Hokkaido: Nature at its finest

Vivien Shiao Shufen 14 Dec 2012

Mention Hokkaido, and most will picture a winter wonderland complete with the requisite Japanese hot springs, also known as onsens. While its ski resorts and powder-soft snow are its main drawcard, there are many other aspects to Hokkaido that few are privy to.

Considered the last frontier of Japan, Hokkaido is the second largest, northern-most and least developed of Japan’s main islands. With endless acres of mountains, lakes and fields of flowers, Hokkaido’s pristine scenery is a stunning contrast to cosmopolitan cities like Tokyo and Osaka.

While Hokkaido may not be as high up the tourist radar, it is by no means inferior to its more popular Japanese counterparts. The charm of Hokkaido is the ability to get away from the madding crowds, and to soak in the finest things that nature has to offer.

As there really is no wrong time to visit this stunning island, companies that choose to hold their MICE activities in Hokkaido will not be disappointed with its vast array of unique attractions that are guaranteed to delight even the most jaded travelers. It might be wise to do it quick before word gets out about this relatively low-profile gem.

Snow, glorious, snow

Let’s start with what Hokkaido is known for – its world-class ski resorts. Known for having tons of light powder snow and awesome backcountry trails, Niseko is arguably the most famous ski resort area in Japan.

Most easily accessed from Hokkaido’s capital city, Sapporo, Niseko’s resorts are the biggest draw during the ski season of November to May.

One resort that companies can consider is the Hilton Niseko Village Hotel. Set at the foot of Niseko Annupuri Mountain, the resort boasts mountain views in each of its 560 guest rooms and suites. There is also a gondola adjacent to the hotel, bringing guests to the top of the mountain in seven minutes.

Hilton Niseko Village Hotel is ideal for companies to hold their meetings or functions as it offers the latest technology including high-speed internet access and a fully equipped business centre. In addition, it has a range of flexible meeting rooms and a stylish ballroom that can accommodate up to 900 guests. Hilton also boasts the largest conference room in the region where 700 people can be catered for, reception style.

With such excellent facilities and infrastructure at your fingertips, company retreats just got so much easier to organise. In the winter months, there are a host of exciting activities for your staff to participate in, such as skiing, snowmobile adventures, snowshoe treks, snow rafting and even reindeer sledding.

After a hard day at the slopes, employees can relax those aching muscles in Hilton’s onsens. These are naturally heated thermal waters known for being good for health. There are two bathing options, an upper indoor bath looking out on the changing seasons, and a huge outdoor bath. The onsens are free for hotel guests.

One day trip that organisers can arrange is to Noboribetsu Onsens, Hokkaido’s most famous hot spring area. A large amount of Noboribetsu’s many types of hot spring water surfaces in the amazing Jigokudani, or “Hell Valley”. There is a huge variety of baths to suit everyone, making this a great day out for staff to rejuvenate.

Nature’s bounty

The natural hot springs in Hokkaido are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what nature has to offer. The region is home to countless national parks that have been kept pristine.

Daisetsuzan is Hokkaido’s largest national park. It is a densely forested, mountainous area of virtually unspoilt wilderness, and a paradise for hikers and outdoor lovers, as well as deer and brown bears. Its name means ‘Great Snowy Mountains’, which is a fitting description of its peaks – 15 of them over 2000m. The Ainu name for Daisetsuzan is Kamui-mintara, meaning ‘playground of the gods’.

Asahi-dake, the tallest mountain in Hokkaido (2,290m), is one of the park’s star attractions. The best way to get there is through the Asahi-dake Ropeway which provides a stunning aerial view of the area. From there, it is a two hour hike to Mount Asahi-dake’s summit. The park is one of the best places in Japan to view the autumn colours, with vivid hues of yellows, reds and oranges making it an unforgettable sight for every visitor.

Companies can organise a hiking trip into the national park to take in the amazing views, as well as give their employees a good workout. The raw beauty of Daisetsuzan is certain to leave an indelible mark on their memories.

