From Issue Two of the Gear Patrol Magazine. Subscribe today for 15% off the GP Store.
In winter, Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture, is an expanse of white, from the ski lifts in Niseko to the cape of Shiretoko; in summer, the white is replaced by lush green. Constant throughout are the Japanese people: Warm and polite to a degree not found in the United States, they make Hokkaido among the world’s easiest travel destinations. A map and compass are useful, but all that’s required is a willingness to ask — and a pocket dictionary.
Where to Eat
Rare Pudding, Fresh Uni Don, World-Renowned Soba
In one of Otaru’s quaint restaurant squares, a tiny horseshoe-shaped bar wraps around the domain of Mr. Chiharu, the bald and hilarious owner who serves the freshest, if not the cheapest, uni don in town.
Location: 1 Chome-1 Ironai, Otaru ⇱ | Learn More: tripadvisor.com
Deep in the hills of Furano lives a couple who left the bustle of Tokyo for a small wooden farmhouse to produce pudding — more like a tender custard — that’s well worth the trip. Appointments required.
Location: 3893-4 Tairazawa, Furano ⇱ | Learn More: amupurin.com
Rojiura Curry Samurai
You may not think to look for curry in Sapporo (for ramen, head to Tetsuya), but pick your soup, pick your protein, dial up the spice and trust the chef for a lesson on Japanese imagination.
Location: 3 Chome-2-3 Hiragishi 3 Jo, Toyohira Ward, Sapporo ⇱ | Learn More: samurai-curry.com
Featured by Anthony Bourdain in No Reservations, the simple, handmade soba from chef Tatsuru Rai pairs well with the slightly secluded, wood-paneled restaurant.
Location: 431-2 Niseko, Niseko, Abuta District ⇱ | Learn More: tripadvisor.com
What to Drink
Demystifying Sake, Cafe Culture, Smoke-filled Taverns
The café culture pioneer Sousuke Ichikawa started his coffee business in 1996 in this quaint, out-of-the-way location. Covered in ivy and serving nel drip coffee, this is the perfect spot for a good book or long conversation.
Location: 26 Chome 2-18 Minami 2 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo ⇱ | Learn More: morihiko-coffee.com
Tanaka Sake Brewery
While Nikka’s Yoichi distillery outside of Otaru gets more foot traffic, a tour at Tanaka — a frequent gold-prize winner at the Hokkaido Sake Awards — will give you a primer on Japan’s famous rice wine.
Location: 2-2 Nobukacho, Otaru ⇱ | Learn More: tripadvisor.com
Smoke-filled and small, you won’t hear blaring music at this pub, but drinking highballs while watching fish sizzle on an open grill — and eavesdropping on the locals — can make for a much more colorful night.
Location: 6 Chome Minami 3 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo ⇱ | Learn More: tabelog.com
What to See
Massive Marble, Back Country Trails, Untouched Wild
Arte Piazza Bibai
Established as part of an effort to revitalize an old coal mining town, some 40 sculptures from internationally renowned sculptor Kan Yasuda dot the plaza surrounding a still-functioning kindergarten. Admission is free.
Location: Ochiai-cho Sakae-Machi, Bibai ⇱ | Learn More: artepiazza.jp
Rusutsu Ski Resort
Less crowded than Niseko, Rvusutsu features phenomenal glade skiing for those who like to explore, and with all unmarked areas spilling out to one of the resort’s main lifts, it’s nearly impossible to get lost.
Location: 13 Izumikawa, Abuta-gun, Rusutsu-mura ⇱ | Learn More: powderhounds.com
Shiretoko National Park
One of the most isolated parts of Japan, the park is home to hot springs and lush forests full of brown bears, foxes, hawks and views of the Sea of Okhotsk. Recharge with a spicy bowl at Namishibuki.
Where to Stay
Traditional, Upscale Ryokans and Convenient Condos
The one ryokan you shouldn’t miss in Hokkaido, complete with private geothermal hot springs in each villa.
Location: 76-4 Hanazono, Kutchan-cho, Abuta-gun ⇱ | Learn More: zaborin.com
Built in 2006 and surrounded by the buzz of the Hirafu Upper Village, this modern condo has a clear view of Mount Yotei, also called Little Fuji, while being within walking distance of the slopes.