When you think about Hokkaido, it is often images of snow that come to mind. Some think of the snow festival in Sapporo, others yearn for the ski slopes in Niseko. Hokkaido is less often associated with the beautiful season of summer. Yet, the natural spectacle offered by the northern island of Japan in summer is also wonderful.
Therefore, we invite you on this trip to a more colorful Hokkaido, one that is still unknown to many people around the world. Our journey begins in Tokyo, specifically at Haneda Airport. From there we set off for Asahikawa, Hokkaido’s second largest city in population. The flight lasts less than 2 hours. In other words, we barely sat down, and it is soon time to get off the plane. Here we are in Hokkaido.
Asahikawa is known for its furniture factories and beautiful handicrafts. This is hardly surprising. Hokkaido is famous for its wide-open spaces, and there are many forests. There is therefore an abundance of high-quality wood. From the airport, we go directly to visit one of these factories. The place is called Kitano Sumai Sekkeisha, it is a family business established in a former elementary school, just half an hour from the center of town. In addition to the furniture factory in which the artisans are active, there are several warehouses, a showroom where homemade products are exhibited together with products of other manufacturers, especially from Scandinavian designers. There is also a lovely cafe surrounded by greenery. We have lunch here. Our trip could not have started better.
As a sign that Asahikawa is on the rise, it is in its suburb, in Higashikawa, that world-renowned architect Kengo Kuma has launched a new project. We cannot wait to visit. In the meantime, the few moments spent strolling around the city are enough to convince us: it is no coincidence that the number of people who come to settle here, attracted by the comforts of Hokkaido, is increasing year by year. A particularity of the city: Higashikawa is a city without water. It is located in the heart of Hokkaido, far from the sea, and it is the underground water system that the inhabitants rely on for everyday use.
We leave Asahikawa behind and head to two of Hokkaido’s summer gems, Biei and Furano. About thirty kilometers apart, the two cities feature vast landscapes and fields of flowers with an impressive palette that have earned them fame far beyond the Japanese borders. It is intoxicating to walk around here, camera or smartphone in hand, to immortalize the incredible spectacle of these fields of lavender, tulips, sunflowers and anemones.
One more color to add to the already vibrant palette: the blue of the incredible Blue Pond, not far from Biei. The story goes that it was after the locals decided to build a dam to protect themselves from eruptions from nearby Mount Tokachi that this pond formed. In any case, the scenery offered by the place is extraordinary. So much so that Apple has decided to make it one of the official wallpapers for its computers. Upstream from the pond, the spectacle of the waterfalls, that of “Shirohige no Taki” – literally the waterfall of the white beard – and especially that of the river which separates the two is magnificent. Unmissable.
The wide-open spaces and the flower fields almost make us forget that it is the mountains that make Hokkaido a favorite tourist destination of many Japanese (and not only of them). Fans of the island will think of Mount Yotei, the “Mount Fuji of Hokkaido” located not far from Niseko. The center of the island is home to the Daisetsu mountain range, a popular hiking spot on sunny days. Mount Asahidake, an active volcano, is particularly beautiful, and it is possible to climb to the top, near the crater.The place is also popular in the fall, when the spectacular fall foliage attracts many visitors.
Another pleasure of Hokkaido that we haven’t talked about so far is its cuisine and the variety of its agricultural products. The prefecture is particularly famous for its richness in fruits, sweet melons, and watermelons, some of which fetch high prices. White corn and tomatoes are also local specialties. The latter have a higher sugar content than fruits. Their refined sweetness and juicy taste make them very popular dishes.
As you drive through Furano, you may come across a farmer who has come to sell his vegetables by the side of the road. Do not miss this chance, it is one of the pleasures of a trip to Hokkaido to be able to enjoy freshly harvested products and a moment of conviviality with the producers.
It’s the end of the afternoon, and the sun is beginning to set. Tonight, we will sleep at the Furano Prince Hotel. The place is welcoming, as it has a certain old-fashioned charm that brings about a peaceful energy. Everything seems to fit in place, from the hot spring baths to the vast gardens where you can stroll in the early morning or in the evening, while waiting for dinner. This is served as a buffet in a large room with a friendly atmosphere. You can taste freshly picked agricultural products as well as sushi and ramen. Happiness without equal is being able to feast without limit on the specialties of Hokkaido. But soon it is bedtime, and tomorrow we’ll have to get up early.
If we could keep just one moment out of all the nature shows Hokkaido has in store for us this late summer, the most unforgettable is undoubtedly the sea of clouds seen from the Unkai Terrace at Hoshino Resorts Tomamu. Indeed, it is difficult to describe the beauty of this spectacle; the sun rising over the mountains, with myriads of colors appearing and changing seemingly at every instant. You first reach the top of the mountain by gondola, before admiring the mist, the sun and the first clouds, with your head literally in the sky. There are many places that make you want to travel on Instagram. This is certainly one of them.
The end of our trip is approaching. Our last stop is the Memu Earth Hotel, in the Tokachi region. This is a crazy project launched in the aftermath of March 11, 2011, and the terrible disasters that affected the archipelago that day. As a response, the hotel was born from the desire to realize a planet that consumes less energy. Memu has a dozen or so buildings, some designed by renowned architects, others by students of architecture from the most prestigious schools and universities. We will spend the night in Even, an astonishing house inspired by the native Ainu and designed by the architect Kengo Kuma (who is clearly a mainstay in Hokkaido).
The sun rises, and we marvel at the marvelous spectacle of the mountains in the distance. It’s time to head to Tokachi-Obihiro Airport, about 40 minutes from the hotel. We leave happy, full of lovely memories. From the air, Hokkaido offers us one last panorama that we will not soon forget. We promise we’ll be back.
Kitano Sumai Sekkeisha
Higashi 7 kita 7, Higashikawa-cho, Hokkaido
The Blue Pond, Biei
Furano Prince Hotel
18-6 Kitanomine-machi, Furano-shi Hokkaido
Unkai Terrace – Hoshino Resorts Tomamu
Open from early May to mid-November
MEMU EARTH HOTEL
158-1 Memu, Taiki Town, Hiroo County, Hokkaido