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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK

Sapporo - The final frontier

People hoping to escape the unbearable humidity of the Japanese rainy season might be advised to race up to Sapporo as soon as they get a chance.

Situated on the most northern of the four main islands of Japan, it is probably the coolest place to be - in climate and excitement.

Sapporo is definitely a far cry from cities in the rest of the country.

To many people, the whole of the island, Hokkaido, is seen as the last frontier and, in some ways, the Japanese equivalent of the American Wild West.

Area facts

  • Population: 1.8m
  • Location: Capital of Japan's northern island Hokkaido
  • Local team: Consadole Sapporo
  • Sights: The Clock Tower, the Sapporo Art Park, and the Okura Ski Jump Slope.
  • Top drink: Beer
  • The island was originally known as Ezo and was inhabited by just its own indigenous people, the Ainu, before the Japanese from the south started to move up there in the 19th century.

    Since then, Sapporo has grown from a small agricultural outpost to a pivotal city in northern Japan and the fifth largest in the country.

    With its lush mountains and cool climate, it typifies the life outdoors and has also proved to be the perfect venue for major sporting events such as the Winter Olympics in 1972.

    Unsurprisingly, snow sports are pretty big in Sapporo and across Hokkaido, where a fair proportion of Japan's winter athletes are produced.

    But there are plenty of other things to keep visitors to the northern capital occupied - such as sipping a cool, refreshing glass of beer.

    No trip to Sapporo is complete without trying the famous beer of the same name and the city clearly prides itself on its extensive range of breweries.

    Many Japanese visit the area in the summer simply to get away from the stifling humidity that engulfs the rest of the country at that time.

    But there is lots to see and do all year round, and one could be tempted to hang around until winter just to experience its internationally renowned Snow Festival.

    The celebrations are like no other in the country, but the arrival of the World Cup could spark a real rival.

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