The first stopping off point in Hokkaido for most people is Sapporo, the biggest city north of Tokyo. This is a city with wide, tree-lined streets and a relaxed atmosphere, without the hustle and bustle you seen in cities like Osaka or Tokyo. Most people can get a train seat, even if they are taking a train from Sapporo station, the “busiest” train station in Hokkaido. Although there’s not a lot of sights to see in Sapporo, its worth stopping by just to get a bite to eat and taking a stroll in Odori park to walk it all off. At the Sapporo Beer Garden, you can eat as much “Genghis-Khan mutton BBQ” and drink as much as you want for around 3,400 yen. Sapporo is also the place you can catch the Woman’s Sumo National Championship if you are lucky enough to be in the city when it is being held.
Budget accommodations are a little difficult to find but not impossible. A good, reasonably priced business hotel near the famous entertainment district of Susukino is called Super Hotel Sapporo Susukino Minami. Offering a public bath and a nice buffet breakfast with fresh salmon, eggs, miso soup, fruit, and rice, it’s a bargain at 6,000 yen per night.
From Sapporo, there are many sights to see, the top ones being Furano, Biei, Shikotsu-ko, Toya-ko, Shiraoi, or the zoo in Asahikawa. Furano is famous for its bright, multi-colored fields of lavender in August and for its fiery sunsets over the mountains. Biei is famous for its rolling, dappled hills of endless farmland, a sight for sore eyes if you’ve been in the city for too long. Shikotsu-Toya National Park is not to be missed, for its two lakes, many mountains, and several smoking volcanoes.
Usu-zan and Showa Shin-zan are the volcanoes and funnily enough, in 1943, Showa Shin-zan first popped up in someone’s vegetable field and continued to grow for two more years, reaching its current height of 402 meters. Toya Lake and Shikotsu Lake are also great sights, surrounded by volcanoes. It’s often very windy, so the lakes have crashing waves, making them seem wilder than most of Japan’s public beaches. Shiraoi is in between the two lakes and is not to be missed for its reconstructed Ainu village, Poroto Kotan. It’s a great place to go to find out more about Ainu culture and Hokkaido’s indigenous people, the Ainu.
Last but not least, it’s worth it to stop off at Asahikawa’s zoo if you have time. This is probably the most famous zoo in Japan. It’s not that big but it’s fun to see the polar bears and stop off at one of Asahikawa’s restaurants for a bowl of Hokkaido soba, which is truly delicious.
So, if you’re looking for a bit of nature, Hokkaido’s the place to go. And don’t forget to try the lavender ice cream while you’re there.