Asahikawa is famous across Japan as it is known for being the coldest city in the country and sits on the scenic but less visited island of Hokkaido. If you plan to visit in the winter months, make sure that you wrap up warm as the record is a low of -41°C which happened in 1902, although it doesn’t usually get quite that cold every year.
As you would expect however, the cold climate here lends itself well to a range of outdoor winter activities such as skiing and some of Japan’s best slopes are located on the edge of town.
In addition to cold weather sports, you will also find a range of other things to do in Asahikawa such as visiting its famous attractions like zoos, breweries and craft villages.
This is a great place in Japan to get out of doors and explore the city on foot, and if you are in town in the summer months then you can expect warmer temperatures and a riot of color when the cherry blossom blooms in the spring.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Asahikawa…
1. Walk along Romantic Road
The charmingly named Romantic Road is a road that is made up of a tree tunnel which takes you all the way to the famous Kaguraoka Forest.
The road is so named as it consists of trees which line the street and have grown to form a pretty green tunnel that bursts into bloom in the spring and summer time.
The road is also famous for being the location of several wedding chapels which only adds to its romantic appeal and this makes a great place to visit if you are in Asahikawa during the spring and summer season.
2. Take a bus tour
One of the best ways to see Asahikawa is to join a bus tour, and you can do just that on the Sightseeing Bus Fun Fun which has three different routes around the city.
The bus offers a hop-on hop-off service so that you can tour the main attractions and either stay on the bus and view them from afar or jump off when you see something of interest.
Buses make the tour every hour and this can be one of the cheapest ways to get around Asahikawa and see most of the main sights quickly if you don’t have much time to go out and explore.
3. Visit Otokoyama Sake Brewing Museum
Otokoyama Sake Brewing Museum is a great place to come if you want to try one of the most famous tipples in Hokkaido.
The museum has won a number of awards for its delicious local sake which is said to date back over 300 years.
You can learn more about the history of the sake here through some amazing block prints which were produced during the Edo Period and (of course) you can also sample some of the delicious drinks on offer and buy your own bottle of this famous rice wine to take home with you.
You can also find other sake themed artifacts such as ancient brewing tools.
4. Enjoy Asahikawa Winter Festival
Asahikawa Winter Festival is one of the main events in town and takes place every year in Tokiwa Park.
The festival is an ode to the snowy season in Japan and is similar to that held in neighboring Sapporo.
Here you can find a range of amazing ice sculptures which are carved by both local and international artists as well as snow sculptures and other winter themed events.
The festival is usually held at the beginning of February every year so make sure not to miss it if you are in town at this time.
5. Walk along Furarito Alley
If you are looking for some of the best food in Asahikawa then you need to head to Furarito Alley.
Here you will find a selection of 18 local restaurants which serve up some of the tastiest dishes in the city and include a range of street food snacks such as yakitori which is chicken threaded onto skewers and then grilled.
There are also a number of traditional azakaya here which are a Japanese version of pubs or bars and you can wander from one to the other and graze on some delicious local fare.
Another great thing about Furarito Alley is that most of the restaurants here are much cheaper than other options in the city so you can sample a few at one time and still not break the bank.
6. Explore Asahiyama Zoo
Asahiyama Zoo is one of the main attractions in Asahikawa and is also known for being the most famous zoo in all of Japan.
The zoo is not particularly large, but it has become so famous thanks to its exotic residents such as graceful polar bears that are housed in an enclosure which has a glass bottom so that you can see them diving and swimming around.
Another great exhibit here is the seal enclosure which turns the idea of a zoo on its head as the seals are actually on the outside and walk around looking at the visitors who are located in an inner enclosure.
On a trip to the zoo you can also check out penguins via a glass tunnel.
7. Shop for souvenirs at Arashiyama Pottery Village
Arashiyama Pottery Village sits atop a pretty hill, so you can take in the views over Asahikawa at the same time.
This part of town is famous for its elegant craft workshops and you can enjoy items such as local pottery, glassware, wooden object and textiles.
