Fully Enjoying Hokkaido! A Road Trip
Hokkaido has its delicious food, its grand nature, and its unique history different from that of the main island. Here, an att.JAPAN editor would like to introduce a five-day-four-night tour she traveled through Hokkaido with her two female friends.
Please be sure to check out the report of the Hokkaido’s Best Gastronomical Delights, too. From ramen to seafood to “Genghis Khan,” we have eaten a lot of dishes that represent the unique tastes of Hokkaido!
Day 1Our drive started with renting a car near New Chitose Airport. We first went to Otaru, which is about an hour’s drive from the airport.
Adjacent to Ishikari Bay northwest of Sapporo, Otaru is a port town that flourished from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. Being a large base area which gathered in many products of Hokkaido, such as herring and coal, it was also the financial center of modern Hokkaido and called the “Wall Street of the North” because there were so many banks.
We can still see the retro bank buildings and stone warehouses everywhere in the city. Some have been repurposed as museums, shops and cafes.
The original Otaru Branch building of the Bank of Japan is now a financial museum. It was designed by Kingo Tatsuno, an architect who worked on the Tokyo Station Marunouchi Building.
The former Hyakujusan Bank Otaru Branch, which is now a shop that sells glass products, popular standard souvenir items of Otaru.
“Kitaichi Hall” was originally built as a warehouse for the fishery industry. Now it is renovated and used for a café that has more than 160 lamps, which create a fantastical atmosphere.
It is located in the main shopping street area, Sakaimachi Dori. We had a break with coffee and ice-cream here.
Former Mitsui Bank Otaru Branch
Sakaimachi Dori Street
Sakaimachi Dori Street
After strolling around the town, we went to a symbol of the town, Otaru Canal, at the time of nightfall. The lit-up gas lamps make the atmosphere romantic. The night cruise along the Otaru Canal is worth trying, too.
Otaru Canal seen from the Asakusa Bridge
Day 2Leaving Otaru, we drove all the way to the eastern part of Hokkaido to Abashiri, facing the Sea of Okhotsk. It was about a five-hour-drive, so all three of us took turns driving.
It was a long drive so we took some breaks. Stopping off at some service areas on highways or roadside stations is another way to enjoy a road trip.
Abashiri Prison Museum
An open-air historic museum where old buildings of Abashiri Prison, which was built more than 100 years ago, are preserved and exhibited. On the spacious grounds stand many architecture structures, including Nationally Important Cultural Properties. You can experience the lives of prisoners in the severe natural surrounding and the history of exploration in Hokkaido. There are figures everywhere to show what it was like in former times. You may be able to take some amusing pictures with them.
Abashiri Prison Main Gate
The Administration Building of the original Abashiri Prison
Figures of prisoners being hauled in. You can actually wear the same clothes and take a picture being “hauled.”
The -figure-man about to escape from prison is Yoshie Shiratori, who actually existed and who succeed in breaking out four times. He is called the “the Great Jailbreaker.”
After fully enjoying Abashiri Prison Museum for four hours, at about the time for the sun to set we headed for Cape Notoro. It is a cape jutting out into the Sea of Okhotsk and it has a lighthouse at its tip. We took some photos, watching the sun setting into the sea.
Cape Notoro Lighthouse
Day 3We stayed at a traditional Japanese inn with hot springs near Lake Abashiri and left for Asahikawa in the morning. Three hours of driving through various scenic views, such as views of quiet fields, mountains with some still lingering snow, and cherry blossoms that bloom later than those on the Honshu mainland.
Asahikawa City Asahiyama Zoo
A popular zoo that has adopted a “behavioral exhibition” style of display. It features enclosures that mimic the natural habitats of the animals and which allow visitors to observe the animals from various angles and learn about their natural behaviors. Many of the animals are unique to Asahiyama Zoo, and you can not only see animals full of energy but also learn about biodiversity, the dignity of life, and environmental problems that animals face.
The zoo becomes really crowded during vacation season, such as the long breaks of May and summer vacation in August, so we suggest that you check ways to avoid the crowds on the official website.
A polar bear dives into the water right in front of you!
A seal having a rest with its nose and mouth out of the water is so cute!
You can say hello to the giraffes at their eye’s height.
You must not miss the cute ice-cream that has a cookie shaped like a polar bear’s bottom!
Day 4Leaving Asahikawa, after a two-hour-drive we finally came to the center of Hokkaido, Sapporo.
