Hokkaido: Experience the Magic of a Film Location Tour

ALL HOKKAIDO

2023.08.05

 What is the purpose of your trip? Visiting sightseeing spots? Cross-cultural experiences? Delicious local food?

 One of the popular purposes these days is to visit film location sites for movies or TV dramas. Hokkaido has magnificent nature, seasonal scenery including vast snowy landscapes that cannot be seen in other parts of Japan, and historical buildings with a mixture of Japanese and Western styles, so many movies and TV dramas have been shot in Hokkaido, not only for the Japanese market but also for overseas productions. Some people come all the way from overseas just to visit these film locations and immerse themselves in the excitement of the stories again.

 Here we introduce some of the best location sites in Hokkaido. We are sure that you will be able to enjoy the wild nature and nostalgic atmosphere of Hokkaido even more deeply. Please visit Hokkaido to see the beautiful scenery of the movies and TV dramas again.

1. Introduction of films shot in Hokkaido

① “First Love”

 This Japanese romantic drama has been distributed on Netflix since 2022 and has gained popularity not only in Japan but also abroad since its release. Double-starring Takeru Sato and Hikari Mitsushima, both renowned as talented actors, the film was inspired by the famous song “First Love” sung by Hikaru Utada, one of the most popular artists in Japan.

 It is a touching story of first love, set in Hokkaido and Tokyo, with twists and turns over more than 20 years in three eras in the lives of Yae (played by Hikari Mitsushima) and Harumichi (played by Takeru Sato): the late 1990s, the 2000s, and the present.

<Official Trailer>

 This drama was filmed mainly in Sapporo and Otaru. The Sapporo Film Commission has compiled leaflets called “First Love – Sapporo Location Map” to introduce the spots in Sapporo and other cities where the film was shot. They have been distributed to the location sites and have become a hot topic. Some places are out of stock, so now an online version of the location map is available.

 The URL for the English version of the film location map is shown below.

https://www.screensapporo.jp/wp/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/First-Love-Location-Map-English-Version.pdf

 In Hokkaido, the Sapporo Film Commission plays a central role in supporting the production of domestic and international movies and TV dramas in Hokkaido. It serves as a liaison point for offering suitable filming locations, application procedures necessary for filming, and local cooperation, thereby supporting smoother filming. This support is one of the reasons why so many productions have been filmed in Hokkaido.

② Japanese movie “Love Letter”

 A film directed by Shunji Iwai and released in Japan in 1995. Set in Otaru and Kobe, it is a story of reminiscence and faintly-remembered first love. The heroine, Hiroko, lost her fiancé in a mountain accident three years ago, and on the third anniversary of his death, on a sudden impulse she wrote a letter to his old address, which does not exist anymore. The person who receives the misdirected letter and replies to her is a woman named Itsuki Fujii, who has the same name as her late fiancé and was a junior high school classmate. This mysterious interchange is depicted in nostalgic images set in Otaru.

 When the film was released in Korea in 1999, it became a blockbuster hit, attracting 1.4 million viewers, and was subsequently screened many times in Korea. The heroine’s last line, “Ogenki desuka-” (How are you?) became a buzzword in Korea.

<Trailer with Korean subtitles>

③ Filipino movie “Kita Kita”, 2017

 This is a fantastical comedy film. Lea, a Filipina tour guide who lives in Sapporo, is betrayed by her Japanese fiancé and loses her sight due to the shock. Tonyo, a Filipino man who suddenly comes into her life, supports her devotedly and they fall in love. At the time of its release, the film became explosively popular in the Philippines, increasing tourism from the Philippines to Sapporo by 21% and triggering the start of regular flights between Chitose and Manila. The film takes place in Sapporo and other tourist destinations throughout Hokkaido, including Otaru. The title words “kita kita” mean “I see you” in Tagalog.

<Official Trailer>

④ Chinese movie “If You Are the One (非誠勿擾)”

 A middle-aged man who got a lot of money by selling his innovative invention to a rich investor starts an online marriage search to find his ideal wife. He asks women to apply “if you are the one”, that is, only if they are sincere. Among applicants with a quirk or two who want to marry him, he meets a beautiful woman who seems to have some troubles. He decides to help her forget her painful love, so they embark on a trip to Eastern Hokkaido, in Japan. The serene beauty of Eastern Hokkaido and the Sea of Okhotsk, where the journey takes place, caused a Hokkaido boom in China.

⑤ Thai movie “One Day”, 2016

 A Thai romantic comedy film. The main character, Denchai, an inconspicuous IT engineer, is in love with co-worker and popular girl, Noui. When they are on a company trip to Hokkaido, by ringing a bell at the ski resort Kiroro he makes a wish to become her lover for just one day. But Noui was having an affair with the president and it was an open secret within the company. Will his wish come true?

