Guide to Sapporo

Guide to Sapporo

In this issue

Guide to Sapporo
Guide to Sapporo – In This Issue
Welcome and map

Introducing The ABTA Magazine Guide to Sapporo; plus, find your way around and get in touch

A destination like no other

Thanks to its varied climate, mellow natural surrounds, distinctive food culture and access to the countryside, Sapporo is unique

Video: Sapporo in summer

Activities in rich nature and the city’s art, culture, cuisine, shopping, and more await you in this unique urban centre. 

Olympian efforts

Delving into Sapporo’s Olympic tradition and sporting history

Video: Sapporo in winter

Activities in rich nature and the city's art, culture, cuisine, shopping, and more await you in this unique urban centre.

Art and nature

Sapporo is packed with carefully manicured parks, city centre galleries and outdoor installations

Culinary capital

Ask a dozen Japanese what words come to mind when they think of Sapporo and “food” will invariably near the top of the list

A potted history

From native Ainu settlements to the 21st century city of today

Winter wonderland

There are six ski resorts within the city limits, plus plenty of other snow business

Video: Sapporo in summer

Activities in rich nature and the city’s art, culture, cuisine, shopping, and more await you in this unique urban centre. 

Spa trek

Why Jozankei Onsen has long proved to be a breath of fresh air for Sapporo’s city dwellers

Further afield

Head into deeper Hokkaido, where the neon-lit streets of the city feel a long, long way away

Sapporo in numbers

Infographic to come

Editor’s letter

Sapporo: the city where you can have it all

A major city rich in culture, first-class cuisine and multifunctional facilities that is also a stone’s throw from lush nature where a myriad of activities are possible all year long – you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere that balances the metropolitan and the great outdoors the way Sapporo does. Here, in Japan’s northern capital, you do not have to choose between urban excitement and a relaxing natural getaway on your holiday.

Enjoy a tour of the bustling, vibrant city centre and then, just minutes away by subway, find yourself immersed in trees as you hike a mountain and discover Hokkaido wildlife. This is the Sapporo privilege, the everyday way of life in a place that shows you at every turn that you can have it all.

Sapporo is no exception to the cleanliness, efficient transportation and spirit of hospitality that Japan is famous for, while exuding a unique, stylish aura all of its own. With an endless supply of fresh seafood and local produce, stunning natural views in all four seasons and art spaces and indigenous culture found nowhere else in Japan, it is not hard to see why Japanese citizens rank Sapporo as one of the top three most attractive cities in their country. From long, white winters filled with the world’s best powder snow to hit the Sapporo slopes with, to a crisp, refreshing green season that shimmers like a verdant oasis compared to hot mainland summers, every time is the best time to visit.

Sapporo embraces and epitomises growth and transformation. In the 152 years since modern-day Hokkaido’s naming, it has blossomed into Japan’s fifth most populous city, seen the Kaitakushi’s vision for Japan’s first domestically produced beer flourish into a world-renowned brand, and become a trusted venue for international events, from hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 1972 to the upcoming 2021 Adventure Travel World Summit – the first host city in Asia for both. Tourism is evolving here as well: Sapporo is a well-known destination within Asia, and the city is working hard to welcome more visitors from the Americas, Europe and Oceania, too.

The ABTA Guide to Sapporo will be your key to getting to know our beloved city better, and we hope it inspires you to head north to eat, explore and relax your way through the unforgettable trip of a lifetime.

Tourism & MICE Promotion Department, City of Sapporo

Find out more

In December 2020, the City of Sapporo launched a new tourism promotion website, Visit Sapporo. In addition to introducing various websites related to sightseeing in Sapporo in seven languages, One Day from Sapporo – a video project where foreign residents in Sapporo show how to enjoy the city – can also be found on this page. These resources will be able tell you even more about Sapporo, so if this guide piques your interest in the city, please check out the site and videos.

See more at  and subscribe to the YouTube channel here

The ABTA Magazine Guide to Sapporo is produced by Waterfront Publishing on behalf of the City of Sapporo. ABTA Magazine is the official title of ABTA, The Travel Association.