Historical Village of Hokkaido
An open-air museum built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of Hokkaido. It has relocated and its reconstructed historic buildings tell the story of industry, life and culture back in the early days of the development of Hokkaido. It feels as if you have time slipped. It is divided into several areas such as the urban area, the agricultural village, and the fishing village. You can see different lives and ways of living in each area. You can look around the village by horse-drawn tramways in the summer and horse-drawn sleds in the winter. The village has many buildings that are seen in a famous anime, “Golden Kamuy,” whose set was in Hokkaido. That is why it is also a popular site-seeing place for anime fans. For more details
Former Urakawa Subprefectual Government Building
Hokkaido Development Commission (Kaitakushi) Sapporo Main Office
Former Sanmasu Kawamoto Soba Noodle Shop
Former Matsuhashi Family Residence
Former Hirose Photo Studio
The Village also has the “Former Aoyama Family Fishery Residence,” brought from Otaru. The family became wealthy by herring fishing, one of the largest industries in Hokkaido back then. The main building (called banya) is divided into a gorgeous living room where the family of the master of fishermen lived and a “yanshu,” in which dozens of herring fishermen slept. You can see that the herring fishing business was flourishing
Night in Sapporo
At night, we went back to the center of Sapporo. We bought souvenirs near Sapporo Station, had our meals in Susukino, the bustling downtown shopping and entertainment district, and enjoyed our last night in Hokkaido. It was by chance May 1, the first day of the new imperial era “Reiwa,” so the place was going crazy with sales celebrating it!
In front of Sapporo Station
In Sapporo, the cherry blossoms happened to be in full bloom!
Day 5It is the last day of our Hokkaido trip! We took a drive around Sapporo until our flight departure time approached.
We had a seafood bowl at Nijo Fish Market for breakfast! Afterwards, we walked around a few sight-seeing spots of Sapporo.
A place of relaxation for Sapporo citizens, the SAPPORO TV Tower in Odori Park.
Sapporo Clock Tower has long been a symbol of Sapporo and was actually a martial arts training hall of Sapporo Agricultural School, which was constructed in 1878. The star on the roof is the symbol of the pioneers who came to Hokkaido and it brings to mind the polar star.
Former Hokkaido Government Office Building (Red Brick Office) stands with dignity. It is a museum and you can enter for free so please have a look at the beautiful interior, too.
Sapporo Beer Museum / Sapporo Beer Garden
A museum of a famous beer-maker that was established in Sapporo. After you have learnt about the history of beer manufacturing and the secrets of production, a fresh draft beer with “Genghis Khan” (grilled mutton dish) at the Sapporo Beer Garden will taste extraordinarily delicious!
Sapporo Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill
A twenty-minute drive from the center of Sapporo. It is an observation hill (hitsuji means “sheep,”and oka “hill”) with a fine panoramic view where a statue of Dr. William S. Clark stands. Once a teacher at Sapporo Agricultural School, he is famous for his exhortation to his students, “Boys be ambitious.” The statue is considered a symbol of the pioneering spirit of Hokkaido. The hill, which overlooks Ishikari Plain and where sheep graze tranquilly, is one of the famous scenic views representing Sapporo. There are restaurants where you can eat “Genghis Khan” and the “Sapporo Snow Festival Museum” has a snow sculpture model of the “Sapporo Snow Festival,” one of the largest winter events in Japan.
Statue of Dr. Clark
View from the Observation Deck
Having the famous Genghis Khan for lunch!
Hill of the Buddha
“Hill of the Buddha,” a new attention-catching spot of Sapporo, ended our journey! It is located in a spacious cemetery called “Makomanaitakino Cemetery,” a thirty-minute-drive from Sapporo Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill. The world-famous architect Tadao Ando worked on the Great Buddha Hall which covers the stone Great Buddha, which has long been a symbol of this cemetery.
With the majestic mountains in the back, we could only see the head of the Great Buddha. This unexpectedly strange view surprised us. In order to see the full picture, we needed to go to the foot of the Great Buddha through the tunnel. It is a mysterious space with some light coming in and it is quite breathtaking. In the summer, the whole place turns purple with the lavenders blooming.
In the cemetery, there are some stone statues lined up like the Moai statues on Easter Island. They take us to another world.
It took about one hour from here to New Chitose Airport. We finished our five-day trip in Hokkaido after returning our car. It’s convenient to go around spacious Hokkaido by rental car if you want to travel efficiently. If you have an ETC card, there are free passes for you that allow you to drive freely on and off all the highways in Hokkaido, so you can save money. Drive safely and enjoy your trip in Hokkaido.
There are many other places you should visit in Hokkaido! Please have a look at the following, too.
*The information herein is as of May 2019.