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Things to Do in Hokkaido

Home to snow-capped peaks and the cavernous forests of Japan’s wild north, the island of Hokkaido is a mecca for outdoor adventurers. Topped by the urban crown of Sapporo, the prefecture’s neon-lit capital, Hokkaido combines metropolitan sparkle with exceptional skiing opportunities and the unspoiled beauty of three spectacular national parks. Before flocking to its natural wonders, join a Sapporo sightseeing tour to visit popular attractions including Hitsujigaoka Observatory Hill, the chocolate-themed Shiroi Koibito Park, and the Historic Village of Hokkaido. The city makes a convenient launchpad for day trips to Lake Shikotsu; the hot springs of Hoheikyo Onsen; the emerald Nopporo Forest Park; and Otaru, where you can take a rickshaw tour through this seaside town steeped in Japanese tradition. Winter-sport enthusiasts will be in heaven: Ski on the world-class slopes of Niseko, or experience smelt ice fishing in Kushiro. Or head to further-flung corners by visiting Furano and Biei, famed for panoramic vistas and flower-filled fields; while the crystal clear lakes, bubbling volcanoes, and steaming onsens of Daisetsuzan National Park beg to be explored by intrepid outdoor adventurers. Pro-tip: If you’re travelling to Hokkaido from Tokyo or Osaka, travel by plane to shorten your journey time—it can take up to 24 hours by car, and will still require at least nine hours of travel time by bullet train.
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Asahiyama Zoo
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Located on the island of Hokkaido, Asahiyama Zoo is the northernmost zoo in Japan. Known for its innovative enclosures, which are designed to resemble natural habitats and to showcase natural animal behavior, Asahiyama Zoo is one of the most popular attractions in the Asahikawa region and draws millions of visitors a year.

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Maruyama Park (Maruyama Koen)
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Set at the base of Maruyama Mountain in the western suburbs of Sapporo, Maruyama Park (Maruyama Koen) comprises 15 acres (6 hectares) of virgin and secondary forest filled with oak, magnolia, maple and Japanese katsura trees. Some 1,700 Hokkaido wild cherry trees also grow within the park, making it a particularly popular destination come springtime.

Predating the park itself is the Hokkaido Shrine, located at the north end of the park. Built in 1869, the shrine sees a steady stream of devotees, especially on New Year’s Day and the last day of winter, seeking the good graces of the four protective deities believed to be enshrined within.

Visitors to Maruyama Park will also find Maruyama Zoo on the grounds. The zoo houses around 200 species of plants and animals and includes a tropical bird aviary and an insect house.

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Odori Park (Odori Koen)
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Located in the heart of Sapporo and dividing the city into north and south, Odori Park (Odori Koen) offers a pleasant open and green space for relaxation and recreation. The city’s central park, which stretches for 13 blocks, is the main site for popular seasonal events and festivals.

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Lake Shikotsu (Shikotsuko)
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Located in southwest Hokkaido, close to Sapporo, Lake Shikotsu (Shikotsuko) is the second-deepest lake and second-largest caldera lake in Japan. Surrounded by volcanoes on all sides, the lake is a popular recreation area for locals and visitors looking to enjoy the outdoors, wildlife, hot springs, and beautiful scenery.

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Sapporo TV Tower
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East of Odori Park, and standing 483 feet (147 meters) tall, Sapporo TV Tower is an iconic landmark of the city. Head up to the observation deck, pull out your camera, and enjoy postcard-perfect views of Sapporo, nearby mountains, the Ishikari Plains, and the Sea of Japan.

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Shiroi Koibito Park
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Shiroi Koibito is a popular Japanese cookie consisting of milk or white chocolate sandwiched between two ladyfinger biscuits. The sweet-themed Shiroi Koibito Park in Sapporo takes visitors behind the scenes to see how Hokkaido’s most famous confection is made.

Entrance to the park includes a factory tour, Cookiecraft Studio where guests get to make their own Shiroi Koibito, toy exhibition, rose garden and a candy store selling a variety of sweet treats.

Each hour, the Chocolate Carnival takes place in the courtyard and involves a parade of mechanical dolls. Modeled after the Benkei steam train, the Shiroi Koibito Railway is a hit with young visitors, as is the Gulliver House play area.