 The film takes place in Sapporo, Kiroro ski resort, Hakodate, Otaru, and Noboribetsu in Hokkaido. Amazingly, they travel to these places in just one day. Of course, this is the magic of the movie. Don’t make this your itinerary of Hokkaido in one day like them!

<Official Trailer>

2. Introduction of film locations

(1) Rural areas of Hokkaido ~ Beautiful scenery and magnificent nature

<Northern Hokkaido>

・Asahikawa Tokiwa roundabout   

 20 minutes’ walk from JR Asahikawa Station (1 Tokiwa-dori, Asahikawa City)

 Used in the opening scene of the Netflix drama “First Love” (①), this is the largest roundabout in Japan connecting six roads. It was filmed from the sky at night to create a fantastic atmosphere in the drama. In Japan, roundabouts are rare and generally unfamiliar to Japanese drivers. Yae, the heroine of the drama had special training on this roundabout when she became a cab driver.

 By the way, in the drama this roundabout was depicted as being in Sapporo, but it is actually located in Asahikawa City, 130 km north of Sapporo.

<Eastern Hokkaido>

・Kitahama Station

 15 minutes from JR Abashiri Station by train (Kitahama, Abashiri City)

  Used in the Chinese movie “If You Are the One” (④).

 One of the stations on the Senmo Line connecting Abashiri and Kushiro. This station is famous as “the closest station to the Sea of Okhotsk,” 20 meters from the shore. It is the first place the two main characters in the movie, Qin Fen and Xiao Xiao, visited in Hokkaido. After the movie was released, this place was crowded with many Chinese tourists.

 It takes about 5 hours and 30 minutes from Sapporo Station by JR express train. Then transfer to the Senmo Line at Abashiri Station.

Cape Notoro

 20 minutes’ ride by car from Abashiri Station (Misaki, Abashiri City)

 Used in the Chinese film “If You Are the One” (④).

 This is an important place that appears at the end of the story and it becomes a turning point in their relationship.

 The cape juts out into the Sea of Okhotsk on the east side of Lake Notoro in Abashiri City. The area is surrounded by a 40 to 50 meter-high cliff. The lighthouse at the tip of the cape is in a beautiful green grassland. Drift ice comes into contact with the shore from late January to early March.

<Central Hokkaido>

・Panoramic Flower Gardens Shikisai-no-oka, Biei Town

 Two and half hours by car from Sapporo. (Shinsei Dai-3, Biei Town)

 Used in the Filipino movie “Kita Kita” (③ ) as one of the spots they visit on a date.

 Colorful flowers and crops spread over the rolling hills create beautiful scenery. Biei is a member of “The Association of The Most Beautiful Villages in Japan”.

・Sugatami no Ike (Sugatami Pond) (Higashikawa Town)

 It is three hours by car from Sapporo to the Daisetsuzan National Park Asahi-dake cable car station, and it takes about 30 minutes to walk to the pond from the summit station of the cable car.

 Used in “Kita Kita” (③) as one of the locations they visit on a date.

 It is located in Daisetsuzan National Park, which includes Asahi-dake, the highest mountain in Hokkaido. The pond is 1,600 m above sea level, and hikers can enjoy beautiful scenery and alpine flowers around there.

・Jigoku-dani (Hell Valley), Noboribetsu

 (Noboribetsu-onsen Town, Noboribetsu City)

 1 hour 30 minutes from Sapporo by car

 The name Jigoku-dani (Hell Valley) comes from the scenery of the area where gushing smoke comes out of hot springs, and which looks like Buddhist hell. This place is a popular hot spring resort in Hokkaido. You can enjoy various kinds of hot springs in this area at luxury hotels.

 It appeared in the Thai movie “One Day” (⑤) as one of the spots they visited on a date.

・Kiroro Snow World

 (Tokiwa 128, Akaigawa Village, Yoichi-gun)

 One and a half hours from Sapporo by car.

 Appeared in “One Day” (⑤).

 One of the popular Hokkaido ski resorts near Sapporo. The Bell of Niisa at the top of Mt. Asari, near the Kiroro gondola summit station, is famous as a spot for couples. It is a perfect place for marriage proposals, and it is said that couples who ring the bell twice will be married.

 In the movie, Denchai rang this bell and wished to be Noui’s lover for one day.

 

<Southern Hokkaido>

 Hakodate: Various sightseeing spots appeared in the Thai movie “One Day” (⑤). 

