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 annual unified college entrance examinations began Saturday as many parts of the country saw their coldest winter day so far cause traffic jams and force several schools to postpone the pivotal tests. (Japan Times)
Japan received a record number of overseas visitors in 2017 for the fifth straight year, with the greatest growth coming from Asian countries, where low-cost air carriers are expanding service. (Nikkei)
Local assemblies around Japan are discussing or preparing to pass ordinances that will place strict limits on where minpaku (private lodging services) can be located, in advance of a national law that will go into effect in June regulating their use. (Japan Times)
NTT Docomo on Monday announced its Japan Welcome SIM TM series will introduce Plan 0 to allow overseas visitors in Japan to access the Internet for free via the Docomo mobile network, from Tuesday. The free service will initially be available in Hokkaido and Niigata prefectures, after which other areas will be added sequentially. (Japan Today)
Japan appeals to different people for different reasons. Some visit for the history or the food. Many stay for the martial arts, while others keep coming back for a dose of manga, anime and video-game culture. Still others come to enjoy the land — the huge span of scenery from the north of Hokkaido to Okinawa in the southwest, and the sharp changes such places undergo with the revolutions of season. (Japan Times)
Japanese regional carrier Air Do becomes the latest airline struck by the global shortage of pilots, saying Thursday it has canceled 26 flights scheduled for February after already grounding 34 trips this month. (Nikkei)