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Photos courtesy of JNTO and The Tourism Administration of Sapporo
Hokkaido is the northernmost island in Japan's archipelago and is a largely untouched paradise in all senses of the word. For the most part, its population of approximately six million people inhabit Hokkaido's more hospitable and less mountainous areas, which has left the undulating and often rugged central and northern areas relatively unscathed by mainstream civilisation. Skiers and snowboarders from around the world visit Hokkaido in droves every winter for its unique powder experience. Due to this increasing demand, direct flights to Hokkaido's Sapporo City are now available from Australia and international destinations within Asia.

An aerial view of Furano's ski area.

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Hokkaido in a nutshell
Although Hokkaido is an island, it is referred to as one of Japan's prefectures. Sapporo City, its capital located in south-western Hokkaido, entered the world map when it hosted the Winter Olympics in 1972.
Hokkaido is separated from the Japanese mainland by the Tsugaru Strait and although there is an underwater railway tunnel, most local and international visitors travel to Hokkaido by air to New Chitose Airport, which is only 40 minutes from central Sapporo by express train.
Hokkaido has a small number of seismically active areas which account for its large number of onsen (hot-springs). Other main tourist locations besides Sapporo are the port cities of Hakodate in the island's south and Otaru located to Sapporo's north-west as well as Furano, which is situated in the geographical centre of the island.
Snow covers the land for an amazing four to five months. The first snow generally falls at the end of October and does not completely melt away until early April. Hokkaido's climate varies considerably but a typical temperature range for Sapporo is a summer high of 24 degrees to a night-time winter low of minus 10 degrees. Although extreme low temperatures are common in more remote areas of Hokkaido, the climate is generally tolerable.

The pristine landscapes of Japan's second largest island make Hokkaido a popular tourist destination at all times of the year for both Japanese and non-Japanese. Recently there has been a large increase in the number of local and international tourists visiting Hokkaido for a wide range of activities, including car and motorbike touring, hiking and mountain climbing in warmer months. However Hokkaido is most popular in its winter months when moist air from the European continent combines with Hokkaido's sub-Arctic weather pattern, turning the island into a white winter wonderland.

Hokkaido's snow brings skiers and snowboarders from Japan and abroad who flock there to enjoy the highly-reliable snowfalls and state-of-the-art ski facilities. High-speed gondolas, cable cars and quad lifts abound, whizzing powder-junkies back up the mountain ready for their next run in no time at all. The abundance of resorts offer a plenty of well-groomed and off-piste runs with challenging terrain.

English-speaking ski area guides.
Winter activities are by no means limited to skiing and snowboarding. For a more unorthodox experience visitors can try dog sledding, snowmobiling, snowrafting, ice climbing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, hot-air ballooning and even snowmobile parasailing!

Japan's world-class hospitality and service, coupled with powder snow as far as the eye can see, means you will enjoy your choice of destination. When compared with the more crowded ski-slopes of Honshu (Japan's main island), the smaller numbers of people and more relaxed atmosphere of Hokkaido's resorts will ensure you maximise your time on the slopes.

Hot-springs: a requisite pleasure
spring An outside "roten-buro" hot spring bath.
In addition to Hokkaido's variety of ski terrain, powder quality and breathtaking natural beauty will not disappoint. But while you are indulging yourself in all the snow-based action don't forget to take in a hot spring visit or two; a requisite way of relieving your muscles and recovering for the next day of adventure! Hot springs are called "onsen" in Japanese and are generally divided into two categories: the first is the regular indoor bath type where hot volcanic spring water is pumped into large tubs and visitors can soak together to their heart's content. The second kind is an outside bath called a "roten-buro", a private and generally lavishly landscaped bath area set in rocks or wooden tubs. Picture yourself up to your chest in deliciously warm water while from the crisp and fresh night air snow flakes fall and instantly melt in the water in front of your eyes as you sip a beer or sake and your muscles unwind from the day's skiing or snowboarding. It is an experience you will never forget!

Winter festivals: add an extra touch to your holiday
Carving down the mountain. Carving down the mountain.
Sapporo's Odori Park at night
Sapporo's Odori Park at night.
Sapporo is visited by tourists from far and wide each year in February when it holds the Sapporo Snow Festival. Two million visitors come each year to see the enormous snow carvings and statues on display in three separate locations. To construct such gigantic statues, Japan's Self Defence Force assistance is required. The festival is by far the biggest snow event in Hokkaido and never ceases to attract international attention with it full-sized dinosaur ice statues and scaled down replicas of famous international architecture. The 2007 Sapporo Snow Festival will be held from February 6 until February 12. Be sure to check out the Susukino Ice Festival as well in Sapporo's nightlife and entertainment district. Both festivals run until late at night, with spotlights lighting up the statues and sculptures. Night-time is less crowded and certainly more atmospheric.

