Japan’s northernmost prefecture may not get as much attention as its capital city, but it’s still chock full of things to see and places to be. Here are the top 10 reasons to catch a flight there.
Come December, the island transforms into a winter wonderland blanketed in snow. Hit the slopes at ski resorts in the regions of Niseko and Furano, where top-grade powder and ice-capped mountains await. Furano’s Family Snowland also offers activities like snowmobiling, snow banana boating and sledding. Be sure to bundle up!
Japan has long been thought of as a homogeneous society. But as it turns out, that’s far from the truth! The nation’s diversity is evident from the Ainu, indigenous residents of Hokkaido. For a glimpse into Ainu history and culture, visit Lake Akan Ainu Kotan ─ an Ainu village with a memorial museum and shops selling traditional crafts like wood carvings and embroidered items.
Craving seafood that’s fresh off the boat? Hokkaido is the place to be. You’ll find great seafood wherever you go, but for variety, check out Washo Seafood Market in Kushiro. It has over 60 stalls selling food such as live Hokkaido crabs, oysters, sea urchins and the famous katte-don, a freestyle rice bowl you can fill with sashimi or other toppings.
Delicious beer and wine
With a history of over 110 years, Hokkaido’s Asahi Brewery produces around 50,000 kiloliters of beer annually. A visit to the factory lets you discover the brewing process and enjoy a freshly-brewed beer. Wine lovers may also head to Ikeda Wine Castle in Obihiro for a taste of the region’s quality aged wine.
Think Hokkaido is only about the nature? Think again! There’s a tonne for places for shopaholics to whip out their credit cards. The Sapporo Factory features more than 160 stores selling everything from high-end brands to souvenirs. Over at Rera Mall near New Chitose airport, take your pick from numerous tax-free outlets with great bargains.
In a country characterised by technology and modernity, the Historic Village of Hokkaido is a refreshing change. Located in the capital, Sapporo, the outdoor village showcases historical buildings from Hokkaido’s pioneering era. Buildings date back to Japan’s Meiji and Taisho eras, with a horse-drawn trolley along its streets to add to the idyllic atmosphere.
A European- style Christmas market
You don’t have to head all the way to Europe to experience a festive yuletide market. Sapporo’s German Christmas Market (late November till December 24) has been running since 2002, in celebration of ties with its sister city Munich. Expect food stalls selling German street treats, booths with Christmas memorabilia and outdoor concerts.
And by gorgeous, we mean absolutely breathtaking! Akan National Park’s Lake Mashu has been bestowed with the honour of “clearest lake in the world” and is one of Japan’s deepest. Just half an hour away by car is Lake Kussharo, which welcomes swans during the winter. The equally stunning Lake Akan is home to rare algae species and nearby volcanoes.
If you’re a fan of cute animals, you’ll want to stop by any one of Hokkaido’s four major zoos. Asahiyama Zoo features popular penguin walks during the winter, and Kushiro Zoo’s Snowy Owl is a perennial favourite with visitors. Noboribetsu Bear Park also offers park-goers a rare opportunity to observe brown bears up close.
The famous natural hot springs, Hokkaido onsens are best experienced in the chilly winter months. Relax and soak your cares away in mineral-imbued water at popular onsen resorts such as Noboribetsu, known for its “hell valley” of volcanic rocks. Closer to Sapporo lies Jozankei Onsen, with gorgeous scenic vistas in every season.