From a Canal to a Mountain Range (4/4)

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Greetings, everyone. This is Nazrul from the Hokkaido Government Representative Office.

My last two stops for this business trip will be Otaru and Niseko. For these locations, my accommodation remains in Sapporo. My first stop will be Otaru, a famous tourist destination that is only a 45-minute train ride away from Sapporo. I visited this place to see the local winter festival and understand what makes this place so appealing to foreign visitors.

Map route, part 4 (click to enlarge, map source: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Japan)
JR Otaru station, main exit facing Otaru Canal
Otaru Canal

When I first arrived at JR Otaru station, I was surprised to see the famous Otaru Canal right in front of the station exit. I was informed that visitors need only a full day to explore Otaru, so it’s common for them to stay in Sapporo and just make a day trip here. After walking through the city, it’s easy to tell why it attracts many visitors from around the world: food is plenty, the scenery is great and the location is very accessible.

Sakaimachi Street
Otaru Music Box Museum at Sakaimachi (workshops available)
Otaru Canal at night

When dusk fell, Otaru turned into a candlelight wonderland. The popular glass shops in Sakaimachi began to light up, the roads are lined up with candle-lit ice sculptures, and the Otaru Canal became a gathering spot for all photography enthusiasts and foreign visitors. In the end, I came to understand why Otaru is a must-visit for anyone.

Niseko Hirafu Bus Terminal
Niseko Hirafu Bus Terminal

The next morning, my final destination is Niseko, a mountainous area that is famous for skiing from December to March.  To get there, I took a 3-hour bus ride and arrived at the Niseko Hirafu Bus Terminal. From there, I explored Niseko which is made up of two towns: Niseko town and Kutchan town.

Niseko HANAZONO Resort cafeteria
Niseko HANAZONO Resort ski area (outside)

According to my guide, the Niseko area is trying to attract many real estate investors to develop hotels and accommodations as it has plenty of land to offer. However, it needs more tourists during non-winter seasons, and the manpower to run the existing hotels. In the meantime, Niseko feels like a different country altogether: during winter, the people there are almost all foreigners, most of them from Australia.

JR Niseko station

It’s good to finally see Niseko in winter. However, I am also curious to know what else is there to see and do here during summer. The place has a lot of greenery and plenty of agricultural produce, and buying houses here seems like a popular choice for many non-Japanese people.

Outdoor barbecue (outside JR Niseko station)
Hilton Niseko Village lobby

With this, my second business trip to Hokkaido came to an end. The whole journey took me all the way from the further east in Shiretoko to ski resorts in Niseko. It was a tiring but enjoyable trip, and for the next business trip, I hope to see the northernmost islands of Rebun and Rishiri, and the vast lavender fields in Furano. Stay tuned!

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