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What to do in Sapporo in summer – Japan’s top ski destination blossoms under blue skies

This post originally appear on the South China Morning Post. To read the full original article please click here.



Image credit to Rhythm Japan

Hokkaido’s capital is better known as the gateway to northern Japan’s ski fields, but come summer, the countryside round about Sapporo erupts into a glorious feast of colour as vast swathes of flowers come into bloom. Just west of the city, Onze Harukayama Lily Garden is one of the most spectacular sites, but further afield, lavender is Photoshopping the gentle slopes at Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park right now, while in July, all 23 hectares of Hokuryu’s sunflowers should be strutting their stuff. Shikisai-no-oka goes for all sorts of floral varieties, so its viewing season usually lasts until early autumn. Most parks provide buggies for visitors disinclined to get about on their own two feet.

If Sapporo is known for one other thing than flowers, it’s food. Jyogai Ichiba is a good place to start; the island’s biggest market serves food for instant consumption and sells the raw ingredients, crab featuring high on just about every visitor’s shopping list.


Where to stay


Few international chains have stuck their oar in here, leaving the field open to the local hospitality crew. Putting the “it” into veritable, the Sapporo Grand Hotel has been letting out its rooms since 1934, and salving its guests’ hunger pangs in Chinese, Japanese and Western restaurants for almost as long. There’s also a rollicking beer hall. Rates are a reasonable US$130 or so.

Older, more traditional and considerably tougher on the wallet (US$800 a night), Ginrinsou is out of town, but the most traditional ryokan in the area. As there are only 18 rooms, the open-air, hot-spring pool overlooking Ishikari Bay rarely gets crowded.




The fields of Shikisai-no-oka, a flower garden just outside Hokkaido’s capital Sapporo, in Japan. Photo: Shutterstock

Hokkaido’s capital is better known as the gateway to northern Japan’s ski fields, but come summer, the countryside round about Sapporo erupts into a glorious feast of colour as vast swathes of flowers come into bloom. Just west of the city, Onze Harukayama Lily Garden is one of the most spectacular sites, but further afield, lavender is Photoshopping the gentle slopes at Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park right now, while in July, all 23 hectares of Hokuryu’s sunflowers should be strutting their stuff. Shikisai-no-oka goes for all sorts of floral varieties, so its viewing season usually lasts until early autumn. Most parks provide buggies for visitors disinclined to get about on their own two feet.

If Sapporo is known for one other thing than flowers, it’s food. Jyogai Ichiba is a good place to start; the island’s biggest market serves food for instant consumption and sells the raw ingredients, crab featuring high on just about every visitor’s shopping list.


Where to stay



Few international chains have stuck their oar in here, leaving the field open to the local hospitality crew. Putting the “it” into veritable, the Sapporo Grand Hotel has been letting out its rooms since 1934, and salving its guests’ hunger pangs in Chinese, Japanese and Western restaurants for almost as long. There’s also a rollicking beer hall. Rates are a reasonable US$130 or so.

Older, more traditional and considerably tougher on the wallet (US$800 a night), Ginrinsou is out of town, but the most traditional ryokan in the area. As there are only 18 rooms, the open-air, hot-spring pool overlooking Ishikari Bay rarely gets crowded.


What to buy

Like many of the best markets, Naritasan is held only once a month (28th), ensuring there’s a huge selection of stuff to buy and plenty of fellow shoppers’ elbows to rub. In the shadow of a Buddhist temple, it’s a rendezvous for antique pottery, textiles and similar goods, some being sold by private vendors and others by professional traders. Its fraternal twin, Golden Market (with 1,800 vendors, Hokkaido’s largest, bounciest flea fest) takes place every spring and autumn: next edition October 5-6.

By contrast, Tanukikoji is open every day of the year. A lengthy, downtown arcade, it counts about 200 boutiques selling clothing, curios, souvenirs and household goods mixed with a leavening of bars and eateries. Hanging out here is as much fun as shopping.


What to eat


Biographical details are sketchy, but the generally accepted story runs that back in the 19th century, the bold and rather resolute Seibei Nakagawa defied restrictions on foreign travel, somehow got himself to Berlin, in Germany, where he trained as a brewer, and returned in triumph to Hokkaido (where hops obligingly grew wild). As the saying goes, the rest is history, and whatever you are eating in Sapporo, there will be ample golden nectar to swill it down with. The (daily, free) Sapporo Beer Museum tours are predictably popular and every summer, for a month or so in July and August, central Odori Park becomes a 1km-long beer garden, seating 13,000 and keeping them well supplied with local brews and more recognisable Japanese brands.

As any local schoolchild will relate, Sapporo is the birthplace of miso ramen, and the alley known as Ganso Sapporo Ramen Yokocho, in Susukino (the prime nightlife area, incidentally), serves little else but bowl upon bowl of flavoursome wheat noodles.

Sapporo’s third culinary claim to fame – shiroi koibito – is a white chocolate biscuit sandwich, piled high in many a confectioners and also at the airport departures terminal. This is also a good place to scoop up bento, for which “box lunch” is a pathetically inadequate translation.

Haskap, a vaguely rectangular and rather tasty blue berry, is Sapporo’s dessert fruit of choice. Haskap is also a (nice) nickname for the Ainu, Hokkaido’s original inhabitants, who are rather less visible nowadays than they used to be.


Getting around

It seems that five hours and five grand is the Chek Lap Kok-Chitose International rule-of-thumb. Main carriers are Cathay, Japan Airlines and Hong Kong Airlines. JR trains whizz from Chitose to Sapporo in about 40 minutes, for US$10 one way.

Sapporo is criss-crossed by a bilingual subway system backed up by streetcars, aka trams. An unlimited-ride, one-day ticket (on subway trains) costs 830 yen (US$8). A go-as-you-please, poetically named Donichika – valid at weekends and on national holidays – sets you back all of 520 yen.

Street numbering being as logical here as anywhere else in the country, Google maps or a similar device are a boon to navigation, although passers-by can be surprisingly helpful, no matter their linguistic abilities.


Plus


The 20th-century Swiss writer and photographer Nicolas Bouvier was fond of remarking that he took longer than Marco Polo to get to Asia from Europe. A passionate advocate of slow travel, The Japanese Chronicles (1967), by Bouvier, covers three decades in Japan, including Hokkaido, with his admiration and affection shining through in every word.

A day trip from Sapporo, Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura is a well-executed Edo-period (1603-1868) theme park whose architecture and daily (bloodless) Ninja shows are equally entertaining. Guaranteed absolutely no Hello Kitty.

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