Toyohira River, Sapporo © alf
The most remarkable thing about the northern
Japanese island of Hokkaido and its capital city Sapporo, is the
contrast in temperatures between winter and summer. Sapporo, site
of the 1972 Winter Olympics, is a favourite ski destination with
temperatures plummeting well below freezing in December and January
- the lowest ever recorded was in January 1945, when the mercury
dropped to -11ºF (-24ºC). Summer, however, sees daytime
highs of above 86ºF (30ºC), although evenings and
mornings are cooler.
Because of the thick snows that turns the city
into a winter wonderland, Sapporo is favoured more as a winter
sports destination than a spring or summer resort. There are ski
slopes within the city limits and residents often enjoy a quick run
Sapporo is one of Japan's newest cities, having
been constructed almost from scratch as the capital of Hokkaido in
1871. Japan imported foreign technicians (including 46 Americans)
to aid in the development of the city, formerly a small settlement
of the native Ainu people, which has now grown to accommodate about
two million inhabitants. Despite a large population, Sapporo is not
as crowded or densely packed as other Japanese cities.
A national survey ranked it as one of the
country's most desirable places to live, which is not surprising
because its natural setting allows for easy access to mineral spas,
mountain hikes, campsites, and superb ski runs. Tourists enjoy the
outdoor delights of the region and experiencing the ancient culture
of the local Ainu people.
See our separate guides to the following Sapporo holiday resorts: Furano
Hokkaido, Sapporo © Kzaral
Situated in a corner of the Hokkaido Nopporo Forest Park in Sapporo, this impressive and entertaining outdoor museum village depicts Hokkaido life in days of old. The site features restored or recreated buildings from the Meiji and Taisho periods, and includes edifices like the old Sapporo railway station, old Otaru newspaper company buildings, fishermen's cottages, and mountain villas. Horse-drawn trolleys run through the village and in winter horse-drawn sleighs carry visitors around the site. The historical village should entertain the whole family for a few hours. Those particularly curious about the local culture and history of the area should not miss the Hokkaido Ainu Centre, which is a free attraction a little further out of Sapporo. The Ainu people, with their unique culture, have lived on the island of Hokkaido for hundreds of generations. The Ainu Centre details the history and culture of the island's indigenous people using interesting exhibits and demonstrations and makes the perfect companion attraction for the historical village.
Address: Konopporo 50-1, Atsubetsu-chyo; Website: www.kaitaku.or.jp/info/info.htm
Mount Moiwa © world_waif
Mount MoiwaFondly known as Sapporo's 'backyard ski resort', Mt Moiwa offers 10 different courses for all grades of skiers from beginners to advanced. There are fun family slopes and a children's play area as well as some more challenging options; advanced skiers may find it a bit too friendly but all levels are ultimately catered for. It is possible to rent all the equipment you might need. Most of the slopes are well lit to enable visitors and locals alike to enjoy the fun of night skiing, taking in the breathtaking view of the city as they fly down the sparkling slopes under the stars. There is an observatory on the mountain which can be reached by cable car, and even if you have no intention of skiing it is worth a trip up to this platform to enjoy the incredible views. There is also a restaurant, a souvenir shop and some tributes to lovers including a bunch of love locks (padlocks bearing the initials of couples and locked to signal eternal love). The best time to go up the ropeway is in the evening so that you can enjoy the daytime views of the slopes and city, and stay as darkness descends to see the city light up beneath you. The cableway may stop running in bad weather but is usually operational.
Noboribetsu Onsen © Kentaro Ohno
NoboribetsuThe famous hot-spring resort of Noboribetsu Onsen is situated inside the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. The spa complex is one of many found in Hokkaido, but being closest to Sapporo is very popular. Hot mineral springs gush out about 10,000 tons of water a day, and it is said to have healing properties for a range of disorders. There are more than 30 hotels and bath houses grouped together along a narrow street along with shops, souvenir stores, and whatever else visitors may need. The area is also known for its cherry trees, which make a stunning sight in spring, and there are some worthwhile hiking trails in the park. If you're after luxury, you can find high-end accommodation and spa treatments that are seen as some of the best in the country but there are also cheaper options for those travelling on a budget. It is possible at some spots to bathe in the natural springs outdoors, which is the most atmospheric option. The springs are a popular excursion from Sapporo and the trip can easily be made in a day, which is all you need to enjoy the relaxing hot water.
Vintage Beer Display © Toby Oxborrow
Sapporo Beer MuseumFor beer lovers, a visit to the beer museum in the historic Sapporo Brewery building is a must, together with a tour of the brewery itself, which, of course, ends with a tasting. The red brick brewery building was opened first as a sugar factory in 1876, and has been the home of Japan's famous beer since 1887. One-hour tours are conducted at 15-minute intervals every day throughout the year; however, these are in Japanese only. It is possible to book in advance and request an English interpreter and the people at the front desk will happily provide an English leaflet detailing a brief history of Sapporo beer. Despite the fact that the exhibits are almost totally in Japanese it is still interesting to see the old photographs, memorabilia, and visual evolution of the brand. There are lockers at the entrance so you don't have to carry stuff around and there is a little gift shop for souvenirs.
Address: 9-1-1 Kita 7-Jo Higashi, Higashi-ku, Sapporo 065-0007, Hokkaido; Website: www.sapporobeer.jp