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Mt. Moiwa (Moiwa-yama)
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One of Sapporo’s most famous sightseeing attractions is Mt. Moiwa (Moiwa-yama), a forested mountain located southwest of Sapporo. Popular for its city views, especially at sunset, the mountain’s summit and observation deck are accessible by way of the Mt. Moiwa Ropeway, an aerial tramway system that climbs 1,200 feet (366 meters) in two segments.

From the summit, the views extend past the city of Sapporo to the Ishikari Plain, Ishikari Bay and the Yubari Mountains in the distance. In the winter, the south side of Mt. Moiwa serves as one of Sapporo’s most popular ski resorts.

During the summers, hikers can take advantage of five different mountain trails winding through the forests of Mt. Moiwa.

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Susukino
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Head to Susukino for shopping, dining, and nightlife in Sapporo. The biggest entertainment district north of Tokyo, the lively Susukino district is packed with thousands of establishments, ranging from shops and arcades to restaurants, bars, karaoke boxes, nightclubs, and pachinko parlors, as well as adult-entertainment options.

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Hoheikyo Onsen
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As one of Sapporo’s most popular outdoor hot springs, Hoheikyo Onsen is an ideal place to relax in healing, naturally heated waters while enjoying the beautiful forest surroundings.

Hoheikyo sits deep in a mountain canyon, and if you come during the winter time, you can soak in the volcanic hot springs surrounded by snowy peaks. During the summer, you can also spend time rafting and canoeing on the nearby Toyohira River. Hoheikyo Onsen has two separate baths, which are separated by gender and switch daily so both men and women can experience both baths. This is also one of the few outdoor hot springs in the area that allows alcohol in the bath, so you can sip a local beer as you soak. Also on-site is a popular Indian restaurant that is well known locally for authentic Indian curries and fresh nan bread.

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Jozankei
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The hot-spring town of Jozankei is the perfect place to escape for a relaxing weekend soaking in the healing waters of myriad natural geothermal baths. This full-featured resort town just an hour outside of Sapporo has about 20 hotels, as well as a variety of restaurants and shops.

In the fall, Jozankei is also a popular base for foliage watchers looking to enjoy the scenery of the changing leaves. The onsens themselves are true volcanic hot springs laden with healing minerals, and during the winter, the nearby Toyohira River mixes with the spring waters, enveloping the town in inviting steam. As with most onsens in Japan, baths are divided into men’s and women’s sections, and bathing is done in the nude. The nearby Jozankei Dam and Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort are also popular attractions in the area.

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More Things to Do in Hokkaido

Nopporo Forest Park (Nopporo Shinrin Koen)

Nopporo Forest Park (Nopporo Shinrin Koen)

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Explore the natural beauty and history of Hokkaido at Nopporo Forest Park (Nopporo Shinrin Koen). Covering an area of over 4,942 acres (2,000 hectares), Nopporo Forest Park is a flatland forest, wildlife sanctuary, and home to the Hokkaido Centennial Memorial Tower, the Historical Museum of Hokkaido, and the Historical Village of Hokkaido.

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Mt. Tarumae (Tarumae-zan)

Mt. Tarumae (Tarumae-zan)

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Get up close to an active stratovolcano with an unstable lava dome at Mt. Tarumae (Tarumae-zan), located on the shores of Lake Shikotsu inside Shikotsu-Toya National Park. The trail up Mt. Tarumae is one of the most spectacular and accessible hikes on Hokkaido and offers dramatic, otherworldly scenery and stunning panoramic views.

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Tomakomai

Tomakomai

Savor fresh seafood and get close to nature at Tomakomai, an industrial port city located on the south-central coast of Hokkaido. Famed for its surf clam, Tomakomai also offers close proximity to natural attractions like Lake Shikotsu, Mt. Tarumae, Tarumae Garo Gorge, Ikoro-no-Mori, and Lake Utonai Wildlife Reserve.

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Sapporo Beer Hokkaido Brewery

Sapporo Beer Hokkaido Brewery

For most visitors, the single most recognizable product from Sapporo is the local beer of the same name. This region was the birthplace of beer in Japan, and Sapporo beer is not only the most popular in the country, but also widely produced, distributed and enjoyed around the world.

Don’t miss a chance to visit the origin of this local brew at the Sapporo Beer Hokkaido Brewery, which offers free factory tours that include a beer tasting. The factory itself is outside of Sapporo, but once you’ve seen the factory and headed back to town, you can also stop at the Sapporo Beer Museum and the Sapporo Beer Garden to keep the tasting going.

