Hokkaido – Beauty on a budget

shikisai no oka garden

Source: @ai_canon

Jetting off to Japan is notoriously pricey. Even if you’re the travel-savvy sort that knows just when to pick the cheapest flight, that first hit to your wallet can leave you wary of exhorbitantly priced attractions.

But why wince at hefty theme park admissions when all of nature’s wonders beckon? Up north, Hokkaido’s sweeping landscapes remain open to you – all for $10 or less.

So take a break from skyscrapers and feast your eyes upon endless flower fields, larger-than-life ice sculptures and shimmering blue waters. With recommendations from NHK World TV’s travel program Journeys in Japan, we uncovered these 7 gorgeous spots in Japan that will have you wondering: is this the real life, is this just fantasy?

1. Ueno Farm 

ueno farm

Source: @mfn078405

Along the highway from Asahikawa to Obihiro, you’ll pass not 1, but 8 lush gardens, earning the route the deserving moniker of “Hokkaido Garden Path”. And the most charming of ‘em all would be Ueno Farm.

The farm originally sold rice, but we’re sure glad it has diversified – today, lounge around in a traditional English-style garden filled with poppies, camomile and other flowers. Little thatched houses, cafes and weekend markets further add to the area’s magic.

Tip: Head to the top of Shatekiyama hill to take a pic of the lush fields below. Source: Good!Hokkaido!

If you don’t mind a photobomber in your shots, head to the Gnome’s Garden. These little stone men will add a quirky touch to your photos and transport you to a whole new world.

gnomes garden

Gnome in contemplation. Source: @mfn078405

Opening Hours: 10am – 5pm (Closed on Mondays), Garden is open from April – Oct

Address:16-chome, Nagayama-cho, Asahikawa-shi 

How to get there: 15-minute drive from Asahiyama Zoo

2. Shikisai No Oka Garden

Source: @miyau_san

The OCD among us will be thrilled with this garden – vivid blooms are laid out in neat rows, forming a colour-blocked carpet across the landscape.

The fields hold over 30 varieties of flowers, such as peonies, lupines and even sunflowers.

shikisai no oka garden fields

Source: @ai_canon

And if the flowers don’t win you over, adorable alpacas will. An alpaca ranch is set right in the garden, so feed them and watch them munch happily on leaves – ah, one of life’s little joys.

alpaca ranch shikisai no oka garden

Just look at that sweet mug. Source

Opening Hours: 8.30am-6pm (timings vary depending on season), Flowers bloom from April – Oct

Address: Shinsei Daisan, Biei, Kamikawa District

How to get there: 25-minute walk from Bibaushi station, 12-minute taxi from Biei station

3. Shichiku Garden

shichiku garden flowers

Source: @shiokosakai

This beautiful garden has a stirring story behind it: Grandma Akiyo Shichiku suffered depression after her husband passed and started growing blooms to seek solace.

Source: Eastern Hokkaido 

We can see why this lifted her spirits. Shichiku Garden boasts acres of vivid flowers – all grown naturally without watering in the last few years.

soft serve hokkaido

Coloured just like a rose. Source

There’s even an accompanying cafe – which serves up what Hokkaido does best: soft serves.

Opening Hours: 8am – 6pm (April – Nov)

Address: 107 Yonsen Nishi, Biei-cho, Obihiro  

How to get there: 28 minutes from Obhiro Airport by car

4. Cape Soya 

cape soya

Nail that symmetrical shot at the northernmost point of Japan. Source: @10obata

Also known as the “Ireland of Japan”, Cape Soya’s landscape is very different from the rest of Japan with annual temperatures of only 7 degrees Celsius. Brrr.

It’s cold because it lies at the tip of Hokkaido – there’s even a monument to mark the northernmost point. Once you’ve ticked that off the list, peer out at rolling knolls and majestic hills reminiscent of Ireland’s wild beauty.

cape soya knolls hills

Source: @akiyoshi_kitagawa

ezo deer wildlife cape soya

Source: @megkaneko

You might spot wildlife such as the Ezo Deer, and if you want to get hands-on, try fishing at the Sarufutsu river. Just remember to release the fish that you caught during Spring, which is spawning season.

