Have you ever heard of an open-air museum where the historical buildings inside were painstakingly moved from all over a city? I suppose this is why the Historical Village of Hokkaido looks like a perfectly trimmed film set– it is literally a collection of over 60 carefully curated structures. But how can it still be so stunning even through angry gusts of snow flurries and extremely cold weather?
I fell in love with the winter look of the Historical Village of Hokkaido. Reading up on what other people who visited in other seasons managed to get up to, I must admit we didn’t really get to do any special activity while we were here. But for me, everything that I saw was enough to fill my memories.
This post is probably not going to be too wordy, but I can assure you that it will be chock full of pictures. I literally went on a snapping frenzy because every turn was such a postcard view! I could not stop myself from wanting to capture as much as I could. I tried to whittle my choices down for this post, but in the end I decided it would be such a shame not to show you the beauty of the Historical Village of Hokkaido, especially in wintertime.
The Kaitaku no Mura (開拓の村), or Historical Village of Hokkaido, is a 54-hectare outdoor museum located at the Nopporo Forest Park in suburban Sapporo. Nopporo Forest Park is a national forest as well as a wildlife sanctuary, which means in the summer, you will get to see the 110 types of trees growing here in their full glory. They’ll surely be visited by any of the 140 types of birds living in the area too.
Since we didn’t head towards the forest-y part of the park, we didn’t see any snow rabbits or Hokkaido squirrels. A taste of the majestic forest was good enough though!
The starting point to your exploration of the Historical Village of Hokkaido proper is the original Sapporo Station Building. I like to call this building a portal, because when you step out on the other side you are immediately whisked away to 19th Century Hokkaido.
Opened since 1983, this museum has done a phenomenal job preserving the olden day structures dating back from the years of Hokkaido’s major developments during the Meiji & Taisho eras (1860’s to 1920’s).
As I mentioned, most of the iconic buildings that were built all over Hokkaido were carefully deconstructed, transported, and then rebuilt inside this compound. So if you’re wondering how historically accurate these buildings are, there’s your answer. The Japanese take their preservation efforts very very seriously you know.
Just a little historical background on Hokkaido: Because of its location, Hokkaido was once considered Japan’s last frontier. And so, even while the rest of Japan was developing at a faster pace, Hokkaido started to take shape only during the latter half of the 1800’s.
The Meiji government built Western-style buildings to encourage more Japanese to migrate to Hokkaido, and once some 1,200+ Japanese moved over to the island, they began farming the vast lands and working in the mines. They even started discovering the wonders of the waters surrounding Hokkaido.
To be able to get a better sense of the different aspects of life back in Hokkaido’s frontier period, the museum is organized into 4 sections: a town, a fishing village, a farm village, and a mountain village. Each section carries a different atmosphere mostly because none of the buildings are just facades ala Disneyland. They are actual buildings you can walk into, and they’re even set in a natural environment to make the whole experience feel as real as possible.
This building above greets you as you enter the museum. It is a replica of the burnt down Kaitakushi or Colonization Office built during the Meiji era. Basically, it served as a government building that worked towards the modernization of Hokkaido. The functions of this office included recruiting foreign advisors, and scouting for possible citizens of Hokkaido who would both live in and defend the island. Ex-samurais mostly. Since this rebuilt edition of the Kaitakushi is made of concrete, it is now a multi-purpose hall being used by the Historical Village staff.
Here’s another interesting building that was taken from Asahikawa: The Kurumasa Inn. This is a two-story inn that was once very popular among travelers waiting for their train connections at nearby stations. To be honest with you, while my companions went inside to see the interior of the inn, I spent a lot more time outside because I was too busy taking in the breath-taking nature in front of my eyes.
Making our way towards the farm village, we saw many traditional farmhouses built by immigrants from Honshu. And then we came across this lovely sight:
Apparently, you can take a tour around this area on a horse-drawn sleigh during wintertime. I always feel bad about having horses pull heavy loads, however this horse does look quite healthy and beautiful. Look at the sheen of its mane! (Can’t tell if it’s a he or she…) It’s almost as white as the snow, and I can’t help but want to name the horse yuki.
So the fishing village is actually supposed to stand right around here, but because it is wintertime, the lake has become frozen and is now hidden in a waist-high layer of snow. The structures you see here all belonged to the prominent Aoyama family that had made a good life out of fishing for red herring along the shores of Otaru.
So you see, we have yet another set of buildings standing here that have been moved from yet another part of Hokkaido!
The great thing about this museum is that when you enter the buildings, you will see that they have kept the insides decorated with so many artifacts from the old days. The intention to give the visitor a very clear picture of Hokkaido’s cultural origins is there, and you won’t even feel like you’re being forced to live through a history lesson.
Inside nearly all the buildings of the Historical Village of Hokkaido, there are life-sized figures depicting residents going about their daily routines.
But again, the draw of this place to me was right outside.
How is this place so charming? I seriously cannot handle it.
There are actually many interesting events here throughout the year, and reading up on them the one that struck me most was the harvest festival during autumn. Autumn is my favourite season so it makes sense. But since we were here in the winter, it was really interesting to imagine how the pioneers of Hokkaido managed to survive this kind of cold without modern heating equipment.
We had visited the Historical Village on a particularly cold and snowy day (with tons of snow flurries!!!) and were shivering in our boots! But I could almost forget all that thanks to all this beauty surrounding me. At many points during the tour I actually did. I could forget the cold but I could not remove from my mind how the snow lent its calming presence to the village.
Nature is just incredible. I have officially run out of superlatives at this point. I think now it will make sense to my tour-mates during this trip why I was always getting left behind as we walked through the Historical Village. I could not stop taking photos.
And I could not stop smiling at the quiet beauty of winter.
How to get here: From Shin Sapporo Station, take the No. 22 Kaitaku no Mura bus (about 15 minutes, 210 yen) to the last stop. Alternatively, you can take the local train from Sapporo Station to Shirin Koen Station (about 15 minutes, 260 yen), then take the No. 22 Kaitaku no Mura bus (210 yen) to the last stop.
You can learn more about Sapporo and the Historical Village of Hokkaido through their website!