Anthony Pearce, director
020 3865 9360

DJMWeb, The Studio

Nathaniel Cramp

With thanks to: Peter Ellegard, Emily Eastman

Sales and partnerships

Sam Ballard, director

Bryan Johnson, senior sales manager
0203 865 9338
075 3270 9734

About ABTA

Waterfront Publishing is an independent publisher based in central London. It has two in-house magazines, Cruise Adviser and Solus, both aimed at the travel trade. It has also produced magazines on behalf of ABTATravelzoo; and Emerald Waterways. Its design agency The Studio by Waterfront offers copywriting, proofreading and design for print, digital, advertising and branding.

Get in touch

Waterfront Publishing
Hop Exchange,
Southwark Street,
London, SE1 1TY
020 3865 9360

The jewel of Hokkaido


A destination like no other

It may not have the international clout of Tokyo or Osaka, but thanks to its varied climate, distinctive food culture and access to the countryside, there are plenty of reasons to head to Japan’s far north and discover why there’s nowhere quite like Sapporo, writes Rob Goss

Despite being a modern city that’s home to 1.97 million people, Sapporo is arguably more closely connected to nature than any other major city in Japan, with an urban-nature balance that reflects differently in each season. In summer, the warm temperatures and mercifully low humidity make Sapporo ideal for outdoor festivals, fireworks, or just lazy afternoons in the park. Not long after autumn starts to cool the air in September, and snow begins to cap Mount Teine on the horizon, it’s the perfect time to hike Mount Maruyama or take to Sapporo’s natural hot-spring baths for a soak surrounded by autumnal foliage. With the Sapporo Autumn Festival, it’s also the ideal season to take a deep dive into the city’s culinary heritage: warming soup curry, miso ramen and seasonal crab being just a few of Sapporo’s signatures.

With an average annual snowfall of almost six metres, Sapporo is one of the snowiest cities on the planet. As the year draws to a close, snow starts to transform the cityscape, with Sapporo and its environs offering up activities like skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. In early February, the winter celebrations reach a crescendo with the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival), which sees giant snow and ice sculptures appearing at venues around the city, attracting millions of visitors in the process.

Finally comes spring. While cherry blossoms repaint much of Japan in April, Sapporo is just beginning to shed its winter layers. But once the annual pink wave of cherry blossoms reaches the city in early May, Sapporo’s green spaces and the outdoor art venues that have given it a reputation as an emerging art hub come into their own: places such as Isamu Noguchi’s sprawling Moerenuma Park or Tadao Ando’s otherworldly Hill of the Buddha. Put it all together and – in any season – there’s something special about Sapporo.

Video: Sapporo in summer

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Activities in rich nature and the city’s art, culture, cuisine, shopping, and more await you in this unique urban centre.

Sporting pedigree

Olympian efforts

The 1972 Winter Olympics put Sapporo on the sporting map, writes Rob Goss, and its celebrated Dome – which has special memories for English football and rugby fans – will play a big part in the delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021

In 1972, Sapporo played host to the XI Winter Olympic Games, bringing together just over 1,000 athletes from 35 nations and marking the first time that the winter edition of the Games was held in Asia. Among other landmarks, the Games saw Japan win its first ever Winter gold, when the nation swept all three podium spots in the men’s 70m ski jump. More importantly, the Winter Olympics put Sapporo firmly on the international stage as a sporting venue.

Being a snowy, northern city, it might not be a surprise to hear that Sapporo went on to host the 2007 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships and the 2017 Asian Winter Games. But the city has also been part of English sporting history: Sapporo’s main stadium, Sapporo Dome, is where David Beckham claimed redemption from the penalty spot as England beat Argentina 1-0 in the group stages of the 2002 World Cup. More recently, it’s where England’s rugby team kicked off their near-miss of a campaign at the 2019 Rugby World Cup with a 35-3 victory over Tonga.

