Stroll Through Odori Park

Should you find yourself lucky enough to be traveling in the Land of the Rising Sun, you may want to consider paying a visit to one of its most beautiful cities located in the Hokkaido Prefecture. Sapporo is the fifth largest city in all of Japan and has a name that interestingly translates to “important river flowing through a plain” in Hokkaido’s ancient languages. As a major city Sapporo is also the youngest one – 150 years ago, its population was a scarce seven inhabitants.

However, as a city Sapporo is not exactly a hotspot of outdoor activity and compared to its sister cities there’s a lack of ancient historical sites and such to explore. One of the nice parts of the city to relax in though, is the Odori Park. Odori Park has fondly been described as a tiny version of New York’s iconic Central Park. The park runs through the middle of the city, separating south and north Sapporo.

The park stretches over 12 city blocks, which roughly translates into one kilometer of length and has a pleasant atmosphere to it as it provides a discernible contrast to the busy city life surrounding it.

At the most eastern end of the Odori Park, one can find the Sapporo TV Tower. Similar to the famous Tokyo TV Tower, the Sapporo one also has a nice observation deck to admire the skyline from.The tower is just under 150 meters in terms of height and provides a very nice view of the greenery of the Odori Park cutting through the more muted colors of its surrounding corporate buildings.

One of the best outdoor activities to experience in Odori Park is the Sapporo Snow Festival, held in the early weeks of every February. Talented artists from all over Japan, and even from other parts of the world, come together to create some of the most impressive sculptures and structures made from ice. Odori Park is the main venue with the entire park covered in snowy sights to see. Combined with a trip up to the TV Tower in the time of dusk when the park buildings are alit by lights and you have yourself a safe and beautiful outdoor activity that can’t really go wrong.

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Japan has some of the most diverse flora and fauna in all of Asia, home to some amazingly beautiful sights and scenery. Traditionally, nature and the outdoors have always been part of Japanese culture, revolving around respecting nature and all it provides to us humans. Thus it comes as little surprise that Japan has an almost overwhelming amount of parks – national parks, special parks, parks built around temples, parks that preserve nature, parks used to relax and so on.

One of the most tranquil parks to visit and experience outside is the Kokedera Park, which also makes up one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites Japan is home to. Kokedera stands for “Moss Temple” and is quite possibly one of the most unique experiences one can make being surrounded by some of Japan’s finest natural sights.

As the name implies, one of the attractions of the temple is that its surrounding fauna is mainly covered in lusciously green moss, invoking a very peaceful and almost heavy atmosphere – appropriate given the temple’s Buddhist foundation.

Koke-dera (Saiho-ji or “Moss”) Temple, Kyoto : copyright Damien Douxchamps

What should be noted is that, unlike many other temples in Japan, one cannot simply visit the temple like any other. As part of Japan’s World Heritage Sites, one must sort of schedule a visit to the temple in order to gain entry – not impossible by far, but not as simple as just showing up and taking pictures.

Another aspect of the temple that may attract the culturally curious is the fact that it allows its visitors to participate in its religious activities, a feature rarely found in other temples that still operate. These activities include the chanting and calligraphic copying of the Buddhist rites, which are then contributed to the temple as a form of payment. This is normally led by a senior monk and is subsequently followed by a slow stroll through the mossy surroundings using the park’s paths – an experience said to have made very lasting impacts on those that have had the opportunity to visit the temple. The best times to visit the temple are in spring and fall when the green moss provides picturesque contrast to the trees.

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Jigokudani Monkey Park

By now, given the power of the internet and social media, Japan is frequently hailed as the land of the strange, exuberant, exotic – and in many cases, even the land of the cute and funny, which definitely helps categorize this phenomenon. Animals play a large part of Japanese culture, as seen in the instances of Japan’s fascination with cute things.

Located in the Chubu region, the Jigokudani Monkey Park is exactly what it sounds like – a park whose main attraction consists of monkeys. The monkeys in question are Japanese Macaques, which are more commonly referred to as the Snow Monkeys – and visiting in this park is by far one of the most novel experiences one can treat oneself to when visiting the Land of the Rising Sun. However, what makes the park so interesting isn’t that it is mainly populated by a bunch of monkeys, but that the monkeys are, in fact, enjoying the natural hot springs in the area and quite literally lounge inside the water like one would expect elderly men to do instead. The nearby forests are the monkeys’ natural habitat and in the cold, harsh, winter the intelligent creatures prefer to relax inside the comfortably hot water while we watch in astonishment.

The monkeys normally use the one large pool meant for them – and are thus very used to the presence of humans, leading to very amusing interactions. Aside from that, given how social these creatures are, it can be quite fascinating to observe them up close, which is a favorite among younger visitors to the park. It is to be noted however, that feeding or touching the monkeys is strictly prohibited as disturbing them can lead to violent reactions.

Despite the park being open all year round, it is highly recommended to go in the cold winter, which is the namesake of the Snow Monkeys. The scenery is at its most beautiful and the monkeys really enjoy the warm water, enhancing the experience all that much more to be the most authentic it can be.

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