Hokkaido is famous for its fresh seafood.
Hokkaido is famous for its fresh seafood.
Eating and drinking in Hokkaido
If you ask any Japanese person what food or drink Hokkaido is famous for, the reply is generally unanimous; fresh seafood (crab, urchin in particular), jingisukan lamb barbecue, Sapporo-style ramen (Chinese noodles), Yubari melon, Otokoyama sake and Sapporo Beer. Be sure to try some of each.

Three famous Hokkaido ski areas
Niseko Furano Rusutsu
niseko rusutsu furano
Niseko is the biggest and most naturally beautiful ski area in Hokkaido with four main resorts; Hirafu, Hanazono, Higashiyama and Niseko Annupuri, as well as an abundance of hot springs. To get to Niseko from Sapporo by either bus or train takes about three hours and the amount of dry snow and the wide variety of tree runs makes the trip worthwhile.

Located in the breathtaking Daisetsu-zan National Park, Furano ski area offers an extensive variety of runs, as well as non-ski activities. Features include expert courses, long fast runs, tree runs and easy cruising courses for beginners. Furano is
two-and-a-half hours' drive from

Rusutsu is 79km west of Sapporo. It contains only one ski resort but encompasses three separate mountain peaks, making it the largest single ski resort in Hokkaido. Ninety minutes by car from Sapporo, the resort features restaurants, shopping malls, swimming pools, entertainment complexes and a monorail. Its variety of courses and terrain caters to all skill levels.

Field report
Trent Scott
International Relations
University of the Sunshine Coast

Being from the Sunshine Coast in south-east Queensland, I spend a lot of my free time surfing, although in the three years I lived and worked in Japan I only managed to go surfing when visiting Australia on holidays. The solution was simple - I made up for my loss by snowboarding all over Honshu (Japan's main island) every winter.
In my final year in Japan I decided it was time to venture north to Hokkaido for my last snowboarding trip before heading back to Australia. Together with a friend, I booked a five-day plan from Nagoya to Niseko Grand Hirafu Ski Resort in mid-January 2006, which included all flights, shuttle buses, accommodation, breakfasts/dinners, lift passes and an unlimited onsen pass. On arrival we were informed that Hokkaido was experiencing its heaviest snowfall in five years - wow! Even though the locals were complaining, Hokkaido under heavy snowfall is still rated as one of the best places to ski in the world.
We arrived in the evening and after a good sleep and decent night's snowfall we were ready to wreak havoc on the slopes first thing in the morning. With the resort's night lights we were able to snowboard from 8am to 9pm and, because of the size of the resort, we needed all this time every day to fully explore it all. With powder up to our chests, awesome untouched back country and an abundance of jumps and stunt parks for the extreme-minded, we spent the next four days in snowboarding-heaven. The snow was so soft it was like snowboarding in the clouds. I had never experienced what Hokkaido had to offer anywhere else in Japan.
Averaging about nine hours of snowboarding each day plus a little nightlife to top it off, we were totally exhausted by the end of the trip. Niseko is one of my best memories of Japan and I am now planning a trip with friends this coming January in 2007. Hope to see you there!

Summer in Hokkaido
Driving through Hokkaido's lush landscapes.
Driving through Hokkaido's lush landscapes.
When the warmer weather finally melts Hokkaido's snowy covering at the end of March and early April, a whole new range of activities becomes possible. Renting a car and driving around various sightseeing areas is becoming an increasingly popular holiday pastime for locals and overseas visitors. The road rules are largely the same as those in Australia and Japanese also drive on the left-hand side, making the transition for Australians effortless. The recent installation of car navigation systems with human voice assistance in most rental cars means driving around without maps is a breeze as long as you request a car navigation system with an English interface and English voiceovers. Most major road signs in Japan are written in both English and Japanese, which leaves only one dilemma; Hokkaido is the largest prefecture in Japan making up 22.1 per cent of Japan's total land mass. Being approximately the same size as Austria, driving around the whole island could take weeks. If your holiday schedule does not allow such luxuries you may have to settle for one particular coast or area. Hokkaido's topography will amaze even seasoned travellers with its marshlands, inland lakes, wetlands, fields of flowers, hot spring towns, national parks, mountains and forests. If time permits, check out Furano's Belly-Button Festival and fields of lavenders and sunflowers or visit quaint Otaru's canal or the jaw-dropping night view from the top of Mount Hakodate in the southern port city of Hakodate.

List of Useful Websites
Northern Road Navi: northern-road.jp/navi/eng/index.htm
Hokkaido Gururi-Tabi: www.visit-hokkaido.jp/en
Toyota Rental Car Sapporo: www.toyotarentacar.net
Furano's endless fields of flowers.
Furano's endless fields of flowers.
Action sports are not limited to winter.
Action sports are not limited to winter.

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