Even in the UK, we all have that strange friend who can’t stand heat at all. The nutter who genuinely thinks British summers are too hot. When this friend announced she wanted to visit me in July I was a tad concerned. “You do realise, Tokyo summers are humid and sticky and horrible?” Seeing as this was the only time she could get away from work I thought it was best to flee north with her – to Hokkaido!
What was fun about Hokkaido was that I knew next to nothing about it before I went. It wasn’t on my ‘list of things to see in Japan.’ Perhaps my complete lack of expectations was a factor in why I fell in love with the island. I could only get away from work for 5 days so we decided to base ourselves in Sapporo, the largest city, and explore what we could with public transport. In that alternate reality where it’s easy to get more than a week off work, I would love to rent a car and stay in places across the region. I wanted to see the famous lavender fields in Furano for example but that’s a headache to get to if you don’t have a car. Despite this limitation, we had a wonderful time!
We flew from Tokyo Haneda domestic terminal to Sapporo New Chitose airport which takes less than two hours. It was my first Japanese domestic flight and I was slightly weirded out by the lack of checks and security (you technically don’t need your passport to fly, though I would advise bringing it just in case). From New Chitose you can get the JR Rapid Airport train to Sapporo station which takes about 40mins. The station building is the tallest building in Hokkaido and contains some great shops and restaurants. We walked about 25 minutes to the Guest House Nonaka. I’d left booking until three weeks in advance so this place wasn’t my first choice but actually it was great. Comfortable and clean, free coffee and run by a friendly middle aged couple who were patient with my bad Japanese and happy to recommend things.
Hokkaido’s July weather is beautiful, especially compared to the summer sweat swamp that is Tokyo. It’s not at all humid and the temperature ranges from a comfortable 20-30C. The first full day we were there the weather was amazing, the kind of level of freshness that makes you feel like a new person. I wanted to see summer flowers and so our first stop was Takino Suzuran National Park which you can get to by bus from Makomanai subway station. Walking around the flower fields with mountain air and perfect blue sky was divine. As well as flowers there are points of interest such as waterfalls and an observatory. There are paths of varying difficulty to follow for those interested in walking and ‘flower volunteers’ who will take you around the best routes, tell you about the flowers and (most importantly) take pictures of you 😉
In the evening we used the Hokkaido streetcar (very cute) to get to the Mt Moiwa ropeway. This is a cable car which will take you to an observatory on Mt Moiwa where you have a view of the mountains on one side and a stunning cityscape of Sapporo the other. On the viewing platform sits the ‘bell of happiness’ which you can ring to grant good fortune for your relationship or just for yourself.
I would recommend doing what we did and going in late afternoon to watch the sun go down and Sapporo slowing light up. Truly serene.
Check back soon for more about our trip to Hokkaido including Otaru, mountain onsens and Sapporo city!