You will smell the sweet scent of chocolate long before you can even see Ishiya Chocolate Factory, which is some kind of wonderful! And if you were a Shiroi Koibito (白い恋人) fan like I am, you would hyperventilate and hop/run your way to the chocolate factory, disregarding the strange glances locals would cast in your direction.
Shiroi Koibito, if you don’t already know, is a well-loved brand of chocolate biscuits created by the Ishiya company. Shiroi Koibito is so popular that visitors to Hokkaido would stock up on them as gifts for friends and family. But these chocolate treats don’t come cheap, and when I first visited Japan and found them at the airport shops, I deliberated a long time before deciding how much I could afford to buy. :)
Ishiya Chocolate Factory is a wonderland of sorts. It looks like a fairyland castle with vast flower gardens with European pavilions, and miniature houses along its perimeter, no doubt to please young children who visit its premises.
As I’m not exactly grown up, except during office hours and interaction with solemn business acquaintances, I slipped into many of the miniature houses and sat on their miniature beds and chairs. Yes. Just like any child would. :)
Visitors can pay 600 yen to go on a tour to learn about the history of Ishiya and how Shiroi Koibito cookies are made. We did just that.
There are several exhibits to go through before reaching the best parts of the tour, which are the production line observation areas. To find your way around, just follow the pretty paw prints. :)
The first few galleries display chocolate boxes and delicate hot chocolate cups that were used in earlier centuries. Then came long storyboards that told the history of Ishiya company and how the wonderful Shiroi Koibito cookies are made.
And then I discovered my dream job. I want to be the person in the production line who tastes the cookies and determine if they were delicious enough to be sold!
Oh! I must tell you about this particular gallery: The Chocolate Time Tunnel.
This darkened tunnel holds a diorama display of the production of chocolate in ancient times. A short film and narration is activated by placing one’s hands on a large button. And when the scene describes the roasting of cacao beans and the melting of chocolate, a rush of fresh cacao and chocolate scent will fill the air. These geniuses!
We eventually found our way to an area that overlooked the factory’s production line. Although I was so excited about this part of the tour at the beginning, seeing the reality of the production line was somewhat like an anti-climax. I would have believed that Oompa Loompas or happy, dancing people were manning the production lines instead of serious beings in sterile white suits.
But I guess Ishiya would need serious people in sterile white suits to take charge of the production of its celebrated and pricey cookies. Flawed cookies were picked out by this eagle-eyed person above, and chucked into the yellow tray on his/her left. I don’t know what were the fate of those rejected cookies, but I wish they were not thrown away. I would be more than happy to eat all those rejects. How bad can they taste, right?!
Of course, before leaving Ishiya Chocolate Factory, we bought many boxes of Shiroi Koibito cookies and other Ishiya creations for the family.
But silly me, being so focused on making sure no family members were left out, forgot to buy a box for ourselves! And woe! I had only discovered the boo-boo only when we got back to Singapore and was packing the gifts for family.
Despite forgetting to get supplies for the both of us, we still had quite a haul on our hands. Along with the mountain of snacks we had purchased along the way, from Hakodate to Sapporo, we realised we had no more space in our suitcases!
Our solution: buy another suitcase.
And that we did. :)