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Chitose River (Chitose Gawa)

Chitose River (Chitose Gawa)

The Chitose River (Chitose Gawa) in Hokkaido flows from Lake Shikotsu before eventually joining the Ishikari River past the city of Ebetsu. For visitors to Sapporo, the Chitose River offers myriad opportunities for outdoor recreation amidst the natural beauty of the region.

The gently flowing waters of the river are ideal for canoeing and kayaking, though you won’t find any rushing rapids. Sport fishing enthusiasts will find kokanee salmon, rainbow trout and whitespotted char in the waters of the river. Nature lovers looking to learn more about the ecology of the Chitose River can so just that at the Chitose Salmon Aquarium. This freshwater facility overlooking the river features native species, like salmon, in massive, lifelike tanks.

On shore, paths and trails through the countryside along the banks of the river offer the perfect setting for horseback riding and cycling in summer, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling in winter.

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Toyohira River

Toyohira River

The Toyohira River stretches for 45 miles (72.5 kilometers) through Hokkaido province, providing the city of Sapporo with its water before emptying into the larger Ishikari River. Sapporo, the capital of the province, got its name from the river’s original Ainu name, Sapporo Pet.

The region of Jōzankei along the upper Toyohira has long been famous for its onsen, hot springs resorts, which are particularly popular for winter relaxation. The river then flows north and parallels the city, offering some of the best parkland during the warmer summer months. The Sapporo Salmon Museum, located west of downtown, gives a history of the salmon industry in the Toyohira River.

The Toyohira River hosts two popular summer festivals, the Toyohira Fireworks and the Toyohira Rafting Festival. The former comprises an elaborate hour-long pyrotechnic show with some 4,000 fireworks lighting up the night sky. During the latter, competitors race to see who can make it farthest down the river in homemade rafts and amusing costumes.

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Barato River

Barato River

Some of Sapporo’s rivers are known for their summer recreational opportunities. While the Barato River also offers canoeing, kayaking and paths for cycling along the banks, the best action happens in winter when the river freezes over and becomes an ideal spot for a popular Sapporo pastime, ice fishing.

Each winter, frigid temperatures transform parts of the Barato River into giant snowfields, where it’s possible to pitch a fishing tent, carve a hole in the ice, cast a line and reel in smelt. While locals might take their catch home with them, ice fishing tours offer visitors the chance to sample their catch cooked tempura-style in a wok of hot oil right in the tent.

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Mt. Okura Observatory

Mt. Okura Observatory

Some of the best views of Sapporo can be had from the Mt. Okura Observatory. The observatory got its start in 1972 as the site of the 90-meter ski jump competitions during the Sapporo Winter Olympics. Today, the facility still hosts ski jump events during the winter months, but during the rest of the year, the ski lift ferries visitors to the Viewing Point Lounge, located 1,007 feet (307 meters) above sea level.

Besides offering views of the city of Sapporo and the Ishikari Plain, the site also houses the Sapporo Winter Sports Museum, where visitors can learn about the history of winter sports in Japan and try simulators that immerse you in the experience of timing a ski jump or technical spin in figure skating.

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Asahiyama Memorial Park (Asahiyama Kinen Koen)

Asahiyama Memorial Park (Asahiyama Kinen Koen)

Opened in 1970 to commemorate Sapporo’s centennial celebration, Asahiyama Memorial Park (Asahiyama Kinen Koen) sits on a hilltop on the western edge of the city, offering panoramic views of both Sapporo and the Ishikari Plain beyond it. On a clear day, it’s possible to see all the way to the Sea of Japan.

Surrounding the park’s lookout, located 451 feet (137.5 meters) above sea level, are a series of lawns and manicured gardens with a fountain, Chinese arbor, a couple of bridges and a children’s play area. A series of hiking trails run through the forested area at the rear of the park, and when the weather is nice, food and drink vendors set up shop, making it a popular spot for picnicking. In July, Asahiyama Memorial Park serves as the venue for the Sapporo Asahiyama Music Festival.

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Noboribetsu Date Historic Village (Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura)

Noboribetsu Date Historic Village (Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura)

Located in Hokkaido, Noboribetsu Date Historic Village (Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura) is a history-themed park that transports visitors back to the Edo period. Here, you can enjoy traditional games and activities, dress up in period costumes, and stroll through replica Edo-era buildings and streets.

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