The 41,000-seat Dome will be in action again in the summer of 2021 as one of the football venues for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which has been pushed to the summer of 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Thanks to Sapporo’s relatively cool, refreshing summers – when the high temperature hovers around the 25-degree mark – the city will also host the Tokyo 2020 marathon and race-walking events, which were considered too dangerous to hold 500 miles south in the high heat and humidity of a Tokyo summer.

Both those Olympic events will be centred on Odori Koen, the green belt that stretches about a mile east to west through the heart of Sapporo – ordinarily the summer setting for beer gardens and the Yosakoi Soran dance festival, where some 27,000 colourfully costumed dancers perform high-energy routines as hundreds of thousands line the streets to watch on.

Sapporo Dome

Name: Sapporo Dome
Capacity: 41,484
Home Teams: Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters
Completed: March 2001
Architect: Hiroshi Hara

Designed by Hiroshi Hara, whose major works include Kyoto Station and the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka, the Sapporo Dome is a multifunctional venue that can transform from a football stadium into a baseball park, due to its retractable surface. Raised on a pneumatic system, the playing field is able to rotate and pass through a 90m opening of two walls, with the whole process taking five hours to complete. Inaugurated in June 2001, the stadium also serves as a meeting place for local citizens, which is why it has been nicknamed Hiroba, the public square. Its 53m high cupola offers incredible views over the city.


Video: Sapporo in winter

Read More

Activities in rich nature and the city’s art, culture, cuisine, shopping, and more await you in this unique urban centre.

Outdoor space

Access to nature

Sapporo is a city defined by its green spaces and close proximity to natural beauty. Rob Goss takes a closer look

You don’t have to look hard to find natural peace and quiet in Sapporo. Often, you’ll simply stumble upon it. That’s certainly true of Odori Park, the 12-block stretch of park just south of Sapporo Station that almost every visitor will pass through there at some point during their stay. The park has plenty of benches under the shade of the area’s many trees, perfect for taking a moment out of your busy day to relax your body and mind.

Fewer travellers, however, make it to Nakajima Park a couple of subway stops further south. With Mount Moiwa looming in the distance, this sprawling park is home to Japanese red spruce, ginkgo, Ezo mountain cherry and numerous other types of tree are at their finest when they take on fiery tones in autumn. It is situated in the centre of some of Sapporo’s major cultural and historical buildings, including the Hoheikan (a historic guest house) and Hasso-an (an ancient tea house), and the Kitara concert hall, which has seen performances by some of the most notable artists in the world. With a boating pond, sporting centre, children’s centre and a river suitable for paddling, Nakajima makes for a good family afternoon out, too.

Just a couple of miles northeast from Sapporo Station, there’s also Maruyama Park, which offers a glimpse at the kind of natural environment that defines much of Hokkaido. Within the park’s 70 hectares is the tutelary Hokkaido Shrine, which is one of Hokkaido’s finest cherry blossom spots when its 1,100 sakura trees bloom in May. Its traditional structures look pretty good covered in snow in winter, too. Rising from the shrine, you then find the primeval forest-covered Mount Maruyama, only about 225m in height, but nevertheless a fun hike that delivers grand views back over Sapporo. En route, you might spot squirrels, numerous species of birds, Great Purple Emperor butterflies and flower varieties such as Japanese fairy bells.

Odori Park

Made up of fountains, playgrounds, seasonally arranged gardens and more than 4,700 trees from 92 species, Sapporo’s Odori Park remains one of the city’s most iconic features. Dating back to 1871 when it was originally constructed as a large-scale Kabo-sen, essentially a firebreak between the north and south of the city, it has developed over time and is today as beloved by visitors as it is by local families and office workers on lunch. It is home to many of Sapporo’s most famous events: the Sapporo Snow Festival in winter; the Sapporo Odori Beer Garden in summer, when the park turns into a giant beer garden as part of the Sapporo Summer Festival; and the Lilac Festival in May, when about 400 lilac trees bloom. The annual Hokkaido Marathon begins and ends in the park in late August, while Autumn Fest takes place during September and is made up of food stalls from Sapporo and the wider region. At the eastern end of the park is the Sapporo TV Tower, built in 1957 and reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower (it’s similarly illuminated by night), which offers views of the park and the surrounding city from its observation deck.

