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Sapporo & Around Sapporo
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Four Day Trips from Sapporo

Visitors planning to see the marathon events of the 2020 Olympic Games in Sapporo can use this northern Japanese city as a base for further adventures in Japan.

With Sapporo as a base for day trips, you can see the variety Hokkaido has to offer. Cycle in wide-open flower fields. Hike the trails at the dramatic Jigokudani (Hell Valley) and enjoy hot springs. Visit the world-famous Asahikawa Zoo, take in the retro charm of the port city of Otaru. Each place has memorable vistas and delicious food and a variety of experiences for your Hokkaido travels.

BY Lori Ono

noboribetsu river

If you’re coming to Sapporo for the marathon events at the 2020 Olympic Games, why not make it your base for day trips to explore Hokkaido? This is the most northern of Japan’s five main islands and generally has cooler summer weather. Hokkaido is famous for its seafood, and farm products like vegetables and dairy, open spaces and skiing. It’s also the home of the indigenous Ainu people.

These four day trips give visitors four unique tastes of Hokkaido. Cycle around the lavender, flower fields and sample the food of Furano to the east. North of Sapporo is Asahikawa and the nearby Asahiyama Zoo. To the south, enjoy hiking and the dramatic landscape of Jigokudani (Hell Valley) near Noboribetsu Onsen. Just a half hour to the west is the port city of Otaru, a town whose retro style charms visitors. Each trip reveals a unique aspect of Hokkaido’s land and food and lifestyle.

Furano: cycling, flower fields and food

Furano Lavender

Lavender, arguably the most popular in Hokkaido, blooms from June to the end of July.

Set at the center of Hokkaido, Furano is known as the island’s belly button. Famed for its skiing, the area has hosted several Alpine World Cups. From spring to fall, fields abound with colorful flowers—starting with tulips in the spring, summer lavender, and sunflowers and cosmos in the fall. From Furano Station, use the Nemuro line or buses, then rent a bicycle to explore further. Learn more about the area on the Furano Tourism website  or in this article.

Belly-button shaped mascot

The belly-button shaped mascot of the Hokkai Heso Matsuri (Hokkaido Belly-button Festival) celebrated at the end of July.


Heso manju (belly-button steamed buns)

This heso manju (belly-button steamed buns) puts a twist on the steamed sweet by deep frying.

Furano Town

Rent a bike from the front of the station to get started. If you’re in the mood for a picnic, stop by Furano Marche (10 minutes on foot) to pick up local baked goods and produce. Head to the Furano Cheese Factory and discover cheese made from locally-sourced ingredients. See the cheese-making process in action. Buy cheese and butter or grab a pizza in the restaurant. You could also opt to take one of the butter or ice-cream workshops.

Furano Cheese Factory Pizza

Pizza is popular at Furano Cheese Factory and lines start almost as soon as it opens.


Furano Cheese Factory robot cow

At Furano Cheese Factory you can try milking a robot cow


Furano Cheese Factory icecream

Try the selection of cool treats! Shown here: cheese soft-cream, watermelon sorbet, asparagus gelato.

Continue up the mountain to the Furano Prince Hotel. Near the Prince Hotel there is another picnic area and a rope course to test your agility. For shopping and relaxing, pay a visit to Ningle Terrace, where cabins housing artisans and restaurants line an elevated wooden walkway like a forest from a fantasy movie.

Farm Tomita, lavender fields, and melons

Furano Farm Tomita

Take in the flower-scented air as you walk among the flowers at Farm Tomita.

Farm Tomita is a popular spot to enjoy seasonal flowers and buy a variety of lavender products, from essential oils to lavender ice cream. From June to October, the nearest station to Farm Tomita is Lavender Field Station (7-minute walk) using the seasonal Furano Biei Norokko Train on the Nemuro Line.

Otherwise, take the train to Naka-Furano and walk 20 minutes to Farm Tomita. Several other flower fields lie along the route. If you are a fan of melons, Tomita Melon House is next door to Farm Tomita.

Farm Tomita Shop

Choose from a selection of dried flowers, oils, soaps, tea and more.

More cycling

Further north, Biei has several cycling routes ranging from one to several hours.

ken and mary tree

If you want to cycle around patchwork fields and see the Ken and Mary tree (famous because of a Japanese TV drama) get off the train at Bibaushi.

