Chitose top

If you’ve ever visited the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, there’s a good chance that you went through New Chitose Airport. Being the largest airport on the island, it serves as the gateway to Hokkaido for the numerous tourists that visit both from within and outside of Japan. Yes, when it comes to Hokkaido, we Japanese are just as enthusiastic about the beautiful snow, fresh seafood, tasty ramen, delectable sweets, relaxing hot springs and scenes of vast natural beauty as visitors from abroad.

But did you know that New Chitose Airport, which you may only briefly pass through as a traveler on a tour, could be a destination all on its own? After undergoing some expansion work in recent years between 2010 to 2012, the airport is now a seriously impressive shopping, dining and entertainment complex. Here’s a look at just some of the things you can enjoy at this airport that looks and feels like a theme park. If you thought that airports were nightmarish places where you want to spend as little time as possible, this may change your mind!

1. Shop: Buy to your heart’s content and then some!

Since there really are endless souvenir products you can buy in Hokkaido, from sweet confectionaries to fresh produce and seafood, it’s no wonder that the shopping area at New Chitose Airport is huge.

You can, of course, buy your usual chocolates, cookies and Hokkaido potato snacks …

Chitose cookies 1

Chitose cookies 2

… as well as beautifully decorated eclairs — practically works of art!

Chitose eclair

and even cute bear-themed Shiretoko doughnuts!

Chitose donut

Or how about these special creamy caramels that were so popular a while back that at one point you had to wait in line for maybe up to an hour to buy them!

Chitose caramel

The vegetables grown in Hokkaido are also beautiful. The corn and pumpkin are sweet, and the orange melons grown in the city of Yubari are also famous (and not exactly cheap either, at about US$20 a melon).

Chitose fruits and veg

There’s also a wide variety  of bento box meals you can choose from, many of them consisting of seafood like crab or salmon eggs on rice.

Chitose bento

Of course, there’s fresh seafood too — those are salmon eggs marinated in soy sauce in the middle, and yes, the lovely hairy crabs as well.

Chitose seafood crab and roe

How about some sea urchin — sweet and creamy on a steaming bowl of rice?

Chitose sea urchin

They even sell live crabs and scallops, if you want them really fresh!

Chitose sea food live crab

Oh, and if you’re in Hokkaido, you can’t forget Sapporo Beer! This Sapporo Beer Classic is usually sold only in Hokkaido.

Chitose beer

And while you’re at it, why not get some silly character items for your friends? This is the mascot character of Yubari city, the “Melon Bear”, and yes, we know they look freaky. I mean, a cross between a melon and mean-looking bear, really?

Chitose mascot 1

Chitose mascot 2

Ahh… and in a place where so many tourists shop for souvenirs, we were bound to find the busiest cat in the world in action. Our beloved Ms. Kitty wouldn’t pass up on such an excellent business opportunity, would she?

Chitose Hello Kitty shop

Here she greets you holding a figure in the shape of Hokkaido in her hands.

Chitose Hello Kitty Hokkaido

How would you like to take home some instant Hello Kitty cafe au lait powder mix using Hokkaido milk? These are available only in Hokkaido!

Chitose Hello Kitty blendy

Or if you want something more Japanese, you can always get some Hello Kitty chopsticks.

Chitose Hello Kitty chopsticks

They even sell Hello Kitty Q-Tips! They really think of everything, don’t they?

Chitose Hello Kitty Q-Tips

Now, that’s only a small part of the goodies being sold in the shops at New Chitose Airport, but all that shopping has to get you hungry, right?

2. Eat: Have fun choosing from some mouth-watering selections!

Well, there’s no need to worry. There are certainly a mind-boggling number of shops selling souvenirs at New Chitose Airport, but the number of restaurants you can choose from is also quite impressive. There are of course the standard sandwich or pasta joints, but there are also numerous restaurants serving typical Hokkaido fare like lamb (referred to for some reason as “Genghis Khan” in Hokkaido)  or seafood such as scallops or salmon on rice.

Chitose restaurant local fare 1

Chitose restaurant local fare 2

Hokkaido crab is always a favorite and doesn’t disappoint.

Chitose restaurant local fare 3

There’s also a specialty lamb (Genghis Khan) barbecue shop, where you can cook your own lamb and vegetables.

Chitose restaurant barbecue

Another popular local dish is the simmered pork on rice (butadon).

Chitose restaurant pork bowl

Chitose restaurant pork bowl 3

These benches in front of the pork rice bowl restaurant certainly get points for originality and cuteness!

Chitose restaurant pork bowl 2

And you can’t miss the ramen while you’re in Hokkaido! Just step into the “Ramen Dojo” where you’ll be surrounded by ramen shops.

Chitose restaurant ramen dojo entrance

Chits restautant ramen dojo hokkaido model

The Ramen Dojo is an area dedicated to selected ramen shops, all well-known ramen establishments from different areas of Hokkaido. You can take your pick from among 10 shops, but you’ll definitely have a hard time choosing, since they all look so good. It’s basically a ramen lover’s picture of paradise!

Chitose retaurant ramen dojo straight

Ebisoba Ichigen, one of the ramen shops in the Dojo, is famous for their unique ebi-soba (shrimp noodles), which is served in a soup using shrimp stock with a topping of crispy ground shrimp. The rich flavor of the shrimp is absolutely addictive!