Cultural clout

Art is everywhere

As Rob Goss discovers, the outdoor art scene in Sapporo is another example of how nature is woven into the fabric of the city

As well as being home to the triennial Sapporo International Art Festival and numerous city centre galleries, Sapporo also boasts a collection of superb outdoor art venues. The art scene is another example of how nature is woven into the fabric of modern-day life in the city.

Look to northeastern Sapporo and you’ll find Moerenuma Park, an expansive art park designed by sculptor and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi. Repurposing an old waste treatment site, Noguchi approached the design of the park with the concept that all 160 hectares should function as one single giant sculpture. With a Louvre-esque glass pyramid as its most notable structure, the rest of Noguchi’s vision employs hills, fountains, and steel and concrete installations to form a wonderful flowing landscape that – like Sapporo itself – feels like a meeting of urbanity and nature. The park is brilliant in all seasons, with cherry blossom in spring, paddling pools in summer, red and yellow foliage in autumn and activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and sledding in winter.

While Moerenuma is hard to beat, another outdoor spot well worth a look is Sapporo Art Park, an art complex located in a 40-hectare forest where visitors can try craft workshops, stroll through a rambling sculpture garden, or stop by an art museum where the emphasis (though not sole focus) is on artists with a connection to Hokkaido.

Then there’s the Hill of the Buddha, which could lay claim to being the single most photogenic piece of open-air art in Japan. The work of acclaimed Japanese architect Tadao Ando, the Hill features a 13.5m Buddha statue placed in an underground shrine, which from the outside appears as a giant mound with just the upper third of the Buddha’s head poking above ground. What makes a mostly buried buddha so striking? Scale and surroundings. The mound is covered with snow in winter and purple lavender in summer, which, added to the mix of stark concrete interiors and outdoor water features, help create numerous Instagrammable views of the Buddha from inside and out.

Heavenly food

Culinary capital

With some of Japan’s best seafood and local delicacies such as warming soup curry and decadent shime parfaits – not to mention a world famous beer – Rob Goss explains why Sapporo is foodie heaven

Ask a dozen Japanese what words come to mind when they think of Sapporo and ‘food’ will invariably be near the top of the list. As the main city on Hokkaido, which is often referred to as the ‘breadbasket of Japan’, Sapporo is the focal point of every culinary delight Japan’s northernmost island has to offer.

First and foremost, a foodie trip to Sapporo means the chance to try some of Japan’s best seafood, caught in the three oceans that surround Hokkaido. From creamy sea urchin to seasonal crab like zuigani (snow crab), kegani (horsehair crab) and highly prized tarabagani (king crab), you can get a great overview of Sapporo’s seafood at Nijo Market, a short walk from the eastern end of Odori Park. Nijo is also a prime place to sample the local seafood without breaking the budget, just drop by for a dish called kaisendon, where a bowl of rice is topped with seafood – you could opt for a simple combo of rice capped with a mound of sea urchin or sliced raw tuna, or go for a decadent combination of several to a dozen cofourful toppings.

Given Sapporo’s long, cold winters, it’s no surprise that several other Sapporo signature dishes are designed to warm and nourish. The local take on ramen is no exception: called miso ramen it has a rich miso-flavored broth and thick, curly yellow noodles, which combine for a heartier ramen hit than usual. To try miso ramen and other variations, visit Ganso Ramen Yokocho, a charmingly cosy alley that’s home to 17 tiny ramen joints. Ganso translates as ‘original’ and this is where this warming dish came from.

Taking ‘warming’ to the next level is another Sapporo classic: soup curry. Exactly as the name suggests, it’s a curried soup that can include various combinations of meat and locally produced vegetables, and it comes with rice on the side that you can mix in to get something close to a mulligatawny. At Garaku, Suage+ and dozens of other soup curry specialists around Sapporo, you can customise the exact ingredients and tweak the spice levels to make it mild or burn like a vindaloo.