How to get to Furano

Trains: Furano Lavender Express (limited express) from Sapporo Station to Furano (2 hours) Hakkodate Main line to Takikawa (express) (50 minutes), Nemuro line from Takikawa to Furano (70 minutes)

Bus: Hokkaido Chuo Bus: Express Furano from Sapporo Station (3 hours)

Within the Furano area

The Nemuro runs from Furano to Asahikawa and stops at Naka Furano, Bibaushi, and Biei. Local buses run through the area

Local transportation

Rent a bicycle or power assist bicycle (nice for hilly courses) next to the station. Taxi from the station. Hire a private driver through the tourist center.

Travel tips

  • Maps on smartphones are handy, but pick up local maps from the tourist information center to get a sense of the area layout and an overview of shops.
  • Unpaved roads are for agricultural use. To reduce damage, visitors are asked to only use paved roads.
  • There can be fines for entering fields without permission.
  • There are no bathrooms or garbage cans outside towns or designated rest stops, so make sure to organize your travel accordingly.

Asahiyama Zoo and Asahikawa Ramen

Asahiyama Zoo Leopard

See the big cats at the zoo!


Asahiyama Zoo Owl

Learn about different types of owls.

Open since 1967, Asahiyama Zoo was designed to maximize visitor interaction in ways that suit the animals. The zoo cares for a variety of animals, from those native to Hokkaido such as owls and foxes to hippos or penguins. Plan for about three hours at the zoo.

Asahiyama Zoo Penguins Mogumogu time

Mogumogu! It’s dinner time for the penguins!

During mogumogu time (snack time), zoo keepers feed the animals and educate visitors about the animals. The schedules change depending on the animals’ condition, so check the board near the gates for which animals are featured and when. Arrive early for a good view.

Asahiyama zoo cute snacks

The zoo has many cute snacks for your own mogomogu time.

The Asahiyama Zoo website has information about the park using machine translation for English, Chinese, Korean and Russian. Make sure to check the website for information about accessibility, family resources and other features such as lockers and phone charging.

Asahiyama Zoo Giraffe seen from below

Asahiyama Zoo is known for creating ways to see animals tailored to the animal.

Access

Kuranuma Higashiasahikawacho, Asahikawa, Hokkaido 078-8205

Train and Bus: Limited express train to Asahikawa Station (1 hr 25 minutes), then the bus to the Asahiyama Zoo (40 minutes).

Ramen Adventure

Asahikawa Ramen Village

If you aren’t sure what kind of ramen you want, the Ramen Village gives you a lot of variety.

You can end your zoo adventure with a bowl of ramen. When it comes to ramen, you can find almost any combination of flavors but most areas develop a local style. Sapporo is known for miso based soup and corn while Asahikawa tends to use soy-sauce based soup. Well-known shops Asahikawa Ramen Aoba and Ramen Santouka are a 10-minute walk from Asahikawa Station. If you are up for an adventure, head for Ramen Village on your way back from the zoo. This ramen collective features eight different and prominent ramen shops in Asahikawa, including Ramen Aoba and Ramen Santouka, so you can try many at once. Many shops also sell smaller servings so you can sample more ramen.

Asahikawa Ramen Saijo

Saijo has two locations in Asahikawa.


Asahikawa Ramen Ishida

Preparing a meal at Ishida.


Asahikawa Ramen Ishida bowl

Focusing on simple ingredients for a pure ramen experience.

Access:

Nagayama 11-jyo, 4-chome, Asahikawa, Hokkaido

Get off the bus to Asahikawa Station at Toyooka 13-6. Ramen Village is 1.5 km (0.93 miles) away from the bus route.

Alternatively, you can take a taxi from Asahikawa Station (20 minutes).

Hell Valley at Noboribetsu Onsen

Noboribetsu Onsen Hell Valley

The ochre colors and steam from vents are accentuated by rainy weather and contrast with the surrounding forest on sunny days.

A trip to Noboribetsu’s Hell Valley is a chance to enjoy some of the most dramatic nature Hokkaido has to offer. The geothermal activity at Jigokudani creates hot springs to enjoy and dramatic landscapes. A series of trails take you through the town, to Hell Valley and other local sites. Most of the walk can be done in a couple of hours. The trails are well-maintained and require easy to moderate effort. You’ll find multiple places to rest with benches, covered picnic areas and lookouts along the way.

