Famous for powder soft snow and fun-tastic slopes, Hokkaido is at the top of most Aussies’ summer travel list. Swapping out thongs for ski boots, it’s common for top ski resort areas like Niseko to turn into mini Australian villages with the sheer influx of tourists. But Hokkaido, technically a prefecture, is home to many other cities, each with their own unique attractions to offer. For your next trip up in Northern Japan (when it is feasible to do so – and it will be, soon we hope), look beyond winter sports and traverse down to where the locals live for a (sometimes literal) taste of what the region has to offer.
Savour Mouth-watering Seafood
Hokkaido is home to some of the best seafood in the world, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who will disagree. Make your way to Sapporo, the largest city in the Hokkaido region for Nijo Market. A public market in the heart of Sapporo, Nijo Market is akin to the famed Tsukiji/Toyosu of Tokyo as a place where both locals and travellers alike are able to shop for local produce or grab seafood-based snacks from all of the stalls that dot the block. And if you’re after something more substantial, one need only walk a little deeper into Noren Yokocho, a collection of small izakaya and restaurants that will typically be serving seafood bowls alongside piping hot miso soup. Whether your penchant is crabs, ikura or sea urchin, Nijo Market is sure to have it. And if you happen to come across an enthusiastic seafood seller peddling snow crab buns, definitely say yes and thank us later.
Address: 1 Chome Minami 3 Johigashi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 060-0052
Hours: 7am – 6pm
Stroll Along The Otaru Canal
For a vibe that just hits differently, check out Otaru. This quiet harbour city is only about 30 minutes from thriving Sapporo with a calmness that will wash over you as soon as you arrive. Once a major fishing port, Otaru’s beautifully preserved canal and backdrop of old warehouses is now a nostalgic hark back to busier times. The canal is wonderful during the day when street artists are out showcasing their works in a spirit that’s reminiscent of European cities. Feel free to drop in and out of the museums close by, including a Music Box Musum, Otaru Railway Museum and the Museum of Venetian Art.
Purchase Tasty Souvenirs
Whether you’ve flown into Hokkaido or have taken the shinkansen up from another part of Japan, the first sight that will greet you will likely be a gift shop, brimming to the top with every manner of souvenirs. One might be tempted to buy out the entire store, but shop smart and you’ll find yourself coming away with some true Hokkaido gems. If you’ve got the time, the space and the means, you can’t go wrong with some fresh or pickled seafood like a bottle of ikura, to spruce up some home cooking. For food items that are a little easier to pack and handle, try the evergreen Shiroi Koibito, a langue de chat cookie with white chocolate sandwiched between. The original Shiroi Koibito has a rich, creamy filling that isn’t too sweet, but the depending on the season, there may also be limited edition flavours for you to try. Hokkaido’s yubari melon is also world renown for its soft flesh and bright, intense sweetness. These might not make the trip back home so picking up some yubari melon cakes, cookies or Pocky sticks could be your next bet.
New Chitose Airport
Address: Bibi, Chitose, Hokkaido 066-0012
Hours: Hours vary, please refer to shop information on the website
Dip Into Jozankei Onsen
Japan is blessed with an abundance of hot spring areas and Hokkaido prefecture houses many of them. One noteworthy onsen area is Jozankei Hot Springs, known for being close to the lush Shikotsu-Toya National Park as well as having a soft texture to its water. Its located a rough 25-30 kms from Sapporo city which makes it a frequent destination for locals due to its close proximity. You can opt to stay in a local ryokan such as Jyozankei Hotel which comes with a communal bath (shared amongst the ryokan guests) as well as a private bath at an added fee, or simply research onsen baths that provide day-use passes. It’s no stretch to say that an onsen experience is a life changing one with many health benefits, no matter where you end up exploring in Japan, make sure a dip in the onsen is on the itinerary.
Address: 4 Chome-340 Jozankeionsennishi, Minami Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 061-2303
Hours: Check-in and check-out hours vary, please refer to website
Hike Around Lake Toya
Depending on the season of your visit, hiking might be a tad too cold for most of us. But don’t sleep on Lake Toya or the wider Shikotsu-Toya National Park that it’s located in. The park is stunning and has for the most part been very well maintained, allowing visitors to take in an often unseen part of the beautiful Japanese natural landscape. Beside the lake itself, there’s also the commandeering presence of Mt Usu an active volcano that last erupted in the year 2000. The guest centre will provide you with lots of interesting facts regarding the flora and fauna of the park, and the few restaurants and stalls selling hot butter scallops and mochi, a suitable refuge should it be too cold or too hot.
Shikotsu-Toya National Park
Address: Minami Ward, ニセコ町 Abuta District, Hokkaido 048-1541
Visitor Centre Hours: 9am – 5.30pm / 9.30am- 4.30 pm (Winter)