Little Day Trip
Getting to Shiroi Koibito Park isn't very difficult, but it is at the extreme west of the subway system, so I would recommend making specific plans to visit as a half-day trip and to get an early start. The easiest way to get to the park will be to take the Tozai subway line at Odari station in central Sapporo. You'll want to head west toward Miyanosawa and ride the train to the last stop. I was not using a subway day pass, and a ticket from Odari ran me about 280 yen and the subway ride itself took around 10-15 minutes. Once you exit the Miyanosawa station, you'll have to walk for maybe 5-10 minutes to the park. I didn't have much trouble finding the place, and there are maps and tourist fliers at Sapporo station and Odari if you need them. A quick search in a map application on your phone will show you the walking route as well.
The reason that I recommend an early start for this trip is that you'll want to get lunch/coffee at the park and planning for this gives you the most bang for your buck timing wise. The park opens to tours at 9:00 a.m., which gives plenty of time to do the tour, explore the park, browse the souvenir stands and get some great coffee or hot chocolate at the park's restaurant, more on that below!
A Tour Through Time With a Chocolate Theme
Be sure to get a ticket for the self-guided tour of the factory while you're here. I paid 600 yen and they give you a little guide book and one of their signature chocolate biscuits. I believe the tour itself will be fun for people with different types of interests. In the traditional European style complex, you can walk between many different rooms of exhibits on how people consumed and enjoyed chocolate through the ages. There is a wonderful collection of old style chocolate drinking cups lining the walls in display cases for instance.
You can read a bit about the history of the company and chocolate at your own pace as you take the tour. There are displays with videos detailing the process of making the chocolates with cute animated characters that the kids will love, and there is even a place where you can watch the factory workers making the cookies from a bird's eye view. There is a large European Style fountain in the building as well, which is pretty cool.
For those bringing children, or even interested in crafts and baking themselves, they have a Cookie-Craft Studio workshop where you can build your own Shiroi Koibito biscuit. There is an additional charge for this, but it did seem very popular. The prices varied, but where typically around 1000-1200 yen to make your own cookie with a message on it.
Enjoy Some Hot Cocoa, a Delicious Biscuit, and a Wonderful Mountain View
At some point after wandering around the tour ground, making your own delicious confection, and learning a lot about the history of enjoying cocoa, you're going to want to have a seat and enjoy some coffee or cocoa of your own. The factory's answer to your needs comes in the form of the fourth floor Chocolate Lounge, a charming European style cafe/restaurant where you can get yourself a hot cup of caffeine or chocolate, grab an amazing parfait or even a chocolate fondue, and enjoy a great view of Mt. Teine.
Wrapping Up a Wonderful Chocolate Filled Journey
Once you've enjoyed your refreshment, and gotten your fill of the factory, you'll want to stop by the souvenir shops and candy stores. You can get a custom made gift tin of cookies with a personalized picture and message which could make for a great keepsake. There are plenty of cookie souvenir boxes and candy to buy as well as themed merchandise to browse. My personal advice would be to get some of the more themed keepsake items here if you're interested and not load up on boxes of Shiroi Koibito cookies. I noticed that the prices for cookies were the same at other souvenir shops and the airport, and the selection was very similar, so I ended up lightening my souvenir bag a bit by buying cookie box souvenirs at the airport. However, if you have to get your cookie fix, the souvenir shop will have you covered.
Weather permitting, there is the park area to walk around outside as well. I visited in the winter time during Sapporo Snow Festival, so there wasn't quite as much excitement for the outdoor park as there was for the factory, but it is definitely worth a look around to see the almost Disney themed sights and sounds.
I'm very glad that I made some time to tour the Shiroi Koibito factory and strongly recommend that you visit when you're in the Hokkaido/Sapporo area. As mentioned, I would get an early start and head out to Miyanosawa around 9:00 a.m. and plan on spending half a day here, returning to Central Sapporo in the early afternoon. It would combine well with a plan to walk around Odori Park when you return to the central station to burn off some of those cookie calories! This is also a great stop if you have some kids with you and could possibly be stretched out to a full day if you take your time and want to enjoy all the activities with the little ones as well. Particularly the build your own cookie, and enjoying the park outside of the factory.
Either way, I had a really great time visiting and plan on returning the next time that I'm in Hokkaido. I'm going to need to satisfy that Shiroi Koibito cookie fix somehow!