All eyes are on Japan this year, to host the Rugby World Cup in September and the next G20 meeting in June, and readies even for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
But visitors who do not want to explore outside the obvious tourist attractions should consider Hokkaido. The wild North Island is a peaceful enclave of beautiful nature and culture.
Here are ten things to do to get you off the coast.
Night skiing in Niseko
The best snow in the world: The slopes at Niseko, with Mount Yotei in & # 39; e background
Local ski demons claim that Niseko has the best snow in the world. Up to 45ft of powder blows in from the Siberian north each year and falls on the lower slopes located at Mount Yotei. You can explore the slopes at night, which are not open much until 8:30 pm under overview lights.
For half a month and with the lights shining through the trees, some brave locals even venture off-piste in the dark.
Get naked – and clean
You may be pissed off by the mandatory nudity of an onsen – traditional hot springs – but most people soon get over it and men and women use separate facilities. Rest before indulging in pools in the Niseko Green Leaf hotel, rest on a small plastic bin for a sit-down shower, then test often-burning indoors and then outdoor pools.
Locals balance a small towel on their head to stop their hair from getting wet when it cuts. A visit to & onsen is the perfect refresher after a day on & # 39; e slopes.
Eat like Genghis Khan
Grub's Up: The Jingisukan, or Genghis Khan's is a Hokkaido specialty in which diners eat lamb as a lamb over a naked flame.
The Jingisukan, or & # 39; Genghis Khan & # 39 ;, is a Hokkaido specialty for making health and safety experts: bring your bowl of lamb or mutton (with a few decorative vegetables) even to your table over an open flame. The name comes from Khan & # 39; s favorite lamb dish, while the dome-shaped pan reminds of & # 39; his soldiers' helmets.
But be careful: the 100-minute all-you-can-eat offer (£ 27) at the atmospheric Sapporo Beer Factory includes drinks, which means you can get away with some of Khan & # 39; s gung-ho attitude. Jackets and bags are left in plastic bags to protect them from smoke, but I still smelled like a baby.
Drink a dram like two
The Nikka Whiskey Factory in Yoichi was founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whiskey, after learning his trade in Scotland. A tour of the site is fascinating – the distillery has most of the original equipment and buildings in a picturesque estate, and tour operators use idiosyncratic cartoons to explain how the production process works.
The museum also has a moving section on Taketsuru's attempt to make his Scottish wife, Rita, comfortable in Japan, a story that was made into a Japanese TV show in Downton Abbey style. And of course there's plenty to do.
Sleeping on a floor
Sweet traditions: In & # 39; Tsukushi Makita store in Otaru will be a sweet-maker of & # 39; The third generation shows you how to roll your own confectionery
In traditional Ryokan hotels, beds are set on the floor, which is more comfortable than it sounds. In these hotels, tatami mats made of bamboo give a fresh feeling when you walk around (please wear shoes).
At the Otaru Kourakuen hotel, each room has its own outdoor ocean piped from volcanic waters nearby. Guests can be served in their dining room by attentive staff, who hide behind screens while you dine. English beds are also available. Double rooms cost from £ 205 per night.
Very high spirits
Sake is not really involved in the UK, but a tour of the Tanaka Sake Brewery in Otaru is a great introduction to this rice wine and how it is made. Japanese workers wrap enormous stacks of fermenting rice blankets in fats, then donate protective clothing to help with the breeding process, and stir the liquid into giant containers.
A tasting session exposes a wide variety of flavors, from sweet and dairy to strong and sour. Most interesting is a generous brew made by the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido. It is also possible to visit a Japanese wine cellar.
Raw fish in victory
Hokkaido sushi is said to be the most fresh in Japan. In the Otaru Hikari restaurant, countless plates of sashimi and sushi are more familiar to western wholesomeness than the specialties of seals and raw scallops.
Make traditional sweets
The big free time: Geishas for a snow sculpture at the Sapporo Snow Festival
In & # 39; the Tsukushi Makita store in Otaru, a sweet-maker of & # 39; The third generation shows you how to roll your own confectionery. You can then eat your efforts, washed down with a cup of green Matcha tea.
Sapporo snow festival
For ten days in February, the capital of Hokkaido, Sapporo, displays 400 snow sculptures, including Pokemon characters and even favorites from Star Wars movies. There is also a ski jump competition and musical acts.
Robbie Griffiths stayed at The Green Leaf Niseko Village (thegreenleafhotel.com).
Rooms from £ 224 per night based on a minimum of two nights stay. BA (ba.com) flies back to Tokyo from £ 599.
Jetstar Japan flies from Tokyo to Sapporo from £ 41 one way.
Glass Blows in Otaru
Otaru is famous as a quaint town full of souvenirs. Most popular is the glassmaker, which you can view in some places and even go on your own. If you just want to shop, Kitaichi Glass has the biggest selection, from plates and lamp heads to sake and tea sets.
There are queues for the atmospheric dark tea room on the ground floor.
Otaru also has a snow festival in early February, where lights illuminate the local canal.
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