Sapporo was the first city in Japan where beer brewing was carried out in earnest by Japanese people, and is the birthplace of Sapporo Beer’s predecessor, the Kaitakushi Beer Brewery, which was founded in 1876. Influenced by German brewing methods and purity rules, it was Sapporo that established light, crisp lagers as the beer of choice in Japan. At the lovely redbrick Sapporo Beer Museum, you can find out more about Sapporo Beer and Hokkaido’s beer history, and participate in a tour that ends with a tasting session. Continuing the city’s beery traditions, you’ll also find local craft brewers like Moon Sun Brewing in the city; they have a brewpub a few blocks south of Odori Park’s eastern end. If you’ve got room for dessert after the ramen, soup curry and beer, you’re in the right place. Hokkaido is the largest producer of dairy in Japan, and Sapporo is where all the milky goodies flow, from ice cream and cheesecake to cheese tarts. One particular Sapporo special that merges all the city’s dessert decadence is the shime parfait. With shime translating to ‘ending’ or ‘concluding’, it’s a sundae eaten at the end of a night out and, in whatever guise it comes, it’s an absolute delight. Shime parfait has become a much-loved local culture and, in the many shops making photogenic parfaits with seasonal fruits and other ingredients, you are sure to find a favourite.

Among the many parfait places that open until late at night or early in the morning, the aptly named Sinner Café does a chocolate shime parfait with blancmange and homemade chocolate sauce, while Noymond Organic Café serves a version with green tea ice cream and Nanakamado Cafe adds a fruity touch with fresh strawberries atop azuki red bean cream and rice flour dumplings (shiratama).

The story of Sapporo

A potted history

Anthony Pearce looks into Sapporo’s rich and varied history, which takes in everything from agriculture and education to sport, war and, of course, beer

Sapporo, the largest city on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, was originally a region with many Ainu settlements. The first records of a settlement in the Ishikari Plain date from the late 17th century, in historical documents about conflicts between the Ainu people and the Japanese. Around this time, trading posts were established in the region to trade with retainers from the Matsumae clan, and trade between the two groups began to take place. After this, the Edo shogunate made Sapporo the base for developing Hokkaido, because of its accessibility to inland areas, the Sea of Japan, and the Pacific Ocean via the Ishikari River. Following the Meiji Restoration, the Hokkaido Development Commission (the Kaitakushi) was established ion 1869, and the Meiji government began construction of the main government office as a base for them, which became the foundation of the current city centre of Sapporo.

During this period, Odori Park was first established as a large-scale firebreak that divided the centre of the city into the government district in the north and the commercial district in the south. Today, the likes of the Sapporo Lilac Festival and the world famous Sapporo Snow Festival are held in the park, which is also home to the city’s iconic TV Tower, opened in 1957.

In 1870, the Kaitakushi approached the American government for assistance in developing the land, with Horace Capron, who served as secretary of agriculture under president Ulysses S Grant appointed as O-yatoi gaikokujin – a common practice of the period which meant foreign experts, usually from the UK or US, were hired in Japan to teach new techniques. A demand for a specialised educational institutions to train the leaders of Hokkaido’s development led to the establishment of the Sapporo Agricultural College – today, Hokkaido University. William S Clark, who was the president of the Massachusetts Agricultural College (now the University of Massachusetts Amherst) became the founding vice-president of the college. To understand the influence on the region, you need to look no further than the Hokkaido government office building, built in American Neo-Baroque style with red bricks in 1888, two years after the island’s government was founded.

At this time, the city’s most famous export was born; Sapporo Beer was created by Seibei Nakagawa, who had left Japan at the age of 17 – when doing so was strictly forbidden – and learnt the craft of brewing in Germany, which he put to good use back in Japan in 1875. These developments in agriculture, education and technology, coupled with the construction of the country’s third major railway in 1880, which linked Sapporo to the port city of Otaru, led to greater migration to the ‘new’ region. In 1918, the iconic Sapporo Street Car – currently referred to as the shiden – first began operating. The city became increasingly well connected, with Okadama Airport opening in 1942.

