A replica of the "Colonization Headquarter" of Hokkaido is used as an information and visitor centre.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth reading guide books, brochures or any information online at all. Especially with travel bloggers and YouTubers being paid to go to places and say they like them, we have recently found places that are heavily promoted a big waste of time, and places that nobody ever mentions or that people downright hate delightful. Often, it seems bloggers as well as people on TripAdvisor have no idea where they actually went. Insane new media world.

This was the case with The Historical Village of Hokkaido in the outskirts of Sapporo, which all Japan guidebooks seems to dismiss as “some old houses”, and online reviews shunned as “not worth the money”. SERIOUSLY. I am so glad we went, as it was the best place I have visited in Japan this year!
A horse drawn (!) tram runs down the main road every hour or so

It’s an outdoor museum/collection of historical houses, much in the same vein as the Skansen park in Stockholm and other ones we have visited all over Europe in the last few years. Some of these places are simply in a nice setting without much information, some have live actors and lots of information. The Historical Village of Hokkaido was the largest and most detailed of such parks I have been too, with lots of information in English and painstaking attention to detail.

Mind you, it’s not just a collection of old Japanese houses. Hokkaido is a special case within Asia, as the area was barely settled until the Meiji restauration, when the government promoted sending people there as “pioneer” settlers (sounds a bit American, huh?). So the park has buildings from all different stages of Hokkaido’s early settlement, from large university buildings in the western style to the poorer settler’s hut, and anything in between.

Here’s a small selection:

An old barber shop that used to be located just behind the Hokkaido Shrine in Sapporo.
Inside the Sapporo Shinbun (News) printing press building - Can you imagine what typesetting must have been like with Chinese characters back in the day?

Inside a general store - can you spot the Kewpie doll?

Each and every building was furnished as in a specific era, most buildings are originals which were trnasported there. All those fireplaces around tatami flooring in wooden buildings don't seem like a very good idea, do they?

Kitchen at an old-style inn, complete with modern fire extinguisher ;) 

No Japanese town can be without its shinto shrine - this one was donated by former immigratns to Hokkaido from Nagoya.

Don't be deceived by some of the grand buildings. This is the average immigrant's hut, just a simple straw hut that exposes you to pretty much all weather conditions. In a part of the country where it snows for 6 months a year!

Excuse the blurry picture, it was super dark inside. This is the lodging house for "pioneer" forresters who lived there, probably 30 people or more, and had come to rural Hokkaido to hack wood.

Hokkaido University's former martial arts dojo - a stark contrast to the former buildings.
 Some of the houses were “staffed”, such as the police station and fishing hut, some which people showcasing crafts, and literally every one could be visited (bring slip-off shoes, they provide slippers for each and every building). We spent over 2 hours and could easily have spent another if we had gone at a more leisurely place – we had to hurry a bit because of the bus schedule.

It’s a tiny bit tricky to get there, and buses only run every hour after noon, but even if you don’t speak Japanese, it should be easy enough: 1) Take a train to Shin-Sapporo station (every 10 minutes or so from Sapporo station, taking about 10 minutes). 2) Follow the signs for the bus station. 3) Hop onto bus 22 and ride it to the last stop (around 200 yen, grad a ticket when you get on the bus and pay when you leave – the bus also accepts the usual smart cards).

Have you ever been somewhere that you expected to be just so-so, just to be blown away?

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