・Mt. Hakodate cable car

 It takes 10 minutes by car from JR Hakodate Station to the Mt. Hakodate cable car base station.

 It is one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Hakodate. 1.8 million people visited this place annually before the COVID-19 pandemic. You can enjoy a spectacular view from the top of the mountain.

・The night view from Mt. Hakodate

 The night view from the top of Mt. Hakodate has been chosen as one of the three most beautiful night views in the world.

・Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses

 15 minutes’ walk from JR Hakodate Station. (Suehiro-town 14, Hakodate City)

 A landmark of the Hakodate Bay area with their exotic atmosphere. Originally built as Hakodate Port warehouses, the site has now become a popular shopping center for tourists.

(2) Otaru ~ A romantic port town, especially popular with lovers

 Otaru is one of the most popular filming locations in Hokkaido, where many picturesque landscapes are found. Many films, not only Japanese but also foreign, have been shot in this town over the past few decades.

・Otaru Canal 

 Appeared in the Netflix drama “First Love” (①). Yae meets her father, who lives far away from her, for the first time in many years.

 It is about a 10 minutes’ walk from Otaru Station to the canal. Otaru Canal is the main sightseeing spot in Otaru City. Many tourists from around the world enjoy a nice view of the canal from the Asakusa bridge.

・Mt. Tengu

 (Mogami 2-chome, Otaru City)

  17 minutes from Otaru Station by bus.

  Used in “First Love” (①).

  A memorable place that Yae and Harumichi visited in their high school days.

  The night view from Mt. Hakodate is very famous, however the night view from Mt. Tengu is an obscure romantic spot.

 Tengu Ski Resort is also used impressively in the movie “Love Letter” (②). The first scene of the movie where Hiroko, the heroine, who is lying on the snow, gets up and runs is one of the most beautiful scenes.

・Funami-zaka

 (Tomioka 2, Otaru City)

 ”Love Letter” (②)

 Funami-zaka literally means a slope for ship viewing. It is known as one of the steepest slopes in Otaru, famous as a city of hills, where movies and TV dramas are often filmed. As the name suggests, you can see ships docked at Otaru Port from the hill. It has a 15-degree incline.

 In the movie, a postman rode up this hill on his motorcycle.

・Otaru Canal Plaza

 (2 Shikouchi, Otaru City)

 ”Love Letter” (②)

 This former Otaru warehouse is now used as one of the tourist information centers in Otaru.

 In the film, Hiroko and her boyfriend walked in front of this building to find his friend’s glass studio.

・The former Otaru Branch of NYK (Nihon Yusen Kabushiki-kaisha)

 (3 Ironai, Otaru City)

 A historical building from the early 20th century, designated as an important cultural property. “Love Letter” (②)

 Filmed as “Otaru City Library,” where Hiroko works.

・The Otaru Canal 

  “Kita Kita” (③)

 The canal is a place where Lea and Tonyo go on dates. They take a canal cruise which brings them closer together. Otaru Canal also appears again at the end of the story.

・The Otaru Orgel-doh (Otaru Music Box Museum )

 (4-1 Sumiyoshi Town, Otaru)

 20 minutes’ walk from JR Otaru Station.

 Used in the Thai movie “One Day” (⑤).

 It is a historical building in Otaru which was built in 1912 and is located at the end of Sakai-machi shopping street at the Meruhen crossing. It was originally the headquarters and warehouse of a rice merchant. The outside is made of brick, and the inside is a wood-frame structure with a wide atrium. Once inside, you’ll see surprisingly many music boxes and rooms with a nostalgic atmosphere.

 The clock in front of the building is a steam clock made in Vancouver, Canada, which plays a steam-powered melody every 15 minutes. It also appeared in the movie.

(3) Sapporo ~ A picturesque city wherever you look

・Nakajima Park

 10 minutes from JR Sapporo Station by subway on the Namboku Line.

 ”First Love” (①)

 Yae and Harumichi meet by chance in Nakajima Park.

 It is located in the center of Sapporo near Susukino, the biggest entertainment district in Hokkaido, though this park is rich in nature with a pond, concert hall and historical building.

・The Astronomical Observatory of Sapporo City

 (1-17 Nakajima Koen, Chuo-ku, Sapporo)

 ”First Love” (①)

 On the night of Mars’ closest approach to earth, Yae and Harumichi spent time together watching Mars in this observatory.

・Sapporo Community Plaza

 (Kita 1-jo, Nishi 1, Chuo-ku, Sapporo)

 ”First Love” (①)

 Depicted as “the Northern Lights Building” where Harumichi works as a security guard.

 This photo is the entrance lobby of Sapporo Cultural Arts Theater “hitaru” on the 4th floor of the same building.

