If you go . . .

January 13, 1991|By Suzanne Murphy

As the cultural, political and economic hub of Hokkaido island, Sapporo has much to see and enjoy beyond its snow festival. In its short history, this capital city has grown from a modest agricultural settlement to a vital metropolis of 1.5 million.

Basically, the city is divided into three sections: the financial and political area with its banks, government buildings and hotels; the shopping and restaurant district; and the nationally famous entertainment quarter of Susukino, where neon lights illuminate dozens of nightclubs, eateries, theaters and cinemas. With its convenient street-numbering system and well-developed subway, streetcar and bus networks, getting around town is a snap. Immaculate taxis, driven by courteous, white-gloved chauffeurs, are readily available.

Staying in Sapporo: Among the city's wide selection of hotels are the Keio Plaza Hotel, Hotel Alpha, Sapporo Grand Hotel, Hotel New Otani and Sapporo Korakuen Hotel. While the number of hotels rooms has increased greatly over the last decade, the growing popularity of the Sapporo Snow Festival makes it advisable to book reservations well in advance if a visit to the city is planned around that event.

Beyond Sapporo: Expansive dairy farms, thickly forested mountains and crystal calderas await the visitor who heads out to explore the virgin wilderness beyond Sapporo. More than 40 volcanoes in various stages of activity dot the 32,250-square-mile island of Hokkaido, an enduring legacy of its tumultuous origins. Hundreds of hot mineral spring baths can be found throughout the region.

Among the locales available for visits is Jozankei Spa, about an hour from Sapporo along the upper reaches of the Toyohira River. It offers alkaloid-salt mineral baths said to alleviate neuralgia. Lake Toya Spa, just over two hours' drive by car from Sapporo, is found within the boundaries of a national park beside a dazzling caldera lake. A string of inns and hotels offers magnificent views of distant Mount Yotei and visitors can soak away their pains in steaming mineral waters.

Skiing around Sapporo: With more than 125 skiing areas, there's a slope out there for everyone from beginner to expert; many offer conveniently located hot springs as well. Near Sapporo is challenging Teine Highland, site of the men's and women's giant and regular slaloms in the 1972 Winter Olympics. Further afoot, Niseko Higashiyama serves as one of four bases from which to ski Mount Annupuri and offers some of the island's best skiing.

For more information write the Japan National Tourist Organization, 630 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10111; or call (212) 757-5640.

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