Address: Soyamisaki, Wakkanai

5. Sapporo Snow Festival (Odori Park, Susukino, and Tsudome) 

One of Japan’s largest and most popular festivals, Sapporo Snow Festival is your chance to pose with imposing monuments – made from tonnes of snow.

sapporo snow festival star wars

May the force be with you. Source: @812cho

The sculptures are dotted all over the city, but if you want to steer away from leg burn, focus on three main sites: Susukino, Tsudome and Odori Park. Admission is mostly free, too.

sapporo snow festival arc de triomphe

Around 300,000 tonnes of snow were used to make “Paris’s Arc De Triomphe” Source: NHK WORLD TV

The city’s awash with other ice-and-snow related activities to get warmed up for: an ice rink, ski jump display run, snow playground and snow sculpture contests have made an appearance at the festival’s past editions.

snow sculpture sapporo snow festival

This mind-blowing – literally – ice sculpture at Odori Park. Source: @william.carter.125

Address: Hokkaido Keizai Center 4F, Kiita 1-Jo Nishi 2-chome, Chuo-ku (2018 Festival Dates: 5 – 11 Feb)

6. Otaru Snow Light Path

otaru snow light path


Otaru is also known as the “Wall Street of the North” since it used to be at the centre of Hokkaido’s shipping and commercial industries. But when the winter festival descends upon the city in February, it’s a far cry from haggard bankers pounding grey pavements.

otaru snow light path

Source: @terraincognitas

For ten days, illuminated ice lanterns are placed along the canal that runs through the city. Sail along on a boat, as you take in scenes that would look right at home in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. 

Address: Otaru canal, former Temiya railway line, Asarigawa Onsen

How to get there: 10-minute walk from Otaru Station

7. Lake Shikotsu 

lake shikotsu ice sculptures

Ice sculptures lit in rainbow hues Source

Frozen ice is the best canvas here. In February, clear water from Lake Shikotsu is frozen and crafted into spectacular ice structures for the Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival. A month later of round-the-clock work, the result is a surreal wonderland straight out of a fairytale.

On other months, Lake Shikotsu still holds allure – it’s a caldera lake, which is formed by the collapse of a volcano. So, look up and marvel at those grand volcanic peaks.

lake shikotsu kayaking


And if you take a kayak along the calm lake surface, peer down – the water is so clear you can see almost 10 metres below!

clear water of shikotsu lake

Source: @unigreen_ist

Address: Chitose Station Plaza 2F, 1789-3, Chiyoda-cho 7-chome, Chitose City

How to get there: 40 minutes from Shin-Chitose airport by car, 1 hour bus from Shi-Chitose Kuukou (Airport) station

Bonus: Blue Cave

When describing epic nature scenes, “blue waters” is a term often invoked. Seasoned travellers would claim that’s an exaggeration, at least till they glide into this cave in Otaru.

Even without the aid of Photoshop, the waters surrounding this cave are true blue – or more accurately, aquamarine.

blue cave cavern

Fine, this is not exactly cheap, but the unbelievable views make it well worth the splurge after saving up all your yen. There’re many ways to explore the area too, so you can find one that fits your budget: rafting, kayaking, or even in a glass boat for a clear view of the ocean floor.

glass boat blue cave

Address: 4-5, Minato-machi, Otaru-city (Cruise service company)

How to get there: 10-minute walk from Otaru Station

A journey to Hokkaido – right in Singapore

hokkaido nhk world tv event

After taking a look at these unbelievable spots, your latent wanderlust might be sparked and have you itching to book the next flight out to Hokkaido. But any trip’s better with a bit of planning – and some insider tips of those who’ve walked the snowy path before you.

nhk world tv event

To that end, The Smart Local’s Audrey Faith and Fauzi Aziz held an exclusive meet-and-greet with fans, spilling tips on what to in Hokkaido at an NHK WORLD TV event.

Fans who attended the session enjoyed light refreshments, photo-taking opportunities and watched a screening of NHK WORLD TV’s “Journeys in Japan”.

NHK World TV event

Ice sculptor Kate Thompson, the host of “Journeys in Japan”, made a brief Skype appearance.

nhk world tv event group shot

We can’t wait to make our own way to Japan! 



NHK WORLD TV is a free-to-air* news and lifestyle channel broadcast 24/7 in English from Japan, so you can indulge in your Jap-trip fantasies simply by flicking on the television. Start with Journeys In Japan, a popular travel program where hosts explore local culture and offer off-the-beaten-track tips.

Tip: If you like Journeys in Japan, catch J-Trip Plan, Wild Hokkaido and other travel programs  on NHK WORLD TV (Available on Starhub Channel 812, Singtel Channel 157 and the NHK WORLD Free App). Hop on to the website for the full list of programmes and more useful travel tips!

Find out more about travelling in Japan on NHK WORLD TV!

This post is brought to you by NHK WORLD TV.

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