Hokkaido Prefecture – Putting the “Win in Winter”
Whether its drift ice, onsen, skiing or snow festivals, Hokkaido knows how to do winters.
Sapporo became internationally recognised after hosting the Olympic Winter Games in 1972, nowadays however, it is more notorious for its world-class ski resorts, Yuki Matsuri (snow festivals) and Sapporo Beer.
The direct meaning of “北海道” is “North Sea Circuit”, with the kanji “道” acting much like the term “県” (prefecture). This makes the name “Hokkaido Prefecture” somewhat illogical – not that it really matters too much. Japan’s “North Sea Circuit” is separated from the mainland by the Tsugaru Strait, with its only land-link being an underground train tunnel. Access is still relatively easy though because there are frequent flights available all-year-round.
Sapporo City (
If we take the town of Furano as Hokkaido’s centre, then Sapporo City lies around 120km to the West. The city started to dramatically develop after 1868, when the government decided that Hokkaido’s existing administrative centre, Hakodate, couldn’t accommodate the future needs of the island.
Sapporo is Japan’s fifth largest city and the birthplace of Japan’s oldest beer brand, Sapporo Brewery. Two of Sapporo’s most popular parks are Odori (
Odori Park is located in the heart of the city and stretches across twelve blocks, making it an easy green-escape for the city’s residents and employees. It is open throughout the year and turns into a beer garden for the Sapporo Summer Festival (
Moerenuma Park lies on the north outskirts of the city. Its contemporary design is thanks to Japanese-American sculptor, Isamu Noguchi. One of its key features is an eccentric glass pyramid building called Hidamari.
Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール博物館) is open most days of the year and offers both free and paid tours. If you fancy staying a bit longer, there are also beer halls which offer which offer 飲み放題 (all you can drink), and restaurants to ensure that you drink beer the right way – with food!
With six national parks, five quasi-national parks and 12 prefectural national parks totalling around 147,000 hectares (more than any other prefecture), it’s no wonder that Hokkaido is a favourite amongst nature addicts.
Located roughly in the centre of Hokkaido is Daisetsuzan (
Shiretoko National Park (
There is plenty to experience in
Drift ice is a common phenomenon observed on the northern coasts in Hokkaido along the Sea of Okhotsk. You can experience the beauty of this through a sightseeing boat from Abashiri (
If you prefer snow to ice, then descending down the powdery snow in one of Hokkaido’s top ski resorts seems 100% necessary. Hokkaido is Japan’s skiing and snowboarding heaven. Insatiable slope-lovers, can feed their snow-related appetites with scenic routes and off-trail skiing at Niseko (ニセコ) – Japan’s most renowned ski resort
There are numerous snow festivals between January and April throughout Hokkaido, but the two million annual visitors to Sapporo’s Yuki Matsuri indicate that this is prefecture’s most celebrated. Dozens of fantastical ice structures – some of which stand at almost 30 meters high – make this festival like no other. The main site for Sapporo’s Yuki Matsuri is at Odori Park.