Hokkaido continues to represent the untamed wilderness with many great national parks. For many visitors the scenery resembles northern Europe, with rice paddies and concrete warrens replacing rolling fields and faux-German cottages. However, the ubquitous hotspring resorts in much of the island serve as a reminder that you are still in Japan.
One of Japan’s newest and nicest cities, Sapporo’s population has grown from seven in 1857 to nearly 2 million today. Being a new city, especially by Japanese standards, means it has little in the way of traditional architecture and the like of cities such as Kyoto. But what it lacks in “Japanese-ness” it makes up for with its lovely open, tree-filled boulevards to enjoy in summer and excellent snow (and facilities to cope with said snow) in the long winter. …WikiTravel
Clock Tower (時計台 Tokeidai), (Close to Odori Station.). This rather diminutive building has become a symbol of Sapporo, mostly by being the oldest building still standing. It was constructed in 1878 for the Sapporo Agricultural College (now the Hokkaido University) and would not look out of place in “Smalltown U.S.A.” The inside has a small retrospective of its history. Visitor beware, as this is for some reason a mecca for Japanese tourists coming to Sapporo who feel that no trip to Sapporo would be complete without a photo in front of the Tokeidai, but was actually recently rated as Japan’s third “most disappointing” tourist attraction! ¥200.
Ishiya Chocolate Factory. The chocolate factory has an incredibly corny, but fun, tour building up to a view of the actual chocolate making floor, and ending with a random toy museum. Also there are two restaurants, a souvenir store, and an hourly robot show complete with annoying music. Famous for its white chocolate, which is sold under the brand “White Lovers” (白い恋人 shiroi koibito), and is only available in Hokkaido. There is also a cake buffet available at the restaurant on the top floor for “¥1,500” but reservations must be made 3 days in advance. ¥600.
Odori Park. Sapporo’s most famous park. It is in the center of town and is considered to be a symbol of Sapporo. Although quite narrow (one might argue that it is a nice boulevard), the park is quite long, stretching over fifteen blocks across downtown Sapporo. Filled with numerous flowers, trees, and fountains during the summer, Odori Park provides a welcome respite from the maddening crowds of the surrounding city.
Sapporo Snow Festival (雪祭り Yuki Matsuri). First week of Feb. This is Sapporo’s largest event. The festival is best known for the ice sculpture competition attracting artists from around the world, competing to create the largest and most elaborate artworks from ice and snow. The festival is focused on Odori Koen, in the centre of Sapporo. It consists of a combination of large-scale replicas and artistic sculptures; children-aimed attractions; and a separate section for world-wide competitors (where you can see a wide range of smaller artistic sculptures). The festival should be enjoyed both in the day — but particularly at night when the sculptures (especially the larger ones) are lit up. When the weather is warmer and there’s a bit of melting, the smaller sculptures are literally remade every night to ensure that they are in perfect condition the next day. Book accommodation early, because Sapporo gets booked out during the festival. …WikiTravel
The only dedicated coal-carrying railroad still running in Japan will cease operations at the end of this month, ending its 94-year mission to support the country’s industrial development. (Japan Times)
With seven months until the opening of the Rugby World Cup, organizing committee CEO Akira Shimazu said Thursday the number of foreign fans at the quadrennial tournament has far “exceeded his expectations.” (Japan Today)
People in Sapporo shivered through frigid conditions on Friday as the city recorded a daytime high of minus 10.1 degrees Celsius, making it the first time in 40 years that the mercury has failed to reach minus 10.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Tuesday dashed Japanese hopes of a settlement any time soon to a territorial dispute that has festered since 1945, declaring after a meeting with the visiting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan that there was still much “painstaking work” ahead. (nytimes.com)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to seek progress on a decadeslong territorial dispute over a group of islands that have remained under Russian control since the end of World War II. (Japan Times)
Flight cancellations due to heavy snow in Hokkaido, northern Japan, left around 2,000 travelers stranded overnight at a key airport through Sunday, right at the end of the country’s New Year holidays. (Kyodo)