Like much of Japan, Sapporo was devastated by the Second World War. The resulting firestorm from incendiary and fragmentation cluster bombs dropped on the city left tens of thousands of people homeless. A sizeable portion of the city was destroyed, with a considerable rebuilding process needed following the war. From here, the city gradually grew into the neon-lit metropolis we see today.

After hosting the 1972 Winter Olympics, which was the first to be held in Asia, the city has become increasingly well-known outside of Japan, with the Sapporo Dome, which opened in 2001, hosting three games during the 2002 FIFA World Cup and two games during the 2019 Rugby World Cup. It is also one of the planned football venues for the delayed Tokyo Olympics, which will take place this year, having been pushed back from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The annual Snow Festival, which features giant sculptures carved from packed snow, attracts more than two million tourists each year, while the further growth of Sapporo Beer and the city’s unique style of ramen noodles are just two more reasons why Sapporo is becoming increasingly popular with tourists visiting Japan.

Snow business

Winter wonderland

With six ski resorts within the city limits, you don’t need to leave Sapporo to hit the slopes and, as Rob Goss discovers, there is also plenty of other snow business to keep you occupied

For fans of Japan’s winter resorts, Hokkaido is most known for the powder snow of Niseko, a 90km drive southwest of Sapporo. But you don’t need to leave the city to hit quality slopes. There are six ski resorts within the city limits and both Sapporo Kokusai and Sapporo Teine have direct access from Sapporo Station.

Sapporo Kokusai is a relatively small ski resort, about 90 minutes by bus from central Sapporo, but it gets consistently large amounts of snow that keep its seven courses and off-piste sections in great condition throughout the early December to late March season. As a bonus, it’s close to the laidback hot spring town of Jozankei Onsen, so you could add a night there at a traditional inn and enjoy a post-skiing soak in a communal hot-spring bath.

Sapporo Teine is a different beast. Spread over the 1,000m Mt. Teine, it’s close enough to central Sapporo (40 mins by bus) that you actually get city views from slopes. Used for events at the 1972 Winter Olympics, it’s now split into two sections: the Highland Zone with medium to advanced runs, as well as off-piste sections and a terrain park with jumps and rails, and the more family-friendly Olympia Zone, which has gentle runs and an area with sledding and tubing. Being so easy to get to from the city centre, the location of both resorts means you can head back into the city to enjoy Sapporo’s restaurants and nightlife after a day on the slopes.

Sapporo’s winter activity isn’t limited to skiing and snowboarding. Away from the slopes, another outdoor option could be snowshoeing over the white expanse of arty Moerenuma Park or at Sappporo Art Park. Less strenuous, but just as fun, is ice fishing on the frozen Barato River on the city’s outskirts. Best done as a half-day tour from central Sapporo, from January to March you can set up in tents on the river and try to catch wakasagi smelts through the ice, before having your catch battered and fried on the spot as tempura.

Even less exerting would be to time your Sapporo trip for early February, when Odori Park and other parts of snow-covered central Sapporo are taken over by the annual Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival). Held since 1950, when it began as a minor local event, the Yuki Matsuri has established itself as arguably Japan’s most famous winter festival, now attracting international teams of snow and ice sculptors as well as some two million onlookers. The spectacular creations in previous years have ranged from 15m statues of Darth Vader and replicas of famous castles and world heritage sites to intricately carved dragons and popular Japanese anime characters. Almost anything goes.

Video: All-seasons Sapporo

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Activities in rich nature and the city’s art, culture, cuisine, shopping, and more await you in this unique urban centre.


Spa trek

Just an hour from the city centre, Jozankei Onsen is the place to go for thermal spas, beautiful scenery and indigenous Ainu culture Sam Ballard

Located about an hour outside of Sapporo’s city centre, Jozankei Onsen has long proved to be a breath of fresh air for city dwellers and tourists alike.  The region is renowned for its beautiful scenery, history and Onsen – the hot springs and traditional bathing that the Japanese have turned into an art-form.

