In part 1 of my Hokkaido blog post I wrote about traveling to Sapporo and sung the praises of flowers and mountains. Here’s a post about our adventures in canal towns, onsens and Sapporo itself.
It was my friend’s first time in Japan so she wanted to have the onsen experience. We originally planned to go to the more well known Jozankei Onsen town but on the recommendation of our guest house owner we decided to opt for Houkeikyo Onsen instead. From Sapporo station, the Kappa bus will take you directly to Jozankei, which takes about an hour. After that, Houkeikyo is the last stop on the bus, just outside the town. We were really glad we chose to go to the more rural onsen! The outdoor bath in Houheikyo is in a charming traditional Japanese garden with a beautiful view of the mountains. After bathing we enjoyed Indian curry at the onsen’s restaurant. Although Indian might seem a strange choice for an otherwise very traditional, old school onsen, actually it was what we were just in the mood for after our soak.
I’ll be honest, Otaru was the only part of our trip that was in danger of mediocrity. It’s a canal town about 40 minutes from Sapporo by train (the line goes along the coast for much of the way with some nice views) with glowing reviews in the guide books. Maybe it’s because the day we went was grey but I didn’t think it was all that, although our morning there was perfectly pleasant. I think part of the problem was the town’s main attraction is its canal. It’s a nice canal. Maybe to the Japanese or people from other parts of the world it would be more impressive but my friend and I are European. We’re used to going on holiday in France and Italy and, to be honest, the canals there are nicer and often less crowded with tourists. That being said, Italy doesn’t have the excellent sushi we enjoyed for our lunch in Otaru. The town also has a great reputation for glassware and my friend bought some lovely ornaments in a cute little glass shop.
Our flight back to Tokyo was at 7pm to fit in as much as possible, but obviously we didn’t want to stray too far so we decided to spend our final day exploring Sapporo town. There’s a lot to see.
The Clock tower is a symbol of Sapporo so you basically have to visit. It’s an attractive structure and inside there’s an interesting museum about the history of the building which gives an insight into Sapporo’s history as an international city.
Odori park is where Sapporo’s famous snow festival takes place but it’s also beautiful in the summer with lovely flowers, fountains and a great view of the Sapporo TV tower (which we didn’t have time to go up).
If someone hasn’t already written a post-apocalyptic novel of survivors retreating to the subways of Sapporo and building a new life underground they should. The subways are expansive; we realised we could have walked 90% of the 25 minute walk to our hostel entirely underground. I admit it took us a while to find it, but there is a lot of really cool quirky art hidden underground that you can see for free.
We had passed the Former Hokkaido Government Building on our walks and enjoyed the gardens so we decided to check out the inside too. It’s free entry and as well as looking at the pretty old architecture, you can check out various exhibits about the history of Hokkaido. Most interestingly there was an exhibition on the Kuril Islands/Northern territories dispute, which I had been completely ignorant about beforehand. This was all the more interesting because it was extremely politically charged, going as far as to have a petition at the end of the exhibition demanding that the ‘northern territories should be returned to Japan.’
Hokkaido shrine has a serene atmosphere not always found at the famous Tokyo shrines. This could be because it’s situated a bit apart from the city, clothed by Maruyama park. The forested approach to the shrine with the sunlight shining through the trees was really atmospheric for us. The shrine was the final place we visited before getting on the plane, a peaceful ending to a trip we’ll remember for a long time.
Even though it was only 5 days long my trip to Hokkaido was one of the best holidays in my life. A literal breath of fresh air from the stress and humidity of Tokyo, one of those trips that gives you a new appetite for life. Snow festival this time next year?