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. 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.
Sapporo Snow Festival
A speedboat on Lake Shikotsu
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.
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.
- See our page on the official websites for each prefecture and major city: Guide to Japan's Regions and Cities