Onsen, the Japanese name for a hot spring, also identifies the bathing facilities and inns that surround the naturally warm waters that are dotted around the country. As with so many aspects of Japanese life, each step of taking Onsen has become immortalised in a ritual that can look daunting to foreigners but is beautifully simple. Just remember the basics – bathers must clean themselves by the side of the tub before they get in and don’t allow your towel or hair to touch the water – and you will be free to enjoy the soothing affects of the healing waters.

There is a huge array of accommodation available in Jozankei – from western-style hotels to more traditional ryokan inns. Luxury travellers are well catered for, too, with properties such as Kuriya Suizan, and Nukumori no Yado Furukawa ready to make the well-heeled feel extra special.

Outside the spas, Jozankei is arguably most famous for its outdoor pursuits. Known for its breathtaking scenery and wide-open skies, people come from far and wide to go hiking around the mountains or canoeing up the Toyohira River. The Shiraito-no-taki waterfall, which is formed from water coming from Hokkaido’s oldest hydroelectric power plant, freezes in the winter, creating a dramatic ice sculpture. In Hakkenzan travellers can go fruit picking, rafting or horseback riding – there’s even a vineyard, offering the rare chance to sample Hokkaido wine.

History buffs might want to visit the museum Pirka Kotan, where they can learn about the Ainu, Hokkaido’s indigenous people. You can watch, touch and experience numerous traditional Ainu handicrafts and there are also recreations of ancient dwellings and artworks to learn more about this relatively unknown side of Japan.


Where to stay

Sam Ballard looks at the options for anyone looking to revive themselves in the spa hotels of Jozankei Onsen

Kuriya Suizan
Kuriya Suizan is a traditional Japanese inn – located in the heart of Jozankei – with minimalist decor and food that would rival a Michelin star restaurant. It’s peaceful, too, with children under 13 not allowed.

With just 15 rooms, this intimate ryokan is the epitome of luxury – combining traditional Japanese architecture with luxurious flourishes, to create one of the most peaceful hotels in Jozankei. The most well-appointed rooms even come with their own private hot spring, a luxury that is particularly useful for travellers with tattoos that might not be allowed into the public Onsen.

Rooms are large, with spaces divided by shoji screens and floors covered in tatami mats. The furniture is traditional, with low tables and zaisu chairs (with no legs) and futon beds. Perfect for guests seeking an authentic, luxurious Japanese experience.

Those who use the public Onsen are in for a treat. The outdoor tub is surrounded by beautiful wood panelling with the canopy of the surrounding forest shielding those bathing below, making it an even more revitalising experience. Kuriya Suizan is an oasis within Jozankei and the ideal place to stay after a day hiking through the beautiful area.

Nukumori no Yado Furukawa
For a more traditional stay, travellers may want to book a couple of nights at Nukumori no Yado Furukawa. Furukawa is split into two separate wings, Nukumori-kan and Furusato-kan, the former offers traditional Japanese rooms while the latter have a Japanese sitting room with a Western bedroom. For travellers wanting that extra bit of luxury, Furukawa offers a special guest floor with some rooms including their own private Onsen.

The traditional inn – known as a ryokan – includes four different types of hot spring, which all offer something different for guests. From the Yumemi, a hot spring in the basement that is a recreation of the first to be built in the area back in 1866, constructed with wood from 150 years ago, to the exclusive 8F Bath which offers views of the changing seasons outside from the top floor. In addition to these traditional Onsen, there is also a stone bath, where guests lie on heated stones – a ritual is said to have a beautifying effect – and the Hinoki bath for couples wanting some privacy.

The restaurant serves food using seasonal Hokkaido ingredients. The fare is plentiful, too, with breakfast including a choice of 35 typical Japanese dishes. The kitchen also offers irori seating at the dinner venue, where guests can watch their meal being cooked in front of them. Furukawa is a slice of traditional Japan for travellers wanting an authentic experience – or to bathe like the Japanese did more than 150 years ago.

