- Visit Biei-cho
The town that took the lead in the enhancement and conservation of Japanese rural heritage and formed the Association of The Most Beautiful Villages in Japan. 49 member towns have been inscribed since its formation in 2005; but it is no wonder Biei took the lead. This small town almost in the middle of Hokkaido is full of breathtaking landscapes and has made a name of its own; as it is famous for its open areas, blue skies and beautiful hills. Thus it is often used for many commercials, programs and movies.
Some of the most mesmerizing scenery I saw in Japan was here. And some of the best pictures I took too; even if I often felt like a total noob next to all those professional photographers roaming the hills. Either way rent a car or a bike and explore the town’s surroundings!
2.- Delight yourself at Aoiike
The Blue Pond (青い池, Aoiike) was made worldwide famous when it became a Macbook Wallpaper. Since it’s all the way to Hokkaido though, it has almost escaped massive tourism. It’s catching up quickly so I recommend you visit this wonderland soon.
The pond is located outside the hot spring town of Shirogane Onsen and is named after its deep blue color which it owes to natural minerals dissolved in the water.
My pictures are from late october but I really hope to go back in the middle of winter and snap a few shots of the snowy lake.
3.- Go to a Mountain Hot Spring ( Onsen )
When you visit Japan please leave home your fear or shame of naked bodies and visit the hot springs. People that have never been to this kind of public baths may feel a bit strange at first ( I sure did). But being self-conscious about being naked in front of a bunch of other girls left my mind completely when I sunk into the pool of hot mountain water. There are many Onsen throughout Japan, the best are usually found in rural areas or mountains and Hokkaido has some pretty awesome ones. Picture natural pools of hot water, lined with stones and surrounded by the whitest and fluffiest snow. It is truly a wonderland.
There are some rules you must follow so just make sure you read them before going in. But don’t worry there is always either english version or pictures. It’s pretty basic anyway: just make sure you wash yourself before going in the water, do not let your hair touch the pools and be considerate of the others around you, no hogging the aromatic bubble bath, staring too much or speaking too loudly… this is relaxing time.
4.- Visit Sapporo
The biggest city in Hokkaido, probably mostly known for its food and its University, is full of sights to admire and activities to do. You can visit the Sapporo Beer Museum and the Ainu Museum, Hokkaido’s Univeristy Campus, stroll around Maruyama Park and climb the mountain. Shop at Tanuki Kōji Shopping Arcade or eat some hearty Ramen in one of the many establishments downtown.
If you visit during February you can even catch the Sapporo Snow Festival and enjoy the many creative sculptures decorating Odori Park. The city celebrates Summer and Autumn Festivals as well and in synchrony with its sister city Munich; a small “Oktoberfest” and a German Christmas Market.
5.- Visit Hakodate
The port city of Hakodate was Japan’s first city whose port was opened to foreign trade. It’s located right at the southern tail of Hokkaido and now super easy to get to thanks to the new Hokkaido Shinkansen. It’s main attractions are the bay and its restored red brick warehouses, the Fish Market, and the star shaped fort of Goryōkaku. I came to this lovely city visiting a friend, who as many locals, had never been to the top of the Fort’s tower. She was very happy I “gave her license” to do touristy stuff too as we watched over the snow covered city.
6.- Eat at a Morning Fish Market
The freshest and most delicious seafood in Japan is said to come from Hokkaido. I don’t hold any location preferences but getting up at sunrise to stroll around markets is one of my favorite activities. If you have been to the busy Tsukiji Market in Tokyo you’ll gladly embrace the feeling of kindness in the Morning Market of Hakodate. Vendors go out of their way to explain you the different kinds of fish they sell and you don’t have to queue for an exquisite rice bowl topped with fresh seafood.
7.- Mt. Moiwa
I was lucky enough to make it up here before the trails closed for winter. This is quite a popular sightseeing spot; the view from the observation deck is great, the hiking is invigorating and yes, there is also the ropeway option . Watching Sapporo city illuminated at night is a perfect date activity… they even have a spot for you to lock down your love and throw away the key. Just don’t forget to write both your names or initials on the love locket and join thousands before you sealing their love at this beautiful summit.
8.- Visit a Farm
You are in Hokkaido! It’s the farming paradise of Japan, it’s the place japanese people go to get away from the crowded cities and experience nature to its fullest. You want to make the best of this experience too so I really recommend you visit some of the many farms that welcome visitors, and specially eat at their eco-cafés 😉 Food here comes straight from the farmer’s land or neighboring farms and is organic, healthy and delicious.
When I came to Japan I decided to take this step a bit further and Wwoofed for a month at Landcafe in Biei. We got up everyday at 6 a.m. and walked the forest, then had breakfast and worked on the crops, the warehouse or the café. It is a beautiful experience that World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms provides to people that crave that direct contact with nature and local culture. If you feel it might be of interest to you then check out all the options and locations you can go to live sustainably. It has been one of my most enriching travel experiences so far. ❀
Never, ever, ever, ever travel somewhere disregarding the importance of trying local meals. Food is a reflection of the city, country or society it’s born and eaten in. Through local ingredients you know what the community has in abundance and what it’s lacking, preparation is always filled with customs from old days, flavors are not only a gift to taste but to the heart and the mind.
Every society pours itself onto its food and creates marvels. Try the hearty miso ramen Sapporo is famous for, fresh snow crab, Jingisukan mutton meat and local veggies and fruits. Get into tiny old shops and choose the ingredients you could never see at home, choose the wasabi ice cream over the vanilla one, drink hot sake instead of rum and coke. You will not regret it. いただきます!
My final advice, petition, recommendation, is: get a bike. The best way to enjoy the scenery and the fresh air of the japanese countryside is to traverse it on 2 wheels. This is a very bike friendly country and it’ll make it so easy for you to bike everywhere that you will soon wonder why weren’t you doing the same back home.
My hosts lent me this baby in the picture and she took me everywhere; there are even alternate roads to the highway that are exclusive to bikes like the one in the picture below.
Don’t miss out and happy cycling!