To many people, foreign tourists as well as Japanese locals, Hokkaido's image is one of low temperatures and snowy mountains. It's no wonder most people go to Japan's northernmost island for winter sports. However, this amazing place has so much more to discover than just skiing down a mountain! I already visited the landscape in summer of 2009, and this time I wanted to see it during winter as the weather during summertime is a bit similar to Germany. But unlike Germany, Hokkaido turns into a snowy wonderland during the winter. If you are in Japan for a working holiday, do yourself a favor and make sure to spend a week or so at Japan's prime winter sports destination! Sapporo This year I spent around one month in Hokkaido. I decided to set up my freelance headquarters in Sapporo because the capital city has the best connection to the public transportation. Another aspect is that most of my friends are living in or near Sapporo. During the first weeks I explored Sapporo and its vicinity. As Sapporo is not a sprawling city, you can reach many spots within an hour of walking, so I walked to the Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium when a Ski Jumping event was going on. I never saw this sport before, and it was so amazing to see the competitors flying! If there is no event going on you can watch a training if you are lucky. Next to the stadium, there is a winter sports museum. Unfortunately it turned out to be closed in January, but when I visited Sapporo in 2009 it was open and I recommend you stop by. The best part of the musuem is that you can practice different winter sports with simulators, it's almost like being on the slopes for real! Other interesting spots you shouldn't miss when you are in Sapporo were the Sapporo Clock Tower where you can explore the history of the city, the Susukino nightlife district, and Mount Moiwa. When I went up this mountain using two ropeways, I was stunned by one of the most beautiful views of the city and the ocean from the top. Penguins in Asahikawa In the begin of February I went to visit a friend in Asahikawa. Because I stayed with his family, I got the chance to see from up close how a Japanese family lives in Hokkaido. My friend and I visited popular spots in the city, like the science museum and the zoo. The zoo of Asahikawa is quite a famous place in Hokkaido. It is not big, but the highlights are the nice arranged habitats and the penguin walk, where a group of penguins walks through the public area as seen in the picture. The renowned Asahikawa Yuki Matsuri (Asahikawa Snow Festival) is also a must-see. You will see snow sculptures along the river, ice slides, and be able to try many delicious kinds of food. I also visited the judo club of my friend's sister and watched the class practice. At the gym we met the class teacher of my friend, and he invited me to come to the high school the next day. I was really excited to get the chance to see a Japanese high school from the inside! The students were really amazed to see me, a foreigner, in their school. During English class, I assisted the teacher by helping the students while they prepared a group speech. After class finished, the teacher guided me around the school. This experience was a unique moment I will remember for sure! During my stay, the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (Sapporo Snow Festival) also happened to be in full swing. I even arrived in time to see how artists built up their ice sculptures. After the event kicked off, the city was full of gigantic snow walls with pictures and ice sculptures lit up in every color. For the last week of my stay I visited several places. First on the list was visited Obihiro. I am a horse lover, so my main reason for visiting this city was the horse racing stadium, which is unique in the world. Here you can see how one of the mightiest horse breeds in the world is running on a special racetrack. Bannei horses are not cantering through the track like they do during a normal race, but they are pulling a heavy sled over 2 hills. It was very special to me to be able to watch this spectacle. Hot Springs, Bears and Drift Ice The next city on my list was Noboribetsu, which is popular for its hot springs, old city with people in ninja costumes, and bear park. In the bear park, you can see brown bears doing funny tricks to get attention and food from visitors. When I took a short walk through the city something that stood out were the many statues of Oni (demons) along the way. There is a place near the city named Jigokudani, also known as 'hell valley', hence the statues. It is a spectacular place with hot steam vents, sulfurous streams and other volcanic activity. It is from this valley where most of the onsen in the vicinity get their hot spring water. At last I went to the eastern part of Hokkaido. My first stop was Kushiro, which is famous for its wild nature and Japanese cranes. In the evening I took the train to Abashiri and stayed here for one night because it would be an early wake-up call the next day for a boat trip to see the drift ice. On an icebreaker, we went for a one-hour tour through the bay and the drifting ice, which I already saw from the train one day before. We were also lucky to see Stellerˋs sea eagles next to the boat. It was a great end to a trip to remember! About the author Michaela has been interested in Japan since she was young, and aged 25 she decided to go on a Working Holiday to the country that has always felt like a second home to her. Feeling safer by going to Japan through an organization, having the back-up of World Unite! turned out to be a good investment. Michaela found some great jobs during her stay on a Working Holiday visa (one job was scuba diving assistant!), and she also took the opportunity to travel around many areas of Japan. In the end, Hokkaido turned out to be my favorite place, as here you can find a great mix of nature and city.
Enoshima, a small island in Kanagawa Prefecture, is a popular resort and sightseeing place. A bridge connects the island with the shore area making it easy for visitors to walk there and enjoy the beautiful coast view. The Road to the Sea Candle Garden When you arrive at the island, you will see many tourist souvenir shops in a narrow street sloping slightly upwards to a post office. It has the special charm of a traditional rural town and a beautiful Shinto gate (torii) at the end of the street. When you walk towards the gate you will pass many small restaurants and street food stands with mostly seafood offerings. On hot days you can indulge in one of the many ice cream shops there. Climbing up the stairs you will find some Shinto shrines where you can pray and buy charms for various purposes, such as luck, health, love and traffic safety. Enoshima is also a very popular place for Japanese visitors. You will see many Japanese families with their small children and couples on a romantic trip. After enjoying the serene atmosphere at the temples you will reach the main attraction of Enoshima Island, the Sea Candle and the Sea Candle Garden. The tropical garden has many small walkways decorated with hundreds of colorful glasses with candles inside. There is a romantic and fascinating atmosphere when you go there by night, but also during the day it's a wonderful place to visit. For a nice view of the harbor area, look for the cafés where you can admire the view while enjoying some good food or drinks. Sea Life During the summer season the beach area around Enoshima is full of people who love water sports such as surfing, swimming or sailing. Another popular activity in this area is fishing. If the weather outside isn't comfortable you can visit the Enoshima Aquarium, which features a great collection of marine animals and even has a dolphin show. Enoshima makes for a great day trip, and not least because of its famously fresh seafood. When the weather is crisp and clear it's even possible to have a great view of Mount Fuji. If you come from Tokyo by train you will most likely visit Kamakura first on the way down to Enoshima. If you're visiting both places buying the Kamakura-Enoshima Pass for 700 yen in Tokyo is a good option. You can also go to Kamakura by local trains and buy a 1-day pass for the Enoshima Electric Railway (Enoden) for 600 yen. This pass allows you to stop at popular temples in Kamakura as well as in Enoshima.