Sapporo’s disappointing little sister
Asahikawa is the capital of Kamikawa sub-prefecture and Hokkaido’s second biggest city. Asahikawa’s yearly snow festival is as famous as Sapporo’s. However, the city itself is not really interesting for tourism, aside from its transportation hub which gives access to the center of the island.
Despite its size, easy access and administrative power, Asashikawa city can be disappointing for travelers looking for nature and large spaces. First, very little information about the places to see is available, and there is indeed only one thing worth the travel: Asahikawa Fuyu Matsuri, the snow festival. It is held each year in the beginning of February, at the same period as Sapporo’s Yuki Matsuri.
Aside from the snow festival, Asahikawa boasts a zoo, the Asahiyama Dobutsuen. However, the zoo in winter is a source of unease. Animals are kept in open-air spaces so visitors can enjoy watching them roaming freely, but the animals look really bored. The biggest mammals, like the polar bear, live in cramped spaces, where they can only spend their day walking back and forth, not to mention the fact that giraffes and hippopotami live in the snow. The zoo staff try to reassure visitors by explaining that the animals are used to the weather conditions and protected from being cold by a heated floor. The contrast between the savannah, where they are supposed to live, and Hokkaido’s snowy landscape is distressing.
Nevertheless, many tourists visit the zoo, for dates or as a family trip. The zoo also organizes night events, maybe to showcase the animals in the darkness. Generally speaking, Japan is not a country appreciated for its zoos.
As there are few interesting things to do in Asahikawa, we tried to taste the local specialty dishes, as one is rarely disappointed by Japan when it comes to eating. The great northern island offers delicious, piping-hot ramen 🍜 noodle bowls to enjoy during cold weather. In Asahikawa, the ramen noodles are served in a soy sauce broth and topped with vegetables and fine pork slices.
A Ramen Village, where one can taste several kinds of ramen noodles, is advertised to visitors. However, contrary to the image of a cozy village, the place is in fact a single modern building, vaguely shaped as a mountain cabin, which is lost in an industrial zone and has only eight restaurants. The commute time from the main station is much longer than the time to be spent there, so we strongly recommend avoiding the place and staying in downtown Asahikawa, near the pedestrian avenue Heiwa-dori Kaimono Koen, and looking for a well-rated restaurant.
In short, Asahikawa city is to be considered as an entrance to Hokkaido rather than as a place to visit. However, the city is served by a convenient transportation network. It is easy to take a train 🚅 or a plane ✈️ to reach the center of Hokkaido, where you can find, for example, the Daisetsuzan National Park and the flowery countryside of Biei and Furano.