Noboribetsu Onsen Bus Terminal

The Noboribetsu Onsen Bus Terminal is a 5-10 minutes walk from Hell Valley.

Oni aren’t the bad guys

Noboribetsu Onsen Oni statues

Not surprising for a place next to Hell Valley, you’ll find many Oni statues and drawings around Noboribetsu Onsen.

In most places in Japan, oni (devils) are evil, mischief-making creatures. These local devils look out for the residents, keeping away bad things and protecting the town’s prosperity. In February, the Yumatsuri celebrates them.

Noboribetsu Sengen Park Geyser

Your first introduction to the area will be the gurgling or roaring echoes from the small geyser at Sengen Park. The strength of the geyser waxes and wanes depending on the geothermal activity and can sound like a roaring oni.


Oni club sculptures and Geyser down stairs

The sculptures are clubs held by oni. The Sengen Geyser is down the stairs to the right.

The Valley

Hell Valley is a bleak landscape of ochre colors with vents of billowing steam. Take the wooden path to the center to see the hot spring. Like the park, this spring can be gentle or active depending on geothermal activity. In the evening, foot lights lining the wooden boardwalk illuminate the path to the geyser adding extra drama to the landscape.

Noboribetsu Hell Valley

A view of Hell Valley from one of the lookouts.


Noboribetsu hell valley walkway

The end of the walkway leads to a geyser in the middle of the valley.


Hell valley illuminated at night

Follow the lights to the center of Hell Valley


Noboribetsu hell valley Okunoyu

Climb over the hill to get to Okunoyu and Oyunuma Pond.

Relax your mind and your feet

No matter the weather, a footbath in the warm river water is a welcome break. Enjoy the greenery as you soak your feet. A bus runs twice a day to the footpath. Note that the trail can be slippery and is not suitable for wheelchairs. Go early in the day to avoid crowds. Cushions are available to sit on, but locals suggest bringing a plastic bag to cover the pads.

Noboribetsu footbath in the warm river water

Even on a rainy day, the warm water soothes tired legs and the fresh air relaxes the mind.


Noboribetsu wildlife deer

You may see a deer wandering around town.

Onsen and eating

A hot bath is just the thing after walking around Hell Valley. Many hotels at Noboribetsu Onsen have their own hot spring for guests. Takimotokan has one for day-trippers. Soak your stress away while you take in a commanding view of the valley.

Refuel at one of the restaurants lining the street from the bus terminal to Hell Valley. Choices range from Japanese pubs, traditional Hokkaido seafood, Jingisukan (Mongolian-style grilled lamb) or western-style food.

Noboribetsu Aastra Pizza

At Astra, find affordable and delicious pizza served with local beer by Oni Densetsu. Finish your meal with a perfect cappuccino. If you like the beer you can buy a bottle at the sake store down the street.

How to get there

Take the express train from Sapporo heading to Hakkodate. Get off at JR Noboribetsu Station, then take the bus to Noboribetsu Onsen (15 minutes).

Travel Tip:

  • Pick up a map at the tourist center near the bus stop or at the entrance of Hell Valley. The Hell Valley information center has a small gift shop, drinks and indoor places to sit.
  • Buy return free-seating tickets for the train in Sapporo and return tickets for the bus at Noboribetsu Station. With free seating, you can take any train going back to Sapporo. In the evening, there is no staff available at the stations to help with ticket purchases.

A town tour with old-style charm

Otaru is a port town west of Sapporo on Ishikari Bay, 30 minutes by express train. The town saw peak development during the Meiji (1868 -1912) and Taisho Era (1912-1926), and many buildings and warehouses reflect western influence in their Art Nouveau and Art Deco style. Find out more about Otaru at here.

Stroll along the canal and old buildings to get a sense of a time gone by. You will find a variety of restaurants selling local seafood, sweets, and souvenirs with many shops selling local glass. Try your hand at glass blowing or have a glass bead made to order. The Nitori Museum of Art has a collection of glass by Lalique, stained glass windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany, and other works by famous Japanese artists. It is easy to walk around Otaru. If you want to see more of the area, bicycle rental is available on the way to the canal area. Stop at the Canal Plaza Tourist information center for displays about the history of Otaru as well as a gift shop. The Canal Plaza also sells beverages and has public washrooms. Take the Canal Boat tour and relax as you learn while guides share some of Otaru’s history.