For companies which choose to visit Hokkaido in the summer time, an unmissable sight is the Furano flower fields. Furano is most famous for its lavender, which attracts large numbers of visitors to the region every summer from late June to early August when the plants are in full bloom.

Aside from lavender, there are many other flowers which make Furano an attractive destination. These include rape blossoms, poppies, lilies and sunflowers.

As many flower fields are spread across Furano, it may be a good idea for companies to hire a bus to bring staff around to see them all. Flowers are not just for the ladies, as the heady aroma and brilliant swathes of colour are likely to make your male employees excited as well.

Eating in paradise

As you can see, we have saved the best for last. The food in Hokkaido is one of its greatest attractions, with its famous ramen, fresh seafood and dairy products. In fact, many visitors arrive from the Japanese mainland to sample the dishes that are incomparable to the country’s other regions.

First and foremost, Hokkaido is renowned for the high quality and freshness of its seafood as the cold waters surrounding the region are ideal for fish to thrive. Some of its most famous sea products include uni (sea urchin), kani (crab), ika (squid), ikura (salmon roe), and hotate (scallops).

Aside from traditional sit-down dinners where staff are served a range of dishes, it may be an excellent idea for companies to charter a bus down to a local fish market to sample the prefecture’s seafood for breakfast. Be prepared to be amazed at the variety of seafood available as you walk along the endless market aisles. Popular markets include Sapporo’s Nijo Market, Hakodate’s Morning Market and Kushiro’s Washo Market.

The next famous Hokkaido dish is its ramen, a well-known specialty of the region. The soup base, noodles and toppings used for ramen vary across Japan, and even within Hokkaido there are differences between the regions. While Sapporo is known for its miso-based broths, salt-based broths are more common in Hakodate, and soya sauce-based ones in Asahikawa. Ramen shops can be found everywhere in Hokkaido, and the fare is likely to be excellent wherever you go.

Dairy products are another specialty in the region, with the ice cream in this region being especially creamy and rich. Those on a diet may just lose their resolve as the delectable desserts here are out of this world.

In addition to its excellent food and desserts, one last product that Hokkaido is famous for is its beer. You may have heard of Sapporo Beer, one of the first and most popular beer brands in Japan. That brewery was founded in Hokkaido around 1876. Companies can plan a trip to learn about the history of beer in Hokkaido at the Sapporo Beer Museum, and enjoy a beer tasting afterwards.

With such exceptional quality and variety, the food in Hokkaido will not be easily forgotten by those who have savoured it.

About Hokkaido

Hokkaido is Japan’s second largest island at 32,221.60 square miles. It is also the largest and northernmost of Japan’s 47 prefectures. The largest city on Hokkaido is its capital Sapporo.

Getting to Hokkaido

Currently, there are no direct flights from Singapore to Sapporo. Most visitors to Hokkaido transit through Tokyo as the Tokyo-Sapporo route is one of the world’s busiest. Countless flights operate flights between these two regions, including JAL, ANA, Air Do, Skymark, Jetstar Japan and Air Asia Japan. The flight duration is about 90 minutes


Winter wonderland

Looking to escape the sweltering Singapore heat? During the months of November to March, Hokkaido transforms into a winter wonderland and offers a host of unique activities that are sure to enthrall your employees.

The Akan International Crane Centre is one of the top places to go during the winter months as hundreds of magnificent red crowned cranes gather there during their seasonal migration. Another highlight is the Drift Ice Museum where employees can view real pieces of drift ice displayed in a room that is cooled to -18 degrees Celsius.

For employees who want to experience some peace and tranquility, explore Lake Tofusu which means “the lake where the birds are always there” in the Ainu language. With over 2,000 swans migrating yearly from Siberia to spend their winters there, it is not hard to imagine why. Follow Me Japan, an affiliate of Prime Travel & Tour, offers corporate travel packages to these locations that include stopovers at hot springs, seafood markets and outlet shopping malls.


Did you know?

Hokkaido is closer to Russia than any other country. Russian ships bring marine products to Japan, including a large type of crab that is a local favourite on Hokkaido


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