Is Japan’s second largest island Hokkaido better for your budget?

Want to go see the cherry blossoms in Japan? Tokyo, Osaka - that's where it's at, right? Not necessarily. 

Consider Japan's second biggest island, Hokkaido, in spring. 

How to get there

Take a budget flight from Osaka or Tokyo to the city of Sapporo in Hokkaido. Most travel guides and bloggers say it's cheaper than taking any other form of transport to get there. There are also direct flights here from Manila.

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Sapporo is a great place to start once arriving on the island. It's the fifth biggest city in Japan by population, and is one of the youngest urban hubs as its only recently experienced significant growth. 

It's bustling, but on a smaller scale than Tokyo. 

When to go

Of all Japanese cities, Sapporo has the longest, coldest winter. Yet tourists chase the cold, opting to go there during the winter months to indulge in snowy activities, like skiing. However, the summer months are best to visit as prices are lower and tourists are fewer and further between. 

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Save some cash by avoiding the Big Mac prices served up to tourists who flock to Tokyo for the cherry blossoms. Hokkaido's spring really sprung's in May. So, if you can't get away from your desk in April for the blooms, head to Sapporo in early May for the ultimate floral extravaganza. 


Accommodation

Booking.com shows very similar prices for both Tokyo and Sapporo in terms of hostels and capsule stays. But a quick search on Airbnb for apartments in the centre of both Tokyo and Sapporo during the cities'respective cherry blossom peak seasons lead me to this: 

Tokyo (mid-April) - entire apartment, central location = R1,113 ZAR/night 

Sapporo (beginning of May) - entire apartment, central location = R798 ZAR/night

Not a massive difference, but still. 

Supercheapjapan.com also recommends a lot of great hostels and budget-friendly accommodation available in the city of Sapporo and other cities throughout Hokkaido island. 

Free stuff

The Poor Traveller says that Sapporo is easy to explore on foot thanks to its grid design. Free transport, yay!

Yet taking the subway or renting a car is also recommended by TripAdvisor. Many on TripAdvisor say that car rentals in Hokkaido is much cheaper than in Tokyo. 

Cityscape of Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan at Odori Par

(Cityscape of Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan at Odori Park. PHOTO: iStock)

But there are so many free things to do and see in Sapporo:

In an effort to boost tourist in the city, many places and activities have entry free of charge.

  • Odori Park (also home to many free festivals throughout the year)
  • Sapporo Beer Garden and Museum
  • Former Hokkaido Government Office
  • Moerenuma Park
  • Ainu Culture Promotion Center
  • Hokkaido University Campus Walking Tour

If you're on a budget and want to experience the cherry blossoms in relative peace and quiet, Sapporo is undoubtedly the better option. With fewer crowds, this is the place to go if you are not a fan of being surrounded by tourists.

However, Tokyo and Osaka have charm beyond comprehension, and, however pricey, cannot be left of the itinerary when visiting Japan.

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