Otaru Denuki Koji

The Lighthouse-shaped building of Otaru Denuki Koji houses a small yokocho (a small side street with pubs and restaurants) with a variety of sweet and savory snacks and meals.


Otaru Robatayaki Scallops

Hokkaido is well-known for scallops. Robatayaki is a grilling style that originated in Hokkaido.


Otaru Taisho Glass

Otaru Taisho Glass Palace has several converted warehouses for a glass blowing atelier, beads or glass items.


Otaru bead making

You can choose the color and pattern of your bead and watch staff make it.


Otaru glass blowing

Try glass blowing with the instruction of local artists. Because the glass takes several days to cool, your glass will be sent to you.


Otaru  Kazu Dyeing Atelier

At Kazu Dyeing Atelier, Kazuko Teraoka has woven and dyed textiles for 30 years. The first floor of the atelier houses dye vats and looms. Try your hand at dyeing with a short class. Find the perfect shirt or shawl, on the second floor. Knitters will find skeins of stunning colors.


Otaru Canal night view

A night view from the canal boat ride.


Otaru Station

The first train line in Hokkaido ran from Otaru to Sapporo. Examples of old glass lamps decorate the front windows.

How to get there

Train: JR Chitose-Hakodate Line express train (30-35 minutes)

Bus: From Sapporo Bus Terminal to Otaru Bus Terminal (70 minutes) (Hokkaido Chuo Bus, also Chinese and Korean)

Travel Tips

Stop in at the tourist information center. They can provide you with maps of the stations, and bus and train schedules for many locations as well as any updates. Many tourist information centers have free rest spaces, washrooms, wi-fi and a collection of local goods.

Value Travel

Use your JR Pass in Hokkaido.  Passes cover JR trains and buses. If you didn’t purchase a JR Pass, you can buy a 6-day pass called Hokkaido Love. You can travel all over Hokkaido using all free-seating on trains and buses. This pass allows you to reserve a seat three times. Many buses are not run by JR and will require another ticket. The highway bus might take a bit longer but it’s usually a cheaper alternative to the train. Sometimes the bus is the most efficient way to get to a location. Tickets for highway buses can be bought at the bus center or from the driver.

Public Transportation

Taking a train or bus or both to your location allows you to relax and enjoy the scenery. Trains and buses don’t run as often in rural areas. Make sure to check schedules and to know when your train or bus leaves to make your connections to Sapporo.

Taking a local bus

When you board the bus at the back, a numbered ticket is dispensed. Take the ticket, as this is part of calculating your fare. Losing your ticket often means paying the furthest distance no matter how long you rode the bus. Deposit the exact fare along with your ticket. Most buses in Hokkaido don’t accept IC cards and it is best to have change or JPY1000 bills for bus rides. If you don’t have exact change, the bus has a machine to change JPY1000 bills. Insert the bill, receive change, then pay the fare.

Car or Tour Packages:

If you are able and comfortable driving in a foreign country, a car is the most flexible and convenient way to see Hokkaido on your own schedule. If you have limited time and don’t mind following a schedule, package tours are an efficient way to see a lot in one day that you might not be able to fit in using public transportation. Advantages include not having to drive, and saving money on tickets and entry fees.

Nboribetsu station collecting stamp

Collecting stamps at train stations, tourist offices or shrines is one way to record your trip.


Haskap

Haskap is the Ainu word for honeysuckle berry. Haskap is high in antioxidants. The berry tastes like a combination of raspberry and blueberry and makes wonderful jam and sweets.


Hakka Mint

Hakka Mint: also known as Japanese mint, this mint has a high concentration of menthol. Production is mainly in the northeast of Hokkaido but mint products (essential oils, candies, candles) are a staple of souvenir stores across the island.

Traveling through Hokkaido gives you a unique understanding of Japan and is sure to make lasting memories. Pick up souvenirs on your travels to remember your trip. New Chitose Airport has an extensive souvenir section for least minutes gifts and a variety of restaurants for one last taste of Hokkaido.

New Chitose Airport Domestic departure floor

New Chitose airport gives you one last chance for souvenirs and gifts.

Lori Ono
Canadian Over 20 years living in various parts of Japan.

I’m a Canadian writer and photographer based in Tokyo. I love helping people enjoy their time in Japan.

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