Wider Hokkaido

Further afield

Anthony Pearce leaves Sapporo and takes in some of the highlights of Japan’s wild frontier, the sparsely populated but strikingly beautiful island of Hokkaido

Sat by the tranquil Lake Toya, which sits before volcanic Mount Usu, the neon-lit streets of Tokyo feel a long, long way away. With its dense alpine forests, volcanic landscapes, hot springs and heavy snowfall in winter, the sparsely populated and strikingly beautiful Hokkaido countryside remains Japan’s wild frontier. The most northerly of the country’s main islands, the prefecture makes up 20 per cent of its land area but only five per cent of its population. To put that in perspective: Tokyo’s population density is 6,158 people per square kilometre; Hokkaido’s is just 72. Yet Hokkaido is remarkably accessible: Tokyo Haneda is an hour’s flight away, while the famed Shinkansen – better known as the bullet train – links Tokyo to Hakodate, to the south of Sapporo, in about four hours.

Here you can take in the city lights from Mount Hakodate, explore the historic Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward, the city’s charming red-brick Bay Area docks, which bears a strong resemblance to San Francisco, and its bustling morning market, which appears to serve every type of seafood in the ocean.

As we have written elsewhere, the food is a major part of Hokkaido’s appeal. The region is known for its produce – from dairy (milk, cheese and ice cream) to beef, whisky and beer. On my last visit, I was treated to a feast at each mealtime: salmon, trout, scallop, squid, sea urchin, crab and octopus make up sushi, sashimi (raw fish) and tempura dishes, while we also try Japanese curry, ramen, broths, hot pots and sticky rice. Each dish is simple – never overpowered with flavour, with soy sauce or wasabi as an accompaniment – and thus completely reliant on the quality of the ingredients. The fish here is among the freshest, and best, you will ever taste.

It takes 30 minutes by rapid train or 45 minutes by local train from Sapporo to Otaru, to the north-west of the city. The city is known for glassworks, sake distilleries, its museum that houses tens of thousands of music boxes, and café-lined canal.

Slightly further west is the Nikka distillery in Yoichi, where you can walk in the lush grounds  and enjoy award-winning single malt whisky – the result of one man’s pilgrimage to Scotland in the early 1900s and a lifelong obsession with Islay malt. Whisky is a slow-moving world, but Nikka is now considered one of the world’s top producers.

Hokkaido is often called yukiguni or snow country, so it’s no surprise that it’s most famous for its ski resorts and winter activities, particularly in Niseko, which is composed of six ski areas, and sits to the west of Mount Yotei. However, the island has much more to offer than winter sports, particularly for the active traveller, as hikers, cyclists, kayakers and other adventure seekers will attest.

To the east of the island is the city of Kushiro, about four hours by express train from Sapporo, which is known for Kushiro Shitsugen, Japan’s largest marshland, home to rare, wild Japanese red-crown cranes (tancho) that can be seen in the winter months. In 2005, the ancient areas of Akan Town and Onbetsu Town merged into expanded city of Kushiro, improving accessibility to the Akan-Mashu National Park, which is home to many dormant volcanoes.

It takes five and a half hours by train to reach Wakkanai, the capital of Soya Subprefecture, and the northernmost city in Japan. It’s home to the country’s northernmost point, Cape Soya, from which the Russian island of Sakhalin can be seen.

With cherry blossoms in spring, lavender in summer and beautiful autumn foliage, the island boasts breathtaking scenery year-round, as well a fascinating history (that of its indigenous people, the Ainu), Sapporo Beer, Nikka whisky and perhaps the world’s finest seafood.

Sixty-five per cent of tourists who visit Japan explore its famed golden route – Tokyo, Hakone (for Mount Fuji) and Kyoto – but the government is keen to promote lesser-known regions and four-seasons tourism. Hokkaido is an easy sell; in parts it feels more Scandinavian than how many imagine Japan, has charm in abundance and is becoming more well known as a destination for adventure travel.

Sapporo: in numbers