On a visit here you will be able to watch some of the craftsmen and women at work and you can also get hands-on and have a go at making some of the pieces yourself.
You can also buy some of the handicrafts to take home as souvenirs of your trip to Japan.
8. Go skiing
One of the great things about Asahikawa is that, along with being the coldest city in Japan, it is also close to some of the best skiing spots in the country.
Just outside of Asahikawa proper you can visit Kamui Ski Links which is to the west and offers you the chance to hit the slopes without venturing too far.
If you want to make a full day of it then you can also travel to Furano or Biei which are around an hour outside of Asahikawa, or you can go a little further afield to Kurodake and Asahidake.
9. Tour Asahikawa City Museum
Asahikawa City Museum is the place to come if you want to know more about the Ainu history of Hokkaido.
This relates to indigenous groups and culture in this part of Japan and you will find two floors of exhibits here that will fill you in on all you need to know about the region.
As well as dioramas of the history you can also learn about the topography and geology of Hokkaido so even through the museum is relatively small it is well worth swinging by here if you are in Asahikawa.
10. Go cycling
If you are in Asahikawa in the summer months then consider renting a bicycle as this is one of the best ways to check out the city and surrounding countryside.
In the warmer months the weather can get up to around 30°C and you can cycle from Asahikawa to neighboring Kamuikotan.
This will take you along the old railway line which linked the two cities and you will also pass through tunnels and skirt along the leafy banks of the Ishikarigawa River.
Another popular choice is the cycle path that leads to Higashikagura which takes you along the Chuubetsu River, past rice fields, and ends close to the Taisetsu-san Mountain.
11. Hit the shops
If you want to hit the shops in Asahikawa then head to Kaimono Koen which translates as ‘Shopping Park’ in Japanese.
This complex was built in the 1970s when it was the first pedestrian shopping park to be located out of doors in Japan.
On this street you will find a huge range of shops, from department stores to small local boutiques, and this is also an excellent place to try some of the local fare for which Asahikawa is so famous.
The street is studded with cafes and restaurants which are the ideal spot to stop for a drink and some food after a long day of retail therapy.
12. Attend Kontan Matsuri
If you are in Asahikawa in September then make sure to attend Kontan Matsuri which is timed to coincide with the autumn equinox.
This festival is held on the leafy banks of the Chuubestu River and you will find a range of activities here such as ceremonial dances and prayers.
Locals pray to the fire gods as well as the river spirits, the mountain gods and the kontan which means ‘village’ in Japanese to assure good luck and prosperity for the year ahead.
13. Try the local food
Many visitors to Asahikawa may not realize that this is actually one of the most famous culinary spots in Japan and local rave about the food scene here.
One of the local specialties is the ramen noodles which are known for being flavored with shoyu which is a kind of soy sauce.
If you want to try these noodles then head to Ramen Mura which means ‘Ramen Village’ in Japanese as this is where eight of the most famous ramen noodle shops are located.
14. Visit Kawamura Kaneto Ainu Memorial Hall
The Kawamura Kaneto Memorial Hall has been on operation in Asahikawa for the last 100 years and this is an ode to the local Ainu culture for which Hokkaido is famous.
As you walk around the hall you can check out a range of photographs of Ainu families which were taken at the start of the 20th century and you can also learn more about the founder of the museum, Kaneto Kawamura, who would have worked on the railway lines that now link Asahikawa to other parts of Japan.
If you are interested in the history of Hokkaido then this is definitely worth a visit while you are in town.
15. Try the local tipples
Perhaps because it is so cold in Asahikawa, you will find a number of delicious alcoholic drinks across the city to warm you up when temperatures dip.
One of the most famous is Otokoyama which is the local sake and you can also sample other types of the well known rice wine such as the Takasago and Taisetsu no Kura brands.
As well as sake you can also try the local beer which is served out of the Taisetsu-ji Brewery.
The brewery is made up of an old fashioned brick warehouse and has an adjoining beer garden where you can sip some of the famous brews.