Hokkaido: Southern Hokkaido
Northern Hokkaido | Southern Hokkaido
Founded in 1869, when the government in Tokyo began active settlement of Hokkaido, Sapporo is different from other Japanese cities. Unlike the maze of Tokyo, it is laid out in a square grid, with numbered, tree-lined streets that make it easy to find your way around and lots of parks. Because the city is under several feet of snow for long periods, there is an extensive underground network of shops and restaurants. Tanuki-koji street and the Susukino area in the south of the city are where you'll find the best places to eat and drink. Sapporo ramen, salty with lots of garlic, corn and butter is the most famous local dish. Odori Park runs east to west across the center of the city.
A giant Star Wars snow sculpture
It is the venue for the Snow Festival, which is held every February and attracts millions of visitors. The symbol of Sapporo is the clock tower of the Municipal Memorial Hall. The city is also the home of Sapporo Beer and the brewery provides a menu of hearty Genghis Khan, a Mongolian-style barbecue. The Botanical Gardens have over 6,000 species of plants from around the world and are also home to Hokkaido University and the Ainu Museum. The summit of Mt. Moiwa provides a birds-eye view of the city. Sapporo was the venue of the Winter Olympics in 1972.
Jozankei Onsen (hot spring spa) is located about 1 hour 10 minutes southwest of Sapporo. It is famous for its beautiful autumn foliage. Other scenic spots located between Sapporo and the southern port city of Muroran are Lake Toya and Lake Shikotsu (both volcanic caldera lakes), Mt. Showa-Shinzan and Noboribetsu Onsen. The latter is one of the largest and most impressive onsen in Japan, with 11 different kinds of hot springs.
Jozankei Onsen in autumn
Northwest of Sapporo is the port town of Otaru. The town is best known for its canal, which was its central artery in the first half of the 20th century. Large vessels were unloaded by smaller ships, which then transported the goods to the warehouses which still line the canal. With the decline of the coal industry, the town lost its economic importance to Sapporo. But the well preserved historic buildings have ensured that it now thrives as a popular tourist destination.
The southern gateway to Hokkaido, Hakodate has been a prosperous fishing port since the 1740's and was one of the first ports opened to foreign trade in the mid-19th century. It has many remnants of western-style architecture, including the Goryokaku, a Dutch-style fortress in the shape of a five-pointed star. Mt. Hakodate is a popular hiking spot and the view of the city at night from the summit is spectacular. The nearby Onuma National Park is very popular both in summer and winter. There is also a trappist convent, about 50 minutes by bus from the city, which is home to some 70 nuns who are famous for making butter and candy. Another local delicacy is ika-somen, finely sliced strips of fresh raw squid. Matsumae, about 100km to the southwest, has a reproduction of the last feudal castle built in Japan. The castle is set amidst 5,000 cherry trees and is a beautiful sight in spring.
Akan Ainu Kotan
The word "kotan" means village or settlement in the Ainu language, and Hokkaido's largest kotan is located on the shore of Lake Akan near Kushiro. It offers a chance to experience the day-to-day life and culture of the indigenous Ainu people.The most obvious symbol of the area is the owl, which you'll see everywhere. Local attractions include a theatre specializing in traditional Ainu dance and restaurants serving Ainu cuisine. Artistic wood carvings are the most popular purchase at the many souvenir shops.
- See our page on the official websites for each prefecture and major city: Guide to Japan's Regions and Cities