Wednesday 4 January 2012

Happy times in Hokkaido


Happy times in Hokkaido 
Hokkaido makes an impact with its natural wonders, hot springs and marvellous. 

Hokkaido is sometime referred to, as the secret jewel of Japan and it is not hard to see why. Hokkaido residents have a healthy respect for the environment and it shows in their reverence for nature and hot springs in the vicinity.   
A good place to start exploring Hokkaido is Sapporo, a remarkably green city with several unique features. The places of interest here include the Botanic Gardens, the Russian influenced Clock Tower and Odori Park with its observation deck that stands 90m high.
The Shikotsu-Toya National Park is a great place to get close to nature, while a visit to the traditional Ainu Village gives visitors an insight into the culture. For a rejuvenating experience visit the Noboribetsu Spa hot springs resort.   
The mountains around Lake Toya are still active giving rise to natural hot springs in the area. It comes as no surprise that the hotels around the lake offer public areas to immerse in the springs for a healthy reprieve from the rigours of the day. 
Nature lovers will take pleasure in trips to national park lands like Akan National Parks, Daisetsuzan and Shikotsu-Toya. The wide expanse of wheat fields and hills covered with forests will delight nature enthusiasts. Here, you can ski in winter and hike in summer, or simply relish a soak at one of the famous onsen (hot springs). 
North of Lake Toya are other attractions such as in Asahikawa which is the second biggest city in Hokkaido. Among Asahikawa’s most appealing draws is the Asahiyama Zoo, which has a unique display of penguins walking in the park.  
As farming and fishing are key cottage industries in this island, there is a great emphasis on fresh produce in Hokkaido’s culinary scene. Nowhere is this as true as the Hakodate morning market which boasts up to 360 shops selling seafood. You have to be up pretty early in the morning to see the freshest catch. Seafood choices can range from scallop, salmon, sea urchin and crabmeat. 
A good place for seafood in the Olaru area is known as Sushi Street. Ramen Yokocho, which literally means ‘ramen alley’, is a narrow street crammed with shops that tempt you with delicious bowls of the noodles. End your meal on a sweet note with the rich cocoa flavour of chocolate from the Ishiya factory.
One of the biggest draws in Hokkaido is the Sapporo Snow Festival. For seven days in the month of February, the city is decorated with various ice and snow sculptures, some of which can be as high as a three-storey building. The sculptures sparkle at night when they are lit up. Undoubtedly, the highlight is the crowning of the Ice Queen Beauty Pageant.
From the extensive food delicacies available to the many wonders of nature, Hokkaido is surely a gem waiting to be discovered. 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION:It is possible to take a domestic flight from Tokyo to Chitose Airport in Sapporo, which is the capital of Hokkaido prefecture and its largest city.

Image source Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO)
Copyright (c) 2011

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