Sapporo City Tram

 First Love” (①)

 Yae’s son Tsuzuru was onboard a city tram.

・Horohira Bridge

 (Minami 15-jo Nishi 1, Chuo-ku, Sapporo)

 A 5-minute walk from Horohirabashi subway station on the Namboku Line.

 ”First Love” (①)

 Yae and Harumichi watched a sunrise from this bridge.

・Sun Piazza Theater

 (Atsubetu Chuo 2-5, Atsubetsu-ku, Sapporo)

  5 minutes’ walk from JR Shin Sapporo Station

 ”First Love” (①)

 One of the buildings in the JR Shin-Sapporo Station complex.

 Yae and Harumichi watched the movie “Titanic” in their high school days at this theater.

 Now, it is no longer in use. There is the Sun Piazza Aquarium in the same building.

・The handrail where the two mimicked “Titanic”

 They mimicked Jack and Rose, characters in the movie “Titanic”, at the corner of the handrail on the second floor of the building across from Sun Piazza Aquarium.

・Sapporo Clock Tower

 (Kita 1-jo Nishi 2, Chuo-ku, Sapporo)

 “Kita Kita” (③).

 Various tourist spots in Sapporo are featured on their dates.

 The clock tower is a symbol of Sapporo. It is the oldest clock tower in Japan and was built in 1878.

 At the beginning of the film, heroine Lea, a Filipino guide in Sapporo, guides tourists in front of the clock tower.

・Odori Park

 15 minutes’ walk from JR Sapporo Station

 “Kita Kita” (③)

 Odori Park is a recreational area for Sapporo citizens that is the site of various events, including the Snow Festival.

・Mt. Moiwa

 (Fushimi 5, Chuo-ku, Sapporo)

 To reach the Mt. Moiwa base station, it takes about 40 minutes from JR Sapporo Station by subway and city tram or bus, or 20 minutes by car.

 “Kita Kita” (③)

 Mt. Moiwa is a 531-meter mountain located in the suburbs of Sapporo, and is popular among citizens as a relatively easy hiking course. The summit can be reached by cable car, and is famous for its beautiful night view. It has been selected as one of the three best new night views in Japan and is a popular spot for dates.

 In the movie, Lea has been there twice, first with her Japanese boyfriend and later with Tonyo.

・Moerenuma Park 

 (Moerenuma-koen 1-1, Higashi-ku, Sapporo)

 30 minutes by car from JR Sapporo Station

 “Kita Kita” (③).

 One of the places they visited on a date.

 This is a unique city park designed by world-famous artist Isamu Noguchi and built on a trash landfill.

・Sapporo Beer Museum

 (Kita 7, Higashi 9, Higashi-ku, Sapporo)

 10 minutes by car from JR Sapporo Station

  “Kita Kita” (③)

 Tonyo decided to come to Sapporo when he happened to see a can of Sapporo Beer in his hand. Lea happened to appear in his selfie taken here, which was the beginning of their story.

・Sapporo Fushimi Inari Shrine

 (2-2-17 Fushimi, Chuo-ku, Sapporo)>

 About 20 minutes by car from Sapporo Station.

 A place where the couple visited on a date. Fushimi Inari Shrine with its many red torii gates is very famous in Kyoto, but there is a Fushimi Inari Shrine in Sapporo too. Actually there are many Inari Shrines in Japan.

3. Summary: Film Tourism in Hokkaido

 As we have seen, Hokkaido has many attractive places shown in movies or TV dramas. The snow falling on the vast land attracts people from Southern countries where there is no snow. 150 years ago, western modern technology and culture were introduced to Japan when the Japanese government started to develop Hokkaido, and some buildings constructed at that time still remain in some of its cities and create a nostalgic landscape. The beautiful night views from Mt. Hakodate, Mt. Tengu and Mt. Moiwa also attract many people from Japan and abroad.

 The Hokkaido prefectural government strongly supports film tourism, in which fans visit locations where films were shot. The Sapporo Film Commission plays a central role in promoting the beautiful scenery and attractive locations in Hokkaido to people around the world. They contribute to smooth filming by providing one-stop services such as providing information on film and drama shoots, liaison with local communities, and looking for extras for the film shoots. It helps increase the number of film location sites and raise the profile of Hokkaido.

 Someone may be drawn to travel because of the scenery of a movie he or she has seen. Even if they have never seen that movie, some may become interested in the places featured as film location sites and might watch the film. If you are interested in movies and dramas shot in Hokkaido, please come to Sapporo, Otaru, and other areas. It will surely be an unforgettable memory.

 Thank you for reading this column! We hope you will come to see some places in Hokkaido.