Chitose restaurant ebi soba shop

Chitose restaurant ebi soba 1

Chitose restaurant ebi soba 2

Chitose restaurant ebi soba 3

And here’s another interesting ramen from the shop Ginparo — a blend of pork stock-based miso soup and gouda cheese flakes. The miso and cheese make for an unexpectedly creamy and pleasant combination.

Chitose restaurant miso ramen shop

Chitose restaurant miso ramen

Chitose restaurant miso ramen 2

If you’re thirsty after a bowl of ramen, you can stop by at the “milk bar”.

Chitose milk bar front

You can buy a ticket from the vending machine and sit at the counter to enjoy fresh Hokkaido milk.

Chitose milk bar ticket

Chitose milk bar far view

The milk really tastes sweet!

Chitose mik bar drink

Just in case you want something a little more “relaxing” than milk, there’s also a wine bar where you can drop by for a drink, although you’ll want to be careful not to get too drunk before your flight!

Chitose wine bar

So, once you’ve had plenty to eat and drink, you’ll naturally want to play and have some fun. Fortunately, there are several places in New Chitose Airport where you can do just that.

3. Play: A world of delight for kids (and why not adults too?)

Royce’ chocolates are a favorite Hokkaido treat and their Chocolate World will delight the eyes as much as their chocolates delight the taste buds.

Chitose Royce world

You can take a look at their factory-like set up and some of their futuristic-looking chocolate creating machines.

Chitose Royce factory 1

Chitose Royce factory 2

Chitose Royce factory 3

Chitose Royce factory 4

There’s also a museum-type area where various chocolate-related items are exhibited.

Chitose Royce museum general

The colorful tin chocolate containers in various styles and shapes are particularly beautiful with their exquisite artwork.

Chitose Royce cans 1

Chitose Royce cans 2

Chitose Royce cans 3

Chitose Royce can 4

Famous German stuffed-animal maker Steiff also has their own “Nature World”, where teddy bears and other large stuffed animals are displayed. There is an entrance fee for the main exhibit of 600 yen (US$6) for adults, 400 yen for junior and high school students, and 300 yen for children three years or older.

Chitose Steiff entrance

Chitose Steiff map

There are also some stuffed animals on display outside the main exhibit area.

Chitose Steiff display 1

Chitose Steiff display 2

In addition, they have a play area where children can play with stuffed toys or color drawings.

Chitose Steif play area

Chitose Steiff play area 2

Chitose Steiff play area 3

But maybe the most exciting of all for children is the Doraemon Sky Park, which includes several different areas with themes dedicated to the much-loved robot character from the future.

Chitose Doraemon World map

Small children will absolutely love running wild in the Doraemon play area.

Chitose Doraemon play area

Children who are a little bit older should enjoy drawing or reading the Doraemon comics available in various languages in the library and workshop area.

Chitose Doraemon workshop

Chitose Doraemon workshop 2

Chitose Doraemon library

If all the playing tires you out, you can rest at the Doraemon cafe, where they have various Dorameon-decorated foods and drinks.

Chitose Doraemon cafe

Chitose Doraemon cafe menu

Chitose Doraemon cafe display 1

Chitose Doraemon cafe display 2

You can also buy baked Doraemon taiyaki filled with sweet red-bean paste in the shop right next to the cafe. The taiyaki are available in the shape of either Doraemon or his sister, Dorami. When I was there earlier this month, they also had the taiyaki in the seasonal flavor of pumpkin cream. Naturally, I had to get some!

Chitose Doraemon cafe taiyaki

They’re sold in cute little packages!

Chitose Doraemon taiyaki package

Here’s the Doraemon-type taiyaki up-close …

Chitose Doraemon taiyaki doraemon

… and the Dorami-type taiyaki.

Chitose Doraemnon taiyaki dorami

The pumpkin cream filling inside was lovely, and not too sweet. (Sorry to cut you up, Dorami-chan!)

Chitose Doraemon taiyaki inside

Of course, they also sell Doraemon’s favorite treat, dorayaki, as well.

Chitose Doraemon cafe dorayaki

The characters from Doraemon greet you at the entrance of the main attraction area. Again, there is an entrance fee here of  600 yen (US$6) for adults, 400 yen for junior and high school students, and 300 yen for children three years or older.

Chitose Doraemon Sky Park

There’s also an arcade area, where there are various crane games with different types of stuffed Doraemon dolls you can try to win.

Chitose Doraemon arcade

Chitose Doraemon crane game

And last but not least, there’s a large Doraemon shop where you can buy all sorts of cute (and maybe not necessarily practical) Doraemon products.

Chitose Doraemon shop 1

Chitose Doraemon shop 2

Now, I think all of this would make for quite a full day, but if you still have extra time and energy left after the shopping, eating and playing, there’s apparently also a movie theater and hot spring bath — yes, a real onsen — in the airport building as well.

So, while a long wait at the airport is usually something to dread, I think it’s safe to say that in the case of New Chitose Airport, you probably won’t have to worry about having too much time on your hands; the problem, in fact, could be not having enough time. We hope any of you traveling to Hokkaido have a chance to explore and enjoy this unique airport!

Top Image: Wikipedia
All other photos: RocketNews24