Shinichi Maeda is the founder of An Dining Hokkaido, an award-winning restaurant in Ki-Niseko, on the south-west of Hokkaido. Though born in the regional city of Fukagawa, Maeda trained worldwide – including a 12-year stint in Australia where he sharpened his skills in the kitchens of Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast.
"[Before coming to Australia] I spent time in Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market and saw a lot of produce being imported from Australia,” says Maeda. “It really inspired me to move to Australia. So when I spent my first year on the Gold Coast, I started visiting farmers and fishermen to try and find the best produce for my restaurants.”
When he returned to Hokkaido in 2010, Maeda applied the same logic. "I wanted to capture the best locally sourced produce from my hometown region to give my customers the best they could get." The result is An Dining Hokkaido, one of Hokkaido’s premium destinations for sashimi.
We asked Maeda for his tips on where to eat, drink and what to do in Hokkaido.
"Hokkaido is a big place,” says Maeda. “But Sapporo [the island’s capital] is a must.” Head to the Sapporo Central Market, where a bustling collection of stalls, both wholesale and open to the public, jostle for space. “There is everything you could possibly eat there, from hot noodles to bento boxes and fresh sushi – you won't go hungry." The peak hours are in the early morning and during lunch hour – you’re best heading there for a late breakfast or early dinner before it closes at 5pm.
Another hot spot is Sapporo Station. Featuring numerous eateries, bars and karaoke rooms, the station supports a huge range of businesses convenient for travellers. And if you miss the last train home at midnight, know that the surrounding hub stays open until the early hours.
"There is also a new restaurant [there], Fujita,” says Maeda. “It only sits six people and serves traditional food. But the chef speaks English, so it is a really hidden spot to eat local cuisine if you aren't familiar with the language."
Drink (and karaoke)
Maeda’s favourite spot for coffee is Baristart Coffee in the Chuo area of Sapporo. But as darkness falls his attention turns to cocktails and karaoke. While the chef likes Bar Nano Gould in Jonishi for custom-made and classic cocktails, he’s fond of the Norbesa building in the Susukino district for its bars and karaoke scene.
"There's a gaming arcade, a bowling alley, anime and manga floors, pool tables as well as many bars and restaurants,” he says. “It's perfect for gathering big groups of people together for a good night, or even for a romantic evening for a couple." The mall is open 24 hours – Maeda suggests grabbing some early-morning ramen or sushi on your way home to help with the karaoke comedown.
As well as an endless array of delicacies and nightspots, Hokkaido and surrounds have some of the most spectacular scenery in Japan. Maeda recommends getting out into the nature reserves and smaller areas away from the bustling major cities any way you can.
Renting a car is fairly straightforward as long as you have an international driving permit (IDP). You can get an IDP before leaving for your trip to Japan, and it usually costs less than $50 online or in person from your local motoring club. A rental car usually costs around 5000Y per day, which is equivalent to around $65, and there are many English-language sites you can book through before you leave. Internal flights to many places in Japan are also reasonably cheap (less than $150 per sector).
For those who want a first-hand tactile nature experience, Kushiro on the island’s south-east coast is the place to go. A four hour train ride from Sapporo, Kushiro has an abundance of wildlife and an active volcano overlooking Lake Akan.
"My sister and I used to go there all the time in summer,” says Maeda. “I love it because you can see hundreds of deer, bears catching wild salmon, and foxes and rabbits roaming out in the wilderness. You can walk around the base of mountains near Lake Akan – it’s so beautiful."
Maeda also likes heading to the northernmost tip of Hokkaido, where you can take a ferry from Wakkanai to the secluded Rishiri and Rebun Islands. An overnight stay in a traditional ryokan (a Japanese inn) there costs around 20,000Y ($200 average) per evening. Both islands are famous for their abundance of seafood. Black eel is prominent on menus, served grilled with teriyaki sauce. “It’s something you won’t find at the local markets as it’s expensive to export,” says Maeda. “A delicacy in Japan.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Japan National Tourism Organization.