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Hokkaido: snow, queues and long walks

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

A pleasure boat moves slowly through the cold water of a canal, with brick build warehouses on the left and snow covered mountains in the far distance.
Otaru, Hokkaido

My weekend in Hokkaido was a mixed bag.

The canals of Otaru are beautiful, and the small town center was enjoyable enough to meander around. There were a few tourist traps (Miffy and Snoopy themed shops stood out) and I formulated my theory of The Hierarchy Of Instagram Influencers Based On Observations Of Legwear. Overall, it was an enjoyable few hours. However, I'm not sure it would stretch to more than a day or be worth a return visit.

A canal is flanked by brick built warehouses on the left and a walkway with modernist tower blocks on the right.
Otaru, Hokkaido
A late middle-aged couple struggle to navigate a push chair along a frozen pathway. Behind them are two girls trying to catch selfies of the canal.
Otaru, Hokkaido

Sapporo was a different kettle of fish.

Hokkaido's capital is walkable and has the usual mix of unique and stylized modern architecture seen across Japan. It also ticks the boxes for being a city in Japan - having both a Ferris Wheel and a Tower.

A skeletal tower of red steel rises up from a park covered in white snow and people capturing selfies.
The Panasonic TV Tower, Sapporo's most distinctive landmark.

There is a metro system, although it isn't much use in the city center. Most of the main tourist attractions are within 3km of one another and it's quicker to walk than navigate your way underground, wait for a train etc.

Not that I saw many attractions thanks to queues and bad timing on my part. The weather didn't help either, dropping to -4C at night, lifting to 4C in the day. What paths weren't cleared were quickly covered with slippery, compacted snow.

An snow and ice covered street in Sapporo. In the center is a path of ice, with a red post box on the left with buildings behind, and on the right a bank of snow with street lights sticking up.
A typical uncleared path in downtown Sapporo

That said, Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill had some nice views across the city, and I enjoyed a walk from Nakajimakoen to the Sapporo Factory shopping mall that took in the Toyohira River. The latter was arguably more spectacular than the crisp virgin snow of the much-lauded hill.

A screen of smooth white snow in the middle ground, with mountains silhouetted by a sunset behind. In the foreground is a blue payment kiosk and green storage box, the only signs this is a lake.
The boating lake at Nakajimakoen.
A white clapperboard building, two stories high with a steep sloped roof, nestled amongst trees and snow.
The Furukawa Memorial Hall, Hokkaido University

There will likely be a return visit to Hokkaido in a year or three, if only because I want to explore the Ainu heritage, something I woefully missed on this trip.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction.

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