This summer team spoon & tamago ventured north to escape Tokyo’s notorious heat and humidity. We spent a week in Hokkaido, eating, seeing and chasing around some of our favorite artists, designers and architects. Hokkaido is lush, green, beautiful and large. We barely scratched the surface but we thought we would share some of our favorite spots.
Oodori Park （Sapporo）
Most adventures will begin in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido and the closest city to Chitose Airport where we arrived. In the city center you’ll find Oodori Park. If you have kids, like we do, you’ll want to spend a few hours walking up and down the long horizontal park just taking in the beautiful surroundings. I have a particular weakness for cityscapes with mountain views in the background.
Around the center you’ll find two playable sculptures by Noguchi Isamu. As we’ve often found, simple forms afford freedom and creativity, and kids can spend hours playing on this small section of the park.
Tea and Sweets at Kitakaro (Sapporo)
While you’re walking along Oodori Park, be sure to stop by Kitakaro, a Japanese sweets shop designed by architect Tadao Ando. The beautiful structure is actually a renovated library originally built in 1926. It houses a large section of souvenirs on the first floor and a cafe on the 2nd floor, which is also where you’ll find this gorgeous bookshelf that pays homage to the structure’s heritage. There’s even a small museum of historical photos and documents next to the café.
Mt. Moiwa in the Evening (Sapporo)
Around late afternoon, head to Mt. Moiwa. It’s about a 20 min drive from Sapporo and there are also free shuttles. A cable car will take you up to the top and as soon as you get there, grab tickets for the planetarium show (although it’s only in Japanese, it’s still worth it). While you’re waiting for the show to begin, check out the stunning views of Sapporo from above.
You definitely want to be there for sunset, but then also hang around until it’s dark; between the sparkling lights of the city and the sparkling lights in the sky you won’t know where to look.
Isamu Noguchi’s Playground: Moerenuma Park (Sapporo)
Plan to spend an entire day at Moerenuma Park. In 1988, artist Isamu Noguchi visited the site that, which was then a landfill. He’s known to have looked out across the vast trashpile and said, “we’ve harmed this land and it’s my job to revive it with art.” And revive it he did. Over the next 6 months Noguchi designed pathways, playgrounds and fountains over a vast 190 acres of land. He passed away just 1 month after finishing the plans, making Moerenuma his last major masterpiece.
The park didn’t open for another 17 years in 2005 but his spirit lives on in every element. You can rent bicycles for a small fee and easily spend an entire day exploring all the different pockets this sculpture has to offer.
Hill of Buddha by Ando Tadao (Sapporo)
Normally we wouldn’t include a cemetery in our guide, but the Makomanai Takinoreien recently welcomed a new addition to their beautiful grounds. Hill of Buddha opened just this summer, making it one of architect Tadao Ando’s latest pieces. And it’s one of the most peaceful and calming places we’ve ever been. In fact, we ended up going twice.
Completed in Ando’s signature cement, a pool of water and a pathway leads up to a circular structure accessible by tunnel. 15,000 lavender plants are planted in a circular fashion along the roof of the structure. As you approach, the head of a large Buddha statue becomes visible, but then disappears again, only to reveal itself once you’ve travelled through the tunnel. It really is a stunning location that can be visited any time of the year.
Hiking Mt. Usu (Sobetsu)
About 2 hours West of Sapporo by car is Lake Toya and Mt. Usu, a fun excursion and a chance to climb an active volcano, which is always fun and exciting. A cable car gets you about halfway up and from there you can hike as little or as much as you want, depending on your fitness level.
At the foot of the mountain there are some fun souvenir shops but definitely stop by the food stands from some amazing grilled corn and fresh melon. So good!
The Rolling Hills of Biei
In central Hokkaido is Biei, one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. Rolling hills as far as the eye can see and views of the sky and clouds are so vast it will leave you breathless.
Oddly enough, there’s a really famous tree called the “Seven Stars Tree” because it was used in a commercial for Seven Stars cigarettes.
Other recommendations in Biei: definitely stop by Biei farm and have some of their delicious milk and ice cream (pro-tip: the milk bottles are super cute and make great souvenirs). Although it’s swarming with tourists non-stop, since you’re nearby you might as well go see the famous blue lake. As long as you keep your expectations low you won’t be too disappointed.
Bi-Ble: the bakery hotel (Biei)
In Biei we stayed at an adorable hotel called Bi-Ble. We inquired about the naming and it has nothing to do with the bible. Bi is for Biei and Ble is wheat flour in French.
Not only do the rooms have amazing views of Biei’s rolling hills, a huge perk of staying in a hotel that’s also a bakery is that you get freshly baked bread for breakfast. But that’s not to discount the dinner. Consisting of fresh meats and vegetables all locally sourced, it was probably the best meal we had our entire trip. Even if you don’t stay the night we still recommend dining here.
North Farm Stock
If you’re an S&T reader you may have come across North Farm Stock in the past. They make condiments like pickles, jams and sauces all using local ingredients and adorably packaged by local design studio Terashima Design. We’re big fans. And even though their products are stocked in shops around Tokyo, we couldn’t resist the chance to visit the mothership. It was just as beautiful as we imagined.
Just days before we visited, the store had completed an expansion to include a beautiful wooden deck where you can sit outside. They also have a café on the 2nd floor, but don’t feel guilty about skipping it. It actually wasn’t anything special.
Kan Yasuda Sculpture Garden (Bibai)
After encountering Kan Yasuda’s sculptures in Naoshima a year earlier we were determined to reconnect with the artist and his work here in Hokkaido where he’s originally from. It was raining but the Kan Yasuda Sculpture Garden is one of those places that is beautiful rain or shine; summer or winter.
Bibai is an old mining town that almost disappeared in the 70s when the coal mines closed down. A local school and its grounds shut down because there weren’t any children. That same school, and its grounds, has now been beautifully renovated and houses numerous sculptures by Yasuda, who wanted to create a garden where children could come back to play.